Tag Archives: Christian

#FreeFish4All

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
John 6:15 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
John 6:26 (NIV)

Of late, I’ve been working on classes in order to be a certified Enneagram coach. It’s been a fascinating process, and Wendy has been joining me in going through all of the coursework. It takes longer to get through material together because we stop and talk about it incessantly, but it’s also been really good to chew on things and learn from each other’s thoughts and observations.

Over the years, I’ve done all of the major assessments that are out there, and I’ve found them all helpful. The thing that I’ve come to love about the Enneagram is that it gets below behaviors and personality to mine our core motivations. It unearths the core desires and core fears that drive our thoughts and behaviors.

In today’s chapter, John relates an event that gets to the heart of the identities of Jesus and His followers. Jesus and The Twelve are together along the shores of the Sea of Galilee when a huge crowd of people come looking for Jesus. Jesus had been carrying out His Magical Ministry Tour in the region, and the crowds were swelling as the ate up Jesus’ miracles.

The Twelve were Jesus’ disciples, protégés, apprentices, padawans; They are supposed to walking in His steps and learning from Him at all times. Jesus asks them where they can get enough bread to feed the crowd. Despite the miracles they’d seen Jesus perform, the thoughts of The Twelve remain steadfastly shackled to earthly reason. All they know is that they have neither the bread, nor the money, to feed the thousands of people who just showed up.

Jesus miraculously takes a couple of loaves and fish from a boy and produces enough filet o’fish sandwiches to feed the entire crowd and still have twelve baskets full of leftovers. The crowd goes wild. Jesus popularity is at an all-time high. Five thousand “Likes” with one miracle. Word of mouth marketing is out of control. He’s numero uno on the trending charts: #JesusFeeds #FreeFish4All. Jesus can ride this wave of popularity all the way to Jerusalem and take over.

Instead, Jesus sneaks away in the middle of the night across the lake. The crowd wakes up and immediately they search to find out where their miracle man and His Magical Ministry Tour has gone. They find him in the town of Capernaum. Immediately, Jesus makes a crucial observation:

“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

I find it critically important to see what’s happening, not on the surface of the events in today’s chapter, but in the hearts and motives of those involved. The Twelve, the crowd, and the religious leaders are all acting out of their instinctual human motivations while Jesus is doing the exact opposite.

Jesus miraculously produces enough bread for 5000 people to have their fill, hoping that the miracle will lead people to realize His true identify, hear His real message, and understand His true goal: “I am the Bread of Life. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood (foreshadowing His death and the word picture He would give His followers to remember it) will never die but will live forever.”

The religious leaders are worried about their own earthly power, wealth, and prestige. Their identity as the learned religious teachers is threatened by Jesus’ popularity and power. In order to maintain their power and appearances, they’re looking for a reason to discredit Jesus, and Jesus gives it to them.

The crowds just want more entertaining miracles, especially the fish sandwiches out of thin air. Most of them haven’t eaten like that in a long time. What a life this could be following Jesus around. It’s like a Grateful Dead summer concert tour. Free food, unbelievable wonders, great storytelling: “Let’s get this party started and keep it going!” Instead, Jesus starts talking crazy about being bread to be cannibalized. “Dude, I don’t think he’s serving fish sandwiches anymore. Let’s get out of here. It sucks, man. That could have been epic.”

The Twelve are beside themselves. Jesus turns from the crowd and looks at them. He knows they’re on the verge of bailing out, too. On the surface, Jesus has just shot Himself in the foot and ruined His best chance at riding the wave of popularity, fame, and fortune to become a King.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that Jesus told The Twelve that He was “not of this world.” Before Jesus’ ministry began, the Prince of this World offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” if Jesus would only bow and worship him. Jesus refused, and that gives me a glimpse into Jesus words and actions in today’s chapter. It appears to me that Jesus’ motive was to bring a Kingdom to this world that looks nothing like the kingdoms of this world. In fact, I’ve come to realize that the Kingdom Jesus came to share is opposite the kingdoms of this world that He turned down. It’s no wonder that His actions made zero sense from a human perspective.

The further I get in my journey the more wary I’ve become of institutions and popular trends that are really just another kingdom of this world serving fish sandwiches under the guise of promoting God’s Kingdom. Yet when I try to discern their motives I’m left sensing that it’s the same motives as any other kingdom of this world. But, of course, while Jesus called His followers to be discerning, He forbid us to judge. I’ll leave that to Him. It is my motivations that are my responsibility.

Why do I do the things I do?

What is truly driving my thoughts, words, actions and relationships?

If following Jesus means shunning the kingdoms of this world and living out the Kingdom of God as He prescribed and exemplified, then how am I doing with that?

Good questions to mull over as I enter another work week. What I’m doing on my personal and vocational task lists doesn’t really matter all that much if I don’t have clarity with regard to why I’m doing any of it.

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

Stupid Question (Or Not)

Stupid Question (or Not) (CaD John 5) Wayfarer

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
John 5:6 (NIV)

Thirty-seven years he’s been an invalid. His family carried him to the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and dropped him off to chill with all the other handicapped people.

Archaeologists have identified the place. I’ve been there. Historians tell us that the handicapped would often congregate around pools and springs in ancient times. Gentile shrines of that day, dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, often contained pools. The pool of Bethesda was said to have had healing properties. It was believed that when the water in the pool appeared to have been “stirred by an angel” the first person into the water would be healed. Archaeologists say the pool was roughly the size of a football field. Imagine how many handicapped and lame people would be along side waiting for an angel to stir the water. Besides, it was the Passover, and hundreds of thousands of spiritual pilgrims were in the city that week.

There he sat on his mat in the crowd, as he had been doing every day for…how many years? I have to believe he knew the regulars. They were his homies, his posse, the other “broken” people who were a drain on their families and society in general. The lame, paralyzed, blind, deaf, and dumb masses had all been told that something was wrong with them. Not just physically, but spiritually.

“You must have sinned.”
“Your parents must have sinned.”
“Bad seed.”
“Cursed by God.”

So they would gather and wait for Gabriel to stir the drink. Had anyone really ever been healed by dropping in the drink when they spied a ripple? What if they couldn’t swim? Archaeologists say the pool was 20 feet deep. Are you really going to throw yourself in to drown? I don’t think there was a lifeguard.

Into this scene walks Jesus. He’s still relatively unknown in Jerusalem, especially among the masses of Passover pilgrims. He walks up to the man and asks…

“Do you want to get well?”

On the surface, it appears a stupid question to ask a handicapped person.

The further I’ve progressed in my Life journey the more I’ve come to appreciate the endless depth of that question.

“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has become your identity. These are your people. This pool is your home. Do you really want to leave the only life you’ve known for almost 40 years?

“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has made you special all these years. No pressure to provide. Everyone is required to care for you. Do you really want to go back to being just another regular schmo like the minions who pass by the pool and pretend not to see you every day?

“Do you want to get well?” Because the moment you step back in your family’s house they will say, “You’ve got to get a job tomorrow morning and start contributing instead of taking from the family all these years.” Seriously, do you want to labor every day in the quarry with your brothers, or would you rather just hang here with your homies?

“Do you want to get well?” Because there’s all sorts of passive aggressive power in playing the victim card.

“Do you want to get well?” Because being an oppressed minority can be an addictively powerful drug that justifies all sorts of nasty thoughts, feelings, words, and behaviors.

“Do you want to get well?” Because it’s really more comfortable to remain as you are rather than face the challenge of becoming the healthy, true self God is asking you to be.

Perhaps it’s not such a stupid question after all. Perhaps this is the question I should ask myself in all the stubbornly broken places of my own life.

Jesus heals the man. Reaching down to give the man a hand, Jesus says, “Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus lifts the man to stand on suddenly sturdy legs, then slips anonymously into the bustling crowd of passover pilgrims.

The man is immediately condemned by the religious leaders for breaking code 356, paragraph 6, sub-section 2, line 8 of the religious law book: Carrying your mat on the sabbath “day of rest.”

I mulled that over in the quiet this morning. The religious rule-keepers are suffering from a very different sickness and paralysis of Spirit. It is, nevertheless, very real. Completely ignoring the miraculous power that has been displayed and the life-changing event that the man has experienced, they squint their beady little self-righteous eyes to pick at a minor infraction of their fundamentalist rule-book.

I’ve observed along my own journey individuals and groups with this same spiritual illness.

“Do you want to get well?”

In the quiet this morning, I’m considering the possibility that I know more people who would answer the question with either “No,” or “But, I’m not sick” than the number of those I know who would sincerely answer, “Yes, I do.”

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

Contrasts

Contrasts (CaD John 4) Wayfarer

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
John 4:7 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve observed in life is the way human beings see others and then begin to identify self in contrast to others. I see myself in contrast to what others seemingly have, or have not. I see myself in contrast to how others live, where they live, what they look like, how they dress, their social status, their education, their economic status, their popularity, their influence, their dress, and yes, even the color of their skin. If I’m not careful, I can begin to identify myself by what I’m not rather than what I am.

In my journey through John’s biography of Jesus, I’ve been resonating on the theme of identity, and in yesterday’s chapter and today’s chapter there is an interesting contrast between the individuals to whom John chooses to introduce us.

Nicodemus was rich and powerful. The Samaritan woman was not.

Nicodemus was educated. The Samaritan woman was not.

Nicodemus had social standing. The Samaritan woman was an outcast.

Nicodemus was known. The Samaritan woman remains anonymous.

Nicodemus was an influencer. The Samaritan woman was a nobody.

Nicodemus met Jesus at night. The Samaritan woman met Jesus at noon.

It was socially acceptable for Jesus to speak with Nicodemus, but it was socially unacceptable for Jesus to speak with a woman or a Samaritan.

Nicodemus was religiously upright. The Samaritan woman was a sinner.

Nicodemus didn’t get Jesus. The Samaritan woman did.

There is so much happening in the subtext and contrast of these two encounters that I think I could chew on it all day. If I was doing a character study in preparation to portray either of these individuals on stage, I would likely conclude that Nicodemus’ perception of himself was rather haughty given his place in position in contrast with others. It’s hard for me to believe that the poor woman in a patriarchal system, racially outcast, with five failed marriages on her resume would have a particularly positive self-image.

How does my self perception affect my spiritual perception?

I have to confess that my earthly standing is closer to that of Nicodemus. How does that affect my spiritual receptors, my image of self, and my grasp of the divine? At the same time, my life is riddled with failures. I’m regularly reminded that people think I’m an idiot. I’ve even been told by others more religious than me that I am, in fact, going to hell (complete with scriptural references to prove it). What does that do for my self-image and my spiritual perceptions?

In the quiet this morning, my head and my heart are contemplative as they churn on these questions. As I look back on my journey as a follower of Jesus, I recognize that it has been a process of learning who I truly am in relationship to who Jesus truly is. It has been a process of both knowing myself and knowing God, and the two are as mysteriously and intricately interwoven as the circle dance of Father, Son, and Spirit. I can also see that the further I’ve progressed in this journey, the more the contrast with others, which dominated my self-perception for so long, transforms into my growing perception of seeing Jesus in every other person.

Birth, and Identity

Birth, and Identity (CaD John 3) Wayfarer

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
John 3:3 (NIV)

A prestigious and knowledgable religious leader named Nicodemus makes a clandestine visit to Jesus in the dark of night. He wants to question this young rabbi from fly-over country who everyone is talking about.

Jesus begins his conversation with the well-educated religious man with a very simple metaphor: you need to experience a re-birth. You need to be born one more time.

Nick didn’t understand.

Jesus then simply explained that, just as there is a birth of our physical bodies, there is also a birth of Spirit.

Born…again.

One of the things that I’ve observed along my life journey is that words or phrases themselves are metaphors. The the printed squiggly lines I read in a book or the little pixelated lines I are read on a laptop screen are just that: squiggly lines. Consider this series of lines: c-a-t. Those lines are not literally a furry, purring pet. Yet we understand the lines to represent letters, which represent sounds which, when put together represent words, to which we have attached a certain meaning. And, the meaning of words and phrases can be layered. One word can have a myriad of numbered definitions in the dictionary.

My friend, Dave, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the “dictionary wars” in European history when different institutional power brokers were seeking to ensure that their dictionary became the authoritative one. They sought to control the meaning of words. It was understood by these power brokers of the world that those who control the language (and, by extension, the message) will ultimately control the masses.

I observe this in our current culture, as well. Words and terms are being used in political discourse, but they mean different things to the individuals using them and listening to them on opposite sides of the political divide. We’re having arguments with the same words to which we’ve attached different meanings. I’m also witnessing that words and terms that have always meant one thing to me have been redefined by groups within the culture. New words and terms are also being created and used within one sub-culture that are completely unknown by other sub-cultures. It’s no wonder we’re having trouble communicating with one another.

Words and terms also matter in this theme of identity that I see threaded throughout John’s biography of Jesus. I use words and terms to both identify myself to others, and to identify other individuals and groups. Those words and terms are layered with the meaning I’ve attached to the term, as well as my opinions, my experiences, and my emotions. The term “Born again Christian” is layered with different meanings to different people.

Which is why I almost chose to ignore it when I read today’s chapter. Writing about the metaphor “born again” feels a bit like walking into a mine field blind-folded. Yet, I found the simple metaphor Jesus shared with Nicodemus to resonate deeply within me. Jesus wasn’t talking about politics, religion, or a particular demographic therein.

I believe that Jesus was using the transformational experience of physical birth to describe an equally transformational spiritual experience to which He was leading people. I’ve experienced it. I’ve known many others who have experienced it. It’s at once simple and yet hard to explain. I imagine it’s not unlike Jeff Bezos or Sir Richard Branson trying to describe the experience of weightlessness to my earthbound mind that has never experienced it.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself trying to strip away all of the layers of meaning and emotion that our culture attaches to the term “born again.” Like U2 trying to steal Helter Skelter back from what Charles Manson made of it, I want to get back to a simple word picture Jesus gave to a spiritually blind religious man.

“You were born physically, Nick. But there’s also a Spirit birth that you have yet to experience. Don’t you see? You’re spiritually trapped in the womb of your earthbound humanity. Once you’ve experience your Spirit birth, you’ll be an infant with an entirely new Life open to you to experience. A new identity. Old things will pass away. Entirely new things will come to you.”

Two Sides of Jesus

Two Sides of Jesus (CaD John 2) Wayfarer

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing…”
John 2:6 (NIV)

In yesterday’s opening chapter of John’s biography of Jesus, I shared that identity is a core theme of John’s narrative.

  • John identifies Jesus as the embodied, eternal Word through which all things were created, whom John himself saw glorified.
  • John identifies Jesus as a spiritual bookend to Moses; The law came through Moses, while grace and truth came through Jesus.
  • John the Baptist identifies himself as not the Messiah, but one who “comes before” and “a voice in the wilderness” preparing the way.
  • John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
  • Jesus identifies his first disciples and gives Simon a new identity, as “Peter.”

In today’s chapter, John chooses two episodes to begin introducing the reader to Jesus. I couldn’t help but recall John’s words at the end of his narrative:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

John 21:25 (NIV)

So why did John choose these two episodes? First, Jesus acts out of His divinity. He gives in to His mother’s request to salvage a wedding feast for the host by miraculously turning water into wine. In the second, Jesus acts out of His humanity at the Temple in Jerusalem. He overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple courts and creates a small riot.

I spent some time meditating on these two stories, and I found them to be a fascinating contrast which identifies two important aspects of Jesus’ person. Jesus channels divine power to extend compassionate generosity to a common, everyday person stuck in a very human social dilemma. John doesn’t even identify the bride, the groom, or the family who found themselves on the cusp of social humiliation by running out of wine for their guests. What a very ordinary human dilemma for Jesus to solve by miraculously producing 180 gallons of wine (and not just your average table wine, He produced the “good stuff”).

In the second episode, Jesus sets Himself against human corruption that polluted the religious institution and Temple system. The leaders of the Temple had a racket going. They extorted money and lined their pockets from poor religious pilgrims who came from all over the world to offer ritual offerings and sacrifices, forcing them to exchange Roman or other currency into Temple currency (plus taxes and fees, of course). No miracle here. Jesus very humanly channels His inner challenger to fire a shot across the bow of the powerful, religious racketeers. It is the opening shot of a three-year conflict that will end with the racketeers’ conspiracy to commit the legally sanctioned murder of Jesus.

Miraculously divine compassion for a common, everyday nobody.

Courageous human action against a corrupt “kingdom of this world.”

And even in the water-to-wine miracle, there exists a powerful metaphor that connects these two episodes. The “six stone jars” Jesus had the wedding attendants use were intended to be used by the religious leaders for their “ceremonial washing” water. The religious leaders will later accuse Jesus of refusing to follow their prescribed ritual “washing.” They will also accuse Jesus of being a drunkard. Jesus uses the water jars used for the religious leaders’ hypocritical cleansing to produce 180 gallons of “new wine.” And, I also can’t forget that there were six jars, and the number six is identified in the Great Story as “man’s number.” Man’s institutional religious hypocrisy is transformed into divine kindness and compassion for a nameless, poor commoner.

  • Fruitful acts of divine love and compassion towards others
  • Bold defiance of institutional corruption and hypocrisy

In the quiet this morning I find myself desiring to embody these two characteristics that John identifies in Jesus.

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

Just Like My Ol’ Man

Just Like My Ol' Man (CaD John 1) Wayfarer

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
John 1:12-13 (NIV)

I was on my first major business trip since covid this past week. While on the road and having some extra time on my hands, I continued a seemingly endless task of organizing a massive archive of personal and family photos. Yesterday, I posted a photo on social media that I came across during this process. It’s a photo of my parents taken in 1976. Friends were quick to comment how much I look like my father, a reality that has become increasingly obvious the further I progress on this earthly journey.

Dean and Jeanne Vander Well, Le Mars, IA, January 1976

Identity is a theme at the very heart of John’s biography of Jesus. In fact, it’s present throughout the opening chapter on a number of levels.

At the time of the original Jesus movement, the followers of Jesus were navigating two prevailing schools of thought: Jewish and Greek. It happened that philosophers in both schools chewed on a concept of the Greek word, logos which is literally translated as “word” but was understood to metaphorically mean something much greater in importance.

The Greeks understood logos to be a rational principle that governs all things. Jewish scholars, on the other hand, considered logos to be the “word” of God which created the world and governs it, equating it to the eternal “law” which existed before creation and was revealed to humanity through Moses.

In the opening of his first-hand witness account of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, John submits to his readers a “yes, and.” The eternal Logos is eternal, creator, provider of life and light, sustainer, and was made “flesh and blood” and came to live in the neighborhood.

The fact that this happened, John goes on to explain, has important ramifications for me: the opportunity to be transformed into the spiritual progeny of the divine. John foreshadows what Jesus will tell Nicodemus a couple of chapters into his account: there is a spiritual birth that is every bit as real as the physical one I experienced. There is a spiritual life that is every bit as real as my physical one. There is a spiritual family that is every bit as real as my physical one, complete with resemblance to my Father.

I love John’s version of Jesus’ story. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each have their own takes. John’s was written about 30 years later than the other three. John, the only one of The Twelve to live to old age and die a natural death (the rest were killed for their faith), is writing from a place of deeper wisdom and greater life experience. He has witnessed the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic claim that not one stone of Jerusalem’s temple would remain standing. He has grieved the deaths of all his companions. He sees with greater fullness and discernment all that Jesus had said and done. And he communicates it in a beautifully themed and structured work that was lifetime in development.

It was just over 40 years ago that I experienced the spiritual “birth” John introduces in today’s chapter. I look back with deeper wisdom and far more life experience than I had in the heady days of my youth. The DNA that gave me a striking resemblance to my father has been passed on to two generations. When Taylor did one of those online apps that shows you “what you look like as the opposite sex” she discovered that she’s basically a female version of me. Likewise, I found a photo of two-year-old me on my grandfather’s lap that looks astonishingly like my grandson Milo.

I’d like to think that the spiritual resemblance to my heavenly Father has become increasingly clear over those forty years, as well:

more loving and less judgmental
more joyful and less pessimistic
more peaceful and less fearful
more patient and less condemning
more kind and less spiteful
more goodness and less selfish
more gentle and less abrasive
more faithful and less dismissive
more self-controlled and less driven by appetites and emotions.

When it comes to who I am in the Spirit, I desire nothing more than to be identified by my resemblance to my Ol’ Man and my brother, Jesus.

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

Give and Live

Give and Live (CaD James 5) Wayfarer

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
James 5:1 (NIV)

The times in which James wrote his letter to scattered believers was tumultuous. Jesus railed against the aristocrat Pharisees and religious leaders who lived in luxury while they exploited the poor. He cleared out the temple moneychangers who were getting themselves and the priests rich by charging poor pilgrims exorbitant exchange rates. Jesus’ criticism and the favor it gained him among the poor and marginalized was what got him crucified. Jesus wasn’t crucified for religious reasons. He was crucified because He threatened the religious racket’s cash cow, and stirred up resentment that already ran deep.

Thirty years later, the situation has not changed. It’s only gotten worse. James was the leader of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. He was well respected as he tried to manage the political powder keg between the Jewish religious leaders, local ruler Herod Agrippa II, and Rome. The gap between rich and poor continued to grow further and further apart. The aristocratic priests lived in spacious homes in the city’s upper city while the poor lived downwind of the local sewers. Exorbitant taxes pushed poor farmers out of business and wealthy landowners took over everything. The rich sided with the Romans in an effort to keep stability. This gave the poor more reason to hate them. Tensions were high, and about to spill over.

Reading today’s chapter with this context, it’s easy for me to feel James’ situation. The Jesus Movement exploded in part because it addressed the disparity of members. The wealthy generously gave. The poor and marginalized were welcome at the table with the rich and noble. James calls out the wealthy who are exploiting the poor. He calls on poor believers to persevere in chaotic, desperate circumstances. His instructions are about maintaining simple, daily ritual: Keep praying, keep praising, keep healthy, and stay in community with other believers. Pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the current chaotic times are a cakewalk compared to what it would have been like to be a poor day laborer in Jerusalem back in James’ day. History is always good for providing me with much needed context. At the same time, the same general principles and forces are at work today as they were then. Generosity, equality, deference and humility are still the tangible ways that the love of Christ is to flow through me to others. As a follower of Jesus, I’m to live out my faith daily in simple rituals that channel those same values. I’m called to view my current earthly circumstances in the eternal perspective of the Great Story.

James’ warnings in today’s chapter were incredibly prescient. The rich in Jerusalem continued to hoard more and more wealth. The rich priests withheld tithes from poor priests, forcing them into day labor. There were 18,000 day laborers who worked to finish construction work on the temple who didn’t get paid. James was condemned by the religious leaders and stoned to death. In 66 AD a revolt broke out. Priests and the Roman Garrison on the Temple mount were massacred. The four-year revolt against Rome would end in 70 AD when the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed it along with the temple.

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)

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

“Damned Spots”

"Damned Spots" (CaD James 4) Wayfarer

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:8 (NIV)

There is a classic scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Lady Macbeth and her husband murder the King of Scotland who is spending the night in their home. Macbeth had received a prophetic word that he would be King. The King unexpectedly shows up for a visit on his travels through the region. The couple decide that it’s their place to make the prophecy come true. They murder the King.

In classic Shakespearean story-telling, the murder successfully launches a chain of events to put Macbeth on the throne. It also launches a chain of events that destroy the couple.

In the final act, Lady Macbeth is descending into madness. Her servant notes that Lady Macbeth often walks in her sleep and acts strangely. She and a physician watch together as Lady Macbeth, sleepwalking in the middle of the night, struggles to wash the blood of her victim off her hands…

Out, damned spot! out, I say!-
…who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.

What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!

Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so
pale.–I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he
cannot come out on’s grave.

To bed, to bed! there’s knocking at the gate:
come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s
done cannot be undone.–To bed, to bed, to bed!


Macbeth Act 5 Scene 1

Almost anyone who has committed awful acts can attest to the fact that a guilty conscience can really do a number on you. I know this because I write from personal experience. Along my life journey, my hands have been stained with the consequences of my own willful transgressions. I remember the pit of despair, the sleepless nights, the heaviness of soul that reverberates with Lady Macbeth’s question: “What? Will these hands ne’er be clean?”

In today’s chapter, James begins by calling out those who have allowed unchecked passions, appetites, greed, and selfishness to lead to transgressions and the dark consequences of the soul that accompany them. James urges:

Come near to God, and he will come near to you.

Like the Prodigal Son, like Lady Macbeth, when I wallowed in the slop of my own making and wrung my hands in hopes of washing away the stains, it was futile exercise. It was only when the Prodigal returned home and “came near” to his Father that things began to change.

Wash your hands…

Notice that the washing of hands comes after the “coming near.” This is not a coincidence because it’s not me doing the washing. It was Jesus who washed my feet of the dirt of where I’ve been. It is the Living Water that springs up to wipe the stubbornly stained conscience clean.

In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul addressed those among the local gathering who had once been immoral, adulterers, drunkards, and slanderers. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Purify your hearts

Purification from my sins not something I did. It was something Jesus did for me. Once again, like the Prodigal, all I did was to come near and confess.

And, as John wrote to the followers of Jesus: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I found myself, like the woman caught in adultery. One moment I was lying in the naked shame of what I had done. The next moment I find that Jesus had not condemned me, but had washed me, purified me, and given me a clean start.

“Go,” He said, “and don’t go back to those dark, dirty places.”

This is what I found crucial to understanding the way of Jesus. The repentance, or turning away from sin, was not the result of being shamed, condemned, and/or threatened. It was the result of experiencing Jesus’ kindness as He washed my stains clean and purified my spotted soul when I didn’t deserve it.

Macbeth and his Lady, I’m afraid, did not experience this grace and forgiveness. Lady Macbeth dies, leaving her husband to cynically reflect on their lives, the futile mess they’d made of things, and the meaninglessness he finds of it all:

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that in the deepest and darkest stretches of my journey, I was afforded the grace to “come near” to Christ and experience my “damned spots” washed clean.

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

Peeling the Onion

Peeling the Onion (CaD James 3) Wayfarer

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
James 3: 14 (NIV)

I have discovered along my spiritual journey that spiritual growth is a lot like peeling an onion. Every time I work to peel off a layer of pride and selfishness in my life, there’s always a deeper layer waiting underneath. Motives, thoughts, behaviors, and/or actions that I never even perceived or considered before. As the prophet, Jeremiah, stated, there is no end to our sinful human natures.

In my pursuit of spiritual progress, I’ve learned that self-awareness is an essential ingredient. I am consciously and consistently attempting to monitor my feelings, thoughts, desires, and appetites. As I do so, I begin to see patterns emerge, which typically lead me to important discoveries about myself.

Wendy is an audiobook and podcast junkie. Whenever she’s doing something by herself, her ear bud is in and she’s listening to something. We typically have conversations about things we’ve been reading, listening to, and thinking about. I began to notice an intense negative reaction in my spirit whenever Wendy would speak about certain authors and podcasters. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard style reaction. As I became aware of these feelings, it begged the question:

What is that about?

Time to start peeling back another layer of the onion.

I contemplated my intense negative feelings and I made two important connections. First, this person Wendy mentioned she was listening to was currently an “It” person in popular culture. It wasn’t just Wendy mentioning the name. It was a name I was hearing mentioned from multiple people in my circles of influence. Second, this was a person I’d never even heard of until recently and suddenly this person had what seemed a proportionately huge mindshare of people around me.

So, what? Why did this seem to irritate me so much? Next, I began to contemplate what I know about myself.

I’m an Enneagram Type Four, which means that my core motivation is to find purpose and/or significance.

Could it be that my reaction was nothing more than envy that this person has successfully achieved a level of significant influence that I never have and never will?

Is it possible that my self-awareness has observed a very human reaction rooted in jealousy?

Am I witnessing selfish-ambition at work in me, desiring the purpose and significance another person has found at the expense of contentment in the purpose and significance to which I am called?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Mea culpa.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

In today’s chapter, James urges Jesus’ followers not to “harbor” bitter envy and selfish ambition. (Note: the Greek word translated “harbor” is echo. There’s more to unpack there.) This is where self-awareness leads to growth. Ever since making this discovery about myself, I’ve begun to not just feel these emotions when they occur, but to actually process them. First, I confess to the emotion and it’s root cause in me. Second, I remind myself of the path and purpose to which I’ve been called and led in my own journey. Finally, I typically say a silent prayer of blessing and gratitude for this person and the good purposes God has for them, and then express gratitude for the person I am, and purposes God has for me. I then confirm my desire and commitment to fulfill those purposes, no matter what they may be, for God’s glory.

This process has helped me to stop harboring envy and selfish ambition, and to send them sailing off into the sea of forgetfulness.

Another layer peeled.

On to the next.

Pressing on.

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

Counter-Cultural

Counter-Cultural (CaD James 2) Wayfarer

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James 2:13 (NIV)

This past week, as I traversed America, I had numerous daily encounters with numerous people. Many of them were momentary interactions, but I couldn’t help but notice that people were almost universally kind, conversational, and cheerful no matter the age or the color of their skin. When I realized that I’d left my phone in the car of a friend, I was amazed at how quickly complete strangers offered to let me use their phone and immediately offered to help me above and beyond what I expected.

Early Saturday morning I was filling the car at a Shell gas station outside Memphis, Tennessee. I was engaged by the black guy in his security guard uniform at the pump next to mine. I asked if he was going to work or getting off. We talked about music. He loves jazz, just like me. He was driving away while I was still pumping gas. He pulled up, rolled down his window, and wanted to show me a pair of bluetooth speakers he uses in his car because of the quality of sound he gets out of them. We chatted some more. Nice dude. Our conversation was a pick-me-up to start the day.

There is a young lady on social media who posts a daily video teaching the language of Scotland. Only a few seconds long, she typically defines a word and then uses it in a sentence. It’s a quirky little thing that I find engaging. In the last week or so she posted a video responding to the mean-spirited and vicious comments people had made on her posts. I simply can’t understand why anyone would be so vile. She’s not being political. She’s not talking about any issues. She is simply teaching people a Scottish word. Seriously. If you don’t like it, scroll on.

I’m observing more-and-more that there is a level of anger, meanness, and vitriol that people feel comfortable expressing in the rather anonymous online world. People feel free to be snarky, rude, and downright brutal. Because online news allows for comments to any story, Wendy and I often will glance at what people have posted at the end of a news piece we’re reading each morning during breakfast. We’re often shocked at how bombastic and ugly people can be over issues that are relatively insignificant.

There’s a contrast there that struck me on my road trip last week. Maybe it was because I hardly spent any time on social media last week. At the same time, I had far more random and personal interactions with humans than normal, especially after a year of COVID quarantine. Every one of those pleasant, cheerful, and kind interactions lifted my spirit more than I would have ever expected.

In today’s chapter, James instructs followers of Jesus not to show favoritism. He particularly calls out the favoritism that is often shown to rich-and-powerful individuals at the expense of the poor-and-marginalized. One of the calling cards of the early Jesus Movement was the fact that everyone was welcome at the table regardless of gender, race, politics, or socio-economic status. James tells the followers of Jesus now scattered among the nations to continue engaging others without judgment or pre-judgement. Rather, others are to be shown mercy. In the Great Story, it is kindness that leads people to repentance, not judgment or condemnation.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of the simple power that mercy, kindness, goodness, and gentleness can generate. This is especially true when they are exemplified in a time and culture in which cancelling, condemnation, contempt, and coarse discourtesy run amok.

I choose this day to be counter-cultural by choosing to show mercy others, and to be kind.

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