Divine Hospitality

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

Genesis 18:1-5 (NIV)

I walked into the small hut. There was no door that I recall, nor was there more than opening for a window. I was in a remote, mountainous region on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. My interpreter, Victorino, explained that the hut belonged to the local pastor who ministered to villages in the area. We were guests in their home, the local parsonage.

The pastor and his wife were so excited to host us for lunch, and they went out of their way to be so very hospitable. They wanted us to see the large piece of linoleum that had been placed over the dirt floor. Victorino explained that it was likely a scrap that had been salvaged from a landfill near the city, but to our hosts it was a meaningful upgrade to their normal living conditions.

Our lunch consisted of pulled chicken freshly butchered, rice, fresh fruit harvested by hand nearby, and simple sandwiches comprising of white bread onto which butter had been spread and sugar sprinkled over it. The humble meal, Victorino explained, was a lavish feast in our hosts personal economy. They were sacrificing themselves to give us the very best they could afford.

I will never forget that experience. It was humbling. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus pointing out that the poor widow offering her only pennies at the temple was a far greater divine gift than the tithe of abundant riches offered by the wealthy. The meal in that hut was divine hospitality.

Today’s chapter tells of Abraham experiencing what scholars call a theophany, an experience in which God appears to a human in human form. Abraham greets them with gracious hospitality. Abraham makes sure his guests have shade from the sun and water to wash their sandaled feet. Sarah uses enough flour to make 60 loaves of bread, and a calf is slaughtered for the feast (a rare treat in that time).

As I read the chapter, I couldn’t help but recall memories of the incredible hospitality I’ve experienced in other cultures. The Philippine parsonage was just one example. There’s the Arab restaurant owner in Bethlehem during the intifada who, while his fellow countrymen treated me with contempt and threats, quite literally begged me to come into his shop where I was treated with what felt like royal hospitality. Then the experience in Nazareth village in which I was able to experience ancient hospitality much like Abraham in today’s chapter. A shelter for shade, fresh baked pita break made as Sarah likely would have made it thousands of years ago, and fresh olives and olive oil (see featured photo of this post).

My parents modeled hospitality as I was growing up. Everyone was welcome in our home, including friends who would stop by even when me and my siblings weren’t home. Everyone was offered my mother’s home cooking or baking. My parents loved talking to our friends, and our friends obviously felt loved, welcomed, and embraced.

Wendy and I have tried to continue the same kind of hospitality that was modeled for me by my parents, the same kind of generous hospitality we have experienced from others, and the hospitality that God desires from every follower of Jesus. I am reminded that I never know when I might experience a heavenly visitor in disguise, like Abraham:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

As I close out this work week, I am humbled not only in remembering the hospitality I’ve experience from others, but also in considering the opportunities Wendy and I have to continue growing in generous hospitality, sharing all with which we’ve been generously blessed with others.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh (CaD Gen 17) Wayfarer

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Genesis 17:17-18 (NIV)

There is an old saying, “Whoever laughs last, laughs best.”

That came to mind today as I meditated on the events of today’s chapter. Abram is ninety-nine years old. His wife is ninety. God has been promising Abram for years that he will be the father of many nations. Abram believes God, but faith isn’t always easy.

Along my journey I’ve found faith to be a struggle. It ebbs and flows like the ribbon tied on the middle of the tug-of-war rope. One moment faith seems easier and the ribbon moves my way, then doubt muscles up within me and the ribbon slips back to the other side of no-mans-land. As one man said to Jesus: “I believe…help my unbelief.”

In today’s chapter, God once again proclaims that He has made (past tense) Abram to be the father of many nations. God then changes Abram’s name (which means “exalted father”) to Abraham (which scholars believe to mean “father of many nations”). God then changes Sarai’s name to Sarah (both mean “princess” but the latter, once again, is believed to point to “many nations” or descendants). So God continues to double-down on His promise to Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham then laughs.

He laughs, because it’s been decades and Sarah is still barren.

He laughs, because he and Sarah are well beyond childbearing years.

He laughs, because having a baby so easily with Hagar after decades of failure, month-after-month, with Sarah feels like a cruel joke.

He laughs, because he’s tired of all the promises without fulfillment.

He laughs because impatience has muscled up and the ribbon on the tug-of-war rope is so far on the side of doubt, the game just might be over.

Thank you, Abraham, for being human like me.

Then God makes one more name pronouncement. The son that will be born of the promise is to be named “Isaac,” which means “he laughs.”

“You’re laughing now, Abraham, but just you wait,” God says. “He who laughs last, laughs best. Remember that every time you utter your son’s name.”

In the quiet this morning, I needed today’s chapter. The ribbon on the rope in my own internal tug-of-war has been sitting precariously in relatively the same place Abram found it in today’s chapter. Of late, when reminded of God’s promises, I’ve laughed inside.

I believe, Lord……………Help my unbelief.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Namaste God

Namaste God (CaD Gen 16) Wayfarer

[Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

Our dear friend has a yoga studio in town. Wendy has actively been assisting our friend with her business. And so, I even attend a class now and then. Given the increased stiffening of the muscles and joints one experiences with age, I really should go more often. It is really good for my body.

One of the traditions of yoga is that of ending a class with the word “namaste.” The literal translation is “I bow to you” and it is a traditional, humble salutation used in greeting and parting. Many people speak of the word’s broader definition as “I see you,” or “The divine in me sees the divine in you” and I find the concept quite lovely.

Today’s chapter is downright Shakespearean when bookended with yesterday’s chapter. Yesterday’s chapter was about Abram’s simple belief of God’s promises being “credited to him as righteousness.” Of course, the promise God has made Abram from the very beginning was that His descendants would be as numerous as stars in the sky and the sand on the beach. Today’s chapter begins with the harsh reality of his wife Sara being old and childless. Sara, who is tired of waiting, tired of believing, and tired of trusting, takes matters into her own hands. She tells Abram to do what was very common in the culture of that day. She tells her husband to sleep with her servant, Hagar, and have a child by her so that he would have an heir. Abram goes along with it.

Sara and Abram’s act intersect with me and my own story on multiple levels. Along my journey I have had my own experiences with God’s promises given and the long-suffering required to see the promise fulfilled. The questions of “How long do I wait?” and “Should I be doing something to make this thing happen?” are very real. Abram and Sara’s impatience and exasperation resonate deeply with me.

And then, of course, there is the journey of infertility that Wendy and I walked together for many years (though much shorter than Abram and Sara). There are emotions, questions, and struggles that one experiences on the journey of infertility (for both a woman and a man) that are unlike anything else I’ve experienced in life. I’ve observed that those who have not experienced it are largely unaware of the intensity of the ordeal, and most are reluctant to even engage in an empathetic conversation about it. I get Sara and Abram’s desperation, and their desire to make this thing happen once and for all.

Then there is Hagar, who is the oft ignored victim of this desperate act. In all my years studying the Great Story, I regularly find Hagar to be regarded with either ignorance (e.g. she’s not considered at all) or subtle contempt (e.g. she’s viewed contemptuously as “the other woman”). In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t ignore her. Hagar was a slave. She had no choice in the matter. She suffered a gross injustice that was compounded by Sara’s antipathy and mistreatment, along with Abram’s indifference (e.g. “Do with her whatever you think best.”). Hagar flees the abusive situation. She’s homeless, penniless, defenseless, directionless, and pregnant.

Then God shows up.

God blesses Hagar. He gives Hagar a carbon-copy promise that He gave to Abram and Sara: “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” God comforts Hagar in her misery. God directs Hagar to return to Sara because sometimes in the Great Story one must face injustice rather than flee it in order for the larger Story to unfold.

Then Hagar says something amazing: “You are the God who sees me. I have seen the One who sees me.”

As I read these words this morning my soul whispered “Namaste.”

In the quiet this morning, I stand humbled and amazed at the lengths to which God regarded Hagar and the injustice done to her. God appears to this poor, pregnant slave girl in a way that He rarely appears to anyone. It echoes of Jesus’ regard for a poor, publicly shamed and naked woman caught in the act of adultery, and His regard for a half-breed, divorced and segregated Samaritan woman at the well.

“I see you.”

The God who sees Abram and Sara in the intense struggles of their infertility journey. The God who sees Hagar in the suffering of the injustices done to her. The God who sees me in both my joys and my long-sufferings. God sees me. Do I, like Hagar, see the God who sees me, or, like Sara and Abram, am I blinded by my doubts, fears, and frustrations?

And the Shakespearean story is about to unfold.

Two sons by different women.

Two numerous peoples, the countless descendants of Hagar and Sara.

Arabs and Hebrews.

Both peoples honoring Abraham as their father.

Read the headlines. The story continues to unfold to this day.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Santa God

Santa God (CaD Gen 15) Wayfarer

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

This is the problem: It’s too easy to mix-up God and Santa Claus.

Life is a meritocracy from a young age. In my earliest cognitive memory around ages 3 to 4, I find myself under the authority of parents who make it quite clear that if I’m obedient and do what they say, then I’m golden, but if I’m disobedient, then I’m going to be punished.

By the time I’m five, the biggest gift giving holiday of the year solidifies this meritocracy in my brain with Santa Claus as the omniscient authority figure determining if the annual balance of my goodness and badness warrants me receiving a stocking full of candy and socks and a bunch of presents under the tree. If the scale tips to the badness spectrum, it’s coal for me.

Within just two years, I become involved in scouting program which rewards my good deeds and behavior with awards, badges, and medals. I continue to develop an understanding of meritocracy. There is a reward for ambition and good behavior, those who excel are on display for the whole world to see with their medals, badges, and awards. If I have less, shame enters the equation. I’m not as good. I don’t have as many badges. I am less than.

And, each year Santa drives home the “naughty or nice” lesson.

At the same time, my earliest experiences in organized sports adds yet another object lesson in meritocracy. The kids who are naturally coordinated, developed, and have knowledge of the game are successful. Meanwhile, I increasingly ride the bench and watch the coach’s wife score the game. (For the record, my little league baseball career lasted two years, but to this day I like scoring games.)

And, Santa, my stocking, and gift haul remind me annually that gifts are a reward for good behavior.

I’m twelve by the time I have my first serious discussions about God. Yes, I grew up attending Sunday School most Sundays and Vacation Bible School each summer, but it wasn’t very exciting and seemed to be a lot about stories that support the good behavior business. In my journey, it was confirmation class in 7th grade that was a year-long primer on the Bible and God.

In retrospect, I had already a well-developed sense of how God worked based on my life experiences. And, it looked a lot like the Santa. If I’m good, then God will answer my prayers, my life will go well, and I’ll end up in heaven. If I’m bad or fall short then my prayers will not be answered, bad things will happen, and I’ll end up in the fires of hell (burning with Santa’s coal, no doubt). As a child, I was pretty darn sure that all four of the Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl losses were my fault, God’s punishment for something I’d done.

I’m sure that Mrs. Washington’s confirmation class attempted to teach me about God’s grace and love, but my brain and soul were already branded by the Santa principle.

In today’s chapter lies a simple verse that is almost never talked about among Jesus’ followers even though it is foundational to understanding Jesus’ core message. Paul uses it to argue that Jesus’ message was God’s message from the beginning. The author of Hebrews does so, as well. For followers of Jesus, this verse is crucial to know, digest, and cling to:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

No meritocracy.

No addendum talking about being good, pure, and holy.

No mention of achieving, doing unto others, going to church, or giving money.

Just believe. That’s what faith is. To believe.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Act 16:31

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 8:9-10

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it is so hard to get out of the God as Santa mindset. God says “My ways are not your ways” and this applies to perhaps the most important question of all: How can I be saved?

Humanity’s way:

“Be good, work hard at it, keep all the rules, and maybe you’ll earn salvation like a present under the tree.”

God’s way:

“Just believe. Ask me to come in. Receive my love and forgiveness. That’s it. You see, once you’ve truly experienced My unmerited love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy, I trust you’ll be inspired and motivated to choose and practice obedience out of your own freedom and gratitude. That’s how I roll. That’s how I’ve always rolled, like I did with Abram.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about all the ways I still wrestle with “Santa God” after 40 years. It still creeps in to haunt me. Meritocracy is a hard habit to break, both in the way I see God and myself, but also in the way I see, approach, and treat others.

I’m also reminded that I can’t do anything about previous days. I’ve only got this day that lies before me. I’ve got this day to just believe Jesus, to receive His love and grace, and then to let that love and my gratitude flow in goodness.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Sage in the Story

A Sage in the Story (CaD Gen 14) Wayfarer

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Genesis 14:18-20 (NIV)

In all great epic stories, we encounter mysterious and oracular figures who Carl Jung labeled the Sage archetype. Sometimes these sages are ever-present in the storyline like Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, and Yoda in the Episodes I-III of Star Wars. Sometimes a Sage appears for a brief moment in the story, but their words and presence linger as an important thread of the story. In the original Star Wars trilogy of movies, the sage Obi-wan (“He’s just a crazy old man” Luke’s Uncle said of him) was physically present in the story for a relatively brief time, but his presence and words came back at important moments. Likewise, the Oracle played a crucial role in the Matrix trilogy, though we only saw her briefly on screen.

Remember: All great stories are reflections of the Great Story.

Genesis means “beginnings” and in it God establishes many things that are crucial to the Great Story He is going to tell through the final chapter of Revelation. In today’s chapter, we are briefly introduced to a mysterious figure, a sage character who appears on stage for a moment, but whose presence is dripping with foreshadowing in the larger Great Story which will only be come clear thousands of years later.

Abram, to whom God has promised to make a great nation, allowed his nephew Lot to choose the land he wanted. Lot chose what looked to be the land where the grass was greener for his herds, but it turned out to be a land full of violence, political turmoil, and war. Lot, his family, and his possessions are taken as spoils of war amidst the tumult. Abram, meanwhile, has prospered greatly where he settled and he goes on a successful rescue mission to recapture Lot and his family.

As they return, we meet the mysterious Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God-Most-High who blesses Abram, and Abram gives Melchizedek “ten percent of everything.”

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, but in fact it is. Melchizedek will be an important figure in Jesus’ story. He is what scholars call a “type” or parallel of Jesus. A few things to note:

Melchizedek (meaning “Righteous King”) is King of Salem, which is a word related to peace and part of the more familiar Jeru-salem. Therefore, a “righteous king of peace.” Not only is Mel King, but he’s also priest of God-Most-High. We’re not even to the part of the Great Story where God prescribes to Moses the sacrificial system He wants the Hebrew people to use, but in that system the priesthood and the monarchy are two separate entities. Mel brings out to Abram a gift of “bread and wine,” which was a cultural tradition at that time, but the allusion to Jesus’ last supper can’t be ignored. King Mel is also priest of God-Most-High at a time before we have any knowledge that God was doing anything in persons outside the narrative we’ve been given, yet Abram acknowledges this mysterious King-Priest. He honors Mel with a tithe of everything which was a “king’s share” in that day.

Melchizedek will later make a brief and mysterious appearance in David’s lyrics in Psalm 110. This is ironic since God promised that it would be David’s throne that would be established forever, and through David’s line through which the Messiah would come. In this, God declares through David that the monarchy and priesthood would, once again, be interwoven in the Messiah as had been foreshadowed in the mysterious sage, Melchizedek in today’s chapter. As for the Mosaic sacrificial system? Well, “old things pass away, new things come,” yet what is new was established in the mystery of Melchizedek in the ancient past. The author of Hebrews brings clarity to how Melchizedek and Christ are connected.

So, what does this whole thing have to do with my life on this 20,254th day of my earthly journey? There are a couple of things that I’m contemplating in the quiet.

First, Melchizedek reminds me that I am part of a connected story. It is thousands of years between the events of Genesis 14 and the Jesus story. Yet, like all epic stories, you look back in retrospect to see how all things work together and are connected. This reminds me that I, and my story, are also connected to the Great Story in mysterious ways that I can’t see in the moment, but I believe I will one day stand on the other side and look back to see it revealed. This, in turns, inspires me to press on in the journey today.

Melchizedek also reminds me that God is at work in the lives and stories of others in ways that I don’t know nor can I comprehend. As I have progressed in my own journey I have increasingly come to acknowledge this fact whenever I encounter anyone. In those who have believed and received, God is actively engaged in weaving their stories into the Great Story. In those who have not, I believe God is actively engaged in drawing them in to Himself. I have also come to believe that their stories, even in their unbelief, antagonism, or passivity, are ultimately connected to the Great Story in ways I can’t humanly imagine. If I really believe this, and I do, then it motivates me to relate to every human being I encounter with grace, respecting that they are a person whom Jesus loves, and in whom Jesus is actively at work to draw them in.

And so, I enter this day, and this new work week, reminded that I and my life are connected to the Great Story in ways I can scarcely imagine, and believing that so is everyone with whom I will interact this day. And that should dictate the way I think, act, speak, interact and proceed.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Greener” Grass

"Greener" Grass (CaD Gen 13) Wayfarer

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.
Genesis 13:10-13 (NIV)

Wendy and I were invited to join dear friends at the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary last night. They asked me to lead those gathered in a time of praying a blessing over them. It was so beautiful to lay hands on them, to hear the prayers of love, to hear their laughter, and to see their tears. It’s one of the coolest things about giving a blessing; I always end up being blessed in return.

As we socialized into the evening I was asked by one guest if I was a pastor. This is always an interesting question to answer because culture tends to be mired in the 1800 year old paradigm of the institutional church in which being a “minister” or “pastor” is defined as professional, institutional vocation tied to a specific denomination and/or local church. Technically, I am businessman leading the research and assessment firm I’ve been a part of for almost 30 years. God led me to this job and this role, and I consider it a ministry. That said, I am also blessed to enjoy the opportunity given me by my local gathering of Jesus followers to serve in a pastoral role though I am not a member of the staff. No one wants to hear this long answer, so when asked if I’m a pastor I usually simply answer “No.”

Today’s chapter is a study in contrast between ol’ Abram and his young nephew, Lot. They’ve both prospered and have vast flocks and herds, so many that it was causing conflict among their respective herdsmen who were fighting over provision for their herds. Seeing this, Abram makes the call to separate and settle in different areas. While Abram was the elder and could have demanded the right to choose the land he wanted, he generously relinquishes his rights and allows Lot to choose his land for himself.

Abram’s relinquishing of rights and generosity are quickly contrasted by the younger Lot who sees that the plains to the east of the Jordan River were lush, green, and well-watered. There are also cities nearby for provisions and supplies. He selfishly chooses the “best” land for himself and settles near the city of Sodom.

After Lot’s departure, God tells Abram to look at the land God “is giving you and your offspring forever.” This is yet another contrast. Lot looked himself and chose what appeared to be the best. Abram waited for God to tell him where this land was. Abram is still believing the promise God made at the very beginning of this story in yesterday’s chapter. Abram and his family end up back at Hebron where he had previously built an altar to God.

Their respective destinations are yet a third contrast. Lot, having made his own choice, ends up near Sodom which already has a reputation of being Sin City and dwells in proximity to its temptations. Abram ends up back at the altar he’d once made to God and returns to a monument of his persistent faith that the childless Abram and Sarah will, indeed, experience God’s promise of descendants who will fill the earth like stars fill the sky.

I find myself back at the theme of contrast between humanity’s ways, and God’s ways. Lot made a perfectly reasonable human choice: “Hey, the grass is greener over there!” Abram chose to trust and have faith that God was going to fulfill His promise to lead Abram to “a land that I will show you.”

This brings me back in the quiet this morning to my own vocational choices. Early in my life I struck out on the path toward professional, institutional “ministry.” Then God made clear to me (it’s a long story) that He had a different path for me to follow. It was a path that led me to a more expansive understanding of God’s definition of ministry, and abundant blessing I’m still experiencing. Like the blessing of last night.

Over the years, my mother occasionally would ask me, “Are you ever going to go back into the ministry?” God love her. Her eyes were fixed myopically on what she perceived to be the lush, green grass of the old institutional paradigm. I get it. Old habits die hard.

My answer to her was always roughly the same: “Mom, I never left the ministry. Its boundary markers simply got expanded to include a land to which God wanted to lead me.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.