Tag Archives: Foolishness

Freedom, Indulgence, Hard Knocks, and Wisdom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Among most of Wendy’s and my circle of close friends we happen to be the furthest down the path of life experience. As we enjoy being grandparents for the first time and watch our adult children embarking on their own adult journeys, most of our friends are somewhere between the stages of young children taxi service and sending children off to college for the first time. Just yesterday I was speaking with my friend who is experiencing the latter.

For young people who have lived in a secure home with engaged parents, going off to college is the first opportunity to experience real freedom. No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is reminding you of what you need to do. Plus, opportunities to experience the appetites of life in all their excesses tend to present themselves in abundance.

For many of us, the years of college and young adulthood are when we learn some crucial lessons on life’s road. Chief among them is answering the simple question: “What am I going to do with my freedom?” 

I don’t know a single individual who didn’t, at some point, use freedom to engage and indulge unhealthy appetites in one way or another during these years. Perhaps there are a few true saints out there. Most parents I know, however, like to conveniently white-wash their own young adult excesses as they place all sorts of appetite controls and lofty expectations on their children.

Along the journey I’ve come to the conclusion that each one of us must learn the hard lessons of how we’re going to use our freedom. It’s part of the journey. We all need to have our own wake-up moments like the Prodigal Son finding himself up to his knees in pig slop. We all need our personally induced wake-up calls when we find ourselves saying: “My own choices led me to this awful place. I think I need to make some changes.”

In today’s chapter of his letter to the believers of Galatia, Paul is addressing this same principle. Legalism is great for creating compulsory obedience to a defined set of rules, but it does nothing for helping us learn the crucial, spiritual maturity lessons of appetite control. It’s no coincidence that Paul’s list of behaviors that mark spiritual maturity include “self-control.”

This morning I find myself praying for our own adult children and our grandchild. The truth I’ve discovered is that the lessons of managing our appetites and developing mature self-control are ongoing throughout our life journeys. So, I’m praying for them in their own respective waypoints on this life journey.

I’m also saying prayers for our friends who are in the stages of raising willful children, teenagers testing their boundaries, and young adults experiencing freedom for the first time. I’m praying wisdom for all those parental decisions about rules, consequences, clamping down, and letting go. I’m also praying for the grace and wisdom of the Prodigal’s father, who knew that his Prodigal had to learn his own crucial lessons and experience the awful places we find ourselves when we use our freedom to indulge our appetites. The father didn’t track his son down. He didn’t send a rescue party. He didn’t deny his son life’s required coursework from the school of hard-knocks. The father sat patiently on the front-porch, said his prayers, kept his eye on the road out front, and waited for a much wiser son to come home.

Wisdom You Only Find Away from Home

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians.”
Jeremiah 24:4 (NIV)

I can remember running away as a child only once. Despite a memory that recalls some of the most arcane details of my early years, I can’t for the life of me remember what made me so angry that day. I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old when I announced to my mother that I was running away. I remember that she didn’t seem particularly worried. I left without packing a bag or giving a single thought to where I was going, how I was going to get there, nor what I would do for the most basic of necessities. (Wendy will not be surprised by this.) I hadn’t gone as far as two blocks up Madison Avenue before the realities of my poor decision making caught up with me. I turned around and headed home.

I never attempted to physically run away from home again. I learned along my life journey, however, that terms of exile and running away can happen as much in the heart, mind, and spirit as they do in the body.

Today’s short chapter is a brief word picture God gave the ancient prophet Jeremiah. He writes from the rubble of Jerusalem he had long foreseen and prophesied. The best and brightest of his people had been taken captive back to Babylon. The royal family had either been killed or fled to Egypt to escape being killed. Jeremiah is given a vision of two sets of figs: one good and one rotten. The word picture was simple. The poor exiles in Babylon were good fruit that God would bless and prepare for an eventual redemptive return. The royals and politicians who propagated the mess were rotten figs who would continue to rot.

This morning I mulled over Jeremiah’s vision and the realities faced by the poor exiles facing the harsh new realities of life in Persia. I’ve come to accept along this journey that there are pieces of wisdom that are only found away from home. Abraham was led away from his home and family. Moses was sent down river in a basket and later ran to the land of Midian. Joseph was exiled in Egypt, and his father Jacob redeemed his son only when famine drove him and his family to their own exile. David the anointed boy-king would spend years of exile in the desert wasteland before finally ascending to the throne. The prodigal son only learned how good he had it back home when he found himself covered with pig slop in a distant country. The prodigal’s elder brother, meanwhile, had no idea how lost he was at home.

As a father I came to expect that my children would someday run away in one way or another whether that was a childish block-and-a-half trek up the street or a secret exile of the young adult soul. Looking back I can see that each of them did so in their own way, though they may not be completely finished. Exile and running away can be cyclical or repetitive occurrences along one’s life journey. I realized early in my experience as a father that I would be foolish to shelter, hinder, or deny them the wisdom they will only find along those stretches of their respective journeys.

This morning I’m smiling at the memory of a young boy, in full-blown childish tantrum, announcing he was running away and storming out of the house. My mother didn’t stop me. She didn’t run after me. She didn’t try to convince me of the error of my ways or my foolish lack of preparation. She wished me well and watched me walk up Madison Avenue. A short time later she silently said nothing as I returned home having gained nothing but a simple piece of wisdom that has served me well the rest of my life.

Thanks, mom.

featured photo courtesy of wespeck via flickr

Reckoning

“Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”
Jeremiah 4:18 (NIV)

Reckoning is word we don’t use very often any more. It is the the process of settling accounts. It is the day that the bill comes due. Metaphorically used, a “day of reckoning” may not have anything to do with money. It’s when our actions come to their natural conclusion.

On a national level, I’ve been hearing economic prophets crying in the wilderness about a “day of reckoning” for as long as I can remember. We spend more than we take in. The U.S. national debt was at 20 trillion dollars and growing when I looked at it this morning. Every bill our congress passes has a host of pork barrel riders and appropriations (often called “earmarks”) for spending money on pet local projects our lawmakers have promised to the people who’ve lined their pockets back home. The President has no line-item veto so if he wants credit for the main bill he has to quietly put up with all of the quiet little pork barrel projects no one talks about. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Say no more. This is not a political issue, by the way. This is a systemic issue. Everyone does it on both sides of the aisle. Making hard choices won’t get you re-elected, so we continue our game of cost-shifting. How long can it go on? [cue: the economic doomsday prophets]

On a personal level, I make daily choices that impact my health, my relationships, and my physical, social, and economic well-being. Eventually, there will be a day of reckoning when my seemingly insignificant choices will come to their natural conclusions.

It is very human to cry “Why me?” when the shit hits the fan. Yet along life’s journey I’ve discovered that the answer to that question isn’t usually as elusive as I’d like to pretend. If I turn around and look at the choices I’ve made and the steps I’ve taken across my journey, I can usually see the path of seemingly small, insignificant choices that have led me to this place. I have no one to blame but myself. But, blame-shifting is as common to the human condition as cost-shifting. I’ve observed along my journey that God often gets the blame when we humans adroitly employ our penchant for blame-shifting.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah is poetically prophesying doomsday scenarios for his nation. Anticipating the eventual blame-shifting the people will employ on the day of reckoning, he reminds them that on that day it will have been their own choices that will have brought them to that place.

This morning I’m thinking about my own life, my own choices, and my own circumstances. Another word we don’t use very often is “repentance.” The original meaning is a word picture of turning around and moving in the opposite direction. Each day represents an opportunity for me to turn away from foolish choices and to start making wise ones. Every day affords the opportunity to change my day of reckoning from a doomsday scenario to that of blessing.

I hear the whisper of my mother’s voice…or is it Holy Spirit?

Make good choices today.”

Have a good day, my friends.

Kindness without Discernment is Foolishness

Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine olive oil—his armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
2 Kings 20:13 (NIV)

Whether it be books, plays, television or movies, Wendy and I are lovers of good stories. We often find ourselves sitting on the couch watching a scene of a television program or movie and we will suddenly realize where this is leading. It’s really funny when it hits us at the same time and we turn to one another to exclaim our prophetic realization.

I had a similar moment this morning as I read the story of King Hezekiah welcoming the Babylonian envoys. As it describes him welcoming the envoys with open arms and showing them all his treasures my heart was like “Dude! Can’t you see they’re casing the joint!?!

In the very next paragraph, the prophet Isaiah confirmed my premonition.

Along this journey we encounter many people. As a follower of Jesus I am called to love them. My life, my words, and my relationships are to marked by patience, kindness, and gentleness. This does not mean, however, that I am to be naive and foolish. Jesus told His followers “be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Most people don’t even know that quote. let alone have it memorized. It doesn’t get artistically posted on Pinterest. I’ve never heard a sermon preached on that one. But it’s important. Loving kindness without wisdom and discernment becomes foolishness.

My thoughts go to a person I know whose life has been marked by a long string of bad relationships. Out of a desire to be loving and kind to others in need, this person has attracted a string of crazy makers into their life. Like Hezekiah, I’ve watched them open up the treasures of their heart and life to others who are only too happy to take advantage. The crazy makers tragically raid this person’s being through manipulation and they don’t realize it until much injury of life and soul has occurred.

This morning I’m reminded of the importance of discernment. I am called to love, but also be shrewd. Everyone needs love, but there are those who (consciously or subconsciously) seek innocent “lovers” whom they can take advantage for their own self-centered motivations. In following Jesus’ command, I want to be innocent enough not to be suspicious of everyone, but shrewd enough to discern when someone is merely casing the joint.

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.

The Mystery of Real Strength

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

I have a tat on my left bicep. It is a reference to King David’s song of repentance, written after he’d been caught committing adultery, conspiracy, and murder (along with a host of other mistakes). The reference is on my the left arm because throughout the ages the left has metaphorically been used in reference to foolishness, oddity, and wrong doing (Wendy and I are both left-handed, btw). It has an illuminated “P” inspired by the Book of Kells in honor of the monks of Ireland who kept God’s Word alive on the edges of the known world while the institutional church and ecclesiastical powers in Rome and France led the western world into the dark ages. It is on my bicep to remind me of exactly what the ancient prophet Isaiah called out in today’s chapter:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength

For a good, long time on my life journey I followed the path I find most of the world follows. I hid my shortcomings beneath a well crafted public veneer of purity and self-righteousness. Like a successful political candidate I obfuscated, excused, ignored, and covered up. I refused to acknowledge my selfish motives, wanton appetites, and foolish choices. Like David, I woke up one day to find myself at a place on life’s road I swore I would never be. I had wandered so far.

My experience taught me hard and painful lessons in humility. Trouble is a powerful tutor, and I quietly began to understand what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

The mystery of the spiritual paradox began to lay hold of me. In repentance is strength. Spiritual power is birthed through grace amidst the shattered pieces of my life and the tragic evidence of my own frail humanity. I struck out in a new direction, understanding that repentance, not self-righteousness, was the way of strength.

I put a tat on my left bicep to remind me, every day for the rest of my journey, what I have learned, and what I am continually learning.

Last night on the way home from rehearsal I was scanning through the music on my iPhone and stumbled upon an unlikely song I didn’t really know I had. It’s essentially a negro spiritual sung by the old Irish rocker Tom Jones. Talk about a paradox. I listened to it multiple times on the way home. Seems now like a bit of synchronicity in light of my thoughts this morning. I may find myself in a place of trouble, but God uses that trouble “for to make me human, to make me whole.”

Here are the words:

When I close my eyes, so I would not see,
My Lord did trouble me.
When I let things stand that should not be,
My Lord did trouble me. 

Did trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With a ring of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

When I slept too long and I slept too deep,
Put a worrisome vision into my sleep.
When I held myself away and apart,
And the tears of my brother didn’t move my heart. 

Did trouble me,
With a word and a sign,
With a ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

And of this I’m sure, of this I know:
My Lord will trouble me.
Whatever I do, wherever I go,
My Lord will trouble me. 

In the whisper of the wind, in the rhythm of a song
My Lord will trouble me.
To keep me on the path where I belong,
My Lord will trouble me. 

Will trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With the ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Will trouble me,
Will stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

To make me human, to make me whole.

Healthy Shame

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.
1 Corinthians 4:9-13 (NIV)

A friend told me the other day of his teenager who had been faced with the truth of their self-centered, uncaring attitude. When the reality of the teen’s selfishness set in, the teen was crushed in spirit and retreated to their bedroom to sulk. The father chose not to rescue the teen from their emotions in that moment, but to allow the realization and resulting feelings of shame to set in.

I have done a lot of study on the topic of shame and have even given messages and workshops on the subject. Unhealthy shame can certainly be toxic to life in an abundant ways. Shame, however, can and does serve healthy purposes as well.

When I was a young teenager I was gently shamed by a teacher when she publicly pointed out in front of my peers that I acted selfishly towards the group. It was not unhealthy shame which says, “You are an awful and completely worthless individual. There is no hope for you.” It was, rather, healthy shame which says, “Your actions are self-centered and hurtful. You can, and should, be better than this. Something in you needs to change.” That moment of healthy shame in the Home Ec room of Meredith Junior High School, and the awful feelings it created in my soul for a long time, was one of the most important moments in leading me to the realization of my deep need to change, and my utter need of a Savior.

My friend chose to let his teen sit in their room stewing in healthy shame, even though it was hard to see his child struggle. There’s a piece of a parent’s heart that always wants to rescue our child from pain, but it is absolutely critical that a parent have the wisdom to know that some pain and suffering is essential to growing up and maturing spiritually, emotionally, and in relationships.

I am concerned as I see a generation of children growing up with parents and a culture intent on shielding them from any and all discomfort or suffering. We seem to be under the delusion that any pain is bad for us: Cheer up. Take a pill. Entertain yourself. Throw a party. Whatever you do, don’t feel bad.

God’s Message says the opposite of that. We should rejoice when we suffer discomforts in this life because of the truth that our suffering produces perseverance, character, hope. I think it’s important to point out that the opposite is equally true. If we avoid suffering it produces in us laziness, foolishness, and hopelessness.

Today, I’m thankful for suffering healthy shame which taught me humility and my need of God. I’m hopeful that I have been wise in knowing when to shield my children from pain and when to let them feel their discomfort. I am prayerful that their continued struggles and sufferings in their young adults years are producing measurable depth of character, perseverance, and hope.