Tag Archives: Role

Thoughts on Birth Order

…for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”
Numbers 3:13 (NIV)

A lot has been made of birth order through the ages. In modern society psychologists have famously argued that certain traits seem to commonly accompany children born in a particular place within their family’s birth order. Some of it is attributed to how parents commonly respond to children in each place of the order, while some is attributed to the unique psychological development that happens for children in each place within the order. An only child typically has their own distinctive traits, as does the youngest child in the family (I’m one of those) no matter the number in the order.

In the ancient days of Moses the firstborn was set apart (e.g. “hallowed” or “sanctified”) for God. This is why Mary and Joseph took Jesus, as the first born, to be dedicated according to the law when Simeon and Anna prophesied over Him (Luke 2:22-38). The practice goes back to the events of the Exodus and the Law of Moses, as we read in today’s chapter. Throughout history, the firstborn male has been afforded special significance in many societies, especially when it comes to matters of inheritance.

The differences in birth order are fascinating to observe and discuss. Any parent can tell you stories about how different children are in different places in the birth order, and groups of parents will find that there is commonality in certain traits. Along life’s journey, however, I’ve found that it’s foolish to make too much of such things, just as it’s foolish to dismiss them entirely.

Through the Great Story there are significant characters from different birth orders. Jacob/Israel was the second born and usurped the birthright of his firstborn brother. Joseph and David were both the babies of their respective broods. And, so on.

This morning I’m thinking about birth order. One article I read this morning gave this set of common traits to mark the baby of the family:

  • Fun-loving
  • Uncomplicated
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-seeker
  • Self-centered

Ha! I want to embrace a few of the traits on the list and deny the others, though I have to own up to the fact that an argument can be made for every one describing me in some way, especially as a child. It doesn’t make me better or worse then my eldest sibling, just different, and perhaps suited for very different roles in life.

C’est la vie.

While God set the first born apart in ancient days for a particular significance, it doesn’t diminish the unique role each person plays in the story. Psalm 139 says each one of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our place in the birth order doesn’t make us better or worse, though it may uniquely develop us for a particular role. I’ve learned in theatre that a key lesson in life is to fully give myself to, and enjoy the role I’m given, no matter the size of the part. Embracing this is the pathway to a tremendous amount of joy and contentment.

Faith, Following, and Fairness

Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’
Matthew 20:15 (NASB)

During my lifetime I have observed that fairness and equality have increasingly become societal expectations. There are certainly worthwhile issues to be addressed and ills to be confronted, but I have observed that expectations of fairness and equality can easily expand to encompass almost every area of life. It seems at time as though we want same-ness. Everyone should have the same, make the same, look the same, enjoy the same.

On my spiritual journey I have come to accept that the overarching fairness I observe us striving for does not exist in God’s economy. Everyone has access to the Life, love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness which Jesus purchased through His death and resurrection. Once on the path of following Jesus, however, I discover that God never promised that all followers would all enjoy the same lot in life, be called to the same path, or have the same purpose. In fact, God’s self-revelation gives evidence to infinite and creative diversity in being, calling, giftedness, purpose, and experience. The Trinity itself reveals unity in diversity; Three distinct persons – One God.

In today’s chapter Jesus tells a simple parable that addresses this very issue. A vineyard owner hires workers throughout the day. Some in early morning, late morning, noon, afternoon, and some more for the last hour of the work day. The owners agreed to pay them each the same wage. At the end of the day the laborers who worked all day are indignant that the workers who only worked one-hour received the same amount of money.

Hire a lawyer! Call the Labor Board! Organize a union!

That’s not fair!

But, Jesus points out that each laborer readily agreed to the wage when they began. The issue, then, was not the fairness of the employer but the envy of the workers.

In find it ironic that Matthew follows this parable with the story of Jesus’ own disciples having conflict over who among them were Jesus’ favorites and who would get positions of honor in God’s Kingdom. Jesus response matched the parable He’d just told: “Don’t worry about each other’s rewards; Focus on the job you’ve each been called to do.” 

This morning I am reminded once again that my job is not to concern myself with comparisons to everyone else. My focus is to be on my personal relationship with God, existing in the flow of God’s Spirit, faithfully walking the path God places before me, and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability. When I embrace and embody my unique person and purpose, I contribute to the unity of God’s Kingdom.

“You Seem Incredibly Zen”

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4 (NIV)

In the late evening of November 2nd, when the Cleveland Indians had inexplicably rallied with two outs in the bottom of the 8th to tie game seven of the World Series, there was a high degree of angst in the family room here at Vander Well Manor. It seemed like it was all going to fall apart like it had done so many times before. Then came the rain delay that has already gained legendary status. Wendy and I had a chance to catch our collective breath along with the rest of the nation.

You seem incredibly zen about this,” Wendy said to me, observing the lack of emotional angst in my affect. I have written ad nauseam about our devotion to the Chicago Cubs over the years, so no need to expound on how momentous of a moment this was, nor how nervous I should have been.

The truth is, I was feeling an inexplicable sense of peace in that moment that I’m not sure I would have been feeling a year ago. I certainly would not have been feeling a sense of peace in this moment  five, ten, or 20 years ago. That night, I was.

When I was a young man, I memorized the words the ancient prophet Isaiah penned, pasted at the top of this post. At this waypoint in my life’s journey I’ve come to realize that peace is a relatively rare human experience on life’s road. This is especially true in the extra innings of World Series game 7, an unforeseen tragedy, an unexpected election result, or a painfully blank ultrasound reading.

On the night that Jesus was arrested, submitted to kangaroo court, beaten, scourged, nailed to a cross and mocked by the on looking crowd He looked at his followers and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

The testimony and stories of Jesus followers in the following hours and days were not stories of peace. They scattered and fled to avoid arrest and gathered clandestinely behind locked doors. The betrayer committed suicide. Their leader, Peter, followed Jesus at a distance, but three times fearfully denied any knowledge of the Man he’d earlier hailed as Christ. While the female followers of Jesus risked going to the tomb to anoint the body after the sabbath, the men remained fearfully hidden. Not exactly a picture of peace.

Tradition and history tell us, however, that something happened in the days and years that followed the tragic events of that fateful night. Something had been transformed in these same fearful, peace-less followers. They encountered a resurrected Christ. Forty days later they fearlessly proclaimed the risen Jesus to public crowds. They peacefully accepted arrest, imprisonment and trial. They scattered once more, not in fear but with a mission to share the Message with the known world. With the exception of John, who died of old age, the rest peacefully accepted the brutal death of martyrs.

This morning I am reminded that the peace that Jesus promised His followers did not come instantly. It budded, it took root, and it grew to fruition. God’s creation is a growing, expanding, organic cosmos. Miracles happen, but most of the time things take time to grow before you experience the fruit.

So it was on the evening of November 2nd Wendy noticed my zen-like peace during the rain delay. I think I’m finally hitting a stage of the journey in which I’m enjoying the fruit of peace after many years of steadfast seeking. Peace in the knowledge of a Divine Dance that is so much bigger, deeper, and greater than I’ve ever fathomed. Peace that comes with faith in the Great Story being told by the Author of Life. Peace with my place and role in that Story. Peace in the knowledge that our journeys are all full of bitter defeats and disappointments, but also include rare moments of satisfying victory. I’m increasingly at peace with the knowledge that I will certainly endure the former as I always have before, and might even gain a little wisdom in the experience. I will also enjoy the latter when it comes, even more fully in proportion to the measure of defeat that preceded it.

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured photo: kudumomo via Flickr

Sowing, Reaping, and Playing My Role

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
1 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NIV)

Many years ago, while I was a pastor, I made a visit to the hospital to see a former member of our community who was in the Intensive Care Unit. I had visited this gentleman and his wife in their home when they lived in our town, but they had since moved to a retirement apartment near the regional hospital. He had a reputation of being an ornery person. I, however, always found he and his wife to be quite pleasant when I would visit, though it was very clear that they expressed zero interest in anything of a spiritual nature.

As I visited wit the man in the ICU, it was obvious that something was bothering him. I had an inkling what it was. Give the man’s medical prognosis, it was obvious that his time on this earth was very short. I asked him if he knew that he was going to die, and he nodded. I asked if he knew where he was going when he died, and he shook his head. I then asked if he would like me to share with him what I believed, and he answered that he would.

Over the next few minutes I simply explained, from God’s Message, how Jesus died and rose from the dead to pay the penalty of our sin, once for all. I explained that it is promised that to those who received Jesus, those who believe in Him, that God’s Spirit will indwell them and eternal Life is theirs through Him. When I asked the man if he would like to receive Jesus, he again answered “yes” and I led him in a brief prayer.

When the prayer was finished, the change in the man’s affect was noticeable. Tears were streaming down his face and he smiled at me for the first time that day. He urged me to go, that very moment, across the street to visit with his wife. He asked me to explain everything to her, just as I had explained it to him, and to tell her that he had asked Jesus into his heart. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he was emphatic that I go at that very moment.

I did go across the street to visit his wife. I did just as he asked and offered the same simple explanation to his wife. When I asked if she would like to ask Jesus into her heart, she said she would. I led her in the same prayer as I had her husband. When she was finished there were tears streaming down her cheeks as well.

That night the man died in the hospital ICU. Unexpectedly, his wife also died in their apartment a just a few hours later.

I did both of their funerals together. Both caskets lay before me in the church. The couple were old and had no children. It was a very small funeral, and I shared about my conversations with the couple and their faith decisions during the service.

After the funeral another elderly couple sought me out in the back hallway. They shared with me that they had been long time friends of the deceased couple and had spent much time with them over the years. Over those years they had talked to the friends about their faith and had asked on multiple occasions, but the couple refused to listen and showed no interest in placing their faith in Jesus.

I’m sure some people are cynical of such a story and of the couple’s death bed confessions. I am not the Judge and so I leave such judgements between them and God. I do know that the change in the man’s affect before and after his prayer was pronounced. I know that he appeared sincere both in his prayer and his insistence that I share it with his wife. I believe that when they both died their souls were at peace with God.

I thought about their friends this morning as I read Paul’s words above. For many years these dear people had planted spiritual seeds with their friends. They loved them, cared for them, spent time with them, and diligently prayed for them. In comparison, I did very little. I just happened to come along at the right time to harvest the fruit of their spiritual labor. We each did our assigned task as directed, and it was God’s doing.

This morning I’m reminded that my calling is to fulfill my assigned role. I am to play my part to the best of my ability and not worry about the role of others. Sometimes my role will seem a long, tedious slog. At other times I may experience a brief moment in the spotlight. That’s all up to the Director. My job is to play my part.

[cue: Tom enters SR]

A Bit Player. The Unlikely Hero.

[Rahab] said to the men: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us….”
Joshua 2:9a (NRSV)

Wendy and I love the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) website and app. There’s hardly a movie or television show we watch that Wendy doesn’t have IMDB up on her phone looking at where we’ve seen that actor before and who that person was in that bit part.

When you think of the characters in the Great Story there are always the red carpet stars that everyone’s heard of: Adam, Noah, Moses, and David to name a few. As I’ve journeyed through God’s Message over the years I’ve gained more and more respect for some of the bit players, the role players, who get little press. We find one of these bit players in today’s chapter. Rehab is an unlikely hero whose presence is quietly woven throughout the Great Story. She is unlikely because she is a woman amidst a patriarchal society. She is a foreigner amidst the nation of Israel. And, Rahab is a prostitute; A morally fallen, socially unacceptable woman of the night amidst a rigidly puritanical people.

Rahab lived in the city of Jericho, and when Joshua sends two men to spy out the land, Rahab takes them in. She hides the spies and throws the Jericho security forces off their trail. She takes a leap of faith. “I know the Lord has given you the land,” she says, adding “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.”

For her faith, Rahab and her family were spared. Rehab would be adopted into the people of Israel, but her role does not end there. She would eventually marry and when you read through the fine print of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew’s biography, you’ll find Rahab there. Rahab, the foreign prostitute who has a line of descendants that reads like a who’s who of starring roles in the Great Story including Boaz, Jesse, David, Solomon, and Jesus.

This morning I am reminded that there are those who get starring roles, and those unlikely heroes who faithfully play bit parts. God honors them both.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Potter, The Steward, and Two Unique Pots

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Romans 9:21 (NIV)

On Sunday we had the increasingly rare pleasure of having both Taylor and Madison with us at the same time. The opportunities for the four of us to be together as family are increasingly spread out. It has happened only once or twice a year during the girls college and graduate school sojourns.

A conversation came up yesterday as Maddy Kate and I visited with my folks. “Every mother wants her grown children to live nearby,” it was observed. While I acknowledge that natural desire, I thought to myself that I have always desired for our girls to live wherever God would lead them. I want them to live out their respective roles in the Great Story. I have given up my right to expect that they might keep close to home.

With Taylor out of grad school and Madison done with her bachelor’s degree, it has been fascinating to watch their respective roads emerge. It always amazes me how different children from the same household can be. Taylor will soon enter communal living full time, offering much of her time and energy to service as she pursues a creative project with only speculative income potential. Madison, currently a flight attendant, is avidly pursing a career in corporate sales. I don’t see either of those paths leading back to Pella. C’est la vie.

I do not think either daughter is right or wrong, good or bad, wise or foolish. Taylor’s altruistic path does not make Madison’s path greedy. Madison’s path, which will afford more financial security, does not make Taylor’s path foolhardy. These two lumps of clay are each actively pursuing the purposes of the Potter, who has fashioned them into two very different vessels. Both are beautiful. Both are useful. Both have particular uses the other does not have. Both have a role in the Great story, albeit very different roles.

Today I am once again contemplating the role of parenting with a certain amount of hindsight. To try to control my child’s path and have them choose a path of my self-centered desire is to place myself in God’s shoes and presume omniscience. I’ve discovered that the Creator wears an infinitely larger size shoe than I do. Whenever I try to step into them I always trip over myself in both comic and tragic ways.

God has made me a steward of my children, not their master. My role has been to teach them to love and pursue God. If I accomplish my role, they will each be led to their purposed, respective paths. Like every other aspect of our life journey, this requires faith, just as Jesus said it would.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Playing the Role I’m Given

At that time, too, I [Moses] entreated the Lord, saying: “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The Lord said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.” Deuteronomy 3:23-28 (NRSV)

Casting a show is one of the more difficult things about being a director. You can have throngs of people audition but only so many parts to go around. It’s crucial to make sure you have the right people in the right roles and there are so many things to consider about an actor when deciding which role you want her/him to play including ability, experience, physicality, chemistry with others, and the ease of working with her/him.

Without fail, people will be disappointed with the roles in which they are cast. It’s a universal. Even as I write these words I can quickly name specific roles from long ago productions in which I still believe I should have been cast. Everyone who is a part of theatre for any length of time experiences this. There’s something at the core of our fallen nature given to this seed of both envy and pride. That person thinks he/she should have been cast in that role. Feathers get ruffled. Feelings get hurt. Some refuse to play the role in which they were cast. Others grudgingly accept the role they were given, but infect the rehearsal process with their grumbling and disgruntled attitude.

Today, I’m finding parallels between God’s direction of the events in Deuteronomy and the experience of directing and leading a production. In today’s chapter we find Moses, who was the lead character in the wildly successful Exodus from Egypt, wanting a lead role in the sequel production, Conquest of Canaan. He entreats God, the great Director, with a little flattery and then begs for the part. The Director seems a bit frustrated with the incessant grumbling and insists that the lead role in Conquest belongs to the actor who was cast (Joshua) and there will be no further discussion of the matter.

One of the most difficult yet rewarding lessons I’ve learned along life’s journey is that of choosing contentment in the roles that I am given. This is true whether we’re talking about a bit role on stage or the role given me by God in the on-going production of Life. When I stop whining about not having the role I desire and pour myself into the role that I have been given, then it’s a win-win-win for myself, the Director, and everyone else in the production.

chapter a day banner 2015