Tag Archives: Blessing

A Tale of Two Kings

A Tale of Two Kings (CaD Ps 144) Wayfarer

Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
    mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
    their days are like a fleeting shadow.

Psalm 144:3-4 (NIV)

Bear with me today, because I’m going to theatre-geek out on you a bit.

The tale of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one that I have found myself referencing repeatedly in these post over the past 15 years. Macbeth is the Bard’s shortest play, and the further I traverse this road of life, the more meaningful I find it. It is full of mystery and of humans striving against both fate and unseen forces to ascend power in the kingdoms of this world to a tragic end.

Did You Know?
In the theatre world, it is considered taboo to utter the name of Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Macbeth. When referencing the play of “he who must not be named,” it is most common to simply refer to it as “The Scottish Play.”

To refresh your memory from high school English class, Macbeth is a soldier who does himself proud. On his way home from war, he meets “the weird sisters” who prophetically tell him that he will become a noble, and then will become king. He writes his wife the news and immediately the first part of the prophecy comes true.

As fate would have it, King Duncan is passing through the area and decides to spend the night with the Macbeths at their estate. Rather than waiting to see if the prophecy comes true, Lady Macbeth and her husband are convinced that this is the opportunity to make the second part of the prophecy come true. They murder the King, seize the throne, but in doing so they unleash circumstances that will cycle out of control and doom them.

Near the end of The Scottish Play, King Macbeth receives news that his wife is dead. As Jesus would have observed: He gained the world, and lost his soul, along with everything else that matters. As this realization kicks in, the tragic hero utters one of Shakespeare’s well-known monologues:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I couldn’t help but think of Macbeth as I read David’s lyrics in today’s chapter, Psalm 144:

Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
    mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
    their days are like a fleeting shadow.

As I meditated on the similarity of sentiments between Macbeth’s lines and David’s lyrics, I was eventually led to contemplate both the common themes and the contrasts.

Macbeth was given a prophesy that he would be king of Scotland in the same way that David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel when he was still a young man. Impatient and hungry for power, Macbeth and his Lady resorted to lies, deceit, and murder to take the throne by force. David lived for many years in the wilderness, refusing multiple opportunities to kill his rival, King Saul. If the prophecy was to be fulfilled, David wanted it to be God who made it happen, not him.

Macbeth’s observations about life being a walking shadow are filled with the emptiness and bitterness amidst the ruins of his choices and their tragic ends. David’s observation is filled with faith and awe that God would choose to love, protect, and bless him when he humbly acknowledges that he is nothing before the hand of the almighty.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about my own life. I turn 55 at the end of this month. Even if I am graciously allowed the average number of days on the “petty pace” earthly journey (and that’s no guarantee), I must acknowledge that “all my yesterdays” account for more than my “tomorrows.” There are more days behind me than before. I will eventually make my exit from this terrestrial stage.

As the “fleeting shadow” of my own journey creeps to the ext, whom will I be most like?

Macbeth in his despair and woes of meaningless futility?

David in his humble praise to God for all the blessings he’d graciously been afforded despite his tragic flaws and many mistakes?

Weekend Treasure

Weekend Treasure (CaD Ps 135) Wayfarer

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
    made by human hands.

Psalm 135:15 (NIV)

Wendy and I returned last night from our “spring break” in which we spent a long weekend getting our Playhouse at the lake opened up and ready for the coming summer. Our friends joined us for a weekend of hard work, a long task list of chores, along with good meals and time together in the evenings. We arrived home last night with aching muscles and weary bones, but our souls were overflowing.

Our place at the lake was not something which Wendy and I long-planned or even desired. Looking back, it was one of those things on life’s road that just sort of unexpectedly falls into place and you realize in retrospect that it was meant to be part of the story in ways you could never have foreseen. We have had our ups and downs with it. In fact, on more than one occasion we’ve felt strongly that it wasn’t what we desired at all. Yet in each case, we were given the assurance that we were to stay the course.

This past weekend, I had a lot of time to contemplate as I spent a number of hours sequestered in the isolation of my earplugs and the din of the power washer as I sprayed siding, windows, trim, decks, docks, and sidewalks. I have thoroughly enjoyed all the blessings that have come with the place over the years. It’s not, however, about the thing or the things that come with it. What I really treasure about the place has no worldly value. I can’t buy family or friendship. I can’t use legacy or cherished memories as collateral. Purpose, quiet, rest, laughter, peace, relationship, intimacy, conversation, and healing will never appear on an appraisal when it’s time for this chapter of the story to end. Yet, that’s what I value so much that our “spring break” was spent working our butts off.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 135, is an ancient Hebrew song that was sung as part of the temple liturgy. It’s a recounting of history and a celebration of God. As I came to the verse that says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold,” it resonated with power-washing ruminations. There are lots of things that I observe are valued in this world, especially in a place like the lake. They are the things of silver and gold, made with human hands. And, that prompts in me continuous soul-searching.

On the drive home last night, Wendy and I spent time talking through the various intimate conversations we enjoyed with our friends this past weekend as we worked together, ate together, and rested together. Wendy talked about the unique struggles each person and each couple are going through on our respective way-points on Life’s road. We prayed together for our friends. I treasure these moments, conversations, meals, rest, and friends. Not silver and gold, but spirit, flesh, and relationship.

In the quiet this morning, I return to the routine. I find myself thankful for my many blessings which include a place on the lake (that requires up-keep and work weekends) and really good companions on life’s journey with whom to share both the labor and leisure. And, I find myself praying to always treasure those things that have no tangible value in this world.

“L’chaim!”

"L'chaim!" (CaD Ps 128) Wayfarer

…your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.
Psalm 128:3b (NIV)

This month marks our sixth anniversary here at “Vander Well Manor,” the house Wendy and I built here in the most awesome little town in America. Wendy, working alongside our contractor, did a lot of the designing of our house and she did an amazing job.

One of the rooms that got special attention in the design of our home was the dining room. In fact, the original designs had the dining room that you usually see in homes today. It was a tight little space large enough to comfortably fit a standard table for six. We quickly decided that this just wouldn’t do. We ended up creating an entire addition to the house just for our dining room in which we placed a table that comfortably seats eight (but we’ve squeezed 10-12 people around it).

One of our good friends once commented, “You’re the only people I know who actually use your dining room on a regular basis.” Meals are an important piece of life to Wendy and me. It’s where we gather with family and friends. It’s where conversation flows like wine and where community is formed. Even when our girls were teenagers and lives were hectic, we attempted to have at least one evening meal per week in which we were sitting together at the table and engaged one another. Now, the nest is empty, but even Wendy and I frequent the dining room, just the two of us.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 128, is akin to yesterday’s. It’s hard not to understand why the editors who compiled this collection of ancient Hebrew song lyrics put the two side-by-side in the compilation. They are both celebrations of hearth, home, and family.

The words “your children will be like olive shoots around your table” leaped off the page when I read it. Olive shoots were a common metaphor to the ancient Hebrews. An olive shoot is young, green, full of life and possibility. Olive trees have amazingly long and productive lives. One olive tree in Portugal is estimated to be 3,350 years old. That means it was already over 1,000 years old when the writer of Psalm 128 penned the lyrics of today’s chapter. When I visited the olive “garden” outside of Jerusalem where tradition says Jesus went to pray the night of His arrest, I learned that there were trees in that garden today that were alive and present that fateful night.

Wendy and I were so blessed this past Christmas to have the kids and Milo home. As always, meals were an important part of the family agenda from cocktails through dessert. Christmas Day began with a brunch feast and continued in the afternoon with the most amazing charcuterie spread that Wendy and the girls worked together to create. I cherish the experience, and the Life present and celebrated around the table. As the Hebrews say as a toast, “L’chaim!” (“to life!”).

In the quiet this morning, I remember a former colleague who told me that their family ate the entire traditional Thanksgiving feast in ten minutes. She then swore that she wasn’t exaggerating. The family gathered, ate, and were done at the table in ten minutes. I’m not criticizing. That might just be how they roll, and that’s cool for them. As for me, and my house, we’re going to be at the table a little longer than that, enjoying good food, good drink, good conversations, and the good company of one another which happens far too seldom.

Let Life flow! Let the young olive shoots grow!

L’chaim!

The Person I Want to Be

The Person I Want to Be (CaD Ps 112) Wayfarer

Praise the LORD!
Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.
Psalm 112:1 (NIV)

I happen to be in the middle of a rather large project for a client. Our company has been helping them design, develop, launch, and implement a Quality Assessment (QA) program for their company. You know, the ol’ “Your call may be monitored for training and coaching purposes“? That’s a big chunk of what I do.

So it was this weekend that I’ve been deep in the weeds producing some training to introduce the program to my client’s front-line team members. One of the things I stated in the training is that you always want to build a QA program with the goal in mind, and in this case, the goal is to actually achieve the client’s corporate Mission and Vision statement.

Many years ago, as my life was emerging from the ash heap I had made of it, I happened upon today’s chapter, Psalm 112. I remember reading the lyrics to this ancient Hebrew song and realizing that it described the person I want to become and to be on this earthly journey. I remember thinking that day, “When this journey’s over and my number is up, I would hope that when friends and loved ones gather to celebrate my homecoming they could read Psalm 112 and say, ‘THAT was Tom.'”

“Blessed…” (vs. 1)
I have been blessed in so many ways, and never want to lose sight of that or fail to acknowledge it and be grateful for the grace given to me that my life doesn’t merit.

Children mighty in the land…” (vs. 2)
I want to leave a legacy, not of earthly accomplishments, wealth, and fame, but children, grandchildren, and descendants whose life journeys walk the path of Psalm 112, as well.

Wealth and riches are in their houses…” (vs. 3)
I never thought of this as a monetary blessing, but a spiritual one. Jesus said, “Don’t seek treasure on earth where it can be stolen, decay, and where you will leave it behind for all eternity. Seek eternal spiritual treasure that can’t be stolen. It doesn’t rot, and it will profit you through all eternity.” As a follower of Jesus, that’s the goal. That said, It also reminds me that if I manage my blessings and resources with the wisdom and the principles found in the Great Story, I will likely be just fine from a financial perspective. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

Even in darkness light dawns…” (vs. 4)
They have no fear of bad news. Their hearts are secure, trusting in the Lord…” (vs. 7)
Their hearts are secure. They will have no fear…” (vs. 8)
As an Enneagram Type Four, my core temperament always fights pessimism. Ironic, then, that God led me into a career in which my monthly and annual income is an ever-changing sum and has never been a sure-thing that secured by a corporation, a government, or a union (even though even that sense of security is ultimately an illusion). Recently I told our daughter that I perpetually assume that I’m one day away from living in a van down by the river. These words from Psalm 112 have become a spiritual bulwark against my pessimistic personality. It gives me an anchor in life’s “Chain Reaction of Praise” moments. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

“…for those who are gracious, compassionate, righteous.” (vs. 4)
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice
…” (vs. 5)
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor…” (vs. 9)
Much of my life journey has been marked by a scarcity mentality. Along the way, I have come to realize that this has come from the perfect storm of my Type 4 personality, the realities of growing up as the youngest sibling, and growing up in a home in which my needs were always met, but there was never had a lot of financial margin. Psalm 112 and it’s repeated call to grace, compassion, generosity, and justice has been instrumental in helping me grow out of my scarcity thought-patterns and into the loving generosity that Jesus asks of me. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

“…their righteousness endures forever.” (vs. 3)
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
..” (vs. 6)
“…their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
” (vs. 9)
As I grew up, there was a period of time in which the women from my mother’s family would gather together. They would feast, laugh, share memories, and honor my great-grandmother, Grandma Daisy. Grandma Daisy Day made an impression on me as a kid. It revealed to me the legacy and impression that my maternal clan’s matriarch made on her descendants through her faith, love, grace, and generosity. She died pretty much penniless after a life dotted with tragedy and struggle. Her eternal bank account was full, and the legacy she left on her descendants was priceless. That’s the kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind, as well.

In the quiet this morning, I am celebrating the impression Psalm 112 has had on my life journey. It’s memorized, and etched in my soul. I have the song title inked on my right bicep, where it reminds me that my strength lies in becoming the person Psalm 112 describes.

It’s good reminder on this “reset” day that Monday is on a weekly basis and I’m heading back into life’s fray.

Have a great week, my friend!

“Bless You”

Never retaliate when someone treats you wrongly, nor insult those who insult you, but instead, respond by speaking a blessing over them—because a blessing is what God promised to give you.
1 Peter 3:9 (TPT)

In over 50 years of this life journey, I have enjoyed relationships with many friends. Especially among my male friends, I have regularly encountered those individuals with what I will describe as a particular soul wound. They never received a blessing from their father.

In ancient days, a father’s blessing was a cultural ritual. The blessing was the spoken favor of the father given, typically, to his son. The first recorded blessing in the Great Story is God’s blessing to Abram:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)

In Genesis 49, Jacob calls all of his sons and speaks to each one of them “the blessing appropriate for him.” It was a rite of passage, often spoken before death in those days.

Along my journey, I’ve come to realize that our culture has largely forgotten the importance of children receiving a blessing from their parents. I have come to believe that it’s important for a child to hear a blessing from both parents. I have observed, however, that a son receiving a blessing from his father has a major spiritual and emotional impact on a man’s life. I have known men who received nothing but curses from their fathers, and I have known men who received nothing but silence from their fathers. The soul wound is often hidden behind a male ego and masculine bravado, but I’ve seen how it can cut deep and create all sorts of spiritual, emotional, and relational handicaps.

Speaking a blessing doesn’t have to be a formal ritual, though it certainly can be a very meaningful rite of passage when it’s done that way. The most simple blessings are simply words of love and affirmation:

  • “I love you.”
  • “You’ve got this. I believe in you.”
  • “You’re going to be okay. I know it.”
  • “I’m proud of you.”
  • “That was great. Well done.”
  • “You are loveable, valuable, and capable.”
  • “I have no doubt that you will succeed at whatever you’re led to do in this life.”

In today’s chapter, it struck me that Peter instructed believers to specifically speak a blessing over those who wrong you. I find myself wondering if we even know how to do that anymore, even with those we love, let alone doing it with our enemies. Given what I see on social media, cursing appears to be de rigueur.

In the quiet this morning, I’m discovering my renewed desire to bring blessings back. There’s a reason why I speak a blessing at the end of my podcast. I would love for blessings to become fashionable again, but I suppose that means I’ve got to start being more intentional about it. So, here you go, my friend. Receive an old Celtic blessing from this wayfaring stranger (I spoke it as I posted it):

May the blessings of the Light be upon you,
Light without and Light within,
And in all your comings and goings,
May you ever have a kindly greeting
From those you meet along the road.

Have a great day. Press on. You’ve got this.

Reflections on a Sneeze

“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?'”

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.'”
Zechariah 7:5, 9-10 (NIV)

I was thinking about sneezing the other day. On a plane, heading down the runway amid the thunderous roar of the jet engines, I sneezed. A couple of seats over, a man who was obviously from a different culture and who was embroiled in what he was doing stopped what he was doing, looked at me, and said, “Bless you.”

“Blessing” someone who sneezes can be traced at least to the first century AD. There are many legends as to the motivation of its invention. History records that Pope Gregory I issued a command amidst the plague of 590 that anyone sneezing be blessed, as it was a common, early symptom of the plague. I find it fascinating that no matter where I am in the United States if a person sneezes then complete strangers will proactively, verbally offer a blessing to them. It’s a fascinating cultural ritual.

Back in the days of Zechariah, it was a common ritual to observe disasters with a period of fasting that might include saying or singing certain prayers of lamentation. When Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple were destroyed and the Hebrew people were taken into exile, they began observing a ritual fast each year that corresponded with the month of their city’s destruction. This continued each year for 70 years.

In today’s chapter, exiles have returned and Jerusalem and the Temple are being rebuilt. The people come to the Temple and inquire whether or not they should continue their ritual fast.

God’s reply through the prophet Zechariah is first to question the motivation of those who are fasting. “Why are you doing this?” God asks. “Are you doing it for me, or has it become some personal religious pageant to show how “good” you are?” God then pointedly offers what His heart’s desire is:

“Treat one another justly.

Love your neighbors.

Be compassionate with each other.

Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor.

Don’t plot and scheme against one another—that’s evil.”

Zechariah 7:10 (MSG)

In other words, it’s like saying to “Mr. Bless You” on the airplane, “Why did you just say ‘Bless you’ to a stranger from whom you just hoarded all the overhead bin space so he had to gate check his carry on? Do you really care about the person who sneezed, or is your ‘Bless you’ just a rote ritual that isn’t about being a blessing at all?” [Note: The nice dude on my plane didn’t steal my overhead bin space, I’m just using the example as a parable.]

This was the exact message that Jesus came to proclaim:

“The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.

“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next.

Matthew 23:2-6 (MSG)

One of the reasons that Christendom has been criticized, and rightly so, is that for centuries we’ve been great at making religious, ritual displays while flatly refusing to do the right thing by others. I can’t think of a better example than the Roman Catholic church’s gross mismanagement of the sex abuse scandals and refusal to deal with it as it was happening for decades.

But, that’s an easy target. In the quiet this morning, I confess that what is hard is for me to honestly examine my own heart, my own life, and my own religious rituals. I write blog posts. I stand up and teach others. I put my faith on public display. So what? Why do I do it? And, will I write nice words this morning only to go out into my day and take advantage of a client, treat an employee contemptuously, refuse to help a stranger in need? Do I worry so much about income, status, and possessions that I offer nothing of tangible value to others in need of real love, kindness, mercy, justice, and compassion?

Important questions for me to ponder as I walk out of my hotel room this morning.

Bless you, my friend. Seriously. Bless you. Thanks for reading.

A Tale of Two Building Projects

And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.
Zechariah 5:3 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I’ve had the experience of being part of several different churches both large and small. One of the large churches I was a part of for a time announced that they were going to build a giant, new auditorium filled with extravagant features and opulent appointments. I observed over the course of the building campaign that there were multiple red flags hinting that this was not a wise choice. Nevertheless, the hubris of the leader pushed the project through. Within a few years, I watched as that church imploded from within, and the giant new auditorium became an albatross, and then an empty shell.

I contrast this with another church of which I was a part. It also decided to launch a building campaign. Given the story I related to you in the previous paragraph, I was admittedly skeptical. This time, however, I observed a different heart in the leadership of the congregation. The project was not driven by the ego of a leader, but was the culmination of years of corporate prayer and seeking what should be done. The project was completed, and I watched as it resulted in an abundance of blessings for the church, its people, and the community.

What a contrast.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Zechariah continues to have strange visions that, at first, may sound like he’s having an LSD trip. But God’s language is metaphor and the word pictures have specific meanings. that connect to the building project that Zech and several other key leaders have undertaken: to rebuild God’s Temple in Jerusalem. In previous chapters, the visions have been about the key players in the rebuilding project. Today’s vision is about key roadblocks in finishing it.

The first vision concerns those who would swear to pledge money to the project and then pull out (swearing falsely) and take money pledged to the project for use in other things (stealing). The second vision concerns the iniquities of those who might become a spiritual stumbling block for the project. In both of these cases, God is taking responsibility for removing the potential roadblocks and sending them packing through the friendly skies.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of a familiar verse from Solomon, the leader of God’s initial Temple project:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

The underlying theme of Zechariah’s prophetic writings thus far has been God’s divine leading in the rebuilding project, and God’s provision for the leadership needed, and the protection needed, to get the job done.

These lessons are not just about church projects and men with edifice complexes. Along my journey, I’ve come to realize that there are many projects, endeavors, and campaigns we personally embark upon in our own lives. The principle is the same. If my endeavors are about me, my self-centered desires, and/or my personal pride, then the results will ultimately be at best unsatisfying and at worst, disastrous. When I seek after God’s leading in my personal endeavors and follow where I am led, God has a way of blessing and expanding things in unexpected ways.

I’m reminded this morning that I don’t want to push into self-centric personal endeavors and then ask God to bless them. I want to be a part of what God endeavors for me on this journey.

Speaking of which, I’ve got a job to do today. Have a great day, my friend!

Lessons in a List of Names

These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.
Ezra 2:62 (NIV)

The small community in which Wendy and I live was established in 1847 by a group of several hundred immigrants from the Netherlands. They followed their pastor to “the new world” to experience the freedom of religion that was found in America, along with the opportunities that the American frontier offered.

In our town’s Historical Villiage there is an entire wall that lists all of the original families who made the dangerous voyage. It was dangerous. Many died at sea or on the trek by foot across the still untamed American prairie.

There were relatively few families of any significant means among the original colonists, but for those that were there was a clear distinction between them and the poor and “common.” Today, I can look down the list. Most of the names I recognize. The families prospered and grew. They found the opportunities they were looking for. Most of them still have descendants living in the community.

I thought about that wall in the historical village as I read today’s chapter. I find that chapters like today’s are quickly dismissed and glossed over by most casual readers, but in context, they hold lessons to be learned.

In the Hebrew religion and culture, your family determined a lot about your life. They considered the land as “God’s” possession and they were merely tenants. When Moses led the people out of Egypt and they entered the “promised land” the land was divided by tribes. Religious offices were also determined by tribe and family. Only descendants of Aaron could be priests and only descendants of Levi could oversee the temple and official religious duties. Your family of origin determined much of life for the returning exiles.

A couple of things to note in the chapter. There is an entire list of men who are not numbered by family, but by their towns. They had no family distinction or genealogy to be listed among the families or tribes. They were “commoners” like many of the people who settled our community. Also, there were those who could not prove their claims as they had no family records. They were religiously excluded until a process could be set up to settle their claims. Then there’s the curious story of Barzillai who had married a daughter of Barzillai and took his wife’s family name rather than his wife becoming part of her husband’s tribe; A very uncommon situation in those days.

This morning I’m thinking about family, about history, and about the opportunities that I enjoy on this life journey that did not exist for most people in all of human history. My great-grandfather came alone to a new world. He was a young, poor, uneducated commoner with some carpentry skills. He started a hardware store and a family. How much do I owe to his daring to cross the ocean and half a continent to make a new life for himself and his descendants? How much do I owe to a country where one is not bound by a family name or trade, but free to pursue any path you desire?

One of the offerings that the ancient Hebrews would bring to the Temple that they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild, was a “Thanksgiving Offering.” This morning in the quiet of my hotel room I find my spirit offering a word, a song, a heart of gratitude to God for the incredible blessings afforded me that I daily take for granted.

 

The Simple Honor of Labor

We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:7b-9 (NIV)

As I’ve mentioned in recent weeks, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been digging deep into the book of Acts and the history of the Jesus Movement’s early years. As part of that, I have been reading and studying the life of Paul, the brilliant maverick who was transformed from the Jesus Movement’s staunchest enemy into its most powerful and productive advocate and member.

In my study of Paul’s life I’ve come to an appreciation of how Paul lived and labored. My whole life l’ve always pictured Paul as spending most of his time, day-after-day, teaching, preaching, writing letters, and preaching the gospel. I’ve come to learn that nothing could be further from the truth. Most of Paul’s time, day-after-day, was spent making tents.

As most people of his day, Paul was apprenticed into the family business which was the making and repairing of tents (and presumably awnings and other textiles used to block the sun). It was a trade that could be plied anywhere, and Paul carried his tools to ply his trade wherever his missions took him. In today’s chapter, Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica that he and his companions labored “night and day” to provide for themselves.

Paul reminds the believers of his example because the followers of Jesus were proponents of generosity and giving to those in need, especially the poor and widows. Now, there were individuals who were happy to keep taking from the believers’ fledgling system of charity with no intention of contributing.

I was raised in a family with a strong work ethic. I also come from Dutch heritage, a culture historically known for its work ethic. I’ll spare you the litany of my labor history, which date back to my pre-teenage years. Suffice it to say that I appreciate Paul’s attitude. Other leaders of the Jesus movement had begun to work solely on the contributions of other believers. Paul accepted that this was an appropriate practice. He even helped collect money and deliver it to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he steadfastly chose to work to pay his own way. Today, he states clearly his intent. He wanted to live as an example to others. His message to the Thessalonian believers was consistent through both of his letters: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to good of the whole. Be content.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday that we Americans will celebrate on Thursday. I recognize the blessing of living and laboring in the richest part of the world. I’m grateful. I’m also mindful and thankful for my father whom I watched struggle through multiple vocational setbacks, yet he always worked hard at whatever job he may have needed until he could get to a job that was more of what he wanted. I think of my great-grandfather risking everything to come to America, by himself, to eek out a living for he and his family as an immigrant. I think of one grandparent striving to make his way through college, the first member of his family to do so, and then working into his 90s. “The day I stop working,” he was fond of repeating to anyone who would listen, “will be the day I die!” I’m also remembering another grandparent (that’s him, first from the right in the featured photo of this post) taking the only work he could find in the Great Depression and laboring at that job for 40 years. Daily, he went about the simple task life selling and servicing tires. Not once did I hear him complain.

We live in a rapidly changing, complex world. Yet, along the journey I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of some things that never change: Work hard. Be productive. Contribute to the good of the whole. Be content.

Oh yeah. And: Give thanks.

Have a great week, my friend.

While We Wait for Deliverance

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—
Isaiah 63:7 (NIV)

We love stories of the lone hero. The mysterious figure shows up out of nowhere to aid the victim(s) of injustice and take out the bad guys who are oppressing the many. We see echoes of this theme from chivalrous medieval tales like Robin Hood, to the great Westerns like High Plains Drifter, and even the classic Samurai movies of Kurosawa.

As I often say, all good stories are echoes of the Great Story. In today’s chapter the prophet Isaiah presents us with a poetic vision of Messiah who stands alone in doling out wrath and vengeance to the oppressive enemies of His people. This theme, and Isaiah’s imagery, is intricately wound into the visions of John’s Revelation, which would come hundreds of year’s later.

Isaiah’s poem starts out all bloody wrath as Messiah alone dispenses divine justice. Then, Isaiah’s poem turns to reveal the kindness and compassion towards the victims of injustice. Isaiah proclaims this kindness towards a rebellious and undeserving people who, in Isaiah’s current circumstances, are suffering from the destruction of their nation and God’s temple. The poem ends with a plea for that mysterious hero to show up.

I’m reminded this morning that we all go through times in our lives which seem dark and hopeless. We long for a hero, mighty to save, to dispense justice. Our hearts pour out pleas for deliverance as an unceasing mantra. Both of these are longings for that which we do not control. Yet amidst the two, the hope for a Deliverer and our pleas for deliverance Isaiah places a simple act:

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal there was an article with advice for those who chronically worry. One expert advised that people “tell themselves a different story.” I think that’s exactly the example Isaiah provides us. Even in the darkest of times, as we wait for deliverance and better times to come, we can recall the stories of blessings we have been graciously afforded, and ways that God has strengthened, provided, and shown us faithfulness.