Posts tagged power
James Glattfelder uses principles from the world of physics to explore the complexity of the global economy. It all sounds kind of geeky, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. As I listen to Glattfelder explain the way control works in this complex system, I can’t help but wonder about the potential results of similar research in the social arena.
By “social,” I’m not talking about Facebook and Twitter, but about churches, non-profits, NGOs and the like. If similar data was collected and the connections or interactions charted, would we find the social world similarly connected, or would the graph look completely different? Would United Way, the Red Cross and USAID be in the power center, or would it all point back to government superpowers and the money they are pouring into the “system”?
I don’t know the answer and I don’t have the brains or the cash to do the research, but if there’s anybody out there willing, I would love to see the results. I’m writing this today from Kenya, where thousands upon thousands of organizations are trying their best to “help,” with many doing the same things for some of the same people. My fear is that, rather than being too interconnected (like the global economic system) that the social system is too independent. I’m afraid that our connections are too weak, our power holders too aloof and our output measurements focused on all the wrong things.
I would love to see the numbers.
Here we see Paul at his best – using his knowledge of Roman law, Jewish law, multiple languages, cultural differences and the profound favor and charisma he had been granted in order to change people’s minds or at least soften their positions. In fact, Paul seemed to have a way with just about everybody except the Jewish religious leaders.
It’s interesting to me how some of the most powerful men in the region – men like Felix – would listen to Paul. After all, these were men who had as much to lose as the religious leaders did. If Paul was right, they would have to completely change the way they governed. Just look at Felix’s reaction to Paul’s words:
As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (Acts 24:25)
He was afraid! Why was he afraid? Because if what Paul was saying – if there was a coming judgement for those who lacked righteousness and self-control, then Felix was in trouble. And Felix was hoping against hope that Paul was wrong, or, even more, that Paul was just blowing smoke.
The verses which follow reveal that Felix was hoping Paul would offer him a bribe. Not only would that have lined Felix’s pockets, but it would have also been an indicator that Paul was insincere – someone whose words didn’t really need to be taken seriously. If Paul gave him a bribe, then Felix would have considered himself off the hook.
But there was no bribe. There was no getting off the hook. For Felix, he would spend the rest of his days in office (and perhaps the rest of his life) haunted by Paul’s words, but too weak to change the way he worked. In fact, he was so weak that even in leaving office, he couldn’t stand up against the Jews. He left Paul in prison not because he thought he was guilty of anything, but because doing so would have angered a group of Jewish leaders.
Righteousness and self-control, it seems, are elusive traits in a politician.
The human side of Jesus is really on display as he nears the end of his life. To be sure, his divine nature is evident as well, but it’s the human side that fascinates me. Here is a guy who knows what he has been sent for. He knows he must die. He knows that prior to death, he will be betrayed, arrested, tried and tortured. He even calls out Peter for trying to defend him. And yet, there is something in Jesus – something on the human side – that wants to resist.
In the other gospel accounts, we read of Jesus’ desperate prayer for another way out of his situation. In the book of John, that part is omitted, but we still see the man Jesus in his words and actions.
When the men come to arrest Jesus, even though he knows he is going to be arrested and has no intention of resisting, he throws a little spiritual “pulse” at his accusers, which knocks them to the ground. Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems like a very human (although supernatural) response. He wasn’t going to fight, but he was going to give them a taste of his power and let them know that he could fight if he wanted to.
Then, when Jesus is questioned by the high priest, he defends himself in a very human way. He defends his teaching, his transparency and his methods. He doesn’t say any of the “Son of God” stuff. He responds to the high priests allegations as any teacher or prophet might have.
Finally, when he is questioned by Pilate, “human Jesus” once again emerges. When asked if he is a king, Jesus doesn’t really answer the question. Instead, he makes what you might consider a snarky comment, “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” In other words, “Did you come to that realization on your own, or have you heard about the kinds of things I’ve been doing.”
He then goes on to explain (in a verbal form of the previous “spiritual pulse”) that if he wanted to resist, he has plenty of followers that would have fought for him. Again, Jesus, the human being, is making Pilate aware of his power. This time, however, he is speaking of the power of his followers, not of himself. Whatever the case, Jesus continues to establish his position of power and authority.
For me, this is an interesting moment. I read and hear a lot about humble Jesus, about powerful Jesus and about gracious Jesus. But at the end of his life, Jesus was somewhat passive-aggressive. He was, I suppose, resisting the urge to wipe his accusers off the face of the planet. Ultimately, he was showing incredible restraint, while also exhibiting his power. This human Jesus is, I believe, something we can emulate. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it preached from a stage, but it seems that there is nothing wrong with it – metaphorically speaking, wielding your sword, flashing it’s blade and then replacing it in its sheath – just so everyone knows what’s up.
I really have to process how this knowledge might affect my interactions with people. How do we exhibit the power and authority of God without being combative? Jesus was certainly a master at it. I guess, once again, we have a lot to learn!
Today, as I read, a new thought ran through my mind. What must it have been like to be Lazarus? Not only did you die (ultimately, he had to die twice), but you were in a tomb for four days. What happened during those four days? Did Lazarus’ spirit enter into heaven? If so, the return to earth must have been a real bummer.
Or maybe it was just a quick flash for Lazarus – like when you faint or pass out and then wake up again moments later. If that was the case, he must have been incredibly disoriented – one minute lying on your death bed and the next lying in a cold, dark cave wrapped in cloth.
However it happened, Lazarus had an experience that none of us will ever have. Even if others around him doubted the power of Jesus, Lazarus had rock solid proof that Jesus was who he said he was. In fact, everyone who witnessed Jesus’ miracle had that proof, but, once again, there were those who refused to acknowledge what they had seen.
When the religious leaders got together to discuss Jesus’ big feat, their discussion wasn’t about whether or not he might actually be the Messiah. They focused on the fact that if this guy went on healing people and raising people from the dead, then they might lose their position of power. Seriously?
Throughout history, countless numbers of people have been turned off from church, from religion and even from God due to the power-grabs made by religious people. Today, we see it on our airwaves and in our politics as some prominent religious leaders seem much more interested in hanging out on the coat-tails of a political candidate than they do following closely in the footsteps of Jesus.
You see, following Jesus isn’t sexy. Following Jesus doesn’t make you famous. It doesn’t make you rich. Just ask Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, who recognized just how dangerous following Jesus can be. But here’s the thing we learn from Lazarus. Jesus actually can make you famous, but only if you die first.
Lazarus wasn’t an opportunistic guy. He didn’t seek the spotlight. He didn’t try to butter Jesus up or use his name to become rich and powerful. All Lazarus did was die. Jesus did the rest.
Not only that, but Jesus said that this was his prescription for power in God’s Kingdom. You die to live. You die to grow. You die to multiply. Whatever you do, you die. Today, let us be willing to follow in the footsteps of Lazarus and to die to ourselves and allow God to use us for his purposes rather than our own.
Waiting is hard. Waiting when you don’t know what you’re waiting for is miserable. And yet, sometimes we just have to wait. For Jesus’ followers in Luke 24, they really didn’t have much of a choice. They didn’t know what else to do. But Jesus told them to wait – to wait for something very specific:
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
Power! Jesus told his disciples to wait for power. They had received his teaching. They had grown and matured as followers. They had developed some useful leadership gifts. But none of that really mattered until they had received power.
We get this wrong a lot of times. We focus on all the other stuff when we’re training up leaders and sending them out. We want them to be good decisions-makers. We want them to know our core values. We want them to have a good understanding of Scripture. But do we, like Jesus, tell them to wait until they have received power before unleashing their “best in class” training on the rest of the world?
I don’t think of myself as a “powerful” person or even a very “spiritual” person in the traditional sense. However, what I do know is that when my decisions are guided by and empowered by the Holy Spirit, good things tend to happen. God things tend to happen.
The trouble is in the waiting. I’m not a terribly patient person. I want to do things now and I can always find something that needs to be done. Maybe if I was one of those people who just has to be told what to do, I wouldn’t mind waiting. But I’m not…and I do.
In this story, we begin to see that sometimes waiting is the precursor to the “big gift.” Waiting should not be seen as a waste of time, but as a gift of time – time to prepare, time to pray and time to consider what you might do if God were to drop an extravagant gift in your lap.
There’s nothing wrong with waiting. Sometimes, it’s a mandate from God. But whatever the case, I typically just pray that the waiting will be over!