Tag Archives: Mary

“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.

Mary and the Dudes

Mary and the Dudes (CaD Mk 14) Wayfarer

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Mark 14:3 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Mark provides a Cliff Notes summary of the fateful night of Jesus’ arrest. As I read the familiar episodes, I was struck at the contrast between Mary’s anointing of Jesus (she is not named in Mark’s biography of Jesus, but John names her, the sister of Lazarus) with expensive perfume, and the actions/behaviors of the Twelve.

Jesus has now been speaking of His arrest, suffering, and death for some time. The response of the Twelve has ranged from silence to confusion to outright disapproval. Mark’s version of events in today’s chapter reveal the behavior of the Twelve to be disagreeable and inattentive to the weight of the moment.

Mary, on the other hand, seems to see what no one else sees. She alone embraces what is about to happen, understands the weight of it, and responds by embracing what Jesus has said would happen. Mary alone acts as a willing participant. Her actions are to bless Jesus before His passion and to metaphorically prepare Him for death. Mary is the only person who seems to see and humbly accept. And, she’s criticized for it.

Jesus’ chosen disciples, meanwhile, can’t believe one of them would betray Him. They can’t stay awake with Him, even after He asks of them this small favor. They can’t stay and stand with Jesus in His moment of need. They can’t even admit they know Him, when confronted with multiple opportunities to do so.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but imagine myself in the roles of both Mary and the Twelve. Luke shares that Mary was one to sit at the feet of Jesus and hang on His every word to the point that her sister was indignant (everyone, it would seem, gets indignant with Mary). As much as I would like to think that I would have Mary’s insight, I am reminded that it came at the cost of ignoring urgent things in order to invest in important things. Her devotion to “asking, seeking, and knocking” appear to be the precursor to her spiritual perception.

Have I sacrificed things distracting and urgent to invest myself in Jesus as Mary did?

I have to confess that I identify with the dudes…

Present, but imperceptive.

Great intentions, but greatly inattentive.

Braggadocios during warm-ups, but bungling in the game.

Of course, today’s chapter is not the end of the story. The dudes will keep following. They will learn. They will turn the world upside down.

I’m looking out the window at the lake as I type this. Another day has dawned, and so my story isn’t over either. I take hope in that this morning. Like the dudes, I’ll keep following, too. I’ll keep learning. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even turn a few things upside-down before this wayfaring stranger’s journey is over.

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

A Different Playbook

A Different Playbook (CaD Mk 3) Wayfarer

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Mark 3:6 (NIV)

As a student of history, I’ve observed that much of history is about those in power, how they came to power, how their power was threatened or taken away. It always makes for a good story, as Shakespeare well knew. The Bard mined a lot of historical leaders and events to write plays that are still being ceaselessly produced today.

One of the themes that runs through both history and our classic literature is that of holding on to power. I find it to be a very human thing. Once I have power, I don’t want to let go of it. This is not just true of politicians who rig the system to ensure they remain in control, or business leaders who cling to their corner office, but it’s also true of parenting. For almost two decades I am essentially ruler and lord with total authority over this child. Then I’m suddenly supposed to just “let go” of my power and authority and let her run her own life when she might make some crazy life decision? Yikes!

As I read today’s chapter, I couldn’t help but see the continued development of conflict that Mark is revealing in the text. Those representatives of the powerful religious institution who were indignant with Jesus’ teaching in yesterday’s chapter, are finding Jesus to be a growing threat to their power in today’s chapter.

Jesus’ popularity is rising off of the charts. His name is trending throughout the region, even in Jerusalem where the earthly powers of politics, commerce, and religion reign. Crowds are traveling to Galilee to see this rising star. And the people who are flocking to Him are the crowds, the masses, commoners, the sick, the poor, the simpletons in fly-over country, the deplorables.

The stakes have grown. The power brokers and their minions are no longer just watching, they are plotting:

“Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus…” (vs. 2)

Once again, Jesus thwarts their monopolistic, religious control by healing someone on the Sabbath. The crowds are cheering. This Nazarene upstart could turn the crowds against them. Mobs, protests, and violence in the streets could be the result, and that’s a threat to our power. Something must be done, and Mark tells us that something interesting happens:

“Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (vs. 6)

The Pharisees were religious power brokers who publicly condemned the Roman Empire who was in control of the region. The Herodians (followers of local King Herod) were local political power brokers who did business with Rome in order to get lucrative Roman contracts and Roman authority to wield local political control. These two groups publicly hated one another, and in the media they had nothing good to say about one another. However, history reveals time and time again that in the playbook of the Kingdoms of this World “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Welcome to the smoke-filled back room. Have a seat. We’re just getting started. What are we to do with this “Jesus problem?”

Jesus, meanwhile, has other problems. The crowds are pressing in to the point of almost being out of control. The line of people wanting to be healed is endless. They’re coming from all over. Where are all these people going to stay? What are they going to eat? The locals are complaining about their quiet little towns being overrun with foreigners. The markets are sold out of everything!

And then Jesus’ own mother and brothers show up. They’re scared. Jesus is making powerful enemies. They are feeling the pressure themselves. Is it possible that an elder from the local synagogue was urged by higher-ups to pay Mary a friendly visit? I can imagine it…

“Mary, this isn’t good. Your boy has a good heart. I know he means well, but he’s going to get himself in big trouble with the Sanhedrin, with Herodians, and you don’t want the Romans to get involved. This could look really bad for your family. You’re a widow. Jesus is your oldest boy. He’s responsible to take care of you and instead he’s running around creating trouble for you and your family. We think it best that you talk to him. Be a good mother. Talk some sense into your boy.”

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (vs. 21)

Next comes the spin campaign, and those in power know how to spin a narrative. It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to come from a seemingly “reliable” and authoritative source. It has be sensational, it has to be easily repeatable, and it has to create fear and doubt in the minds of the public.

 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (vs. 22)

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking that the more things change, the more they stay the same in the Kingdoms of this World and their playbook.

And Jesus’ response to all this? He sticks to His core message: “The Kingdom of God is here, and it’s not like the Kingdoms of this world”. He continues to heal, He feeds, He tells stories, and He escapes the crowds to be alone for periods of time. He refuses to bow to pressure from the envoys of worldly power. He even refuses to bow to pressure from his own mother.

Poor Mary. It’s hard to let go of authority of your adult child when He can make crazy life decisions that affect the whole family. I think it’s lovely that as Jesus hung on the cross one of the last things He did was to see to it that His friend John would care for His earthly mother.

The further I get on my own life journey, I find myself seeing the Kingdoms of this World with greater clarity on all levels. As that happens, I hear the Spirit calling me to understand that being an Ambassador of the Kingdom of God on earth means living in the World, but following a different playbook.

“Consider it Joy” (Again)

"Consider it Joy" (Again) [CaD Ps 86] Wayfarer

Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

Psalm 86:4 (NIV)

For centuries, followers of Jesus around the world have annually recognized different seasons of the calendar year as they relate to celebrated holidays (or Holy Days) of the faith. We are currently in a season called Advent, in which followers of Jesus prepare hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

One of the metaphors that followers use in this season is the advent candle. Each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and then on Christmas Eve, candles are lit reminding us that with Jesus’ birth the “Light” of heaven had come to earth. Each of the five candles represents a theme. This past Sunday was the “Joy” candle. “Joy,” as it was described among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on Sunday is the soul’s deep happiness, contentment, and sense of well-being which is experienced regardless of circumstances.

Joy has a specific meaning for Wendy and me. Over the years I have shared in these posts about our journey through the valley of infertility. Joy was something Wendy and I found in that journey, and not a Christmas goes by without being reminded of the story of Elizabeth’s miraculous deliverance from barrenness, Mary’s miraculous conception, and of course Jesus’ humble birth. Each year I am reminded of the verse tatted on Wendy’s forearm, where it can be a constant visual reminder for both of us:

“Consider it joy when you encounter various trials…” (James 1:2)

She and I learned that sometimes joy must be consciously considered, sought after, and found as one finds buried spiritual treasure. Finding joy requires surrendering the momentary, circumstantial pain in order to seek something deeper; We reach for joy which is always “further up and further in.” The joy of Christmas is found despite the often unconsidered circumstances that stare me right in the face: a socially outcast little girl, her scandalous teen pregnancy, her equally outcast husband, and the exilic, compulsory, uncomfortable journey to a strange town. The humility of having nowhere to stay, the realities of childbirth, not in a luxurious modern birthing suite surrounded by talented caregivers, but alone in a dirty barn. I sing Joy to the World but only because I’m looking back with 20-20 hindsight at the larger story, knowing where it led.

As I read today’s chapter, Psalm 86, I was a few verses in before it struck me that it’s the first song of David I’ve encountered in Book III of the psalms. The lyrics are so personal. They are coming from deep in David’s heart. It’s another song of lament which was written at a time of personal distress. What fascinated me is that David doesn’t share any real specifics about his personal distress until the very last stanza. The song is front-loaded with David’s faith, hope, and trust. He dwells on God’s goodness, faithfulness, love, and deliverance. Only then does he describe his circumstances in light of these things.

Today’s psalm is David’s version of “Consider it joy.” And how many of his songs contain that theme? “Consider it joy” is not a one-and-done deal. It’s a perpetually repeated exercise along my spiritual journey.

It often amazes me how this chapter-a-day journey leads me right to the thing I need to read on the day I need to read it. Like David, I’ll spare you the specifics. Suffice it to say that there are days when I have to be reminded, once again, to consider joy: Surrendering the circumstances of that day in order to reach further up and further in to take hold of it.

“The Woman”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Mark 14:3 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Jesus was at a dinner party given in His honor. Mark wrote the shortest of the four biographies of Jesus, and his efficiency in story-telling requires that details be left out in order to get to the heart of the matter. In this case, however, I found that the omission of certain details also reduced the power of the moment.

Mark states that “a woman” anoints Jesus with some audaciously expensive perfume. John, who was present at the dinner party, explains in his account (John 12) that the person Mark calls “a woman” was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. The other thing we know about Mary is that much earlier when Jesus paid a visit to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus she had been chastised by her sister, Martha, for not helping with dinner (see Luke 10). Mary was intent on sitting near Jesus and listening to Him while Martha dutifully prepared supper. In John’s account of the dinner party, Martha was once again focused on serving. Mary was focused on Jesus.

I had a couple of observations as I contemplated the scene this morning.

Jesus said that Mary, in anointing him with the perfume, was preparing Him “for burial.” Because of the lack of modern embalming methods, bodies were covered in perfumes and ointments that would counteract the stench of death that the body would emit relatively quickly. Yet, Mary’s act is happening a couple of days before Jesus would be arrested and executed.

While #TheTwelve and Jesus’ other followers are deaf and defensive to Jesus repeatedly insisting that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected, Mary embraces what Jesus has been saying. She shows faith and trust that no one else did. Her act metaphorically tells Jesus, “If this is what must be done, then I’m in. I’m going to trust you, that it will be just as you said. Allow me the honor of preparing you for what you say you must do.”

Mary does this immediately after she witnessed Jesus literally calling her brother out of the grave. Mary was standing there when Jesus said to her sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Mary’s anointing of Jesus also symbolically says “I believe. I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life. I believe you will die and that you’ll be raised from the dead just as you said.”

It is, ironically, Judas who questions the “waste” of the expensive perfume (worth an entire year of typical wages in those days) which he says could have been sold and used for more “practical” purposes. Jesus rebukes Judas sharply. To paraphrase: “Judas, shut up and leave Mary alone. This woman understands what I’m doing better than you and the other eleven.” I can’t help but hear the echoes of Jesus repeatedly asking #TheTwelve in previous chapters: “You still don’t understand?” It was Mary, who had been intent on watching and listening to Jesus, who saw it better than anyone else. It was this rebuke that sends Judas over the edge. He leaves the dinner party to arrange his betrayal.

I also hear the echoes of Jesus’ repeated admonition, “If you have ears to hear.” Mary’s spiritual ears were wide open to hear what no one else heard. Her spiritual eyes saw what no one else did. She was the only one connecting the spiritual dots between what Jesus had said and done raising her brother from the dead, and what Jesus said was going to happen to Him. And, she was the one who had been intent on sticking close to Jesus to watch, listen, and learn.

In the quiet this morning, I find it poignant that the person who seemed to “get it” was a woman outside of #TheTwelve. In those days, women were considered second rate to men. They were often treated as possessions and they typically had little education or social standing. It is a recurring theme in the Great Story for God to choose and to use the least, the youngest, the broken, the weak, and the marginalized to demonstrate His power. At the beginning of the Great Story is was “the woman” who was blamed for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. In this case, it was “a woman” who understands what Jesus is doing. In a few days, it will be “the women” who first hear of the resurrection. It will be “the women” who are the first to believe it. It will be “the women” who are entrusted to share the good news with #TheTwelve. I believe that there is an important lesson for me in this.

I have observed along my journey that even today it is often “the women,” like Mary, who show a greater interest in and sensitivity to the things of the Spirit, as well as a greater understanding of what God is up to. I have come to embrace that I have a lot to learn from them. I also have come to embrace the reality that it is sometimes those whom I’d least expect who get the things of God better than I do. Mary reminds me that in this spiritual journey, humility is required.

Ladies First

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Luke 24:9-11 (NIV)

Of the three authors of Jesus’ biographies (aka “the Gospels”), Dr. Luke is known for his attention to details not found in the other three. One of these details that stands out for me is the attention he gives to the women among Jesus’ entourage and inner circle.

Much earlier in his accounts, Luke shares with us that a group of women were traveling with Jesus and the Twelve. They were also financially supporting His miraculous mystery tour around the shores of Galilee:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Luke 8:1-3 (NIV)

Contemporary followers of Jesus don’t give enough attention and credit to Jesus for radically shifting the status of women in Hebrew and Roman society. The status of women in those days was as poor as it has been throughout most of history. Women were perceived and treated as inferior to men. One of the daily prayers that a good Hebrew man would recite thanked God that he was not born a woman, a dog, or a Gentile. It was socially unacceptable for a man to speak to a woman in public. Freeborn women in the Roman Empire fared somewhat better than women in Hebrew world of Judea, but not much.

Jesus was a game-changer. He broke with convention. He spoke to women publicly. He touched them, healed them, and treated them with love and grace. It is no wonder then, that women would be among his most staunch supporters. I also find it fascinating that among the inner circle of female advocates is Joanna, the wife of the head of King Herod’s household. Another fact comes to my mind this morning that among all the accounts of Jesus’ kangaroo court trials before the Jewish High Priest, the Jewish religious authorities, the Roman Governor Pilate, and the Judean King Herod, there is only one person who speaks up on Jesus’ behalf. The wife of Pontius Pilate sent her husband a private message urging him not have anything to do with Jesus and all of the turmoil being stirred up against Him.

In the years to follow, the spread of the Jesus movement was, in part, fueled by the fact that the status of women within the movement broke with social convention. “In Christ,” Paul wrote, “there is neither male or female.” When Jesus followers gathered for their love feasts women were welcome at the table with men. It may seem like a baby step in contrast to modern society, but in the day it was a major game-changer. It should also be noted that once the Jesus Movement became an institution called the Holy Roman Empire, women were quickly stripped of what gains in status that they had been enjoying.

In the quiet this morning I find it, therefore, worth pondering that in yesterday’s chapter Luke makes it clear that it was the women of Jesus’ inner circle who followed Jesus to the cross and witnessed the entire bloody affair while the men were hiding in fear for their lives. In today’s chapter it was the women to whom word of the resurrection was first given, and the men who concluded that the silly women were being non-sensical.

The further I get in my journey, the more I find myself shedding the social and institutional conventions and norms that I was taught and absorbed growing up with regard to women. God saw fit to ensure that most of my earthly journey would be spent as the lone male in the company of amazing, strong, gifted, and wise females. I find that it has made me both more appreciative of Jesus’ rebellious change of the social conventions of His day, and more desirous to carry on that legacy.

Grappling With “Never”

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

“I don’t know what to with never,” Wendy confessed to me one afternoon.

There are some moments in this life journey that are etched indelibly in my brain’s memory bank, and this is one of them. When the two of us were married Wendy inherited two teenaged daughters. Still, we had always desired to have a child together. After multiple surgeries and what seemed like endless months of fruitless attempts to conceive, Wendy’s admission of fear as we stood silently in our despair on the back porch felt like a giant weight on our souls.

The story of John the Baptist’s parents in today’s chapter holds a special place in my heart. There is so much happening in the subtext of Zechariah’s conversation with the angel Gabriel that is completely lost on any reader who has not walked through the long, depressing, desolate path of infertility.

A few of observations:

  • I find it ironic that Dr. Luke diagnoses Zech and Liz’s infertility as “Elizabeth was unable to conceive.” Perhaps there’s more to this story than is told. Nevertheless, having walked this journey I know that it’s also possible the low sperm count or poor motility were the culprits of their childlessness. Of course, this medical knowledge was not available in their day, but it makes me sad that Elizabeth got the blame.
  • I’ve been digging into the theme of exile on this chapter-a-day journey over the past months. The truth is that Elizabeth and her husband were in a personal exile of their own. When you are walking the path of infertility you realize that the vast majority of people don’t understand and it’s usually emotionally painful when they try. Furthermore, you’re not sure you want to talk to those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who walked the path and ultimately conceived are just a depressing reminder that it hasn’t worked for you. Those who never conceived are a reminder that “never” is a possibility which you don’t want to face and don’t know what to do with (a la Wendy’s confession). Infertility can be horrifically isolating for the couple going through it.
  • When the angel tells Zech “Your prayer has been answered.” My husband’s heart shoots back with a cynical “Which one?” If Zech’s heart was like mine, then there’s a section of it calloused over from month-after-month, year-after-year of fervent, unanswered prayers and wiping away his wife’s river of tears.
  • When Zech asks Gabriel “How can I be sure of this?” he is, once again, being defensive and protective of the hearts of both his wife and his own. Infertility is a vicious cycle of summoning faith, raising hopes, and having them dashed again and again and again and again. The last thing the elderly husband wants to do is put his wife through it one more time.

It’s easy for the casual reader to point the finger at Zech’s lack of faith. I’m sure many Jesus followers will hear messages this Advent season comparing Mary’s simple acceptance of Gabriel’s message to Zech’s rather obvious doubt. My heart goes out to the dude. He’s been made the Steve Bartman of the Christmas story for two thousand years, but I get where he’s coming from.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the long-term effects that disappointment and unanswered prayer can have on one’s spirit. As for what to do with “never,” Wendy and I worked through it together with God. We discovered, and continue to discover, deep lessons about joy, grief, faith, perseverance, character, maturity, and hope. At the same time, there is a lingering sadness that rears itself unexpectedly at odd times, which in turn pushes me back to the lessons already learned. I plumb their depths once more.

Still, if Gabriel showed up in my office this morning and told me Wendy was going to have a baby, I totally believe that the subtext of my reaction would land somewhere between sarcastic and cynical.

Zechariah would understand.

Dreams, Visions, and Bad Pepperoni

source: h-k-d via Flickr
source: h-k-d via Flickr

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
    though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people
    as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
    and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
    and keep them from pride,
to preserve them from the pit,
    their lives from perishing by the sword.
Job 33:14-18 (NIV)

I woke at 2:30 this morning out of a deep sleep and disturbing dream. Like most dreams it was surreal and strange. A thread of storyline was wound loosely around snatches of scenes and emotions. Terrorists were after me. I could trust no one and spent much of my time hiding and trying to avoid those who I knew were enemies bent on my death. I found myself entering what appeared to be a pre-game meeting with the Judson University men’s basketball team when I realized that the room was set to explode. I ran for the door and was barely outside when the bomb went off. Suddenly I was in the custody of two or three of the terrorists and they were dragging me away. I struggled from their grasp and ran for my life. I turned a corner and found that a large contingent of people from my alma mater had arrived (basketball fans, presumably?) and were getting off a bus. If I could just reach them I would be safe, but everything was moving in agonizing slow motion.

I’m not sure what to make of all that. Perhaps it was simply the effect of some bad pepperoni from my pizza the other night.

My local community of Jesus followers has been exploring the subject of dreams and visions of late, beginning with a look at the dreams, visions, and visitations surrounding the Christmas story. There were a lot of them when you think about it:

  • Zechariah (John the Baptist’s dad), had a vision in which the angel told him his barren wife was pregnant.
  • Mary had a visitation telling her she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Messiah.
  • Joseph had a dream telling him not to put Mary away, but to marry her.
  • The shepherds were visited by the angelic host telling them of Jesus’ birth.
  • The Magi were warned in a dream to go home and avoid Herod.
  • Simeon had received a vision that he would not die before he had seen the Christ.
  • Joseph was warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous wrath.

I have no doubt that God speaks to people in dreams, in visions, and in visitations. It happens time and time again throughout God’s story. Elihu makes a point of it in his words to Job in today’s chapter. God can and does speak to people through dreams. I believe it a gross mistake to deny this, to close myself off to the truth of it, or harden my heart against the possibility that God might speak to me in such a way.

By the same token, I don’t believe that God speaks to all people through all dreams. A dream may be spiritually significant, inspired by Holy Spirit. A dream may be the surreal by-product of memories, thoughts, and emotions inspired by bad pepperoni. I tend to think that the latter is a common reality, while the former is more the exception than the rule. When signs and wonders become common, everyday occurrences they cease being wonders.

Today, I’m thinking about the wonder of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and the role that dreams, visions, and visitations played in this most momentous of events in human history. I’m thinking about my own life journey in which wondrous events of divine design seem to happen on prescribed occasions for specific purpose. They are interspersed by long periods of mundane, daily toil. I’m thinking about finding and maintaining healthy balance and perspective in all of this. I don’t ever want to be guilty of chasing after  obscure, hidden meaning in my dreams while ignoring the plain truth presented clearly in God’s Message.

By the way, I’m also thinking about the Judson University men’s basketball team who blew up in my dream last night. Sorry guys. I’m not a prophet, and I really don’t think that was from God. Blame the pepperoni. Go Eagles!

source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr
source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr

Chapter-a-Day Mark 16

Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Mark 16:1-3 (NLT)

When I read this passage from today’s chapter, it struck me how completely un-female-like it was for the ladies to head off for the tomb with no idea how they were going to get the giant stone covering the tomb rolled away from the entrance. Women, at least most all the women I know, don’t do anything without a structured plan of execution that is both reasonable and efficient.

Nevertheless, the three ladies headed to Jesus’ tomb without fully understanding what would happen when the arrived, nor how they could possible reach the body of Jesus and accomplish what they intended. They journeyed to the tomb in faith believing that somehow they could get the stone rolled away and would get to Jesus. They had no idea how they would be rewarded for their faith.

It struck me that it’s that way for any of us who have sought after Jesus. We don’t quite know how we’re going to find Him, nor do we quite understand what we might find and what might happen if and when we do. I regularly find that for those who honestly seek after Jesus there is no clear road map and no reasonable plan of execution. We don’t have a list of necessary supplies. We just head out onto the path with a heart’s desire to find Him. It’s a faith journey, after all.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Jesus

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 12

“If she can’t afford a lamb, she can bring two doves or two pigeons, one for the Whole-Burnt-Offering and one for the Absolution-Offering. The priest will make atonement for her and she will be clean.” Leviticus 12:8 (MSG)

One of the reasons I’ve always encouraged fellow followers to read through the Old Testament is that it provides layers of new understanding to familiar passages in the New Testament. Take the verse above, for example. Now compare that with Luke 2:22-24:

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took [Jesus] to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now we get a deeper picture of Mary and Joseph, who were dedicated followers of the Law and held to the rituals prescribed in Leviticus chapter 12. We also learn that Jesus’ family was of limited means because they sacrificed the doves or pigeons rather than the lamb. This, in turn, is fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic word picture (Isaiah 53:2) that the messiah would be of humble beginnings “like a tender shoot and a root out of dry ground.”

God’s Message provides wholistic understanding. While individual verses or passages provide inspiration or instruction, they are intended to be interpreted in the context of the whole. I am always wary of those who pull one or two verses out of God’s Message and interpret them to mean all sorts of things that do not fit in context with the whole. These early books of law are certainly dry in terms of simple devotional reading, but they are thick with providing a broader historical picture of God’s plan.