"This Chain That I Must Break" (CaD Jud 2) –
After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Judges 2:10 (NIV)
He came up to me out of the blue. I was just sitting with Wendy when he tapped my shoulder and asked me to pray for him. “I’m drunk,” he said to me as I stood and put my arm around him. I didn’t really need him to tell me this. He reeked of it. It was a rather unconventional state to be in at a mid-morning worship service.
One of my favorite songs of all time is Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand. It’s a song about those waypoints on life’s journey when I find myself utterly broken; That moment when I’ve hit rock bottom and I know that something has to change. And, it’s about the life-changing grace that is found in those moments. One of my favorite lines from the song says, “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.”
That line popped into my mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. The author of Judges continues his introduction to the book and introduces me to a chain of events, a systemic pattern, a repeated behavioral sequence that I will find recycled over and over again in the stories of the book of Judges.
Along this life journey, I have repeatedly found myself in negative cycles of both thought and behavior. I’ve faced trials along life’s journey that stemmed from difficult circumstances that were not of my own making. The truth, however, is that many of my rock bottom moments occurred because I put myself there.
That’s the overarching theme of these stories of the ancient Hebrew tribes and the period of their history known as the time of the Judges. They may be ancient stories, but they resonate with very immediate and personal lessons for me today. Civilization and culture may have changed in 3,000 years, but human nature has not. Bob Dylan sees himself in the story of Cain. I see myself in the stories of the Judges.
This brings me back to my new, intoxicated friend. I honestly wasn’t shocked by his drunken state. I immediately recognized that a man has to be at a rock bottom moment to show up for a worship service intoxicated and ask a complete stranger to pray for him. I was so glad he was there. I prayed for him and over him right there. Then I hugged him. With my arm still around him, I told him to look out over the group of people gathering in that room. I explained that we’re all broken people no different than himself, including me. I’ve had my own rock bottom moments when something needed to change. I welcomed him, and I encouraged him to keep joining us.
In the quiet this morning, I hear the lyric poetry of Bob Dylan in my head and heart:
I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame And every time I pass that way I always hear my name Then onward in my journey I come to understand That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
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...
Wendy and I typically spend the start of our day together. We meet over coffee, a blueberry-spinach smoothie (mine is sweet; Wendy’s is sour), and a perusal of the day’s top stories. We have a couple of media outlets that are our go-to, and occasionally we rabbit trail to others. On weekdays it may only be for a few minutes that we sit together, read, and discuss current events. Saturday mornings we typically enjoy a long and more leisurely breakfast together as we read and discuss. It has been many years since we watched the news on television with any regularity.
In recent years I have made a couple of observations. First, whenever I happen into a room where a news or sports network is playing I am amazed at how jarring it is for me. The sheer volume and motion of visual information scrolling below, above, and on the side of the screen feels like sensory bombardment. Voices are loud, and often there are multiple voices vying for attention with the volume of their voice. Certain subjects are discussed ceaselessly and the discussions are repeated over and over and over again. I wonder how many times the words COVID, coronavirus, or virus are mentioned in a typical hour on any of the news networks.
My other observation is that if I regularly want news that is good, encouraging, inspiring and uplifting I must look for it. There are precious few news outlets who make it a point to find and pass along good news.
In the lyrics of today’s psalm, David has plenty of bad news that he is exorcising through song. Enemies are assailing him, he is surrounded on all sides, and the threat of war is real. There’s not a lot of good news. Then in verses 4 and 5 David makes a very conscious shift…
He turns to God with his request.
He seeks after being in God’s presence.
He makes a conscious effort to find God’s beauty.
“Come,” he says of his heart, “seek [God’s] face!”
By the last stanza of the song David is confident that he “will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But it didn’t just happen. He went looking for it.
I find it fascinating that news being broadcast is called “a feed.” I meditated on that in the quiet this morning. I am fed the news. Writers choose the perspective with which they see the facts. Editors decide which stories get fed to us and which stories get completely ignored. Senior editors decide the larger story they people to be fed with what is seen, heard, and read in their feed.
I have come to understand that my mental diet is as important to my health and well-being as my physical diet. When I mindlessly feed at the trough of any news source, I end up wondering if there is anything good, positive, or optimistic in this crazy world.
There is. Every day God’s goodness is evident in the land of the living:
It’s there. But I’ve learned that I have to consciously choose to turn away from the never-ending, 24/7/365, voluminous, bombarding stream of sickness, death, war, violence, protest, anger, rage, tragedy, greed, and corruption that I am being fed.
I have to choose to feed my heart and mind a regular diet of something that is good for me.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34-35 (NRSVCE)
In my current waypoint in life’s journey, I find it fascinating to observe the change in relationship that occurs between parent and child across one’s lifetime. I’m speaking, of course, in generalities, for every family system has unique elements based on the individual personalities, temperaments, and relationships in a human family system.
Both a child, and then as a parent of young children, I experienced the combination of love and fear that accompanies the parental-child relationship. A small child knows the love, hugs, cuddles, protection, and guidance of a parent. The child also has healthy respect for the parent’s size, power, authority, and wrath.
I can remember when the girls were young and would sleep together in the same room. When they were supposed to be in bed sleeping they would sometimes giggle, play, and get themselves riled up. All it took was for me to open the door and step in the room to change the atmosphere of the room. I wasn’t even angry or upset, but they reacted to my presence with a behavioral reset.
Now that our daughters are adults with their own family systems, the relationship has matured. I feel from both of them genuine respect, gratitude, and honor. Long gone are childish fears of parental wrath, which are replaced with a desire for healthy relationship void of disappointment, shame, control, enmeshment, and conflict. There is still a child’s natural desire for affirmation, encouragement, pride, guidance, and support from dad.
In today’s chapter, we finish the journey through the book of Exodus. The Hebrews have been delivered from slavery in Egypt. They have been introduced to God by Moses. A covenant between God and the Hebrews has been established along with a code of conduct and a system of worship complete with a traveling temple called the Tabernacle. Exodus ends with the completion of the Tabernacle and God’s “glory” descending in the form of a cloud that filled the tent and surrounded it. At night, the cloud appeared to be filled with fire. Even Moses, who had repeatedly been in the midst of God’s glory, was afraid of entering in.
The cloud and fire of God’s presence have been mentioned multiple times in the journey through Exodus. I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of Moses and the Hebrew people was like that of Taylor and Madison when I would enter the room of little giggling girls who weren’t going to sleep. There is respect, a little bit of awe, and a little bit of fear. I keep going back to my podcast Time (Part 1) in which I unpack the notion of human history being like a natural human life-cycle. Moses and the Hebrews are in the toddler stage of humanity. For them, God is this divine authority figure who loves them, delivered them, protected them, provided for them, and did mighty works they couldn’t comprehend. There is both appreciation, devotion, but also awe and fear.
Fast-forward 1500 years. Humanity is no longer a child and ready for the divine rite-of-passage. Father God sends His own Son to live among us, teach us, and exemplify His ways in humility, pouring out, surrender and sacrifice. The night before His crucifixion, as He is about to consummate this eternal rite-of-passage, Jesus speaks of the relationship between humans and God the Father in very different terms:
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:23-27 (NIV)
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:12-16 (NIV)
Can you feel the difference? This is no longer pyrotechnics and daddy booming “GO TO SLEEP!” to wide-eyed, little ones who have little cognitive capacity. This is the dad talk at the waypoint of launching and releasing into adulthood: “I love you. You’re ready for this. I’ll always be right here for you, but it’s time. You’ve got this. Remember what I’ve told you and shown you. Love, be humble, be generous, do the right thing, and love, love, love, love, love.”
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that it never ends. For those who ask, seek, and knock. For any who truly follows and obeys. This dance, this relationship, this journey never stops progressing. It keeps changing as we change. It keeps maturing as we mature. It keeps getting layered with more, deeper meaning, and deeper understanding.
Do you know what Exodus means? It’s defined as a “going out; an emigration.” God led the Hebrews in a going out of slavery, into the wilderness, toward the promise land. Jesus led us in a going out from a different kind of slavery, into a different kind of wilderness, heading toward the ultimate Promised Land.
That night that Jesus had “the talk” with His followers, He began the talk with these words:
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3 (NIV)
That’s where this Wayfarer is headed as I “go out” on another day of this journey. Thanks for joining me, friend. Cheers!
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
In recent months I’ve been reading articles about the release of the script of J.K. Rowling’s production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There is a certain amount of frustration among fans who purchased what they thought was a book, only to find that it is actually the script of the stage play. Of course, a novel and a script are two very different things. They both tell a story, but in very different ways. A script requires something more of you as a reader. The author gives you the characters words, but you have to use your imagination to fill in more of the blanks. It’s understandable that many are experiencing frustration with it.
Along my journey I’ve come to understand that there is a similar frustration among those who undertake the reading of God’s Message from Genesis through Revelation. It’s not a novel. It’s not a script. It’s a compilation of writings (and different types of writing) authored across a large section of history. The content is not categorized chronologically but by author and the type of writing. It tells a story, but in a very different way than the way we are used to reading stories. It requires something of me as a reader to connect the dots and see the larger picture.
Even as I wade into the writings of Isaiah, it’s important for me as a reader to understand that I’m reading a smaller compilation of Isaiah’s prophetic poetry. I have to step back and look at the larger picture. I have to connect the dots. I have to see the patterns.
One of the patterns that emerges in prophetic writing is the repeated, cyclical themes of sin, judgement, deliverance, and redemption. I can see it already in the first few chapters:
The people rebel against God:
I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. Isaiah 1:2
The consequences of rebellion are God’s judgement and punishment:
Your men shall fall by the sword and your warriors in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground.; Isaiah 2:25-26
When the people repent of their ways, God delivers:
On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.
Ultimately, God redeems and restores in glorious ways:
Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. Isaiah 4:5-6
This repetition happens over and over and over and over and over and over again. In the compilation of Isaiah’s writings this pattern can be seen on a macro level (Chapters 1-39 are much heavier on judgement; Chapters 40-66 are much heavier on deliverance and redemption). The pattern can also be seen on a micro-level within a chapter or a few verses. The theme is repeated continually.
This morning I’m thinking about the cyclical, repetitive nature of my own behaviors. No matter how hard I try, I sometimes do or say things that are just wrong or inappropriate. When that happens, things don’t go so well. Relationships are strained or broken. Sometimes I suffer from the consequences of those inappropriate words or actions. I feel guilty. I am guilty. I repent, turning to Jesus whose sacrifice for me on the cross affords forgiveness, mercy, and grace in spite of my repetitive bullheadedness and boneheadedness. Redeemed, not by what I’ve done, but what God has done for me, I humbly and gratefully continue to let go of what is behind and press on to love others as Jesus loved me.
Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over….again.
Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them.But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. Judges 2:18-19 (NRSV)
Everything is connected and each thing affects every other thing around them. Every one is connected and each person affects every other person around them. That’s the general idea behind Systems theory. Things happen systemically.
There is, perhaps, no other section of God’s Message that reveals how systemically God’s creation is than the book of Judges. On a macro level, Judges is about patterns of social behavior. These generational patterns are systemic over centuries and in today’s chapter, the scribe of Judges reveals the pattern before getting into the details of the history:
Joshua, the leader, passes away.
The people abandon God and worship idols.
God gives them over to their ways, they are defeated by enemies and enslaved.
The people repent and cry to God for deliverance.
God raises up a leader (e.g. Judge) to deliver them.
The delivered people follow God.
The leader passes away.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Along life’s journey I’ve found that what we see on a macro level in the book of Judges is found in countless ways on a micro level in our lives. We follow patterns of behavior without recognizing it. It’s systemic:
A person in my life does/says (A) which…
Triggers reaction (B) in me which…
Leads me to do/say (C) which…
Elicits response (D) from the other person which…
Lead the person to do/say (A) again…
“‘Round and around she goes, where she stops nobody knows.”
Today I’m thinking about patterns of behavior, patterns of thought, and patterns in relationships. Jesus made a habit of calling people out of their destructive spiritual patterns of behavior to walk in new spiritual directions. There are some things that can only be broken and transformed by a work of God’s supernatural grace.
Many people have a big conversion experience in which God calls them to leave their hopeless, destructive systemic cycles toward new Life giving behaviors. I’ve come to understand that this is only the first of many conversion experiences that happen along life’s journey. Time and time again God calls us to break systemic and destructive patterns of thought and behavior to follow His prescription for peace, joy, and love.
Where is God calling me to break the destructive cycles I’m in?
Samson went down to Timnah. There in Timnah a woman caught his eye, a Philistine girl. He came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, a Philistine girl; get her for me as my wife." Judges 14:1
The study of Samson is a study in human nature. He was a Nazarite from his birth, meaning that he was set apart by special acts of purity. No hair on his body had been cut and he'd never touched a drop of alcohol. Yet, we find in Samson an important historical lesson. Extreme human efforts at purity can't and don't blot out the darkness of sin that weeds it's way into our hearts. Sin finds a way to reveal itself in the behavioral patterns of our lives. Samson's calamitous life is a prime example.
Samson had a weakness. Like another strong man of antiquity, Achilles, Samson was all brawny hero with a tiny tragic flaw. Achilles flaw was his heel. Samson's flaw was his lust. Samson's tragic dalliance with Delilah was not the exception for Samson, it was the rule. Samson had a weakness for women. It wasn't just a fatal attraction for the opposite sex, it was a bad boy lust for the forbidden females of the Philistines. Today's chapter is an appetizer of the tragic events to come.
Samson's story is my story. It's humanity's story. It's a microcosm of the cycle of sin revealed in the theme of the book of Judges. Desiring to be good and striving for purity can't blot out my tragic weakness. Look at the patterns of my behavior and you'll see the inheritance of Adam at work cycling me back into the familiar struggle with sin and pointing to the Truth that I need a savior.
Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn't know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel.Judges 2:10 (MSG)
Yesterday I received a request to write an article for the Journal of Contact Center Management. At the top of the list of topics they asked me to consider was "What are the implications of serving generation Y for contact center managers?"
Generations continue to affect us today. The "baby boomer" generation will soon be retiring and will have a profound affect on long term care and elder care issues in our country. "Gen X" is moving into middle age and coming into positions of corporate and civic leadership. "Gen Y" has filtered into the workforce and is affecting the way companies handle employees and their customers.
The book of Judges could be entitled "Exodus: The Next Generations." After their escape from Egypt and their journey through the wilderness, the Israelites now settle in the land of Canaan. Judges is the story of the succeeding generations over the next 400 years. Today's chapter introduces us to the overarching theme of the book. One generation has a leader who leads everyone to faithfully follow God. When that leader dies, the subsequent generation forgets God and falls into disobedience. Out of the disastrous consequences of their disobedience, the people realize their need and another leader (or Judge) emerges to lead them to turn back to God.
Cycles. Patterns of behavior. Judges reminds me to be mindful of the recurring patterns in my own life. It prompts me to consider my responsibility to my children, grandchildren, and the coming generations. It reminds me that I'm called not only to walk my own journey well, but also to leave a legacy for those who will follow in my footsteps.
My-Master-Bezek said, "Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to crawl under my table, scavenging. Now God has done to me what I did to them." They brought him to Jerusalem and he died there. Judges 1:7 (MSG)
Last weekend, Wendy and I had a Godfather night. A friend came over, we ate a nice meal and watched the first of the three movies tracing the Corleone family and their mafioso saga. In the original film, there's a classic scene in which a certain member of the mafia family, Luca Brasi, is killed. The family receives a package. In the package is Luca's bullet proof vest, and in the vest are fresh, dead fish.
"It's a Sicilian message," they are told, "that Luca Brasi 'sleeps with the fishes.'"
"What goes around, comes around," the saying goes. In three little verses of the first chapter of Judges, we find a short story of a Canaanite King famous in the region for cutting off the thumbs and big toes of his enemies. It sounds bloody and violent, but cutting off various appendages was common in ancient times. Like Luca Brasi's fishy vest, it was a 'calling card' intended to frighten neighboring towns into submission. It usually worked for a while, but vengeance was always around the corner. What goes around, comes around.
In The Godfather, and in human history, there is no end to the cycle of violence, hatred, and conquest. Isn't it interesting that Judges lists among those ancient conflicts the familiar names of Jerusalem and Gaza. The same conflict rages on over a millennium later.
That's why we need a savior.
Today, I submit myself anew to God, who died that I might be free from the chains of destructive behaviors. I commit myself to keep working to change the toxic cycles in my own life and realms of influence.