Tag Archives: Emotion

A Rocky Start

A Rocky Start (CaD Ps 95) Wayfarer

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness…”
Psalm 95:7-8 (NIV)

Greetings from quarantine. It’s official that COVID has entered our home. I’m happy to report that symptoms are very mild and it’s only one person. That said, the lockdown at Vander Well Manor has begun.

Some days simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. Routines get thrown out of whack when you’re quarantined with the three-year-old and a pandemic throws life into a perpetual state of questions.

Some months get off to a rocky start, and this month has been that way. I won’t bore you with the details, but unexpected issues with work have kept the stress level consistently higher than normal since New Year’s.

Some years simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. The political tensions of the past four years, once again, spill over into the streets, through mainstream media, and all over social media.

I can’t say I’ve experienced much quiet this morning. It’s mostly been activity, swapping kid duties so others can work, and trying to sneak in a perusal of today’s chapter. That said, one of the great things about this chapter-a-day journey is that it always meets me right where I am, in this moment, and at this waypoint on life’s road.

The ancient Hebrew song lyrics of Psalm 95 begin with a call to praise. The songwriters calls the listener to sing, shout, and bow down in worship of the Creator and sustainer of life. He then makes a sudden shift and presents a warning that is a mystery to most casual readers. He warns his listeners to learn from the past and refuse to “harden your hearts” as happened “at Meribah and Massah.”

Anyone can read about the event that inspired the lyrics in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. It happened as the Hebrews tribes escaped slavery in Egypt and struck out through the wilderness to the land God had promised. Even though God had repeatedly revealed His power in getting the Egyptians to let them go, to save them from the Egyptian army, and provide for their “daily bread,” they grumbled and complained.

I have written multiple times in these chapter-a-day posts about the Chain Reaction of Praise which begins with my decision to praise God in every circumstance which leads to activated faith which then leads to praying powerful prayers, which leads to overcoming evil with good, which leads to increasing spiritual life and maturity.

It struck me that what the songwriter of Psalm 95 is doing is calling me to the Chain Reaction of Praise. No matter what the circumstance, lead with praise. Choose to shout, sing, and bow down rather than grumble and complain. It goes against the grain of my human emotions, but that is the way of Jesus.

It’s been a rocky start to the day, the month, and the year. Life is not settling back into a peaceful, happy routine. I can grumble, complain and sink into despair. Or, I can follow the path of Jesus. I can follow the Spirit. I can choose to praise, to have faith, to pray, and to keep doing what is good and right in the moment despite my circumstances.

That’s what I’m endeavoring to do in this moment, on this day.

BTW: My daily posts and podcasts might be published sporadically, or not at all, for the next few weeks. Just sayin’. I’ll just be here praising and doing what’s good and right in each moment of quarantine.

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development (CaD Ps 79) Wayfarer

Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times
    the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.

Psalm 79:13 (NIV)

It’s Christmas season! Yesterday, Wendy and I had the blessing of hugging our children and our grandson for the first time since last December. Milo got to put the ornaments that celebrate each of the four Christmases he’s been with us on the tree. Around the base of the tree is my father’s Lionel train set, and Milo became the fourth generation to experience the joy that train chugging around the tracks.

As I experience Christmas anew this year through the eyes of a three-year-old, I’m reminded of my own childhood. Each year I would get out the Sears Christmas Wish Book catalog and make my bucket list of all the toys that I wanted. It was usually a big list and included a host of big-ticket items my parents could never afford and probably wouldn’t buy for me even if they could because there’s know way that the giant chemistry set was going to accomplish anything but make a mess, require a lot of parental assistance, and probably blow up the house. I couldn’t manage such mature cognitive reasoning in my little brain. All I knew was it was really cool, it looked really fun, and all my friends at school would be really jealous.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to understand that my finite and circumstantial emotions and desires are often incongruent with the larger picture realities of both reason and Spirit.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 79, is an angry blues rant that was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. It is a raw description of the scene of devastation after the Babylonians destroyed the city and razed Solomon’s Temple to the ground in 586 B.C. Blood and death are everywhere. Vultures and wild dogs are feasting on dead bodies because there aren’t enough people alive and well to bury the bodies. The strong, educated, and young have been taken as prisoners to Babylon. The ruins of God’s Temple have been desecrated with profane images and graffiti. The songwriter pours out heartbreak, shock, sorrow, rage, and desperate pleas for God to rise up and unleash holy vengeance in what the ancients described as “an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth.”

As I read the songwriters rant this morning, there are three things that give me layers of added perspective:

First, when God first called Abraham (the patriarch of the Hebrew tribes and nations), He made it clear that the intent of making a nation of Abraham’s descendants was so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through them, not destroyed.

Second, God had spoken to the Hebrews through the prophet Jeremiah warning them that the natural consequences of their sin and unfaithfulness would be Babylonian captivity through the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God referred through Jeremiah as “my servant.” It appears that the songwriter may have missed that.

Third, I couldn’t help but read the songwriter’s plea for God to pay back their enemies “seven times” the contempt that their enemies had shown them, and think of the time Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive an enemy who wronged him “seven times.” Peter was trying to show Jesus that he was beginning to understand Jesus’ teaching. To the Hebrews, the number seven spiritually represented “completeness.” When the songwriter asked for “seven times” the vengeance it was a spiritual notion of “eye-for-an-eye” justice would be complete. Peter’s question assumed that forgiving an enemy seven times would be spiritually “complete” forgiveness. Jesus responds to Peter that a more correct equation for forgiveness in the economy of God’s Kingdom would be “seventy-times-seven.”

I come back to the songwriter of Psalm 79 with these three things in mind. The first time I read it, like most 21st century readers, I was taken back by the blood, gore, raw anger, and cries for holy vengeance. Now I see the song with a different perspective. I see a songwriter who is devastated and confused. I hear the crying out of a soul who has witnessed unspeakable things, and whose emotions can’t reasonably see any kind of larger perspective in the moment.

This morning I am reminded of what I discussed in my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, Time (Part 1). Humanity at the time of the ancient Hebrews was still very much in the early childhood stage of development. The songwriter is expressing his thoughts, emotions, and desires like a child desperately asking Santa for a real dinosaur for Christmas. Not just any dinosaur, a real T-Rex to put in the backyard.

Today’s psalm is another example of God honoring the need that we have as human beings of expressing our hearts and emotions in the moment, as we have them, no matter where we find ourselves in our spiritual development. As my spiritual journey has progressed, I’ve gotten better at processing my emotions and having very different conversations with God about circumstances than I did when I was a teenager, a young adult, a young husband, and a young father. It doesn’t invalidate the feelings and conversations I had back then. They were necessary for me to grow, learn, and mature in spirit.

In the quiet this morning, I’m identifying with the songwriter of Psalm 79, not affirming blood vengeance and “eye-for-an-eye-justice,” but affirming that it was where the songwriter was in that moment, just like I have had some rants and prayers along the journey that I’m kind of embarrassed think about now. This is a journey. I’m not who I was, And, I’m not yet who I will ultimately become in eternity. I’m just a wayfarer on the road of life, taking it one-step-at-a-time into a new work week.

For the record, Milo. No, you can’t have a real dinosaur. Sorry, buddy.

Getting it Out

Getting it Out (CaD Ps 58) Wayfarer

Then people will say,
    “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
    surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
Psalm 58:11 (NIV)

My buddy, Spike, and I have a friendly on-going conversation about baseball. Spike is a life-long fan of the New York Yankees. He even tried to get me to be a fan in our younger years. He bought me a subscription to a Yankees fan magazine one year. While I will always appreciate and respect his passion, he failed to convert me.

In baseball fandom, the Yankees are that team that everyone loves to hate. It’s the same kind of schadenfreude that America has had for New England Patriots the last ten years. Baseball, however, is a much older sport and the animosity runs much deeper. The Yankees are a team that everyone loves to hate, and when it comes time for the postseason I believe that there are millions of baseball fans who, next to their favorite team, will cheer for “any team but the Yankees.” Spike argues that having a team that is the Darth Vader of the sport is actually good for the sport and that the Yankees serve a legitimate and healthy purpose in this. I’ll leave that argument for meaningless conversation to have over a pint at the pub.

Still, I have noticed that in the passion and emotions that sports stirs up in people, it is common to have that rival, that enemy team, about whom you feel intense negative emotion. And when you lose, again, to that hated rival you curse them and secretly hope the worst for them even though you know it’s silly and rather meaningless behavior for an adult in a world where there are legitimately other things we should really care about. Nevertheless, sometimes like screaming into a pillow, it feels good to exorcise those negative emotions. It reminds me of a friend of Wendy’s and mine who, as a mother of young children, admitted that some days she sneaks out into the garage to scream profanities that she just has to get out.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 58, is part of a genre of ancient lyrics known by scholars as “imprecatory” songs. To “imprecate” means to “call down curses on another person or persons.” It was a common practice among cultures in the Ancient Near East. For modern readers of the Great Story, imprecatory psalms can be tough to stomach. The language, anger, rage, and emotion of the lyrics are raw. In one verse of David’s lyrics, he asks God to make the wicked like a stillborn baby who never sees life.

Two things I noted as I meditated on David’s lyrical curses in the quiet this morning. First, the focus of David’s curses are wicked, rich rulers who rig the system and don’t care anything about the poor, the needy, and the socially outcast. He’s cursing the injustices of this world and those who propagate them. It’s really the same anger we’ve seen in protests and riots this year.

The second thing is that David is taking his righteous anger, rage, and emotions to God in song. He’s not taking out vengeance himself. He’s not violently taking matters into his own hand. He’s not rooting out the wicked who inspire his rant and executing them which, depending on the time this song was written, he had both the authority and ability to do. Like a young mother screaming F-bombs to her minivan in an empty garage, David is exorcising his emotions to God, who is neither shocked nor surprised by our emotions.

In that way, I think Spike has a good point that it’s good to have a bad guy on whom we exorcise those negative emotions. Along this life journey, I’ve come to acknowledge that I can’t avoid anger. Even Jesus got righteously angry, and Paul told the followers of Jesus in Ephesus not that anger is wrong or bad, but what we do with it. Psalm 58 and the imprecatory psalms were the ancient Hebrews way of getting it out. And, on this post-election morning, it’s not lost on me that there may be many people who need to exorcise some negative emotions in a healthy way.

Spike has often told me “it’s not an official World Series if the Yankees aren’t in it.”

If you’ll excuse me, I think I left something in the garage.

The Impotence to Respond

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:5 (NRSVCE)

David was hiding in a cave in the middle of a desolate wilderness with a rag-tag group of outcasts and mercenary warriors. He may have been God’s anointed king, but the throne was still tightly under the control of his father-in-law, Saul, and Saul had made David public enemy number one. That left David scratching out a meager existence in the middle-of-nowhere as he hid from the powerful mad-king who wanted David dead.

In an act of desperation, David sneaks in to visit God’s priest, Ahimelech. Like an enemy soldier seeking sanctuary in the protection of a church, David went to the place where the traveling tent sanctuary from the days of Moses was set up and serving as the center of worship. David sought God’s divine guidance through the priest. David begged for help and was provided food as well as the sword of Goliath that was still housed there like a trophy.

It just so happened that a servant of Saul name Doeg was there and witnessed David’s visit. Doeg goes to King Saul and tells him of David’s visit and the assistance Ahimelech provided David. Saul confronts Ahimelech who attempts to argue that, as the king’s son-in-law, the priest felt an obligation to assist David as an act of faithfulness to Saul. Saul rewards Ahimelech by telling Doeg to kill him, and all of God’s priests living in the town, along with all of their wives and children. Saul has Doeg massacre an entire village of his own people and his own priests because one priest showed kindness to David.

One of Ahimelech’s son’s survives and seeks David in his hide-away cave He tells David of Doeg’s visit to Saul and subsequent massacre. David, realizing that his visit to Ahimelech started the chain of events leading to the massacre, feels the weight of responsibility for his actions.

David, as he always did with his intense emotions, channels his feelings into a song which is known to us as Psalm 52. It’s today’s chapter.

David’s song is fascinating in its structure. The first verse is David addressing Doeg and calling out his wickedness, arrogance, treachery, and deceit. The third and final verse is the contrast, with David claiming his standing in the right, trusting in God, and proclaiming that trust directly. In between the two verses is the central theme in which David hands Doeg over to God for God’s judgment. He relinquishes vengeance and retribution to God.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but put myself in David’s shoes. David was in a position of impotence. He’s hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He has no status. He has no standing. At this moment there is nothing that he can do in his own power to right the wrong that resulted from his actions. His only option is to cry out his emotions and ask God to right the wrong he is powerless to address himself.

What a powerful word picture. In this life journey I have found myself impotent to address and correct wrongs. Thankfully, the wrongs are trivial in comparison to the massacre of innocents David was dealing with. Nevertheless, I find in David an example to follow. Pouring out and expressing my rage, frustration, accusation and consciously handing over that which I am powerless to do to God.

As I contemplate David’s story, and his lyrics, this morning I find myself with two connected thoughts into the day ahead:

First, Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, who were impotent agains a Roman Empire that would throw them to the lions in the Roman Circus and watch them being devoured for entertainment:

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:17-29 (MSG)

Second, the simple prayer of serenity:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Guernica

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Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35:1 (NRSVCE)

In January of 1937, Pablo Picasso was commissioned to do a painting for his native Spain to be displayed in the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair. His initial sketches for the project show very little difference from the theme of his other works at that time.

On the 26th of April, Nazi German and Italian Fascist air forces bombed the town of Guernica, Spain at the request of Spanish Nationalists who desired to strike against their Spanish political rivals in the region. According to local accounts, it was market day and most of the villagers were gathered in the town center when the bombs began to fall. In his diary, the commander of the Nazi squadron recorded that the town was still burning the following day. It was utterly destroyed. There were no military targets in the area. Guernica was the most ancient town and the cultural center of the Basque region. It was a terror attack designed to wipe out political rivals.

Guernica in Ruins after 1937 bombing

On May 1, Picasso read eyewitness accounts of the attack. He immediately abandoned his original ideas for his commission and began to work. The 25.5 foot wide and 11.5 foot tall painting, entitled Guernica, was finished in 35 days. Containing images of the suffering of people and animals wrought by violence and chaos, the painting prominently displays a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, dismemberment, and flames. Picasso painted it in black and white using a specially requisitioned matte house paint that was void of any gloss to give it the feeling of a black and white photograph recording a moment in time. Guernica is considered among the most moving and powerful paintings of all time.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

I find today’s chapter, Psalm 35, among the most unique songs David ever wrote. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, David’s life is quite a story. He had a lot of enemies throughout his life. There were military enemies from neighboring regions who wanted him dead. There were also internal enemies everywhere he turned. His own King wanted him dead, and therefore all of Saul’s political allies were against David. David’s own son rebelled against him, turned David’s political allies against him, and led an armed rebellion against him. David’s life journey was not an easy road.

Psalm 35 is David pouring out his emotions to God in song. You can almost feel the desperation as he begs God to take up his cause. Surrounded by those who want his life on every side, and betrayed by friends and family who he loved, David begs God to take up his cause. He pours out his soul in raw anger at his enemies, asking God to destroy them. It is not an easy read.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

One of the things that I love about the Psalms is the diversity of them. David wrote liturgical, religious songs for corporate worship events. David wrote the blues when he was down. David wrote songs of intense joy when he was delivered. David wrote songs of intense contrition when faced with his tragic flaws. David wrote songs of intense anger when enemies outside his control were closing in all around him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about our emotions. Emotions can have significant negative consequences when they lie hidden, suppressed, and ignored within us. Finding healthy ways to get out my negative emotions has been one of the greatest lessons of my life journey. Many people think of God as a strict moral judge who will be shocked and punish us for expressing our “negative emotions.” I don’t find God to be that at all. Like David, I find God to be a loving creator who is not shocked, dismayed, or surprised by any of my emotions – even the negative ones. I can cry, scream, rail, and vent to God, who is Love incarnate, because love is patient, kind, and gracious.

I imagine God listening to David’s angry rant of a song, that we now call Psalm 35. I imagine David getting to the end and being almost out of breath from the pouring out of his emotions. I imagine God smiling and saying, “There. Nice. Feel better?”

“Get it Out, Little Dude”

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I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.

Psalm 6:6 (NRSVCE)

This past week I was in the dentist’s chair. Neither Wendy nor I had braces when we were young, and we both have some dental issues as a result, so we’re finally pulling the trigger on doing Invisalign and doing it together. So if my voice sounds a little strange on my podcast for the next year, know that it’s because all of my teeth are wrapped in plastic!

Anyway, my dentist and I got into an interesting conversation that started when he asked me how long I’ve been doing this chapter-a-day blog. I don’t think he expected to hear that it has been fourteen years! We then proceeded to talk about some short posts that he has been writing and posting on social media, which I’ve been reading and enjoying very much. He then shared with me that he found himself with these things he was feeling and thinking that he “had to get out.” I couldn’t help think of the prophet Jeremiah when used the metaphor of the message God was giving him being a “fire shut up in my bones” that just has to get out.

Today’s chapter, another song lyric by King David, is one of the examples I have used when I tell people that the psalms read like the blues. I’m sure that the ancient music didn’t sound anything like the blues, but I’m quite certain that Robert Johnson or Jonny Lang would identify with David’s spirit and could do something amazing with the same lyrics.

In both the cases of my dentist, and King David, the same theme has contrasting lessons to teach. Sometimes, there is stuff inside that I’ve just got to get out. With the former, there is something positive inside that needs to come out because others need to hear it, learn from it, be inspired, encouraged, or comforted by it. In the latter case, there is negative energy shut-up within that needs to be exorcised and expressed so that it can’t do spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational damage that always occurs when I suppress and hold in my shame, loneliness, fear, anxiety, anger, pain, frustration, grief, hurt, [insert your own negative emotion here].

Wendy and I are opposites when it comes to handling negative emotions. As an Enneagram Eight, Wendy tends to explode with volcanic eruptions of emotion that often run hot like lava. But she exorcises those emotions quickly and then quickly settles and becomes solid rock again. As an Enneagram Four, I tend to broodingly hold the negative emotions as they boil and churn deep in my heart until daily life begins to tremor and toxic fumes start seeping out in my words and actions. It sometimes takes Wendy, or one of my close companions, to consciously drill down with me in order to release the crap that needs to be released.

Along my life journey, I’ve both experienced in myself and observed in others the tragic consequences of suppressing and holding in the toxic shit that builds up as we walk through life and relationship. I love David’s lyrical laments because they remind me of two things. First, I need to get out the crap I’m feeling even though it might be negative, raw, and even toxic. Better to get it out than to let it wreak havoc in my life. Second, God is not surprised by nor worried about my emotional crap any more than I am worried when my two-year-old grandson goes into full-tilt tantrum mode for the silliest of reasons. I totally believe that God looks at me in full tantrum mode and says the same thing to me that I’d say to Milo: “Get it out, little dude. Then take a nap. You’ll feel better.”

David’s “Seven Steps”

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When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

Psalm 4:4 (NRSVCE)

Not long ago I happened to be talking to a friend who experienced the tragic death of a child. As we talked, I asked how he was doing in the process of grief. He honestly shared with me some of the havoc that grief had wreaked in everyday life. He then shared about conversations he’d had with others who were walking the same, difficult stretch of life’s road. One, he shared, had been drinking heavily. He then confessed that he had been over-indulging his appetite for sweets every night.

“We all have the same grief. We cope in different ways,” he said. “My friend medicates with one appetite. I medicate with another.”

Along this life journey, I’ve observed and experienced that it is a natural human reaction to want to self-medicate by indulging our appetites whenever we encounter a difficult stretch of the journey. It could be one of the “ugly” social taboos like alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, or sex. It could equally be an unhealthy indulgence in what’s considered a normal appetite, like that to which my friend confessed: over-eating, over-sleeping, over-spending, over-exercising, binging on screens, or isolation. I’ve even observed those who have become zealously over-religious in an attempt to feel some kind of control over out-of-control emotions, circumstances, and relationships. Twelve Step groups often teach members to be aware of negative feelings that often trigger appetite indulgences. They use the acronym S.A.L.T. (sad, angry, lonely, tired).

In today’s psalm, King David expresses his frustration with finding himself the object of public ridicule and scorn, especially among the socially elite power brokers in his world. He begins his song imploring God to listen to his prayer, he then lays out his troubles and frustration.

What happens next is a Hebrew word: Selah. Scholars believe that this was a musical notation calling on there to be a “rest” in the song.

David then reminds himself that God has called him to be faithful, and reminds himself that God has repeatedly answered his prayers.

Then comes the verse I pulled out and quoted at the top of the post:

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.

It is followed with another Selah.

I couldn’t help but notice that the pattern of David’s lyric is a really great reminder of how to approach troubles, anxieties, fear, grief, sadness, anger, loneliness, or weariness. Not the Twelve Steps, but the Seven Steps:

  1. Take it to God.
  2. Get it out, express it, be honest about your feelings.
  3. Rest. Take a deep breath.
  4. Remind myself of God’s faithfulness and promises.
  5. Avoid my natural inclination to exit and indulge my favorite appetite as an escape hatch of the negative emotions.
  6. Be silent. Ponder. Feel.
  7. Rest. Breathe.

The final lyrics of the song are a testament to David discovering a “gladness” in his heart that is better than feasting and drinking. Certainly healthier than over-eating and over-drinking.

Just as with yesterday’s psalm, David ends up with a peaceful night’s sleep.

In the quiet this morning I find myself accepting the fact that, despite 54 years on the journey and almost 40 years of following Jesus, I still have very human struggles with responding to negative emotions and circumstances in healthy ways. What I have learned, however, is that I have to allow myself the grace to be human. I also have learned to surround myself with companions who love me unconditionally, are honest with me in my weakness, and never cease to encourage and support me in the process of growing.

It’s a journey, my friend. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Rules and Exceptions

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God.

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1,3 (NIV)

A large part of my daily vocation is working with companies and their Quality Assessment (QA) efforts. You know, when you call and they say, “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes”? That’s a piece of what our company does.

Many years ago I observed a pattern in many companies with whom I consulted on their QA programs. An exceptional situation will result in a general rule for the population. Often, the rule had more of a detrimental effect than the exceptional situation that started it ever would. Let me give you an example.

Our team’s customer surveys (another piece of what our company does) typically find that customers appreciate a company who knows their name (Remember Cheers? “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”) and offers a personal service experience. Then one day a well-meaning Customer Service Representative (CSR) makes a mistake and addresses the caller by the wrong name or butchers the pronunciation of an unusual sounding name. The customer goes postal on the CSR and calls back to speak with managers and executives up the org chart making a huge deal out of a relatively little thing. Management, not wanting to have that happen again, makes a general rule: CSRs will no longer address customers by name!

The result? One exceptional, cranky customer who made a mountain out of a molehill has resulted in all customers getting a diminished service experience from the company.

Then I began to realize that this isn’t just something that happens in business. It happens all the time in families, churches, communities, and cultures. In fact, it happens in today’s chapter, but I bet you didn’t see it if you read the chapter.

Back in the days of Moses, there were two exceptional enemies of the Hebrews. The Ammonites and Moabites had gone out of their way to curse the Hebrews and attempted to thwart their passing through the land. Because of this, the law of Moses contained an exceptional rule:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.

Deuteronomy 23:3-4 (NIV)

Then, I read again what Nehemiah and the returned exiles did when they read this text:

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.

Nehemiah 13:3 (NIV) [emphasis added]

Do you see what they did there? They took an exceptional situation that applied to two specific people groups (the Moabites and Ammonites) being allowed into the temple, and they expanded into a general rule excluding all people of foreign descent from the entire land.

Here’s the kicker. In doing this, they were breaking another very specific law of God in Leviticus 19:

“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.'”

Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

I can see the legal wrangling spinning in the hearts and heads of Nehemiah and his people: “If we exclude all foreigners from the land, then we won’t have any of them residing among us, and that renders the Leviticus rule moot!”

By the way, what Nehemiah and the people are doing in today’s chapter is part of why Jesus came 400 years later to find a culture of separation, animosity, prejudice, and hatred between Jews and Gentiles. If they’d have interpreted Deuteronomy 23:3-4 differently and made Leviticus 19:33-34 their general rule, things may have just have turned out differently.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of all the ways we still do this today. Parents have one child who rebels and they clamp down their draconian rules on all of their children in the belief that the entire brood is a bunch of little rebels waiting to happen. Two young people at a school dance go too far and the girl ends up pregnant, so the church outlaws dancing in any form as evil. One dumb terrorist thought he could plant a bomb in his shoe (simply resulting in him burning his feet), and now billions of travelers have to have their shoes removed and x-rayed at every airport in the world.

By the way, I think both extremes of the political spectrum do this, as well. Let me give you two easy examples. The right does it with guns: “Because the Constitution made an exception for Colonists to have a musket to defend themselves against enemies and provide food for their tables, there’s no reason why I can’t have an M-16 and a rocket launcher in my home arsenal.” The left does it with abortion: “Because there are tragic situations of rape, incest, and life-threatening situations, we should allow abortion for all women, for any reason, right until the moment of delivery in the ninth month.”

The further I get in my life journey the more I observe that we humans are largely driven by fear, distrust, and emotional over-reactions. I don’t want to live that way. I’d rather have my life, words, and actions driven by faith, hope, and love. And, the latter most of all.

The Nehemiah Two-Step

They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
Nehemiah 4:8-9 (NIV)

This life journey always comes with a certain amount of opposition. It can come from any number of sources, and it can take multiple forms. Opposition can be spiritual, emotional, relational, physical, personal, internal, public, subversive, passive, violent, and etc. We all face opposition, conflict, and threats from time to time, even if it is in relatively small ways.

In today’s chapter, the exiles attempting to repair the walls of Jerusalem encounter opposition from the neighboring tribes. Conflict with these tribes and towns had been part of the political landscape of the area for centuries, so it was not a surprise. It was expected.

I found it fascinating that Nehemiah records a “two-step” response to the threats. I think the “Nehemiah Two-Step” is a great move to know when I find myself dancing with the fires of opposition in any form that the antagonistic force might present itself. The first step was to pray. The second step was to respond with the appropriate action.

Along my life journey, I’ve experienced many times when I get this very simple dance move wrong:

  • I pray without responding with action. In hindsight, I realize that sometimes I have placed all the responsibility on God with the expectations that He will supernaturally make it all okay without me being responsible for doing my part.
  • I act without praying. Other times, a threat or attack comes and it elicits from me an immediate reaction. When I react without praying, I’ve come to realize that I have refused to seek, submit, and subscribe to my higher authority. My reactions are often raging but not rational, passionate but not prudent, willful but not wise.
  • I act before I pray. When I get the order wrong, I find myself determining the response I think is warranted and then ask God to honor my plan rather than honoring God to seek His plan for how I should respond.

In the quiet this morning, as I pondered these things, I was reminded of this quote:

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Albert Einstein

The great scientist’s words have always reminded me that no matter what I set out to accomplish, I can expect opposition. And, it’s likely that the greater endeavor I attempt, the greater opposition I’m likely to face.

From a spiritual perspective, God’s Message continually reminds me of the same thing. Specifically, that spiritual opposition is always a threat:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

I Peter 5:8 (NIV)

I long ago recognized that the time I spend, first thing in the morning, in quiet reading, writing, and contemplation has a positive effect on the rest of my day. It’s another form of the “Nehemiah two-step.” Pray, then act.

So, now I’ve prayed. It’s time to take action on today’s task list.

Have a great day, my friend.

It’s Colder than the Arctic. Oh, the Joy!

I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
2 Corinthians 7:4b

Note to subscribers: I had a technical glitch publishing this post this morning with some nasty HTML coding issues. My apologies. I trashed the original post and am reposting, so you may have gotten two emails. Sorry. Maybe it’s the cold 😉

I write this post from the depths of winter in Iowa. It’s -13 as I tap out these words, which is a bit warmer than it was yesterday. This morning I woke up to find our hot water heater isn’t working. Lovely.

Just a week or so ago I was sitting in O’Hare airport in Chicago chatting with a wonderfully gregarious transplant from New Zealand. He was complaining about the weather extremes he’s learned to live with here in the midwest of North America. It reminded me of an observation Garrison Keillor once made: Living in the midwest is like spending your summers in Death Valley and your winters in the Arctic. Indeed. Here’s the headline from the Des Moines Register on Tuesday:

 

Article Headline from Des Moines Register, January 29, 2019.

Along the journey we face all kinds of different challenges. While it’s human to grumble and complain, I often find it personally necessary to make myself put things in context. This morning’s chapter provided it for me.

In writing to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul references “all our troubles.” Later in the letter he provides specifics. Let me jump ahead for the sake of today’s thought. Paul writes:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received the forty lashes minus one.(Note: 39 lashes with a scourge was the ancient prescription to bring the punished to the point of death without letting them actually slip into the comfort of death). Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones (Note: Paul’s would be executioners actually believed they had successfully stoned him to death. His body was carried and dumped outside the city of Lystra and left for dead.), three times I was shipwrecked (Note: He doesn’t mention the venomous snake bite that should have killed him.), I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move (Note: Scholars say that Paul logged some 10,000 miles during his journeys. That’s roughly 21,120,000 steps without a FitBit) . I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

As I said: Context can be a good antidote for self-centered misery. It’s cold this morning and my water heater is broken. I am, however, in a warm house, with warm clothes, and a warm wife. The water heater guy will be by in a few hours to deal with the hot water problem. Boo-hoo for me.

What I found even more fascinating as I read Paul’s words today was that while he endured torture, stoning, shipwrecks, snakebites, imprisonment and the rest, he states that his “joy knows no bounds.”

Along this journey Wendy and I have learned a lot about joy (though I will freely confess that I know far less than Paul). Joy always jumps off the page at me, because it is one of those words that holds a lot of meaning for Wendy and me. We’ve learned from our journey together that joy is something deeper than a momentary feeling such as happiness which flits in and out with the ever shifting winds of circumstance. Joy comes from a deep spring. It’s not a surface, run-off emotion. You have to drill through bedrock of suffering to experience the flow of joy. It is a spiritual by-product of the three things that remain when all else is stripped away: faith, hope, and love.

In the quiet (and a blessedly warm home office) I am thankful this morning for the flow of joy that Wendy and I have come to experience, independent of whatever momentary personal circumstances we may be experiencing.

By the way, temperatures here in picturesque Pella, Iowa are forecast to be 57 degrees (above zero) on Sunday.

Context.

Stay warm, my friend. Have a great day.