Tag Archives: God

Different Ways

Different Ways (CaD Jud 7) Wayfarer

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’”
Judges 7:2 (NIV)

History is filled with stories of military deceptions. In World War II, the U.S. created an entirely fictitious army group so that the Germans would think that the invasion of Europe would be focused on a different part of the French coast far east of the beaches of Normandy. They even used inflatable tanks and vehicles so that German reconnaissance planes would verify the misinformation that had been fed to spies and planted in radio communications about the “First U.S. Army Group.” The Germans were so convinced by the deception that when the invasion finally did happen at Normandy, they kept reinforcements at the false invasion point for seven weeks, allowing the Allies much needed time to resupply and bring in more reinforcements.

Today’s chapter is a classic case of military deception allowing a smaller force to rout a much larger enemy. Before the battle, God purposefully whittles down the army Gideon has gathered to fight in Midianites from 20,000 to just 300. Using the powers of illusion to stoke the Midianites’ fear, the enemy is thrown into chaos and begins to flee, believing that there is a much larger force about ready to attack.

So, on one hand, today’s chapter is just one in a number of great stories about military deception. What’s fascinating to me was the fact that it was God who was leading Gideon. It was God who told Gideon to get rid of 19,700 of his troops and attack with just 300. Today’s story is one in which it’s very easy for me to focus on the event and lose sight of the context.

At this point in the Great Story, we’re still in the toddler stage of human civilization, and God is trying to teach His people to trust Him and to follow Him. God has a motivation in reducing the fighting force. He knows human pride and hubris. A giant army defeating a similar or smaller force requires little faith, just good tactics. A force of 300 routing an enemy of thousands? Well, that requires a considerable measure of faith.

Throughout the Great Story, God reminds me again and again that the Kingdom of God does not operate like the Kingdoms of this world:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8

So [the angel] said to [Zechariah], “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.'”
Zechariah 4:6

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the ways that the kingdoms of this world operate. How ironic that government, media, social media, big tech, and the corporate world are all worked up about misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. Illusions, deceptions, and talking heads, it all begins to feel a bit chaotic to me.

So, as a Jesus follower, I shift my focus from the chaos of this world. I take captive my thoughts, opinions, fears, and anxieties. I consciously choose to direct my thoughts toward love, joy, and peace, and the things Jesus calls me to do as a disciple. I’m to make people my priority. I’m to love the person I’m with, even if that person happens to be a stranger in an elevator or a check-out guy at the gas station. I’m to look for opportunities to serve others and then do it. I’m to be kind. I’m to be generous. I’m to forgive.

God wanted Gideon to see what He could do with just 300 men. Jesus wants me to see what He can do through me if I will trust, follow, and love well.

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

Willingness

Willingness (CaD Jud 6) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is this what you really want?”

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

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

I was told that the reason is willingness.

Read or watch Angie’s complete story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Git ‘er done!” (or not)

"Git 'er Done!" (or not) [CaD Jud 1] Wayfarer

The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
Judges 1:21 (NIV)

As we approached the end of my sophomore year in high school, my English teacher called me up to his desk. He had his grade book on his desk in which he wrote down the grades of all the assignments for every student in class for that semester.

“Your grade this semester is right on the line between an A and a B,” he said. He then pointed to a blank box on the grade book. “You never turned in your third book report this semester.”

He was right. I didn’t really learn the joy of reading until late college and after. I was a terrible reader when I was younger. I didn’t like reading.

“You’re right,” I told my teacher. “I didn’t do it.”

“That’s all you have to say?” he asked.

I had only been a follower of Jesus for just over a year at this point, but I knew what Jesus expected of me was honesty.

“I could stand here and make up an excuse like ‘the dog ate my paper,” but the truth is that I simply procrastinated the assignment and didn’t get it done. I’m sorry. If that means that I get a B instead of an A, then I get that you have to give me a B. I understand that’s the consequence of my not doing it.”

Looking back, that was kind of a small step forward in a larger spiritual journey for me, the journey of honesty, transparency, and confession. A journey I’m still on, for the record. I’m further down the road on that one, but I definitely haven’t arrived.

Today’s chapter kicks off the book of Judges which comes right after the book of Joshua which we just finished. It’s a continuation of the story, so it feels right to keep going. The Hebrew tribes conquered the Promised Land, divided the land, and settled into their allotted territories. Joshua is dead.

But the assignment isn’t finished.

Joshua’s conquest took control of the largest and most strategic cities and peoples living in the region. The Hebrew tribes were dominant in the area, but the inhabitants still remained in smaller areas, cities, and villages. It was now up to each tribe to finish the task and drive the remaining inhabitants from their tribal lands.

The author of Judges begins the story with a record of which tribes succeeded at this assignment, and which did not. Judah and Manasseh were the two largest tribes with the largest fighting forces. They had some early successes, but their campaign stalled.

Whenever I’m reading a chapter of the Great Story and I notice repetition, I always try to pay attention. Here’s what I noticed today:

  • “but they were unable to drive the people from the plains”
  • “The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites…”
  • “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of…”
  • “…they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.”
  • “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer…”
  • “Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron…”
  • “Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko…”

There are even more, but you get the picture. The tribes failed to complete the assignment, and that’s exactly what the author of Judges wants me to know because everything else I’m going to read in the subsequent stories is the consequence of this very fact.

There is a formal liturgy used by both Catholic and Protestant institutions called the Litany of Penitence. I occasionally use it in my personal time with God. It opens with this line:

I confess to you and to my brothers, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done, and what I have left undone.

In a moment of spiritual synchronicity, I also read James 4 in the quiet this morning, in which James tells followers of Jesus:

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

Some mornings, Holy Spirit makes the lesson quite clear. Procrastination comes easy for me. Part of it is the way I’m wired to go with life’s flow. There is a part of it, however, that is much more than that; Its willfulness, laziness, and a nasty habit of not finishing what I started. Unlike Larry the Cable Guy, I often fail to “git ‘er done.”

Ironically, my high school English teacher gave me an A for that semester, and that’s why I still remember the story. That teacher (who was, ironically, Jewish) has always been a reminder to me of a gracious and forgiving God who says, “if you confess your sins, I am faithful and just, and will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

In the quiet this morning, I once again confess that I’ve still got a ways to go in both honestly owning my own shortcomings, and faithfully finishing tasks on my list.

And so, I enter another day in the journey. Time to get to work on the task list.

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

The Reward

The Reward (CaD Jos 19) Wayfarer

When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded. 
Joshua 19:49-50 (NIV)

In preparation for the Holy Saturday message I gave among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I’ve been doing a lot of studying about death. In particular, I’ve been reading about people who’ve had a Near Death Experience (NDE). These are individuals whose bodies literally died. No heartbeat, no brain activity, and no breath for a period of time until they were revived or miraculously returned to life.

There are a lot of commonalities in these experiences. If you’re interested, I recommend the book Imagine Heaven by John Burke (a shout out to Jen P for recommending it to me!). Among the commonalities in NDEs is a “life review” in which the person is shown a replay of their entire lives. Time is different in eternity. Even the Great Story speaks of eternity in which “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like just a day.” Many describe their “life review” in those same terms. They saw every moment of their entire earthly life, but it only took what seemed like an instant.

Many who’ve experienced this life review also speak of the fact that the most important thing in this review was how well they loved others. Some mention that they saw the events of their life and could actually feel what others were feeling around them. For example, a childhood bully felt the agony of the person they victimized. A son forever estranged from his father, who had always blamed his father for their poor relationship, felt his parent’s emotions as he watched how he treated them as a youth, and he realized that he was just as much a part of the breakdown in the relationship.

Those who have experienced this NDE life review often speak of returning to their earthly lives with completely different priorities. They immediately begin to invest in relationships. They become more loving, generous, and faithful towards others because they died, they tasted eternity, and they learned that it’s the only thing that really matters just as Jesus taught.

Today’s chapter tells of the final allotments of the Promised Lands to the Hebrew tribes. In one final allotment, Joshua is given the town he requested in reward for his faithfulness. A few chapters back, it was Caleb who was first to receive an allotment. Now, Joshua is the last to receive an allotment. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who originally spied out the land for Moses and had faith that the tribes could conquer the land and the people living there. The other 10 spies doubted. Over forty years later, Caleb and Joshua bookend the allotments of Promised Land and receive the rewards of their faith.

Joshua and Caleb received an earthly reward for their faith, and that got me thinking about eternity. The Great Story speaks of two distinct judgments to take place in the climactic final chapters of the Story. One is simply whether or not my name is written in the Book of Life. The second is described as an inspection of how well I built my life on earth as evidenced by how well I loved God and loved others. Based on what so many who’ve experienced an NDE describe, there is an eternal reward and the only thing that counts eternally is our love for others. Or as Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (MSG)

And so, I enter another day and another work week with a huge task list, yet reminded that the real priority, the only thing that truly matters, is how well I love those with whom I interact.

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

Awareness and Ego

Awareness and Ego (CaD Jos 8) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.
Joshua 8:1 (NIV)

Along my life journey, and my spiritual journey, I’ve learned that there is wisdom and goodness in having sober self-awareness. This includes knowing my strengths, my abilities, my weaknesses, and my ego.

I grew up around music. I sang in choirs throughout my school years. I sang in small groups, in musicals, and taught myself to play guitar and bass. I also confess that my ego really wanted to be a great singer and musician. My ego wanted to be in a band and be a lead vocalist.

I was never that good, and any ego-fueled attempt I made to do something beyond my ability utterly failed. I learned to accept that I’m adequate when it comes to music. I can function on a team and positively contribute to the whole. I can adequately perform a solo in a musical on stage. However, I know gifted vocalists and musicians, and my ego eventually learned to accept that I’m not one of them.

There are, however, other things at which I’m gifted. In the flow of life, those are the things that God has continually given me opportunities to do, and they’ve been successful even if/when my ego wasn’t exactly excited about it.

In reading today’s chapter, it was the contrast to the previous chapter where I found the most fascinating lesson.

At the beginning of yesterday’s chapter, there was no mention of God being part of the preparations for or engagement in the battle. Joshua sent the spies. The spies gave their report and recommended action. Joshua acted on their recommendation and sent a small contingent to take the city. It failed.

At the beginning of today’s chapter, the Lord encourages Joshua, the Lord gives the command to attack, and the Lord provides the battle plan. It succeeds. And, having taught/learned the lesson at Jericho that everything belongs to God, the Lord shares the plunder of Ai with His people.

Joshua and the Hebrew tribes are learning a lesson similar to the one I’ve had to learn. In God’s silence, Joshua allowed his ego to take over. There’s no record that he even thought about asking God for direction. On the heels of a victory at Jericho, Joshua takes command, makes the strategy, and pulls the trigger to attack.

1500 years later, God would reveal that we are all like a body with Jesus as the head. We’re all connected. We each have certain gifts, abilities, and temperaments that allow us to positively contribute to the health, strength, and life of the whole body. Yet, just like our bodies, there are entire systems that function independently of one another yet no other system of the body can survive and thrive unless each system is doing the thing it’s made to do.

My ego might really want me to be part of a different system but there’s wholeness and peace in having the self-awareness to know where I fit and best contribute to the whole body. Beyond that, if I’m not functioning in the system in which I’m gifted and best contribute, the entire body suffers. Joshua made the easy mistake of thinking he was the brains of the operation, but only God occupies that position in the body. When Joshua was back in the position of being God’s mouthpiece taking orders from the brain, everything functioned as it should.

In the quiet this morning, I’m meditating on the reality that this lesson of self-awareness, humility, giftedness, and ego is not a flip-the-switch type of lesson that you learn once and then are done. Getting my ego out of the way and learning to know and understand myself are never-ending lessons on this earthly sojourn. The more I embrace and learn these lessons, the further I progress spiritually, and the more peace and joy I experience in my daily experiences.

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

Upstaging

Upstaging (CaD Jos 5) Wayfarer

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied…

Joshua 5:13-14a (NIV)

The actor had a bit part in a large musical I was in, but you’d have thought they had been given a starring role. They always had crazy ideas to make their character more noticeable, suggested to the director ways to “improve” the scene (and also give them a bigger moment on stage), and they had to be told ceaselessly to rein in their character.

In theatre, it’s officially called upstaging. In ancient times, stages were “raked” so that the back of the stage was raised and slanted down toward the audience. It was a technique that allowed the audience to better see the characters and action taking place at the rear of the stage. To this day, the back of the stage is referred to as “upstage” and the front of the stage by the audience is called “downstage.” Upstaging was, therefore, when an actor moves to where they are higher and better seen by the audience. They raise themselves to be more important than they really are.

Some mornings when I read a chapter, I find meaning in what is being shared across the episodes rather than within one of them. In today’s chapter, there are three distinct things being shared:

  • The fear of the local kings and city-states (vs. 1)
  • The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel (vs. 2-12)
  • The mysterious appearance of a lone stranger (vs. 13-15)

The first thing to really strike me was in the last episode. This mysterious figure appears with a drawn sword and introduces himself to Joshua as “Commander of the Army of the Lord.” When Joshua asks “are you for us, or for our enemies?” the reply was “Neither.”

“Neither?”

Aren’t the Hebrews God’s people? Didn’t they just affirm their covenant with God? Isn’t God leading them to the Promised Land?

Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s the point, I realized. What’s at issue throughout this chapter is the object. It’s easy for me to focus my eyes on God’s people, the same way I focus my eyes on myself and my earthly circumstances. But, the object of this unfolding Great Story is about what God is doing.

The Canaanite kings and peoples were afraid, not because of what the Hebrews had done, but because of what God had done for the Hebrews with His miracles.

The people renewed their covenant with God, and in doing so were reminded that it was God who initiated the covenant with their father, Abraham. It was God who delivered them from Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh. As they ate the produce of the Promised Land, they were reminded that it was God who provided manna for them for forty years to sustain them.

The Commander of the Army of the Lord then reminds Joshua that he and the Israelites are not the objects of his favor or obedience. God alone is whom he serves.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of just how self-centered I can be. I am the object of my own story, and I so often reveal that by my thoughts, words, and actions. My story, however, is ultimately what God has done for me, in me, and through me. My story is a bit part in God’s story.

God, forgive me for all the ways I both consciously and unconsciously try to upstage you.

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

Memorials

Memorials (CaD Jos 4) Wayfarer

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
Joshua 4:8-9 (NIV)

A few weeks ago, I shared about Storii, the company our daughter, Taylor, works for. As a part of their suite of software applications, they’ve introduced a process by which an individual regularly receives a phone call asking them a specific question (e.g. “What was your first job?”) and then giving them four minutes to record their answer. The recordings are then made available to family members. It’s genius in its simplicity, and it’s been fun that Taylor has my father participating. I’ve heard him share some things I’d never known before.

I’ve often shared in these posts about my love of history, including the history of my own family. I’ve always found that an understanding of the past helps inform my own present earthly journey. Wisdom can be found in knowing family stories. I just wish I knew more of them. Hence, my joy with what Taylor’s employer is doing.

In today’s chapter, Joshua orders twelve men, one from each of the Hebrew tribes, to gather a stone from the Jordan River bed. Joshua then had the stones placed as a memorial for future generations to remember what God had done on that day when the waters of the Jordan River were stopped up so that the people could cross on dry ground.

That got me thinking this morning about memorials. Ironically, sitting on my desk as I write this is a photograph and ticket I had laminated of the night Taylor had the folks at the Iowa Cubs surprise us, revealing the gender of our first grandson, Milo, on the giant scoreboard. It was such a great memory. I wanted a way to be continually reminded of it. I use the laminated photo as a bookmark, and it makes me happy every time I see it. It’s a memorial for me.

I’m reminded this morning that God specifically told His people to share their God stories with future generations:

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Deut 4:9 (NIV)

Of course, this begs a few questions: Do I have stories of what God has done in my life? What have my eyes seen God do? How have I experienced God’s goodness and faithfulness along my journey?

In the quiet this morning, today’s chapter has me thinking quite simply and practically. How do I share and leave the story about what God has done in my life for my descendants?

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

Vertical and Horizontal

Vertical and Horizontal (CaD Heb 13) Wayfarer

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV)

I began yesterday with coffee and an English muffin at a friend’s office. We chatted about what is going on in each other’s lives. We shared about the challenges we’re facing with family, work, and our bodies that are feeling the natural strains of age. We prayed together. It was a good start to the day.

It was St. Patrick’s Day, so Wendy and I knocked off of work a little early and met friends in the late afternoon for a pint and some Irish music. As the after-work crowds began to swell we were on our way to pick up pizza and retire to their house where we continued sharing life and conversation. Their college-age child was home on Spring Break and we got the whole 411 on life, studies, and relationships at school.

It was a fun day. It was late by the time we returned home.

In today’s final chapter of Hebrews, the author wraps up his letter with more exhortations to the Hebrew followers of Jesus for whom the letter was addressed. Throughout these instructions are more than subtle allusions to the old sacrificial system of Moses that the author has argued was fulfilled by Jesus and is no longer valid or necessary.

In that old system, there were all sorts of ritual religious sacrifices that an individual was expected to make in order to stay in good standing with God. Of course, like all religious rituals, it is possible for a person to go through the motions without there being a heart or life change, and the author has argued that Jesus has provided the once-for-all sacrifice through His death and resurrection.

“So, are there no more sacrifices?” the author hears his readers asking.

Yes, the author answers. The sacrifice of self just as Jesus taught that His followers must take up their own cross in following Him. Jesus’ word picture tells me that I’m supposed to die to myself, to sacrifice myself for God and others. The author provides a picture of this in continuous sacrifices that are both vertical (me to God) and horizontal (me to others). The vertical sacrifice is that I consciously, willfully stay connected to God through offering my praise and prayer (which is simply conversation). The horizontal sacrifice is my goodness and generosity towards others. Not just physical gifts and needs, but also the generosity and goodness of life and spirit through relationships and sharing the life journey together.

Which made me think of my day yesterday. Along my life journey, I’ve experienced that good relationships, the kind that is mutually and spiritually life-giving, require the ongoing generosity of time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and grace. Over time and in every case, every one of those ingredients becomes sacrificial for me as my friends may need more from me at certain times than I can comfortably provide. But the same is true on the other side of the equation. I need them at times and in ways that require their sacrificial generosity.

With Jesus, I can never get around the reality that He emptied Himself, left heaven, came to Earth, and endured the suffering of a horrific death. He sacrificed everything for me. I can ignore that fact. I might allow other thoughts and distractions to drive it from my mind, but it’s always there. What is asked of me in return? To live in a relationship that is essentially no different than my horizontal ones: time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and generosity that comes out in worship, prayer, life, obedience, trust, hope, and perseverance.

I’m grateful this morning for life-giving relationships, both horizontal and vertical.

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

The Presence

The Presence (CaD Matt 28) Wayfarer

“And surely I am with you always”
Matthew 28:20 (NIV)

This past weekend our local gathering of Jesus’ followers had what we call Original Works Night (OWN). The auditorium is set up in a coffee house atmosphere and a gallery is set up inside. Throughout the evening people perform their original songs and poems. The gallery is full of paintings, photography, and artwork in various mediums. We even had three musicians who improvised an instrumental piece to end the evening and it was awesome. I’m always blown away by the talent and creativity represented.

It was at an OWN a few years back that a group of children had done a creative project. On blank 3×5 cards, they had written various affirmations and decorated the card. It was set up in a display and attendees could exchange affirmations. You write one yourself, place it in the display, and you got to take an affirmation one of the children made. The affirmation I pulled out was quite simple: “God is with you.” It hangs on my dresser where I see it each morning when I prepare for bed each night.

“God is with you.”

Today’s chapter is the end of Matthew’s biography of Jesus. He leaves us with the resurrected Jesus telling His followers to go to all nations and share His story, making disciples everywhere they go. He then ends with “surely I am with you always.”

Matthew’s account begins with Jesus being the prophesied “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” It ends with “I will be with you always.” As a believer, I believe (and have experienced) there is Oneness between me and God through His indwelling Spirit. Perhaps the most radical paradigm shift Jesus unleashed was that the “temple” was no longer bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood. No longer do I go to a building thinking that I meet God there, pay Him a visit, and hope that He shows up. I am the temple and God is with me always.

This is a basic spiritual truth of being a follower of Jesus and being a believer. It’s one that I observe differentiating those who have, by faith, experienced the transformation of Christ’s indwelling Spirit and those who are simply religious church-goers.

The church building is not God’s house. I am.

Why would I pray for God’s presence? He’s with me always.

About 25 years ago I was going through a stretch of my earthly journey in which I was willfully choosing to make life choices and behave in ways that were completely antithetical to being a Jesus follower. Even then, I was fully aware of God’s presence amidst all of the foolish, rebellious things I was doing. My relationship with God continued and I had regular conversations with God filled with anger and selfishness. That’s the thing I’ve discovered about surrendering my life to Christ and inviting Him in 40 years ago. Even when I choose to “walk away” He goes with me.

“God is with you.”

In the quiet this morning, I am grateful to be in a much better place on life’s road. I’m grateful to be made in the image of the Creator and for the ways that we can express inexpressible truths and experiences through art and creativity, even as children. I’m thankful for one child’s simple artistic affirmation of such an unfathomable spiritual reality.

“God is with you.”

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

God of the Foreign

God of the Foreign (CaD Matt 2) Wayfarer

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1 (NIV)

It seems a bit out of place to be sitting here in mid-January reading a text that is normally read exclusively in the month of December for Christmas. Along my journey, however, I’ve learned that it is good for me to read things outside of the “normal” contexts. Doing so allows me to see things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. Jesus spoke of those who had eyes but didn’t really see. My desire in this chapter-a-day journey is always that the eyes of my heart will be fully open to see what God wishes to reveal to me in the quiet. I have found that this sometimes requires me to shift focus, as they say in filmmaking.

Shifting focus away from the entrenched visuals and contexts of a commercialized Christmas this morning, I pulled back to examine “These Three Kings” from where I sit amidst the harsh realities of a deep Iowa winter (current temp feels like -3 degrees F). A few things I noted in my observations:

Nowhere in the text does it say there were only three visitors. It only says that there were three gifts. Also, nowhere in the text does it say they were kings. It does make clear that they represented a group that paid attention to astronomy and practiced a form of astrology.

I then considered that Matthew’s audience was primarily Hebrews, and he was writing to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. Hebrews were keenly aware of two great events in the history of their people. The first was their deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. The second was their captivity and seventy-year exile in Babylon (which was in Persia, directly east of Israel).

When the “Who’s Who” of Hebrew nobility were taken into exile, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to them. He told them:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

It would seem, therefore, that at least some of them (e.g. Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther) obeyed. They lived and interacted with the community and culture. They shared their stories with their captors. They even shared prophetic words about stars and the coming messiah who would be “king of the Jews.” They shared prophetic words and conversations which existed outside of the text of the Great Story but were recorded and remembered among the heathen hosts of the exile.

In the quiet this morning, I am struck by the fact that Matthew chooses to record that those who were looking for the Messiah, those who came to seek Him, were not Hebrew priests and scholars but those considered foreigners, aliens, and enemies. Matthew makes clear that the infant Jesus was intimately connected to the exiles of Babylon through these mysterious visitors. He was connected to the exile in Egypt by fleeing Herod the Great’s infamous slaughter of the innocents.

What does this mean for me? Here’s what I’m pondering in the quiet:

  • God, the Creator, is constantly at work in places I don’t expect, and in people I would never recognize.
  • Jesus’ arrival began the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham back in Genesis: all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
  • I find it telling that the Hebrew scholars consulted by Herod showed no interest in pursuing the object of the Magi’s inquiry, but the despised “foreigners” went out of their way to seek Him.

I come full circle this morning, contrasting the icons of a commercialized Christmas and the text of the Great Story. Amid the bling and blather of tinsel and tales, I find there is one wearied Christmas phrase that rings true for me:

The wise still seek Him.

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