Tag Archives: Life

Legacy

Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”
But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 
1 Samuel 31:4 (NIV)

I don’t come from a large family. My mom was an only child, and my dad had just one brother. So, I grew up with just one aunt and uncle, and only three first cousins. A week ago today, my dad got a call saying that his brother had taken a turn for the worst. I drove the folks up to northwest Iowa on Saturday so Dad could see his brother. The local hospice took over my uncle’s care earlier this week. It won’t be long.

After returning home on Saturday, Wendy and I attended a dinner for a locally centered missions organization that was rooted in one man’s love for the people of Haiti. It happens that Wendy actually worked for this man for many years, and he had a profound impact on her life in her young adult years. He died just this past year. His son has grown the mission organization his father inspired and at the dinner, he paid his father a wonderful tribute. Wendy shed more than a few tears.

Today’s chapter tells the end of Saul’s tragic story. Falling on his own sword in an act of suicide is an ironic and sad end to a life marked by self-destructive choices and behavior.

Not surprisingly, I have death on my mind this morning.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the reality that everything I possess gets left behind when this life journey is over. That’s not the only thing I leave behind, however. My possessions are meaningless in the grand scheme. What isn’t meaningless is the legacy I leave behind with those who my earthly life touched.

What will my legacy be?

In the quiet this morning, that is the question I’m pondering. Along this life journey, have I planted seeds of faith, hope, and love that will continue to bear fruit once I am gone? As I ponder the lives and legacies of Uncle Bud and Denny and Saul, It strikes me that legacy is never about just one day or one life event. Legacy is the culmination of daily motives, words, actions, relationships, and choices across some 30,000 or more days I may, or may not, be granted on this earth.

Some day it will be my life that others will remember, or not.

Every day counts. Tomorrow is never assured.

May I make the most of this day in ways that matter.

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

The Prototype

The Prototype (CaD 1 Sam 23) Wayfarer

May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.
1 Samuel 24:12 (NIV)

One of the things I’m discovering on my current stretch of Life’s road is that my spiritual life is growing deeper and more meaningful even as my body begins to show the signs of the aging process that will continue to lead to its inevitable, physical demise.

I have been preparing a message for the past few weeks on a familiar piece of Jesus’ teaching called The Beatitudes. As I have been memorizing, studying, and meditating on them I have come to realize that it is a road map for what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. One commentator I read called it “a new way to be human.”

I suppose that it’s inevitable that as I meditate deeply on Jesus’ nine-fold path of being that it would become a filter through which I begin to see new things in old stories. Like today’s chapter.

I have mentioned in recent posts that the saga of Saul and David is a study in contrasts, and those contrasts continue in today’s episode.

King Saul holds all the worldly power. He has a nation’s army at his command. He has an entourage catering to his every whim and seeking to ride the gravy train to their own personal empowerment. King Saul has become obsessed with killing his young rival, David.

David has no earthly power. He is living a life on the run. He’s hiding in a cave in the desert with a rag-tag crew of misfits and mercenaries. He was anointed as God’s to-be King by Samuel, but that doesn’t seem to be coming to fruition any time soon. In fact, looking at the circumstances, I’ve got to believe that David is wondering if the whole thing is some kind of joke.

In today’s chapter, King Saul and his army are on the hunt for David. They’re in a desert area that is riddled with caves. King Saul finds himself needing to “answer nature’s call” so he steps into one of the caves to have a “seat on the throne,” so to speak. What he doesn’t know is that David and his men are in hiding just a bit deeper in the back of the cave.

From the perspective of the culture of those times, this is David’s chance. His men are adamant that David assassinate Saul and make his prophesied rise happen. No one would bat an eye if David were to seize this opportunity. They live in a dog-eat-dog world of conquest. Kill-or-be-killed is their everyday reality. The strongest and most violent are the ones who rise to power in their world. There’s no person in the world who would question David’s actions were he to take out his vengeance on the mad King who had, unjustifiably, ruined his life and made his daily existence a living hell.

This is where David is different. God told Samuel that David was “a man after my own heart.” David wasn’t concerned with what everyone in this world would think. David was concerned with what the God of heaven would think. David is revealing “a different way to be human.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”
David is embracing his impoverished circumstances and placing his trust in God to fulfill his destiny, not take it into his own hands.

“Blessed are those who mourn…”
David is embracing his lament, turning them into poetic songs, and seeking the comfort of God’s mercy rather than his personal revenge.

“Blessed are the meek…”
David has the power to assassinate the King, but he humbly chooses not to use that power.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
David willingly chooses not to be a judge, jury, and executioner, deferring justice and vengeance on Saul to God.

“Blessed are the merciful…”
David mercifully treats Saul as he would like to be treated by Saul.

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”
David is more concerned with the condition of his heart than the condition of his circumstances.

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”
David, having cut off a piece of King Saul’s robe as the monarch was indisposed, confronts Saul in an effort to peacefully resolve their conflict.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness…”
David’s entire life has become that of unjust persecution because God has blessed him and not Saul. Still, David humbly surrenders to God’s will and God’s timing for the right time to lift him to the position and power that has been prophesied.

“Blessed are you when others insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice, and be glad…”
At the end of today’s episode, Saul goes back to his palace, power, and position while David retreats back into his cave where he picks up his lyre and pens the lyrics of Psalm 57 in which he laments living among “lions, ravenous beasts, and men whose teeth are sharp spears” (remember Saul twice tried to kill David with his spear), but then in the very next line writes:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

If the Beatitudes are Jesus’ prescription for a different way of being human, then David was the ancient prototype.

In the quiet this morning, I simply find myself desiring to live however many days I have left on this earthly journey exemplifying Jesus’ nine-fold path of being human, just like David did.

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

The Underdog & the Unprepared

The Underdog & The Unprepared (CaD 1 Sam 22) Wayfarer

“Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family. Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”
1 Samuel 22:22-23 (NIV)

I’ve always cheered for the underdog. I’m sure that this is wrapped up in my temperament. Throughout my life’s journey, the teams I ended up adopting are teams that never (or rarely) win the big one, the perennial losers, and the “less than” team in big rivalries. Perhaps this penchant for the underdog is the reason that one of my favorite classic tales has always been Robin Hood. I love the lone upstart who cares for the common man and takes on the prejudicial system. There’s a hint of Christ-likeness in the character and the story.

This came to mind this morning as I pondered today’s chapter. The saga of King Saul and to-be King David is, throughout, a story of contrasts. King Saul is on the throne. He has all of the authority and power. He is, however, a horrible leader. Today’s chapter hints at the fact that King Saul has stuffed his administration with friends and cronies from his own tribe, the little tribe of Benjamin. This could not have played well with the other 11 tribes. Instead of being concerned with the welfare of the nation, Saul is slowly descending into a personal, mad obsession to kill young David, who is anointed by God to become his successor.

Saul is an object lesson in a trifecta of deadly sins: pride, envy, and wrath.

David, in contrast, has all the gifts of a strong leader in the making. His courage, humility, and military prowess have made him popular with the people. David, however, has no nobility, social standing, or systemic power. Rather, he’s got a price on his head. The king is myopically focused on killing him. He flees into the wilderness.

David is an object lesson in the forging of a great leader through injustice, suffering, and sore trials.

In the wilderness, hiding first in a cave and then in a forest, today’s chapter states, “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.”

A rag-tag bunch of mercenaries, misfits, and malcontents who have no social standing becomes David’s merry band of followers hiding in the forest. Sound like anyone?

Meanwhile, the mad-king has the high-priest who gave David consecrated bread in yesterday’s chapter killed along with his entire family and the entire population of the town where they resided. One son of the High Priest, Abiathar, escapes to David in the forest to tell David what has happened.

What does David do?

He takes personal responsibility for the slaughter: “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.”

He treats the young priest Abiathar with kindness, extends to him peace, and shows him loving hospitality: “Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”

Looks like Robin just got his Friar Tuck. 😉

Some people are thrust into leadership unprepared, like Saul. Without the requisite character qualities for learning quickly on the job, the position becomes a trap that brings out the worst in a person.

Some people become leaders through experience and trial, like David. All references to Robin and his merry band aside, David is not having fun. It is during this period of hiding that David wrote the lyrics to Psalm 142:

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

As I ponder these contrasting individuals, my underdog spirit whispers: “Forge me, Lord, into the person you want me to be. Amen.”

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

A New Org Chart

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good!
1 Samuel 12:14 (NIV)

One of the more fascinating parts of my job is getting to observe and experience many different company cultures. I have learned a lot about both leadership and how systems function from being in the trenches with many different companies large and small.

Once we were hired to help a company improve their customer satisfaction and customer service. Our survey of the company’s customers revealed a lot of room for improvement. Customer Satisfaction was low, and there were a few major things customers didn’t like. Our assessment of recorded phone calls between the company’s customers and the Customer Service team revealed that there were huge disparities in service quality between service reps, and some customers were getting such bad service experience as to make them detractors.

As we began working with the leadership team to address some of the issues, I quickly learned that the company was a mess internally. The long-time CEO of the company set an example of management by power, fear, and intimidation. The rest of the company followed suit. The org chart was a mess. Silos in the organization worked against one another. Front line managers directly reported to multiple superiors and simply answered the loudest threats each day.

The sign on the wall said that they were committed to exceptional customer service, but the entire organization was built in such a way as to make exceptional customer service an impossibility.

Today’s chapter is another key episode in the transition of the Hebrew system of government from a tribal theocracy to a national monarchy. The org chart is changing. In the old org chart, God was recognized as King. Then came a Judge (Samuel was the last) who was recognized as the one God had raised to lead and deliver the tribes along with a tribal council of elders. From there, each tribe had its own governance.

Today, Samuel lays out the new org chart. King Saul will now be at the top of the org chart and all the tribes will be ruled by him. Yet Samuel is quick to remind his people that God is still above King Saul on the org chart. The new monarchy will only work well if both the King and the people will serve the Lord with all their hearts and avoid the worship of idols.

As for Samuel? He makes it clear that there’s a new role on the org chart. He is giving up civil governance, but he’s taking up the mantel of spiritual leadership:

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

From this point forward, the nation would have prophets in the org chart who would directly report to God, and they will be God’s spiritual mouthpiece to both the King and the people. Future Kings would also assemble “yes men” prophets who would be subordinate to them and tell them what they want to hear, but God would ensure that His prophets would speak His words even if it wasn’t what the King wanted to hear.

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that companies typically don’t make dramatic changes in corporate culture unless the person at the top of the org chart is driving it. The company I mentioned at the top of this post was a great example of that. The CEO had created a culture that worked against what they claimed to be the company values. If the CEO doesn’t change, the organization isn’t going to change either.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the org chart of my own life. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to make Jesus the Lord of my life. Like Samuel reminded Saul, God is at the top of the org chart. And yet, like the old Kings of Israel, I have the autonomy to either obediently submit myself to God’s authority or to pay lip service to God while I willfully do my own thing. I can also do a little of both.

That leads me to ask myself some tough questions here in the quiet. Where am I being obedient? Where am I simply paying lip service? Some days I need a fresh reminder that God is at the top of my life’s org chart.

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

Change

Change (CaD 1 Sam 7) Wayfarer

Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life.
1 Samuel 7:15 (NIV)

What is the most acute example of change that you have experienced along your earthly journey? That’s the question that came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter.

I thought of the time the place where I worked went through a transition of leadership that was tremendously difficult for everyone involved. It personally rattled me enough that I started looking for another job.

Then there was the experience of moving to a small, rural town (just over 300 people) after growing up in the city of Des Moines and going to college in the Chicago area. There were so many things that I had to learn about the culture and realities of small-town life. It was a completely different paradigm.

Going through a divorce brought both radical changes and unique challenges in virtually every area of life.

The changes I have experienced in daily life because of rapidly advancing technology and the internet are so great that it’s hard to believe.

Then there are the changes to our world because of a pandemic and a global shutdown that we’re still grappling with, and we will continue to realize its effects for some time.

There are days when I feel as if the world has turned upside-down in my lifetime.

Change is a challenge. I’ve observed it bring out the best and worst in people. I’ve had to learn how it affects me. I’ve grown to better understand how I handle it both positively and negatively. I’ve had to learn discernment between that which is ever-changing and those things which never change. I have had to gain wisdom to know the difference.

The book of 1 Samuel is about a massive change in the history of the Hebrews. For 300-400 years the Hebrews have lived and survived in a loosely structured tribal system with occasional national leaders, called Judges, who typically rose to power in times of war or crisis and who were recognized for their leadership through the rest of their lifetime.

But the times were changing.

It was clear to the Hebrew tribes that other city-states with the centralized power of a monarchy, a king, were able to both secure their kingdoms and increase their power by conquest. The tribal system was becoming untenable. They needed to change.

Samuel is the lynchpin of this change. He was the last of the Judges. He will consecrate the nation of Israel’s first two kings and continue to be the nation’s spiritual leader in the background. He also becomes the first of the prophets who will become key figures on both the spiritual and political landscapes of the kingdom for the next 600 years. Samuel is the agent of change.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel explains how Samuel rose to become the last Judge, leading the Hebrews in holding back the advancing Philistines and providing strong national leadership for the rest of his life. The author is setting the reader up for this massive change that is about to take place.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself coming back to the question of change in my own life and times. Having just completed this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Revelations, it’s clear to me that things will continue to change until the Great Story’s conclusion. As a follower of Jesus, I should expect it. And, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that I am called by Jesus to press on in this earthly journey with the dogged determination to live each day with the three things that will remain throughout this Great Story and into the next: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these being love.

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

God in (and Out of) a Box

God In (and Out of) a Box (CaD 1 Sam 5) Wayfarer

…the following morning when [the Philistines] rose, there was [their god] Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
1 Samuel 5:4-5 (NIV)

For many years, I’ve had an idea for a book about the things the contemporary church continues to get wrong. If I ever do write this book, one of the chapters would be about church buildings themselves. From an early age, I was taught to treat a church building as a sacred space. The church building was and sometimes is, referred to as God’s house or the house of God.

In yesterday’s post/podcast I spoke of treating God like a good luck charm. I like to think of our perception of church buildings as God’s House as the notion of “God in a box.”

The problem with believing the church building is “God’s house” is, of course, that Jesus was very clear that He was changing the paradigm. In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus addressed her question about the “right” place to worship God by saying, “…believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

Jesus doubled down on this when He and the disciples were leaving the Temple in Jerusalem. His disciples commented on the magnificent Temple and Jesus replied that it was all going to be reduced to rubble, and it was just 40 years later.

Jesus’ taught that the “church” was not bricks and mortar but flesh and blood. When the Jesus Movement was changing the known world in the first two centuries, it had no churches or temples, no basilicas or cathedrals. The “church” was millions of followers who met, almost clandestinely, in people’s homes. It was only when the church became the Holy Roman Empire that the institution decided that God needed opulent cathedrals. The motivation wasn’t divine. It’s what human institutions do to centralize power and control masses of people. Jesus’ successful paradigm was that of Spirit-filled people loving, serving, and sharing in every home, neighborhood, and business. God was released from a box and carried by flesh-and-blood “temples” everywhere in the world. Jesus was wherever His followers happened to be. In Jesus’ paradigm “sacred space” was now the coffee shop, the office, the home, the pub, the park; It was wherever a believer, filled with Spirit and Truth was physically present in the moment. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Wherever two or three of you are together, I’m there, too.”

The Holy Roman Empire put God back in a box. Then they made sure that only an institutionally educated and approved class of elites were qualified to be God’s representatives. Way too many people still believe that God is confined in the building on the corner and that only educated men in robes represent Him.

Today’s chapter is also about “God in a box.” The Ark of the Covenant was literally a box that represented God’s presence among the Hebrew people. The Hebrews reduced the notion of God’s holy presence to a good luck charm that would secure victory. They were defeated and the box was taken by the Philistines who put the Ark in the sacred space of their patron god, Dagon, underneath Dagon’s statue. Mesopotamian peoples routinely saw battles as not just contests between peoples, but contests between deities. The Hebrews’ God was now subject to Dagon.

But, God will never be contained inside a box of human design. The statue of Dagon fell, its head and hands breaking off. This was significant because heads, hands, and limbs were often cut-off and brought home by victorious armies as proof of victory and as a way of tallying up the body count. It was an omen the Philistines would have instantly understood. There was also a plague of tumors that broke out among the Philistines, which is ironically the outcome God warned His own people about in Deuteronomy 28, should they stray from His ways.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that if I truly believe what Jesus taught, then my home office where I’m writing/recording these words is sacred space because God’s Spirit indwells me. I take Him with me everywhere I go today. God’s temple isn’t a building, it’s my body, and that should change my perspective on everything in my daily life.

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

My Good Luck Charm

My Good Luck Charm (CaD 1 Sam 4) Wayfarer

When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
1 Samuel 4:3 (NIV)

When I was a child I can remember praying for the silliest of things. I prayed for my favorite teams to win, sometimes fervently. I prayed for certain girls to like me. I was 10 years old when the United States celebrated our Bicentennial, and I have distinct memories of praying that God would let me live to 110 so I could celebrate the Tricentennial. That sounds more like a burden than a blessing from my current waypoint on life’s road.

In yesterday’s chapter, the author of Samuel made the point that while the boy Samuel had grown up living and serving in the Tabernacle of God, he did not yet know God. I find that an incredibly important observation. Looking back, that was one of the reasons my prayers were silly and self-centered. I didn’t have a relationship with God. I knew about Him, but I didn’t know Him. God wasn’t Lord of my life and I wasn’t a follower of Jesus. At that point in my spiritual journey, my prayers were indicators that I considered God my personal good luck charm.

Today’s chapter is the fulfillment of the prophetic words spoken against the high priest, Eli, and his sons. The people of Israel were embroiled in a battle against the neighboring Philistines. Remembering their history and the fact that in the days of Moses God brought victory when the Ark of the Covenant was carried before the people, they called for the Ark to be brought from the Tabernacle in Shiloh to the battlefield. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas are happy to oblige.

I think it’s important to note that those historic examples of the Ark being carried before the Hebrews were from the days of Moses and Joshua. There were men who knew God and their actions were sourced in God’s specific instructions to and through them. The Ark was carried before the people in the context of God’s divine revelation to God’s appointed ruler.

The corrupt priests Hophni and Phinehas, along with the entire Hebrew army, are treating the Ark of the Covenant like their national good luck charm. It doesn’t go well for them.

The Hebrews lose the battle, Hophni and Phinehas are killed, and the Ark of the Covenant is taken as a spoil of war. When Eli hears that the Ark had been taken, the fat 98-year-old priest falls off his chair and breaks his neck. I find it an ironic, almost Shakespeare-like end to the house of Eli. The fulfillment of God’s prophesied end comes from the consequences of their own presumptuous, self-centered, and divinely ignorant actions.

In the quiet this morning, I find this sad end an apt reminder. As a follower of Jesus, I am to follow where I am led by Jesus, not take Jesus with me wherever I want to go like He’s a personal good luck charm.

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

The Valley and the Mountain

The Valley and the Mountain (CaD 1 Sam 1) Wayfarer

There is beauty and power in today's chapter that is easy to miss if you've never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. A chapter-a-day podcast from 1 Samuel 1. The text version may be found and shared at tomvanderwell.com. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/support

Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year.
1 Samuel 1:4-7a (NIV)

When I was a young man, the opening chapters of 1 Samuel were all about the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Samuel. Samuel is important. Samuel is special, as was his birth. Samuel is the name of the book. Samuel was the last of the Hebrew Judges. Samuel established the Hebrew monarchy and crowned its first two kings. Samuel established the Prophetic tradition within the Hebrew monarchy. It was all about Samuel.

Then Wendy and I spent years on a journey through the Valley of Infertility.

I will never read the first chapter of 1 Samuel the same way.

There are things that couples experience on the infertility journey that are unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in this life. I learned along the way that it is an incredibly nuanced experience based on multiple factors in that journey. It makes a difference whether a husband is truly all-in (physically, emotionally, spiritually) with his wife for the long haul. The fact that I’d been previously married and had experienced the pregnancy and birth of our daughters was a factor in the relational equation. It’s also a very different experience for those who walk through the Valley of Infertility and find the path that leads to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood compared to those whose journey languishes in the Valley of Infertility seemingly destined to never find the ever-desired pathway to that mountaintop.

The first chapter of Samuel is about a woman named Hannah who is on this journey through the Valley of Infertility and the particular nuances that were unique to her experience.

Polygamous marriages among Hebrew “commoners” was relatively rare in this period of history. One of the exceptions was when a man first marries a woman who turns out to be barren. Having children, especially sons, was so important to the perpetuation of families and culture in those days that a man who finds his wife to be barren would be encouraged to marry a second wife so as to bear him sons. It’s likely that this was Hannah’s reality. She was not only shamed that she could have no children but shamed that her husband married another woman to do what she could not.

Not only did her husband, Elkanah, marry another, but he also married a woman named Peninnah who saw Hannah as a female rival. Although Elkanah was empathetic and generous toward Hannah, he was never “all-in” with her. His loyalties would always be divided between her and Peninnah, and Peninnah had plenty of children with which to claim and maintain her favored status as the wife who gave him sons.

When Elkanah and his household go to Shiloh for the annual prescribed sacrifices it was a harvest festival celebrating God’s abundant provision of fertility via life, crops, and children. As if Hannah’s everyday experience wasn’t hell enough having “mean girl” Peninnah rubbing salt in the wound of Hannah’s infertility, attending a national festival of fertility and harvest would be like descending to an even deeper ring of hell.

At this point in today’s chapter, Hannah is an emotional and inconsolable wreck. With Peninnah and all her children standing behind Elkanah as a reminder of Hannah’s shame, Elkanah says to her “Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?”

Oh, you stupid, stupid man.

A husband who has walked with his wife through the Valley of Infertility knows that words must be chosen wisely when consoling your wife in her grief. In fact, it was in the Valley of Infertility that I learned to embrace the truth that sometimes there are no words. In the same way, there are no shortcuts to making the pain of infertility “all better.”

In this context, Hannah’s prayer and commitment to give her son to the Lord takes on a whole new level of meaning. After all those years in the Valley of Infertility, Hannah finds that pathway to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She should rightfully enjoy clinging to her boy and soak up the blessings of raising him along with the justice of being able to daily show him off to Peninnah and tell her to go take a long walk off a short pier.

But, Hannah doesn’t do that. She literally gives her son to the Lord, handing him over as a baby to be raised by the High Priest and the Levites in God’s tabernacle.

She becomes a foreshadow of what God will one day do when He “so loves the world that He gave His one-and-only Son.”

That is the beauty and power of today’s chapter.

It’s easy to miss if you’ve never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. Wendy and I never found that path to the mountain top of pregnancy and childbirth. We did, however, find a different path that led to a mountaintop called Joy. The view from there is pretty amazing.

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

Death-to-Life

Death-to-Life (CaD Rev 21) Wayfarer

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelations 21:5 (NIV)

Yesterday among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers I witnessed three teenagers and an adult being baptized. These baptisms were by immersion in which the four publically professing their faith stepped into a small pool of water. They were plunged into the water and brought back up out of it. It is a metaphor. The Greek word baptizo means to “plunge forcefully.”

Buried with Christ in the likeness of His death.
Raised with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection.
Sin washed away.
A new creation.
A new start.
A new life.

Life and death. Resurrection. Death-to-Life.

It is the meta-theme of the Great Story. Metaphors are layered with meaning, and God layered this theme in creation itself as every year we experience the death of winter and experience resurrection and new life in the spring. It is revealed in Jesus’ story: born in the darkness of exile, dying as darkness covers the land, and raised to new life at the dawn of a new day, the first day of a new week.

God revealed it to His people at the beginning of the story.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live… Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)

It is revealed spiritually in the life of every one who follow Jesus.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Cor 5:17 (NASB)

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:3-5 (NIV)

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. 1 John 3:14 (NIV)

The end of the Great Story is a new beginning. John’s vision reveals that earth and heaven as we know them “pass away” and a new heaven and new earth are created. I’m always surprised that I rarely hear these final chapters of the Great Story discussed, even among believers, given that it is an epic grand finale that so perfectly captures the grand theme of the Great Story itself.

Today’s chapter describes the vision revealed to John of an eternal city, a New Jerusalem, in which God and His people dwell. The city described is not novel. In fact, it’s an epic culmination of what God revealed from the beginning. The City is square like the camp prescribed through Moses for the Hebrews as they made their way to the promised land. The City is a giant cube, just like the “Most Holy Place” in the tabernacle and temple. The old “Most Holy Place” was an exclusive place for God’s holy presence, and only the High Priest entering once a year. This new “Most Holy Place” is for God and His people to dwell together. No sun or moon, because the Light of God’s glory illuminates the city in perpetuity. No more darkness, or crying, or pain. The old has passed away, the new has come.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking of the baptisms I witnessed yesterday. Parents, family, loved ones gathered as witnesses and even participating in the ritual. An individual’s choice to make public profession of his/her personal faith. An outward sign of an internal spiritual reality. Old things have passed away, new life has begun.

It is the meta-theme of the Great Story.

It is where I’m headed, this wayfaring stranger. Today, each day of this earthly sojourn I’m traveling through this world of woe. One day I will cross over to a place where “everything is made new.”

But there’s no sickness, no toil or danger
In that great City to which I go
.

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

Rogues Gallery

Rogues Gallery (CaD Rev 17) Wayfarer

The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.
Revelation 17:16 (NIV)

In my previous post, I drew upon a comic book character to discuss the topic of justice in relation to the justice God brings upon the earth with a trinity of judgments that culminates in seven bowls of God’s wrath. This morning, as I meditated on the chapter, I found myself once again finding the world of comic books an apt parallel.

In classic comics like Batman and Spiderman, we are introduced to a rogues’ gallery of antagonists with whom our superheroes wage a battle of good and evil. Occasionally, the writers will weave a storyline in which all of the bad guys join together to fight the intrepid hero or heroine.

In a similar way, today’s chapter reveals John being given a vision of a rogues’ gallery of earthly power-players bent on waging war on God and God’s people:

  • The “Great Prostitute”
  • The “Beast” on which she rides
  • Seven Kings that are also seven hills
  • An eighth King, the anti-Christ, allied with the Seven Kings
  • Ten Kings who have yet no kingdom, allied to the Beast

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, Satan (whom Jesus called the “Prince of this World”) showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in all their earthly power and splendor. The Prince of this World then offered to give them all to Jesus if Jesus would only bow and worship him. Jesus passed on the offer, knowing that His kingdom was “not of this world” and that He was sent on a mission with a much higher purpose.

The rapidly approaching climax of John’s Revelation, just like a great story or movie, has the key players from the beginning of the story and conflict advancing towards the story’s ultimate clash: God, the Serpent, and fallen humanity. Satan and his rogues’ gallery scramble for power and authority to wage this war.

What struck me as I read the chapter was the in-fighting among these earthly power players. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in Galatia, Paul listed the characteristics of those who live according to the Prince of this World: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.” When you have multiple players each driven by hatred, discord, and selfish ambition, it’s basically impossible to create any sustainable alliance toward a common goal. Evil always ends up imploding from the inside out as evil ones will always eventually turn on their own to satisfy their personal hatred, rage, and selfish ambition.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that in the earthly conflict of good and evil to which I am subject on this earthly journey, God continually reminds me to persevere and endure. Jesus passed up the quick and easy way to earthly power offered by the Prince of this World instead choosing instead to endure the suffering and death that led to a eucatastrophic resurrection and eternal power. So Jesus urges me to follow in His footsteps.

The opening verses of Hebrews 12 came to mind as I pondered these things:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)

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