Tag Archives: Jesus

Not of this World

“Therefore rejoice, you heavens
    and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
    because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12:12 (NIV)

Several years ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in which I talked about how the writers of the James Bond film, Skyfall, subtly tapped into themes of the Great Story in order to make Bond into a Christ-like figure (you can watch/listen here). I shared that morning, as I have many times in these chapter-a-day posts, that all good stories are reflections of the Great Story.

That came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter. The images of John’s vision like those in today’s chapter sound like some kind of bad acid trip to most modern readers, but to learned Hebrews and Gentiles of John’s day, they echo themes and images from familiar mythologies. Both the Greeks and Egyptians had myths of dragons or serpents chasing mothers to kill their young.

Once again this morning, I set aside the minute details in order to consider the larger picture being presented in Revelation and in today’s chapter. The Great Story told from Genesis to Revelation is ultimately a story of good and evil on a grand spiritual scale. I have observed along my spiritual journey that as an earthbound human who views reality through my brain and five physical senses, it is difficult to comprehend, let alone understand, what Jesus taught: that there is a spiritual reality that is not only “not of this world” but also more “real” than this world. I find it interesting that those who have had neath-death experiences in which they experienced heaven commonly relate two things: First, they didn’t want to come back. Second, they don’t have the vocabulary to express how amazing and how “real” it was. Having been to heaven, they realize how our earthly “reality” is but a shadow world in comparison to what awaits us in eternity.

Today’s chapter has two main characters. A woman “clothed” with the sun and moon and twelve stars on her head. Hebrew mythology and prophecy often referred to Israel as a “mother.” Joseph’s dream was of the sun, moon, and eleven stars (his brothers, the tribes of Israel) bowing down to him. The second main character is the dragon, which is also a recurring image in the prophets and the psalms, and the text tells us that it represents Satan.

The overarching theme of the entire Great Story is established in Genesis 3. Satan temps Adam and Eve. They are expelled from the Garden, cursed to an earthly life, and to suffer death. God establishes enmity between Satan and the woman, especially her offspring whom Satan will attack. God prophesies that Satan will bruise the heel of woman’s offspring, but He will crush Satan’s head.

Today’s chapter is a re-telling of this great spiritual conflict that lies at the heart of the entire Great Story. Once again, the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt is a microcosm of this grand spiritual conflict. The Dragon pursues the Woman to the wilderness (like the Egyptians chasing after the Hebrews). The Dragon attempts to stop the woman with water (like the Egyptians trying to pin the Hebrews at the Red Sea). The earth swallows up the waters (like the Red Sea swallowing up the Egyptian army).

In the grand spiritual conflict, Satan has always been seen as the ultimate heavenly accuser and prosecutor (cf. Job 1-2). In today’s chapter, as the end of the Great Story draws near, there is a spiritual battle in heaven and Satan is thrown down to earth with his hoard of fallen angels. Furious, Satan goes after “the rest of her offspring” which would, presumably, be the people of God left on the earth. This is, again, the overarching theme of John’s Revelation; The great spiritual conflict of heaven is coming to a climactic head on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I come back to the familiar themes of the Great Story and all the good stories that echo them. Good and evil, the threat of death and the desire for immortality, the grand struggle, the threat and fear of a dark ending before the grand moment of eucatastrophe. There are many who revere Jesus and His teaching, claiming to respect His teaching as a guide for living on this earthly journey. As a disciple of Jesus, I find that His teaching for living and relating to others on this earth was ultimately not about this earth, but about His kingdom that He said is “not of this world.” John’s visions are glimpses of it, just as Jesus referenced it on His way to the cross:

A large number of people followed [Jesus], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Luke 23:27-31 (NIV)

And so, I proceed on this another day of an earthly journey, believing not just that Jesus offered a helpful guide for behavior in this temporal, earthly existence, but that He came as part of a Great Story, pointing me to a Kingdom that is more real and beyond description with the limitations of human vocabulary. In fact, it might seem like an acid trip to my human understanding (based on friends who’ve told me about their acid trips). I choose to believe that my story is a part of that Story in ways that equally lie beyond my human comprehension.

Note: I’m taking tomorrow and July 4th off. See you back here on Tuesday of next week.

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

Justice

 

Justice (CaD Rev 10) Wayfarer

I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Revelation 10:10 (NIV)

Over the past couple of days, I have been watching a documentary about Roman Catholic priests who committed terrible acts of child abuse and subsequent horrific crimes to cover it up. The institutional church also aided in stonewalling the victims, as did the local authorities. There have been multiple times that I’ve come close to turning it off and walking away. It’s hard to watch.

Our fallen world is full of injustice. It always has been. And, the institutional church has been complicit. Just a few weeks ago the Southern Baptist Convention announced the results of an independent investigation which revealed that the denomination had hidden countless acts of sexual abuse by pastors and volunteers for decades. Even in the conservative small town where we live, there has been scandal and cover-up.

Our children’s generation has championed social justice, and they’ve been critical of previous generations of believers, and the institutional church, for not doing enough to address injustice. My ears and my heart are open to this critique. This world will never be found wanting as it relates to the need for justice. The Great Story is filled with cries for justice from Abel’s blood to the prophets, Job, the psalmists, and Jesus.

And that brings me to Revelation. The judgments envisioned and prophetically predicted for the end times are God’s judgment on a corrupt, unjust, and unrepentant world.

Today’s chapter is an interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet” judgments. A giant angel descends to earth holding a small scroll. John is told to eat it. It tastes like a treat from the dessert bar, but once it’s finished it turns his stomach sour. The prophetic words of the scroll are what John is told to proclaim and prophetically predict. The final stomach-churning judgments. Seven bowls of just reckoning and Judgment Day.

Kind of like the documentary I’ve been watching, it would be easy to shut the book and walk away. Revelation is not an easy read. But, it’s a necessary read in understanding the whole of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to the stories of adults wracked with pain and anger because they were victimized by men who were supposed to be God’s servants. On one hand, it has my heart crying out for Judgment Day. On the other hand, I’m reminded of my own sins, my own complicities, and the injustices I’ve not only failed to address, but to which I’ve contributed either by word, act, or omission.

I hear the question of Jesus’ followers echoing in my heart: “Who then can be saved?”

“With man it is impossible,” Jesus replied, “but with God all things are possible.”

I sit in the quiet and ponder what this means for me on this day. The words of the prophet Micah rise within my spirit, words that Micah proclaims are God pleading his just case to the mountains and the hills:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

And so, I enter another day of this earthly journey intent on doing so.

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

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alpha Point and the Omega Point

The Alpha Point and the Omega Point (CaD Rev 5) Wayfarer

In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”
Revelation 5:12 (NIV)

A year or two ago, my friend shared with me a story about the 20th-century Jesuit priest, anthropologist, philosopher, and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The story inspired me, and I ended up using it in a message a few weeks later. It also inspired me to learn a little more about de Chardin and his teachings. Later in his life, the philosopher-priest was silenced by the institutional church and ordered not to teach or publish anything. As an amateur historian, this always tells me that he must have been on to something true.

One of de Chardin’s most popular theories was that of the “Omega Point.” Just as He believed that the universe began as a tiny “Alpha Point” of matter that exploded into being with a big bang, he saw everything in the universe as connected, transforming, and flowing towards an “Omega Point” in which everything recedes back to that tiny point. His ideas not only inspired scientists and physicists but also artists and writers. Flannery O’Connor’s Everything that Rises Must Converge is a riff on Chardin.

For me, the inspiration led me to look with new eyes at the Great Story that God authors from Genesis to Revelation (the “alpha point” and “omega point”). The Great Story is clear that Jesus was the “alpha point” through which all things were created (Jhn 1:3) and it is He who “holds all things together” (Col 1:17).

In today’s chapter, John’s visit to the throne room of heaven continues. He sees a scroll that is sealed with seven seals. A call goes out in heaven asking who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. No one is found worthy, which has John weeping with grief. Then “the lamb who was slain” (e.g. Jesus) is revealed who, because of His surrender and sacrifice, is worthy to open the scroll. A choir of innumerable angels then sings:

In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

There are seven attributes that Jesus is worthy to “receive” according to the angel’s song. Seven is the number of “completeness” or “completion.” The number is used 55 times in Revelation. As I have read, pondered, and studied Revelation over the years, I was always a bit confused by the fact that “power” and “wealth” were included in this complete list of what Jesus is worthy to receive in the end.

Then I started considering what Chardin’s “omega point” was getting at in connection to who Jesus was, what Jesus taught, and who Jesus is revealed to be in today’s chapter.

Jesus is the beginning, the alpha point of Creation from Whom all things flow.

Jesus taught His followers not to treasure the power and wealth of this transient, created world because it doesn’t last, it isn’t eternal, and eventually…

Everything, including all the power and wealth in creation, along with everything in this universe will flow back to Jesus, the Creator, the Omega point, in the end.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering the effect and consequence of my embracing this notion. It means that everything I have in this physical world is not really mine. It flows from the Alpha point and it will flow back to the Omega point. If this is true, then it transforms me from an owner of everything I have to a steward of everything I have. Suddenly I am a character in a very real version of Jesus’ parable of the talents, caring for and investing all that the Alpha and Omega has entrusted to me on this earthly journey. In this Light, I see my earthly journey in the context of an eternal reality that begins before the Great Story and will flow beyond its final chapters. I suddenly find that other things begin to make more sense.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

And so, I enter another day in the journey, echoing a heavenly chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

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.

Spiritual Self-Exam

Spiritual Self-Exam (CaD Rev 3) Wayfarer

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
Revelation 3:17 (NIV)

Every year I have a physical examination with my doctor. While I am starting to show some of the natural physical signs of age, I’m happy to say that the appointment usually ends with Doc telling me to let Wendy know she shouldn’t be collecting on my life insurance policy any time soon.

Today’s chapter contains the final three of seven letters John is told to write to followers of Jesus in nearby Asia Minor. One of the common themes in all of the letters is Jesus’ desire for believers to see past their earthly circumstances to their spiritual realities.

The final letter was written to believers in the city of Laodicea, which was known for its wealth and commerce. The Laodiceans took pride in their wealth and self-sufficiency. When the Roman Emporer offered them funds to help them rebuild after an earthquake, the city refused the funds. The medical school at Laodicea was known for an eye salve that was produced there. Jesus makes a point that the wealthy Laodicean believers need a spiritual eye-salve so that they can see how spiritually poor they are.

In the quiet this morning I find myself taking Jesus up on His encouragement to the Laodiceans. I have an annual physical examination, what about a regular spiritual examination?

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found that my spiritual health hinges on a few different things.

First is my spiritual diet. What I spiritually take in, and what I spiritually excrete.

What am I feeding my soul? What am I taking in? Am I getting regular spirit nourishment? That’s really what this chapter-a-day journey is all about, but what about the rest of the day after I publish my post and podcast. Am I continually feeding my eyes, ears, and mind that which is good for my soul, or do I snack on the spiritual equivalent of junk food?

Jesus told His followers to also pay attention to what my spirit excretes:

“It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”
Mark 7:20-23 (MSG)

So what do my thoughts, words, and actions say about the health of my heart and spirit?

I think the other important factor in my spiritual examination is the health of my relationships. First is my relationship with God, and it is a relationship. Then it’s the health of my marriage, my inner circle, my family, and my friends. It’s also with others in my community and circles of influence. Healthy relationships are about time and attention. Are things good? Healthy? Broken? Starving? Ignored? Strained?

My annual physical typically ends with a generally clean bill of health, but there are always a few things that Doc reminds me about that need attention. I feel a parallel in this morning’s spiritual self-exam. I don’t want to be like the Laodicean believers who were spiritually blind to the spiritual issues that threatened them. As with my physical health, I think my spiritual health is in generally good condition, but there are definitely some areas that need attention.

Here’s to health, both physical and spiritual.

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

Hearing the Simple Message

Hearing the Simple Truth (CaD Rev 2) Wayfarer

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 2:29 (NIV)

One of the things that I’ve observed about human nature is our penchant for mysteries and secrets. We love a good yarn like National Treasure and The Davinci Code. I can find all sorts of documentaries streaming about secrets and conspiracies. Nostradamus remains a popular figure. A couple of decades ago a book came out about The Bible Code that claimed to unlock secret numerical codes within the text of the Great Story.

When it comes to the book of Revelation it is tempting to lean into that desire to unlock the secrets of what it has to reveal to us hidden beneath the text. Yet along my spiritual journey, I have observed that it’s easy to seek out the secret mysteries beneath the text to the point that I ignore the simple truth that’s staring me right in the face.

Today’s chapter kicks off a series of seven letters which the glorified Christ asks John to pen to Jesus’ followers in seven towns of Asia Minor, not far from where John was exiled on the island of Patmos. The chapter has four of the seven letters which generally contain a pattern of Jesus:

  • Commending the believers (“You’re doing this well…”)
  • Cautioning the believers (“I have this against you…”)
  • Encouraging the believers (“Now do this…”)
  • Offering a word of eternal hope (“To those who…I will…”).

These places were real cities in which the issues addressed were very real. The Roman world was an immoral culture. Pagan gods and their worship were steeped in prostitution and sexual immorality. The Roman Emporer Domitian led a revival in the Emporer Cult in which he (and some of his family members) were considered gods. Followers of Jesus had faced long periods of persecution (from both Romans and Jews) for their worship of Jesus as the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” and their rejection of Roman debauchery and polytheistic paganism.

Much like Paul’s letters to the believers in Corinth, the letters to Jesus’ followers in Asia Minor make it clear that there were those who were teaching that one could be a follower of Jesus and still participate in pagan religion and Roman revelry. Jesus’ message through John dispels this notion and encourages His followers to shun these ideas.

Because of their inclusion in John’s Revelation, there are those who inflate the meaning and importance of these letters. It’s often argued that they are representative, allegorical, or parallel to the larger history of the church.

Fine. Buy me a pint and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.

I find it fascinating that the glorified Christ uses the same phrase in His dictation to John as He did with His parables during His ministry: “Those who have ears, let them hear.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus was typically making a very simple spiritual truth cloaked in a metaphor. I believe the same is true in today’s chapter.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reticent to expand the meaning of rather straightforward messages. Instead, what I’m “hearing” is to reduce the message to very simple truths: Be in the world, but not of it. Keep the faith. Press on.

And so, I enter another day and will endeavor to do so.

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

People of the Lie

People of the Lie (CaD Jude 1) Wayfarer

For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you.
Jude 1:4a (NIV)

Wendy and I recently spent the evening with a young couple, enjoying a leisurely dinner followed by casual conversation. Among the many topics of our conversation that evening was the current state of culture and discourse in our world. A repeated phrase I heard that evening was, to paraphrase, “if only people would just be kind to others.”

Wendy and I later discussed this simple sentiment and the fact that no matter how much we desire such an elementary and obvious expectation of others, there have always been those who will not do so. There have always been those whose blind self-centered and self-gratifying nature mark them, as Scott Peck named them, “people of the lie.”

Today’s chapter is an oft-forgotten one-hit-wonder stuck in at the end of the Great Story. Jude is most likely the half-brother of Jesus and brother of James, leader of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. He pens this quick letter warning to fellow believers about “people of the lie” who had been worshipping among followers of Jesus. In modern terms, the Urban Dictionary’s definition of “poser” might just be an apt moniker.

In those days, there were no church buildings. Followers of Jesus met together regularly in people’s homes. Their potluck meals doubled as opportunities to worship, meet the needs of one another, and would end with the sacrament of communion. Jesus’ followers called them “Love Feasts.” These people of the lie would join the fellowship, eat and drink to excess, take advantage of generosity, and then claim that if Jesus’ grace increases to cover a multitude of sins, then it would only make sense to sin more so that there would be more of Jesus’ grace produced.

The thing that I found fascinating as I read Jude’s warnings about these people of the lie is that he starts by providing historic examples of such characters from the Great Story: Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

He then provides metaphorical descriptions of the posers who had infiltrated the Love Feasts of the believers to whom he was penning the letter:

  • Shepherds who feed only themselves (not their sheep)
  • Clouds without rain
  • Autumn trees with no fruit
  • Untamed, wild waves of the sea
  • Wandering stars getting sucked into a Black Hole

Jude then ends with the “apostles” warning that in “the last times” these people of the lie would be everywhere, scoffing at Truth, following their base appetites, and creating division among believers.

In other words, people of the lie have always been around, they were present among Jude and his contemporaries, and they will still be around in the end times.

I couldn’t help but notice that Jude’s antidote to the “people of the lie” problem was not to create an inquisitorial committee to root out the evil. The answer was not to find these people, hold a trial, and hang those found guilty. The things Jude admonished his fellow believers to do were intensely personal:

  • Keep exercising and building up your own faith
  • Keep praying in the Spirit
  • Keep yourself in God’s love
  • Be patient
  • Wait for Jesus’ mercy
  • Be merciful to others
  • Save others through mercy and respect
  • Keep your own nose clean

So in the quiet this morning, I find myself circling back to our young friends’ sincere desire for “everyone to just be kind to one another” and balancing it with Jude’s observation that people of the lie have always been a part of the mix in this world, they are part of the mix now, and they will likely be an even bigger part of the mix when history reaches the final, climactic chapters of the Great Story. This is a reality that I must always consider as I look around me and try to interpret the signs of the times.

As for me, I’m just going to continue to press on in faith, hope, and love; Just another wayfaring stranger making my way home.

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

Series of Unfortunate Events

Series of Unfortunate Events (CaD Jud 21) Wayfarer

The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: “Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.”
Judges 21:1 (NIV)

There was a period of time in our daughter’s childhood when her favorite series of youth fiction was Lemony Snicket which always carried the tag line: A series of unfortunate events.

That tagline “a series of unfortunate events” popped into my mind as I sat in the quiet this morning pondering not only the tumultuous events that are unpacked by the author of Judges in his three-chapter epilogue but also the tumultuous events that we’ve been living through in the past two years. Looking at the headlines and the horizon, I would say that we’re not out of the woods

Today’s chapter is the final chapter of the book of Judges and the third and final chapter in a saga that began with a single Levite traveler traveling home with his wife and servant. One rather isolated local incident blows up into a national tragedy. Emotions boil over and reason gives way. The people become a mob and violence ensues. Tribal instincts perpetuate the violence. The human desire for justice turns into a cycle of vengeance.

As the teacher of Ecclesiastes famously observed, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

For the ancient Hebrews, the series of unfortunate events are intertwined with a hodge-podge of cultural decisions that only fueled the perpetuation of the unfortunate events. The Hebrew tribes had mingled their worship of Yahweh as prescribed in the Law of Moses with the religious customs of local gods and cultural mores of the region. High on the bloodlust of vengeance, eleven tribes swear an oath not to give any of their daughters into marriage with the tribe of Benjamin.

As often happens with mob violence, it is in the tragic aftermath that “cooler heads prevail” and corporate regret rises. The eleven tribes, however, have placed themselves square in the middle of a cultural dilemma. They can’t give their daughters in marriage to the men of Benjamin without breaking their oath which was an unforgivable act in the culture of that day. Yet, if they don’t find a way for the leftover men of Benjamin to find wives and procreate, the tribe will be wiped out. So, they devise a scheme to help the remnant of men from Benjamin to kidnap Canaanite virgins who were taking part in an annual religious festival. This exemplifies an ancient Near East tradition that holds sway in international relationships to this day:

Me against my brother.
My brother and I against our neighbor.
My neighbor and I against a stranger.

It is quite common for modern readers to balk at the violence and vengeance in this ancient story, but that’s exactly what the author of the book of Judges wanted his readers to feel. In his context, he wanted his contemporary readers to say: “This is awful. Isn’t it so much better to have a king who will provide justice and stability?”

This brings me back to our modern-day series of unfortunate events and a parallel desire for justice and stability. As a follower of Jesus, I am led to a very important and salient contradiction.

Human instinct is for strong human leadership to ensure justice, stability, and safety with top-down authoritarian power.

Jesus taught His followers to change the world with a grass-roots movement in which individual believers transform other individuals with interpersonal Love that changes lives from the bottom up.

Every example from history in which these two paradigms have been confused has ended in its own form of tragic failure.

And so, I enter another day, and another work week, resolved to stick to the plan Jesus gave His followers.

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

Tribal Instinct and Higher Law

Tribal Instincts and Higher Law (CaD Jud 20) Wayfarer

But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites.
Judges 20:13b (NIV)

My tribe.

I’m a member of a number of “tribes.” The tribe of my family. The tribe of my community. The tribe of my high school classmates with whom I grew up. The tribes of my favorite college and professional sports teams. There’s the tribe of those who hold similar worldviews. And, there’s my national tribe. There’s even my tribe of fellow Jesus followers.

I couldn’t help but ponder all of my tribal instincts as I read today’s chapter. Which is the continuation of the saga that began in yesterday’s chapter. Shocked by the story of the Levite whose concubine had been gang-raped until she died by some men of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin, the other eleven tribes muster their armies and march on Gibeah to demand justice (this is a tribal instinct). The tribe of Benjamin closes ranks and refuses to give them up (which are also classic tribal instincts) and civil war erupts (tribal instincts often lead to violence). Benjamin is ultimately defeated and their towns burned.

The author of Judges is wrapping up his book with this story, which will conclude in the following chapter. His stated purpose is to show how the lack of a king to provide strong authority and leadership leads to disastrous consequences. Yesterday’s horrific crime was an act of depraved lawlessness. Today’s chapter reveals the lack of national justice as tribal instincts rule over inter-tribal relationships. Benjamin refuses to allow the perpetrators from their tribe to be held accountable for their crime. The lawlessness and lack of justice lead to a breakdown in unity among the tribes and a bloody eleven-against-one tribal battle leaves the towns of Benjamin decimated. Everyone loses.

As I pondered these events in the quiet this morning, I once again thought about them on both the societal level and the personal level. Like yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about how the ancient Hebrew tribes were behaving like gangs behave, like feuding crime families behave, and like rival sports fan(-atics) behave. Despite all of the advancements we enjoy in our civilized society with the rule of law, our human “tribal instincts” remain very strong. When inflamed, reason quickly shuts down and our base instincts can quickly spin out of control to tragic ends that only perpetuate societal problems. I could think of many examples in current events when “tribal instincts” could not be controlled by the rule of law and the justice system.

At a personal level, I once again can’t walk away from today’s chapter without gratitude for the moral, relational, and behavioral guardrails that I have as a follower of Jesus, who not only expects me to abide by and submit to governing authorities but also asks me, and expects me, to go beyond mere rule-keeping and submit to the higher Law of Love, which leads to forgiving those who’ve wronged me, praying for and blessing those who persecute me, loving my enemies, going the extra mile, and being sacrificially generous.

I am called to suppress my tribal instincts, and submit to the higher Law of Love.

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