Tag Archives: Metaphor

Death-to-Life

Death-to-Life (CaD Rev 21) Wayfarer

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelations 21:5 (NIV)

Yesterday among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers I witnessed three teenagers and an adult being baptized. These baptisms were by immersion in which the four publically professing their faith stepped into a small pool of water. They were plunged into the water and brought back up out of it. It is a metaphor. The Greek word baptizo means to “plunge forcefully.”

Buried with Christ in the likeness of His death.
Raised with Christ in the likeness of His resurrection.
Sin washed away.
A new creation.
A new start.
A new life.

Life and death. Resurrection. Death-to-Life.

It is the meta-theme of the Great Story. Metaphors are layered with meaning, and God layered this theme in creation itself as every year we experience the death of winter and experience resurrection and new life in the spring. It is revealed in Jesus’ story: born in the darkness of exile, dying as darkness covers the land, and raised to new life at the dawn of a new day, the first day of a new week.

God revealed it to His people at the beginning of the story.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live… Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)

It is revealed spiritually in the life of every one who follow Jesus.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Cor 5:17 (NASB)

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:3-5 (NIV)

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. 1 John 3:14 (NIV)

The end of the Great Story is a new beginning. John’s vision reveals that earth and heaven as we know them “pass away” and a new heaven and new earth are created. I’m always surprised that I rarely hear these final chapters of the Great Story discussed, even among believers, given that it is an epic grand finale that so perfectly captures the grand theme of the Great Story itself.

Today’s chapter describes the vision revealed to John of an eternal city, a New Jerusalem, in which God and His people dwell. The city described is not novel. In fact, it’s an epic culmination of what God revealed from the beginning. The City is square like the camp prescribed through Moses for the Hebrews as they made their way to the promised land. The City is a giant cube, just like the “Most Holy Place” in the tabernacle and temple. The old “Most Holy Place” was an exclusive place for God’s holy presence, and only the High Priest entering once a year. This new “Most Holy Place” is for God and His people to dwell together. No sun or moon, because the Light of God’s glory illuminates the city in perpetuity. No more darkness, or crying, or pain. The old has passed away, the new has come.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking of the baptisms I witnessed yesterday. Parents, family, loved ones gathered as witnesses and even participating in the ritual. An individual’s choice to make public profession of his/her personal faith. An outward sign of an internal spiritual reality. Old things have passed away, new life has begun.

It is the meta-theme of the Great Story.

It is where I’m headed, this wayfaring stranger. Today, each day of this earthly sojourn I’m traveling through this world of woe. One day I will cross over to a place where “everything is made new.”

But there’s no sickness, no toil or danger
In that great City to which I go
.

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

The Wedding

The Wedding (CaD Rev 19) Wayfarer

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
Revelations 19:9 (NIV)

I mentioned yesterday that Wendy and I were at a wedding this past weekend. The dinner was amazing. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that Wendy and I love a great meal, especially when it’s the trifecta of a great meal with great people enjoying great conversation.

At one point between savory bites, Wendy looked at me, her eyes as wide as saucers. “This is not only the best wedding meal I’ve ever had, but it’s right up there with maybe being the best meal I’ve had, ever.”

High praise, for sure. A great meal is always special amidst the love, laughter, joy, and celebration of two lives being united as one.

The metaphors of a wedding, of a bride and bridegroom, are used repeatedly by Jesus. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the metaphor was even understood and shared between Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist:

[John’s disciples] came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”

Sometime later, the same disciples of John asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t religiously fast the way John made them fast:

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus was still using this metaphor. He told a parable of ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to arrive so they could accompany him and his bride with their oil lamps to the wedding feast at the house of the bridegroom and his family. Some of the bridesmaids got tired of waiting and they didn’t have their oil lamps filled, trimmed, and ready when the bridegroom arrived.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the ancients often used weddings and funerals as metaphorical contrasts. John uses this ancient device in yesterday’s chapter (a funeral dirge for the demise of “Babylon the Great”) and today’s chapter in which Jesus, the Bridegroom, having tarried like the bridegroom in His parable for 2000+ earth years (as of today), finally celebrates a heavenly wedding feast and is united with His metaphorical bride, all of His followers whose names are written in the Book of Life.

But the contrasts aren’t over! There’s a feast to come that is a stark contrast to the wedding feast of the Lamb. An angel in heaven cries out to all the vultures and carrion fowl on earth to prepare for their own morbid picnic.

Jesus and a heavenly army then descend to meet the unholy trinity and all of the kings and kingdoms of the earth, those who had steadfastly refused to repent during the great tribulation, gathered against Him. The only weapon brought to the battle is the metaphorical sword of Jesus’ words. The anti-christ and his false prophet are captured and thrown into a lake of fire. Their followers become the entree du jour for the vultures.

In the quiet this morning, I’m struck by the simple roots of these contrasting metaphors. A funeral and a wedding. A death dirge and a wedding feast. The eerie silence of a battlefield when the battle is over and the carrion fowl pick at the corpses, and the raucous cheers of a wedding party, blessedly satiated and maybe a wee bit intoxicated, unabashedly dancing to “YMCA.”

I can’t help but be reminded of what God said to His people at the outset of this Great Story:

“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses…I have set before you life and death…”

I made my choice. I sent in the RSVP.

I’m simply waiting for the bridegroom to arrive.

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

Wisdom to Know the Difference

Wisdom to Know the Difference (CaD Rev 14) Wayfarer

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Revelation 14:6-7 (NIV)

One summer during my college years, my friend Spike and I were in need of money. It happened that a large institutional church was holding their national conference here in central Iowa and someone I knew told me they were in need of people to help with daycare for children and youth for a week. It paid well, so we signed up.

Being male college students, those in charge of the daycare program put us in charge of the older boys. I had the boys ages 11 and 12 in my group. If I remember correctly, Spike got the 9 and 10-year-old boys. Most of the boys were “Pastors’ Kids” (aka “PKs”), and PKs have a reputation for being particularly rebellious. Perhaps it’s because so many people expect the Pastor’s kid to be particularly virtuous that so many of them take normal unruly childishness to particularly rebellious extremes.

A few of my boys were the worst of the worse. The truth is that I really liked them, but whatever they were told to do they refused to do. Given the opportunity, they would go to great lengths to get into trouble. Their disruptions and antics made it virtually impossible for the others to enjoy themselves.

One episode happened on an old school bus that had taken all the kids to a museum. One of my worst offenders had purchased a kazoo in the museum gift shop. He was being particularly obnoxious with his kazoo as the bus was on the interstate heading back to the conference, making himself a pest to everyone around him. I calmly warned him twice to cease his kazoo playing. My warnings only stoked the fires of his defiance and he only intensified his obnoxious behavior. A third time I warned him, and this time I told him that if he didn’t stop I was throwing his kazoo out the bus window (the bus had no air conditioning and all the windows were open). He looked at me with insubordinate eyes and played the kazoo right in my face. I grabbed his kazoo and threw it out the window.

One of the reasons that Jesus told parables was because simple stories are often metaphors for deep spiritual truths. In one of His parables, Jesus told of a farmer who sowed his wheat in a field. His enemy came in the night and sowed weeds amidst the wheat. The farmer told his workers to leave the weeds, as pulling them might uproot the wheat, as well. “Wait for the harvest,” he said. “At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” Jesus then told His disciples the meaning of this metaphorical parable:

“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Matthew 13:37-43 (NIV)

I thought of both Kazoo Boy and the parable of the weeds as I read today’s chapter. We are in the end times. This is the “harvest” in Jesus’ parable. Seven seal judgments and seven trumpet judgments have already occurred. The final set of judgments in the trinity, the bowl judgments, are about to be unleashed. God sends three angels to make proclamations “to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Wishing that none should perish, the first angel proclaims the good news of God’s love and salvation. The second angel warns of the kingdoms of the earth that are about to be taken down. The third angel warns the people of what will happen if they continue to defiantly worship the “beast and his image” and it’s not pleasant.

In the quiet this morning, I was struck by two things. Even at the very end of the Great Story, God is pleading with humanity to repent, believe, and be saved. It’s never too late to accept God’s gift of salvation. Second, those who remain through the judgment have chosen to be there just like my choice in yesterday’s post. I find myself in the tension between gratitude for God’s kindness and sadness for the oppositionally defiant.

Kazoo Boy would be in his late 40s at this point. I wonder about his story and his own journey. I said a little prayer for God’s goodness and blessing on him wherever he is. I’m so glad that we all have the opportunity to grow beyond the little twits we can be as children. As Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

God, grant me the grace to put childishness behind me while living this day with child-like faith. Give me the wisdom to know the difference.

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

My Choice

My Choice (CaD Rev 13) Wayfarer

“The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies…”
Revelation 13:5a (NIV)

Antithesis (noun) \ an-ˈti-thə-səs\ : 1. The direct opposite

From the very beginning, evil has been the antithesis of good. The evil one has opposed God. Evil is good’s opposite. Jesus’ ministry began by being tempted by the Evil One with the same basic three temptations the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve. Jesus’ earthly ministry ended by declaring that the “prince of this world” stands condemned (John 16:11). At the very heart of the Great Story lies the struggle between opposing forces: God, and the evil one who opposes God.

Along my journey, I have often found it helpful to reduce life’s complexities to the root binaries such as good or evil, death or life, and/or positive or negative before I choose my way.

Today’s chapter is the source material for some of the most commonly known elements of Revelation from which many heavy metal rock bands have gotten the dark themes they use to tap into the imaginations of rebellious teenagers motivated to extol the antithesis of anything their parents believe or desire of them. In this chapter, we meet the “beast” or “antichrist” who declares that no one can buy or sell anything without taking “the mark of the beast” on his/her hand or forehead. John goes on to say that anyone who has insight can calculate the “number of the beast,” the infamous “666.”

This chapter is filled with so much prophetic imagery that it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of its puzzling metaphors. Yet, as I read and meditated on imagery, I found it important to reduce what is being presented to its roots: God and Anti-god.

An unholy trinity arises: the dragon (e.g. satan, anti-Father), the beast of the sea (e.g. anti-Christ), and the beast of the earth (e.g. anti-Holy Spirit).

The beast who is the anti-Christ has a mock resurrection in the form of a fatal wound from which he is healed.

As Jesus was the incarnate Word of God (John 1) sent to proclaim the words of Father, from the anti-Father dragon the anti-Christ beast is given a mouth to utter “proud words and blasphemies.”

As Jesus was the “Prince of Peace” sent from the Father who gave His Son that none should perish but all might have eternal life. the anti-Christ beast was given the power to wage war against God’s people and kill them.

As those who follow Jesus have their names written in the “Book of Life,” those who worship the anti-Christ beast do not have their names written there.

As Holy Spirit was sent into the world on behalf of Christ to draw people to Christ and to indwell believers with His presence and His power to perform signs and wonders, the anti-Holy Spirit beast is given “all the authority” of the anti-Christ beast to make the earth’s inhabitants to worship the anti-Christ beast as well as to perform “great signs.”

Just as Holy Spirit was sent to lead people to Jesus, the Truth, the anti-Holy Spirit beast decieves people into worshipping the anti-Christ beast.

As Jesus made the way for any and all who decide open their hearts to Him and choose to follow, the anti-Christ and anti-Holy Spirit beasts “made the earth and inhabitants worship” the anti-Christ, then “ordered” them to set up an image in honor of the anti-Christ. Any who did not obey are killed. They then “force” “all people” to receive a mark on their hands or foreheads in order to participate in the world’s economy.

Much of the imagery in today’s chapter was perceived by those who received it to correlate directly to the Roman Empire and its Emporers. The “Imperial Cult” made Caesar to be god and all Romans were forced to pledge their allegiance to participate in Roman commerce. Christians had been killed en masse by Nero and his successors. Both the Hebrew and Greek languages use alphabets in which letters also serve as numbers and the idea of names having corresponding numbers was popular. “Nero” when spelled a certain way in Hebrew adds up to 666.

So, does this mean that Revelation is only about the contemporary events and poeple of John’s day?

Prophetic literature is never “either-or,” but “both-and.” Many of the Hebrew prophets wrote about contemporary leader and events, but they are also about the coming Messiah. God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphor is always layered with meaning. Additionally, the Roman empire has always inspired subsequent empires and would be emporers from the Mafia to Hitler’s Third Reich, so it’s very easy to believe that it will also inspire an unholy trinity (6-6-6) that is the antithesis of the complete and Holy Trinity (7-7-7) in the end times.

In the quiet this morning, my mind and spirit humbly embrace (once again) the reality that I don’t know exactly how all these things will specifically play out. When I boil things down to the root of things, however, here’s what I do know:

I will choose God over the evil one.
I will choose good over evil.
I will choose Life over death.
I will choose Truth over deception.
I will choose humility over pride.
I will choose love over hatred.
I will choose joy over anger.
I will choose peace over discord.
I will choose patience over impatience.
I will choose kindness over harshness.
I will choose goodness over vengeance.
I will choose faithfulness over abandonment.
I will choose gentleness over forcefulness.
I will choose self-control over indulgence.
I will choose surrender over demand.
I will choose hope over despair.

As a follower of Jesus, this is the only way.

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

The Rabbit Hole & the Three Questions

The Rabbit Hole and the Three Questions (CaD Rev 1) Wayfarer

“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”
Revelation 1:19 (NIV)

There are three great questions I always ask myself during times of confusion or decision:

Where am I at?
Where have I been?
Where am I going?

Those are the three questions I ask myself every time I finish a book on this chapter-a-day journey and need to decide where the trek should take me next. So, after finishing the book of Jude yesterday I went to the index of posts by book and realized that there’s only one book of the Great Story, written after Jesus’ death and resurrection that, isn’t currently in the index by book: Revelation. The last time I trekked through was in April of 2014. So, that’s where I’m going.

Known more formally as The Revelation of John, this is the last book in the Great Story. Both tradition and the text state that the visions described in the book were seen and experienced by John on the Isle of Patmos while he was exiled there (90-95 A.D). Revelation is well-known for its description of the end times, the climactic final battle between God and Satan, and its description of the eternal city of God.

To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with Revelation. I love the mystery and the metaphor. It’s fascinating and I find important spiritual truths within. My hate is rooted in the rabbit hole that it becomes for people who fall in and become endlessly obsessed. Along my spiritual journey, my approach to Revelation eventually paralleled C.S. Lewis’ famous caution regarding the demonic. It’s a mistake to avoid or ignore it, but it’s also a mistake to take it too seriously. So, here we go.

In the opening chapter, John writes that he was worshiping on a Sunday and saw the glorified Christ. Jesus tells John to write “what you’ve seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” It’s Jesus’ riff on the three questions I always ask myself.

There are numerous schools of thought when it comes to interpreting Revelation. Some believe that Revelation points to historic events that have already taken place. Others believe that it’s primarily about what will take place in the future end times. A more modern movement of thought interprets the whole thing as political satire.

“Where have I been?”

Looking back at the life of Jesus and the ancient prophecies about Him, one thing becomes clear to me: Very smart people over a long period of time were completely wrong about how they interpreted the prophecies. So, from where I’m at, I tend to approach the prophetic with a huge dose of humility regarding what it might mean for “Where are we going?” in the future, and a heart that’s simply open to what in means for me “Where am I at?‘ in the context of today.

So, in the quiet this morning, I embark on this chapter-a-day trek through Revelation with humility and an open heart. I think I’ll take Jesus up on reading and meditating on John’s visions with the three questions in mind. I’m also determined not to fall down the rabbit hole.

Here we go!

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

#12: Browsing Among the Lilies

Top Chapter-a-Day Post #12 (CaD) Wayfarer

Note: I’m on a holiday hiatus through January 9, 2022. While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to reblog the top 15 chapter-a-day posts (according to number of views) from the past 15 years. Cheers!

Originally published September 30, 2013

My lover has gone down to his garden,
    to his spice beds,
to browse in the gardens
    and gather the lilies.
I am my lover’s, and my lover is mine.
    He browses among the lilies.
Song of Solomon 6:2-3 (NLT)

A few years ago Wendy and I were at the Des Moines Art Center browsing through the Center’s collection. We came across a painting by Georgia O’Keefe. “Oh my goodness,” Wendy softly exclaimed by side. “There’s no mistaking what that’s about!” O’Keefe is sometimes referred to as the mother of American modernism. She was particularly fond of painting enlarged flower blossoms, presenting them close up as if you are viewing just a part of the blossom through a magnifying glass. She often used lilies and sections of lilies.

O’Keefe came to prominence as a painter in the early part of the 20th century about the same time that Freud’s theories on psycho analysis rocked the world. Perhaps it was inevitable that O’Keefe’s paintings would be psychoanalyzed under the magnifying glass of Freudian thought just as she painted magnified views of her subjects. Despite the artists own denials, it has long been noted that her paintings seem to conjure up parallels to female sexual anatomy. Thus, Wendy’s soft exclamation upon viewing O’Keefe’s painting.

Lilies, in particular, have always had strong metaphorical parallels to sexuality dating back to ancient times. Roman and Greek mythology viewed the lily as a flower of purity, chastity and innocence. Even church tradition associates lilies with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Roman tradition was that Venus, the goddess of love, was so envious of the pure beauty of the lily that she gave the lily it’s large, long pistil in it’s center to make it less attractive. The pistil at the center of the lily’s flower has long been noted for its’ phallic metaphors; The center of the pure, white petals of the Calla Lilly being seemingly penetrated by the long, large pistil.

It is no wonder that Solomon’s ancient song of the budding, erotic love between the young king and the young woman of his harem would include imagery of the lilies. Solomon himself wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Georgia O’Keefe did not invent the parallel between the lily and a woman’s sexual organs. If anything, her art was natural prey for metaphorical connections humans have made between the lily and sexuality for thousands of years.

Now, read the verse above once more and imagine an infatuated young woman saying these words as she fantasizes about the man whom she wants to marry and become her lover. Does Solomon’s song really intend these sexual metaphors? A hormonal young man writes a song about the sexual tension between himself and a gorgeous young woman whom he desires sexually. It doesn’t take a giant leap of reason.

God created us male and female. He created us as sexual beings with hormones and sexual desires. He created a natural order in which people grow, develop, desire one another and have sexual relations through which new life is created. He called it “good.” Too often in a pursuit of purifying the ranks from the sinful excesses with which many indulge  our natural appetites, the institutional church has thrown the baby out with the bath water. Many of us have forgotten to embrace, celebrate, and appreciate the natural God-given appetite which, when experienced as God intended, remains as pure as a lily.

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

Beneath the Text

Beneath the Text (CaD Gen 5) Wayfarer

Enoch walked faithfully with God.
Genesis 5:24

I’ve always been interested in family history. Over the years I’ve learned a great deal, but there’s a point at which the scant evidence of names and dates leave a lot to be desired from a story perspective. My “van der Wel” surname seems to spring from one particular neighborhood in Rotterdam, while the Bloem genes trace back to Gronigen. I have McCoy genes that likely lead back to the McKay clan in Scotland. My Hamblen genes trace back to Virginia during the American Revolution, and then back to England where there’s a knight entombed in effigy in eastern England. Informational clues that leave a lot to the mystery of history.

In the same way, the first 11 chapters of the Great Story are considered “primeval” history. They provide a broad brush sketch of creation and God’s relationship with all of humanity with scant information and a lot of mystery, but there’s plenty of good stuff to mine in the mystery.

For example, numbers and patterns play a role in the telling. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet do double-duty as numbers, and the authors of ancient Hebrew often hide numerical patterns in the writing. The number 10 is associated with harmony and completeness, especially related to humanity. The book of Genesis is divided into ten sections. Ten times in Genesis the phrase “God said…” is used. The genealogies in today’s chapter and again in chapter 11 both list ten generations. God will later deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt through ten plagues, and subsequently provide humanity with ten commandments.

Yesterday’s chapter told of the sin and curse of Cain and then traced his family line to the 7th generation after Adam. Seven is also a number associated with “completeness” but it is more associated with the divine, as in the seven days of Creation. The seven generations of Cain’s line hint at the completeness of God’s divine judgement on the family which remained rebellious toward God in the 7th generation. The 10 generations listed in today’s chapter hint at the complete human family line of Adam that will perpetuate humanity to, and after, the flood.

Then there are the patterns that emerge in the telling. The seventh generation in the line of Cain was Lamech who continued his ancestor’s murderous and rebellious ways. The seventh generation on Seth’s line is Enoch who “walked faithfully with God.” There’s also the fact that Cain, the first born son, was cursed and it was through a younger son, Seth, that humanity was blessed and perpetuated. In human terms, the blessing, power, and position always go to the first-born son, but God’s blessing through the younger son is a pattern repeated through Genesis as well as the Great Story:

Seth over Cain.
Shem over Japheth
Isaac over Ishmael
Jacob over Esau
Judah and Joseph over their brothers
Ephraim over Manasseh
David over his brothers
Solomon over his brothers

The pattern of going against human tradition is a continuous reminder of what God would later say plainly through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

As I always say, God’s base language is metaphor. Today’s chapter is more than a genealogy. It is layered with numbers and patterns that metaphorically speak to the moral contrast between Cain’s family line and Seth’s family, the contrast of divine judgement and blessing, and the contrast of death and life.

On Sunday, I’m giving a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers from Ecclesiastes 3, the passage made familiar to millions by the Byrds: “To everything there is a time and season.” One of the things I plan to discuss is that my own life contains patterns that lead to deeper understanding of self, of family, of life, if I’m willing to search under the surface of simple dates and memories.

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

Words and Works

Words and Works (CaD John 10) Wayfarer

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

John 10:24-26 (NIV)

Wendy and I have been regular readers of the Wall Street Journal forever. The New York based newspaper is one of a few newspapers to have had subscribers across the entire nation, even before the dawn of the digital age.

One of the things that we have noticed across the years is that you can take the Wall Street Journal out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the Wall Street Journal. The content, from news to opinion to lifestyle are clearly New York City centric and cater to wealthy business professionals in Manhattan who have always been the key constituency in their subscriber base. What this means, however, is that Wendy and I often shake our heads over morning coffee here in small town Iowa. The Wall Street Journal clearly doesn’t get life in fly-over country (even when they visit every four years for the Iowa caucuses) where life and business are still largely centered around agriculture and people see life differently based on a very different daily life experience.

In the same way, it’s often challenging for a 21st century reader to understand the context of a first century story-teller, but it’s not impossible. Learning the context reveals often profound understanding.

God’s base language is metaphor, and in today’s chapter Jesus uses one metaphor in two different messages He presents in the Temple in Jerusalem: the Shepherd. Shepherds and sheep were understood by all of Jesus’ listeners back in the day. Sheep were a staple in their lives for both food, clothing, and the religious system. In fact, the metaphor of the Shepherd was not new to Jesus. It’s all over the place in the ancient Psalms and the messages of the prophets in which God revealed Himself as the “Shepherd of Israel,” the religious leaders were, likewise, to “shepherd” God’s people, and the coming Messiah was prophesied to be a true Shepherd to care for God’s people. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. Shepherd is an important metaphor in the Great Story.

In Jesus’ word picture, He is both a gate by which sheep go out to pasture and return to the safety of their home, and the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep because they are His sheep. He is not a thief, robber, or rustler who seeks to steal sheep for their own selfish aims.

John then moves the narrative to another time Jesus was teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem during another national religious festival in which he again uses the metaphor of Shepherd and sheep. There is still tremendous debate and division over Jesus true identity. He is asked plainly: “Are you the Messiah, or not?”

Jesus responds with an interesting statement: “I told you already, not with words, but by my actions, my works, and my signs. You didn’t get it because you’re not my sheep.”

Actions reveal identity.

Jesus says basically the same thing as He did in the previous chapter, but with a different metaphor:

I Am the Light of the World:
– There are blind who I make see
– There are those who see who I cause to go blind

I Am the Good Shepherd:
– My sheep know my voice and follow
– Those who don’t know my voice don’t follow; Not my sheep

What really stuck out to me, however, was that His true identity was revealed by words or claims but by works and deeds. It is the same thing Jesus told The Twelve later: They’ll know you’re mine, not by your claims, but by your love for one another. Jesus’ brother, James, would pick up on this in his letter to the exiled followers of Jesus scattered across the Roman empire: “Faith by itself, with no action, is dead. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that even when Jesus was walking the earth performing signs and wonders, there were many who remained blind and deaf to His message. Why should I think that it would be any different today? I’m also reminded that my claim to be a follower of the Good Shepherd is basically worthless. Jesus said so Himself. It is those acts of love, grace, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness that mark me as one of His sheep.

Time for this sheep to do my best to reveal my faith in action, and not just these words, on this another day of the journey.

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

Birth, and Identity

Birth, and Identity (CaD John 3) Wayfarer

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
John 3:3 (NIV)

A prestigious and knowledgable religious leader named Nicodemus makes a clandestine visit to Jesus in the dark of night. He wants to question this young rabbi from fly-over country who everyone is talking about.

Jesus begins his conversation with the well-educated religious man with a very simple metaphor: you need to experience a re-birth. You need to be born one more time.

Nick didn’t understand.

Jesus then simply explained that, just as there is a birth of our physical bodies, there is also a birth of Spirit.

Born…again.

One of the things that I’ve observed along my life journey is that words or phrases themselves are metaphors. The the printed squiggly lines I read in a book or the little pixelated lines I are read on a laptop screen are just that: squiggly lines. Consider this series of lines: c-a-t. Those lines are not literally a furry, purring pet. Yet we understand the lines to represent letters, which represent sounds which, when put together represent words, to which we have attached a certain meaning. And, the meaning of words and phrases can be layered. One word can have a myriad of numbered definitions in the dictionary.

My friend, Dave, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the “dictionary wars” in European history when different institutional power brokers were seeking to ensure that their dictionary became the authoritative one. They sought to control the meaning of words. It was understood by these power brokers of the world that those who control the language (and, by extension, the message) will ultimately control the masses.

I observe this in our current culture, as well. Words and terms are being used in political discourse, but they mean different things to the individuals using them and listening to them on opposite sides of the political divide. We’re having arguments with the same words to which we’ve attached different meanings. I’m also witnessing that words and terms that have always meant one thing to me have been redefined by groups within the culture. New words and terms are also being created and used within one sub-culture that are completely unknown by other sub-cultures. It’s no wonder we’re having trouble communicating with one another.

Words and terms also matter in this theme of identity that I see threaded throughout John’s biography of Jesus. I use words and terms to both identify myself to others, and to identify other individuals and groups. Those words and terms are layered with the meaning I’ve attached to the term, as well as my opinions, my experiences, and my emotions. The term “Born again Christian” is layered with different meanings to different people.

Which is why I almost chose to ignore it when I read today’s chapter. Writing about the metaphor “born again” feels a bit like walking into a mine field blind-folded. Yet, I found the simple metaphor Jesus shared with Nicodemus to resonate deeply within me. Jesus wasn’t talking about politics, religion, or a particular demographic therein.

I believe that Jesus was using the transformational experience of physical birth to describe an equally transformational spiritual experience to which He was leading people. I’ve experienced it. I’ve known many others who have experienced it. It’s at once simple and yet hard to explain. I imagine it’s not unlike Jeff Bezos or Sir Richard Branson trying to describe the experience of weightlessness to my earthbound mind that has never experienced it.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself trying to strip away all of the layers of meaning and emotion that our culture attaches to the term “born again.” Like U2 trying to steal Helter Skelter back from what Charles Manson made of it, I want to get back to a simple word picture Jesus gave to a spiritually blind religious man.

“You were born physically, Nick. But there’s also a Spirit birth that you have yet to experience. Don’t you see? You’re spiritually trapped in the womb of your earthbound humanity. Once you’ve experience your Spirit birth, you’ll be an infant with an entirely new Life open to you to experience. A new identity. Old things will pass away. Entirely new things will come to you.”

Sow What?

Sow What? (CaD Mk 4) Wayfarer

Again [Jesus] said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

It is spring in Iowa, arguably the best place to grow things in the world. Growing up, our state used the tag line: “A place to grow.” I always found this a great tag line full of metaphorical layers. I’m sad it got buried under slogans like “You make me smile!” and “We do amazing things with corn.”

Spring brings my perennial desire to plant something and make it grow. I have to confess that when it comes to being a child of Iowa I’m a bit of a prodigal. Growing things has never come naturally to me. I’ve done okay with my rosebushes, but I think it’s because they do well on their own despite me. Last spring we planted some herbs on the patio. I even got to use them to make fresh seasoning a few times before they died.

It’s a beautiful thing about the cycles of life, isn’t it? It is perennial. Hope springs eternal with Easter. Every spring the Cubs have a chance to win the World Series and I have a chance to successfully grow something. It doesn’t matter that the odds are 1:108. There’s still a chance, and each spring the hope is intoxicating.

Last year, Wendy and I bought actual herb plants. Undeterred by their premature death, I decided that this year we’re going to grow them from seeds. If I’m going to commit serial herbicide, I might as well make it more difficult. So, we got three grow-kits with pots, dirt, and seeds.

What struck me as I planted the seeds was how minuscule they were. Seriously, I felt like I was sprinkling dust particles in the dirt! I followed the instructions for watering and a week or so later Wendy and I went to the lake for a long weekend. When we got back, there were actual plants growing in two of the three pots. What did I do wrong with the third plant? I’m telling you: I can kill a plant before it even sprouts! When I contacted the grow-kit company I was told that sometimes you can get “bad seed.” I’m not sure what that means, but it felt like a pardon from the Governor. I sanded out a couple of notches off the handle of my garden trowel.

I thought about my little herb garden as I read today’s chapter. Jesus uses planting seeds as a word picture of God’s Kingdom. The seed can be as small as a speck of dust, but it can sprout and grow into something huge. Which is why earlier in the chapter Jesus told another story about a person who was sowing seed as they journeyed along. The seed was sown everywhere, which got me mulling this over.

Jesus told His followers that the seed is the Word. In the Great Story, I learned that Jesus is the living Word and also incarnate Love. So, one way I sow the Word along my life journey is by sowing love that is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and self-controlled. In doing this, I’m scattering that hopeful possibility of spring that the seed might happen to fall upon a soul that it good soil for that seed to germinate and grow into something exponentially huge in relation to that little seed sown in a gentle word, a gesture of forgiveness, a random act of kindness, or a timely hug.

Of course, the Great Story also talks about bad seed that can equally be sown. The seeds of hatred, anger, malice, chaos, violence, rage, jealousy, envy, selfishness, dissension, and division. Bad seeds don’t grow much of anything.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again looking within and without. What am I sowing in my thoughts, words, actions, reactions, posts, tweets, replies, and comments? I look outward at the things I see in the media, on social media, and the people I “follow.” What is being sown? Good seed? Bad seed?

I don’t want to be judgmental, but I do want to be wise.

I can’t control others, but I can control myself.

I am embarking on yet another day. Day number 20,088 of my earthly journey.

It’s spring in Iowa. A place to grow.

What am I going to sow today?

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