Tag Archives: Spirituality

“The People Said Nothing”

"The People Said Nothing" (CaD 1 Ki 18) Wayfarer

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.
1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)

Wendy and I had dinner with friends last night. Our friends’ children are in their college and young adult years, and we had a fascinating conversation about children and their spiritual journeys. It is quite common for the college and young adult years to be a time when one contemplates the belief system with which they’ve been raised, and begins to make their own determinations regarding matters of faith and spirit. For me, it was the emotional angst of adolescence that led me to search for what I really believed. I was a little ahead of the game compared to a lot of people’s experiences.

Today’s chapter contains one of the most fascinating and exciting episodes in the Great Story. Elijah urges the people of Israel to stop their duplicitous worship of Baal and Asherah and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the worship of the God of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Interestingly, Elijah’s appeal receives no response.

The prophet then challenges 450 prophets of Baal to a competition. Sacrifices are prepared and prayers raised for fire to descend from heaven to burn the sacrifices. The God who answers with fire is the true God. Let the spiritual smackdown begin.

The prophets of Baal rave all day long. They dance, scream, cut themselves, and whip themselves into a religious frenzy, while Elijah talks trash from the sidelines. There isn’t so much as a spark. Elijah then repairs the altar of the Lord and prepares the sacrifice. He then soaks the sacrifice and the altar with water. After uttering a simple prayer, fire falls from heaven and consumes the altar and the sacrifice.

The people fall on their faces in awestruck fear and humility.

Along my life journey, I have observed many, many individuals whose faith appears to be like the people of Israel when Elijah made his appeal: non-commital and silently unresponsive. I observe many who go through the religious motions of maintaining membership, giving a little money, and regularly making an appearance for an hour or two. The other 165 hours of the week, however, are void of any tangible signs of faith.

God’s fiery demonstration on Mount Carmel, however, shook people to their core and motivated both change and commitment. I have often observed similar reactions in people when a life event or tragedy shakes them to the core, like that of being in college or on your own in the world without parental supervision. In the routine and complacency of everyday life, it’s easy to fall into spiritual atrophy. No matter what anyone says about my spiritual need, I just go about my life and don’t respond. It’s only when circumstances shake me to the core that I fall to my knees.

I’m reminded this morning that what God desires is not a complacent, silent, religious routine that has little impact on my daily life. What God desires is an ongoing relationship of spirit and conversation with me that informs and motivates my thoughts, words, and actions each and every day.

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

The featured image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

Blood and Covenant

Blood and Covenant (CaD Gen 9) Wayfarer

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…”
Genesis 9:8-9 (NIV)

As my maternal grandparents entered the home stretch of their earthly journeys, they faced difficult financial circumstances that led to a difficult decision. My grandfather’s medical needs were draining their savings which was threatening the financial security of my grandmother, who would most certainly survive my grandfather, possibly for years to come. A social worker suggested that one solution would be for my grandparents to legally divorce so that their finances would be legally split, allowing my grandmother to retain their savings under her name while my grandfather’s needs would be provided for by the State.

I was quite a young man at the time, and I have a vivid memory of my grandmother asking me what she should do. I remember it because it was the first time that I’d considered both the legality, spirituality, and the tradition of marriage. That led me to realize, perhaps for the first time, that while the institutions of both church and state are involved in the process of a couple getting married, there is absolutely no detailed prescription for marriage in the Bible other than addressing it as a basic, assumed relational construct of human familial relationship and cultural systems. So far in our chapter-a-day journey of Genesis the husband and wife relationship has been assumed but no where has there been discussion of ceremony, process, or particulars other than a man and woman leaving their respective homes and becoming “one flesh.”

So, the relational agreement between husband and wife is assumed and its process is not specifically prescribed in the Great Story. What the Great Story does address is the agreement(s) between God and humanity. In the ancient times they were called “covenants.” Once again, since we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, we are going to keep running into firsts, and in today’s chapter we come across the first “covenant” between God and humanity since expulsion from the Garden. God initiates and makes the covenant never to destroy all earthly life by natural catastrophe.

Just before this covenant, God establishes the sacredness of human life, and it is metaphorically established in blood, or “lifeblood.” The ancients recognized that when blood poured out of a person, they died. They made connection between blood and life.

So in today’s chapter God establishes the sacredness of “life,” “blood,” and “covenant.” And just as I mentioned that the flood was an earthly foreshadowing of what would be the spiritual sacrament of baptism, today’s events are an earthly foreshadowing of the spiritual metaphor in the sacrament of Communion:

Then [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:27-29 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning, I am once again awed by the connected themes of the Great Story from the very beginning. God is proactive, from the very beginning, in initiating a committed (a.k.a. covenant) relationship with humanity that will bring life in contrast to the death which came through disobedience and the breaking of relationship. And, God is still doing it as I remember each time I choose to step up and partake of the bread and cup as Jesus prescribed for his followers.

As for my grandparents, they chose not to take the social worker’s suggestion. My family helped to find other alternatives for them. That said, I told my grandmother that I did not believe a legal divorce on paper from the State of Iowa could ever nullify the spiritual bond of covenant and spiritual oneness or the chord of three strands woven between them and God. I believe that still. Matters of Spirit are deeper and more eternal than the reach of any human legal system on earth.

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

Order>Chaos>Reorder

Order>Chaos>Reorder (CaD Gen 6) Wayfarer

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
Genesis 6:5 (NIV)

Yesterday was a long day, but a very good day. I spent eight hours in the car with a member of my company’s Board of Directors. We drove to Minneapolis for our first in-person Board gathering since January of 2020. It also afforded me and the Board our first face-to-face meeting with a new member of our team. My colleague and I then drove back. It was a festive occasion in which I, as leader of our company, tried to make sure that the joy of being physically together and the opportunity to eat, drink, and share life in one-another’s presence took precedence over the less important, though seemingly more urgent, aspects of business.

“There is a time for every purpose under heaven,” the Sage of Ecclesiastes said. The purpose for this day was to bask for a moment in togetherness and enjoy the ever-living heck out of it.

It was only natural that our free, open, and meandering conversations led to discussions of the current landscape of life on earth. Observations and contemplation flowed around current events, corporate issues, COVID issues, supply chain issues, political issues, and tech issues. I’m personally grateful to have arrived home late last night to report to Wendy that the spirit of love, contemplation, and gratitude brought me home with a full soul despite the weariness of body.

Yesterday’s conversations, however, came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter. The landscape of life, my team members and I discussed, is full of chaos that has us all shaking our heads with both wonder and perplexity.

Yet this is why I love my chapter-a-day journey and my daily contemplation of the Great Story and the flow of eternity. It provides much needed perspective for the acute anxieties of the current moment.

Today’s chapter is the beginning of the four chapters which contain the story of Noah. We’re just five chapters in from the very beginning and just two chapters from the order and goodness of the Garden. How quickly everything has descended into chaos.

This is the first of a recurring cycle of life outside the Garden, “east of Eden,” and the inaugural appearance of a theme that perpetually reoccurs throughout the Great Story, and also my life journey:

Order —-> Chaos —–> Reorder

A marriage typically starts with a well-ordered wedding and honeymoon phase which then leads to the chaos of two very different individuals who are motivated in different ways learning how to reorder their world together. Families start as a relatively stable nuclear family system and can quickly become chaotically disordered by conflict, financial stress, infidelity, a rebellious child, a tragic loss. Sometimes the system is able to find reorder and remain intact. Other times the system splits and finds reorder in the creation of new systems. Businesses launch with an orderly business plan and bright hope for success only to flow into the chaos of competing interests, personality conflicts, and the disruptions of the marketplace that force restructure, reorganization, and renewed vision. Times of relative peace and stability fall into the chaos of societal change, international conflict, and the disruptions of war, drought, famine, disaster, pandemic, or revolution, only to eventually find their way to the next season of relative peace and order.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself encouraged by the simple pleasure of being face-to-face with my beloved colleagues in the same conference room and around the same lunch table. I’m also encouraged by the reminder of this grand macro-level theme of the Great Story. Order, chaos, reorder, is the natural flow of life on earth between the fall of humanity in Genesis chapter three and the new creation of the last two chapters of Revelation. I find that digesting the reality of this theme into my conscience helps me remember, in times of chaos, that the flow of life from order to chaos is a part of life’s reality on this earth, but reorder is a part of that flow as well and it will eventually follow even if it doesn’t look perfectly the way I desire.

On a more micro level, long days on the road for business are always a bit chaotic. I’m grateful to re-enter the reorder of a normal day in the office.

NOTE
A new message from this past Sunday, on Ecclesiastes 3, is now available on the Messages page.

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

Me and Babel 2.0

Me and Babel 2.0 (CaD John 17) Wayfarer

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
John 17:15-16 (NIV)

Earlier this year Wendy and I were on the back patio with friends late into the evening. One of the things we like to do in the dark of night is keep our eyes peeled for meteors, satellites, constellations, plants, and other interesting objects in the night sky. On that night I spotted a satellite, which basically looks like a moving star, trekking slowly from west to east. Then there was another one right behind it. I’d never seen two of them so close and moving in the same trajectory. Then came another, and another, and another, and another.

Pulling up the internet on my phone to find out what we were looking at, we learned that evening about the satellite train. The brainchild of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, it is a long string or “train” of 60 satellites that follow one another in orbit. SpaceX plan to eventually have 12,000 of them in low orbit to provide internet service everywhere from space. Fascinating.

It’s an amazing time to be alive and to make this earthly life journey. In the course of my lifetime, the world has arguably changed more rapidly and drastically than in any other time in human civilization. Advancements in technology and science are beginning to outpace our ability to comprehend the effects of all that it possible.

Along with the “progress” has come a sharp decline in the number of people who adhere to traditional Christian belief systems or attend institutional Christian churches. One of the things that I read consistently about this trend is the criticism that believers and churches in America haven’t done enough to address social justice issues and the problems of our world.

Today’s chapter is traditionally known in theological circles as “the high priestly prayer.” John records Jesus praying just before He was betrayed by Judas and arrested. In the prayer Jesus acknowledges two important things. First, that His followers are “not of this world.” In my experience, Jesus is acknowledging that those who follow Him have expanded their world-view beyond this earthly life to God’s eternal Kingdom. After acknowledging this, Jesus consciously chooses that His followers not be removed from this world, but protected from the same prince of this world that will see Jesus crucified within twelve hours of this prayer.

To quote Hamlet, “ay, there’s the rub.”

In this world, not of it. How do I, as a follower of Jesus, hold that tension?

That’s what my soul and mind are chewing on in the quiet this morning. And here are a few of my thoughts…

I confess that critics of Christianity are not wrong. Followers of Jesus and the institutional churches of history have not done enough adhere to personally fulfill Jesus’ mission of crossing social boundaries, loving the outcast, and caring for the poor. Mea culpa.

At the same time, history has taught me that revolutions and reformations typically paint complex realities with broad-brush generalizations, and then throw babies out with the bathwater. Despite the moans and wails of how awful of a state the world is in, here are a few undisputable facts:

  • In 1966 (the year I was born), 50% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. In 2017, that’s dropped to 9% despite population growth.
  • When my parents were young, average life expectancy was between 30-40 years. In two generations it’s risen to 72, and still climbing.
  • In 1975, 58% of children with cancer survived. By 2010, it was 80%.
  • In 1980, 22% of one-year-olds received at least one vaccination. In 2018 the percentage was 88%.
  • In 1970, 28% of the world’s population was undernourished. In 2015 that number had dropped to 11%.
  • In 1900, roughly 40% of children died before the age of five. By 2016 the percentage was down to 4%.
  • In 1980, 58% of the world’s population had access to a protected water source. By 2015 the number was 88% and climbing.

It’s easy to cast a stone at the institutional church, its members, and cast stones regarding all that it hasn’t done. I also know many believers in my own circles of influence who, led by their faith in Jesus and dedication to His mission, have given their lives to contribute to the numbers I’ve just quoted.

Scott and Marcia have helped mobilize native efforts in Eswatani Africa to care for unwanted babies, lower the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water, and improve agricultural yields to feed the local population.

Tim and an entire host of individuals in our local gathering of Jesus followers have done a similar work in Haiti. Learning from the mistakes of the past, they are helping native Haitians create sustainable and healthy life and community systems.

My college suitemate, Tim, has dedicated most of his career to helping care for impoverished children and single mothers around the globe. He’s now leading a non-profit to address the 12% of the world’s population that still need a protected water source.

I have long believed that with the technological age I may just be witnessing humanity’s next great attempt at building a tower of Babel. Instead of bricks and mortar, we’re using processors, fiber optics, CRISPR, and satellite trains. The goal is the same: nothing is impossible, and we ascend to be our own god. I find it fascinating to observe what I perceive to be “Babel 2.0” is that we largely still speak the same language but our transmission and translation are increasingly confused. What one intends to say, what they say, and what the other hears and interprets to have been said are incongruent. Language is hijacked and redefined in a moment by part of the population. New words are created, defined, and trend within one part of the population while everyone else in the population failed to notice. They are therefore ignorant and confused when they are discussed.

So what does this mean for me today? I don’t run an institution, nor do I want to. I am a follower of Jesus and, as such, I have a world-view that sees beyond this world and incorporates God’s Kingdom into my earthly existence. I seek to accomplish His mission of “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth” and I take that responsibility seriously. This earthly journey is not about biding my time until death and eternity, but rather trying to bring a Kingdom perspective into my every day intentions, choices, work, actions, and relationships.

I am in this world, a world which remains the dominion of the prince of this world, which is why Jesus prayed for my protection on that fateful night. Jesus asks me to affect this world with love, service, and generosity that He exemplified. He told His followers to be “shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove.”

And so, I enter another day of the journey with those intentions.

Note:
Three messages have been added on the Messages page. Click here

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

(WW) My 20,000th Birthday

(WW) My 20000 Birthday! Wayfarer


I’m publishing this podcast on my 20,000th birthday. I’m 20,000 days old today. When I was a young man my mentor encouraged me to “number my days.” Years later he asked me if I’d be willing to speak at his funeral and share about the things I learned in doing so. I’m sorry to say I didn’t have the opportunity to do that, but I’m sharing it with you in this podcast.

(WW) The Way of a Disciple

(WW) The Way of a Disciple Wayfarer

This Wayfarer Weekend Podcast: A return from COVID, and the way of a “disciple” including the verticle and the horizontal.

(WW) One Word

This Wayfarer Weekend Podcast: Trivial Pursuit, Naked Tenders, Synergy, Magnanimity, Thomas Aquinas, Kenosis, Quarantine, Peter Heck, English Premier League, and Ted Lasso as we discuss “One Word.”

(WW) One Word Wayfarer

Conversations with Life (Part 2)

On this Wayfarer Weekend podcast, the second-half of my chat with Matthew Burch. As a therapist, consultant, and advisor, Matthew believes that everyone is having a conversation with life. We continue to unpack what that means.

(WW) Conversations with Life (Part 2) Wayfarer

Matthew Burch is the founder of Life Leadership in Pella, IA.

Conversations with Life (Part 1)

On this Wayfarer Weekend podcast, we welcome Matthew Burch. As a therapist, consultant, and advisor, Matthew believes that everyone is having a conversation with life. We’re going to unpack that notion over the next two Wayfarer Weekend podcasts.

(WW) Conversations With Life and Matthew Burch (Part 1) Wayfarer

Matthew Burch is the founder of Life Leadership in Pella, IA.

Breaking a Stiff-Neck

Breaking a Stiff-Neck (CaD Ex 33) Wayfarer

For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’”
Exodus 33:5 (NRSVCE)

One of the ironies of this period of COVID-19 pandemic is that everyone has been stuck inside with nothing to do, but because the quarantine includes actors, crews, studios, and production companies there’s been nothing new to watch on television! So, Wendy and I have been extra excited to have new episodes of Yellowstone airing the past three weeks.

If you haven’t watched Yellowstone, it’s about the patriarch of the largest ranch in the United States that also happens to be some of the most valuable and sought after land in the world. Kevin Costner plays the widowed, wealthy, and powerfully connected rancher John Dutton who struggles to control his dysfunctional family and protect his ranch from a host of enemies who want to take him down and get their hands on his land. Wendy and I have both observed that it’s a lot like a modern-day Godfather, but rather than Italian mobsters in New York it’s cowboys in Montana.

One of the subtle, recurring themes in the show is that of wild horses that need to be broken. In the first season, we’re introduced to Jimmy, a drug-addicted, two-strike loser going nowhere. As a favor to Jimmy’s grandfather, Dutton takes Jimmy on as a ranch-hand. In an iconic moment, Jimmy is tied and duct-taped onto a wild horse that no one else could break. All-day long Jimmy is bucked, spun, and tossed on the back of the horse. By the end of the day, the horse is finally broken, and so is Jimmy.

Today’s chapter is a sequel to yesterday’s story of the Hebrew people abandoning Moses, and the God of Moses, by making an idol for themselves and reverting to their old ways. In response, God calls the people “stiff-necked” (other English translations and paraphrases use words like “stubborn’ or “willful”). One commentator I read stated that the imagery of the original Hebrew word was an ox, bull, or another animal that was unbroken and wouldn’t yield to being yoked. I couldn’t help but think of poor Jimmy duct-taped to that horse.

One of the things I’ve observed in certain human beings is an unbroken spirit. I recall Wendy sitting with a toddler who was determined to climb up our bookcase at the lake which, of course, would have been a dangerous thing to do. The little one had revealed a habit of willfully proceeding whenever an adult said “No.” Wendy sat there and repeatedly pulled the child’s hand and foot off of the bookcase over, and over, and over again as she gently and firmly repeated: “No.” I remember Wendy explaining to the child that she would sit there all day and repeat the process until the child understood. The child cried, wailed, and threw a tantrum in frustration as Wendy calmly continued to deny the toddler’s willful, stiff-necked desire.

Of course, adults can be simply grown-ups who are stuck in childish patterns of thought and behavior. One of the most fascinating things about the story of the early Jesus movement is the transformation in the strong-willed, stiff-necked followers such as Peter, Paul, and John. With each one there was a process involved in the spiritual transformation that included moments of their strong-wills being broken and their spirits humbled as they learned what Jesus meant when He said things like “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” and “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.”

In the quiet this morning I am looking back on my nearly 40 years as a follower of Jesus. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Life has tossed me around a time or two. Some stretches of the journey felt like I was spinning in place. But I’ve come to realize that the spiritual journey is just me being poor Jimmy on that horse. I’ve found God to be a lot like Wendy at that bookcase repeatedly and gently telling a childish, stiff-necked Tommy “No.” The breaking of my will is a prerequisite for discovering God’s.

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