Tag Archives: Wisdom

The Cloud of Unknowing

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2 (NIV)

There is something mystical that can happen on stage for an actor. It’s a rare thing, and I can only claim to have, perhaps, touched it maybe once or twice. I’ve read others’ accounts of the rare occurrence and have corresponded with those who’ve experienced it. It happens when one gets so lost in the reality of the characters and the scene in the world of the play you’ve created that you lose your rational knowledge that you are an actor, pretending to be a character on a stage with other actors. It’s like slipping into a different reality and briefly letting go of the one you’re actually in. I know it sounds weird, but it happens and it is both wild and disconcerting when it does.

This past weekend I was introduced in my quiet time to the writings of an anonymous medieval mystic entitled The Cloud of Unknowing. It’s a bit of a slog to wade through given the vocabulary and middle english language of the 14th century. Nevertheless, I found myself in the quiet of the wee hours inspired by the author’s message.

Mystics also call themselves “contemplatives.” The concept is that we can learn, and even experience, much in disciplined contemplation. Kind of like the mystery of losing one’s sense of rational presence on stage, The Cloud of Unknowing is a state of being that the author describes as a place where one knows nothing but the feeling of a “naked intent unto God“:

“Let not, therefore, but travail therein till thou feel list. For at the first time when thou dost it, thou findest but a darkness; and as it were a cloud of unknowing, thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God. This darkness and this cloud is, howsoever thou dost, betwixt thee and thy God, and letteth thee that thou mayest neither see Him clearly by light of understanding in thy reason, nor feel Him in sweetness of love in thine affection.”

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, he touches on this concept of knowing and unknowing as part of the spiritual mystery of being a follower of Jesus. He tells the believers that he resolved “to know nothing” while he was with them “except Christ and Him crucified.” It sounds a lot like he intended to exist in a cloud of unknowing. He goes on to speak of the reality of a relationship with Christ in terms of a mysterious wisdom that is hidden from those who are wise in the rational realities of this world.

Jesus also touched on this mysterious wisdom:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
Matthew 11:25 (NIV)

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)

This morning in the quiet I find myself mulling over both the rational and the mystery. I find myself a player on Life’s stage, as Shakespeare aptly put it, making my routine daily entrances and exits. The further I proceed in my journey the more called I feel toward a wisdom that lies, not in the nailing of my lines and hitting my cues, but in finding that rare place that can only be found somewhere in the mystery of unknowing.

 

Freedom, Indulgence, Hard Knocks, and Wisdom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Among most of Wendy’s and my circle of close friends we happen to be the furthest down the path of life experience. As we enjoy being grandparents for the first time and watch our adult children embarking on their own adult journeys, most of our friends are somewhere between the stages of young children taxi service and sending children off to college for the first time. Just yesterday I was speaking with my friend who is experiencing the latter.

For young people who have lived in a secure home with engaged parents, going off to college is the first opportunity to experience real freedom. No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is reminding you of what you need to do. Plus, opportunities to experience the appetites of life in all their excesses tend to present themselves in abundance.

For many of us, the years of college and young adulthood are when we learn some crucial lessons on life’s road. Chief among them is answering the simple question: “What am I going to do with my freedom?” 

I don’t know a single individual who didn’t, at some point, use freedom to engage and indulge unhealthy appetites in one way or another during these years. Perhaps there are a few true saints out there. Most parents I know, however, like to conveniently white-wash their own young adult excesses as they place all sorts of appetite controls and lofty expectations on their children.

Along the journey I’ve come to the conclusion that each one of us must learn the hard lessons of how we’re going to use our freedom. It’s part of the journey. We all need to have our own wake-up moments like the Prodigal Son finding himself up to his knees in pig slop. We all need our personally induced wake-up calls when we find ourselves saying: “My own choices led me to this awful place. I think I need to make some changes.”

In today’s chapter of his letter to the believers of Galatia, Paul is addressing this same principle. Legalism is great for creating compulsory obedience to a defined set of rules, but it does nothing for helping us learn the crucial, spiritual maturity lessons of appetite control. It’s no coincidence that Paul’s list of behaviors that mark spiritual maturity include “self-control.”

This morning I find myself praying for our own adult children and our grandchild. The truth I’ve discovered is that the lessons of managing our appetites and developing mature self-control are ongoing throughout our life journeys. So, I’m praying for them in their own respective waypoints on this life journey.

I’m also saying prayers for our friends who are in the stages of raising willful children, teenagers testing their boundaries, and young adults experiencing freedom for the first time. I’m praying wisdom for all those parental decisions about rules, consequences, clamping down, and letting go. I’m also praying for the grace and wisdom of the Prodigal’s father, who knew that his Prodigal had to learn his own crucial lessons and experience the awful places we find ourselves when we use our freedom to indulge our appetites. The father didn’t track his son down. He didn’t send a rescue party. He didn’t deny his son life’s required coursework from the school of hard-knocks. The father sat patiently on the front-porch, said his prayers, kept his eye on the road out front, and waited for a much wiser son to come home.

Waypoints and Wisdom

But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.
Acts 3:18 (NIV)

There are some lessons of life and wisdom that I’ve observed are only learned along certain stretches of life’s road. As Taylor, Madison and Suzanna traverse their twenties I’m watching them grow, experience particular waypoints in life, and learn the lessons that come along during this particular stretch of the journey. Watching them, I remember learning some of the same lessons.

Some of those lessons were things that, in retrospect, things my parents had tried to help me recognize, teach me, and get me to learn earlier in my journey. I wasn’t there yet. Eventually, I recognized the lessons, learned them, and incorporated their wisdom in my on-going journey.

In today’s chapter, we find Peter and John entering the Temple in Jerusalem. Through the power of Christ, they heal a crippled man which starts a large commotion. As the crowds gather, Peter addresses the crowd. Amidst the message, Peter shares about the suffering and death of Jesus, then proclaims, “But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.”

Wait a minute. Back the truck up.

This is the same Peter who seemed always confused when Jesus suggested the notion He must suffer. This is the same Peter who pushed back at Jesus when confronted with Jesus’ prediction that He would be taken and crucified while his followers stood by. This is the same Peter who was convinced that Jesus would be an Earthly King and he, Peter, would be Jesus’ powerful Chief of Staff.

Now, on this side of the climactic events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter appears to get what Jesus had been teaching all along. Now Peter realizes that he’d been picking an choosing the prophetic messages he wanted to listen to, while conveniently ignoring prophetic passages such as Isaiah 52-53 and the 22nd Psalm; Passages which clearly describe Messiah as sacrificial lamb to suffer and be slaughtered.

This morning I’m reminded that this journey is a process. I can see certain truths and understand particular wisdom with so much clarity from my current waypoint on life’s road. It reminds me to have grace and patience with those who are coming up behind me in the journey. It reminds me of the incredible impact I can yet have on the road ahead. It reminds me again, just as I mentioned in my post on Monday, to be patient for those things I yet long for. They are at a waypoint just ahead.

I just have to keep pressing on.

Paying Heed

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they gave no heed.
2 Chronicles 33:10 (NRSVCE)

I had the lunch earlier this week with a young father. He and his wife have a two-year-old daughter. Over lunch we talked about some of the life lessons I’ve learned as a father. Chief among them is that, as followers of Jesus, we believe that “we are not our own but have been bought with a price.” In the same way I believe our children are not ours. They are a gift of God that we are called upon to steward in order that each child might follow God on their own respective journeys. The hard lesson is accepting that my child’s path may not look like the path I would choose for her.

In that vein, I often found myself sharing sage advice and wise counsel with my children. In many cases, the wisdom was born out of my own tragic mistakes and important life lessons. And, quite often, they paid no heed.

Welcome to parenting.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler shares the story of Mannasseh, the son of good King Hezekiah. We don’t know all of the circumstances of the relationship between father and son, but we do know from doing the math that Mannaseh was born when Hezekiah was in his early forties. Hezekiah had a great track record for following God and doing things by the Book. There was even that improbable deliverance from the evil Assyrians we read about yesterday. Talk about a great example to follow.

But, Mannaseh paid no heed to his father, to his father’s legacy, or to his father’s God. The Chronicler says that God spoke to Mannaseh and to the people, but he paid no heed.

Another lesson I’ve learned in parenting is that we often expect our children to behave differently than we, ourselves, behaved in childhood. It’s the “do as I say not as I did when I was your age (not that you’ll ever find out about that if I can help it)” principle. But I was like that. I had my own experiences with paying no heed to my parents, my grandparents and God. It’s part of my journey and a big part of those life lessons that led to wisdom.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about myself, not as a father but as the child of God that I still am. I can’t forget that Jesus said becoming like children is required if we want to be part of the Kingdom. Are there places, even now, in which Father God is speaking, whispering sage advice into my spirit, offering me wisdom from His Message…

…and I’m paying no heed?

Transition of Leadership

After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them.They abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols.
2 Chronicles 24:17-18 (NIV)

Along my life journey I’ve witnessed, or been part of, a number of leadership transitions. Churches, schools, civic organizations, business, clients, not to mention the transition of power our nation peacefully experiences every 2-4 years. Some transitions I’ve experienced have been positive experiences, some have not.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler relates some fascinating details about the reign of young King Joash of Judah. In the previous two chapters we learned that the entire royal family of David had been wiped out. Joash had been hidden away as an infant in the Temple of Solomon for seven years. Then the high priest, Jehoiada, let a coup and placed Joash on the throne.

Reading between the lines on the Chronicler’s papyrus, we see there may have been a bit of an ebb and flow to the relationship between Jehoiada and young King Joash, between monarch and priest, between politics and religion. Jehoiada was, no doubt, a powerful figure. He was the one who hid the infant and protected him. He was the one who plotted and carried out the coup. He was the one who put Joash on the throne. Jehoiada was the power behind the child king, and he even oversaw who Joash would marry and with whom the king would have children.

The king grows up and gives orders for a tax to be collected to repair Solomon’s Temple, but the King’s wishes are not immediately carried out. Jehoiada was the power behind the throne, and the Levites knew to take their orders from the high priest, not the king. Joash summons Jehoiada before him. Joash had always taken his commands from Jehoiada, now the young king was testing and exerting his own power and authority over Jehoiada. The high priest submits, but we as readers are left wondering just how these two powerful men managed their relationship with one another.

The Chronicler then tells us about another transition of leadership. The powerful religious leader, Jehoiada, dies. There is now a vacuum of religious leadership. Immediately, the “officials” of Judah (leaders of clans, businessmen, state officials. and etc.) swoop into that power vacuum and pay a visit to King Joash. They convince the King to loosen Jehoiada’s powerful stranglehold on local religion and support the resurgence of the local Canaanite gods. Joash does so despite many prophetic warnings. The Chronicler makes it clear that this doesn’t end well.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions of leadership and of power. Jehoiada saw to it that Joash was placed on the throne, but the Chronicler’s account leaves me believing that he may have looked upon the young monarch as a puppet to be controlled rather than a protegé to be mentored. The difference is monumental and the fact that there was no successor to Jehoiada with the authority to command respect of the King and his “officials” says that the high priest had equally not done an adequate job preparing for his successor and ensuring that the legacy of his leadership would continue.

I have been blessed and privileged to be in many different leadership positions in my lifetime. In the quiet this morning I’m taking stock of how I have handled the transition of power and leadership to others. The results, I confess, are mixed. In some cases I feel that I’ve done well, and in others I realize that, like Jehoiada, I’ve missed the opportunity to bless my successor and those under my leadership with a wisely planned transition. I can’t change the past, but I can ensure that I handle future opportunities with greater wisdom and grace. I pray I do so.

Have a great week, my friends!

 

When the Opening Hints of Doom

Now Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.
2 Chronicles 18:1 (NIV)

When you study the art of film, one of the things you learn is that the opening scene of a movie is very important, and a good writer and/or director is going to put a lot of thought into it. A good opening shot sets the stage and tone for the entire film and establishes the movie’s theme. Writers will use an opening line much the same way, and playwrights will do the same with their opening scene or Chorus.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Chronicler uses his opening sentence to set up the reader for the story to follow. I think most modern readers miss it the same way many film-goers miss the importance of the opening scene as they settle into their seat with the popcorn.

First, he references King Jehoshaphat’s “wealth and honor” which ties this part of the story back to the previous chapter which detailed Jehoshaphat’s wealth and honor. The Chronicler also made it clear that the said wealth and honor was linked to Jehoshaphat’s commitment and obedience to God. The next thing he tells us in the opening sentence is that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with a man named Ahab.

Marriage alliances were common practice of royals throughout history. If you were King of one nation, Kings from neighboring nations would give you their daughters in marriage (or arrange a marriage between your respective children) as a way of assuring peace between nations as you’re not likely to attack your wife’s own father and destroy your wife’s family and tribe. This is why all the royal families of Europe are, to this day, a dizzying mash-up of intertwining family connections:

The fact that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance is not surprising, but the Chronicler is telling his readers that Jehoshaphat made the alliance with Ahab. All of the Chroniclers contemporary leaders would know Ahab. It’s like a contemporary writer referencing a name like Gates, Buffet, Clinton, or Trump. Everyone knows who you’re talking about.

Ahab was king of Israel (the 10 tribes who split from Solomon’s son and created their own nation). Israel and Judah had been more or less in a state of on-and-off civil war for years. Israel’s monarchy and tribes had abandoned the worship of God. Ahab’s wife was the infamous Queen Jezebel. Together Ahab and Jezebel were one of the most detestable royal couples in the history of Israel. Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with them.

Since I’m on the theme of movies, let me reference the Godfather’s famous leadership principle: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It might be hopeful to think that Jehoshaphat was that cunning, but that would be wishful thinking. What the Chronicler is doing with his establishing sentence is setting his readers up for the fact that this is not going to end well. Especially given the fact that the Chronicler has already established a theme of immediate retribution throughout his stories: Do good by God and good things immediately happen. Do wrong by God and bad things immediately happen. We as readers should know by now that Jehoshaphat getting involved with the idolatrous and murderous Ahab and Jezebel is a foreshadowing of bad things to come.

This morning I’m thinking about the very simple life lesson of being careful who I align myself with. Jesus specifically prayed to God the Father that He would not take his followers “out of the world.” He wanted us in the world so as to influence it and bring His Kingdom’s love, grace, and power to all, especially those who need it most. So, I don’t think being careful with my “alignment” is about staying in my holy huddle and avoiding “those people” all together. There are certain individuals, however, for whom it would be unwise of me to align myself in a close relationship, a business partnership, a marriage, a contract, an obligation or a similar intertwining of life or business.

Even if it looks good on paper, the establishing shot hints at problems to come.

It’s Not About Me

When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered Judah and Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam.
2 Chronicles 11:1 (NIV)

As a follower of Jesus, I am aware that God is at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. “You are not your own,” Paul wrote to the Jesus followers in Corinth, “Therefore honor God.” The practical application of this is that I think about the life decisions Wendy and I make. I not only concern myself with what we want, but also with what we sense God doing in our lives and the lives of others.

I found it fascinating this morning that King Rehoboam of Judah, having experienced the humility of having ten of the tribes of Israel rebel against him, immediately musters is fighting men for war. This is such a classic male reaction. This is the stuff of boys on a playground. “You wanna fight about it?” 

In describing Rehoboam’s reaction, the Chronicler is careful to also share with us Rehoboam’s motivation. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for whom? God? The legacy of his father and grandfather? Nope. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for himself.

What a contrast Rehoboam is to his grandfather David who, having been anointed King as a boy, refused to claim the throne for himself. David waited for God to arrange the circumstances and make it happen. David was all about honoring what God was doing and waiting for God to raise him up. Rehoboam was all about acting out of his momentary rage and humiliation to get what he himself wanted.

Do I want to be a Rehoboam, or do I want to be a David?

That’s the question I find myself asking in the quiet this morning. Of course, I choose the latter. I want what God wants for my life and the lives of my loved ones. It means that it’s not all about me and what I want, and that’s exactly what Jesus taught, to love others as I love myself and to treat others as I would want to be treated.