Tag Archives: Fear

An Easy Thing

An Easy Thing (CaD 2 Ki 3) Wayfarer

This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord…
2 Kings 3:18a (NIV)

I woke up this morning in a fog. I was having really strange dreams and my brain didn’t want to wake up. I really just wanted to go back to bed. Nevertheless, I got to my office and pulled out my journal to write my morning pages. I scribble out 2-3 pages, stream-of-consciousness style. Whatever is on my heart and mind I pour it onto the page. I try to keep the pen moving and not let my brain wander down rabbit trails which then causes my hand to stop writing. That’s hard for me. I have a very active inner world.

Out of the brain fog, my hand began scribbling out some of my fears about what God is doing, or not doing, and my doubts about what He is doing and will do. These are the fears and doubts that my conscious brain stuffs deep down most of the time. Then they ooze out the side in strange places and ways. I began to counter these doubts and fears by scribbling out words of affirmation and declarations of faith.

“Open the doors. You can open the floodgates,” I wrote in my scribbled prayer.

Having finished my morning pages, I read today’s chapter. The Kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom go on a campaign against the Kingdom of Moab, marching their army through the desert of Edom. It is hot and they run out of water for themselves and their animals. The campaign is doomed. But the King of Judah asks if there’s a prophet of the Lord nearby, and an officer says that Elisha is. Elisha is called and prophesies that even though the armies will not experience rain or a storm, yet the valley will fill with water.

“This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord,” Elijah states.

Sure enough, God opened the floodgates and the next morning the river beds were full of water.

Oh, me of little faith. Some mornings I find the synchronicity between my heart and the Great Story amazing in humbling ways.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself simply embracing the reality that what I need and desire is “an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord.”

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

Doom & Gloom from Zeph to CBS

Doom & Gloom from Zeph to CBS (CaD Zeph 1) Wayfarer

“That day will be a day of wrath,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness….”
Zephaniah 1:15 (NRSV)

Wendy and I start most mornings with coffee, breakfast, and the newspaper. We read through the news and discuss world events. We talk about the elections and the latest prognostications from modern-day prophets on the editorial pages. More often than not we chuckle at the horror, the doom, and the gloom that we find there.

There is something innately human about the way humans flock to bad news. News outlets know that we, like lemmings, will be drawn to blood (10 Dead in Latest Rampage) and fear (Study Shows Water Will Kill You). Publications on the left know that their readers are motivated by fear of the right (Ted Cruz Wants to Arm Babies!) and publications on the right know that readers are motivated by fear of the left (Hunter’s Laptop Gave ISIS Our Nuclear Protocols!). What’s more, fear generates clicks and draws viewers which, in turn, generates advertising dollars. And fear creates lucrative financial opportunities (Do Cell Phones Breed Brain Worms? Congress Earmarks Funds for Research).

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

The ancient prophets were also doom and gloom-ers. Read today’s chapter and it’s enough to motivate a call to your physician for a prescription of Zoloft. The scenes of devastation that Zephaniah pictures are horrific, much like the scenes of devastation described by CBS Sunday Morning and their predictions of the earthquake,  “The Big One,” that will someday hit the Pacific northwest.

The thing is, there is truth in the doom and gloom. Read the historic accounts of Judah’s siege and devastating defeat to the Babylonians and all of a sudden Zephaniah seems fairly prescient. When you think about 15,000 dead in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami a few years ago, the predictive doom and gloom for Seattle and Portland become more than mere yellow journalism.

History is full of tragedy, destruction, war, famine, suffering, and death. It has always been part of the human experience and it always will be. The question is not whether bad things will happen but how I will respond when they do. I can obsess in fear about what might happen in the future, or I can be wise in how I walk life’s journey on this day. I can choose to focus on anxiety-producing “what ifs” regarding tomorrow, or I can choose to focus on being a person of love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness today.

This morning, on this day, I am focused on Jesus’ words:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

  A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be editing and re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in March 2016
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The featured image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

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

Blind Spots

Blind Spots (CaD 2 Sam 13) Wayfarer

When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

I have been doing leadership development with the management team of one department of a client this week. It’s been both fascinating and a lot of fun as I spent time with each team member, learned their Enneagram Type, shadowed them as they went about their job, and observed them coaching their team members. Today, I get to sit with the team and review my observation and recommendations. They are great people and have a lot of potential but they also have a lot of challenges both individually and collectively.

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children does not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines, and children with almost all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that I never read of David telling his children “no” nor do I read of him disciplining them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring for not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half-brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved firstborn son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half-brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. The managers I’ve been mentoring this week have been learning that their Enneagram Type reveals their tremendous strengths, but also their core fears and weaknesses. If they are going to succeed as a team, they will have to embrace both within themselves and their team members. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light on them and invest time and attention in addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

 A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m take a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
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The featured image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

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

Good for the Soul

Good for the Soul (CaD 1 Sam 16) Wayfarer

“Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”
1 Samuel 16:16 (NIV)

I have mentioned before the three questions that I regularly ask myself when I’m trying to gain my bearings on this life journey:

  • Where have I been?
  • Where am I at?
  • Where am I going?

The question “Where have I been?” tends to take me down two trails of thought. One is to think about how life itself has changed from an external perspective. Daily life, work, politics, culture, technology, and the like. The other is to think about how I have personally and internally changed over time.

Today’s chapter is pivotal in the larger story that the author of 1 Samuel is telling. It’s like that episode in a good drama series when you realize all the characters and circumstances are lining up for a major conflict, and you can’t wait to get to the next episode to see how it all plays out.

Having rejected Saul as King, God sends Samuel to the “little town of Bethlehem” (Yep, the same town where Jesus was born), to the home of a man named Jesse. Samuel has Jesse bring out all of his sons, one by one, to determine which of them God has chosen to be anointed as King. Jesse parades all seven of his older sons, but not one of them is the right one. Seven is a fascinating number because it’s the number of completion. It’s almost like saying that Jesse showed Samuel the complete package of sons he considered worthy or capable of being chosen by God, completely dismissing his youngest son, David. God, however, chooses what the world dismisses. David is called for and anointed King.

Now we have the rejected King Saul, still on the throne and slowly descending into madness. We also have God’s anointed King: David, a shepherd boy from a podunk town in the region of Judah. Saul’s attendants suggest to him that music would be soothing for his tortured soul when he descends into one of his fits. One attendant remembers this kid, David, who was a pretty good musician. So Saul calls for David, enjoys his playing, and brings David into his service as minstrel and armor-bearer.

The plot thickens. This is a set-up for a major conflict. Shakespeare himself could not have framed this storyline any better.

What struck me as I read this chapter was the fact that music was recommended as a remedy for Saul’s mental, emotional, and spiritual funk. This got me thinking about how music has increasingly become a constant in Wendy’s and my daily lives. Looking back at my earlier years, the television was always on. I was a news radio and sports radio junkie. I put the morning news on first thing in the morning. I had it playing in the background all day, and I went to bed watching the 10:00 news before falling asleep to whichever late-night talk show happened to be my favorite at the time.

Today, Wendy and I almost never watch the news, but music is almost always playing in the background. Gregorian chants and classical choral music accompany my quiet time each morning. Some of our favorite worship music accompanies our morning routine and often continues softly in the background of the kitchen through the rest of our day. I might have some oldies playing as I get shaved, showered, and dressed. Some of my favorite classic southern rock is the staple when I’m working in the garage or on house projects. When I’m working in my office during the day, it’s usually some kind of soothing spa playlist or some baroque classical. We have playlists to accompany drinks and/or dinner when we have friends or loved ones over. Music accompanies our daily life.

In the quiet this morning, I’ve come to the conclusion that my habits changed with the rise of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle. Headlines turning mole-hills of news into mountains of crisis, talking heads screaming at each other, news anchors waxing repetitiously saying the same things over and over again, it all added levels of stress, anxiety, and fear that drained Life out of me. Music, on the other hand, is medication for my soul. It soothes, inspires, brings joy, sparks memories, and prompts me to spontaneously hum and sing.

In a few minutes, I’ll head downstairs for my blueberry-spinach smoothie and a fresh cup o’ joe. Wendy and I will peruse the news online to stay abreast of what’s going on in the world, and we’ll share our thoughts and opinions with one another. We will then choose to shut our tablets, put the news away, and enter the tasks of our day, accompanied by music.

Even the ancients knew that music was good for the soul.

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

Faith Over Fear

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

1 Samuel 13:7b-11 (NIV)

Early in my career, our company’s founder and CEO was accompanying me on a business trip. For a week I was presenting a very long and intense multi-media training event for all the Customer Service agents in our client’s contact center. Because there were hundreds of agents and they could only take them off the floor a handful at a time, I was doing multiple sessions each day from early morning until late night to make sure we even got all the third-shift reps trained. It was grueling, which is why my boss had come along to encourage and assist.

Towards the middle of the week, the head of our client’s contact center informed us that the conference room we were using was needed by their executive team. We would have to move all of our equipment to the only other room they could find for us. It was not ideal. The room they were sending us to was not a great space for what we were doing. And, we were already weary from the grinding schedule. It would take us a couple of hours to move rooms and set up for the next morning when we really needed to get some sleep.

I was surprised to watch my boss dig in his heels. I was young and relatively inexperienced in these types of situations, but it seemed clear to me that my boss seemed to think this was some kind of power play on the part of the Contact Center manager. He refused. A heated argument followed, which was followed by angry phone calls. The entire thing threatened to destroy a very good and profitable relationship we’d built with a large national corporation. I was watching a heady cocktail of pride, anger, and stubbornness drive my boss to dangerous and irrational behavior.

Tense situations in times of weakness or weariness often reveal a leader’s true mettle.

In yesterday’s chapter, God through Samuel established a new org chart for the monarchy. The King would handle political and military affairs while God’s prophet would handle spiritual matters and communicate with God who was still above the King on the org chart.

In today’s chapter, the first thing Saul does is cross the boundaries of the org chart. Fearful of the Philistines, anxious that Samuel has not arrived on time, and nervous about the fact that his troopers were rapidly going AWOL, Saul takes it upon himself to do Samuel’s job for him. It was presumptuous on Saul’s part to think he had the authority to do his prophet’s job, and it was directly disobedient to the system God had put in place. Perhaps, most importantly, Saul’s actions were motivated by fear, not faith.

I couldn’t help but think of a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V in which a tired, sick, and rain-drenched English army is on the march. The French Herald arrives to announce that a freshly assembled French army is ready to confront the weary English soldiers. The Herald then offers Harry “ransom.” In other words, “You surrender and become our prisoner, and you won’t be hurt in battle. We’ll charge England ransom for your return while we destroy your army on the field.”

Harry refuses the offer to the encouragement of his men, but he and all his men know that to face the French in their present state would be disastrous. One of the King’s nobles confesses to Henry what everyone in the English army is thinking: “I hope they don’t attack us right now.”

King Henry replies, “We are in God’s hands, brother. Not in theirs.”

That’s faith and courage to press on despite fear. By contrast, Saul’s actions reveal a lack of faith and a penchant for acting rashly out of fear.

This brings me back to that tense stand-off in our client’s contact center. I got frantic phone calls from a colleague asking what was going on because they’d gotten frantic calls from our client asking them to do something about our boss. I had quietly watched this intense escalation, trying to respect the boundaries between myself and my boss. He had basically ignored me through the entire battle of egos in which he’d been intensely engaged. Finally, he turned to me and asked me what we should do.

I reminded him that our company’s mission statement (the one he wrote) said that we strive to be examples of “servant-leadership.” I quietly suggested that to serve our client well, we should bite the bullet and humbly move as requested. Thankfully, he agreed. A crisis was averted, though I’m not sure our company’s reputation remained unscathed. It became a good lesson for me.

In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind ponder my own positions of leadership in family, community, and business. I have my own natural human responses in times of fear and anxiety, and I confess that not all of them are positive. I have a natural bent toward pessimism that tends to choke my faith like the seed that fell among the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the Sower. And yet, I have yet to give up in uncertain times and circumstances. When they come along, I try to remind myself of two passages I have memorized (over and over and over and over):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

[Those who fear the LORD] will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112:7-8 (NIV)

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

The Trials of Transition

The Trials of Transition (CaD 1 Sam 11) Wayfarer

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one.
1 Samuel 11:6-7 (NIV)

I have a vivid memory of election night 2016. I was in a hotel room in Chanhassen, Minnesota watching the election returns. As the surprising results became clear, I received a text message from our daughter. She, like many Americans, was distraught with the outcome. My daughter and I have different views on many things including things political and spiritual, but as our text messages flowed back and forth, I recognized a couple of things.

First, my daughter was a relatively young adult. This was only the second presidential election in which she could vote. It was the first in which I observed her being politically aware. I watched as her personal journey over the previous four years had opened her eyes and heart to political issues that affected herself and particular people for whom she cared deeply. The previous one-third of her entire life journey to that point, our country had been led by one leader whom she admired and respected. That night, she was entering a major season of transition.

Along my life journey, I have experienced several seasons of transition. There are transitions that come from new experiences in life, such as the move from elementary school to middle school, then to high school, and the big transition to moving away from home to attend college. There are transitions in proximity, moving from one place to another which brings with it the loss of security, familiarity, and community and the process of establishing new footings, patterns, and relationships. There are transitions that come with the loss of family and loved ones. I distinctly remember when the last of my grandparents passed away and I had the realization that an entire generation of my family was gone; The rest of us had graduated to a new stage in our life journeys. Then there are transitions of leadership when a human system in which we are a part (e.g. government, family, work, church, community organization, etc.) gets a new leader that will affect our experience in that system.

In this chapter-a-day journey, we find the Hebrew tribes are in a time of intense transition. They had known one system of government for hundreds of years and were entering another. They had known the steady, strong leadership of Samuel for many years, but had been told that this young man named Saul, a nobody from the smallest tribe who happened to be tall and handsome, was going to be their king and rule over them. He’d been appointed and anointed by Samuel, he’d been chosen by the “luck of the draw” by the casting of lots. But, Saul was young. He lacked confidence. He was unproven as a leader.

Today’s chapter tells of Saul’s first real test of leadership. Having faced a continuous military threat from the Philistines in the west, the Ammonites on the east seize the opportunity to attack a Hebrew town on the east side of the River Jordan. When Saul hears of it, God’s spirit descends on him. He makes an immediate decision to act. He rallies the fighting men among the Hebrew tribes and humbly calls them to follow both he and Samuel in this call to action. After the successful, daring rescue, the people call for a lynch mob to round up all those who questioned Saul’s anointing as king and kill them all. Saul puts the kibosh on their plan, stating that the victory was not his, but the LORD’s. As I read the chapter, I thought to myself that Saul’s leadership was perfect. It couldn’t have been better. It was his first at-bat as the anointed king and he crushed a home run that left the park.

For the Hebrews, this had to have helped all the tension, fear, and anxiety they had been feeling in their season of transition. How nice it would be if all our seasons of transition experienced that kind of hopeful sign. But, they don’t. And that brings me back to my text conversation with my daughter that lasted into the wee hours of election night 2016 as she felt all the tension, fear, and anxiety of one of the most tumultuous transitions of political leadership in our nation’s history.

While I have very different views than my daughter, I have complete and utter respect for knowing that she is on her own journey. My love for her is not lessened by our differences of views. And, if I truly believe what I say I believe (and I do) then I trust that God is at work in her on her own journey even though it looks very different than mine. I also happen to believe deeply in the American ideal of free speech, respect for others, and the process of our representative republic. In my 50 years, I have experienced multiple presidential transitions that created tension, fear, and anxiety in me. I have watched the political pendulum swing back and forth many times at different levels.

That night I reminded our daughter that in just four years there would be another election. I reminded her that our system allows people to get involved and influence the outcome of elections. I encouraged her to turn her tension, fear, and anxiety into action. We might not always agree on who to vote for, but I wholeheartedly believe in her right to believe, think, speak, and act on her personal convictions in our political process.

In 2020, I couldn’t have been more proud of our daughter, her husband, and their friends. They successfully held one of the few international sites of the Iowa Caucuses and had Iowans from all over Europe travel to join them for their Caucus in Scotland. What I observed was my daughter turning the tension, fear, and anxiety of a season of transition into positive, active momentum.

And, that’s just what God tells us over and over again throughout the Great Story. The trials and struggles of transition can either send us into the pit of paralysis and despair, or they can produce in us important character qualities of perseverance, maturity, faith, trust, and active growth. Sometimes, a little of the former ultimately leads eventually to the latter. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve been able to skip the former altogether and move right to the latter. I pray that our daughter’s experiences will enable her to do the same.

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

Order, Disorder, Reorder

Order, Disorder, Reorder (CaD Jud 17) Wayfarer

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 17:6 (NIV)

For Wendy and me, there is a certain order to our lives that has developed over the years. Even though we work out of our home offices and have tremendous flexibility, our days and weeks have a certain cadence and rhythm to them that has grown out of the ordering of our spiritual, marital, familial, communal, social, vocational, and cultural needs.

Over the past several years, I have observed my world becoming increasingly disordered. There is no question that the pandemic affected the ordering of our personal lives in ways we’re still trying to understand and grapple with. On top of that, a daily perusal of the news has shown me increased political disorder, social disorder, cultural disorder, and economic disorder. I observe the manifestations of both mental disorders and spiritual disorders.

Christian mystics have long seen and understood that there is a pattern running throughout human history that goes like this:

This is the basic theme of the entire Great Story. From the order of creation and the Garden of Eden in the first two chapters of Genesis came the disorder brought by the Fall of Adam and Eve. From that point on the Great Story is about redemption and restoration of order in the final two chapters of Revelation.

At the beginning of this chapter-a-day trek through Judges I revealed the pattern of the book like this:

It’s simply a riff of the order>disorder>reorder theme and a microcosm of the Great Story itself.

In today’s chapter, the author of Judges shifts from the stories of the major Judges of the settlement period of Hebrew history to an epilogue with stories that represent the disorder of the times. The story of Micah serves two main purposes.

First, the author of Judges makes clear that power was decentralized among the Hebrew tribes. There was no king. Each tribe ran itself under the authority of clan and tribal leaders. This meant that every day people like Micah and his mother were free and independent to do whatever they wanted.

Second, the result of people doing as they pleased led to them mixing their faith in the God of Moses and ordering of life and community per the Law of Moses with local idols and religions. Micah and his mother’s interaction is a disordered hodge-podge of local religious practices and the forming of their own household shrine and cult, with Micah’s son acting as a priest of their personal household religion. Along comes a Levite, who was supposed to serve in God’s tabernacle and lead the Hebrew tribes in keeping the Law of Moses and the rules for life prescribed within it (order). Instead, this Levite agrees to serve as the priest of Micah’s household religion (disorder).

In the quiet this morning, this brings me back to the disorder I observe and feel all around me, and all around the world. It is so easy for me to lose myself in the disorder of the day. My Type Four temperament can quickly sink into a morass of pessimism and despair. Fear and anxiety can readily begin to infiltrate my spirit. But, as a follower of Jesus, I have a different perspective.

First, I can embrace the truth that Jesus predicted and told His followers to expect all kinds of disorder in this life. As a follower of Jesus, I’m instructed to counterintuitively rejoice in it, glory in it, and find joy within the disorder. The mystics who have recognized the pattern throughout history have also understood that it is the pain and discomfort of disorder that ushers in and moves us to reorder. I may feel the pain of the moment, but the disorder will also (if I let it) develop within me the spiritual qualities of perseverance, endurance, patience, and maturity.

Next, I recognize that the author of Judges was looking back and recording this period of disorder from the reordered future in which King David had united the Hebrew tribes as a nation, established Jerusalem as the center of Hebrew worship, and brought the Hebrew people back to their faith in Yahweh. The disorder of Judges was written from the perspective of the reordered world.

And so, I look at the disorder around me in the context of this cycle. Reorder is coming. Not only can I trust this because history reveals that disorder always leads to reorder, but also because the resurrected Jesus promised His return and the ultimate reordering of all things. I, as a follower of Jesus, believe this to be true, even in the midst of disorderly times, and this changes my perspective on the disorder itself.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace,” Jesus said. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And with that hope, I enter another day and another week in a disordered world.

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

Willingness

Willingness (CaD Jud 6) Wayfarer

That same night the Lord said to [Gideon], “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
Judges 6:25-27 (NIV)

I recently read the story of Angie Fenimore’s Near-Death Experience (NDE). Her body died and she descended to a hell-like place. This is an excerpt of her story:

I knew that I was in a state of hell, but this was not the typical fire and brimstone hell that I had learned about as a young child.

Men and women of all ages, but no children, were standing or squatting or wandering about on the realm. Some were mumbling to themselves. The darkness emanated from deep within and radiated from them in an aura I could feel. They were completely self-absorbed, every one of them too caught up in his or her own misery to engage in any mental or emotional exchange. They had the ability to connect with one another, but they were incapacitated by the darkness.

But worse was my growing sense of complete aloneness. Even hearing the brunt of someone’s anger, however unpleasant, is a form of tangible connection. But in this empty world, where no connections could be made, the solitude was terrifying.

Then I heard a voice of awesome power, not loud but crashing over me like a booming wave of sound; a voice that encompassed such ferocious anger that with one word it could destroy the universe, and that also encompassed such potent and unwavering love that, like the sun, it could coax life from the Earth. I cowered at its force and at its excruciating words:

“Is this what you really want?”

Suddenly I felt another presence with us, the same presence that had been with me when I first crossed over into death and who had reviewed my life with me. I recognized that he had been with us the whole time, but that I was only now becoming able to perceive him. What I could see were bits of light coming through the darkness. The rays of light penetrated me with incredible force, with the power of an all-consuming love.

I had to ask, why me? Why was it that I could see God while the vacant husk of a man next to me could not? Why was I absorbing light and being taught, while he was hunkering down in misery and darkness?

I was told that the reason is willingness.

Read or watch Angie’s complete story.

In today’s chapter, we have the beginning of the ancient story of Gideon in which God calls Gideon to lead the Hebrew tribes against their enemies. What struck me as I meditated on the chapter was the structure of the interchange between the Angel of the Lord, and Gideon:

  • Gideon expresses doubt that God is even around.
  • Gideon expresses doubt that God would call him, since Gideon is from the weakest clan in Manasseh’s tribe and Gideon is the “least” in his family.
  • Gideon asks for a sign.
  • God provides a sign and Gideon builds an altar in response
  • God tells Gideon to tear down his Father’s altar to the idol Baal and the idolatrous Asherah pole next to it, and then sacrifice a bull on the altar Gideon had built to the Lord.
  • Gideon does it, but for fear of his people, he does it at night.
  • When called out by his people for this deed, the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon and he calls his people to rise up against their enemies. Despite his doubts and fears, his people answer favorably.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.

Last year when I was making this chapter-a-day trek through the Psalms, I discussed the fact that the ancient Hebrews loved to plant metaphorical structure in their writing. In the Psalms, the central theme to the song lyrics is often at the very center, with corresponding or contrasting themes before or after.

Today’s chapter has similar symmetry if you outline the chapter. There are two episodes of Gideon’s doubt and a request for a sign that God answers. There is a command to tear down his father’s idols and offer a sacrifice to God, which Gideon does, despite his fears. Then God miraculously raises Gideon to a position of leadership and his people agree to follow. Then there are two more episodes of Gideon’s doubt and request for another sign.

In other words, the only thing that Gideon brought to this story was his willingness, despite his fears, to tear down the idols and make a sacrifice to God. This made me think of God telling Angie that the reason she was able to see His light in the darkness, and all the poor souls around her could not, was because she was willing to see Him.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think of myself and my own fearful doubts about the things to which God has called me. I am no different than Gideon. My journals are full of letters I’ve written to God expressing doubts, focusing on my weaknesses, recalling my many shortcomings, and asking for signs. I want to see the signs before I believe. God always reminds me, ironically, of “doubting Thomas” who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw the nail holes from the crucifixion and the place where the Roman spear pierced his side. to whom Jesus answered his doubts as he did Gideon’s before saying, “Blessed are those who never see the sign, but still believe.”

And that is where I find myself standing at the beginning of this, a new day in the journey. Am I willing to step out in faith and pursue the things to which God has called me? Or, will I stand still, distract myself with other things, and wait for a sign?

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

The Fear Factor

The Fear Factor (CaD Jos 22) Wayfarer

“No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.
Joshua 22:24-25 (NIV)

As Wendy and I flew to the west coast to visit friends this past month, we took advantage of the flight’s entertainment options. Wendy and I both plugged into our tablets and watched something to pass the time. Everyone who knows Wendy knows that her raw emotions are sometimes expressed in explosive and animated ways, this is especially true of things that fearfully surprise her. Thus it was, the movie she was watching had one of those out-of-nowhere scary surprises. Wendy’s vociferous shriek of shock and surprise scared everyone around us. I even saw the flight attendant look our way to see what was the matter. If I remember correctly, this happened on more than one flight.

Wendy and I both hate horror movies. I always have. I know that there are people out there who love the genre. Good for them. It’s just not my jam. I hate being afraid, so I just don’t see the point of intentionally subjecting myself to an experience that has been purposefully designed to scare the bejeebers out of me.

In today’s chapter, Joshua dismisses the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return across the Jordan River to the lands they’d requested back in the days of Moses. Knowing that the lands they’d requested on the eastern side of the Jordan were not within the Promised Land God had stipulated, the two and a half tribes suddenly feared that they might be treated as “less than” the tribes on the other side of Jordan. This fear was projected on future generations who might cut the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh from being part of the family, and part of the worship of God.

It always fascinates me where fear comes from and where it leads people. Reuben was the first-born son of Jacob who received a curse rather than a blessing from his father in Genesis 49. It made me wonder if this contributed to the fears that they might be cut off from the other tribes? Did it contribute to them hastily requesting land on the opposite side of Jordan because they didn’t trust that they would get a decent allotment in the Promised Land? Now that they’ve gotten what they asked for it stoked fears of being cut off from the other tribes.

It also appears that these “Trans-Jordan” tribes feared having a conversation about it with Joshua and the assembly. They choose instead to build a replica altar which creates misunderstanding and almost leads to a bloody confrontation with the other ten tribes, which is the very thing they feared to begin with!

The further I get in my life journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate Jesus’ command not to fear, and not to be anxious. Whenever Jesus told someone not to be afraid it was a directive, not a suggestion, and yet in my heart and mind, I confess that I’ve so often treated it as the latter.

The Trans-Jordan tribes are a reminder to me that unchecked and unspoken fears can and do lead to unpleasant places. Fear is a natural human emotion, but faith is an antidote. When in their fear of the storm, the disciples woke Jesus up in the boat, Jesus asked them “Where is your faith?”

In the quiet this morning, I’m searching my heart and mind in order to find and name fears that I haven’t really acknowledged. I’ve learned along the way that speaking these fears to God in prayer (or sometimes I write God a letter and get my fears out on the page), and then proclaiming my faith and trust in God helps move me out of fear and into faith.

And, that’s a good word this morning as I enter another day of the journey determined to leave fears behind and move forward in faith.

Cheers!

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

Succession

Succession (CaD Jos 1) Wayfarer

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I’ve learned that one of the most strategically vital, and yet infinitely tricky, aspects of the long-term success of any human organization is succession. The longer and more successful a leader’s tenure has been at the top of an organization, the more critical and precarious the succession becomes.

Joshua 1:8 was the first verse I memorized as a follower of Jesus when I was fifteen years old. I memorized it at the instruction of a man who was my boss in an afterschool job. He discipled me for two years, intently teaching me the basics of studying the Great Story, and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fellowship, being a witness. He and his wife later started a company. I began working for the company in 1994, became a partner in 2005. My boss and mentor died in 2015. I became the company’s President in 2018.

I’ve experienced first-hand how tricky succession can be, and ours is a relatively small organization with relatively few entanglements. The larger the organization, the more complex it gets.

Today, this chapter-a-day journey begins a trek through the book of Joshua which begins with the end of Moses’ story. Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Through Moses, God established a rule of Law, a religious sacrificial system, and an organizational structure for governing their 12 tribes. Moses led the Hebrew people for 40 years of wandering through the Sinai wilderness. Moses is the only leader the Hebrews have known for more than a generation.

Moses is dead, and the Hebrew people are facing the most monumental task they’ve faced as a people. They are looking across the Jordan River at the land God had promised them. They are to cross and conquer. They will need a strong leader.

As I read the chapter this morning, I couldn’t help but feel for Joshua. In terms of succession, Joshua is in an almost impossible position. Moses has been his mentor. Moses was the miracle man, the savior, and God’s undisputed leader. I know the self-doubt. I know the feelings of expectation. I know the angst that comes with stepping into shoes that feel as if they were forever ordained to be worn by the original wearer, and will always seem a few sizes too big for your own feet.

I took particular note that it was God who spoke to Joshua in this morning’s opening chapter. It was God who gave assurances, made promises, and instructed Joshua regarding the task at hand. It was God who gave this fledgling leader the mantra “Be strong and courageous.” Why?

These are God’s people, not Moses’.
This is God’s story, not Moses’.
It is God’s ultimate purpose to which Joshua is being called, not Moses’.
Joshua is ultimately God’s person for the job, not Moses’.

Some mornings I find that the chapter has such direct correlation to my own life journey as to be profound. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that God’s purposes are ultimately at work in my own life and journey. Therefore, like Joshua, my own experiences with change and succession are ultimately about God’s purposes for me and the business to which I happen to have been given a position of leadership. Like Joshua, I’m called to be faithful, obedient, mindful, strong, and courageous. Like Joshua, I’m to trust God’s promises and not my leadership prowess. Like Joshua, I’m to recognize God’s constant presence and ultimate purposes, whatever that purpose might ultimately turn out to be.

Time for me to get to work.

Have a great day.

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