Tag Archives: Character

“I’m Over It!” (Or Not)

"I'm Over It!" (Or, Not) [CaD Gen 41] Wayfarer

Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
Genesis 41:51 (NIV)

I was directing a play many years ago. As the director, I asked my actors to do a study of their characters. I gave them specific questions to answer about their character’s life and background. Through my studies and acting experiences, I found this to be an invaluable tool in taking performance to a higher level. Few actors, especially in community theatre, actually followed through in doing these assignments and it’s not like I could make them do it. I watched those who did measurably improve their skills and create some memorable performances.

One of those who did was a lead actor who attacked the character work and wrote some great stuff in a journal. During the rehearsal process, I allowed me to read what had been written about the character. It was thoughtful, detailed, and really, really good. I noticed, however, that there was one thing that was glaringly missing in the character study: There was not a single mention of a father in the character’s life. When I mentioned this, it opened a doorway to a much deeper life conversation. Actors tend to bring all that we are, including our blind spots, to our characters. There was a reason a father was not mentioned in the character study. It was a touchy subject for my actor in real life.

Today’s chapter is a major turning point in Joseph’s story. His life, like Limony Snicket, has been a series of unfortunate events. What Joseph doesn’t know is that each circumstance has been leading him to the fulfillment of the dream he had as a child; The dream that started the chain of unfortunate events. Pharaoh has a dream that plagues him. His cupbearer remembers Joseph interpreting his dream and tells Pharaoh. Pharaoh has Joseph brought to him from prison. God, through Joseph, interprets the dream. Joseph is raised to the position of VP (Vice-Pharaoh) of Egypt.

What struck me in today’s chapter was the fact that Joseph had a son and names him “Mannaseh.” The name sounds like a derivative of the Hebrew word for “forgets,” and Joseph says, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that there are some things we never forget and we never really “get over them.” This is especially true of the soul wounds that come from fathers and family. When I read of Joseph saying that he has forgotten the soul wounds of being beaten, almost murdered, and sold into slavery by his own brothers, my own soul cynically cried, “Foul!” When I’ve asked friends with serious father wounds how they’ve dealt with it and they’ve told me, “It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m over it” it’s never true. In my experience, one never “gets over” a soul wound (especially father wounds). Rather, I have to “get through” it and do the hard work of understanding just how intimately the wound is a part of me. Ignoring it allows it to be a blind spot forever plaguing my journey. Walking through it is the opportunity for it to teach me wisdom.

Despite the joy and redemption that Joseph is feeling with his deliverance, his exalted position, and the birth of a son, Joseph has definitely not forgotten his troubles and his father’s household. God has him on a collision course to face those soul wounds head-on.

And, that’s another thing I’ve observed and experienced along my spiritual journey. Until I consciously walk “through” my soul wounds, address them, process them, and learn from them, they continue to bleed into my life again, and again, and again. I can say “I’m over it” as much as I want, but the honest subtext of that statement is “I’m ignoring it.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Flawed Characters

Flawed Characters (CaD Gen 30) Wayfarer

Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
Genesis 30:22-24 (NIV)

One of the things Wendy and I have enjoyed doing the past year or so is to watch some of the epic film series in order. This summer we watched all eleven movies of the Star Wars canon in the chronological order of the story arc. We’ve begun doing this with the Marvel Universe.

One of the things that she and I have discussed about the Harry Potter films, in particular, is that they were written and produced with a fatal flaw. None of the films’ writers and directors knew the entire story until the final installment because they were produced as the story was still being told. There was, therefore, important story elements in the earlier books that were important threads to the larger story, but those telling the particular episode of the epic didn’t know this or couldn’t see it.

Along my journey, I’ve observed a common flaw with those who read and study the Great Story. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the immediate episode I’m reading that I lose sight that this episode is a thread in the larger theme that the Author of Life is telling.

Today’s chapter contains two stories that can be, quite frankly, head-scratchers. Both episodes of Jacob’s story flashback to earlier events and they foreshadow important elements of the story to come.

The first episode is a great birthing contest between sisters Leah and Rachel, both wives of Jacob. The second is Jacob’s deceptive scheme to increase his herds at his uncle’s expense.

In the culture of that day, providing your husband with a male heir was of utmost importance. In fact, a wife who did not produce a son by a prescribed period of time could nullify the marriage. In many cases, a wife lived with her father’s house until she did produce a male heir. The rivalry between sisters fuels their desire to win favor by producing sons for Jacob. Rachel’s barrenness and her demand that Jacob bear sons by her servant are flashbacks to Grandma Sarah who did the same thing. Likewise, Jacob’s shrewd deceit of his Uncle Laban in increasing his flocks hearkens back to the theme of deceit that pervades Rebekah’s family and Jacob’s life.

The story also foreshadows important elements in the story to come. Of all the sons born to Jacob, two are going to figure prominently in the rest of Genesis and in the history of the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah’s son, Judah will lead the tribe from which King David and the future Messiah will come. Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, will live a life of exile and redemption, ultimately saving the entire family and becoming the conduit through which the next major chapter of the Great Story will be told.

The forest that is often lost in the trees of this story is the covenant God gave Abraham to expand his descendants and bless all the nations of the earth. The blessing that Jacob is part of. The birthing contest, with all of its human flaws, conflict, and intrigue, is going to exponentially increase Abraham’s descendants. The many sons of Jacob will become the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself again contemplating the fact that the Great Story is being told through flawed, sinful human beings. I can look at each character from Abraham to Rachel and find character flaws, sins, and mistakes. Yet, with the exception of Jesus, that’s true of every human character in the Great Story.

That’s true of me.

Jacob, Rachel, and Leah are part of the larger story of Abraham’s covenant. Abraham’s covenant is part of the larger story of God redeeming fallen humanity. With no one to use but sinful human beings, God weaves the storyline through human failings, ultimately redeeming them in the larger work of ultimate redemption which is the meta-theme of the Great Story itself.

And, in the quiet this morning, I take comfort in that. In this way, I am Jacob. I am Rachel. I am Rebekah and Laban. Jesus placed His ministry into the hands of twelve flawed human beings which they passed on to other flawed human beings, and it has passed from flawed human being to flawed human being until it ultimately reached me.

I am a flawed human, but that does not disqualify me from playing my role in this penultimate drama. It does not cancel me in God’s eyes. It merely makes me part of the meta-theme of redemption, just like every other human in the Great Story.

I recently heard that the great actor, Alan Rickman, was considering quitting the role of Severus Snape in the series of Harry Potter films because Snape seemed like a one-dimensional, irredeemably bad character. J.K. Rowling pulled him aside to explain the powerful, redemptive role that Snape plays in the epic, which does not become fully clear until the end. Gratefully, he stuck with the role.

Sometimes, the seemingly irredeemable characters are essential to the ultimate story of redemption.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Proven Character

Proven Character (CaD Ruth 3) Wayfarer

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Ruth 3:11 (NIV)

At the suggestion of a friend, Wendy and I have been listening to the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill which chronicles the story of a megachurch in Seattle that became one of the largest and most influential churches in America, and then disappeared almost over night. In telling the story of Mars Hill, the podcast also shares a larger story about the history of megachurches in America and their pastors, including Willowcreek in Chicago, where I attended regularly during my college years.

One of the most fascinating common themes of these stories is that of the talented, charismatic pastors who rose to positions of incredible prominence and celebrity status, then had their own very personal and public descent into scandal. The stories reveal a pattern. Very talented and charismatic young men who rocketed into positions of power and leadership in their 20s and 30s, arguably before their characters were fully formed through the process of experience. And, these were churches they themselves started, so the systems that grew up around them protected them and allowed them to fire, threaten, minimize, harass, shame, or marginalize anyone within the system who they didn’t trust or deemed personally disloyal. One said it plainly : “We value loyalty over honesty.”

In today’s chapter, we find Ruth, the widowed foreigner, boldly taking the initiative with Boaz. With suggestions and instructions from her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth dresses herself up in her best outfit and puts on her best perfume. After Boaz has feasted and made merry with this servants in celebration of the harvest, he goes with the other men to sleep by the grain pile to protect it from robbers. Ruth uncovers the feet of Boaz and lies next to him. When he wakes up and asks who is lying there, Ruth asks him to “spread your garment over me” which was a request for Boaz to marry her in fulfillment of his obligation as a guardian-redeemer. Similar customs are still practiced in some middle east cultures today.

Boaz, whom the author has already established as a man of faith and good character, then observes that Ruth has proven herself to be a woman of “noble character” and everyone in the community knows it. What’s interesting is that the Hebrew word for “noble character” is the same that is used in the famous passage of Proverbs 31 which describes an ideal, godly woman. The phrase is the only used three times in the Old Testament: Ruth 3:11, Proverbs 31:10, and Proverbs 12:4.

Boaz then tells Ruth that there is a potential glitch in the matrix. There is an unnamed kinsman-redeemer who is closer in relation. Boaz must defer if the closer relative wishes to redeem Ruth and marry her. He vows to settle the issue immediately, and sends Ruth back to Naomi with a gift of more grain.

One of the themes of this tender story is that each of the main characters behave with proven character. Naomi, in her emptiness tries to do right by her daugthers-in-law. Ruth does right by Naomi and behaves honorably so that an entire community sees her as a woman of “noble character” despite being a foreigner and a widow. Boaz is a man of faith, kindness, generosity, and handles Ruth’s bold request honestly and honorably.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the believers in Rome who were facing persecution:

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

There is a spiritual maturation process that happens in facing trials, difficulties, and suffering in life. Character is not a spiritual gift, nor is it cheaply acquired. Character is developed by walking through the valleys on this life journey, persevering, pressing on, and learning the harsh lessons experience. Boaz is not a young man. Neither is Naomi. Naomi and Ruth are walking through a long, dark valley on life’s road. Each of them is a person of genuine character.

Which brings me back to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and the observation it makes regarding the character issues of young pastors who found themselves in positions of prominence and power relatively early in their life journeys before experience, trial, perseverance, and wisdom could fully develop character which led to tragic ends. I confess that as a young man I admired and was envious of some of these individuals and their success. Looking back from my current waypoint on life’s road, there is no doubt in my mind that had I been in their shoes I would have met a similar, scandalous crash-and-burn. Believe me, I had to experience my own character-honing failures, mistakes, and tragedies in those years. I just didn’t have millions of people watching. And for that, I’m grateful.

“There, but for the grace of God…”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Hope and the Pit

Hope, and the Pit (CaD Ps 30) Wayfarer

O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Psalm 30:3 (NRSVCE)

A couple of weeks ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers and spoke about Hope in Death. I’ve been doing a lot of meditating on death recently, mainly in conjunction with that message, but also because of the pandemic. Fear of contracting the virus and not surviving is very real.

In my meditation, I’ve observed how prevalent death is in most all of our stories. Antagonists are trying to kill protagonists. Protagonists are trying to avoid being killed. Writers of films and television shows love to stir our emotions by allowing us to witness what had to have been the death of our favorite character and then stir them again when it’s revealed the character actually survived. In the ending of Yellowstone, one of our favorites the writers left us with the classic season cliffhanger and we’ll have to wait a year to find out if a character survived. Wendy and I binged all ten season of the British whodunnit Vera this summer (loved it!) and of course all classic mysteries are predicated on death. The shows start with a dead body.

In short, I’ve observed that death is everywhere we turn for both news and entertainment, even though I don’t really think about it that much.

Today’s psalm, once again penned by King David, tells a story. David thought he was going to die. Whether it was sickness, war wound, or a combination of both is not known. In the opening verse he cries out to God for healing because God “brought up his soul from Sheol and restored him from those who go down to the Pit.”

Human understanding and belief systems with regard to death and the afterlife have evolved over time. In Part 1 of my podcast on Time I talked about how human history is like a life cycle. Humanity itself is growing, maturing, and changing just a you and I grow, change, and mature on this life journey. The Hebrews in David’s day believed a lot like other Mesopotamian cultures. After life was a shadowy, uncertain state of existence. The underworld was known as Sheol and it was considered to be a dark pit in the deepest recesses of the Earth. For David, there really wasn’t hope of an afterlife. There was just fear of death. In escaping death, David writes this song of joyous praise for God’s deliverance.

Fast forward roughly 1,000 years from David to the time of Jesus. In Jesus’ day, the Hebrews’ beliefs had evolved but there was still vastly divergent views on what happens when we die. One school of thought (the Sudducees) believed there was no afterlife at all. The most prominent school of thought (the Pharisees) believed there was an afterlife or resurrection. Jesus certainly believed in resurrection. In the Jesus’ story He predicts His death and resurrection on multiple occasions. Before raising his friend Lazarus from the dead Jesus tells Laz’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.” (see John 11). While in Jerusalem, the Sadducee scholars approach Jesus in an attempt to debate Him on the subject (see Matthew 22).

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the joy of David’s escape of death, but the unbridled praise is rooted in his absolute fear and hope-less despair at the prospect of dying. As I mull this over, I can’t help but think about what a game-changer Jesus was. In his letter to believers in the city of Corinth, Paul doesn’t quote from David’s fear of the Pit, but this verse from the prophet Hosea:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

I realize that one of the things that has grown and matured in me as a follower of Jesus are my thoughts and feelings about death. Though earlier in my journey I feared death a great deal, I’m no longer afraid to die. I’ve heard and read the stories of those who have gone and have been sent back. The further I get in this journey the more fully I believe that this earthly life is about me fulfilling my role in the Great Story. When my role is finished I will make my exit to that which is more real than this 19,848 days of physical existence.

I will sing with David his words from today’s psalm:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy

Not because I escaped physical death to live another day, but because Jesus conquered death and I’ll escape this this earth-bound life for eternity.

In the meantime, it’s another day in the journey. Time to press on.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Because I can, Doesn’t Mean I should

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
    note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to gluttony.

Proverbs 23:1-2 (NIV)

When I was starting out in my career, we had miser in charge of our company’s travel expenses. It was dictated that we would stay in the cheapest places, rent the cheapest cars, and keep our meals to a minimum. In many cases, the cheapest alternatives were zealously investigated and it was required that we use them.

I still have memories of the hole-in-the-wall car rental place that this person found. It was a true “rent-a-dent” with a small fleet of small, two-door Grand Prix Pontiacs. They were almost all red and they had been purchased from other car rental places on the cheap because they had high-mileage, lots of wear, ran rough, and every single one of them had been the used by their previous owners as the cars designated for smokers. Even the $17 a day we paid was overpriced for these barely roadworthy pieces of junk. I now look back and laugh at those days like a veteran road warrior swapping battle stories, but it really was extreme.

I’m happy to say that after a few years the travel restrictions were eased. We were allowed to stay in mid-tier hotels and negotiated an account with one of the major car rental companies. Our per diem for meals was eased to a reasonable limit. Nevertheless, the standard had been set. We watch what we spend, what gets charged to the client, and always keep it reasonable.

A few years later, I was having lunch with the CEO of a large client we were privileged to serve for many years.

“You know why I love you and your company? Why I respect you and keep doing business with you?” he asked me unexpectedly in his thick New York Jewish accent.

I was honestly curious to know.

“It’s your expense reports,” he quickly said in response to his own question without waiting for me to answer, “You don’t try and gouge me. You wouldn’t believe what most vendors try and get away with. They expect me to pay for the magazines they buy to read on the plane and $200 bottles of wine at lunch. It’s ridiculous. Your team always just charges me for the basics, and it’s always reasonable. That tells me a lot about your company.”

I thought about that lunch, and that CEO, as I read this morning’s chapter and the sage saying of ancient Jewish wisdom at the top of this post. That lunch was an important waypoint in my career as I began to see myself through the eyes of the decision makers who hire our company. While the miser I first experienced as a corporate rookie took things to an unnecessary extreme, I came to understand the wisdom that motivated their frugality. Clients pay attention to what we charge them, and they make judgements about our integrity, our character, and our relationship because of it.

In the quiet this morning, I’m smiling and whispering a prayer of gratitude for the person who made me endure long road trips in a stale, smoke-smelling rust-buckets. It wasn’t fun at the time, but it taught me an important lesson. And, it became a really good story for those days when I find myself comparing battle scars with fellow road warriors at the airport.

Now that I find myself at the top of the company’s org chart, I know that there are clients who assume that I will expect a higher level of travel experience when I’m on business with their company. I’ve even had a few clients encourage me to stay in nicer places and/or enjoy a higher-ticket meal or two than what they see I charged on my expense report. I thank them, and then I purposefully and silently refuse to do so. When it comes to next year’s contract, I never want to give the client any reason, even a small reason, to suspend or end our relationship.

Poet, Chorus, Character

I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.

And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.
Zechariah 11:12-13 (NIV)

One of the things that I love about acting is the opportunity to bring a character to life. The first step in almost every rehearsal process is the “read through” in which all of the actors in a play sit down with the director and simply read the script out loud around a table. Then, over the process of a few weeks, those words are transformed as the actors embody the characters, are transformed by the costumers and make-up artists. Finally, they give action, expression, and relational interaction within a detailed setting on the stage.

One of the difficult parts of reading the ancient Hebrew prophets is that they often used different devices in their writing for different effects. In today’s, chapter, Zechariah begins with poetry just as he had in the previous chapter (vss 1-3). He then switches to prose and relates the message God gave him concerning a shepherd and a coming time of destruction (vss. 4-6). Zech then switches to writing in the voice of first-person. Much like an actor, he embodies the voice of the Shepherd.

Much like the prophet Isaiah whose prophesied the Messiah as a suffering servant (Is 53), the prophecy of Zechariah foreshadows a Messiah-King who is rejected by the flock. His payment is thirty pieces of silver. Historians say that this was the common price for a slave, and represents an insult.

Anyone familiar with the Jesus story will immediately recognize the foreshadowing of his final week in Jerusalem. The chief priests and leaders of the temple in Jerusalem were supposed to be shepherding God’s people but instead were running a religious racket that oppressed the people and made themselves rich. They reject Jesus (who, btw, claimed the mantel of “The Good Shepherd”) and they pay one of his disciples 30 pieces of silver to betray him. Judas later laments his decision and throws the silver back to the priests.

The description Zechariah gives of destruction, devastation, and even cannibalism is an accurate picture of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and subsequent destruction of the city and the temple in 70 A.D. The historian, Josephus, records that cannibalism did occur within the city as food supplies ran out during the siege.

At the end of the chapter, the “worthless shepherd” (a corrupt ruler over the people) is struck in the arm (arm is a symbol of strength) and his “right eye” (right is metaphorically associated with favor) is blinded. I can’t help but be reminded that in destroying Jerusalem, the Romans also torched all of the Hebrews’ genealogical records. Without being able to see and confirm direct descendence from Aaron or Levi, they are blind to who can offer sacrifices and run the sacrificial system. The sacrificial system of Moses was effectively ended. Without being able to see and confirm direct descendence from David, they are blind to know who can ascend to the monarchy of Judah. The earthly monarchy of David was effectively ended, as well.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again fascinated by the prophetic. It’s artistic the way Zechariah switches style three times within a chapter. He starts as a poet, then becomes the chorus, and then takes on character as he accurately envisions events that would occur some four hundred years later.

Once again, I’m reminded that there is a flow to the narrative of the Great Story God is authoring from Genesis to Revelation. There is a Level Four storyboard. I am endlessly fascinated by the mystery of it and repeatedly encouraged to know that the story is being played out, even in the crazy events I observe in the world news each day.

The Thrill of Pursuit

“If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.”
Esther 5:8 (NIV)

A number of years ago I was asked to speak to a group of middle schoolers. I costumed myself with the best secret agent look I could pull off and, after being introduced, I entered the room to the theme from Mission: Impossible being blared on the auditorium sound system. I then announced to the rowdy bunch of young people that I had a secret mission for them (should they choose to accept it), and there was one rule. When their parents asked what I talked about or what the lesson was, they could only respond with, “I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.” I told them that if their parents got upset, to tell them to contact me directly.

I then talked to the kids about simple practical ways to honor their parents, not because they had to, but out of a covert operation to respect, honor, and show gratitude for all their parents do for them. I also assured them that, if they followed my operational procedures, they would be driving their parent’s crazy wondering who kidnapped their middle schooler and replaced them with a well-behaved clone.

It was less than an hour after the night’s program ended that I started getting texts from curious parents going crazy because their kids were simply laughing and refusing to tell them what they’d learned that night.

That night was a lot of fun. I ultimately don’t know how effective it was at teaching kids about being respectful and honoring of their parents, but I certainly got everyone’s attention. There is something we human’s love about the thrill of pursuit, delayed gratification, and prolonged curiosity. One of my all-time favorite birthday gifts for Wendy was the year I started her off by letting her open one present. It was a GPS device on which she discovered there was a programmed route for her to follow. At each waypoint on the route, she found one of her friends waiting for her to get a manicure, have a cup of coffee, and etc. We love the tease of the unknown and the thrill of pursuit.

In today’s chapter, Esther uses the thrill of pursuit to heighten her husband’s curiosity about her request. Actually, Esther was following a common practice in ancient near-East civilizations when it came to making a specific request of someone in power. It was a culturally prescribed method intended to honor the one of whom the request was being made and to engage our human love of curiosity and the thrill of pursuit. We see the result in Haman who is excited to tell his wife and friends all about it.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the ancient practice that Esther employed in contrast to our 21st culture. I wonder how much technology and the instant gratification we enjoy for so many things in life has robbed us of the thrill of pursuit and the positive character qualities that are developed with delayed gratification. In the Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience research my company regularly produced for clients we are finding that customers are increasingly expecting instant gratification to their desire to reach a human being in Customer Service or getting access to information they desire. I sometimes wonder if where it’s all leading.

I guess I’ll have to wait to find out ;-).

Have a great week, my friend.

Life Between the Prevailing Wind and Hard Heart

Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction.
2 Kings 16:10 (NIV)

Last week Wendy and I found ourselves in a discussion about the hazing rituals we experienced growing up. For Wendy it was the process of pledging in a college sorority. For me it was being part of a high school swimming team. In both our cases, the hazing was the relatively minor and harmless. It was the ages old exercise of new members demonstrating allegiance and loyalty to the group and its elder members. There are nightmare stories of those who have been forced to do things against their will in order to be accepted. There are also stories of those who choose to behave against their beliefs, morals, or personal values simply to accommodate the prevailing cultural forces. And, it is ages old. These things have always been part of our human experience east of Eden.

Today’s chapter is dedicated to the reign of King Ahaz of Judah. According to the description provided us by the scribes, Ahaz appears to have had a pattern of choosing to accommodate the prevailing winds of his society’s popular culture. Ahab was a follower. Rather than being faithful to the Law of Moses and adhering exclusively to the faiths of his fathers, Ahaz seemed willing and open to worship anything anywhere. He even went so far as to sacrifice his own child which was a common practice among some of the more gruesome Canaanite cults (and explicitly forbidden by the law of Moses). Ahaz also worshiped the idolatrous gods of their northern counterpart, Israel.

When threatened by military conquest by his neighbors, Ahaz was unwilling to stand up and lead his army in defense of his nation and people. Ahaz was a follower. So, he appealed to the biggest bully in the neighborhood for protection: Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria (note: featured photo of this post is a relief showing Tiglath-Pileser standing over an enemy). The Assyrian warlord was happy to take Ahaz’ gold and defend Judah, but protection came with a higher price than just gold.

After the successful defense of Judah, Ahaz had to complete an ancient form of hazing by traveling to Assyria to pay his respects to Tiglath-Pileser and to prove his subservience. While in Assyria, he copied the plans to an altar there and sent it to be replicated and placed in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Scholars believe that this altar was likely the royal altar of Tiglath-Pileser, and its presence at the center of the Temple in Jerusalem would have been a sign that Tiglath-Pileser was to be worshipped as their protector. Ahaz, ever willing to worship anything, anywhere was only too happy to make this accommodation.

This morning I’m thinking about character, subservience, and accommodation. There is a fine line between harmless societal rituals and cruel hazing. There are some who will go along with the crowd to the point of losing themselves, and there are also some who err on the side of being so self-righteous about their beliefs that they cannot extend even an ounce of grace and mercy to those who disagree with every jot and tittle of their dogma. Once again I’m thinking about finding the truth in the tension between the extremes. I don’t want to be an Ahaz who simply “goes with the flow” and follows the prevailing winds of culture to the point that my faith is meaningless. I also don’t want to be so rigid and hard-hearted in my personal standards that love, grace, mercy and forgiveness get squeezed out of my life and relationships.

Character and Life Contributions

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 3:8 (NIV)

The other day I was going through some old photographs and came upon my class photo from first grade. There was Mrs. Avery in her cat-eye glasses and all of us lined up on the risers in the gymnasium of Woodlawn Elementary school. I tried to remember the names of all my classmates. Believe it or not I can still recall all but two or three.

Just a week or so ago I shared with a group of friends my gratitude for Mrs. Avery. Back in those days our kindergarten classes were half-days and I absolutely hated my kindergarten experience. More than once my mother had to drag me kicking and screaming to school. So it was that I was nervous about attending first grade and having to spend all day at the dreaded school. Then I met Mrs. Avery.

For whatever reason I still remember the first moment walking into that classroom and meeting Mrs. Avery. I was immediately at peace. She was kind and gentle. There was a spirit about her than put me at ease. I spent that year developing an enjoyment of learning.

It was much later in life that I went to Mrs. Avery’s home to thank her for the subtle but significant impact she had on my life. She was still just as kind and gentle and loving. She told me that day, looking over that same class photograph, how she used to pray for each of us students every day.

I happen to be at a place in life at which I can look back and contemplate many, many relationships I’ve had along my journey. My mind is contrasting my experience with Mrs. Avery with that of the acquaintance I mentioned in yesterday’s post. It brings to mind the characteristics of individuals who made a positive contribution to my life journey contrasted with the characteristics of individuals I would just as soon forget.

In this morning’s chapter, Peter behavioral instructions for life and relationships. Here are some of the characteristics he commands followers of Jesus:

Purity
Reverence
Gentle and quiet spirit
Considerate
Respectful
Like-minded
Sympathetic
Loving
Compassionate
Humble
Repaying evil with blessing
Reverent
Gentleness

Not a bad list. Come to think of it, these words describe Mrs. Avery pretty well. They also describe a host of other family, friends, associates, and individuals who’ve made positive contributions in my life. Then I think about those individuals in my life who’ve characterized the antonyms of these words. Rather than making a contribution of Life, it seems to me they’ve had the opposite effect: drain, deplete, tempt, and trouble.

This morning I’m once again taking stock of my own heart, life, words, and actions. I’d like to think that the character qualities Peter commands are how others would describe me. I hope to make Life contributions to others. Basically, I’d like to take a little bit of Mrs. Avery’s contribution to my life and pay it forward. Today, even.

 

A Spiritual Lesson from Acting 101

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
James 2:18 (NRSV)

I’ve always believed that acting is the creation of an authentically believable character from the inside out. It is not just the manipulation of body and voice but the understanding of internal need, intention, motivation and thought which then translates into words, movement, and action.

My theatre professor in college taught us that one of the most important tools for the actor is observation. Watch people. We were sent to the local mall to watch people. Really watch them. It’s the Sherlock method of beginning to understanding character. What do you deduce from what you can readily observe in people? What can you tell about that couples’ relationship by the way they walk four feet apart? What does it say about them as a couple when she’s carrying on a conversation but her eyes are always looking over his shoulder at the people walking by? What is that teenager trying to say when he walks with that pronounced strut? Look at that old man, shoulders hunched over as if he’s protecting his soul, shuffling slowly with his eyes glued to the floor as though he’s afraid to look anyone in the eye. What in life led him to walk like that?

James’ discussion of faith and works in today’s chapter has created firestorms of controversy among theologians throughout the centuries. Some have even suggested pitching James’ letter from the canon of scripture altogether. Paul teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it’s not of works. But James writes in today’s chapter that faith without works is worthless faith. So, which is it?

I’ve never been that stressed out about seeming contradiction. Following Jesus is a journey fraught with paradoxes. You have to die to live. You must lose in order to gain. You must give away to acquire. Faith and works is just another spiritual paradox in God’s economy. Theatre learned long ago the spiritual principle required for holding the tension. It’s called “Yes, and.” Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, and yes, faith without works is worthless faith.

James was simply tapping in to Acting 101 class. Watch yourself. Really watch yourself. I should observe myself as others do. What do my words say about me? What can someone deduce from the way I treat my employees, my family, or as James suggests, the poor and needy? My inner spiritual realities are evidenced in my outside behaviors. If I really believe what I say I believe, the internal faith will continually work itself out in my words, actions, and relationships.

This morning I am feeling convicted. The process of honest self observation is never comfortable. Though I’m quite sure I have blind spots, I know most of my major shortcomings acutely. A self-inventory leads me to uncomfortable conclusions. And, I think that’s also ultimately James’ point. Discomfort prompts change, which creates movement, which propels me further in the journey towards Life. Comfort prompts apathy, which creates stagnation, which eventually becomes death.

Faith or works?

Yes.