Tag Archives: Change

The Leadership Difference

The Leadership Difference (CaD 2 Ki 9) Wayfarer

Jehu said [to his fellow officers], “Here is what he told me: ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.’”

They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

2 Kings 9:12b-13 (NIV)

Decades from now, mystified scientists will gather to study the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, to try to figure out what they were all about—if they existed to compete in football, or merely to psychologically torment a population of loyal, long-suffering fans.”
-Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal

Jason Gay wrote these words earlier this week after Wendy and I joined the Vikings Nation in suffering another disappointing playoff loss. It was, however, one of the most interesting and entertaining seasons in history. If you’d suggested to experts and oddsmakers that the Vikings would go 13-4 this season, they’d have laughed in your face. Add to that going 11-0 in games decided by one score or less (I have no fingernails left), including the biggest comeback in NFL history (they were down 33-0 at halftime and won).

What’s even more fascinating about this year’s Vikings team is the larger story. Last year the owners fired the coach and general manager after another disappointing year in which the team failed to meet expectations. After the firings, the proceeded a flood of comments from players regarding how terrible the atmosphere had been in the locker room, how awful the leadership team had been, and how frustrating it was to play under them.

The owners then hired two very capable young men with integrity to take the helm of leadership.

I heard one anecdote regarding a former assistant coach now working for another team. When someone mentioned that the attitude of the Vikings going into this season was really positive, he replied “Of course it is. Satan left the building.”

Today’s chapter would make a fascinating and thrilling movie if it were done right. It’s all about leadership change in dramatic fashion. The prophets anoint an army officer as King of Israel and place on him the responsibility to rid Israel of the evil House of Ahab and Jezebel.

What stood out to me was how quickly everyone joined in the rebellion. The newly anointed Jehu seemed to consider his anointing as a joke until his soldiers and fellow officers quickly pledged their allegiance to them. They were desperate for change.

When Jehu confronts Jezebel in her upper story window in Jezreel, he simply suggests to the eunuchs in her service that they throw her out the window. They are eager and happy to oblige.

A wise man once said that the only thing to which evil responds is an overpowering force. It’s all that evil understands. Evil rules and holds sway through power, fear, intimidation, violence, and oppression.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve delivered a couple of messages in which I explored how different Jesus’ example and plans were for changing the world. Instead of top-down power, He exemplified and called his followers to live out a bottom-up, humble, love-powered service towards others that would transform other individuals from the inside out. Those individuals would then pay it forward by doing the same thing.

In the quiet this morning, I’m contemplating the difference that leadership makes on a football team, in a business, in a church, in a community, and in a family. When leadership is a top-down, authoritarian power play, those in the system become anxious for a change in leadership. When leadership is a humble, love-motivated mindset of serving those within the system, there is no limit on how much that system can flourish and accomplish.

It might even go 13-4, 11-1 in close games, and stage the greatest comeback in NFL history.

I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

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

Transitions

Transitions (CaD 2 Ki 2) Wayfarer

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

2 Kings 2:9 (NIV)

Transitions are typically difficult.

Along my life journey, I’ve been part of many different transitions and have walked alongside others in their own seasons of transition. I’ve noticed that there are many different elements that make a transition easier or more difficult for those involved. It can be a matter of temperaments, as some individuals handle change differently than others. It also has to do with how long the transition has been anticipated and how well the transition has been planned. It has to do with how well those in the system experiencing the transition have been prepared. It also has to do with whether or not the transition flows in the natural progression of time or whether the transition is unforeseen and forced by sudden tragedy or change in circumstances.

Over the past few years, Wendy and I have been in a season in which we are experiencing a number of transitions in our families and in business.

Today’s chapter is about a major transition in the spiritual landscape of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The prophet Elijah appeared on the scene like Clint Eastwood wandering into town in High Plains Drifter. God uses Elijah to take on corrupt King Ahab, his wife Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal. God worked miraculously through Elijah throughout his ministry, and now it’s time for him to ride off into the sunset (or in this case, riding off in a chariot and a whirlwind). Today’s chapter is all about the transition of Spirit and prophetic authority from Elijah to his protégé Elisha.

First God leads the two of them on Elijah’s farewell tour of the three towns where companies of prophets reside: Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. In each place, it is known or made known that Elijah is going to be taken away. Elijah and Elisha then cross over the Jordan river, with Elijah striking the water with his cloak and parting the waters to cross on dry ground. This is a direct parallel to Moses striking the water with his staff so that the people of Israel could cross into the Promised Land in Exodus 14.

This is also the root of so many metaphors that we continue to use today. Elijah is “crossing over Jordan” to be taken to heaven. “Crossing Jordan” is still used in life and lyrics when referencing death and the passing of a person from earthly life to eternal life.

Elijah then asks Elisha what he wants, and Elisha asks for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. In modern western culture, this sounds like a consumerist request as if Elisha is asking for a spiritual BOGO coupon. What Elisha is asking is in reference to the Mosaic laws of inheritance. The first-born son gets a “double portion” of the father’s inheritance and takes on the role of patriarch in the family. Elisha is asking to receive the mantel of spiritual leadership among the prophets and the people, to be the spiritual firstborn son among the prophets of God’s people.

When Elijah is taken, he leaves his cloak behind, which Elisha picks up and strikes the water of the Jordan. The waters part and he returns to the other shore on dry land, symbolizing that he indeed received what he had asked for. And, by the way, we still use this event metaphorically in talking about transitions of power and authority. Another word for cloak is “mantel.” The “mantel of leadership” had been passed from Elijah to Elisha.

The last two stories in the chapter confirm the miraculous powers of blessing (healing the water) and curses (the curse on the jeering boys) that Elisha now possessed just as Elijah had possessed before him.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking through all of the areas of transition that Wendy and I are still navigating. How does the transition from Elijah to Elisha speak into all of these other transitions?

First, there was a process. So often in transitions, I experience the desire to jump to the end of the process. I want to skip the more difficult parts, especially the ones that are about dealing with messy relationships. But the process is necessary, and it can make a huge difference in the success of the transition.

Second, there was a nod to both the past (Moses crossing Jordan) and to the future (Elijah being taken to heaven in order to set up the “return” in the person of John the Baptist). The good transitions I’ve experienced in life and organizations both honor the past and open up new paths and future opportunities. In the transitions I’m experiencing, how can I embrace both?

Finally, there was an element of the divine mystery in the transition. Elijah didn’t grant Elisha’s request. He deferred that to God. That’s why Elisha’s three miracles (dividing Jordan, healing the water, cursing the jeering boys) confirmed that God had granted Elisha’s request. In this, I am mindful that there is, I believe, an element of the divine mystery in every earthly transition. I believe that God is at work in my story and in each person’s story. I have been a part of transitions that didn’t end the way I wanted them to, but in retrospect, I can see how it was instrumental in the directing of my steps.

So, I’m reminded of my one word this year: Trust.

Trust the Story.
Trust the plan.
Transitions are waypoints in the direction of our path.

FWIW: Several of my messages from the past five months were uploaded to the Messages page. Messages are listed in chronological order with the newest messages on top.

Featured image on today’s post is by Jan Saenrendam, from the collection of the City of Amsterdam, and is in the Public Domain.

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

“I Will Bring You Home”

"I Will Bring You Home" (CaD Zeph 3) Wayfarer

“At that time I will bring you home….”
Zephaniah 3:20 (NRSV)

Here in the heartland of America, in the great state of Iowa, we have been experiencing an early spring. It’s March Madness, which is usually a time when we receive the final blast of winter’s fury. The state high school girl’s basketball tournament is mythically synonymous with “blizzard.” But not this year.

The temperatures have been unseasonably warm. The tulips are already shooting up from the earth. We’ve already used the grill on the patio multiple times. The sounds of Cubs baseball is becoming daily ambient audio here at Vander Well Manor, even if it is just spring training.

There is something exciting about spring. The death of winter gives way to new life in spring. We celebrate the journey from grave to empty tomb. Shivering in the cold yields to basking in the sun’s warmth. Resurrection, hope, and joy are kindled in our souls, reminding us that old things pass away and new things are coming.

How apt, I thought, that in this morning’s chapter we find Zephaniah’s predictions of doom and gloom giving way to hope and salvation. And, amidst the hopeful promises God gives through the ancient prophet is the simple phrase “I will bring you home.” That phrase has so much meaning for me in so many layers:

  • As I care for aging parents and grieve the “home” that I once knew.
  • As I watch our girls spread their wings and scatter to their respective paths and realize the “home” that I have so recently known and loved has suddenly gone the way of winter in an early spring.
  • As I come home from three long days working with clients to find Wendy waiting at the door for me with a cold beer, hot meatloaf, and a warm kiss; realizing in that moment the home that I am so blessed to experience each day, right now.
  • As I wax poetic in my annual giddiness for baseball season and ponder anew the game in which the goal is to arrive safely home.

I will bring you home,” God says through Zephaniah.

[sigh]

  A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be editing and re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in March 2016
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If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A New Org Chart

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good!
1 Samuel 12:14 (NIV)

One of the more fascinating parts of my job is getting to observe and experience many different company cultures. I have learned a lot about both leadership and how systems function from being in the trenches with many different companies large and small.

Once we were hired to help a company improve their customer satisfaction and customer service. Our survey of the company’s customers revealed a lot of room for improvement. Customer Satisfaction was low, and there were a few major things customers didn’t like. Our assessment of recorded phone calls between the company’s customers and the Customer Service team revealed that there were huge disparities in service quality between service reps, and some customers were getting such bad service experience as to make them detractors.

As we began working with the leadership team to address some of the issues, I quickly learned that the company was a mess internally. The long-time CEO of the company set an example of management by power, fear, and intimidation. The rest of the company followed suit. The org chart was a mess. Silos in the organization worked against one another. Front line managers directly reported to multiple superiors and simply answered the loudest threats each day.

The sign on the wall said that they were committed to exceptional customer service, but the entire organization was built in such a way as to make exceptional customer service an impossibility.

Today’s chapter is another key episode in the transition of the Hebrew system of government from a tribal theocracy to a national monarchy. The org chart is changing. In the old org chart, God was recognized as King. Then came a Judge (Samuel was the last) who was recognized as the one God had raised to lead and deliver the tribes along with a tribal council of elders. From there, each tribe had its own governance.

Today, Samuel lays out the new org chart. King Saul will now be at the top of the org chart and all the tribes will be ruled by him. Yet Samuel is quick to remind his people that God is still above King Saul on the org chart. The new monarchy will only work well if both the King and the people will serve the Lord with all their hearts and avoid the worship of idols.

As for Samuel? He makes it clear that there’s a new role on the org chart. He is giving up civil governance, but he’s taking up the mantel of spiritual leadership:

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

From this point forward, the nation would have prophets in the org chart who would directly report to God, and they will be God’s spiritual mouthpiece to both the King and the people. Future Kings would also assemble “yes men” prophets who would be subordinate to them and tell them what they want to hear, but God would ensure that His prophets would speak His words even if it wasn’t what the King wanted to hear.

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that companies typically don’t make dramatic changes in corporate culture unless the person at the top of the org chart is driving it. The company I mentioned at the top of this post was a great example of that. The CEO had created a culture that worked against what they claimed to be the company values. If the CEO doesn’t change, the organization isn’t going to change either.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the org chart of my own life. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to make Jesus the Lord of my life. Like Samuel reminded Saul, God is at the top of the org chart. And yet, like the old Kings of Israel, I have the autonomy to either obediently submit myself to God’s authority or to pay lip service to God while I willfully do my own thing. I can also do a little of both.

That leads me to ask myself some tough questions here in the quiet. Where am I being obedient? Where am I simply paying lip service? Some days I need a fresh reminder that God is at the top of my life’s org chart.

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

Change

Change (CaD 1 Sam 7) Wayfarer

Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life.
1 Samuel 7:15 (NIV)

What is the most acute example of change that you have experienced along your earthly journey? That’s the question that came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter.

I thought of the time the place where I worked went through a transition of leadership that was tremendously difficult for everyone involved. It personally rattled me enough that I started looking for another job.

Then there was the experience of moving to a small, rural town (just over 300 people) after growing up in the city of Des Moines and going to college in the Chicago area. There were so many things that I had to learn about the culture and realities of small-town life. It was a completely different paradigm.

Going through a divorce brought both radical changes and unique challenges in virtually every area of life.

The changes I have experienced in daily life because of rapidly advancing technology and the internet are so great that it’s hard to believe.

Then there are the changes to our world because of a pandemic and a global shutdown that we’re still grappling with, and we will continue to realize its effects for some time.

There are days when I feel as if the world has turned upside-down in my lifetime.

Change is a challenge. I’ve observed it bring out the best and worst in people. I’ve had to learn how it affects me. I’ve grown to better understand how I handle it both positively and negatively. I’ve had to learn discernment between that which is ever-changing and those things which never change. I have had to gain wisdom to know the difference.

The book of 1 Samuel is about a massive change in the history of the Hebrews. For 300-400 years the Hebrews have lived and survived in a loosely structured tribal system with occasional national leaders, called Judges, who typically rose to power in times of war or crisis and who were recognized for their leadership through the rest of their lifetime.

But the times were changing.

It was clear to the Hebrew tribes that other city-states with the centralized power of a monarchy, a king, were able to both secure their kingdoms and increase their power by conquest. The tribal system was becoming untenable. They needed to change.

Samuel is the lynchpin of this change. He was the last of the Judges. He will consecrate the nation of Israel’s first two kings and continue to be the nation’s spiritual leader in the background. He also becomes the first of the prophets who will become key figures on both the spiritual and political landscapes of the kingdom for the next 600 years. Samuel is the agent of change.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel explains how Samuel rose to become the last Judge, leading the Hebrews in holding back the advancing Philistines and providing strong national leadership for the rest of his life. The author is setting the reader up for this massive change that is about to take place.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself coming back to the question of change in my own life and times. Having just completed this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Revelations, it’s clear to me that things will continue to change until the Great Story’s conclusion. As a follower of Jesus, I should expect it. And, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that I am called by Jesus to press on in this earthly journey with the dogged determination to live each day with the three things that will remain throughout this Great Story and into the next: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these being love.

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

“This Chain that I Must Break”

"This Chain That I Must Break" (CaD Jud 2) Wayfarer

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10 (NIV)

He came up to me out of the blue. I was just sitting with Wendy when he tapped my shoulder and asked me to pray for him. “I’m drunk,” he said to me as I stood and put my arm around him. I didn’t really need him to tell me this. He reeked of it. It was a rather unconventional state to be in at a mid-morning worship service.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand. It’s a song about those waypoints on life’s journey when I find myself utterly broken; That moment when I’ve hit rock bottom and I know that something has to change. And, it’s about the life-changing grace that is found in those moments. One of my favorite lines from the song says, “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.”

That line popped into my mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. The author of Judges continues his introduction to the book and introduces me to a chain of events, a systemic pattern, a repeated behavioral sequence that I will find recycled over and over again in the stories of the book of Judges.

Along this life journey, I have repeatedly found myself in negative cycles of both thought and behavior. I’ve faced trials along life’s journey that stemmed from difficult circumstances that were not of my own making. The truth, however, is that many of my rock bottom moments occurred because I put myself there.

That’s the overarching theme of these stories of the ancient Hebrew tribes and the period of their history known as the time of the Judges. They may be ancient stories, but they resonate with very immediate and personal lessons for me today. Civilization and culture may have changed in 3,000 years, but human nature has not. Bob Dylan sees himself in the story of Cain. I see myself in the stories of the Judges.

This brings me back to my new, intoxicated friend. I honestly wasn’t shocked by his drunken state. I immediately recognized that a man has to be at a rock bottom moment to show up for a worship service intoxicated and ask a complete stranger to pray for him. I was so glad he was there. I prayed for him and over him right there. Then I hugged him. With my arm still around him, I told him to look out over the group of people gathering in that room. I explained that we’re all broken people no different than himself, including me. I’ve had my own rock bottom moments when something needed to change. I welcomed him, and I encouraged him to keep joining us.

In the quiet this morning, I hear the lyric poetry of Bob Dylan in my head and heart:

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

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

A Different Way

A Different Way (CaD Jos 6) Wayfarer

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.
Joshua 6:25 (NIV)

Over the last year, I found myself subscribing to several accounts on social media that regularly publish posts and memes about what it was like growing up in the 70s and 80s. It’s brought back a lot of memories:

As much as these bring back fond memories, they also remind me of just how much life has significantly changed in just one generation. Just as I could never fully fathom what my grandparents’ lives were like living through two World Wars and the Great Depression, my grandchildren will never fully fathom life without access to more information in their hands than was available to me on the entire planet.

As technology, data, processing speed, and computer memory continue to advance at an ever increasing pace, I’ve observed what appears to be an increasing lack of empathy and/or appreciation for the past. What I witness is that Cancel Culture isn’t just about socially ostracizing people who don’t toe an ideological line, but I also see people dismissing the past as being as outdated and worthless as that second-generation iPod gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.

Today’s chapter introduces us to the brutal life that was daily human existence 3500 years ago and in the early chapters of the Great Story. The Hebrew conquest of Canaan is layered with meaning that contains implications and themes that foreshadow the larger themes of grace, judgment, and redemption that are present in the larger story. Yet, it is easy to dismiss for modern readers who are used to simply canceling anything that doesn’t comfortably fit in my 21st century, politically correct worldview.

War and conquest were the dominant way of life. City-States and regions were continually embroiled in surviving those armies, nations, and fledgling empires bent on growing their power. But what happened at Jericho is actually different in many regards. God makes it clear that it is He who is passing judgment on the people of Jericho, it is God who is out front making victory miraculously possible, and it is God who was gracious with Rahab and her family, who by faith, believed that the God was the one true God. The Hebrew people were not allowed to take spoil from the battle. Archaeological evidence at Jericho found entire jars full of grain that had been left which makes little sense in a world in which famine regularly wiped out entire people groups. There’s something different taking place. For forty years God has been doing something different with these Hebrew tribes than the world has ever seen.

And, if I can’t fully fathom what life was like for my grandparents in the Great Depression, then I certainly can’t fully fathom what life was like for those Hebrew tribes at Jericho. Personally, I don’t take that as a license to ignore and judge either the Hebrews or God, but rather as an invitation to be gracious in my ignorance while also wrapping my head and heart around the larger Story being told that I might continue to gain wisdom in my own journey and where this Great Story is leading.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t shake the fact that it is God who is driving the action, God who is leading the charge, God who is just beginning to reveal Himself to humanity by telling His people “I’m going to show you a different way of doing things.” Which is the same thing that Jesus did when He revealed that Messiah was not about earthly power and kingdoms, but about a suffering servant compelled by love to sacrificially lay down His life for others.

Which reminds me that on this day, even with my phone in my hand which has more computing power than the Apollo mission had sending men to the moon, and access to an infinite number of distractions of any kind I could possibly want, I believe that Jesus is still trying to get my attention, to hold my focus long enough to get through to me: “Tom, I’m trying to show you a different way of doing things. A different way than you see all the kingdoms and power structures of this world doing with them amidst all the technology and knowledge they have. Follow me.”

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

Pajama Worship

Pajama Worship (CaD Heb 10) Wayfarer

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

One of the things that changed for many Jesus followers during the COVID pandemic was our “meeting together.” Our local gathering, like most others, moved to produce weekly worship online. I don’t think I’ll ever forget delivering messages to an empty auditorium and a camera.

Like everything in life, there were both opportunities and challenges with staying home and watching worship online. I confess that it was nice to enjoy a lazy morning sitting on the couch in my pajamas. Likewise, I know a lot of families who took advantage of online church to consciously make it a family event. “When life gives you lemons,” as they say.

Our community has been back in regular meeting mode for a long time, though we’re still broadcasting worship online each week. Data from the Institute for Family Studies revealed that the number of regular attenders is down in every demographic while the number of “never attend” is up by similar percentages. There are a number of factors to this decline. Some have legitimate health concerns and a reason to continue being cautious. There are other reasons, however, including those who simply found that they prefer watching, on their couch, in their pajamas.

I thought about this as I read the author of Hebrews encouragement to “not give up meeting together.” For the author, the decline in regular in-person participation was very different. He is writing to Hebrew believers who had gone back to the Jewish synagogue and the sacrificial system of Moses. It’s why he has written so much, and so passionately, about the old system becoming obsolete as Christ ushered in an entirely new spiritual reality. Some couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make the change. They walked away and went back. Old habits die hard.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over both the opportunities and challenges I’ve experienced in the return to a new “normal.” Since in-person meetings opened back up again, Wendy and I have chosen a couple of times to stay home together and watch online. It was a bit of a sabbath from the routine, and it was good for the soul. We also have loved being able to watch online when we travel or are at the lake, and it’s kept us more connected when we’re away.

At the same time, I have personally found that there’s no substitute for meeting together in person. This is also true in business, as the work world has embraced video meetings as a substitute for in-person meetings. What I’ve observed is that there is so much relationship, connection, and conversation that happens around the meetings themselves. Just this past Sunday I caught up with so many friends who are going through different struggles and circumstances in life. I get to hug them, hear how things are going, and learn how I can pray more specifically for them and their situation.

I thought this morning about every personal interaction and conversation I had with individuals before and after our last meeting together. I made a list in my head, pictured the individuals, and considered what we talked about. I then asked myself if those interactions were beneficial for me, for my life, and my relationships, and whether I would have been missing something had I stayed home and watched on the couch in my pajamas. For me, there’s no doubt about the answer. Those personal interactions are as vital and life-giving as anything that happened within the meeting itself.

Things change, and I’m sure that COVID has changed life in ways that we’ll be sorting out for decades to come. Reading about these changes in the media, I observe that the take is often the way the media enjoys simplifying things into binary choices: good or bad. When it comes to people not returning to in-person worship I find it a “yes, and.” There are both good things and bad things that have resulted in the change. C’est la vie.

As for me, I know that spurring fellow believers on and being spurred on by them, encouraging and being encouraged, and loving and being loved don’t happen in equal measure when I’m sitting on the couch watching in my pajamas.

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

“Yet This I Call to Mind”

"Yet This I Call to Mind" (CaD Lam 3) Wayfarer

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24 (NIV)

Jeremiah shows all the signs of being an Enneagram Type Four. The constant brooding. The wallowing in melancholy. The ability to wax eloquent and hyperbolic on his suffering and affliction. Of course, Jeremiah has far more reason than I to brood. When, in today’s poetic chapter, he states “I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit” it wasn’t just hyperbole. In Jeremiah 38, his enemies literally threw the prophet into an empty well and left him to die in the muddy slime at the bottom.

And I think I’ve seen some bad days.

One of the things lost on most readers of Lamentations is the intricate way in which it is written. Each chapter is its own separate Hebrew poem. Each poem (chapter) is a Hebrew acrostic, meaning that every verse begins with a different letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Today’s chapter is the middle poem, and those who joined me for last year’s journey through the book of Psalms might remember that in Hebrew poetry, the very middle verse or stanza or poem tends to contain the central theme. The way that Jeremiah structured this cycle of poems, the first verse of today’s chapter is the central verse of the book:

I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.

[cue: I Am a Man of Constant Sorrows by the Soggy Bottom Boys]

Yesterday, I wrote about the very human need to grieve, and the permission that God gives throughout the Great Story to do so. I believe it is healthy on all levels to process and express sorrow and grief, and God gives consistent permission to do so. Jesus even sweat blood as He expressed His despair at the suffering He was about to face on the final day of his earthly journey. Singing the blues is good for the soul.

Along the journey, however, I’ve also learned that there’s a point at which the healthy expression of my sorrow becomes an unhealthy victim status. Jeremiah didn’t die in the pit. Jesus didn’t stay in the grave. Choosing to mire myself in despair and refuse hope is to deny the very core of my faith.

Jeremiah quite obviously was a student of David’s lyrics in the Psalms. He follows David’s example both in shamelessly singing the blues, but also in finding the inflection point at which a ray of light shines in the darkness. There’s always that moment when the free-fall ends and the road begins to ascend. It’s the moment of eucatastrophe when the winds shift, the lighthouse appears on the horizon, and the seeds of hope bear fruit in the midst of despair. Jeremiah, writing from the depths of death, starvation, and devastation more extreme than David ever faces, makes the turn to hope more eloquently than David ever did:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

That’s the moment I seek in every dark valley of my journey. The moment that comes after I’ve cried a river of tears, screamed like King Lear and his fool into the winds of misfortune, written endless pages of guttural lament, and feasted on every angry growl of my blues collection. The moment when I lay spent from the rage and my soul can finally hear the whisper:

“Yet this I call to mind…”

Wait for it.

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

Exile and Return

Exile and Return (CaD Gen 35) Wayfarer

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
Genesis 35:1 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve discovered along my spiritual journey is that the return is often as important as the destination. In some cases, they turn out to be one and the same.

In today’s chapter, God calls Jacob to return to Bethel which is the place where God first revealed Himself to Jacob. Jacob has been on a journey of exile for over twenty years, and now he has returned to his home and family. At Bethel, God renews the promises made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. God makes Jacob’s name change to Israel official.

The timing of this is important. Isaac is about to die. Having the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, God is leading Jacob through a rite of passage. He’s returned from exile to lead the family, and head the family business. Things are about to change in a big way.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back. My spiritual journey has led me on paths of exile and return. I found it to be the path of both wisdom and maturity. In exile, I face trials and struggles that grow me up as I learn essential lessons in faith, patience, perseverance, joy, and hope. The return is the place where those lessons bear fruit. The landscape looks different upon my return. Time may have changed things, but most importantly I have changed. I see old things with new eyes. In exile, I have been refined, honed, broken down, and rebuilt for a purpose. The return is where that purpose eventually comes into focus.

I also found myself meditating on God’s name change for this patriarch-to-be. In exile, Jacob (meaning the deceiver) is transformed into Israel (he wrestled with God). When Jacob left Bethel, everything he had and came from his (and his mother’s) own deceptive cunning and initiative. In exile, he struggled with his Uncle, himself, and with God. He discovers in exile that his blessings come from God and not his, and his family’s, penchant for deception. Jacob left Bethel and went into exile. It was Israel who returned to Bethel ready for the next stage of the journey.

I have found that there are certain spiritual truths that do not change. Among those truths is the necessity of both exile and return.

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