On this Wayfarer Weekend (WW) podcast I welcome Dr. Eric Recker to the Vander Well Pub for a conversation about his mission from God that sprung out of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most difficult days of his life. On our conversational journey, we intersect on exceptional situations, finding relationships, and how essential it is to have good companions on this earthly trek.
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Psalm 137:8 (NIV)
It’s interesting the places my mind can wander when my body is embroiled in a mindless task. This past weekend as I spent hours power-washing, I found my mind wandering back to a slight that I experienced fifteen years ago which became the death knell of a relationship that effectively ended ten years before that.
Old wounds die hard.
Along my life journey I’ve come to believe that some relationships are for a lifetime. Others relationships are just for a season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Then there are relationships that need to end for the health of both parties. When Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” I don’t believe that he meant that all relationships should be hunky-dory for the long-haul. Paul had a falling out with more than one individual along his own journeys. I’ve come to believe that sometimes to “live at peace” means to allow for relational time and distance
Old wounds die hard.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 137, is fascinating for its emotional honesty. The Babylonian empire laid siege to Jerusalem, razed it to the ground, and took the citizens into captivity in Babylon for a generation. They experienced their fair share of persecution. This was not only from the Babylonians, but also from Babylon’s allies which included a people known as the Edomites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. Esau was the first-born twin. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and became a patriarch of the Hebrew tribes. Esau became the patriarch of the Edomites. Bad blood between them. Fifteen-hundred years later the descendants of the twins are still feuding.
Old wounds die hard.
The songwriter of Psalm 137 channels the pain of captivity, the humiliating treatment by his captors, the homesickness of exile, and the wounds of the feuding enemies, the Edomites. The song has three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the torment of exile, the second stanza expresses love and commitment to Jerusalem, and the final stanza is a raw expression of the vengeance the songwriter feels and the desire for Babylon and Edom to get their just desserts.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself appreciating Psalm 137 for being an example of healthy expression of unhealthy emotions. Along my journey I have had multiple waypoints in which I have felt betrayed and wounded. Those experiences lead to anger which can easily lead me to bitterness which can poison my soul. Wendy and I often remind one-another that anger is like me drinking poison thinking that it will hurt the object of my rage. Yet, I have to do something with my anger. I’ve got to be honest with it, process it, and find healthy ways to get it out.
Which is why the mental scab that I picked at while power washing was simply a fleeting visit down Memory Lane. I processed it and got it out a long time ago. Life has moved on for both me and the one who slighted me. I honestly hope that he is well and has continued to grow in his own journey. There’s not much left of that wound. It’s healed over. There are just the dried remains of scab that I brushed away with my power-washer.
Old wounds die hard, but I have found that they do eventually die when I, like the lyricist of Psalm 137, am honest with my anger. Getting it out, processing it, and expressing it allow for doing what Jesus asks of me: to forgive others just as I have been forgiven.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
Psalm 109:8 (NIV)
I thought he was my friend, and I continue to believe that he truly was at one time. I’m not sure when the smile became a lie. I’m not sure when our conversations became reconnaissance for his operational purposes to hurt me. Looking back, I realize that the signs were there and I knew it. I even confronted him once, which is not like me. I chose, however, to believe the denial. I made a choice to believe the best in my friend. Perhaps, I should have been more shrewd. My friend’s treachery left an aftermath of chaos and broken relationships.
That was a long time ago. Still, as my mind wanders back to that season of life I can still feel the pain and the anger. I have come to believe that we all, at some waypoint on our life’s journey, will encounter betrayal. It’s another one of those trials woven into the human experience. And, if I’m truly honest with myself, I must confess to my own acts of betrayal along the way. That whole “speck-and-plank” thing that Jesus talked about. As usual, it would seem He was talking right at me.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 109, is a song of David. Once again he is pouring his heart and emotions into his music, expressing the hurt and anger of betrayal in song. It’s not so uncommon. I think many of us have music that we go to in our anger. Do you have “angry” music? Wendy and I have discussed the music that helped us exorcise our angst and rage through seasons of life. As I read through the lyrics of David’s song it is obvious that he is raging against a betrayer and in the game of thrones that existed in ancient kingdoms like his, betrayal was a matter of life-and-death. With my betrayer, it was simply a matter of relationships and reputations.
What’s fascinating about Psalm 109 is that Jesus’ followers found it a prophetic foreshadowing of the betrayal of Judas. After Jesus ascended, Peter quoted Psalm 109 when explaining to those who were left that they would find another to “take his place of leadership.”
Two things stick out to me as I meditate on David’s song this morning.
First, I am once again appreciative of the honesty of David’s rage. He doesn’t hold back. He lets it all out. He hopes his betrayer dies a quick death. While some readers may be taken aback by this, I find it consistent with what David always did, and I find it to be a good example. I spent a lot of my journey stuffing and hiding my emotions. I cloaked myself with a costume of propriety when my soul was crying. One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned is the need to be aware of, and honest about, my emotions. I don’t think David’s song offensive. I think he found in God a safe place to get it all out.
Second, I find myself thinking about betrayals. Some of them lead to a rather permanent end of the relationship like Judas. There are other examples in the Great Story that have happier endings. Paul (another person who could express rage) felt so betrayed by his companion John Mark that he severed the relationship with both John Mark and their fellow companion, Barnabas. Later in his life, however, Paul remarks in his letter that John Mark was with him. Things obviously got patched up.
Along the way I have found it common for followers of Jesus to expect an idyllic outcome to every human conflict. If things don’t get patched up with a pretty little bow then someone is still “wrong” and there is blame and shame to be doled out. I can’t escape the fact, however, that Jesus knew He would be betrayed. He even said to His betrayer: “What you are about to do. Do quickly.”
I have come to believe that I am responsible to live at peace with others, as I am able to do so. I have also come to believe that there is a grand purpose in relationships, even those that fall apart and break because of betrayal. In Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome he writes, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I choose to believe this, even in light of a friend’s betrayal.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help
Psalm 28:2 (NRSVCE)
Back in the days before iPods, iPhones, and digital streaming, the only way one got music in a car was the radio. Since I spent a lot of time in rental cars for my job, I got used to spending the first part of any journey scanning “the dial” for the available stations and programming the stations I wanted to keep into the car’s radio.
One of the things I noticed as a young man scanning the airwaves was that it generally took me less than a second to identify the kind of music any station typically played as I quickly made my way across the dial:
“Classical, Classical, Classic Rock, Country, Country, Pop, Country, Pop, Christian, Rock…”
There is a certain sound, pattern, cadence, and frequency to different types and styles of music.
As I read the psalm this morning, the thing that struck me was how similar it is to the previous few psalms. That’s because it is. David had patterns that he repeatedly used as he penned his songs. We do the same thing. Symphonies typically follow a pattern of four movements. Your basic popular song is typically structured verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, verse, chorus.
Those who compiled the anthology of song lyrics we call Psalms put the section we are reading through together with similarly structured songs. It is a simple, repeated pattern: They all start with a praise and plea for God to listen followed by a complaint and/or petition, and end with a proclamation of faith and assurance that God has or will hear and answer.
In the quiet this morning, this got me thinking about patterns. Almost everything in life falls into certain patterns. Almost everything in life has patterns. Good patterns can provide a sense of health, security, and surety to life. Bad patterns of thought and behavior result in destructive and unhealthy consequences in my life and relationships. That’s rather obvious. What’s not so obvious is that some patterns that were good and necessary for a time can actually become unhealthy for me without me really recognizing or realizing it.
Along my life journey, I’ve come to observe that spiritual progress always involves the breaking of old patterns and establishing new ones. A faith journey always requires that I leave behind something that is tangibly known and comfortable in order to pursue something that is not clearly evident and is only hoped for.
“You have heard it said,” Jesus would say to his followers before adding, “but I say…” In other words, there was an established pattern that Jesus was calling His followers to change. He called for old, established patterns to pass away so that new patterns could emerge. The word repentance is rooted in the word picture of changing direction. Whenever Jesus told someone “Follow me” it was always a call to leave things behind to pursue things to which He was leading.
What started out as good, even healthy, patterns can lead to stagnation. Stagnation leads to settling. Settling leads to spiritual atrophy. Spiritual atrophy leads to decay. Decay leads to death. That’s what Jesus was getting at when he told the religious people of His day:
“You’re hopeless… Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.“
-Jesus, Matt 23:27-28 (MSG)
In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on my own patterns of thought, behavior, relationship, and spirit. The truth is that almost every pain-point I experience on life’s journey can be traced back to unhealthy patterns. Growth, progress, and maturity necessitate the breaking of unhealthy patterns and the establishment of healthier ones, even those patterns that were once good for me but have actually become unhealthy.
David’s song this morning felt familiar to the point of me being kind of bored with it after reading psalms with the same pattern every morning this week. C’est la vie. It happens. Having journeyed through the Psalms many times, I am mindful that when we get to Psalm 40 David writes that he is singing “a new song.” God called David “a man after my own heart.” Even he could get stuck in certain patterns that he had to break in order to move on where God wanted to lead him.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
This week it’s Part 2 of “Companions on the Journey.” My conversation with Kevin Roose about friendship, accountability, the Enneagram, and what our chapter-a-day journey has practically meant in our life journeys.
Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies have no sense.
Proverbs 12:11 (NIV)
When I first met the man he was a drug dealer. He knew it was wrong, but it was so easy and the money was good. He’d never really given college a serious thought (even though he was very intelligent and had been offered a full-ride). His job options, therefore, were somewhat limited. As the years went on I would see him on an occasional basis. He gave up dealing, but it appeared to me to have given him an appetite for easy money. There was a period of time in which each time I saw him he was trying a different get-rich-quick scheme. I observed that every new scheme he was convinced was his golden ticket to wealth had an up-front-cost to get started which, ironically, quickly made him poorer. The “get rich” part of the schemes never panned out. He eventually worked a few menial jobs for a period of time but his life continued to spiral into despair and depression. Last I knew, he hasn’t had a job for a long time and lives in depressive isolation.
I thought of him this morning when I read the proverb pasted to the top of this post. I have never met a person who so diligently sought a shortcut to riches and ended in such a tragic place, though I have certainly encountered others like him along my life journey. I am reminded of a visit that I paid to a former high school teacher many years ago. As he shared with me the changes that he’s witnessed in students over the years of his career he said, “If my students simply took the time and energy they expend trying to cheat and applied it to their studies they’d be fine.”
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that work is work, and there is no avoiding this fact. It’s stated plainly right at the beginning in the Genesis story. Ironically, I just heard it referenced on Ash Wednesday last week as a young man rubbed ashes on my forehead:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
There is something in me that desires for life to be easy, but I long ago embraced the reality that worthwhile things require time, energy, attention, and discipline. In other words: it’s work. This is true in pretty much every area of life including education, career, relationships, family, physical health and wellness, and spiritual growth. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that work is required for results. Right now I’m struggling with the changing body metabolism that occurs naturally at my stage of life. I need more sleep. My body doesn’t burn energy as efficiently. The same diet and exercise regimen suddenly has diminishing effects in comparison to a few years ago. It takes more work than it used to.
Worthwhile things require work. It is what it is. I can try to avoid it, or I can embrace it.
It is Monday morning. Time to get to work.
Have a good week!
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and to insight, “You are my relative.”
They will keep you from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words.
Proverbs 7:4-5 (NIV)
My sister and I were close in our growing up years. The younger siblings of elder twins, there was an unspoken bond between us simply by being relatively close in age, and in the way we were naturally paired in everyone’s minds and conversations. First, there was “Tim and Terry” (or simply “the twins”), and then followed “Jody and Tom.” I even followed my sister to college where she was a constant companion and friend. Jody and I shared a lot of life’s early journey together, and she put up with a lot from this bratty little brother.
In all of our adolescent and young adult years, Jody had very little to say to me about my various girlfriends, infatuations, and romantic flings. In fact, in retrospect, it was one area of life where we tended to stay out of each other’s business. However, all these years later, I still recall one very specific instance in which my dear sister took sibling license to emphatically raise the red flag of warning against the object of my amorous affection. So adamant was she, in her objection, that she made appeal to our mother to intervene.
I thought of that episode this morning as I read today’s chapter. Solomon continues to beat his drum, warning his son against the seductive, wayward and adulterous woman. Ironic, since Solomon’s own mother (Bathsheba) was the adulterous lover of his father (David), and the record indicates it was he who was the instigator. Fascinating.
What struck me in the text was the point Solomon makes to encourage his son to embrace wisdom, once again alluding to the personified wisdom as a woman, as a “sister” in contrast to the seductive, wayward woman. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered Jody’s intense antagonism towards the girl of my affection. Let me simply say that the analogy is somewhat apt.
Jody, you were right. There, I said it 😉
In the quiet this morning, I find myself remembering decisions, both wise and foolish, which I have made along this life journey. In at least this one recounted instance, I embraced wisdom as my sister and likely escaped many woes. In other instances, I shunned wisdom and suffered woefully. C’est la vie. From my current waypoint on life’s road, I consider the most important point is to learn the lessons that both wisdom’s benefits and foolishness’ consequences have to teach me, and to apply them on the stretch ahead.
Never retaliate when someone treats you wrongly, nor insult those who insult you, but instead, respond by speaking a blessing over them—because a blessing is what God promised to give you.
1 Peter 3:9 (TPT)
In over 50 years of this life journey, I have enjoyed relationships with many friends. Especially among my male friends, I have regularly encountered those individuals with what I will describe as a particular soul wound. They never received a blessing from their father.
In ancient days, a father’s blessing was a cultural ritual. The blessing was the spoken favor of the father given, typically, to his son. The first recorded blessing in the Great Story is God’s blessing to Abram:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
In Genesis 49, Jacob calls all of his sons and speaks to each one of them “the blessing appropriate for him.” It was a rite of passage, often spoken before death in those days.
Along my journey, I’ve come to realize that our culture has largely forgotten the importance of children receiving a blessing from their parents. I have come to believe that it’s important for a child to hear a blessing from both parents. I have observed, however, that a son receiving a blessing from his father has a major spiritual and emotional impact on a man’s life. I have known men who received nothing but curses from their fathers, and I have known men who received nothing but silence from their fathers. The soul wound is often hidden behind a male ego and masculine bravado, but I’ve seen how it can cut deep and create all sorts of spiritual, emotional, and relational handicaps.
Speaking a blessing doesn’t have to be a formal ritual, though it certainly can be a very meaningful rite of passage when it’s done that way. The most simple blessings are simply words of love and affirmation:
- “I love you.”
- “You’ve got this. I believe in you.”
- “You’re going to be okay. I know it.”
- “I’m proud of you.”
- “That was great. Well done.”
- “You are loveable, valuable, and capable.”
- “I have no doubt that you will succeed at whatever you’re led to do in this life.”
In today’s chapter, it struck me that Peter instructed believers to specifically speak a blessing over those who wrong you. I find myself wondering if we even know how to do that anymore, even with those we love, let alone doing it with our enemies. Given what I see on social media, cursing appears to be de rigueur.
In the quiet this morning, I’m discovering my renewed desire to bring blessings back. There’s a reason why I speak a blessing at the end of my podcast. I would love for blessings to become fashionable again, but I suppose that means I’ve got to start being more intentional about it. So, here you go, my friend. Receive an old Celtic blessing from this wayfaring stranger (I spoke it as I posted it):
May the blessings of the Light be upon you,
Light without and Light within,
And in all your comings and goings,
May you ever have a kindly greeting
From those you meet along the road.
Have a great day. Press on. You’ve got this.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
2 Corinthians 10:3 (NIV)
A number of years ago my company served a midwest client. We were providing them with on-going customer satisfaction research, conducting Quality Assessments in their contact center, as well as coaching their sales and customer service teams. Then we learned that the company had been sold to a much larger conglomerate with global reach.
As always happens in a corporate buy-out, there was a subsequent shift in the executive ranks as the new owners brought in their own executives to run their new asset. I know that when this happens there is a very good possibility that we will lose our contract. New executives tend to come in having already formed their own strategic partnerships and alliances along their career journey. They use their new authority and this initial season of massive change to bring in the friends and colleagues they already know and trust.
In this case, the new CEO decided to let us finish our contract year as he observed the work we were doing and allowed us to present our data and explain the continuous improvement model we’d implemented which was successfully making positive changes to the customer experience. We were fortunate. As the year progressed he not only allowed us to continue our project, but he actually gave me additional projects to work on with him. At the end of the year he agreed to keep our projects moving.
During one of my visits I had lunch with the CEO. “Do you know why I keep you around?” he asked. He was a type 8 challenger so I had to be ready for him to ask almost any kind of arcane, direct question at any moment.
“I hope we’re providing you with value,” or some such generic guess was my answer.
“It’s your expense reports,” he answered just as directly as he’d asked the question.
Excuse me? My expense reports?
“I deal with all sorts of outside vendors and consultants,” he went on to explain. “You wouldn’t believe what people try to charge me and get away with. First Class airfare, magazines they buy to read on the plane, luxury hotel suites, and the most expensive meals. One guy tried to expense a $200 bottle of wine with his lunch. Then they even try to charge margin on top of their expenses.”
“You and your team,” he said, “are different. You only expense what is necessary and reasonable. In fact, I can tell you actually try to help me contain costs. It tells me a lot about who you are and how you operate. It tells me I can trust you.”
It was a nice thing to hear, because our company has always tried to operate with integrity in all of our dealings and relationships. If you happen to have been in our gathering of Jesus’ followers a couple of days ago and heard the message, then you’ll understand when I say that I try to bring “Level 4” principles into our “Level 3” business dealings.
In today’s chapter, Paul expresses the same vein of thinking. He’s operating in the world but trying to bring a different level of operational principles in his relationships and dealings. He’s trying to bring the Kingdom into everything that he’s doing from his ministry to all of the fledgling gatherings in the Jesus Movement to the tent-making and repair business he ran wherever he went to provide for his daily needs so as not to be a financial burden on the believers he was serving.
This morning I’m preparing for a business trip. Once again I’m thinking about how I can serve well, love well, bring measurable value to my client, and be an example in all of my dealings. My memories of lunch with that CEO are a good reminder for me as I embark on my journey. I want my stated principles to be evident in my daily words and actions.
People are watching, and they notice.
For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV)
On Saturday I returned home from a week-long business trip. I was in four different client offices in three different cities training, coaching, and mentoring with agents and managers of nine different teams not to mention multiple key executives.
As a follower of Jesus I am always mindful of the fact that I am a follower of Jesus wherever I go and whatever I am doing. If I truly believe what I write that I believe in these posts, then my faith is ever-present wherever I am and with whomever I am meeting whether it is for business or leisure.
Along the journey of my career I’ve enjoyed a large host of great working relationships with many, many colleagues and clients around the world. I’ve also had a few people who have made it perfectly clear that, for whatever reason, really, really don’t like me. Oh my, do I have some stories. Just a few months ago I received my first hateful, threatening rant from a reader. C’est la vie.
I can’t control what others think of me. I can only control my own thoughts, words, and actions. In today’s chapter Paul alludes to a Roman triumphal procession. Conquering Roman generals would lead a procession through the city with their army behind them. Incense was burned during the parade. In the procession there would be prisoners taken captive during battle who were being marched to their execution. Paul uses this word picture. The incense wafts through he air. To some in the procession it’s the aroma of triumph and life, while to others it is the aroma of death.
I’ve always loved this word picture because it reminds me of the limited control I have in how others respond to me. My goal is always to let my faith motivate both my words and actions to be filled with the aroma of love, kindness, respect, trust, honesty, and integrity no matter who I am with and no matter where I am and whatever I may be doing. I want my words and actions to be free from the stench of judgement, condemnation, anger, hatred, bitterness, prejudice, or meanness. Beyond that, I can’t really control how anyone is going to respond to me.
In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the week ahead. More meetings with different groups and different people. As always, I’m praying that my presence, my words, and my actions don’t stink.