Tag Archives: Broken

Broken Down and Built Up Again

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NIV)

Life is a series of screw ups. Let’s face it. I like to project an image of having it all together. I’ve spent most of my life thinking that there’s some acceptable level of life perfection out there (that everyone else seemingly has) while I quietly haplessly flail my appendages behind a series  of nicely painted stage flats. I’ve come to the conclusion along the journey that the real illusion is thinking that any one is any different than me. God’s Message is perfectly clear (in several different places) on this count:

  • No temptation has seized you except what is common to all
  • There’s no one righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”
  • All have sinned and fall short.”
  • Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

I’ve always loved the word picture God gave Jeremiah in today’s chapter. He tells Jeremiah to throw on his sandals because he was going on field trip. They end up at the house of the local potter who was working at his wheel. If you’ve ever tried your hand at a potter’s wheel you know how tricky it is. It looks so deceptively easy, but one slight miscue and the whole pot falls apart in your hands and you’re starting again from scratch.

I had a friend one time who was walking with me through a terribly difficult stretch of my life journey. I went through a litany of all the things that had gone wrong in my life, the mistakes I’d made, the consequences I was facing, and the stresses that felt as if they were tearing me apart. My friend smiled at me warmly and quietly observed that my life was breaking down, being “deconstructed” so that God could remake it like a Potter reworking the marred mess of clay in His hands.

It’s a good thing to have wise companions walking alongside you on your journey.

I find myself so drawn to this notion of the “one-and-done” transformation, the miraculous touch leading to a perfect ending, or God suddenly drawing my number in the Life lottery and suddenly everything is as it should be.

I’ve come to observe that the truth is a lot earthier, more substantive and repetitive. The word picture of the Potter and the clay is not a “once in a lifetime” deal. Rather, I find that life is a constant process of being broken down and rebuilt. My job is to allow Living Water to make me more pliable in the Potter’s hand, to release myself to the steady flow of the wheel spinning, to allow myself to be molded at the Potter’s touch; To stop resisting, even when life breaks me down again and the process starts all over.

Have a good week, friends. Here’s to being pliable.

Return

Return, O faithless children,
    I will heal your faithlessness.
“Here we come to you;

     for you are the Lord our God.”
Jeremiah 3:22 (NRSVCE)

I recall an episode with one of our daughters a number of years ago. The details of the episode are irrelevant. Our daughter had placed a considerable amount of relational distance between herself and me. She made some choices that she assumed would not make me very happy, and she basically hid from me for a period of time.

When things were eventually revealed I was, admittedly, upset. My anger, however, was not so much with the choices she feared would upset me as it was with the fact that she felt she must hide and distance herself from me.

“When have we ever been unable to talk things out?”
“When have I ever been unreasonable?”
“When have I ever demanded my own way of you?”
“When have I not allowed you to make your own choices?”
“What must you think of me that you can’t be honest with me?”
“Do you honestly think I would reject you?”
“Do you not realize how much I love you?”
“Do you honestly think my love for you is so conditional?”

These are the questions that plagued me. The injury I felt ultimately had less to do with the choices she had made, for they affected me very little. The injury I felt had more to do with the relational choices   between her and me. They affected me deeply. I love her so much.

Eventually, we talked. We reasoned. There were injuries and misunderstandings that lay underneath the surface. I am not a perfect parent. She is not a perfect child. We slogged through the hard stuff. We forgave. We reconciled. We restored. We learned valuable lessons about ourselves and each other in the process. We let go of what was behind and pressed forward. Old things pass away.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah’s prophetic poem is about a heavenly father’s frustration with wayward Israel and wayward Judah. Anger and frustration are present, but ultimately there is simply a call to return, to come home, to be reconciled, and for relationship to be restored.

“Return” is a recurring theme throughout the Great Story. Jesus took it to a new level in the beautiful parable of the Prodigal son. Jesus would experience the theme interpersonally in Peter’s denial and ultimate restoration on the shores of Galilee. It is a human story and a Spirit story. We all experience it in various forms both relationally and spiritually in our own respective journeys.

This morning in the quiet I am thinking about the theme of “return” in my own multi-layered experiences across 50-plus years. I’m thinking about my own wayward actions as a son of my parents. I’m thinking about my experiences as a father. I’m thinking about my own prodigal stretches in life when I walked in the shoes of my own daughter; When I made the same mistaken projections and misguided choices.

It’s easy to read God’s Message and to feel the weight of a Father’s frustration so acutely as to miss the heart and the hurt of a loving parent aching for His child to return. Jesus came to recalibrate our thinking and to reconcile us to God…

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Return. The Father is waiting.

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.

Still a Small Cog in a Broken Machine

O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.
Isaiah 3:12b (NRSV)

As I write this post, the United States is amidst the most strange political season in my lifetime. In fact, data indicate it may be the most unusual presidential election in our relatively short history as the two major candidates are the more unpopular than any since we gained the ability to track such things.

In my life journey I’ve observed that all human governments are given to corruption. Even the Vatican, a relatively small independent state presumably dedicated to Christ, is constantly fighting corruption (especially at the Vatican Bank). All human organizations are run by spiritually broken human beings. In the case of national governments you will find leaders who are given to indulging their self-centric appetites. Rules are rigged to favor the incumbent, to hold on to power, to profit from power, and to maintain the status quo. Every human government from socialist to monarchy to representative republic shows evidence of this fact.

This should not come as a surprise to any follower of Jesus.

Jesus said that He came to proclaim to us the Kingdom of God. But, He made it clear that the Kingdom of God is not like the Kingdoms and governments of this world:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

This morning I am, once again, reminded of my dual citizenship. I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of God’s Kingdom. One is temporal, the other eternal. One is of this world, the other is not. Citizenship in the latter does not excuse me from my responsibilities in the former. In fact, it only makes me more responsible. God’s kingdom compels me to exercise my civic rights and responsibilities in this world as a representative of God’s kingdom.

Like many other Americans, I am not excited about any of the choices our political system has given us this election cycle. Like all human governments, our is ultimately broken. Nevertheless, I have a responsibility as a citizen of this system to be considerate, to be part of the process, and to vote as I am led. Leaders may confuse and mislead, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us this morning, but it does not exempt me from my own personal responsibilities as a small cog in the imperfect machine.

chapter a day banner 2015

Appetites

source: life on the edge via Flickr
source: life on the edge via Flickr

Everyone’s toil is for their mouth,
yet their appetite is never satisfied.
Ecclesiastes 6:7 (NIV)

Twice in my life journey I have gone through the process of dropping a significant amount of weight. In both instances, the key for me was taking control of my appetite for food and the pleasure I derived from indulging it. Realizing the truth of Solomon’s observation that my appetite was never satisfied, I knew that I had to discipline myself to be content with less. I allowed myself to feel hungry between meals and to patiently wait for meal time. When meal time came, I chose smaller portions and soon found that my body could be fully satisfied with far less than I had grown accustomed to eating. Instead of indulging in a handful of cookies, I satiated my after dinner sweet tooth with a single square of Ghiradelli chocolate.

I soon realized that my body followed wherever my appetite led, and it adjusted to my intake. When I indulged my appetite, my body started craving more and more. When I controlled my appetite, my body started to work quite contentedly on much less.

You may have also noticed that I mentioned having to drop weight twice. This is because of another important lesson I learned the hard way. Without perseverance and diligence, my appetite will slowly and subtly return to craving “just a little bit more” until it is consistently being indulged more than necessary. Over time I found myself right back where I started (well, close to where I started).

Through this experience, I learned that there is a pattern in life that I must ceaselessly and personally recognize and address. We all, every one of us, have unhealthy appetites. Our craving leads to indulgence which, in turn, develops into habit (and sometimes addiction), and left unabated will usually leads to negative consequences and some degree of brokenness. Sometimes we can wrestle back control of an appetite through reason and will. Sometimes we need the help of others. Sometimes, as the Twelve Steps has so powerfully taught millions, we cannot do it without surrendering to our Higher Power. Tragically, some lose the battle and feeding their appetites leads to death.

Today, I am thinking about my own appetites and cravings. I am taking it one day, one step at a time.

(Note: I gave a message on this very subject a few years ago. If you have any interest you can listen by clicking here)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 31

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am ignored as if I were dead,
    as if I were a broken pot.
 I have heard the many rumors about me….
Psalm 31:12-13a (NLT)

I went through a divorce several years ago. Like most people who go through a divorce I never thought I’d end up there. It has been the single most difficult stretch of my journey.

People react in silly ways to divorce. I find this to be especially true in the church where I learned that one friend believes I “put my soul in jeopardy” by getting a divorce as if Jesus’ grace and forgiveness ends at the entrance to divorce court. A year or so ago I discovered that a leader in my church was uncomfortable having me involved in a particular role because of the scarlet letter “D” on my life’s resume’. Then there are the friends who have quietly chosen to walk away from their relationship with me. Like the song writer of today’s psalm, I’ve heard rumors through the years of what “they” say, and I have sometimes been made to feel like a broken pot.

I know I can’t control what others say and think. I know that it’s human nature for people to cast quick judgment. I know that God is the only judge with whom I need be concerned and I am being honest when I say that most of the time I could care less what other people say or think they know about me. Yet, it is equally true to admit that there are times when I really don’t like being made to feel like a broken, useless pot.

When I read the lyrics above, my mind went immediately to Jeremiah 18 when God told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house. As Jeremiah watched, the potter took a marred pot and fashioned it into something new and useful. The central theme of God’s Message is that He takes broken, discarded and left for dead people and redeems them – fashioning them into something completely new and filling them with Life.

If you heard rumor that I am a divorced, broken and useless pot then I must inform you that what you’ve heard is completely true…

…you just haven’t heard the whole story.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 50

It's your sins that put you here, your wrongs that got you shipped out. Isaiah 50:1b (MSG)

We wouldn't have a healthcare problem, were it not for these bodies slowly returning to dust.
We wouldn't have war, were it not for hatred, prejudice, covetousness, and pride.
We wouldn't have a welfare and poverty problem, were it not for selfishness, greed, sloth and corruption.
We wouldn't have divorce, were it not for self-centeredness, resentment, brokenness and infidelity.
We wouldn't have an problem with obesity or STDs, were it not for appetites out of control.
We wouldn't have tragedies, were it not for poor choices married to imperfection.

We wouldn't be lost if our own imperfect actions, words, choices, thoughts, and motivations hadn't brought us to this place.

Lord, have mercy on us.