Tag Archives: Dark

Love and Justice

Love and Justice (CaD Rev 16) Wayfarer

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”
Revelation 16:1 (NIV)

This past Sunday, Wendy and I returned from spending almost two weeks at the lake. We are blessed to be able to work remotely and, it’s nice to get our work done and then be right there on the water when we’re finished. Over the past several trips to the lake we have been making our way through all of the Marvel Universe movies in chronological order of the Marvel Universe’s story arc. It’s been interesting to watch the movies in their proper order. There’s so much we picked up on in retrospect that was completely lost on us when we first saw each film in the theater.

I’ve personally loved this current age of superheroes in which Hollywood has made the comic book heroes of my childhood come to life on the screen. It’s been a lot of fun.

I remember in college when some buddies of mine introduced me to an entirely different genre of comic books. They were not the bright cape-wearing superheroes in spandex but dark and gritty heroes that stirred completely different kinds of emotions within me. They were anti-heroes. I confess that one of the anti-heroes that became a favorite of mine was the Marvel character Frank Castle, also known as The Punisher. Frank is a former cop whose family was brutally killed by the mob because they witnessed something they shouldn’t have seen. Frank becomes a vigilante bent on revenge. In a world in which corruption, power, and bureaucracy seem to protect evil from justice (e.g. we still don’t know who was on Epstein and Maxwell’s client list), there was something in the Punisher’s story that appealed to a very base desire for justice within me. I’ve asked myself many times what it is about the Punisher that resonates so deeply within me. Some would call the character of Frank Castle an “avenging angel.”

The metaphor of an “avenging angel” comes from the Great Story, of course. In particular, it comes from today’s chapter, which is why it brought the Punisher to mind. Seven final plagues, bowls of God’s wrath, are poured out on the earth, the unholy trinity [satan (dragon), anti-christ (beast of the sea), and anti-holy-spirit (beast from the earth)], and their unrepentant followers, including the “kings of the earth,” who continue to curse God through this period of judgment.

The bowls of wrath, once again, parallel Moses’ plauges on Egypt. The followers of the Unholy Trinity break out in festering sores, seas and rivers turn to blood, demonic frogs are unleashed, darkness descends, and hundred-pound hailstones fall from the sky. In the middle of these plagues, John records this:

Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
    you who are and who were;
for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

And I heard the altar respond:

“Yes, Lord God Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments.”

Wait a minute. The altar responded? Yes! If I go back to Revelation 6:9 it is under the altar that the souls of the martyrs (the innocents who were killed simply because they were God’s people) cry out. In Revelation 8:3, the prayers and cries of the innocents, unjustly suffering under the dominion of the Prince of this World and the kingdoms of this world throughout the history of the world, rise like incense before God’s throne.

This is the day of reckoning. Evil, injustice, pride, arrogance, and corruption are getting their “just desserts.”

The words of the psalmist came to mind:

We are given no signs from God;
    no prophets are left,
    and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, God?
    Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
    Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!

Psalm 74:9-11 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is the answer to the psalmist’s question. “I will wait no longer. The day of my wrath has come.”

At the end of today’s chapter, the “trinity” of God’s judgments and plagues on the earth are complete. Three is one of God’s numbers, the number of the Trinity. Seven is the number of “completeness.” Three sets of seven metaphorically “complete” God’s judgment on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the Great Story is a story of good versus evil. On this earthly journey, I have encountered both good and evil. In the news and in my social media feed I see both good and evil. The Great Story reveals God who is good, which means God is both loving and just. The final chapters of the Great Story tell of evil being finally and justly dealt with, once and for all.

And, I confess, this appeals to that same part of my soul that identifies with Frank Castle’s story in The Punisher.

In the meantime, this wayfaring stranger continues to press on in this earthly journey, one day at a time, following Jesus and determined to love my enemies and bless those who curse me, even as my soul cries out for justice on the earth.

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

Holy Moments in the Dark

Holy Moments in Dark Places (CaD Ps 106) Wayfarer

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

Psalm 106:47 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a holy moment.

Being “Like God” or Being “Like God”

Being "Like God" or Being "Like God" (CaD Ex 7) Wayfarer

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.
Exodus 7:1 (NRSVCE)

For 21st century followers of Jesus, the idea of being God’s agent on Earth is a common one. Jesus made it clear that He was entrusting His on-going mission to His followers. Holy Spirit was poured out to indwell believers, impart spiritual gifts to each, and empower every believer as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom. Believers often speak metaphorically of being Jesus’ eyes, ears, hands, and feet; We are asked to be, expected to be, the embodiment of Jesus’ love to others.

It struck me then when God told Moses “I have made you like God to Pharaoh.” The only time that being “like God” has come up in the story before now was when the snake tempts Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, stating that it will make them “like God.” Until Moses appears, God has been intent on making Himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At this point in the story, however, the Hebrews had become a nation of people living in Egypt for hundreds of years with the 1000+ Egyptian dieties.

One of the subtle themes that has already been established in the Moses story is that God wants the Hebrew people to “know” Him, and for Pharaoh to “know” Him. “They will know,” and “Egyptians will know” are repeated statements. In this way, Moses is really the first example of God using a human instrument through which others will come to know God and through whom God will display His power.

This, of course, sets up a really interesting and important contrast.

Being “like God” can be opposite sides of a coin. I can be “like God” by seeking complete control of my life and the lives of everyone around me. If I want to be “like God” by sitting on the throne of my own life looking out for numero uno, doing as I please, and determining my own way with every step, then my path is going to lead to spiritually dark places (even if I wear the facade of being a good and faithful member of my local church). This is the dark side of “being like God.”

When Moses was being “like God” and when Jesus’ followers become “Christ-like” it is a process of humility, vulnerability, and submission. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words to Peter after the resurrection:

Jesus said [to Peter], “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.”
John 21:17-19 (MSG)

Jesus explains that Peter had lived the dark side of being “like God” self-centeredly determining his own way, but now he is going to experience the Light side of being “like God” in which he will (like Jesus’ did) humbly surrender his own rights of self-determination and become obedient to places he doesn’t want to go (i.e. “Father, let this cup pass from me”), even to his physical death.

In the quiet this morning, I’m finding myself surprisingly emotional as I meditate on this very simple concept. In my daily life, in the writing of these blog posts, I take on the mantle of being a follower of Jesus. But, are my daily life, words, and actions a demonstration of the dark side of being “like God” or the Light side of being “like Christ”? Am I living for myself under the veneer of being a good Jesus follower? Is my life a demonstration of the humility, vulnerability, and surrender required to be an agent of Christ-like love?

I’m not sure I like all of the answers I’m coming up with to these questions.

Hope Needs a Description

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”
Zechariah 8:4-5 (NIV)

There are certain stretches of the life journey when, as U2 sang, “You’re stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.” There are times when everything seems to crash in around you and if feels as if nothing will ever be right with the world again.

As I look back this morning, it’s the period of time around the divorce that stands out as one of those stuck moments. It was certainly not how I envisioned things to go, and a circumstance in which I never thought I’d find myself. There was the shame that I, myself, felt. There was the condemnation of others telling me I was going to hell. There was a constant reminder that everything was out of sorts. There were days when I was so discouraged that I couldn’t see beyond it.

I’ve been journeying through the writings of the prophet Zechariah. His visions coincided with a time when the city of Jerusalem lay in ruins. No one had been living in the rubble of the city. Everyone settled in nearby towns. Now, a remnant of exiles wants to return and rebuild. I can only imagine the discouragement of standing in front of the rubble heap and thinking, “How is this ever going to be a city again?”

In today’s chapter, Zechariah channels a stream of messages that God gave him for that remnant of exiles. What was fascinating to me was that it wasn’t just a pithy “Buck up, little campers. You can do it!” God gave specific word pictures of safety, security, and prosperity. He helped the exiles picture it in their heads: the old people sitting in front of their homes watching neighborhood children playing tag. He described times of plenty and times of peace.

It reminded me of particular friends who, during those dark days during the divorce, spoke to me specific things I had to look forward to. It wasn’t just a simple, It’s going to get better, but a “Tom, someday this is all going to be a distant memory. You’re going to walk alongside a brother who is going through it, and you’re going to be able to encourage him in his time of need.”

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that sometimes hope needs a description.

Life, and Light, Under the Bucket

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people, not at all meaning the people of this world...
1 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV)

There once was a Christian man, raised in a Christian family. From his infancy he attended a Christian church and then was placed in Christian school where he had many Christian friends. He listened exclusively to Christian music on the Christian music station and read Christian novels from the Christian publisher that he purchased from the Christian book store. During high school he involved himself with Christian athletes and in his senior year he attended the Christian prom with his Christian girlfriend. After graduating from Christian high school, the young man attended a Christian college. He went on several Christian missions to the third world and interned at two different Christian organizations. He met a good Christian girl from a Christian family, and he married her. After graduating from the Christian college, the man returned to his hometown to start a Christian business, listed in the local Christian business directory, and joined a Christian men’s group to help him raise his Christian family. And, it started all over again.

Jesus said,

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

If I was the enemy of Light, and I wanted to keep the Light from penetrating the darkness, I would simply convince the Light bearers that “holiness” was totally dependent on keeping their Light hidden under an overturned bucket of social, cultural, and familial exclusivity. Then, I would sprinkle in the notion that those in darkness will either be  1) somehow attracted to their little circle of exclusivity under the bucket or 2) deserving of the hopeless, eternal darkness outside.

What the hell?

Pursued

source: spencerslife via flickr
source: spencerslife via flickr

Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.”
Ezekiel 35:6b (NIV)

This I have observed along my life journey, that we are pursued by the powers of darkness which we refuse to stand against.

  • If we refuse to stand against hatred, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against injustice, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against violence, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against ignorance, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against bigotry, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against prejudice, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against misogyny, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against misandry, it will pursue us.

The things of darkness respond only to a forceful assault of Light.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”   – Jesus

Refuge Amidst Rough Stretches of Life’s Path

Ubari Oasis in the Category:Wadi Al Hayaa Dist...
Ubari Oasis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord is good,
    a strong refuge when trouble comes.
    He is close to those who trust in him.
Nahum 1:7 (NLT)

Life’s journey takes each one of us through many different emotional terrains. Mountaintop passes offer breathtaking vistas. They are wonderful and inspiring, but the reality is that the path leading to the mountains usually contain long stretches of flat, barren plain in which each day seems much like the last, leaving you to wonder daily if you’re moving or making any progress at all. In contrast to the mountain tops, each life’s path eventually (often repeatedly) descends through dark valleys and rocky terrain that test our faith, will and perseverance.

We should not marvel at this. This is life. It’s a journey and a pilgrimage. If we don’t experience the emotional breadth of it, we’re not really living and making progress.

I have to be honest. I found today’s chapter to read like a dark valley through rocky terrain of anger, wrath, and judgment. I laughed to myself as I began to read. There’s no real reason why I picked the ancient prophet Nahum to start reading today. It has three chapters and there are three days left in the week. No big spiritual discernment in that choice. Still, the vitriol and dark words of judgement seem an emotional enmeshment for my own path in recent weeks. Just great. It’s not enough that I’ve got an acute case of the blues, I thought to myself, now God has to pile on.

Then, as I’m reading through the haunting words of Nahum’s message to Nineveh and groaning under the weight of my spirit, I run headlong into the verse above which sits nestled in the middle of a message of woe. An oasis of fresh living water in the midst of a desolate, barren wilderness. Just when we need it most, we find a life giving way-station for the soul. A message of refreshment. A reminder of the reality that if we have faith, God is a true place of refuge amidst the difficult stretches of our journey.