stirring-embers

Kata Charis

Amaziah

I was browsing thru the various kings of Judah the other day (slow day !!) and ran across a certain one that (in my opinion) is often overly criticized.  Ironically, within the past month I happened to hear some guy use 25 minutes of radio time to throw rocks at this particular king using  the back half of a verse. The object of his scorn —  Amaziah.

First, the verse —-  II Chronicles 25:2.  “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly”.

So, the radio guy carries on and on and on about what he called ‘half-hearted’ efforts, hypocrisy, and lack of commitment. (Not the first guy I’ve heard go down this road, incidentally.)  Now, I grant you, Amaziah certainly fouled up a few times, but, hey, can we also include the FIRST half of the verse.  I mean, come on.

A little background.  Amaziah became king of Judah at the age of 25  — not exactly wise and seasoned.  One of the first things this young man did was to round up all those who had murdered his father (the king) and had them executed.   But in line with God’s wishes, he did not kill the sons of these conspirators. We can go along with him on this act of revenge, right?  So, our young king then musters the troops and sets out to defeat various enemies of Judah. Military victories follow and to display the might of Judah, he set up various idols of the defeated foes.  O.K. not a good thing  — but probably not as many idols as Solomon (his ancestor) displayed for his hundreds of pagan wives. At any rate, our young king, got a bit caught up in the way things were going, and he overstepped and took on a stronger foe and the result was not good.  Amaziah reigned in Jerusalem for 29 years before he was killed by others who wanted to be king. He was buried in the city of David.

Let’s reflect a bit.  Amaziah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”. I mean, that’s what the text says.  Before we run to the second part of the verse, maybe we should cut the guy some slack.  Look at it this way. Have there been times in your life that you made a decision that was “safe”, but your heart wanted to go another direction?  Have you ever done it by the numbers because that is what people expected of you, but your heart wasn’t on board.  Ever follow the “right” way, even though you sought another path?   Hello, Amaziah.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I am not trying to start an Amaziah fan club.  Nor am I trying to move your judgment elevator up or down a few floors in the Amaziah building. It seems to me that Amaziah had moments where he found it difficult to align his actions, his decisions, with his heart.  He colored inside the lines (most of the time) but had honest moments where he wanted to see another picture.  A conflict where “proper” was not always wrapped in joy.  

So, here’s my take.  In some areas Amaziah did very well.  In others, he did O.K. but his heart wasn’t in it.  He  yielded to the pressure of position, opinion, etc. and he looked good on the outside, but his heart voted no. In others he just turned his heart loose and lived it out.  And lastly, there were occasions he just flat messed up. 

I am not trying to take up your time by differing with some radio guy, but I would have liked him to ask if we could identify with the young king.

Amaziah— ‘did what was right” — “but not wholeheartedly”. Does one part of the verse negate the other part?  Amaziah was both.  Is there one among us whose life sits solely on one end of the verse?  If  it’s on the back end, then you’ll soon have some radio guy talking about you.  It seems honest for me to say:

I am Amaziah — he is me.

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07/24/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Manipulation

If our service to God isn’t born out of thankfulness for what He has already done for us….

if our motivation is something other than love ….

it is manipulation — plain and simple.

Sad, that we strive to gain those things we already have — acceptance / worth / value / forgiveness/ freedom — by trying to manipulate One that cannot be manipulated.

04/05/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Collision

All the persons of faith I know are sinners. Our sin crashes head-on into Divine grace. It is this great collision that the Apostle Paul has in mind when he says, “God’s grace is sufficient.”

Failure does not mean that God does not love us or that He revokes His declaration of righteousness. Failure for the Christian is a product of this earthen vessel — it is of this world.
It does not appear in the next.
It is left behind — forever.
Good riddance.
I’ll not miss ya’.

03/10/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Expectations

Expectations are tyranny. They suck all the air out of the room. We can still run the race, but on their track. Looking back at my early years I cannot recall any expectations placed on me by my father (other than the obvious “make good grades”, and “try to stay out of jail”).  He never imposed any expectations regarding career, hobbies, marriage, etc.  However, it seems that I filled the role of suffocator through self-imposed expectations. Yep, I did it to myself. Through no outside pressure, I decided there were a number of areas where I would surpass my parent.  If he could do it, I would prove to him, and to me, that I could do it better. Interestingly enough, it defined my worth. Success in meeting my expectations would provide value to my life, a sense of accomplishment that defined me. Sometimes those walls of expectations, others and mine, felt comfortable. It gave me a sense of doing what I was supposed to do. Expectations.

Now, as some of you know, my relationship with my father deteriorated greatly during my college years. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. ‘Train wreck’ is a bit more accurate. The reasons are no longer important, but suffice it to say, it was difficult to breathe. Who’s life was I living?  Being a prisoner of expectations, our own or others, leaves little room for freedom. There was no “my road, “my journey”.  It was an obstacle course set by others. Forgiveness of others or, for that matter, of myself, for building this maze was not forthcoming. Years worth of decisons were dictated by these expectations. Tyranny.

Eventually, my understanding of value, worth, and acceptance came to be defined by the phrase, “in Christ”.

Do I now enjoy meeting expectations?  Yes, wherever possible. It’s O.K., but failure to do so no longer shapes my life.  I tired of the walls. I do not wish to be a prisoner of my own expectations, much less anyone else’s.  So, where am I now?  Plenty of air?  Running the race unrestrained?  Well, not yet.  Although I would like to think otherwise, my thought is that the walls never completely disappear.  In fact, I have managed to erect some others.  I suspect they will not come down until the “face-to-face” moment with the One who loves me most.   Then my faith will be my eyes.  All expectations will be met.

Thank goodness.  Hope to see you there, Dad.

02/16/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Projects

Many years ago the following was attached to a bulletin board at the corporation where I worked — Six Phases of a Project: (1) Enthusiasm (2) Disillusionment ( 3) Panic (4) Search for the Guilty (5) Punishment of the Innocent (6) Awards for the Non-Participants.

If you have spent any time in a corporate environment, two things are apparent, (1) you immediately see the tragic humor in the above, and (2) Dilbert is living your life.

Observation:
That bulletin board material often applies to the Christian life. It just as easily applies to ministries, occupations, relationships, school, etc. Read the steps again. What do you think?
That’s not to say that all projects follow the same path or end at the same locale. The Bible is filled with all sorts of project people. Some folks are hit with incredible obstacles and endure Grand Canyon bouts of despair and depression, yet manage to come out the other side (Jeremiah); still others get so conflicted by the street signs, they don’t come out at all (Judas); some shoot themselves in the foot, yet seem to land on their feet, (David);  some are singularly focused and arrive at a succcessful conclusion against all odds (Nehemiah); some ignore the GPS and wander from the company of co-laborers (Demas).

That bulletin board wisdom also applies to dreams.  You think not?  What happens to those  dreams whose fruition period is greater than the weariness cycle will allow?

Each of us has his/her own basketful of projects.  Each project has its own lifespan, destination, and result.  Many have rather dazzling beginnings.  Some end gloriously, some end in a brush stroke of dull grey, while others hit the shredder somewhere along the way. Plenty of biblical examples to offer for each.

Who grades our projects?  For those who have come by grace, through faith, the score is marked by the One who has declared us righteous. Now, that’s a relief.

02/08/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Poetry

Poetry. Now there’s a word that draws a truckload of dis-interest — especially in East Texas. Well, perhaps that’s a bit harsh. In this part of the world poetry goes by a different name — the people here call it “country music”.  So much for synonyms.
To the point: I have found that reading ABOUT someone certainly helps to understand that person. It does, in fact, give insights into the actions and reactions of that individual. We can draw conclusions about character. We can make value judgments.  But, while getting information ABOUT an individual does provide helpful assessments, it doesn’t come close to hearing FROM the individual — first hand.  From their own lips. 

You can go to the library (or google) and learn about Donagh MacDonagh, Turlough O’Carolan, Edward Walsh, Muireadach O’Dalaigh or Anthony Raftery — Irish poets whose works are scattered over the past 700 years.  Jump in.  Look up the dates. Read the bios. Well and good. But the picture is never as developed as it is when you read their poems.  Their words and phrases allow us to understand motivation, to feel the emotions that form the actions.  It is here that understanding takes place. It is here that you find the heart behind the words, the emotion that yields the carefully crafted phrases.  It is from their own voices that we begin a first-hand relationship with the poet. Too esoteric, you say?

Let’s try it in a more familiar way.  How about a Bible Study on the life of David.  We methodically turn to I Samuel 16 and begin reading — not stopping until we read the rest of the book and then continuing with the entirety of II Samuel as well — 40 chapters of deeds and misdeeds— encounters with giants, beautiful women, prophets, warriors, etc.  A tale of fidelity, infidelity, love, murder, deception, faithfulness, etc. etc. etc.   We accumulate an abundance of information ABOUT the ‘man after God’s own heart’.  But what about David’s heart?  Sure, we can get glimpses thoughout the pages of Samuel’s account.  But, you want the inside story? Read his poetry.  We call them “Psalms”.  Hebrew poetry often set to music and sung on journeys, in the fields, in the temple, before and after battles. Want to know David?  Listen to the poet.  Want to know about salvation and forgiveness in the Old Testament — read Psalm 32 and 51.  Want pure emotion without a trace of manipulation?  Try Psalm 6.  Clear, constant vision of God?  Psalm 8.  Jump into his poetry and feel his pulse; experience his highs as well as his sense of abandonment.

Samuel, indeed, presents a painted canvas of this servant – warrior – king – parent – poet – musician. Both mighty and flawed.  Read it all for a Bible study.  But if you want a Bible experience, read the first-hand account, the words from the poet’s own lips.  As I now consider MacDonagh, O’Carolan et al, to be my friends, when you finish, you will know David.

01/23/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Clutter

Some words sound and seem unpleasant. They bring with them images of things out-of-place; not as they should be. They are disruption personified. ‘Clutter’ is such a word. Is there a picture of clutter that is warm, fuzzy, comfortable, sit-by-the-fireplace, kind of situation?  Not in this universe, unless, of course, you buy into the chaos theory.  Clutter: it can be clothes strewn over the floor — end-to-end toys across a room — a kitchen filled with dishes in various stages of  dishwasher free. We generally picture clutter in terms of solid things, but clutter isn’t confined to physical objects; certainly not if we define it as something that makes things unclear, messy.

Got something that hinders communication? clouds thinking? inhibits honesty? strangles openness?  That would be clutter. Clutter without form. Clutter harder to deal with than merely washing dishes/folding clothes, etc.  The clutter in the life of the young rich guy in Matthew 19, indeed, consisted of things.  Jesus accurately identified them and told him to pick up the toys and put them away.  The clutter in the life of Nicodemus (John 3) consisted of thoughts, ideas.  Jesus corrected them and provided light.  Mary’s emotion in John 11 clouded her communication.  Zechariah’s rather perfect life was interrupted by the clutter of uncertainty. etc. etc. etc. 

Clutter: a most harmful thief.  Relationships become unclear, communication becomes plastic, what could-be-comfortable rooms are avoided —all  because of clutter — sometimes unclear, hard-to-identify clutter.  It comes in different flavors, for different reasons, at different times.  Clutter: it’s a hard word. Find it. Identify it. Sweep it out. Discover transparency, neatness, freedom, liberty. Savor sweetness. Enjoy.

01/16/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pragmatism

Find what works. Figure out how the bolts fit; how the wheels turn.  Look for the paved road.  Set the dials on the right numbers.  Measure the usefulness.  Assign value.  Be guided by a risk/reward analysis.  Oil the parts.  Determine correctness by the standards of others.  Assess worth.  Don’t skip ahead in the instruction manual.  Follow the rules, even if you don’t know them.  No standing in the boat.  Stay busy  Color between the lines.  Put it together.  Avoid risks.  Focus on the immediate. 

That makes for a nice pragmatist.  It makes me tired.

I’d rather be a dreamer.

01/06/2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rooms

While standing in stores watching people with arms filled with toys, clothes, tech stuff, etc., it seems that the world is nothing but ho- ho-ho. All is well and the hearth is warm enough for everyone. Drinking cider, sitting by fireplaces, listening to familiar carols and the multitudes seem to have wrapped themselves in what passes as bliss. In the middle of the throng, however, perhaps the next aisle over, or sitting alone at McDonalds, there are those enclosed in their private rooms. They share space with companions known by a variety of names –sadness, grief, loneliness, tiredness and many others. They are there, in our offices, churches, family gatherings –moving about on the perimeter of our lives. If you know them, and want to comfort them as best you can, here’s a list of things NOT to say:

I know exactly how you feel.    It’s really not as bad as you think.    Look on the bright side.    It’ll work out.    Lighten up, it’s the holiday season.    Next year will be better.

Things O.K. to say:

The door to heaven came to earth — we call it Christmas.   Entrance is available to anyone by grace through faith.  We call it glory.

Your companions are not welcome.  You get to leave them here.  You’ll get a new friend.  His name is Jesus.

12/23/2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Units of Measurement

It seemed important enough to God to devote a rather large portion of one of the gospels to the subject of “standards”, units of measurement, if you will — instructions on the way we judge people, behavior, etc. It is the focus of what we call the “sermon on the mount” (Matthew chaps 5-7).  Jesus went through a series of topics giving the accepted standards ‘de jour’, turning them upside down with but I say, or, but I tell you.   Men and women (especially women) have been judged on appearance for so long that we now accept that criteria as being written on the tablets Moses carried down from Mt. Sinai. How’s this –Miss Indiana wins the title with a 10.4 with Miss Idaho coming in second with a 10.1.  So, we rate young women in terms of tenths of a point. Now there’s a great message to send to 12-year-old girls.  Good grief, is that the best we can do?  Now don’t mis-understand; it’s O.K. to appreciate beauty — but it’s not the standard of measurement for worth/value/acceptance.

Units of measurement:  appearance — wealth — success — size of house — vocabulary — deeds, etc. etc. etc. etc.  Our units of measurement enslave us. They box us in. They prevent us from seeing others as Jesus sees them — and, tragically, from seeing ourselves as Jesus sees us.   They blur the wonders of God’s creation; they diminish the joy of fellowship with Him. 

Jesus changed the units of measurement.

It’s not how you look, it’s how you treat the lillies. A person with $2 billion in the bank is no more valuable than a child with only a quarter in her pocket. (Money is fine, but using it as a unit of measurement is the root of all evil.)  Righteousness is not attained by deeds, volume of prayers, fitness, etc. it is imputed by grace through faith. (How’s that for a unit of measurement?)

While accomplishments are wonderful, they make lousy units of measurement.  Am I optimistic that the world will cease using beauty, wealth, deeds, etc. to determine value?  Am I confident that we will change how we measure success, how we measure progress, how we measure ourselves?  Unfortunately, no.  Sad? Yes.

However, the truth remains. His complete acceptance of all who believe, truly frees us from the bindings of slavery. He did, after all, come to set us free — from the standards of others and from our own self-imposed standards which imprison us.  Let freedom ring. Loudly.

11/28/2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment