Tag Archives: Kindness

Wisdom to Know the Difference

Wisdom to Know the Difference (CaD Rev 14) Wayfarer

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Revelation 14:6-7 (NIV)

One summer during my college years, my friend Spike and I were in need of money. It happened that a large institutional church was holding their national conference here in central Iowa and someone I knew told me they were in need of people to help with daycare for children and youth for a week. It paid well, so we signed up.

Being male college students, those in charge of the daycare program put us in charge of the older boys. I had the boys ages 11 and 12 in my group. If I remember correctly, Spike got the 9 and 10-year-old boys. Most of the boys were “Pastors’ Kids” (aka “PKs”), and PKs have a reputation for being particularly rebellious. Perhaps it’s because so many people expect the Pastor’s kid to be particularly virtuous that so many of them take normal unruly childishness to particularly rebellious extremes.

A few of my boys were the worst of the worse. The truth is that I really liked them, but whatever they were told to do they refused to do. Given the opportunity, they would go to great lengths to get into trouble. Their disruptions and antics made it virtually impossible for the others to enjoy themselves.

One episode happened on an old school bus that had taken all the kids to a museum. One of my worst offenders had purchased a kazoo in the museum gift shop. He was being particularly obnoxious with his kazoo as the bus was on the interstate heading back to the conference, making himself a pest to everyone around him. I calmly warned him twice to cease his kazoo playing. My warnings only stoked the fires of his defiance and he only intensified his obnoxious behavior. A third time I warned him, and this time I told him that if he didn’t stop I was throwing his kazoo out the bus window (the bus had no air conditioning and all the windows were open). He looked at me with insubordinate eyes and played the kazoo right in my face. I grabbed his kazoo and threw it out the window.

One of the reasons that Jesus told parables was because simple stories are often metaphors for deep spiritual truths. In one of His parables, Jesus told of a farmer who sowed his wheat in a field. His enemy came in the night and sowed weeds amidst the wheat. The farmer told his workers to leave the weeds, as pulling them might uproot the wheat, as well. “Wait for the harvest,” he said. “At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” Jesus then told His disciples the meaning of this metaphorical parable:

“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Matthew 13:37-43 (NIV)

I thought of both Kazoo Boy and the parable of the weeds as I read today’s chapter. We are in the end times. This is the “harvest” in Jesus’ parable. Seven seal judgments and seven trumpet judgments have already occurred. The final set of judgments in the trinity, the bowl judgments, are about to be unleashed. God sends three angels to make proclamations “to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Wishing that none should perish, the first angel proclaims the good news of God’s love and salvation. The second angel warns of the kingdoms of the earth that are about to be taken down. The third angel warns the people of what will happen if they continue to defiantly worship the “beast and his image” and it’s not pleasant.

In the quiet this morning, I was struck by two things. Even at the very end of the Great Story, God is pleading with humanity to repent, believe, and be saved. It’s never too late to accept God’s gift of salvation. Second, those who remain through the judgment have chosen to be there just like my choice in yesterday’s post. I find myself in the tension between gratitude for God’s kindness and sadness for the oppositionally defiant.

Kazoo Boy would be in his late 40s at this point. I wonder about his story and his own journey. I said a little prayer for God’s goodness and blessing on him wherever he is. I’m so glad that we all have the opportunity to grow beyond the little twits we can be as children. As Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

God, grant me the grace to put childishness behind me while living this day with child-like faith. Give me the wisdom to know the difference.

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

Small Things, Big Consequences

Small Things, Big Consequences (CaD Jos 16) Wayfarer

[The tribe of Ephraim] did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor.
Joshua 16:10 (NIV)

Over the next couple of days, I’m going to be working with a client and teaching them strategies for handling escalated customers over the phone. It’s the number one training and coaching request that our team gets. There are no magic pills when it comes to handling an angry customer, but there certainly are strategies that work in many, if not most, situations. Using the right voice tone, and choosing the right words to communicate both empathy and ownership are important. They can turn a potentially explosive situation around.

Beyond business, I have found this same principle to be true in everyday relationships. Early in our marriage, Wendy and I established a couple of small habits without ever talking about them or discussing them. We just did it, and over time I believe it has helped fill one another’s love tank.

One of these tiny habits is the simple and repetitive expression of gratitude for the things one another does as part of the division of labor in our household. Every time Wendy spends the day doing laundry, I always thank her. Likewise, she always expresses her gratitude to me for taking care of the lawn and landscaping. A little gratitude goes a long way.

The other tiny habit is expressing a positive willingness when either of us asks the other for assistance, help, or a favor. It’s amazing how powerful the phrase “I’d be happy to do that for you” is when it is both said and exemplified. It subtly says, “You’re not a burden. I love you, and I’m happy to assist with whatever you need from me.”

Small things, but I believe they have had a huge positive impact on our relationship.

In today’s chapter, the tribe of Ephraim receives their allotment of the Promised Land. As with yesterday’s chapter, the Family Patterns are telling. Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph, who was his father Jacob’s favorite son and was sold into slavery by his brothers. Now, 600 years later, the tribes of Joseph are still getting preferential treatment.

So far, three tribes have received their Promised Land inheritance and at the end of each property’s legal description, there is a report as to whether the tribe was able to conquer the remaining peoples located within their boundaries. Caleb drove the Anakites from Hebron (chapter 14), Judah was unable to dislodge the Jebusites from the fortress of Jerusalem (chapter 15), and Ephraim was unable to dislodge all of the Canaanites living in their territory in today’s chapter.

The tag regarding the Canaanites being subject to forced labor is actually a legal wording of that time. It appears in other land documents from that region in the Bronze Age. Forced labor was a common form of taxation in those days. Instead of paying money, subjects of a local or regional ruler were required to work on building projects.

While these lines about not dislodging the inhabitants of the land appear as legal footnotes of the chapter, they will actually have far-reaching, consequences that are not always positive. The tribes will be influenced by the other peoples and cultures living among them. Throughout the rest of Israel’s story, idolatry will plague the nation as the tribes adopt and worship local deities along with the Lord, breaking the first of the ten commandments given through Moses. This will have negative repercussions.

When David becomes King of Israel, he will make Jerusalem the capital city. This was, in part, because of the presence and local power of the Jebusites who still lived and thrived there. After conquering Jerusalem, David makes it the seat of his power which was essentially a political move to appease and align the Jebusites to his rule.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering the reality that small things can have large, far-reaching consequences. The principle works both in the negative and the positive. A bad habit allowed to perpetuate can ultimately lead to tragic ends. Likewise, a small daily choice to express kindness and gratitude can result in a fruitful relationship.

Today, I want to be mindful of the small words of gratitude, the little acts of kindness, and simple generosities I can express to everyone with whom I interact. Simple words, gratitude, and affirmations repeatedly expressed can have huge consequences on both my attitude and in those in my circles of influence.

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

The Inflection Point of Kindness

The Inflection Point of Kindness (CaD Gen 8) Wayfarer

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark…
Genesis 8:1 (NIV)

Every spring, our small town has a Tulip Festival that attracts huge crowds that wander our quaint public square. The crowds bring out a certain brand of street preachers who will stand in crowded areas and loudly proclaim their brand of hellfire, condemnation, and judgment on all of us sinners.

The modern-day, would-be prophets always bring out a mixture of anger and sadness in me. The anger comes from the fact that they give individuals who aren’t followers of Jesus a skewed mental picture of who Jesus is and what His Message is all about. The sadness is for the hearts of these misguided prophets themselves who, judging by their hatred and vitriol, have truly not come to grips with their own sinfulness nor have they experienced God’s amazing grace themselves.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I observed the parallel between the destructive flood of Noah and the redemptive metaphor of baptism. Because we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, the journey through Genesis is chock full of the first appearances of themes that foreshadow the chapters yet to come. Today’s chapter is an inflection point in the story of Noah which shifts the narrative from destruction to redemption. It begins with the very first verse of today’s chapter that I highlighted at the top of the post.

The Hebrew word for “remembered” (as in, “God remembered Noah”) is zākar. It means more than just the “A ha!” remembering or bringing to mind that the word “remembered” conjures in English. Zākar is layered with the notions of fondness, honor, worthiness, and active consideration. It’s a loving-kindness type of remembrance that motivates action. This is a stark contrast to the judgment and regret that has described God’s mood to this point in the Noah story.

What follows is the account of the end of the flood, but what is lost on most modern readers is the hidden parallel to the original creation story in chapter 1. What’s more, there are seven parallels just as there were seven days in creation.

  • 8:2 mentions the waters above and below, just like 1:7.
  • 8.5 mentions the ground appearing, just like 1:9.
  • 8:7 mentions birds flying above, just like 1:20.
  • 8:17 mentions the animals, just like 1:25.
  • 9:1 says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” just like 1:28a.
  • 9:2 mentions humanity’s dominion over creation, just like 1:28b.
  • 9:3 mentions God’s giving of plants/animals for food, just like 1:30.

Now we have a new theme emerging which will be vitally important in the Great Story, all the way until the very end. It’s a variation on the theme of order>chaos>reorder introduced two chapters ago:

Creation —> Destruction —> Re-creation

We see this theme in Jesus’ proclamation “I’m going to destroy this Temple and rebuild it in three days!” We will see this theme at the very end of the Great Story in Revelation when the old heaven and earth pass away and a new heaven and earth are created. And, we see it in the lives of those who follow Jesus, as Paul describes in his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth:

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.
2 Cor 5:16-18 (MSG)

From the very beginning of the Great Story, God introduces and foreshadows the grand theme in light of humanity’s sin: reorder, redemption, new creation.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to the street preachers spewing their condemnation at Tulip Time. I’m reminded of Romans 2:4 which says it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not hatred, anger, judgment, condemnation, or damnation. I’ve experienced my own spiritual inflection point when I realized that my sin was heinous as the worst of sinners but Jesus remembered (zākar) me and His loving-kindness extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That shifted my own story to one of redemption.

May I always “remember” others the same way.

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

Two Sides of Jesus

Two Sides of Jesus (CaD John 2) Wayfarer

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing…”
John 2:6 (NIV)

In yesterday’s opening chapter of John’s biography of Jesus, I shared that identity is a core theme of John’s narrative.

  • John identifies Jesus as the embodied, eternal Word through which all things were created, whom John himself saw glorified.
  • John identifies Jesus as a spiritual bookend to Moses; The law came through Moses, while grace and truth came through Jesus.
  • John the Baptist identifies himself as not the Messiah, but one who “comes before” and “a voice in the wilderness” preparing the way.
  • John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
  • Jesus identifies his first disciples and gives Simon a new identity, as “Peter.”

In today’s chapter, John chooses two episodes to begin introducing the reader to Jesus. I couldn’t help but recall John’s words at the end of his narrative:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

John 21:25 (NIV)

So why did John choose these two episodes? First, Jesus acts out of His divinity. He gives in to His mother’s request to salvage a wedding feast for the host by miraculously turning water into wine. In the second, Jesus acts out of His humanity at the Temple in Jerusalem. He overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple courts and creates a small riot.

I spent some time meditating on these two stories, and I found them to be a fascinating contrast which identifies two important aspects of Jesus’ person. Jesus channels divine power to extend compassionate generosity to a common, everyday person stuck in a very human social dilemma. John doesn’t even identify the bride, the groom, or the family who found themselves on the cusp of social humiliation by running out of wine for their guests. What a very ordinary human dilemma for Jesus to solve by miraculously producing 180 gallons of wine (and not just your average table wine, He produced the “good stuff”).

In the second episode, Jesus sets Himself against human corruption that polluted the religious institution and Temple system. The leaders of the Temple had a racket going. They extorted money and lined their pockets from poor religious pilgrims who came from all over the world to offer ritual offerings and sacrifices, forcing them to exchange Roman or other currency into Temple currency (plus taxes and fees, of course). No miracle here. Jesus very humanly channels His inner challenger to fire a shot across the bow of the powerful, religious racketeers. It is the opening shot of a three-year conflict that will end with the racketeers’ conspiracy to commit the legally sanctioned murder of Jesus.

Miraculously divine compassion for a common, everyday nobody.

Courageous human action against a corrupt “kingdom of this world.”

And even in the water-to-wine miracle, there exists a powerful metaphor that connects these two episodes. The “six stone jars” Jesus had the wedding attendants use were intended to be used by the religious leaders for their “ceremonial washing” water. The religious leaders will later accuse Jesus of refusing to follow their prescribed ritual “washing.” They will also accuse Jesus of being a drunkard. Jesus uses the water jars used for the religious leaders’ hypocritical cleansing to produce 180 gallons of “new wine.” And, I also can’t forget that there were six jars, and the number six is identified in the Great Story as “man’s number.” Man’s institutional religious hypocrisy is transformed into divine kindness and compassion for a nameless, poor commoner.

  • Fruitful acts of divine love and compassion towards others
  • Bold defiance of institutional corruption and hypocrisy

In the quiet this morning I find myself desiring to embody these two characteristics that John identifies in Jesus.

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

Counter-Cultural

Counter-Cultural (CaD James 2) Wayfarer

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James 2:13 (NIV)

This past week, as I traversed America, I had numerous daily encounters with numerous people. Many of them were momentary interactions, but I couldn’t help but notice that people were almost universally kind, conversational, and cheerful no matter the age or the color of their skin. When I realized that I’d left my phone in the car of a friend, I was amazed at how quickly complete strangers offered to let me use their phone and immediately offered to help me above and beyond what I expected.

Early Saturday morning I was filling the car at a Shell gas station outside Memphis, Tennessee. I was engaged by the black guy in his security guard uniform at the pump next to mine. I asked if he was going to work or getting off. We talked about music. He loves jazz, just like me. He was driving away while I was still pumping gas. He pulled up, rolled down his window, and wanted to show me a pair of bluetooth speakers he uses in his car because of the quality of sound he gets out of them. We chatted some more. Nice dude. Our conversation was a pick-me-up to start the day.

There is a young lady on social media who posts a daily video teaching the language of Scotland. Only a few seconds long, she typically defines a word and then uses it in a sentence. It’s a quirky little thing that I find engaging. In the last week or so she posted a video responding to the mean-spirited and vicious comments people had made on her posts. I simply can’t understand why anyone would be so vile. She’s not being political. She’s not talking about any issues. She is simply teaching people a Scottish word. Seriously. If you don’t like it, scroll on.

I’m observing more-and-more that there is a level of anger, meanness, and vitriol that people feel comfortable expressing in the rather anonymous online world. People feel free to be snarky, rude, and downright brutal. Because online news allows for comments to any story, Wendy and I often will glance at what people have posted at the end of a news piece we’re reading each morning during breakfast. We’re often shocked at how bombastic and ugly people can be over issues that are relatively insignificant.

There’s a contrast there that struck me on my road trip last week. Maybe it was because I hardly spent any time on social media last week. At the same time, I had far more random and personal interactions with humans than normal, especially after a year of COVID quarantine. Every one of those pleasant, cheerful, and kind interactions lifted my spirit more than I would have ever expected.

In today’s chapter, James instructs followers of Jesus not to show favoritism. He particularly calls out the favoritism that is often shown to rich-and-powerful individuals at the expense of the poor-and-marginalized. One of the calling cards of the early Jesus Movement was the fact that everyone was welcome at the table regardless of gender, race, politics, or socio-economic status. James tells the followers of Jesus now scattered among the nations to continue engaging others without judgment or pre-judgement. Rather, others are to be shown mercy. In the Great Story, it is kindness that leads people to repentance, not judgment or condemnation.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of the simple power that mercy, kindness, goodness, and gentleness can generate. This is especially true when they are exemplified in a time and culture in which cancelling, condemnation, contempt, and coarse discourtesy run amok.

I choose this day to be counter-cultural by choosing to show mercy others, and to be kind.

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

The Predicate

The Predicate (CaD Ps 23) Wayfarer

The Lord is my shepherd…
Psalm 23:1 (NRSVCE)

What is there to say about, arguably, the most well-known passage of the Great Story? Books have been written about it. It is recited incessantly by millions of believers every day. I think it may have been read at every funeral I’ve ever attended. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers did an entire series of messages on it. It has been explained, dissected, put to music, memorized, and printed on more trinkets, bookmarks, and wall plaques than any other text of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, as I meditated on the text, my soul landed on the opening five words: The Lord is my shepherd….

That’s the phrase that gets quickly forgotten when I recite it. I want to get to the green pastures and quiet waters part, because my soul desperately needs rest. I want to get to the restoration of soul because weariness seems to be its constant reality. I want to get to that comforting part, though I don’t know how a staff could do that. I just know that I really want to be comforted in the midst of a world that churns and blares with endless messages that create fear, anxiety, confusion, and depression in me. I want to get to the goodness and mercy, because I secretly hold in my faults, mistakes, flaws, and insecurities and the guilt, the shame, is sometimes debilitating.

As I read through David’s most well-known lyrics for the millionth time, this is what comes to mind. Everything described from the rest to the restoration, the anointing, the overflow of blessing, the kindness, the mercy, the homecoming, and safe dwelling, all of it is predicated on this One Thing: The Lord is my Shepherd.

But, is He?

Who is Shepherding me?

Is it possible that I could be allowing myself to be “shepherded” by another human being, a religious institution, a teacher, a university, a parent, a government, a political party, a screen, a device, a drug, a drink, a dream, a job, an appetite, or a cause?

Is it possible that the weariness, anxiety, fear, neediness, aimlessness, guilt, and shame which makes Psalm 23 so meaningful stems from the fact that I’m really just trying to “shepherd” myself?

This poured out onto my morning pages this morning:

Lord, I surrender to you my ego,
with all its insatiable neediness for security and affirmation.
I surrender to you Lord, my body,
with all of its insatiable appetites desiring indulgence.
Lord, I surrender to you my thoughts,
with all the destructive recordings that loop incessantly which no one sees or hears, the toxic things I feed it, and the worthless things on which it insistently dwells.
I surrender to you, Lord, my being,
which you created for your glory and not my fame or well-being.
Lord, I surrender to you control,
which I foolishly cling to in my doubt and disillusionment.
Lord, I surrender to you all that I possess,
and with it, the deceptive notion that I possess anything
for there is nothing I possess that does not threaten to possess me.
I surrender to you, Lord, my money,
and with it, the masquerade that tells me this world has anything of eternal value that could possibly be purchased.

Lord, be my Shepherd.

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

Cutting the Mustard

Cutting the Mustard (CaD Ps 15) Wayfarer

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
    Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Psalm 15:1 (NRSVCE)

Acceptance.
Entrance.
Cutting the mustard.
Making the grade.
The keys to the kingdom.
The punched ticket.
The front of the line.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed a lot of mental and spiritual energy is devoted to who is in and who is out. In fact, I’ve known and spent time in religious groups whose applied theology comes down to intense behavior modification rooted in fear of social and spiritual rejection and ostracization.

Reading the song lyrics of today’s Psalm, I have to remind myself that in David’s day, the center of the sacrificial worship system set up by Moses (which we read about in the chapter-a-day journey through Exodus that we just completed) continued God’s traveling tent sanctuary that had been set up in various places but which David set on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. David’s dream was to construct a permanent temple structure. That dream would be ultimately fulfilled by his son, Solomon. Until then, the ol’ tent temple was used and people would have to ascend the hill where it resided to conduct their ritual sacrifices and offerings.

Today’s song reads like a moral check-list, and some scholars think it may have been used as some kind of liturgy of questions that those pilgrims wanting to enter the sanctuary area had to go through. In other words, “Do you cut the righteous mustard enough to gain entrance?”

In the chapter-a-day journey through Exodus, I was struck time-and-time-again by the ways in which Jesus and His teaching changed the paradigm. He brought a more mature understanding of Spirit and relationship with God. Jesus spoke out against the religious do-gooders and spent most of his time among the sinners who didn’t cut the righteous and religious mustard. He welcomed sinners ostracized by His Temple cohorts, preached repentance of the heart that leads to real change rather than social behavior modification which leads to suppression of our true spiritual selves, secret sins, and false fronts.

As Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers in Rome (Rom 2:4): God’s kindness is what leads to repentance. I’ve observed along the way is that we humans always want to go back to the “my moral purity leads to acceptance model.

But that doesn’t mean I completely dismiss the heart of what David is singing about in the lyrics of today’s psalm because there’s another important life lesson connected here. David goes through his checklist of righteous behaviors:

  • Do the right thing
  • Speak truth from your heart
  • Don’t slander others
  • Do right by others
  • Don’t pile on when others are beat-down
  • Honor God
  • Keep your promises
  • Be generous
  • Don’t take bribes.

He then ends with “those who do these things shall never be moved.” In other words, truly living the right way and doing the right things are the basis of a solid, unshakeable life. You sleep well at night. You aren’t sneaking around trying to get away with things. You aren’t secretly living in shame and the paranoid fear of being found out, nor are you trying to always stay one step ahead of religious checklist keepers and their bandwagon of public shame which is always warmed-up and ready to drive you out into the wilderness of scandal and rejection.

So, in the quiet this morning I find myself back at my heart of hearts. Why would I want to live right and do right by God, myself, and others? Is it to keep up appearances and cut the mustard? Or is it because I’ve honestly come clean with God and those with whom I’m walking this life journey and received from them grace, forgiveness, and acceptance – which leads to so much gratitude that I genuinely want to change my ways and do the right things by them for all the right reasons?

Cutting the mustard, or coming clean? That is the question.

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

“Jesus People Very Nice”

“Jesus People Very Nice” (CaD Ex 23) Wayfarer

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 23:9 (NIV)

My Vander Well family in America is here because of one ancestor, Walter Vander Well (born Wouter van der Wel) who came to the States from South Holland and settled in northwest Iowa in the 1880s. He was part of multiple waves of Dutch immigrants who settled across Michigan and Iowa, founding rural towns like the one Wendy and I call home today. Five generations later there’s a small army of Walter’s descendants spread across the continent from Michigan to Iowa, Canada, and all the way to the west coast.

Immigration is a fascinating thing. Wendy and I were privileged to see a play at London’s National Theatre back in 2009. It was called England People Very Nice by Richard Bean. The setting of the play is a poor tenement building in London and a neighborhood pub. It humorously chronicles the multiple waves of immigrants to flood into Britain over time from French, to Irish, to Jewish, and Bangladeshi. Each wave lands in the low-rent tenement building and raises the ire of the locals in the pub. The previous wave who was hated by the locals, now find themselves being the locals hating the next wave of immigrants. It continues to stir conversation for Wendy and me in light of the immigration issues of our day.

I have observed this same pattern in the experience of my Dutch ancestors who initially struggled to acclimate to life in America. The Dutch huddled together in small communities and clung to their Dutch neighbors, language, and way of life. This often fueled local resentment towards them. My grandparents were both the first generation born in the States and they both spoke Dutch fluently. They refused to teach my father and his brother because of prejudice against the Germanic sounding language during World War II. Our little town, both steeped in its Dutch heritage and proud of its successful American experience, is now sometimes criticized (a la England People Very Nice) of being closed to aliens moving in.

In today’s chapter, God continues to provide the ancient Hebrews with specific rules for life. God repeats the rule mentioned in yesterday’s chapter about treating foreigners living among them with deference. Fascinating that it’s mentioned twice in such proximity to one another in the text. It leads me to wonder if the repetition speaks to the importance God places on it, or the knowledge that it will a tough one to obey given human nature. I personally conclude that it’s a case of “both, and.”

As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think, once again, beyond the letter of the law in the text, to the Spirit of the law to which Jesus pointed time and time again. Far from being obedient to the command, Jesus’ people separated themselves from the aliens living among them. They treated foreigners and those of mixed-race, like the Samaritan people, as inferior. They created systemic social and religious barriers much like the ones we are addressing in our own culture today.

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, when He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, and when He commanded His followers to take His message to Samaria, He was addressing systemic racial prejudice. Jesus was pointing His own people back to the heart of God that motivated the law repeated twice in yesterday’s chapter and today’s. He was, essentially, pointing to His own law of love: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Isn’t that what God says in the text? “You’ve been an alien in a foreign land. You know what it’s like. You’ve been the victim of prejudice and hate. So treat the aliens living among you with loving-kindness the way you wished you’d been treated in Egypt.”

Jesus’ followers did just that and “turned the world upside-down.

I’m reminded this morning that Jesus was not about adherence to textual rules. Jesus was about following God’s Spirit to speak, act, and relate to others in accordance with God’s heart. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to do just that in my own world and my own culture. That’s what I want to do. That’s who I want to be, increasingly, this day and each day of this earthly journey.

Of course, that requires me to act differently than human nature has led people to behave in ancient Judea, in London tenement houses, and in Dutch-settlements in America, along with almost every other people group on the earth. May I speak and behave in such a way, with anyone with whom I interact, regardless of what they look like or where they are from, that it would be said of me: “Jesus’ people very nice.”

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

Spiritual Hearing and Sight Impairment

Spiritual Hearing and Sight Impairment (CaD Ex 6) Wayfarer

Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
Exodus 6:9 (NRSVCE)

When Jesus was teaching, He would repetitiously tag his message by saying, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” This phrase has always resonated with me. Maybe more so because in the experience of delivering a message I have always experienced that some people really “hear” the message and others do not. Jesus was constantly acknowledging this truth. In explaining to His followers the reason He taught with parables He went so far as to embrace that this is part of a larger spiritual mystery revealed by the prophet, Isaiah:

That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
“Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
    Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
    so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
    so they won’t have to look,
    so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
    and let me heal them.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear!”

Matthew 13 :13-16 (MSG)

Not everyone wants to see it or hear it in this moment.

Not everyone is ready to see it or hear it in this moment.

In yesterday’s chapter, Moses’ first attempt at getting Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go was a dismal failure. Not only did Pharaoh reject the appeal, but he made life even worse for the Hebrews whom Moses is trying to lead. In today’s chapter, Moses is prompted by God to have another go at it but his people would not listen “because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on those whom I observe to be suffering from spiritual hearing and sight impairment. In my experience, the institutional church and its regulatory minions have been too quick to diagnose such a person with a terminal spiritual condition. Judgment and condemnation quickly follow before shaking the dust off and returning to the cloister. I confess that, in my own spiritual journey, I have been guilty of this very attitude.

Mea culpa.

As I began to walk life’s journey along-side those who are struggling to spiritually see and hear, I found them to be a lot like the Hebrews in today’s chapter. There is something broken spiritually. Often it is something old and painful that is deep-seated. Typically it is of no fault of their own. It is the scars of circumstance. I have also observed that there is almost always a true desire to spiritually hear and see, but there is a process. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, the first time Jesus rubbed the man’s eyes everything was blurry. It took another repetition before the man gained his full sight.

It’s going to take repetition for Moses’ people, too. They are broken. They’re struggling under the weight of their chains and the scars of their overseers. It’s going to take time, repetition, and perseverance before they can hear what God is saying and see what God is doing through Moses.

Along the way, I’ve learned that if someone is spiritually deaf and blind, it simply means I need to keep speaking in love, listening patiently, acting kindly, responding gently, serving faithfully, and controlling my reactions. I’m reminded that on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was still complaining that His closest followers weren’t hearing Him or seeing what He was doing.

Some things take time.

The Curse of Being Religious

While being a follower of Jesus may lead me to participate in religious behaviors, being a religious person does not necessarily make me a follower of Jesus. The following post was originally published back in may of 2013. It still resonates with me. Another good one to sow out there again. By the way, tomorrow I plan to start journeying through Exodus. It’s been 11 years since the last time I blogged through it. It’s time to return to the story of Moses. In the meantime, enjoy…

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices.
Proverbs 21:3 (NLT)

Over the years I’ve had many people refer to me as a religious person. The term has always bothered me. The truth of the matter is that when you read the first-hand accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry you find that He saved His most harsh criticism and angry judgment for the most religious people of His day.

When Jesus encountered a woman caught in the act of adultery He said to her:

I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

When Jesus talked to the religious church goers He said:

“You hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

When Jesus encountered a man with leprosy who said, “If you’re willing, you can make me clean,” Jesus reached out and touched the leprous man and said:

I’m willing. Be clean.”

When Jesus talked to the religious church elders He said:

“You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

When a poor, paralytic man was brought to Jesus, He said to the man:

Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Then Jesus healed the man.

When Jesus talked to the religious fundamentalists He said:

“You religiously give your ten percent, but you have neglected the more important matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

When Jesus took the time to ask a woman, who was a social outcast and racially persecuted, for a drink, He said to her:

Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”

When Jesus talked to the strict, religious people He said:

“You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

My desire is to follow Jesus each day in the way I forgive, touch, heal, reach, cleanse, embrace, and love. If I fail in this attempt while becoming a good, conservative, church-going, religious person then it is clear to me from Jesus’ own words that I have left the path of His footsteps and have failed miserably in my quest.

So, when I hear people refer to me as a “religious” person, I’ll confess that my heart sinks. I know they may not mean it the way that I receive it, but still. Religious is not the goal. Love is the goal. So, at the moment I hear someone calling me religious, I silently ask God to forgive me for being religious. Then I quietly ask Him to help me be more like Jesus.

Featured Photo: Christ forgives the woman caught in adultery by Boucher (French). From the Met Collection. Public Domain.