Tag Archives: Prophet

A New Org Chart

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good!
1 Samuel 12:14 (NIV)

One of the more fascinating parts of my job is getting to observe and experience many different company cultures. I have learned a lot about both leadership and how systems function from being in the trenches with many different companies large and small.

Once we were hired to help a company improve their customer satisfaction and customer service. Our survey of the company’s customers revealed a lot of room for improvement. Customer Satisfaction was low, and there were a few major things customers didn’t like. Our assessment of recorded phone calls between the company’s customers and the Customer Service team revealed that there were huge disparities in service quality between service reps, and some customers were getting such bad service experience as to make them detractors.

As we began working with the leadership team to address some of the issues, I quickly learned that the company was a mess internally. The long-time CEO of the company set an example of management by power, fear, and intimidation. The rest of the company followed suit. The org chart was a mess. Silos in the organization worked against one another. Front line managers directly reported to multiple superiors and simply answered the loudest threats each day.

The sign on the wall said that they were committed to exceptional customer service, but the entire organization was built in such a way as to make exceptional customer service an impossibility.

Today’s chapter is another key episode in the transition of the Hebrew system of government from a tribal theocracy to a national monarchy. The org chart is changing. In the old org chart, God was recognized as King. Then came a Judge (Samuel was the last) who was recognized as the one God had raised to lead and deliver the tribes along with a tribal council of elders. From there, each tribe had its own governance.

Today, Samuel lays out the new org chart. King Saul will now be at the top of the org chart and all the tribes will be ruled by him. Yet Samuel is quick to remind his people that God is still above King Saul on the org chart. The new monarchy will only work well if both the King and the people will serve the Lord with all their hearts and avoid the worship of idols.

As for Samuel? He makes it clear that there’s a new role on the org chart. He is giving up civil governance, but he’s taking up the mantel of spiritual leadership:

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

From this point forward, the nation would have prophets in the org chart who would directly report to God, and they will be God’s spiritual mouthpiece to both the King and the people. Future Kings would also assemble “yes men” prophets who would be subordinate to them and tell them what they want to hear, but God would ensure that His prophets would speak His words even if it wasn’t what the King wanted to hear.

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that companies typically don’t make dramatic changes in corporate culture unless the person at the top of the org chart is driving it. The company I mentioned at the top of this post was a great example of that. The CEO had created a culture that worked against what they claimed to be the company values. If the CEO doesn’t change, the organization isn’t going to change either.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the org chart of my own life. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to make Jesus the Lord of my life. Like Samuel reminded Saul, God is at the top of the org chart. And yet, like the old Kings of Israel, I have the autonomy to either obediently submit myself to God’s authority or to pay lip service to God while I willfully do my own thing. I can also do a little of both.

That leads me to ask myself some tough questions here in the quiet. Where am I being obedient? Where am I simply paying lip service? Some days I need a fresh reminder that God is at the top of my life’s org chart.

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

Habakkuk (Jul 2022)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Habakkuk published by Tom Vander Well in July of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Habakkuk 1: Habakkuk’s Cry
Habakkuk 2: Sleeping with the Enemy
Habakkuk 3: “Yet, I Will Rejoice”

Habakkuk’s Cry

Habakkuk's Cry (CaD Hab 1) Wayfarer

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

Habakkuk 1:3-4 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Destruction and violence are before me;

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

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

“there is strife, and conflict abounds

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

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

Like political division between factions who refuse to compromise?

Therefore the law is paralyzed,

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

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

and justice never prevails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When will God make good on His promised judgment?

I don’t know.

I have faith that He will.

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

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

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.

#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.

Lamentations (Dec 2021)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Lamentations published by Tom Vander Well in December of 2021. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Lamentations 1: Blue Christmas

Lamentations 2: How I Should Grieve!

Lamentations 3: “Yet This I Call to Mind”

Lamentations 4: It Stinks to Be Right

Lamentations 5: A Different Spirit of the Season

#15: God’s Nude, Performance Art Prophet

Top Chapter-a-Day Post #15 (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 posted November 7, 2016

…at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.
Isaiah 20:2 (NIV)

I am taking a step back this morning and thinking long and hard on this little fact from this morning’s rather short chapter: God told Isaiah to strip and walk around naked as a living word picture and performance art piece that foretold what the Egyptians were going to experience under Assyrian captivity.

I heard the voices of many an uptight grandmother, legalistic preacher, and fundamentalist friend explaining that something must surely be lost in translation and God would never ask His servant to do something so shameful and improper. “Perhaps Isaiah just stripped down to his boxers or something,” I hear the voices say.

Yet just the next verse God makes the message very clear:

“so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame.” Isaiah 20:4 [emphasis added]

Bare-assed shame was the crux of the message. God was not pulling any punches.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways I let social and societal mores mold the way I see God. The further I get in my life journey the more I’m aware that I sometimes like to put God in the box of my own design, constrained by my own social, cultural, political, and religious preconceptions. The more willing I am to let God out of my own mental and spiritual box, the more deep and full my understanding and appreciation of God becomes, and the more transformative that knowledge becomes in my own life.

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

Nahum (Aug 2021)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Nahum published by Tom Vander Well in August of 2021. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Nahum 1: Faith in Justice

Nahum 2: Smack-Talk

Nahum 3: “Kingdoms Fall”

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.

A Psalm 51 Moment

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17 (NRSVCE)

For anyone who does not know the story behind David’s song, known to us as Psalm 51, it is critical in order to have a complete understanding of the lyrics.

First of all, David had been the “good guy” his entire life journey. As a boy God declared him “a man after my own heart” and God chose David, through the prophet Samuel, to be God’s anointed king. David killed Goliath. David refused to raise his hand against King Saul and wait for God to fulfill the promise to give him the throne. David did everything right. David was devout. David was faithful. David was sincere. David was God’s man through-and-through.

Until he wasn’t.

The Reader’s Digest version is this: From the roof of his palace he creeped out on a beautiful young woman taking a bath on a nearby rooftop. David used his power to find out who she was. She was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, but the army was out on a military campaign and David knew it. David used his influence as King to invite her over. They had a one night stand. She ended up pregnant, and now a “no harm no foul” fling became a potentially Monica Lewinsky level political scandal.

The first step in the cover-up was to create the illusion of normal. David uses his commander-and-chief authority to give the woman’s husband, a soldier named Uriah, a special leave to come home and take a break from the action. It turns out, however, that Uriah was a “good guy” and a “man of integrity” like David had always been. Perhaps David had been his role model. Uriah, thinking of all his buddies on the front-line who didn’t get to come home and sleep with their wives, refuses to even go into his house.

Ironically, Uriah’s integrity leads to David’s further descent into depravity. To avoid his moral failure from coming to light and the scandal it would create, David sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed message to his general in the field. The message orders his general to place Uriah into the thick of the battle, order his fellow soldiers to abandon him, and ensure Uriah has an “honorable” death.

Uriah is buried with military honors. David makes a big deal out of caring for the widow of one of his soldiers by agreeing to marry and take care of her. Scandal averted and David is given the opportunity to improve his polling numbers and maintain his “good guy” image. David gets away it. No one is the wiser.

Except God.

God sends a prophet named Nathan to visit the King who regales David with the story of a wealthy land baron and sheep farmer who stole the only lamb of the poor tenant farmer next-door. David, angered, assures Nathan that the evil land baron will be forced to pay the victim back with four lambs for the one that was stolen.

Then Nathan informs David that the whole story was a metaphor and that he is the land baron in the story. He had a palace full of wives and thought he could steal poor Uriah’s wife and cover the whole thing up. David is devastated and has to own up to what he has done. He pours out his guilt and plea for forgiveness into a song.

If you’ve never read Psalm 51 in the context of this story, I encourage you to take the minute or two required to read the lyrics of the song in their entirety right now while the story is fresh in your head.

One of the interesting things about this chapter-a-day journey is the experience of coming upon chapters that I know really well, and have read countless times in the past 40 years. Do they have any fresh layers of meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life’s journey?

As I read this morning I kept hearkening back to one of David’s psalms from a couple of weeks ago. I went back to Psalm 26 in the quiet this morning and read it again:

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in faithfulness to you.

Wow. What a contrast.

I know Psalm 51 really well. It’s tatted on my left bicep as a reminder. I have a chapter of my own story that is a rough parallel of David’s. I was the “good guy” who everyone knew was a Jesus freak, a moral puritan, and who walked the straight-and-narrow. I’m sure I was even guilty of waxing self-righteously in my own way like David did in Psalm 26. Then I found myself in a place I swore I’d never be found. I had my own Psalm 51 moment.

Along this spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that I never really understood and experienced grace, forgiveness, and mercy until I hit rock-bottom and the veneer of self-righteousness was peeled away like the striking of a stage set. Like David, it came much further along in my journey, but I can now look back realize how important, make that essential, my own mistakes were in teaching me humility, empathy, mercy, and grace.

I enter another work week this morning soberly reminded of my own need of grace, as well as my need to extend it to others having their own Psalm 51 moments.