Category Archives: Chapter-a-Day

Valuable

No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes 1:11 (NIV)

How much do I know about previous generations of my family?

As the unofficial family historian, I probably know more than most. Nevertheless, it’s relatively little considering the 70-90 years each of my great-grandparents lived on this earth. Once I go back one more generation it’s really just names, dates, and facts preserved on government records.

Interestingly enough, there are virtually no tangible things left from that generation that have any real value in today’s world. I find it fascinating that the only tangible things left are bibles. I have a handful of bibles belonging to various ancestors that family members have given me over the years.

Observation:

  1. Bibles are the only tangible things to survive from previous generations.
  2. Current generations seem happy to dispossess them and give them to me.

There are spiritual lessons to be mined there. I’m taking note of that for more excavation.

This chapter-a-day journey begins trekking through the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes. In the alternate-reality that I seem to be living in these past few years, I figure a little ancient wisdom might provide me something more lasting than the contemporary cycle of news and trends which ebbs and flows more quickly than I can keep up. And really, if something’s value as news can only hold five-minutes of attention then what’s the point?

And that is just the point of the sage who authored Ecclesiastes. When I was young I kept getting stuck thinking that the he was waxing existential pessimism. The further I’ve gotten on this road of Life, however, the more I’ve come to understand that the sage is inviting me to consider what is valuable.

There is only one of my great-grandparents who had what I would consider significant impact on subsequent generations. I’ve blogged about her many times before. My maternal great-grandmother, Grandma Daisy, was a matriarch honored and revered by her children and grandchildren. I have heard about her my entire life, and the impact she had on her family, my family.

A few years ago I was going through a box of ephemera that my mom had kept. In it I found Grandma Daisy’s handwritten will, subsequently transcribed by her daughter. “My material things are so small,” she wrote to her children. She specified that she was basically giving each child the things they’d given her. Here’s the comprehensive list of the tangible things she left behind for her children:

Baby rocker
Electric blanket
Photographs
Rosewood vase
A picture of a feathered bird which hung on the wall
Samsonite bag
Dining table and chairs
Wall plaque with verse about “trees”
Desk
Rocker
Electric shaver
Heating pad
White blanket with pink flowers
Teapot
Jewelry box
Electric fan

I read through this list of items and ponder their value. I doubt any of them still exist, except the photographs. Their existence lasted but a breath or two past her own final aspiration.

Then, I find myself recalling distinct memories I have of multiple family members sharing stories over the years about this woman. There were usually tears as they talked about the impact that her faith, hope, and love had on their lives.

So what is it that has real value?

I hear Jesus ask His followers: “What do you truly treasure, and where is it stored?”

One of the things I treasure is Grandma Daisy’s Bible that is staring at me from where I write these words.

Endings and Invitations

Endings and Invitations (CaD Mk 16) Wayfarer

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark 16:8 (NIV)

Reading is one of Wendy’s true loves, and she doesn’t get to enjoy it nearly as often as she would like. It made me happy this past Saturday afternoon at the lake when I watched her plop down in a chair with her book. When I fell asleep that night, she was next to me in bed still reading. It came as no surprise when she informed me the following morning that she finished the book before she went to sleep. When she was a child, she never wanted to put a book down because she was afraid that the story would proceed without her. I love that her inner-child still clings to that notion.

I love an ending that leaves me thinking and pondering where the story goes after the movie, the play, or the book is finished. It stirs the Creator spirit within me. It’s why I love that Marvel movies almost always offer a “teaser” after the credits have rolled. Wendy and I exit the theatre talking about where the larger story arc is going in movies still being written and produced.

Today’s chapter is the end of Mark’s biography of Jesus, and it has its own back story. Most scholars agree that verses 9-20 were not originally written by Mark. The oldest and most reliable manuscripts end after verse eight, and verses 9-20 don’t fit the voice of Mark’s writing style.

Admittedly, ending the story with the ladies hearing the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and being afraid to say anything seems an odd way to simply end the story. It makes total sense to me that some well-meaning scribe (probably an Enneagram Type One) decided that it needed a better ending that would tie-up the loose ends and “complete” the story.Yet, the more I meditated on it this morning the more I love Mark’s ending.

First of all, there’s the irony. Multiple times in Mark’s version of events he has recorded Jesus telling people not to tell anyone about the miracle they’ve experienced, and in every case the person immediately starts to blab it. Now, the narrative ends with the ladies being told to go tell Peter and the boys about the most miraculous event in history and they clam up.

I also love that Mark ends the story like a Marvel teaser. The story is left hanging out there, and I as the reader have to choose what I do with it. Do I pursue the story or abandon it? Do I ask more questions or reach for Grisham’s newest yarn? Do I seek out the larger story arc and what happens next? Do I go knocking at the opportunity to interact with the story myself?

I accepted Mark’s “invitation” many years ago. Like Wendy, I didn’t want the story to proceed with out me. In the quiet this morning, I find myself accepting the invitation again.

Still asking.
Still seeking.
Still knocking.

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

Success

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.
Mark 15:15a (NIV)

Last night Wendy and I enjoyed a lovely date at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that has become a favorite haunt at the lake. During our dinner conversation, Wendy referenced a couple of conversations we’ve had with people recently in which my blog posts and podcasts were referenced. In each case, I received kind words of gratitude.

Wendy asked me if I was encouraged by this. I was, of course. It’s always heartening to know that some seed I scattered sprouted something worthwhile in another person’s journey. This conversation is always a bit of a two-edged sword for me, and Wendy knows that more than anyone. This is why my Enneagram Eight challenger wife brought it up. She is my most passionate cheerleader and high-fidelity encourager.

Here’s what I’ve observed and learned after fifteen years and some five thousand blog posts. Measuring “success” is such a spiritual, emotional, and mental trap. Part of it is just human nature to want my endeavors to succeed. Part of it is a male thing in which grown men have a trapped little boy inside them perpetually playing King of the Mountain. Part of it, for me, is also being an Enneagram Four who naturally sees myself and my world through the lens of dramatic, angsty pessimism and a brooding sense of failure. Then, add-in the world’s definitions of “success” which is measured in large numbers, viral popularity, notoriety, and income.

By the world’s definition, fifteen years and five thousand blog posts should be generating way more than the 54 visitors to my site yesterday. By the world’s definition, it’s abject failure. So, why do it? I like to think I’m compelled, but sometimes I think I might be a little bit crazy.

Three chapters back I mused about the role of “the crowd” in the final days of Jesus earthly journey. It was Tuesday and the crowds were delighted with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus enemies were afraid of the crowd, and afraid of the threat Jesus would be with the crowd behind Him and siding against them. It’s now early Friday morning and these enemies “stir the crowd” to demand the Roman Governor to crucify Jesus. The Governor is a politician, and “wanting to satisfy the crowd” he goes against his better judgment. He condemns an innocent man to keep his approval number high and keep peace with his political adversaries.

Pilate and the chief priests were playing the world’s version King of the Mountain. The Prince of Heaven was showing His followers what the path of success looks like in God’s Kingdom.

Which version of “success” do I really want?

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about two other lessons that I’ve observed about the world’s definition of “success.” First, it’s never enough. It’s a never-ending game of King of the Mountain but the mountain keeps getting higher. The chief priests and religious power brokers were so addicted to their power and influence that they were willing to climb to the pinnacle of conspiracy to commit legally sanctioned murder in order to hold on to it. Second, once the crowd crowns someone with worldly success, the crowd then demands that the person says and does what it dictates. Pilate let the crowd determine his verdict.

Over the past few years, I’ve observed with increasing clarity just how much the crowd fans the flames of public opinion and sways what “successful” people say and do. I find it fascinating how the crowd can lift any obscure individual to the mountain-top of success, and just as quickly push them off popularity cliff.

I submit for your consideration Exhibit A: Jesus, the Christ.

Sunday: The crowd cheers His “triumphant entry” to Jerusalem.

Friday: The crowd screams for His crucifixion.

And so, I’ll continue to scatter my posts and podcasts out into the inter-web in blissful obscurity grateful that 50 or so people stop by on any given day. I’ll continue to follow my spiritual compulsions until the Spirit compels me to stop. I’ll continue to choose to listen to my high-fidelity cheerleader. I’ll continue to tell my human nature, my inner-boy, and my Type Four temperament to chill-out.

Life (without the crowd) is good.

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

Mary and the Dudes

Mary and the Dudes (CaD Mk 14) Wayfarer

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Mark 14:3 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Mark provides a Cliff Notes summary of the fateful night of Jesus’ arrest. As I read the familiar episodes, I was struck at the contrast between Mary’s anointing of Jesus (she is not named in Mark’s biography of Jesus, but John names her, the sister of Lazarus) with expensive perfume, and the actions/behaviors of the Twelve.

Jesus has now been speaking of His arrest, suffering, and death for some time. The response of the Twelve has ranged from silence to confusion to outright disapproval. Mark’s version of events in today’s chapter reveal the behavior of the Twelve to be disagreeable and inattentive to the weight of the moment.

Mary, on the other hand, seems to see what no one else sees. She alone embraces what is about to happen, understands the weight of it, and responds by embracing what Jesus has said would happen. Mary alone acts as a willing participant. Her actions are to bless Jesus before His passion and to metaphorically prepare Him for death. Mary is the only person who seems to see and humbly accept. And, she’s criticized for it.

Jesus’ chosen disciples, meanwhile, can’t believe one of them would betray Him. They can’t stay awake with Him, even after He asks of them this small favor. They can’t stay and stand with Jesus in His moment of need. They can’t even admit they know Him, when confronted with multiple opportunities to do so.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but imagine myself in the roles of both Mary and the Twelve. Luke shares that Mary was one to sit at the feet of Jesus and hang on His every word to the point that her sister was indignant (everyone, it would seem, gets indignant with Mary). As much as I would like to think that I would have Mary’s insight, I am reminded that it came at the cost of ignoring urgent things in order to invest in important things. Her devotion to “asking, seeking, and knocking” appear to be the precursor to her spiritual perception.

Have I sacrificed things distracting and urgent to invest myself in Jesus as Mary did?

I have to confess that I identify with the dudes…

Present, but imperceptive.

Great intentions, but greatly inattentive.

Braggadocios during warm-ups, but bungling in the game.

Of course, today’s chapter is not the end of the story. The dudes will keep following. They will learn. They will turn the world upside down.

I’m looking out the window at the lake as I type this. Another day has dawned, and so my story isn’t over either. I take hope in that this morning. Like the dudes, I’ll keep following, too. I’ll keep learning. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even turn a few things upside-down before this wayfaring stranger’s journey is over.

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

Of Riches and Rubble

Of Riches and Rubble (CaD Mk 13) Wayfarer

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Mark 13:1-2 (NIV)

I still remember my first trip to Chicago. I had never been to a major city. My hometown of Des Moines was my only frame of reference, and even at a young age I knew Des Moines like the back of my hand. A person could get from one end of the Des Moines to the other in about 20 minutes. It just wasn’t that big. Chicago was a revelation. I and my friends went to the observation deck of the John Hancock building, and I stared out at city as far as my eye could see. It was impressive.

For Jesus’ followers, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and to the Temple, was a similar experience. As far as we know, the Twelve were from small rural villages in the Galilee, and the Temple complex in Jerusalem was the equivalent of the John Hancock building, the Sears Tower, or the Empire State Building.

Casual readers may not realize that the temple in Jesus’ day was not the same Temple that Solomon built. That temple was razed to the ground by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. A generation later, it was rebuilt by Hebrews who returned from exile. Then, Herod the Great came to power around 37 B.C.

Like many egomaniacal tyrants, Herod had an edifice complex. He wasn’t Jewish, but he understood that his constituency was, and the temple in Jerusalem was the center of that constituency’s worldly power. Herod was shrewd. He knew it was in his political best interest not only to keep peace with the power brokers of the Jewish community, but he knew it would be even better if this potential threat to his power felt indebted to him. So, Herod decided to invest his vast riches to fix-up the five-hundred year old Temple.

Of course, egomaniacal tyrants with edifice complexes aren’t just going to do a little sprucing up. They have to spend their vast riches to build something that will bear their name (whether officially or unofficially) so the size of the project must be in relative proportion to the size to their egos. The original size of the Temple was relatively small compared to the impressive temples built by the Greeks and Romans. Herod made sure to not just rebuild the Temple itself, but he built an entire Temple complex around it. Sure enough, it’s still known today as “Herod’s Temple.”

That’s why, in today’s chapter, Jesus’ disciples are still exclaiming what a magnificent complex it is even after they’ve spent two entire days listening to Jesus teach in the Temple courts. They can’t get over the sheer size and architectural beauty of it.

And then, Jesus ruins the moment: “It will all be rubble 40 years from now.”

And, it was. The political tension between the Jewish people and their Roman occupiers will continue to grow. There will be wars and rumors of war. It will eventually boil over. The Romans will raze Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple in the year 70 A.D.

Enjoy the view while you can.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think of the spiritual lesson in this brief exchange. The rest of today’s chapter is Jesus’ prophetic foreshadowing of where the Great Story is headed in the climactic final chapters. It’s not idyllic.

Wars
Earthquakes
Famine
Deception
Tyranny
Families divided
Betrayal
Hatred
Exile
Darkness

I’m reminded as I contemplate it that every good story ends up there. The death eaters descend on Hogwarts. Gandalf and Aragorn stand surrounded and outnumbered at the Black Gate of Mordor. Aslan is bound and lying on the White Witch’s stone table. Jesus lies dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.

There’s always darkness before the dawn.

Without catastrophe there’s no eucatastrophe.

“Be careful what your heart treasures,” Jesus said. “Cars rust and end up at the dump. Today’s fashions will end up at the thrift store where nobody wants them. That expensive gadget will be obsolete in a year. Herod’s Temple will be nothing but rubble in a generation.”

“Invest in the only things that remain,” Holy Spirit whispers to me in the quiet. “Faith, hope, and love.”

I’m off into another day reminded to enjoy the view while I can.

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

The Crowd

The Crowd (CaD Mk 12) Wayfarer

The large crowd listened to him with delight.
Mark12:37b (NIV)

I remember the first time I heard the delight of the crowd. I was twelve. It was what would be considered Middle School today, but then it was Junior High. I was running for the student government. I wrote a speech. I delivered it to the entire school assembled in the gymnasium. It delighted the crowd, and I confess: the crowd’s delight delighted me.

It was a really innocent moment as I look back on it and realize just how young I was. Who can look back on their coming-of-age years without both laughing and cringing? And of course, those same coming-of-age years is when I learned all the hard lessons of being “in” and/or “out” of different social groups. It did not take long for me to learn just how thin the line is between delighting the crowd and displeasing them.

The events of today’s chapter took place on Tuesday of the final week of Jesus’ earthly exile. It is the week of Passover, the biggest of the annual Jewish festivals and Jerusalem is swelling with crowds who have come to worship at the Temple. Mark established back in chapter three that the Chief Priests and religious power brokers began looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus. In chapter eight, Mark mentions it again.

As I read the chapter in the quiet, I found myself meditating on the role that “the crowd” plays in this escalating conflict between Jesus and the institutional religious leaders. Forty-eight hours before the events in today’s chapter, the crowd was cheering for Jesus as He entered the city on the back of a borrowed donkey. For two days, Jesus’ enemies have been publicly challenging Him with questions intended to trip Him. Instead, Jesus turns the tables on them time-and-time again.

The crowd is delighted.

Mark makes note that the institutional authorities are afraid of arresting Jesus because of the crowd.

The crowd is powerful on multiple levels. The crowd‘s delight is as potent and addictive as crack (“Look at all the “Likes”! Look at the page hits! OMG! I’m positively viral! I’m trending!”). The crowd can make you or break you.

The crowd is a fickle lover.

It’s easy for me to overlook it, but the crowd has been a constant player in Jesus’ story. Jesus has been with the crowd for three years. The crowd followed Him everywhere. The crowd pressed in on Him until He had to get into a boat and teach from out on the water. The crowd cheered when, multiple times, He sprung for an all-you-can-eat fish-sandwich buffet. The crowd quickly abandoned Him when He switched the menu and said that the real meal was His very own flesh-and-blood.

John noted…

many people noticed the signs [Jesus] was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them. John 2:24-25 (MSG)

The crowd can be manipulated.

The crowd can be bought.

In about 48 hours, Jesus’ enemies will arrest Him at night out of sight of the crowd. They will quickly try him at daybreak while the crowd is still sleeping. A few hours later, the crowd will be screaming at the Roman Governor to nail Jesus to a cross.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the crowd on this earthly journey. Along my life journey, I have regularly been in the various public spotlights even if it’s on a relatively small scale. I have had to navigate my own desires, emotions, reactions, responses, and experiences with the crowd. I’ve felt the crowd‘s delight, and I’ve know the crowd‘s displeasure.

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve learned that I can’t be a follower of the crowd. The paths are divergent. It’s too easy to showing up for the all-you-can-eat buffet of the nice sayings of Jesus that delight the crowd as they cut them out of context with a cultural exacto knife. Being a follower of Jesus means that while the crowds enjoy their fish sandwiches, Jesus beckons me to take up my cross and follow Him to an upper room where the menu is His flesh broken for me, His blood shed for me.

It is there that I see the crowd in Jesus’ context.

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

By-Products

By-Products (CaD Mk 11) Wayfarer

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Mark 11:12-14 (NIV)

As a young follower of Jesus, I remember being taught that it was my responsibility to “win souls” for the Lord. Over the years, I was prescribed a handful of sure-fire methods by which to quickly share with people how they could “get saved.”

During this same early stretch of both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I was taught that it was also of primary importance to be “pure.” The formula of “purity” was basically abstinence from the major impurities: sex, drinking, drugs, smoking, listening to “worldly” music, and swearing.

Looking back, there is nothing wrong with either of these things in-and-of themselves. As a follower of Jesus, both being able to effectively share with someone “the reason for the hope that is in me” and being pure are things I am asked to do. Nevertheless, the further I’ve progressed in both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I’ve come to understand that they may very well be by-products of Love’s fruit, but they aren’t the fruit itself.

With today’s chapter, Mark’s biography of Jesus enters the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. Mark shares an obscure episode in which Jesus goes to a fig tree hoping to find a snack. Finding none, he curses the tree. The next day, they pass by the tree and find it withered.

I’ve always been intrigued and a little confused by this story. Jesus was always one for using living word pictures as teaching tools, and I have to believe that later that same week He would share with his followers: “I am the Vine and you are the branches. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut-off and used for compost.” Of course they have a mental picture in their heads of the withered fig tree.

In the quiet this morning, I took the teaching and the word picture one step further:

What was Jesus looking for when He approached the Fig tree?

Figs, quite obviously.

What is the Gardener looking for when He approaches the branches on the Vine?

The fruit of love which one knows by it’s identifying characteristics:
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control

Now, sharing this love with others may lead to opportunities for telling someone how they can enter into a relationship with Jesus themselves. In the same way, any Grade A, organic fruit of Jesus’ love will be pure in all of its goodness and self-control.

Once again: These are by-products of the fruit, not the fruit itself, and it’s the fruit that produces the by-products never the other way around.

To riff on Paul’s treatise on Love:

If I memorize the Four Spiritual Laws and knock on every door in the neighborhood in an effort to win souls, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well be winning souls while losing my own.

If I live my life a tea-totaling eunuch disciplined in my vow of strict silence, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well look like the beautifully pure fruit but be void of flavor or any kind of nutritional value.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself continuing to meditate on the question I asked myself as I read the chapter:

If Jesus walks up to my life on this day of the journey like He walked up to that fig tree, what is it He wants to find on this branch?

The pure fruit of Love in all its fullness and goodness, or just a few of its ancillary by-products?

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

Life on the Fast-Track

Life on the Fast-Track (CaD Mk 10) Wayfarer

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” [Jesus] said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Mark 10:33-34 (NIV)

Much of my life has been spent hurrying. Not in the micro sense (though, I confess, my record is dotted with speeding tickets), but in the macro sense. As a kid I was overly anxious to grow up and get to the next stage. I was always looking for the fast-track. I couldn’t wait to get to do what others were allowed to do. Before I had my driver’s license I had friends who loaned me their cars. I graduated from high school early because I could. I wanted to get through college quickly, too. I was driven to find “the one” I would marry and was married before I graduated from college. I was equally driven to start my career, start a family, and make my mark on the world.

What was the rush?

In retrospect, I think being the youngest child positioned me to envy my older siblings. That was part of it. I think my personality also played a part. No matter, my fast-track mentality shaped many of my life decisions with consequences that range from benign to tragic. As I meditate on it in the quiet this morning, I’m not sure I could argue that anything good came of it. I don’t know. I might have to talk that through with a good friend over a pint and a cigar on the back patio.

Here’s what I have learned, however: There are no short-cuts on the spiritual journey except those I try to forge myself, and as Frodo and the lads discovered in the forest “short-cuts make for long delays.”

Perhaps my wealth of experiences at trying to forge short-cuts in life give me greater clarity to see it in others. In today’s chapter, I saw it everywhere.

The institutional religious leaders ask Jesus a direct question about his views on divorce. Jesus is in Herod Antipas’ realm. Herod just had John the Baptist imprisoned for preaching against his unlawful divorce and remarriage to his brother’s wife. Jesus’ enemies saw an opportunity to fast-track Jesus to the same fate.

The rich young man who asked Jesus how to earn eternal life was looking for the fast-track to heaven.

James and John were looking for the fast-track to positions of honor in Jesus’ “glory.”

On the heels of these three events, Jesus points His followers to the place He is heading:

Delivered into the hands of those who hate Him.
Condemned to death.
Delivered into the hands of the Empire.
Mocked.
Spit-on.
Scourged.
Beaten.
Crucified.

He then tells His followers: this is the path.

No short-cuts.
No fast-tracks.
No get-spiritually-rich-quick schemes.
In God’s Kingdom, one does not get moved up to the next grade until the lessons of the current level are effectively learned.

Short-cuts only make for long delays in the spiritual journey.

In the quiet this morning, I look back at my own path and review the results of my attempts at forging spiritual short-cuts. “Benign to tragic.”

It is ironic that today’s chapter ends with a poor blind man who keeps shouting to Jesus: “Have mercy on me!”

The attitude and posture of the poor blind man’s spirit led to his eyes being opened.

There’s a lesson for me in that.

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

“Ins” and “outs”

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
Mark 9:38 (NIV)

Over the past five years, I’ve quietly watched as divergent lines of political, social, and religious thought have become more and more entrenched behind walls of prejudice and across what appears to be a “no man’s land” dictated by either and/or both sides of the great divide. It grieves me to observe, and to experience, the lack of grace, tolerance, love, and simple human kindness for other human beings.

Like every other human being, my life journey has been dotted with observing and experiencing the “ins” and “outs” of social groups. Favorites emerge in family systems. Sides are chosen on the playground. The new kid on the block must navigate how to earn acceptance from the neighborhood gang who’ve known each other their whole lives. Social groups with unspoken rules of “in” and “out” emerge out of the shared identities of being jocks, nerds, band geeks, and stoners. Sororities and Fraternities create shared loyalty through their pledging, hazing, and strict hierarchies. Corporations have well insulated “C-Suites” where executives are sequestered in corner offices with private bathrooms. Churches manage who’s in and out with membership cards, doctrinal litmus tests, and unspoken religious rules about dress, speech, morality, and acceptable political stances.

In today’s chapter, there’s an interesting exchange that, in my experience, doesn’t get much air time. In my forty years of following Jesus and regularly attending the gatherings of various groups of fellow followers, I have never heard one sermon, lecture, or lesson on this exchange.

It comes from the mouth of John who bears the moniker, “the one whom Jesus loved,” and one of the three who comprised what’s known as “Jesus’ inner-circle.” It was that “inner circle” (James, John, and Peter) whom Jesus took to witness His transfiguration in today’s chapter. I have to wonder how that went over with the other nine. I think I can guess.

Jesus and His “twelve” are together in someone’s home, away from the crowds. Jesus is holding a little child in His arms, telling his disciples that in the economy of God’s Kingdom the “greatest” are those who are humble and willing to welcome and serve “the least” of society with open and embracing arms.

John then looks at Jesus (who is still holding the child as a living word picture of this lesson about humility, love, openness, and inclusion), and says, “Teacher, we saw some guy we didn’t know today performing an exorcism in your name and we told him to stop, because he’s not one of us!”

He doesn’t belong “in” our group.

You didn’t choose him, like you chose us.

He hasn’t left everything and followed you like we have.

We don’t know where he is from or what he truly believes.

Be proud of us, Jesus, we’re keeping “out” those who don’t belong “in” your entourage!

Jesus, still holding the child in His arms, rebukes John for what he’s said and done. John can’t see the disconnect. Jesus then tears down the wall of John’s “in” group distinctions: “Whoever is not against us, is for us.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating all of the walls of distinction that have been erected by various social groups on every side of every issue. And this is where my heart lands as I consider Jesus’ words in today’s chapter, and picture Him holding a little child in His arms:

First:

When I go downstairs this morning to have coffee with Wendy and peruse the news of the day…
I am only going to see what their cameras want me to see.
I am only going to hear what their editors want me to hear.
I am only going to read, watch, and listen to the sources I choose
who, let’s face it, I choose because it makes me comfortable in.my.own.groups.

Second:

What I will see, hear, and read is an infinitesimal and skewed vision of the daily lives, experiences, conversations, and interactions that I and billions of other human beings will have on this planet on this day.

Third:

I can’t control what others may think of me or what they perceive me to be. People may very well choose to hate me and be against me in any way one chooses. Nevertheless, no one is going to get me to hate them any more than they could get Jesus to hate them.

As a follower of Jesus, that’s my calling, my mission, and my heart’s desire.

Forgive? Yes. Hate? No.

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

The Inflection Point

The Inflection Point (CaD Mk 8) Wayfarer

[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Mark 8:31-33 (NIV)

Inflection point has become a buzzword in business during my career. And, it’s often misunderstood. The inflection point is the point on a line where the line changes its sign. It’s when the curve of that line reveals a shift of direction. When it ultimately shifts direction, that’s called the “turning point.” The turning point happens later. The inflection point is the subtle shift that precedes the turning point. If you see the inflection point, you can predict the turning point.

When the moving line turns red, that’s the inflection point.

In today’s chapter, the narrative of Mark’s version of Jesus’ story hits an inflection point. The majority of the first eight chapters is an endless stream of miracles, wonders, and exorcisms seasoned with Jesus parables and teachings. It has been all about Jesus interacting with people’s lives in this world. He’s feeding hungry people, healing sick people, delivering possessed people, and teaching people spiritual principles of God’s kingdom in contrast to the human religious system controlling most of their lives.

Out of the blue, Jesus tells his followers quite plainly that He will be rejected by the religious power-brokers in Jerusalem, He will be killed, and then in three days He will rise from the dead. We’re just half-way through Mark’s biography of Jesus and Jesus let’s fly with the greatest spoiler of all time without once issuing his listeners a Spoiler Alert.

This event is a narrative inflection point. From this point forward, Mark’s version of events will drive towards the very events Jesus predicts.

What really resonated in my heart and mind this morning was Peter’s reaction. Upon hearing Jesus explain the end game of His mission on earth, Peter pulls the master aside and “rebukes” Him. In the quiet, I imagined what Peter’s rebuke might have been…

“You can’t die! We’re just getting started!”

“The twelve of us have left everything to follow you assuming this was a long-term gig! How are we going to retire if you leave us in the lurch?”

“Jesus, dude, you’ve got what it takes to ride this wave all the way to the throne. With your powers and the people behind you, there’s nothing that can stop you from ruling the world!”

“Look! Your parables and stories are confusing, but they’re great. People love them. The miracles and the free fish sandwiches, that’s what the people want. If you go off-message and start tweeting about your death like some crazy-man, it’s over. You’ll lose your momentum. These people will stop following you. Then where will we be?”

He’ll be right where the powerful men atop the human religious racket can arrest Him, usher Him through their kangaroo court, and leverage their local power to convince Rome to execute this threat to all that they care about.

He’ll be right where He just predicted He’d end up.

It struck me this morning that this is more than just an inflection point in the storyline. This is also a spiritual inflection point in Jesus’ teaching.

I am so focused on this life. I am so concerned with my immediate circumstances. Virtually every moment of my day is concentrated on my place in this world. My time, energy, and resources are spent trying to make this earthly life last as long as possible (even if it ends up being no Life at all). I do all that I can not to think about death, talk about death, or consider the undeniable truth that my body is going to die.

“You’re right, Tom,” Jesus says through the text of today’s chapter. “Thanks for being honest. Because that is what needs to change. That is the inflection point…

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Mark 8:34-37 (MSG)

If I follow Jesus at this inflection point, then down the road a whole bunch of turning points in my words, decisions, actions, and relationships will reveal themselves. Consider Peter. It’s at Cornelius’ house in Acts 10 that the turning point is revealed.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating this spiritual inflection point at which Jesus asks me to consider God’s eternal Kingdom more real than this physical life, more important than the things of this world, more valuable than anything this life could afford.

This is also a point of tension. It doesn’t mean that I ignore this life, coast through this journey, live as if nothing on earth matters. It does! It matters enough for Jesus to come and do exactly as He predicted. The spiritual inflection point gets down to the motives at the core of my being.

What is it I want?

What is it I’m living for?

What does my head answer? What does my heart answer?

If there is ultimately no evidence of a turning point on my calendar, on my credit card statement, and on my task list, then the truth is that I missed the inflection point.

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