Tag Archives: Love

By-Products

By-Products (CaD Mk 11) Wayfarer

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Mark 11:12-14 (NIV)

As a young follower of Jesus, I remember being taught that it was my responsibility to “win souls” for the Lord. Over the years, I was prescribed a handful of sure-fire methods by which to quickly share with people how they could “get saved.”

During this same early stretch of both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I was taught that it was also of primary importance to be “pure.” The formula of “purity” was basically abstinence from the major impurities: sex, drinking, drugs, smoking, listening to “worldly” music, and swearing.

Looking back, there is nothing wrong with either of these things in-and-of themselves. As a follower of Jesus, both being able to effectively share with someone “the reason for the hope that is in me” and being pure are things I am asked to do. Nevertheless, the further I’ve progressed in both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I’ve come to understand that they may very well be by-products of Love’s fruit, but they aren’t the fruit itself.

With today’s chapter, Mark’s biography of Jesus enters the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. Mark shares an obscure episode in which Jesus goes to a fig tree hoping to find a snack. Finding none, he curses the tree. The next day, they pass by the tree and find it withered.

I’ve always been intrigued and a little confused by this story. Jesus was always one for using living word pictures as teaching tools, and I have to believe that later that same week He would share with his followers: “I am the Vine and you are the branches. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut-off and used for compost.” Of course they have a mental picture in their heads of the withered fig tree.

In the quiet this morning, I took the teaching and the word picture one step further:

What was Jesus looking for when He approached the Fig tree?

Figs, quite obviously.

What is the Gardener looking for when He approaches the branches on the Vine?

The fruit of love which one knows by it’s identifying characteristics:
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control

Now, sharing this love with others may lead to opportunities for telling someone how they can enter into a relationship with Jesus themselves. In the same way, any Grade A, organic fruit of Jesus’ love will be pure in all of its goodness and self-control.

Once again: These are by-products of the fruit, not the fruit itself, and it’s the fruit that produces the by-products never the other way around.

To riff on Paul’s treatise on Love:

If I memorize the Four Spiritual Laws and knock on every door in the neighborhood in an effort to win souls, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well be winning souls while losing my own.

If I live my life a tea-totaling eunuch disciplined in my vow of strict silence, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well look like the beautifully pure fruit but be void of flavor or any kind of nutritional value.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself continuing to meditate on the question I asked myself as I read the chapter:

If Jesus walks up to my life on this day of the journey like He walked up to that fig tree, what is it He wants to find on this branch?

The pure fruit of Love in all its fullness and goodness, or just a few of its ancillary by-products?

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

“Ins” and “outs”

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
Mark 9:38 (NIV)

Over the past five years, I’ve quietly watched as divergent lines of political, social, and religious thought have become more and more entrenched behind walls of prejudice and across what appears to be a “no man’s land” dictated by either and/or both sides of the great divide. It grieves me to observe, and to experience, the lack of grace, tolerance, love, and simple human kindness for other human beings.

Like every other human being, my life journey has been dotted with observing and experiencing the “ins” and “outs” of social groups. Favorites emerge in family systems. Sides are chosen on the playground. The new kid on the block must navigate how to earn acceptance from the neighborhood gang who’ve known each other their whole lives. Social groups with unspoken rules of “in” and “out” emerge out of the shared identities of being jocks, nerds, band geeks, and stoners. Sororities and Fraternities create shared loyalty through their pledging, hazing, and strict hierarchies. Corporations have well insulated “C-Suites” where executives are sequestered in corner offices with private bathrooms. Churches manage who’s in and out with membership cards, doctrinal litmus tests, and unspoken religious rules about dress, speech, morality, and acceptable political stances.

In today’s chapter, there’s an interesting exchange that, in my experience, doesn’t get much air time. In my forty years of following Jesus and regularly attending the gatherings of various groups of fellow followers, I have never heard one sermon, lecture, or lesson on this exchange.

It comes from the mouth of John who bears the moniker, “the one whom Jesus loved,” and one of the three who comprised what’s known as “Jesus’ inner-circle.” It was that “inner circle” (James, John, and Peter) whom Jesus took to witness His transfiguration in today’s chapter. I have to wonder how that went over with the other nine. I think I can guess.

Jesus and His “twelve” are together in someone’s home, away from the crowds. Jesus is holding a little child in His arms, telling his disciples that in the economy of God’s Kingdom the “greatest” are those who are humble and willing to welcome and serve “the least” of society with open and embracing arms.

John then looks at Jesus (who is still holding the child as a living word picture of this lesson about humility, love, openness, and inclusion), and says, “Teacher, we saw some guy we didn’t know today performing an exorcism in your name and we told him to stop, because he’s not one of us!”

He doesn’t belong “in” our group.

You didn’t choose him, like you chose us.

He hasn’t left everything and followed you like we have.

We don’t know where he is from or what he truly believes.

Be proud of us, Jesus, we’re keeping “out” those who don’t belong “in” your entourage!

Jesus, still holding the child in His arms, rebukes John for what he’s said and done. John can’t see the disconnect. Jesus then tears down the wall of John’s “in” group distinctions: “Whoever is not against us, is for us.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating all of the walls of distinction that have been erected by various social groups on every side of every issue. And this is where my heart lands as I consider Jesus’ words in today’s chapter, and picture Him holding a little child in His arms:

First:

When I go downstairs this morning to have coffee with Wendy and peruse the news of the day…
I am only going to see what their cameras want me to see.
I am only going to hear what their editors want me to hear.
I am only going to read, watch, and listen to the sources I choose
who, let’s face it, I choose because it makes me comfortable in.my.own.groups.

Second:

What I will see, hear, and read is an infinitesimal and skewed vision of the daily lives, experiences, conversations, and interactions that I and billions of other human beings will have on this planet on this day.

Third:

I can’t control what others may think of me or what they perceive me to be. People may very well choose to hate me and be against me in any way one chooses. Nevertheless, no one is going to get me to hate them any more than they could get Jesus to hate them.

As a follower of Jesus, that’s my calling, my mission, and my heart’s desire.

Forgive? Yes. Hate? No.

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

Source, not Compensation

Source, not Compensation (CaD Mk 1) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Some Other Mettle”

"Some Other Mettle" (CaD Ps 146) Wayfarer

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

Many years ago, our little town had a local Shakespeare Company that would produce a play each summer in the local park. Wendy and I were cast in Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy about a man and woman who despise one another and how this couple falls in love. Wendy was cast as the female lead, Beatrice, who in the beginning of the play waxes cynical about romance. When asked if she will every marry, she replies, “Not till God make men of some other mettle than earth.”

That line came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter, Psalm 146, in which the lyrics warn those listening to the song to avoid putting trust in human beings.

Along my life journey, I have observed that human systems almost always end up serving those who control them, unless those who control them have the rare quality of being both humble enough to eschew personal gain in order to serve everyone in the system and having the authority to ensure it stays that way.

Thus Beatrice waxes cynical to find a man who will serve her, honor her, and treat her as an equal partner rather than as a possession and chattel as human systems treated wives through most of human history.

Thus families become dysfunctional and unhealthy systems that end up hurting the ones they are supposed to protect and prepare for perpetuating healthy marriages and families for the next generation.

Thus organizations intended to serve the good of many become rackets that line the pride and pockets of the few in power at the top of the org chart.

Thus businesses established with eloquent vision and mission statements about valuing employees and exceptional service to customers end up cutting jobs and providing the least acceptable levels of service in order to eek out a few more pennies of dividend for shareholders.

Thus governments (of every type and “ism”) end up with those at the top offices rigging the system for themselves and their cronies while paying lip service to helping those living hand-to-mouth on a day-by-day basis.

I know this sounds cynical, yet I feel for where Beatrice is coming from. And, I have to confess that as a follower of Jesus I find myself in the quiet this morning hearing the words of Jesus and the teachings that call me to act against the grain of the systems of this world:

“Whoever wants to be ‘great’ and lead others but become the servant of all.”

“Husbands, love your wives sacrificially, even as Jesus showed us what love is by sacrificing Himself to save us.”

“Fathers, don’t exasperate your children.”

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone.”

Do you have individuals who work for you? Then treat them the way you want to be treated, the way that Jesus has treated you, and the way Jesus has called you to do. From a sincere heart, respect them, treat them honorably, and compensate them for the good they do.”

In find it fascinating that Jesus arguably never directly addressed those who were in control of systems of human power. The only one He did address was the Hebrew religious system who were supposed to recognize Him, but killed Him to protect their power, privilege, and profits. When given the opportunity to address the political powers of His day, King Herod and the Roman Empire, he largely kept His mouth shut.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to Beatrice and her mail foil, Benedict. Through the course of the play they have a change of heart, and you can guess where that leads. All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and therein I see a reflection of what Jesus was about. Jesus was not about creating or changing humans systems of power in order to, top-down, force God’s will over individuals. That’s nothing more than using the world’s playbook against itself, and I only have to look at the headlines to see how that’s working out. Jesus’ taught that the Kingdom of God paradigm is to change the hearts of individuals in order to motivate love and service to others, that in turn creates change within human systems of power from the bottom-up. It’s what He demonstrated on the cross, when the sacrifice of One served to effect change in the many, who effected change in many more.

I hear Wendy in the kitchen making my blueberry spinach smoothie, and it’s time to wrap-up my time of quiet this morning. As I do, I find myself taking a personal inventory of life and spirit. As a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as an employer, and as a organizational leader in my community, am I reflecting the character of humility, servant-heartedness, honor, respect, and generosity to which Jesus has called me? Immediately, things come to mind to which I need to add to my task list. I better get started.

Have a great day, my friend.

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


One Song, Two Levels

One Song, Two Levels (CaD Ps 138) Wayfarer

May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed.

Psalm 138:4 (NIV)

Tomorrow night I have the honor of giving the Good Friday message among my local gathering of Jesus followers. Good Friday is the annual remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and death just two days before the Resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday.

One of the themes that I’m addressing in my re-telling of the events of that day is the conflict that is happening on two different levels. There’s the human conflict happening between Jesus and the power-brokers of earthly power in Rome, Judea, and Jerusalem. There’s also the conflict that is happening on the Spiritual level between the Son of God, and the Prince of this World. I believe one doesn’t fully understand Good Friday without an understanding of the conflict happening on both levels.

That’s one of the fascinating things I find about the Great Story. It weaves the stories, and holds the tension between both levels: Earth and Spirit. Perhaps that’s why, as I sit in the quiet of my office this morning, and mull over today’s chapter, I find it also resonating with me on those same two different levels.

Yesterday we got to the end of a section in this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that focused on Jerusalem (Psalms 120-137). There were all of the songs of “ascent” along with songs of dedication to Jerusalem, like yesterday’s chapter. Today we kick-off a section of eight songs in which the liner notes attribute the songs to King David.

The lyrics of today’s chapter begin with David proclaiming praise to God. You might remember from earlier posts in these posts in Psalms that Hebrew songs often put the central theme of the song smack-dab in the middle. In today’s lyric, David’s theme is “May all the kings of earth praise you.”

On a purely earthly level, this theme fits in with the thread of the earthly story within the Great Story. God promised Abraham that “all peoples” would be blessed through his descendants. The law of Moses spoke clearly about loving and being deferential to other peoples living among them. Jesus exemplified this in His inclusive teaching and behavior towards women, Samaritans, and Romans. He then gave His followers the mission of spreading His teaching to all people. In the final chapters of the Great Story John is given a vision of Heaven’s throne room in which the multitudes include people of “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

So, on one level, David’s lyric prophetically points to Jesus’ teaching and God fulfilling the promise to Abraham. The Great Story began with Abraham, expanded to his tribal descendants of whom Jesus was one, and then burst out to all peoples.

On the level of Spirit, the Great Story makes clear that the enemy of God remains the “Prince of this World.” The “Kingdoms of this world” remain in his clutches. Power, wealth, and pride still fuel the institutions of earthly power: politics, commerce, and religion. When Jesus prayed, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth,” He was not talking about a grand, earthly power grab as His followers had been taught would happen and expected. That’s how the “Kingdoms of this World” operate. I’ve come to observe that whenever I see human institutions leveraging power to control others, it’s definitely not the Kingdom of Heaven.

Along my journey, I’ve come to observe that the paradigm of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus taught is about love and the spiritual transformation of individuals, who in turn love and transform their circles of influence, which in turn has the possibility to transform human systems. It’s not top-down systemic power but bottom-up organic transformation of Spirit.

The prophetic visions of John also point to an end of the Great Story when “the Kings of this earth” (not the earthly level individuals who might be transformed by the love of Jesus, but the spiritual level power-brokers representing the institutions of worldly power) will eventually face a final conflict and ultimate resolution.

So in the quiet this morning I find myself holding the tension of the two levels. I’m praying for Dave, my city councilman, whom I l know and love. I’m praying for my state’s Governor, whom is well-known and loved by members of my family. I’m praying for my friends who are heads of industry and business. I’m praying for my friends who lead their own local gatherings of fellow-Jesus followers. These are all in my direct circles of influence. I also find myself praying for matters and individuals on the national and global stage that are far out of my control, yet still part of the Great Story which I believe will ultimately play out as foretold, but probably not as I expect.

And so, I enter another day trying to bring love and hope to my circles of influence and those things I do control, while having faith in God’s plan and purposes on levels I don’t control.

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body

Body (CaD Ps 133) Wayfarer

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

Psalm 133:1 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I’ve had the honor of leading a team of teachers in my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. They are a diverse and gifted group of people, representing paid staff members and volunteers of different ages, denominational backgrounds, gender, vocations, educational levels, and personalities.

Almost every week, I assign the group a message to watch on the internet. We’ve watched teachers and preachers from the National Cathedral to small rural towns. We’ve watched teachers of different styles, traditions, denominations, backgrounds, and abilities. We gather for lunch once a month to discuss what we’ve heard, observed, and learned from the different teachers and preachers we’ve watched. It’s been a really interesting experience.

In the first century, the followers of Jesus used the metaphor of a body to describe all believers. My experience of leading our local teaching team has given me a deeper appreciation for, and awareness of, just how beautiful and powerful that word picture is. The body is made up of eleven different systems. The systems do their thing and have various parts that provide particular functions unrelated to other systems, yet without them providing that function the health of the entire body suffers.

I’ve observed that the different members of our teaching team, each with his or her own communication style, personality, and waypoint on life’s journey, resonate deeply with different constituencies within our local “body” but less so with others. I find this to be natural and healthy for the “body” which benefits by learning from and appreciating different voices and perspectives. I’ve come to meditate quite a bit about unity.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 133, was another one of the songs that ancient Hebrew pilgrims sang as they and thousands of their fellow tribe made the trek to seasonal festivals in Jerusalem. It’s a short little ditty celebrating national unity that would have resonated with the travelers as they encountered fellow citizens making the same trek alongside them.

Along my life journey, I’ve come to understand that unity does not mean sameness. In fact, it doesn’t mean agreement. I am grieved by the level of discord, dissension, conflict, and “cancellation” in our culture of late. I was raised to be respectful of differences in people and appreciative of the opportunity to learn from those differences. As a follower of Jesus, those beliefs have been strengthened and reinforced in me by Jesus’ teaching that calls me to humbly be gracious; To love, forgive, and serve others, especially those whom I might otherwise consider my “enemy.”

Increasingly, I’ve come to realize that spiritually speaking, I am a very minute part of a massive, complex “body” made up of different systems, organs, limbs, and cells. There are parts of the body I don’t touch, and will never interact with. There are parts of the body with completely different functions than mine. There are other systems of the body I don’t fully understand and with whom I observe we are totally different in almost every way. Nevertheless, we are part of a “whole” that may well be beyond my human comprehension.

In yesterday’s post I wrote about things I control and things that I don’t. I can’t control others who choose to live in anger, stir conflict, and sow division and dishonor with anyone who looks, thinks, believes and/or lives differently. It’s unhealthy for the whole, and yet I can only control the part I play in my little part of that whole.

And so, I head out on another day of the journey, choosing to do the best I can to live in love, stir understanding, and sow peace with those I meet along the road on this pilgrimage called life.

Of Voices & Family

Of Voices and Family (CaD Ps 117) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

Wendy and I read a fascinating interview in the last week of an expert in race and culture. In the loud cacophony of voices lecturing about race and culture with stark in-group and out-group labels and distinctions, this academic stands as a proverbial “voice in the wilderness.” He has been studying trends for 50 years and pointed out facts that no one else is talking about or acknowledging.

The number of bi-racial and bi-cultural couples getting married and having children has increased significantly in the last 50 years and continues to rise. Both Wendy’s and my family are classic examples. Between our siblings, nieces, nephews, their spouses and children, we have the following races and cultures represented in just two generations: Dutch-American, Anglo-American, African-American, Korean-American, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican.

In other words, the simple, binary labels on the census list are increasingly obsolete. For this, I am increasingly joyful.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 117, is most known for being the answer to trivial pursuit questions. As just two verses long, it is the shortest psalm and the shortest chapter in the Bible. (If anyone is starting this chapter-a-day journey with me today, you’re getting off to an easy start. Just a warning, the longest psalm is just two chapters away, so you might want to get a head-start! 🙂

In its brief content, however, this ancient Hebrew song of praise has a significant purpose in the Great Story. This short song, traditionally sung each year as part of the Hebrew Passover, calls all nations and all peoples to worship and praise. This fits in context with the calling of Abraham, father of the Hebrew people when God promises Abraham that through his descendants all nations and peoples will be blessed.

If we fast forward to the Jesus story, we find Jesus breaking down the racial and cultural walls that His tribe had erected to keep those they considered spiritual and racial riff-raff out. Jesus followers went even further to take the message of Jesus to the Greek, African, and Roman worlds and beyond. This created upheaval and conflict among Jesus followers of strictly Hebrew descent. It was Paul (who called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”) who used today’s “trivial” psalm when writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome to argue that from the very beginning the Great Story has been about all nations, all races, all cultures, and all peoples.

When John was given a glimpse of heaven’s throne room, this is what he saw and heard:

And when [the Lamb who had been slain] had taken [the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation
.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10 (NIV) emphasis added

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of texting our daughters of Suzanna’s engagement to Chino in Mexico a couple of years ago. The response to the news was, “Yay for more beautiful brown babies in the family!” (by the way, the first of those arrives this summer and we can’t wait to meet our newest nephew).

Along my life journey, I have observed that we humans like to reduce very complex questions into simple binary boxes and choices. As a follower of Jesus, I found that the journey seemingly began that way. I could choose to follow, or not (though my theologian friends will be happy to turn that into a very complex question for you). After that, things get exponentially personal and complex. Just yesterday, I gave a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and I made the same argument about the season of Lent. Religious institutions want to make things top-down prescriptive when Jesus was always about things being intimately and spiritually bottom-up personal.

I find myself this morning meditating on the contrast between the voices of culture and the experiences of family. There are such complex questions we face today of race, gender, and culture. I don’t want to diminish or dismiss them. At the same time, I find myself encouraged by a profound truth simply stated in today’s chapter.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Simple Songs of a Child

Simple Songs of a Child (CaD Ps 111) Wayfarer

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise.

Psalm 111:10 (NIV)

It was a fairly warm day in early December this past year when Wendy and I got to spend the day with our grandson Milo for the firs time in almost a year. Wendy had some things she had to accomplish in town, so I took Milo to the park to keep him occupied. As we played on the swings, I made up a silly little song. It was simple:

Papa and Yaya love Milo.
Papa and Yaya love Milo.
Papa and Yaya love Milo.
Oh, yes we do.

After singing it a couple of times, I began again. This time I paused each time after the word love and Milo giggled and belted out his own name. Within a day, Milo himself sang it and he chose to alter the words…

Papa and Milo love Yaya.

then

Yaya and Milo love Papa.

The simple little ditty became a staple during their visit and it was so cute to hear him sing it. He always loved to sing all three verses to ensure the declaration of mutual love among the three of us was complete.

Instructional songs are as old as humanity itself. Music has always been a powerful way to learn and remember things. A quick memory job in the quiet this morning I recalled a number of songs I still remember by heart from shows I watched when I was a child; Shows like Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mister Rogers, Zoom, and Schoolhouse Rock. In seventh grade Social Studies class we had to memorize the preamble of the Constitution and, when tested, we had to write it word-for-word from memory. I guarantee you every one of us was singing the Schoolhouse Rock version in our heads as we wrote.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 111, along with its twin, Psalm 112, are written much like an ancient Hebrew form of Schoolhouse Rock, though this fact is essentially lost in translation to English. They are acrostic songs, with each Hebrew half-line starting with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When I read today’s psalm this morning it reminded me of some of the other wisdom texts in the Great Story like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The phrase “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” in verse 10 is used twice in Proverbs. And, the songwriter twice references God’s covenant being forever.

Short song.
Alphabet acrostic.
Simple instructional concepts.
Repeated phrasing.

It’s got all the marks of an instructional song intended for children (or adults) to quickly memorize and remember so as to learn simple spiritual truths.

In the quiet this morning as I ponder these things, it has me thinking about Jesus’ rather simple spiritual concept:

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

and

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

When Yaya and I would tuck Milo into bed I sang the same song I sang to his mother when she was his age…

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others, and let others do for you,
May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung,
And may you stay
forever young.

What could be more simple and essential than teaching a three-year-old like Milo that he and Papa and Yaya form a circle of love. And what could be more simple and essential for this adult to remember always?

Papa Tom & Milo. January 2021.

Connected

Connected (CaD Ps 98) Wayfarer

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth…
Psalm 98:4 (NIV)

I took a class on Psalms back in college. It was a winter post-term class which meant we took the entire three-credit course in three weeks of January between our holiday break and second semester. It’s funny how the senses connect with memories because doing this chapter-a-day journey through the same text at the same time of year has brought back certain memories for me from that class.

As I think back on that class from 35 years further down life’s road, I’ve found myself meditating on a few observations.

First, while I learned a ton about the Psalms in the three weeks of that college class, it’s a fraction of what I’ve learned in the three and a half decades since. My chapter-a-day habit is just a part of an on-going, life-long pursuit of Jesus in which I’m always learning more.

Second, knowledge and wisdom are two different things. I cognitively learned facts about these Hebrew song lyrics in that class. Many have stayed with me. Yet, my brain and my spirit were still forming at that waypoint on Life’s road. What is spiritually important is the connection of what I know to my life; As I perpetually endeavor to weave my knowledge of the Great Story and Jesus’ teaching into my daily thoughts, words, actions, habits, and relationships the tapestry of knowledge and experience produce wisdom.

Third, I have yet to reach a point where I know enough (there’s my one word again). The further I get in my life journey the deeper I find layers of knowledge, connection, and understanding in the Great Story.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 98, continues this section of ancient Hebrew calls to praise. As I read the text this morning, two things struck me. First, there are three stanzas of lyrics (vss 1-3, 4-6, 7-9) with three lines each. The praise progress outward like three concentric circles. The first stanza is the Hebrews worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem. Then it pushes out to “all the earth.” Finally the shouts of praise reach out to all of creation.

As I meditated on this, two clear connections came to mind.

First, I began to realize that the lyrics of this song foreshadow what followers of Jesus call “the great commission” or the mission Jesus gave to his followers to take His love and message “to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Like the praise of Psalm 98, the love of Jesus to radiate outward.

I also couldn’t help but recall the moment when Jesus is entering Jerusalem at the beginning of his final, fateful week. As crowds of people were praising Him and the religious busybodies criticized Jesus for allowing His followers to praise Him. “Even if they kept quiet,” Jesus replied, “the stones would cry out in praise.” Creation resonating with praise to the creator is a theme throughout the Great Story, just as physics reveals that all matter resonates at frequencies our ears can’t hear. It’s as if Jesus is connecting with the concentric circles of Psalm 98. “You might forcefully censor the praise of this crowd in Jerusalem, but you have no power over the universe as it cries out ceaselessly at 432hz.”

It brings me to one of the grand spiritual mysteries I’ve endlessly discovered over forty years: Everything is connected.

I couldn’t have made those connections in the January chill of my winter post-term as I fell into a crush with a classmate and worked on my extra-credit assignment of putting one of the psalms to music with my guitar. But, I made the connections that I could make at that point in my journey. And in the chill of this January’s quarantine I realize that those connections were part of these connections I’ve made in the quiet this morning.

Concentric circles. God’s Spirit, God’s creation, God’s love, God’s praise are always pressing outward, reaching out, embracing, pulling in, and sending out. As I follow Jesus, that’s where I’m constantly led in my spiritual journey: living, loving, praising further out, further up, and further in. And the further I get, the more I realize that the love and praise were already resonating before I got here.

Just like Jesus said.

Just like lyrics of Psalm 98.

Everything is connected.