Re-reassessing David

When I was young, David was a larger-than-life character in the Bible– the killer of lion, bear, giant, and “his ten thousands.” He was a shepherd boy who became a king, and “the writer of the Psalms.”

But then came a time of reassessment. Much of the Biblical record of David’s later life was pretty bad— murder, adultery, and a frankly rotten husband and father. Even his early life was not without its flaws. While some like to point out that David would not lay his hand on the “Lord’s anointed,” much of his behavior would fit normal definitions of treason and racketeering. And then I learned that there was doubt as to whether David wrote all of the Psalms, or even some of the Psalms. (I would like to think that some were written by him.)

My dad, a Sunday school teacher and deacon of our church

Thumbnail image from the Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University

“King David the Penitent” by Albrecht Durer

gave an opinion that I had to share. He struggled to see why David was described as a man after God’s own heart.

Frankly, the Biblical record seems to put King Saul on a pretty even footing as David. Saul had moments of religious fervor that would remind one of David. Additionally, Saul’s fall from grace, not fully destroying the captured Amelekite booty, seems pretty minor to some of David’s indiscretions. Even Saul’s last great sin, seeking divination from the “witch of Endor,” while clearly wrong was actually motivated by an earnest attempt to get wisdom from Yahweh, and his mentor, the prophet Samuel.

My time of re-reassessment really began 4 or 5 years ago as I became more involved in pastoral care. As I looked at the life of David, his many flaws were clear, but there was something else. David was willing to humble himself and admit his failings to both God and man.

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW RARE THIS IS?

I work with pastors… many who have fallen into sin. All to often, sins are minimized, and discipline avoided. This is not just a pastor thing. Men of power rarely admit their failings… much less, admit them with sincerity. The quality is almost without exception missing from other leaders in the Bible. Even Paul only seems able to admit failings in the abstract (in Romans) while possible concrete examples (his handling of John Mark in Acts, and Peter in Galatians) go unaddressed.

David could admit failings to all, and accept God’s grace, despite the pride that power breeds. To eschew pride as a king, repent, and accept God’s grace… well, that could indeed be a man after God’s own heart.

Living in a time of “Christian superstars” who have an allergic reaction to admitting failings about as intense of politicians, maybe we do indeed need a few more Davids living today… flawed but forgiven… real and repentant.

 

 

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Herodotus and Monumental Hubris

Herodotus (born around 485BC) was a Greek traveler and chronicler of stories. He was quite open to sharing tall tales… intermixed with solid history. In his book “An Account of Egypt” Herodotus recounts his conversation with Egyptian priests. In that account, the priests tell the story of the building of the great pyramids of Giza, especially the pyramid of Cheops (aka Pharaoh Khufu, 2589–2566 BC)  gpgoodshot

According to the priests, Cheops was a heretic and a tyrant.

“Egypt was excellently governed and very prosperous; but his successor Cheops (to continue the account which the priests gave me) brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labor as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken over by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labor to build the track along which the blocks were hauled– a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself, for it is five furlongs in length, sixty feet wide, forty-eight feet high at its highest point, and constructed of polished stone blocks decorated with carvings of animals.”

The story goes on as far as the extravagance of the pyramid for his own sepulchre and pride. According to the priests, he even had his daughter prostitute herself to get more blocks of stone for the pyramid. (Yes, this sounds more than a bit apocryphal… though not impossible.) According to Herodotus, between the reign of Cheops and his son, the temples were closed for 106 years. This is most likely an exaggeration, but regardless suggests a great audacity and lack of concern for the people. The Egyptians of old were highly religious. This religion manifested itself in concerns for the future, and the sacrificial system and rituals maintained by the priests gave the people a sense of hope and control over what lay ahead. The shutting down of the temples, and shifting of all forms of labors to building a necropolis to himself, arguably suggests that Cheops saw himself more than simply being part of the divine cycle of Egyptian theology. He was, rather, above and more important than the pantheon. It also suggests that his own well-being, especially in the afterlife, was more important than the well-being of the entire population of Egypt. There has been a disagreement as to whether the pyramids were built by slaves or by freemen. The story of Herodotus suggests a mediated position. The workers were commonly not slaves in a legal sense, but served as slaves in a practical sense as conscripts.

Herodotus goes on to speak of Cheops and his son Chephren:

“The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren, so great is their hatred of them; they even call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who… fed his flocks in the neighborhood. The next king of Egypt after Chephren was Mycerinus, the son of Cheops. Mycerinus, reversing his father’s policy of which he did not approve, reopened the temples and allowed his subjects, who had been brought into such abject slavery, to resume the practice of their religion and their normal work. Of all kings who ruled in Egypt he had the greatest reputation for justice in the decision of legal causes, and for this the Egyptians give him higher praise than any other monarch; for apart from the general equity of his judgments, he used to compensate out of his own property any man who was dissatisfied with the result of his suit, and so leave him with nothing to complain of…”

Diodorus Siculus (90-30BC) was a Sicilian historian who added to the stories of monuments in Egypt.

“It is generally agreed that these monuments [the pyramids] far surpass all other constructions in Egypt, not only in their massiveness and cost but also in the skill displayed by their builders. And they say that the architects of the monuments are more deserving of admiration than the kings who furnished the means for their execution; for in bringing their plans to completion the former called upon their individual souls and their zeal for honor, but the latter only used the wealth which they had inherited and the grievous toil of other men.”

There is something rather refreshing in the Egyptians’ attitude. Despite granting divinity to their rulers (which is quite a thing to grant), they found ways to undermine their leaders’ hubris. For Cheops and Chephren future leaders avoided using their names, and referred to their pyramids by the shepherd who lived in the vicinity. They also noted that the architects and the workers were more deserving of praise than those that sought praise by forcing others to design and build these structures for themselves. For Pharaoh Mycerinus, who also had a (smaller) pyramid built for himself, he is given praise two millennia later, not for his monuments, but for his compassion and justice for his people.

It is rather a shame that we lack such wisdom today. Even in Christian circles (or perhaps ESPECIALLY in Christian circles) we commonly feed the hubris of those who seek to build monuments to their own gods… themselves.

In line with that, I will offer two bits of literature

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Stature Fragment of Ramesses II in the British Museum

on Ozymandias (Ramses II). The first is Diodorus (again), and the second is the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Ten stades from the first tombs… in which, according to tradition are buried the concubines of Zeus, stands a monument of the king known as Osymandyas… beside the entrance are three statues, each of a single block of black stone from Syene, of which one, that is seated, is the largest of any in Egypt, the foot measuring over seven cubits, while the other two at the knees of this, the one on the right and the other on the left, daughter and mother respectively, are smaller than the one first mentioned. And it is not merely for its size that this work merits approbation, but it is also marvelous by reason of its artistic quality and excellent because of the nature of the stone, since in a block of so great a size there is not a single crack or blemish to be seen. The inscription upon it runs: “King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”

Ozymandias
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

<The quotes, except for the poem by Shelley were from Herodotus and Diodorus, as quoted by Leonard Cottrell, The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds, 1962, starting around page 288.>

 

 

 

 

Spiritual Leadership Benchmarks from Polycarp

polycarp

Consider the quote from St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (Chapter 6):

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man; abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself. Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offense, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

St. Polycarp (69-156AD), the bishop/pastor of the church of Smyrna, describes qualities that are to be expected of spiritual leaders within the church.

It is curious that in Evangelical churches I have attended, the qualifications for pastors has always been brought from the pastoral epistles of Paul, or some very recent books on church governance. While these are critical for guidance, these books are not the only insight that the church has given us. In Evangelical churches “soli scriptura” is supposed to mean that it is only the Holy Bible that is fully reliable for our faith and practice. Unfortunately, some have misunderstood the doctrine to mean that we ignore wisdom from 2 millenia of church history. It is strange that only the Holy Bible, and books written in the last 30 years, are taken seriously. St. Polycarp, for example, is one of the early church fathers that we should take seriously as one who was both an early protector of the faith, and a fine example of a faithful church leader. What does he have to say?

Spiritual leaders are to be compassionate and merciful to all, just, good and faithful servants, holding onto what is true.

Compassionate and merciful to all.

  • Seeking to restore those who have fallen away doctrinally or morally
  • Visiting all the sick
  • Caring for those in need, such as widows, orphans, and the poor.
  • Being merciful in judging or making decisions
  • Being quick to forgive others.
  • Maintaining control of one’s anger

Just.

  • Not showing favoritism to certain people because of, for example, their wealth or status
  • Avoiding the temptation of dishonest or self-serving judgments/decisions
  • Not being greedy or motivated by desire for others wealth or status.
  • Not quick to believe bad things about other people (even if it is tempting to think so)
  • Recognizing that we all are guilty of sin at times

Be a good and faithful servant

  • Serving God with fear and reverence,
  • Obedient to the commands of Christ, the words of the apostles, and the Old Testament Prophets.
  • Pursuing zealously that which is good.

Holding onto what is true.

  • Not actively or passively causing offense or confusion in the church
  • Avoiding apostasy and those who confuse people in the church with false doctrines.

These seem like good benchmarks for spiritual leaderhip both in of the church and out.

“greatness” rather than “Greatness”

chalkboard

Hoping you will take the time to see the Article on “Clearing Customs” entitled “Your little “g’ greatness is Still Worth Finding.” You can find it by clicking HERE.

That article, as well as associated videos, is a nice look at the Nike ad campaign in 2012 seeking to redefine greatness… away from an elitist ideal. I hate promoting advertisements… but they are well done with a curiously positive message– as the blogger says… from “capital G” greatness, to “small g” greatness. The last video is especially important as Nike describes its strategy to change cultural perceptions.

I wish as Christians we would try to do the same thing. However, so often we don’t challenge worldly perceptions of greatness. Instead we revel in them… focusing our attention on Great churches, Great leaders, and so forth. Frankly, I don’t think we need “Great” churches and leaders. We could arguably need ones that are “great” with a decidedly small-g. Or perhaps the correct word is “good.” We need good churches, we need good leaders.

What Happens When Conflicts are NOT Resolved

ramA mission team can go through similar process as what happens in a church when conflicts are not resolved.

Two intensifying processes take place throughout the stages of unresolved conflict: (a) an increasing personal frustration over the unresolved issue(s), and (b) an increasing negative perception of the character of the other person / people.” Looking at the image below, the best time to resolve a conflict is at stage 2. However, stage 3 is still in the healthy zone for resolution.

spiral

STAGES

Stage 1. (Sometimes) an Uncomfortable Feeling. Something is wrong but not sure what.

Stage 2. A Problem to be Resolved. Problem identified. <Issue-focused> [Best time to resolve a conflict]

Stage 3. A Person to Differ with. (Other person-focused) Sides are determined. Discussion changes from what is the best solution, to who is right and who is wrong.

Stage 4. A Dispute to Win. <Issue-focused with greater intensity> Collaboration breaks down. Other issues begin to add to the conflict. Feelings get hurt.

Stage 5. A Person to Attack. <Other person-focused. Greater intensity>. Battle lines are drawn. Stereotyping of the other side occurs with the worst thought of adversaries.

Stage 6. My “Face” to Save. <Self-focused. Greater Intensity> Things get personal. Protecting one’s image and character become dominant. Things are seen as black vs white, good versus evil.

Stage 7. A Person to Expel, Withdraw from, or Ruin. <Other person-focused, Greater intensity> All or nothing battle. Someone or a whole group must go.

Stage 8. The Aftermath. All are affected. Some are embarrassed. Some are not satisfied and want to ruin the reputations of others. Some are full of shame and now lose confidence in themselves.

This sounds extreme… but around the world:

IT HAPPENS EVERY DAY!!

<Reference: The Escalating Stages of Unresolved Church Conflict by Ken Newberger>

Ministerial Burnout

burnout

I have the blessing of talking with many ministers (missionaries and pastors primarily). It is often rather amazing how their public selves diverge from their private selves. Their public selves are all “Praise God!” and “God is Good All the Time!” (Is God good all the time?) But privately, they will often open up about their struggles with their ministry, their faith, their relationships. Many of them have ministerial and personal lives that are in chaos. There are many reasons this can happen, but one common theme is burnout.

What is burnout? Burnout is a holistic condition, meaning that it is a malady of heart, body, and mind, and shows symptoms that are also holistic, including relationships.

Quoting Nairy Ohanian, burnout has symptoms that include:

feeling overwhelmed by needs, unable to help, isolating self from people, cynical, distrusting, blaming others, feelings of incompetence, compassion fatigue, self pity, emotional exhaustion, detachment, irritable, frustrated, spiritual confusion, trapped with no end in sight, critical spirit upon self and others, despair and hopelessness. Besides the emotional and attitudinal warning signs, often there are physical manifestations of burnout. Burnout candidates often experience trouble sleeping, headaches or migraines, chronic hives, constant fatigue even after resting, excessive weight loss or gain, abnormal monthly cycles for women, anxiety attacks, distressing dreams or nightmares, tremors, dependence on over the counter drugs and possible alcohol dependence. (“Burnout of God’s Servants,” 2008)

Many of the horror stories of ministry leaders who were found to do horrible things did so after being overwhelmed by stresses, and then began to develop unhealthy ways with coping with them. This is not excusing their behavior, but a recognition that many find themselves involved in behavior later in ministry that they would have found repugnant early on, before stresses began to overwhelm them.

Burnout comes from a variety of stressors at home, with the ministerial team, and in serving in the ministry. Two classic examples of burnout, or potential burnout, in the Bible are Moses and Elijah.

Moses, in Exodus 18, receives a visit from his father-in-law, Jethro. In verses 13-18, we read,

The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.”

In this, Moses’ system of ministry, taking on too much responsibility without proper delegation, will lead to being worn out, as well as the people he was serving. Elijah had a similar problem of taking on too much. In I Kings 19, Queen Jezebel threatened his life after a time of great seeming victory, so he runs for many days to Mount Horeb. Even before he gets there he appears ready to give up (verse 4)

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

After giving him food, drink, and rest, and encouraging him to continue to Mount Horeb, God finally speaks to him and Elijah responds (verses 13 and 14)

And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Like Moses, Elijah feels that he has to do it all himself, feeling alone and isolated. Many in ministry feel that they have to do it all. As such, they have a poor understanding of themselves as limited beings. Relatedly, they don’t have good boundaries, protecting the time they need for care of themselves. Ministry consumed their time, their relationships, and their energies.

Burnout is to a large extent related to a compiling of stresses, where the stresses become too much for the coping capacity of the individual. As such a person often feels both drained and overwhelmed. One can imagine a person as having two gauges attached. One gauge measures the stress a person feels. The higher the value the more the person feels overwhelmed. Stress is the overall accumulation of wear and tear on the body due to demands placed on it. Stress is also holistic… mental stress, emotional stress, physical stress, and more. Likewise, the symptoms are holistic: physical, mental/emotional, behavioral, social, and spiritual. The other gauge is a measures of the coping capacity of the individual. The lower it is, the less stress the person can handle. Some aspects of coping capacity are related to long-term characteristics of the individual, such as temperament or family background. Others are related more directly to the present, such as exercise, rest, and other forms of mutual and self care.

As stresses overwhelm one’s ability to cope, burnout develops. The emptiness can be felt in a number of ways. One can feel “depressed” (not necessarily clinically depressed), worn-out, emotionally numb, unmotivated, spiritually “dry,” socially disconnected, alone, and lacking hope.

Sin can easily come into this spiraling of symptoms, but it is not necessarily the initiator. Seeking to serve God without knowing one’s personal limits may be foolish, but it is not necessarily sinful. However, as one’s life becomes less and less fulfilling, as one shifts from a “human being” to a “human doing,” all aspects of life begin to suffer, including spiritual. In fact, often the person will begin to seek substitutes to cope with the stresses— including drugs, addictive behaviors, or fantasies of a life that is more enjoyable than the real one. These substitutes have limited long-term success as coping mechanisms, and commonly lead to forms of acting out that further damage all aspects of one’s life.

So what to do about burnout?

  1. Acknowledge it. This is a very important first step.

  2. Let go. Rather than pray for God to give more capacity to handle the stresses of life and ministry, recognize that God’s will was demonstrated in creating each human as a limited being. It is likely God’s will to let go of some of the stressors.

  3. Reject unhealthy coping methods and begin to develop healthy ones. Healthy ones include taking care of one’s health, having a positive supportive network of friends and family, and having hobbies or other activities that one enjoys that are not connected with ministry.

  4. Establish priorities and boundaries. Ministry is important but there are things more important, such as God and family. Recognize that it is okay to say “No” to ministry requests or “Let me pray about it and get back to you.”

  5. Speaking of prayer, establish good habits of spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible study, and meditation. This should not be done legalistically, become another ministry burden, but as part of a joyful rekindling of one’s relationship with God.

  6. Learn to delegate and to accept the accountability of others. Leaders need to be accountable to others as much as anyone else, if not more. Find people one can trust to share with freely, and who are willing to ask the tough questions.