Tag Archives: Motives

Micro Aggressions; Macro Issues

The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.
Numbers 20:7-8, 11a (NIV)

I’m currently doing character study for a play my friend and I are producing next year entitled Freud’s Last Session. The script is a “What if?” play that imagines an ailing Sigmund Freud inviting a young C.S. Lewis for a visit in his study in London. Freud escaped Nazi Germany to England where he worked and lived out the end of his life. The play is set on the day Britain entered war with Germany. The two intellectuals match wits for an hour on matters of life, death, faith, and the impending war.

In the play Freud makes an argument against Hitler’s use of Christianity and religion to support his fascist regime. Lewis concedes that the institutional church is an easy target. History is filled with evil done in the name of God.

The truth is, however, that what is true on a macro level (e.g. the institutional church in Germany supporting Hitler’s evil regime) can also exist on the micro level (e.g. me doing the wrong thing and cloaking it in spiritual motives). I have no control over the macro level concerns of the institutional church, but I do control my own thoughts, words, and actions.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew tribes are once again in grumbling mode. The wayfaring nation is camped in the desert and there is no good water source. A couple million people wandering in the desert require a lot of water to survive. Let the rebellion commence.

Per the systemic pattern that’s been well established at this point, the people’s grumbling complaints prompt Moses and Aaron to go before God and throw themselves on the ground in exasperation. Also well established by this point is the fact that God has proven to come through with provision when the survival of the people is at stake. God tells Moses to “speak” to a rock there in the camp and it will miraculously produce flowing water.

Moses, however, goes on a bit of a rant against his grumbling people and “raises his hand” to strike the rock. In his rage Moses strikes the rock not once, but twice.

Moses actions are a micro level spiritual problem with macro implications. God was very specific about speaking to the rock. Moses lost his temper and went postal on the thing. My first impression is that it seems a small matter for God to get upset about, but as every psychologist knows micro aggressions hide macro issues. As Freud explains to Lewis in Freud’s Last Session, what his patients tell him is not as important as what they don’t.

This morning I’m doing a little spiritual inventory. Are there places in my life where I’m striking when God has directed me to speak? Are there places in life in which I’m speaking or acting for my own self-centered motives and cloaking under a guise of “doing it for the Lord”?

Loving Devotion and Life-less Obligation

I have been on a pseudo-sabbatical from my daily chapter-a-day posts for the past month. I took the opportunity of late summer vacations both to the lake and to Kauai to rest from my normal routines, though when I rest from regular routines I have a penchant for developing new ones.. I’ve felt prompted, of late, to wade into the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which I’ve blogged through only once back in the spring of 2010. It’s rather daunting journey, merely for the length of it (66 chapters!). Like all lengthy journeys it affords both tedious plodding and memorable, breathtaking moments. Here we go.

One of the keys to reading the poetic verse and visions of the ancient prophets (nearly all of the prophetic writings of what we refer to as the Old Testament are penned as Hebrew poetry) are 1) the cultural and historic context of the time in which the author was writing and 2) the person and circumstance of the prophet himself.

Isaiah lived in the capital city of Jerusalem during a period of “the kings.” The twelve tribes of Israel had been united under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, but then split in two during the reign of Solomon’s son. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and had its capital in Judah. Judah was loyal to the house and line of David. The northern kingdom (Israel) was made up of the rest of the tribes and claimed Bethel as its capital and religious center. Israel’s monarchy was continually a free-for-all which made for a lot of political intrigue.

Like all great books, the beginning introduces the overarching themes. In today’s opening chapter Isaiah sets the scene in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was the center of Israel’s sacrificial system. Over the last few months I blogged through the book of Leviticus, in which set the sacrificial system into being as established through Moses. The dutiful, religious people of Judah continue to carry out their rituals, festivals and sacrifices. But, there’s a problem.

Isaiah gets right to the crux of the matter. The people were carrying out their religious duties, but had forsaken the heart of their relationship with God. They were like a spouse who manages the daily household routines of marital and family obligation while their heart wanders in desire for others. God wanted their obedient actions to be motivated out of love and desire, not rote obligation void of love and devotion.

I have confessed to being a person of routines, and this morning I am thinking about the religious routines in my own life. My daily quiet time and blog post are a routine. Attending church services on Sunday is a routine. Giving financially to my local church and other ministries is a routine. But, are these coming from a heart-felt love and devotion to God, or are they merely Life-less robotic religious behaviors? Do my actions point God toward a living love and desire within my heart or, like the people of Isaiah’s day, have my religious behaviors become absorbed by the rotting stench of my hypocrisy?

Dealing with that stain and stench is another major theme of Isaiah’s poetic visions, which he establishes in today’s chapter:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

 

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The Biggest Gig in Town! And, FREE FOOD!!

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
John 6:26 (NRSV)

I have watched the YouTube video above multiple times. I’m not alone. It’s at 25 million views and still going. The moment is compelling (especially for someone with hearing difficulties) and emotional at the most raw human level. A deaf person hears for the first time. I have yet to watch it without tears welling up in my own eyes.

Now I think about Jesus walking around the Sea of Galilee performing miracles. Take this YouTube video and multiply it. See moments like this over and over and over again in real time. The deaf could hear. Lame people got up and walked. Blind people could see for the first time. And, best of all, Jesus conjured up shore lunch of fish sandwiches for everyone!

Jesus was the best gig in town. Entertainment like no one had every seen along with great storytelling,  free food and free health care! No wonder the crowds were following Him in droves. He was riding a tidal wave of public opinion. He was the biggest game in town. He was bigger than Trump! More generous than Bernie!

And then, Jesus does the strangest thing. He walked away. He left quietly in the night. He got out of Dodge without telling anyone where he went.

The crowd was frantic the next morning. They went after Him. Searched for Him. Scattered around the country side until they found Him. They wanted more. Don’t we always want more? More entertainment! Bigger miracles! Bigger is always better. More is always better. Faster is always better:

Do something new, Jesus! We’ve seen you heal blind people. Yada, yada, yada. You do it all the time. Tears. Astonishment. ‘I can see!’ It’s getting old. Hey, I know! How about growing an eyeball in an empty socket!? That would be totally cool. Haven’t seen that, yet. Oh, and by the way: Can you conjure up something other than fish sandwiches for lunch? At least add some tartar sauce or something? Do you have a gluten free option? My wife has dietary issues.”

I find it fascinating that Jesus didn’t question the motives of the people. He saw them clearly and he, flat out, exposed what those self-centered motives were. Then…Jesus gets all weird:

“…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

So…no more miracles? I guess shore lunch is out of the question today, too? Crap. Let’s get out of here. Obviously, the guy is a crackpot. Miracles were cool, sure, but the guy is talking nuts like some cannibal. Oh well, at least I got one free meal out of the deal.

Along my journey I’ve come to realize that my motives for seeking Jesus will largely determine the outcome of Who I find.

 

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The Goal

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
1 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

I got an earful. The tirade was marked by anger and came from a place of disappointment and hurt. The object of the vehemence was unknowing and undeserving. The accusations were all about an “i” not dotted, a “t” not crossed which had been blown into outrageous proportions. The goal of the rant was, from what I discerned, to project the injured’s own hurt somewhere else.

Along life’s journey I’ve been involved with many different groups of Jesus followers. Among every group I’ve encountered those Paul describes to his young protegé Timothy. There are always those who major on the minors; Those who immerse themselves in things that don’t lead to the goal, which Paul reminds young Timothy, is love.

As I read Paul’s charge to Timothy this morning, I thought about the person who gave me an earful. If the goal had truly been love, how would they have handled themselves differently? They might have started by going directly to the person they were complaining about rather than others. They might have asked this person questions and sought to understand rather than demanding to be understood. They might have considered Jesus’ command to love and forgive others a greater priority than advancing their own rights and needs.

Even as  I write these words I am looking back at a few past tirades of my own. I recognize myself in the person who gave me an earful. I have lounged in those loafers. I, too, have spewed righteous anger out of personal pain. Lord, have mercy on us both.

Today, I’m reminded of how simple and powerful love is, as Jesus exemplified it. Love is a goal to strive for. Love is also a litmus test for my own words and actions; A standard against which I can discern whether I am moving in the right direction. If my goal is truly love then it constantly forces me to choose words and actions that lead, not to places of personal right, justice, or satisfaction, but to places focused on others and marked by forgiveness, selflessness, and peace.

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Whose Side Am I On?

English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincou...
English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For he breaks the pride of princes, and the kings of the earth fear him.
Psalm 76:12 (NLT)

My personal favorite of Shakespeare’s plays is Henry V. It tells the story of a young man who had spent his early years acting much like the prodigal son. He squandered his youth partying it up with common people and a largely discredited nobleman who was given to indulging his appetites. When his father dies and Henry is suddenly placed on the throne, no one thinks the young prince is up to the task. In leading a war against France, he is underestimated by the enemy, betrayed by friends, and driven to do a lot of soul searching about himself and his role. The play ends with a retelling of the historic Battle of Agincourt. Henry and his Englishmen are outnumbered by the French 5 to 1, but Henry leads his band of brothers to an unlikely victory. In the glow of victory, Henry refuses to take credit for the win:

  • Henry: Come, go we in procession to the village.
    And be it death proclaimed through our host
    To boast of this or take the praise from God
    Which is his only.
  • Fluellen: Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
    how many is killed?
  • Henry: Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
    That God fought for us.

Today’s psalm was written in time of war. The lyrics reminded people of God’s sovereignty and judgment which the writer proclaimed would ultimately prevail over earthly kings and rulers. Ancient tradition holds that the song was written in response to another improbable victory over Sennacherib‘s army when they threatened Jerusalem.

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly suspicious of those who like to cloak human actions and activities with God’s will. Henry’s humility is noble, but the English motives for invading France were far from godly. God’s will is used to justify all sorts of human tragedies and terrors. Everyone claims God is on their side. God’s will is regularly cited by those who wish to cloak selfish and greedy motives. Shakespeare himself ends his play reminding the audience that while it appears God fought with Henry, He must have switched sides after Henry’s death because France reclaimed all that Henry had fought for. It gets muddy when you humanly start bestowing God’s favor on things that God hasn’t explicitly bestowed Himself.

This morning I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words when someone asked whether he, like King Henry, believed God was on his side. Lincoln replied: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Spiritual Home Improvement

shack at the landfill
(Photo credit: margaretkilljoy)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 3

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. I Corinthians 3:12-13 (NLT)

Down in Missouri, on the lot next to our Playhouse there sits a house on a poured foundation. Years ago the owners poured a nice concrete foundation and began to build on top of it. They enclosed the house, furnished the inside and added a patio door that opened toward the lake. Then, they abandoned it.

No one has been to the house on the lot next to ours for decades. The roof collapsed. The furniture and walls are covered in black mold. Local wildlife have lived on the inside and caused more destruction to the contents. The house is a health hazard and an eye sore. But, the foundation is still solid. We have more than one friend who has eyed the property and come to the conclusion that you could bulldoze the house, clean off the foundation, and start building a new home on it.

That house (or what’s left of it) is the perfect word picture of exactly what today’s chapter is trying to communicate. When we come to the point of decision and choose to follow Jesus, the Spirit of God indwells us and pours a rock-solid spiritual foundation in our hearts. From that point on our motivations, our thoughts, our words, and our actions are the construction materials with which we build our spiritual “house” on that foundation. As we live day-to-day, the quality of our choices and lives determine the quality of the spiritual house we’re building. Some of us throw up a shack and are content to live in spiritual squalor. Others take the time, develop the discipline, and make the sacrificial investment to build a spiritual mansion. Like our neighbors at the lake, some of us abandon our spiritual building and its foundation altogether.

Today, I’m meditating on this simple word picture and considering the quality of the spiritual house I’m building on the foundation of salvation Jesus poured in my heart 30 years ago. As all homeowners know, the work is never finished. I have sections of the house I’m proud of. I have other sections that need to be gutted and renovated from the ground up. As one company reminds us: “never stop improving.” As long as there is life and breath, the building and renovation of my spiritual house will continue.

 

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 21

The sacrifice of an evil person is detestable, 
      especially when it is offered with wrong motives.
Proverbs 21:27 (NLT)

When we hear the question “What’s my motivation?!” we tend to think of some cheesy character in a television show obsessing about an acting role. It stems from the acting method which teaches actors to get below the surface of the lines in the script – the words that the character say, and to think about what is driving the character to think, act, and say certain things.

All joking and mocking of actors aside, I’ve actually found the question itself is quite pertinent to almost any situation in life. I find myself asking the question of myself all the time:

What’s my motivation here; Is is positive or negative?
Am I doing this selfishly or selflessly?
What is motivating my words right now; Am I building up or tearing down?

I also find the question useful in discerning the words and actions of others. If I am perplexed as to why a person would say this or that, I look for his or her motives. What is driving them? What is it they want? What are they hoping to accomplish?

I have found that when I take a moment to thoughtfully examine my motives before I act or speak, I save myself from doing and saying a lot of stupid, hurtful things that I would regret and would cause me more pain that it was worth. When I examine the motives of others and understand why they act and say the things they do, it often allows me to respond with grace rather then react with irritation.