Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Leaders

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. (Hebrews 13:17-19, ESV)

It would seem that the leaders of the Hebrews congregation were in agreement with the author of this epistle and faithful adherents to the true gospel.  They were also urging their congregation to abandon this idea of abandoning Jesus and returning to their former practice of Judaism.  As those charged with keeping watch over the souls of these believers they had no doubt spent many a night groaning in prayer for them.

How much better that our pastors/shepherds should watch over us with joy.  And how important that we pray for them.  Our author asks for prayer that he might continue to act honorably in all things.  Perhaps he is experiencing persecution as well and wants to keep a brave testimony.  He wants to be restored to this congregation, also, and we cannot fault him for asking prayer to survive whatever trial he is going through.

But what if their leaders were not faithful to the gospel?  Should they obey and submit to them then?  As much as we need leaders, true followership must not abdicate responsibility for maintaining the gospel’s purity to leaders.  We are all responsible.  That is why this letter was addressed to the congregation, not to the leaders.  All of us must wrestle with the arguments, with the Scriptures, and with our own consciences.  I won’t be able to make a case on judgment day that I listened to a bad leader and so I plead “not guilty.”

The apostles Peter and John refused to obey their spiritual leaders, the Sanhedrin, when this court required them to quit preaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:27-32).  They said, “We must obey God rather than men.”  A leader’s authority is God-given but therefore always God-subservient.  A leader’s authority with people will necessarily be located in his or her example of godliness and faithfulness to the gospel (1 Peter 5:1-3; Acts 20:28-35).  The apostle John commended Gaius  who helped traveling evangelists who arrived at his church in contradiction to Diotrephes, who “liked to put himself first,” rather than telling Gaius to submit to Diotrephes.

Still, the general requirement is for church leaders to be obeyed.  And we should pray for them.

PERHAPS the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others. [David Cooper, Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry]


Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Abundant Giving and Receiving

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution…Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded.”

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments…as a freewill offering to the LORD.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.”

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more. (Exodus 35:1-36:7, ESV)

To their credit the people of Israel gave generously to the construction of the Tabernacle. They gave both of their possessions and of their talents. And though everyone was encouraged to come and do the work, Bezalel was given authority over the whole project to oversee it and, presumably, to determine who did what and that the quality of their work was acceptable. If it was not and they could be taught, he would teach them, as would Oholiab. God’s Spirit was at work in the leaders and the workers, the givers and the doers.

This is the description of a community filled with the Spirit. They have a clear vision of what it is they are to do in order to serve the Lord. They have skillful leaders to guide them in the Spirit’s work. They have generous hearts towards the Lord’s work and towards each other. There is a unity of spirit that comes from the Holy Spirit reminiscent of this time in Israel’s history on journey to the promised land, or the infant church in Acts 2 as they met and cared for one another and served the Lord. It is what Paul describes in Ephesians 4, a maintaing of the unity of the Spirit and the gifted leaders helping the various members of the body to work to increase the growth of the Body of Christ.

Nothing here was forced. God told people to respond only out of a generous heart because He “loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). And their hearts stirred them, stirred them so much that they brought more than enough and had to be restrained.

Where are you contributing like this? Where has God moved your heart to give? May there be more than enough.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38, ESV)

John MacArthur at Grace to You (gty.org) explains the imagery of this passage: The imagery Christ used in Luke—the idea of pouring blessing into our laps—comes from the ancient Middle Eastern grain market. People would go into the grain market to purchase, literally, a lap-full of grain. The loose material of their garments extended all the way to the ground and was belted at the waist with a sash. When they went into the grain market, they would simply pull up some of that garment, looping it through the sash to create a huge pocket. The grain would be dumped into the makeshift pouch, literally filling their laps (cf. Ruth 3:15).

God responds with abundance to those who give generously.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Equipped by God

The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.” (Exodus 31:1-11, ESV)

When God gives us a task to perform He also gives us the ability to perform it. It may not be us He gives the ability to personally, but He will give it to our team. God intends us to work as teams and equips individuals differently to provide the various necessities a team has to accomplish its purpose. We are not to presume that our particular ability is supreme.  Rather, because they are all needed, we must understand what value each member brings to the team.

Do you understand what the Spirit of God has equipped you to do? Do you know your purpose? And do you appreciate those around you by knowing their purpose and valuing their gifts and talents? Whether you are Bezalel, Oholiab or one of the many men or women God has given ability to, you are operating as an expression of His abilities, serving in cooperation with His work, to achieve something wonderful and beneficial for your community, maybe even the whole world.

It’s those stately geese I find especially impressive. Winging their way to a warmer climate, they often cover thousands of miles before reaching their destination. Have you ever studied why they fly as they do? It is fascinating to read what has been discovered about their flight pattern as well as their in-flight habits. Four come to mind.

1. Those in front rotate their leadership. When one lead goose gets tired, it changes places with one in the wing of the V-formation and another flies point.

2. By flying as they do, the members of the flock create an upward air current for one another. Each flap of the wings literally creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. One author states that by flying in a V-formation, the whole flock gets 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own.

3. When one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of formation with it and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the struggler until it’s able to fly again.

4. The geese in the rear of the formation are the ones who do the honking. I suppose it’s their way of announcing that they’re following and that all is well. For sure, the repeated honks encourage those in front to stay at it. As I think about all this, one lesson stands out above all others: it is the natural instinct of geese to work together. Whether it’s rotating, flapping, helping, or simply honking, the flock is in it together…which enables them to accomplish what they set out to do.

Chuck Swindoll, letter, October, 1991.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Second Command addendum

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (20:5, ESV).

God is a jealous husband. His wife, His people, cannot “hate” Him and not suffer consequences. God will see to it that the natural consequences of parents building false values into their children’s lives will continue to the fourth generation. This is not to say that He may not sovereignly save individuals from among those generations, but there is no promise that He will. When men reject the true image of God as sovereign in their lives, He exercises His sovereignty in judgment.

“…but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (20:6, ESV).

This is the promise to those who obey the second commandment. God will bless their generations with the grace to come to the knowledge of the true God. No amount of godly training alone can bring a person to Christ. Only God can turn hearts toward Himself. No idol of man’s making, no God fashioned in man’s image has such sovereign control.

Even if we don’t worship a fashioned likeness of God, we may still be operating with a purposely distorted image of Him. The Pharisees fashioned a God of rigid standards (true to an extent) that they believed they could keep and therefore expected certain rewards from Him. What false images of God have you constructed?

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Getting Help

Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the rmountain of God. And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law uall that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. 

Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. 

The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; awhen they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall drepresent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be lable to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” 

So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country. (Exodus 18, ESV)

God knows how to bring the right people into our lives at the right time. Moses’ father-in-law, here designated by his name, Jethro, and his role, priest of Midian, comes with Moses’ family, apparently sent back to Jethro for safety, and Jethro comes with great encouragement. Here is a man of God who may have been worshiping God without clear understanding that Yahweh is the one true God, but who now acknowledges Yahweh’s greatness and blessing.

But not only does he offer sacrifice as appropriate to the old form of priesthood that God will soon change, but he offers brilliant advice. The humble leader is not too proud to accept advice that will help accomplish God’s purposes. In this case, the advice would keep both Moses and his people from being completely exhausted. And the side benefit is it would develop new and more leaders who share the vision for teaching God’s statutes and helping God’s people follow Yahweh’s leadership.

Are you trying to do it all yourself?  That is not God’s way.  Perhaps He has even sent someone your way to show you that.  Were you not listening?

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Helping Our Leaders Lead

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”  (Exodus 17:8-16)

There will always be those who feel they must destroy the “danger” that is the people of God. This has been the conflict through the ages that Yahweh said would happen, the serpent and his “seed” in conflict against the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Amalek is and has been guided by evil principles and so much so that God has determined that this is a people who needs to be blotted out. God made all nations and He alone has the right to make such a determination.

If Israel had any question that Moses was God’s appointed leader for them, that should have been erased by this event, where only when Moses’ hands were raised in prayer for Israel did they prevail. But that Moses cannot do this alone should also be evident. Others must play their parts, like Aaron and Hur and Joshua. The same is true of all leaders and those they lead today. We must know whether they are chosen by God and we must aid them in our common task. Who is your God-appointed leader? What is your God-appointed responsibility to “hold up” his or her hands?

See John Maxwell’s “9 Ways to Lead Your Leader

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Watch Out, Leaders!

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7, ESV)

Leaders must not take on themselves the responsibility and weight of doing what only God himself can do.  Nevertheless, the people we lead will put that weight on us and it may endanger our influence with them and even our lives.

The right thing to do as a leader is to go to God for help.  His leadership of us is always one step ahead, so we don’t know the plan He has and must come to Him for direction.  When we do He stands in front of us and becomes our shield through which the effronteries of effete followers cannot penetrate.

Followers must not, of course, put undue weight on their leaders.  Followers bear a responsibility before God to recognize that a leader is a tool in God’s hand to help the group go forward, not God him or herself.  When we grumble against the leader we have lost sight of that fact.

How could the people not have known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Yahweh was among them? Their insistence on blaming Moses and on expecting him to be their rescue is bizarre. Apparently they fear Yahweh enough that they don’t want to directly blame Him, but the effect is the same. We may not always have the same assurance that they did that Moses was only doing what God told him to do. We don’t have the cloud of smoke and fire that lifts up and moves when it is time to move, that goes and stands over the rock where water pours out. But we may be guilty of a kind of practical atheism when we choose to act as if the only reason we are where we are and our leaders are leading us where we are is as if all this just happened by human endeavor.

But Yahweh gives yet another proof that He is among them when He stands over the rock at Horeb (Mt. Sinai, where the burning bush appeared) and has Moses strike it to produce water, enough water to supply a million or more people and their livestock. Why strike it? It is as if Moses is striking Yahweh, who stands above the rock in the pillar of cloud. Paul says this rock was Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:4), who at his first coming was struck as well, crucified for our sins. Yahweh is picturing and foreshadowing how He will provide deliverance for all mankind when Messiah comes. Are you recognizing God’s presence in your midst? Do not live in your own Massah and Meribah (testing and quarreling).