Tag Archives: Reaction

Rules and Exceptions

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God.

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1,3 (NIV)

A large part of my daily vocation is working with companies and their Quality Assessment (QA) efforts. You know, when you call and they say, “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes”? That’s a piece of what our company does.

Many years ago I observed a pattern in many companies with whom I consulted on their QA programs. An exceptional situation will result in a general rule for the population. Often, the rule had more of a detrimental effect than the exceptional situation that started it ever would. Let me give you an example.

Our team’s customer surveys (another piece of what our company does) typically find that customers appreciate a company who knows their name (Remember Cheers? “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”) and offers a personal service experience. Then one day a well-meaning Customer Service Representative (CSR) makes a mistake and addresses the caller by the wrong name or butchers the pronunciation of an unusual sounding name. The customer goes postal on the CSR and calls back to speak with managers and executives up the org chart making a huge deal out of a relatively little thing. Management, not wanting to have that happen again, makes a general rule: CSRs will no longer address customers by name!

The result? One exceptional, cranky customer who made a mountain out of a molehill has resulted in all customers getting a diminished service experience from the company.

Then I began to realize that this isn’t just something that happens in business. It happens all the time in families, churches, communities, and cultures. In fact, it happens in today’s chapter, but I bet you didn’t see it if you read the chapter.

Back in the days of Moses, there were two exceptional enemies of the Hebrews. The Ammonites and Moabites had gone out of their way to curse the Hebrews and attempted to thwart their passing through the land. Because of this, the law of Moses contained an exceptional rule:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.

Deuteronomy 23:3-4 (NIV)

Then, I read again what Nehemiah and the returned exiles did when they read this text:

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.

Nehemiah 13:3 (NIV) [emphasis added]

Do you see what they did there? They took an exceptional situation that applied to two specific people groups (the Moabites and Ammonites) being allowed into the temple, and they expanded into a general rule excluding all people of foreign descent from the entire land.

Here’s the kicker. In doing this, they were breaking another very specific law of God in Leviticus 19:

“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.'”

Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

I can see the legal wrangling spinning in the hearts and heads of Nehemiah and his people: “If we exclude all foreigners from the land, then we won’t have any of them residing among us, and that renders the Leviticus rule moot!”

By the way, what Nehemiah and the people are doing in today’s chapter is part of why Jesus came 400 years later to find a culture of separation, animosity, prejudice, and hatred between Jews and Gentiles. If they’d have interpreted Deuteronomy 23:3-4 differently and made Leviticus 19:33-34 their general rule, things may have just have turned out differently.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of all the ways we still do this today. Parents have one child who rebels and they clamp down their draconian rules on all of their children in the belief that the entire brood is a bunch of little rebels waiting to happen. Two young people at a school dance go too far and the girl ends up pregnant, so the church outlaws dancing in any form as evil. One dumb terrorist thought he could plant a bomb in his shoe (simply resulting in him burning his feet), and now billions of travelers have to have their shoes removed and x-rayed at every airport in the world.

By the way, I think both extremes of the political spectrum do this, as well. Let me give you two easy examples. The right does it with guns: “Because the Constitution made an exception for Colonists to have a musket to defend themselves against enemies and provide food for their tables, there’s no reason why I can’t have an M-16 and a rocket launcher in my home arsenal.” The left does it with abortion: “Because there are tragic situations of rape, incest, and life-threatening situations, we should allow abortion for all women, for any reason, right until the moment of delivery in the ninth month.”

The further I get in my life journey the more I observe that we humans are largely driven by fear, distrust, and emotional over-reactions. I don’t want to live that way. I’d rather have my life, words, and actions driven by faith, hope, and love. And, the latter most of all.

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. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Foolish Anxiety and Real Threats

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Nehemiah 1:3 (NIV)

The immigration of large people groups tend to happen in waves. The town of Pella, Iowa, where I live was founded by a group of Dutch immigrants in the 1800s. It happened, however, in waves. The first group arrived on the Iowa prairie in 1847 and began a settlement. They were the trailblazers. In his book Iowa Letters, Johan Stellingwerff, chronicles the letters sent back and forth between the first wave of settlers and their families back home who were still preparing to make the voyage:

“Dear Parents,

I write specially about the expenses of my journey…The journey from Borton, New York, or Baltimore is tiresom and damaging for freight because of reloading. It is better and cheaper via New Orleans…..

Hendrik Hospers

It is important for readers to understand that for the exiles returning to the city of Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon and Persia, the same is also true.

For many years, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book with two sections. They were authored by two different leaders of the waves of returning exiles. There were actually three waves of people who returned. The first was c. 538 BC led by Zerubbabel (the rebuilt Temple of Solomon is commonly referenced by historians as Zerubbabel’s Temple). Ezra led the next wave c. 458 BC. Nehemiah led the third c. 432 BC.

In today’s opening chapter of Nehemiah, the author records the word that came back to him from the returned exiles in Jerusalem. The news was not good. The walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city were burned and useless. It’s hard for us to appreciate the magnitude of this reality for the people of that time. Raiding armies were common among the many tribes and factions in the region. Plundering and pillaging were common and walls were an essential deterrent. The success of the exiles in their return and rebuilding of the city was in peril if there were no walls or gates to protect them from outside armies and/or raiding parties.

It may be hard to relate to everyday life in the 21st century, but the truth is that in life and in business, I find myself mindful of potential threats. There are threats of weather for which we must prepare our home and property. There is the threat of catastrophic life events against which we buy insurance for our health and lives.

Along my life journey, I have struggled to find the balance between being prepared for unexpected threats and being worried about them. I am more convinced than ever that I live in a culture in which politicians, media, special interest groups, and corporations peddle a non-stop stream of fear and apocalyptic predictions, which in turn create human reactions in large numbers of people, which in turn leads to clicks, views, ads, votes, sales, revenues, and etc. Wisdom is required.

Yesterday, among our local gathering of Jesus followers I was reminded that the Kingdom of God is not in trouble.

Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to my wife, my family, my employees, and my loved ones. There is wisdom in taking honest stock of potential threats that could seriously affect our well-being, and to take realistic precautions. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city had burned down, he was not motivated by unrealistic fear but by wisdom with regard to very real threats to his loved ones and his people. Two previous waves of exiles had failed to address a very real threat to their existence, and Nehemiah immediately knows that something must be done.

As I begin this new day and this new work week, I find myself asking for wisdom in discerning between fear-mongering, foolish anxiety, and real threats.

Patient Response

Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.
Ezra 5:17 (NIV)

In less than two weeks I’ll finish my decade long tenure as President of our local community theatre. We’re a small organization in a small town so our troubles and travails are of little importance in the grand scheme of life. Still, I find it ironic that in the last few months of my term I have experienced more stress and anxiety than ever.

Our stage home resides in a very old building owned by the community that has served us well, but it is in need of extensive repairs and updating. The city is investigating the facility’s use and exploring all of the options available. This has created anxiety and fear for some people, and there have been strong reactions to the situation.

This came to mind this morning as I read of the Hebrews rebuilding the temple while their enemies and neighbors actively petitioned the king and worked political channels to make them stop. I can only imagine the diverse and passionate reactions they must have had among their people to the situation. It makes me glad that I’m merely dealing with a small community theatre and not a national crisis.

In today’s chapter, I read how the political process continued to work itself out. Accusations were met with investigation and the investigation is unearthing the truth of the situation. It takes time, but the Hebrews did well to remain faithful in the task and to trust God to work things out through the process. It’s a great lesson.

Looking back, I see how my passionate reactions to situations in life, motivated by fear and anxiety, have led to unwarranted overreactions. I’ve come to believe that life situations are best handled through patient and thoughtful response. Remaining prayerfully engaged and letting the process play out is rarely a foolish choice.

 

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featured photo:  janicskovsky
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Dramatic, Peaceful Reason

Gamaliel“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39 (NRSV)

Being a playwright, I love a good dramatic moment, and I have always loved the moment described in today’s chapter. Going back to Jesus’ triumphant entry, there there had been so much emotional reaction to everything:

  • The crowds are stirred up in passionate support of Jesus, proclaiming Him their next king
  • Religious leaders reacted to Jesus’ teaching and popularity by plotting to kill Him
  • The crowds are stirred up in violent opposition to Jesus, calling for His death
  • Jesus’ followers first react in fear and run for their lives
  • Jesus’ followers then react in wonder as they encounter the risen Christ
  • Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem in confidence, proclaim the resurrection, and lead a massive revival in which thousands choose to follow
  • The public reacts by thronging from all over the region to Jesus’ followers seeking healing
  • The high priest and religious leaders react by throwing the disciples in prison

I can only imagine what complete chaos it must have felt like to have been swept up in the events of that time and place. I have experienced a few moments when events stirred massive reactions in the public socially and politically. 9/11 is perhaps the most intense, but I even think about the extreme reactions on all sides of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore in recent months. There are times when everything and everyone seem out of control.

Into the maelstrom of events in Jerusalem the the wise, aged Gamaliel stepped. Drama is created with conflict and/or extreme contrasts, and in this case we find Gamaliel providing a sudden and stark contrast to all of the chaos. Amidst the screaming he speaks softly. Amidst the unbridled emotions he is peaceful. Amidst the extreme editorializing he provides reason. He talks the religious leaders off the ledge. Chill. Let it go. Let this play out.

Today, I’m realizing my age. I don’t have the emotional energy to get stirred up with a young man’s passion as I once did. Like the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, I find increasing peace in accepting the things I am powerless to change including public reactions and socio-political emotions. At the same time, I accept my responsibility to act reasonably and fulfill my civic duties. In doing so, I hope that I can model Gamaliel when necessary to bring quiet peace and reason amidst unreasonable reactions.

Killing the Messenger

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35 (NIV)

My company does customer surveys and research for many different companies. Over the years I and my company have been in the position of reporting data that we knew would be unpopular with the client. In some cases, the truth of the data pointed to conclusions that opposed to the prevailing opinions of our clients leadership. In other cases, the data pointed to customer dissatisfaction that would put certain executives in a difficult position with their employer. It’s never fun delivering bad news. Killing the messenger is sometimes a frustrated clients first reaction.

I thought about Simeon’s words to Mary this morning. Mary was fresh off of angel visits and the shepherds’ amazing stories. She had to have been living in constant wonder and awe after all that she had seen, heard, and experienced in the previous year. Then Simeon pulls her aside to speak a quiet truth. There was another side to this amazing story that she, perhaps, had not yet considered. When you speak the truth you tend to become unpopular with certain people and you sometimes make powerful enemies. Simeon’s warning was prescient. Children will be slaughtered and a flight to Egypt will be made. The  family will be pressured to get their lunatic son under control. She doesn’t yet know that the crown that awaits her baby boy is full of thorns. His kingdom and his truth will be misunderstood, maligned and rejected by the majority of people. Blood will be spilled.

I read an article yesterday about the fate of Jesus followers in Mosul, Iraq. The church of Mary (ironically) that has stood in that place since the middle ages was recently emptied by muslims and blockaded. Followers of Jesus have lived and worshipped in that city for centuries but now have been given the choice of conversion to Islam or death. In the Sudan a woman was recently sentenced to death by the government for choosing to believe in Jesus. With a little investigation you’ll find that these are not isolated incidents. Simeon’s words still ring true. Jesus remains a lightning rod and outside of the tolerant nations of the west the choice to follow Him can be a life or death decision.

This morning I’m thinking about a young girl filled with wonder at the glorious events she has experienced, and is only beginning to get a hint of the darkness that lies ahead for her and her Son. I am contemplating the reality that God sent a Messenger, and we killed Him. I’m mulling over one of Jesus’ own stories which has come to mind:

Jesus told another story to the people: “A man planted a vineyard. He handed it over to farmhands and went off on a trip. He was gone a long time. In time he sent a servant back to the farmhands to collect the profits, but they beat him up and sent him off empty-handed. He decided to try again and sent another servant. That one they beat black-and-blue, and sent him off empty-handed. He tried a third time. They worked that servant over from head to foot and dumped him in the street.

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘I know what I’ll do: I’ll send my beloved son. They’re bound to respect my son.’

“But when the farmhands saw him coming, they quickly put their heads together. ‘This is our chance—this is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all to ourselves.’ They killed him and threw him over the fence.

“What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? Right. He’ll come and clean house. Then he’ll assign the care of the vineyard to others.”

Those who were listening said, “Oh, no! He’d never do that!”

But Jesus didn’t back down. “Why, then, do you think this was written:

That stone the masons threw out—
It’s now the cornerstone!?

“Anyone falling over that stone will break every bone in his body; if the stone falls on anyone, it will be a total smashup.”

The religion scholars and high priests wanted to lynch him on the spot, but they were intimidated by public opinion. They knew the story was about them.

Hot Spots

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engr...
Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engraving by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 13

But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.) Genesis 13:6-7 (NLT)

“Hot spot” is the term used to describe an area of international conflict. Those whose business it is to monitor and handle such crises are constantly aware of what is happening in the various hot spots around the globe. Some hot spots rise and fade with changing political, financial or environmental climate, but others are always places of heated conflict.

As I read of the conflict that arose between Abram and Lot in the land of Canaan I was amazed to think that the land over which they fought seems always to have been a hot spot. It is still a hot spot today. One wonders after many millenia of conflict whether it will ever change.

Today I’m thinking about hot spots in our own lives. Conflict in families, between spouses, or neighbors that seem to perpetuate over time. Layer after layer of conflict is laid between two parties until it is virtually impossible to disentangle the layers and find common ground on which to arrive at peaceful resolution. What a reminder of the fallen world in which we live and breath and share our journey. While the hot spots of the international variety are beyond my reach, God’s Message does tell me: Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. I can do that. I can determine how I will handle and respond to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, clients, and strangers I encounter along the way. I can choose my words and determine my attitude and actions so as to diminish and avoid relational hot spots in my own life.

On Leading and Leading Well

In questi occhi potrei perdermi / I could lose...
(Photo credit: cigno5!)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 62

So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts.
Psalm 62:3-4 (NLT)

Since being elected captain of the Woodlawn Elementary School Safety Patrol in 6th grade, I’ve spent most of my life journey in one form of leadership or another. Student Councils, Chaplain, Youth Pastor, Pastor, Elder, Committee Chairman, Director, Producer, Board of Directors, Employer, etc., and etc.  Over the past few years I’ve been investing a good bit of soul searching, reading, quiet time and mental effort ruminating on my leadership.

The truth is, I feel less comfortable as a leader today than I ever have in my entire life. Perhaps it’s the old saying “the more you know the more you realize you don’t know.” I know I can do the job, but the further I get down life’s road the more I want to do the job well and it’s the doing it well part which I find myself pondering incessantly. My personal assessment shows more room for improvement than I care to admit.

As I read King David’s lyrics today, I instantly identified the groans and frustrations of a man who has experienced the burden of leadership in ways I never will. Still, I feel an odd sense of familiarity with the emotions he expresses in his song. Leadership at all levels can leave you feeling alone at the top with a target on your back. You see smiles and hear one thing said to your face while hearing nasty things whispered behind your back.

I appreciate David’s response. It is easy to react to criticism, negativity, and open hostility with anger, vengeance, and aggression either passive or active. I’ve learned, however, that our natural reactions tend to weaken a leader’s position. Leadership requires thoughtful response. When David chooses to respond to his critics and enemies by waiting quietly for God,  he is making the choice of a wise leader. He is avoiding the trap of emotional reaction, he is making space for his own thoughts and meditations on the situation, and as a leader he is recognizing an even higher authority to whom he is accountable.

Anyone can be elected or appointed to a position of leadership. Sometimes we just find ourselves in the position and wonder how we got there. I believe every parent knows this feeling. One minute you’re having fun in bed and the next thing you know you have these big, innocent eyes looking to you for provision, protection, and all of life’s answers. Welcome to leadership. Yet, for the sake of our children, our neighbors, our communities, our businesses, our nation and our world we need leaders who do their jobs well.