Tag Archives: Journey

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.

Not Without Struggle

Not Without Struggle (CaD James 1) Wayfarer

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:4 (NIV)

Just yesterday I returned home from a seven day road trip. Part work, part personal, and part sabbatical, I logged more that fifty hours behind the wheel and just shy of 3,000 miles. It felt good to arrive home yesterday, like I’d reached a kind of finish line, a journey’s end.

Journey has always been the core metaphor of this blog. A wayfarer is one who is on a journey, and in these posts I write about my life journey, my spiritual journey, and this chapter-a-day journey.

On a journey, one moves and progresses towards a destination.

On both my life journey and my spiritual journey, my progress is measured, not by distance, but by maturity, wisdom, and the yield of love produced in my spirit, intentions, thoughts, words, and actions along with love’s by-products of joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

On Wednesday of this past week, I was in Richmond, Virginia. I took the opportunity to visit the U.S. Civil War Museum located there. As is a ritual for Wendy and me, I picked up a couple of magnets to mark and memorialize the visit on the fridge back home. One of the magnets is a quote:

“Without struggle, there is no progress.”

Frederick Douglass

When reading James’ letter, I’ve found it beneficial to consider the context in which he wrote it. It was a time of intense struggle. James was not written by James, the disciple of Jesus, but by James the half-brother of Jesus who became leader of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. The followers of Jesus are facing persecution and many have fled the persecution and are living in other places. James chooses to remain and continue the work of Jesus.

James leadership position as a follower of Jesus in Jerusalem puts him in direct conflict with the same religious aristocracy that put Jesus to death, put Stephen to death, and sent Saul hunting down Jesus’ followers. Not long after penning this letter, James will be killed by them, as well. He writes this letter to encourage Jesus’ followers scattered to the four winds and fleeing persecution. He is writing to encourage followers of Jesus to persevere amidst the difficult struggles they faced as wayfarers on journeys of exile.

In the first chapter, James reminds these struggling wayfarers of the goal.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The goal is maturity and wholeness which are produced through persevering in the struggle of many kinds of trials and tests of faith.

Without struggle, there is no progress towards maturity and completeness.

It feels good to be sitting in the quiet of my office this morning. I find myself thinking about “trials of many kinds” through which I have persevered. My mind flashes back to people I met and spent time with on my journey last week. Each one is facing their own struggles and trials on their respective journeys. Each one is making progress. I was blessed by my time with each of them.

I’m reminded this morning as I begin a new work week. This is a journey. Today I progress toward my destination, but not without struggle.

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

Life on the Fast-Track

Life on the Fast-Track (CaD Mk 10) Wayfarer

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” [Jesus] said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Mark 10:33-34 (NIV)

Much of my life has been spent hurrying. Not in the micro sense (though, I confess, my record is dotted with speeding tickets), but in the macro sense. As a kid I was overly anxious to grow up and get to the next stage. I was always looking for the fast-track. I couldn’t wait to get to do what others were allowed to do. Before I had my driver’s license I had friends who loaned me their cars. I graduated from high school early because I could. I wanted to get through college quickly, too. I was driven to find “the one” I would marry and was married before I graduated from college. I was equally driven to start my career, start a family, and make my mark on the world.

What was the rush?

In retrospect, I think being the youngest child positioned me to envy my older siblings. That was part of it. I think my personality also played a part. No matter, my fast-track mentality shaped many of my life decisions with consequences that range from benign to tragic. As I meditate on it in the quiet this morning, I’m not sure I could argue that anything good came of it. I don’t know. I might have to talk that through with a good friend over a pint and a cigar on the back patio.

Here’s what I have learned, however: There are no short-cuts on the spiritual journey except those I try to forge myself, and as Frodo and the lads discovered in the forest “short-cuts make for long delays.”

Perhaps my wealth of experiences at trying to forge short-cuts in life give me greater clarity to see it in others. In today’s chapter, I saw it everywhere.

The institutional religious leaders ask Jesus a direct question about his views on divorce. Jesus is in Herod Antipas’ realm. Herod just had John the Baptist imprisoned for preaching against his unlawful divorce and remarriage to his brother’s wife. Jesus’ enemies saw an opportunity to fast-track Jesus to the same fate.

The rich young man who asked Jesus how to earn eternal life was looking for the fast-track to heaven.

James and John were looking for the fast-track to positions of honor in Jesus’ “glory.”

On the heels of these three events, Jesus points His followers to the place He is heading:

Delivered into the hands of those who hate Him.
Condemned to death.
Delivered into the hands of the Empire.
Mocked.
Spit-on.
Scourged.
Beaten.
Crucified.

He then tells His followers: this is the path.

No short-cuts.
No fast-tracks.
No get-spiritually-rich-quick schemes.
In God’s Kingdom, one does not get moved up to the next grade until the lessons of the current level are effectively learned.

Short-cuts only make for long delays in the spiritual journey.

In the quiet this morning, I look back at my own path and review the results of my attempts at forging spiritual short-cuts. “Benign to tragic.”

It is ironic that today’s chapter ends with a poor blind man who keeps shouting to Jesus: “Have mercy on me!”

The attitude and posture of the poor blind man’s spirit led to his eyes being opened.

There’s a lesson for me in that.

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

The Three Questions

The Three Questions (CaD Mk 5) Wayfarer

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Mark 5:18-19 (NIV)

Tomorrow I celebrate another year on this earthly journey. The earth has made another trip around the sun. It’s my plan to take the day off and have a little personal time. We’ll see how that plays out.

Along the journey I’ve perpetually spent time in the quiet with God contemplating three questions:

  • Where have I been?
  • Where am I at?
  • Where am I going?

As a young man, the answers to the first two questions typically resonated with discontent. The third resonated with hubris.

A little further in the journey, the first two questions resonated with anger. The third resonated with confusion.

Yet further down the path the first question began resonating with gratitude. The second question began resonating with clarity for the first time. The third question began resonating with hopeful longing.

Some mornings as I read the chapter, I find myself meditating on a character in the story. There are so many people we meet in Jesus’ story, but I rarely give most of them more than a passing thought. They are two-dimensional bit-players who make a quick entrance, speak their line or two, and then exit to the Great Story’s Green Room.

When I trained as an actor, I was taught that even bit players have a story. I was trained to study each character that I embodied with equal depth and attention to detail whether I was in the lead role or a bit player. And so, I sometimes like doing a little character study of the bit players I come upon in the chapter. Today it was the man who had spent his life possessed by demons, living amongst the dead and rotting bodies in the local tombs. The locals continued to tie him up and shackle him with chains because he was so raving mad and out of control. Talk about an interesting answer to the introspective question “Where have I been?”

The answer to “Where am I at?” is radically different than it had ever been before. It’s suddenly “normal” like everyone else. The demons are gone. His chains are gone. His spirit and his mind are his own for the first time in how many years? He is a walking miracle. He’s still the one everyone is talking about, but in an entirely new way.

“Where am I going?” he asks himself. His life is suddenly open to endless possibilities. Why not follow this teacher who delivered him? Why not dedicate his life to going wherever Jesus goes, doing whatever Jesus says, and serving Jesus in life-long gratitude? He seeks out Jesus and begs to follow.

It was Jesus answer that resonated in my soul this morning. Jesus could have taken on another disciple. He could have sent this man on any mission to any land Jesus named to accomplish any task no matter how seemingly impossible, and the man would have gladly done it.

But, no. Jesus says, “Stay here, my friend. Stay here in this little village on the shores of Galilee that you call home. Go home to your family and your community. Channel your gratitude for me into loving and serving them well. Love, and be loved. Get a job and support these neighbors who have looked after you for so long. Get married, make love, have children, and experience the joy of a simple life. That’s my mission for you.”

As I heard Jesus saying this in the scene I envisioned in my imagination, one of my life verses came to mind:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV)

As I meditate on entering another year in the journey tomorrow, my heart meanders back, yet again, to the three questions. Amidst the Divine Dance I toss the questions out and open my spirit to the answers.

“Where have I been?” The answer resonates with gratitude more than ever before.

“Where am I at?” The answer has begun to resonate with contentment.

“Where am I going?” The answer is surprisingly soft and still compared to the chaotic resonance of hubris, anger, and longing I’ve known my entire life journey. Wait a minute…

Is that peace?

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

Source, not Compensation

Source, not Compensation (CaD Mk 1) Wayfarer

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:11 (NIV)

Looking back on my life journey, it’s obvious to me that my early thirties were an important stretch of road. My late teens and early twenties were a period of being cocksure of myself. Entering marriage, fatherhood, and adulthood in my early twenties was, for me, a heavy dose of reality. The side-effects of that reality dosage led to a period of intense personal chaos which eventually led to intense introspection, and this eventually led to a more healthy sense of what psychologists would call my individuation. In the parlance of our times, as the Dude would say, I grew up. I became my own person.

As I trekked through that time of life, I began to inspect my family of origin with a critical eye. As with any human system, there were shortcomings which I had to honestly acknowledge, address, and forgive. But I also discovered strengths which had to be equally acknowledged, addressed, and appreciated.

It was during this time of life that I began to witness a common soul wound that effected a number of my male friends. They had never experienced a father’s love. Never had their ears heard the words “I love you” uttered by their dad. Never had they received a word of affirmation, encouragement, or paternal pride. “The old man” had simply been a stoic source of silence, or constant criticism, or unattainable expectations. The result was a seemingly adult male who was, in reality, the walking wounded endlessly striving to earn a blessing that was hopelessly beyond price.

It was this observation that gave me a much needed contrast in my own process of individuation. Every day of my childhood ended with a hug and kiss from my parents and an “I love you.” My father, as well as my mother, was present, loving, affectionate, proud, and trusting. So much so, in fact, that I was blind to it. I took it for granted. I had no idea how priceless of a gift it was.

With today’s chapter, my chapter-a-day journey embarks on Mark’s biography of Jesus. It is the shortest of the four Jesus Stories contained in the Great Story. It is believed to be the earliest to have been written. Mark, also known as John Mark, was a colleague and assistant to both Peter and Paul. Mark’s mother was one of the circle of women who followed and supported Jesus’ ministry. The early believers met in her home. It is believed that Mark’s biography is his compilation of the stories Peter told as they traveled and taught others in the first century.

It is also believed that a curious side note of Mark’s biography of Jesus was, well, autobiographical. It’s found in his description of Jesus’ arrest:

A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

This somewhat comical detail stands out, in part, because Mark’s biography of Jesus is short on details compared to Matthew, John, and Luke. It is a condensed compilation of stories, especially in the early chapters. A dramatization of today’s chapter would contain eight different scenes. That’s a lot of material to chew on in one quiet time.

What resonated most with me this morning was the scene of Jesus’ baptism in which all members of the Trinity are present. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mark the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry and the Father’s voice from heaven declares His love and pleasure with His Son, Jesus. What always stands out to me is that Jesus hasn’t done anything yet.

He hasn’t successfully faced temptation.
He hasn’t hasn’t preached his first sermon.
He has no disciples.
He hasn’t healed anyone.

Jesus has been ritually dunked by His cousin, John. That’s it.

“That’s m’boy,” says the Father. “Man, I love Him. Couldn’t be more proud. It’s such pleasure to be this kid’s Dad!”

Years ago I made this same point during a message I was giving among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One listener accosted me after the service to take issue with this.

“He was thirty years old,” this person exclaimed. “He’d done stuff!”

This individuals insistence quickly made clear to just how wounded their soul was. They could not fathom parental love, pride, or pleasure that had not been demanded, earned, and merited. I have observed along my life journey that much of religious Christianity suffers from this wound. Churches talk about grace (literally, unmerited favor) while demanding that members faithfully earn the system’s social acceptability by carefully being obedient to the silent rules of dress, speech, relationships, and public behavior. In a meritocracy, love, pride and pleasure are a carrot dangled as motivation. They are to be dearly earned through strict obedience.

Not Jesus’ family system. Love, pride and pleasure are the source of the motivation. The divine love and relational intimacy of the mysterious One-is-Three and Three-is-One is what fueled Jesus’ ministry, His mission, His service, and His sacrifice.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful to my father and mother for modeling love. It has mades it easier for me to understand this essential truth about Jesus’ message: Love is the source not the compensation. It is there. It’s right there. All I have to do is believe, receive, and make room. “We love because He first loved us.”

Perhaps the single-most important lesson of my life journey, thus far, was the realization that God’s eternal love, complete forgiveness, and total acceptance was not the result of my “doing stuff” or not “doing stuff.” It is a gift to be simply received. The realization of just how priceless that gift is has been the greatest motivation of my life and has led me to “do stuff” for forty years, like writing this post.

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

Judicial Realizations

Judicial Realizations (CaD Ps 139) Wayfarer

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Yesterday, I spent some time with a friend who is a bit further down life’s road than I am. He sees the finish line of his vocational journey fast approaching. The fact that his days are numbered and there are fewer days ahead than behind is not lost on him. We talked honestly.

“I just want to finish well,” he said to me.

We then quickly recounted the names of those we know who did not finished life well. It was a sobering thought.

If you ask me to share my individual, unvarnished story with you, I’m going to share things that are pretty unseemly. Along my life journey I have been guilty of both pretty sins and ugly sins. For about the first 15-20 years of my 40 years as a Jesus follower, I did my best to hide these things under a well-polished veneer of goodness. Eventually, things caught up with me. As I hit bottom and could no longer keep up appearances, I had a fellow believer and therapist tell me, “I’ve been watching the slow deconstruction of the image of Tom.”

I’ve learned along this journey that sometimes old things must be razed before new, fruitful things can begin growing.

The 23rd Psalm undoubtedly tops the Billboard Chart for all-time favorite ancient Hebrew songs. Today’s chapter, Psalm 139, is definitely makes the Top Ten. It might even be number two. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to do so. The liner notes ascribe it to David, which adds an intriguing layer of meaning to the lyrics.

It’s easy to read Psalm 139 in the mind frame of the devotional and theological. But in the context of David’s day, the lyrics are judicial. Christian theology holds that God is omnipresent, meaning that God is present in all places at all times. While the lyrics of David’s song support this idea, the ancients of David’s world had no such notion. Rather, they considered that both gods and kings had access to all places and all knowledge. Therefore, no one could run and hide from justice. No matter how high, low, near, or far I try to hide, the Divine Judge has full access, even to see and know the person I am beneath the well-polished veneer of goodness.

Much like the 51st Psalm, David’s song is an honest and intimate confession. David is laying open his life, his heart, and his soul before God, who is the Divine Judge. In doing so, David is exposing and owning his own sins, both pretty and ugly. A man of violence and bloodshed, an adulterer, a murderer, a failed father, a failed husband, and a less-than-perfect king, David stands before God knowing that God doesn’t need the Freedom of Information Act to see it all. David asks God to search his very heart, which ironically is the thing that led God to choose David in the first place.

Which leads me back to my story, and my life, which is every bit as polluted with sins both pretty and ugly. There came a point in my journey that I had my own Psalm 139 moment. I could continue running, hiding, and polishing, but that never got me anywhere healthy. So, I owned my own shit. I processed my feelings, my failings, and my indulgent human appetites. Ironically, it was at that point in my journey that a number of really good things began to spiritually sprout within me.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the fact that I’m writing these words on Good Friday. As I remember that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for me, so that in him I might become the righteousness of God,” I am reminded that it’s not about the things that I have done, but the thing that Christ did for me. The more honest I am about the things I have done, the more potent the thing that Christ did for me becomes. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, it is that kindness of Christ that leads me to genuine repentance, not judgement, condemnation, nor religious rigor.

This morning, I find myself thinking that if I want to finish well then I have to keep this spiritual truth before me this day, each day, until I reach the journey’s end.

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Psalm 136 is one of the most fascinating of all the songs in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we all the book of Psalms. The ancient Hebrew songwriter crafted it in such a way that the the meaning and metaphor of the lyrics are as much in the structure as they are in the words. First, there’s the organization of the the theme:

  • Six verses about creation
  • Six verses about the Hebrews deliverance from slavery
  • One verse about the Hebrews being led through the wilderness
  • Six verses about the Hebrews conquest of Canaan
  • Four verses that echo/summarize the previous themes
  • A final call to praise God

There is no other psalm in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that utilizes the call and response device as this song does. Twenty-six times the refrain “His love endures forever” is used. That number is important because for the ancient Hebrews, the letters of their alphabet also did double-duty as numerals. Every letter was used as a number. When you add up the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH (Note: the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have vowels) the total is, you guessed it, 26.

As I thought about the structure of the song, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels every life story, my life story.

I have a creation story. There’s the time in which I was born, the family in which I was raised, the community of my childhood, and the events that set me on my path in life.

Like the Hebrew exodus from slavery, I have climactic events that shape and define my life journey. My decision to follow Christ and subsequent call to proclaim His message, my being cast in a film and meeting the mentor who would play an instrumental part in my life, my early marriage, the births of Taylor and Madison, the divorce that would end my first marriage after seventeen years, and the unexpected arrival of Wendy in my life.

Like the Hebrew wilderness experience, I have my own stretch of life’s road in which I wandered in the wilderness of my own choosing. I chose the path of the prodigal. I ran. I squandered. I was unfaithful to those I loved most. I had my own pig-slop “Aha!” moment. I had to find my way back.

Like the Hebrew conquest, I have my own slate of victories in life. I have accomplishments, awards, and successes.

And, through it all, God’s faithful, enduring love is woven through every major success and every tragic failure. His love is woven through my best moments and my worst. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul wrote that at the end of the Great Story that contains all stories, including mine, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love. he adds, “The greatest of these is love.”

In the quiet this morning, as I look back at my own story, I am realizing just how much God’s love shows up like the repeated refrain of Psalm 136. I am also reminded that like the 26 love refrains the song writer metaphorically employed to point me to God, Yahweh, I am pointed to a God who is love incarnate, which is the destination and goal of my entire story and life journey through this world. If I’m not growing into love in increasing measure as Jesus defined it, then I am (perhaps even with the best of intentions) headed in the wrong direction.

Songs for Different Seasons

Songs for Different Seasons (CaD Ps 123) Wayfarer

We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

Psalm 123:4 (NIV)

I have, throughout my life journey, had the honor of regularly speaking to groups of people both large and small. One of the things that I have learned along the way is that those who may be listening are all over the map when it comes to their motivations for being there, the struggles they are experiencing both physically and spiritually, and what it is they are seeking. Everyone has a story and, depending on the situation, I may no a few, if any, of them.

Today’s chapter is another “song of ascents” or a song that Hebrew pilgrims would sing on their way to Jerusalem. What’s been fascinating as I journey through them this time is to see the variety of themes in the lyrics. Among the thousands and thousands of wayfarers making the sojourn to Jerusalem, there was any number of things weighing on their hearts and lives that they wanted to bring to God.

Psalm 120: Those feeling alone and in exile.

Psalm 121: Those seeking assurance of safety and security.

Psalm 122: Those seeking out justice.

Psalm 123: Those suffering the ridicule and contempt of others.

There were different songs of ascent for the different seasons of life each spiritual wayfarer might be in on the repeated journey to and from Jerusalem. Today’s song resonated with those whose hearts and lives were stinging from being the object of contempt and ridicule.

One of the realities that I find is often lost or forgotten among followers of Jesus was just how much contempt and ridicule He faced. After His first public message, in His hometown, the listeners rioted and wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Entire towns refused to let Jesus enter and teach in their villages, some let Him enter and treated Him and His message with contempt. Jesus’ own family attempted, at one point, to take control and have Him committed. Thousands of people were following Jesus one day, and the next day virtually all of them rejected Him and walked away. His closest followers were tempted to do the same, and one of those followers ultimately gave himself over to contempt and accepted a bribe in order to seal Jesus’ death with a kiss.

As I read the words of Jesus, these things shouldn’t surprise me:

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

“They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my name. And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other.”

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the thousands of ancient sojourners trekking to Jerusalem, each with their own story, their own burden, their individual spiritual needs. Each with their own song of ascent to sing and prepare their hearts for worship, offering, and sacrifice. I think about the individuals who listened to me a week or so ago, each with their own story, their own burden, their own waypoint on the spiritual journey. Perhaps some, like those ancients who sang the lyrics of today’s chapter, feeling the ridicule and contempt of others.

I am reminded that this is a spiritual journey that I am on. The song of ascent that my heart sings today is not the one that resonated with me at different waypoints on the journey, in different chapters of my own story. My spirit will be singing a different song of ascent if my earthly journey continues a year from now, a decade from now, or beyond.

I have always experienced God meeting me right where I am at on the journey, no matter what song my heart happens to be singing.