Tag Archives: Behavior

The Freedom That Leads to Slavery

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

I grew up in a very different time. Parents weren’t as protective and overbearing with children as they are today. They couldn’t. The technology didn’t exist as it does now. As a kid I had quite a bit of freedom. I roamed our neighborhood with other kids. My Schwinn Sting-Ray five speed bicycle expanded the reach of adventure. I rode my bike to the bowling alley, to the pool, or to the wooded areas at the end of Madison and by the Des Moines River. All of this without cell phones or my parents having any idea where I was or what I was doing most of the time.

Of course, this freedom afforded plenty of opportunity to get in trouble. I can think of kids in my neighborhood who used their own freedom to push the limits of acceptable behavior. Often, I was invited and encouraged to join them. Occasionally, I did follow friends into doing what I knew was wrong, but I had a healthy conscience that usually (not always) kept me from repeating those behaviors. As I look back and remember some of those moments when I was encouraged by friends to misbehave, one of the regular arguments provided was that I would be breaking the shackles of parental or societal rules and experiencing freedom of doing whatever I wanted.

I’ve observed along my journey that “freedom” is regularly mentioned by those who propose marginal behavior. I grew up on the tail end of the “free love” generation which was supposed to free people from relational repressions but I never saw it creating healthier, happier individuals. I remember a friend from college who was fighting his own battle with drug addiction. He’d been encouraged to take LSD to “free his mind” but the story he told me was not one of freedom.

In today’s chapter, Peter was writing his letter to early Jesus followers to address a very similar issue. Men had joined with followers of Jesus and then told them all sorts of stories about how people were free to engage in all the marginal behaviors practiced by the pagan religions around them. Con artists were stealing money from the local gatherings of believers and leading people astray in their promises that people were free to do whatever they wanted as Jesus’ forgiveness gave them carte blanche grace and forgiveness. Peter warns the fledgling followers that the “freedom” these heretics were promising would only end in a different kind of enslavement.

This morning I’m thinking about freedom. Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It’s one of those quotes of Jesus that I’ve observed gets only partially quoted. People love to quote the last part, but leave off the first part. I learned long ago that when I use my freedom to do whatever I want, it doesn’t lead to pleasant places. In fact, the so called “freedom” that many people espouse only leads to a different kind of enslavement.

Christ set me free, not to do what I want, but to do what I ought.

Balak’s an Idiot (and so am I)

Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed themthese three times.”
Numbers 24:10 (NIV)

Yesterday morning, after writing my post and finishing my quiet time, I settled in at the breakfast table. Wendy was just finishing reading our previous chapter as she waited for me.

Balak is an idiot,” she said with a chuckle and shake of her head.

I laughed, and agreed with her. The narrative clearly portrays the Moabite king as not being the sharpest tool in the shed. Balaam the seer clearly spoke the terms up front to Balak. He would say only what the Lord told him to say, no matter how much treasure Balak offered Balaam to say what he wanted to hear.

Nevertheless, Balak makes Balaam view the Hebrew encampment from three different vantage points, expecting Balaam’s prophetic message to change with the view. When the prophecy doesn’t change to his favor, Balak tells Balaam that he’s not going to pay. Duh. Balaam reminds Balak that he knew that up front.

It is out of Alcoholics Anonymous that we got the popular notion that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It appears Balak could have benefitted from the Twelve Steps.

In the quiet this morning, however, I’m reminded that I can often find my own reflection in the individuals I criticize. There are stretches of my own journey in which I was looped in endless cycles of brokenness. Truth be told, I have found that significant spiritual progress usually requires breaking systemic negative patterns of thought or behavior. The further you progress the deeper, more intimate, and less obvious those negative patterns are to the casual observer. Recovering Alcoholics will tell you that they once thought drinking was their problem. Journeying through the Twelve Steps you discover that your addiction is just the tip of the iceberg.

This morning as I laugh at King Balak’s idiocy, I have to humbly confess that I am also laughing at myself.

Have a good weekend, my friend.

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Matthew 15:16-20 (NIV)

Religion has always been good at making a lot of rules. This was certainly true in Jesus’ day and we read about it in today’s chapter. Jesus’ followers didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before they ate. The religious leaders were appalled that Jesus’ followers didn’t follow their rules. Jesus rolled His eyes. This was one of many religious rules that Jesus and His followers broke from not picking grain on the Sabbath day of rest, to healing on the Sabbath, to fraternizing with sinners, and on and on and on.

Rules aren’t necessarily a bad thing. God gave the initial set of rules through Moses, and they were a guide for life lived decently and in order. Of course, over time the religious people took the basic rules and made even more rules to clarify the original rules. Then they added more rules labeled “traditions.” Rules, upon, rules, upon rules that moved things away from the heart of the matter until rule keeping became a religious, behavioral litmus test. But, at the core the original rules meant to guide life still hold true. Jesus said, “I didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.”

In today’s chapter, Jesus makes it very clear where He is coming from on the subject of rules. He tells us that it all comes down to the spiritual condition of our hearts. If my spirit is diseased with pride, anger, hatred, grudges, greed, lust, prejudice, bitterness, envy, malice, jealousy, impurity, et al than it doesn’t matter how well I follow the religious rules about propriety and what to eat, what to wear, or what not to do. And, simply following a labyrinth of religious rules is not going to change the spiritual condition of my heart.

Jesus came to do heart surgery for humanity. He came to change our hearts, knowing that a heart that is spiritually healthy and connected to God’s Spirit will continually beat with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. It will be motivated to naturally fulfill the only important rules. Out of that healthy, Spirit-connected heart will flow thoughts, words, and actions marked by that same love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, consideration, faithfulness, and self-discipline.

This morning I’m reminded that rules of behavior are impotent to change the condition of my heart, but my heart, transformed by Jesus, will powerfully and perpetually change my behaviors and relationships for the betterment of myself and others.

Over and Over and Over and Over and Over

In recent months I’ve been reading articles about the release of the script of J.K. Rowling’s production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There is a certain amount of frustration among fans who purchased what they thought was a book, only to find that it is actually the script of the stage play. Of course, a novel and a script are two very different things. They both tell a story, but in very different ways. A script requires something more of you as a reader. The author gives you the characters words, but you have to use your imagination to fill in more of the blanks. It’s understandable that many are experiencing frustration with it.

Along my journey I’ve come to understand that there is a similar frustration among those who undertake the reading of God’s Message from Genesis through Revelation. It’s not a novel. It’s not a script. It’s a compilation of writings (and different types of writing) authored across a large section of history. The content is not categorized chronologically but by author and the type of writing. It tells a story, but in a very different way than the way we are used to reading stories. It requires something of me as a reader to connect the dots and see the larger picture.

Even as I wade into the writings of Isaiah, it’s important for me as a reader to understand that I’m reading a smaller compilation of Isaiah’s prophetic poetry. I have to step back and look at the larger picture. I have to connect the dots. I have to see the patterns.

One of the patterns that emerges in prophetic writing is the repeated, cyclical themes of sin, judgement, deliverance, and redemption. I can see it already in the first few chapters:

The people rebel against God:

I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
Isaiah 1:2

The consequences of rebellion are God’s judgement and punishment:

Your men shall fall by the sword
    and your warriors in battle.
And her gates shall lament and mourn;
    ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground.;
Isaiah 2:25-26

When the people repent of their ways, God delivers:

On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.
Isaiah 4:2

Ultimately, God redeems and restores in glorious ways:

 Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
Isaiah 4:5-6

This repetition happens over and over and over and over and over and over again. In the compilation of Isaiah’s writings this pattern can be seen on a macro level (Chapters 1-39 are much heavier on judgement; Chapters 40-66 are much heavier on deliverance and redemption). The pattern can also be seen on a micro-level within a chapter or a few verses. The theme is repeated continually.

This morning I’m thinking about the cyclical, repetitive nature of my own behaviors. No matter how hard I try, I sometimes do or say things that are just wrong or inappropriate. When that happens, things don’t go so well. Relationships are strained or broken. Sometimes I suffer from the consequences of those inappropriate words or actions. I feel guilty. I am guilty. I repent, turning to Jesus whose sacrifice for me on the cross affords forgiveness, mercy, and grace in spite of my repetitive bullheadedness and boneheadedness. Redeemed, not by what I’ve done, but what God has done for me, I humbly and gratefully continue to let go of what is behind and press on to love others as Jesus loved me.

Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over….again.

Getting to the Root of Things

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?
James 4:1 (NRSV)

The further I get in my life journey, the more I have come to understand that I, as a human, am led by my appetites and cravings. The institutional churches I have attended my entire life do not talk much about this. There are the behavioral prohibitions (e.g. “don’t do [fill in the blank]”) but we don’t talk much about understanding and addressing our underlying appetites, and I find it both tragic and fascinating.

Appetites and cravings are actually Theology 101. They were there in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden when the whole thing fell apart:

So when the Eve saw that the tree was good for food (appetite to fill our basic physical desires), and that it was a delight to the eyes (appetite to covet & acquire what delights our eye), and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (appetite for power and elevation of status) , she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to Adam, who was with her, and he ate.

Looking back, I can see the parallel to my own journey. When I sit down and give consideration to the rotten behaviors which have continually tripped me up in my pursuit of Jesus, when I trace those behaviors back to the branches of wayward thoughts, to the trunk of ill begotten desires, I will eventually dig down to find them all rooted in rotten appetites:

  • The appetite to indulge natural human appetites to excess.
  • The appetite to crave what others have and acquire what I do not
  • The appetite for god-like power and control over others

This morning I’m thinking about the ways I need to make positive changes in my own life. If I’m going to address the rotten fruit that plagues my life, then I have to dig to the appetites in which they were rooted. If I don’t allow God access to dig out the root appetites in my soul, then I can’t expect to see a change to the fruit that is evident in my day-to-day behaviors.

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Servant of One Master

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.
Romans 8:12 (NIV)

Yesterday my friend, Matthew, and I shared the third of four messages we prepared for our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on the topic of shame. Not coincidentally, Paul’s letter to the Romans which we are currently journeying through on our chapter-a-day sojourn figures heavily in the teaching. Without mentioning it, I chose to read through Romans as it dovetailed nicely with what I’m already pondering and sharing on Sundays.

We have a group of prayer warriors among our local gathering and it is customary for one of them to pray over those who teach after worship. Yesterday as our friend, Vicki, came to pray for Matthew and me she said she had been given a vision for me and wanted to share it.

She saw me on a dark stage. Small lights began to twinkle and swirl around. The number began to grow until they lit the stage. Tear streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees feeling the “freedom and love” God was pouring into me.

Our series on shame largely focuses on the dilemma that many of us feel. Our core sense of shame leads us to feelings of condemnation which then lead us to behaviors and “covers” (think fig leaf) to feel better about ourselves until those behaviors become addictive and deeply rooted patterns to which we become enslaved. Followers of Jesus know we are to be obedient to what we Jesus calls us to do, which is often contradictory to the deep-seated behaviors to which we feel enslaved. As Paul put it in his letter: The things I don’t want to do I end up doing, and the things I want to do I end up not doing! Who will set me free from this?! 

What was fascinating about Vicki’s vision yesterday is that she was describing, in detail, the opening scene of a play Wendy and I attended in Minneapolis a few years ago. The dark stage, the little twinkle lights swirling and growing in number until the stage was lit. Wendy and I often talk about it as one of the most breathtaking experiences we’ve had watching live theatre. The name of the play? The Servant of Two Masters.

Those who follow Jesus often feel the chaos of feeling like we are stuck trying to serve two masters, both the flesh and the Spirit. The point of today’s chapter and of the series that Matthew and I are teaching is that Jesus came to set us free from being “chained” and “obligated” to the flesh. We don’t serve two masters, but One.

This morning I’m thinking about Truffaldino, the lovable and comic trickster trapped by his own devices in Servant of Two Masters as he gets caught trying to serve two very different masters. I’m wondering if God sometimes finds it comical the way we foolishly swear obedience to serve Him and then sneak around trying to serve our own earthly appetites as if we’re being secretive about the whole thing. As Vicki envisioned, I drop to my knees in acknowledgement of what I have come to know: Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection set me free from any fleshly obligations. As Jesus said, “If I set you free, you are free indeed.”

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The featured image on this post is a picture of a Zanni mask (source: wikipedia) used in a genre of historical theatre called “commedia.” Servant of Two Masters belongs to this genre. The Zanni mask was worn by the dispossessed immigrant worker, often a trickster, like Truffaldino who finds himself trying to serve two different masters at the same time.

You’re Right, You’re Right…

After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
Judges 16:4 (NRSV)

There’s a great running gag in the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. Sally’s friend, played by Carrie Fisher [Star Wars tie in!], is in a long term affair with a married man. She continues to complain that he’s never going to leave his wife for her. Her friends always roll their eyes and agree. She always ends with, “You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.” It’s one of those lines that is regularly used in our house when addressing patterns of behavior that don’t change.

By the time we get to today’s chapter, Samson should recognize that his lust for women has been nothing but trouble. His first engagement ended in bloodshed and his fiance getting burned alive with her father. Sleeping with a prostitute ended up almost getting him killed in ambush. Now Delilah is clearly conniving the big man, and he doesn’t seem to see it. Samson! Dude! Your choice in chicks always ends badly.

You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right,” he says as he walks into the brothel.

Today I’m thinking about those patterns of behavior that always seem to end up with me in a bad place. It could be in a bad life situation, an emotionally bad place, a physically unhealthy place, or a relationally sticky place. Those patterns in which my conscience, Holy Spirit, or a combination of both whisper to my spirit, “Dude, something’s got to change.”

I can either mutter, “You’re right. You’re right, I know you’re right” before continuing in old patterns, or I can choose to address those problem areas and break the cycle.

It’s almost New Year’s. I’m just sayin’.