Tag Archives: Anxiety

Order, Disorder, Reorder

Order, Disorder, Reorder (CaD Jud 17) Wayfarer

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 17:6 (NIV)

For Wendy and me, there is a certain order to our lives that has developed over the years. Even though we work out of our home offices and have tremendous flexibility, our days and weeks have a certain cadence and rhythm to them that has grown out of the ordering of our spiritual, marital, familial, communal, social, vocational, and cultural needs.

Over the past several years, I have observed my world becoming increasingly disordered. There is no question that the pandemic affected the ordering of our personal lives in ways we’re still trying to understand and grapple with. On top of that, a daily perusal of the news has shown me increased political disorder, social disorder, cultural disorder, and economic disorder. I observe the manifestations of both mental disorders and spiritual disorders.

Christian mystics have long seen and understood that there is a pattern running throughout human history that goes like this:

This is the basic theme of the entire Great Story. From the order of creation and the Garden of Eden in the first two chapters of Genesis came the disorder brought by the Fall of Adam and Eve. From that point on the Great Story is about redemption and restoration of order in the final two chapters of Revelation.

At the beginning of this chapter-a-day trek through Judges I revealed the pattern of the book like this:

It’s simply a riff of the order>disorder>reorder theme and a microcosm of the Great Story itself.

In today’s chapter, the author of Judges shifts from the stories of the major Judges of the settlement period of Hebrew history to an epilogue with stories that represent the disorder of the times. The story of Micah serves two main purposes.

First, the author of Judges makes clear that power was decentralized among the Hebrew tribes. There was no king. Each tribe ran itself under the authority of clan and tribal leaders. This meant that every day people like Micah and his mother were free and independent to do whatever they wanted.

Second, the result of people doing as they pleased led to them mixing their faith in the God of Moses and ordering of life and community per the Law of Moses with local idols and religions. Micah and his mother’s interaction is a disordered hodge-podge of local religious practices and the forming of their own household shrine and cult, with Micah’s son acting as a priest of their personal household religion. Along comes a Levite, who was supposed to serve in God’s tabernacle and lead the Hebrew tribes in keeping the Law of Moses and the rules for life prescribed within it (order). Instead, this Levite agrees to serve as the priest of Micah’s household religion (disorder).

In the quiet this morning, this brings me back to the disorder I observe and feel all around me, and all around the world. It is so easy for me to lose myself in the disorder of the day. My Type Four temperament can quickly sink into a morass of pessimism and despair. Fear and anxiety can readily begin to infiltrate my spirit. But, as a follower of Jesus, I have a different perspective.

First, I can embrace the truth that Jesus predicted and told His followers to expect all kinds of disorder in this life. As a follower of Jesus, I’m instructed to counterintuitively rejoice in it, glory in it, and find joy within the disorder. The mystics who have recognized the pattern throughout history have also understood that it is the pain and discomfort of disorder that ushers in and moves us to reorder. I may feel the pain of the moment, but the disorder will also (if I let it) develop within me the spiritual qualities of perseverance, endurance, patience, and maturity.

Next, I recognize that the author of Judges was looking back and recording this period of disorder from the reordered future in which King David had united the Hebrew tribes as a nation, established Jerusalem as the center of Hebrew worship, and brought the Hebrew people back to their faith in Yahweh. The disorder of Judges was written from the perspective of the reordered world.

And so, I look at the disorder around me in the context of this cycle. Reorder is coming. Not only can I trust this because history reveals that disorder always leads to reorder, but also because the resurrected Jesus promised His return and the ultimate reordering of all things. I, as a follower of Jesus, believe this to be true, even in the midst of disorderly times, and this changes my perspective on the disorder itself.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace,” Jesus said. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And with that hope, I enter another day and another week in a disordered world.

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

The Fear Factor

The Fear Factor (CaD Jos 22) Wayfarer

“No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.
Joshua 22:24-25 (NIV)

As Wendy and I flew to the west coast to visit friends this past month, we took advantage of the flight’s entertainment options. Wendy and I both plugged into our tablets and watched something to pass the time. Everyone who knows Wendy knows that her raw emotions are sometimes expressed in explosive and animated ways, this is especially true of things that fearfully surprise her. Thus it was, the movie she was watching had one of those out-of-nowhere scary surprises. Wendy’s vociferous shriek of shock and surprise scared everyone around us. I even saw the flight attendant look our way to see what was the matter. If I remember correctly, this happened on more than one flight.

Wendy and I both hate horror movies. I always have. I know that there are people out there who love the genre. Good for them. It’s just not my jam. I hate being afraid, so I just don’t see the point of intentionally subjecting myself to an experience that has been purposefully designed to scare the bejeebers out of me.

In today’s chapter, Joshua dismisses the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return across the Jordan River to the lands they’d requested back in the days of Moses. Knowing that the lands they’d requested on the eastern side of the Jordan were not within the Promised Land God had stipulated, the two and a half tribes suddenly feared that they might be treated as “less than” the tribes on the other side of Jordan. This fear was projected on future generations who might cut the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh from being part of the family, and part of the worship of God.

It always fascinates me where fear comes from and where it leads people. Reuben was the first-born son of Jacob who received a curse rather than a blessing from his father in Genesis 49. It made me wonder if this contributed to the fears that they might be cut off from the other tribes? Did it contribute to them hastily requesting land on the opposite side of Jordan because they didn’t trust that they would get a decent allotment in the Promised Land? Now that they’ve gotten what they asked for it stoked fears of being cut off from the other tribes.

It also appears that these “Trans-Jordan” tribes feared having a conversation about it with Joshua and the assembly. They choose instead to build a replica altar which creates misunderstanding and almost leads to a bloody confrontation with the other ten tribes, which is the very thing they feared to begin with!

The further I get in my life journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate Jesus’ command not to fear, and not to be anxious. Whenever Jesus told someone not to be afraid it was a directive, not a suggestion, and yet in my heart and mind, I confess that I’ve so often treated it as the latter.

The Trans-Jordan tribes are a reminder to me that unchecked and unspoken fears can and do lead to unpleasant places. Fear is a natural human emotion, but faith is an antidote. When in their fear of the storm, the disciples woke Jesus up in the boat, Jesus asked them “Where is your faith?”

In the quiet this morning, I’m searching my heart and mind in order to find and name fears that I haven’t really acknowledged. I’ve learned along the way that speaking these fears to God in prayer (or sometimes I write God a letter and get my fears out on the page), and then proclaiming my faith and trust in God helps move me out of fear and into faith.

And, that’s a good word this morning as I enter another day of the journey determined to leave fears behind and move forward in faith.

Cheers!

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

Succession

Succession (CaD Jos 1) Wayfarer

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I’ve learned that one of the most strategically vital, and yet infinitely tricky, aspects of the long-term success of any human organization is succession. The longer and more successful a leader’s tenure has been at the top of an organization, the more critical and precarious the succession becomes.

Joshua 1:8 was the first verse I memorized as a follower of Jesus when I was fifteen years old. I memorized it at the instruction of a man who was my boss in an afterschool job. He discipled me for two years, intently teaching me the basics of studying the Great Story, and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fellowship, being a witness. He and his wife later started a company. I began working for the company in 1994, became a partner in 2005. My boss and mentor died in 2015. I became the company’s President in 2018.

I’ve experienced first-hand how tricky succession can be, and ours is a relatively small organization with relatively few entanglements. The larger the organization, the more complex it gets.

Today, this chapter-a-day journey begins a trek through the book of Joshua which begins with the end of Moses’ story. Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Through Moses, God established a rule of Law, a religious sacrificial system, and an organizational structure for governing their 12 tribes. Moses led the Hebrew people for 40 years of wandering through the Sinai wilderness. Moses is the only leader the Hebrews have known for more than a generation.

Moses is dead, and the Hebrew people are facing the most monumental task they’ve faced as a people. They are looking across the Jordan River at the land God had promised them. They are to cross and conquer. They will need a strong leader.

As I read the chapter this morning, I couldn’t help but feel for Joshua. In terms of succession, Joshua is in an almost impossible position. Moses has been his mentor. Moses was the miracle man, the savior, and God’s undisputed leader. I know the self-doubt. I know the feelings of expectation. I know the angst that comes with stepping into shoes that feel as if they were forever ordained to be worn by the original wearer, and will always seem a few sizes too big for your own feet.

I took particular note that it was God who spoke to Joshua in this morning’s opening chapter. It was God who gave assurances, made promises, and instructed Joshua regarding the task at hand. It was God who gave this fledgling leader the mantra “Be strong and courageous.” Why?

These are God’s people, not Moses’.
This is God’s story, not Moses’.
It is God’s ultimate purpose to which Joshua is being called, not Moses’.
Joshua is ultimately God’s person for the job, not Moses’.

Some mornings I find that the chapter has such direct correlation to my own life journey as to be profound. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that God’s purposes are ultimately at work in my own life and journey. Therefore, like Joshua, my own experiences with change and succession are ultimately about God’s purposes for me and the business to which I happen to have been given a position of leadership. Like Joshua, I’m called to be faithful, obedient, mindful, strong, and courageous. Like Joshua, I’m to trust God’s promises and not my leadership prowess. Like Joshua, I’m to recognize God’s constant presence and ultimate purposes, whatever that purpose might ultimately turn out to be.

Time for me to get to work.

Have a great day.

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

Stuck in a Moment

Stuck in a Moment (CaD Gen 33) Wayfarer

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
Genesis 33:4 (NIV)

Many years ago I found myself back in the stomping grounds of my youth. It was late at night and I ran into an old friend. I approached to say hello and discovered he had a drink or two too many. I was shocked to find that I was greeted with anger that felt like it was seething to the point of rage. He looked like he was ready to punch me, and the air was filled with violent tension. I quickly backed away and left.

I never forgot that moment.

Ten or so years later I ran into my friend again. Needless to say, my apprehension was high when I saw him. All I could think about was the tension from ten years before. I played it cool and chose not to initiate conversation. Imagine my surprise when my friend walked up to me with a smile, greeted me warmly with a big hug, and initiated a friendly catch-up conversation. It was as if the episode a decade before had ever happened.

That moment came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter and the reunion between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. In this case, it had been 20 years since Jacob fled into exile to escape his brother’s rage. The last thing Jacob remembered was the aftermath of stealing Esau’s blessing and birthright. Esau was spewing anger and vengeance. In yesterday’s chapter, Jacob hears that Esau is on his way with 400 men, and he is clearly anticipating Esau to greet him with the same anger and vengeance he remembered from their last meeting. He carefully devises a plan in anticipation of a violent outcome.

Imagine Jacob’s shock when Esau runs ahead of his 400 men to embrace him, kiss him, and weep at their reunion.

Along my life journey, one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I have a very active mind, imagination, and inner world. It comes with being an Enneagram Type Four. This is a good thing in all sorts of creative ways. I discovered it to be quite helpful as an actor, allowing me to easily suspend disbelief and live fully in the world of a play behind the fourth wall. At the same time, my active mind can also become a hindrance.

They say, “Time heals all wounds.” Sometimes it’s true, but not if my brain replays that uncomfortable, tense moment with my friend over, and over, and over again. And, I did just that. I couldn’t let it go. It was like relational PTSD. All I had to do was think about it and I was right back in that moment, feeling all of the shock, apprehension, and fear all over again. It makes it hard for me to let things go. Sometimes, I’m unable to emotionally or relationally move forward from a moment. As U2 sings it:

And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it’s tough
And you can never get enough
Of what you don’t really need now
My, oh my
You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

In the quiet this morning, I wondered if Jacob was wired the same way. Paul summed up his letter to Jesus’ followers in Philippi by telling them:

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.

I’ve discovered that doing this often requires me to find the “stop” button in my brain from continuing to repeat whatever mental playlist I have on a continuous loop. I have to force myself to consciously choose a different playlist that fits Paul’s description.

I’ve found that the path of spiritual growth requires me to recognize unhealthy and unproductive ways within myself, and find the self-discipline to address them. In some cases, this is easy. In other cases, it’s an entire spiritual journey all its own.

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

Dealt a Bad Hand

Dealt a Bad Hand (CaD Ruth 1) Wayfarer

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Ruth 1:20-21 (NIV)

Along my journey, I’ve known many people who I would describe as having been dealt a bad hand in this life. I have experienced multipole stretches of the journey in which I felt I was dealt a bad hand. There are unexpected tragedies, unforeseen illnesses, and circumstances that come out of left field. As I ponder things, I feel as if the entire world got dealt a bad hand the past year-and-a-half. It’s one of the realities of this earthly journey. Despite all the wonderful promises of name-it-and-claim-it televangelists, the Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds us of a hard reality: in this life there are times and seasons when things like death, war, tearing, weeping, searching, relational distance, mourning, and hate are our experience. In every time and season, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

Today we begin the short story of Ruth, one of only two books of Great Story named after women. Ruth is one of a select handful of women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, so her story is a meaningful chapter in the Great Story. It is set in the dark period of time known as the time of the Judges. The story begins with a woman, Naomi, to whom God deals and incredibly bad hand.

There is a famine in the land, and Naomi’s husband leads her and her sons to the foreign land of Moab in a search to find food. At first, it appears that they’re playing their cards right. They settle in, have food, and even find Moabite wives for their sons. There was nothing illegal with Hebrew men marrying Moabite women, though it will certainly raise some orthodox, prejudicial eyebrows if and when they should return home to the little town of Bethlehem (yep, that Bethlehem).

Then there’s a change in seasons, just like the Sage reminds us. Naomi’s husband dies. Then both of her sons die. For a woman in the dark age of the Judges, this was the worst hand God could deal her. Widows had no status, no viable means of income, and there was no social structure to provide for their needs. Naomi’s situation is essentially hopeless.

Naomi recognizes that the situation for her daughters-in-law is not as dire. They are young, beautiful, and have child-bearing years ahead of them. She urges them to “fold” their hand, stay in Moab, and trust that their local Moabite god will deal them a new and better hand. One takes her up on the offer, but Ruth chooses to ante up, stick with Naomi, stick with Naomi’s God, and see this hand through. On the surface, this is a bad decision. Being a Moabite widow in Bethlehem and expecting a positive result is about the longest odds one could imagine in the context of the times.

Sure enough, widow Naomi’s return to Bethlehem with her foreign, widowed daughter-in-law, has the two buzzing with gossip. Naomi sums up her situation by asking people to call her by a different name:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara (which means “bitter”), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Bitter. What a great word for those times when I suddenly find myself playing a bad hand in life. Bitter at God. Bitter with the situation. Bitter that others seem to have it easier than me. Bitter that all the televangelist’s prophesies of my prosperity and the self-help guru’s promises of my success turn out to be null and void. Bitter that God dealt me this hand when He could have dealt me something different.

In the quiet this morning, I feel for Naomi, I mean Mara the Queen of bitter. I find myself recalling some of my top-ten bitter moments of this life journey even as I admit not one of them was nearly as dire or life-threatening as Naomi and Ruth. At the same time, I’m reminded that the Great Story is ultimately a redemption story that is layered with redemption stories. The way stories work, you can’t experience redemption without first experiencing the bitter. The bitter hand is the pre-requisite of redemption. I don’t experience the latter without the former.

It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned along this journey of following Jesus. When dealt a bad hand, never fold, because that assures perpetual bitterness. Playing out my hand is the only path to redemption, even against the longest of odds.

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

Peace Amidst Conflict

Peace Amidst Conflict (CaD John 14) Wayfarer

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27 (NIV)

One of the most instrumental classes of my entire education was Eighth Grade English with Mrs. McLaren. Not only did she teach me about how writing is structured, but she also taught me about how story is structured. She was the first teacher to teach me that every good story contains conflict. Conflict comes in many forms. It might be good versus evil, conflict between God and a person, conflict between a person and the world, a person against another person, or a person fighting against themselves. Our lives and. our world are filled with conflict, and conflict disrupts peace.

In the Great Story, conflict is unleashed like a torrent in Genesis 3. Evil disrupts the peace and harmony of the Garden by causing the man and woman to question what God has said (Good vs. Evil) and then tempts them to eat the forbidden fruit. This creates conflict (shame and blame) between God and His creation (God vs. humans)and between the man and woman (person vs. person). The result of this conflict is more conflict. God kicks the man and woman out of the garden (God vs. humans), curses the evil one (God vs. evil), curses the man to toil and death (man vs. the world; man vs. self), curses the woman to pain in childbirth and struggle with man (woman vs. world; woman vs. man), and the whole thing establishes a special animosity between the woman and evil one (woman vs. evil).

There’s a whole lot of conflict going on!

In today’s chapter, Jesus is sharing with His followers on the night before He is to be crucified. Unlike the other three biographers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) who focus on the events of Jesus’ final night and the day of His crucifixion, John dedicates four of his final seven chapters to all of the things Jesus told them on that fateful night. As the last of the four biographers, and as one writing from a waypoint much further down life’s road, John is writing from the perspective of what his readers need to hear. Most followers of Jesus know the events because the other three biographies have been spread and read far and wide. Inspired by Holy Spirit, John realizes that Jesus’ followers need to hear what Jesus told them the night before His execution.

In reading Jesus story, people often forget to understand these final hours of Jesus’ earthly life in the context of the Great Story. I’ve said all along that one of John’s themes is identity, and in today’s chapter I can identify all of the players from Genesis 3. Jesus even references the Evil One in today’s chapter: “The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me.”

Back in Genesis 3, God said this to the evil one:

“And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

After the Garden incident, the evil one identified as the “prince of this world” was given dominion over all the kingdoms of this world. The evil one even offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of this world when he tempted Jesus before the beginning of His ministry, asking that Jesus merely bow and worship him. Jesus refused, and the conflict continues.

Now we have the God (in the incarnate Christ), man (in the disciples), woman (there were several women in Jesus entourage who were there), and the woman of the prophecy in the person of Jesus’ mother Mary who was also present with them, living with them, and traveling with them. What is happening is more than mere happenstance. This is a cosmic convergence and climax to the Great Story.

In light of all this conflict, I find it fascinating that Jesus says that He is giving His followers peace (that’s different than the world can give) and they shouldn’t allow their hearts to be troubled or afraid.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about what chaotic times we live in. I can’t help but think about the tremendous lack of peace I see amidst fear of death, fear of COVID, fear of those who don’t think the same, fear of tragedy, fear of anarchy, or fear of [fill in the blank]. Yet Jesus wanted me, His follower, to experience peace amidst the turmoil still being stirred up by the prince of this world and all the age old conflicts that have plagued human beings since the fourth chapter of the Great Story.

As I mull these things over, I realize that I experience greater peace today then at any other time of my life journey. This isn’t because my circumstances have changed but because I’ve changed. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I grow in relationship with Jesus, the more I’ve experienced the peace He references in today’s chapter. As I see the world growing more anxious and fearful, I’ve grown less so. I find it important that Jesus told me not to allow my heart to be troubled. I have a say in this. I have a choice. I can allow the fear and anxiety being stirred up and pedaled by the prince of this world to keep me tied up in knots today, or I can believe Jesus, trust His Word, and embrace how the Great Story ends with “all things working together for good for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The more a I truly and consciously choose the latter, the more I experience peace.

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

Topsy-Turvy Times

Topsy-Turvy Times (CaD Ecc 10) Wayfarer

There is an evil I have seen under the sun,
    the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
Fools are put in many high positions,
    while the rich occupy the low ones.
I have seen slaves on horseback,
    while princes go on foot like slaves.

Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 (NIV)

One of the reasons that I’ve always loved history is because it offers me context that is beneficial in observing the times in which I am living. The entire world has experienced life getting topsy-turvy and upside down for the past year-and-a-half on multiple levels from the pandemic to politics. It certainly has felt like a perfect storm, with multiple storm fronts of Covid, George Floyd, and national election converging into one strange year that’s still perpetuating.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Sage of Ecclesiastes warns of such times. In other words, what I’ve experienced in the past year and a half may be strange within the context of my lifetime, but certainly not in the context of history. I sincerely feel for those who lost loved ones from the Coronavirus, yet the death rate in the U.S. according to the CDC sits at 600,000 (I rounded up) which is .18 percent of the 330 million U.S. citizens. The “black death” pandemic of the middles ages is believed to have killed 50-60% of all Europeans. I try to imagine 165,000,000 deaths in the U.S. or half the people I know dying in short order. It doesn’t lessen the sting if losing a loved one to Covid, but it does make me grateful to have not experienced the Black Death.

Millions of people did experience the Black Death, however. Millions of people also experienced their world turning upside down when the Third Reich took over Europe in just five years. Even in the Great Story I read Jeremiah’s lamentation over the carnage and cannibalism of the siege of Jerusalem, or Daniel’s world turning upside down when he finds himself a captive in Babylon, or Joseph’s world being turned upside down when he is sold into slavery by his own brothers and ends up in an Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The books of Judges, Chronicles, and Kings relate stories of an on-going game of thrones in which entire regimes change overnight and then change again in short order. As the Sage observes: yesterday’s ruler wakes up a slave while yesterday’s slave sits on the throne.

Instability. Chaos. Corruption. Pandemic.

It’s all happened before, and it will continue to happen. If John’s vision in Revelation are any indication, it’s going to get much worse before the end. Nevertheless, the overwhelming evidence reveals that the times I am living in are a cakewalk compared to all of human history: Less sickness, less poverty, less malnutrition, less violence, longer life spans, more political stability, more rule of law.

So what does this mean for me today? It doesn’t change my present circumstances or current events, but it does change the way I frame my thoughts and understanding of my circumstances and current events. It helps me in keeping fear and anxiety in check. In today’s chapter, the Sage explains that when a ruler rages there is wisdom in staying at your post and remaining calm. I daily observe the world raging in various ways and forms. I hear the shouts, screams, and cries coming at me from all directions across multiple media feeds.

I find myself considering the context.

I thank God I live in what is globally the safest, most stable period of all human history.

I endeavor to stay at my post, sowing love, kindness, and peace. I endeavor daily to calmly do what I can to make the world an even better place in my circles of influence.

And, so I begin another day.

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

Bookends of Praise

Bookends of Praise (CaD Ps 149) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord.
Psalm 149:1a (NIV)
Praise the Lord.
Psalm 149:9c (NIV)

One of the thieves of my sleep is the never-ending task list. As my sleep ebbs and flows in the darkness from deep sleep to semi-consciousness, my brain tends to use the relative wakefulness of semi-consciousness (typically around 3:30 a.m.) to begin spinning on all the tasks I didn’t accomplish the day before along with the ones that I are on the list for the following day. There are mornings that I can’t shut my brain off and return to some restful log sawing. Hello insomnia, my old friend.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 149, I noticed one of the recurring thematic devices used by the lyricists of these ancient Hebrew songs we call psalms. I’d call it the “bookends of praise.” The song begins and ends with what is essentially a tag: “Praise the LORD.”

As I sat contemplating this device, I was reminded of a line from the lyrics of Psalm 113 (which is also bookended with praise):

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

I can certainly interpret this familiar line as telling me that my day should be filled with perpetual praise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As I meditated on it this morning, I thought of it as the perpetuation of the metaphor of this device. As the song is bookended in praise, beginning and end, so my day should be bookended in praise, when I arise and when I lie down. I should begin my day by offering God praise, and end each day offering God praise.

And this is where I have a confession to make. As a morning person, I’ve developed a discipline of spending time with God in the quiet each morning. I’ve got the “rising of the sun” part of the praise bookends down pat. It’s the “place where it sets” part that I’m realizing falls woefully short. Wendy will tell you that it’s not uncommon for me to be in a deep sleep before she has a chance to finish her bedtime routine.

Somehow the childhood discipline my parents instilled in me of “saying my prayers” before bed got lost somewhere in my daily routine. I might do it once in a while, but its honestly few and far between. Have I unconsciously decided that my morning quiet time has got all the spiritual bases covered?

Then I thought about actual bookends. What happens when I’m missing one bookend on the shelf? The books spill out of that end. Is it possible that without bookending my day in the “place where it sets” with praise and a moment of conversation with God, that I’m allowing all of the tasks and pressures of my day to spill out into the night like thieves to rob me of my sleep? If I build a discipline of offering up praise for all the good things in my day, and I offer up my tasks and stresses to be entrusted to the God who cares for me, might it be a spiritual bookend that will help guard my heart and mind from being robbed of slumber?

I’m guessing I know the answer.

Some mornings, the action step from my time of quiet is crystal clear.

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

Songs of Assurance

Songs of Assurance (CaD Ps 121) Wayfarer

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1 (NIV)

One summer of high school my friend Neal and I found ourselves standing in the middle of a desert in Mexico. It was something like 117 degrees that day. There were several vans of youth along with a few cars making our way toward Acapulco when one of the vehicles had an issue. Our local guide stayed behind to wait for and deal with a mechanic and our youth pastor told Neal and me to stay with him. I remember thinking, “This has got to be one of the strangest moments of my life.”

I don’t remember being afraid, exactly. Our guide was a native who was more than capable of making sure we’d manage. Neal was a great companion to have if you’re stuck in the Mexican desert. He’s a walking stand-up comedian act and can make any circumstance entertaining. Nevertheless, this was well before cell phones and there were a lot of “What ifs….” that ran through my mind.

I thought about that afternoon as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 121. It’s another “Song of ascents” that pilgrims would sing on the road to Jerusalem as they made their way to one of the annual festivals. The rugged mountainous terrain around Jerusalem could be somewhat dangerous for pilgrims as thieves and robbers were common. There’s a reason Jesus used a man beaten by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. His listeners would identify with that. It was a concern for any traveler in those days.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of this song as you imagine yourself with a caravan of other pilgrims walking toward Jerusalem. In the distance you see Mount Zion and Solomon’s Temple which, for them, was God’s earthly residence. So, looking to the mountains and asking “Where does my help come from?” would have been associated with the destination of their pilgrimage. Being safe on the road, not getting injured, being protected from harm walking by day and camping outdoors at night, this song was a repeated proclamation of faithful assurance in their “coming and going” to and from Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded by the lyrics of this song that sometimes I need words of assurance and affirmation along this life journey. They don’t magically protect me from harm, but they do help me to keep fear, anxiety, and insecurity in check. They remind me of God’s faithfulness no matter my circumstances.

In our bedroom, Wendy and I have a piece of encaustic artwork I bought for Wendy this past Christmas. Three little birds stare at us when we get up each morning and when we lie down each night. Behind the artwork is another frame with the lyrics of a Bob Marley tune: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

“I rise up this morning, smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds perched by my doorstep.
Singing a sweet song, with a melody pure and true.
This is my message to you:
Don’t worry about a thing ’cause
Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

I’ve always thought the song to be Marley’s reggae riff on the same encouragement and affirmation Jesus gave to His followers:

“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”
Luke 12:6-7 (MSG)

Just like the Hebrew pilgrims singing Psalm 121, I have my Bob Marley psalm of assurance that reminds me both day and night.

(By the way, our afternoon stranded in the hot, Mexican desert sun was uneventful. Another van full of youth saw us by the road, pulled over to make sure we were okay, and handed us an ice-cold gallon of orange juice. Every little thing was alright.)

An Autopsy of My Fears

An Autopsy of My Fears (CaD Ps 91) Wayfarer

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;

Psalm 91:11 (NIV)

In this riotous year of 2020, I have endeavored to keep my mouth shut and both my eyes and ears open. The division and discord have been palpable, but I have truly desired to be an agent of peace, love, and unity. I confess that I haven’t been perfect, but it was my endeavor. Never in my life have I felt James’ directive so necessary and difficult when he wrote:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”
James 1:19 (NIV)

One of the observations I’ve made this year as I’ve watched and listened is how individuals respond and react to fear. It’s led me to meditate on my own fears. What is it that I’m afraid of? The truth of the matter is that I have had no fear of the coronavirus, but I have really struggled with fear of business failure and financial loss. I have become more dutiful in wearing my mask when I’m running errands out in public, but I confess that it’s not because I’m afraid of getting COVID, but rather I’m afraid of offending others. I also had no fear about who America’s president would be, but I did struggle with fear about my personal future.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 91, stood out as I read it for its unwavering confidence. If you haven’t noticed, many of the psalms are laments and expressions of all the human emotions that come along with personal struggles, spiritual struggles, and national struggles. There’s none of that in the lyrics of this song. Psalm 91 could be a prosperity preacher’s theme song. It’s a “name it and claim it” treasure trove.

The verse I spotlighted at the top of the post is interesting because it was quoted by Satan when he was tempting Jesus at the launch of His public ministry. The story goes like this:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

As I pondered this, it struck me that at the end of Jesus’ forty-day fast and facing the enemy’s temptations, angels did attend to Him. And, on the night before Jesus was to be crucified, angels once again attended to Him in His agony. The promises of Psalm 90 were true. Those promises, however, were not that Jesus could confidently get or have what He wants, but that He could confidently and faithfully accomplish what He ought.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself circling back to my fears. The forensic autopsy of my fear leaves me realizing that I have a relatively easy time trusting God with the big things, the cosmic things, and global things. My struggle is trusting God with the small things, the personal things, and the things that hit me where I am personally most vulnerable: my pride, my purpose, and my provision.

Is that where an enemy target’s their prey? Attack the weak spot. Hit the places where they are most vulnerable.

I read through the ancient Hebrew lyrics of Psalm 91 once again. Jesus’ example provides me with such crucial context. The psalm is not about me avoiding all pain, suffering, or hardship. The angels, after all, shored Jesus up in the Garden so that He could fulfill the way of suffering and sacrifice: quite literally His journey to death, hell, and back. Psalm 90 is about having the confidence that, as long as I am seeking to faithfully pursue God’s purposes for me, I can be assured that I will not be left alone or forsaken. I will be spiritually provided with everything I need to finish the journey. Maybe not in every moment I want it so my life can be easier, but every time I truly need it so my life can accomplish my own role in the Great Story.