Tag Archives: Power

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.

The Contrast

The Contrast (CaD Matt 26) Wayfarer

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas…

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper…
Matthew 26:3,6 (NIV)

This past November, I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in which I shared a handful of personal lessons I learned about how the world works:

  • When a local union threatened and bullied me into quitting a part time job I’d taken for a season to save for college.
  • When a local political machine allowed their employees to smoke at work even though it was against the law for everyone else.
  • When a powerful businessman and donor of the church successfully twisted the arms of church leaders to wrongfully accuse the staff and force his will on the congregation.

The world has been having a conversation about systemic racism for the past few years, and it’s an important conversation to have. However, along my earthly journey, I’ve observed and experienced that systemic power exists in many forms and affects every person in one way or another. It’s woven into the human experience. Even Jesus was a victim of it.

I couldn’t help but notice this morning, the contrast Matthew presents between the religious power brokers at the pinnacle of the religious system, and Jesus with His followers.

The religious power brokers met in the high priest’s palace, while Jesus and His followers were guests at the home of a former leper whom He’d healed.

The religious power brokers in their palace schemed how to arrest Jesus secretly and kill Him. FYI: it was illegal to arrest someone secretly at night, and they had no legal authority to execute anyone. Meanwhile, Jesus quietly arranged to celebrate the Passover feast with His disciples in a borrowed room.

As the religious leaders broker a deal with Judas to betray Jesus in the middle of the night, Jesus assertively prepares for His fate in fellowship with His closest friends and in prayer. He has, three times in this chapter, demonstrated that He knows what is coming:

“As you know, the Passover is two days away — and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (vs. 2)

“When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” (vs. 12)

“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (vs. 21)

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but ponder the difference I see between Jesus and the religious system that killed Him and ponder Jesus’ words: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” What does that mean for me as I endeavor to follow Jesus every day of this earthly journey? As I ponder Jesus example in the chapter I come up with:

Live a life of surrender not of supremacy.
Invest in people, not possessions.
Live a life of giving, not of getting.
Always expect the Prince of this world to use the systemic power of this world to suppress the purposes of God’s kingdom on earth.

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

Jesus vs. the System

Jesus vs. the System (CaD Matt 21) Wayfarer

The blind and the lame came to [Jesus] at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
Matthew 21:14-15 (NIV)

I remember once, as a young believer, my friends and I decided that we wanted to organize a weekend event in our church. We wanted to bring in a guest teacher we knew, have evening services each weekend night with some music and we’d invite anyone who wanted to come. We agreed to plan the whole thing, host the event, line up volunteers, and raise the funds necessary. We were so excited to do this thing.

Our plan came to a screeching halt when we were told that our plan had been swiftly and summarily rejected by our pastor and the Director of Christian Education. They would not give their stamp of approval because our guest speaker was not in our denominational silo. We were heartbroken, but it was a good lesson for me in learning how the world works, even in religious institutions.

A few weeks ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. In the message, I contrasted the major tenets of fundamentalism which are clearly seen in the words and actions of the religious leaders, teachers of the law, and Pharisees who oppose Jesus, with what Jesus was teaching and exemplifying in His ministry. Fundamentalism is not just about religion. You can find the basic tenets of fundamentalism in almost any human system including families, businesses, schools, and political groups.

In today’s chapter, Jesus enters Jerusalem and the Temple to celebrate Passover. Thousands and thousands of pilgrims were there from all over. In yesterday’s chapter, Jesus clearly stated what would happen to Him in this week:

We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Jesus has never been popular with the religious leaders, but He’s spent almost all of His ministry traveling around rural, backwater regions. Now Jesus is at the center of religious, political, and commercial power. The religious leaders Jesus has encountered up to this point were local minions and middle-management. The Temple in Jerusalem was the religious C-Suite. Jesus is walking into the seat of religious power, and the first thing He does is to piss them off by causing a riot in the Temple’s lucrative money-changing operation. If you want to make racketeers angry, threaten their cash flow.

Jesus is dealing with a fundamentalist religious system. Like all fundamentalist systems, these religious leaders have an unwavering attachment to the irreducible belief that they are God’s appointed rulers of God’s chosen people, and they have absolute, unquestionable authority over everyone and everything in their religion. So, on the heels of this act of “domestic terrorism” Jesus perpetrated against the Temple, the religious power brokers go to find Jesus who has giant crowds surrounding Him as He teaches in the Temple courts. They watch Jesus healing people. Blind people can see. Lame people walk. Deaf people hear. The crowd is going nuts.

Then the religious power brokers hear children shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” This was the chant the people were shouting when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey. At this, the religious power brokers “were indignant.”

As good religious fundamentalists, these dudes applied strict literalism to their religious dogmas and beliefs. They were more important than anything else, and the cheer “Hosanna (a form of the word “save”) to the Son of David (a moniker for the coming Messiah)” was strictly and systemically inappropriate. Only they had the power and authority to say who the Messiah was. The Messiah could only be the Messiah with their authoritative stamp of approval. Children shouting that Jesus was the Messiah threatened the entire fundamentalist system and their authoritative control.

In the quiet this morning, I just sat in the reality of that moment for a while. People are being healed. Jesus is revealing divine power no one had ever seen on Earth right in front of them. There is joy, tears of happiness, and the lives of countless individuals and families being forever changed for the good. While the religious leaders are indignant that children are shouting Jesus’ praise.

That is classic fundamentalism. “If it doesn’t exist within our established authoritative system and according to our strict, literal dogmas then it must be rejected, tossed out, and crushed as a threat.”

This brings me back to my and my friends’ hearts being crushed when the religious institution rejected and tossed out our desire to bring in a speaker for a weekend of meetings. As much as I wanted to fight the system, I learned at that moment that it was better to walk away. A fundamentalist system will go to any length necessary to protect the system. They’ll even conspire with political enemies to commit murder. Which is just what they are going to do to Jesus, and He knows it.

FWIW: Here’s the message I gave contrasting the tenets of the fundamentalist religious system of Jesus’ day with what Jesus was teaching and doing.

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

“Leave Them”

"Leave Them" (CaD Matt 15) Wayfarer

“Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Matthew 15:14 (NIV)

A cult favorite among theatre types is the movie Waiting for Guffman. It’s a “mockumentary” gem from Christopher Guest about a small-town community theatre troupe who are producing an original musical for their little town’s big anniversary. The members of the production come to believe that a major Broadway producer named Guffman is coming to see their show and it leads them into dreams of grandeur. For anyone who has experienced small-town community theatre, it’s a hoot.

Waiting for Guffman popped into my head as I was reading the chapter this morning because some teachers of the law and Pharisees travel from Jerusalem to observe Jesus. The importance of this statement is often lost on a casual 21st-century reader. Jerusalem was the epicenter of the Hebrew religious machine. The fact that envoys from Jerusalem had traveled to back-water, fly-over country to check out Jesus for themselves meant that word about Jesus had spread. Jesus was making waves and all of the squabbles He’d had with the local religious powers had finally rippled all the way to the seat of religious power.

It’s like a Broadway producer traveling from New York to the midwest to check out a local community theatre production.

It’s like a rural, Iowa high-school kid having a scout from Alabama show up to watch him play football.

It’s like having the FBI showing up to take over the scene of a small-town crime.

Being part of a Fundamentalist religious system, these high-powered envoys are more interested in protecting their religious system than they are in Jesus’ miracles or teaching. They’re the rule police sent to find evidence that will discredit Jesus so the system can proclaim to the people that Jesus is a heretic to be avoided. Thus, the first thing they do is to scold Jesus and His disciples for not following the mandated hand-washing rules before eating.

In response, Jesus points out their hypocrisy. These teachers of the Law had created a legal loophole in their system so that families who had savings built up to provide for their parents in old age could legally use those funds to make a contribution to the Temple. It was essentially robbing from the needy to line the pockets of the wealthy power-brokers running the Temple system. Jesus calls out the hypocrisy: “You’re worried about my disciples not washing their hands before eating, while your heart and hands are permanently stained with greed and corruption.”

Jesus, the podunk country preacher, just pissed off some of the most powerful people from Jerusalem, and it was fascinating to read the disciples’ swift admonishment. “Doesn’t Jesus know that these guys could make or break His career? Doesn’t He know that these are connected men? These lawyers and officials have the power to make life miserable for Jesus, for us, and for our families? They could tell the local officials to throw us out of the synagogue!

“Jesus! You don’t talk to these men that way!

Jesus response? “Leave them. This is a no-win situation. It’s not worthwhile going down the rabbit hole of debate with these Jerusalem big shots. They’re willfully blind and have no desire to see the Light. Walk away.

In the quiet this morning, this quick decision of Jesus to walk away from further debate and conflict resonated with me. Over the years, I occasionally have had individuals comment, criticize, argue, and even threaten me in comments online. I have experienced the rabbit hole of worthless online exchanges. I have also experienced the value of honest conversation and debate of thought and ideas with someone truly interested in understanding, discovering, and growing. The difference is in the motivation, and I’ve increasingly prayed for greater wisdom and discernment to know when to speak, and when to be silent.

I endeavor to respond to everyone who reaches out, but there are times when Jesus’ directive to His disciples resonates within me.

“Leave them.”

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

“Effed Up Family”

"Effed Up Family" (CaD Gen 48) Wayfarer

Joseph said to [Israel], “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Genesis 48:18-19 (NIV)

Wendy and I became hooked on Yellowstone in its first season. It’s now in its fourth season. Sunday night has become a weekly watch party with our friends. Wendy and I have often described Yellowstone to family and friends as “The Godfather meets modern day Montana.”

Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the widowed patriarch of a family who has owned a million-acre ranch of the most beautiful and desirable land in Montana for over a century. Everyone wants the land and they will do literally anything to wrench it from Dutton’s control. Dutton will do literally anything to prevent that from happening. Let’s just say, if he asks one of the ranch hands to drive you “to the train station” you’ve just been given a one-way ticket to the end-of-the-line. Dutton finds himself forced to manipulate and coerce his own adult children to “protect” the family and the ranch. Each of his children is, respectfully and understandably, his or her own form of messed up.

Our daughter and her husband watch Yellowstone every week along with another show about a wealthy, dysfunctional family empire. They’ve dubbed the evening “Effed up family night.”

I couldn’t help but think of it as I read today’s chapter. The book of Genesis is known by many as simply the story of creation and Noah’s ark. The truth is that about 80 percent of Genesis is the story of one man, Abraham, being given a promise that his descendants will become a great nation. It then tells how Abraham builds a wealthy nomadic herding operation and has a son, who expands the family and the family business. By the third generation, they grow to become a wealthy clan that other peoples fear as they wander the land. In the fourth generation, the clan continues to grow into the making of twelve tribes, who will become a people before the book of Exodus in which God makes them into a nation.

I’ve often said that all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. Families growing into tribes, people, and empires is a common theme in some of the epic stories we love, as is the struggle of flawed human family systems to protect and perpetuate the family legacy. The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is the seminal source material.

In today’s chapter, two recurring themes are present. First is the ancient patriarch on his death bed blessing his children. It’s the conduit through which power and privilege are passed down to the subsequent generation. The second recurring theme is the bucking of the embedded cultural tradition of the day in which the firstborn son inherits everything. Israel, the second-born son of Isaac who stole the birthright and deceived his father into receiving the blessing, is now the dying Patriarch. His first move is to call Joseph to him. Joseph was at one time his youngest son and his favorite. Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, who was the younger sister, whom Israel loved. Two important things happen.

First, Israel raises Joseph’s sons, his grandsons, to the status of sons and heirs of their grandfather. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, will become the head of their own tribes next to their uncles. In doing this, Joseph’s family is receiving a double-portion of Israel’s overall blessing.

Second, Israel willfully crosses his arms when blessing Manasseh and Ephraim. He places his right hand (the hand of favor) on the younger son’s head. He places his left hand (often the metaphor of disfavor or secondary favor in that culture) on the firstborn son’s head. Joseph is ticked-off at this and tries to reverse it. The tradition of honoring the firstborn son runs deep in family systems to this day. Israel refuses. Like Isaac, like Jacob/Israel, and like Joseph himself, the younger brother Ephraim will be the greater. Hundreds of years later, when the nation of Israel splits into two after Solomon’s reign, the southern kingdom will be called Judah (the fourth-born son who emerges as the leader of the tribes) and the northern kingdom will be often referred to as Ephraim. Prophecy fulfilled.

Along my earthly journey, I’ve observed that one’s place and position within the family system can often have a tremendous impact on how one sees and perceives themselves, their self-worth, and their place in this world. One of the things that Jesus taught, one of the spiritual realities He put into place, was that anyone who follows Him will be lifted into the potion of child of God, heir of God, and co-heir with Christ Jesus Himself. It’s good news for everyone who grew up with real family stories that would fit right in with “Effed up family night.”

While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.”
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-48 (MSG)

…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Galatians 3:26 (NIV)

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. Galatians 4:6-7 (MSG)

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!
Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

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

Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light (CaD John 9) Wayfarer

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
John 9:39 (NIV)

The world has changed dramatically in the 40 years I’ve been a follower of Jesus. When I began my journey as a teenager, I observed and experienced that Judeo-Christian thought was a dominant world-view in culture. Even those who chose not to believe typically respected the tradition and basic tenets. Fundamentalist movements like the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition sought political power to legalize their morals and beliefs back in those days.

A generation later, I observe that the cultural pendulum has swung to the other side. I confess that Christians and the institutions of Christian religion are largely to blame. Child abuse swept under the rug, televangelists conning peopIe out of their money to build earthly empires of ego, abandoning our call to care for the poor and needy while satiating our edifice complexes, ignoring racism in our midst, and high-profile sex scandals of mega-church celebrity pastors have all eroded public trust and respect. People are leaving churches in droves. Churches are closing. In Canada, churches are being burned to the ground and no one seems to notice or care. Fundamentalism on the opposite side of the spectrum now seeks to legalize their morals and world-view.

As an amateur historian, I often think about what I make of it all and where it will all lead.

Today’s chapter has become one of my favorite stories in all of the Great Story from Genesis to Revelation. After yesterday’s showdown with the religious leaders, we learn that they have done what institutions always do with people who are a threat to their power and control: they outlaw Jesus and anyone who follows Him. If you believe that Jesus is who He says He is then you’ll be cancelled, socially outcast, and thrown out of the synagogue.

Fundamentalist movements of every kind have all of the same tactics. They maintain strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. Forty years ago I watched fundamentalist churches publicly shaming and kicking out homosexuals, women who got pregnant out of wedlock, and men with long hair in the fundamentalist bible college I attended for one semester. Today, woke fundamentalists are cancelling and shaming anyone who doesn’t mark lock-step with their world-view. Different group, different beliefs, but the same fundamentalist playbook.

While the religious leaders are busy threatening people with cancellation, Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. He heals him on the sabbath day of rest which is only going to push the buttons of His opponents. It was already a point of contention between them and Jesus addressed it head-on during his public teaching earlier that week:

Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
John 7:21-24 (NIV)

The religious leaders launch an investigation, because that’s also in the institutional playbook. It becomes obvious that the investigation is not about getting to the truth, but maintaining control and finding reason to officially discredit Jesus. They call in the man’s parents as part of the investigation. Afraid of being cancelled, they plead ignorance and pass the buck back to their son. They then summon the man a second time, but they only seem interested in entrenching themselves and doubling down on the official institutional narrative.

Jesus, meanwhile, introduces Himself to the former blind man who becomes a believer because, well, he was blind and now he can see.

Jesus then makes a fascinating statement: “I have come into the world so that the blind will see, and those who see will become blind.” How fascinating, to think that the Light of the World causes some to see while causing others to be blind. I’m not always sure what to make of that, though I have certainly observed it. Along my spiritual journey I’ve known many people who, like me, claim the same testimony as the blind man in today’s chapter after experiencing Jesus’ amazing grace: “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” I’ve also known many people who have never experienced it and tell me I’m the one who am blinded by my faith. And, that’s fine. They have their own journey. I’m walking mine.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of why I try to maintain a healthy skepticism of human institutions of every kind, especially those who operate by the fundamentalist playbook. I’m also reminded of the Jesus I’m following; Not the plastic caricature that the institutional church has painted over the centuries to maintain power and control, but the wayfaring nobody from backwater Nazareth who threatened earthly institutional religious and political power with simple, divine love for blind beggars, children, women caught in adultery, racially oppressed divorced women, blue-collar fishermen, lepers, and me (a broken, adulterous, divorced, sinful nobody from small town Iowa). I see in Him, the One I want to be.

And so, I press on and follow.

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

A Different Playbook

A Different Playbook (CaD Mk 3) Wayfarer

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Mark 3:6 (NIV)

As a student of history, I’ve observed that much of history is about those in power, how they came to power, how their power was threatened or taken away. It always makes for a good story, as Shakespeare well knew. The Bard mined a lot of historical leaders and events to write plays that are still being ceaselessly produced today.

One of the themes that runs through both history and our classic literature is that of holding on to power. I find it to be a very human thing. Once I have power, I don’t want to let go of it. This is not just true of politicians who rig the system to ensure they remain in control, or business leaders who cling to their corner office, but it’s also true of parenting. For almost two decades I am essentially ruler and lord with total authority over this child. Then I’m suddenly supposed to just “let go” of my power and authority and let her run her own life when she might make some crazy life decision? Yikes!

As I read today’s chapter, I couldn’t help but see the continued development of conflict that Mark is revealing in the text. Those representatives of the powerful religious institution who were indignant with Jesus’ teaching in yesterday’s chapter, are finding Jesus to be a growing threat to their power in today’s chapter.

Jesus’ popularity is rising off of the charts. His name is trending throughout the region, even in Jerusalem where the earthly powers of politics, commerce, and religion reign. Crowds are traveling to Galilee to see this rising star. And the people who are flocking to Him are the crowds, the masses, commoners, the sick, the poor, the simpletons in fly-over country, the deplorables.

The stakes have grown. The power brokers and their minions are no longer just watching, they are plotting:

“Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus…” (vs. 2)

Once again, Jesus thwarts their monopolistic, religious control by healing someone on the Sabbath. The crowds are cheering. This Nazarene upstart could turn the crowds against them. Mobs, protests, and violence in the streets could be the result, and that’s a threat to our power. Something must be done, and Mark tells us that something interesting happens:

“Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (vs. 6)

The Pharisees were religious power brokers who publicly condemned the Roman Empire who was in control of the region. The Herodians (followers of local King Herod) were local political power brokers who did business with Rome in order to get lucrative Roman contracts and Roman authority to wield local political control. These two groups publicly hated one another, and in the media they had nothing good to say about one another. However, history reveals time and time again that in the playbook of the Kingdoms of this World “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Welcome to the smoke-filled back room. Have a seat. We’re just getting started. What are we to do with this “Jesus problem?”

Jesus, meanwhile, has other problems. The crowds are pressing in to the point of almost being out of control. The line of people wanting to be healed is endless. They’re coming from all over. Where are all these people going to stay? What are they going to eat? The locals are complaining about their quiet little towns being overrun with foreigners. The markets are sold out of everything!

And then Jesus’ own mother and brothers show up. They’re scared. Jesus is making powerful enemies. They are feeling the pressure themselves. Is it possible that an elder from the local synagogue was urged by higher-ups to pay Mary a friendly visit? I can imagine it…

“Mary, this isn’t good. Your boy has a good heart. I know he means well, but he’s going to get himself in big trouble with the Sanhedrin, with Herodians, and you don’t want the Romans to get involved. This could look really bad for your family. You’re a widow. Jesus is your oldest boy. He’s responsible to take care of you and instead he’s running around creating trouble for you and your family. We think it best that you talk to him. Be a good mother. Talk some sense into your boy.”

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (vs. 21)

Next comes the spin campaign, and those in power know how to spin a narrative. It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to come from a seemingly “reliable” and authoritative source. It has be sensational, it has to be easily repeatable, and it has to create fear and doubt in the minds of the public.

 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (vs. 22)

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking that the more things change, the more they stay the same in the Kingdoms of this World and their playbook.

And Jesus’ response to all this? He sticks to His core message: “The Kingdom of God is here, and it’s not like the Kingdoms of this world”. He continues to heal, He feeds, He tells stories, and He escapes the crowds to be alone for periods of time. He refuses to bow to pressure from the envoys of worldly power. He even refuses to bow to pressure from his own mother.

Poor Mary. It’s hard to let go of authority of your adult child when He can make crazy life decisions that affect the whole family. I think it’s lovely that as Jesus hung on the cross one of the last things He did was to see to it that His friend John would care for His earthly mother.

The further I get on my own life journey, I find myself seeing the Kingdoms of this World with greater clarity on all levels. As that happens, I hear the Spirit calling me to understand that being an Ambassador of the Kingdom of God on earth means living in the World, but following a different playbook.

Just Breathe

Just Breathe (CaD Ps 150) Wayfarer

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Psalm 150:6 (NIV)

With today’s chapter, Psalm 150, this chapter-a-day journey through all 150 chapters of the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics is complete. The editors of the compilation chose a short, powerful song of praise for the final refrain. Some scholars believe that it may have been composed for this purpose. In the original Hebrew language, “Praise the LORD” is “Hallelu Ya.” Thus, we end the journey with a shout of “Hallelujah!” and a call for “everything that has breath” to join in the chorus.

Among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers we have a very active team of people who are committed to the spiritual discipline of prayer. They do a great job of teaching others, myself included, in ways to develop our spiritual muscle in this essential practice.

A few years ago, I learned from our prayer team a simple technique that transforms my natural rhythm of breathing into a repeated prayer. One phrase is repeated with every inhale, and another phrase is repeated on every exhale. I have personally found this helpful when I am trying to quiet myself from stress or anxiety and when I am preparing my heart to enter into corporate worship.

As for the specific phrases used, the options are endless, but I have found that certain familiar lines from Jesus teaching and the Great Story that I have particularly helpful…

Inhale: “Come to me you who are weary”
Exhale: “I will give your soul rest.”

Inhale: “Cast all my anxieties on Him.”
Exhale: “He cares for me.”

Inhale: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”
Exhale: “Who was, and is, and is to come. The whole earth is full of His glory
(This one helps me breathe deeply! 🙂 )

Inhale: “Let everything that has breath”
Exhale: “Praise the LORD.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on my spiritual journey. As a child I was taught religion, in which empty rituals were carried out as part of a transactional process. I did the religious things in an effort to counter-balance my human failures with religious duties in the hope of earning God’s favor. After entering into a relationship with Jesus, I came to learn that the Spirit connects and holds all things together. It made all the empty religious ritual even more impotent while, at the same time, a whole knew world of possibility opened up to me. I discovered that connection with the God of creation is as simple and profound as breathing.

Just breathe.

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

“Some Other Mettle”

"Some Other Mettle" (CaD Ps 146) Wayfarer

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 (NIV)

Many years ago, our little town had a local Shakespeare Company that would produce a play each summer in the local park. Wendy and I were cast in Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy about a man and woman who despise one another and how this couple falls in love. Wendy was cast as the female lead, Beatrice, who in the beginning of the play waxes cynical about romance. When asked if she will every marry, she replies, “Not till God make men of some other mettle than earth.”

That line came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter, Psalm 146, in which the lyrics warn those listening to the song to avoid putting trust in human beings.

Along my life journey, I have observed that human systems almost always end up serving those who control them, unless those who control them have the rare quality of being both humble enough to eschew personal gain in order to serve everyone in the system and having the authority to ensure it stays that way.

Thus Beatrice waxes cynical to find a man who will serve her, honor her, and treat her as an equal partner rather than as a possession and chattel as human systems treated wives through most of human history.

Thus families become dysfunctional and unhealthy systems that end up hurting the ones they are supposed to protect and prepare for perpetuating healthy marriages and families for the next generation.

Thus organizations intended to serve the good of many become rackets that line the pride and pockets of the few in power at the top of the org chart.

Thus businesses established with eloquent vision and mission statements about valuing employees and exceptional service to customers end up cutting jobs and providing the least acceptable levels of service in order to eek out a few more pennies of dividend for shareholders.

Thus governments (of every type and “ism”) end up with those at the top offices rigging the system for themselves and their cronies while paying lip service to helping those living hand-to-mouth on a day-by-day basis.

I know this sounds cynical, yet I feel for where Beatrice is coming from. And, I have to confess that as a follower of Jesus I find myself in the quiet this morning hearing the words of Jesus and the teachings that call me to act against the grain of the systems of this world:

“Whoever wants to be ‘great’ and lead others but become the servant of all.”

“Husbands, love your wives sacrificially, even as Jesus showed us what love is by sacrificing Himself to save us.”

“Fathers, don’t exasperate your children.”

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone.”

Do you have individuals who work for you? Then treat them the way you want to be treated, the way that Jesus has treated you, and the way Jesus has called you to do. From a sincere heart, respect them, treat them honorably, and compensate them for the good they do.”

In find it fascinating that Jesus arguably never directly addressed those who were in control of systems of human power. The only one He did address was the Hebrew religious system who were supposed to recognize Him, but killed Him to protect their power, privilege, and profits. When given the opportunity to address the political powers of His day, King Herod and the Roman Empire, he largely kept His mouth shut.

In the quiet this morning, my mind wanders back to Beatrice and her mail foil, Benedict. Through the course of the play they have a change of heart, and you can guess where that leads. All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story, and therein I see a reflection of what Jesus was about. Jesus was not about creating or changing humans systems of power in order to, top-down, force God’s will over individuals. That’s nothing more than using the world’s playbook against itself, and I only have to look at the headlines to see how that’s working out. Jesus’ taught that the Kingdom of God paradigm is to change the hearts of individuals in order to motivate love and service to others, that in turn creates change within human systems of power from the bottom-up. It’s what He demonstrated on the cross, when the sacrifice of One served to effect change in the many, who effected change in many more.

I hear Wendy in the kitchen making my blueberry spinach smoothie, and it’s time to wrap-up my time of quiet this morning. As I do, I find myself taking a personal inventory of life and spirit. As a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as an employer, and as a organizational leader in my community, am I reflecting the character of humility, servant-heartedness, honor, respect, and generosity to which Jesus has called me? Immediately, things come to mind to which I need to add to my task list. I better get started.

Have a great day, my friend.

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


Envy: The Pretty Sin

Envy: The Pretty Sin (CaD Ps 73) Wayfarer

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I were having a conversation early in our relationship and she used a metaphor that I’d never heard before. She spoke to me of “ugly” sins and “pretty” sins. It gave language to something I’ve always inherently understood but never really knew how to simply express.

Ugly sins are those types of moral failures that, when brought to light, are typically accompanied by public shame and humiliation. Ugly sins generate scarlet letter status within a community. We not may make modern day Hesters stitch the letter on their clothing anymore, but it doesn’t mean others haven’t stitched it there with their hearts and minds. Ugly sins generate gossip, slander, and hushed whispers behind the sinner’s back long after the secretly committed sin was made public and created sensational community headlines.

Pretty sins, in contrast, are shortcomings we largely ignore because we all do it and so there is an unspoken social and spiritual covenant we have with one another to turn a blind eye. No need to notice the speck of it we might perceive in the eye of another so that no one will point out the log of it in my own. Pretty sins are typically overlooked, dismissed if noticed on occasion, and sometimes we even find ways to make them virtuous.

Envy is one such pretty sin, and it’s at the heart of the song lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 73.

With Psalm 73, we start Book III of the Psalms. What’s cool is that the editors who compiled the Psalms put three symmetrical groupings together: six songs, five songs, six songs, with the middle song as the “center” of Book III. It’s the same way an individual Hebrew song would be structured. So they made Book III one giant psalm with individual songs as the “verses” of the structure. Psalms within psalms.

Psalm 73 is an instructional psalm in which Asaph confesses to the sin of envy. He looks at the lives of the wickedly rich and famous living in their Beverly Hills mansions, driving their Maserati, and jetting off to their summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard or their yacht in the Caribbean. Life is so easy for them. They don’t know what it means to struggle. On top of that, they are so arrogant looking down their noses on the rest of us.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had a week or two ago with a friend of mine who is a retired CEO. He lives near an elite golf club that caters to the jet-set and took a part-time job driving club members from their private jets to the luxurious private golf club. He told me how amazing it was to drive these billionaires around and routinely get treated like crap and stiffed for a tip. That’s the kind of people Asaph is singing about. Like Asaph, I confess that I’m envious to know what that kind of life must be like, even as I feel contempt for them.

As Asaph’s song continues, he goes into God’s Temple and it’s as if the Spirit of God gives him an attitude adjustment. He stops looking at the objects of his contemptuous envy with earthly eyes, and he opens the eyes of his heart to view them with an eternal, spiritual perspective.

Jesus taught that we who follow Him should maintain a similar spiritual perspective. On multiple occasions, he told parables warning about spending our lives “gaining the whole world” while we “lose our souls.”

Asaph ends his song of instruction understanding that it’s “good to be near God.” Along my journey I’ve discovered that contemptuous envy of others leads to destructive ends on many different levels. When I stick close to God, as Asaph instructs, it’s easier for me to keep both the eyes of my body and the eyes of my heart focused on things of eternal value. I can see my contemptuous envy for what it is, and can better perceive the spiritual price paid to gain this world and the things of this world.

In the quiet this morning I am looking forward to a simple feast with a few family members tomorrow. I’m looking forward to being home surrounded with love, joy, peace, and gratitude.

Wherever this finds you, I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m taking the next few days off. See you back on this chapter-a-day journey next week.

Cheers!