“Strong Hand” Leadership

Picture1Let’s play a game. Think about the “Bosses” you have had in your career. As their faces flow through your mind, you probably have a different feeling about each of them. Now I want you to take the bosses that you had good feelings about and ask yourself what was it about them that gives you a good feeling?

I would imagine your answers would include things like: Good Listener, Understanding, Helper, Leader, Fair, Honest, Coach, Teacher, Visionary, etc. Those are all good things to have in your boss. I’ve had a few that brought about those same feelings.

The funny thing is, when we think about the bosses we didn’t like, or the bosses that gave us bad feelings, we usually can come up with a much longer list! It doesn’t take very many things for us to think highly of a boss, but if the good character traits are not present, we can quickly make a long list of the things that lead us the other way.

I have been reading the book of Exodus in my Bible lately, and recently came across this verse:

But the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”  -Genesis 6:1

This started me thinking about Leadership. You can call it management, being “The Boss”, a Director, or whatever title you want to, but at the end of the day, we are talking about the person set up as the leader in an organization or group.

What we are going to discuss are some of the things that need to be avoided if you are in a position of leadership. You will impact people just by having a leadership position. The question is, do you want to impact them for good or for bad?

Let’s take a few minutes to go over some of what I see in the Bible regarding the leadership of the Pharaoh and his “strong hand.” How does a “strong hand” mentality come to be? What are some of the attributes of a “strong hand” management style? What is the outcome of a “strong hand” approach in an organization?

Time can make a tender hand strong – The Pharaohs built on each other’s reigns and kingdoms.  They were always expanding the nation. The personalities of each Pharaoh may be different, but they were devoted to their nation, and wanted to see it grow. That’s a good thing, right?

The Pharaohs had ruled over Egypt for a long time, and when a ruler controls something for a long time, they begin to feel entitled to certain things. When those things don’t happen fast enough or the way they want them to be done, they can begin to get harsh in their actions. Before too long a “god-complex” begins to form, and the “strong hand” begins to hold people down, punish, or even banish.

A leader that has maintained a position for a long time needs to be constantly checking himself for this tendency. He needs to have someone look into his way of leading. The leader must allow them to bring out things that might be getting too strong handed

The strong hand comes out when a threat is perceived, even if it is not  threat at all – Let’s look at the differences between the Pharaoh of Joseph’s time and Moses’ time:

  • Joseph’s Pharaoh made him the #2 guy in all the land. Everyone who came to Egypt for anything that they needed had to go see Joseph. Pharaoh could have felt threatened by Joseph, but he saw that Joseph did not have dreams of overthrowing the Pharaoh and ruling the kingdom. All Joseph was doing was caring for the people around him. A by-product of that caring was the salvation of the nation of Egypt! The Pharaoh was the leader of Egypt, but he allowed Joseph to do as he wished to protect and build Egypt up.  They shared a goal!
  • Moses’ Pharaoh was threatened by the sheer number of Israelites. The Israelites possessed no power and were not in a position to overthrow the Pharaoh. However, they were the people of God, that was deemed to be threat enough. He then used his power to keep them down and in despair. Through brutal labor, he kept their spirits low so they would not rise up against him.  Crush the spirit of those you are threatened by even when they are not really a threat. I wonder if the people would have been happy to stay and continue to build the kingdom if they had been treated well?  It didn’t matter because this Pharaoh’s goal ultimately was to build up himself.

When you forget the past, the strong hand comes out – When Joseph was in Egypt, the Pharaoh may have been a hard man, but he recognized a good thing when he saw it. He elevated Joseph into a position of leadership and through that promotion, God blessed not only Joseph and Israel, but also Egypt! The Pharaoh saw his wealth increase as a result of having God’s people at work in his kingdom. Joseph brought in wealth through the food that he had set aside. Joseph’s brothers cared for and built the herds of Pharaoh as well.

Later a Pharaoh took the throne who did not know Joseph. He didn’t care about the past, how Egypt and Israel worked together for mutual benefit. He did not recognize the blessing of having the Israelites in his nation, and saw them instead as a tool he could use, and then something that threatened his reign. He began to treat them harshly and they began to cry out to God.

The people that work for you have done good things for you. They have achieved things for you that you could not have done alone.  Don’t let your vision be clouded by the little things or the one-time disagreements. Focus on what you have achieved together!

The strong hand approach always leads to loss – Pharaoh lost. He lost his son, wealth, a workforce, & his army. When God said He was going to deal with Pharaoh, it was because of his strong hand. It had gone on long enough, and it had hurt the innocent.

Pharaoh’s strong hand caused the people of Israel to call out to God for help. They had been under the lash long enough and they were begging for rescue. His strong-handed approach made him see only what could be done for him, and when he thought of letting them go he only saw the loss of the work they could do for him.

When he lost his son, He was willing to let them go, but even in that he decided that he would chase and kill. His strong hand looked for a way to hurt the Israelites, and that led to even more loss. When a leader uses the strong hand approach, loss will always come, and in the end, that leader will often feel it the worst.

Leadership is hard and not for the faint of heart.  It requires hard choices, decisive thinking, and at times, it requires painful circumstances.  What leadership does not do is sacrifice people for the goal.  When an organization’s leader has a goal that it wants to attain at all costs, it is time to be concerned about that leader’s true goals.  If the leader  sets goals that matter more than the people there is a problem.

I look at the model of Christ in His dealings with His disciples.  He led them and he sent them to do things in multiple locations where He could not go all at the same time.  He told them they would do greater things than He.  He gave them the Holy Spirit to dwell in them. He had a goal of reaching the lost, and He used the individual abilities and gifts of the disciples to do it.  He never forgot why He was there as he taught, led, and modeled.  He was there to serve.  His was a gentle hand of leadership, and his humility resulted in His being lifted up.

A leader who wants to live a Relentless life takes the time to look at those in leadership around him.  He takes the good that he sees from the good leaders, and sees the warning signs in the others.  He looks at Christ and weighs it all against Him and His message of redemption and restoration.

So, how about it?  Do you want to have a strong hand or a gentle hand?

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Core Value #5 – Discipline

DisciplineDiscipline is something I value. There are things in my life I am disciplined in, but as I have thought about this more I have come to the realization that this value is not always displayed in my actions. In other words, I need more discipline in my life.

What is discipline? My laptop gives me the following definitions: Punishment, Self-Control, Regulation, Subject, Punish, Instruction, Correction, Chastisement, Castigation, & Persuasion

I think we are all pretty familiar with the concept of discipline as a punishment. That doesn’t require a whole lot of discussion. Sometimes that discipline is delivered well, and sometimes, not so much. I told my kids I loved them too much to not discipline them, and in the moment they probably thought I was lying, but now that they are older they are starting to see what my wife and I were up to all along!

I’m going to speak more to some of the other aspects of discipline: Self-Control/ Regulation and Instruction/Persuasion. Discipline need not always have a negative feeling attached to it. We need to welcome discipline as a building block in our character.

Instruction/Persuasion

When we subject ourselves to a discipline, we are opening our eyes to understanding it better. Not a surface level understanding, but a deep understanding. We are looking at this discipline to see how it works, what it needs to grow, how it can be harnessed or channeled in a particular direction.

For example, I might not understand it because I don’t really feel like putting an effort into learning it, but my daughter does something called Natural Horsemanship with her horses. I have picked up enough to make doing the few things that I need to do with the horses easier, but other than that, she is the expert in the house.

When she goes out and works with the horses – for hours at a time some days – she is not only teaching them things, but also she is learning how they respond to different touches, gestures, or sounds. She is then able to take what she has learned and use it to make them do what she wants them to do as if it was their own idea!   That allows her to ride better, to get them to do a trick, or any other number of things. Someday I might have more time to learn more because it really is an amazing discipline, and I have been able to see how it can be tied into working with people as well.

Self-Control/Regulation

This is the one that gets hard. There are a lot of topics I can pick on here, and a lot of people too! For the sake of the blog, I will only pick on the one person I know that is already mad at me and has learned to live with that – myself. After all, we are talking about self-control!

I have had some things come up where I have had to come face to face with my lack of it. How can I write about how to tell people how to be disciplined when I am not? I am approaching this as a sanctification process. That’s not letting me off the hook, but it does allow for the reality of my sin nature to explain my failures while not letting it be an excuse for them. I am not perfect, but I am committed to improvement.

So, I cannot speak about a need for discipline in my life without talking about two things – time and diet.

Time – I get 24 hours in a day. When I look at any given weekday, by the time I take work and sleep out of the mix I have about 7 hours left over to play with. There are probably about another three hours that are used for things that I can’t really work with. So I have about 4 hours a day to do something intentional with. In that four hours I need to be a godly husband and dad, be involved with extended family and friends, find a little time to relax, and do some work around the house or in some form of education.

That’s not a lot of time to be deep and intentional in any of those areas. It’s pretty obvious why I feel like sometimes things are out of control or I am falling behind or out of touch.   I need to be more proactive here.

I am starting to think harder about what I watch on television. I have some shows I watch because I enjoy them, but I am finding lately that I watch most of my TV basically because I don’t feel like I have time to DO anything productive, so why try? It might be time to look at that list of shows and do some culling. Limit my time in front of that screen and do something more productive with my time.

Diet – Here is where things get really painful. I’ve made declarations in the past of how I am going to get in shape, lose weight, blah blah blah. Somehow, at the end of the day, here I remain – too much of me remains. Changes need to be made.

Recently my son gave up drinking pop. He has been fizz-free for over a month now, and he is making the right choices. This past weekend I was at camp, and I decided that I am going to go pop free at least for the time I was there, but I decided I may follow him on this. It’s a little thing in the grand scheme of what I need to do, but it is something.

Food continues to be a struggle for me because I love it.   Camp is not a good place to start saying “no” to food, but I am working on that. I am committing to making some real changes in how I look at food now that I am home. I need this discipline because it is going to have a negative effect on my health, and my ability to do things that God has put in my life if I don’t get some control.

Relentless Living requires discipline. I have listed my values as God, Family, Friends, Balance and Discipline. Discipline must be in place to make the others be as impactful as possible. Balance and Discipline go hand in hand, but Discipline is what makes balance possible.

I know I have some people out there who will hold me accountable on this. Some who have held me accountable in the past may have given up since they saw no real change. I hope they will come back and help me again. After all, it’s a process! I’ll give an update on my progress in these two areas in a couple weeks.

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Core Value #4 – Balance

UntitledI might be alienating a few people when I mention a piece of playground equipment that was common when I was a kid.  The teeter-totter.  I may be in the minority, but that was one of my favorite things to play on.  Unfortunately it has been rendered nearly extinct, along with the merry-go-round and the 15 foot tall stainless steel slide. (Okay, honestly that last one needed to go!)  I loved the teeter-totter, but I usually saw it used as an instrument of pain:

“Hey, Joe!  Wanna Teeter with me?”

“Sure!”

And then the game would begin.  A showdown of wills and courage to determine who would be the first to bail while the other was high in the air so he could be sent crashing to the ground, bruising a tailbone or who knows what else.  Good, clean, childish fun.

thumb.phpWhat I liked about it though was the science of the teeter-totter.  Size of participants didn’t matter as long as they were properly placed. Even the number of participants could achieve the balance needed for a good Teeter!  What mattered most was looking for the right people in the right place at the right time.  If you did it well, you could ride for hours. (Not that we did, we weren’t that boring…  However, we did try the maximum number of people on a teeter-totter once.  It broke right in the middle.)

Another thing I enjoy doing is building rock cairns.  If you ever get a chance to ride a bike around Mackinac Island you will see hundreds of them that have been built by people who are weird like me!  There is something satisfying about taking the different rocks and examining them to find the right rock to support, counter-balance, or balance the rest of the stack.  With trial and error, you can build some inventive stacks, and some of the best ones are supported by a small rock that holds the key to keeping it all in balance.

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I built this on Mackinac Island

Life is that way.  We all have a hundred different things that we have pulling us off balance, and it is easy to forget that these are the things God has given us to help us build our lives.  It’s not that we are working with lousy material, it’s just that we need to work with what we have to find the way it is supposed to fit.  We need to find the balance that will allow all of the craziness of life to amount to something beautiful that stands as a testament of a Relentless desire to not give up.

I have shared the story of my life and how so many things went crazy in my church history.  The balances were off between truth and grace, and that threw the people around off balance too.  In turn, a great deal of the teaching I received and the people I received it from ended up being very difficult to work with.  I spent a number of years trying to get rid of a lot of the things that I had learned thinking that they were all wrong and destructive.  That just wasn’t true.

You see, God allowed all of that in my life.  I got that healthy dose of legalism that helped me understand the importance of obedience.  Even though the Bible was not always followed, I had it deeply imprinted in my heart and mind that it was the source of truth,and I should never forget that.  My views of God the Father and the Spirit were skewed, but they had put me on the right course with Jesus.  I had stuff that was good to work with, and I had some crazy stuff that just didn’t seem to fit well. I fought for a long time to build a nice straight tower with these crooked pieces, then I tried to get rid of them all and get new pieces!

I finally realized that the pieces I have are good pieces for building.  There are some that are large and heavy, but can be balanced out by something small.  Truth is a heavy thing, and if you just sling it on the pile, it is going to fall over, just like putting the fat kid on the end of the teeter-totter meant someone was going to get hurt. (I was usually the fat kid, so I can say that.)  Grace is light, but it complements truth and softens its impact on the heart.  It holds truth in the right light where it can do a good thing rather than bludgeon.  It moves the fat kid farther up the teeter-totter where he can ride in balance with the little guy.

Lately I have been looking for a better way to prioritize my time.  Whether I am at work, home, church, or wherever, I seem to have a lot of stuff I am trying to balance, and I would like to chuck a whole bunch of it to start over and build what I want the way I want it to look.  The thing is, I only get to work with what I have.  I can work with that, or I can sit around and complain I don’t have the right pieces.  I think I’ve been doing  little too much of that lately.

I built this one on vacation on Lake Superior near the Porcupine Mountains.
I built this one on vacation on Lake Superior near the Porcupine Mountains.

Relentless living means you take what you have been given and you find the balance that works.  It might not look the way you wanted it to look, but if it is achieving the proper balance in your life, then that is probably the way God wanted it to be!  There could be several answers to the problem, but the balance is always the solution.  The outcome may look different, but if it results in a proper balance, then it was a success.

When I listed my values, I originally put Balance as # 5.  I have put a lot of thought into it since, and I now see it fits better at #4.  See, you can do it with anything!  When you have God in the right position, Family in the right position, and Friends in the right position, you end up needing Balance desperately.  If you don’t balance those three things properly, then it will all come crashing down.  It’s work!  I won’t lie to you, It is hard work!  The thing is, you will find that if you are living in balance, the work that goes in doesn’t feel as hard a lot of the time.  It’s just tweaking after awhile.

Don’t think that things won’t come along to throw you off balance.  They will.  That’s the next blog.  For now, just soak it in.  You don’t need to start with new stuff.  The life you have was not such a disaster that it cannot be built into something.  God gave you the pieces, and He has plans for you to build something great.  Set Him as your start point and build things on Him with the things that you have.  Keep looking for that balance in Him, and I can promise you that you will be amazed at what you can do with Him!

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Core Value #3 – Friends

FriendsAccording to Facebook, I have a couple hundred “friends.”  I don’t want to offend anyone by saying this, but in all honesty, most of us are what would more accurately be called “acquaintances.”  It’s not that I don’t like or appreciate everyone who reads my Facebook feed, it’s just that we are probably not truly as close as a real friend would be.  (I’ll let you all figure out where you are in that… If you reach out to me for a clear decision…well, be careful what you wish for!)

When I was a teenager I had a good number of people I would call friends, but after going to college, starting work, starting family, and buying a home, I found myself having a little less time for friends, and before long, that time turned out to be enough because I found myself pretty much having no friends!  Life just got hectic, and there was not time for hanging out and talking.  Most of what happened was a simple, “Hey!  How have you been?” when we would run into each other at the mall, the store, or that great annual Kalkaska attraction, the Trout Festival.

Before too long, I had developed a pretty thick skin regarding friends.  I had been burned by some, I probably had burned others myself, and the ability to let people in close to me had pretty much evaporated.  I decided that I only needed my wife and my kids, and I would be just fine.  I lived that way for about 10 years.  There were people I would enjoy hanging out with from time to time, but I kept them at arm’s length.  It felt safer that way.

Around 2010, I started attending a Men’s Group on how to be a better all around man for God.  In that group I met a guy that God had apparently been hanging on to for me, and we hit it off really well. It was almost like we had known each other for years, and conversation flowed freely and smoothly between us.  For the first time in my life, I believe I had found a true friend.

550627_10150946965344859_1322469398_nRay and I have spent a lot of time talking over the last few years.  We have laughed together and we have cried together.  We have challenged each other, and we have picked each other up.  We have shared weaknesses, sought accountability, and we have even had to lovingly encourage each other. (Read that as  “thump one another about the head and shoulders”)  It was a good friendship, and it has been a growing friendship.

A by-product of this friendship with Ray was a new awareness of the need that God had put into my heart to both have friends and to be a friend.  Before too long I started reaching out to some other guys to try and rebuild this ability to be a friend, and God blessed it.  God brought some other men into my life that became better than “acquaintances” to me, but I wasn’t sure if I would call them “friends” just yet.  I still felt a little untrusting, like I needed to hold my cards a little close to the chest and be careful.

Then back in early 2013, I met this guy named Joe Castaneda, and we started to get to know each other a little bit at a time.  We didn’t live in the same town, and only had real contact through Lake Ann Camp, but we developed an easy friendship that I enjoyed.  Joe worked at the camp at that time, and while I had not had the opportunity to hear him speak, I had heard a lot of good things.

So, last year I was at Lake Ann with a group of teens for Freezeout, and Joe was the speaker.  I was just sitting there, doing the crowd control thing, and not really thinking too much about “getting anything” from the message (sorry, Joe!), but I was paying attention.  About halfway through the message Joe hit on a point for the teens as he was talking about being a good friend.  He asked the question:

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I felt like I had been between the eyes with an ax handle. (I have been hit in the head with a shovel handle, so I can speak to the relative feeling this phrase describes, but that is another story…)  What was I doing for the men I called “Friend?”  Other than standing around the church talking to them it was pretty much nothing.  Joe then challenged us to do something to bless the friends in our lives spiritually.

Well, I sat there and thought about it, and decided that I would start something new.  I identified 5 men I would pray for on a daily basis, but I wanted to take it one step further.  These were men I wanted to get to know better, and to really pray for God to work in their lives and help them to grow.  So, I started praying, and Monday through Friday, I would send each of them a message, e-mail, or a phone call to let them know that I had been praying for them this week.

I’d like to say that I have not missed a day of praying or of contacting, but that wouldn’t be true.  I’m human, and I have not always done this as well as I should.  Some weeks I might be a bit short, like I am going through the motions.  But I haven’t stopped.  These guys are important to me.  God put them on my heart for a reason, and I am praying that He will bless them.

As I have prayed for them, I have seen our relationships grow.  We are busy, and schedules make it difficult to spend the time that we might want to spend talking about what is going on in our lives, but in praying for these guys I have been able to experience deeper, stronger friendships than I have ever had in my life.  They are not as important to me as God or my family, (nor should they be) but they are very important to me, and we are knit together through the time we spend together as well as through the God we all serve.

We are told in the Bible that we have a need for good friends:

Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12

They are there to lift us up when we fall, to watch our backs in troubled times.  They are there to challenge us to bigger and better things.  We need friends!

I knew I needed them, but it wasn’t until I grasped the truth of this verse that I actually found out why I didn’t have any:

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly -Proverbs 18:24a

It takes work on my part, and I had not been willing to do it.  I was too caught up in myself to make the effort to get involved with others.  It’s not that nobody wanted to be my friend, it was that I never wanted to really have one.  An honest look at my values 7 years ago would not have put “having friends” in the top 5.  Probably not even in the top 10.  I’m thankful that things have changed, and that through a closer relationship with God I have been shown just how important they are.

736877_10201194671819918_541274006_oRelentless Living requires us to put in the effort at making our relationships all that they can be.  Whether it is our relationship with God, with our family, or with our friends, if we want to get anything good out of them, we need to be willing to put aside ourselves and do what is necessary to grow in those relationships.  It’s a good thing!

I’m very thankful for the impact that Joe’s message has had on my life.  That message that Joe brought to the teens was exactly what God knew I needed.  I am so thankful of the impact that he has had on my kids through the camp ministry, and in my life as we have become good friends as well.  I’d appreciate prayers for him as well.  You can read more about what God is doing in his life and how he is responding to it by clicking here.

There is one Friend we need above all others, and that is Jesus Christ.  If you don’t know Him as your Savior, I can promise you that you will never know just how good these other relationships can be.  He makes them all the richer through the work that He did to save us from our sins.  If you want to know more, please message or e-mail me. I would love to share His story with you.

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The Family Name

3258-frontA good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.

– Proverbs 22:1

I remember a trip to the hardware store with my Grandpa when I was around 9 years old.  Something had broken at the house that needed an immediate repair, and while he was very good at putting something together out of nothing, this was a fix that actually needed new parts.

When we got to the register, Grandpa asked if the owner was there.  When Gene came out, Grandpa explained that he needed the stuff on the counter, but he didn’t have money to pay for it until his social security check came on Friday.  I remember that Gene didn’t even hesitate when he said, “Milo, if there was one person I would trust around here to come back in to pay a bill, it would be you.”  That really stuck in my head.  My Grandpa was that trusted by a local businessman!

Fast forward about 20 years.  I am living in my Grandpa’s house now, and something breaks.  I too have gotten pretty good at fixing things out of nothing, but this was beyond my abilities.  With about 15 minutes to close, I run into the same hardware store to grab what I needed.  I sat it on the counter and reached for my wallet – I had left it at home.  I needed these parts for us to have water in the house that night.

The owner happened to be standing there at the counter, and I remembered that trip to town with Grandpa when I was a kid.  I never realized how humbling that had been for Grandpa until the moment I had to ask if I could come back tomorrow with the money since I would not be able to go home and get back with my wallet before close.  It was hard!

Gene looked at me and said,”You’re Mike Tanner’s boy, right?”  I told him I was, and he smiled and said, “Not a problem.  Nothing to worry about.  You know, your Grandpa was one of the most honest men I have ever known.”

Wow.  Just plain wow!

This morning I read Genesis 47 and was struck by the verses below:

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

– Genesis 47:5-6

I got thinking, “What did Pharaoh know about Joseph’s family?  Did he know that the brothers had a plan to leave him for dead?  Did he know that they sold him into slavery?  Did he know they hated his guts when they were younger?  Maybe some of it.  I’m sure the topic had come up at some point when they were talking about how Joseph came to be in Egypt.

What amazes me is that he gives Joseph’s family the finest land and jobs taking care of his livestock.  I know that the Egyptians though tending stock was a horrible job (I have three horses and find that point hard to argue some days), but it was important – especially in a time of drought.  Why would he give them this much honor, responsibility, and favor in providing them such a great place to live?

Joseph’s reputation.

He knew Joseph, and that was all he really needed to know.  Imagine that.  Imagine being given so much just because of who you know.  That is what I received.  I benefited from the reputation that my Grandpa had, and that my Dad maintained.  The family name stood for honesty as far as that man was concerned.

A person living a Relentless Life is not just concerned with their earthly name, but their heavenly reputation as well.  We make mistakes, but we are called to walk worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Worthy of carrying the message of God’s merciful, gracious, unconditional love.  That can seem like a tall order, but we aren’t asked to be perfect.  We are asked to submit to the process.

By the way, the McLean’s Do-It Best Hardware in Kalkaska is alive and well, expanding its offerings to our community, and Gene’s kids are running it with the same values that he had in taking care of the people that walk through their doors every day. They are living out his legacy before his eyes, and it is good to see!

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Core Value #2 – Family

FamilyHappiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.

– George Burns

Some of the best jokes are born out of pain, and I am sure that many of us out there can relate to that joke at some time or another.  Family is a fantastic thing, and even when it feels a little rough or abrasive, it is still good for us.  I heard a guy say one time that there is no greater tool for developing your character in Christ than the family.  I believe that is true, and that is why I have placed Family as my 2nd core value.

Last week I said that I had chosen to put God as the first value in my life.  In doing so, I am giving Him the opportunity to work in not only my life, but the life of my family as I am (hopefully) leading them the way God wants me to.  If Ia m doing that, then I can have my family in the right spot because having them second only to God is exactly where I want to be in their lives too!  As we grow closer to God, we grow closer together.

Lately I have been reading through the book of Genesis.  It has been very interesting as I take my time and intentionally look at these stories and see how the family dynamics are played out.  I think sometimes in church we look at the big Bible stories, but we don’t take the time to see the smaller stories that are taking place.  Remember that we have a God who speaks in a still, small voice to our hearts, and if all we look only for the billboard messages of God, we are missing so very much more.

The stories of the Patriarchs and their families are inspiring on one hand, and on the other would be almost a normal week on a show like Jerry Springer.

  • Abraham – Fathered a son that he later sent away because his wife and that boy’s mother didn’t get along
  • Isaac – Fathered two boys, but his obvious affection for his eldest son resulted in his wife and youngest son conspiring to steal the family blessing.
  • Jacob – Fathered 12 boys through 4 women.  Loved only one of the women and her two sons had value above the other ten.
  • Reuben – Hatched a plan to deceive his father by “rescuing Joseph” and gaining his father’s affection
  • Judah – Sold his brother as a slave. Slept with and fathered children with his daughter-in-law after thinking she was a prostitute.

Yes. these people were God’s chosen people, and like us and many of our families, they were a mess sometimes.

The neat thing is that we can see God’s redemptive work in the story of Joseph.  I want to touch on a few verses regarding Judah and see his transformation:

Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. – Genesis 37:26-27

Judah wanted Joseph dead, but why just kill him when we can make a little money instead?  I’m a big brother, and I have had times that I did not get along with my younger brother, but I never wanted him dead, and I never wanted to sell him either! (See, Wade!  That’s love, bro!)  Judah was a very angry man!

Later we see Judah loses two of his sons.  One was a wicked man that God killed, and the other sinned before God and was also killed.  After this, Judah learned about how sin done in secret comes to light after he went looking for a prostitute and ended up sleeping with his daughter-in-law without knowing it. She got pregnant and ratted him out in front of everyone.  I think this was a pivotal moment for Judah.

After Joseph has been gone for at least 20 years, Judah and his brothers go to Egypt to get food due to a famine in the land.  As we all know in the story, Joseph is in charge of the world’s first food bank, and recognizes the guys that sold him as soon as he saw them.  Joseph then takes them on a little adventure to play with their minds.  Eventually, the older brothers come face to face with bringing Benjamin (second favorite son) to Egypt against their father’s wishes.  Jacob is terrified that he will lose Benjamin like he did Joseph.

Judah is now experienced int he loss of children, and has also had secret sin brought out into the open.  Hearing the pain in his father’s voice must have made it hard for him since he knew what he had done to Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph.  He steps out and even though he does not tell the truth, he takes ownership of the next stage of his life:

And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. – Genesis 43:8-9

Judah already felt the blame for selling Joseph.  He knew what he had done, and while he was not willing to own up to it at this time, he was not going to make the same mistake again.  They go back to Egypt, and as Joseph continues taking his brothers through a crucible of mental anguish to test their hearts, the thing Jacob feared most came to pass.  Joseph sets things in place to make it appear Benjamin is a thief and that he will be kept in Egypt.  Judah doesn’t even hesitate:

Then Judah went up to him and said, “Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” – Genesis 44:18, 33-34

As I read this passage today I was struck by the way Judah stepped in. Judah offered himself as servant to Joseph in order to release his father’s favorite son from punishment.  Step forward several centuries and you will see a descendant of Judah known as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah offer Himself in payment to redeem the lives of His Father’s most favored creation – mankind.  Think about that for a second.  Imagine Judah, watching Christ being nailed to the tree.  I wonder if he might think about how he stepped in to save Benjamin.  After so many mistakes, he then gets to see one of his descendants do something to save the world!

Family is important.  If you think about it, God made man to worship Him and then made woman and told them to start a family. If you follow the logic of God, then it would make sense that the family is important to Him.  So much of the Bible speaks of the family and the importance of building it up and protecting it.  If God thinks it is important, shouldn’t we?

The family should never come before God, but how many different ways can we include God in our families?  The list is endless, and God is just waiting for us to try some of them.  He wants to enter into our families through teaching, through fun, through hard times, and through serving each other.  He wants to see us look to Him and recognize that He is our source of all that is good, and our sustainer when things are hard.  He wants us to show our children how we can trust Him for the big, the little, the miraculous, and the mundane.

I want the best of my family.  Unfortunately, I have only myself to work with!  Thankfully, I am a child of God, and if I seek Him, and show Him honor in my life, my family will get a much better me than I could ever provide.

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