Tag Archives: Journey

Dense Fog Advisory

Dense Fog Advisory (CaD Jos 14) Wayfarer

Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day.
Joshua 14:12a (NIV)

There are stretches of my life journey that are like walking through dense fog. What lies ahead is uncertain. All I can see is the next step on the path before me. This is disconcerting. Am I headed in the right direction? Does the path ascend or descend? What obstacles lie on the path? How do I know there’s not a cliff or a dead end just a few steps ahead?

“Faith,” says the writer of Hebrews, “is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith is pressing on through a dense fog not knowing what lies ahead.

In today’s chapter, Caleb calls in a 45-year-old promise made by Moses. The first time that Moses sent spies into the Promised land, ten of the spies returned and reported that the people living in the land were too great. Only Joshua and Caleb returned to report, “With the Lord’s help, we can do this.” The result of Joshua and Caleb’s faith was a promise that they would live to enter the Promised Land and that Caleb’s family would inherit the land he had spied out.

The moment finally arrives. Caleb has been waiting for this moment for 45 years, and the day finally arrives. Joshua and the leaders of the twelve tribes fulfill Moses’ promise to Caleb and his family. I wonder how many times Caleb struggled to believe that this day would actually come. How many stretches of dense fog did Caleb traverse between Moses’ promise and its fulfillment over a generation later?

Along my life journey, I’ve discovered that the further I get on life’s road, the more road there is behind me, and this actually affords me a greater perspective for the foggy steps ahead. A backward glance reminds me of God’s faithfulness. I recall specific moments along my journey when God’s provision was evident. I’ve also experienced “Caleb moments” when I experienced promises fulfilled after long periods of time.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself in another foggy stretch of the journey. I have to confess that I was naive to think that the further I got in my Life journey the fewer of these I would encounter. No such luck. This life journey is a faith journey from beginning to end and, like a muscle, faith must be stretched and exercised in order to be strengthened.

And so I step into another foggy day. I glance back over my shoulder to be reminded of the many foggy days I’ve trekked through before, and God’s faithfulness through each of them. I remind myself of Caleb, who eventually had his moment when the promise was fulfilled. It doesn’t lift the fog, but it strengthens my faith to press on.

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

Pivotal Moments

Pivotal Moments (CaD Joh 3) Wayfarer

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
Joshua 3:5 (NIV)

I will never forget that day. I had no real plan; No idea what I was going to do. As a husband and father of two rug rats under the age of five, this was not ideal. I just knew that I couldn’t remain in my current job. The circumstances had become untenable. So, I gave my notice.

That afternoon I was offered the job that has been my career for almost thirty years.

Driving home from the Village Inn restaurant where I’d been offered the position, I prayed for God’s direction. It wasn’t exactly a sure thing. The work might be inconsistent, as well as the income. It would require some faith that the business would grow along with my position. It felt precarious, and I asked God for guidance.

I remember the moment clearly. I was pulling in the driveway in my blue Volkswagen Fox. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon. It is one of a small handful of experiences in my life journey in which I received a clear and direct answer in my spirit. I can’t really explain it. I heard it clearly:

“Take this job. Stick with it. You will be blessed.”

It was a pivotal moment in my story. One chapter closed. A new chapter began.

Today’s chapter is incredibly significant in terms of the Great Story. It’s a climactic moment for the Hebrew people. One chapter of their story is ending, and a new one is beginning. It’s been about 750 years since God promised Abraham that his descendants would be numerous and inherit the land God showed him. It’s been an entire generation since the miraculous escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. The Hebrew nation is finally crossing over the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land.

God makes it clear to Joshua that He is doing three things in this event.

God is leading the way. The Ark of the Covenant was a metaphor for God’s power and presence. The fact that the priests carried the Ark into the Jordan first was a living reminder to God’s people that it was God leading them, and it was God on whom they should put their trust.

God is making the impossible possible. The miraculous holding back of the Jordan River’s waters echoes the crossing of the Red Sea and reminds God’s people that God’s power is still very much present as they begin this challenging new stretch of their journey. It also bookends their wilderness wanderings with two matching miracles, reminding them that the chapter of wandering is over and a new chapter is beginning.

God is sealing Joshua’s leadership in the eyes of the people. Moses had some mighty big sandals to fill. The stories of Moses’ exploits and the miraculous things God did through Moses were legendary. As the challenging conquest of Canaan begins, God makes it clear to His people that He can and will pour out His miraculous power through Joshua just as He had done through Moses.

In the quiet this morning, I’m looking back at my own life journey and the various stages of that journey: childhood, becoming a follower of Jesus, high school, college, marriage/fatherhood/pastoral ministry, returning home to Des Moines, career, the years of many moves, the dark years, the return, Pella, divorce, theatre, Wendy, lake, leadership, infertility, house, empty nest… In hindsight, I can see the thread of God’s presence, purposes, and guidance through each stretch. Yep, even “the dark years.”

This, in turn, reminds me that I can trust that same presence, purpose, and guidance on this day, and the road ahead until I reach the journey’s end and the “great crossing over” that ends my earthly wandering and begins a new, eternal chapter.

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

Vertical and Horizontal

Vertical and Horizontal (CaD Heb 13) Wayfarer

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV)

I began yesterday with coffee and an English muffin at a friend’s office. We chatted about what is going on in each other’s lives. We shared about the challenges we’re facing with family, work, and our bodies that are feeling the natural strains of age. We prayed together. It was a good start to the day.

It was St. Patrick’s Day, so Wendy and I knocked off of work a little early and met friends in the late afternoon for a pint and some Irish music. As the after-work crowds began to swell we were on our way to pick up pizza and retire to their house where we continued sharing life and conversation. Their college-age child was home on Spring Break and we got the whole 411 on life, studies, and relationships at school.

It was a fun day. It was late by the time we returned home.

In today’s final chapter of Hebrews, the author wraps up his letter with more exhortations to the Hebrew followers of Jesus for whom the letter was addressed. Throughout these instructions are more than subtle allusions to the old sacrificial system of Moses that the author has argued was fulfilled by Jesus and is no longer valid or necessary.

In that old system, there were all sorts of ritual religious sacrifices that an individual was expected to make in order to stay in good standing with God. Of course, like all religious rituals, it is possible for a person to go through the motions without there being a heart or life change, and the author has argued that Jesus has provided the once-for-all sacrifice through His death and resurrection.

“So, are there no more sacrifices?” the author hears his readers asking.

Yes, the author answers. The sacrifice of self just as Jesus taught that His followers must take up their own cross in following Him. Jesus’ word picture tells me that I’m supposed to die to myself, to sacrifice myself for God and others. The author provides a picture of this in continuous sacrifices that are both vertical (me to God) and horizontal (me to others). The vertical sacrifice is that I consciously, willfully stay connected to God through offering my praise and prayer (which is simply conversation). The horizontal sacrifice is my goodness and generosity towards others. Not just physical gifts and needs, but also the generosity and goodness of life and spirit through relationships and sharing the life journey together.

Which made me think of my day yesterday. Along my life journey, I’ve experienced that good relationships, the kind that is mutually and spiritually life-giving, require the ongoing generosity of time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and grace. Over time and in every case, every one of those ingredients becomes sacrificial for me as my friends may need more from me at certain times than I can comfortably provide. But the same is true on the other side of the equation. I need them at times and in ways that require their sacrificial generosity.

With Jesus, I can never get around the reality that He emptied Himself, left heaven, came to Earth, and endured the suffering of a horrific death. He sacrificed everything for me. I can ignore that fact. I might allow other thoughts and distractions to drive it from my mind, but it’s always there. What is asked of me in return? To live in a relationship that is essentially no different than my horizontal ones: time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and generosity that comes out in worship, prayer, life, obedience, trust, hope, and perseverance.

I’m grateful this morning for life-giving relationships, both horizontal and vertical.

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

A Different Spirit of the Season

A Different Spirit of the Season (CaD Lam 5) Wayfarer

the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning.
Lamentations 5:14b-15 (NIV)

Wendy and I attended the funeral of a friend yesterday. As funerals go, it was the kind of celebration of life and faith that I appreciate. After a long battle with cancer, our friend ended his earthly journey at home, surrounded by his family, holding his wife’s hand. Each of his three children shared honestly and humorously about their father’s foibles as well as his faithfulness. It is popular to say that funerals are a celebration of life, but it was really true in this case. We really felt it in our hearts as we watched and listened.

During one of the special music numbers, Wendy leaned over and whispered to me, “This sounds like a song from a Broadway musical.”

She nailed it. My eyes grew big and nodded and smiled in agreement. But that wasn’t the end of it. As the song continued, Wendy started whispering to me her vision of the musical on stage.

“This is where the chorus slowly begins to make their way on stage to join the soloist as the music swells.”

At this point, I’m laughing because I can totally see it in my head.

The song continued to build through a repeat of the chorus, and then right on cue I leaned over and whispered, “Key change!”

Wendy doubled over with laughter as the song moved to the final bridge. As it moved to the dramatic closing Wendy whispered the possible titles of the musical we’d just conjured up in our heads. I can’t remember what she said. I was laughing too hard. It’s a good thing we were sitting in the back row.

Later in the day, Wendy and I talked about the fact that we both felt very much at ease at the funeral. Our friend knew where he going and was ready to go. He lived a life of faith, hope, and love and he touched our lives in such good ways. His family was laughing amidst their tears during the funeral. The spirit in the room was that of joy, which I think gave Wendy and me the freedom to share our own laugh together. I believe there is such a thing as a good funeral, and this was one of them.

I couldn’t help but bring that to mind as I read the final poem in Jeremiah’s five-poem cycle we call the book of Lamentations. Those who like happy endings will be disappointed. If anything, Jeremiah leaves me mired in the terrible circumstances he witnessed. There’s no glimmer of hope. It’s still out there somewhere on the dark horizon.

Jeremiah even leaves a buries a clue of his sorrow into the structure of the chapter. The structure of the first four poems in Lamentations are forms of alphabetic acrostics in which the first word of every verse began with successive letters in the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet. You might notice that there are 22 verses in today’s final chapter, but the verses don’t follow the alphabetic acrostic pattern. Metaphorically, the poet is telling us that things are breaking down, the structure is falling apart.

“The music has stopped,” Jeremiah reports. No joy. No dancing. No inspirational swell of a climactic Broadway finale. Not even a funeral dirge. There’s just continued mourning, the perpetuation of chaos which ends with a final questioning cry to God, whom Jeremiah feels is distant and aloof.

Christmas Eve is a week from today, and I admit that it has felt a bit odd to journey through Lamentations while the world is waxing sentimental about gingerbread houses, Santa’s visit, and “peace on earth goodwill to men.” At the same time, there was something about this week with Jeremiah that felt honest in a healthy way. This life journey ebbs and flows, and its course doesn’t always conveniently coincide with the spirit of the holidays the world seems to annually expect of me. And, that’s okay.

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

Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective

Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective (CaD Gen 47) Wayfarer

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.”
Genesis 47:9 (NIV)

This morning as I booted up to write this post and record the podcast, one app flashed a big banner saying “2021 is a Wrap” and offering to show me all the stats and data from the last twelve months. And so, it begins. December and January are typically times of contemplation about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Get ready for media to start posting all of the lists of the “bests,” “worsts,” and “mosts” for 2021.

We’re coming up on two years since COVID changed life on our planet. In early 2020, Wendy and I went on a cruise with friends. The pandemic had barely begun and was believed at that point to be confined to China. Our cruise line told us that passengers from China had been barred from the cruise. Within a few weeks after that cruise, the world was in full lockdown.

One of the observations I’ve made in these two years is the degree to which people fear death, and just how powerfully that fear can drive a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.

Today’s chapter is fascinating to read in the context of our own times. The known world was in a similar state of mass insecurity due to the seven years of famine they were experiencing. Step-by-step, Egyptians submitted their money, livestock, land, and their very selves to the State in exchange for their survival. By the time the famine was over, the State of Egypt owned everything and everyone.

The thing that resonated most deeply with me was Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh when asked his age. He speaks of his life as a pilgrimage. The Hebrew word is māgôr and it isn’t very common, though it’s already been used a few times in reference to the lives of Jacob, his father, and grandfather. What struck me was the metaphor. He sees his entire life as a pilgrimage, a sojourn, a period of exile on this earth. As the songwriter put it: “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.”

Jesus called His followers to have this same perspective as Jacob. He called me to understand that what happens after this earthly life is more real, more important, and valuable than what happens here on this earth. What comes after this life is where Jesus tells me to invest my treasure, which in turn changes the way I observe, think, believe, and live in my own pilgrimage as a “poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe.” Jesus also tells me to expect trouble on the earthly journey and to be at peace in the midst of it.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded by Jacob’s experience that there is nothing new under the sun. Pandemics, famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, and eruptions dot human history. Jesus not only tells me to expect more of the same but also calls them the birth pains which will lead to the nativity of something profoundly new.

Wendy and I are once again going on a cruise with friends to start 2022. I’m looking forward to it despite the continued restrictions. Just as our last cruise marked, for me, the beginning bookend of COVD, I’m hoping I might look back on this cruise as the other bookend. In the meantime, I continue to press on in my own pilgrimage on this earthly journey and expectantly look forward to a homecoming that lies beyond its end.

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

Exile and Return

Exile and Return (CaD Gen 35) Wayfarer

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
Genesis 35:1 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve discovered along my spiritual journey is that the return is often as important as the destination. In some cases, they turn out to be one and the same.

In today’s chapter, God calls Jacob to return to Bethel which is the place where God first revealed Himself to Jacob. Jacob has been on a journey of exile for over twenty years, and now he has returned to his home and family. At Bethel, God renews the promises made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. God makes Jacob’s name change to Israel official.

The timing of this is important. Isaac is about to die. Having the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, God is leading Jacob through a rite of passage. He’s returned from exile to lead the family, and head the family business. Things are about to change in a big way.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back. My spiritual journey has led me on paths of exile and return. I found it to be the path of both wisdom and maturity. In exile, I face trials and struggles that grow me up as I learn essential lessons in faith, patience, perseverance, joy, and hope. The return is the place where those lessons bear fruit. The landscape looks different upon my return. Time may have changed things, but most importantly I have changed. I see old things with new eyes. In exile, I have been refined, honed, broken down, and rebuilt for a purpose. The return is where that purpose eventually comes into focus.

I also found myself meditating on God’s name change for this patriarch-to-be. In exile, Jacob (meaning the deceiver) is transformed into Israel (he wrestled with God). When Jacob left Bethel, everything he had and came from his (and his mother’s) own deceptive cunning and initiative. In exile, he struggled with his Uncle, himself, and with God. He discovers in exile that his blessings come from God and not his, and his family’s, penchant for deception. Jacob left Bethel and went into exile. It was Israel who returned to Bethel ready for the next stage of the journey.

I have found that there are certain spiritual truths that do not change. Among those truths is the necessity of both exile and return.

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

Dysfunctional

Dysfunctional (CaD Gen 27) Wayfarer

Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”
“The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.

Genesis 27:20 (NIV)

Death and funerals tend to bring out all of the fun in family dysfunction. I remember officiating one funeral in which siblings and their families stayed in opposite rooms in their parents’ home and I had to bounce back and forth like a ping-pong ball to make the service arrangements because they wouldn’t speak to one another or be in the same room. I’ve done multiple funerals in which it was doubtful that a child or children would even show up. I’ve witnessed the fallout from parental favoritism, parental disfavor, deception, hatred, mishandled inheritance, and the relational scars of unreconciled issues or arguments that are decades old.

Family systems are mysterious and complex. Parents, children, personalities, power, favor, honor, and inheritance can make for highly dysfunctional systemic cocktails.

So, today’s chapter isn’t all that surprising to me. Isaac has always favored his son Esau, the firstborn twin. Esau is an alpha male with all the unchecked emotions that often go with it. He’s a rugged outdoorsman and skilled hunter. Jacob is a mirror image of this. A mama’s boy, quiet, quick-minded, and shrewd. Esau has married two Hittite women who have upset the system and have become the bane of Rebekah’s existence. Perhaps this is part of her motivation for urging Jacob’s deceptive theft of his older brother’s position as the head of the clan. Perhaps she believes that Esau will be a foolish, temperamental leader who will make life miserable for everyone. Whatever the motivation, Jacob lives up to his name (which means deceiver). He pretends to be his brother, deceives his father, and receives the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau. Jacob will succeed his father as head of the family and administrate his inheritance.

What struck me as I read the chapter this morning is that Jacob, when addressing his father, refers to God as “the Lord your God.” At this point in the story, Jacob doesn’t appear to have a personal relationship with the God of his grandfather and father. He’s at arm’s length, and perhaps this helps explain his willingness to deceive his own father and dishonor his own brother.

Along my journey, I found that those who have not actually read or digested the Great Story often have the notion that the “biblical heroes” were righteous, upstanding examples of godliness to the point of not being human. Nothing could be further from the truth. I offer Jacob as Exhibit A. He was flawed human being in a dysfunctional family system and his faith journey and life journey are a struggle, a wrestling match with God and others. Even as he progresses in his own personal journey, he will forced to deal with the fallout of his own dysfunctional family choices. Jacob is a work-in-progress.

In the quiet this morning, I take some solace in this. I have my own issues and dysfunctional blind spots. Even after forty years as a Jesus follower, I’m still a work-in-progress. So is everyone else. Again, if you want to apply the rules of Cancel Culture to me, then go ahead and close the browser and don’t look back. I’m just glad that God shows Himself to be One who mercifully wraps His grace around my human failures and redeems my tragic flaws in transforming me throughout my own story.

Last night Wendy read me a post by a word artist we love and support. Her words feel like they were a divine appointment this morning. Here’s a partial:

“You do not have to be who you have been
You can think differently, feel differently —
Don’t let anyone nail you to
a selfhood that no longer belongs to you.”

She goes on to offer a breathing prayer:

Inhale:
I am not who I once was.
Exhale:
I am known and forgiven.”

By Cole Arthur Riley. You can find her on Patreon and on Instagram @blackliturgies.

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

The Journey

The Journey (CaD Gen 12) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Land of Nod

In the Land of Nod (CaD Gen 4) Wayfarer

So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Genesis 4:16 (NIV)

From the beginning, I called this blog/podcast “Wayfarer.” Over the 16 years I’ve been blogging, I’ve discovered that the word is unfamiliar to many people. It means “one who is on a journey.” Not only do I perpetually use the metaphor in referencing my life journey and spiritual journey in this life, but the blog has become a chronicle of that journey and of my chapter-a-day thoughts which all come out of a unique time and place on that journey.

I walk with purpose. I have a fixed destination like the Wayfaring Stranger in the famous old folk tune. And yet, along the way I have observed many who appear to be walking their respective earthly journey without purpose, or with a purpose that stands in stark contrast to mine.

Today’s chapter is the ancient story of the very first restless wanderer and the story of his family to the seventh generation from Adam (seven is not a coincidence, btw. It’s the number of “completion” and is paralleled by the listing of the seven generations of Seth in the next chapter). Cain was the first son born to Adam. The “first born son” was a position of power and prominence in human systems throughout history. From the start, however, there is a self-centered and rebellious nature in Cain that carries down through his descendants.

Cain and his younger brother Abel bring offerings to God. Cain brought “some” of his produce while Abel brought “the first-fruits.” The difference is that Cain chose to give God what he wanted (it might not have been the first or best of his crops) while Abel’s offering was the first and best, which was a way of Abel saying to God “It’s not mine. It’s all yours, and only by your blessing am I blessed with it.” Cain’s offering did not find favor, so the seed of his self-centric pride sprouts into envy and anger toward his little brother, which leads to murder, then to Cain’s famous denial “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Interestingly enough, God’s judgement for this fratricide was not “eye-for-an-eye” capital punishment. Instead, God condemns Cain to a life of restless wandering in the “land of Nod.” Nod means “wandering” in Hebrew. Cain and his descendants keep pushing against God’s design and judgement:

  • Cain spends his human effort to contradict the sentence of “wandering” by building a permanent home (vs. 17).
  • Lamech was the first polygamist (vs. 19), rejecting God’s design of monogamy in the Garden (2:20-24), and perhaps overcome God’s curse by having more children at a faster rate.
  • Lamech then follows Cain’s example by killing a man for “wounding” him and glories in his vengeance (vss. 23-24).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of the restless wanderers I’ve observed along my own life journey. Those who appear aimless in life. Those who appear mired in destructive generational patterns. Those who appear motivated to think, speak, and act in perpetual, oppositional defiance. The spiritual descendants of Cain.

As I mull these things over, I don’t feel condemnation or judgement. I feel empathy, even sadness. The story of Cain and his descendants is a sad one, and they represent those whom Jesus came to redeem. Were it not for my decision to become a Jesus follower, I can only imagine where my restless wandering would have led. I’m quite sure it would not have been to good places. I’ve struggled enough following in Jesus’ footsteps and still finding myself prone to wander off course.

I’m reminded of a lyric from one of my favorites from Bob Dylan: “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.” (from the song Every Grain of Sand on the Shot of Love album).

And so I wander into another day on the journey grateful to have purpose, a fixed destination, and a savior who is the Great Shepherd of lost sheep. A Shepherd who will leave the flock to find one lost lamb, even in the land of Nod.

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

“What’s it to You?”

"What's it to You?" (CaD John 21) Wayfarer

When Peter saw [John], he asked [Jesus], “Lord, what about him?”
John 21:21 (NIV)

I grew up fishing with my dad, though I never acquired his love for it. I am too impatient, and was especially so when I was a kid. As a young man, both my body and imagination were too active to sit in a boat for hours waiting for fish to bite. Nevertheless, I do have great memories of doing so.

There is one day in particular that stands out. I was around eleven and Dad and I were fishing on the Canadian side of the boundary waters. We fished a couple of coves on an island we’d never fished before. Oh man, the fish were definitely biting that day. It was unlike anything I’d experienced fishing. It felt like every cast of my Johnson’s Sprite pulled in a fish. In a couple of hours we had our limit, including two or three of the largest fish we’d ever landed. And, we’d thrown a lot of them back. I’ll never forget that day.

I think of that day whenever I read about one of the miraculous catches Jesus facilitated, as in the one in today’s chapter. Jesus told the disciples to go to Galilee and wait for Him there. So they did. And, they waited, and waited, and waited, until Peter couldn’t handle waiting and decided to go fishing. All night they fished, and didn’t catch so much as a minnow. Then the dude on the shore frying up some breakfast yells out to try the right side of the boat. “Voilà!” Suddenly there’s 153 lunkers in the net and the net is too heavy to pull into the boat! I remember that shot of adrenaline and the rush of dopamine flooding through my brain that day dad and I had our big catch.

The boys know in the moment that it’s Jesus on shore cooking breakfast. Peter abandons the boys with the net, dives in, and swims to shore (Did he, perhaps, think for a faction of a second of trying to walk to Jesus on the water?).

John chooses to end his biography with one of the most interesting conversations recorded in the Great Story. Jesus asks Peter to go for a walk, and John follows. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times he commissions Peter to “Feed my sheep.” Peter probably didn’t even understand what Jesus was doing in that moment.

Three affirmations cover the three denials Peter uttered the night of Jesus’ arrest. “Leave your shame behind, Rocky. The Good Shepherd is heading home. You’re the shepherd in charge now.” Jesus then tells Peter to plan on a rough end to his earthly journey. He will be forcefully taken where he doesn’t want to go. He will be stretched out. As the appointed shepherd, they will crucify him, too.

Then Peter does something so human. He looks over at John and asks Jesus, “What about him?”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that we humans have a thing with equity and fairness. I love the idyllic fantasies of everything working out the same for everyone. I so easily fall down the rabbit-hole of envy and jealousy cleverly disguised as political and social righteousness. I so easily grieve when looking over at the grass that appears so much greener on another person’s lot in life.

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve had to submit to the reality that my notions of equity and fairness are not part of the Kingdom economy. That’s why Jesus responds to Peter, “What’s it to you if I have different plans for John? We’re not talking about him, we’re talking about you, Peter. You each have a part to play in this Great Story but the roles are different, your lives and experiences will be different, and your deaths will be different. Peter, you’ll die about thirty years before him. The Romans are going to crucify you. John will live to old age, be exiled to an island, and pen the visions given to him of the final chapters of the Great Story. What’s it to you?”

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a follower of Jesus is that my focus is to be on God’s Kingdom, even on this earthly journey. Not checking-out and biding my time, but rather bringing a Kingdom perspective and mission to all that I am, think, say, and do. Jesus said to “set my heart on things above,” which means my earthly perspective has to change.

Like Peter, I have a journey to walk and a mission to accomplish, but I’ve had to let go of the notion that everyone’s journey looks like mine, or that my mission is going to look exactly like someone else’s. My father was beautifully and wonderfully made to be a gifted accountant, artisan, and patient fisherman. I’m not anything like that, so what’s it to me if dad’s journey looks different than mine, or mine looks different than his?

The good news, Jesus promised, is an equitable eternal homecoming where there is no more sorrow, or pain, or envy, or jealousy. Until then, like Peter, I’m called to contentedly walk my own journey and allow others to walk theirs, even if it appears to me that their journey is better, or easier, or more fun, or [place your favorite envy descriptor here]. I have come to believe that when I look back from eternity, I will see how wrong our human perceptions were with regard to what a “good” life looked like on this world, and also believe my eyes will be opened see all the “good” I experienced but never really saw or appreciated.

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