Tag Archives: Motivation

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.

My Heart’s Highway

My Heart's Highway (CaD Ps 84) Wayfarer

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Psalm 84:5 (NRSVCE)

This past week, Wendy and I have been blessed beyond measure to have our kids and grandson home from Scotland. On Saturday night we took Taylor and Clayton out for dinner and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Milo was being watched that night by Clayton’s mom, so the four of us got to enjoy uninterrupted adult conversation, in person, for hours.

One of the paths of conversation led to a discussion about one’s direction in life. The kids are about the age I was when I settled into what would become my career after having five different jobs in the first six years after college. It is a time of life filled with both opportunity and uncertainty. We talked about the difficult (some might even call it impossible) task of finding a career in life that offers both financial security and a sense of purpose.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that this is a fascinating on-going conversation. It doesn’t end once a young adult settles on a career path. There are a number of waypoints on life’s road in which this subject of direction, security, and purpose comes up again. A new job opportunity arises that offers both greater risk and the potential for greater reward. A person hits the proverbial glass ceiling in a corporation and suddenly has to grapple with considering a career change they never expected or wanted, or learning to embrace that his or her vocation is nothing more than a means to providing for a purpose that is found outside of work hours. I’ve also observed individuals and couples who have left positions of relative security to embrace faith in choosing a purpose-full path to which they have been called. Still, there are others I’ve observed who find themselves in unexpected places of tragedy in which there was no choice of direction and, like Job, they find themselves reeling in a struggle to understand the purpose of it all.

Our direction on this road of Life continues to require asking, seeking, knocking, and faith.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 84, is the first of a subset of six songs that wrap up Book III of the larger anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we call the Psalms. The song appears to have been penned by someone from the tribe of Levi. The Levites were the Hebrew tribe responsible for Temple worship. As the tribe grew over time, the Temple duties were divided into “shifts.” One might make a pilgrimage to God’s Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem one or more times a year to serve for a short period of time before returning home. The songwriter laments not being in the temple where he finds joy and purpose in God’s presence.

I couldn’t help but notice verse 5 as I read it in the St. John’s Bible this morning. Happy are those “in whose heart are highways to Zion.” The songwriter found tremendous purpose in being present in God’s Temple, even if it was only periodically. I love the metaphor of a “heart’s highway.” It’s got my mind spinning this morning and my heart ruminating.

I find myself thinking about the highways of my heart, Wendy’s heart, and the hearts of our children. Where do those highways lead? On this Monday morning and the beginning of another work week, is the highway of my heart and the highway to my vocation the same path? Parallel paths? Divergent paths? Obviously, the stimulating dinner conversation from Saturday night is still resonating within me.

I also couldn’t help but notice that a rather well-known, modern worship song is pulled directly from Psalm 84 and my heart hears the familiar melody to the lyric: “Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.” Yet this takes me straight back to the “one thing I always fail to see” from a post a couple of weeks ago.

Unlike the songwriter of Psalm 84, followers of Jesus are not limited to a physical location for worship. The concept of a church building is nowhere to be found in the Great Story. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension it the flesh-and-blood followers who are God’s Temple. I am the temple, therefore “one day in your courts” is not about me going to church on Sunday. For followers of Jesus, it is a spiritual pilgrimage of the heart to seek commune with God’s Spirit within my heart, soul, and mind in each day, each hour, each moment.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 84 has me meditating on the “heart’s highway.” Where is headed? Where is it leading? Is my heart, soul, and mind heading in the right direction?

Good questions for a Monday morning.

Have a great week, my friend.

The Nightwatch

The Nightwatch (CaD Ps 63) Wayfarer

On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.

Psalm 63:6 (NIV)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve always been a morning person. I also struggle with bouts of insomnia. For me, insomnia is waking up sometime after 1:00 a.m., usually around 3:00 a.m. My mind, even in the twilight between sleep and consciousness, starts to spin and ruminate on tasks that need to be accomplished and items that weigh heavy on my soul. Some mornings I gut it out and lay there quiet until I fall back asleep. Some mornings I get up and move to the couch downstairs where I put a movie or documentary on the television that I know so well I don’t need to pay attention, and I can sometimes get back to sleep. Yet other mornings, I go to my office to start my time of quiet with God early.

Those mornings that I opt to meet with God early, I tend to start by “praying the hours.” It’s an ancient tradition of praying prescribed prayers at various times of the day and night, knowing that you are joining with thousands, even millions, of other followers of Jesus in praying at the same time. I have a set of these “Hours” or “Offices” called The Night Offices by Phyllis Tickle. They are prayers specifically prescribed for the hours between 10:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m:

The Office of Midnight (prayed between 10:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.)
The Office of the Night Watch (prayed between (1:30-4:30 a.m.)
The Office of the Dawn (prayed between (4:30-7:30 a.m.)

It’s usually during the Office of the Night Watch that I find myself, like David, thinking of God “in the watches of the night.”

I’ve always loved that metaphor. It comes from ancient times when walled cities were susceptible to surprise attacks from enemies in the dark of the night. “Watchmen” would be posted on the walls through the night to keep on the lookout for enemies approaching, or any other threat seeking to breach the wall or gates when they were least protected in and hidden in the dark of the night.

The final prayer of the Office of the Night Watch goes like this:

Now guide me waking, O Lord, and guard me sleeping; that awake I may watch with Christ, and asleep, I may rest in peace. Amen.

The word picture is a reminder to me that, spiritually speaking, Jesus always pulls the Nightwatch. I have this mental vision of Jesus standing on the walls in the dark. The Nightwatch is a lonely duty. In ancient times, there were often two assigned to keep each other awake as added protection. Two, alone together on the walls in the stillness of the night. All is quiet. The world is asleep. Nothing to do for hours but watch, and talk, as we wait for the dawn.

I pray the hours. I join Jesus on His Nightwatch. I keep Him company. We talk. He asks how things are going. The Nightwatch is always somehow like a confessional. Somehow, in the darkness and quiet the things that lie heavy on my heart gain clarity and rise to the surface of my consciousness more easily. There are no interruptions in the Nightwatch. Our conversation can be focused on those troubling thoughts, and then the conversation can wander into dreams and desires and hopeful visions.

Some mornings, Jesus sends me back to join Wendy in bed, assuring me He’s got the Watch and telling me to get a few more winks. Other mornings, we greet the new day together with The Office of the Dawn which always quotes from the lyrics of Psalm 130:

My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

The lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 63, begin with the proclamation that David is always seeking earnestly for God. It’s a longing of soul. It’s a longing and a thirsting to feel God’s presence, to experience God’s peace and power. In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded of the spiritual simplicity of Jesus’ teaching: Seek and you’ll find.

Of course, that means I have the will and option to seek and to find whatever I desire. Jesus once spoke to the religious people in His audience asking,

“When you went out to hear John the Baptist, what were you seeking? John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

In the quiet this morning I stand with Jesus on the ramparts of my life. We sip coffee together as we look out on the horizon at a pink Iowa sky illuminating the patchwork of harvested fields at sunrise. We’re quiet, thinking about the day ahead.

“Tom?” Jesus asks, his gaze still fixed on the horizon.

I glance his way as he lifts the cup of coffee to His mouth. He drinks slowly. A smile comes to his lips.

“When you came up to join me this morning. What were you seeking?”

Some days He asks me a question, and I know He’s not expecting a quick answer. This is one He means for me to ponder.

If I don’t like what I’m finding in my life, then what is it I am seeking?

The Thirst and the Why

The Thirst and the Why (CaD Ps 42) Wayfarer

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

Psalm 42: 5 (NRSVCE)

I was in a mentoring session with a client. I had coached this individual for a number of years when he was a front-line agent. Now he was in his first managerial role. He’d just received his first annual performance review as a manager and was spiraling downward into full emotional meltdown. Why? Because his boss had rated him a “4” out of 5 in overall performance.

It was obvious to me that my protégé needed to vent. The review had been given a few weeks before our session and I was aware that he had been waiting for our session to get things out. In the emotional flood of anger, frustration and shame that followed I was noticed a few things. First, it was clear that my protégé knew his weaknesses, and admitted there were things he could have done better. Second, the monologue rabbit trailed into childhood memories, family system issues from adolescence, and then projected issues in the current workplace. Third, we had been here before.

The emotional monologue began to wane after about thirty minutes. I then asked if I could ask a question and make an observation. My question was: “If I was your boss, and you freely admitted to me this handful of areas you know needed improvement, then why on earth would I give your performance a five out of five? Given the things you told me you needed to work on, I think four might be a generous vote of confidence!”

There was no immediate answer.

I then proceeded with my observation. Back in the days when I first coached my protégé on the service quality of his phone calls, there were times that he would be emotionally distraught when our team had marked him down for service skills he should have demonstrated, but didn’t. At one point, I remember tears being shed out of the intensity of emotion, and the exclamation “Every call should score 100!”

My protégé laughed as led him on this trek down memory lane, and my point was obvious. There was something within him that expected, personally demanded, a perfect score on any test, assessment, or evaluation that drove him to illogical and emotional ends despite cognitively recognizing the quality of his work didn’t match.

“Why do I always do this?” he asked.

Now, we’d gotten to the question the might lead to real improvement.

The chapter-a-day journey kicks off with the second “book” or section in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics known as Psalms. The section begins with songs written for a choir called “The Sons of Korah.” They were a family choir with the Hebrew tribe of Levi whom King David had appointed to sing in the temple. Those who compiled Psalms began the second book with seven songs that were ascribed for this choir. Seven, by the way, is almost always a significant number in the Great Story. It’s a metaphor for completeness.

Today’s song is a personal lament. The writer is struggling with “Why?” they are in such a funk, and why they can’t get out of it. They are singing the blues and struggling with why their soul is in the pit of despair even as they repeatedly choose to keep singing, keep trusting, and keep seeking after God. The song begins with the proclamation, “my soul thirsts for God.”

And, that’s what struck me this morning. It was the “thirst” for God that motivated the singing, praising, trusting, and seeking after the “Why?” It was the “thirst” for God that allowed them to not fall over the edge of despair but to keep seeking the answer to “Why do I feel this way?” even as they were in the tension of feeling it so acutely.

In the quiet this morning, I thought of my protégé finally getting to his own version of “Why do I always feel this way?” As a mentor, my next question is “What are you thirsting for?” If it’s an easy stamp of approval to deceitfully appease your need for perfection then you’re never going to mature. If you’re thirsting after an understanding of who you are, why you’ve got yourself tied up into emotional knots, and what needs to happen within to stop this repetitive and unhealthy emotional pattern, then there’s hope for progress toward maturity and success.

“Based on the evidence of my own life, actions, words, and relationships am I really thirsting after God? What am I really thirsting for?”

“Am I holding the tension of choosing to praise, trust, seek even as I wrestle with my own versions of despair and my own questions of ‘Why’?”

Those are the questions I’m personally asking myself as I head into this day, and I’m going to leave it here.

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

Of Corruption and Cravings

Of Corruption and Cravings (CaD 2 Pet 1) Wayfarer

Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.
2 Peter 1:4 (NRSVCE)

I ran across a quote yesterday by the Roman stoic, Seneca. He said, “all cruelty springs from weakness.” What fascinates me about this quote is the fact that Seneca was an advisor and tutor to the Roman Emperor, Nero, who was perhaps the most cruel of all Roman Emperors. It was Nero who burned followers of Jesus alive around his garden to provide light for his parties.

Certainly, Seneca had plenty of opportunity to witness cruelties we can scarce imagine in today’s world. It would appear that he failed in his tutoring of Nero. Nero eventually demanded that Seneca commit suicide, a cruel request to which Seneca stoically complied.

I decided to take a quick break from the chapter-a-day journey through Psalms and to finish this week with Peter’s second letter to followers of Jesus. The date of this letter is the subject of much scholarly debate, but in today’s chapter Peter claims to know that his death is soon in coming, and it is generally believed that Peter (and Paul, btw) was executed during Nero’s cruel persecution of Jesus’ followers whom he used as a scapegoat for a massive fire that burned much of Rome in 64 AD. Ironically, Nero’s subsequent scapegoating and persecution of Christians in coincides with Seneca’s ordered suicide in 65 AD. The playwright in me finds an intriguing storyline there.

“All cruelty springs from weakness.”

The quote came to mind once again this morning as I read Peter’s words “the corruption in this world because of lust.” My brain immediately paraphrased it as a parallel to Seneca’s observation:

“All corruption springs from lust.”

Corruption is everywhere. It’s particularly visible at this time as it is during all elections. Politicians and power brokers (on both sides of the aisle and in every arena) obfuscate, deceive, stretch truth, speak in white lies, and hypocritically change positions with the prevailing winds of circumstance and poll numbers. All of those dark ads with ominous tones and carefully chosen photos intended to make their opponents look like criminals as the ad itself bends the truth out of context to make it look as damning as possible. All of the bright ads making themselves look like saviors, and shining examples of goodness and light. It’s corrupt and it springs from lust for power, position, and money.

Along my life journey, my perspective about sin has changed. When I was a child I thought it was simply about rules and obedience. Between parents, school, church, and community I was taught a list of rules to follow and a fairly strict guideline for right and wrong, good and bad. As I got older, I found that I broke some rules religiously no matter how hard I tried not to. I also found that if I keep certain (easy) rules in public where others could see them, then it blinded others to the “ugly” rule breaking I did in private and outside of the public eye. That’s corruption, too. It’s a personal form of the same hypocrisy and corruption found in politics on a much grander scale.

This is what led Paul to write to Jesus’ followers in Rome: “Everyone sins and falls short of God’s glory.” Or, as Bob Dylan sang it in his modern psalm quoting Paul quoting the Sage of Ecclesiastes:

“Ain’t no man righteous. No, not one.”

I began to realize that the problem wasn’t the rules, the problem was my appetites. Some appetites were easy for me to control, but other appetites were seemingly insatiable. An appetite out of control is a craving, a lust. Appetites are natural, but an unchecked lustful craving of that appetite which leads to indulgence will always end in corruption of some form.

It’s easy for me to point to the unbridled lust for worldly power, wealth and prestige found in Nero and present day politicians. But, that only diverts your attention to easy targets and away from me. It is my out-of-control appetites which wreak havoc on my life. My appetite for rest turns into slothful passivity. My appetite for food turns into gluttony. My appetite for sex turns into pornographic proclivity. My appetite for security turns into greed and an insatiable desire for more of everything. My appetite for safety turns into a never ending quest to avoid all pain and suffering.

In the quiet this morning, as I ponder these things, I return to Peter’s letter. My rule-keeping self saw faith and salvation as the end result of obedience. By being obedient to the rules, I thought, I would arrive a place of being good enough to be acceptable to God. But that’s just the opposite of what Jesus, and Peter after Him, taught:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
2 Peter 1:5-9

Faith in Christ, salvation, and the cleansing of sin is at the beginning of the journey. It is the motivation. It is the spiritual catalyst that pushes me forward into increasing measures of goodness, knowledge, and appetite control. Not because I’m trying to earn something with my goodness, but because I’ve received something priceless in the gift of forgiveness, grace, and mercy that Jesus freely offers.

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

Cutting the Mustard

Cutting the Mustard (CaD Ps 15) Wayfarer

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
    Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Psalm 15:1 (NRSVCE)

Acceptance.
Entrance.
Cutting the mustard.
Making the grade.
The keys to the kingdom.
The punched ticket.
The front of the line.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed a lot of mental and spiritual energy is devoted to who is in and who is out. In fact, I’ve known and spent time in religious groups whose applied theology comes down to intense behavior modification rooted in fear of social and spiritual rejection and ostracization.

Reading the song lyrics of today’s Psalm, I have to remind myself that in David’s day, the center of the sacrificial worship system set up by Moses (which we read about in the chapter-a-day journey through Exodus that we just completed) continued God’s traveling tent sanctuary that had been set up in various places but which David set on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. David’s dream was to construct a permanent temple structure. That dream would be ultimately fulfilled by his son, Solomon. Until then, the ol’ tent temple was used and people would have to ascend the hill where it resided to conduct their ritual sacrifices and offerings.

Today’s song reads like a moral check-list, and some scholars think it may have been used as some kind of liturgy of questions that those pilgrims wanting to enter the sanctuary area had to go through. In other words, “Do you cut the righteous mustard enough to gain entrance?”

In the chapter-a-day journey through Exodus, I was struck time-and-time-again by the ways in which Jesus and His teaching changed the paradigm. He brought a more mature understanding of Spirit and relationship with God. Jesus spoke out against the religious do-gooders and spent most of his time among the sinners who didn’t cut the righteous and religious mustard. He welcomed sinners ostracized by His Temple cohorts, preached repentance of the heart that leads to real change rather than social behavior modification which leads to suppression of our true spiritual selves, secret sins, and false fronts.

As Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers in Rome (Rom 2:4): God’s kindness is what leads to repentance. I’ve observed along the way is that we humans always want to go back to the “my moral purity leads to acceptance model.

But that doesn’t mean I completely dismiss the heart of what David is singing about in the lyrics of today’s psalm because there’s another important life lesson connected here. David goes through his checklist of righteous behaviors:

  • Do the right thing
  • Speak truth from your heart
  • Don’t slander others
  • Do right by others
  • Don’t pile on when others are beat-down
  • Honor God
  • Keep your promises
  • Be generous
  • Don’t take bribes.

He then ends with “those who do these things shall never be moved.” In other words, truly living the right way and doing the right things are the basis of a solid, unshakeable life. You sleep well at night. You aren’t sneaking around trying to get away with things. You aren’t secretly living in shame and the paranoid fear of being found out, nor are you trying to always stay one step ahead of religious checklist keepers and their bandwagon of public shame which is always warmed-up and ready to drive you out into the wilderness of scandal and rejection.

So, in the quiet this morning I find myself back at my heart of hearts. Why would I want to live right and do right by God, myself, and others? Is it to keep up appearances and cut the mustard? Or is it because I’ve honestly come clean with God and those with whom I’m walking this life journey and received from them grace, forgiveness, and acceptance – which leads to so much gratitude that I genuinely want to change my ways and do the right things by them for all the right reasons?

Cutting the mustard, or coming clean? That is the question.

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