Tag Archives: Word

One Word for 2017

A few years ago our local gathering of Jesus followers went through a series of messages entitled “One Word.” One of the exercises we were challenged to undertake was to pray about one word that would be our personal word for the given year – a theme of sorts.

To be honest, I haven’t expended much thought or effort into the process. I have just tried to keep my spirit open and listen. I’ve had a sort of “you’ll know it when you hear it” kind of attitude.

Two years ago my word was fulfill, or as I liked to write it full-fill. Going into the year I had all sorts of ideas about what that meant. That year saw the fulfillment of a decade of leadership in our local community theatre. We were fulfilled to watch our daughters finishing their graduate and undergraduate degrees, respectively. We fulfilled our time of Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, living with us. We fulfilled a calling to build a house. At the end of the year was the unexpected fulfillment of a legacy as the founder of our company, and my life-long mentor, passed away.

Last year my word was focus. Once again I think my early expectations of what that might mean in coming year was not at all what it ended up being. It is easy for me to feel like it was an epic fail when I think about ways that I wanted to focus my time, energy and life. Instead, it seemed to be more about how life required me to focus my time and energy, at times in less than fun ways.

This year my word is empty which, honestly, does not strike me as particularly inspiring or Pinterest-worthy. More than once I’ve asked in my spirit, “Really?!” I always feel the confirmation.

The past two years I’ve entered the year with my word inspiring all sorts of grandiose notions of what it could mean, only to find in the end that reality was more grind than grand. This year my word has my spirit whispering, “Oh, shit.”

Words in My Heart

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Deuteronomy 6:5-6 (NRSV)

I’m posting a little late today because, I’ll be honest with you, it’s been a really rough couple of weeks. I don’t want to whine and I’m not complaining. It just is what it is. There has been unexpected trials in business. There has been unforeseen relational conflict with friends that hit like a blind-side tackle. Then last night we discovered our basement flooded. Somehow the electrical plug to our sump pump got pulled a tiny bit out of the outlet. The heavy rains of last week and the watering of our newly seeded lawn backed up into our storage room and family room. I’ve spent much of the past 24 hours in Noah mode.

As I was working the wet-vac into the wee hours last night, I found myself thinking about Job, for whom things were much worse than a wet basement, and yet he said, “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I had other verses come to mind like those from James when he wrote “Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Or, the prophet Isaiah who said, “Don’t fear for I am with you. Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God. Surely I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you.” Or the prophet Jeremiah who while looking over the desolation of his home town said, “This I recall to mind. Therefore I have hope. God’s love never ceases. His compassion does not fail. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.”

These various words are not just in my head. They are in my heart. And, as I read Moses command this afternoon to keep God’s Message in our heart, it struck me that the difference between having these words in your head and having them in your heart is all the difference in the world. When they are in your head they affect your thinking. When they are in your heart they affect your life.

Last night was a long evening of sorting through our ruined belongings. Many of them were irreplaceable and with priceless sentimental value. We had a very short night’s rest and woke sore and worn but got right back to the clean up. Mid-morning, Wendy and I took a breather. We found ourselves laughing. We hugged, and between the two of us we found a few silver linings for which to be grateful. Among the things for which we are grateful are God, His promises, and His mercies that are new each morning – even when that morning calls you back to the clean up.

Calm Assurance in Stormy Seas

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee

Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.  Acts 27:33-36 (NRSV)

I grew up on the water, and as a boy I wanted nothing more than to be a sailor. There was a period of my childhood, around the age of nine, that I wore a sailor hat all of the time. My mother still jokes about finding me asleep in bed with my sailor hat on and jumping into the pool forgetting it was still on my head.

Our summer vacation every year was two weeks on Rainy Lake which lies on the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. It’s a large lake and our daily fishing excursion normally entailed a long trip in our rented john boat across a vast expanse of open water. When storms came up, the white caps could swell to decent heights. It could definitely make the trip back to camp in our small boat a rather frightening affair for a small kid.

I can remember as a young boy paying attention to my dad during those seemingly endless trips in stormy waters. If dad was calm as the boat rocked and rolled, if I looked back at dad and received a “Isn’t this fun?” smile, then I knew everything was going to be okay.

I thought about those moments this morning as I read the chapter and imagined being on board the ship with Paul and Dr. Luke as their small ship was mercilessly pounded by a raging storm for two entire weeks. The fear and mental weariness among passengers and crew had to have been immeasurable. And then Paul speaks with faith and assurance. He smiles, and encourages them. “Take some food. Be strong. Don’t be afraid. Everything is going to be okay. We’re all going to make it through this.”

This morning I’m thankful for parents who comforted me as a child in stormy times. I’m thankful for teachers, counselors, mentors and friends who walked with me through various difficult stretches of life’s journey and gave me the encouragement I needed to weather the storm. I’m praying today that I might return the favor to those in my sphere of influence who face their own frightening storm clouds and the gusty winds of life change.

Bildad’s Blunder

bildad“How long will you say such things?
Your words are a blustering wind.
Does God pervert justice?
Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
When your children sinned against him,
he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.”
Job 8:2-4 (NIV)

Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, and Bildad doesn’t mince words. In fact, Bildad has all the tact of an atomic bomb. He opens his argument with an insult (“Job, you’re a blowhard”), and quickly follows with a sharp accusation of Job’s children (“They had it coming”). By the time Bildad got to all of his talk about hope and restoration I’m afraid he’d already alienated his audience.

Wise King Solomon observed that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. I’m afraid Bildad’s harsh opening only assured an angry response from Job.

Today I’m thinking about a handful of recent situations in which harsh words were spoken. I cannot control what others say or think, but I can certainly control my reaction and response. Along the journey I’ve come to realize that conflict is like a math equation: Two negatives result in a negative. I’m not always the best at responding appropriately, but disciplining myself to keep anger in check and respond in a gentle, controlled manner leaves the door open for meaningful dialogue and hopefully, a positive resolution will eventually follow.

Dealing with “God Told Me to Tell You” Statements

source: n3k via Flickr
source: n3k via Flickr

The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’”

The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. 1 Kings 13:16-19 (NIV)

Along my journey I have been, from time to time, approached by individuals who proclaim to have some kind of “God told me” word or statement that pertains to me. I am not discounting the possibility that God could speak to me through another person, but I have learned over time to approach these situations with Jesus’ words in mind: “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves.”

The man of God in today’s chapter had been given a clear directive by God. Along comes another prophet whose “God told me” statement contradicted the clear word he’d been given. His blind faith in the stranger had disastrous results. I don’t want to make a similar mistake, so when someone claims to have a word from God that affects me, there are a few simple guidelines I’ve learned to follow:

  • Consider the source. If approached by a stranger or a casual acquaintance whom I don’t know, I am going to be appropriately more cautious. If it comes from Wendy, one of the guys in my inner circle, or a fellow believer who knows me and whom I know and respect, then I’m immediately going to give it greater weight in my consideration.
  • Beware of contradictions. There are some things that I’ve learned about myself and believe wholeheartedly based on my own experiences and faith journey. I am supposed to be in Pella. I believe that God has a purpose for both me and Wendy here. If someone approached me today and said, “God told me that you are supposed to move to Timbuktu,” then I would be immediately, shrewdly suspect. This contradicts all of the sign posts and waypoints on my journey.
  • Seek wisdom. I have a strong circle of family and friends who are wise, who know me well, and whom I have given carte blanche permission to speak into my life. Before giving a stranger’s “God told me” statement any credence, I would run it by these people whom I trust. If I share the word given to me and their B.S. Meters start sounding an alarm, then I feel totally secure dismissing it.
  • Don’t worry. God will accomplish His purposes in me (consider Jonah). I am open and actively listening. I am continually asking, seeking, and knocking. If I’m supposed to move to Timbuktu then that’s where I’m going to end up. Just because a stranger tells me such doesn’t mean I need to obsess about it. Chill. Have faith. Follow. Press on.

Oh, Mercy

Forbearance
Forbearance (Photo credit: LendingMemo)

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us….
Psalm 123:3a (NIV)

Mercy (mur-see) n. 1. compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence. 2. the discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, especially to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty. 3. something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing.

Sometimes we lose sight of what words really mean. Throughout God’s Message I read cries for mercy and calls for mercy. I regularly plead for God’s mercy. But, do I ever really stop to consider what that really means? I read the three definitions pasted above and find in each of them a slightly different but wholly apt nuance of the word.

I need God’s compassionate and kindly forbearance because despite my best efforts I keep testing God’s patience with my repeated offenses, my moral faults and my personal shortcomings.

I need God’s discretionary power to pardon and mitigate just punishment for my condemnable thoughts, words, acts and omissions.

I desire daily evidence of divine favor and blessing.

At the same instance, I am reminded this morning of Jesus’ words, “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

I need to show compassion and kindly forbearance towards those who have offended me.

I need to pardon those who have perpetrated hurtful thoughts, words, and actions towards me.

I need to give tangible favor and blessing to others who do not deserve it.

This morning I prepare for the day mindful of the truth that it is totally improper of me to pray for God’s mercy if I am unwilling to show mercy to others.

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Chapter-a-Day John 13

 

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is sh...
Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.
John 13:36-38 (NLT) 


It is Holy Week as I write this, the day before Maundy (Sorrowful) Thursday. How appropriate for our chapter-a-day journey to bring us to the events of that night as all who follow after Jesus remember them in our annual pilgrimage through the calendar year.

The truth is, as I sit in the darkness before dawn and read about Judas, and read about Peter, I want to distance myself from them.

“Who is it that will betray you? I would never. Not me. I would never deny you. I’d die for you!” I hear my own spirit in the words of Jesus closest friends. “Not me. I’d never…”

But, then I hear the rooster crowing in my own conscience. I do it every day. I betray Him with each willfully sinful thought, and word, and act. I deny Him with  each self-centered motive. That’s the point. Not that we would be just like Judas and Peter if we were there then, but that we are just like Judas and Peter here and now. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. Not just because of Judas’ kiss, but also because of mine.