Then [the angel] continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.“ Daniel 10:12 (NIV)
Along my life journey, I have encountered a diverse number of individuals who have “set their minds” to various things in life. As I sat in the quiet this morning and let my mind wander down memory lane, a number of people popped into my mind.
The dude whose mind was always set on rock n’ roll, the music, the bands, the history, and the classics. From what I see on social media, that has never changed in 40 years.
The dude whose mind has always been set on being a success in business. He dresses for success, he networks for success, and he closely manages his conversations and relationships so as to leverage them for personal gain.
The girl who set her mind on creating the picture-perfect life. From breast augmentation to glamour shots, from the trophy husband to the perfectly gorgeous and well-dressed children, every post and story is managed and leveraged to impress.
I could continue. From what I’ve observed, people set their minds on everything, including setting their minds on nothing at all.
I found it interesting that the angels visiting Daniel in today’s chapter know him. They know who he is. They know his story. They know that at some point Daniel “set his mind” to live humbly before God and set his mind on the things of God.
In his book Imagine Heaven, John Burke tells of his thirty-five-year study of over 1,000 near-death experiences (NDEs). One of the recurring testimonies of those who have clinically died and experienced heaven is that a complete, written record and transcript exist of our entire earthly life. Jesus said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” According to the NDEs that Burke heard and studied, Jesus was not kidding. We will review the entire record of our lives. As one NDE’er expressed:
[The man] stood beside me and directed me to look to my life, where I was replaying my life’s less complimentary moments; I relived those moments and felt not only what I had done but also the hurt I had caused. Some of the things I would have never imagined could have caused pain. I was surprised that some things I may have worried about, like shoplifting a chocolate as a child, were not there whilst casual remarks which caused hurt unknown to me at the time were counted.
It is an introspective time in the quiet this morning as I prepare to launch into a new work week. What have I set my mind upon? What do others see and consider to be the core motives of my life based on my words, my actions, my relationships, my tweets, my posts, and my stories? More importantly, what does heaven see that I have set my mind upon?
As I meditated on these questions, an old liturgical statement welled up from my long-term memory: May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my God.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
[Joshua said] “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 (NIV)
Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been studying James‘ letter to Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution. I’ve been spending a lot of time in it in recent weeks. One of the major themes of James is that being a follower of Jesus is not simply a mental assent to belief in Jesus. James makes it clear that real faith generates and motivates action. He’s riffing on a word picture that Jesus used when He told His followers to pay attention to the fruit a person produces in their life and relationships. He said that one can tell what is in a person’s heart by the fruit of their actions.
Today’s chapter is the conclusion of the book of Joshua. The conquest of the Promised Land was successful. The land had been allotted to the twelve tribes. The people had settled. In the final act of Joshua’s leadership, he calls the tribal assembly together. Joshua reminds them of their family’s story, starting with Abraham, and how God had led their ancestors to this particular moment of time. Joshua then acknowledges that in the land that Abraham left, and the land that they just conquered, there are many dieties worshipped. He reminds them of commandment numero uno in the Top Ten commandments God gave them: serve God alone.
Joshua then calls for a commitment. It’s a fish or cut bait moment. He tells the tribes to choose whether they will serve the God of Abraham and Moses, or if they are going to serve the plethora of local idols and dieties worshipped by other peoples in the region and around the world. Joshua then makes his choice public: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The thing that struck me as I read this call to commitment was that Joshua didn’t ask the people which god they would believe. He asked them whom they would serve. The Hebrew word used can also refer to the act of tilling the ground in preparation for planting, growing, and harvesting. In a way, Joshua’s question lays the foundation for Jesus’ word picture: For whom will you labor? Who’s fruit are you going to produce?
In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about my own journey. When I was a kid, I took a class, assented to a statement of beliefs, and got a certificate making me a member of a church. A couple of years later I realized that this had nothing to do with the person I was. I may have believed in God, but I was serving only myself. The fruit of my life was sour grapes. It’s when I chose to step out onto this faith journey, to actually follow Jesus, and to serve Him that the seeds of good fruit got planted.
Which brings me back to James, who writes:
Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?James 2:14-17 (MSG)
It’s not about what I believe. Its about who I serve.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. John 10:24-26 (NIV)
Wendy and I have been regular readers of the Wall Street Journal forever. The New York based newspaper is one of a few newspapers to have had subscribers across the entire nation, even before the dawn of the digital age.
One of the things that we have noticed across the years is that you can take the Wall Street Journal out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the Wall Street Journal. The content, from news to opinion to lifestyle are clearly New York City centric and cater to wealthy business professionals in Manhattan who have always been the key constituency in their subscriber base. What this means, however, is that Wendy and I often shake our heads over morning coffee here in small town Iowa. The Wall Street Journal clearly doesn’t get life in fly-over country (even when they visit every four years for the Iowa caucuses) where life and business are still largely centered around agriculture and people see life differently based on a very different daily life experience.
In the same way, it’s often challenging for a 21st century reader to understand the context of a first century story-teller, but it’s not impossible. Learning the context reveals often profound understanding.
God’s base language is metaphor, and in today’s chapter Jesus uses one metaphor in two different messages He presents in the Temple in Jerusalem: the Shepherd. Shepherds and sheep were understood by all of Jesus’ listeners back in the day. Sheep were a staple in their lives for both food, clothing, and the religious system. In fact, the metaphor of the Shepherd was not new to Jesus. It’s all over the place in the ancient Psalms and the messages of the prophets in which God revealed Himself as the “Shepherd of Israel,” the religious leaders were, likewise, to “shepherd” God’s people, and the coming Messiah was prophesied to be a true Shepherd to care for God’s people. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. Shepherd is an important metaphor in the Great Story.
In Jesus’ word picture, He is both a gate by which sheep go out to pasture and return to the safety of their home, and the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep because they are His sheep. He is not a thief, robber, or rustler who seeks to steal sheep for their own selfish aims.
John then moves the narrative to another time Jesus was teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem during another national religious festival in which he again uses the metaphor of Shepherd and sheep. There is still tremendous debate and division over Jesus true identity. He is asked plainly: “Are you the Messiah, or not?”
Jesus responds with an interesting statement: “I told you already, not with words, but by my actions, my works, and my signs. You didn’t get it because you’re not my sheep.”
Actions reveal identity.
Jesus says basically the same thing as He did in the previous chapter, but with a different metaphor:
I Am the Light of the World: – There are blind who I make see – There are those who see who I cause to go blind
I Am the Good Shepherd: – My sheep know my voice and follow – Those who don’t know my voice don’t follow; Not my sheep
What really stuck out to me, however, was that His true identity was revealed by words or claims but by works and deeds. It is the same thing Jesus told The Twelve later: They’ll know you’re mine, not by your claims, but by your love for one another. Jesus’ brother, James, would pick up on this in his letter to the exiled followers of Jesus scattered across the Roman empire: “Faith by itself, with no action, is dead. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that even when Jesus was walking the earth performing signs and wonders, there were many who remained blind and deaf to His message. Why should I think that it would be any different today? I’m also reminded that my claim to be a follower of the Good Shepherd is basically worthless. Jesus said so Himself. It is those acts of love, grace, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness that mark me as one of His sheep.
Time for this sheep to do my best to reveal my faith in action, and not just these words, on this another day of the journey.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Positively "Horny" with Light (CaD Ex 34) –
When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. Exodus 34:30 (NRSVCE)
“Let there be light.”
That’s the first act of creation in the poetic description of the beginning of everything in the opening verses of Genesis. This simple beginning, however, is not so simple. In fact, it’s hard to contain its meaning. It is part of the mystery of God and the universe that both theology and science have endlessly been attempting to understand. I can’t explain it any better than the Encyclopedia Brittanica does:
No single answer to the question “What is light?” satisfies the many contexts in which light is experienced, explored, and exploited. The physicist is interested in the physical properties of light, the artist in an aesthetic appreciation of the visual world. Through the sense of sight, light is a primary tool for perceiving the world and communicating within it. Light from the Sun warms the Earth, drives global weather patterns, and initiates the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. On the grandest scale, light’s interactions with matter have helped shape the structure of the universe. Indeed, light provides a window on the universe, from cosmological to atomic scales. Almost all of the information about the rest of the universe reaches Earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation. By interpreting that radiation, astronomers can glimpse the earliest epochs of the universe, measure the general expansion of the universe, and determine the chemical composition of stars and the interstellar medium. Just as the invention of the telescope dramatically broadened exploration of the universe, so too the invention of the microscope opened the intricate world of the cell. The analysis of the frequencies of light emitted and absorbed by atoms was a principal impetus for the development of quantum mechanics. Atomic and molecular spectroscopies continue to be primary tools for probing the structure of matter, providing ultrasensitive tests of atomic and molecular models and contributing to studies of fundamental photochemical reactions.
In the same way, light is fundamentally a part of the spiritually supernatural:
Light was the first order of creation on the first day of creation in the Genesis creation ( keep in mind the sun, stars, and moon weren’t created until the fourth day).
After healing a boy born blind, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.”
Jesus took his inner-circle (Peter, James, and John) up on a mountain (just like Moses in today’s chapter) and was “transfigured” before them (e.g. Matthew records the He shone like the sun while Luke describes it as bright as a flash of lightning). And Moses appeared with Him.
Angelic beings are consistently described throughout the Great Story as shining radiantly.
At the very end of the Great Story in Revelation (spoiler alert: the end is a new beginning) “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”
In today’s chapter, Moses returns to the top of the mountain and spends another 40 days with God. When he returns, the text says that his face was so radiant that it freaked out the Hebrews (for the record, Peter, James, and John were equally freaked when Jesus revealed the light of His glory).
Here’s a bit of additional mystery for you. The Hebrew word used here is actually translated “horns.” That’s why many artistic depictions of Moses (the most famous is Michaelangelo) show him having horns on his head:
So, what’s up with that?! I talked in my podcast, A Beginners Guide to the Great Story Part 1 about the fact that when thinking about the ancient stories we have to consider the context of the times in which they were living. The mystery of Moses’ horns is a great example. There is an ancient Babylonian text that uses the Sumer word si which is also the word for “horn” to describe a solar eclipse in which the sun’s light appears like “horns” (think “rays of light”) shooting out from behind the darkened moon. It’s quite possible that the word “horns” was layered with meaning and the ancients understood what we call “rays” of light to be “horns of light.”
In the quiet this morning, I find my brain buzzing with all sorts of thoughts about light and how it is part of the mystery of both the spiritual and the scientific. Humanity has so often made the two into binary, either-or, opposites and enemies. The further I get in my journey, the more I am convinced that, in the end, we will understand that they are two parts of the same mystery. It’s a “both, and.”
As a follower of Jesus, I can’t help but go back to Jesus’ call for His followers to be “light” to the world”:
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” -Jesus (Matt 5:13-16 [MSG])
What does that mean for me? Am I a light-bearer? Do these posts and podcasts shine? More importantly, do my daily words and interaction with family, friends, neighbors, strangers, community, enemies, acquaintances, and foreigners radiate with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Am I being generous with my life? Is my house open? Am I opening up to others?
It’s what I’m endeavoring to do increasingly today, each day of this earthly journey. I want the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, the work of my hands, and my interactions with everyone to be positively “horny” with Light.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
The past few weeks Wendy and I have been getting videos of our grandson, Milo, that Taylor has been sending from their home in Scotland. Milo is almost a year old and the videos reveal that young Milo has hit the stage of development in which he “imitates” what his parents do. When we had a FaceTime conversation a week or so ago I had some fun making up distinct little laugh noises and coughs and then was overjoyed to watch and listen as Milo smiled and tried to imitate them. It was a fun game, and it warmed my heart.
In today’s chapter Paul makes a very simple and direct request of the believers in Corinth: “Imitate me.” Not just a game of mimicking voice or gesture, Paul was inviting his friends in Corinth to imitate his way of life, his actions, his words, his hard work, his way of treating others.
It’s such a simple command, and yet it is such a bold statement. In the quiet this morning I have been trying to imagine telling a fledgling believer to imitate me. Yes, okay, I have developed some good habits and disciplines in life, but I can also immediately bring to mind things I wouldn’t want anyone imitating. I confess to having an overdeveloped sense of shame, but I’m still intimidated by the thought of telling someone, “Just watch me and do what I do.”
As I meditate on it, I’ve come to think that perhaps this is actually a good exercise. I picture myself telling a young person “Imitate me.” What would I be afraid of them seeing, hearing and repeating? What thoughts, words, actions, and habits would have me quickly adding an addendum and making caveats to the imitation command? “Well, wait a minute. Don’t imitate that part. If you catch me doing this, just ignore me, please. Only imitate what you saw me doing earlier when everyone was looking.” It seems a pretty good methodology for revealing those areas of my life where I still have significant growth and improvement potential.
The kids and Milo are coming home in a few days. Milo will be with us through the holidays. This morning I’m reminded that children watch their parents and their grandparents. They listen. They observe. They take it all in. Then they imitate. Not just the silly FaceTime game of mocking a laugh or a cough. Our children and grandchildren observe and imitate our very lives.
My desire is for my life to be a good example to imitate.
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 1 Thessalonians 2:3 (NIV)
Some time ago I was invited into a meeting with the executive leader of an organization which I served. What quickly became clear in the meeting was that my motives had been called into question by certain individuals. My colleague simply desired to clarify my desires and wants as it related to my service and position within the organization. I quickly answered the questions posed to me and clearly stated my motives for serving and leading. The meeting quickly ended.
In yesterday’s post I discussed my need to continually and personally define my own motivations for the things I do and say. Along my life journey I’ve found this to be a critical step in understanding myself and making healthy decisions about my time, task list, resources, and relationships. But there’s a corollary importance to understanding my motivations, and that’s the reality that others are watching my actions, listening to my words, observing my relationships, and weighing my decisions. Others will question and make their own conclusions about my motives.
Paul spent the introduction of his letter to the believers in Thessalonica complimenting the pure motives of their accomplishments, toil, and perseverance in the faith. In today’s chapter Paul shifts focus to shine the spotlight on his own motivations in relationship to the believers with whom he’d had little time to spend.
One of the constant threats to the small communities of early believers was outside voices who could distract and even destroy their faith. There were angry Jewish zealots branding Paul as a crazy heretic, and demanding that followers of Jesus must obey all Jewish customs. There were traveling charlatans claiming to be preachers of the faith, but who quickly demanded that the local believers pay them for their service and provide for all their personal needs. Then there were local tradesman and trade unions whose livelihoods were centered in casting likenesses of all the pagan idols and deities. They saw Paul and his anti-pagan message as a threat to their pocketbooks and attempted to protect their livelihoods by accusing Paul and his companions of being a threat to Rome itself.
I thought that today’s chapter read like a resume as Paul attempts to make his personal motivations perfectly clear to his friends. He’s preemptively providing the believers with reminders they will need as others will most certainly try to cast doubts into their minds regarding Paul and his motives:
We proclaimed the Message despite persecutions and threats to our own lives. (vs. 2)
We weren’t trying to trick you, our motives were pure. (vs. 3)
We weren’t flattering you like salesmen or covering up some secret motivation of greed to get money or resources from you. (vs. 5). In fact, I used my tent making skills to provide for myself so that you wouldn’t have to provide for me. (vs. 9)
We treated you like a loving father (vs. 11) caring for you, and as a nursing mother cares for her baby. (vs. 7)
We didn’t abandon you and move on for any other reason than we were forced to do so. We desperately want to come back and see you but have been prevented from doing so. (vss. 17-18)
This morning I’m reminded that I can’t control what other people think or say. I do, however, control what I do and say. Sometimes it’s important to be mindful of how my motives might be misinterpreted. It’s wise, at times, to anticipate how misconceptions regarding my own motives might thwart the good I am trying to do. Paul’s example has me thinking about the fact that it is sometimes judicious to make motives clear and head off the misconceptions that experience teaches me may arise.
Have a great day and a wonderful weekend, my friend. The first snowflakes of winter fell on us yesterday. Stay warm.
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
In the art of acting there’s a lot of talk about motivation. It’s sometimes called “the want.” Let me give you an example.
An unlearned actor named John goes up on stage. He walks from point A to point B and says the line highlighted in his script. You ask John why he just did that and he tells you: “The Director told me to. It was at our last rehearsal. I have it written right here in pencil in my script. It says walk right then say the line.” As an audience member you’ll probably see John mechanically waiting for his cue, dutifully walking to a prescribed position on stage, and then saying his line out to the audience.
Now an accomplished actor named Tony takes over the role. Tony has internalized that he’s embodying a character named Ricky who is head-over-heels in love with a girl named Jill. In the previous scene Jill has sent a message to Ricky revealing that she mistakenly believes he’s cheated on her. Now, Ricky sees her for the first time since receiving the note. Actor Tony internalizes what Ricky is thinking and feeling at that moment. He is Ricky, seeing the woman he loves. He makes a b-line to her, looks her right in the eye and says his line with a sense of emotional desperation. You ask Tony why he just did that, and he tells you without hesitation: “I want to convince Jill that it’s not true I cheated on her! I want her to know I love her! I want to spend the rest of my life with her!”
As an audience member I can tell you, without a doubt, that you’ll have a much different experience, and a much better one, watching Tony play the role than you will with John.
Motivation is at the heart of great acting because motivation is at the heart of who we are as human beings. There’s a reason we do the things we do and say the things we say. There’s always something motivating and driving our behavior, though many people live their entire lives without ever thinking about it. When we begin to examine our motivations, we begin to understand ourselves on a whole new level. And while most Christians I know think that God only cares about the purity of their words and the morality of their actions, Jesus made it quite clear that He was most concerned about our motives. He knew that if the latter in order, the former will naturally fall into place.
Paul begins his letter to the believers in Thessalonica by complimenting their accomplishments, their ongoing toil, and their perseverance in the face of adversity. What’s fascinating is that Paul examines and calls out their motivations for each:
Faith has motivated the works they’ve accomplished.
Love has motivated their ongoing, laborious toil.
Hope has motivated their endurance amidst persecution.
Along my spiritual journey I’ve come to learn that motivation is just as crucial to things of the Spirit as it is to the actor on a stage. Religious people often do and say religious things because they are motivated by any number of things:
to keep up appearances in a community that values being religious
to earn admittance to heaven
to have an insurance policy keeping me out of hell
to build my business network with all those potential customers who go to that church
Motivation matters. Jesus called out the crowds following Him one day. He said, “You’re following me because I fed you fish sandwiches. You want to follow me? Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Jesus didn’t care about the number followers He had, He cared about what motivated their following Him. The resurrected Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and then followed Peter’s affirmative answer with a command to “Feed my sheep.” What was important to Jesus was not Peter’s accomplishment of the task, but the love that motivated it.
In the quiet this morning I once again find myself examining my own motivations. Why do I do the things I do? What is driving me? What do the things I do and the conversations I have reveal about what it is that I really want in life? Spiritually speaking, if I don’t have the motivation right, all the saying and doing won’t matter.
Note to my regular readers:Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is spending most of an entire year (Sep ’18 through Jul ’19) studying the book of Acts. In conjunction with this study, I’ve decided to blog our way through all of Paul’s letters in chronological order. The exact chronology is a matter of scholarly debate. We began with Paul’s letter to the believers in the Asia Minor region of Galatia. Today we’re moving on to his letters to Jesus’ followers in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Many scholars think these two letters preceded his letter to the Galatians.
At this writing it has been roughly 20 years since Jesus’ resurrection and 16 years since Paul’s conversion. Paul had spent just a few months in the provincial capital of Thessalonica. He was forced to leave town quickly because his life was threatened. He didn’t get to spend as much time with the believers there as he had wished. It’s now a year or so down the road and he writes to encourage his friends whom he’d quickly left behind. ==============
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee,descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” Acts 23:6 (NIV)
One of the things I’ve observed along my journey is our human penchant for thinking our current events and circumstances are somehow unique in human history. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely said, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” As a student of history I can usually find times and events in recorded history which were much worse than whatever it is that’s happening in the headlines today.
There is no doubt that we are living in a time of polarization in political thought and the results have been tumultuous. The time of Jesus and the following decades of Paul’s ministry that we’re reading about in Acts were also tumultuous times in which there was polarization of both political and religious thought. Conflict, terrorism, and riots were a part of their landscape just as they are in ours today.
In today’s chapter, Paul uses this polarization of thought and the rabid, inherent conflict as part of his chess game with the religious Jewish leaders and their local Roman occupiers. Paul is standing before the same religious council that condemned Jesus to death and he knows they’re just as thirsty for his blood to be spilled. Paul, however, holds a trump card with his Roman citizenship (see my previous post). Standing next to him is a Roman military commander, known as a Tribune. Paul needs the Romans to take over his case.
It’s important to remember that Paul was raised and trained in Jerusalem as a lawyer. He would have known some of the men on this council. He knew their polarized religious beliefs as well as their corresponding hot button issues. Once again I find that Paul is not a random victim of circumstance. Paul is on a mission. He is driving the action.
Paul knows that the two rival parties within the council were the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two parties were just as opposed to one another as the far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats are in the U.S. today. The watershed issue that divided these two religious, political parties was the concept of resurrection, or life after death. The Pharisees believed that there was a resurrection as well as an unseen spirit realm where Angels and spirits dwelt. The Sadducees believed the exact opposite. There was no resurrection, no life after death, this physical life and reality is all there is. When you die there is nothing else. Paul uses this hot-button, polarizing issue for his own purposes.
Paul loudly proclaims to the entire council his pedigree as a life-long, card-carrying Pharisee, and accuses the Sadducees of the council of putting him on trial because of his belief in the resurrection. Resurrection is the powder-keg issue (think Roe v. Wade today). Paul just lit a match and threw it into the middle of the room.
Watch what happens next. A bunch of Pharisees, who moments ago were critical of Paul, now jump up to defend him. As I’ve been watching current events it’s easy to notice that in polarized systems anyone on your team is good and must be defended at all costs, while anyone on the other team is all bad and must be destroyed at all costs. There is no middle ground. Paul successfully diverts the council’s attention from himself to the hot-button issue. In the riot that followed, the Roman Tribune responsible for Paul had no choice but to evacuate him from the situation because he was responsible for Paul’s safety as a Roman citizen and he would be held personally liable (and perhaps executed) if he allowed the Jews to kill Paul, a Roman citizen.
By pushing the council’s political buttons Paul ensured that the Roman Tribune would witness for himself what a volatile group the Jewish council was and the threat they posed to both of them. Not only this, but Paul knows these Jewish leaders. He could easily anticipate that their next move will be a conspiracy to assassinate him. It’s what they did with Jesus. It’s what Paul himself did with Stephen, and Paul himself has been on the run from Jewish assassination attempts on all of his journeys. If there is a plot to kill him Paul knows that the Roman Tribune will have no choice but to place Paul in protective custody and get him out of town. And, that is exactly what happens.
In a few minutes I will join Wendy in our dining room for breakfast and we will read the paper together. It will be filled with news and opinions of current events in our polarized, politicized times. This morning I am reminded that nothing is new under the sun and that I can only control my own motives, thoughts, words, and actions. Reading about Paul’s motives, Paul’s words, and Paul’s actions, I’m reminded of one of Jesus’ more obscure and oft-forgotten commands to His followers:
And on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year, the city wall was broken through. Jeremiah 39:2 (NIV)
It’s an old-time phrase: “day of reckoning.” I learned this morning in a brief etymology search that the root of the word reckoning is Dutch in origin. Reckon in Dutch and German means “to count.” The original meaning phrase is rooted in commerce and the settling of accounts. Which makes sense if you know that in the 1600-1700s the port of Amsterdam was the epicenter of global trade and commerce. Dutch bankers were the Wall Street brokers of their day.
The “day of reckoning” is, therefore, the day the bill comes due and accounts are settled. It later took on a broader metaphorical meaning and became “The Day of Reckoning” meaning spiritual judgement and becoming synonymous with what theologians dubbed The Judgement Day of Christ. Most popular in the early 1800s, use of the phrase “day of reckoning” has been in steady decline since then, though there was a slight resurgence of use around the turn of the century when the world was a bit more obsessed with impending apocalypse and the Y2K virus.
The phrase came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. It tells the story of the day that Jerusalem falls to King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army, just as Jeremiah has been steadfastly and prophetically predicting for 38 long chapters.
Specifically, today’s chapter is about the “day of reckoning” for King Zedekiah of Judah. Just yesterday, Jeremiah was still assuring Zed that if he surrendered he would be spared and the city would not be destroyed. Whether it was pride, political expediency, or a little of both that led to Zedekiah’s continuous refusal to believe or trust Jeremiah, we’ll never know. As the Babylonian army breaches the wall ofJerusalem Zedekiah flees with his officials. They are quickly caught. It didn’t turn out well for Zed or his family.
The chapter ends, however, with a ray of hope. Jeremiah is spared by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah sends a prophetic word to Ebed-Melek, the African eunuch of Zedekiah’s court who had Jeremiah rescued from the bottom of the well. Jeremiah prophesies that Ebed-Melek will escape the horrible end he fears at the hand of the Babylonians as a reward of his faithfulness.
This morning I’m thinking back on my life journey up to this point. There have been several events in my life and the lives of my loved ones that I would label days of reckoning. The day an unexpected phone call brought surprising news of death. The day the security of a dad’s job melted into fear of poverty. The day my high school friend uttered the words “she’s pregnant.” The day the divorce decree was final. The day the contract ended. These are just the ones that quickly come to mind as I sip my coffee. There are others. I’m sure you have a few of your own that come to mind.
There is a spiritual lesson, I believe, staring me right in the face this morning. It is rooted in simple wisdom as much as it is in the dramatic telling of Zedekiah and the supernatural messages of the prophet Jeremiah. “You reap what you sow,” is one way we say it. “What goes around, comes around,” is another. Each day my thoughts, words, and actions are a spiritual, relational, physical, and/or social expenditure or deposit. Mindlessly we go about our day either investing or squandering life. Eventually, the bill comes due. There is a day of reckoning.
This morning I’m meditating on the day ahead, and the ways I can make better investment of my thoughts, words, and actions.
“Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” Jeremiah 4:18 (NIV)
Reckoning is word we don’t use very often any more. It is the the process of settling accounts. It is the day that the bill comes due. Metaphorically used, a “day of reckoning” may not have anything to do with money. It’s when our actions come to their natural conclusion.
On a national level, I’ve been hearing economic prophets crying in the wilderness about a “day of reckoning” for as long as I can remember. We spend more than we take in. The U.S. national debt was at 20 trillion dollars and growing when I looked at it this morning. Every bill our congress passes has a host of pork barrel riders and appropriations (often called “earmarks”) for spending money on pet local projects our lawmakers have promised to the people who’ve lined their pockets back home. The President has no line-item veto so if he wants credit for the main bill he has to quietly put up with all of the quiet little pork barrel projects no one talks about. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Say no more. This is not a political issue, by the way. This is a systemic issue. Everyone does it on both sides of the aisle. Making hard choices won’t get you re-elected, so we continue our game of cost-shifting. How long can it go on? [cue: the economic doomsday prophets]
On a personal level, I make daily choices that impact my health, my relationships, and my physical, social, and economic well-being. Eventually, there will be a day of reckoning when my seemingly insignificant choices will come to their natural conclusions.
It is very human to cry “Why me?” when the shit hits the fan. Yet along life’s journey I’ve discovered that the answer to that question isn’t usually as elusive as I’d like to pretend. If I turn around and look at the choices I’ve made and the steps I’ve taken across my journey, I can usually see the path of seemingly small, insignificant choices that have led me to this place. I have no one to blame but myself. But, blame-shifting is as common to the human condition as cost-shifting. I’ve observed along my journey that God often gets the blame when we humans adroitly employ our penchant for blame-shifting.
In today’s chapter, Jeremiah is poetically prophesying doomsday scenarios for his nation. Anticipating the eventual blame-shifting the people will employ on the day of reckoning, he reminds them that on that day it will have been their own choices that will have brought them to that place.
This morning I’m thinking about my own life, my own choices, and my own circumstances. Another word we don’t use very often is “repentance.” The original meaning is a word picture of turning around and moving in the opposite direction. Each day represents an opportunity for me to turn away from foolish choices and to start making wise ones. Every day affords the opportunity to change my day of reckoning from a doomsday scenario to that of blessing.
I hear the whisper of my mother’s voice…or is it Holy Spirit?