Tag Archives: Destination

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Psalm 136 is one of the most fascinating of all the songs in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we all the book of Psalms. The ancient Hebrew songwriter crafted it in such a way that the the meaning and metaphor of the lyrics are as much in the structure as they are in the words. First, there’s the organization of the the theme:

  • Six verses about creation
  • Six verses about the Hebrews deliverance from slavery
  • One verse about the Hebrews being led through the wilderness
  • Six verses about the Hebrews conquest of Canaan
  • Four verses that echo/summarize the previous themes
  • A final call to praise God

There is no other psalm in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that utilizes the call and response device as this song does. Twenty-six times the refrain “His love endures forever” is used. That number is important because for the ancient Hebrews, the letters of their alphabet also did double-duty as numerals. Every letter was used as a number. When you add up the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH (Note: the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have vowels) the total is, you guessed it, 26.

As I thought about the structure of the song, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels every life story, my life story.

I have a creation story. There’s the time in which I was born, the family in which I was raised, the community of my childhood, and the events that set me on my path in life.

Like the Hebrew exodus from slavery, I have climactic events that shape and define my life journey. My decision to follow Christ and subsequent call to proclaim His message, my being cast in a film and meeting the mentor who would play an instrumental part in my life, my early marriage, the births of Taylor and Madison, the divorce that would end my first marriage after seventeen years, and the unexpected arrival of Wendy in my life.

Like the Hebrew wilderness experience, I have my own stretch of life’s road in which I wandered in the wilderness of my own choosing. I chose the path of the prodigal. I ran. I squandered. I was unfaithful to those I loved most. I had my own pig-slop “Aha!” moment. I had to find my way back.

Like the Hebrew conquest, I have my own slate of victories in life. I have accomplishments, awards, and successes.

And, through it all, God’s faithful, enduring love is woven through every major success and every tragic failure. His love is woven through my best moments and my worst. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul wrote that at the end of the Great Story that contains all stories, including mine, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love. he adds, “The greatest of these is love.”

In the quiet this morning, as I look back at my own story, I am realizing just how much God’s love shows up like the repeated refrain of Psalm 136. I am also reminded that like the 26 love refrains the song writer metaphorically employed to point me to God, Yahweh, I am pointed to a God who is love incarnate, which is the destination and goal of my entire story and life journey through this world. If I’m not growing into love in increasing measure as Jesus defined it, then I am (perhaps even with the best of intentions) headed in the wrong direction.

Arriving

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)

Wendy and I have been enjoying photos and videos that Taylor has been sending us this weekend from Stockholm, Sweden. She, Clayton, and Milo are visiting the Scandinavian city with their friends and, according to the visual evidence, having a marvelous time.

I’ve been thinking this morning about the experience of travel. When going to a new place, one can learn many things about the destination. You can learn about where you will be, you can be told about it, but until you actually get there, you don’t really experience it for yourself.

In today’s chapter, Peter is called by God to visit the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. The resurrected Jesus had told Peter and the rest of His followers that they were to share Jesus’ story and their first-hand accounts of their experiences with Him to “the ends of the earth.” Nevertheless, the followers of Jesus had remained a Jewish sect. While there may have been some Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) converts, the twelve had continued to be headquartered in Jerusalem and they still centered their activity around the Temple and the Jewish community.

Now God calls Peter to visit the home of a Gentile, which was against Jewish custom and law. To enter the home of a Gentile was to make oneself spiritually unclean. It was a strictly taboo in the Jewish religion and culture of the day. Not only was Cornelius a non-Jew, he was also a Roman Centurion, which added an entire layer of political and social stigma on top of the religious prohibitions. The Romans were military occupiers of Judea. They were hated and they were detested by the Jewish people.

Now God is once again blowing-up human division and Jewish tradition by sending Peter to visit the unclean home of what a good Jewish man would have considered a “vile and detestable” Roman officer. Cornelius and his entire household believe Peter’s stories about Jesus, and Holy Spirit pours into them. Peter says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Peter had witnessed Jesus breaking social barriers. Jesus made friends with a Samaritan woman and healed a Centurion’s child. Peter had been told by Jesus that they were to take the good news of Jesus to the “ends of the Earth.” I’m sure that the earlier believers had already been talking, even debating among themselves, whether they should accept non-Jewish converts and how that was going to work. God had been leading Peter and the other believers towards this reality in their journey. At Cornelius’ house, Peter finally arrived and knew for himself where Jesus had been leading them. It was waypoint in Peter’s journey that would change the course of the Jesus movement and human history.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about our lunchtime conversation yesterday with a friend. She shared about a major spiritual break though that she’d been moving towards for four years. It finally arrived this past week and we all shed tears hearing about her experience. It was not unlike Peter’s experience. She’d been moving toward this spiritual reality for years, but didn’t really experience it until she arrived at that waypoint.

This is a spiritual journey. We don’t experience things once and for all. We experience things progressively as we continue to press on in faith asking, seeking, knocking. In my experience it can be frustrating, but it also exciting to look ahead and wonder what God has in store there on the horizon.

Have a great week everyone. Time to press on.

 

Journeys, Waypoints, and Destinations

familyThese six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months. David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years…. 1 Chronicles 3:4 (NIV)

Time has been on my mind a lot lately. From my current waypoint on life’s road I’m watching our daughters in the early stages of their adult lives. Taylor has been working and planning for grad school. Madison is taking a year off of being a full-time student to work and get her Colorado residency. They are dealing with jobs and bosses and learning lessons about living life on their own. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, has been living with us for almost a year. We’ve helped her manage her senior year of high school, watched her graduate, and now we’re helping her navigate job, plans for college, and setting a course for life. These three very capable young ladies have so much of life ahead of them, so many lessons to learn, and so many things to experience. I’m excited for each one.

Wendy and I are at a very different place in the journey, and it sometimes feels odd to me in the same way it feels odd for Taylor not to have the summer off, for Madison to be taking time away from school, or for Suzanna to think she never has to go back to high school. I look at our parents and assume that they have their own oddities they feel with their respective waypoints on life’s road. The journey is about being in motion. The road never stops taking you to places unfamiliar. Try as you might, you can never rush the journey. “Shortcuts make for long delays.”

I’m reminded once more this morning of David’s journey. Anointed King of Israel as a boy, it was many years before he was crowned the head of his tribe, and another seven and a half years before that led to the throne of Israel for which he was anointed and destined (remember that destiny and destination are related!). Roughly twenty some years lay between those two waypoints in which his life’s road twisted, turned, rose, fell, and switched-back in odd ways. C’est la vie.

Today I’m grateful for God’s faithfulness and abundant grace. I’m excited and prayerful for our girls as they follow behind on life’s road. I’m prayerful and supportive of our parents who blaze the trail ahead. I’m content knowing that with every knew experience along the way come odd feelings and new lessons. Our job is to keep moving. We’ll reach our respective waypoints in God’s perfect timing.

Lace ’em up friends. Here we go.

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I Haven’t Arrived, but I’ve Got a Good Set of Directions

source:  Cornelia Kopp via Flickr
source: Cornelia Kopp via Flickr

until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:13 (NIV)

I so regularly use the word picture of “journey” because it captures so perfectly for me the reality of movement, progress, and destination in this life.

When I was a young man I felt a compulsion to be and to appear perfect. I didn’t want others to see or honestly know me with all my human failures. My sense shame and the appearances I put on to mask it only weighed me down and hampered my progress. Somewhere along the way, however, I came to realize that while entering a relationship with Jesus immediately changed my eternal reality, here on Earth I was still the same bozo on the bus that I’d always been still trying to find my way home.

Following Jesus didn’t result in me getting immediately teleported to my destination. I still have to slog through the journey day-by-day like everybody else. The real difference is that now I have a trustworthy Guide and a great set of directions. Honestly accepting this truth allowed me to have a little more grace with myself and with others. I haven’t arrived, and neither has that guy who pisses me off or the lady over there who irritates the crap out of me. I haven’t reached fullness, wholeness, or maturity and neither have they. We’re all bozos on the bus together, and I’ve got to have realistic expectations of myself and others. I know I’m pointed in the right direction, I’m following Jesus, and I’m making progress.

Just keep moving. It’s not a sprint, it’s more like an Iron Man marathon.

Slow and steady wins the race.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 31

Temptation. Repent, return, dear Israel, to the One you so cruelly abandoned. On the day you return, you'll throw away—at every last one of you—the no-gods your sinful hands made from metal and woodIsaiah 31:6-7 (MSG)

Growing up, there was an annual traveling carnival that came to town and set itself up in the parking lot of one of the shopping centers we passed on the weekly pilgrimage across town to grandma and grandpa's house. There were bright lights, thrill rides, tents with all sorts of games, and stands with cotton candy and snow cones. Driving to our destination, the carnival would always catch my eye and I would instantly beg my parents to pull off and take me to the carnival (which, they never did).

I reflect back on my journey and the many times I've abandoned the path and diverted from my destination to chase after bright lights, thrill rides, and to gamble on prizes which are worthless in the end.

Reading today's chapter, I'm reminded that following God requires repentance and repentance requires leaving behind that for which we diverted our journey. We don't get to pack up the carnival and bring it with us. "Hang on a minute, God. I want to load the tilt-a-whirl on a flatbed and bring it with us." We must throw away the worthless trinkets and abandon the cheap thrills which stirred the lust of our eyes and the lust of our flesh and led us away from the path.

Following Jesus is a journey of faith. Faith requires leaving things behind.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and drewesque