Tag Archives: Reflection

Taking Measure of Life

I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab.
2 Kings 21:13 (NIV)

It’s been about two and a half years since Wendy and I moved into our new house. I think we grow to appreciate it more as time goes on. We’re incredibly grateful for our home.

It has been an interesting experience for me to move into a newly built house and see how the structure stands the process of settling and the test of time. The contrasting heat of Iowa summers and cold of Iowa winters makes for a tremendous amount of expanding and contracting. As we sit and have breakfast in the mornings we watch the sun coming up in the eastern sky and can hear the little structural creaks of as the suns rays warm the house and things expand. Moulding that was flush when we moved in now shows a hint of a gap. You begin to see a house’s strengths and weaknesses when measured against time and the elements.

In today’s chapter the scribes record the words that the prophets (they don’t specify who) spoke about King Mannaseh’s life and reign. They use a word picture that God shared through the ancient prophets repeatedly. The metaphor was a measuring line and/or a plumb line:

  • I will make justice the measuring line
        and righteousness the plumb line (Isaiah)
  • This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. (Amos)
  • Who marked off [the sky’s] dimensions? Surely you know!
        Who stretched a measuring line across it? (Job)
  • “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. (Jeremiah)
  • He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. (Ezekiel)
  • Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. (Zechariah)

Both a measuring line and plumb line are construction tools used to make sure a structure is measured correctly and on the level. Different versions are used to this day. My friend Doug is a master carpenter. Despite all of the modern technology available to him, I’ve watched him pull out his trusty, dusty old “plumb bob” when he’s hanging a door just as carpenters have done for thousands of years.

It’s a powerful metaphor when you think about it. Does my life measure up to what I say it does? Are my intentions, thoughts, words, and actions on the level with what I profess to believe? Even Jesus used this word picture parallel between life and construction. It eerily apt this morning in light of watching coastal homes destroyed by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in recent weeks:

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

“But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” Matthew 7:24-27 (MSG)

This morning I’m prompted to take an honest “measurement” of my own life. Mannaseh was King of Judah and a branch of the tree of David, who was “a man after God’s own heart,” but Mannaseh’s life and actions didn’t measure up. His life was “off-plumb.”

What about me? Where has time settled me into behaviors that have slowly left me off-center? Where have the elements and circumstances of life revealed weaknesses in my foundation? Where is my life creaking? Where are my relationships worn?

One of the things that I’ve learned as a homeowner is that its far easier and less expensive in the long run to catch small, “off-plumb” problems and fix them before they become disastrous headaches.

Swimming, Speedos, and Spiritual Progress

…let us throw off everything that hinders…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

I was a competitive swimmer growing up. I started around the age of eight and swam nearly year-round until after my freshman year in high school. Life’s road led me in different directions at that point. I hung up my Speedo.

Like all competitive racing, the difference between winning a swimming race and not even making it to the medal stand can be hundredths of a second. When you’re young you can shave entire seconds off your time with small improvements of technique and strength training. As you get older and faster the smallest of details take on greater and greater importance. Swimmers learn to eliminate anything that might “drag” you in the water. That’s the reason for ultra-tight lycra suits, slippery skull caps, and shaved heads (the reason shaving my head bald to play Daddy Warbucks wasn’t a huge deal for me is that I’d done it before, shaving my head bald for conference and district meets). If the race is between two equally competitive simmers, one guy in a Speedo and the other guy wearing cut-off jean shorts, the guy in the Speedo has a huge advantage.

That’s the word picture the author of Hebrews is getting at in this morning’s chapter. No matter where I am on my spiritual journey, I have to recognize that there are any number of things which can create drag on my spiritual progress:

  • Relationships with crazy makers who keep me in chaos
  • Compulsive and addictive behaviors that distract me and weigh me down
  • Misguided priorities that take up my time, energy, and resources chasing empty things down dead-end paths
  • Filling my life with objects rather than relationships
  • Keeping myself so busy that I have no time for personal reflection and contemplation

This morning I’m reminded that no matter where I am in this spiritual journey, whether striking out on the dusty trail as a spiritual seeker or climbing the sheer cliffs of spiritual maturity, there are always things that weigh me down and hinder my progress. I just read yesterday of an experienced rock climber who dropped his cell phone from a thousand feet up a sheer cliff wall. Only then did he realize how much of a distraction it had been to him. and how it freed him to be the unhindered mentor and guide he needed to be for his fellow climbers.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the things that might be hindering my spiritual progress. I’m once again committing myself to the never-ending process of identifying and throwing off those things that I identify as weighing me down.

Don’t worry. I promise you’ll never have to see me in a Speedo 😉

It Was Never About the Rules

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)

When our daughters, Taylor and Madison, were young girls they were subjected to a fairly substantial system of rules. There were moral rules (don’t lie, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t hurt another person, et al). There were rules of health and hygiene (wash your hands before meals, no snacks before meals, cover your mouth when you cough, take a bath regularly, et al). There were rules of the family system (do what mommy or daddy says, put away your toys before bed, say your prayers, et al).

Taylor and Madison were both good kids, though they were certainly not perfect. Let me make two very important points:

First, I love Taylor and Madison dearly, but not because of the perfection with which they obeyed my rules! I love them because they are my daughters. They are God’s uniquely beautiful creations. They are inherently lovable, valuable and capable beings.

Second, the rules that I as a father subjected them to as young children had nothing to do with earning my love. Certainly there was a measure of pride and joy when they were obedient (which they did most of the time), and there was disappointment and even anger if they willfully disobeyed (trust me, I have stories). However, neither their obedience nor disobedience had any effect on my underlying love for them. The rules were about teaching them how to live healthy, productive lives, how to successfully live in relationship with others, and how to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others and the world as a whole.

In today’s chapter, a very similar distinction is being made that is critical to our understanding of both God the Father (God for us) and Jesus, God the Son (God with us). The law of Moses (that would include the Big Ten commandments and the more than 600 other rules) was the guiding force of Hebrew religion. The Hebrew priests, descendants of Aaron, along with the descendants of the tribe of Levi were in charge of these rules and the rule keeping. Rule keeping became the focus of the Jewish people as if being perfectly obedient to the rules put you in right standing with the Father. But no one became a perfect person by religiously adhering to a set of rules.

A priest is a “go-between.” Some one who represents others, intercedes for others, mediates for others, sacrifices for others before God. Jesus perfectly fits the definition of High Priest, but the author of Hebrews continues to make a very important distinction, that Jesus was not a High Priest  in the traditional, Law of Moses prescribed genetic line of Aaron. Jesus was a High Priest in the line of the cosmic, eternal, mysterious figure of Melchizedek.

Why is this important? It tells us that perfection of religious rule keeping was never the point to earning God the Father’s love any more than my love for Taylor and Madison being hinged on the perfection of their keeping the rules of my house. We are loved by God inherently because we are His uniquely beautiful, lovable, valuable, and capable creation. So loved, in fact, that Father God (God for us) made the ultimate sacrifice of sending Jesus (God with us) to free us from our silly religious rule keeping and to show us the deep, abiding, full, limitless, abounding, abundant LOVE that defines God. When conversing with God the Father, Jesus used the word “Abba” which is defined more commonly as we would use “Daddy,” “Papa,” or “Pops.” Jesus came as Priest, Mediator, and Sacrifice so we could understand that kind of loving relationship with Father God.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways that the rule-keeping paradigm keeps sucking me back into its false economy. I’m mindfully pondering how I actively continue my process of understanding “Abba” and digging into my relationship with Him. I’m reminding myself this morning of the reality that I know deeply as a father of Taylor and Madison: It was never about the rules, or the rule keeping. I am loved inherently for who I am as God’s child.

Spiritual Misperceptions from Growing Up in Church

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)

I grew up in a relatively small neighborhood church. It was a Methodist church that maintained a fairly traditional, liturgical approach to faith and worship. There was an altar at the front of the sanctuary that was respected as a special, holy place. There was a huge, loud pipe organ. The minister always wore long black robes on Sundays. The choirs also wore long robes and marched down the aisle behind the minister to their hallowed place in the choir loft. As a child watching and participating in this pageantry each week, there were some things that I quickly came to assume about spiritual matters:

First, our minister was different. He (and growing up it was always a he) dressed differently both in the church service and during the week. I was expected to behave differently (as in, better than normal) whenever I was around him. I even noticed that adults behaved differently when they were around him. I came to the conclusion that he was spiritually better than me. He was certainly closer to God than me and had a particular spiritual authority no one else seemed to have. He certainly had a pipeline to God the rest of us didn’t have. You don’t mess up or behave badly around him.

Having observed this social and behavioral distinction between the Rev and the rest of us, I came to believe that there is a certain spiritual caste system in life. There was religious nobility (ministers) and everyday commoners (like me and my family). The social system within our church fed this notion fairly rigidly. Even when I joined the youth choir I had to dress myself up in fine robes each week to approach the altar (always behind the minister, our proper place), sit in the choir loft, and participate in singing of the anthem. If I was to participate in the divine then I needed to dress differently (better and more religious) and be on my best behavior (goofing off on the choir loft during the service was a damnable offense). To participate in the ritual of communion I had to be 13, take a year’s worth of classes, and pass the confirmation class test which got me to a higher spiritual level in the system.

Over time, this distinction between the spiritual pageantry of Sunday and the every day life in my neighborhood with my family led me to believe that there was a certain compartmentalization in life between the sacred and the secular. Sure my family said our rote prayers before meals and before bed, but every day life was where you gave a passing nod to the divine and prayed for the Vikings to win the Super Bowl. [The Vikings always lost the big game, of course, teaching me that our minister had, indeed, a better standing with God…he was a Steelers and Cowboys fan.] The real spiritual stuff was always on Sunday morning, for which we cleaned ourselves up and made ourselves presentable.

In today’s chapter the author of this letter to Hebrew believers begins a discussion of Jesus as “High Priest.” Having been raised in the Protestant tradition, I find myself a few steps removed from an experiential concept of “priest.” The priesthood became a theological line of separation between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the Reformation. Nevertheless, as I’ve progressed in my faith journey I’ve found it an important concept to contemplate and unpack because it goes right to the heart of some of the gross, spiritual misconceptions that even the Protestant church gave me growing up.

Even in the opening of the discussion in which we are introduced to Jesus as High Priest, He is not introduced to us on a higher spiritual plane confined to the holy altar of some Tabernacle on Sunday morning. Jesus is introduced as one who empathizes and has experienced our every day struggles and temptations. Jesus the High Priest is God with us, in our working and playing and eating and drinking. Instead of cleaning ourselves up and approaching God with fearful respect and awkward religiosity, Jesus calls us to approach with confidence, just as we are. Rather than approaching to earn some kind of merit badge in the religious pecking order, we are approaching to receive a generous gift of unmerited  mercy and grace.

This morning as I enjoy my coffee looking out over the lake, I am reflecting on the core misperceptions the church gave me about God as a child. It strikes me that these natural surroundings at the lake are a holier and more spiritual place than the altar of my old neighborhood church. In this “thin place” this morning I’m confidently approaching Jesus and asking for some increased clarity regarding my childhood misperceptions and how they might still be affecting me in unhealthy ways. I am asking God to reveal to me in the days ahead, in the following chapters, the important distinctions between the very human concepts of Jesus as High Priest that I am tied to by my human experience and religious traditions, and the true High Priest revealed in these chapters.

Reflections on 10 Years of Blogging

Today is my 10th anniversary blogging. On March 26th, 2006 I set up a free blog in three easy steps and wrote the following simple post:

It’s sunday morning and the house is getting ready for church. Why is it that the whole household can be up, ready and out the door by 8:00 Monday thru Friday, but  on Sunday you can’t make it to church on time by 11:00? <sigh> One of life’s little mysteries.

That was the beginning of my journey. Ten years and 3,412 blog posts later, I’m still going. I am not, by most people in the blogosphere’s standards, the definition of success. I haven’t made a fortune. My number of subscribers remains very meager. I have about 240 subscribers through WordPress and a reach that extends to a couple thousand people through Facebook and Twitter. On a typical day my blog gets about 150-200 views.

On this 10th anniversary I’ve been looking back and reflecting on what I’ve learned in my blogging experience. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Know your motivation. My blog has always had a very simple motivation. I just want to write about my life journey. I want to record my thoughts and experiences on different subjects. I want to share what’s going on with family and friends. As time has gone on I realize that my blog serves as a diary and a record. It will be an accessible archive for children, grandchildren and future generations of my experiences and my heartfelt thoughts. I have come to accept that my blog will never generate tons of subscribers simply because not that many people know me or are interested in my vacation pictures.
  • Know your content focus. Your motivation determines your content. The vast majority of my posts over the past decade have been my chapter-a-day posts. If I was really trying to establish my blog as an inspirational of devotional blog I would center my blog on those posts and reserve my personal journal, theatre, and photography posts elsewhere. My motivation, however, is for my blog to be a repository of my personal thoughts and experiences. My chapter-a-day posts are simply a record of my thoughts in my own daily quiet time. I’m not trying to preach to anyone or market myself as an author. I’m just sharing my daily, personal thoughts after reading a chapter of the Bible. My blog is a wide-angle lens on my life and it includes all kinds of different posts. A blogging expert would tell me that my wide range limits my audience, but my motivation has never been to build a big audience. I just want to express myself.
  • Just write. According to a NYTimes article, 95% of blogs are abandoned. I’ve known many who have started a blog, but after a post or two they walk away from it just like the Ab Cruncher they purchased ten years ago and used twice. I would argue that most people stop blogging because they aren’t really motivated, they struggle to know what they want to say. I think many people get discouraged that the world does not beat a path to their URL. Blogging requires a certain amount of fortitude. You’re going to write a lot of crap that no one wants to read. Keep writing. Post regularly. Be content with a few followers. The first six years of my blog I averaged about 15-20 views a day. It’s only in the past few years that it’s grown ten-fold. I’ve come to accept that blogging is about the journey, not the destination.
  • You never know what’s going to resonate. I have written a lot of really great posts, at least I thought they were profound. Virtually no one reads them. They never “get legs.” Then, I’ll post a random thought hastily typed and with little consideration and it will start to generate all sorts of traffic. I’ve given up trying to judge or prognosticate.
  • The rewards are not what I thought they’d be. I will confess that I, like most aspiring bloggers, have pipe dreams of my blog becoming wildly popular. I regularly talk myself off that ledge and laugh at myself. I then remind myself of everything I’ve written in this post thus far. The rewards I’ve reaped from my blogging journey are not what I expected, but I consider them to be priceless:
    • I’ve become a better writer. When I go back and read some of my chapter-a-day posts from the early years I regularly cringe. They were so short. The thoughts are undeveloped. Ugh! The contrast, however, serves to remind me that writing 3,412 posts is going to make me a better writer. I value that.
    • I’ve met some really great people. From my early blogging mentor, Mike Sansone, to people like Terry, Samantha, Jonathan, Michael, and David. My blog has opened up opportunities at relationships and networking I might otherwise have never had.
    • I have built an online personal reference source. What year was it that we took that trip to Cooperstown? Do you remember what year we performed Much Ado About Nothing? My blog makes it much easier to find definitive answers. Trivial, perhaps, but I value it.
    • I’m leaving a legacy. Those most close to me, my family and my friends, will have a record of my life experiences and my thoughts that will live beyond me. I sometimes think of my love of family history and how much I wish I had a journal of my great-great-grandfather to learn what life was like for him, what he thought, and what he felt. Perhaps I will have a great-great grandson or granddaughter who will appreciate my little blog. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to have a positive impact on their lives.
    • I occasionally make a difference in someone’s day. Every once in a while I’ll get a message or an e-mail saying something like, “Thanks. I needed your post today.” Rarely do I get to know how or why. It’s nice to know, though. I’m grateful when people tell me, and it helps motivate me to keep going.

Thanks to those of you who follow along on this journey. Thanks to those who stop by now and then. Thanks especially to Wendy and Kevin R. who regularly discuss, respond, and encourage. Here’s to the next decade!

Meditation Contemplation

IMG_3474…and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
Psalm 145:5b (NIV)

Meditate (med-i-teyt) v. to engage in thought or contemplation; to reflect.

Wendy and I have a great relationship, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t irritations with one another. You learn things about yourself in marriage as you, with all your unique quirks and foibles, enter into a 24/7/365 living arrangement with another person who has their own unique quirks and foibles.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself through Wendy’s irritation is that I have a penchant of getting so engaged in thought or contemplation about something that I virtually shut out the world around me. This happened again yesterday morning before we headed to worship. I was on the computer and engaged in a task. The computer was not working and I was myopically focused, angry expletives flying hither and thither, on successfully shutting down a rogue application that was freezing my computer. Apparently Wendy asked me multiple times about the problem I was having. She was just a few feet away, but I didn’t hear her and it had little or nothing to do with my hearing issues. I was so deeply focused on my computer issue that I shut everything else out around me.

I thought about that little incident this morning as I read of David’s commitment to meditate on God’s wonderful works in Psalm 145. The discipline of focusing our mental energy and spending time in reflection is ultimately a good thing. The real question is the object of our meditation. Where do we concentrate our thoughts? What do we think about in the privacy of our heart and brain? Upon what do we reflect? I can easily lose myself in meditation upon silly things but often give less energy to meditation on eternal things.

This morning as I head out into a new work week, I’m contemplating my meditation and committing myself to be more aware of how I’m spending my mental energy. My goal this week is to engage more in reflection on worthy things and catch myself before I get too focused on things that ultimately don’t matter.

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Bricks and Mortar

English: Cornerstone from first Naponee, Nebra...
English: Cornerstone from first Naponee, Nebraska school, dated 1936. The brick structure containing the cornerstone holds the school bell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
Psalm 118:22 (NIV)

When constructing a building made of bricks and mortar, the cornerstone is the most important brick of the entire building. The cornerstone is the first brick placed on the foundation. All other stones are placed in reference to the cornerstone and the placement of the entire structure is derived from the position of the cornerstone. Since ancient times, the cornerstone has had metaphorical resonance in multiple ways.

We build our lives day-by-day. Our thoughts, words and actions are bricks with which we give structure to our lives which others see and which influence those around us. In the end, the whole becomes a legacy of who we were. Every brick in the structure of our lives is derived from a cornerstone. If my cornerstone is self, then my life will reflect my own self-centered desires and intentions. If I choose to place Jesus as the cornerstone of my life, then my thoughts, words, and actions will ultimately reflect the cornerstone from which their placement is ultimately derived.

This morning, as I prepare to spend a week on the road serving clients, I am thinking about the thoughts, words, and actions with which I will serve, and coach, and consult, and train this week. I think about the thoughts, words, and actions with which I will interact with my employees and team members. I think about the thoughts, words, and actions with which I will interact with family and friends from afar. What will they say about cornerstone I have chosen for the placement my life?

An additional thought:

 

The lyric above, from an ancient songwriter, became an important prophecy to Jesus and his followers. Jesus quoted it in reference to Himself. Peter quoted it when giving testimony in front of the religious leaders. Both Peter and Paul quoted it in their letters. I love the on-going theme in God’s story in which God uses the rejected, the broken, the youngest, the least, the overlooked, and the weak to accomplish His special purposes.

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