Tag Archives: Religion

About Knowing

About Knowing (CaD Ps 141) Wayfarer

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord…
Psalm 141:8a (NIV)

When I was a child, I went through all of the religious rituals associated with the church to which my family were members. My parents had me baptized as an infant. I attended Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I sang in the children’s choir. I participated in, and volunteered to help with, social activities hosted by the church (including the annual “Christmas bazaar” which I remember being a really big deal in my little kid perception). When I was thirteen, I attended confirmation classes and learned what the church believed. I took the test, agreed to accept the terms of membership, and then received my certificate and my own personal box of offering envelopes.

What I came to realize a year or two later was that all of the ritual, participation, knowledge and cognitive assent to a belief statement had relatively little effect on my motives, my thoughts, my words, or my actions. Knowing about Jesus was not the same as knowing Jesus and being in relationship.

That contrast came to heart and mind in the quiet this morning as I meditated on the text of today’s chapter, Psalm 141. There is little doubt that the editors who compiled the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics, that we know as the book of Psalms, were deliberate in putting Psalms 140 and 141 next to each other. They bookend each other well. Both are ascribed to David and both of them feature a lot of physiological metaphors. The biggest contrast is that Psalm 140 uses the physiological metaphors to describe an unrighteous person:

  • stir up war in their hearts
  • sharpen their tongues
  • poison on their lips
  • hands of the wicked

Psalm 141, uses physiological metaphors to describe a righteous person:

  • a heart that refuses evil
  • hands lifted in worship
  • a guard on one’s mouth
  • a door on the lips
  • a head that receives accountability
  • eyes fixed on God

As I mulled over the contrasting descriptions, it reminded me of being a young man and realizing that having a membership certificate to my local church, knowledge of basic beliefs, and dutifully participating in ritual had not translated into making a difference in my self-centeredness, my selfish behavior, my relationships with others, my actions, or my words. I was a egotistical, selfish little prick much of the time. I knew that I could play a good game, but I was also really self-aware enough to know that there were ugly things at the core which needed to change. I knew about the things Psalm 141 describes, but an honest self-examination and moral inventory revealed a person more like what Psalm 140 describes.

So, about that time I stopped just knowing about Jesus, and I decided to seek to know and follow Jesus in a very different way. It’s definitely been a forty-year process and spiritual journey. In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the person I would be today had I not made that decision. I can only imagine a grown-up version of the young man with ugly things at the core. An arrogant, egocentric big prick with a sharp tongue, and a heart in turmoil.

I’m not perfect by any means, and I could point you to a person or two who I suspect might tell you I’m still an arrogant, egocentric prick. I have my ugly moments. But oh, how worse it would be had I not discovered the contrast between knowing about Jesus and knowing Him.

Division

Divison (CaD Ps 114) Wayfarer

Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.

Psalm 114:2 (NIV)

Along my journey, I have experienced discord and division among any number of groups to which I belonged. This includes family, churches, community organizations, and most recently, a nation.

When division happens, no matter the size or scope of that division, it creates so much relational mess in its wake. Suddenly, individuals who love one another find themselves on opposite sides of a topic or circumstance. Mental lines get drawn. Emotional trenches are dug. A relational no man’s land grows between, and neither party feels very much like being the one to crawl out of the trench and initiating the crossing of no man’s land.

It’s hard.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 114, is the second in a series of Ancient Hebrew songs known as the Hallel, which is sung each year at the Passover feast which celebrates God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Like yesterday’s psalm, it is sung before the Passover meal. In eight simple verses, the song overviews the major events of their exodus out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land. As yesterday’s chapter was metaphorically the “call to praise” of the Passover feast, today’s chapter is, metaphorically, a prologue that overviews the journey participants will take through the feast.

What struck me the most as I read this morning was the second verse:

Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.

Casual readers are likely to miss the weight of this verse for the ancient Hebrews who sang it back in the day. Scholars say that the song was penned during a period in Hebrew history known as “the divided monarchy.” The twelve tribes of Israel were divided into two nations. Two tribes, led by Judah, became the southern nation of Judah with Jerusalem as its’ capital. The other ten tribes joined into the northern nation of Israel. There was perpetual discord, division, and civil war between the two.

As with any event of human discord and division, there was the drawing of mental lines, digging of emotional trenches, and the development of relational no-mans-lands.

The Passover feast, to which all good Hebrews were expected to attend and participate in was held in Jerusalem at Solomon’s temple in the capital city of Judah. This meant that the faithful who lived in the northern nation of Israel had to cross no-mans-land. I can only imagine the relational tension that existed in the city on that week each year. A festival that was meant to unite the people in remembrance of the unifying event of their national identity became a political and religious powder keg. I can’t help but feel an acute identification with that reality in light of my own nation’s recent events.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking back to those divisions which I have experienced and which dot the timeline of my life as painful waypoints on my journey. Given time, I’m glad to say that I’ve experienced relational healing and reconciliation in certain relationships. In others, the relational division led to separate paths that I don’t expect to converge on this side of eternity. In yet others, I have made attempts to cross the emotional no-mans-land only to be greeted with an emotional fence of barbed wire. I must also confess that there are yet other circumstances in which I would say that I desire there to be reconciliation, but that desire has not led to my willingness to initiate a crossing of no-mans-land. Those are the ones that lay heavy on my spirit this morning.

I find it ironic that my chapter-a-day journey happens upon the Passover Hallel on this week when followers of Jesus begin the annual spiritual pilgrimage with Jesus to Jerusalem, to crucifixion, and to resurrection. The final, climactic events of Jesus’ earthly life happened during the week of Passover. Followers of Jesus see the two events as spiritually akin. Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. Jesus led any who will follow out of bondage to sin, through the wilderness of this earthly journey, to an eternal promised land.

It’s also ironic that today happens to be known as Ash Wednesday, which it the opening event of the season follower call Lent. It’s the day we are called to Spirit mode to embark on a spiritual journey of remembrance with Jesus to the cross. Just like yesterday’s chapter and today’s chapter called the Hebrews to the spiritual journey of remembrance with Moses to the promised land. (By the way, I didn’t plan this!)

I find myself answering the call to that annual journey this morning in the quiet of my office. I find myself thinking about those relationships on the other side of no-mans-land. Holy Spirit whispers the words of Jesus to my spirit:

“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”

My Inmost Being

My Inmost Being (CaD Ps 103) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalm 103:1 (NIV)

In a few weeks, I will mark a milestone in my spiritual journey. It was a frigidly cold February night in 1981 when I decided to become a follower of Jesus. It’s been forty years.

The number 40 is significant in the Great Story. It is the number of trial, testing, and ordeal:

Noah’s flood resulted from 40 days of rain.

Moses lived 40 years in Egypt, then led the Hebrews through the wilderness for 40 years.

Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by the Evil One.

The resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers over a 40 day period before ascending to Heaven.

Ezekiel laid on his side for 40 days as a word picture of the sins of the kingdom of Judah.

Elijah fasted for 40 days on Mount Horeb.

So, I’ve found myself meditating on my spiritual journey of late as I mark the milestone. I had been raised going to church as a child, but the experience for me was largely about ritual. It was something I did because it was what my family did each week. It’s not to say that it wasn’t without its lessons and benefits, but it was largely a weekly physical routine and family ritual to be endured. After completing my confirmation coursework at the age of 13 my parents told me that I could decide on my own if I wanted to go to church or not. So, I stopped going.

What happened a couple of years later on that cold February night was something completely different than anything I’d ever experienced. It was not a religious ritual or physical routine. It was something that happened in my inmost being. I opened my spirit and invited Jesus to come in. I made a spirit decision to surrender myself to following Jesus, whatever that might mean. Something was spiritually birthed in me that is still growing 40 years later.

Jesus gave His followers a word picture about the most religious people of His day. He said that religion was an ornate marble crypt you might see in your local cemetery. It looks beautiful, majestic, and expensive from the outside as you’re driving by, but if you step inside the crypt you’ll only find darkness, cobwebs, and decomposing bones.

If find that a really accurate description of my spiritual experience before that February night forty years ago. I physically went through religious rituals. I mentally considered the things I was taught. I took a class, learned what was required to take a test, and got a piece of paper telling me I was now a member of the institution. Yet, there was no spiritual change.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 103, King David pens the lyrics to a really beautiful song of praise to God. When David was still a kid, God called him “a man after my own heart” and Psalm 103 is a testimony to the intimate Spirit relationship David experienced.

In the very first verse David says that it praise comes from his soul. The Hebrew word he uses there (nepes) alludes to “breath” or the “essence” and “life force.” He then states that his “inmost being” (the Hebrew word is qereb) praises. This word alludes to the intimate interior of the heart that is the seat of thought and emotion. In other words, David is not calling his listeners to trek to church each Sunday and go through the ritualistic motions. This is David, who once got so intense in his worshp that he peeled down to his tighty-whities as he danced and publicly embarrassed his wife. David is calling his listener to an experiential rendevouz with the Creator. He is calling for an all-out ecstatic expression that comes from the depths of one’s soul. A personal exhale of life force in a euphoric song and dance with the divine.

In the quiet this morning, I find my spirit stirred by David’s spirit and the words it motivated in his lyrics. Dude, I get it. It isn’t about empty religious ritual and rote mental and physical machinations. That’s just a crypt. It’s about that which is spiritually alive in me that has to get out. It’s what the prophet Jeremiah described: a fire shut-up in my bones. It’s that life that was birthed in my inmost being forty years ago. I look back from 40 years further down life’s road and find that it only grows stronger within me, even as my body grows slowly weaker.

“Just the Way it Works”

"Just the Way it Works" (CaD Ps 94) Wayfarer

They slay the widow and the foreigner;
    they murder the fatherless.

When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:6, 19 (NIV)

While a college student, I took a semester off of classes and worked as an abstractor. My job was to take the abstract of a property that was being bought or sold and search the county records for the property, the buyers, and the sellers with regard to most recent taxes, liens, contracts, or transactions. While I worked for an abstract company with an office in the county office building, most of my day was spent visiting various county offices.

The county I worked in had long been under the tight control of a political machine, and my daily observations were a harsh life lesson. There was a law against smoking in public buildings, but some county employees continued to smoke at their desks as much as they wanted without consequence. I remember one office in which a county employee told me she wasn’t going to help me simply because she didn’t want to do so that day. I was told by my employer that there was nothing that could be done about it. “That’s just the way it works,” he said. Then there were the employees who sat in offices and pretty much did nothing all day knowing that they were “untouchable.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that corruption exists everywhere. It exists in governments, business, education, healthcare, and religion. Wherever you find a human system you will find individuals who will rig that system for personal power and gain. There is no perfect system because there are no perfect people. I’ve come to believe that the best we can do is to have systemic accountability through checks and balances.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 94, is a song of lament from of one who sees a corrupt system, and those who suffer because of it. In particular, the songwriter calls out the three most vulnerable groups in the Hebrew society of that day: widows, orphans, and foreigners. What is both fascinating and depressing is that the Law of Moses clearly instructed the Hebrews to take care of these three vulnerable groups. The writer of Psalm 94 laments that the system isn’t working.

From my own experience, it’s a helpless, hopeless feeling.

“That’s just the way it works.”

The song shifts in verse 12, and the songwriter places his hope and trust in God being the eternal “Avenger” who will ultimately bring justice to a corrupt world. In placing faith in God’s ultimate plan, the psalmist’s anxiety gives way to joy.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I live in a representative republic in which individuals have some opportunity to address systemic corruption through the voting booth, the courts, speech, protest, and press. At the same time, I recognize that there are some places, even in the best of human systems, in which corruption is “just the way it works.”

This leaves me responsible to do what I can, within the systems I’m in, for those who are most vulnerable. That’s what Jesus calls me to. It also leaves me trusting Him who was crucified at the hands of a corrupt human system, to fulfill His promise of ultimately bringing justice and redemption at the conclusion of the Great Story. Joy, like that the psalmist expressed in the lyrics of today’s chapter, is experienced not in the absence of negative circumstances and human corruption, but in the midst of them.

Questions of Justice

Questions of Justice (CaD Ps 82) Wayfarer

Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Psalm 82:3 (NIV)

Earlier this year, as the world grappled with the inescapable footage of George Floyd dying under the knee of a police officer, Wendy called a family Zoom meeting. Each person shared their thoughts and emotions. Each person discussed what he/she felt personally led to do in the wake of the event. During that same time, Wendy and I had similar conversations among different circles of our close friends.

I haven’t forgotten those conversations. I’m not sure I ever will. As I approach the end of this tumultuous year and reflect on all that I’ve experienced, I’m mindful of those conversations about my responsibility, both as a follower of Jesus and as a responsible human being, for acting on my faith to make a difference in the lives of the poor, defenseless, and oppressed.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 82, is another liturgical song that was written to be sung when all of the Hebrew people gathered for worship. It’s fascinating for the fact that Asaph draws on a common religious metaphor found in the cultures of the Near East at that time; It’s the image of a divine assembly in a heavenly hall of justice. God is sitting in judgment of the assembled “gods.” In those days, rulers of both religion and society could be considered “gods” or “sons of god” because they were considered divine agents of their society and religion.

The voice of Asaph’s lyrics is that of a temple prophet. It’s the ancient Hebrew version of a protest song. He calls society’s leaders out for caring about the poor, needy, and oppressed. He reminds them that God, the ultimate, righteous judge, will render verdict on these societal “gods” for what they did for lowest members of society. He ends his short song of protest asking God to rise up and mete out justice.

Asaph’s lyrics make me think about Jesus. I think about Jesus’ teaching and example as He spent most of the time bringing love, healing, and grace to the fringes of society living on the outskirts of His country far away from the halls of societal power and justice. The civic and religious “gods” of Jesus’ day would eventually kill Him for it.

The words of Asaph’s song leave me sitting in the quiet this morning thinking about those conversations with family and friends from earlier this year. I’m pondering some of the things that I have consciously done as a result, as well as those things that I have left undone. My thoughts shift to the road ahead as the New Year approaches. I ask myself, “Do my actions make me more like Jesus, or do they make me more like the “gods” of Asaph’s metaphorical trial?”

I’m uncomfortable with the answer.

Wayfarer Weekend Podcast: Where it’s All Going

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast comes on the heels of the most contentious Presidential election in recent history during the most strange year of our lifetimes. Where is it all going? Thoughts from a “wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe.”

(WW) A Wayfarer's Thoughts: Where it's All Going Wayfarer

The Religion Game

Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
    to those who go the right way
    I will show the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50:23 (NRSVCE)

As a child, my family regularly attended church where worship was held with lots of traditional, liturgical pomp. I even got to participate as I sang in the children’s choir wearing my robe. Looking back with understanding, I have an appreciation for the metaphor and intent of all the liturgical devices, even the way the sanctuary was designed and laid out.

I went through the motions like everyone else. Sing this. Proceed to there. Sit down. Stand up. Say this. Sing this. Sit down. Read this. Stand up. Sing this. Sit down. Listen. Stand up. Sing this. Proceed there. Done. It happened every week with very little variation other than the words that were said or sang.

It was regular. It was rote. It was religious.

The problem was, I never thought much about it at all. It was what we did. I checked off the box along with every body else.

As I have ceaselessly journeyed through the Great Story, I’m always struck by the rather exhaustive system of sacrifices, offerings, rituals, and feasts that God dictates to the Hebrews through Moses. As I’ve studied them, I’ve come to appreciate the reason behind them and how they fit together in a cycle that led the Hebrews through specific thoughts and lessons about their relationship with God.

Nevertheless, there is sprinkled through the words of the psalmists and prophets a recurring theme that the people are doing all the things, but they’re hearts aren’t in it. They are making the sacrifices, offering the prescribed things at the prescribed times, going through the rituals, and attending the feasts. It was regular. It was rote. It was religious. The problem was that they weren’t really thinking much about it.

Today’s psalm was written to be sung as part of worship in the temple, but the songwriter, Asaph, is calling God’s people out for their mindless, spirit-less dedication to going through the religious motions. The “thanksgiving” offerings are void of any real gratitude. The real sacrifice, the songwriter says, is a heart full of gratitude to God which motivates all the other rituals.

This was the same thing Jesus found in the religious leaders of His day. They were continually critical of Him for breaking the religious regulation they added to the ancient rules. Jesus repeatedly quoted God through the prophet Hosea to them: “Go and learn what this means,” Jesus said, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”

Jesus was getting at the same thing as Asaph in today’s psalm. Mindlessly going through religious motions is of no real value, and I believe that this is one of the reasons why denominations are imploding and churches are closing in record numbers. Just minutes ago our daughter sent the family a photo she took of an old church she and Clayton visited in a remote area of Scotland this past week. It’s being turned into a brewery. The altar will be the bar. Some of my ancestors would have found that scandalous. I don’t at all. As I have repeatedly written, Jesus made it clear that it was never supposed to be about bricks-and-mortar, but flesh-and-blood. It was never about the ritual, but the relationship. An honest, transparent, love-motivated conversation over a pint might be the most spiritual, Christ-honoring thing to happen in that building in a long time.

Jesus completely changed the game.

We keep changing it back.

Cutting the Mustard

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
    Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Psalm 15:1 (NRSVCE)

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Acceptance.
Entrance.
Cutting the mustard.
Making the grade.
The keys to the kingdom.
The punched ticket.
The front of the line.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed a lot of mental and spiritual energy is devoted to who is in and who is out. In fact, I’ve known and spent time in religious groups whose applied theology comes down to intense behavior modification rooted in fear of social and spiritual rejection and ostracization.

Reading the song lyrics of today’s Psalm, I have to remind myself that in David’s day, the center of the sacrificial worship system set up by Moses (which we read about in the chapter-a-day journey through Exodus that we just completed) continued God’s traveling tent sanctuary that had been set up in various places but which David set on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. David’s dream was to construct a permanent temple structure. That dream would be ultimately fulfilled by his son, Solomon. Until then, the ol’ tent temple was used and people would have to ascend the hill where it resided to conduct their ritual sacrifices and offerings.

Today’s song reads like a moral check-list, and some scholars think it may have been used as some kind of liturgy of questions that those pilgrims wanting to enter the sanctuary area had to go through. In other words, “Do you cut the righteous mustard enough to gain entrance?”

In the chapter-a-day journey through Exodus, I was struck time-and-time-again by the ways in which Jesus and His teaching changed the paradigm. He brought a more mature understanding of Spirit and relationship with God. Jesus spoke out against the religious do-gooders and spent most of his time among the sinners who didn’t cut the righteous and religious mustard. He welcomed sinners ostracized by His Temple cohorts, preached repentance of the heart that leads to real change rather than social behavior modification which leads to suppression of our true spiritual selves, secret sins, and false fronts.

As Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers in Rome (Rom 2:4): God’s kindness is what leads to repentance. I’ve observed along the way is that we humans always want to go back to the “my moral purity leads to acceptance model.

But that doesn’t mean I completely dismiss the heart of what David is singing about in the lyrics of today’s psalm because there’s another important life lesson connected here. David goes through his checklist of righteous behaviors:

  • Do the right thing
  • Speak truth from your heart
  • Don’t slander others
  • Do right by others
  • Don’t pile on when others are beat-down
  • Honor God
  • Keep your promises
  • Be generous
  • Don’t take bribes.

He then ends with “those who do these things shall never be moved.” In other words, truly living the right way and doing the right things are the basis of a solid, unshakeable life. You sleep well at night. You aren’t sneaking around trying to get away with things. You aren’t secretly living in shame and the paranoid fear of being found out, nor are you trying to always stay one step ahead of religious checklist keepers and their bandwagon of public shame which is always warmed-up and ready to drive you out into the wilderness of scandal and rejection.

So, in the quiet this morning I find myself back at my heart of hearts. Why would I want to live right and do right by God, myself, and others? Is it to keep up appearances and cut the mustard? Or is it because I’ve honestly come clean with God and those with whom I’m walking this life journey and received from them grace, forgiveness, and acceptance – which leads to so much gratitude that I genuinely want to change my ways and do the right things by them for all the right reasons?

Cutting the mustard, or coming clean? That is the question.

The Question That Makes All the Difference

All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.
Exodus 35:29 (NRSVCE)

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When I studied acting back in high school and college I was trained to repeatedly ask the question “Why?”

“Why is my character saying this?”
“Why is my character doing this?”
“Why is my character so fond of that character?”
“Why is my character being such an ass in this scene?”

The most common and classic question that has often been parodied is, “What’s my motivation?”

Here’s what I learned in the process. The question is more important for me in life than it is as an actor on stage.

“Why do I repeatedly do the thing I say I don’t want to do?”
“Why am I staying in a job that I hate?”
“Why has my marriage been an interpersonal war for fifteen years?”
“Why do I go to church if I don’t even believe?”
“Why am I always buying stuff I don’t need just to fill my life with things I don’t use?”
“Why do I feel such rage all the time?”

Notice that all of those questions are reflective of negative feelings and behaviors, but the same question of motivation is important for the positive things we think, say, and do as well. Jesus was constantly pointing out that pious, religious people who were doing things with all the wrong-motives weren’t part of the Kingdom of God while humble, sinful outsiders with all sorts of baggage who lovingly sacrificed themselves for others were.

In today’s chapter, we find Moses and the Hebrews still camped at Mount Sinai. Moses has spent a total of 80 days (and we’ve spent a total of 15 chapters) on the mountain with God downloading God’s vision, instructions, and commands. Now it’s time to implement the vision and actually construct this traveling tent temple called the Tabernacle. So Moses calls on the Hebrews to pitch-in, donate the materials needed, and help with the labor of construction.

What struck me was the repeated phrases that spoke of the motivation of those giving of their time and resources:

  • “…let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering…”
  • “And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing…”
  • “So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart…”
  • “…all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill…”
  • “All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.”

For me, the message was loud and clear. God wanted those who were motivated to help, not those who were doing it under duress like the slaves they were back in Egypt. For the thing God was doing among them, God wanted those who were genuinely generous of heart, willing spirit, stirred within, motivated and compelled by souls open to God’s Spirit.

If I’m doing it for all the wrong reasons I need to just stop. I need to walk away. Doing the right thing with all the wrong motivations is not what God’s Kingdom is about. First, I must honestly and sincerely deal with the “Why?” Did you know Jesus actually turned away would-be followers? In each case, it was never a matter of sin, but of motivation that He questioned.

So, in the quiet this morning I find myself taking a spiritual step back and asking myself “why” I do the things I do. Why do I follow Jesus? Why have I spent my time and energy writing these posts for almost 15 years with nothing of any worldly value to show for it? What is it that Wendy and I do with our time, energy, and resources on a daily basis, and why the heck are we doing it?

Along this life journey, I’ve observed that it’s quite common for humans to live on auto-pilot. Life is a series of rote words and actions motivated by nothing more than base human appetites and a lifetime of the systemic conditioning of family, education, and local culture. When I decided to follow Jesus (not just be a religious church member, but really follow what Jesus lived and taught) and then when Jesus led me to follow the stirring of my heart to study theatre, I was taught to honestly ask the question that has made all the difference in my life:

“Why am I…[fill in the blank]?”

The Call

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:4 (NRSVCE)

Along my spiritual journey I have wandered in, through, and out of several different denominational and non-denominational tribes who carry the label of “Christian.” The differences between them were essentially three-fold: theology, style/practice of worship, and the behavioral expectations of members.

Along the way, I observed something that was common to all of them. Within each of those tribes were individuals who were members of the church, and those who were followers of Christ. There was a difference.

In today’s chapter, Moses is out tending his father-in-law’s flock (Note: Yet another theme of the Great Story. Moses was a shepherd, David was a shepherd, Jesus called Himself the “Good Shepherd,” Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.”). Moses sees a burning bush that keeps burning but doesn’t burn up. He investigates only to hear his name called. God speaks to Moses and calls him to “shepherd” his people out of Egypt.

In spiritual terms, this would be referred to as a “call” or “the call.” A person hears, senses, receives and then answers God’s calling out to them. It is a consistent theme in the Great Story from Adam through Saul of Tarsus. God calls, then the person answers and follows.

I find that this easily creates discomfort in many because there is a sense of there being spiritual “haves” (those who are “called”) and spiritual “have nots” (those who would say they haven’t). However, my own observation, and my understanding of the Great Story, is that Jesus made it clear that His “call” was universal. Jesus repeatedly told his audience that it was for anyone with “ears to hear.”

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

Revelation 3:20

“The call,” I have observed, is there for any and for all. This is why Jesus sends His followers “to the ends of the earth” to proclaim the good news. He is always knocking, though there is also His acknowledgement that there a some who will not hear or will not answer. To open the door, invite, receive, sit down together, have an intimate meal, talk, relate, and share… that’s a relationship between Jesus and the one who has heard the knock and opened the door.

That’s the difference. I have observed those who wear the label “Christian” but it appears to me that the label is based on their family’s (often generational) membership in a particular institution, their adherence to particular doctrinal statement or creed, and their religious observation of certain expectations regarding attendance, giving, and behavioral observations. It appears to be completely contractual without being in any way relational.

Those who have heard and answer the knock, or the call, have a different experience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a twentieth-century theologian who followed “the call” to follow Jesus to the hangman’s noose in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in one his most famous works: “When Christ calls a man, He bids Him ‘Come and die.'” To answer the call, he observes, is always a form of surrender. For Moses, answering the call will mean surrendering his pride, his liberty, and his quiet Bedouin shepherd’s life to shepherd twelve unruly tribes out of Egypt and into forty years of wilderness wandering.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself remembering the moment I heard the knock, and heard the call. It has been almost forty years now since I opened the door and invited Jesus in for our first meal together. The journey began. It has never been about church membership, adherence to a doctrinal statement, or dutiful religious obligations. It’s been about surrendering, following, seeking, forgiving, giving, loving, and sharing; Always with the effort and desire to be increasingly kind, gentle, patient, faithful, and self-controlled like Jesus example. Sometimes, embellished with the use of words.

As Moses found out, the eloquent words part is not that important. But, that’s tomorrow’s chapter.

Thanks for reading, my friend. May your journey lead you to pleasant places today.

Featured image by Claude Mellan (1663). From the Met Collection. Public Domain.