Tag Archives: Simple

The Simple Lesson Between the Lines

[Azariah] was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years.
2 Kings 15:2 (NIV)

Sometimes the greatest lessons that come out of the chapter are not within the text but within the context. The lesson isn’t within the lines, but between them.

The scribes who penned 2 Kings were chronicling the history of the kings of both divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They wrote it so that I, as a reader, can get a sense of the timing of the overlapping reigns between the two kingdoms.

Today’s chapter begins with Judah’s king Azariah (aka Uzziah) who came to the throne at 16 and reigned for 52 years (FYI: He was a co-regent with his father for the first 25). A leper, he lived a relatively quiet and secluded life. The scribes point out that Azariah, while not perfect, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

The bulk of today’s chapter then goes on to describe a string of kings of Israel:

  • Zechariah (6 months) publicly assassinated by…
  • Shallum (1 month) assassinated by…
  • Menahem (10 years) handed the throne to his son…
  • Pekehiah (2 years) assassinated by…
  • Pekah (20 years) assassinated by…
  • Hoshea

Yikes! Talk about political chaos. In each listing of the this bloody string of successors the scribes point out the monarchs of the northern kingdom of Israel “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”

A long my spiritual journey I’ve learned that there is a balance between embracing that some things of the Spirit are very simple while also accepting that there are no simple answers to some of life’s complexities. It’s too simplistic say that Azariah had a long and prosperous reign because he did good and the kings of Israel had comparatively short reigns marked by violent ends because they did evil. That easily leads down the dualistic, transactional mindset of “If I’m good God will like me and bless me and I will succeed, and if I do bad God will punish me and I won’t succeed.” Both life and the spiritual journey are far deeper and more mysterious.

At the same time, there is simple wisdom in understanding that I experience a certain peace and stability to life when I’m following Jesus and actively attempting to conform my life to His will and His teaching (like Azariah). There is also a certain fear, anxiety and chaos to life when I’m living only for myself and the indulgence of my self-centric appetites for power, pleasure, and personal gain (like the kings of Israel).

This morning I’m reminded that it’s easy to get sucked into our popular culture and the obsession for power, popularity, prestige and worldly success. A quiet life in pursuit of Jesus may not make an exciting movie script, but there’s a peace and continuity to the path which shields me from a lot of other problems and cares.

 

It’s Simple

So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them.
John 4:40a (NRSV)

Sometimes we make things way too complicated, when Jesus’ example was always to make things very simple.

Salvation is simply this: Hearing Jesus, and inviting Him to stay.

 

chapter a day banner 2015Featured image by Michael Belk

Simple Contrast; Simple Choice

GnG

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us…he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
2 John 1:9, 10b, 12

When I was a kid and my mother had to take me to the Doctor’s office, there was always a Highlights magazine to peruse in the lobby. One of the regular features inside Highlights was a comic called Goofus and Gallant which simply contrasted the behaviors of good and bad behavior. Goofus always behaved improperly and Gallant always did the proper thing.

I thought of the two characters from my childhood as I read today’s chapter. In his letter to his friend Gaius, Paul calls out two specific men. First he calls out Diotrephes the self-seeker who is unwelcoming and mean spirited. Next, he compliments Demetrius who has a positive reputation among all the believers.

Today, I’m thinking about simple contrasts. Goofus and Gallant. Diotrephes and Demetrius. Sometimes life boils down to very simple questions:

  • What do I want my actions to say about me?
  • Who is it I really desire to be?
  • What do I need to change?

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The Self Centric View of Blessing and Curses

source: 61056899@N06 via Flickr
source: 61056899@N06 via Flickr

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
    so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”
Job 5:17 (NIV)

As a child I remember seeing life in very simplistic terms. Life circumstances, I believed, stemmed from God’s approval or disapproval of me and my actions. When the Minnesota Vikings lost the Super Bowl each year (They were in four of them during my childhood), the loss could surely be pinned on a curse that was rooted in some wrong I had committed which resulted in God punishing me. If that cute girl I had a crush on just happened to walk down my street as I had desperately wished for her to pass by, then the granting of my wish must have been a sure sign I must be in good standing with my genie-like Almighty.

When I grew up and matured in my understanding, I realized that this simplistic view of suffering and blessing was not only misguided, but completely entirely self-centered. The outcome of the Super Bowl was dependent on me and my spiritual ledger sheet with God?Wow. That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of a nine year old. Yet that’s what I believed. Each day’s good and bad events were dependent on these big spiritual scales next to God’s throne which constantly weighed my thoughts, words and actions. When the scale tipped towards good then good things happened. When the scale tipped towards bad, then I was in for a really bad day.

In today’s chapter, Job’s friend Eliphaz continues to give the suffering Job a piece of his mind. Eli’s words reveal his core belief, which aligns nicely with my childish, self-centric world view: Suffering is a clear sign of God’s punishment. His counsel for Job streams from the source of that core belief. To Eli, it is very simple. If you do good, then you’ll have abundant blessings that reveal your good standing with God to the world. If you do bad, then you’ll find yourself suffering like you are right now. The conclusion of the matter is simple: repent of whatever it is you did wrong, confess your wrong to God, and God will have compassion and ease your suffering.

My experiences along life’s road and my long sojourn through God’s Message has continued to reveal to me how incongruent this type of thinking is with the heart of God that I find revealed in God’s story. Suffering is not necessarily punishment from the Almighty, but this fallen world’s spiritual proving ground in which eternal character qualities of perseverance, maturity, wisdom, humility, and fortitude are forged. Jesus said to prepare ourselves for suffering, not to be surprised when it happens, and to embrace it when it does. Likewise, material blessing is not necessarily a sure sign of God’s favor, but may very well be a spiritual snare. What we commonly esteem as God’s blessing or favor may simply be the result of wise life and financial choices, but it can also be the result of deep seeded greed and heinous corruption. In fact, Jesus was quick to point out that material “blessing” is a common spiritual stumbling block and repeatedly told us to be wary – even shunning it if it’s getting in the way of our spiritual progress.

 

Truth Amidst the Noise

Sarah Ross Photography via Flickr
Sarah Ross Photography via Flickr

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope.
Lamentations 2:14 (NLT)

When I read about the ancient prophets telling people what they wanted to hear, I can’t help but think of the talking heads I find on every news channel and Sunday morning political talk show. I have gone on record saying that I find myself watching less and less of the news channels and news programs these days. The spinning and distortion of facts to defend untenable political positions happens on every side of the political isle. Whether a socialist regime, a tyrant, a dictatorship, a monarchy, a commonwealth or a representative republic, politics is filled with people who are vying for and clinging to power and all the personal gain it creates.

It was no different in Jeremiah’s day. The story of Jeremiah is a story of Shakespearean proportions. Jeremiah went to great lengths to warn the people of Jerusalem, including the king, that Babylon was coming. He urged the king and people to wake up from their spiritual slumber and repent. Yet Jeremiah stood alone against a host of prophets who spun and distorted the facts to solidify their personal standing and to tell the king and the public what they wanted to hear: everything is okay. Jeremiah was hated, publicly humiliated, persecuted, tortured and imprisoned for speaking the truth. The book of Lamentations is one of the most tragic “I told you so”s in history.

As I progress in my journey I find myself caring more about and concerning myself more with what is really true, and less about political opinions and social rhetoric. Finding what is true amidst the noise of media blasting at us 24/7/365 can be a daunting task. I often feel like a spinning compass seeking true north. To find it, I try to identify nuggets of truth to guide my thoughts.

If you keep going deeper in debt spending money you don’t have, at some point you face financial ruin. That’s true.

Since the beginning of time evil people have done evil things, and when they gain power they do evil things on a grand scale. Evil is not going away. That’s true.

Jesus said there are just two commandments. Love God. Love people. That’s true.

 

I can make a difference, even a small one, in the lives of people with whom I interact today through simple acts of kindness, love, grace and forgiveness. That’s true.

 

Chapter-a-Day Acts 14

from typicalmacuser via flickr

Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NLT)

I was sitting with my friend the other afternoon talking about leadership. He made the comment that good leaders have a way of simplifying things for those they lead. A good leader can take a complex issue or circumstance and provide a very simple and clear explanation along with marching orders for his/her team.

That conversation came to mind this morning as I thought about Paul dealing with all sorts of complex social, cultural, political and spiritual situations. I’m intrigued by this verse about being Paul being stoned and thought dead, but then getting up and moving on with his mission. I often think that complex spiritual circumstances revolve around a deceptively simple principle of life, death, and resurrection. Paul was thought dead, but there was still life in him.

Along the journey there have been many death-like periods of time in which everything feels void of life and I seem surrounded by grief, sorrow, and emptiness. But, these times have always given way to new seasons of life, hope, and joy. Today I am thankful that death-like stretches of the journey are like Paul’s stoning – they are death-like, but they are not death itself. Death-like seasons of life give way to life-giving seasons of fresh beginnings, fullness of life and renewal.

Press on.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 5

SimpleShe had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Mark 5:27-28 (NLT)

It is sometimes amazing to me how simple and small an act of faith can be. The simple touch of the robe, the act of forgiving someone, the simple muttered prayer, the random act of kindness, the simple decision to turn away from that which will be bad for me, or the simple step forward in the right direction. I sometimes make things out in my mind to be much bigger, harder, and more complex than they really are. In doing so, I paralyze myself or justify procrastinating the very simple act of faith I should take.

Today, I’m determined to be mindful of recognizing, and faithful in carrying out simple acts of faith.

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