Tag Archives: Decision

When “Love” is Hard

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight….
Philippians 1:9 (NIV)

Along my journey I have managed individuals who were in the wrong position. They weren’t suited for the tasks they were given, they didn’t enjoy the work, and the fruit of their labor was often rotten.  The fact that we had good person in a bad position was obvious to me as a front-line manager. I have two very vivid memories in which I argued with my boss that an individual needed to be terminated. This was not so much to alleviate the problems felt inside the system (though it would certainly do that) but because the individual needed to be freed to find something for which he or she was better suited. In both cases I was told that the best thing to do was to “show grace and love” by continuing to work with the individual, keep encouraging the individual, to keep overlooking their failures, and to perpetually give them another chance. In neither instance did the this course of “grace and love” succeed.

Love is a simple word, and very often love is a simple concept: a random act of kindness, going out of your way to assist a person in need, an encouraging word, or a thoughtful gift.

As I read the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in the town of Philippi, I was struck that he prayed, not just that the Philippian believers’ love would abound, but that that it would abound in knowledge and depth of insight.

I have found along my life journey that love is often not such a simple concept. In fact, sometimes love is hard:

  • Coming clean, owning my own shit, and getting help.
  • Forgiving, knowing you’ll never forget the injury and/or the perpetrator will never admit, own, or repent of what he or she did.
  • Refusing to rescue a child; Allowing him or her fail as you watch and pray.
  • Choosing to make a child responsible for earning his or her way rather than freely providing all things.
  • Severing relationship with a crazy-maker.
  • Walking away from a toxic relationship.
  • Telling an addict, “No.”
  • Terminating an employee who isn’t a good fit for the job.

Just as Paul wrote that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, I’ve learned that sometimes what looks like love on the surface of a situation is actually not love at all. Quite the opposite. Often, the loving act is misunderstood in the moment. It requires knowledge to realize that it’s actually the best thing for the other. The truly loving act can initially illicit anger, bitterness, and lashing out. Depth of insight is required to see how things will play out in the long run.

This morning I’m thinking about the two individuals I referenced at the beginning of this post. I’ve learned that they moved on, found a better vocational fit, and appear to be successful in their chosen fields. I’m happy for them. They taught me an invaluable lesson. Showing “grace and love” sometimes means making the difficult, uncomfortable, even unpopular decision with the knowledge and insight that it’s actually the most loving thing to do.

 

“Fish, or Cut Bait”

Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!”
Jeremiah 44:15-16 (NIV)

With my birthday a few weeks ago I had my annual check-up. I’m thankful to say that I’m in relatively good health, though over the past two years my body has started to show the signs of both aging and the consequences of 25 years at rather sedentary work. Cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose are all too high and continuing to creep up.

I have gone through seasons of regular exercise along my journey, but I confess it hasn’t been consistent. This year’s test results and the annual directive from Doc to “get moving” have confronted me once more with a choice. I’ve got to choose to make some life changes.

Or, not.

In today’s chapter we find Jeremiah, the captive prophet, in the land of Egypt. He’s been brought there by a remnant of his people who were fleeing from the King of Babylon. While there, Jeremiah issues a directive from the Lord telling the remnant to cease and desist from worshiping the local Egyptian gods. He warns doom, death and defeat to the Babylonians if they don’t obey.

What happens next is fascinating. The people directly and unequivocally tell Jeremiah that they will not stop sacrificing to the local gods and they are not going to obey the Lord. This morning as I read their response I felt respect for the Judean rebels. They may not have made the right choice, but they made a clear choice and stood by their decision.

Throughout the Great Story God asks people to choose:

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Deuteronomy 30:19

 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve….”
Joshua 24:15

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
1 Kings 18:21

But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Matthew 8:22

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Revelation 3:15-16

This life journey is filled with many “fish or cut bait” moments. Either do it, or don’t. Make a choice. The ironic part is that not making a choice is ultimately a choice. The self-delusion and paralysis of continuous promising, pondering, and wavering, however, has negative consequences all its own. The further I get in my journey the more I’m trying to be more direct and clear in my choices and decisions.

This morning in the quiet I’m respectful of the Judean remnant. They made their choice. They didn’t play games, put things off, or make empty promises.  “No,” they said. “We’re not going to do it.”

As for me, I’m raising my coffee cup with sore muscles.

Planning and Embarkation

On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud liftedfrom above the tabernacle of the covenant law. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.
Numbers 10:11-12 (NIV)

For those who regularly follow along with  these posts, do you happen to remember the first post on this journey through the book of Numbers? I talked about the fact that we were setting off on a journey with the ancient Hebrews into the wilderness. Just last night on my way home from a meeting I was thinking about that post and the reality that here we are a couple of weeks later and the journey hasn’t even begun.

For the first ten chapters of our Numbers journey we’ve been making preparations. There’s the organization of how the nation would  camp and in what order the people would organize for the march. There’s been the organization of how the portable temple tent would be taken down, transported and set back up again. There has been the preparation and organization of how to mobilize and communicate through the use of banners and trumpets. It’s been over two years of preparation and we’re finally setting out on the journey.

This morning I am reminded of two key life lessons in the chapter.

First, sizable tasks require thorough planning and preparation. As a right-brained, go-with-the-flow type I have always been susceptible to spontaneous embarkation on different adventures and pursuits. I have steadfast faith in my ability to “figure it out” as I go along. This mindset serves me well in relatively small, isolated individual circumstances. It’s not a big deal if I’m on my own. It can, however, be disastrous in larger group settings in which the welfare and emotions of more people are involved. Lady Wisdom has taught me that there are times when my go-with-the-flow temperament must hold its horses and take the time to plan and get organized (and fight the urge to throw a passive aggressive fit in doing so).

The second life lesson would fit neatly with the author of Ecclesiastes (and the Byrds) memorable lyrics, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven.” There is a time planning and organization, and there is a time to embark. While there are times for planning and organization, there is also foolishness in endless preparation if you can never pull the trigger and set out. This life journey is filled with well intentioned endeavors that are ceaselessly talked about, planned for, and prepared but never executed. There comes a time when you have to call the preparations good and set out. Lao Tzu famously said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” At some point, you have to take that step.

God, grant me the wisdom to know when to plan and when to step.

The Slippery Sweet-Spot Between Acting and Waiting

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
Numbers 9:8 (NIV)

There are many forks in life’s road. There’s no avoiding it. It just is what it is.

Where do I go to school?
Should I marry him/her?
Do I speak out or hold my tongue?
Should I take this job that’s been offered to me or hold out for the job I really want? 
Should we rent or should we buy?
Do I invest in new or get by with used?
Should we stay or should we go?

As we traverse the Book of Numbers there is a pattern or repetition that many readers don’t catch. The phrase “The Lord said to Moses” is used repeatedly. In fact, it’s used over 50 times. In today’s chapter, some of the people bring Moses a question about how to handle an exceptional circumstance regarding the Passover celebration. Moses simply says he’ll check with God and God provides a seemingly quick answer.

We then go on to read in today’s chapter that the decision of going or staying was miraculously provided for the ancient Hebrews. According to the story there was a cloud that hovered over their traveling tent temple which gave them indication whether God wanted them to move or stay put. When the cloud remained over the tent they stayed put. If the cloud lifted they broke camp and moved.

Wow, I’d love it if God’s guidance and direction were that easy for me to see. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that this may have been the only easy thing in the experience of the Hebrews. I’m quite sure I’d struggle living the life of an ancient nomad wandering in the desert with a couple million cousins.

I have discovered along life’s road that there is a slippery sweet-spot of tension between discernment and decision. We live in an age when time is measured in nanoseconds and we are used to getting things “on demand.” I perceive that the virtues of patience, peace and prayer are increasingly found in short supply in our culture. At the same time, I have known many followers of Jesus who take so long to “prayerfully consider” decisions that they make no progress in their respective  journeys.

This morning I find myself once again seeking to both find and hold the tension between acting and waiting. I don’t want to be so quick to make decisions that I forget to pray for guidance and to give wise consideration to options and potential consequences. At the same time, I don’t want to become paralyzed waiting for some divine sign when there is a clear need to act judiciously and with expedience.

Today…Choose

Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.
Deuteronomy 26:17 (NRSV)

It was a cold February night in 1981, but I still remember it vividly. I had been born and raised in a Christian home. My parents took me to Sunday School and each summer I went to Vacation Bible School. Just a year or so before I had gone through confirmation class and was confirmed as a member of the church at the age of 13.

But, all of that had largely been going through the religious motions. It had been doing what my parents told me to do. It had been doing that which was expected of me. What happened on that February night had been unexpected, at least to me.

On that I night, I heard God in my spirit ask me to make my own choice and my own commitment to follow. It was spiritual and intimate and profound. It was powerful in a way that changed the map of my life journey, and that of others, in incalculable ways.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that at the end of all the laws and regulations God brought the people to make a choice and a commitment to enter into an agreement. “Today,” God said. “Make a choice. Make a commitment.” It’s one thing to hang around God in a noncommittal sense and go along with familial or societal expectations of going to church or loosely identifying with religion. It’s another thing altogether to go all in; to make a choice to follow Jesus, and obey.

Today, I’m reminded of a choice and a commitment that I, myself, made nearly 35 years ago which, to this day, intimately shapes my life journey moment-by-moment, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year, decade-by-decade. Today, I’m reminded of the words to the simple song that was playing on a cold February night in 1981:

I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back.

No turning back.

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The Tragedies of Choosing Early Retirement

 

My Grandpa V with my father and daughter, Taylor outside the nursing home where he gave himself the job of welcoming committee.
My Grandpa V with my father and daughter, Taylor, sitting outside the nursing home where he gave himself the job of welcoming committee and tour guide.

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 11:1 (NIV)

My grandfather was a school teacher and administrator for many years. When the school system told him he had to retire from teaching he took over the school lunch and bus program. When they told him he had to retire from the lunch and bus program he got a job as bailiff of the county courthouse. After many years working at the courthouse the judge called him into chambers and said, “Herman, I’m tired of having to wake you up to take the jury out. I think it’s time for you to retire.” In his nineties, my grandfather was no longer able to manage on his own. When he moved into the nursing home, however, he promptly gave himself the job of welcoming new residents and giving them a tour of the facility.

My grandfather was fond of saying that “the day I retire will be the day I die.”

David was a warrior. David was a general. David was a natural born leader. He was still in his prime, and yet now as King he chose to stay in Jerusalem and send the army out to war without him. It would prove to be a tragic choice. Because he was not out with the army doing what he was gifted and called to do, he found himself on the roof of his palace peeping at another man’s wife. Worse yet, it was the wife of one of his own men who was an honorable soldier. David then made the tragic mistake of inviting the woman over for dinner and sleeping with her. She conceived. The led to the tragic mistake of covering up his actions and ultimately conspiring to commit murder. The consequences of this series of tragic and unnecessary mistakes would haunt David, his family, his monarchy, and his kingdom for the rest of his life and beyond.

We are not told why David chose to “retire” from leading the army. A few chapters ago we read that David wanted to build a temple and God clearly responded that building the temples was not what David was called to do. I get the feeling that having finally ascended to the throne, David was feeling a bit of a mid-life crisis that is common to man. He’s tired of what he’s always been gifted at doing. Leading the army is what he’s done his entire life. Yes, he’s good at it, but it’s boring to him. David wants to retire from all that and build temples and do other things.

Perhaps David should have stuck with what he was gifted and called to do. Perhaps he should have taken my grandfather’s attitude and just stuck with the job until “retirement” was forced upon him. Tragic things happen when we choose to prematurely retire from the path to which God has called us and strike out on our own.

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A Mysterious Tension: Personal Initiative and Divine Timing

david with saul's spearAs surely as the Lord lives,” [David] said, “the Lord himself will strike [Saul], or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed1 Samuel 26:10-11a (NIV)

Last week I shared a sliver of the story of how I began working for the company of which I am now a partner owner. It happened in the summer of 1994. I had been working for a parachurch ministry for a year, and had been raising financial support from friends and family to do so. The agreement I had with my employer had been that I would raise financial support for one year. It had been a good year in many regards and I enjoyed what I was doing, but as the end of that year drew closer my employer remained silent regarding the plan for what was going to happen next.

Months before the end of our one year agreement I began to ask my employer for a plan. I even offered to continue raising support if we could sketch out an agreement to reduce the amount I had to raise over a period of time. The answer I received multiple times was “I’ll put it on the board agenda for next month.” After the board meeting I would hear “We didn’t get to it. We’ll talk about it next month.” Finally, my year ended and I still had no answer from my employer. I felt a responsibility to my financial supporters who had faithfully sent me money that year to support me and the ministry I worked for. Many supporters had asked me about it, but I had nothing to tell them because my employer refused to talk to me about a compensation plan.

Suddenly, I felt a stirring inside me. While I wasn’t unhappy with my job and hadn’t really considered another job change, I realized that I could not trust my employer. There was a principle involved here that I needed to heed as it wasn’t just about my employers integrity, but also about my own. I had asked my supporters for a year commitment and the year was over. I felt dishonest asking them to continue their support. The problem was, I had a family with two small children and no earthly idea what I was going to do. I had no job prospects. I didn’t even have a resume put together.

Nevertheless, I knew in my heart that I had to make a move. One morning just after the one year anniversary passed, I began calling my financial supporters and telling them not to bother sending another check. On the list of supporters was my old employer and mentor.

“What are you going to do?” he asked me on the phone.

“I don’t know,” I answered, then explained my reasoning. I shared that I felt I couldn’t in good conscience ask my supporters to extend their commitment when my current employer wouldn’t even talk to me about extending his. I admitted that I had no plan and no job prospects.

“Are you really going to leave? Have you told your employer?” my friend and mentor asked.

“I haven’t said anything yet, but I really think I’m going to leave,” I answered.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Make a firm decision by noon and call me back,” he said abruptly. When I called him back an hour later to let him know I had decided to leave he said, “Meet me at 2:00 at Village Inn.”

We met that afternoon and he offered me a job. Within a few hours of deciding to leave, I had another job. Of course, my old mentor made a step of faith in asking me to join his consulting firm, but he also felt the divine timing of events. He did not have enough work to pay me much and had to trust that there would be new projects coming that he couldn’t see. The new opportunity was not a slam dunk or a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination. I was leaving a tenuous position to an even more tenuous position, but it was the right timing and I knew it in my soul. As I drove home that day, and I pulled into the driveway I heard Holy Spirit whisper clearly in my soul:

“Take this job and stick with it. You will be blessed.”

I took the job, stuck with it, and have been immensely blessed. That was 20 years ago next summer.

Along life’s road I have found a mysterious tension between taking personal initiative and waiting on divine timing. I even struggle to define it well, yet I can look back and see how certain circumstances and life decisions happened at what I know to be a divinely appointed moment in time. Had I attempted to make something happen by force of personal will it would not have worked out the way it was supposed to happen. Yet, it was important for me to be sensitive to God’s hand moving in my circumstances and listening for Holy Spirit’s whisper in my soul.

Today we read about the second of three opportunities that David had to take the life of the man who was hunting him: King Saul. His men even encouraged David to take personal initiative when the opportunity to do so presented itself. David, however, was sensitive to the tension between personal initiative and divine timing. David understood that Saul, despite his flaws, had been God’s choice to be King and God alone should end Saul’s reign.

Today, I’m grateful for God’s perfect timing which I see in many different experiences along life’s road. I want to continue holding that mysterious tension between personal initiative and divine timing, as elusive and ill defined as it seems.