Tag Archives: Life

The March of Time

The March of Time (CaD Gen 23) Wayfarer

So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 
Genesis 23:17-18 (NIV)

I spent some time with my parents yesterday as they continue to prepare matters related to the end of their respective journeys on this earth. Don’t get me wrong, they are currently in relatively good health and reside in independent living at their retirement community. They are just getting ahead of things for the sake of me and my siblings.

It felt like a bit of synchronicity that today’s chapter is the story of Abraham buying a tomb to bury his wife, Sarah. What is fascinating about the story is that God promised to give Abraham’s offspring the land. Abraham has been living as a nomad the entire time and it feels a bit ironic that the cave which will serve as he and his family’s tomb is the first time he actually owns a piece of the land God promised.

The cave of Machpelah in Hebron exists to this day, and Jewish tradition holds that Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are all buried there. It was customary in those days from families to use a cave that was used to bury entire families. Recently buried bodies would be placed on shelves carved out of the rock. When a body decomposed to the point that it was just bones, the bones would be placed deeper in the cave, often in some kind of vessel, to make room for newer remains.

King Herod built a giant structure over the cave which is still standing (see featured photo). The actual cave is sealed and no one is allowed in, though two clandestine entries were made in modern times and the testimony of students who made one of the visits testified that they found two chambers and in one they discovered pottery vessels and bones.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the march of time. I remember all four of my grandparents’ funerals. With the last of them, I remember pondering the reality that my parents had transitioned to being the eldest living generation of my family. The day draws nearer when I and my siblings will make that same transition. Wendy and I will be the ones making plans to save Taylor and Madison from worry or responsibility.

Our culture is obsessed with living well, but I don’t observe many people who consider what it means to die well. As a follower of Jesus, I learn that dying is requisite to living. So, perhaps it’s not a subject I should avoid, but rather one I should embrace.

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

The Other Side of the Valley

The Other Side of the Valley (CaD Gen 21) Wayfarer

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Genesis 21:6-7 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I have walked through a number of dark valleys. The thing about being an Enneagram Type Four is that Fours feel the darkness more acutely. We feel the despair more deeply. We tend to savor the melancholy the way an oenophile savors a complex Bordeaux.

When Fours walk through a dark valley we don’t rush to the next mountaintop. We tend to experience the dark valley in its fullness. This can be good because we can take the time to glean everything that the journey through the valley has to teach us, and every dark valley in life has a lot to teach us about crucial spiritual fruits such as perseverance, faith, perspective, maturity, wisdom, and joy. It can also be a bad thing, however, if we fail to progress through the valley; If instead of savoring the melancholy we become intoxicated by it.

In today’s chapter, Sarah finally emerges from a decades long journey in the valley of infertility. The promise is finally realized. She becomes pregnant in old age. She bears a son, and they name him Isaac, which we learned a few chapters ago means “He laughs.” God gave Abraham and Sarah this name after they both laughed in sarcastic doubt that God’s promise would ever be fulfilled. Sarah’s laughter has now been transformed from cynicism to joy as she holds her own son.

I’ve regularly written about Wendy’s and my journey through the valley of infertility because one tends to remember most clearly the valleys on life’s road that were the most difficult to navigate and had the most to teach you. I couldn’t help but read about Isaac’s birth this morning with a mixture of both joy and sadness. I also couldn’t help but to realize that Wendy and I journeyed through that valley for a handful of years while Sarah’s trek was literally for a handful of decades. The woman deserves a jackpot of joyful laughter.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself recalling moments during our slog through that valley. There were moments (in all my Fourness) that I pessimistically wondered if I would ever hear Wendy laugh with joy again. Of course, I did. I do. I hear it regularly. Unlike Abe and Sarah, we emerged from that valley with a different kind of joy than Sarah’s laughter, but it is pure joy that springs from God’s goodness and purposes for us. It is the joy of embracing the story God is telling in and through us.

The valley of infertility is now a ways behind us on life’s road. While Sarah’s story raises pangs of memory this morning, it also brings the realization of how far we’ve come. There are a number of dark valleys on this road of life. Despite my Fourness, I have emerged on the other side of each of them with greater knowledge, experience, and wisdom with which to experience the thrill of each mountaintop vista and face each dark valley that lies before me. With each step, I find the muscle of faith strengthened to press on to the journey’s end when…

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away,” and He who is seated on the throne will say, “I am making everything new!”

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

Grace and Cancel Culture

Grace and Cancel Culture (CaD Gen 20) Wayfarer

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.
Genesis 20:7 (NIV)

I have been fascinated to watch the hoopla over the past several days as the latest victim of cancel culture falls from public favor. When I was young, it was institutional churches and fundamentalist Christians who were bemoaned, and rightfully so, for being judgmental and ostracizing sinners. With cancel culture, I observe that the pendulum has swung to the opposite side of the social and political spectrum. Witch hunts comb people’s past with a fine-toothed comb to find any evidence of past impropriety based on today’s rigid social mores of woke culture.

Just yesterday, I happened upon a YouTube video of a man telling his story. When he was a young husband and father he flatlined during surgery for twenty minutes. He had never publicly shared the story of his near death experience until this video. His experience was variation on the themes of the stories of others I listened to who have experienced this. One of the common themes of those who’ve died and returned is the experience of having their life flash before their eyes, or to have it replayed.

The gentleman in this video was completely alone as this happened. He saw all of his life. There were moments that made him feel joy and nostalgia. Then there were the flawed moments, the poor choices, and tragic mistakes. “I was all alone,” he said describing the moment. “There was no reason to make excuses. No reason to deny it. I did those things and I had to own it.” Before crossing over, he was told that it wasn’t his time and he had other things he needed to do. His spirit returned to his body.

Today’s chapter is a reprise of circumstances we encountered earlier in Abraham’s journey. He enters foreign territory and fears for his life. Apparently, his wife Sarah was quite a catch even in old age. Abraham fears the local king will kill him and take Sarah and everything he owns. So he plays the “She’s my sister” card. The local king takes Sarah into his harem which could mess up the covenant promise God has now been making for eight chapters. God intervenes by way of a dream and tells the king to send Sarah back to Abraham, stating that Abraham is a prophet and God has plans for them. God then releases the King from any guilt and the King, in turn, showers Abraham with gifts out of fear for God.

As I contemplated this story, the first thing that struck me was that Abraham acts deceptively out of fear rather than trusting that God would honor His covenant and protect him and Sarah. This is the second time he’s done this. It’s an obvious blind spot that is disrespectful to his wife, unfaithful to God, and could fubar everything God has promised.

The second thing that struck me was God’s grace with everyone in the story. God graciously redeems the entire situation. Not one of the players in this deception are judged or punished. The fact is that God called a fallen human being to be His prophet. Abraham is a dude just like me; He’s given to flawed moments, poor choices, and tragic mistakes.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for two things.

First, I’m thankful that I’m a nobody and that I’m not on cancel culture’s radar. Scour my past and you’ll find plenty of reason to cancel me. I’ve been a work in progress from an early age and I’m still at it. Like the dead man in the video, there’s no denying it or excusing it. I own it.

Second, I’m thankful that God, unlike many of His self-righteous followers past and present, is gracious and forgiving. The overarching theme of the Great Story is that of redemption, not cancellation. If God operated like cancel culture there would be no hope for me.

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

A Sage in the Story

A Sage in the Story (CaD Gen 14) Wayfarer

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Genesis 14:18-20 (NIV)

In all great epic stories, we encounter mysterious and oracular figures who Carl Jung labeled the Sage archetype. Sometimes these sages are ever-present in the storyline like Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, and Yoda in the Episodes I-III of Star Wars. Sometimes a Sage appears for a brief moment in the story, but their words and presence linger as an important thread of the story. In the original Star Wars trilogy of movies, the sage Obi-wan (“He’s just a crazy old man” Luke’s Uncle said of him) was physically present in the story for a relatively brief time, but his presence and words came back at important moments. Likewise, the Oracle played a crucial role in the Matrix trilogy, though we only saw her briefly on screen.

Remember: All great stories are reflections of the Great Story.

Genesis means “beginnings” and in it God establishes many things that are crucial to the Great Story He is going to tell through the final chapter of Revelation. In today’s chapter, we are briefly introduced to a mysterious figure, a sage character who appears on stage for a moment, but whose presence is dripping with foreshadowing in the larger Great Story which will only be come clear thousands of years later.

Abram, to whom God has promised to make a great nation, allowed his nephew Lot to choose the land he wanted. Lot chose what looked to be the land where the grass was greener for his herds, but it turned out to be a land full of violence, political turmoil, and war. Lot, his family, and his possessions are taken as spoils of war amidst the tumult. Abram, meanwhile, has prospered greatly where he settled and he goes on a successful rescue mission to recapture Lot and his family.

As they return, we meet the mysterious Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of God-Most-High who blesses Abram, and Abram gives Melchizedek “ten percent of everything.”

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, but in fact it is. Melchizedek will be an important figure in Jesus’ story. He is what scholars call a “type” or parallel of Jesus. A few things to note:

Melchizedek (meaning “Righteous King”) is King of Salem, which is a word related to peace and part of the more familiar Jeru-salem. Therefore, a “righteous king of peace.” Not only is Mel King, but he’s also priest of God-Most-High. We’re not even to the part of the Great Story where God prescribes to Moses the sacrificial system He wants the Hebrew people to use, but in that system the priesthood and the monarchy are two separate entities. Mel brings out to Abram a gift of “bread and wine,” which was a cultural tradition at that time, but the allusion to Jesus’ last supper can’t be ignored. King Mel is also priest of God-Most-High at a time before we have any knowledge that God was doing anything in persons outside the narrative we’ve been given, yet Abram acknowledges this mysterious King-Priest. He honors Mel with a tithe of everything which was a “king’s share” in that day.

Melchizedek will later make a brief and mysterious appearance in David’s lyrics in Psalm 110. This is ironic since God promised that it would be David’s throne that would be established forever, and through David’s line through which the Messiah would come. In this, God declares through David that the monarchy and priesthood would, once again, be interwoven in the Messiah as had been foreshadowed in the mysterious sage, Melchizedek in today’s chapter. As for the Mosaic sacrificial system? Well, “old things pass away, new things come,” yet what is new was established in the mystery of Melchizedek in the ancient past. The author of Hebrews brings clarity to how Melchizedek and Christ are connected.

So, what does this whole thing have to do with my life on this 20,254th day of my earthly journey? There are a couple of things that I’m contemplating in the quiet.

First, Melchizedek reminds me that I am part of a connected story. It is thousands of years between the events of Genesis 14 and the Jesus story. Yet, like all epic stories, you look back in retrospect to see how all things work together and are connected. This reminds me that I, and my story, are also connected to the Great Story in mysterious ways that I can’t see in the moment, but I believe I will one day stand on the other side and look back to see it revealed. This, in turns, inspires me to press on in the journey today.

Melchizedek also reminds me that God is at work in the lives and stories of others in ways that I don’t know nor can I comprehend. As I have progressed in my own journey I have increasingly come to acknowledge this fact whenever I encounter anyone. In those who have believed and received, God is actively engaged in weaving their stories into the Great Story. In those who have not, I believe God is actively engaged in drawing them in to Himself. I have also come to believe that their stories, even in their unbelief, antagonism, or passivity, are ultimately connected to the Great Story in ways I can’t humanly imagine. If I really believe this, and I do, then it motivates me to relate to every human being I encounter with grace, respecting that they are a person whom Jesus loves, and in whom Jesus is actively at work to draw them in.

And so, I enter this day, and this new work week, reminded that I and my life are connected to the Great Story in ways I can scarcely imagine, and believing that so is everyone with whom I will interact this day. And that should dictate the way I think, act, speak, interact and proceed.

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

The Journey

The Journey (CaD Gen 12) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood and Covenant

Blood and Covenant (CaD Gen 9) Wayfarer

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…”
Genesis 9:8-9 (NIV)

As my maternal grandparents entered the home stretch of their earthly journeys, they faced difficult financial circumstances that led to a difficult decision. My grandfather’s medical needs were draining their savings which was threatening the financial security of my grandmother, who would most certainly survive my grandfather, possibly for years to come. A social worker suggested that one solution would be for my grandparents to legally divorce so that their finances would be legally split, allowing my grandmother to retain their savings under her name while my grandfather’s needs would be provided for by the State.

I was quite a young man at the time, and I have a vivid memory of my grandmother asking me what she should do. I remember it because it was the first time that I’d considered both the legality, spirituality, and the tradition of marriage. That led me to realize, perhaps for the first time, that while the institutions of both church and state are involved in the process of a couple getting married, there is absolutely no detailed prescription for marriage in the Bible other than addressing it as a basic, assumed relational construct of human familial relationship and cultural systems. So far in our chapter-a-day journey of Genesis the husband and wife relationship has been assumed but no where has there been discussion of ceremony, process, or particulars other than a man and woman leaving their respective homes and becoming “one flesh.”

So, the relational agreement between husband and wife is assumed and its process is not specifically prescribed in the Great Story. What the Great Story does address is the agreement(s) between God and humanity. In the ancient times they were called “covenants.” Once again, since we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, we are going to keep running into firsts, and in today’s chapter we come across the first “covenant” between God and humanity since expulsion from the Garden. God initiates and makes the covenant never to destroy all earthly life by natural catastrophe.

Just before this covenant, God establishes the sacredness of human life, and it is metaphorically established in blood, or “lifeblood.” The ancients recognized that when blood poured out of a person, they died. They made connection between blood and life.

So in today’s chapter God establishes the sacredness of “life,” “blood,” and “covenant.” And just as I mentioned that the flood was an earthly foreshadowing of what would be the spiritual sacrament of baptism, today’s events are an earthly foreshadowing of the spiritual metaphor in the sacrament of Communion:

Then [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:27-29 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning, I am once again awed by the connected themes of the Great Story from the very beginning. God is proactive, from the very beginning, in initiating a committed (a.k.a. covenant) relationship with humanity that will bring life in contrast to the death which came through disobedience and the breaking of relationship. And, God is still doing it as I remember each time I choose to step up and partake of the bread and cup as Jesus prescribed for his followers.

As for my grandparents, they chose not to take the social worker’s suggestion. My family helped to find other alternatives for them. That said, I told my grandmother that I did not believe a legal divorce on paper from the State of Iowa could ever nullify the spiritual bond of covenant and spiritual oneness or the chord of three strands woven between them and God. I believe that still. Matters of Spirit are deeper and more eternal than the reach of any human legal system on earth.

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

Ezer Kenegdo

Ezer Kenegdo (CaD Gen 2) Wayfarer

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

For whatever reason, God saw fit to surround me with women most of my entire life journey. My eldest brothers are twins, my sister came five years later, and I brought up rear. Most of my childhood the sibling dynamic in my family system was two pairs: the twins and Jody and me. When I was very young, I can remember times when dad and the twins would be off doing something and I was home with mom and Jody. It made an impression on me.

Further down life’s road, I find myself the father of two girls, and then was blessed to have Wendy’s sister live with us for a few years. I always seem to find myself in situations in which I’m surrounded by women. About four years ago I wrote a post with my first words to my grandson, discussing this very phenomenon.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I rather enjoy it most of the time. In fact, the experience has significantly changed my view and understanding of women along my life journey. For most of my early journey I loosely held a fairly fundamentalist view of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives. And, I confess that many of my views early on were downright misogynistic. My life experiences, my spiritual journey as a Jesus follower, and the amazing women in my life, have led to embracing what I consider to be a deeper understanding of women and all the incredible things they are in creation.

In today’s chapter, God looks at Adam and makes a “helper suitable for him.” The Hebrew words are ezer kenegdo. Ezer simply means “help” or “assistance.” Kenegdo is made up of three words. The study text I read this morning stated that it suggests: “someone God fashions for the man who would correspond to him.” This does not imply inferiority, weakness, or submission, but rather one who “uniquely his counterpart and uniquely suited for him.”

And that brings me to Wendy, the woman who is the definition of my ezer kengdo. We couldn’t be more different in so many ways, and the Enneagram Institute describes relationships between Fours (me) and Eights (Wendy) “the most inherently volatile” of combinations, though it adds the combination can be “one of the most creative relationship couplings.”

Wendy and I do everything together. We work together out of our home, we serve together, and we play together. There are certainly things each of us do and enjoy alone, but for the most part we are around each other 24/7/365 in our daily lives. And that’s a good thing for me. It’s a great thing for me.

I had a member of my company’s Board of Directors once ask me if I could imagine doing my job without Wendy. My response was immediate: “Absolutely not.” In fact, I can’t imagine doing it without her. I can’t imagine doing anything without her. She’s “uniquely suited” to make me better at everything I do in life, in community, and business as I like to believe I am uniquely suited to make her better in the same.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. We’re not perfect. We clash. We have flashes of volatility as the folks at the Enneagram Institute describe. Sometimes sparks fly. Yet that, I believe, is inherently a by-product of ezer kenegdo. Not alike, but uniquely suited.

So, in the quiet this morning, I think there are a whole host of things that I could have blogged about from today’s chapter. It is chock full of truth on multiple layers. Yet, on this chapter-a-day journey, I often find that the thing that is most meaningful to me is the thing that rises to the top of mind and soul. To me, this day, that is ezer kenegdo; that is Wendy, and all of the women with whom God has surrounded me my entire life journey to teach me about manhood, and to make me a better man.

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

Proven Character

Proven Character (CaD Ruth 3) Wayfarer

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Ruth 3:11 (NIV)

At the suggestion of a friend, Wendy and I have been listening to the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill which chronicles the story of a megachurch in Seattle that became one of the largest and most influential churches in America, and then disappeared almost over night. In telling the story of Mars Hill, the podcast also shares a larger story about the history of megachurches in America and their pastors, including Willowcreek in Chicago, where I attended regularly during my college years.

One of the most fascinating common themes of these stories is that of the talented, charismatic pastors who rose to positions of incredible prominence and celebrity status, then had their own very personal and public descent into scandal. The stories reveal a pattern. Very talented and charismatic young men who rocketed into positions of power and leadership in their 20s and 30s, arguably before their characters were fully formed through the process of experience. And, these were churches they themselves started, so the systems that grew up around them protected them and allowed them to fire, threaten, minimize, harass, shame, or marginalize anyone within the system who they didn’t trust or deemed personally disloyal. One said it plainly : “We value loyalty over honesty.”

In today’s chapter, we find Ruth, the widowed foreigner, boldly taking the initiative with Boaz. With suggestions and instructions from her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth dresses herself up in her best outfit and puts on her best perfume. After Boaz has feasted and made merry with this servants in celebration of the harvest, he goes with the other men to sleep by the grain pile to protect it from robbers. Ruth uncovers the feet of Boaz and lies next to him. When he wakes up and asks who is lying there, Ruth asks him to “spread your garment over me” which was a request for Boaz to marry her in fulfillment of his obligation as a guardian-redeemer. Similar customs are still practiced in some middle east cultures today.

Boaz, whom the author has already established as a man of faith and good character, then observes that Ruth has proven herself to be a woman of “noble character” and everyone in the community knows it. What’s interesting is that the Hebrew word for “noble character” is the same that is used in the famous passage of Proverbs 31 which describes an ideal, godly woman. The phrase is the only used three times in the Old Testament: Ruth 3:11, Proverbs 31:10, and Proverbs 12:4.

Boaz then tells Ruth that there is a potential glitch in the matrix. There is an unnamed kinsman-redeemer who is closer in relation. Boaz must defer if the closer relative wishes to redeem Ruth and marry her. He vows to settle the issue immediately, and sends Ruth back to Naomi with a gift of more grain.

One of the themes of this tender story is that each of the main characters behave with proven character. Naomi, in her emptiness tries to do right by her daugthers-in-law. Ruth does right by Naomi and behaves honorably so that an entire community sees her as a woman of “noble character” despite being a foreigner and a widow. Boaz is a man of faith, kindness, generosity, and handles Ruth’s bold request honestly and honorably.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the believers in Rome who were facing persecution:

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

There is a spiritual maturation process that happens in facing trials, difficulties, and suffering in life. Character is not a spiritual gift, nor is it cheaply acquired. Character is developed by walking through the valleys on this life journey, persevering, pressing on, and learning the harsh lessons experience. Boaz is not a young man. Neither is Naomi. Naomi and Ruth are walking through a long, dark valley on life’s road. Each of them is a person of genuine character.

Which brings me back to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and the observation it makes regarding the character issues of young pastors who found themselves in positions of prominence and power relatively early in their life journeys before experience, trial, perseverance, and wisdom could fully develop character which led to tragic ends. I confess that as a young man I admired and was envious of some of these individuals and their success. Looking back from my current waypoint on life’s road, there is no doubt in my mind that had I been in their shoes I would have met a similar, scandalous crash-and-burn. Believe me, I had to experience my own character-honing failures, mistakes, and tragedies in those years. I just didn’t have millions of people watching. And for that, I’m grateful.

“There, but for the grace of God…”

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

Dealt a Bad Hand

Dealt a Bad Hand (CaD Ruth 1) Wayfarer

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Ruth 1:20-21 (NIV)

Along my journey, I’ve known many people who I would describe as having been dealt a bad hand in this life. I have experienced multipole stretches of the journey in which I felt I was dealt a bad hand. There are unexpected tragedies, unforeseen illnesses, and circumstances that come out of left field. As I ponder things, I feel as if the entire world got dealt a bad hand the past year-and-a-half. It’s one of the realities of this earthly journey. Despite all the wonderful promises of name-it-and-claim-it televangelists, the Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds us of a hard reality: in this life there are times and seasons when things like death, war, tearing, weeping, searching, relational distance, mourning, and hate are our experience. In every time and season, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

Today we begin the short story of Ruth, one of only two books of Great Story named after women. Ruth is one of a select handful of women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, so her story is a meaningful chapter in the Great Story. It is set in the dark period of time known as the time of the Judges. The story begins with a woman, Naomi, to whom God deals and incredibly bad hand.

There is a famine in the land, and Naomi’s husband leads her and her sons to the foreign land of Moab in a search to find food. At first, it appears that they’re playing their cards right. They settle in, have food, and even find Moabite wives for their sons. There was nothing illegal with Hebrew men marrying Moabite women, though it will certainly raise some orthodox, prejudicial eyebrows if and when they should return home to the little town of Bethlehem (yep, that Bethlehem).

Then there’s a change in seasons, just like the Sage reminds us. Naomi’s husband dies. Then both of her sons die. For a woman in the dark age of the Judges, this was the worst hand God could deal her. Widows had no status, no viable means of income, and there was no social structure to provide for their needs. Naomi’s situation is essentially hopeless.

Naomi recognizes that the situation for her daughters-in-law is not as dire. They are young, beautiful, and have child-bearing years ahead of them. She urges them to “fold” their hand, stay in Moab, and trust that their local Moabite god will deal them a new and better hand. One takes her up on the offer, but Ruth chooses to ante up, stick with Naomi, stick with Naomi’s God, and see this hand through. On the surface, this is a bad decision. Being a Moabite widow in Bethlehem and expecting a positive result is about the longest odds one could imagine in the context of the times.

Sure enough, widow Naomi’s return to Bethlehem with her foreign, widowed daughter-in-law, has the two buzzing with gossip. Naomi sums up her situation by asking people to call her by a different name:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara (which means “bitter”), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Bitter. What a great word for those times when I suddenly find myself playing a bad hand in life. Bitter at God. Bitter with the situation. Bitter that others seem to have it easier than me. Bitter that all the televangelist’s prophesies of my prosperity and the self-help guru’s promises of my success turn out to be null and void. Bitter that God dealt me this hand when He could have dealt me something different.

In the quiet this morning, I feel for Naomi, I mean Mara the Queen of bitter. I find myself recalling some of my top-ten bitter moments of this life journey even as I admit not one of them was nearly as dire or life-threatening as Naomi and Ruth. At the same time, I’m reminded that the Great Story is ultimately a redemption story that is layered with redemption stories. The way stories work, you can’t experience redemption without first experiencing the bitter. The bitter hand is the pre-requisite of redemption. I don’t experience the latter without the former.

It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned along this journey of following Jesus. When dealt a bad hand, never fold, because that assures perpetual bitterness. Playing out my hand is the only path to redemption, even against the longest of odds.

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

“Taking the Bullet”

"Taking the Bullet" (CaD John 19) Wayfarer

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John 19:26-27 (NIV)

Our local schools start up next week. Social media is filled this week with pictures of parents taking their Freshman college students to campus. Many of our friends are among them. Next week it will be pictures of the first day of school and Wendy and I will exclaim repeatedly, “Oh my word, he’s grown!” and “Goodness, she’s gotten so big!” Time marches on.

I remember my parents commenting many years ago about reaching the point in life in which they “dodged the bullet.” They had added up the number of children of friends and relatives who, along the way, they had agreed to take in if the parents met with an untimely end. It was a big number. My parents are good people.

Fast forward to today. It’s Wendy and me watching the children of our friends and relatives becoming young adults coming of age. We’re beginning to recognize that we are getting ever nearer to that same “dodge the bullet” milestone.

Today’s chapter records the torture, death sentence, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. As I continue to follow the theme of identity woven through John’s biography, there were two things that stood out.

The first is the power-play happening between the religious leaders, who could not legally execute someone under Roman law, and the Roman Governor, Pilate, who knows that Jesus was not guilty of anything deserving death. Having been politically railroaded into sentencing Jesus to crucifixion, Pilate has a sign made that identified Jesus as “King of the Jews” in three languages and placed on Jesus’ cross. He certainly did it to insult the religious leaders; Mission accomplished. I could’t help but recall Jesus telling Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” and Pilate’s response: “Then you are a king.” Was there, perhaps, a hint of respect for this innocent man made political scapegoat?

Jesus hung on the cross naked, bloody, bruised, and beaten. He looks down from the cross to see His own mother. Next to her stands John, the only one of The Eleven with the courage to show up. Taking into account all four biographies of Jesus in the Great Story, Jesus made seven statements from the cross. One of them was caring for His own mother, and making sure that John would care for her. “She is now your mother, John. Mom? He is now your son.”

In the quiet this morning, I think about the roles we play in the lives of others and the way that changes. Last week Wendy had coffee with Kennedy, the daughter of our friends who is heading to college today. Wendy presented her with a ring. It was a rite of passage, and Wendy made it perfectly clear that in coming into adulthood Kennedy was joining a community of women who look out for one another. The ring is to serve as a reminder to Kennedy that she has a community of women she can count on. I guess it was Wendy’s way of acknowledging that she’ll still “take the bullet” for our friends and her daughter, it just hits one differently at this stage of life’s journey.

That’s what community is really all about. We look out for one another and their loved ones. We’re willing to “take the bullet” whether that means raising a friend’s children or helping care for a friend’s parents. We have a role to play, not only in the lives of our friends, but also in the lives of their loved ones. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He told His disciples the previous night: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” As Jesus lays down His life for John and for the sins of the world, John lays down his life for Jesus, and agrees to take in Jesus’ mother as his own.

May I always be willing to “take the bullet” so to speak, and lay down my own life, time, energy, and resources, for my friends and their loved ones.

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