On the Strength of Vulnerability

Intimacy

It’s an odd thing isn’t it -the idea of becoming strong by being willing to be weak?  Laying down the defenses and weapons which we wield with a temerity that can border on madness in order that the strength of God may be made manifest within our weakness. The reality that God’s strength perfects itself within weakness remains a mystery which defies rational explanation. One discovers that within the humility of vulnerability lies a core strength that is supple, bendable, flexible and able to withstand enormous strain.

A Pardox: Seeing Eyes Blind, Blind Eyes See

6974974_sWhen you flip open your eyelids in the morning and take stock of your environment, you have actually completed an exceptional feat; one which most of us take for granted. The body is a marvelous instrument.  The process by which light is projected into the eye and reflected back through a complex interaction between the brain, nerve impulses and the various chambers of the eye is truly amazing.

It is also unique to each individual.  While all of us may be looking at the same scene, we do not all see things in the same way.  The interpretation which occurs in each of us gives us a peculiar vantage point.  Our communication reflects this reality when we say things like, “I see that differently than you do.”

The ability to see is not limited to the physical realm.  We are in our essence spiritual beings.  We can also see with the eyes of our spirit, an ability which is sometimes referred to as our intuition.  We have all experienced to varying degrees an instinctive reaction to an individual when we first meet them that has nothing to do with our personal interactions.  Mothers know when something is wrong with a child even when the baby cannot speak.

This morning, my meditation was from one of the books which chronicled the exploits of various ancient Israeli kings and the prophets who operated during their reigns.  I was reading about a military assault against Israel by the army from Aram.  As the campaign gained traction, the King of Aram soon became uncomfortably aware that his plans and movements seemed to be closely monitored and communicated with the King of Israel.  Convinced that there was a traitor in his camp, he confronted his leaders.  They told him that Elisha, a prophet literally had ‘eyes on the inside’ and this was the reason why the King of Aram’s plans were continually revealed in advance to the King of Israel.

Elisha was not physically present, yet he could see realities that were unseen.  The King and his army thought they saw. They were convinced that Israel was in a pitiful state and would easily succumb to the vastness of their military might.  In a fascinating twist, the tables are turned in a most improbable way.  As the army of Aram begins to march towards Israel, Elisha’s servant cries out in dismay because his physical eyes see the destruction which is about to be visited on them.

But Elisha asks God to open his servants eyes.  Eyes that seemed to be open, but were actually blind.  When the servants eyes were opened, he was stunned to see that the army coming against Israel was nothing in comparison to the spiritual army that was guarding Israel.  The story ends with the army being struck with blindness and led by Elisha right into the presence of the King they thought they had come to capture!

The experience of both the army and the servant of Elisha are symbolic of situations which we experience.  We are prone to being blinded by arrogance and pride like the soldiers and by fear like Elisha’s servant.  Both types of blindness are rooted in ignorance of who God is and how he operates.  The Bible tells us that the ‘Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’.  When blind eyes are opened, we become aware of how truly helpless our situation is without God and how powerful God is within our midst.  He is truly able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we could even think of, see or imagine.

Right seeing operates through different filters.  These are the filters of wisdom, love, compassion and grace.  Right seeing enables us to have the courage and boldness to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives with confidence that He is able to see us through.

In the final scene from the story as the King of Israel finds himself faced with an entire army that has effectively surrendered to him, Elisha helps him to see that the right response is not vengeance, but to bless those who are enemies of Israel with kindness and a meal, sending them home unharmed.

During a time in which our nation is inflamed by the hurt of racism and perceived injustice, and many are viewing  through lenses clouded by hurt and hate, let us pray that we be given the grace to see aright. That we have the courage and boldness to  enact that which brings wholeness and healing rather than division and strife.

To Read the entire story of the Elisha and the army from Aram, click here. (2 Kings 6: 8-22)

 

When Success Doesn’t Feel Successful…

3432922896_921099fe65_bThere’s something about a New Year that engages many of us in a fresh pursuit of success.  That’s what New Year’s resolutions are all about are about aren’t they?  We set goals to make more money, lose weight, exercise more etc, etc.  We’re excited about the prospect of starting anew and possibly gaining success in reaching our goals.

But, the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that it’s hard to keep going on the basis of the initial excitement.  In fact, many gym memberships never get used beyond that first 30 days.  Why is this the case?  Well, I think it’s because we misunderstand something which is critically important about the nature of success.  The truth is this:  Sometimes, success doesn’t actually feel very successful.

When it comes to feeling successful, our expectations are often high.  Part of the motivation to achieving any goal is the process of dreaming about the results we anticipate.  But the journey of success is often pitted against a reality which may not be even closely aligned with what we thought we were striving for.

One of the most interesting success journeys in the Bible for me is the story about the rise of King David.  Starting off as a Shepard, he finds himself plucked out the ‘line up’ and chosen by the prophet Samuel to be the next King of Israel.  Heady stuff!  But…not so fast.  First, he faces the jealously of his siblings and less than enthusiastic support of his stunning defeat of Goliath.

As a result of his the success of his military prowess, David is selected to be one of Saul’s commanders.  But once again, the enigma of success comes into play as David finds himself in the perilous position of being viewed as a threat by King Saul.  A position that carried with it the threat of personal extermination.  For years, David becomes somewhat of a vagabond, gathering a band of rebels who join forces with him as he finds himself labelled as a fugitive; one wanted by the Commander-in-Chief.  Not exactly what most of us would consider the optimal path for succession planning.

At issue is our perception of what we think the journey of success should look and feel like.  We tend to romanticize success.  As a result when the feelings or experience do not match up to the reality, it’s easy to feel defeated and deflated.  The truth is that success which rests its laurels on feelings is treading on shaky territory.  Feelings can be great indicators, but they are very poor reflectors of the measure of success.

The truth is that building new muscle will require some pain as we exercise a body which is not used to certain types of stress.  Loosing weight will require deprivation of food and also some exercise.  Double whammy.  And when you get to that ultimate weight, you are likely to find that not much may have changed.  You may still have the same mental, spiritual and emotional issues that were present before, even within a newly sculpted body.

Limiting our perception of the journey towards success or expectations of what  success feels like may make us actually miss the lessons and the blessings that success intends to teach us.  What if success at the highest level is about refining our character, strengthening our resolve and helping us to become more forgiving and compassionate towards ourselves and others?  What if success is intended to help us understand who we really are as we face giant obstacles which we must overcome?  What if success isn’t really about a feeling at all, but rather about experiencing the grace and goodness of God in a new way?

For additional information about the ups and downs of the life of one of Israel’s most succesful Kings, click this link.

Power Madness…

2012-08-13 01.05.18Today is election day in the United States.  For weeks, the airwaves have been inundated with television and radio ads – most of them portraying the opponent in the worst possible way.  What a relief to know that at least for a time, the noisy clamor for our attention will take a break.

There seems to be a lot of anger this election about the failure of politicians to do what they promised to do and indeed, to work together to do anything.  It’s unfortunate that these days politicians are often referenced in a disparaging way. It’s a reflection of how frustrated people are.

One of the key reasons that people vote for any politician is the hopeful expectation that the power vested in the office will bring the results or changes desired.  A few days ago, I read the following quote about power:

“One of the most common forms of mental disease is power madness.  That too, is based on the illusion that man has the power to make things happen, to influence people and events and to be a prime mover”. Quote from Beyond the Dream by Dr. Hora.

Quite startling, but when you think about it, quite true.  Few of us have the power to voluntarily hold our breath for more than 2-3 minutes.  We don’t have the power to control the weather or determine how any one person chooses to respond or think about us.  Our bodies largely function without our conscious assent.

Perhaps, it is the unsettling nature of our powerlessness that drives us to seek control.  And when we can’t personally abide within our narrowly framed  parameters, find proxies who will promise us results that we demand.  The entire thing is a type of illusion and points to a problem within us as much as those we elect.

The Whisperer…

We’ve all had the experience of having a disagreement that developed wings and flew way beyond the boundaries of the subject at hand.  You find yourself wondering how you got from here…to there.  The nature of human relationships makes misunderstanding a part of terrain we have to navigate. Because we’re individuals and have our own unique perspectives, learning how to engage and interact with one another is a lifelong learning process.

I tend to have a naive inclination to think that if I explain myself, eventually the ‘other’ will understand.  While explanation and communication can be helpful and talking things out may help gain perspective, at the root of things, I’ve found that disagreements and discord are more about the heart of the matter than anything else.  Wounded hearts, frazzled emotions, disgruntled thoughts, deflated pride  – these do more to foster animosity amongst us than most of us would care to admit.

iStock_000016661379SmallIn Proverbs 26:20,  we read these words: ‘For lack of wood a fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer quarreling ceases.’ This proverb has always held some fascination for me.  In some translations, the whisperer is termed the ‘gossip’ or tattlebearer.  When building a fire, kindling is required for the fire to continue to burn.  This verse indicates that the fire of a quarrel is influenced by something or perhaps someone called a ‘whisperer’.  Whispering, (the gentle muttering underneath the breath) apparently has the ability to serve as fuel for creating a scorched earth aftermath when it comes to relationships.

I am indebted to Brian Hardin of the Daily Audio Bible for his broadcast on October 29, 2014 for a particularly helpful insight on the nature of discord and how the ‘whisperer’ serves to fuel conflict in interpersonal relationships.  In verse 22 of Proverbs chapter 26, we are informed that: “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels, they go down into the inner parts of the body.”  This reference would indicate that in some fashion, whispering is able to transcend ordinaary speech and become part of the spiritual reality within the inner recesses of the human soul.

Most of us can relate to the conversation in your head after an argument or disagreement.  You know, the seemingly endless barrage of ‘additional points’ one could have made but didn’t think about in the moment.  But we don’t ask ourselves the question – WHO is continuing the argument after the situation has long receded?  Could it be the ‘whisperer?  The not so silent inner voice which wants to continue to score points, which wants to be right at all cost?

The whispering spirit is a type of temptation.  One which is intimately acquainted with the human condition.  It speaks to us with our own voice, lulling us into the fantasy of absorbing the morsels of poison being fed into our inner parts without questioning the source.  Because it is a type of fuel, disagreements continue unabated until the earth is scorched.  Unfortunately, the terrain in question is the charred remains of human relationships which are sometimes irrevocably changed by the words of the tongue.

So is there a solution?  I think Proverbs 26:20 gives us some vital information.   We all know that fire needs certain conditions in which to burn.  Remove the oxygen or the wood and it eventually goes out.  The same can be said for the ‘whisperer’.  We must recognize that not every voice which speaks to us is speaking for our benefit.  In James 3:6, we are told that the tongue is a flame, a world of evil – potentially a world of evil which has the capacity to set the whole course of a life aflame. This gives one pause to think about how devastating the impact of evil whispered words can be.

We must learn to take authority over the ‘whisperer’ by negating its power to control and ruin our lives and relationships.  The Bible tells us that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty for bringing down strongholds and things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

We don’t have to simply swallow morsels which assuage our pride; we can make a conscious choice to stop consuming these toxic mental suggestions.  We can make a decision to stop fueling the flame of distortions and judgemental thinking.  When the fuel is removed, the fire eventually dies out.  It will take time and energy and grace to rebuild what has been destroyed, but if we continue to let the fire burn unabated, that process of regeneration cannot commence.

The Way…

19406120_sEveryday, we are faced with decisions.  Most of us want to make good decisions.  Sometimes, poor decisions are made willfully, but at other times they are the product of our ignorance and immaturity.  One of the most powerful passages of scripture is Psalm 25 which begins with a plea to God to show us His ways.  Here are some thoughts about the Ways of the Lord which were a part of my morning meditation today.

The Ways of the Lord

The Way of Truth

Psalm 25:4-5  “Show me your ways, O Lord.  Teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long”

Meditation:  I need the Father to show me the way.  My human frailty often fails to discern what is right and best.  God promises to be with me.  His presence with me throughout the days is there to guide and sustain my hope and trust in him.

The Way of Mercy and Love

Psalm 25:6-7 ” Remember O Lord your great mercy and love for they are from of old.  Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.  According to your love remember me for you are good O Lord.”

Meditation:  In contrast to God’s way, my ways which are often rooted in rebellion and immaturity, are laced with trauma and tragedy.  Father, thank you for your mercy and love for me.  Please deliver me from the treachery of my ways.

The Way of Humility

Psalm 25: 8-10 “Good and upright is the Lord, therefore he instructs sinners in his way.  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.”

Meditation:  God’s path for me is good and upworthy.  It is available at all times, but especially when I miss the mark due to sin.  In fact, the consequence of sin is part of the instruction that God uses to help us understand and desire a better way.  The way of God is most readily accessed through humility.  Through humility, we are in a posture that enables us to gain a better understanding of what is right and true.  Help me Father to desire and to walk in humility.

The Way of Faithfulness

Psalm 25:10  “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant.”

Meditation:  God’s way is full of love and faithfulness.  God is trustworthy and will always keep his end of the bargain.  When I am led in his way, I can rest – assured of the knowledge the he always honors the demands of his covenant.  I can relax in the knowledge of being confident that he ‘has my back’.

The Way of Wisdom

Psalm 25:11-14  ” Who then is the person that fears the Lord?  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.  He will spend his days in prosperity and his descendents will inherit the land.  The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.”

Meditation:  The Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  (Proverbs 9:10) When we approach and depend on God with reverential awe and respect, we are promised the grace of Godly, individualized instruction concerning the way God has designed and designated in particular for us.  This way, created by a loving Heavenly Father, leads to true prosperity and blessing in our lives and the lives of our families.  This is a very powerful and precious promise.

Prayer:  Father, please keep me focused on you and your way today.  It is only you who can release my feet from the snares and entanglements that have imprisoned me due to taking the wrong paths.  Amen.

 

Fall Fire…

Wine Country 5 LG

When fall flares up in Michigan, the tree riot with an exuberant dance.  The cascade of vibrant ecstatic color breaking through spruce green in surprising fashion is striking.  I’m always intrigued by fall.  Because, the reality is that the trees are in the process of fading into dormancy. But rather than mourn, they put on their Sunday best.

Yes, the leaves which are momentarily resplendent will soon fall loose from their anchors and nest in the fodder of the earth.  But, they don’t do so quietly.  No!  In Michigan the trees seem to throw a party that says, we’re celebrating with gusto. And instead of shrinking into oblivion, they shock us with the most exquisite display of the glory of life in all its various shades.

Thinking of how much we can learn from trees and nature.  They are silent witnesses to the glory of God, but yet they speak.  The scripture tells us that they (the trees of the field) will clap their hands as they watch us go out with joy.  (Isaiah 55:12)  So when the wind blows and the branches of the trees sway or shake as the brisk cool air of fall surrenders to the harshness of winter, I think about that phrase as I imagine the conversation taking place between God and nature about us.

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Text for Isaiah 55: 11-13 “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. 12“For you will go out with joy And be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13“Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, And it will be a memorial to the LORD, For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.” – New International Version