Choosing a Leader

Choosing a Leader

A democracy is a system of government in which the entire population has a chance to take part in electing their leader. It works best when there is an informed electorate coupled with candidates for office, whose best interests are the interests of the people whom he or she expects to serve. Before elected, candidates are generally given the chance to present their vision of government to the populace, and after much thought – and hopefully prayer – eligible citizens cast their ballot in favor of the one they think most suited to lead them effectively and efficiently. Problem is, the system is not flawless and in a deeply polarized society such as ours, it becomes even less so.

The Old Testament book of Judges chapter 9 relates the story of a leadership selection process that ended in disaster because the people did not make an informed choice, and because the leader in question lacked integrity and character. It happened at a critical time in the history of Israel when the aging Gideon, a man chosen by God to lead, was getting ready to ride off into the sunset. Gideon, unfortunately, did not name successor, thinking that the people would defer to God’s leadership. They did not and a leadership vacuum was created. And leadership, like nature ‘abhors a vacuum.’ Into this leadership blank-space steps Abimelech, one of Gideon’s sons by his concubine. Abimelech goes to his mother’s family and makes a proposal that he should be their leader as opposed to all seventy of Gideon’s sons. The people thought it was a great idea and after conferring with  the clan, they appoint Abimelech to lead them on the simple criteria that “he is our brother.” But Abimelech was a ruthless man. His first act was to take money that the people gave to him and hire “worthless and reckless men.” With his band of cutthroats behind him, Abimelech goes over to his father’s house and summarily executes all seventy of the sons of Gideon (his brothers and potential rivals). The only one who escapes is Jotham a young son of Gideon, who hid himself.

In response to this questionable leadership selection process, Jotham at an opportune time tells the parable of the trees. Using anthropomorphic language in his parable, Jotham says “the trees went forth to anoint a king over them…” First they approached the olive tree saying: “reign over us.” But the olive tree refused because it has an important function, giving oil which is used to “honor God and men.” The olive tree will not hold sway over the trees! Next the trees approach the fig tree, then the vine. Both times they are rebuffed because these trees – like the olive tree – understand their place in the world and the importance of their designated functions. Finally – in desperation it would seem – the trees approached the bramble: “You come and reign over us.” The bramble, full of arrogance – and with nothing to give – responded: “If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!”

In reference to Abimelech as the popular choice Jotham tells the people who are listening to him that if they have acted “in truth and sincerity” in making Abimelech King, and if they  “have dealt well with Jerubbaal (Gideon) and his house, and have done to him as he deserves” then they should rejoice in their choice of Abimelech as king. But if they have not, Jotham warned, “let fire come from Abimelech” and ” let fire come from the men of Shechem and Beth Millo.”

Jotham’s parable was analogous to the selection of Abimelech as the people’s leader. It was also prophetic as he would reign only three years before conflict arose between his clan and the same people who made him king. The conflict escalated until it ended in disaster and literal fire, as Jotham prophesied. Abimelech himself met his death at the hands of a woman and his own armor bearer.

There are several observations that can be made from this account. Firstly people crave leadership! There is no doubt that people want to be led. That’s why there are elections. In democratic societies nations are blessed to be able to pick their leaders. Secondly, people don’t always make the right choice. Very often they they are led astray by silver-tongued politicians who woo them with empty promises, and because they crave leadership over them, they make unwise selections. Sometimes the most qualified pass over the job and people who have only their own interests at heart jump at the chance to lead. Thirdly, leaders who lack integrity, and who violate the trust of the people will pay a price for if. Unfortunately they can do much damage during their time in office.

Leaving a Generational Legacy

Leaving a Generational Legacy

What if you knew when you were going to die?

I don’t mean the exact date or hour, but say were given a degree of assurance that you had  ten, fifteen or twenty years to go; assurance that you could count on. Having such information, how would you live your life?

Most people – or should I say smart people – would take the time to plan and use their time wisely. They have an idea of the time they have left, so they could in all fairness, make a determination on what they could or could not achieve.  As time passes they may even adopt a keen awareness that time is running out. And if there are projects to complete they would put in the extra effort to get it done in the time allotted.

The truth  is we are never given such assurances!

Short of the terminal illness situation (in which a doctor says you have months to live), few people have a sense of how much time they have left. This often leads people to think   they have all the time in the world and the double time suckers of complacency and procrastination often develops. Truth be told,  no one has all the time in the world – time is a limited and valuable resource.

But would it help if we knew?

Hezekiah was an Old Testament king who faced both a terminal illness, as well as the luxury of having his life extended for a definite period of years; more than enough time to get a lot done.  The story is told in two places in the Bible – 2 Kings chapter 20 and Isaiah chapter 38. Both accounts tell us that “Hezekiah was sick and near death” when the prophet was sent to tell him ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’ Hezekiah, who had done many wonderful things in the 14 years since he became king, was dismayed by the warning.  He ‘turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord.’ He reminded God of all that he had done.

Immediately God relented and extended Hezekiah’s life by fifteen years.

Hezekiah was 25 when he became king. He reigned at Jerusalem for twenty-nine years putting his death at the age of 54. If we take away fifteen, he would have been at age 39 when he was given the extension. A king dying at 39 would not have been unusual in ancient times. What would have been unusual was the granting of a specific number of years. Such would be unusual even in our time.

One lesson we can learn from Hezekiah, is that time is running out for everyone. Though we may not have the luxury of knowing when, we should at least live our lives as if we knew. We should make haste to maximize whatever time we have left to establish some things for posterity – leave a lasting legacy – that may positively impact the next generation.

Unfortunately, Hezekiah did not think it necessary to do that!

Shortly after recovering from his illness, Hezekiah received letters and presents from the son of the Babylonian king commending him on his health. When the Babylonian envoys came to the palace, Hezekiah in apparent boastful pride, showed them everything, including his treasures and armory (you don’t do that to a foreign power). When Isaiah the prophet asked who, these men were, and what they wanted, Hezekiah told him: “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them.” At that point Isaiah prophesied to the king that the day would come when the Babylonians would take away everything that is in the house, “nothing shall be left.” The prophet also told Hezekiah that even his sons would be taken away to become eunuchs in the place of the king of Babylon. How did Hezekiah respond to such a dire warning?

He said: “At least there will be peace and truth in my days.”

Hezekiah demonstrated a measure of selfishness and pride that resulted in serious consequences for future generations. The King failed to realize that he had a responsibility to the next generation as well. Though we may not have the type of assurance regarding the length of our lives, as Hezekiah did, we can become intentional about the future and in planning how we can leave a generational legacy.

More Than a Little Wind

More Than a Little Wind

We went sailing again.

During the morning hours it rained a bit so I asked Captain Theo, if the trip was still on. He said we should be ok by the time we were ready to sail.  The rain stopped by noon – sailing time – and though the  weather forecast indicated periodic thunder showers in the afternoon, we still decided to go out.

As we pulled out into the water the skies were dark. Out in the distance there were some really black clouds which we thought were too far away from us to be problematic. There was no wind and as Captain Theo powered out I jokingly said it was the calm before the storm; Pastor Nelson started singing the Gilligan’s Island theme song (not sure if that was a good idea).When the wind finally started blowing we were able to unfurl the sails and enjoy a short time of relatively smooth sailing. After a while, Captain Theo must have sensed that it was not such a good idea to be out  so  he turned the boat around and started heading back.Then the rain began to fall. It wasn’t  much but it added another level of excitement to the trip. Sean and Pastor Nelson stayed on the deck, getting soaked.

Then the storm really hit us! The rain came down in sheets and the wind picked (later on Captain Theo estimated that the winds were about 35 miles an hour from zero a few minutes before). I was down in the cabin at the time and I became a bit concerned when I looked out the little window and saw the waves right outside. The T-Time was listing at what I estimate to be almost a 45 degree angle. I looked out and  saw Captain Theo leaning on the helm trying to keep the boat on a straight course. That’s when I decided to see how I can help so I suggested we bring the sails down. Sean climbed on the deck and manually pulled the sail down making it easier for Captain Theo to steer the boat back to the marina.

The storm didn’t last very long and probably was not as bad as we inexperienced sailors (except Captain Theo) thought it was. But I did learn a few things.

  1. There is such a thing as the calm before the storm: When we got to the marina there was a nice breeze blowing. I remember thinking that in spite of the threat of thunder showers,  the wind would give us a nice day of sailing. But as we were pulling out the wind died completely, the water was glassy calm and its only when a cruise boat passed by we saw some waves. So too, in life periods of exceptional calm may be a prelude to times of turbulence. Therefore we should be ready  when they come. Captain Theo must have realized that it would get rough so without saying anything to us, he quietly turned the boat around. I suppose it would have been harder to turn in the midst of the storm than just before it hit.
  2. Storms teach you how to adapt to your circumstances: It was the first time Sean had been on a boat like this. He is a big guy and I was a bit amused when he put on the life vest which was way too small for him. But he kept it on for the duration and when the storm hit he was all over the deck like an experienced sailor. I don’t know if he was afraid but he learned quickly and he was able to bring the sails down on his own. Sometimes you just don’t know how you will handle things until the waters get a bit rough. That’s when experience kicks in and you do whatever comes naturally. Sometimes it means that you pray.
  3. Storms are not to be trifled with: We really did not have time to understand whether we were in danger. Like kids who think everything is fun, we just enjoyed the experience. But when I looked out from the cabin at Captain Theo I noticed an expression on his face that made me realize he was taking the storm seriously. The truth is, Captain Theo was the only one who had any real sailing experience. If we were in trouble he would be the one to get us out of it. We would have done what we were told but it would be his job to take us through the storm.
    Life’s storms are also not to be trifled with.They can do real damage and you are never really adequate in handling all of them. That’s why it is important to know whom to go to; whom to call. In Mark chapter 4, when Jesus and His disciples met a storm on the Sea of Galilee, experienced fishermen though they were, they called upon Him.