Paul was born in Fort Benning, Georgia. He earned his BS in Sports Management from Furman University and worked for the Atlanta Braves Public Relations Department. In 1987, Paul joined Young Life staff and served as the Wilmington area director for 13 years.
Paul completed his MDiv at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2001 and became CCC’s founding pastor in 2002. He’s married to Nancy, and they have two grown children.
“The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus” – The New York Times
What God means to accomplish in young men are rarely great deeds that are visible to the public, but the invisible construction of a foundation of godly character that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
“Daniel: Who’s on top?” – Leadership Lesson – Spence Hackney
Spence Hackney did an excellent job leading us through the life of Daniel and learning from his leadership. Take a look at his lesson below:
Daniel: Who’s on Top?
For context, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the first half of the book of Daniel (chapters 1-6).
In bullet form, here is what happens in the first half of Daniel:
Daniel witnesses the fall of Jerusalem
Daniel is taken to Babylon
Daniel has the gift of interpreting dreams, and hears God
Daniel encounters 3 Kings in his life
Nebuchadnezzar – He dreams of a statue of bronze, iron, gold and clay that would be destroyed. The dream symbolized Nebuchadnezzr’s fragile kingdom. In response, he builds a gold version and makes the people worship it in an attempt to symbolize that his kingdom would live forever. He disagrees with God’s word even though he knows his power.
Belshazzar – He throws an enormous party and serves wine using the cups from the temple in Jerusalem. A floating hand mysteriously appears and writes on the wall in response. Belshazzar is killed that night.
Darius – He makes a law that the people could only pray to him and to no other god. Daniel gets thrown into the lion’s den over this. God miraculously saves him.
Nebuchadnezzar and the other two kings were in love with themselves. They loved the power. They loved the wealth. The loved the women. They would do anything to get it. I think that Nebuchadnezzar would have had a guy like this around his palace somewhere:
Ridiculous, right? I don’t think any of us would employ someone to tell us we’re #1 before we go to work every day. But let me tell you a personal story that may help you see that it isn’t all that far fetched. This is a story of failure in my life that came as a result of believing I was #1. I wrongly believed I was on top.
First, a little background. In 2012, I went to India to work with Alpha Ministries. It rocked my life. I saw the church planters who were willing to lose everything and endure grueling torture and hardships to take the gospel over the next mountain. I felt like I was in the presence of spiritual giants. I knew what they were doing mattered and I wanted in. However, they shuttled me around in a van with the curtains drawn for fear someone would attack us, so it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t ever going to be as effective as they were on the ground. However, to grow their ministry—take the gospel further—Alpha needed prayer and financial resources and God made it clear to Tara and I that our role would be to provide both. And that we were to do it by expanding our small web design business. I’d been doing web design and digital marketing for over a decade, but had kept it pretty small. God revealed, however, that if I would scale the business up we could support ministries like Alpha in substantial ways. So, in January 2013, Proclaim Interactive was born. Since then he has grown it 25-35% a year and from 2 employees to 11. And I have to give God all the glory—He did it!
But recently it started to feel like I did it…
Last month I had a huge deal implode that I had been working on for over 6 months. The details aren’t important, but just know it would have redefined Proclaim and my own life in a big way. I was certain it was from God and then, it unexpectedly blew up in a heartbreaking way. I was dejected and crushed. I couldn’t understand what went wrong.
When I started reading Daniel a few weeks ago I saw parallels between the book and what I was living through. I could identify with how Daniel felt—dejected and crushed—as he was led away from the ruined walls of Jerusalem. Reading Daniel’s story helped me tremendously to get my life back into the correct orientation, as study of the Word often does. You see, my core problem is that God was no longer on top in my life. I had started to think of myself as #1. I had started to worship the gift and not the Giver. John Piper says that the ultimate deep sin is loving anything more than God. I had done it. Even if I would have said He was on top, I was living and thinking like I loved a whole number of other things more than Him.
As I repented and prayed through the situation, it became clear that I had slipped in several key areas:
I was proud. I had great pride in what I had done. but the truth was, I hadn’t built Proclaim, God had. Likewise it was His to do with as He pleased.
I also had substantial confidence in my own abilities. I thought of myself as wise and had begun to think of myself as the “secret sauce” that was going to make everything work out.
I had quit depending on the Lord’s guidance. Even if I looked to Him for the overall direction, I’d stopped depending on Him to walk me through the details. I thought I could handle it.
I needed to confess these things. Confession is the key to humility. I had to confess my pride (and a couple of other sins as well) before God and let Him deal with it as He saw fit. Afterward, it felt like He had done “spiritual surgery” on me.
So, as I am speaking to you this morning please understand my heart. I’ve recently blown it spiritually, but I’ve been forgiven and restored. My desire is that by being transparent about my failure, you’ll avoid it in your own life.
Let’s look at the real teacher here to learn how to keep God on top.
Benefit of Making God #1 – Hearing His Voice
Before we go further we need to stop here and say “so what.” How does putting God first practically help us? I know the Bible says to, so we should do it, but is there any practical benefit to doing this? Does it change our lives here on earth and for all eternity in heaven?
I think that the answer is plainly seen in Daniel’s life. You see, Daniel had the ability to hear God. The kings, the most powerful men in all the land, had to come to Daniel to hear what the Lord was saying. Daniel heard from God personally in many ways. He was normally able to hear God’s voice and direction without the need for a preacher or prophet to tell him.
Daniel could hear the Lord personally and directly because he put God first. Loving God more than anything else and putting Him first allows us to hear God because it restores a right relationship. We intrinsically know this is the case. If we have a relationship that is out of whack it’s really hard to truly “hear” the other person. I remember as a boy thinking that I was “hot snot” when I was 15. I was a better driver than my Dad. I was smarter than him. I knew what girls wanted better than he did. I had a cooler car than his big old suburban. I was pretty sure I was superior in every way. I remember him trying to talk to me and I would completely tune him out. Why? Because our relationship was all turned around. (Now, when I was 16 I wrecked the car, bombed calculus and got dumped by the girl, so the situation sort of corrected itself!) And frankly, I think that’s sort of what God has done that to me in the past few weeks, corrected my situation. And though I wouldn’t have admitted it at first, now I’m grateful. I’d rather have a right relationship with God than anything else. I’ll trade everything else I have to hear his voice!
Loren Cunningham, the man who founded Youth with a Mission (YWAM) and the Mercy Ships, was a man who clearly and personally heard God. You can read his story in “Is that Really You, God?” and see how God spoke to him as YWAM was forming. It’s fascinating. Whenever Loren Cunningham talks about hearing from God he says that it starts with “Acknowledging the Lordship,” which is college educated language for “Putting God on Top.” It’s that simple. If the Lord isn’t on top, you’re not likely to hear from Him reliably.
So how do we keep Him on top? Let’s see how Daniel did so that he could hear from the Lord:
Expect that failure may be required
Daniel’s story begins with failure. Jerusalem had finally fallen to Babylon. God made it clear that this was because the Israelites had cheated on Him by loving other gods. God’s people are scattered as slaves and outcasts throughout the surrounding lands. Daniel ends up in Babylon because he was deported from his home as a sort of royal servant.
I’ve had a whole bunch of failures in life, the most recent was the failed deal I spoke about. They were all heartbreaking. I am sure that Daniel was heartbroken over God’s people’s inability to obey God. However, there was amazing benefits to witnessing this failure first hand.
Failure gives us a real understanding of the misery of living outside of Christ.
I propose that it is Daniel’s eyewitness account of the failure of the Jews to love God and put Him first that defines Daniel’s life. Above all else Daniel did one thing exceedingly well. He loved God more than anything else. Period. End of story. Daniel didn’t want anything more than he wanted a relationship with God. He had seen first hand what happened when a country falls in love with something else. He had lived through the destruction. He had seen the blood on the ground. He had seen the starving babies in the mother’s arms. He had a real, visceral, tactile understanding of what it looked like to fall in love with something besides God.
Failure maintains humility because you understand that it can happen to you
Failure means you have the opportunity to give Christ the glory when He carries you through it. Christ is most glorified when He helps me, not when I help Him.
Put God first in the little things as well as the big things
This all started for Daniel because he didn’t want to violate God’s rules by eating the king’s “rich food.” I can totally see myself justifying this. “But God, I didn’t have any choice, it was all there was to eat…”
My pride started with little things. These were good things too…not evil. It was the percentage increase in this year’s P&L over last years. It was being able to give my old Jon boat to a friend. It was getting to donate significantly to Alpha. These grew into me thinking that I was pretty wise. It grew into me putting my wisdom on a pedestal and worshiping it.
Little things grow into big things.
Little things indicate that your attitude is wrong.
Little things are practice for when the big things come.
Daniel acknowledged that everything he had came from God
Daniel never tried to interpret dream without God. He stated repeatedly that God was the source of his power.
For myself, my wisdom became my power. I started to think that I earned what I had by making good decisions. Where did my wisdom come from? God’s word. Any power I had came from God.
Maybe, like me, you struggle with pride. If you need to confess it, now is the time. If you think that you are humble, ask God to search your life. Ask God to show you what you love more than Him and confess it.
Proverbs 18:12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I was recently convicted that men are terrible at sharing the truth about what they’re dealing with. When someone asks “how’s it going” I almost always respond with “awesome!” Many of us walk around thinking that everyone else has it all together and that we don’t, so we keep our problems all to ourselves. But this isolates us from the body of Christ. I’ve been working on being honest with those close to me and I hope you’ll do the same.
Who is “on top” in your life right now? Is there anything that gets more love than God?
What are the “little” things in your life that may be indicating that God is not on top?
What failures in your life have given you humility before God?
Do you publicly acknowledge that your abilities and knowledge come from God?
During our last few meetings we looked at the three Kings who ruled over the undivided kingdom of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon. In 930BC the kingdom split in two. As we saw 2 weeks ago, Jeroboam was the first leader in the Northern Kingdom. He exploded like a rocket on the launch pad and left a terrible Leadership Legacy.
About 40 years after Jeroboam, one of the worst Kings comes to reign over the northern kingdom of Israel: King Ahab. Before I go any further, yes, there is a connection between Ahab in Bible and Captain Ahab in Moby Dick.
(Read I Kings 16:30-33)
The wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel caused people to almost completely abandon the Word of God (Example: 1 Kings 16:34) They even sacrificed their own children! In order to combat the darkness that is cast over a reprobate country, God sends his own leaders; Prophets. The specific prophet sent to confront Ahab is Elijah.
In Chapter 17 , Elijah is confronted by a series of desperate, yet miraculous events:
There is a three year drought in Israel (symbolizing the drought of God’s Word). During this drought, Jezebel (Ahab’s wife) is searching for prophets and killing them. Elijah is forced to live in a cave by a small brook and is miraculously fed by ravens. Eventually the brook dries up & Elijah enters a small town looking for food, only to find a widow and her young son on the brink of starvation. They were just starting to eat their last scrap of food. Some time later, the young son dies and the widow lashes out at Elijah saying: “You have come to bring death to my son.” Following this, Elijah miraculously raises the boy from the dead.
All of these were great miracles, but they took an emotional toll on Elijah. Just imagine, he was hiding for his life, facing drought and hunger, facing blame & death. This series of challenges comes to a finale in Chapter 18. Elijah has a showdown with Ahab. I Kings 18 is one of the great stories in the Old Testament.
(Read 1 Kings 18:17-19)
Elijah & the LORD vs. Ahab & 450 prophets of Baal, all gathered on Mt Carmel on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.
(Vs. 21) Elijah’s first confrontation is with the general population of Israel. They have come to witness the showdown. Elijah’s description of them is “Limping between two opinions.” They can’t make up their mind of who they want to follow. They can’t put both feet on one belief so it looks like they are limping back and forth. When confronted by Elijah, they are so spineless; they stay silent! It’s painful what Ahab’ leadership created in God’s people.
Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal: Both build an altar, prepare a sacrifice and call on God to bring fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice. Whichever one does, that’s the true God. Prophets of Baal go first, but he is a “No Show” – then God shows up in a spectacular way (Read vs. 37-40).
(Vs. 41-46) Following the Showdown, another strange event happens: Elijah prays for the drought to be broken and for God to send rain – which God does. Elijah informs Ahab he better get back home to Jezreel or his chariots will get stuck in the rain and mud. Then Elijah races Ahab back, running ahead of him the entire way back. A distance of 15 miles.
Now we come to chapter 19 & the main point of this talk. Now here’s my guess – After all that has happened: God spectacularly defeating Baal and his prophets in front of Ahab, God sending the rain to break the drought, and Elijah racing Ahab back to Jezreel – Elijah is expecting some kind of spiritual revival. Perhaps Ahab will tell of Jezebel about the power of God and there will be some kind of spiritual turning toward the LORD.
Elijah’s expectation is not met. Instead, 19:1-4 tells us Elijah is afraid and exhausted spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As a result, he runs out of Israel and into Judah. He ends up running as far away from the action as he can get, then he sits down and tells God –
“I’m done, I am completely spent. I know I have seen a lot of great victories but I can’t fight anymore. I am a burnt piece of toast and request a seat on the Eternal Bench.”
(I Kings 19:9-18) – Elijah is depressed, in shock and emotional toast, but notice how God addresses Elijah.
God speaks in a low whisper (vs. 12) – Just like you would to someone who is experiencing a total breakdown. “I am here, Elijah – you are safe”
God asks Elijah a question and listens to his story – even though Elijah’s viewpoint is extremely limited and inaccurate (vs. 13 – 14). What a kindness by God – God asking Elijah, “how do you see things?”
God tells Elijah to go back – It is essential that God tells Elijah: “Elijah, I am not done with you. You don’t see everything I see. Even now I am preparing new leadership. Ahab and Jezebel don’t get the last word, I do!” What a helpful reminder: Imagine how much more God sees than we do. Immeasurable!
God reminds Elijah that though he feels alone, he is not alone. God reveals that there are still faithful, fighting men. Elisha (Elijah’s replacement) & 7000 prophets are still left in Israel who will fight alongside you. You’re not alone. What an Encouragement!
My Story From My Sabbatical
The first 10 years of being a pastor were emotionally and spiritually exhausting for me. I remember sitting in this parking lot thinking I had made a great mistake by starting the church. I was trying not to believe God was cruel. I had seen God do many great things: Moving us from a coffee shop to this present Church Building. But it didn’t matter – I was toast. In 2012, I went on my Sabbatical. I thought I was done. I was spent and it was time to fall away. God, please, put me on the bench! For some reason I actually agreed to go to Kenya on my sabbatical to encourage pastors who ministered to one of the largest slums in the world. (Kibera, which has 750,000 people). What an impossibly difficult place to Pastor. One Sunday, I was preaching in a one room mud hut. After I was done I sat on a broken plastic chair looking out at the slum thinking, “What am I doing here?”
An Elder in the church followed my sermon and said to me: “Man of God, we are so thankful you have come all this way to preach God’s Word to our people and help train up our Pastors. Thank you! But now you must go back to your home and keep preaching this same truth to your people.”
It wasn’t a whisper, it was an African in a slum. God was saying, “Paul, I’m not done with you yet. I know you feel like a piece of toast, but go back!” One month after my return I started Iron Leadership. That was 5 years ago. I am so glad I stayed.
The Main Point
Every leader, or every person really engaged in spiritual battle, whether it’s a battle for your own soul, your family, your church, or community: you will reach a point of exhaustion. You will drive out I-40 and see the mileage sign for Barstow California and want to drive as far away from your challenges as possible. You will say, “I’m toast!”
Every leader will reach some kind of breaking point. I want to encourage you that if you are still here, God’s not done with you yet. Your problem, your challenge doesn’t get the last word. God does. You are not alone. You at least have these men who will fight alongside you!
Watch this scene from Captain Phillips. In 2009, Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by Somali pirates. He spent 5 days on the boat before the pirates were all simultaneously shot and killed by Navy Seal Snipers.
This is an intense final scene. He is exhausted in every way and his life is threatened. In this emotional scene with a Naval Doctor, she whispers, “you are safe now.”
One year later, he was back as captain of a ship.
Maybe this morning is God’s whisper saying, “You are safe now. I am here, I will take care of everything. I am doing millions of things you can’t see – and I’m not done with you yet.”
1. How does your view of reality change when you are exhausted?
2. Why were God’s previous miracles not enough to keep Elijah from slipping into depression?
3. What was most encouraging to you about God’s response to Elijah?
4. What’s the gauge on your emotion tank read right now? When was a particularly low point?
During our last few meetings, we looked at three Kings who ruled over the undivided kingdom of Israel: Saul, David, Solomon. They reigned for 120 years; 1050 to 930 BC.
In 930 BC, the Kingdom splits in two because Solomon does not walk in
God’s ways. The split occurs between the larger Northern Kingdom (Israel)
and the smaller Southern Kingdom (Judah).
(1 Kings 11) Several years prior to his death, Solomon takes notice of a very ambitious worker and promotes him to be in charge of the entire labor force. His name is Jeroboam. One day, Jeroboam has an unusual encounter with the prophet Ahijah. During this encounter, Ahijah takes Jeroboam ‘s cloak and tears it into 12 pieces. Jeroboam is instructed to take 10 of the pieces for himself, which later represents his leadership over the larger territory of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Here are God’s promises to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:37-38):
You will rule over all your heart desires
You will be king of Israel
(If you walk in God’s ways) God will be with you
God will build a dynasty as enduring as David’s
I will give Israel to you
Imagine how stunned Jeroboam must be. In this one encounter he has been promised more than he could ever imagine.
Fast forward to the end of Jeroboam’s life – I Kings 14
Jeroboam does become king of Israel, yet he drifts away from God. In chapter 14, Jeroboam is in a leadership crisis. His son is ill and his wife is wondering what is going to happen.
Jeroboam remembers the old prophet Ahijah, but his relationship with Ahijah is good, so he sends his wife in disguise.
(I Kings 14:6) – There is no reason for the disguise because Ahijah has gone blind. However, Jeroboam iss right, Ahijah tells him what will happen.
(Read I Kings 14:6-16) Ouch! Jeroboam’s wife must have been just as stunned by the news. Listen to the new set of promises:
I will bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam.
Your son will die.
God will give up the entire nation Israel and they will be scattered.
Let’s fast forward one more time:
200 years later: The end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Listen to Jeroboam’s legacy:
2 Kings 17:6: In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
7-8: And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, hand in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.
15-16: They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols sand became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal.
21-23: When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD hand made them commit great sin. The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.
What a legacy. After so much promise, 200 years later, Jeroboam is the one who is blamed as the cause of the entire nation’s destruction.
How does someone start with so much promise yet end in disaster? What Happened? The Answer: Jeroboam blew up like a rocket exploding on a launch pad (Watch video).
Here are 3 Lessons from Jeroboam. (Read 1 Kings 12:26-33)
1. Jeroboam Relied On His Own Wisdom
The Israelites were given very specific instructions on worship. They were to go to Jerusalem (Southern Kingdom of Judah) three times a year & offer sacrifices. Jeroboam was worried they would give their allegiance to their king, Rehoboam, and kill Jeroboam — So (vs. 26) “Jeroboam said in his heart — Thought to himself,” Jeroboam devised a plan for worship “from his own heart.” No prayer, no outside consultation by the prophet Ahijah. Nope, just Jeroboam and the thoughts of his own heart. This is dangerous.
This reminds me of my old football coach. When I’d mess up, he’d often say, “Phillips, what are you doing?” My response: “Oh, well, I thought…” (SLAPS HELMET) “Phillips, no one is asking you to think!”
Now, I don’t think the lesson here is to not think, but Jeroboam exploded on the launch pad because he thought too much of himself instead of inquiring on God.
He drifted from God’s word to his own word. In Deuteronomy 17 there are detailed instructions for Kings, “When the King takes the throne, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law…”
In addition, he foolishly failed to get wisdom from others. Proverbs 15:22 – “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Leaders, how many leadership mistakes do you make when your holy trinity is me, myself, and I? When you drift away from God’s word and godly advice, you are headed for explosion.
2.When Jeroboam took his focus off God – He traded in faith for fear and was directed by the people and not by God.
(Read 1 Kings 12:27) – Notice how fears and insecurities spill out and paranoia sets in once Jeroboam makes himself the center, “They will give their allegiance to Rehoboam and will Kill Me!” Jeroboam becomes fearful God might not come through on his promises, so Jeroboam takes matters into his own hands.
Consequently, Jeroboam is driven to do whatever it takes to please the people. The people become the controlling factor instead of God.
Here’s an illustration from the Gospels. Even the bravest follower can become fearful of men.
Peter said to Jesus, “I will follow you, even if it means my own death!” He seemingly has no fear. Then in Matthew 26, all of his confidence quickly drains away in the
face of a servant girl. “Weren’t you with Jesus?” One small voice derails the great apostle. I wonder if one voice has captured your attention. The voice of a girlfriend, boyfriend, boss, spouse, parent, peer – like a snake that has slithered up a tree and whispered in your ear – can you really trust God, perhaps it would be better if you took matters into your own hands?
The Point: Jeroboam explodes on the launch pad because he trusted his heart over God’s word & He feared the people over fearing God.
3. Jeroboam Made a Fundamental Shift in Worship
(Read 1 Kings 12:28-29) “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough…It is too much for you.” In other words, Jeroboam says, “There is no need to make the difficult journey to Jerusalem. I have set up two convenient places for you to worship and even provided a shinny golden experience for you to worship. Then in (vs. 33) Jeroboam creates his own feast.
I want you to see this enormous shift. Through the prophet Ahijah, God had promised to build Jeroboam an everlasting Kingdom, but he must follow after God. Instead, Jeroboam builds a nation which says. “We still want God but we want Him in a way that will be convenient for ourselves. Worship now centers around what is easiest and most convenient for the us.” Can you imagine?
This shift in worship (God-centered to Man-centered) eventually brings down an entire Nation! What a Legacy.
The final point: Jeroboam’s explosion on the launch pad doesn’t just effect
himself or his family, it affects an entire nation, that’s the power of leadership.
You will leave a legacy, especially if you are a father. If you had to written in one phrase on your tombstone, what would you want it to be? Why?
There were three main reasons Jeroboam exploded on the launch pad:
He relied on his own wisdom rather than God’s Word or Godly
He traded faithfulness for fear. In Jeroboam’s world people were BIG
& God was small so he was directed by the people rather than God.
He had a fundamental shift in Worship. Worship became man-centered
rather than God-centered. Worship had to be easy and convenient for him.
Talk about these three things and what you can learn from them.
For today’s lesson, we will have a guest lecturer. He happens to be the smartest person who ever lived. It might be good to confess up front that it’s often hard to be in the room with the smartest person, especially if they look down on you. (view video below)
Today we are learning from someone much smarter than a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, and thankfully he doesn’t look down. Instead, he writes down all the mistakes he made, so you and I can avoid wasting our lives investing in emptiness.
Our guest speaker is Solomon. His wisdom comes from the book of Ecclesiastes. The book is jammed with great leadership advice, but today let me offer just a few highlights from chapters 1 and 2.
Solomon tells us: Begin with the end in mind!
(Read Ecclesiastes 1:2-3) The word “Vanity” is used 38 times in the book. “Vanity” means “Vapor”. If all you do is live your life “under the sun” then it’s vanity. Its like chasing a soap bubble. Its shiny, but even if you catch it, it ends up being empty.
Solomon has some vivid descriptions throughout the book:
Read Ecclesiastes 1:5 – Life under the sun is like a giant treadmill. You work, you sweat, but you don’t get anywhere.
Read Ecclesiastes 1:4 and Ecclesiastes 1:11 – Generations come and go, like waves on a sea shore thinking they are leaving their mark. But they actually recede quickly and nobody remembers them. In one hundred years, very few people on planet earth will ever know you existed.
Not long ago, I assisted in cleaning out a 90 year old woman’s house who had recently died. In just a couple of days, all of the furnishings were donated to the Rescue Mission, the inside was painted, and the house was sold. It was as if the woman never existed.
By the time you finish the opening poem in the book (verses 2-11), it’s so depressing that you are desperately searching for a bottle of Prozac! Yet, Solomon is very smart. Over and over in his book he presses the reader up against the brevity of life, the futility of wisdom, the emptiness of pleasure, and the meaninglessness of work. It’s like he is singing the repetitive chorus of “Vanity, Vanity!”
Solomon is demolishing in order to rebuild. He’s demolishing an empty way of thinking. Once we stop pretending that what is mortal is enough for us, only then do we have the capacity for the eternal. The depressing conclusion to the poem is designed to draw you into an awareness of and dependence on someone beyond the sun.
“The end of the matter” (Read Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) You see, there is life after our brief lives under the sun. Each one of us will, one day, stand before God who will judge how we lived. So it actually matters how you live. It is not all vanity! “Fear God and keep his commandments . . . this is the whole duty of man.” We must live our lives with the end in mind.
Pleasure as a Goal is Vanity
We can see by the way Solomon outlines the rest of his letter that he is anticipating push back. So, he begins by answering the skeptic who falsely believes that there can be ultimate meaning and satisfaction in personal pleasure.
Here us the motto for the one who desires personal pleasure: “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure.”This sounds like the immortal words from the 80’s rock band, The Cars. It is like Solomon is saying “Let the Good Times Roll.” In chapter 2, there are 5 stops on Solomon’s “Let the Good Times Roll” tour.
Stop 1 – Entertainment
(Read Ecclesiastes 2:2 and Ecclesiastes 2:8)
Here is a wealthy king at a grand party, surrounded by treasure chests full of gold and silver, encircled by beautiful women, entertained by the best musicians, the envy of everyone. You can hear people saying, “He’s got it made”.
Yet, Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes 2:11 says the end of the entertainment rainbow held not a pot of gold, but instead emptiness.
In 1985, Neil Postman wrote a landmark book titled: Amusing Ourselves to Death. In the book, Postman makes the case that the future of our society will look less like George Orwell’s vision in his book: 1984 and more like Aldous Huxley’s vision in his book: Brave New World. Postman argued that the public will not be oppressed by the State (Orwell – vision) instead the public will be oppressed by their addiction to amusement.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. Huxley stated: Those who fear State control have “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”
You know what Solomon would have said to Neil Postman: “There is nothing new under the sun.” People have been trying to amuse themselves to death for 1000’s of years. It has always terminated in “Vanity”.
Here is a story from my saddest counseling session. There was a newly married couple with a lot of tension. The beautiful young girl was trying to save the marriage, but the guy wouldn’t give up his video games. Later, I found out they got a divorce, but he got to keep playing video games.
Stop 2 – Wine
(Read Ecclesiastes 1:3)
If entertainment alone doesn’t work, then let’s add alcohol. Let’s use whatever substance or pill that will anesthetize us from the pain in
A few of you might remember the old beer commercial slogans: “It doesn’t get any better than this.” That’s what Solomon believed. The commercial practically plagiarizes Ecclesiastes 2:3.
Stop 3 – Work
Solomon was gifted as intellectually as he was monetarily, so he puts his intellect and money to work with an almost God-like creativity.
(Read Ecclesiastes 2:4-7)
Notice the maximum use of personal pronouns: “I made, I built, for myself, I made myself, I made myself…….AND (vs. 7) When he can’t get enough done by himself, for himself, he buys and owns people to make them work for him.
Stops 4 & 5 – Wealth and Women
To get a picture of his wealth and women I want to read a description of Solomon’s life from I Kings 10 & 11:
“Then the king made a great throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been…All King Solomon’s goblets were gold….. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days..Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon – Solomon loved many foreign women..He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines”
Entertainment, Wine, Work, Wealth, Women – Solomon had it all. If he were alive today he would be a regular face on the cover on Fortune magazine. Our culture would be drooling, saying: “If only I could live like him.”
But what us the end result? When the preacher reaches the end of the “Let the Good Time Roll” tour, what does he conclude?
Vanity – Ecclesiastes 2:11
Hate – Ecclesiastes 2:18
Despair – Ecclesiastes 2:20
On February 2, 2014, Oscar winning actor Philip Seymor Hoffman failed to pick up his three children. They went to check on him in his $10,000 month rented apartment in New York City and they found him lying on his bathroom floor in boxers and a t-shirt. He had a needle stuck in his arm, dead at 46. In a haunting quote from an interview in 2013, Hoffman said, “There is no pleasure that I haven’t actually made myself sick on.”
If all there is, is what’s under the sun, if there isn’t something or someone bigger, someone above the sun… then Solomon tells us it all terminates in vanity, hatred, despair, and even death.
Solomon’s despair is not intended to be the last stop on the tour. No, he is kindly using despair to draw us out of ourselves and into dependence on God. He’s demolishing false hopes in order to rebuild on an eternal foundation. Only when we stop pretending that what is created is enough, only then will be have the capacity for the creator.
Read Ecclesiastes 2:24-26. Please notice that these things are not taken away when you enter into a relationship with God. These are all good things that actually come from the hand of God!
24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ESV
But (vs. 25), they are not to be consumed “apart from Him.” They are to be enjoyed according to his boundaries. If you use them for your chief end and not his, you make yourself sick on every pleasure. It’s Vanity.
1. Why is it important to keeping the end in mind every day? How do you do it?
2. Of the 5 stops on the “Let the Good Times Roll” tour – Entertainment, Wine, Work, Wealth & Women: Which stop is the most tempting for You?
3. This morning you have had a counseling session with the smartest business leader in the world: What one thing to you want to take away?
Friends and Brothers,
Pastor, Christ Community Church
David: Two Ways Not to Respond to Evil – Leadership Lesson
This year we are working our way through the Bible and highlighting certain leaders. We ended last semester with Moses as he lead the people of God out of slavery and Egypt. Following Moses, we looked at Joshua, the military general who lead them into the Promised Land.
Last week, we looked at a leader who is really remembered for his disobedience: Saul. Because Saul lost the fight against his own sin—because he listened to his own voice instead of God’s, he became a failure.
Continuing on the theme of self-leadership, we’re looking at Saul’s successor David and his leadership as a king and a father.
Maybe you’ve heard the term: “don’t be that guy.” Here is a funny example of how to not be “that guy.”
Today, we will be looking at examples of David’s reactions to evil and suffering. These are not examples you want to follow. In other words, “Don’t be that guy!”
Side note: What you do in the Dark, doesn’t stay in the Dark.
Remember the Bathsheba incident? David lustfully takes her and has sex with her. In an attempt to cover up his sin of adultery, he murders her husband Uriah the Hittite by sending him to the front lines.
The consequences of David’s sin do not stop there. Over time, his sins of adultery and murder get repeated in his kids. This principle is especially seen in our kids today. The inferior life of a man is reflected in his children. God created children to be sponges; we all learn from modeling ourselves by other men’s examples. Whether you know it or not, whether you have children or not, younger men are looking to you! What you really love, what you really value, they see it, and they learn it.
Don’t be that Guy #1: Don’t Blow Up
In 2 Samuel 13 David’s firstborn son Amnon rapes his half sister Tamar. Tamar is the only baby sister of David’s son Absalom. Absalom loves his sister, but his response to this heartbreaking tragedy is not a healthy one.
For Absalom’s response, read 2 Samuel 13:20-22. After two “FULL YEARS”, Absalom murders his brother, which then begins to unravel the entire kingdom as he eventually tries to take the throne away from his father.
What the blow up looks like (in your life):
You’re hotheaded. You get blinded by emotion. Pain, anger, sadness. You believe you’re the only one who can see things clearly. You go Jack Bauer mode and take matters into your own hands. You’ve lost the ability to hear other people or points of view.
But how did Absalom get this way? It is largely because of the silence of his father.
Don’t be that Guy #2: Don’t freeze up
This is one of the most frustrating sentences in all of the Bible. After the horrific rape of Tamar, she is now a desolate woman. – 2 Sam 13:21 – “When King David hear these things he was very angry.”
What? Is that it?!
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, some later manuscripts make an addition to this verse. You may see an asterisk or note at the bottom of your Bible that says, “…he was very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn.”
Davids response is totally passive. David gets played by his kids like a Nintendo. They are spoiled and do whatever they want. After the murder of Amnon, Absalom runs away. David’s people beg him to go out to Absalom and bring him back, but David just sits on his duff.
What the freeze up looks like (in your life):
The “freeze up”— you see a problem, you feel strong emotion. Maybe it’s righteous emotion, but you freeze. The voice in your head says, “I can’t do anything, I can’t say anything, It’s too hard, I’ll just make it worse.” You find 1000 ways to justify not acting. and because you do nothing, the problem keeps growing.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous letter from the Birmingham jail to a group of southern pastors who claimed to care about the rights of African Americans but refused to speak out. They advised Dr. King to be patient—to retreat.
This is his answer to them:
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God…we must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
Men— we don’t deal with emotions well. The Bible is clear that we are weak-framed, dusty people. But we do see throughout the Bible a third way. The solution we have is simple.
The Solution: Be A Man
We have two “don’t be that guy” moments in this chapter. Two false pictures of masculinity.
Masculinity is not being aggressive (The Blow Up)
Masculinity is not being passive (The Freeze Up)
Elizabeth Elliot, wife of Christian Martyr Jim Elliot wrote this in her book, The Mark of a Man:
“this is the distilled essence of masculinity – initiation.”
Manhood means initiation, authority means sacrifice.
I’d like to offer a slight correction to this statement. In Christ, we see the essence of masculinity is being a cross-bearing initiator.
God is this the initiator. This is the distilled essence f masculinity: initiation. All creation responds to his initiation. It is the only thing creation can do. He calls men to take the first step into hard situations.
God moves into the world, bearing a cross, moving towards difficulty. Relieving others of their burdens and being a servant. As men, we are called to do the same
Who were the men who modeled masculinity for you? What was healthy or unhealthy about the picture of manhood they gave you?
Who are you serving as a model for? Who (at home, at work, at church) is looking up to you?
Do you blow up or freeze up? Where do you see these responses most often (at home, at work, with friends?)
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Where have you been “appallingly silent”? Where can you be a co-worker with God for truth and justice this week?
What crosses will you have to bear in order to take initiative for what’s right?
Iron Leader Update – Ron Edmonson, Tim Challies, and Millenials
Ron Edmondson (ronedmondson.com) has a good website about leadership you might want to add to your favorites list. Below is one of his blog posts about Traits of Courageous Leaders. Tim Challies (challies.com) also has a great website and his article on Sexual Detox is a must-read for men in leadership. On a less serious note, enjoy the video about Millennials.
I look forward to seeing you this Friday, January 20 at 6:30 AM or at 6:00 AM for the Daily Office.
As we begin our first lesson in 2017. Let’s review where we left off in 2016:
Moses: Leads the people of God out of Egypt and Slavery
Joshua: Military general who leads them into the Promised Land
Judges: Gideon (Judges 2:11-12 – Read)“The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. They abandoned the Lord….instead they went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them.” **They preferred to follow the ways of the world around them rather than be Obedient to God. **This disobedience set up a sad spiral which ended: Judges 21:25 – “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
So – When you turn from Judges to Samuel (the last Judge), you could say Israel was looking for a leader. The leader they chose, was Saul.
Unfortunately, Saul continued the sad spiral of disobedience. This clip is a good example of the childishness of blatant disobedience:
The greatest challenge in leadership is Self-Leadership. The hardest person to lea is the person you stare at in the mirror every morning. We all have preferences, impulses, and desires. They strongly influence our leadership. (We want ice cream!) But Christian Leadership requires obedience to God’s preferences, impulses, and desires above your own! The failure of obedience can have heavy consequences, much more than being taken to your room.
1. Fatal Beginning: I Samuel 8:4-7 (Read)
The Elders (the Leaders) uncoupled themselves from God’s leadership.
They decided instead to obey their own desires – their voice/their
desires will be King. (This is a repeat of Genesis 3 when desires become King)
Samuel’s Warning (1 Samuel 8:10-18)
God warns his people through the prophet Samuel that the leader they elect will bring trials upon them. The phrase “He will take” is repeated in verses 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
He will take:
The best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards
A tenth of your grain
Your male and female servants, and your donkeys
A tenth of your flocks…and you shall be his slaves.
This is important: Whenever you uncouple your life from God and listen to another voice, that voice takes. He will take.
John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life, and to have it to the full…the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy…(i.e. to take).
Samuel 8:18 – Just hold on to that, there will be a day when you cry out and the LORD will not answer!
People’s Response (1 Samuel 8:19-20)
Even after God’s warning, the people respond – “No, we don’t want God as our King, we want what we want, we want to be like everyone else. Just like the kid in the movie, “We want ice cream!”
The LORD’s Response (1 Samuel 8:22)
Verse 22 is such a scary and sobering voice. The Lord said to Samuel: “Obey their voice.” Let them lead. “Make them a king.” Give them a king in their own image. One who is emotionally immature, a king who will easily uncouple himself from God’s instruction.
2. Saul’s Downward Spiral of Leadership
It is worth noticing in 1 Samuel 9:1-2 that Saul is wealthy, handsome, and tall. These are all of the external qualities the world is looking for in a leader. Yet, it is not those qualities which make great leaders.
Saul’s 1st Leadership Test – Chapter 13
Samuel (representing God’s voice) tells Saul to go to Gilgal and prepare to fight against the Philistines. Saul is instructed to wait 7 days for Samuel to arrive. When Samuel arrives, he is supposed to give an offering (seeking the Lord’s favor in battle) and give instruction to Saul.
So here is the real leadership test. It is not the fight against the enemy (Philistines), the real fight is against himself. Will Saul obey they voice of the Lord or will he “eat the ice cream?”
Question: As a leader, are you willing to be led by God’s Word, even when you have to wait? Even when it looks like things are falling apart and people are abandoning you? Even when everyone else is doing business another way? When those things happen, who’s voice do you obey? This is a constant challenge!
Read 1 Samuel 13:8-11 – This is oh so painful. So familiar to times in my own life! In verse 10, if he had just waited a little. In verse 11, he is skilled in blame shifting. He says “I saw,” meaning that he follows what he sees, not God’s instructions. He blames the people, then Samuel, and then the Philistines. Everyone gets thrown under the bus, except Saul! In verse 12, he says “So I forced myself”. In other words: it was difficult to go against God’s word, but I forced myself. Saul uncouples himself from God’s Word.
Back to the key point, your biggest enemy is yourself!
A Second Similar Test – Chapter 15
Who’s word will Saul obey? Samuel gives Saul specific instructions to destroy the wicket Amalekites. “Saul, go to war and don’t bring anything back.”
Saul’s response is in 1 Samuel 15:9. Saul keeps the king (Agag) and the best of the livestock alive. Verse 12 tells us that after the battle, Saul sets up a monument to himself. His voice, his desires are king. 1 Samuel 15:19-21 display so many poor leadership traits: Blame shifting, the fear of man, and a disconnect between his leadership and those he leads.
Here’s an illustration: Long ago, when my son Zachary was little, I saw there was a broken pot in our house. I asked my wife if she broke the pot. She said no. At this point, I knew it was Zachary so I asked him, “Did you break the pot?” “No,” he said. A few seconds went by, and then he said, “…but my foot did.” We blame shift so easily, but good leaders take responsibility for themselves and their people.
1 Samuel 15:23b is the LORD’s response. “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you from being king.”
Following David’s defeat of Goliath (Read vs. 6-9), Saul’s emotionally immaturity intensifies. Saul’s childish response is so incredibly unattractive. He drifts further from God. Saul is uncoupled from God’s word and is slowly being destroyed.
Saul is nearing the end of his reign. He is now completely uncoupled from God’s voice and under great pressure from the Philistines.
Read 1 Samuel 28:5-6. Saul doesn’t cry out to repent, he doesn’t cry out for a restored relationship with God. No, he cries out for rescue. He is only concerned about himself. Recall 1 Samuel 8:18. God did not answer him in that day.
Read 1 Samuel 28:7 . Saul, who once forced himself to go against God’s Word now easily consults a Medium, a Necromancer.
Leaders, please listen. Sin, when left unchecked, grows. When you uncouple yourself from God’s word, it may seem like a small thing in the beginning. But when left unchecked, it is catastrophic.
Saul commits suicide. John 10:10. The enemy wins. Saul’s total destruction. The failure of obedience can have some heavy consequences. Saul loses himself, his sons, and a nation.
1. If your greatest enemy is yourself (self leadership), then what area of Self-leadership do you need to focus on in 2017? Do you have a real plan to work on that area?
2. Saul was:
Afraid of what others thought
Refused to take personal responsibility for personal mistakes
Emotionally Immature (Jealous of David’s victory).
In your mind, which one of these is the most unattractive leadership quality? Why?
3. How does God’s Word affect your everyday leadership style and decision making?
It is time to kick-off Iron Leadership for 2017. Our first meeting of the year is this Friday, January 6 at 6:30 AM or at 6:00 AM for the Daily Office. Make it your new year’s resolution to attend this year’s Iron Leadership meetings. Look at the spring schedule below and go ahead and put those in your calendar.
Another one of your new year’s resolution should be to read good books, so I took the liberty of sending you a couple of book of the year lists from World Magazine. The first one is their 2016 books of the year and included in the article are previous years’ winners. Also, for fathers of young children, there is a list of children’s books that I referenced in reading good books to my children.