Tag Archives: Strength

Silence and Spiritual Authority

But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 (NIV)

Just last week, on the 15th of April, the Major Leagues celebrated Jackie Robinson day just as it does every year. Every player in Major League Baseball wears Jackie Robinson’s number: 42. It was on April 15th, 1947 that Jackie Robinson  walked out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and broke the color barrier in baseball.

This morning as I woke up in my hotel room I happened to have a documentary about Jackie Robinson playing in the background and reminded me of the familiar story. When Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, brought Jackie to the major leagues he made Jackie promise that for three years he would not respond to the taunts, insults, and attacks that he would face as the first black man to play in the major leagues. Jackie agreed.

The abuse Jackie faced in those years is well documented. The treatment he received in opposing cities was unjust and unfair. Racial slurs and terrible insults by opposing teams and crowds rained down on him non-stop from batting practice until the last out of the game. Pitchers threw at his head intentionally. Runners intentionally spiked him with their cleats, opening up gashes on his legs. But true to his promise, Jackie remained silent. And, he played great baseball.

It seemed like a bit of synchronicity that this morning’s chapter documented Jesus standing before His enemies. They taunted Him. They falsely accused Him. They beat Him and they mocked Him. But true to what had been prophesied, Jesus remained silent. And, He fulfilled His mission.

I’m simply reminded this morning of the power of silence in the face of personal attacks and social adversity. Human nature and our own culture desires – even demands –  justice at an intimate, interpersonal level. If insulted, return the insult. If he talks smack to me, I’m going to dish it right back. If falsely accused, make a spirited defense. On the face of it, Jesus’ encouragement to “turn the other cheek” seems foolishly weak.

But it’s not.

It took incredible courage and spiritual strength for Jackie Robinson to remain silent those three long seasons. His silence was, in fact, an act of spiritual endurance while it took a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Turning the other cheek is not running away, slinking back, or cowering in fear. Turning the other cheek requires standing in, facing your enemy, and defiantly presenting him the opportunity to do it again. It reveals and highlights the injustice. It makes known the truth of the situation.

After three years of sticking to his promise, Jackie was released from his bargain with Branch Rickey. Then it was the wisdom of Solomon that took over. “There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.” Three years of remaining silent before his enemies had earned Jackie Robinson the spiritual authority to be one of the greatest voices for civil rights and social change. Jackie Robinson Day continues that legacy each April 15th.

I find it ironic that Jackie Robinson Day fell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday this year.

Jesus, likewise, followed His own teaching before the kangaroo court that had been hastily and illegally assembled to arrange His execution. He remained silent. He stood in. He faced His accusers. He turned the other cheek each time He was beaten. All that Jesus would endure took its lethal physical toll, but the spiritual power that was unleashed would conquer death itself.

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.

Be Strong and Courageous

“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

Wendy and I drove home from the lake yesterday. It was Sunday morning and we obviously were not going to make it to worship, so we pulled up the audio of last week’s message from our local group of Jesus’ followers. Tim Heerma did a great job with the message and, at one point, he spoke about fears and how they keep us from doing what we’re supposed to be doing. “If you are focused on your fears,” he said (I’m paraphrasing) “you will bury your talent.” Wendy and I both gave an impromptu, “Wow” at that moment. Tim’s point landed with impact on us.

After listening to the entire message, Wendy and I spent a good bit of time talking. Out of our conversation came the recognition that fear and anxiety are two of evil’s most commonly used (and effective) weapons against any who would endeavor to do what God has purposed. Jesus repeatedly said to his followers “do not be afraid.”

Our discussion then meandered down a conversational path in which Wendy shared some of her current anxieties. “I keep asking God for some assurance,” she said regarding one of the things we’ve felt God purpose for us, “but it’s not coming.” The result, I observed, were questions, doubts, fears, and anxiety about long-term consequences.

We then spent some time having a conversation with God and reminiscing all of the amazing ways we’ve been led right to where we find ourselves on life’s road. We looked back and recounted some of the unbelievable experiences of God’s prompting, guidance and provision that dot the path behind us. We recommitted ourselves to trusting God for whatever was necessary to play out the roles and purposes to which we’ve been called.

Ironically, we begin this morning at the start of the story of Joshua. Joshua and the people of Israel find themselves standing at a crossroads before the River Jordan. God is calling them to cross the river and take possession of the land. Like a coach in the locker room before the big game, God gives the newly appointed leader, Joshua, a much-needed pep-talk. What Joshua has been purposed to do is a huge task that will require generous doses of active faith. The enemy’s defensive strategy comes from a well-worn and effective playbook: fear and anxiety.

Four times God says to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” Strength will be required to overcome the onslaught of fear which will be unleashed against him. Courage will be necessary to relinquish the doubts and anxieties that will most assuredly flank the fear.

This morning, I am thinking about Wendy and me standing at our own version of the Jordan River and the purposes to which we, like Joshua, are called. I am recalling all of the fears and anxieties we discussed yesterday. As I read God’s pep-talk to Joshua, I am hearing God whisper: “This is for you, too. It is as much for you as it was for Josh. Be strong and courageous.”

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Proper Position

Proper Position

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NIV)

No one will accuse me of being a fitness geek. Nevertheless, I have picked up a thing or two along the way. When it comes to strength training, I have never forgotten the principle that position and form is critical to getting the maximum benefit from each exercise. If your body is not positioned correctly and you don’t move with proper form you will not only minimize the outcome of your effort but you could even end up injuring yourself.

This morning as I read the encouragement to “stand firm” and “hold fast” I thought about position. If I don’t put myself in a position emotionally and spiritually to stand firm then I can’t expect the maximum benefit as I weather life’s storms. Taking care of myself physically, staying connected spiritually and relationally, maintaining a conversation with God, and investing time and energy in quiet are all components of putting myself in the proper spiritual position to stand firm. It is the spiritual equivalent of standing with feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, back straight.

Today, I’m putting myself in the proper position to stand firm.

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Strength and Peace in the Moment

source: tonythemisfit via Flickr
source: tonythemisfit via Flickr

“Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” Daniel 10:19 (NIV)

This morning as  I read today’s chapter, I was struck by Daniel’s response to the visions given him:

  • “I mourned three weeks”
  • “I ate no choice food; not meat or wine touched my lips”
  • “I used no lotions at all” (He apparently understood moisturizing)
  • “I had no strength left”
  • “My face turned deathly pale”
  • “I was helpless”
  • “…set me trembling on my hands and knees”
  • “I stood up trembling”
  • “I bowed with my face to the ground and was speechless”
  • “I am overcome with anguish”
  • “I feel very weak”
  • “My strength is gone”
  • “I can hardly breathe.”

Daniel’s response to being in the spiritual realm was one of physical exhaustion and he was troubled, not encouraged, by what he saw and experienced. He required strength and encouragement to carry on.

I am reminded this morning that spiritual matters are not always easy matters. Dealing with matters of Spirit is often physically and emotionally draining. The visions and dreams given to people are often unsettling and disturbing. Yet, there is a promise that God will never dish out more than we can handle. Daniel was given strength and peace in the moment he needed it, just enough to get him through.

Today, I am thankful for strength and peace given in the moments we desperately need them.

Strength in Humility

Daniel Sistine ChapelSo I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. Daniel 9:3 (NIV)

Daniel was a spiritual rock star. He was humble, faithful, disciplined, and righteous. Most of the great, ancient heroes of the faith have their obvious flaws, but I don’t see that with Daniel. The dude seems never to have made a wrong move. It is said that whatever fire does not destroy it purifies, and Daniel had more than his fair share of suffering. Perhaps he was refined by the fires of life’s suffering at an early age and the lessons carried him through a lifetime.

As I read Daniel’s prayer of confession this morning, it struck me once again that there is a connection between confession and strength that seems almost counter intuitive. Here we have Daniel, who by all accounts was a righteous man, covering himself in sackcloth and ashes (an ancient practice, the scratchy clothing and ashes were a word picture of a person’s humility and unworthiness before God). It doesn’t diminish him in my mind. It strengthens my perception of him.

What a contrast to the culture we live in. We value arrogance, bravado, and braggadocio (My mind conjures up images of Donald Trump, Kanye West, Richard Sherman, the Kardashians, et al). The powerful and famous hire PR firms, invest in their personal brand, and eagerly hide their flaws. When the skeletons come out of the closet, they fly the banner of “all publicity is good publicity” and ride out the storm until it’s the right time to make a comeback. We love comeback stories.

This morning I’m once again pondering what kind of person I want to be. I have made a tremendous number of big mistakes in my personal journey, and I continue to make my share on a regular basis. Pretending that I haven’t seems like a lot of on-going PR work, and it feels more than a little smarmy. I think I’ll try to stick with Daniel’s example. It is said that confession is good for the soul, and along the way I have found it to be true on many different levels. The more honest I am about my own flawed humanity, the more deeply I’ve come to understand and appreciate God’s mercy and grace.

To Tell the Truth

source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr
source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr

“as long as I have life within me,
    the breath of God in my nostrils,
my lips will not say anything wicked,
    and my tongue will not utter lies.”
Job 27:3-4 (NIV)

I am what is known in general and colloquial psychological terms as a pleaser. It’s always been my nature to desire relational peace with others and to want others to “be pleased” with me. Like all personality bents, being a pleaser has both its strengths and corollary struggles. On the plus side, I tend to be amiable and easy to get along with. I’m not usually given to strong public reaction, rather holding my emotions in check until I can process and thoughtfully respond. I’m generally diplomatic and tend to be sensitive to all sides in a conflict. The downside is that I will sometimes stuff my emotions until they begin eating away at my soul like corrosive acid. I respond to others in the way that will make them happy rather than responding in a way that is true in expressing what I really think, feel, and believe. Throughout my life journey I have been guilty of suppressing and submitting my own thoughts, will, and emotions to the thoughts, will, and emotions of others in order to please and placate. For the record, that that never turns out well¹.

Interestingly enough, I am married to a woman who lies at the opposite end of the personality spectrum. “Holding emotions in check” and “suppressing strong reactions” are not apt descriptors for Wendy, but “emotionally expressive” and “forthright honesty” definitely hit the mark. This, of course, makes for some really interesting conversational choreography when it comes to conflict in our house, but we’ve learned a few steps from one another which has ultimately made us better relational dance partners.

So it is that I really appreciated reading Job’s honesty in today’s chapter. Job reveals the same qualities that I admire and appreciate in Wendy. He will not suppress, submit his thoughts and emotions to please or placate his wife or three friends. He is compelled to be honest and true in expressing his thought and emotion, realizing that it would actually be wicked of him to be dishonest about his anger and frustration with God. It would be a lie to plead guilty to some heinous sin that precipitated his suffering. It would be untrue to say that he’s okay with his lot when he honestly feels that his suffering and circumstances are utterly unjust.

This morning I’m realizing that, if I were in Job’s sandals, I would be tempted just to say to my friends, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks for setting me straight, guys.” I admire Job’s honesty. It challenges me. I appreciate his willingness to tell the truth about what he really thinks and feels, even though it’s not what the others want to hear. That’s a trait that this pleaser has been striving to develop over time.

I think I’ve made progress. I’ve got a good coach! 🙂

 

¹See exhibit A: the divorce decree.