Tag Archives: Mistakes

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.

Life is Messy

Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.
Judges 8:27 (NRSV)

Life is messy. We generally like things to be black and white and believe that things would be so much easier if they were. We like our movies to provide us with simple delineations between the people who wear white hats and those who wear black hats. We like the ending of our movies to wrap up neatly. The bad guy is dead. The good guy rides off into the sunset.

But life is rarely that way. We would like a simple choice for President. We want the person who is fully qualified, looks the part, has no moral flaws, is void of skeletons in the closet, inspires us, communicates clearly, and unites a diverse citizenship. That person, however, does not exist.

Even the great heroes of the faith, whom God raised up as leaders in ancient days, were sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. They were flawed the same as me and you. God raised up Gideon to defeat the Midianites, but in today’s chapter we find that Gideon was far from perfect. He defeated an idolatrous oppressor only to create a golden ephod (generally, a garment woven with gold) that became an idol itself. Gideon, for all of his leadership qualities, had his flaws. With his power and prestige he amassed for himself many wives and concubines. With 70 sons on record, the total number of his children had to be well over a hundred. Talk about messy.

Today, I am reminded that on this life journey East of Eden we rarely get the storylines of our lives to work out how we like them in our movies. Despite our perceptions, people rarely fit into simple black hats or white hats. Most all of us wear shades of gray. We all make mistakes along the way; Some of them tragic. We have messy lives, messy relationships, and mortal flaws. Riding off into the sunset is often just the view we choose to see through our rose colored glasses.

I do not believe, however, that this is cause for pessimism or cynicism. Rather, it is an opportunity for grace, forgiveness, and understanding. Just as Jesus taught, if I can be honest about the log in my own eye, I can learn to have grace for the speck in the eye of my brother, my sister, my friend, and my neighbor.

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featured photo by senorhans via Flickr

Even the Wise Stumble

stumble danceSome of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
Daniel 11:35 (NIV)

Our culture does not like stumblers. We like our heroes to be perfect. I have noticed over the years that if we as a culture like a particular hero well enough we will even turn deaf ear and blind eye to his or her stumbling. Most of the time, however, we prefer to socially crucify people for stumbling, especially if their stumbling disappoints us or brings the arrogant down a notch or two.

I found it interesting what the Man in Daniel’s vision slipped in during the lengthy explanation of what was to happen politically in the centuries following Daniel’s life. “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” In other words, even the wise may stumble, and there is ultimate purpose in their mistakes as the consequences of their mistakes refines them. People learn from their mistakes.

Having had my fair share of stumbling in this life, I can attest to both the pain and the purpose of the refinement process. The further I get in this journey the more grace I find that I have with the stumbling of others. I find myself more often choosing not to focus on the disappointment of a person’s mistake in the moment, but to consider what good purpose God’s refinement process might ultimately serve in making him or her a more healthy and whole person.

A Good Person is not a Perfect Person

source: bjornstar via Flickr
source: bjornstar via Flickr

“If I have walked with falsehood
    or my foot has hurried after deceit—
let God weigh me in honest scales
    and he will know that I am blameless—”
Job 31:5-6 (NIV)

Wendy, Suzanna and I stood in the kitchen this past Sunday night and had one of those really important conversations about life. It wasn’t chit-chat. It wasn’t casual. We wandered into some deep weeds and talked about why it is we all do things we know we shouldn’t, and why it is we choose out of doing things we know we should. We talked about the process each one of us must go through of figuring these things out so that we can successfully move forward in our life journey.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday we were blessed by a visit from Madison, who came home from Colorado to see the family for Christmas (she’ll be on-call at work next week). Sitting around the dining room table late into Tuesday evening and again in the afternoon on Wednesday, Wendy and I waded once more into deep weeds with our daughter. We had honest conversation about old scars, misperceptions, and miscommunication. We acknowledged the ways we have hurt one another over the years, whom we love deeply.

So, here’s the problem I have with Job. I get that he feels his suffering is unjust. I understand feeling that the scales of justice are out of whack when you do your darnedest to be an alright guy and life takes a dump on you. I’m a good, midwestern protestant boy of hardworking Dutch heritage. I’ve tried hard to serve God and walk the straight and narrow since the days of my youth. Reading today’s chapter, however, leaves me scratching my head at Job’s claims of piety:

  • I haven’t looked lustfully at a woman 
  • I haven’t walked with falsehood
  • I haven’t been enticed by a woman or committed adultery
  • I haven’t been unjust to my servants
  • I haven’t denied the poor or refused to share with the needy
  • I haven’t been greedy
  • I haven’t rejoiced at my enemies misfortune
  • I have no hidden sins

I get that Job is a good guy, but no one is that good. When I go down this list I realize that I (or my wife, daughters, family, friends, neighbors, employees, and etc.) could provide you with specific examples of  ways of committed each of these wrongdoings somewhere along my journey. I’m not proud of this fact. Maybe I’m just a rotten person, but that’s the point. No matter how good we try to be, we all have tragic flaws. We all make mistakes. Each one of us repeatedly finds ourselves choosing to do the things we don’t want to do and refusing to do the things we know we should. Each one of us causes hurt to the ones we love the most.

The ultimate theme of the epic poem of Job are the questions which arise when good people who lead good lives experience tragic and inexplicable suffering. I get from a literary perspective that Job’s lofty claims of righteousness serve to heighten his climactic argument in this cosmic debate just before God breaks His silence. Still, I read the claims and think to myself, “I think you left something off the list, Job: Humility.”

And, I think that’s exactly where God will enter the debate.

Chaper-a-Day Mark 6

Saved By GraceThen they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph,  Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. Mark 6:3 (NLT)

This past weekend, my friend Matthew and I led a weekend workshop for men about shame. We shared the truth that we are all products of broken families, broken cultures, and we ourselves are broken people. Our past is riddled with painful memories, scathing and destructive messages, moral failures, and embarrassing moments that easily mix themselves into a cocktail of shame. Instead of accepting the truth that we have made mistakes and being motivated to let God change us, we become paralyzed with the notion that we are mistakes who can never change.

Our faith journey is about moving forward and pressing on. Along the way we progress and experience God’s transforming work in our lives. Old things pass away and new things come. Yet, there will always be those who are determined to remind us of who we were while casting a blind eye to who we have become. Some will refuse to accept the change in us. Others will go so far as to continually remind us of our past.

During a question and answer time this weekend, Matthew and I were asked how each of us handled our own public failures, the lies, slander and misjudgement which accompanied them. For me, there were two key ingredients that kept me pushing forward. First, my relationship with God was strong and remained unphased by all the chaos. God and I both knew what was true. Second, I had a few precious friends who had my back.

I thought about that as I read of Jesus’ own experience with public doubt and scandal. His old neighbors could not make the mental leap from the preconceived notions they had about Him and the reality of who He was. But Jesus was in a tight relationship with His heavenly Father and knew the truth of who He was and what He was called to do. And, He had a few close followers who knew Him and believed in Him.

Today, I’m thankful for the person God has allowed me to become – especially as I acknowledge and learn from the person I have been.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 31

They found grace out in the desert….” Jeremiah 31:2 (MSG)

The desert is where you find yourself in the midst of wandering. You don’t seek out the desert. It’s not on the list of places you want to be.

“I think I’ll pack a lunch and head out to the desert.” Right.

The deserted wasteland is where you wake up bloodied and bruised with the pounding head of a terrible hangover and rack your brain to remember just what happened the night before. You take a shortcut and suddenly find yourself lost and long delayed there. You seek the fabled fortunes that you heard lay just beyond. Not only do you not find the fortunes, you also can’t find your way out of the wasteland.

I wonder if we all find ourselves in deserts of our own choosing at some point in life. I wonder if it isn’t necessary to the journey. Perhaps it’s just me. I can recall multiple deserts along my own particular trek (I admit it: I’m a slow learner). Maybe that’s why I love the way Jeremiah put it in today’s chapter: The desert is where you find grace. It’s where you find God looking for you, willing to lead you out and lead you forward.

“…I once was lost, but now am found…”

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and liao

Chapter-a-Day Luke 4

shoe_laces
Image by Pcora via Flickr

That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw [Jesus] out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way. Luke 4:28-30 (MSG)

Truth does not win popularity contests. Doing what’s right can as easily get me banished as earn me any sort of reward. In fact, I’m reminded that doing anything at all can place a target on my back. Some days, no matter what I do, someone is mad at me and (rightfully) mocking my failings and shortcomings.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I can stop and keep my head down, or I can keep moving forward. Time to lace up my walking shoes.

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