Tag Archives: Spiritual

Of Spirit and Paperweights

Of Spirit and Paperweights (CaD Ecc 5) Wayfarer

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 5:19 (NIV)

I still remember a big, glass Skippy jar that belonged to my brother, Tim. The lid was wrapped tight with athletic tape and a slot for change was snipped into the tin lid. It was filled with change (Note: a Skippy jar full of pocket change could go a long way in those days). It sat there. For years it served as a paperweight on my brother’s desk. For years I saw that thing just sitting there…years.

During those years. I didn’t have a piggy bank or any such change jar. There was no point. If I had a dime I spent it.

That’s a parable, by the way.

It’s also a confession that I was not great with money for much of my life. It was a lesson that ended up being a long, hard stretch for me on both the spiritual and physical levels. But learn it, I did. As a sincere follower of Jesus, I couldn’t get around the fact that money and the spiritual implications of it, was His number one subject.

Not sex.
Not drinking.
Not drugs.
Not politics.
Not church attendance.

Money, wealth, possessions and their spiritual implications was numero uno on the Top Ten list of subjects that Jesus talked about. And, for anyone reading this who has not read Jesus’ teaching on the subject yourself, please know that it’s completely opposite of those televangelists who twist His teaching in order to pad their own pockets.

Yesterday morning I had the honor of kicking-off what will be a six-week series of messages about the economy of God’s Kingdom (it’s on the Messages page, btw). Talking about economics is always a tough subject from a spiritual perspective because money and economics are so intertwined with my life, my mind, my heart, and my spirit. I believe that’s why Jesus talked about it so much. I can live a good, religious, morally pure, upright life, but if I don’t get the spiritual lessons of economics right, then I’m still hopelessly stuck in spiritual kindergarten.

It felt like a little spiritual synchronicity that the Sage who authored Ecclesiastes is talking about this same subject in today’s chapter. What fascinated me is how it dove-tailed what I spoke about yesterday, and what stuck out to me in the chapter was an interesting contrast.

In verse 10, the Sage warns of the spiritual trap that wealth creates because there’s never enough, and the dissatisfaction and discontent of the perpetual more will eat a person’s soul.

In verse 11, the Sage warns of the spiritual trap of limitless consumption because it is also never satisfied. It leads to life as described in the movie Wall-E.

In verse 12, the Sage observes that there’s a certain simplicity of life and peace of spirit the comes with having very little, while having much only adds increasing layers of complexity and anxiety. This robs life of sleep (and peace, and joy, and goodness, and contentment, and etc.).

Wealth and consumption are spiritual traps that lead to bad places.

Then at the end of the chapter, the Sage observes what appears to be the exact opposite: “when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” 

But I couldn’t help but notice the key ingredient in this latter observation. The wealth and possessions flow from God, they are received and held as the gift from God that they are by a person who manages those resources with a sense of gratitude, contentment, and spiritual discernment.

In my message yesterday I spoke about the spiritual lesson that I’ve learned (and learned the hard way) which must precede any conversation about money itself. Interestingly enough, Jesus told one wealthy man that selling all his possessions and giving it to the poor was the one thing he had to do. But Jesus had other people in his life, like Lazarus and his sisters, who were wealthy and Jesus didn’t ask them to do the same thing. I find this an important distinction that the Sage is revealing in today’s chapter.

The wealth isn’t the issue. The issue that precedes the money conversation is one of heart, eyes, and worship. You’re welcome to listen to the message if you’re interested in unpacking this more.

By the way, on my dresser sits a large coffee mug full of change. It basically serves as a paperweight. It’s been there for years.

I’m learning.

Of Riches and Rubble

Of Riches and Rubble (CaD Mk 13) Wayfarer

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Mark 13:1-2 (NIV)

I still remember my first trip to Chicago. I had never been to a major city. My hometown of Des Moines was my only frame of reference, and even at a young age I knew Des Moines like the back of my hand. A person could get from one end of the Des Moines to the other in about 20 minutes. It just wasn’t that big. Chicago was a revelation. I and my friends went to the observation deck of the John Hancock building, and I stared out at city as far as my eye could see. It was impressive.

For Jesus’ followers, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and to the Temple, was a similar experience. As far as we know, the Twelve were from small rural villages in the Galilee, and the Temple complex in Jerusalem was the equivalent of the John Hancock building, the Sears Tower, or the Empire State Building.

Casual readers may not realize that the temple in Jesus’ day was not the same Temple that Solomon built. That temple was razed to the ground by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. A generation later, it was rebuilt by Hebrews who returned from exile. Then, Herod the Great came to power around 37 B.C.

Like many egomaniacal tyrants, Herod had an edifice complex. He wasn’t Jewish, but he understood that his constituency was, and the temple in Jerusalem was the center of that constituency’s worldly power. Herod was shrewd. He knew it was in his political best interest not only to keep peace with the power brokers of the Jewish community, but he knew it would be even better if this potential threat to his power felt indebted to him. So, Herod decided to invest his vast riches to fix-up the five-hundred year old Temple.

Of course, egomaniacal tyrants with edifice complexes aren’t just going to do a little sprucing up. They have to spend their vast riches to build something that will bear their name (whether officially or unofficially) so the size of the project must be in relative proportion to the size to their egos. The original size of the Temple was relatively small compared to the impressive temples built by the Greeks and Romans. Herod made sure to not just rebuild the Temple itself, but he built an entire Temple complex around it. Sure enough, it’s still known today as “Herod’s Temple.”

That’s why, in today’s chapter, Jesus’ disciples are still exclaiming what a magnificent complex it is even after they’ve spent two entire days listening to Jesus teach in the Temple courts. They can’t get over the sheer size and architectural beauty of it.

And then, Jesus ruins the moment: “It will all be rubble 40 years from now.”

And, it was. The political tension between the Jewish people and their Roman occupiers will continue to grow. There will be wars and rumors of war. It will eventually boil over. The Romans will raze Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple in the year 70 A.D.

Enjoy the view while you can.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think of the spiritual lesson in this brief exchange. The rest of today’s chapter is Jesus’ prophetic foreshadowing of where the Great Story is headed in the climactic final chapters. It’s not idyllic.

Wars
Earthquakes
Famine
Deception
Tyranny
Families divided
Betrayal
Hatred
Exile
Darkness

I’m reminded as I contemplate it that every good story ends up there. The death eaters descend on Hogwarts. Gandalf and Aragorn stand surrounded and outnumbered at the Black Gate of Mordor. Aslan is bound and lying on the White Witch’s stone table. Jesus lies dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.

There’s always darkness before the dawn.

Without catastrophe there’s no eucatastrophe.

“Be careful what your heart treasures,” Jesus said. “Cars rust and end up at the dump. Today’s fashions will end up at the thrift store where nobody wants them. That expensive gadget will be obsolete in a year. Herod’s Temple will be nothing but rubble in a generation.”

“Invest in the only things that remain,” Holy Spirit whispers to me in the quiet. “Faith, hope, and love.”

I’m off into another day reminded to enjoy the view while I can.

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

The Crowd

The Crowd (CaD Mk 12) Wayfarer

The large crowd listened to him with delight.
Mark12:37b (NIV)

I remember the first time I heard the delight of the crowd. I was twelve. It was what would be considered Middle School today, but then it was Junior High. I was running for the student government. I wrote a speech. I delivered it to the entire school assembled in the gymnasium. It delighted the crowd, and I confess: the crowd’s delight delighted me.

It was a really innocent moment as I look back on it and realize just how young I was. Who can look back on their coming-of-age years without both laughing and cringing? And of course, those same coming-of-age years is when I learned all the hard lessons of being “in” and/or “out” of different social groups. It did not take long for me to learn just how thin the line is between delighting the crowd and displeasing them.

The events of today’s chapter took place on Tuesday of the final week of Jesus’ earthly exile. It is the week of Passover, the biggest of the annual Jewish festivals and Jerusalem is swelling with crowds who have come to worship at the Temple. Mark established back in chapter three that the Chief Priests and religious power brokers began looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus. In chapter eight, Mark mentions it again.

As I read the chapter in the quiet, I found myself meditating on the role that “the crowd” plays in this escalating conflict between Jesus and the institutional religious leaders. Forty-eight hours before the events in today’s chapter, the crowd was cheering for Jesus as He entered the city on the back of a borrowed donkey. For two days, Jesus’ enemies have been publicly challenging Him with questions intended to trip Him. Instead, Jesus turns the tables on them time-and-time again.

The crowd is delighted.

Mark makes note that the institutional authorities are afraid of arresting Jesus because of the crowd.

The crowd is powerful on multiple levels. The crowd‘s delight is as potent and addictive as crack (“Look at all the “Likes”! Look at the page hits! OMG! I’m positively viral! I’m trending!”). The crowd can make you or break you.

The crowd is a fickle lover.

It’s easy for me to overlook it, but the crowd has been a constant player in Jesus’ story. Jesus has been with the crowd for three years. The crowd followed Him everywhere. The crowd pressed in on Him until He had to get into a boat and teach from out on the water. The crowd cheered when, multiple times, He sprung for an all-you-can-eat fish-sandwich buffet. The crowd quickly abandoned Him when He switched the menu and said that the real meal was His very own flesh-and-blood.

John noted…

many people noticed the signs [Jesus] was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them. John 2:24-25 (MSG)

The crowd can be manipulated.

The crowd can be bought.

In about 48 hours, Jesus’ enemies will arrest Him at night out of sight of the crowd. They will quickly try him at daybreak while the crowd is still sleeping. A few hours later, the crowd will be screaming at the Roman Governor to nail Jesus to a cross.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the crowd on this earthly journey. Along my life journey, I have regularly been in the various public spotlights even if it’s on a relatively small scale. I have had to navigate my own desires, emotions, reactions, responses, and experiences with the crowd. I’ve felt the crowd‘s delight, and I’ve know the crowd‘s displeasure.

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve learned that I can’t be a follower of the crowd. The paths are divergent. It’s too easy to showing up for the all-you-can-eat buffet of the nice sayings of Jesus that delight the crowd as they cut them out of context with a cultural exacto knife. Being a follower of Jesus means that while the crowds enjoy their fish sandwiches, Jesus beckons me to take up my cross and follow Him to an upper room where the menu is His flesh broken for me, His blood shed for me.

It is there that I see the crowd in Jesus’ context.

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

By-Products

By-Products (CaD Mk 11) Wayfarer

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Mark 11:12-14 (NIV)

As a young follower of Jesus, I remember being taught that it was my responsibility to “win souls” for the Lord. Over the years, I was prescribed a handful of sure-fire methods by which to quickly share with people how they could “get saved.”

During this same early stretch of both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I was taught that it was also of primary importance to be “pure.” The formula of “purity” was basically abstinence from the major impurities: sex, drinking, drugs, smoking, listening to “worldly” music, and swearing.

Looking back, there is nothing wrong with either of these things in-and-of themselves. As a follower of Jesus, both being able to effectively share with someone “the reason for the hope that is in me” and being pure are things I am asked to do. Nevertheless, the further I’ve progressed in both my spiritual journey, and my life journey, I’ve come to understand that they may very well be by-products of Love’s fruit, but they aren’t the fruit itself.

With today’s chapter, Mark’s biography of Jesus enters the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. Mark shares an obscure episode in which Jesus goes to a fig tree hoping to find a snack. Finding none, he curses the tree. The next day, they pass by the tree and find it withered.

I’ve always been intrigued and a little confused by this story. Jesus was always one for using living word pictures as teaching tools, and I have to believe that later that same week He would share with his followers: “I am the Vine and you are the branches. Every branch that doesn’t bear fruit will be cut-off and used for compost.” Of course they have a mental picture in their heads of the withered fig tree.

In the quiet this morning, I took the teaching and the word picture one step further:

What was Jesus looking for when He approached the Fig tree?

Figs, quite obviously.

What is the Gardener looking for when He approaches the branches on the Vine?

The fruit of love which one knows by it’s identifying characteristics:
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control

Now, sharing this love with others may lead to opportunities for telling someone how they can enter into a relationship with Jesus themselves. In the same way, any Grade A, organic fruit of Jesus’ love will be pure in all of its goodness and self-control.

Once again: These are by-products of the fruit, not the fruit itself, and it’s the fruit that produces the by-products never the other way around.

To riff on Paul’s treatise on Love:

If I memorize the Four Spiritual Laws and knock on every door in the neighborhood in an effort to win souls, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well be winning souls while losing my own.

If I live my life a tea-totaling eunuch disciplined in my vow of strict silence, but I don’t have Love, then I might very well look like the beautifully pure fruit but be void of flavor or any kind of nutritional value.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself continuing to meditate on the question I asked myself as I read the chapter:

If Jesus walks up to my life on this day of the journey like He walked up to that fig tree, what is it He wants to find on this branch?

The pure fruit of Love in all its fullness and goodness, or just a few of its ancillary by-products?

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

Life on the Fast-Track

Life on the Fast-Track (CaD Mk 10) Wayfarer

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” [Jesus] said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Mark 10:33-34 (NIV)

Much of my life has been spent hurrying. Not in the micro sense (though, I confess, my record is dotted with speeding tickets), but in the macro sense. As a kid I was overly anxious to grow up and get to the next stage. I was always looking for the fast-track. I couldn’t wait to get to do what others were allowed to do. Before I had my driver’s license I had friends who loaned me their cars. I graduated from high school early because I could. I wanted to get through college quickly, too. I was driven to find “the one” I would marry and was married before I graduated from college. I was equally driven to start my career, start a family, and make my mark on the world.

What was the rush?

In retrospect, I think being the youngest child positioned me to envy my older siblings. That was part of it. I think my personality also played a part. No matter, my fast-track mentality shaped many of my life decisions with consequences that range from benign to tragic. As I meditate on it in the quiet this morning, I’m not sure I could argue that anything good came of it. I don’t know. I might have to talk that through with a good friend over a pint and a cigar on the back patio.

Here’s what I have learned, however: There are no short-cuts on the spiritual journey except those I try to forge myself, and as Frodo and the lads discovered in the forest “short-cuts make for long delays.”

Perhaps my wealth of experiences at trying to forge short-cuts in life give me greater clarity to see it in others. In today’s chapter, I saw it everywhere.

The institutional religious leaders ask Jesus a direct question about his views on divorce. Jesus is in Herod Antipas’ realm. Herod just had John the Baptist imprisoned for preaching against his unlawful divorce and remarriage to his brother’s wife. Jesus’ enemies saw an opportunity to fast-track Jesus to the same fate.

The rich young man who asked Jesus how to earn eternal life was looking for the fast-track to heaven.

James and John were looking for the fast-track to positions of honor in Jesus’ “glory.”

On the heels of these three events, Jesus points His followers to the place He is heading:

Delivered into the hands of those who hate Him.
Condemned to death.
Delivered into the hands of the Empire.
Mocked.
Spit-on.
Scourged.
Beaten.
Crucified.

He then tells His followers: this is the path.

No short-cuts.
No fast-tracks.
No get-spiritually-rich-quick schemes.
In God’s Kingdom, one does not get moved up to the next grade until the lessons of the current level are effectively learned.

Short-cuts only make for long delays in the spiritual journey.

In the quiet this morning, I look back at my own path and review the results of my attempts at forging spiritual short-cuts. “Benign to tragic.”

It is ironic that today’s chapter ends with a poor blind man who keeps shouting to Jesus: “Have mercy on me!”

The attitude and posture of the poor blind man’s spirit led to his eyes being opened.

There’s a lesson for me in that.

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

Soil Samples

Soil Samples (CaD Mk 6) Wayfarer

…Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
Mark 6:20 (NIV)

Here in Iowa, the science of agriculture is big business. Each autumn when harvest rolls around the crop yield is a make-it or break-it reality for farmers. Which is why I know friends whose livelihoods are spent studying soil and seeds to try and grow as much as the land can possibly yield. As I have often confessed, agriculture is not something about which I have vast knowledge. Just enough to appreciate a good parable.

As I’ve trekked my way through the Great Story again and again over the past forty years, I’ve learned that sometimes the lesson is not in microscopically mining the minutia of the text, but in stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

Back in chapter four, Mark records Jesus parable of the sower, in which the Word falls like seed on different human hearts that each are like a different quality of soil. A quick recap:

  • Like seed fallen on a hardened footpath: A soon as this person hears it, the enemy snatches it away like a bird.
  • Like seed fallen on rocky ground: Life sprouts in them, but it doesn’t put down roots and can’t survive through difficult weather.
  • Like seed fallen among thornbushes: Sprout and grow, but the things of this world choke it and render it unfruitful.
  • Like seed fallen on good soil: Sprout, put down roots, grow, and bear fruit.

Starting in chapter Five and continuing in today’s chapter, Mark records stories of different people who rejected Jesus, His teaching, and His miracles.

Despite the fact that Jesus drove the demons from the heart of the man living among the tombs of the Gerasenes, the townspeople wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Their hearts are like the hardened footpath. It’s as if the demons snatched the Word from their hearts on their way from the man to the pigs.

In today’s chapter, Jesus goes home to Nazareth. The people of Nazareth listened to Jesus’ teaching, and some were amazed as if the Word was sprouting new life in them. But ultimately, nothing took root as their hearts couldn’t see past their prejudices: “How could Jesus Bar Joseph, the Carpenter’s boy who fixed my chair that one time, be a rabbi?”

Then we get to Herod Antipas, the local ruler of Galilee. Herod sits atop one of the “kingdoms of this world,” the descendant and co-heir of a ruthless tyrant who amassed wealth, political power, and all the luxuries it affords through corruption, deceit, and bloodshed. When Satan went “all-in” and offered Jesus with all the “Kingdoms of this World,” Herod’s kingdom was there in the pot, and Jesus knew it. Jesus grew up knowing all about Herod’s wealth, power, fortunes, women, and fame.

Mark then does something unusual compared to what we’ve read thus far in his biography of Jesus. Mark tells a story that is not about Jesus, but about Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. It gives us a picture of seed that falls among the world’s thorn bushes.

Some quick gossip from the tabloids at the checkout line at the Galilean grocery stores: There was a whole sex scandal in Herodian royal family, and Herod Antipas ends up marrying his brother’s wife. John the Baptist is a local religious figure who is extremely popular and extremely revered by all the deplorable religious types in Herod’s constituency. John publicly preaches against the immorality in the Herodian palace, and Herod can’t risk a drop in his approval rating so he has John arrested. He even has John brought before him (and his guests on occasion) to hear his religious rants. Mark tells us that Herod, “liked to listen to him.”

To Herod, John and his message are playthings. They are one more thing that wealth and power afford him. He has his own holy man at his beck-and-call. John is God’s little vine surviving amidst the entrenched hedge of Herod’s prickly power. Herod might have John preach for him and his party-guests. He might have John beheaded at the whim of his lust for his own step-daughter. It is of little consequence for him. He can always find another holy man: “I keep hearing about this Nazarene,” I can hear him say to his dinner guest after John’s head is carried out on a platter. “Maybe I should arrest him. John’s sermons were so entertaining. I’ll miss them.”

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that Jesus had as many enemies, detractors, and people who dismissed His teaching as He had disciples. Perhaps 3 to 1 if the parable is any indication. My experience is that Jesus’ followers rarely think much about this reality.

And so I find myself thinking about the soil of my own heart.

Is my heart hard and unyielding?

Is my heart shallow and unwilling to put down spiritual roots?

Is my heart choked, overshadowed, and/or overgrown by the things of this world?

Is my heart fruitful with the mixed-fruit of faith, hope, and love?

As I meditated on the metaphor again this morning, I found myself mulling over the fact that the seed among the thorns and the seed on the good soil both sprout, take root, and grow. The only difference Jesus described was that the good-soil plant was fruitful while the plant choked by the thorns of this world didn’t yield fruit.

I also find myself thinking about these chapter-a-day blog posts and podcasts that I scatter across the internet each weekday wondering where in the world they might land. Hard soil? Rocky soil? Thorn bushes? Good soil? I have learned that there is both grief and freedom in not knowing the answer. Such is the lot of the sower who must wait until harvest to know the yield.

I hope this lands well with you, my friend.

Have a great day.

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

The Great Conflict

The Great Conflict (CaD Mk 2) Wayfarer

Then [Jesus] said to [the Pharisees], “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:27-28 (NIV)

The Great Story, on the macro level, is a story of good and evil. It’s a grand conflict over humanity and creation. Along my journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to lose sight of this. In my inescapable, fallen human nature I like to make everything, especially the things of God, all about me. Jesus’ taught that I have to crucify that notion.

This doesn’t mean that I, and my life, are insignificant by any means. Jesus made that clear in His teachings as well. The numbers of hair on my head are intimately known, as are the number of my days on this earthly journey, as are my anxieties and cares. It’s such a mind-blowing thing to discover; The Great Story is both/and epic and personal, macro and micro, eternal and momentary.

A few weeks ago I delivered the Good Friday message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. In that message I laid out how Jesus six trials and crucifixion were a spiritual conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Prince of this World and his Kingdoms of this World representing their three pillars of power: politics, commerce, and religion.

Mark’s biography of Jesus introduces this epic story right away in chapter one as Jesus’ earthly ministry begins. Jesus is sent by Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the “Prince of this World” just as he tempted Adam and Eve and started the whole grand conflict. The Prince of this World offers Jesus the Kingdoms of this World, which are his to give, if only Jesus will bow down and worship him. Jesus could have it all: human governments from the United States to Russia and China, with the United Nations thrown it to boot. Jesus could have the Dow Jones 100, Amazon, Apple, and the athletic franchises that rack up billions. He could have the media and the power to manipulate the masses. He could have all of human religion from atheism to the Vatican with which to dictate His will and desires with top-down authority.

Jesus passes on the offer. The epic story continues.

In today’s chapter, the conflict continues as the Prince of this World begins to position his pieces on the chess board. Mark gives us four episodes in Jesus’ early ministry. In all four, there is a conflict between Jesus’ actions/teaching, and representatives of the institutional religion that had taken over God’s people.

Jesus forgave a man’s sins.

The religious institution said only God could forgive sins. Institutions of this world like to control all power, even the spiritual power of forgiveness.

Jesus hangs out with tax collectors like Matthew and his sinful friends.

This antagonizes the religious institution who carefully control their adherents with strict moral codes and rules about who is “in” and who is “out.” To break these rules threatens their hold over people.

Jesus and his followers choose not to observe certain religious staples like fasting.

Traditions, especially traditional religious rituals, are yet another essential part of determining a religious pecking order. Both the institutional religious power brokers, and faithful adherents like John’s disciples, are confused. Jesus is not following the playbook of tradition.

Jesus and His disciples appear to blatantly break one of God’s Top-Ten rules given through Moses. They “work” on the Sabbath day of rest by picking some heads of grain to snack on as they walk through a field.

The leaders of religious institution are appalled. The institutions of religion tend to make rules to codify previous rules which were put in place by earlier generations to ensure the original rule is followed. This is how a convenient pecking order of religious and righteous is maintained.

As I read the chapter this morning, I see that on the macro level, Mark is telling us that the pieces are quickly moving into place on the chess board. The middle game and end game are already determined for those who have eyes to see it. Jesus will continue to teach about a kingdom that is not of this world in which individuals are forgiven and spiritually free from the shackles of this world’s pillars of power. Jesus will teach of an eternal kingdom in which any individual, having experienced the love and forgiveness of God’s Kingdom, will be motivated by that love spread eternal love and forgiveness wherever they go. Having failed to tempt Jesus into the sweet deal of earthly power, the Prince of this World will use all of the institutions of this world he controls, starting with the institution of religion, to make the Son of God suffer the ultimate earthly penalty Himself: death.

In the quiet, I find myself contemplating my own personal relationship with Jesus in light of the Great Story on the macro level. I’m thinking about Jesus’ call to be an ambassador of His kingdom on earth. I find my heart and mind doing a self-evaluation based on Jesus’ example in the first two chapters of Mark:

  • Am I choosing to pass on what the world feeds me, offers me, and tells me is valuable and worthwhile? Or am I living like the world tells me and dressing it up with a religious costume?
  • Am I forgiving others as I have been forgiven, or am I holding grudges, prejudices, and judgment because of the power it makes me feel?
  • Am I seeking out spiritual disciplines that help me be more like Jesus, or am I mindlessly following religious rituals because it’s expected of me by a religious authority or institution?
  • Am I choosing to live in the spiritual freedom Jesus taught and exemplified, or am I choosing religious rule-keeping of my local religious institutions’ brand of self-righteous pecking order?

Lord, help me live out my citizenship of your eternal kingdom on this earth today by fully living the the former on each of these four questions.

Have a great week, my friend.

Ruminating

Ruminating (CaD Ps 140) Wayfarer

Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
    you shield my head in the day of battle.

Psalm 140:5 (NIV)

Ever since I was a kid, I have been one to excessively ruminate on conflict or personal problems that I encounter along life’s road. When this happens, I can’t stop thinking about it, mulling it over, replaying things again and again in my head. When it’s really bad, my ceaseless ruminations can steal my sleep and paralyze me from effectively managing other important things in life.

The word “ruminate” has only been a common part of the English language since the 1500s. It derives from a Latin word that refers to animals, specifically cows, who can dredge up already chewed and partially digested food from their stomachs in order to chew it again. This is commonly referred to as a cow “chewing the cud.” I realize that’s a rather gross word, picture. But, it is an apt word picture for the thing my mind does with problems and conflicts.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 140, is another song ascribed to King David. Like other songs of David, he is lamenting unnamed enemies who are bent on his personal and political destruction. What is interesting about the lyrics of this song is the multiple physiological metaphors David uses:

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

As is common with ancient Hebrew songwriting, the central stanza of today’s chapter provides the main theme for the song. And I couldn’t help but notice that David asks God to “shield my head” in the day of battle. Of course, head injuries in human battle can easily be fatal, but as I read it I immediately thought about the conflicts, problems, and relational battles I’ve encountered along life’s road and my seemingly endless ruminating when they occur. I have found that me regurgitating an issue and chewing it over, and over, and over can be as much a spiritual and emotional threat to my well-being as a warrior going into fire-fight without their helmet.

I love that David asks God to shield his head. It’s my own brain that so easily works against me in times of trouble. I also love that David poured out his heart, his conflicts, and his problems in musical and lyrical prayers. I have to believe it was a healthy form of expression that helped him get things out so that they wouldn’t be bottled up inside where rumination can easily lead to unhealthy places.

In the quiet this morning, I’ve thinking back on circumstances that have led to ruminating in the last year or two. I have gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing it and addressing it sooner. I’ve gotten better at getting it out in conversations with the inner circle of confidants I’m blessed to have in my life. I’ve also learned that expressing things in handwritten prayers in my morning pages can be a really good antidote for ruminating.

Along life’s road I’ve observed that my natural temperament, personality, and bents lead me to certain patterns of reaction to negative stimuli I encounter along the way. Some of these natural reactions are both unhealthy and unproductive. Being a follower of Jesus, my relationship has motivated and challenged me to actively address some of my less than stellar traits, like my ruminating. By choosing to get out my ruminations, I make room for my heart and mind to meditate on the things with which Jesus asks me to fill them.

Lessons in the Landscape

Lessons in the Landscape (CaD Ps 125) Wayfarer

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 125:2 (NIV)

I have always had a touch of seasonal affect issues. The long, dark nights and confining temperatures of deep winter in Iowa tend to easily put me into a funk. The past few days, the sun has been rising noticeably earlier and with it the temperatures have been rising, as well. The thick, white blanket of winter snow is almost gone. I can feel my endorphins kicking into gear like seeds buried underground in spring.

Yesterday, Wendy and I had appointments late in the day and found ourselves driving down the highway starting at a bright sun and seeing the Iowa landscape uncovered, ready for the resurrection we get to witness around this time every year. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate the metaphors of creation. Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that Romans 1:20 has become a recurring theme in these posts:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

I have found that the spiritual truths that God wove into creation increasingly come into focus and gain clarity as my eyes weaken and my vision fades with age.

My chapter-a-day journey is trekking through a series of ancient Hebrew songs that the editors compiling this anthology put together because they were all “songs of ascent.” They were songs commonly sung by thousands and thousands of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for seasonal religious festivals.

Of the six songs of ascent I’ve read in recent days, three of them begin with references to “lifting my eyes” and “mountains“:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains” Psalm 121:1
“I lift up my eyes to you” Psalm 123:1
As the mountains surround Jerusalem” Psalm 125:2

Just as I drove through the Iowa countryside noticing the spiritual lessons embedded in the spring landscape, so the songwriters of the the songs of ascent were writing from the perspective of rural pilgrims hoofing it to Jerusalem. For many, it was a trip that took days or weeks to complete. What do I do when I’m on a road trip and heading to a particular destination? I look to the horizon for that moment I can see my destination and know that I’m almost there.

The lyrics of these songs of ascent use this common human behavior for spiritual purposes. Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple sat at the crest of a mountainous range. Viewed from a distance there are even taller mountains in the “surrounding” landscape. As a road-weary pilgrim finally seeing Jerusalem and those mountains in the distance, I would find myself still miles from my destination. My soul still has hours with which to meditate on the spiritual truths that God wove into creation.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling gratitude for the sun rising earlier and staying out later. I’m grateful for the sun’s warmth and the promise of the new life ahead. I’m also mindful of the spiritual lessons that creation has to teach me and remind me during this season each year; Lessons that Jesus pointed out to His followers:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Of Traditions

Of Traditions (CaD Ps 124) Wayfarer

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8 (NIV)

Here’s a little trivia for you: The now almost requisite playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events dates to 1918 at the first game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox. The series almost didn’t happen that year because so many Americans were across the Atlantic fighting in World War I. Fred Thomas, the Red Sox’ Third Baseman, and furloughed U.S. sailor got up during the seventh inning stretch and sang a moving rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. At that point, it wasn’t even the national anthem (that happened in 1931). It was so moving that it became a seventh-inning-stretch staple. During WWII, technology allowed for the anthem to be played by recording and it was moved from the seventh inning stretch to before the ball game. Other sports followed.

Obviously, the anthem has been a point of tension in recent years. It’s just interesting to me to realize that there were many decades of professional baseball when that the tradition didn’t exist. I find it fascinating how traditions can become so important to us as human beings, whether those traditions are religious, civic, social or familial. Messing with traditions can create major disruption in any human system.

I thought about the national anthem as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 124. The lyrics of this Hebrew pilgrim’s song read like a community anthem reminding the traveler of God’s blessing on their nation and deliverance from many enemies. The lyrics basically read like a national anthem for the Hebrew nation, and thinking of it being a tradition for Hebrew pilgrims to sing it while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem makes me think that it’s not that much different than the Star-Spangled Banner before every ballgame, or singing God Bless America at the ball game on Sunday.

When the songwriter of Psalm 124 penned “the flood would have engulfed us” the imagery was that of a dry river bed that fills up suddenly during seasonal rains and creates devastating flash floods. It’s a metaphor for the warfare and pillaging attacks that happened seasonally, just like the rains.

The song is structured for the first stanza to be sung by an individual leader, describing what would have happened had God not been with them. The second stanza is sung by all the people, praising God for deliverance from their nation’s enemies.

I find myself meditating on traditions in the quiet this morning. Wendy and I even talked about the season of Lent which our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is in the midst of celebrating. Lent is a tradition of followers of Jesus that goes back as early as 325 AD. There is nothing written in the Great Story in regard to it and there’s no requirement to celebrate it in any way. It’s simply a tradition that annually connects followers to Jesus’ story. That’s the way I’ve personally always approached Lent and every human tradition for that matter.

I’ve observed along my life journey that traditions can be a great way to remind a group of human beings about any number of things we find important from gratitude, to sacrifice, to history, and to matters of Spirit. I’ve also observed that when traditions themselves become sacred to the human beings within the system, then the meaning of the tradition can often be lost. The reason behind the tradition sometimes loses focus or potency as the tradition itself becomes the focus of the human system that holds it. I have experienced that the breaking of certain traditions has been a spiritually healthy thing for me personally. I have also found that rediscovering lost traditions, that may have needed to go away for a time, can be equally as healthy to my spiritual journey.