Tag Archives: Forgiveness

The Choice

The Choice (CaD Gen 50) Wayfarer

But Joseph said to [his brothers], “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV)

Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed hosting Godfather nights. We have a big Italian dinner with friends who have never seen the all-time classic movie, and we watch together over wine and cannoli. It’s so much fun.

[Spoiler Alert] In the final minutes of the film, the patriarch of the family dies, and his son, Michael, decides to make a move against all of the family’s enemies. This includes traitors within the family itself. As Michael stands in a Catholic church and becomes godfather to his sister’s baby at a baptism ceremony, the vengeance is mercilessly carried out. It all takes place as Michael is asked in the baptism ritual: “Do you renounce Satan?” and he responds, “I do renounce him.”

That scene came to mind this morning as I read the final chapter of Genesis. Jacob dies. He and his family are living in Egypt under Joseph’s protection. With the patriarch of the family dead, Joseph’s brothers realize that they are in a precarious position. Joseph has all the power of Pharaoh and Egypt at his beck and call. Should Joseph decide to “settle accounts” with his brothers for beating him with murderous intent and then selling him into slavery he could. All Joseph had to do was give the word and they would all be sleeping with the fishes.

The brothers send word to Joseph begging for his forgiveness. They bow down before him and offer to be his slaves.

Joseph’s response is classic:

“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph is foreshadowing the song of Moses after the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, along with the instruction in Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Joseph makes a willing decision to allow God’s intentions to overshadow the ill-intent of his brothers. Once again, his thoughts and actions mirror the behavioral instructions given to Jesus’ followers:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… 1 Peter 1:6-7

“…to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s response foreshadows two important spiritual realities.

First, he understands that all that has happened to him has resulted in saving the lives of his family. When God leads the tribes out of slavery in Egypt, He will say to them: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut 30:19) God is the God of Life. Joseph chooses not to go the Michael Corleone route down the path of death and vengeance. Joseph chooses life for his brothers.

Second, the promise given to Abraham was that through his descendants “all nations of the earth will be blessed.” Through Joseph’s trials, he was placed in a position to give life, not only to the Egyptians and his family but also to the other nations who came to Egypt to buy food in the famine. Had it not been for Joseph’s many trials, so many people from so many nations and peoples would have perished. Instead, they lived and were blessed through Abraham’s descendant.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself searching my heart to see if the seeds of vengeance are present. Stories like Joseph and The Godfather are so epic, yet the principles involved are intensely personal. Who has caused me harm? Who has made my life miserable? Who has wronged me, slandered me, or thrown me under the bus?

What seeds are taking root in my heart?

The seeds of resentment, hatred, and vengeance?

The seeds of grace, mercy, and forgiveness?

I’m reminded that the fruit of the former leads to death, while the fruit of the latter leads to life.

Spare the gun. Share the cannoli.

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

The Words of a Parent

The Words of a Parent (CaD Gen 49) Wayfarer

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.
Genesis 49:1 (NIV)

Words have power.

Words of a parent, fathers especially, have unusual power.

Along my earthly journey, I have observed individuals whose lives have been either blessed or plagued by the words of a parent. These words get imprinted in a person’s psyche and soul for good or for ill:

“I love you.”
“I can’t stand you.”
“I’m proud of you.”

Well done. You’re so smart.”
Why did you do that? You’re so stupid.”
“I’m ashamed to have you as a child.”
“You’re going to go far in life.”
“You’ll never amount to anything.”

I find today’s chapter is one of the most intriguing in all of the Great Story. Jacob/Israel calls all of his sons together as he’s about to die. He then offers a poem about each of his sons to “tell you what will happen to you.” These are his final words. This is the lasting message he leaves with each one. Words have power, and final words pack an extra punch.

I found it important that Jacob does not say, “these are the words of the Lord” or “Thus says the Lord.” Those words accompany divine prophecy. Jacob’s words are not from God, but from his own observations, relationships, and experiences with his children. His words are human, not divine, and any person imprinted with negative parental words must always remember this truth. Embracing the truth of it is the first step towards healing.

A few observations from Jacob’s final words to his sons:

Sometimes mistakes follow you forever. This was true of Reuben, who slept with Jacob’s wife. It was true of Simeon and Levi, who attacked Shechem without permission. These events were never forgiven, and Jacob seals the deal by cursing them for it once again with his dying breath. Jesus, in stark contrast, came to forgive and to teach us to forgive, which has the power to heal the soul of both victim and perpetrator.

Sometimes perception and the seemingly prophetic statements of parents are simply wrong. Jacob tells his Zebulun that his tribe will live by the seashore and be a seafaring people and that his border will extend to the town of Sidon. When the Promised Land was distributed to the tribes, Zebulun was landlocked and 40 miles from Sidon. Sometimes parents say things that are simply wrong, and the only power they have is our willingness to believe them.

Sometimes words can be prophetic despite the source. It seems contradictory, but throughout the Great Story God uses strange sources to speak and foreshadow truth. Shakespeare picked up on this and used it as a device. The fools in his plays regularly speak important truths. Jacob not only makes Judah the leader of the clan, but he also foreshadows the fact that the Messiah will spring from his tribe.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself, once again, grateful to my parents. The simple words “I love you” were imprinted on my soul ceaselessly. The words “I’m proud of you” were spoken regularly at appropriate moments. I have known others who are haunted to have never heard those words from a parent. I am so blessed by my parents.

I’m also reminded this morning of yesterday’s post, which I would encourage anyone struggling with father, mother, or family wounds to read. We don’t get to choose our earthly families, but Jesus came to make the way for anyone to be adopted into an eternal family and divine inheritance. Human curses may always leave a scar on this earthly sojourn, but Jesus offers both healing and a loving new family.

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

Letting Go

Letting Go (CaD Gen 31) Wayfarer

It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” 
Genesis 31:49 (NIV)

The holiday season is just around the corner and I’ve already begun thinking about updating my wish list for the family. Wendy and I have already made a few purchases to try and get ahead of the rush given the current smattering of supply and shipping issues.

I can’t help but think of my childhood when I would scour the Sears “Wish Book” catalog for hours and hours. It was in those pages that I first came across a Mizpah necklace. It’s actually two necklaces that each have one-half of a medallion onto which the verse I quoted from today’s chapter is inscribed: “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” This verse is also used sometimes as a benediction to end a worship service.

While the sentiment of Laban’s words, taken at face value, may sound like a heart-warming desire between loved ones, that is definitely not what Laban and Jacob were communicating.

Jacob and Laban have spent twenty years in a passive-aggressive battle of deceits. Even in today’s chapter, the mutual distrust is palpable. This is true not only of Jacob and Laban, but we find that Leah and Rachel also feel cheated by their own father. He has treated his own daughters contemptuously.

Thus, when Laban says, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other,” he is stating a sentiment built up from twenty years of injury, greed, deception, and broken promises. Laban is saying of Jacob, “I can’t trust you out of my sight, so I’ll have to trust God to hold you accountable and judge you.”

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I found myself journeying through the sense of disappointment that a verse that appears to be so encouraging and reassuring actually springs from distrust and suspicion. Then, I continued to meditate on it, and I came to the conclusion that there is wisdom in Laban’s Mizpah covenant.

Along my life journey, I’ve had a number of relationships with individuals who injured me relationally. There are individuals who gave me very good reasons to distrust them. As I write this, I’m even recalling individuals for whom I know I could have made trouble. I could have confronted their deceits or turned them into authority. I could have gotten certain individuals fired or in trouble with the law. In a couple of cases, every part of me wanted to do so.

But, I didn’t.

I chose not to because to do so would have been acting out of anger and retaliation. I chose not to because Jesus tells me to bless those who curse me, and sometimes that blessing includes withholding personal judgment, vengeance, and the perpetuation of injury to one another. Jesus also said:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)

At Mizpah, Laban lets Jacob go. He gives up trying to control, avenge, and get even. He surrenders his son-in-law to God. He stops trying to be detective, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner in the relationship. He trusts God to handle those roles from this moment on.

Along my life journey, I’ve found this to be a spiritually healthy step to take.

Come to think of it, a Mizpah necklace in the Sears catalog might have served as a good reminder between Jacob and Laban that sometimes relational feuds need to end by surrendering them and entrusting them to God.

Note: Mizpah necklace on the featured photo is from Gathering Charms on Etsy.

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

The Inflection Point of Kindness

The Inflection Point of Kindness (CaD Gen 8) Wayfarer

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark…
Genesis 8:1 (NIV)

Every spring, our small town has a Tulip Festival that attracts huge crowds that wander our quaint public square. The crowds bring out a certain brand of street preachers who will stand in crowded areas and loudly proclaim their brand of hellfire, condemnation, and judgment on all of us sinners.

The modern-day, would-be prophets always bring out a mixture of anger and sadness in me. The anger comes from the fact that they give individuals who aren’t followers of Jesus a skewed mental picture of who Jesus is and what His Message is all about. The sadness is for the hearts of these misguided prophets themselves who, judging by their hatred and vitriol, have truly not come to grips with their own sinfulness nor have they experienced God’s amazing grace themselves.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I observed the parallel between the destructive flood of Noah and the redemptive metaphor of baptism. Because we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, the journey through Genesis is chock full of the first appearances of themes that foreshadow the chapters yet to come. Today’s chapter is an inflection point in the story of Noah which shifts the narrative from destruction to redemption. It begins with the very first verse of today’s chapter that I highlighted at the top of the post.

The Hebrew word for “remembered” (as in, “God remembered Noah”) is zākar. It means more than just the “A ha!” remembering or bringing to mind that the word “remembered” conjures in English. Zākar is layered with the notions of fondness, honor, worthiness, and active consideration. It’s a loving-kindness type of remembrance that motivates action. This is a stark contrast to the judgment and regret that has described God’s mood to this point in the Noah story.

What follows is the account of the end of the flood, but what is lost on most modern readers is the hidden parallel to the original creation story in chapter 1. What’s more, there are seven parallels just as there were seven days in creation.

  • 8:2 mentions the waters above and below, just like 1:7.
  • 8.5 mentions the ground appearing, just like 1:9.
  • 8:7 mentions birds flying above, just like 1:20.
  • 8:17 mentions the animals, just like 1:25.
  • 9:1 says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” just like 1:28a.
  • 9:2 mentions humanity’s dominion over creation, just like 1:28b.
  • 9:3 mentions God’s giving of plants/animals for food, just like 1:30.

Now we have a new theme emerging which will be vitally important in the Great Story, all the way until the very end. It’s a variation on the theme of order>chaos>reorder introduced two chapters ago:

Creation —> Destruction —> Re-creation

We see this theme in Jesus’ proclamation “I’m going to destroy this Temple and rebuild it in three days!” We will see this theme at the very end of the Great Story in Revelation when the old heaven and earth pass away and a new heaven and earth are created. And, we see it in the lives of those who follow Jesus, as Paul describes in his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth:

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.
2 Cor 5:16-18 (MSG)

From the very beginning of the Great Story, God introduces and foreshadows the grand theme in light of humanity’s sin: reorder, redemption, new creation.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to the street preachers spewing their condemnation at Tulip Time. I’m reminded of Romans 2:4 which says it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not hatred, anger, judgment, condemnation, or damnation. I’ve experienced my own spiritual inflection point when I realized that my sin was heinous as the worst of sinners but Jesus remembered (zākar) me and His loving-kindness extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That shifted my own story to one of redemption.

May I always “remember” others the same way.

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

“Damned Spots”

"Damned Spots" (CaD James 4) Wayfarer

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:8 (NIV)

There is a classic scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Lady Macbeth and her husband murder the King of Scotland who is spending the night in their home. Macbeth had received a prophetic word that he would be King. The King unexpectedly shows up for a visit on his travels through the region. The couple decide that it’s their place to make the prophecy come true. They murder the King.

In classic Shakespearean story-telling, the murder successfully launches a chain of events to put Macbeth on the throne. It also launches a chain of events that destroy the couple.

In the final act, Lady Macbeth is descending into madness. Her servant notes that Lady Macbeth often walks in her sleep and acts strangely. She and a physician watch together as Lady Macbeth, sleepwalking in the middle of the night, struggles to wash the blood of her victim off her hands…

Out, damned spot! out, I say!-
…who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.

What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!

Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so
pale.–I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he
cannot come out on’s grave.

To bed, to bed! there’s knocking at the gate:
come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s
done cannot be undone.–To bed, to bed, to bed!


Macbeth Act 5 Scene 1

Almost anyone who has committed awful acts can attest to the fact that a guilty conscience can really do a number on you. I know this because I write from personal experience. Along my life journey, my hands have been stained with the consequences of my own willful transgressions. I remember the pit of despair, the sleepless nights, the heaviness of soul that reverberates with Lady Macbeth’s question: “What? Will these hands ne’er be clean?”

In today’s chapter, James begins by calling out those who have allowed unchecked passions, appetites, greed, and selfishness to lead to transgressions and the dark consequences of the soul that accompany them. James urges:

Come near to God, and he will come near to you.

Like the Prodigal Son, like Lady Macbeth, when I wallowed in the slop of my own making and wrung my hands in hopes of washing away the stains, it was a futile exercise. It was only when the Prodigal returned home and “came near” to his Father that things began to change.

Wash your hands…

Notice that the washing of hands comes after the “coming near.” This is not a coincidence because it’s not me doing the washing. It was Jesus who washed my feet of the dirt of where I’ve been. It is the Living Water that springs up to wipe the stubbornly stained conscience clean.

In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul addressed those among the local gathering who had once been immoral, adulterers, drunkards, and slanderers. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Purify your hearts

Purification from my sins is not something I did. It was something Jesus did for me. Once again, like the Prodigal, all I did was to come near and confess.

And, as John wrote to the followers of Jesus: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I found myself, like the woman caught in adultery. One moment I was lying in the naked shame of what I had done. The next moment I find that Jesus had not condemned me, but had washed me, purified me, and given me a clean start.

“Go,” He said, “and don’t go back to those dark, dirty places.”

This is what I found crucial to understanding the way of Jesus. The repentance, or turning away from sin, was not the result of being shamed, condemned, and/or threatened. It was the result of experiencing Jesus’ kindness as He washed my stains clean and purified my spotted soul when I didn’t deserve it.

Macbeth and his Lady, I’m afraid, did not experience this grace and forgiveness. Lady Macbeth dies, leaving her husband to cynically reflect on their lives, the futile mess they’d made of things, and the meaninglessness he finds of it all:

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that in the deepest and darkest stretches of my journey, I was afforded the grace to “come near” to Christ and experience my “damned spots” washed clean.

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

Judicial Realizations

Judicial Realizations (CaD Ps 139) Wayfarer

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Yesterday, I spent some time with a friend who is a bit further down life’s road than I am. He sees the finish line of his vocational journey fast approaching. The fact that his days are numbered and there are fewer days ahead than behind is not lost on him. We talked honestly.

“I just want to finish well,” he said to me.

We then quickly recounted the names of those we know who did not finished life well. It was a sobering thought.

If you ask me to share my individual, unvarnished story with you, I’m going to share things that are pretty unseemly. Along my life journey I have been guilty of both pretty sins and ugly sins. For about the first 15-20 years of my 40 years as a Jesus follower, I did my best to hide these things under a well-polished veneer of goodness. Eventually, things caught up with me. As I hit bottom and could no longer keep up appearances, I had a fellow believer and therapist tell me, “I’ve been watching the slow deconstruction of the image of Tom.”

I’ve learned along this journey that sometimes old things must be razed before new, fruitful things can begin growing.

The 23rd Psalm undoubtedly tops the Billboard Chart for all-time favorite ancient Hebrew songs. Today’s chapter, Psalm 139, is definitely makes the Top Ten. It might even be number two. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to do so. The liner notes ascribe it to David, which adds an intriguing layer of meaning to the lyrics.

It’s easy to read Psalm 139 in the mind frame of the devotional and theological. But in the context of David’s day, the lyrics are judicial. Christian theology holds that God is omnipresent, meaning that God is present in all places at all times. While the lyrics of David’s song support this idea, the ancients of David’s world had no such notion. Rather, they considered that both gods and kings had access to all places and all knowledge. Therefore, no one could run and hide from justice. No matter how high, low, near, or far I try to hide, the Divine Judge has full access, even to see and know the person I am beneath the well-polished veneer of goodness.

Much like the 51st Psalm, David’s song is an honest and intimate confession. David is laying open his life, his heart, and his soul before God, who is the Divine Judge. In doing so, David is exposing and owning his own sins, both pretty and ugly. A man of violence and bloodshed, an adulterer, a murderer, a failed father, a failed husband, and a less-than-perfect king, David stands before God knowing that God doesn’t need the Freedom of Information Act to see it all. David asks God to search his very heart, which ironically is the thing that led God to choose David in the first place.

Which leads me back to my story, and my life, which is every bit as polluted with sins both pretty and ugly. There came a point in my journey that I had my own Psalm 139 moment. I could continue running, hiding, and polishing, but that never got me anywhere healthy. So, I owned my own shit. I processed my feelings, my failings, and my indulgent human appetites. Ironically, it was at that point in my journey that a number of really good things began to spiritually sprout within me.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the fact that I’m writing these words on Good Friday. As I remember that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for me, so that in him I might become the righteousness of God,” I am reminded that it’s not about the things that I have done, but the thing that Christ did for me. The more honest I am about the things I have done, the more potent the thing that Christ did for me becomes. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, it is that kindness of Christ that leads me to genuine repentance, not judgement, condemnation, nor religious rigor.

This morning, I find myself thinking that if I want to finish well then I have to keep this spiritual truth before me this day, each day, until I reach the journey’s end.

Old Wounds Die Hard

Old Wounds Die Hard (CaD Ps 137) Wayfarer

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.

Psalm 137:8 (NIV)

It’s interesting the places my mind can wander when my body is embroiled in a mindless task. This past weekend as I spent hours power-washing, I found my mind wandering back to a slight that I experienced fifteen years ago which became the death knell of a relationship that effectively ended ten years before that.

Old wounds die hard.

Along my life journey I’ve come to believe that some relationships are for a lifetime. Others relationships are just for a season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Then there are relationships that need to end for the health of both parties. When Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” I don’t believe that he meant that all relationships should be hunky-dory for the long-haul. Paul had a falling out with more than one individual along his own journeys. I’ve come to believe that sometimes to “live at peace” means to allow for relational time and distance

Old wounds die hard.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 137, is fascinating for its emotional honesty. The Babylonian empire laid siege to Jerusalem, razed it to the ground, and took the citizens into captivity in Babylon for a generation. They experienced their fair share of persecution. This was not only from the Babylonians, but also from Babylon’s allies which included a people known as the Edomites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. Esau was the first-born twin. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and became a patriarch of the Hebrew tribes. Esau became the patriarch of the Edomites. Bad blood between them. Fifteen-hundred years later the descendants of the twins are still feuding.

Old wounds die hard.

The songwriter of Psalm 137 channels the pain of captivity, the humiliating treatment by his captors, the homesickness of exile, and the wounds of the feuding enemies, the Edomites. The song has three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the torment of exile, the second stanza expresses love and commitment to Jerusalem, and the final stanza is a raw expression of the vengeance the songwriter feels and the desire for Babylon and Edom to get their just desserts.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself appreciating Psalm 137 for being an example of healthy expression of unhealthy emotions. Along my journey I have had multiple waypoints in which I have felt betrayed and wounded. Those experiences lead to anger which can easily lead me to bitterness which can poison my soul. Wendy and I often remind one-another that anger is like me drinking poison thinking that it will hurt the object of my rage. Yet, I have to do something with my anger. I’ve got to be honest with it, process it, and find healthy ways to get it out.

Which is why the mental scab that I picked at while power washing was simply a fleeting visit down Memory Lane. I processed it and got it out a long time ago. Life has moved on for both me and the one who slighted me. I honestly hope that he is well and has continued to grow in his own journey. There’s not much left of that wound. It’s healed over. There are just the dried remains of scab that I brushed away with my power-washer.

Old wounds die hard, but I have found that they do eventually die when I, like the lyricist of Psalm 137, am honest with my anger. Getting it out, processing it, and expressing it allow for doing what Jesus asks of me: to forgive others just as I have been forgiven.

Cancelled (Not)

Cancelled! [Not] (CaD Ps 130) Wayfarer

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

Psalm 130:4 (NIV)

I’ll never forget the story of a woman I know who told me the story of being a teenager who made a foolish choice. Once it was discovered, she was brought before her church and publicly shamed for her mistake. They threatened her with expulsion and vowed to make her an outcast unless she repented. She told me this as an adult, but the spiritual and emotional scars of the experience were still very much present.

As a student of history, I can tell you that public shaming, scapegoating, and what today we call “cancelling” have been around as long as human civilization. It morphs into various forms, but it is a staple of fundamentalist systems no matter the flavor. When allowed to run amok, it leads to guilt by accusation, mob justice, and the kangaroo court of illogical and unreasonable group-think. It can be lethal, as the residents of Salem, Massachusetts found out when a group of silly girls leveraged the fundamentalist bent of their Puritan faith and began accusing people they didn’t like of being witches.

I find it fascinating to watch what is happening in our own current version of it. I observe that cancel culture has all the same quintessential ingredients that existed among the reviled Puritans of Salem. I have had more than one person tell me in the past year that if an enemy at their workplace chooses to go back and uncover the silly, foolish things they did and said in their youth and make them public, they’re screwed.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 130, is an ancient Hebrew song that expresses the emotions of one crying out from “the depths.” The metaphor of the original Hebrew lyrics are that of deep waters. The songwriter is drowning in a sea of their own mistakes and foolish choices. In experiencing God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, and redemption, the songwriter is moved to gratefully serve God.

As I read through the teachings of Jesus, I don’t find religious shaming and cancel culture. In fact, the most pointed condemnation Jesus dished out were to orthodox religious fundamentalists who were carrying out their own brand of cancel culture. Jesus actions and words were gracious, forgiving, and redemptive. Paul, one who was drowning in his own deep waters on a trip to Damascus, told Jesus’ followers in Rome that its God’s kindness that leads to repentance not shaming, condemnation, and threats of cancellation. He also wrote to the believers in Corinth that it was Christ’s love that compelled him to risk life and limb to share that love with others. In my experience, condemnation, hatred, public shaming, and threats don’t compel anything worthwhile.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling the “deep waters” of my own life journey. I find myself mindful of the many foolish thoughts, words and actions that dot my journey, and for which others would gladly cancel me. I find myself grateful for Jesus who, by His own words, claimed that he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it through love, servant-heartedness, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, grace and redemption.

As He has not condemned, shamed, nor cancelled me, I find myself compelled not to condemn, shame nor cancel anyone else.

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development (CaD Ps 79) Wayfarer

Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times
    the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.

Psalm 79:13 (NIV)

It’s Christmas season! Yesterday, Wendy and I had the blessing of hugging our children and our grandson for the first time since last December. Milo got to put the ornaments that celebrate each of the four Christmases he’s been with us on the tree. Around the base of the tree is my father’s Lionel train set, and Milo became the fourth generation to experience the joy that train chugging around the tracks.

As I experience Christmas anew this year through the eyes of a three-year-old, I’m reminded of my own childhood. Each year I would get out the Sears Christmas Wish Book catalog and make my bucket list of all the toys that I wanted. It was usually a big list and included a host of big-ticket items my parents could never afford and probably wouldn’t buy for me even if they could because there’s know way that the giant chemistry set was going to accomplish anything but make a mess, require a lot of parental assistance, and probably blow up the house. I couldn’t manage such mature cognitive reasoning in my little brain. All I knew was it was really cool, it looked really fun, and all my friends at school would be really jealous.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to understand that my finite and circumstantial emotions and desires are often incongruent with the larger picture realities of both reason and Spirit.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 79, is an angry blues rant that was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. It is a raw description of the scene of devastation after the Babylonians destroyed the city and razed Solomon’s Temple to the ground in 586 B.C. Blood and death are everywhere. Vultures and wild dogs are feasting on dead bodies because there aren’t enough people alive and well to bury the bodies. The strong, educated, and young have been taken as prisoners to Babylon. The ruins of God’s Temple have been desecrated with profane images and graffiti. The songwriter pours out heartbreak, shock, sorrow, rage, and desperate pleas for God to rise up and unleash holy vengeance in what the ancients described as “an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth.”

As I read the songwriters rant this morning, there are three things that give me layers of added perspective:

First, when God first called Abraham (the patriarch of the Hebrew tribes and nations), He made it clear that the intent of making a nation of Abraham’s descendants was so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through them, not destroyed.

Second, God had spoken to the Hebrews through the prophet Jeremiah warning them that the natural consequences of their sin and unfaithfulness would be Babylonian captivity through the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God referred through Jeremiah as “my servant.” It appears that the songwriter may have missed that.

Third, I couldn’t help but read the songwriter’s plea for God to pay back their enemies “seven times” the contempt that their enemies had shown them, and think of the time Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive an enemy who wronged him “seven times.” Peter was trying to show Jesus that he was beginning to understand Jesus’ teaching. To the Hebrews, the number seven spiritually represented “completeness.” When the songwriter asked for “seven times” the vengeance it was a spiritual notion of “eye-for-an-eye” justice would be complete. Peter’s question assumed that forgiving an enemy seven times would be spiritually “complete” forgiveness. Jesus responds to Peter that a more correct equation for forgiveness in the economy of God’s Kingdom would be “seventy-times-seven.”

I come back to the songwriter of Psalm 79 with these three things in mind. The first time I read it, like most 21st century readers, I was taken back by the blood, gore, raw anger, and cries for holy vengeance. Now I see the song with a different perspective. I see a songwriter who is devastated and confused. I hear the crying out of a soul who has witnessed unspeakable things, and whose emotions can’t reasonably see any kind of larger perspective in the moment.

This morning I am reminded of what I discussed in my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, Time (Part 1). Humanity at the time of the ancient Hebrews was still very much in the early childhood stage of development. The songwriter is expressing his thoughts, emotions, and desires like a child desperately asking Santa for a real dinosaur for Christmas. Not just any dinosaur, a real T-Rex to put in the backyard.

Today’s psalm is another example of God honoring the need that we have as human beings of expressing our hearts and emotions in the moment, as we have them, no matter where we find ourselves in our spiritual development. As my spiritual journey has progressed, I’ve gotten better at processing my emotions and having very different conversations with God about circumstances than I did when I was a teenager, a young adult, a young husband, and a young father. It doesn’t invalidate the feelings and conversations I had back then. They were necessary for me to grow, learn, and mature in spirit.

In the quiet this morning, I’m identifying with the songwriter of Psalm 79, not affirming blood vengeance and “eye-for-an-eye-justice,” but affirming that it was where the songwriter was in that moment, just like I have had some rants and prayers along the journey that I’m kind of embarrassed think about now. This is a journey. I’m not who I was, And, I’m not yet who I will ultimately become in eternity. I’m just a wayfarer on the road of life, taking it one-step-at-a-time into a new work week.

For the record, Milo. No, you can’t have a real dinosaur. Sorry, buddy.

A Psalm 51 Moment

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17 (NRSVCE)

For anyone who does not know the story behind David’s song, known to us as Psalm 51, it is critical in order to have a complete understanding of the lyrics.

First of all, David had been the “good guy” his entire life journey. As a boy God declared him “a man after my own heart” and God chose David, through the prophet Samuel, to be God’s anointed king. David killed Goliath. David refused to raise his hand against King Saul and wait for God to fulfill the promise to give him the throne. David did everything right. David was devout. David was faithful. David was sincere. David was God’s man through-and-through.

Until he wasn’t.

The Reader’s Digest version is this: From the roof of his palace he creeped out on a beautiful young woman taking a bath on a nearby rooftop. David used his power to find out who she was. She was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, but the army was out on a military campaign and David knew it. David used his influence as King to invite her over. They had a one night stand. She ended up pregnant, and now a “no harm no foul” fling became a potentially Monica Lewinsky level political scandal.

The first step in the cover-up was to create the illusion of normal. David uses his commander-and-chief authority to give the woman’s husband, a soldier named Uriah, a special leave to come home and take a break from the action. It turns out, however, that Uriah was a “good guy” and a “man of integrity” like David had always been. Perhaps David had been his role model. Uriah, thinking of all his buddies on the front-line who didn’t get to come home and sleep with their wives, refuses to even go into his house.

Ironically, Uriah’s integrity leads to David’s further descent into depravity. To avoid his moral failure from coming to light and the scandal it would create, David sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed message to his general in the field. The message orders his general to place Uriah into the thick of the battle, order his fellow soldiers to abandon him, and ensure Uriah has an “honorable” death.

Uriah is buried with military honors. David makes a big deal out of caring for the widow of one of his soldiers by agreeing to marry and take care of her. Scandal averted and David is given the opportunity to improve his polling numbers and maintain his “good guy” image. David gets away it. No one is the wiser.

Except God.

God sends a prophet named Nathan to visit the King who regales David with the story of a wealthy land baron and sheep farmer who stole the only lamb of the poor tenant farmer next-door. David, angered, assures Nathan that the evil land baron will be forced to pay the victim back with four lambs for the one that was stolen.

Then Nathan informs David that the whole story was a metaphor and that he is the land baron in the story. He had a palace full of wives and thought he could steal poor Uriah’s wife and cover the whole thing up. David is devastated and has to own up to what he has done. He pours out his guilt and plea for forgiveness into a song.

If you’ve never read Psalm 51 in the context of this story, I encourage you to take the minute or two required to read the lyrics of the song in their entirety right now while the story is fresh in your head.

One of the interesting things about this chapter-a-day journey is the experience of coming upon chapters that I know really well, and have read countless times in the past 40 years. Do they have any fresh layers of meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life’s journey?

As I read this morning I kept hearkening back to one of David’s psalms from a couple of weeks ago. I went back to Psalm 26 in the quiet this morning and read it again:

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in faithfulness to you.

Wow. What a contrast.

I know Psalm 51 really well. It’s tatted on my left bicep as a reminder. I have a chapter of my own story that is a rough parallel of David’s. I was the “good guy” who everyone knew was a Jesus freak, a moral puritan, and who walked the straight-and-narrow. I’m sure I was even guilty of waxing self-righteously in my own way like David did in Psalm 26. Then I found myself in a place I swore I’d never be found. I had my own Psalm 51 moment.

Along this spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that I never really understood and experienced grace, forgiveness, and mercy until I hit rock-bottom and the veneer of self-righteousness was peeled away like the striking of a stage set. Like David, it came much further along in my journey, but I can now look back realize how important, make that essential, my own mistakes were in teaching me humility, empathy, mercy, and grace.

I enter another work week this morning soberly reminded of my own need of grace, as well as my need to extend it to others having their own Psalm 51 moments.