Tag Archives: Isaiah

The despised leader: Why be one?

Jesus “was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity.” Why wouldn’t you be the very same?

The Lord pointedly told his disciples that they would be treated like he was treated if they tried to disrupt the perverse homeostasis of sin and destruction in the world. Why are we so appalled when it happens?

The prophet Isaiah revealed that the Messiah would be a suffering servant, not a mighty, political King who would save the family business. The Savior will not appear in his glorious might until the end of days — until that time he appears in his glorious weakness, undoing the sin of the world with suffering love. We’re still fighting with Him about this.

Do we think being despised is just too hard?

It is no wonder we fight Him. Who really wants to be like Jesus? It always get us into trouble. Being dishonored like Jesus was and is dishonored is the regular experience of lonely path of the despised leaderanyone who tries to lead sinners into redemption, or just tries to lead anybody into something better. If you are a Christian and don’t hide it, you are too holy. If you try to improve the neighborhood, you are too pushy. If you are a woman leader, you are too womany. If you are a man leader and you aren’t man enough. If you are a Christian leader, you aren’t spiritual enough or don’t love people well enough. It is no wonder people are scared to lead, even among this circle of hope, where we try to make it plain that the people love their leader into greatness, not vice versa.

To hear some people tell it, leaders get into leadership because they are mostly narcissistic, power-hungry dominators who just want to satisfy their hunger and enjoy being number one. Those kind of leaders are definitely out there, but I don’t meet them in our church too often. Most of our leaders respond to a call when others note their obvious gifts. We tell them we need them to use their gifts to help us to live into our ambitious vision. We usually have to talk people into leading. That’s OK, because we don’t need too many leaders, just enough. They are like an enzyme that keeps our digestion going; we’re the stomach receiving the bread of life.

Leadership everywhere  is tough

Maybe more so, people might not be clamoring to lead because being a leader in our whole society is very difficult right now. In many ways leaders are despised, at least subconsciously. School teachers will tell you stories about that from their classrooms full of anxious, unruly kids in schools overseen by anxious, demanding, random bosses. Small business owners talk about strangely entitled entry level workers. Listen to the memories of the Occupy movement and how their leaders derailed it. The Atlantic Conference of the BIC can’t even find a person who will be their bishop! Everywhere you try to be a leader you get nailed by people who are just one way and don’t listen to others, you’re hounded by people who have a self-interested point to push, or you’re surrounded by people who are so anxious and disoriented that they have a tough time being led!

Let’s face it, intelligent people do not always clamor to get into leadership because they are leery of being despised, being isolated and perpetually dealing with conflict. They look around at the world and say, “I don’t know if I have the stuff to deal with that!” Some of us can’t even have a healthy conflict with a toddler, much less have one with a sinful adult! We can’t stand being despised while our child is screaming in time out, much less can we risk experiencing whatever an adult might do to us.

But we really need people to take the risk

a leader laying out the way
by Erik Johansson

Even if it is hard, whether it is in our families or in our neighborhoods, in the church or in our whole society, we need people who risk going first, who are a trustworthy presence, who take the lead. Some of us need to be a leader all the time, because we have the God-given calling and gifts to do it. You know you are — you are called and people follow. Thank you. We need you.

But we only need enough of those gifted, called leaders. Most of us just need to be ready when we are called on to supply some leadership and not be afraid to face the inevitable issues of going somewhere everyone needs to go and asking us to follow. In the process, we are going to fear that people will be mad at us, since someone will inevitably be mad. Especially if you want to go God’s way, people will oppose you like they opposed your Lord.

That’s the rub; we need to be ready to be despised. Since you know leading is hard and invites conflict, and since people are all-too-ready to tell you to back off, and since it seems impolite, if not illegal, to question anyone’s direction, what would possess you to stick your neck out and get us from here to there? Leading can be painfully isolating. Leading often makes one feel like they are not one of the gang. If you actually cause trouble by leading, someone will despise you. So why do it?

Reasons to take the risk

For one thing, it is very satisfying to follow Jesus. It is deeply satisfying to rally people to trust God. When you obey the Lord’s call to step out in trust, it feels like you are really living. Plus, standing up against the forces of evil is a lot better than the enemy running all over your people, that’s for sure. If any of those phrases rang a bell in you, thanks for letting it. You’re probably a cell leader or a team leader, already. You’re probably leading a healthy family, office or crew. We need more people like you who will be empowered by the Spirit to take their stand for Jesus in a difficult world and build a vibrant, authentic church, the alternative to it’s deadly power.

Jesus reveals the secret of how to take that stand. Being scorned and refusing to compete to be king of the world is the way to eternal life. Humbly doing what needs to be done, going first, taking the direction that needs to be taken and asking people to come along is following Jesus. For some of us, that is a full-time job. For all of us, that is everyday life. Like Paul wrote: God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. Because boasting before God is what makes us despised in eternity. Gaining the whole world at the loss of our true selves is the greatest loss of all.

If you are leading all the time, follow your Leader; it is the best you can do. Your trust in God is better than any technique you will apply or any power you will exercise. For all of us, in a leadership position or not, we need to stop cooperating with what holds us back. Let’s talk each other out of reacting fearfully or avoidantly when we might be despised — or mocked, or ignored, or isolated. Our lowliness and anxiety-bucking obedience is what makes us so appreciated in heaven. Let’s not allows the feelings we might have about ourselves or the ill-feelings others seem to have about us make us withdraw and isolate when we are called to go somewhere better and take people with us.

Remember, no matter who despises you, (even when you despise yourself!), you will never be stolen from the kingdom of grace in which you live. The corruption of your heart is restrained by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The world is passing by under your feet and cannot hold you in its chains. The enemies of God have been bound and cannot permanently harm you. Even if you are despised by yourself and humanity, in Christ you are the beloved of God.

Do not be afraid

This is my favorite Bible verse of the week. I think I will meditate on it with you again.

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: “My people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did.  — Isaiah 10:24

The whole nation of Israel was like God’s child. Israel was like a “son” to God (See Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1). In this verse, Isaiah is speaking for the Lord, who is telling his children, the people of Israel, “Don’t be afraid of the Assyrians,” even though the Assyrian empire is huge and is undoubtedly going to take them over, and even though their king, Ahaz, is trying to make a deal with it instead of trusting God. Be faithful to God.

From a very fun video http://youtu.be/MyePSvvb4QQ

What moves me the most is that Isaiah, speaking for God, acknowledges the infant pain of the nation of Israel, which is now a grown-up nation facing a huge disaster. The Assyrians, who have their clubs lifted on the border are reminiscent of what the child nation experienced in Egypt. Isaiah notes that the experience of being beaten is installed in the nation’s memory, since that is what happened in Egypt when they were slaves. When they were just a child of a nation God rescued them from their abusive condition, but the fears born of having been in that condition are still real.

I love it when my psychological studies world and my faith world collide. The social scientists keep “discovering” what has been common sense for wise people throughout history. The pains of our childhood are the foundry that builds flaws into our future character as adults. The great task of a mature adult is to be conscious of our fears, among many things, and make choices to be our true selves. My understanding is that such choices are not fully possible without being reborn through the work of Jesus and having our birthright restored as a child of God. But I admire the psychologists, especially, who bravely dig into the reality that, “If I was beaten in Egypt, I will probably be afraid of being beaten again when the next oppressor raises his club.” The tripwires in our hearts are easy to set off and difficult to defuse.

When God tells his child, Israel, “Don’t be afraid,” the Lord knows they cannot just shut down their fear; it is installed deeply. He even inplants that understanding in Isaiah’s prophecy of impending doom. I find that very encouraging. Because it means that when God tells me, “Do not be afraid,” he must remember my beginnings, too. I have a story about why I am still afraid inside, even though I can act fearlessly in many ways. I have an “Egypt” in my past where I was hurt. I have huge empires bearing down on me too.

But God is with me! If I did not trust God, I would just have brilliant psychological reasoning to comfort me as I was beaten again. Or worse, I would just have an admonition to “Don’t be afraid,” when my distressing past is meeting my horrifying future.

As I was meditating on this verse, I could not help but remember many of the stories of “Egypt” I have heard lately. Several of them were stories of actual beatings! Some of us have stories we don’t even want to tell, they are so painful to recall. Some of us have stories we can’t tell because we can’t remember the traumatic experiences, we blocked them out so completely. All of us have a story about how sin injured us. The stories were being formed when we were just a small human. There is no way God is telling us, “Don’t be afraid,” as if we were never in “Egypt!” He encourages us to not be afraid because we were in “Egypt” and we needed to be rescued. What’s more, we need help because the “Assyrians” are coming upon us.

Do not be afraid because God is with you. If you are bravely on your own in the face of the next gigantic power that is eager to consume you, God be with you. I think that kind of self-reliance is madness, but I admire your courage. Fear can generate a lot of energy. As for me, I am happy that God called me out of “Egypt” and is helping me face my “Assyrians.” God is with me.