Tag Archives: Story

Michal in Perspective

Michal in Perspective (CaD 2 Sam 6) Wayfarer

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:20 (NIV)

Writing plays has been a great learning experience for me. One of the creative challenges that I’ve had to embrace is that every character in the play has a unique “voice” that comes from a back story the audience will never know or see. If I’m going to write a character well, then I have to understand that character’s story, person, and perspective. I’ve come to believe that I must truly love each character, even the unlovable ones if I am going to give them their true and authentic voice and words.

I’ve always said that God’s Message changes every time I read it not because it has changed but because I and my circumstances have changed since the last time I read it. As I read today’s chapter I suddenly realized that I was reading it through the eyes of a playwright. I’ve always read this chapter and focused on David’s “undignified” worship, but today I found myself focused on Michal’s rebuke of her husband. I’ve always read Michal’s words and thought, “Sheesh, what a wench!” This time through, however, my playwright’s brain began asking what was really going on between Michal and David. There’s a larger back story there that I have to consider. Michal and David seem to have been those people who had the seeds of affection doomed never to take root:

  • Michal had a young girl’s crush on the young stud warrior David.
  • Michal’s father sought to wed her to David, not because he wanted what was best for his daughter but because he saw she could be used as his pawn in a desire to follow the Michael Corleone playbook of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Michal obviously was not well-loved by her father. He saw his daughter as a “snare” for his enemies.
  • Despite any teenage affections between them, David initially rebuffs being betrothed to her on the grounds he wasn’t worthy to marry the king’s daughter. I wonder how that made her feel?
  • Saul gives David a “price” of earning his betrothal to Michal by bringing him 100 Philistine foreskins (Gross, I know. It was a brutal time in history). Saul figured David would be killed in the attempt, but instead, David brings back two hundred Philistine foreskins to claim Michal. Pissed off and humiliated, Saul tries to assassinate David, but his newly betrothed wife Michal helps him escape out a window.
  • David flees the area for many years abandoning Michal in the home of her mentally ill father. Saul marries Michal off to another man.
  • Many years later David shows up as the conquering hero. In a relational and political power play, David demands Michal be returned to him. Michal is then ripped away from the man she had been married to and made a home with. She is forcibly taken to David. Her husband follows in tears begging that he not be separated from her. I wonder whom Michal truly loved? Was it her husband who was begging in tears not to lose her or the man who rejected and abandoned her and was now demanding her like she was a piece of impersonal property and a spoil of war?
  • We are told that Michal had no children until the day of her death. I am ashamed to confess that in my ignorance I have always seen this fact as some sort of divine punishment for Michal. I can’t see it that way now. I hurt for Michal and the difficult circumstances in which she was placed by her culture, her mentally ill father, and her betrothed young husband who treated her with indifference and contempt. As I begin to see what a messed-up family system David creates as a tragically flawed husband and father, I begin to contemplate if Michal’s barrenness may have ultimately been for the best.

Michal’s rebuke of David’s actions may have seemed inappropriate on the surface of things, but in the quiet this morning I see how they may have been motivated by feelings of abandonment, rejection, anger, and bitterness. Given the circumstance and the backstory, I see why there was so much conflict between the two of them. Their story is a tragedy. I wish David would have been man enough and loving enough to allow Michal to live out her life in peace with the only man in her life who ever really seemed to love her.

A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m take a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014.

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

The “Uh-Oh” Moment

The "Uh-Oh" Moment (CaD 1 Sam 14) Wayfarer

Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country.”
1 Samuel 14:29a (NIV)

Have you ever been in a situation in which you suddenly realize that the person in charge has no business being the person in charge? I call it the “uh-oh” moment, as in “Uh-oh! If this is the person in charge, then all of us are in deep Shinola.”

There is an amazing scene in the mini-series Band of Brothers, based on the true story of a paratrooper company preparing for D-Day in World War II. Their company commander had turned them into one of the best units in the entire army, but he was a poor leader in the field. His men had their “Uh-Oh” moment as they contemplated jumping behind enemy lines with him in charge. They had no respect for him, and they knew that he would get them all killed. At the risk of being court-martialed and shot for committing treason, they wrote letters refusing to serve in combat under their commander. They were dressed down and punished, but the letters had their intended effect. The company commander was reassigned and a truly gifted leader rose up within the company to replace him.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel introduces two important themes in the story. First, we find that Saul’s son, Jonathan, is a courageous warrior, has qualities that his own father lacks, and the young man seems to have his act together. It is Jonathan who, by faith, acts on his own to attack the Philistines and unleash the panic that ultimately leads to Israel’s victory. This is contrasted with his father, Saul’s, own erratic and poor leadership. This is the other overarching theme of the chapter.

Saul starts to seek God’s guidance but then fears that waiting on a word from God could lose him the advantage so he acts on his own. Later, he follows through with seeking God’s guidance but then gets angry and impatient when God doesn’t answer. Saul foolishly makes his men swear an oath not to eat until the end of the fighting with the Philistines. As the battle does on all day, his men become famished and weary. Jonathan, who wasn’t even present when the men swore the oath, eats some fresh honey he finds in the field. When his fellow soldiers tell him about the oath his father made everyone swear, even Jonathan has an “Uh-Oh” moment as he realizes that his father’s leadership has only served to hurt their cause. When it becomes clear that Jonathan ate the honey, Saul acts to have his own son killed for insubordination. Jonathan’s fellow soldiers rise up against this injustice and demand that Saul refrain from carrying out the sentence. They recognize that it was Jonathan, not Saul, to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for the victory that day.

These early episodes in Saul’s career as Israel’s first king only foreshadow what is to come. Along my life journey, I’ve learned that leadership at all levels requires a certain tension between confidence and humility, between decisiveness and wisdom. Every leader makes mistakes, but I have observed a big difference between those who learn from their mistakes and those who are incapable or unwilling to do so. I read one commentator this morning who described Saul as an ego-centric leader. I thought that hit the nail on the head.

As I wrap up another work week this morning, I can’t help but once again think about my own leadership. I have been honored to hold many positions of leadership along life’s road. Here in the quiet, I can quickly think of times that others may have had “Uh-Oh” moments as I failed and made some serious mistakes. However, I’ve done my best to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. Failure is a powerful teacher if one has the wisdom to be taught.

I’m afraid we’re going to find out that Saul was a poor student.

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

Rogues Gallery

Rogues Gallery (CaD Rev 17) Wayfarer

The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.
Revelation 17:16 (NIV)

In my previous post, I drew upon a comic book character to discuss the topic of justice in relation to the justice God brings upon the earth with a trinity of judgments that culminates in seven bowls of God’s wrath. This morning, as I meditated on the chapter, I found myself once again finding the world of comic books an apt parallel.

In classic comics like Batman and Spiderman, we are introduced to a rogues’ gallery of antagonists with whom our superheroes wage a battle of good and evil. Occasionally, the writers will weave a storyline in which all of the bad guys join together to fight the intrepid hero or heroine.

In a similar way, today’s chapter reveals John being given a vision of a rogues’ gallery of earthly power-players bent on waging war on God and God’s people:

  • The “Great Prostitute”
  • The “Beast” on which she rides
  • Seven Kings that are also seven hills
  • An eighth King, the anti-Christ, allied with the Seven Kings
  • Ten Kings who have yet no kingdom, allied to the Beast

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, Satan (whom Jesus called the “Prince of this World”) showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in all their earthly power and splendor. The Prince of this World then offered to give them all to Jesus if Jesus would only bow and worship him. Jesus passed on the offer, knowing that His kingdom was “not of this world” and that He was sent on a mission with a much higher purpose.

The rapidly approaching climax of John’s Revelation, just like a great story or movie, has the key players from the beginning of the story and conflict advancing towards the story’s ultimate clash: God, the Serpent, and fallen humanity. Satan and his rogues’ gallery scramble for power and authority to wage this war.

What struck me as I read the chapter was the in-fighting among these earthly power players. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in Galatia, Paul listed the characteristics of those who live according to the Prince of this World: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.” When you have multiple players each driven by hatred, discord, and selfish ambition, it’s basically impossible to create any sustainable alliance toward a common goal. Evil always ends up imploding from the inside out as evil ones will always eventually turn on their own to satisfy their personal hatred, rage, and selfish ambition.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that in the earthly conflict of good and evil to which I am subject on this earthly journey, God continually reminds me to persevere and endure. Jesus passed up the quick and easy way to earthly power offered by the Prince of this World instead choosing instead to endure the suffering and death that led to a eucatastrophic resurrection and eternal power. So Jesus urges me to follow in His footsteps.

The opening verses of Hebrews 12 came to mind as I pondered these things:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)

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

Love and Justice

Love and Justice (CaD Rev 16) Wayfarer

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”
Revelation 16:1 (NIV)

This past Sunday, Wendy and I returned from spending almost two weeks at the lake. We are blessed to be able to work remotely and, it’s nice to get our work done and then be right there on the water when we’re finished. Over the past several trips to the lake we have been making our way through all of the Marvel Universe movies in chronological order of the Marvel Universe’s story arc. It’s been interesting to watch the movies in their proper order. There’s so much we picked up on in retrospect that was completely lost on us when we first saw each film in the theater.

I’ve personally loved this current age of superheroes in which Hollywood has made the comic book heroes of my childhood come to life on the screen. It’s been a lot of fun.

I remember in college when some buddies of mine introduced me to an entirely different genre of comic books. They were not the bright cape-wearing superheroes in spandex but dark and gritty heroes that stirred completely different kinds of emotions within me. They were anti-heroes. I confess that one of the anti-heroes that became a favorite of mine was the Marvel character Frank Castle, also known as The Punisher. Frank is a former cop whose family was brutally killed by the mob because they witnessed something they shouldn’t have seen. Frank becomes a vigilante bent on revenge. In a world in which corruption, power, and bureaucracy seem to protect evil from justice (e.g. we still don’t know who was on Epstein and Maxwell’s client list), there was something in the Punisher’s story that appealed to a very base desire for justice within me. I’ve asked myself many times what it is about the Punisher that resonates so deeply within me. Some would call the character of Frank Castle an “avenging angel.”

The metaphor of an “avenging angel” comes from the Great Story, of course. In particular, it comes from today’s chapter, which is why it brought the Punisher to mind. Seven final plagues, bowls of God’s wrath, are poured out on the earth, the unholy trinity [satan (dragon), anti-christ (beast of the sea), and anti-holy-spirit (beast from the earth)], and their unrepentant followers, including the “kings of the earth,” who continue to curse God through this period of judgment.

The bowls of wrath, once again, parallel Moses’ plauges on Egypt. The followers of the Unholy Trinity break out in festering sores, seas and rivers turn to blood, demonic frogs are unleashed, darkness descends, and hundred-pound hailstones fall from the sky. In the middle of these plagues, John records this:

Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
    you who are and who were;
for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

And I heard the altar respond:

“Yes, Lord God Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments.”

Wait a minute. The altar responded? Yes! If I go back to Revelation 6:9 it is under the altar that the souls of the martyrs (the innocents who were killed simply because they were God’s people) cry out. In Revelation 8:3, the prayers and cries of the innocents, unjustly suffering under the dominion of the Prince of this World and the kingdoms of this world throughout the history of the world, rise like incense before God’s throne.

This is the day of reckoning. Evil, injustice, pride, arrogance, and corruption are getting their “just desserts.”

The words of the psalmist came to mind:

We are given no signs from God;
    no prophets are left,
    and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, God?
    Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
    Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!

Psalm 74:9-11 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is the answer to the psalmist’s question. “I will wait no longer. The day of my wrath has come.”

At the end of today’s chapter, the “trinity” of God’s judgments and plagues on the earth are complete. Three is one of God’s numbers, the number of the Trinity. Seven is the number of “completeness.” Three sets of seven metaphorically “complete” God’s judgment on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the Great Story is a story of good versus evil. On this earthly journey, I have encountered both good and evil. In the news and in my social media feed I see both good and evil. The Great Story reveals God who is good, which means God is both loving and just. The final chapters of the Great Story tell of evil being finally and justly dealt with, once and for all.

And, I confess, this appeals to that same part of my soul that identifies with Frank Castle’s story in The Punisher.

In the meantime, this wayfaring stranger continues to press on in this earthly journey, one day at a time, following Jesus and determined to love my enemies and bless those who curse me, even as my soul cries out for justice on the earth.

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

Achilles’ Heel

Achilles' Heel (CaD Jud 14) Wayfarer

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
Judges 14:1-2 (NIV)

I was recently reading and proofing a business report that was written by a young colleague. One of the things I noted in his writing was the repeated use of a word that, though not incorrect, felt awkward in its use. In looking up the definition and etymology of the word, I discovered that the popularity of its usage in writing peaked a few hundred years ago.

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the origin and history of certain words and phrases. We commonly use terms that are rooted in epic stories from history. Shakespeare may have had more influence on the English language than anyone else. Many phrases we still use today came from Shakespeare’s works including “Break the ice,” “Too much of a good thing,” “Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve,” “Come what may,” “Fair play,” “Laughingstock,” “In a pickle,” and “Wild goose chase.”

Likewise, the term Achilles’ heel derives from the ancient, historical hero of Troy who lived in the same general era of history as Samson and was made famous by Homer’s Iliad. The seemingly invincible Greek warrior is felled by an arrow through his heel. To this day, we speak of a person’s “fatal flaw” as their “Achilles’ heel.”

Which came to mind as I read today’s chapter. The chapter continues the legendary story of Samson, a similarly legendary hero known for his feats of strength and amazing victories. In today’s chapter, the author of Judges introduces me to three important themes:

First, there is Samson’s amazing strength. This is his divine gift, as the author continually reminds us that each feat is sourced in the Spirit of God coming upon Samson at the moment. In today’s chapter, he tears apart a lion with his bare hands and then single-handedly defeats and plunders 30 Philistine men.

Next, there is the fact that Samson always acts alone. This continues the theme of his birth which made him singularly special and set apart by God for the tasks to which he was called.

Third, there is the introduction of Samson’s fatal flaw. Unlike Achilles, it is not a physical flaw, but a spiritual one. Samson has an uncontrollable appetite for Philistine women, the very people from whom he was born to deliver his nation. In today’s chapter, Samson merely sees a Philistine woman, is infatuated with her and he demands that his parents procure her as her wife. His parents object, but Samson is adamant.

It does not go well, which will be a recurring theme in the continuing story.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I began to think about my own life as the story it will become after I pass away. When my great-grandchildren are doing their family tree for a school project and ask their parents about great-papa Tom, what will the story be?

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking the question one layer deeper. In the story of great-Papa-Tom, what will be identified as my Achilles’ heel?

“You know son, Papa Tom wrote all the time. God was a big deal to him, and he was a preacher. He owned a research business. He was a good grandpa, but…

What will come after the “but”?

As I meditate on this in the quiet, I’m reminded that every human being, save One, has his/her own human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin. There will be something that comes after the “but…” in my story. I can’t escape it.

Which, according to the Great Story, is the very reason that Jesus came. Jesus even said, “I didn’t come to condemn the world.” Jesus came to make a way so that matter what comes after that “but…” in my earthly story as told by my descendants, in eternity there will be an additional “but…”:

but.. he is loved beyond all measure. He is forgiven. All of those human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin? They’ve been redeemed and made right by what Jesus did for him.

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

Living a Great Story

Living a Great Story (CaD Jud 13) Wayfarer

The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Judges 13:24-25 (NIV)

Our daughters happened to grow up as J.K. Rowling was writing and releasing the seven volumes of her epic Harry Potter series. Forgive the pun, but it did seem like a bit of a magical time. The story about Harry and his friends growing up, going through adolescence, and figuring out life was unfolding right along with our daughters’ own adolescent years. For their generation, the story was layered with meaning that perhaps no other generation will experience because it was happening right along with them. I’ve often thought that the entire series should ideally be gifted to a child, one book a year, from ages 11-17. Not that you could keep an inquisitive child from learning everything from movies, friends, and the internet.

Today’s chapter begins the final story of the five major judges raised up by God to deliver the Hebrew tribes from their enemies. The first four were Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and now Sampson. One of the things that I’ve learned about the ancient Hebrews is that the structure of their writing is typically as important to them as the content of it. Just as God metaphorically layers creation with meaning, the ancient Hebrews layered their writing with structural and mathematical meaning.

Just as with the psalm writers, the center is the core where you place the central theme. The author of Judges places Gideon, who represents the “ideal” Judge, and his son, Abimelek, who represents the antithesis. One step out from the center are two atypical leadership choices from each of Joseph’s tribes. The major Judges are bookended by two “loners” who single-handedly delivered the people from their enemies. They remind me of the achetype of the Lone Stranger I’ve written about before.

But there’s something different about Samson that sets him apart from the others which we see right from the beginning of the story in today’s chapter. Samson’s birth is divinely announced to a barren woman and he is “set apart” by God from the very beginning, much like Moses who escaped Egyptian infanticide. There’s something special about this one, which we will uncover in the coming days.

This brings me back to thinking about our daughters who as preteens began a story about a special baby with a lightning-bolt scar. Stories connect me to themes that are larger than myself. Stories connect me with others and provide source material for Life-giving conversations. Stories help me navigate my own life journey. This Great Story I’ve been trekking through again and again for over forty years is a collection of stories that connect me with God.

When my life journey is over, I will cross into eternity. Here on earth, I will become a story. I will become a story told by children to grandchildren shared with old photographs, snippets of video, and snatches of first-hand memories of moments we shared together once upon a time.

What will that story be, I wonder? What layers of meaning might my story have for the lives of those who hear it?

I guess that’s still somewhat undetermined. The story is still being written. It’s a work in progress.

How can I live a great story today?

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

Upstaging

Upstaging (CaD Jos 5) Wayfarer

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied…

Joshua 5:13-14a (NIV)

The actor had a bit part in a large musical I was in, but you’d have thought they had been given a starring role. They always had crazy ideas to make their character more noticeable, suggested to the director ways to “improve” the scene (and also give them a bigger moment on stage), and they had to be told ceaselessly to rein in their character.

In theatre, it’s officially called upstaging. In ancient times, stages were “raked” so that the back of the stage was raised and slanted down toward the audience. It was a technique that allowed the audience to better see the characters and action taking place at the rear of the stage. To this day, the back of the stage is referred to as “upstage” and the front of the stage by the audience is called “downstage.” Upstaging was, therefore, when an actor moves to where they are higher and better seen by the audience. They raise themselves to be more important than they really are.

Some mornings when I read a chapter, I find meaning in what is being shared across the episodes rather than within one of them. In today’s chapter, there are three distinct things being shared:

  • The fear of the local kings and city-states (vs. 1)
  • The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel (vs. 2-12)
  • The mysterious appearance of a lone stranger (vs. 13-15)

The first thing to really strike me was in the last episode. This mysterious figure appears with a drawn sword and introduces himself to Joshua as “Commander of the Army of the Lord.” When Joshua asks “are you for us, or for our enemies?” the reply was “Neither.”

“Neither?”

Aren’t the Hebrews God’s people? Didn’t they just affirm their covenant with God? Isn’t God leading them to the Promised Land?

Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s the point, I realized. What’s at issue throughout this chapter is the object. It’s easy for me to focus my eyes on God’s people, the same way I focus my eyes on myself and my earthly circumstances. But, the object of this unfolding Great Story is about what God is doing.

The Canaanite kings and peoples were afraid, not because of what the Hebrews had done, but because of what God had done for the Hebrews with His miracles.

The people renewed their covenant with God, and in doing so were reminded that it was God who initiated the covenant with their father, Abraham. It was God who delivered them from Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh. As they ate the produce of the Promised Land, they were reminded that it was God who provided manna for them for forty years to sustain them.

The Commander of the Army of the Lord then reminds Joshua that he and the Israelites are not the objects of his favor or obedience. God alone is whom he serves.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of just how self-centered I can be. I am the object of my own story, and I so often reveal that by my thoughts, words, and actions. My story, however, is ultimately what God has done for me, in me, and through me. My story is a bit part in God’s story.

God, forgive me for all the ways I both consciously and unconsciously try to upstage you.

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

Pivotal Moments

Pivotal Moments (CaD Joh 3) Wayfarer

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
Joshua 3:5 (NIV)

I will never forget that day. I had no real plan; No idea what I was going to do. As a husband and father of two rug rats under the age of five, this was not ideal. I just knew that I couldn’t remain in my current job. The circumstances had become untenable. So, I gave my notice.

That afternoon I was offered the job that has been my career for almost thirty years.

Driving home from the Village Inn restaurant where I’d been offered the position, I prayed for God’s direction. It wasn’t exactly a sure thing. The work might be inconsistent, as well as the income. It would require some faith that the business would grow along with my position. It felt precarious, and I asked God for guidance.

I remember the moment clearly. I was pulling in the driveway in my blue Volkswagen Fox. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon. It is one of a small handful of experiences in my life journey in which I received a clear and direct answer in my spirit. I can’t really explain it. I heard it clearly:

“Take this job. Stick with it. You will be blessed.”

It was a pivotal moment in my story. One chapter closed. A new chapter began.

Today’s chapter is incredibly significant in terms of the Great Story. It’s a climactic moment for the Hebrew people. One chapter of their story is ending, and a new one is beginning. It’s been about 750 years since God promised Abraham that his descendants would be numerous and inherit the land God showed him. It’s been an entire generation since the miraculous escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. The Hebrew nation is finally crossing over the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land.

God makes it clear to Joshua that He is doing three things in this event.

God is leading the way. The Ark of the Covenant was a metaphor for God’s power and presence. The fact that the priests carried the Ark into the Jordan first was a living reminder to God’s people that it was God leading them, and it was God on whom they should put their trust.

God is making the impossible possible. The miraculous holding back of the Jordan River’s waters echoes the crossing of the Red Sea and reminds God’s people that God’s power is still very much present as they begin this challenging new stretch of their journey. It also bookends their wilderness wanderings with two matching miracles, reminding them that the chapter of wandering is over and a new chapter is beginning.

God is sealing Joshua’s leadership in the eyes of the people. Moses had some mighty big sandals to fill. The stories of Moses’ exploits and the miraculous things God did through Moses were legendary. As the challenging conquest of Canaan begins, God makes it clear to His people that He can and will pour out His miraculous power through Joshua just as He had done through Moses.

In the quiet this morning, I’m looking back at my own life journey and the various stages of that journey: childhood, becoming a follower of Jesus, high school, college, marriage/fatherhood/pastoral ministry, returning home to Des Moines, career, the years of many moves, the dark years, the return, Pella, divorce, theatre, Wendy, lake, leadership, infertility, house, empty nest… In hindsight, I can see the thread of God’s presence, purposes, and guidance through each stretch. Yep, even “the dark years.”

This, in turn, reminds me that I can trust that same presence, purpose, and guidance on this day, and the road ahead until I reach the journey’s end and the “great crossing over” that ends my earthly wandering and begins a new, eternal chapter.

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

Finding Forrest

Finding Forrest (CaD Matt 13) Wayfarer

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Matthew 13:34 (NIV)

I have a confession to make. The first time that I saw the movie Forrest Gump I bawled like a baby on the way home. I remember being absolutely perplexed as I drove the tears pouring down my cheeks. I didn’t know why I was crying. I had no clue what it was about the movie that so obviously touched something so deep inside my soul.

Forrest Gump was released in 1994. That particular waypoint of my Life journey was an important one. I was 28 years old with two wee girls at home and a struggling marriage. My life was not turning out to be anything I expected it to be. I couldn’t see it at the time, but I was about to embark on the most important stretch of self-discovery of my life. It was a difficult stretch that would lead to some deep, dark valleys before I would find my way back to high places.

It would be twenty years or so before I would add a layer of self-understanding in learning about being an Enneagram Type Four. Equipped with that lens, my emotional reaction to Forrest Gump finally becomes clearer. An Enneagram Four’s core fear is that there is something hopelessly flawed in me, like Forrest’s diminished mental capacity which he can do nothing about. A Four’s core desire is to be special. The entire story of Forrest Gump is that of him being uniquely special, intersecting with the most famous people and moments of history, and most importantly having a life-changing impact on loved ones like Jenny and Lieutenant Dan. Forrest Gump tapped into core fears and desires I didn’t see at the moment. It resonated so powerfully and deeply within my being that I wept uncontrollably while having zero understanding why. I found a piece myself in the story of Forrest Gump. Such is the power of story.

In today’s chapter, Jesus speaks to the crowds following Him in a series of parables. They’re simple metaphorical stories and Matthew says that during this stretch of Jesus’ ministry He exclusively used them in teaching the crowds. Gone is the direct, plain language of the message on the hill. Jesus tells little stories about sowers, seeds, farmers, wheat, pearls, treasure, and weeds. Jesus tells His disciples that the purpose of the parables is to both reveal and conceal for spiritual purposes.

Jesus paints a simple story that draws listeners in. Once I am in, one of three things happens. First, I might not see, hear, or understand what Jesus is saying in the story. Whatever Jesus is talking about is concealed to me at this time. Second, I might find myself in the story. I am the seed that fell on the soil. I am the weeds springing up among the wheat. I am the woman who would sell everything she had in order to have the treasure Jesus is offering, and this understanding propels me forward in my spiritual journey. Third, I might find myself in the story and utterly reject what has been revealed.

In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic as I remember back to 1994. I thought that I knew so much about myself. I thought I knew so much about Jesus. Driving home from Forrest Gump weeping for unknown reasons was spiritual significant in ways I couldn’t see or understand. I found myself in the story, and it propelled my spirit forward on the journey to discover more.

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

#8: The Archetype of the Lone Stranger

Top Chapter-a-Day Post #8 (CaD) Wayfarer

Note: I’m on a holiday hiatus through January 9, 2022. While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to reblog the top 15 chapter-a-day posts (according to number of views) from the past 15 years. Cheers!

Originally published on August 8, 2017

The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?”

They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”

The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
2 Kings 1:7-8 (NIV)

Wendy and I have no cable or satellite television at our place on the lake. We can’t even get a digital broadcast signal. So, when we’re at the lake we tend to watch movies from our collection of DVDs. A while back we watched a young Clint Eastwood in one the spaghetti westerns that made him famous (The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, A Fist full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Hang ‘Em HighHigh Plains Drifter). His character became known to audiences as “the man with no name.” Clint Eastwood became the iconic lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and becomes justice incarnate.

The lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and brings justice on the gang of bad guys is a popular archetype in our stories and film. We see it in our classic heroes like The Lone Ranger and our comic book heroes like The Dark Knight. Clint Eastwood would continue to embody that archetype, updated for the “modern West” in his Dirty Harry movies of the 1970s. Akira Kurosawa used the archetype in an entire genre of Japanese Samurai movies (e.g. Yojimbo) which were sometimes translated into different American settings like the prohibition era story in Last Man Standing.

Writers and filmmakers use “archetype” characters and stories because they resonate deeply within us. We connect with them, and we love them. There seems to be something deeply woven spiritually and psychologically in our creation that connects to The Great Story God is telling in and through history. The psychologist Jung spent much of his career studying it.

This morning on my chapter-a-day journey I waded into the ancient historical book of 2 Kings which, of course, follows 1 Kings. So, we’re picking up a story in the middle of the telling. Kind of like starting the Star Wars saga with The Empire Strikes Back.

What’s fascinating about the story we read in today’s chapter is that from ancient days we have the archetype lone stranger come to life. The nation of Israel had been torn in two. The northern kingdom of Israel and its long string of evil kings and queens (Israel’s Queen Jezebel became the archetype of the evil queen a’ la Snow White) had become a cesspool of corruption, debauchery, and idolatry. The nation had abandoned faith in the one God of Abraham and Moses. They had given themselves to all sorts of local gods with their rituals of sex and violence. The king of Israel sends his messengers to one of the priests of one of these local gods to have his fortune told.

Then on the dusty road in the wilderness, the king’s messengers meet a lone drifter; A wild-looking man, a man with no name, who wore a coat made out of camel hair and a big leather belt. Elijah speaks God’s truth and when the corrupt king sends his hoard of bad guys to get the lone Elijah, justice strikes in the form of lightning from heaven.

All good stories are a reflection of The Great Story. Elijah, the original High Plains Drifter.

This morning I’m thinking about the archetype of the lone stranger. I think it resonates within us all for different reasons. There are times on life’s journey that I feel alone and preyed upon by systems and powerful people with no recourse. I long for someone, anyone to show up and make the wrong right. I also think there are times in life when I feel like I’m standing alone against the crowd. I’m desperately trying to do the right thing, but the odds (and seemingly everyone else) are hopelessly stacked against me.

I’m thankful in the quiet this morning for Elijah and the archetype of the lone stranger. It’s the archetype of Jesus, the stranger from heaven; The lone savior who single-handedly took on my sin, and the sin of the world. Jesus, who tells me, even when the bad guys are surrounding me and the odds are stacked against me, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And some days, if my eyes, ears, heart, and spirit are open, I realize that I have the opportunity to be “the lone stranger” for someone else. As Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.”

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