Tag Archives: Belief

Who is This Man?

Who is This Man? (CaD John 7) Wayfarer

Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.
John 7:43 (NIV)

As I read the headlines, it appears to me that I live in a time when I hear many different things being stated as fact, and I am left to reason out what is true.

  • Should I truly still be afraid of COVID and its variants, even though I’ve had COVID and have also been vaccinated?
  • Is a biological male truly a female athlete?
  • Is climate change truly ushering in a soon-coming apocalypse?
  • Was I truly born a racist with no hope of change or redemption?
  • Is it truly possible for everything in life to be fair and equitable?

What a fascinating time to be walking this earthly journey.

As I mentioned at the outset of this chapter-a-day journey through John’s biography of Jesus, identity is a major theme that weaves its way through John’s writing and the stories he chooses to share from the voluminous number of stories he could have shared. I’ve had both my eyes and my heart looking for it as I read each chapter. And isn’t a timely theme for our current time when “identity” is such a hot topic?

In yesterday’s chapter, Jesus pointedly called out the motives of the crowds that were following Him around the shores of Galilee. It was such a harsh rebuke that the crowds dispersed and even The Twelve were tempted to walk away.

In today’s chapter, John shares what a lightning rod Jesus had become. The national religious festival called the Feast of Tabernacles is set to kick off in Jerusalem. Everyone is expecting Jesus to make a grand entrance. Instead, He travels to Jerusalem secretly and arrives late.

Everyone is asking, “Who is Jesus?” Here are some of the takes:

The religious leaders see Jesus as a threat to their power and control over the masses. They have a price on Jesus’ head (vs. 1), they send the Temple Police to arrest Him (vs. 32), and they hold fast to their view of Jesus as, truly, a deceiver and illegitimate prophet (vss. 47-52).

Jesus’ siblings think Jesus is out of His mind, and they mockingly urge Jesus to leave Galilee where He’s wildly popular and relatively safe and go to Judea where He’s likely to get arrested by the religious leaders and stoned for being a heretic (vss. 3-5)

The crowds have all sorts of opinions:

  • Jesus is a “good man.” (vs. 12)
  • Jesus is a “deceiver.” (vs. 12)
  • Jesus is amazing, knowing so much for being a rural schmuck who wasn’t trained formally in the formal, ivy league, educational institutions of Jerusalem. (vs. 15)
  • Jesus is “demon possessed.” (vs. 20)
  • Jesus might be the Messiah. (vss. 25-26)
  • Jesus can’t be the Messiah if He came from Nazareth. (vs. 27)
  • Jesus should be seized and arrested for what He is saying (vs. 30)
  • Jesus is the Messiah. Who else could perform these miracles? (vs. 31)
  • Jesus is the Prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15. (vs. 40)
  • Jesus is the Messiah. (vs. 41)
  • Jesus can’t be the Messiah because, according to the prophets, the Messiah will be from Bethlehem. (vs. 42)

The temple guards don’t have a clue who Jesus is, but they were so impressed with what Jesus had to say that they disobeyed orders and refused to do so. (vss. 45-47)

John, one of Jesus’ inner-circle and a primary source witness to the events, tells me at the beginning of the book that Jesus is truly the resurrected Messiah and incarnate Christ. Still, John makes it clear that along the way Jesus’ miracles and teaching created tremendous division.

In the quiet this morning, I find my heart contemplating two things.

First, John’s story compels me as a reader to decide for myself who Jesus is. He even provides me with ten or so popular, contemporary opinions from which to choose. As for me, I made my decision forty years ago. Have I questioned my choice? Yes. In fact, I’m questioning it anew in the quiet this morning. Have I changed my mind? Never. My spiritual journey of forty years has deepened my faith.

Second, I find myself asking, “If I truly believe, what I say I believe, how should that inform my thoughts, actions, words, and tasks on this 20,185th day of my earthly journey?”

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

About Knowing

About Knowing (CaD Ps 141) Wayfarer

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord…
Psalm 141:8a (NIV)

When I was a child, I went through all of the religious rituals associated with the church to which my family were members. My parents had me baptized as an infant. I attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I sang in the children’s choir. I participated in, and volunteered to help with, social activities hosted by the church (including the annual “Christmas bazaar” which I remember being a really big deal in my little kid perception). When I was thirteen, I attended confirmation classes and learned what the church believed. I took the test, agreed to accept the terms of membership, and then received my certificate and my own personal box of offering envelopes.

What I came to realize a year or two later was that all of the ritual, participation, knowledge and cognitive assent to a belief statement had relatively little effect on my motives, my thoughts, my words, or my actions. Knowing about Jesus was not the same as knowing Jesus and being in relationship.

That contrast came to heart and mind in the quiet this morning as I meditated on the text of today’s chapter, Psalm 141. There is little doubt that the editors who compiled the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics, that we know as the book of Psalms, were deliberate in putting Psalms 140 and 141 next to each other. They bookend each other well. Both are ascribed to David and both of them feature a lot of physiological metaphors. The biggest contrast is that Psalm 140 uses the physiological metaphors to describe an unrighteous person:

  • stir up war in their hearts
  • sharpen their tongues
  • poison on their lips
  • hands of the wicked

Psalm 141, uses physiological metaphors to describe a righteous person:

  • a heart that refuses evil
  • hands lifted in worship
  • a guard on one’s mouth
  • a door on the lips
  • a head that receives accountability
  • eyes fixed on God

As I mulled over the contrasting descriptions, it reminded me of being a young man and realizing that having a membership certificate to my local church, knowledge of basic beliefs, and dutifully participating in ritual had not translated into making a difference in my self-centeredness, my selfish behavior, my relationships with others, my actions, or my words. I was a egotistical, selfish little prick much of the time. I knew that I could play a good game, but I was also really self-aware enough to know that there were ugly things at the core which needed to change. I knew about the things Psalm 141 describes, but an honest self-examination and moral inventory revealed a person more like what Psalm 140 describes.

So, about that time I stopped just knowing about Jesus, and I decided to seek to know and follow Jesus in a very different way. It’s definitely been a forty-year process and spiritual journey. In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the person I would be today had I not made that decision. I can only imagine a grown-up version of the young man with ugly things at the core. An arrogant, egocentric big prick with a sharp tongue, and a heart in turmoil.

I’m not perfect by any means, and I could point you to a person or two who I suspect might tell you I’m still an arrogant, egocentric prick. I have my ugly moments. But oh, how worse it would be had I not discovered the contrast between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him.

One Song, Two Levels

One Song, Two Levels (CaD Ps 138) Wayfarer

May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed.

Psalm 138:4 (NIV)

Tomorrow night I have the honor of giving the Good Friday message among my local gathering of Jesus followers. Good Friday is the annual remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death just two days before the Resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday.

One of the themes that I’m addressing in my re-telling of the events of that day is the conflict that is happening on two different levels. There’s the human conflict happening between Jesus and the power-brokers of earthly power in Rome, Judea, and Jerusalem. There’s also the conflict that is happening on the Spiritual level between the Son of God, and the Prince of this World. I believe one doesn’t fully understand Good Friday without an understanding of the conflict happening on both levels.

That’s one of the fascinating things I find about the Great Story. It weaves the stories, and holds the tension between both levels: Earth and Spirit. Perhaps that’s why, as I sit in the quiet of my office this morning, and mull over today’s chapter, I find it also resonating with me on those same two different levels.

Yesterday we got to the end of a section in this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that focused on Jerusalem (Psalms 120-137). There were all of the songs of “ascent” along with songs of dedication to Jerusalem, like yesterday’s chapter. Today we kick-off a section of eight songs in which the liner notes attribute the songs to King David.

The lyrics of today’s chapter begin with David proclaiming praise to God. You might remember from earlier posts in these posts in Psalms that Hebrew songs often put the central theme of the song smack-dab in the middle. In today’s lyric, David’s theme is “May all the kings of earth praise you.”

On a purely earthly level, this theme fits in with the thread of the earthly story within the Great Story. God promised Abraham that “all peoples” would be blessed through his descendants. The law of Moses spoke clearly about loving and being deferential to other peoples living among them. Jesus exemplified this in His inclusive teaching and behavior towards women, Samaritans, and Romans. He then gave His followers the mission of spreading His teaching to all people. In the final chapters of the Great Story John is given a vision of Heaven’s throne room in which the multitudes include people of “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

So, on one level, David’s lyric prophetically points to Jesus’ teaching and God fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The Great Story began with Abraham, expanded to his tribal descendants of whom Jesus was one, and then burst out to all peoples.

On the level of Spirit, the Great Story makes clear that the enemy of God remains the “Prince of this World.” The “Kingdoms of this world” remain in his clutches. Power, wealth, and pride still fuel the institutions of earthly power: politics, commerce, and religion. When Jesus prayed, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth,” He was not talking about a grand, earthly power grab as His followers had been taught would happen and expected. That’s how the “Kingdoms of this World” operate. I’ve come to observe that whenever I see human institutions leveraging power to control others, it’s definitely not the Kingdom of Heaven.

Along my journey, I’ve come to observe that the paradigm of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus taught is about love and the spiritual transformation of individuals, who in turn love and transform their circles of influence, which in turn has the possibility to transform human systems. It’s not top-down systemic power but bottom-up organic transformation of Spirit.

The prophetic visions of John also point to an end of the Great Story when “the Kings of this earth” (not the earthly level individuals who might be transformed by the love of Jesus, but the spiritual level power-brokers representing the institutions of worldly power) will eventually face a final conflict and ultimate resolution.

So in the quiet this morning I find myself holding the tension of the two levels. I’m praying for Dave, my city councilman, whom I l know and love. I’m praying for my state’s Governor, whom is well-known and loved by members of my family. I’m praying for my friends who are heads of industry and business. I’m praying for my friends who lead their own local gatherings of fellow-Jesus followers. These are all in my direct circles of influence. I also find myself praying for matters and individuals on the national and global stage that are far out of my control, yet still part of the Great Story which I believe will ultimately play out as foretold, but probably not as I expect.

And so, I enter another day trying to bring love and hope to my circles of influence and those things I do control, while having faith in God’s plan and purposes on levels I don’t control.

Things I Don’t Control

Things I Don't Control (CaD Ps 132) Wayfarer

For the sake of your servant David,
    do not reject your anointed one.

Psalm 132:10 (NIV)

Wendy and I are almost through the first season of Poldark, originally a 2015 Masterpiece Theater production. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable. The series is set in the late 18th century and tells the story of a headstrong and struggling English nobleman who returns from the American Revolution to find his father dead, his family estate in shambles, the love of his life engaged to his cousin, and the family business on the edge of bankruptcy.

The themes of the show include the clash between nobility and peasant, the long-held tradition of the entitlement of the first-born son, and the legacy of both family systems and family names.

Over the past year of Covid-19 with all its tension over masks, mandates, and lockdowns, one of the conversations I found fascinating was the individualistic spirit in Americans. From our break from mother England to today, we don’t like being told what to do. Along my life journey, I’ve come to believe that we don’t have a full realization of, nor appreciation for, just how deep the “rugged individualism” that fueled our country runs in our veins. In the entire history of human civilization, human rights and the freedom of self-determination are relatively new concepts. For thousands of years, an individual’s lot-in-life was pretty much fully established the moment they were born. It was completely dependent on your family, your gender, and your birth order.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 132, is a case-in-point. This ancient Hebrew song was used at the coronation of monarchs ascending to the throne of King David. Some scholars believe it was initially written to honor King David at the dedication ceremony of the Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. David’s family line was firmly established as the royal line of Judah, the prophets also pointed to the coming Messiah being from the same lineage, and the lyrics of today’s chapter would have been a clear reminder to the people not to forget it.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on the concept of determination. Growing up, I and my peers were told that we could be anything we wanted to be in life if we were willing to work hard, study hard, and pursue our dreams. Once again, I’m reminded that this very notion would have been ludicrous for the vast majority of human beings who ever lived. And yet, while I would argue that there are, in general, greater opportunities for self-determination than in any other time in human history, there are still those determining influences of life that I don’t control.

Among the teachings of Jesus that fueled the Jesus Movement of the first century was that everyone was welcome at the dining table where believers sat, listened, prayed, feasted, and “communed.” Men, women, slaves, slave owners, rich, poor, societies’ big shots, and social lepers. As Paul put it in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Galatia:

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the things in this life that I can control, and the things that I can’t. When Jesus said to those seated around Him, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” I believe that He was telling his followers that I don’t have to be enslaved to systems that formed me. When Paul said that for the believer “old things pass away” I believe that among the things that pass away are beliefs, patterns of thought, and behaviors that were instilled in me by the systems into which I was born and in which I was raised. I observe that the spiritual transformation I’ve experienced on my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus has not only changed me, but it has led me to leverage the fruit of God’s Spirit to help transform the human systems I’m a part of for the better.

Faith or Flight

Faith or Flight (CaD Ps 11) Wayfarer

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
    ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains;

Psalm 11:1 (NRSVCE)

“If I really believe what I say I believe….”

Yesterday morning I delivered a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and that was the statement I used to press into the subject of hope in death. (It’s on YouTube here.). I mentioned that it has been equally helpful for me as I read the news each day in these chaotic times.

The lyrics of Psalm 11 are, once again, penned by King David during an equally chaotic and troubling time of his own reign. When David sings, “If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” he is speaking specifically about the foundation of social order. In other words, the daily life of David’s kingdom was beginning to break down. Those advising King David were beginning to suggest that it was time for him to abandon the city and flee to a safe hiding place in the hills.

The notion of escaping the chaos and going to live somewhere else is not a foreign thought amidst today’s current events. I know those who have moved out of the country. Interestingly enough, I know those on both the left and the right who have/are considered leaving and living somewhere else. When you feel the very foundations of social order shaking, it’s a natural response.

And yet, if I really believe what I say I believe….

I can’t help but feel that David is whispering that same sentiment as he pens his lyrics.

He begins by affirming that God is his refuge, not a bunker in the hills.

He then affirms God is on the throne in heaven and fully aware of the current circumstances, including a knowledge of those causing the violent upheaval in David’s kingdom.

David then ends with a declaration of faith. “To see the king’s face” in the ancient near east was an expression of affirmation. It meant you had access to, and the favor of, the king who would hear your appeal and act on your behalf. In a time when monarchs regularly proclaimed themselves God in order to exercise power over their people, David once again humbles himself in acknowledging that he is a subject to the King of Heaven. David places his faith in having access to, and the favor of, his King.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of the many times I have written in these posts that I believe life is part of the Great Story that is being told from Genesis through Revelation. If I really believe what I say I believe, then the chaos and upheaval I’m currently reading about and experiencing through social media are part of the current chapter of the story we happen to be living in. If I really believe what I say I believe, then my job is to press on, day-by-day, in the role I’ve been giving of loving and proclaiming Love to those in my circles of influence. If I really believe what I say I believe then I can trust lyrics of the psalm I have tattooed on my right arm:

“[He who fears the Lord] will have no fear of bad news.
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”

A good reminder as I press on into another week. Have a great week, my friend.

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

One Word: Believe

[Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Mark 6:5-6 (NIV)

Among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers there has been an initiative in recent years to choose one word as sort of a spiritual theme for one’s life each year. It’s a very informal thing. Most people pray about it and seek some divine guidance in what their “one word” should be. It becomes a tool for asking, seeking, and knocking on the spiritual door of what God is doing in your life in the particular stretch of your spiritual and/or life journey.

My word for this year is “believe” which I consider to be the active form of “faith.”

One of the subtle themes that I find Mark weaving into his Jesus story is that of faith. Those who had faith experienced the miraculous. In today’s chapter, the people of Jesus’ hometown couldn’t believe that Joseph’s boy, Jesus, was this teacher everyone was talking about:

“He’s the carpenter. You know! Joseph and Mary’s boy. The one who abandoned Mary and the siblings this last year to become this traveling prophet. Who does Jesus think He is? If you ask me, that boy should get these silly notions out of His head, get back to the carpenter’s shop, and help provide for the family.”

Mark records that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Few miracles were performed, not because Jesus had less power but because the people had less of the activating ingredient of the miraculous: they didn’t believe. Their limited faith in Jesus limited what God could do among them.

Later in the chapter, after Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish and walks out on the Sea of Galilee to meet the disciples who are struggling at the oars of their boat, Mark records that #TheTwelve were still amazed and struggling to understand what Jesus was doing. Their “hearts were hard” Mark records. Their faith had not caught up to what they had been witnessing. They were struggling to believe it all.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to what Jesus said a few chapters back:

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

Jesus also used the Mustard Seed as a metaphor for how much “faith” is required to move a mountain.

I find it ironic (or is it a divine appointment?) that my “one word” for 2020 is “believe” and it’s the year that the COVID-19 virus upends life as we know it and, according to the press who screams it 24/7 to anyone who will listen, threatens to tank the global economy and take my business with it (if we all don’t die first).

Have you ever seen a mustard seed?

In the quiet this morning, Holy Spirit is whispering to my spirit. I imagine it was the same message Jesus was whispering to #TheTwelve on the boat after he walked out on the water and climbed in the boat.

“Yep. It doesn’t take much. Just believe.

Opposite Instinct

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
Luke 13:31-33 (NIV)

This past Sunday I gave the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I made the simple observation that in almost every story, television show, or movie the protagonist is trying to avoid, escape, or solve death while attempting to cling to, extend, and/or enhance life. Life is such a basic human desire we hardly even give it much thought.

I found it fascinating that in today’s chapter Luke continues to foreshadow Jesus’ death. Both Pilate (an official of the occupying Roman Empire ruling over the region, who would eventually sentence Jesus to die by execution) and Herod (a regional monarch who killed John the Baptist and before whom Jesus would stand trial). Both of these rulers were known for their violence and cruelty.

Herod’s family, in particular, had a long history of holding onto power by killing anyone they saw as a threat. It was Herod’s father, Herod the Great, who upon hearing from the three wise men that a prophetic sign told them “the King of the Jews” had been born in Bethlehem, proceeded to have every baby in Bethlehem under the age of two slaughtered in an effort to prevent Jesus from growing up and threatening his reign. His son, Herod Antipas, who is referenced in today’s chapter, carried on his father’s bloody, corrupt legacy.

At the end of today’s chapter, Jesus is warned that Herod is attempting to have Him killed. In yesterday’s chapter is said that Jesus has been attracting stadium worthy crowds so large that people were trampling one another to get near Him. This would have rattled Herod. Any person with that kind of popularity was a threat to his position and power, and Herod learned from his father that clinging to power required killing anyone who was a threat to take it from you, (even if that threat is just a baby).

What I found interesting is that Jesus expresses neither fear or concern. Rather, Jesus doubles-down and tells the messengers to return to Herod and tell “that fox” that He would press on:

[Jesus] replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Beyond the attitude of courage and perseverance in Jesus’ reply, there is also an important subtext that is lost on many readers. Jesus references three days to reach His goal, foreshadowing the three days in the grave before His resurrection. He then offers a puzzling statement about no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.

Back in chapter 9, Luke stated that Jesus was “resolutely” fixed on going to Jerusalem. Jesus has consistently been criticizing the religious leaders and their ancestors for killing the prophets sent to them. He has also been making consistent, metaphorical references foreshadowing His own death. Jesus is on a mission and He can see how it is all going to play out. He isn’t the victim, but the instigator of events that He knows will lead to His death.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words to His followers in previous chapters:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.

Luke 12:4 (NIV)

Everything Jesus is doing runs contrary to our most basic human instincts. Humans want to avoid and escape death at all costs. Humans want to cling to this life as long as we can along with everything we can possibly acquire within the finite amount of time we’re given. Luke offers his readers Pilate and Herod as exhibits A and B in today’s chapter. Two men at the top of the heap who will kill anyone who threatens their position, wealth, and power. Jesus, however, is the antithesis. He’s moving in the opposite direction and telling His followers that they must follow if they want to experience the Kingdom of God.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded of a passage I referenced in last Sunday’s message. Jesus’ friend Lazarus is dead. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, tells Jesus that if He’d have arrived sooner then her brother would not be dead. Jesus replies:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

He then asks her a question:

“Do you believe this?”

Do I believe it?

And, if I say that I do believe it (and I have been saying it for almost 40 years), am I willing to follow Jesus in the opposite direction of the basic human instincts of this world?

Freedom and Sacrifice

“But even if he does not [save us from the fire], we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:18 (NIV)

Tomorrow is Independence Day here in the States. Wendy and I will be celebrating from the lake. Fireworks are legal here in the state of Missouri and it is always a night of loud and bright celebration as people light fireworks off of the end of their docks and over the cove. It’s a lot of fun right up to the time you’re ready to sleep.

I’ve lived my entire life in a nation where freedoms of speech and religion are protected and where life and liberty are held sacred. Despite this fact, I’ve observed along my life journey that there are subtle forms of social, political, religious, and cultural pressure to conform. I find it fascinating that I came of age at a time when religious conservatives wanted to dictate their particular morals and standards on the nation. Now, I find that it’s the other side who appear to want to demand wholesale adherence to a host of social, cultural, and political beliefs they hold sacred.

These examples notwithstanding, I have always found it a bit hard to fully understand or appreciate the predicament that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego find themselves in today’s chapter. They are exiles in a foreign land. They are minorities holding a very different set of beliefs than their captors. They have likely had to learn to live among society and culture that was very foreign to them while trying to maintain a  sense of their identity and faith.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s demand that all bow down to the statue he had erected was somewhat of a common practice in that ancient culture. It was a litmus test of obedience. Interestingly, as I read some commentary on today’s chapter, I found that scholars are split on whether the Hebrew trio would have been breaking the Law of Moses if they had chosen to bow down. This makes it an even more fascinating episode for me. If it wasn’t a black and white matter of religious law, but a gray area of their personal conscience before God, then their refusal to bow become even more meaningful.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my own personal beliefs. Where’s the line(s) that my conscience and my faith would not allow me to cross? I even find myself silently asking “For what am I willing to sacrifice my life?” On one hand, this feels like an overly dramatic and exaggerated question given the fact that I live in a land of freedom and I don’t anticipate ever having to face such a trial. On the other hand, I am fully aware that around the world people are facing this very real question on a daily basis. There continue to be dictators, tyrants, and regimes perfectly willing to execute those unwilling to bow to their political, cultural, social, and/or religious demands.

For what am I willing to sacrifice my life?

Today, I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for those men and women from every culture, ethnicity, religion, and political persuasion who sacrificed their lives across the centuries that I might walk my entire life journey on this earth without seriously having to answer that question.

Getting Direction and Flow Right

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility….
Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)

It’s quiet in my home office this morning. A steady rain is falling and resonating off the roof and window as I sip my coffee. Today marks the end of my 53rd year on this life journey which has me in a particularly introspective mood as I mull over today’s chapter.

For the past year our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been studying the book of Acts. In this chapter-a-day journey I’ve been making my way through the letters of Paul in, more-or-less, chronological order. As a twenty-first century westerner, I’ve come to accept that it is virtually impossible for me to understand the racial, social, and religious division that existed among the first century believers. There was a giant, black-and-white dividing line between those of Jewish heritage and non-Jewish heritage. For centuries they had lived highly segregated lives. Now they were suddenly trying to live together as followers of Jesus.

The conflict within those early groups of Jesus’ followers was very real, and often intense. It was the reason for the first major “Council” of leaders of the Jesus Movement (Acts 15). Most local gatherings struggled with the division. I believe the political divide in our current era provides a hint of the divisive emotions percolating within the two groups, but I believe even that parallel falls short of the divide that Paul is addressing.

In today’s chapter Paul continues to focus his readers on the eternal, cosmic, Level Four spiritual realities in which both Jewish believer and non-Jewish believer stand on common and equal footing. All knew and experienced lack of control with our human appetites (lust, greed, pride, sloth, anger, and etc.). All had been saved by grace (unearned merit) through faith, not in who they were or what they had done to earn God’s favor, but in what Jesus had done on the cross and through His resurrection.

Having established that Level 4 reality, Paul then moves on to  address the conflict that was being felt in individuals (Level 1), between believers (Level 2), and in society (Level 3) between these sharply divided two ethnic groups. He repeatedly speaks of the “two” being “one” through what Christ had done on Level 4. Hostility is transformed into peace, division gives way to unity, and that which is separate becomes whole.

I can’t help but notice the direction and flow of thought. Paul’s focus on, and acceptance of, Level 4 reality flows down and transforms the very human conflict and struggles of Levels 1 through 3. As I look back across my 53 year journey I realize how often I have done the exact opposite. I allow my Levels 1-3 realities to flow upward and dictate my Level 4 perspective. I essentially transform my perception and belief system on Level 4 to justify and defend my entrenched prejudices on Levels 1 through 3.

This morning I contemplate 19,359 days on this Earth, and quietly wonder about however many I have left. I can’t change any of those nearly 20,000 yesterdays, but I want to make sure today, and moving forward, that I get the direction and the flow right. I want the eternal Spirit realities to transform my daily life and relationships here on this terrestrial ball. Not the other way around.