Tag Archives: Spiritual

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.

Contrasts

Contrasts (CaD John 4) Wayfarer

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
John 4:7 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve observed in life is the way human beings see others and then begin to identify self in contrast to others. I see myself in contrast to what others seemingly have, or have not. I see myself in contrast to how others live, where they live, what they look like, how they dress, their social status, their education, their economic status, their popularity, their influence, their dress, and yes, even the color of their skin. If I’m not careful, I can begin to identify myself by what I’m not rather than what I am.

In my journey through John’s biography of Jesus, I’ve been resonating on the theme of identity, and in yesterday’s chapter and today’s chapter there is an interesting contrast between the individuals to whom John chooses to introduce us.

Nicodemus was rich and powerful. The Samaritan woman was not.

Nicodemus was educated. The Samaritan woman was not.

Nicodemus had social standing. The Samaritan woman was an outcast.

Nicodemus was known. The Samaritan woman remains anonymous.

Nicodemus was an influencer. The Samaritan woman was a nobody.

Nicodemus met Jesus at night. The Samaritan woman met Jesus at noon.

It was socially acceptable for Jesus to speak with Nicodemus, but it was socially unacceptable for Jesus to speak with a woman or a Samaritan.

Nicodemus was religiously upright. The Samaritan woman was a sinner.

Nicodemus didn’t get Jesus. The Samaritan woman did.

There is so much happening in the subtext and contrast of these two encounters that I think I could chew on it all day. If I was doing a character study in preparation to portray either of these individuals on stage, I would likely conclude that Nicodemus’ perception of himself was rather haughty given his place in position in contrast with others. It’s hard for me to believe that the poor woman in a patriarchal system, racially outcast, with five failed marriages on her resume would have a particularly positive self-image.

How does my self perception affect my spiritual perception?

I have to confess that my earthly standing is closer to that of Nicodemus. How does that affect my spiritual receptors, my image of self, and my grasp of the divine? At the same time, my life is riddled with failures. I’m regularly reminded that people think I’m an idiot. I’ve even been told by others more religious than me that I am, in fact, going to hell (complete with scriptural references to prove it). What does that do for my self-image and my spiritual perceptions?

In the quiet this morning, my head and my heart are contemplative as they churn on these questions. As I look back on my journey as a follower of Jesus, I recognize that it has been a process of learning who I truly am in relationship to who Jesus truly is. It has been a process of both knowing myself and knowing God, and the two are as mysteriously and intricately interwoven as the circle dance of Father, Son, and Spirit. I can also see that the further I’ve progressed in this journey, the more the contrast with others, which dominated my self-perception for so long, transforms into my growing perception of seeing Jesus in every other person.

Birth, and Identity

Birth, and Identity (CaD John 3) Wayfarer

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
John 3:3 (NIV)

A prestigious and knowledgable religious leader named Nicodemus makes a clandestine visit to Jesus in the dark of night. He wants to question this young rabbi from fly-over country who everyone is talking about.

Jesus begins his conversation with the well-educated religious man with a very simple metaphor: you need to experience a re-birth. You need to be born one more time.

Nick didn’t understand.

Jesus then simply explained that, just as there is a birth of our physical bodies, there is also a birth of Spirit.

Born…again.

One of the things that I’ve observed along my life journey is that words or phrases themselves are metaphors. The the printed squiggly lines I read in a book or the little pixelated lines I are read on a laptop screen are just that: squiggly lines. Consider this series of lines: c-a-t. Those lines are not literally a furry, purring pet. Yet we understand the lines to represent letters, which represent sounds which, when put together represent words, to which we have attached a certain meaning. And, the meaning of words and phrases can be layered. One word can have a myriad of numbered definitions in the dictionary.

My friend, Dave, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the “dictionary wars” in European history when different institutional power brokers were seeking to ensure that their dictionary became the authoritative one. They sought to control the meaning of words. It was understood by these power brokers of the world that those who control the language (and, by extension, the message) will ultimately control the masses.

I observe this in our current culture, as well. Words and terms are being used in political discourse, but they mean different things to the individuals using them and listening to them on opposite sides of the political divide. We’re having arguments with the same words to which we’ve attached different meanings. I’m also witnessing that words and terms that have always meant one thing to me have been redefined by groups within the culture. New words and terms are also being created and used within one sub-culture that are completely unknown by other sub-cultures. It’s no wonder we’re having trouble communicating with one another.

Words and terms also matter in this theme of identity that I see threaded throughout John’s biography of Jesus. I use words and terms to both identify myself to others, and to identify other individuals and groups. Those words and terms are layered with the meaning I’ve attached to the term, as well as my opinions, my experiences, and my emotions. The term “Born again Christian” is layered with different meanings to different people.

Which is why I almost chose to ignore it when I read today’s chapter. Writing about the metaphor “born again” feels a bit like walking into a mine field blind-folded. Yet, I found the simple metaphor Jesus shared with Nicodemus to resonate deeply within me. Jesus wasn’t talking about politics, religion, or a particular demographic therein.

I believe that Jesus was using the transformational experience of physical birth to describe an equally transformational spiritual experience to which He was leading people. I’ve experienced it. I’ve known many others who have experienced it. It’s at once simple and yet hard to explain. I imagine it’s not unlike Jeff Bezos or Sir Richard Branson trying to describe the experience of weightlessness to my earthbound mind that has never experienced it.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself trying to strip away all of the layers of meaning and emotion that our culture attaches to the term “born again.” Like U2 trying to steal Helter Skelter back from what Charles Manson made of it, I want to get back to a simple word picture Jesus gave to a spiritually blind religious man.

“You were born physically, Nick. But there’s also a Spirit birth that you have yet to experience. Don’t you see? You’re spiritually trapped in the womb of your earthbound humanity. Once you’ve experience your Spirit birth, you’ll be an infant with an entirely new Life open to you to experience. A new identity. Old things will pass away. Entirely new things will come to you.”

Just Like My Ol’ Man

Just Like My Ol' Man (CaD John 1) Wayfarer

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
John 1:12-13 (NIV)

I was on my first major business trip since covid this past week. While on the road and having some extra time on my hands, I continued a seemingly endless task of organizing a massive archive of personal and family photos. Yesterday, I posted a photo on social media that I came across during this process. It’s a photo of my parents taken in 1976. Friends were quick to comment how much I look like my father, a reality that has become increasingly obvious the further I progress on this earthly journey.

Dean and Jeanne Vander Well, Le Mars, IA, January 1976

Identity is a theme at the very heart of John’s biography of Jesus. In fact, it’s present throughout the opening chapter on a number of levels.

At the time of the original Jesus movement, the followers of Jesus were navigating two prevailing schools of thought: Jewish and Greek. It happened that philosophers in both schools chewed on a concept of the Greek word, logos which is literally translated as “word” but was understood to metaphorically mean something much greater in importance.

The Greeks understood logos to be a rational principle that governs all things. Jewish scholars, on the other hand, considered logos to be the “word” of God which created the world and governs it, equating it to the eternal “law” which existed before creation and was revealed to humanity through Moses.

In the opening of his first-hand witness account of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, John submits to his readers a “yes, and.” The eternal Logos is eternal, creator, provider of life and light, sustainer, and was made “flesh and blood” and came to live in the neighborhood.

The fact that this happened, John goes on to explain, has important ramifications for me: the opportunity to be transformed into the spiritual progeny of the divine. John foreshadows what Jesus will tell Nicodemus a couple of chapters into his account: there is a spiritual birth that is every bit as real as the physical one I experienced. There is a spiritual life that is every bit as real as my physical one. There is a spiritual family that is every bit as real as my physical one, complete with resemblance to my Father.

I love John’s version of Jesus’ story. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each have their own takes. John’s was written about 30 years later than the other three. John, the only one of The Twelve to live to old age and die a natural death (the rest were killed for their faith), is writing from a place of deeper wisdom and greater life experience. He has witnessed the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic claim that not one stone of Jerusalem’s temple would remain standing. He has grieved the deaths of all his companions. He sees with greater fullness and discernment all that Jesus had said and done. And he communicates it in a beautifully themed and structured work that was lifetime in development.

It was just over 40 years ago that I experienced the spiritual “birth” John introduces in today’s chapter. I look back with deeper wisdom and far more life experience than I had in the heady days of my youth. The DNA that gave me a striking resemblance to my father has been passed on to two generations. When Taylor did one of those online apps that shows you “what you look like as the opposite sex” she discovered that she’s basically a female version of me. Likewise, I found a photo of two-year-old me on my grandfather’s lap that looks astonishingly like my grandson Milo.

I’d like to think that the spiritual resemblance to my heavenly Father has become increasingly clear over those forty years, as well:

more loving and less judgmental
more joyful and less pessimistic
more peaceful and less fearful
more patient and less condemning
more kind and less spiteful
more goodness and less selfish
more gentle and less abrasive
more faithful and less dismissive
more self-controlled and less driven by appetites and emotions.

When it comes to who I am in the Spirit, I desire nothing more than to be identified by my resemblance to my Ol’ Man and my brother, Jesus.

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

Peeling the Onion

Peeling the Onion (CaD James 3) Wayfarer

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
James 3: 14 (NIV)

I have discovered along my spiritual journey that spiritual growth is a lot like peeling an onion. Every time I work to peel off a layer of pride and selfishness in my life, there’s always a deeper layer waiting underneath. Motives, thoughts, behaviors, and/or actions that I never even perceived or considered before. As the prophet, Jeremiah, stated, there is no end to our sinful human natures.

In my pursuit of spiritual progress, I’ve learned that self-awareness is an essential ingredient. I am consciously and consistently attempting to monitor my feelings, thoughts, desires, and appetites. As I do so, I begin to see patterns emerge, which typically lead me to important discoveries about myself.

Wendy is an audiobook and podcast junkie. Whenever she’s doing something by herself, her ear bud is in and she’s listening to something. We typically have conversations about things we’ve been reading, listening to, and thinking about. I began to notice an intense negative reaction in my spirit whenever Wendy would speak about certain authors and podcasters. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard style reaction. As I became aware of these feelings, it begged the question:

What is that about?

Time to start peeling back another layer of the onion.

I contemplated my intense negative feelings and I made two important connections. First, this person Wendy mentioned she was listening to was currently an “It” person in popular culture. It wasn’t just Wendy mentioning the name. It was a name I was hearing mentioned from multiple people in my circles of influence. Second, this was a person I’d never even heard of until recently and suddenly this person had what seemed a proportionately huge mindshare of people around me.

So, what? Why did this seem to irritate me so much? Next, I began to contemplate what I know about myself.

I’m an Enneagram Type Four, which means that my core motivation is to find purpose and/or significance.

Could it be that my reaction was nothing more than envy that this person has successfully achieved a level of significant influence that I never have and never will?

Is it possible that my self-awareness has observed a very human reaction rooted in jealousy?

Am I witnessing selfish-ambition at work in me, desiring the purpose and significance another person has found at the expense of contentment in the purpose and significance to which I am called?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Mea culpa.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

In today’s chapter, James urges Jesus’ followers not to “harbor” bitter envy and selfish ambition. (Note: the Greek word translated “harbor” is echo. There’s more to unpack there.) This is where self-awareness leads to growth. Ever since making this discovery about myself, I’ve begun to not just feel these emotions when they occur, but to actually process them. First, I confess to the emotion and it’s root cause in me. Second, I remind myself of the path and purpose to which I’ve been called and led in my own journey. Finally, I typically say a silent prayer of blessing and gratitude for this person and the good purposes God has for them, and then express gratitude for the person I am, and purposes God has for me. I then confirm my desire and commitment to fulfill those purposes, no matter what they may be, for God’s glory.

This process has helped me to stop harboring envy and selfish ambition, and to send them sailing off into the sea of forgetfulness.

Another layer peeled.

On to the next.

Pressing on.

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

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.