Tag Archives: Warning

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.

The Wisdom of Awareness

“See how the waters are rising in the north;
    they will become an overflowing torrent.
They will overflow the land and everything in it,
    the towns and those who live in them.”
Jeremiah 47:2 (NIV)

A couple of years ago the lake where we spend a good part of our summer (which is actually part of a larger system of reservoirs) experienced some of the highest water levels on record. The flood of water coming downstream wreaked havoc throughout the entire system. Docks broke away, homes were flooded, and floodgates were opened which, in turn, became destructive to the area beneath the dam.

Of course, we knew it was coming. We could monitor the water levels of the rivers and reservoirs north of us online. There were warnings allowing residents to prepare. Fortunately, our house sits up on a hill and was never in danger, but that wasn’t true for all of our neighbors. It was a scary time.

Today’s chapter is  part of a series of prophetic messages that the ancient prophet Jeremiah gave to the nations around him. The message from today is focused on the ancient nation of the Philistines. Jeremiah uses the word picture of the rising waters in the north which foretold a coming flood. The metaphor pointed to the Babylonian army which was heading south and bent on conquering and destroying all nations in its path.

Along my journey I’ve experienced different kinds of difficulty and tragedy. Sometimes things happen suddenly and without warning, catching me off guard and forcing me to switch into emergency mode. Other times, however, there are warning signs. If my eyes are open and I remain aware, there is time to prepare and to shore up my resources against the potential danger even if there is nothing I can do to stop the impending flood headed my way.

This morning in the quiet I’m looking out the window at the calm, peaceful water. It is usually like this on a summer morning, but not always. Jesus said, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

I’m reminded this morning of the wisdom of awareness. In my spirit I’m praying for the perception to see when waters are rising upstream in this life, and the courage to begin preparations when they are.

Messengers of Warning

Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
    without revealing his plan
    to his servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7 (NIV)

Over the past 23 years I’ve been a business consultant specializing in customer satisfaction research and quality assessment. Some of the most enjoyable, long-term client relationships I’ve experienced are with companies who value the data and insight our team provides. When you see a client’s long-term improvement and success, it’s rewarding.

What is not as enjoyable in my profession is to watch good people and good companies ignore data that offers them a hint of trouble on the horizon. Often, the data from our research or assessments warn of changing customer attitudes or internal corporate issues that threaten to create larger (and costly) problems for the company if the issues aren’t strategically addressed. It’s never fun or easy being the bearer of bad news, and even less fun watching insecure executives and managers burying or denying the data in an effort to avoid the issue. On occasion, I have to defend a sharp attack on our data and methods when a client really doesn’t like what our data reveals.

The ancient prophets occupied a critical role in the Great Story that God is telling from Genesis to Revelation. Like spiritual consultants presenting a spiritual picture of what lay ahead, the prophets sounded the spiritual warning sirens of trouble on the horizon. When current circumstances had the government and public feeling good in the moment, the prophets often offered a bleaker picture of what was going to happen if certain issues were not addressed and strategic spiritual changes weren’t made. More often than not, the prophets had to watch as their message was ignored. They had to watch their warning of doom come to pass. They also endured sharp personal attacks from their audience. Some of them were even killed as scapegoats.

Jesus regularly mentioned the prophets in His teaching, pointing out to the religious leaders of the day that their ancestors ignored and killed the prophets who were sent to warn them. Because the priesthood and religious duties of the temple were passed down by family line, the religious leaders Jesus spoke to were the direct descendants of those who sometimes killed God’s messengers:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

“Woe to you [religious leaders], because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them.”

“Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute. Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world'”

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

This morning I’m thinking about the role of being a truth teller. It’s not always easy being the bearer of difficult or bleak news. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to simply paint rosier pictures and ignore what we don’t wish to see or hear. But, we all need prophets in our lives. Sometimes we need someone to look us in the eye and tell us the truth we don’t want to hear. We’re better off when we find the wisdom and courage to heed the warning signs and make the necessary strategic decisions to avoid future problems.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 43

Danger. "Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you. I've called your name. You're mine. When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end— Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43: 1b-3a (MSG)

I'm in over my head…because I chose to jump in the deep end.

I'm in rough waters…because I dismissed the dark clouds on the far horizon.

I'm between a rock and a hard place…because I just had to check out what was over the edge of the cliff.

Despite my willfulness, in spite of my foolishness, undeterred by my senseless choices, God is there to protect, to save, and to guide.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and squeakywheel

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 8

Warning signs. But Pharaoh became stubborn once again and wouldn't release the people. Exodus 8:32 (MSG)

My wife and I enjoy watching the show Amazing Grace on TNT. The storyline revolves around an extremely broken, rebellious, hard living woman played by Holly Hunter (the show reveals her in all of her broken humanity; it's definitely for mature audiences only). She is given a "last chance angel" named Earl who is trying to help restore her faith in God before it's too late. While I have a lot of theological issues with some of the writers' perspectives, the show raises all sorts of interesting spiritual issues that most television shows completely ignore. The basic question of the storyline is also an interesting one. Is there a point at which a hard-hearted, unrepentant person crosses the spiritual point of no return?

I thought about that his morning as I read about Pharaoh's stubborn heart. It's easy to point fingers at Pharaoh, but how many times has my heart been stubborn? How many times has God tried to teach me a lesson or push me to grow and my stubborn heart refuses to give in to God's obvious plea? How many warnings signs has God posted along the journey that I've completely ignored?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and upturnedface