Tag Archives: Choices

Gift, not Reward

Gift, not Reward (CaD Ps 127) Wayfarer

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

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

Family is messy. It just is.

When I was a young man, I embarked on a fact-finding mission to better understand my families of origin. What I discovered was that underneath the veneer of stories that I’d been told (the good, polite, and acceptable ones) there was a whole lot of mess.

The Great Story is full of wisdom that reads like simple binary formulas. A+B=C.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.

I like simple formulas, and I’ve observed that most other human beings do too. That’s why name-it-and-claim-it televangelists get people to send them millions (“Give and you will receive!“). It’s how we get suckered into all sorts of things (“Just five minutes a day with the Ab Monster and you’ll have a six-pack like this dude!“). I’ve also observed and experienced that it’s how many institutional churches approach life. “Do this and you’ll experience God’s blessings; Don’t do that or you’ll suffer God’s punishment.” It’s no wonder the world is rejecting the church and screaming “It doesn’t work!”

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to the realization that the spiritual path, the path of wisdom, and following Jesus is not a simple math equation as it may appear on the surface and/or how it’s often presented. It’s more like actuarial science based on general rules, complex principles, earthly probabilities, percentages, and exceptions. Simple formulas are fubar’d when imperfect human beings enter the equation with our emotions, pride, passions, appetites, desires, fears, and free will.

Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.

It seems so simple that I want to name it and claim it. It appears so simple that when I witness someone’s child making poor choices it must be that his parents missed an ingredient in the good Christian, Focus-on-the-Family formula, or her behavior must reveal the proof I need that mom and dad are blowing it in the parental department. The simple train-up-a-child formula sounded so easy when my daughters were babes who were completely dependent on my absolute provision and authority. Then an adult child strikes out on her own path, making her own choices, and finding her own way. It looks nothing like the paternal expectations I anticipated as part of that simple formula when my head and heart were intoxicated with absolute authority over her life. It’s easy for me to feel cheated by what appeared to be simple math.

In my own life journey and experiences with messy family, Lady Wisdom has taught me a few things:

  • The path Jesus prescribed for His followers was never about moral perfection, an easy-life, and earthly abundance; It’s about selflessness, sacrifice, and love-in-action.
  • The only things I really control are my own thoughts, words, actions, and choices. The notion I control anything else is an illusion.
  • My family members are on their own spiritual journeys, just like me. If I want them to have grace and understanding with my shit, I have to have grace with theirs. If I want them to have patience and understanding as I navigate this stretch of life in my 50s, which I’ve never experienced before, then I have to let them navigate their 20s and 30s, which they’ve never experienced, with that same patience and understanding.
  • If I believe God is faithful and can be trusted, and I believe He is, then I can entrust others to God while I choose to let go of my personal expectations of them.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 127, is a song that the liner notes ascribe to Solomon, the son of King David. It is another one of the songs that ancient Hebrew pilgrims sang on their trek to Jerusalem. It is both a celebration of family and a reminder that all of life’s blessings and securities are gifts from God, not the In the quiet this morning, I’m making a little mental inventory of the family stories embedded in the Great Story:

  • Lot was incestuous with his daughters.
  • Abraham slept with his concubine at his wife’s insistence and the consequences are still being felt today.
  • Jacob (and his mother) deceived his father and stole his brother’s birthright.
  • Joseph was beaten and sold into slavery by his own brothers.
  • David committed adultery and refused to deal with the incestuous rape his own son committed against his half-sister.
  • David’s son, Solomon, was the offspring of his scandalous, adulterous, conspiratorial marriage to Bathsheba and murder of her husband.

And its Solomon who the wrote the lyrics of today’s Psalm. For me, reading the lyrics of today’s chapter knowing the unvarnished truth of Solomon’s family story strips away the notion of simple spiritual formulas with it comes to family.

Family is messy. It just is.

There are many spiritual principles that influence the outcomes I generally experience on this life journey, both positively and negatively. But it’s not always a simple equation. I can build a home and family, but it still won’t cure the mess. Solomon knew that as well as anyone. He reminds me this morning that life’s blessings and securities are gifts, not rewards.

Holy Moments in the Dark

Holy Moments in Dark Places (CaD Ps 106) Wayfarer

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
    and glory in your praise.

Psalm 106:47 (NIV)

Yesterday, Wendy and I found ourselves discussing the concept of holiness as we enjoyed our weekly date at the local pub for pizza and a pint. It kind of picked up on what I discussed in my blog post a few weeks ago. In my experience, the concept of being “holy” has largely been reduced by the institutional church to mean “morally pure.” In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that it means so much more than that.

Our conversation sprung out a friend sharing with us about a loved one who finds themselves in one of life’s dark valleys. Wendy and I both identified with the story because both of our journeys include stretches in dark places of our own choices and consequences. Much like our friend’s loved one, the respective dark valleys on life’s road were not characterized by any kind of moral purity.

Go to any twelve-step meeting and you’ll hear people tell their own stories about dark valleys on life’s road. You’ll also hear them share that sometimes one must hit rock-bottom before they spiritually wake up to the consequences of their actions and their need to change.

In Jesus’ famous story of the Prodigal Son, the younger brother finds himself far from home, broke, alone, and literally wading in pig shit. In that rock-bottom moment Jesus shared:

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

Wendy and I discussed that this very moment, in the midst of the dark valley, at rock-bottom, and knee-deep in pig shit, was a holy moment. That’s the way the spiritual journey often works. Holiness is not confined to the definition of moral purity found at the mountain-top of righteousness. Holiness can also be found in the spiritual awakening that often happens not at the summit of morality but in the muck of a shattered life.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 106, is the final song in Book IV of the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms. It is another summary review of the history of the Hebrews. As the song comes to its conclusion, the songwriter pens:

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations

This would indicate that this song was likely written from a place of exile when the Hebrew tribes had been scattered across the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. What’s different in this re-telling of the history compared to the one I just read last week is the heart of repentance. The songwriter finds himself far from home, broken, living amidst his enemies and he recognizes that this dark valley was part of the consequence of his peoples own poor choices. Like the Prodigal, like Wendy and me, the songwriter is having his own holy moment of spiritual awakening. He’s owning his part (and the part of his people) in landing himself in this dark valley. He’s making the spiritual turn.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my own journey which includes holy moments that occurred both on spiritual mountain tops and sinful, dark valleys. King David wrote in another song (we haven’t gotten to it yet) that there’s nowhere that he could flee from God’s presence. Even in my lowest, darkest moments, God was not absent. It was there He helped awaken my spirit to my need to change the spiritual trajectory of my life.

It was a holy moment.

The Simple, Complex Mystery

The Simple, Complex Mystery (CaD Ps 37) Wayfarer

Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.

Psalm 37:27 (NIV)

A while back I found myself in a conversation with a friend who is a very strong Enneagram Type One. Ones have a very strong moral center with an instinctive “gut” for sensing right-and-wrong, black-and-white, and this influences their own lives. It also influences how they perceive and approach the rest of the world. I, however, am an Enneagram Type Four and Fours tend to see the world in the broad spectrum of gradients between black and white. We Fours live well in the gray, which gives us tremendous empathy for others wherever they find themselves on that spectrum.

The conversation with my friend basically boiled down to our contrasting temperaments. My friends saw the issue we were discussing in very simple, black-and-white terms which made things very simple for him. I saw the issue in all the subtle complexities that it presented for people in everyday realities. It was a spirited conversation that ended up with us agreeing on the essential issue but having to agree to disagree on what to do about the issue.

Along my life journey, I have struggled with simplistic contrasts. We don’t think about it much, but our lives are full of them. As children, we’re taught that Santa will find you “naughty” or “nice” which will be the determining factor in your Christmas haul. When we grow up there are all sorts of other binary ways we continue to approach life. In fact, we’re having major social upheaval in our world because of all sorts of issues that we and the media have reduced to simple binary, black-and-white issues. I’m “mask” or “no masks.” I’m “racist” or “BLM.” I’m “conservative” or “progressive.” I’m “Democrat” or “Republican.” And, we’re making choices about how we perceive and treat others based on how their binary choices line up against ours. It breaks my heart.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 37, I am confronted with the reality that even the Great Story often reduces life and matters of Spirit into simple, binary, black-and-white terms. The entire song is dedicated to contrasting the “righteous” and the “wicked” and bringing it down to almost Santa-like “naughty-or-nice” terms.

Simple contrasting metaphors are a foundational spiritual building block throughout the Great Story. In the days of Moses, God places before the Hebrew people “Life” or “Death” and asks them to choose. Hundreds of years later the prophet Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and asked the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, go his way. If Baal (an ancient deity in Mesopotamian cultures) is God, go his way.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus spoke of Judgement Day in terms of separating humanity into “sheep” (good) and the “goats” (bad).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to the conversation with my Type One friend. In my spiritual journey, I learned that following Jesus begins with very simple “yes” or “no.” Here is another simple, contrasting metaphor Jesus used:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

My journey with Jesus began on a cold February night when, to the lyrics of modern psalm proclaiming “I have decided to follow Jesus,” I made that simple decision. I don’t know how to describe the way my life changed that night. There were all sorts of simple binary choices I then began to make about my life, words, relationship, and behavior based on that foundational yes-or-no decision.

At the same time, the further I traveled down life’s road I found that the journey of being a Jesus follower has been a never-ending, daily experiment in figuring out what it means to continue walking that “narrow road.” Sometimes I find things coming down to a very simple black-and-white choice. More often, I find a gradient of complexity in things. So, seeing the world in simple binary terms isn’t such a simple binary issue. I’m sure my Type One friends find it much easier than I do, but that only feeds my point. There are nine Enneagram Types and we’re not all Ones.

In the quiet this morning I find myself back at the mystery of things being “yes, and.” This journey of following Jesus is both simple and infinitely complex. Lest my Type Four heart get lost in the infinite mystery of living in gray, I always have Psalm 37 to pull me back and remind me that sometimes life does simply come back to a black-or-white choice to do either the thing I know is right or the thing I know is wrong, recognizing that there are natural consequences of life and Spirit that will follow the choice I make.

Another day of choices in a very complex world lies before me. Pray I simply make good ones.

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

Plans and Purposes

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:3 (NIV)

I just finished up an “over the coffee” conversation with Wendy this morning. We talked about race and culture. One of the observations we mulled over was that it’s very easy for things to be perceived as simple, binary, either-or issues when it’s just not. There are so many layers.

I find that the same can be true when reading through Proverbs. It’s really been hitting me as I journey through them this time around. The attraction of ancient sage wisdom is that they are simple. They are binary couplets. It’s wisdom or foolishness, hard work or sloth, honesty or lies, pride or humility. They are easily absorbed and understood. It’s easy to take them at face value and that typically works.

Sometimes, however, it’s not that simple. There are more layers. Context is needed. Take the verse from today’s chapter. At face value, it’s an easy concept. Commit your plans to God and He will establish them. Done. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Rub the lamp and the Genie will appear. This is the kind of verse that can easily get misunderstood:

“I prayed and committed my plans for going to Harvard to the Lord, and I got a rejection letter. God didn’t establish my plans. I guess the whole thing is a lie.”

It’s a bit of synchronicity that this came up in the chapter today because I talked a lot about this in my podcast that was published yesterday. The mysterious, divine dance between my plans and God’s purposes is complex choreography that I never perfect. Just when I think I’ve got it down the steps, Holy Spirit (who is leading the dance) suddenly goes where I didn’t expect or the music changes.

I bring my plans to the dance, but Jesus also talked about asking, seeking, and knocking. My “plans” could be coming from a place of pride, or selfishness, or vain ambition, and what God is ultimately trying to establish for me and where God is leading me is something I can’t see from my current waypoint on Life’s road. In my podcast, I shared the story of my “plans” to have a career in pastoral ministry. Actually, before that, I planned to be an astronaut, a naval aviator, a lawyer, POTUS, a private detective, a professional actor, and one day while drawing on the back of my mom’s old recipe cards, I remember planning to be a cartoonist. What was eventually established was that I would spend my career in the one place I never planned to be: the corporate world. Even though I had been given a foreshadowing of this, I couldn’t see it. I refused to see it.

So, does the fact that my “plans” didn’t come to fruition mean that today’s proverb is a lie?

Not from my perspective. It’s not that simple.

When I chose to become a follower of Christ it was the first step in a never-ending process of surrender. The “plan” that I committed to at that moment was to follow where God led, do what God called me to do, and strive to become more like Jesus each step of the way. The becoming like Jesus part starts with not living for myself, but to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as I love myself. If I do that, it changes my plans, which ultimately results in this journey being all about the things that God is establishing as He leads me. God’s purposes will always take precedent over my plans. When you follow Jesus, it’s part of the gig.

I look back now and am overjoyed that my career did not end up in pastoral ministry (sorry, mom), or in law, or in politics, or in space. What God established out my plans to follow where I was led turned into a job that I love and a job that has blessed me in so many amazing ways.

[The cartoonist thing might have been pretty cool, though. I’m just sayin’.]

In the quiet this morning I am thankful for being led down this path on my journey, despite the struggles, heartache, confusion, anxieties, stress, and pains I’ve encountered along the way. The reality is that those are all part of the journey no matter where we’re led or choose to go. And, who knows but that God might lead me into a completely different career at some point. After all, I’m letting Him lead the dance.

An Observation

At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud…

Proverbs 8:2-3 (NIV)

I saw an individual the other day in a coffee shop.

I live in a small town, so this person is not strange to me. I know the story. I’ve heard it first hand from this person. I’ve heard other versions of it from this person’s loved ones and friends.

The story reads like a tragedy. Ill-fortune has been this person’s plight. Tragedy seems have followed them on the path, and they have been a victim of circumstance at every turn. Broken relationships lie in their wake along with failed opportunities and countless fruitless attempts at sustained, gainful employment. Addiction, according to the story, has been this persons constant companion though I honestly can’t tell if this is actually true, or if it’s simply a convenient excuse for the chaotic mess of the individual’s life.

In today’s chapter, Lady Wisdom makes clear that she is never hidden. She doesn’t lurk where others can’t find her. She is on the heights where she can bee seen from miles around. She is at the crossroads where traffic is heavy. She is there in public at the gates of the city where everyone passes by. She cries out like a street preacher on his soap box.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to realize that Wisdom is omnipresent. It’s always there for the taking. In every temptation, Wisdom is there to provide good counsel. In every mistake, Wisdom is there with meaningful instruction. In the dark valley of every tragedy, Wisdom is present with guidance and directions towards Light that is waiting just a little further up the road. I’ve not always listened to her, but I’d like to believe that I’ve gotten better at it the further I’ve progressed.

I have observed that Wisdom is never hidden, except for those who are spiritually blind and those who choose to ignore her. Temptations, tragedies, foolish mistakes, and the painful bedlam of our own poor choices are common waypoints on every human being’s life journey. It appears to me that those who listen to Wisdom learn from circumstance and allow these things to inform future thoughts, choices, and behavior. Those who choose to remain blind to her presence and deaf to her words tend to remain in the dark valley with tragedy, excuse and blame as a trio of companions.

Lord, have mercy.

Living in Gray

When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem.
Esther 2:8 (NIV)

Yesterday at the breakfast table Wendy and I were having breakfast and reading the news, as is our daily habit. Wendy happened upon a news piece that quite clearly divided the United States into two generalized racial groups. Implied in the article was the notion that in America you are either black or white. I find the distinction of choice ironic.

The simplistic divide does not account for the vast number of people of Hispanic, Asian, or Native American descent, nor does it account for the population of interracial couples and their children which, according to U.S. Census figures, has steadily grown since 1967 and continues to do so.

Our culture loves binary, either-or choices. I have observed this to be true of both institutional religion and mainstream news media who are critical one another. When dealing with a large population of people, simple binary choices are much easier to deal with. Here are some examples from both of them:

  • Black or White
  • Conservative or Liberal
  • Fox News or MSNBC
  • Capitalism or Socialism
  • Red State or Blue State
  • Progressive or Deplorable
  • Blue Collar or White Collar
  • Educated or Uneducated
  • Urban or Rural
  • Republican or Democrat
  • Protestant or Catholic
  • Sacred or Secular
  • Christian or Secular
  • Holy or Worldly
  • Evangelical or Mainline
  • Religious or Atheist

And yet, as I have traversed this earthly journey and spiritually followed in the footsteps of Jesus, I find most binary distinctions simplistic and inadequate for addressing complex circumstances and issues. The world and its people with whom I interact every day are an elaborate mosaic of DNA, thought, spirit, background, and experience. To put one complex person into one of two binary boxes for the sake of simple definition is foolishness.

One of the things that I love about the story of Esther is how God works through this young Jewish woman who appears to navigate the tremendously gray territory between binary choices of Jew or Gentile, Hebrew or Persian, and Moral or Immoral. She keeps her heritage and faith secret. Whereas Daniel refused to eat meat provided by his foreign captors, Esther has no such qualms. There is no indication that Esther balks at being part of the Persian harem system that would have instructed her how to pleasure the king sexually on demand.

The book of Esther has confounded binary thinkers for ages. One commentator wrote that Esther’s behavior would not pass any test of modern ethical theory. Her cultural compromises coupled with the pesky fact that God is never mentioned by name in the story led some editors in history to introduce prayers into the book that were never part of the original text along with commentary stating that Esther hated being married to a Gentile. I’ve observed that when the truth is too gray for our comfort zone, we like to shade it to fit our personal binary leanings.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the value and importance of a story like Esther. She successfully navigates a very uncomfortable world of gray politically, culturally, religiously, and morally. From a position of powerlessness and critical compromise, she is used for God’s purposes in profound and powerful ways. In a time when our political, religious, cultural, and social systems seem perpetually intent on placing me in one of two simplistic boxes, I pray I can, like Esther, find a way to successfully navigate the territory of gray that lies in tension between simplistic, black-and-white definitions.

Freedom, Indulgence, Hard Knocks, and Wisdom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Among most of Wendy’s and my circle of close friends we happen to be the furthest down the path of life experience. As we enjoy being grandparents for the first time and watch our adult children embarking on their own adult journeys, most of our friends are somewhere between the stages of young children taxi service and sending children off to college for the first time. Just yesterday I was speaking with my friend who is experiencing the latter.

For young people who have lived in a secure home with engaged parents, going off to college is the first opportunity to experience real freedom. No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is reminding you of what you need to do. Plus, opportunities to experience the appetites of life in all their excesses tend to present themselves in abundance.

For many of us, the years of college and young adulthood are when we learn some crucial lessons on life’s road. Chief among them is answering the simple question: “What am I going to do with my freedom?” 

I don’t know a single individual who didn’t, at some point, use freedom to engage and indulge unhealthy appetites in one way or another during these years. Perhaps there are a few true saints out there. Most parents I know, however, like to conveniently white-wash their own young adult excesses as they place all sorts of appetite controls and lofty expectations on their children.

Along the journey I’ve come to the conclusion that each one of us must learn the hard lessons of how we’re going to use our freedom. It’s part of the journey. We all need to have our own wake-up moments like the Prodigal Son finding himself up to his knees in pig slop. We all need our personally induced wake-up calls when we find ourselves saying: “My own choices led me to this awful place. I think I need to make some changes.”

In today’s chapter of his letter to the believers of Galatia, Paul is addressing this same principle. Legalism is great for creating compulsory obedience to a defined set of rules, but it does nothing for helping us learn the crucial, spiritual maturity lessons of appetite control. It’s no coincidence that Paul’s list of behaviors that mark spiritual maturity include “self-control.”

This morning I find myself praying for our own adult children and our grandchild. The truth I’ve discovered is that the lessons of managing our appetites and developing mature self-control are ongoing throughout our life journeys. So, I’m praying for them in their own respective waypoints on this life journey.

I’m also saying prayers for our friends who are in the stages of raising willful children, teenagers testing their boundaries, and young adults experiencing freedom for the first time. I’m praying wisdom for all those parental decisions about rules, consequences, clamping down, and letting go. I’m also praying for the grace and wisdom of the Prodigal’s father, who knew that his Prodigal had to learn his own crucial lessons and experience the awful places we find ourselves when we use our freedom to indulge our appetites. The father didn’t track his son down. He didn’t send a rescue party. He didn’t deny his son life’s required coursework from the school of hard-knocks. The father sat patiently on the front-porch, said his prayers, kept his eye on the road out front, and waited for a much wiser son to come home.

The Freedom That Leads to Slavery

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

I grew up in a very different time. Parents weren’t as protective and overbearing with children as they are today. They couldn’t. The technology didn’t exist as it does now. As a kid I had quite a bit of freedom. I roamed our neighborhood with other kids. My Schwinn Sting-Ray five speed bicycle expanded the reach of adventure. I rode my bike to the bowling alley, to the pool, or to the wooded areas at the end of Madison and by the Des Moines River. All of this without cell phones or my parents having any idea where I was or what I was doing most of the time.

Of course, this freedom afforded plenty of opportunity to get in trouble. I can think of kids in my neighborhood who used their own freedom to push the limits of acceptable behavior. Often, I was invited and encouraged to join them. Occasionally, I did follow friends into doing what I knew was wrong, but I had a healthy conscience that usually (not always) kept me from repeating those behaviors. As I look back and remember some of those moments when I was encouraged by friends to misbehave, one of the regular arguments provided was that I would be breaking the shackles of parental or societal rules and experiencing freedom of doing whatever I wanted.

I’ve observed along my journey that “freedom” is regularly mentioned by those who propose marginal behavior. I grew up on the tail end of the “free love” generation which was supposed to free people from relational repressions but I never saw it creating healthier, happier individuals. I remember a friend from college who was fighting his own battle with drug addiction. He’d been encouraged to take LSD to “free his mind” but the story he told me was not one of freedom.

In today’s chapter, Peter was writing his letter to early Jesus followers to address a very similar issue. Men had joined with followers of Jesus and then told them all sorts of stories about how people were free to engage in all the marginal behaviors practiced by the pagan religions around them. Con artists were stealing money from the local gatherings of believers and leading people astray in their promises that people were free to do whatever they wanted as Jesus’ forgiveness gave them carte blanche grace and forgiveness. Peter warns the fledgling followers that the “freedom” these heretics were promising would only end in a different kind of enslavement.

This morning I’m thinking about freedom. Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It’s one of those quotes of Jesus that I’ve observed gets only partially quoted. People love to quote the last part, but leave off the first part. I learned long ago that when I use my freedom to do whatever I want, it doesn’t lead to pleasant places. In fact, the so called “freedom” that many people espouse only leads to a different kind of enslavement.

Christ set me free, not to do what I want, but to do what I ought.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“But today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.”
Jeremiah 40:4 (NIV)

Some time ago a potential opportunity presented itself to me. It was unexpected, and ultimately not meant to be. However, for a few weeks Wendy and I grappled with the notion of picking up the tent pegs of the life we’ve established and moving on. It does seem, at times, as if the grass is always greener, the possibilities broader, and the road easier “in a new place.” Present reality and circumstance always feels like such a slog. It’s easy for my imagination to conjure how easy it must be in a different place with different circumstances.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story continues to unfold the events after the City of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, had left Jeremiah in the custody of the Captain of the guard. When the time came for the Captain to return to Babylon he releases Jeremiah from his chains and gives Jeremiah a choice. Go back to Babylon with the Captain and all the exiles, or stay in Judah with the remnant of people left to work the land (the poorest, oldest, and sickest of the population). Jeremiah, who is now advanced in years himself, chooses to stay.

Should I stay or should I go?

This morning I’m thinking about that question which I have grappled with on different occasions in my life journey. I’ve also walked beside friends and family members who have been presented with that question in their own respective journeys. The answer, I have found, is rarely clear or easy.

What I have found, however, is that sometimes there is no clear choice, and really no wrong choice. I choose to stay, or to go, and God weaves my choice into the tapestry of my story and journey. Other times I have found clarity for the right choice through prayer, contemplation, and conversation with my closest of confidants. The more I pray and ponder the more peace I feel with one choice or the other, and pursuing the Spirit’s flow to the path of peace is always a wise choice. Still other times I have found that God makes it very clear through a direct spiritual word, a sign, or the word of a prophet. I have stories I could tell, but I’ll save those for other posts.

This morning I’m thinking about Jeremiah and the choice given him. Was it hard for him? Did God give him clear direction what to do? Or did staying in the rubble of Jerusalem just seem easier for an old man than the long journey to a foreign land? Today’s chapter doesn’t say, but I can imagine his thoughts and questions.

As for me, I’m grateful for where my journey has led me. I’m thankful to be in this place, in this reality, with this people, even when the present circumstances feel like a slog (and they often do). I’m have peace. Last night Wendy and I sat on our back patio and stared out at the back yard which spread out like a huge, thick carpet on a beautiful spring evening in Iowa.

The green grass I’m standing on right here, right now, is just fine.

Grab Your Bug-Out Bag!

“Gather up your bundle from the ground,
    O you who live under siege!
For thus says the Lord:
I am going to sling out the inhabitants of the land
    at this time….”
Jeremiah 10:17-18 (NRSVCE)

Among the sub-culture of the “wild-at-heart” man’s man is a thing known as a bug-out bag. There was a lot of buzz about it among some of the guys in my circles a few years back. The bug-out bag is a single duffle or backpack (you have to be able to carry it) that contains what you need to survive should nuclear war, EMP grid blackout, Zombie apocalypse, or other kind of Mad Max or Hunger Games type dystopia become a sudden reality. The bug-out bag contains things you need to survive like water, food, and the means to create shelter. Oh, and a weapon to kill Zombies or hunt down your next meal is always a wise choice. For the record, I don’t have a bug-out bag so I guess Wendy and I are screwed should any of the aforementioned events transpire.

Life in Jeremiah’s day was infinitely more precarious that the one we live in today. As a human being you’d be fortunate to survive infancy, and if you did survive into your teens you could expect the average life-span to be around 30 years. Disease, famine, and local wars were a constant threat. At that time in history local city-states and tribal kingdoms were being swallowed up by rapidly growing regional empires who had begun to perfect their tactics of military aggression, siege warfare, and political assimilation. The Assyrian and Babylonian empires were chief among them.

Jeremiah’s broken-record prophesies were not really that crazy to the people of his day. The Assyrians and Babylonians had a reputation for ruthlessness that was well-known and well deserved. Assyria had already destroyed their cousins in the northern kingdom of Israel (Jerusalem was part of the southern kingdom of Judah). The prevailing tactic of regional Empires was to take over the city, plunder anything valuable, kill the leaders and take the best and brightest hostage (FYI: Daniel was one of these). So, when Jeremiah wrote in today’s chapter that the people of Jerusalem should grab their bug-out bags, they knew what he was talking about (and it wasn’t a Zombie apocalypse).

For those reading along with this chapter-a-day journey, it should also be noted that Jerusalem had been attacked just a generation before by the Assyrians. In that day the Jerusalem was miraculously spared as the enemy army was mysteriously wiped out overnight (2 Kings 19). This, of course, made Jeremiah’s prophetic task more difficult. The people of Jeremiah’s day believed that God would miraculously save them just as He had done before.

This morning I’m thinking about all the doomsday predictions I’ve heard across my lifetime. From Christian teachers and their mesmerizing interpretations of Revelation to economists warning of global monetary collapse to environmentalists warning of a coming ice age (that was the prediction I heard in elementary school) or global warming meltdown. With the proliferation of voices via the internet there is no lack of fear-inducing doomsday predictions to go around. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit-hole of fear.

When confronted with doomsday predictions I find myself trying to be discerning. I can’t do anything about the timing of events in Revelation so I might as well focus each day on loving others as Jesus calls me to do and not worry about that which I can’t control. I believe God calls us to care for the Earth, so Wendy and I try to be good stewards of natural resources, recycle, and make wise choices for the sake of the environment whenever we can. Yet, once again, there is only so much I can do on a personal level and what will be is out of my control. It seems a waste of mental and emotional energy to live in perpetual fear of that which I don’t know and can’t control.

I confess, however, that the notion of having a bug-out bag (with a compass and one of those giant Rambo-like survival knives) does stir my manly spirit. “Arrrggghh!”