Tag Archives: Contemplation

Order>Chaos>Reorder

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
Genesis 6:5 (NIV)

Yesterday was a long day, but a very good day. I spent eight hours in the car with a member of my company’s Board of Directors. We drove to Minneapolis for our first in-person Board gathering since January of 2020. It also afforded me and the Board our first face-to-face meeting with a new member of our team. My colleague and I then drove back. It was a festive occasion in which I, as leader of our company, tried to make sure that the joy of being physically together and the opportunity to eat, drink, and share life in one-another’s presence took precedence over the less important, though seemingly more urgent, aspects of business.

“There is a time for every purpose under heaven,” the Sage of Ecclesiastes said. The purpose for this day was to bask for a moment in togetherness and enjoy the ever-living heck out of it.

It was only natural that our free, open, and meandering conversations led to discussions of the current landscape of life on earth. Observations and contemplation flowed around current events, corporate issues, COVID issues, supply chain issues, political issues, and tech issues. I’m personally grateful to have arrived home late last night to report to Wendy that the spirit of love, contemplation, and gratitude brought me home with a full soul despite the weariness of body.

Yesterday’s conversations, however, came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter. The landscape of life, my team members and I discussed, is full of chaos that has us all shaking our heads with both wonder and perplexity.

Yet this is why I love my chapter-a-day journey and my daily contemplation of the Great Story and the flow of eternity. It provides much needed perspective for the acute anxieties of the current moment.

Today’s chapter is the beginning of the four chapters which contain the story of Noah. We’re just five chapters in from the very beginning and just two chapters from the order and goodness of the Garden. How quickly everything has descended into chaos.

This is the first of a recurring cycle of life outside the Garden, “east of Eden,” and the inaugural appearance of a theme that perpetually reoccurs throughout the Great Story, and also my life journey:

Order —-> Chaos —–> Reorder

A marriage typically starts with a well-ordered wedding and honeymoon phase which then leads to the chaos of two very different individuals who are motivated in different ways learning how to reorder their world together. Families start as a relatively stable nuclear family system and can quickly become chaotically disordered by conflict, financial stress, infidelity, a rebellious child, a tragic loss. Sometimes the system is able to find reorder and remain intact. Other times the system splits and finds reorder in the creation of new systems. Businesses launch with an orderly business plan and bright hope for success only to flow into the chaos of competing interests, personality conflicts, and the disruptions of the marketplace that force restructure, reorganization, and renewed vision. Times of relative peace and stability fall into the chaos of societal change, international conflict, and the disruptions of war, drought, famine, disaster, pandemic, or revolution, only to eventually find their way to the next season of relative peace and order.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself encouraged by the simple pleasure of being face-to-face with my beloved colleagues in the same conference room and around the same lunch table. I’m also encouraged by the reminder of this grand macro-level theme of the Great Story. Order, chaos, reorder, is the natural flow of life on earth between the fall of humanity in Genesis chapter three and the new creation of the last two chapters of Revelation. I find that digesting the reality of this theme into my conscience helps me remember, in times of chaos, that the flow of life from order to chaos is a part of life’s reality on this earth, but reorder is a part of that flow as well and it will eventually follow even if it doesn’t look perfectly the way I desire.

On a more micro level, long days on the road for business are always a bit chaotic. I’m grateful to re-enter the reorder of a normal day in the office.

NOTE
A new message from this past Sunday, on Ecclesiastes 3, is now available on the Messages page.

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

Beneath the Text

Beneath the Text (CaD Gen 5) Wayfarer

Enoch walked faithfully with God.
Genesis 5:24

I’ve always been interested in family history. Over the years I’ve learned a great deal, but there’s a point at which the scant evidence of names and dates leave a lot to be desired from a story perspective. My “van der Wel” surname seems to spring from one particular neighborhood in Rotterdam, while the Bloem genes trace back to Gronigen. I have McCoy genes that likely lead back to the McKay clan in Scotland. My Hamblen genes trace back to Virginia during the American Revolution, and then back to England where there’s a knight entombed in effigy in eastern England. Informational clues that leave a lot to the mystery of history.

In the same way, the first 11 chapters of the Great Story are considered “primeval” history. They provide a broad brush sketch of creation and God’s relationship with all of humanity with scant information and a lot of mystery, but there’s plenty of good stuff to mine in the mystery.

For example, numbers and patterns play a role in the telling. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet do double-duty as numbers, and the authors of ancient Hebrew often hide numerical patterns in the writing. The number 10 is associated with harmony and completeness, especially related to humanity. The book of Genesis is divided into ten sections. Ten times in Genesis the phrase “God said…” is used. The genealogies in today’s chapter and again in chapter 11 both list ten generations. God will later deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt through ten plagues, and subsequently provide humanity with ten commandments.

Yesterday’s chapter told of the sin and curse of Cain and then traced his family line to the 7th generation after Adam. Seven is also a number associated with “completeness” but it is more associated with the divine, as in the seven days of Creation. The seven generations of Cain’s line hint at the completeness of God’s divine judgement on the family which remained rebellious toward God in the 7th generation. The 10 generations listed in today’s chapter hint at the complete human family line of Adam that will perpetuate humanity to, and after, the flood.

Then there are the patterns that emerge in the telling. The seventh generation in the line of Cain was Lamech who continued his ancestor’s murderous and rebellious ways. The seventh generation on Seth’s line is Enoch who “walked faithfully with God.” There’s also the fact that Cain, the first born son, was cursed and it was through a younger son, Seth, that humanity was blessed and perpetuated. In human terms, the blessing, power, and position always go to the first-born son, but God’s blessing through the younger son is a pattern repeated through Genesis as well as the Great Story:

Seth over Cain.
Shem over Japheth
Isaac over Ishmael
Jacob over Esau
Judah and Joseph over their brothers
Ephraim over Manasseh
David over his brothers
Solomon over his brothers

The pattern of going against human tradition is a continuous reminder of what God would later say plainly through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

As I always say, God’s base language is metaphor. Today’s chapter is more than a genealogy. It is layered with numbers and patterns that metaphorically speak to the moral contrast between Cain’s family line and Seth’s family, the contrast of divine judgement and blessing, and the contrast of death and life.

On Sunday, I’m giving a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers from Ecclesiastes 3, the passage made familiar to millions by the Byrds: “To everything there is a time and season.” One of the things I plan to discuss is that my own life contains patterns that lead to deeper understanding of self, of family, of life, if I’m willing to search under the surface of simple dates and memories.

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

Is This the End!?

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…
2 Peter 3:14-15 (NIV)

In recent months, I’ve had multiple followers of Jesus who I know to be learned and wise ask me whether I believe the return of Christ will happen in our lifetime. I’ll get to my response in a few moments, but let me explain the question, and why I find it fascinating.

Jesus spoke quite directly about a day when He would return in the final chapters of the Great Story (see Matthew 24-25). At His ascension, Jesus’ followers were told by angels that He would one day return just as He departed (see Acts 1). Naturally, The Twelve asked Him “when” (multiple times). Each time they asked, Jesus responded that the answer to “when” is “hidden” with Father God. Before the ascension, He quite directly told His followers, “It’s not for you to know.”

So, of course, like children being told we can’t play with a certain toy, it only serves to make us want the thing even more. In today’s chapter, Peter addresses those in his generation who desperately wanted know “when,” along with addressing those who scoffed at the notion it would ever happen. And so, I’ve watched people in my generation obsessed with cracking the mystery that the Son of God Himself said was hidden from even Him and “not for you to know.”

And, that’s why I found it intriguing that my wise and learned friends are asking the question to which they and I both understand to be unknowable. Why is this question being asked now? And how do I answer?

First, as an amateur historian, I’ve come to believe that from the time Peter was first scratching out his second letter to today, there has not been a single generation that has not contained individuals convinced that Jesus return and the end times would happen in their lifetime. In addition, the more tumultuous the times (wars, plagues, revolutions, etc.) the more acutely people have felt “this is it!” Furthermore, I have observed in my own lifetime that the older believers get (and feel the impending end of their own life journey) the more they feel anxious about the changes of life and culture in their own lifetime. Thus, as they feel the end of their own earthly journey drawing nigh, they become convinced that the end of all things is near.

Second, and keeping these things in mind, I must also logically conclude that some of the descriptions of life in the end times as revealed in Revelation have never been more possible: cataclysmic natural disasters, events that affect the entire globe, one-word government, one global currency, the entirety of a persons finances and transactions being dictated by some kind of mark on the hand or forehead, and etc. Never in human history have these descriptions been more possible or probable.

So, it makes sense to me that my friends are asking this unknowable question. We are living in tumultuous times while at the same time observing that the events described in the final chapters of the Great Story feel less like spiritual science fiction and more like current events.

When asked the question of “when” by The Twelve, Jesus told them a story of unmarried bridesmaids whose responsibility it was to have their oil lamps filled and trimmed in anticipation of the bridegroom arriving for the wedding. It was their responsibility to provide illumination for the nighttime ceremony, and their lamps illuminated these eligible girls for all the eligible groomsmen and guests looking for a wife! In the story, some of the bridesmaids (like the scoffers of every generation who say, “It’s never going to happen”) got tired of waiting for the groom, and essentially gave up, believing the groom would never show up. But he did, and they were caught off guard. Not only would they be shamed for not upholding their duty, but they would also miss out on finding a husband themselves.

And, that’s my answer.

Are these events going to happen? Yes! Absolutely!

Will they happen in our life time? I don’t know. Silly question.

Am I ready if they do? Yes, of course. That’s what Jesus asks of me. Bring it on!

In the meantime, I wait and walk this journey doing the best I can to love God and love others in increasing measure in hope that others will follow along with me. I’m ready if Jesus should return, unconcerned whether it happens in my lifetime or not, and content not to know the unknowable.

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

Proven Character

Proven Character (CaD Ruth 3) Wayfarer

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Ruth 3:11 (NIV)

At the suggestion of a friend, Wendy and I have been listening to the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill which chronicles the story of a megachurch in Seattle that became one of the largest and most influential churches in America, and then disappeared almost over night. In telling the story of Mars Hill, the podcast also shares a larger story about the history of megachurches in America and their pastors, including Willowcreek in Chicago, where I attended regularly during my college years.

One of the most fascinating common themes of these stories is that of the talented, charismatic pastors who rose to positions of incredible prominence and celebrity status, then had their own very personal and public descent into scandal. The stories reveal a pattern. Very talented and charismatic young men who rocketed into positions of power and leadership in their 20s and 30s, arguably before their characters were fully formed through the process of experience. And, these were churches they themselves started, so the systems that grew up around them protected them and allowed them to fire, threaten, minimize, harass, shame, or marginalize anyone within the system who they didn’t trust or deemed personally disloyal. One said it plainly : “We value loyalty over honesty.”

In today’s chapter, we find Ruth, the widowed foreigner, boldly taking the initiative with Boaz. With suggestions and instructions from her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth dresses herself up in her best outfit and puts on her best perfume. After Boaz has feasted and made merry with this servants in celebration of the harvest, he goes with the other men to sleep by the grain pile to protect it from robbers. Ruth uncovers the feet of Boaz and lies next to him. When he wakes up and asks who is lying there, Ruth asks him to “spread your garment over me” which was a request for Boaz to marry her in fulfillment of his obligation as a guardian-redeemer. Similar customs are still practiced in some middle east cultures today.

Boaz, whom the author has already established as a man of faith and good character, then observes that Ruth has proven herself to be a woman of “noble character” and everyone in the community knows it. What’s interesting is that the Hebrew word for “noble character” is the same that is used in the famous passage of Proverbs 31 which describes an ideal, godly woman. The phrase is the only used three times in the Old Testament: Ruth 3:11, Proverbs 31:10, and Proverbs 12:4.

Boaz then tells Ruth that there is a potential glitch in the matrix. There is an unnamed kinsman-redeemer who is closer in relation. Boaz must defer if the closer relative wishes to redeem Ruth and marry her. He vows to settle the issue immediately, and sends Ruth back to Naomi with a gift of more grain.

One of the themes of this tender story is that each of the main characters behave with proven character. Naomi, in her emptiness tries to do right by her daugthers-in-law. Ruth does right by Naomi and behaves honorably so that an entire community sees her as a woman of “noble character” despite being a foreigner and a widow. Boaz is a man of faith, kindness, generosity, and handles Ruth’s bold request honestly and honorably.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the believers in Rome who were facing persecution:

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

There is a spiritual maturation process that happens in facing trials, difficulties, and suffering in life. Character is not a spiritual gift, nor is it cheaply acquired. Character is developed by walking through the valleys on this life journey, persevering, pressing on, and learning the harsh lessons experience. Boaz is not a young man. Neither is Naomi. Naomi and Ruth are walking through a long, dark valley on life’s road. Each of them is a person of genuine character.

Which brings me back to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and the observation it makes regarding the character issues of young pastors who found themselves in positions of prominence and power relatively early in their life journeys before experience, trial, perseverance, and wisdom could fully develop character which led to tragic ends. I confess that as a young man I admired and was envious of some of these individuals and their success. Looking back from my current waypoint on life’s road, there is no doubt in my mind that had I been in their shoes I would have met a similar, scandalous crash-and-burn. Believe me, I had to experience my own character-honing failures, mistakes, and tragedies in those years. I just didn’t have millions of people watching. And for that, I’m grateful.

“There, but for the grace of God…”

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

More Than “Boy Meets Girl”

More than "Boy Meets Girl" (CaD Ruth 2) Wayfarer

So [Ruth] went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
Ruth 2:3-4 (NIV)

When I told Wendy yesterday that I’d begun the story of Ruth, her response was, “Oh good! I love the story of Ruth!” I was not surprised by this. In fact, I mentioned it because I knew she would be pleased. When Wendy and I were married, we wrote our own vows. Her vows to me included Ruth’s vow to Naomi:

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The story of Ruth often resonates deeply with women. It’s a boy meets girls story, and it is basically an ancient version of the film Pretty Woman. Destitute young woman who is a societal outcast and pariah meets older man of means. As I’m fond of saying: “All good stories are reflections of the Great Story.”

But there’s more going on under the surface of the boy meets girl romance in the story of Ruth. Ruth is a story of redemption, and it’s important for 21st century readers to understand a bit of context.

The early chapters of the Great Story are about God calling one man, Abraham, and growing his descendants into a nation. That doesn’t happen overnight, but over centuries as Abraham’s grandson has twelve male sons/grandsons who become leaders of tribes (the story of Abraham through Jacob and his sons is told in Genesis). Those tribes then become slaves in Egypt for 400 years before Moses led their deliverance. Then God has the difficult task of turning slaves who have had zero autonomy, freedom, or education for generations into a fully functioning nation. To facilitate this, God give them His law through Moses (this story is told in the books of Exodus and Leviticus). What’s utterly fascinating about the law of Moses is that it is an ancient blueprint for how a nation and society should function lawfully and it prescribes ways for managing common societal ills including immigration, incurable and infectious diseases, and poverty. Those issues sound familiar?

Having a blueprint is one thing. Actually convincing a couple of million former slaves in the brutal world of the ancient near east to actually implement it is another. The time of the Judges, in which this Pretty Woman story of Ruth takes place, is a time when the implementation is failing miserably. This new nation remains a tribal system with no central leadership, violent wars and feuds within and without, and little adherence to the laws and blueprint God had given them.

In today’s chapter, we’re introduced the prototype of Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman. We learn that Boaz is a “guardian-redeemer” or “kinsman-redeemer.” This was part of the societal blueprint God gave through Moses. Men in each family clan within each tribe were appointed as “redeemers” to care for those in their clan who’d been dealt a bad hand. The law required leaving part of your field unharvested so the poor in your clan could glean food for themselves. It required the redeemer to buy-back (e.g. “redeem”) clan members who, because of poverty, had been sold into slavery. It required them to help widows of child-bearing years to bear heirs who would then be responsible to care for them so they wouldn’t become a drain on the nation at large. Only, men in the time of the Judges were not known for living up to their responsibility or following the blueprint.

Boaz is far more than just a dashing figure with salt-and-pepper hair who looks good in an Armani suit and Julia Roberts on his arm. The first thing we hear from Boaz is his greeting to his own servants: “The Lord be with you.” Boaz is, first-and-foremost, God’s man, and that lays the foundation for the rest of the story. At a time when not following God and His blueprint led the nation into repeated chaos, violence, war, and tragedy, Boaz represents how when those with status, wealth, and power within the system trust God and faithfully follow the blueprint, they become agents of redemption and the entire society benefits.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about a larger conversation going on right now within our culture in which the Christian church is accused of not following Jesus’ blueprint of caring for “the least of these.” I won’t deny that this is true, though I believe that it is a broad-brush, black-and-white generalization that completely paints over the tremendous work of sincere followers of Jesus, throughout history, who fulfill Jesus’ mission of caring for the marginalized and improving life and humanity on earth.

I also can’t help but think about Boaz. He’s simply one faithful believer who is obedient within his clan. He may not be altering the course of the entire nation in those dark times, but he is altering the course of Ruth, Naomi, his clan, and his community. Boaz is an agent of redemption within his circles of influence. Imagine if there was one Boaz in every clan in every tribe in that day?

I often read the headlines over coffee with Wendy in the morning and enter my day feeling impotent to make a difference in the national and global problems plaguing the world. This morning, I’m reminded that I have the power and ability to be a Boaz.

“Be a Boaz.” That’s the cry of my heart as I enter this day.

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

Dealt a Bad Hand

Dealt a Bad Hand (CaD Ruth 1) Wayfarer

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Ruth 1:20-21 (NIV)

Along my journey, I’ve known many people who I would describe as having been dealt a bad hand in this life. I have experienced multipole stretches of the journey in which I felt I was dealt a bad hand. There are unexpected tragedies, unforeseen illnesses, and circumstances that come out of left field. As I ponder things, I feel as if the entire world got dealt a bad hand the past year-and-a-half. It’s one of the realities of this earthly journey. Despite all the wonderful promises of name-it-and-claim-it televangelists, the Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds us of a hard reality: in this life there are times and seasons when things like death, war, tearing, weeping, searching, relational distance, mourning, and hate are our experience. In every time and season, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

Today we begin the short story of Ruth, one of only two books of Great Story named after women. Ruth is one of a select handful of women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, so her story is a meaningful chapter in the Great Story. It is set in the dark period of time known as the time of the Judges. The story begins with a woman, Naomi, to whom God deals and incredibly bad hand.

There is a famine in the land, and Naomi’s husband leads her and her sons to the foreign land of Moab in a search to find food. At first, it appears that they’re playing their cards right. They settle in, have food, and even find Moabite wives for their sons. There was nothing illegal with Hebrew men marrying Moabite women, though it will certainly raise some orthodox, prejudicial eyebrows if and when they should return home to the little town of Bethlehem (yep, that Bethlehem).

Then there’s a change in seasons, just like the Sage reminds us. Naomi’s husband dies. Then both of her sons die. For a woman in the dark age of the Judges, this was the worst hand God could deal her. Widows had no status, no viable means of income, and there was no social structure to provide for their needs. Naomi’s situation is essentially hopeless.

Naomi recognizes that the situation for her daughters-in-law is not as dire. They are young, beautiful, and have child-bearing years ahead of them. She urges them to “fold” their hand, stay in Moab, and trust that their local Moabite god will deal them a new and better hand. One takes her up on the offer, but Ruth chooses to ante up, stick with Naomi, stick with Naomi’s God, and see this hand through. On the surface, this is a bad decision. Being a Moabite widow in Bethlehem and expecting a positive result is about the longest odds one could imagine in the context of the times.

Sure enough, widow Naomi’s return to Bethlehem with her foreign, widowed daughter-in-law, has the two buzzing with gossip. Naomi sums up her situation by asking people to call her by a different name:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara (which means “bitter”), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Bitter. What a great word for those times when I suddenly find myself playing a bad hand in life. Bitter at God. Bitter with the situation. Bitter that others seem to have it easier than me. Bitter that all the televangelist’s prophesies of my prosperity and the self-help guru’s promises of my success turn out to be null and void. Bitter that God dealt me this hand when He could have dealt me something different.

In the quiet this morning, I feel for Naomi, I mean Mara the Queen of bitter. I find myself recalling some of my top-ten bitter moments of this life journey even as I admit not one of them was nearly as dire or life-threatening as Naomi and Ruth. At the same time, I’m reminded that the Great Story is ultimately a redemption story that is layered with redemption stories. The way stories work, you can’t experience redemption without first experiencing the bitter. The bitter hand is the pre-requisite of redemption. I don’t experience the latter without the former.

It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned along this journey of following Jesus. When dealt a bad hand, never fold, because that assures perpetual bitterness. Playing out my hand is the only path to redemption, even against the longest of odds.

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

“What’s it to You?”

"What's it to You?" (CaD John 21) Wayfarer

When Peter saw [John], he asked [Jesus], “Lord, what about him?”
John 21:21 (NIV)

I grew up fishing with my dad, though I never acquired his love for it. I am too impatient, and was especially so when I was a kid. As a young man, both my body and imagination were too active to sit in a boat for hours waiting for fish to bite. Nevertheless, I do have great memories of doing so.

There is one day in particular that stands out. I was around eleven and Dad and I were fishing on the Canadian side of the boundary waters. We fished a couple of coves on an island we’d never fished before. Oh man, the fish were definitely biting that day. It was unlike anything I’d experienced fishing. It felt like every cast of my Johnson’s Sprite pulled in a fish. In a couple of hours we had our limit, including two or three of the largest fish we’d ever landed. And, we’d thrown a lot of them back. I’ll never forget that day.

I think of that day whenever I read about one of the miraculous catches Jesus facilitated, as in the one in today’s chapter. Jesus told the disciples to go to Galilee and wait for Him there. So they did. And, they waited, and waited, and waited, until Peter couldn’t handle waiting and decided to go fishing. All night they fished, and didn’t catch so much as a minnow. Then the dude on the shore frying up some breakfast yells out to try the right side of the boat. “Voilà!” Suddenly there’s 153 lunkers in the net and the net is too heavy to pull into the boat! I remember that shot of adrenaline and the rush of dopamine flooding through my brain that day dad and I had our big catch.

The boys know in the moment that it’s Jesus on shore cooking breakfast. Peter abandons the boys with the net, dives in, and swims to shore (Did he, perhaps, think for a faction of a second of trying to walk to Jesus on the water?).

John chooses to end his biography with one of the most interesting conversations recorded in the Great Story. Jesus asks Peter to go for a walk, and John follows. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times he commissions Peter to “Feed my sheep.” Peter probably didn’t even understand what Jesus was doing in that moment.

Three affirmations cover the three denials Peter uttered the night of Jesus’ arrest. “Leave your shame behind, Rocky. The Good Shepherd is heading home. You’re the shepherd in charge now.” Jesus then tells Peter to plan on a rough end to his earthly journey. He will be forcefully taken where he doesn’t want to go. He will be stretched out. As the appointed shepherd, they will crucify him, too.

Then Peter does something so human. He looks over at John and asks Jesus, “What about him?”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that we humans have a thing with equity and fairness. I love the idyllic fantasies of everything working out the same for everyone. I so easily fall down the rabbit-hole of envy and jealousy cleverly disguised as political and social righteousness. I so easily grieve when looking over at the grass that appears so much greener on another person’s lot in life.

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve had to submit to the reality that my notions of equity and fairness are not part of the Kingdom economy. That’s why Jesus responds to Peter, “What’s it to you if I have different plans for John? We’re not talking about him, we’re talking about you, Peter. You each have a part to play in this Great Story but the roles are different, your lives and experiences will be different, and your deaths will be different. Peter, you’ll die about thirty years before him. The Romans are going to crucify you. John will live to old age, be exiled to an island, and pen the visions given to him of the final chapters of the Great Story. What’s it to you?”

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a follower of Jesus is that my focus is to be on God’s Kingdom, even on this earthly journey. Not checking-out and biding my time, but rather bringing a Kingdom perspective and mission to all that I am, think, say, and do. Jesus said to “set my heart on things above,” which means my earthly perspective has to change.

Like Peter, I have a journey to walk and a mission to accomplish, but I’ve had to let go of the notion that everyone’s journey looks like mine, or that my mission is going to look exactly like someone else’s. My father was beautifully and wonderfully made to be a gifted accountant, artisan, and patient fisherman. I’m not anything like that, so what’s it to me if dad’s journey looks different than mine, or mine looks different than his?

The good news, Jesus promised, is an equitable eternal homecoming where there is no more sorrow, or pain, or envy, or jealousy. Until then, like Peter, I’m called to contentedly walk my own journey and allow others to walk theirs, even if it appears to me that their journey is better, or easier, or more fun, or [place your favorite envy descriptor here]. I have come to believe that when I look back from eternity, I will see how wrong our human perceptions were with regard to what a “good” life looked like on this world, and also believe my eyes will be opened see all the “good” I experienced but never really saw or appreciated.

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

Namesake

Namesake (CaD John 20) Wayfarer

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
John 20:27 (NIV)

I’m not sure why my parents named me Thomas. Perhaps there was an alliteration piece to it since they already hat Terry and Tim. It’s ironic that the etymological root of the name Thomas meant “twin,” since I wasn’t a twin and brothers are. That always felt like a mistake in my book, though my parents confessed to me that I was an “oops” baby, so there’s been no forethought given to having to name another boy.

As a child, I remember names and namesakes being discussed on the playground and in friend groups. There were certain bragging rights for those who had really cool etymological roots or definitions to their names like “King” or “Mighty Warrior.” Some kids linked their names with famous people who happened to have the same moniker.

Of course, in that playground conversation I always got linked to “doubting Thomas.”

Great.

In retrospect, as an Enneagram Type Four, it was probably prescient that my parents named me the same as Mr. Doubt. I have the deep pessimistic streak that comes naturally to Fours. I have a very vivid memory of my mom rolling her eyes at me in frustration and exclaiming, “You’re such a pessimist!” (I didn’t know what it meant at the time.) So perhaps the doubting one is an apt namesake for me, despite the angst it created within me during playground conversations.

And, Fours like to be special. We have a flair for the dramatic. So it would fit that Thomas enjoys the rather special, and dramatic moment when Jesus suddenly appears behind locked doors and tells Thomas to touch His scars and feel the hole in His side. I’ve always had a personal love for Caravaggio’s dramatic depiction of the moment.

In the quiet this morning, I find my thoughts less focused in the story, and more focused on my identity and my connection to the Story. Which is what John point out at the end of the chapter. As he is wrapping up his biography, he rather blatantly reminds his readers of the thing I’ve observed multiple times in these posts over the past few weeks. John had a limitless number of stories and anecdotes about Jesus that he could have shared with readers. He chose specific stories for a specific purpose:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:30-31 (NIV)

John’s biography is the first thing I read after becoming a follower of Jesus. This doubting Thomas, this pessimistic, dramatic Enneagram Four, counts myself among John’s readers who have believed and received; I am numbered among those whom Jesus named when He said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Mom? Dad? I think you got my name right.

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

“Taking the Bullet”

"Taking the Bullet" (CaD John 19) Wayfarer

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John 19:26-27 (NIV)

Our local schools start up next week. Social media is filled this week with pictures of parents taking their Freshman college students to campus. Many of our friends are among them. Next week it will be pictures of the first day of school and Wendy and I will exclaim repeatedly, “Oh my word, he’s grown!” and “Goodness, she’s gotten so big!” Time marches on.

I remember my parents commenting many years ago about reaching the point in life in which they “dodged the bullet.” They had added up the number of children of friends and relatives who, along the way, they had agreed to take in if the parents met with an untimely end. It was a big number. My parents are good people.

Fast forward to today. It’s Wendy and me watching the children of our friends and relatives becoming young adults coming of age. We’re beginning to recognize that we are getting ever nearer to that same “dodge the bullet” milestone.

Today’s chapter records the torture, death sentence, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. As I continue to follow the theme of identity woven through John’s biography, there were two things that stood out.

The first is the power-play happening between the religious leaders, who could not legally execute someone under Roman law, and the Roman Governor, Pilate, who knows that Jesus was not guilty of anything deserving death. Having been politically railroaded into sentencing Jesus to crucifixion, Pilate has a sign made that identified Jesus as “King of the Jews” in three languages and placed on Jesus’ cross. He certainly did it to insult the religious leaders; Mission accomplished. I could’t help but recall Jesus telling Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” and Pilate’s response: “Then you are a king.” Was there, perhaps, a hint of respect for this innocent man made political scapegoat?

Jesus hung on the cross naked, bloody, bruised, and beaten. He looks down from the cross to see His own mother. Next to her stands John, the only one of The Eleven with the courage to show up. Taking into account all four biographies of Jesus in the Great Story, Jesus made seven statements from the cross. One of them was caring for His own mother, and making sure that John would care for her. “She is now your mother, John. Mom? He is now your son.”

In the quiet this morning, I think about the roles we play in the lives of others and the way that changes. Last week Wendy had coffee with Kennedy, the daughter of our friends who is heading to college today. Wendy presented her with a ring. It was a rite of passage, and Wendy made it perfectly clear that in coming into adulthood Kennedy was joining a community of women who look out for one another. The ring is to serve as a reminder to Kennedy that she has a community of women she can count on. I guess it was Wendy’s way of acknowledging that she’ll still “take the bullet” for our friends and her daughter, it just hits one differently at this stage of life’s journey.

That’s what community is really all about. We look out for one another and their loved ones. We’re willing to “take the bullet” whether that means raising a friend’s children or helping care for a friend’s parents. We have a role to play, not only in the lives of our friends, but also in the lives of their loved ones. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He told His disciples the previous night: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” As Jesus lays down His life for John and for the sins of the world, John lays down his life for Jesus, and agrees to take in Jesus’ mother as his own.

May I always be willing to “take the bullet” so to speak, and lay down my own life, time, energy, and resources, for my friends and their loved ones.

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

Contrasting Identity

Contrasting Identity (CaD John 18) Wayfarer

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” [a servant girl] asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”

John 18:17 (NIV)

One of the themes I’ve been watching in John’s biography of Jesus is that of identity. John’s entire biography is thematically told around seven metaphorical “I am” statements that Jesus made paralleled by seven major miracles. These are not casual choices on John’s part.

When God revealed Himself to Moses, Moses asked God to identify Himself. God identified himself as “I Am.” Jesus’ seven “I am…” statements with their metaphors are a subtle proclamation John is making as to the complete divinity of Jesus as the Christ, while the miracles form a complete witness to divine power Jesus displayed in that claim of divinity. The number seven in the Great Story is the number of “completeness” (e.g. seven days of creation).

The seven “I am” statements:

  • “I am the Bread of Life” (6:35, 48)
  • “I am the Light of the World” (8:12; 9:5)
  • “I am the Gate” (10:7)
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11, 14)
  • “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25)
  • “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life” (14:6)
  • “I am the True Vine” (15:1)

The seven miracles (before His death & resurrection):

  • Changing water to wine (2:1-11)
  • Healing the official’s son (4:43-54)
  • Healing the disabled man by the Bethesda pool (5:1-15)
  • Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-14)
  • Walking on water (6:16-21)
  • Healing the man born blind (9:1-12)
  • Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-14)

But the theme of identity is not confined to the identity of Jesus. John is careful to choose stories that point to the identity of the religious leaders, the identity of those whom Jesus spoke to, the identity of those whom Jesus healed, and the identity of those who followed Jesus.

In today’s chapter, what struck me was how Peter’s denials stood out in stark contrast to Jesus’ claims. I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that Peter was not only the appointed leader of The Twelve, but his given name was Simon and Jesus gave Him a new name and a new identity: No longer the fisherman from Capernaum, Jesus gave Simon the identity of Peter, “the rockon which I will build my church.”

Yet as Jesus, the “I Am,” is arrested and tried, the “rock” crumbles with three contrasting claims: “I am…not.”

I find something beautiful in the human fragility of Peter’s trinity of “I am not“s. As a follower of Jesus, it echoes the fragility of my own faith, the cracks in my own witness, and my own major failures that stand in stark contrast to the proclamation “I am a follower of Jesus.”

As Jesus fulfills His mission to suffer for the sins of the world, I find “the Rock” there as my representative. How apt that the Divinely appointed human “leader” of Jesus’ followers becomes the designated representative of human weakness.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself sitting in humility of my own humanity. A lyric from Bob Dylan’s song Every Grain of Sand comes to mind:

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.

Peter’s story has the same ebb-and-flow as any follower of Jesus. A new direction and a new identity followed by a long life journey that include both miraculous highs and humiliating set-backs. It’s not just Peter’s story. It’s my story. It’s the story of every human being who sincerely answers Jesus’ offer to take up your own cross and follow. As the murderer and persecutor of Jesus’ followers Saul, given the new identity of Paul, follower of Jesus whom he persecuted, said:

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

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