Tag Archives: Wise

Judgment and Judiciousness

“But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.”
Exodus 9:30 (NRSVCE)

I have regularly attended church my entire life. I’ve attended suburban mega-churches and tiny rural churches. I’ve attended churches of diverse backgrounds and doctrinal beliefs. In 54 years, I met and have known many, many people in those churches. In the quiet of my office this morning, my brain’s long-term memory is searching the archives to access the names and faces of individuals I’ve not thought about in a long time. The memories have put a smile on my face.

The further I get in my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus, the more stalwart I’ve become in obeying Jesus’ command to refuse judging others. As I like to say, “God’s Judgment Seat is one big throne, and my butt ain’t that big.” I long ago took off my Junior Holy Spirit badge and stopped pretending I could know the hearts of others. Most days, I’m fortunate to have a decent handle on my own.

At the same time, just after telling us never to judge others, Jesus made it very clear that people (and He was speaking specifically of preachers, teachers, and prophets) are like fruit trees:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

So, while Jesus makes it clear that it is not my place to judge another person, in almost the same breath He tells me that it is in the best interest of my spiritual health to be wise and discerning with regard to those whom I allow to speak into my life and my spiritual journey. In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Galatia, he described the “fruit” of God’s Spirit as love for others that is increasingly joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, and self-controlled. Rotten spiritual fruit he describes as selfishness, hatred of others, deception, envy, jealousy, rage, sowing discord and dissension between people, and of course over-indulging in all the fleshly appetites.

I’ve come to the conclusion that identifying rotten fruit in another person’s life does not exempt me from Jesus’ command not to judge that person. Likewise, rotten fruit in another person’s life does not exempt me from the law of love, which calls me to treat that person with patient, kind, faithful, and self-controlled love. Identifying rotten fruit in another person’s life simply affords me the opportunity to be wise and shrewd in managing my interactions and relationship with that person. Judgment and being judicious are two very different things.

Which brings me to today’s chapter, in which plagues continue to bring suffering on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. At one point, Pharaoh even appears to relent:

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the Lord, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”

Pharaoh’s words, however, did not match Pharaoh’s heart. His repentance was like the Daphne berry, which looks nice and scrumptious on the outside (see featured photo on this post) but happens to be very toxic. The Egyptian ruler’s earlier actions (stubbornness, deception, and double-mindedness) made Moses appropriately suspicious of Pharoah’s sudden fruit of repentance.

And so, I find myself back to all of those names and faces throughout the years. I remember most as bearers of good fruit. There are a few whom I recall as bearing pretty rotten fruit in their lives when I knew them. Depending on when our journeys intersected, they might remember some of the bad fruit my own life has produced along the way. That’s another good reason I should never presume to judge anyone. I would only be condemning myself. It is a journey, after all. A lifetime living in Iowa has taught me that the same field can produce very different yields in different years. The bad fruit I noticed in a person’s life may have simply been a rough season in life. Lord knows, I have had my own share of them.

My job is to keep cultivating the only field for which I am responsible: my own. Lord, produce in me a bumper crop of love.

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Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

Footnote to a Proverb

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

One of the things about my job is that I am sometimes placed in the position of being the bearer of difficult news. Sometimes the data from a survey, or a team’s service quality assessment, is not what my client wants to hear. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to communicate undesirable truths in a way that they can be received and turned into tactical options for turning things around. Sometimes, that’s impossible.

One of the things I’ve observed in my career journey is that the crucial variable in these types of situations is the wisdom, maturity, and attitude of the leader who is hearing the news I have to bring. There are times when it didn’t matter how I approached the situation. I, the messenger, would be shot.

I was once asked to sit in on a CEO’s advisory team as he launched a new initiative. I was impressed with the team that had been assembled and was actually excited to participate as an “outsider.” What became clear, however, was that the CEO wanted team members who only provided advice deemed positive and encouraging to the ego. I’ve seen this before. A client asks us to create a quality assessment scorecard that ensures every employee will get nothing but perfect marks all the time. The motivation for this request is the mistaken notion that everyone will “feel like a winner” (the customers are the losers who are still getting a poor service experience from the company’s representatives, while those representatives are continually rewarded for their mediocrity). I didn’t last long on that advisory team. I was good with that.

In today’s chapter, wise King Solomon shares that success comes with “many advisors,” and I believe that to be true. However, I found myself wanting to add a footnote to the proverb. The heart of both the leader and the advisors are crucial. The advisors have to be willing to say what the leader needs to hear, and the leader must be willing to hear whatever wisdom the advisors feel necessary to share (even if it’s not what the leader wants to hear).

As I was mulling these things over I found myself reminded of a recent Board meeting of our company in which one of our Directors really challenged a decision. Even though it didn’t ultimately sway a change in the decision, we needed that challenge. We needed to discuss a different point-of-view. It helped bring clarity to the issue and forced me, the leader, to consider the wisdom of other options. I want my Board members to be honest, and I want to be wise enough to heed their counsel even when it goes against my personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on several experiences as both leader and advisor along my life journey. I’ve learned that I can’t really change others. I can only be responsible for myself in the role of both leader (accepting wise counsel) and advisor. My time is most wisely spent with those who really want my honest input, whether they ultimately heed it or not. Those who don’t really want to hear what I actually think and believe are better off finding another advisor.

<— 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

The Potter, The Steward, and Two Unique Pots

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Romans 9:21 (NIV)

On Sunday we had the increasingly rare pleasure of having both Taylor and Madison with us at the same time. The opportunities for the four of us to be together as family are increasingly spread out. It has happened only once or twice a year during the girls college and graduate school sojourns.

A conversation came up yesterday as Maddy Kate and I visited with my folks. “Every mother wants her grown children to live nearby,” it was observed. While I acknowledge that natural desire, I thought to myself that I have always desired for our girls to live wherever God would lead them. I want them to live out their respective roles in the Great Story. I have given up my right to expect that they might keep close to home.

With Taylor out of grad school and Madison done with her bachelor’s degree, it has been fascinating to watch their respective roads emerge. It always amazes me how different children from the same household can be. Taylor will soon enter communal living full time, offering much of her time and energy to service as she pursues a creative project with only speculative income potential. Madison, currently a flight attendant, is avidly pursing a career in corporate sales. I don’t see either of those paths leading back to Pella. C’est la vie.

I do not think either daughter is right or wrong, good or bad, wise or foolish. Taylor’s altruistic path does not make Madison’s path greedy. Madison’s path, which will afford more financial security, does not make Taylor’s path foolhardy. These two lumps of clay are each actively pursuing the purposes of the Potter, who has fashioned them into two very different vessels. Both are beautiful. Both are useful. Both have particular uses the other does not have. Both have a role in the Great story, albeit very different roles.

Today I am once again contemplating the role of parenting with a certain amount of hindsight. To try to control my child’s path and have them choose a path of my self-centered desire is to place myself in God’s shoes and presume omniscience. I’ve discovered that the Creator wears an infinitely larger size shoe than I do. Whenever I try to step into them I always trip over myself in both comic and tragic ways.

God has made me a steward of my children, not their master. My role has been to teach them to love and pursue God. If I accomplish my role, they will each be led to their purposed, respective paths. Like every other aspect of our life journey, this requires faith, just as Jesus said it would.

 

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Dealing Swiftly with Troublemakers

Joab_and_the_wise_womanNow a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted,

“We have no share in David,
    no part in Jesse’s son!
Every man to his tent, Israel!”

2 Samuel 20:1 (NIV)

One troublemaker is all it takes to bring ruin on an entire group. I have experienced this on teams, in a cast/production, in churches, in civic organizations and in business. Years ago I witnessed a business suffer from the schemes of a troublemaker who happened to be the son of the owner. The father refused to discipline or deal with his son while the son connived to gain more and more power within the company. Eventually the father sold the business to his friend. When the transaction was completed and the new owner was in place, the former owner advised his friend to fire the son. The new owner thought to himself, “Even though he told me to fire his son, my friend will surely hold it against me if I actually do it.” So the new owner refused to deal with the troublemaker for many years and the son continued to be a source of contention and strife within the organization.

I thought about that business this morning as I read the chapter. Like the father in my example, David refused to acknowledge and deal with his troublemaker son, Absalom, until it was almost too late. Still stinging from Absalom’s coup d’etat, David appears to have learned his lesson. He moves swiftly to deal with the troublemaker, Sheba.

When Sheba flees to hide in the town of Abel Beth Maakah, David’s army surrounds the town and lays siege to it. A wise woman in the town arranges for a parlay with the general, Joab, and learns that the entire village is being threatened with destruction because of one troublemaker, Sheba. The wise woman quickly surmises that it would be better for the whole city to expel the trouble maker than face possible ruin. Sheba’s head is cut off and hurled over the wall to Joab and the army and the threat is eliminated.

The further I get in life’s journey the more intolerant I have become of troublemakers and crazymakers. I have discovered that there is a difference between a reasonable person with whom I am having conflict and a trouble maker who cannot be reasoned with. Wisdom an discernment are required, but once it is clear that I am dealing with a troublemaker or crazy maker, I have found that acting quickly to cut that person off is in my best interest and the best interest of the group.

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Leadership Lessons from the King-Elect

English: Samuel Blesses Saul (1Sam. 9:17) Русс...
Samuel Blesses Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy. 1 Samuel 11:15 (NLT)

Ever since I was voted Captain of the Woodlawn Elementary School Safety Patrol, I have found myself in various positions of leadership throughout my life journey. Along the way, I have found leadership to be a paradoxical enterprise as I have succeeded and failed as a leader in different arenas.

Leadership is at once simple and infinitely complex. Leaders who seem tailor made for a particular time and place will fail miserably when placed in different circumstances. There is a dynamic of chemistry between a leader and the group he or she leads which is difficult to capture and quantify. I always find it fascinating to watch the merry-go-round of coaches in major league sports. A coach can lead one team to the championship and fail miserably with the next team they lead.

As I read this story of the newly appointed leader of Israel this morning, I paid particular attention to the qualities of his leadership. Saul, the king-elect, is impressing me with his leadership:

  • “Saul had been plowing a field with his oxen” We find Saul hard at work in the field, providing for his family. No hint of entitlement here. He’s working hard like everyone else. Just like Jesus taught, if you want to lead you need to be willing to serve – and Saul was hard at it.
  • “Then the Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul” God is at work in Saul’s life. There is a divine connection which has a direct correlation to Saul’s decisions and actions. I have found that leaders who are willing to submit themselves to divine authority, who humbly seek divine guidance, and who will faithfully execute divine direction will avoid many of the snares which lead to failure.
  • “He took two oxen and cut them into pieces and sent the messengers to carry them throughout Israel” There was no hesitation. Saul acted decisively. Anyone in leadership has experienced the truth of Solomon’s ecclesiastical wisdom regarding time. There is a time to ponder, and there is a time to act and a good leader has the wisdom to know what time it is.
  • “This is what will happen to the oxen of anyone who refuses to follow Saul and Samuel into battle!” Notice that Saul did not take all of the authority for himself, but acknowledges that priestly leadership of Samuel. There is humility in having an honest understanding of your place. Saul is not striving to stand alone as king of the mountain, but is willing to acknowledge that his leadership as king is shared with God’s appointed priest.
  • But Saul replied, “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!” Once again Saul shows real sensitivity to God’s provision and blessing. Unlike the kings of his day who would solidify their place by having enemies or those who threatened their leadership killed as public spectacle, Saul reserves judgment and honors God by showing mercy and grace.
  • Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy. The nation, and Saul as their newly appointed leader, experience success on multiple levels. They have won a victory over enemies who threatened their lives and well-being. They have secured the deliverance of their own people. Saul has shown himself a capable leader spiritually and militarily. Together, everyone experiences the joy of success.

It is not a bad start for Saul. Today, I’m measuring myself against the things that made Saul successful in his early career and trying to humbly make an honest assessment of my own leadership with regard to marriage, family, business, and community. I have come to the believe that truly successful leaders are ever diligent at improving their serve.

Confession of an Ex-News Junkie

from Mickeleh via Flickr
from Mickeleh via Flickr

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.
    Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
Proverbs 9:7 (NLT)

I used to be a news junkie. I grew up in a time when the television had four channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, & PBS) and my hometown of Des Moines had two daily newspapers. One newspaper came in the morning (The Des Moines Register) and the other newspaper was delivered in the afternoon (The Des Moines Tribune).  News was delivered on a specific schedule each day and you had to wait to find out what was happening in the world. Even as a kid I was anxious for the newspaper to come and the nightly news to begin.

With the advent of cable and satellite television, my natural cravings and curiosity could feed its appetite 24/7/365. The news was always on. When there wasn’t any actual news worth talking about then talking heads emerged on both the radio and television to perpetuate and regurgitate old conversations and keep viewers or listeners sucked in. At first, I gorged myself. Talk radio was always on in my car while news channels were always on my television at home.

At some point I began actually listening to the discourse of the conversation, or lack of conversation, that I was hearing. Intelligent opinion gave way to ideological rants. Objective analysis morphed into slanted perspective. Brash personalities with big mouths and bigger egos began a relentless mocking of anyone who didn’t agree with them. Depending on your interest or persuasion you can find the mockers on the left, on the right, and in the sports arena. They act just like the mockers in Solomon’s proverb who insult and injure anyone who dare stand up to have a civil conversation about an opposing view. One cannot surf through the news and sports channels without hearing a steady stream of people yelling, interrupting, and insulting one another.

When I first began imbibing a steady stream of non-stop news I reacted with equal brashness to what I was hearing. I raised my voice. I shot back. I quipped and cajoled. I traded barbs and insults. I screamed at the television to those who disagreed with me and cheered on the mockers from my team. Eventually I found myself strung out and numb. The mockers in the media entrenched themselves firmly in their own positions and raked in the fortune and fame. I began to realize that I was the one getting hurt by all of this. My own mocking alienated others and isolated me from people I was called to actively love. I didn’t like what I had become from my non-stop binge of news channels and talk shows.

That was when I remembered that both my television and my radio had buttons which changed the channel. There was even a button to turn them completely off! I quietly put myself through private rehab for my news junkie addiction. I walked away from mockers of all persuasions cold turkey. Now I’m on a healthy news diet that is mocker free. I choose my news intake wisely and digest healthy portions from a select menu. My spirit, my heart, my mind, my relationships and my life are in better places because of it.

Let the mockers mock. They will always be on. I simply choose not to subject myself to them, nor follow their example.

Heart of Mine

Guard your heart above all else,
    for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Along my life’s journey I have many times been led astray by my heart which, evidence suggests, has a mind and will of its own. Prone to wander, my heart will easily lead me astray if I am not careful:

  • Enticing relationships that spiral life into chaos
  • Unnecessary acquisitions that end up acquiring me
  • “Sure things” that sure leave me on the short end of the deal
  • Frivolous pursuits which create fruitless waste of time and life
  • Treasure hunts that lead me far astray and leave me empty handed

Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I have discovered that when my heart leads me astray it is because my spirit is at that moment treasuring foolish things. When my spirit is focused on following Jesus, it is easier to keep my heart in step.

I was reminded of the lyrics of this Dylan tune this morning:

Heart of mine so malicious and so full of guile
Give you an inch and you’ll take a mile
Don’t let yourself fall
Don’t let yourself stumble
If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime
Heart of mine
Heart of Mine lyrics by Bob Dylan (1982) from the album “Shot of Love“)

Simple Truths Gently Spoken

Mother Teresa of Calcutta; 1986 at a public pr...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:4 (NLT)

In the grand ballroom of the Washington Hilton there gathered a throng of some of the most powerful and influential people in the world. The President of the United States, cabinet members, members of congress, military leaders, ambassadors, diplomats from many countries, religious leaders, authors, and speakers were there together. I was certainly out of place and had no business being among that crowd. I was given an empty seat when a diplomat didn’t show up. To my amazement, it happened to be a seat just a few feet from the podium. Looking around, on the stage and off, the crowd was a Who’s Who of thinkers, leaders, movers, and shakers. I looked down the agenda. The President, because he is the President, got the premiere, final spot on the program that morning.

Right before the President in his polished, for-the-cameras glory would provide the final word, a special guest would take the podium. She was so short that most of the room could not see her face behind the podium. Her voice was quiet, almost a whisper. That morning I was privileged to hear the diminutive, physically frail Mother Teresa of Calcutta address some of the world’s most powerful individuals.

As she spoke, you could hear a pin drop. I remember feeling Holy Spirit thick in the room in a way I have rarely experienced. Looking back, I remember that she shared simple scriptural truths in a few short minutes. She proclaimed Jesus’ message of love and life. It was powerful in a way you can’t explain in terms of human eloquence or persuasion. Her words were packed with spiritual potency that flows out of a life of self-denial and sacrificial love. I will never forget the experience.

When she was finished, the President was called upon to respond to her words. I have never seen a master politician whose tongue-tied words seemed so foolish and impotent.

As I read this morning’s chapter and the verse above, I was taken back to that ballroom and found myself reliving the moment when a tiny woman from India spoke simple spiritual truths and confounded the most worldly wise people on the planet. It’s a reminder to me that I don’t need to be eloquent. Love coupled with simple truths shared in gentle sincerely are all that Holy Spirit requires to show up in powerful ways.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 7

Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobb...
Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[The wicked] dig a deep pit to trap others,    
     then fall into it themselves.
The trouble they make for others backfires on them.
     The violence they plan falls on their own heads.
Psalm 7:15-16 (NLT)

I just finished the unabridged audio version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings…again. Listening to the epic tale is sort of an annual pilgrimage I make while I spend time on the road. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the many themes Tolkien developed within this “leaf” he claims to have pulled  “from the tree of tales.”

I was struck once more by the very theme David brings out in the lyrics of today’s Psalm. Evil digs its’ own grave. The trap that the wicked lay for others springs back on themselves. The orcs at Cirith Ungol kill one another, allowing Sam to find and rescue Frodo. Saruman’s indescriminate attitude towards nature brings the unexpected wrath of the Ents which, in turn, brings ruin down on the kingdom he’d created for himself. Even Gollum, driven by his self-seeking addiction to the ring, ends up bringing an end to himself and it.

To that end, Tolkien weaves an interesting change in Frodo towards the end of the story. When the hobbits return back to their beloved homeland, they find it overrun with evil men and ruffians under the influence of the broken wizard, Saruman. While Pippin and Merry raise the Shire, realizing that the ruffians will only be driven out by armed force, Frodo becomes a voice for tolerance in the conflict. He refuses to take up arms. He stops fellow hobbits from indescriminate killing. He refuses to allow Saruman to be killed by a hobbit, choosing to let Saruman go to find his own evil ends (which he quickly does when his own wicked protege slays him).

Over time, Tolkein’s story, along with passages of God’s Message like today’s chapter, have influenced how I view and perceive others in whom I perceive wickedness of thought and action. I still have more questions than answers. Nevertheless, the older I get the more my scales of thought tip towards obedience to Jesus’ command not to judge others “for even the wise cannot see all ends.”

Chapter-a-Day John 9

David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre ...
David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre Tchaikowsky for Yorick's skull in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” John 9:39 (NLT)

Wendy and I love Shakespeare, and we love to see Shakespeare staged whether it’s our local Pella Shakespeare Company‘s performance in the park or the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. One of the things that I’ve learned in watching the Bard’s work is that you always want to pay particular attention to the fool. The fool is never quite as foolish as you think he is, and quite often the fool winds up confounding the wise.

That’s why I’ve always loved today’s chapter. It has all the qualities of a great Shakespearean scene. On one side we have the wise, learned, pompous religious leaders with all of their power, wealth and education. Before them stands a lowly, poor, once blind beggar who is not the fool they think he is. Jesus gave physical sight to the blind fool so that the spiritual blindness of those who claim to see could be revealed. That’s great drama.

This morning I’m chewing on the reality that Jesus, while repeatedly reminding his followers that they were not to judge anyone, continually explained that He came to judge. I find that we love Jesus the lover and healer, but no one really wants much to do with Jesus the Righteous Judge. Today’s chapter reminds me that Jesus not only came to give sight to the blind, but to judge those who think they see for their spiritual blindness. Jesus said He came to both save and condemn. One without the other makes for both a boring story and a weak character.