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Life For Leaders

Life for Leaders is our free, digitally delivered devotional, sent to your inbox every morning.

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Avoiding Responsibility

Shortly after I got my first driver’s license, I also got my first ticket. I was driving 15 miles over the posted 25 miles per hour speed limit and a motorcycle cop caught me red handed. I was upset about the ticket. But mostly I was upset about telling my dad. In twenty-five years of driving, he had a perfect record. My driving perfection lasted all of two months. I was afraid that my dad would be angry with me for being such a lousy driver.

So, I spent a couple of days concocting a long list of “reasons” why I got a speeding ticket.

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God Turns Toward Us

Dr. John Gottman is one of the world’s leading students of marriage. Professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, Gottman has spent over forty years doing serious research on what makes marriages flourish and what destroys them. Among his findings, Gottman discovered that marriages in which spouses “turn towards” each other have a high probability of longevity and health. Turning towards is very simple, really; it’s responding in some way to your spouse, to what your spouse says, does, thinks, feels. It’s giving a modest amount of attention when your spouse “bids” for it. Turning towards is often as easy as literally turning in the direction of your spouse when he or she is talking to you. It can be as little as a friendly nod.

In Genesis 3:8-9, we see God turning towards us. Actually, God does much more than this. Turning towards us is just the beginning. After the first humans sin, their relationship with God is broken (see yesterday’s devotion). They rejected God and his direction over their lives, preferring the way of death to the way of life. God had every right to strike them dead with a Zeus-like thunderbolt from the sky. Or God could have simply turned his back on those who had first turned their back on him.

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Brokenness With God

I don’t like it when things are broken. If, for example, our dishwasher isn’t working, I feel on edge, worried, and unhappy. My wife, Linda, reassures me that the repairperson will come and fix it. Or, worst-case scenario, we have to get a new dishwasher, and even that isn’t the end of the world. Meanwhile, we’ll do just fine washing the dishes by hand. Linda is right, of course. But still, broken things nag at me, stealing my peace.

The world nags at me all the time because it is broken. Each day, I try to keep up on the news by reading a couple major newspapers. And, each day, I’m reminded of the brokenness of our world. It can be seen in almost every major story, whether we’re talking about viral outbreaks in Africa, senseless violence in the Middle East, or racial hatred in the United States.

Brokenness is also writ large in Genesis 3.

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First, Sin – Then, Brokenness

Now we come to a major turning in the biblical story, to an event with historic, cosmic implications. After being tempted by the serpent, the woman, and the man who was right there with her, eat some of the forbidden fruit. They do what God said not to do. They do what God said would lead to death. They eat because they like the look and taste of the fruit, but mostly because they believe it will enable them to know in new ways, to be just like God.

From a theological point of view, we understand that the first result of sin is a rending of the perfect relationship between human beings and God. We’ll see this illustrated profoundly and painfully in just a few verses. But, from a narrative point of view, the first result of sin affects the first humans, both their self-perception and their relationship with each other. As the story says, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (3:7).

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In ALL Your Ways Acknowledge Him

As you probably know, on Sundays the Life for Leaders devotions are usually based on the Psalms. But, every now and then, I reserve the right to break my tradition and share with you something I am especially excited about. Today, my enthusiasm is focused on Proverbs 3:5-6.

Here’s the backstory. Last week, I was up in Portland facilitating a workshop for pastors and other leaders, in partnership with The Washington Institute. We were working together on the question of how the church can encourage all of its people to see that they are all called into the ministry of Christ and to live out this calling in every part of life. In the course of that conversation on vocation and vocations, one of the members of the group shared her “life verse” from Proverbs: “Trust in the LORD will all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Prov 3:5-6).

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How to Find Wisdom

In Genesis 3, the serpent promised that if the woman were to eat the fruit God had made off limits, she would not die as God had promised. Instead, the serpent told her, after eating the fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). Hearing this, the woman saw the tree with its forbidden fruit from a new perspective. It promised physical satisfaction (good for food), aesthetic enjoyment (delight to the eyes), and, most of all, new intellectual capacity (make one wise; 3:6). Given the fact that all the other trees in the garden offered fruit and beauty, and given the particular focus of the serpent’s temptation, it seems clear that the woman, along with the man, ate the banned fruit out of a desire for wisdom, or something akin to it.

The Hebrew word translated in 3:6 as “to make one wise [haskil]” is not related to the Hebrew word for wisdom that appears often in Proverbs, for example: “Happy are those who find wisdom [chokmah], and those who get understanding” (Prov 3:13). Yet haskil does appear sometimes in Scripture in a positive sense, as in Proverbs 1:3: “for gaining instruction in wise dealing [haskil].”

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Please, God, I Want Some More

In one of the classic scenes from Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, the misfortunate young orphan, Oliver, is stuck in a workhouse, laboring for long hours and getting barely enough gruel to keep himself alive. When he and his fellow laborers draw lots to see who should try to get some extra food, Oliver loses. He approaches the overbearing and overweight master, Mr. Bumble, with a humble request, “Please, sir, I want some more.” This greatly perturbs Mr. Bumble and the leaders of the workhouse, who sell Oliver into apprenticeship to get rid of the troublemaker.

Oliver had a good reason for wanting more, of course, since he and his chums were almost starving. But the desire for more grows in the hearts of those of us who have plenty as well. In fact, this desire often leads us off track in our lives and leadership, as we eagerly seek for more when we already have all we need.

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A Leader’s Greatest Temptation?

Leaders are tempted by all sorts of enticements. Some are lured into misdeeds by an inordinate desire for financial gain. Others fall into sin because of sexual temptation. Still others get carried away by their own power and self-importance, believing that they are a breed apart, above both human beings and human laws. It’s almost if they see themselves like God.

This last kind of temptation is what snagged the woman in Genesis 3. When the serpent asked if God forbade people from eating the fruit of all trees, the woman rightly said that God’s prohibition related only to one particular tree. If humans ate the fruit of that tree, they would die. The serpent contradicted the woman’s report and, indeed, God’s warning. “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:4-5).

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The Plot Thickens

If you were watching the movie version of the Bible, it would start not unlike many other movies, with a positive, happy beginning. Just as the hobbits enjoyed a peaceful existence in the shire, or Woody and his fellow toys were loved by Andy, so the world created by God was very good. The man and woman he created shared together in the good work of stewarding this beautiful and potentially fruitful world. They also shared an unbroken bond of commitment and uninhibited intimacy. Everything was perfect, or, as The Lego Movie puts it, “Everything is awesome!”

Yet, as you watch the first act of the biblical movie unfold, having been introduced to its protagonist (God) and major characters (human beings), you begin to feel a little nervous.

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Genesis, the Pope, and Stewardship of the Earth

For the past three months, I have been reflecting with you on the creation story in Genesis 1-2. During our slow walk through this passage, we have seen how Scripture speaks to many of our contemporary queries and concerns. One of these has recently made headlines with the publication of the latest papal encyclical, Laudato Sí, which focuses on our responsibility to care for the earth.

If you’ve followed the news about this encyclical, you know that Pope Francis has not shied away from controversy in many of his views. Secular media has focused especially on the Pope’s call for major financial and societal restructuring in order to fight global warming. But, for the most part, the mainstream media has ignored the theological heart of Laudato Sí, which is found in Chapter 2 of the document, “The Gospel of Creation.” Without a careful understanding of this chapter, one really doesn’t grasp the point of the encyclical.

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How Does God Lead? Part 3: Generous Provision and Consistent Collaboration

Today, I finish three editions of Life for Leaders that focus on God’s own leadership. So far, we have seen that God’s leadership in Genesis 1-2 is characterized by expansive vision, genuine delegation, empowering direction, and gracious prohibition. Today we’ll add generous provision and consistent collaboration.

Generous Provision. As we saw last month, God provides generously what the first humans need to thrive in their life and work. In Genesis 2:16, God tells the man that he might “freely eat of every tree of the garden,” except, of course, for one. There is a sense of generosity here, of abundance, even of more than enough. God didn’t just give us enough to sustain life. God gave us what we need and much more, trees with ample fruit, trees with diverse, tasty treats, trees that are also beautiful to behold and cooling to sit beneath.

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Real, Basic Stewardship

In many churches, the word “stewardship” has a particular meaning, and it is often heard with dread. “Stewardship” is a code word for what is elsewhere called “development” or “advancement” or, more bluntly, “fund raising.” When stewardship season rolls around in your church, it’s time to get our your check book (or credit card, or, now, donation app).

Yet, stewardship includes so much more than giving to your church, however importance that is. Psalm 8 celebrates real, basic stewardship. The psalm begins by praising the majesty of God as revealed in creation. Yet the glory of God in the universe accentuates the apparent insignificance of human beings: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (8:4). The startling answer to this question comes from the very creation of humanity, as revealed in Genesis 1 and underscored in Psalm 8. God, in fact, created humanity “a little lower than God” and “crowned them with glory and honor” (8:5). Moreover, he delegated to human beings the care of his creation: “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet” (8:6). God made us to be his stewards who manage his creation for his purposes and benefit.

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