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Fail, Rinse, and Repeat

Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke down the pillars, hewed down the sacred poles, and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all.
2 Chronicles 31:1 (NRSVCE)

I decided to become a follower of Jesus when I was a young man. As I began to walk this new journey there were a number of behavioral patterns in my life that I knew I needed to change. There were thoughts, words, and behaviors that were incongruent with the teachings of Jesus. Just like last week’s post I felt a certain internal conviction that I needed to “carry out the filth from the holy place.”

Some of these behavioral patterns were easy to remedy. I simply willed myself to behave differently and it happened. Other behavioral patterns weren’t so easily changed. For years I had fed certain natural appetites in unhealthy ways. These behaviors gave certain levels of comfort, pleasure, and masked some deep soul wounds in ways I didn’t even fathom. With the best of intentions I committed myself to changing the behavior only to find myself, in short order, back doing the same thing I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore.

In today’s chapter we read about the aftermath of King Hezekiah’s homecoming Passover festival. He’d invited all the Hebrew people scattered in the region to return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast which commemorated God delivering the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. It was a huge success. Revival broke out. The people were humbled and recommitted themselves to the Lord. They repented of their idolatry and went out to tear down their pagan idols. They were going to change their ways!

But wait a minute. Haven’t we read this somewhere before? The people repented of their idolatry during the reign of Asa back in chapter 15. And again during the reign of Jehoshaphat in chapter 19. And again during the reign of Joash in chapter 24. Each time they repented, vowed to give up their idols and follow God. Then they find themselves right back in their idolatrous ways.

Conviction. Repentance. Commitment. Obedience. Temptation. Disobedience.

Rinse, and repeat.

Oh man, do I get that. Along my journey I’ve battled my own demons in the form of appetites out of control. I’ve found myself cycling around and around and around with these unhealthy thoughts, words, actions, and relationships. I feel like a total failure. Here I am again. Ugh.

Looking back now from almost 40 years in the journey here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The cycle is a natural part of the journey. There are lessons to be learned in it. There are lessons that can only be learned in the on-going struggle against our own out-of-control appetites.
  • The cyclical journey and on-going struggle led me on a long slog to dig deeper (multiple counselors and mentors), search farther (reading, studying, friends, accountability, support groups), and to become more brutally honest with myself about my own weaknesses.
  • Plumbing the depths of my depravity led to a deeper understanding of, and experience with, God’s grace and mercy.
  • Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you’re truly ready to change.
  • With each failure, each renewed commitment, and each return to the path of repentance it was hard to see that I was getting anywhere at all but in hindsight I can see that this wayfaring pilgrim was making slow progress towards addressing the core issues that lay beneath my surface behaviors.

This morning I’m recognizing that the people of ancient Judah were a macrocosm of the human struggle against our human weaknesses and out-of-control appetites. Another call to repentance, another revival, another turn away from what was tripping them up. Somehow I don’t think this is the last time. The cycle of struggle was pointing them and me to a very important truth. I can’t do it on my own.

I need a Savior.

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Time is Not My Enemy. She’s My Dance Partner.

In the seventh year Jehoiada showed his strength.
2 Chronicles 23:1 (NIV)

When I was a young man, Time was my constant enemy. I’m sure that being the youngest of four spurred the animosity with both clock and calendar. Being “too young” and “not old enough” drove me to quiet madness. I envied my older siblings and was convinced that I was perfectly capable of doing the same things they could do, but I was constantly rebuffed by being told “you’re not old enough.”  I became increasingly anxious to press whatever fast forward buttons life afforded me, take whatever shortcuts were available (or I could create) to quickly reach whatever life’s road held for me over the next horizon. I attacked and advanced on my enemy, Time, whenever and wherever could.

Looking back across my life journey I see ways in which my eagerness to speed up Time afforded both blessing and tragedy into my story. However, it took a tremendous amount of tragedy before I began to appreciate the alliance between Time and Providence that God wove into the DNA of creation. I discovered that Time was not my enemy. Time is a fellow participant in the divine dance. Once I was given the grace to embrace this truth, I experienced a certain new flow in life.

Yesterday’s chapter ended in a dark, bloody period of political chaos, spiritual defeat, and national despair for the people of ancient Judah. As mentioned, there was a foreshadowing of hope in a child, a lone heir to David’s throne, being hidden away within Solomon’s Temple while his murderous grandmother solidified her hold on power. In today’s chapter we fast forward seven years. Seven years of Athaliah’s evil reign. Seven years of the ascendance of Baal worship in God’s city. Seven years of despair for God’s faithful followers.

In the Great Story, seven is the number of completion.

I’ve come to embrace that even dark chapters of life must work themselves out to completion. Time must be afforded room to perform her dance and move the appropriate people and events and circumstances into place for eucatastrophe to occur.

It takes seven years before “the time is right.” The priest Jehoiada seizes the opportunity. He organizes a coup, ensures the protection and safety of the young heir, Joash, and plots the end of Athaliah’s reign. It works.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about my enemy turned dance partner: Time. I confess that I’ve not become perfect in my contentment. I still have a tendency to step on her toes when I want her to move things along, but I’ve definitely learned a step or two. There is a choreographed flow and Time’s dance requires that certain chapters of the journey must work themselves out to completion no matter how badly I want to skip to the end. The harder I fight against that fact the more my life’s dance resembles the drunk, idiot cousin at a wedding reception.

Slow down,” I’ve learned to tell myself. “Listen to the music. Feel the flow. This is not a race. It’s a dance.”

One-two-three. One-two-three. One-two-three.

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Time to Grow Up

“…so that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them, but hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.”
Joshua 22:7-8 (NRSV)

There are different stages in life. What may be good and appropriate for one stage of life may change and evolve as we grow and mature. This is natural. It is a part of the journey. It is how God designed it.

When I was a child there were boys that my parents did not want me hanging out with. My parents saw that they had different values. They were older. There was every possibility that they would have drawn me into trouble. My parents didn’t say these were “bad” kids. They simply told me to steer clear.

As I got older my parents stopped warning me about people. They sent me off to work, to college, to the mission field, and to the broader world. They wanted me to explore, to meet people, to learn, to grow, and to influence the world around me. They trusted me to be wise and discerning regarding my relationships.

I have come to believe that the relationship between God and man in history parallels the stages of human life. In today’s chapter, humanity is in its early childhood years. The people of God have become aware of their place in the world. They are learning about interacting with others. Their heavenly father warns them to steer clear of those who might have an unhealthy influence on them. Just like my parents did at that age.

Along life’s road I’ve known many followers of Jesus who still cling to this early childhood attitude of fear and suspicion towards others. They insulate themselves from their neighbors. They fear contact with others who are not like them and who don’t believe the same ways. It is as if they fear contamination should they associate with anyone who is not a part of their insular church family. They might even use Joshua’s words in today’s chapter to justify it.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was a rite of passage in the relationship between God and man. It was relational graduation into adulthood of sorts. Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts and lives of those who believe. Jesus now sent His followers out into the world. No more hanging with the homeys behind locked doors. No more keeping to yourself. Jesus said, “Go….” Heavenly Father was kicking His children out of the nest. You’re old enough. You’re wise enough. I’ve prepared you and equipped you and it’s time for you to get out there an influence your world.

Today, I’m thinking about stages of life. There was a time when I was a child and I needed to be wary of others influencing me. Now I’m a man, and if I still live with that fear then there’s something that has short circuited in the maturation process. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

At some point, it’s time for every one of us to grow up, go out into the world into strange places among people who are new to us and influence those we meet with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

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featured image: shenamt via Flickr

City of Refuge

“Say to the Israelites, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses….'”
Joshua 20:2 (NRSV)

“City of refuge” was an ancient legal concept in which those accused of manslaughter could flee and find refuge from the family of the deceased who might seek revenge for the death. The “city of refuge” had a legal obligation to hear out the person fleeing and, if they decided that the person’s story was honest and worthy, to protect that person until an official hearing could be established.

Over the centuries, the term “city of refuge” expanded in meaning. Many who fled persecution of various kinds would call their new home a “city of refuge.”

Wendy and I live in a small Iowa town that was settled by a few hundred Dutch immigrants in 1847. They were led by their pastor, H.P. Scholte, who was an amazing mix of theologian, businessman, lawyer, artist, and visionary. He and his followers fled Holland because the state church of the Netherlands had imprisoned Scholte for not towing their doctrinal line. Scholte and a group of his faithful followers pooled their resources, purchased land from the United States in the new state of Iowa, and created a town from Scholte’s vision. He had the town completely mapped out and zoned before the group even arrived. Scholte gave his new town the name Pella, after a “city of refuge” in the country of Jordan where early followers of Jesus fled Jewish and Roman persecution. Pella, Scholte said, would be a “city of refuge” for the fleeing Hollanders.

To this day, our little town of Pella continues to hang on to the “city of refuge” moniker that was given to us by our town’s founder. Long ago the residents of Pella forgave native Holland for its persecution.  We now embrace our Dutch heritage to a fault. Scholte’s resentment towards the Netherlands also tempered later in life. He even sought to return to his native land as an ambassador of the U.S. (it never came to be). Still, residents of Pella find refuge of a sort in our little town. It is common for children raised in Pella to return and raise their families here. Life in Pella is relatively quiet. The pace is slow compared to most places, and the residents still cling to values that other places seem to have abandoned. And, we have great food and a Tulip Time Festival every May (Join us May 5-7!).

Today I’m thinking about the concept of refuge. Today’s chapter speaks of refuge from revenge in ancient legal terms. Still, the broader concept has equal merit. We all need a place, or places, where we can find refuge. We all need shelter from life’s storms.

It’s Simple

So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them.
John 4:40a (NRSV)

Sometimes we make things way too complicated, when Jesus’ example was always to make things very simple.

Salvation is simply this: Hearing Jesus, and inviting Him to stay.

 

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Perseverance

It’s Thursday. Do you feel like the week will never end? Here are a few posts on perseverance to help get you through the week!

  1. Be Like a Tree
  2. Rain or Shine, It’s How We Respond
  3. When a Hallmark Card Just Won’t Do
  4. Refuge Amidst Rough Stretches in Life’s Path
  5. Built to Last
  6. Chapter-a-Day Numbers 27
  7. Chapter-a-Day Matthew 24
  8. Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 28
  9. Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 21
  10. Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 19
  11. Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 18
  12. Chapter-a-Day Micah 7
  13. Chapter-a-Day Exodus 2
  14. Chapter-a-Day Psalm 129
  15. Chapter-a-Day Esther 9
  16. Chapter-a-Day Acts 14
  17. Chapter-a-Day Ezekiel 24

 

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