Tag Archives: Love

Justice Then and Now

Justice Then and Now (CaD Jos 20) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
Joshua 20:1-3 (NIV)

Some of our most epic stories have ridiculously high body counts. I’ve had the joy of seeing many of Shakespeare’s plays produced on stage. His tragedies, in particular (e.g. Hamlet, Macbeth) end with seemingly everyone in the play dead. The same with the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. The same is true in more modern epics like the Godfather trilogy in which warring families endlessly kill one another. Game of Thrones also found creative and nasty ways to rack up the body counts. Even the climactic final chapters of Harry Potter contained the death of some of my most beloved characters.

Throughout history, our epic stories are reflections of our humanity, complete with its deepest flaws and tragic ends. Ever since Abel’s blood cried out, murder, death, and vengeance have been a part of human tragedies.

In today’s chapter, God reminds Joshua of a rudimentary system of justice outlined in the law of Moses. Knowing that tragic deaths could often result in violent, systemic, and generational blood feuds between families, clans, and tribes, Cities of Refuge were designated. If a tragic death occurred unintentionally yet a person was accused of murder, the accused could flee to one of these cities of refuge. The town protected the accused from acts of vengeance until a trial could be held by the tribal assembly and a verdict rendered. It was rudimentary, but it provided a time-out so that hot tempers could cool off and vengeance could be stalled in order for justice to be carried out.

As a student of history, I have often read about the historical implications that the Law of Moses had on humanity. It’s the recognized seminal code of law on which our own system of justice is built. No human system of justice is perfect, just as no human system of government is perfect. But in the story of the Hebrews, I see God prescribing a huge step forward toward a more just society.

So what does this have to do with me here in my 21st-century life journey? First of all, I’m grateful to have very little need for a justice system thus far on my life journey. I am blessed to have lived what amounts to a relatively peaceful life. I take that for granted sometimes, and so I whisper a prayer of gratitude in the quiet this morning.

I also recognize as I meditate on the chapter that justice is more pervasive in the human experience than the weighty matters of manslaughter and capital murder. Justice is a part of every human relationship and interaction. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t ignore that He calls me to be just, generous, loving, and merciful in every relationship. Jesus taught that In God’s kingdom:

  • Cursing another person is as serious as murder.
  • Lust is as serious as adultery.
  • I shouldn’t worship God if I’ve got an interpersonal human conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • I am to forgive, as I have been forgiven, and then keep forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, as and when necessary.
  • When cursed by others, I am to return blessings.
  • When asked for a favor, I am to go above and beyond what was asked.
  • As far as I am able, I am to live at peace with every person in my circles of community and influence.

And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just a top-of-mind list that came to me in the quiet.

And so I enter another day in the journey, endeavoring to be a person of love, mercy, generosity, and justice in a world that has always desperately needed it at every level.

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

We Are Family

We are Family (CaD Jos 12) Wayfarer

Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the Israelites conquered them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to be their possession.
Joshua 12:6 (NIV)

Last night, Wendy and I went to a local watering hole for dinner. It’s a place where locals gather and we like to sit at the bar where we can meet people and chat with the staff as we eat. Next to me was a woman whose husband died just three weeks ago. She was alone, and with the way she engaged me in conversation, I could feel her emotional desperation. Wendy received a phone call and stepped outside the restaurant to take it.

The woman shared her story, weeping off and on as she did so. She and her husband had lived at the lake, but she’d discovered that the “friends” they’d made weren’t friends at all. They partied together, but the only person who showed her any compassion through her husband’s illness and death subsequently tried to con her out of money. Her family was not with her. She was preparing to move, but was obviously alone and feeling the weight of everything. So much so, that she was pouring out her heart and grief to a perfect stranger who sat next to her at the bar.

Last week I was on the road for business and my travels afforded me several hours of windshield time driving hither and yon. I took the opportunity to spend some time talking to each of my siblings. It had been a while since I’d simply caught up with each of them. It refreshed my soul. Our lives are so spread out, and each of them is full, so it is that we can go long stretches of time without connecting. At the same time, we’re family. If any of them called and said, “I need you,” I would drop everything in a heartbeat. I know they would do the same for me.

Today’s chapter marks the end of the first half of the book of Joshua. It’s one of those chapters that seem insignificant on the surface of things. It’s like a box score of the conquest campaign, marking all of the Canaanite kings they defeated.

What struck me was the mention of Moses, who died thirteen chapters ago at the end of the book of Deuteronomy. The author of Joshua is listing off the conquest victories that made way for the lands on which the tribes would settle. He goes all the way back to before Moses died on the other side of the Jordan. Three tribes asked Moses if they could settle there. Moses pledged that as long as the three tribes supported the other tribes in the conquest of the land, they could have the land they desired (Num 32). They kept their pledge. The three tribes could go back over the Jordan to their land, as the rest of the tribes settled theirs.

This got me thinking about families. My family is more spread out on this planet than ever. When I think about my parents, siblings, and children, we’re a relatively small crew, but our life journeys have us spread out from Scotland to the southeast U.S. and all the way west to the Rocky Mountains. Yet, we are family. We are connected. That is an earthly reality.

At the same time, Jesus said that there is a Kingdom of God reality that is just as true. Jesus made it clear to His followers that they were His brothers and sisters even as His own earthly family stood outside waiting to see Him. Jesus went on to tell His followers that sometimes the Kingdom of God supersedes earthly family. Jesus recognized the possibility, especially among His Jewish followers, that being His disciple would divide families. Jesus’ ministry had even divided His own earthly family and at one point His mother and siblings wanted to have Him committed:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning, I am exceedingly grateful, for I am doubly blessed. I have an earthly family who loves one another and supports one another across the miles and in spite of differences in the way we may sometimes see the world. I also have a spiritual family that is just as intimate, connected, and supportive, though the bond is Spirit and not flesh.

I’m praying this morning for the woman who is alone in her grief.

It’s a good thing to have family, both of blood and Spirit.

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

“That Woman”

"That Woman" (CaD Jos 2) Wayfarer

Before the spies lay down for the night, [Rahab] went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you…for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
Joshua 2:8-9,11b (NIV)

I have often commented that God blessed me by surrounding me with strong women throughout my entire life journey. When I sat down to pen my first words to my grandson, that’s what I wrote about. When I was in high school I was blessed to have a history teacher who made the status of women a core part of the curriculum. That laid the foundation for me to begin to appreciate just how difficult life has been for women, and it still is in many ways. It’s taken me a long time of living with and walking the life journey with good women to grow in that understanding. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still learning.

In today’s chapter, we meet one of the most amazing, underappreciated characters in all of the Great Story. Perhaps one of the reasons this person is underappreciated is that she was a woman, a prostitute, a sex worker, a woman of ill-repute. She was the kind of woman that doesn’t get mentioned by name in polite society. She’s “that” woman, and she lived in an ancient, walled city called Jericho. The walled city-state was just across the Jordan River from where Joshua and the Hebrew people were camped and poised on conquest.

Espionage is as old as war itself, and the newly appointed leader of the Hebrew people, Joshua, sends spies into Jericho to case the joint. It would not have been at all odd for two road-weary male travelers to enter a city and high-tail it to the red light district in search of a prostitute. That’s exactly what they did. They entered “that woman’s” house.

Now the twelve Hebrew tribes have been nomads for 40 years, continually growing in population. Scholars estimate that there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Hebrew people along with their flocks and herds. It is what scholars call the Late Bronze Age and in the land of Canaan life is a dog-eat-dog world of peoples and city-states conquering one another. The people of Jericho are well aware that the Hebrew hoard is camped on the other side of the Jordan. They have heard the stories of the miraculous escape from Egypt and of the Hebrew exploits in Sinai. In their world gods were one of a myriad of deities typically associated with a specific town or region. The Hebrews had this one mysterious, invisible God that traveled with them; The God who brought mighty Pharaoh to his knees and held back the seas.

“That woman” knew who these men were, as did others who saw the spies enter the city gate and enter “that woman’s” house.

“That woman” does two important things as she speaks with the Hebrew spies. First, she makes a statement of faith, proclaiming to her clandestine visitors that she believes the God of the Hebrews is the God of heaven and earth. Second, she acts on that faith by offering to hide the spies and save their lives, asking only that they return the favor to her and her family when Jericho falls.

She believed, and she acted on that belief.

“That woman” the Canaanite foreigner. “That woman” the prostitute. She has a name. Her name is Rahab, and her name appears, not only in today’s chapter but also in a couple of very important places in the Great Story.

Rahab is named in Jesus’ family tree. (Matthew 1:5)

Rahab is mentioned by the author of Hebrews in his “Faith Hall of Fame.” (Hebrews 11:13)

Rahab is mentioned by James as an example of faith in action. (James 2:25)

In the quiet this morning, find myself thinking about the fact that a foreign, female, pagan, prostitute became a pivotal character in the Great Story. Rahab checks all the boxes of a person who doesn’t measure up on humanity’s religious status scale. Rahab foreshadows what Jesus said that He came to do: to tear down humanity’s religious status scale altogether and to save and redeem anyone who believes and acts on that belief regardless of gender, race, language, nation, tribe, creed, or broken, sinful past. No matter who a person is, where they are from, or what they have done, redemption is sitting there for any who believe and act on that belief.

I also find myself thinking about the amazing, underappreciated women in my story, and I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude for each one.

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

Pajama Worship

Pajama Worship (CaD Heb 10) Wayfarer

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

One of the things that changed for many Jesus followers during the COVID pandemic was our “meeting together.” Our local gathering, like most others, moved to produce weekly worship online. I don’t think I’ll ever forget delivering messages to an empty auditorium and a camera.

Like everything in life, there were both opportunities and challenges with staying home and watching worship online. I confess that it was nice to enjoy a lazy morning sitting on the couch in my pajamas. Likewise, I know a lot of families who took advantage of online church to consciously make it a family event. “When life gives you lemons,” as they say.

Our community has been back in regular meeting mode for a long time, though we’re still broadcasting worship online each week. Data from the Institute for Family Studies revealed that the number of regular attenders is down in every demographic while the number of “never attend” is up by similar percentages. There are a number of factors to this decline. Some have legitimate health concerns and a reason to continue being cautious. There are other reasons, however, including those who simply found that they prefer watching, on their couch, in their pajamas.

I thought about this as I read the author of Hebrews encouragement to “not give up meeting together.” For the author, the decline in regular in-person participation was very different. He is writing to Hebrew believers who had gone back to the Jewish synagogue and the sacrificial system of Moses. It’s why he has written so much, and so passionately, about the old system becoming obsolete as Christ ushered in an entirely new spiritual reality. Some couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make the change. They walked away and went back. Old habits die hard.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over both the opportunities and challenges I’ve experienced in the return to a new “normal.” Since in-person meetings opened back up again, Wendy and I have chosen a couple of times to stay home together and watch online. It was a bit of a sabbath from the routine, and it was good for the soul. We also have loved being able to watch online when we travel or are at the lake, and it’s kept us more connected when we’re away.

At the same time, I have personally found that there’s no substitute for meeting together in person. This is also true in business, as the work world has embraced video meetings as a substitute for in-person meetings. What I’ve observed is that there is so much relationship, connection, and conversation that happens around the meetings themselves. Just this past Sunday I caught up with so many friends who are going through different struggles and circumstances in life. I get to hug them, hear how things are going, and learn how I can pray more specifically for them and their situation.

I thought this morning about every personal interaction and conversation I had with individuals before and after our last meeting together. I made a list in my head, pictured the individuals, and considered what we talked about. I then asked myself if those interactions were beneficial for me, for my life, and my relationships, and whether I would have been missing something had I stayed home and watched on the couch in my pajamas. For me, there’s no doubt about the answer. Those personal interactions are as vital and life-giving as anything that happened within the meeting itself.

Things change, and I’m sure that COVID has changed life in ways that we’ll be sorting out for decades to come. Reading about these changes in the media, I observe that the take is often the way the media enjoys simplifying things into binary choices: good or bad. When it comes to people not returning to in-person worship I find it a “yes, and.” There are both good things and bad things that have resulted in the change. C’est la vie.

As for me, I know that spurring fellow believers on and being spurred on by them, encouraging and being encouraged, and loving and being loved don’t happen in equal measure when I’m sitting on the couch watching in my pajamas.

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

Bad Blood

Bad Blood (CaD Ob 1) Wayfarer

Jacob will be a fire
    and Joseph a flame;
Esau will be stubble,
    and they will set him on fire and destroy him.
There will be no survivors
    from Esau.”
The Lord has spoken.

Obadiah 1:18 (NIV)

Some of the more fascinating discoveries in the excavation of my family history have been the bad blood that exists between individuals and family units. In some cases, entire family groups have had little or no relationship with one another for generations and have no idea that the distance is rooted in bad blood from generations before.

I found bad blood in both my paternal and maternal families. I discovered bad blood rising from a host of reasons including, but not limited to, unwanted pregnancies, marriages, re-marriages, inheritance, family business, addiction, and deception. Most commonly, bad blood occurred between siblings, but bad blood between parents and children was also present.

Today’s chapter is the prophecy of Obadiah who wrote a short prophetic poem against the nation of Edom at the time Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire were marching on Jerusalem around 600 B.C. The Edomites, who had considered joining the local defense against the Babylonian Empire, ended up siding with Babylon.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the elder twin brother of Jacob. If you were on our chapter-a-day journey through Genesis last year, you might recall the bad blood between them. Bad blood arose between brothers because of the favoritism demonstrated by both parents. Dad favored Esau. Mom favored Jacob. This led to Jacob’s deceptive stealing of Esau’s blessing and inheritance then fleeing into exile for years. All of this took place around 2000 B.C.

I did the math this morning. The bad blood Obadiah is writing about in today’s chapter between the people of Israel and the people of Edom began with a conflict between brothers 1400 years before Obadiah picked up his papyrus and stylus.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to thinking about family. I know that a lot of people could give a rat’s rear-end about the past. I get it. I have always had a bent toward the past and a love of history. It was fascinating to learn that this is part of being an Enneagram Type Four. I have personally found it worthwhile in a couple of different respects.

First, I have gotten to correspond with and to know members of my family I would otherwise have never known. Their stories have added new layers of understanding of the family systems from which I spring. It helps me understand myself, my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents and their stories in a greater context, along with a ton more grace. There’s so much in life we don’t control, including the family systems that produced us.

Second, is the old adage that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I have tried very hard along my life journey to avoid the traps that lead to the kind of bad blood which can affect individuals and family groups. I can’t help but recall Paul’s words to Jesus’ followers in Rome:  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Along my journey, I’ve discovered that living at peace requires me to care more about what matters than what doesn’t. That has meant valuing people over politics (or religion, or morality codes, etc.), choosing relationships over being right, and letting go of things of temporal value to perpetuate love that is priceless. This sometimes (often?) requires letting go of the past and choosing forgiveness so that future generations don’t systemically perpetuate bad blood they personally had nothing to do with simply because that bad blood was never dealt with and permanently infected the family system.

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

The Context

The Context (CaD Matt 22) Wayfarer

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’
Matthew 22:8-9 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to read with a mental microscope or magnifying glass to inspect every word, every verse, or every parable as if they exist as individual and/or exclusive works of divine wisdom. I’ve come to observe that there’s more to be gained by launching my mental drone to rise above the text and see the word, verse, and parable within the larger tapestry of the Great Story. Today’s chapter is a great example of this.

The entire chapter takes place at a very specific time and place. It’s the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. He is in Jerusalem and spending His day at Herod’s Temple, the seat and center of Hebrew religious power and worship. There is an escalating conflict emerging between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. Public opinion is on Jesus’ side for the moment, and the religious leaders are working their fundamentalist political playbook. They keep sending different groups with questions in hope that Jesus will make a gaffe, say something stupid on the hot mic, or make a partisan comment which will offend His audience and give them political ammunition to publicly discredit Him. This is the same kind of political theater that plays out in press conferences and the media every single day.

They ask Jesus about paying taxes to Rome because it’s a hot-button issue. Most of Jesus’ audience hated the Romans, and they hated paying taxes. The religious leaders even make sure that Rome’s local political puppets, the Herodians, are there to witness the answer. They hoped Jesus’ answer would be treasonous enough to arrest Him.

A religious faction, the Sadducees, try a trick question on Jesus that was rooted in a hot-button theological debate about whether there was a resurrection or not. The motive was to trip Jesus up and make Him look like a fool. Jesus nailed the answer and discredited the questioners.

They tried another theological question, but Jesus nailed that one, too.

Then Jesus decided it was time for Him to ask the question. He asks about the popular term being used for the coming Messiah, the same one they were indignant about children applying to Jesus in yesterday’s chapter: Son of David. Jesus discredits the term (perhaps in response to their indignation the previous day?) based on David’s own lyrics.

This is a political tennis match with Jesus volleying back and forth with the religious leaders. And it’s in the context of this rising conflict that I must understand Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Banquet. The guests invited to the feast who ignored the invitation are Jesus’ religious enemies. They’ve ignored the heart of God’s commandments to cling to their power, greed, and fundamentalism. The servants who get beat up and killed are the prophets. The King sending His army to destroy the murderers and raze the city is prophetic, as this is exactly what happened in AD 70 when the Romans razed Jerusalem and the Temple. The King’s decision to go to every corner and invite “anyone you can find” is equally prophetic. It is what happens in the book of Acts when the Jesus Movement breaks out of the shackles of Hebrew fundamentalism and embraces anyone, Jewish or not, who chooses to repent, believe, and follow.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking what this means for me today. My heart’s desire is to always follow Jesus, but I can look back on my journey and see ways in which I’ve been more like the religious leaders. I’ve been religious, but I confess that there’s hard evidence that my religion has at times been more about being right, condemning others, and holding appropriate political and doctrinal views instead of being about love, grace, and mercy. That makes me more like Jesus’ enemies.

Mea culpa.

Whenever personal faith intertwines with human institutions and systems, it’s hard for it not to get sucked into the same trap that the Hebrews fell into. And that’s as true for me as it is for anyone else.

So, for me, that’s the take-away. I want to be diligent in living out my “religion” in Jesus’ terms:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 (NIV)

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

The Debt

The Debt (CaD Matt 18) Wayfarer

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:35 (NIV)

He was a big man. He was not a person I would want angry with me, and he had a natural bent toward anger. As we chatted, he shared stories of just how hot his anger burned and the difficult situations he’d found himself in because of it. He’d been brought up with religion. In fact, there was a lot of religion. From the cradle, he’d been raised with rules, rituals, and regulations out the wazoo, but by his own admission, religion did nothing to curb his anger or modify the spiteful way he treated anyone who crossed him. And his rage led him to some nasty places. Then, through a series of unfortunate events, he found himself in the darkest, seething rage of his life. It was there he met Jesus.

This man came to mind this morning as I read the parable Jesus told His disciples in today’s chapter. If you didn’t read the chapter yourself, I encourage you to take 60 seconds and read it (Matthew 18:23-35). It’s a simple story of a servant who owes the king 10,000 bags of gold. When the king calls the loan, which will bankrupt the servant and ruin his life, the servant pleads for more time to pay it back. The king has compassion and forgives the entire debt. No sooner had this servant left the king’s presence that he runs into a fellow servant that owes him 100 silver coins from a wager they’d made on the Jerusalem Jackals game. The servant chokes his friend, demands payment, and has him tossed into debtor’s prison until he could pay the small sum.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve both experienced and observed that there are common circumstances in which individuals struggle to actually “forgive those who sin against us” as Jesus famously told us to pray.

I’m simply a religious person going through the ritual motions. This lesson can be applied to so many circumstances, but in this case, it has everything to do with my ability to forgive and withhold judgment. Being a member of a church, or adhering to the tenets of religious rules and rituals only modifies my public behavior. It does nothing to change my heart. I’ve only seen a heart and life transformed and changed when a person has experienced a relationship with Jesus. My religion will never transform my heart and life, but a heart and life transformed by Jesus will definitely transform my religion.

I have no idea how great a debt I owe. If the servant in Jesus’ parable had been ignorant of just how much he owed the king, his behavior toward the fellow servant would not seem like such huge hypocrisy. As humans, I’ve observed that we have a penchant for keeping score with our mental scales. We know we’ve done this bad thing so I’ll throw that on one side of the scales. But, the person who injured me has done this and that so I’ll throw them both on the other side. See that! They’re worse than me so they deserve my wrath! James 2:10 points out that God’s economy doesn’t work like ours. If I keep all the rules and trip up on just one, I stand condemned and guilty of all of it. From God’s perspective, keeping score is a fool’s errand. We’re kidding ourselves to think or believe that we’re “not that bad.”

I haven’t truly experienced the power of grace myself. In the parable, the servant had experienced grace at an unbelievable level. 10,000 bags of gold was an incalculable sum to Jesus’ listeners. It’s like Elon Musk’s net worth in today’s standard. As I just mentioned, in God’s economy we all spiritually owe 100 billion dollars. It’s the contrast between the sum the servant had been forgiven and the paltry pittance the servant was owed that powers the moral of the story. When I know and have experienced how great a debt I’ve been forgiven by Jesus, it transforms the way I perceive and respond to those who offend and injure me.

In the quiet this morning, this brings me back to my big, angry friend. After meeting Jesus amidst his dark, seething rage had shared with me how his life began to change. It transformed his religion, his relationships, and the entire direction of his life. He’s still prone to anger, and he’s still not someone I’d want to see angry, but I wasn’t really worried about it as I listened to his story. After meeting Jesus and experiencing true grace, the fuse on his anger began to grow increasingly longer. The explosions of anger were more tempered, and he began to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess when it occasionally went off.

The words to an old, old hymn have been resonating in me the past month or two:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure!
That He would send His only Son,
To make this wretch His treasure.

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

For or Against

For or Against? (CaD Matt 9) Wayfarer

And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Matthew 9:33-34 (NIV)

In yesterday’s post, I talked about Jesus’ enemies who controlled the fundamentalist religious power in his day. As I read this morning’s chapter, I found myself continuing to observe and consider the contrast between Jesus’ words and actions and the words and actions of his detractors and enemies.

In one episode, a man who was demon-possessed and couldn’t speak was brought to Jesus. Remember that this was a rural, small-town, back-water region. Everyone knows everyone or at least knows who everyone is. It’s quite possible the many in the crowd knew this man, knew his crazy affliction, and had to navigate life with and around him. When Jesus healed the man and the man spoke for the first time, they were understandably amazed.

In today’s chapter alone a paralyzed man was forgiven and then walked. A dead girl was brought back to life. A woman with a chronic bleeding disorder was made whole. Two blind men see. A demon-possessed mute is freed from spiritual captivity and is finally able to speak. Just think about all of the goodness, wholeness, and life in each of these stories. Think about the parents, families, loved ones, friends, and communities who experienced the ripple-effect of these miracles as all of that shalom resonated through each of these individual’s circles of influence.

Now listen again to the Jesus’ religious enemies: “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

As fundamentalist systems perpetuate, only those who maintain “in-group” status are truly “good” in that system’s eyes. That goodness is seen and understood by an individual toeing the line of the system’s prescribed thoughts and behaviors. Jesus is repeatedly refusing to do so. He forgives sin (which, according to the system, only God can do). He associates with “out-group” sinners and tax collectors. He doesn’t appear to religiously fast like the system prescribes. He breaks the Sabbath rules. So this man can’t be good. In a fundamentalist system, the only good, pure, ideal people are those who follow the unquestionable rules and dogma to the letter and avoid mixing with undesireables.

“Those who are not for us are against us.”

Jesus doesn’t fit. He can’t be good. Thus, he must be evil.

In the quiet this morning, I recalled this episode:

John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”
Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath slam me. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally.
Mark 9:38-40 (MSG)

Jesus’ reaction was the opposite of his religious enemies. Rather than being exclusionary and controlling, the way of Jesus was to be inclusive and empowering.

When I was a young man operating in fundamentalist Christian circles, being “Christ-like” meant adhering to the code of moral and doctrinal purity (as dictated by church, denomination, and/or parental authorities).

As an older man who has followed Jesus for forty years, I’ve increasingly learned that being “Christ-like” means adhering to the law of love (as dictated by Jesus).

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

“Ins” and “Outs”

"Ins" and "Outs" (CaD Matt 8) Wayfarer

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Matthew 8:5-7 (NIV)

I’ve been preparing a message I’m going to be giving among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers this Sunday. A year or two ago I happened to do a little personal study on the subject of fundamentalism. I was prompted to do some research because I noticed certain parallels of thought and behavior among a particular civic group that reminded me of things I saw in some of the Christian fundamentalist groups I experienced earlier in my spiritual journey.

My research came up with six elements that mark fundamentalist groups, elements that I would argue create a toxic cocktail no matter where they are found. All major religions have fundamentalist sects that bear these elements. As I studied and meditated on them, I came to realize that the elements of toxic fundamentalism can really be found in almost any human system including political, institutional, corporate, or even in families. As I was studying the assigned text for this Sunday’s message, I realized that Jesus’ religious critics displayed all six elements within the stories.

One of the elements of fundamentalist systems is that they maintain strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. You must toe the line in thought, words, and behavior to be considered “in” with us, but the slightest misstep or evidence that you’ve run afoul of the rules or belief system and you are “out.”

The Hebrew religious system from which Jesus came was a fundamentalist form of Judaism. They had strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. The religious power brokers wouldn’t associate with fellow Hebrews who were on the “outs” because they didn’t toe the line. And the Roman occupying force in Judea was really on the outs with the good religious authorities as well as almost all Hebrews who considered them the enemy.

In today’s chapter, Jesus has just finished his message on the hill, in which He told His listeners to love the enemy. He returns toward their base of operation and he is met by a Roman Centurion (enemy, occupier, a persecutor of His people, religiously dirty “gentile,” and pagan!). The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus immediately asks if He should come to the Centurion’s house.

Entering the house of a Roman was strictly against fundamentalist rules. The Romans were the “outs” of all “outs.” Years later, in Acts 10, Peter will face the same fundamentalist religious dilemma of being invited to a Centurion’s home. Jesus doesn’t even hesitate: “Would you like me to come with you?”

In the quiet this morning, I was struck by Jesus’ words to His followers after healing the servant remotely and sending the Centurion on his way:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus points out that people will be surprised who they see at heaven’s feast. Some of those who were on the “outs” on earth will be present while some of the “ins” on earth will not.

So who do I consider on the “outs” with me and my belief system? Who would I refrain from accepting an invitation to their home? Who is so worthless in my eyes and I don’t even want to be near them? I think the roots of fundamentalisms are found in my own sinful nature. Jesus not only came to forgive me of my sin but also to call me to live contrary to it. Which means tearing down my own personal “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions.

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

The Well-Worn Playbook

The Well-Worn Playbook (CaD 2 Pe 2) Wayfarer

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

The Great Story is, at its heart, a story of good and evil. The evil one tempts Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s demand by questioning God’s goodness and promising them that they will be “like God” if they just have a taste of that forbidden fruit.

The punishment is their expulsion from the Garden and fellowship with God to live and die in the world, where the “Prince of this World,” as Jesus referenced the Evil One, has dominion over the kingdoms of this world. Before starting his mission, Jesus and the Prince of this World met, and Jesus faced the same basic temptations used against Adam and Eve (the Evil One’s playbook is really pretty basic). He offered to give Jesus all the “kingdoms of this world” if he would merely bow and worship. Jesus passed on the offer. The night before He was crucified, Jesus told His followers that the “Prince of this World” stood condemned. His sacrificial death and resurrection was righting a wrong on a grand scale.

The final chapters of the Great Story tell of the climactic confrontation of God and evil. It’s an end, and then a new beginning, which is yet another recurring theme in the Great Story.

Along my life journey, I’ve tried to be mindful of this foundational conflict as I interpret all that see and experience along the way. God is Love, and that Love is the source of life and goodness. Evil is an oppositional force. It opposes all that God is, and does, and desires. God is love, and so evil sows hatred. God is for life, thus evil gloats in death. God is about goodness and order, and so evil rejoices in destruction and chaos.

In today’s chapter, Peter is writing to the first century followers of Christ about the oppositional forces that were already at work to disrupt the powerful impact that their faith, expressed through Christ’s love in action was having in the world. Individuals with selfish and evil motives were leading Jesus’ followers astray. Interestingly enough, one of the tactics Peter mentions is their promise of freedom. He states that these false teachers were telling people that they are free to indulge any and all of their appetites (both the Greeks and Romans were famous for indulging all their appetites in creative and unrestrained ways). Peter warned them to be wary of this deceit.

Jesus is often quoted: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Rarely do I hear the previous sentence quoted with it: “You are truly my disciples if you do what I tell you. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

See the oppositional forces at work? Evil tells me “indulge your appetites and you’ll experience freedom,” though what I end up experiencing is self-focused indulgence which leads me into slavery to my own appetites and all the destructive consequences that go with it (personally, relationally, physically, spiritually, and mentally). In contrast, simple obedience to Jesus’ law of love, which gets expressed in part by the spiritual fruit of self-control keeps me free of those destructive consequences so that all the other fruit of love (goodness, kindness, etc.) has room to pour out of me into others.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but recall a Tweet I saw yesterday from a celebrity and former Disney star:

Again, the playbook is pretty basic. “Indulge your appetites and you will experience freedom.” As the Sage of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s really nothing new under the sun.” And yet, I’ve never found anything really free or good traveling down any alley of indulgence. Pleasure? Certainly. But that’s fleeting and then requires another fix to feel it again, then a bigger fix, and then yet another even bigger fix. I like the way Bob Dylan described it: “A bad motorcyle with the devil in the seat, going ninety-miles an hour down a dead-end street.”

And so, I press on in this earthly journey one more day, choosing the path that Jesus prescribed to freedom. As for me, I have yet to be disappointed on this path, nor has it ever led me down a dead-end street.

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