Tag Archives: Motivation

King, or Not?

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:22-23 (NIV)

The book of Judges tells the story of a very specific period of Hebrew history. I have found that understanding the context of this period of time is important in understanding the overarching Great Story. These twelve Hebrew tribes that settled in the Promised Land were a populous nation with no formal central government. Think of the contiguous United States as if each state were a tribe and there was no Federal government in Washington D.C. All around them, cities and small regions were ruled by the strong, central authority of monarchs, or kings. The Hebrews saw themselves as a theocracy, in which God was ultimately who led them and whom they served. This system had its challenges, which is what the book of Judges is all about. It sets the stage for the next chapter of the Great Story in which the Hebrew people will demand the establishment of a monarchy.

In today’s chapter, Gideon completes his military leadership in the defeat of the Midianites who had oppressed them. As a result, the people offer Gideon the opportunity to be their king. Gideon refuses, reminding the people that God alone rules over them. On the surface, Gideon appears to be saying the right thing, but the verses immediately following this proclamation (24-32) describe Gideon doing the exact opposite.

Gideon refuses to become king, but he embraces all of the privileges that a monarch would have claimed in that day. He takes a personal share of the spoil for himself. He creates a trophy commemorating his victory that the people worship in a cult-like fashion. He takes on a large harem and has many sons, one of them named Abimelek, meaning “my father is king.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about who rules over me. In the early Jesus Movement, followers of Jesus found themselves in difficult political circumstances. Their local governments were puppets of the Roman Empire. The Roman caesars claimed to be gods, but the followers of Jesus saw themselves, ultimately, as citizens of God’s Kingdom and ambassadors of that kingdom on earth.

In my mind, however, it becomes even more personal than that. In Gideon, I see a reflection of my own natural bent. As a disciple of Jesus, I am quick to say that I am not King or Lord of my life, but only Jesus is King and Lord of my life. However, I have to ask myself: “What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about the true Lord of my life?”

On this Monday morning, as I enter another work week, I find myself thinking about my life, my relationships, my work, my upcoming appointments, and my multiple task lists. I’m asking myself both what and who I am ultimately working for.

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

At Your Service

At Your Service (CaD Jos 24) Wayfarer

[Joshua said] “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been studying James‘ letter to Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution. I’ve been spending a lot of time in it in recent weeks. One of the major themes of James is that being a follower of Jesus is not simply a mental assent to belief in Jesus. James makes it clear that real faith generates and motivates action. He’s riffing on a word picture that Jesus used when He told His followers to pay attention to the fruit a person produces in their life and relationships. He said that one can tell what is in a person’s heart by the fruit of their actions.

Today’s chapter is the conclusion of the book of Joshua. The conquest of the Promised Land was successful. The land had been allotted to the twelve tribes. The people had settled. In the final act of Joshua’s leadership, he calls the tribal assembly together. Joshua reminds them of their family’s story, starting with Abraham, and how God had led their ancestors to this particular moment of time. Joshua then acknowledges that in the land that Abraham left, and the land that they just conquered, there are many dieties worshipped. He reminds them of commandment numero uno in the Top Ten commandments God gave them: serve God alone.

Joshua then calls for a commitment. It’s a fish or cut bait moment. He tells the tribes to choose whether they will serve the God of Abraham and Moses, or if they are going to serve the plethora of local idols and dieties worshipped by other peoples in the region and around the world. Joshua then makes his choice public: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The thing that struck me as I read this call to commitment was that Joshua didn’t ask the people which god they would believe. He asked them whom they would serve. The Hebrew word used can also refer to the act of tilling the ground in preparation for planting, growing, and harvesting. In a way, Joshua’s question lays the foundation for Jesus’ word picture: For whom will you labor? Who’s fruit are you going to produce?

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about my own journey. When I was a kid, I took a class, assented to a statement of beliefs, and got a certificate making me a member of a church. A couple of years later I realized that this had nothing to do with the person I was. I may have believed in God, but I was serving only myself. The fruit of my life was sour grapes. It’s when I chose to step out onto this faith journey, to actually follow Jesus, and to serve Him that the seeds of good fruit got planted.

Which brings me back to James, who writes:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? James 2:14-17 (MSG)

It’s not about what I believe. Its about who I serve.

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

The Old Couple Who Lived Up on the Hill

The Old Couple Who Lived Up on the Hill (CaD Matt 20) Wayfarer

“…they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

Matthew 20:11-15 (NIV)

I was surprised to get the call. I barely knew the old couple who lived up on the hill. I’d visited them once or twice, despite people telling me not to waste my time. They’d been described as cold, grouchy, and cantankerous, but I found them pleasant enough. I don’t think they ever learned my name. I was always just “Preacher,” which I discovered happens a lot when you’re the pastor of the only church in a small town.

Granted, I don’t ever remember talking to them about much of anything except the safe pleasantries of rural Iowa conversation between acquaintances. I asked them about their lives and their stories. We drank coffee and enjoyed the quiet majesty of the view from their house, which overlooked the rolling Iowa countryside. I never invited them to church. I don’t recall that Jesus ever came up in our conversations.

The call came late in the afternoon, asking me to come immediately to the ICU unit of the regional hospital about a half-hour’s drive away. The moment I walked into the room and saw the old man who lived up on the hill, I knew the situation. I reached out and took his hand.

“You’re dying, aren’t you?” I asked gently as I took his hand and smiled.

He nodded, wordlessly.

“You don’t know where you’re going when it happens, do you?” I asked.

He shook his head.

I shared about Jesus in the simplest of terms. He listened. I asked if he’d like me to pray with him for Christ to come into heart and life.

“Yes,” he said.

By the time our short, child-like prayer was done, the tears were streaming down his cheeks. He was suddenly filled with an energy that seemed absent in his mind and body just moments before,

“Preacher!? You have to go visit my wife. Right now. Tell her what you told me. Tell her I want her to have Jesus in her heart, too. Go. Now. Right now.”

So I went, and I did as he asked. I shared in the simplest of terms. I offered to lead her in prayer as I had her husband. She prayed. She cried. I told her I would come back and visit to check on them, but I never got the chance.

He died in the ICU unit a few hours later,

A few hours after he passed on, she followed him, dying quietly at home.

I did the funeral in our little Community church with both caskets sitting in front of me. It was a tiny gathering. They hadn’t built many positive relationships in their lives. I got to share about the call, our visit, their prayers, and I talked about it never being too late to give one’s life to Christ.

After the service, I was approached by an elderly couple who told me that they had, for many years, ceaselessly visited the old couple on the hill. They’d loved on them, they’d shared Jesus with them, they’d begged them to ask Jesus into their hearts. They’d been rejected time and time again. And while they seemed glad to hear that the old couple on the hill had finally made the decision, I felt a hint of indignation underneath the surface. They’d done all the work and seemingly experienced no reward for their spiritual labor. I showed up at the last minute to harvest what they’d been sowing for all those years.

That experience came to mind this morning as I read Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. I find that there are certain parables that mean more to me the further I advance in this life journey, and this is one of them. Each group of workers agrees to work for the same wage, but when the workers who slaved away all day watch those who pitched in for the final hour receiving the same reward, they become indignant. I find it such a human response. It is neither fair nor equitable in human terms.

The economics of God’s Kingdom, however, doesn’t work like the economics of this world. That was Jesus’ point, and He famously pins this epilogue to His parable: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In the quiet this morning as I mull over the story of the old couple who lived up on the hill, I find myself asking about the motives of my own heart. Why have I followed Jesus these forty years? I find that reward is not something I think much about. I have been so blessed in this life I just assume that I’ll be among the “the first shall be last” crowd, and that’s okay with me. The reward is not my motivation. It’s gratitude for what I received that I never deserved that fuel’s my journey. It’s Paul’s words of motivation that ring true in my soul: “Christ’s love compels us.”

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

“Leave Them”

"Leave Them" (CaD Matt 15) Wayfarer

“Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Matthew 15:14 (NIV)

A cult favorite among theatre types is the movie Waiting for Guffman. It’s a “mockumentary” gem from Christopher Guest about a small-town community theatre troupe who are producing an original musical for their little town’s big anniversary. The members of the production come to believe that a major Broadway producer named Guffman is coming to see their show and it leads them into dreams of grandeur. For anyone who has experienced small-town community theatre, it’s a hoot.

Waiting for Guffman popped into my head as I was reading the chapter this morning because some teachers of the law and Pharisees travel from Jerusalem to observe Jesus. The importance of this statement is often lost on a casual 21st-century reader. Jerusalem was the epicenter of the Hebrew religious machine. The fact that envoys from Jerusalem had traveled to back-water, fly-over country to check out Jesus for themselves meant that word about Jesus had spread. Jesus was making waves and all of the squabbles He’d had with the local religious powers had finally rippled all the way to the seat of religious power.

It’s like a Broadway producer traveling from New York to the midwest to check out a local community theatre production.

It’s like a rural, Iowa high-school kid having a scout from Alabama show up to watch him play football.

It’s like having the FBI showing up to take over the scene of a small-town crime.

Being part of a Fundamentalist religious system, these high-powered envoys are more interested in protecting their religious system than they are in Jesus’ miracles or teaching. They’re the rule police sent to find evidence that will discredit Jesus so the system can proclaim to the people that Jesus is a heretic to be avoided. Thus, the first thing they do is to scold Jesus and His disciples for not following the mandated hand-washing rules before eating.

In response, Jesus points out their hypocrisy. These teachers of the Law had created a legal loophole in their system so that families who had savings built up to provide for their parents in old age could legally use those funds to make a contribution to the Temple. It was essentially robbing from the needy to line the pockets of the wealthy power-brokers running the Temple system. Jesus calls out the hypocrisy: “You’re worried about my disciples not washing their hands before eating, while your heart and hands are permanently stained with greed and corruption.”

Jesus, the podunk country preacher, just pissed off some of the most powerful people from Jerusalem, and it was fascinating to read the disciples’ swift admonishment. “Doesn’t Jesus know that these guys could make or break His career? Doesn’t He know that these are connected men? These lawyers and officials have the power to make life miserable for Jesus, for us, and for our families? They could tell the local officials to throw us out of the synagogue!

“Jesus! You don’t talk to these men that way!

Jesus response? “Leave them. This is a no-win situation. It’s not worthwhile going down the rabbit hole of debate with these Jerusalem big shots. They’re willfully blind and have no desire to see the Light. Walk away.

In the quiet this morning, this quick decision of Jesus to walk away from further debate and conflict resonated with me. Over the years, I occasionally have had individuals comment, criticize, argue, and even threaten me in comments online. I have experienced the rabbit hole of worthless online exchanges. I have also experienced the value of honest conversation and debate of thought and ideas with someone truly interested in understanding, discovering, and growing. The difference is in the motivation, and I’ve increasingly prayed for greater wisdom and discernment to know when to speak, and when to be silent.

I endeavor to respond to everyone who reaches out, but there are times when Jesus’ directive to His disciples resonates within me.

“Leave them.”

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

A Hobby Kind of Thing

A Hobby Kind of Thing (CaD Matt 10) Wayfarer

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

I was in the local pub last week. I had to wait on some paperwork and figured I’d whet my whistle and work on responding to some emails while I waited. The pub tender told me that he’d been told I was a blogger. I explained that I’d been blogging for many years and had started podcasting in the past two years. I then got to explain my chapter-a-day model. I wasn’t sure, but I sensed that he might have had the impression that it has something to do with my career. I explained that it wasn’t a commercial thing and that I didn’t make money doing it.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Another patron required the pub tender’s attention, and he slipped away. The question, however, continued to resonate within me. As with so many things of the Spirit, the pub tender’s question was loaded. The answer is layered. It is at once simple and mysteriously complex.

“Why do you do it?”

Matthew structured his biography of Jesus around five major discourses, or teachings, of Jesus. The first was the message on the hill in chapters 5-7. Today’s chapter is the second major discourse, in which Jesus’ calling of His twelve disciples and His instructions to them as He send them out to proclaim Jesus’ message.

As I read through the instructions, I was struck, once again, by the humility and austerity that He expected of them…

He told them not to pack any extras. Just the clothes on their back.
He told them not to take any money, but to trust God’s provision and the generosity of others.
He told them to give away Jesus’ teaching since it had been freely given to them.

Jesus then goes on to prophetically tell The Twelve not to expect the job to be easy.

They’ll be rejected and unwelcomed.
They’ll be arrested and taken into custody.
They’ll be flogged by God’s own people.
They’ll be put on trial by civic authorities.
They’ll be betrayed, perhaps by their own family members.
Their lives will be threatened.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but contrast this with all the televangelists and their personal kingdoms I’ve observed along my life journey. I contrasted it with all of the pastors, authors, teachers, and speakers I know and have met who make a living doing Jesus’ continued work on this earth. I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect that Jesus’ literal and specific instructions to The Twelve should be projected onto every single follower that came after. At the same time, there’s an underlying attitude that I think is always applicable. Things of the Spirit are layered with meaning.

I’m not responsible for others. I am responsible for myself. So, I find myself questioning my own attitude and motivations as the pub tender’s casual question continues to resonate in my soul.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Yes, and…there’s so much more to it than that. As Jesus instructed The Twelve in today’s chapter: “You received the Message for free. Give it away for free.”

And so, one weekday and one chapter at a time, I freely scatter seeds of thought and Spirit to the four winds of the worldwide interweb. Perhaps, someday, I’ll find out how some of those seeds germinated, took root, flowered, and bore fruit. In the meantime, I keep doing what I’ve been called and compelled to do.

Here you go, wind…

[cue: clicks “Publish” button]

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

Passing Notes

Passing Notes (CaD Gen 10) Wayfarer

This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.
Genesis 10:1 (NIV)

I have always loved handwritten notes and letters. It’s a little joy of mine. I have a fondness for it because it is like a small, personal work of art. “Line” is one of the foundations of art, and a person’s handwriting is, in essence, “lines” in someone’s uniquely personal style; something they took the time and energy to create, address, and send. I always consider it a gift.

I remember during adolescence, in the junior high and high school years, notes were an integral part of social dynamics and relationships. Notes were written during class, then folded and passed to the intended recipient. Sometimes it would be delivered by a third party. Notes passed back and forth between individuals of the opposite sex were particularly important. Notes from the person you were dating were especially important, as were notes passed to individuals you liked and would like to know even better.

Looking back, these notes also provided an unsuspecting lesson in learning how to interpret the written word. I not only took the words at face value, but I was always trying to decipher a girl’s motivations (“Does she like me?”), her mood (“Are things okay? Am I in trouble?”), and any hidden messages (“Hang on, I think someone else told her to write this.”).

Along my life journey, I’ve found that these same lessons for deciphering the layers of meaning beneath the literal, written words, is crucial for unlocking some of the mysteries and connections of the Great Story. Today’s chapter is a prime example.

Today’s chapter, on the surface of things, is a simple list of the descendants of Noah’s three sons. It’s one of those chapters that most people skip over. I get it. I always used to do that, too. Then, like a middle schooler trying to discern why a note from this girl was handed to me in the first place, I began trying to find the reason for these boring genealogies to be included in the story at all. Let me give you a few nuggets I found buried this morning.

First, today’s chapter starts with the phrase “This is the account”. This phrase is used ten times in the book of Genesis. This was the ancient author’s section break, telling the reader we’re moving into a new section. I also have to remember that numbers were very important to the Hebrews. Ten is a number associated with completeness so, of course, there are ten sections in the book.

Genesis means beginnings, and in the first eleven chapters the author is trying to describe the primeval origins of humanity. So today’s chapter is all about how the known peoples of the earth sprang from Noah’s three sons. It starts with three (a number associated with the divine, a trinity), and lists 70 total descendants (7 times 10, both of these numbers are associated with completeness). When scholars plot these peoples on a map, they generally spread out in three regional areas.

There are connections in this list to other stories in the Great Story. There are a ton of them, but one example is Tarshish which is listed as one of the maritime descendants of Japheth. Tarshish was an actually city, generally believed to be in southern Spain. It was to Tarshish that the prophet Jonah booked passage when he was fleeing from God’s command to go to Nineveh (also listed in today’s chapter). As you can see on the map, Tarshish was the furthest away from Nineveh a prophet of that day might go in the opposite direction.

There are also connections to this very day. The descendants of Shem are considered the semitic people, “semite” being a form of “shem-ite.” It is from Shem that the Hebrew people are descended. When Jewish people are attacked or maligned, we call it “anti-semitic.”

Finally, Shem is the third son listed and the ancients listed sons in birth order because humanity always favors the first-born son. Yet, it is through the youngest son that God’s people will spring. This is a recurring theme throughout the Great Story in which God chooses the youngest, least, weakest to perpetuate the story. It’s a subtle way of God telling us “My ways are not your ways,” or as Jesus put it, “God has hidden things from the wise and learned (the most prominent in human terms), and revealed them to children” (the least prominent and most overlooked).

In the quiet this morning, I’ve had fun recalling hand-written notes passed to this awkward, insecure boy by girls with beautiful, flowing handwriting and adorned with little flowers. I’ve also been reminded that one does not take the time and energy to write something without understanding that the thing they are writing is important for someone to read and know. As I traverse this chapter-a-day journey, I’m reminded that every chapter holds meaning, even the seemingly meaningless ones. Some days, finding the motivation and meaning is as difficult as an adolescent boy trying to penetrate the heart and mind of an adolescent girl, but it’s always worth the effort ;-).

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

Motivation Revelation

Motivation Revelation (CaD John 11) Wayfarer

“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
John 11:48 (NIV)

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the porch watching Milo playing with the garden hose. In his mind he was helping Papa water the landscape shrubs, but the truth was that he was playing with the nozzle on the hose that has a bunch of different types of spray. He would spray for a few seconds, then switch to the next setting, spray for a few seconds, then switch to the next setting, spray for a few seconds…you get the idea.

On the ground in front of me was Milo’s bubble gun. It’s a little battery operated toy into which you put soap solution into this small reservoir in the handle and it the shoots out a steady stream of bubbles. It’s pretty cool.

Holding the hose, Milo told me that he needed to put more water in the bubble gun as it was running low. It was obvious that he thought the hose nozzle in his hand was the perfect tool for the job. I agreed, but only if he let me help him. We selected the gentlest, most faucet-like spray setting, I unscrewed the reservoir and held it up as Milo pointed the nozzle toward the hole. Before I had a chance to help him gently open the flow of water, Milo cranked the sucker fully open. Water hit the edge of the reservoir and splattered everywhere, including all over Papa’s face.

Milo laughed hysterically at Papa.

Papa did not laugh. I very quietly and honestly said, “Papa’s not happy about that.”

What happened next was fascinating. Milo dropped the hose and ran about five feet away and turned away from me. He then sheepishly turned to look at me, brow furrowed. “I didn’t do it!” he cried emphatically.

Once again, in a soft and gentle voice I asked, “Well, if you didn’t do it, who did? You were the one holding the hose.”

He then slunk back to me with his head bowed. He picked up the hose.

“I didn’t mean to,” he said in almost a whisper.

I know little man. I know. It’s such a complex lesson for a three-year-old to grasp. Papa was unhappy about the consequences. As the adult in this situation, I fully knew the risk of filling a small, four ounce reservoir with a garden hose, and it was my choice to allow the calculated risk. Being frustrated with the outcome does not mean I am mad at you. I know you didn’t mean to, and I wasn’t mad at you. You misunderstood my reaction. There was no need to run in shame and deny pulling the trigger. To be honest, Papa’s observed many adults making the same basic misunderstanding as you just did without comprehending their reaction any more than you. You’re forgiven, little man, for misunderstanding.

Nevertheless, there was a spiritual lesson present in the moment.

Why do I do the things that I do?
Why do I say the things that I say?
Why do I make the choices I make?

Along my life journey, I’ve discovered that the answer to these questions is critically important both for my understanding of self and my understanding of others.

Today’s chapter is one of the most dramatic in the entire Great Story. The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders has been escalating. Some had tried to stone him for blasphemy the last time He was in Jerusalem. The largest religious festival of the year, Passover, was just a week or two away. Jesus gets word that His friend, Lazarus, has died at his home in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. Despite the disciples pleas to stay away from the area for Jesus’ own safety, Jesus returns to Bethany to find Lazarus dead four days, his body already entombed. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in front of a large crowd. Lazarus had been a prominent man, and Jews from Jerusalem had come to mourn with Lazarus’ sisters. They immediately report the astonishing miracle to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. This is a major event in driving the climactic events of Jesus betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion.

There are so many great moments and spiritual lessons in today’s chapter that lie within the story of the miraculous raising of Lazarus. The verse that resonated most with me was that of the response of the religious leaders upon hearing the astonishing news of a man who was dead being brought back to life.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

In making this statement, they laid bare their motivation.

They are afraid.

Afraid of losing their worldly power.
Afraid of their prestige being diminished.
Afraid of losing face with the hated Romans occupiers.
Afraid of life without the lucrative income of their religious racket.
Afraid of change to their staunch traditions and what that mean.

They were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation, but their fear of losing all that they were, all that they had, and their desire to cling to all of it, was far greater than the desire to acknowledge and accept what God was clearly doing and saying in and through Jesus.

What a contrast to Jesus’ followers who let go of everything to follow Him. Their desire to seek what God was doing overcame any fear of what they might be giving up or fear of the challenges they might face.

In the quiet this morning, I’m searching my own motivations. In the previous chapter’s post, I wrote: “Actions reveal identity.” They do, but the identity doesn’t lie in the actions themselves, but in the motivations that spawned them. The motivations that often remain hidden and/or ignored.

As I look back on my own journey, I can see how shame motivated so many of my actions and choices through so much of my life. Along my spiritual journey, I’d like to think that my desire to follow Jesus and discover who I was created to be and who I am yet called to be has overcome that long ignored shame that drove so many unhealthy thoughts, words, behaviors, and choices in my early years. And, if I’m honest, still creeps in more than I care to admit.

“Old things pass away,” Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth in discussing the spiritual transformation that takes place when in relationship with Him. My own experience is that some “things” pass away like a swift execution while other “things” pass away in a long, painful, lingering, and palliative process.

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

#FreeFish4All

#FreeFish4All (CaD John 6) Wayfarer

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
John 6:15 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
John 6:26 (NIV)

Of late, I’ve been working on classes in order to be a certified Enneagram coach. It’s been a fascinating process, and Wendy has been joining me in going through all of the coursework. It takes longer to get through material together because we stop and talk about it incessantly, but it’s also been really good to chew on things and learn from each other’s thoughts and observations.

Over the years, I’ve done all of the major assessments that are out there, and I’ve found them all helpful. The thing that I’ve come to love about the Enneagram is that it gets below behaviors and personality to mine our core motivations. It unearths the core desires and core fears that drive our thoughts and behaviors.

In today’s chapter, John relates an event that gets to the heart of the identities of Jesus and His followers. Jesus and The Twelve are together along the shores of the Sea of Galilee when a huge crowd of people come looking for Jesus. Jesus had been carrying out His Magical Ministry Tour in the region, and the crowds were swelling as the ate up Jesus’ miracles.

The Twelve were Jesus’ disciples, protégés, apprentices, padawans; They are supposed to walking in His steps and learning from Him at all times. Jesus asks them where they can get enough bread to feed the crowd. Despite the miracles they’d seen Jesus perform, the thoughts of The Twelve remain steadfastly shackled to earthly reason. All they know is that they have neither the bread, nor the money, to feed the thousands of people who just showed up.

Jesus miraculously takes a couple of loaves and fish from a boy and produces enough filet o’fish sandwiches to feed the entire crowd and still have twelve baskets full of leftovers. The crowd goes wild. Jesus popularity is at an all-time high. Five thousand “Likes” with one miracle. Word of mouth marketing is out of control. He’s numero uno on the trending charts: #JesusFeeds #FreeFish4All. Jesus can ride this wave of popularity all the way to Jerusalem and take over.

Instead, Jesus sneaks away in the middle of the night across the lake. The crowd wakes up and immediately they search to find out where their miracle man and His Magical Ministry Tour has gone. They find him in the town of Capernaum. Immediately, Jesus makes a crucial observation:

“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

I find it critically important to see what’s happening, not on the surface of the events in today’s chapter, but in the hearts and motives of those involved. The Twelve, the crowd, and the religious leaders are all acting out of their instinctual human motivations while Jesus is doing the exact opposite.

Jesus miraculously produces enough bread for 5000 people to have their fill, hoping that the miracle will lead people to realize His true identify, hear His real message, and understand His true goal: “I am the Bread of Life. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood (foreshadowing His death and the word picture He would give His followers to remember it) will never die but will live forever.”

The religious leaders are worried about their own earthly power, wealth, and prestige. Their identity as the learned religious teachers is threatened by Jesus’ popularity and power. In order to maintain their power and appearances, they’re looking for a reason to discredit Jesus, and Jesus gives it to them.

The crowds just want more entertaining miracles, especially the fish sandwiches out of thin air. Most of them haven’t eaten like that in a long time. What a life this could be following Jesus around. It’s like a Grateful Dead summer concert tour. Free food, unbelievable wonders, great storytelling: “Let’s get this party started and keep it going!” Instead, Jesus starts talking crazy about being bread to be cannibalized. “Dude, I don’t think he’s serving fish sandwiches anymore. Let’s get out of here. It sucks, man. That could have been epic.”

The Twelve are beside themselves. Jesus turns from the crowd and looks at them. He knows they’re on the verge of bailing out, too. On the surface, Jesus has just shot Himself in the foot and ruined His best chance at riding the wave of popularity, fame, and fortune to become a King.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that Jesus told The Twelve that He was “not of this world.” Before Jesus’ ministry began, the Prince of this World offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” if Jesus would only bow and worship him. Jesus refused, and that gives me a glimpse into Jesus words and actions in today’s chapter. It appears to me that Jesus’ motive was to bring a Kingdom to this world that looks nothing like the kingdoms of this world. In fact, I’ve come to realize that the Kingdom Jesus came to share is opposite the kingdoms of this world that He turned down. It’s no wonder that His actions made zero sense from a human perspective.

The further I get in my journey the more wary I’ve become of institutions and popular trends that are really just another kingdom of this world serving fish sandwiches under the guise of promoting God’s Kingdom. Yet when I try to discern their motives I’m left sensing that it’s the same motives as any other kingdom of this world. But, of course, while Jesus called His followers to be discerning, He forbid us to judge. I’ll leave that to Him. It is my motivations that are my responsibility.

Why do I do the things I do?

What is truly driving my thoughts, words, actions and relationships?

If following Jesus means shunning the kingdoms of this world and living out the Kingdom of God as He prescribed and exemplified, then how am I doing with that?

Good questions to mull over as I enter another work week. What I’m doing on my personal and vocational task lists doesn’t really matter all that much if I don’t have clarity with regard to why I’m doing any of it.

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

Stupid Question (Or Not)

Stupid Question (or Not) (CaD John 5) Wayfarer

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
John 5:6 (NIV)

Thirty-seven years he’s been an invalid. His family carried him to the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and dropped him off to chill with all the other handicapped people.

Archaeologists have identified the place. I’ve been there. Historians tell us that the handicapped would often congregate around pools and springs in ancient times. Gentile shrines of that day, dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, often contained pools. The pool of Bethesda was said to have had healing properties. It was believed that when the water in the pool appeared to have been “stirred by an angel” the first person into the water would be healed. Archaeologists say the pool was roughly the size of a football field. Imagine how many handicapped and lame people would be along side waiting for an angel to stir the water. Besides, it was the Passover, and hundreds of thousands of spiritual pilgrims were in the city that week.

There he sat on his mat in the crowd, as he had been doing every day for…how many years? I have to believe he knew the regulars. They were his homies, his posse, the other “broken” people who were a drain on their families and society in general. The lame, paralyzed, blind, deaf, and dumb masses had all been told that something was wrong with them. Not just physically, but spiritually.

“You must have sinned.”
“Your parents must have sinned.”
“Bad seed.”
“Cursed by God.”

So they would gather and wait for Gabriel to stir the drink. Had anyone really ever been healed by dropping in the drink when they spied a ripple? What if they couldn’t swim? Archaeologists say the pool was 20 feet deep. Are you really going to throw yourself in to drown? I don’t think there was a lifeguard.

Into this scene walks Jesus. He’s still relatively unknown in Jerusalem, especially among the masses of Passover pilgrims. He walks up to the man and asks…

“Do you want to get well?”

On the surface, it appears a stupid question to ask a handicapped person.

The further I’ve progressed in my Life journey the more I’ve come to appreciate the endless depth of that question.

“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has become your identity. These are your people. This pool is your home. Do you really want to leave the only life you’ve known for almost 40 years?

“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has made you special all these years. No pressure to provide. Everyone is required to care for you. Do you really want to go back to being just another regular schmo like the minions who pass by the pool and pretend not to see you every day?

“Do you want to get well?” Because the moment you step back in your family’s house they will say, “You’ve got to get a job tomorrow morning and start contributing instead of taking from the family all these years.” Seriously, do you want to labor every day in the quarry with your brothers, or would you rather just hang here with your homies?

“Do you want to get well?” Because there’s all sorts of passive aggressive power in playing the victim card.

“Do you want to get well?” Because being an oppressed minority can be an addictively powerful drug that justifies all sorts of nasty thoughts, feelings, words, and behaviors.

“Do you want to get well?” Because it’s really more comfortable to remain as you are rather than face the challenge of becoming the healthy, true self God is asking you to be.

Perhaps it’s not such a stupid question after all. Perhaps this is the question I should ask myself in all the stubbornly broken places of my own life.

Jesus heals the man. Reaching down to give the man a hand, Jesus says, “Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus lifts the man to stand on suddenly sturdy legs, then slips anonymously into the bustling crowd of passover pilgrims.

The man is immediately condemned by the religious leaders for breaking code 356, paragraph 6, sub-section 2, line 8 of the religious law book: Carrying your mat on the sabbath “day of rest.”

I mulled that over in the quiet this morning. The religious rule-keepers are suffering from a very different sickness and paralysis of Spirit. It is, nevertheless, very real. Completely ignoring the miraculous power that has been displayed and the life-changing event that the man has experienced, they squint their beady little self-righteous eyes to pick at a minor infraction of their fundamentalist rule-book.

I’ve observed along my own journey individuals and groups with this same spiritual illness.

“Do you want to get well?”

In the quiet this morning, I’m considering the possibility that I know more people who would answer the question with either “No,” or “But, I’m not sick” than the number of those I know who would sincerely answer, “Yes, I do.”

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

The Inflection Point

The Inflection Point (CaD Mk 8) Wayfarer

[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Mark 8:31-33 (NIV)

Inflection point has become a buzzword in business during my career. And, it’s often misunderstood. The inflection point is the point on a line where the line changes its sign. It’s when the curve of that line reveals a shift of direction. When it ultimately shifts direction, that’s called the “turning point.” The turning point happens later. The inflection point is the subtle shift that precedes the turning point. If you see the inflection point, you can predict the turning point.

When the moving line turns red, that’s the inflection point.

In today’s chapter, the narrative of Mark’s version of Jesus’ story hits an inflection point. The majority of the first eight chapters is an endless stream of miracles, wonders, and exorcisms seasoned with Jesus parables and teachings. It has been all about Jesus interacting with people’s lives in this world. He’s feeding hungry people, healing sick people, delivering possessed people, and teaching people spiritual principles of God’s kingdom in contrast to the human religious system controlling most of their lives.

Out of the blue, Jesus tells his followers quite plainly that He will be rejected by the religious power-brokers in Jerusalem, He will be killed, and then in three days He will rise from the dead. We’re just half-way through Mark’s biography of Jesus and Jesus let’s fly with the greatest spoiler of all time without once issuing his listeners a Spoiler Alert.

This event is a narrative inflection point. From this point forward, Mark’s version of events will drive towards the very events Jesus predicts.

What really resonated in my heart and mind this morning was Peter’s reaction. Upon hearing Jesus explain the end game of His mission on earth, Peter pulls the master aside and “rebukes” Him. In the quiet, I imagined what Peter’s rebuke might have been…

“You can’t die! We’re just getting started!”

“The twelve of us have left everything to follow you assuming this was a long-term gig! How are we going to retire if you leave us in the lurch?”

“Jesus, dude, you’ve got what it takes to ride this wave all the way to the throne. With your powers and the people behind you, there’s nothing that can stop you from ruling the world!”

“Look! Your parables and stories are confusing, but they’re great. People love them. The miracles and the free fish sandwiches, that’s what the people want. If you go off-message and start tweeting about your death like some crazy-man, it’s over. You’ll lose your momentum. These people will stop following you. Then where will we be?”

He’ll be right where the powerful men atop the human religious racket can arrest Him, usher Him through their kangaroo court, and leverage their local power to convince Rome to execute this threat to all that they care about.

He’ll be right where He just predicted He’d end up.

It struck me this morning that this is more than just an inflection point in the storyline. This is also a spiritual inflection point in Jesus’ teaching.

I am so focused on this life. I am so concerned with my immediate circumstances. Virtually every moment of my day is concentrated on my place in this world. My time, energy, and resources are spent trying to make this earthly life last as long as possible (even if it ends up being no Life at all). I do all that I can not to think about death, talk about death, or consider the undeniable truth that my body is going to die.

“You’re right, Tom,” Jesus says through the text of today’s chapter. “Thanks for being honest. Because that is what needs to change. That is the inflection point…

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Mark 8:34-37 (MSG)

If I follow Jesus at this inflection point, then down the road a whole bunch of turning points in my words, decisions, actions, and relationships will reveal themselves. Consider Peter. It’s at Cornelius’ house in Acts 10 that the turning point is revealed.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating this spiritual inflection point at which Jesus asks me to consider God’s eternal Kingdom more real than this physical life, more important than the things of this world, more valuable than anything this life could afford.

This is also a point of tension. It doesn’t mean that I ignore this life, coast through this journey, live as if nothing on earth matters. It does! It matters enough for Jesus to come and do exactly as He predicted. The spiritual inflection point gets down to the motives at the core of my being.

What is it I want?

What is it I’m living for?

What does my head answer? What does my heart answer?

If there is ultimately no evidence of a turning point on my calendar, on my credit card statement, and on my task list, then the truth is that I missed the inflection point.

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