Tag Archives: Insecurity

Songs of Assurance

Songs of Assurance (CaD Ps 121) Wayfarer

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1 (NIV)

One summer of high school my friend Neal and I found ourselves standing in the middle of a desert in Mexico. It was something like 117 degrees that day. There were several vans of youth along with a few cars making our way toward Acapulco when one of the vehicles had an issue. Our local guide stayed behind to wait for and deal with a mechanic and our youth pastor told Neal and me to stay with him. I remember thinking, “This has got to be one of the strangest moments of my life.”

I don’t remember being afraid, exactly. Our guide was a native who was more than capable of making sure we’d manage. Neal was a great companion to have if you’re stuck in the Mexican desert. He’s a walking stand-up comedian act and can make any circumstance entertaining. Nevertheless, this was well before cell phones and there were a lot of “What ifs….” that ran through my mind.

I thought about that afternoon as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 121. It’s another “Song of ascents” that pilgrims would sing on the road to Jerusalem as they made their way to one of the annual festivals. The rugged mountainous terrain around Jerusalem could be somewhat dangerous for pilgrims as thieves and robbers were common. There’s a reason Jesus used a man beaten by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. His listeners would identify with that. It was a concern for any traveler in those days.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of this song as you imagine yourself with a caravan of other pilgrims walking toward Jerusalem. In the distance you see Mount Zion and Solomon’s Temple which, for them, was God’s earthly residence. So, looking to the mountains and asking “Where does my help come from?” would have been associated with the destination of their pilgrimage. Being safe on the road, not getting injured, being protected from harm walking by day and camping outdoors at night, this song was a repeated proclamation of faithful assurance in their “coming and going” to and from Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded by the lyrics of this song that sometimes I need words of assurance and affirmation along this life journey. They don’t magically protect me from harm, but they do help me to keep fear, anxiety, and insecurity in check. They remind me of God’s faithfulness no matter my circumstances.

In our bedroom, Wendy and I have a piece of encaustic artwork I bought for Wendy this past Christmas. Three little birds stare at us when we get up each morning and when we lie down each night. Behind the artwork is another frame with the lyrics of a Bob Marley tune: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

“I rise up this morning, smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds perched by my doorstep.
Singing a sweet song, with a melody pure and true.
This is my message to you:
Don’t worry about a thing ’cause
Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

I’ve always thought the song to be Marley’s reggae riff on the same encouragement and affirmation Jesus gave to His followers:

“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”
Luke 12:6-7 (MSG)

Just like the Hebrew pilgrims singing Psalm 121, I have my Bob Marley psalm of assurance that reminds me both day and night.

(By the way, our afternoon stranded in the hot, Mexican desert sun was uneventful. Another van full of youth saw us by the road, pulled over to make sure we were okay, and handed us an ice-cold gallon of orange juice. Every little thing was alright.)

Brooding

Brooding (CaD Ps 116) Wayfarer

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

I have always been a world-class brooder. It comes in tandem with the pessimism that marks those of us who are romantic individualists known as Enneagram Fours. If there is a major relational conflict or some kind of crisis in life, I will tend to brood on it.

Brood is actually an interesting word because the most common definition in the English language means “to sit on” and “incubate” as a mother hen sits on her eggs. What an apt word picture for what I can do with a conflict or crisis. I mentally and emotionally sit on it, keep it warm, keep incubating as I stir it in my soul over and over and over again. I may look like I’m perfectly normal on the outside, but inside I’m a boiling cauldron of angst, fear, negativity, and insecurity.

Along my life journey, I’ve gotten a lot better at recognizing when I’m going into brood mode and when I find myself there. As a young man, I know I spent long periods of time in brood mode never knew I was doing it. To the world around me, I appeared to be functioning normally, but I was actually mentally and emotionally disconnected for long periods of time. This is when having an Enneagram Eight as a spouse is really helpful. Wendy is quick to see me go into my brooding mode, and she’s quick to address it.

Having said that, I’ve also learned that I am an internal processor who has also, along my life journey, developed decent communication skills. This means that I can typically talk through what I am thinking and feeling with others, but not before I’ve taken some time to process it alone. I believe Wendy has done a great job of recognizing that there is a difference between me processing something internally and giving me time to do so, and me silently disconnecting and descending into my brooding pit where I might not surface for a while.

Brooding is like mental, emotional, and spiritual spelunking (those crazy people who descend into and explore caves). A wise spelunker always has a safety line that is attached to a strong ground anchor above. Along the way, I’ve also learned that I need spiritual, mental, and emotional “anchors” with which to pull myself out of my brooding pit.

That’s what came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter and came upon the verse I quoted at the top of the post:

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

When I descend too far into brood-mode I have allowed myself to go into a mental space that is not healthy. I have learned that one of the best anchored life-lines I have is my spiritual journey and my life journey. I can look back on that journey and recall several stretches of stress and crisis which were brooding bonanzas. In each one I can recount how faithful God was to me, how things worked out despite the difficulties, and how God used those moments to bring about growth, new levels of maturity, increased faith, and spiritual fruit. By recounting these both the crises and the progress it afforded in my spiritual journey, it helps me put my current crisis in perspective, to trust God’s faithfulness, and to left faith help lift me out of brood-mode.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful for the waypoint I find myself in this life journey. I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned about myself, my loved ones, and how differently we engage in the world around us and in relationships with one another.

Socrates famously said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This morning, Socrates has himself a witness. Were it not for my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus, I’d have gotten stuck in a brooding pit years ago and might never have made it out.

(Did I mention Enneagram Fours have a flair for the dramatic? 😉

Crisis Through Agur’s Eyes

“Under three things the earth trembles,
    under four it cannot bear up:
a servant who becomes king,
    a godless fool who gets plenty to eat,
a contemptible woman who gets married,
    and a servant who displaces her mistress.”

Proverbs 30:21-23 (NIV)

I don’t believe that I can truly appreciate just how blessed I am in this world, and in this time, compared with the general state of human existence throughout history. There are daily necessities for survival that I take completely for granted like fresh water out of a tap, secure shelter, heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, and an abundance of food. There is also sanitation, security, safety, and health. Then there’s communication (I get to see and talk to my grandson on the other side of the world whenever I desire), transportation (I can fly through the air anywhere in the world), medicine, and the rule of law make living today easier, safer, cleaner, healthier, and more entertaining than any age in human history this side of the Garden of Eden.

In the ancient Middle East, a very high value was placed on social order. I’m not sure I can completely appreciate why it was so important. I do understand, however, that everyday life for the sage Agur (who wrote today’s chapter of wise sayings) was infinitely more tenuous than for me. His most basic needs for human survival (water, food, shelter) were never givens. If he got a virus, an infection, or had a heart attack he would die. His life expectancy was short. If there was a famine, a drought, or a flood there was no government assistance or subsidies. Agur would starve, or risk traveling to another country to beg, or his tribe might attack another tribe to plunder what they could. Life for Agur was not safe, not secure, and not easy. So, social order gave him and people of his day a sense of peace and sanity to an otherwise unpredictable existence.

Agur then speaks of “earth trembling” (think uncertainty, confusion, insecurity, and being out of control) when four things happen. The four things he lists might seem silly to us today, but they represented the social order of Agur’s world turned upside-down. They were things that brought unease, insecurity, and meant the already tenuous order of life was going to be even more out-of-sorts.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but find myself thinking of the “trembling” our “earth” has experienced in recent weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The insanely easy and secure order life I enjoy has been briefly interrupted. I am inconvenienced. I will suffer a loss of income. But, as I meditated on what life must have been like for Agur, I imagined him traveling through time and arriving as a guest in my home. I imagine the wonder in his eyes as he sees how much room we have in our house (for only two people). I picture him walking around and seeing the food in my pantry (which could probably sustain us for weeks or months), our water faucet, the sanitary plumbing in my bathroom, the countless gadgets that entertain me, the library of books on our shelves, the safety of my nation and community, the modern apothecary and medical supplies in my medicine cabinet, the bed I sleep in, and the number of clothes in my drawer. I imagine him seeing all of this and taking it all in. Then I hear his incredulous scoff at my whining and complaints of the travails of quarantines, social distancing, and how inconvenienced I’ve been for a couple of weeks.

“Crisis” is a fascinating thing to experience. I find myself being continually reminded just how often Jesus told His followers not to be afraid, not to worry, and not to be anxious. And Jesus’ life was a lot more like Agur’s than mine. I find it ironic how easy it is to step into the fear trap, no matter how safe, secure, and well-provisioned I am.

Today, I want to keep seeing my life through Agur’s eyes.

I think the perspective will do me good.

Time to Grow Up

“…so that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them, but hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.”
Joshua 22:7-8 (NRSV)

There are different stages in life. What may be good and appropriate for one stage of life may change and evolve as we grow and mature. This is natural. It is a part of the journey. It is how God designed it.

When I was a child there were boys that my parents did not want me hanging out with. My parents saw that they had different values. They were older. There was every possibility that they would have drawn me into trouble. My parents didn’t say these were “bad” kids. They simply told me to steer clear.

As I got older my parents stopped warning me about people. They sent me off to work, to college, to the mission field, and to the broader world. They wanted me to explore, to meet people, to learn, to grow, and to influence the world around me. They trusted me to be wise and discerning regarding my relationships.

I have come to believe that the relationship between God and man in history parallels the stages of human life. In today’s chapter, humanity is in its early childhood years. The people of God have become aware of their place in the world. They are learning about interacting with others. Their heavenly father warns them to steer clear of those who might have an unhealthy influence on them. Just like my parents did at that age.

Along life’s road I’ve known many followers of Jesus who still cling to this early childhood attitude of fear and suspicion towards others. They insulate themselves from their neighbors. They fear contact with others who are not like them and who don’t believe the same ways. It is as if they fear contamination should they associate with anyone who is not a part of their insular church family. They might even use Joshua’s words in today’s chapter to justify it.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was a rite of passage in the relationship between God and man. It was relational graduation into adulthood of sorts. Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts and lives of those who believe. Jesus now sent His followers out into the world. No more hanging with the homeys behind locked doors. No more keeping to yourself. Jesus said, “Go….” Heavenly Father was kicking His children out of the nest. You’re old enough. You’re wise enough. I’ve prepared you and equipped you and it’s time for you to get out there an influence your world.

Today, I’m thinking about stages of life. There was a time when I was a child and I needed to be wary of others influencing me. Now I’m a man, and if I still live with that fear then there’s something that has short circuited in the maturation process. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

At some point, it’s time for every one of us to grow up, go out into the world into strange places among people who are new to us and influence those we meet with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

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featured image: shenamt via Flickr

Creative False Narratives

“No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.”
Joshua 22:24-25 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey I have repeatedly encountered situations in which others have chosen to believe things about me or my intentions that were far askew from reality. Misreading a word, an action, or my intentions led someone to create a narrative in their head about what I desired, felt, or intended. Their narrative, created out of fear, ignorance, or personal insecurity led to accusation, conflict, and relational distance. As I sit here in the quiet I can feel the scars of several specific examples on my soul.

If I am honest with myself, I must confess that I have created similar narratives in my own head about others. I am not merely a victim of this phenomenon. I am a perpetrator, too.

Conflicts often arise out of misunderstandings. In today’s chapter we find a story about this type of misconception between the tribes of Israel. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had been given land on the west side of the Jordan River prior to Israel’s conquest of  Canaan, but with the caveat that they must cross the Jordan with the rest of the tribes and assist in the conquest. With the conquest over, they were released to return back over the Jordan to the lands they’d been promised.

Without saying a word to their kindred, the three tribes secretly harbored fear that in time their fellow tribes would turn against them. The Jordan River had become an important boundary line, and the people of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh feared that they would eventually be branded outcasts for living on the west side of the river. They created a narrative in their minds in which the other tribes rejected them and treated them like foreigners. This led them to the build an altar as a symbol of their devotion to God and their connection to the other tribes.

Without having actually communicated their fears, the building of the altar was misunderstood by the remaining tribes east of the Jordan. It was the remaining tribes turn to create a false narrative in their minds in which Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were abandoning their faith and tradition. The altar was misconstrued as an attempt to abandon God and start their own religious system. Whipped into a frenzy by their misperceptions, they gathered for war against their kindred.

As things were about to turn into a bloody civil war, the three western tribes confessed their fears and their intentions in building the altar. The crisis was averted at the last minute by the two sides communicating with one another, coming to a mutual understanding of each other’s intentions, and reuniting in mutual respect for each other.

Today, I’m thinking about the many ways I project onto others what I believe that person desires, thinks, feels and intends without any conversation or inquiry with that person. I confess that conflicts and misunderstandings arise out of my own fears and insecurities. I create false narratives about others that are really reflections of my own weaknesses. And, I suffer from when others do the same with me.

God, grant me the honesty to perceive when I am jumping to conclusions that are born out of my own fear and shame. Grant me the courage to speak with others rather than about them, to address misunderstandings before they become conflicts – both in my relationships with others and with You.

So be it. Yes. Word. Amen.

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Edifice Complex

drawer pulls 1

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Daniel 3:1, 4-6 (NIV)

When I was a kid growing up in Des Moines the tallest building on the skyline of our city was the Ruan building. “In rust we trust,” was the phrase I heard muttered by locals back in the day, inspired by the rusted steel skyscraper. Then, The Principal company built their even taller marble and glass skyscraper at 801 Grand. I will never forget that, as the new Principal building was completed, Mr. Ruan held a press conference to announce plans for a new building that would be even taller (it never happened). I believe that’s what is colloquially referred to as an “edifice complex.”

Last night I kicked off a Wednesday night class in which we’re exploring how God uses metaphor (something that represents something else without using “like” or “as”) to effectively express Himself and communicate Truth. We are also pushing into how we express ourselves metaphorically and how we can use metaphor to become better communicators. My assignment to the class in this first week was to look for metaphors in our daily life and bring one example back to class to share. One of my class-mates asked me for an example.

Wendy and I are in the final weeks of watching our house being completed, and yesterday I spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating knobs. We had to pick out the drawer and cabinet pulls for every room in the house. Talk about much ado about nothing. It was not an enjoyable process for me. Nevertheless, as I considered the endless options and how we were ever going to decide, I came back to some guiding principles that have emerged as we have designed our new residence.

“Clean, simple lines” is the phrase that always comes to my mind. From the start we have wanted our house to have a peaceful yet beautiful simplicity that invites people in to rest, to dine, to drink, to converse, and to comfortably be. So, I found myself looking for knobs that were simple, with clean lines and yet beautiful in their simplicity. That’s metaphor. The knobs we chose are an expression of the environment we desire our home to be. If we had chosen solid gold decorative knobs encrusted with gems and inlaid painted ceramic highlights we would have been expressing something much different with our choice.

nebuchadnezzars statueThose knobs came to mind again this morning as I read about Nebuchadnezzar’s great statue. How fascinating that in just the previous chapter King Neb has a dream about a statue and Daniel interprets that God is eventually going to replace Neb’s kingdoms with other kingdoms culminating in an eternal one. Now, the king builds a real statue and tells everyone to worship it. Why? Because he can. The statue of his dream and its interpretation rattled his pride, ego, and false sense of power and security. He responds by creating his own statue and making everyone bow and worship it in order to shore up the cracks in his fragile ego. The statue on the plain of Dura expresses is his own version of an edifice complex and becomes a metaphor expressing both his ego, power, as well as his fear and insecurity.

Today, I’m thinking about the edifice that Wendy and I are building out on the edge of town. I’m praying that it will express what we have talked about and intended all along: invitation, warmth, beauty, cozy hospitality, creativity, peace, and love.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 21

But when Jehoram had taken over his father’s kingdom and had secured his position, he killed all his brothers along with some of the government officials. 2 Chronicles 21:4 (MSG)

Fear is at the root of many foolish actions. At best, fear causes us to make unwise decisions in an attempt to feel a false sense of security. At worst, it motivates stepping on, or even destroying, others in an attempt to lift ourselves up.

Jehoram’s killing of his siblings and rivals is a story recounted over and over again in human history. But it’s not just a story of kings. How often have I been mean to a person I viewed as a rival? How many times have I spoken ill of someone because I felt threatened? It’s really the same thing. As I read this morning I was reminded of Jesus’ words:

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.”

Today, I’m mindful of bitter, angry and hurtful words from my mouth and the stench of death that are on them. I’m seeking today to choose words that give life.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and emilys-photography

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 6

Superhero not. God addressed Moses, saying, "I am God. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I say to you." And Moses answered, "Look at me. I stutter. Why would Pharaoh listen to me?" Exodus 6:29-30 (MSG)

If find it interesting that Moses has been unpacking his whole "I stutter" excuse for three chapters running (who knows how many months or years these chapters cover). It's a great picture of how doggedly we like to cling to our hang ups, insecurities, issues and excuses. 

Growth doesn't always happen overnight. Despite our fantasies to the contrary, God does not typically transform people instantaneously in to spiritual superheroes. We don't get bit by a supernatural spider and suddenly become Godly-man. Even the "superheroes" wie think of in the Bible were transformed over time (and the maturity process never stopped). We see Moses "in process" through these early chapters of Exodus, but there are others.

David killed Goliath in an instant, but how many years did he spend alone in the desert with his sheep, learning to use his sling against predators? Saul had a "Damascus Road" experience, but we forget about the years he spent studying and growing before his ministry started. The apostles stood boldly in the face of persecution, but before that they spent three years scratching their heads, fighting amonst themselves, and even denying that they even knew Jesus.

Like any journey, there are times we'd much rather just "arrive" at the destination. However, even those we consider spiritual giants had to grow into their sandals.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and ortizmj12