Tag Archives: Good

Rogues Gallery

Rogues Gallery (CaD Rev 17) Wayfarer

The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.
Revelation 17:16 (NIV)

In my previous post, I drew upon a comic book character to discuss the topic of justice in relation to the justice God brings upon the earth with a trinity of judgments that culminates in seven bowls of God’s wrath. This morning, as I meditated on the chapter, I found myself once again finding the world of comic books an apt parallel.

In classic comics like Batman and Spiderman, we are introduced to a rogues’ gallery of antagonists with whom our superheroes wage a battle of good and evil. Occasionally, the writers will weave a storyline in which all of the bad guys join together to fight the intrepid hero or heroine.

In a similar way, today’s chapter reveals John being given a vision of a rogues’ gallery of earthly power-players bent on waging war on God and God’s people:

  • The “Great Prostitute”
  • The “Beast” on which she rides
  • Seven Kings that are also seven hills
  • An eighth King, the anti-Christ, allied with the Seven Kings
  • Ten Kings who have yet no kingdom, allied to the Beast

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, Satan (whom Jesus called the “Prince of this World”) showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in all their earthly power and splendor. The Prince of this World then offered to give them all to Jesus if Jesus would only bow and worship him. Jesus passed on the offer, knowing that His kingdom was “not of this world” and that He was sent on a mission with a much higher purpose.

The rapidly approaching climax of John’s Revelation, just like a great story or movie, has the key players from the beginning of the story and conflict advancing towards the story’s ultimate clash: God, the Serpent, and fallen humanity. Satan and his rogues’ gallery scramble for power and authority to wage this war.

What struck me as I read the chapter was the in-fighting among these earthly power players. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in Galatia, Paul listed the characteristics of those who live according to the Prince of this World: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.” When you have multiple players each driven by hatred, discord, and selfish ambition, it’s basically impossible to create any sustainable alliance toward a common goal. Evil always ends up imploding from the inside out as evil ones will always eventually turn on their own to satisfy their personal hatred, rage, and selfish ambition.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that in the earthly conflict of good and evil to which I am subject on this earthly journey, God continually reminds me to persevere and endure. Jesus passed up the quick and easy way to earthly power offered by the Prince of this World instead choosing instead to endure the suffering and death that led to a eucatastrophic resurrection and eternal power. So Jesus urges me to follow in His footsteps.

The opening verses of Hebrews 12 came to mind as I pondered these things:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)

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

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

"Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" (CaD Rev 9) Wayfarer

The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands…
Revelation 9:20a (NIV)

I find it fascinating that our world continues to use Hitler and the Nazis as the ultimate metaphor for evil. Given their lust for power, their unbridled ambition, and the atrocities they unleashed on this earth, it’s an apt metaphor in many ways. I have heard it argued that true evil will not respond to anything but overpowering force. It could be argued that World War II is an example of that principle. We continue to hold Hitler and his Nazis as our favorite metaphor for evil. Of course, metaphor loses its power when it is applied loosely and flippantly in unwarranted situations, but that’s a different post for another day.

Today’s chapter describes the fifth and sixth “trumpet judgments” on the earth that John saw in his vision. The fifth is a plague of locusts another plague that parallels the plagues on Egypt in the time of Moses. The locusts are described with monstrous imagery and led by “the angel of the Abyss.” The locusts torture earth’s inhabitants until they beg to die.

When the sixth angel sounds its trumpet, four angels at the Euphrates River are loosed along with a countless multitude of mounted troops with horses that spew fire, smoke, and sulfur. One-third of the earth’s inhabitants are killed. While this plague does not have a parallel to the ten plagues of Egypt, its imagery had a clear parallel to Roman citizens in the first century. The Parthian Empire was right across the Euphrates River to the east of the Roman Empire, and the Parthians were the only enemy that the Roman Legions could not defeat. Parthia’s mounted archers could ride forward and shoot backward, and their unpredictable battle tactics made them one foe that Rome did not want to face. Romans feared the day that Parthia’s mounted army attacked and John’s vision would have directly stirred these fears.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to get lost in the minute details of apocalyptic literature. I recall one arrogant professor I once had who famously lectured on the end times and sold volumes of his recordings on the subject. I remember some of his interpretations being so rooted in the geopolitical world of the cold war that I highly doubt they would make sense today.

Instead of getting buried in the minutia, I tend to pull back to try and see the big picture. I believe the rather obvious parallels between the judgments of Revelation and the plagues of Egypt are more than a coincidence. In the Exodus, God unleashed 10 plagues on Egypt in an effort to get a hard-hearted Pharaoh to repent and free the Hebrews from slavery. In Revelation God unleashes plagues on the earth in an effort to get hard-hearted humanity to repent and be free from the shackles of sin.

The hard-hearted Pharaoh refused to repent. So does humanity in John’s vision.

And so, I find my thoughts wandering back to the nature of evil and to history. The Nuremberg Trials and the flight of top Nazi officials to places like Argentina revealed how unrepentant and hard-hearted were the individuals who unleashed unspeakable atrocities on humanity for their own power and pride. To this day, the stories of powerful families and corporations who fueled the Nazi regime and remain unrepentant for their past continue to come out.

So in the quiet, I find myself thinking about the simple act of repentance. It means a change of heart that leads to a change in direction. It means to spiritually stop, turn, and go the other way. As Bob Dylan sings it: “Gonna change my way of thinkin’, make myself a different set of rules. Gonna put my good foot forward and stop being influenced by fools.” It’s what Pharaoh refused to do. It’s what Hitler’s henchmen refused to do. It’s what humanity refuses to do in the end times according to today’s chapter.

And, on this Monday morning, I once again find myself humbly admitting that I don’t know what every one of John’s visions means. I’m sorry that I can’t reveal it to you with smug certainty like my old professor and the multi-cassette volumes he was happy to sell to anyone. Here’s what I do know for certain. My heart, my thoughts, and my subsequent words and actions can easily become rooted in pride rather than humility, in selfishness rather than generosity, in anger rather than kindness, in vengeance rather than forgiveness, and in hatred rather than in love. Every day of this earthly journey is an opportunity for me to have the self-awareness to catch myself, stop, and choose to go in the opposite direction; To choose good rather than evil.

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

A Good Place

A Good Place (CaD Jos 21) Wayfarer

Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
Joshua 21:45 (NIV)

Looking back on my life journey, there are moments along life’s road when I found myself at a waypoint that was a “good place.” A milestone had been reached, a long-awaited goal was achieved, or life at that moment just seemed to be in a positive and peaceful flow.

I always try to remind myself to enjoy those moments when they happen. It never lasts.

One of the movies we tend to watch around Christmas time is the rom-com While You Were Sleeping. One of my favorite scenes is when the family patriarch, played by Peter Boyle, waxes eloquently about how he’s at one of those “good place” moments in life when everything is working out, everyone is getting along, every family member is doing well, and life is good. His son, played by Bill Pullman, has come over to drop a bombshell that he doesn’t want to inherit the family business, “Hey Pop,” the son says, “This isn’t one of those moments.”

In today’s chapter, the Levites are the last tribes to receive allotments. The Levites were the priestly tribe, and while they didn’t get tribal land, they were given towns within the other tribes to settle with their families, flocks, and herds. The priestly tribe was spread out and sprinkled within the other tribes so that every tribe had priests among them to perform priestly duties.

With that final distribution, the author of Joshua proclaims one of those “we’re in a good place” moments. A goal had been achieved as the major conquest campaigns were finished and there wasn’t an enemy left with the power to dislodge them. A milestone had been reached, and they were settled in the promised land. They were in a good place and took a moment to recognize God’s faithfulness and fulfilled promises.

Enjoy it. It won’t last.

I’m really not trying to be the pessimist here, but after 40+ years of studying the Great Story from Genesis to Revelation, I can tell you that this earthly journey is filled with trials, faith tests, and tough times. I’m told to expect it, to prepare for it, and to not be surprised when I think we’re finally in a “good place” on Life’s road. Then Life unexpectedly says, “You know what? This isn’t one of those moments.”

Being a disciple of Jesus, I’ve spent a lot of time studying His teachings, and a lot of them are about how I am to respond to the stuff that this earthly life throws at me:

When I am taxed, I’m to render unto Caesar.
When I am slapped, I’m to turn the other cheek.
When my coat is unjustly conscripted, I’m to offer my shirt as well.
When I’m forced against my will to walk one mile, I’m to walk two.
When I’m wronged, I’m to forgive, and forgive, and forgive, and forgive.
When I find myself with less, I’m to treasure what awaits me in eternity.
When I’m poor in spirit, I’m to consider myself blessed.
When I’m in mourning, I’m to consider myself blessed.

So many of Jesus’ teachings are predicated on the fact that I will face difficulties, hostility, pain, loss, and trials on this life journey.

So if and when I occasionally find myself at a waypoint that’s a good place and all seems right with the world, I’ve learned to enjoy the heck out of it, thank God for it, and soak it all in while I can.

The “good place” that the Hebrew tribes find themselves in today’s chapter will not last. The period of the Judges, which is the next book in the Great Story, is a time of systemic sin and cyclical violence. But, that’s still a few chapters away. In today’s chapter, everything is groovy.

I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

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

Making it into the Hall

Making It into the Hall (CaD Heb 11) Wayfarer

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

A number of years ago, Wendy and I were visiting friends in upstate New York. We were quite shocked when our friends told us that Cooperstown was only a 30-minute drive, and so we found ourselves visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was a lot of fun for us.

As a baseball fan, I find the annual induction of individuals into the Hall of Fame interesting. For those who are unaware, there has been a lot of controversy in recent years regarding players who used (or allegedly used) performance-enhancing steroids in the 90s and just after the turn of the century. The Baseball Writer’s Association has refused to induct any of the top performers of the era into the Hall.

My opinion doesn’t really matter, so I won’t offer it here (If you want to know, just buy me a pint and we can chat! 😉). One of the arguments, however, is that to refuse great players an induction into the Hall is hypocritical. Many players in the Hall of Fame were great players who were downright lousy human beings. It’s well documented that many of them “cheated” in the manner of their eras by doctoring balls or stealing signs. So, why refuse players of the steroid era?

This came to mind as I read today’s chapter, which is well-known to many as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” The author of the letter to the Hebrews is making the argument that it is faith in God that is the key spiritual activator, not good deeds, purity, religious ritual, or a clean life. Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers in Ephesus:

Saving is all [God’s] idea, and all [God’s] work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (MSG)

As I read through the “Faith Hall of Fame” I couldn’t help but think about some of those mentioned and the facts of their lives:

Noah: Got blackout drunk and naked.

Abraham: On multiple occasions, he passed his wife off as his sister for social and political expediency, placing her at great risk. When God’s promise of a child was long in coming, he slept with his wife’s maid to have a child, then later abandoned both the maid and his first-born son.

Sarah: Talked her husband into sleeping with her maid in order for Abraham to have a son. Then when she had a son herself, she made her husband banish the woman and child.

Jacob: Deceived his own brother out of his rightful birthright and inheritance as the first-born.

Moses: Murderer.

Rahab: Prostitute.

Samson: Sex-addict.

David: Adulterer and murderer.

You get the picture. God’s “Faith Hall of Fame” is filled with flawed human beings just like me. In fact, they were flawed human beings just like every other human being on the planet. Yet that’s exactly why they made the Hall. Despite their own obvious shortcomings, they believed and had faith in God’s promises.

This morning’s chapter is a great reminder that what God is looking for is not perfect human beings, not even good human beings, but human beings with the simple willingness to believe in His promises, and the confidence to live according to spiritual realities that can’t themselves be physically seen, only their effects.

I’m reminded this morning of the blind man who said to Jesus, “Open my eyes, Lord. I want to see.” A friend suggested praying that regularly as it is as spiritually apt for me as it was physically apt for the blind man. Indeed.

As for the steroid-era baseball players being in the Baseball Hall of Fame, I don’t know. I still need to mull that one over a pint.

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

For or Against

For or Against? (CaD Matt 9) Wayfarer

And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Matthew 9:33-34 (NIV)

In yesterday’s post, I talked about Jesus’ enemies who controlled the fundamentalist religious power in his day. As I read this morning’s chapter, I found myself continuing to observe and consider the contrast between Jesus’ words and actions and the words and actions of his detractors and enemies.

In one episode, a man who was demon-possessed and couldn’t speak was brought to Jesus. Remember that this was a rural, small-town, back-water region. Everyone knows everyone or at least knows who everyone is. It’s quite possible the many in the crowd knew this man, knew his crazy affliction, and had to navigate life with and around him. When Jesus healed the man and the man spoke for the first time, they were understandably amazed.

In today’s chapter alone a paralyzed man was forgiven and then walked. A dead girl was brought back to life. A woman with a chronic bleeding disorder was made whole. Two blind men see. A demon-possessed mute is freed from spiritual captivity and is finally able to speak. Just think about all of the goodness, wholeness, and life in each of these stories. Think about the parents, families, loved ones, friends, and communities who experienced the ripple-effect of these miracles as all of that shalom resonated through each of these individual’s circles of influence.

Now listen again to the Jesus’ religious enemies: “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

As fundamentalist systems perpetuate, only those who maintain “in-group” status are truly “good” in that system’s eyes. That goodness is seen and understood by an individual toeing the line of the system’s prescribed thoughts and behaviors. Jesus is repeatedly refusing to do so. He forgives sin (which, according to the system, only God can do). He associates with “out-group” sinners and tax collectors. He doesn’t appear to religiously fast like the system prescribes. He breaks the Sabbath rules. So this man can’t be good. In a fundamentalist system, the only good, pure, ideal people are those who follow the unquestionable rules and dogma to the letter and avoid mixing with undesireables.

“Those who are not for us are against us.”

Jesus doesn’t fit. He can’t be good. Thus, he must be evil.

In the quiet this morning, I recalled this episode:

John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”
Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath slam me. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally.
Mark 9:38-40 (MSG)

Jesus’ reaction was the opposite of his religious enemies. Rather than being exclusionary and controlling, the way of Jesus was to be inclusive and empowering.

When I was a young man operating in fundamentalist Christian circles, being “Christ-like” meant adhering to the code of moral and doctrinal purity (as dictated by church, denomination, and/or parental authorities).

As an older man who has followed Jesus for forty years, I’ve increasingly learned that being “Christ-like” means adhering to the law of love (as dictated by Jesus).

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

The Conflict

The Conflict (CaD Matt 4) Wayfarer

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Matthew 4:8-9 (NIV)

This past fall I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. In the message, I shared a handful of stories from my early adult years which were harsh life lessons. I was harassed and threatened on a job because I chose not to join the union. In another job, I repeatedly witnessed government employees breaking the law and others simply choosing not to do their job. They could do so without consequence because they worked for the political machine that had been in control for generations. In yet another experience, I learned the hard way that even a local church can be secretly controlled and manipulated by a powerful and wealthy member.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that people easily forget that the Great Story told from Genesis to Revelation is a story of good versus evil. The enemy messes up things for humanity in the Garden of Eden in the opening chapters of the story. The final chapters of the story speak of a final conflict in which evil is vanquished once-and-for-all. In between the two, the conflict is perpetually present.

In today’s chapter, Jesus withdraws to the wilderness for 40 days where He is tempted by the evil one. The Hebrew audience to whom Matthew is focusing his account would have been reminded of the 40 years of wilderness wanderings of their own people (recorded in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) in which they failed the test. The three temptations Jesus faced are, likewise, the same basic temptations that Adam and Eve faced: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

In the second temptation, the evil one shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” and offers to give them to Jesus. This means that they were his to give.

The harsh life lessons of my young adult years taught me that there is a certain truth about how the world works. No matter how good we like to think we are, there is no escaping the fact that both individuals and institutions in this world are driven by lust and pride. The Great Story makes it very clear that this world is the dominion of the evil one, whom Jesus called “The Prince of this World.” The Prince of this World, and his disciples, set themselves up as anti-God and can always be found lurking to promote darkness, hatred, corruption, chaos, and death. This is why Jesus came in the first place to make a way of light, love, goodness, peace, and eternal life for any who, by faith, believes.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that the kingdoms of this world are still, at this point in time, under the dominion of the Prince of this World. Commerce, politics, and even the institutions of religion will be given to corruption and evil until things are ultimately set right in the climax of this Great Story.

I am equally reminded that Jesus came to exemplify a different way of being and to teach me to live differently in this world as a citizen of a kingdom that is “not of this world.”

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

Both/And Family

Both/And Family (CaD Gen 42) Wayfarer

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.
Genesis 42:6 (NIV)

There was a period of time in my twenties and early thirties when I did a deep dive into my family history. I investigated both my father’s and mother’s family lines. I talked to my parents, grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles. I asked many questions about relatives I knew nothing about. I heard many fascinating stories, and I learned a great deal. I was led to the conclusion that family is messy. My family, like almost every family, always put our good foot forward for public perception. In both my paternal and maternal families going back several generations, I found plenty of skeletons hidden in the closets.

Divorce
Broken relationships and members refusing to speak to one another
Deceit
Suicide (more than one)
Depression
Alcoholics (more than one)
Illegitimate children
Children sold into servitude
Secret marriages
Sexual harassment
Attempted sexual assault
Public scandal
Lawsuits
Court hearings
Prison sentences…

I also found multiple examples of…

Deep love
Intense devotion
Genuine faith
Sacrificial generosity
Honorable character
Faithfulness to duty
Unquenchable hope
Inner strength

One of the lessons my family history adventure taught me is that family is not either/or “good” or “bad,” but rather it is both/and good things and bad things. Yes, I am a product of a loving family. Yes, my family has failings and dysfunctions like every other family system. I endeavor to do my best to be a healthy cog in my family system. I’d like to think I’ve succeeded in some ways. I must confess I’ve tragically failed in others.

I thought about these things as I read today’s chapter. The dramatic story of Joseph is drawing to its climax. Everything begins to “work together” for Joseph. Israel and his sons are starving in Caanan because of the severe famine that was predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The same brothers who almost killed Joseph and sold him into slavery because Joseph told them of a dream in which they bowed down to him, now arrive in Egypt to buy food and they bow down to him. The dream is fulfilled just as Joseph described thirteen years earlier.

I thought it fascinating that Israel would not allow Benjamin to travel with the brothers. With Joseph presumed dead, Benjamin was the only son that Israel had left who was born of Rachel, his first love. It would seem that when Israel thought Joseph was dead, he replaced his “favorite” with the only other son of Rachel in the tribe. Joseph, longing to see Benjamin, uses his brother’s ignorance of his true identity to force them to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. Israel balks. Having lost Joseph, he fears that the same will happen to Benjamin.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about the very human family drama of Israel and his many sons, including the lost son Joseph. Yes, it’s a tragic story fraught with flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. And, it’s also a beautiful story of redemption, salvation, and God weaving these flawed human beings into a larger story, the Great Story, of God’s redemption of all things.

This gives me hope for my own family story which, when I really dug in to look at it objectively, I found to have its own flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. Along my journey, I’ve discovered that God has redemptive purposes for me/us as well. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.

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

Santa God

Santa God (CaD Gen 15) Wayfarer

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

This is the problem: It’s too easy to mix-up God and Santa Claus.

Life is a meritocracy from a young age. In my earliest cognitive memory around ages 3 to 4, I find myself under the authority of parents who make it quite clear that if I’m obedient and do what they say, then I’m golden, but if I’m disobedient, then I’m going to be punished.

By the time I’m five, the biggest gift giving holiday of the year solidifies this meritocracy in my brain with Santa Claus as the omniscient authority figure determining if the annual balance of my goodness and badness warrants me receiving a stocking full of candy and socks and a bunch of presents under the tree. If the scale tips to the badness spectrum, it’s coal for me.

Within just two years, I become involved in scouting program which rewards my good deeds and behavior with awards, badges, and medals. I continue to develop an understanding of meritocracy. There is a reward for ambition and good behavior, those who excel are on display for the whole world to see with their medals, badges, and awards. If I have less, shame enters the equation. I’m not as good. I don’t have as many badges. I am less than.

And, each year Santa drives home the “naughty or nice” lesson.

At the same time, my earliest experiences in organized sports adds yet another object lesson in meritocracy. The kids who are naturally coordinated, developed, and have knowledge of the game are successful. Meanwhile, I increasingly ride the bench and watch the coach’s wife score the game. (For the record, my little league baseball career lasted two years, but to this day I like scoring games.)

And, Santa, my stocking, and gift haul remind me annually that gifts are a reward for good behavior.

I’m twelve by the time I have my first serious discussions about God. Yes, I grew up attending Sunday School most Sundays and Vacation Bible School each summer, but it wasn’t very exciting and seemed to be a lot about stories that support the good behavior business. In my journey, it was confirmation class in 7th grade that was a year-long primer on the Bible and God.

In retrospect, I had already a well-developed sense of how God worked based on my life experiences. And, it looked a lot like the Santa. If I’m good, then God will answer my prayers, my life will go well, and I’ll end up in heaven. If I’m bad or fall short then my prayers will not be answered, bad things will happen, and I’ll end up in the fires of hell (burning with Santa’s coal, no doubt). As a child, I was pretty darn sure that all four of the Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl losses were my fault, God’s punishment for something I’d done.

I’m sure that Mrs. Washington’s confirmation class attempted to teach me about God’s grace and love, but my brain and soul were already branded by the Santa principle.

In today’s chapter lies a simple verse that is almost never talked about among Jesus’ followers even though it is foundational to understanding Jesus’ core message. Paul uses it to argue that Jesus’ message was God’s message from the beginning. The author of Hebrews does so, as well. For followers of Jesus, this verse is crucial to know, digest, and cling to:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

No meritocracy.

No addendum talking about being good, pure, and holy.

No mention of achieving, doing unto others, going to church, or giving money.

Just believe. That’s what faith is. To believe.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Act 16:31

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 8:9-10

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it is so hard to get out of the God as Santa mindset. God says “My ways are not your ways” and this applies to perhaps the most important question of all: How can I be saved?

Humanity’s way:

“Be good, work hard at it, keep all the rules, and maybe you’ll earn salvation like a present under the tree.”

God’s way:

“Just believe. Ask me to come in. Receive my love and forgiveness. That’s it. You see, once you’ve truly experienced My unmerited love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy, I trust you’ll be inspired and motivated to choose and practice obedience out of your own freedom and gratitude. That’s how I roll. That’s how I’ve always rolled, like I did with Abram.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about all the ways I still wrestle with “Santa God” after 40 years. It still creeps in to haunt me. Meritocracy is a hard habit to break, both in the way I see God and myself, but also in the way I see, approach, and treat others.

I’m also reminded that I can’t do anything about previous days. I’ve only got this day that lies before me. I’ve got this day to just believe Jesus, to receive His love and grace, and then to let that love and my gratitude flow in goodness.

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

Entering a World of Pain

Entering a World of Pain (CaD Gen 3) Wayfarer

“And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman…”

Genesis 3:15 (NIV)

A number of years ago, I was asked to speak to a chapel service at the local Christian high school. I was asked specifically to talk about pornography as I had been very open about my own story of being exposed to it at a young age and the addictive struggles it grew into. I thought it went well. One of the teachers commented afterwards that it would forever be remembered as the first time the word “masturbation” was uttered in a chapel service. Come to think of it, I’ve never been invited back.

One of the things I talked about in that message was the basic spiritual implications of pornography that are rooted in today’s chapter and what theologians call “the fall.” Adam and Eve are good, innocent, and streaking around the Garden of Eden naked without a thought or care. Then the evil one enters and we get the first glimpse of what has become his well-worn playbook:

First, get them to question what God has said:
“Did God really say…?”

Second, deny, minimize and diminish the consequences:
“You will not certainly die”

Third, make God out to be the bad guy and killjoy:
“For God knows that when you eat of it…”

Fourth, make the false promise of power, independence, and freedom:
“…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

Eve is then enticed by the unholy trinity of temptation:

The lust of the flesh:
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food…”

The lust of the eyes:
“…and pleasing to the eye…”

The pride of life:
“…and desirable for gaining wisdom…”

(Note: cross-reference 1 John 2:15, and btw: the three temptations the evil one used on Jesus were the exact same flesh, eyes, pride tactic. Again, it’s a well-worn playbook.)

The consequence of the disobedience was immediate and organic. Shame replaced innocence. Relationship was broken. Then God arrives and pronounces to Adam and Eve that they are entering a world of pain and, eventually, death. For the man, it means the pain of labor to survive in a dog-eat-dog world of never-ending obstacles. For the woman, it means pain in childbirth and a constant struggle against subjugation and misogyny. For the evil one, God announces that there will be a unique enmity and hatred between him and women, and the prophetic pronouncement that one day it will be a woman’s offspring who will “crush your head.”

Which brings me back to that chapel service several years ago. Rather than approaching the subject of pornography from the usual surface level and shaming arguments of purity culture, I opted to approach it from the depths of the overarching spiritual conflict of good and evil, God and anti-God, that began in today’s chapter.

As I have progressed in my spiritual journey and have been surrounded by women (see yesterday’s post), the more acutely I have observed this unique enmity God pronounces between the evil one and the woman. The evil one, once the most beautiful of God’s angels, hates – dare I say, envies – the woman for her unique beauty “in the image of God.” The evil one, hating the life that God creates, hates the woman for being the one through whom human life perpetuates. And so, the evil one embraces his hatred of the woman and says to himself:

“Let me take the woman in all of her beauty, strength, complexity, and purpose and reduce her to a simple two-dimensional object of optical and sexual lust. I might even convince her that doing so will give her power, even freedom.

“Let me take the act which produces and perpetuates God’s gift of life and transform it into empty, yet addictive, pleasure for profit which produces shame, grows ever more violent, painful, and degrading, and actually diminishes the perpetuation of life while subverting God’s natural order.

“Let me, once again, offer the woman the opportunity to be like God. This time I will give her the power freedom to pronounce that the life inside her is not really a life at all. In her desire for pleasure, power, independence, and freedom, God’s unique and beautiful ‘vessel of life’ shall become my agent of death.”

A few weeks ago on my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, I asked my guest, Dr. Bob Laurent, what some of the meta themes he’s observed in his life journey as he approaches his mid 70s. He commented that we shouldn’t be surprised by the world descending into confusion and chaos because that’s exactly what the Great Story says will happen. The “prince of this world,” the evil one, is still at work to turn, twist, and transform:

God’s love into hatred.
God’s joy into depression.
God’s peace into conflict.
God’s patience into demand that everything to be fast and immediate.
God’s kindness into meanness and antagonism
God’s goodness into evil.
God’s gentleness into raw, destructive power.
God’s faithfulness into rejection.
God’s self-control into insatiable lust for every appetite.
God’s order into chaos.
God’s oneness into division.
God’s Life into death.

The Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds me that while things rapidly change on the surface of things, at the spiritual root of all things, there is absolutely nothing new under the sun.

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

The Well-Worn Playbook

The Well-Worn Playbook (CaD 2 Pe 2) Wayfarer

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

The Great Story is, at its heart, a story of good and evil. The evil one tempts Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s demand by questioning God’s goodness and promising them that they will be “like God” if they just have a taste of that forbidden fruit.

The punishment is their expulsion from the Garden and fellowship with God to live and die in the world, where the “Prince of this World,” as Jesus referenced the Evil One, has dominion over the kingdoms of this world. Before starting his mission, Jesus and the Prince of this World met, and Jesus faced the same basic temptations used against Adam and Eve (the Evil One’s playbook is really pretty basic). He offered to give Jesus all the “kingdoms of this world” if he would merely bow and worship. Jesus passed on the offer. The night before He was crucified, Jesus told His followers that the “Prince of this World” stood condemned. His sacrificial death and resurrection was righting a wrong on a grand scale.

The final chapters of the Great Story tell of the climactic confrontation of God and evil. It’s an end, and then a new beginning, which is yet another recurring theme in the Great Story.

Along my life journey, I’ve tried to be mindful of this foundational conflict as I interpret all that see and experience along the way. God is Love, and that Love is the source of life and goodness. Evil is an oppositional force. It opposes all that God is, and does, and desires. God is love, and so evil sows hatred. God is for life, thus evil gloats in death. God is about goodness and order, and so evil rejoices in destruction and chaos.

In today’s chapter, Peter is writing to the first century followers of Christ about the oppositional forces that were already at work to disrupt the powerful impact that their faith, expressed through Christ’s love in action was having in the world. Individuals with selfish and evil motives were leading Jesus’ followers astray. Interestingly enough, one of the tactics Peter mentions is their promise of freedom. He states that these false teachers were telling people that they are free to indulge any and all of their appetites (both the Greeks and Romans were famous for indulging all their appetites in creative and unrestrained ways). Peter warned them to be wary of this deceit.

Jesus is often quoted: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Rarely do I hear the previous sentence quoted with it: “You are truly my disciples if you do what I tell you. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

See the oppositional forces at work? Evil tells me “indulge your appetites and you’ll experience freedom,” though what I end up experiencing is self-focused indulgence which leads me into slavery to my own appetites and all the destructive consequences that go with it (personally, relationally, physically, spiritually, and mentally). In contrast, simple obedience to Jesus’ law of love, which gets expressed in part by the spiritual fruit of self-control keeps me free of those destructive consequences so that all the other fruit of love (goodness, kindness, etc.) has room to pour out of me into others.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but recall a Tweet I saw yesterday from a celebrity and former Disney star:

Again, the playbook is pretty basic. “Indulge your appetites and you will experience freedom.” As the Sage of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s really nothing new under the sun.” And yet, I’ve never found anything really free or good traveling down any alley of indulgence. Pleasure? Certainly. But that’s fleeting and then requires another fix to feel it again, then a bigger fix, and then yet another even bigger fix. I like the way Bob Dylan described it: “A bad motorcyle with the devil in the seat, going ninety-miles an hour down a dead-end street.”

And so, I press on in this earthly journey one more day, choosing the path that Jesus prescribed to freedom. As for me, I have yet to be disappointed on this path, nor has it ever led me down a dead-end street.

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