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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Bearer of Bad News

Have you ever had a message to deliver that you knew would not be welcomed – and could result in adverse consequences to you?

I have. And I agonized over conveying it.

My Dilemma

As a former tax manager, I arrived at that intersection with signposts in opposite directions. Unknown to me, my employer sought outside advice and took an aggressive tax position in structuring the acquisition of another company. While the transaction may have been binding, I knew, based on my experience, that its substance went beyond the intent of tax law. The position would increase the company’s tax deductions at the public’s expense.

Back then, my responsibility was to file accurate tax returns that complied with the law but also maintained the company’s reputation as a responsible corporation. Due to the complexities of tax code, the legality of tax positions was not always apparent. I routinely dealt with examiners and wasn’t opposed to arguing an aggressive position if it had merit. I knew what would pique an agent’s interest and sharpen his weapons. While cordially sipping on the company’s coffee, examiners could sometimes wield heavy swords disguised as No. 2 pencils.

I faced a dilemma. The government would likely recharacterize the transaction – assuming it was audited – and assess not only tax and interest but also penalties. Yet the deal was already done. And those responsible for it had the power to knock my knees out from under me. I liked my job. I also wanted some rent money coming in. Pushing back on the structure of the agreement after the documents were signed was bound to raise some ire or embarrassment.

Shoot the Messenger?

In my little world, I could relate to Jeremiah, the prophet who delivered more sobering news to someone with a much sharper sword than a tax agent. The poor guy always had unfavorable reports to share. And, even though he had a hotline to heaven, the people never listened to him (Jeremiah 37:2).

How would you like to send a message like the one below to your head honcho? Already in prison, Jeremiah said to the King of Judah:

“You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon!” (Jeremiah 37:17b NKJV)

What courage! Yet for conveying God’s message, Jeremiah was thrown into an empty cistern, where, without food and water, he would die but for a merciful intervention (Jeremiah 38:6).

But there’s a happy ending to this story, at least for the one who obeyed the Lord. Jeremiah was freed (Jeremiah 39:14). The king, however, had to watch his sons be executed before his eyes were gouged out (Jeremiah 39:6-7), results consistent with the prophecy he ignored.

No Choice

In the spirit of Hebrews 3, one who belongs to God must be faithful. My decision was merely a foregone conclusion. Instead of grappling with whether to speak up, I focused on how to convey the message. Knowing God was on my side and preparing for the aftermath gave me the fortitude to avoid compromise.

To my employer’s credit, it too did the right thing and, at considerable cost, made the government whole. Upon audit, I had the joy of watching the revenue agent gape when he discovered what had happened. Correcting that position sent him packing, ending a series of consecutive audits spanning a dozen years. While I had feared the worst, I was promoted instead. To God, be the glory.

If you’re in a similar bind in which speaking the truth seems to lead to self-destruction, remember that God already knows the outcome. He is trustworthy. Furthermore, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). You may only be facing a test to see if you will honor Him. Do the right thing, and leave the results to Him.

Copyright © 2020 Tim Bishop, used with permission.

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