Tag Archives: Prophecy

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 Rabbit Hole & the Three Questions

The Rabbit Hole and the Three Questions (CaD Rev 1) Wayfarer

“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”
Revelation 1:19 (NIV)

There are three great questions I always ask myself during times of confusion or decision:

Where am I at?
Where have I been?
Where am I going?

Those are the three questions I ask myself every time I finish a book on this chapter-a-day journey and need to decide where the trek should take me next. So, after finishing the book of Jude yesterday I went to the index of posts by book and realized that there’s only one book of the Great Story, written after Jesus’ death and resurrection that, isn’t currently in the index by book: Revelation. The last time I trekked through was in April of 2014. So, that’s where I’m going.

Known more formally as The Revelation of John, this is the last book in the Great Story. Both tradition and the text state that the visions described in the book were seen and experienced by John on the Isle of Patmos while he was exiled there (90-95 A.D). Revelation is well-known for its description of the end times, the climactic final battle between God and Satan, and its description of the eternal city of God.

To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with Revelation. I love the mystery and the metaphor. It’s fascinating and I find important spiritual truths within. My hate is rooted in the rabbit hole that it becomes for people who fall in and become endlessly obsessed. Along my spiritual journey, my approach to Revelation eventually paralleled C.S. Lewis’ famous caution regarding the demonic. It’s a mistake to avoid or ignore it, but it’s also a mistake to take it too seriously. So, here we go.

In the opening chapter, John writes that he was worshiping on a Sunday and saw the glorified Christ. Jesus tells John to write “what you’ve seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” It’s Jesus’ riff on the three questions I always ask myself.

There are numerous schools of thought when it comes to interpreting Revelation. Some believe that Revelation points to historic events that have already taken place. Others believe that it’s primarily about what will take place in the future end times. A more modern movement of thought interprets the whole thing as political satire.

“Where have I been?”

Looking back at the life of Jesus and the ancient prophecies about Him, one thing becomes clear to me: Very smart people over a long period of time were completely wrong about how they interpreted the prophecies. So, from where I’m at, I tend to approach the prophetic with a huge dose of humility regarding what it might mean for “Where are we going?” in the future, and a heart that’s simply open to what in means for me “Where am I at?‘ in the context of today.

So, in the quiet this morning, I embark on this chapter-a-day trek through Revelation with humility and an open heart. I think I’ll take Jesus up on reading and meditating on John’s visions with the three questions in mind. I’m also determined not to fall down the rabbit hole.

Here we go!

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

Women and Prophets

Women and Prophets (CaD Jud 4) Wayfarer

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.
Judges 4:4 (NIV)

One of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter epic is poor Professor Trelawny, and not just because my sister is a dead ringer for Emma Thompson’s portrayal of her. Professor Trelawny teaches divination at Hogwarts. The problem is that she’s terrible at it, and none of her prophesies come true. Only once had she uttered a true prophetic word, a critically important prophecy about Harry and Voldemort, but she didn’t even know or realize that she’d uttered it. Dumbledore hires her in case she ever has another one (which she eventually does). The students are stuck with a poor teacher who is terribly inept at her subject.

Prophecy has a bit of a mysterious role in the Great Story. In the law of Moses, God said that He would raise up prophets and gave instruction on discerning if they were truly a prophet of God or not. In the ancient Near East, prophets were common across religions. Kings and Pharaohs had official prophets on their courts. Interestingly enough, in Mesopotamia, the profession was predominantly held by women.

Today’s chapter is one of the most unique in all of the Great Story. In what is a predominantly patriarchal culture, God uses two women to respectively lead and deliver the Hebrew tribes from their enemy. The chapter opens with Deborah, a prophet, leading the people. When she prophetically tells a man named Barak that God wants him to raise an army and march against the Canaanite army he agrees, but only if Deborah will accompany him. She agrees but prophetically tells him that because of his lack of faith, the victory will go to a woman.

That woman was Jael. It’s hard for a modern reader to understand just what Jael had done. She invited a man (the fleeing general of the Canaanite army) who wasn’t her husband into her tent. This was a huge social taboo. By killing him, she broke a covenant her husband had made with the general’s superior which would have brought shame on her husband, another cultural no-no. She also invited him into her tent, and he was therefore her guest. To this day, Near East culture has strict cultural rules that place honoring guests, even above one’s own children. Jael’s assassination of the Canaanite general was a blatant violation of multiple cultural rules.

But Deborah’s prophecy was true.

Before Jesus, prophecy just was. It appears in the story with little or no explanation. God raised up prophets and utilized prophets, but there’s no understanding of how that exactly happened. After Jesus, the spiritual gift of prophecy is recognized as one of the important gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on certain followers of Jesus. Paul even hailed it as being the spiritual gift of prime importance.

Both Wendy and I have, along our spiritual journeys, had the experience of receiving prophetic messages. We even have some fairly dramatic experiences of God speaking prophetically through others. I also have a number of prophetic words given to me that might as well have come from Professor Trelawny. Along my spiritual journey, I’ve learned to be discerning. I listen carefully. I hold it loosely. If it means something, I’ll know. If it doesn’t, I let it go.

As I sit and ponder today’s chapter in the quiet, the larger lesson for me is the fact that God raises up and uses women to get the job done. This is one of several examples within the Great Story in which God uses unlikely people for His purposes. It’s a reminder to me 1) never to prejudge a person since with God, all things are possible, including using unlikely tools and means. It also reminds me 2) never to think or say “God could/would never use me.” God did, after all, speak through Balaam’s ass. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. You can read it in Numbers 22:28, btw).

I also see in Deborah and Jael a foreshadowing of what Jesus will do in raising the status of women within the early Jesus Movement. Paul writes to the believers in Galatia: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

And so, I enter another day of the journey with a couple of good reminders. I’m afraid I have no prophetic word for you. It’s not my gift. When it comes to prophesy, I’m afraid I’m about as capable as Professor Trelawny.

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

Hot Times and Cold Love

Hot Times and Cold Love (CaD Matt 24) Wayfarer

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…”
Matthew 24:12 (NIV)

Our daughter, Taylor, works for a software company that has developed an amazing product, Storii, for those with dementia and Alzheimers. It started with the simple idea of helping those who are losing their memory to build and store their stories for their family and loved ones, but it basically applies to any person who wants to archive their lives and stories for subsequent generations. It’s brilliant.

One of the features of Storii prompts automated calls to the individual a few times a week. Each call asks a question like, “What radio or television programs did you watch growing up?” It then records the answer, places it on that person’s Storii page, and any connected loved ones get an email giving them access to the recording.

In recent weeks, Taylor asked me to help her test this audio recording feature, so I’ve been recording my answers and having a fun time doing it. I confess that it has put me in a nostalgic frame of mind. I’ve even placed a couple of Grumpy Old Man memes on our family text string. So much has changed in 50 years it’s mind-blowing. For my aging parents, I can only imagine that the feeling is magnified.

In today’s chapter, Jesus speaks apocalyptically about the end times. It’s pretty bleak stuff. The Great Story is, after all, a grand epic of conflict between good and evil. The end of most every good vs. evil tale is a final climactic conflict: think of the final battle at the Black Gate in Lord of the Rings, the battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter, or the final scenes of every Marvel, DC, and Star Wars movie. The last installment of the Chronicles of Narnia is simply titled The Last Battle. You catch my drift. Jesus told His followers to expect the same in the end times, with creation itself adding to the havoc with famines and earthquakes.

What resonated in my heart this morning was Jesus’ prophetic statement that amidst the “increasing wickedness” and heated build-up of the final conflict, as evil persecutes followers of Jesus, the love of many followers will grow cold. I have to imagine that this is true whenever the persecution of believers takes place, like in Nigeria where over 10,000 followers of Jesus have been slaughtered in the last couple of years. When heads literally start to roll, I can only imagine that one asks themselves, “How much do I really believe this?”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about my own story. I’m thinking about the rapid decline and rejection of Christians and Christian thought across social institutions. I hear echoes in my head of my friend Chuck who helped market Corrie Ten Boom’s movie The Hiding Place. Corrie told him that she was making the film to prepare American Christians for the persecution that they will soon face. As a teenager, I couldn’t imagine that ever happening. Now, I’m not so sure. Am I just being a grumpy old man? It’s entirely possible. Forgive me. I again confess I’ve been in that frame of mind of late.

Whether or not I ever face serious persecution in my lifetime, the big question resonating in my heart on this frigid winter morning in Iowa is this: “As my life story continues to be told, could my love for Jesus ever grow cold?” (rhyme unintended, but nice…😉)

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

God of the Foreign

God of the Foreign (CaD Matt 2) Wayfarer

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1 (NIV)

It seems a bit out of place to be sitting here in mid-January reading a text that is normally read exclusively in the month of December for Christmas. Along my journey, however, I’ve learned that it is good for me to read things outside of the “normal” contexts. Doing so allows me to see things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. Jesus spoke of those who had eyes but didn’t really see. My desire in this chapter-a-day journey is always that the eyes of my heart will be fully open to see what God wishes to reveal to me in the quiet. I have found that this sometimes requires me to shift focus, as they say in filmmaking.

Shifting focus away from the entrenched visuals and contexts of a commercialized Christmas this morning, I pulled back to examine “These Three Kings” from where I sit amidst the harsh realities of a deep Iowa winter (current temp feels like -3 degrees F). A few things I noted in my observations:

Nowhere in the text does it say there were only three visitors. It only says that there were three gifts. Also, nowhere in the text does it say they were kings. It does make clear that they represented a group that paid attention to astronomy and practiced a form of astrology.

I then considered that Matthew’s audience was primarily Hebrews, and he was writing to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. Hebrews were keenly aware of two great events in the history of their people. The first was their deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. The second was their captivity and seventy-year exile in Babylon (which was in Persia, directly east of Israel).

When the “Who’s Who” of Hebrew nobility were taken into exile, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to them. He told them:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

It would seem, therefore, that at least some of them (e.g. Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther) obeyed. They lived and interacted with the community and culture. They shared their stories with their captors. They even shared prophetic words about stars and the coming messiah who would be “king of the Jews.” They shared prophetic words and conversations which existed outside of the text of the Great Story but were recorded and remembered among the heathen hosts of the exile.

In the quiet this morning, I am struck by the fact that Matthew chooses to record that those who were looking for the Messiah, those who came to seek Him, were not Hebrew priests and scholars but those considered foreigners, aliens, and enemies. Matthew makes clear that the infant Jesus was intimately connected to the exiles of Babylon through these mysterious visitors. He was connected to the exile in Egypt by fleeing Herod the Great’s infamous slaughter of the innocents.

What does this mean for me? Here’s what I’m pondering in the quiet:

  • God, the Creator, is constantly at work in places I don’t expect, and in people I would never recognize.
  • Jesus’ arrival began the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham back in Genesis: all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
  • I find it telling that the Hebrew scholars consulted by Herod showed no interest in pursuing the object of the Magi’s inquiry, but the despised “foreigners” went out of their way to seek Him.

I come full circle this morning, contrasting the icons of a commercialized Christmas and the text of the Great Story. Amid the bling and blather of tinsel and tales, I find there is one wearied Christmas phrase that rings true for me:

The wise still seek Him.

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

#6: “YOU’RE GOING TO PEE YOUR PANTS!”

Top Chapter-a-Day Post #6 (CaD) Wayfarer

Note: I’m on a holiday hiatus through January 9, 2022. While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to reblog the top 15 chapter-a-day posts (according to number of views) from the past 15 years. Cheers!

Originally published March 13, 2015

And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Ezekiel 21:7 (NIV)

The prophets had to have been a strange lot. They were prone to do strange things and act out obscure (what we would, today, call “performance art”) productions in public places. Their personal lives were often metaphors for the messy spiritual condition of the culture. Their steady stream of public messages were not known for their tact or their propriety.

Take today’s chapter, for example. God tells Ezekiel to stand out in the public square and groan. Not just a little “I think the cream cheese on that bagel didn’t agree with me” groan. GROAN like your beloved mother just died. GROAN like a husband who just found out his wife was sleeping with his best friend. GROAN like you feel a hideous creature ready to burst out of your insides as in the movie Alien. Make a public spectacle of yourself so that people will circle around you in wonder and mothers shoo their young children away from you in fear.

Then, when people start asking Zeke what’s wrong, God tells him to say, “When I tell you YOU’RE GOING TO PEE YOUR PANTS!”

While I’m not sure they would make the most enjoyable dinner guests, there are times when I find the old prophets really refreshing. They remind me that, while there is a time for propriety, there are also times in life for saying things in a way that would make your Aunt Nita blush and shrink back in shame. There are moments for communication that smacks of brash, in-your-face impropriety.

Of course, wisdom is required in choosing the right moments. The key part is knowing when to speak and when to keep silent.

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

It Stinks to Be Right

It Stinks to Be Right (CaD Lam 4) Wayfarer

Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
    he will not prolong your exile.

Lamentations 4: 22 (NIV)

At the beginning of every NFL season, I look at the Vikings’ schedule and predict how many wins and losses they are going to have. I’ve been a fan for fifty years, endured four Super Bowl losses, and survived many forgettable seasons. I am a realist when it comes to my prognostications. This year, I figured they’d struggle to win half of their games or more. I predicted them to end the season 8-9 or 9-8.

It stinks to be right.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah pens his fourth of a five-poem cycle lamenting the fall of Jerusalem. In reading the words of the prophet, we’re reading a first-hand account of a historical event that took place in 586 B.C. The Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem and laid siege to the city a year before. With no way to get supplies in or out of the city, the people eventually grew weak and starved. Social order began to break down. At that point, the Babylonians stormed in, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s Temple (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and set the city on fire. The Babylonians took the young royalty and nobility into captivity (Daniel was one of those), killed off anyone who might pose a political threat after they left, and they left those who were weak and dying in the rubble.

Jeremiah was one of those left behind.

What we read in today’s chapter is gruesome stuff.

Children, their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, beg for bread that no one has to give.

Formerly affluent people lie destitute on ash heaps of rubble.

Women cook and eat the flesh of their own children to survive.

Emaciated people, skin shriveled to the bone, wander aimlessly.

As I read the chapter, I imagined myself standing in the sandals of Jeremiah. He prophetically predicted the entire thing. If you go back to Jeremiah 25-27, he prognosticated that all of this would happen. The rise of Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of Jerusalem, along with seventy years of captivity and exile for God’s people in Babylon. No one believed him. The corrupt political and religious machines refused to repent of their crooked ways. They doubled down on their profiteering. They made Jeremiah public enemy number one. They threw him in the bottom of a well to die.

Woven into the poetic horror of today’s chapter is a not-so-subtle “I told you so.”

The kings of the earth did not believe,
    nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
    the gates of Jerusalem.

But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
    and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
    the blood of the righteous.

Now they grope through the streets
    as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
    that no one dares to touch their garments.

It stinks to be right.

Yet this I call to mind: Jeremiah’s prophecy was not hope-less. Jeremiah may have prophetically predicted Jerusalem’s fall, but he also predicted her return and restoration, and that’s how the chapter ends: “Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself sobered by the chapter. I like to think that good times will last forever and calamity will forever be held at bay. I like to think that the Vikings might surprise me and win a Super Bowl. Then reality descends. Jeremiah stands in the middle of the very devastation he predicted. I’m no prophet, but I also know that there are no guarantees in this life.

I’m in a position to care about the record of a silly football team. Today is a good day. I am grateful.

I couldn’t help but think of this video we watched earlier this week. A man whose house was blown away by the tornadoes in Kentucky this past week sat at his piano and played There’s Just Something About that Name amidst the rubble.

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.

Smack-Talk

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?
Nahum 2:11 (NIV)

When I was a younger man, I enjoyed being part of groups of friends who would compete in on-line pools in which we tried to pick which teams would win each week. I listened to a lot of sports radio while I was on the road. But, I grew weary of the constant braggadocio, belittling of others, and never-ending “smack-talk” in which people played this kind of verbal “king of the mountain.” They would gloat over the fans of the teams they hate, until the tables turned and the gloating went the other way. It was stupid. So, I still enjoy being a fan of my favorite teams, and I find it fun to casually follow them. Otherwise, I try to avoid the world in which sports is taken seriously.

That sub-culture of smack-talk in sports came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter because Nahum’s entire prophetic poem is an ancient version of talking smack against his people’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Choose your favorite sport, Assyria was the big-market dynasty that never loses and has been dominant forever. Nahum is part of a small market team that had a few good seasons back in the day but has been nothing but a doormat ever since.

If a fan was going to talk smack against the New York Yankees, let’s say. You’d want to take well-known things about the Yankees and then turn them into negatives:

“The house that Ruth built will be reduced to rubble.”
“Black pinstripes will turn blood red when they are slaughtered.”
“Aaron will be ‘Judged’ and found wanting.”

That’s exactly what Nahum is doing with Assyria, thought it’s easily lost on modern readers.

When Nahum writes:

The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob
    like the splendor of Israel,
though destroyers have laid them waste
    and have ruined their vines.

He’s alluding to Assyria’s earlier domination over the northern tribe of Israel and Assyria’s insult-to-injury tactic of destroying all of an enemy’s vines so that they will have no wine to drown their sorrows. Nahum is proclaiming that the little underdog will rise again, while the mighty dynasty of Assyria is coming down.

When Nahum writes:

The shields of the soldiers are red;
    the warriors are clad in scarlet.

He’s referencing a common Assyrian boast of their shields and robes dripping with their enemies’ blood. Nahum is turning the tables, saying it will be Assyria’s blood coating the shields and robes of their enemy.

When Nahum writes:

The river gates are thrown open
    and the palace collapses.

He’s referencing the network of reservoirs and irrigation canals in and around Nineveh. When the dams are opened the river floods, making the Nineveh palace weak and compromised.

When Nahum writes:

Plunder the silver!
    Plunder the gold!
The supply is endless,
    the wealth from all its treasures!

He’s referencing the incredible wealth of Nineveh which they hoarded by plundering other peoples. This time, it will be a conquering army that plunders all of their treasures. By the way, in the late 20th century the tombs of Assyrian queens were discovered. Click here to view an online book that catalogs the hoard of gold and treasures they found (scroll past page 220 or so to see the images). It gives you an idea of the treasure that awaited those who conquered Nineveh.

When Nahum writes:

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?

Ashurbanipal defeating a lion.

He’s alluding to the fact that Assyrian kings were closely associated with lions. Ashurbanipal, who was likely on the throne as Nahum is writing, was often depicted with lions or hunting lions. Statues of him always show him holding a lion. Nahum is saying that “the lion’s den” of Nineveh will be desolate after their defeat.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about how hollow Nahum’s smack-talk must have sounded when he wrote it. No one could have imagined Assyria’s defeat, and Nahum would have been laughed at and mercilessly derided for suggesting such a thing.

But, he was right. He might not have been right in the moment, but he saw the handwriting on the wall. He would be proved right in time.

That’s the way it is as a follower of Jesus. Having faith in justice and believing that the Great Story will unfold as prophetically predicted rings hollow for most people. You can find plenty of people who laugh and shake their heads. And, it neither surprises me nor do I ever think that will change. Still, I believe that justice will prevail one day and that Love wins, just as Jesus claimed it would.

But hey, I’m a Cubs fan. I’ve learned that “someday” does actually arrive.

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

Faith in Justice

Faith in Justice (CaD Na 1) Wayfarer

The Lord is good,
    a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
    but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
    he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

Nahum 1:7-8 (NIV)

The world has watched in horror the past week-and-a-half as Afghanistan quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. No matter which side of the political aisle one stands, and setting aside the argument of whether NATO forces should have been at all, there is no escaping the brutal realities of life under the Taliban. It’s been hard to read and hear the eye-witness accounts. A woman shot in the street for not wearing a burka. Another woman burned alive because she was considered a bad cook. When a mother is willing to throw her own baby over barbed-wire in an effort to ensure that he/she will have a life elsewhere, it tells me something.

Much of the story of what we refer to as the Old Testament is really about how one people, the Hebrews, lived and survived throughout several centuries in which one empire after another sought to control the world: Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.

The ancient prophet, Nahum, lived in a time when the Assyrian Empire was the largest the world had seen to-date. Its capital city, Nineveh, was the largest city on the planet. He was probably writing his prophetic poems during the reign of Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal (see featured photo). The Assyrian army was particularly brutal. Ashurbanipal’s records speak of him flaying enemies (removing the skin off of bodies) and draping the human skins over piles of corpses and city walls. The Assyrian armies would leave piles of dismembered limbs and dead bodies impaled on stakes as calling cards telling everyone they’d been there.

Enter Nahum, a prophet who both seeks to comfort his people and encourage them to trust God, but who most warns the Assyrians/Nineveh that God will see to it that their mighty empire will fall. In today’s opening poem, Nahum establishes God as both kind and stern. He predicts Ninevah’s fall and Judah’s joy when it does.

The Great Story is layered with recurring themes. Justice is definitely one of them, and Nahum is a mouthpiece for God’s message that the mighty empire of Assyria/Nineveh with its record of violent oppression and brutality will not last. Their just downfall is coming. But that same message also exists on a grand scale of the larger eternal epic of the Great Story. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He tells His followers that “the prince of this world stands condemned.” The end of the Great Story is about eternal justice on a cosmic scale. Wrongs are made right. Justice prevails. Love wins.

In the meantime, the story continues. The journey goes on, and the kingdoms of this world perpetuate injustice, violence, and brutality. Jesus tells His followers to be agents of a very different Kingdom marked by blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, the mourning, peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted. He asked me to be marked not by power, anger, vengeance, violence, hatred, but love that is manifested in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Being a follower of Jesus is a faith journey, and that faith includes believing that justice will prevail, just it did for Nahum. After Ashurbanipal’s reign the Assyrian Empire quickly fell apart. Its decline was swift and historians argue to this day how could so quickly fall apart and recede. So, I believe, the end of the Great Story will come just as prophesied.

In the meantime, I press on doing what I can to act justly and with love. One simple agent of a different Kingdom journeying amidst the kingdoms of this world in faith that justice will ultimately prevail, and that Love wins.