Tag Archives: Disaster

Motives and Example

So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?”
Nehemiah 5:9 (NIV)

In 1993, the state of Iowa experienced historic flooding. An army of volunteers sandbagged along the Des Moines River attempting to protect the Water Works plant, but it was eventually inundated, leaving a quarter of a million people without fresh water. My family and I had just moved back to Des Moines in the weeks before the floods peaked.

I was working for a non-profit organization at the time and was dispatched by my employer to assist in any way I could. I ended up working at an emergency shelter for victims whose homes were flooded.

My experiences as a volunteer during those days opened my eyes to a side of national emergencies that we will never see on the news. I overheard conversations as relief officials and corporations negotiated the amount of aid they were willing to “give” dependant on the publicity they would receive and the level of the government official who would be present to publicly accept the donation in front of the cameras. I witnessed relief officials act as casting directors, sizing up flood victims as to which news outlet they would be perfect for on camera. I watched news producers coaching victims how to sound and look more pitiful, and making the victim’s situation seem far worse than reality.

I realized during those days that national emergencies are big business. They tug at global heartstrings, earn lots of viewers (and ad dollars) for news organizations, earn publicity for donors, and generate millions of dollars in revenue for relief organizations. And it’s all done under the humanitarian guise of helping our neighbor.

In today’s chapter, Nehemiah is in the midst of his emergency construction project to shore up the walls of Jerusalem. He begins to witness things that open his eyes, as well. What becomes clear is that the dire situation among the people in and around Jerusalem is not just the lack of protective walls and gates around the city. The wealthy have been using the tough times and difficult circumstances as an excuse to extort interest from the poor and take people’s land and children away. Nehemiah calls an assembly and demands that they stop using their position to take advantage of others.

Nehemiah goes on to explain that, as Governor, he led by example in these matters. He didn’t accept all that was due him as Governor nor did he levy taxes on his people to line his own pockets as Governors usually did.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about motives and example. When the people’s motives were out of whack they acted accordingly to the detriment of all. Nehemiah’s appeal was not just about changing their behavior but about changing their hearts. Nehemiah’s motives were to do what was right for the people which translated into behaviors that were consistent with those motives.

I find myself doing some soul searching today and a little personal cardiology examination. It’s easy for me to accept that my motives are right and my behaviors towards others are aligned, but how do those under my leadership see it? What do my actions and motives look like from their perspective? When I get uncomfortable with looking at it that way, then I’m pretty sure I’ve got some changes of my own to make.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 47

One phone call away. Ruin descends— you can't charm it away.
Disaster strikes— you can't cast it off with spells.
Catastrophe, sudden and total— and you're totally at sea, totally bewildered!
Isaiah 47:11 (MSG)

The phone call came on a warm summer evening. I was in the basement (where it was cool), watching television.

Pack something quick. Get in the car. We're going

Grandpa and grandma were on a walk. There was an accident. They were struck by a car. We don't know anything more. Let's go.

There are scenes from that night that are indelibly etched in my memory. I remember the long drive to northwest Iowa. In pre-cell phone days there was no instant communication. You drove. You waited to find out. You agonized. You prayed. I remember hearing the nurse at St. Luke's hospital say that my grandma was dead. What a strange concept for my ten year old brain to grasp. I'd just seen grandma weeks before, and now I'd never see her again. I remember seeing my father cry for the first time and my mother comforting him. My vision of parents expanded that night. I saw humanity in them that I'd never perceived before.

I learned an important life lesson that warm summer evening. It was not anything that any person said. Experience was my teacher. I learned that we are all, every one of use, just one heartbeat, one breath, one teenager's momentary distraction, one unexpected phone call from tragic, life altering circumstances beyond our control.

It's good to know who holds the future.

It's good each night that I lay my head on the pillow and can thank God that the phone didn't ring that day.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and qole