Tag Archives: Spiritual

How I Should Grieve!

How I Should Grieve! (CaD Lam 2) Wayfarer

The hearts of the people
    cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
    let your tears flow like a river
    day and night;
give yourself no relief,
    your eyes no rest.

Lamentations 2:18 (NIV)

I have a friend who is experiencing pain in life that I can’t imagine. Every day is a torment. My friend has actually compared daily life to Sisyphus, who perpetually struggled to roll a boulder up the hill only to have the law of physics win every time. He would watch as the boulder rolled back down requiring him to start again, and again, and again.

My friend steadfastly refuses to talk much about it.

“I remember you telling me thirty years ago about these old farmers in the church where you interned that one summer,” my friend said to me. “How these old guys were so stoic they would refuse to go to the doctor or the hospital even though they were suffering and dying. I’ve always admired that.”

I don’t begrudge the sentiment. I’ve observed that human nature often leads one to do almost anything to avoid pain. This is especially true when that pain is perpetual. I might find ways to numb out and avoid it. I might distract my mind and soul with any number of things. I might, like the old farmers my friend admired, stoically stuff my pain and suffering down deep and stoically steel myself to silently endure. In each case, I’m still just avoiding what the Great Story states, quite directly multiple times in multiple ways: the path of spiritual progress in this life is in pain, trouble, trials, and suffering. Jeremiah’s amazing five poems of Lamentation might easily be presented as Exhibit A.

Here’s a little Jeopardy! trivia: The Hebrew title of the book of Lamentations is “How” (Hebrew: ‘êkâ), after the first word of the first line of chapters 1, 2, and 4. Here are the three lines in succession:

How deserted lies the city,
    once so full of people!
How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
    with the cloud of his anger!
How the gold has lost its luster,
    the fine gold become dull!

There’s something I really love about that. It recognizes what I find to be exactly what I need when I’m suffering struggles on this life journey: to honestly, emotionally, and unashamedly express my thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. That’s exactly what Jeremiah’s five-poem volume, How, is all about.

How I should grieve!

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found it interesting to observe so many people who have a base assumption that life should be free of trouble, and that when experiencing trouble one should deny it, avoid it, and pretend that everything is okay. On the contrary, my perpetual journey through the Great Story reminds me constantly to experience trouble head-on, to fully express sorrow, and to allow life’s troubles to do their spiritual work in me as I cling to hope in God’s promises and have faith that there are good things on the other side of the pain.

The Sage of Ecclesiastes said that there is a time and season to mourn and grieve on this journey just as there is a time and season to dance. I love the juxtaposition of those realities in one verse. It gives me permission (I might even say it commands me) to fully feel and express my grief, but it doesn’t allow me to sit in and wallow in victim status forever. Rather, it is in fully working through my grief that I make my way out of the valley and to the next mountain vista where I can just as fully dance on the summit. They are part of one another. My grieving gives fullness to the dancing. My dancing gives perspective to the grieving. I find that treating them as either-or experiences in life is spiritually anorexic. Experiencing their both-and interconnectedness is spiritually empowering.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that there are times in this life when God gives me permission, even commands me to:

Cry out! Wail! Moan! Sing the blues!
Let my tears torrentially flow like a raging river.
Let it out around the clock.
Don’t stop until it’s done.

It’s through the free flow of my grief that God spiritually transports me to where He’s leading me.

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

Knowing and Not Knowing

Knowing and Not Knowing (CaD Gen 46) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exile and Return

Exile and Return (CaD Gen 35) Wayfarer

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
Genesis 35:1 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve discovered along my spiritual journey is that the return is often as important as the destination. In some cases, they turn out to be one and the same.

In today’s chapter, God calls Jacob to return to Bethel which is the place where God first revealed Himself to Jacob. Jacob has been on a journey of exile for over twenty years, and now he has returned to his home and family. At Bethel, God renews the promises made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. God makes Jacob’s name change to Israel official.

The timing of this is important. Isaac is about to die. Having the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, God is leading Jacob through a rite of passage. He’s returned from exile to lead the family, and head the family business. Things are about to change in a big way.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back. My spiritual journey has led me on paths of exile and return. I found it to be the path of both wisdom and maturity. In exile, I face trials and struggles that grow me up as I learn essential lessons in faith, patience, perseverance, joy, and hope. The return is the place where those lessons bear fruit. The landscape looks different upon my return. Time may have changed things, but most importantly I have changed. I see old things with new eyes. In exile, I have been refined, honed, broken down, and rebuilt for a purpose. The return is where that purpose eventually comes into focus.

I also found myself meditating on God’s name change for this patriarch-to-be. In exile, Jacob (meaning the deceiver) is transformed into Israel (he wrestled with God). When Jacob left Bethel, everything he had and came from his (and his mother’s) own deceptive cunning and initiative. In exile, he struggled with his Uncle, himself, and with God. He discovers in exile that his blessings come from God and not his, and his family’s, penchant for deception. Jacob left Bethel and went into exile. It was Israel who returned to Bethel ready for the next stage of the journey.

I have found that there are certain spiritual truths that do not change. Among those truths is the necessity of both exile and return.

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

Wrestling

Wrestling (CaD Gen 32) Wayfarer

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28 (NIV)

Growing up in Iowa, one learns that wrestling is a big thing. Our state universities typically have nationally top-ranked programs. Most Iowans know the names of our state’s wrestling heroes. When I was growing up, wrestling was a mandatory class in P.E. during Junior High. For the record, I was really bad at it.

But that was just physical wrestling. With other types of wrestling, I’m quite adept: wrestling with fear, wrestling with shame, wrestling with the past, and et cetera.

Today’s chapter contains another mysterious, ancient story. Jacob, having left his Uncle Laban and returned to his home country, first finds himself in a potentially tough spot with his brother Esau. Jacob fears that his brother will kill him, and he comes up with a strategic plan to appease Esau’s anger and position himself in such a way to reduce his potential losses should Esau attck.

That night, Jacob finds himself in an all-night wrestling match with God. Having successfully gone the distance, God asks to “tap out.” Jacob, however, says he won’t give up until God blesses him.

God responds by saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

From the stories we’ve read about Jacob, he’s always been wrestling with life. He came out of the womb wrestling with his twin brother. He wrestles with Esau for power and position within the family system. He wrestles with Esau for his father’s affection and then wrestles with his father to steal Esau’s birthright. Jacob then wrestles ceaselessly with his Uncle Laban for the right to marry Rachel, and then for his wages. God has repeatedly told Jacob that he will inherit the blessing God gave to his grandfather Abraham, and his father, Isaac. Yet, there seems to be something in Jacob that doesn’t believe it despite all the evidence of his flourishing. Jacob is still wrestling with God and petitioning God for the blessing that’s already been given.

Perhaps that the deceiver, Jacob, having lived a life of deceiving and being deceived, has projected onto God his own shortcomings. Perhaps he can’t trust God not to be a deceiver, too.

Perhaps Jacob is bogged down in the shame of his own failings and, deep down, he doesn’t believe that God would bless a deceiver like him. He’s done nothing to deserved God’s blessing and favor.

Perhaps God knew that the only way Jacob would truly understand and embrace the blessing that had been freely given was to wrestle for it.

As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning, I found myself wrestling. I, too, have experienced blessings I know I really don’t deserve. I, too, struggle to embrace blessings freely and graciously given. Instead of gratefully receiving them, I find myself pessimistically assuming that they will be withdrawn, withheld, or will turn out to have been some kind of mistake. I have to confess to my own internal wrestling match with God, for which I might just have Olympic-worthy talent. And, that’s not a good thing.

I believe it’s time for me to tap out and forfeit this wrestling match to God.

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

Warning Signs & U-Turns

Warning Signs & U-Turns (CaD Gen 19) Wayfarer

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is controversial for more than one reason, largely because it contains references homosexuality, misogyny, and incest. All of these topics are worthy of a deeper dive into the text, context, and subtext. For the purposes of this devotional, chapter-a-day trek, I found myself pulling back from a focus on the deep weeds in order to get a handle on a larger picture of the forest.

A few chapters ago, Abraham humbly gave his nephew, Lot, the choice of settling anywhere he wanted. Lot chose what appeared to be the greener grass of the Jordan plain, despite the fact that the nearby towns of Sodom and Gomorrah had reputations like that of Las Vegas in our own day and arguably even worse.

In the previous chapter, the divine visitors tell Abraham they’re going to destroy the cities because of their wickedness. Abraham barters with God to spare the cities if there are ten righteous people living there. While Abraham does not name his nephew and family, the number of Lot and his direct family (including betrothed sons-in-law) is ten.

In today’s chapter, Lot and his family are spared though they are given a three-fold instruction for escaping the destruction: Flee to the mountains, don’t look back, and don’t stop. Lot’s wife disobeys. The Hebrew word used is translated “look” but a careful reading of the text implies that she chose to literally make a u-turn and return for some reason, while Lot and his daughters had made it safely to the town of Zoar.

Archaeological excavations in the area support the history of a cataclysmic burning in the region, by the way. A violent earthquake could easily have ignited the deposits of sulphur in the area. Just recently, a team of scientists have concluded that there was a meteor strike that may have ignited the entire Jordan plain.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating two overarching spiritual lessons I excavated from the story.

First, Lot chose to settle in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah because it promised to be the best land for his livestock, even though he knew that he would be required to deal locally at Sodom and Gomorrah, towns with the reputation of being wicked places. I found myself asking: “Have I ever made decisions that appeared a benign choice on the surface of things while ignoring the warning signs that I should have heeded, only to have circumstances tragically turn against me?

The answer for me is “yes,” by the way. You?

Second, Lot’s wife chose to turn back after being warned not to do so. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus’ core message was that of repentance, which literally means to “turn around” and proceed in the opposite direction. Along the way Jesus met a would-be follower who told Jesus that first he needed to “go back” to his family. Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The spiritual principle is the same as that of Lot’s wife. Turn away from what is evil, cling to the good direction where God is leading, and don’t go back.

As I launch into another work week, these lessons resonate. I’m asking myself asking three questions:

  • Where am I headed? Am I on a wise and spiritually healthy course?
  • Are there any warning signs I should heed as proceed on this path?
  • Are there any temptations to abandon course and return to foolish and spiritually destructive ways and places?

Have a great week, my friend. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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

In the Land of Nod

In the Land of Nod (CaD Gen 4) Wayfarer

So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Genesis 4:16 (NIV)

From the beginning, I called this blog/podcast “Wayfarer.” Over the 16 years I’ve been blogging, I’ve discovered that the word is unfamiliar to many people. It means “one who is on a journey.” Not only do I perpetually use the metaphor in referencing my life journey and spiritual journey in this life, but the blog has become a chronicle of that journey and of my chapter-a-day thoughts which all come out of a unique time and place on that journey.

I walk with purpose. I have a fixed destination like the Wayfaring Stranger in the famous old folk tune. And yet, along the way I have observed many who appear to be walking their respective earthly journey without purpose, or with a purpose that stands in stark contrast to mine.

Today’s chapter is the ancient story of the very first restless wanderer and the story of his family to the seventh generation from Adam (seven is not a coincidence, btw. It’s the number of “completion” and is paralleled by the listing of the seven generations of Seth in the next chapter). Cain was the first son born to Adam. The “first born son” was a position of power and prominence in human systems throughout history. From the start, however, there is a self-centered and rebellious nature in Cain that carries down through his descendants.

Cain and his younger brother Abel bring offerings to God. Cain brought “some” of his produce while Abel brought “the first-fruits.” The difference is that Cain chose to give God what he wanted (it might not have been the first or best of his crops) while Abel’s offering was the first and best, which was a way of Abel saying to God “It’s not mine. It’s all yours, and only by your blessing am I blessed with it.” Cain’s offering did not find favor, so the seed of his self-centric pride sprouts into envy and anger toward his little brother, which leads to murder, then to Cain’s famous denial “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Interestingly enough, God’s judgement for this fratricide was not “eye-for-an-eye” capital punishment. Instead, God condemns Cain to a life of restless wandering in the “land of Nod.” Nod means “wandering” in Hebrew. Cain and his descendants keep pushing against God’s design and judgement:

  • Cain spends his human effort to contradict the sentence of “wandering” by building a permanent home (vs. 17).
  • Lamech was the first polygamist (vs. 19), rejecting God’s design of monogamy in the Garden (2:20-24), and perhaps overcome God’s curse by having more children at a faster rate.
  • Lamech then follows Cain’s example by killing a man for “wounding” him and glories in his vengeance (vss. 23-24).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of the restless wanderers I’ve observed along my own life journey. Those who appear aimless in life. Those who appear mired in destructive generational patterns. Those who appear motivated to think, speak, and act in perpetual, oppositional defiance. The spiritual descendants of Cain.

As I mull these things over, I don’t feel condemnation or judgement. I feel empathy, even sadness. The story of Cain and his descendants is a sad one, and they represent those whom Jesus came to redeem. Were it not for my decision to become a Jesus follower, I can only imagine where my restless wandering would have led. I’m quite sure it would not have been to good places. I’ve struggled enough following in Jesus’ footsteps and still finding myself prone to wander off course.

I’m reminded of a lyric from one of my favorites from Bob Dylan: “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.” (from the song Every Grain of Sand on the Shot of Love album).

And so I wander into another day on the journey grateful to have purpose, a fixed destination, and a savior who is the Great Shepherd of lost sheep. A Shepherd who will leave the flock to find one lost lamb, even in the land of Nod.

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

On Being a “Member”

On Being a "Member" (CaD 2 Pet 1) Wayfarer

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:8 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I have served a number of local churches in either a volunteer or paid part-time basis. As a young man, I spent a total of five years in full-time pastoral ministry and served two different churches in very different denominations. These two full-time stints were very different experiences, but there was one thing the two experiences had in common. In the middle of my tenure at each of these churches, I was called to account by well-intentioned, legalistic busybodies for having not become a “member” of the said church.

I will never forget receiving a phone call asking me to be at an emergency meeting of the elders; the raw emotions of disappointment, anxiety, and suspicion expressed with regard to my reasons for not being a “member.” I will also not forget the abject silliness of jumping through all the institutional, bureaucratic hoops to appease the religious busybodies, including apologizing in a congregational meeting for my “oversight” and requesting that my “membership” be approved by the people who hired me to be their pastor.

It was no different than Jesus getting called to account for healing someone on the Sabbath day of rest. Being a member of a church does not make one a follower of Jesus, and being a follower of Jesus has nothing to do with adherence to religious, institutional bureaucracy. Confusion of the two is one of the legitimate realities that lie at the root of the world’s criticism and condemnation of Christianity. There are a host of other reasons, both legitimate and illegitimate, that lie with it.

In the opening of Peter’s second letter to first century followers of Jesus, he begins by identifying those who are legitimate followers of Jesus. You won’t find mention of a “membership certificate” or congregational approval anywhere in the description. Rather, Peter points to the evidence of ever-increasing spiritual maturity:

Faith that leads to goodness in words and deeds toward all.
Goodness that motivates a desire to know more about the things of God.
Knowledge that contributes to personal self-control in temptation.
Self-control that contributes to perseverance in tough stretches of the journey.
Perseverance that produces deeper levels of godliness in the daily mundane.
Godliness that shows up in sincere affection for others more than self.
Affection that results in acts of sacrificial love for others.

Peter goes on to explain that the goal is life that is effective and productive. This is exactly what Jesus told Peter and the team on the night before He was crucified: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” The goal is a life of connection to Jesus, being a “member” of the divine dance in the larger work He is accomplishing in the Great Story. Being a “member” of Christ effectively produces fruit in my life, and that fruit includes the very character traits Peter listed.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about this penchant I’ve witnessed in many for taking institutional church membership so seriously. I’ve just never considered the bureaucracy worthwhile. I’ve always believed that my “membership” is proven, not by taking a class, signing my name, receiving a certificate, and saying “I do” to list of rote questions, but rather by the evidence of my being spiritually effective and productive within my local gathering of Jesus’ followers and my community, just as Peter describes. If I have the former without the latter, then “my faith” is not faith at all. It’s just a membership that carries as much spiritual benefit as my membership in the rewards club of my local grocery store.

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

Motivation Revelation

Motivation Revelation (CaD John 11) Wayfarer

“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
John 11:48 (NIV)

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the porch watching Milo playing with the garden hose. In his mind he was helping Papa water the landscape shrubs, but the truth was that he was playing with the nozzle on the hose that has a bunch of different types of spray. He would spray for a few seconds, then switch to the next setting, spray for a few seconds, then switch to the next setting, spray for a few seconds…you get the idea.

On the ground in front of me was Milo’s bubble gun. It’s a little battery operated toy into which you put soap solution into this small reservoir in the handle and it the shoots out a steady stream of bubbles. It’s pretty cool.

Holding the hose, Milo told me that he needed to put more water in the bubble gun as it was running low. It was obvious that he thought the hose nozzle in his hand was the perfect tool for the job. I agreed, but only if he let me help him. We selected the gentlest, most faucet-like spray setting, I unscrewed the reservoir and held it up as Milo pointed the nozzle toward the hole. Before I had a chance to help him gently open the flow of water, Milo cranked the sucker fully open. Water hit the edge of the reservoir and splattered everywhere, including all over Papa’s face.

Milo laughed hysterically at Papa.

Papa did not laugh. I very quietly and honestly said, “Papa’s not happy about that.”

What happened next was fascinating. Milo dropped the hose and ran about five feet away and turned away from me. He then sheepishly turned to look at me, brow furrowed. “I didn’t do it!” he cried emphatically.

Once again, in a soft and gentle voice I asked, “Well, if you didn’t do it, who did? You were the one holding the hose.”

He then slunk back to me with his head bowed. He picked up the hose.

“I didn’t mean to,” he said in almost a whisper.

I know little man. I know. It’s such a complex lesson for a three-year-old to grasp. Papa was unhappy about the consequences. As the adult in this situation, I fully knew the risk of filling a small, four ounce reservoir with a garden hose, and it was my choice to allow the calculated risk. Being frustrated with the outcome does not mean I am mad at you. I know you didn’t mean to, and I wasn’t mad at you. You misunderstood my reaction. There was no need to run in shame and deny pulling the trigger. To be honest, Papa’s observed many adults making the same basic misunderstanding as you just did without comprehending their reaction any more than you. You’re forgiven, little man, for misunderstanding.

Nevertheless, there was a spiritual lesson present in the moment.

Why do I do the things that I do?
Why do I say the things that I say?
Why do I make the choices I make?

Along my life journey, I’ve discovered that the answer to these questions is critically important both for my understanding of self and my understanding of others.

Today’s chapter is one of the most dramatic in the entire Great Story. The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders has been escalating. Some had tried to stone him for blasphemy the last time He was in Jerusalem. The largest religious festival of the year, Passover, was just a week or two away. Jesus gets word that His friend, Lazarus, has died at his home in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. Despite the disciples pleas to stay away from the area for Jesus’ own safety, Jesus returns to Bethany to find Lazarus dead four days, his body already entombed. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in front of a large crowd. Lazarus had been a prominent man, and Jews from Jerusalem had come to mourn with Lazarus’ sisters. They immediately report the astonishing miracle to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. This is a major event in driving the climactic events of Jesus betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion.

There are so many great moments and spiritual lessons in today’s chapter that lie within the story of the miraculous raising of Lazarus. The verse that resonated most with me was that of the response of the religious leaders upon hearing the astonishing news of a man who was dead being brought back to life.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

In making this statement, they laid bare their motivation.

They are afraid.

Afraid of losing their worldly power.
Afraid of their prestige being diminished.
Afraid of losing face with the hated Romans occupiers.
Afraid of life without the lucrative income of their religious racket.
Afraid of change to their staunch traditions and what that mean.

They were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation, but their fear of losing all that they were, all that they had, and their desire to cling to all of it, was far greater than the desire to acknowledge and accept what God was clearly doing and saying in and through Jesus.

What a contrast to Jesus’ followers who let go of everything to follow Him. Their desire to seek what God was doing overcame any fear of what they might be giving up or fear of the challenges they might face.

In the quiet this morning, I’m searching my own motivations. In the previous chapter’s post, I wrote: “Actions reveal identity.” They do, but the identity doesn’t lie in the actions themselves, but in the motivations that spawned them. The motivations that often remain hidden and/or ignored.

As I look back on my own journey, I can see how shame motivated so many of my actions and choices through so much of my life. Along my spiritual journey, I’d like to think that my desire to follow Jesus and discover who I was created to be and who I am yet called to be has overcome that long ignored shame that drove so many unhealthy thoughts, words, behaviors, and choices in my early years. And, if I’m honest, still creeps in more than I care to admit.

“Old things pass away,” Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth in discussing the spiritual transformation that takes place when in relationship with Him. My own experience is that some “things” pass away like a swift execution while other “things” pass away in a long, painful, lingering, and palliative process.

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

Words and Works

Words and Works (CaD John 10) Wayfarer

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

John 10:24-26 (NIV)

Wendy and I have been regular readers of the Wall Street Journal forever. The New York based newspaper is one of a few newspapers to have had subscribers across the entire nation, even before the dawn of the digital age.

One of the things that we have noticed across the years is that you can take the Wall Street Journal out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the Wall Street Journal. The content, from news to opinion to lifestyle are clearly New York City centric and cater to wealthy business professionals in Manhattan who have always been the key constituency in their subscriber base. What this means, however, is that Wendy and I often shake our heads over morning coffee here in small town Iowa. The Wall Street Journal clearly doesn’t get life in fly-over country (even when they visit every four years for the Iowa caucuses) where life and business are still largely centered around agriculture and people see life differently based on a very different daily life experience.

In the same way, it’s often challenging for a 21st century reader to understand the context of a first century story-teller, but it’s not impossible. Learning the context reveals often profound understanding.

God’s base language is metaphor, and in today’s chapter Jesus uses one metaphor in two different messages He presents in the Temple in Jerusalem: the Shepherd. Shepherds and sheep were understood by all of Jesus’ listeners back in the day. Sheep were a staple in their lives for both food, clothing, and the religious system. In fact, the metaphor of the Shepherd was not new to Jesus. It’s all over the place in the ancient Psalms and the messages of the prophets in which God revealed Himself as the “Shepherd of Israel,” the religious leaders were, likewise, to “shepherd” God’s people, and the coming Messiah was prophesied to be a true Shepherd to care for God’s people. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. Shepherd is an important metaphor in the Great Story.

In Jesus’ word picture, He is both a gate by which sheep go out to pasture and return to the safety of their home, and the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep because they are His sheep. He is not a thief, robber, or rustler who seeks to steal sheep for their own selfish aims.

John then moves the narrative to another time Jesus was teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem during another national religious festival in which he again uses the metaphor of Shepherd and sheep. There is still tremendous debate and division over Jesus true identity. He is asked plainly: “Are you the Messiah, or not?”

Jesus responds with an interesting statement: “I told you already, not with words, but by my actions, my works, and my signs. You didn’t get it because you’re not my sheep.”

Actions reveal identity.

Jesus says basically the same thing as He did in the previous chapter, but with a different metaphor:

I Am the Light of the World:
– There are blind who I make see
– There are those who see who I cause to go blind

I Am the Good Shepherd:
– My sheep know my voice and follow
– Those who don’t know my voice don’t follow; Not my sheep

What really stuck out to me, however, was that His true identity was revealed by words or claims but by works and deeds. It is the same thing Jesus told The Twelve later: They’ll know you’re mine, not by your claims, but by your love for one another. Jesus’ brother, James, would pick up on this in his letter to the exiled followers of Jesus scattered across the Roman empire: “Faith by itself, with no action, is dead. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that even when Jesus was walking the earth performing signs and wonders, there were many who remained blind and deaf to His message. Why should I think that it would be any different today? I’m also reminded that my claim to be a follower of the Good Shepherd is basically worthless. Jesus said so Himself. It is those acts of love, grace, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness that mark me as one of His sheep.

Time for this sheep to do my best to reveal my faith in action, and not just these words, on this another day of the journey.

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

Stupid Question (Or Not)

Stupid Question (or Not) (CaD John 5) Wayfarer

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
John 5:6 (NIV)

Thirty-seven years he’s been an invalid. His family carried him to the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem and dropped him off to chill with all the other handicapped people.

Archaeologists have identified the place. I’ve been there. Historians tell us that the handicapped would often congregate around pools and springs in ancient times. Gentile shrines of that day, dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, often contained pools. The pool of Bethesda was said to have had healing properties. It was believed that when the water in the pool appeared to have been “stirred by an angel” the first person into the water would be healed. Archaeologists say the pool was roughly the size of a football field. Imagine how many handicapped and lame people would be along side waiting for an angel to stir the water. Besides, it was the Passover, and hundreds of thousands of spiritual pilgrims were in the city that week.

There he sat on his mat in the crowd, as he had been doing every day for…how many years? I have to believe he knew the regulars. They were his homies, his posse, the other “broken” people who were a drain on their families and society in general. The lame, paralyzed, blind, deaf, and dumb masses had all been told that something was wrong with them. Not just physically, but spiritually.

“You must have sinned.”
“Your parents must have sinned.”
“Bad seed.”
“Cursed by God.”

So they would gather and wait for Gabriel to stir the drink. Had anyone really ever been healed by dropping in the drink when they spied a ripple? What if they couldn’t swim? Archaeologists say the pool was 20 feet deep. Are you really going to throw yourself in to drown? I don’t think there was a lifeguard.

Into this scene walks Jesus. He’s still relatively unknown in Jerusalem, especially among the masses of Passover pilgrims. He walks up to the man and asks…

“Do you want to get well?”

On the surface, it appears a stupid question to ask a handicapped person.

The further I’ve progressed in my Life journey the more I’ve come to appreciate the endless depth of that question.

“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has become your identity. These are your people. This pool is your home. Do you really want to leave the only life you’ve known for almost 40 years?

“Do you want to get well?” Because being handicapped has made you special all these years. No pressure to provide. Everyone is required to care for you. Do you really want to go back to being just another regular schmo like the minions who pass by the pool and pretend not to see you every day?

“Do you want to get well?” Because the moment you step back in your family’s house they will say, “You’ve got to get a job tomorrow morning and start contributing instead of taking from the family all these years.” Seriously, do you want to labor every day in the quarry with your brothers, or would you rather just hang here with your homies?

“Do you want to get well?” Because there’s all sorts of passive aggressive power in playing the victim card.

“Do you want to get well?” Because being an oppressed minority can be an addictively powerful drug that justifies all sorts of nasty thoughts, feelings, words, and behaviors.

“Do you want to get well?” Because it’s really more comfortable to remain as you are rather than face the challenge of becoming the healthy, true self God is asking you to be.

Perhaps it’s not such a stupid question after all. Perhaps this is the question I should ask myself in all the stubbornly broken places of my own life.

Jesus heals the man. Reaching down to give the man a hand, Jesus says, “Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus lifts the man to stand on suddenly sturdy legs, then slips anonymously into the bustling crowd of passover pilgrims.

The man is immediately condemned by the religious leaders for breaking code 356, paragraph 6, sub-section 2, line 8 of the religious law book: Carrying your mat on the sabbath “day of rest.”

I mulled that over in the quiet this morning. The religious rule-keepers are suffering from a very different sickness and paralysis of Spirit. It is, nevertheless, very real. Completely ignoring the miraculous power that has been displayed and the life-changing event that the man has experienced, they squint their beady little self-righteous eyes to pick at a minor infraction of their fundamentalist rule-book.

I’ve observed along my own journey individuals and groups with this same spiritual illness.

“Do you want to get well?”

In the quiet this morning, I’m considering the possibility that I know more people who would answer the question with either “No,” or “But, I’m not sick” than the number of those I know who would sincerely answer, “Yes, I do.”

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