Tag Archives: Dispute

The Land of Entitlement

Land of Entitlement (CaD Jos 17) Wayfarer

But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours.”
Joshua 17:17-18 (NIV)

The land of Iowa that has always been my home in this life journey is among the most abundant farmland in the world. Even though I grew up in Iowa’s largest city and there were no farmers in my immediate family, farming is a part of life when you grow up here. Saturday mornings were all about watching cartoons as a kid, but I had to endure the U.S. Farm Report before the cartoons started.

As an adult, I’ve been friends with many people who did grow up on farms and in multi-generation farm families. Listening to their stories, I began to appreciate some of the larger issues that farm families have to deal with. Perhaps the largest issue for any farm family is the land.

Along my life journey, I have heard so many stories of families torn apart by disputes over the family farm and land. I’ve heard more than one person tell me that their family dutifully went to church every Sunday, but the land of the family farm was the idol, the god, that the entire family system worshipped. I’ve watched grown men weep as they talk about the relational carnage and emotional scars they carry because of the way the inheritance of the family farm was handled. Others have told me about close relatives who have harbored lingering hatred towards them over family land disputes.

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely said that there’s nothing new under the sun. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that as the Promised Land is divided among the twelve Hebrew tribes that there would have been conflicts that arose over the division of the land. In today’s chapter, the tribes of Joseph grumble and complain that they haven’t been given enough land.

As I sat and pondered their complaint in the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder at the brashness of the complaint. Among the twelve tribes of Israel, Joseph had two of them (his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob’s grandsons, whom he adopted as sons). In essence, the two tribes of Joseph already had twice the inheritance as any of Jacob’s other sons. What’s more, they were given preferential treatment. After Judah, they were the first to receive their allotment. Other tribes have yet to be allotted any land yet, and the Joseph tribes are already complaining that they don’t have enough. Beyond that, they complained that the land allotted to them had fortified Canaanite cities that had chariots that were technologically advanced in their day and they didn’t want to have to deal with driving them out. So, I translate their request as “give us more land that will be easier for us to settle.”

Joseph was the favorite. It leads me to wonder if the family pattern was that his descendants retained the attitude and sense of entitlement that often accompanies favored children.

This makes Joshua’s reply to Joseph’s tribes even more fascinating. In essence, he tells them that they’re stuck with the land allotted, and they can have all the land they want beyond their allotment, but they have to conquer it and claim it for themselves.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I and my family have never had to deal with internal inheritance and land disputes. At the same time, I have to confess that as I point my finger at Joseph’s tribes this morning there are three of my fingers pointing back at me. There are many ways that selfishness and entitlement reveal themselves in life. There are many other things in life that become just as much of an idol as farmland.

Jesus taught a lot about being content with one’s circumstances on this Earth. It’s a subject I rarely hear talked about or discussed in a culture of entitlement and an economy fueled by discontentment. But, as a disciple of Jesus, I can’t ignore the lesson.

And so, I enter another day of labor choosing on this day to be grateful, diligent, and content.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

For the Good of the Whole

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done….'”
Numbers 5:5-7 (NIV)

Many of the client offices in which I’ve worked over the years are cramped quarters. Numerous people work in confined spaces with little barrier between desks. During the winter months it is quite common to hear stories of entire departments decimated by the flu or other viruses that spread quickly with little or no warning. Over the years when I’ve found myself with a nasty bug I have felt compelled to call clients and explain, “You don’t want me visiting you right now.” I can’t remember a single client who wasn’t grateful for me being considerate of their operation and team members.

When reading through the ancient marching orders for the Hebrew nation in the book of Numbers it’s easy to for me to find myself perplexed in the simple reading of the text. It is so easy to read it from a 21st century American perspective and scratch my head. There is little connection between me (the modern, western technological age reader) and a nomadic nation of semitic people in Arabia around 3500 years ago.

Stepping back and looking at today’s chapter as a whole, the rules prescribed through Moses had to do with things that were threats to their community, starting with that which was physical and easy to see and ending with that which was relational and much harder to judge.

It begins with that which was physical and quite easy to diagnose. In that time period infectious disease could wipe out an entire people in little or no time. While my cold virus might wreak havoc on my client’s workforce and productivity, in the days of Moses a nasty virus could bring death and plague to the entire nation. So, those who showed clear physical sign of what might be a disease were to be quarantined outside the camp. Next came the broad category of “wronging” another member of the community. I think of this as the type of neighborly disputes that might end up in small claims court at my local courthouse. Finally, the bulk of the chapter deals with the most intimate and difficult things to know or to judge: marital infidelity.

It’s easy as a modern reader to get mired in the struggle to understand rules made for an ancient, middle-eastern culture. Wendy and I had a fascinating discussion over coffee last week about the historical and cultural contexts of these rules. Still, I walk away from today’s chapter reminded that all cultures need laws, rules, and regulations that protect the good of the community.  Infectious disease, personal disputes, and the breakdown of marriage all have consequences that  radiate throughout the community. God through Moses prescribed very specific ways to determine and deal with them for the good of the whole.

This morning I’m thankful to live in a community with a strong system of law that protects our community, state, and nation as a whole. I’m also reminded this morning of my individual responsibility to be considerate of my community as a whole. In fact, I report for jury duty in two weeks.

“‘Tis a Silly Place”

One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
Romans 14:2-3 (NIV)

There’s a great moment in the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table look at Camelot from a distance and utter the name in reverential tones. The scene cuts to a farcical musical number with knights singing lines like:

“We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.”

When the song is over, King Arthur changes his mind. “Let’s not go there,” he says to his knights, “‘Tis a silly place.”

After 40 some years attending, working, and volunteering in various local churches of diverse denominational bents, I have to admit that I often feel King Arthur’s sentiments whenever I look at a church from the outside.

Along my life journey I have experienced a number of divisive conflicts inside the walls of the church:

  • Clappers vs. Non-Clappers
  • Liturgy vs. Free Worship
  • Hand raisers vs. Stoics
  • Pre-Trib Rapturists vs. Amillenialists
  • Predestination vs. Free Will
  • Sprinklers vs. Dunkers
  • Wine  vs. Juice
  • Wafer vs. Bread
  • Sunday Sabbath vs. Saturday Sabbath
  • Hymns vs. Modern worship
  • Social drinkers vs. teetotalers

Like I said, “‘Tis a silly place.”

In today’s chapter, Paul addresses some of the silly arguments that, even in the earliest days of the Christianity, were dividing the followers of Jesus. Can you eat meat that was sacrificed to an idol before it went to market? Is it more virtuous to be a vegetarian?  Should we worship on Saturday like the Ten Commandments tell us or on Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead on that day?  These types of arguments were as prevalent in the year 57 A.D. as they are in 2016. People are people.

Paul’s message to all who follow Jesus was very simple: Love your fellow follower of Jesus enough to respect his or her feelings and beliefs. Don’t major on the minors. Don’t lord your own opinions over them and dishonor a fellow believer’s heart-felt, personal stand on things that are non-essential to our faith. Love, respect, grace and honor should always trump our desire to be proved right. Take off the Jr. Holy Spirit badge. Let God handle it.

This morning I am reminded to be gracious. To me, the institutional church “‘tis a silly place” most of the time. For other followers of Jesus I know, the local denominational church is deadly serious stuff. Even in this discrepancy, my role is to be respectful, honoring and loving with those whose thoughts and feelings differ from my own.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 19

Don’t move your neighbor’s boundary markers…. Deuteronomy 19:14a (MSG)

Last night my wife and I received a pleasant visit from our two little friends, Nathan and Aaron, from down the street. The young brothers, ages five and two, stopped by with their parents and first thing they wanted to do is play a little basketball with our adjustable Goalsetter basketball hoop that I lowered down to six feet in height.

I have two basketballs which I pulled out of the garage. I gave one to the older brother and then pulled out the second for the younger brother. Immediately upon seeing his younger brother receive the second basketball, the elder brother dropped the ball in his hand. “I don’t want this one,” he said as he lunged to grab the ball out of his younger brother’s hand. At the sound of the blood curdling scream which began warming up in his brother’s throat, the elder brother dropped the second basketball on the ground, picked up the first and ran out of the garage. Let the games begin.

For the next half hour I watched with fascination as the two brothers jockeyed for position in every way imaginable. This is my ball; that one’s yours! Get out of my way; it’s my turn! I was standing here first. No, Tom, you just lifted him to dunk the ball; I get to do it now.

Dear God, bless their parents. A lot.

The truth is that the nature of conflict really hasn’t changed in the thousands of years which have passed since Moses handed down the laws to his people. Our culture and technology may look very different, but people are people. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still find ourselves embroiled in interpersonal conflicts, neighborly disputers, familial conflicts and international conflicts because of boundary disputes.

Conflict always arises when boundaries are not clearly defined, when boundaries are encroached upon, and when boundaries are violated. It’s not just the well documented boundary lines between parcels of land which create dispute, but the invisible personal boundaries which are set between every person the world around them. These are the boundaries which define: What is mine? What is yours? What is ours? When boundaries are not clearly defined or clearly communicated then the seeds of conflict are planted. When boundaries are breached and the incident is not clearly addressed and negotiated, conflict bursts forth in anger and dispute. When boundaries are routinely violated, the continuous conflict bears the fruit of deep bitterness which will eventually choke the life out of a relationship.

Today, I’m thinking about my own personal boundaries and my responsibility to define and communicate them clearly for others. I’m considering the conflicts in my own life and how boundaries, ill-defined or poorly communicated, may be at the root of the dispute.