Tag Archives: Mercy

Santa God

Santa God (CaD Gen 15) Wayfarer

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

This is the problem: It’s too easy to mix-up God and Santa Claus.

Life is a meritocracy from a young age. In my earliest cognitive memory around ages 3 to 4, I find myself under the authority of parents who make it quite clear that if I’m obedient and do what they say, then I’m golden, but if I’m disobedient, then I’m going to be punished.

By the time I’m five, the biggest gift giving holiday of the year solidifies this meritocracy in my brain with Santa Claus as the omniscient authority figure determining if the annual balance of my goodness and badness warrants me receiving a stocking full of candy and socks and a bunch of presents under the tree. If the scale tips to the badness spectrum, it’s coal for me.

Within just two years, I become involved in scouting program which rewards my good deeds and behavior with awards, badges, and medals. I continue to develop an understanding of meritocracy. There is a reward for ambition and good behavior, those who excel are on display for the whole world to see with their medals, badges, and awards. If I have less, shame enters the equation. I’m not as good. I don’t have as many badges. I am less than.

And, each year Santa drives home the “naughty or nice” lesson.

At the same time, my earliest experiences in organized sports adds yet another object lesson in meritocracy. The kids who are naturally coordinated, developed, and have knowledge of the game are successful. Meanwhile, I increasingly ride the bench and watch the coach’s wife score the game. (For the record, my little league baseball career lasted two years, but to this day I like scoring games.)

And, Santa, my stocking, and gift haul remind me annually that gifts are a reward for good behavior.

I’m twelve by the time I have my first serious discussions about God. Yes, I grew up attending Sunday School most Sundays and Vacation Bible School each summer, but it wasn’t very exciting and seemed to be a lot about stories that support the good behavior business. In my journey, it was confirmation class in 7th grade that was a year-long primer on the Bible and God.

In retrospect, I had already a well-developed sense of how God worked based on my life experiences. And, it looked a lot like the Santa. If I’m good, then God will answer my prayers, my life will go well, and I’ll end up in heaven. If I’m bad or fall short then my prayers will not be answered, bad things will happen, and I’ll end up in the fires of hell (burning with Santa’s coal, no doubt). As a child, I was pretty darn sure that all four of the Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl losses were my fault, God’s punishment for something I’d done.

I’m sure that Mrs. Washington’s confirmation class attempted to teach me about God’s grace and love, but my brain and soul were already branded by the Santa principle.

In today’s chapter lies a simple verse that is almost never talked about among Jesus’ followers even though it is foundational to understanding Jesus’ core message. Paul uses it to argue that Jesus’ message was God’s message from the beginning. The author of Hebrews does so, as well. For followers of Jesus, this verse is crucial to know, digest, and cling to:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

No meritocracy.

No addendum talking about being good, pure, and holy.

No mention of achieving, doing unto others, going to church, or giving money.

Just believe. That’s what faith is. To believe.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Act 16:31

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 8:9-10

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it is so hard to get out of the God as Santa mindset. God says “My ways are not your ways” and this applies to perhaps the most important question of all: How can I be saved?

Humanity’s way:

“Be good, work hard at it, keep all the rules, and maybe you’ll earn salvation like a present under the tree.”

God’s way:

“Just believe. Ask me to come in. Receive my love and forgiveness. That’s it. You see, once you’ve truly experienced My unmerited love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy, I trust you’ll be inspired and motivated to choose and practice obedience out of your own freedom and gratitude. That’s how I roll. That’s how I’ve always rolled, like I did with Abram.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about all the ways I still wrestle with “Santa God” after 40 years. It still creeps in to haunt me. Meritocracy is a hard habit to break, both in the way I see God and myself, but also in the way I see, approach, and treat others.

I’m also reminded that I can’t do anything about previous days. I’ve only got this day that lies before me. I’ve got this day to just believe Jesus, to receive His love and grace, and then to let that love and my gratitude flow in goodness.

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

The Inflection Point of Kindness

The Inflection Point of Kindness (CaD Gen 8) Wayfarer

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark…
Genesis 8:1 (NIV)

Every spring, our small town has a Tulip Festival that attracts huge crowds that wander our quaint public square. The crowds bring out a certain brand of street preachers who will stand in crowded areas and loudly proclaim their brand of hellfire, condemnation, and judgment on all of us sinners.

The modern-day, would-be prophets always bring out a mixture of anger and sadness in me. The anger comes from the fact that they give individuals who aren’t followers of Jesus a skewed mental picture of who Jesus is and what His Message is all about. The sadness is for the hearts of these misguided prophets themselves who, judging by their hatred and vitriol, have truly not come to grips with their own sinfulness nor have they experienced God’s amazing grace themselves.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I observed the parallel between the destructive flood of Noah and the redemptive metaphor of baptism. Because we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, the journey through Genesis is chock full of the first appearances of themes that foreshadow the chapters yet to come. Today’s chapter is an inflection point in the story of Noah which shifts the narrative from destruction to redemption. It begins with the very first verse of today’s chapter that I highlighted at the top of the post.

The Hebrew word for “remembered” (as in, “God remembered Noah”) is zākar. It means more than just the “A ha!” remembering or bringing to mind that the word “remembered” conjures in English. Zākar is layered with the notions of fondness, honor, worthiness, and active consideration. It’s a loving-kindness type of remembrance that motivates action. This is a stark contrast to the judgment and regret that has described God’s mood to this point in the Noah story.

What follows is the account of the end of the flood, but what is lost on most modern readers is the hidden parallel to the original creation story in chapter 1. What’s more, there are seven parallels just as there were seven days in creation.

  • 8:2 mentions the waters above and below, just like 1:7.
  • 8.5 mentions the ground appearing, just like 1:9.
  • 8:7 mentions birds flying above, just like 1:20.
  • 8:17 mentions the animals, just like 1:25.
  • 9:1 says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” just like 1:28a.
  • 9:2 mentions humanity’s dominion over creation, just like 1:28b.
  • 9:3 mentions God’s giving of plants/animals for food, just like 1:30.

Now we have a new theme emerging which will be vitally important in the Great Story, all the way until the very end. It’s a variation on the theme of order>chaos>reorder introduced two chapters ago:

Creation —> Destruction —> Re-creation

We see this theme in Jesus’ proclamation “I’m going to destroy this Temple and rebuild it in three days!” We will see this theme at the very end of the Great Story in Revelation when the old heaven and earth pass away and a new heaven and earth are created. And, we see it in the lives of those who follow Jesus, as Paul describes in his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth:

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.
2 Cor 5:16-18 (MSG)

From the very beginning of the Great Story, God introduces and foreshadows the grand theme in light of humanity’s sin: reorder, redemption, new creation.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to the street preachers spewing their condemnation at Tulip Time. I’m reminded of Romans 2:4 which says it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not hatred, anger, judgment, condemnation, or damnation. I’ve experienced my own spiritual inflection point when I realized that my sin was heinous as the worst of sinners but Jesus remembered (zākar) me and His loving-kindness extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That shifted my own story to one of redemption.

May I always “remember” others the same way.

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

Contrasting Identity

Contrasting Identity (CaD John 18) Wayfarer

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” [a servant girl] asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”

John 18:17 (NIV)

One of the themes I’ve been watching in John’s biography of Jesus is that of identity. John’s entire biography is thematically told around seven metaphorical “I am” statements that Jesus made paralleled by seven major miracles. These are not casual choices on John’s part.

When God revealed Himself to Moses, Moses asked God to identify Himself. God identified himself as “I Am.” Jesus’ seven “I am…” statements with their metaphors are a subtle proclamation John is making as to the complete divinity of Jesus as the Christ, while the miracles form a complete witness to divine power Jesus displayed in that claim of divinity. The number seven in the Great Story is the number of “completeness” (e.g. seven days of creation).

The seven “I am” statements:

  • “I am the Bread of Life” (6:35, 48)
  • “I am the Light of the World” (8:12; 9:5)
  • “I am the Gate” (10:7)
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11, 14)
  • “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25)
  • “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life” (14:6)
  • “I am the True Vine” (15:1)

The seven miracles (before His death & resurrection):

  • Changing water to wine (2:1-11)
  • Healing the official’s son (4:43-54)
  • Healing the disabled man by the Bethesda pool (5:1-15)
  • Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-14)
  • Walking on water (6:16-21)
  • Healing the man born blind (9:1-12)
  • Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-14)

But the theme of identity is not confined to the identity of Jesus. John is careful to choose stories that point to the identity of the religious leaders, the identity of those whom Jesus spoke to, the identity of those whom Jesus healed, and the identity of those who followed Jesus.

In today’s chapter, what struck me was how Peter’s denials stood out in stark contrast to Jesus’ claims. I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that Peter was not only the appointed leader of The Twelve, but his given name was Simon and Jesus gave Him a new name and a new identity: No longer the fisherman from Capernaum, Jesus gave Simon the identity of Peter, “the rockon which I will build my church.”

Yet as Jesus, the “I Am,” is arrested and tried, the “rock” crumbles with three contrasting claims: “I am…not.”

I find something beautiful in the human fragility of Peter’s trinity of “I am not“s. As a follower of Jesus, it echoes the fragility of my own faith, the cracks in my own witness, and my own major failures that stand in stark contrast to the proclamation “I am a follower of Jesus.”

As Jesus fulfills His mission to suffer for the sins of the world, I find “the Rock” there as my representative. How apt that the Divinely appointed human “leader” of Jesus’ followers becomes the designated representative of human weakness.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself sitting in humility of my own humanity. A lyric from Bob Dylan’s song Every Grain of Sand comes to mind:

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.

Peter’s story has the same ebb-and-flow as any follower of Jesus. A new direction and a new identity followed by a long life journey that include both miraculous highs and humiliating set-backs. It’s not just Peter’s story. It’s my story. It’s the story of every human being who sincerely answers Jesus’ offer to take up your own cross and follow. As the murderer and persecutor of Jesus’ followers Saul, given the new identity of Paul, follower of Jesus whom he persecuted, said:

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

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

Counter-Cultural

Counter-Cultural (CaD James 2) Wayfarer

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James 2:13 (NIV)

This past week, as I traversed America, I had numerous daily encounters with numerous people. Many of them were momentary interactions, but I couldn’t help but notice that people were almost universally kind, conversational, and cheerful no matter the age or the color of their skin. When I realized that I’d left my phone in the car of a friend, I was amazed at how quickly complete strangers offered to let me use their phone and immediately offered to help me above and beyond what I expected.

Early Saturday morning I was filling the car at a Shell gas station outside Memphis, Tennessee. I was engaged by the black guy in his security guard uniform at the pump next to mine. I asked if he was going to work or getting off. We talked about music. He loves jazz, just like me. He was driving away while I was still pumping gas. He pulled up, rolled down his window, and wanted to show me a pair of bluetooth speakers he uses in his car because of the quality of sound he gets out of them. We chatted some more. Nice dude. Our conversation was a pick-me-up to start the day.

There is a young lady on social media who posts a daily video teaching the language of Scotland. Only a few seconds long, she typically defines a word and then uses it in a sentence. It’s a quirky little thing that I find engaging. In the last week or so she posted a video responding to the mean-spirited and vicious comments people had made on her posts. I simply can’t understand why anyone would be so vile. She’s not being political. She’s not talking about any issues. She is simply teaching people a Scottish word. Seriously. If you don’t like it, scroll on.

I’m observing more-and-more that there is a level of anger, meanness, and vitriol that people feel comfortable expressing in the rather anonymous online world. People feel free to be snarky, rude, and downright brutal. Because online news allows for comments to any story, Wendy and I often will glance at what people have posted at the end of a news piece we’re reading each morning during breakfast. We’re often shocked at how bombastic and ugly people can be over issues that are relatively insignificant.

There’s a contrast there that struck me on my road trip last week. Maybe it was because I hardly spent any time on social media last week. At the same time, I had far more random and personal interactions with humans than normal, especially after a year of COVID quarantine. Every one of those pleasant, cheerful, and kind interactions lifted my spirit more than I would have ever expected.

In today’s chapter, James instructs followers of Jesus not to show favoritism. He particularly calls out the favoritism that is often shown to rich-and-powerful individuals at the expense of the poor-and-marginalized. One of the calling cards of the early Jesus Movement was the fact that everyone was welcome at the table regardless of gender, race, politics, or socio-economic status. James tells the followers of Jesus now scattered among the nations to continue engaging others without judgment or pre-judgement. Rather, others are to be shown mercy. In the Great Story, it is kindness that leads people to repentance, not judgment or condemnation.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of the simple power that mercy, kindness, goodness, and gentleness can generate. This is especially true when they are exemplified in a time and culture in which cancelling, condemnation, contempt, and coarse discourtesy run amok.

I choose this day to be counter-cultural by choosing to show mercy others, and to be kind.

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

Cancelled (Not)

Cancelled! [Not] (CaD Ps 130) Wayfarer

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

Psalm 130:4 (NIV)

I’ll never forget the story of a woman I know who told me the story of being a teenager who made a foolish choice. Once it was discovered, she was brought before her church and publicly shamed for her mistake. They threatened her with expulsion and vowed to make her an outcast unless she repented. She told me this as an adult, but the spiritual and emotional scars of the experience were still very much present.

As a student of history, I can tell you that public shaming, scapegoating, and what today we call “cancelling” have been around as long as human civilization. It morphs into various forms, but it is a staple of fundamentalist systems no matter the flavor. When allowed to run amok, it leads to guilt by accusation, mob justice, and the kangaroo court of illogical and unreasonable group-think. It can be lethal, as the residents of Salem, Massachusetts found out when a group of silly girls leveraged the fundamentalist bent of their Puritan faith and began accusing people they didn’t like of being witches.

I find it fascinating to watch what is happening in our own current version of it. I observe that cancel culture has all the same quintessential ingredients that existed among the reviled Puritans of Salem. I have had more than one person tell me in the past year that if an enemy at their workplace chooses to go back and uncover the silly, foolish things they did and said in their youth and make them public, they’re screwed.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 130, is an ancient Hebrew song that expresses the emotions of one crying out from “the depths.” The metaphor of the original Hebrew lyrics are that of deep waters. The songwriter is drowning in a sea of their own mistakes and foolish choices. In experiencing God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, and redemption, the songwriter is moved to gratefully serve God.

As I read through the teachings of Jesus, I don’t find religious shaming and cancel culture. In fact, the most pointed condemnation Jesus dished out were to orthodox religious fundamentalists who were carrying out their own brand of cancel culture. Jesus actions and words were gracious, forgiving, and redemptive. Paul, one who was drowning in his own deep waters on a trip to Damascus, told Jesus’ followers in Rome that its God’s kindness that leads to repentance not shaming, condemnation, and threats of cancellation. He also wrote to the believers in Corinth that it was Christ’s love that compelled him to risk life and limb to share that love with others. In my experience, condemnation, hatred, public shaming, and threats don’t compel anything worthwhile.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling the “deep waters” of my own life journey. I find myself mindful of the many foolish thoughts, words and actions that dot my journey, and for which others would gladly cancel me. I find myself grateful for Jesus who, by His own words, claimed that he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it through love, servant-heartedness, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, grace and redemption.

As He has not condemned, shamed, nor cancelled me, I find myself compelled not to condemn, shame nor cancel anyone else.

A Psalm 51 Moment

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17 (NRSVCE)

For anyone who does not know the story behind David’s song, known to us as Psalm 51, it is critical in order to have a complete understanding of the lyrics.

First of all, David had been the “good guy” his entire life journey. As a boy God declared him “a man after my own heart” and God chose David, through the prophet Samuel, to be God’s anointed king. David killed Goliath. David refused to raise his hand against King Saul and wait for God to fulfill the promise to give him the throne. David did everything right. David was devout. David was faithful. David was sincere. David was God’s man through-and-through.

Until he wasn’t.

The Reader’s Digest version is this: From the roof of his palace he creeped out on a beautiful young woman taking a bath on a nearby rooftop. David used his power to find out who she was. She was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, but the army was out on a military campaign and David knew it. David used his influence as King to invite her over. They had a one night stand. She ended up pregnant, and now a “no harm no foul” fling became a potentially Monica Lewinsky level political scandal.

The first step in the cover-up was to create the illusion of normal. David uses his commander-and-chief authority to give the woman’s husband, a soldier named Uriah, a special leave to come home and take a break from the action. It turns out, however, that Uriah was a “good guy” and a “man of integrity” like David had always been. Perhaps David had been his role model. Uriah, thinking of all his buddies on the front-line who didn’t get to come home and sleep with their wives, refuses to even go into his house.

Ironically, Uriah’s integrity leads to David’s further descent into depravity. To avoid his moral failure from coming to light and the scandal it would create, David sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed message to his general in the field. The message orders his general to place Uriah into the thick of the battle, order his fellow soldiers to abandon him, and ensure Uriah has an “honorable” death.

Uriah is buried with military honors. David makes a big deal out of caring for the widow of one of his soldiers by agreeing to marry and take care of her. Scandal averted and David is given the opportunity to improve his polling numbers and maintain his “good guy” image. David gets away it. No one is the wiser.

Except God.

God sends a prophet named Nathan to visit the King who regales David with the story of a wealthy land baron and sheep farmer who stole the only lamb of the poor tenant farmer next-door. David, angered, assures Nathan that the evil land baron will be forced to pay the victim back with four lambs for the one that was stolen.

Then Nathan informs David that the whole story was a metaphor and that he is the land baron in the story. He had a palace full of wives and thought he could steal poor Uriah’s wife and cover the whole thing up. David is devastated and has to own up to what he has done. He pours out his guilt and plea for forgiveness into a song.

If you’ve never read Psalm 51 in the context of this story, I encourage you to take the minute or two required to read the lyrics of the song in their entirety right now while the story is fresh in your head.

One of the interesting things about this chapter-a-day journey is the experience of coming upon chapters that I know really well, and have read countless times in the past 40 years. Do they have any fresh layers of meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life’s journey?

As I read this morning I kept hearkening back to one of David’s psalms from a couple of weeks ago. I went back to Psalm 26 in the quiet this morning and read it again:

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in faithfulness to you.

Wow. What a contrast.

I know Psalm 51 really well. It’s tatted on my left bicep as a reminder. I have a chapter of my own story that is a rough parallel of David’s. I was the “good guy” who everyone knew was a Jesus freak, a moral puritan, and who walked the straight-and-narrow. I’m sure I was even guilty of waxing self-righteously in my own way like David did in Psalm 26. Then I found myself in a place I swore I’d never be found. I had my own Psalm 51 moment.

Along this spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that I never really understood and experienced grace, forgiveness, and mercy until I hit rock-bottom and the veneer of self-righteousness was peeled away like the striking of a stage set. Like David, it came much further along in my journey, but I can now look back realize how important, make that essential, my own mistakes were in teaching me humility, empathy, mercy, and grace.

I enter another work week this morning soberly reminded of my own need of grace, as well as my need to extend it to others having their own Psalm 51 moments.

The Predicate

The Predicate (CaD Ps 23) Wayfarer

The Lord is my shepherd…
Psalm 23:1 (NRSVCE)

What is there to say about, arguably, the most well-known passage of the Great Story? Books have been written about it. It is recited incessantly by millions of believers every day. I think it may have been read at every funeral I’ve ever attended. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers did an entire series of messages on it. It has been explained, dissected, put to music, memorized, and printed on more trinkets, bookmarks, and wall plaques than any other text of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, as I meditated on the text, my soul landed on the opening five words: The Lord is my shepherd….

That’s the phrase that gets quickly forgotten when I recite it. I want to get to the green pastures and quiet waters part, because my soul desperately needs rest. I want to get to the restoration of soul because weariness seems to be its constant reality. I want to get to that comforting part, though I don’t know how a staff could do that. I just know that I really want to be comforted in the midst of a world that churns and blares with endless messages that create fear, anxiety, confusion, and depression in me. I want to get to the goodness and mercy, because I secretly hold in my faults, mistakes, flaws, and insecurities and the guilt, the shame, is sometimes debilitating.

As I read through David’s most well-known lyrics for the millionth time, this is what comes to mind. Everything described from the rest to the restoration, the anointing, the overflow of blessing, the kindness, the mercy, the homecoming, and safe dwelling, all of it is predicated on this One Thing: The Lord is my Shepherd.

But, is He?

Who is Shepherding me?

Is it possible that I could be allowing myself to be “shepherded” by another human being, a religious institution, a teacher, a university, a parent, a government, a political party, a screen, a device, a drug, a drink, a dream, a job, an appetite, or a cause?

Is it possible that the weariness, anxiety, fear, neediness, aimlessness, guilt, and shame which makes Psalm 23 so meaningful stems from the fact that I’m really just trying to “shepherd” myself?

This poured out onto my morning pages this morning:

Lord, I surrender to you my ego,
with all its insatiable neediness for security and affirmation.
I surrender to you Lord, my body,
with all of its insatiable appetites desiring indulgence.
Lord, I surrender to you my thoughts,
with all the destructive recordings that loop incessantly which no one sees or hears, the toxic things I feed it, and the worthless things on which it insistently dwells.
I surrender to you, Lord, my being,
which you created for your glory and not my fame or well-being.
Lord, I surrender to you control,
which I foolishly cling to in my doubt and disillusionment.
Lord, I surrender to you all that I possess,
and with it, the deceptive notion that I possess anything
for there is nothing I possess that does not threaten to possess me.
I surrender to you, Lord, my money,
and with it, the masquerade that tells me this world has anything of eternal value that could possibly be purchased.

Lord, be my Shepherd.

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

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 3)

In this episode, we’re going to talk about some of the “meta-themes” in the Great Story and, since all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, we’ll look at some examples of the meta-themes we find in our favorite movies and epic stories.

Wayfarer Podcast Episode 10: A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 3)

You can subscribe to the Wayfarer podcast through Apple iTunes and Google Play.

The Adult Version

A ruler who oppresses the poor
    is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

Proverbs 28:3 (NIV)

One of the great, untaught lessons in the entirety of the Great Story is a sad one. In fact, I don’t believe that I’ve heard it mentioned even once in any lecture or message in my entire lifetime. It is the story of wise King Solomon’s foolishness.

As a little boy growing up in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School I learned a lot about the Bible through simple stories taught in simple ways. I remember learning them with cheesy paper cut-out images of characters placed on a “flannelgraph.” In fact, if you look up “flannelgraph” on Wikipedia, the image they use is of a Bible Story. Today we do the same thing with colorful, bright cartoons that offer children’s versions of ancient stories.

As a young man, I became a genuine follower of Jesus and began reading the Bible for myself. I studied it in college and seminary classes. I’ve been perpetually reading and studying it for forty-years. Along my journey, I’ve worshiped, served, and taught in many different churches from diverse doctrinal backgrounds. I’ve made a couple of observations along the way.

First, I have observed individuals who never moved beyond the stories of the Bible being broad and simple morality tales for children taught in bright colors and cartoonish characters. Then, as young adults, they became easily dismissed along with the rest of the cartoon characters they grew up with. Second, I have known and observed sincerely faithful, adult believers who made a conscious, cognitive decision to accept the doctrinal beliefs of their childhood church or denomination. Still, they have little or no experiential knowledge of the faith they profess to follow, and their faith is based on a combination of Bible tales told to them as a child and a life-long habit of traditions and rituals.

So, now we come back to King Solomon, the son of King David who has been known for almost 3,000 years as the “wise” and extravagantly rich king. The simple Bible story goes like this: as a child, God offered Solomon either wisdom or great riches. Solomon chose wisdom and God blessed him with both wisdom and great riches. It’s a tale with a simple moral to teach our children. Solomon then went on to have three books of “wisdom literature” traditionally attributed to his authorship: Proverbs, Song of Songs, and the book of Ecclesiastes. And, I have observed that this is about all most people remember.

The extended, adult version of Solomon’s story is (much like my own story, btw) much messier and far more complicated than the simple, story-book version. Solomon was the offspring of David’s adulterous marriage to Bathsheba, the woman whose husband David had murdered. Being the last of David’s children, Solomon should have been last in the line of male children (from multiple women) to ascend the throne. Bathsheba maneuvered events to make sure David named Solomon king. Solomon conscripted labor to build all of his great visionary projects (Solomon’s Temple being chief among them), and even his fellow Hebrew tribes complained of being treated like slaves. Solomon also appears not to have passed his wisdom along to his own son, Rehoboam, who succeeded him. Rehoboam followed his father’s example, not his wise words, in ignoring the wisdom of the proverb pasted at the top of this post. Rather than easing the oppression Solomon had placed on his own people, Rehoboam promised more oppression and irreparably fractured the kingdom into bloody and contentious civil war.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reading Solomon’s wise words knowing that he, himself, foolishly failed to follow them. And, that is the lesson for me today. As I contemplate this fact, my thinking goes to two places. One, that it’s too easy for me to be critical of Solomon for his hypocrisy of famously saying one thing while doing another. The truth is that there are plenty of examples of the same types of hypocrisy in my own life and story. Second, I’m mindful of the fact that Solomon’s human failings don’t alter the wisdom of his proverbs in the same way my own human failings don’t alter Jesus’ message. Come to think of it, it only makes His message more relevant to me. After 40 years, I’m still just an imperfect human in need of both grace and mercy as I try to follow Jesus each day. I’ve left behind a lot of foolishness, but I have by no means attained all that Lady Wisdom is still trying to teach me.

A Small Cog in the Works

Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.
Esther 10:3 (NIV)

I found myself working with a small Inside Sales team that was a small cog in the works of a large business silo of a global corporate empire. The fact that we had this gig was a bit of a minor miracle. You see, the corporation they worked for didn’t care about their customers. The corporation didn’t survey their customers because they didn’t want to know. The corporation made it virtually impossible for customers to reach the right people by virtue of a labyrinthine phone system in which you could get lost for days among vague menu choices, endless loops, ignorant operators, and unempowered employees who long ago ceased to care. The corporate system was set up to serve the system itself. Customers were treated as a necessary nuisance.

So, how in the world did I end up there?

There was one front-line manager in charge of this small Inside Sales team. He couldn’t do anything about the corporate empire, the phone system, or any of the other teams, departments, divisions, or silos of the system. He determined, however, that he could control his little cog buried in the systemic works. He hired me and my team to help his little team to apply what I call Customer Service Rule #1: Do the best you can with what you have.

The sheer size and scope of the corporate system working against their efforts made it feel, at times, like we were Quixote tilting at windmills. Still, I had to admire the manager and his team for their courage to make a small difference and do their best to do the right thing for customers in a corporate environment that would never support their efforts, and would only undermine those efforts time and time again.

Over the past weeks on this chapter-a-day journey, I’ve been making my way through what’s known as the exilic books of God’s Message. It was a period of history when the ancient Israelites had been taken into captivity and were ruled by the Assyrian, Babylonian, Median, and Persian empires. Individuals like Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai were strangers in a strange land. They were despised by many and the odds were stacked against them in a myriad of ways. Yet, their stories tell of God using these small individual cogs to accomplish His work in the foreign empirical machines and the often horrific circumstances in which they found themselves.

Today’s final chapter of Esther is simply a brief epilogue that honors Mordecai for his accomplishments. It’s a literary epitaph of sorts and it leaves us with the reminder that Mordecai rose to power because concerned himself with the needs of all his people and worked tirelessly for the welfare of others.

I find myself reminded of two statements this morning. One from Peter’s letter to the believers who, like the Jewish exiles, were scattered by persecution around the Roman world:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)

The other from the prophet Micah:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.
Micah 6:8 (MSG)

The exiles were like the Inside Sales team that I and my team worked with inside their own corporate empire. In many ways, that Inside Sales team was small, impotent, and relatively insignificant in the grand corporate scheme of things. But, they chose to humbly do the best they could each day to serve as best they could with what little power and influence they had. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that along life’s road I will encounter many situations and circumstances that are out of my control. There are so many times when I’m really powerless to make a significant change to large problems. The exiles provide a good example to follow as they, themselves, heeded Micah’s advice. I can do the same. Humbly, quietly, mercifully, faithfully do the best I can each day, in every circumstance, with what I have.