Tag Archives: Affirmation

The Depressed Prophet

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?
Jeremiah 20:13-18 (NIV)

Across the ages, the ancient prophet Jeremiah has been labeled with  the moniker “The Weeping Prophet.” In our bedroom at the lake Wendy and I have a copy of Rembrandt’s portrait of Jeremiah looking depressed and sullen as he sits amidst the ruins of Jerusalem. It reminds me that the lake is a thin place where any who are burdened can find rest for their souls. Alas, it would seem that Jeremiah had no such place.

In today’s chapter we read of a confrontation between Jeremiah and a priest named Pashur, who was “the official in charge of the Temple of the Lord.” The fact that the one “in charge” was out to get Jeremiah is a good indication of just how corrupt the system had become in Jeremiah’s day. The priest in charge of the Temple was overseeing all of the pagan rituals and cults operating out of the Temple. The Temple had become a religious corporation, a powerful money-maker for those in charge (not unlike the way Jesus’ found the Temple in His day).

While Jeremiah had been protected from the death-threats that had already been made against him, Pashur decided to at least punish the prophet for his inflammatory prophesies of doom and destruction. I’m quite sure they were bad for business. In fact, I can almost hear Pashur saying, “This isn’t personal, Jer. It’s strictly business.” Once again, this is not unlike Jesus who, after His repeated rants against their corruption and His stirring up of the people, pressured the Temple leaders to plot His death .

After his time in the stocks, Jeremiah immediately confronts Pashur with a stubborn and willful repeating of his prophetic message: Jerusalem will be destroyed and its people led into captivity at the hands of Babylon. Obviously the prophet wanted Pashur to know his punishment did not have the desired effect. In fact, it simply appears to have pissed Jeremiah off.

What comes next is fascinating. The weeping prophet goes into a depression and pens a dark poem that graphically expresses his wish that he’d never been born. Obviously, the burden of his role, his prophecies, and the steady threats and persecution were getting to him. Of course they were. It would get to me too.

This morning I’m thinking about how common it is for humans to go through periods of depression. If you were privy to my medical records you’d find that I’ve had a few bouts with the blues along my life journey, and I never faced anything like what Jeremiah was dealing with. I’m also thinking about how common it is for individuals in history (artists, musicians, writers, thinkers) who saw and expressed things no one else could see were given to depression, madness, mental illness, and even suicide. I’d certainly put Jeremiah alongside the likes of Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Parker.

I’m struck by the contrast this morning between the spit-shined image I believe we often have of a “godly” person or a “servant of God.” We demand so much, expect so much, and are so quick to scapegoat individuals for their weaknesses and shortcomings. Jeremiah reminds me this morning that God’s servants were fully human, carried human flaws and weaknesses, were susceptible to all the shortcomings known to humanity, and were even given to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Jeremiah reminds me to cut others a break. He even reminds me to be a bit more gracious with myself.

Wendy and I were at the lake late last week opening it up for the coming summer season. Once again, I saw and pondered Jeremiah’s portrait as I lay in bed.

I’m looking forward to getting back there.

(FWIW: My latest message was added to the Messages page.)

Decor and More

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)

For the past few years Wendy and I have made a post-Christmas excursion to shop for Christmas decorations. So it was that I found myself wandering through a retail ocean of decor this past week. As I wandered up and down the aisles I noticed that a fair amount of the decor ocean included various phrases and verses from the Bible screen printed on anything and everything imaginable. More than once I noticed that verses were presented completely out of context. I found myself wondering if people hang verses on their walls like a modern-day talisman, not having a clue about their original meaning or place in the Great Story.

A verse from today’s chapter is a great case-in-point. The words “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” is a well-worn phrase I’ve heard endlessly repeated in church services and have seen on many trinkets, but I imagine few know the context. The words in today’s chapter were directed by God to a man named Zerubbabel.

Zerubbabel was a Jewish civic leader who was part of the first group of Babylonian exiles to return to a destroyed Jerusalem to begin the work of rebuilding (the story is largely told by Nehemiah). Zerubbabel was appointed Governor of the area by the Persian King Darius. It was Zerubbabel, in partnership with the high priest Joshua, who undertook the task of rebuilding the Temple of Solomon which had been destroyed by the Babylonians.

The task of rebuilding Jerusalem, and especially the Temple, was fraught with political obstacles and physical danger. One could argue that the political situation surrounding Jerusalem was as heated then as it is now. Some historians argue that Zerubbabel’s Temple initiative was made possible only because Darius was distracted by revolts elsewhere. The project was a gutsy move that could have easily backfired in myriad of ways.

Zechariah’s vision and message to Zerubbabel was a divine affirmation. God had ordained the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. Zerubbabel did not have to carry the weight of the task himself nor depend only on his human efforts. This was God’s project and God’s spirit would be the power source by which it would be accomplished. Zerubbabel could depend on that, and I’m pretty sure he needed that affirmation.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking back over projects, initiatives, and ministries I’ve been involved in over the years. Many failures come to mind. In retrospect there was more than a pinch of human hubris and ego at the core of them. I can also think of a handful of projects, initiatives, and ministries that I’ve experienced which were more spiritually successful than human design, effort, or ingenuity could have devised. I sense that God, through Zechariah’s vision, was reminding Zerubbabel that his project was definitely not the former, but the latter.

As I stride down the backstretch of my earthly journey I find myself more and more discerning about where I spend my time, energy, and resources. I’ve only got so much “might” and “strength.” I find myself more intent on trying to discern where God’s Spirit is moving and tap into that flow, where my meager investment can yield the most spiritual benefit.

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” I didn’t see any trinkets or wall hangings with that one at the Big Box home decor store last week. Maybe I’ll keep my eye open for that one. Just something small for my office. Knowing the context of the phrase from today’s chapter, I can safely say that it’s a good affirmation and reminder for me, as well.

featured photo courtesy of m01229 via Flickr

“Then, Get on With It”

[Jesus] said to [Peter] the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John 21:18 (NRSV)

In the final chapter of John’s biography of Jesus, he wraps up a few loose ends. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, we’d left Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest as the cock was crowing. Peter, as Jesus predicted, denied he was associated with Jesus three times.

One can only imagine the shame that Peter felt. He had not only been one of the twelve followers Jesus called to be disciples, but he had also been part of Jesus’ inner circle along with James and John. Peter was a recognized leader of the group and even Jesus had indicated that Peter was to play a crucial role in Jesus’ plan.

How fascinating to find Peter back home, back in his boat, and back to his old trade. I can imagine the conversation among Jesus’ followers. “What do we do now?” they ask behind locked doors of Jerusalem. Peter is supposed to be leading. Peter is supposed to be taking of the keys of God’s kingdom and unlocking hearts. But shame hovers over Peter’s own heart and mind like a black wall cloud.

“I’m a failure,” I hear Peter whispering to himself. “I blew it,” he mutters, “Just like Jesus knew I would. Some leader I am. I disqualified myself. ” Peter looks at the others. They’ll never follow him now, anyway, he muses. “Pick another leader from among yourselves,” he says to them. “I’m going home. Back to Galilee. Back to my boat and my nets.” Peter throws in the towel.

But Jesus wasn’t finished with Peter. The risen Jesus follows to Galilee and meets Peter right where he is. This is also right where it all started. This is the same place Jesus first encountered the brash fisherman and called him to follow.

Three times Jesus asks Peter the same question, “Do you love me?”

Three times Peter answers, “Yes.”

Three affirmations of love trump three denials. Love conquers. Love beats shame. Love wins.

This morning I’m thinking about my own shame and feelings of failure and inadequacy. I’m thinking about my own feelings of being disqualified from what Jesus has called me to do. When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” I hear the question in my own heart.

“Yes,” my heart whispers in response. “You know I do.”

“Then, get on with it,” I hear God’s Spirit answer back.

Time to start my day.

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Blessing

And of Joseph he said:
Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choice gifts of heaven above,
    and of the deep that lies beneath;
Deuteronomy 33:13 (NRSV)

Along my life journey I have received words of incredible encouragement from family, teachers, and mentors:

You will do well in whatever you do.
Whatever you do, I know you’ll succeed.
You’ll do great. I know you will.

Those words are examples of what the ancients called a blessing. Most commonly given from father to son, king to subject, leader to follower, a blessing is a word of affirmation spoken to bless and encourage. Some blessings can be prophetic nature while others simply to strengthen and comfort the recipient.

In today’s chapter we find Moses approaching then end of the road. He is in the home stretch of his life journey, and the finish line is straight ahead. He gathers his people together and, tribe-by-tribe, he speaks over them a blessing. The blessing for each tribe is unique, and the themes include life, safety, strength, acceptance, abundance, provision, affluence, favor, possession, and etc.

Today, I’m thinking about my children, and others who live within the circles of my influence. I’m thinking about the opportunity I have to speak words of blessing into them. Conversely, I’m thinking about the curse of staying silent and not blessing those who I have the opportunity to encourage. I need not wait until the end of my life journey to speak a blessing over others. In fact, what a shame it would be for me to do so.

Shame-less

source: fabbriciuse via flickr
source: fabbriciuse via flickr

They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. Ezekiel 39:26 (NIV)

I reached a point as an adult in which I realized that for much of my life journey I had been plagued with an underlying sense of shame, 

Shame (noun) \ˈshām\ a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.

I felt a constant sense of being “less than” some sort of ubiquitous “should be.” I had a friend and therapist who once asked me to place a label to the core pain I felt deep in my spirit. After pondering the question for a week or two the answer I came up with was “not enough.”

This led me on a journey of learning more about shame. There is healthy shame and there is unhealthy shame. Like our appetite for food, healthy shame is a necessary part of a balanced life. Shame for our honest mistakes and shortcomings motivates us to check our behavior and make positive changes. But, appetites unbridled lead to unhealthy places. Shame that is unchecked and out of control leads to all sorts of negative consequences like negative self image, depression, seeking to cover our nagging negative feelings in unhealthy ways, and etc.

I came to realize over time that I was not alone in my struggle. Most people, whether they realize it or not, grapple with an underlying sense of shame. I have come to the conclusion that unhealthy shame is a very natural part of the human condition after The Fall. My discoveries led me to a time of study, introspection, and change. I began catching myself when my thoughts were given over to shame. I started consciously allowing myself to be affirmed in an active counter balance to my destructive self talk. As a result, I have I’ve found myself in much healthier places over time.

Today’s chapter is a continuation of the prophetic foreshadowing of the end times that began in yesterday’s chapter. I found it interesting that one of the restorative spiritual promises God gives is that the people will, in this climactic conclusion, “forget their shame.” I look forward to the Day when I can completely forget my shame.

Until then, I will continue on in my struggle to keep unhealthy shame in check, one day at a time.

Five Ways I Try to Bless My Family

IMG_7694Then all the people left, each for their own home, and David returned home to bless his family. 1 Chronicles 16:43 (NIV)

This little verse at the end of today’s chapter hit me like a ton of bricks this morning. David intentionally went home to “bless his family.” It’s a simple truth: I can be a blessing to my family, I can be a curse to my family, or I can be a non-factor. Which I will be is determined by my daily life, words, actions and decisions. I have found through experience that being a blessing to your family does not happen without intention.

I am really imperfect as a husband and father, but I do approach the roles with conscious intention and effort. Here are a five ways I consciously try to bless my family:

  • Keep my own spiritual life healthy. It starts with me. If things aren’t right in my own heart and life, I will not have the spiritual reserves to pour out to my loved ones.
  • Be considerate. This one is perhaps one that requires a lot of conscious mental effort for me. It’s as small and simple as taking a second to see if they need anything when I get up to refill my own glass. I’m a dreamer and a thinker. I get tunnel vision very easily, get lost in my own world, and forget to think about anyone else. I’ve learned that being a blessing to my family requires me to constantly and consciously cut through the fog of my own self-centric thoughts to consider, in the moment, what my family member needs and wants.
  • Speak words of love, gratitude and affirmation. Along the way I have come to realize just how important it is that my family hear me actually say what I feel and mean. How simple is it to say a few little words that go a long way:
    • I love you.
    • You look good. That looks good on you. You look beautiful
    • Well done.
    • Good job. I’m proud of you.
    • Thank you for _________ (dinner, doing the laundry, taking good care of me)
  • Serve them with a willing heart. One of the customer service skills that I’ve taught for years is an “ownership statement.” It’s one thing to do what the customer asks, but it makes an even stronger impression on the customer when you say, “Absolutely! I can do that for you.” I’ve always tried to make it a point with my family when asked to do something to respond “I’d be happy to do that for you.” Serving my loved ones is not a burden, it’s a blessing.
  • Send postcards. When I was in college and away from home for the first time, I learned the utter joy that comes with going to your mail box and finding a personal letter or postcard from a friend or family member. Realizing that my friend or loved one had taken the time to write a personal note, find my address, put a stamp on it and put it in the mail to me, that postcard became a tangible symbol of love. Now that the girls are grown and out on their own, I still try to send the occasional hand written postcard or personal note via snail mail. E-mail is easy, but a postcard is a little blessing.

Pursuit of Happiness #27

Today’s post pursuit of happiness post is actually a response to the message I heard in worship yesterday. It was a great reminder that we so often live each day wading through guilt and/or toxic shame which oozes into our souls from any number of sources. Followers of Jesus are so quick to believe the lies and critical blurts others throw our way, and so slow to believe the truth of our identity in Christ.

Many years ago I did a little personal study in which I listed out a host of affirmations about my identity in Christ from God’s message. I still pull this out and read through the list on occasion. It’s like spiritual chiropractic for me, straightening out my self-talk and helping me shed some of the twisted, shame based thoughts I whisper to myself. I post it here hoping that it might be an encouragement to others.

I urge you to find a quiet place and read through this list out loud, starting each line with “I am…” Your heart will feel lighter by the time you get to the end of the list!

I am…

fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)
made in the likeness of God (James 3:9)
worth more than many sparrows (Mt. 10:31; Lk 12:7)
God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10)
chosen (I Peter 1:2; 2:9)
crucified with Christ; Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)
brought near to God by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13)
made holy through the body of Christ once for all (Heb 10:10)
saved by God’s grace (Eph 2:5,8)
delivered from death to life (Rom 6:13)
forgiven – my sins remembered no more (I Jhn 2:12; Heb 10:17)
purified from all unrighteousness (I Jhn 1:9)
clean (Jhn 15:3; Jhn 13:10)
of those who believe and are saved (Heb 10:39)
in Christ (Jhn 14:20)
born anew (I Peter 1:23)
justified through faith (Rom 5:1)
set free from sin (Rom 6:18, 22)
no longer under supervision of the law (Gal 3:25)
released from the law (Rom 7:6)
healed (I Peter 2:24)
given fullness in Christ (Col 2:10)
in him who is true (I Jhn 5:20)
raised up with Christ and seated in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1)
blessed (I Peter 2:9)
receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb 12:28)
son/daughter of God (Gal 3:26)
an heir of God (Gal 4:6; I Jhn 3:2; Rom 8:17)
son/daughter of light (I Th 5:5)
a member of God’s household (Eph 2:19)
a citizen of heaven (Eph 2:19)
a branch (Jhn 15:5)
a friend of God (Jhn 15:14)
God’s field (I Cor 3:9)
God’s building (I Cor 3:9)
God’s temple (I Cor 3:17; 2 Cor 6:16)
God’s house (Hebrews 3:6)
the body of Christ (I Cor 12:27)
one with other believers (Gal 3:28)
a member of one body (Eph 4:25)
of a people belonging to God (I Peter 2:9)
called (Jude 1:1)
God’s fellow worker (I Cor 3:9)
of a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9)
witness (Mt 24:48; I Thess 2:10)
competent as a minister (2 Cor 3:6)
led by the Spirit of God (Gal 5:18)
a letter from Christ (2 Cor 3:3)
the aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2:15)
Christ’s ambassador (2 Cor 5:20)
the light of the world (Mt 5:14; Eph 5:8)
the salt of the earth (Mt 5:13)
more than a conqueror (Rom 8:37)
being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16)
enriched in every way (I Cor 1:5)
given a trust (I Cor 4:2)
looking for a city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14)

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