Tag Archives: Obedience

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”?

Missing the Point

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
Matthew 21:28-31 (NIV)

Yesterday began the celebration of what’s known as “Holy Week” for those who follow Jesus. It’s the annual celebration of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. The events themselves are dramatic. The week begins with he crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem and shouting His praises. It will end with the same crowds screaming for His execution.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the temple. The temple was the center of Jewish worship. It was where all Jews made pilgrimages to make sacrifices to atone for their sins as prescribed in the ancient laws of Moses. The temple was where the institutional religious leaders held sway in a racket that made them powerful and wealthy.

The temple had its own currency and it had an official line of sacrificial animals. Pilgrims who came to make their sacrifice first had to exchange their Roman currency for Temple currency, and the money changers made exorbitant profits in the exchange that lined the pockets of the powerful religious leaders. Poor pilgrims who brought their own animals for sacrifice would learn that their animals were unacceptable to the priests, and the priests would demand that they buy the temple’s own brand of official sacrifices. The priests and leaders had turned religion into a money-making machine that bilked the poor and the weak.

So, Jesus begins His climactic week by overturning the money changer’s tables and setting the official sacrificial doves free in a provocative act of challenge to the powerful racketeering priests. It makes Jesus even more popular in the eyes of the marginalized and directly threatens the powers-that-be. The rest of today’s chapter is an account of the showdown between Jesus and the religious leaders who sent envoys with trick questions. Their plan is to trip Jesus up and give them reason to discredit or arrest Him.

In this showdown, Jesus gives another simple but powerful parable. Two sons are given a task. One initially refuses but eventually obeys. The other agrees but ends up not doing the task.

The message of the parable is clear. The priests were given the task of shepherding God’s people, but they ignored the task of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Instead, they pursued judgment, greed, power, and self-aggrandizement. Jesus’ followers, on the other hand, were marginalized outsiders in the context of the religious hierarchy, yet they were actively pursuing Jesus’ teaching.

I am reminded this morning of our daughter emailing me from a missions trip in Africa some years ago. She was in a challenging situation with a highly dysfunctional team. Her team “leader” seemed interested only in sitting around the foreign resort area doing nothing all day. Taylor said the person on the team who acted the most like Jesus was the one member saying they didn’t even believe in God. It was Jesus’ parable come to life. Given the parallel to today’s chapter, I believe it quite possible that the atheist on Taylor’s team was closer to God than those who were the most religious.

Holy Week is chalk full of opportunity for religious services, religious acts, and religious observations. This morning I’m reminded that we easily turn our churches into a 21st century example of the temple in Jesus’ day.  We can dutifully attend services, take communion on Maundy Thursday, weep on Good Friday, and shout “Hallelujah!” on Easter morning in our best Easter dress. And, the whole time we can be ignoring the most important things Jesus’ asked of us.

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.

 

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Purpose in the Process Prepares Me for Performance

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.”
Joshua 6:2-4 (NRSV)

Wendy and I are just two and a half weeks away from opening night of Almost, Maine. Every production has a life of its own and this show is no different. The normal rehearsal schedule for a non-musical spring show is 8-10 weeks. We’ve put a few shows on stage in 4-5 weeks. Almost, Maine was cast on December 13 and there was a read through or two of the script before Christmas. We’ve took a break for the holidays, a week’s hiatus in February, and another week for spring break in March. Nevertheless, we will open the show 17.5 weeks from the day the cast announcement came out. That’s a long amount of time to rehearse for four performances.

When it comes to shows, my Wendy and I are “process” kind of people. We love the rehearsal process. We love digging into characters. We love experimenting on stage. We love exploring how one costume piece or prop can transform a character. We love the exploration of the human condition and interpersonal relationships. We’ve done some very unique activities over the years as part of the rehearsal process. Some of them would look quite foolish to the casual observer. There is, however, a purpose to the process that prepares you for the performance (how’s that for alliteration?).

As I read God’s instructions to Joshua and the people of Israel this morning, I couldn’t help but think about process. It all seems a bit silly to the casual observer. March around Jericho once a day for six days. Blow the trumpets but otherwise keep silent. Repeat seven times on the seventh day, then shout. Then, as they say, the walls come a-tumblin’ down. Wow. Okay. Really? You want me to do what?

Along life’s journey I’ve come to realize that God is a great Director with a flawless sense of pace, timing and preparation. God understands process. There was purpose in the exercise of obedience for the people of Israel. There was time, an entire week, to consider that this victory had nothing to do with their human brilliance, strength, or tactics. Obedience to the prescribed pre-victory script would remind the players that there is value in sticking to the plan, and that would help ensure their adherence to the post-victory instructions, as well.

I woke in the deep watches of the night this morning. It’s been happening quite frequently of late. My spirit feels that God has some impending act on the schedule. Opening night is growing closer. I can feel that life has been rehearsing us in preparation for it. But, like Josh and the band marching around Jericho on the fourth day I’m still scratching my head as to what we’re actually doing or envision how this is all going to work out. It’s okay, though. I’ve learned this in theatre. Stick to the rehearsal schedule. Continue in the process. Some rehearsal periods are four weeks and some are 17.5. Some might even be 40 years. Trust the Director.

 

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It is Well

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 12:28 (NRSV)

Thinking back to childhood, there stand out a few examples of when I chose to blatantly do what I knew was wrong. For example, there are a couple of instances of petty theft on my pre-adolescent rap sheet. One of the forays into criminal conduct resulted in swiftly getting caught and punished. You could say that I got away with the other instance, though the lingering pain of a guilty conscience and the self-recrimination may have been worse punishment than if I had simply been caught in the act. I eventually chose, of my own free will, to come clean and pay my debt.

Those early experiences taught me that there is a peace of soul that comes with simply doing what is good and right. No one is perfect. I have my blind spots and I make poor choices — willfully and regularly, I’m afraid. I have learned , however, that life is certainly less anxious when I daily endeavor to live, speak, and act out of a respect for others and a desire to do the right thing. Sleep comes more easily and the day is experienced with a greater fullness of joy when my conscience is clear.

In today’s chapter Moses urges obedience to God’s commands “that it may go well with you and your children.” While I certainly believe that God blesses His children, I also recognize that there is a natural “going well” that occurs simply as a consequence of doing the right thing.

I cannot control all of the circumstances of life around me. I cannot control what others think, say, and do. I can, however, control my own thoughts, words, and actions. And, if I do things the right way then life, for the most part, tends to go well.

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featured photo by jsrcyclist via Flickr

The Pros and Cons of Tradition

 

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see Union Street Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof yesterday afternoon. It has been a long time since I’ve seen the show. I was a bit surprised how the musical, about changing times within a small, Russian Jewish community in the early 20th century, resonated with me.

We live in a small community with very deep Christian convictions, and our “Traditions” are very much like those of Anatevka, the community portrayed in Fiddler. For many, our Christian traditions provide a deep sense order and temporal peace in a rapidly changing world. When our traditions are threatened by change, it usually meets with loud and passionate objections fueled by anxiety and fear. As with Anatevka, there has historically been strong societal pressure to conform to the community traditions.

Paul was dealing with a very similar situation when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Galatia. Most of Jesus’ early followers came from Jewish traditions which were then being threatened by non-Jewsish (a.k.a. Gentile) believers. The changes this wrought within these fledgling communities of believers was immense and the passionate divisions it stirred was intense. Those from Jewish traditions saw their faith in Jesus as a mere extension of their Jewish traditions.  Those from Gentile traditions did not wish to adopt Jewish traditions to be followers of Jesus.

Paul, addressing these divisions, makes it clear that he has no interest in doing things simply to bow to human traditions and become a people pleaser. As Tevye and the residents of Anatevka discover in Fiddler on the Roof, the times, they are a changing. Paul makes it clear that he will follow Jesus, even if it means abandoning many of his traditions and raising the ire of the society in which he was raised and from which he came.

Today, I’m thinking about my own traditions, the ones passed down to me by family and community. Some I honor and obey because I feel Jesus clearly commands His followers to do so. Some I honor and follow because I find them beneficial to me and to my life, relationships, and community. Some, I find silly and don’t care about whatsoever. Traditions a good thing right up to the point they become more about keeping up appearances and pleasing the community than they do about sincere faith and personal spiritual benefit.

Parental Observation from a Child’s Perspective

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But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this.
Daniel 5:22 (NIV)

As a parent, there is a big difference between a child who acts (or omits) out of ignorance and the child who acts (or omits) with the full knowledge that they are doing what they should not do, or not doing what they should do. Ignorance can be understood and the offense can be chalked up to a lesson that needed to be learned. When a child acts with the full knowledge that what they are doing is improper it is a very different situation. The action, or refusal to act, becomes a willing act of disobedience.

Today’s chapter fast forwards in Daniel’s story. Nebuchadnezzar is dead and Belshazzar has taken the throne. Belshazzar had witnessed all that his predecessor had gone through with the statute, his dreams, and his madness. He had heard Nebuchadnezzar acknowledge God and humble himself. Now that he is on the throne, Belshazzar throws an drunken feast and brings in the stolen gold cups from Solomon’s temple to drink from. If dishonoring the temple vessels wasn’t enough, B-Shaz and his homeys begin to honor the idols of gold, silver and wood. The lesson is clear, B-Shaz had witnessed all that Nebuchadnezzar had experienced and learned, but he didn’t learn the lesson himself.

This morning, to be honest, my heart is sober. As a parent it is easy for me to see and apply these simple lines of behavioral delineation, but then I think of myself as a child of God. I think of lessons I have learned along the journey that still have not translated into life change. There are things I know I shouldn’t do that I do, and things I should do that I don’t. Like a child caught red-handed, I am in continuous need of my Father’s grace and mercy.

[Side note: I love when I realize, discover, or rediscover the source of a common phrase. We forget how many every day sayings come from Shakespeare and from the Bible. “Weighed on the scales and found wanting” is a phrase I’ve heard referenced in books, plays, movies and conversation my entire life. Its source is today’s chapter!]