Tag Archives: Principles

Jesus and the Religious Rule Keepers

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27 (NIV)

As a child, I did a lot of walking and playing outdoors with the kids in my neighborhood. The neighborhood around the 3100 block of Madison Avenue was pretty much a virtual playground for us. I still remember who lived in most of the houses on our block and several of the houses on the blocks around us. We knew all of the “shortcuts” between garages, through fences, and how to quickly both get to other places and to disappear in need. We also knew the quickest routes, by foot or bike, to the woods, creeks, and green spaces that surrounded our neighborhood.

As we would play tag, hide-and-seek, or walk to the woods, I can remember nonchalantly playing with whatever plant I happened to walk over or past. Dandelions could be turned into a woven bracelet, and their dead blooms could be blown to the wind as a natural form of confetti. The leaves from corn plants in people’s backyard gardens could be held tightly between your thumbs like a diaphragm and made to make the most unusual noises when you blew through the hole between your thumbs. Of course, apples, cherries, and other fruit could be picked as you walked by for a quick snack. If you could spot one, a four-leaf clover was always a must-grab for luck in our next game of Freeze Tag, T.V. Tag, or Kick-the-Can.

What struck me in today’s chapter was the fact that, as Jesus and his followers were walking, “they began to pick some heads of grain.” Of course, they did. They were no different than me and my neighborhood friends as we walked through a neighbor’s yard. If you’re on a walk and you walk through a field your hands naturally reach out and caress the heads of grain to feel the softness across your hand. Your hand unconsciously closes around one and your fingers rub the grain loose from the head. You let the chaff fall from your palm or blow it like the natural confetti of a dandelion. You pop a grain into your mouth without thinking much of it. I learned as a child that interacting with creation as you walk through it is as natural as breathing.

How silly, then, that the religious people of Jesus’ day thought the natural act of picking heads of grain to be breaking “the Sabbath.” The “Sabbath” day was simply a day of rest each week. It follows God’s example in the creation poem in Genesis. God creates the universe in six days and then takes a day off. God later told His people in the Ten Commandments: “Do just like I did. Work six days, but make sure you take a day off, a sabbath.” The rule was meant to help perpetuate a healthy life. I need sleep each day. I need a day off each week. I need a few weeks of vacation each year. It’s part of the healthy physical rhythm that promotes mental and spiritual health, as well.

Along my life journey, one of the things I’ve observed is that religion likes to translate spiritual principles into strict, prescriptive rules of behavior. I remember one Bible college a friend of mine considered attending desired that their students stay sexually pure, so the rule was that if a member of the opposite sex is sitting in a chair and vacates it you must allow time for the chair to cool from that person’s body heat before you sit in it. I wish I was making that up. Without the rule, I would have never even thought about residual female body heat on a classroom chair. The legalistic rule intended to keep me “pure” actually ends up creating the illicit thoughts it was intended to prevent. The religious rules intended to ensure that I keep the spiritual principle actually become more perverse than the sin it’s trying to keep away from. It’s a perfect illustration of what Paul told the followers of Jesus in Rome in his letter to them:

The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me.

Read Romans 7:8-12 (MSG)

So, let me come back to today’s chapter. Jesus and the disciples walking through a field casually picking off a head of grain. The legalistic, religious rule keepers confront Jesus and point to the behavioral rules they’ve manufactured to give clarity to the earlier code of conduct which was born out of the one rule God gave them in the Ten Commandments in order to adhere to a spiritual principle of making sure you get some rest and stay healthy.

Jesus, in reply to the religious rule enforcers, simply points out an exception to the rule that those same legalistic rule enforcers chose to ignore (e.g. “You’re condemning me for doing the same that King David and his men did, but I don’t hear you condemning him.”) Jesus then cuts to the heart of the matter: the Sabbath was made as a principle of rest to help give you have a good life and keeping your heart, mind, and body healthy.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking of all the ways I once adhered to religious legalism. I confess, there was so much about what Jesus was teaching and getting at that I didn’t get at all. But, that was my journey. I had to walk through those stretches in order to learn, fail, struggle, persevere, grow, and mature in my own heart and mind. As the old hymn says: I was blind, but now I see. I have come to perceive that I, as a religious person, can be more spiritually blind than the “sinner” I believe that I am trying to save.

In this season of Lent, as I walk towards the annual memorial of Jesus’ death and celebration of His resurrection, I can’t help but think of the confessed thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus. The confessed sinner went with Jesus to paradise while the religious rule-keepers, who condemned and had Jesus executed, stood there hurling insults and condemnation at Him. They were blind, as I once was. Even Jesus said in those moments as he looked down at his executioners and the good religious rule-keepers condemning him: “Father, forgive them. They have no idea what they’re doing.”

I’m left thinking that this wayfaring stranger would rather hang on a cross, a confessed sinner next to Jesus, than religiously stand in condemnation of others for their breaking of the rules that were addendums to the previous code of conduct, which were additions to the one ancient rule, which was originally intended as a principle to spiritually guide people to Life.

I think I’ll go for a walk today. No dandelions out yet to blow to the wind, but I can pick a few leaves, and just maybe a four-leaf clover.

Anyone up for a game of kick-the-can?

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

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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.

 

Ancient Law; Modern Application

You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.
Deuteronomy 25:4 (NRSV)

The mission statement of my company contains the phrase, “…by applying the principles of God’s word to our lives and work….” When Mr. Wenger began the company there were certain decisions he consciously made in structuring the way we did business to adhere to specific biblical principles. For example, while incorporated like any other company he chose to call us a  “group” not a “company” because he wanted each member to know that, like the body of Christ, we are all in this together and what each one of us does affects the others.

One of the other principles by which our group does business is tied to a verse from today’s chapter. “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” In the days of Moses grain was usually milled by placing it between two huge, round millstones. In the featured photo of this post you can see me pushing an ancient olive press in Nazareth which operated in a similar fashion. In milling grain, an ox was yoked to the stones and walked around and around and around in circles, turning the millstone which milled the grain. The floor of the mill would be covered with grain and farmers found that the ox would naturally bend down and eat grain off the floor as it worked. Farmers began to muzzle the ox so it could not eat the grain as it worked. The law of Moses said that the ox should be allowed to eat grain freely and benefit directly from the work it was doing for the farmer.

So it is with our group that no member, from the owners down to the newest contract employee is paid a salary in which we get paid a lump sum no matter how much or how little work we do each month. Rather, each member is paid directly from the specific tasks we do on each job for each client. We’re not going to muzzle anyone. The more a member wants to work and the more work we have to do, the more opportunity we have to increase our income. If we choose not to work as much, or we don’t have as much work to do, then our income is going to drop accordingly.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that many of these laws of Moses which were written thousands of years ago for an ancient culture far different than ours still have relevance today. In fact, many of our own modern laws still trace back, in principle, to the laws Moses chiseled out in ancient times.

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Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 23

The father of godly children has cause for joy. 
      What a pleasure to have children who are wise.
Proverbs 23:24 (NLT) 

I once worked with a pastor whose children were going through a rowdy, rebellious phase. One of the more self-righteous, overly negative members of his congregation made a snide remark about his children behaving badly. Exasperated by her back-biting and malice, he finally snapped.

“Lady,” my friend said to the snooty woman, “my children are not immaculately conceived. If you don’t believe me, I’ll drop trow right now and show you the plumbing that got the job done. Being as my children are bred of two flawed human beings, you might extend a little grace rather than expecting them to be perfect.”

That story always makes me laugh. Despite my friend’s sharp tongue, I appreciate the truth of the point he was trying to make.

I never expected my children to be perfect. I have had people ask me how I raised great kids. I always struggle to answer those questions because I feel like the outcome is far more about God grace and about their own wise choices than it is about parenting. There is no secret formula nor are there guarantees or sure outcomes. I only had a few guiding principles I attempted to follow…

  • Rather than trying to get them to go to church, I tried to model for them an active faith.
  • Rather than telling them “no” all the time, I tried to find healthy ways to tell them “yes.”
  • Rather than fearing the worst in them, I tried to trust the best in them.
  • Rather than holding them back out of fear of what they might do, I tried to release them with faith that they would do the things that they should do.
  • Rather than trying to love them with lots of things, I tried to love them with time, affection & attention.

I am not a perfect parent and my kids can provide you a list of my failings. My children are not perfect children (and I could provide you with a little list of my own). You will never find marble statues of my family erected in honor of our perfection, virtue, character, wisdom, morality, intelligence, or spirituality. Nevertheless, I resonate so deeply with King Solomon’s words. I have cause for joy today and every day because I have three good kids who love God and who love others well. I can’t ask for more than that.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 1

Deep roots. But the midwives had far too much respect for God and didn't do what the king of Egypt ordered; they let the boy babies live. Exodus 1:17 (MSG)

Interesting. I just wrote a post on my professional blog about principles, and the start of our journey through the book of Exodus seems to pick up on the same theme. There are moments in each of our lives when we must make a choice. We can do the expedient thing or we can do the right thing. It's easy for me to say I'll do the right thing, but these choices sometimes have to be made in the heat of a stormy moment when we're all alone.

The midwives could have made a great case for doing what they were told, being obedient to authority, and saving their own lives.  But they had too much respect for God

I think everyone has certain principles, if you ask them. The real question that interests me is: "In whom are your principles rooted?" If my principles are rooted in a higher authority, l find it a whole lot easier to stand amidst the storm and make right choices. If my principles are rooted in myself - my own sense of right and wrong, I find that what is "right" seems to expediently shift with the prevailing wind.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and amandochka

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