Tag Archives: Church

Source, not Compensation

Source, not Compensation (CaD Mk 1) Wayfarer

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:11 (NIV)

Looking back on my life journey, it’s obvious to me that my early thirties were an important stretch of road. My late teens and early twenties were a period of being cocksure of myself. Entering marriage, fatherhood, and adulthood in my early twenties was, for me, a heavy dose of reality. The side-effects of that reality dosage led to a period of intense personal chaos which eventually led to intense introspection, and this eventually led to a more healthy sense of what psychologists would call my individuation. In the parlance of our times, as the Dude would say, I grew up. I became my own person.

As I trekked through that time of life, I began to inspect my family of origin with a critical eye. As with any human system, there were shortcomings which I had to honestly acknowledge, address, and forgive. But I also discovered strengths which had to be equally acknowledged, addressed, and appreciated.

It was during this time of life that I began to witness a common soul wound that effected a number of my male friends. They had never experienced a father’s love. Never had their ears heard the words “I love you” uttered by their dad. Never had they received a word of affirmation, encouragement, or paternal pride. “The old man” had simply been a stoic source of silence, or constant criticism, or unattainable expectations. The result was a seemingly adult male who was, in reality, the walking wounded endlessly striving to earn a blessing that was hopelessly beyond price.

It was this observation that gave me a much needed contrast in my own process of individuation. Every day of my childhood ended with a hug and kiss from my parents and an “I love you.” My father, as well as my mother, was present, loving, affectionate, proud, and trusting. So much so, in fact, that I was blind to it. I took it for granted. I had no idea how priceless of a gift it was.

With today’s chapter, my chapter-a-day journey embarks on Mark’s biography of Jesus. It is the shortest of the four Jesus Stories contained in the Great Story. It is believed to be the earliest to have been written. Mark, also known as John Mark, was a colleague and assistant to both Peter and Paul. Mark’s mother was one of the circle of women who followed and supported Jesus’ ministry. The early believers met in her home. It is believed that Mark’s biography is his compilation of the stories Peter told as they traveled and taught others in the first century.

It is also believed that a curious side note of Mark’s biography of Jesus was, well, autobiographical. It’s found in his description of Jesus’ arrest:

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

This somewhat comical detail stands out, in part, because Mark’s biography of Jesus is short on details compared to Matthew, John, and Luke. It is a condensed compilation of stories, especially in the early chapters. A dramatization of today’s chapter would contain eight different scenes. That’s a lot of material to chew on in one quiet time.

What resonated most with me this morning was the scene of Jesus’ baptism in which all members of the Trinity are present. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mark the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry and the Father’s voice from heaven declares His love and pleasure with His Son, Jesus. What always stands out to me is that Jesus hasn’t done anything yet.

He hasn’t successfully faced temptation.
He hasn’t hasn’t preached his first sermon.
He has no disciples.
He hasn’t healed anyone.

Jesus has been ritually dunked by His cousin, John. That’s it.

“That’s m’boy,” says the Father. “Man, I love Him. Couldn’t be more proud. It’s such pleasure to be this kid’s Dad!”

Years ago I made this same point during a message I was giving among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One listener accosted me after the service to take issue with this.

“He was thirty years old,” this person exclaimed. “He’d done stuff!”

This individuals insistence quickly made clear to just how wounded their soul was. They could not fathom parental love, pride, or pleasure that had not been demanded, earned, and merited. I have observed along my life journey that much of religious Christianity suffers from this wound. Churches talk about grace (literally, unmerited favor) while demanding that members faithfully earn the system’s social acceptability by carefully being obedient to the silent rules of dress, speech, relationships, and public behavior. In a meritocracy, love, pride and pleasure are a carrot dangled as motivation. They are to be dearly earned through strict obedience.

Not Jesus’ family system. Love, pride and pleasure are the source of the motivation. The divine love and relational intimacy of the mysterious One-is-Three and Three-is-One is what fueled Jesus’ ministry, His mission, His service, and His sacrifice.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful to my father and mother for modeling love. It has mades it easier for me to understand this essential truth about Jesus’ message: Love is the source not the compensation. It is there. It’s right there. All I have to do is believe, receive, and make room. “We love because He first loved us.”

Perhaps the single-most important lesson of my life journey, thus far, was the realization that God’s eternal love, complete forgiveness, and total acceptance was not the result of my “doing stuff” or not “doing stuff.” It is a gift to be simply received. The realization of just how priceless that gift is has been the greatest motivation of my life and has led me to “do stuff” for forty years, like writing this post.

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

About Knowing

About Knowing (CaD Ps 141) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Change and Health

Would you rather listen? Subscribe to The Wayfarer Podcast Now on Your Favorite App!

Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

Psalm 108:2 (NIV)

Do you ever have random conversations that stick in your memory? I was on a trip with a colleague. While aware that we are each followers of Jesus, we didn’t talk about spiritual things very often. My colleague comes from a very conservative, almost fundamentalist viewpoint on things and he surprised me by wanting to ask my opinion about the weekly worship among the institutional church where he was a member.

It happened that my colleagues tribe had recently made the switch from a very traditional worship experience that involved singing traditional hymns, many of them having been in existence for hundreds of years. The church was migrating to using songs of the present-day genre. He was clearly struggling with this.

I have shared many times that I have been a spiritual wayfarer who has experienced and participated in a rich diversity of spiritual traditions. I have been in the emotionally rockin’ pentecostal tradition, the corporate silence of the Quaker Meeting House, the high-church liturgy of Roman Catholic church, the call-and-response of the black church, the intellectual approach of mainline institutions, the simplicity and sincerity of rural worship in a developing country, and the down-home family environment of a “house church.” My attitude has never been to ask “Which is right?” In fact, I’ve never really worried about asking “Which is right for me?” I’ve always tried to be fully present where I have been been led and ask myself “What good can I gain from this experience?”

I am aware, however, that my colleague has a more black-and-white view of both faith and life. The change in music genres within his local gathering had him rattled.

Colleague: “I’m struggling with these ‘seven-eleven’ songs. It’s the same seven lines sung eleven times.”

Me: “You mean like Psalm 117 that only has two lines which were likely repeated in worship?”

Colleague: “It’s just so repetitive. Singing the same thing over and over.”

Me: “You mean like Psalm 136 that repeats ‘His love endures forever’ twenty-six times?”

Colleague: “It’s not right. They take little pieces of a great hymn and mess it up by changing it. It was meant to be sung in its entirety!”

As this point, I could have pointed my colleague to today’s chapter, Psalm 108, because the entire thing is simply a cut-and-paste mash-up of Psalm 57:7-11 and Psalm 60:5-12. In fact, there are multiple examples both in the Psalms and in the writings of the ancient prophets when entire sections would be cut-and-pasted into an updated work. There are also examples of this in other ancient Mesopotamian cultures. It was quite common.

I don’t really know how the conversation landed with my colleague. I could tell that he was disappointed (maybe even a little frustrated) that I didn’t agree with him and provide him an affirmation of his opinions. He never brought it up again.

In my life, I have found change to be really difficult for people in almost any circle of life. When you mix in both change and religious tradition it can take on an added layer of emotion. Suddenly the change gets escalated to a level of religious orthodoxy. Sides are taken. The discussion escalates to arguments. Then comes entrenchment. Very often the next step is the severing of relationships. Groups split.

Along my spiritual journey, I have always assumed that change is a natural part of creation. Most things in life cycle in one way or another. What goes around comes around. Styles come back around and get freshened up. Religious traditions and practices that were once abandoned as “old and outdated” come back in vogue to bless a new generation of Jesus’ followers.

So it is that as I watch the changes that constantly happen around me on multiple levels, I try to keep my emotional reactions in check. Instead of digging in my heels and demanding that my love of the perfectly acceptable way of doing things is understood, I try to divert my energy to asking “What good might be gained from this change?”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded of a mantra that I was introduced to by my friend. It made its way around the internet and I am unsure of the source. I once used it in a message, but I don’t know that I’ve ever referenced it in one of my chapter-a-day posts. It’s always stuck with me:

Healthy things grow.
Growing things change.
Change challenges me.
Challenges force me to trust God.
Trust leads to obedience.
Obedience makes me healthy.
Healthy things grow.
..

That’s Qadosh

That's Qadosh (CaD Ps 99) Wayfarer

Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.
Psalm 99:9 (NIV)

While being in quarantine has frustrated my extroverted need for interpersonal interaction over the past ten days, I have also been mindful each day to appreciate the opportunity it has afforded Wendy and me to spend lots of time with our grandson, Milo, who normally resides across the pond in Scotland. Yesterday, my exercise monitor informed me that I’d set a new personal record for exercise in one day. If you’re having a hard time getting into that New Year’s workout routine, I suggest finding someone to loan you their three-year-old for a few days.

One of the more endearing developments during our extended time together has been Milo’s desire to go to sleep at night in Papa and Yaya’s bed. Last night, Wendy and I climbed onto the bed with Milo between us. We read three books together, then turned out the light. We sang softly in the darkness. Wendy reached over Milo and held my hand as we lay and sang with Milo nestled between us. Even with my hearing impairment, I could hear Milo’s deep breaths as he drifted to sleep. We then whispered a prayer over him before slipping out of the room.

That, my friend, was a special moment. I wanted to just stay in that moment forever. If only I could bottle it up and hold onto it. I immediately knew that it was a memory I will remember and cherish always.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 99, continues in this section of ancient Hebrew praise songs. They were likely used for liturgical purposes to call the Hebrews to worship in the temple. The lyricist of Psalm 99 layered this call to praise with metaphorical meaning that casual readers in English would never pick up.

Remember in yesterday’s post/podcast I shared that “everything is connected?” The Hebrews found spiritual connections with numbers. Each number had meaning. Seven was a number that meant “completeness.” Three was a number spiritually connected to the divine. There are three stanzas, each with four verses (4+3=7). Seven times the songwriter uses the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh. Seven times he uses Hebrew independent personal pronouns. Three times he refers to God as “holy” (Hebrew: qadosh).

I confess that “holy” is a word, and a spiritual concept, that I failed to fully understand, or flat out got wrong, for most of my journey. The concept of holiness as communicated by the institutional churches I’ve been involved in my whole life made holiness out to be simple moral purity in the utmost sense. The equation was “no sin” plus “going to church” equaled “holiness” (x + y = z). Which meant that holiness, unless you were Mother Theresa, was pretty much unattainable.

I have come to understand, however, that qadosh has a much larger meaning. There are moments in life in which everyone in the room knows there is something meaningful, something special, something larger that is happening in the moment.

Our daughter, Taylor, has an audiotape of the moment she entered the world in the delivery room. You hear her squeaky cries. You hear Dr. Shaw announce it‘s a girl. You hear me talking to her on the warming table. That moment is qadosh.

Last October I stood with our daughter, Madison, in a courtyard. We watched the congregation stand and turn toward us. The beautiful bride, whom I taught to walk, I now walked down the aisle to “give her away” to the man she loves. People smiled and wept. That moment was qadosh.

I sat in the dark room of the nursing home as my grandmother’s life ebbed away with each strained breath. Through the wee hours I kept watch over her. I held her hand. I sang her favorite hymn. I read the final chapter of the Great Story to her and I realized in the moment that it was like reading a travel brochure for the trip she was about to take. That moment was qadosh.

Last night as Wendy and I held hands and hovered over our peaceful, sleeping grandson lying in our bed. We sang. We prayed blessings over him. It was a holy moment. That’s qadosh.

Throughout the Great Story, when God made a special appearance (theologians call that a theophany) the person to whom God appears is mesmerized, speechless, dumbfounded, or overwhelmed. To be in the presence of God, described by lyricist of Psalm 99 as the royal King of Kings. That moment is qadosh.

When the psalmist calls me to worship, he’s not religiously demanding that I dutifully “go to church” in an effort to attain some pinnacle of moral purity. In fact, when I meditate on the fullness of all the qadosh moments I’ve recalled, then all my old notions of what it means to be “holy” are silly in their triteness. The psalmist is calling me into the mysterious, beautiful, meaningful moment of qadosh.

The Religion Game

Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
    to those who go the right way
    I will show the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50:23 (NRSVCE)

As a child, my family regularly attended church where worship was held with lots of traditional, liturgical pomp. I even got to participate as I sang in the children’s choir wearing my robe. Looking back with understanding, I have an appreciation for the metaphor and intent of all the liturgical devices, even the way the sanctuary was designed and laid out.

I went through the motions like everyone else. Sing this. Proceed to there. Sit down. Stand up. Say this. Sing this. Sit down. Read this. Stand up. Sing this. Sit down. Listen. Stand up. Sing this. Proceed there. Done. It happened every week with very little variation other than the words that were said or sang.

It was regular. It was rote. It was religious.

The problem was, I never thought much about it at all. It was what we did. I checked off the box along with every body else.

As I have ceaselessly journeyed through the Great Story, I’m always struck by the rather exhaustive system of sacrifices, offerings, rituals, and feasts that God dictates to the Hebrews through Moses. As I’ve studied them, I’ve come to appreciate the reason behind them and how they fit together in a cycle that led the Hebrews through specific thoughts and lessons about their relationship with God.

Nevertheless, there is sprinkled through the words of the psalmists and prophets a recurring theme that the people are doing all the things, but they’re hearts aren’t in it. They are making the sacrifices, offering the prescribed things at the prescribed times, going through the rituals, and attending the feasts. It was regular. It was rote. It was religious. The problem was that they weren’t really thinking much about it.

Today’s psalm was written to be sung as part of worship in the temple, but the songwriter, Asaph, is calling God’s people out for their mindless, spirit-less dedication to going through the religious motions. The “thanksgiving” offerings are void of any real gratitude. The real sacrifice, the songwriter says, is a heart full of gratitude to God which motivates all the other rituals.

This was the same thing Jesus found in the religious leaders of His day. They were continually critical of Him for breaking the religious regulation they added to the ancient rules. Jesus repeatedly quoted God through the prophet Hosea to them: “Go and learn what this means,” Jesus said, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”

Jesus was getting at the same thing as Asaph in today’s psalm. Mindlessly going through religious motions is of no real value, and I believe that this is one of the reasons why denominations are imploding and churches are closing in record numbers. Just minutes ago our daughter sent the family a photo she took of an old church she and Clayton visited in a remote area of Scotland this past week. It’s being turned into a brewery. The altar will be the bar. Some of my ancestors would have found that scandalous. I don’t at all. As I have repeatedly written, Jesus made it clear that it was never supposed to be about bricks-and-mortar, but flesh-and-blood. It was never about the ritual, but the relationship. An honest, transparent, love-motivated conversation over a pint might be the most spiritual, Christ-honoring thing to happen in that building in a long time.

Jesus completely changed the game.

We keep changing it back.

“If I Really Believe What I Say I Believe…”

"If I Really Believe What I Say I Believe…" (CaD Ps 26) Wayfarer

O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell,
    and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26:8 (NRSVCE)

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

I used this phrase a few weeks ago as the foundation for a message I gave about resurrection and eternity. It’s a phrase that I utter increasingly in my personal conversations with Life. Along my spiritual journey, I have observed that the institutions of Christianity to which I’ve belonged, along with their respective members, are faithful in reciting what we believe, but our personal beliefs and subsequent behaviors don’t always align with the recitations. Often, this is because of well-worn patterns of thought and belief that are embraced without question.

Jesus came to radically change the way we think about God and relate to both God and others. Instead of believing, embracing, and living out what Jesus taught us, the institutional church largely fell back into ancient patterns of religion. In short, we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

One of the more common ways I’ve observed “stated belief” being incongruent with “true belief” came to mind this morning as I read David’s song lyrics. David states that he “loves the house in which [God] dwells, and the place where [God’s] glory abides.” For David, he is referencing God’s tabernacle/temple which is the central location God asked the Hebrew people to worship.

Jesus changed that. Jesus changed that completely. Jesus tore down the established human concept of “temple” and told His followers to follow an entirely different train of thought.

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

John 2:18-19

You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you? No one will get by with vandalizing God’s temple, you can be sure of that. God’s temple is sacred—and you, remember, are the temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (MSG)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

Jesus shifted the location of God’s dwelling on Earth from a physical building in a central location to the flesh and blood humans in whom His Spirit resides. For the first 300 years after Jesus resurrection and ascension, the followers of Jesus had no buildings. There were no churches. Believers met mostly in homes around a dinner table. God’s temple was the flesh and blood individuals who believed and followed Jesus.

So, if I really believe what I say I believe…

I don’t go to church, I am the church.

Loving God’s house means loving my own body.

When I don’t take care of my body, I’m not taking care of God’s temple.

Treating my body with contempt, neglect, or abuse is a spiritual issue in which I am profaning the dwelling place of God.

Acting one way on Sunday in a church building and another way all week at work or home is evidence that I really don’t believe.

In the quiet this morning, I get why followers of Jesus went back to the old edifice complex. For 1700 years we rebuilt temples made with human hands and ignored one of the fundamental changes Jesus came to make on Earth. We shifted the dwelling place of God from ourselves back to church buildings, cathedrals, and basilicas. In essence, we said:

“No thank you, God. Really. It’s nice of you to want to dwell in me, but I’ve come to realize that it’s so much easier the old way. I’m much happier if your house is a building down the street. If you’re dwelling in me, then there are so many strings attached. That’s a whole new level of expectation, and I’m not sure I’m up for that. I mean, there’s no escape. This whole COVID thing has taught me that sometimes I’m better off having my own space. Seriously, if you dwell in me, all the time, you’re always there. I have to be honest. I’m not sure you want to see me at my worst. I know I don’t want you to see me like that.

“In fact, God. I have to tell you. I’m not all that thrilled with this body you’ve given me. I despise it sometimes. And I know you created it, and that’s just not a conflict I really want to get into because I’m pretty comfortable being self-critical. It’s all I’ve really known.

“So, let’s go back to the old way of doing things, God. Hang out in that building down the street and I’ll visit you on Sundays and holidays. I’ll drop in, sing your praises, say that prayer you taught us, and recite the words on the screen. I’ll even give a few bucks. Is it still tax deductible? Whatever. I’ll give. Let’s just forget this dwelling in me and me. Let’s just keep our boundaries.

Trust me, it’ll be better for both of us.”

If I really believe what I say I believe. Then loving the house in which God dwells takes on a whole new level of meaning.

I’m headed to CrossFit.

Have a great day.

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

Building People

Building People (CaD Ex 39) Wayfarer

They made the rosette of the holy diadem of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.”
Exodus 39:30 (NRSVCE)

As I’ve mentioned many times in these posts, I have been part of many different churches along my spiritual journey. I’ve been part of small rural churches, various types and sizes of denominational churches, and suburban mega-churches. It’s been fascinating to have a plethora of experiences.

I recall being part a very large church who was in building mode. There was a giant fundraising campaign, and I remember being invited to a big dinner where the plans for the building were announced. The plans were impressive to say the least. It would be the largest church in that state with state-of-the art everything inside. One might even say that it was opulent.

I remember speaking with one of the staff members and questioning the grandiosity of plans and whether it was necessary. He pointed me to these past few chapters of Exodus and the design of the Tabernacle with its gold diadem, the priestly breastplate of precious gems, the tent made of expensively dyed cloth, and the ark made of wood overlaid with gold leaf. His point was that God appreciates and desires his temple be richly fashioned.

But, Jesus both lived and taught a very different way:

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Luke 9:58 (NIV)

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John 2:18-20 (NIV)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I believe that having a building to meet in is a good thing. I also believe that people across history have created beautiful works of architecture and artistry in a sincere attempt to honor and glorify God. At the same time, I can’t escape the fact that Jesus never once told His followers to build a building, temple, chapel, sanctuary, cathedral, or basilica. The only time Jesus mentioned building a church He was speaking metaphorically about Peter’s faith being the rock that would be the church’s foundation; Not bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood.

In retrospect, I learned a huge lesson as I observed a pastor and staff driven by an edifice complex that they desperately tried to justify, an edifice they desperately made happen, and a church that eventually imploded from within. Last I knew, the edifice has sat empty and in disrepair for many years.

I keep coming back to the understanding of context as I near the end of this journey through Exodus. I’ve found a lot of spiritual lessons in the 39 chapters of Exodus, but much of the lessons come from understanding what God was doing with Moses and Hebrews in the context of their time and place in history. Like the good religious Hebrew, Paul, the best lessons are in how humanity has grown and matured; How God has matured the relationship and led to a much deeper understanding of the mystery. Exodus has reminded me just how dramatically Jesus changed things and how humanity, myself included, keeps getting stuck and falling back into our ancient patterns of religious thought. Just like that pastor justifying a building that no one needed.

I believe that this spiritual journey has a destination, and as I make progress on Life’s road I’m also supposed to also be progressing in my spiritual maturity and my relationship with God. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Colossae: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” … the Son of Man with no place to lay His head. Jesus, who taught His followers to build people instead of buildings.

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

Sabbath

Sabbath (CaD Ex 31) Wayfarer

[The Sabbath] is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
Exodus 31:17 (NRSVCE)

One of the things that becomes really clear when you read through the Moses story is the emphasis that God placed on the idea of what’s called Sabbath. It’s one of God’s Top Ten rules and God keeps bringing it up, over and over again, and reminding the Hebrew people how important it is to knock off work every seven days. In concept, Sabbath is really pretty simple. The Creation story at the very start of Genesis describes God as having created the universe in six days. Then, on the seventh day, He took the day off and got some rest. Easy. Work six days, then take a day off. Get some rest. Be refreshed.

I have always scratched my head at what a sticking point Sabbath has been for people ever since. I mean, just a few weeks ago Grandma Vander Hart reminded me that God doesn’t want me mowing my lawn on Sunday, and she was quite serious. She also has a thing with tattoos, but that’s a post for another day.

When I grew up, my family were regular church attenders and sincere about God in a general sort of way. Going to church on Sunday was pretty much a given. We had rote prayers for family meals and bedtimes. During Christmas or Lent, mom might make us do the family devotion prescribed by our church which always felt a little awkward. The religious thing was always there, but it wasn’t a pervasive part of life. Sundays were always a restful day. After church mom usually made brunch, and then the rest of the day was spent chilling out. We kind of did Sabbath by default but nobody got uptight about it.

After becoming a follower of Jesus and becoming exposed to the traditions of other families and churches, I learned that this “Sabbath” thing was something certain churches and denominations took very seriously. Mothers prepared all of the Sunday meals on Saturday so they wouldn’t have to work. But that didn’t make sense because they still had to warm it up, serve it to the family, and clean up afterwards. So, I guess women still had to work, but less. I had friends tell me that they literally sat around in their living room with their family doing nothing. Some of them even had to be quiet. Maybe they got to read, but some couldn’t watch television because that meant you were making someone else work to entertain you and that was considered “conspiracy to commit Sabbath-breaking” in their religious code.

As I started to try and study and understand it, it got so confusing because the 7th day of the week was prescribed as the Sabbath. We read it again today! I knew my Jewish friends treated Saturday as “church day” but all the Christian churches I knew treated Sunday (which is the first day of the week) as the Sabbath day. When I asked about this I was told that when Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, the Sabbath changed to Sunday in the Christian tradition, but I knew for a fact that wasn’t anywhere in the Bible. After the resurrection, there’s not one shred of evidence that Jesus said, “Hey boys, we’re going to make an official Sabbath switch.” In fact, the record states clearly that the Twelve continued to follow all of the Hebrew traditions. So, these same people who were being ultra-legalistic and literal about obeying the Sabbath weren’t literal or legalistic at all about obeying the Sabbath on the only day prescribed for the Sabbath in scripture!

Sabbath confusion and conflict has been around forever. It started with the Hebrews and Moses and it was still causing conflict when Jesus showed up. Jesus was perpetually hounded by the religious leaders about keeping the Sabbath. If Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath He got in trouble. If His disciples picked a fig off a tree as they were walking by He got in trouble. And each time it came up, Jesus brushed it off. In fact, He made a point of healing someone on the Sabbath just to make it clear to the religious fundamentalists when He said: “The Sabbath was made to help humans. Humans weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.”

And, in the quiet this morning I’m reminded that this was the point. The Hebrews in Moses’ day had been slaves for hundreds of years. They never got a day off. The concept of a day of rest was foreign to them. They were an agrarian people with farms and livestock, and it’s easy to become a workaholic when there are fields and animals that need constant tending. When you’re so focused on your work all the time, you have very little physical, mental, or spiritual energy left. It’s unhealthy on multiple levels. What did Jesus say were the two commands from which all the others flow?

  1. Love God with everything you got. But if I’m working all the time then God ends up getting little or nothing from my depleted body, mind, and soul.
  2. Love others as you love yourself. But, if I’m working all the time then I’m really not loving myself well, and everyone around me gets nothing of me but what meager leftovers of self I have left.

I’m also reminded of observing how the legalism and fundamentalism I experienced early in my spiritual journey created really sad, angry, and bitter people whose lives, and even their worship, appeared to me to be void of anything close to resembling peace, love, or joy. I observed that what it did create were people driven to keep up religious appearances in public while sneaking around doing what they shouldn’t in secret.

This is exactly what Jesus came to free us from. And Sabbath is a great foundational lesson. It’s easy. We each need regular rest, relaxation, and relationship with our fellow sojourners on life’s road. We need to stop work for a day and fill the life tank with a good meal, some meaningful conversation, playing together, laughing together, and sharing of life together. Sabbath is about lifting the burdens and the drudgery of everyday life, not adding to it.

And, speaking of Sabbath, it’s the 4th of July holiday weekend coming up here in the States. Wendy and I will be doing a little extended Sabbath, exactly as I just described, with a couple of other families who are dear friends. So, I’ll be taking a few days off of blogging.

I hope you experience some Sabbath, as well, my friend. And, experience it in the fullness of the way God always intended it. Cheers!

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

The Church’s Blueprint

The Church's Blueprint (CaD Ex 27) Wayfarer

You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly.
Exodus 27:20 (NRSVCE)

I was raised attending a Methodist church that many would describe as “high church.” The sanctuary was designed to reflect the ancient churches of Europe complete with stained-glass and a pipe organ. In the center was an altar raised so that one had to ascend to it. Above the altar hung a giant cross and from the cross hung what appeared to be a candle holder, but was actually an electric light bulb that was always illuminated.

In today’s chapter of Exodus, God continues to give Moses very intricate and detailed plans for the traveling temple that the Hebrews will build for worship and sacrifice. Todays chapter describes the altar on which sacrifices would be burned and an oil lamp that would be placed outside the entrance to the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant was held. The lamp was to burn continuously, an eternal flame.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. An altar? A lamp that burned continuously? Those were front-and-center elements of the church in which I grew up. And yet, when I became a follower of Jesus (in contrast to simply being a member of my church) and I read Jesus’ actual words, I found it interesting that Jesus never gave instructions for church buildings and altars and choir lofts and pipe organs. Nowhere in all the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John are there Exodus-like instructions for the construction of a church, cathedral, basilica, sanctuary, altar, or an eternal flame.

In part, this is because the followers of Jesus were originally part of the Hebrew tribes and they continued to worship in the Hebrew tradition. But, as Jesus’ followers fulfilled their mission to take the message of Jesus to the world, the Hebrew believers became outnumbered by the non-Hebrew followers. Many of the letters that make up what we call the New Testament address the division and the conflict that followed. Nevertheless, the Jesus movement had no church buildings for the first three hundred years, though there were gathering places. It was only after the Jesus Movement became the institution of the Holy Roman Empire in the fourth century that churches were built for all the citizens of the Roman Empire who dutifully obeyed Emperor Constantine and signed up to become members of the new state religion: Christianity.

The Roman Empire then built churches, cathedrals, and basilicas and borrowed the basic elements of all the religions they knew including altars, lamps, candles, and incense. Fast forward 1700 years and we who belong to Christian institutions around the world continue to think of “church” a the local building where we sign-up for membership and gather to worship.

I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Jesus that I quoted in yesterday’s post in which He said that He would “destroy the Temple and raise it in three days.” That was the point of yesterday’s post, and the further I get into the description of the Hebrew Tabernacle the clearer it comes into focus for me. Jesus never gave His followers blueprints for building the church because the church was never meant to be a building. Jesus didn’t tell His followers to go to church. He told them to be the church.

Jesus promised to be wherever two or three believers gathered, which makes worship possible anywhere.

Jesus never gave instructions for lighting candles or having an eternal flame because He called followers to be the Light of the World through their acts of love for others.

Jesus never gave instructions for an altar because with His death the ultimate sacrifice had been made, once-for-all.

Jesus never talked about the designs for the central location where His followers would gather because the mission was not about gathering, but dispersing to bring God’s Kingdom to earth and to bring Light to dark places.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. A central meeting place for believers to gather and worship is a no-brainer. Jesus prescribed the sacraments. Music, liturgy, and traditions of worship began with Jesus and the Twelve and were part of worship for believers meeting in homes for hundreds of years.

In the quiet, however, I find myself feeling adamant about a few key points. Jesus didn’t ask me to go to church, but to be the church. An altar is not a table in my local church sanctuary, it’s my life itself at home, at work, and wherever I happen to be carrying my cross and sacrificially giving myself to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. The eternal flame is not a 40 watt light-bulb hanging over the altar in a church, it’s the Light of Christ that is supposed to shine through my words, actions, and relationships with others.

I’m back to where I ended yesterday’s post. Not bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood.

If there was a blueprint Jesus provided for design of the church, it would look exactly like me.

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

Losing the Truth of Loss

Losing the Truth of Loss (CaD Ex 22) Wayfarer

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
Exodus 22:21-24 (NRSVCE)

I find it fascinating, as I read the laws of Moses in today’s chapter, that the Hebrews were commanded by God to take care of foreigners living among them, and to take care of socially and economically disadvantaged groups within their society. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene some 1500 years later, the Temple in Jerusalem had become a religious racket (which is why Jesus drove the currency exchange vendors out of the Temple). The religious system prescribed through Moses had become an institution that made money for the the chief priests and religious leaders who then leveraged their power and authority to line their own pockets at the expense of their own people, while they prejudicially looked down on anyone who wasn’t one of them. They religiously kept the rules that made them look pious while finding excuses for ignoring those that might require real compassion and generosity.

One of the reasons the early Jesus Movement grew so rapidly was the fact that Jesus’ followers were radically challenging the social structures of the day. There were no church buildings. They met in homes around the supper table and, at that table, everyone was welcome to sit together. Both women and men, Jews and non-Jews, and even slaves were welcomed to sit at the table with their master. Beyond that, the followers of Jesus took care of those who were socially and economically disadvantaged in the society of that day including widows, orphans, and lepers.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome a few hundred years later, the Jesus Movement became a powerful religious and political institution almost overnight. The good news is that Christians would no longer be persecuted and fed to the lions in the Roman Circus. The way was paved for sincere teachers and theologians to meet together, debate, and establish core doctrines. With the authority of the Roman Empire, there was an opportunity for real change.

Interestingly enough, what followed was ironically similar to the very things Jesus criticized in the religious leaders of His own people. The movement moved from the supper tables in peoples homes to churches and cathedrals, which required a lot of money. Generosity to disadvantaged groups was curtailed as funds were shifted to lining the pockets of the church leaders and their churches and residences. Women were once again diminished as male dominance was established within the institution. Those who threatened the emerging orthodoxy, like the desert fathers and mothers, were branded heretics and either killed or forced to flee. Leadership positions in the church suddenly became positions of socio-economic and political power that were bought, sold, and traded by rich, powerful, and connected families. That’s how we eventually ended up with an eleven-year-old pope (Pope Benedict IX).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking a lot of questions. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has spent the last year grappling with the mega-trends we’re seeing in our culture and our world. There are fewer and fewer individuals claiming to be Christians. Churches, especially here in rural and small-town America, are closing for lack of members. Christianity is no longer accepted as the prevailing cultural worldview in our culture, and there is open and growing antagonism as the historic sins and failings of church institutions spark anger and resentment in many circles. Meanwhile, around the world, Christians are being persecuted and killed without earning much attention.

As a follower of Jesus, I find myself wondering if all of this is simply going to lead Jesus’ followers back to our roots. The history of the Hebrews and the history of Christianity both reveal to me that when the heart of God’s message to care for strangers, aliens, and disadvantaged groups is lost amidst the desire for social, economic, and political power, then there is a loss of spiritual potency and legitimacy. I can’t help but believe that the loss of cultural prominence is actually the road back to spiritual progress. The way of Jesus has always been about letting go, giving up, and leaving behind. The diminishment of self for the gain of others is not an optional path for those followers of Jesus who want an advanced spiritual placement. It’s foundational to being a follower at all:

“and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

-Jesus

I think that this has been lost. I confess that as I reflect on my own journey it’s clear that I am as guilty as anyone.

My heart and mind return to yesterday’s post. I want to stop being an ally to Jesus’ teachings and become an accomplice in putting them to work in tangible ways.

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