Tag Archives: Jesus

Finding Forrest

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Matthew 13:34 (NIV)

I have a confession to make. The first time that I saw the movie Forrest Gump I balled like a baby on the way home. I remember being absolutely perplexed as I drove the tears pouring down my cheeks. I didn’t know why I was crying. I had no clue what it was about the movie that so obviously touched something so deep inside my soul.

Forrest Gump was released in 1994. That particular waypoint of my Life journey was an important one. I was 28 years old with two wee girls at home and a struggling marriage. My life was not turning out to be anything I expected it to be. I couldn’t see it at the time, but I was about to embark on the most important stretch of self-discovery of my life. It was a difficult stretch that would lead to some deep, dark valleys before I would find my way back to high places.

It would be twenty years or so before I would add a layer of self-understanding in learning about being an Enneagram Type Four. Equipped with that lens, my emotional reaction to Forrest Gump finally becomes clearer. An Enneagram Four’s core fear is that there is something hopelessly flawed in me, like Forrest’s diminished mental capacity which he can do nothing about. A Four’s core desire is to be special. The entire story of Forrest Gump is that of him being uniquely special, intersecting with the most famous people and moments of history, and most importantly having a life-changing impact on loved ones like Jenny and Lieutenant Dan. Forrest Gump tapped into core fears and desires I didn’t see at the moment. It resonated so powerfully and deeply within my being that I wept uncontrollably while having zero understanding why. I found a piece myself in the story of Forrest Gump. Such is the power of story.

In today’s chapter, Jesus speaks to the crowds following Him in a series of parables. They’re simple metaphorical stories and Matthew says that during this stretch of Jesus’ ministry He exclusively used them in teaching the crowds. Gone is the direct, plain language of the message on the hill. Jesus tells little stories about sowers, seeds, farmers, wheat, pearls, treasure, and weeds. Jesus tells His disciples that the purpose of the parables is to both reveal and conceal for spiritual purposes.

Jesus paints a simple story that draws listeners in. Once I am in, one of three things happens. First, I might not see, hear, or understand what Jesus is saying in the story. Whatever Jesus is talking about is concealed to me at this time. Second, I might find myself in the story. I am the seed that fell on the soil. I am the weeds springing up among the wheat. I am the woman who would sell everything she had in order to have the treasure Jesus is offering, and this understanding propels me forward in my spiritual journey. Third, I might find myself in the story and utterly reject what has been revealed.

In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic as I remember back to 1994. I thought that I knew so much about myself. I thought I knew so much about Jesus. Driving home from Forrest Gump weeping for unknown reasons was spiritual significant in ways I couldn’t see or understand. I found myself in the story, and it propelled my spirit forward on the journey to discover more.

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

Two Guys Alone in a Mall

Two Guys Alone in a Mall (CaD Matt 11) Wayfarer

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Matthew 11:2-3 (NIV)

When I was in high school, there was a recording artist named Steve Taylor who I avidly listened to along with almost all of my friends. He wasn’t an A-list celebrity. He was more of a niche artist. Some might even say that he was an acquired taste. Nevertheless, he was a “famous” recording artist and we devoured every song on every album. His stuff was edgy, counter-cultural, and he pushed at a lot of issues and causes in his lyrics that resonated with me and my peer group.

In college, I worked evenings and weekends at a bookstore in the local mall. Despite the category of “book store,” the store sold a lot of music and gifts.

One Saturday in January, the mall was completely dead as is normal for shopping malls in the frigid midwest after the holidays. On this particular Saturday, Steve Taylor was scheduled to spend the afternoon signing albums for fans in my bookstore. I was the only person on duty in the store that day. I seem to remember that only one or two customers came into the store that afternoon. It was just me and Steve Taylor standing around and hanging out for an entire afternoon.

Steve Taylor wasn’t what I expected. He wasn’t as good-looking as the album covers made him out to be. He was witty and right-brained, but he didn’t have the cynical, even caustic spirit I expected him to have based on his lyrics and music. He had less ego than I expected for someone who, in my estimation, was a famous artist. I expected him to be annoyed that no fans showed up wanting to see him and have him sign their albums. He seemed not to care at all. He just hung out with me. We talked, we laughed, and we got to know each other a little bit. It was two guys spending an enjoyable winter afternoon in the quiet bookstore of an abandoned shopping mall.

Like many children of my generation, I grew up going to Sunday School every Sunday and going to Vacation Bible School every summer. All of those experiences taught me about Jesus from the perspective of the United Methodist Church’s institutional education system. I learned a lot of the stories that I continue to read in my chapter-a-day journey. A lot of what I learned was helpful and instructive.

I was 14 when I asked Jesus to come into my heart and life. In a simple, fumbling prayer I personally surrendered my life and asked Him to be Lord of it. At that moment, I had a divine experience. In a way, it was the first time I personally met the Jesus I’d heard so much about. Like any relationship, it has been a process of learning, knowing, and being known. There were even some things I had to unlearn. There were things that were taught me by the institutional education system, all with the best of intentions, that gave me false perceptions of who I’ve found Jesus to be in my relationship with Him.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that even John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus certainly wasn’t immediately ushering in the Judgement Day that John had prophesied to the crowds. It was clear that Jesus’ teaching and ministry had not met John’s expectations or preconceived notions. John had to send his disciples to ask, “Did I get this all wrong?”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back on a 40-year relationship with Jesus. The Jesus I’ve come to know as I’ve spent nearly 15,000 days asking, seeking, praying, searching, listening, obeying, and following is so much more than the two-dimensional character on my Sunday School handout. Like any relationship, I continue to peel back layers of knowing and being known. There have been moments when I foolishly and proudly thought I fully knew Jesus; There were moments that I thought I had Him “nailed down” (pun intended). If even John the Baptist had moments of needing a realignment of knowing, why wouldn’t I?

From my current waypoint on the journey, I’m quite convinced that I haven’t even scratched the surface. The more I jettison preconceived notions and approach the chapter each morning with an open heart and mind, the more I receive, the more I find, and the more I experience the door opening to new discoveries.

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

For or Against

For or Against? (CaD Matt 9) Wayfarer

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

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

Matthew 9:33-34 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the quiet this morning, I recalled this episode:

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

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

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

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

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

“Ins” and “Outs”

"Ins" and "Outs" (CaD Matt 8) Wayfarer

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Matthew 8:5-7 (NIV)

I’ve been preparing a message I’m going to be giving among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers this Sunday. A year or two ago I happened to do a little personal study on the subject of fundamentalism. I was prompted to do some research because I noticed certain parallels of thought and behavior among a particular civic group that reminded me of things I saw in some of the Christian fundamentalist groups I experienced earlier in my spiritual journey.

My research came up with six elements that mark fundamentalist groups, elements that I would argue create a toxic cocktail no matter where they are found. All major religions have fundamentalist sects that bear these elements. As I studied and meditated on them, I came to realize that the elements of toxic fundamentalism can really be found in almost any human system including political, institutional, corporate, or even in families. As I was studying the assigned text for this Sunday’s message, I realized that Jesus’ religious critics displayed all six elements within the stories.

One of the elements of fundamentalist systems is that they maintain strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. You must toe the line in thought, words, and behavior to be considered “in” with us, but the slightest misstep or evidence that you’ve run afoul of the rules or belief system and you are “out.”

The Hebrew religious system from which Jesus came was a fundamentalist form of Judaism. They had strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. The religious power brokers wouldn’t associate with fellow Hebrews who were on the “outs” because they didn’t toe the line. And the Roman occupying force in Judea was really on the outs with the good religious authorities as well as almost all Hebrews who considered them the enemy.

In today’s chapter, Jesus has just finished his message on the hill, in which He told His listeners to love the enemy. He returns toward their base of operation and he is met by a Roman Centurion (enemy, occupier, a persecutor of His people, religiously dirty “gentile,” and pagan!). The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus immediately asks if He should come to the Centurion’s house.

Entering the house of a Roman was strictly against fundamentalist rules. The Romans were the “outs” of all “outs.” Years later, in Acts 10, Peter will face the same fundamentalist religious dilemma of being invited to a Centurion’s home. Jesus doesn’t even hesitate: “Would you like me to come with you?”

In the quiet this morning, I was struck by Jesus’ words to His followers after healing the servant remotely and sending the Centurion on his way:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus points out that people will be surprised who they see at heaven’s feast. Some of those who were on the “outs” on earth will be present while some of the “ins” on earth will not.

So who do I consider on the “outs” with me and my belief system? Who would I refrain from accepting an invitation to their home? Who is so worthless in my eyes and I don’t even want to be near them? I think the roots of fundamentalisms are found in my own sinful nature. Jesus not only came to forgive me of my sin but also to call me to live contrary to it. Which means tearing down my own personal “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions.

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

Two Retirement Funds

Two Retirement Funds (CaD Matt 6) Wayfarer

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Last autumn, I spent a lot of time meditating on the ancient sage wisdom of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher spent a lot of time expounding on the grim reality that one spends a lifetime saving, acquiring, and hoarding wealth and possessions only to die and have it all passed on to someone else. In fact, it goes to others who didn’t do the working, saving, and acquiring. The Teacher called this hevel in Hebrew. It’s futile, empty, and meaningless. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

I’m getting to the stage in life when retirement starts to become an increasingly important topic of discussion. It’s always been out there in the distant future, but now I can see it there on the horizon. I have friends who have already retired. I have friends and colleagues who are almost there. The eyes start looking more seriously at what all the working, planning and saving have accumulated.

The lessons of the Teacher echoed in my spirit as I read today’s chapter. We’re still in Jesus’ famous message on the hill. Jesus spends most of the chapter addressing common religious practices: giving, praying, and fasting. He tells His followers to carry out the disciplines of faith quietly and privately as though only God need witness it.

Jesus then seems to address the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, the building up of earthly treasure is hevel, Jesus agrees. It rusts, rots, and is given away when you die. So, don’t do it. Instead, Jesus recommends investing in heavenly treasure that has eternal value.

The further I get in my spiritual journey, and especially in the past two years of Covid, I’ve observed how myopically focused one can be on this earthly life. If this earthly life is all there is and my years here are some cosmic coincidence which comes to an abrupt and final end when I die, then I might as well moan and wail along with the Teacher and the bitter pill of life’s meaninglessness. If, however, Jesus is who He said He was and there is an eternity of life waiting on the other side of the grave as He said there is, then His investment advice is profound.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering those I know in my circle of influence who appear focused on earthly treasure is if it is the most important thing in life. I’m ponder yet others who appear to live as if death is an utterly final, bad thing to be feared, avoided, and delayed at all costs for as long as possible. Fear is rampant everywhere I look, which makes perfect sense to me if I’m living in the hevel of a hopeless, meaningless, material world.

I contrast this, of course, with being a follower of Jesus. Death, Jesus taught, is the prerequisite for Life. Death was the mission to make resurrection possible. Death is not a bitter and final end but rather the gateway to a resurrected Life more real than the one on this earth. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then it changes how I view this life, what I consider of real value, how I invest my personal resources, and how I approach my impending death.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m mindful of the fact that I have two retirement funds. One is for this life, and whatever is left will end up with our children and grandchildren. The other is for the next life, where it can be enjoyed for eternity. If I’m wise, Jesus taught in the message on the hill, I will invest in both accordingly.

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

Alignment of Being

Alignment of Being (CaD Matt 5) Wayfarer

“Blessed are….”
Matthew 5:3a (NIV)

Wendy and I were on a cruise last week with our friends, Chad and Shay. Cruising has become Wendy’s and my favorite form of vacation, though perhaps not for the same reason that many enjoy it. Being on the water has always held a spiritual connection for me. To be honest, Wendy and I spent much of our time last week together inside our cabin or on our small verandah staring out over the vast ocean. It was heavenly.

I read a couple of books as we sailed along. One of them was called The Ninefold Path of Jesus by Mark Scandrette. It practically, simply, and deeply explores a familiar passage in the Great Story found in today’s chapter, traditionally known as “the beatitudes.” The beatitudes are the opening of the most thorough record we have of Jesus’ teaching, a message Jesus gave His followers on a hill by the Sea of Galilee.

Each of the nine beatitudes describes those whom Jesus says are “blessed.” What immediately stands out is the contrast to those whom we often think of as “blessed” in this world: the rich, famous, popular, powerful, influential, famous, privileged, talented, and elite. Jesus makes it clear that those who are blessed in the Kingdom of God look very different. In fact, they are much the opposite of what subjects of the Kingdom of this world typically consider blessed. In God’s Kingdom, Jesus states, those who are blessed are:

poor in spirit (trusting God for their provision)
mourning (lamenting their brokenness, and what is broken in this world)
meek (holding any personal power in check)
hungry/thirsty for righteousness (seeking justice in life and relationship)
merciful (having compassion, even for my enemies)
pure in heart (acting, speaking, and relating with right motives)
peacemakers (finding and choosing ways to deescalate conflict)
persecuted for doing the right thing (radically loving others)

Perhaps my choice to begin reading Matthew’s biography of Jesus on the chapter-a-day journey this week was subconsciously influenced by my meditation and contemplation of the beatitudes last week. As I read them anew this morning, my head and heart were still full of all that I pondered as I watched the ocean waves roll by this past week.

As I continued on into the rest of the chapter, and the continuation of Jesus’ message, I realized for the first time that Jesus subsequent teaching about murder, curses, adultery, lust, divorce, making oaths, revenge, and love for one’s enemy all connect back to the be-attitudes of trust, lament, meekness, mercy, motive, peacemaking, and radical love. In essence, the beatitudes are the table of contents for everything Jesus is going to say after. I realize that if I don’t have my “being” and “attitude” right, I’ll never act, speak, and relate as Jesus goes on to describe.

Wendy and I have been repeatedly asked this week how our cruise went. We’ve enjoyed sharing our experiences, though I sometimes wonder if people are surprised by our description. We spent a lot of time in our cabin. We slept a lot. We read books. We talked about life on our verandah. We stared at the ocean. We watched a dolphin jumping in the water. We saw the distant, misty eruption of a whale’s exhale. As I continue to look back on it, Wendy and I spent the week trying to get our “being” centered and aligned so that the onslaught of “doing” that faced us upon our return might look more like “the nine-fold path of Jesus” and less like the vain pursuit for what the kingdoms of this world describe as the “good life.”

Note: If you’re normally one who reads my blog post or listens to my podcast, but you don’t actually read the corresponding chapter, let me encourage you to take a couple of minutes today and the next couple of days to actually read Jesus’ message on the hill in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. I think it’s worth it.

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

God of the Foreign

God of the Foreign (CaD Matt 2) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wise still seek Him.

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

“Yet This I Call to Mind”

"Yet This I Call to Mind" (CaD Lam 3) Wayfarer

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24 (NIV)

Jeremiah shows all the signs of being an Enneagram Type Four. The constant brooding. The wallowing in melancholy. The ability to wax eloquent and hyperbolic on his suffering and affliction. Of course, Jeremiah has far more reason than I to brood. When, in today’s poetic chapter, he states “I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit” it wasn’t just hyperbole. In Jeremiah 38, his enemies literally threw the prophet into an empty well and left him to die in the muddy slime at the bottom.

And I think I’ve seen some bad days.

One of the things lost on most readers of Lamentations is the intricate way in which it is written. Each chapter is its own separate Hebrew poem. Each poem (chapter) is a Hebrew acrostic, meaning that every verse begins with a different letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Today’s chapter is the middle poem, and those who joined me for last year’s journey through the book of Psalms might remember that in Hebrew poetry, the very middle verse or stanza or poem tends to contain the central theme. The way that Jeremiah structured this cycle of poems, the first verse of today’s chapter is the central verse of the book:

I am the man who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.

[cue: I Am a Man of Constant Sorrows by the Soggy Bottom Boys]

Yesterday, I wrote about the very human need to grieve, and the permission that God gives throughout the Great Story to do so. I believe it is healthy on all levels to process and express sorrow and grief, and God gives consistent permission to do so. Jesus even sweat blood as He expressed His despair at the suffering He was about to face on the final day of his earthly journey. Singing the blues is good for the soul.

Along the journey, however, I’ve also learned that there’s a point at which the healthy expression of my sorrow becomes an unhealthy victim status. Jeremiah didn’t die in the pit. Jesus didn’t stay in the grave. Choosing to mire myself in despair and refuse hope is to deny the very core of my faith.

Jeremiah quite obviously was a student of David’s lyrics in the Psalms. He follows David’s example both in shamelessly singing the blues, but also in finding the inflection point at which a ray of light shines in the darkness. There’s always that moment when the free-fall ends and the road begins to ascend. It’s the moment of eucatastrophe when the winds shift, the lighthouse appears on the horizon, and the seeds of hope bear fruit in the midst of despair. Jeremiah, writing from the depths of death, starvation, and devastation more extreme than David ever faces, makes the turn to hope more eloquently than David ever did:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

That’s the moment I seek in every dark valley of my journey. The moment that comes after I’ve cried a river of tears, screamed like King Lear and his fool into the winds of misfortune, written endless pages of guttural lament, and feasted on every angry growl of my blues collection. The moment when I lay spent from the rage and my soul can finally hear the whisper:

“Yet this I call to mind…”

Wait for it.

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

The Words of a Parent

The Words of a Parent (CaD Gen 49) Wayfarer

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.
Genesis 49:1 (NIV)

Words have power.

Words of a parent, fathers especially, have unusual power.

Along my earthly journey, I have observed individuals whose lives have been either blessed or plagued by the words of a parent. These words get imprinted in a person’s psyche and soul for good or for ill:

“I love you.”
“I can’t stand you.”
“I’m proud of you.”

Well done. You’re so smart.”
Why did you do that? You’re so stupid.”
“I’m ashamed to have you as a child.”
“You’re going to go far in life.”
“You’ll never amount to anything.”

I find today’s chapter is one of the most intriguing in all of the Great Story. Jacob/Israel calls all of his sons together as he’s about to die. He then offers a poem about each of his sons to “tell you what will happen to you.” These are his final words. This is the lasting message he leaves with each one. Words have power, and final words pack an extra punch.

I found it important that Jacob does not say, “these are the words of the Lord” or “Thus says the Lord.” Those words accompany divine prophecy. Jacob’s words are not from God, but from his own observations, relationships, and experiences with his children. His words are human, not divine, and any person imprinted with negative parental words must always remember this truth. Embracing the truth of it is the first step towards healing.

A few observations from Jacob’s final words to his sons:

Sometimes mistakes follow you forever. This was true of Reuben, who slept with Jacob’s wife. It was true of Simeon and Levi, who attacked Shechem without permission. These events were never forgiven, and Jacob seals the deal by cursing them for it once again with his dying breath. Jesus, in stark contrast, came to forgive and to teach us to forgive, which has the power to heal the soul of both victim and perpetrator.

Sometimes perception and the seemingly prophetic statements of parents are simply wrong. Jacob tells his Zebulun that his tribe will live by the seashore and be a seafaring people and that his border will extend to the town of Sidon. When the Promised Land was distributed to the tribes, Zebulun was landlocked and 40 miles from Sidon. Sometimes parents say things that are simply wrong, and the only power they have is our willingness to believe them.

Sometimes words can be prophetic despite the source. It seems contradictory, but throughout the Great Story God uses strange sources to speak and foreshadow truth. Shakespeare picked up on this and used it as a device. The fools in his plays regularly speak important truths. Jacob not only makes Judah the leader of the clan, but he also foreshadows the fact that the Messiah will spring from his tribe.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself, once again, grateful to my parents. The simple words “I love you” were imprinted on my soul ceaselessly. The words “I’m proud of you” were spoken regularly at appropriate moments. I have known others who are haunted to have never heard those words from a parent. I am so blessed by my parents.

I’m also reminded this morning of yesterday’s post, which I would encourage anyone struggling with father, mother, or family wounds to read. We don’t get to choose our earthly families, but Jesus came to make the way for anyone to be adopted into an eternal family and divine inheritance. Human curses may always leave a scar on this earthly sojourn, but Jesus offers both healing and a loving new family.

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

“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.