Tag Archives: Influence

Escalation, Truth, and Discomfort

“[The teachers of the Law] devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Mark 12:40 (NIV)

Over the years I have had the privilege of serving certain clients in the monitoring, coaching, and providing Quality Assessment (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.”) for their collections teams. The process of working with customers who owe you money can be a sticky wicket. We’re not talking about third-party collection agencies who just want to bully people into paying so they can quickly get their cut and make their margins. My clients are businesses who want to collect the debt, but also want to keep most of their customers knowing that the lifetime value of that customer’s business far exceeds the amount they are past due in the present moment.

As I always remind both my team members and my clients: “When you are dealing with people’s money, the conversation takes on additional layers of complexity and emotion.”

In today’s chapter, Mark continues to share episodes from Jesus’ final days. There had always been conflict brewing between Jesus and the religious power brokers and rule keepers in Jerusalem. Most of His ministry, however, had been in the region of Galilee far from Jerusalem. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem and is teaching in the temple during the most crowded week of the year. Three times in previous chapters Jesus has told #TheTwelve that He was going to Jerusalem to be arrested, beaten, and killed, and then He would rise from the dead. The episodes Mark relates in today’s chapter illustrate the escalation of conflict between Jesus and the institutional religious powers.

In the first episode, Jesus tells a parable that metaphorically states what He has said plainly before: The religious rule-keepers killed the prophets that God had sent in the past, and now they’re going to kill God’s own Son. The parable antagonized Jesus’ enemies who have already been looking for a way to make sure Jesus “sleeps with the fishes.” Ironically, Jesus said that, like Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days, He would spend three days in the grave. [FYI: That’s a reference from The Godfather for those of you who didn’t catch it.]

What follows is three different attempts to trip Jesus up with religious questions that were political hot potatoes. The intent in at least two of the three questions was to try and get Jesus to say something that His enemies could either spin to diminish His approval rating or condemn Him. Each time, Jesus deftly handles the question and leaves His enemies flummoxed.

On the heels of these trick questions and attempts to trip Him up, Jesus speaks critically of His enemies and warns His audience to “watch out” for the teachers of the law. He then offers a curious accusation that is lost on modern readers. Jesus says that the religious power brokers “devour widows houses.”

In most cases, women had very poor legal and social standing in Jesus’ day. This was especially true of older widows who might have been left with her husband’s debts. With limited means and a social system that made it virtually impossible for her to produce an income, the widow was incredibly vulnerable. Unless she had an influential and/or wealthy male advocate, the widow fell prey to wealthy and powerful men (remember, the religious power brokers were “Teachers of Law” (aka lawyers) within the Jewish religious, legal, and social system. These lawyers would use the law to seize a widow’s home and assets, leaving her destitute and living off the mercy of others. Even though the Law of Moses demanded special consideration for the defenseless (including widows), the “Teachers of the Law” found legal loopholes to justify their greedy victimization of these women.

What was most fascinating for me in today’s chapter is the very next episode. Right after criticizing the Teachers of the Law for their treatment of widows, Jesus leads His followers to the place where people came to give their “offerings” to the temple treasury. Wealthy Jews from around the known world were in town for Passover, so there were certainly many wealthy travelers using the annual pilgrimage to give generously (and publicly). Jesus sits and watches the riches being offered to the temple coffers. Then an old widow (I wonder which Teacher of the Law there at the temple now owned the home she once shared with her husband along with all of its possessions?) steps up and puts in two pennies.

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Two things stuck with me this morning. The power brokers in this world have their way through systemic advantage, intimidation, instilling fear, dishing out punishment, and eliminating the opposition. This is true of any number of systems including criminal, political, governmental, organizational, business, financial, social, educational, legal, military, familial, and even religious systems. It is obvious in the episodes Mark shares that there is rapid escalation between Jesus and His enemies, and His enemies have political, religious, social, legal, and financial systemic power. They want Jesus dead, and Jesus knows this. In fact, He knows that they will kill Him. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to fearlessly speak spiritual truth that both condemns His enemies and pushes the buttons that will ensure the signature on His death warrant.

The second thing that struck me is that I have infinitely more in common with Jesus’ enemies than with the widow whom Jesus praises.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” Jesus said, “and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

In other words, Jesus is in the Collections business.

Most days the chapter and my meditation leave me encouraged, challenged, inspired, contemplative, and even comforted.

Today, I leave my quiet time very uncomfortable.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Words of Life or Death

The tongue has the power of life and death…
Proverbs 18:21 (NIV)

I once knew a person who was educated, bright, and quite capable. For a short period of time, we were companions on a stretch of the journey. On occasion, we experienced the normal stresses of life, and I observed that this person could get inordinately out-of-sorts. I could watch anxiety and insecurity take over their entire person. In acute moments, they would blurt: “I’M NOT STUPID!”

The thing was, not once when this blurt made its exclamatory appearance did anyone ever hint that our friend was stupid. In fact, no one I knew in our circle would have even thought such a thing. Whenever it happened it was an awkward, inappropriate moment.

I quickly suspected that somewhere in this person’s impressionable childhood years there was a parent, and older sibling, or an adult of significant influence who had repeatedly, in a derogatory fashion, told them they were stupid. Now, the words played in their head like a tape recording on a ceaseless loop.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of leading various groups of people through creativity workshops and classes. One of the key parts of the class is to identify the negative messages in our heads that create resistance to our creative urges. Almost always, these “blurts” are messages planted in our brains when we were young.

  • “You’re stupid.”
  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “You’re ugly.”
  • “Why do you waste your time with that shit?”
  • “I wish you were dead.”

I’ve heard so many stories along the way. In some cases, the words were truly evil, and were said with evil intent from a twisted soul. More often, I believe the harmful words were uttered in a moment of parental stress and the adult had no earthly idea that their momentary anger just planted a seed in the soul of a child that would bear rotten fruit in years of self-deprecation and insecurity.

The tongue has the power of life and death,” says the Sage in today’s chapter.

Never in the history of the world have we, as human beings, had instant access to so many words and voices. Never in the history of the world have we, as human beings, had the ability to broadcast our words from the palm of our hand to the entire world. Never in the history of the world have we, as human beings, had such power, with our words, to be an agent of life or death.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my words. I’m thinking about the words I speak to others. I’m thinking about the words I write and broadcast. I’m thinking about the words and voices I allow, by choice or apathy, to enter my head and heart.

Immediately, God’s ancient words come to mind:

“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…”

(By the way, you’re not stupid.)

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Featured photo by Larah McElroy via Flickr

The Spiritual Barometer of Comfort

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)

A friend dropped by for coffee yesterday and we enjoyed a long discussion. One of the slivers of conversation was around a class that is being offered in our community in the near future. The premise of the class is that some of history’s most influential people had their most productive and years after the age of 70. The class is intended to encourage adults in the back stretch of life’s journey to consider shunning the traditional view of retirement. Instead of moving somewhere warm and sitting by a pool, the class encourages people to consider how their final stretch of life’s journey might be their most productive and influential.

I thought about that this morning as I read today’s chapter and contemplated the story of King Asa. In yesterday’s post, the prophet Azariah encouraged Asa to “be strong and not give up” but the stretch of life journey that Asa was entering was not one of struggle. Asa’s major challenge and climactic fight was behind him. He was entering a time of extended peace. Thirty-five years of peace and rest. And that’s when he blew it.

Thirty-five years of relatively easy sledding finds King Asa has changed, but not in a good way. He forgot the lesson he learned in his war with the Cushites. He forgot how his faith had led to good things. He forgot Azariah’s admonishment. Thirty-five years of peace and comfort turned Asa into a hard-hearted, self-centric old man. It was the good times and life of relative ease that revealed the true nature of Asa’s heart. A seer named Hanani confronts Asa, but it only confirms and seals Asa’s bitterness (and lands Hanani in the stocks).

This morning I’m thinking about my current waypoint on this life journey. I often think that it’s the tough stretches of pain, tragedy, and difficulty that reveal the true nature of our hearts. Perhaps it is the stretches of comfort and ease that are a better barometer of my spirit.

The Letter of Our Lives

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.
2 Corinthians 3:1-2 (NIV)

Wherever you find kindness, love, and generosity you will find those willing to take advantage of that kindness, love, and generosity. In the day that Paul was writing his letter to believers in Corinth, the followers of Jesus had gained a reputation for being generous toward those marginalized by the society of that day including lepers, widows, and orphans. They also had a reputation of taking up collections for traveling teachers like Paul.

It wasn’t long before con men and teachers with selfish intent began making the rounds. The result of being swindled was that these local gatherings of Jesus’ followers would expect traveling teachers to bring a letter of recommendation from someone they knew and trusted. Eventually the con men began forging those letters of recommendation and it became an on-going problem.

Paul picks up on this situation and uses these required “letters of recommendation” as a word picture. The believers of Corinth were his letter of recommendation, Paul argued. The “proof” of Paul’s ministry was the changed hearts, the transformed lives, and the growing spiritual maturity of those in Corinth in whom Paul had invested his time, teaching, and mentoring.

This morning I’m pondering this metaphor of our very lives, and the outcomes of our lives, being a letter read by everyone around us. When people look at the outcomes of my life, my words, my actions, and my relationships what are they reading? What does my life “recommend” to others? And what’s does my influence on others “recommend?”

Yesterday I went on site with our client and ran into a young man who’d started on the front line of their sales and customer service department. I trained him from his first days on the phone and coached him for a number of years. He was promoted to another team I worked with and then got a promotion to field sales. I haven’t seen him for years. He happened to be in the home office yesterday and when he saw me his face lit up. Unexpectedly he came over and gave me a big hug. It made my day. It was rewarding to know that my coaching has made a small contribution to his success.

I sit here in my hotel room prepping for another day of coaching. I’m reminded of the “letter” I’m writing in myself and others today. I want it to be a positive letter of recommendation.

Time to Grow Up

“…so that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them, but hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.”
Joshua 22:7-8 (NRSV)

There are different stages in life. What may be good and appropriate for one stage of life may change and evolve as we grow and mature. This is natural. It is a part of the journey. It is how God designed it.

When I was a child there were boys that my parents did not want me hanging out with. My parents saw that they had different values. They were older. There was every possibility that they would have drawn me into trouble. My parents didn’t say these were “bad” kids. They simply told me to steer clear.

As I got older my parents stopped warning me about people. They sent me off to work, to college, to the mission field, and to the broader world. They wanted me to explore, to meet people, to learn, to grow, and to influence the world around me. They trusted me to be wise and discerning regarding my relationships.

I have come to believe that the relationship between God and man in history parallels the stages of human life. In today’s chapter, humanity is in its early childhood years. The people of God have become aware of their place in the world. They are learning about interacting with others. Their heavenly father warns them to steer clear of those who might have an unhealthy influence on them. Just like my parents did at that age.

Along life’s road I’ve known many followers of Jesus who still cling to this early childhood attitude of fear and suspicion towards others. They insulate themselves from their neighbors. They fear contact with others who are not like them and who don’t believe the same ways. It is as if they fear contamination should they associate with anyone who is not a part of their insular church family. They might even use Joshua’s words in today’s chapter to justify it.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was a rite of passage in the relationship between God and man. It was relational graduation into adulthood of sorts. Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts and lives of those who believe. Jesus now sent His followers out into the world. No more hanging with the homeys behind locked doors. No more keeping to yourself. Jesus said, “Go….” Heavenly Father was kicking His children out of the nest. You’re old enough. You’re wise enough. I’ve prepared you and equipped you and it’s time for you to get out there an influence your world.

Today, I’m thinking about stages of life. There was a time when I was a child and I needed to be wary of others influencing me. Now I’m a man, and if I still live with that fear then there’s something that has short circuited in the maturation process. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

At some point, it’s time for every one of us to grow up, go out into the world into strange places among people who are new to us and influence those we meet with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image: shenamt via Flickr

Justice (and therefore Wisdom) Needed

You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.
Deuteronomy 16:19 (NRSV)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I’m sure we all had that question when we were young. Like most people, I think the answer changed for me a time or two. Growing up with the Apollo lunar missions, I think astronaut was on my mind in my earliest years. There came a time later in my childhood when I became enamored with the idea of running for political office.  Growing up in Iowa, we are inundated with the Presidential races every four years and that probably had an influence on my thinking.

As I got older, the idyllic visions I had of political office gave way to the harsh realities. At the highest levels the political game is about money. You generally can’t win the office without money, and to get money you have to put your hand out to big donors and special interests who will expect favors for their “donation.” By the way, corruption is an equal opportunity consequence. It is found in every political camp. That’s just the reality of it.

To stay in office, I watch lawmakers rig rules and pad their war chests. They shun term limits to extend their power and influence. They make sketchy deals and look out for each other and their own.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn’t think I could be a part of all that and keep my soul healthy. My political aspirations gave way to other things.

Today I am reminded that from the very beginning God has desired justice, honesty, and impartiality from His people. I didn’t pursue public office, but I still find myself in positions of leadership and authority. God’s call is the same for me in those positions as it was for the judges in Moses day. God desires that I make right and just decisions for the good of the whole. Even in my relatively minor spheres of influence, I continue to need wisdom and a generous measure of grace for that.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Problem of Power

source: allen brewer via flickr
source: allen brewer via flickr

Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
    “Is not the Lord among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
Micah 3:11 (NIV)

As I write this the next Presidential election here in the States is 16 months off, but already the candidates are queueing up and the political machinations have begun. We had a family gathering at Wendy’s folks yesterday afternoon and casual conversation has already turned to be all about elections. It’s going to be a long one, I’m afraid. It’s times like this that I wish life had a fast forward button.

I am glad I live in a land with free elections and representative republic. As a lover of history, however, I’m constantly reminded that political power is a corrupting force. As Lord Acton observed, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even in a system with checks and balances, I’ve observed that political offices (both elected and appointed) become places from which individuals and parties make rules to entrench their position and take advantage for themselves and their friends.

In the days of the prophet Micah, the situation was no different, as Micah observes in today’s chapter. God’s Message teaches that we live in a fallen world. Our sin leads us, despite our best altruistic efforts to the contrary, to make self-centric decisions for ourselves and our own. The more powerful and influential position we yield the more difficult it becomes to succumb.

Today, I’m feeling a bit cynical, but I’ve got plenty of evidence from events past and present to justify my cynicism. Perhaps that is why God’s Message exhorts us so directly to pray for our leaders and those in power. At the same time that I’m pointing the finger at politicians, I’m also mindful that power’s corrupting force is present in any human system from families to churches to companies to neighborhoods and service organizations. In my admittedly meager positions of influence I am aware of the negative affects power can have on me if I am not aggressively mindful, humble and accountable.

Inevitable Corruption

English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stea...
English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stearns, Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing of U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also cast lots, just as their relatives the descendants of Aaron did, in the presence of King David and of Zadok, Ahimelek, and the heads of families of the priests and of the Levites. The families of the oldest brother were treated the same as those of the youngest. 1 Chronicles 24:31 (NIV)

Wherever there is power there is corruption. It is as true in a church as it is in politics. When there is a lot of money involved, it happens faster and runs deeper.

I have seen this very thing at work in churches, where large donors influence decisions and control circumstances behind closed doors. As a young man I worked in a county office building and I watched the corruption and power of a political machine and the union doing whatever they wanted despite what was legal. Even in my quaint, small, town with its scrubbed streets and squeaky clean religious legacy I have seen individuals and families who are power brokers, wielding tremendous influence from behind the scenes.

I find it interesting that in the selection of priests for the new temple, David made a legitimate effort to keep things equitable. The casting of lots (think of it like drawing straws) was an ancient practice of letting fate or God decide things. Like all societies there were prominent families, and less prominent ones. There were those with more wealth than others. The casting of lots was meant to keep anyone from influencing their role in the temple.

It was a nice thought.

As time went on, corruption took over. There was money to be made. Whoever controlled the priesthood controlled the temple and with it all of the food, supplies, stores, and money that was offered daily. By the time Jesus would appear on the scene a millennia later, the temple leadership had become reminiscent of a mafia family running a religious racket, which is what Jesus was really addressing when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple (twice).

I am reminded this morning that there is little I can do against human corruption which is at work in almost every human endeavor. It cannot be avoided because sin is at work in all of us, and sin will always lead human beings to grab after power and control. David tried. It’s the same with the framers of the U.S. Constitution who separated powers so that there would be checks and balances between the branches of government. They were trying to stave off the corruption that they saw in every other system of government. I read the headlines daily and begin to feel that they were no more successful than David.

So what can I do? I can work to keep my own heart pure, avoid corruption in my own spheres if influence, confront corruption where I see it, and exercise wisdom in knowing when to speak and when to be silent.

Witness in the Spotlight of Leadership

photo by smjbk via Flickr
photo by smjbk via Flickr

The Lord will vindicate me;
    your love, Lord, endures forever—
    do not abandon the works of your hands.
Psalm 138:8 (NIV)

David was a leader. After his miraculous victory over Goliath in his youth, David had been thrust into the spotlight and he never left the spotlight. David was warrior, field general, outlaw, ancient Robin Hood, spy, ruler of Judah, and King of Israel. He knew that others were constantly observing him.

What I found interesting about David’s lyrics in Psalm 138 is that he is well aware that many eyes are on him:

  • When David bows down to God, he does so in full sight of the pantheon of regional pagan gods and their followers.
  • Other kings are watching, and David knows that he has influence with them as he desires that they all exalt God as he does.
  • His foes are watching and he acknowledges that God’s protection and preservation of him stands as a testimony.

Today, I’m thinking about the role of being a leader and the ways I find myself in positions of influence. Like David, I hope and pray that as others see me in various spotlights of leadership my life, words, actions are a positive witness of God’s love, grace, forgiveness and Life giving power.

wayfarer chapter index banner

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Thread in the Tapestry

Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longs...
Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longship in the invasion of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

Last week Wendy, her sister Suzanna, and I had dinner with friends who traveled to Europe over the summer. In hearing about the things they enjoyed seeing in their journey, I learned about the Bayeaux Tapestry. It’s a giant tapestry 230 feet long which dates from around 1070. It tells the story of events that happened from 1044-1046 in the Norman conquest in England. I’d never heard of it and so it was fun to hear about what intrigued our friends with it. My curiosity led me to look it up and learn a bit about it on my own.

I thought about the tapestry this morning as I pondered Psalm 100 because I’ve always thought that tapestries (large, woven textile works that often tell a story) an apt metaphor for family history. I’ve done a good deal of genealogy work on my families on both my father’s and my mother’s branches. It’s fascinating to me to find out where I came from and to discover family history. My curiosity has been more than a trivial pursuit, however. My desire has been to get a better grip on who I am, how I came to be, and what threads of family history were woven into the tapestry of my own personal story. I discovered the good, the bad, and the ugly in my research.

I have come to realize that what God has said in His Message is essentially true. Sins of the parents are passed down through subsequent generations. They are passed along because behaviors are both learned and systemic. Psychological, sociological, and spiritual factors are all at work.

Yet, if the sins of the parents are visited upon subsequent generations, then the opposite is equally true. The blessings of the faithful are also visited upon subsequent generations. Just as you can trace threads of alcoholism, greed, or abuse back through multiple generations you can also trace threads of faith, generosity, and love. As David’s lyric states, God’s faithfulness endures through the generations of the faithful.

In my journey and pursuits I have come to the conclusion that the real question that I need to answer is this: Who am I going to be in light of my family’s stories? Certain behaviors and bents have generational roots, but it is within me to choose how I will behave today. We are influenced by previous generations but we are not enslaved to them. The choices I make in my thoughts, words, actions and decisions today are a thread in the tapestry which will influence the ultimate shape, color and design of my own family’s story.