Tag Archives: Foolishness

The Mystery of Real Strength

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

I have a tat on my left bicep. It is a reference to King David’s song of repentance, written after he’d been caught committing adultery, conspiracy, and murder (along with a host of other mistakes). The reference is on my the left arm because throughout the ages the left has metaphorically been used in reference to foolishness, oddity, and wrong doing (Wendy and I are both left-handed, btw). It has an illuminated “P” inspired by the Book of Kells in honor of the monks of Ireland who kept God’s Word alive on the edges of the known world while the institutional church and ecclesiastical powers in Rome and France led the western world into the dark ages. It is on my bicep to remind me of exactly what the ancient prophet Isaiah called out in today’s chapter:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength

For a good, long time on my life journey I followed the path I find most of the world follows. I hid my shortcomings beneath a well crafted public veneer of purity and self-righteousness. Like a successful political candidate I obfuscated, excused, ignored, and covered up. I refused to acknowledge my selfish motives, wanton appetites, and foolish choices. Like David, I woke up one day to find myself at a place on life’s road I swore I would never be. I had wandered so far.

My experience taught me hard and painful lessons in humility. Trouble is a powerful tutor, and I quietly began to understand what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

The mystery of the spiritual paradox began to lay hold of me. In repentance is strength. Spiritual power is birthed through grace amidst the shattered pieces of my life and the tragic evidence of my own frail humanity. I struck out in a new direction, understanding that repentance, not self-righteousness, was the way of strength.

I put a tat on my left bicep to remind me, every day for the rest of my journey, what I have learned, and what I am continually learning.

Last night on the way home from rehearsal I was scanning through the music on my iPhone and stumbled upon an unlikely song I didn’t really know I had. It’s essentially a negro spiritual sung by the old Irish rocker Tom Jones. Talk about a paradox. I listened to it multiple times on the way home. Seems now like a bit of synchronicity in light of my thoughts this morning. I may find myself in a place of trouble, but God uses that trouble “for to make me human, to make me whole.”

Here are the words:

When I close my eyes, so I would not see,
My Lord did trouble me.
When I let things stand that should not be,
My Lord did trouble me. 

Did trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With a ring of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

When I slept too long and I slept too deep,
Put a worrisome vision into my sleep.
When I held myself away and apart,
And the tears of my brother didn’t move my heart. 

Did trouble me,
With a word and a sign,
With a ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

And of this I’m sure, of this I know:
My Lord will trouble me.
Whatever I do, wherever I go,
My Lord will trouble me. 

In the whisper of the wind, in the rhythm of a song
My Lord will trouble me.
To keep me on the path where I belong,
My Lord will trouble me. 

Will trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With the ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Will trouble me,
Will stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

To make me human, to make me whole.

Healthy Shame

I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children.
1 Corinthians 4:9-13 (NIV)

A friend told me the other day of his teenager who had been faced with the truth of their self-centered, uncaring attitude. When the reality of the teen’s selfishness set in, the teen was crushed in spirit and retreated to their bedroom to sulk. The father chose not to rescue the teen from their emotions in that moment, but to allow the realization and resulting feelings of shame to set in.

I have done a lot of study on the topic of shame and have even given messages and workshops on the subject. Unhealthy shame can certainly be toxic to life in an abundant ways. Shame, however, can and does serve healthy purposes as well.

When I was a young teenager I was gently shamed by a teacher when she publicly pointed out in front of my peers that I acted selfishly towards the group. It was not unhealthy shame which says, “You are an awful and completely worthless individual. There is no hope for you.” It was, rather, healthy shame which says, “Your actions are self-centered and hurtful. You can, and should, be better than this. Something in you needs to change.” That moment of healthy shame in the Home Ec room of Meredith Junior High School, and the awful feelings it created in my soul for a long time, was one of the most important moments in leading me to the realization of my deep need to change, and my utter need of a Savior.

My friend chose to let his teen sit in their room stewing in healthy shame, even though it was hard to see his child struggle. There’s a piece of a parent’s heart that always wants to rescue our child from pain, but it is absolutely critical that a parent have the wisdom to know that some pain and suffering is essential to growing up and maturing spiritually, emotionally, and in relationships.

I am concerned as I see a generation of children growing up with parents and a culture intent on shielding them from any and all discomfort or suffering. We seem to be under the delusion that any pain is bad for us: Cheer up. Take a pill. Entertain yourself. Throw a party. Whatever you do, don’t feel bad.

God’s Message says the opposite of that. We should rejoice when we suffer discomforts in this life because of the truth that our suffering produces perseverance, character, hope. I think it’s important to point out that the opposite is equally true. If we avoid suffering it produces in us laziness, foolishness, and hopelessness.

Today, I’m thankful for suffering healthy shame which taught me humility and my need of God. I’m hopeful that I have been wise in knowing when to shield my children from pain and when to let them feel their discomfort. I am prayerful that their continued struggles and sufferings in their young adults years are producing measurable depth of character, perseverance, and hope.

Samson’s Ends and Means

Samson said to them, “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.”
Judges 15:3 (NRSV)

So… I get that Samson was an ancient John Rambo with his long hair and lethal jawbone. But, I couldn’t help noticing this morning the pattern of events that lead to his most famous homicidal slaughter…

  • Samson chooses to betroth a Philistine girl, then threatens to impoverish and humiliate his fiance’s with a silly riddle which causes…
  • The Philistines to threaten the fiance with bodily harm if she doesn’t worm the answer out of Samson which causes…
  • Samson to go on a homicidal rampage, killing his bride’s own people and rejecting her which causes…
  • Samson’s father to give his betrothed to the best man as a wife, which causes…
  • Samson to take his anger out on the Philistines (not his father, or best man) by torching their fields which would take food away from their families and ruin their livelihood, which causes…
  • The Philistines to burn Samson’s betrothed and her father alive, which causes…
  • Samson to swear revenge on the Philistines for burning the bride that he rejected and left standing at the altar, which causes…
  • The Philistines to muster an army and march on Judah, which causes…
  • The men of Judah to hand him over to the Philistines, which causes…
  • Samson to go off on an even bigger homicidal rage with a jawbone.

We often hold Samson up to our children as a hero for his strength and violent victory. The story is actually a bit more messy than that. In fact, I find it quite tragic. The truth is that Samson started and exacerbated the chain of events that led to unnecessary human carnage, and the ends do not justify the means.

This morning I am reminded that God uses people despite their foolishness, but I don’t believe that this excuses the foolishness of those who God uses.

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Things I Don’t Control and Things I Do

Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior.
Judges 11:1a (NRSV)

Jephthah, son of prostitute. How long had that moniker followed him? His glories in battle, his deliverance of his people, and his leadership could not wipe the reference away. Dale Carnegie taught us, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and for thousands of years, the first impression we have of Jephthah is that he was born to a prostitute.

The fact that he was progeny of an anonymous woman of the evening was not under Jephthah’s control. He had no say in the matter. Still, this heritage marked him for life. It led to being driven away by his half brothers. I can only speculate (having known those of similar fate) that he had a chip on his shoulder throughout his life.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the first consequences of their sin was shame. They realized they were naked. They felt their exposed bodies were bad and something they had to cover despite the fact that God said that the way He created their bodies was good and the Garden had been a nudist paradise to that  point. Once sin entered the picture, humanity has forever been locked in a struggle with our shame, and we see that struggle in the story of Jephthah.

What I find interesting about Jephthah is that his story is bookended by contrasting examples of sin and shame. At the beginning of the chapter it was the sin of the father (sleeping with a prostitute) that led to shame being visited upon his son for the rest of his days. At the end of the chapter, it was Jephthah’s own foolish actions that led to the despicable human sacrifice of his daughter and solidified his story as a tragedy for the ages.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that I have things that I don’t control (the family into which I’m born) and things that I do control (my own thoughts, words, actions, and relationships). Shame, that core pain in the depths of my heart that perpetually whispers to my soul that there is something terribly wrong with me, originates from both sources. It runs in the blood of my forebears and it is confirmed in my own foolish choices.

As I write this, less than two weeks from Christmas, I’m reminded that it was Jesus’ mission to address my shame. The progeny of God, born in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, came that He might take on all of my sin and shame when He died in my place on the cross, so that I might be unshackled from my shame and find redemption.

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And, the wisdom to know the difference.

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featured image by Gwen Meharg

Acceptable Choices are Not Always Wise Choices

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community.
Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (NRSV)

St. Paul wrote, “all things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial.

In today’s chapter, Moses predicts that the Hebrews would one day wish to appoint a king over them as all of the other peoples around them had done. He makes it clear that having a king was not a wrong thing, but goes on to lay down some crucial boundaries for that person. He would have to be subject to God’s law like everyone else. He would need to constantly be reminded of God’s law so he didn’t forget it. He would need to be humble and not be considered better than the lowliest of his subjects.

A few books and a few centuries later, the people would do exactly as Moses predicted as chronicled in the book of 1 Samuel. The people demanded a king and Samuel capitulates but reminds the people that while it was permissible for them to do so, it wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice. And, it would come back to haunt them.

I’m reminded this morning that there are many times in life when we may make perfectly permissible choices for ourselves that will come back to haunt us. We can make decisions that are not wrong, but are not necessarily wise either. We may end up regretting those decisions and living through the painful consequences they bring into our lives.

As I continue to progress in my life journey, I pray that I can be increasingly wise to make the choices and decisions that are good and beneficial for me and my loved ones in the long run rather than those that are permissible and simply feel desirable in the moment.

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Wisdom, Age and Suffering

source: mythoto via Flickr
source: mythoto via Flickr

Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Does not long life bring understanding?
Job 12:12 (NIV)

Wisdom is, indeed, found among the aged.
Still, I’ve known many an old fool.

Long life does not necessarily bring understanding, Job.
But, it seems to me that suffering does. If it doesn’t break you.

I just can’t always perceive the increase of understanding when I’m still in the midst of the pain.

Press on.

Wisdom is Knowing When to Remain Silent

A reporter raises his hand to ask a question a...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is more hope for a fool
    than for someone who speaks without thinking.
Proverbs 29:2o (NLT)

I remember watching a press conference on television many years ago. The press were gathered around the podium of the official in a huddled mass. Cameras were clicking and whirring. There was a din of activity in the room as they pushed in around the speaker. Bright lights blazed in his eyes and a gaggle of people pressed in on the man from behind as well as in front.

A reporter fired a question at him. There was silence as the speaker stood and looked down at the podium. Seconds passed. Murmurs rose among the press. Cameras clicked as the speaker said nothing, but continued to look down with furrowed brow. You could feel the sense of curiosity in the room. It became almost a panic. What was wrong? What was happening? Why wasn’t he saying anything? The reporter fired another question at the official who immediately held up his hand and interrupted the reporter.

“Give me just a moment, please. I’m thinking about your question and I want to respond to it appropriately, but I find it better to think about what I’m going to say before I open my mouth.”

I’ve never seen anyone in a press conference say or do anything like that before. It stuck in my memory and I’ve never forgotten it. Here was a wise man who was not going to be bullied by the pressure of the moment and a chaotic press corp rifling questions at him. He understood Solomon’s words.

A mentor of mine used to consistently pray this prayer: “Lord, help me to know when to speak, and when to be silent.” I find myself repeating it often in my own whispered plea. When caught off guard it is foolish to speak without thinking. Better to say nothing than to say something foolish that will haunt you ever after.