Tag Archives: Politics

A Lesson in Abner

“May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” 2 Samuel 3:9-10 (NIV)

Abner is one of the most fascinating characters in the unfolding drama of the conflict between the houses of Saul and David. Abner was Saul’s general, and second in command. As such, Abner had amassed tremendous power and influence. With Saul’s well-known mental health issues, it was likely Abner who provided stability, respect, and fear in the chain of command. Upon Saul’s death, it was Abner who quickly propped up the weaker younger brother of Jonathan, Ish-bosheth, as his puppet to maintain control of the northern tribes.

Abner served Saul and his family faithfully, but his ultimate service was always about himself.

It struck me as I read this morning that Abner was well aware God had anointed David king of Israel. The way he worded his threat to Ish-bosheth it would seem he even believed that David’s ascent to the throne was a divinely appointed certainty. Yet, Abner spent two decades fighting faithfully for the house of Saul because that was where his bread was buttered.

Today’s chapter gives us a clear picture of Abner’s character. Abner seems to have enjoyed the fruits of his position. Now we see that he so disrespected his former master and the son of Saul he made into his political marionette, that he felt it was his right to feast on the forbidden fruit of Saul’s harem. After all, who was going to stop him? When Ish-bosheth finds the guts to stand up to Abner and call him to account, Abner does what all power brokers do: he makes a power play. As the game of thrones continues in determining who will be King of Israel, Ish-Bosheth plays the trump card he holds in his hand and vows to deliver the northern tribes to David wrapped up with a bow.

Abner is Judas. The inner-circle confidant who is secretly pilfering things for himself, and willing to betray his master if it suits his personal agenda. Abner is Iago, the 2nd in command whom the commander shouldn’t trust. Abner is the one who knows God’s truth, but never submits to it unless it happens to dovetail with his duplicitous purposes.

As I meditate in the quiet this morning, I can’t help but recognize the Abner in me. David wrote in the lyric of one of his songs: “search me God…and see if there is any offensive way in me.” I’m kind of feeling that same spirit this morning. I can see in my own life the perpendicular lines of God’s way and my way. Along my life journey, I confess that I have had my own duplicitous moments. I have, at times, served with selfish motives.

I am reminded by today’s chapter of the difference between the man I desire to be, and the man I sometimes prove to be by my own words and actions. I’m reminded that I have still not arrived. I am reminded that I’m still in process. God, examine my heart and help me be less like Abner and more of a man after your own heart.

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 April 2014.

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

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (CaD 2 Sam 2) Wayfarer

Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah. 2 Samuel 2:4 (NIV)

Life gets messy. When individuals and complex systems of individuals are all navigating their disparate paths and personal agendas, the results are inevitably going to include conflict. Tracing David’s path from being anointed king as a young man and his ascension to the throne of Israel is a meandering path through some very messy personal and political terrain.

King Saul is dead, but that doesn’t mean that David’s path to the throne is now less messy. Just the opposite. Things are going to get even messier. David’s family belongs to the tribe of Judah, and with the death of Saul the men of Judah move quickly to anoint David as their king. There are 12 tribes in Israel, however, and Judah’s brash act of independence reveals a schism between Judah and the other tribes that foreshadows centuries of bloody civil unrest to come when the nation splits in two during the reign of David’s grandson.

David is now King of Judah and its vast southern territory. The remnants of Saul’s political machine are not, however, eager to lose power or cede control of the nation to Judah’s famous outlaw. David was, after all, the young man Saul had designated as #1 on his most wanted list. Saul’s general, Abner, has is own political agenda. Abner sets up Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth as King of Israel and, no doubt, his puppet. Let the game of thrones begin.

Today I am again reminded of how messy life can get even in the politics and power struggles of my relatively small circles of life and influence. We all find ourselves embroiled in the game of thrones for our own little systemic kingdoms. Even as time and events lead towards divine ends, this life journey is fraught with difficulties, dangers, toils, and snares both personal and corporate. History should teach us that this has always been the case east of Eden, but I find we humans are constantly surprised by the reality of it.

In midst of the mess I’ve found it helpful to spiritually focus on the basics:

  1. Love God.
  2. Love others.
  3. Seek God’s kingdom first

… and then to press on one step, one day, at a time in the right direction.

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 April 2014.

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

The Trials of Transition

The Trials of Transition (CaD 1 Sam 11) Wayfarer

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one.
1 Samuel 11:6-7 (NIV)

I have a vivid memory of election night 2016. I was in a hotel room in Chanhassen, Minnesota watching the election returns. As the surprising results became clear, I received a text message from our daughter. She, like many Americans, was distraught with the outcome. My daughter and I have different views on many things including things political and spiritual, but as our text messages flowed back and forth, I recognized a couple of things.

First, my daughter was a relatively young adult. This was only the second presidential election in which she could vote. It was the first in which I observed her being politically aware. I watched as her personal journey over the previous four years had opened her eyes and heart to political issues that affected herself and particular people for whom she cared deeply. The previous one-third of her entire life journey to that point, our country had been led by one leader whom she admired and respected. That night, she was entering a major season of transition.

Along my life journey, I have experienced several seasons of transition. There are transitions that come from new experiences in life, such as the move from elementary school to middle school, then to high school, and the big transition to moving away from home to attend college. There are transitions in proximity, moving from one place to another which brings with it the loss of security, familiarity, and community and the process of establishing new footings, patterns, and relationships. There are transitions that come with the loss of family and loved ones. I distinctly remember when the last of my grandparents passed away and I had the realization that an entire generation of my family was gone; The rest of us had graduated to a new stage in our life journeys. Then there are transitions of leadership when a human system in which we are a part (e.g. government, family, work, church, community organization, etc.) gets a new leader that will affect our experience in that system.

In this chapter-a-day journey, we find the Hebrew tribes are in a time of intense transition. They had known one system of government for hundreds of years and were entering another. They had known the steady, strong leadership of Samuel for many years, but had been told that this young man named Saul, a nobody from the smallest tribe who happened to be tall and handsome, was going to be their king and rule over them. He’d been appointed and anointed by Samuel, he’d been chosen by the “luck of the draw” by the casting of lots. But, Saul was young. He lacked confidence. He was unproven as a leader.

Today’s chapter tells of Saul’s first real test of leadership. Having faced a continuous military threat from the Philistines in the west, the Ammonites on the east seize the opportunity to attack a Hebrew town on the east side of the River Jordan. When Saul hears of it, God’s spirit descends on him. He makes an immediate decision to act. He rallies the fighting men among the Hebrew tribes and humbly calls them to follow both he and Samuel in this call to action. After the successful, daring rescue, the people call for a lynch mob to round up all those who questioned Saul’s anointing as king and kill them all. Saul puts the kibosh on their plan, stating that the victory was not his, but the LORD’s. As I read the chapter, I thought to myself that Saul’s leadership was perfect. It couldn’t have been better. It was his first at-bat as the anointed king and he crushed a home run that left the park.

For the Hebrews, this had to have helped all the tension, fear, and anxiety they had been feeling in their season of transition. How nice it would be if all our seasons of transition experienced that kind of hopeful sign. But, they don’t. And that brings me back to my text conversation with my daughter that lasted into the wee hours of election night 2016 as she felt all the tension, fear, and anxiety of one of the most tumultuous transitions of political leadership in our nation’s history.

While I have very different views than my daughter, I have complete and utter respect for knowing that she is on her own journey. My love for her is not lessened by our differences of views. And, if I truly believe what I say I believe (and I do) then I trust that God is at work in her on her own journey even though it looks very different than mine. I also happen to believe deeply in the American ideal of free speech, respect for others, and the process of our representative republic. In my 50 years, I have experienced multiple presidential transitions that created tension, fear, and anxiety in me. I have watched the political pendulum swing back and forth many times at different levels.

That night I reminded our daughter that in just four years there would be another election. I reminded her that our system allows people to get involved and influence the outcome of elections. I encouraged her to turn her tension, fear, and anxiety into action. We might not always agree on who to vote for, but I wholeheartedly believe in her right to believe, think, speak, and act on her personal convictions in our political process.

In 2020, I couldn’t have been more proud of our daughter, her husband, and their friends. They successfully held one of the few international sites of the Iowa Caucuses and had Iowans from all over Europe travel to join them for their Caucus in Scotland. What I observed was my daughter turning the tension, fear, and anxiety of a season of transition into positive, active momentum.

And, that’s just what God tells us over and over again throughout the Great Story. The trials and struggles of transition can either send us into the pit of paralysis and despair, or they can produce in us important character qualities of perseverance, maturity, faith, trust, and active growth. Sometimes, a little of the former ultimately leads eventually to the latter. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve been able to skip the former altogether and move right to the latter. I pray that our daughter’s experiences will enable her to do the same.

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

What the Camera Sees

What the Camera Sees (CaD 1 Sam 9) Wayfarer

Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
1 Samuel 9:2 (NIV)

The other day in my post I mentioned how much change I have observed in our world and culture with the advent of the internet and social media. It has been fascinating to observe the dawn of such a powerful, global medium of communication. As with every communication medium, it has both the potential for so much good and the potential for so much evil.

Like most people, I have enjoyed exploring, learning, and using different online tools and social media like this blog I’ve been writing now for sixteen years. With two grandchildren living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I am so grateful for photos, video, and FaceTime. I’ve enjoyed that social media has allowed for closer, more frequent direct connections with family, classmates, and friends. I have been amazed to watch groups of people supporting others in times of need and crisis that never would have been possible before the internet because everyone was scattered around the world and we simply lost track of one another with no good way to effectively and easily communicate with so many people.

Along the way, I have also observed how things are communicated on social media. I have thought long and hard about how I want to use this tool and what I choose to communicate. I’ve observed that it is easy to start living life almost completely online. For those who are physically isolated for one reason or another, that brings incredible freedom. At the same time, I’ve observed that it becomes a dangerous escape for others.

In the early days of the internet, I was part of a group chat with people from all over the world. What I discovered over time was that some individuals in the chat were themselves, while others in the chat had created a persona they wanted others to believe was them. One member messaged me privately to confess that everything they purported to be in the group was a lie. The person was lonely, depressed and life was out of control, so they lived a fantasy online life in a group chat, hidden behind a username.

I have also been fascinated to observe how people present themselves online and how “likes” and “views” have become intertwined in a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I’ve also learned that young people will sometimes have two social media accounts on the same platform. One is for the general public and parental viewing/oversight while the other “secret account” is for their private group of friends to post the things they don’t want mom and dad to see or read.

In my mass communication classes in college, I was drilled into me that we only see what the person behind the camera wants us to see. My professors in the 1980s were talking about news editors, publishers, and filmmakers. The internet has brought the power of mass communication to every person in the world and put it right in the palm of our hands. With our posts, tweets, and photos we project ourselves to the world. Our followers see and hear only what we choose to show them. So what am I choosing for others to see, and why?

In today’s chapter, the first thing we read about the young man who will become Israel’s first king is that he is tall and handsome and from a prominent family in the tribe of Benjamin. What a perfect description of an ideal political candidate. But what if underneath that handsome face and six-foot frame there lurks a tortured soul, hidden rage, or mental health issues? We only see what the author of 1 Samuel wants us to see. Just like me and my social media feed.

Over time, I have found myself posting far less on social media than I once did. It’s not that I made a specific rule for myself. I simply began asking myself honest questions about my motives and my choices, and I began to embrace that no one really needs to see a photo of my suitcase on a business trip or the cowboy guy on my flight. I want to be present with loved ones and friends in the moment, and less worried about making sure the world knows who I was with and what I was doing.

What do I want others to see? Just another wayfaring stranger with very normal problems, faults, and shortcomings. I’m following Jesus. I’m pressing on this earthly journey one day at a time, reading the Great Story, pondering things in the quiet, and trying to enjoy life and my good companions with whom I share this journey and whom I endeavor to love well.

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

Habakkuk’s Cry

Habakkuk's Cry (CaD Hab 1) Wayfarer

Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk 1:3-4 (NIV)

I have known many fellow followers of Jesus over the years who would confess to never willingly cracking open the Old Testament unless under the social pressure of being asked to do so during a Sunday worship service. Even if they said they “occasionally” read from the Old Testament on their own, I’m sure that reading would be confined to the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Okay, maybe a few chapters of Genesis or one of the short stories like Ruth or Esther. If I were to ask them, “When was the last time you read the prophet Habakkuk?” they would probably just laugh at me. I’d wager that hearing a pastor say, “Let’s all open to the book of Habakkuk!” is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

We live in a world in which things “trend” on social media for minutes before being buried by another “trend.” Current events likewise dominate media and social media for a day or two tops before media and social media is on to the next hot topic in search of clicks and likes.

So what could an ancient Hebrew prophet have to say in 600 B.C. that is in any way relevant to my world today?

Let me walk through the verses I pasted at the top of this post:

Why [God] do you make me look at injustice?
    Why [God] do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Like mules leaving almost 50 dead immigrants rotting in the back of a tractor trailer?

Like drug cartels flooding the streets with opioids killing people in record numbers and never being held accountable?

“Destruction and violence are before me;

Like mass shooters opening fire in schools, churches, and malls?

Like demonstrations that torch entire neighborhoods of minority-owned businesses and end with dead bodies lying in the street?

“there is strife, and conflict abounds

Like individuals breaking off relationships with friends and family because they disagree on issues?

Like name calling, insults, and threats calling for death, murder, and assassination on social media?

Like political division between factions who refuse to compromise?

Therefore the law is paralyzed,

Like 400 law enforcement personnel who stood outside a classroom as children were being shot?

Like the headline I just read in this morning’s Wall Street Journal: “Who Would Want to Be a Police Officer in Seattle?”

and justice never prevails

Like the fact that not one of Jeffery Epstein’s high-profile customers has been named or indicted for raping underage girls?

Like political corruption that gets ignored and swept under the rug for the “greater good” of keeping a political party of choice in power?

The prophet Habakkuk lived in a period of political corruption, crime, violence, war, and social upheaval under a corrupt king and a nefarious ruling class. He pens his poetic dialogue with the Almighty and opens with a line that aptly described the questions of my own soul as I daily read the headlines:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?

It felt pretty relevant to me in the quiet as I read the chapter this morning. Habakkuk is giving voice to questions and sentiments that are echoed throughout history and will always resonate in a fallen world that is the domain of the “Prince of this World,” in which evil is present, and worldly kingdoms and institutions hold sway.

It is easy to feel as if God is both silent and absent.

Habakkuk’s short, poetic dialogue with God has a simple outline:

Question one: Why are you silent and will not act against injustice?

God’s answer: Just wait. I’m going to raise up the Babylonians to bring about the justice that I’ve been announcing through you and other prophets like your peer Jeremiah for some time now. I’ve been patiently listening for people to listen and repent. That’s not happening, so get ready.

Question two: Serious?!? Why would you use the evil Babylonians?!?

Tomorrow’s chapter is God’s answer to this second question.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself identifying with Habakkuk’s questions. In the middle of writing this post, I went downstairs to have breakfast with Wendy and we perused the headlines. Habakkuk’s lines kept resonating in my head and heart as I read.

God’s response also echoed. Within the Great Story, faith is defined as “the assurance of what we hope for, the evidence of that which we can’t see.” That includes the reality that God appears to be silent, and it seems like God is not doing anything, but I have limited, finite human senses and knowledge. So, my heart cries out like Habakkuk.

Having just finished the book of Revelations, I know that God has promised to bring divine justice to the earth one day and deal with evil and the fruits of evil once-and-for-all. Until then, my prayerful cries of “How long, oh Lord?” rise as incense in heaven’s Throne Room along with your cries, and everyone else’s cries.

When will God make good on His promised judgment?

I don’t know.

I have faith that He will.

Until then, I’ll keep crying out along with brother Habakkuk.

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

Prophetic Pondering

Prophetic Pondering (CaD Rev 11) Wayfarer

The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over [the two dead prophets] and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
Revelation 11:10 (NIV)

I have been a follower of Jesus for just over 40 years, a period of time which is used in the Great Story as the number of years in a generation. So, I have spent time over the past couple of years pondering the changes I’ve observed in our society and our culture in one generation. In some ways, the changes seem startling to me.

A generation ago, I watched as Christian fundamentalists with groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition sought to force their religious doctrines on society through political power. What I observed in those days was that a judeo-christian world view was foundational in society around me. Virtually ever kid I knew grew up going to church of some kind. It was just what you did.

A generation later, I find it ironic to observe what I would consider woke fundamentalists who are seeking to force their doctrinal world-view on society through political power. Major institutions of media, business, and academia are offering full support. Meanwhile, my own local gathering of Jesus’ disciples has grown in the last couple of decades, not because new followers are joining the ranks but because so many other churches are dying and closing their doors. Churches are being burned and attacked, social media posts call for violence against Christians.

These are things that I would have never have believed would happen in one generation, just 40 years ago.

In today’s chapter, the interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet judgments” continues. Two prophets, or “witnesses” are raised up. They echo the ancient prophet Elijah whose prayers shut-off the rains and brought fire down from the heavens.

It’s important to remember that the picture John’s visions create is an Earth in which there are a mere 144,000 followers of God who are sealed and protected through this time of tribulation. Where are all the followers of Jesus? John’s Revelation does not seem to address this, though the letters of the apostles speak of a “rapture” of God’s people in which they are suddenly and unexpectedly snatched up to heaven in the twinkling of an eye. This leaves the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants who are described as unrepentantly anti-God. Therefore, when the two prophets are killed, the world celebrates their deaths and gloats over their bodies. People throw parties to feast the end of God’s messengers.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find myself pondering the changes I’ve observed in one generation. I could not fathom the anger, hatred, and calls for violence that I witness on both ends of the socio-political spectrum. Though, given the gross failings of institutional churches that I touched on in yesterday’s post, I can certainly empathize with those who were victimized and are crying out in anger.

There are mornings on this chapter-a-day journey when I feel as if I am left with more questions than answers; Mornings when I am more perplexed than inspired. I’ve come to believe that this is not a bad thing. The Twelve who followed Jesus in the flesh for three years were still confused and scratching their heads the night before He was crucified and the day He rose from the dead. Why should I be any different? Along my journey I’ve found that it is often the long stretches of pondering good questions that ultimately lead to new depths of spiritual understanding.

So, two thoughts I continue to ponder as I enter my day today:

First, it would be easy for me to over-dramatize the changes I’ve witnessed in a generation and conclude that the end-times are near. I don’t know that. The pendulum of socio-political thought swings back and forth sending individuals on either side of the spectrum into doomsday thoughts and predictions. What I have observed in the last forty years helps me to appreciate how the events and anti-God attitudes in John’s vision could, indeed, be possible, but that doesn’t equate to thinking they are probable in the near turn.

Second, the pendulum of social, cultural, political and religious thought does often swing back and forth. Some would argue that it is currently doing so. The social and political upheaval of the 60s ushered in a period of rebellion, violence, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. The 70s then experienced a “Jesus People” movement when many people found themselves aimless and empty, searching for spiritual answers. I consider it possible that a generation of young children who are being asked to question fundamental biological truths about themselves (when they don’t even have the vocabulary or cognitive ability to process it) may very well find themselves confused about their identity and longing for a strong spiritual foothold to help them make sense out of life. This might even lead to a spiritual revival.

I’m posting this much later than norma this morning because I’ve been pondering how best to conclude. I’m still not sure, so I’m just going to leave it here, continuing to ponder.

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

The Context

The Context (CaD Matt 22) Wayfarer

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’
Matthew 22:8-9 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to read with a mental microscope or magnifying glass to inspect every word, every verse, or every parable as if they exist as individual and/or exclusive works of divine wisdom. I’ve come to observe that there’s more to be gained by launching my mental drone to rise above the text and see the word, verse, and parable within the larger tapestry of the Great Story. Today’s chapter is a great example of this.

The entire chapter takes place at a very specific time and place. It’s the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. He is in Jerusalem and spending His day at Herod’s Temple, the seat and center of Hebrew religious power and worship. There is an escalating conflict emerging between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day. Public opinion is on Jesus’ side for the moment, and the religious leaders are working their fundamentalist political playbook. They keep sending different groups with questions in hope that Jesus will make a gaffe, say something stupid on the hot mic, or make a partisan comment which will offend His audience and give them political ammunition to publicly discredit Him. This is the same kind of political theater that plays out in press conferences and the media every single day.

They ask Jesus about paying taxes to Rome because it’s a hot-button issue. Most of Jesus’ audience hated the Romans, and they hated paying taxes. The religious leaders even make sure that Rome’s local political puppets, the Herodians, are there to witness the answer. They hoped Jesus’ answer would be treasonous enough to arrest Him.

A religious faction, the Sadducees, try a trick question on Jesus that was rooted in a hot-button theological debate about whether there was a resurrection or not. The motive was to trip Jesus up and make Him look like a fool. Jesus nailed the answer and discredited the questioners.

They tried another theological question, but Jesus nailed that one, too.

Then Jesus decided it was time for Him to ask the question. He asks about the popular term being used for the coming Messiah, the same one they were indignant about children applying to Jesus in yesterday’s chapter: Son of David. Jesus discredits the term (perhaps in response to their indignation the previous day?) based on David’s own lyrics.

This is a political tennis match with Jesus volleying back and forth with the religious leaders. And it’s in the context of this rising conflict that I must understand Jesus’ parable of the Wedding Banquet. The guests invited to the feast who ignored the invitation are Jesus’ religious enemies. They’ve ignored the heart of God’s commandments to cling to their power, greed, and fundamentalism. The servants who get beat up and killed are the prophets. The King sending His army to destroy the murderers and raze the city is prophetic, as this is exactly what happened in AD 70 when the Romans razed Jerusalem and the Temple. The King’s decision to go to every corner and invite “anyone you can find” is equally prophetic. It is what happens in the book of Acts when the Jesus Movement breaks out of the shackles of Hebrew fundamentalism and embraces anyone, Jewish or not, who chooses to repent, believe, and follow.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking what this means for me today. My heart’s desire is to always follow Jesus, but I can look back on my journey and see ways in which I’ve been more like the religious leaders. I’ve been religious, but I confess that there’s hard evidence that my religion has at times been more about being right, condemning others, and holding appropriate political and doctrinal views instead of being about love, grace, and mercy. That makes me more like Jesus’ enemies.

Mea culpa.

Whenever personal faith intertwines with human institutions and systems, it’s hard for it not to get sucked into the same trap that the Hebrews fell into. And that’s as true for me as it is for anyone else.

So, for me, that’s the take-away. I want to be diligent in living out my “religion” in Jesus’ terms:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 (NIV)

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

“Ins” and “Outs”

"Ins" and "Outs" (CaD Matt 8) Wayfarer

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

Matthew 8:5-7 (NIV)

I’ve been preparing a message I’m going to be giving among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers this Sunday. A year or two ago I happened to do a little personal study on the subject of fundamentalism. I was prompted to do some research because I noticed certain parallels of thought and behavior among a particular civic group that reminded me of things I saw in some of the Christian fundamentalist groups I experienced earlier in my spiritual journey.

My research came up with six elements that mark fundamentalist groups, elements that I would argue create a toxic cocktail no matter where they are found. All major religions have fundamentalist sects that bear these elements. As I studied and meditated on them, I came to realize that the elements of toxic fundamentalism can really be found in almost any human system including political, institutional, corporate, or even in families. As I was studying the assigned text for this Sunday’s message, I realized that Jesus’ religious critics displayed all six elements within the stories.

One of the elements of fundamentalist systems is that they maintain strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. You must toe the line in thought, words, and behavior to be considered “in” with us, but the slightest misstep or evidence that you’ve run afoul of the rules or belief system and you are “out.”

The Hebrew religious system from which Jesus came was a fundamentalist form of Judaism. They had strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. The religious power brokers wouldn’t associate with fellow Hebrews who were on the “outs” because they didn’t toe the line. And the Roman occupying force in Judea was really on the outs with the good religious authorities as well as almost all Hebrews who considered them the enemy.

In today’s chapter, Jesus has just finished his message on the hill, in which He told His listeners to love the enemy. He returns toward their base of operation and he is met by a Roman Centurion (enemy, occupier, a persecutor of His people, religiously dirty “gentile,” and pagan!). The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus immediately asks if He should come to the Centurion’s house.

Entering the house of a Roman was strictly against fundamentalist rules. The Romans were the “outs” of all “outs.” Years later, in Acts 10, Peter will face the same fundamentalist religious dilemma of being invited to a Centurion’s home. Jesus doesn’t even hesitate: “Would you like me to come with you?”

In the quiet this morning, I was struck by Jesus’ words to His followers after healing the servant remotely and sending the Centurion on his way:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus points out that people will be surprised who they see at heaven’s feast. Some of those who were on the “outs” on earth will be present while some of the “ins” on earth will not.

So who do I consider on the “outs” with me and my belief system? Who would I refrain from accepting an invitation to their home? Who is so worthless in my eyes and I don’t even want to be near them? I think the roots of fundamentalisms are found in my own sinful nature. Jesus not only came to forgive me of my sin but also to call me to live contrary to it. Which means tearing down my own personal “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions.

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

Topsy-Turvy Times

Topsy-Turvy Times (CaD Ecc 10) Wayfarer

There is an evil I have seen under the sun,
    the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
Fools are put in many high positions,
    while the rich occupy the low ones.
I have seen slaves on horseback,
    while princes go on foot like slaves.

Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 (NIV)

One of the reasons that I’ve always loved history is because it offers me context that is beneficial in observing the times in which I am living. The entire world has experienced life getting topsy-turvy and upside down for the past year-and-a-half on multiple levels from the pandemic to politics. It certainly has felt like a perfect storm, with multiple storm fronts of Covid, George Floyd, and national election converging into one strange year that’s still perpetuating.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Sage of Ecclesiastes warns of such times. In other words, what I’ve experienced in the past year and a half may be strange within the context of my lifetime, but certainly not in the context of history. I sincerely feel for those who lost loved ones from the Coronavirus, yet the death rate in the U.S. according to the CDC sits at 600,000 (I rounded up) which is .18 percent of the 330 million U.S. citizens. The “black death” pandemic of the middles ages is believed to have killed 50-60% of all Europeans. I try to imagine 165,000,000 deaths in the U.S. or half the people I know dying in short order. It doesn’t lessen the sting if losing a loved one to Covid, but it does make me grateful to have not experienced the Black Death.

Millions of people did experience the Black Death, however. Millions of people also experienced their world turning upside down when the Third Reich took over Europe in just five years. Even in the Great Story I read Jeremiah’s lamentation over the carnage and cannibalism of the siege of Jerusalem, or Daniel’s world turning upside down when he finds himself a captive in Babylon, or Joseph’s world being turned upside down when he is sold into slavery by his own brothers and ends up in an Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The books of Judges, Chronicles, and Kings relate stories of an on-going game of thrones in which entire regimes change overnight and then change again in short order. As the Sage observes: yesterday’s ruler wakes up a slave while yesterday’s slave sits on the throne.

Instability. Chaos. Corruption. Pandemic.

It’s all happened before, and it will continue to happen. If John’s vision in Revelation are any indication, it’s going to get much worse before the end. Nevertheless, the overwhelming evidence reveals that the times I am living in are a cakewalk compared to all of human history: Less sickness, less poverty, less malnutrition, less violence, longer life spans, more political stability, more rule of law.

So what does this mean for me today? It doesn’t change my present circumstances or current events, but it does change the way I frame my thoughts and understanding of my circumstances and current events. It helps me in keeping fear and anxiety in check. In today’s chapter, the Sage explains that when a ruler rages there is wisdom in staying at your post and remaining calm. I daily observe the world raging in various ways and forms. I hear the shouts, screams, and cries coming at me from all directions across multiple media feeds.

I find myself considering the context.

I thank God I live in what is globally the safest, most stable period of all human history.

I endeavor to stay at my post, sowing love, kindness, and peace. I endeavor daily to calmly do what I can to make the world an even better place in my circles of influence.

And, so I begin another day.

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

Success

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.
Mark 15:15a (NIV)

Last night Wendy and I enjoyed a lovely date at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that has become a favorite haunt at the lake. During our dinner conversation, Wendy referenced a couple of conversations we’ve had with people recently in which my blog posts and podcasts were referenced. In each case, I received kind words of gratitude.

Wendy asked me if I was encouraged by this. I was, of course. It’s always heartening to know that some seed I scattered sprouted something worthwhile in another person’s journey. This conversation is always a bit of a two-edged sword for me, and Wendy knows that more than anyone. This is why my Enneagram Eight challenger wife brought it up. She is my most passionate cheerleader and high-fidelity encourager.

Here’s what I’ve observed and learned after fifteen years and some five thousand blog posts. Measuring “success” is such a spiritual, emotional, and mental trap. Part of it is just human nature to want my endeavors to succeed. Part of it is a male thing in which grown men have a trapped little boy inside them perpetually playing King of the Mountain. Part of it, for me, is also being an Enneagram Four who naturally sees myself and my world through the lens of dramatic, angsty pessimism and a brooding sense of failure. Then, add-in the world’s definitions of “success” which is measured in large numbers, viral popularity, notoriety, and income.

By the world’s definition, fifteen years and five thousand blog posts should be generating way more than the 54 visitors to my site yesterday. By the world’s definition, it’s abject failure. So, why do it? I like to think I’m compelled, but sometimes I think I might be a little bit crazy.

Three chapters back I mused about the role of “the crowd” in the final days of Jesus earthly journey. It was Tuesday and the crowds were delighted with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus enemies were afraid of the crowd, and afraid of the threat Jesus would be with the crowd behind Him and siding against them. It’s now early Friday morning and these enemies “stir the crowd” to demand the Roman Governor to crucify Jesus. The Governor is a politician, and “wanting to satisfy the crowd” he goes against his better judgment. He condemns an innocent man to keep his approval number high and keep peace with his political adversaries.

Pilate and the chief priests were playing the world’s version King of the Mountain. The Prince of Heaven was showing His followers what the path of success looks like in God’s Kingdom.

Which version of “success” do I really want?

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about two other lessons that I’ve observed about the world’s definition of “success.” First, it’s never enough. It’s a never-ending game of King of the Mountain but the mountain keeps getting higher. The chief priests and religious power brokers were so addicted to their power and influence that they were willing to climb to the pinnacle of conspiracy to commit legally sanctioned murder in order to hold on to it. Second, once the crowd crowns someone with worldly success, the crowd then demands that the person says and does what it dictates. Pilate let the crowd determine his verdict.

Over the past few years, I’ve observed with increasing clarity just how much the crowd fans the flames of public opinion and sways what “successful” people say and do. I find it fascinating how the crowd can lift any obscure individual to the mountain-top of success, and just as quickly push them off popularity cliff.

I submit for your consideration Exhibit A: Jesus, the Christ.

Sunday: The crowd cheers His “triumphant entry” to Jerusalem.

Friday: The crowd screams for His crucifixion.

And so, I’ll continue to scatter my posts and podcasts out into the inter-web in blissful obscurity grateful that 50 or so people stop by on any given day. I’ll continue to follow my spiritual compulsions until the Spirit compels me to stop. I’ll continue to choose to listen to my high-fidelity cheerleader. I’ll continue to tell my human nature, my inner-boy, and my Type Four temperament to chill-out.

Life (without the crowd) is good.

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