Tag Archives: Tragic

Small Things, Big Consequences

Small Things, Big Consequences (CaD Jos 16) Wayfarer

[The tribe of Ephraim] did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor.
Joshua 16:10 (NIV)

Over the next couple of days, I’m going to be working with a client and teaching them strategies for handling escalated customers over the phone. It’s the number one training and coaching request that our team gets. There are no magic pills when it comes to handling an angry customer, but there certainly are strategies that work in many, if not most, situations. Using the right voice tone, and choosing the right words to communicate both empathy and ownership are important. They can turn a potentially explosive situation around.

Beyond business, I have found this same principle to be true in everyday relationships. Early in our marriage, Wendy and I established a couple of small habits without ever talking about them or discussing them. We just did it, and over time I believe it has helped fill one another’s love tank.

One of these tiny habits is the simple and repetitive expression of gratitude for the things one another does as part of the division of labor in our household. Every time Wendy spends the day doing laundry, I always thank her. Likewise, she always expresses her gratitude to me for taking care of the lawn and landscaping. A little gratitude goes a long way.

The other tiny habit is expressing a positive willingness when either of us asks the other for assistance, help, or a favor. It’s amazing how powerful the phrase “I’d be happy to do that for you” is when it is both said and exemplified. It subtly says, “You’re not a burden. I love you, and I’m happy to assist with whatever you need from me.”

Small things, but I believe they have had a huge positive impact on our relationship.

In today’s chapter, the tribe of Ephraim receives their allotment of the Promised Land. As with yesterday’s chapter, the Family Patterns are telling. Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph, who was his father Jacob’s favorite son and was sold into slavery by his brothers. Now, 600 years later, the tribes of Joseph are still getting preferential treatment.

So far, three tribes have received their Promised Land inheritance and at the end of each property’s legal description, there is a report as to whether the tribe was able to conquer the remaining peoples located within their boundaries. Caleb drove the Anakites from Hebron (chapter 14), Judah was unable to dislodge the Jebusites from the fortress of Jerusalem (chapter 15), and Ephraim was unable to dislodge all of the Canaanites living in their territory in today’s chapter.

The tag regarding the Canaanites being subject to forced labor is actually a legal wording of that time. It appears in other land documents from that region in the Bronze Age. Forced labor was a common form of taxation in those days. Instead of paying money, subjects of a local or regional ruler were required to work on building projects.

While these lines about not dislodging the inhabitants of the land appear as legal footnotes of the chapter, they will actually have far-reaching, consequences that are not always positive. The tribes will be influenced by the other peoples and cultures living among them. Throughout the rest of Israel’s story, idolatry will plague the nation as the tribes adopt and worship local deities along with the Lord, breaking the first of the ten commandments given through Moses. This will have negative repercussions.

When David becomes King of Israel, he will make Jerusalem the capital city. This was, in part, because of the presence and local power of the Jebusites who still lived and thrived there. After conquering Jerusalem, David makes it the seat of his power which was essentially a political move to appease and align the Jebusites to his rule.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering the reality that small things can have large, far-reaching consequences. The principle works both in the negative and the positive. A bad habit allowed to perpetuate can ultimately lead to tragic ends. Likewise, a small daily choice to express kindness and gratitude can result in a fruitful relationship.

Today, I want to be mindful of the small words of gratitude, the little acts of kindness, and simple generosities I can express to everyone with whom I interact. Simple words, gratitude, and affirmations repeatedly expressed can have huge consequences on both my attitude and in those in my circles of influence.

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

Grace and Cancel Culture

Grace and Cancel Culture (CaD Gen 20) Wayfarer

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.
Genesis 20:7 (NIV)

I have been fascinated to watch the hoopla over the past several days as the latest victim of cancel culture falls from public favor. When I was young, it was institutional churches and fundamentalist Christians who were bemoaned, and rightfully so, for being judgmental and ostracizing sinners. With cancel culture, I observe that the pendulum has swung to the opposite side of the social and political spectrum. Witch hunts comb people’s past with a fine-toothed comb to find any evidence of past impropriety based on today’s rigid social mores of woke culture.

Just yesterday, I happened upon a YouTube video of a man telling his story. When he was a young husband and father he flatlined during surgery for twenty minutes. He had never publicly shared the story of his near death experience until this video. His experience was variation on the themes of the stories of others I listened to who have experienced this. One of the common themes of those who’ve died and returned is the experience of having their life flash before their eyes, or to have it replayed.

The gentleman in this video was completely alone as this happened. He saw all of his life. There were moments that made him feel joy and nostalgia. Then there were the flawed moments, the poor choices, and tragic mistakes. “I was all alone,” he said describing the moment. “There was no reason to make excuses. No reason to deny it. I did those things and I had to own it.” Before crossing over, he was told that it wasn’t his time and he had other things he needed to do. His spirit returned to his body.

Today’s chapter is a reprise of circumstances we encountered earlier in Abraham’s journey. He enters foreign territory and fears for his life. Apparently, his wife Sarah was quite a catch even in old age. Abraham fears the local king will kill him and take Sarah and everything he owns. So he plays the “She’s my sister” card. The local king takes Sarah into his harem which could mess up the covenant promise God has now been making for eight chapters. God intervenes by way of a dream and tells the king to send Sarah back to Abraham, stating that Abraham is a prophet and God has plans for them. God then releases the King from any guilt and the King, in turn, showers Abraham with gifts out of fear for God.

As I contemplated this story, the first thing that struck me was that Abraham acts deceptively out of fear rather than trusting that God would honor His covenant and protect him and Sarah. This is the second time he’s done this. It’s an obvious blind spot that is disrespectful to his wife, unfaithful to God, and could fubar everything God has promised.

The second thing that struck me was God’s grace with everyone in the story. God graciously redeems the entire situation. Not one of the players in this deception are judged or punished. The fact is that God called a fallen human being to be His prophet. Abraham is a dude just like me; He’s given to flawed moments, poor choices, and tragic mistakes.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for two things.

First, I’m thankful that I’m a nobody and that I’m not on cancel culture’s radar. Scour my past and you’ll find plenty of reason to cancel me. I’ve been a work in progress from an early age and I’m still at it. Like the dead man in the video, there’s no denying it or excusing it. I own it.

Second, I’m thankful that God, unlike many of His self-righteous followers past and present, is gracious and forgiving. The overarching theme of the Great Story is that of redemption, not cancellation. If God operated like cancel culture there would be no hope for me.

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

The Messy Balance Between Acting and Waiting

“Yet there shall be a space between you and [the ark of the covenant], a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.”
Joshua 3:4b (NRSV)

Last weekend Wendy and I watched the recent film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is a fascinating story set in the dark ages in Scotland. Macbeth is a warrior with relatively low rank among the nobility of the Scottish clans. On his way back from a successful battle he encounters three witches, also known as The Weird Sisters, who utter a prophecy that Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland.

Macbeth writes his wife a letter and tells her of this news. Then, while still traveling home, he is advised that King Duncan has named him Thane of Cawdor, just as the sisters prophesied. Upon arriving home, the Lady Macbeth urges her husband to man up and take hold of the second part of the prophesy. King Duncan makes a surprise visit to the Macbeth’s household and Lady Macbeth sees this as her husband’s chance to make the prophecy come true. Macbeth, at his wife’s urging and insistence, murders King Duncan in his bed. The second part of the prophecy is thus fulfilled, but a madness of blood-guilt and paranoia is also unleashed that will ultimately doom Macbeth and his wife.

The story of Macbeth raises an interesting spiritual dilemma. Do you step up and try to make a prophecy come true, or do you sit back and wait to see if the prophecy is fulfilled of its own accord? Wendy and I spent some time after the movie exploring the question. We recalled an experience from recent years in which we watched a person strive, in Macbeth like fashion, to make what they believed had been prophesied happen. The results were similarly tragic, though certainly not as tragic as the bloody carnage of Macbeth!

In today’s chapter, Joshua is told by God to send the ark of the covenant out in front of the people into the Jordan River. No one is to get within 2000 cubits (e.g. approximately 3000 feet/900 meters) of the ark. When the ark enters the river, the waters are miraculously stopped (just like Moses and the Red Sea) so that the people can cross.

I found this to be an interesting word picture and an unexpected continuation of our Macbeth conversation. In murdering Duncan, I would argue that Macbeth tried to get out in front of the prophesy. He may have crossed the proverbial river into the promise, but the result was ultimately tragic as he refused to wait for the natural course of events to take place, if they ever would. Macbeth and his Lady were short on faith. Instead of trusting that the prophesy would be fulfilled at the right time in the right way, they were compelled to make it happen. In contrast, Joshua tells the people to stand back, make way, and give God room to get out ahead and clear the way. Only then shall they cross.

Today I’m reminded of the messy balance between doing what I’m called to do and, at the same time, waiting on the Lord. I don’t want to get out ahead of God or presume to stand beside. I also don’t want to lag behind and get off course. I want to follow at an appropriate distance and attentively follow where we are led on Life’s path.

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Much Ado About Something

Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah Dante Gabrie...
Dante’s Vision of Rachel and Leah Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1899 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 29

 

But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” Genesis 29:25 (NLT)

 

Wendy and I have recently been enjoying the Great Performances series on PBS called Shakespeare Uncovered. In each episode a famous actor delves deep into the story line of one of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a wonderful primer for those who have an interest in learning more about Shakespeare’s stories and the literary genius he was.

 

Perhaps that is why I couldn’t help noticing that there is a Shakespearian quality to the story of Jacob and his uncle Laban. Jacob the deceiver, born from Abraham and Isaac who were also deceivers, receives a does of his own medicine when he is deceived by his Uncle. Add to that plot line the tale of two sisters, one homely and the other one hot. The hot one is seemingly barren while the homely one appears to be a baby making factory. Jacob is in love with the latter but is tricked into marrying the former. The sibling rivalry and Leah’s desperate desire to win the love and affection of her husband leads to a fertile fury of son making. Truth is sometimes as compelling as a Bard’s tale.

 

One of Shakespeare’s greatest qualities as a playwright was his development of characters whose tragic flaws led to tragic consequences. In this, he really is just developing what is true of human nature. We all have tragic flaws. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. We will all look back and realize that along the journey our own shortcomings led to negative consequences. The question is: What will we do about them?

We do not have to remain blind and ignorant. Through introspection, conversation, transparent relationship, and accountability we can become aware of our blind spots. We can actually learn from our shortcomings and choose to modify our patterns of behavior before they wreak too much havoc on our lives and the lives of those in our circles of influence.

 

Today, I’m thinking about my own weaknesses. I am aware of areas of my life that have been blind spots for me. I do not want to live passively. I’m actively working on modifying my thought patterns and behaviors. I don’t know that I will ever eliminate the negative consequences of my flaws, but I can certainly diminish them and that’s something.

 

 

Faith, Fear, and Flaws

Abimelech rebuking Abraham by Wenceslas Hollar...
Abimelech rebuking Abraham by Wenceslas Hollar. Abimelech asks Abraham, “What has thou done unto us?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’ And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. Genesis 20:11 (NLT)

Today’s chapter is the second time we see Abraham pass his wife off as his sister. His actions are rooted in fear. If the king who is hosting them decides he wants to take Sarah for his own he would have to kill Abraham to do it. Abraham’s household was undoubtedly large, but Abraham was not a warrior king and could do little against an attack which would kill him and take all that he had.

What makes this second instance different is that Abraham is pressed more directly by King Abimelech than he was by Pharaoh. Abimelech puts Abraham under cross-examination and we find Abraham revealing that Sarah really is his half-sister (it does feel like a soap opera moment, doesn’t it….“No way!”). Nonetheless, his half-truth is not the full truth and his actions jeopardized his host in order to safe his own neck. It was selfish and deceptive and was motivated by fear and a lack of faith.

The great patriarchs were human just like you and me. God’s Message not only reveals Abraham’s faith, but also reveals his flaws and fear. I find it common for people to think “God would/could never use me because [insert tragic flaw or heinous mistake here].” Abraham believed God and had enough faith to leave his home, but he clearly did not have faith enough to tell the truth and believe that God would protect he and Sarah from Pharaoh and Abimelech.

Today, I’m taking solace in the reality that God uses flawed human beings to do His will.

 

Honest Reflections

English: King David engraving from a front pag...
English: King David engraving from a front page of the French protestant psalm book of 1817 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 71

Though you have made me see troubles,  many and bitter,  you will restore  my life again;  from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.  Psalm 71:20 (NIV)

The Christmas season and the subsequent New Year is always a time of reflection. Where have I been this year? What kind of year has it been? Where am I going and what will next year bring? How has our family changed this year? In what ways are we always the same, the repetitive behavioral and relational patterns stuck like a record player in the same old groove?

Both Psalm 70 and Psalm 71 are songs of reflection. Both of them were penned in David’s old age. I like the above lyric. It comes from the wisdom of a long and active life. David was a boyhood hero, a son-in-law of the King, a best friend of the prince, a successful military leader, a King of his own tribe Judah and eventually a King of the nation of Israel. He was a warrior, a conqueror, a lover, a song writer, and a poet. Above all else, God called him “a man after my own heart.” Talk about a great story.

But, that’s not the whole story. David was also an outlaw, a rebel, a wanted man, a deceiver, a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, and a poor and distant father. He spent much of his early adulthood on the run from the law living in caves. His eventual reign as King was marked by political discord and scandal.

Life is what it is. Beneath the most whitewashed public lives you’ll find “troubles, many and bitter.” Despite our culture’s desire to see humanity as inherently good and progressive, God’s Message clearly teaches that humanity is tragically flawed. Despite our best efforts our penchant to look out for our own desires and needs instead of loving others more than ourselves keeps getting in the way with tragic results.

Like David, my reflections of the past are filled with both good times and difficulties, of both successes and bitter failures. Each year’s time of reflection always reaches the same conclusion:

God, have mercy on me. I always fall so short of the person I should be. I need a savior.

Fortunately, these annual reflections and this repetitive conclusion coincide with Christmas.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 2

Solomon then took a census of all the foreigners living in Israel, using the same census-taking method employed by his father. They numbered 153,600. He assigned 70,000 of them as common laborers, 80,000 to work the quarries in the mountains, and 3,600 as foremen to manage the work crews. 2 Chronicles 2:17-18 (MSG)

In today’s chapter we see King Solomon employing the same census methods for taking count of the “foreigners” living in Israel. Did Solomon not know that his father repented of his actions in taking the census; “trusting statistics instead of God?” Did Solomon realize that there was a heavy cost placed on David and the country for his actions in taking the census? Did Solomon think that he was okay in taking the census because he was doing it for the work of God’s temple, or that it was okay because he wasn’t counting his fellow Israelites? I’m intrigued to think about Solomons reasoning. Was he ignorant, arrogant, or a combination of both?

For all of Solomon’s lauded wisdom, we see in today’s chapter the foreshadowing of a tragic flaw. Solomon did not learn from his father’s mistakes. He will take a census and then he will put all of the non-Israelites to slave labor for the temple and his own palace. This is the first in a chain of events what will ultimately divide the nation and lead to civil war.

Those who don’t learn from history (even family history) are doomed to repeat it.