Tag Archives: Life

King, or Not?

King, or Not? (CaD Jud 8) Wayfarer

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:22-23 (NIV)

The book of Judges tells the story of a very specific period of Hebrew history. I have found that understanding the context of this period of time is important in understanding the overarching Great Story. These twelve Hebrew tribes that settled in the Promised Land were a populous nation with no formal central government. Think of the contiguous United States as if each state were a tribe and there was no Federal government in Washington D.C. All around them, cities and small regions were ruled by the strong, central authority of monarchs, or kings. The Hebrews saw themselves as a theocracy, in which God was ultimately who led them and whom they served. This system had its challenges, which is what the book of Judges is all about. It sets the stage for the next chapter of the Great Story in which the Hebrew people will demand the establishment of a monarchy.

In today’s chapter, Gideon completes his military leadership in the defeat of the Midianites who had oppressed them. As a result, the people offer Gideon the opportunity to be their king. Gideon refuses, reminding the people that God alone rules over them. On the surface, Gideon appears to be saying the right thing, but the verses immediately following this proclamation (24-32) describe Gideon doing the exact opposite.

Gideon refuses to become king, but he embraces all of the privileges that a monarch would have claimed in that day. He takes a personal share of the spoil for himself. He creates a trophy commemorating his victory that the people worship in a cult-like fashion. He takes on a large harem and has many sons, one of them named Abimelek, meaning “my father is king.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about who rules over me. In the early Jesus Movement, followers of Jesus found themselves in difficult political circumstances. Their local governments were puppets of the Roman Empire. The Roman caesars claimed to be gods, but the followers of Jesus saw themselves, ultimately, as citizens of God’s Kingdom and ambassadors of that kingdom on earth.

In my mind, however, it becomes even more personal than that. In Gideon, I see a reflection of my own natural bent. As a disciple of Jesus, I am quick to say that I am not King or Lord of my life, but only Jesus is King and Lord of my life. However, I have to ask myself: “What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about the true Lord of my life?”

On this Monday morning, as I enter another work week, I find myself thinking about my life, my relationships, my work, my upcoming appointments, and my multiple task lists. I’m asking myself both what and who I am ultimately working for.

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

Willingness

Willingness (CaD Jud 6) Wayfarer

That same night the Lord said to [Gideon], “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
Judges 6:25-27 (NIV)

I recently read the story of Angie Fenimore’s Near-Death Experience (NDE). Her body died and she descended to a hell-like place. This is an excerpt of her story:

I knew that I was in a state of hell, but this was not the typical fire and brimstone hell that I had learned about as a young child.

Men and women of all ages, but no children, were standing or squatting or wandering about on the realm. Some were mumbling to themselves. The darkness emanated from deep within and radiated from them in an aura I could feel. They were completely self-absorbed, every one of them too caught up in his or her own misery to engage in any mental or emotional exchange. They had the ability to connect with one another, but they were incapacitated by the darkness.

But worse was my growing sense of complete aloneness. Even hearing the brunt of someone’s anger, however unpleasant, is a form of tangible connection. But in this empty world, where no connections could be made, the solitude was terrifying.

Then I heard a voice of awesome power, not loud but crashing over me like a booming wave of sound; a voice that encompassed such ferocious anger that with one word it could destroy the universe, and that also encompassed such potent and unwavering love that, like the sun, it could coax life from the Earth. I cowered at its force and at its excruciating words:

“Is this what you really want?”

Suddenly I felt another presence with us, the same presence that had been with me when I first crossed over into death and who had reviewed my life with me. I recognized that he had been with us the whole time, but that I was only now becoming able to perceive him. What I could see were bits of light coming through the darkness. The rays of light penetrated me with incredible force, with the power of an all-consuming love.

I had to ask, why me? Why was it that I could see God while the vacant husk of a man next to me could not? Why was I absorbing light and being taught, while he was hunkering down in misery and darkness?

I was told that the reason is willingness.

Read or watch Angie’s complete story.

In today’s chapter, we have the beginning of the ancient story of Gideon in which God calls Gideon to lead the Hebrew tribes against their enemies. What struck me as I meditated on the chapter was the structure of the interchange between the Angel of the Lord, and Gideon:

  • Gideon expresses doubt that God is even around.
  • Gideon expresses doubt that God would call him, since Gideon is from the weakest clan in Manasseh’s tribe and Gideon is the “least” in his family.
  • Gideon asks for a sign.
  • God provides a sign and Gideon builds an altar in response
  • God tells Gideon to tear down his Father’s altar to the idol Baal and the idolatrous Asherah pole next to it, and then sacrifice a bull on the altar Gideon had built to the Lord.
  • Gideon does it, but for fear of his people, he does it at night.
  • When called out by his people for this deed, the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon and he calls his people to rise up against their enemies. Despite his doubts and fears, his people answer favorably.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.

Last year when I was making this chapter-a-day trek through the Psalms, I discussed the fact that the ancient Hebrews loved to plant metaphorical structure in their writing. In the Psalms, the central theme to the song lyrics is often at the very center, with corresponding or contrasting themes before or after.

Today’s chapter has similar symmetry if you outline the chapter. There are two episodes of Gideon’s doubt and a request for a sign that God answers. There is a command to tear down his father’s idols and offer a sacrifice to God, which Gideon does, despite his fears. Then God miraculously raises Gideon to a position of leadership and his people agree to follow. Then there are two more episodes of Gideon’s doubt and request for another sign.

In other words, the only thing that Gideon brought to this story was his willingness, despite his fears, to tear down the idols and make a sacrifice to God. This made me think of God telling Angie that the reason she was able to see His light in the darkness, and all the poor souls around her could not, was because she was willing to see Him.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think of myself and my own fearful doubts about the things to which God has called me. I am no different than Gideon. My journals are full of letters I’ve written to God expressing doubts, focusing on my weaknesses, recalling my many shortcomings, and asking for signs. I want to see the signs before I believe. God always reminds me, ironically, of “doubting Thomas” who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw the nail holes from the crucifixion and the place where the Roman spear pierced his side. to whom Jesus answered his doubts as he did Gideon’s before saying, “Blessed are those who never see the sign, but still believe.”

And that is where I find myself standing at the beginning of this, a new day in the journey. Am I willing to step out in faith and pursue the things to which God has called me? Or, will I stand still, distract myself with other things, and wait for a sign?

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

“This Chain that I Must Break”

"This Chain That I Must Break" (CaD Jud 2) Wayfarer

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10 (NIV)

He came up to me out of the blue. I was just sitting with Wendy when he tapped my shoulder and asked me to pray for him. “I’m drunk,” he said to me as I stood and put my arm around him. I didn’t really need him to tell me this. He reeked of it. It was a rather unconventional state to be in at a mid-morning worship service.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand. It’s a song about those waypoints on life’s journey when I find myself utterly broken; That moment when I’ve hit rock bottom and I know that something has to change. And, it’s about the life-changing grace that is found in those moments. One of my favorite lines from the song says, “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.”

That line popped into my mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. The author of Judges continues his introduction to the book and introduces me to a chain of events, a systemic pattern, a repeated behavioral sequence that I will find recycled over and over again in the stories of the book of Judges.

Along this life journey, I have repeatedly found myself in negative cycles of both thought and behavior. I’ve faced trials along life’s journey that stemmed from difficult circumstances that were not of my own making. The truth, however, is that many of my rock bottom moments occurred because I put myself there.

That’s the overarching theme of these stories of the ancient Hebrew tribes and the period of their history known as the time of the Judges. They may be ancient stories, but they resonate with very immediate and personal lessons for me today. Civilization and culture may have changed in 3,000 years, but human nature has not. Bob Dylan sees himself in the story of Cain. I see myself in the stories of the Judges.

This brings me back to my new, intoxicated friend. I honestly wasn’t shocked by his drunken state. I immediately recognized that a man has to be at a rock bottom moment to show up for a worship service intoxicated and ask a complete stranger to pray for him. I was so glad he was there. I prayed for him and over him right there. Then I hugged him. With my arm still around him, I told him to look out over the group of people gathering in that room. I explained that we’re all broken people no different than himself, including me. I’ve had my own rock bottom moments when something needed to change. I welcomed him, and I encouraged him to keep joining us.

In the quiet this morning, I hear the lyric poetry of Bob Dylan in my head and heart:

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

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

A Good Place

A Good Place (CaD Jos 21) Wayfarer

Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
Joshua 21:45 (NIV)

Looking back on my life journey, there are moments along life’s road when I found myself at a waypoint that was a “good place.” A milestone had been reached, a long-awaited goal was achieved, or life at that moment just seemed to be in a positive and peaceful flow.

I always try to remind myself to enjoy those moments when they happen. It never lasts.

One of the movies we tend to watch around Christmas time is the rom-com While You Were Sleeping. One of my favorite scenes is when the family patriarch, played by Peter Boyle, waxes eloquently about how he’s at one of those “good place” moments in life when everything is working out, everyone is getting along, every family member is doing well, and life is good. His son, played by Bill Pullman, has come over to drop a bombshell that he doesn’t want to inherit the family business, “Hey Pop,” the son says, “This isn’t one of those moments.”

In today’s chapter, the Levites are the last tribes to receive allotments. The Levites were the priestly tribe, and while they didn’t get tribal land, they were given towns within the other tribes to settle with their families, flocks, and herds. The priestly tribe was spread out and sprinkled within the other tribes so that every tribe had priests among them to perform priestly duties.

With that final distribution, the author of Joshua proclaims one of those “we’re in a good place” moments. A goal had been achieved as the major conquest campaigns were finished and there wasn’t an enemy left with the power to dislodge them. A milestone had been reached, and they were settled in the promised land. They were in a good place and took a moment to recognize God’s faithfulness and fulfilled promises.

Enjoy it. It won’t last.

I’m really not trying to be the pessimist here, but after 40+ years of studying the Great Story from Genesis to Revelation, I can tell you that this earthly journey is filled with trials, faith tests, and tough times. I’m told to expect it, to prepare for it, and to not be surprised when I think we’re finally in a “good place” on Life’s road. Then Life unexpectedly says, “You know what? This isn’t one of those moments.”

Being a disciple of Jesus, I’ve spent a lot of time studying His teachings, and a lot of them are about how I am to respond to the stuff that this earthly life throws at me:

When I am taxed, I’m to render unto Caesar.
When I am slapped, I’m to turn the other cheek.
When my coat is unjustly conscripted, I’m to offer my shirt as well.
When I’m forced against my will to walk one mile, I’m to walk two.
When I’m wronged, I’m to forgive, and forgive, and forgive, and forgive.
When I find myself with less, I’m to treasure what awaits me in eternity.
When I’m poor in spirit, I’m to consider myself blessed.
When I’m in mourning, I’m to consider myself blessed.

So many of Jesus’ teachings are predicated on the fact that I will face difficulties, hostility, pain, loss, and trials on this life journey.

So if and when I occasionally find myself at a waypoint that’s a good place and all seems right with the world, I’ve learned to enjoy the heck out of it, thank God for it, and soak it all in while I can.

The “good place” that the Hebrew tribes find themselves in today’s chapter will not last. The period of the Judges, which is the next book in the Great Story, is a time of systemic sin and cyclical violence. But, that’s still a few chapters away. In today’s chapter, everything is groovy.

I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

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

The Reward

The Reward (CaD Jos 19) Wayfarer

When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded. 
Joshua 19:49-50 (NIV)

In preparation for the Holy Saturday message I gave among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I’ve been doing a lot of studying about death. In particular, I’ve been reading about people who’ve had a Near Death Experience (NDE). These are individuals whose bodies literally died. No heartbeat, no brain activity, and no breath for a period of time until they were revived or miraculously returned to life.

There are a lot of commonalities in these experiences. If you’re interested, I recommend the book Imagine Heaven by John Burke (a shout out to Jen P for recommending it to me!). Among the commonalities in NDEs is a “life review” in which the person is shown a replay of their entire lives. Time is different in eternity. Even the Great Story speaks of eternity in which “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like just a day.” Many describe their “life review” in those same terms. They saw every moment of their entire earthly life, but it only took what seemed like an instant.

Many who’ve experienced this life review also speak of the fact that the most important thing in this review was how well they loved others. Some mention that they saw the events of their life and could actually feel what others were feeling around them. For example, a childhood bully felt the agony of the person they victimized. A son forever estranged from his father, who had always blamed his father for their poor relationship, felt his parent’s emotions as he watched how he treated them as a youth, and he realized that he was just as much a part of the breakdown in the relationship.

Those who have experienced this NDE life review often speak of returning to their earthly lives with completely different priorities. They immediately begin to invest in relationships. They become more loving, generous, and faithful towards others because they died, they tasted eternity, and they learned that it’s the only thing that really matters just as Jesus taught.

Today’s chapter tells of the final allotments of the Promised Lands to the Hebrew tribes. In one final allotment, Joshua is given the town he requested in reward for his faithfulness. A few chapters back, it was Caleb who was first to receive an allotment. Now, Joshua is the last to receive an allotment. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who originally spied out the land for Moses and had faith that the tribes could conquer the land and the people living there. The other 10 spies doubted. Over forty years later, Caleb and Joshua bookend the allotments of Promised Land and receive the rewards of their faith.

Joshua and Caleb received an earthly reward for their faith, and that got me thinking about eternity. The Great Story speaks of two distinct judgments to take place in the climactic final chapters of the Story. One is simply whether or not my name is written in the Book of Life. The second is described as an inspection of how well I built my life on earth as evidenced by how well I loved God and loved others. Based on what so many who’ve experienced an NDE describe, there is an eternal reward and the only thing that counts eternally is our love for others. Or as Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (MSG)

And so, I enter another day and another work week with a huge task list, yet reminded that the real priority, the only thing that truly matters, is how well I love those with whom I interact.

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

Family Patterns

Family Patterns (CaD Jos 15) Wayfarer

The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south.
Joshua 15:1 (NIV)

I remember as a child beginning to see patterns of relationships in my extended family. Favoritism, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and broken relationships were all present in one form or another. I didn’t always know the source or how these things developed over time, or how far the patterns of relationship went back, but I certainly observed the fruit of their consequences in the present. I’ve always been fascinated by these things.

In today’s chapter, the first of the nine and a half remaining tribes receive their allotment, beginning with the tribe of Judah. It’s always interesting to see who goes first in a family system, and I can’t forget that the Hebrew tribes are a 600-year-old family system. Typically, I would expect things to be arranged by birth order, beginning with the honored firstborn. but Judah was the fourth of the sons of Jacob, and this got me pondering.

I backtracked to Genesis 49, where Jacob is on his deathbed and he gathers his sons to speak a blessing over each one. On that occasion, he did go in birth order, but he didn’t have many good things to say to his eldest three sons.

Reuben slept with his father’s wife, his stepmother and Jacob said that Reuben would “no longer excel.” This made me think about the tribe of Reuben asking Moses for land on the other side of Jordan. Is it possible that they worried that they’d better get an allotment sooner because they feared getting the shaft later?

Likewise, brothers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, were told by their father that their violence and arrogance in attacking towns without their father’s permission were a curse. They would be “scattered” in Israel. For Levi’s tribe, this was literally true, since they wouldn’t receive land but would serve the Lord across all of the tribes. Simeon would end up getting territory within Judah.

Judah was the fourth, and his father’s blessing is equally prophetic:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

A scepter was a token of royalty. King David would come from the tribe of Judah, and the Lord would “establish his throne forever.” David would establish his throne in the fortress of Jerusalem, the one fortified city of the Jebusites that the tribe could not conquer (vs 63). It would be from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah, Jesus, would come.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about family systems and how they affect the individuals within that system for generations. There is something tragic in the way things often play out. The descendants of Reuben and Simeon, living 600 years later, had nothing to do with the mistakes their forefathers made, nor did the descendants of Judah do anything to deserve the favor afforded theirs. At the same time, along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are some things that I simply don’t control, and getting my undies in a bunch about it will profit me nothing. I have found it more profitable to seek to understand, to see things for what they are, and learn to flow with it.

That is not how things will play out for Judah I’m afraid. Eventually, all of the other tribes, with the exception of Benjamin, will turn on them in a long, bloody civil war. They will reject the throne of David and set up their own king. That won’t go well for them, I’m afraid. I’ve learned that sometimes there’s wisdom in learning how to live and operate within an unhealthy system and there’s often foolishness in trying to rage against that which I didn’t create, don’t control, and won’t be able to change.

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

Dense Fog Advisory

Dense Fog Advisory (CaD Jos 14) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution of Conversation

Evolution of Conversation (CaD Jos 10) Wayfarer

There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!
Joshua 10:14 (NIV)

Communication between parent and child changes so much over time. Wendy and I are loving watching our kids parent a four-year-old, and hearing the silly things that our grandson comes up with. The last I heard, Milo’s recommended name for the little sister in mommy’s tummy was “Harry Houdini.” Hey, the kid has a point. She does still have yet to escape the womb.

Conversations with my daughters changed and evolved over time. From the simple discussions with a toddler to the incessant “why” phase and then the years of instruction to navigating the life changes of adolescence. Then come the years of parental exile when it becomes obvious I’m not high on the conversational priority list. As they leave the nest, there begins a phase of requesting help and answering questions about the functional “how-tos” of life on your own which leads also to more adult conversation in which more complex topics are addressed, including the hard conversations required to address unresolved issues from the past.

I have always talked about the fact that humanity’s relationship with God across time reflects the development of the relationship between a parent and child from birth to adulthood.

In today’s chapter, we’re still in the toddler stages of humanity’s relationship with God. Joshua and the army continue their conquest of the land of Canaan. First, their new allies, the Gibeonites, are attacked by a coalition of neighboring forces and cry out to Joshua for help. After defeating this coalition of forces, the army continues a campaign to subdue the region.

In one fascinating aside, Joshua cries out to God to stop the sun and moon. Interpretations of this event vary. Literalists believe that God miraculously stopped time. Others argue that the sun and moon in the sky together were a bad omen for their opponents and Joshua wanted to extend the fear. What struck me, however, was the author’s observation that this was a first, that God would listen to a human being.

This being a momentous event, that of God listening to a human being, struck me because, in my post-Jesus reality, I am encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). Jesus encouraged His followers to literally “ask, seek, and knock” in prayer, explaining that a good father wouldn’t give a stone to his child if asked for bread (Matt. 5:7-11). Prayer is such a continuous part of my inner dialogue and my daily life, that it is hard for me to fathom a reality in which I didn’t think God would listen, and respond.

Humanity’s relationship with God has changed drastically between the days of Joshua and today. The very act of prayer has developed and evolved over time. I also can’t forget that with a Creator God, everything that He makes is layered with meaning. This development and evolution of communication also took place within my spiritual life cycle. From the moment I was “born again” in spirit to the place I am on my spiritual journey 40 years later, my relationship and conversations with God have grown, developed, and matured.

God’s relationship with humanity. My relationship with my parents. My children’s relationship with me. My relationship with God. My relationship with others. There is a natural growth and development of communication that takes place over time. In each relationship, I have a responsibility for the communication on my end. If I fail in that responsibility, the relationship suffers and may even die.

Thus saith the Mandalorian: “This is the way.”

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

Life-Long Lessons

Life-Long Lessons (CaD Jos 7) Wayfarer

Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.
Joshua 7:11 (NIV)

There is a legendary family story that happened when our daughter, Madison, was only about four or five years old. On my way out of the house to run an errand, I heard our older daughter, Taylor, screaming in the backyard. I walked around the back of the house to see Madison hitting Taylor repeatedly on the head with a whiffle ball bat.

I yelled at Madison to stop and immediately scooped her up in my arms in parental frustration. I decided to put her in the car seat and give her a talking to while I ran my errand. I forcefully and sternly told her that hitting someone on the head with a baseball bat was a naughty thing that you should never do. From the car seat, Maddy softly said:

“But, daddy, how do you know?”

I told her that she could hurt someone by hitting them on the head with a baseball bat.

“But, daddy, how do you know?”

My already angry voice rose to a new decibel level, and I told her that I know because it has happened. I told her that people have died by getting hit in the head with a baseball bat!

“But, daddy, how do you know?”

Now I was really frustrated. “BECAUSE IT WAS IN THE NEWS!” I shouted at her.

Daddy?” Maddy asked.

“WHAT?!?!” I replied.

Grandma said you can’t believe everything you hear in the news.

Ironically, just as I finished typing this, our adult daughter Madison called me. That stubborn, willful little child bent on vigorously defending her act of assault and battery on her big sister grew into a lovely, well-behaved adult. But that was the point of my sometimes being a stern and disciplinary parent. A four-year-old doesn’t always understand the larger implications of their actions and, if I want them to learn some of the basic behavioral rules of life, I had to demonstrate the hard side of love.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that what God is doing with the Hebrew tribes is showing them a different way. Ultimately, God reveals this eternal vision through Jesus and His followers. Everything and everyone is connected in love that can’t be explained or understood in human terms. Everything that flowed from the Creator flows back to the Creator and the only word we have for it is holy, and that human term doesn’t do it justice.

I’ve come to believe that the entire Great Story is like one lifetime. From humanity’s birth in Genesis to our death and resurrection in Revelation. As I read Joshua, I have to remember that humanity is in the toddler stage of history and God is trying to explain some basic rules of Life to His children. God is saying,

“Everything in this world that you think is yours actually belongs to me. I love you and will gladly share all good things with you. but first, you have to give up any claim on it. Oh, and realize that when you act disobediently out of pride and selfishness it negatively affects everyone in the family, including me. It’s all connected.”

In today’s chapter, God deals pretty harshly with a man from the tribe of Judah who disobeyed God’s command and took plunder for himself and then hid it in his tent. That was the way all the other human tribes operated. Conquest was about plunder, power, and pillaging. “I’m teaching my children a different way. It’s something you don’t quite comprehend at this age, but someday you will grow to understand.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about my own failures and shortcomings in terms of how they affect everything and everyone to whom I’m connected. I enjoy the vantage point of living in the adult era of human history, but I observe we’re still struggling to fully understand the way Jesus came to teach us we’re all connected, and how we treat one another is how we treat God. I’m still learning the lesson. The way I think, behave, and relate affects the whole. I’m still working on it, and I’ll continue to do so until the end, just as humanity does the same thing on a larger scale. The promise is that I will one day fully experience what God has been trying to reveal to us.

Until then, I press on one day at a time, endeavoring to follow the way Jesus shows me. One day, I’ll experience it fully.

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

Upstaging

Upstaging (CaD Jos 5) Wayfarer

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied…

Joshua 5:13-14a (NIV)

The actor had a bit part in a large musical I was in, but you’d have thought they had been given a starring role. They always had crazy ideas to make their character more noticeable, suggested to the director ways to “improve” the scene (and also give them a bigger moment on stage), and they had to be told ceaselessly to rein in their character.

In theatre, it’s officially called upstaging. In ancient times, stages were “raked” so that the back of the stage was raised and slanted down toward the audience. It was a technique that allowed the audience to better see the characters and action taking place at the rear of the stage. To this day, the back of the stage is referred to as “upstage” and the front of the stage by the audience is called “downstage.” Upstaging was, therefore, when an actor moves to where they are higher and better seen by the audience. They raise themselves to be more important than they really are.

Some mornings when I read a chapter, I find meaning in what is being shared across the episodes rather than within one of them. In today’s chapter, there are three distinct things being shared:

  • The fear of the local kings and city-states (vs. 1)
  • The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel (vs. 2-12)
  • The mysterious appearance of a lone stranger (vs. 13-15)

The first thing to really strike me was in the last episode. This mysterious figure appears with a drawn sword and introduces himself to Joshua as “Commander of the Army of the Lord.” When Joshua asks “are you for us, or for our enemies?” the reply was “Neither.”

“Neither?”

Aren’t the Hebrews God’s people? Didn’t they just affirm their covenant with God? Isn’t God leading them to the Promised Land?

Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s the point, I realized. What’s at issue throughout this chapter is the object. It’s easy for me to focus my eyes on God’s people, the same way I focus my eyes on myself and my earthly circumstances. But, the object of this unfolding Great Story is about what God is doing.

The Canaanite kings and peoples were afraid, not because of what the Hebrews had done, but because of what God had done for the Hebrews with His miracles.

The people renewed their covenant with God, and in doing so were reminded that it was God who initiated the covenant with their father, Abraham. It was God who delivered them from Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh. As they ate the produce of the Promised Land, they were reminded that it was God who provided manna for them for forty years to sustain them.

The Commander of the Army of the Lord then reminds Joshua that he and the Israelites are not the objects of his favor or obedience. God alone is whom he serves.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of just how self-centered I can be. I am the object of my own story, and I so often reveal that by my thoughts, words, and actions. My story, however, is ultimately what God has done for me, in me, and through me. My story is a bit part in God’s story.

God, forgive me for all the ways I both consciously and unconsciously try to upstage you.

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