Tag Archives: Faith

Simple Difference

Simple Difference (CaD Matt 7) Wayfarer

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:14 (NIV)

Jesus’ greatest human enemy was organized institutional religion. Rome may have carried out the execution, but when you study Jesus’ story it is abundantly clear that the conspiracy to get rid of Him begins with the religious authorities.

Early in my journey as a follower of Jesus, I observed the stark difference between being a follower of Jesus and being a member of one of the human institutions that globally operate in and around His name. Because of this, I have carefully avoided getting involved in said institutions, organizations, or denominations. My journey has led me to worship in and serve among local gatherings of Jesus’ followers from a broad range of institutional persuasions. I’ve always landed where I was led and where I was welcome. In every one, no matter what the denominational persuasion, I observed these common elements:

Distant human “authorities” who were ignorant and out-of-touch with the local believers. In many cases, the “leaders” of the institution were academic, professional administrators whose personal beliefs were opposite of the grassroots people over whom they claimed authority.

Individuals who care more about denominational legalities than being a follower of Jesus. At least three times in my life journey I was hired by a local church to serve in a pastoral capacity only to have a well-meaning legalist blow a gasket a year later when it was realized that I didn’t jump through the hoops to “officially” become a member of the church who hired me to lead them. In one case, a congregational meeting had to be called for me to request that the church I was leading accept me as a member and have a congregational vote as to whether they would accept me as a member. I’m glad to say I passed the test. What a waste of time.

I realize that I’m on a bit of a rant here, but as I read Jesus’ teaching in today’s chapter I find Jesus on a similar rant. First He speaks of those who hypocritically judge others. He then cuts through all the religious red tape of His own religion and sums up all of the Law and teaching of the Prophets in one golden rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

Next, Jesus makes the rather audacious statement: “the gate that leads to Life is small, the road that leads to Life is narrow, and few people find it.” Every time I read this statement I ponder the possibility that one can be a “member” of a church and completely miss the gate and road that Jesus said leads to Life. I then wonder how many of the millions of church members around the globe never find the gate.

Jesus then warns His followers regarding false prophets who have all the trappings of being good religious people but who have completely self-seeking motives. He tells His followers to be wise and discerning. What kind of spiritual fruit do their lives produce? Elsewhere Jesus will teach that what’s inside a person eventually comes out.

Jesus wraps up his message on the hill by creating a contrast between those who are true followers and those who are false followers. The simple difference? True followers hear Jesus’ words and put His teachings into practice in their everyday lives. The false followers call Him “Lord,” they go to church, they do their religious duties, and they hear His words. Then they leave church and ignore His teaching in their everyday lives and relationships.

In a bit of synchronicity, I left this morning’s post half-finished in order to go downstairs and have breakfast with Wendy. She read me this devotional thought from Richard Rohr:

“We have often substituted being literal with being serious and they are not the same! Literalism is the lowest and least level of meaning in a spiritual text. Willful people use Scripture literally when it serves their purposes and they use it figuratively when it gets in the way of their cultural biases. Willing people let the Scriptures change them instead of using them to change others.”

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking a good, hard look at my own spiritual journey and my own heart and life. I have willfully chosen to avoid entanglements in human religious institutions and have purposed to willingly allow Jesus’ teachings to continually change the way I think, speak, act, and relate to others in my own circles of influence. I’m definitely not perfect. I have no justification for judging others no matter what I might observe. My sole responsibility as a follower of Jesus is to hear His words “and put them into practice.”

God, help me to do so again this day. Thanks, in advance, for your forgiveness. May I be equally forgiving of those who offend me, just as you have asked me to do.

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

#9: Dealing with “God Told Me to Tell You” Statements

Top Chapter-a-Day Post #9 (CaD) Wayfarer

Note: I’m on a holiday hiatus through January 9, 2022. While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to reblog the top 15 chapter-a-day posts (according to number of views) from the past 15 years. Cheers!

Originally published October 16, 2014

The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’”

The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. 1 Kings 13:16-19 (NIV)

Along my journey I have been, from time to time, approached by individuals who proclaim to have some kind of “God told me” word or statement that pertains to me. I am not discounting the possibility that God could speak to me through another person, but I have learned over time to approach these situations with Jesus’ words in mind: “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves.”

The man of God in today’s chapter had been given a clear directive by God. Along comes another prophet whose “God told me” statement contradicted the clear word he’d been given. His blind faith in the stranger had disastrous results. I don’t want to make a similar mistake, so when someone claims to have a word from God that affects me, there are a few simple guidelines I’ve learned to follow:

  • Consider the source. If approached by a stranger or a casual acquaintance whom I don’t know, I am going to be appropriately more cautious. If it comes from Wendy, one of the guys in my inner circle, or a fellow believer who knows me and whom I know and respect, then I’m immediately going to give it greater weight in my consideration.
  • Beware of contradictions. There are some things that I’ve learned about myself and believe wholeheartedly based on my own experiences and faith journey. I am supposed to be in Pella. I believe that God has a purpose for both me and Wendy here. If someone approached me today and said, “God told me that you are supposed to move to Timbuktu,” then I would be immediately, shrewdly suspect. This contradicts all of the sign posts and waypoints on my journey.
  • Seek wisdom. I have a strong circle of family and friends who are wise, who know me well, and whom I have given carte blanche permission to speak into my life. Before giving a stranger’s “God told me” statement any credence, I would run it by these people whom I trust. If I share the word given to me and their B.S. Meters start sounding an alarm, then I feel totally secure dismissing it.
  • Don’t worry. God will accomplish His purposes in me (consider Jonah). I am open and actively listening. I am continually asking, seeking, and knocking. If I’m supposed to move to Timbuktu then that’s where I’m going to end up. Just because a stranger tells me such doesn’t mean I need to obsess about it. Chill. Have faith. Follow. Press on one step at a time. The Lord will direct my steps.

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

Blue Christmas

Blue Christmas (CaD Lam 1) Wayfarer

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

Lamentations 1:16 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Whispers

Whispers (CaD Gen 39) Wayfarer

From the time [Potiphar] put [Jospeh] in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.
Genesis 39:5 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey, about 30 years ago, I became aware of the soul whispers. The whispers are subtle, yet powerful messages whispered into my soul from childhood. The whispers form, and then reinforce, deeply held beliefs about myself, others, and my place in the world. The whispers are typically incongruent with what God says about me. The whispers are typically unhealthy. As I progressed in my journey, I discovered that it is important for me to be aware of the whispers, to identify the messages that are being whispered, and to examine them in the light of God’s Message. I’ve discovered that this is not a one-and-done event, but a perpetual process on my earthly journey.

One of the things I’ve discovered on this chapter-a-day journey is that sometimes it’s God’s Message that reveals my whispers in the quiet. The lyrics of Psalm 119:130 say “the unfolding of your words give light.” Sometimes as I read each morning the “unfolding of God’s words” is like hitting a light switch in my soul, and suddenly I see things in myself that had been previously hidden. Things like the message of a soul whisper.

As I read today’s chapter, I became aware of a pattern. Joseph, the kid brother of Jacob’s sons, had been sold by his brothers into slavery. He ends up being purchased by an Egyptian official named Potiphar. Potiphar recognizes that the Lord’s favor is on Joseph, so he puts Joseph in charge. Joseph gets wrongly accused and ends up in prison, and the warden sees the same thing Potiphar did. The Lord was with Joseph and blessed him, so the warden put Joseph in charge within the prison.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this. Jacob’s uncle Laban repeatedly stated that he could see that the Lord blessed Jacob. He was blessed because of Jacob’s blessing. Abimelek said the same thing about Abraham. He saw God’s blessing on Abraham and wanted to make sure that he got in on the blessing and not on any kind of disfavor. Abimelek, Laban, Potiphar, and the prison warden hooked their wagons to the gravy train of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph’s blessings.

As I became aware of this, the light came on in my soul. There was the whisper staring me in plain sight. It said, “You are only blessed by your association with others God has truly blessed. God’s blessing isn’t yours. You’re simply eating off the gravy train.”

As soon as I saw it in the Light, I knew that it isn’t true. A passage from Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus immediately came to mind:

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Ephesians 1:3-6 (MSG)

At the same moment, I realized that this whisper has been with me for a very long time. That’s the way the whispers work. They keep reinforcing their unhealthy messages so quietly in my subconscious that I’m deaf to them amidst the din of everyday life.

You’re hopelessly flawed.”
“You’re unworthy.”
The blessings aren’t really yours.”

So, in the quiet of this morning, I find myself realizing that it’s one thing to read and know what the truth is, but it’s another thing to embrace it. God’s Message says that faith is “the evidence of what we do not see.” This morning I’m wondering how long the evidence of the whisper I did not see has hijacked the evidence of what God has been clearly telling me all along.

This is a faith journey. Progress requires this perpetual process of transferring faith in what I believe about myself to faith in the truth of who I am in the light of what Jesus has done for me.

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

Faith Challenge

Faith Challenge (CaD Gen 22) Wayfarer

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Genesis 22:2 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is one of the most profound and mysterious events in the Great Story. Scholars explain that there is nothing like it in other ancient cultures or religions with regard to their stories, texts, or religious rituals. Even within the Great Story it is unique. God tells Abraham to make another journey of faith “to a mountain I will show you” where he will sacrifice his own beloved son, Isaac.

WHAT?!

I know. It’s a head scratcher.

As I meditated on the story this morning, I had three observations.

First, this is the climax of Abraham’s story. From this point on, Abraham is making preparations for he and Sarah’s burials, getting Isaac marries, and settling his inheritance. This climactic event bookends the beginning of Abraham’s story.

When we first meet Abraham God tells him to pick-up leave his family, tribe, and home and follow God to a “land I will show you.” In a sense, God told Abraham “leave that which you know and love (e.g. your home and tribe), have faith to follow me.” The faith journey results in the promised son, Isaac. Isaac is the object of Abraham’s love. Now God calls Abraham to leave once more “to a mountain I will show you,” to bring with him what he loves (e.g. his son) and sacrifice him to God. It is an ultimate test of faith.

I couldn’t help but think about Peter and John on the shores of Galilee in the final chapter of John’s biography of Jesus. There is a parallel “bookending” of their faith journeys. It was on this shore that Jesus first said, “Follow me.” Now, the resurrected Christ once again calls them to follow, this time informing Peter that it will ultimately lead to suffering and death.

A faith journey doesn’t end in this earthbound lifetime. One doesn’t retire, nor do things get easier before the journey’s end. In Abraham’s case, in Peter’s case, you find yourself circling back to the beginning and the challenges of faith only get harder.

Second, Abraham’s statement to Isaac (“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”) proves to be both a statement of faith and a prophetic foreshadowing of the climactic end to this event. It springs from everything Abraham has experienced in his relationship with God through the years. God has made the covenant with Abraham, God has led Abraham to the land as promised. God has given Abraham a son as promised. As crazy and extreme as God’s request sounds, Abraham draws on all that God has done to make this ultimate faith journey.

We don’t like to talk about it much in our culture, but Jesus regularly told His followers that the faith journey required giving everything. Like Abraham, it might mean leaving family behind. Like Abraham, it requires faith to provide an ultimate sacrifice, taking up one’s own cross and following to the crucifixion of self.

Third, the foreshadowing of Jesus’ story in the events of today’s chapter can’t be ignored. In asking Abraham to sacrifice the son he loves, he unwittingly becomes a living metaphor of God himself, who will one day give His beloved Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. God providing Abraham a ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac introduces the notion of substitutionary sacrifice. At the time of Abraham, this was a wholly unique concept.

“God will provide the lamb,” Abraham presciently states to Isaac.

Another bookend. We are in the beginning chapters of the Great Story. Themes are being introduced, foundations laid, as well as foreshadows of what’s to come. In the final chapters of the Great Story, John is given a Revelation of the throne room of heaven.

Those gathered worship singing. Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

The story of Abraham is the seminal event in what will ultimately be God’s act of redemption. Abraham blazes the trail of faith. Abraham foreshadows what God is going to do. Abraham’s faith echoes through history past, it resonates through the crucified Christ, and it is transmitted into the prophesied future.

God will provide the Lamb.

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

The Other Side of the Valley

The Other Side of the Valley (CaD Gen 21) Wayfarer

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Genesis 21:6-7 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I have walked through a number of dark valleys. The thing about being an Enneagram Type Four is that Fours feel the darkness more acutely. We feel the despair more deeply. We tend to savor the melancholy the way an oenophile savors a complex Bordeaux.

When Fours walk through a dark valley we don’t rush to the next mountaintop. We tend to experience the dark valley in its fullness. This can be good because we can take the time to glean everything that the journey through the valley has to teach us, and every dark valley in life has a lot to teach us about crucial spiritual fruits such as perseverance, faith, perspective, maturity, wisdom, and joy. It can also be a bad thing, however, if we fail to progress through the valley; If instead of savoring the melancholy we become intoxicated by it.

In today’s chapter, Sarah finally emerges from a decades long journey in the valley of infertility. The promise is finally realized. She becomes pregnant in old age. She bears a son, and they name him Isaac, which we learned a few chapters ago means “He laughs.” God gave Abraham and Sarah this name after they both laughed in sarcastic doubt that God’s promise would ever be fulfilled. Sarah’s laughter has now been transformed from cynicism to joy as she holds her own son.

I’ve regularly written about Wendy’s and my journey through the valley of infertility because one tends to remember most clearly the valleys on life’s road that were the most difficult to navigate and had the most to teach you. I couldn’t help but read about Isaac’s birth this morning with a mixture of both joy and sadness. I also couldn’t help but to realize that Wendy and I journeyed through that valley for a handful of years while Sarah’s trek was literally for a handful of decades. The woman deserves a jackpot of joyful laughter.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself recalling moments during our slog through that valley. There were moments (in all my Fourness) that I pessimistically wondered if I would ever hear Wendy laugh with joy again. Of course, I did. I do. I hear it regularly. Unlike Abe and Sarah, we emerged from that valley with a different kind of joy than Sarah’s laughter, but it is pure joy that springs from God’s goodness and purposes for us. It is the joy of embracing the story God is telling in and through us.

The valley of infertility is now a ways behind us on life’s road. While Sarah’s story raises pangs of memory this morning, it also brings the realization of how far we’ve come. There are a number of dark valleys on this road of life. Despite my Fourness, I have emerged on the other side of each of them with greater knowledge, experience, and wisdom with which to experience the thrill of each mountaintop vista and face each dark valley that lies before me. With each step, I find the muscle of faith strengthened to press on to the journey’s end when…

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away,” and He who is seated on the throne will say, “I am making everything new!”

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

Grace and Cancel Culture

Grace and Cancel Culture (CaD Gen 20) Wayfarer

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.
Genesis 20:7 (NIV)

I have been fascinated to watch the hoopla over the past several days as the latest victim of cancel culture falls from public favor. When I was young, it was institutional churches and fundamentalist Christians who were bemoaned, and rightfully so, for being judgmental and ostracizing sinners. With cancel culture, I observe that the pendulum has swung to the opposite side of the social and political spectrum. Witch hunts comb people’s past with a fine-toothed comb to find any evidence of past impropriety based on today’s rigid social mores of woke culture.

Just yesterday, I happened upon a YouTube video of a man telling his story. When he was a young husband and father he flatlined during surgery for twenty minutes. He had never publicly shared the story of his near death experience until this video. His experience was variation on the themes of the stories of others I listened to who have experienced this. One of the common themes of those who’ve died and returned is the experience of having their life flash before their eyes, or to have it replayed.

The gentleman in this video was completely alone as this happened. He saw all of his life. There were moments that made him feel joy and nostalgia. Then there were the flawed moments, the poor choices, and tragic mistakes. “I was all alone,” he said describing the moment. “There was no reason to make excuses. No reason to deny it. I did those things and I had to own it.” Before crossing over, he was told that it wasn’t his time and he had other things he needed to do. His spirit returned to his body.

Today’s chapter is a reprise of circumstances we encountered earlier in Abraham’s journey. He enters foreign territory and fears for his life. Apparently, his wife Sarah was quite a catch even in old age. Abraham fears the local king will kill him and take Sarah and everything he owns. So he plays the “She’s my sister” card. The local king takes Sarah into his harem which could mess up the covenant promise God has now been making for eight chapters. God intervenes by way of a dream and tells the king to send Sarah back to Abraham, stating that Abraham is a prophet and God has plans for them. God then releases the King from any guilt and the King, in turn, showers Abraham with gifts out of fear for God.

As I contemplated this story, the first thing that struck me was that Abraham acts deceptively out of fear rather than trusting that God would honor His covenant and protect him and Sarah. This is the second time he’s done this. It’s an obvious blind spot that is disrespectful to his wife, unfaithful to God, and could fubar everything God has promised.

The second thing that struck me was God’s grace with everyone in the story. God graciously redeems the entire situation. Not one of the players in this deception are judged or punished. The fact is that God called a fallen human being to be His prophet. Abraham is a dude just like me; He’s given to flawed moments, poor choices, and tragic mistakes.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for two things.

First, I’m thankful that I’m a nobody and that I’m not on cancel culture’s radar. Scour my past and you’ll find plenty of reason to cancel me. I’ve been a work in progress from an early age and I’m still at it. Like the dead man in the video, there’s no denying it or excusing it. I own it.

Second, I’m thankful that God, unlike many of His self-righteous followers past and present, is gracious and forgiving. The overarching theme of the Great Story is that of redemption, not cancellation. If God operated like cancel culture there would be no hope for me.

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

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh (CaD Gen 17) Wayfarer

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Genesis 17:17-18 (NIV)

There is an old saying, “Whoever laughs last, laughs best.”

That came to mind today as I meditated on the events of today’s chapter. Abram is ninety-nine years old. His wife is ninety. God has been promising Abram for years that he will be the father of many nations. Abram believes God, but faith isn’t always easy.

Along my journey I’ve found faith to be a struggle. It ebbs and flows like the ribbon tied on the middle of the tug-of-war rope. One moment faith seems easier and the ribbon moves my way, then doubt muscles up within me and the ribbon slips back to the other side of no-mans-land. As one man said to Jesus: “I believe…help my unbelief.”

In today’s chapter, God once again proclaims that He has made (past tense) Abram to be the father of many nations. God then changes Abram’s name (which means “exalted father”) to Abraham (which scholars believe to mean “father of many nations”). God then changes Sarai’s name to Sarah (both mean “princess” but the latter, once again, is believed to point to “many nations” or descendants). So God continues to double-down on His promise to Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham then laughs.

He laughs, because it’s been decades and Sarah is still barren.

He laughs, because he and Sarah are well beyond childbearing years.

He laughs, because having a baby so easily with Hagar after decades of failure, month-after-month, with Sarah feels like a cruel joke.

He laughs, because he’s tired of all the promises without fulfillment.

He laughs because impatience has muscled up and the ribbon on the tug-of-war rope is so far on the side of doubt, the game just might be over.

Thank you, Abraham, for being human like me.

Then God makes one more name pronouncement. The son that will be born of the promise is to be named “Isaac,” which means “he laughs.”

“You’re laughing now, Abraham, but just you wait,” God says. “He who laughs last, laughs best. Remember that every time you utter your son’s name.”

In the quiet this morning, I needed today’s chapter. The ribbon on the rope in my own internal tug-of-war has been sitting precariously in relatively the same place Abram found it in today’s chapter. Of late, when reminded of God’s promises, I’ve laughed inside.

I believe, Lord……………Help my unbelief.

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

Santa God

Santa God (CaD Gen 15) Wayfarer

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

This is the problem: It’s too easy to mix-up God and Santa Claus.

Life is a meritocracy from a young age. In my earliest cognitive memory around ages 3 to 4, I find myself under the authority of parents who make it quite clear that if I’m obedient and do what they say, then I’m golden, but if I’m disobedient, then I’m going to be punished.

By the time I’m five, the biggest gift giving holiday of the year solidifies this meritocracy in my brain with Santa Claus as the omniscient authority figure determining if the annual balance of my goodness and badness warrants me receiving a stocking full of candy and socks and a bunch of presents under the tree. If the scale tips to the badness spectrum, it’s coal for me.

Within just two years, I become involved in scouting program which rewards my good deeds and behavior with awards, badges, and medals. I continue to develop an understanding of meritocracy. There is a reward for ambition and good behavior, those who excel are on display for the whole world to see with their medals, badges, and awards. If I have less, shame enters the equation. I’m not as good. I don’t have as many badges. I am less than.

And, each year Santa drives home the “naughty or nice” lesson.

At the same time, my earliest experiences in organized sports adds yet another object lesson in meritocracy. The kids who are naturally coordinated, developed, and have knowledge of the game are successful. Meanwhile, I increasingly ride the bench and watch the coach’s wife score the game. (For the record, my little league baseball career lasted two years, but to this day I like scoring games.)

And, Santa, my stocking, and gift haul remind me annually that gifts are a reward for good behavior.

I’m twelve by the time I have my first serious discussions about God. Yes, I grew up attending Sunday School most Sundays and Vacation Bible School each summer, but it wasn’t very exciting and seemed to be a lot about stories that support the good behavior business. In my journey, it was confirmation class in 7th grade that was a year-long primer on the Bible and God.

In retrospect, I had already a well-developed sense of how God worked based on my life experiences. And, it looked a lot like the Santa. If I’m good, then God will answer my prayers, my life will go well, and I’ll end up in heaven. If I’m bad or fall short then my prayers will not be answered, bad things will happen, and I’ll end up in the fires of hell (burning with Santa’s coal, no doubt). As a child, I was pretty darn sure that all four of the Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl losses were my fault, God’s punishment for something I’d done.

I’m sure that Mrs. Washington’s confirmation class attempted to teach me about God’s grace and love, but my brain and soul were already branded by the Santa principle.

In today’s chapter lies a simple verse that is almost never talked about among Jesus’ followers even though it is foundational to understanding Jesus’ core message. Paul uses it to argue that Jesus’ message was God’s message from the beginning. The author of Hebrews does so, as well. For followers of Jesus, this verse is crucial to know, digest, and cling to:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

No meritocracy.

No addendum talking about being good, pure, and holy.

No mention of achieving, doing unto others, going to church, or giving money.

Just believe. That’s what faith is. To believe.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Act 16:31

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 8:9-10

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it is so hard to get out of the God as Santa mindset. God says “My ways are not your ways” and this applies to perhaps the most important question of all: How can I be saved?

Humanity’s way:

“Be good, work hard at it, keep all the rules, and maybe you’ll earn salvation like a present under the tree.”

God’s way:

“Just believe. Ask me to come in. Receive my love and forgiveness. That’s it. You see, once you’ve truly experienced My unmerited love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy, I trust you’ll be inspired and motivated to choose and practice obedience out of your own freedom and gratitude. That’s how I roll. That’s how I’ve always rolled, like I did with Abram.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about all the ways I still wrestle with “Santa God” after 40 years. It still creeps in to haunt me. Meritocracy is a hard habit to break, both in the way I see God and myself, but also in the way I see, approach, and treat others.

I’m also reminded that I can’t do anything about previous days. I’ve only got this day that lies before me. I’ve got this day to just believe Jesus, to receive His love and grace, and then to let that love and my gratitude flow in goodness.

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