Tag Archives: Desire

Matters of Heart

He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart.
2 Chronicles 25:2 (NRSVCE)

In all my years as a follower of Jesus, I’ve observed that we as humans are far more comfortable with flesh than with Spirit. From our earliest years we’re taught to trust what our senses are telling us:

The stove coil is red and it’s radiating heat. Don’t touch it.

The meat smells funny. Don’t eat it.

Something in my knee just popped. Stop running.

I’m feeling light headed and nauseous. Better lie down.

Following Jesus, however, is a faith journey. God’s Message says that faith is “the assurance of what we hope for, evidence of that which we cannot see.” There’s no sight, smell, touch, taste, or hearing involved. Quite the opposite. Faith is beyond our physical senses. God continues to say over and over and over again that He judges not on what can be seen, but what is unseen; God looks at the heart.

When God was directing Samuel who he should anoint as king, He told the prophet: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Yet I’ve observed continually that most followers of Jesus, and the institutions we create to organize ourselves, repeatedly revert back to our inherent human instinct to trust our base physical senses. We judge others on what we see in their appearance, what we observe in their behaviors, or we we hear about them from others. Our institutions create rules, both written and unwritten, about a person’s worth and standing before God based on how they look and/or behave. I’ve come to believe that we do this because it comes naturally, it is easy, and it gives us (both individually and as a group) comfort when others conform to the social, religious, and behavioral standards we stipulate and expect.

But that’s not how God operates. He says it quite plainly. “My thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) And, as the Bard so beautifully put it: “There’s the rub.”

Dealing with the unseen motives and intents of the heart, as God does, is messy. It requires discernment, wisdom, grace, and risk.

In today’s chapter, the Chronicler describes Judah’s King Amaziah as a person who did the right things, but not from a true heart. His actions were admirable, his behavior conformed to expectation, but his motivations were all in the wrong place. It brings to mind the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, of whom Jesus said:

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

“Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse.”

The religious people of Jesus day were doing the same things I have observed in religious people of my day. Posturing, appearance, and propriety intended to prove righteousness from what can be physically seen and and audibly heard.

Jesus took a different approach. He gathered a motley crew of followers that included rough, uneducated fishermen, a pair of brothers with anger management issues, a sleazy tax collector, a thief, and a right wing terrorist. He taught them about faith. He exemplified the love he expected of them. He instilled in them compassion. They didn’t come close to measuring up to any kind of acceptable religious standard of their day. But that didn’t matter to God. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 

God’s standard is as simple as a Broadway tune: “You gotta have heart!”

This morning I find myself wanting desperately not to be an Amaziah or a Pharisee. Screw religious trappings and the litmus tests of the institutional church.

I want more heart. And I want to find the heart of others, not their conformity to the standards with which I’m personally comfortable.

That Which I am Gifted and Meant to Do

So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting numbered 8,580.
Numbers 4:46-48 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to understand that the organization of human beings to accomplish a particular task (or tasks) is an art form in and of itself. Anyone who has had to lead any kind of large scale endeavor understands this. There are numerous models and theories for doing so.

In this morning’s chapter we find the Hebrew clan of Levites were dedicated to the care, maintenance and moving of their nation’s mobile temple and all its furnishings. They alone of all the Hebrew clans set it up, took it down, carried it on the march, and did the work of the Temple while encamped. If you were born into the Levite clan you would not be a warrior, you would work be assigned religious duties the rest of your life.

Throughout history this paradigm has also been followed by many societies. A father is apprenticed into a trade by his father, and teaches the trade to his son. You were born into your occupation just as sure as you might be given the surname of that occupation: Miller, Thatcher, Farmer, and Doctor.

Had things still been done this way, I might be a carpenter today, just as my great-grandfather was apprenticed to be before he came to America as a young man. Anyone who has experienced my carpentry skills knows that this would be a tragedy. While I am capable to do some basic projects, you definitely don’t want me building your house!

In today’s paradigm, we are taught as young people that we “can be anything we want” and this is somewhat true. In our culture we are free to pursue any trade or occupation. I have noticed, however, that just because you desire to pursue an occupation doesn’t mean that you are gifted at that occupation. I have witnessed for years those who desired to pursue certain ministry tasks or roles within the local church only to frustrate the entire congregation by their lack of skill or giftedness. I’ve known preachers who can’t preach their way out of a paper bag, singers who can’t carry a tune with a handle on it, and directors of worship who are consistently lost and unable to capably give direction to anyone.

Just as the generational paradigm had its weaknesses, so also does the “you can do whatever you want” paradigm. Desiring an area of giftedness does not necessarily make you good at it.

This morning I’m thinking about my experiences in leadership with business, church, community organizations, and even the project management required of producing or directing a show. I’ve come to believe that one of a leader’s critical tasks is helping people find their areas of giftedness and helping them both embrace and develop those areas. Sometimes there is a journey of acceptance required to bring us to a waypoint of understanding that I ultimately find joy when I am doing what I am gifted and meant to do.

Playing the Line vs. Playing the Want

This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live;”
Amos 5:4a (NIV)

One of the core activities in the acting process is discovering what is motivating your character; Understanding what it is your character wants in each action and conversation. Whenever I get a script for a new part, whether the part is large or small, I first go through and break scenes down into “beats” which are small sections in which my character is focused on a particular action or dialogue.  I then go back and determine my character’s “want” for each beat.

I want to know if my uncle killed my father.
want to be with Juliet so bad I can hardly contain it.
want to be King of Scotland.

The beats and “wants” may change during the rehearsal process as I make new discoveries and my character runs up against how the other characters are playing their respective wants. As the rehearsals progress, I identify my characters overarching motivation in the entire play.

Good actors play more than just the lines, they play the want.

This came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter. The prophet Amos is writing a prophetic poem focused on the ancient kingdom of northern Israel. Connecting the poem together are three direct commands:

Seek me and live.” vs 5

Seek the Lord and live. vs 6

Seek good and not evil. vs 14

The question for Israel that Amos was poking at is the same question an actor asks of his or her character: “What (or who) are you seeking?” What is motivating you? What is it you desire?

It didn’t take me long as a young actor to realize that the acting process is applicable as the living process. It’s crucial that I examine and understand my own motivations in life, in my relationships, in my words, in my actions, in my activities, and in my work.

Along my life journey I’ve observed that uptight religious people (I know because I have been one) are immature actors playing just the lines of God’s Message. Their focus is the surface of each black and white command. I have found, however, that the Great Director is always calling me deeper into life’s script. He wants me to play more than just the religious lines. He wants me to play life from the most critical, core motivations…

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands [and motivations] are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

What am I seeking?

If you want to…

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Leviticus 13:45-46 (NRSV)

I have a nasty cold. You don’t want to shake my hand.”

It’s not uncommon to hear that phrase when greeting someone during cold and flu season. With all we know about germs, bacteria, and viruses, it’s considered courteous and a socially appropriate way to show concern for, and protect the health of, another person. We don’t even think that much about it.

Today’s lengthy chapter is fascinating when I consider what scant medical knowledge must have existed when these laws about visible infections were given thousands of years ago. The prescribed actions in today’s chapter describe a systematic diagnosis of symptoms, the quarantine of infected individuals, the destruction of infected clothing, and the public communication of such infections so as to protect the larger community from transmittal.

What was considered necessary for the health and welfare of the society could also be incredibly shaming for the infected person. You were expected to make yourself look sick and disheveled so others could spot you and would want to avoid you. You were to proclaim loudly and repeatedly “Unclean!” so that others could stay away. How awful for those who lived their entire lives in such a way. I can’t imagine what it would do to my soul to live life always on the periphery of “normal” society, continually repelling people with my appearance and forever announcing to people who I was “unclean.” Talk about tragic.

It brings to mind this morning one of my favorite stories about Jesus. It happens so quickly that it is often forgotten among the wondrous things Jesus did on his miraculous mystery tour:

Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”

Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.”

I think about this leper in terms of today’s chapter with its rigid legal and religious societal prescription. This is a person who has been alienated from family and society, perhaps their whole lives. This is a person who has had people perpetually avoid them, look at them in disgust, and treat them with contempt. This is a person who may very well have not felt the touch of another human being for as long as they could remember. No warm hugs, no human intimacy, no loving caress of a mother or spouse. This is a person who, in word and action, has been repeatedly fed a message by society: “I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to touch you. I don’t want you near me or my loved ones.”

Imagine this wounded soul coming to Jesus at the height of Jesus’ popularity. The crowds were enormous.

“Unclean!” the person shouts hoarsely as the crowds part. Mothers protect their children and hurry them away. People look away in disgust. Shouts and insults erupt as the “normal” people urge this person to leave and get away from them. Perhaps a few even picked up stones to throw in order to physically drive the leper away from them.

But Jesus watches quietly as the leper kneels and proclaims a simple statement of faith. “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

Then Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. “I want to,” Jesus says.

This morning I am thinking about my leprous soul that no one sees. I am thinking about the many ways I am “unclean” and infected with envy, hatred, prejudice, and pride. I am thinking of the ways I secretly identify with the leper, and all the ways I don’t have a flipping’ clue.

Jesus, If you want to, you can make me clean.

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featured image by Hans Splinter via Flickr

The Context of the Pinterest Quote

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

We have increasingly become a culture that boils things down to simple thoughts. We gather quotes, sayings and images on social media. We try to say something or quote something worthwhile in the 140 characters that a tweet will allow. Everything is reduced to make it smaller, pithier, and more quickly consumed. And, in doing so we lose context. Without context things change and lose the fullness of meaning.

josh 24 15 grab edit

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua said in today’s chapter. These words can be found on countless Pinterest images (example above), plaques, wall hangings, keychains, bookmarks, pens, and etc. It’s a popular sentiment and statement of commitment. I’m afraid very few people know where it originated or its context.

Joshua, the chosen successor to Moses, is at the finish line of his life. He’s dying. His number is almost up and he knows it. He gathers the nation together around the Big Top – the great tent that had been Israel’s mobile worship center since the days of Moses himself.

Joshua recounts the story of the nations history from Abraham to their present day (“Where have we been?”).

Joshua reminds them of the blessings they are enjoying in the lands which had become their inheritance (“Where are we now?”)

Then Joshua calls them to commitment: “Choose this day whom you will serve…” (“Where are you going?”)

The call to commitment is not for Joshua himself. He’s done. He’s run his race. The answer to the question of commitment will have no bearing on him. He no longer has an earthly future. He’s making a declarative statement for his family. He will not have any power to enforce it, he will not be physically present to hold his family accountable to it, and he has no assurance that they will actually fulfill it. It is a  faith statement.

Joshua’s statement belies the real question that is weighing on his 110 year old heart: “What am I leaving behind?”

His statement, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” is far greater than the letters on a Pinterest post can provide to the casual observer. The depth of it cannot be realized in reading the mere words. It’s important to understand the whole story and the context in which the statement is made. This is a declaration of death-bed desire. It is a plea to his descendants. This is Joshua’s great and motivating want. It is the revelation of his dying wish and his heart’s pure and final longing.

Today, we come to the end of Joshua’s story. It is the final chapter in the book, and in a moment of unplanned synchronicity it falls on the day before my 50th birthday. Today, I find myself asking:

  • “Where have I been?”
  • “Where am I at?”
  • “Where am I going?”
  • “What will I leave behind?”

 

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featured image: Christmas Morning by Andrew Wyeth

 

A Small but Significant Question

scriptwork“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
1 Kings 3:7-9 (NIV)

One of the foundational lessons I learned while studying acting was the importance of understanding your character’s motivation. A play is broken up into Acts. Acts are broken up into scenes. Scenes are broken down into “beats” of action and dialogue. For each beat, I ask my character the question: “What do I want?”

When my character moves across stage it is not because the director told me to do so. There is something internally driving my character to move from point A to point B.

What do I want, that is motivating me to walk across the room?

  • To get a sandwich?
  • To grab my book?
  • To find the remote?
  • To kiss the girl?

When my character says to the woman, “I love you,” there is a reason he says it.

What do I want from saying those words to her?

  • To emotionally manipulate her into trusting me?
  • To express my sincere devotion?
  • To salvage our broken relationship?
  • To conceal my hatred for her?

One of the things that I love about acting is the fact that it has taught me much more about myself and about life than I ever dreamed or expected. When you spend hours, weeks, and months working on a character and exploring his motivation for saying and doing everything, you eventually begin to question and explore your own personal motivations.

Here I am with a bunch of people who I really don’t like that much, doing things I really shouldn’t do, knowing that tomorrow I’m really going to feel like crap physically and feel guilty spiritually. Why am I doing this? What is it I want?

– To be accepted by this social group?
– To punish myself for something?
– To make the words, “You’ll never amount to anything” come true?
– Just to be stupid?

My acting methods led me down a path of intense, personal introspection, which led me to an honest reflection of both my character strengths, weaknesses and fatal flaws. This led me to grapple with the fact that there were some things I needed to change and some things I couldn’t change for which I am in perpetual need of both grace and forgiveness.  This led me to Jesus.

For God so loved the world [note: there’s His motivation] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

In today’s chapter, God questions young King Solomon’s motivation. “What do you want?” The answer was critical in revealing who Solomon was, and who Solomon would become. Today, as I type this post in the pre-dawn hours of another day, Holy Spirit is once again asking me that small, but very important question:

What do you want?

 

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Persistence Reveals the Heart’s Desire

Source: Joe Corvera via Flickr
Source: Joe Corvera via Flickr

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
Luke 18:1-5 (NIV)

Persistence reveals a persons true desires.

When our girls were small they would often come up with all sorts of crazy requests. They wanted this or that toy. They wanted these lessons or those lessons. They wanted this or that clothing to follow the latest fad fashion. I get it. I was a kid once. I remember trying to convince my parents to send me to a fancy boarding school.

What I’ve observed over time is that the human heart is fickle. We are so easily tossed about like a dinghy on the high seas. The internet and social media has made it even worse. What was trending yesterday is old news today. It’s so easy for our hearts to chase after the mania of the moment.

When a person persistently pursues one thing over a long period of time, I believe that it reveals something about that person’s heart. It may not be the right thing. It may not be the appropriate thing. It does, however, say something about the true nature of that person truly desires.

I learned as a parent that if I simply acknowledged then ignored my children’s crazy requests the vast majority of them simply went away with the changing of the wind. It was when I began hearing the same request repeated over a long period of time that I realized it was something I might want to really consider.

The lesson of Jesus’ parable (above) is pretty clear. A persistent prayer gets acknowledged. This morning I’m thinking about my own requests to God. I am the first to acknowledge that I am not always persistent in my prayers. Perhaps God is waiting for my persistence to find out what I truly desire.