Tag Archives: Relationship

“Yes, And”

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had….
Romans 15:5 (NIV)

This past week my friend Matthew and I gave our final message in a four-week series on the topic of overcoming shame (audio can be found here). The series focused heavily on our need to own the darkness of our souls where things hidden and secreted away grow to wield power over us. We urged listeners to find safe and trustworthy places to expose things hidden in darkness to the Light.

There rose an argument among some that 1) Christ should be all we need, therefore 2) we shouldn’t need to take this step of revelation. And, if 1) we are saying that what we need to reveal our shame to another, then 2) we are saying we don’t need Christ.

Let me introduce you to a concept we use in the world of acting called, “Yes, And.” When an actor on stage is trying to figure out what his or her character is thinking we box ourselves in a corner by asking, “Does my character want this or that?” Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, my character wants this and that.” Sometimes things are not “either or” but “yes and.” Our friends on Sunday approached our message saying “its either Christ or confession.” Matthew and I were teaching that “Yes, it’s Christ and confession.”

Why else would God’s Message urge us to:

  • Wash one another’s feet?
  • Confess our sins to each other?
  • Encourage one another?
  • Admonish one another?
  • Build each other up in love?
  • Bear on another’s burdens?

The path to following Jesus includes both the vertical (me and God) and horizontal (me and my fellow believers) axis. It’s not either the vertical or the horizontal. It is, yes, the vertical and the horizontal. That’s why Paul, in today’s chapter, prays for God’s encouragement and endurance. You need both when you are in relationship with others.

In a black and white, either-or world of legalism, the mind loves to categorize information into exclusive compartments. With these exclusive mental compartments we can quickly determine that certain people, thoughts, or ideas don’t fit neatly in our compartments, and conclude therefore that they are wrong and we can dismiss them. But, Jesus has never fit neatly into any one person’s or denomination’s box and He never will.

 

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The Divine Good Luck Charm

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”
Judges 17:13 (NRSV)

Wendy and I are fans of the Minnesota Vikings. I even know the Vikings fight song and will sing it for you upon request. Granted, we have not had much to cheer about for many years. As we wind down the 2015 season, there is at least the prospect of our Vikes going to the playoffs and an outside chance they could win their division. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

A life-long fan of the Vikings, I can remember being a kid and having so much life energy invested in that game on Sunday. A win could send me to the mountain top and a loss could ruin my life for days. Growing up in the 1970’s when the Vikings were a perennial favorite to go to the Super Bowl, there were more mountain tops than ruins – with the exception of the Super Bowl itself. 0-4. Woof.

Back in those blissful, ignorant days of childhood my perception of God was that of a divine good luck charm. Do the right thing and rub God the right way and the Vikings might win on Sunday. If they lost, well then I must have done something to deserve my tragic circumstances. My focus wasn’t on what God wanted of me, but rather what I could coerce out of God.

Looking back, it’s really quite silly. The story of Micah in today’s chapter, however, reminds me that my childhood perceptions of God are actually quite common. It seems to me that Micah was not looking for a relationship with his Creator, but rather a good luck charm that would assure his prosperity.

My spiritual journey has taught me that God is beyond what I can possibly fathom. God knows that our temporal fortunes in this life are of no eternal value compared to the true genuineness of our faith. Reducing God to some kind of divine talisman is demeaning and disrespectful, and I get the sense that this is why God gets so ticked off with idolatry. The narrow road winds to deeper, more meaningful places than wins and losses. It takes us through more painful tragedies and more life-giving victories.

We love our Vikings, and we will be cheering them on in the coming weeks. Who know? Maybe they’ll surprise us [Still not holding my breath]. Even if they lose, we’ll (once again) chalk it up as a spiritual lesson in faith and perseverance.

Skol!

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A Million Choices

“…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God….”
Deuteronomy 28:2 (NRSV)

When I was a young man I made an observation as I hung out with my friends. I watched as my friends made snarky retorts to their parents and the argumentative escalation that inevitably occurred and usually ended with some sort of punishment. I would see the willful choices others would make to do what they knew was wrong, and the trouble that it eventually afforded them. I was not a perfect kid, and I did my share of stupid things, but more often than not I realized that there was a peace in life that came with simply doing the right thing.

As I read the chapter this morning I was struck by the list of blessings that were promised to God’s people if they would obey His commands. While some of these blessings are divine in nature, there are many blessings on that list which are simply the natural consequences of consistently choosing to do what you know is right in life and relationship.

Life is both crazy and stressful. The journey is hard. I can make it more difficult with poor choices in the way I live, act, think, speak, and relate to others. I can also assure myself a certain level of peace by choosing daily to live, act, think, speak, and relate to others in a way that is good and right.

The day lies before me with a million choices to be made of thought, word, and action. How I choose in each moment will make a huge difference in how this day ends, in stress or peace.

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Favoritism

If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (NIV)

This morning’s chapter was one of those chapters that require a bit of effort to embrace. Reading various laws concerning a middle-eastern culture thousands of years old doesn’t seem to have immediate relevance to this 21st century, midwestern, American life. And yet, when I step back and look at the underlying principles of the laws, there are definitely some take aways common to the human experience.

Take the verses I pasted above. A guy has two wives and a son with each of them. He loves one wife but not the other. The law said not to play favorites with the sons based on your feelings about their mothers. On the first reading I’m thinking “I don’t live in a polygamous culture. I can’t relate to that.”

Then I start thinking, not about polygamy but divorce and remarriage. I think about the simple act of favoritism within families. I think about children who’ve watched their divorced and remarried parent shower new step siblings with love and affection while they feel unwanted. I think about grandparents who do things for the grandchildren of one son but not for the grandchildren of the other. I  think about how messy parent and child relationships can get.

Yes. Yes, this is relevant to me.

Today, I’m thankful for two amazing daughters and the different, but no less priceless, relationships I have with each. I have tried very hard over the past two and a half decades to live out the idea that favoritism is not avoided by restricting relationship to the rigid borders of absolute relational equity. Rather, favoritism is avoided by choosing into unbridled, expressed love and support for the unique child of God each daughter is becoming communicated through the unique relationship and relational paradigms I have with each of them.

Humanity in the Toddler Stage

At that time the Lord said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.”
Deuteronomy 10:1-2 (NRSV)

For many years now I’ve been mulling over a concept that the story of God’s relationship with humanity is the story of a parent (God) and child (humanity). When humanity began in Genesis and the early chapters of the story, it reminds me of infancy. There was something innocent and naive; there was very little knowledge or understanding of God. Humanity was undeveloped. Life was messy and base.

With the story of Moses and the giving of the law in the book of Deuteronomy, it feels to me that we’re in the toddler stages of the relationship. God has to do a lot for them. Rules are simple and direct and put in black and white terms. Good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is swiftly punished. Humanity, meanwhile, is strong willed, stubborn, willful, and…well…childish.

I was reminded of this concept again in today’s chapter. Moses, in his unchecked emotional tantrum, threw the stone tablets God made for him on which the ten commandments were inscribed and smashed them in pieces. God’s response? Like a true parent God tells Moses, “Now you’ve done it. You smashed the tablets I made you. Well, you’re going to have to replace them, young man. I’m not making you another set. You’re going to have to learn to take care of the things I give you. Now, make yourself tablets to replace the ones I gave you and I’ll inscribe them for you.” The replicas would be a word picture, a constant reminder to Moses (and the rest of the family) of his tantrum and its consequences.

In our weekly gatherings of Jesus followers we’re doing a series of messages on how we tend to confuse our relationship with our earthly father and our relationship with our heavenly Father. The former quite regularly distorts the latter. I tend to believe that this is part of the DNA of creation and it requires generous doses of wisdom, discernment and grace to untangle the two. At the same time, it also helps me see events like those in today’s chapter with greater clarity.

Hangin’ with the Homeys

“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’”
Ezra 9:10-12 (NIV)

I grew up in a great neighborhood on the northwest side of Des Moines. The neighborhood was packed full of young families, not only on our block but on the surrounding streets. There were a lot of kids running around the area, but you tended to hang with your homeys on the street you lived. You’d stick close to the kids on your own block. They were the nearest to you, you knew them well, and more importantly your parents knew their parents.

On occasion, kids from another street would migrate over to play and hang out. I can remember the rare occasion when my mom would tell me that certain kids were “bad news” and she didn’t want me hanging out with them. In fact, I was to steer clear of that kid altogether. Looking back, I know exactly why mom gave me the order and it was a wise thing to do. Some of those kids were, in fact, bad news.

In the melting pot of modern America, reading a chapter like today’s regarding the strict commands the Hebrews had not to intermarry with neighboring peoples can feel strange and prejudiced. “Pureblood” wasn’t an idea J.K. Rowling dreamed up for the Harry Potter series. The truth of the matter is that history is full of examples of peoples and socio-economic groups desperately trying to remain homogeneous; Sometimes rabidly so.

Ancient Egyptian royalty, who believed themselves divine, would sometimes only marry their own immediate family members to keep the bloodline pure. European royalty, who would only marry their children to other royals, became so intertwined that to this day the royal families of Europe are all related to one another. Living in a small Iowa town settled by a handful of Dutch families, I experience the same thing at any community social event as people constantly play a game we call “Dutch Bingo” discovering how community members are related to one another (and, they usually are).

I found it interesting, however, that as I read today’s chapter Ezra pointed to the motivation God had for telling them not to intermarry. Just like my mother back in the ‘hood, Father God knew that some of these other tribes were bad news. In many cases, the area religions were glorified excuses for sexual indulgence and got into some really nasty stuff including child sacrifice. The command not to intermarry was not some elitist attempt to keep bloodlines pure but about cultural and spiritual self-protection.

This morning I am once again reminded that reading ancient sections of the Great Story is often difficult in light of the immense changes of culture and civilization over time. As an adult, my parents would never tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, but as a child they knew that hanging with the homeys from our block was a wise thing and that I needed help in discerning that some kids were bad news. So it is that I believe God’s relationship with humanity changes as civilization matures and as the relationship itself has changed between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus.

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Captivated

source: Novica
source: Novica

…and through [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:20 (NRSV)

In marriage I have come to a greater appreciation of the relational dance of give and take, of pursing and being pursued. Traditional roles say that when it comes to courtship and sex, men are the pursuers and women the captivated. I have found it generally true as are most generalities, but it’s too simplistic a construct for the intimacy of so mysterious and complex of relationship. I often find myself to be the pursuer, but it’s certainly fun when Wendy pursues me.

I find it fascinating that God so often uses the metaphor of marriage to describe His relationship with us. As a young man I struggled a lot with the notion of Jesus’ followers being described as “the bride of Christ.” To be honest, it was discomforting to my male ego. After years of navigating marriage, however, I realize how apt a metaphor it is. I begin to understand that it’s far more intimate and mysterious than the simplistic generalities of gender.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is described as the reconciler. He reconciled us to him. He pursued. He initiated. He came to us. He sacrificed Himself for us. He gave. He drew us in.

When Jesus found me, I was seeking, but looking back there is no doubt in my mind or spirit that it was Jesus who found me in my seeking and drew me in. He pursued me. He reconciled me to Himself.

I was, and am continually, captivated.