Tag Archives: Humility

The Underdog & the Unprepared

The Underdog & The Unprepared (CaD 1 Sam 22) Wayfarer

“Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family. Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”
1 Samuel 22:22-23 (NIV)

I’ve always cheered for the underdog. I’m sure that this is wrapped up in my temperament. Throughout my life’s journey, the teams I ended up adopting are teams that never (or rarely) win the big one, the perennial losers, and the “less than” team in big rivalries. Perhaps this penchant for the underdog is the reason that one of my favorite classic tales has always been Robin Hood. I love the lone upstart who cares for the common man and takes on the prejudicial system. There’s a hint of Christ-likeness in the character and the story.

This came to mind this morning as I pondered today’s chapter. The saga of King Saul and to-be King David is, throughout, a story of contrasts. King Saul is on the throne. He has all of the authority and power. He is, however, a horrible leader. Today’s chapter hints at the fact that King Saul has stuffed his administration with friends and cronies from his own tribe, the little tribe of Benjamin. This could not have played well with the other 11 tribes. Instead of being concerned with the welfare of the nation, Saul is slowly descending into a personal, mad obsession to kill young David, who is anointed by God to become his successor.

Saul is an object lesson in a trifecta of deadly sins: pride, envy, and wrath.

David, in contrast, has all the gifts of a strong leader in the making. His courage, humility, and military prowess have made him popular with the people. David, however, has no nobility, social standing, or systemic power. Rather, he’s got a price on his head. The king is myopically focused on killing him. He flees into the wilderness.

David is an object lesson in the forging of a great leader through injustice, suffering, and sore trials.

In the wilderness, hiding first in a cave and then in a forest, today’s chapter states, “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.”

A rag-tag bunch of mercenaries, misfits, and malcontents who have no social standing becomes David’s merry band of followers hiding in the forest. Sound like anyone?

Meanwhile, the mad-king has the high-priest who gave David consecrated bread in yesterday’s chapter killed along with his entire family and the entire population of the town where they resided. One son of the High Priest, Abiathar, escapes to David in the forest to tell David what has happened.

What does David do?

He takes personal responsibility for the slaughter: “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.”

He treats the young priest Abiathar with kindness, extends to him peace, and shows him loving hospitality: “Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”

Looks like Robin just got his Friar Tuck. 😉

Some people are thrust into leadership unprepared, like Saul. Without the requisite character qualities for learning quickly on the job, the position becomes a trap that brings out the worst in a person.

Some people become leaders through experience and trial, like David. All references to Robin and his merry band aside, David is not having fun. It is during this period of hiding that David wrote the lyrics to Psalm 142:

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

As I ponder these contrasting individuals, my underdog spirit whispers: “Forge me, Lord, into the person you want me to be. Amen.”

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

The “Uh-Oh” Moment

The "Uh-Oh" Moment (CaD 1 Sam 14) Wayfarer

Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country.”
1 Samuel 14:29a (NIV)

Have you ever been in a situation in which you suddenly realize that the person in charge has no business being the person in charge? I call it the “uh-oh” moment, as in “Uh-oh! If this is the person in charge, then all of us are in deep Shinola.”

There is an amazing scene in the mini-series Band of Brothers, based on the true story of a paratrooper company preparing for D-Day in World War II. Their company commander had turned them into one of the best units in the entire army, but he was a poor leader in the field. His men had their “Uh-Oh” moment as they contemplated jumping behind enemy lines with him in charge. They had no respect for him, and they knew that he would get them all killed. At the risk of being court-martialed and shot for committing treason, they wrote letters refusing to serve in combat under their commander. They were dressed down and punished, but the letters had their intended effect. The company commander was reassigned and a truly gifted leader rose up within the company to replace him.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel introduces two important themes in the story. First, we find that Saul’s son, Jonathan, is a courageous warrior, has qualities that his own father lacks, and the young man seems to have his act together. It is Jonathan who, by faith, acts on his own to attack the Philistines and unleash the panic that ultimately leads to Israel’s victory. This is contrasted with his father, Saul’s, own erratic and poor leadership. This is the other overarching theme of the chapter.

Saul starts to seek God’s guidance but then fears that waiting on a word from God could lose him the advantage so he acts on his own. Later, he follows through with seeking God’s guidance but then gets angry and impatient when God doesn’t answer. Saul foolishly makes his men swear an oath not to eat until the end of the fighting with the Philistines. As the battle does on all day, his men become famished and weary. Jonathan, who wasn’t even present when the men swore the oath, eats some fresh honey he finds in the field. When his fellow soldiers tell him about the oath his father made everyone swear, even Jonathan has an “Uh-Oh” moment as he realizes that his father’s leadership has only served to hurt their cause. When it becomes clear that Jonathan ate the honey, Saul acts to have his own son killed for insubordination. Jonathan’s fellow soldiers rise up against this injustice and demand that Saul refrain from carrying out the sentence. They recognize that it was Jonathan, not Saul, to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for the victory that day.

These early episodes in Saul’s career as Israel’s first king only foreshadow what is to come. Along my life journey, I’ve learned that leadership at all levels requires a certain tension between confidence and humility, between decisiveness and wisdom. Every leader makes mistakes, but I have observed a big difference between those who learn from their mistakes and those who are incapable or unwilling to do so. I read one commentator this morning who described Saul as an ego-centric leader. I thought that hit the nail on the head.

As I wrap up another work week this morning, I can’t help but once again think about my own leadership. I have been honored to hold many positions of leadership along life’s road. Here in the quiet, I can quickly think of times that others may have had “Uh-Oh” moments as I failed and made some serious mistakes. However, I’ve done my best to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. Failure is a powerful teacher if one has the wisdom to be taught.

I’m afraid we’re going to find out that Saul was a poor student.

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

Faith Over Fear

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

1 Samuel 13:7b-11 (NIV)

Early in my career, our company’s founder and CEO was accompanying me on a business trip. For a week I was presenting a very long and intense multi-media training event for all the Customer Service agents in our client’s contact center. Because there were hundreds of agents and they could only take them off the floor a handful at a time, I was doing multiple sessions each day from early morning until late night to make sure we even got all the third-shift reps trained. It was grueling, which is why my boss had come along to encourage and assist.

Towards the middle of the week, the head of our client’s contact center informed us that the conference room we were using was needed by their executive team. We would have to move all of our equipment to the only other room they could find for us. It was not ideal. The room they were sending us to was not a great space for what we were doing. And, we were already weary from the grinding schedule. It would take us a couple of hours to move rooms and set up for the next morning when we really needed to get some sleep.

I was surprised to watch my boss dig in his heels. I was young and relatively inexperienced in these types of situations, but it seemed clear to me that my boss seemed to think this was some kind of power play on the part of the Contact Center manager. He refused. A heated argument followed, which was followed by angry phone calls. The entire thing threatened to destroy a very good and profitable relationship we’d built with a large national corporation. I was watching a heady cocktail of pride, anger, and stubbornness drive my boss to dangerous and irrational behavior.

Tense situations in times of weakness or weariness often reveal a leader’s true mettle.

In yesterday’s chapter, God through Samuel established a new org chart for the monarchy. The King would handle political and military affairs while God’s prophet would handle spiritual matters and communicate with God who was still above the King on the org chart.

In today’s chapter, the first thing Saul does is cross the boundaries of the org chart. Fearful of the Philistines, anxious that Samuel has not arrived on time, and nervous about the fact that his troopers were rapidly going AWOL, Saul takes it upon himself to do Samuel’s job for him. It was presumptuous on Saul’s part to think he had the authority to do his prophet’s job, and it was directly disobedient to the system God had put in place. Perhaps, most importantly, Saul’s actions were motivated by fear, not faith.

I couldn’t help but think of a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V in which a tired, sick, and rain-drenched English army is on the march. The French Herald arrives to announce that a freshly assembled French army is ready to confront the weary English soldiers. The Herald then offers Harry “ransom.” In other words, “You surrender and become our prisoner, and you won’t be hurt in battle. We’ll charge England ransom for your return while we destroy your army on the field.”

Harry refuses the offer to the encouragement of his men, but he and all his men know that to face the French in their present state would be disastrous. One of the King’s nobles confesses to Henry what everyone in the English army is thinking: “I hope they don’t attack us right now.”

King Henry replies, “We are in God’s hands, brother. Not in theirs.”

That’s faith and courage to press on despite fear. By contrast, Saul’s actions reveal a lack of faith and a penchant for acting rashly out of fear.

This brings me back to that tense stand-off in our client’s contact center. I got frantic phone calls from a colleague asking what was going on because they’d gotten frantic calls from our client asking them to do something about our boss. I had quietly watched this intense escalation, trying to respect the boundaries between myself and my boss. He had basically ignored me through the entire battle of egos in which he’d been intensely engaged. Finally, he turned to me and asked me what we should do.

I reminded him that our company’s mission statement (the one he wrote) said that we strive to be examples of “servant-leadership.” I quietly suggested that to serve our client well, we should bite the bullet and humbly move as requested. Thankfully, he agreed. A crisis was averted, though I’m not sure our company’s reputation remained unscathed. It became a good lesson for me.

In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind ponder my own positions of leadership in family, community, and business. I have my own natural human responses in times of fear and anxiety, and I confess that not all of them are positive. I have a natural bent toward pessimism that tends to choke my faith like the seed that fell among the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the Sower. And yet, I have yet to give up in uncertain times and circumstances. When they come along, I try to remind myself of two passages I have memorized (over and over and over and over):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

[Those who fear the LORD] will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112:7-8 (NIV)

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

Crowns and Surrender

Crowns and Surrender (CaD Rev 4) Wayfarer

They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”

Revelation 4:10-11 (NIV)

I was speaking at a business conference and struck up a conversation with a gentleman from a company for whom we’d written a proposal a year or two prior. In charge of that company’s Customer Experience operations, he told me how much he loved our proposal and how convinced he was that we could actually help them move the needle in “improving their serve.” When I asked why we lost out on the opportunity, his answer was telling: “My boss wasn’t really interested in actually improving anything. He just wanted a program that would make it look like he had accomplished something and that would provide plaques to hang on his office wall saying how good we were.”

There’s something innately human about wanting to win awards. Children participate in programs, like scouting, in which they earn merit badges and are recognized for their efforts. Children’s sports programs dole out trophies, ribbons, medals, and even championship rings. In adulthood, we often continue to chase some kind of tangible proof of our achievements by way of titles and awards. As children, we like to wear crowns and tiaras and pretend we’re kings and queens. As adults, we do the same thing it’s just that it’s usually less visible and obvious.

This human penchant came to mind as I read today’s chapter. Having completed dictating letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor, Jesus calls John “up” to the throne room of heaven in today’s chapter. It is from here that John will be given the visions of what is to come.

This “throne room” vision is not without precedent. Both the prophets Isaiah (Is 6) and Ezekiel (Ez 1) had similar visions of heaven’s throne complete with strangely described angels (also known as “cherubim” and “seraphim”) surrounding the throne with endless praise.

The praise in today’s chapter is motivated by God’s eternal nature (“was, and is, and is to come”) and in God being the “alpha point” of creation, from whom all things flow and have life and being. The visions provided in the rest of the book describe the “omega point” to which all things flow to the end (before a new beginning).

In this throne room, John describes 24 “elders.” There are numerous interpretations of who they are or represent. Jesus told his disciples at their last supper that they would “sit on thrones and judge the tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:30) so many believe the 24 thrones to represent the 12 tribal patriarchs and the 12 disciples. The bottom line is that John doesn’t identify them.

As I pondered this, I realized that the important thing is not who they are, but whose they are and what they do. They lay their crowns before the throne and offer praise to the One who sits on the throne.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about my own ego and penchant for awards and achievements because I have it too. I want to look good. I want to be a success. I want to be recognized for my hard work and accomplishments. And yet, one of the most simple and profound things about being a follower of Jesus is the fact that He calls me to consciously choose against my ego-centered human nature.

To carry out my faith quietly and personally – not for show.
To worry more about treasure in heaven than awards on earth.
To serve others more than I serve myself.
To humble myself before God and others rather than play endless psychological and spiritual versions of “King of the Mountain.”

In other words: To surrender my crown and lay it before the only One worthy.

And so, I enter another work week this morning. I don’t know who the 24 elders are whom John saw in heaven’s throne room, but I know whose they are, and I know what they did. My goal this week is to do the same.

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

Two Paths

Two Paths (CaD Jud 9) Wayfarer

Abimelek son of [Gideon] went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
Judges 9:1-2 (NIV)

I still have vivid memories of the bully. I remember his name. I can see his face in my memory along with the bathroom at Woodlawn Elementary school where it happened. I was in second grade and he was a year older than me. He was bigger than me. He was mean and intimidating. He demanded that I give him my lunch money, but I didn’t have any. I brought my lunch to school. This made him mad and he feigned that he was going to hit me. He then told me that after school he would find me and was going to beat me up. The two-and-a-half block walk home was sheer terror, but I managed to walk with my neighbor who was two years older and that gave me some comfort.

That was my first experience with a bully, and it obviously left a strong impression on me. History is filled with those who use threats, violence, and intimidation for personal gain. What begins as bullying on the school playground can easily become a way of life that in adulthood turns into gangs, organized crime, and rackets. The same tactics of power and intimidation get “cleaned up” but still fuel political parties, corporate boardrooms, and union organizations. I’ve also experienced the same basic bully tactics from powerful individuals in churches.

The stories of Gideon and his son Abimelek form the center of the book of Judges. Ancient Hebrew writers, poets, and lyricists commonly used a literary device and placed the central theme of their work smack-dab in the middle. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one of the central themes of the book of Judges is the tension the Hebrew tribes were experiencing as they tried to be a theocracy and follow God as their ultimate King and the reality they were experiencing with their enemies of what a powerful leader/king could do for a city or region. At the center of the book are two contrasting examples of this very tension. Gideon and his son take two very different paths to power and end up in very different places.

The story of Gideon provides the example of a powerful leader who humbly refuses to be made king, and he calls on his fellow Hebrews to recognize God as their only true leader. In today’s chapter, Abimelek provides a contrasting example. He takes the path of the power-hungry individual who will stop at nothing to seize and maintain his power.

Beneath the story of Abimelek are other subtle themes that were crucial in their time, and they still resonate today. Abimelek was one of some seventy sons of Gideon, the offspring of Gideon and a Canaanite slave. It’s likely that the biracial son of a slave was treated as less-than by his pure Hebrew half-brothers, the sons of Gideon’s legitimate wives. Abimelek uses his Canaanite blood, and his position of relative power as Gideon’s son, to convince the Canaanite people of the city of Shechem to appoint him their king. He then goes all Michael Corleone and “settles accounts” with all the potential threats to his power, his brothers, by killing them all (with the exception of the youngest brother, who escapes).

Chaos, political intrigue, violence, vengeance, and the continuous struggle for power follow Abimelek through the entire chapter. The Godfather epic is an apt parallel. Once he stepped down the path of power by violence and vengeance, Michael Corleone could tragically never escape the consequences of where it led. Abimelek found himself on the same tragic path.

In the quiet this morning, I said a prayer for my elementary school bully. I hope God led him to find a better path in life. He taught me a lesson that day. He provided me an example of the person I never wanted to become. I’m grateful for that.

I also find myself pondering the simple contrast between Gideon and his son, Abimelek. Gideon wasn’t perfect, but his deference to God’s power and authority kept him from the tragic ends experienced by his son.

I’ve learned along my life journey that whatever positions of earthly power and/or leadership I might find myself should come because I am led to them, not because I seized them for myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to the path of humility and service to others. Looking back from my current waypoint on Life’s road, I can tell you that it is a path that has always led, not always to easy places, but ultimately to good places.

I think I’ll stick to this path.

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

Awareness and Ego

Awareness and Ego (CaD Jos 8) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Hobby Kind of Thing

A Hobby Kind of Thing (CaD Matt 10) Wayfarer

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

I was in the local pub last week. I had to wait on some paperwork and figured I’d whet my whistle and work on responding to some emails while I waited. The pub tender told me that he’d been told I was a blogger. I explained that I’d been blogging for many years and had started podcasting in the past two years. I then got to explain my chapter-a-day model. I wasn’t sure, but I sensed that he might have had the impression that it has something to do with my career. I explained that it wasn’t a commercial thing and that I didn’t make money doing it.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Another patron required the pub tender’s attention, and he slipped away. The question, however, continued to resonate within me. As with so many things of the Spirit, the pub tender’s question was loaded. The answer is layered. It is at once simple and mysteriously complex.

“Why do you do it?”

Matthew structured his biography of Jesus around five major discourses, or teachings, of Jesus. The first was the message on the hill in chapters 5-7. Today’s chapter is the second major discourse, in which Jesus’ calling of His twelve disciples and His instructions to them as He send them out to proclaim Jesus’ message.

As I read through the instructions, I was struck, once again, by the humility and austerity that He expected of them…

He told them not to pack any extras. Just the clothes on their back.
He told them not to take any money, but to trust God’s provision and the generosity of others.
He told them to give away Jesus’ teaching since it had been freely given to them.

Jesus then goes on to prophetically tell The Twelve not to expect the job to be easy.

They’ll be rejected and unwelcomed.
They’ll be arrested and taken into custody.
They’ll be flogged by God’s own people.
They’ll be put on trial by civic authorities.
They’ll be betrayed, perhaps by their own family members.
Their lives will be threatened.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but contrast this with all the televangelists and their personal kingdoms I’ve observed along my life journey. I contrasted it with all of the pastors, authors, teachers, and speakers I know and have met who make a living doing Jesus’ continued work on this earth. I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect that Jesus’ literal and specific instructions to The Twelve should be projected onto every single follower that came after. At the same time, there’s an underlying attitude that I think is always applicable. Things of the Spirit are layered with meaning.

I’m not responsible for others. I am responsible for myself. So, I find myself questioning my own attitude and motivations as the pub tender’s casual question continues to resonate in my soul.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Yes, and…there’s so much more to it than that. As Jesus instructed The Twelve in today’s chapter: “You received the Message for free. Give it away for free.”

And so, one weekday and one chapter at a time, I freely scatter seeds of thought and Spirit to the four winds of the worldwide interweb. Perhaps, someday, I’ll find out how some of those seeds germinated, took root, flowered, and bore fruit. In the meantime, I keep doing what I’ve been called and compelled to do.

Here you go, wind…

[cue: clicks “Publish” button]

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

A “New” Command

A "New" Command (CaD John 13) Wayfarer

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)

The other day I was in a video conference with my business colleagues. We were meeting a new vendor for the first time. At the end of the meeting our vendor made a statement that struck me.

“It’s obvious you guys have a really good synergy.” he said. “I do a lot of these meetings and it’s amazing how often people don’t talk to one another or don’t seem to like each other. You clearly have a good thing going. I like it.”

It made my day.

Todays chapter marks a way-point. We are two-thirds of the way through John’s biography of Jesus, which means that over one-third of his biography focus on roughly 43 days of Jesus earthly journey. The night before His crucifixion. The day of His crucifixion. His resurrection, and His appearances over 40 days.

As today’s chapter begins, it is Thursday night. Jesus and The Twelve have a private Passover meal. Even in the telling, John carefully chooses the elements of the events that he wants to share. As I’ve noticed throughout the book thus far, the elements John chooses are connected. The thread that connects them is Jesus’ foreknowledge of what will happen, and His driving of the events. He is not a helpless victim of circumstance. Jesus is a man on a mission.

The first event described is that of Jesus washing the feet of The Twelve. In dusty, hot Judea at a time when everyone wore sandals or went barefoot, one was bound to have dirty feet. Washing the feet was an act of hospitality and it was performed by lowly servants, which is why Peter balked at having the “Master” washing their feet. Jesus then tells the boys that He had done this as an example of what He expected them to do for each other.

Jesus knows He’s leaving them. He also knows that even that week they were having incessant arguments about which of them is the greatest and who was top dog in the pecking order. He provides them a word picture to remember: “If you want to lead, you have to serve those you’re leading.”

At the end of the chapter, after Judas’ departure, Jesus tells The Twelve Eleven, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What’s “new” about it?” Jesus has been talking about love His entire ministry. He’s talked about loving others, loving your enemies, blessing those who persecute you, loving outcasts, loving the sick and poor…love has been central to all of Jesus’ teaching. So what’s “new” about this command?

He’s talking about them directly. Peter the brash one. James and John the angry “Sons of Thunder” whose mother tried to arrange places of honor in Jesus’ administration. Simon the right-wing, militia member. Matthew, the left-wing Roman collaborator. Thomas the cynic. This rag-tag team of largely uneducated men, who have always been more-or-less at one another’s throats, who have constantly been playing “king of the mountain” with their egos, are going to be left to carry out Jesus’ mission. If it’s going to work, they must love one another and serve one another.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that there is a spiritual contrast between good and evil. Good is willing to humbly sacrifice self for others and the good of the whole. Evil demands its way until it eats its own.

I’m reminded of a client who became a follower of Jesus during the stretch of life’s journey when our company worked for his. He later told my colleague that it was the way our team members treated each other that led him to seek out what motivated us to treat one another with such love, respect, and service towards each other. “It was obvious to everyone,” he said. “People at work would talk about it.”

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at with the “new” command He gave The Twelve Eleven. If they were to succeed at their mission, they had to stop devouring one another, and start serving one another with humility.

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

Give and Live

Give and Live (CaD James 5) Wayfarer

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
James 5:1 (NIV)

The times in which James wrote his letter to scattered believers was tumultuous. Jesus railed against the aristocrat Pharisees and religious leaders who lived in luxury while they exploited the poor. He cleared out the temple moneychangers who were getting themselves and the priests rich by charging poor pilgrims exorbitant exchange rates. Jesus’ criticism and the favor it gained him among the poor and marginalized was what got him crucified. Jesus wasn’t crucified for religious reasons. He was crucified because He threatened the religious racket’s cash cow, and stirred up resentment that already ran deep.

Thirty years later, the situation has not changed. It’s only gotten worse. James was the leader of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. He was well respected as he tried to manage the political powder keg between the Jewish religious leaders, local ruler Herod Agrippa II, and Rome. The gap between rich and poor continued to grow further and further apart. The aristocratic priests lived in spacious homes in the city’s upper city while the poor lived downwind of the local sewers. Exorbitant taxes pushed poor farmers out of business and wealthy landowners took over everything. The rich sided with the Romans in an effort to keep stability. This gave the poor more reason to hate them. Tensions were high, and about to spill over.

Reading today’s chapter with this context, it’s easy for me to feel James’ situation. The Jesus Movement exploded in part because it addressed the disparity of members. The wealthy generously gave. The poor and marginalized were welcome at the table with the rich and noble. James calls out the wealthy who are exploiting the poor. He calls on poor believers to persevere in chaotic, desperate circumstances. His instructions are about maintaining simple, daily ritual: Keep praying, keep praising, keep healthy, and stay in community with other believers. Pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the current chaotic times are a cakewalk compared to what it would have been like to be a poor day laborer in Jerusalem back in James’ day. History is always good for providing me with much needed context. At the same time, the same general principles and forces are at work today as they were then. Generosity, equality, deference and humility are still the tangible ways that the love of Christ is to flow through me to others. As a follower of Jesus, I’m to live out my faith daily in simple rituals that channel those same values. I’m called to view my current earthly circumstances in the eternal perspective of the Great Story.

James’ warnings in today’s chapter were incredibly prescient. The rich in Jerusalem continued to hoard more and more wealth. The rich priests withheld tithes from poor priests, forcing them into day labor. There were 18,000 day laborers who worked to finish construction work on the temple who didn’t get paid. James was condemned by the religious leaders and stoned to death. In 66 AD a revolt broke out. Priests and the Roman Garrison on the Temple mount were massacred. The four-year revolt against Rome would end in 70 AD when the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed it along with the temple.

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)

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

Humility and Uncertainty

…then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.
Ecclesiastes 8:17 (NIV)

This past weekend, we watched a stand-up comic waxing humorous on this past year of pandemic. He joked that 2020 is the only year in which the U.S. government could admit that there are UFOs and nobody cares. It’s funny, and it’s true.

In case you missed it, the Pentagon is going to release a report this month in which it details findings on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP). I’m sure it will create quite a stir. I’m personally prepared for the dramatic conclusion of the report: “We just don’t know.”

We live in a complex universe in which there is a lot that we simply don’t know, and can’t comprehend. Wendy and I just introduced a young friend to the famous double slit experiment in physics this past weekend, as well. It’s really fascinating. Basically, it seems that atoms behave differently when they are not being observed. Really. In one of the videos I watched on the subject, Jim Al-khalili of the Royal Institution humorously explains the experiment then ends with, “If you can explain this using common sense and logic, do let me know, because there’s a Nobel Prize for you.”

In today’s chapter, the ancient Hebrew Sage of Ecclesiastes wraps up a list of life’s conundrums by coming to the conclusion that there are certain things that are beyond comprehension. Even if someone claims to know, he states, they really don’t.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that creation, life, and relationships are complex things. There are simple truths, but there are few simple answers. Nevertheless, I observe that we as human beings like to try and force issues into simple binary boxes. We do this with all sorts of issues in faith, science, politics, and society. I’m either “this” or “that.” If I’m not “that” then I’m certainly “this.” The further I progress in this journey, the more I’ve found that there’s a humility required of me in this life to admit that I don’t really know everything, while continuing to engage in asking good questions, seeking to know and be known, and knocking on the door of opportunity to grow in love and understanding.

I’ve also come to a place in which I’m always cautious whenever I find myself confronted with the proud, loud certainties of others, no matter the source or subject. Jesus said that all those who exalt themselves will be humbled. His example was that of being “humble, and gentle-hearted.”

I’m quite certain that this world could use more of that. As a disciple of Jesus, I’m also quite certain that Jesus wants me to follow that example.

UFO’s and why atoms behave differently when they’re being watched. I’m not certain.

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