Tag Archives: Reality

The Presence

The Presence (CaD Matt 28) Wayfarer

“And surely I am with you always”
Matthew 28:20 (NIV)

This past weekend our local gathering of Jesus’ followers had what we call Original Works Night (OWN). The auditorium is set up in a coffee house atmosphere and a gallery is set up inside. Throughout the evening people perform their original songs and poems. The gallery is full of paintings, photography, and artwork in various mediums. We even had three musicians who improvised an instrumental piece to end the evening and it was awesome. I’m always blown away by the talent and creativity represented.

It was at an OWN a few years back that a group of children had done a creative project. On blank 3×5 cards, they had written various affirmations and decorated the card. It was set up in a display and attendees could exchange affirmations. You write one yourself, place it in the display, and you got to take an affirmation one of the children made. The affirmation I pulled out was quite simple: “God is with you.” It hangs on my dresser where I see it each morning when I prepare for bed each night.

“God is with you.”

Today’s chapter is the end of Matthew’s biography of Jesus. He leaves us with the resurrected Jesus telling His followers to go to all nations and share His story, making disciples everywhere they go. He then ends with “surely I am with you always.”

Matthew’s account begins with Jesus being the prophesied “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” It ends with “I will be with you always.” As a believer, I believe (and have experienced) there is Oneness between me and God through His indwelling Spirit. Perhaps the most radical paradigm shift Jesus unleashed was that the “temple” was no longer bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood. No longer do I go to a building thinking that I meet God there, pay Him a visit, and hope that He shows up. I am the temple and God is with me always.

This is a basic spiritual truth of being a follower of Jesus and being a believer. It’s one that I observe differentiating those who have, by faith, experienced the transformation of Christ’s indwelling Spirit and those who are simply religious church-goers.

The church building is not God’s house. I am.

Why would I pray for God’s presence? He’s with me always.

About 25 years ago I was going through a stretch of my earthly journey in which I was willfully choosing to make life choices and behave in ways that were completely antithetical to being a Jesus follower. Even then, I was fully aware of God’s presence amidst all of the foolish, rebellious things I was doing. My relationship with God continued and I had regular conversations with God filled with anger and selfishness. That’s the thing I’ve discovered about surrendering my life to Christ and inviting Him in 40 years ago. Even when I choose to “walk away” He goes with me.

“God is with you.”

In the quiet this morning, I am grateful to be in a much better place on life’s road. I’m grateful to be made in the image of the Creator and for the ways that we can express inexpressible truths and experiences through art and creativity, even as children. I’m thankful for one child’s simple artistic affirmation of such an unfathomable spiritual reality.

“God is with you.”

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.

Knowing and Not Knowing

Knowing and Not Knowing (CaD Gen 46) Wayfarer

[God said to Israel] “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
Genesis 46:3-4 (NIV)

When I was a kid, many years before Top Gun was a thing, I wanted to be a Naval aviator. I’m not sure how this developed in me, though I’m pretty sure the television show Black Sheep Squadron and the movie Midway were somewhat involved. I wore a sailor cap all the time. I read my Uncle Bud’s Navy manual, and I corresponded with him about his experiences in the Navy during the Korean War. Those are letters I regretfully did not save.

At some point after what seemed like a long period of correspondence in those days, Uncle Bud said he wanted to have a talk with me. He wanted to give me a reality check regarding what life was really like for him in the Navy. He wanted to share with me the things I was not asking him about as I looked at his stories through rose-colored aviator goggles.

My desire to be a Naval aviator quickly died. I consider this a good thing in retrospect.

In today’s chapter, God speaks directly to Israel and assures the elderly patriarch that he should take his entire family and all that he has and go to his son in Egypt. God even foreshadows what will happen next. The clan is going to grow exponentially in Egypt. And God will bring Jacob back. There’s a double meaning in this. Yes, Jacob’s body will be returned and buried in the family tomb. God is also foreshadowing the next chapters in the Great Story when God will deliver and lead the “nation” of Israel’s descendants out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land in the book Exodus.

What stood out to me, as one who knows the story well, is that God omits any mention of Israel’s descendants being enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years as they become “a great nation there.” Looking at this as an isolated incident on a merely human level, this seems unjust and unfair. Yet, along my spiritual journey, I have personally learned and observed that struggles, trials, and difficulties are requisites for spiritual maturity in this life. This is not hidden. It’s stated directly in multiple places in multiple ways.

If I had forewarning of every difficulty I have personally faced on my life journey, I’m quite certain I would have opted out of most of them, just like I opted out of my childhood dream of being a Naval aviator. In hindsight, I see now that opting out would have been to my detriment in so many of my life’s struggles. Yes, I would have avoided painfully difficult circumstances, but I also would have avoided the wisdom and spiritual maturity that was forged in me through them. That, I realize from my current waypoint on life’s road, would have been eternally detrimental.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back and being grateful for both stretches of difficulty on life’s road as well as times of deliverance and protection. They are equally important chapters in my story, just as they are in the Great Story. I find it an important reminder as the deliverance of Israel’s clan leads into hundreds of years of slavery between the final chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of Exodus.

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

Yes and Yes and Yes and Yes

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Luke 17:20-21 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve come to embrace, the further I’ve pressed into this journey, is that we as human beings are earthbound in the way we see and react to everything around us. Interacting with our world through five senses leads us to perceive and believe that spiritual things are bound by temporal limits. We think and speak of heaven and hell as fixed positions somewhere and relegate the general direction of “above” (because we look at the night sky and perceive vast and infinite unknown) and “below” (because we watch the dead be buried in the ground and the bad place to which they go must be further down). The miracles were fairy tales and the resurrection could never have happened because for the majority of us these things don’t happen in our earthly human experience.

Along the way, I’ve come to realize that Jesus was constantly speaking of things that are real, but beyond our earthbound senses. I’m reminded of the prophet Elisha and his servant. Surrounded by an entire enemy army, Elisha tells his servant “There are actually more for us than against us.” Elisha prayed that his servant’s “eyes” might be “opened” and when they were he could see a vast army of angels encircling them. (2 Kings 6)

Jesus carries on this teaching of a dimension, realm, reality, that is just as real but lies beyond the boundaries of our senses. The problem, then, is that I try to describe a reality beyond my senses but I only have the language and reality I’ve experienced through my senses to describe it. Those very attempts at description will naturally fall short because even my words and language have their earthly, human limits.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is asked when “God’s kingdom” would come. They are seeking a fixed point of time that their earthbound brains can accept and perceiving that God’s kingdom looks like an earthly kingdom. Jesus pushes back at the limits of their human perceptions:

Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

It isn’t seen with human eyes, Jesus said. It’s not a fixed position that can be labeled on Google Earth. He then tells them that God’s kingdom is right in their midst, hiding in plain sight.

Now the original language Jesus used, and the language Dr. Luke used to retell the story, must be translated into English. Translations are a sticky wicket. Scholars have landed both on the phrase being “within you” and “in your midst” (there’s actually a footnote in the NIV version stating this).

Now I run into another earthbound reality of human reason, which tends to like to boil things down into binary choices: either or, right or wrong, black or white, true or false, this or that. My perpetual sojourn through the Great Story, however, has convinced me that God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphors are layered with meaning which is why the same words, phrases, stories, and passages can have different but just as relevant meaning to me today as when I studied the same passage years ago.

So was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is in your midst because I’m the incarnate Christ standing right in front you“?

Was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is not a fixed position in time and space but a place you inhabit internally and spiritually“?

Was Jesus saying, “When I am in you and you are in me, you are the kingdom of God“?

Was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is within you when you love God and others as I have been showing you“?

My spirit answers:

Yes, and

Yes, and

Yes, and

Yes.

In the quiet this morning I find my spirit engaged, creativity enlivened, mind curious, and heart imaginative as I think about spiritual realities beyond my earthbound senses. It’s all over the chapter in what Jesus was saying….

  • When you cause someone else to stumble, and harm innocents, you reveal your spiritual condition, and it is not the kingdom of God. (vs. 1-2)
  • When the kingdom of God is within you then forgiveness and grace will pour out of your heart and life no matter how many times you’ve been wronged. (vs. 3-4)
  • When you get beyond your earthbound senses and God’s kingdom is within, you’ll find that the “impossible” is “possible.” (vs. 6)
  • When you embrace God’s kingdom, you find peace and contentment in your divine role in the Great Story. (vs. 7-10)
  • The Kingdom of God is not tied to a particular nation, tribe, race, or institution. It’s deeper than flesh, blood, genetics, citizenship, or doctrinal adherence. A huge number of people who should “get it” don’t and even the most unlikely of outcasts and outsiders will. (vs. 11-19)
  • There will come a time when the fecal matter will be propelled with great velocity at the electric, rotary oscillator of this world; A climactic collision of that which is temporal and that which is spirit. (vs. 22-37)

Jesus was always getting His followers to see, to touch, to taste, to smell, and to feel beyond the limits of what is physical. Because when you do, it changes how you relate to everything else along your journey. It’s taken me a long time to get that. I’ve still got a long way to go.

The Cloud of Unknowing

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:2 (NIV)

There is something mystical that can happen on stage for an actor. It’s a rare thing, and I can only claim to have, perhaps, touched it maybe once or twice. I’ve read others’ accounts of the rare occurrence and have corresponded with those who’ve experienced it. It happens when one gets so lost in the reality of the characters and the scene in the world of the play you’ve created that you lose your rational knowledge that you are an actor, pretending to be a character on a stage with other actors. It’s like slipping into a different reality and briefly letting go of the one you’re actually in. I know it sounds weird, but it happens and it is both wild and disconcerting when it does.

This past weekend I was introduced in my quiet time to the writings of an anonymous medieval mystic entitled The Cloud of Unknowing. It’s a bit of a slog to wade through given the vocabulary and middle english language of the 14th century. Nevertheless, I found myself in the quiet of the wee hours inspired by the author’s message.

Mystics also call themselves “contemplatives.” The concept is that we can learn, and even experience, much in disciplined contemplation. Kind of like the mystery of losing one’s sense of rational presence on stage, The Cloud of Unknowing is a state of being that the author describes as a place where one knows nothing but the feeling of a “naked intent unto God“:

“Let not, therefore, but travail therein till thou feel list. For at the first time when thou dost it, thou findest but a darkness; and as it were a cloud of unknowing, thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God. This darkness and this cloud is, howsoever thou dost, betwixt thee and thy God, and letteth thee that thou mayest neither see Him clearly by light of understanding in thy reason, nor feel Him in sweetness of love in thine affection.”

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, he touches on this concept of knowing and unknowing as part of the spiritual mystery of being a follower of Jesus. He tells the believers that he resolved “to know nothing” while he was with them “except Christ and Him crucified.” It sounds a lot like he intended to exist in a cloud of unknowing. He goes on to speak of the reality of a relationship with Christ in terms of a mysterious wisdom that is hidden from those who are wise in the rational realities of this world.

Jesus also touched on this mysterious wisdom:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
Matthew 11:25 (NIV)

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)

This morning in the quiet I find myself mulling over both the rational and the mystery. I find myself a player on Life’s stage, as Shakespeare aptly put it, making my routine daily entrances and exits. The further I proceed in my journey the more called I feel toward a wisdom that lies, not in the nailing of my lines and hitting my cues, but in finding that rare place that can only be found somewhere in the mystery of unknowing.

 

“Wait for it…”

Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 42:7 (NIV)

Just yesterday I was reading a fascinating article about Peter Wohlleben the scientist and forester who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees. How fascinating to find that Tolkien’s characterization of trees as living characters is more true than I ever thought possible. Science is discovering that trees connect to one another through a vast underground network. Trees act communally, share resources, communicate danger to one another, and care for their young. The more I learn about creation, the more amazed I am by it and our Creator.

Take time and space, for example. I, like most people, have spent most of my life journey stuck in the paradigm of time being flat and linear. Physicists (thank you, Einstein), have come to understand that both time and space bend. There is far more dimension to it than a linear plane. Depending on the school of thought to which one prescribes there are at least 10, perhaps 11 or even 26 dimensions of space and time. This does not shake my faith any more than Galileo’s discovery that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Rather, it only expands my faith to consider and discover new facets of Life, Spirit, and eternity.

In today’s chapter of Jeremiah, the armed contingent who rescued the captives of the governor’s house in yesterday’s chapter have decided to head to Egypt. They are afraid that when the King of Babylon finds out about his Governor’s assassination that head’s will literally roll. Before leaving, they decide to ask Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord what Word He has for them. Jeremiah agrees to do so, and the Word comes to Jeremiah ten days later.

Ten days. Why ten days? Why not immediately? Was there something wrong with Jeremiah’s antenna or spiritual satellite dish? Were solar flares creating signal interference? What’s up with having to wait ten days?

As I meditate on this question there are two major thoughts that come to mind.

First, the number ten is not without significance in the Great Story. It is a number of completion. Ten commandments, ten plagues, ten generations, ten as percentage of tithe, ten lepers, ten virgins, ten talents, and etc. So, the contingent having to wait ten days has spiritual weight. Would the fearful contingent display the completeness of faith to wait for God’s word from Jeremiah, despite the pressure of knowing Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath could arrive before then? The ten days was, perhaps, less about God being out on a coffee break, and more about the revealing of the contingent’s heart and motives.

Second, I have found along my own spiritual journey that the concept of time and season described by the author of Ecclesiastes (see Ecclesiastes chapter 3) is far deeper than mere poetry. In the complex fabric of time and space (which is far beyond my comprehension) there seems to be a spiritual weaving of circumstances, events, and places into the tapestry of the Great Story. Things happen at a particular time and place in our journeys. We call them happenstance, coincidence, and fortune. As a believer, I have faith that these things aren’t random. God exists outside of time, and I’m beginning to understand that our Creator has layered and bent time and space in ways my finite mind cannot imagine.

At the end of this morning’s chapter Jeremiah’s words suggest that by the time the Word from the Lord came to him, the contingent who asked for it were already packed for their escape to Egypt. How often has that been true in my own life? I say I want to ask for God’s guidance and direction, but my will was decided before I asked. I really don’t have the patience to wait for God’s time and season. The sand is slipping through the hourglass, baby. I can’t wait anymore. Gotta head on down the line. Gonna make something happen!

This morning I’m feeling the need to admit the impatience that has dotted my own journey’s story line. As I take the final sip from my first cup of morning coffee, I’m reminded that at times I will wait ten days, ten months, or ten years for God to reveal, speak, move, or act in the space-time continuum He’s created for the telling of the Great Story (and my place in it).

Rest…breathe…chill…relax…flow….

Wait for it….

“God makes all things beautiful in their time.” (Ecc 3:11)

Speaking the Truth; Hearing the Truth

Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison? Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, ‘The king of Babylon will not attack you or this land’?
Jeremiah 37:18-19 (NIV)

A member of my company’s team recently delivered some research results to a client. The client had not been happy about their recent performance in the market and wanted to know why. So, they approached us and asked our team to conduct a focused survey of their customers.

The story revealed in the data of the survey results was definitely not what our client wanted to hear.

I told them not to shoot the messenger!” my teammate reported to me after meeting with the client’s executive team. “But, it is what it is, ” he continued. “The data doesn’t lie and we had to give them the truth.”

Ugh. I felt for my colleague. I’ve made countless presentations across my career and it’s never fun when the story the data has to tell is going to make you unpopular. You never know how the client is going to react. It’s always possible the client will question the data and blame our company for not knowing what we’re doing. I can recall multiple clients who, after I presented some hard truths our data revealed, quickly deep-sixed the report and never called us again. I’m grateful to say that we have many examples of clients who faced the truth, utilized the data to strategize a turn-around plan, and were eventually grateful for the wake-up call.

I’m also reminded this morning of an experience years ago when I sat on an organization’s board. The organization was not doing well and many of us were convinced that a change in leadership was going to be necessary to move the organization forward. At a regular board meeting the question was asked, “Do we have a leadership problem?”

[cue: crickets chirping]

I confess that I remained silent as did everyone else on the board. The organization’s leader was beloved and no one wanted to confront this person and experience the painful conversation that would transpire if we honestly answered the question. The organization continued to struggle and I’ve always regretted not speaking the truth when I had an opportunity to do so.

Hearing the truth and speaking the truth are both hard. Jeremiah knew this only too well.

Today’s chapter is set in the critical years while the city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah had been predicting this with his prophesies for years even though no one wanted to hear it. During the siege, Jeremiah is arrested for being a traitor and languishes in a dungeon for a long time. Meanwhile, King Zedekiah surrounded himself with prophets who continued telling him what he wanted to hear.

As the situation grows more and more dire, King Zed realizes he needs to hear the truth. He calls Jeremiah from prison and Jeremiah tells him the truth, just as he had always done: “You’re going to be handed over to the King of Babylon.” Jeremiah then takes the opportunity to ask King Zed, “Why am I, the one prophet who tells you the truth, languishing in prison? Where are all the false prophets who tickled your ears with deception and told you only what you wanted to hear? Why aren’t they in the dungeon instead of me?

This morning I’m thinking about all of the layers of life in which I have opportunity to be truth-teller or ear-tickler. I’m thinking of all the places I can embrace truth or choose to ignore it. It happens in relationships, families, organizations, communities, companies, churches, and teams. It even happens with my own internal conversations with self. I can be a truth teller or an ear-tickler. I can be open to hearing the truth or shut my mind and spirit to things I don’t want accept.

In the quiet this morning I find myself choosing, once again, to commit myself to the hard realities of both telling and hearing the truth. I’ve learned along the journey that it may not be pleasant in the moment, but it makes for a more level path down the road.

Death, Life, Surrender

 Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives.
Jeremiah 21:9 (NIV)

Along my life journey there have been a number of dreaded moments. Those days when the seeds of fear that have silently been cultivated in your heart and mind finally come to fruition. The unexpected phone call with tragic news of the death of a loved one. The final surrender to years of marital struggle. The company’s largest client who unexpectedly and completely walks away from a 25 year relationship, and with the departure nearly half of your income disappears. The ultrasound image of an empty womb.

In today’s chapter, the day of dread which Jeremiah has long prophesied finally comes to fruition. This is the predicted reality everyone around Jeremiah had mocked, ignored, laughed at, and denied. It finally happened. Nebuchadnezzar and the mighty Babylonian army have surrounded and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem.

Now the King of Judah and the priests of the Temple, representatives of the institutions who have long ignored Jeremiah, dismissed his warnings, threatened his life, and thrown him into the stocks, come begging the brooding prophet for help. It’s now obvious to them that Jeremiah’s hotline to God was real. Perhaps they can throw up a Hail Mary prayer through the prophet and escape the terror of a siege. After all, it worked for King Hezekiah decades earlier when the Assyrians came besieging.

Jeremiah’s response: “Not this time.” The city will be destroyed, all inside the city will suffer unspeakable horror, and likely be killed. There is only once chance a person had to keep his or her life: surrender.

This morning in the quiet of my hotel room as I ponder these things, I am struck by two thoughts;

First, God has woven the paradigm of death and life into the very fabric of creation. “If you want to really live,” Jesus said, “first you have to die.” When I really meditate on this simple teaching, I come to the conclusion that this notion is not some mystical, ethereal thought. At its core this is simple grounded reality of creation. “Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust.” Place the spiritual aside for a moment and think only of the physical and material. Our dead bodies don’t disappear. They are converted to a different kind of energy that, in turn, feed more life in the system. Death feeds life.

God’s language is metaphor, and in the very fabric of creation Jesus tell us that He has layered the material, physical ecosystem with a spiritual reality: life comes through death. Then He surrendered Himself to give us the ultimate word picture of that truth. If you want to experience resurrection, you have to take up the cross.

I’ve learned along my journey the wisdom of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes (props to the Byrds for giving it a tune). “There is a time and a season for everything. A time to be born, and a time to die.” Sometimes things need to die in order for new life to come. A lost client makes way for new ways of looking at business. The end of a relationship leads to a different chapter in life. The death of a loved one makes room in time, energy and resources to be invested in new loved ones joining the family. Yes, Jerusalem would be destroyed, Jeremiah says, but a new Jerusalem would eventually be built. In fact, God says this process will be repeated: Revelation ends with yet another new Jerusalem, and new heaven, and a new earth. Old things pass away, new things come.

The second thought I’m pondering this morning is that the lifeline Jeremiah gave to the people of Jerusalem was to surrender. And so I’ve come to believe along my journey that sometimes the harder I fight and deny death and endings the harder my journey becomes. Learning the process of surrendering to God’s natural order of death-to-life, old-to-new, passing-and-coming flow has led me to deeper, fuller, more vibrant, and more peaceful life experiences on the journey.

Finally, I have to mention that U2’s Bad (which is good!) flowed through my spirit as I pondered these things this morning:

If you twist and turn away
If you tear yourself in two again
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
Let it go
Surrender
Dislocate
If I could throw this lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay
See you walk, walk away
Into the night
And through the rain
Into the half-light
And through the flame
If I could through myself
Set your spirit free, I’d lead your heart away
See you break, break away
Into the light
And to the day
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
To let it go
And so to fade away
To let it go
And so, fade away
Wide awake
I’m wide awake
Wide awake
I’m not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no

 

How Little I Can Possibly Fathom

They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal….”
Jeremiah 19:5 (NIV)

Let’s be real. There’s a smorgasbord of negativity out there. Media and a 24/7/365 news cycle continually bombards us with sensational cries of things for us to fear or be anxious about. The right cries for us to fear the left. The left cries for us to fear the right. Beyond politics there is a steady stream of anxiety stirring doom we’re told to perpetually fear from nuclear war, global warming, gun violence, terror attacks, product safety, GMOs, cancer, Zika virus, flu, vaccinations, poverty, earthquakes, floods, oil spills, pollution, asteroid hits, and etc, and etc, and etc.

A month or two ago Wendy and I read a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal by a Harvard professor. He attempted to provide some much needed perspective on our current life and times.

A few excerpts:

Globally, the 30-year scorecard also favors the present. In 1988, 23 wars raged, killing people at a rate of 3.4 per 100,000; today it’s 12 wars killing 1.2 per 100,000. The number of nuclear weapons has fallen from 60,780 to 10,325. In 1988, the world had just 45 democracies, embracing two billion people; today it has 103, embracing 4.1 billion. That year saw 46 oil spills; 2016, just five. And 37% of the population lived in extreme poverty, barely able to feed themselves, compared with 9.6% today. True, 2016 was a bad year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths. But 1988 was even worse, with 440.

The world is about a hundred times wealthier today than it was two centuries ago, and the prosperity is becoming more evenly distributed across countries and people. Within the lifetimes of most readers, the rate of extreme poverty could approach zero. Catastrophic famine, never far away in the past, has vanished from all but the most remote and war-ravaged regions, and undernourishment is in steady decline.
A century ago, the richest countries devoted 1% of their wealth to children, the poor, the sick and the aged; today they spend almost a quarter of it. Most of their poor today are fed, clothed and sheltered and have luxuries like smartphones and air conditioning that used to be unavailable to anyone, rich or poor. Poverty among racial minorities has fallen, and poverty among the elderly has plunged.
During most of the history of nations and empires, war was the natural state of affairs, and peace a mere interlude between wars. Today war between countries is obsolescent, and war within countries is absent from five-sixths of the world. The proportion of people killed annually in wars is about a quarter of what it was in the mid-1980s, a sixth of what it was in the early 1970s, and a 16th of what it was in the early 1950s.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. There is still no lack of very real and hard work to be done to make this world a better, more peaceful, and just place. What I increasingly have come to understand, however, is that it has become harder and harder for a person like me, living in the first-world of the 21st century, to understand how absolutely brutal life was in the days of the ancient prophets like Jeremiah. Reading through the writing of the ancient prophets can feel like a long slog. It’s whole lot of doom and gloom from a time and place that is very, very different than my reality.

I struggle with the harsh images and the violence in Jeremiah’s messages. But I also have to remember that I have no clue how harsh and violent daily life was in the middle east in 500 B.C.

Amidst today’s chapter, Jeremiah hints at what was happening, even within the walls of Solomon’s Temple, in his day. The God of Abraham, Moses, and David had been almost completely forgotten. Solomon’s Temple had become an open, free-market for the worship of local gods. In the case of Baal, people would sacrifice their own children and burn them alive as a form of worship. Just let the image of that sink in for a moment.

There’s a reason that God was angry. He commanded his people to love their children, to raise them up well. God commanded his people to teach their children and grandchildren His word, and to teach them to keep His commands about being honest, pure, just, content, and faithful. Now God’s people are worshiping local fertility gods with religious prostitution and drunken sex orgies. They are burning their own children alive as a sacrifice to Baal. And, when God raises up a prophet like Jeremiah to speak out against what is happening they tell him to shut-up and threaten to kill him.

This morning in the quiet I’m mulling these things over in my head. I’m not foolish enough to believe that things are perfect in this day and age, but I also don’t want to be equally foolish by denying the fact that I live in a world that is far better off than when my parents and grandparents were my age. I live in a world in which daily life is infinitely better off than it was for humans who lived centuries and millennia before. I can’t really imagine a day in the life of Jeremiah.

These thoughts lead me to look at Jeremiah’s writing differently. Rather than trying to layer Jeremiah’s poetic prophecies with my 21st century first-world understanding I want to let go of my preconceived notions. I want to cut Jeremiah some slack and try to see his world from his perspective. As a parent I addressed my daughters differently when they were five than I do when they are twenty-five, so it seems reasonable for me to conclude that God addressed humanity differently in the days of the Jeremiah than He does today.

I feel myself increasingly led to embrace the reality of just how little I can possibly fathom. Yet that doesn’t absolve me from responsibility. My job on this spiritual journey is to keep asking, seeking, and knocking on the door of understanding what God has been saying to humanity throughout the Great Story.  Perhaps that sounds hard to do given how different my life is compared to Jeremiah, but I also happen to live in a time and place where I have almost all of the research and resources in the entire world literally at my fingertips.

And that’s a daily reality I daresay Jeremiah couldn’t possibly fathom.

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“Harsh Realities”

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 10:34

Follow me for any length of time and you’ll discover that I enjoy the game of baseball. One of the many reasons I enjoy baseball is the way the game metaphorically reflects life in so many ways.

In the narration of his great documentary about the game, Ken Burns speaks about the game beginning each season with the hope of spring, and ending each year with the “harsh realities of autumn.” How often life is like that. The optimistic young soldier ships out with his head filled of dreams of glory and returns with his spirit tempered by the realities of battle. A couple begins their marriage in the fog of romance, but soon find themselves living day-by-day facing the sacrificial requirements of love. Just months ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth with greeting cards chalk full of words about hope for humanity, joy to the world, and peace on earth. In a few weeks we will remember Jesus’ kangaroo court trial, torture, and gruesome execution. Death must come before resurrection can even be a possibility. That’s a harsh reality.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is preparing his followers for what life is going to be like on their mission of taking His message to the world. It’s not a pep talk. It’s a sobering reality check. Jesus didn’t fill His messengers with visions of fame, fortune, and prosperity. He called them to austerity, humility, and sincerity. He did not send them out with hopeful promises that the Message they would carry would create inspirational social movements of unity, peace and brotherhood. He told them to be wary and shrewd, expecting opposition, persecution, and conflict. The sweet manger baby we all celebrated as the “Prince of Peace” has grown to deliver a more difficult message: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Along my journey I’ve come to accept that we as humans like to dwell on the things that are easy, optimistic, inspirational, and accessible. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the glass half-full and being grateful for it. We need hope and optimism to carry us in dark times. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that there is wisdom in being sober minded. We are quick to remember Jesus feeding a hungry crowd of people by miraculously multiplying a few loaves and fish. Few of us recall that just a day later Jesus drove that very crowd away when He asked them to “eat my flesh, and drink my blood.” The crowds wanted the former without the latter. We still do.

Baseball season starts in a week and a half. Right now fans like Wendy and me are experiencing the annual feelings of giddy excitement. Come the evening of April 2nd it will be hot dogs and cold beer at the Vander Well Pub. Every team’s record starts at 0-0, and everyone is hopeful. This year Wendy and I even get to feel the joy of our team starting the season as World Series Champions, and that’s a lot of fun. It does not wipe away, however, the knowledge that we’ve never felt it before.

Harsh realities of autumn 108. World Series Champions 1.

Play ball!