Tag Archives: Weakness

Contrasting Identity

Contrasting Identity (CaD John 18) Wayfarer

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” [a servant girl] asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”

John 18:17 (NIV)

One of the themes I’ve been watching in John’s biography of Jesus is that of identity. John’s entire biography is thematically told around seven metaphorical “I am” statements that Jesus made paralleled by seven major miracles. These are not casual choices on John’s part.

When God revealed Himself to Moses, Moses asked God to identify Himself. God identified himself as “I Am.” Jesus’ seven “I am…” statements with their metaphors are a subtle proclamation John is making as to the complete divinity of Jesus as the Christ, while the miracles form a complete witness to divine power Jesus displayed in that claim of divinity. The number seven in the Great Story is the number of “completeness” (e.g. seven days of creation).

The seven “I am” statements:

  • “I am the Bread of Life” (6:35, 48)
  • “I am the Light of the World” (8:12; 9:5)
  • “I am the Gate” (10:7)
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11, 14)
  • “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25)
  • “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life” (14:6)
  • “I am the True Vine” (15:1)

The seven miracles (before His death & resurrection):

  • Changing water to wine (2:1-11)
  • Healing the official’s son (4:43-54)
  • Healing the disabled man by the Bethesda pool (5:1-15)
  • Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-14)
  • Walking on water (6:16-21)
  • Healing the man born blind (9:1-12)
  • Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-14)

But the theme of identity is not confined to the identity of Jesus. John is careful to choose stories that point to the identity of the religious leaders, the identity of those whom Jesus spoke to, the identity of those whom Jesus healed, and the identity of those who followed Jesus.

In today’s chapter, what struck me was how Peter’s denials stood out in stark contrast to Jesus’ claims. I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that Peter was not only the appointed leader of The Twelve, but his given name was Simon and Jesus gave Him a new name and a new identity: No longer the fisherman from Capernaum, Jesus gave Simon the identity of Peter, “the rockon which I will build my church.”

Yet as Jesus, the “I Am,” is arrested and tried, the “rock” crumbles with three contrasting claims: “I am…not.”

I find something beautiful in the human fragility of Peter’s trinity of “I am not“s. As a follower of Jesus, it echoes the fragility of my own faith, the cracks in my own witness, and my own major failures that stand in stark contrast to the proclamation “I am a follower of Jesus.”

As Jesus fulfills His mission to suffer for the sins of the world, I find “the Rock” there as my representative. How apt that the Divinely appointed human “leader” of Jesus’ followers becomes the designated representative of human weakness.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself sitting in humility of my own humanity. A lyric from Bob Dylan’s song Every Grain of Sand comes to mind:

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.

Peter’s story has the same ebb-and-flow as any follower of Jesus. A new direction and a new identity followed by a long life journey that include both miraculous highs and humiliating set-backs. It’s not just Peter’s story. It’s my story. It’s the story of every human being who sincerely answers Jesus’ offer to take up your own cross and follow. As the murderer and persecutor of Jesus’ followers Saul, given the new identity of Paul, follower of Jesus whom he persecuted, said:

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Psalm 51 Moment

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17 (NRSVCE)

For anyone who does not know the story behind David’s song, known to us as Psalm 51, it is critical in order to have a complete understanding of the lyrics.

First of all, David had been the “good guy” his entire life journey. As a boy God declared him “a man after my own heart” and God chose David, through the prophet Samuel, to be God’s anointed king. David killed Goliath. David refused to raise his hand against King Saul and wait for God to fulfill the promise to give him the throne. David did everything right. David was devout. David was faithful. David was sincere. David was God’s man through-and-through.

Until he wasn’t.

The Reader’s Digest version is this: From the roof of his palace he creeped out on a beautiful young woman taking a bath on a nearby rooftop. David used his power to find out who she was. She was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, but the army was out on a military campaign and David knew it. David used his influence as King to invite her over. They had a one night stand. She ended up pregnant, and now a “no harm no foul” fling became a potentially Monica Lewinsky level political scandal.

The first step in the cover-up was to create the illusion of normal. David uses his commander-and-chief authority to give the woman’s husband, a soldier named Uriah, a special leave to come home and take a break from the action. It turns out, however, that Uriah was a “good guy” and a “man of integrity” like David had always been. Perhaps David had been his role model. Uriah, thinking of all his buddies on the front-line who didn’t get to come home and sleep with their wives, refuses to even go into his house.

Ironically, Uriah’s integrity leads to David’s further descent into depravity. To avoid his moral failure from coming to light and the scandal it would create, David sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed message to his general in the field. The message orders his general to place Uriah into the thick of the battle, order his fellow soldiers to abandon him, and ensure Uriah has an “honorable” death.

Uriah is buried with military honors. David makes a big deal out of caring for the widow of one of his soldiers by agreeing to marry and take care of her. Scandal averted and David is given the opportunity to improve his polling numbers and maintain his “good guy” image. David gets away it. No one is the wiser.

Except God.

God sends a prophet named Nathan to visit the King who regales David with the story of a wealthy land baron and sheep farmer who stole the only lamb of the poor tenant farmer next-door. David, angered, assures Nathan that the evil land baron will be forced to pay the victim back with four lambs for the one that was stolen.

Then Nathan informs David that the whole story was a metaphor and that he is the land baron in the story. He had a palace full of wives and thought he could steal poor Uriah’s wife and cover the whole thing up. David is devastated and has to own up to what he has done. He pours out his guilt and plea for forgiveness into a song.

If you’ve never read Psalm 51 in the context of this story, I encourage you to take the minute or two required to read the lyrics of the song in their entirety right now while the story is fresh in your head.

One of the interesting things about this chapter-a-day journey is the experience of coming upon chapters that I know really well, and have read countless times in the past 40 years. Do they have any fresh layers of meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life’s journey?

As I read this morning I kept hearkening back to one of David’s psalms from a couple of weeks ago. I went back to Psalm 26 in the quiet this morning and read it again:

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in faithfulness to you.

Wow. What a contrast.

I know Psalm 51 really well. It’s tatted on my left bicep as a reminder. I have a chapter of my own story that is a rough parallel of David’s. I was the “good guy” who everyone knew was a Jesus freak, a moral puritan, and who walked the straight-and-narrow. I’m sure I was even guilty of waxing self-righteously in my own way like David did in Psalm 26. Then I found myself in a place I swore I’d never be found. I had my own Psalm 51 moment.

Along this spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that I never really understood and experienced grace, forgiveness, and mercy until I hit rock-bottom and the veneer of self-righteousness was peeled away like the striking of a stage set. Like David, it came much further along in my journey, but I can now look back realize how important, make that essential, my own mistakes were in teaching me humility, empathy, mercy, and grace.

I enter another work week this morning soberly reminded of my own need of grace, as well as my need to extend it to others having their own Psalm 51 moments.

The Ringing in my Ears

This is the life-giving message we heard him share and it’s still ringing in our ears. We now repeat his words to you: God is pure light. You will never find even a trace of darkness in him.
1 John 1:5 (TPT)

In our present world of quarantine and shelter-at-home from the Coronavirus Pandemic, video streaming services are enjoying an increase in business. Interestingly, Wendy and I have been watching less television though we have managed to watch a few movies that we missed in the theaters. We watched A Star is Born the other night, which is the latest take on an old Hollywood tale. We both really enjoyed the film.

In Bradley Cooper’s adaptation, his character is suffering from Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss. The never-ending ringing in his ears is one (of several) reasons the character has a drinking problem. As someone with a long history of Tinnitus, Wendy asked me if Tinnitus ever makes me want to drink, which it doesn’t. It can be maddening at times. There’s even speculation that Tinnitus may have been part of Van Gogh cutting off his ear. The truth is that it ebbs and flows, but nothing makes it go away.

On the heels of our conversation, I decided this morning to start reading John’s letters in a relatively new translation called The Passion Translation. I couldn’t help but notice when John writes: “This is the life-giving message we heard him share and it’s still ringing in our ears.

The word picture is a fascinating one. I have thought about “ringing in my ears” in such on-going negative terms for so long, it jarred me to think about ringing in the ears being something positive. Even more striking is the fact that John’s letters were arguably the last New Testament epistles written from a chronological perspective somewhere between 85 and 95 A.D. It had been 50-60 years since John had been in Jesus’ earthly presence. The fact that the words of Jesus were still “ringing in his ears” says something about their potency.

I couldn’t help but think, as I meditated on these things, about a mysterious reference made by Paul:

The extraordinary level of the revelations I’ve received is no reason for anyone to exalt me. For this is why a thorn in my flesh was given to me, the Adversary’s messenger sent to harass me, keeping me from becoming arrogant. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to relieve me of this. But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. So I’m not defeated by my weakness, but delighted! For when I feel my weakness and endure mistreatment—when I’m surrounded with troubles on every side and face persecution because of my love for Christ—I am made yet stronger. For my weakness becomes a portal to God’s power.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (TPT)

Scholars and believers speculate endlessly on what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was exactly. The truth is we don’t know, and I think it for the best that we don’t. The issue isn’t what it was but what it taught Paul. That his annoying (Level 1) “weakness” and suffering was a portal to experiencing God’s (Level 4) power and strength.

In the quiet of my home office this morning, I am mindful of the ringing in my ears. It never goes away. The ringing is omnipresent. Most often, I am able to ignore it and allow it to be nothing more than an additional layer of white noise in my life. Occasionally, it gets insanely loud and drives me batty. Sometimes (especially in my left ear where there is significantly more hearing loss) it becomes loud, intermittent beeps like someone translating the complete works of Shakespeare to me in Morse Code.

I’m thinking of my “weakness” in a new way this morning. I’ve journeyed through the Message perpetually for almost forty years. It’s always there. I’ve read it, memorized it, studied it, walked through it, taught it, contemplated it, and meditated on it continuously. Like John, it is still “ringing in my ears” even when it, at times, recedes like a layer of white noise in my consciousness.

When the ringing in my ears becomes maddening, I want to start letting it remind me of the Word that I have heard, that rings in the ears of my heart, which I am compelled to repeat so as to “release the fullness of my joy.”

“For those who have ears to hear….”

Jesus

All chapter-a-day posts from this series on 1 John are compiled in a simple visual index for you. There is also a simple visual index of Tom’s posts indexed by book of the Bible.

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Observations of a Mentor

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
Luke 16:10 (NIV)

I have been on the road this week working with a client. As part of my duties for this particular client, I have been mentoring a number of their front-line supervisors. Most of these supervisors are in their first managerial position, and I have an opportunity to help them learn some of the basic managerial and interpersonal skills they will need in order to succeed.

Over the years, I have observed that I can usually tell in my first few sessions when one of my protégés is going to be successful. Those who are self-aware of their own struggles and shortcomings and are willing to be open and honest about them tend to make quick progress. I have enjoyed watching these individuals listen to wise counsel, work hard to develop themselves, and rise quickly within the organization.

I have also had the experience of mentoring individuals who are dishonest with me about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and what is really happening within the team in their charge. Some have been so good at spinning their reality that when I give my report to their senior manager, their manager thought I must be talking about a different person. I’m sorry to say that I’ve watched certain individuals in my charge fail because they lacked the simple ability to be honest with themselves and others.

In today’s chapter, Luke shares a series of parables that Jesus told His followers. In the midst of the parables, Jesus makes a very simple observation that those who can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much, and that the opposite is equally true. I suddenly saw the faces of individuals I’ve mentored who have given me living proof of Jesus’ words.

I’m back in my home office this morning, and in the quiet I find myself looking back at my own life and career. I have been blessed to have had good mentors and wise counselors in my life, and I hope that I’m doing a good job of paying it forward with the dividends of their investment in me. So much of what I’ve learned boils down to things that are very simple.

Be honest, trustworthy, capable, and content with the smallest of the responsibilities you’re given. In due time, you’ll find yourself with greater responsibilities.

Strong Women in Weak Circumstances

“According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.”
Esther 1:15 (NIV)

In the days after the end of Game of Thrones, I have suffered a bit of withdrawal. I know I am not alone in this. While nothing in the current entertainment market is going to really compare to the epic series, of late I have been catching up on the series, The Last Kingdom, (on Netflix) which has enjoyably filled the void. It follows the life of a young English noble who is captured and raised by Vikings while his uncle claims the title and land rightfully his by birth. The series is set in a period of actual history when Vikings threatened to conquer all the kingdoms of the British isle while Alfred the Great sought to join the disparate Kingdoms of the isle into one united England.

One of the interesting themes that I have noticed of late in multiple series and movies set in medieval times is how the role of women is handled. Certainly, the dark ages and middle ages were a time in which women had little or no social standing. Daughters of nobility were married off to create political alliances. Writers seem to enjoy creating female characters of strength and courage who challenge and undermine the status quo of that time. I laughed a lot as I watched the character of Brida (played expertly by Emily Cox) in The Last Kingdom (who, like the male protagonist was a young Brit captured and raised as a pagan Viking) who re-enters English society and all of the male priests and nobles have no idea how to handle this strong, fiery, female warrior. Earl the Bruce’s wife in the movie Outlaw King (also on Netflix) is another recent example.

Today we begin another chapter-a-day journey through the book of Esther. Along with the stories of Daniel and Jonah, which we just blogged through in the past few months, Esther is set in the period of exile when many of the Hebrew people were living in exiled captivity to a successive series of foreign empires (Babylonian, Mede, and Persian). Esther is one of the most enjoyable and unique reads in the entirety of God’s Message.

The first chapter sets the scene as the Persian Queen, Vashti, refuses her intoxicated husband’s demand that she present herself to him and the drunken, seven-day binge of a frat-boy party that he and his court were having. King Xerxes wanted to serve his wife up to be sexually ogled by his “noble” entourage. When Vashti has the self-respect and courage to refuse her husband’s demand, the boys decide that she must be punished so that all women would know their place and all men could cement their power over their wives and households.

Today’s chapter sets the scene for the story on which we are about to embark. It establishes the setting in an ancient culture in which men systemically dominated politics, society, and culture. Women had little or no power, and to challenge the system – even for the best of reasons – could lead to very negative consequences. The Hebrews, as a people living in exile, understood this position of powerlessness.

As I think about the historical setting of the story of Esther, of the courage of Vashti to stand up to her drunken husband, and the examples of strong women in weak social positions that I’ve been watching of late, I can’t help but think of my wife and my daughters. God has surrounded me with strong women whom I greatly respect. I am partnered with a fiery, Enneagram 8 of a wife, who compliments and challenges me in all sorts of healthy ways. I also know, however, that most of human history would not have treated her and her God-given temperament kindly, despite what Hollywood writers portray as they try to bring 9th-century realities to 21st-century audiences.

In the quiet this morning I find myself excited to once again wade through the amazing story of Esther. It reminds me of the spiritual paradoxes that lie at the heart of being a follower of Jesus: that strength is found in weakness, that spiritual power is often unleashed in temporal impotence, and that the power of Life is found on the other side of death.

The Doorway of Defeat

…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Romans 11:29 (NIV)

I reached out to shake his hand as I was introduced. The lights in the room were dimmed but the darkness couldn’t hide the look of defeat. Shoulders slumped, eyes down cast, and the smile that was clearly being conjured by sheer will. I could feel the discouragement. I sensed the fear that God just might be done with him. I also instantly felt an affinity for him. Something clicked deep inside, and I knew that somehow Holy Spirit had connected us for a reason.

I have seen the look of defeat on the faces of some of the most amazing people. I’ve seen defeat come in a myriad of ways. Sometimes it’s moral failure, a personal failure, a relational failure, or a combination of all. Sometimes it’s a life tragedy and the inequities of circumstance. At times it might be some kind of physical or chemical issue wreaking havoc on a person’s spirit. Then there are times when the source of the funk is spiritual, and a rational explanation is elusive.

When defeat descends on a person life gets very small. Vision is reduced as focus turns inward. Interaction is avoided which only tends to extend and exacerbate the symptoms. A person wraps him or herself in layers of self-protection that, ironically, not only serves to deflect further injury, but also prevents any kind balm from reaching the spirit wound. When the individual experiencing defeat is a believer, the person also feels a spiritual impotence that can be so pervasive as to prompt an unshakable belief that this is all permanent.

But, it’s not.

Defeat is never a permanent destination. Defeat is a doorway to deeper understanding. It is through the doorway of defeat that I discover humility’s sweet gifts and where I experience grace’s sufficiency. On the other side of defeat comes the understanding that Spirit power is perfected in weakness.

Resurrection must, by definition, be preceded by death. Redemption’s prerequisite is always some kind of damnifying defeat. This was the grand spiritual paradigm that Jesus ultimately exemplified, yet I always want to dismiss the fact that if I choose to follow He said I have to follow in His foot steps down that same path.

I saw my defeated acquaintance the other day. It’s been a few years since we were introduced. We’re now friends. His shoulders were squared, there was a sparkle in his eye, and the smile on his face was no longer conjured by will. His smile was clearly the effect of an inner joy that radiated off of him. I had the privilege of helping him through the doorway, and watching him discover, over time, what was on the other side.

So good.

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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The Depressed Prophet

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?
Jeremiah 20:13-18 (NIV)

Across the ages, the ancient prophet Jeremiah has been labeled with  the moniker “The Weeping Prophet.” In our bedroom at the lake Wendy and I have a copy of Rembrandt’s portrait of Jeremiah looking depressed and sullen as he sits amidst the ruins of Jerusalem. It reminds me that the lake is a thin place where any who are burdened can find rest for their souls. Alas, it would seem that Jeremiah had no such place.

In today’s chapter we read of a confrontation between Jeremiah and a priest named Pashur, who was “the official in charge of the Temple of the Lord.” The fact that the one “in charge” was out to get Jeremiah is a good indication of just how corrupt the system had become in Jeremiah’s day. The priest in charge of the Temple was overseeing all of the pagan rituals and cults operating out of the Temple. The Temple had become a religious corporation, a powerful money-maker for those in charge (not unlike the way Jesus’ found the Temple in His day).

While Jeremiah had been protected from the death-threats that had already been made against him, Pashur decided to at least punish the prophet for his inflammatory prophesies of doom and destruction. I’m quite sure they were bad for business. In fact, I can almost hear Pashur saying, “This isn’t personal, Jer. It’s strictly business.” Once again, this is not unlike Jesus who, after His repeated rants against their corruption and His stirring up of the people, pressured the Temple leaders to plot His death .

After his time in the stocks, Jeremiah immediately confronts Pashur with a stubborn and willful repeating of his prophetic message: Jerusalem will be destroyed and its people led into captivity at the hands of Babylon. Obviously the prophet wanted Pashur to know his punishment did not have the desired effect. In fact, it simply appears to have pissed Jeremiah off.

What comes next is fascinating. The weeping prophet goes into a depression and pens a dark poem that graphically expresses his wish that he’d never been born. Obviously, the burden of his role, his prophecies, and the steady threats and persecution were getting to him. Of course they were. It would get to me too.

This morning I’m thinking about how common it is for humans to go through periods of depression. If you were privy to my medical records you’d find that I’ve had a few bouts with the blues along my life journey, and I never faced anything like what Jeremiah was dealing with. I’m also thinking about how common it is for individuals in history (artists, musicians, writers, thinkers) who saw and expressed things no one else could see were given to depression, madness, mental illness, and even suicide. I’d certainly put Jeremiah alongside the likes of Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Parker.

I’m struck by the contrast this morning between the spit-shined image I believe we often have of a “godly” person or a “servant of God.” We demand so much, expect so much, and are so quick to scapegoat individuals for their weaknesses and shortcomings. Jeremiah reminds me this morning that God’s servants were fully human, carried human flaws and weaknesses, were susceptible to all the shortcomings known to humanity, and were even given to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Jeremiah reminds me to cut others a break. He even reminds me to be a bit more gracious with myself.

Wendy and I were at the lake late last week opening it up for the coming summer season. Once again, I saw and pondered Jeremiah’s portrait as I lay in bed.

I’m looking forward to getting back there.

(FWIW: My latest message was added to the Messages page.)

Silence and Spiritual Authority

But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 (NIV)

Just last week, on the 15th of April, the Major Leagues celebrated Jackie Robinson day just as it does every year. Every player in Major League Baseball wears Jackie Robinson’s number: 42. It was on April 15th, 1947 that Jackie Robinson  walked out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and broke the color barrier in baseball.

This morning as I woke up in my hotel room I happened to have a documentary about Jackie Robinson playing in the background and reminded me of the familiar story. When Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, brought Jackie to the major leagues he made Jackie promise that for three years he would not respond to the taunts, insults, and attacks that he would face as the first black man to play in the major leagues. Jackie agreed.

The abuse Jackie faced in those years is well documented. The treatment he received in opposing cities was unjust and unfair. Racial slurs and terrible insults by opposing teams and crowds rained down on him non-stop from batting practice until the last out of the game. Pitchers threw at his head intentionally. Runners intentionally spiked him with their cleats, opening up gashes on his legs. But true to his promise, Jackie remained silent. And, he played great baseball.

It seemed like a bit of synchronicity that this morning’s chapter documented Jesus standing before His enemies. They taunted Him. They falsely accused Him. They beat Him and they mocked Him. But true to what had been prophesied, Jesus remained silent. And, He fulfilled His mission.

I’m simply reminded this morning of the power of silence in the face of personal attacks and social adversity. Human nature and our own culture desires – even demands –  justice at an intimate, interpersonal level. If insulted, return the insult. If he talks smack to me, I’m going to dish it right back. If falsely accused, make a spirited defense. On the face of it, Jesus’ encouragement to “turn the other cheek” seems foolishly weak.

But it’s not.

It took incredible courage and spiritual strength for Jackie Robinson to remain silent those three long seasons. His silence was, in fact, an act of spiritual endurance while it took a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Turning the other cheek is not running away, slinking back, or cowering in fear. Turning the other cheek requires standing in, facing your enemy, and defiantly presenting him the opportunity to do it again. It reveals and highlights the injustice. It makes known the truth of the situation.

After three years of sticking to his promise, Jackie was released from his bargain with Branch Rickey. Then it was the wisdom of Solomon that took over. “There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.” Three years of remaining silent before his enemies had earned Jackie Robinson the spiritual authority to be one of the greatest voices for civil rights and social change. Jackie Robinson Day continues that legacy each April 15th.

I find it ironic that Jackie Robinson Day fell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday this year.

Jesus, likewise, followed His own teaching before the kangaroo court that had been hastily and illegally assembled to arrange His execution. He remained silent. He stood in. He faced His accusers. He turned the other cheek each time He was beaten. All that Jesus would endure took its lethal physical toll, but the spiritual power that was unleashed would conquer death itself.

Time Reveals the True Measure of a Leader

English: Posthumous official presidential port...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” 1 Samuel 15:10-11a (NLT)

On Friday the United States will mark the 50th anniversary of the assination of President John F. Kenndedy. The media has been stirring for the past week with programs and news stories about Kennedy and his legacy. On Sunday, the news magazine CBS Sunday Morning spent their entire 90 minutes exploring the life and death of the young President. Wendy and I were on the couch watching as it’s part of our Sunday morning routine.

Wendy and I discussed President Kennedy that morning and the reality that he was in office less than three years before he was shot. Kennedy inspired the nation and laid out a grand vision, but he was killed before the nation could hold him accountable for his leadership in taking us to the realization of that vision. Reading current headlines is an interesting contrast. Our current President also inspired the nation and laid out a grand vision, but five years later the nation is in an uproar over failed implementation, the President’s party is in open rebellion, the nation is more politically divided than ever, and his approval rating is quickly plummeting. We will never know how Kennedy would have fared five years into his Presidency.

Time reveals the true measure of a leader, for time will always reveals a leader’s strengths and weaknesses. Like many leaders, King Saul started strong out of the gate. He led the nation to victory while displaying humility and deference. Today’s chapter, however, reveals a steady decline of character:

  • He was disobedient, allowing his army to capture the King of the Amalekites and take some of the spoils for themselves.
  • He excused his disobedience and lied, stating that the spoils were going to be sacrificed to God so that made it all okay.
  • When Samuel sought out Saul he found Saul, in a display of arrogant pride, erecting a monument to himself (I am so tempted to make the obvious phallic joke here).
  • When initially confronted with his disobedience, Saul did the usual political back-pedaling, obfuscating, and justifying his actions.

I am thankful that I do not have to face the spotlight of leadership on a national or global scale. Nevertheless, each of us find ourselves in positions of leadership in our homes, our businesses, neighborhoods and our communities. Time will reveal our strengths and weaknesses to those who follow, even if it’s only among our children, grandchildren or extended family. And make no mistake, our weaknesses will be revealed.

I have come to believe that perhaps the real pivotal question of leadership on any scale is how we respond to our own weaknesses and failures. Do we run, hide, excuse, justify, obfuscate, stonewall, gloss over, and deny? Or, do we accept, confess, own up, reconcile, learn from, better ourselves, and make things right?