Tag Archives: Personal

Special Vows

“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite….”
Numbers 6:2 (NIV)

I run into some of the most interesting people in my job. Years ago there was a Customer Service Representative (CSR) for a client company who stood out from the crowd because he had the longest hair I’d ever seen on a man. The man was tall and thin and had incredibly straight, long hair that most women would envy. It went all the way down his back. It was so distinctive and prompted such curiosity that one of my colleagues went out of his way to ask the man about it.

It turns out that this man was a follower of Jesus, and he had a friend who was in prison. He wanted to find a tangible way to express his love and loyalty to his friend, and so he informed his friend that he was making a special vow to God, and his friend, that he would not cut his hair until his friend was released from prison. It had obviously been several years, and he was obviously committed to his friend and to God.

The CSR’s vow was a modified version of a voluntary, “special vow” that the ancient Hebrews called a Nazarite vow, as described in today’s chapter. The idea of the Nazarite vow was a way for individuals to “dedicate themselves to the Lord” for a particular period of time for a particular reason that may have been very personal between themselves and God. The reasons can be as diverse as the persons making them, but I have come to believe that there are stretches of life’s journey when a special vow can be an opportunity for incredible growth of spirit and/or witness.

This morning I’m thinking about the special vows individuals make from choosing a monastic life, to a lenten fast, and even to a chapter-a-day journey.  The thing I appreciate about special vows is that they are not compulsory or demanded. Special vows come from a special place of the heart. They are Spirit led and Spirit driven. They may be for a brief period of time, for the remainder of the journey, or somewhere in between. That’s between the person making a special vow and God.

Years after our relationship with the client ended my colleague told me one day that our CSR friend had contacted him. The CSR reported that his friend had finally been released from prison. He was there to meet his friend at his release. Together, they went to the barber shop. To this day my heart smiles to think of what that moment must have meant to both of them. For me, it illustrates what special vows are all about.

Mentors, Mantles, and the Mayhem of Transition

[Elisha] picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
2 Kings 2:13-15 (NRSV)

Transitions are never easy. Along life’s journey I am constantly finding comfort in the status quo. What “has been” seems safe and secure in the “now.” Change skews the equilibrium. Anxiety bubbles to the surface. What “will be” suddenly seems uncertain because the “now” is no longer what “has been.” Anxiety quickly morphs into fear. I try to maintain the outward appearance of stability despite the fact my spirit is reeling like a drunken sailor. Fear subtly begins to leak out of my sub-conscious into the open in all sorts of unexpected (and often unhealthy) ways as my spirit searches for ways to cope with uncertainty.

In my work I often find myself on-site with clients amidst the whirlwinds of change. Corporate acquisitions, changes in leadership, changes in technology, changes in team, and changes in jobs are all realities that my clients struggle with in their workplace. There are even companies I know for whom the destabilizing effects of change become the status quo. I get to witness the internal and external effects of the ceaseless churn on individuals in my coaching sessions and conversations.

There are many layers of meaning in the events described in today’s chapter. I could write a weeks worth of blog posts (or more) peeling back and exploring every one of them. The main theme of today’s chapter, however, is transition. It is an event that our culture regularly references without realizing the source. When the great prophet Elijah is whisked up to heaven in a fiery tornado,  his “mantle” falls to the ground. Mantle refers to a loose cloak worn over clothes. His protégé prophet, Elisha, “takes up the mantle” of leadership from his mentor, Elijah. Elisha picks up his mentor’s discarded mantle and immediately uses the mantle to perform the same miracle Elijah had just performed with it before his dramatic exit. The act confirms to the team of prophets witnessing all of this that there has suddenly been a huge transition in the executive ranks of the prophetic organization. The corporation of prophets suddenly finds themselves with a new CEO.

What’s fascinating is that the first act among the corporation of prophets is sub-conscious anxiety oozing out into well-cloaked organizational action:

“Let’s appoint a committee to go look for Elijah. We saw him whisked up in a whirlwind, but no one saw him land. We need to verify that he is really gone.” (Because finding Elijah and returning to the comfortable status quo would feel much better than the anxiety I’m feeling about Elisha running things!)

Elisha warns that the actions are a waste of time and resources, but the search committee is adamant to the point exasperating the new leader. Fear does funny things to people.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions. I’ve been through many of them professionally and personally on this life journey. I’ve come to recognize the familiar, internal pangs of anxiety and fear that accompany these abrupt changes of course. They don’t necessarily get easier, but I’d like to hope that I’ve matured in how I respond to them inside and out. I’ve come to understand that what “has been” never completely passes away. It simply becomes the foundation on what “will be” is going to be built. I simply have to hold the tension of “now” with faith in what I believe to be true no matter what was, what is, or what is to come: I can trust that God’s got this.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Isaiah 41:10

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

featured image: detail from the St. John’s Bible

Personal AND Universal

“Sit in silence, go into darkness,
    queen city of the Babylonians;
no more will you be called
    queen of kingdoms.”
Isaiah 47:5 (NIV)

The Great Story told throughout God’s Message weaves multiple storylines together throughout history. There is the storyline about God’s relationship with humanity on an individual, interpersonal level, but there is also the storyline of God’s relationship with the nations. As I journey through God’s Message I believe that it’s important to recognize and distinguish between the two in understanding the Story.

In today’s chapter, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to the nation (you might also say Kingdom or Empire) of Babylon. Earlier in the Isaiah’s prophetic writings God said that He would raise up that nation of Babylon in order to deal with the rebellious Kingdom of Judah.

When we read the story of Daniel and his friends, who had been taken into exile by the Babylonians, we find that God is at work in the life of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Once again we see God at work in storylines on the national level and on the personal level.

Now Isaiah’s prophetic pen targets this nation of Babylon whom God will bring low just as He had raised her up. God was at work in the storylines of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Isaiah, Jeremiah, while at the same moment being at work in the storylines of Babylon, Israel, Judah and Persia.

This morning I’m thinking about my belief that God cares about me and my story in intimate and detailed ways, AND that God cares about the nations and the larger storyline being told in the rise and fall of nations and kingdoms. I have heard some argue that God has bigger issues to deal with than their own personal troubles. I don’t believe that God is limited in power, knowledge or presence so that either storyline be excluded for the other. I’m thinking this morning about the tension of being grateful for God’s care and involvement in my own personal story, without being deluded into thinking that it’s any more important than all the billions and trillions of storylines woven into the Great Story God is telling.

Meaning-Full Gifts

Wendy, Suzanna and I have been blown away by Apple’s Christmas ad this year. In the ad, a young lady discovers a 45rpm record her grandmother made for her husband who was away in World War II. The granddaughter spends some time on her Apple computer editing the song, adding her own voice and instrumentals to it. On Christmas morning, the grandmother finds her granddaughter’s iPod on the kitchen table along with memorabilia from that period of her life. Perched atop the stairs, her granddaughter watches her grandmother put in the ear buds, push play, and begin to cry. Then it’s kleenex all around at our house every time we see it.

This year, our entire Christmas seemed to be one gift card exchange. I get it. Our family is spread out, Wendy and I are in transition, our folks don’t really need anything, yada, yada, yada. But, I have to admit that the exchange of plastic cards at times seems boring and silly. This year we gave our brother Lucas a Target gift card, and guess what he gave us? Yep, a Target gift card! Feel the joy. God bless us, everyone.

This year I did give my parents one extra gift that cost me nothing but a little time. Utilizing the existing software on my MacBook, I pulled family photos I have taken and scanned over the years and put them into slideshow. It really wasn’t that difficult. I mixed old family photos of previous generations to photos of our own nuclear family through the years, and added a song from my iTunes library as background. I burned it to DVD and, after the gift cards had been exchanged, I played the DVD for my folks. The best gift I received all Christmas was watching my parents as they watched the slide show. I did feel the joy as I watched them light up at the sight of old family photos and calling out the faces and names of people they recognized from previous generations. Before it was over they had both began to cry. My mother’s tearful hug when it was over was priceless.

Wendy and I have talked a lot about this concept of meaning-full gifts this year. We have become so focused on the consumption of goods, that we are often blind to gifts that will be truly valued. A few Christmases ago our dirt-poor college age daughter gave me a simple candy tin on which she painted a colorful design. Inside were some of her favorite photos of the two of us and a couple of colorful magnets. I could take out whichever photo I wanted, attach it to the front of the tin with the magnet, and sit it on my desk. I don’t remember anything else I received that Christmas. I still remember that.

Wendy and I received two meaning-full gifts this Christmas. Suzanna, our dirt-poor college age, live-in sister, spent time sequestered in her room upstairs working on two drawings for Wendy and me. Her own pencil portraits of Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball, with “Merry Christmas” hidden in Charlie’s hat ribbon, and Lucy’s necklace. It was unique, original, and made with her own hands. We will treasure them. The other meaning-full Christmas gift came from my dad who made a stained-glass piece which will hang in a prominent place in our new house (I am choosing not to show a photo of it at this point. We’ll let you see it when it’s installed and the sun is shining through it!). We can’t wait to add it to our collection of family artwork displayed in our home.

2014 suzannas christmas drawings

You don’t really need a ton of creativity or artistic ability to make and give meaning-full gifts. Here are a few suggestions for next Christmas or an upcoming gift giving holiday:

  • A playlist or music mix provides all sorts of possibilities. Share music that is meaningful between the two of you. Share with your children or grandchildren the music that you listened to as a kid, what songs bring back memories, and what those memories are. Share with your parents the music you remember from your childhood or the music that your parents taught you to appreciate. Don’t forget to add some liner notes describing why you chose each song.
  • Memories are always meaningful. What family treasures or heirlooms can you utilize to honor those special moments of the past? Still have that trove of love notes/cards your spouse gave you when you were courting? How about a simple treasure chest box from the local art/hobby store in which you place all of those special notes, along with a brand new love note to add to the horde.
  • Old family movies on 8mm film or VHS videotape gathering dust in the attic can easily be transferred to digital formats which can be edited or played on almost any media. Most computers today come with built-in software which allows you to take the digital video and make your own home movies. You don’t even have to edit. Most family members will love watching the raw, unedited footage of years past.
  • In this age of e-mail, a hand-written letter has become rare, and in my estimation more valuable. I have always believed that our handwriting, sloppy as it may be, is an original work of art. A handwritten letter that’s signed, sealed, and delivered is a welcome surprise amidst the daily pile of junk mail and bills delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Write a letter thanking your parents for all they’ve done for you (give examples), tell your children how proud you are of them (give examples), say “I’m sorry” to a loved one you’ve hurt, say “I forgive you” to a loved one who hurt you, or take a trip down memory lane and share with a loved one a meaningful memory the two of you share.

A big “thank you” to all who gave me gift cards this year, including my wife. I will enjoy using them on special treats for myself, and am truly grateful. I hope you enjoy the piece of plastic I gave you in return. I hope we all realize that meaning-full gifts are gifts in which the value cannot be established by a magnetic strip on the back.

Faith and Praise: David’s Personal Relationship With God

David bearing the ark of testament into Jerusalem
David bearing the ark of testament into Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets. 1 Chronicles 13:8 (NIV)

For the better part of this year, we’ve been journeying through the story of David and before that the psalms which are ancient song lyrics attributed largely to David. In a bit of synchronicity, the group of believers with whom Wendy and I worship on Sunday mornings are starting a series of messages on the life of David next week. It flows out of a five week series in which we’ve been looking at the “chain reaction of praise,” and I’ve been asked to give the lead off message of the series.

The connection between the two series is the fact that, no matter the circumstances, David was a man of praise and faith. David the hero, David the warrior, David the outlaw, David the sinner, David the King, David the victim — no matter which part of David’s life you study you find him seeking God, praising God, crying to God, and consulting God. You can almost always find a psalm that corresponds to a particular episode in David’s life. Throughout his long journey David was always translating his daily life experiences into songs, poems, and prayers of faith and praise.

I thought about that as I read this morning of David the King who was not embarrassed nor ashamed to worship and dance “with all his might” before God and the ark of the covenant. He was not concerned with what it might look like to others. He was not worried about looking cool, kingly, and above it all. He was not one to order others to do his praising for him. For David, his relationship with God was not just “a part of the job.” David’s relationship with God was personal from the time he was a boy until he was uttering his last words on his death bed.

Today, I’m thinking about my own life and David’s example. I don’t want my faith and praise to be a compartment of my life which I take out on Sunday morning and sundry, appropriate occasions. I don’t want my faith to fit neatly into others sense of propriety. I want my praise to be with “all my might” and my relationship to be intensely personal each and every day of my life.

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A Lesson in Abner

joab assassinates saulMay God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” 2 Samuel 3:9-10 (NIV)

Abner is one of the most fascinating characters in the unfolding drama of the conflict between the houses of Saul and David. Abner was Saul’s general, and second in command. As such, Abner had amassed tremendous power and influence. With Saul’s well known mental health issues, it was likely Abner who provided stability, respect and fear in the chain of command. Upon Saul’s death, it was Abner who quickly propped up the weaker younger brother of Jonathan, Ish-bosheth as his puppet to maintain control of the northern tribes.

Abner served Saul and his family faithfully, but his ultimate service was always about himself.

It struck me as I read this morning that Abner was well aware God had anointed David king of Israel. The way he worded his threat to Ish-bosheth it would seem he even believed that David’s ascent to the throne was a divine oath. Yet, Abner spent two decades fighting faithfully for the house of Saul because that was where his bread was buttered.

Today’s chapter gives us a clear picture of Abner’s character. Abner seems to have enjoyed the fruits of his position. Now we see that he so disrespected his former master and the son of Saul made his political marionette, that he felt it his right to feast on the forbidden fruit of his Saul’s harem. After all, who was going to stop him? When Ish-bosheth finds the guts to stand up to Abner and call him to account, Abner does what all power brokers do: he makes a power play. He plays the powerful trump card he’s been holding and vows to deliver the northern tribes to David wrapped with a bow.

Abner is Judas. The inner-circle confidant who is secretly pilfering things for himself, and willing to betray his master if it suits his personal agenda. Abner is Iago, the 2nd in command whom the commander shouldn’t trust. Abner is the one who knows God’s truth, but never submits to it unless it happens to dovetail with his duplicitous purposes.

Today, I’m also recognizing the Abner in me. David wrote in the lyric of one of his songs: “search me God…and see if there is any offensive way in me.” I’m kind of feeling that same spirit this morning as I mull over the person of Abner. I can see in my own life the perpendicular lines of God’s way and my way. I am guilty of being duplicitous, too. It could be said that I have served God for personal ends.

On this my 48th birthday, I am reminded by today’s chapter of the difference between the man I desire to be, and the man I sometimes prove to be by my own words and actions. I’m reminded that after 48 years I have still not arrived. I am reminded that I’m still in process. God, examine my heart – and help me be less like Abner and more a man after your own heart.

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Continuous Personal Worship

Thai SunsetEach of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy 
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Revelation 4:8 (NIV)

I have been in many different churches over the years representing a wide breadth of Christian denominations. From holy rolling Pentecostal healing services to quiet Quaker meetings to the pomp and ritual of the Roman Catholic mass, I have experienced worship in many different forms. I can’t say one was better than another any more than a great Italian meal is better than a great Midwestern barbecue. They each bring something different to the experience that satiates hunger with its own taste and flair. I can honestly say that I have appreciated how each variety of worship style satiates peoples hunger to worship God with its own unique taste and flair.

In today’s chapter, John has a vision and finds himself ushered into the throne room of heaven. This is not the first time this has happened in God’s Message. The prophet Isaiah described a similar experience (Isaiah 6) hundreds of years before John. In each description, there is “day and night” worship that continually acknowledges God being ‘holy’ (Merriam-Websterexalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness). When Isaiah heard the angelic beings they acknowledged that “the whole earth is full of his glory.” The four creatures John saw poetically acknowledged God’s timelessness as one who “was, is, and is to come.” The 24 elders at the end of today’s chapter worship God for being the creator of all things and giver of life.

In this chapter-a-day journey through God’s Message we have run across few descriptions of heaven. The common denominator in those we have run across is worship in the form of continuous verbal acknowledgement of God. Today, I am thinking about my own personal act of worship, which isn’t confined to an hour in church on Sunday morning. I have found personal worship to be the continuous awareness and acknowledgement of God in my breathing, working, eating, drinking, re-creating, resting, relating, loving, and living. How that manifests itself varies like the rituals of the Quakers and Catholics and I can’t say that I think it matters all that much. I have found that the important thing about personal worship is not what it looks like but that it happens.

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