Tag Archives: Great Story

“Effed Up Family”

"Effed Up Family" (CaD Gen 48) Wayfarer

Joseph said to [Israel], “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Genesis 48:18-19 (NIV)

Wendy and I became hooked on Yellowstone in its first season. It’s now in its fourth season. Sunday night has become a weekly watch party with our friends. Wendy and I have often described Yellowstone to family and friends as “The Godfather meets modern day Montana.”

Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the widowed patriarch of a family who has owned a million-acre ranch of the most beautiful and desirable land in Montana for over a century. Everyone wants the land and they will do literally anything to wrench it from Dutton’s control. Dutton will do literally anything to prevent that from happening. Let’s just say, if he asks one of the ranch hands to drive you “to the train station” you’ve just been given a one-way ticket to the end-of-the-line. Dutton finds himself forced to manipulate and coerce his own adult children to “protect” the family and the ranch. Each of his children is, respectfully and understandably, his or her own form of messed up.

Our daughter and her husband watch Yellowstone every week along with another show about a wealthy, dysfunctional family empire. They’ve dubbed the evening “Effed up family night.”

I couldn’t help but think of it as I read today’s chapter. The book of Genesis is known by many as simply the story of creation and Noah’s ark. The truth is that about 80 percent of Genesis is the story of one man, Abraham, being given a promise that his descendants will become a great nation. It then tells how Abraham builds a wealthy nomadic herding operation and has a son, who expands the family and the family business. By the third generation, they grow to become a wealthy clan that other peoples fear as they wander the land. In the fourth generation, the clan continues to grow into the making of twelve tribes, who will become a people before the book of Exodus in which God makes them into a nation.

I’ve often said that all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. Families growing into tribes, people, and empires is a common theme in some of the epic stories we love, as is the struggle of flawed human family systems to protect and perpetuate the family legacy. The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is the seminal source material.

In today’s chapter, two recurring themes are present. First is the ancient patriarch on his death bed blessing his children. It’s the conduit through which power and privilege are passed down to the subsequent generation. The second recurring theme is the bucking of the embedded cultural tradition of the day in which the firstborn son inherits everything. Israel, the second-born son of Isaac who stole the birthright and deceived his father into receiving the blessing, is now the dying Patriarch. His first move is to call Joseph to him. Joseph was at one time his youngest son and his favorite. Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, who was the younger sister, whom Israel loved. Two important things happen.

First, Israel raises Joseph’s sons, his grandsons, to the status of sons and heirs of their grandfather. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, will become the head of their own tribes next to their uncles. In doing this, Joseph’s family is receiving a double-portion of Israel’s overall blessing.

Second, Israel willfully crosses his arms when blessing Manasseh and Ephraim. He places his right hand (the hand of favor) on the younger son’s head. He places his left hand (often the metaphor of disfavor or secondary favor in that culture) on the firstborn son’s head. Joseph is ticked-off at this and tries to reverse it. The tradition of honoring the firstborn son runs deep in family systems to this day. Israel refuses. Like Isaac, like Jacob/Israel, and like Joseph himself, the younger brother Ephraim will be the greater. Hundreds of years later, when the nation of Israel splits into two after Solomon’s reign, the southern kingdom will be called Judah (the fourth-born son who emerges as the leader of the tribes) and the northern kingdom will be often referred to as Ephraim. Prophecy fulfilled.

Along my earthly journey, I’ve observed that one’s place and position within the family system can often have a tremendous impact on how one sees and perceives themselves, their self-worth, and their place in this world. One of the things that Jesus taught, one of the spiritual realities He put into place, was that anyone who follows Him will be lifted into the potion of child of God, heir of God, and co-heir with Christ Jesus Himself. It’s good news for everyone who grew up with real family stories that would fit right in with “Effed up family night.”

While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.”
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-48 (MSG)

…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Galatians 3:26 (NIV)

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. Galatians 4:6-7 (MSG)

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!
Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

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

Circumstances I Don’t Control

Circumstances I Don't Control (CaD Gen 40) Wayfarer

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
Genesis 40:23 (NIV)

This Sunday, I am giving the final message in a series on the sage words of Ecclesiastes among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that the notion we have any control in this life is an illusion. In fact, the Sage has a Hebrew word for it: hevel (or hebel). It gets translated into English as “vanity” or “meaningless” but its meaning is really more like “smoke” or “vapor.” I can see it. It looks like I should be able to touch it, grab it, or contain it but I can’t.

The continued story of Joseph in today’s chapter is a prime example of life and circumstance being out of our control. Life is not turning out to look anything like he expected. He thought things were comfortable at home being his father’s favorite. Then his brothers sold him into slavery and told their father Joseph was dead. Joseph then became a successful house manager for a powerful Egyptian official, only to be falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. In today’s chapter, Joseph successfully interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer who is reinstated to his position. Joseph asks the man to “remember him” and it appears that circumstances are finally in Joseph’s favor.

Alas, no…the restored cupbearer completely forgets Joseph. He continues to languish in the Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His circumstances are out of his own control.

As I look back on my own earthly journey, I have so many examples in my own life. A grandmother was run over and was killed by a distracted teen driver. Getting unexpectedly fired. The “perfect job” turned out to be a year of purgatory within a dysfunctionally chaotic system. My marriage fell apart. I was scandalized by wrongful accusations. Family members were diagnosed with cancer. Mom developed Alzheimer’s. And these are just the big items. There as countless small experiences that have affected my circumstances and my life; Circumstances that were unexpected, unforeseen, and completely out of my control.

Meditating on the reality of control being an illusion leads right to where the Sage ends up. It’s futile. It’s like trying to chase the wind or contain the morning fog. It’s all hevel.

But there’s another layer that I have to consider as a follower of Jesus, and this layer redeems the hevel. It’s a parallel reality that we are part of the Great Story, and the Author of Life is a sovereign storyteller.

Once again, Joseph is a prime example. Prior to his life being hijacked by circumstances out of his control, Joseph had a dream. That dream was a foreshadowing of the end of Joseph’s story. Joseph couldn’t see it in the moment. Every hevelish circumstance in Joseph’s experience is leading somewhere that’s known and has been foreshadowed. In the next chapters of the Great Story, God will lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. He chooses to appear to them each day as a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s hevel.

God is in the hevel. That’s good news within the out-of-control circumstances of my life.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling hevelish moments along my life journey that seemed out of control. Looking back from my present waypoint on Life’s road, I can see how God used each one to grow me up, teach me, hone me, and lead me to another waypoint a little further up the road and further in my own story. God has always been in the hevel.

I have to believe that Joseph was frustrated, angry, and depressed that the cupbearer forgot him rotting away in his cell. I imagine he felt the futility of his circumstances. He might have even whispered, “It’s all hevel.” What he doesn’t recognize is that he is part of a larger story. The cupbearer will remember him at just the right moment. The rest of the story has yet to be told.

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

Flawed Characters

Flawed Characters (CaD Gen 30) Wayfarer

Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
Genesis 30:22-24 (NIV)

One of the things Wendy and I have enjoyed doing the past year or so is to watch some of the epic film series in order. This summer we watched all eleven movies of the Star Wars canon in the chronological order of the story arc. We’ve begun doing this with the Marvel Universe.

One of the things that she and I have discussed about the Harry Potter films, in particular, is that they were written and produced with a fatal flaw. None of the films’ writers and directors knew the entire story until the final installment because they were produced as the story was still being told. There was, therefore, important story elements in the earlier books that were important threads to the larger story, but those telling the particular episode of the epic didn’t know this or couldn’t see it.

Along my journey, I’ve observed a common flaw with those who read and study the Great Story. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the immediate episode I’m reading that I lose sight that this episode is a thread in the larger theme that the Author of Life is telling.

Today’s chapter contains two stories that can be, quite frankly, head-scratchers. Both episodes of Jacob’s story flashback to earlier events and they foreshadow important elements of the story to come.

The first episode is a great birthing contest between sisters Leah and Rachel, both wives of Jacob. The second is Jacob’s deceptive scheme to increase his herds at his uncle’s expense.

In the culture of that day, providing your husband with a male heir was of utmost importance. In fact, a wife who did not produce a son by a prescribed period of time could nullify the marriage. In many cases, a wife lived with her father’s house until she did produce a male heir. The rivalry between sisters fuels their desire to win favor by producing sons for Jacob. Rachel’s barrenness and her demand that Jacob bear sons by her servant are flashbacks to Grandma Sarah who did the same thing. Likewise, Jacob’s shrewd deceit of his Uncle Laban in increasing his flocks hearkens back to the theme of deceit that pervades Rebekah’s family and Jacob’s life.

The story also foreshadows important elements in the story to come. Of all the sons born to Jacob, two are going to figure prominently in the rest of Genesis and in the history of the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah’s son, Judah will lead the tribe from which King David and the future Messiah will come. Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, will live a life of exile and redemption, ultimately saving the entire family and becoming the conduit through which the next major chapter of the Great Story will be told.

The forest that is often lost in the trees of this story is the covenant God gave Abraham to expand his descendants and bless all the nations of the earth. The blessing that Jacob is part of. The birthing contest, with all of its human flaws, conflict, and intrigue, is going to exponentially increase Abraham’s descendants. The many sons of Jacob will become the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself again contemplating the fact that the Great Story is being told through flawed, sinful human beings. I can look at each character from Abraham to Rachel and find character flaws, sins, and mistakes. Yet, with the exception of Jesus, that’s true of every human character in the Great Story.

That’s true of me.

Jacob, Rachel, and Leah are part of the larger story of Abraham’s covenant. Abraham’s covenant is part of the larger story of God redeeming fallen humanity. With no one to use but sinful human beings, God weaves the storyline through human failings, ultimately redeeming them in the larger work of ultimate redemption which is the meta-theme of the Great Story itself.

And, in the quiet this morning, I take comfort in that. In this way, I am Jacob. I am Rachel. I am Rebekah and Laban. Jesus placed His ministry into the hands of twelve flawed human beings which they passed on to other flawed human beings, and it has passed from flawed human being to flawed human being until it ultimately reached me.

I am a flawed human, but that does not disqualify me from playing my role in this penultimate drama. It does not cancel me in God’s eyes. It merely makes me part of the meta-theme of redemption, just like every other human in the Great Story.

I recently heard that the great actor, Alan Rickman, was considering quitting the role of Severus Snape in the series of Harry Potter films because Snape seemed like a one-dimensional, irredeemably bad character. J.K. Rowling pulled him aside to explain the powerful, redemptive role that Snape plays in the epic, which does not become fully clear until the end. Gratefully, he stuck with the role.

Sometimes, the seemingly irredeemable characters are essential to the ultimate story of redemption.

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

A Sage in the Story

A Sage in the Story (CaD Gen 14) Wayfarer

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Genesis 14:18-20 (NIV)

In all great epic stories, we encounter mysterious and oracular figures who Carl Jung labeled the Sage archetype. Sometimes these sages are ever-present in the storyline like Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, and Yoda in the Episodes I-III of Star Wars. Sometimes a Sage appears for a brief moment in the story, but their words and presence linger as an important thread of the story. In the original Star Wars trilogy of movies, the sage Obi-wan (“He’s just a crazy old man” Luke’s Uncle said of him) was physically present in the story for a relatively brief time, but his presence and words came back at important moments. Likewise, the Oracle played a crucial role in the Matrix trilogy, though we only saw her briefly on screen.

Remember: All great stories are reflections of the Great Story.

Genesis means “beginnings” and in it God establishes many things that are crucial to the Great Story He is going to tell through the final chapter of Revelation. In today’s chapter, we are briefly introduced to a mysterious figure, a sage character who appears on stage for a moment, but whose presence is dripping with foreshadowing in the larger Great Story which will only be come clear thousands of years later.

Abram, to whom God has promised to make a great nation, allowed his nephew Lot to choose the land he wanted. Lot chose what looked to be the land where the grass was greener for his herds, but it turned out to be a land full of violence, political turmoil, and war. Lot, his family, and his possessions are taken as spoils of war amidst the tumult. Abram, meanwhile, has prospered greatly where he settled and he goes on a successful rescue mission to recapture Lot and his family.

As they return, we meet the mysterious Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God-Most-High who blesses Abram, and Abram gives Melchizedek “ten percent of everything.”

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, but in fact it is. Melchizedek will be an important figure in Jesus’ story. He is what scholars call a “type” or parallel of Jesus. A few things to note:

Melchizedek (meaning “Righteous King”) is King of Salem, which is a word related to peace and part of the more familiar Jeru-salem. Therefore, a “righteous king of peace.” Not only is Mel King, but he’s also priest of God-Most-High. We’re not even to the part of the Great Story where God prescribes to Moses the sacrificial system He wants the Hebrew people to use, but in that system the priesthood and the monarchy are two separate entities. Mel brings out to Abram a gift of “bread and wine,” which was a cultural tradition at that time, but the allusion to Jesus’ last supper can’t be ignored. King Mel is also priest of God-Most-High at a time before we have any knowledge that God was doing anything in persons outside the narrative we’ve been given, yet Abram acknowledges this mysterious King-Priest. He honors Mel with a tithe of everything which was a “king’s share” in that day.

Melchizedek will later make a brief and mysterious appearance in David’s lyrics in Psalm 110. This is ironic since God promised that it would be David’s throne that would be established forever, and through David’s line through which the Messiah would come. In this, God declares through David that the monarchy and priesthood would, once again, be interwoven in the Messiah as had been foreshadowed in the mysterious sage, Melchizedek in today’s chapter. As for the Mosaic sacrificial system? Well, “old things pass away, new things come,” yet what is new was established in the mystery of Melchizedek in the ancient past. The author of Hebrews brings clarity to how Melchizedek and Christ are connected.

So, what does this whole thing have to do with my life on this 20,254th day of my earthly journey? There are a couple of things that I’m contemplating in the quiet.

First, Melchizedek reminds me that I am part of a connected story. It is thousands of years between the events of Genesis 14 and the Jesus story. Yet, like all epic stories, you look back in retrospect to see how all things work together and are connected. This reminds me that I, and my story, are also connected to the Great Story in mysterious ways that I can’t see in the moment, but I believe I will one day stand on the other side and look back to see it revealed. This, in turns, inspires me to press on in the journey today.

Melchizedek also reminds me that God is at work in the lives and stories of others in ways that I don’t know nor can I comprehend. As I have progressed in my own journey I have increasingly come to acknowledge this fact whenever I encounter anyone. In those who have believed and received, God is actively engaged in weaving their stories into the Great Story. In those who have not, I believe God is actively engaged in drawing them in to Himself. I have also come to believe that their stories, even in their unbelief, antagonism, or passivity, are ultimately connected to the Great Story in ways I can’t humanly imagine. If I really believe this, and I do, then it motivates me to relate to every human being I encounter with grace, respecting that they are a person whom Jesus loves, and in whom Jesus is actively at work to draw them in.

And so, I enter this day, and this new work week, reminded that I and my life are connected to the Great Story in ways I can scarcely imagine, and believing that so is everyone with whom I will interact this day. And that should dictate the way I think, act, speak, interact and proceed.

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

The Journey

The Journey (CaD Gen 12) Wayfarer

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-2 (NIV)

In early 1889, a young man from the small town of Piershil, in South Holland, boarded the ship P. Caland of the Holland America Line (featured photo on today’s post) sailed across the Atlantic, arriving in New York on April 20th. He made his way to a Dutch settlement in northwest Iowa. His name was Wouter van der Wel, and he was 22 years old. He promptly found employment and Americanized his name to Walter Vander Well. Four years later he married a daughter of the owner of the local furniture store and funeral parlor.

Walter came to America alone. Family speculation is that he was angry about his widowed mother marrying an older man who had once been her teacher when she was a girl. Walter’s daughter, Kate, told me that later in life Walter wrote his mother and expressed a desire to return home to see her. “If you’re not coming back to stay,” she replied, “then don’t come. I’ve lost my son once in my life. I’m not going to go through that again.” He never made the trip.

Walter was my great-grandfather, and for the rather small, widely spread-out Vander Well clan in America he is our patriarch. He’s the one who made the journey and crossed an ocean and half a continent to start a new life, and the family from which we sprang.

Today’s chapter marks an important shift in the Great Story. The first eleven chapters lay the foundation in establishing humanity’s bent toward disobedience (Adam and Eve), violence (Cain), chaos (the time of Noah), and pride (Tower of Babel). Today’s chapter is an inflection point. The narrative shifts from humanity’s continuous and repetitive descent toward a promise and hope of redemption. It begins with one man named Abram, who will be known throughout history as Abraham.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found followers of Jesus to be largely ignorant of the larger narrative of the Great Story and of the importance of Abraham, the patriarch, from whom the redemptive work of Jesus and the hope of eternity ultimately springs. Abraham was a historical person who is still playing a role in history some 4,000 years after the events of today’s chapter. In August of 2020 the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to a peace accord along with the United States. It was called the Abraham Accords. Abraham, we will learn, is patriarch of both the Jewish and Arab peoples.

Like Walter, Abram’s story begins with a faith journey. God calls him to leave his tribe and follow towards a destination defined loosely as “the land I will show you.” God then makes the first of three covenants with Abram. It is a seven-fold covenant of blessing which begins with God telling Abram that he will be the father of a great nation and ends with the promise that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”

God’s blessing from one person to “all peoples.” Abram is the patriarch.

What is odd about God’s choice of Abram is that his wife, Sarah, was barren and in her sixties. This is yet another instance of God going against the grain of human inclination; Another reminder that “My ways are not your ways.

Abram sets out on his faith journey following God to who knows where based simply on belief in the promise God had given him.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about Walter and what it must have been like to leave everything and everyone behind, to board a ship, and to head west toward a land he didn’t know. I can’t help but think of my own life journey and places to which I have been led. I can’t help but think of the journey of being a follower of Jesus who says to each and every follower, “If you would come after me, then lay down your life, take up your cross, and follow.” Like Abraham, the destination of the faith journey following Jesus is not identified or defined in the call other than the rather audacious clue of bearing the instrument of your own execution.

Which brings me back to being a wayfarer. I am a wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe and simply believing a promise. Just like Abram. Just like Walter. Just like our daughters and sons and our grandson, Milo, who can’t even comprehend it as of yet. We spring from wayfarers who stepped out on a journey in faith. We make our own respective journeys on this earth. We carry the Story forward as we press on one unpromised day at a time.

May the road rise up to greet you today, my friend. Enjoy the journey.

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

Faith in Justice

Faith in Justice (CaD Na 1) Wayfarer

The Lord is good,
    a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
    but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
    he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

Nahum 1:7-8 (NIV)

The world has watched in horror the past week-and-a-half as Afghanistan quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. No matter which side of the political aisle one stands, and setting aside the argument of whether NATO forces should have been at all, there is no escaping the brutal realities of life under the Taliban. It’s been hard to read and hear the eye-witness accounts. A woman shot in the street for not wearing a burka. Another woman burned alive because she was considered a bad cook. When a mother is willing to throw her own baby over barbed-wire in an effort to ensure that he/she will have a life elsewhere, it tells me something.

Much of the story of what we refer to as the Old Testament is really about how one people, the Hebrews, lived and survived throughout several centuries in which one empire after another sought to control the world: Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.

The ancient prophet, Nahum, lived in a time when the Assyrian Empire was the largest the world had seen to-date. Its capital city, Nineveh, was the largest city on the planet. He was probably writing his prophetic poems during the reign of Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal (see featured photo). The Assyrian army was particularly brutal. Ashurbanipal’s records speak of him flaying enemies (removing the skin off of bodies) and draping the human skins over piles of corpses and city walls. The Assyrian armies would leave piles of dismembered limbs and dead bodies impaled on stakes as calling cards telling everyone they’d been there.

Enter Nahum, a prophet who both seeks to comfort his people and encourage them to trust God, but who most warns the Assyrians/Nineveh that God will see to it that their mighty empire will fall. In today’s opening poem, Nahum establishes God as both kind and stern. He predicts Ninevah’s fall and Judah’s joy when it does.

The Great Story is layered with recurring themes. Justice is definitely one of them, and Nahum is a mouthpiece for God’s message that the mighty empire of Assyria/Nineveh with its record of violent oppression and brutality will not last. Their just downfall is coming. But that same message also exists on a grand scale of the larger eternal epic of the Great Story. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He tells His followers that “the prince of this world stands condemned.” The end of the Great Story is about eternal justice on a cosmic scale. Wrongs are made right. Justice prevails. Love wins.

In the meantime, the story continues. The journey goes on, and the kingdoms of this world perpetuate injustice, violence, and brutality. Jesus tells His followers to be agents of a very different Kingdom marked by blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, the mourning, peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted. He asked me to be marked not by power, anger, vengeance, violence, hatred, but love that is manifested in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Being a follower of Jesus is a faith journey, and that faith includes believing that justice will prevail, just it did for Nahum. After Ashurbanipal’s reign the Assyrian Empire quickly fell apart. Its decline was swift and historians argue to this day how could so quickly fall apart and recede. So, I believe, the end of the Great Story will come just as prophesied.

In the meantime, I press on doing what I can to act justly and with love. One simple agent of a different Kingdom journeying amidst the kingdoms of this world in faith that justice will ultimately prevail, and that Love wins.

More Than “Boy Meets Girl”

More than "Boy Meets Girl" (CaD Ruth 2) Wayfarer

So [Ruth] went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
Ruth 2:3-4 (NIV)

When I told Wendy yesterday that I’d begun the story of Ruth, her response was, “Oh good! I love the story of Ruth!” I was not surprised by this. In fact, I mentioned it because I knew she would be pleased. When Wendy and I were married, we wrote our own vows. Her vows to me included Ruth’s vow to Naomi:

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The story of Ruth often resonates deeply with women. It’s a boy meets girls story, and it is basically an ancient version of the film Pretty Woman. Destitute young woman who is a societal outcast and pariah meets older man of means. As I’m fond of saying: “All good stories are reflections of the Great Story.”

But there’s more going on under the surface of the boy meets girl romance in the story of Ruth. Ruth is a story of redemption, and it’s important for 21st century readers to understand a bit of context.

The early chapters of the Great Story are about God calling one man, Abraham, and growing his descendants into a nation. That doesn’t happen overnight, but over centuries as Abraham’s grandson has twelve male sons/grandsons who become leaders of tribes (the story of Abraham through Jacob and his sons is told in Genesis). Those tribes then become slaves in Egypt for 400 years before Moses led their deliverance. Then God has the difficult task of turning slaves who have had zero autonomy, freedom, or education for generations into a fully functioning nation. To facilitate this, God give them His law through Moses (this story is told in the books of Exodus and Leviticus). What’s utterly fascinating about the law of Moses is that it is an ancient blueprint for how a nation and society should function lawfully and it prescribes ways for managing common societal ills including immigration, incurable and infectious diseases, and poverty. Those issues sound familiar?

Having a blueprint is one thing. Actually convincing a couple of million former slaves in the brutal world of the ancient near east to actually implement it is another. The time of the Judges, in which this Pretty Woman story of Ruth takes place, is a time when the implementation is failing miserably. This new nation remains a tribal system with no central leadership, violent wars and feuds within and without, and little adherence to the laws and blueprint God had given them.

In today’s chapter, we’re introduced the prototype of Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman. We learn that Boaz is a “guardian-redeemer” or “kinsman-redeemer.” This was part of the societal blueprint God gave through Moses. Men in each family clan within each tribe were appointed as “redeemers” to care for those in their clan who’d been dealt a bad hand. The law required leaving part of your field unharvested so the poor in your clan could glean food for themselves. It required the redeemer to buy-back (e.g. “redeem”) clan members who, because of poverty, had been sold into slavery. It required them to help widows of child-bearing years to bear heirs who would then be responsible to care for them so they wouldn’t become a drain on the nation at large. Only, men in the time of the Judges were not known for living up to their responsibility or following the blueprint.

Boaz is far more than just a dashing figure with salt-and-pepper hair who looks good in an Armani suit and Julia Roberts on his arm. The first thing we hear from Boaz is his greeting to his own servants: “The Lord be with you.” Boaz is, first-and-foremost, God’s man, and that lays the foundation for the rest of the story. At a time when not following God and His blueprint led the nation into repeated chaos, violence, war, and tragedy, Boaz represents how when those with status, wealth, and power within the system trust God and faithfully follow the blueprint, they become agents of redemption and the entire society benefits.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about a larger conversation going on right now within our culture in which the Christian church is accused of not following Jesus’ blueprint of caring for “the least of these.” I won’t deny that this is true, though I believe that it is a broad-brush, black-and-white generalization that completely paints over the tremendous work of sincere followers of Jesus, throughout history, who fulfill Jesus’ mission of caring for the marginalized and improving life and humanity on earth.

I also can’t help but think about Boaz. He’s simply one faithful believer who is obedient within his clan. He may not be altering the course of the entire nation in those dark times, but he is altering the course of Ruth, Naomi, his clan, and his community. Boaz is an agent of redemption within his circles of influence. Imagine if there was one Boaz in every clan in every tribe in that day?

I often read the headlines over coffee with Wendy in the morning and enter my day feeling impotent to make a difference in the national and global problems plaguing the world. This morning, I’m reminded that I have the power and ability to be a Boaz.

“Be a Boaz.” That’s the cry of my heart as I enter this day.

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

Peace Amidst Conflict

Peace Amidst Conflict (CaD John 14) Wayfarer

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27 (NIV)

One of the most instrumental classes of my entire education was Eighth Grade English with Mrs. McLaren. Not only did she teach me about how writing is structured, but she also taught me about how story is structured. She was the first teacher to teach me that every good story contains conflict. Conflict comes in many forms. It might be good versus evil, conflict between God and a person, conflict between a person and the world, a person against another person, or a person fighting against themselves. Our lives and. our world are filled with conflict, and conflict disrupts peace.

In the Great Story, conflict is unleashed like a torrent in Genesis 3. Evil disrupts the peace and harmony of the Garden by causing the man and woman to question what God has said (Good vs. Evil) and then tempts them to eat the forbidden fruit. This creates conflict (shame and blame) between God and His creation (God vs. humans)and between the man and woman (person vs. person). The result of this conflict is more conflict. God kicks the man and woman out of the garden (God vs. humans), curses the evil one (God vs. evil), curses the man to toil and death (man vs. the world; man vs. self), curses the woman to pain in childbirth and struggle with man (woman vs. world; woman vs. man), and the whole thing establishes a special animosity between the woman and evil one (woman vs. evil).

There’s a whole lot of conflict going on!

In today’s chapter, Jesus is sharing with His followers on the night before He is to be crucified. Unlike the other three biographers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) who focus on the events of Jesus’ final night and the day of His crucifixion, John dedicates four of his final seven chapters to all of the things Jesus told them on that fateful night. As the last of the four biographers, and as one writing from a waypoint much further down life’s road, John is writing from the perspective of what his readers need to hear. Most followers of Jesus know the events because the other three biographies have been spread and read far and wide. Inspired by Holy Spirit, John realizes that Jesus’ followers need to hear what Jesus told them the night before His execution.

In reading Jesus story, people often forget to understand these final hours of Jesus’ earthly life in the context of the Great Story. I’ve said all along that one of John’s themes is identity, and in today’s chapter I can identify all of the players from Genesis 3. Jesus even references the Evil One in today’s chapter: “The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me.”

Back in Genesis 3, God said this to the evil one:

“And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

After the Garden incident, the evil one identified as the “prince of this world” was given dominion over all the kingdoms of this world. The evil one even offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of this world when he tempted Jesus before the beginning of His ministry, asking that Jesus merely bow and worship him. Jesus refused, and the conflict continues.

Now we have the God (in the incarnate Christ), man (in the disciples), woman (there were several women in Jesus entourage who were there), and the woman of the prophecy in the person of Jesus’ mother Mary who was also present with them, living with them, and traveling with them. What is happening is more than mere happenstance. This is a cosmic convergence and climax to the Great Story.

In light of all this conflict, I find it fascinating that Jesus says that He is giving His followers peace (that’s different than the world can give) and they shouldn’t allow their hearts to be troubled or afraid.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about what chaotic times we live in. I can’t help but think about the tremendous lack of peace I see amidst fear of death, fear of COVID, fear of those who don’t think the same, fear of tragedy, fear of anarchy, or fear of [fill in the blank]. Yet Jesus wanted me, His follower, to experience peace amidst the turmoil still being stirred up by the prince of this world and all the age old conflicts that have plagued human beings since the fourth chapter of the Great Story.

As I mull these things over, I realize that I experience greater peace today then at any other time of my life journey. This isn’t because my circumstances have changed but because I’ve changed. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I grow in relationship with Jesus, the more I’ve experienced the peace He references in today’s chapter. As I see the world growing more anxious and fearful, I’ve grown less so. I find it important that Jesus told me not to allow my heart to be troubled. I have a say in this. I have a choice. I can allow the fear and anxiety being stirred up and pedaled by the prince of this world to keep me tied up in knots today, or I can believe Jesus, trust His Word, and embrace how the Great Story ends with “all things working together for good for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The more a I truly and consciously choose the latter, the more I experience peace.

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

The Point

The Point (CaD Ecc 6) Wayfarer

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.
Ecclesiastes 6:3 (NIV)

As I have been contemplating the words Ecclesiastes’ Sage this past week, the character of Ebenezer Scrooge has repeatedly come to mind. It happened again in the quiet this morning as I read today’s chapter.

Scrooge is such an embodiment of the person that the Sage describes when he writes of one who has everything and doesn’t enjoy it as he lives life “squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, his body is a musty cellar.” (see Matthew 6:22-23 in The Message). When he describes a man with many children who nevertheless dies alone, unremembered, with no one to give a proper burial, I can’t help but envision Scrooge asking the ghost of Christmas future to show him a single person who felt something, anything at the news of his death. The ghost takes him to the home of a couple who were his tenants. The emotion they felt was one of elation that their merciless landlord was dead as they now had time to get their finances in order.

It’s easy to sound too Hallmark sappy when it comes to expressing the en-joy-ment of life. Yet I find the Sage contrasting those who live in joy and contentment with those who live in misery and discontent no matter their lot in life. I can’t help but hear the echoes of Paul’s words in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating not only Scrooge’s reputation, but also his transformation. Isn’t it ironic that when I hear the name “Ebenezer Scrooge” my first thought is about what he was, not what he became? I wonder how often I do that with people I’ve known along my life journey. But the transformation is the point of Dicken’s story. It’s the point of the Great Story:

“If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Old things pass away. New things come.”
2 Cor 5:17

And the one who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I’m making all thing new.”
Rev 21:5

Here I am at the beginning of a new day. Where will my heart and eyes lead me this day?

Misery and discontent?

Joy and contentment?

The further I’ve get in my spiritual journey with Christ the former becomes more-and-more of an impossibility, and the latter comes naturally with each breath.

The point of the journey is transformation.

Speaking of enjoying life. Wendy and I are off to enjoy the start of summer at the lake, and I am taking a break from the chapter-a-day journey. I plan to be back on the path June 7. If you need a fix, please visit the index or the ol’ archives. Thousands of chapter-a-day posts to choose from. Cheers!

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

Of Riches and Rubble

Of Riches and Rubble (CaD Mk 13) Wayfarer

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Mark 13:1-2 (NIV)

I still remember my first trip to Chicago. I had never been to a major city. My hometown of Des Moines was my only frame of reference, and even at a young age I knew Des Moines like the back of my hand. A person could get from one end of the Des Moines to the other in about 20 minutes. It just wasn’t that big. Chicago was a revelation. I and my friends went to the observation deck of the John Hancock building, and I stared out at city as far as my eye could see. It was impressive.

For Jesus’ followers, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and to the Temple, was a similar experience. As far as we know, the Twelve were from small rural villages in the Galilee, and the Temple complex in Jerusalem was the equivalent of the John Hancock building, the Sears Tower, or the Empire State Building.

Casual readers may not realize that the temple in Jesus’ day was not the same Temple that Solomon built. That temple was razed to the ground by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. A generation later, it was rebuilt by Hebrews who returned from exile. Then, Herod the Great came to power around 37 B.C.

Like many egomaniacal tyrants, Herod had an edifice complex. He wasn’t Jewish, but he understood that his constituency was, and the temple in Jerusalem was the center of that constituency’s worldly power. Herod was shrewd. He knew it was in his political best interest not only to keep peace with the power brokers of the Jewish community, but he knew it would be even better if this potential threat to his power felt indebted to him. So, Herod decided to invest his vast riches to fix-up the five-hundred year old Temple.

Of course, egomaniacal tyrants with edifice complexes aren’t just going to do a little sprucing up. They have to spend their vast riches to build something that will bear their name (whether officially or unofficially) so the size of the project must be in relative proportion to the size to their egos. The original size of the Temple was relatively small compared to the impressive temples built by the Greeks and Romans. Herod made sure to not just rebuild the Temple itself, but he built an entire Temple complex around it. Sure enough, it’s still known today as “Herod’s Temple.”

That’s why, in today’s chapter, Jesus’ disciples are still exclaiming what a magnificent complex it is even after they’ve spent two entire days listening to Jesus teach in the Temple courts. They can’t get over the sheer size and architectural beauty of it.

And then, Jesus ruins the moment: “It will all be rubble 40 years from now.”

And, it was. The political tension between the Jewish people and their Roman occupiers will continue to grow. There will be wars and rumors of war. It will eventually boil over. The Romans will raze Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple in the year 70 A.D.

Enjoy the view while you can.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think of the spiritual lesson in this brief exchange. The rest of today’s chapter is Jesus’ prophetic foreshadowing of where the Great Story is headed in the climactic final chapters. It’s not idyllic.

Wars
Earthquakes
Famine
Deception
Tyranny
Families divided
Betrayal
Hatred
Exile
Darkness

I’m reminded as I contemplate it that every good story ends up there. The death eaters descend on Hogwarts. Gandalf and Aragorn stand surrounded and outnumbered at the Black Gate of Mordor. Aslan is bound and lying on the White Witch’s stone table. Jesus lies dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.

There’s always darkness before the dawn.

Without catastrophe there’s no eucatastrophe.

“Be careful what your heart treasures,” Jesus said. “Cars rust and end up at the dump. Today’s fashions will end up at the thrift store where nobody wants them. That expensive gadget will be obsolete in a year. Herod’s Temple will be nothing but rubble in a generation.”

“Invest in the only things that remain,” Holy Spirit whispers to me in the quiet. “Faith, hope, and love.”

I’m off into another day reminded to enjoy the view while I can.

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