Tag Archives: Need

Damage Control

I will be careful to live a blameless life—
    when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity
    in my own home.
Psalm 101:2 (NLT)

Politics has always been a dirty business. Things have not changed in the nearly 3000 years since King David penned the lyric to this song. As I began to read the lyrics I was initially impressed. David is making several declaratory statements about who he is and what he stands for. Click on the link to the psalm above and count the number of times “I will” appears. At first I was intrigued and impressed at the statements, and then I get to the last line:

My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.

It was then that it struck me. Psalm 101 is a campaign commercial.

It’s morning in Jerusalem.
Hope. Change. Forward.

This psalm is a set of idyllic promises that only the Son of God could meet. Scholars muse that the song may have been written as David took over the tenuous united kingdom of Israel which, in middle-eastern style reminiscent of today’s headlines, had two major factions and several smaller tribal factions threatening his power. They think it might be David’s inaugural address, if you will. Everything is looking up. Everyone is excited. It’s a political honeymoon for the golden boy, the shepherd turned warrior, the national hero turned monarch. David steps into the spotlight and declares that his reign will be the ideal. He will be different than his maniacal predecessor. It fits. I get it.

Perhaps I’m cynical when it comes to politics, but as I read it over in light of the last verse I wondered if the psalm might have served a completely different purpose. Fast forward about twenty years after David’s idyllic inaugural. His life is falling apart. His own home is fractured. He is beset by multiple scandals in his personal life and administration. In almost Shakespearean fashion, David’s own son is leading a bloody coup against him. We are a far cry from the hope and glory of his early days.

It leads me to wonder. Could this psalm have been a way of publicizing his repentance and spinning his way out of the public scandals that threatened his reign. It’s damage control. You can almost hear the political consultants whispering in David’s ear:

“David. Your majesty. I know it looks bad but you’ve got to go back to what made you popular in the first place. Write a song. Get back onto the Billboard charts. People loved your rock star image. You’re not too old. Think Elvis in Vegas. The big comeback. You gotta make the people fall in love with you again.”

Today, I am thinking about my own cynicism. Whether you want to think of this song as an inaugural address or as damage control, it reminds me of the inescapable truth that we are a fallen people. All of us fall short. We want the ideal. We want to believe that the ideal is attainable in our leaders and in ourselves. We fall for the idyllic campaign promises only to be grossly disappointed. Then we start the cycle all over again.

But the truth is that my own life reads like David’s on a smaller, less public scale. I’m no different. I’ve made countless declarations to which I’ve fallen short. We all fail, disappoint, and fall short.

We don’t need a politician. We need a savior.

Times of Rain; Times of Drought

usfws via Flickr
usfws via Flickr

Despair, all you farmers!
    Wail, all you vine growers!
Weep, because the wheat and barley—
    all the crops of the field—are ruined.
Joel 1:11 (NLT)

Yesterday Wendy and I had meetings in Des Moines and found ourselves driving the familiar stretch of highway 163 from Pella. The road winds through some of the most beautiful and fertile farm land I’ve ever seen. My weekly, sometimes daily, trips to Des Moines are an on-going word picture of changing seasons and the state of the fields which feed the world.

It has been wet here in Iowa. On Monday we had 2.5 inches of rain in 24 hours. That came after a wet weekend. As I looked out over the fields of green on the way to Des Moines I was reminded that 20 years ago this summer we experienced a similar rainy summer. The floods of 1993 left the City of Des Moines without fresh water for 10 days. This summer doesn’t come close to that, but it is certainly reminiscent of the same wet weather patterns. We then remembered and talked about the serious drought we experienced just one year ago which now seems such a departure of our present meteorological reality.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Joel calls people to lament and pray about a serious drought and locust plague that threatens the food source and lives of an entire nation. To be sure, the effects of extreme weather in Joel’s day would have far more disastrous implications for the people of that region than what we experience in our land of plenty. Still, I am reminded today of the constancy of nature’s impact on our lives and livelihoods. It’s another case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s a great word picture. In this life journey we all experience the ebb and flow of floods and drought. We all live through seasons of plenty and of loss.

Today I am reminded to keep the faith, and to keep pressing on. You never know what next summer will bring.

Honest Reflections

English: King David engraving from a front pag...
English: King David engraving from a front page of the French protestant psalm book of 1817 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 71

Though you have made me see troubles,  many and bitter,  you will restore  my life again;  from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.  Psalm 71:20 (NIV)

The Christmas season and the subsequent New Year is always a time of reflection. Where have I been this year? What kind of year has it been? Where am I going and what will next year bring? How has our family changed this year? In what ways are we always the same, the repetitive behavioral and relational patterns stuck like a record player in the same old groove?

Both Psalm 70 and Psalm 71 are songs of reflection. Both of them were penned in David’s old age. I like the above lyric. It comes from the wisdom of a long and active life. David was a boyhood hero, a son-in-law of the King, a best friend of the prince, a successful military leader, a King of his own tribe Judah and eventually a King of the nation of Israel. He was a warrior, a conqueror, a lover, a song writer, and a poet. Above all else, God called him “a man after my own heart.” Talk about a great story.

But, that’s not the whole story. David was also an outlaw, a rebel, a wanted man, a deceiver, a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, and a poor and distant father. He spent much of his early adulthood on the run from the law living in caves. His eventual reign as King was marked by political discord and scandal.

Life is what it is. Beneath the most whitewashed public lives you’ll find “troubles, many and bitter.” Despite our culture’s desire to see humanity as inherently good and progressive, God’s Message clearly teaches that humanity is tragically flawed. Despite our best efforts our penchant to look out for our own desires and needs instead of loving others more than ourselves keeps getting in the way with tragic results.

Like David, my reflections of the past are filled with both good times and difficulties, of both successes and bitter failures. Each year’s time of reflection always reaches the same conclusion:

God, have mercy on me. I always fall so short of the person I should be. I need a savior.

Fortunately, these annual reflections and this repetitive conclusion coincide with Christmas.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Just What I Need in the Moment

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 69

Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
and the floods overwhelm me.
Psalm 69:1-2 (NLT)

It’s been a crazy week, and things are about to get even crazier. Wendy and I are in production week with shows this weekend and next. I have two project deadlines for work this week (one is done, one is not) and have two major client deliveries next week. In the midst of it, Wendy and I had to make a road trip south for two days. You can feel the tension in our house from the sheer anxiety of “Oh my goodness I have so much to do and the task list keeps getting longer while the time gets shorter and I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done and could the phone PLEASE stop ringing because I don’t want to answer it and have MORE things piled on top of the mountain of things that need to be accomplished or I think I’m going to go TOTALLY insane (breathe, Tom, breathe….remember to breathe)!!!!!”

One of the things I love about the Psalms is the way you can read one particular lyric from one particular psalm and it can be packed with so much meaning. Sometimes one line, phrase or a particular verse can speak to you right where you are in a given moment on your life journey. Today is a great example. The first two verses of Psalm 69 leapt off the page this morning because it so perfectly expressed what both my head and my heart are feeling in this moment. It was like a tailor made prayer just for me this morning. I read it and my spirit groaned, “Yes, God, yes. That’s what I’m feeling. I feel like I’m drowning.” [Then, the song Flood by Jars of Clay suddenly became a soundtrack for the rest of the psalm]

The psalm also came with a much needed word of encouragement that is my take-away for today:

The humble will see their God at work and be glad.
Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.

 

A Great Man in Need

Andy Bales was my youth pastor when I was in high school. His impact on my life was immeasurable. More than that, he has quietly “walked the talk” better than any living human being I’ve ever known. I pass this along with hope and a prayer for him.

The Best for Andy Bales

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2012 9:25 am

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – It’s hard not to feel a range of emotions for Rev. Andy Bales. There’s fear. There’s awe. There’s tremendous respect and tremendous worry on his behalf.

Most of all, there’s hope that he can overcome the hurdles that are in his path.

Los Angeles Downtown News last week reported on the unenviable challenges confronting Bales. The 53-year-old CEO of the Union Rescue Mission is in need of a kidney transplant, though that’s only part of it. His rare blood type, O negative, means there is a limited pool of donors. Making matters worse, he has a serious heart condition, and until he undergoes heart surgery, he won’t be able to get on the list for a kidney transplant.

The choice might seem easy to an outsider: Get the heart surgery, get on the transplant list, save your life.

For Bales, it’s more complicated. He knows that having the surgery would almost certainly lead to kidney failure, which in turn would require him to go on dialysis. That would force him to cut back heavily on his job of overseeing the mission in the heart of Skid Row. It’s something Bales is reluctant to do.

This is a choice almost none of us can understand in the way that Bales does. We can feel for him and guess what we might do in such a situation, but no one can really fathom having to make the decisions he faces.

Bales didn’t set out to make his health a public issue. The media came to him and he only spoke out because he hopes doing so will bring attention to the work he and others do each day at the mission.

That, by the way, is a tremendous amount of work, and it’s a job that has become more challenging in the past few years, as the slow economy has lessened the amount of financial donations to nearly all nonprofits. The mission at 545 S. San Pedro St. seeks to aid the impoverished community in numerous ways. There are drug and alcohol counseling for hundreds of individuals. There are meals served, an average of 3,000 a day, every day of the year. There are the shelter beds provided, more than 900 a night for men, women and families. There are clothing and medical services dispensed. The list goes on — much of it can be glimpsed at urm.org.

Bales’ condition is serious, but it would be wrong to see this as a death sentence. He continues to show up at the mission each day, to work to better the lives of others. It’s easy to find people who sing his praises.

Right now all we can do is wish for the best for Andy Bales. We hope that in the coming months the community will continue to support him and the mission.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2011

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 20

Many will say they are loyal friends, 
      but who can find one who is truly reliable?
Proverbs 20:6 (NLT)

Who are you gonna call at 2:00 a.m. when the world is crashing down around you and you are at the end of your rope?

That question has been asked at various men’s gatherings I’ve attended over the years. It’s is a worthwhile question every man should answer. As men, we tend to retreat into our man cave, switch on ESPN, fire up the video game, break open a cold one, and zone out. With other guys we talk sports, we talk cars, we talk babes, we play poker, we ride Harley’s, we hunt. But all the man cave manliness can easily distract us from developing relationships and having crucial conversations that get to the important stuff of life.

What does it really mean to be a man? How do I love my wife well? How do I do right by my kids? What do I really do with this whole “God thing?” When you’re not having those conversations with other men, then the shit hits the fan at 2:00 a.m., we need to pick up the phone and cry out for help, but there is nothing but a blank stare and a feeling of panic. I’ve got no one I can call.

Today, I’m thankful that I not only have a guy I can call – I have a list of guys on speed dial. I have a list of guys starting with my family, to my oldest friend, to guys from high school, to guys from college, to guys with whom I’ve walked this journey the past few years. I am so blessed with friends with whom I can live it up in the man cave having a blast being guys, but then I can then pour a cold one, stoke up a stogie, and wade fearlessly into the deep weeds of life.

Those kind of relationships are generally not stumbled upon. They aren’t the pay out of a relational lottery. They are sought after, cultivated, and consciously grown over time. If you live in my area, this is a great place to start the search.

Who are you gonna call?

Chapter-a-Day James 2

Chocolate chip muffins baking in an oven
Image via Wikipedia

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. James 2:10 (NLT)

Years ago when my girls were young, I woke one morning and decided to make some muffins for their breakfast. I pulled down the box of muffin mix and dutifully mixed up the ingredients. By the time the girls were up and ready for breakfast I was pulling the delicious looking chocolate chip muffins from the oven. They took one bite of the warm breakfast treats…and looked like they were going to wretch. Curling up their noses and making faces of disgust, they both reached for their juice as if it was the anti-dote to saving them from an infusion of arsenic.

In the ensuing investigation, I discovered that I had mistaken the container of sea salt on the counter for granular sugar. Sure enough, the muffins tasted like a mouthful of dried sea water.

I followed the entire recipe to the letter. I made a mistake with one small ingredient. That one small mistake, however, tainted the entire batch of muffins. So it is with what God’s Message refers to as sin, and the point from today’s chapter. We can live morally perfect lives in every regard, but if we mess up once it’s like substituting sea salt for sugar in your chocolate chip muffins. One mistake taints the whole person and once you’ve baked the sea salt into the muffins, there’s no way to make them sweet again. There’s no going back. Sprinkling a little sugar on top cannot make the putrid muffin palatable.