Tag Archives: Death

My Inmost Being

My Inmost Being (CaD Ps 103) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalm 103:1 (NIV)

In a few weeks, I will mark a milestone in my spiritual journey. It was a frigidly cold February night in 1981 when I decided to become a follower of Jesus. It’s been forty years.

The number 40 is significant in the Great Story. It is the number of trial, testing, and ordeal:

Noah’s flood resulted from 40 days of rain.

Moses lived 40 years in Egypt, then led the Hebrews through the wilderness for 40 years.

Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by the Evil One.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers over a 40 day period before ascending to Heaven.

Ezekiel laid on his side for 40 days as a word picture of the sins of the kingdom of Judah.

Elijah fasted for 40 days on Mount Horeb.

So, I’ve found myself meditating on my spiritual journey of late as I mark the milestone. I had been raised going to church as a child, but the experience for me was largely about ritual. It was something I did because it was what my family did each week. It’s not to say that it wasn’t without its lessons and benefits, but it was largely a weekly physical routine and family ritual to be endured. After completing my confirmation coursework at the age of 13 my parents told me that I could decide on my own if I wanted to go to church or not. So, I stopped going.

What happened a couple of years later on that cold February night was something completely different than anything I’d ever experienced. It was not a religious ritual or physical routine. It was something that happened in my inmost being. I opened my spirit and invited Jesus to come in. I made a spirit decision to surrender myself to following Jesus, whatever that might mean. Something was spiritually birthed in me that is still growing 40 years later.

Jesus gave His followers a word picture about the most religious people of His day. He said that religion was an ornate marble crypt you might see in your local cemetery. It looks beautiful, majestic, and expensive from the outside as you’re driving by, but if you step inside the crypt you’ll only find darkness, cobwebs, and decomposing bones.

If find that a really accurate description of my spiritual experience before that February night forty years ago. I physically went through religious rituals. I mentally considered the things I was taught. I took a class, learned what was required to take a test, and got a piece of paper telling me I was now a member of the institution. Yet, there was no spiritual change.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 103, King David pens the lyrics to a really beautiful song of praise to God. When David was still a kid, God called him “a man after my own heart” and Psalm 103 is a testimony to the intimate Spirit relationship David experienced.

In the very first verse David says that it praise comes from his soul. The Hebrew word he uses there (nepes) alludes to “breath” or the “essence” and “life force.” He then states that his “inmost being” (the Hebrew word is qereb) praises. This word alludes to the intimate interior of the heart that is the seat of thought and emotion. In other words, David is not calling his listeners to trek to church each Sunday and go through the ritualistic motions. This is David, who once got so intense in his worshp that he peeled down to his tighty-whities as he danced and publicly embarrassed his wife. David is calling his listener to an experiential rendevouz with the Creator. He is calling for an all-out ecstatic expression that comes from the depths of one’s soul. A personal exhale of life force in a euphoric song and dance with the divine.

In the quiet this morning, I find my spirit stirred by David’s spirit and the words it motivated in his lyrics. Dude, I get it. It isn’t about empty religious ritual and rote mental and physical machinations. That’s just a crypt. It’s about that which is spiritually alive in me that has to get out. It’s what the prophet Jeremiah described: a fire shut-up in my bones. It’s that life that was birthed in my inmost being forty years ago. I look back from 40 years further down life’s road and find that it only grows stronger within me, even as my body grows slowly weaker.

“God is Grape”

"God is Grape" (CaD Ps 102) Wayfarer

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord
Psalm 102:18 (NIV)

One of the silver linings of our family’s COVID plague has been the extended amount of time we’ve had with our grandson. This includes both moments of three-year-old hilarity and DEFCON FIVE toddler tantrums.

One of the more endearing developments has been Milo’s insistence on praying for our meal every night. Some nights he insists that we hold hands and pray two or three random times during the meal as he prays:

“God is grape. God is good. And we thank Him for the food.”

The sweetness melts this grandparent’s heart, of course. But for me it’s also witnessing the innocent openness and sensitivity of Spirit in the wee one.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 102, is another ancient Hebrew song lyric that was written during a time of intense illness. In fact, the songwriter was not sure that he was going to make it. The song begins with the writer calling out to God to hear and quickly respond, then he pours out the angst-filled description of his medical and emotional symptoms.

As the song proceeds, the tone of the lyric makes an abrupt switch. The writer stops focusing on his momentary circumstance and, instead, focuses on God’s eternal nature and the perpetuity of life. It’s as though the writer is saying “Even if this is it for me, and my number is up, life will go on. That which is eternal perseveres. The universe continues to expand. The next generation will emerge, then the next, and then the next.”

One of the oft-forgotten themes of the Great Story is that of descendence.

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
Genesis 1:28
“God said to Noah and his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants.’”
Genesis 9:8-9
To Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.”
Genesis 12:2
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)

The Great Story is a story because it continues, it goes on even when my role is over and I make my final exit. Even in the most tragic and bleak dystopian imaginings, the premise is that Life endures and the story continues.

In the quiet this morning I feel the lingering effects of the virus on my body and realize that at this point in this life journey I don’t bounce back the way I once did. I listen to the unbridled energy of my grandson whose body felt none of the viral effects and who will live his earthly journey without remembering these weeks shut-in with Papa and Yaya.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, for him or for me. No matter the narrative of my story, life will continue in his story. Life gets handed off, a little bit each day, as we sit around the dinner table, holding hands and listening to that little voice say “God is grape.”

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died (CaD Ps 72) Wayfarer

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
Psalm 72:20 (NIV)

I have the Don McLean classic American Pie going through my head in the quiet this morning. It’s funny how songs connect to so many thoughts and feelings. The first verse stirs so many memories of being a paperboy at the age of 12. Frigid Iowa mornings being the first person to see the headlines, and trudging in the dark before dawn hand-delivering newspapers to the doorsteps up and down the block.

McLean’s lyrics go like this…

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

I think the inspiration for those words has already been lost to most people. As Mclean’s lyric reveals, it was an event that became known as “The Day the Music Died.” A small plane crashed in an Iowa field and tragically took the lives of three of the most popular rock-and-roll musicians of their day: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 72, isn’t as meaningful to the causal reader without understanding the context of both the song and its placement in the larger work we know as the book of Psalms. As I’ve mentioned before, this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics was compiled by unknown editors. They’ve been lost in the fog of history, but they probably did their compilation sometime around the time the Hebrews were in Exile in Babylon about 500-600 B.C.

The editors didn’t just throw the songs together willy-nilly. There was tremendous thought put into themes, authorship, chronology, and how the individual songs fit into the larger whole. The Psalms are actually broken up into five sections we call “Books.” As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’ve come to the end of Book II with Psalm 72. Most all of the songs lyrics in the anthology, thus far, have been penned by King David. Yesterday’s lyrics revealed David’s thoughts and expressions near the end of his life.

The final song of Book II is an abrupt transition. The liner notes reveal that it is “of” Solomon or “for” Solomon (perhaps both/and), the youngest son of David and the offspring of Bethsheba (yep, the woman with whom he had a scandalous affair). Psalm 72 is a coronation song, meant to be used during the public rituals when a new king is crowned. As if the meaning of this song coming immediately after David’s aged reflections in Psalm 71, and the fact that we’re at the end of Book II, wasn’t clear enough, the anonymous editors of the anthology added a line at the end of the lyrics:

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

Old things pass away. New things come.

David, the warrior-king, God’s minstrel, has passed on.

It was “the day the music died” for the Hebrew people.

Psalm 72 reads like an idyllic vision of monarchy. Like an inauguration speech from a new President, it is full of hope for a new leader who will rule with justice, end poverty, end violence, provide for those in need, be esteemed by world leaders, and be forever established as God’s person for the job. The vision is so idyllic that both Hebrew scholars and early followers of Jesus viewed the metaphors as layered with meaning both as a national anthem for the newly crowned Solomon, and a prophetic vision of the coming and reigning Messiah.

In the quiet this morning, my Enneagram Four-ness can’t shake the melancholy (go figure). A little boy delivering newspapers in the cold, inspired in the grief of a terrible tragedy. In tragics deaths of an Iowa winter, a seed is planted in that little boy which will one day creatively spring to life in a new song that will mesmerize the music world for generations.

What a beautiful image of creation, of life, death, and new life. That’s the theme. That’s the theme of the Great Story.

Creation, Garden, Fall, Salvation.

Birth, life, death, new life.

A time and a season for all things under the sun.

Old things pass away. New things come.

As the Mandalorians in Star Wars would say: “This is the way.”

So, no matter where the journey finds you today, in joy or grief, in melancholy or happiness, take courage, my friend. The best is yet to come.

I have spoken. 😉

Journey

Journey (CaD Ps 68) Wayfarer

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
    from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

Psalm 68:19-20 (NIV)

Quite obviously, my entire blog and podcast is predicated on the metaphor of the journey. This is not novel or new. All the great epic stories are journeys. The journey is everywhere in the Great Story.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, and find themselves journeying out of fellowship with God into exile into the world.

When God calls Abram, He is told to leave his home and follow to a land that God would show him.

Joseph is sold in slavery by his brothers and journeys to Egypt, where God establishes him in preparation to save his family.

Moses journeys out of Egypt to Midian, then back to Egypt, then through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

The Hebrew people journey from Egypt through the wilderness, to the Promised Land in Canaan.

David flees and journeys through the wilderness until God leads him back and establishes his throne in Jerusalem.

The 23rd Psalm is a journey from pastures, through the valley of the shadow of death, and to the house of the Lord.

Jesus’ ministry was essentially a journey, complete with a period of wilderness wandering, from the rural flyover country of Galilee to His climactic death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

The story of the early Jesus movement was essentially a journey out of Jerusalem and into the world.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 68, is epic in its length. Scholars believe that it was meant to be a liturgical song sung as worshippers journeyed in procession to the temple in Jerusalem. It’s basically a song of two-halves.

The first half (verses 1-18) references the journey of the Hebrews from Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Law, to Mount Zion in Jerusalem where David established God’s temple.

The second half of the song, (verses 19-35) envisions God’s throne established on earth with the nations journeying to Jerusalem to offer gifts to God.

What really stood out to the early followers of Jesus were the first verses of the second half of the song which seems to prophetically point to the suffering and risen Christ:

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
    from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

With that being the hinge, the early believers viewed the second half of the song as a parallel vision to that of John in the Book of Revelation Jesus’ return.

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but meditate on this metaphor of journey. Why does it resonate so deeply in me? What is it about the journey that seems to weave itself into the fabric of everything? We even envision time as a line that moves from one waypoint to another.

For me, the journey resonates with purpose. Remember, I’m an Enneagram Four. Purpose is our core motivation. If this is just a material universe in which life emerged as a cosmic accident, then there is no real purpose to anything other than those things in which we choose to find purpose. But if there is no God, no eternity, no larger purpose to my existence, then it’s all smoke and mirrors and I’m only just fooling myself.

But if I really believe what I say I believe, the 19,927 days from April 30, 1966 to November 18, 2020 has been a journey from one point in time to another. I’ve matured, developed, learned, and progressed. I am not who I was, and not yet who I will be. My past mistakes have led to growth in understanding. My life, and my journey, are part of something larger than myself in the grand scheme, in the Great Story.

I can take comfort in that. It keeps me going. It frames each day. It leads me on, hinged on a savior who daily bears my burdens, who saves, and through whom death is swallowed up in victorious life.

Wisdom & Winnowing

Wisdom and Winnowing (CaD Ps 49) Wayfarer

When we look at the wise, they die;
    fool and dolt perish together
    and leave their wealth to others.

Psalm 49:10 (NRSVCE)

Over the past few years, I have watched, and assisted, as my parents’ lives have gotten significantly smaller in footprint. From a giant ranch home where grandchildren hung out together and spent a week each summer at “grandma camp,” to a townhouse, a two-bedroom apartment, and now a smaller apartment. With every subsequent move, there is a winnowing of life’s material possessions.

“Does anyone want this?”

“What should we do with that?”

Somebody might use that. Let’s give it to the Many Hands Thrift Store.”

Seriously. Nobody wants that. Throw it in the dumpster.”

Some time ago I was listening to a teacher who encouraged listeners to perform a virtual winnowing of life in your head. Think about everything you own. Not just the big items like homes, cars, and furniture, but the boxes of stuff in storage rooms, attics, and garages. Think about the collective contents of junk drawers, closet shelves, and storage bins. Having taken an exhaustive mental inventory, now consider where it’s all going to end up, and who is going to own it, when you die. Note: Someone else will own everything that doesn’t get pitched into the dumpster. And believe me, for many of us there will be a dumpster.

Today’s chapter continues a string of ancient Hebrew song lyrics written for a specific purpose. Psalm 49 is one of just two songs in the anthology of 150 songs written as “Wisdom Literature.” Across antiquity, sages throughout the Near East created proverbs, songs, parables, and literary works intended to teach and pass along wisdom.

As I shared in this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Proverbs (a classic example of “Wisdom Literature”), even in the Great Story wisdom is personified in a woman often referred to as Sophia. Wisdom Literature is typically marked by a calling out to or from wisdom as the songwriter does today in verses 3-4:

My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

The songwriter then challenges us as listeners and readers to consider the fact that rich-and-poor, wise-and-foolish, good-and-bad all end up in the same place and leave everything behind. Even the Egyptians who packed King Tut’s tomb with stuff for him to use in the afterlife only ended up lining the pockets of Lord Carnarvon and the displays of various museums.

Of course, Lady Wisdom calls out to me to think about this in relationship to what it means for me today, and I hear the echo of Jesus in my soul:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Matthew 19-21 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I hear Wisdom, Jesus, and Holy Spirit whispering to my soul. The exercise of virtual winnowing needs to lead me to actual physical winnowing, or else they have simply wasted their collective breath.

“Sit On It”

“SIT ON IT” (CaD Ps 39) Wayfarer

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.”

Psalm 39:6 (NIV)

Wendy and I are in Austin, Texas this week with some friends. It’s a getaway we had planned well over a year ago. We’re spending part of the day working and then enjoying the rest of our time together going out for meals in Austin’s amazing diversity of dining options.

Last night we went to a wonderful restaurant. It’s a popular spot for which reservations are required well in advance and they serve a crowd every night. Thus, we found ourselves looking around the lobby while we waited for our table. It doubled as a gift shop selling mostly jewelry. The hostess informed us that the jewelry came mostly from estate sales. As I browsed through the rings and the necklaces I wondered to myself about their original owners. Where were they from? What was it that attracted them to this strange-looking ring? Or, was it a gift they would never wear in a million years, but they never felt right getting rid of it?

There were few rings for men as I let my eyes wander through the table full of jewelry. I finally spied one large silver ring and lifted it up to look at it. It was definitely a men’s ring. It was flat on top and hand-stamped on it was the phrase “SIT ON IT,” a kitschy fad phrase made popular in my childhood by the character Fonzie in the television series Happy Days. It made me laugh. For the record, I chose not to spend the $95 they wanted for it.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the four psalms from 38-41 were placed together in the compilation of ancient song lyrics because they had a common theme of confession, contrition, and lament. In today’s chapter, Psalm 39, David is waxing introspective in light of his physical ailments. He’s thinking about his own death. As with yesterday’s song, David clearly believes that his troubles are some form of divine discipline so he is crying out for mercy, healing, and deliverance. In the time of David, the Hebrew people had no developed understanding of eternity or life after death, so there is a brooding undertone as David considers his life journey’s brevity and the finality.

David’s song was structured symmetrically. The central theme of his song is placed in the center, with two verses on either side of it each with five lines in one and three lines in the other. The crux of what David is getting at is that central verse which I pasted at the top of the post:

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.”

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think about that stupid “SIT ON IT” ring I looked at last night. When I was a child, Happy Days was a cultural phenomenon and anything Fonzie said was repeated endlessly on the playground, including the shouting “Sit on it!” when telling a friend to piss off (which was actually a good thing because “piss off” would have gotten me in big trouble!).

Someone back in the 1970s bowed to popular culture and a viral fad. They bought a big silver ring with “SIT ON IT” hand-stamped on it. It ended up in an estate sale with who knows what other earthly possessions. One generation later it ended up on sale in the lobby of a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

It’s the same thing David was mulling over in his song. Everything I own and every possession I value will outlast me on this Earth. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I thought perhaps this morning this is an important reality, and the Spirit is telling me to “sit on it” for a few minutes and ponder.

David, as he always did, channels his brooding into a prayer. He proclaims hope in God to which he is clinging then cries out in a plea for healing and the chance to find joy in life before his number comes up and his earthly journey ends.

Today’s chapter is not a cheery pick-me-up for a day of vacation, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can easily intoxicate myself with endless distractions to the point I am never sober-minded about significant matters of Life and Spirit. Today’s chapter is a good reminder to fully enjoy the goodness of Life on this day that lies before me. A day may come when I, like David, desperately struggle to do so.

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

The Simple, Complex Mystery

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Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.

Psalm 37:27 (NIV)

A while back I found myself in a conversation with a friend who is a very strong Enneagram Type One. Ones have a very strong moral center with an instinctive “gut” for sensing right-and-wrong, black-and-white, and this influences their own lives. It also influences how they perceive and approach the rest of the world. I, however, am an Enneagram Type Four and Fours tend to see the world in the broad spectrum of gradients between black and white. We Fours live well in the gray, which gives us tremendous empathy for others wherever they find themselves on that spectrum.

The conversation with my friend basically boiled down to our contrasting temperaments. My friends saw the issue we were discussing in very simple, black-and-white terms which made things very simple for him. I saw the issue in all the subtle complexities that it presented for people in everyday realities. It was a spirited conversation that ended up with us agreeing on the essential issue but having to agree to disagree on what to do about the issue.

Along my life journey, I have struggled with simplistic contrasts. We don’t think about it much, but our lives are full of them. As children, we’re taught that Santa will find you “naughty” or “nice” which will be the determining factor in your Christmas haul. When we grow up there are all sorts of other binary ways we continue to approach life. In fact, we’re having major social upheaval in our world because of all sorts of issues that we and the media have reduced to simple binary, black-and-white issues. I’m “mask” or “no masks.” I’m “racist” or “BLM.” I’m “conservative” or “progressive.” I’m “Democrat” or “Republican.” And, we’re making choices about how we perceive and treat others based on how their binary choices line up against ours. It breaks my heart.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 37, I am confronted with the reality that even the Great Story often reduces life and matters of Spirit into simple, binary, black-and-white terms. The entire song is dedicated to contrasting the “righteous” and the “wicked” and bringing it down to almost Santa-like “naughty-or-nice” terms.

Simple contrasting metaphors are a foundational spiritual building block throughout the Great Story. In the days of Moses, God places before the Hebrew people “Life” or “Death” and asks them to choose. Hundreds of years later the prophet Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and asked the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, go his way. If Baal (an ancient deity in Mesopotamian cultures) is God, go his way.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus spoke of Judgement Day in terms of separating humanity into “sheep” (good) and the “goats” (bad).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to the conversation with my Type One friend. In my spiritual journey, I learned that following Jesus begins with very simple “yes” or “no.” Here is another simple, contrasting metaphor Jesus used:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

My journey with Jesus began on a cold February night when, to the lyrics of modern psalm proclaiming “I have decided to follow Jesus,” I made that simple decision. I don’t know how to describe the way my life changed that night. There were all sorts of simple binary choices I then began to make about my life, words, relationship, and behavior based on that foundational yes-or-no decision.

At the same time, the further I traveled down life’s road I found that the journey of being a Jesus follower has been a never-ending, daily experiment in figuring out what it means to continue walking that “narrow road.” Sometimes I find things coming down to a very simple black-and-white choice. More often, I find a gradient of complexity in things. So, seeing the world in simple binary terms isn’t such a simple binary issue. I’m sure my Type One friends find it much easier than I do, but that only feeds my point. There are nine Enneagram Types and we’re not all Ones.

In the quiet this morning I find myself back at the mystery of things being “yes, and.” This journey of following Jesus is both simple and infinitely complex. Lest my Type Four heart get lost in the infinite mystery of living in gray, I always have Psalm 37 to pull me back and remind me that sometimes life does simply come back to a black-or-white choice to do either the thing I know is right or the thing I know is wrong, recognizing that there are natural consequences of life and Spirit that will follow the choice I make.

Another day of choices in a very complex world lies before me. Pray I simply make good ones.

Hope and the Pit

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O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Psalm 30:3 (NRSVCE)

A couple of weeks ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers and spoke about Hope in Death. I’ve been doing a lot of meditating on death recently, mainly in conjunction with that message, but also because of the pandemic. Fear of contracting the virus and not surviving is very real.

In my meditation, I’ve observed how prevalent death is in most all of our stories. Antagonists are trying to kill protagonists. Protagonists are trying to avoid being killed. Writers of films and television shows love to stir our emotions by allowing us to witness what had to have been the death of our favorite character and then stir them again when it’s revealed the character actually survived. In the ending of Yellowstone, one of our favorites the writers left us with the classic season cliffhanger and we’ll have to wait a year to find out if a character survived. Wendy and I binged all ten season of the British whodunnit Vera this summer (loved it!) and of course all classic mysteries are predicated on death. The shows start with a dead body.

In short, I’ve observed that death is everywhere we turn for both news and entertainment, even though I don’t really think about it that much.

Today’s psalm, once again penned by King David, tells a story. David thought he was going to die. Whether it was sickness, war wound, or a combination of both is not known. In the opening verse he cries out to God for healing because God “brought up his soul from Sheol and restored him from those who go down to the Pit.”

Human understanding and belief systems with regard to death and the afterlife have evolved over time. In Part 1 of my podcast on Time I talked about how human history is like a life cycle. Humanity itself is growing, maturing, and changing just a you and I grow, change, and mature on this life journey. The Hebrews in David’s day believed a lot like other Mesopotamian cultures. After life was a shadowy, uncertain state of existence. The underworld was known as Sheol and it was considered to be a dark pit in the deepest recesses of the Earth. For David, there really wasn’t hope of an afterlife. There was just fear of death. In escaping death, David writes this song of joyous praise for God’s deliverance.

Fast forward roughly 1,000 years from David to the time of Jesus. In Jesus’ day, the Hebrews’ beliefs had evolved but there was still vastly divergent views on what happens when we die. One school of thought (the Sudducees) believed there was no afterlife at all. The most prominent school of thought (the Pharisees) believed there was an afterlife or resurrection. Jesus certainly believed in resurrection. In the Jesus’ story He predicts His death and resurrection on multiple occasions. Before raising his friend Lazarus from the dead Jesus tells Laz’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.” (see John 11). While in Jerusalem, the Sadducee scholars approach Jesus in an attempt to debate Him on the subject (see Matthew 22).

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the joy of David’s escape of death, but the unbridled praise is rooted in his absolute fear and hope-less despair at the prospect of dying. As I mull this over, I can’t help but think about what a game-changer Jesus was. In his letter to believers in the city of Corinth, Paul doesn’t quote from David’s fear of the Pit, but this verse from the prophet Hosea:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

I realize that one of the things that has grown and matured in me as a follower of Jesus are my thoughts and feelings about death. Though earlier in my journey I feared death a great deal, I’m no longer afraid to die. I’ve heard and read the stories of those who have gone and have been sent back. The further I get in this journey the more fully I believe that this earthly life is about me fulfilling my role in the Great Story. When my role is finished I will make my exit to that which is more real than this 19,848 days of physical existence.

I will sing with David his words from today’s psalm:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy

Not because I escaped physical death to live another day, but because Jesus conquered death and I’ll escape this this earth-bound life for eternity.

In the meantime, it’s another day in the journey. Time to press on.

God Friended Me

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Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
Exodus 28:1 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I watched the first season of God Friended Me when it came out a year or two ago. The show is about a preacher’s kid named Miles who is an atheist and has a podcast to discuss is unbelief. God mysteriously “friends” him on Facebook and each episode the “God account” introduces him to a person who Miles is supposed to help, all the while trying to figure out who is behind the God account.

One of the things that I thought was interesting in the writings was that his father is always addressed as “Reverend.” Miles tells people that his dad is a “Reverend.” Everyone addresses his father as “Reverend.” He’s never, that I can remember, referred to as a pastor, priest, preacher, or minister. Just “Reverend.” Which, I kind of found to be unusual to the point of being annoying and one of several reasons I quit watching.

In my experience, clergy across the various denominations, and even religions, are all lumped together in the minds of most people. Either they aren’t sure what to call you, or they simply use whatever word they know from their own experience. And yet, there are major differences in both meaning and role.

A “priest” is typically understood to be a go-between who represents humans before God. In today’s chapter of Exodus, God calls on Aaron and his sons to be priests in the newly established system of sacrifice and worship given through Moses. The chapter goes on to prescribe a very ornate wardrobe for them to wear. The high-priest will be the only one allowed in the “Most Holy Place,” essentially entering God’s presence and representing the Hebrew people before the Almighty. Everything described in the priest’s get-up says that this is a singular and important role. (You can see an artist’s rendition of it in the featured photo of the post, picturing the story of Hanukka.)

In contrast, the term “pastor” is derived from the idea of a shepherd who leads, guides, protects, and provides for the flock. Likewise, the word “minister” means to serve, address, and care for.

From a distance this may just seem like semantics, but it actually has pretty profound implications in one’s understanding of relationship with God. The fundamental question is: “Do I need another human being to be my representative with God?” Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Episcopal doctrine would answer “yes” to that question (though they might all have different takes on it). Most other Protestant categories of believers would answer “no.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. In the book of Hebrews, it is stated that with His death and resurrection, Jesus spiritually became the once-and-for-all High Priest who became the once-and-for-all go-between, intermediary, mediator for humanity. In the system of worship established through Moses in today’s chapter, it is establishing that only Aaron and his male descendants could be priests. According to the family trees given by Matthew and Luke, Jesus was not descended through Aaron but through the royal line of King David. Hebrews explains that Jesus was High Priest, not in the line of Aaron, but “in the order of Melchizedek.” Who’s that? A mysterious character who shows up in the early chapters of the Great Story in Genesis 14 as “priest of God Most High.”

King David would prophetically write about the coming Messiah (Psalm 110):

“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”’

The cool thing established here is that Jesus unites what had previously always been separated. The monarchy and priesthood were separated. The royal line was from David. The priesthood was from Aaron. Jesus, as David himself prophesied, spiritually became both King and Priest.

As Paul wrote to Timothy:

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”

With that distinction, there is no longer need for another human being to be the intermediary between me and God. I have direct access to God and all the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that flows to me through Jesus delivered by God’s Spirit.

As I read through today’s chapter in Exodus and the ancient, intricate system of worship prescribed, I find myself grateful to be living in this chapter of the Great Story. How cool that my relationship with God does not have to be complicated. John’s beautiful introduction to the Jesus story puts it this way:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Simple.

God friended me.

All I had to do was accept.

Seemingly Safe Assumptions

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
Exodus 5:22-23 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have, of late, participated in multiple conversations with others who are grieving. The grief being experienced is not the result of the death of a loved one, but rather the unexpected demise of seemingly safe assumptions.

Along this life journey, I have observed that I am constantly making seemingly safe assumptions about what the road up ahead is going to look like. When I was first married, I assumed my marital life would be “happily ever after,” until I found myself in the middle of a divorce. I raised our daughters never realizing that I assumed all sorts of things about what their education, careers, lives, and world-views would look like until they ended up looking much different in almost every way. I assumed I would go to college and get a college degree and successfully pursue my chosen career, but then I ended up in a job I never wanted nor expected. I have saved for retirement and look forward to many golden years traveling with Wendy and doting on our grandchildren, but I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the harsh realities of lives cut far short of that seemingly safe assumption.

In today’s chapter, our reluctant hero, Moses, obediently follows God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses and Aaron make their appeal asking Pharaoh to let the people go into the wilderness to make sacrifices to God. Instead, Pharaoh both refuses and places a heavier burden on his Hebrew slave labor. This leaves Moses stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no sign of Pharaoh capitulating and Moses’ people are ticked off as they are forced to work harder to meet impossible quotas for which they will likely be beaten and punished.

As I read Moses’ complaint to God about the situation, I found myself remembering exactly what God said to Moses in the burning bush conversation:

“I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.
Exodus 3:19-20

In the painful realities of the moment, Moses was quick to remember God’s promise to deliver his people and plunder the Egyptians. However, Moses conveniently forgot the part about Pharaoh’s obstinance and that it would take a process of wonders before Pharaoh would relent. Based on the power and wonders God had shown Moses back at the burning bush, Moses made a seemingly safe assumption that this whole deliverer gig had a quick turnaround.

I find myself this morning thinking about the many seemingly safe assumptions I made earlier in life. Never did I expect to find myself wading through my own moral failure, navigating divorce, life in a small town, remarriage, blended family, infertility, unexpected pregnancy, and spending my life in a career I’d never wanted but to which I was called and found myself perfectly suited to accomplish.

I can’t help but remember Jesus’ words:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

I have come to believe that any “seemingly safe assumption” about what my life, or the lives of my loved ones, will look like down the road is part of what Jesus is urging me to avoid. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I only know that “God promised to help me deal with whatever hard things come when the time comes.”

God, allow me the wisdom to give my entire attention to what you are doing in and through me this day, and the grace to entrust you with any and every tomorrow.