The Context of the Pinterest Quote

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (NRSV)

We have increasingly become a culture that boils things down to simple thoughts. We gather quotes, sayings and images on social media. We try to say something or quote something worthwhile in the 140 characters that a tweet will allow. Everything is reduced to make it smaller, pithier, and more quickly consumed. And, in doing so we lose context. Without context things change and lose the fullness of meaning.

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“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua said in today’s chapter. These words can be found on countless Pinterest images (example above), plaques, wall hangings, keychains, bookmarks, pens, and etc. It’s a popular sentiment and statement of commitment. I’m afraid very few people know where it originated or its context.

Joshua, the chosen successor to Moses, is at the finish line of his life. He’s dying. His number is almost up and he knows it. He gathers the nation together around the Big Top – the great tent that had been Israel’s mobile worship center since the days of Moses himself.

Joshua recounts the story of the nations history from Abraham to their present day (“Where have we been?”).

Joshua reminds them of the blessings they are enjoying in the lands which had become their inheritance (“Where are we now?”)

Then Joshua calls them to commitment: “Choose this day whom you will serve…” (“Where are you going?”)

The call to commitment is not for Joshua himself. He’s done. He’s run his race. The answer to the question of commitment will have no bearing on him. He no longer has an earthly future. He’s making a declarative statement for his family. He will not have any power to enforce it, he will not be physically present to hold his family accountable to it, and he has no assurance that they will actually fulfill it. It is a  faith statement.

Joshua’s statement belies the real question that is weighing on his 110 year old heart: “What am I leaving behind?”

His statement, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” goes is far greater a sentiment than a Pinterest post can provide to the casual observer. The depth of it cannot be realized in reading the mere words. It’s important to understand the whole story and the context in which the statement is made. This is a declaration of death-bed desire. It is a plea to his descendants. This is Joshua’s great and motivating want. It is the revelation of his dying wish and his heart’s pure and final longing.

Today, we come to the end of Joshua’s story. It is the final chapter in the book, and in a moment of unplanned synchronicity it falls on the day before my 50th birthday. Today, I find myself asking:

  • “Where have I been?”
  • “Where am I at?”
  • “Where am I going?” 
  • “What will I leave behind?”

 

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featured image: Christmas Morning by Andrew Wyeth

 

Time to Grow Up

“…so that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them, but hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.”
Joshua 22:7-8 (NRSV)

There are different stages in life. What may be good and appropriate for one stage of life may change and evolve as we grow and mature. This is natural. It is a part of the journey. It is how God designed it.

When I was a child there were boys that my parents did not want me hanging out with. My parents saw that they had different values. They were older. There was every possibility that they would have drawn me into trouble. My parents didn’t say these were “bad” kids. They simply told me to steer clear.

As I got older my parents stopped warning me about people. They sent me off to work, to college, to the mission field, and to the broader world. They wanted me to explore, to meet people, to learn, to grow, and to influence the world around me. They trusted me to be wise and discerning regarding my relationships.

I have come to believe that the relationship between God and man in history parallels the stages of human life. In today’s chapter, humanity is in its early childhood years. The people of God have become aware of their place in the world. They are learning about interacting with others. Their heavenly father warns them to steer clear of those who might have an unhealthy influence on them. Just like my parents did at that age.

Along life’s road I’ve known many followers of Jesus who still cling to this early childhood attitude of fear and suspicion towards others. They insulate themselves from their neighbors. They fear contact with others who are not like them and who don’t believe the same ways. It is as if they fear contamination should they associate with anyone who is not a part of their insular church family. They might even use Joshua’s words in today’s chapter to justify it.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was a rite of passage in the relationship between God and man. It was relational graduation into adulthood of sorts. Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts and lives of those who believe. Jesus now sent His followers out into the world. No more hanging with the homeys behind locked doors. No more keeping to yourself. Jesus said, “Go….” Heavenly Father was kicking His children out of the nest. You’re old enough. You’re wise enough. I’ve prepared you and equipped you and it’s time for you to get out there an influence your world.

Today, I’m thinking about stages of life. There was a time when I was a child and I needed to be wary of others influencing me. Now I’m a man, and if I still live with that fear then there’s something that has short circuited in the maturation process. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

At some point, it’s time for every one of us to grow up, go out into the world into strange places among people who are new to us and influence those we meet with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

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featured image: shenamt via Flickr

Creative False Narratives

“No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord.”
Joshua 22:24-25 (NRSV)

Along life’s journey I have repeatedly encountered situations in which others have chosen to believe things about me or my intentions that were far askew from reality. Misreading a word, an action, or my intentions led someone to create a narrative in their head about what I desired, felt, or intended. Their narrative, created out of fear, ignorance, or personal insecurity led to accusation, conflict, and relational distance. As I sit here in the quiet I can feel the scars of several specific examples on my soul.

If I am honest with myself, I must confess that I have created similar narratives in my own head about others. I am not merely a victim of this phenomenon. I am a perpetrator, too.

Conflicts often arise out of misunderstandings. In today’s chapter we find a story about this type of misconception between the tribes of Israel. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had been given land on the west side of the Jordan River prior to Israel’s conquest of  Canaan, but with the caveat that they must cross the Jordan with the rest of the tribes and assist in the conquest. With the conquest over, they were released to return back over the Jordan to the lands they’d been promised.

Without saying a word to their kindred, the three tribes secretly harbored fear that in time their fellow tribes would turn against them. The Jordan River had become an important boundary line, and the people of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh feared that they would eventually be branded outcasts for living on the west side of the river. They created a narrative in their minds in which the other tribes rejected them and treated them like foreigners. This led them to the build an altar as a symbol of their devotion to God and their connection to the other tribes.

Without having actually communicated their fears, the building of the altar was misunderstood by the remaining tribes east of the Jordan. It was the remaining tribes turn to create a false narrative in their minds in which Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were abandoning their faith and tradition. The altar was misconstrued as an attempt to abandon God and start their own religious system. Whipped into a frenzy by their misperceptions, they gathered for war against their kindred.

As things were about to turn into a bloody civil war, the three western tribes confessed their fears and their intentions in building the altar. The crisis was averted at the last minute by the two sides communicating with one another, coming to a mutual understanding of each other’s intentions, and reuniting in mutual respect for each other.

Today, I’m thinking about the many ways I project onto others what I believe that person desires, thinks, feels and intends without any conversation or inquiry with that person. I confess that conflicts and misunderstandings arise out of my own fears and insecurities. I create false narratives about others that are really reflections of my own weaknesses. And, I suffer from when others do the same with me.

God, grant me the honesty to perceive when I am jumping to conclusions that are born out of my own fear and shame. Grant me the courage to speak with others rather than about them, to address misunderstandings before they become conflicts – both in my relationships with others and with You.

So be it. Yes. Word. Amen.

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Mark 1: “The Dance”

For any interested and for what its worth, this is the first in a series of messages on Mark’s biography of Jesus that I had the privilege of sharing with my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in the auditorium at Third Church a couple of weeks ago.

I’m scheduled next on May 15: “The Power…”

Cheers.

“This Isn’t One of Those Moments”

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them; and having taken possession of it, they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors….
Joshua 21:43-44a (NRSV)

Sometimes, I find the most odd moments of a story to be the most memorable. There’s a great, rather arcane moment in the movie While You Were Sleeping that often comes to my mind. Peter Boyle plays Bill Pullman’s father, the owner of the family furniture business. Pullman’s character drops by the house with donuts early one morning and the father waxes philosophical about how you work hard all your life to reach that moment when life settles into a groove and everyone in the family is okay and everything is going to work out as you planned. Pullman, who has come that morning to disappoint his father and break the news that he doesn’t want the family business, sheepishly tells his father: “Pop, this isn’t one of those moments.”

We are all enamored with the happy ending. We are raised as children with our stories consistently ending “happily ever after.” We pay good money to watch Hollywood neatly tie up our movies with happy endings. Wendy and I just enjoyed playing the “awwww” moment for audiences in Almost, Maine when the couple in love have their magical moment as the snow begins to fall. We heard the audiences gasp and moan with contended delight as I lifted Wendy up and kissed her.

We all love a happy ending, and I found it interesting that today’s chapter contained a classic happy ending text. The tribes of Israel had possessed the land. The land was divided among the tribes. Prophecy fulfilled, enemies thwarted, promises claimed, and they all lived happily ever.

Hang on a sec. “Pop, this isn’t one of those moments.”

Things may have been happy for a moment, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves with the “ever after” part. The story isn’t finished. We’ve reached a memorable waypoint in the journey. This is a momentary conclusion at the end of a chapter in the Great Story. There are more enemies lurking both without, and more insidiously, within.  The curse of Eden has not been addressed, and East of Eden the larger conflict still looms for humanity and must be resolved.

This morning I’m thinking about moments of peace I get to experience along life’s road. I’m remembering waypoints of contentment and the happy endings of particular chapters in this life journey that I’m blessed to have experienced. I’m equally mindful this morning that this is a journey through life, and I do not have the luxury of stopping the story like a DVR recording whenever and wherever I desire. I must press on, and I do not know what lies ahead for me or my loved ones. At the core, this is a faith journey for all of us.

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Meet Kingman & Reed

Confession: I am a terrible reader. There is a stack of “must read” books in my office that never shrinks. It remains a perpetual source of shame. For this reason, it took a while for me to make down the stack to my autographed copy of Officer Involved, the debut novel of Iowa author Bill Zahren. I’m so glad I got to it!

For the record, I love the mystery novel. I will always love Chandler and Hammet’s hard-boiled detectives. In my opinion, Sharon Kay Penman does not get enough credit for her historical Queen’s Man series. My heart, however, especially melts for those authors who can, tongue-in-cheek, make me laugh while compelling me to keep turning the pages. The greatest compliment I can give Bill Zahren is that he has officially joined the hallowed ranks of Gregory McDonald (Fletch) and Laurence Klavan (The Cutting Room) in my list of authors who can spin a great yarn while making me guffaw out loud as I read.

Officer Involved is set in Sioux City, Iowa. You read that correctly. Sioux land in northwest Iowa is not exactly known as a hotbed of mystery and intrigue. That’s part of the enjoyment. Despite the media’s constant, willful ignorance interesting things actually happen in flyover country. While we resent the snubs from both coasts, we also appreciate being left alone. Zahren is one of us. He gets this and uses it to make Officer Involved a novel with a unique setting.

Tom Kingman, deft investigative journalist covering the latest Iowa heat wave, finds himself an unexpected witness to a police shooting. Assistant District Attorney Hillary Reed asks Kingman to sit on some of the facts of the even to protect a much larger story. In return for his silence, Reed promises Kingman an exclusive once the larger story breaks. As suddenly as a midwest thunderstorm, the pair find themselves embroiled in circumstances far deeper and more dangerous than either anticipated. I chuckled and kept turning the pages as Zahren swept me along for the ride.

I had a lot of fun with the story and the budding relationship between Kingman and Reed. I appreciate the humanity Bill writes into both characters and the subtext to which he allows us to be privy. I found them not to be cookie cutter protagonists. In Officer Involved I was introduced to both Tom and Hillary, but finished the book wanting to know more about each of them, and I was itching to find out where Bill is taking us in future installments.

I have HUGE respect for Bill and his courageous leap into publishing. I’m so glad he followed his passion, brushed off the manuscript, repressed his doubts, and worked his butt off to introduce us to Kingman and Reed. If you’re looking for a good yarn for the summer reading list support a local author and enjoy Officer Involved!

Officer Involved is available on Amazon.

You can find Bill Zahren on Facebook and follow him on twitter @BillZahren.

 

Baseball Links Generations Together

ICubs GameWendy and I headed to Principal Park in Des Moines yesterday afternoon to attend our first Iowa Cubs game of the season. It was great to sit in the sun, get sunburn, eat a hot dog, and quaff a few cold ones despite our boys of summer getting trounced by Oklahoma City.

One of the many reasons I enjoy baseball is the history and traditions of the game. Given my love of history and my tendency to be nostalgic to a fault, it makes sense that I would love a game that has roughly been played the same way for almost 200 years. It’s a game that binds generations together.

My first trips to Sec Taylor stadium (now known as Sec Taylor Field at Principal Park) were in the early 1970s. About once a summer my grandpa Spec would drive me to Sec Taylor (with a requisite drive by of the Iowa State Capitol building) for an afternoon game. In those days the home team was known as the Iowa Oaks, the AAA farm team of the Oakland Athletics. Grandpa would get us bleacher seats in the shade of the open grandstand roof, behind home plate. We watched some of the great players of Oakland’s  World Series winning “mustache gang” as they made their way up to the bigs.

Today, when I sit and enjoy the Iowa Cubs in a much nicer park I am reminded of my grandfather. I never fail to have memories of bringing Taylor and Madison to games when they were young. They still humor dad with an occasional trip to the park even though neither of them really cares about the game. I relive memories of bringing our young friends Nathan and Aaron. And, God willing, I dream of the day I get to bring my own grandchildren to a game at the same park, just as Grandpa Spec brought me.

Principal Park

Baseball links generations together.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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