Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. 1 John 5:21 (NLT)
A throne seats one. Study virtually any monoarchy in human history and you’ll find wars have been fought, schemes hatched, deals made, and assassinations carried out to determine who will sit on that throne.
In my heart is a throne.
Who (or what) sits on that throne and rules my life? Who (or what) schemes to occupy it? What do I need to do about it?
“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.” 1 John 4:1a (NLT)
When I was young, I confess to playing fast and loose with the “God told me…” card. It wasn’t a conscious deception but a sincere delusion in which I confused very strong thoughts, feelings, and selfish desires with God’s voice. I felt such strong infatuation for this girl that it must be God telling me we’re meant to be together. I really, really want to go on this trip so it must be God planting within me this intense desire. Thus, “God told me….”
I grew up and moved along in my journey. Some of those things I said “God told me” never came to pass, and I had to own up to the fact that if it really had been God telling me then it would have happened. So, maybe it was my will all along. I had other situations in which I had manipulated the “God told me” card to get my own desires only to find out that it wasn’t a good thing. Things didn’t work out so well. Was God leading me astray, or had I used God to put a spiritual rubber stamp on my own selfish desires? It didn’t take the wisdom of Solomon to know it was the latter. Ouch. Mea culpa.
I have learned over time to be careful, thoughtful and discerning with what God may be prompting within me. I test it against what I know God’s Message says on both macro and mirco levels. I test it with mature and wise companions who are walking the journey beside me and who know me well. I am quick to listen and slow to speak. I give things time.
I am also very wary of those who play fast and loose with the “God told me…” and the “I’m discerning…” cards the same way I used to do. Believe me, I can recognize it pretty quickly: “Wait a minute. I know this one….” When I encounter it in others I typically find it to be a sign of spiritual immaturity and self-delusion the same as I experienced in my youth. I do my best not to judge the individual but also to my best to proceed with caution in my relationship with such individuals. They can be crazymakers. If I don’t know them well I simply give them and their spiritual manipulation a wide berth. If I know them well, I may try to have a loving conversation to confront what I’ve observed.
Jesus’ encouragement to we who follow is an apt reminder when confronting those who actively gamble with a “God told me” deck of cards: “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves.”
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. 1 John 3:18-20 (MSG)
“I know how bad I’ve been; My sins are staring me down.” So go the lyrics of King David singing the blues in Psalm 51.
Anyone who has a conscience has felt the same weight. We know our shortcomings. We know our mistakes. They stare us in the face and haunt our thoughts and our dreams. The weight of guilt and shame easily gives way to “debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it.” Yet, that debilitating self-criticism can quickly become a paralysis of guilt and shame. We become so myopically focused on our mistakes and feelings of worthlessness that we miss the veritable plethora of daily opportunities to act out of love and kindness towards family, friends, loved ones, neighbors, and strangers.
(Confession: I’ve been given to a significant amount of navel gazing in recent weeks and it’s getting me down. So, this post is me writing to me.)
Practice love. Seek out a chance to do something nice. Work at showing kindness. If we expend the thought, time and energy to demonstrate loving kindness towards others, we counteract the paralyzing effect of shame, fulfill Jesus’ command, build the Kingdom of God, and feel better about ourselves at the same time.
So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. 1 John 2:24a (NLT)
Over the past few years Wendy and I have invested in some quality audio equipment for listening to movies, music, calls that I must analyze for work, and etc. It’s nothing over-the-top, mind you, but it’s not cheap either. It’s good quality. In retro days of turntables and Long Play (LP) vinyl records we called it “high-fidelity” which then became simply known as “hi-fi.” Fidelity comes from the latin word, fidelis which means faithfulness. High-Fidelity meant a faithful reproduction of the original music, it was “true to sound.”
With the deterioration of my hearing over the past several years, I find that having high-fidelity audio makes a difference in my everyday listening I do for work and pleasure. I thought about this as I read the second chapter of John’s letter and his encouragement to remain faithful to what we’ve been taught from the beginning.
Faithful. Fidelis. High-fidelity. A faithful reproduction of the original.
The original that John points to is Jesus and His teaching:
Love God with everything you’ve got
Love others as you love yourself
Forgive those who’ve wronged you
Bless and show love to those you can’t stand
Treasure people not things
Take loving care of societal outcasts and those less fortunate
Give until it hurts (then give some more)
Do the right thing, not the religious thing
Concern yourself with eternal things, not temporary things
Jesus said that the world was full of people who are always hearing, but never listening and understanding. That’s a word picture I live every day as my ears hear what people say but somewhere between the ear drum and the brain it all gets muffled, garbled and largely unintelligible. Thanks to some hi-fidelity hearing aids and audio equipment, I can usually both hear and understand.
Perhaps that’s why as Jesus followers we are called to be a faithful reproduction of the original: So a blind and deaf world might see, hear, and understand – and follow along. I’m far from perfect and after 30+ years I still have so far to go, but more than ever I want to be a high-fidelity follower of Jesus and His Message. Please God, help to increasingly make me a faithful reproduction of the original.
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 1 John 1:1 (NLT)
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9 (NLT)
Those who are sincere followers of Jesus have a story to tell. Though each story is unique, there are common themes you hear in all of them. The author of 1 John is one of those with a story to tell. John was among Jesus’ inner circle. During the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, John was there to witness it. He heard Jesus’ teaching. He saw Jesus’ miracles. John traveled with Jesus and camped out under the stars with Him. John alone, of all Jesus’ twelve disciples, stood at the foot of the cross and witnessed Jesus’ death. He was there at the empty tomb and was with Jesus after the resurrection.
It is interesting to contrast what we read in John’s letters and what we learn of John in the four biographies of Jesus presented in God’s Message: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Jesus called John and his brother James “Sons of Thunder” for their fiery temper. The two were in the thick of arguments among the twelve disciples about who was greatest. When a Samaritan village wanted nothing to do with the controversial Jesus, it was John and his brother who wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn the town to the ground. The initial accounts of John describe a loud, angry, and self-seeking young man.
Fast forward to the aged man who writes today’s chapter as the beginning of a letter. Along John’s journey of following Jesus, temper and selfishness gave way to love and selflessness. John took Jesus’ mother, Mary, in and took care of her. John wrote about love, he spoke about love, and above all he encouraged fellow followers of Jesus to act out love. Tradition states that in his final years when he was old and frail, all that John would say is “Love one another” over and over again.
With this in mind I find it interesting that at the beginning of this letter, John begins by claiming that this is his personal testimony. He saw Jesus’ with his own eyes and heard Him with this own ears. He touched Jesus with his own hands. Just a few sentences later John gives testimony to the changed life he himself has experienced. By confessing his sin, he has experienced spiritual cleansing and life change. The “Son of Thunder” is transformed by God’s unmerited favor and forgiveness into the “Disciple of Love.”
Being a follower of Jesus is not about going to church or being a particular political persuasion. It’s far more than being labeled whatever popular culture and current media portray it to be. Being a follower of Jesus is a life story like John’s. It is entering into a relationship with and following Jesus for one’s self. It is about listening and hearing; it is about looking and seeing. It is a journey of transformation as we confess our spiritual need and experience God’s life-giving provision.
“Soon I will die,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”Genesis 50:24 (NLT)
One of the things I’ve recognized in my sojourn through God’s Message these many years is that between the promise being made and the promise being fulfilled there’s a whole lot of time filled with a whole lot of suffering. It’s ironic that Joseph lived this principle and now in the end he makes a promise to his family which wouldn’t be fulfilled for hundreds of years after becoming enslaved and suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. His family would walk in his sandals for generations.
Suffering is part of the journey. There is purpose in the pain. I saw this quote from C.S. Lewis that came across my twitter feed yesterday:
“The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.”
Wendy and I are at the Lake for a little spring break this week. We’re getting things opened up and ready for a summer full of fun, family and friends! Having finished Genesis yesterday, I’m taking a little break from blogging and my chapter-a-day posts through the rest of the week. See you next Monday!
Don’t forget the Chapter-a-Day Index where there’s an archive linked to all my chapter-a-day posts for the past seven years. If you would like a little fill in for the rest of the week, here are four choices of books, each with four chapters:
These are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good-bye. He blessed each one with an appropriate message. Genesis 49:28 (NLT)
What we say as parents and, perhaps more importantly, what we left unsaid can create soul-wounds which can and will negatively affect generations of a family. A few months ago, Wendy and I had the privilege of participating in a service project in which we read part of an audiobook that will be used by our local hospice when families have a loved one who is dying. The book, The Four Things That Matter Most, was written by Dr. Ira Bock who is an authority in the area palliative and end-of-life care. In his book, Dr. Bock recommends four messages that need to be said between loved ones before death:
“Please forgive me.”
“I forgive you.”
“I love you.”
I thought about Dr. Bock’s book this morning as I read Jacob’s death-bed words to each of his sons. I put myself in the shoes of each son and considered what each might have felt upon hearing the words. I came up with a broad range of emotions from shame, guilt, envy, curiosity, hurt, anger, bewilderment, and pride. While there were some positive emotions in the list, they were overshadowed by the negative.
I believe Jacob spoke the right words, but they were at the wrong time. I’m sure that he spoke spoke truth to his sons and expressed what his heart felt before he died, but as I look at the diverse list of emotions I jotted down I can only imagine that Jacob’s words created more wounds and division than healing and harmony among the brothers. Furthermore, Jacob purged his heart and mind before he died, giving no opportunity for conversation, reflection and relational healing.
There is a time for everything, a time to wound and a time to heal. There is a time for confrontation and honesty, but confrontation and honesty right before one breathes his or her last tends to create a one way monologue that may open wounds in their loved ones which will never heal this side of death. The time for that crucial conversation is when both parties are able to have a conversation, perhaps a series of conversations, along with the necessary time and space to work things out and come to a mutual understanding. When this is done in a timely way in life, there is a greater opportunity to hear the four things that matter most to be said before death.
Our words have the power to wound or to heal. Let us be careful how we wield them, especially with those whom we love most in this life.
M is for morning. My favorite and most productive time of the day. Quiet time. Reflection. Preparation. Coffee and breakfast with my love over a perusal of the newspaper. Getting things accomplished before the interruptions start rolling in.
But Joseph was upset when he saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. So Joseph lifted it to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. “No, my father,” he said. “This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”
But his father refused. “I know, my son; I know,” he replied. “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” Genesis 48:17-19 (NLT)
One of the things I find fascinating about reading through God’s Message again and again is the discovery of themes and patterns throughout. The fact that we are reading through a compilation of disparate books, writings and letters that cover hundreds and thousands of years it is amazing to find themes emerge.
“…but his younger brother will become greater.”
In the ancient days of Jacob, the culture and the laws greatly favored the first born son. Yet even in Genesis we find a pattern of the younger son being blessed in God’s economy:
Joseph was blessed over his older brothers
Jacob was blessed over Esau
Isaac was blessed over Ishmael
Abel’s sacrifice was accepted over Cain’s
Time and time again, God uses the weaker, lesser, less powerful and prestigious for His divine purposes:
Peter, a headstrong fisherman became the “rock” on which Jesus’ church was founded
Jesus chose simple, uneducated men from the sticks to be his disciples
God’s messenger, John the Baptist, lived like a hermit in the wilderness
God’s own Son was born to a poor girl from a backwater town inside a stable
Solomon, Israel’s greatest king was a younger son of David’s
David was the youngest of his father’s sons, but called “a man after God’s heart” and God chose the boy David over the strapping, handsome choice of the people: Saul.
I could go on. The point is this: God continually chooses the foolish people of this world to confound the wise; He uses the powerless to shame the powerful. Not one of us should think for a second that God could not or would not desire to use us to further His kingdom’s work on Earth.
I am not a Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, I love my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and have a deep appreciation for the beauty of the Roman Catholic mass along with a fascination of its history. I, with the rest of the world, was enthralled to watch as the College of Cardinals chose their new leader this week. When I began to read and hear about the life story of Pope Francis I, I thought to myself that he sounded like a choice Jesus himself would have made. It was confirmed when I read the on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning:
Pope Francis Day One: In his first hours as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the pope paid his own hotel bill, took a bus, and called for renewal in the church.