Tag Archives: Eternity

The Bigger Picture

The Bigger Picture (CaD Rev 15) Wayfarer

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.
Revelation 15:1 (NIV)

On a grand scale, the Great Story is about slavery.

I have observed that conversation about slavery in our modern American culture is typically confined to the injustice of American slavery with occasional nods to the slave industry that still exists around the globe. These are all earthbound conversations.

As I mentioned in a post last week, Jesus stated clearly that His mission on this world was about a Kingdom that is not of this world. And that mission was about freeing slaves:

“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
John 8:34 (NIV)

On this chapter-a-day journey through John’s Revelation, what has struck me has been the continued parallels to the story of Moses, the Hebrews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the law, the tabernacle, and the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

In today’s chapter, the Lamb (aka Jesus) and Moses stand by a “sea” in heaven and sing a victory song, just as Moses and the Hebrews sang a victory song after the defeat of their slave masters, the Egyptians, who pursued them and drown in the Red Sea. In Revelation it is the “beast” from the sea who pursued God’s people, but they overcame. John then sees a heavenly tabernacle, just like the tabernacle God had Moses construct in the wilderness. Just as the tabernacle of Moses filled with a cloud of God’s presence (Exodus 40:34), so is the heavenly tabernacle. Out of the cloud rises the final set in a trinity of judgments on the earth. We had the seven seals, then the seven trumpets, and now it will be seven bowls.

In the Exodus, ten plagues are sent on a hard-hearted Pharaoh and his people to justly free the Hebrews from their enslavement. In the same way, the plagues of Revelation are presented as a just spiritual reckoning for the Prince of this World (aka Satan), his hard-hearted followers, and the kingdoms of this world that have leveraged humanity’s enslavement to sin for their own pride, power, and pleasure. In Moses’ exodus, it was the “blood of the lamb” that protected the Hebrews from the angel of death. In Revelation, it is the “blood of the Lamb” that saves God’s people from the ultimate and impending “second death.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again looking at the forest and not the trees. Earlier in my spiritual journey, I would read and study Revelation with my mind myopically focused on the earthbound events described within the text and what they might mean in terms of the earthly realities. I was only intent on understanding the smaller picture of what would happen on this earth. This time, my mind is seeing the bigger picture. I’m seeing the events described in the much broader context of where and how they fit in the overarching Great Story.

Slavery is a terrible reality on this earth. Slavery to sin is a terrible reality in the spirit realm.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve sinned and were kicked out of the Garden into an earthbound existence, enslaved to sin, subject to the Prince of this World, and doomed to die a physical death. Revelation is the final just judgment on humanity’s slave masters and the ultimate, once and for all liberation of God’s people from the shackles of sin in order to be led to an eternal Promised Land.

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

Achilles’ Heel

Achilles' Heel (CaD Jud 14) Wayfarer

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
Judges 14:1-2 (NIV)

I was recently reading and proofing a business report that was written by a young colleague. One of the things I noted in his writing was the repeated use of a word that, though not incorrect, felt awkward in its use. In looking up the definition and etymology of the word, I discovered that the popularity of its usage in writing peaked a few hundred years ago.

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the origin and history of certain words and phrases. We commonly use terms that are rooted in epic stories from history. Shakespeare may have had more influence on the English language than anyone else. Many phrases we still use today came from Shakespeare’s works including “Break the ice,” “Too much of a good thing,” “Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve,” “Come what may,” “Fair play,” “Laughingstock,” “In a pickle,” and “Wild goose chase.”

Likewise, the term Achilles’ heel derives from the ancient, historical hero of Troy who lived in the same general era of history as Samson and was made famous by Homer’s Iliad. The seemingly invincible Greek warrior is felled by an arrow through his heel. To this day, we speak of a person’s “fatal flaw” as their “Achilles’ heel.”

Which came to mind as I read today’s chapter. The chapter continues the legendary story of Samson, a similarly legendary hero known for his feats of strength and amazing victories. In today’s chapter, the author of Judges introduces me to three important themes:

First, there is Samson’s amazing strength. This is his divine gift, as the author continually reminds us that each feat is sourced in the Spirit of God coming upon Samson at the moment. In today’s chapter, he tears apart a lion with his bare hands and then single-handedly defeats and plunders 30 Philistine men.

Next, there is the fact that Samson always acts alone. This continues the theme of his birth which made him singularly special and set apart by God for the tasks to which he was called.

Third, there is the introduction of Samson’s fatal flaw. Unlike Achilles, it is not a physical flaw, but a spiritual one. Samson has an uncontrollable appetite for Philistine women, the very people from whom he was born to deliver his nation. In today’s chapter, Samson merely sees a Philistine woman, is infatuated with her and he demands that his parents procure her as her wife. His parents object, but Samson is adamant.

It does not go well, which will be a recurring theme in the continuing story.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I began to think about my own life as the story it will become after I pass away. When my great-grandchildren are doing their family tree for a school project and ask their parents about great-papa Tom, what will the story be?

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking the question one layer deeper. In the story of great-Papa-Tom, what will be identified as my Achilles’ heel?

“You know son, Papa Tom wrote all the time. God was a big deal to him, and he was a preacher. He owned a research business. He was a good grandpa, but…

What will come after the “but”?

As I meditate on this in the quiet, I’m reminded that every human being, save One, has his/her own human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin. There will be something that comes after the “but…” in my story. I can’t escape it.

Which, according to the Great Story, is the very reason that Jesus came. Jesus even said, “I didn’t come to condemn the world.” Jesus came to make a way so that matter what comes after that “but…” in my earthly story as told by my descendants, in eternity there will be an additional “but…”:

but.. he is loved beyond all measure. He is forgiven. All of those human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin? They’ve been redeemed and made right by what Jesus did for him.

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

Living a Great Story

Living a Great Story (CaD Jud 13) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can I live a great story today?

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

The Reward

The Reward (CaD Jos 19) Wayfarer

When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded. 
Joshua 19:49-50 (NIV)

In preparation for the Holy Saturday message I gave among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I’ve been doing a lot of studying about death. In particular, I’ve been reading about people who’ve had a Near Death Experience (NDE). These are individuals whose bodies literally died. No heartbeat, no brain activity, and no breath for a period of time until they were revived or miraculously returned to life.

There are a lot of commonalities in these experiences. If you’re interested, I recommend the book Imagine Heaven by John Burke (a shout out to Jen P for recommending it to me!). Among the commonalities in NDEs is a “life review” in which the person is shown a replay of their entire lives. Time is different in eternity. Even the Great Story speaks of eternity in which “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like just a day.” Many describe their “life review” in those same terms. They saw every moment of their entire earthly life, but it only took what seemed like an instant.

Many who’ve experienced this life review also speak of the fact that the most important thing in this review was how well they loved others. Some mention that they saw the events of their life and could actually feel what others were feeling around them. For example, a childhood bully felt the agony of the person they victimized. A son forever estranged from his father, who had always blamed his father for their poor relationship, felt his parent’s emotions as he watched how he treated them as a youth, and he realized that he was just as much a part of the breakdown in the relationship.

Those who have experienced this NDE life review often speak of returning to their earthly lives with completely different priorities. They immediately begin to invest in relationships. They become more loving, generous, and faithful towards others because they died, they tasted eternity, and they learned that it’s the only thing that really matters just as Jesus taught.

Today’s chapter tells of the final allotments of the Promised Lands to the Hebrew tribes. In one final allotment, Joshua is given the town he requested in reward for his faithfulness. A few chapters back, it was Caleb who was first to receive an allotment. Now, Joshua is the last to receive an allotment. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who originally spied out the land for Moses and had faith that the tribes could conquer the land and the people living there. The other 10 spies doubted. Over forty years later, Caleb and Joshua bookend the allotments of Promised Land and receive the rewards of their faith.

Joshua and Caleb received an earthly reward for their faith, and that got me thinking about eternity. The Great Story speaks of two distinct judgments to take place in the climactic final chapters of the Story. One is simply whether or not my name is written in the Book of Life. The second is described as an inspection of how well I built my life on earth as evidenced by how well I loved God and loved others. Based on what so many who’ve experienced an NDE describe, there is an eternal reward and the only thing that counts eternally is our love for others. Or as Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (MSG)

And so, I enter another day and another work week with a huge task list, yet reminded that the real priority, the only thing that truly matters, is how well I love those with whom I interact.

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

Two Retirement Funds

Two Retirement Funds (CaD Matt 6) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective

Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective (CaD Gen 47) Wayfarer

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.”
Genesis 47:9 (NIV)

This morning as I booted up to write this post and record the podcast, one app flashed a big banner saying “2021 is a Wrap” and offering to show me all the stats and data from the last twelve months. And so, it begins. December and January are typically times of contemplation about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Get ready for media to start posting all of the lists of the “bests,” “worsts,” and “mosts” for 2021.

We’re coming up on two years since COVID changed life on our planet. In early 2020, Wendy and I went on a cruise with friends. The pandemic had barely begun and was believed at that point to be confined to China. Our cruise line told us that passengers from China had been barred from the cruise. Within a few weeks after that cruise, the world was in full lockdown.

One of the observations I’ve made in these two years is the degree to which people fear death, and just how powerfully that fear can drive a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.

Today’s chapter is fascinating to read in the context of our own times. The known world was in a similar state of mass insecurity due to the seven years of famine they were experiencing. Step-by-step, Egyptians submitted their money, livestock, land, and their very selves to the State in exchange for their survival. By the time the famine was over, the State of Egypt owned everything and everyone.

The thing that resonated most deeply with me was Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh when asked his age. He speaks of his life as a pilgrimage. The Hebrew word is māgôr and it isn’t very common, though it’s already been used a few times in reference to the lives of Jacob, his father, and grandfather. What struck me was the metaphor. He sees his entire life as a pilgrimage, a sojourn, a period of exile on this earth. As the songwriter put it: “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.”

Jesus called His followers to have this same perspective as Jacob. He called me to understand that what happens after this earthly life is more real, more important, and valuable than what happens here on this earth. What comes after this life is where Jesus tells me to invest my treasure, which in turn changes the way I observe, think, believe, and live in my own pilgrimage as a “poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe.” Jesus also tells me to expect trouble on the earthly journey and to be at peace in the midst of it.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded by Jacob’s experience that there is nothing new under the sun. Pandemics, famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, and eruptions dot human history. Jesus not only tells me to expect more of the same but also calls them the birth pains which will lead to the nativity of something profoundly new.

Wendy and I are once again going on a cruise with friends to start 2022. I’m looking forward to it despite the continued restrictions. Just as our last cruise marked, for me, the beginning bookend of COVD, I’m hoping I might look back on this cruise as the other bookend. In the meantime, I continue to press on in my own pilgrimage on this earthly journey and expectantly look forward to a homecoming that lies beyond its end.

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

New

New (CaD Ps 96) Wayfarer

Sing to the Lord a new song…
Psalm 96:1 (NIV)

It’s a new year, and it is very common for individuals to use the transition from one year to the next to hit the “reset” button on life in different ways. So, it’s a bit of synchronicity to have today’s chapter, Psalm 96, start out with a call to “Sing a new song.”

In ancient Hebrew society, it was common to call on “new songs” to commemorate or celebrate certain events including military triumphs, new monarchs being coronated, or a significant national or community event.

Throughout the Great Story, “new” is a repetitive theme. In fact, if you step back and look at the Great Story from a macro level, doing something “new” is a part of who God is. God is always acting, always creating, always moving, always transforming things. When God created everything at the beginning of the Great Story, it was something new. When God called Abram He was doing something new. When Abram became Abraham it was something new. When Simon became Peter it was something new. When Jesus turned fishermen into “fishers of men” it was something new.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:19

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Ezekiel 36:26

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…”
Amos 9:13

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.”
Luke 5:37

“A new command I give you: Love one another.”
John 13:34

..after the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Luke 22:20

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
Revelation 21:1

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Revelation 21:5

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most human beings struggle with real change. A new gadget? Cool! A new release from my favorite author? Awesome. A new restaurant in town I can try? I’m there! But if it comes to a change that messes with my routine, a change that requires something from me, or a change that brings discomfort, then I will avoid it like the plague. Why? I like things that are comfortable, routine, and easy.

What I’ve observed is that “new” is always considered better as long as I think it will makes things easier or better for me. If it will rock my world, create discomfort, or expect something of me outside of my comfort zone, then I think I’ll cling to the “old” thing that I know and love, thank you very much.

And thus, most New Year’s resolutions sink down the drain of good intentions.

In the quiet today, I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Great Divorce, in which a bus full of people in purgatory visit the gates of heaven. There they are given every opportunity to accept the invitation to enter into the new thing God has for them on the other side. One individual after another finds a reason to stick with the drab, gray, lifeless existence they know and with which they are comfortable.

As a follower of Jesus, I embraced the reality that I follow and serve a Creator who is never finished creating. “New” is an always part of the program. It may not always be comfortable, but it’s always good.

As long as I am on this earthly journey, I pray that I will choose into and embrace the new things into which God is always leading me.

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.

Hope and the Pit

Hope, and the Pit (CaD Ps 30) Wayfarer

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.

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

In the Flow of Life

In the Flow of Life (CaD Ps 1) Wayfarer

They are like trees
    planted by streams of water

Psalm 1:3 (NRSVCE)

I have never been much of a plant guy. I can’t tell you the number of times in my life I’ve told myself I need plants in my office, only end up weeks later with an office that’s an homage to botanical mortality. It’s really strange that the past few years have witnessed the development of a bit of a green thumb in me.

The change began a few years ago with the landscaping of our yard and the planting of several rose bushes in the back yard. I grew up with my mom tending rose bushes and it’s a bit of a sentimental soft spot for me. I like cutting fresh roses and having them around the house. The nice thing about roses is that, once established, they’re a pretty hardy perennial. Even for someone as experienced in “botanicide” like myself, there’s not much you can do to keep them from blooming.

With this summer of COVID, in which we’re at home more than ever before, Wendy and I kicked things up a notch by adding several patio pots, a handful of potted herbs, and a jalapeño plant. I’m happy to say that every thing is alive and well. I’ve already harvested jalapeño peppers and we have fresh herbs drying in the pantry.

One of the things that has fascinated me as I tend our little garden is learning the water requirements for the different plants. Which have an insatiable need for water, and which seem to do pretty well even when we’ve been at the lake for a long holiday weekend.

I’m kicking off a journey into the Psalms this morning, which most people know is an anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that were collected and compiled in antiquity. The first psalm is a simple instructional psalm. In six lines it contrasts those who are “blessed” with those who are “wicked.” Three lines are given to each. I was struck by the metaphor of a “blessed” person being like a tree along the river.

In Egypt, where the Hebrews were enslaved, and in the land of Canaan where they settled, there’s a lot of desert. The most fertile soil is along rivers like the Nile, and in many cases it’s the only place where things will grow. Rivers are a consistent theme throughout the great story. There was a river that flowed out of the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:10) and John described eternity where “The River of Life” flowing from God’s throne (Rev 22).

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve experienced and have read about there being a “flow” to God’s Spirit. Artists talk about being in “the flow” and athletes describe being in “the zone.” Gospel songs are rife with references to “take me to the river” where God’s Spirit flows. Jesus used the metaphor when He told the Samaritan woman at the well that He offered “Living Water,” an artesian spring of gushing out fountains of eternal life. The metaphor of baptism is all about being plunged, buried, immersed in the flow of that artesian spring.

The contrast to that solid, established, fruitful tree planted by the flow of Living Water, is chaff. The fine, dry, scaly dead plant material that gets blown about in the air. It’s Dust in the Wind to quote they lyric of Kansas’ modern psalm. Living in Iowa most of my entire life, I can’t help but see in my mind’s eye autumn evenings during harvest when the air is thick with the dusty chaff of harvested corn and beans.

The intention of today’s psalm is simple. What do I want my life to be? Established, fruitful, rooted, alive, continually nourished in the flow of living water? Or, dusty, dry, void of life, blown about chaotically by every gust of circumstance and trending fear? And, how do I become the former rather than the latter?

The first verse answers the question and the direct translation from Hebrew to English says that the “blessed” are those:

…who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased the verse in The Message:

…you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
    you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
    you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

The further I get on life’s road, the more I just want to be in the flow of God’s Spirit.

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