Tag Archives: Integrity

The Adult Version

A ruler who oppresses the poor
    is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

Proverbs 28:3 (NIV)

One of the great, untaught lessons in the entirety of the Great Story is a sad one. In fact, I don’t believe that I’ve heard it mentioned even once in any lecture or message in my entire lifetime. It is the story of wise King Solomon’s foolishness.

As a little boy growing up in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School I learned a lot about the Bible through simple stories taught in simple ways. I remember learning them with cheesy paper cut-out images of characters placed on a “flannelgraph.” In fact, if you look up “flannelgraph” on Wikipedia, the image they use is of a Bible Story. Today we do the same thing with colorful, bright cartoons that offer children’s versions of ancient stories.

As a young man, I became a genuine follower of Jesus and began reading the Bible for myself. I studied it in college and seminary classes. I’ve been perpetually reading and studying it for forty-years. Along my journey, I’ve worshiped, served, and taught in many different churches from diverse doctrinal backgrounds. I’ve made a couple of observations along the way.

First, I have observed individuals who never moved beyond the stories of the Bible being broad and simple morality tales for children taught in bright colors and cartoonish characters. Then, as young adults, they became easily dismissed along with the rest of the cartoon characters they grew up with. Second, I have known and observed sincerely faithful, adult believers who made a conscious, cognitive decision to accept the doctrinal beliefs of their childhood church or denomination. Still, they have little or no experiential knowledge of the faith they profess to follow, and their faith is based on a combination of Bible tales told to them as a child and a life-long habit of traditions and rituals.

So, now we come back to King Solomon, the son of King David who has been known for almost 3,000 years as the “wise” and extravagantly rich king. The simple Bible story goes like this: as a child, God offered Solomon either wisdom or great riches. Solomon chose wisdom and God blessed him with both wisdom and great riches. It’s a tale with a simple moral to teach our children. Solomon then went on to have three books of “wisdom literature” traditionally attributed to his authorship: Proverbs, Song of Songs, and the book of Ecclesiastes. And, I have observed that this is about all most people remember.

The extended, adult version of Solomon’s story is (much like my own story, btw) much messier and far more complicated than the simple, story-book version. Solomon was the offspring of David’s adulterous marriage to Bathsheba, the woman whose husband David had murdered. Being the last of David’s children, Solomon should have been last in the line of male children (from multiple women) to ascend the throne. Bathsheba maneuvered events to make sure David named Solomon king. Solomon conscripted labor to build all of his great visionary projects (Solomon’s Temple being chief among them), and even his fellow Hebrew tribes complained of being treated like slaves. Solomon also appears not to have passed his wisdom along to his own son, Rehoboam, who succeeded him. Rehoboam followed his father’s example, not his wise words, in ignoring the wisdom of the proverb pasted at the top of this post. Rather than easing the oppression Solomon had placed on his own people, Rehoboam promised more oppression and irreparably fractured the kingdom into bloody and contentious civil war.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reading Solomon’s wise words knowing that he, himself, foolishly failed to follow them. And, that is the lesson for me today. As I contemplate this fact, my thinking goes to two places. One, that it’s too easy for me to be critical of Solomon for his hypocrisy of famously saying one thing while doing another. The truth is that there are plenty of examples of the same types of hypocrisy in my own life and story. Second, I’m mindful of the fact that Solomon’s human failings don’t alter the wisdom of his proverbs in the same way my own human failings don’t alter Jesus’ message. Come to think of it, it only makes His message more relevant to me. After 40 years, I’m still just an imperfect human in need of both grace and mercy as I try to follow Jesus each day. I’ve left behind a lot of foolishness, but I have by no means attained all that Lady Wisdom is still trying to teach me.

<— 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

Because I can, Doesn’t Mean I should

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
    note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to gluttony.

Proverbs 23:1-2 (NIV)

When I was starting out in my career, we had miser in charge of our company’s travel expenses. It was dictated that we would stay in the cheapest places, rent the cheapest cars, and keep our meals to a minimum. In many cases, the cheapest alternatives were zealously investigated and it was required that we use them.

I still have memories of the hole-in-the-wall car rental place that this person found. It was a true “rent-a-dent” with a small fleet of small, two-door Grand Prix Pontiacs. They were almost all red and they had been purchased from other car rental places on the cheap because they had high-mileage, lots of wear, ran rough, and every single one of them had been the used by their previous owners as the cars designated for smokers. Even the $17 a day we paid was overpriced for these barely roadworthy pieces of junk. I now look back and laugh at those days like a veteran road warrior swapping battle stories, but it really was extreme.

I’m happy to say that after a few years the travel restrictions were eased. We were allowed to stay in mid-tier hotels and negotiated an account with one of the major car rental companies. Our per diem for meals was eased to a reasonable limit. Nevertheless, the standard had been set. We watch what we spend, what gets charged to the client, and always keep it reasonable.

A few years later, I was having lunch with the CEO of a large client we were privileged to serve for many years.

“You know why I love you and your company? Why I respect you and keep doing business with you?” he asked me unexpectedly in his thick New York Jewish accent.

I was honestly curious to know.

“It’s your expense reports,” he quickly said in response to his own question without waiting for me to answer, “You don’t try and gouge me. You wouldn’t believe what most vendors try and get away with. They expect me to pay for the magazines they buy to read on the plane and $200 bottles of wine at lunch. It’s ridiculous. Your team always just charges me for the basics, and it’s always reasonable. That tells me a lot about your company.”

I thought about that lunch, and that CEO, as I read this morning’s chapter and the sage saying of ancient Jewish wisdom at the top of this post. That lunch was an important waypoint in my career as I began to see myself through the eyes of the decision makers who hire our company. While the miser I first experienced as a corporate rookie took things to an unnecessary extreme, I came to understand the wisdom that motivated their frugality. Clients pay attention to what we charge them, and they make judgements about our integrity, our character, and our relationship because of it.

In the quiet this morning, I’m smiling and whispering a prayer of gratitude for the person who made me endure long road trips in a stale, smoke-smelling rust-buckets. It wasn’t fun at the time, but it taught me an important lesson. And, it became a really good story for those days when I find myself comparing battle scars with fellow road warriors at the airport.

Now that I find myself at the top of the company’s org chart, I know that there are clients who assume that I will expect a higher level of travel experience when I’m on business with their company. I’ve even had a few clients encourage me to stay in nicer places and/or enjoy a higher-ticket meal or two than what they see I charged on my expense report. I thank them, and then I purposefully and silently refuse to do so. When it comes to next year’s contract, I never want to give the client any reason, even a small reason, to suspend or end our relationship.

<— 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

My Secret to a Good Night’s Sleep

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
    but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.
Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)

For many years I have had a fascination with the largest, non-commercial blog in the world. It went viral so long ago that there may be many today who have never heard of PostSecret. Frank Warren had a simple idea for a local art contest. He distributed a bunch of blank, self-addressed postcards in random public places where they would be found. He asked people who found them to anonymously share a secret. A half-million postcards later, they continue to arrive in his mailbox daily. Each Sunday he posts a handful of new secrets he’s received to his ad-free blog.

Last summer I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers called It’s a Secret about the different types of secrets we human beings tend to keep and the unhealthy ways they affect our lives (You can download and listen here). I shared some of my own history of keeping secrets along my life journey and the lessons that l learned from them.

One of the things Frank Warren says from his years as the caretaker of hundreds of thousands of secrets is that sometimes we think we are holding on to a secret when, actually, the secret is holding on to us.

In today’s chapter of wise King Solomon’s ancient proverbs, Sol says that those who walk with integrity walk securely. When I read that I thought: those who give up their secrets don’t live in constant fear of being found out. I thought about my years of desperately keeping secrets. They were periods of anxiety, cyclical shame, and the fear of getting caught. To Frank’s point, my secrets were holding on to me, impeding my journey, and making me feel that there was a ticking time-bomb of revelation waiting to go off at any moment. My secrets kept me up at night. They were part of the reason I didn’t sleep well.

Along my journey, I went through a period of confession in which I owned up to my secrets and went on a sojourn to discover my authentic self. I sought out the person I really am without secrets and I embraced all of my glaring imperfections and indulgent appetites. In the process, I learned that darkness makes it hard to see things for what they really are. Secrets, sins, mistakes, and imperfections are far scarier and seem infinitely more powerful under the cloak of darkness. When brought into the light, they lose their grip.

This morning Wendy asked me one of our daily repeated, routine questions: “How did you sleep last night?”

I slept well, thanks.

I hope you are sleeping securely, as well.

<— 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

Doing the Right Thing

…the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
Daniel 6:4 (NIV)

Political maneuvering is as old as humanity itself. Every couple of years it comes around like clockwork. In the midst of an election cycle, we hear the moans and groans about how bad and negative politics have become. While I agree that corruption and character assassination are still too prevalent on every side, the truth is that episodes like the Steele dossier and Watergate have been happening for as long as human beings have attempted to gain personal power and take down their political rivals.

Today’s chapter of Daniel is all about political maneuvering. Daniel is an old man at this point and has successfully served in successive administrations starting with King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian empire and now Darius, a Mede, who was governor of Babylon under Cyrus and the Persian empire. Daniel has continued to keep his head down, work hard, and do a successful job with honesty and integrity. The Persian Governor loves Daniel. Transitions of power are fraught with uncertainty and risk. Daniel may have been one of the only people this foreign Governor could trust, as Daniel was both competent and trustworthy.

Daniel, on the other hand, has been a fixture on the political landscape of Babylon for decades. He was an old man and there were plenty of powerful young men who wanted his position and power. So his enemies hatch a plan to get rid of him. Knowing that Daniel faithfully prays to his God three times a day, they get the governor to sign a decree stating that for one week no one can pray to or worship any person or any god but Darius himself under the penalty of death. When the decree was signed by Darius and could not be revoked under the laws of that day, Daniel’s enemies watched him go to prayer as he did three times every day, and they brought him up on charges.

What’s fascinating to me is how reminiscent this is of what happened with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego decades earlier. Daniel’s rivals may have had no knowledge of that particular episode and how it turned out.

In one of the more famous of Biblical stories, Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den overnight and is still alive the following morning. His enemies are thwarted and, in an ironic twist of fate, end up becoming the lions’ dinner themselves.

What’s often known or remembered about this story is Daniel’s miraculous survival in the lions’ den. What is often forgotten is the fact that it was Daniel’s honesty, integrity, and faithfulness that had successfully made him an asset to multiple rulers across two political empires for upwards of 60-70 years.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of a handful of episodes in my career in which doing the right thing happened to be the costly thing to do. More than once our company has lost client relationships because we were honest and shared the truth about what data revealed when it was politically unpopular to do so.

But this is what I’ve learned having been at this for a quarter of a century. The handful of lost client relationships certainly stung for a short period of time, but I can also point to far more clients with whom we’ve enjoyed on-going relationships for decades because they know that we will always serve with honesty and integrity, and we will always tell them the truth. The profitable results from those long-term client relationships exceed those we may have lost along the way.

I certainly have made a host of mistakes along the way. In fact, as I’m writing this my conscience is stabbing me with examples of so many ways I’ve screwed up both in the past and in recent weeks. Still, Daniel reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned. The further I get in this journey the better I understand the long-term value of doing the right thing.

Moments of Truth

Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!
Daniel 4:19 (NIV)

The company I have served for 25 years works with all kinds of businesses from all over. We survey our client’s customers in order to determine what drives the customer’s satisfaction. We assess phone calls and emails between the company and their customers to determine where they have opportunities to improve the customer experience. Sometimes the data our research and assessments reveal tell a story that a client doesn’t want to hear. It’s our responsibility to communicate the uncomfortable truth. Let’s just say, I have stories of clients who listened, and stories of clients who didn’t.

In today’s chapter, Daniel finds himself in an uncomfortable position. Having gained a reputation for upright honesty and the ability to interpret dreams, he and his friends have attained positions of power and prominence in King Nebuchadnezzar’s administration. When Nebuchadnezzar has another perplexing dream, he calls on Daniel for its interpretation. This time, however, Daniel realizes the dream is not something that his proud, temperamental, foreign master is going to want to hear. The text hints at Daniel’s hesitation and the internal struggle that the King, himself, notices.

The higher the position, the greater the stakes. That’s what I’ve experienced in my own career. When I was a young man working on front-line projects there was very little risk involved. My employer and my seniors had to worry about our clients in closed-door meetings. I just kept my head down and did my job. Now, I find myself at the top of the org chart. I am responsible for others.  My words and actions impact everyone in our company. Now I’m the one facing clients in closed-door meetings. The stakes are very different.

I have to believe Daniel was feeling something similar. Before, he was just an unknown minion in the King’s vast stable of advisors. Now, Daniel and his companions are in a position of prominence and authority. They have political clout. They have enemies. Daniel now knows, first-hand, King Neb’s ego, temper, and fatal flaws. The stakes are higher. It feels like there is more to lose.

Daniel hesitates. The King notices. The King wants an answer.

Is Daniel going to tell the truth? This is a moment of decision.

Daniel does tell the truth. He sticks to his faith and his principles. He once again puts everything on the line and risks losing it all.

It’s Monday morning as I write this and I’ve enjoyed being unplugged for a long holiday weekend with friends. I’m heading back into the work week this morning leading a company that was founded on the principles of God’s Message. That means treating clients the way I’d want to be treated. It means serving well and going the extra mile. It means speaking the truth in love, even when it may not be what our clients want to hear. Daniel provides me an example to follow.

Even when the stakes are higher and it appears there is far more to lose, am I still willing to say what is true?

Lunch with the CEO

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
2 Corinthians 10:3 (NIV)

A number of years ago my company served a midwest client. We were providing them with on-going customer satisfaction research, conducting Quality Assessments in their contact center, as well as coaching their sales and customer service teams. Then we learned that the company had been sold to a much larger conglomerate with global reach.

As always happens in a corporate buy-out, there was a subsequent shift in the executive ranks as the new owners brought in their own executives to run their new asset. I know that when this happens there is a very good possibility that we will lose our contract. New executives tend to come in having already formed their own strategic partnerships and alliances along their career journey. They use their new authority and this initial season of massive change to bring in the friends and colleagues they already know and trust.

In this case, the new CEO decided to let us finish our contract year as he observed the work we were doing and allowed us to present our data and explain the continuous improvement model we’d implemented which was successfully making positive changes to the customer experience. We were fortunate. As the year progressed he not only allowed us to continue our project, but he actually gave me additional projects to work on with him. At the end of the year he agreed to keep our projects moving.

During one of my visits I had lunch with the CEO. “Do you know why I keep you around?” he asked. He was a type 8 challenger so I had to be ready for him to ask almost any kind of arcane, direct question at any moment.

I hope we’re providing you with value,” or some such generic guess was my answer.

It’s your expense reports,” he answered just as directly as he’d asked the question.

Excuse me? My expense reports?

I deal with all sorts of outside vendors and consultants,” he went on to explain. “You wouldn’t believe what people try to charge me and get away with. First Class airfare, magazines they buy to read on the plane, luxury hotel suites, and the most expensive meals. One guy tried to expense a $200 bottle of wine with his lunch. Then they even try to charge margin on top of their expenses.”

You and your team,” he said, “are different. You only expense what is necessary and reasonable. In fact, I can tell you actually try to help me contain costs. It tells me a lot about who you are and how you operate. It tells me I can trust you.

It was a nice thing to hear, because our company has always tried to operate with integrity in all of our dealings and relationships. If you happen to have been in our gathering of Jesus’ followers a couple of days ago and heard the message, then you’ll understand when I say that I try to bring “Level 4” principles into our “Level 3” business dealings.

In today’s chapter, Paul expresses the same vein of thinking. He’s operating in the world but trying to bring a different level of operational principles in his relationships and dealings. He’s trying to bring the Kingdom into everything that he’s doing from his ministry to all of the fledgling gatherings in the Jesus Movement to the tent-making and repair business he ran wherever he went to provide for his daily needs so as not to be a financial burden on the believers he was serving.

This morning I’m preparing for a business trip. Once again I’m thinking about how I can serve well, love well, bring measurable value to my client, and be an example in all of my dealings. My memories of lunch with that CEO are a good reminder for me as I embark on my journey. I want my stated principles to be evident in my daily words and actions.

People are watching, and they notice.

 

A Simple Act of Integrity

“You shall purchase food from them for money, so that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them for money, so that you may drink. Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.”
Deuteronomy 2:6-7 (NRSV)

Many years ago I did a short stint as youth pastor of a fairly good sized youth group. I would often find myself taking large groups of kids on various outings throughout the year. There were mission trips, ski trips, camping trips, trips to conferences, trips to concerts, trips to sporting events, and trips to the amusement park. It was common for me to lead a bus full of middle and high schoolers into a restaurant for a meal while we were on the road.

I made a point of talking to my kids about the integrity of not only paying for what you eat and drink, but also paying the human beings who served us in restaurants. I could see the look of agony behind the counter as my little nation of teens poured into Pizza Hut. My kids and I talked about putting ourselves in the shoes of our servers, the integrity of paying for both what we consume and the service we receive from others.

One evening I had a my usual throng of kids in the city for I can’t even remember what event. Knowing that their hunger was voracious as always, I herded them into an all-you-can-eat spaghetti joint and we loaded up on carbs Italian style. It just so happened that our server that night was a girl who was in my high school youth group when I had been part of the herd a few years earlier. After the meal, as I was rustling my kids out of the restaurant, my old friend from high school tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned to receive a warm hug.

With tears in her eyes, she admitted to me that she swore when she saw our group coming in. She knew from experience that a group of teens meant she was going to work her butt off for a bunch of rowdy adolescents and then get stiffed for the effort. She told me how kind the kids had been, how well they had conducted themselves, but most of all she couldn’t believe how well they had tipped her.

Along my life journey I’ve observed our culture increasingly given to cost shifting. As long as something is free to us, we ignore the fact that someone else has paid the price for it. I was struck this morning by the very simple command God gave to His herd of Hebrew children on their trip to the sea: “Pay a fair price for what you eat. Pay for the water you drink. Don’t take it. Don’t expect someone else to pay for it or incur the cost of it.

This morning I am reminded of a waitress weeping over a couple of bucks that she both earned and deserved by her good service. I’m reminded of the simple integrity of paying for what you consume.  More than ever, I find it a differentiating mark of character in this world.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo:  global panorama via Flickr

A Tale of Two Agents

source: johnjoh via flickr
source: johnjoh via flickr

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Luke 16:10 (NIV)

I was recently with a client providing call coaching for a team of agents. In these coaching sessions the client’s front-line agents join me in a small conference room with their supervisor. We review the agents service quality data and listen to recorded calls between the agent and their customers that my team had analyzed. On this particular day, I was coaching several young agents I had never coached before, and it was as if one of Jesus’ parables was coming to life before my very eyes.

There were two agents…

The first agent came into the room confident and smiling. She was bright and confident. When I asked how it was going for her with her calls, she immediately recounted what the data had revealed about the strengths and weaknesses of her service delivery. She had obviously been paying attention, had taken responsibility to go out and review the information available to her, and had digested the data and recommendations. When I played her recorded calls and then asked what she thought, she quickly picked out exactly how she could have improved and explained what she would have done differently if she had the chance to do it over again. When the agent left the room I expressed to the supervisor that I was impressed. “She won’t be on my team long,” the supervisor said. “With her attitude and work ethic, she is going to go places quickly in this company, and she should.”

Before the second agent came into the room the supervisor explained that this particular agent always demanded the last session so that she could put it off as long as possible. When the agent came into the room I could tell from her physicality that she was defensive and did not want to be there. I tried to break the tension. I pulled up the service quality data that had shown a recent trend toward improvement and complimented the improvements. “I don’t know why I improved,” the agent mumbled, “I haven’t done anything differently.” We listened to calls together and when given the opportunity to self-critique the agent simply responded with “it sounded pretty good to me.” In one call, the agent responded to a customer’s question with “I don’t know anything about that” despite the fact that the agent clearly knew the answer. When asked why she didn’t answer the question the agent shrugged and said, “Yeah, I probably should have. I don’t know. I just didn’t.” After the session was over, the supervisor looked at his watch to see how much time was left in the agent’s shift, explaining “She won’t get anything else done today. She watches the clock for the last hour of the day so she can be out the door as soon as the second hand hits twelve.”

I thought of these two agents when I read Jesus’ words this morning. I have observed countless times over the years that the difference between successful people and those stagnate in their careers is usually a small handful of things done faithfully and done well.

Here are seven qualities I’ve consistently observed in those who succeed:

  • Showing up early (or at least being at your post and working on time)
  • Doing the job faithfully
  • Dealing with people honestly
  • Approaching things positively
  • Handling yourself professionally
  • Keeping productive and busy in slow times
  • Going the extra mile without being asked/required

 “If you are faithful with a few things,” Jesus said, “You will be put in charge of many things.”

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.

Clean Hands, Clear Conscience

Pope Benedictus XVI
Pope Benedictus XVI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Now testify against me in the presence of the Lord and before his anointed one. Whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I ever cheated any of you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe and perverted justice? Tell me and I will make right whatever I have done wrong.”

“No,” they replied, “you have never cheated or oppressed us, and you have never taken even a single bribe.”

“The Lord and his anointed one are my witnesses today,” Samuel declared, “that my hands are clean.” 1 Samuel 12:3-5a (NLT)

This past year the world witnessed something it had not seen in hundreds of years as a living pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church retired from the papacy and turned over his office to another. I thought of Pope Bendedict and his successor, Pope Francis, this morning as I read Samuel’s retirement speech as leader and judge of Israel. Reading through the historical narratives of the Judges, it appears that the Judges carried out their national leadership until death much like the leader of the Roman church has done for centuries. To have Samuel retire and transition his leadership and authority to King Saul was something of a unique moment in Israel’s history, as was his retirement speech in today’s chapter.

I found it interesting that Samuel’s first concern with retiring his office was to make sure that he could do so with a clean conscience. He stands before the people and asks any who he has wronged to step forward and make it known so that he might reconcile the matter. When nobody does, he declares “my hands are clean.”

I have worked in the business world for twenty years and have been involved in one form of church leadership or another for over twenty five years. I have met precious few leaders who seem at all concerned with retiring with clean hands. I have met far more men and women whose lives are layered with feelings of guilt, shame, and regrets for past words and actions which haunt them. Key relationships from their past remain broken. In many cases, I observe that they have little interest in washing their hands, but appear to cover the dirt and stink of their past with a spiritual pair of good looking gloves and some cheap perfume.

As I read Samuel’s speech this morning, I felt an intense desire to be like him. I want clean hands and a clear conscience when it comes to my business dealings and relationships. If, like Samuel, I don’t want to face a long line of people bearing witness to the dirt of my life at my retirement party, then I better be careful how I think, speak and act today.