Tag Archives: Enemy

Purpose in the Pain

Purpose in the Pain (CaD 1 Sam 27) Wayfarer

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines.
1 Samuel 27:1

Yesterday Wendy and I, along with our backyard neighbors, hosted a backyard cookout for over one hundred people from our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. It was awesome. For the record, I still smell like a charcoal grill.

One of the many interesting conversations I had was about how God orchestrates His purposes for us even through seemingly “bad” times. I had a couple of people relate to me about how they could look back and see how God was using difficult stretches of their life journeys to orchestrate positive outcomes and divine purpose even though it wasn’t obvious at the moment.

In today’s chapter, David finally realizes that no matter what promise Saul makes, and no matter what oath he swears, Saul will never stop trying to kill him. David determines that his best option is to live among his nation’s enemy, the Philistines. David knew that Saul could not risk the diplomatic crisis of invading Philistine territory looking for David. So, David goes to Achish, King of the Philistines, and secures sanctuary for himself and his men.

The author of 1 Samuel slips in two important facts regarding the continuing development of David’s leadership and preparation for the throne in the year and four months that David lived among his enemies.

First, the author notes that David’s band of outcasts, misfits, and mercenaries is at 600. That two hundred more men that David started out with back in chapter 22. His private army is growing as David continues to develop his leadership skills, and these men are loyal to David, not to a particular nation. This will serve David well when he eventually ascends to the throne. He has a highly trained and experienced army who are fiercely loyal to him and not just tribal conscripts who will follow whoever happens to be sitting on the throne.

The second fact is easy to miss for contemporary readers. While living in Philistine territory, David and his men raid towns and people groups who were supposed to have been conquered during the conquest of the Promised Land but were never successfully defeated. For the author’s Hebrew audience, this is significant. David is finishing the job given to Joshua that the Hebrew tribes could not, or would not, finish after Joshua died. In their eyes, this makes David a successor to their hero Joshua, marking David once again as God’s man for the job of leading the nation.

In the quiet this morning, these observations reminded me of my conversations from yesterday afternoon. When David flees Saul and is forced to live among his enemies, I doubt he saw what God was doing in the grand scheme. In fact, I think it likely that David only felt like his prophesied ascension to the throne was only getting further and further away from becoming a reality.

As I enter into another day, and a new work week, I’m reminded of a lyric from Psalm 112, which may have even been penned by David himself:

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright.”

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

Sleeping With the Enemy

Sleeping With the Enemy (CaD Hab 2) Wayfarer

“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
    pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
    so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
    Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
    and disgrace will cover your glory.”

Habakkuk 2:15-16 (NIV)

I’ve always enjoyed being a fan of my favorite sports teams. There is something I love about the drama, the stories, the thrill of victories, and the agonies of defeat.

One of the things that have always fascinated me about sports fans is not only the fanaticism of loyalty and celebration to one’s own team but also the hatred and schadenfreude with which one gloats in a rival’s failure and demise. Likewise, there are always those moments when your team will only advance if a hated rival wins a certain game. My despised rival suddenly becomes a necessary tool for my team to ultimately succeed. It’s always a bit excruciating at the moment to find yourself wanting your enemy to win. It feels like the old cliche of sleeping with the enemy. Once it’s over, it feels kind of good when you can return to cheering for their annihilation, as if all is right with the world again.

Today’s chapter is the answer to the question Habakkuk posed to God in yesterday’s chapter. It was prompted by God revealing to the prophet that He was sending the Babylonian Empire to be a tool of punishment to his unrepentant people. The Babylonians were a proud, ruthless, and greedy empire. Habakkuk was aghast that God would use such an evil empire for His purposes.

God’s answer is an oracle of Babylon’s eventual doom. God’s people will be taken into exile for seventy years, but eventually, they will return and Babylonians will receive God’s justice. God’s pronouncement of Babylon’s doom comes in the form of five words of “woe,” which echoes the three-fold “woe” proclaimed over “Babylon the Great” in Revelations 18 that we read on this chapter-a-day journey last week.

But there’s another connection that came to mind as I read the prophetic pronouncement of doom. Specifically, God chastises the Babylonians for their drunken orgies, then says that their drunken shame will be exposed and “the cup from God’s right hand is coming around to you.”

One of God’s people who was taken into exile in Babylon was Daniel of the lion’s den fame. Late in his life, Daniel called before the Babylonian ruler Belshazzar as he and a thousand nobles were having a wine-soaked feast (“woe to him who builds his house with unjust gain” Hab 2:9). Belshazzar had golden cups stolen from Solomon’s temple brought to him so they could drink from them (“woe to him who piles up stolen goods” Hab 2:6). As they drank they praised all their Babylonian idols and deities (“woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’” Hab 2:19). Suddenly a hand appears and writes a cryptic message on the wall (this episode is the source of the term “the handwriting is on the wall”). Daniel is asked to interpret it. Daniel explains that it is God’s proclamation of Belshazzar’s doom. He dies that night and the Medes take over Babylon.

The “cup (of wrath) from the Lord’s right hand” came around just as God said it would through Habakkuk some 66 or so years before.

As I pondered God’s answer to Habakkuk regarding the use of the Babylonians for His purposes, I couldn’t help but think of that sports fan who has to endure watching the hated rival prevail in order for a greater purpose to be accomplished for their team. God’s message through Habakkuk was the assurance that the hated Babylonians would eventually experience the agony of defeat.

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

“Ins” and “Outs”

"Ins" and "Outs" (CaD Matt 8) Wayfarer

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Matthew 8:5-7 (NIV)

I’ve been preparing a message I’m going to be giving among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers this Sunday. A year or two ago I happened to do a little personal study on the subject of fundamentalism. I was prompted to do some research because I noticed certain parallels of thought and behavior among a particular civic group that reminded me of things I saw in some of the Christian fundamentalist groups I experienced earlier in my spiritual journey.

My research came up with six elements that mark fundamentalist groups, elements that I would argue create a toxic cocktail no matter where they are found. All major religions have fundamentalist sects that bear these elements. As I studied and meditated on them, I came to realize that the elements of toxic fundamentalism can really be found in almost any human system including political, institutional, corporate, or even in families. As I was studying the assigned text for this Sunday’s message, I realized that Jesus’ religious critics displayed all six elements within the stories.

One of the elements of fundamentalist systems is that they maintain strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. You must toe the line in thought, words, and behavior to be considered “in” with us, but the slightest misstep or evidence that you’ve run afoul of the rules or belief system and you are “out.”

The Hebrew religious system from which Jesus came was a fundamentalist form of Judaism. They had strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. The religious power brokers wouldn’t associate with fellow Hebrews who were on the “outs” because they didn’t toe the line. And the Roman occupying force in Judea was really on the outs with the good religious authorities as well as almost all Hebrews who considered them the enemy.

In today’s chapter, Jesus has just finished his message on the hill, in which He told His listeners to love the enemy. He returns toward their base of operation and he is met by a Roman Centurion (enemy, occupier, a persecutor of His people, religiously dirty “gentile,” and pagan!). The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus immediately asks if He should come to the Centurion’s house.

Entering the house of a Roman was strictly against fundamentalist rules. The Romans were the “outs” of all “outs.” Years later, in Acts 10, Peter will face the same fundamentalist religious dilemma of being invited to a Centurion’s home. Jesus doesn’t even hesitate: “Would you like me to come with you?”

In the quiet this morning, I was struck by Jesus’ words to His followers after healing the servant remotely and sending the Centurion on his way:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus points out that people will be surprised who they see at heaven’s feast. Some of those who were on the “outs” on earth will be present while some of the “ins” on earth will not.

So who do I consider on the “outs” with me and my belief system? Who would I refrain from accepting an invitation to their home? Who is so worthless in my eyes and I don’t even want to be near them? I think the roots of fundamentalisms are found in my own sinful nature. Jesus not only came to forgive me of my sin but also to call me to live contrary to it. Which means tearing down my own personal “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions.

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

Old Wounds Die Hard

Old Wounds Die Hard (CaD Ps 137) Wayfarer

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.

Psalm 137:8 (NIV)

It’s interesting the places my mind can wander when my body is embroiled in a mindless task. This past weekend as I spent hours power-washing, I found my mind wandering back to a slight that I experienced fifteen years ago which became the death knell of a relationship that effectively ended ten years before that.

Old wounds die hard.

Along my life journey I’ve come to believe that some relationships are for a lifetime. Others relationships are just for a season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Then there are relationships that need to end for the health of both parties. When Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” I don’t believe that he meant that all relationships should be hunky-dory for the long-haul. Paul had a falling out with more than one individual along his own journeys. I’ve come to believe that sometimes to “live at peace” means to allow for relational time and distance

Old wounds die hard.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 137, is fascinating for its emotional honesty. The Babylonian empire laid siege to Jerusalem, razed it to the ground, and took the citizens into captivity in Babylon for a generation. They experienced their fair share of persecution. This was not only from the Babylonians, but also from Babylon’s allies which included a people known as the Edomites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. Esau was the first-born twin. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and became a patriarch of the Hebrew tribes. Esau became the patriarch of the Edomites. Bad blood between them. Fifteen-hundred years later the descendants of the twins are still feuding.

Old wounds die hard.

The songwriter of Psalm 137 channels the pain of captivity, the humiliating treatment by his captors, the homesickness of exile, and the wounds of the feuding enemies, the Edomites. The song has three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the torment of exile, the second stanza expresses love and commitment to Jerusalem, and the final stanza is a raw expression of the vengeance the songwriter feels and the desire for Babylon and Edom to get their just desserts.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself appreciating Psalm 137 for being an example of healthy expression of unhealthy emotions. Along my journey I have had multiple waypoints in which I have felt betrayed and wounded. Those experiences lead to anger which can easily lead me to bitterness which can poison my soul. Wendy and I often remind one-another that anger is like me drinking poison thinking that it will hurt the object of my rage. Yet, I have to do something with my anger. I’ve got to be honest with it, process it, and find healthy ways to get it out.

Which is why the mental scab that I picked at while power washing was simply a fleeting visit down Memory Lane. I processed it and got it out a long time ago. Life has moved on for both me and the one who slighted me. I honestly hope that he is well and has continued to grow in his own journey. There’s not much left of that wound. It’s healed over. There are just the dried remains of scab that I brushed away with my power-washer.

Old wounds die hard, but I have found that they do eventually die when I, like the lyricist of Psalm 137, am honest with my anger. Getting it out, processing it, and expressing it allow for doing what Jesus asks of me: to forgive others just as I have been forgiven.

An Autopsy of My Fears

An Autopsy of My Fears (CaD Ps 91) Wayfarer

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;

Psalm 91:11 (NIV)

In this riotous year of 2020, I have endeavored to keep my mouth shut and both my eyes and ears open. The division and discord have been palpable, but I have truly desired to be an agent of peace, love, and unity. I confess that I haven’t been perfect, but it was my endeavor. Never in my life have I felt James’ directive so necessary and difficult when he wrote:

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”
James 1:19 (NIV)

One of the observations I’ve made this year as I’ve watched and listened is how individuals respond and react to fear. It’s led me to meditate on my own fears. What is it that I’m afraid of? The truth of the matter is that I have had no fear of the coronavirus, but I have really struggled with fear of business failure and financial loss. I have become more dutiful in wearing my mask when I’m running errands out in public, but I confess that it’s not because I’m afraid of getting COVID, but rather I’m afraid of offending others. I also had no fear about who America’s president would be, but I did struggle with fear about my personal future.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 91, stood out as I read it for its unwavering confidence. If you haven’t noticed, many of the psalms are laments and expressions of all the human emotions that come along with personal struggles, spiritual struggles, and national struggles. There’s none of that in the lyrics of this song. Psalm 91 could be a prosperity preacher’s theme song. It’s a “name it and claim it” treasure trove.

The verse I spotlighted at the top of the post is interesting because it was quoted by Satan when he was tempting Jesus at the launch of His public ministry. The story goes like this:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

As I pondered this, it struck me that at the end of Jesus’ forty-day fast and facing the enemy’s temptations, angels did attend to Him. And, on the night before Jesus was to be crucified, angels once again attended to Him in His agony. The promises of Psalm 90 were true. Those promises, however, were not that Jesus could confidently get or have what He wants, but that He could confidently and faithfully accomplish what He ought.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself circling back to my fears. The forensic autopsy of my fear leaves me realizing that I have a relatively easy time trusting God with the big things, the cosmic things, and global things. My struggle is trusting God with the small things, the personal things, and the things that hit me where I am personally most vulnerable: my pride, my purpose, and my provision.

Is that where an enemy target’s their prey? Attack the weak spot. Hit the places where they are most vulnerable.

I read through the ancient Hebrew lyrics of Psalm 91 once again. Jesus’ example provides me with such crucial context. The psalm is not about me avoiding all pain, suffering, or hardship. The angels, after all, shored Jesus up in the Garden so that He could fulfill the way of suffering and sacrifice: quite literally His journey to death, hell, and back. Psalm 90 is about having the confidence that, as long as I am seeking to faithfully pursue God’s purposes for me, I can be assured that I will not be left alone or forsaken. I will be spiritually provided with everything I need to finish the journey. Maybe not in every moment I want it so my life can be easier, but every time I truly need it so my life can accomplish my own role in the Great Story.

Fear Response

Fear Response (CaD Ps 56) Wayfarer

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (NIV)

This past weekend I enjoyed watching the full moon rising through our window on All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a rare occurrence. It was fun to have trick-or-treaters dressed up and ringing the doorbell on Saturday evening, though the numbers were certainly down in this year of COVID. On Saturday morning Wendy and I enjoyed FaceTime with our grandson, Milo, in his costume. We loved watching him do his rendition of a monster while mom and dad sang The Monster Mash.

For some, of course, Halloween is a time of celebrating fear. And, to be honest, I have never been into scary movies and stories when the intent is to create a false sense of fear in me. No, thank you. I’m happy to avoid fear when at all possible. I have enough experiences in life that create the real emotion of fear!

Today’s chapter, Psalm 56, is the second song David penned out of one very real and fearful moment in his life (the first song was Psalm 34). David found himself alone in the middle of his enemy’s walled city and gated city, surrounded by the enemy’s army. He went there to try to convince them to make an alliance with him as a mercenary, but then he suddenly realized that the enemy wanted to capture him and turn him over to King Saul and collect the bounty Saul had placed on his head. He was out-numbered, out-gunned, and seemingly out of options. He had every reason to be really, truly afraid.

Confession: Compared to David’s dire circumstances, any fearful moment in my life seems relatively silly. Sometimes comparison is good for a healthy dose of perspective, isn’t it?

Along life’s journey, I’ve found fear to be a debilitating emotion and acting out of fear to be spiritually counter-productive. I’ve observed that I can’t really walk in faith and fear at the same time. They cancel each other out. I’m either allowing one to control my thoughts, words, and actions, or the other.

What struck me in the lyrics of David’s song this morning is that he speaks of trusting God as a willful, conscious, intentional act:

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

What does that look like? For me, it requires a conscious verbal commitment in which I acknowledge my fear and then tell God that I am choosing to trust Him. That might initially be a period of time in which I have a heart-to-heart conversation with God detailing my fears, anxieties, and worries. I might also spend some time meditating on past situations in which I felt afraid and God was faithful in getting me through. At some point I specifically verbalize it: “God, I’m choosing to put my trust in you.” I’ll also focus on a verse or verses of scripture like David’s prayer in Psalm 56:3 and memorize it.

Then as I’m going through my day and recognize the fear welling up inside me, I quietly restate that verse like a popcorn prayer.

I’ll think it. “When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

I’ll whisper it to myself as I’m sitting at my desk. When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

If I’m alone I’ll even say it out loud: When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

I might repeat it incessantly as a mantra:

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

In the quiet this morning I find my thoughts swirling around the most contentious American presidential election in my lifetime. I have loved ones camped on both sides of the aisle. I long ago observed that politicians use fear of the other side as the core of their campaign playbook because they have long known that fear is the easiest tool to motivate humans to act. With that in mind, I enter this work week with the realization that my country is divided down the middle and the one thing we most have in common is fear of each others’ candidates.

Fear is spiritually counter-productive. I can’t walk in faith and fear at the same time. If I really believe what I say I believe, then, whatever happens, it will be part of this Great Story that is playing out across history.

And so I enter into this week acknowledging my fears and consciously choosing to trust the Author of Life. So, if you see me the next few days and I seem to be mumbling to myself, now you know what I’m mumbling

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

You’re welcome to join me.

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

Just Appeal

Just Appeal (CaD Ps 17) Wayfarer

From you let my vindication come….
Psalm 17:2a (NRSVCE)

Years ago, I found myself the object of unfair criticism by an individual who I thought was my friend. He was unhappy with me, though instead of confronting me and discussing his concerns, he decided to take his grievances to the court of public opinion. I confess that I was both sad and angered by his actions. My friend proved to be my enemy.

As luck would have it I found myself, sometime later, in possession of information regarding improprieties this person had committed. I had the opportunity to act with vengeance against the person who had injured me. I had a smoking gun that would pay back my enemy’s injuries with compounding interest. He would be out of a job and would be publicly humiliated.

I ignored the evidence. I let it go. I made a conscious choice to continue treating the person with kindness and deference whenever I run into him. Which, I still do on occasion.

Today’s chapter is yet another song penned by King David. The fascinating thing for me was not something I found in a particular line or verse, but the song itself as a whole. David structured this song like a legal appeal one would make to a King. As king, David would have heard a million legal appeals brought to him, and to King Saul while he served as a court musician, by people wanting their case decided. King David, however, is making his appeal to God, whom he places in authority above his own royal position.

It starts with a formal appeal to God to listen to his plea. He then establishes his position of innocence. He reiterates his request to be heard and praises God for his goodness and mercy. He then lays out his case against his enemies and asks God to vindicate him by judging and righteously punishing his enemies. He ends with a statement of confident trust that God will do right by him.

Sometimes in this life we find ourselves wronged with little or no position with which to get justice. Sometimes, we find that the only justice at our disposal is the justice we take into our own hands.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to choose against my human desire for vengeance and vindication. Jesus tells me to consciously turn the other cheek, itself a conscious act of response that he exemplified time and time again as he suffered through the kangaroo court of the high priest, then the religious elders, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Pilate again, the crowds who days earlier had hailed Him as king but now shouted for His execution, and finally His enemies who stood at the foot of His cross and hurled insults at Him.

David’s psalm is a testament to Jesus’ teaching, and to David’s own example when he had multiple chances to take personal vengeance against his enemy, King Saul, while personally ensuring his ascension to the throne. With each opportunity David chose to ignore the opportunity, to let it go, and treat his enemy with deference.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about individuals who, along my life journey, I’ve considered enemies. There’s a whole bunch from childhood who I now consider friends. There are some that the road of life led in a completely different direction, and any hard feelings I may have once felt are as distant as they are. There are others, like the person I described at the top of this post, who remain in my circles of community. Their actions would indicate that they consider me some kind of enemy, but I’ve made a choice to keep treating them as friends.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve learned that pleading my case to the only Just Judge, and choosing to surrender my need for vengeance, frees my heart and mind from toxic emotions and actions which will only perpetuate and escalate circumstances. Turning the other cheek is not a passive response, it’s a conscious choice to make my appeal to God and leave it there.

I know. It sounds crazy. Following Jesus usually leads me to make choices that run opposite my natural inclinations. But, I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it.

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

The Perplexing Mystery

The Perplexing Mystery (CaD Ps 10) Wayfarer

The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations shall perish from his land.
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:16-18 (NRSVCE)

We don’t talk much about evil anymore. It gets used as a weapon-word fired at the political “other” in the empty, name-calling wars on social media. It is referenced in conversations about acts so heinous that everyone agrees that they reached a depth of depravity so dark as to be inhuman. I observed, however, that even people of faith are dismissive of the notion that evil is set up in active conflict against good in the spiritual realm of this world.

Again, the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Matthew 4:8-9

The evil one was able to offer Jesus the kingdoms of this world and their splendor because this Level 3 world is where evil holds dominion until the final chapters of the Great Story. At every level of the socio-economic ladder from the grade school playground to Wall Street and Washington D.C. are those who will exploit anyone to advance their personal power base and portfolio of wealth. Unlike Jesus, they have knelt before the evil one and taken him up on his offer. These are the ones David writes about in the lyrics of today’s psalm.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, today’s psalm is connected to yesterday’s. Like We Will Rock You and We are the Champions by Queen, or Journey’s Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezing and City of the Angels the two songs are were meant to go together. One of the common conventions of Hebrew songs and poems that is lost in translation to English is the fact that each line begins with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order just as if you wrote a poem and each line began with A, B, C, D, and etc., Psalm 10 picks up with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet where Psalm 9 left off. In addition, there is no header or title to Psalm 10 like there has been for every other psalm we’ve read since Psalm 1. Psalms 9 and 10 go together.

With that in mind, King David is writing both psalms from his position as King of Israel. The thing I find most fascinating is that he is writing from a position of power. He’s at the top of the food chain. He holds more power in the kingdom than anyone else, and he is lamenting the wicked highway robbers who oppress the poor in the rural villages of his own country. He’s complaining about the wealthy brokers of power in his own kingdom who “prosper all the time” and establish their legacy for their descendants.

Why doesn’t he do something about it?

Along my journey I’ve observed that there is only so much that one can do in a world where evil has dominion. Not that I shouldn’t do everything that I can to act in the circles of influence in which I operate. I should. Nevertheless, I have witnessed good people, followers of Jesus, who have ascended the ladder of earthly power and influence only to find that there is only so much that they can do.

That’s the point I believe King David is getting to in his songs that read like a leader’s lament. His position of ultimate power in his kingdom cannot stop the wickedness of every rural bully bent on taking advantage of poor villagers. Even as King he is surrounded by the wealthy and powerful who have their own personal kingdoms built to oppose him.

It’s interesting that towards the end of today’s psalm David appeals to God as “King forever and ever.” At the end of his personal, earthly power that has fallen short of bringing justice to everyone, David appeals to God as the only higher authority who can step in and do something about it.

Welcome to one of the most perplexing spiritual mysteries of the Great Story. Jesus comes to earth and refuses to operate in worldly systems of the evil one’s dominion where injustice and wickedness reign and oppress the poor and the weak.

Why didn’t he do something about it?

Instead of confronting evil on earthly terms, Jesus goes instead to the rural, the poor, and the simple. He reaches out to individuals, encourages the personal transformation of individuals from self-centered evil to a life of self-sacrificing service to others. He triumphs not over earthly kingdoms but over Death. He wages war not against flesh-and-blood but against principalities, powers, and forces of spiritual darkness behind flesh-and-blood power. It leads me to consider that ultimately, the Great Story is not about this Earth. It’s not about this world. It’s not just about this 20,000 to 40,000 days I will spend journeying through this lifetime. It’s about something greater, something deeper, something more eternal.

In the quiet this morning I find myself identifying with David’s lament. At the end of the song, David expresses his trust that God sees the acts of evil and hears the cries of the oppressed. He entrusts the King of all with ultimately making things right. I have to do the best I can as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom on this earth in the circles of influence I’ve been given. Beyond that, I can only make an appeal to the King forever, and trust He will see this Great Story to its conclusion, joyfully ever-after.

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

The Nehemiah Two-Step

They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
Nehemiah 4:8-9 (NIV)

This life journey always comes with a certain amount of opposition. It can come from any number of sources, and it can take multiple forms. Opposition can be spiritual, emotional, relational, physical, personal, internal, public, subversive, passive, violent, and etc. We all face opposition, conflict, and threats from time to time, even if it is in relatively small ways.

In today’s chapter, the exiles attempting to repair the walls of Jerusalem encounter opposition from the neighboring tribes. Conflict with these tribes and towns had been part of the political landscape of the area for centuries, so it was not a surprise. It was expected.

I found it fascinating that Nehemiah records a “two-step” response to the threats. I think the “Nehemiah Two-Step” is a great move to know when I find myself dancing with the fires of opposition in any form that the antagonistic force might present itself. The first step was to pray. The second step was to respond with the appropriate action.

Along my life journey, I’ve experienced many times when I get this very simple dance move wrong:

  • I pray without responding with action. In hindsight, I realize that sometimes I have placed all the responsibility on God with the expectations that He will supernaturally make it all okay without me being responsible for doing my part.
  • I act without praying. Other times, a threat or attack comes and it elicits from me an immediate reaction. When I react without praying, I’ve come to realize that I have refused to seek, submit, and subscribe to my higher authority. My reactions are often raging but not rational, passionate but not prudent, willful but not wise.
  • I act before I pray. When I get the order wrong, I find myself determining the response I think is warranted and then ask God to honor my plan rather than honoring God to seek His plan for how I should respond.

In the quiet this morning, as I pondered these things, I was reminded of this quote:

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Albert Einstein

The great scientist’s words have always reminded me that no matter what I set out to accomplish, I can expect opposition. And, it’s likely that the greater endeavor I attempt, the greater opposition I’m likely to face.

From a spiritual perspective, God’s Message continually reminds me of the same thing. Specifically, that spiritual opposition is always a threat:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

I Peter 5:8 (NIV)

I long ago recognized that the time I spend, first thing in the morning, in quiet reading, writing, and contemplation has a positive effect on the rest of my day. It’s another form of the “Nehemiah two-step.” Pray, then act.

So, now I’ve prayed. It’s time to take action on today’s task list.

Have a great day, my friend.

Chorus to a Tale of Pain & Purpose

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah…
And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel 1:1a, 21 (NIV) 

In the history of theatre, Greece was the first great age. The Greeks developed several theatrical conventions that are still widely used today including the use of what was called a Chorus to prepare the audience for what they are about to watch and to narrate the events. Shakespeare used the same convention widely in his plays, as do many modern productions.

The first chapter of Daniel is the literary equivalent of a Chorus. The author, traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, uses the opening of the book to provide a quick lay of the land with regard to the background of the story and introduces us to the major players. The fact that the chapter describes Daniel and his companions as being learned young men who were then given a thorough course in Babylonian literature and culture, is ironic. It seems to me that the chapter itself gives evidence to this in its structure and content.

In the next year, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers will be studying the theme of exile. I’ve written in previous posts about the theme of wilderness throughout the Great Story. The exile of God’s people in Babylon is one of the major examples and many casual readers don’t realize just how many characters, psalms, and books come out of this period. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezekiel, and Nehemiah are all books that chronicle parts of the Babylonian exile and return.

In today’s chapter, Daniel provides bookend dates of the story he’s about to pen. It starts in the “third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah” and ends the first year of King Cyrus. A little study shows this to be 605-539 B.C. In other words, Daniel was an educated young man from nobility in Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah. His hometown is destroyed in a long Babylonian siege in which Daniel watched people starve to death and, according to the prophet Jeremiah, reduced to cannibalism to survive.

Out of this horrific event, Daniel is taken captive by his enemy. He is torn from his family, his people, and his hometown which has been reduced to rubble. He ends up in the capital city of his enemy, Babylon, and finds himself subject to indentured servitude to his people’s enemy number one: King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s own name is taken from him and he is given a new name. He is forced for three years to learn everything about the history, culture, and literature of his enemy.

A young man of God forced to live in captivity and exile and to serve his enemies for about 65 years. Welcome to the story of Daniel, whom many people only know from brightly illustrated children’s books in the dusty Sunday School memory bins of their brains.

But the real story is far deeper and more complex than that, as Daniel tries to tell me as a reader in his opening Chorus. It is the story of a young man who finds a way to survive. He courageously maintains and lives out his faith in the midst of the unbelievably difficult circumstances that make up nearly his entire life.

In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the common misperception I observe followers of Jesus often have, and that I confess I find myself unconsciously falling into from time to time. It’s partially driven, I believe, by the American Dream and the Protestant work ethic. If we believe, work hard, and live good lives then life should be a breeze of material blessing and pain-free existence. But as I journey through God’s Message I find that this has never been the message. Daniel fires an explosive shot across the bow of that notion from the very beginning of his story.

Trauma, suffering, starving, captivity, bondage, indentured servitude, and life-long exile in the land of his enemies serving a mad king.

I find God’s purpose in my pain. That’s the message Daniel foreshadows in the Chorus of his book, and the one I’ve been reminded of over and over again on my life journey.