Tag Archives: Path

My Intentions, God’s Design

My Intentions, God's Design (CaD 2 Sam 7) Wayfarer

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NIV)

  • When I was five I intended to grow up and be an astronaut.
  • When I was seven I intended to grow up and become President of the United States.
  • When I was ten I intended to go into the navy and become a naval aviator.
  • When I was thirteen I intended to become a lawyer and politician.
  • When I was sixteen I intended to become a great evangelist like Billy Graham.

It was never my intention to live in Pella, Iowa. It was never my intention to spend thirty years in the research and assessment business or to be a business owner. It was never my intention to be divorced and remarried.

As I look back on my life’s journey I find that there are many things I intended to do that were clearly not part of God’s plan for me. David wanted desperately to build a temple for God, but that was not God’s intention. God intended for David to become the warrior leader who would establish the throne and prepare the way for his son to build the temple. There are many things in my life I never envisioned which I now believe God both knew and ordained for me.

Just last week Wendy and I were discussing a man we have observed who is aggressively striving after his own intentions, who appears to have failed miserably on many counts, and also appears to be in denial regarding it all. Wendy remarked that the man reminded her of Shakespeare’s Macbeth who destroyed his life intending to fulfill what he believed was his prophesied path. But, that’s one of the things I love about following God: He eventually redeems even our foolish wanderings and failures for His purposes.

Today, I am reminded to be discerning between my intentions and God’s designs. I desire to lean into the plan God has for me and follow the path laid before me. I have no time to waste blazing trails that lead, at best, to nowhere or, at worst, to tragic ends. I don’t want to end up thinking along the same lines as Macbeth who concluded at the end of his tragic strivings:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m take a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
.

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

The Valley and the Mountain

The Valley and the Mountain (CaD 1 Sam 1) Wayfarer

There is beauty and power in today's chapter that is easy to miss if you've never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. A chapter-a-day podcast from 1 Samuel 1. The text version may be found and shared at tomvanderwell.com. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/support

Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year.
1 Samuel 1:4-7a (NIV)

When I was a young man, the opening chapters of 1 Samuel were all about the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Samuel. Samuel is important. Samuel is special, as was his birth. Samuel is the name of the book. Samuel was the last of the Hebrew Judges. Samuel established the Hebrew monarchy and crowned its first two kings. Samuel established the Prophetic tradition within the Hebrew monarchy. It was all about Samuel.

Then Wendy and I spent years on a journey through the Valley of Infertility.

I will never read the first chapter of 1 Samuel the same way.

There are things that couples experience on the infertility journey that are unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in this life. I learned along the way that it is an incredibly nuanced experience based on multiple factors in that journey. It makes a difference whether a husband is truly all-in (physically, emotionally, spiritually) with his wife for the long haul. The fact that I’d been previously married and had experienced the pregnancy and birth of our daughters was a factor in the relational equation. It’s also a very different experience for those who walk through the Valley of Infertility and find the path that leads to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood compared to those whose journey languishes in the Valley of Infertility seemingly destined to never find the ever-desired pathway to that mountaintop.

The first chapter of Samuel is about a woman named Hannah who is on this journey through the Valley of Infertility and the particular nuances that were unique to her experience.

Polygamous marriages among Hebrew “commoners” was relatively rare in this period of history. One of the exceptions was when a man first marries a woman who turns out to be barren. Having children, especially sons, was so important to the perpetuation of families and culture in those days that a man who finds his wife to be barren would be encouraged to marry a second wife so as to bear him sons. It’s likely that this was Hannah’s reality. She was not only shamed that she could have no children but shamed that her husband married another woman to do what she could not.

Not only did her husband, Elkanah, marry another, but he also married a woman named Peninnah who saw Hannah as a female rival. Although Elkanah was empathetic and generous toward Hannah, he was never “all-in” with her. His loyalties would always be divided between her and Peninnah, and Peninnah had plenty of children with which to claim and maintain her favored status as the wife who gave him sons.

When Elkanah and his household go to Shiloh for the annual prescribed sacrifices it was a harvest festival celebrating God’s abundant provision of fertility via life, crops, and children. As if Hannah’s everyday experience wasn’t hell enough having “mean girl” Peninnah rubbing salt in the wound of Hannah’s infertility, attending a national festival of fertility and harvest would be like descending to an even deeper ring of hell.

At this point in today’s chapter, Hannah is an emotional and inconsolable wreck. With Peninnah and all her children standing behind Elkanah as a reminder of Hannah’s shame, Elkanah says to her “Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?”

Oh, you stupid, stupid man.

A husband who has walked with his wife through the Valley of Infertility knows that words must be chosen wisely when consoling your wife in her grief. In fact, it was in the Valley of Infertility that I learned to embrace the truth that sometimes there are no words. In the same way, there are no shortcuts to making the pain of infertility “all better.”

In this context, Hannah’s prayer and commitment to give her son to the Lord takes on a whole new level of meaning. After all those years in the Valley of Infertility, Hannah finds that pathway to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She should rightfully enjoy clinging to her boy and soak up the blessings of raising him along with the justice of being able to daily show him off to Peninnah and tell her to go take a long walk off a short pier.

But, Hannah doesn’t do that. She literally gives her son to the Lord, handing him over as a baby to be raised by the High Priest and the Levites in God’s tabernacle.

She becomes a foreshadow of what God will one day do when He “so loves the world that He gave His one-and-only Son.”

That is the beauty and power of today’s chapter.

It’s easy to miss if you’ve never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. Wendy and I never found that path to the mountain top of pregnancy and childbirth. We did, however, find a different path that led to a mountaintop called Joy. The view from there is pretty amazing.

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

Two Paths

Two Paths (CaD Jud 9) Wayfarer

Abimelek son of [Gideon] went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
Judges 9:1-2 (NIV)

I still have vivid memories of the bully. I remember his name. I can see his face in my memory along with the bathroom at Woodlawn Elementary school where it happened. I was in second grade and he was a year older than me. He was bigger than me. He was mean and intimidating. He demanded that I give him my lunch money, but I didn’t have any. I brought my lunch to school. This made him mad and he feigned that he was going to hit me. He then told me that after school he would find me and was going to beat me up. The two-and-a-half block walk home was sheer terror, but I managed to walk with my neighbor who was two years older and that gave me some comfort.

That was my first experience with a bully, and it obviously left a strong impression on me. History is filled with those who use threats, violence, and intimidation for personal gain. What begins as bullying on the school playground can easily become a way of life that in adulthood turns into gangs, organized crime, and rackets. The same tactics of power and intimidation get “cleaned up” but still fuel political parties, corporate boardrooms, and union organizations. I’ve also experienced the same basic bully tactics from powerful individuals in churches.

The stories of Gideon and his son Abimelek form the center of the book of Judges. Ancient Hebrew writers, poets, and lyricists commonly used a literary device and placed the central theme of their work smack-dab in the middle. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one of the central themes of the book of Judges is the tension the Hebrew tribes were experiencing as they tried to be a theocracy and follow God as their ultimate King and the reality they were experiencing with their enemies of what a powerful leader/king could do for a city or region. At the center of the book are two contrasting examples of this very tension. Gideon and his son take two very different paths to power and end up in very different places.

The story of Gideon provides the example of a powerful leader who humbly refuses to be made king, and he calls on his fellow Hebrews to recognize God as their only true leader. In today’s chapter, Abimelek provides a contrasting example. He takes the path of the power-hungry individual who will stop at nothing to seize and maintain his power.

Beneath the story of Abimelek are other subtle themes that were crucial in their time, and they still resonate today. Abimelek was one of some seventy sons of Gideon, the offspring of Gideon and a Canaanite slave. It’s likely that the biracial son of a slave was treated as less-than by his pure Hebrew half-brothers, the sons of Gideon’s legitimate wives. Abimelek uses his Canaanite blood, and his position of relative power as Gideon’s son, to convince the Canaanite people of the city of Shechem to appoint him their king. He then goes all Michael Corleone and “settles accounts” with all the potential threats to his power, his brothers, by killing them all (with the exception of the youngest brother, who escapes).

Chaos, political intrigue, violence, vengeance, and the continuous struggle for power follow Abimelek through the entire chapter. The Godfather epic is an apt parallel. Once he stepped down the path of power by violence and vengeance, Michael Corleone could tragically never escape the consequences of where it led. Abimelek found himself on the same tragic path.

In the quiet this morning, I said a prayer for my elementary school bully. I hope God led him to find a better path in life. He taught me a lesson that day. He provided me an example of the person I never wanted to become. I’m grateful for that.

I also find myself pondering the simple contrast between Gideon and his son, Abimelek. Gideon wasn’t perfect, but his deference to God’s power and authority kept him from the tragic ends experienced by his son.

I’ve learned along my life journey that whatever positions of earthly power and/or leadership I might find myself should come because I am led to them, not because I seized them for myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to the path of humility and service to others. Looking back from my current waypoint on Life’s road, I can tell you that it is a path that has always led, not always to easy places, but ultimately to good places.

I think I’ll stick to this path.

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

Warning Signs & U-Turns

Warning Signs & U-Turns (CaD Gen 19) Wayfarer

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is controversial for more than one reason, largely because it contains references homosexuality, misogyny, and incest. All of these topics are worthy of a deeper dive into the text, context, and subtext. For the purposes of this devotional, chapter-a-day trek, I found myself pulling back from a focus on the deep weeds in order to get a handle on a larger picture of the forest.

A few chapters ago, Abraham humbly gave his nephew, Lot, the choice of settling anywhere he wanted. Lot chose what appeared to be the greener grass of the Jordan plain, despite the fact that the nearby towns of Sodom and Gomorrah had reputations like that of Las Vegas in our own day and arguably even worse.

In the previous chapter, the divine visitors tell Abraham they’re going to destroy the cities because of their wickedness. Abraham barters with God to spare the cities if there are ten righteous people living there. While Abraham does not name his nephew and family, the number of Lot and his direct family (including betrothed sons-in-law) is ten.

In today’s chapter, Lot and his family are spared though they are given a three-fold instruction for escaping the destruction: Flee to the mountains, don’t look back, and don’t stop. Lot’s wife disobeys. The Hebrew word used is translated “look” but a careful reading of the text implies that she chose to literally make a u-turn and return for some reason, while Lot and his daughters had made it safely to the town of Zoar.

Archaeological excavations in the area support the history of a cataclysmic burning in the region, by the way. A violent earthquake could easily have ignited the deposits of sulphur in the area. Just recently, a team of scientists have concluded that there was a meteor strike that may have ignited the entire Jordan plain.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating two overarching spiritual lessons I excavated from the story.

First, Lot chose to settle in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah because it promised to be the best land for his livestock, even though he knew that he would be required to deal locally at Sodom and Gomorrah, towns with the reputation of being wicked places. I found myself asking: “Have I ever made decisions that appeared a benign choice on the surface of things while ignoring the warning signs that I should have heeded, only to have circumstances tragically turn against me?

The answer for me is “yes,” by the way. You?

Second, Lot’s wife chose to turn back after being warned not to do so. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus’ core message was that of repentance, which literally means to “turn around” and proceed in the opposite direction. Along the way Jesus met a would-be follower who told Jesus that first he needed to “go back” to his family. Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The spiritual principle is the same as that of Lot’s wife. Turn away from what is evil, cling to the good direction where God is leading, and don’t go back.

As I launch into another work week, these lessons resonate. I’m asking myself asking three questions:

  • Where am I headed? Am I on a wise and spiritually healthy course?
  • Are there any warning signs I should heed as proceed on this path?
  • Are there any temptations to abandon course and return to foolish and spiritually destructive ways and places?

Have a great week, my friend. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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.

Being “Like God” or Being “Like God”

Being "Like God" or Being "Like God" (CaD Ex 7) Wayfarer

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.
Exodus 7:1 (NRSVCE)

For 21st century followers of Jesus, the idea of being God’s agent on Earth is a common one. Jesus made it clear that He was entrusting His on-going mission to His followers. Holy Spirit was poured out to indwell believers, impart spiritual gifts to each, and empower every believer as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom. Believers often speak metaphorically of being Jesus’ eyes, ears, hands, and feet; We are asked to be, expected to be, the embodiment of Jesus’ love to others.

It struck me then when God told Moses “I have made you like God to Pharaoh.” The only time that being “like God” has come up in the story before now was when the snake tempts Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, stating that it will make them “like God.” Until Moses appears, God has been intent on making Himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At this point in the story, however, the Hebrews had become a nation of people living in Egypt for hundreds of years with the 1000+ Egyptian dieties.

One of the subtle themes that has already been established in the Moses story is that God wants the Hebrew people to “know” Him, and for Pharaoh to “know” Him. “They will know,” and “Egyptians will know” are repeated statements. In this way, Moses is really the first example of God using a human instrument through which others will come to know God and through whom God will display His power.

This, of course, sets up a really interesting and important contrast.

Being “like God” can be opposite sides of a coin. I can be “like God” by seeking complete control of my life and the lives of everyone around me. If I want to be “like God” by sitting on the throne of my own life looking out for numero uno, doing as I please, and determining my own way with every step, then my path is going to lead to spiritually dark places (even if I wear the facade of being a good and faithful member of my local church). This is the dark side of “being like God.”

When Moses was being “like God” and when Jesus’ followers become “Christ-like” it is a process of humility, vulnerability, and submission. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words to Peter after the resurrection:

Jesus said [to Peter], “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.”
John 21:17-19 (MSG)

Jesus explains that Peter had lived the dark side of being “like God” self-centeredly determining his own way, but now he is going to experience the Light side of being “like God” in which he will (like Jesus’ did) humbly surrender his own rights of self-determination and become obedient to places he doesn’t want to go (i.e. “Father, let this cup pass from me”), even to his physical death.

In the quiet this morning, I’m finding myself surprisingly emotional as I meditate on this very simple concept. In my daily life, in the writing of these blog posts, I take on the mantle of being a follower of Jesus. But, are my daily life, words, and actions a demonstration of the dark side of being “like God” or the Light side of being “like Christ”? Am I living for myself under the veneer of being a good Jesus follower? Is my life a demonstration of the humility, vulnerability, and surrender required to be an agent of Christ-like love?

I’m not sure I like all of the answers I’m coming up with to these questions.

Continue

…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned….
2 Timothy 3:7, 14a (NIV)

When I am studying a particular passage I will, on occasion, go back and read these chapter-a-day posts to see what I wrote about the different times I posted something about that chapter. Inevitably, I can hardly stand to read some of my earliest posts. I’ve progressed through the years in life, in spirit, in thought, and in my writing. Going back an reading an early post can be like looking at pictures of myself in Middle School. Ugh.

At the same time, I realize that this is the point. Immediate perfection was never the expectation, no matter what a parent, pastor, or teacher may have seemed to communicate. “Pressing on,” “pursuing,” and “continuing” are the types of words used again and again in God’s Message. By the end of Jesus’ three years on Earth, His closest and best followers were still blowing it on a regular basis and they still didn’t get all that He was trying to say or accomplish. Eventually, after pressing on and continuing to progress in their understanding of what they’d been taught, they would “turn the world upside down.”

In this morning’s chapter, there is an interesting contrast that Paul gives to Timothy. He first speaks critically of those who are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” They are running in place, going through the motions, repeating the rituals, but there is never any progress, growth, or maturity. Later in the chapter, Paul urges Timothy to “continue in what you have learned.” Timothy, in contrast to his earlier example, had been growing and maturing and Paul urged him to never stop.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about my teenage self, my young adult self, and the person I was when I started writing these posts thirteen years ago. I’m glad I’m not in those places of life’s road anymore. I’m grateful for where I’ve come in life, and I’m determined to keep going. As Paul once wrote, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Continue on, my fellow sojourners.

Have a great day.

The Doorway of Defeat

…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Romans 11:29 (NIV)

I reached out to shake his hand as I was introduced. The lights in the room were dimmed but the darkness couldn’t hide the look of defeat. Shoulders slumped, eyes down cast, and the smile that was clearly being conjured by sheer will. I could feel the discouragement. I sensed the fear that God just might be done with him. I also instantly felt an affinity for him. Something clicked deep inside, and I knew that somehow Holy Spirit had connected us for a reason.

I have seen the look of defeat on the faces of some of the most amazing people. I’ve seen defeat come in a myriad of ways. Sometimes it’s moral failure, a personal failure, a relational failure, or a combination of all. Sometimes it’s a life tragedy and the inequities of circumstance. At times it might be some kind of physical or chemical issue wreaking havoc on a person’s spirit. Then there are times when the source of the funk is spiritual, and a rational explanation is elusive.

When defeat descends on a person life gets very small. Vision is reduced as focus turns inward. Interaction is avoided which only tends to extend and exacerbate the symptoms. A person wraps him or herself in layers of self-protection that, ironically, not only serves to deflect further injury, but also prevents any kind balm from reaching the spirit wound. When the individual experiencing defeat is a believer, the person also feels a spiritual impotence that can be so pervasive as to prompt an unshakable belief that this is all permanent.

But, it’s not.

Defeat is never a permanent destination. Defeat is a doorway to deeper understanding. It is through the doorway of defeat that I discover humility’s sweet gifts and where I experience grace’s sufficiency. On the other side of defeat comes the understanding that Spirit power is perfected in weakness.

Resurrection must, by definition, be preceded by death. Redemption’s prerequisite is always some kind of damnifying defeat. This was the grand spiritual paradigm that Jesus ultimately exemplified, yet I always want to dismiss the fact that if I choose to follow He said I have to follow in His foot steps down that same path.

I saw my defeated acquaintance the other day. It’s been a few years since we were introduced. We’re now friends. His shoulders were squared, there was a sparkle in his eye, and the smile on his face was no longer conjured by will. His smile was clearly the effect of an inner joy that radiated off of him. I had the privilege of helping him through the doorway, and watching him discover, over time, what was on the other side.

So good.

The Boulevard and the Gate

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:7 (NIV)

In the early stages of my spiritual journey I wandered down the path of legalism. I was never particularly comfortable with it’s straight-and-narrow streets and the authoritarian, self-appointed traffic cops on every block wearing their spit-polished Junior Holy Spirit badges. Nevertheless, I came to an understanding of why so many people find their way to that huge boulevard.

There’s a certain ease to the path of legalism. It requires little in the way of thought, meditation, grace, wisdom, or knowledge. Everything is prescribed for you in black-and-white terms and simple rules of obedience. There’s strict accountability to keep you on the straight-and-narrow. Your fellow wayfarers will, of course, watch you like a hawk, but then there are the self-appointed traffic cops to watch your every move, remind you of the rules, and threaten you with any number of heinous punishments (i.e. alienation, condemnation, damnation) should you stray from their prescribed path.

Along that stretch of the journey I met a number of individuals who had been walking the path of legalism for many years. They had given themselves over. So comfortable had they become with their enslavement to the rules that the simplest notion of grace or freedom became a fright. They reminded me of the Hebrews in the wilderness begging to return to slavery in Egypt. “At least we knew the rules. Life was so much easier to understand. It wasn’t so hard or so complicated.”

In Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia, he finds them in a similar spot. Having received the Message of Jesus by faith when Paul was with them, they are now being told by some self-appointed traffic cops from the path of Legalism to get themselves back on the straight-and-narrow. These Officers of Legalism are demanding obedience to their list of religious rules.

In his letter Paul calls on a powerful word picture. He argues that Jesus came to make us children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We are, therefore, no longer slaves to be herded down the path of legalism constantly threatened with alienation, condemnation and damnation should we fail to march lock-step in accordance with the self-appointed traffic cops.

Paul argues that we are free to walk down a very different path as heirs of grace freely given, of forgiveness poured out in excess, of extravagant acceptance, and of unalterable love. Why, Paul asks, would you ever want to go back to Legalism Boulevard?

Along my journey I’ve observed that some people find the path of legalism to be easier than the path of love. Having walked that Legalism Boulevard for a block or two, a piece of me gets why people spend their entire lives on its pristine concrete between its high curbs. I found obedience to a set of well defined rules less painful than dying to myself. I found that condemning rule breakers was easier (and even felt self-righteously satisfying) than forgiving them as I have been forgiven. And, I found that following the straight-and-narrow of Legalism Boulevard was guaranteed not to twist, turn, or lead me to uncomfortable neighborhoods where people look different than me, act different than me, think differently than me, or speak differently than me. There’s a comfort in that.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that Jesus said that the path of Life lies behind a narrow gate that’s not particularly well-marked. It’s narrow and not necessarily easy to make out because, like Frost’s poem, it’s less traveled than Legalism Boulevard. But those who ask directions will find their way there. Those who seek it out will find their way there. Those who knock on the narrow gate will find it open to them.

I’ve found it a messy and slippery path with some steep inclines and deep valleys. There have been lonely stretches where faith was required. There were some stretches I shared with companions that required humility, trust, forgiveness, teamwork, and grace to get through some of the terrain. I’ve also found myself in some foreign places that forced me to get past my fears. It hasn’t always been easy, but the further I travel on the path the more Life I’ve experienced.

I’ve never regretted leaving Legalism Boulevard. In fact, I’d encourage anyone who’s walking lock-step down that street to make their way down the alley. Ask about a narrow gate. Seek it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Just don’t let the Traffic Cops see you 😉

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“But today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.”
Jeremiah 40:4 (NIV)

Some time ago a potential opportunity presented itself to me. It was unexpected, and ultimately not meant to be. However, for a few weeks Wendy and I grappled with the notion of picking up the tent pegs of the life we’ve established and moving on. It does seem, at times, as if the grass is always greener, the possibilities broader, and the road easier “in a new place.” Present reality and circumstance always feels like such a slog. It’s easy for my imagination to conjure how easy it must be in a different place with different circumstances.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story continues to unfold the events after the City of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, had left Jeremiah in the custody of the Captain of the guard. When the time came for the Captain to return to Babylon he releases Jeremiah from his chains and gives Jeremiah a choice. Go back to Babylon with the Captain and all the exiles, or stay in Judah with the remnant of people left to work the land (the poorest, oldest, and sickest of the population). Jeremiah, who is now advanced in years himself, chooses to stay.

Should I stay or should I go?

This morning I’m thinking about that question which I have grappled with on different occasions in my life journey. I’ve also walked beside friends and family members who have been presented with that question in their own respective journeys. The answer, I have found, is rarely clear or easy.

What I have found, however, is that sometimes there is no clear choice, and really no wrong choice. I choose to stay, or to go, and God weaves my choice into the tapestry of my story and journey. Other times I have found clarity for the right choice through prayer, contemplation, and conversation with my closest of confidants. The more I pray and ponder the more peace I feel with one choice or the other, and pursuing the Spirit’s flow to the path of peace is always a wise choice. Still other times I have found that God makes it very clear through a direct spiritual word, a sign, or the word of a prophet. I have stories I could tell, but I’ll save those for other posts.

This morning I’m thinking about Jeremiah and the choice given him. Was it hard for him? Did God give him clear direction what to do? Or did staying in the rubble of Jerusalem just seem easier for an old man than the long journey to a foreign land? Today’s chapter doesn’t say, but I can imagine his thoughts and questions.

As for me, I’m grateful for where my journey has led me. I’m thankful to be in this place, in this reality, with this people, even when the present circumstances feel like a slog (and they often do). I’m have peace. Last night Wendy and I sat on our back patio and stared out at the back yard which spread out like a huge, thick carpet on a beautiful spring evening in Iowa.

The green grass I’m standing on right here, right now, is just fine.