Tag Archives: People

Bad Blood Boiling Over

All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.
Esther 3:2 (NIV)

I recently read a fascinating op-ed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali by birth who became a member of the Dutch Parliament. In the article, she shares about her journey of understanding that she was culturally and systemically raised to hate Jews and blame them for everything, and how she overcame that hatred.

Feuds are as old as humanity itself. Whether it is unresolved interpersonal conflict, blood feuds between familial tribes, or long-standing hatred between people groups, there are countless examples of systemic hatred and generational conflict throughout history.

For the casual reader, there exists in Esther an underlying conflict that is not easily detected on the surface of the text. Mordecai was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. The tribe of Benjamin had a famous ancestor in the person of Saul, the first King of Israel. Saul had warred against the Amalekites and their King, Agag. Saul’s disobedience to God’s command in the battle against King Agag led to Saul’s downfall which, in turn, brought shame to the tribe of Benjamin. Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of Saul’s famous enemy. There are over 500 years of bad blood between Haman and Mordecai’s tribes.

This adds a whole new layer of understanding to the story. Mordecai had thwarted an assassination plot against Xerxes in yesterday’s chapter, and yet he received no real reward for his courage. Haman, in contrast, is elevated to a place of unprecedented power within Xerxes administration and no reason is provided to explain why he was deserving of such favor. The King demands that everyone bow before Haman. Bowing and kneeling before others was a common form of public respect in ancient Persian culture. It would be similar to shaking hands in our culture or taking your hat off in respect. Mordecai’s refusal to offer this basic courtesy to Haman was not treated as treasonous, but as culturally impolite and disrespectful. Mordecai was scolded and lectured, but still, he refused to bow. Each day he stood as Haman passed by and each day the insult pricked Haman’s ego and pride. With each passing day the 500 years of cultural bad blood between Benjaminite and Agagite, between Jew and Amalekite, slowly simmered to a boil. Haman plots to have Mordecai and all of his people annihilated.

This morning I find myself contemplating Jesus’ command that I forgive my enemies. This not only includes the interpersonal conflicts or wrongs which I have suffered, but I believe also includes the deeper cultural, ethnic, moral, and religious prejudices I may hold against other people groups; Prejudices that I may have been systemically and culturally taught without even realizing it.

Which brings me back to Ms. Ali, a woman from a different culture, tribe, and religion than my own. I found her willingness to confess her hatred of the Jewish people and turn from the cultural enmity she’d been taught a shining example of what Jesus asks of me. I find myself taking an honest inventory of my heart this morning. As King David (ironically, God’s replacement for the disobedient King Saul) wrote in the lyrics to his musical prayer, “Search me, God, and know my heart.” Addressing prejudice and cultural hatred has to begin with me.

Life Investment, and Reinvestment

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I have been blessed with a number of people who have invested in me. This morning as I sip my first cup of coffee and mentally travel all the way back to childhood I am recalling them with a smile on my face, and a heart of gratitude. There were family members, teachers, directors, employers, mentors, and pastors. Some were just doing their job, yet in doing so made a significant impact by simply spending some one-on-one time of instruction, encouragement, and wisdom. A few were intentional in going above and beyond to pour themselves into my life.

I was reminded this past week of the most significant spiritual mentor in my life. It wasn’t just me. I was one of many young men whom he poured himself spiritually for decades. At his funeral, the gentleman leading the service (who was, himself, another protégé) asked everyone who had been discipled by our mentor to stand. A small army of men, from their late teens to their early sixties, stood with me.

What reminded me of my mentor this past week was a pint I shared with a young man from our local gathering of Jesus followers. He just returned from a two-week spiritual intensive. He shared with me how the program had been life-changing for him. That program is the legacy of my old mentor, led and run by others who had, like me, been impacted through his mentoring.

In today’s chapter, Paul continues his letter to the young protégé in whom he had poured more of himself than perhaps any other. He starts the chapter by calling Timothy “son,” then tells Timothy to take all that Paul has poured into him and invest himself in passing it on to others who can, in turn, teach it to others.

Individuals taking the Life that’s been invested in them, and investing it in individuals who, in turn, reinvest what they’ve been given into other individuals.

In the quiet of my office, I am once again seeing the faces and names of those who loved me by investing themselves in me and giving me knowledge, wisdom, time, companionship, encouragement, and occasional admonishment. This begs a few questions:

How am I doing at reinvesting what others have invested in me?

In whom am I intentionally investing anything of real value?

Trying Not to Stink

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV)

On Saturday I returned home from a week-long business trip. I was in four different client offices in three different cities training, coaching, and mentoring with agents and managers of nine different teams not to mention multiple key executives.

As a follower of Jesus I am always mindful of the fact that I am a follower of Jesus wherever I go and whatever I am doing. If I truly believe what I write that I believe in these posts, then my faith is ever-present  wherever I am and with whomever I am meeting whether it is for business or leisure.

Along the journey of my career I’ve enjoyed a large host of great working relationships with many, many colleagues and clients around the world. I’ve also had a few people who have made it perfectly clear that, for whatever reason, really, really don’t like me. Oh my, do I have some stories. Just a few months ago I received my first hateful, threatening rant from a reader. C’est la vie.

I can’t control what others think of me. I can only control my own thoughts, words, and actions. In today’s chapter Paul alludes to a Roman triumphal procession. Conquering Roman generals would lead a procession through the city with their army behind them. Incense was burned during the parade. In the procession there would be prisoners taken captive during battle who were being marched to their execution. Paul uses this word picture. The incense wafts through he air. To some in the procession it’s the aroma of triumph and life, while to others it is the aroma of death.

I’ve always loved this word picture because it reminds me of the limited control I have in how others respond to me. My goal is always to let my faith motivate both my words and actions to be filled with the aroma of love, kindness, respect, trust, honesty, and integrity no matter who I am with and no matter where I am and whatever I may be doing. I want my words and actions to be free from the stench of judgement, condemnation, anger, hatred, bitterness, prejudice, or meanness. Beyond that, I can’t really control how anyone is going to respond to me.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the week ahead. More meetings with different groups and different people. As always, I’m praying that my presence, my words, and my actions don’t stink.

The Pain of Separation

I have forsaken my house,
    I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my heart
    into the hands of her enemies.
Jeremiah 12:7 (NRSVCE)

I’m assuming that for many living in the melting pot of America, the concept of a heritage and a people may not be as strong as it once was. My father moved our family away from his home when I was young and I grew up removed from the Dutch heritage in which he was raised. As an adult, I doubled-down and returned to my roots, moving to a town that is rabid about its Dutch heritage. I have an appreciation for what it means to embrace and celebrate the people and the culture that are your genetic roots.

In my Dutch heritage there is a word that you’ll still hear old-timers pull out once in a while: afscheiding, It means to “separate.” When an individual or group left the fold they became tagged “afscheiden.” I get the sense that in most circles it was once the Dutch version of a scarlet letter.

In the previous chapter we learned that Jeremiah had so incensed the people of his hometown with his prophecy that a price had been put on his head. There was a plot to kill him. How appropriate then, to read in today’s chapter, that the weeping prophet is feeling like an afscheiden. God has called Jeremiah to declare the destruction of his unrepentant people over and over and over again. Now his own people have turned against him. He feels separated, ostracized, and alienated. Jeremiah loves his people, his culture, and his heritage and yet his prophecy is all about Judah’s fall and destruction. There is a war raging inside him. Following God meant separation from his heritage.

Along this life journey I have walked alongside many people who have had to battle the deep internal struggle of parting ways with the faith and/or culture of their family and heritage. Every culture and heritage has it’s strengths and corollary struggles. A time comes when for the spiritual health of an individual or family there must come separation from a church, a family system, or a community. It is tremendously difficult for some to risk social and relational stigma and fallout. Jeremiah is feeling that. Following God feels like a betrayal of his family, people, and heritage.

This morning in the quiet I’m saying a “thank you” for all the great things that my family system, heritage, and culture have afforded me. I am also making a renewed commitment to follow wherever God calls me, wherever I’m supposed to be, even if I’m branded an afscheiden.

“Wanna Get Away?”

“Oh, that I had in the desert
    a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
    and go away from them….”
Jeremiah 9:2 (NIV)

I had to laugh this morning when I read Jeremiah’s lament. I imagine the ancient prophet weary of his calling, weary of shouting his messages that no one wanted to hear, and weary of people telling him to shut up. I can hear the politicians and institutional religious leaders threatening him and telling him to “tone it down.” I can imagine his own family members rolling their eyes, embarrassed to claim him as a member of the clan. I can envision the ridicule, verbal abuse, and derision he likely faced on a regular basis.

I hear in my head the tagline of those funny Southwest airlines commercials: “Wanna get away?”

My journey has taught me that dealing with people can be incredibly draining no matter what the capacity or relationship. Even Jesus showed signs of weariness and frustration from time to time. Even Jesus had to regularly get away from the crowds to spend time alone or with His inner circle. We all feel the “I gotta get away” blues from time to time. It’s part of the human experience. It’s part of the journey. The need of regular periods of rest is so important for our well-being that God made it part of the Top Ten rules for life.

This morning as I sit alone in the quiet of my study I’m taking comfort in the fact that even the great prophet Jeremiah felt the exhaustion of dealing with people; Even the Son of God needed to regularly get away. I’m not alone, and why should I think that I would be any different?

This is a long journey. Regular rest stops are required.

The Special People Among Us

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (NIV)

Along my journey I have lived in a handful of different places from really small towns (e.g. 110-318 people) to larger towns (e.g. 10,000-30,000 people), and a couple of urban regions (e.g. 250,000- 9,000,000 people). Across all of the places I’ve lived I have served and worshipped in a number of churches, both small and large, and of different denominational or theological backgrounds.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there has virtually always been at least a couple of special people in every gathering in which I’ve been a part. In the quiet this morning I bring to mind a number of faces and memories I’ve not thought about in a long time. These special individuals are a combination of persons who get labeled “odd duck,” “slow,” “off,” or any number of phrases such as “a few bricks shy of a full load” or “the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.

I’m chuckling to myself as I recall one gentleman named Norman. Norman was a huge grizzly bear of a man, who was cross-eyed unkept. His hair was never clean or brushed. His clothes were always disheveled. He commonly paired an ratty, old suit jacket he owned with his dirty overalls. Norman’s speech was always gravely and slurred. His body odor generally arrived ahead of him and lingered well after he left. He would typically arrive late to the meeting and he was known to belch in the middle of my message with the decibel level of your average 737 at take-off.

Norman was also amazingly sweet spirited, regularly attended, never ceased to display a grateful heart, and he always had a kind word to say to any who would take the time to actually have a conversation with him.

Today’s chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in first century Corinth is normally interpreted to be about how different individuals in the church have different gifts and abilities and they all work together to make up the whole. When Paul writes the words, The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” it is typically interpreted to mean that we all need each others gifts and talents. At least, that’s the way I’ve typically read it and presented it.

As I read the familiar passage this morning, however, I was struck by what Paul had just addressed in the previous chapter:

for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

In other words, the divisions among the followers of Jesus in Corinth were not just about differences of talent, culture, philosophy and doctrine. The divisions included the “haves” and the “have nots.” This might have been socio-economic status, but also might well have included those who were healthy and those who were sick, those who were “normal” and those who were…special. So when Paul writes, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” he was talking about those among us whom we typically marginalize, ignore, shy away from, and from whom we distance ourselves.

I’m reminded this morning that what originally differentiated the followers of Jesus in the first century was that they welcomed everyone to the table no matter the gender, race, nationality, background, health, talent, or socio-economic status. The “everyone is welcome” attitude was breaking down big-time in Corinth, as I observe it has in most places I’ve lived and worshipped.

This morning I’m thanking God for the special people in my midst who are typically difficult to appreciate, often painful to talk to, and sometimes are just plain awkward when trying to make connection. I’m also confessing that I too often shy away and distance myself from those who are different when I should be leaning in, honoring, and loving. Even if they belch loudly in the middle of my message.

Big Questions of the Grand Parable

And [God] said, “Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:9-10 (NRSV)

The further I progress in my journey, the more I’ve come to understand that the Author of Life weaves the story in characters that my human mind cannot begin to fathom. Along the way my own heart and mind were unveiled to see, hear, comprehend at particular times, in specific moments that seem to coincide with my own part in the Great Story. Though, I don’t fully understand how and why.

Jesus Himself pushed into this mystery when asked why He spoke in parables. Jesus quoted these very same lines of prophecy given to the prophet Isaiah:

[Jesus] answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah….

A friend of mine is currently reading a biography of the great baseball player, Ted Williams. Our text conversation last night meandered into how such a great ball player was such a horrible human being. We were asking big questions about how some characters seem blinded to the very basics of human kindness, humility and decency.

I don’t know. Nor do I understand fully why my eyes were unveiled to perceive certain truths in certain moments of my journey, while others’ eyes appear to remain stubbornly veiled to the same. My heart and mind refuse to stop asking the questions and seeking answers. I have come to acknowledge, however, that as I knock there are some doors of knowledge that are answered, while others remain tightly shut as they have for all earthly pilgrims through the depths of time.

This morning I am full of big questions for which I don’t have answers. The Author of Life is not writing a socialist manifesto in which all characters have some equal standing, purpose, provision, and calling. The character list is abundantly diverse and runs the gamut from evil to good, sinner to saint, and irredeemable to redeemed. There is obviously timing and purpose in this Grand Parable that, like all great stories, I don’t fully see until the last chapter is read.

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Featured image: pat_ossa via Flickr