Tag Archives: Fear

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.

The Sober Truth

The Sober Truth (CaD Heb 9) Wayfarer

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many…
Hebrews 9:27-28a (NIV)

This past week I began listening to an audiobook recommended by a friend, entitled Imagine Heaven by John Burke. The author was a self-avowed skeptic who spent some 30 years gathering and studying stories from all over the world of those who have had a Near Death Experience (NDE); Individuals who were clinically dead, briefly experienced what comes next, and then were sent back.

Here’s the truth: I’m dying. I’m not sure I could begin my week with a more sobering observation, but it is true. According to the scientists who study these things, I reached the pinnacle of my physical development between 25 (muscle strength) and 30 (bone mass). From that point forward, despite the fact that I am probably more fit for my age than I was back then, my body is in slow but steady decline. Fortunately, the mind, psyche, and spirit can still grow and develop through the life journey despite my brain processing power peaking at age 18. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the fact that my body is making a persistent and irreversible descent towards death.

In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews continues to compare the covenant and sacrificial system that God prescribed for Moses and the Hebrew people to the new covenant established by Jesus through His sacrificial death. At the beginning of the Great Story, Adam and Eve’s sin ushered in the reality of death:

“By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19 (NIV)

From the beginning, humanity has, by and large, fought death, feared death, and sought to escape death. Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most people living a life of relative wealth, freedom, and affluence tend to distract themselves from thinking about it at all. Some are so enamored with the distractions that their indulgence leads to the very thing they were trying to distract themselves from thinking about. Then I’ve observed a few are so dissatisfied, wearied, or wounded that they prefer death to empty distractions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about death as a follower of Jesus. Today’s chapter lays out quite plainly that Jesus suffered His horrific death in fulfillment of a once-and-for-all sacrifice that not only made Moses’ old sacrificial system obsolete, it completely transforms my perception of death. Jesus taught that death is the gateway to Life. Death is no longer something I need to fight but something to welcome. It is no longer something to fear, but to celebrate. It is no longer something to escape, but to embrace. The many testimonies of those who experience NDEs concur. One of the common themes of those who were given a taste of heaven is the fact that they didn’t want to come back.

If I truly believe what I say I believe, and death is not something I need to fear or ignore via distraction, how does that inform what I do with my life today? For me, I find that it frees me to live more intentionally with the eternal in mind. My physical descent towards earthly death is ultimately leading toward an ascent to eternal life. My purpose each day on this earthly path of descent is to love God with everything I’ve got while loving others as I love myself as Jesus laid out as the way of trust, lament, humility, justice, compassion, right motive, peacemaking, surrender, and radical love.

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

Slaves to Fear

Slaves to Fear (CaD Heb 2) Wayfarer

…and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Hebrews 2:15 (NIV)

Over the weekend, I was informed by a client that one of their team members passed away from Covid. I had just spoken to her a few weeks ago while I was on-site doing some training sessions. In fact, she and I had a very pleasant conversation one morning as we waited for some of her colleagues to arrive for a meeting. The news came as a shock.

The pandemic has been a life-altering event for humanity. We have lived through a historic period of history. Some of the effects may very well reverberate through the rest of our lives or beyond.

For me, one of the fascinating aspects of the pandemic has been to witness fear and its effects on people’s thoughts and behaviors. It is completely natural for people to fear death, yet along my life journey, I’ve come to observe that it’s easy for most people around me to keep thoughts of death successfully at bay. This is especially true living in a developed, affluent society in which life expectancy is long and temporal distractions are virtually endless. Having officiated many funerals along my journey, I came to realize that for many people attending the funeral it might be one of the few times in life they contemplated their own mortality. It’s hard not to when there’s a dead body in the room.

I was struck this morning by the author of the letter to the Hebrews observing that people could be enslaved by their fear of death. I believe it resonated deeply with me simply because I’ve witnessed what that looks like in people during the pandemic.

For followers of Jesus, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of an annual 40-day remembrance of Jesus’ journey to death that ends in the celebration of His resurrection. That is the defining moment as a follower of Jesus. Death was not a dead end to be feared, but the path to resurrection and eternal Life.

If I truly believe what I say I believe then my perception of, and attitude toward, death is forever altered. Jesus’ resurrection turns the one thing that I most fear, my own death, into an event filled with hope, promise, and expectation. I am no longer shackled by my fear of death. Without those chains, I have perceived my anxiety level to be far lower than many I have observed around me during the past couple of years. The contrast has been brought acutely into focus.

In the quiet this morning, I am grateful for the increasing signs of the pandemic becoming endemic. I am hopeful for life to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normality. I’m grateful for clients who know that I not only do business with them, but that I care about them, walk with them, grieve with them, and will pray for them in times of death and grief. I’m grateful that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I am free from slavery to the fear of death.

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

Two Retirement Funds

Two Retirement Funds (CaD Matt 6) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuck in a Moment

Stuck in a Moment (CaD Gen 33) Wayfarer

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
Genesis 33:4 (NIV)

Many years ago I found myself back in the stomping grounds of my youth. It was late at night and I ran into an old friend. I approached to say hello and discovered he had a drink or two too many. I was shocked to find that I was greeted with anger that felt like it was seething to the point of rage. He looked like he was ready to punch me, and the air was filled with violent tension. I quickly backed away and left.

I never forgot that moment.

Ten or so years later I ran into my friend again. Needless to say, my apprehension was high when I saw him. All I could think about was the tension from ten years before. I played it cool and chose not to initiate conversation. Imagine my surprise when my friend walked up to me with a smile, greeted me warmly with a big hug, and initiated a friendly catch-up conversation. It was as if the episode a decade before had ever happened.

That moment came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter and the reunion between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. In this case, it had been 20 years since Jacob fled into exile to escape his brother’s rage. The last thing Jacob remembered was the aftermath of stealing Esau’s blessing and birthright. Esau was spewing anger and vengeance. In yesterday’s chapter, Jacob hears that Esau is on his way with 400 men, and he is clearly anticipating Esau to greet him with the same anger and vengeance he remembered from their last meeting. He carefully devises a plan in anticipation of a violent outcome.

Imagine Jacob’s shock when Esau runs ahead of his 400 men to embrace him, kiss him, and weep at their reunion.

Along my life journey, one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I have a very active mind, imagination, and inner world. It comes with being an Enneagram Type Four. This is a good thing in all sorts of creative ways. I discovered it to be quite helpful as an actor, allowing me to easily suspend disbelief and live fully in the world of a play behind the fourth wall. At the same time, my active mind can also become a hindrance.

They say, “Time heals all wounds.” Sometimes it’s true, but not if my brain replays that uncomfortable, tense moment with my friend over, and over, and over again. And, I did just that. I couldn’t let it go. It was like relational PTSD. All I had to do was think about it and I was right back in that moment, feeling all of the shock, apprehension, and fear all over again. It makes it hard for me to let things go. Sometimes, I’m unable to emotionally or relationally move forward from a moment. As U2 sings it:

And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it’s tough
And you can never get enough
Of what you don’t really need now
My, oh my
You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

In the quiet this morning, I wondered if Jacob was wired the same way. Paul summed up his letter to Jesus’ followers in Philippi by telling them:

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I’ve discovered that doing this often requires me to find the “stop” button in my brain from continuing to repeat whatever mental playlist I have on a continuous loop. I have to force myself to consciously choose a different playlist that fits Paul’s description.

I’ve found that the path of spiritual growth requires me to recognize unhealthy and unproductive ways within myself, and find the self-discipline to address them. In some cases, this is easy. In other cases, it’s an entire spiritual journey all its own.

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

Wrestling

Wrestling (CaD Gen 32) Wayfarer

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28 (NIV)

Growing up in Iowa, one learns that wrestling is a big thing. Our state universities typically have nationally top-ranked programs. Most Iowans know the names of our state’s wrestling heroes. When I was growing up, wrestling was a mandatory class in P.E. during Junior High. For the record, I was really bad at it.

But that was just physical wrestling. With other types of wrestling, I’m quite adept: wrestling with fear, wrestling with shame, wrestling with the past, and et cetera.

Today’s chapter contains another mysterious, ancient story. Jacob, having left his Uncle Laban and returned to his home country, first finds himself in a potentially tough spot with his brother Esau. Jacob fears that his brother will kill him, and he comes up with a strategic plan to appease Esau’s anger and position himself in such a way to reduce his potential losses should Esau attck.

That night, Jacob finds himself in an all-night wrestling match with God. Having successfully gone the distance, God asks to “tap out.” Jacob, however, says he won’t give up until God blesses him.

God responds by saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

From the stories we’ve read about Jacob, he’s always been wrestling with life. He came out of the womb wrestling with his twin brother. He wrestles with Esau for power and position within the family system. He wrestles with Esau for his father’s affection and then wrestles with his father to steal Esau’s birthright. Jacob then wrestles ceaselessly with his Uncle Laban for the right to marry Rachel, and then for his wages. God has repeatedly told Jacob that he will inherit the blessing God gave to his grandfather Abraham, and his father, Isaac. Yet, there seems to be something in Jacob that doesn’t believe it despite all the evidence of his flourishing. Jacob is still wrestling with God and petitioning God for the blessing that’s already been given.

Perhaps that the deceiver, Jacob, having lived a life of deceiving and being deceived, has projected onto God his own shortcomings. Perhaps he can’t trust God not to be a deceiver, too.

Perhaps Jacob is bogged down in the shame of his own failings and, deep down, he doesn’t believe that God would bless a deceiver like him. He’s done nothing to deserved God’s blessing and favor.

Perhaps God knew that the only way Jacob would truly understand and embrace the blessing that had been freely given was to wrestle for it.

As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning, I found myself wrestling. I, too, have experienced blessings I know I really don’t deserve. I, too, struggle to embrace blessings freely and graciously given. Instead of gratefully receiving them, I find myself pessimistically assuming that they will be withdrawn, withheld, or will turn out to have been some kind of mistake. I have to confess to my own internal wrestling match with God, for which I might just have Olympic-worthy talent. And, that’s not a good thing.

I believe it’s time for me to tap out and forfeit this wrestling match to God.

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

Peace Amidst Conflict

Peace Amidst Conflict (CaD John 14) Wayfarer

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27 (NIV)

One of the most instrumental classes of my entire education was Eighth Grade English with Mrs. McLaren. Not only did she teach me about how writing is structured, but she also taught me about how story is structured. She was the first teacher to teach me that every good story contains conflict. Conflict comes in many forms. It might be good versus evil, conflict between God and a person, conflict between a person and the world, a person against another person, or a person fighting against themselves. Our lives and. our world are filled with conflict, and conflict disrupts peace.

In the Great Story, conflict is unleashed like a torrent in Genesis 3. Evil disrupts the peace and harmony of the Garden by causing the man and woman to question what God has said (Good vs. Evil) and then tempts them to eat the forbidden fruit. This creates conflict (shame and blame) between God and His creation (God vs. humans)and between the man and woman (person vs. person). The result of this conflict is more conflict. God kicks the man and woman out of the garden (God vs. humans), curses the evil one (God vs. evil), curses the man to toil and death (man vs. the world; man vs. self), curses the woman to pain in childbirth and struggle with man (woman vs. world; woman vs. man), and the whole thing establishes a special animosity between the woman and evil one (woman vs. evil).

There’s a whole lot of conflict going on!

In today’s chapter, Jesus is sharing with His followers on the night before He is to be crucified. Unlike the other three biographers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) who focus on the events of Jesus’ final night and the day of His crucifixion, John dedicates four of his final seven chapters to all of the things Jesus told them on that fateful night. As the last of the four biographers, and as one writing from a waypoint much further down life’s road, John is writing from the perspective of what his readers need to hear. Most followers of Jesus know the events because the other three biographies have been spread and read far and wide. Inspired by Holy Spirit, John realizes that Jesus’ followers need to hear what Jesus told them the night before His execution.

In reading Jesus story, people often forget to understand these final hours of Jesus’ earthly life in the context of the Great Story. I’ve said all along that one of John’s themes is identity, and in today’s chapter I can identify all of the players from Genesis 3. Jesus even references the Evil One in today’s chapter: “The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me.”

Back in Genesis 3, God said this to the evil one:

“And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

After the Garden incident, the evil one identified as the “prince of this world” was given dominion over all the kingdoms of this world. The evil one even offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of this world when he tempted Jesus before the beginning of His ministry, asking that Jesus merely bow and worship him. Jesus refused, and the conflict continues.

Now we have the God (in the incarnate Christ), man (in the disciples), woman (there were several women in Jesus entourage who were there), and the woman of the prophecy in the person of Jesus’ mother Mary who was also present with them, living with them, and traveling with them. What is happening is more than mere happenstance. This is a cosmic convergence and climax to the Great Story.

In light of all this conflict, I find it fascinating that Jesus says that He is giving His followers peace (that’s different than the world can give) and they shouldn’t allow their hearts to be troubled or afraid.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about what chaotic times we live in. I can’t help but think about the tremendous lack of peace I see amidst fear of death, fear of COVID, fear of those who don’t think the same, fear of tragedy, fear of anarchy, or fear of [fill in the blank]. Yet Jesus wanted me, His follower, to experience peace amidst the turmoil still being stirred up by the prince of this world and all the age old conflicts that have plagued human beings since the fourth chapter of the Great Story.

As I mull these things over, I realize that I experience greater peace today then at any other time of my life journey. This isn’t because my circumstances have changed but because I’ve changed. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I grow in relationship with Jesus, the more I’ve experienced the peace He references in today’s chapter. As I see the world growing more anxious and fearful, I’ve grown less so. I find it important that Jesus told me not to allow my heart to be troubled. I have a say in this. I have a choice. I can allow the fear and anxiety being stirred up and pedaled by the prince of this world to keep me tied up in knots today, or I can believe Jesus, trust His Word, and embrace how the Great Story ends with “all things working together for good for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The more a I truly and consciously choose the latter, the more I experience peace.

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