Making Exceptions

Making Exceptions

I am a regular rule-keeper and a regular rule-breaker. I want society to run smoothly, and a good set of rules enables that. In my Christian college, I earned very few demerits (Do they still use demerits?), but was considered rebellious. I have no problem bending policy, and believe in the gray shades of compliance. Yet, I have an eye for detail, and can submit to the little letters of the law with ease.  It seems where I get into trouble with rules, policies, procedures, standards and guidelines is in the exceptions. And, don’t we all?

One of the most memorable occasions where I learned the value of giving allowance was when I was the one refusing to make the exception. In that case, I should have shown grace and bent to the individual, instead of sticking to the policy for the good of the organization …because the organization would have been just fine. Whereas the individual was broken and needed the privilege of reprieve.

When I am in a position of power, it is so easy to miss the need to bend the rules for some. If I had a nickel for every time I said, “If I make an exception for you, I’ll have to make an exception for everyone,” -well, you know. That saying is fiction in the Christian world. God is in the business of making exceptions. In a post I wrote on Rule-breaking Misfits years ago, I asked,

“Can we allow those who break our policies and rules to be blessed of God and in turn bring blessing to His people? Does it rub you the wrong way to “reward” rule breakers?  Is God’s Spirit the ultimate rebel?” –article on Numbers 11

I guess I’m still working through this issue, because here I am again struggling with the same feelings that sent me to type that article out four years ago. Only this time, I am the misfit, not the one in charge.

I have described myself as nearly impossible to offend, but there are a few hot buttons that trigger me. When I get worked up and hurt, my first instinct is to run my mouth. That is a hard response to control. This week, I’ve sat on an issue in silence for a few days, and let my thoughts stew. Why did I feel hurt and angry? Was it right to feel that way? What am I going to do about it?

Ultimately, my hurt and anger resulted because I thought I deserved an exception to a rule. And, I still think I do. But, I will not insist. I must work to not harbor ill will. In this particular case, I can get past it with grace. However, the underlying issue that drove me to my keyboard is a big problem in churches. The rigidity of organizational policy overlooks the individual and causes harm to the whole organism, which is the living church.

The rigidity of organizational policy overlooks the individual and causes harm to the whole organism, which is the living church.

Cogs in the Machine

Have you ever heard of the “cog in the works” metaphor? The is a favorite illustration of  Paul Metzger, a professor of mine. Metzger warns against reducing Christianity to a system that only values measurable effects and overlooking the “the unquantifiable mystery of love that is the ground of deep relationships. (Paul Louis Metzger, Interstellar: Beyond Scientific and Everyday Positivism.)” God does not view his people as replaceable parts in His big machine, but as vital parts of His Body deserving of honor because they are a member (1 Cor. 12:21-26). We are each unique and irreplaceable to God. When we view people as ‘cogs,’ we see them as generic bodies that make the machine run smoothly, or the body function properly. If the cog breaks down, or jams the works or consistently needs grease to function, we wonder if that cog is a good use of our time and effort? After all, its replaceable.  And oh boy, have I been guilty of that myself!

When we focus on policies with no room for exceptions, we make people feel like cogs: replaceable, generic, and undervalued.

When we focus on policies with no room for exceptions, we make people feel like cogs: replaceable, generic, and undervalued. Learning to value people not as workers or givers or attendance numbers is complex. Leading with sensitivity to this complex dynamic demands we evaluate policies and learn that “making exceptions” can be the new rule.

Feeling like a cog sucks. Sometimes my broken self just wants the machine to bend over backwards to help me out.

 

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When spurs leave you bleeding and jumpy…

Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky
Pixabay: Denver Colorado Statue Monument Cowboy Horse Sky

I have a history with spurs. I’ve been kicked and prodded by well-intentioned Christians hoping to change my direction. Those spurs hurt. I fear them. They leave me confused. I lose my sense of direction and purpose. I thought I was walking the straight and narrow until a sharp jab startles me into flight, and I take a nose dive off the path.

“Spur one another on!” They use Hebrews 10:24 as justification for their punch in my gut. They don’t notice the direction their kick launched me.

Yet Hebrews tells us to apply the spurs to stimulate each other to love and good works. This has never made sense to me, I’ll be honest. The word translated spur or stimulate here means to incite or irritate. When I get irritated, love is not my go-to response, let me tell ya.

Something similar happened to Barnabas. Paul seriously did not trust Mark who had quit the work with Paul once before.  Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance.

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Acts 15:39

So much for provoking the love. That word for sharp disagreement is the same one the author of Hebrews (interestingly, there is a good case it was Barnabas!) used as spur or provoke. They spurred each other in opposite directions. And frankly, that is my response to spurs.

Yet, in Hebrews, the follow up thought to this provoke is to come together with encouragement (Heb. 10:25). I guess the early church had given up on each other.

I wonder if those spurs had anything to do with it?

Today’s church-dropping habit

We are seeing the same thing happen today. People are giving up meeting together. Some people think this is a big problem. Some people have lots of answers:

It’s not really happening.

Its the fault of a watered down message.

We need more authenticity.

They just don’t believe its true.

I’m not going to add my opinion here.

What I am going to do is ENCOURAGE those still faithfully attending church …

…to lay off the spurs.

When you hear someone has stopped going to church, please don’t provoke them. Please try not to be irritating. Please don’t add to their pain or frustrations. Don’t poke them with promises to pray.

Instead, be a soothing balm. Build up your relationship with them regardless of your own disappointment. YOU hang out with them, and not to preach the Bible at them, but simply to BE with them. Love them – that doesn’t mean tell them everything they are doing wrong in the guise of truth. It means enjoy who they are! Encourage them – not to follow your understanding of Biblical instruction – but to be brave enough to explore their soul. Together. And do this together.

Do not give up on being together, but encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:25)

Its time to stop hurting others in the name of doing good.

And for those of you in church leadership, consider adding a few Millennials to your decision-making boards. Kevin Lloyd details 5 Reasons you need a 25 year old on your church board. Its a great way to encourage the younger set that you are listening and want to hear their voices!

Gems from Numbers 11: Prophesying without Permission!

Gems from Numbers 11: Prophesying without Permission!

Moses was stressed out with the load of leading a million whining ex-slaves. So, God has asked Moses to share the load. Specifically, He wanted Moses to share His Spirit with 70 hand-picked leaders.

He called together seventy of the leaders and had them stand around the Tent. God came down in a cloud and spoke to Moses and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy leaders. When the Spirit rested on them they prophesied. But they didn’t continue; it was a onetime event.

God gave his instructions. Go to The Tent where I always meet with you, and this time I’ll meet with your 70 helpers. But there was a problem. Apparently, only 68 of the elders actually showed up!

Meanwhile two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp. They were listed as leaders but they didn’t leave camp to go to the Tent.

Two of the men did not follow instructions very well. That, or they got the time wrong. Or maybe they got waylaid with a broken down cart. Or maybe they didn’t understand they were chosen. Or maybe they had a gig to finish up first. I’m sure they had a very good reason for not being at The Tent when God showed up. This next part is chilling.

Still, the Spirit also rested on them and they prophesied in the camp.

God gifted those who were outside The Tent! His Spirit indwelt those who didn’t follow the “meet in The Tent” policy! No wait…. God used the two misfits wandering around the camp to bless His people!

Admittedly, I understand the reaction of those who witnessed what happened.

A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”  Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ right-hand man since his youth, said, “Moses, master! Stop them!”

I can hear Joshua’s voice in my head. (It sounds strangely like Mydad. pun intended) Put a stop to this right now! Tell them they are not supposed to be prophesying because they didn’t do things the RIGHT WAY! Prophesying without permission! What if someone sees them and thinks you’ve lost control of the camp! I think that last statement gets to the heart of the matter. Joshua was very concerned Moses’ authority would be questioned because Eldad and Medad got the gift of prophecy outside The Tent.

But Moses said, “Are you jealous for me? Would that all God’s people were prophets. Would that God would put his Spirit on all of them.”

God’s Spirit does not always follow the rules as we understand them to be. This little incident is just a precursor to the fantastic outpouring Joel predicted at Pentecost where God gave his Spirit to young  and old, women and men.  The lesson I take away is that God does not always follow His rules when it comes to pouring blessing out upon His people. Sometimes He uses the Eldads and Medads who are like us, a little bit different, to speak with power and grace.

Will you be like Joshua and seek to silence the Spirit even when given to someone you don’t approve of? Or will you be like Moses? Would that God would put his Spirit on all of us.

Gems from Numbers 11: The blessing of rule-breaking misfits

Gems from Numbers 11: The blessing of rule-breaking misfits

I tend to be a rule-keeper. Well, kind of. There is a good bit of the rebel in me. But in general, I have no problem sticking to a set of policies … as proof I claim my near-flawless demerit record at Bob Jones! (They still stuck me in the spiritual-problem-child dunce hat a number of times regardless of my rule-keeping. So, I guess my inner rebel always finds a way to peek through.) I totally see the necessity in rules. Even dumb ones. They bring order and cohesion.

There are those people who always break the rules. You know them. Maybe they are ignorant, and don’t understand they are breaking rules. Even though you tell them over and over again. Maybe they are cantankerous, and must. always. rebel. Or maybe they are naïve, and break the spirit of the law while toeing the line.

As a leader in Christian ministry, what do we do with the times our policy is broken or a rule is stretched way out of shape? Discipline? Overlook? Warn? Laugh? Sometimes it is tough to decide.

God’s Spirit knows best.

Moses was stressed out with the load of leading a million whining ex-slaves. So, God has asked Moses to share the load. Specifically, He wanted Moses to share His Spirit with 70 hand-picked leaders.

He called together seventy of the leaders and had them stand around the Tent. God came down in a cloud and spoke to Moses and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy leaders. When the Spirit rested on them they prophesied. But they didn’t continue; it was a onetime event.

God gave his instructions. Go to The Tent where I always meet with you, and this time I’ll meet with your 70 helpers. But there was a problem. Apparently, only 68 of the elders actually showed up!

Meanwhile two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp. They were listed as leaders but they didn’t leave camp to go to the Tent.

Two of the men did not follow instructions very well. That, or they got the time wrong. Or maybe they got waylaid with a broken down cart. Or maybe they didn’t understand they were chosen. Or maybe they had a gig to finish up first. I’m sure they had a very good reason for not being at The Tent when God showed up.

This next part is chilling.

Still, the Spirit also rested on them and they prophesied in the camp.

I could just stop there. I think you get it. But, I gotta hammer this point a bit.

Bang, bang!

God gifted those who were outside The Tent! His Spirit indwelt those who didn’t follow the “meet in The Tent” policy! No wait…. God used the two misfits wandering around the camp to bless His people!

But they were in the wrong place!

But they got off schedule!

But they bungled the plan!

It doesn’t matter when God’s Spirit is at work. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3)

Can we be like God?

Can we allow those who break our policies and rules to be blessed of God and in turn bring blessing to His people? Does it rub you the wrong way to “reward” rule breakers?  Is God’s Spirit the ultimate rebel?

Gems from Numbers 11: How the meek burn out

Gems from Numbers 11: How the meek burn out

Moses couldn’t handle it anymore. Not all alone.

He tells God, “I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people.”

“You don’t have to,” was God’s answer. “Gather together seventy men from among the leaders of Israel, men whom you know to be respected and responsible. Take them to the Tent of Meeting. I’ll meet you there.”

Share the load.

Now, I would have been thinking, What will everyone think of me? Will they think I’m  weak? And then, What if these 70 elders make a big mess of everything I’ve worked so hard for? Or even, What’s it going to cost me?  And most embarrassingly, What if they get the credit and people think they do the job better? Secretly, I’d want them to bungle it so I’d be appreciated more.

But these thoughts were far from Moses mind. He was willing to give up what was dearest to him, freely. Without reservation. He shared what he had, the very Spirit of God.

God said, “I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them.”

Moses was not me, and his reaction earned him the label: meek. Because you see, Moses did not think he was special! He wanted everyone to experience the intimacy he shared with God. He didn’t hoard it. He shared his resources and gifts.

His burn out brought blessing to the 70 leaders of Israel. Meek Moses encouraged and empowered with the Spirit of God when he was at his personal low.

Gems from Numbers 11: “Let me out of here!”

Gems from Numbers 11: “Let me out of here!”

In Numbers 11, Moses was stressed out.

“ What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, ‘Give us meat; we want meat.’ I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people. If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.”

In my head, his tantrum sounds just like the one I had this morning with my three children. Moses felt the stress of a mother*, who constantly cares for her children only to have them complain about the ONE THING they don’t have. And he lost it.

Oh Moses, I so get you.

*Or father, or nanny, or any full time caregiver of children.

A test of Christian leadership

A test of Christian leadership

In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel told King Saul to destroy the worthless Amalekites. Although genocide is generally not a good idea today, the principle revealed in the story is a great test of Christian leadership. Who do your Christian leaders honor? The popular and powerful or the weak, undeserved nobodies?

Amalekite History

Who were these condemned people?

When Moses delivered the enslaved Jews from Egypt, the Amalekites picked off the weak and defenseless separated from the group. This action revealed that they did not fear God. This is the reason God gave for his deadly mission.

I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. (Deut 25)

God swore to blot them off the face of the earth. God would be at war with not only those who attacked Israel, but with their children and grandchildren.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” Ex 18

God, as He is apt to do, gave the task to the Israelites to complete as they began to settle in Canaan.

 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

Now it is time for Saul to deliver.

Saul reveals his own Amalekite heart

Saul goes to war with Israel’s bitter enemies, and he begins the slaughter.

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Oh the irony. By sparing the rich and powerful and abusing the poor and weak, Saul was inviting the enmity of God. Did he not see that? I wonder if he had emancipated the weak and despised people under the dictator king Agag, if God would have judged him with grace? But it didn’t happen that way.

Destroying the weak and honoring the powerful revealed his heart had no reverence for the just God. He was guilty of the very sin he was sent to judge.

A test of the heart

Although we cannot know the heart of a person, we can discern much by a study of how they treat the weak, the defenseless, the victims in our society. Does a leader honor the powerful by sparing him/her from scrutiny? Do they name drop? Do they point to the “little guy” with fault? Do they spare the despised?

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Jesus understood.