One of my clients was once a Top Gun fighter pilot for the US Air Force. Top Guns are just that, the top gun or pilot in their class. His particular life story I found both fascinating and instructive. He had been captivated by flight since a child and his Type A personality dreamed for an opportunity to fly high and fast one day. After completing college, he signed up to become the next Maverick of the Air Force. Some of you may remember Tom Cruise playing this role in the 1986 movie Top Gun. This guy was obsessed with the air battles of history from Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron) in WWI to the modern age of supersonic jet warfare and the mysterious SR-71 spy plane. The Blackbird as it was called flew at 2,200 mph.
He could not wait to get in the air and fly those amazing high tech aircraft. He was particularly interested in learning the various military tactics, maneuvers and air battle strategies which one’s life depended on when in a dogfight. For the first few months of his training he spent a great deal of exasperating time sitting in the classroom not flying. This was extremely annoying. Once he did get behind the stick and started flying, it was endless days of repeatedly doing monotonous rolls and barrel loops while going in circles. The whole process seemed tedious and torturous; the situation started to wear on him mentally.
In a moment of frustration, he stormed in to the head trainer’s office demanding to know when they were going to start doing the more interesting flight battle maneuvers! The guy looked back at him rather stunned by his intense demeanor. His response though was priceless; “What do you think we’ve been doing the whole time?” The young Top Gun was puzzled by his reply until he followed it up with this perspective “Don’t you understand that the BFM’s (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) are made up of a series of rolls, loops and circles done in various ways and sequences? You’ve been doing them the whole time, you just never put it together! It was an Aha moment and a life lesson which stayed with him indefinitely. Life is a series of small lessons which often prepare us for big moments. No one young wants to hear this but success… it takes time!
THOSE NASTY S-ELVES
We live in an age when our developing technology appeals to and feeds some of our worst human attributes. We want what we want now and exactly the way we want it! It has been said the lack of options is a way to define poverty. From that perspective we are all very wealthy in our customized options rich societies. Just try and order a regular coffee at Starbucks! They look down at you as though you are unsophisticated and something is not right with you. Our modern world appeals to our self-centered Selfish Selves and their extended family the Impatient Selves. There has been a huge population increase since the 1960’s among the Selves. They tend to produce many offspring as they are preoccupied with them Selves.
These “selves” which inhabit us are the greedy and intolerant cousins of the elves which work at the North Pole. We can distinguish them by the “s” in front of their name; the “s” is for Self. The elves side of the family are quite disciplined; working diligently for a whole year to prepare for a single event. They are “others focused” looking to bring joy to them. They understand that life is not about instant gratification and often the most significant parts of our purpose develop over long time periods. They live for others.
The other side of the family is cursed with narcissistic personality disorder. They see themselves as the center of the universe with everything in creation there for their benefit. “Of course it’s all about me” is their default setting. One should never be surprised when they choose what is best for them over what is best for everyone else.
The intent of my writing the last few months, has been to have you become more acquainted with the Joseph of biblical fame. His life story, while ancient, is extremely relevant thousands of years later to all of us. After years of finding himself living in a live action, real life game of Chutes and Ladders® (Snakes and Ladders as my English friends call it) he suddenly found himself thrust into the midst of an international incident with a looming crisis ahead. He was rather abruptly summoned to the palace to give input with the whole political establishment looking on. There was a nervous tension which saturated the air when he arrived. After his initial hesitancy to get involved in the situation, Joseph finally waded in with his perspective. The story is recorded in Genesis 41.
When looking closer as to just how Joseph responded in the poignant moment, we notice two things. First, he interpreted for the Pharaoh exactly what God had shown him. In other words, he brought perspective into the situation and explained to everyone What exactly they were dealing with. In this case, the bad news was a serious famine was heading straight for them. The good news was they had seven years to prepare for it.
Joseph put the very serious situation into context for everyone to see clearly what was in front of them. He brought clarity where there was dense fog due to panic and confusion. This is what leaders do. They rise above the situation and lead everyone else out of the disorienting haze which has descended on the moment. Hysterical emotions contribute greatly to the overwhelming sense of panic which for most, short circuits their brains. The area where reason dwells is cut off and can’t be accessed. Out of control emotions are like the synthetic fog machines used at rock concerts, man-made and self-inflicted.
The second thing Joseph did was to suggest a solution to fixing the problem he had just alerted everyone to. He presented a How to solving the problem. The reason I find this significant, is a great many people are under the delusion that because they know what is wrong with something they are enlightened or deserving of the mantle of leadership. What they fail to understand is that the majority of people know exactly what is wrong or at least they think they do. A great deal of hot air is dedicated to letting everyone else know that they know what is wrong! Their proclamation of other people’s incompetency gives them an over inflated view of their own self-worth. If solutions were so easy, and leadership such a walk in the park, organizations would not be so stressed these days looking for the obvious abundance of self-proclaimed “great leaders”!
Solutions, Solutions, Solutions; this is the key characteristic of a leader. If they don’t have an original one, they know where to go find one. They take initiative and responsibility for fixing the problem. They own it! While everyone is still at the table talking about it, they’ve left the discussion and are seeking out how to fix it.
After years of being misunderstood, mistreated by others and immature himself, Joseph’s journey had brought him to the threshold of a radically new reality. We of course with our hindsight, are thrilled for him. Truth be told, these are not easy moments to embrace at the time. It means letting go of the safety of the familiar past to embrace the unknown and scary future. It was one thing to be responsible for the affairs of a single household, it was an entirely different thing to be responsible for the affairs of millions of people and a whole nation! His kayak was moving swiftly downstream as the raging river of life propelled him forward. He was doing everything he could to maneuver away from potential disaster and stay head up in the swirling water.
I must confess what happens in the next moment during the interchange between Joseph and the Pharaoh is for me a highlight of the story. In order to fully grasp the significance, I need put it into context. Coming forward to today; there are very real reasons why there is a crisis within the Christian community. The fact that 65% of the millennial children, raised in church, refuse to enter a church today is a problem. The fact there is also a mass exodus out of the church by those over age 50, the “Dones” as Dr Josh Packard named them, is also a problem. What do both these groups have in common? From their perspective, they see religious leaders as having over promised and under delivered.
This crisis of credibility has also crossed over into the non-Christian world. They view the chasm between what we Christians say we believe and what we actually do as being far too great. Sadly, they use broad brushstrokes in their assessment as there are millions of people out there changing the world for good based on their Judeo-Christian values. I suspect there are deeper reasons why they cannot recognize this. Nonetheless, there are some within our community who like to beat their chest demanding the rest of us and them acknowledge their great spirituality. They become indignant when they are not recognized for their significance. From the perspective of others, they can appear to be “The Emperors with no clothes”.
What I love about what happened with Joseph, is the response of the Pharaoh who was operating from a very different paradigm. What had just transpired at the royal court right in front of him was astounding. Again, we need more context to fully grasp the significance of the moment. Remember, everything which was being communicated to him was coming through the voice of a convicted felon! Joseph was not one of the elite trusted counselors of the Pharaoh’s inner circle. He was a complete outsider with a tattered reputation who had been accused of being a rapist! One wonders where Potiphar’s head was at watching all this transpire.
In addition, there was a substantial cross-cultural dynamic in play. The Egyptian culture had already been in existence for thousands of years at this point. Over that time, they had developed relatively sophisticated political, economic and legal systems. They were brilliant engineers who had built massive structures which are still standing today. What would years later develop into the Hebrew nation under King David, was now a simple group of nomadic sheepherders dwelling in tents from an extended single family. Personal hygiene was not a priority to them and the lack of sophistication caused the Egyptians to not only look down on them, but in the larger geo-political dramas of the day, deem them irrelevant. The fact that one of “them” was standing before the Pharaoh speaking into a national emergency was astounding!
In my Joseph Company Global seminars, I discuss how all through history God has used what the “normal” people or the majority would call “the fringe element” to transform the world. He has this way of offending our minds with the unlikely to reveal our hearts. It is these moments when arrogance and assumption get us into trouble. In my blog “Thinking Outside the Box” I write about the significant Moon-Walking Bears which dance through our lives and ask the question; Do we have the eyes of the heart to see? The Pharaoh did!
THE LONG ROAD HOME
As the lowly prisoner laid out not only the problem but the solution, the god-king Pharaoh was blown away! The man whose culture revered him as a god, recognized the hand of a greater God, and proclaimed to his Cabinet; “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God” (Genesis 41:38). Too often religious people assume only the truly pious can see or recognize God at work. It has been my experience, that too often the radically devout miss it due to their assumption they already know. This was on full display at the time of Jesus. Ironically, innocence, is huge key to discerning God at work in the affairs of men. Jesus tried to explain that to those who thought they already knew. It is what was behind his statement that “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3) He wasn’t referring to naiveté but a posture of your heart which embraces humility and a willingness to continue to learn.
In this seminal moment, the great pagan god-king, was in effect humbling himself and acknowledging the pre-eminence of Elohim, the name used by Joseph’s forefathers from the Canaan region to the north. He also discerned that this Elohim was in Joseph. I love this!!! This to me is one of the areas where religious communities get themselves into trouble when they tout their deeds to outsiders as a means of proving their rightness. Seems to me when you set a light on a hill, most everyone but the blind man recognizes it. Too often we repeat the immature arrogance of Joseph’s youth and proclaim who we think we are, short-sighted by our own spiritual adolescence.
A man’s gifts/talent make a way for him. These significant words of insight are ancient ones recorded in the book of wisdom otherwise known as Proverbs. (Proverbs 18:16) This principle is on full display in this moment. Joseph’s skill sets had been honed during seasons of success and failure. The young man who once seemed to have such a clear understanding of his future, had been brought to his knees and taken the long road home. Not only was this figurative but literal. He was about to be released from being everyone else’s slave to a life of his own. While he would have to carry the weight of huge responsibility, he would do it as a free man with his own authority and financial resources.
In a moment’s time, Joseph went from an unknown unshaven prisoner to a Minister in Pharaoh’s Cabinet. The official title he was given was Grand Vizier. He was “put in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:41) Pharaoh put his signet ring (the official government seal) on his finger, dressed him in a robe of fine linen, and put a gold chain around his neck. He then had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command. If one did not know the historical context of this story you might think, we were talking about a gangsta rapper! Joseph was now the second most powerful man in Egypt and possibly the whole world. and he was only 30 years old. His head must have been spinning at how suddenly and extremely his life had changed. He had found favor and with it would come whole new sets of problems.
Stay tuned as how Joseph solved the problem as it was nothing like an average religious organization operates.