Tag Archives: Choice

The Simple Honor of Labor

We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:7b-9 (NIV)

As I’ve mentioned in recent weeks, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been digging deep into the book of Acts and the history of the Jesus Movement’s early years. As part of that, I have been reading and studying the life of Paul, the brilliant maverick who was transformed from the Jesus Movement’s staunchest enemy into its most powerful and productive advocate and member.

In my study of Paul’s life I’ve come to an appreciation of how Paul lived and labored. My whole life l’ve always pictured Paul as spending most of his time, day-after-day, teaching, preaching, writing letters, and preaching the gospel. I’ve come to learn that nothing could be further from the truth. Most of Paul’s time, day-after-day, was spent making tents.

As most people of his day, Paul was apprenticed into the family business which was the making and repairing of tents (and presumably awnings and other textiles used to block the sun). It was a trade that could be plied anywhere, and Paul carried his tools to ply his trade wherever his missions took him. In today’s chapter, Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica that he and his companions labored “night and day” to provide for themselves.

Paul reminds the believers of his example because the followers of Jesus were proponents of generosity and giving to those in need, especially the poor and widows. Now, there were individuals who were happy to keep taking from the believers’ fledgling system of charity with no intention of contributing.

I was raised in a family with a strong work ethic. I also come from Dutch heritage, a culture historically known for its work ethic. I’ll spare you the litany of my labor history, which date back to my pre-teenage years. Suffice it to say that I appreciate Paul’s attitude. Other leaders of the Jesus movement had begun to work solely on the contributions of other believers. Paul accepted that this was an appropriate practice. He even helped collect money and deliver it to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he steadfastly chose to work to pay his own way. Today, he states clearly his intent. He wanted to live as an example to others. His message to the Thessalonian believers was consistent through both of his letters: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to good of the whole. Be content.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday that we Americans will celebrate on Thursday. I recognize the blessing of living and laboring in the richest part of the world. I’m grateful. I’m also mindful and thankful for my father whom I watched struggle through multiple vocational setbacks, yet he always worked hard at whatever job he may have needed until he could get to a job that was more of what he wanted. I think of my great-grandfather risking everything to come to America, by himself, to eek out a living for he and his family as an immigrant. I think of one grandparent striving to make his way through college, the first member of his family to do so, and then working into his 90s. “The day I stop working,” he was fond of repeating to anyone who would listen, “will be the day I die!” I’m also remembering another grandparent (that’s him, first from the right in the featured photo of this post) taking the only work he could find in the Great Depression and laboring at that job for 40 years. Daily, he went about the simple task life selling and servicing tires. Not once did I hear him complain.

We live in a rapidly changing, complex world. Yet, along the journey I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of some things that never change: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to the good of the whole. Be content.

Oh yeah. And: Give thanks.

Have a great week, my friend.

A Different Kind of Diet

“Hamath and Arpad are dismayed,
    for they have heard bad news.
They are disheartened,
    troubled like the restless sea.”
Jeremiah 49:23 (NIV)

I’ve been dieting of late, but it has nothing to do with food. I’ve been on a news diet. A while back Wendy and I recognized that the 24/7/365 cable and internet news cycle is as good for our hearts, minds, and souls as a steady diet of Twinkies would be for our bodies.

We have more instant access to global news and information than any one has experienced in recorded history. News outlets exist to get as many consumers listening/reading/clicking as possible so they can charge more money for advertising dollars and make money for their owners. How do you get more people to pay attention to your news? Sensationalize. Hype. Create buzz. Turn mole hills into mountains. Pander to your base. Fudge. Spin. Repeat.

While it is important for me to be aware of what’s going on in our world, I’ve concluded that I don’t need to stream non-stop news feeds into my brain from every device I own. This is why I liken it to dieting. I learned a long time ago that my body needed far less food than I (and my appetites) thought it did. Portion control changed my physical health for the better. I realize that portion control of news and information will, likewise, change my mental and psychological health for the better.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Jeremiah continues his series of prophetic messages to the neighboring nations of his day.

Ancient empires learned early on that one of the keys to quickly conquering other peoples was purely psychological. The greater your reputation for mayhem and destruction, the more fear you could strike in the hearts of your foes before you arrived, the easier they would be to defeat. In fact, they might just surrender rather than fight.

Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Damscus was simply this: They were going to be a pushover because they allowed fear to seize them and paralyze them.

Time and time again Jesus told his followers “Don’t be afraid,” and yet I observe that the culture around me seems more and more driven by fear, worry, panic, and frenzy. I’ve observed that my news feed and its “If it bleeds it leads” mentality seems to want to keep me hooked like a drug on fear and worry that will, in turn, keep me coming back to find out what will happen next.

So, I’m on a news diet. I’m choosing to control my intake. I can already feel myself losing the weight of fear and worry.

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”                                   – Jesus (Mt 6:31-34 MSG)

“Fish, or Cut Bait”

Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!”
Jeremiah 44:15-16 (NIV)

With my birthday a few weeks ago I had my annual check-up. I’m thankful to say that I’m in relatively good health, though over the past two years my body has started to show the signs of both aging and the consequences of 25 years at rather sedentary work. Cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose are all too high and continuing to creep up.

I have gone through seasons of regular exercise along my journey, but I confess it hasn’t been consistent. This year’s test results and the annual directive from Doc to “get moving” have confronted me once more with a choice. I’ve got to choose to make some life changes.

Or, not.

In today’s chapter we find Jeremiah, the captive prophet, in the land of Egypt. He’s been brought there by a remnant of his people who were fleeing from the King of Babylon. While there, Jeremiah issues a directive from the Lord telling the remnant to cease and desist from worshiping the local Egyptian gods. He warns doom, death and defeat to the Babylonians if they don’t obey.

What happens next is fascinating. The people directly and unequivocally tell Jeremiah that they will not stop sacrificing to the local gods and they are not going to obey the Lord. This morning as I read their response I felt respect for the Judean rebels. They may not have made the right choice, but they made a clear choice and stood by their decision.

Throughout the Great Story God asks people to choose:

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Deuteronomy 30:19

 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve….”
Joshua 24:15

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
1 Kings 18:21

But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Matthew 8:22

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Revelation 3:15-16

This life journey is filled with many “fish or cut bait” moments. Either do it, or don’t. Make a choice. The ironic part is that not making a choice is ultimately a choice. The self-delusion and paralysis of continuous promising, pondering, and wavering, however, has negative consequences all its own. The further I get in my journey the more I’m trying to be more direct and clear in my choices and decisions.

This morning in the quiet I’m respectful of the Judean remnant. They made their choice. They didn’t play games, put things off, or make empty promises.  “No,” they said. “We’re not going to do it.”

As for me, I’m raising my coffee cup with sore muscles.

Just When I Thought it Couldn’t Get Any Worse

And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. 
Jeremiah 43:6 (NIV)

Just a week or so ago I was listening to a Typology podcast with a panel discussion of those who are Enneagram Type Fours. I also happen to be a Type Four, and listening to the podcast threw me into an unexpected depression. “I don’t want to be one of those people,” I groaned to Wendy that night in bed. The ironic (and hilarious) part of it was that my dramatic brooding about being a Four is exactly how a Four reacts!

I so identified with Jeremiah in today’s chapter. The poor old man (who I’m convinced was a Type Four as well) has lived such a long, hard life dramatically prophesying a lot of pessimistic, doom and gloom predictions to people who refuse to listen to him. He then gets to watch as his prophesies come to pass. He lives through a siege in which he almost starves to death, is imprisoned, and eventually thrown into the bottom of a well and left to die. He’s rescued only to watch his city destroyed, God’s temple destroyed, and his own people slaughtered. If that’s not bad enough, in today’s chapter – after giving a prophetic Word to a group of people who asked him what they should do, they reject his prophetic advice and take him captive to Egypt.

“Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse!

The truth is that most every one has stretches of life’s journey in which nothings goes right and everything seems to go wrong. Just when you though it was bad, it gets worse. Hopefully, you and I will never be rejected, imprisoned, thrown into a well, left to die, have to watch our town destroyed by invaders, witness people cannibalizing their own for lack of food, and then being taken captive to another country. Jeremiah’s list makes anything I might moan about seem ludicrously silly in comparison.

The description of Type Fours on the Enneagram Institute website states: At their Best: inspired and highly creative, Fours are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.” As I reread that again this morning it reminded me that how I handle the valleys, detours, and pot-holes on life’s road is really up to me. I can allow myself to be a slave to my own pessimistic, brooding natural bents, fears, and anxieties. Or, I can continually work on becoming the healthiest version of myself and transform my circumstances into a better, healthier, more capable human being. The person Jesus calls me to be. The person I was created to be.

I don’t always choose my circumstances, but I always choose how I react or respond.

 

Ancient Paths

Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah 6:16 (NRSVCE)

Along life’s journey one encounters a number of crossroads. Take the easy route, or the road less traveled. Follow the crowd, or strike out on one’s own. Often I have found that divergent paths lead in seemingly opposite directions, yet there is no clear direction where each will lead and precious little guidance with which to make a choice. It is a faith journey, after all. I choose, and I live with both my choice and my path’s destination.

I find myself at times weary of living in a culture running hell-bent and headlong towards any and every new horizon. The whole world seems to chase after that which is trending. I find it easy to become addicted to the breaking news of the moment and the latest buzz getting pushed, tweeted, and incessantly notified on any number of devices. It’s so easy to begin fearing that I’ll miss out on the latest, the most recent innovation, the next great thing.

My soul is increasingly weary of keeping up. The next thing is always replaced by the next, and the next, and the….

I hear my soul whispering at each new crossroads to look, and to seek ancient paths. Rather than chasing after that which is new I find myself more and more compelled to seek and discover that which has been forgotten. What great wisdom has been cast off as worthless ballast in order to speed us on our way in pursuit of the endless and unsubstantiated promises of technology and fortune?

In today’s chapter the prophet Jeremiah called on his generation to look back, to seek the ancient ways, and to seek the restful fulfillment of soul over the insatiable, momentary fulfillment of the senses. His generation chose differently as will mine, I expect.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded of Jesus’ words:

“…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Nevertheless, I think I’ll endeavor to head that way with each new crossroads. It may seem lonely at times, but at least I can count on there not being any traffic jams.

Personal Faith & Systemic Conscription

The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
2 Kings 23:3 (NIV)

I was a young man when I made a decision that I would be a follower of Jesus. I was a normal teenager who did the normal things that teenagers do when testing the boundaries of parents and other systems of authority. Looking back at that boy from 40 years down life’s road, he seems rather innocent and naive. But I still remember that with my decision to follow Jesus came a responsibility to make some changes.

In today’s chapter we read the story of King Josiah’s great reform of Judah. After the scroll with the law of Moses is discovered during renovations to Solomon’s Temple, Josiah calls for a national gathering. The Law of Moses (e.g. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) is read to all the people. Josiah makes a decision and a commitment to follow God and keep the Law. He makes an ancient form of binding contract, called a covenant, to do so. The people follow suit.

The rest of today’s chapter is a blow-by-blow description of Josiah wiping out all of the competing local and regional deities. Reading the chapter we begin to understand how prevalent the worship of these gods had become. There were male prostitutes (which were quite common in idol worship in ancient times) who were operating out of Solomon’s Temple. There was child sacrifice to Molech and the worship of the golden calves that Jeroboam had set up when he led the northern tribes to secession hundreds of years earlier. Josiah purged the land of all of it, and pledged that the nation would follow the God of Moses alone.

As I read the chapter over my first cup of java this morning, there were two prevailing thoughts that struck me.

First, we read that Josiah called the nation together, made a covenant to follow God, and the people followed suit. Did they choose to follow Josiah’s lead of their own free will? Did the people even have a choice? A study of history would lead me to conclude that they did not. It was quite common for ancient nations and empires to follow whatever religion the king chose. That’s why Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 A.D. When Caesar Constantine became a Christian, then all the people of the Empire became Christians as well. I would argue that the results were not good.

I find this an important point. At the end of today’s chapter we read that Josiah’s son led the people right back to the worship of the local and regional gods. In our journey through 2 Kings we’ve read what seems to be a  game of religious ping-pong. One king follows the God of Moses and the people follow. The next king follows Baal and the people follow. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

National religion and forced adherence to faith is not really faith at all. It’s conscription. When I chose to become a follower of Jesus it was my choice and my decision. To this day I find that human systems (i.e. families, denominations, communities) use subtle forms of conscription and social pressure to ensure that the members of the system (i.e. children, grandchildren, neighbors, community members) adhere to the system’s sanctioned form of religion. That’s when personal faith is diluted down to blind religion. Jesus spent his entire earthly ministry fighting against that dilution. Blind religion nailed Him to the cross.

The second point that struck me this morning was Josiah’s reform. When I became a follower of Jesus there were some things that I was doing in my life that needed to change, as silly and innocent as some of them seem in retrospect. There were some unhealthy teenaged behaviors that needed to cease, and some healthy mature habits that needed to be developed. When faith is personal, it transforms the person.

This morning I’m thinking about my own children, and my grandson whom I can’t wait to meet in a few months. I don’t want my legacy to be religion instilled by force, conscription and systemic pressure. I want our daughters and our grandchildren to follow Jesus because it’s their own decision, their own choice, their own personal faith. The best thing that I can do to ensure that is not to instill rules, regulations, and mandatory religious observance. The best thing I can do is to model exactly what Jesus did and calls me to follow: love.

The Fat

All fat is the Lord’s. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.
Leviticus 3:16b-17 (NRSV)

I am married to a fabulous cook. Anyone who has had one of Wendy’s amazing cheesecakes can attest to this. Just this past Saturday she made a Italian chicken and pasta dinner that I’m still thinking about it. When it comes to grilling, however, I am the grill master at our house. If we’re going to grill meat, then I’m in charge, from choosing the meat, to preparing it and grilling it.

I don’t claim to be great with the grill, but I’ve learned a few things along the journey. For example, if you’re going to choose a nice steak then you have to look for a cut which has good “marbling.” In other words, the fat runs throughout the lean and creates an effect that looks a bit like marble. It’s the fat throughout the meat that melts and creates a juicy steak. Fat makes it a “choice” steak.

In order for those of us in 21t century western culture to being to wrap our heads around the ancient  semitic sacrificial system, we have to understand the metaphors involved. To the Israelites, blood was synonymous with life. So when a sacrifice bled and died on the altar it was viewed a substitutionary death for the death God had prescribed to all humanity back in the Garden of Eden. That’s why Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God,” as His death on the cross was the substitutionary, sacrificial death for humanity – once for all.

Likewise, the fat of the sacrifice represented how good it was. Just as  a good cut of steak, marbled with fat, is known to be the best – so an animal’s fat was was made it a choice sacrifice. It was the “best.”

Today, I’m reminded of two things:

  • A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if it really doesn’t cost me a thing.
  • A sacrifice is giving my best, not my leftovers.