Tag Archives: Motivation

Dictates Don’t Change Hearts

Dictates Don't Change Hearts (CaD Jer 11) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words.
Jeremiah 11:9-10 (NIV)

The prophet Jeremiah rose to prominence during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. Have just trekked my way through 2 Kings on this chapter-a-day, I think a little context is in order as I read Jeremiah’s words this morning.

For more than a generation, along with King Josiah’s two most recent predecessors, the people of Judah had practiced polytheism. It’s not that they didn’t give a nod to YHWH, the God of Abraham, Moses, and David, but their hearts were divided with a plethora of idols and gods. Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem had become a spiritual marketplace with altars and shrines to various idols, astrological constellations, and pagan gods of the region.

During Josiah’s reign, the Law of Moses (that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), was discovered in a storage closet in the temple (See 2 Kings 22). The Law of Moses, which lays out the covenant between God and the Hebrew people, was given through Moses after God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt about 1,000 years before Josiah’s reign. It includes God’s Top Ten rules of life, the first two of which state no other gods, and no making of a graven image (a.k.a. an idol). But this had not been read, generally remembered, or publicly taught for at least 60 years and perhaps longer.

When Josiah heard the Law of Moses, he had the Law of Moses read publicly. He then called on the people to return to the God of their ancestors and enacted strict reforms. All pagan altars and shrines were removed from the temple and burned. All other gods were outlawed throughout Judah and destroyed. It was during this period of reform that a young Jeremiah found his way to Josiah’s royal court and began his prophetic ministry.

Along my life journey, and as I study history, I’ve observed that faith is a matter of the human heart. Governments and religious institutions (Judah’s monarchy was both) are technically kingdoms and institutions of this world. Despite the description of revival during Josiah’s reforms back in 2 Kings, it was not as if the people had any choice but to obey King Josiah’s commands and edicts. That’s how ancient monarchy’s worked. There was no representation, political parties, or recourse. You do what the King (and his army) tell you to do. So the entire nation went along with Josiah’s reforms because they had to do so, not because they all had a change of heart.

Knowing human behavior, I’m quite sure that the worship of Baal, Asherah, and other idols simply moved underground. You can legislate behavior, you can forcefully suppress dissent and demand obedience. I only have to look at any of a number of tyrannical political or religious system around the globe. However, a person’s heart can’t be changed with a government edict or an institutional dictate.

It is into this spiritual landscape that Jeremiah is writing and preaching in today’s chapter. We don’t know exactly when today’s prophetic word was given and delivered in Jeremiah’s ministry, but given the message I could easily place it towards the back-end of Josiah’s reign when people’s secret, underground worship of other gods is growing into a political hot-button. it’s obvious that Josiah’s dictated reforms have not changed the hearts of the Hebrew people. There is a “conspiracy” brewing to “return to the sins of their ancestors.” All of Josiah’s four successors will give in to the idolatrous desires of the people.

In the quiet this morning, I thought of the number of times in the Great Story that God reminds us that it’s my heart’s desire that He wants, not just my mindless observance of dictated moral or religious behaviors and traditions. If I truly give Jesus my heart, then I will be motivated to follow Him into the behaviors He exemplified and requests of me. If Jesus doesn’t have my heart, then all of my religious behavior is as empty as the idolatrous Hebrews who Jeremiah addresses in today’s chapter.

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

Cardiac Self-Examination

Cardiac Self-Examination (CaD 2 Ki 10) Wayfarer

Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart.
2 Kings 10:31a (NIV)

Much of human history is a violent, bloody affair. Pull back from the minutiae and look at it from a distance and the vast majority of it is the story of tribes and empires violently competing for power, wealth, and dominance, then clinging to that power against the next tribe or empire seeking to ascend to power in humanity’s never-ending game of King of the Mountain.

The story of Jehu the usurper in yesterday’s and today’s chapters is a microcosm of this violent game of tribes and empires. He’s a fascinating character because he was “The Son of Nobody” who was at the right place at the right time to seize a rare opportunity to ascend the political system of his tribe and to become King of the Mountain.

Being a military officer, Jehu had a front-row seat to witness and participate in the violent oppression with which Ahab and Jezebel had ruled the nation. Who knows how many atrocities Jehu had committed or overseen himself at their behest. Jehu had been told by the prophet to “destroy the house of Ahab” which certainly meant ensuring there were no male heirs left to claim the throne. Jehu, however, goes even further. He kills the King of Judah, who was Ahab and Jezebel’s son-in-law. He kills their friends, their cronies, their officials, and their known associates. He kills off all of the prophets and priests of Ahab and Jezebel’s patron pagan god, Baal, and turns the temple of Baal into a community latrine. The story is a perfect example of Jesus’ warning to Peter and His followers that violence begets violence. Ahab and Jezebel violently lived and ruled by the sword, and they violently died by it.

Jehu’s vengeance against the house of Ahab and Jezebel was beyond complete. Jehu’s devotion to God wasn’t. Jehu destroyed the worship of Ahab and Jezebel’s patron god out of vengeance against Ahab and Jezebel, not out of devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. His heart wasn’t devoted to God, it was devoted to vengeance and seizing the opportunity to grab power for himself and his family. As I meditate on the story of Jehu, I consider him to be an example of one who does the right thing (ridding the nation of an evil regime) for the wrong reasons (personal gain).

So, in the quiet, that leaves me ending this week in introspection. Is there a disconnect between my heart and my actions? Do I, like Jehu, do the right things for self-centered reasons? Jehu and David were both soldiers and warriors. They were both violent men who spilled a lot of blood. God used both of them in the grand scheme of the Great Story. The difference between the two lies in their hearts. David was called “a man after God’s own heart” while Jehu’s heart seems to have been after Jehu’s own self-interest. How much of my heart is truly about God’s desires and how much is just Tom’s self-interest?

As I contemplated these questions, the Spirit reminded me of Proverbs 21:2:

A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.

I head into this weekend with a cardiac self-examination.

I want to be a David, not a Jehu (or a Yahoo).

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

The Leadership Difference

The Leadership Difference (CaD 2 Ki 9) Wayfarer

Jehu said [to his fellow officers], “Here is what he told me: ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.’”

They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

2 Kings 9:12b-13 (NIV)

Decades from now, mystified scientists will gather to study the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, to try to figure out what they were all about—if they existed to compete in football, or merely to psychologically torment a population of loyal, long-suffering fans.”
-Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal

Jason Gay wrote these words earlier this week after Wendy and I joined the Vikings Nation in suffering another disappointing playoff loss. It was, however, one of the most interesting and entertaining seasons in history. If you’d suggested to experts and oddsmakers that the Vikings would go 13-4 this season, they’d have laughed in your face. Add to that going 11-0 in games decided by one score or less (I have no fingernails left), including the biggest comeback in NFL history (they were down 33-0 at halftime and won).

What’s even more fascinating about this year’s Vikings team is the larger story. Last year the owners fired the coach and general manager after another disappointing year in which the team failed to meet expectations. After the firings, the proceeded a flood of comments from players regarding how terrible the atmosphere had been in the locker room, how awful the leadership team had been, and how frustrating it was to play under them.

The owners then hired two very capable young men with integrity to take the helm of leadership.

I heard one anecdote regarding a former assistant coach now working for another team. When someone mentioned that the attitude of the Vikings going into this season was really positive, he replied “Of course it is. Satan left the building.”

Today’s chapter would make a fascinating and thrilling movie if it were done right. It’s all about leadership change in dramatic fashion. The prophets anoint an army officer as King of Israel and place on him the responsibility to rid Israel of the evil House of Ahab and Jezebel.

What stood out to me was how quickly everyone joined in the rebellion. The newly anointed Jehu seemed to consider his anointing as a joke until his soldiers and fellow officers quickly pledged their allegiance to them. They were desperate for change.

When Jehu confronts Jezebel in her upper story window in Jezreel, he simply suggests to the eunuchs in her service that they throw her out the window. They are eager and happy to oblige.

A wise man once said that the only thing to which evil responds is an overpowering force. It’s all that evil understands. Evil rules and holds sway through power, fear, intimidation, violence, and oppression.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve delivered a couple of messages in which I explored how different Jesus’ example and plans were for changing the world. Instead of top-down power, He exemplified and called his followers to live out a bottom-up, humble, love-powered service towards others that would transform other individuals from the inside out. Those individuals would then pay it forward by doing the same thing.

In the quiet this morning, I’m contemplating the difference that leadership makes on a football team, in a business, in a church, in a community, and in a family. When leadership is a top-down, authoritarian power play, those in the system become anxious for a change in leadership. When leadership is a humble, love-motivated mindset of serving those within the system, there is no limit on how much that system can flourish and accomplish.

It might even go 13-4, 11-1 in close games, and stage the greatest comeback in NFL history.

I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

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

Life’s Slideshow

Life's Slideshow (CaD 1 Ki 21) Wayfarer

There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.
1 Kings 21:25 (NIV)

Wendy and I purchased a digital photo frame for my mother as a Christmas gift. It allows my dad, my siblings, and our children the ability to upload photos right to the frame from anywhere. My mother, who is now entering the more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, moved into Memory Care just before Thanksgiving.

So, I and my loved ones have been sending photos to mom’s frame. When my folks moved into a retirement community several years ago, I ended up with the giant tub of old family photos which I’ve been slowly scanning and archiving. I’ve been going through old photos of mom and loading those into her frame hoping they might spark her waning synapses of memory and give her even a fleeting moment of joy.

The other day I visited mom in her room. She was sitting on her sofa, the room was dark with the lights out and the shades drawn. I sat down next to her and together we watched the photos in the frame. There were photos of her childhood, her years as a mother, family vacations and gatherings, and photos of her great-grandchildren. She said very little. We just sat silently holding hands. She began stroking my hand softly as we watched her life scroll by.

Many people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs) speak of being taken through a review of their life on earth like a slideshow. The specific details vary, but the “life review” is a common element of most NDEs. I thought about that, and about my mother’s life, as we watched it pass before our eyes there on the digital frame.

In today’s chapter, King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, conspire to steal a vineyard of a man named Naboth. Ahab simply wanted it because it was conveniently located near his palace. Naboth explained that it was his family’s land, allotted to them since the division of the land under Joshua, and they would never sell it. Jezebel uses her worldly power as Queen to create a scheme to have Naboth brought up on trumped-up charges and stoned to death along with his male heirs by her political cronies. I couldn’t help but think that Jezebel and Ahab’s actions are not unlike King David using his power to have Uriah the Hittite killed in order to marry Bathsheba.

Not unlike God sending the prophet Nathan to confront David about his sin, God sends Elijah to confront Ahab about his sin. Elijah states, and the author of Kings repeats that Ahab had “sold himself” to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. That was the summary statement of Ahab’s earthly life. The slideshow of Ahab’s life would show over and over again that he surrendered himself to whatever would make him rich and powerful, even if that meant surrendering himself to pagan gods and practices. The framing and killing of Naboth and his sons merely because Ahab coveted his garden perfectly encapsulated Ahab’s life.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about my mother’s digital life review that we watched the other day. The photographic evidence revealed a woman is loved and beloved by her husband, her children, and her family. It revealed a woman who worked hard, along with her husband, to create a life that was lovingly centered around faith and family, joy and laughter.

What a contrast to what the slideshow of Ahab’s life review must have looked like according to Elijah’s description.

And, that begs the question. What about the slideshow of my life review? What will it reveal? To what have I “sold myself” and surrendered on my life journey?

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

“The People Said Nothing”

"The People Said Nothing" (CaD 1 Ki 18) Wayfarer

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.
1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)

Wendy and I had dinner with friends last night. Our friends’ children are in their college and young adult years, and we had a fascinating conversation about children and their spiritual journeys. It is quite common for the college and young adult years to be a time when one contemplates the belief system with which they’ve been raised, and begins to make their own determinations regarding matters of faith and spirit. For me, it was the emotional angst of adolescence that led me to search for what I really believed. I was a little ahead of the game compared to a lot of people’s experiences.

Today’s chapter contains one of the most fascinating and exciting episodes in the Great Story. Elijah urges the people of Israel to stop their duplicitous worship of Baal and Asherah and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the worship of the God of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Interestingly, Elijah’s appeal receives no response.

The prophet then challenges 450 prophets of Baal to a competition. Sacrifices are prepared and prayers raised for fire to descend from heaven to burn the sacrifices. The God who answers with fire is the true God. Let the spiritual smackdown begin.

The prophets of Baal rave all day long. They dance, scream, cut themselves, and whip themselves into a religious frenzy, while Elijah talks trash from the sidelines. There isn’t so much as a spark. Elijah then repairs the altar of the Lord and prepares the sacrifice. He then soaks the sacrifice and the altar with water. After uttering a simple prayer, fire falls from heaven and consumes the altar and the sacrifice.

The people fall on their faces in awestruck fear and humility.

Along my life journey, I have observed many, many individuals whose faith appears to be like the people of Israel when Elijah made his appeal: non-commital and silently unresponsive. I observe many who go through the religious motions of maintaining membership, giving a little money, and regularly making an appearance for an hour or two. The other 165 hours of the week, however, are void of any tangible signs of faith.

God’s fiery demonstration on Mount Carmel, however, shook people to their core and motivated both change and commitment. I have often observed similar reactions in people when a life event or tragedy shakes them to the core, like that of being in college or on your own in the world without parental supervision. In the routine and complacency of everyday life, it’s easy to fall into spiritual atrophy. No matter what anyone says about my spiritual need, I just go about my life and don’t respond. It’s only when circumstances shake me to the core that I fall to my knees.

I’m reminded this morning that what God desires is not a complacent, silent, religious routine that has little impact on my daily life. What God desires is an ongoing relationship of spirit and conversation with me that informs and motivates my thoughts, words, and actions each and every day.

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

The featured image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

King, or Not?

King, or Not? (CaD Jud 8) Wayfarer

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.