How Fred, Ben and Asa will change the way you think about how you lead your family and church
I’ve been a self-made man for multiple decades. As a boy, I watched my amazing father navigate life on his own, and he did a great job, as he was (and still is) a great man. I watched other men who were strong, wealthy, charming, or lived great adventures and I awed at them. I idolized them. I wanted to be like them. Somewhere in my youthful ingenuity, I somehow turned into them. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. On the other hand, it has been the most crippling problem in my life as a husband, dad and pastor.
What’s the problem with a self-made man?
Western American culture applauds self-made men. We listen to them. We watch them and learn valuable lessons from them. We follow them and when we are disillusioned by their human flaws, we reject them and mourn our loss of a great idol.
See what two important and instantly recognizable American historical figures said about the subject. The first comes from Frederick Douglass and the second is from Benjamin Franklin.
Frederick Douglass and the self-made man
“Self-made men are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any of the favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results.” – Frederick Douglass (Self-Made Men, pg. 549-550)
This sounds like a self-made man is one who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and guts it out all on his own. To me, the image of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando or even Thanos’ “Fine; I’ll do it myself” line at the end of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. This is a man who is a do it yourself-er. This man needs no one. John Wayne was a great example of this as well. If that’s what Frederick Douglass said, then how did Ben Franklin think in regards to God and needing others, especially other Christians?
Benjamin Franklin and the self-made man
“… Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter.” – Benjamin Franklin (Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Introduction, pg. vi)
Sounds like God and living out His principles was important. It also sounds like church attendance wasn’t that important to Mr. Franklin. His theology seems good in this statement, right? But this quote from his autobiography came as a defense to his practice. He stopped attending church services. Wasn’t that important to him.
So far, what does this evoke in you? Does this echo to your heart somewhere deep, down inside? Is this a stamp of approval to your thoughts and practices? Is this how we ought to live, particularly in these latter-days?
What about another, more ancient self-made man?
King Asa of Judah and the self-made man
A new connection of mine on LinkedIn responded to one of my blog posts on hearing from God. I asked what the Lord was saying to him. His response was epic to my week. He simply said “2 Chron 16:7 Rely on me.” (Thanks Jeff!) This chapter in an Old Testament book which I don’t often frequent became the headliner in my Bible reading all last week. Asa started out loving God and had many godly exploits as a leader in the Executive Branch of the half-nation of Judah. He certainly was a man to follow and an example to study.
Asa’s downward spiral
Around the 36th year of his reign, his life began to unravel publicly. To protect his people from an invading army laying siege on one of his territories (Ramah was about 5 miles North of Jerusalem), King Asa of Judah took matters into his own hands. Bribing the king of Damascus (modern-day Syria) to break his treaty with Israel in the North in order to create a peace-pact with Judah in the South would be a pretty savvy and politically-smart move on the part of King Asa. After the Damascus army came to intimidate Israel’s army who soon after fled, Asa conscripted Judah’s men to perform damage control.
God brings Hanani the seer to give Asa a stern reminder that God is reliable and trustworthy. God wants His people to rely on Him. Asa forgot that fact and took matters into his own hands. The self-made man stole his heart from God. This is where we find that amazing insight into what God’s looking for: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God’s consequences for Asa’s lack of relying on and trusting in God was continual war (the bane of good leaders). His response went from bad to worse, putting Hanani in prison for that kind of news and prophecy, as well as he oppressed his own people further.
Asa’s self-made man went from bad to worse
As a result of this kind of life, you could probably guess that Asa’s life didn’t improve. Three years later, Asa caught a severe disease in his feet. We don’t know if he had leprosy or some other disease, but it was severe enough, causing great anguish and pain. Sadly, the man forgot God altogether by this point of his life. 2 Chronicles 16:12 reveals his inner outlook: “even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians.” Two years after his poor prognosis, he died.
Many of us do similarly. Our habits tend to go to others first, then God as a last resort. Or perhaps we ask God with a cursory prayer, do our strategic planning and meetings, then slap a “closing prayer” on it as if a prayer sandwich will convince the God of heaven to move on our behalf. When we have health problems, we go straight to the doctor. When we have car problems, we go to a mechanic. When we lose our keys, we go berserk looking for them. When we are stressed, we worry, or eat, or drink alcohol, or masturbate, or workout, or play video games.
Is that what God wants for you and from you? Do you want to be a self-made man, the envy of many and loser of your soul? Do you want to please God and give Him your trust and reliance?
He’s worth relying on. His track record of trustworthiness is pristine.
Will you be a self-made man, pastor? Or are you going to be a God-dependent man? Take Ben, Fred and Asa’s advice and choose this day whom you will trust.