Family Feud Revisited

“We asked 100 people to name someone who is always right.”

Quick! What are your top answers?

Yes, again I found myself at my mother’s during the Family-Feud evening marathon, volume at the “aircraft carrier deck” level. When I couldn’t ignore the blare of the show, I decided to play along to this question. I guessed that the top answer would be husband or wife. That one was on the list, as was mother. Both of them were quite a ways down.

Eventually, the family playing struck out, offering some singularly foolish suggestions. The other team attempted to “steal” the points. They also failed, leaving several undisclosed answers, including numbers one and two.

Steve Harvey, as he does each game, marched from the highest-numbered unrevealed items to the lowest. What on earth would be in places one and two? I was legitimately curious.

Harvey called out, “Number two,” and the answer popped over: “God/Jesus.” That had been my guess, the one that I wanted somebody to say. If I remember correctly, the score was 30, a pretty respectable number, although it had to be disappointing for somebody who created the universe in six days.

But what on earth could be number one? Who could be named more often as “someone who is always right”? Obligingly, the host called out, “Number one.” Again the answer was revealed. There it was, having been mentioned by 37 people.

“Me.”

“Me”! Nearly 25% more people named themselves as “someone who is always right” than mentioned God.

And therein lies the problem with this world. We, far too often, think that we know better than God knows. It’s not shocking that we think ourselves smarter than football coaches or government officials or doctors, but can we really think ourselves more often right than God?

Before you start wagging your finger at those terrible heathen who answered the Family Feud survey, let’s look at our own lives. Do we really behave as if we think that God knows better? Don’t rush to answer before reading these verses from James.

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. –James 1:19-20

Or

Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. –James 4:11

Do you believe these things? Are they right? “Well . . .yeah, but . . .” Honestly that score of 30 that God received on Family Feud was probably higher than how people–and by people I mean you and me much of the time–actually behave.

Who do you really listen to? Survey says . . .

The Ultimate Alpha Dog–Jeremiah 18:6

O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.–Jeremiah 18:6

id-10032215A few months ago, Penny and I procured a new dog, Beau or Bo–I’m not sure how we spelled it. Beau is a standard poodle, but before you start scoffing at the idea of a poodle, let’s be clear. A standard poodle is a cool dog. He’s about the height of a golden retriever, lean and athletic. We don’t keep his hair cut in that ridiculous poofy look at you see sometimes. Trust me–real poodles are great dogs.

But like any dog, Beau came into our home and tested the boundaries. He wanted to establish exactly where he stood in the grand scheme of things. Most of all, he wanted to establish that we weren’t the alpha dogs, the bosses of his pack. It took a while, but I think we have pretty much succeeded. Beau now cooperates and goes to his kennel at that word. He’ll mostly come when called, although he’s still terrified of Livie’s boyfriend Sam.

Dogs are wonderfully sensible. When they learn the hierarchy of things, they’ll live within it. If Spike is stronger than Fido, then Fido will mostly fall into line and yield to Spike’s leadership. People can be sensible in that way. That’s why we pull over when the police turn their lights on. We know they have the power and so we yield. That’s why we file our taxes every April, knowing that the IRS can make our lives miserable if we don’t.

However, we don’t always assume that the police or the IRS are right or all-powerful. I have argued successfully with the IRS on a couple of occasions. I’ve never gotten into a high-speed chase with the police, but there’s still time for that. Realistically, we only fight the power that we think we can overcome. We fight when we think they’re not really the alpha dog.

While you might beat the police or the IRS, you will not beat the ultimate alpha dog. When God asks Israel if he doesn’t have the power to overturn them like clay, he’s not really asking a question. He’s asking them to see the reality of it. What can God do with us? Anything He likes. Can we resist His will? Only as far as He allows.

If we cannot manage to behave like clay, yielding perfectly to the potter’s hands, perhaps we should at least try to be sensible like dogs.

Don’t Be An Egg–Jeremiah 18:3-4

So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.–Jeremiah 18:3-4

id-10032215“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” I’m not sure why Humpty Dumpty got up on that wall in the first place. He was, after all, an egg, but he did get on the wall. And being an egg, once Humpty was broken, he couldn’t be re-assembled. All Humpty Dumpty was good for at that point was a cautionary nursery rhyme–or perhaps a plate of scrambled eggs.

All too often, it seems to me, we look at life from a Humpty Dumpty perspective. Something bad happens and we feel that we’re doomed. And let’s be clear, life can, for a variety of reasons, not all of them our fault, drop some pretty egg-crushing events into our laps. Your marriage explodes. Your child dies. You find yourself a quadriplegic. You lose your job, your house, or your life savings. Bad news comes your way from your doctor, your plumber, or the IRS. If those or similar things have not reached you, then count yourself blessed and wait for next week. The Buddhists have this one thing right when they say, “Life is suffering.”

The problem, however, is that we think of ourselves as Humpty Dumpty, fragile little eggs that, once cracked, are forever ruined. But in Jeremiah’s analogy, we are clay. Clay can be endlessly worked and reshaped. In the hands of our Master Potter, our disastrous lives can be remade. What seemed like egg-crushing tragedy can be the first step in re-forming the very earth from which we were formed. Painful? Perhaps. Disorienting? Definitely. But how else can a mangled pile of clay be turned into a beautiful pot?

What then do we need to do? There’s a reason that God spoke to Jeremiah  about clay. Clay doesn’t have to do anything except yield itself to to the hands of the potter. The clay has no choice. We, of course, have a choice.

If we’re wise, we’ll not exercise that choice. Don’t be an egg; be clay.

Head to the Potter’s House–Jeremiah 18:1-2

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”–Jeremiah 18:1-2

id-10032215Supposedly, the famous photographer Weegee, Arthur Fellig, when asked about the secret to taking stunning photos, shared this advice: “F/8 and be there.” The f/8 part of that, if you’re not a photographer, refers to the aperture setting on the camera. Frankly, I don’t think that the f/8 part was what Weegee meant to emphasize. Instead, he wanted to impress on his hearer the notion of being there.

Do you want to take a great picture of a sunrise in the mountains? You’re going to need to be in the mountains, ready to shoot, before the sun breaks the horizon. Do you want to get fabulous shots of wildlife? You can’t expect to step out of your minivan, snap a couple of exposures, and step back in. Good photos come from photographers who go to the trouble of being there and shooting lots of shots while they’re there.

I’m reminded of that today as I read about Jeremiah’s encounter with God. I have to admit that, had it been me, I’d have probably been saying, “What? Go to the potter’s house? But the Royals game is on! Can’t you just tell me here? Maybe I’ll go there tomorrow when it’s not raining. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

But to get the word of the Lord, Jeremiah had to do it on the Lord’s terms. He had to go to the potter’s house. Why? I don’t know, but what rational person argues with the creator and sustainer of the universe?

How often do we miss out on the messages and blessings of God because we resist going down to the potter’s house? We want things according to our own desires and our own conveniences and our own expectations. Perhaps the first step in allowing the potter to make a beautiful vessel of us is to acknowledge that we’re nothing but clay.

 

100% Perfect (Hebrews 5:9-10)

and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him  and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:9-10)

Looking in the mirror today, I couldn’t help but notice my lack of perfection. My hair is receding in uneven and undesirable directions. My belly is advancing over my belt. My eyes struggle to focus. I’m a bit of a wreck. My quest for perfection will have to wait until–oh, who am I kidding? It’s a lost cause.

As I read today’s verse, a continuation of the sentence in yesterday’s, I’m struck by something. Jesus, if I read this correctly, did not start out perfect. That’s not to say that he started out sinful and the worked his way to sinless. I don’t see that sort of thing ever happening. Instead, I think it means that he simply wasn’t perfect at the outset. Like a tiny green tomato on a vine, Jesus began as potentially perfect. He suffered in the wilderness, resisting temptation. He suffered undoubtedly before that. His temptation may have continued after the wilderness, although apparently Satan left him alone for a time.

When did Jesus become perfect? I’m not sure. If that verse, the one saying, “And with that piece of suffering Jesus officially became perfect,” apparently didn’t make any of the gospels. What we do know is that suffering led to obedience, which led to perfection, which made him the proper vessel for my salvation.

No amount of suffering or obedience can make me the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but, happily, that job has already been filled. In fact, no amount of suffering or obedience will ever perfect me, but that’s okay.

Even as my body betrays the passage of years and my poor eating habits, my spirit, through suffering and obedience can become, if not perfect, less imperfect. Once again, if such a thing was desirable for Jesus, then it’s good for me as well. Perhaps tomorrow, as I look into the mirror, I can see myself as not better looking but a bit closer to perfect than what I saw today.

Suffering for Supper (Hebrews 5:8)

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)

I’ve been suffering today. There’s been food sitting in front of me pretty much from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same. Breakfast, at the Hampton Inn in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, included omelets and muffins. Good stuff. Lunch was taken at Chick fil-A. For dinner, we had oodles of pizza and then ice cream at the Baskin Robbins next door. In between, lest we waste away, we had a steady availability of candy and shortcake.

Okay, that wasn’t really suffering. In fact it wasn’t suffering at all. Perhaps if I had eaten the fruit for breakfast, the salad for lunch, and a couple of slices of cheese pizza at dinner, I might have been both sensible and (to a degree) suffering.

I’d never really thought of it before looking at today’s verse, but it’s really on in suffering that we’re being obedience. Could I claim to be obedient when my host tonight said, “Get some ice cream, Mark”? I followed his direction, but in doing so I simply did what I wanted. Big deal.

We learn obedience when we do what does not come naturally, what chafes against the sinful spirit. We learn obedience when we roll out of bed at an unkind hour, deprive the body of the food that it would love to ingest, or read scripture rather than watching NCIS.

How, precisely, did Jesus suffer? Beyond the cross, I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t believe that the author of Hebrews referred here only to those eighteen hours. Perhaps Jesus suffered in rising at hours that his body resisted. Perhaps he suffered each time he had to smell the stench of life in first century Judea.

I don’t know that it matters. He suffered and learned obedience. If Jesus needed that learning, how much more do I need it?

 

The View from the Loft (Hebrews 4:2)

For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. (Hebrews 4:2)

I sit in the choir at church most every Sunday. Even if you haven’t the slightest love of singing, joining the choir can be of great benefit, allowing one to sit and observe the people in the congregation without engaging in obvious rubbernecking. Since our choir flees the loft before the preaching kicks in, I don’t get to watch people respond to the pastor’s exposition of the word.

You can tell a lot, it seems to me, by watching people as they respond to worship music. Some abandon themselves to the moment, raising up praises to God. Others stand there, arms crossed, resisting every possibility to be reached by whatever spirit might be wafting through the place.

Perhaps these people are resisting and perhaps they just don’t get it, like a tone deaf person at an opera. Everybody hears the same notes and words, but the tone deaf person gets nothing out of it, while the music aficionado is drawn into rapture.

Assuming that we’re all believers, none of us is completely tone deaf. We possess the faith that our verse describes. That does not mean, however, that we always listen, that we’re always joining the enthusiastic singers.

How we sing in the choir or the pews is significant but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is how we sing through our lives, how we listen to the directions from our God and then follow them.

Out of Egypt (Hebrews 3:16-19)

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16-19)

I left Egypt with the rest of my people. Who could complain when years of brick-making came to an end? Who wouldn’t have joined in the great procession out of the land of the Pharaoh? When Moses said, “Let my people go!” I was one of those people. Those were good days. I crossed the dry ground with walls of Red Sea water on either side, marveling at the power and protection we witnessed.

That deliverance did not keep me devoted to God. It didn’t keep me from grumbling about our food or clamoring for a Golden Calf. I hardened my heart, to use Moses’ phrase. I became part of the problem.

God took me out of Egypt and delivered me from slavery, but he would not permit me to cross into the land of promise. He wouldn’t allow me to enter into his rest.

That rest, that land, would be sweet. I’ve seen the bunches of grapes so huge it took two men to carry. I long for the taste of those grapes, for the plenty that they represent. I long for a taste I’ll never know.

I cannot go back to Egypt, cannot rejoin that life before I saw the saving power of God. Somehow I think I’d be happier if I’d never heard of Moses, never left my life of brick-making. Don’t get me wrong. I realize that I’m better off out of Egypt, out of slavery, but I can’t get the taste of those grapes out of my mind. It’s the taste of regret for what I might have had, who I might have been.

How does the Christian, the person who walked an aisle or got “fire insurance” feel? Probably about the way that our wandering Israelite felt. It’s probably easier–but certainly not better–to remain dead in sin than to accept Christ’s sacrifice and then live in rebellion.

Rest Station Ahead (Hebrews 3:10-11)

That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” (Hebrews 3:10-11)

Have you ever been driving along a highway, having tanked up your bladder on some huge, convenience-store carbonated beverage, only to reach that moment when, if presented with the choice between a restroom and a sack full of money, you’d opt for the restroom? I have. In fact, this happened to me recently during a road trip to Tulsa. Until that gender-marked door closes behind you, there is no ease, no relaxation, no rest.

That’s where my peculiar mind goes when I think of the disobedient people of Israel wandering in the wilderness, unable to cross into the land of promise. Instead, they’re forced to hang out in tents, eating manna, and forever searching for a Johnny on the Spot.

I realize that this notion seems rather irreverent, but I think there’s something to be learned from this notion. When I pull in to QuikTrip at the outset of a long drive, there’s a little voice–I wouldn’t ascribe it to the Holy Spirit, but I could be wrong–that says “You’ll be sorry if you guzzle that stuff down.” After leaving Kansas City, I might make it as far as Columbia before finding myself in the just-pull-off-the-road zone. I’ll scurry in to yet another place–probably another QuikTrip–and, having dealt with my pressing need, will almost certainly refill my cup. What sort of idiocy is this?

I’m not sure that God cares greatly about the comfort of my bladder, but I am certain that he cares about my overall obedience. I know that my obedience leads to a sense of ease, a sense that, even when things are difficult, God is in control and attending to matters. It takes me into the Promised Land of God’s rest.

I know this truth. I’ve experienced it, yet just as I refill that cup, I also stray from the obedience that will keep me in God’s rest. You’d think I’d learn.

Listen Up (Hebrews 3:7-9)

So, as the Holy Spirit says:    “Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
(Hebrews 3:7-9)

I’ve been thinking recently about those movies where a character somehow goes back in time and gets a second chance to make a decision. Did you miss out on love? Did you waste your opportunities for success? Did you trade what was truly important for the trivial? Hollywood loves to take those regrets and create wish-fulfillment films.

As I look back at my life, I see a number of errors I would love to correct. With those in mind, I have been considering how I might script my own turn-back-the-clock movie. The problem with this sort of thinking is that when you slip back in time to, let’s say, high school graduation in order to avoid errors, you never know what new mistakes you’ll make and what correct moves you might miss.

Then there’s the simpler notion. What if you could go back in time and tell your former self what to do or not do? Sounds great, right? But then there’s the question of whether your former self would listen. My guess is that my former self would not. Why? My current self often fails to listen to me when I tell it not to waste money or to eat properly or to exercise. What makes me think that if my current self won’t listen, my former self would?

That’s what Hebrews gets at in today’s passage. Today, with the benefit of hindsight and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have no excuse for failing where those who went before failed. How did the tribes of Israel grumble and rebel after seeing the plagues, the Red Sea, the wonders at Sinai, the Manna, and so for forth? I suppose they did it the same way that I fall into the same sins time after time despite every good reason not to do so.

The answer? According to our passage, it is to listen to the voice of the Lord. It’s hard to fall into sin while listening to God’s voice. So where does the problem lie? At the risk of being obvious, it lies in failing to listen.