Tag Archives: Spiritual

Overturning the Scales on the Spiritual Economy

There is, however, some good in you.
2 Chronicles 19:3 (NIV)

In the past few months my past has resurfaced. It happens once in a while. My many failures are a matter of public record. I have spoken openly about them. For certain individuals my record makes me questionable, and every so often the questions come around again.

I find spiritual economics to be a fascinating thing; The way in which we determine, quantify, and respond to the “good” and “bad” (or “righteousness” and “sin”) within ourselves and others. The way we use key indicators within our spiritual economy to determine our view of everyone and everything around us.

The Chronicler and his ancient world had a very ordered system. He dictates for us whether Kings were winners and losers in the spiritual economy. The good and bad are spelled out in black and white terms. In the previous chapter Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, so in today’s chapter the Seer Jehu calls him out for his “bad,” but then declares “There is, however, some good in you.” The rest of the chapter goes on to describe Jehoshaphat’s exemplary efforts to promote and improve domestic justice in his kingdom. We the readers feel the scales on the spiritual economy tipping back and forth.

It’s no wonder that to this day we perpetuate variations on this system of weighing and judging people on our personal, spiritual economic scales. It’s a very human thing to do. Yet, one of the radical things that Jesus brought to the table was a radically new spiritual economy. He turned the system upside down. In Jesus’ spiritual economy there was no one who measured up on their own. No personal righteousness was enough to tip the scales to the “good.” Every person was in need of grace and mercy. As James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” So the “righteous” religious people who were “good” in the standard spiritual economic system incurred Jesus’ wrath, while He made a habit of hanging out and showing kindness, love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy to the “bad,” the sinful, the marginal, and the questionable.

This morning I’m once again looking back across my journey. I don’t think I would have fared particularly well in the Chronicler’s spiritual economic scale. I don’t fare particularly well in the spiritual economic scales of some of my fellow believers.

Two things come to mind as I mull these things over in my heart.

One is a passage I memorized long ago. I like how The Message puts it:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10

The other is these lyrics from Bob Dylan:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea.
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there.
Other times it’s only me.
I’m hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow fallen.
Like every grain of sand.

The Spiritual Barometer of Comfort

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)

A friend dropped by for coffee yesterday and we enjoyed a long discussion. One of the slivers of conversation was around a class that is being offered in our community in the near future. The premise of the class is that some of history’s most influential people had their most productive and years after the age of 70. The class is intended to encourage adults in the back stretch of life’s journey to consider shunning the traditional view of retirement. Instead of moving somewhere warm and sitting by a pool, the class encourages people to consider how their final stretch of life’s journey might be their most productive and influential.

I thought about that this morning as I read today’s chapter and contemplated the story of King Asa. In yesterday’s post, the prophet Azariah encouraged Asa to “be strong and not give up” but the stretch of life journey that Asa was entering was not one of struggle. Asa’s major challenge and climactic fight was behind him. He was entering a time of extended peace. Thirty-five years of peace and rest. And that’s when he blew it.

Thirty-five years of relatively easy sledding finds King Asa has changed, but not in a good way. He forgot the lesson he learned in his war with the Cushites. He forgot how his faith had led to good things. He forgot Azariah’s admonishment. Thirty-five years of peace and comfort turned Asa into a hard-hearted, self-centric old man. It was the good times and life of relative ease that revealed the true nature of Asa’s heart. A seer named Hanani confronts Asa, but it only confirms and seals Asa’s bitterness (and lands Hanani in the stocks).

This morning I’m thinking about my current waypoint on this life journey. I often think that it’s the tough stretches of pain, tragedy, and difficulty that reveal the true nature of our hearts. Perhaps it is the stretches of comfort and ease that are a better barometer of my spirit.

Poured Out, Changed, Improved

“Moab has been at rest from youth,
    like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—
    she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
    and her aroma is unchanged.”
Jeremiah 48:11 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoy wine with a good meal. We’re not experts by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned some of the basics of pairing a wine with the food we’re eating and getting the most out of the wine we drink. Just last night I put a couple of beef filets on the grill and Wendy made some sweet potato medallions. We opened this big, bombastic Spanish red wine, a Cariñena. It was aptly named El Bombero, and its bold flavor was a wonderful compliment to the richness of the steaks.

One of the things I’ve learned about wine is that it changes after you uncork the bottle. In fact, some of the experts I’ve read believe that almost any wine will taste better if you “decant” it, or transfer it to a glass decanter, and let it breathe for an hour or so before you drink it. Wine often has an initial sharp taste from being shut up inside the bottle for a long period. That sharp or sour taste smooths out, and the true flavor of the wine opens up when it’s transferred to another vessel and oxygen has a chance to work its natural magic.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s prophetic works is a message of condemnation for the ancient nation of Moab (located just east of the Dead Sea). Moab’s mountainous regions were known for their wine and vineyards, so Jeremiah leverages their wineries for the purposes of a word picture. The Moabites had not changed and had not been “poured out” into exile as other nations in the region had. But, Jeremiah’s prophetic word tells Moab she would be “decanted” when the Persian army came through.

As I pondered Jeremiah’s word picture this morning I meditated on my own life journey. One of the unexpected realities of my own journey is how much change I would experience as I reached this stage of life. When I was young I had this notion that a person sort of reaches maximum personal maturity somewhere in early adulthood and then just maintains. To be honest, I have observed fellow adults for whom this appears to be their reality. I had no idea how much, in my experience, the spiritual process of being poured out, matured, and changed is cyclical and perpetual.

Wine that stays corked, bottled up, and unchanged retains a sharp and bitter taste. I’ve observed that humans are much the same way. There is a benefit to wine being poured out, decanted, and allowed to patiently sit so that change can bring out the blessings of maturity and aging. So my spirit  benefits from a similar process as I continue on life’s road.

Nowhere to Hide

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.
Jeremiah 36:32 (NIV)

Along my life journey I have taken a few willful detours. I chose to leave the path of following Jesus and, instead, struck out on my own way. It was during these detours that I learned the lesson of the prophet Jonah: You can’t actually escape from God because no matter where you run He’s already there. It’s like the lyrics to David’s psalm:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In today’s chapter, Jehoiakim the King of Judah is spiritually on the run. Jehoiakim wanted nothing to do with God. He barred the prophet Jeremiah from the temple. He put layers of bureaucracy between himself and the prophet so that he wouldn’t have to listen to Jeremiah’s incessant messages telling the King to turn from his rebellious ways.

And so, Jeremiah dictates God’s message to his servant and scribe, Baruch. He then sends Baruch to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops at the temple. God’s favor appears to be on Baruch as he recites the words of the scroll and his message gets passed up the chain of command until he finally has an audience with the king.

King Jehoiakim’s hard heart, however, was unmoved. As the envoy reads the scroll, King Jehoiakim has each column cut from the scroll and thrown into the fireplace of his chamber. He then tries to have Jeremiah’s servant arrested. So Jeremiah repeats the message to Baruch so that a copy would survive, and he adds a prophetic prediction of the negative consequences Jehoiakim and his royal line will experience because of his willful choice to shun God.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about King Jehoiakim. He also was experiencing the lesson of Jonah, the same reality I experienced on my rebellious detours on my life journey. You can’t really successfully run from God. No matter where you run, God’s already there. I can harden my heart. I can refuse to listen and willfully ignore the truth, but then I’m just like the child who puts a cardboard box over their head and thinks no one can see him.

 

Initiative and Patience

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey I’ve come to understand that progression in the journey requires a heady mixture of what, on the surface of things, seems contradictory ingredients. God asks me to develop both initiative and patience.

Jesus made it clear to any who would follow Him:  Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Asking, seeking, and knocking are verbs. They are actions initiated by the one who is doing the asking, seeking, and knocking. I also find it fascinating that Jesus did not mention one, but three distinct verbs with slightly different metaphorical meanings. I have learned along my journey that I have to be proactive if I wish to make spiritual headway. God doesn’t give passing grades for simply showing up at class and warming a seat. If I want to move to the next spiritual grade level I have to fully participate in each lesson, assignment, experiment, exercise, and practicum. Initiative is required.

In today’s chapter, God speaks through the ancient prophet Jeremiah and foreshadows Jesus’ spiritual lesson. “Call out to me,” God says. Take the initiative. Pick up the phone. Give a shout. If I do, then an answer is promised. “Great and unsearchable things” of which I am ignorant.

In the rest of Jeremiah’s message God takes responsibility for the judgement on the nation of Judah, but then spends the rest of the chapter giving a vision of healing, restoration, redemption, and blessing. “Yes,” God says, “I am letting my children experience this hardship, but if they take the initiative to seek me out and have patience they will ultimately find that this has all been part of a much larger plan.”

This is where I find patience required. I started my spiritual journey following Jesus almost 40 years ago, and there are things I’m only beginning to learn and fathom as I approach the 40 year milestone (which is full of all sorts of spiritual significance in the Great Story). If I had bailed out early, there is so much I would have missed.

This morning I find myself thinking of the times as a parent that I earned my children’s wrath for doing what they could not, would not understand in the moment. They only saw the surface of things through the immature lens of their immediate desires. Meanwhile, as a father I was more interested in their long-term character and spiritual development than in making my child momentarily happy. Even as a parent trying to raise spiritually mature children I had to take the initiative to do what may have been unpopular in the moment and have the patience that my children would someday thank me for seeking what was best for them.

At this, the beginning of another work week, I find myself once again taking the initiative to ask, seek, and knock what God would have for me in the days ahead. And, I patiently press forward one step at a time.

Three Rules for the Prophetic

Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.”
Jeremiah 28:15 (NIV)

On occasion, along my spiritual journey, I have had individuals speak prophetic words to me. In fact, it’s happened more in the last few years than ever before. Prophecy is woven into the fabric of the Great Story, and it is a part of most all of our great epic stories. Even the epics of recent years (e.g. Star Wars, The Matrix, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and etc.) have strong prophetic themes running through them.

In our age of enlightenment I’ve observed that we’ve discounted and diminished the role of the prophetic. In fact, I confess that even writing about it this morning gives me a certain level of discomfort. I’ve observed over time that the institutional churches in the West have largely ignored the fact that I Corinthians speaks of the spiritual gift of prophecy as being among the most important of spiritual gifts and believers are encouraged to be “eager to prophesy.” Most all the churches with which I’ve ever been associated have simply ignored this or have chosen to interpret “prophesy” as being a good preacher.

I get it. Prophecy is a mysterious, strange, and slippery part of the spiritual journey. It always has been.

In today’s chapter we get a fascinating peek at how it worked in the days of the ancient prophet, Jeremiah. It’s easy for casual readers to think that “the prophets” were unique individuals on the landscape of history but the fact of the matter is that most kings in Jeremiah’s day had hoards of prophets in their service. It was quite common for prophets to be spiritual “yes men” who divined what the king wanted and then gave him the spiritual rubber stamp with their prophetic visions.

Today’s chapter tells a fascinating story of a prophetic duel between Jeremiah and another prophet named Hananiah. Jer was hanging out in his ox yoke (see yesterday’s post) telling all the kingdoms of the region that they would end up in servitude to the King of Babylon. Along comes Hananiah who, in front of everyone, takes the ox yoke off Jer’s neck and breaks it. It was a public slap in the face. Hananiah upped the prophetic ante and told everyone what they wanted to hear: Things aren’t going to be as bad as Jeremiah keeps prophesying. Hananiah then claimed that after two years of serving the King of Babylon, God would restore all the kingdoms that Babylon would conquer.

Jeremiah then goes in private to Hananiah and tells the prophetic contrarian that not only is he wrong, but that he’ll be dead within a year. And, he was.

The realm of the prophetic is a mysterious place. Along my journey I’ve had people tell me that they “have a word” for me, but whatever it was they said amounted to nothing and was ultimately forgotten. I’ve also had some pretty wild experiences in which people have said things which were amazingly prescient and powerfully true.

Three rules I’ve come to embrace when it comes to people saying they have a prophetic word for me:

  1. Hold on loosely and let it be. If it’s true, it will be true. If it’s not, it’s not worth my time, energy or consideration. Those who receive a prophetic word and go out of their way to try to make it happen are likely to be as successful as the tragic hero in that Scottish play Shakespeare wrote.
  2. Consider the source. If someone claims to be prophetic yet, like Hananiah, their words are what most people want to hear and the prophecies usually seem to ingratiate the prophet to the hearer, I’m always wary. The occasions I’ve received prophetic words, the messengers were humble, unassuming, and at times as mysterious as the prophetic word itself.
  3. Listen to wise counsel. On my journey I’ve surrounded myself with wise and mature friends (my wife being chief among them). They know me, love me, and they desire the best for me. I trust them to assist me in being discerning about any prophetic word given to me.

Once again in my pursuit of what is true I find myself holding the place of tension between the two extremes. I don’t ever want to dismiss the prophetic outright, nor do I want to blindly give myself over to any and every prophetic message I hear.

Spiritual Diet

When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
Jeremiah 15:16 (NIV)

I was a young man when I embarked on my spiritual journey following Jesus. One of the first things that I did was to start reading, really reading, the Bible. I had read passages here and there for Sunday School and confirmation class but I had never really read the Bible for myself. So I grabbed the green (seriously, it was the color of mold) hard back copy  of the Living Bible I’d been given for my confirmation and dove in. I was quickly amazed at how much I was learning.

It was less than a year later that my boss in an after-school job offered to do a study with me. The first assignment he gave me was to start memorizing verses, and the first one assigned was Joshua 1:8 (and I can write it from memory almost 40 years later):

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

One of the foundational spiritual lessons I quickly learned as a youngling embarking on my spiritual journey was that there was a difference between reading God’s Message and ingesting it. Even Jesus riffed on this word picture when tempted in the wilderness: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” The parallel is clear. God’s Word is spiritual food, sustenance, and nourishment. There’s a difference between having a taste once in a while and sourcing it as part of a steady spiritual diet.

So began a process of reading, memorizing, studying on my own, studying with groups, studying academically, studying different interpretations, studying different translations and studying different paraphrases. And yes, devotedly reading and blogging a chapter-a-day.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah continues his poetic conversation with God. Once again we see the metaphor of the Word as spiritual food (this word picture is sprinkled throughout God’s Message). Jeremiah reminds God that when God’s words came he ate and devoured them. They were a source of joy and delight. It’s quite possible that Jeremiah references the finding of the Book of Law during the reign of Josiah (see 2 Kings 22) after it had been lost and forgotten in Solomon’s Temple.

When I was a kid the big nutrition program in school reminded us continually that “you are what you eat.” As a young man I learned that this is true for the mind and spirit as much as it is for the body. This leads to all sorts of pertinent questions to ask myself. On what am I feeding my mind? Am I giving my spirit any nourishment with the media and conversation I ingest each day? Would a change of mental and spiritual diet be healthy for me?

Healthy questions for mind and spirit to mull over in the quiet this morning. And now, my body is calling for a little nourishment as well.

Have a great day, friends.