Tag Archives: Lesson

Into the Wilderness

The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each of them in their own camp under their standard.
Numbers 1:52 (NIV)

Today we begin a sojourn through the book of Numbers. It’s one of the most ancient of texts in God’s Message and the fourth of five books known by many names such as the Torah, the Law, the Books of Moses, or the Law of Moses. It picks up the story of the Hebrew people’s  “exodus” from slavery in Egypt. Having escaped from Egypt into the Arabian desert (as told in Exodus), they camped at Mt. Sinai where Moses was given the commandments and the law (as laid out in Leviticus).

Every sizable journey begins with preparation. In today’s opening chapter we pick up the story as Moses carries out a muster of the twelve tribes and a census of men capable of fighting. They are preparing for a march, and the tribe of Levi is given the role of the set-up, take-down, and transportation of a giant tent called the Tabernacle, which served as a traveling temple for the nation. The destination of the wandering nation is “the promised land,” but first they have to traverse the wilderness.

We’re heading into the wilderness, which is a crucial, prescribed path for every spiritual journey. Moses had his years of exile in Midian. Elijah had his flight through the wilderness to Mount Horeb. Jesus went “into the wilderness” for 40 days to fast and to be tested. Fascinating to connect that at Jesus’ transfiguration it was both wilderness wanderer’s, Elijah and Moses, who appeared on the mount with Him.

The hero’s journey of every great epic includes a journey into a wilderness of unknown territory. Bilbo had his mountain and Mirkwood. Luke Skywalker had his Dagoba, Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent almost an entire book alone in the wilderness seeking the Hallows. The wilderness is where we find ourselves (the good, the bad, and the ugly). The wilderness is where we are tried and prepared for the purpose. Without the wilderness, we will never be prepared for the ordeal through which we reach the reward and begin the road back.

This morning I’m looking back at my own life journey. There have been various stretches of wilderness wanderings spiritually relationally, artistically, and vocationally. I’m quite sure there are more to come before the journey’s end. Wilderness is a part of the process and, as we’ll find in our sojourn with the Hebrews, the longer I refuse to embrace the process and learn the lessons I need to learn, I will continue to wander.

Time to lace up the hiking boots. Here we go.

Lover Lessons

…love one another deeply, from the heart.
1 Peter 1:22b (NIV)

As I press on in this life journey I have actively attempted to be a continually better lover. Jesus said that all of God’s law can be summed up in two commands:

  1. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  2. Love others as you love yourself.

And, so, I have endeavored to be a better lover. I realize, as I meditate on it this morning, that I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m pondering some of the things I’ve observed about love…

  • If I am unwilling or unable to accept that I am lovable and receive deeply the love, grace, and forgiveness of God and others, then I will be handicapped in my capacity for love and my ability to give it away.
  • To be an increasingly better lover I must embrace that it is part of my journey in this life and in this life I will never arrive at an acceptable destination. The deeper I grow in love the more fully I appreciate how utterly shallow my love is and how strong is the call to grow still deeper.
  • I can’t wait for others to become lovable in my estimation before I love them. Not only is this judgmental and unloving, but others never arrive at an acceptable estimable level. I have to start with loving others without qualification and as I grow in my love-giving I receive the priceless experience of understanding how absolutely lovable they are.
  • Love is sometimes soft and warm. Other times love is hard and even cold. Love can even be painful at times in both the giving and receiving. Wisdom and discernment develop as I mature as a lover for they are increasingly required to grow still deeper in love.
  • I can be loving in all that I do with all whom I encounter, but mature depths of love are generally only reached through increasingly intimate depths of relationship over time. That level of mature, intimate love can only be reached with a small number of relationships, but those few mature relationships increase my capacity and ability to love far more people at a deeper levels.
  • In rare cases, the most loving thing I can do is walk away.

In this morning’s chapter, Peter urges not only that we love, but that we love deeply and from the heart.

I’m still working on it (and I always will be).

Lessons from Pottery Class

 

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

When our daughter was young she wanted to take a pottery class, so I signed us up for some father/daughter time learning to work clay. We journeyed one night a week to a pottery studio in an old warehouse space in Des Moines and proceeded to get our hands dirty. We didn’t produce anything and anyone would confuse with fine art. I made a cigar ash tray for a friend who, I believe, promptly threw it away. Taylor made clay replicas of a Taco John’s taco and an order of potato ole’s.

During our class we got to try our hand at the spinning wheel. Anyone who has tried it know that it is much more difficult than it looks. The clay is slippery and unpredictable. I often felt as if the clay itself had a mind of its own and was working against me. It collapses on you or falls apart in your hands. The slightest unintended movement reaps disastrous, unintended consequences. Watch even the best of potters at work and you’ll see them work the same lump of clay over and over and over again until they get the desired result.

In today’s chapter God speaks through the ancient prophet Isaiah and uses the metaphor of the potter and the clay. We are clay being fashioned by a Master at work. We each are being molded, moved, and squeezed by the Potter into our intended shape, form and purpose. We just might break, only to be reduced back to a lump so the process of becoming our intended work of functional art can begin anew.

This morning I am reminded of an old hymn. We used to sing it a lot on Sunday mornings when I was growing up. Its verses riff off Isaiah’s metaphor pretty well…

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
      Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will;
     While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Neither my daughter nor I actively pursued pottery after our class. Still, it was a fun experience together. The most important things I learned were less about art or craft and more about the things of the Spirit. Clay. That’s me. That’s my life. Dirty, messy, lumpy, and often quite wonky on the wheel. To be better clay — flexible, malleable, and yielding appropriately to the slightest of the Potter’s intentional touches. That’s my pursuit.

potters-wheel

Lesson of the Prophetic Prodigal

In that day people will look to their Maker
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah 17:7 (NIV)

Isaiah is taking a prophetic tour of the region of his day. In previous days we’ve been to Moab and Aram. The tour of doom continues today to the kingdoms of Syria, and even to Israel’s northern kingdom.

The Kingdom of Israel split during the time of David’s grandson (Solomon’s son). The southern Kingdom of Judah (David’s tribe) along with the tribe of Benjamin, continued to make Jerusalem its capital city, and continued to put descendants of the line of David on the royal throne. Isaiah was a prophet of Judah. With Solomon’s temple a prominent fixture in Judah, the worship of God was more likely to be central to the lives of citizens there.

The northern kingdom was made up of the other ten of Israel’s tribes. There were different capital cities, but in the days of Isaiah it was in Samaria. The monarchy in Israel was a political free-for-all, and religion was seemingly a free-for-all as well. While Judah was more apt to be faithful to God and the worship of God at Solomon’s temple, the tribes of the northern kingdom were more given to worship of Canaanite deities.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah’s apocalyptic, regional prophecies include their northern kin, though the coming doom does not mean total destruction for Israel. Isaiah speaks of a gleaning (harvest) in which some fruit remains. Isaiah’s message predicted the regional invasion of the Assyrians, in which the Assyrians would take many captive and leave a few behind. This was a common practice of siege warfare in that day.

From a spiritual perspective, the tribes of Israel and Judah are bit like Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. While Jesus’ parable was not intended as a political allegory, the the metaphor of the parable resonates. Judah the more dutiful older son and Israel the rebellious younger son. God has a pattern of allowing His children freedom of will to accept or reject His ways, and equally allowing his children to experience the painful fruits of their own actions and decisions.

This morning I am thinking about how easy it is as parents to want to protect our children from themselves. When we control all behavior, control all exposure to the world, and protect children from all harm they are more likely to be safe. They are also less likely to be wise. It is only in the distant country, and in the painful consequences of his own actions, that the prodigal realizes his folly and makes a choice to return home.

Isaiah’s prophecy of Israel pre-figures the lesson of the parable. Israel will suffer the devastation of an Assyrian siege, its best and brightest will be taken into captivity, but the painful lesson will turn the hearts of the prodigal back to their spiritual Father.

A Spiritual Lesson from Acting 101

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.
James 2:18 (NRSV)

I’ve always believed that acting is the creation of an authentically believable character from the inside out. It is not just the manipulation of body and voice but the understanding of internal need, intention, motivation and thought which then translates into words, movement, and action.

My theatre professor in college taught us that one of the most important tools for the actor is observation. Watch people. We were sent to the local mall to watch people. Really watch them. It’s the Sherlock method of beginning to understanding character. What do you deduce from what you can readily observe in people? What can you tell about that couples’ relationship by the way they walk four feet apart? What does it say about them as a couple when she’s carrying on a conversation but her eyes are always looking over his shoulder at the people walking by? What is that teenager trying to say when he walks with that pronounced strut? Look at that old man, shoulders hunched over as if he’s protecting his soul, shuffling slowly with his eyes glued to the floor as though he’s afraid to look anyone in the eye. What in life led him to walk like that?

James’ discussion of faith and works in today’s chapter has created firestorms of controversy among theologians throughout the centuries. Some have even suggested pitching James’ letter from the canon of scripture altogether. Paul teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it’s not of works. But James writes in today’s chapter that faith without works is worthless faith. So, which is it?

I’ve never been that stressed out about seeming contradiction. Following Jesus is a journey fraught with paradoxes. You have to die to live. You must lose in order to gain. You must give away to acquire. Faith and works is just another spiritual paradox in God’s economy. Theatre learned long ago the spiritual principle required for holding the tension. It’s called “Yes, and.” Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, and yes, faith without works is worthless faith.

James was simply tapping in to Acting 101 class. Watch yourself. Really watch yourself. I should observe myself as others do. What do my words say about me? What can someone deduce from the way I treat my employees, my family, or as James suggests, the poor and needy? My inner spiritual realities are evidenced in my outside behaviors. If I really believe what I say I believe, the internal faith will continually work itself out in my words, actions, and relationships.

This morning I am feeling convicted. The process of honest self observation is never comfortable. Though I’m quite sure I have blind spots, I know most of my major shortcomings acutely. A self-inventory leads me to uncomfortable conclusions. And, I think that’s also ultimately James’ point. Discomfort prompts change, which creates movement, which propels me further in the journey towards Life. Comfort prompts apathy, which creates stagnation, which eventually becomes death.

Faith or works?

Yes.

The Slog and Reward of Obedience

Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
Leviticus 9:23-24 (NRSV)

As a father, I have experienced pleasure and appreciation when my children do what they have been asked to do; when they do what they are supposed to do. It started as small children when Taylor and Madison would be told not to touch this or to help pick up their toys. As they grew, the rules became more complex and obedience was desired and expected when they weren’t in my presence as well as when they were. As they progressed into adulthood it transitioned from their adherence to parental rules or demands, into simply the pleasure of watching children making wise choices on their own and doing what was right as they were self-motivated to do so.

Today’s chapter is rather boring. The first 22 of the 24 verses of the chapter is a recitation of Aaron and his sons, under Moses supervision, carrying out the sacrifices just as they had been prescribed in previous chapters…

  • Sin offering….check
  • Dip finger in blood….check
  • Sprinkle on altar….check
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Yada
  • Yada
  • Yada

I was tempted to bail on the chapter early on. “Yep, I read that before. Okay, I get it. They’re doing what had been prescribed exactly as it had been prescribed before.

Then we get to the final paragraph of the chapter. After all had been done exactly just as it had been exactly prescribed, Aaron the high priest goes with Moses into the tent. Inside the tent was where God’s presence resided, and it was obedience to doing the prescribed sacrifices that made the way for Aaron to enter God’s presence. When they come out from the tent and from God’s presence they are aglow with God’s glory and fire from heaven falls and consumes the sacrifices. Wow! Spectacular pyrotechnics to conclude an otherwise boring chapter.

And, that’s the point. Humanity, and the Hebrews in this particular case, are in the toddler stages of history. God the Father is teaching simple obedience. Do this, like this. When they do, they experience the glory of the Father’s good pleasure in supernatural ways.

This morning I’m thinking about our life journeys. When we are young we learn simple obedience and direct reward. Do my chores, obey parental commands, and I will earn my allowance and stave off their wrath. As we get older we learn that life does not always offer such direct rewards. I can do everything right and I still can’t find a job. Tragedy strikes even when I’m a good and obedient person whose working hard to do all the right things the right ways. As Jesus said, “Sun shines on both the good and evil person. Rain falls on both the just and the unjust.”

Nevertheless, as an adult I learn that being obedient to laws and rules and God’s desired behaviors has its own subtle and tangible rewards. It can be as subtly powerful as experiencing the pride and pleasure of a parent. It can also be the knowledge that doing the right thing does stave off a host of potentially damaging consequences for me and my loved ones. We learn simple direct lessons when we are children in order to learn the wise principles we will need when we are adults. Being wise and obedient, endeavoring perpetually to do the right things in this life, sometimes feels like a long slog. It feels like reading Leviticus chapter 9. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah…

Ultimately, there’s both a reason and a reward for making the slog. And, once again, I find myself at the beginning of another day.

Lace ’em up for the slog. I’m pressin’ on.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Recounting

“The following are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the Israelites defeated….”
Joshua 12:7a (NRSV)

In the fall of this year, Wendy is scheduled to direct a musical for our local community theatre called The Christmas Post. She’s directed it twice before. It’s been ten years since the last time. Yesterday Wendy was putting together some of the required paperwork and she handed me a list of all the shows she’s been involved in over the past 11 years. It filled the better part of a page, single-spaced.

Oh my gosh,” she exclaimed as she held up the list for me to look at. “This is a lot of shows! You don’t think about it until you really write it all down and see the whole list!”

She is right, of course. Along life’s journey I’ve discovered that it’s good to recount things. Just think about the word: re-count. Count it again. Make a list. Go over the list. Think about it. I have always had a bent towards history and nostalgia, so perhaps it comes a bit more naturally to me. Nevertheless, I’ve found it worthwhile. Recounting things reminds you of where you’ve been, which gives you perspective of where you are, which then helps you make informed decisions about where you’re going, which helps you choose the next step.

Recounting can also remind you of what God has done in the past, which strengthens the faith you need in the moment, so that you can press on in the journey to which He has called you. It is a repetitive theme throughout God’s Message: Remember these things. Teach them to your children. Don’t forget this story. Feast each year and recount what happened. Count your blessings and name them one-by-one.  “As often as you do this, remember me.”

Today’s chapter is not exactly full of inspiration. It’s simply a recounting of the kings who Josh and the 12 Tribes defeated. But it serves as a reminder that sometimes it’s good to re-count. Recount the good times. Recount the times God answered a prayer. Recount what got me to this place. Recount the lessons I’ve learned.

Happy recounting.

chapter a day banner 2015