Tag Archives: Initiative

Decor and More

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)

For the past few years Wendy and I have made a post-Christmas excursion to shop for Christmas decorations. So it was that I found myself wandering through a retail ocean of decor this past week. As I wandered up and down the aisles I noticed that a fair amount of the decor ocean included various phrases and verses from the Bible screen printed on anything and everything imaginable. More than once I noticed that verses were presented completely out of context. I found myself wondering if people hang verses on their walls like a modern-day talisman, not having a clue about their original meaning or place in the Great Story.

A verse from today’s chapter is a great case-in-point. The words “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” is a well-worn phrase I’ve heard endlessly repeated in church services and have seen on many trinkets, but I imagine few know the context. The words in today’s chapter were directed by God to a man named Zerubbabel.

Zerubbabel was a Jewish civic leader who was part of the first group of Babylonian exiles to return to a destroyed Jerusalem to begin the work of rebuilding (the story is largely told by Nehemiah). Zerubbabel was appointed Governor of the area by the Persian King Darius. It was Zerubbabel, in partnership with the high priest Joshua, who undertook the task of rebuilding the Temple of Solomon which had been destroyed by the Babylonians.

The task of rebuilding Jerusalem, and especially the Temple, was fraught with political obstacles and physical danger. One could argue that the political situation surrounding Jerusalem was as heated then as it is now. Some historians argue that Zerubbabel’s Temple initiative was made possible only because Darius was distracted by revolts elsewhere. The project was a gutsy move that could have easily backfired in myriad of ways.

Zechariah’s vision and message to Zerubbabel was a divine affirmation. God had ordained the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. Zerubbabel did not have to carry the weight of the task himself nor depend only on his human efforts. This was God’s project and God’s spirit would be the power source by which it would be accomplished. Zerubbabel could depend on that, and I’m pretty sure he needed that affirmation.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking back over projects, initiatives, and ministries I’ve been involved in over the years. Many failures come to mind. In retrospect there was more than a pinch of human hubris and ego at the core of them. I can also think of a handful of projects, initiatives, and ministries that I’ve experienced which were more spiritually successful than human design, effort, or ingenuity could have devised. I sense that God, through Zechariah’s vision, was reminding Zerubbabel that his project was definitely not the former, but the latter.

As I stride down the backstretch of my earthly journey I find myself more and more discerning about where I spend my time, energy, and resources. I’ve only got so much “might” and “strength.” I find myself more intent on trying to discern where God’s Spirit is moving and tap into that flow, where my meager investment can yield the most spiritual benefit.

“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” I didn’t see any trinkets or wall hangings with that one at the Big Box home decor store last week. Maybe I’ll keep my eye open for that one. Just something small for my office. Knowing the context of the phrase from today’s chapter, I can safely say that it’s a good affirmation and reminder for me, as well.

featured photo courtesy of m01229 via Flickr

Mnemonic Devices and Initiative

“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.”
Numbers 15:38-39 (NIV)

On a cubicle wall, in an office outside of Minneapolis, there hangs an old pink sticky note. On this sticky note are three handwritten reminders that the resident of the cubicle scrawled during a call coaching session I had with him several years ago. He added a hand-drawn finger with a string on it to the list and stuck it up where he would see it next to his computer monitor while talking with customers on the phone.

The three reminders on the sticky note were service skills that I told him were top priorities for improving his service delivery when speaking with customers. Within a short period of time his consistency demonstrating the three behaviors vastly improved. Over time he became one of the most consistent service providers in the company. He credits the simple mnemonic device for its continuing power to remind him what to say to his customers.

Visual reminders and mnemonic devices work to bring to mind and memory things we don’t want to forget. God gave the ancient Hebrews multiple mnemonic devices to help them remember His commands, including the wearing of tassels on their robes specified in today’s chapter. These devices are still used and practiced today because they work.

This morning I’m reminded of the power of reminders, even as simple as the annoying buzzes, beeps, and pop-up notifications on my devices. They do work. But, like many things in life, I’ve discovered that they only work if you work them. I had coached the gentleman I referenced in Minnesota for many years before he finally took the initiative to scratch out his reminder list, put it up before him, and commit to behavior change. It would be easy for me to shake my head in frustration at his long delay, but I’m as guilty as anyone at saying that I want to do things, perhaps even writing them down on a list, and then not doing them.

James 1:22 comes to mind in the quiet this morning: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Mnemonic devices can remind me of what God’s Message says, but only my initiative can put those reminders into daily action.


Blind Spots

Davids Family TreeWhen King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children do not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines and children with most all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that we never see David telling his children “no” nor do we see him discipline them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring of not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved first born son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light of our time and attention to addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

Today’s chapter seems perfectly timed as I’ve been made painfully aware of a blind spot in my life. If you’re reading this, and are a person who prays, please say a prayer for me as I address it.

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Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 28

David continued to address Solomon: “Take charge! Take heart! Don’t be anxious or get discouraged. God, my God, is with you in this; he won’t walk off and leave you in the lurch.” 1 Chronicles 28:20 (MSG)

I know a person with big dreams. Almost every conversation I’ve had with my friend revolved around their next great idea. The common thread in each conversation is that they will make a lot of money for which they won’t have to work very hard. Content to have faith in the next great brainstorm, this person avoided college altogether. Their life has been an endless string of menial jobs while they dreams up the next get rich quick scheme.

I can’t really point the finger at this person without three fingers pointing back at me. When I think about it, my interaction with this person have always prompted me to examine my own life. I have my own pile of big ideas and great intentions that lack the initiative to get off my butt and accomplish them.

I love David’s final admonishment to Solomon. David could provide Solomon with everything necessary to build the temple, but Solomon would have to have the initiative and perseverance to start it and then see it done. “Be strong and courageous and do the work.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have some work to do.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and asurroca