Tag Archives: Prayer

Childish Notions

Childish Notions (CaD Jud 11) Wayfarer

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Judges 11:30-31 (NIV)

As a boy, I remember that my prayers were often contract negotiations. In my childhood, prayer was something that happened on three occasions outside of church. There was the prayer before meals which consisted of dad saying the Lord’s prayer or his other stock pre-meal prayer followed by all four kids chanting the simple pre-meal prayer in Dutch that grandma and grandpa Vander Well taught us. Then there was the bedtime prayer, which was the stock “Now I lay me down to sleep” version. The third occasion for prayer was when I desperately wanted something to happen and I had no control over it.

Examples of these things that I desperately wanted typically involved girls. For the record, I never experienced the “girls a dumb” phase of boyhood. I had my first crush in Kindergarten and things only grew more intense from there. There were also the four Super Bowls in my childhood that involved the Minnesota Vikings. Those were, perhaps, the most desperate contract negotiations with God of all time. History will tell you how that worked out for me. I’m sure I made God all sorts of promises and vows on those Super Bowl Sundays. Sports, in particular, were the catalyst for contractual prayers: “God, if you see to it that my team wins, then I will….”

Today’s chapter is one of the most difficult and disturbing in all of the Great Story. It involves a man named Jephthah who utters a contractual prayer as a vow to God. If God grants him victory then he’ll sacrifice the first thing that walks out of his home as a burnt offering to God. He is victorious, and the first thing that walks out of his home is his only child, a young daughter.

I am fond of remembering that these stories come out of the toddler stage of human civilization when humanity’s knowledge and understanding of life, self, and God was about as developed as your average three-to-five-year-old is today. There are a couple of other contextual observations I must ponder as I mull over this tragic story. One is that the author of Judges reminds me twice that during this period of time “everyone did as they saw fit” (17:6; 21:25). Jephthah’s vow was incongruent with God’s law, yet this was also a time when the Hebrew people regularly worshipped the gods of neighboring peoples and participated in their rituals, including deities like Chemosh and Milkom. It is well documented that these religions would at times practice child sacrifices and the practice was viewed as a very serious act of religious devotion. In Jephthah’s day, his actions were, sadly, understood and accepted. His actions stand as an example of why God so desperately wanted His people to forsake these other religions.

Paul wrote in his epic love chapter: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” As I look back at my childhood and my childish notions about God and life, I am both amused and ashamed to have thought and believed such things. At the same time, they stand as a benchmark and a reminder of my spiritual progress over fifty-some years. The real tragedy would be to look back and find that my spiritual understanding had never progressed beyond contractual negotiation for trivial gain.

In the quiet this morning, that’s how I find myself viewing and mourning Jephthah’s tragic story. After over 40 years of reading and studying the Great Story, I am mindful that it contains stories that are examples to follow and stories that are warnings and examples to avoid. Today’s chapter is the latter.

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

Evolution of Conversation

Evolution of Conversation (CaD Jos 10) Wayfarer

There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!
Joshua 10:14 (NIV)

Communication between parent and child changes so much over time. Wendy and I are loving watching our kids parent a four-year-old, and hearing the silly things that our grandson comes up with. The last I heard, Milo’s recommended name for the little sister in mommy’s tummy was “Harry Houdini.” Hey, the kid has a point. She does still have yet to escape the womb.

Conversations with my daughters changed and evolved over time. From the simple discussions with a toddler to the incessant “why” phase and then the years of instruction to navigating the life changes of adolescence. Then come the years of parental exile when it becomes obvious I’m not high on the conversational priority list. As they leave the nest, there begins a phase of requesting help and answering questions about the functional “how-tos” of life on your own which leads also to more adult conversation in which more complex topics are addressed, including the hard conversations required to address unresolved issues from the past.

I have always talked about the fact that humanity’s relationship with God across time reflects the development of the relationship between a parent and child from birth to adulthood.

In today’s chapter, we’re still in the toddler stages of humanity’s relationship with God. Joshua and the army continue their conquest of the land of Canaan. First, their new allies, the Gibeonites, are attacked by a coalition of neighboring forces and cry out to Joshua for help. After defeating this coalition of forces, the army continues a campaign to subdue the region.

In one fascinating aside, Joshua cries out to God to stop the sun and moon. Interpretations of this event vary. Literalists believe that God miraculously stopped time. Others argue that the sun and moon in the sky together were a bad omen for their opponents and Joshua wanted to extend the fear. What struck me, however, was the author’s observation that this was a first, that God would listen to a human being.

This being a momentous event, that of God listening to a human being, struck me because, in my post-Jesus reality, I am encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). Jesus encouraged His followers to literally “ask, seek, and knock” in prayer, explaining that a good father wouldn’t give a stone to his child if asked for bread (Matt. 5:7-11). Prayer is such a continuous part of my inner dialogue and my daily life, that it is hard for me to fathom a reality in which I didn’t think God would listen, and respond.

Humanity’s relationship with God has changed drastically between the days of Joshua and today. The very act of prayer has developed and evolved over time. I also can’t forget that with a Creator God, everything that He makes is layered with meaning. This development and evolution of communication also took place within my spiritual life cycle. From the moment I was “born again” in spirit to the place I am on my spiritual journey 40 years later, my relationship and conversations with God have grown, developed, and matured.

God’s relationship with humanity. My relationship with my parents. My children’s relationship with me. My relationship with God. My relationship with others. There is a natural growth and development of communication that takes place over time. In each relationship, I have a responsibility for the communication on my end. If I fail in that responsibility, the relationship suffers and may even die.

Thus saith the Mandalorian: “This is the way.”

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

Vertical and Horizontal

Vertical and Horizontal (CaD Heb 13) Wayfarer

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV)

I began yesterday with coffee and an English muffin at a friend’s office. We chatted about what is going on in each other’s lives. We shared about the challenges we’re facing with family, work, and our bodies that are feeling the natural strains of age. We prayed together. It was a good start to the day.

It was St. Patrick’s Day, so Wendy and I knocked off of work a little early and met friends in the late afternoon for a pint and some Irish music. As the after-work crowds began to swell we were on our way to pick up pizza and retire to their house where we continued sharing life and conversation. Their college-age child was home on Spring Break and we got the whole 411 on life, studies, and relationships at school.

It was a fun day. It was late by the time we returned home.

In today’s final chapter of Hebrews, the author wraps up his letter with more exhortations to the Hebrew followers of Jesus for whom the letter was addressed. Throughout these instructions are more than subtle allusions to the old sacrificial system of Moses that the author has argued was fulfilled by Jesus and is no longer valid or necessary.

In that old system, there were all sorts of ritual religious sacrifices that an individual was expected to make in order to stay in good standing with God. Of course, like all religious rituals, it is possible for a person to go through the motions without there being a heart or life change, and the author has argued that Jesus has provided the once-for-all sacrifice through His death and resurrection.

“So, are there no more sacrifices?” the author hears his readers asking.

Yes, the author answers. The sacrifice of self just as Jesus taught that His followers must take up their own cross in following Him. Jesus’ word picture tells me that I’m supposed to die to myself, to sacrifice myself for God and others. The author provides a picture of this in continuous sacrifices that are both vertical (me to God) and horizontal (me to others). The vertical sacrifice is that I consciously, willfully stay connected to God through offering my praise and prayer (which is simply conversation). The horizontal sacrifice is my goodness and generosity towards others. Not just physical gifts and needs, but also the generosity and goodness of life and spirit through relationships and sharing the life journey together.

Which made me think of my day yesterday. Along my life journey, I’ve experienced that good relationships, the kind that is mutually and spiritually life-giving, require the ongoing generosity of time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and grace. Over time and in every case, every one of those ingredients becomes sacrificial for me as my friends may need more from me at certain times than I can comfortably provide. But the same is true on the other side of the equation. I need them at times and in ways that require their sacrificial generosity.

With Jesus, I can never get around the reality that He emptied Himself, left heaven, came to Earth, and endured the suffering of a horrific death. He sacrificed everything for me. I can ignore that fact. I might allow other thoughts and distractions to drive it from my mind, but it’s always there. What is asked of me in return? To live in a relationship that is essentially no different than my horizontal ones: time, conscious thought, intention, energy, vulnerability, and generosity that comes out in worship, prayer, life, obedience, trust, hope, and perseverance.

I’m grateful this morning for life-giving relationships, both horizontal and vertical.

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

The Old Couple Who Lived Up on the Hill

The Old Couple Who Lived Up on the Hill (CaD Matt 20) Wayfarer

“…they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

Matthew 20:11-15 (NIV)

I was surprised to get the call. I barely knew the old couple who lived up on the hill. I’d visited them once or twice, despite people telling me not to waste my time. They’d been described as cold, grouchy, and cantankerous, but I found them pleasant enough. I don’t think they ever learned my name. I was always just “Preacher,” which I discovered happens a lot when you’re the pastor of the only church in a small town.

Granted, I don’t ever remember talking to them about much of anything except the safe pleasantries of rural Iowa conversation between acquaintances. I asked them about their lives and their stories. We drank coffee and enjoyed the quiet majesty of the view from their house, which overlooked the rolling Iowa countryside. I never invited them to church. I don’t recall that Jesus ever came up in our conversations.

The call came late in the afternoon, asking me to come immediately to the ICU unit of the regional hospital about a half-hour’s drive away. The moment I walked into the room and saw the old man who lived up on the hill, I knew the situation. I reached out and took his hand.

“You’re dying, aren’t you?” I asked gently as I took his hand and smiled.

He nodded, wordlessly.

“You don’t know where you’re going when it happens, do you?” I asked.

He shook his head.

I shared about Jesus in the simplest of terms. He listened. I asked if he’d like me to pray with him for Christ to come into heart and life.

“Yes,” he said.

By the time our short, child-like prayer was done, the tears were streaming down his cheeks. He was suddenly filled with an energy that seemed absent in his mind and body just moments before,

“Preacher!? You have to go visit my wife. Right now. Tell her what you told me. Tell her I want her to have Jesus in her heart, too. Go. Now. Right now.”

So I went, and I did as he asked. I shared in the simplest of terms. I offered to lead her in prayer as I had her husband. She prayed. She cried. I told her I would come back and visit to check on them, but I never got the chance.

He died in the ICU unit a few hours later,

A few hours after he passed on, she followed him, dying quietly at home.

I did the funeral in our little Community church with both caskets sitting in front of me. It was a tiny gathering. They hadn’t built many positive relationships in their lives. I got to share about the call, our visit, their prayers, and I talked about it never being too late to give one’s life to Christ.

After the service, I was approached by an elderly couple who told me that they had, for many years, ceaselessly visited the old couple on the hill. They’d loved on them, they’d shared Jesus with them, they’d begged them to ask Jesus into their hearts. They’d been rejected time and time again. And while they seemed glad to hear that the old couple on the hill had finally made the decision, I felt a hint of indignation underneath the surface. They’d done all the work and seemingly experienced no reward for their spiritual labor. I showed up at the last minute to harvest what they’d been sowing for all those years.

That experience came to mind this morning as I read Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. I find that there are certain parables that mean more to me the further I advance in this life journey, and this is one of them. Each group of workers agrees to work for the same wage, but when the workers who slaved away all day watch those who pitched in for the final hour receiving the same reward, they become indignant. I find it such a human response. It is neither fair nor equitable in human terms.

The economics of God’s Kingdom, however, doesn’t work like the economics of this world. That was Jesus’ point, and He famously pins this epilogue to His parable: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In the quiet this morning as I mull over the story of the old couple who lived up on the hill, I find myself asking about the motives of my own heart. Why have I followed Jesus these forty years? I find that reward is not something I think much about. I have been so blessed in this life I just assume that I’ll be among the “the first shall be last” crowd, and that’s okay with me. The reward is not my motivation. It’s gratitude for what I received that I never deserved that fuel’s my journey. It’s Paul’s words of motivation that ring true in my soul: “Christ’s love compels us.”

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

Me and Babel 2.0

Me and Babel 2.0 (CaD John 17) Wayfarer

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
John 17:15-16 (NIV)

Earlier this year Wendy and I were on the back patio with friends late into the evening. One of the things we like to do in the dark of night is keep our eyes peeled for meteors, satellites, constellations, plants, and other interesting objects in the night sky. On that night I spotted a satellite, which basically looks like a moving star, trekking slowly from west to east. Then there was another one right behind it. I’d never seen two of them so close and moving in the same trajectory. Then came another, and another, and another, and another.

Pulling up the internet on my phone to find out what we were looking at, we learned that evening about the satellite train. The brainchild of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, it is a long string or “train” of 60 satellites that follow one another in orbit. SpaceX plan to eventually have 12,000 of them in low orbit to provide internet service everywhere from space. Fascinating.

It’s an amazing time to be alive and to make this earthly life journey. In the course of my lifetime, the world has arguably changed more rapidly and drastically than in any other time in human civilization. Advancements in technology and science are beginning to outpace our ability to comprehend the effects of all that it possible.

Along with the “progress” has come a sharp decline in the number of people who adhere to traditional Christian belief systems or attend institutional Christian churches. One of the things that I read consistently about this trend is the criticism that believers and churches in America haven’t done enough to address social justice issues and the problems of our world.

Today’s chapter is traditionally known in theological circles as “the high priestly prayer.” John records Jesus praying just before He was betrayed by Judas and arrested. In the prayer Jesus acknowledges two important things. First, that His followers are “not of this world.” In my experience, Jesus is acknowledging that those who follow Him have expanded their world-view beyond this earthly life to God’s eternal Kingdom. After acknowledging this, Jesus consciously chooses that His followers not be removed from this world, but protected from the same prince of this world that will see Jesus crucified within twelve hours of this prayer.

To quote Hamlet, “ay, there’s the rub.”

In this world, not of it. How do I, as a follower of Jesus, hold that tension?

That’s what my soul and mind are chewing on in the quiet this morning. And here are a few of my thoughts…

I confess that critics of Christianity are not wrong. Followers of Jesus and the institutional churches of history have not done enough adhere to personally fulfill Jesus’ mission of crossing social boundaries, loving the outcast, and caring for the poor. Mea culpa.

At the same time, history has taught me that revolutions and reformations typically paint complex realities with broad-brush generalizations, and then throw babies out with the bathwater. Despite the moans and wails of how awful of a state the world is in, here are a few undisputable facts:

  • In 1966 (the year I was born), 50% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. In 2017, that’s dropped to 9% despite population growth.
  • When my parents were young, average life expectancy was between 30-40 years. In two generations it’s risen to 72, and still climbing.
  • In 1975, 58% of children with cancer survived. By 2010, it was 80%.
  • In 1980, 22% of one-year-olds received at least one vaccination. In 2018 the percentage was 88%.
  • In 1970, 28% of the world’s population was undernourished. In 2015 that number had dropped to 11%.
  • In 1900, roughly 40% of children died before the age of five. By 2016 the percentage was down to 4%.
  • In 1980, 58% of the world’s population had access to a protected water source. By 2015 the number was 88% and climbing.

It’s easy to cast a stone at the institutional church, its members, and cast stones regarding all that it hasn’t done. I also know many believers in my own circles of influence who, led by their faith in Jesus and dedication to His mission, have given their lives to contribute to the numbers I’ve just quoted.

Scott and Marcia have helped mobilize native efforts in Eswatani Africa to care for unwanted babies, lower the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water, and improve agricultural yields to feed the local population.

Tim and an entire host of individuals in our local gathering of Jesus followers have done a similar work in Haiti. Learning from the mistakes of the past, they are helping native Haitians create sustainable and healthy life and community systems.

My college suitemate, Tim, has dedicated most of his career to helping care for impoverished children and single mothers around the globe. He’s now leading a non-profit to address the 12% of the world’s population that still need a protected water source.

I have long believed that with the technological age I may just be witnessing humanity’s next great attempt at building a tower of Babel. Instead of bricks and mortar, we’re using processors, fiber optics, CRISPR, and satellite trains. The goal is the same: nothing is impossible, and we ascend to be our own god. I find it fascinating to observe what I perceive to be “Babel 2.0” is that we largely still speak the same language but our transmission and translation are increasingly confused. What one intends to say, what they say, and what the other hears and interprets to have been said are incongruent. Language is hijacked and redefined in a moment by part of the population. New words are created, defined, and trend within one part of the population while everyone else in the population failed to notice. They are therefore ignorant and confused when they are discussed.

So what does this mean for me today? I don’t run an institution, nor do I want to. I am a follower of Jesus and, as such, I have a world-view that sees beyond this world and incorporates God’s Kingdom into my earthly existence. I seek to accomplish His mission of “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth” and I take that responsibility seriously. This earthly journey is not about biding my time until death and eternity, but rather trying to bring a Kingdom perspective into my every day intentions, choices, work, actions, and relationships.

I am in this world, a world which remains the dominion of the prince of this world, which is why Jesus prayed for my protection on that fateful night. Jesus asks me to affect this world with love, service, and generosity that He exemplified. He told His followers to be “shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove.”

And so, I enter another day of the journey with those intentions.

Note:
Three messages have been added on the Messages page. Click here

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

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.

Bookends of Praise

Bookends of Praise (CaD Ps 149) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord.
Psalm 149:1a (NIV)
Praise the Lord.
Psalm 149:9c (NIV)

One of the thieves of my sleep is the never-ending task list. As my sleep ebbs and flows in the darkness from deep sleep to semi-consciousness, my brain tends to use the relative wakefulness of semi-consciousness (typically around 3:30 a.m.) to begin spinning on all the tasks I didn’t accomplish the day before along with the ones that I are on the list for the following day. There are mornings that I can’t shut my brain off and return to some restful log sawing. Hello insomnia, my old friend.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 149, I noticed one of the recurring thematic devices used by the lyricists of these ancient Hebrew songs we call psalms. I’d call it the “bookends of praise.” The song begins and ends with what is essentially a tag: “Praise the LORD.”

As I sat contemplating this device, I was reminded of a line from the lyrics of Psalm 113 (which is also bookended with praise):

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

I can certainly interpret this familiar line as telling me that my day should be filled with perpetual praise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As I meditated on it this morning, I thought of it as the perpetuation of the metaphor of this device. As the song is bookended in praise, beginning and end, so my day should be bookended in praise, when I arise and when I lie down. I should begin my day by offering God praise, and end each day offering God praise.

And this is where I have a confession to make. As a morning person, I’ve developed a discipline of spending time with God in the quiet each morning. I’ve got the “rising of the sun” part of the praise bookends down pat. It’s the “place where it sets” part that I’m realizing falls woefully short. Wendy will tell you that it’s not uncommon for me to be in a deep sleep before she has a chance to finish her bedtime routine.

Somehow the childhood discipline my parents instilled in me of “saying my prayers” before bed got lost somewhere in my daily routine. I might do it once in a while, but its honestly few and far between. Have I unconsciously decided that my morning quiet time has got all the spiritual bases covered?

Then I thought about actual bookends. What happens when I’m missing one bookend on the shelf? The books spill out of that end. Is it possible that without bookending my day in the “place where it sets” with praise and a moment of conversation with God, that I’m allowing all of the tasks and pressures of my day to spill out into the night like thieves to rob me of my sleep? If I build a discipline of offering up praise for all the good things in my day, and I offer up my tasks and stresses to be entrusted to the God who cares for me, might it be a spiritual bookend that will help guard my heart and mind from being robbed of slumber?

I’m guessing I know the answer.

Some mornings, the action step from my time of quiet is crystal clear.

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

Call and Response

Call and Response (CaD Ps 134) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Psalm 134:1 (NIV)

My nephew Sam and his family came to visit last Sunday to hear Uncle Tom’s message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and hang out with me and Aunt Wendy for the day. Sam mentioned that in their hour-long drive that morning they’d been listening to the music of an artist that his father introduced him to back in his childhood.

I love all kinds of music, and I consciously endeavored to introduce our daughters to all kinds of music. I even made compilation CDs of different genres and wrote liner notes to introduce them to some of the classic artists and songs of the genre. One of my favorites was Papa’s Got the Blues. In the liner notes, I described the connection between the blues and black gospel. One of the devices that both used is “call and response.” The lead singer calls out in song and the congregation/crowd responds with a word or phrase.

While the device is widely used in more recent musical genres, it is ancient.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 134, is the final in a series of “songs of ascent” that the editors who compiled the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics put together. The song is a fitting end to this section. It is comprised of only three-lines that were an ancient version of “call and response” that was sung between pilgrims who had spent the day worshipping at the temple and are leaving at nightfall Levites working at the Temple.

Members of the Hebrew tribe of Levi were responsible for the care, upkeep, and activities of the Temple (except for priestly acts that could only be done by descendants of Aaron). The lyrics of the song picture exiting worshippers blessing the Levites who will remain at the Temple to perform their duties through the night. The pilgrims sing:

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
    and praise the Lord.

The Levite(s) then bless the worshippers as they exit:

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

The reality is that “call and response” is actually a broader spiritual theme in the psalms and in the Great Story. Many psalms begin with a “call” to God anticipating the “response” to the song, prayer, and petition. In 1 Samuel, God “calls out” the boy Samuel who is confused until the priest instructs him to provide the response “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” In the Jesus story, a blind man incessantly “calls out” to Jesus and Jesus responds by healing him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the spiritual notion of “call and response” which works in both directions. God’s Word and Spirit may “call out” to me. Am I listening? Will I respond? How will I respond? At other times, I am like the songwriters of the psalms, calling out to God in faith that God will respond. Either direction, there is an interaction that is relational.

“Here I am!” says Jesus in Revelation 3:20. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice [calling] and [responds, as in] opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Every Tribe and Tongue

Every Tribe and Tongue (CaD Ps 129) Wayfarer

“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
    but they have not gained the victory over me.”

Psalm 129:2 (NIV)

Wendy and I watched Godfather: Coda a few weeks ago. For those who aren’t familiar, it is the recent re-edit of the final film in the Godfather trilogy by the film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola. Originally released as The Godfather III back in 1990, the film has always been largely criticized for not living up to the first two films. Coppola claimed that he was at odds with the movie Studio on how the story should be told and was forced to rush the film to market. He was finally allowed, 30 years later, to recut it and tell the story as he and Mario Puzo imagined it.

The trilogy is really the story of Michael Corleone. Raised in a mafia family, he swears early on in the first film that he’ll never be part of the family business. The overarching story is how Michael descends into the underworld with the intent to save his family and then can’t escape, as his family is slowly torn apart.

One of the subtle storylines in the third film is that of Michael Corleone’s son, Anthony. Anthony, like his father, wants nothing to do with the family business. “I’ll never be part of the family business,” Anthony states. He then adds, “I have bad memories.”

“Every family has bad memories,” his father replies.

That line has always resonated in my soul because I find it to be true. Just the other day I wrote about my journey of discovery and uncovering some of my families’ bad memories when I was a young man. But there is also the larger reality that we are the product of the systems into which we were born. We are a product of our people. Michael wanted to escape, yet he chose in and tragically couldn’t find the exit.

Wendy and I are both products of a Dutch American tribe who risked everything to come to America, settled as a tribe on the plains of Iowa, and prospered. That prosperity was fueled by our tribe’s deeply rooted values of faith, frugality, and hard work. Wendy and I often acknowledge that we are products of our people with both the blessings and curses that come with every human system.

For the Hebrew tribes, history and identity as a people is one of constant struggle against other tribes and nations and their subjugation by human empires. That is what the writer of today’s chapter, Psalm 129, is pressing into with his lyrics as he describes being enslaved and beaten:

Plowmen have plowed my back
    and made their furrows long.

Psalm 129 was likely written after the return of exiles from captivity in Babylon. The sting of the experience would have still been fresh in the memories of those singing this song on their pilgrimage. It is the cry of a people that first acknowledges that God has blessed them and they have not been overcome, then asks God to justly deal with their oppressors.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself confessing that there are a host of human experiences that I can’t completely fathom because I haven’t experienced them myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t seek to understand, to empathize, and to learn lessons from the experience of others. Our Dutch American town holds an annual festival of our Dutch heritage. The motto of the festival is “Everyone’s Dutch for a day!” and visitors are encouraged to learn the history, try on a pair of wooden shoes, learn a Dutch dance, and eat lots of pastries. When invited in to learn and embrace the knowledge of other cultures and people groups, I observe that everyone benefits. When excluded from doing so, I observe that the walls of prejudice are fortified to the detriment of all.

One of the sins of the institutional churches and the abuse of their power in history is the perpetuation of prejudice, injustice, violence, and indifference for the sake of power and empire in the kingdom of this world. The Jesus Movement that was about tearing down walls of prejudice and spreading love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to every human tribe became a human empire. In the black-and-white binary choices to which the world likes to reduce everything, Christianity has been summarily dismissed by many.

I have found, however, that the heart of the Jesus Movement has always continued in the hearts and lives of individuals who embrace it and seek to carry out the original mission. A mission in which every human being of every people group can experience love, forgiveness, and redemption. When given a vision of eternity, John described the crowd as persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. When U2 described it in their psalm they sang, “I believe in the Kingdom come, when all the colors bleed into one.”

My heart this morning is crying out with the prayer of St. Francis. Perhaps it expresses more succinctly what my heart is trying to say in this post:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

“God is Grape”

"God is Grape" (CaD Ps 102) Wayfarer

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord
Psalm 102:18 (NIV)

One of the silver linings of our family’s COVID plague has been the extended amount of time we’ve had with our grandson. This includes both moments of three-year-old hilarity and DEFCON FIVE toddler tantrums.

One of the more endearing developments has been Milo’s insistence on praying for our meal every night. Some nights he insists that we hold hands and pray two or three random times during the meal as he prays:

“God is grape. God is good. And we thank Him for the food.”

The sweetness melts this grandparent’s heart, of course. But for me it’s also witnessing the innocent openness and sensitivity of Spirit in the wee one.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 102, is another ancient Hebrew song lyric that was written during a time of intense illness. In fact, the songwriter was not sure that he was going to make it. The song begins with the writer calling out to God to hear and quickly respond, then he pours out the angst-filled description of his medical and emotional symptoms.

As the song proceeds, the tone of the lyric makes an abrupt switch. The writer stops focusing on his momentary circumstance and, instead, focuses on God’s eternal nature and the perpetuity of life. It’s as though the writer is saying “Even if this is it for me, and my number is up, life will go on. That which is eternal perseveres. The universe continues to expand. The next generation will emerge, then the next, and then the next.”

One of the oft-forgotten themes of the Great Story is that of descendence.

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
Genesis 1:28
“God said to Noah and his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants.’”
Genesis 9:8-9
To Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.”
Genesis 12:2
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)

The Great Story is a story because it continues, it goes on even when my role is over and I make my final exit. Even in the most tragic and bleak dystopian imaginings, the premise is that Life endures and the story continues.

In the quiet this morning I feel the lingering effects of the virus on my body and realize that at this point in this life journey I don’t bounce back the way I once did. I listen to the unbridled energy of my grandson whose body felt none of the viral effects and who will live his earthly journey without remembering these weeks shut-in with Papa and Yaya.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, for him or for me. No matter the narrative of my story, life will continue in his story. Life gets handed off, a little bit each day, as we sit around the dinner table, holding hands and listening to that little voice say “God is grape.”