When is a leader not a leader?

I’d been sent to take a message into another class. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I attended a fairly prestigious girls grammar school and this was late ’60’s. This didn’t happen here! The Latin teacher was doing his stuff at the blackboard, while the kids were running riot. The room was a mess, the din deafening, yet the teacher continued unperturbed! I delivered the message and exited pronto.

Becoming a teacher myself, there were times I had to fight for discipline. I would tell myself, “You are the adult here. Be the leader and the kids will follow (eventually!)” Fake it till you make it, I suppose.

Aaron must have wondered why his little brother Moses had been chosen by God and brought back from shepherding in a foreign land to become the leader to his people, while he, Aaron, was just the spokesman. But his time deputising the leadership role, and his response to Moses’ questioning explained it all (Exodus 32:21-24).

Exodus 32:21-24

Exodus 32:21-24

This was why he was not the leader.

  • Leaders guide their followers, not just observe their behaviour.
  • Leaders take responsibility – they are the ones who hold the bag and have to do something.
  • Leaders stand firm for right action. They model right behaviour, and require it from their followers.
  • Leaders are accountable. They don’t cover up with a lie.

Aaron found out that being a leader was not an easy option, and not everyone has the right skillset for the task. Like the Latin teacher.

It is a hard job to be a leader: whether in a classroom, a nation, a business, a church or any other setting. They don’t always get it right. We need to pray for our leaders MORE than we criticize them. When we do make comments, we need to remember and remark on the positive, good things they’ve accomplished, before we launch into a tirade of negativity. That helps them to hear what we are saying, but it also help us to keep our hearts right and our ears attentive to God’s opinion.

As we come to a General Election in the UK, we need to remember these things. As well as when we chafe at the bit in church or at work. The bible tells us to pray for our leaders (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:1-3) for a good reason. Just think what a difference it would make if we ALL prayed BEFORE we moaned!

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A sound worse than war

As I turned the key in the lock, a foreign sound told me something was wrong. The smell of wetness and dust and plaster assailed me as I walked in, moments before the sight of streams of water pouring through a buckling ceiling into a sodden sofa, flooding the new carpet. I raced upstairs to find the bath tap pouring full blast into an overflowing bath. Our small children had been having fun paddling in it earlier in the day, then, all going up to the toilet together before our trip out, one of them had evidently used the bath tap to wash their hands, and left it running, plug still in. Six hours of devastation while we’d enjoyed a day at the seaside!

As Moses descended the mountain holding the precious tablets on which God had carved out the Ten Commandments, a sound alerted him that all was not right. Joshua placed it as the sound of war, but Moses, warned by God, knew it was something even worse. Two sights assailed his eyes as he entered the camp – the dancing, and the calf – and inflamed him to white hot anger. Dashing the tablets to the ground, he swiftly destroyed the golden calf the people had foolishly worshipped, and began to take back order in the camp (Exodus 32:15-20).

Exodus 32:15-20

Exodus 32:15-20

We were determined that none of our children should take the blame for the disaster that took months to clear up. We never asked who did it, and made sure they knew it was just a mistake; we were not cross with them – as parents we were responsible if anyone was.

Moses, on the other hand, was dealing with adults who knew better. They had witnessed miracle after miracle, and knew what was going on with Moses. There was no excuse. Moses was right to be furious.

There are terrible atrocities going on in our world today. We sit on comfortable sofas and watch the news. ‘How awful!’ we say, then sleep peacefully at night.

There is a time for righteous anger, and there is plenty to be incandescent about. Too easily it washes over us, perhaps over-faced by the volume of atrocities. What can I do anyway? Pray this if you dare.

Dear Lord, inflame me to righteous anger over the issues that you want me to get involved in; give me courage and wisdom to make my action effective; and give me tenacity to keep going until it’s resolved. Amen


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The right choice

Here’s the choice. You can be top dog, your family can become the greatest nation on earth and all your current problems can be whisked away instantly. OR you can wear yourself out trying to get a huge group of stubborn, unruly scoundrels to behave themselves and conform into some sort of society. Which would you choose?

That was the choice set before Moses in Exodus 32:7-14. The people of Israel had got antsy when Moses had gone to meet with God; and when he didn’t reappear after a few weeks, they decided God and Moses had abandoned them, so used their own gold to make an idol for themselves and worshipped it. God saw what was going on, and was understandably angry.

The choice God gave Moses is an interesting one. On the surface, it was a no-brainer, and it’s hard to imagine why Moses didn’t take him up on the easy offer. But by threatening to entirely wipe out the ‘stiff-necked’ lot, it subtly pushed Moses to take up their cause, to want to protect them, to want to take up the hard, hard, path of leading this rabble and shaping them into a nation worthy of the calling God had put upon them.

God loved that people, he had invested a lot in them, and knew that in spite of their weaknesses, he could use them as a nation. For all that, he knew Moses had one monumental job ahead of him, and he would need all the guts and determination known to man. He knew the people would run Moses ragged, that there would be times he himself would want to give up, so he had to make Moses sufficiently doggedly resolute to see the job through.

The threat to destroy them worked. Moses chose the hard path, and committed himself to the task of leading the people.

I’ve often got worried about making the right choices in life – what does God want me to do? But God wants us to do the things that are on his heart, even more than we want to do them! He is clever enough and loving enough to help us to come to the right decisions, sometimes without us even realising how we got there. If our lives are submitted to God, and our hearts are in sync with him, we don’t have to worry about getting it wrong.

Exodus 32:7-14

Exodus 32:7-14

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Wait and hope

We’ve had a disappointment recently in our house. My husband has been preparing for major surgery for nearly a year – we’d hoped that it would make a tremendous difference to his condition, and our lifestyle. But it turns out that he has a blood condition that would make surgery far too dangerous, and so we’ve hit the end of the road in that area of hope. I can only put it down to the faithful prayer of friends and family that we have not felt utterly despondent. Instead, we have a new hope – that God has Plan A still waiting for us.

The truth is, life doesn’t always work out the way we’ve imagined. For the Israelites, there was disappointment when Moses had vanished up the mountain, and not returned. It had seemed so promising when they’d witnessed their leader defeating the Egyptian pharaoh and army, and leading them out of slavery. It had been wonderful how he’d managed to procure food and water for them, and amazing how they’d won the battle against the Amalekites while he’d prayed for them.  It had been nothing less than spectacular when he’d introduced their laws: the mountain itself seemed to shake, and it was no hard thing to promise to faithfully obey. But that was weeks before, and they’d heard nothing more. Had God and Moses abandoned them? (Exodus 32:1-6)

A man needs something to follow, and if Moses wasn’t around to keep God in their sights, then they would have to make their own god. So they took their gold ear-rings – their own wealth and security – to have a clearly false god fashioned in the shape of a calf.

It seems absurd to create a god. You know its origin, its maker, its defects and limitations. But it seems to be what people do, when they feel disappointed in God. So easy to turn away and put your trust in your job, your politics, your own efforts, or even your football team to get life back on track. People need something to follow, something to worship, and for many, any god will do.

But when we feel God has let us down, like the Israelites, it is often that we haven’t waited long enough. Just a short while longer, and Moses would have reappeared. Waiting is hard, but believe it or not, God IS faithful. Plan A is coming.

Exodus 32:1-6

Exodus 32:1-6

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He gives his word

In the old days, not so long ago, when the preacher gave out a bible reference, there would be this rusting of paper around the room. Now, instead of hunting for the bible page,  many of us reach for our phones.  It might be quieter, but the downside is the temptation to check your emails or Facebook instead of following what the preacher is reading!

The great thing about bible apps, though, is that you have them pretty much to hand wherever you are. On the bus, in the waiting room, lunchtime at work…you can reach into your pocket and access the word of God.

When Moses went up the mountain to meet with God, and receive instructions about making the sanctuary, or tabernacle, God had something ready prepared to give him at the end: two inscribed tablets of stone – the Testimony (Exodus 31:18). This is thought to be the Ten Commandments, written into the stone by the finger of God, and had been promised to Moses in Exodus 24:12.

Writing was not new – Moses himself had already recorded the laws God had given them, in Exodus 24:4. Writing in stone was not uncommon at the time, but usually the text would be etched into the rock or wall. Portable tablets of stone were rare. But God wanted them to know two things – that his Word would last forever, and that it could go with them wherever they went.

How appropriate then, that we have our own ‘tablets’ and phones, through which we can access the entire bible, in our pockets, most places we go.

But that was not the end of the story. It wasn’t even the start. For John’s Gospel opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”  Jesus himself is the Word become flesh (John 1:14), whose ministry demonstrated the contents of those two tablets. He is the Word of God, the One who will last forever, and who promises to be with us wherever we go.

I don’t pretend to understand it fully, but I do know this: when we flick to the bible app, or read the verse of the day, Jesus the Word is waiting to speak into my being, to feed and water my spirit, forever, wherever. Emails and Facebook can’t do that. Lord, let me not get distracted from hearing your Word.

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Seriously Sabbath

Sundays could be a bit boring when I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. You weren’t allowed to play out. It wasn’t that my parents forbade me, but if you went out, there wasn’t another kid in sight, and anyway it just wasn’t DONE! I remember also getting into trouble as a newly-married, for telling an elderly church lady that we’d been out on a ramble on the Sunday afternoon and picked some blackberries! Yet these days, it’s hard to spot the difference between Sundays and any other day of the week. It must be hard for people who have to work, when they really want to go to church.

Reading Exodus 31:12-17, God’s commands about keeping the Sabbath are really serious – so how, as Christians, do we come to terms with our ‘holy day’, whenever we celebrate it? How do we understand putting to death those who work on the Sabbath? Why did God think it was so important? Maybe we don’t really understand what Shabbat (Sabbath) represents.

There is so much symbolism in the Old Testament, and particularly in this book of Exodus,  that passes us by. In 2 Peter 3, Paul was reminding his hearers not to forget that Christ would return. Verse 8 – “but do not forget…with the Lord a day is like a thousand years…” The Sabbath day, at the end of a 6-day working week, can be seen as representing the millennium age of God’s reign on earth, a thousand years of rest for the world, after six thousand years of travail. The Sabbath is God’s day, and he reigns over it, just as he reigns over the earth through the millennium to come. Practising the celebration of Shabbat was a prophetic proclamation of the reign of God. It was part of the purpose of the Jewish people.

What about non-Jewish Christians then? How seriously should we take our holy day? Colossians 2:16-17  says that the festivals and Sabbaths are all a shadow of things to come. The reality is that Jesus himself is our Sabbath-rest. “Come to me, you who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…” Any time. When did the early Christians meet? Every day. Sabbath is the proclamation of the reign of God. That should be our life’s purpose. Any day…every day. And we should take it seriously. Because our world seriously needs to know.

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The gifts

I’m a carer. Pretty much 24/7. Not how I envisioned spending my early retirement years, but there it is. And it’s probably one of the toughest jobs I’ve done. What amazes me about it, though, is how my capabilities and personality are adapted to cope. It seems like I was made for this task I’d have never chosen.

We talk about the ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ – those nine gifts outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation. The nine spiritual gifts. But then I read Exodus 31:1-11, where Bezalel, Oholiab and others were ‘filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts’ to enable them to manufacture all the accessories for the tent of meeting God had instructed Moses to have made. God spiritually gifted them to make the stuff.

So ‘gifts of the Spirit’ go way beyond the list in Corinthians. I’d say they go as far as skills in care, keeping a house clean, solving problems, coping with getting up in the night and the ability to drop back to sleep when you get the chance. They may even include things like patience, long suffering, and self-control – the stuff we usually class as ‘fruit of the Spirit’.

I’d say the gifts of the Spirit go as far as any skills required by any child of God to do any work he has called you to. Paid work, voluntary, or just plain ‘have to’.

If you’re struggling with your work, take time aside, and ask God to fill you afresh with his Holy Spirit. Ask him to empower you. Ask for the gifts of the Spirit you need to accomplish the task you are doing. And if you are really, really struggling, ask him if you are doing the right job. Being ‘called’ to a work isn’t just about ministers, nuns and missionaries! I’d say I was ‘called’ to be a carer, right now, right in my own home. What are you called to do?

Maybe it’s time to stop grumbling about what you have to do, and see your work as a ‘calling’ God has asked you to do. Then you can expect gifts of the Spirit to enable you to fulfil it. He promises to supply ALL our needs.


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