Tag Archives: Anger

God and Tragedy

God and Tragedy (CaD 1 Ki 14) Wayfarer

In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem.
1 Kings 14:25 (NIV)

I have observed that every life journey is marked by a certain amount of both difficulty and tragedy. The amount is relative. The difficulties and tragedies can be the consequences of foolish choices and behaviors. In some cases, they may be directly related to system patterns inherited from previous generations. In other cases, a difficulty or tragedy simply originates in what insurance companies still call the random “act of God.”

Another observation I’ve made along my life journey is the way in which people respond to difficulties and tragedies in life. It is not uncommon for people to get mad at God, blame God, conclude that God does not exist, or conclude that if God does exist they want nothing to do with a God who would allow such things to happen. Yet others find that the difficulties and tragedies lead to greater faith and dependence on God in whom they find comfort, peace, and presence as they work through the natural stages of grief that accompany hard times.

In today’s chapter, the author of Kings gives a brief summation of King Rehoboam’s reign. He first states the Rehoboam led the Kingdom of Judah astray in the pagan worship of local deities and the detestable things they practiced in their religions. He then notes the most important event of Rehoboam’s reign after the division of Israel into two Kingdoms. The Egyptian King Shishak laid siege to Jerusalem and plundered the vast wealth of Solomon’s treasury in both the palace and the Temple. The event is corroborated in an inscription listing the successful campaigns of Shishak in a temple in Thebes. The plundering of Jerusalem was a terrible and tragic blow to the nation of Judah which was already struggling from the split with the northern tribes and the loss of lucrative trade routes. Politically, it was a terrible blow to Rehoboam’s power, wealth, and approval ratings.

What the author of Kings does not mention, is an important tidbit that the author of Chronicles made sure to mention. For the first three years of his reign, Rehoboam followed the ways of the God of Israel and was faithful to the ways of his grandfather David. It was during and after the political and military difficulties with Egypt and the plundering of Jerusalem that Rehoboam abandons his faith in God and leads his people in embracing pagan deities.

In the quiet this morning, I have to wonder whether Rehoboam was angry with God for allowing such a blow to his kingdom and his reign. When tragedy struck, did he simply choose to walk away from God because he blamed God for the tragedy? If so, he was certainly ignoring the rather major role he played in putting himself and his tribe in a weakened position that led to easy defeat. Having lived his entire life in luxury, privilege, and power, it would not surprise me that Rehoboam would have difficulty in humbly accepting his own part in the difficulties he experienced.

And of course, that leads me to consider my own reactions and responses to life’s difficulties and tragedies. My spiritual journey has taught me what I mentioned earlier, that every person will experience difficulties and tragedies in life. Nowhere in the Great Story does God promise a person a life free of it. In fact, God promises I’ll have difficulties and tragedies in this fallen world, and it is through them I develop the character qualities He desires and I progress toward spiritual maturity.

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

Disloyalty and Criticism

The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”

Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”
2 Samuel 16:3-4 (NIV)

I recently mentioned in a chapter-a-day post a gentleman whom I met who had served under five different U.S. presidents while working for the Department of Commerce. His favorite, he told me, was Harry Truman who always made a requested decision in a timely way and was always on top of the many details necessary to carry out the office well. His least favorite, he added, was Dwight Eisenhower whom he observed was on the golf course more than he was in the oval office and who seemed to avoid the politics and details the job required. His observations came to mind again this morning as I read the chapter.

As a history buff I’ve heard it said that military generals, with the exception of George Washington, make poor presidents. Politics is messier than the military. People don’t have to obey your every command. You can’t just give orders, you have to persuade and cajole those who disagree with you. U.S. Grant, who had the dogged determination to order his armies forward no matter the defeat, was the right man for the job in bringing the American Civil War to an end. He has been, however, generally regarded as one of the worst U.S. presidents in history.

As I read the story of David, I find it fascinating that this theme of difficulty moving from military command to political power appears to be apt, even in antiquity. David was a great military leader, but his leadership as a monarch reveals tragic flaws that echo the reflections of Eisenhower by my acquaintance. Absalom stole people’s hearts because he would take the time to listen to their cases and grievances while David avoided the responsibility and kept people waiting. Despite his genuine desire for God’s blessing on his people, David appears to have been more interested in personal pursuits than in national problems.

In today’s chapter, David is on the run for the second time in his life. This time, he’s fleeing his own son. David’s scandals have decimated his approval rating. He has few loyal followers left. As his monarchy collapses around him, people’s true feelings come to light and we see two examples of it in today’s text. I found the contrast between David’s response in the two confrontations found in today’s chapter interesting.

Mephibosheth, the handicapped son of Saul, had personally been shown favor by David. Now that David appears to have let the throne slip through his fingers, Mephibosheth repays David’s grace with disloyalty rather than gratitude. There is a power vacuum and Mephibosheth is going to try and make a play to grab power for himself. David responds by rescinding his former kindness and giving Saul’s holdings back to Saul’s servant, Ziba.

Shimei the Benjaminite lets out his frustrations with David in an annoying one-man protest in which he screams his disdain for David and hurls stones at the king. Unlike Mephibosheth’s disloyalty, which was a personal dishonoring of David’s kindness, Shimei’s verbal and stone assault comes from pent-up frustration with David’s leadership, scandals, and the resulting fallout. Perhaps David recognized the truth in Shimei’s criticism. David turns the other cheek and won’t even let his loyal guard force Shimei to be quiet.

Today I’m thinking and pondering the criticism and confrontations we all face. There is a difference between Mephibosheth’s selfish power grab and Shimei’s frontal assault. There’s a difference in David’s response. Nevertheless, Jesus never made such distinctions in his command to forgive others. His parables and Sermon on the Mount instruct me to forgive both hurtful verbal criticism and a very personal slap across the face. For the record, He experienced both.

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking a little inventory this morning of those who’ve been critical of me, and those who’ve caused me injury. I’m thinking about my own life, leadership and the blind spots that have given others good reason to be critical. I’m considering my own responses and searching my own heart to ask if I’ve truly forgiven them.

 A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
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Today’s featured image created with Wonder A.I.

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

Timing is Everything

Timing is Everything (CaD 2 Sam 1) Wayfarer

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 (NIV)

One afternoon while in high school I sat at the counter in our family’s kitchen and was having an after-school snack. My mom had gotten home from work and was opening the mail. All of a sudden her hand went to her mouth (her signature gesture when she was going to start crying) and she began to weep. At first, I was scared, but then I realized that they were tears of astonishment.

My sister was in college. Times were tight. My folks were struggling financially. I hadn’t known it because I was a clueless teenager, and no one else knew it because my parents had not said anything to anyone. But, God knew. They received an anonymous envelope with cash in it and an anonymous note about God’s provision. Wouldn’t you know it, it was just the exact amount of money they needed to send my sister on her college choir trip.

“Timing is everything,” they say.

Along my life journey, I’ve been both amazed and incredibly frustrated by God’s timing. I have witnessed what I consider to be miraculous events of God’s timing like my parents’ cash gift. I’ve also been through long, difficult stretches of life’s journey when my timing was definitely not calibrated with God’s timing. What I wanted, and felt I/we needed, was perpetually not provided. This has usually led to grief, doubt, silent tantrums, and anger. In pretty much every case, a dose of 20/20 hindsight from a waypoint a bit further down the road made me grateful for God’s wisdom in NOT letting me have what I thought I wanted.

In today’s chapter, we pick up the story of David, who had been anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel as a boy. But, the timing of his ascension to the position was not immediate. Saul occupied the throne and David refused to usurp the throne or depose Saul, choosing to defer to God’s timing. If you’ve been following along with the story in 1 Samuel, you know this led to David being branded an outlaw, having a price put on his head, fleeing to neighboring countries, and living for years on the lam. Now we read of David’s response when he hears of the death of Saul and Saul’s son Jonathon, who happened to be David’s best friend.

I was struck by David’s grief this morning. Believe me, David was also frustrated by God’s timing. We’ve recently journeyed through some of the blues-like psalms David wrote in the wilderness expressing his anger and frustration with the situation. Yet, when his enemy Saul is finally killed and the way is finally opened up for David to walk into his anointed calling, David recognizes that his anointed calling comes with a price. David grieves for the king who had been “God’s anointed” king before him. He grieves for his friend Jonathon who also died and gave David a clear line of accession without political rival.

Today I’m thinking about God’s timing in my life. I’m exploring how I see God working in my journey on the macro level. I’m thinking about paths I desired to take that God blocked, paths that remain closed, and paths that have opened up that I didn’t expect. More than ever, I want to follow David’s example as I proceed on my own journey. I want to wait, trust, acknowledge, and honor God’s timing.

A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m take a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published on April 28, 2014.

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

Prophetic Pondering

Prophetic Pondering (CaD Rev 11) Wayfarer

The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over [the two dead prophets] and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
Revelation 11:10 (NIV)

I have been a follower of Jesus for just over 40 years, a period of time which is used in the Great Story as the number of years in a generation. So, I have spent time over the past couple of years pondering the changes I’ve observed in our society and our culture in one generation. In some ways, the changes seem startling to me.

A generation ago, I watched as Christian fundamentalists with groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition sought to force their religious doctrines on society through political power. What I observed in those days was that a judeo-christian world view was foundational in society around me. Virtually ever kid I knew grew up going to church of some kind. It was just what you did.

A generation later, I find it ironic to observe what I would consider woke fundamentalists who are seeking to force their doctrinal world-view on society through political power. Major institutions of media, business, and academia are offering full support. Meanwhile, my own local gathering of Jesus’ disciples has grown in the last couple of decades, not because new followers are joining the ranks but because so many other churches are dying and closing their doors. Churches are being burned and attacked, social media posts call for violence against Christians.

These are things that I would have never have believed would happen in one generation, just 40 years ago.

In today’s chapter, the interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet judgments” continues. Two prophets, or “witnesses” are raised up. They echo the ancient prophet Elijah whose prayers shut-off the rains and brought fire down from the heavens.

It’s important to remember that the picture John’s visions create is an Earth in which there are a mere 144,000 followers of God who are sealed and protected through this time of tribulation. Where are all the followers of Jesus? John’s Revelation does not seem to address this, though the letters of the apostles speak of a “rapture” of God’s people in which they are suddenly and unexpectedly snatched up to heaven in the twinkling of an eye. This leaves the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants who are described as unrepentantly anti-God. Therefore, when the two prophets are killed, the world celebrates their deaths and gloats over their bodies. People throw parties to feast the end of God’s messengers.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find myself pondering the changes I’ve observed in one generation. I could not fathom the anger, hatred, and calls for violence that I witness on both ends of the socio-political spectrum. Though, given the gross failings of institutional churches that I touched on in yesterday’s post, I can certainly empathize with those who were victimized and are crying out in anger.

There are mornings on this chapter-a-day journey when I feel as if I am left with more questions than answers; Mornings when I am more perplexed than inspired. I’ve come to believe that this is not a bad thing. The Twelve who followed Jesus in the flesh for three years were still confused and scratching their heads the night before He was crucified and the day He rose from the dead. Why should I be any different? Along my journey I’ve found that it is often the long stretches of pondering good questions that ultimately lead to new depths of spiritual understanding.

So, two thoughts I continue to ponder as I enter my day today:

First, it would be easy for me to over-dramatize the changes I’ve witnessed in a generation and conclude that the end-times are near. I don’t know that. The pendulum of socio-political thought swings back and forth sending individuals on either side of the spectrum into doomsday thoughts and predictions. What I have observed in the last forty years helps me to appreciate how the events and anti-God attitudes in John’s vision could, indeed, be possible, but that doesn’t equate to thinking they are probable in the near turn.

Second, the pendulum of social, cultural, political and religious thought does often swing back and forth. Some would argue that it is currently doing so. The social and political upheaval of the 60s ushered in a period of rebellion, violence, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. The 70s then experienced a “Jesus People” movement when many people found themselves aimless and empty, searching for spiritual answers. I consider it possible that a generation of young children who are being asked to question fundamental biological truths about themselves (when they don’t even have the vocabulary or cognitive ability to process it) may very well find themselves confused about their identity and longing for a strong spiritual foothold to help them make sense out of life. This might even lead to a spiritual revival.

I’m posting this much later than norma this morning because I’ve been pondering how best to conclude. I’m still not sure, so I’m just going to leave it here, continuing to ponder.

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

Bitter Roots

Bitter Roots (CaD Heb 12) Wayfarer

See to it…that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)

Many years ago I was the target of a malicious individual, once my friend, who acted deceptively and created all manner of trouble for me. The person disappeared for a time then later surfaced in a way that I regularly had to be around them.

In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews, now in the home stretch of his letter, shifts to encouraging his fellow believers with all sorts of exhortations. There are so many good and memorable words of encouragement in this chapter that the one about not letting “the roots of bitterness grow” is, in my experience, almost universally ignored.

The problem with bitter roots such as anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, and long-held grudges is that they will germinate in my soul, they will spring up in ways I don’t expect (and to which I may be blind). Like weeds in my lawn, they will spread quickly if left unchecked. Their bitter fruit will infect my thoughts, my words, my behavior, and my relationships with others. The result, as the author of Hebrews points out, is to “cause trouble” for many. It has a ripple effect through my circles of influence.

Which brought my deceptive friend to mind. As I look back over the years and look at things with 20-20 hindsight, I believe that what prompted the trouble was the fruit of bitter roots in my friend’s soul which came from their own wounds and brokenness. If I had allowed bitterness from the troubles they caused me to take root in me, then the infection only grows, bearing even more fruit and infecting others as it reaches outward into more and more relationships.

In the verse before the one I quoted this morning, the author writes “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone.” Jesus said that if there’s bitterness between me and someone else, I should deal with it before I show up to worship. Paul wrote the believers in Rome, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The “as far as it depends on you” part is me digging out the roots of bitterness, addressing them, processing them, working through the hurt to reach the point of forgiveness where I can let them go.

In a few weeks, my dormant yard will spring back to life. I will begin the process of looking for weeds taking root so I can root them out before they spread. It’s just grass. Even more important is the need to look in my heart and life for the signs of bitterness taking root so I can deal with it before it infects my life, and the lives of those around me.

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

The Debt

The Debt (CaD Matt 18) Wayfarer

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:35 (NIV)

He was a big man. He was not a person I would want angry with me, and he had a natural bent toward anger. As we chatted, he shared stories of just how hot his anger burned and the difficult situations he’d found himself in because of it. He’d been brought up with religion. In fact, there was a lot of religion. From the cradle, he’d been raised with rules, rituals, and regulations out the wazoo, but by his own admission, religion did nothing to curb his anger or modify the spiteful way he treated anyone who crossed him. And his rage led him to some nasty places. Then, through a series of unfortunate events, he found himself in the darkest, seething rage of his life. It was there he met Jesus.

This man came to mind this morning as I read the parable Jesus told His disciples in today’s chapter. If you didn’t read the chapter yourself, I encourage you to take 60 seconds and read it (Matthew 18:23-35). It’s a simple story of a servant who owes the king 10,000 bags of gold. When the king calls the loan, which will bankrupt the servant and ruin his life, the servant pleads for more time to pay it back. The king has compassion and forgives the entire debt. No sooner had this servant left the king’s presence that he runs into a fellow servant that owes him 100 silver coins from a wager they’d made on the Jerusalem Jackals game. The servant chokes his friend, demands payment, and has him tossed into debtor’s prison until he could pay the small sum.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve both experienced and observed that there are common circumstances in which individuals struggle to actually “forgive those who sin against us” as Jesus famously told us to pray.

I’m simply a religious person going through the ritual motions. This lesson can be applied to so many circumstances, but in this case, it has everything to do with my ability to forgive and withhold judgment. Being a member of a church, or adhering to the tenets of religious rules and rituals only modifies my public behavior. It does nothing to change my heart. I’ve only seen a heart and life transformed and changed when a person has experienced a relationship with Jesus. My religion will never transform my heart and life, but a heart and life transformed by Jesus will definitely transform my religion.

I have no idea how great a debt I owe. If the servant in Jesus’ parable had been ignorant of just how much he owed the king, his behavior toward the fellow servant would not seem like such huge hypocrisy. As humans, I’ve observed that we have a penchant for keeping score with our mental scales. We know we’ve done this bad thing so I’ll throw that on one side of the scales. But, the person who injured me has done this and that so I’ll throw them both on the other side. See that! They’re worse than me so they deserve my wrath! James 2:10 points out that God’s economy doesn’t work like ours. If I keep all the rules and trip up on just one, I stand condemned and guilty of all of it. From God’s perspective, keeping score is a fool’s errand. We’re kidding ourselves to think or believe that we’re “not that bad.”

I haven’t truly experienced the power of grace myself. In the parable, the servant had experienced grace at an unbelievable level. 10,000 bags of gold was an incalculable sum to Jesus’ listeners. It’s like Elon Musk’s net worth in today’s standard. As I just mentioned, in God’s economy we all spiritually owe 100 billion dollars. It’s the contrast between the sum the servant had been forgiven and the paltry pittance the servant was owed that powers the moral of the story. When I know and have experienced how great a debt I’ve been forgiven by Jesus, it transforms the way I perceive and respond to those who offend and injure me.

In the quiet this morning, this brings me back to my big, angry friend. After meeting Jesus amidst his dark, seething rage had shared with me how his life began to change. It transformed his religion, his relationships, and the entire direction of his life. He’s still prone to anger, and he’s still not someone I’d want to see angry, but I wasn’t really worried about it as I listened to his story. After meeting Jesus and experiencing true grace, the fuse on his anger began to grow increasingly longer. The explosions of anger were more tempered, and he began to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess when it occasionally went off.

The words to an old, old hymn have been resonating in me the past month or two:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure!
That He would send His only Son,
To make this wretch His treasure.

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

The Choice

The Choice (CaD Gen 50) Wayfarer

But Joseph said to [his brothers], “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV)

Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed hosting Godfather nights. We have a big Italian dinner with friends who have never seen the all-time classic movie, and we watch together over wine and cannoli. It’s so much fun.

[Spoiler Alert] In the final minutes of the film, the patriarch of the family dies, and his son, Michael, decides to make a move against all of the family’s enemies. This includes traitors within the family itself. As Michael stands in a Catholic church and becomes godfather to his sister’s baby at a baptism ceremony, the vengeance is mercilessly carried out. It all takes place as Michael is asked in the baptism ritual: “Do you renounce Satan?” and he responds, “I do renounce him.”

That scene came to mind this morning as I read the final chapter of Genesis. Jacob dies. He and his family are living in Egypt under Joseph’s protection. With the patriarch of the family dead, Joseph’s brothers realize that they are in a precarious position. Joseph has all the power of Pharaoh and Egypt at his beck and call. Should Joseph decide to “settle accounts” with his brothers for beating him with murderous intent and then selling him into slavery he could. All Joseph had to do was give the word and they would all be sleeping with the fishes.

The brothers send word to Joseph begging for his forgiveness. They bow down before him and offer to be his slaves.

Joseph’s response is classic:

“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph is foreshadowing the song of Moses after the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, along with the instruction in Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Joseph makes a willing decision to allow God’s intentions to overshadow the ill-intent of his brothers. Once again, his thoughts and actions mirror the behavioral instructions given to Jesus’ followers:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… 1 Peter 1:6-7

“…to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s response foreshadows two important spiritual realities.

First, he understands that all that has happened to him has resulted in saving the lives of his family. When God leads the tribes out of slavery in Egypt, He will say to them: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut 30:19) God is the God of Life. Joseph chooses not to go the Michael Corleone route down the path of death and vengeance. Joseph chooses life for his brothers.

Second, the promise given to Abraham was that through his descendants “all nations of the earth will be blessed.” Through Joseph’s trials, he was placed in a position to give life, not only to the Egyptians and his family but also to the other nations who came to Egypt to buy food in the famine. Had it not been for Joseph’s many trials, so many people from so many nations and peoples would have perished. Instead, they lived and were blessed through Abraham’s descendant.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself searching my heart to see if the seeds of vengeance are present. Stories like Joseph and The Godfather are so epic, yet the principles involved are intensely personal. Who has caused me harm? Who has made my life miserable? Who has wronged me, slandered me, or thrown me under the bus?

What seeds are taking root in my heart?

The seeds of resentment, hatred, and vengeance?

The seeds of grace, mercy, and forgiveness?

I’m reminded that the fruit of the former leads to death, while the fruit of the latter leads to life.

Spare the gun. Share the cannoli.

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

Old Wounds Die Hard

Old Wounds Die Hard (CaD Ps 137) Wayfarer

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.

Psalm 137:8 (NIV)

It’s interesting the places my mind can wander when my body is embroiled in a mindless task. This past weekend as I spent hours power-washing, I found my mind wandering back to a slight that I experienced fifteen years ago which became the death knell of a relationship that effectively ended ten years before that.

Old wounds die hard.

Along my life journey I’ve come to believe that some relationships are for a lifetime. Others relationships are just for a season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Then there are relationships that need to end for the health of both parties. When Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” I don’t believe that he meant that all relationships should be hunky-dory for the long-haul. Paul had a falling out with more than one individual along his own journeys. I’ve come to believe that sometimes to “live at peace” means to allow for relational time and distance

Old wounds die hard.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 137, is fascinating for its emotional honesty. The Babylonian empire laid siege to Jerusalem, razed it to the ground, and took the citizens into captivity in Babylon for a generation. They experienced their fair share of persecution. This was not only from the Babylonians, but also from Babylon’s allies which included a people known as the Edomites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. Esau was the first-born twin. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and became a patriarch of the Hebrew tribes. Esau became the patriarch of the Edomites. Bad blood between them. Fifteen-hundred years later the descendants of the twins are still feuding.

Old wounds die hard.

The songwriter of Psalm 137 channels the pain of captivity, the humiliating treatment by his captors, the homesickness of exile, and the wounds of the feuding enemies, the Edomites. The song has three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the torment of exile, the second stanza expresses love and commitment to Jerusalem, and the final stanza is a raw expression of the vengeance the songwriter feels and the desire for Babylon and Edom to get their just desserts.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself appreciating Psalm 137 for being an example of healthy expression of unhealthy emotions. Along my journey I have had multiple waypoints in which I have felt betrayed and wounded. Those experiences lead to anger which can easily lead me to bitterness which can poison my soul. Wendy and I often remind one-another that anger is like me drinking poison thinking that it will hurt the object of my rage. Yet, I have to do something with my anger. I’ve got to be honest with it, process it, and find healthy ways to get it out.

Which is why the mental scab that I picked at while power washing was simply a fleeting visit down Memory Lane. I processed it and got it out a long time ago. Life has moved on for both me and the one who slighted me. I honestly hope that he is well and has continued to grow in his own journey. There’s not much left of that wound. It’s healed over. There are just the dried remains of scab that I brushed away with my power-washer.

Old wounds die hard, but I have found that they do eventually die when I, like the lyricist of Psalm 137, am honest with my anger. Getting it out, processing it, and expressing it allow for doing what Jesus asks of me: to forgive others just as I have been forgiven.

Rug-Pulling Moments

Rug-Pulling Moments (CaD Ps 89) Wayfarer

You have put an end to his splendor
    and cast his throne to the ground.

Psalm 89:44 (NIV)

This past week Wendy and I enjoyed hosting both of our daughters and their husbands, along with our grandson, Milo. It was a first in many ways. Madison and Garrett just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and it’s the first time that all seven of us were gathered under our roof. It was a really fun week together as a family.

Wendy and I particularly enjoyed three-year-old Milo climbing into our bed early in the morning to cuddle with Papa and Yaya. One morning Taylor joined us one the bed with her cup of morning coffee. A short time later Madison walked in and climbed on the bed, as well. We got to talk, laugh, share stories, and reminisce. What a joy.

On New Year’s Eve, Wendy and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t help but mentally juxtapose the week of being a family together in one house with this relational milestone. Fifteen years ago, the girls were young teenagers reeling from all the changes and turmoil that come when parents divorce and then remarry. It’s messy, and it’s hard when life doesn’t turn the way you planned, and the way you’d always trusted and believed that it would.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 89, is the final song in “Book III” of the compilation of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the book of Psalms. It was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. Through the first half of the song the lyrics read like an emotional tour of the “glory days” of King David, of God’s blessing on David, God’s anointing of David, God’s covenant with David, and God’s assurances that the throne of David would be established forever.

Then, the songwriter does a 180-degree pivot. After building up the rosy picture of the Davidic monarchy in all its glory, he quickly yanks the rug out from under me as a reader: “But you have rejected, you have spurned”. It’s such a shocking change of tone that it felt unsettling as I read it in the quiet this morning. And, I couldn’t help but think that this was the songwriter’s intent, to have me feel the shock that he was feeling when life didn’t turn out the way he’d trusted and planned.

The psalmist foreshadows the misunderstanding that surrounded Jesus’ followers when the Messiah’s kingdom turned out to look nothing like what they’d envisioned, believed, and had been taught their whole lives. David’s throne was established forever, which is why the Christmas story we are currently celebrating took place in “the City of David” with a mother and earthly father who were descendants of David. God kept His covenant with David, it just didn’t happen the way everyone expected. As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

Today’s psalm reminds me of the very human reaction I tend to have whenever life doesn’t turn out the way I planned. Tragedy, unexpected death, life-threatening illness, divorce, job-loss, global pandemic and leave me reeling like having the rugged pulled out from under me. There is shock, there is anger, there is grief, and there are oh so many questions. Like the ancient songwriter, my prayers in these reeling moments on the road of life tend to sound bitter, blaming, and cynical.

I’ve found it to be part of the journey. Like I said in yesterday’s post, these are the stretches of life’s road that lead to digging deeper roots and growing spirit strength. It was hard for me to see it in the middle of the shame of a failed marriage and feeling the anger and disappointment of teenaged daughters. This was never the plan. This was not how it was supposed to work out. Oh, so many questions.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that as a follower of Jesus I need the rug pulled out from beneath me on occasion. Comfortably standing on my own illusions and expectations of what I think life should look like will never allow me to follow Jesus where He is leading me. And even though there are still times when it leaves me reeling for a time, I’ve learned that there are divine purpose in the rug-pulling experiences on this life journey. It usually makes no sense to me in the moment.

Then, down life’s road fifteen years or so, I find myself one morning on the bed together as a family. We’re cuddling the next generation, drinking coffee, swapping stories, and experiencing the joy of being together.

Getting it Out

Getting it Out (CaD Ps 58) Wayfarer

Then people will say,
    “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
    surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
Psalm 58:11 (NIV)

My buddy, Spike, and I have a friendly on-going conversation about baseball. Spike is a life-long fan of the New York Yankees. He even tried to get me to be a fan in our younger years. He bought me a subscription to a Yankees fan magazine one year. While I will always appreciate and respect his passion, he failed to convert me.

In baseball fandom, the Yankees are that team that everyone loves to hate. It’s the same kind of schadenfreude that America has had for New England Patriots the last ten years. Baseball, however, is a much older sport and the animosity runs much deeper. The Yankees are a team that everyone loves to hate, and when it comes time for the postseason I believe that there are millions of baseball fans who, next to their favorite team, will cheer for “any team but the Yankees.” Spike argues that having a team that is the Darth Vader of the sport is actually good for the sport and that the Yankees serve a legitimate and healthy purpose in this. I’ll leave that argument for meaningless conversation to have over a pint at the pub.

Still, I have noticed that in the passion and emotions that sports stirs up in people, it is common to have that rival, that enemy team, about whom you feel intense negative emotion. And when you lose, again, to that hated rival you curse them and secretly hope the worst for them even though you know it’s silly and rather meaningless behavior for an adult in a world where there are legitimately other things we should really care about. Nevertheless, sometimes like screaming into a pillow, it feels good to exorcise those negative emotions. It reminds me of a friend of Wendy’s and mine who, as a mother of young children, admitted that some days she sneaks out into the garage to scream profanities that she just has to get out.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 58, is part of a genre of ancient lyrics known by scholars as “imprecatory” songs. To “imprecate” means to “call down curses on another person or persons.” It was a common practice among cultures in the Ancient Near East. For modern readers of the Great Story, imprecatory psalms can be tough to stomach. The language, anger, rage, and emotion of the lyrics are raw. In one verse of David’s lyrics, he asks God to make the wicked like a stillborn baby who never sees life.

Two things I noted as I meditated on David’s lyrical curses in the quiet this morning. First, the focus of David’s curses are wicked, rich rulers who rig the system and don’t care anything about the poor, the needy, and the socially outcast. He’s cursing the injustices of this world and those who propagate them. It’s really the same anger we’ve seen in protests and riots this year.

The second thing is that David is taking his righteous anger, rage, and emotions to God in song. He’s not taking out vengeance himself. He’s not violently taking matters into his own hand. He’s not rooting out the wicked who inspire his rant and executing them which, depending on the time this song was written, he had both the authority and ability to do. Like a young mother screaming F-bombs to her minivan in an empty garage, David is exorcising his emotions to God, who is neither shocked nor surprised by our emotions.

In that way, I think Spike has a good point that it’s good to have a bad guy on whom we exorcise those negative emotions. Along this life journey, I’ve come to acknowledge that I can’t avoid anger. Even Jesus got righteously angry, and Paul told the followers of Jesus in Ephesus not that anger is wrong or bad, but what we do with it. Psalm 58 and the imprecatory psalms were the ancient Hebrews way of getting it out. And, on this post-election morning, it’s not lost on me that there may be many people who need to exorcise some negative emotions in a healthy way.

Spike has often told me “it’s not an official World Series if the Yankees aren’t in it.”

If you’ll excuse me, I think I left something in the garage.