Tag Archives: Death

Ignorant, Mindful, and Ready

Ignorant, Mindful, and Ready (CaD Rev 8) Wayfarer

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Revelation 8:4 (NIV)

As a student of history and as a mindful observer of life, I have noted that followers of Jesus in every generation seem to be convinced that we are in the end times. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned it on this chapter-a-day journey. It seems to me that as human beings age and we feel our own sense of dread with the inevitable approach of “the end” of our own earthly journey, it is easy to project this sense of “the end” on the world around us.

As a young man, I read books that predicted the world wouldn’t last beyond my high school years. Since I graduated high school in 1984, many would-be prophets mingled Orwell and Revelation in predicting doomsday. I seem to remember televangelists predicting the date of the rapture and the beginning of the end on more than one occasion. Then came the doomsday scenarios of the end of the 20th century that mingled the apocalypse with the Y2K global computer meltdown (history shows that apocalyptic predictions spring up at the end of centuries like flowers in spring). More recently, we had the end of the Mayan calendar that people associated with the end of all things.

With this in mind, I want to be careful with my thoughts on today’s chapter. I don’t want you to read what I’m not writing.

In today’s chapter, John’s vision from God’s throne room in heaven continues. When the seventh seal on the scroll is broken there is a dramatic pause, thirty minutes of silence before the next round of judgments on the earth begin. The prayers of God’s people rise as incense before God’s throne. Recall the cries of those who’d been martyred in chapter six: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

I always have to remember as I read the Great Story that God layers life with certain themes. Just a few weeks ago in a Message among my local gathering of Jesus followers, I gave the example of how the diagram of an atom looks like a little solar system. The moon revolving around the earth, the planets revolving around the sun, and our solar system in the galaxy continue to expand this layered motif outward into the expanding universe. God is an artist, and he layers themes and motifs in both creation and in the Great Story.

The prayers and cries of the martyrs (those believers through history who were tortured and killed because of their faith) echo God hearing the prayers of God’s people enslaved in Egypt (Ex 3:7). The judgments and plagues in today’s chapter and subsequent chapters echo the plagues on Egypt. God’s deliverance of humanity from the shackles of a fallen world ruled by evil as we read it in the book of Revelation is a macrocosm of the story of God delivering His people from Egypt.

As the angels blow their trumpets of judgment in today’s chapter, plagues fall on the earth. The hail mixed with blood echoes the ninth plague on Egypt. The sea turned to blood echoes the first Egyptian plague. The waters turning bitter in the third trumpet are the reverse of God turning the bitter waters sweet at Marah for the Hebrews. The fourth trumpet echoes the ninth plague on Egypt.

I couldn’t help but notice that the consequences of the trumpet plagues are largely disruptions of nature which will disrupt commerce which in turn will wreak havoc on the global supply chain, which will only fuel economic and international strife, which will only fuel the works of the four riders of the apocalypse that have already been loosed: conquest, war, violence, famine, and death.

Disruption of supply chains, disruptions caused by war, supply shortages, famine, inflation, economic disruption, anger, violence: sound familiar? Yes, I can’t help but see the current events around me and think to myself how quickly things can spiral and descend in an out-of-control chain of events around the globe.

And this is where I don’t want you to read what I’m not writing. I’m not saying we are in the end times. I continue to maintain, as Jesus taught, that no one knows the day and the hour. I’m determined to cling to this ignorance. I can, however, read today’s chapter, look at current events, and appreciate how cataclysmic events like a global pandemic, natural disasters, wars, and famines can quickly destabilize the entire world as is described in the “Trumpet Judgments” in today’s chapter. And while Jesus said that I don’t know the hour and the day, He told multiple parables in which He encouraged His followers to be alert and to always be ready for the end to arrive.

And so, I enter today mindful and endeavoring to be ready, come what may in my own lifetime.

Note: Four recent messages were added to the Messages page today, an archive of YouTube and MP3 fiiles of messages.

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

“Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language”

"Every Nation, Tribe, People, & Language" (CaD Rev 7) Wayfarer

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
Revelation 7:9 (NIV)

In yesterday’s chapter, the first six seals of a scroll were opened by Jesus. Today’s chapter is an intermission before the seventh seal is opened. John describes two different things revealed to him. In the first, the four winds are held back from the earth by four angels, while a fifth angel places a “seal” on the foreheads of 144,000 “servants of God,” 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

The four winds was a metaphor of God’s wrath and judgment on the earth. The prophet Jeremiah used the same metaphor (Jer 49:36). A “seal” was used in ancient times to both protect documents from being opened and to mark who sent them. Metaphorically, this seems to indicate that these 144,000 “sealed” servants of God will be protected during the impending tribulation being held back by the four angels.

In the second part of the vision, John sees a multitude of individuals from every “nation, tribe, people, and language” who were wearing white robes. John is told that they had come “out of the tribulation.” This connects with the martyrs in yesterday’s chapter (Rev 6:9-11) who were given white robes and told to wait for the others who would join them. John is then told that they will serve the Lamb in his temple and be protected, provided for, cared for, and comforted.

There are a couple of things that stand out to me as I ponder these visions in the quiet this morning. The first is the reality that Jesus was very clear with His followers that following Him may very well be an earthly death sentence. The resurrected Christ told Peter that it would be true for him. Tradition says that this was true for 11 of The Twelve disciples (John is believed to be the only one who may have died of old age). It has been true for multitudes of followers throughout history. It’s still true for followers of Jesus today in places like Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, and China. This is both a sobering thought, and it stands in direct opposition to the “name it and claim it” televangelists or those who believe that following Jesus is the way to safety and prosperity on this earth.

The other things that stands out to me is that this is the second time in John’s vision that he describes people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language.” The greek word used for “temple” in today’s chapter specifically denotes the temple structure where God’s presence dwelt. Throughout the history of the Temple in Jerusalem, only Hebrew men could enter. People of other “nations, tribes, peoples, and languages” (along with females) were not allowed. Also, Paul was very clear that after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection a “Jew” was not someone with Hebrew DNA, but whose heart was surrendered to Christ (Rom 2:28-29). This raises the question as to whether the 144,000 “sealed servants” mentioned in today’s chapter are DNA Jews or Spirit Jews.

One again, I’m left admitting that I know that I don’t know the answers to some of these questions. There are couple of things, however, that I do know. I know that being a follower of Jesus is a path of surrender on this earth, and that very well means that it sometimes leads to suffering. I also know that heaven is a place for people of every nation, tribe, people, and language. Therefore, any thing on this earth that stirs up division, separation, and discrimination against a person or group based on nation, tribe, people, and language is incongruent with Jesus’ teaching.

Therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I enter this day endeavoring to surrender, to serve, and to love indiscriminately.

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

“What Do You Expect?!”

"What Do You Expect?!" (CaD Rev 6) Wayfarer

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Revelation 6:15-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I find ourselves on that section of life’s road in which we get to watch and walk with my parents and her grandma as they traverse the home stretch of this earthly journey, and experience all that happens to the human body as it ages and begins to wear out. There is nothing novel or new about this progression. Ever since the third chapter of Genesis in which God tells Adam and Eve “from dust you came and to dust you will return,” human beings who live long enough have experienced the natural breakdown of the human body and mind until death finally catches up with us.

On our visits to Wendy’s 95-year-old grandmother, I’ve listened and observed as Wendy listens to grandma, who sometimes laments over her aches, pains, and nagging ailments that limit her quality of life. Wendy, ever the Enneagram Eight “challenger” that God made her, responds: “Your body is ninety-five years old, grandma! What do you expect?!”

In today’s chapter, we find John still in heaven’s throne room and Jesus (a.k.a. the Lamb) begins to open the scroll that was sealed with seven seals. As each seal on the scroll is broken, something awful is revealed to John. Conquest, war, famine, death, injustice, and cataclysmic natural disasters. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like what’s revealed to me when I open my news app each morning. Hold that thought.

A couple of observations. First, the prophetic images John sees here are not new or novel in the Great Story. Centuries before John’s vision, the prophets introduced these visionary images. Zechariah also saw the four horsemen (Zech 1 & 8). The souls under the altar connect directly with the Hebrew altar of sacrifice (Ex 29:12; Lev 4:7). The natural catastrophes mentioned were also referred to by Isaiah, Joel, Haggai, and even mentioned by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2. So I think it’s important for me to understand that everything in this vision of “end times” has been foreseen all along. It’s all connected and it’s all been foreseen for a long time. Even Jesus described it:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:6-14 (NIV)

Next, I have often stated that human history in the Great Story is very much like one long life cycle. Creation and time are layered with meaning. God’s people have long understood that one day is like a lifetime from birth (sunrise) to death (night). Followers of Jesus have seen that a week is like a metaphorical lifetime of Christ in which every Friday is a memorial of Jesus’ death and every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection that launches us into a “new” week. In the same way, each year has the same pattern. In my chapter-a-day treks through ancient books like Exodus and Joshua, I often made the case that humanity was in the toddler stage of history. Civilization acted like immature, ignorant, and petulant children who are driven by their appetites, emotions, and base instincts. If I follow that metaphor to its logical conclusion, then Revelation is a vision of humanity in the throes of death, the ultimate conclusion of sin’s curse on humanity that was declared in Genesis chapter three.

And this brings me back to Wendy addressing her grandmother’s shock and lamentation over her body’s slow, uncomfortable decline. “What do you expect?!”

In the quiet this morning, I find that an apt question with regard to the bleak description that Jesus, John, and the prophets foreshadow regarding humanity’s final chapters. Broken and sinful humanity living in our civilization and the kingdoms of this world ruled by the “prince of this world” (as Jesus named the evil one) decline into the throes of death.

Pessimistic, I know, and a bit depressing for the one who has no hope.

But, there is hope! And we’ll eventually get there at the end of this chapter-a-day trek through Revelation. Until then, the journey may seem like a long, slow slog of decline towards death. Hang in there. As Bob Dylan sings, “Just remember, that death is not the end.”

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

Living a Great Story

Living a Great Story (CaD Jud 13) Wayfarer

The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:24-25 (NIV)

Our daughters happened to grow up as J.K. Rowling was writing and releasing the seven volumes of her epic Harry Potter series. Forgive the pun, but it did seem like a bit of a magical time. The story about Harry and his friends growing up, going through adolescence, and figuring out life was unfolding right along with our daughters’ own adolescent years. For their generation, the story was layered with meaning that perhaps no other generation will experience because it was happening right along with them. I’ve often thought that the entire series should ideally be gifted to a child, one book a year, from ages 11-17. Not that you could keep an inquisitive child from learning everything from movies, friends, and the internet.

Today’s chapter begins the final story of the five major judges raised up by God to deliver the Hebrew tribes from their enemies. The first four were Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and now Sampson. One of the things that I’ve learned about the ancient Hebrews is that the structure of their writing is typically as important to them as the content of it. Just as God metaphorically layers creation with meaning, the ancient Hebrews layered their writing with structural and mathematical meaning.

Just as with the psalm writers, the center is the core where you place the central theme. The author of Judges places Gideon, who represents the “ideal” Judge, and his son, Abimelek, who represents the antithesis. One step out from the center are two atypical leadership choices from each of Joseph’s tribes. The major Judges are bookended by two “loners” who single-handedly delivered the people from their enemies. They remind me of the achetype of the Lone Stranger I’ve written about before.

But there’s something different about Samson that sets him apart from the others which we see right from the beginning of the story in today’s chapter. Samson’s birth is divinely announced to a barren woman and he is “set apart” by God from the very beginning, much like Moses who escaped Egyptian infanticide. There’s something special about this one, which we will uncover in the coming days.

This brings me back to thinking about our daughters who as preteens began a story about a special baby with a lightning-bolt scar. Stories connect me to themes that are larger than myself. Stories connect me with others and provide source material for Life-giving conversations. Stories help me navigate my own life journey. This Great Story I’ve been trekking through again and again for over forty years is a collection of stories that connect me with God.

When my life journey is over, I will cross into eternity. Here on earth, I will become a story. I will become a story told by children to grandchildren shared with old photographs, snippets of video, and snatches of first-hand memories of moments we shared together once upon a time.

What will that story be, I wonder? What layers of meaning might my story have for the lives of those who hear it?

I guess that’s still somewhat undetermined. The story is still being written. It’s a work in progress.

How can I live a great story today?

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

Pivotal Moments

Pivotal Moments (CaD Joh 3) Wayfarer

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
Joshua 3:5 (NIV)

I will never forget that day. I had no real plan; No idea what I was going to do. As a husband and father of two rug rats under the age of five, this was not ideal. I just knew that I couldn’t remain in my current job. The circumstances had become untenable. So, I gave my notice.

That afternoon I was offered the job that has been my career for almost thirty years.

Driving home from the Village Inn restaurant where I’d been offered the position, I prayed for God’s direction. It wasn’t exactly a sure thing. The work might be inconsistent, as well as the income. It would require some faith that the business would grow along with my position. It felt precarious, and I asked God for guidance.

I remember the moment clearly. I was pulling in the driveway in my blue Volkswagen Fox. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon. It is one of a small handful of experiences in my life journey in which I received a clear and direct answer in my spirit. I can’t really explain it. I heard it clearly:

“Take this job. Stick with it. You will be blessed.”

It was a pivotal moment in my story. One chapter closed. A new chapter began.

Today’s chapter is incredibly significant in terms of the Great Story. It’s a climactic moment for the Hebrew people. One chapter of their story is ending, and a new one is beginning. It’s been about 750 years since God promised Abraham that his descendants would be numerous and inherit the land God showed him. It’s been an entire generation since the miraculous escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. The Hebrew nation is finally crossing over the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land.

God makes it clear to Joshua that He is doing three things in this event.

God is leading the way. The Ark of the Covenant was a metaphor for God’s power and presence. The fact that the priests carried the Ark into the Jordan first was a living reminder to God’s people that it was God leading them, and it was God on whom they should put their trust.

God is making the impossible possible. The miraculous holding back of the Jordan River’s waters echoes the crossing of the Red Sea and reminds God’s people that God’s power is still very much present as they begin this challenging new stretch of their journey. It also bookends their wilderness wanderings with two matching miracles, reminding them that the chapter of wandering is over and a new chapter is beginning.

God is sealing Joshua’s leadership in the eyes of the people. Moses had some mighty big sandals to fill. The stories of Moses’ exploits and the miraculous things God did through Moses were legendary. As the challenging conquest of Canaan begins, God makes it clear to His people that He can and will pour out His miraculous power through Joshua just as He had done through Moses.

In the quiet this morning, I’m looking back at my own life journey and the various stages of that journey: childhood, becoming a follower of Jesus, high school, college, marriage/fatherhood/pastoral ministry, returning home to Des Moines, career, the years of many moves, the dark years, the return, Pella, divorce, theatre, Wendy, lake, leadership, infertility, house, empty nest… In hindsight, I can see the thread of God’s presence, purposes, and guidance through each stretch. Yep, even “the dark years.”

This, in turn, reminds me that I can trust that same presence, purpose, and guidance on this day, and the road ahead until I reach the journey’s end and the “great crossing over” that ends my earthly wandering and begins a new, eternal chapter.

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

The Sober Truth

The Sober Truth (CaD Heb 9) Wayfarer

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many…
Hebrews 9:27-28a (NIV)

This past week I began listening to an audiobook recommended by a friend, entitled Imagine Heaven by John Burke. The author was a self-avowed skeptic who spent some 30 years gathering and studying stories from all over the world of those who have had a Near Death Experience (NDE); Individuals who were clinically dead, briefly experienced what comes next, and then were sent back.

Here’s the truth: I’m dying. I’m not sure I could begin my week with a more sobering observation, but it is true. According to the scientists who study these things, I reached the pinnacle of my physical development between 25 (muscle strength) and 30 (bone mass). From that point forward, despite the fact that I am probably more fit for my age than I was back then, my body is in slow but steady decline. Fortunately, the mind, psyche, and spirit can still grow and develop through the life journey despite my brain processing power peaking at age 18. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the fact that my body is making a persistent and irreversible descent towards death.

In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews continues to compare the covenant and sacrificial system that God prescribed for Moses and the Hebrew people to the new covenant established by Jesus through His sacrificial death. At the beginning of the Great Story, Adam and Eve’s sin ushered in the reality of death:

“By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19 (NIV)

From the beginning, humanity has, by and large, fought death, feared death, and sought to escape death. Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most people living a life of relative wealth, freedom, and affluence tend to distract themselves from thinking about it at all. Some are so enamored with the distractions that their indulgence leads to the very thing they were trying to distract themselves from thinking about. Then I’ve observed a few are so dissatisfied, wearied, or wounded that they prefer death to empty distractions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about death as a follower of Jesus. Today’s chapter lays out quite plainly that Jesus suffered His horrific death in fulfillment of a once-and-for-all sacrifice that not only made Moses’ old sacrificial system obsolete, it completely transforms my perception of death. Jesus taught that death is the gateway to Life. Death is no longer something I need to fight but something to welcome. It is no longer something to fear, but to celebrate. It is no longer something to escape, but to embrace. The many testimonies of those who experience NDEs concur. One of the common themes of those who were given a taste of heaven is the fact that they didn’t want to come back.

If I truly believe what I say I believe, and death is not something I need to fear or ignore via distraction, how does that inform what I do with my life today? For me, I find that it frees me to live more intentionally with the eternal in mind. My physical descent towards earthly death is ultimately leading toward an ascent to eternal life. My purpose each day on this earthly path of descent is to love God with everything I’ve got while loving others as I love myself as Jesus laid out as the way of trust, lament, humility, justice, compassion, right motive, peacemaking, surrender, and radical love.

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

Slaves to Fear

Slaves to Fear (CaD Heb 2) Wayfarer

…and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Hebrews 2:15 (NIV)

Over the weekend, I was informed by a client that one of their team members passed away from Covid. I had just spoken to her a few weeks ago while I was on-site doing some training sessions. In fact, she and I had a very pleasant conversation one morning as we waited for some of her colleagues to arrive for a meeting. The news came as a shock.

The pandemic has been a life-altering event for humanity. We have lived through a historic period of history. Some of the effects may very well reverberate through the rest of our lives or beyond.

For me, one of the fascinating aspects of the pandemic has been to witness fear and its effects on people’s thoughts and behaviors. It is completely natural for people to fear death, yet along my life journey, I’ve come to observe that it’s easy for most people around me to keep thoughts of death successfully at bay. This is especially true living in a developed, affluent society in which life expectancy is long and temporal distractions are virtually endless. Having officiated many funerals along my journey, I came to realize that for many people attending the funeral it might be one of the few times in life they contemplated their own mortality. It’s hard not to when there’s a dead body in the room.

I was struck this morning by the author of the letter to the Hebrews observing that people could be enslaved by their fear of death. I believe it resonated deeply with me simply because I’ve witnessed what that looks like in people during the pandemic.

For followers of Jesus, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of an annual 40-day remembrance of Jesus’ journey to death that ends in the celebration of His resurrection. That is the defining moment as a follower of Jesus. Death was not a dead end to be feared, but the path to resurrection and eternal Life.

If I truly believe what I say I believe then my perception of, and attitude toward, death is forever altered. Jesus’ resurrection turns the one thing that I most fear, my own death, into an event filled with hope, promise, and expectation. I am no longer shackled by my fear of death. Without those chains, I have perceived my anxiety level to be far lower than many I have observed around me during the past couple of years. The contrast has been brought acutely into focus.

In the quiet this morning, I am grateful for the increasing signs of the pandemic becoming endemic. I am hopeful for life to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normality. I’m grateful for clients who know that I not only do business with them, but that I care about them, walk with them, grieve with them, and will pray for them in times of death and grief. I’m grateful that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I am free from slavery to the fear of death.

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

The Old Couple Who Lived Up on the Hill

The Old Couple Who Lived Up on the Hill (CaD Matt 20) Wayfarer

“…they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

Matthew 20:11-15 (NIV)

I was surprised to get the call. I barely knew the old couple who lived up on the hill. I’d visited them once or twice, despite people telling me not to waste my time. They’d been described as cold, grouchy, and cantankerous, but I found them pleasant enough. I don’t think they ever learned my name. I was always just “Preacher,” which I discovered happens a lot when you’re the pastor of the only church in a small town.

Granted, I don’t ever remember talking to them about much of anything except the safe pleasantries of rural Iowa conversation between acquaintances. I asked them about their lives and their stories. We drank coffee and enjoyed the quiet majesty of the view from their house, which overlooked the rolling Iowa countryside. I never invited them to church. I don’t recall that Jesus ever came up in our conversations.

The call came late in the afternoon, asking me to come immediately to the ICU unit of the regional hospital about a half-hour’s drive away. The moment I walked into the room and saw the old man who lived up on the hill, I knew the situation. I reached out and took his hand.

“You’re dying, aren’t you?” I asked gently as I took his hand and smiled.

He nodded, wordlessly.

“You don’t know where you’re going when it happens, do you?” I asked.

He shook his head.

I shared about Jesus in the simplest of terms. He listened. I asked if he’d like me to pray with him for Christ to come into heart and life.

“Yes,” he said.

By the time our short, child-like prayer was done, the tears were streaming down his cheeks. He was suddenly filled with an energy that seemed absent in his mind and body just moments before,

“Preacher!? You have to go visit my wife. Right now. Tell her what you told me. Tell her I want her to have Jesus in her heart, too. Go. Now. Right now.”

So I went, and I did as he asked. I shared in the simplest of terms. I offered to lead her in prayer as I had her husband. She prayed. She cried. I told her I would come back and visit to check on them, but I never got the chance.

He died in the ICU unit a few hours later,

A few hours after he passed on, she followed him, dying quietly at home.

I did the funeral in our little Community church with both caskets sitting in front of me. It was a tiny gathering. They hadn’t built many positive relationships in their lives. I got to share about the call, our visit, their prayers, and I talked about it never being too late to give one’s life to Christ.

After the service, I was approached by an elderly couple who told me that they had, for many years, ceaselessly visited the old couple on the hill. They’d loved on them, they’d shared Jesus with them, they’d begged them to ask Jesus into their hearts. They’d been rejected time and time again. And while they seemed glad to hear that the old couple on the hill had finally made the decision, I felt a hint of indignation underneath the surface. They’d done all the work and seemingly experienced no reward for their spiritual labor. I showed up at the last minute to harvest what they’d been sowing for all those years.

That experience came to mind this morning as I read Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. I find that there are certain parables that mean more to me the further I advance in this life journey, and this is one of them. Each group of workers agrees to work for the same wage, but when the workers who slaved away all day watch those who pitched in for the final hour receiving the same reward, they become indignant. I find it such a human response. It is neither fair nor equitable in human terms.

The economics of God’s Kingdom, however, doesn’t work like the economics of this world. That was Jesus’ point, and He famously pins this epilogue to His parable: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In the quiet this morning as I mull over the story of the old couple who lived up on the hill, I find myself asking about the motives of my own heart. Why have I followed Jesus these forty years? I find that reward is not something I think much about. I have been so blessed in this life I just assume that I’ll be among the “the first shall be last” crowd, and that’s okay with me. The reward is not my motivation. It’s gratitude for what I received that I never deserved that fuel’s my journey. It’s Paul’s words of motivation that ring true in my soul: “Christ’s love compels us.”

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

Two Retirement Funds

Two Retirement Funds (CaD Matt 6) Wayfarer

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Last autumn, I spent a lot of time meditating on the ancient sage wisdom of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher spent a lot of time expounding on the grim reality that one spends a lifetime saving, acquiring, and hoarding wealth and possessions only to die and have it all passed on to someone else. In fact, it goes to others who didn’t do the working, saving, and acquiring. The Teacher called this hevel in Hebrew. It’s futile, empty, and meaningless. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

I’m getting to the stage in life when retirement starts to become an increasingly important topic of discussion. It’s always been out there in the distant future, but now I can see it there on the horizon. I have friends who have already retired. I have friends and colleagues who are almost there. The eyes start looking more seriously at what all the working, planning and saving have accumulated.

The lessons of the Teacher echoed in my spirit as I read today’s chapter. We’re still in Jesus’ famous message on the hill. Jesus spends most of the chapter addressing common religious practices: giving, praying, and fasting. He tells His followers to carry out the disciplines of faith quietly and privately as though only God need witness it.

Jesus then seems to address the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, the building up of earthly treasure is hevel, Jesus agrees. It rusts, rots, and is given away when you die. So, don’t do it. Instead, Jesus recommends investing in heavenly treasure that has eternal value.

The further I get in my spiritual journey, and especially in the past two years of Covid, I’ve observed how myopically focused one can be on this earthly life. If this earthly life is all there is and my years here are some cosmic coincidence which comes to an abrupt and final end when I die, then I might as well moan and wail along with the Teacher and the bitter pill of life’s meaninglessness. If, however, Jesus is who He said He was and there is an eternity of life waiting on the other side of the grave as He said there is, then His investment advice is profound.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering those I know in my circle of influence who appear focused on earthly treasure is if it is the most important thing in life. I’m ponder yet others who appear to live as if death is an utterly final, bad thing to be feared, avoided, and delayed at all costs for as long as possible. Fear is rampant everywhere I look, which makes perfect sense to me if I’m living in the hevel of a hopeless, meaningless, material world.

I contrast this, of course, with being a follower of Jesus. Death, Jesus taught, is the prerequisite for Life. Death was the mission to make resurrection possible. Death is not a bitter and final end but rather the gateway to a resurrected Life more real than the one on this earth. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then it changes how I view this life, what I consider of real value, how I invest my personal resources, and how I approach my impending death.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m mindful of the fact that I have two retirement funds. One is for this life, and whatever is left will end up with our children and grandchildren. The other is for the next life, where it can be enjoyed for eternity. If I’m wise, Jesus taught in the message on the hill, I will invest in both accordingly.

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

Blue Christmas

Blue Christmas (CaD Lam 1) Wayfarer

“This is why I weep
    and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
    no one to restore my spirit…”

Lamentations 1:16 (NIV)

I don’t really believe in coincidences, and I believe that everything is connected. Thus, I try to pay attention to patterns and connections.

Yesterday morning I read of the death and devastation caused by tornadoes across multiple states.

Later in the morning, I spoke with a friend among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers yesterday who is experiencing acute grief after the loss of a child.

“I can’t smile,” they said to me. “I try to do it. It’s like I’m physically incapable.”

After delivering the message in the next worship service, I was handed a note and asked to announce to our local gathering the death of a long-time, core member. He was once Wendy’s boss, and he a transformational presence in her life.

Yesterday afternoon, the blog post of an acquaintance landed in my inbox. It’s another installment in what I’ve observed to be a somewhat fashionable trend of late among a younger generation deconstructing their faith and waxing eloquent about the failings of the church/institution/Christian_brand of their youth. This individual wrote:

“I have lived…years in the company of people (and have been one myself) who are very quick to pose a theological short-hand as the solution to all of life’s woes. And when that theology fails, it is simply a problem of not believing enough.”

For the record, I don’t begrudge anyone their own spiritual wrangling on this earthly journey. Everyone has their own path to walk and their own story being told. I’ve observed that entire generations have something of a collective spiritual path. Nevertheless, it made me sad.

A couple of years ago, our local gathering went through an unprecedented season of death. I don’t remember the exact numbers but it was something like almost 200 families in our gathering experienced the death of a loved one in a period of about 18 months. This included infants, toddlers, and the son of a Pastor, who was just in his twenties. Thus, each Advent season we’ve had a Sunday we call “Blue Christmas” in which we remember those we’ve lost, and we give permission to grieve for those in the midst of it. We try to respectfully, lovingly, and sympathetically walk alongside. We do our best not to let the empty, sentimental schlock of the season distract us from the reality that there are those among us walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

Our local gathering handed out candles, along with a blessing, to any who wanted a light to remember those they’ve lost this Christmas season. Wendy picked one up as we left worship yesterday and delivered it to a loved one in the afternoon in remembrance of a key family member who passed years ago and in recognition of the recurring grief that comes with that loved one’s absence every Christmas.

Having connected all of these experiences in the past few days, I’ve decided to journey through the ancient, poetic book of Lamentations this week. Written by the prophet Jeremiah after the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., it is a lyrical expression of grief amidst the realities of suffering and death that we can scarcely imagine. Suffering and grief for which there is no easy theological solution. More on that as we walk with Jeremiah in his grief throughout this week.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grieving those like the acquaintance who find themselves in the company of those whose faith is “a theological short-hand as the solution of all woes.” I pray they find new company among those who choose not to deny the woes in this life for which there is no solution, but for which there is sympathy, empathy, consideration, and wordless companionship on the walk through the valley of death’s shadow. I’m grateful to live among such company, and I’m thankful that in the Great Story there’s are entire books dedicated to the realities of incomprehensible suffering and grief.

I pray for all for whom this Christmas is a Blue Christmas.

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