Tag Archives: God

The Contrast

The Contrast (CaD Mk 7) Wayfarer

“Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”
Mark 7:18-19 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I spent a short period of time working in a county office building where I participated in the the legal investigation and documentation of real estate transactions. I did it for less than a year, but it was an eye opening experience. I observed and learned how government worked under the control of a political machine. I observed and learned how people use the letter of the law to circumvent the spirit of the law to achieve their own selfish ends. I learned and observed how people try to use real estate to con others, and once or twice I actually caught people doing it. It was a crash-course in “how the world works.”

In yesterday’s post/podcast I mentioned that it’s easy to get stuck looking at the text with a microscope while ignoring the bigger picture. I can lose the forest in the trees, as the old saying goes. In today’s chapter, what resonated most with me was, once again, not mired in the minutia of Jesus words, but the larger context of what is happening in the story.

Jesus ministry, at this point, has taken place in the rural backwaters of Judea. If I were to use the United States for context, I would say that Jesus has been spending all of his time and energy in fly-over country while avoiding both coasts. All of the miracles, crowds, and exorcisms have Jesus trending off the charts and the establishment powers-that-be have begun to notice. Since the beginning of time, power-brokers at the top of the political, commercial, and religious establishments have known to ceaselessly look for any threat to the stability of their power and the continuity of their cashflow.

I found Mark’s observation fascinating:

“Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.”

The more they talk about it, the more of a potential threat Jesus becomes to the religious powers-that-be. In the beginning of today’s chapter, Mark notes that an entourage of political and religious leaders from Jerusalem come to see for themselves what the hub-bub is all about. They are big fish coming to the small pond of Galilee, but along the blue-collar shores of Galilee they are not in their own environment while Jesus is definitely in His.

The Jerusalem entourage are here to find ways to discredit this threat to their control on the religious institution and the lives of all who adhere to it. They quickly call Jesus out for not washing his hands before supper, which the establishment long ago elevated onto the checklist of religious rituals and behaviors they used to maintain their self-righteous judgement of who is naughty-or-nice, who is in-or-out.

Jesus response resonated with me because He calls them out on a point of legal order. Nowhere in the Ten Commandments or the laws of Moses was ritual hand washing a thing. The religious-types, over time, had created rules that were part of legal codes which codified and expanded the interpretation of the original spiritual principle. Jesus turns this into a very simple illustration that gets to the core of the difference between His teaching and that of the institutional human religious establishment.

The religious leaders made a spectacle of their ritual hand-washing before meals to show how pious and righteous they were. Jesus quickly points out that at the same time these same religious leaders had used the letter of the law to allow children to avoid the obligation of adult children to care for their elderly parents. They allowed people to bring “offerings” as a charitable donation to the religious establishment which would otherwise have been the money needed to pay for their parents needs. They then declare a form of bankruptcy as to escape their financial obligation to their elderly parents with the absolution of the religious institution who benefitted handsomely for it.

This is a version of what I observed and learned in the county office building when I was a young men. This is how the Kingdoms of this World work.

Jesus’ response was a simple word picture. Along with hand-washing, the power-brokers from Jerusalem also had many dietary restrictions which also fell into the category of religious rule-keeping. Jesus’ observation is so simple. Food, he says, goes in the mouth, through the stomach, and out the other end. Whether eaten with ritually cleansed hands or dirty hands, the food never passes through the heart.

From a spiritual perspective, the distinction is essential, Jesus says:

“It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.” Mark 7: 20-23 (MSG)

The entourage will return to Jerusalem. Their dossier on Jesus will speak of a popular teacher among the poor and simple masses who follow Him in throngs, hang on His every word, and are won-over by His miracles. He will be labeled an enemy of the institution. He threatens the stability of their power, their control over the masses, and ultimately the stream of cashflow from their religious racket. We are still a couple of years away from this religio-political machine condemning Jesus and conspiring to hang Him on a cross, but the pieces are already moving on the chess board.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again inspired by Jesus. The more I read the story, and read His teachings, the more I see the contrast between the heart-principles of the Kingdom of God and the religious rule keeping of the institutions of this world. I am compelled to continue following the former with all my heart while exposing the latter for what it is. In other words, I want to be more and more like Jesus while shunning the religious institutions and establishments who point to their moral codes and religious rules and say, “this is what Jesus meant.”

I believe that humans will perpetually turn eternal Truth into earthly rules and religious systems. C’est la vie. It’s part of the fabric of a fallen world in this Great Story.

Nevertheless, I get to choose every day which I follow.

“Hang on Jesus. I’m lacing up my shoes for another day. I’m right behind you. Where are we headed?”

Holy Moment

Holy Moment (CaD Psalm 145.2) Wayfarer

[Note: I know I did Psalm 145 yesterday, but it became obvious to me this morning that I needed to spend some more time in it. So, consider this a blogging BOGO from me to you! :-)]

The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.

Psalm 145:15 (NIV)

He was weeping over the phone. Across the miles, on the other end of the connection, I knew that this moment was qadosh, a holy moment. It was holy, not because of any kind of religious piety or righteous achievement, but because of the depth of its suffering.

Along my life journey I’ve observed that religion has done a number on our concept of holiness. The institutional church has, as it always does, warped holiness into some kind of religious merit badge, a litmus test of morality, a trophy for those religious over-achievers at the top of the Sunday School class. In doing so, religion profanes the fulness of holiness.

Holiness is woven into creation unbound by church membership or religious ritual. Holiness is an encounter with the divine in the human experience. Holiness is not limited to the transcendental, spiritual glory of Jesus’ transfiguration. The emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual agony of his unjust, illegal, blood-drenched execution was a holy moment, as well.

That’s how I recognized the holy moment as my friend wept from the darkness of his own personal pit. He was joining the ranks of many who have gone before him. He was the woman kneeling naked and ashamed in front of the Son of God as her adultery lay publicly exposed. He was the prodigal covered in pig shit and eating the slop of his own choices. He was the wanton woman knelt down before Jesus as his tears wash the feet of the One he fully expects to condemn him like everyone else is in his life seems to be doing. He was me, 20 years ago, as I wept alone in the darkness of a warehouse apartment crying out over the shattered pieces of my life.

I knew this was a holy moment because I had been there myself. This was a holy moment because every human and religious pretense had been stripped away. He was, in that moment, spiritually naked and empty. He had reached a point when he could no longer play the game. This was his breaking point before the One who redeems, recreates, and uses broken things; The Potter who takes the lump of collapsed clay spinning on His wheel and begins to make something new. Whether my friend recognized it, or not, this was the waypoint on his journey that is the inflection point when old things begin to recede in the rearview mirror, and he will find a light on the horizon leading him in a new direction.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 145, begins the last five songs in this 150 song anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics. The editors end their compilation with five songs of praise. Today’s is a beautiful description of God’s goodness and I could have picked out any number of verses to chew on, but it was the phrase “you give them their food at the proper time” that resonated deep in my soul.

Remember that God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphors are layered with meaning. Make no mistake, food is food, as in the miraculous Manna that God provided the Hebrew tribes on their wilderness wanderings and the loaves and fish Jesus turned into an all-you-can-eat, filet-o-fish-o-rama. It’s also that which is necessary for spiritual survival and sustenance, as Jesus reminded the Enemy after fasting for forty days: “You can’t just eat physical bread. You need the spiritual bread of the Word.”

From there the metaphor expands to even more layers of meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word…”

“I am the Bread of Life…”

“He took a loaf and broke it, saying, ‘This is my body, broken for you.'”

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve experienced God’s provision of “food” at the “proper time” on both the physical and spiritual level. I remember being married with two small children, my first mortgage, no job, and no idea what was going to happen next. There have been moments when clients unexpectedly pulled the plug on projects, and I wasn’t sure how we would pay the bills. Then there was that lonely night in the dark warehouse apartment when every religious facade I had mistaken for being an actual spiritual resource had been revealed to be impotent, and my soul was starving for a scrap of real spiritual nourishment.

I had religiously participated in the ritual of Communion countless times in my life, yet that moment was the first time I truly tasted the Bread of Life. It was a holy moment. It was qadosh.

In the quiet this morning, I’m praying for my friend who was on the other end of that call. He’s got a long, long road ahead of him. I did my best to assure him that if he relies on the Bread of Life to sustain him, and he doggedly presses on, one-day-at-a-time, towards that Light on the horizon, he will find himself in amazing places. He may find himself in a deep place, but grace is deeper still. He may despair in the moment at the waste he’d made of his life, but God may transform it into wisdom.

I’ve been there.

In the moment all he could see was the unholy ruins of his life.

Little did he know, it was the holy start of a new creation.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:5 (NIV)


As always, if you know anyone who might be encouraged with today’s post, please feel free to share.


Connected

Connected (CaD Ps 98) Wayfarer

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth…
Psalm 98:4 (NIV)

I took a class on Psalms back in college. It was a winter post-term class which meant we took the entire three-credit course in three weeks of January between our holiday break and second semester. It’s funny how the senses connect with memories because doing this chapter-a-day journey through the same text at the same time of year has brought back certain memories for me from that class.

As I think back on that class from 35 years further down life’s road, I’ve found myself meditating on a few observations.

First, while I learned a ton about the Psalms in the three weeks of that college class, it’s a fraction of what I’ve learned in the three and a half decades since. My chapter-a-day habit is just a part of an on-going, life-long pursuit of Jesus in which I’m always learning more.

Second, knowledge and wisdom are two different things. I cognitively learned facts about these Hebrew song lyrics in that class. Many have stayed with me. Yet, my brain and my spirit were still forming at that waypoint on Life’s road. What is spiritually important is the connection of what I know to my life; As I perpetually endeavor to weave my knowledge of the Great Story and Jesus’ teaching into my daily thoughts, words, actions, habits, and relationships the tapestry of knowledge and experience produce wisdom.

Third, I have yet to reach a point where I know enough (there’s my one word again). The further I get in my life journey the deeper I find layers of knowledge, connection, and understanding in the Great Story.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 98, continues this section of ancient Hebrew calls to praise. As I read the text this morning, two things struck me. First, there are three stanzas of lyrics (vss 1-3, 4-6, 7-9) with three lines each. The praise progress outward like three concentric circles. The first stanza is the Hebrews worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem. Then it pushes out to “all the earth.” Finally the shouts of praise reach out to all of creation.

As I meditated on this, two clear connections came to mind.

First, I began to realize that the lyrics of this song foreshadow what followers of Jesus call “the great commission” or the mission Jesus gave to his followers to take His love and message “to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Like the praise of Psalm 98, the love of Jesus to radiate outward.

I also couldn’t help but recall the moment when Jesus is entering Jerusalem at the beginning of his final, fateful week. As crowds of people were praising Him and the religious busybodies criticized Jesus for allowing His followers to praise Him. “Even if they kept quiet,” Jesus replied, “the stones would cry out in praise.” Creation resonating with praise to the creator is a theme throughout the Great Story, just as physics reveals that all matter resonates at frequencies our ears can’t hear. It’s as if Jesus is connecting with the concentric circles of Psalm 98. “You might forcefully censor the praise of this crowd in Jerusalem, but you have no power over the universe as it cries out ceaselessly at 432hz.”

It brings me to one of the grand spiritual mysteries I’ve endlessly discovered over forty years: Everything is connected.

I couldn’t have made those connections in the January chill of my winter post-term as I fell into a crush with a classmate and worked on my extra-credit assignment of putting one of the psalms to music with my guitar. But, I made the connections that I could make at that point in my journey. And in the chill of this January’s quarantine I realize that those connections were part of these connections I’ve made in the quiet this morning.

Concentric circles. God’s Spirit, God’s creation, God’s love, God’s praise are always pressing outward, reaching out, embracing, pulling in, and sending out. As I follow Jesus, that’s where I’m constantly led in my spiritual journey: living, loving, praising further out, further up, and further in. And the further I get, the more I realize that the love and praise were already resonating before I got here.

Just like Jesus said.

Just like lyrics of Psalm 98.

Everything is connected.

Macro and Micro

Macro and Micro (CaD Ps 97) Wayfarer

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.
Psalm 97:1

Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, Lord.
Psalm 97:8

This past week was among the most unique experiences of my entire journey. I spent the week in quarantine with Wendy, our daughter, and her family. While we were cooped up in the house together, the outside world here in the States seemed to sink deeper into a level of crazy I would have never thought possible were I not witnessing it. I have found the juxtaposition of those two realities are a bit strange and unsettling.

And yet, I sit here in the quiet at the beginning of another day, and a new work week. Each is a clean slate. Both are tiny reset buttons in this journey. Just as the prophet Jeremiah wrote as he sat amidst the chaotic rubble of Jerusalem, his life, and everything he had ever known:

Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)

Today’s chapter, Psalm 97, is another in a series of celebratory songs of praise. The editors of the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms, put several of them together in this section we happen to be trekking through. Psalm 97 is a call to the listener to join in rejoicing and praising God.

This song is two thematic sections (vss 1-6; 8-12) that are hinged on a central verse (vs 7). What I found interesting as I read through it and meditated on it in the quiet this morning is that the first section recognizes God as Lord over creation, the universe, and literally everything. The second section brings things down to God being the Lord over Jerusalem, the little villages of Judah, and God’s people therein.

As I mulled this over, I was reminded of one of my recent posts and my morning pages. In my stream-of-consciousness journaling I discovered that I seem to have an easier time trusting God with the big things of the creation, time, and the universe. It’s in the small, personal things of my own personal journey that I tend to struggle.

The macro and the micro.

Chaos in the world outside and family quarantine here in our house.

In the quiet this morning, I hear God’s Spirit whispering to my spirit. The Spirit gently reminds me that, in both the macro and the micro, “I’ve got this.”

I simply have to listen, receive, embrace, and believe in each strange moment of the strange, present realities in which I find myself on both the macro and micro levels.

Fight Song

Fight Song (CaD Ps 83) Wayfarer

Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
    so that they will seek your name.

Psalm 83:16 (NIV)

I consider it virtually impossible for a person in 21st century America to comprehend what life was like for the ancients, such as the songwriters of the Psalms. As evidence, I submit today’s chapter, Psalm 83, as Exhibit A for your consideration.

Psalm 83 is a song of national lament. It’s a plea to God to protect them from and destroy their enemies. A quick side note as I’m thinking bout it: One thing that has become really clear to me as I journey through the psalms the past few months is that David, who wrote most of the songs compiled in the first half of the anthology we call the Psalms, wrote personal songs expressing emotions he felt in his own circumstances. The songs attributed to Asaph, like today’s, were more about tribal and national issues. It’s the difference between me blogging about the stress I’m feeling in my own personal life and blogging about the issues surrounding the recent national election.

Asaph’s song was written at a time of national crisis when all of the people groups surrounding them were allied against them and bent on wiping them out. Here in North America, the nations that we see as a threat are an ocean away. For Asaph and the people of Judah, the enemies were less than 50 miles away. The map below is a scale of 50 miles and pinpoints all but one of the people groups mentioned in Psalm 83. Jerusalem is pretty much right in the middle. They were literally surrounded by 10 neighboring nations bent on ending their existence.

I try to imagine it. I live in Pella, a small town in rural Iowa. I try to envision being at war with every other sizeable town in a 30-mile radius. The Newtonians, the Knoxvillites, Oskaloosans, the not-so-Pleasantvillians, the New Sharonians, the Albians, the Monrovians, the Prairie Citians, the Montezumians, and the big empirical threat the Des Moinesiacs. If all these people groups immediately surrounding my town were banded together in an alliance to come and kill everyone in Pella and take everything we have and own as plunder, I would be feeling an incredible amount of stress. Welcome to the daily “kill-or-be-killed” realities of Asaph and his people.

So, Asaph writes a spiritual fight-song asking God to protect them and fight for their existence. It’s a very human thing to do. We just commemorated Pearl Harbor Day on December 7 which was the last time America was seriously attacked and threatened back in World War II. It took me ten seconds to find a playlist on YouTube of American fight songs from that era including Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ in 1943, Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marchin’ In). And who can forget Spike Jones’ famous lyrics:

When the Fuhrer says, “We is the master race,”
We sing:
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
Right in the Fuhrer’s face.

How much life has changed in just two generations. I can hardly comprehend the realities of 80 years ago. How can I really comprehend Asaph’s realities over 2500 years ago?

The fact that I can’t comprehend Asaph’s realities leads me to extend him some grace as I try to wrap my head around the context of asking God to destroy my enemy. Which leaves me asking, “What am I supposed to take away from Psalm 83?”

That brings me to the lyric that stuck out at me this morning:

Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
    so that they will seek your name.

Underneath the cries for God to help them successfully defeat the enemy was a desire for their enemies to ultimately know God. When Jesus arrived on the scene hundreds of years later the situation was very different. The known world was ruled by the Roman Empire and while Jesus said that humanity can expect wars to continue right up until the end of the Great Story, He set the expectation that I, as His follower, would take a different approach to getting my enemy to “seek His name.”

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

I understand that there is a difference between international relationships and personal ones. All I know is that today, in my circles of influence, Jesus asks me to follow His instruction to love my enemy, bless my enemy, and pray for my enemy.

So, “Praise the Lord, and pass…” a little more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

The Mystery of the Voice

The Mystery of the Voice (CaD Ps 81) Wayfarer

“I hear a voice I had not known:”
Psalm 81:5c (NRSVCE)

One of the mysteries of the Great Story is that individuals in the story hear God’s voice. God speaks to individuals at various times in various ways throughout the story. In the story of a young prophet Samuel, he first hears God’s voice while a boy living with the High Priest of that time, a man name Eli. The story in 1 Samuel 3 states that it was a time when “the word of the Lord was rare” (This is another part of the mystery, that God would be silent for long periods of time).

The boy, Samuel, hears a voice call his name in the night. He repeatedly runs to the old priest saying, “Here I am!” The third time it happened, Eli begins to understand what his happening. He tells the boy, “If this happens again, respond ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!'”

My own experience with the mystery of hearing God’s voice is multi-dimensional. Four times in 40 years I have heard a very clear and distinct message spoken directly into my spirit. The first time was at the very beginning of my journey as a follower of Jesus. The next came thirteen years later. Then ten years later, and four months after that. These four experiences stand out from any others in my spiritual journey. Someday, when I’m ready to tell my story, I’ll share the experiences in full. It’s not the right time.

How do I know it’s not the right time?

I’ve learned that it is another dimension of how God’s “voice” works. As I perpetually read and study the Great Story, as I have conscious conversations with God, as I journal, and as I continuously keep myself spiritually aware and “listening,” there are things that come to me in a very different way. It has been described as “the flow.” The Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” both suggest a word picture of wind or breath. I have found no human word or phrase that adequately describes it. It’s a hearing and knowing of Spirit. There’s a knowing in my being that there will come a time for me to tell the story of the four experiences I described of distinctly hearing the Voice. Maybe there will be more experiences by the time comes to tell the story. I just know that it’s not now.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 81, is a liturgical song that would have been sung when the entire nation of Hebrews gathered for specific festivals scheduled at specific times of the year. The people are “called to worship” in the first five verses, then the rest of the song reminds them of God leading them out slavery in Egypt and what has historically happened when they shut their ears and hearts from listening to God.

It was the phrase “I hear a voice I had not known” that leapt off the page at me as I read the lyrics. I thought of Moses hearing God’s voice for the first time (Exodus 3). I thought of the boy, Samuel, hearing the voice for the first time. I thought of Peter, James, John, and Matthew hearing the voice of Jesus telling them “Follow me.” I thought of a cold February night when I first heard the voice. In every case, there was a process for the individual of learning to spiritually listen, learning to spiritually hear, and learning to spiritually discern.

In John’s revelation, Jesus tells John to write a letter to the followers of Jesus in a town called Laodicea. He writes:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….”

In each story I’ve cited today there was both the voice calling and the individual responding. That’s where theologians will tell me that I have “free will.” I can hear and dismiss. I can hear and choose to not to respond. I can even plug the ears of my spirit and choose not to hear at all.

I chose to open myself to the mystery. I chose to respond. I struck out on this journey of learning to know that voice, asking to know more, and seeking to hear more. I’ve never regretted it. Here I am, forty years later. I’m still listening, hearing, asking, and seeking in the mystery of God’s voice.

Unraveling

Unraveling (CaD Ps 64) Wayfarer

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
    protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Psalm 64:1 (NIV)

Stepping up and into the spotlight of leadership always makes one an easy target. In virtually every position of leadership I’ve ever held, I’ve heard the sharp words of detractors. Typically, they come in the form of second-hand whispers or passive-aggressive remarks. The higher the position of leadership, the worse it gets. The positions of leadership I’ve held along my life journey are incredibly minor in the grand scheme of things. I may have faced challenges leading a small-town Iowa community theatre and a rural gathering of Jesus followers, but I can’t imagine how bad it gets leading a nation.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 64, is a lament of King David as he feels the sharp threats of conspiracy and the plots of his political enemies. One lesson every good leader knows is that you can’t control the thoughts, words, or actions of others. Trying to chase down and confront every critic or perceived antagonist is a recipe for disaster on several levels. David appears to have understood this well. The lyrics of this song stand as a testament to the fact that when it came to the twisted plots and the conspiratorial attacks of his enemies, David went to God.

Knowing that he had no control over his critics or their schemes, David gave them over to the only one he could count on in the situation.

Lying beneath the surface of the lyrics, David hid a creative, poetic image. Most of it survives the translation into English, but it’s seen with clarity in Hebrew, David’s native language. David uses specific words to metaphorically describe those twisted plots of his enemy:

evildoers (vs. 2)
tongues (vs. 3)
shoot (vs. 4)
suddenly (vs. 4)

In the second half of the song, as his lyrics describe God defending him and unraveling those twisted plots, he uses the same words in reverse order:

suddenly (vs. 7)
shoot (vs. 7)
tongues (vs. 8)
works of God (vs. 9)

The same words used in reverse order are a hidden metaphor. David is entrusting God to unravel the conspiracy, untwist the plots, and protect David from those enemies he can’t control.

In the quiet this morning I find myself, in a small way, identifying with David’s plight. I’ve learned in this life journey that all I can do is to keep pressing on, asking for God’s guidance, seeking God’s purposes for me, and knocking on the door of every opportunity I have to grow in love, grace, and mercy. There will be obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks. Those are all part of the journey. I will never be able to completely avoid, nor control them.

So every time those obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks have my heart and mind twisted up in anxious knots, I have Psalm 64 to remind me what David did. He gave them over to God like Wendy handing me a necklace that’s hopelessly knotted up.

“Here, unravel this.”

Highest Authority

Highest Authority (CaD Ps 57) Wayfarer

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.
Psalm 57:5 (NIV)

There are few stories within the Great Story that is as fascinating to me as that of David’s relationship with King Saul. Saul was the first King of Israel and he was the populist choice of the Hebrew people. Saul had all the looks of a great leader, but his heart was dark and troubled.

God told the prophet, Samuel, that he wanted Samuel to anoint His man for the job. It turns out that God’s man for the job was a shepherd boy, the runt of a large litter of sons of a man named Jesse. David made a name for himself as the walk-on rookie who killed the giant Goliath. Saul signs David as part of his team. David becomes best friends with Saul’s son, and he marries Saul’s daughter. Saul is David’s King, his General, his benefactor, and his father-in-law.

David is also anointed by God to ascend to Saul’s throne. Saul knows this, and his dark and troubled soul stir up a dangerous cocktail of emotions. Envy, jealousy, fear, insecurity, shame, and paranoia lead Saul spiraling down into a dark spirit of homicidal rage. David flees for his life. Saul places a bounty on David’s head and follows his destructive urges in seeking continually to kill his son-in-law and rival.

This goes on for years. 1 Samuel 24 tells the story of David and his men hiding deep in a huge cave in the desert of En Gedi. There thousands upon thousands of caves in the desert of En Gedi. Saul and his men are in pursuit of David and his merry band of outcasts. Saul needs to relieve himself, so he enters the cave where David is hidden in shadows.

This is David’s chance to kill the man who wants to kill him.

But, David refuses to do it.

God said that David was a man after His own heart, and in his heart, David respected that Saul was the anointed king of the time. David respected the spiritual weight of that. Samuel may have anointed David to succeed Saul, but David cared more about God’s will, God’s purposes, and God’s timing than he cared about being king. David knew that making the prophecy happen and forcing his ascension to the throne would spiritually corrupt the entire situation (By the way, this is just the opposite of the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which Macbeth and his wife try to force Macbeth’s prophesied ascension to the throne to very tragic ends). If God wanted David to be king, David believed, then God would make that happen in God’s timing according to God’s designs. David chooses not to kill Saul, but David does humbly confront Saul with the fact that he had his chance and he didn’t take it.

When Saul realizes that David says:

“May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.”

Saul retreats, but the darkness of his soul will soon be stirred up again. Nothing changes in this stalemate for several more years.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 57, is a song David wrote inspired by this very incident. David sings of being hunted and God’s deliverance. In the original Hebrew it is a balanced song of two sets of seven lines and a refrain. The refrain is the theme of the song. It’s the “one thing” that the song is really saying:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.

David saw that God was the ultimate authority higher than the heavens. David respected that everything that happened was God telling His Great Story and to mess with that would be faith-less, not faith-full to God.

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but think about it being election day here in the United States. If you read some of the rhetoric on either side of the spectrum there’s not a person in America who doesn’t have the opportunity to feel hated and reviled by the “other” side. No matter the outcome, there will be heady cocktails of emotions being stirred. I find in the story of Saul and David a contrast of attitudes that speaks to the divergent paths of thought and emotion I can take today. In David’s song, I find an example for me to contemplate and to emulate.

I will do my civic duty. I will prayerfully vote my conscience and add it to the hundreds of millions of other votes being cast. I will bless and pray for those who are elected. I will bless and pray for those who are not. I will continue to live out my life, my work, and the humble little role God has for me in this Great Story. My loyalty and my appeal ultimately fall to a higher authority than the President of the United States, and that authority tells me to honor whoever is in that office. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.

Romans 13:1-7

The Impotence to Respond

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:5 (NRSVCE)

David was hiding in a cave in the middle of a desolate wilderness with a rag-tag group of outcasts and mercenary warriors. He may have been God’s anointed king, but the throne was still tightly under the control of his father-in-law, Saul, and Saul had made David public enemy number one. That left David scratching out a meager existence in the middle-of-nowhere as he hid from the powerful mad-king who wanted David dead.

In an act of desperation, David sneaks in to visit God’s priest, Ahimelech. Like an enemy soldier seeking sanctuary in the protection of a church, David went to the place where the traveling tent sanctuary from the days of Moses was set up and serving as the center of worship. David sought God’s divine guidance through the priest. David begged for help and was provided food as well as the sword of Goliath that was still housed there like a trophy.

It just so happened that a servant of Saul name Doeg was there and witnessed David’s visit. Doeg goes to King Saul and tells him of David’s visit and the assistance Ahimelech provided David. Saul confronts Ahimelech who attempts to argue that, as the king’s son-in-law, the priest felt an obligation to assist David as an act of faithfulness to Saul. Saul rewards Ahimelech by telling Doeg to kill him, and all of God’s priests living in the town, along with all of their wives and children. Saul has Doeg massacre an entire village of his own people and his own priests because one priest showed kindness to David.

One of Ahimelech’s son’s survives and seeks David in his hide-away cave He tells David of Doeg’s visit to Saul and subsequent massacre. David, realizing that his visit to Ahimelech started the chain of events leading to the massacre, feels the weight of responsibility for his actions.

David, as he always did with his intense emotions, channels his feelings into a song which is known to us as Psalm 52. It’s today’s chapter.

David’s song is fascinating in its structure. The first verse is David addressing Doeg and calling out his wickedness, arrogance, treachery, and deceit. The third and final verse is the contrast, with David claiming his standing in the right, trusting in God, and proclaiming that trust directly. In between the two verses is the central theme in which David hands Doeg over to God for God’s judgment. He relinquishes vengeance and retribution to God.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but put myself in David’s shoes. David was in a position of impotence. He’s hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He has no status. He has no standing. At this moment there is nothing that he can do in his own power to right the wrong that resulted from his actions. His only option is to cry out his emotions and ask God to right the wrong he is powerless to address himself.

What a powerful word picture. In this life journey I have found myself impotent to address and correct wrongs. Thankfully, the wrongs are trivial in comparison to the massacre of innocents David was dealing with. Nevertheless, I find in David an example to follow. Pouring out and expressing my rage, frustration, accusation and consciously handing over that which I am powerless to do to God.

As I contemplate David’s story, and his lyrics, this morning I find myself with two connected thoughts into the day ahead:

First, Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, who were impotent agains a Roman Empire that would throw them to the lions in the Roman Circus and watch them being devoured for entertainment:

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:17-29 (MSG)

Second, the simple prayer of serenity:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Guernica

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Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35:1 (NRSVCE)

In January of 1937, Pablo Picasso was commissioned to do a painting for his native Spain to be displayed in the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair. His initial sketches for the project show very little difference from the theme of his other works at that time.

On the 26th of April, Nazi German and Italian Fascist air forces bombed the town of Guernica, Spain at the request of Spanish Nationalists who desired to strike against their Spanish political rivals in the region. According to local accounts, it was market day and most of the villagers were gathered in the town center when the bombs began to fall. In his diary, the commander of the Nazi squadron recorded that the town was still burning the following day. It was utterly destroyed. There were no military targets in the area. Guernica was the most ancient town and the cultural center of the Basque region. It was a terror attack designed to wipe out political rivals.

Guernica in Ruins after 1937 bombing

On May 1, Picasso read eyewitness accounts of the attack. He immediately abandoned his original ideas for his commission and began to work. The 25.5 foot wide and 11.5 foot tall painting, entitled Guernica, was finished in 35 days. Containing images of the suffering of people and animals wrought by violence and chaos, the painting prominently displays a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, dismemberment, and flames. Picasso painted it in black and white using a specially requisitioned matte house paint that was void of any gloss to give it the feeling of a black and white photograph recording a moment in time. Guernica is considered among the most moving and powerful paintings of all time.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

I find today’s chapter, Psalm 35, among the most unique songs David ever wrote. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, David’s life is quite a story. He had a lot of enemies throughout his life. There were military enemies from neighboring regions who wanted him dead. There were also internal enemies everywhere he turned. His own King wanted him dead, and therefore all of Saul’s political allies were against David. David’s own son rebelled against him, turned David’s political allies against him, and led an armed rebellion against him. David’s life journey was not an easy road.

Psalm 35 is David pouring out his emotions to God in song. You can almost feel the desperation as he begs God to take up his cause. Surrounded by those who want his life on every side, and betrayed by friends and family who he loved, David begs God to take up his cause. He pours out his soul in raw anger at his enemies, asking God to destroy them. It is not an easy read.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

One of the things that I love about the Psalms is the diversity of them. David wrote liturgical, religious songs for corporate worship events. David wrote the blues when he was down. David wrote songs of intense joy when he was delivered. David wrote songs of intense contrition when faced with his tragic flaws. David wrote songs of intense anger when enemies outside his control were closing in all around him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about our emotions. Emotions can have significant negative consequences when they lie hidden, suppressed, and ignored within us. Finding healthy ways to get out my negative emotions has been one of the greatest lessons of my life journey. Many people think of God as a strict moral judge who will be shocked and punish us for expressing our “negative emotions.” I don’t find God to be that at all. Like David, I find God to be a loving creator who is not shocked, dismayed, or surprised by any of my emotions – even the negative ones. I can cry, scream, rail, and vent to God, who is Love incarnate, because love is patient, kind, and gracious.

I imagine God listening to David’s angry rant of a song, that we now call Psalm 35. I imagine David getting to the end and being almost out of breath from the pouring out of his emotions. I imagine God smiling and saying, “There. Nice. Feel better?”