Tag Archives: Repentance

“Ten Bucks”

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.
1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV)

About 20 years ago there was a television show called Ed. It was a rom-com series about a young man who moves back to the small town where he was raised after his life falls apart. He reconnects with old friends and tries to get his life back together. It was an endearing show and ran for four seasons.

There’s a running gag in the show in which Ed and his best friend Mike have an on-going series of dares that they compete to win “ten bucks.” These guys do the craziest things to win “ten bucks” from each other. I still can’t hear the term “ten bucks” without thinking of Ed and Mike (kind of like I can’t hear “two dollars” without thinking of the paperboy in Better Off Dead).

I never enter pools. It doesn’t matter if it’s March Madness or when the ice will melt off the local pond and dump the old clunker to a watery grave. I don’t have anything against pools and lottery type games. I think I’m just a pessimist at heart and assume I’m going to lose my money. I just never do it. It is, therefore, somewhat strange that before the holidays began I entered a simple pool at my local CrossFit box.  You put in $10 and weigh in. After New Year’s there is another weigh in and those who maintained or lost weight during the holidays get their $10 back and split the money of all those who gained weight.

It’s been interesting as we’ve journeyed through the holidays that I can’t get that “ten bucks” out of my head. At every meal, at every Christmas gathering, and when I’m reaching for that second piece of Wendy’s peanut butter chocolate chunk cheesecake I keep thinking about my “ten bucks” hanging out there in the balance.

Along my journey I’ve come to realize that a lot of individual life problems I see in myself and those all around me boil down to some type of appetite indulgence. We indulge our appetites for all sorts of things like power, control, greed, rest, food, sex, adrenaline, vanity, accomplishment, applause, “Likes,” and pleasure. We indulge these normal appetites for all sorts of insidious reasons and the results of our out-of-control indulgence are generally not healthy.

The holidays are a great excuse for most everyone to indulge our appetites. Enjoying good food, good drink, rest, and relaxation with family and friends is a good thing. At the same time, too much of a good thing easily becomes an unhealthy thing. There’s a reason why New Year’s resolutions come annually after five weeks of holiday indulgence.

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul continues to address a simmering conflict between two factions. Some on the legalistic killjoy end of the spectrum were against eating any meat that had been sacrificed at a pagan temple. Those on the open-minded, permissive end of the spectrum saw no issue with the practice. The latter were quick to say “I am free to eat whatever I want!

Paul’s response is a great example of choosing the “both, and” rather than the “either, or.” He makes the point that while everything may “permissible”  (i.e. a little holiday indulgence), not all things are “beneficial” (i.e. I gained so much weight I need to make a New Year’s resolution). In the case of the bickering factions in Corinth, Paul reminds them that the beneficial thing for the good of the community is to consider your friend’s conscience a higher priority than either my personal freedom or my personal convictions.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about my own appetites. I’m thinking about the holidays (still at least four gatherings to go), and I’m thinking about how a silly “ten bucks” has changed my thinking and behavior this holiday season. The question I’m asking myself this morning is: Is a friend’s conscience worth more to me than ten bucks?

Conflict, and What Needs to Change in Me

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)

In the past few weeks I’ve experienced an inordinate amount of conflict in several different arenas of life. Not necessarily the in-your-face argument type of conflict, thought there’s been a few of those. For the most part it is the annoying, simmering, festering “I’m sick of this sh!t” kind of conflict. I’m not sure what that’s all about. As I sit and ponder in the quiet this morning I’ve concluded that it may simply be the random peaks and valleys of this life journey. Of course, since I’m the common denominator, I must also consider that  it may be more about me and less about others.

As I think through the various conflicts I realize that in many cases I’ve lost my patience. Unmet expectations, unkept promises, inability to see certain things, and what appears to be a general unwillingness to change brings out in me frustration and then anger. Since I am by temperament a conflict avoider, things tend to get stuffed, then build up.

In today’s chapter, Peter reminds the early followers of Jesus of God’s patience. We believers and our institutions have often been guilty of painting God as condemning and quick to judgement. Peter’s description is the opposite. He describes God as patient to the point that people accuse Him of being uncaring or absent. The motivation of God’s patience, Peter declares, is His desire for every single person to wake up, smell the coffee, and make a positive change in life direction.

This leads me to look back and revisit my own long periods of wayward wandering. Times when I didn’t live up to expectation, didn’t keep my promises, was blind to see my own issues, and held a fairly steady unwillingness to change. God was patient. Eventually, I found my way (though I’m still in process).

I know the golden rule is “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This morning I’m reminded of what must be the platinum rule: “Do unto others as God has done unto me.” Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” That includes patience and an oft forgotten concept: long-suffering.

This morning I’m thinking about conflict, and what it says about the things that need to change in me.

Fail, Rinse, and Repeat

Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke down the pillars, hewed down the sacred poles, and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all.
2 Chronicles 31:1 (NRSVCE)

I decided to become a follower of Jesus when I was a young man. As I began to walk this new journey there were a number of behavioral patterns in my life that I knew I needed to change. There were thoughts, words, and behaviors that were incongruent with the teachings of Jesus. Just like last week’s post I felt a certain internal conviction that I needed to “carry out the filth from the holy place.”

Some of these behavioral patterns were easy to remedy. I simply willed myself to behave differently and it happened. Other behavioral patterns weren’t so easily changed. For years I had fed certain natural appetites in unhealthy ways. These behaviors gave certain levels of comfort, pleasure, and masked some deep soul wounds in ways I didn’t even fathom. With the best of intentions I committed myself to changing the behavior only to find myself, in short order, back doing the same thing I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore.

In today’s chapter we read about the aftermath of King Hezekiah’s homecoming Passover festival. He’d invited all the Hebrew people scattered in the region to return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast which commemorated God delivering the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. It was a huge success. Revival broke out. The people were humbled and recommitted themselves to the Lord. They repented of their idolatry and went out to tear down their pagan idols. They were going to change their ways!

But wait a minute. Haven’t we read this somewhere before? The people repented of their idolatry during the reign of Asa back in chapter 15. And again during the reign of Jehoshaphat in chapter 19. And again during the reign of Joash in chapter 24. Each time they repented, vowed to give up their idols and follow God. Then they find themselves right back in their idolatrous ways.

Conviction. Repentance. Commitment. Obedience. Temptation. Disobedience.

Rinse, and repeat.

Oh man, do I get that. Along my journey I’ve battled my own demons in the form of appetites out of control. I’ve found myself cycling around and around and around with these unhealthy thoughts, words, actions, and relationships. I feel like a total failure. Here I am again. Ugh.

Looking back now from almost 40 years in the journey here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The cycle is a natural part of the journey. There are lessons to be learned in it. There are lessons that can only be learned in the on-going struggle against our own out-of-control appetites.
  • The cyclical journey and on-going struggle led me on a long slog to dig deeper (multiple counselors and mentors), search farther (reading, studying, friends, accountability, support groups), and to become more brutally honest with myself about my own weaknesses.
  • Plumbing the depths of my depravity led to a deeper understanding of, and experience with, God’s grace and mercy.
  • Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you’re truly ready to change.
  • With each failure, each renewed commitment, and each return to the path of repentance it was hard to see that I was getting anywhere at all but in hindsight I can see that this wayfaring pilgrim was making slow progress towards addressing the core issues that lay beneath my surface behaviors.

This morning I’m recognizing that the people of ancient Judah were a macrocosm of the human struggle against our human weaknesses and out-of-control appetites. Another call to repentance, another revival, another turn away from what was tripping them up. Somehow I don’t think this is the last time. The cycle of struggle was pointing them and me to a very important truth. I can’t do it on my own.

I need a Savior.

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Reckoning

“Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”
Jeremiah 4:18 (NIV)

Reckoning is word we don’t use very often any more. It is the the process of settling accounts. It is the day that the bill comes due. Metaphorically used, a “day of reckoning” may not have anything to do with money. It’s when our actions come to their natural conclusion.

On a national level, I’ve been hearing economic prophets crying in the wilderness about a “day of reckoning” for as long as I can remember. We spend more than we take in. The U.S. national debt was at 20 trillion dollars and growing when I looked at it this morning. Every bill our congress passes has a host of pork barrel riders and appropriations (often called “earmarks”) for spending money on pet local projects our lawmakers have promised to the people who’ve lined their pockets back home. The President has no line-item veto so if he wants credit for the main bill he has to quietly put up with all of the quiet little pork barrel projects no one talks about. Wink wink. Nudge nudge. Say no more. This is not a political issue, by the way. This is a systemic issue. Everyone does it on both sides of the aisle. Making hard choices won’t get you re-elected, so we continue our game of cost-shifting. How long can it go on? [cue: the economic doomsday prophets]

On a personal level, I make daily choices that impact my health, my relationships, and my physical, social, and economic well-being. Eventually, there will be a day of reckoning when my seemingly insignificant choices will come to their natural conclusions.

It is very human to cry “Why me?” when the shit hits the fan. Yet along life’s journey I’ve discovered that the answer to that question isn’t usually as elusive as I’d like to pretend. If I turn around and look at the choices I’ve made and the steps I’ve taken across my journey, I can usually see the path of seemingly small, insignificant choices that have led me to this place. I have no one to blame but myself. But, blame-shifting is as common to the human condition as cost-shifting. I’ve observed along my journey that God often gets the blame when we humans adroitly employ our penchant for blame-shifting.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah is poetically prophesying doomsday scenarios for his nation. Anticipating the eventual blame-shifting the people will employ on the day of reckoning, he reminds them that on that day it will have been their own choices that will have brought them to that place.

This morning I’m thinking about my own life, my own choices, and my own circumstances. Another word we don’t use very often is “repentance.” The original meaning is a word picture of turning around and moving in the opposite direction. Each day represents an opportunity for me to turn away from foolish choices and to start making wise ones. Every day affords the opportunity to change my day of reckoning from a doomsday scenario to that of blessing.

I hear the whisper of my mother’s voice…or is it Holy Spirit?

Make good choices today.”

Have a good day, my friends.

The Runaway Train of My Brain

we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5b (NIV)

When I was in 8th grade I learned how to diagram sentences in English class and how great stories were structured. In high school I learned how to break down stories and characters into their component parts and how to construct a cohesive presentation. In college I learned how to critique, how to “beat” a script, and how to storyboard an idea. In my personal work with multiple counselors I’ve learned how to recognize my own patterns of thought and the conversations I’m always having with myself. I’m still a work in progress but I’ve been learning over my entire life journey how to meta-communicate. That is, to think not only about what is being communicated but how it’s being communicated.

I happen to be married to Wendy, who does the same thing. It makes marriage interesting.

Thus it was that when I came across the phrase above from today’s chapter what initially struck me was not the spiritual meaning of this phrase, but the fact that it is a recurring theme in conversation between Wendy and me. “Taking every thought captive” comes up regularly in our discussions as we process through patterns of thought and behavior. So, I’ve been thinking about that in the quiet this morning.

I’ve realized along my life journey that my thoughts are often a runaway train. My brains neurons, synapses and transmitters got wired a certain way like a set track and when particular situations or circumstances present themselves my thoughts mindlessly follow where that track leads. There’s no meta-communication. There’s no thought about my thoughts. I just follow the tracks and end up at the same stations of words, emotions, behaviors and situations.

When “taking every thought captive” comes up in conversation between Wendy and me, we are essentially referencing the process from the old Westerns of riding fast to grab control of the train engine and pull on the hand brake. We’re forcing ourselves to think about our thinking and then do something about it.

Wait a minute. I keep going to down this ‘train’ of thought and I never like where it leads me (or us). Why am I thinking this way? What situation/experience/circumstance/word triggered my brain engine to take off down this track? What assumptions have I made in thinking this way? What am I not considering? What am I afraid of? What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about what it is I really want or desire? What am I not seeing in my limited view of the situation? Is my perspective skewed, and, if so, by what?”

Forcing myself to consider and answer these questions put the brakes on the runaway train, take the mindless thoughts captive, and begin the process of choosing new paths of thought toward better places in life and relationship.

This morning I’m thankful for God-given brains that are naturally powerful at learning, adapting, and changing. I’m grateful for God who is infinitely gracious with this wayfarer’s life-long journey of chasing down runaway thoughts and laying down new tracks. I am equally grateful for the spiritual power that assists in the mental processing. I am reminded that Jesus great commandment includes loving God with all of my mind as well as my heart, soul, and strength.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a train to catch.

Firing a Warning Shot Across Religion’s Bow

But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Matthew 3:7-10

As Jesus appeared on the scene, the political landscape in the land of Palestine was a complex one. The Roman Empire occupied the territory and the occupational forces maintained law and order. Rome maintained regional civil ruler which gave the residents of the area a local authority. Herod the Great died a few years after he slaughtered all the baby boys of Bethlehem, and his rule was divided between his sons. If you were Jewish, however, your life and religion was subject to the authority of the High Priest and religious leaders who managed the Temple in Jerusalem. It operated much like a city-state under Roman authority. The temple had its own currency (thus the need for the money changers that Jesus would throw out) and economy.

Both Rome and Herod knew that the Jewish people held allegiance to their religion above any civil ruler. They’d been living under one foreign power or another for over 500 years. Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans had all occupied their land. The Jewish people had no allegiance to any of them. They High Priest and religious leaders ruled their people through their intricate system of laws and held the power of salvation by cutting people off from making their sacrifices or deeming their sacrifices unacceptable. Religion had become a powerful racket.

John the Baptist was a prophet, an outsider, and a troublemaker for the status quo. People flocked to the wasteland outside of Jerusalem to hear him preach a message that resonated with those marginalized by the Righteous Racket of the Temple’s power brokers. John told people to change their hearts, to repent of their sins, and he washed them in the waters of the Jordan rather than insisting they go pay exorbitant currency exchange rates to purchase “official” temple goods for sacrifice at the Temple. In other words, the more popular he became, the more he cut into Temple profits and represented a potential for uprising that threatened the power of the Sanhedrin’s powerful syndicate.

So, the High Priest sends envoys to check out this vagabond upstart. John wastes no time. He fires a prophetic shot across their bow. One is coming who will change everything. Tectonic plates in the spiritual realm are going to shift and the Temple’s racket will be no more. The first shot in a conflict is fired which will ultimately lead those same religious racketeers to pay 30 pieces of silver for Jesus’ betrayal and they will stop at nothing until He is executed.

Yet, just like Herod the Great in yesterday’s chapter, in God’s economy those who stop at nothing to cling to power will ultimately find it slipping from their grasp. The Jesus they executed would not stay in the grave, and His followers would “turn the world upside down” within a generation. At the end of that same generation the Romans would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, and with it they would torch all of the Jewish genealogical records. If you can’t substantiate who is from which tribe then you can’t determine who the Levites are, or who descended from Aaron and qualified as a priest. The Temple and its sacrificial system were no more.

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing

featured photo courtesy WallyG via Flickr

The Mystery of Real Strength

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

I have a tat on my left bicep. It is a reference to King David’s song of repentance, written after he’d been caught committing adultery, conspiracy, and murder (along with a host of other mistakes). The reference is on my the left arm because throughout the ages the left has metaphorically been used in reference to foolishness, oddity, and wrong doing (Wendy and I are both left-handed, btw). It has an illuminated “P” inspired by the Book of Kells in honor of the monks of Ireland who kept God’s Word alive on the edges of the known world while the institutional church and ecclesiastical powers in Rome and France led the western world into the dark ages. It is on my bicep to remind me of exactly what the ancient prophet Isaiah called out in today’s chapter:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength

For a good, long time on my life journey I followed the path I find most of the world follows. I hid my shortcomings beneath a well crafted public veneer of purity and self-righteousness. Like a successful political candidate I obfuscated, excused, ignored, and covered up. I refused to acknowledge my selfish motives, wanton appetites, and foolish choices. Like David, I woke up one day to find myself at a place on life’s road I swore I would never be. I had wandered so far.

My experience taught me hard and painful lessons in humility. Trouble is a powerful tutor, and I quietly began to understand what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

The mystery of the spiritual paradox began to lay hold of me. In repentance is strength. Spiritual power is birthed through grace amidst the shattered pieces of my life and the tragic evidence of my own frail humanity. I struck out in a new direction, understanding that repentance, not self-righteousness, was the way of strength.

I put a tat on my left bicep to remind me, every day for the rest of my journey, what I have learned, and what I am continually learning.

Last night on the way home from rehearsal I was scanning through the music on my iPhone and stumbled upon an unlikely song I didn’t really know I had. It’s essentially a negro spiritual sung by the old Irish rocker Tom Jones. Talk about a paradox. I listened to it multiple times on the way home. Seems now like a bit of synchronicity in light of my thoughts this morning. I may find myself in a place of trouble, but God uses that trouble “for to make me human, to make me whole.”

Here are the words:

When I close my eyes, so I would not see,
My Lord did trouble me.
When I let things stand that should not be,
My Lord did trouble me. 

Did trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With a ring of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

When I slept too long and I slept too deep,
Put a worrisome vision into my sleep.
When I held myself away and apart,
And the tears of my brother didn’t move my heart. 

Did trouble me,
With a word and a sign,
With a ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

And of this I’m sure, of this I know:
My Lord will trouble me.
Whatever I do, wherever I go,
My Lord will trouble me. 

In the whisper of the wind, in the rhythm of a song
My Lord will trouble me.
To keep me on the path where I belong,
My Lord will trouble me. 

Will trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With the ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Will trouble me,
Will stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

To make me human, to make me whole.