Category Archives: Chapter-a-Day

Finding Forrest

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Matthew 13:34 (NIV)

I have a confession to make. The first time that I saw the movie Forrest Gump I balled like a baby on the way home. I remember being absolutely perplexed as I drove the tears pouring down my cheeks. I didn’t know why I was crying. I had no clue what it was about the movie that so obviously touched something so deep inside my soul.

Forrest Gump was released in 1994. That particular waypoint of my Life journey was an important one. I was 28 years old with two wee girls at home and a struggling marriage. My life was not turning out to be anything I expected it to be. I couldn’t see it at the time, but I was about to embark on the most important stretch of self-discovery of my life. It was a difficult stretch that would lead to some deep, dark valleys before I would find my way back to high places.

It would be twenty years or so before I would add a layer of self-understanding in learning about being an Enneagram Type Four. Equipped with that lens, my emotional reaction to Forrest Gump finally becomes clearer. An Enneagram Four’s core fear is that there is something hopelessly flawed in me, like Forrest’s diminished mental capacity which he can do nothing about. A Four’s core desire is to be special. The entire story of Forrest Gump is that of him being uniquely special, intersecting with the most famous people and moments of history, and most importantly having a life-changing impact on loved ones like Jenny and Lieutenant Dan. Forrest Gump tapped into core fears and desires I didn’t see at the moment. It resonated so powerfully and deeply within my being that I wept uncontrollably while having zero understanding why. I found a piece myself in the story of Forrest Gump. Such is the power of story.

In today’s chapter, Jesus speaks to the crowds following Him in a series of parables. They’re simple metaphorical stories and Matthew says that during this stretch of Jesus’ ministry He exclusively used them in teaching the crowds. Gone is the direct, plain language of the message on the hill. Jesus tells little stories about sowers, seeds, farmers, wheat, pearls, treasure, and weeds. Jesus tells His disciples that the purpose of the parables is to both reveal and conceal for spiritual purposes.

Jesus paints a simple story that draws listeners in. Once I am in, one of three things happens. First, I might not see, hear, or understand what Jesus is saying in the story. Whatever Jesus is talking about is concealed to me at this time. Second, I might find myself in the story. I am the seed that fell on the soil. I am the weeds springing up among the wheat. I am the woman who would sell everything she had in order to have the treasure Jesus is offering, and this understanding propels me forward in my spiritual journey. Third, I might find myself in the story and utterly reject what has been revealed.

In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic as I remember back to 1994. I thought that I knew so much about myself. I thought I knew so much about Jesus. Driving home from Forrest Gump weeping for unknown reasons was spiritual significant in ways I couldn’t see or understand. I found myself in the story, and it propelled my spirit forward on the journey to discover more.

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

Heart and Words

Heart and Words (CaD Matt 12) Wayfarer

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of…”
“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:34b, 37 (NIV)

Every morning, Wendy and I sit at the kitchen island with our coffee and our blueberry-spinach smoothies. We share a quick devotional thought and a prayer for the day ahead. We then catch up on what is happening in the world. On occasion, I’ll finish reading an article and then glance at the comments that have been made by other readers below it. I don’t know why I even do this. I always regret doing so because the comments have such little worthwhile content and so much worthless vitriol. It doesn’t matter which side of the political aisle the article comes from.

I find the same to be true even among groups of supposedly like-minded individuals. Years ago I joined fan groups of my favorite teams on social media. I rarely visit them anymore. Even among people who cheer for the same team, I find the conflict and negative discourse over really trivial matters is often off-the-charts. I don’t find it worthwhile to spend my time and energy falling down that rabbit hole.

In today’s chapter, Jesus states a very simple spiritual truth that packs a punch:

Whatever is inside my heart and soul will come out of my mouth (and onto my social media posts) as words.

In the quiet this morning, I didn’t have to search for, or think hard about, what God had for me and my day from today’s chapter. I found myself thinking long and hard about Jesus’ observation: the words I speak, type, write, and use are a leading indicator of my soul’s health and content. I immediately thought of careless words I regret speaking to a friend last week. I then had two other passages that Holy Spirit brought to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
James 1:19 (NIV)

My soul operates on the basic computer principle I learned when I was in high school: garbage in, garbage out.

I head into my day with two questions I’m pondering:

What am I feeding my heart and mind?

What do my words, tweets, posts, and comments reveal about the health and condition of my soul?

Two Guys Alone in a Mall

Two Guys Alone in a Mall (CaD Matt 11) Wayfarer

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11:2-3 (NIV)

When I was in high school, there was a recording artist named Steve Taylor who I avidly listened to along with almost all of my friends. He wasn’t an A-list celebrity. He was more of a niche artist. Some might even say that he was an acquired taste. Nevertheless, he was a “famous” recording artist and we devoured every song on every album. His stuff was edgy, counter-cultural, and he pushed at a lot of issues and causes in his lyrics that resonated with me and my peer group.

In college, I worked evenings and weekends at a bookstore in the local mall. Despite the category of “book store,” the store sold a lot of music and gifts.

One Saturday in January, the mall was completely dead as is normal for shopping malls in the frigid midwest after the holidays. On this particular Saturday, Steve Taylor was scheduled to spend the afternoon signing albums for fans in my bookstore. I was the only person on duty in the store that day. I seem to remember that only one or two customers came into the store that afternoon. It was just me and Steve Taylor standing around and hanging out for an entire afternoon.

Steve Taylor wasn’t what I expected. He wasn’t as good-looking as the album covers made him out to be. He was witty and right-brained, but he didn’t have the cynical, even caustic spirit I expected him to have based on his lyrics and music. He had less ego than I expected for someone who, in my estimation, was a famous artist. I expected him to be annoyed that no fans showed up wanting to see him and have him sign their albums. He seemed not to care at all. He just hung out with me. We talked, we laughed, and we got to know each other a little bit. It was two guys spending an enjoyable winter afternoon in the quiet bookstore of an abandoned shopping mall.

Like many children of my generation, I grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday and going to Vacation Bible School every summer. All of those experiences taught me about Jesus from the perspective of the United Methodist Church’s institutional education system. I learned a lot of the stories that I continue to read in my chapter-a-day journey. A lot of what I learned was helpful and instructive.

I was 14 when I asked Jesus to come into my heart and life. In a simple, fumbling prayer I personally surrendered my life and asked Him to be Lord of it. At that moment, I had a divine experience. In a way, it was the first time I personally met the Jesus I’d heard so much about. Like any relationship, it has been a process of learning, knowing, and being known. There were even some things I had to unlearn. There were things that were taught me by the institutional education system, all with the best of intentions, that gave me false perceptions of who I’ve found Jesus to be in my relationship with Him.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that even John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus certainly wasn’t immediately ushering in the Judgement Day that John had prophesied to the crowds. It was clear that Jesus’ teaching and ministry had not met John’s expectations or preconceived notions. John had to send his disciples to ask, “Did I get this all wrong?”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back on a 40-year relationship with Jesus. The Jesus I’ve come to know as I’ve spent nearly 15,000 days asking, seeking, praying, searching, listening, obeying, and following is so much more than the two-dimensional character on my Sunday School handout. Like any relationship, I continue to peel back layers of knowing and being known. There have been moments when I foolishly and proudly thought I fully knew Jesus; There were moments that I thought I had Him “nailed down” (pun intended). If even John the Baptist had moments of needing a realignment of knowing, why wouldn’t I?

From my current waypoint on the journey, I’m quite convinced that I haven’t even scratched the surface. The more I jettison preconceived notions and approach the chapter each morning with an open heart and mind, the more I receive, the more I find, and the more I experience the door opening to new discoveries.

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

A Hobby Kind of Thing

A Hobby Kind of Thing (CaD Matt 10) Wayfarer

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

I was in the local pub last week. I had to wait on some paperwork and figured I’d whet my whistle and work on responding to some emails while I waited. The pub tender told me that he’d been told I was a blogger. I explained that I’d been blogging for many years and had started podcasting in the past two years. I then got to explain my chapter-a-day model. I wasn’t sure, but I sensed that he might have had the impression that it has something to do with my career. I explained that it wasn’t a commercial thing and that I didn’t make money doing it.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Another patron required the pub tender’s attention, and he slipped away. The question, however, continued to resonate within me. As with so many things of the Spirit, the pub tender’s question was loaded. The answer is layered. It is at once simple and mysteriously complex.

“Why do you do it?”

Matthew structured his biography of Jesus around five major discourses, or teachings, of Jesus. The first was the message on the hill in chapters 5-7. Today’s chapter is the second major discourse, in which Jesus’ calling of His twelve disciples and His instructions to them as He send them out to proclaim Jesus’ message.

As I read through the instructions, I was struck, once again, by the humility and austerity that He expected of them…

He told them not to pack any extras. Just the clothes on their back.
He told them not to take any money, but to trust God’s provision and the generosity of others.
He told them to give away Jesus’ teaching since it had been freely given to them.

Jesus then goes on to prophetically tell The Twelve not to expect the job to be easy.

They’ll be rejected and unwelcomed.
They’ll be arrested and taken into custody.
They’ll be flogged by God’s own people.
They’ll be put on trial by civic authorities.
They’ll be betrayed, perhaps by their own family members.
Their lives will be threatened.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but contrast this with all the televangelists and their personal kingdoms I’ve observed along my life journey. I contrasted it with all of the pastors, authors, teachers, and speakers I know and have met who make a living doing Jesus’ continued work on this earth. I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect that Jesus’ literal and specific instructions to The Twelve should be projected onto every single follower that came after. At the same time, there’s an underlying attitude that I think is always applicable. Things of the Spirit are layered with meaning.

I’m not responsible for others. I am responsible for myself. So, I find myself questioning my own attitude and motivations as the pub tender’s casual question continues to resonate in my soul.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Yes, and…there’s so much more to it than that. As Jesus instructed The Twelve in today’s chapter: “You received the Message for free. Give it away for free.”

And so, one weekday and one chapter at a time, I freely scatter seeds of thought and Spirit to the four winds of the worldwide interweb. Perhaps, someday, I’ll find out how some of those seeds germinated, took root, flowered, and bore fruit. In the meantime, I keep doing what I’ve been called and compelled to do.

Here you go, wind…

[cue: clicks “Publish” button]

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

For or Against

For or Against? (CaD Matt 9) Wayfarer

And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Matthew 9:33-34 (NIV)

In yesterday’s post, I talked about Jesus’ enemies who controlled the fundamentalist religious power in his day. As I read this morning’s chapter, I found myself continuing to observe and consider the contrast between Jesus’ words and actions and the words and actions of his detractors and enemies.

In one episode, a man who was demon-possessed and couldn’t speak was brought to Jesus. Remember that this was a rural, small-town, back-water region. Everyone knows everyone or at least knows who everyone is. It’s quite possible the many in the crowd knew this man, knew his crazy affliction, and had to navigate life with and around him. When Jesus healed the man and the man spoke for the first time, they were understandably amazed.

In today’s chapter alone a paralyzed man was forgiven and then walked. A dead girl was brought back to life. A woman with a chronic bleeding disorder was made whole. Two blind men see. A demon-possessed mute is freed from spiritual captivity and is finally able to speak. Just think about all of the goodness, wholeness, and life in each of these stories. Think about the parents, families, loved ones, friends, and communities who experienced the ripple-effect of these miracles as all of that shalom resonated through each of these individual’s circles of influence.

Now listen again to the Jesus’ religious enemies: “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

As fundamentalist systems perpetuate, only those who maintain “in-group” status are truly “good” in that system’s eyes. That goodness is seen and understood by an individual toeing the line of the system’s prescribed thoughts and behaviors. Jesus is repeatedly refusing to do so. He forgives sin (which, according to the system, only God can do). He associates with “out-group” sinners and tax collectors. He doesn’t appear to religiously fast like the system prescribes. He breaks the Sabbath rules. So this man can’t be good. In a fundamentalist system, the only good, pure, ideal people are those who follow the unquestionable rules and dogma to the letter and avoid mixing with undesireables.

“Those who are not for us are against us.”

Jesus doesn’t fit. He can’t be good. Thus, he must be evil.

In the quiet this morning, I recalled this episode:

John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”
Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath slam me. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally.
Mark 9:38-40 (MSG)

Jesus’ reaction was the opposite of his religious enemies. Rather than being exclusionary and controlling, the way of Jesus was to be inclusive and empowering.

When I was a young man operating in fundamentalist Christian circles, being “Christ-like” meant adhering to the code of moral and doctrinal purity (as dictated by church, denomination, and/or parental authorities).

As an older man who has followed Jesus for forty years, I’ve increasingly learned that being “Christ-like” means adhering to the law of love (as dictated by Jesus).

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

“Ins” and “Outs”

"Ins" and "Outs" (CaD Matt 8) Wayfarer

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Matthew 8:5-7 (NIV)

I’ve been preparing a message I’m going to be giving among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers this Sunday. A year or two ago I happened to do a little personal study on the subject of fundamentalism. I was prompted to do some research because I noticed certain parallels of thought and behavior among a particular civic group that reminded me of things I saw in some of the Christian fundamentalist groups I experienced earlier in my spiritual journey.

My research came up with six elements that mark fundamentalist groups, elements that I would argue create a toxic cocktail no matter where they are found. All major religions have fundamentalist sects that bear these elements. As I studied and meditated on them, I came to realize that the elements of toxic fundamentalism can really be found in almost any human system including political, institutional, corporate, or even in families. As I was studying the assigned text for this Sunday’s message, I realized that Jesus’ religious critics displayed all six elements within the stories.

One of the elements of fundamentalist systems is that they maintain strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. You must toe the line in thought, words, and behavior to be considered “in” with us, but the slightest misstep or evidence that you’ve run afoul of the rules or belief system and you are “out.”

The Hebrew religious system from which Jesus came was a fundamentalist form of Judaism. They had strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. The religious power brokers wouldn’t associate with fellow Hebrews who were on the “outs” because they didn’t toe the line. And the Roman occupying force in Judea was really on the outs with the good religious authorities as well as almost all Hebrews who considered them the enemy.

In today’s chapter, Jesus has just finished his message on the hill, in which He told His listeners to love the enemy. He returns toward their base of operation and he is met by a Roman Centurion (enemy, occupier, a persecutor of His people, religiously dirty “gentile,” and pagan!). The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus immediately asks if He should come to the Centurion’s house.

Entering the house of a Roman was strictly against fundamentalist rules. The Romans were the “outs” of all “outs.” Years later, in Acts 10, Peter will face the same fundamentalist religious dilemma of being invited to a Centurion’s home. Jesus doesn’t even hesitate: “Would you like me to come with you?”

In the quiet this morning, I was struck by Jesus’ words to His followers after healing the servant remotely and sending the Centurion on his way:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus points out that people will be surprised who they see at heaven’s feast. Some of those who were on the “outs” on earth will be present while some of the “ins” on earth will not.

So who do I consider on the “outs” with me and my belief system? Who would I refrain from accepting an invitation to their home? Who is so worthless in my eyes and I don’t even want to be near them? I think the roots of fundamentalisms are found in my own sinful nature. Jesus not only came to forgive me of my sin but also to call me to live contrary to it. Which means tearing down my own personal “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions.

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

Simple Difference

Simple Difference (CaD Matt 7) Wayfarer

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:14 (NIV)

Jesus’ greatest human enemy was organized institutional religion. Rome may have carried out the execution, but when you study Jesus’ story it is abundantly clear that the conspiracy to get rid of Him begins with the religious authorities.

Early in my journey as a follower of Jesus, I observed the stark difference between being a follower of Jesus and being a member of one of the human institutions that globally operate in and around His name. Because of this, I have carefully avoided getting involved in said institutions, organizations, or denominations. My journey has led me to worship in and serve among local gatherings of Jesus’ followers from a broad range of institutional persuasions. I’ve always landed where I was led and where I was welcome. In every one, no matter what the denominational persuasion, I observed these common elements:

Distant human “authorities” who were ignorant and out-of-touch with the local believers. In many cases, the “leaders” of the institution were academic, professional administrators whose personal beliefs were opposite of the grassroots people over whom they claimed authority.

Individuals who care more about denominational legalities than being a follower of Jesus. At least three times in my life journey I was hired by a local church to serve in a pastoral capacity only to have a well-meaning legalist blow a gasket a year later when it was realized that I didn’t jump through the hoops to “officially” become a member of the church who hired me to lead them. In one case, a congregational meeting had to be called for me to request that the church I was leading accept me as a member and have a congregational vote as to whether they would accept me as a member. I’m glad to say I passed the test. What a waste of time.

I realize that I’m on a bit of a rant here, but as I read Jesus’ teaching in today’s chapter I find Jesus on a similar rant. First He speaks of those who hypocritically judge others. He then cuts through all the religious red tape of His own religion and sums up all of the Law and teaching of the Prophets in one golden rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

Next, Jesus makes the rather audacious statement: “the gate that leads to Life is small, the road that leads to Life is narrow, and few people find it.” Every time I read this statement I ponder the possibility that one can be a “member” of a church and completely miss the gate and road that Jesus said leads to Life. I then wonder how many of the millions of church members around the globe never find the gate.

Jesus then warns His followers regarding false prophets who have all the trappings of being good religious people but who have completely self-seeking motives. He tells His followers to be wise and discerning. What kind of spiritual fruit do their lives produce? Elsewhere Jesus will teach that what’s inside a person eventually comes out.

Jesus wraps up his message on the hill by creating a contrast between those who are true followers and those who are false followers. The simple difference? True followers hear Jesus’ words and put His teachings into practice in their everyday lives. The false followers call Him “Lord,” they go to church, they do their religious duties, and they hear His words. Then they leave church and ignore His teaching in their everyday lives and relationships.

In a bit of synchronicity, I left this morning’s post half-finished in order to go downstairs and have breakfast with Wendy. She read me this devotional thought from Richard Rohr:

“We have often substituted being literal with being serious and they are not the same! Literalism is the lowest and least level of meaning in a spiritual text. Willful people use Scripture literally when it serves their purposes and they use it figuratively when it gets in the way of their cultural biases. Willing people let the Scriptures change them instead of using them to change others.”

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking a good, hard look at my own spiritual journey and my own heart and life. I have willfully chosen to avoid entanglements in human religious institutions and have purposed to willingly allow Jesus’ teachings to continually change the way I think, speak, act, and relate to others in my own circles of influence. I’m definitely not perfect. I have no justification for judging others no matter what I might observe. My sole responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to hear His words “and put them into practice.”

God, help me to do so again this day. Thanks, in advance, for your forgiveness. May I be equally forgiving of those who offend me, just as you have asked me to do.

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

Two Retirement Funds

Two Retirement Funds (CaD Matt 6) Wayfarer

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Last autumn, I spent a lot of time meditating on the ancient sage wisdom of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher spent a lot of time expounding on the grim reality that one spends a lifetime saving, acquiring, and hoarding wealth and possessions only to die and have it all passed on to someone else. In fact, it goes to others who didn’t do the working, saving, and acquiring. The Teacher called this hevel in Hebrew. It’s futile, empty, and meaningless. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

I’m getting to the stage in life when retirement starts to become an increasingly important topic of discussion. It’s always been out there in the distant future, but now I can see it there on the horizon. I have friends who have already retired. I have friends and colleagues who are almost there. The eyes start looking more seriously at what all the working, planning and saving have accumulated.

The lessons of the Teacher echoed in my spirit as I read today’s chapter. We’re still in Jesus’ famous message on the hill. Jesus spends most of the chapter addressing common religious practices: giving, praying, and fasting. He tells His followers to carry out the disciplines of faith quietly and privately as though only God need witness it.

Jesus then seems to address the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, the building up of earthly treasure is hevel, Jesus agrees. It rusts, rots, and is given away when you die. So, don’t do it. Instead, Jesus recommends investing in heavenly treasure that has eternal value.

The further I get in my spiritual journey, and especially in the past two years of Covid, I’ve observed how myopically focused one can be on this earthly life. If this earthly life is all there is and my years here are some cosmic coincidence which comes to an abrupt and final end when I die, then I might as well moan and wail along with the Teacher and the bitter pill of life’s meaninglessness. If, however, Jesus is who He said He was and there is an eternity of life waiting on the other side of the grave as He said there is, then His investment advice is profound.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering those I know in my circle of influence who appear focused on earthly treasure is if it is the most important thing in life. I’m ponder yet others who appear to live as if death is an utterly final, bad thing to be feared, avoided, and delayed at all costs for as long as possible. Fear is rampant everywhere I look, which makes perfect sense to me if I’m living in the hevel of a hopeless, meaningless, material world.

I contrast this, of course, with being a follower of Jesus. Death, Jesus taught, is the prerequisite for Life. Death was the mission to make resurrection possible. Death is not a bitter and final end but rather the gateway to a resurrected Life more real than the one on this earth. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then it changes how I view this life, what I consider of real value, how I invest my personal resources, and how I approach my impending death.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m mindful of the fact that I have two retirement funds. One is for this life, and whatever is left will end up with our children and grandchildren. The other is for the next life, where it can be enjoyed for eternity. If I’m wise, Jesus taught in the message on the hill, I will invest in both accordingly.

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

2 Peter (Aug 2018)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of 2 Peter published by Tom Vander Well in August of 2018. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

2 Peter 1: Excersize and Add

2 Peter 2: The Freedom that Leads to Slavery

2 Peter 3: Conflict, and What Needs to Change in Me

Alignment of Being

Alignment of Being (CaD Matt 5) Wayfarer

“Blessed are….”
Matthew 5:3a (NIV)

Wendy and I were on a cruise last week with our friends, Chad and Shay. Cruising has become Wendy’s and my favorite form of vacation, though perhaps not for the same reason that many enjoy it. Being on the water has always held a spiritual connection for me. To be honest, Wendy and I spent much of our time last week together inside our cabin or on our small verandah staring out over the vast ocean. It was heavenly.

I read a couple of books as we sailed along. One of them was called The Ninefold Path of Jesus by Mark Scandrette. It practically, simply, and deeply explores a familiar passage in the Great Story found in today’s chapter, traditionally known as “the beatitudes.” The beatitudes are the opening of the most thorough record we have of Jesus’ teaching, a message Jesus gave His followers on a hill by the Sea of Galilee.

Each of the nine beatitudes describes those whom Jesus says are “blessed.” What immediately stands out is the contrast to those whom we often think of as “blessed” in this world: the rich, famous, popular, powerful, influential, famous, privileged, talented, and elite. Jesus makes it clear that those who are blessed in the Kingdom of God look very different. In fact, they are much the opposite of what subjects of the Kingdom of this world typically consider blessed. In God’s Kingdom, Jesus states, those who are blessed are:

poor in spirit (trusting God for their provision)
mourning (lamenting their brokenness, and what is broken in this world)
meek (holding any personal power in check)
hungry/thirsty for righteousness (seeking justice in life and relationship)
merciful (having compassion, even for my enemies)
pure in heart (acting, speaking, and relating with right motives)
peacemakers (finding and choosing ways to deescalate conflict)
persecuted for doing the right thing (radically loving others)

Perhaps my choice to begin reading Matthew’s biography of Jesus on the chapter-a-day journey this week was subconsciously influenced by my meditation and contemplation of the beatitudes last week. As I read them anew this morning, my head and heart were still full of all that I pondered as I watched the ocean waves roll by this past week.

As I continued on into the rest of the chapter, and the continuation of Jesus’ message, I realized for the first time that Jesus subsequent teaching about murder, curses, adultery, lust, divorce, making oaths, revenge, and love for one’s enemy all connect back to the be-attitudes of trust, lament, meekness, mercy, motive, peacemaking, and radical love. In essence, the beatitudes are the table of contents for everything Jesus is going to say after. I realize that if I don’t have my “being” and “attitude” right, I’ll never act, speak, and relate as Jesus goes on to describe.

Wendy and I have been repeatedly asked this week how our cruise went. We’ve enjoyed sharing our experiences, though I sometimes wonder if people are surprised by our description. We spent a lot of time in our cabin. We slept a lot. We read books. We talked about life on our verandah. We stared at the ocean. We watched a dolphin jumping in the water. We saw the distant, misty eruption of a whale’s exhale. As I continue to look back on it, Wendy and I spent the week trying to get our “being” centered and aligned so that the onslaught of “doing” that faced us upon our return might look more like “the nine-fold path of Jesus” and less like the vain pursuit for what the kingdoms of this world describe as the “good life.”

Note: If you’re normally one who reads my blog post or listens to my podcast, but you don’t actually read the corresponding chapter, let me encourage you to take a couple of minutes today and the next couple of days to actually read Jesus’ message on the hill in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. I think it’s worth it.

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