Leadership Falling On Its Face
by Harry Banks
In an earlier age, BT … (BT = Before the Tank: For those of you who may be just coming into the middle of the movie, my Adult Sabbath School Class has acquired the nickname of “The Shark Tank.”) As I was saying, in an earlier age BT, the class was following the Book of Numbers through the wilderness. We got to Numbers 14:5. “Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly.” I thought, that's odd. I've never seen anyone fall on their face in front of a group of people before.
A few chapters later in Numbers 16:4; “And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face.” Bam! Another "face plant!" I started wondering what was going on. What would you think if you walked up to somebody, gave them a piece of your mind and … It's the story of the Korah, Dathan and Abiram; rebellion and confrontation. Anyway … What would you think if you confronted someone and they did a "face plant" in front of you?
I tried to picture it. Sandy soil. Falling down on your face. Where are the arms? Out stretched like across and a Catholic priest being ordained in the middle aisle of the church? Or were the arms straight above the head like someone in a headlong dive? Or were the arms under the body with the hands covering the face to protect it from the sand?
I finally decided on the hands covering the face. So, back to the story; Can you picture trying to talk to a person laying face down on the ground with his face covered?
My next thought was, What is he doing down there? Face to the ground. Shutting out the world around? Is he just laying quietly? Is he praying? Is he listening for God's still, small voice? So being the scathingly brilliant (or not so much) researcher, I thought I'd make a quick check of the E. G. White scripture references on Numbers 14:5 and 16:4 to see if there might be another clue. Zipo! Nada! Nothing! Silence! Hmmm …
Then I decided to go to my next resource, the class. I asked the class when they pictured Moses doing a "face plant" what did they think he was doing while he was laying face down on the ground? After some thought and a bit of discussion they came to the conclusion that he must have been praying.
In the story the net result of these “face plants” was God's divine intervention on behalf of His people.
Sometime later I heard of a church member challenging a pastor. That week there was a sermon on the Numbers 16 rebellion story, but there was no "face plant" in the sermon or the pastor’s attitude. The member said mostly what they saw was direct, eye to eye hate looks from the pastor. Hmmmm …
And now we come to current events such as ordination of women votes, ADRA debacles with some serious high level log rolling. Here in Alaska we used to have a timber industry where logs were floated down rivers to mills for processing. A timberjack would walk across the mass of floating logs arranging them to be taken into the mill. I picture high level log rolling as being trapped under these unstable rolling logs where someone is continually rolling the logs in such a way it is impossible to pull one's self out of the water. There are other meanings but that's my own picture of log rolling.
As I have been reading about the TV broadcast maneuvers, personal vitriol from some defenders of the faith, the caustic comments, the attempts at rational discourse, I have been most troubled and thinking this seems like a time for "face planting.” In this week’s E. G. White comments in the Sabbath School Study Guide there was this: “No human power can put unselfish love in the heart of man; only Christ can do this. He alone can give heavenly wisdom and this he does in response to our expressed desire to be led by his pure Spirit.” (R&H July8, 1909; E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons: 1 and 2 Thessalonians, July-August-September 2012, pp 64-65)
I got to thinking. Could that include “No human power …” can heal our bad opinions of each other?
My wife who does not attend church with me but rather finds her spiritual strength in nature and her animals. (20 some acres with 30 plus miles of trails through undeveloped land, and 20 some sled dogs, a couple horses and a cat) Sometimes when I describe some of the local or not so local bruhaha's and politics in the church, she will say, “So what's that got to do with God?”
Good question. It always brings me up short.
So back to the "face plant." As I picture Moses in the "face plant" position I'm thinking that has a lot to do with man and God in deep conversation in the face of confrontation and chaos.
Being a “failed” clergy, I've had opportunity to exercise a private “face plant” or two. When I resigned due to a moral failure (we sure have some weird ways of describing stuff sometimes), I asked God, “What have you got for a used preacher?” Meaning, Do you still have work for me to do even though I let you down?
Within the week, I was making a sales call and the guy was showing me the gun he was going to use to shoot himself, because he had slept with 30 women in the last 60 days and had no friends. All that and “no friends”… Wow! He wanted to go back to his wife.
Then he asked me, “Will you please pray with me?”
Inside I'm saying, “God, you gota be kidding”…
To him I'm saying, “You have the wrong guy. I'm no longer in that business. I'm messed up. I can't do this …”
He asks again, “Please pray with me.” Again I say, “You've got the wrong guy. I'm not in that business any more.”
A third time he asks, “Please pray with me. I need a friend!”
Finally, inside I say to God, “OK! OK! I got it! Quit whining! It doesn't matter how embarrassed I am, how flawed I am, if there is a job out there to do, just shut up, quit complaining and get the job done!”
I knelt and prayed with my new friend. Our paths parted. Two years later I met him again. He was back with his wife!
That was one of many “face plants” I have been through. Sometimes they have been willingly initiated by my choice. Other times they felt more like a sharp leg sweep from God, and a smash of my head on the sidewalk. But they are definitely opportunities for close God encounters.
So this week I got to thinking about my “face plants” and Moses' “face plant” leadership. I started the search over again. Yep. Numbers 14:5, 16:4. Nothing. But this time my scripture search turned up Numbers 20:6. Another “face plant,” but this reference had a whole ton of citations. I started to check them out.
The citations still provided no clue as to what was going on inside Moses' head while in the face down position but this was definitely another “face plant” God encounter, yet this one was different! It was followed directly with failure He did the “face plant.” He got the straight goods on just what to do; He was supposed to “talk” to the rock not strike it like the first time.
So he got all the people together and said, “Hearnow, ye rebels …”
Sounding a little testy there, Moses.
And then he went for the double strike on the rock with his rod. Ooops.
And just that quick he lost it and thought it was his own show!
Some of the references I found went like this…
“When Moses came down from the mount with the two tables of stone and saw Israel worshiping the golden calf, his anger was greatly kindled, and he threw down the tables of stone and broke them. I saw that Moses did not sin in this. He was wroth for God, jealous for His glory. But when he yielded to the natural feelings of his heart and took to himself the honor which was due to God, he sinned, and for that sin God would not suffer him to enter the land of Canaan.
“Satan had been trying to find something wherewith to accuse Moses before the angels. He exulted at his success in leading him to displease God, and he told the angels that he could overcome the Saviour of the world when He should come to redeem man. For his transgression, Moses came under the power of Satan—the dominion of death. Had he remained steadfast, the Lord would have brought him to the Promised Land, and would then have translated him to heaven without his seeing death.” (White, Early Writings, pp 163-164)
But one of the references that surprised me the most was about William Miller: “My attention was then called to William Miller. He looked perplexed and was bowed with anxiety and distress for his people. The company who had been united and loving in 1844 were losing their love, opposing one another, and falling into a cold, backslidden state. As he beheld this, grief wasted his strength. I saw leading men watching him, and fearing lest he should receive the third angel’s message and the commandments of God. And as he would lean toward the light from heaven, these men would lay some plan to draw his mind away. A human influence was exerted to keep him in darkness and to retain his influence among those who opposed the truth. At length William Miller raised his voice against the light from heaven. He failed in not receiving the message which would have fully explained his disappointment and cast a light and glory on the past, which would have revived his exhausted energies, brightened his hope, and led him to glorify God. He leaned to human wisdom instead of divine, but being broken with arduous labor in his Master’s cause and by age, he was not as accountable as those who kept him from the truth. They are responsible; the sin rests upon them.
“If William Miller could have seen the light of the third message, many things which looked dark and mysterious to him would have been explained. But his brethren professed so deep love and interest for him, that he thought he could not tear away from them. His heart would incline toward the truth, and then he looked at his brethren; they opposed it. Could he tear away from those who had stood side by side with him in proclaiming the coming of Jesus? He thought they surely would not lead him astray.
“God suffered him to fall under the power of Satan, the dominion of death, and hid him in the grave from those who were constantly drawing him from the truth. Moses erred as he was about to enter the Promised Land. So also, I saw that William Miller erred as he was soon to enter the heavenly Canaan, in suffering his influence to go against the truth. Others led him to this; others must account for it. But angels watch the precious dust of this servant of God, and he will come forth at the sound of thelast trump.” (White, Early Writings, p 257-258)
It presents an interesting view of human interactions and views of truth. It makes one wonder if there might be some relevance to some of our current discussions.
For some it might seem tempting to immediately apply some of these lessons to “the other.” However, I've found that “I am expert only on my own story.” In my subsequent career of Information Technology I have encountered a lot of vendor/technician “finger pointing.” I have yet to find “finger pointing” a productive exercise in problem solving. As for a spiritual application I believe it is the Bad Guy who is described as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). I think it behooves us to be very careful about “finger pointing” on these issues.
Whether we see ourselves as Moses, William Miller, William's friends … or any other player in this act … I for one, think it is time for me to do a “face plant” and listen carefully for the instructions and then step carefully away from the rod of impatience and striking, and watch God act in His own mysterious and powerful ways in spite of my/our failures. He is the only one who can save His people at a time like this. Neither Ted, Nor the GC, Nor the Unions, Nor Women can lead us into the promised land if we intentionally or accidentally stray in to “the accuser's” hand.
I do appreciate, so very much, the carefully reasoned approaches such as Gary Patterson, Leona Running and others. But for myself, I must be careful of what I call “the distraction of being right.” As I have opened myself to more of a collaborative relationship with my God—remember that “yoke is easy” image—I still fight the yoke, but when I let the Big Guy carry the bulk of the load it sure works a lot easier.
Anyway along that strange journey I finally became honest enough to admit I really thought I knew what was best for me and the rest of the world. I began to openly admit that I had applied for the position of Master of the Universe. I've noticed that a lot of others seem to have their application in for consideration as well but they seem to have made a “subconscious filing.” As I look back I see that I too, long ago, made a “subconscious filing”
So, as I have gone along and involved myself in the leadership and politics of the church even from my “fringe” position, I have from time to time not only applied in triplicate for my Master of the Universe (MOU) certification but at times added another 12 applications, one for each of the apostles as well because I was certain I had the answers. As I expressed these “intent to file” sentiments in my Sabbath School class some of the members grew tired of my continual references to applying for the Master of the Universe rating. So one day I walked in and was presented with a manila envelope with a cover letter and certificate from Masters, Inc. Inside was a letter of apology for the long delay, and indeed a “Master of the Universe” certificate. (So if any of you out there are thinking you are hot stuff, I'll lay you money you don't got one of these!) But, the cover letter made it clear I had to take notice of the “fine print.” Alas … upon checking the “fine print” I discovered that just as in the great controversy there is a jurisdictional problem with the MOU certification. The “fine print” said, “not valid on earth or in heaven.” Which made most of my friends immediately speculate where it was valid. Hmmm …
So why would I mention this frivolous attempt at humor? Because, since I got the certificate I have had a lot of fun with it, showing it to my colleagues on the college faculty, but I have also found myself tempted to almost believe that I really do know best sometimes. It has made me much more sensitive to how thoroughly deceitful my heart is when it comes to my opinion of others. It also has made me start stepping back and wondering what does the real master of universe think of all these shenanigans going on down here. Has He seen leadership gone bad? Yep. Has He seen “the Chosen” get restless. Yep. Does that put Him out of business? Nope. Does it make His job more challenging? I'm pretty sure it does.
But it is also just another way of underlining my desperate need for “yoking up” and doing “face plant” leadership.
I can feel the heat of the sand … my hands covering my face … my hot breath blowing back in that small space … the darkness of eyes closed … the darkness of soul. Will Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Ruler of All, KING of KINGS, LORD OF LORDS have a chance to show His stuff in spite of me or through me? I hope it's through me … but I may have to keep my face planted longer to make sure.