Comment

10 Thoughts on Being a Good Dad

In a few weeks my oldest daughter, Avery, turns 18. 18!! She'll be off to college this fall and I'm blown away by the young woman she has become.

My youngest turns 13 in less than two weeks and will be finishing her last year of middle school. Sadie is full of spunk and fire and joy ... and hormones! She lights up my heart with laughter and joy.

Our adopted daughter, Summer, graduated college in December and is out on her own enjoying her season of life, somewhere between "having fun" and "adulting."

And Karrie and I just spent our fist week alone at our own house in more than 13 years. With both of our girls at camp this week, we realized that the last night we spent in our home together without either of our girls was before Sadie was born!

This year I've been spending a lot of time in reflection about a good many things: I turn 45 in September and I'm at the "halftime" of ministry, Karrie and I have been married for 22 years (together for 26), Summer has moved out and is thriving on her own after living with us for three years, Avery heading college, Sadie in high school (soon), my parents in retirement and the physical distance between us ... there is a lot going on in this bald head of mine!

As Father's Day approaches, I've been thinking a lot about how Karrie and I turned out the way we did, and how our girls are turning out. Over the years when I've asked my parents, "What did you guys do to turn out my brother and me?" their general answer is, "we don't know!" As Karrie and I have been asked about our girls, we tend to have the same response.

Parenting is many things - rewarding, challenging, difficult, joy-filled, infuriating, extraordinary, educational, reflective, revealing. There is no way I could describe it in a word, a sentence, or even a paragraph. To parent is to play the long game for decades, and the weight and privilege of it never ends. It is a treasure that grows in value every year, and a responsibility that changes by the minute.

So Dads, today I thought I'd give you a few pieces of advice as I reflect on being a dad. Believe me, I don't have all the answers, and I've screwed many of these up more than I get them right (ask my girls), but I hope that this Father's Day these thoughts/suggestions will encourage you. Here is a list of 10 Thoughts on Being a Good Dad:

LISTEN
Yeah, right out of the gate I'm going to hit you where it hurts. We aren't great listeners. Most dads (men) are fixers. We want to solve stuff and fix stuff and provide stuff. There will be opportunities and time for that, but most of the time our kids just want us to listen to them. JUST LISTEN. Don't interrupt, don't make suggestions, and don't try to fix the situation ... OR your kids. Just. Listen.

PREPARE
This is the one I think my daughters would say I struggle with the most. As a pastor/teacher/leader, I see everything as a "teachable moment." After a movie - "what did you learn?" After a failure - "what did you learn?" After a success - "what did you learn!" Sometimes I'm a bit obsessed with it, to be honest. Often the best way to prepare a child IS to teach them and train them. In fact there will be thousands of opportunities to teach/train your kids. But often it is more about preparing their hearts instead of teaching their minds. Don't miss out on the chances to "walk them through life" instead of "lecturing them through class."

ENCOURAGE
Have you ever had someone come into your office/room/space and in an attempt to encourage you, try to change you? You know, "Man, that was a great presentation, right on the money ... next time you should try ..." Or how about this one: "You are so good at (blank) ... know what would make you even better?" What is it about us that makes us always have to add our opinions or expertise? Let me encourage you with your kids ... sometimes they just need an "atta boy" or "atta girl" ... and that's it. They don't want or need your expertise, they just need your encouragement. 

BE PRESENT
Seriously ... if I see one more dad (or parent) at a dinner table or sitting in the stands at a game ON THEIR FREAKING PHONE ... for the love of all that is good ... Dads, more than anything - MORE - THAN - ANYTHING - your kids wants YOU. Your attention. Your focus. Your presence. They don't want you to show up, they want you to BE THERE.

PARENT
This one is HUGE. Be a parent, not a friend. I know what most of you are going to say - I can be both. Let me be honest with you - no you can't.

When your kids are little be an authority. Set boundaries. Establish consequences. Discipline them. They need you to teach them. And don't explain it to them or reason with them. Your three year old doesn't need to know why you don't want them to do something. Now, that changes by eight or nine, and certainly by 13 or 15. You will parent differently then. You will do a lot of explaining and walking through life with them ... but not as equals. They still need you to be a parent. Love is always there, ALWAYS, but friendship comes on the backside of parenting. It is a natural progression of parenting.

I know you want your kid to accept you and appreciate you and call you a "friend," but don't lose sight of the long game. Every athlete wants to be a Hall of Famer, but they have to start out as a rookie. Be a parent first ... friendship will come.

LOVE THEIR MOTHER
From personal experience, the best way I know how to be a good father to my girls is by loving their mother the best I can. If you are the father of boys, be the model for your sons to learn from; if you're the father of girls, be the example for them to look for. And yes, this is true even if you aren't married to her any more. As the son of divorced parents I can attest to how important it was (and is) that my parents still love and respect each other even though they are no longer married. I can also tell you how vitally important that integrity has been for my daughters ... their granddaughters.

ASK FOR HELP
Seriously ... you won't ever figure this out on your own. Ever. You need help, and you should take all the help you can get! Don't be a stubborn ... guy. Bury your pride, find someone who has been through this before, and ask them for help.

PRAY OFTEN
Yeah, I'm going to bring faith into this ... Along the same lines of "ask for help," you're likely going to need a lot of divine intervention! I cry out to God all the time about almost everything. The craziest thing to me about being a Dad is that it has made me closer to my Heavenly Father. I better understand how He loves me because of the way I love my girls ... and I'm forever grateful that Karrie and I don't have to do this alone.

STAY HUMBLE
Yeah, you're going to screw up ... a lot. And not little screw ups either. You're going to make some HUGE, COLOSSAL, mistakes. Suck it up Big Guy, stay humble, and ...

NEVER QUIT
Even when you want to. Even when you feel like your kids have quit on you. Even when you don't know what else to do. DO. NOT. QUIT. There will always be hard days - impossible days - but somehow, tomorrow will come. There will always be difficult seasons - unbearable stretches that seem to never end - but as Karrie and I were told many times as early on in parenting, "this too shall pass." You are playing the long game; see it through.

And one bonus thought ...

ENJOY THE RIDE
It may sound cheesy, but I mean it with everything in me - there is nothing more heartwarming, more challenging, or more wonderful than being called "Daddy." My girls still call me that at almost 18 and almost 13.

Daddy.

Someday it may change to "Grandpa" or "Pop," but I will always cherish being called "Daddy" the most.

Comment

Comment

Do You Love Me

AOG Sunrise.jpg

It’s early! I woke up this morning at 4:30 and couldn’t sleep. It’s a Friday, my day off, come on! It’s been a loooooong time since God stirred me awake in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s just been a long time since I’ve been paying attention ... So what is this all about? Believe me, there are a million things rolling around in my head right now; this morning I was challenged by one simple, four word question that God was whispering into my heart ...

DO YOU LOVE ME?

I know it isn’t original, but it has been challenging. I sat up in bed for a while and asked if I could go back to sleep I must have seemed to God like a child begging for his pacifier and crib! I slowly got up, went to the bathroom (which is happening more often at 44!), and then sat on the edge of the bed asking ... arguing ... about what was going on in my heart/head. Then I heard the question.

“Of course I do, can I go back to sleep now?”

“No Michael, do you LOVE me?”

“Yeah, I heard the question ... I love you ... sleep now?”

“Michael ... if you love me ... then ...”

“Yeah, yeah, I know this one, I’ve heard it before. I’m a pastor, blah, blah, blah, feed my sheep. Can I please go back to sleep now?”

“Michael ... if you love me ... STOP IT.”

Now I’m going to be honest, that’s when I started to realized I probably wasn’t going back to bed. “If you love me, stop it.” Stop what? Questioning? Whining? Doubting? Trying to figure it out on my own? What? Stop what?

“Sinning.”

Yeah, I’m not going back to bed ... but I certainly didn’t want to get up either.

"Isaiah 53"

“What? Yeah, I know Isaiah 53 ... you want me to read it? I’ll just quote it to you, then can I go back to bed? Seriously God, I’ll wake Karrie up ... I have to be up at 7:00 anyway ... I’ll get hungry ... I’ll get distracted ...” (At this point it wasn’t about getting up, it was about not wanting to deal with this.)

“Do. You. Love. Me?”

So a few minutes later I was dressed and upstairs, Bible, highlighter and pen, and iPhone in hand. (Quiet time needs a soundtrack, right?!) When I got to the top of the stairs I started to turn right into our “big room” to sit on the couch, but God directed me to the left, our guest bedroom. We have a desk in that room with a hard wooden chair. 8 years I’ve lived in this house and I’ve only thought of that desk and chair as an accessory for guests ... today God transformed it into my prayer closet.

I sat down and hit Spotify on the phone, pulling up a worship list and started in on Isaiah 53. Then I realized the worship music was distracting me! Was it the lyrics? The pounding beats? The airy voicing? I was a worship leader and/or pastor for the better part of 17 years, I LOVE worship music. But today it seemed to add to the cacophony of distractions. I changed the list to an instrumental/piano only list of hymns. That’s better.

At first I was struck by a phrase I hadn’t really thought much about, “like a root in dry ground.” What does it require for something to take root in dry ground? Water ... nourishment ... attention ... the right kind of tree or plant. Then back to the front of the passage, “My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence ...”

“Yes Lord, it has been a long time ..."

"Do you love me?"

“Nothing beautiful or majestic about him ... nothing attractive ... he was despised and rejected ... sorrows ... deepest grief ... despised ... rejected ... we turned our back on him ... have strayed away ..."

"If you love me, stop it."

I kept reading wherever He decided to take me in the book of Isaiah. 52. 43. 40-42. 54. 55

So many wonderful, powerful verses. Seriously, if you just start in Isaiah 40 and read the above chapters you’ll hear a dozen or so verses that you know. Eventually a theme emerged to me. It looked like this:

  • There is no one like Me.
  • You’ve disobeyed Me.
  • I’m setting you free.
  • It’s time.

I don’t want to get too “high and mighty” here, but sometimes pastors struggle differently from non-pastors when it comes to sin. At least I do. It goes something like this:

God, I know I’m a sinner, but I’m very busy helping other sinners with their sins, so will you just go ahead and hear my generic, very practically based, almost a real confession? And while you’re at it, since I’m investing all my energy in helping build your church, confession will have to cover repentance too ... I’ll get to that when I have time, you know, later.

If you’re reading this as a member Live Oak you’re probably considering a church transfer right now ...

This isn’t just a pastor’s struggle, it’s likely everyone’s struggle, they just substitute a different excuse for not wanting to address the sin in their life. But this morning, there was no escaping it.

”Michael, if you love me, stop it."

“Yes, Father.”

The old hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” just came on Spotify. Perfect ... as if I didn’t feel convicted enough. Then I remember the theme in the scriptures I listed, and what is really important about it. What’s most important about it:

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless ... those who trust in the Lord will find new strength ... Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and hep you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand ... I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through deep waters I will be with you ... For I am the Lord your God, your Savior ... I - yes, I alone - will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again ... Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean ... for the Lord will go ahead of you; yes the God of Israel will protect you from behind ... He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed ... Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways ... let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them ... for he will forgive generously.”

There is a lot of great stuff in there for me to process today, but here’s what I’m taking to heart. My Father woke me up this morning with a question, “Do you love me,” and a challenge, “Stop it,” but that’s not what he wanted to say to me. I believe the question and the challenge where to humble me enough to remind me one truth I definitely needed this morning:

Michael. You. Are. Mine

This morning be encouraged. No matter how deep the waters of your struggles go, no matter how crushing the weight of your sin feels, no matter who hopeless your situation seems,

You, my friend, are not alone.

So there it is. Just a not so gentle reminder to love God with your best and to always remember that you are not alone.

“Father ... can I go back to bed now?”

Comment

Comment

4 Things to Know Before You Vote

With the election less than one week away I'm sure the last thing you want to read about is more election stuff! I understand. You're probably questioning why you should even take the time to read this blog post. I hope you will; I believe there is something in this post for everyone.

First, let me set the record straight on something. Throughout this election year I have stated often that you do not have to vote. I've written that in Facebook and Twitter posts and I've said it from the stage at Live Oak Christian Church. My motivation behind this thought is simple: voting is not a moral imperative. In other words, it is not a sin to abstain from voting. In fact, not only is it not a sin, it's your right as an American to not vote. I stand by this thought from a scriptural perspective and have repeated it out of frustration over those who have said otherwise. To suggest that as Americans we should vote is absolutely correct; to state that as Christians we are morally required to vote is, in my opinion, extra-biblical. All that being said, I DO BELIEVE IT IS YOUR CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY to vote. Just because you can choose not to do something doesn't mean you should choose not to do it.

With that out of the way, here are a few general thoughts/suggestions I'd like to put forth:

KNOW YOUR VOICE

You're vote is your voice, use it. In fact, as I've said before, if you keep your voice quiet on Election Day, you should keep your mouth shut for the next 4 years. Candidates are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convince you to add your voice to their campaign. You and I have a voice that the United States Constitution guarantees, and throughout our history the right to vote has been fought for, clarified, and expanded through the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments. Candidates, political action committees, and super PACS are falling all over themselves for your voice, vying for YOUR VOTE - make it count.

KNOW YOUR VALUE

And this is where I'm likely to lose some of you. I have made it known that it is my intention to vote for a third party candidate. The response to that decision has been a mixture of disappointment, frustration, and flat out disbelief. I've been told that I'm naive, ignorant, and wasteful. I COULD NOT DISAGREE MORE.

Let me be clear about this: THIS IS MY VOTE. It is not YOUR vote. You can vote for whomever you'd like - that's the beauty of our democracy. And the power of the whole deal is this: my vote counts exactly the same as yours. I get one vote, and so do you, and we BOTH get to let our voices be heard by casting our votes. It is this principle that men and women have died for throughout history, and it is what makes America what it is, the greatest nation on planet Earth.

KNOW YOUR STUFF

One argument during this election that runs through me is the assertion that because I am not voting for one of the candidates from our two party political system I am simply casting a vote for the opposition. "A vote for a third party candidate is a vote for Hillary," or, "A vote for a third party candidate is a vote for Trump." The irony is both sides are saying the same thing! Actually my vote for a third party candidate is a vote for SOMEONE ELSE!

I know that third party candidates generally haven't had an impact on a general election since Ross Perot in 1992 (Reform Party) or Teddy Roosevelt (Progressive Party) in 1912, but that isn't the point. The point is that an alternative candidate can run and I can vote for them. While third parties have not had impacts on election outcomes, they have made an impact on the policies of the two existing parties. They have often served to refocus the two major political parties stance or view on issues that have been ignored or shifted in the parties' platforms.

I get it, there is a lot riding on this election, there is ALWAYS a lot riding on the election. I don't need the lecture about the Supreme Court Justices. I know what's going on. I understand the historical context and impending impact on the immediate future with regard to social issues and even constitutional interpretation. I don't need an update on the policies and platforms of the Democratic or Republican parties. Democrats are going to pull to the "left;" Republicans are going to pull to the "right." Progressive taxation versus flat taxes. Higher minimum wages vs. free market wage determination. Communal/social responsibilities versus individual rights and justice. Pro gay marriage versus anti gay marriage. Pro Roe V. Wade versus anti Roe V. Wade. Moratorium on immigration/deportation versus anti-amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Harry Reid versus Mitch McConnell. Blue versus red. Donkey versus Elephant!

Here's my point on this: next week when you vote, you may be naive, you may be an idealist, you may be a hardline party guy/girl ... but don't be ignorant. Know your stuff.

KNOW YOUR MOTIVATION

One last thought. Know WHAT you're voting for. I've heard arguments over the last several weeks about voting for morals versus voting for policies. I've read articles and subsequent comments deriding people who are going to "vote their conscience." It isn't enough to go to the polls and vote because you should, nor do I believe it is right to vote for what everyone else tells you to vote for. For me this means voting for more than a person or a policy, it's feeling comfortable with both. It's being able to lay my head on my pillow the night of November 8 at peace with how I used my voice ... with why I voted.

I'm voting because I can.
I'm voting because I should.
I'm voting because my candidate embodies my beliefs and I believe in them.
I'm voting because in the grand scheme of things I believe it matters.

In the middle of all the attention-grabbing headlines, accusatory breaking news, and campaign mud slinging, when you don't know what to think and aren't sure what to trust, know all you can and trust what you know ... and on November 8 pray before you "pull the lever."

Comment

Comment

Lessons on Prejudice from the 4th Grade

I remember watching the Rodney King Riots in 1992 on TV. I was stunned at what I saw - looting, fires, violence, anger, hate. I couldn't watch as the news reran the scene of Reginald Denny being pulled out of his truck and mercilessly beaten by four men. The moment most seared into my mind is the picture of one of the men kicking his leg up and pointing at Denny in celebration after he had crumpled to the ground. I had seen the video of the Rodney King beating and it was frightening; now I was seeing the aftermath of the verdict and it was horrifying.

To set the scene for me 24 years ago, I was a sophomore in college, attending a predominately white Bible College in the midwest (Cincinnati, Ohio). I had grown up in a mostly white area on the south side of Indianapolis, Indiana, having graduated from a racially “mixed” high school.

Let’s take it back a bit further. I remember in fourth grade - 1981 - when African-American kids from the inner city were bused to the suburban school where I was attending. I remember the feeling of curiosity more than anything else. What made “them” so different? Why did “they" talk differently? Why did “they" dress differently? I remember the first issue of lice that ran through the school after the integration and the big deal it seemed to be … like white people never had lice issues!

In 4th grade, after meeting several black kids and becoming friends with them on the playground - the great days of kickball - I remembered thinking, “What’s the big deal?"

Fast forward to 1991. People forget that the Rodney King riots in ’92 weren’t because of the footage of King being beat viciously on March 3, 1991, they were a response to the 4 officers in the beating being acquitted of all charges of wrongdoing.

Rodney King had been a troubled guy with drug and alcohol issues and more than a few prior arrests on his record. He led the Los Angeles police on a high speed chase because he knew he was intoxicated, which if caught, would result in a violation of his parole. Once out of his vehicle, the police moved in to restrain King, to which he forcefully resisted. It was an awful scene, as captured by a bystander on video tape. King was tasered twice, beat some 33 times with batons, kicked a number of times, and eventually subdued by eight officers.

I’m not here to argue about what happened or what should have happened, nor am I going to argue any political point at all, for that matter. Let me make this clear:

  • I’m not a police officer who puts his life on the line for others every day. I have friends who are, and I deeply respect and appreciate them.

  • I’m also not a black man. I have friends of all colors and races, and I deeply respect and appreciate all of them!

So here we are … 2016 … 25 years after the Rodney King beating and 24 years after the Rodney King Riots, and 35 years after black and white integration at Burkhart and I’m asking:

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

Over the last few years, we’ve all heard the names and the stories ...

  • Eric Garner, New York, July 17, 2014

  • Michael Brown, Ferguson, August 9, 2014

  • Laquan McDonald, Chicago, Oct. 14, 2014

  • Walter Scott, Charleston, April 4, 2015

  • Freddie Gray, Baltimore, April 19, 2015

  • Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge, July 5, 2016

  • Philander Castile, Minnesota, July 6, 2016

  • And of course, the Dallas Sniper attack by Micah Johnson, on July 7, 2016.

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of the violence we have seen paraded across our cell phones, tablets, and TVs, it’s just a short offering of some of the most high-profile cases that most people will recognize.

It seems that we haven’t learned too much as a nation, but the events of this week have forced me to ask a more personal question:

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?

I took an online test a few months back that was interesting, to be sure - you can find it HERE. The result of the test defined me as PREJUDICE.

Strange, I’ve never thought of myself as prejudice, but then I looked up the definitions of the words “prejudice” and “racist” and started thinking about my views of others, my experiences with different races, my interactions on a daily basis, and ultimately, my heart.

PREJUDICE:
preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual
experience.

RACISTS:
a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

Here’s where I’m at: I am prejudice … and so are you.

The definition of “prejudice” is “a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience."

Let’s think about that for a minute. When I was in 4th grade, I had never had a personal experience with someone who wasn’t white, at least not any interaction on an ongoing, individual level. I wasn’t taught any prejudice or racist tendencies. I wasn’t told that “black people were bad” or “white lives were better.” The truth is, I didn’t really know anything about it. I’m sure that I had drawn some conclusions on my own … in the vast depth of my 9 year old mind! I had heard of slavery in history class. I caught the 5 o’clock news every once in a while. I watched football and basketball on TV. I knew who Muhammed Ali, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Magic Johnson were.

At 9 years old I hadn’t had vey many interactions with African-Americans,  but I’m sure I had some opinions about them, some "preconceived … not based on reason or actual experience” thoughts. And I’m sure they had some opinions about me.

At 20 years old, watching the Rodney King Riots, after years of “reason and actual experience,” I’m sure I had some opinions back then too. Opinions about the officers who beat Rodney King. Opinions about Rodney King’s past and his actions. Opinions about the riots and the rioters.

And today, at 43 years old, after the last few weeks of confrontations, hostilities, displays, and media coverage … yep, I still have a lot of opinions!

The truth is, we ALL have prejudice in our hearts and our lives. We ALL view the world through what we KNOW (from reason and experiences) and what we THINK we know (from assumptions and deductions). Every one of us. White people are prejudice. Black people are prejudice. Women are prejudice. So are men. Hispanics. Disabled. Straight. Transgendered. Gay. Those with money. Those without money. EVERYONE is wired to be prejudice. Our minds and our hearts will always jump to conclusions.

Right now, if I tell you I'm going to vote for Donald Trump, you have a prejudice either for or against me without knowing me at all. Right now, if I tell you I'm going to vote for Hillary Clinton ... same thing.

Let’s all be honest, hidden deep within every one of us are prejudices.

In my life, the question isn’t “Do I have prejudices,” it’s “How do I stop them from affecting me?" How do I keep “preconceived opinions … lacking actual experience” (prejudices) from becoming “a belief that I’m superior to others” (the foundation for racism)?

How do I guard my heart, so that I don’t allow the ignorance of my preconceived opinions to take root in becoming something far worse, and making me and those around me worse for it?

Our nation is on edge, and every political pontiff is pushing their cause to fix it, but is seems to me like much of what I’m hearing is how to change the rules of our culture without trying to speak into changing the culture itself.

So here's what I"m going to do in my corner of the universe to fight the prejudice nature in me:

1. SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO AREN’T LIKE ME
I don’t mean spending time with them to try to “fix” them or to make them more like me. I’m not in this to change their beliefs. I mean get to know them. Period.

2. GET TO KNOW OTHER PEOPLE’S STORY
We all have stories, every one of us: where we’re from, what we like, why we think the way we think, what makes us angry, what makes us laugh, who had the greatest influence on us. The list goes on and on.

3. INVITE PEOPLE INTO MY STORY
Yeah, this one’s a bit tougher because it involves vulnerability, and we’re not too comfortable with that. But the more I get to know others in order to see their story, the more I want people to get to know my story.

I guarantee that if we just spent time on these first three, our culture would change … but let’s not stop there.

4. SERVE "THEM"
Whoever the “them” is in my life, I need to serve them. I need to take the time to know them, hear their story, and do what I can to help them out. THEN I will have a better understanding of what makes “them,” them … I will likely find myself becoming more like “them” too.

5. INCLUDE "THEM"
That’s right, actually invite them into what you’re life looks like. Invite them for dinner. Include them at your next barbecue. Ask them to come to church. This isn’t just about helping “them” out to make me feel better, it’s about being a better person because “they” are in my life too.

6. PRAY FOR "THEM"
Listen, I’m a man of faith, so it goes without saying that if I’m not praying for them, I’m likely not caring about them.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. It almost sounds elementary. And that’s the thing about the question “What have we learned?” Maybe instead of looking at new laws or new policies to figure out what we need to do as a society, we should just look at our kids to see how they are getting along. Maybe we should spend some time with the 9 year olds of our society to learn a lesson or two on how to get along better.

It seems to me that, in a lot of ways, before I “grew up," I had it more figured out in 4th grade ...

Comment

Comment

The Gideon Complex

I've always appreciated the story of Gideon found in the Bible. For those of you who don't know the story, you can find it in Judges 6 - 8. Here's the breakdown of the story:

God's people, the Israelites, aren't the best followers! They have this nasty pattern of following God, disobeying God and ignoring God. Eventually, to end each instance of this pattern God sends a reminder of their defiance through some kind of oppression or defeat, and then raises up a redeemer of sorts to save them. In this cycle, this redeemer leads the people back into the "following God" phase.

Gideon is one of these "redeemers," who God chooses to save his people. It's really important to note that Gideon is a runt! He's the smallest kid from the weakest family from the lowest tribe of the followers of God. In other words, NO ONE would expect a redeemer like Gideon. And right out of the gate, Gideon knows it! He goes so far as to questions whether God has the right guy! (As if God can't make a redeemer out of anyone he chooses!)

So this is the part of the story that you may not know you're familiar with. To test God ... just to make sure Gideon isn't screwing this whole deal up ... he tells God that he has put a wool fleece outside his tent, and if God really has picked him to save his people, God will soak the fleece and keep the rest of the ground dry.

Of course, God does just that - soaking wet fleece, perfectly dry ground.

Then, just to be double sure, Gideon asks for ANOTHER sign! This time, he puts the fleece out and asks God to soak the ground and keep the fleece dry.

Of course, God does just that - soaking wet ground, perfectly dry fleece.

The rest is history! Gideon obeys God, events the point of whittling his army down to almost nothing (another great story in Judges 7), then taking only a handful of men to conquer tens of thousands of Midianites!

This is usually where we stop the story, and if we did end it here, there is so much to identify with:

  • The "little guy" becoming the hero
  • Testing God for our certainty
  • Testing God again for more certainty
  • Obeying God even when we don't understand it
  • Celebrating victory because of God's hand, not our own

So. Much. Good. Stuff.

But I believe one of the greatest leadership lessons ... cautions ... comes in the aftermath of the story.

After Gideon's heroic leadership, the people rally around him in Judges 8 and say, "Be our ruler! You and your son and your grandson will be our rulers!" It would be a perfect ending, right: from zero to hero, from runt to ruler. But Gideon knew better ... sort of. His reply?

"I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!"

If he'd have left it there, we're good. End of story. Gideon points everyone to God and that's the end ... but he didn't stop there:

"I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!
HOWEVER, I do have one request ..."

And so the "Gideon Complex" begins to show itself.

Now, before I get into this "complex," let me confess that the reason I identify with Gideon so well is because I see a lot of him in me. In other words, I identify the struggle in Gideon's story because I see it in my own story.

After Gideon turns down the people's offer to be their ruler he requests that they bring some of the gold to him from their victories. This, in and of itself, is not an unusual request; to the victor goes the spoils, right? It was common place for the victorious leader to share in some of the bounty. What Gideon does with the gold is a different story.

Gideon fashions an ephod of out of the gold. Now, the ephod was, in general terms, the most important and symbolic piece of the high priestly gear; it was often treated with great reverence and respect. So, while Gideon doesn't want to be the ruler of the people, he clearly wants something to do with the respect and reverence of a leader.

Gideon has the ephod of solid gold created and placed in his home town, where the scriptures tell us that the people soon began to worship the ephod and that it became "a trap for Gideon and his family."

This "complex" gets even stranger when we are told that Gideon had at least 71 sons - 70 from his wives and one from a concubine. The one, a guy named Abimelech, would go on to be a pretty nasty piece of work, but what is striking is what the name "Abimelech" means: son of a king.

For a guy who didn't want to be the ruler and who pointed people to the only true King, Jehovah, isn't it strange that Gideon would create a golden ephod, a symbol of reverence and power, and give one of his sons a name that means "son of the king?"

Before we're too hard on Gideon, let's remember a few things:

  • Gideon was the weakest child from the weakest family in the weakest tribe of Israel.
  • Gideon had self-doubt even when God clearly showed him his support.
  • Gideon's victory was clearly because of God's hand, not his own.
  • Gideon is considered a great man of faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32).

So here's the point of Gideon Complex:

Most leaders struggle to balance honor and humility.

Let's face it, most people struggle with this too.

I think there are a few reasons that the Gideon Complex exists.

1. ALL OF US STRUGGLE WITH INSECURITIES.

That's certainly no new revelation, but sometimes we forget it. EVERY ONE OF US has deep seeded doubts, fears, frustrations, shortcomings, and insecurities. ALL OF US. Even the most confident of leaders deals with the "dark side of leadership." It's a strange and alienating thing to lead people who look to you for answers, direction, and even purpose when you yourself wrestle with questions, direction, and often, purpose.

The insecurities are often covered up by talent, charisma, and results. Leaders lead, and often their insecurities and shortcomings are either ignored or unrecognized because they are "getting it done." But the truth is, while people on the outside often miss these insecurities, on the inside, the leader is fixated upon them, often defining them more than they want to let on.

Gideon had to have struggled with his deepest, darkest, doubts and fears. From the "lowest" to the "highest." From the "runt" to the "ruler." I wonder if his own self-doubts were obvious to his followers? Did he tell others about the fleece tests?

Part of dealing with the Gideon Complex is recognizing your insecurities.  For Gideon it was: "you're too small ... you're a nobody ... you're not good enough ... whey would God choose you?" Even after he was victories, I wonder if it was his insecurities that both kept him from leading as the king AND caused him to still crave the affirmation and praise of the people through a golden ephod. Your insecurities are there, deal with them. The Enemy uses this part of your make-up to feed you a steady stream of lies, lies that will debilitate you and keep you from what God is calling you to. I'm not suggesting that you'll overcome them completely, but the more you ignore them, the more powerful they become. 

2. ALL OF US STRUGGLE WITH HUMILITY.

Yes, all of us. I appreciate that some of you out there will say, "Well I know so-and-so and they are the most humble person I know." I would suggest that if you asked that person if they struggled with humility they would say, "YES!" Humility is a difficult and tricky character trait to pursue. Here's why:

You act humbly, in earnest, and are considered by most to be a humble person ... and they tell you that. Humility, by nature, attracts attention, which threatens humility! Do you see what I mean With this attention, pride begins to sneak in. It's ironic how the recognition of humility often leads to the loss of it.

It is here that many leaders (people) begin a dangerous game of back-and-forth between pride and insecurity. It's as if a pendulum is set in motion, swinging back and forth between what we struggle with in the dark - our insecurities, and what people praise us for in the light - our humility.

For instance, someone points out how well you do something, or how successful you are, or how impressed by your humility or your actions they are. While you accept their praise on the surface, deep down, in an attempt to "stay humble," you are countering their praise with your insecurities. "If they only knew" becomes a staple thought in your mind and your darkest insecurities take up residence in your heart. But then you remember that God HAS done much through you; you ARE good and you ARE doing good things, and God HAS chosen you. So in order to eradicate the insecurities in your heart, you begin to buy into the admiration and adulation of the people around you.

Back and forth ... back and forth. A sort of spiritual nausea begins to set in as you feel you identity slip away.

"I don't want to be the ruler ... however, I do have one request ...

It's this part of Gideon's story that I relate to the most: the constant pull and tug of "you're never good enough" and "you're not as good as you think you are."

So how do we solve the Gideon Complex? Here's what I try to do:

REMAIN OBEDIENT
D.L. Moody said, "There will be no peace in any soul until it is willing to obey the voice of God." Jesus said it this way, "All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them" (John 14:23).

Gideon, though he obviously struggled with this back-and-forth, was obedient to what God called him to. Yes, he put the fleece out ... twice ... but he obeyed. I think one of the most significant keys to working through and overcoming the Gideon Complex is obedience. And how do build up the trust and faith to remain obedient ...

REMAIN IN HIM
"Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For part from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). The times that I struggle the most with pride and insecurity is when I focus more on me and less on Jesus. I start looking at where I've fallen short or where I've succeeded. I begin to claim victories from my own strength and, at the same time, I willingly stumble into my own sins and failures. 

You can see this at the end of Gideon's life - while he was alive, and an influence on Israel, they worshiped God. Remember, he DID turn down the kingship saying, "The Lord will rule over you." As soon as Gideon was out o the picture, we are told that "as soon as Gideon died the Israelites ... returned to worship images of Baal." In other words, Gideon, as flawed as he was, remained in the Lord. I believe this is why he is mentioned in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11.

REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE
You are NOT your mistakes; you are NOT your victories: You are BOTH! THAT is who God wants you to be - his imperfect, powerful, mess of a child.

That statement may surprise you, but in the end, God doesn't want you to be trapped in your insecurities, rooting your identity in your failures, but by the same token, he doesn't expect you to be exacting and perfect, rooting your identity in your successes.

God wants you to be rooted in the newness of Christ, even in your imperfections. He wants you to be dependent upon his mercy and powerful in his Spirit, but not perfect in your actions. In other words, he wants you to be his masterpiece - insecurities, victories, messiness, and all. (For more about that, take a slow read through Ephesians 2:1-10.)

It is in this truth that I identify with Gideon. He was a man with faults and a leader with victories. He was a person of great faith who wrestled with insecurities. He was flawed and messy and powerful and humble and prideful and faithful ... all rolled into one. And history remembers him as a hero, I think, not just because of the "good parts" of him, but because of all of him.

And while I will continue to wrestle with the Gideon Complex, likely for all of my life, I will also strive to be named in a list like Gideon was: a man of faith, in spite of his faults.

 

Comment