Tag Archives: Truth

Death, Life, Surrender

 Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives.
Jeremiah 21:9 (NIV)

Along my life journey there have been a number of dreaded moments. Those days when the seeds of fear that have silently been cultivated in your heart and mind finally come to fruition. The unexpected phone call with tragic news of the death of a loved one. The final surrender to years of marital struggle. The company’s largest client who unexpectedly and completely walks away from a 25 year relationship, and with the departure nearly half of your income disappears. The ultrasound image of an empty womb.

In today’s chapter, the day of dread which Jeremiah has long prophesied finally comes to fruition. This is the predicted reality everyone around Jeremiah had mocked, ignored, laughed at, and denied. It finally happened. Nebuchadnezzar and the mighty Babylonian army have surrounded and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem.

Now the King of Judah and the priests of the Temple, representatives of the institutions who have long ignored Jeremiah, dismissed his warnings, threatened his life, and thrown him into the stocks, come begging the brooding prophet for help. It’s now obvious to them that Jeremiah’s hotline to God was real. Perhaps they can throw up a Hail Mary prayer through the prophet and escape the terror of a siege. After all, it worked for King Hezekiah decades earlier when the Assyrians came besieging.

Jeremiah’s response: “Not this time.” The city will be destroyed, all inside the city will suffer unspeakable horror, and likely be killed. There is only once chance a person had to keep his or her life: surrender.

This morning in the quiet of my hotel room as I ponder these things, I am struck by two thoughts;

First, God has woven the paradigm of death and life into the very fabric of creation. “If you want to really live,” Jesus said, “first you have to die.” When I really meditate on this simple teaching, I come to the conclusion that this notion is not some mystical, ethereal thought. At its core this is simple grounded reality of creation. “Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust.” Place the spiritual aside for a moment and think only of the physical and material. Our dead bodies don’t disappear. They are converted to a different kind of energy that, in turn, feed more life in the system. Death feeds life.

God’s language is metaphor, and in the very fabric of creation Jesus tell us that He has layered the material, physical ecosystem with a spiritual reality: life comes through death. Then He surrendered Himself to give us the ultimate word picture of that truth. If you want to experience resurrection, you have to take up the cross.

I’ve learned along my journey the wisdom of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes (props to the Byrds for giving it a tune). “There is a time and a season for everything. A time to be born, and a time to die.” Sometimes things need to die in order for new life to come. A lost client makes way for new ways of looking at business. The end of a relationship leads to a different chapter in life. The death of a loved one makes room in time, energy and resources to be invested in new loved ones joining the family. Yes, Jerusalem would be destroyed, Jeremiah says, but a new Jerusalem would eventually be built. In fact, God says this process will be repeated: Revelation ends with yet another new Jerusalem, and new heaven, and a new earth. Old things pass away, new things come.

The second thought I’m pondering this morning is that the lifeline Jeremiah gave to the people of Jerusalem was to surrender. And so I’ve come to believe along my journey that sometimes the harder I fight and deny death and endings the harder my journey becomes. Learning the process of surrendering to God’s natural order of death-to-life, old-to-new, passing-and-coming flow has led me to deeper, fuller, more vibrant, and more peaceful life experiences on the journey.

Finally, I have to mention that U2’s Bad (which is good!) flowed through my spirit as I pondered these things this morning:

If you twist and turn away
If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
Let it go
Surrender
Dislocate
If I could throw this lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay
See you walk, walk away
Into the night
And through the rain
Into the half-light
And through the flame
If I could through myself
Set your spirit free, I’d lead your heart away
See you break, break away
Into the light
And to the day
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
To let it go
And so to fade away
To let it go
And so, fade away
Wide awake
I’m wide awake
Wide awake
I’m not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no

 

Hope We Never Wanted to Imagine

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”
Isaiah 54:4 (NIV)

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted. In yesterday’s post about our vacation in Palm Springs I gave a host of reasons why I’ve been on an unintended sabbatical. This morning I had to wake up to the realization that I was, perhaps, simply trying to avoid today’s chapter.

I don’t know what to do with ‘No,'” Wendy often said to me in the depths of our journey through infertility. Walking with Wendy through that stretch of our journey I had the same fear. Though I still don’t pretend to fully understand just how pervasive that fear is for a woman whose body and soul is uniquely crafted to bring a child into this world, and is then repeatedly denied the opportunity.

Yes” is the answer on which you place our hopes.

Yes, you are finally pregnant.”
Yes, the pregnancy will take this time and you will bring it to term.”

Wait” is the answer we didn’t want, but we would be willing to put up with.

Wait, it will happen – just not yet.”
Wait, you are going to realize what you so greatly desire. But, just like so many other women, you will have to wait longer than you wanted.

No” was the answer we didn’t know how to handle.

And yet, “No” was what we, and so many others, have walked through. It is a part of our story. We couldn’t fathom it in that moment. We couldn’t go there in our minds. We couldn’t wrap our hearts around it. We avoided the thought like the plague. And, then it happened. It became part of our story. But, it is not the story.

In today’s chapter Isaiah uses the barren woman as a metaphor of lost and forgotten hope. Out of the depths of hopelessness Holy Spirit breaths through the old prophet’s poetic pen to bring new hope to the people of Judah whose lives and city lay in ruins. At the same time, Holy Spirit breathes a much needed reminder of renewed hope to all of us who have realized some of our deepest fears.

Our stories are still being written, and the pain of the chapter called “Infertility” is a part of it. It is just a chapter in the story. It is not the story itself.  Wendy and I have experienced God’s compassion and everlasting kindness. In witness of Isaiah’s prophetic word, Wendy and I can attest that God’s unfailing love has not been shaken, nor has His covenant of peace been removed. I write this knowing that it will not bring comfort to those who find themselves in the reality of that same fear. Those who live in acute fear of “No” will desperately distance themselves from the thought of it possibly happening to them. However, things that are true need to be written, and they need to be said for those who may not want to hear it in the moment.

This morning I am thankful for the chapter of our lives called “Infertility.” The grief of it will never fully recede in this life. That grief marks all who make that journey. We are, however, truly thankful for what that chapter of our journey has taught us and for the good places to which it led. Sometimes in this life our deepest and most natural of hopes and desires go unrealized. For those willing to follow, the journey leads further up and further in to good places you never wanted to imagine in the moment.

Haunted by a Seemingly Simple Question

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
John 5:6 (NRSV)

As I journey again and again through God’s Message, there are certain words, phrases, and stories that haunt me. Every time I encounter them they impact my spirit in a profound way. I can’t escape them. They come to mind at random times. And, despite the perpetual impact I always sense that the full truth of them continue to elude me.

In today’s chapter, it’s the simple question Jesus asks of a paralytic who, for 38 years, had lain on his mat next to a pool that was rumored to have healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

Really, Jesus? Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me? I make my family carry me here every day for 38 years hoping for a miracle. I sit here every day. This is my life. And, you want to know if I want to get well. What a silly question.

But it’s not silly at all. I have learned along life’s road, and from my own experience, that my true motives are often hidden beneath carefully crafted appearances. I say I want healing, but the truth is I am content in my sickness. I complain about our sicknesses, weaknesses, and shortcomings , but I’ve become so used to living with them that I’m secretly afraid of life without them. I complain about my paralysis, but if actually do learn to walk my family is going to expect me to actually get a job. Hm.

Being a victim comes with addictive perks that we don’t really talk about.

“Do you want to get well?”

There’s a lot more to that question than it seems. There are layers of questions in those six words. Many of them are uncomfortable questions I’m not sure I want asked. Today, I’m once again haunted by a seemingly simple question Jesus asked.

Which Story Will I Choose to Believe?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)

I realized somewhere along my life journey that I had a tape recorder playing in my head. The recording was a montage of voices of the past and negative blurts that had clung to my soul as though someone had stuck them there with velcro. The recording played on a loop in my head like Muzac in a department store. I was largely unaware of it most of the time, but the recording played over and over and over again reinforcing certain negative messages:

  • I’m not a good enough person
  • I’m not a good enough husband
  • I’m not a good enough dad
  • If people really knew me they’d reject me
  • I’m such an idiot
  • I don’t have a clue what I’m doing
  • I’m never going to be [fill in the blank]
  • I’m such a hopeless wretch, God won’t really forgive me

There came a point in my journey when I became aware of these shame-full messages whispering in the background of my consciousness. I began to realize just how insidious and powerful they were in framing my self image, my perspective, and even my behaviors. They contributed to nagging attitudes of insecurity and defeat.

I began to listen more carefully. I began to write these negative blurts down as I heard them and then identified them. Where possible, I identified the source of that negative blurt from my past. If possible, I tried to identify how and when it was that I came to believe that negative message about myself. I brought them out into the light of day and examined them thoroughly, memorizing what they looked life, sounded like, and felt like.

I began consciously, day-by-day, to create a new recording. This recording was based on affirming messages sourced on what God says about me:

  • I am loved
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made
  • I am forgiven, my sins remembered no more
  • I am purified from all unrighteousness
  • I am blessed
  • I am a child of God
  • I am an heir of God
  • I am the light of the world
  • I am the salt of the earth
  • I am more than a conqueror
  • I am enriched in every way

From that point on, whenever I recognized one of my old negative blurts whispering to me, I turned up the volume on my new recording. It wasn’t a quick process. It took time and tenacious effort. Slowly, however, things began to shift. My mind began to transform and let go of the old messages as it embraced the new.

Today, I’m thinking about the story that I have for so long told about myself deep in the recesses of my soul. I’m thinking about how much that story contrasts with the story that God tells about me. So often I’m the prodigal child approaching God, hat-in-hand, repeating the self-written story of my wretched unworthiness. God is the prodigal’s father believing and telling a very different story of just how loved, honored, and valued I am.

The question is: Which story will I choose to believe?

The Big Talker

Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord your God with your own mouth.
Deuteronomy 23:23 (NRSV)

Just a few weeks ago I saw something on television that brought back memories of a kid I knew in high school. He was the big talker. His mouth was a never ending stream of braggadocios comments and tall tales about his experiences and accomplishments past, present, and future. It was so bad that some of his insane statements became legend among my group of friends. As far as I know, he did not remain a friend of any of us for long.

He came to mind again as I read this morning’s chapter. Today’s chapter is full of rather interesting and miscellaneous laws the ancient Hebrews had regarding who could and couldn’t enter the Lord’s assembly, how to handle human excrement/emissions, and the line between snacking from a neighbors grave vine and downright stealing from him. Fascinating, but admittedly not the most inspirational of thoughts for my day.

Then I came to the verse pasted above and it leapt off the page at me. While I can claim innocence from the type of arrogant tall tales of my high school acquaintance, how often have I promised and then not delivered? How often, with the best of intentions, have I stated that I’ll do this or that and then not followed through? Elsewhere in God’s Message is says that if you’ve committed the least of these offenses you’re as guilty as having committed it all. Ugh.

Today, I’m reminded of a simple rule of life: I don’t be a big talker, even in little ways. I don’t want to promise what I can’t or won’t deliver, even with the best of intentions. Say what I’ll do, and do what I say.

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featured image via quotesvalley.com

God’s X-Rated Word Pictures

Egyptian Phallic StatueThere she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. Ezekiel 23:20 (NIV)

You’re likely not going to hear a sermon at your neighborhood church on today’s chapter. The MPAA would rate a movie of Ezekiel’s word pictures NC-17 in the blink of an eye, and depending on the Director of the film, it would likely end up X rated. Today’s chapter reminds me that there are those sections of God’s Message commonly chosen for public consumption on Sunday morning, and there are those that are commonly avoided.

However, as I’ve read and studied the entirety of God’s Message over the years, I find that it does not shy away from base human realities. Sex and violence are a very real part of the human experience. Even the “heroes” of the faith are revealed to have core character flaws and to be guilty of all sorts of wrongdoing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The pornographic imagery that fueled ancient fertility cults are akin to graphic porn on our computer screens to which many are addictively drawn. I look around my local gathering of Jesus followers and know those who have been physical, verbal, and sexual abusers as well as victims of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. These are core realities of the fallen state from which we all need to experience repentance, healing, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.

The ancient prophets like Ezekiel were not given to social propriety and white washing the truth in idyllic terms. They were given to speaking in honest, base terms about the human condition. Today’s chapter is a prime example in which God gives Zeke a word picture that many starched, religious church goers I know would prefer to simply skip over. The metaphors center on two female prostitutes who have given themselves over to their insatiable sexual lusts. The sisters represent the divided kingdoms of Israel (Samaria in the north and Judah in the south) who, in God’s graphic word picture, whored themselves out in political and religious alliances with their neighbors rather than being faithful and trusting of God.

This is not subtle, read between the lines, imagery. The things a person experienced in Ezekiel’s day is almost unfathomable to our relatively puritanical, politically correct world. There were sex cults and child sacrifices. Graphic, giant phallic (penis) imagery in sculptures and graphic depiction were a normal part of pagan societies, and God through Ezekiel’s message addresses these things in equally graphic terms. Desperate times call for desperate messages, and God does not shy away from speaking directly, graphically, and emphatically to his people.

Today, I am reminded that prophets are not only fore-tellers but forth-tellers who are not afraid to shock people out of their comfortable, proper religiosity to say what needs to be said. I am reminded that socially or religiously cloistering ourselves from the realities of fallen humanity does not insulate us from those realities or their consequences. Blissfully ignoring and piously avoiding any public evidence of our sin doesn’t immunize us from sin and its disastrous effects, rather it keeps us from honestly addressing sin in healthy ways that will promote positive change, healing and redemption.

I believe that messages like Ezekiel’s are God’s way of shocking us out of our religious duplicity to address this base reality.

Judgement Discomfort

inspirational judgement“Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
Ezekiel 9:4 (NIV)

Ezekiel’s vision takes a decidedly brutal turn in today’s chapter. Yesterday, God asked Ezekiel to see all of the detestable and idolatrous practices that were being carried out in and around God’s temple. In today’s chapter, God renders judgement.

Chapters like today’s are hard to read and to think about. It’s not exactly like one of those sappy inspirational quotes that litter Facebook and Pinterest. We don’t like thinking about judgement. It doesn’t feel good. We want justice for others who we deem evil, but we want compassion for ourselves and those we know and care about. We want God to punish those who hurt us, but want him to forgive us for hurting others (if we even acknowledge that we do).

I have found that human beings are often given to black and white thinking when talking about God and judgement. I hear people dismiss God’s judgment in the Old Testament as wholesale callousness, but even in today’s chapter there is mercy shown to those who detested the idolatry that was happening. Likewise, I sometimes hear people say that they admire Jesus’ teachings about love, but the truth is that for all of His teaching on compassion and forgiveness, Jesus also spoke plainly and often about eternal judgement and punishment.

I was reminded this morning of Thomas Jefferson who created his own version of the New Testament by eliminating all the parts he didn’t like (mostly the miracles, supernatural, and such). As much as I would like to chide him for it, the truth is that I find that even we who claim to be the most ardent of Jesus followers do more than a little mental editing of our own. Truth, I’ve discovered along life’s journey, isn’t easy and it’s often uncomfortable.

Today, I’m not feeling particularly inspired by the text. Sobered is a more apt description. I want both justice and mercy in this world, but if I’m honest I’ll admit that I only want it doled out in ways that fit comfortably inside my finite box of reason and understanding (and benefit me). In my gut, I sense that I can’t have it both ways and that’s a sobering thought. I’ve also found, however, that a little sober thinking now and then leads to wise decisions and positive changes.