Tag Archives: Path

Into the Wilderness

The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each of them in their own camp under their standard.
Numbers 1:52 (NIV)

Today we begin a sojourn through the book of Numbers. It’s one of the most ancient of texts in God’s Message and the fourth of five books known by many names such as the Torah, the Law, the Books of Moses, or the Law of Moses. It picks up the story of the Hebrew people’s  “exodus” from slavery in Egypt. Having escaped from Egypt into the Arabian desert (as told in Exodus), they camped at Mt. Sinai where Moses was given the commandments and the law (as laid out in Leviticus).

Every sizable journey begins with preparation. In today’s opening chapter we pick up the story as Moses carries out a muster of the twelve tribes and a census of men capable of fighting. They are preparing for a march, and the tribe of Levi is given the role of the set-up, take-down, and transportation of a giant tent called the Tabernacle, which served as a traveling temple for the nation. The destination of the wandering nation is “the promised land,” but first they have to traverse the wilderness.

We’re heading into the wilderness, which is a crucial, prescribed path for every spiritual journey. Moses had his years of exile in Midian. Elijah had his flight through the wilderness to Mount Horeb. Jesus went “into the wilderness” for 40 days to fast and to be tested. Fascinating to connect that at Jesus’ transfiguration it was both wilderness wanderer’s, Elijah and Moses, who appeared on the mount with Him.

The hero’s journey of every great epic includes a journey into a wilderness of unknown territory. Bilbo had his mountain and Mirkwood. Luke Skywalker had his Dagoba, Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent almost an entire book alone in the wilderness seeking the Hallows. The wilderness is where we find ourselves (the good, the bad, and the ugly). The wilderness is where we are tried and prepared for the purpose. Without the wilderness, we will never be prepared for the ordeal through which we reach the reward and begin the road back.

This morning I’m looking back at my own life journey. There have been various stretches of wilderness wanderings spiritually relationally, artistically, and vocationally. I’m quite sure there are more to come before the journey’s end. Wilderness is a part of the process and, as we’ll find in our sojourn with the Hebrews, the longer I refuse to embrace the process and learn the lessons I need to learn, I will continue to wander.

Time to lace up the hiking boots. Here we go.

Walking Backwards Into the Future

Remember those earlier days…
…So do not throw away your confidence.
Hebrews 10:32,35a (NIV)

Just yesterday, in a Facebook post, I was reminded of my college days and my dear group of friends from Judson Theatre. It’s funny how one thought leads to another. I went to bed thinking about my friends and my college days. Perhaps that’s why this morning I was reminded in my  quiet time of a word picture one of my profs shared in a chapel service. It’s a word picture I’ve never truly forgotten, though I have to dust it off once in a while on a day like today.

Picture a person walking across the platform facing backward, but with his/her hand stretched out behind their back as if being led. This, my prof argued, was what God continually asks us to do. Hold out our hand to be led by Him, but perpetually face backward. Look back across the journey and remember all of the ways God proved faithful: providing needs, guiding, leading, fulfilling promises, healing, restoring, and filling.

This is what the Hebrews did. This is why their exodus from slavery in Egypt is referenced time and time again. It’s referenced by the prophets Haggai, Micah, Amos, Hosea, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. It’s referenced again and again throughout the Psalms. As they progressed on their journey through history they have continually looked backwards and remembered all that God has done to faithfully guide, lead, and preserve.

Why? Because remembering all that God has done before reminds me that I can have faith and be confident that God will see me through whatever I might be going through today.

This all came to mind while reading today’s chapter. The author of Hebrews perpetuates the walking backwards word picture by urging his/her readers “Remember those earlier days…” and references a particular period in which the early Christians were persecuted severely. God had brought them faithfully through the persecution. The author then ends the paragraph with “So do not throw away your confidence.” There it is. Turn backwards. Remember. Then have faith. Press on confidently with your hand outstretched to be led.

This morning I’m thinking about the road lying before me on this life journey. I have many questions about where the path is leading. I also confess to more than occasional bouts with fear, doubt and anxiety.  I’ve been reminded this morning by a memory and a word picture from college. I’m taking a little time in the quiet to glance backward instead of ahead. I’ve been following Jesus on this life journey for over 36 years. I’ve experienced many things from God’s miraculous power to God’s presence and peace amidst tough times to God’s quiet faithfulness in the everyday mundane. In the remembering I’m reminded that I can trust God’s power, presence, peace and faithfulness for the road ahead, as well.

Hand outstretched, I’m going to keep walking backwards…confidently.

Featured photo courtesy of Mandee Johnson via Flickr

The Opposite Way

But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)

I grew up on Volkswagens. My first car was my parents 1973 Super Beetle, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for the old “bugs.” One of the things that made Volkswagens popular back in the late 50’s and early 60’s was a marketing campaign that was completely contrary to the mainstream. American car companies boasted their huge boats, and counter-cultural Volkswagen made fun of how small their cars were. American car companies were all serious about greatness, and Volkswagen marketed humor and poked fun at itself instead. It worked.

There is a lesson in there for me. The further I get in my life journey the more deeply I understand how counter-cultural and contrary the path of Christ is from the ways of this temporal world. Jesus said that “broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” 

The path of this world leads to strength and power, but Jesus said God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.

The path of this world values wealth, but Jesus told a rich man he would only discover true wealth by selling and giving away everything he had.

The path of this world is all about health, fitness and longevity, but Jesus said I had to lose my life to truly find it.

The path of this world is all about self-help, self-acualization, and self-promotion, but Jesus said the path of Life is found when I love others more than my self.

The path of this world is all about the squirrel wheel of more and faster on our plethora of screens. The path of God leads me to less, rest, and human interaction.

In today’s chapter Paul is once again making one of these core distinctions in the context of his personal situation. The Corinthians, Paul argued, were being duped by slick, good looking, fast talking “super apostles” who were seemingly impressive with regard to all the world values. Against their impressive marketing campaign Paul submits his resume of humility, weakness, and struggle.

This morning I am thinking about the ways that I mindlessly follow culture (like a runaway train) and the ways Jesus calls me to swim against the current. I’m still learning.

Which reminds my of my Volkswagen Beetle. If I’m moving against the current (or a snow drift), it really was an easy push!

The Potter, The Steward, and Two Unique Pots

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
Romans 9:21 (NIV)

On Sunday we had the increasingly rare pleasure of having both Taylor and Madison with us at the same time. The opportunities for the four of us to be together as family are increasingly spread out. It has happened only once or twice a year during the girls college and graduate school sojourns.

A conversation came up yesterday as Maddy Kate and I visited with my folks. “Every mother wants her grown children to live nearby,” it was observed. While I acknowledge that natural desire, I thought to myself that I have always desired for our girls to live wherever God would lead them. I want them to live out their respective roles in the Great Story. I have given up my right to expect that they might keep close to home.

With Taylor out of grad school and Madison done with her bachelor’s degree, it has been fascinating to watch their respective roads emerge. It always amazes me how different children from the same household can be. Taylor will soon enter communal living full time, offering much of her time and energy to service as she pursues a creative project with only speculative income potential. Madison, currently a flight attendant, is avidly pursing a career in corporate sales. I don’t see either of those paths leading back to Pella. C’est la vie.

I do not think either daughter is right or wrong, good or bad, wise or foolish. Taylor’s altruistic path does not make Madison’s path greedy. Madison’s path, which will afford more financial security, does not make Taylor’s path foolhardy. These two lumps of clay are each actively pursuing the purposes of the Potter, who has fashioned them into two very different vessels. Both are beautiful. Both are useful. Both have particular uses the other does not have. Both have a role in the Great story, albeit very different roles.

Today I am once again contemplating the role of parenting with a certain amount of hindsight. To try to control my child’s path and have them choose a path of my self-centered desire is to place myself in God’s shoes and presume omniscience. I’ve discovered that the Creator wears an infinitely larger size shoe than I do. Whenever I try to step into them I always trip over myself in both comic and tragic ways.

God has made me a steward of my children, not their master. My role has been to teach them to love and pursue God. If I accomplish my role, they will each be led to their purposed, respective paths. Like every other aspect of our life journey, this requires faith, just as Jesus said it would.

 

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From Monochrome to Living Color

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Romans 2:1 (NIV)

When I was a young man first endeavoring to follow Jesus, life was far more monochromatic. I was unaware just how black and white my world really was. I delineated life into binary camps: good and evil, godly and ungodly, believers and unbelievers, things allowed and things not allowed, right and wrong.

Towards the end of his ministry, Jesus said that He would, on the day of Judgement, divide the nations into sheep and goats. Those on His right would go to their reward in eternity and those on His left would go to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. One of the most important lessons, and one that is oft forgotten, is that judgement will be Jesus’ job.

The further I get on this life journey, the more clearly I see that when I presume to sit in judgement on others I am presuming to take up Jesus’ job. If I presume to do Jesus’ job for Him then I am setting myself up to be equal to Him; making myself God. That is really the core sin of Eden. Therefore, when I do this I am proving exactly the opposite of what I presume. When I presume to sit in judgement on others I am proving that I am as much a sinner in need of salvation as the person I condemn.

Life is much less monochromatic than it used to be. While there are things that I can perceive are still clearly black and white in this world, my view from the path is a colorful place with infinite hues. I seem to have lost my label maker somewhere along the way, and I haven’t really missed it. Life is an interesting place, a mysterious place, a beautiful place. I find that I am more fascinated and feel less need to understand. I am more intrigued and feel less need to be convinced. I am more given more to faith and less concerned with my doubts. I am more given to grace and am happy to let Jesus have the job of Judge.

 

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featured image: vinothchandar via Flickr

“I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means”

 

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)

I’ve always been a movie lover. There are movies that I can watch over and over and over again and each time I do I seem to catch little things I’d never seen or heard before.  Lines from the film seem to enter conversation. For Wendy and me, one of those movies is Princess Bride. A favorite line of our is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

Among the community of Jesus’ followers the phrase “fallen from grace” is often used to refer to those who at one time were followers, but seemed to leave the path of faith to follow after sinful appetites. Other believers will say that this person has “fallen from grace.” In fact, these are the only circumstances in which I hear this phrase used. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using those words. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Paul does not use “fallen from grace” to describe those who have left the faith to pursue sinful appetites! He uses the phrase to describe those who have left the path of simple faith and have pursued legalistic religiosity. In Galatia, those whom Paul described who had “fallen from grace” were those who were telling non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Jewish legal, religious rules.

This is a huge distinction. Walking the journey of faith is a balancing act from which you can stumble and fall in either way. Certainly you can stumble and pursue unhealthy appetites. That’s why Paul says a a few lines later: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” But you can also stumble and “fall from grace” by pursuing a path of rigid, religious rules in which you judge a person’s faith by how they measure up to your religious yard stick.

To quote another famous movie line that creeps into my conversation on a regular basis: “Daniel-san. Must learn balance.

The Path to Crazy

For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.
Galatians 3:3 (MSG)

While in college, I had two other guys with whom I began to share my life journey. We met on Saturday mornings in the Great Room of Volkman Hall right after PeeWee’s Playhouse. It was the first time in my life that I’d met regularly and intentionally with other guys just to talk about our respective life journeys. We waded into, what was for us at the time, the deep weeds of life. We shared openly about our hurts and confessed our sins to each other. For me, it was monumental.

When college was over, the three of us each took our own paths in divergent directions. One of the guys I have continued to keep up with through periodic phone calls and Facebook. As I read the chapter this morning, I struck me that the other friend went the of the “crazy” Galatians.

The third member of our trio contacted me a few years after college. He’d found his way to a group who taught him that only by following their rigid religious rules could anyone truly call themselves a follower of Jesus. He accused me of not measuring up, of not truly being a follower. It sounded insane; The kind of insanity Paul was confronting among the Galatians. Having once followed by simply believing, my friend was now convinced that only by following a strict set of doctrinal beliefs and behavioral rules could he be “holy” and acceptable to God.

Today, I’m offering sincere prayers for the other two members of my college trio. I have such good memories of Saturday mornings with my Judson College homies wrapped in blankets, listening for Pee Wee’s secret word, and moose slippers. It was an important stretch of life’s journey for me and I will forever be grateful for that time and these two companions. I trust that whatever crazy Galatians-like path my one friend followed, God has been faithful in helping him find his way back to the simplicity of Jesus’ message: faith, grace, love, and forgiveness.