Tag Archives: Good

For or Against

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.

Sow What?

Sow What? (CaD Mk 4) Wayfarer

Again [Jesus] said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

It is spring in Iowa, arguably the best place to grow things in the world. Growing up, our state used the tag line: “A place to grow.” I always found this a great tag line full of metaphorical layers. I’m sad it got buried under slogans like “You make me smile!” and “We do amazing things with corn.”

Spring brings my perennial desire to plant something and make it grow. I have to confess that when it comes to being a child of Iowa I’m a bit of a prodigal. Growing things has never come naturally to me. I’ve done okay with my rosebushes, but I think it’s because they do well on their own despite me. Last spring we planted some herbs on the patio. I even got to use them to make fresh seasoning a few times before they died.

It’s a beautiful thing about the cycles of life, isn’t it? It is perennial. Hope springs eternal with Easter. Every spring the Cubs have a chance to win the World Series and I have a chance to successfully grow something. It doesn’t matter that the odds are 1:108. There’s still a chance, and each spring the hope is intoxicating.

Last year, Wendy and I bought actual herb plants. Undeterred by their premature death, I decided that this year we’re going to grow them from seeds. If I’m going to commit serial herbicide, I might as well make it more difficult. So, we got three grow-kits with pots, dirt, and seeds.

What struck me as I planted the seeds was how minuscule they were. Seriously, I felt like I was sprinkling dust particles in the dirt! I followed the instructions for watering and a week or so later Wendy and I went to the lake for a long weekend. When we got back, there were actual plants growing in two of the three pots. What did I do wrong with the third plant? I’m telling you: I can kill a plant before it even sprouts! When I contacted the grow-kit company I was told that sometimes you can get “bad seed.” I’m not sure what that means, but it felt like a pardon from the Governor. I sanded out a couple of notches off the handle of my garden trowel.

I thought about my little herb garden as I read today’s chapter. Jesus uses planting seeds as a word picture of God’s Kingdom. The seed can be as small as a speck of dust, but it can sprout and grow into something huge. Which is why earlier in the chapter Jesus told another story about a person who was sowing seed as they journeyed along. The seed was sown everywhere, which got me mulling this over.

Jesus told His followers that the seed is the Word. In the Great Story, I learned that Jesus is the living Word and also incarnate Love. So, one way I sow the Word along my life journey is by sowing love that is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and self-controlled. In doing this, I’m scattering that hopeful possibility of spring that the seed might happen to fall upon a soul that it good soil for that seed to germinate and grow into something exponentially huge in relation to that little seed sown in a gentle word, a gesture of forgiveness, a random act of kindness, or a timely hug.

Of course, the Great Story also talks about bad seed that can equally be sown. The seeds of hatred, anger, malice, chaos, violence, rage, jealousy, envy, selfishness, dissension, and division. Bad seeds don’t grow much of anything.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again looking within and without. What am I sowing in my thoughts, words, actions, reactions, posts, tweets, replies, and comments? I look outward at the things I see in the media, on social media, and the people I “follow.” What is being sown? Good seed? Bad seed?

I don’t want to be judgmental, but I do want to be wise.

I can’t control others, but I can control myself.

I am embarking on yet another day. Day number 20,088 of my earthly journey.

It’s spring in Iowa. A place to grow.

What am I going to sow today?

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

One Song, Two Levels

One Song, Two Levels (CaD Ps 138) Wayfarer

May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed.

Psalm 138:4 (NIV)

Tomorrow night I have the honor of giving the Good Friday message among my local gathering of Jesus followers. Good Friday is the annual remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death just two days before the Resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday.

One of the themes that I’m addressing in my re-telling of the events of that day is the conflict that is happening on two different levels. There’s the human conflict happening between Jesus and the power-brokers of earthly power in Rome, Judea, and Jerusalem. There’s also the conflict that is happening on the Spiritual level between the Son of God, and the Prince of this World. I believe one doesn’t fully understand Good Friday without an understanding of the conflict happening on both levels.

That’s one of the fascinating things I find about the Great Story. It weaves the stories, and holds the tension between both levels: Earth and Spirit. Perhaps that’s why, as I sit in the quiet of my office this morning, and mull over today’s chapter, I find it also resonating with me on those same two different levels.

Yesterday we got to the end of a section in this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that focused on Jerusalem (Psalms 120-137). There were all of the songs of “ascent” along with songs of dedication to Jerusalem, like yesterday’s chapter. Today we kick-off a section of eight songs in which the liner notes attribute the songs to King David.

The lyrics of today’s chapter begin with David proclaiming praise to God. You might remember from earlier posts in these posts in Psalms that Hebrew songs often put the central theme of the song smack-dab in the middle. In today’s lyric, David’s theme is “May all the kings of earth praise you.”

On a purely earthly level, this theme fits in with the thread of the earthly story within the Great Story. God promised Abraham that “all peoples” would be blessed through his descendants. The law of Moses spoke clearly about loving and being deferential to other peoples living among them. Jesus exemplified this in His inclusive teaching and behavior towards women, Samaritans, and Romans. He then gave His followers the mission of spreading His teaching to all people. In the final chapters of the Great Story John is given a vision of Heaven’s throne room in which the multitudes include people of “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

So, on one level, David’s lyric prophetically points to Jesus’ teaching and God fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The Great Story began with Abraham, expanded to his tribal descendants of whom Jesus was one, and then burst out to all peoples.

On the level of Spirit, the Great Story makes clear that the enemy of God remains the “Prince of this World.” The “Kingdoms of this world” remain in his clutches. Power, wealth, and pride still fuel the institutions of earthly power: politics, commerce, and religion. When Jesus prayed, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth,” He was not talking about a grand, earthly power grab as His followers had been taught would happen and expected. That’s how the “Kingdoms of this World” operate. I’ve come to observe that whenever I see human institutions leveraging power to control others, it’s definitely not the Kingdom of Heaven.

Along my journey, I’ve come to observe that the paradigm of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus taught is about love and the spiritual transformation of individuals, who in turn love and transform their circles of influence, which in turn has the possibility to transform human systems. It’s not top-down systemic power but bottom-up organic transformation of Spirit.

The prophetic visions of John also point to an end of the Great Story when “the Kings of this earth” (not the earthly level individuals who might be transformed by the love of Jesus, but the spiritual level power-brokers representing the institutions of worldly power) will eventually face a final conflict and ultimate resolution.

So in the quiet this morning I find myself holding the tension of the two levels. I’m praying for Dave, my city councilman, whom I l know and love. I’m praying for my state’s Governor, whom is well-known and loved by members of my family. I’m praying for my friends who are heads of industry and business. I’m praying for my friends who lead their own local gatherings of fellow-Jesus followers. These are all in my direct circles of influence. I also find myself praying for matters and individuals on the national and global stage that are far out of my control, yet still part of the Great Story which I believe will ultimately play out as foretold, but probably not as I expect.

And so, I enter another day trying to bring love and hope to my circles of influence and those things I do control, while having faith in God’s plan and purposes on levels I don’t control.

A Rocky Start

A Rocky Start (CaD Ps 95) Wayfarer

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness…”
Psalm 95:7-8 (NIV)

Greetings from quarantine. It’s official that COVID has entered our home. I’m happy to report that symptoms are very mild and it’s only one person. That said, the lockdown at Vander Well Manor has begun.

Some days simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. Routines get thrown out of whack when you’re quarantined with the three-year-old and a pandemic throws life into a perpetual state of questions.

Some months get off to a rocky start, and this month has been that way. I won’t bore you with the details, but unexpected issues with work have kept the stress level consistently higher than normal since New Year’s.

Some years simply get off to a rocky start, and the past couple of days have been that way. The political tensions of the past four years, once again, spill over into the streets, through mainstream media, and all over social media.

I can’t say I’ve experienced much quiet this morning. It’s mostly been activity, swapping kid duties so others can work, and trying to sneak in a perusal of today’s chapter. That said, one of the great things about this chapter-a-day journey is that it always meets me right where I am, in this moment, and at this waypoint on life’s road.

The ancient Hebrew song lyrics of Psalm 95 begin with a call to praise. The songwriters calls the listener to sing, shout, and bow down in worship of the Creator and sustainer of life. He then makes a sudden shift and presents a warning that is a mystery to most casual readers. He warns his listeners to learn from the past and refuse to “harden your hearts” as happened “at Meribah and Massah.”

Anyone can read about the event that inspired the lyrics in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. It happened as the Hebrews tribes escaped slavery in Egypt and struck out through the wilderness to the land God had promised. Even though God had repeatedly revealed His power in getting the Egyptians to let them go, to save them from the Egyptian army, and provide for their “daily bread,” they grumbled and complained.

I have written multiple times in these chapter-a-day posts about the Chain Reaction of Praise which begins with my decision to praise God in every circumstance which leads to activated faith which then leads to praying powerful prayers, which leads to overcoming evil with good, which leads to increasing spiritual life and maturity.

It struck me that what the songwriter of Psalm 95 is doing is calling me to the Chain Reaction of Praise. No matter what the circumstance, lead with praise. Choose to shout, sing, and bow down rather than grumble and complain. It goes against the grain of my human emotions, but that is the way of Jesus.

It’s been a rocky start to the day, the month, and the year. Life is not settling back into a peaceful, happy routine. I can grumble, complain and sink into despair. Or, I can follow the path of Jesus. I can follow the Spirit. I can choose to praise, to have faith, to pray, and to keep doing what is good and right in the moment despite my circumstances.

That’s what I’m endeavoring to do in this moment, on this day.

BTW: My daily posts and podcasts might be published sporadically, or not at all, for the next few weeks. Just sayin’. I’ll just be here praising and doing what’s good and right in each moment of quarantine.

Let Good Rule

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Luke 6:9 (NIV)

Religion loves rules.

When I was a young man I, for a short time, found myself living among a conservative, legalistic, religious Christians. I stop short of calling them Jesus’ followers because I eventually came to realize that they were the spiritual descendants of the religious leaders who, for two chapters now, have been keeping their critical, judgemental, condemning eyes on Jesus. Their motivation is to catch Jesus doing something wrong so that they can dismiss Him, judge Him, and condemn Him. In doing so, they can feel righteous about ignoring Jesus’ teaching and proud of leading others to do the same.

Religion loves rules.

In Jesus’ day, there was no better example of religious rule-keeping than the Sabbath. The Sabbath was established at the very beginning, right after creation:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Genesis 2:2 (NIV)

This was a long time before God gave the Top Ten through Moses (Sabbath made it to #4 on the Top Ten commandments list).

Sabbath simply means a prescribed time of rest. It’s a day-off, a time-out, a quiet time, and it’s all about R&R, recharging, and being refreshed. Sabbath began as a spiritual principle God exemplified for all of humanity. After six days of work, everyone could use a little break from the daily grind, even God. It’s good for your body, mind, and spirit.

The problem with humanity, of course, is that we struggle with principles. They are so, well, gray…

“What does ‘rest’ mean exactly? I need that defined. And ‘work’ too. Is feeding my cat work? What about taking out the trash with my baby’s stinky diaper? And, speaking of stinky, what about having to watch the stinkin’ Packers game with my in-laws (that always feels like a lot of work)?”

“We’re supposed to labor for six days and rest on the seventh? What if I work weekends?”

“By ‘work,’ are we talking gainful employment here? What if I’m currently unemployed?”

“You tell me how in the world I’m supposed to rest from being a mother. There is no rest from these rug rats and their incessant demands!”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to observe that humanity is given to rule-making in almost every area of life. Government institutions become bureaucracies with libraries dedicated to tracking all of the laws, codes, rules, and regulations. In fact, according to LegalZoom, if you’re driving through certain rural parts of Pennsylvania you are legally required to stop every mile and shoot off a flare to mark your position. In North Dakota, it’s unlawful to buy beer and pretzels at the same time. Women in Florida are forbidden by law to fall asleep under a hair-dryer.

Another example is how the notion of taxing citizens to pay for Government services has resulted in the 74,608 page U.S. Tax Code.

When it comes to religion, we humans do the same things. Well-intentioned religious institutions start with a spiritual principle about getting some much-needed rest and end up with an endless list of rules which, eventually, require a lot of work to keep straight and follow. This is where things stood in the days when Jesus was teaching in today’s chapter. Breaking the “sabbath” rules was something that Jesus and His followers were accused of doing repeatedly.

In today’s chapter, the Sabbath police were following Jesus around just waiting for Him to break one of the rules. That’s the other thing about religious and social rule-keeping, it typically ends up with some kind of group who police the masses. Of course, Jesus knew they were there.

Jesus asks, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” The answer, of course, goes back to the principle of rest that was the heart of Sabbath in the beginning. The tome of sabbath rules, sub-rules, and clarifications had both perverted the principle intent (keeping the Sabbath became work) and allowed the perpetuation of evil (people refused to help out a neighbor in an emergency in order not to be caught by the Sabbath police).

So, Jesus healed a man’s paralyzed hand in front of the crowd on the Sabbath.

Let good rule!

The religious rule-keepers immediately went into judge, jury, and executioner mode.

There’s something grossly wrong with this picture, and that was what Jesus was trying to get people to see and understand for themselves.

My time among the legalistic Christians didn’t last very long. All of the silly rules about clothes, hair, shoes, music, and fraternization were more than I could take. I did, however, make a number of worthwhile observations and I learned a lot of very valuable lessons. I came to understand that legalism keeps people imprisoned to rules, codes, and regulations while keeping them from developing the spiritual maturity and self-discipline necessary to develop Godly wisdom.

This morning I find myself reminded that doing a good thing for someone else should never be against the rules.