Tag Archives: Pinterest

Pomp and Circumstance

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

We are all suckers for a Pinterest-worthy phrase. The Bible is full of them. The stuff of inspirational bookmarks, posters, desktop backgrounds, and cheap commercial trinkets sold at your local Christian bookstore.

As I’ve journeyed through God’s Message for almost 40 years, I’ve observed that it’s quite common for that inspirational, scriptural quote to be taken completely out of context. Text that is actually profound, mysterious, and/or challenging with eternal, Level Four spiritual meaning is screen printed, replicated and dragged down to self-centric, ego-pleasing, Level One interpretations. I’m not pointing fingers, by the way. I’m as guilty as anyone.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’m sure there are many young followers of Jesus who are receiving graduation gifts from well-meaning grandparents with that phrase printed on a greeting card, key-chain, or bookmark. On the surface, it seems to flow right along with all the pomp and circumstance of your boiler-plate commencement address:

“Chase after your dreams.”

“You can be anything you want to be.”

“Make your mark on this world.”

“The world is yours for the taking.”

“All your dreams can come true if you work hard enough.”

I noticed as I read the chapter this morning that preceding Paul’s inspirational statement is a rather sobering message:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

Paul, who was stoned and left for dead outside the city of Lystra. Paul, who was shipwrecked three times in the Mediterranean and once spent twenty-four hours floating on debris in the open ocean hoping to make it to shore. Paul, who was bitten by a viper. Paul, who five times was given 39 lashes (because 40 was considered lethal). Paul, who traveled some 10,000 miles largely by foot. Paul, who was beaten with rods three times, went hungry and found himself cold, naked, and alone. Paul, who was writing those words from prison.

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The secret of being content in any circumstance is the “all things” Paul was referencing with his inspirational phrase. He wasn’t talking about grabbing the world by the tail, achieving his personal dreams, and moving up in the world. He was talking about being perfectly content being cold, naked, hungry, bloody, bruised and shackled in a first-century dungeon. Ironically, that is not the stuff of inspirational commencement addresses.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that it is discontent that often fuels personal dreams, aspirations, ambition, economics, and the American dream. Paul’s faith taught him contentment in the midst of unimaginable suffering. I struggle to be content with my iPhone 8 when the iPhone X hits the market.

And there’s the disconnect.

This morning I find myself challenged to restore the meaning of the words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to its profound, mysterious, spiritual meaning in my own heart and life.  Being content no matter my current situation and circumstances. I confess that it’s easier said than done for me, and I’ve got a long way to go in learning the secret Paul discovered. Which is why this is a journey.

Time to press on. Have a good day, my friend.

 

“Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Thirteen years ago today I was living in a personal exile of sorts. I was in the process of a divorce that I had once promised myself would never happen. Rumors were flying, most all of them untrue. I had become a social pariah among many whom I’d once considered friends. I remember at the time clinging to the fidelity of a few individuals who “had my back” along with a word picture of living each day like a turtle. I stayed within my self-protective shell and continued to press forward, slow and steady. Not only did I firmly believe that God had not abandoned me, but I had faith that there were redemptive purposes God has planned for me on the other side of this difficult stretch of my life journey.

Jeremiah 29:11 (pasted at the top of this post) is one of the most optimistic, Pinterest-worthy verses from the entirety of God’s Message (see the featured image, a screen shot from Pinterest). Yet those who quote this verse and post it probably have little or no understanding of the context from which it was originally penned.

Jerusalem is in ruins. Solomon’s Temple, once one of the wonders of the ancient world, is reduced to rubble. The treasures of Jerusalem have been plundered by the Babylonian army. The best and brightest of Jerusalem’s people (artists, artisans, musicians, writers, thinkers, teachers, politicians, prophets, and priests) have been chained and led back to Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar and ensure that no one is left in Jerusalem to mount a revolt against him.

As you can imagine, those forced into servitude in Babylon are anxious and fearful. They find themselves in a strange land among a strange people with different culture, history, philosophy, and religion. Nothing is familiar. Nothing is safe. Nothing is sure. They just want to go home. Life in exile is filled with constant uncertainty.

Jeremiah, meanwhile, had been left behind. So the ancient prophet writes a letter from the rubble of Jerusalem to all of the exiles in Babylon. Compared to the doom, gloom and dystopian vision he’s always painted in his prophesies, his letter reads like a wise grandfather telling his grandchildren not to worry. He assures them God has not abandoned them. It’s all going to be alright. It is in this letter that Jeremiah pens the famous verse. While things may look dark and hopeless in Babylonian exile, God has a plan and a purpose for their good, and for their future.

I’ve come to understand that along life’s journey I will face personal periods of wandering, treks through wilderness, and/or stretches of personal exile. In wilderness, in exile is where I always meet Lady Wisdom. In hindsight I can see that she called out to me from the security and comfort of home, but I refused to listen. It is in exile I find her. It is in the wilderness, stripped bare of the illusions of my securities, that the ears of my heart are open to what she has to say. Her lessons are essential to God’s ultimate plans and purpose for me.

This morning happens to be my birthday. It’s the 52nd anniversary of the beginning of my life journey. This morning in the quiet I am thinking back to thirteen years ago when I woke up in a strange place of personal exile. What a different place on life’s road I find myself this morning. God’s plans and purposes are continually being revealed. I’m grateful for the things Lady Wisdom had to teach me back then.

One of the theme songs of Wendy’s and my life journey together is flitting through my head this morning. It’s a riff on Jeremiah’s encouraging letter to all those in exile from brother Marley:

Don’t worry about a thing,
’cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”

Letters, Numbers, Part and Whole

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

“Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who is close to me!”
    declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered,
    and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
Zechariah 13:1, 7 (NIV)

I am currently leading a team of teachers among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers as we share messages from Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth. [My kick-off message in the series on YouTube if you’re interested]

One of the first things that I did was to take the text of 1 Corinthians, strip it of all headings, footnotes, text notes, cross references, along with chapter and verse numbers. Then I put the text in a hand written font and handed it out to my team. “Here is Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth,” I told them. “Put yourself in the shoes of a member of the Corinthian believers and read it as if you just got it out of your mailbox.” The process has been transformational.

It’s amazing how the simple act of separating original, ancient texts into chapters and verses can alter our reading and understanding. I’m sure there are some readers who don’t even stop and consider that the Bible wasn’t originally written with all those numbers. They were added by scribes centuries later, and in doing so they sometimes detract from the writers’ original works.

Take today’s chapter for example. In yesterday’s chapter I mentioned Zechariah’s word from God  in which God speaks of the people looking upon Him, “the one they have pierced“, and mourn as mourning for the firstborn son. It’s a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus on the cross, pierced by the Roman soldier’s spear, as they sky darkens, the earth shakes, and His followers look on in disbelief. Then I got to the end of chapter 12 on this chapter-a-day journey and stopped reading.

Today I picked up with chapter 13 as if it’s a completely new section or thought and read the first verse:

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

This verse is a continuation of yesterday’s vision that foreshadows Jesus’ death, but in my one chapter a day habit it’s easy to think of this verse in my daily time capsule existence independent of yesterday’s chapter. But it was all one vision, one thought, one piece of writing. The death and piercing and mourning were all about God cleansing the people of sin and impurity. If I don’t connect the two chapters as one text I miss a crucial understanding of the whole thing in the same way that reading a hand-written letter as a bunch of independent verses and chapters loses its original intent as a personal letter from Paul to his friends in Greece.

Zac’s amazing prophetic roll continues today, describing the “shepherd” who is “struck” and the flock is scattered. Two-thirds are decimated and one-third survives but is “refined” by the process. Once again I find an uncanny description of the events of Jesus and  His followers in the first century. After Jesus’ death His followers scatter in fear for their lives, but instead of snuffing out the movement Jesus started it actually gains momentum. This momentum eventually sparks terrible persecution from the religious and Roman establishment. Jesus’ followers are hunted down, fed to lions in the Roman circus, stoned to death, impaled on pikes and burned alive to light Caesar’s garden. Many of them were wiped out just as Zechariah’s vision describes but it did not destroy the faith of those who survived. It refined their faith and made it stronger. Eventually, a few hundred years later, even Caesar becomes a believer.

This morning I find myself once again mulling over parts and whole. The first verse of today’s chapter doesn’t make sense apart from the previous chapter. Jesus’ death and the events of believers in the first century are made more meaningful and poignant when seen in light of Zechariah’s prophetic words penned 500 years earlier. In the same way people across the centuries have taken individual verses from the text of the Bible both to make inspirational Pinterest graphics and to justify all sorts of horrific acts of judgement, prejudice, violence, hatred, and persecution.

Some verses have incredible meaning in and of themselves, but I’ve come to understand that meaning should never be separated from the context of the author’s work and the Great Story that God is revealing across time, space, history and creation.

The Context of the Pinterest Quote

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

We have increasingly become a culture that boils things down to simple thoughts. We gather quotes, sayings and images on social media. We try to say something or quote something worthwhile in the 140 characters that a tweet will allow. Everything is reduced to make it smaller, pithier, and more quickly consumed. And, in doing so we lose context. Without context things change and lose the fullness of meaning.

josh 24 15 grab edit

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua said in today’s chapter. These words can be found on countless Pinterest images (example above), plaques, wall hangings, keychains, bookmarks, pens, and etc. It’s a popular sentiment and statement of commitment. I’m afraid very few people know where it originated or its context.

Joshua, the chosen successor to Moses, is at the finish line of his life. He’s dying. His number is almost up and he knows it. He gathers the nation together around the Big Top – the great tent that had been Israel’s mobile worship center since the days of Moses himself.

Joshua recounts the story of the nations history from Abraham to their present day (“Where have we been?”).

Joshua reminds them of the blessings they are enjoying in the lands which had become their inheritance (“Where are we now?”)

Then Joshua calls them to commitment: “Choose this day whom you will serve…” (“Where are you going?”)

The call to commitment is not for Joshua himself. He’s done. He’s run his race. The answer to the question of commitment will have no bearing on him. He no longer has an earthly future. He’s making a declarative statement for his family. He will not have any power to enforce it, he will not be physically present to hold his family accountable to it, and he has no assurance that they will actually fulfill it. It is a  faith statement.

Joshua’s statement belies the real question that is weighing on his 110 year old heart: “What am I leaving behind?”

His statement, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” is far greater than the letters on a Pinterest post can provide to the casual observer. The depth of it cannot be realized in reading the mere words. It’s important to understand the whole story and the context in which the statement is made. This is a declaration of death-bed desire. It is a plea to his descendants. This is Joshua’s great and motivating want. It is the revelation of his dying wish and his heart’s pure and final longing.

Today, we come to the end of Joshua’s story. It is the final chapter in the book, and in a moment of unplanned synchronicity it falls on the day before my 50th birthday. Today, I find myself asking:

  • “Where have I been?”
  • “Where am I at?”
  • “Where am I going?”
  • “What will I leave behind?”

 

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image: Christmas Morning by Andrew Wyeth

 

Super Tom! (Not)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

When historians look back on these times that we are living in, one of the major themes that they will address is how social media has changed the world. Society has changed dramatically in the past ten years and I’m not sure we can fully realize in the moment the breadth and depth of the change.

We live in a Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook culture in which thoughts are reduced to 140 characters or a 400×400 pixel image. Please do not read in this post what I am not writing. This is not a judgment on social media, merely an observation.

One of the things I observed is that in reducing the message to fit the medium, the context of the message can change dramatically. Take Paul’s words to his friend in Philippi in today’s chapter. The more well known translation is ” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Talk about Pinterest quote material.

Yet, in isolating and reducing the message of the verse it appears to be a promise of unlimited potential. I might as well photoshop your face on the body of a comic book superhero to use as the background of my Pinterest post. SuperMe to the rescue. I can do all things!!

But when I read Paul’s words in the context of the previous sentences, the message of that phrase takes on what I believe is a significantly different meaning. Paul’s life journey has taken him to high mountaintops of earthly success and deep valleys of death. He has experienced “the good life” and he has found himself shipwrecked on an island like a real life episode of Lost. When he writes, “I can do all things” he is saying, “I will survive. I will be okay. Whether it’s a good day or bad, I can be content and trust that God will give me the strength to get through.

Today, I’m thankful for context. I’m glad that Paul was not writing an empty promise of superhumanity which does not fit my reality. I may be typing this post in my Batman boxer shorts, but that’s where my super hero capabilities end and I know it. To hear Paul’s encouragement to walk today’s journey knowing that whatever comes my way God will give me the strength to endure…well, that’s a message my heart can really use as I begin my day.

All In

2012 06 02 Becky & Courtneys Wedding144But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” Ruth 1:16-17 (NLT)

I am reminded this morning of Wendy’s and my wedding. These sentiments of Ruth were part of Wendy’s wedding vows to me. They are framed and hang on the wall of our bedroom. I don’t know if Wendy realizes how often I look at them hanging in our bedroom and think about our vows to one another. I  know for a fact that marrying a recently divorced man with two teenage daughters was not her plan or desire. It was not at all what she had envisioned waiting for all those years. In taking up Ruth’s vow, she pushed all of her chips to the center of the table. She was all in.

Looking back at the journey since that wonderful New Year’s Eve wedding I can see just how Wendy has made good on her vow in countless tangible ways. She has been all in with Taylor and Madison, all in with my parents and my siblings, all in with our nephews and nieces, with friends, with work, with the Cubs and the Vikings, with everything. Her love and commitment has made it easy for me to reciprocate and choose to be all in with her, her family, and her friends.

I have come to appreciate that choosing to go all in when it comes to life relationship is not as easy or as comfortable as it appears. All of the pithy Pinterest quips and quotes in the world cannot inspire away the tragedies and messes of daily life together. When we are young and naïve we can scarcely understand the weight of it. Now as I am older and look back on the tragedies which lie in the wake of my own naïveté, I am all the more grateful and impressed with those like Ruth and Wendy who have the wisdom and experience to understand the gravity of their gamble and still choose to go all in.