Tag Archives: Part

Thoughts on Birth Order

…for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”
Numbers 3:13 (NIV)

A lot has been made of birth order through the ages. In modern society psychologists have famously argued that certain traits seem to commonly accompany children born in a particular place within their family’s birth order. Some of it is attributed to how parents commonly respond to children in each place of the order, while some is attributed to the unique psychological development that happens for children in each place within the order. An only child typically has their own distinctive traits, as does the youngest child in the family (I’m one of those) no matter the number in the order.

In the ancient days of Moses the firstborn was set apart (e.g. “hallowed” or “sanctified”) for God. This is why Mary and Joseph took Jesus, as the first born, to be dedicated according to the law when Simeon and Anna prophesied over Him (Luke 2:22-38). The practice goes back to the events of the Exodus and the Law of Moses, as we read in today’s chapter. Throughout history, the firstborn male has been afforded special significance in many societies, especially when it comes to matters of inheritance.

The differences in birth order are fascinating to observe and discuss. Any parent can tell you stories about how different children are in different places in the birth order, and groups of parents will find that there is commonality in certain traits. Along life’s journey, however, I’ve found that it’s foolish to make too much of such things, just as it’s foolish to dismiss them entirely.

Through the Great Story there are significant characters from different birth orders. Jacob/Israel was the second born and usurped the birthright of his firstborn brother. Joseph and David were both the babies of their respective broods. And, so on.

This morning I’m thinking about birth order. One article I read this morning gave this set of common traits to mark the baby of the family:

  • Fun-loving
  • Uncomplicated
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-seeker
  • Self-centered

Ha! I want to embrace a few of the traits on the list and deny the others, though I have to own up to the fact that an argument can be made for every one describing me in some way, especially as a child. It doesn’t make me better or worse then my eldest sibling, just different, and perhaps suited for very different roles in life.

C’est la vie.

While God set the first born apart in ancient days for a particular significance, it doesn’t diminish the unique role each person plays in the story. Psalm 139 says each one of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our place in the birth order doesn’t make us better or worse, though it may uniquely develop us for a particular role. I’ve learned in theatre that a key lesson in life is to fully give myself to, and enjoy the role I’m given, no matter the size of the part. Embracing this is the pathway to a tremendous amount of joy and contentment.

The Prophecy

Isaiah 53 is among the most amazing pieces of prophetic writing ever written. I’ve first read it over 35 years ago and I still find myself in awe when I read it this morning. Written by Isaiah nearly 700 years before the life of Jesus, this chapter beautifully describes the person and final day of Jesus life on this earth.

Here is a sampling of Isaiah’s prophetic verses in today’s chapter and I’ve taken the liberty to add verses from the biographies of Jesus by Mark, Luke and John which fulfill Isaiah’s prophetic imagery:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

But the crowds kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Lk 23:20

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there… Lk 23:33

one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. John 19:34

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;

About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Lk 22:59-62

and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Jesus (Mk 10:45)

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. Lk 23:8-11

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. Lk 23:50-53

though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Lk 23:13-15

This is just a hastily put together comparison, but I think we can all see the parallels. I personally find it rather amazing that Isaiah’s prophetic poem could describe with such detail the events from Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution six to seven centuries before it happened.

This morning I’m thinking about prophecy and its fulfillment. I’m thankful for evidence that the Author of Life has a plan, a storyboard, for this Great Story. As I head out into a long day I take solace in seeking to live out my bit part in that Story, and am excited to discover where it might lead.

 

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

Developing Parts for the Good of the Whole

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV)

One of the things I love about creation is the way that God layers what He makes with all sorts of parallels to who He is and how He has ordered other things. In today’s chapter, Paul uses the physical body as a metaphor for how a local gathering of Jesus’ followers spiritually functions.

A body is made up of many parts, Paul explains, but it’s one body functioning together for the common good. He goes on to explain that God’s Spirit instills in each follower a spiritual “gift” (e.g. teaching, service, hospitality, intercession, and etc.) which makes that person a unique “part” of the body. Each person, Paul continues, should perform their unique “part” to provide their essential function in the health of the entire “body.”

Over the past couple of years, our local “body” has been doing something that is functionally unique in my experience. For a long time now, most churches have established a fairly rigid paradigm for vetting those authorized to teach in a weekly gathering for worship:

  1. Go to college and get an undergraduate degree
  2. Go to seminary and get a graduate degree
  3. Become ordained by your particular denomination

Of course, just going through this process does not necessarily mean that you are actually gifted by God’s spirit as a teacher. It is equally true that many who are spiritually gifted teachers never jump through the established institutional hoops to in order to become institutionally approved, and therefore they may never use fully perform their part for the good of the whole.

Over the last couple of years, the spiritual leaders of our local gathering identified a number of members of our “body” who they believe may be gifted teachers. These individuals were offered an opportunity to receive some training and to actually teach our local gathering on a rotating basis on Sunday mornings. A process of oversight, encouragement, and feedback is growing. Some individuals have tried it and determined that teaching is not their gift. Others are continuing to grow and develop. Perhaps some will decide to go on for more formal, institutional training. Nevertheless, it’s been amazing to see individuals growing and developing in their gift. Despite those who expected the experiment to result in people choosing not to come to worship, our local gathering hasn’t diminished through the experiment. Rather, we are discovering that each teacher appeals to different parts of the body and that each teacher complements the whole of the team. It’s been fascinating to observe and participate.

Today, I am thinking about the diverse jumble of “parts” in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and the myriad of ways that these people are gifted in the healthy functioning of the whole body. Some are teachers. Others provide very different, but necessary functions. The proper functioning of every part doing its job ensures the health of the whole. I am continuing to grow in my understanding and appreciation for the fact that each part, no matter the gift and ability, is essential in its role for the common good.

 

Sowing, Reaping, and Playing My Role

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
1 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NIV)

Many years ago, while I was a pastor, I made a visit to the hospital to see a former member of our community who was in the Intensive Care Unit. I had visited this gentleman and his wife in their home when they lived in our town, but they had since moved to a retirement apartment near the regional hospital. He had a reputation of being an ornery person. I, however, always found he and his wife to be quite pleasant when I would visit, though it was very clear that they expressed zero interest in anything of a spiritual nature.

As I visited wit the man in the ICU, it was obvious that something was bothering him. I had an inkling what it was. Give the man’s medical prognosis, it was obvious that his time on this earth was very short. I asked him if he knew that he was going to die, and he nodded. I asked if he knew where he was going when he died, and he shook his head. I then asked if he would like me to share with him what I believed, and he answered that he would.

Over the next few minutes I simply explained, from God’s Message, how Jesus died and rose from the dead to pay the penalty of our sin, once for all. I explained that it is promised that to those who received Jesus, those who believe in Him, that God’s Spirit will indwell them and eternal Life is theirs through Him. When I asked the man if he would like to receive Jesus, he again answered “yes” and I led him in a brief prayer.

When the prayer was finished, the change in the man’s affect was noticeable. Tears were streaming down his face and he smiled at me for the first time that day. He urged me to go, that very moment, across the street to visit with his wife. He asked me to explain everything to her, just as I had explained it to him, and to tell her that he had asked Jesus into his heart. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he was emphatic that I go at that very moment.

I did go across the street to visit his wife. I did just as he asked and offered the same simple explanation to his wife. When I asked if she would like to ask Jesus into her heart, she said she would. I led her in the same prayer as I had her husband. When she was finished there were tears streaming down her cheeks as well.

That night the man died in the hospital ICU. Unexpectedly, his wife also died in their apartment a just a few hours later.

I did both of their funerals together. Both caskets lay before me in the church. The couple were old and had no children. It was a very small funeral, and I shared about my conversations with the couple and their faith decisions during the service.

After the funeral another elderly couple sought me out in the back hallway. They shared with me that they had been long time friends of the deceased couple and had spent much time with them over the years. Over those years they had talked to the friends about their faith and had asked on multiple occasions, but the couple refused to listen and showed no interest in placing their faith in Jesus.

I’m sure some people are cynical of such a story and of the couple’s death bed confessions. I am not the Judge and so I leave such judgements between them and God. I do know that the change in the man’s affect before and after his prayer was pronounced. I know that he appeared sincere both in his prayer and his insistence that I share it with his wife. I believe that when they both died their souls were at peace with God.

I thought about their friends this morning as I read Paul’s words above. For many years these dear people had planted spiritual seeds with their friends. They loved them, cared for them, spent time with them, and diligently prayed for them. In comparison, I did very little. I just happened to come along at the right time to harvest the fruit of their spiritual labor. We each did our assigned task as directed, and it was God’s doing.

This morning I’m reminded that my calling is to fulfill my assigned role. I am to play my part to the best of my ability and not worry about the role of others. Sometimes my role will seem a long, tedious slog. At other times I may experience a brief moment in the spotlight. That’s all up to the Director. My job is to play my part.

[cue: Tom enters SR]

The Southpaw Savior

But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man.
Judges 3:15 (NRSV)

When it comes to a good novel, I have always loved espionage thrillers. So, it comes as no surprise that I find the story of Ehud, the southpaw who saved the nation, most fascinating. Three things stood out to me this morning as I read the story of Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king, Eglon, and Israel’s subsequent military victory.

The first thing that struck me this morning was simply how brutal life in the time of the judges really was. Get ready, because we’re just getting started and there’s a lot of brutality to wade through in the coming weeks. I have said it before as we’ve journeyed through the ancient texts of God’s Message, and I’m reminded again: I have to try and take myself out of my 21st century, American cultural mindset to imagine the realities of tribal culture in Canaan 3300 years ago.

The second thing is that Ehud was a lefty, and lefties have always had a pretty bad rap throughout history. We humans are lemmings by nature and history reveals that we are continually suspect of social outliers. Lefties in history were thought to be anything from evil omens to downright evil themselves. As a lefty, I can remember my elementary teachers at least making an attempt to have me write with my right hand because they believed being right handed would be better for me. How silly of us to be afraid of that which is natural, if only different. Ehud’s south-paw sword hand came in handy.

Finally, Ehud hatched a brilliant plan, and he seems to have understood several key pieces of strategy. The fact that Eglon trusted himself to be alone with Ehud tells me that there was trust built between the two. He seems to have known what Don Corleone learned thousands of years later: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Then you can strike when the time is right. Ehud also understood that if you strike the shepherd the sheep will be scattered. He started buy killing the King and then the Moabite subjects were easier to defeat. Ehud was also perceptive about human nature. By speaking privately to Eglon, then shutting & locking the door behind him, he anticipated the servants’ reluctance to barge in on the king. He bought himself more time to get out.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that God uses our unique differences for specific purpose. Ehud the southpaw was the right guy at the right time in the right place. Our natural strengths and corollary struggles mean that we are uniquely suited to play our part in the Great Story. It’s our job to respect that part we play, and the parts played by others – rather than judging them as better, worse, greater, or lesser.

 

An Epic Production; A Bit Part

2012 12 USP Joseph Backstage Grovel LR

All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
Ezekiel 17:24 (NIV)

Ezekiel’s prophetic parable in today’s chapter is specifically related to the political circumstances of his day. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and carried off her royals, nobles and promising young talent back to Babylon. A royal family member, named Zedekiah, was set on the throne as a political puppet of the Babylonian king. But Zed had his own ideas and conspired with the Egyptians to deliver Jerusalem from Babylonian control. Today’s chapter is Ezekiel’s prophetic prediction of Zed’s failure and downfall.

Two things struck me this morning as I read the chapter this morning and considered the regional intrigue of Ezekiel’s day.

First, I am mindful of the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week and the reality that the political intrigue of that region of the world continues 2500 years later. The Israel of today has its capital in Jerusalem, the same capital city destroyed by the Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day. The Egyptians to whom Zedekiah pled for help remain a nation to this day. The ancient Babylonians are today’s Iraq. The Assyrian empire of Ezekiel’s day is today’s Iran. The names are slightly changed, but the peoples and the players are the same as are the regional power struggles and conflict. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Second, I was struck by God’s word through Ezekiel that there is a divine plan being worked out in all of this. God can bring down the powerful from their lofty heights and raise the lowly to positions of prominence. All the world’s a stage and there is a Great Story being played out amidst the proscenium of time. We are part of the same production.

All of this makes me and my silly little troubles feel small and insignificant. And yet, Jesus reminded us that there are no small parts. I may be a bit player and an extra in the chorus of this epic production, but the costume department considers me important enough that  every hair on my head is numbered and the Producer/Director knows my name. I have a part to play, as small as it may be and as insignificant as it may seem. It starts with loving my neighbors as I love myself, and acting accordingly.