Tag Archives: Human

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.

“When I Could Stand it No Longer….”

For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith.
1 Thessalonians 3:5 (NIV)

Wendy and I had a moment of nostalgia the other night as we watched The Man in the High Castle. The show is set in the early 1960s. The phone rang in one of the scenes and the character answered the classic rotary wall phone. It was a “private call” so she walked through the kitchen door into the dining room. She was able to do this because the phone had a “long cord.”

Oh my gosh!” Wendy exclaimed just as I was thinking the same thing. “Do you remember the ‘long chord?'”

Back in the day our house had one phone line. For a while we had only phone on the wall in the kitchen, but my parents eventually added another wall phone extension in the basement. There were rotary phones on which the handset had to be attached to the base unit. If you didn’t want everyone in the house to hear your conversation you had to have this 20′ curly cord that would allow you to walk into another room and shut the door.

Suddenly I was back in my childhood hanging around by the phone in the excruciating wait for a girl to call me. I can remember the agony that came with desperately wanting that phone to ring, and for it to be her, so that I could pull the ‘long chord’ on the basement phone to the back of our storage room and have conversation in hushed tones. And as we talked, I would pray that my parents or siblings would not pick up the phone in the kitchen and totally embarrass me while I was talking to the girl on whom I had a serious crush.

In this morning’s chapter I noticed that Paul twice uses a phrase in talking about his love for his Thessalonian friends: “When I could stand it no longer….” I began to ask myself how I could relate to that sentiment of being so emotionally invested in relationship that silence and the unknown create anxiety. Those moments waiting by the phone were an easy memory, but there are others. It’s the experience of having your children half a world away and knowing that they are struggling, but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s those moments when tragedy strikes a dear friend who lives far away and you feel so terribly helpless.

This morning in the quiet I’m struck by two distinct thoughts. First I take solace of knowing that Paul, who is often spiritualized by believers to the point of being morphed into superhuman status, also struggled with the very human emotion of anxiety and fear to the point he could “stand it no longer.” The normal humanity I see in “heroes of faith” remind me to have a little grace with myself.  The second thought is simply the intense love and concern Paul shows towards his friends he left back in the Greek seaport. It reminds me of yesterday’s thoughts, that Paul’s ministry was not an impersonal evangelistic tour, but a life sharing mission that bore the fruit of deep relationship.

I’m left thinking this morning of family and friends with whom I have not conversed for a time; Those who my heart wonders about. Maybe today’s a good day to wander down to the dock and make a call or two. I can do that. I no longer require a 500′ “long cord “.

featured photo courtesy kris krüg via Flickr

Did I Just Strike Out, or Did I Hit a Home Run?

2013 06 08 Nathan VL Baseball 02

Then I said, “Sovereign Lord, they are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?’”
Ezekiel 20:49 (NIV)

For the past couple of months I have been teaching a class for a handful of brave souls from our local group of Jesus followers. The class was intended for a those who feel that they may have a spiritual gift in preaching or teaching. I have been asked to teach and to mentor them. I encouraged anyone interested in being a better communicator to join us and a number of people did.

In the first week of the class I announced to the group that we would be breaking some new ground and that there was the distinct possibility that I could really miss the mark. Most people are used to taking a class that follows a published book or video series of some kind. What we are exploring, however, is how God uses the language of metaphor. We’re talking about metaphors in creation, metaphors in the names we find in God’s message, metaphors in the sacraments, metaphors in prophecy, metaphors in parables, metaphors in the arts and creative expression, and etc. Along the way, we are also touching on some practical advice for preparing and delivering an effective presentation or message.

One of the most important points I have made to my class is that when you deliver a message the job is to prepare and communicate the material to the best of our ability and leave the response and results up to the Holy Spirit. That is easier said than done. We all have a natural desire to know if our words have accomplished their purpose. Last night as I left the parking lot I called Wendy to tell her how the class went. “I’m not sure,” I ruminated, “if I struck out swinging or hit a home run.”

The question still nagged at me as I read this morning’s chapter. For 20 chapters Ezekiel has been preaching, prophesying, and performing his metaphorical productions as God instructed. Then, at the very end of the chapter Zeke questions God about his audience’s response. I can feel his heart. “Is any of this landing? Are my messages having any impact? Am I making any kind of a difference? Have a stuck out swinging or am I knocking it out the park?

I’m sure Zeke would have been encouraged to know that 2500 years later his prophetic messages would still be having lasting impact as we read them, meditate on them, study and appreciate them. But, in the moment, he’s just a messenger wanting to know if he’s making a difference. How very human, and in that I am encouraged this morning as well as being reminded of my own words to my class: “Just keep doing what you’re called to do to the best of your ability. God takes care of the rest.”

Playing by a Different Set of Rules

the head of ish boshethHow much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!”
2 Samuel 4:11 (NIV)

Every human system, small or large, has its rules of behavior. Most often, they are unwritten. Even if there is some sort of written code of conduct, there are still unwritten rules that guide people’s behaviors. At home, on the playground, in the cafeteria, in the workplace, in church, and in our communities we learn to behave within the unwritten rules of the systems in which we live and breathe and have our being.

I don’t think we can quite imagine or comprehend exactly what life was like within the human systems of David’s day. Even reading in yesterday’s chapter of David’s many wives, children with those wives, and his demand of the return of his wife Michal like he was reclaiming a piece of property. It’s hard for us to comprehend living life in those rules.

One of the things I love about reading the stories of David is that he’s not some stereotypical hero who does everything perfectly. Quite the contrary, David is an extremely flawed human being who makes huge, costly mistakes – yet for all that he is still “a man after God’s own heart.” That gives me hope. I see David constantly striving to live by God’s rules even while he’s mired in the messy human systems of his day.

In the past few chapters we’ve read two instances of men who believe that they are getting in David’s good graces by killing David’s enemy and bringing the evidence to him. I have to believe that this was standard operating procedure of the unwritten rules of regional war and politics in David’s day. This was how local power brokers ruled. Kill my enemy for me, bring me evidence of it, and I’ll reward you richly. If you kill off the sons of my enemy then you’ve made my position even stronger (because there’s not a stray son out there plotting revenge … think Vito Corleone in The Godfather II). Kill my enemy, kill my enemies sons and you might even find yourself with a cushy position of power in my administration or army. That’s the way it works. Those are the unwritten rules.

But not for David. In these instances we see David playing by a different set of rules. In David’s eyes, Saul was still God’s anointed king. Jonathan was still his best friend. Saul was still the father of his best friend and Jonathan was still the son of God’s anointed king. In David’s eyes, God’s rules trump the unwritten rules of the local human system. You don’t lay your hands on God’s anointed – not even if you’re the one anointed to eventually take his place. You don’t kill the son of God’s anointed. Period.

Today I’m thinking about the unwritten rules of the human systems in which I live and breathe and have my being. Are there ways in which my words and behavior are unconsciously incongruent with God’s desire because I’m mindlessly behaving in the way I’ve been conditioned? Am I willing to play by a different set of rules when God’s desires run contrary to prevailing cultural mores?

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Basic Questions Old and New

In the Womb
In the Womb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)

Wendy, Suzanna and I have been watching the new science fiction show Almost Human this year. While it’s not the greatest television show in the world, it is certainly one of the most unique. The basic premise of the show is that in the future technology will allow us to create human-like androids that can be used as police officers, soldiers, prostitutes, and etc. The android robots are almost human, and scientists in this future world are struggling with how to give these androids a human-like soul and emotions. Previous experiments to do so failed in disastrous ways forcing the extermination of the effort and the androids that were created from it.

Wendy and I have found the theological and spiritual issues/questions underlying the show fascinating. At the heart of it are questions about what it means to be human (and inhuman). Our conversations about the show lead me back to the beginning. They’ve led me back to the oldest, most foundational stories of humanity. Hidden in the temptation of Eden’s forbidden fruit was the desire to become God ourselves and supplant the will of our Creator and our accountability to Him. As our human technology builds Babel-like towards the mysteries of the heavens I see at the pinnacle of our current Tower’s blue-print the desire to wrestle the power of Life and Death away from God and to create and control Life ourselves. Cloning, medicine, cryogenics, robotics, genetics, and countless other areas of study are expanding into these basic, foundational questions about human life.

David’s lyrics in Psalm 139 are both beautiful and absolutely relevant to this conversation. David’s song leads me to ask if God is part of the equation in all of these foundational questions, or if we have successfully eaten the forbidden fruit and have ourselves become god without need or accountability to our Creator. If there is divine purpose in conception, if our days are ordained and the knitting together of the human soul is a mystery beyond human technology to replicate, then will our desire to harness, control and disseminate it like gods have disastrous spiritual consequences? I fear we will find our current technological and scientific pursuits will simply lead us back at the locked gate east of Eden and/or to the rubble of Babel.

These are the questions that have most plagued me with the issue of abortion (Please note: I am asking spiritual questions, NOT making political statements!). Science and technology push further and further into saving one mother’s prematurely born baby while at the same time medical science helps another mother discard an unwanted baby in her womb. In some cases the aborted life in the latter example was at a later stage of development than baby whom science saved in the former example. The common denominators between the two scenarios are the ability of medical science to save life or end it, and the will of the mother to choose which it will be. Setting the fate of the unborn aside, I wonder if we have unwittingly done long term spiritual harm to mothers in whom we’ve placed the power and responsibility to choose life or death.

I am increasingly concerned that science and technology are progressing faster than we can capably wrestle with the spiritual and sociological questions emerging from them. I believe these basic questions and conversations about who we are in relation to God, ourselves, each other, and the world around us are critical. I hear and perceive the sentiments of many who consider God a foolish myth and who place their faith in the limitless capacity and progression of human science and technology. Deep in my spirit, however, my soul echoes David’s lyrics and the notion that God the Creator is still very much involved in the ongoing acts and works of creation. No matter how far human knowledge and ability progresses, I suspect there will always be infinite mysteries “too lofty for me to attain” and I never want to lose sight of that nor disrespect it.

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 41

The Betrayal of Christ
The Betrayal of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely,
    the one who shared my food, has turned against me.
Psalm 41:9 (NLT)

One might read this verse from Psalm 41 and take it as prophetic. Despite the fact that the lyrics were penned about a thousand years before Christ, the words could have easily come from Jesus’ lips after Judas’ betrayal. Others read this verse and note that King David is a theological “type,” or an Old Testament example pointing to of Christ. I’m not going to dispute either of these positions, but as I read this morning my mind is less given to the prophetic or theological and more in tune with the daily grind of human experience.

Everyone of us have experienced betrayal. I read this verse and specific faces pop into my mind. Scabbed over and forgotten scars on my heart suddenly itch in reminder of their presence. I find the distant memory of hurt, confusion, and anger is suddenly a very present and palpable emotion. It doesn’t take long to stir up long forgotten and powerful negative feelings.

Today, I’m reminded that forgiveness is not a one time decision that erases all traces of an injury, but a recurring decision each time our itching emotional and relational scars threaten to propel us into anger, hatred, and resentment. I’m reminded that betrayal is common to human experience. Therefore, along with King David, and Jesus, it is also a part of each of our individual journeys. I’m also reminded that along my journey I have been the betrayer as well as the betrayed. To hold on to resentment towards my betrayer(s) while desiring or expecting the grace and forgiveness of those I have betrayed along the way is the very definition of hypocritical.

Forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 11

no_whining

The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.”  Numbers 11:4-6 (MSG)

A couple of weeks ago, Wendy and I spent the week with our friends at the lake. There were four children under the age of five. It has been a long time since I’ve spent such a long period of time with such a number of little ones. I’d forgotten how quickly a child could transform from precious angel to a tearful, whining lump of humanity on the floor. Oh my.

As the week went on and I observed more and more of these sudden Jekyll and Hyde transformations, I was struck again at how adults are just big children who put a more sociably acceptable face on the same flawed human behaviors. Adults whine too, but we usually cloak it in more deceptive communication devices such as passive agressiveness, gossip, sarcasm, and silence.

We are such silly human beings. Even as adults we are constantly discontent with what we have, and continually craving things we don’t have. God blesses us with what we need and in not time we’re bored and discontent, desiring something else. I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s not good for me to get what I crave. What I want isn’t always my Heavenly Father’s best plan for me. But God is a parent, too. Today’s chapter stands in evidence that sometimes He gives in and gives us what we’re whining about, knowing that getting what we crave will prove to be a long, painful life lesson.

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