Tag Archives: Family

Things I Don’t Control

Things I Don't Control (CaD Ps 132) Wayfarer

For the sake of your servant David,
    do not reject your anointed one.

Psalm 132:10 (NIV)

Wendy and I are almost through the first season of Poldark, originally a 2015 Masterpiece Theater production. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable. The series is set in the late 18th century and tells the story of a headstrong and struggling English nobleman who returns from the American Revolution to find his father dead, his family estate in shambles, the love of his life engaged to his cousin, and the family business on the edge of bankruptcy.

The themes of the show include the clash between nobility and peasant, the long-held tradition of the entitlement of the first-born son, and the legacy of both family systems and family names.

Over the past year of Covid-19 with all its tension over masks, mandates, and lockdowns, one of the conversations I found fascinating was the individualistic spirit in Americans. From our break from mother England to today, we don’t like being told what to do. Along my life journey, I’ve come to believe that we don’t have a full realization of, nor appreciation for, just how deep the “rugged individualism” that fueled our country runs in our veins. In the entire history of human civilization, human rights and the freedom of self-determination are relatively new concepts. For thousands of years, an individual’s lot-in-life was pretty much fully established the moment they were born. It was completely dependent on your family, your gender, and your birth order.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 132, is a case-in-point. This ancient Hebrew song was used at the coronation of monarchs ascending to the throne of King David. Some scholars believe it was initially written to honor King David at the dedication ceremony of the Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. David’s family line was firmly established as the royal line of Judah, the prophets also pointed to the coming Messiah being from the same lineage, and the lyrics of today’s chapter would have been a clear reminder to the people not to forget it.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on the concept of determination. Growing up, I and my peers were told that we could be anything we wanted to be in life if we were willing to work hard, study hard, and pursue our dreams. Once again, I’m reminded that this very notion would have been ludicrous for the vast majority of human beings who ever lived. And yet, while I would argue that there are, in general, greater opportunities for self-determination than in any other time in human history, there are still those determining influences of life that I don’t control.

Among the teachings of Jesus that fueled the Jesus Movement of the first century was that everyone was welcome at the dining table where believers sat, listened, prayed, feasted, and “communed.” Men, women, slaves, slave owners, rich, poor, societies’ big shots, and social lepers. As Paul put it in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Galatia:

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the things in this life that I can control, and the things that I can’t. When Jesus said to those seated around Him, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” I believe that He was telling his followers that I don’t have to be enslaved to systems that formed me. When Paul said that for the believer “old things pass away” I believe that among the things that pass away are beliefs, patterns of thought, and behaviors that were instilled in me by the systems into which I was born and in which I was raised. I observe that the spiritual transformation I’ve experienced on my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus has not only changed me, but it has led me to leverage the fruit of God’s Spirit to help transform the human systems I’m a part of for the better.

“L’chaim!”

"L'chaim!" (CaD Ps 128) Wayfarer

…your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.
Psalm 128:3b (NIV)

This month marks our sixth anniversary here at “Vander Well Manor,” the house Wendy and I built here in the most awesome little town in America. Wendy, working alongside our contractor, did a lot of the designing of our house and she did an amazing job.

One of the rooms that got special attention in the design of our home was the dining room. In fact, the original designs had the dining room that you usually see in homes today. It was a tight little space large enough to comfortably fit a standard table for six. We quickly decided that this just wouldn’t do. We ended up creating an entire addition to the house just for our dining room in which we placed a table that comfortably seats eight (but we’ve squeezed 10-12 people around it).

One of our good friends once commented, “You’re the only people I know who actually use your dining room on a regular basis.” Meals are an important piece of life to Wendy and me. It’s where we gather with family and friends. It’s where conversation flows like wine and where community is formed. Even when our girls were teenagers and lives were hectic, we attempted to have at least one evening meal per week in which we were sitting together at the table and engaged one another. Now, the nest is empty, but even Wendy and I frequent the dining room, just the two of us.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 128, is akin to yesterday’s. It’s hard not to understand why the editors who compiled this collection of ancient Hebrew song lyrics put the two side-by-side in the compilation. They are both celebrations of hearth, home, and family.

The words “your children will be like olive shoots around your table” leaped off the page when I read it. Olive shoots were a common metaphor to the ancient Hebrews. An olive shoot is young, green, full of life and possibility. Olive trees have amazingly long and productive lives. One olive tree in Portugal is estimated to be 3,350 years old. That means it was already over 1,000 years old when the writer of Psalm 128 penned the lyrics of today’s chapter. When I visited the olive “garden” outside of Jerusalem where tradition says Jesus went to pray the night of His arrest, I learned that there were trees in that garden today that were alive and present that fateful night.

Wendy and I were so blessed this past Christmas to have the kids and Milo home. As always, meals were an important part of the family agenda from cocktails through dessert. Christmas Day began with a brunch feast and continued in the afternoon with the most amazing charcuterie spread that Wendy and the girls worked together to create. I cherish the experience, and the Life present and celebrated around the table. As the Hebrews say as a toast, “L’chaim!” (“to life!”).

In the quiet this morning, I remember a former colleague who told me that their family ate the entire traditional Thanksgiving feast in ten minutes. She then swore that she wasn’t exaggerating. The family gathered, ate, and were done at the table in ten minutes. I’m not criticizing. That might just be how they roll, and that’s cool for them. As for me, and my house, we’re going to be at the table a little longer than that, enjoying good food, good drink, good conversations, and the good company of one another which happens far too seldom.

Let Life flow! Let the young olive shoots grow!

L’chaim!

Gift, not Reward

Gift, not Reward (CaD Ps 127) Wayfarer

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

Family is messy. It just is.

When I was a young man, I embarked on a fact-finding mission to better understand my families of origin. What I discovered was that underneath the veneer of stories that I’d been told (the good, polite, and acceptable ones) there was a whole lot of mess.

The Great Story is full of wisdom that reads like simple binary formulas. A+B=C.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.

I like simple formulas, and I’ve observed that most other human beings do too. That’s why name-it-and-claim-it televangelists get people to send them millions (“Give and you will receive!“). It’s how we get suckered into all sorts of things (“Just five minutes a day with the Ab Monster and you’ll have a six-pack like this dude!“). I’ve also observed and experienced that it’s how many institutional churches approach life. “Do this and you’ll experience God’s blessings; Don’t do that or you’ll suffer God’s punishment.” It’s no wonder the world is rejecting the church and screaming “It doesn’t work!”

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to the realization that the spiritual path, the path of wisdom, and following Jesus is not a simple math equation as it may appear on the surface and/or how it’s often presented. It’s more like actuarial science based on general rules, complex principles, earthly probabilities, percentages, and exceptions. Simple formulas are fubar’d when imperfect human beings enter the equation with our emotions, pride, passions, appetites, desires, fears, and free will.

Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.

It seems so simple that I want to name it and claim it. It appears so simple that when I witness someone’s child making poor choices it must be that his parents missed an ingredient in the good Christian, Focus-on-the-Family formula, or her behavior must reveal the proof I need that mom and dad are blowing it in the parental department. The simple train-up-a-child formula sounded so easy when my daughters were babes who were completely dependent on my absolute provision and authority. Then an adult child strikes out on her own path, making her own choices, and finding her own way. It looks nothing like the paternal expectations I anticipated as part of that simple formula when my head and heart were intoxicated with absolute authority over her life. It’s easy for me to feel cheated by what appeared to be simple math.

In my own life journey and experiences with messy family, Lady Wisdom has taught me a few things:

  • The path Jesus prescribed for His followers was never about moral perfection, an easy-life, and earthly abundance; It’s about selflessness, sacrifice, and love-in-action.
  • The only things I really control are my own thoughts, words, actions, and choices. The notion I control anything else is an illusion.
  • My family members are on their own spiritual journeys, just like me. If I want them to have grace and understanding with my shit, I have to have grace with theirs. If I want them to have patience and understanding as I navigate this stretch of life in my 50s, which I’ve never experienced before, then I have to let them navigate their 20s and 30s, which they’ve never experienced, with that same patience and understanding.
  • If I believe God is faithful and can be trusted, and I believe He is, then I can entrust others to God while I choose to let go of my personal expectations of them.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 127, is a song that the liner notes ascribe to Solomon, the son of King David. It is another one of the songs that ancient Hebrew pilgrims sang on their trek to Jerusalem. It is both a celebration of family and a reminder that all of life’s blessings and securities are gifts from God, not the In the quiet this morning, I’m making a little mental inventory of the family stories embedded in the Great Story:

  • Lot was incestuous with his daughters.
  • Abraham slept with his concubine at his wife’s insistence and the consequences are still being felt today.
  • Jacob (and his mother) deceived his father and stole his brother’s birthright.
  • Joseph was beaten and sold into slavery by his own brothers.
  • David committed adultery and refused to deal with the incestuous rape his own son committed against his half-sister.
  • David’s son, Solomon, was the offspring of his scandalous, adulterous, conspiratorial marriage to Bathsheba and murder of her husband.

And its Solomon who the wrote the lyrics of today’s Psalm. For me, reading the lyrics of today’s chapter knowing the unvarnished truth of Solomon’s family story strips away the notion of simple spiritual formulas with it comes to family.

Family is messy. It just is.

There are many spiritual principles that influence the outcomes I generally experience on this life journey, both positively and negatively. But it’s not always a simple equation. I can build a home and family, but it still won’t cure the mess. Solomon knew that as well as anyone. He reminds me this morning that life’s blessings and securities are gifts, not rewards.

Of Voices & Family

Of Voices and Family (CaD Ps 117) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

Wendy and I read a fascinating interview in the last week of an expert in race and culture. In the loud cacophony of voices lecturing about race and culture with stark in-group and out-group labels and distinctions, this academic stands as a proverbial “voice in the wilderness.” He has been studying trends for 50 years and pointed out facts that no one else is talking about or acknowledging.

The number of bi-racial and bi-cultural couples getting married and having children has increased significantly in the last 50 years and continues to rise. Both Wendy’s and my family are classic examples. Between our siblings, nieces, nephews, their spouses and children, we have the following races and cultures represented in just two generations: Dutch-American, Anglo-American, African-American, Korean-American, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican.

In other words, the simple, binary labels on the census list are increasingly obsolete. For this, I am increasingly joyful.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 117, is most known for being the answer to trivial pursuit questions. As just two verses long, it is the shortest psalm and the shortest chapter in the Bible. (If anyone is starting this chapter-a-day journey with me today, you’re getting off to an easy start. Just a warning, the longest psalm is just two chapters away, so you might want to get a head-start! 🙂

In its brief content, however, this ancient Hebrew song of praise has a significant purpose in the Great Story. This short song, traditionally sung each year as part of the Hebrew Passover, calls all nations and all peoples to worship and praise. This fits in context with the calling of Abraham, father of the Hebrew people when God promises Abraham that through his descendants all nations and peoples will be blessed.

If we fast forward to the Jesus story, we find Jesus breaking down the racial and cultural walls that His tribe had erected to keep those they considered spiritual and racial riff-raff out. Jesus followers went even further to take the message of Jesus to the Greek, African, and Roman worlds and beyond. This created upheaval and conflict among Jesus followers of strictly Hebrew descent. It was Paul (who called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”) who used today’s “trivial” psalm when writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome to argue that from the very beginning the Great Story has been about all nations, all races, all cultures, and all peoples.

When John was given a glimpse of heaven’s throne room, this is what he saw and heard:

And when [the Lamb who had been slain] had taken [the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation
.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10 (NIV) emphasis added

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of texting our daughters of Suzanna’s engagement to Chino in Mexico a couple of years ago. The response to the news was, “Yay for more beautiful brown babies in the family!” (by the way, the first of those arrives this summer and we can’t wait to meet our newest nephew).

Along my life journey, I have observed that we humans like to reduce very complex questions into simple binary boxes and choices. As a follower of Jesus, I found that the journey seemingly began that way. I could choose to follow, or not (though my theologian friends will be happy to turn that into a very complex question for you). After that, things get exponentially personal and complex. Just yesterday, I gave a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and I made the same argument about the season of Lent. Religious institutions want to make things top-down prescriptive when Jesus was always about things being intimately and spiritually bottom-up personal.

I find myself this morning meditating on the contrast between the voices of culture and the experiences of family. There are such complex questions we face today of race, gender, and culture. I don’t want to diminish or dismiss them. At the same time, I find myself encouraged by a profound truth simply stated in today’s chapter.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Tribal Stories & Ballads

Tribal Stories & Ballads (CaD Ps 105) Wayfarer

Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…

Psalm 105:5 (NIV)

I have a couple of short stories in my possession that were written by my great-aunt. They tell the stories of her father and her paternal grandmother, which would make them my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandmother. They are pretty amazing stories that would be lost to history were it not for them having been researched, written, and handed down.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Wendy and I are asking questions about the distraction of having more information at our fingertips at any moment of our day than was available in all the libraries in all the world when we were children.

As I read through the ancient Hebrew song lyrics, that we know as the Psalms, one thing it’s easy to lose sight of was the fact that the very act of having a written record of the lyrics was an arduous task. Very few people could read or write, and very few people had the means with which to have the materials necessary to write things down and archive them. In that world, information was shared in stories around the fire at night which had been passed down through story-telling for generations. In that culture, songs became an important medium for sharing important stories of family and history.

The historic ballad is a well-established genre within music. When I was a kid, Gordon Lightfoot’s moody ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald became an oddly popular song. I haven’t heard that song for years, but I remember the tune, a bunch of the lyrics, and the story it tells of a doomed freighter sinking in Lake Superior. I’ll link to it for those who’ve never heard it. Warning: It’s an earworm.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 105, is the same genre of song. It was written as a retelling of the story of the Hebrew people from a nomadic tribe, to slaves in Egypt, and their miraculous exodus out of slavery to become a nation. Songs can be sung and pondered while one works, by families and communities in social gatherings, by parents and children at bedtimes. It was a critical way of telling and re-telling the important stories of a person, a family, events, tribes and nations. To know and remember the song is to have the story always on the tip of your tongue waiting to be shared and passed along to others.

If you’ve been following along on this chapter-a-day journey, you know that Wendy and I have spent much of the past month in quarantine with our children and grandson. As most families do, we regularly find ourselves wandering down memory lane, sharing stories, and reliving events of our familial journey together. I’ve watched Milo and thought about the fact that he’ll be one (among others, I hope!) who will one day be sharing the stories of our tribe.

As I’ve been meditating on how technology is forming us, I’ve thought about the difference between information and knowledge, between data and understanding. In a world in which all the information of our lives can be digitally stored and accessed, I wonder if we’re at risk for losing out on the intimacy of generational storytelling, the experience of a tribe singing their shared story in song, and the understanding that comes from the weaving of both the data and relationship with the deliverer.

My mind wanders back to those short stories written by my great-aunt. I hear her voice as I read those words. While I never met my great-grandfather or my great-great-grandmother, I knew Aunt Nita. She was a living, breathing, loving conduit connecting me to the stories of my tribe, and that layers the stories with added emotion and understanding. I hope that those stories get passed along, not just through bytes of information consumed conveniently on a screen at will, but through love and relationship.

I guess if that’s my desire, then it’s also my responsibility.

“God is Grape”

"God is Grape" (CaD Ps 102) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s Qadosh

That's Qadosh (CaD Ps 99) Wayfarer

Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.
Psalm 99:9 (NIV)

While being in quarantine has frustrated my extroverted need for interpersonal interaction over the past ten days, I have also been mindful each day to appreciate the opportunity it has afforded Wendy and me to spend lots of time with our grandson, Milo, who normally resides across the pond in Scotland. Yesterday, my exercise monitor informed me that I’d set a new personal record for exercise in one day. If you’re having a hard time getting into that New Year’s workout routine, I suggest finding someone to loan you their three-year-old for a few days.

One of the more endearing developments during our extended time together has been Milo’s desire to go to sleep at night in Papa and Yaya’s bed. Last night, Wendy and I climbed onto the bed with Milo between us. We read three books together, then turned out the light. We sang softly in the darkness. Wendy reached over Milo and held my hand as we lay and sang with Milo nestled between us. Even with my hearing impairment, I could hear Milo’s deep breaths as he drifted to sleep. We then whispered a prayer over him before slipping out of the room.

That, my friend, was a special moment. I wanted to just stay in that moment forever. If only I could bottle it up and hold onto it. I immediately knew that it was a memory I will remember and cherish always.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 99, continues in this section of ancient Hebrew praise songs. They were likely used for liturgical purposes to call the Hebrews to worship in the temple. The lyricist of Psalm 99 layered this call to praise with metaphorical meaning that casual readers in English would never pick up.

Remember in yesterday’s post/podcast I shared that “everything is connected?” The Hebrews found spiritual connections with numbers. Each number had meaning. Seven was a number that meant “completeness.” Three was a number spiritually connected to the divine. There are three stanzas, each with four verses (4+3=7). Seven times the songwriter uses the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh. Seven times he uses Hebrew independent personal pronouns. Three times he refers to God as “holy” (Hebrew: qadosh).

I confess that “holy” is a word, and a spiritual concept, that I failed to fully understand, or flat out got wrong, for most of my journey. The concept of holiness as communicated by the institutional churches I’ve been involved in my whole life made holiness out to be simple moral purity in the utmost sense. The equation was “no sin” plus “going to church” equaled “holiness” (x + y = z). Which meant that holiness, unless you were Mother Theresa, was pretty much unattainable.

I have come to understand, however, that qadosh has a much larger meaning. There are moments in life in which everyone in the room knows there is something meaningful, something special, something larger that is happening in the moment.

Our daughter, Taylor, has an audiotape of the moment she entered the world in the delivery room. You hear her squeaky cries. You hear Dr. Shaw announce it‘s a girl. You hear me talking to her on the warming table. That moment is qadosh.

Last October I stood with our daughter, Madison, in a courtyard. We watched the congregation stand and turn toward us. The beautiful bride, whom I taught to walk, I now walked down the aisle to “give her away” to the man she loves. People smiled and wept. That moment was qadosh.

I sat in the dark room of the nursing home as my grandmother’s life ebbed away with each strained breath. Through the wee hours I kept watch over her. I held her hand. I sang her favorite hymn. I read the final chapter of the Great Story to her and I realized in the moment that it was like reading a travel brochure for the trip she was about to take. That moment was qadosh.

Last night as Wendy and I held hands and hovered over our peaceful, sleeping grandson lying in our bed. We sang. We prayed blessings over him. It was a holy moment. That’s qadosh.

Throughout the Great Story, when God made a special appearance (theologians call that a theophany) the person to whom God appears is mesmerized, speechless, dumbfounded, or overwhelmed. To be in the presence of God, described by lyricist of Psalm 99 as the royal King of Kings. That moment is qadosh.

When the psalmist calls me to worship, he’s not religiously demanding that I dutifully “go to church” in an effort to attain some pinnacle of moral purity. In fact, when I meditate on the fullness of all the qadosh moments I’ve recalled, then all my old notions of what it means to be “holy” are silly in their triteness. The psalmist is calling me into the mysterious, beautiful, meaningful moment of qadosh.

Before “Old Things Pass Away,” They Often Lure Me Back

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Exodus 32:1 (NRSVCE)

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Along my life’s journey, I have gone through multiple stretches of time in which my life experienced major change. In each one, it was a period of upheaval, deep introspection, conscious breaking with old patterns of thought and behavior, seeking to reach for new things that were further up and further in than anything I’d experienced before. Each time I have gone through one of these shifts has been a period of discomfort. Comfort, on the other hand, is both simple and easy. All I had to do was stay in the same patterns of thought, relationship, and behavior.

When I was in my mid-to-late twenties I began to seriously address some hard-wired, addictive behaviors, and unhealthy patterns of thought and relationships in my life. I began working with a counselor and going to support-groups with others who were dealing with their own unhealthy patterns. One of the things that quickly came into focus for me was that many of the patterns of thought and behavior I was struggling with were present in me as a child and in my adolescence.

In a moment of God’s synchronicity, I just happened to be traveling on business to the city where my older brother lived. My brother is seven years older than me and we rarely saw one another in those days. We got together for dinner and I discovered that he was walking his own version of trying to figure out his own unhealthy patterns. As dinner turned into several hours of late-night conversation, we found ourselves attempting to unravel and understand a mystery to us both. Why, when we return home as adults, do we seem to fall back into what feels like this defined role we had always played in the system with which our family operated, complete with scripted lines, well-rehearsed relational blocking? My brother and I walked that stretch of the journey together. In fact, we’re still on it! But, together we’ve made significant progress and some really worthwhile personal discoveries that have informed our respective lives and relationships.

For anyone who grew up annually watching The Ten Commandments with their family every Easter/Passover weekend, today’s chapter should be eerily familiar. Several chapters ago, Moses when up the mountain to talk with God. It’s been over a month now, and he still hasn’t come down from the mountain. So, the Hebrews basically give-up on their relatively new leader and his unfamiliar God with His really strange belief system. They approach Aaron and ask him to make for them a god just like one of the 1500 gods they were familiar with back in Egypt. Aaron relents, makes a golden calf god, and Moses finds the camp in religious revelry.

I confess this morning that every time I watched the movie and every time I’ve read this story before, I have been led to the prescribed audience reaction. I shake my head and whisper a “tsk, tsk” in self-righteous judgment for the weak-minded Hebrews.

This morning, however, I’m seeing it in a whole new way. The Hebrews were only doing what I so often do. I try to push forward into being more like Jesus in how I think, act, and related to others only to find myself slipping back into comfortable old’ patterns that are comfortable, simple, and easy. I spiritually go home and just mindlessly play the old role I’ve always played. It’s just easier. The Hebrews are simply doing the same. God is pushing them out of Egypt, out of victim-mentality, out of the chains of slave-mindedness, into the spiritual boot camp of the wilderness, into a new way of understanding and a new level of maturing relationship. It feels hard, uncomfortable, strange, and unfamiliar. So, they default to back to what is familiar, comfortable, and easy.

In the quiet this morning, I’m recognizing a pattern that has emerged in this chapter-a-day journey through the Moses-story. I keep seeing how the Moses story relates to the Jesus story. Jesus, like Moses, led His followers into major shifts in understanding God, how we have a relationship with God, and how that should lead us to relate to one another and our world. However, when the Jesus movement became the institution of the Holy Roman Empire it was the golden calf moment for Jesus’ followers. In short order, the Jesus movement went back to old, entrenched patterns of social hierarchy, patriarchy, and religious institutionalism.

How do I change? How to I grow? How do I allow old things to pass away and lay hold of the new things God has for me? I’m still learning that piece, but I have learned along the way that it takes both willful determination and the faith to jump and trust that the net will appear. It requires the patience and perseverance to endure discomfort and to keep running even when I hit the wall. It’s helpful, almost essential, to have good companions with me and good mentors out ahead of me. It demands that I learn to have grace with myself when I stumble, stall, and fall back; To receive the grace that God endlessly showers on me if I simply open my heart to it.

It requires that I press on.

And so, on this Monday morning I’m lacing ’em up once again. Another wayfaring stranger on his way home over Jordan.

Thanks for being my companion on the journey today, my friend.

Let’s go!

Sabbath

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[The Sabbath] is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
Exodus 31:17 (NRSVCE)

One of the things that becomes really clear when you read through the Moses story is the emphasis that God placed on the idea of what’s called Sabbath. It’s one of God’s Top Ten rules and God keeps bringing it up, over and over again, and reminding the Hebrew people how important it is to knock off work every seven days. In concept, Sabbath is really pretty simple. The Creation story at the very start of Genesis describes God as having created the universe in six days. Then, on the seventh day, He took the day off and got some rest. Easy. Work six days, then take a day off. Get some rest. Be refreshed.

I have always scratched my head at what a sticking point Sabbath has been for people ever since. I mean, just a few weeks ago Grandma Vander Hart reminded me that God doesn’t want me mowing my lawn on Sunday, and she was quite serious. She also has a thing with tattoos, but that’s a post for another day.

When I grew up, my family were regular church attenders and sincere about God in a general sort of way. Going to church on Sunday was pretty much a given. We had rote prayers for family meals and bedtimes. During Christmas or Lent, mom might make us do the family devotion prescribed by our church which always felt a little awkward. The religious thing was always there, but it wasn’t a pervasive part of life. Sundays were always a restful day. After church mom usually made brunch, and then the rest of the day was spent chilling out. We kind of did Sabbath by default but nobody got uptight about it.

After becoming a follower of Jesus and becoming exposed to the traditions of other families and churches, I learned that this “Sabbath” thing was something certain churches and denominations took very seriously. Mothers prepared all of the Sunday meals on Saturday so they wouldn’t have to work. But that didn’t make sense because they still had to warm it up, serve it to the family, and clean up afterwards. So, I guess women still had to work, but less. I had friends tell me that they literally sat around in their living room with their family doing nothing. Some of them even had to be quiet. Maybe they got to read, but some couldn’t watch television because that meant you were making someone else work to entertain you and that was considered “conspiracy to commit Sabbath-breaking” in their religious code.

As I started to try and study and understand it, it got so confusing because the 7th day of the week was prescribed as the Sabbath. We read it again today! I knew my Jewish friends treated Saturday as “church day” but all the Christian churches I knew treated Sunday (which is the first day of the week) as the Sabbath day. When I asked about this I was told that when Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, the Sabbath changed to Sunday in the Christian tradition, but I knew for a fact that wasn’t anywhere in the Bible. After the resurrection, there’s not one shred of evidence that Jesus said, “Hey boys, we’re going to make an official Sabbath switch.” In fact, the record states clearly that the Twelve continued to follow all of the Hebrew traditions. So, these same people who were being ultra-legalistic and literal about obeying the Sabbath weren’t literal or legalistic at all about obeying the Sabbath on the only day prescribed for the Sabbath in scripture!

Sabbath confusion and conflict has been around forever. It started with the Hebrews and Moses and it was still causing conflict when Jesus showed up. Jesus was perpetually hounded by the religious leaders about keeping the Sabbath. If Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath He got in trouble. If His disciples picked a fig off a tree as they were walking by He got in trouble. And each time it came up, Jesus brushed it off. In fact, He made a point of healing someone on the Sabbath just to make it clear to the religious fundamentalists when He said: “The Sabbath was made to help humans. Humans weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.”

And, in the quiet this morning I’m reminded that this was the point. The Hebrews in Moses’ day had been slaves for hundreds of years. They never got a day off. The concept of a day of rest was foreign to them. They were an agrarian people with farms and livestock, and it’s easy to become a workaholic when there are fields and animals that need constant tending. When you’re so focused on your work all the time, you have very little physical, mental, or spiritual energy left. It’s unhealthy on multiple levels. What did Jesus say were the two commands from which all the others flow?

  1. Love God with everything you got. But if I’m working all the time then God ends up getting little or nothing from my depleted body, mind, and soul.
  2. Love others as you love yourself. But, if I’m working all the time then I’m really not loving myself well, and everyone around me gets nothing of me but what meager leftovers of self I have left.

I’m also reminded of observing how the legalism and fundamentalism I experienced early in my spiritual journey created really sad, angry, and bitter people whose lives, and even their worship, appeared to me to be void of anything close to resembling peace, love, or joy. I observed that what it did create were people driven to keep up religious appearances in public while sneaking around doing what they shouldn’t in secret.

This is exactly what Jesus came to free us from. And Sabbath is a great foundational lesson. It’s easy. We each need regular rest, relaxation, and relationship with our fellow sojourners on life’s road. We need to stop work for a day and fill the life tank with a good meal, some meaningful conversation, playing together, laughing together, and sharing of life together. Sabbath is about lifting the burdens and the drudgery of everyday life, not adding to it.

And, speaking of Sabbath, it’s the 4th of July holiday weekend coming up here in the States. Wendy and I will be doing a little extended Sabbath, exactly as I just described, with a couple of other families who are dear friends. So, I’ll be taking a few days off of blogging.

I hope you experience some Sabbath, as well, my friend. And, experience it in the fullness of the way God always intended it. Cheers!

Inside Out Transformation

[Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Mark 7:20-23 (NIV)

I was a young man when I began my spiritual journey following Jesus. The community of believers I often associated with were very concerned about religious appearance and moral purity. My hair was expected to be short and my dress was expected to be coat and tie. My ears were to be kept pure from rock music, my eyes kept pure from looking lustfully at women, and my body to be kept pure from the usual vices of drugs, alcohol, and smoking.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things. I’ll be the first to confess that I wasn’t perfect, but I’m also quite sure that adhering to the religious rigor kept me from getting into various kinds of trouble. As I progressed in my spiritual journey, however, I began to observe a few things.

First, my peers who were born and bred into the religious rigor as part of their strict family and faith systems were often big on obedience to the rules and traditions but really short on any real spiritual or personal maturity. They adhered (at least publicly) to the letter of the religious rules to keep the family and community appeased, but I never saw any real inner desire to pursue the things that Jesus was really getting at.

Second, the adults in these communities and religious systems were really focused on all of the easily recognized and visibly apparent illicit behaviors. People, especially young people, were publicly shamed for all the usual social vices. No one, however, seemed to care when it came to gluttony at church potlucks, gossip between the youth group member’s mothers, the man in the church with anger issues who used the Bible to justify the secret physical abuse of his family, deacon John who was not shy about his racism, elder Bob who was a dishonest businessman who’d filed for bankruptcy three times, or that the women of the church treating Ms. Jones like a social leper because her husband left her, filed for divorce, and so she must not have been the dutiful wife he needed.

Finally, I eventually found myself really dissatisfied. When I made the decision to be a follower of Jesus, it was about me being less pessimistic, impatient, immature, shallow, dishonest, inauthentic, and self-centered. It was about me wanting to grow into more self-less-ness and more love, life, joy, and peace. Checking off a bunch of religious and moral rules wasn’t addressing my desire to become more like Jesus. In fact, I don’t think Jesus would want to be with these people. I realized that Jesus would probably want to be with all the people that got shamed and kicked out of that church for their public mistakes.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is hitting this stuff head on. He gets in trouble with the religious rule-keepers because they didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before supper. He looks at the good religious people from His own religious system and explains that they are doing the same thing I witnessed among my own religious community. They were keeping all of the religious rules about washing your hands and eating only the prescribed dietary foods, but they weren’t doing anything about the anger, malice, judgment, critical spirit, discord, gossip, dishonesty, selfishness, racism, hatred, and condemnation that was polluting their souls.

This morning, I find myself contemplating the Jesus that I’m reading about in Mark’s account. I love that He was not about me keeping external rules and regulations, but about me getting my heart and life transformed from the inside out. I love that Jesus heals the daughter of a “sinful” outsider who His religious community would never have even acknowledged. I love that Jesus continues to compassionately pour out love, kindness, and healing even when He was tired and wanted to be left alone for a while. I love that He keeps telling people not to talk about the miracles because they weren’t the point; The miraculous physical healings of eyes, ears, and limbs merely pointed to the real miracle He came to perform: His love transforming me from the inside out as His life emerges from my dead, self-centered spirit.

That’s the Jesus I want to be more like, and keeping rules won’t get me there.