September 2011


Praising from the proper position
By John Ashmen

Nebuchadnezzar II excelled at grandiose expressions of anger, beauty, and pride. He was the unassailable king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire who destroyed Israel’s first majestic temple, built the wondrous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and set up a nine-story image of gold on the Plain of Dura, commanding everyone to worship it.

When three boys from Judah refused to bow down to the statue as ordered, Nebuchadnezzar’s rage was off the charts. He ratcheted up the punishment and then sat back to watch the very public destruction of those who dared disobey him.

But when the Lord intervened and marvelously preserved the trio, Nebuchadnezzar publicly praised the God of the young men who were delivered from the flames.

Let’s jump to the end of the Daniel 3 story, picking it up at verse 28: “Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’ Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.”

At first read, it might sound like
Nebuchadnezzar was convinced by the overwhelming evidence and converted from Nabu to Jehovah. But think about it. What other choice did he have? To shoo the Jewish kids off the set and strike up the band again would most certainly have been an overture to bedlam in Babylon.

The only thing Nebuchadnezzar could do to retain any semblance of self-esteem was to quickly switch sides. Same scenario, different god: Forget the gold statue; exalt the Hebrews’ god—or I’ll slice you up (since the burn you up thing didn’t work too well)! For whatever reason, Nebuchadnezzar still needed to show that he had the power, or at least was the emissary of the god with the power.

Yes, Nebuchadnezzar did acknowledge God, but it was very clearly a proclamation birthed in pride.

In Daniel chapter 4, God had had enough of Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance. Let’s start with his brief soliloquy in verse 30: “‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’

“Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?’”

And in verse 37 he concludes: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Notice the different tone. This time it is subservient praise. In Chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar made autocratic statements after seeing God work. In Chapter 4, he made astute observations after experiencing God at work in his own life.

How many people have we—I include myself—turned off or turned away from God with praise that favors us as much as it features Him?

We just had an AGRM CEO Summit with close to 70 executives participating, several of whom had never been to an AGRM event, or hadn’t been to one in many years. After it was over, I had an off-site invitation to lunch with one of these first-timers. Reluctantly he gave me his analysis of the three-day experience: The sessions were of keen interest, but he was greatly distracted by the high degree of self-delight he felt some of his fellow CEOs displayed. I asked him to explain further.

At mealtimes, he observed that some people preferred to introduce others to their accomplishments rather than to themselves. In sessions, he observed that some people were more about protecting their established methods than risking fresh approaches. On a scale of 1–10, he put the overall affability of the attendees at a 5. It seems that our fellow CEO was running into some post-furnace-Chapter-3-Nebuchadnezzar behavior.

It would be easy for me to bury this CEO’s criticisms under the premise that he doesn’t really know us…except that I think he is probably more right than wrong.

Indeed it is hard for leaders who need affirmation—and we all do—to observe, articulate, negotiate, create, and especially praise from a position of humility rather than a position of pride. We often have the misnomer that we need to associate ourselves with a title and accomplishments in order to garner the respect we deserve from peers, and the acceptance we desire from God.

Perhaps we—again, I’m speaking to all of us, including myself—need to speak more often out of experiencing God at work in our own lives rather than observing God at work around us. Perhaps we need to do a better job of affirming our common bond in Christ before we assail our common issues. Perhaps we need to look afresh at hospitality within the body at the same time we look at hospitality toward the poor. Perhaps we need to recognize—dare I say, welcome—the humbling experiences God grants us, and afterward admit that we agonized and learned rather than persevered and conquered.  

It’s interesting that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t have any less power in Chapter 4 than he did in Chapter 3, but he certainly demonstrated by the way he praised God that he was a leader of much greater authority. May we all be Chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzars.

            are readers  

The Hero’s Farewell (Oxford University Press, 1988)
Every ministry goes through transition. How the departures are set up and handled has a lot to do with the how the organization moves forward. In The Hero’s Farewell: What Happens When CEOs Retire, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld interviews 50 CEOs about transition, and teaches from their experiences. You’ll have fun looking at the contrasts between the departures of “monarchs,” “generals,” “ambassadors,” and “governors.” If a transition is in your future or the future of your organization, this book is a must-read. 

  Resources from the CEO Summit
With this issue of Executive Session, I want to give you some takeaways and resources from AGRM’s recent CEO Summit (even if you didn’t attend). Use these and pass them on as you see fit. Feel free to comment on what’s below and what’s linked.

Favorite quotes
Random statements that caught people’s attention
  • “You can’t talk yourself out of what you have behaved yourself into.”
  • “People are no longer asking us how many we fed; they are asking about our results.”
  • “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
  • “Having no concept of diamonds, we accept glass.”
  • “Vision is the force that invents the future.”
  • “A compelling vision must be widely shared.”
  • “It’s more important to see the vision than to quote it. And if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
  • “Organizations will grow toward the images of vision.”
  • “People believe in our cause but are confused by our words.”
  • “Religious talk can obscure the truth.”
  • “When Jesus ascended into heaven, he didn’t leave a mission; He left the church.”
  • “Missions would be totally revolutionized if we really understood that ministry to the Body of Christ was a priority in the mind of Jesus.”
  • “Let God do the work so we don’t work ourselves to death.”
  • “Mentoring matters.”
  • “The runway for successful leadership succession is a well-communicated culture.”
  • “Community is helping people belong so they can believe, not believe so they can belong.”
  • “We can never let the primary (Christ) become secondary.”
  • “When Jesus shows up He doesn’t take sides; He takes over.”
Desires for AGRM
What members want their association to consider
  • We need a common nomenclature that all members can embrace.
  • We need definitions for commonly used terms.
  • We need to re-brand the words rescue and mission rather than replace them.
  • We need data standardization and reliable measurements.
  • We need Housing Next™ to be thought out before being rolled out.
  • We need more white papers for our industry.
  • We need to explore major grants for the association.
  • We need step-by-step instructions for how to best use Invisible Neighbors.
Integrity PowerPoint
Jerry White’s notes from his morning devotional

Visionary leadership article
Material from consultant Larry Johnston

Latest information about Invisible Neighbors

Association of Gospel Rescue Missions l