The Key to Leadership

Leadership Key   Once there was a woman who displeased her husband so he simply divorced her. In this case, the man was a king and his wife was a queen but that doesn’t matter; the husband could have been a farmer—or a physician or a factory worker or a finance administrator—or anything else… but I digress. The reason the king divorced his wife was that he had made a request of her but his wife had refused the request. And in those days, refusing a king was simply not done.

   None of that, however, is the point of the story. The point is why the woman refused to obey the king. Unfortunately, we’ll never know why because the king never bothered to find out. Or, if he did, it didn’t matter to him—which is, in our little story, not a minor detail by any stretch.

   By now, you’ve probably guessed the story: the king is Xerxes, the queen is Vashti, and the story is told in the biblical Book of Esther. But the core of it is an old story that continues to unfold everywhere, all the time.

   King Xerxes “requested” that Queen Vashti appear before him and all of his drunken officials so that Xerxes could show off the queen’s beauty, but the queen declined the offer. Suddenly, the party was over. At best, a great breach of protocol had occurred and, at worst, a serious crime had been committed. Perhaps even a Class A felony.

   So, beside himself, the king insisted his counselors tell him what to do. They immediately defaulted to “if she gets away with such blatant disrespect, then none of our own wives will respect us either. Away with her!” And so, away she went.

   Point? Not once (that we’re told) did the king nor any of his officials ever think to ask the queen whether there might’ve been any valid reason why she had refused to appear before the king’s assembly. However, through the centuries, there has been a great deal of speculation. And that’s because Vashti had to have had a very good reason for disobeying the king; people who did that were generally executed—which probably rules out simple defiance. And so, theories abound…

   Reason #1: Queen Vashti was ordered to appear before her own servants. This particular reason is not speculation. The Bible reports that Vashti was being ordered to appear at a party which the king was hosting for his servants and officials. (He’d already hosted a party for the governors and nobles.) It was on the seventh day of this party that he sent for the queen because “he wanted all the men to gaze on her beauty…” (Es. 1:11). Imagine, a queen being ordered to appear before the servants of her household so that they could, essentially, ogle her. That would certainly be a valid reason she might be reluctant to appear.

   Reason #2: King Xerxes wanted Queen Vashti to appear before the men sans clothing. (He did, however, order that she wear her royal crown.) Now while those proposing this theory can offer no definitive proof that Vashti was expected to appear unclothed, it is worth noting that women in those days were certainly considered of less value than a good war horse. Thus it does not seem unreasonable to suppose that if the king’s sole goal was to impress his officials and servants with his queen’s beauty, they should view all of it. However, in a culture where women were veiled for modesty, imagine what a scandal this would be. Sadly, in the king’s drunken state, he probably didn’t think of that. No wonder Queen Vashti refused to show— and especially before her own servants.

   Reason #3: Vashti could have been, for a variety of cultural reasons, considered “unclean” on that particular day. And we’ll leave it at that.

   Remember, Vashti knew—everyone knew—that to defy an order from the king could well mean death. That being the case, my guess is that whatever she was being asked to do, she must have considered worse than death. To appear under any of the above circumstances most probably would have resulted in a humiliation and degradation from which the queen would never have recovered. To be remembered as the queen who was forced to appear before servants and possibly without clothes (or worse) would truly have been a fate more terrible than death. But we’ll never know because Xerxes never bothered to ask why his wife would rather risk death than obey his command.

   The king lacked understanding.

   Xerxes cared more about his pride and reputation than about his own wife’s concerns. Nevertheless, after sobering up, indications are that he regretted his irrevocable decision to send her away.

   Perhaps he finally understood the facts.

   As leaders, whether in our homes, businesses, government or any other authoritative position, we need to understand the facts of any given situation and the effects of our verdicts upon others before making those decisions. That’s just good leadership. And although one would think that should go without saying, sadly it does not.

   In several places in his letters, Paul admonishes husbands, fathers, and slave owners [by extension, employers], not simply not to mistreat wives, children or slaves [employees], but to treat them with understanding (Eph. 5:21-6:4; Col. 3:18-21). And this principle holds true for anyone, including women.

   Understanding. It’s the key to wisdom, insight, revelation, discernment, and discretion. Without understanding, leaders cannot attain any of those.

   Think about that.

   Simply put—get the facts. The truth is that if those in authority treat others with understanding, then there will be much less need to demand respect and obedience. There is a time and place to deal with overt rebellion but not as an automatic default. Yes, chronic offenders, in-your-face law-breakers, criminals, and terrorists certainly demand swift and meaningful consequences, but in dealing with our families, our employees, and our constituents, fact-based understanding is the better part of wisdom.

   Understanding is the difference between a tyrant and a great leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Bondage

Man Behind Bars

  Penelope (name changed, of course) hid her face and sobbed, confessing that she’d once had an abortion. Now I’d known Penelope for several years at that point and, as college girls do, we’d shared all of our most intimate thoughts and secrets. Or so I thought. But Penelope had never once even hinted at the pain that tormented her day and night. Her guilt had kept her from sharing that excruciating part of her past.

   Fast forward several years – another friend, another setting, same confession. Portia had had an abortion and carried such guilt from it that she couldn’t bear it one second longer. She broke down that day at work and cried her heart out.

   Jeremy lost his job but was too embarrassed to tell his wife so he pretended to go to work every day until he couldn’t hide his secret anymore. Anthony had an undiagnosed learning disability, making it a struggle for him to read so he simply refused to do it. His classroom behavior was disruptive, his grades were poor, but his secret was safe. Sarah was drowning in debt; Darryl was addicted to pornography; and Landon felt he could never live up to his parents’ expectations.

   What do all of these people have in common?

   Shame.

   And it’s kept every one of them from asking for help.

   Feelings of shame transcend knowledge and reason. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people hide their failures, fears, guilt and condemnation from others because they’re driven by shame – at themselves.

   Shame is the great isolator; it causes people to hide behind masks that smile and say, “I’m fine. How are you?” And in many cases, it even causes people to separate themselves completely from others.

   But what gives shame its power over us? Primarily this: We let our failure or fear or fault or sin define us. In other words, that thing becomes our identity. To people tormented by shame, the unconscious message that plays and replays in their minds is not simply “You did a bad thing;” the message is, “You’re a bad person.” As time passes and that message is not deleted, it morphs into “You’re a horrible person” or “There’s something wrong with you – and you’ll never be right.” Eventually, if that message is allowed to metastasize further, it can lead to hopelessness, addiction, mental illness or even worse.

   Shame is a monster – unseen, undetected and, ultimately, unslain. Shame enslaves, tortures, and destroys. And tragically, many see no hope of ever escaping it.

   But there is one way. Jesus came to set us free – even from the demon of shame. The Bible tells us that when Jesus died, He took our shame for us so that we don’t have to live with it or die by it.

   The blood of Christ is the only sword which can slay the dragon of shame. Why? Because in Christ, we gain a new identity – His identity. No longer are we defined by our sin but rather by His righteousness (II Cor. 5:21). We can be transformed from a “horrible” creature to a “new creation in Christ” (II Cor. 5:17), a truly good person – righteous and perfect. We can go from believing that we’ll never be loved or forgiven because we’re too “ugly” or “dirty” or “wrong,” to knowing that, through Christ, we’re really, truly worthy of being both loved and forgiven.

   Of course, folks can ridicule this. They can continue to spend big bucks on therapy or to work harder at being good enough or to paste on the mask again and try for one more day to “fake it till they make it”. But it won’t help. And we know this because if people are still doing those things and those things still haven’t worked, then why would we think they ever could possibly work in the future?

   They call that insanity.

   Think about it: If we could free ourselves of shame, then why did Christ have to die to set us free? Just to give us another freedom option? Why would anybody die to set another person free when they have another way to get free? That’s insanity. And Jesus isn’t crazy. So that means that if he died to set us free, then He’s the only option we have.

   The bottom line is that shame destroys destinies. Shame says, “Don’t be stupid – you can’t do that!” And maybe shame speaks through the voices of other people – people you know. Doesn’t matter. They’re still wrong. Shame is a liar whose mission it is to stop you from ever even trying to achieve the destiny you born for.

   Don’t listen.

 

 

 

Solar Eclipse: Don’t Blind Yourself (to the facts).

Eclipse Eye   Don’t think a solar eclipse can cause eye damage or even blindness? Neither did Lou Tomososki. But it did.

   During a partial solar eclipse in 1962, Tomososki was walking home from school with a friend when they spotted the moon sliding over the sun during the eclipse. They’d heard the warnings in school from a science teacher: “Do not look directly at the partial solar eclipse!” But, being teenagers, Tomososki and his friend figured that peeking at the eclipse for only a couple of seconds couldn’t hurt. Right?

   Wrong.

   Tomososki’s first indication of a problem was while watching the eclipse; he saw flashes of light before his eyes. He didn’t worry though. The flashes were so similar to a camera flashbulb’s that he didn’t think it was any big deal. But Tomososki later confirmed that he and his friend were both burned at the same time and both, to this day, have permanent eye damage.

   “We were just doing it [watching] for a short time,” he said. “I have a little blind spot in the center of my right eye.”

   Types of eye damage from watching an eclipse include loss of central vision (solar retinopathy), distorted vision, and altered color vision.

   PREVENT BLINDNESS (preventblindness.org), a highly respected resource for eye health professionals, is sounding the warning about looking directly at an eclipse, partial or otherwise. In an article entitled “Solar Eclipse and Your Eyes,” Prevent Blindness (PB) explains how our eyes are adversely affected by looking at a solar eclipse.

   “Exposing your eyes to the sun without proper eye protection during a solar eclipse can cause ‘eclipse blindness’ or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy. This exposure to the light can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina (the back of the eye) that transmit what you see to the brain.”

   The article warns that eye damage can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to appear.

Many people who’ve glimpsed at an eclipse may think they’ve dodged a bullet if they don’t experience symptoms immediately.

   Other people may not realize they’ve damaged their sight because eclipse-related eye injuries occur without pain. Nevertheless, eye damage, including blindness, can be permanent.

   But it’s not just gazing up at the sky that can cause permanent damage. PB warns about other ways not to watch a solar eclipse.

Do not use a Smartphone: Think about it: We all have to line up a pic when we take a photo with any camera, including a phone. What we need to take seriously is that even those few seconds when we take a peek at the eclipse to frame the shot is enough time to do the damage. And it’s enough time to damage your phone as well.

Do not use a camera viewfinder: The optical viewfinder on a camera is no protection for your eyes, either. Why? It’s just glass. And it has nothing on that glass to protect your eyes from the rays coming through it. The fact is that looking at an eclipse through a viewfinder is essentially the exact same thing as staring at the eclipse, and it can cause the same kind of damage to your eyes.

Do not use unsafe filters: Many—too many—people think that some kind of filter will shield them from the dangerous sunrays. Not so. PB says that “…unless specifically designed for viewing a solar eclipse, no filter is safe to use with any optical device (telescopes, binoculars, etc). All color film, black-and-white film that contains no silver, photographic negatives with images on them (x-rays and snapshots), smoked glass, sunglasses (single or multiple pairs), photographic neutral density filters and polarizing filters are unsafe filters to watch a solar eclipse. Also, solar filters designed for eyepieces that come with inexpensive telescopes are also unsafe. All of these items can increase your risk of damaging your eyes.”

   In addition to the PB warnings, use common sense.

Do not rely on sunglasses. Note above that sunglasses are not deemed proper gear for viewing an eclipse; they simply cannot filter out the concentration of damaging rays that an eclipse throws down. And wearing more than one pair of sunglasses is not going to help, either. (That would be like wearing two pairs of socks when you go swimming instead of one because you don’t want your feet to get wet. It’s still not going to work.)

Do not look out of a window. Sunlight is, obviously, not deterred by windows. Unlike wind, rain, sleet or snow, simply being on the other side of the glass is not going to protect your eyes from the damage done by looking directly at an eclipse.

Do not forget your pets. Our pets’ eyes are as susceptible as ours to the damage caused by looking directly at a solar eclipse. Since we can’t tell them that, probably the wisest course of action is simply to keep them indoors.

Do not forget to warn and/or supervise your children. Experts say that children are at even greater risk of eye damage because protective barriers in their retinas are not yet fully formed. Make certain that children and teens understand all of the risks involved in watching a solar eclipse, specifically that they cannot rely on phones and/or sunglasses for protection.

   For more information on how to watch an eclipse with any degree of safety, visit preventblindness.org for a comprehensive list of safe viewing options. Remember: one unguarded moment can change your whole life.

   Lou Tomososki knows that.

  

 

  

 

 

 

Everything Depends On What We Can’t See.

Coin Flip

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).

   At any given point in the decision-making process, we can only access one-quarter of the information needed to make a good decision. And it’s not merely a question of gathering more intel—the fact is that the necessary info is simply not available.

   And that, my friends, drives me crazy.

   As are many of you, I’m a data-driven kind of girl. In decision-making, I just want the facts: Tell me what the problem/choice/opportunity is; give me a realistic assessment of available resources; give me a list of pros and cons for each option; and give me both the best and worst case scenarios for each possible outcome. Once all of that analysis is on the table, a great decision is guaranteed.

   Or not.

   Even with all of those facts, statistics, possibilities and considerations taken into the mix, that’s still only a fraction of the information needed to make a wise decision. Here’s the other three-quarters of info needed.

   Thing I: What’s happening behind the scenes that you can’t see? Your son or daughter is acting out and you need to drop the hammer. After all, they know better. Right? But what if they’re being bullied or had a break up or are being pressured to do something they know is wrong? They may not be voluntarily forthcoming with that info so is a good, long time-out or chew-out going to help solve their crisis or their behavior? Maybe more information is needed…

   Job hunting? Which to take? The one with better money would certainly seem the obvious choice but what’s going on behind the scenes that you can’t research? For instance, you might not want to work for that boss or deal with those office politics or participate in the undercover climate of, shall we say, compromise that you’d be expected to comply with. Those are behind-the-scenes circumstances that—let’s face it—aren’t going to come out during the interview.

   Or what about that home or car you’re looking to buy? What if it has flaws that inspectors or mechanics simply miss? (Not that the seller is trying to unload on you…just sayin’.)

   That person you’re considering marrying? Is it possible that he or she might be on his/her best behavior until you’ve vowed never to part? We all have faults and flaws, no doubt, and granted, it might sound cynical even to ask that question. But can we really say that no husband or wife has ever been blindsided by their spouse’s hidden propensities toward (way) overspending or inability to keep employment or even more serious tendencies toward violence, addiction or cheating? Do we really think that any of those fault-lines were visible to multiple thousands of people before they walked down the aisle and they simply chose to ignore them? (Okay, some did.)

   Hidden things, by definition, are impossible to see. Walking by sight only lights up a fraction of them.

   Thing II: What’s on the horizon that you can’t see? Vacation in Orlando? Uh, oh—hurricane hits. What about Washington; that’s always fun. Unless there’s an accident on the Beltway and traffic is backed up to Maine—no fun. Or which college to choose? My son once picked one and two months in, they cancelled his major. Didn’t see that coming. 

   Thinking of buying a home, starting a biz or investing? Certainly you can and should do the research: What’s the housing market look like right now? Is it a buyers’ or sellers’ market? How’s the business economy—friendly or no? Business tax rates? And what’s happening with interest rates for 401K’s, CD’s, the stock market? Is Social Security secure for the future? Some research may give some answers but here’s what we can’t know: What will happen in the future? Sure, “experts” make predictions all the time, but if you’ve ever watched any financial analysis debates (which I try to avoid), their crystal balls never quite align. And unless you’re a psychic, you’re simply not going to know. Evidence? How many people were completely wiped out financially in the stock market crash of 1929? Or 1989? Or the housing crisis/market crash in 2007/2008? Millions. And we had the ensuing recessions and depressions to prove it.

   Again—thinking of getting married? What if one of you grows and matures and you’re simply “not compatible” anymore? Anyone see that coming?

   Walking by sight is blind to future circumstances. Why? Because those circumstances haven’t happened yet.

   Thing III: What’s happening in the spiritual realm that you can’t see? At any given moment, there’s more happening in the spiritual realm that affects your decisions than is occurring in the physical realm. The problem is, that activity is invisible; you can’t see it happening. And if you can see it, I guarantee that it’s because you are walking by faith, not by sight. But whether you have the gift of discernment, you’re a seer into the spiritual realm or the angel Gabriel regularly shows up with intel, somehow you’re being allowed that insight by God; it’s not info you can Google.

   One time my parents bought a house that we didn’t know was haunted. But we found out. And regardless of whether you believe spiritual entities (aka “demons”) can inhabit physical spaces or not, something was knocking pictures off walls, causing audible footsteps, and shattering glasses sitting untouched on the table—and it wasn’t us. Not to mention two or three memorable visitations in the dead of night. My mother even contracted brain cancer and died, and while I can’t prove that that was related, it does seem an odd coincidence that her home health aid was also diagnosed with brain cancer after three months of working in that house. What we found out much later is that the prior residents used to have séances in the house—always an open invitation to demonic activity. (But that’s another post entirely.)

   Bottom line: We saw the house, it looked good, and we bought it. We walked entirely by sight—and saw nothing.

   Many people who make decisions solely based on what they can see rather than faith in God either don’t understand the importance of waiting on God or simply hate to wait. However, the real truth is that living only by what we can see, hear, feel or research is a very miniscule part of the picture; there’s simply too much happening or about to happen that we simply cannot see. Basing decisions on only one-quarter of information is not just a huge risk, it can be downright deadly.

   Ask my mom.