Tag Archives: Redemption

Grace and Cancel Culture

Grace and Cancel Culture (CaD Gen 20) Wayfarer

Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live.
Genesis 20:7 (NIV)

I have been fascinated to watch the hoopla over the past several days as the latest victim of cancel culture falls from public favor. When I was young, it was institutional churches and fundamentalist Christians who were bemoaned, and rightfully so, for being judgmental and ostracizing sinners. With cancel culture, I observe that the pendulum has swung to the opposite side of the social and political spectrum. Witch hunts comb people’s past with a fine-toothed comb to find any evidence of past impropriety based on today’s rigid social mores of woke culture.

Just yesterday, I happened upon a YouTube video of a man telling his story. When he was a young husband and father he flatlined during surgery for twenty minutes. He had never publicly shared the story of his near death experience until this video. His experience was variation on the themes of the stories of others I listened to who have experienced this. One of the common themes of those who’ve died and returned is the experience of having their life flash before their eyes, or to have it replayed.

The gentleman in this video was completely alone as this happened. He saw all of his life. There were moments that made him feel joy and nostalgia. Then there were the flawed moments, the poor choices, and tragic mistakes. “I was all alone,” he said describing the moment. “There was no reason to make excuses. No reason to deny it. I did those things and I had to own it.” Before crossing over, he was told that it wasn’t his time and he had other things he needed to do. His spirit returned to his body.

Today’s chapter is a reprise of circumstances we encountered earlier in Abraham’s journey. He enters foreign territory and fears for his life. Apparently, his wife Sarah was quite a catch even in old age. Abraham fears the local king will kill him and take Sarah and everything he owns. So he plays the “She’s my sister” card. The local king takes Sarah into his harem which could mess up the covenant promise God has now been making for eight chapters. God intervenes by way of a dream and tells the king to send Sarah back to Abraham, stating that Abraham is a prophet and God has plans for them. God then releases the King from any guilt and the King, in turn, showers Abraham with gifts out of fear for God.

As I contemplated this story, the first thing that struck me was that Abraham acts deceptively out of fear rather than trusting that God would honor His covenant and protect him and Sarah. This is the second time he’s done this. It’s an obvious blind spot that is disrespectful to his wife, unfaithful to God, and could fubar everything God has promised.

The second thing that struck me was God’s grace with everyone in the story. God graciously redeems the entire situation. Not one of the players in this deception are judged or punished. The fact is that God called a fallen human being to be His prophet. Abraham is a dude just like me; He’s given to flawed moments, poor choices, and tragic mistakes.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for two things.

First, I’m thankful that I’m a nobody and that I’m not on cancel culture’s radar. Scour my past and you’ll find plenty of reason to cancel me. I’ve been a work in progress from an early age and I’m still at it. Like the dead man in the video, there’s no denying it or excusing it. I own it.

Second, I’m thankful that God, unlike many of His self-righteous followers past and present, is gracious and forgiving. The overarching theme of the Great Story is that of redemption, not cancellation. If God operated like cancel culture there would be no hope for me.

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

More Than “Boy Meets Girl”

More than "Boy Meets Girl" (CaD Ruth 2) Wayfarer

So [Ruth] went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
Ruth 2:3-4 (NIV)

When I told Wendy yesterday that I’d begun the story of Ruth, her response was, “Oh good! I love the story of Ruth!” I was not surprised by this. In fact, I mentioned it because I knew she would be pleased. When Wendy and I were married, we wrote our own vows. Her vows to me included Ruth’s vow to Naomi:

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The story of Ruth often resonates deeply with women. It’s a boy meets girls story, and it is basically an ancient version of the film Pretty Woman. Destitute young woman who is a societal outcast and pariah meets older man of means. As I’m fond of saying: “All good stories are reflections of the Great Story.”

But there’s more going on under the surface of the boy meets girl romance in the story of Ruth. Ruth is a story of redemption, and it’s important for 21st century readers to understand a bit of context.

The early chapters of the Great Story are about God calling one man, Abraham, and growing his descendants into a nation. That doesn’t happen overnight, but over centuries as Abraham’s grandson has twelve male sons/grandsons who become leaders of tribes (the story of Abraham through Jacob and his sons is told in Genesis). Those tribes then become slaves in Egypt for 400 years before Moses led their deliverance. Then God has the difficult task of turning slaves who have had zero autonomy, freedom, or education for generations into a fully functioning nation. To facilitate this, God give them His law through Moses (this story is told in the books of Exodus and Leviticus). What’s utterly fascinating about the law of Moses is that it is an ancient blueprint for how a nation and society should function lawfully and it prescribes ways for managing common societal ills including immigration, incurable and infectious diseases, and poverty. Those issues sound familiar?

Having a blueprint is one thing. Actually convincing a couple of million former slaves in the brutal world of the ancient near east to actually implement it is another. The time of the Judges, in which this Pretty Woman story of Ruth takes place, is a time when the implementation is failing miserably. This new nation remains a tribal system with no central leadership, violent wars and feuds within and without, and little adherence to the laws and blueprint God had given them.

In today’s chapter, we’re introduced the prototype of Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman. We learn that Boaz is a “guardian-redeemer” or “kinsman-redeemer.” This was part of the societal blueprint God gave through Moses. Men in each family clan within each tribe were appointed as “redeemers” to care for those in their clan who’d been dealt a bad hand. The law required leaving part of your field unharvested so the poor in your clan could glean food for themselves. It required the redeemer to buy-back (e.g. “redeem”) clan members who, because of poverty, had been sold into slavery. It required them to help widows of child-bearing years to bear heirs who would then be responsible to care for them so they wouldn’t become a drain on the nation at large. Only, men in the time of the Judges were not known for living up to their responsibility or following the blueprint.

Boaz is far more than just a dashing figure with salt-and-pepper hair who looks good in an Armani suit and Julia Roberts on his arm. The first thing we hear from Boaz is his greeting to his own servants: “The Lord be with you.” Boaz is, first-and-foremost, God’s man, and that lays the foundation for the rest of the story. At a time when not following God and His blueprint led the nation into repeated chaos, violence, war, and tragedy, Boaz represents how when those with status, wealth, and power within the system trust God and faithfully follow the blueprint, they become agents of redemption and the entire society benefits.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about a larger conversation going on right now within our culture in which the Christian church is accused of not following Jesus’ blueprint of caring for “the least of these.” I won’t deny that this is true, though I believe that it is a broad-brush, black-and-white generalization that completely paints over the tremendous work of sincere followers of Jesus, throughout history, who fulfill Jesus’ mission of caring for the marginalized and improving life and humanity on earth.

I also can’t help but think about Boaz. He’s simply one faithful believer who is obedient within his clan. He may not be altering the course of the entire nation in those dark times, but he is altering the course of Ruth, Naomi, his clan, and his community. Boaz is an agent of redemption within his circles of influence. Imagine if there was one Boaz in every clan in every tribe in that day?

I often read the headlines over coffee with Wendy in the morning and enter my day feeling impotent to make a difference in the national and global problems plaguing the world. This morning, I’m reminded that I have the power and ability to be a Boaz.

“Be a Boaz.” That’s the cry of my heart as I enter this day.

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

Dealt a Bad Hand

Dealt a Bad Hand (CaD Ruth 1) Wayfarer

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Ruth 1:20-21 (NIV)

Along my journey, I’ve known many people who I would describe as having been dealt a bad hand in this life. I have experienced multipole stretches of the journey in which I felt I was dealt a bad hand. There are unexpected tragedies, unforeseen illnesses, and circumstances that come out of left field. As I ponder things, I feel as if the entire world got dealt a bad hand the past year-and-a-half. It’s one of the realities of this earthly journey. Despite all the wonderful promises of name-it-and-claim-it televangelists, the Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds us of a hard reality: in this life there are times and seasons when things like death, war, tearing, weeping, searching, relational distance, mourning, and hate are our experience. In every time and season, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

Today we begin the short story of Ruth, one of only two books of Great Story named after women. Ruth is one of a select handful of women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, so her story is a meaningful chapter in the Great Story. It is set in the dark period of time known as the time of the Judges. The story begins with a woman, Naomi, to whom God deals and incredibly bad hand.

There is a famine in the land, and Naomi’s husband leads her and her sons to the foreign land of Moab in a search to find food. At first, it appears that they’re playing their cards right. They settle in, have food, and even find Moabite wives for their sons. There was nothing illegal with Hebrew men marrying Moabite women, though it will certainly raise some orthodox, prejudicial eyebrows if and when they should return home to the little town of Bethlehem (yep, that Bethlehem).

Then there’s a change in seasons, just like the Sage reminds us. Naomi’s husband dies. Then both of her sons die. For a woman in the dark age of the Judges, this was the worst hand God could deal her. Widows had no status, no viable means of income, and there was no social structure to provide for their needs. Naomi’s situation is essentially hopeless.

Naomi recognizes that the situation for her daughters-in-law is not as dire. They are young, beautiful, and have child-bearing years ahead of them. She urges them to “fold” their hand, stay in Moab, and trust that their local Moabite god will deal them a new and better hand. One takes her up on the offer, but Ruth chooses to ante up, stick with Naomi, stick with Naomi’s God, and see this hand through. On the surface, this is a bad decision. Being a Moabite widow in Bethlehem and expecting a positive result is about the longest odds one could imagine in the context of the times.

Sure enough, widow Naomi’s return to Bethlehem with her foreign, widowed daughter-in-law, has the two buzzing with gossip. Naomi sums up her situation by asking people to call her by a different name:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara (which means “bitter”), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Bitter. What a great word for those times when I suddenly find myself playing a bad hand in life. Bitter at God. Bitter with the situation. Bitter that others seem to have it easier than me. Bitter that all the televangelist’s prophesies of my prosperity and the self-help guru’s promises of my success turn out to be null and void. Bitter that God dealt me this hand when He could have dealt me something different.

In the quiet this morning, I feel for Naomi, I mean Mara the Queen of bitter. I find myself recalling some of my top-ten bitter moments of this life journey even as I admit not one of them was nearly as dire or life-threatening as Naomi and Ruth. At the same time, I’m reminded that the Great Story is ultimately a redemption story that is layered with redemption stories. The way stories work, you can’t experience redemption without first experiencing the bitter. The bitter hand is the pre-requisite of redemption. I don’t experience the latter without the former.

It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned along this journey of following Jesus. When dealt a bad hand, never fold, because that assures perpetual bitterness. Playing out my hand is the only path to redemption, even against the longest of odds.

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

The Person I Want to Be

The Person I Want to Be (CaD Ps 112) Wayfarer

Praise the LORD!
Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.
Psalm 112:1 (NIV)

I happen to be in the middle of a rather large project for a client. Our company has been helping them design, develop, launch, and implement a Quality Assessment (QA) program for their company. You know, the ol’ “Your call may be monitored for training and coaching purposes“? That’s a big chunk of what I do.

So it was this weekend that I’ve been deep in the weeds producing some training to introduce the program to my client’s front-line team members. One of the things I stated in the training is that you always want to build a QA program with the goal in mind, and in this case, the goal is to actually achieve the client’s corporate Mission and Vision statement.

Many years ago, as my life was emerging from the ash heap I had made of it, I happened upon today’s chapter, Psalm 112. I remember reading the lyrics to this ancient Hebrew song and realizing that it described the person I want to become and to be on this earthly journey. I remember thinking that day, “When this journey’s over and my number is up, I would hope that when friends and loved ones gather to celebrate my homecoming they could read Psalm 112 and say, ‘THAT was Tom.'”

“Blessed…” (vs. 1)
I have been blessed in so many ways, and never want to lose sight of that or fail to acknowledge it and be grateful for the grace given to me that my life doesn’t merit.

Children mighty in the land…” (vs. 2)
I want to leave a legacy, not of earthly accomplishments, wealth, and fame, but children, grandchildren, and descendants whose life journeys walk the path of Psalm 112, as well.

Wealth and riches are in their houses…” (vs. 3)
I never thought of this as a monetary blessing, but a spiritual one. Jesus said, “Don’t seek treasure on earth where it can be stolen, decay, and where you will leave it behind for all eternity. Seek eternal spiritual treasure that can’t be stolen. It doesn’t rot, and it will profit you through all eternity.” As a follower of Jesus, that’s the goal. That said, It also reminds me that if I manage my blessings and resources with the wisdom and the principles found in the Great Story, I will likely be just fine from a financial perspective. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

Even in darkness light dawns…” (vs. 4)
They have no fear of bad news. Their hearts are secure, trusting in the Lord…” (vs. 7)
Their hearts are secure. They will have no fear…” (vs. 8)
As an Enneagram Type Four, my core temperament always fights pessimism. Ironic, then, that God led me into a career in which my monthly and annual income is an ever-changing sum and has never been a sure-thing that secured by a corporation, a government, or a union (even though even that sense of security is ultimately an illusion). Recently I told our daughter that I perpetually assume that I’m one day away from living in a van down by the river. These words from Psalm 112 have become a spiritual bulwark against my pessimistic personality. It gives me an anchor in life’s “Chain Reaction of Praise” moments. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

“…for those who are gracious, compassionate, righteous.” (vs. 4)
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice
…” (vs. 5)
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor…” (vs. 9)
Much of my life journey has been marked by a scarcity mentality. Along the way, I have come to realize that this has come from the perfect storm of my Type 4 personality, the realities of growing up as the youngest sibling, and growing up in a home in which my needs were always met, but there was never had a lot of financial margin. Psalm 112 and it’s repeated call to grace, compassion, generosity, and justice has been instrumental in helping me grow out of my scarcity thought-patterns and into the loving generosity that Jesus asks of me. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

“…their righteousness endures forever.” (vs. 3)
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
..” (vs. 6)
“…their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
” (vs. 9)
As I grew up, there was a period of time in which the women from my mother’s family would gather together. They would feast, laugh, share memories, and honor my great-grandmother, Grandma Daisy. Grandma Daisy Day made an impression on me as a kid. It revealed to me the legacy and impression that my maternal clan’s matriarch made on her descendants through her faith, love, grace, and generosity. She died pretty much penniless after a life dotted with tragedy and struggle. Her eternal bank account was full, and the legacy she left on her descendants was priceless. That’s the kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind, as well.

In the quiet this morning, I am celebrating the impression Psalm 112 has had on my life journey. It’s memorized, and etched in my soul. I have the song title inked on my right bicep, where it reminds me that my strength lies in becoming the person Psalm 112 describes.

It’s good reminder on this “reset” day that Monday is on a weekly basis and I’m heading back into life’s fray.

Have a great week, my friend!

A Lesson in the Margins

A Lesson in the Margins (CaD Ex 38) Wayfarer

He made for the altar a grating, a network of bronze, under its ledge, extending halfway down.
Exodus 38:4 (NRSVCE)

One of the things I’ve observed along my life journey is what little appreciation I often have for how good I have it, and how different (i.e. comparatively great) life is today compared to the other 99% of human history.

Those who read the text version of my posts may notice that I will often quote different verses from different English translations and paraphrases. I typically will put a little parenthetical acronym behind the reference to let those who care about such things know which translation or paraphrase the quote is from. And, those who care about such things may have noticed that these chapter-a-day posts from my current journey through the Exodus story have come from the NRSVCE which stands for New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition.

What’s strange about that?

Well, I am not, nor have I ever been, Roman Catholic (Not that there’s anything wrong with that! [cue: rimshot]).

I have been reading the chapter each morning from the St. John’s Bible, which happens to be the NRSVCE translation. (Stick with me here, there is a point to all of this.)

The events we are reading about in Exodus happened somewhere roughly around 1500 BC/BCE. It was roughly 1500 AD/CE when Gutenberg and his printing press created the first mass-printed copies of the Exodus text. That means for 3000 years the only copies of Exodus were those which were copied by hand using whatever utensils and materials were available. For roughly a thousand years, followers of Jesus painstakingly copied the texts of the Great Story and added to their handwritten copies beautiful calligraphy, ornate illustrations, and artistic flourishes. These have come to be known as “illuminated manuscripts” which now are typically only found in museums and rare book shops.

After mass printing became available, the art of illuminated manuscripts became obsolete. But in 1998 Queen Elizabeth’s calligrapher, Donald Jackson, in conjunction with fellow scribes and some scholars from St. John’s Abbey and University in Minnesota, began work on a handwritten, illuminated manuscript of the Great Story. It’s the first one of its kind in 500 years. The combination text and artwork have been published in seven gorgeous volumes that Wendy and girls have gifted to me over the years. So each morning of this journey through the Exodus story I have come to the quiet of my office and read the chapter in the beautiful calligraphy of the St. John’s Bible.

This morning, I encountered something unusual. Donald Jackson and his fellow human scribes made an error. They left out the first half of verse four. Ugh. I can imagine when you put in countless hours of painstaking, intense artistic labor you don’t simply just scrap the page and start over. So what do you do?

In the margin of today’s chapter, the scribes drew a beautiful eagle holding a rope in its talons and its beak pointing to the space between lines where the missing text was supposed to go. The rope in the eagle’s talons descends all the way to the bottom of the page where I found the first half of verse four inside a text box around which the eagle’s rope appears to be hand-tied and knotted.

Brilliant, and beautiful.

In yesterday’s post, I noted that sometimes with the seemingly boring and rote information in certain chapters of the Great Story I have to look outside the text in order to find what God’s Spirit has to teach me that day. It’s always there if I’m open to it, and it’s taught me an important spiritual lesson: In God’s creation, everything is connected. Yesterday it was in the meta-communication of repetition that I found meaning. Today, I find my lesson in the human error of the handwritten text.

The scribes of the St. John’s Bible made a mistake. I wonder how far along they were on the page before they discovered it, or had it been completed before an editor discovered the bad news? I can only imagine the guttural groan of the calligraphers, the agonizing team meeting that may have taken place, and the depths of artistic shame and despair that may have accompanied the moments the oversight came to light.

This life journey is filled with human mistakes. Buy me a pint and I will give you an entire list of mistakes I’ve made along the way (it might cost you two pints, there are a lot of them). Mistakes that, when they came to light, created all sorts of groans, agonizing, shame, and despair for me. But, I’ve discovered through those stretches of life’s road that God is not a God of condemnation and shame. That’s just human experience projected on the divine or the enemy twisting the truth and passing it off to those who have no desire to ask, seek, or knock. God does what the scribes of the St. John’s Bible did. He takes my failures and shame and does something artistic with it. He molds the old mistakes into a new creation. He redeems it.

In the quiet this morning, this ancient lyric from Psalm 30 (MSG) rose from my memory bank. It’s written by King David (who had a boat-load of his own failures and shame):

I give you all the credit, God—
    you got me out of that mess,
    you didn’t let my foes gloat.

God, my God, I yelled for help
    and you put me together.
God, you pulled me out of the grave,

    gave me another chance at life
    when I was down-and-out.
You did it: you changed wild lament
    into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band

    and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
    I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
    I can’t thank you enough.

If you find yourself staring at the consequences of your own mistakes and failures, trust that God wants to make something beautiful out of it. As God put it to the Hebrews after delivering them out of Egypt: “I carried you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself.

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

The Doorway of Defeat

…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Romans 11:29 (NIV)

I reached out to shake his hand as I was introduced. The lights in the room were dimmed but the darkness couldn’t hide the look of defeat. Shoulders slumped, eyes down cast, and the smile that was clearly being conjured by sheer will. I could feel the discouragement. I sensed the fear that God just might be done with him. I also instantly felt an affinity for him. Something clicked deep inside, and I knew that somehow Holy Spirit had connected us for a reason.

I have seen the look of defeat on the faces of some of the most amazing people. I’ve seen defeat come in a myriad of ways. Sometimes it’s moral failure, a personal failure, a relational failure, or a combination of all. Sometimes it’s a life tragedy and the inequities of circumstance. At times it might be some kind of physical or chemical issue wreaking havoc on a person’s spirit. Then there are times when the source of the funk is spiritual, and a rational explanation is elusive.

When defeat descends on a person life gets very small. Vision is reduced as focus turns inward. Interaction is avoided which only tends to extend and exacerbate the symptoms. A person wraps him or herself in layers of self-protection that, ironically, not only serves to deflect further injury, but also prevents any kind balm from reaching the spirit wound. When the individual experiencing defeat is a believer, the person also feels a spiritual impotence that can be so pervasive as to prompt an unshakable belief that this is all permanent.

But, it’s not.

Defeat is never a permanent destination. Defeat is a doorway to deeper understanding. It is through the doorway of defeat that I discover humility’s sweet gifts and where I experience grace’s sufficiency. On the other side of defeat comes the understanding that Spirit power is perfected in weakness.

Resurrection must, by definition, be preceded by death. Redemption’s prerequisite is always some kind of damnifying defeat. This was the grand spiritual paradigm that Jesus ultimately exemplified, yet I always want to dismiss the fact that if I choose to follow He said I have to follow in His foot steps down that same path.

I saw my defeated acquaintance the other day. It’s been a few years since we were introduced. We’re now friends. His shoulders were squared, there was a sparkle in his eye, and the smile on his face was no longer conjured by will. His smile was clearly the effect of an inner joy that radiated off of him. I had the privilege of helping him through the doorway, and watching him discover, over time, what was on the other side.

So good.

The Hard Facts

As for the other events of Solomon’s reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the records of Nathan the prophet, in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite and in the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat?
2 Chronicles 9:29 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, the author of Chronicles concludes his account of Solomon’s reign. He chooses, however, to leave out some pertinent facts provided in the eleventh chapter of 1 Kings.

Solomon was a womanizer. He married 700 wives, most of them were daughters or women from foreign royal families seeking to make political alliances with the king. On top of that, Solomon kept 300 concubines. Solomon’s wives worshiped foreign gods, and they convinced Solomon to build altars and temples to their gods. Solomon even worshipped the gods of his wives, including a couple of nasty ones who demanded child sacrifice.

By the end of his reign, Solomon’s years of conscripting slave-labor had created political problems for him. The nation his father worked so hard to unite was falling apart. Rebellions and uprisings began to occur. Prophets began prophesying the end of the united kingdom. Solomon resorted to assassination to maintain power and rid himself of threats.

All of this, the Chronicler fails to mention.

We can only assume why the writer of 2 Chronicles whitewashes Solomon’s story. Scholars believe that the Chronicles were written at the time the Hebrew exiles returned from captivity in Babylon. The temple needed to be rebuilt, and the Chronicler’s account may have been intended to drum up support for the new temple by glorifying Solomon and the old temple. This scholarly assumption concludes that the Chronicler chose to focus on Solomon’s glory and  leave the inconvenient truths buried in the bibliography.

This past Sunday at our local gathering of Jesus’ followers I gave a message about “Story.” Over the centuries the institutional church has turned the concept of “witnessing” into a host of systematic programs for communicating the theological concepts of salvation. However, when Jesus told his followers to be “witnesses” He simply meant for them to share their stories about their experiences with Him. In the opening lines of the letter that became 1 John, Jesus’ disciple literally gives the testimony “I heard him. I saw him. I touched him.” John’s story is how his experiences with Jesus transformed him from being known as a “Son of Thunder” (because of his anger and rage) to “The disciple of love.” Each of us has a story. Each of us has a God story whether that story is how we came to believe or disbelieve.

We also choose how to tell our stories, how to give witness, and what that testimony will be. We may choose to tell our story differently depending on the audience and the circumstances. This is  not only common, but I would argue that sometimes it is even wise. Nevertheless, our stories all contain hard facts. I made huge mistakes in life. I became addicted to porn as a child. My first marriage failed. I was unfaithful. I made a complete mess of things. A big theme of my God story is the grace, forgiveness, and redemption God has shown me despite my being a complete boogerhead. I can’t tell that story without also sharing some hard facts about what a deeply flawed person I am.

This morning I’m thinking about my story. I’m thinking about the hard facts of my life. My life journey is riddled with big mistakes I’ve made. To this day I struggle with being self-ish and self-centered. Wendy can give witness to my melancholy and pessimism, my emotional overreactions, and complete blindness to anyone or anything other than what I’m focused on in the moment.  But there’s also the story of my journey, of God growing me up, freeing me, and giving me second chances. There’s a story of transformation that has come from following Jesus and what God has done in me. It’s a good story.

For whatever reason, the Chronicler chose to leave out the hard facts about Solomon. It makes me sad. Our stories are much more powerful and interesting when we’re honest about the hard facts. Even tragedies make powerful stories from which we can benefit.

Sticking It Out

The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”
Jeremiah 30:3 (NIV)

I know it’s the natural pessimist in me, but when my team goes down early I’ve historically been quick to bail on them. Turn off the television. Go find something else to do. There’s no sense in wasting my time watching my team get thrashed. It’s not going to get any better.

Except when they make a spectacular comeback.

Along life’s journey I’ve actually gotten better at sticking with the game. As Yogi Berra might have said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Sometimes the best of things happen in extra innings after a rain delay.

In today’s chapter there’s a continued shifting wind in the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s message.  It’s been chapter after chapter of nothing but apocalyptic judgement and doom. Now, over the past few chapters the momentum of the game has shifted. As the actual events unfold, God’s message through Jeremiah turns to hope, redemption, and restoration. But you’d never know it if you bailed out in the first few chapters.

This morning I’m thinking about life’s long game. In a world that’s rapidly changing, the discipline required to hang in there, stick with the plan, and have faith in the process is harder and harder to come by. I find myself pressured to want instant results and immediate wins. My experience is that life rarely works out that way. The joy of redemption is made possible by the long slog through wilderness and exile. Shortcuts are simply an illusion that cycle me back to where I started.

If I want to reach redemption, I’ve learned that I have to stick it out when my team is down early and the outlook is bleak.

Don’t Walk Out in the Middle of the Movie

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch….”
Jeremiah 23:5 (NIV)

I have a vivid memory from about the age of 13. My mother sat me down at our family’s dining room table and explained to me that, financially, things were not looking good for our family. My father was in a business  that was not doing well and my father had decided to walk away from the partnership in order for it to survive. There was a possibility, my mother explained, that we would lose our house and have to move. She wanted me to understand that things were tight and there would be no money for extras. We all had to “tighten our belts.”

As is typical with children, I’d never given much consideration to our family’s socio-economic status. Our needs were met. We had a loving family. My parents were hard workers and things were always status quo. This message of doom was a shock for me.

I do remember a few lean years as my dad switched to a couple of different jobs and ended up commuting an hour each day to work. My folks plugged away to make ends meet. It was the years of the farm crisis of the late 70s and early 80s and, while we weren’t farmers, there were plenty of people struggling. As a teenager, I learned some important life lessons in those years about perseverance, hard work and simple faith. In fact it was during those years that I found my faith in Christ.

It is common, I have found, for casual readers to wade into the ancient messages of the prophets and find only doom and gloom. And, to be honest, there’s plenty to be had. There is a lot of violence from a very violent period of history. It’s easy to get weighed down by the negativity. But, if you’re not careful you’ll miss the larger story.

In today’s chapter, amidst a terrible siege and Jeremiah’s prophecies of destruction, death and exile, the message takes an abrupt u-turn. From the royal line of David, Jeremiah predicts, God is going to raise up a “Righteous Branch” to shepherd His people. From a macro-view, it appears that God is pruning back the royal line which has been bearing bad fruit for a long time. There will be lean years. Things look pretty gloomy. That’s what happens when you prune things back. But from that royal line a new Branch will spring which  will become the Vine from which the fruit of the Spirit and new wine will be produced. Matthew and Luke were careful to record Jesus’ family tree in their respective Gospels. They wanted everyone to know that Jesus’ sprung from David’s tree. The “Righteous Branch” had bloomed.

This morning  the chapter has me thinking about the doom and gloom of the prophets. Every great story includes conflict and a period of time in which everything looks bleak. The hero is a “goner” and it’s all going to fall apart. Then comes the eucatastrophy and the climactic moment when it all comes together and works out.

I’ve discovered that giving up on the prophets in the middle of the doom and gloom is like giving up all hope because dad’s job changed and things are going to be tight financially. It’s like walking out of the movie when the hero is tied up next to a bomb and the countdown timer is at two minutes. Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” reminds me today to “wait for it.” There is hope, light, and redemption at the end of the tunnel, but I have to press on and persevere.

Broken Down and Built Up Again

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NIV)

Life is a series of screw ups. Let’s face it. I like to project an image of having it all together. I’ve spent most of my life thinking that there’s some acceptable level of life perfection out there (that everyone else seemingly has) while I quietly haplessly flail my appendages behind a series  of nicely painted stage flats. I’ve come to the conclusion along the journey that the real illusion is thinking that any one is any different than me. God’s Message is perfectly clear (in several different places) on this count:

  • No temptation has seized you except what is common to all
  • There’s no one righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”
  • All have sinned and fall short.”
  • Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

I’ve always loved the word picture God gave Jeremiah in today’s chapter. He tells Jeremiah to throw on his sandals because he was going on field trip. They end up at the house of the local potter who was working at his wheel. If you’ve ever tried your hand at a potter’s wheel you know how tricky it is. It looks so deceptively easy, but one slight miscue and the whole pot falls apart in your hands and you’re starting again from scratch.

I had a friend one time who was walking with me through a terribly difficult stretch of my life journey. I went through a litany of all the things that had gone wrong in my life, the mistakes I’d made, the consequences I was facing, and the stresses that felt as if they were tearing me apart. My friend smiled at me warmly and quietly observed that my life was breaking down, being “deconstructed” so that God could remake it like a Potter reworking the marred mess of clay in His hands.

It’s a good thing to have wise companions walking alongside you on your journey.

I find myself so drawn to this notion of the “one-and-done” transformation, the miraculous touch leading to a perfect ending, or God suddenly drawing my number in the Life lottery and suddenly everything is as it should be.

I’ve come to observe that the truth is a lot earthier, more substantive and repetitive. The word picture of the Potter and the clay is not a “once in a lifetime” deal. Rather, I find that life is a constant process of being broken down and rebuilt. My job is to allow Living Water to make me more pliable in the Potter’s hand, to release myself to the steady flow of the wheel spinning, to allow myself to be molded at the Potter’s touch; To stop resisting, even when life breaks me down again and the process starts all over.

Have a good week, friends. Here’s to being pliable.