Good Enough!

My heart sank in front of the hall display. This was the morning the sixth-grade teachers would show off the best notebooks. I didn’t see mine.

Maybe I had missed it at the first look. My eyes moving more slowly this time–left to right, down, left to right, down, left to right–I checked again. Then I zoned in on a particularly scrawny one. It couldn’t possibly contain as much Maryland history as mine. Why hadn’t my notebook been selected? Why wasn’t it good enough?

Wasted were the long nights I had sat alone and straddle-legged on the bare, hard floor cutting and pasting from a stack of Sunday Sun Magazine issues while the rest of the family slept. As my mind and body gave out on that last night, my insides silently screamed for my mother to come into the living room and make me go to bed. I couldn’t stop the project by myself. I didn’t know where enough ended. Finally, the assignment deadline notified me no more would be expected.

Dejected, I walked into my classroom at the end of the hall. As soon as I slumped down in my desk chair, Mr. Viti was squatting beside me. “Judy,” he softly said, “yesterday the other teachers and I tried every way we knew how to put your notebook up, but it wouldn’t stay. It was too heavy. I want you to know, though, you had the best notebook of all. We could see you put a lot of work in it.”

My intention had not been to make the notebook so big it “outdid itself.” As always, I strove to do my best without understanding what that looked like. I kept pushing, pushing, pushing. One more magazine, one more article, one more picture would make the notebook better. Perfect. But where was the point of perfection? Where was the finish line? I was on my own to figure it out, and I couldn’t.

My father, it seemed, could. He had internalized the perfection standard so well that when his expectation wasn’t met by everyone in his world, he took a nosedive into the bottle.

Try as I might during my growing-up years, I felt nothing I did met my father’s approval; for I never heard him say a satisfying “good.” Deprived of that, getting high marks in school became my substitute source of praise.

Then, somewhere in his sober senior years, my father changed. While he was fixing something or other one day, he shocked me with “that’s good enough.” In that moment I understood his “good enough” did not mean he had done a mediocre job. His “good enough” meant he had met a realistic expectation of himself. Also in that astonishing moment, it was as if my father had  cut a cord, releasing me to judge my own efforts as good enough.

My father had learned to recognize and accept the adequate stopping point. Much like a person who understands the exclamation mark.

The exclamation mark (!) punctuates strong feeling. Some people, apparently striving to push the point that they are really, really, really enthusiastic about the meaning of their word or sentence, will attach two or three exclamation marks–or four or five–or more. Theoretically, they could carry the emotional symbol on to infinity. So how do they determine the cut-off point?

There is no standardized chart delineating how much emotional value a specific number of exclamation marks denotes. The initiator and the recipient are left to their own cognitive and/or emotional devices for the degree of happiness or alarm to feel. Pity the neurotic who counts the number of exclamation marks a teacher places behind “nice work” on an assignment and pits it against a different total after the same comment on his peer’s product!

Have you ever seen more than one period at the close of a sentence to convey it is really, really, really finished? Why is more expected of the exclamation mark than its original intent? Why isn’t its stopping point recognized? When we get real, we will accept that one exclamation mark is perfect. It is good enough!
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Credibility

She didn’t believe the ol’ kook’s tirade! What did he know? He was so decrepit that she would be surprised if he didn’t croak before the day was out. Blind as a bat, he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. Yet . . . he had seen through her disguise.

That wasn’t her fault. It met with her husband’s approval once she relinquished her last piece of gold jewelry–making her feel like she was in mourning–before she left on his miserable mission. And it took more than a hop, skip, and jump to get there. Anyway, he should have gone himself or sent for the old fogey. No doubt the feeble fool would have had a different answer in the presence of the king.

So why hadn’t her husband used all the pomp and circumstance befitting the first king of Israel? She didn’t want to believe he had turned coward. But he wasn’t acting like the man she admired–the man who had once stood up to King Solomon–the man Pharaoh Shishak had respected enough to give her–his own sister-in-law–to him in marriage.

What was it he had said to her just before she left? She was looking down on him from her donkey and barely heard it:  “Ano, that man knows and speaks the truth. Before I fled to Egypt and met you, he told me I would become king over this country.”

So if Jeroboam already knew that bag of  bones and was so sure he was a fortune-teller, why didn’t he talk to him? Better yet, why didn’t he ask a priest at one of his golden-calf altars for the answer to his question instead of sending her over hill and dale? There must be a backstory. But he had never mentioned it. Her husband must be afraid of something. But what could it possibly be?

She had to think. What had the shriveled-up toad said? Yes, that’s right. First he corroborated the prediction of her husband’s kingship. Then he told her to go home and tell him that because he had made idols and metal images to worship, his family line would be eradicated. Umph! She wasn’t about to believe that. She grew up in glorious Egypt, where they have worshiped many gods for thousands of years.

Why was she scratching? She didn’t see anything crawling on her skin. The sensation started when she remembered how the old man’s voice elevated when he said Jeroboam had turned his back on Yahweh.

That name. She had heard it somewhere else. Ah! Her son. He had told her the reason he defied his father’s edict and went on a forbidden pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to worship Yahweh, the one-and-only God. Her hand tossed dismissively in the air. Oh, what did he know? He was just a kid. A good one, though . . . so good . . . and now so sick.

She thought it uncanny the man knew her true identity before she said anything. The exact minute she stepped up to his door, he addressed her as the wife of Jeroboam, leaving her speechless. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone but herself that she had stood there frozen in her tracks the whole time. At the end of his diatribe, he answered her question–the question her mouth had never opened to ask.

Oh, oh, she must get off this donkey! She was feeling faint. Hyperventilating. Her servant saw her distress. He was coming to help.

She would walk the rest of the way. Slow down Ahijah’s prediction. Maybe the prophet was wrong; her son would not die as soon as she stepped foot in the city.

Every footprint she made on the trek home impressed a memory of her son. The first time he was laid in her arms. Chubby legs running to bring her a flower–roots and all. His infectious laughter. Time and again calling, “Mother, look what I can do!”

It was all she could do now to put one foot in front of the other as the city sprawled before her eyes. How she wanted to see her son alive! To kiss him. To tell him that she would miss him. Would there be time just for that?

As she came to the threshold of the house, the child died. All Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to Yahweh’s word, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the prophet.
(1 Kings 14:17-18 WEB)

In time an army captain, deciding he had what it took to seize the throne, annihilated the house of Jeroboam.

He didn’t leave to Jeroboam any who breathed, until he had destroyed him; according to the saying of Yahweh, which he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite;  for the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and with which he made Israel to sin, because of his provocation with which he provoked Yahweh, the God of Israel, to anger.
(1 Kings 15:28-29 WEB)

By the power and sovereignty of God’s grace, Jeroboam’s sick son did not live to suffer the extinction of his family. During his prophecy Ahijah had explained to the boy’s mother why her child would die an early death:

All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good.
(1 Kings 14:13 NIV)

In Jeroboam’s entire family this child was the only one who had reverenced the true God; and God, in His goodness, claimed the child for Himself with an untimely death.
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From Zero to Hero and Back

Bursting with pride, the conquering hero was on his way home. He fought back the twinge of regret that he did not have a son there waiting to relive–not that he didn’t love his daughter dearly.  A son, though, would better comprehend and appreciate his father’s valor and skill in mustering and maneuvering an army to victory.

But he would not dwell on that and diminish the joy he felt knowing in his daughter’s eyes he did not have to be a winning warrior to rate her respect and admiration. She looked up to him as her hero no matter what anyone else thought or did. Loving him unconditionally, she was not ashamed of him because he was illegitimate. That fact which drove his half-brothers to disinherit and chase him from his homeland did not make her think less of him. She never questioned his decision to survive by heading up a band of brigands. He knew she loved him neither more nor less when the tables suddenly turned and he got his just due.

The powers that be from his country–including his father’s other sons–showed up eating humble pie and left digesting him as a tough negotiator! That day they cared not an iota about his birth or any laws he might have broken while persona non grata. In dire straits they had sought him out for his acquired expertise in the art of war. Rightly so, they reconnoitered that recruiting him for their national commander was their only hope against the invasion forces. But he wasn’t about to kowtow and simply let bygones be bygones.

Here was an opportunity for him to go from zero to hero and beyond. Seizing it, he gave the groveling magistrates his terms:  If he routed the enemy, they would make him head of  his native country. Not only would he be their general during the war but also their chief ruler when that was successfully carried out.

He was spot-on with his assessment of the situation. They had no wiggle room. Being desperate, they would agree to anything and everything. No doubt about it, he knew how to bargain!

As the returning hero approached a bend in the road and his new house came into view, he had no inkling his promising world was about to turn upside down and inside out. With a smile caressing his lips, he was remembering that after his terms were accepted, his lovely daughter had thrown her arms around him and exclaimed, “Papa, I’m so happy for you!”

Now, he mused, he had the clout to arrange for her the best possible marriage. Who would refuse his daughter? But he would not consummate the deal until he was sure the man loved her as much as he did. He chuckled at the thought that in the not-too-distant future, he could be bouncing a grandson on his knee.

Just before he reached the front door, it flew open and out danced his exuberant daughter. As her lithe body swayed to the tambourine’s strikes, a pain the hero had never known stabbed his heart.

 When he realized who it was, he ripped his clothes, saying, “Ah, dearest daughter—I’m dirt. I’m despicable. My heart is torn to shreds. I made a vow to GOD and I can’t take it back!” (Judges 11:35 MSG).

What vow?

Jephthah made a vow before GOD: “If you give me a clear victory over the Ammonites, then I’ll give to GOD whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in one piece from among the Ammonites—I’ll offer it up in a sacrificial burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 MSG).

Where did Jephthah get off thinking he could bargain with God Almighty? Offer Him a bribe? Suggest a trade? He and Yahweh were not peers.

Would to God Jephthah had had the mindset of his predecessor Joshua when he was about to go into battle!

 And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.” Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, “What orders does my Master have for his servant?” (Joshua 5:13-14 MSG).

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What’s in a Starched Shirt?

The club never had a name and it never had a meeting. No one ever asked you to join; it was up to you if you wanted to belong. Well, almost up to you. You needed to have a serious boyfriend and get his permission first. If he agreed, your membership was quietly published when his starched and ironed white shirt appeared on a hanger in your dorm room or in the lobby as you joined him for a date.

Seeing me happily ironing my future husband’s shirt one day, a girl from across the hall announced the dorm mother didn’t want residents doing that anymore. What! I was a second-semester senior and, as far as I knew, the latest initiate from our girls’ dorm into this select club. Not about to relinquish the membership card I had received at the eleventh hour, I kept ironing the shirt weekly.

Back in my college years, all the young men wore white shirts, suits, and ties to Sunday morning church services. Hundreds of them would worship in the church whose property was bounded on three sides by my school’s sprawling campus. Any student could easily walk to it. That’s where I would hook up with my boyfriend at 9:30 a.m. and proudly smile at his polished look in the shirt I had ironed.

Sunday’s clean and crisp shirt was more than a symbol of our serious relationship. It was service in love. Each time I sprinkled with water and pressed out the shirt’s wrinkles and puckers, I imprinted more of myself on the man I would marry and was increasingly convinced I wanted to share in the mundane things as well as in the hopes and dreams of building a home together.

As soon as the marriage certificate was signed, five additional starched, white shirts were birthed. While conscientiously ironing them throughout the years, I felt that I was doing my part in helping my husband put his best foot forward as he worked jobs that brought him face to face with a fickle public. Also, I thought of his appearance as a reflection of me. I wanted to be seen as a wife who took good care of her husband.

Having invested myself in how he presented himself, I felt that he was representing me. In another dimension, whenever I saw the sparkling white, wrinkle-free shirt covering his chest, I knew I had given a gift of my heart to protect his heart while we were apart.

Guarding the heart is what the apostle Paul had in mind when, using Roman armor imagery, he advised the Christian to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14). A defensive weapon, the bronze breastplate worn by the ancient Roman soldier was commonly called “the heart protector.”

Ten years earlier, Paul had used the same military metaphor but referred to it as “the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Faith and love, blended together, protect the heart against the attacks and influences of evil and preserve what is vital.

Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23 AMP).

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To Regret Or Not To Regret

No more Mr. Nice Guy! He’d been pushed too far. Who did that tycoon think he was? Not an ounce of appreciation. No show of hospitality or even common courtesy. What a selfish ingrate!

How many times had he ordered his men to protect that ungrateful magnate’s shepherds and flocks from roaming bandits? Too many, apparently. Any time at the snap of his finger, his own motley band of malcontents and discontents would have plundered them. Why, if it hadn’t been for his kindness and skillful leadership, there would be nothing for that imbecile to party about–or with–at Carmel!

Did that arrogant aristocrat think, because he was running for his life, he was hobbled? No way. He’d been on the run for almost a decade, and the king hadn’t killed him yet. He knew how to survive. Besides, God was on his side.

It wasn’t like he was asking permission for them to attend the annual whoop-de-do but merely a fair share of the feast. The gall of that bloated ego to laugh at his young envoys’ request with “Who is David, the son of Jesse?” How dare the rascal insult him like that! The cheat knew he was the David who had eaten regularly at the king’s table! Maybe this scumbag thought the king’s son-in-law wasn’t the same valiant warrior he once was when his name had been cheered and sung at victory parades. He’d show him–the dirty dog!

“Suit up!” David ordered his ragtag army. “You’ll get to wield your swords and spears soon. I free you from all restraint. You are no longer wall-to-wall protection for Nabal’s shepherds. That fool will get what’s coming to him for denying us our due. He’s going to pay, all right. No male–man or boy–in that household will be alive at daybreak.”

David slapped on his sword and led his four hundred men down the mountain pass. Beginning the descent, he was surprised by a train of donkeys laden with bread, wine, ready-to-eat sheep, roasted grain, and hundreds of raisin and fig cakes.

Ha! So the scoundrel changed his mind. Well, he’s a day late and a dollar short. I’ve drawn my battle lines.

David waved his arm for his men to keep pace. Turning in the bend, his eyes locked with those of a breathtakingly beautiful woman.

Who’s that? She’s too well dressed to be another servant, and she possesses a regal bearing. I must have scared her. She can’t wait to dismount from that donkey. Why is she falling down at my feet? She doesn’t even lift her head to look at me and talks like this is all her fault. She’s asking me to let her bear the blame.

Oh, I get it. She’s that nincompoop’s wife. This catered meal is her idea. She’s shrewd–very shrewd. She thought her ploy would soften me and get me to change my mind, but I’m smarter than–hold on. I’d better listen to this. She’s starting to make sense.

When the LORD does for my lord all the good He promised and appoints you ruler over Israel, there will not be remorse or a troubled conscience for my lord because of needless bloodshed or my lord’s revenge. And when the LORD does good things for my lord, may you remember me your servant.
(1 Samuel 25:30-31 HCSB)

She’s got a point. I hadn’t thought about it like that. I’ve been anointed the next king, and one day I will sit on the throne. If I take this revenge, will I live to regret it? Will it become a dark cloud on my future monarchy? Will I look back and think it was beneath me? That I had lost faith in God? This woman has made me stop and think and remember that vengeance belongs to the Almighty.

Then David said to Abigail, “Praise to the LORD God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! Your discernment is blessed, and you are blessed. Today you kept me from participating in bloodshed and avenging myself by my own hand.
(1 Samuel 25:32-33 HCSB)

Three Things Come Not Back

Remember, three things come not back:
The arrow sent upon its track —
It will not swerve, it will not stay
Its speed; it flies to wound or slay.

The spoken word, so soon forgot
By thee; but it has perished not.
In other hearts ’tis living still
And doing work for good or ill.

And the lost opportunity
That cometh back no more to thee.
In vain thou weepest, in vain dost yearn.
Those three will nevermore return.
(an Arabic saying)

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Crossing the Boundary

“You’ll never go,” she declared within a spontaneous laugh. That laugh wasn’t because I had struck a chord of humor. Nor did it mean my mother would do all in her power to keep me from going to college. No, it reflected the absurdity of my dream. In my mother’s mind college was an absolute impossibility, for it cost every bit of money she could salvage amidst my father’s sea of alcoholism to keep the family afloat.

As her oldest child of six, my mother was counting on me for additional family income after I graduated from high school. She set the boundary when she fenced me into the commercial curriculum.

“Mama, I want to take the academic course.” I knew I needed the math, foreign language, and science classes if I had any hope of being admitted to a college. Without them how could I do well on the required ACT or SAT? My high school, allowing no overlapping, drew indelible lines for each curriculum (academic, commercial, general). I would be stuck for three years on the track I started in the tenth grade.

“Judy, you can’t get a job with that academic stuff. It’s foolishness. A waste of time. You’ve got to get a job, and you’re going to take the commercial course.”

When my hushed voice revealed I wanted to go to college, Mama’s laugh trashed my dream to the ridiculous and defined my boundary. Thus business arithmetic, typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping boxed my borders.

A few days short of my eighteenth birthday, I was assigned an office desk with a manual typewriter at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. As I handed my mother money for room and board each payday, her burden was a little lighter.

Every day I worked the clerk-stenographer job I starved intellectually and emotionally, all the while building up my strength to cross my mother’s boundary. Fifteen months later I matriculated at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

While sitting in general psychology class that fall, I learned my professor had crossed an imposed boundary too. His feat, however, was one that I, having belonged to the National Honor Society, could not imagine.

“I was tested as borderline mental retardation,” Dr. Cook told the class. “But that did not keep me from getting a doctorate. And that is why I’m always advising this college not to require ACT or SAT scores for admission. A student’s potential should not be bound to those tests.”

If anyone could say since David of old “With You I can attack a barrier, and with my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29 HCSB), it was Dr. Cook. Refusing to let a statistical standard hedge him in, he established his own boundary. Then, using his life experience, he fought for those who might be barricaded from achieving their potential. I was one of them, getting in just under the wire, though. The ACT was a freshman admission requirement when I received my B.A. four years later.

I also got into Carson-Newman because, adhering to my mother’s career confines, I saved enough to pay the first-year expenses and earned the credibility to be rehired during college summers. With God I moved a boundary.
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Left Without Limit

There was a time when they were thought of as distorted–if not cursed–because they were born into 10 percent of the world population. Forcing their dictated standard on the deviants, some teachers hit them with a yardstick, ruler, or on the head with a dictionary if they didn’t comply with the norm. At times the abnormal hand was tied behind the student’s back. Conformity to the mold of the 90 percent was the objective. Left-handers must be taught normality. Even if perchance they didn’t actually hear the words voiced, this minority was left feeling weak, backward, weird, “less than.”

Quite the opposite attitude toward lefties in thirteenth century BC! The Bible mentions an elite corps of warriors: “There were 700 choice men who were left-handed among all these people; all could sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16 HCSB). A slingstone weighing a pound could be propelled up to a hundred miles an hour and hit the target a quarter of a mile or more away. sling_stones_lachish_british_museum-195x175x72

Do you think anyone gave a moment’s thought to changing their left-handed defenders? The ancient sharpshooters were accepted (and useful) just as they were.

There is a birthed minority that is so rare it can’t even claim 1 percent of the world population. In fact, you could count them on both hands and feet with some toes left over. Does that make this minuscule segment of society inconsequential? Three-foot-three Nick Vujicic proves not.

One of the few persons living with tetra-amelia syndrome, Mr. Vujicic’s ongoing spiritual growth has him touting: “No arms, no legs, no worries.” What makes him stand tall?Nick Vujicic“I found happiness when I realized that as imperfect as I may be, I am the perfect Nick Vujicic. I am God’s creation, designed according to His plan for me” (Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life, p. 1). Vibrant Vujicic stuffed in a nutshell what, more than three thousand years before, King David had spread into a song:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.
(Psalm 139:13-16 MSG)

In the following ten-minute video clip, you can catch a glimpse of how Vujicic does not sell himself short:

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Too Strong for God

Mighty, magnificent Moses was too strong for God. So God cut him down to size.

Adopted into the Egyptian king’s family, Moses spent the first third of his life seeped in the accoutrements of privileged royalty. Knowledge of astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, music, art, and hieroglyphics was poured into his mind. From head to toe he was precisely groomed in statesmanship as well as in military prowess. Sipping the cup of a bright future, Moses was recognized as the crème de la crème:  “And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 ESV). No doubt about it, Moses was somebody.

But he was not the somebody God could use mightily until he had spent the second third of his lifetime in the desert solitudes of Median as a down-to-earth shepherd. At the close of those forty years, Moses was God’s man to lead and instruct millions of men, women, and children during the last third of his life span.

Poles apart from Moses, Gideon had no illusions where he stood on the social ladder: “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15 ESV). Thinking of himself as a nobody, Gideon was strong enough for God’s use:  “The Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with Himself and took possession of him” (Judges 6:34 AMP). Wearing that outfit of power and might, Gideon called for volunteers to fight against the band of marauders, who every year for the past seven years had invaded their land and plundered their crops and livestock, leaving its citizens desperate and impoverished. On this, the eighth year, 32,000 men stood with Gideon for a push back.

But Gideon’s army was too strong for God. El Shaddai had to cut it down to size so that at the end of the day, there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that He–not man–won the war. Because credit for the upcoming victory must go to Him, God Almighty ordered Gideon to reduce the troops. Then, implementing El Shaddai’s battle strategy, 300 home-grown warriors routed an enemy of 135,000 (Judges 7 and Judges 8).

God will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8). “He dare not entrust his power to men, till they are humbled and emptied, and conscious of their helplessness” (F. B. Meyer, Moses: The Servant of God).

“The plain fact is that apart from me,” Jesus admonished, “you can do nothing at all” (John 15:5 Phillips).

At the point where we come to the end of ourselves, God begins His work with us. “To experience God’s sufficiency one must realize one’s own insufficiency. To experience God’s fullness one must empty self” (Nathan Stone, Names of God).

As the apostle Paul clearly learned:  “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV).
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The Pisgah View

There she was again, her nose flattened against the screen door. If she appeared, it was always at suppertime when I was busy in the kitchen. She wasn’t a waif. Four or five years older than my toddler daughter, she didn’t ask to play. She peered through the wire mesh for a while and then was gone. The girl from next door  just wanted to look. Enigmatically, it was, I suppose, her Pisgah view. And I think it was bittersweet, as it was for Moses.

Moses, the mediator-man God had chosen to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and take to the Promised Land, would not set a foot on its soil. This faithful servant of God who, for forty years, had led and put up with the vacillating and rebellious Israelites begged the Almighty, “Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan” (Deuteronomy 3:25 ESV).

God, as Righteous Judge, refused to listen:  “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again” (Deuteronomy 3:26 ESV). Sadly, the die had been cast earlier that year.

The multitude of millions had whined for water at Meribah-kadesh, and Moses had asked God what to do about it. The answer was specific: 

‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink’ (Numbers 20:8 NASB).

If only Moses had checked his emotions–thought about cause and effect before he spoke and acted–the result would have been different:

And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank (Numbers 20:10-11 NASB).

Yes, the congregation saw a miracle and got the life-giving water, but Moses would not get the long-anticipated prize of entering the Promised Land. He blew his future hope:   “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them’” (Numbers 20:12 NASB).

Moses, prophet and lawgiver, said and did everything wrong that day. It was bad enough he manifested anger and impatience when he called the assembly “rebels” and struck the rock not once but twice.

Going from bad to worse, Moses deflected the miracle from God to himself and Aaron when he said, “Shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Such a small pronoun–we–with far-reaching implications. All the way up to and including breaking the first of the Ten Commandments God had spoken to Moses at the beginning of their pilgrimage:  “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). Lodged in that significant “we” was the suggestion that the Israelites would come to think of Moses as deity.

The worst infraction, however, was his disobedience bred from unbelief. Propelled by his anger and pride, Moses focused on himself and did not perform the miracle as God had directed. True, when he had struck the rock at Rephidim with that same rod, water poured out. But that was the way God wanted it done in Year 1 of the  journey (Exodus 17:1-6). In Year 40 God said nothing about hitting the rock. His instruction was to “speak to the rock.” The spoken word standing alone would give God all the glory for the miracle. God adamantly refuses to give His glory to someone or something else (Isaiah 42:8).

Everyone except Moses would walk into the Promised Land. In His grace and mercy, however, God permits Moses a panorama before he dies: “‘Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan'” (Deuteronomy 3:27 ESV). No, Moses did not go over “this Jordan”; but he did go over another Jordan, where he received a greater inheritance, as evidenced in the New Testament:

 Six days later Jesus chose Peter, James and his brother John, to accompany him high up on the hill-side where they were quite alone. There his whole appearance changed before their eyes, his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light. Then Moses and Elijah were seen talking to Jesus (Matthew 17:1-3 Phillips).

We, too, for whatever reason, may not obtain the earthly goal of our lifelong labors; but by faith we can know that ultimately God’s vision will be realized.

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Own It!

Deluded, they take shelter behind the wall of repression. It seems a safe place to hide from the cornucopia of feelings and emotions. Denying them, however, is a false security, which can never result in the desired peace.

How can there be anything wrong with having feelings and emotions? They were built into humankind by the Creator, who Himself possesses them. Take jealousy, for instance.

Jealousy is in God’s personality:  “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 ESV). Holy God is to be the One and Only in the marriage covenant entered into with His people; and  He is emotional about preserving it:  “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies” (Nahum 1:2 ESV). God gets worked up over spiritual adultery.

God also grieves:  “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). Yes, God knows how it feels to have heart-stabbing pain. 

Like Father, like Son. Encountering church leaders headstrong on discrediting Him, Jesus “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5 ESV). And that wasn’t the only time the Son of God showed anger:

In the Temple he discovered cattle and sheep dealers and pigeon-sellers, as well as money-changers sitting at their tables. So he made a rough whip out of rope and drove the whole lot of them, sheep and cattle as well, out of the Temple. He sent the coins of the money-changers flying and turned their tables upside down. Then he said to the pigeon-dealers, “Take those things out of here. Don’t you dare turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered the scripture—‘Zeal for your house has eaten me up’ (John 2:14-17 Phillips).

Jesus was also man enough to cry:

 When Jesus saw Mary weep and noticed the tears of the Jews who came with her, he was deeply moved and visibly distressed.

 “Where have you put him?” he asked.

“Lord, come and see,” they replied, and at this Jesus himself wept.

(John 11:33-35 Phillips)

Obviously, Jesus did not hide from His emotions. Why should we?

Feelings and emotions have no moral value in and of themselves. How one uses free will with the feelings and emotions makes those morally good or bad. The key to emotional health is emotional honesty. Accept the emotion or feeling, admit the emotion or feeling, and decide what action, if any, to give it. Free will enforces the judgment call to act or not to act.

Recently, I, who prided myself on having never told a lie (well, almost never), realized I deluded myself when I did not own up to a feeling. Convincing myself it was for the sake of peace in the relationship and out of kindness for the other person’s feelings, I “sucked up” what I felt was a personal offense time and again. Each time I locked it inside me, and the relationship I had thought would become beautiful corroded bit by bit.

Suppose I had been honest with the other person from the get-go and admitted my feelings were hurt. If I had truthfully said after the first occurrence “That makes me sad” instead of repressing the feeling, perhaps the relationship would not have eroded.

Behind the wall of repression is not a safety zone. Rather, it is a place of delusion. We have the free will not to go there or not to stay there, for “by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29 ESV).

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