Tag Archives: Contentment

Enough

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
2 Kings 4:2 (NIV)

Many years ago I was pushing into my spiritual journey and trying hard to understand my feelings of shame, the deep, abiding sense that I was worth-less to the core. I have shared before about my friend and counselor who asked me to label my shame. He wanted me to give my shame a name tag; A moniker of my shame that would allow me to pick up my Sharpie and write on the my name tag at church: “Hello, My Name Is…” and write my shame right on there.

Not Enough” was the label I gave to my shame.

As I’ve continued on in my spiritual journey I’ve come to have more than a few head-slapping, eureka moments as I mull over my “Not Enough” shame moniker. Of course I feel “not enough” because it’s what culture and marketing have whispered and screamed to me so regularly since I was a toddler that I don’t even recognize it anymore.

You’re not athletic enough. Eat your Wheaties.
You’re not manly enough. Smoke a Marlboro.
You’re not beautiful enough. Wear brand “X”.
You’re not good enough. Work 24/7/365.
You’re not rich enough. Climb that ladder at all costs.
You’re not suave enough. Act like James Bond.
You’re not good enough. Stop sinning.
You’re not Christian enough. Only listen, read, and consume things labeled and marketed as “Christian” and sold by an acceptable, orthodox supplier.

You get the picture.

In today’s chapter the ancient prophet Elisha is approached by a widow who is in a desperate situation. Her husband died and was indebted to another man in the town. In ancient days, if you couldn’t pay your debts the creditor took whatever collateral the borrower had. Because the widow was left with nothing of real value her two sons were going to be taken from her to become the creditor’s slaves.

When Elisha asks the woman, “What have you got?” she replies that all she has is a small jar of oil. Elisha tells her to get all the empty jars she can find and borrow and pour the oil from her small jar into all the empty jars. Miraculously, the woman keeps pouring and the oil keeps flowing until her house is packed full of jars of oil. She is can now sell the oil and pay off the debts. And, there’s enough left over to provide for her and her sons.

What does this remind me of?

Oh yeah. Jesus fed the crowds (more than once) with just a few fish sandwiches that Peter and the boys could scrounge off a little kid whose mother packed him a sack lunch. The woman and her oil jars is kind of like that. In fact, it’s just like that.

I love it on my chapter-a-day journey when I begin to see patterns, themes and dots to be connected across the Great Story. This endless jar of oil is just like Jesus’ endless baskets of filet o’ fish sandwiches.

So, what is the point? What’s God trying to tell me?

In each case, God took the little that they already had and provided all that was needed. In fact, in both cases there were leftovers. The point is that what they already had was enough for God to work with. God can take what I am and what I have and it is enough for Him to work with to be all that I need, all that He needs, when it’s needed.

I don’t believe this means God is giving me an excuse to be complacent and slothful. It doesn’t mean that I have carte blanche to be foolish and stagnant. God wants me to keep progressing, keep pressing on, and keep pushing further up and further in. It’s important, however, to think about what I’m pursuing.

I’ve found that shame always calls me back. I constantly find my heart slipping off on paths that mindlessly pursue unreachable destinations. The more money I make the more I realize that there’s always someone richer, and I’ll never stop chasing after “just a little bit more.” No matter how skinny, ripped and ruggedly handsome I can make myself with wardrobe, workouts and organic male beauty products, I will still look in the mirror and fail to see Daniel Craig.

This morning I’m reminded that when I stick to the path in pursuit of God and God’s wisdom I find that what I already have is enough. It’s enough even if God has to, once in a while, miraculously stretch my enough to cover what’s needed in the moment.

A Prophet in Flyover Country

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake….
Amos 1:1 (NIV)

I have lived in “flyover country” my entire life. It’s a great place to live, work, and raise a family. You get used to the fact that most of what we see and hear in American news and entertainment media is sourced on the coasts. New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles are where most of the brokers of politics, finance, and entertainment live, move and have their being. It’s quite common to realize that we often see life a little differently here in middle America.

Whenever you read the writing of the ancient prophets in God’s Message, it’s important to understand the context of the prophet and his message. Amos was one of what we refer to as the “minor” prophets, and perhaps it’a an apt moniker for one who lived and wrote from what have been the flyover country of his time.

The “major” prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) lived where the action was. Isaiah and Jeremiah served in Jerusalem, the capital city which was the region’s political and religious center of power. Daniel and Ezekiel lived later and were persons of relative prominence and connection in the ancient city of Babylon during the height of its glory days. Amos, on the other hand, was a shepherd and fig farmer living in a small town of no real significance. We don’t even know if he owned his own flocks and figs, or whether he was simply a hired man.

Amos lived and wrote during a period of relative prosperity in Israel’s divided kingdom (about 740-750 b.c.). Things were humming economically and trade was good. The kingdoms held relatively strong, secure positions in the region. Everyone was feeling optimistic and perhaps even a little bit smug.

Amos, however, begins the assembled volume of his prophetic writings by telling us as readers that his vision preceded “the earthquake.” He doesn’t say “an earthquake” but “the earthquake.” Little is known historically about this event, but geologists have unearthed evidence of a major seismic event in that region around 750 b.c.  Interestingly enough, just yesterday I posted about the connection that is made in God’s Message between the shifting of things in the spiritual realm and events in creation. Amos foreshadows his volume of collected prophesies with a ominous word-picture. There’s going to be a major shake up.

What becomes immediately clear in the historical context is that Amos’ message isn’t exactly the mainstream media spin of his day. During a period of peace and prosperity this learned yokel prophet from flyover country isn’t feeling so secure about things from a spiritual perspective. He’s got a more sober view of where things are headed, if anyone will listen.

This morning I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit of a connection with ol’ Amos. I’m grateful for where I live and move and have had my being on this life journey. It may not be the center of action where finance, politics, and entertainment are brokered. I’ve visited all of them and always have a great time when I’m there and appreciate all the great people I meet. Nevertheless, I know I look at life with a different perspective than many who live in those places. It’s not better or worse. It just is. The major prophets had their roles to play and their message to give at the center of the action. Amos had his role to play and his message to give as he kept watch over his livestock in the flyover farm town of Tekoa.

The key, I’ve come to learn along this journey, is to be content with the role I’ve been given and faithful in carrying it out to the best of my ability.

Cost-Shifting

Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor.
Nehemiah 5:14 (NRSV)

I have witnessed a change in the culture around me during my life journey. As a child, I learned by example that making your own way and being responsible for your own provision was of great importance. There were a few basic principles that were part of the fabric of the culture around. Living by these principles not only said something about your character, but they also benefited society as a whole:

  • Earn your own way.
  • Don’t take what you haven’t earned.
  • If you borrow in need, pay it back quickly (and before spending more for yourself).
  • Avoid needing any kind of financial assistance. If you need help, then get back on your feet and off assistance as quickly as possible.

What I have observed in increasing measure is a shift towards the acceptance of cost-shifting. I receive something and the cost is paid by someone else. This was once considered dishonorable and immoral, but I see it accepted by more and more people without question.

A few years ago I overheard a young married couple talking among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. They were highly educated, healthy, and capable people of middle-class midwestern upbringing. I listened as they proudly espoused their creative ability to “work the system” and get all sorts of welfare and entitlement money from the government. They eagerly encouraged their friends to do the same, explaining how the money and assistance they received from from the government allowed them to work less.

It’s just out there,” they said of the government entitlement programs. “It’s free money. It’s going to go to someone. It might as well be me.

I continue to be bewildered (and angered) by my friends’ misguided thinking. They were blind to their cost-shifting. The money they received were tax dollars others earned. They were quite capable of working harder and earning their own way, but they chose to work less and accept assistance they didn’t really need. The more people cost-shift, the more an economy and a culture struggles.

Nehemiah was dealing with a similar situation in today’s chapter. The people left in Jerusalem after the city had fallen to the Babylonians were cost-shifting in different ways. They were taking whatever they could extort from one another. The leaders were taxing people in exorbitant excess of the King’s minimum in order to live high off the hog. Nehemiah calls a community meeting and confronts the people about how wrong this cost-shifting was in God’s eyes, and how bad it was for themselves as a society.

Nehemiah then led by example. He chose not to take everything to which he was “entitled” by his position and power. He actively pursued a spirit of contentment. He consumed what he needed and was generous with his blessings. He flatly refused to adopt the “take what you can get” mentality he’d observed in his people.

It’s Monday morning and I’m grateful this morning for growing up in a culture that valued hard work and earning your way. I’m thankful for the blessing of my job. I’m grateful for the opportunity to earn a good living, provide for my home, pay my tithes and taxes, and to be generous with what I have been given.

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Featured image by Kevin Trotman via Flickr

Playing the Role I’m Given

At that time, too, I [Moses] entreated the Lord, saying: “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The Lord said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.” Deuteronomy 3:23-28 (NRSV)

Casting a show is one of the more difficult things about being a director. You can have throngs of people audition but only so many parts to go around. It’s crucial to make sure you have the right people in the right roles and there are so many things to consider about an actor when deciding which role you want her/him to play including ability, experience, physicality, chemistry with others, and the ease of working with her/him.

Without fail, people will be disappointed with the roles in which they are cast. It’s a universal. Even as I write these words I can quickly name specific roles from long ago productions in which I still believe I should have been cast. Everyone who is a part of theatre for any length of time experiences this. There’s something at the core of our fallen nature given to this seed of both envy and pride. That person thinks he/she should have been cast in that role. Feathers get ruffled. Feelings get hurt. Some refuse to play the role in which they were cast. Others grudgingly accept the role they were given, but infect the rehearsal process with their grumbling and disgruntled attitude.

Today, I’m finding parallels between God’s direction of the events in Deuteronomy and the experience of directing and leading a production. In today’s chapter we find Moses, who was the lead character in the wildly successful Exodus from Egypt, wanting a lead role in the sequel production, Conquest of Canaan. He entreats God, the great Director, with a little flattery and then begs for the part. The Director seems a bit frustrated with the incessant grumbling and insists that the lead role in Conquest belongs to the actor who was cast (Joshua) and there will be no further discussion of the matter.

One of the most difficult yet rewarding lessons I’ve learned along life’s journey is that of choosing contentment in the roles that I am given. This is true whether we’re talking about a bit role on stage or the role given me by God in the on-going production of Life. When I stop whining about not having the role I desire and pour myself into the role that I have been given, then it’s a win-win-win for myself, the Director, and everyone else in the production.

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A Meaning-Full Life

Tom and WendyEnjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:9 (NIV)

On the way home from church yesterday, Wendy mentioned that the morning’s message had her contemplating “what ifs.” She had asked herself “what if” God asked us to give up our dream of the house we’re building, or to give up our place at the lake. My response was that I would definitely be sad about it, but as long as I’m living with her I could dwell in a small apartment and be content. Not as comfortable, to be sure, but definitely content.

The conversation came back to mind this morning as I read Solomon’s words. We don’t know what the future holds. Life’s road holds many curves for both the righteous and the wicked. No one can see all ends, but all of us are destined to the same physical end, which is death. That was what Solomon was really getting at, though his hopeless perspective is from hundreds of years before Jesus and before the empty tomb. I think wise ol’ King Solomon had a serious case of the blues when he wrote today’s chapter. I get it. I’ve been there. On this side of history, however, I find more meaning and purpose in my toilsome labor, my lot, my life, and all of my days. I’m glad of that.

I also enjoy life with my wife, whom I love. And, I will all the days of this meaning-full life that God has given me under the sun.

 

Simple Pleasures

Eat, Drink, Enjoy.
Eat, Drink, Enjoy.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God…. Ecclesiastes 2:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I are decluttering our house in preparation to sell. With it we are going through a decade of stuff. I’ve found it fascinating to go through my drawers and discover the old cell phone covers, web cams, computer software and other sundry technology do-dads that have accumulated over a decade of living here. Things that were cutting edge technology necessities just a few years ago are woefully obsolete and seem almost silly today.

I’m struck by the pace with which technology amps up the world around us. Always connected to our network, we have things pushed, tweeted, shared, linked, texted, e-mailed, and messaged to us non-stop. Personally, I love all the good things that technology affords us. Last night we had a 42 minute video chat with Taylor from her dorm room at the University of Edinburg. She’s in SCOTLAND and we got to see her sweet face, read her expressions, and take a tour of her dorm room. How cool is that?

At the same time, I wonder what effect this is all having on us as humans. In a world that is always pushing the envelope for greater highs, faster speeds, the latest, the greatest, the newest, the coolest, I increasingly believe that there is something to be said for finding contentment in simple pleasures. I think wise King Solomon’s ancient words may be more relevant today than ever.

Simple pleasures I enjoy:

  • A good food, good wine, and dinner conversation that goes on for hours.
  • Sitting on the deck at the lake with Wendy (and family/friends!) as the sun goes down (even better if sipping a cold pint and smoking a Davidoff cigar).
  • Scoring a baseball game as I listen to it on the radio.
  • Playing a guitar and terrorizing the neighbors with my singing on the back porch.
  • Reading a good spy novel in bed before I turn out the lights.
  • Hot coffee, pondering a chapter, and quiet heart conversation with God in the early morning.
  • Watching a sunrise, a sunset, or a big harvest moon rise.
  • Reading an actual newspaper in the morning with Wendy, and solving the world’s problems together (If the world leaders would only stop by and listen to our wisdom, what a better world we’d live in!) 🙂
  • Discussions with Wendy like the one we had in the car the other day in which we considered traitors as an archetype. If a seemingly good character betrays a good cause he or she is a traitor/villain and is guilty of treason. If an evil character betrays evil, is it always an act of redemption? What a great conversation.

What simple pleasures motivate you to unplug and enjoy?

Journeys, Waypoints, and Destinations

familyThese six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months. David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years…. 1 Chronicles 3:4 (NIV)

Time has been on my mind a lot lately. From my current waypoint on life’s road I’m watching our daughters in the early stages of their adult lives. Taylor has been working and planning for grad school. Madison is taking a year off of being a full-time student to work and get her Colorado residency. They are dealing with jobs and bosses and learning lessons about living life on their own. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, has been living with us for almost a year. We’ve helped her manage her senior year of high school, watched her graduate, and now we’re helping her navigate job, plans for college, and setting a course for life. These three very capable young ladies have so much of life ahead of them, so many lessons to learn, and so many things to experience. I’m excited for each one.

Wendy and I are at a very different place in the journey, and it sometimes feels odd to me in the same way it feels odd for Taylor not to have the summer off, for Madison to be taking time away from school, or for Suzanna to think she never has to go back to high school. I look at our parents and assume that they have their own oddities they feel with their respective waypoints on life’s road. The journey is about being in motion. The road never stops taking you to places unfamiliar. Try as you might, you can never rush the journey. “Shortcuts make for long delays.”

I’m reminded once more this morning of David’s journey. Anointed King of Israel as a boy, it was many years before he was crowned the head of his tribe, and another seven and a half years before that led to the throne of Israel for which he was anointed and destined (remember that destiny and destination are related!). Roughly twenty some years lay between those two waypoints in which his life’s road twisted, turned, rose, fell, and switched-back in odd ways. C’est la vie.

Today I’m grateful for God’s faithfulness and abundant grace. I’m excited and prayerful for our girls as they follow behind on life’s road. I’m prayerful and supportive of our parents who blaze the trail ahead. I’m content knowing that with every knew experience along the way come odd feelings and new lessons. Our job is to keep moving. We’ll reach our respective waypoints in God’s perfect timing.

Lace ’em up friends. Here we go.

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