While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Mark 14:3 (NIV)
In today’s chapter, Mark provides a Cliff Notes summary of the fateful night of Jesus’ arrest. As I read the familiar episodes, I was struck at the contrast between Mary’s anointing of Jesus (she is not named in Mark’s biography of Jesus, but John names her, the sister of Lazarus) with expensive perfume, and the actions/behaviors of the Twelve.
Jesus has now been speaking of His arrest, suffering, and death for some time. The response of the Twelve has ranged from silence to confusion to outright disapproval. Mark’s version of events in today’s chapter reveal the behavior of the Twelve to be disagreeable and inattentive to the weight of the moment.
Mary, on the other hand, seems to see what no one else sees. She alone embraces what is about to happen, understands the weight of it, and responds by embracing what Jesus has said would happen. Mary alone acts as a willing participant. Her actions are to bless Jesus before His passion and to metaphorically prepare Him for death. Mary is the only person who seems to see and humbly accept. And, she’s criticized for it.
Jesus’ chosen disciples, meanwhile, can’t believe one of them would betray Him. They can’t stay awake with Him, even after He asks of them this small favor. They can’t stay and stand with Jesus in His moment of need. They can’t even admit they know Him, when confronted with multiple opportunities to do so.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but imagine myself in the roles of both Mary and the Twelve. Luke shares that Mary was one to sit at the feet of Jesus and hang on His every word to the point that her sister was indignant (everyone, it would seem, gets indignant with Mary). As much as I would like to think that I would have Mary’s insight, I am reminded that it came at the cost of ignoring urgent things in order to invest in important things. Her devotion to “asking, seeking, and knocking” appear to be the precursor to her spiritual perception.
Have I sacrificed things distracting and urgent to invest myself in Jesus as Mary did?
I have to confess that I identify with the dudes…
Present, but imperceptive.
Great intentions, but greatly inattentive.
Braggadocios during warm-ups, but bungling in the game.
Of course, today’s chapter is not the end of the story. The dudes will keep following. They will learn. They will turn the world upside down.
I’m looking out the window at the lake as I type this. Another day has dawned, and so my story isn’t over either. I take hope in that this morning. Like the dudes, I’ll keep following, too. I’ll keep learning. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even turn a few things upside-down before this wayfaring stranger’s journey is over.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised Psalm 113:3 (NIV)
There are two themes in the Great Story that I have repeatedly mentioned across the 15 years I’ve been writing these chapter-a-day posts, and they are beautifully present in today’s chapter, Psalm 113. They are, however, easily missed by the casual reader.
The first is that God’s base language is metaphor. God, like any good artist, expresses Himself into everything created. This means that everything we see in creation is connected to God’s Spirit and is layered with meaning. There are spiritual lessons to be found everywhere if my spiritual senses are open to them. The ancient Hebrews understood this. I would argue that they understood it a lot better than we do today.
I say this because the editors who compiled the anthology of songs we know as the book of Psalms did so in a very specific way. They placed songs together in specific sections and in a specific order, which adds an added layer of meaning beyond the text within the psalm.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 113, is part of a group of songs known to the Hebrews as “the Hallel” (Hallel means praise). Psalms 113-118 are part of the Hebrew festival of Passover when they celebrate God’s miraculous deliverance of their people out of slavery in Egypt. These six songs are placed together so as to create a structured psalm out of six individual psalms. A psalm of psalms. Layers of meaning. Metaphor.
If you’ve been reading along in this chapter-a-day journey, you might have noticed that almost every psalm begins with a verse of praise or crying out to God. Psalm 113 is the opening of the six-psalm Hallel. It’s the call to praise. It’s the first song of the Passover feast’s “Hallel,” and it is sung before the meal. It’s the calling of the participants into Spirit mode, to quiet and open hearts and minds to consider the story and the spiritual lessons contained within.
Layers of meaning.
I then happened upon verse 3: From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised
In recent weeks I’ve blogged out “numbering my days” and the lessons keeping track of the days I’ve been on this earth (20,017 today) has taught me. One of the lessons that I didn’t mention, however, was the lesson about layers of time.
For centuries, followers of Jesus have celebrated Jesus’ story on an annual basis. Each Christmas we celebrate His birth. Each Easter we celebrate His resurrection. Millions of followers all over the globe structure their worship around the annual meditation of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and mission. The Great Story contained with a year.
Ancient followers of Jesus who were known as mystics recognized that our infinitely metaphorical creator had layered time with meaning. A week (which God established at the very beginning, in the first two chapters of the Great Story) is seven days. The number seven is associated with “completeness.” The Christian mystics saw the Great Story and an entire lifetime every week. We toil through the week. Friday we remember Good Friday and Jesus death. Every Sunday we celebrate resurrection and hit the reset button. The next week begins anew. The Great Story contained with a week.
But a single day is yet another layer. Each day begins with a new dawn. There is new hope for what this day will hold. There is a new opportunity for change, redemption, reconciliation, and love. Each night brings the end of the day. It is the end of the opportunities of this day which passes away with the other 20,017 days which cannot be relived. Each morning is a mini-resurrection of life. A day dawns, and I was never guaranteed that I’d live to see this day. Opportunity, hope, and joy spring anew. The Great Story contained with a day.
From the rising of the sun, until it goes down, the name of the Lord will be praised.
A psalm out of psalms.
The Great Story from Genesis to Revelation contained in a year, a week, a day.
Leaving this wayfaring stranger to ask, “What am I going to do with this day?”
Just like a psalm I’m going to start with praise, endeavor to live it out in such a way that it is marked by love, honesty, and humility, and end it with gratitude and praise.
My life this day is a psalm that contains the Great Story.
When I was growing up, there still existed a tradition of the grand department store chains having nice restaurants inside the store. In Des Moines, Younkers Department Store was the place to go for both shopping and a nice meal. It was there in the Meadowlark Room that I, at the age of about sixteen, met a mentor for lunch.
I had been fascinated by observing how my mentor seemed to manage his time. He had this really cool little three-ring leather binder to which he constantly referred, making notes with his mechanical pencil and double-checking things written there. I was curious and intrigued about the system he used and how he managed it. So, I asked him to teach me about time management.
What I was looking for was an explanation of the system, the brand of that cool binder with all the daily calendar pages, and the method he used to manage each day. Instead, he told me that the first lesson was to memorize and meditate on Psalm 90:12:
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
He told me that this was the first lesson. It was the foundation. If I didn’t have a spiritual perspective of time, he told me, then the system I used to manage it really wouldn’t matter that much. He then pointed me to a number he’d written at the top of the daily calendar page of his cool binder. I shrugged as I read it. Number had no meaning for me. It was the number of days he’d spent on his earthly journey.
I memorized Psalm 90:12 that day. I got my calculator out. I began keeping track of my days and have been doing so ever since. The simple process has caused me to constantly meditate on time and my life journey. There are a number of spiritual lessons it’s taught me:
This day is not promised to me. There are no guarantees that I will live through this day or that I will survive to see tomorrow. There are averages and odds, but no assurances. I have several specific examples of individuals I’ve known whose journeys unexpectedly ended far sooner than the average or the odds would have dictated. This gives me the day set before me some perspective.
Yesterday is gone. I can’t go back. There are no mulligans on this earthly journey. How I may have wasted and squandered my yesterdays will remain as will the consequences of my actions. Wallowing in shame and sorrow won’t change it, nor will my perpetual attempts to pretend it didn’t happen or somehow keep my mistakes, failures, and foolishness hidden.
This day is a clean slate that sits before me. My thoughts, choices, decisions, and actions will reveal the fruit of my spirit.
Wisdom is required each day to discern the right choices in the constant conflict between that which is desired, that which is necessary, that which is urgent, and that which is important.
Time flies. Today is 19,969. I have a milestone coming up next month. Where have the days gone? Have they counted for anything? If so, how many of them did I spend wisely and how many did I spend foolishly?
Which leads me to the pertinent question: What am I going to do withday 19,969?
I might share with you tomorrow, but I can’t guarantee it! 😉
Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek your name. Psalm 83:16 (NIV)
I consider it virtually impossible for a person in 21st century America to comprehend what life was like for the ancients, such as the songwriters of the Psalms. As evidence, I submit today’s chapter, Psalm 83, as Exhibit A for your consideration.
Psalm 83 is a song of national lament. It’s a plea to God to protect them from and destroy their enemies. A quick side note as I’m thinking bout it: One thing that has become really clear to me as I journey through the psalms the past few months is that David, who wrote most of the songs compiled in the first half of the anthology we call the Psalms, wrote personal songs expressing emotions he felt in his own circumstances. The songs attributed to Asaph, like today’s, were more about tribal and national issues. It’s the difference between me blogging about the stress I’m feeling in my own personal life and blogging about the issues surrounding the recent national election.
Asaph’s song was written at a time of national crisis when all of the people groups surrounding them were allied against them and bent on wiping them out. Here in North America, the nations that we see as a threat are an ocean away. For Asaph and the people of Judah, the enemies were less than 50 miles away. The map below is a scale of 50 miles and pinpoints all but one of the people groups mentioned in Psalm 83. Jerusalem is pretty much right in the middle. They were literally surrounded by 10 neighboring nations bent on ending their existence.
I try to imagine it. I live in Pella, a small town in rural Iowa. I try to envision being at war with every other sizeable town in a 30-mile radius. The Newtonians, the Knoxvillites, Oskaloosans, the not-so-Pleasantvillians, the New Sharonians, the Albians, the Monrovians, the Prairie Citians, the Montezumians, and the big empirical threat the Des Moinesiacs. If all these people groups immediately surrounding my town were banded together in an alliance to come and kill everyone in Pella and take everything we have and own as plunder, I would be feeling an incredible amount of stress. Welcome to the daily “kill-or-be-killed” realities of Asaph and his people.
So, Asaph writes a spiritual fight-song asking God to protect them and fight for their existence. It’s a very human thing to do. We just commemorated Pearl Harbor Day on December 7 which was the last time America was seriously attacked and threatened back in World War II. It took me ten seconds to find a playlist on YouTube of American fight songs from that era including Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ in 1943, Hot Time in the Town of Berlin(When the Yanks Go Marchin’ In). And who can forget Spike Jones’ famous lyrics:
When the Fuhrer says, “We is the master race,” We sing: “Heil” (blow a raspberry) “Heil” (blow a raspberry) “Heil” (blow a raspberry) Right in the Fuhrer’s face.
How much life has changed in just two generations. I can hardly comprehend the realities of 80 years ago. How can I really comprehend Asaph’s realities over 2500 years ago?
The fact that I can’t comprehend Asaph’s realities leads me to extend him some grace as I try to wrap my head around the context of asking God to destroy my enemy. Which leaves me asking, “What am I supposed to take away from Psalm 83?”
That brings me to the lyric that stuck out at me this morning:
Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek your name.
Underneath the cries for God to help them successfully defeat the enemy was a desire for their enemies to ultimately know God. When Jesus arrived on the scene hundreds of years later the situation was very different. The known world was ruled by the Roman Empire and while Jesus said that humanity can expect wars to continue right up until the end of the Great Story, He set the expectation that I, as His follower, would take a different approach to getting my enemy to “seek His name.”
“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
I understand that there is a difference between international relationships and personal ones. All I know is that today, in my circles of influence, Jesus asks me to follow His instruction to love my enemy, bless my enemy, and pray for my enemy.
So, “Praise the Lord, and pass…” a little more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34-35 (NRSVCE)
In my current waypoint in life’s journey, I find it fascinating to observe the change in relationship that occurs between parent and child across one’s lifetime. I’m speaking, of course, in generalities, for every family system has unique elements based on the individual personalities, temperaments, and relationships in a human family system.
Both a child, and then as a parent of young children, I experienced the combination of love and fear that accompanies the parental-child relationship. A small child knows the love, hugs, cuddles, protection, and guidance of a parent. The child also has healthy respect for the parent’s size, power, authority, and wrath.
I can remember when the girls were young and would sleep together in the same room. When they were supposed to be in bed sleeping they would sometimes giggle, play, and get themselves riled up. All it took was for me to open the door and step in the room to change the atmosphere of the room. I wasn’t even angry or upset, but they reacted to my presence with a behavioral reset.
Now that our daughters are adults with their own family systems, the relationship has matured. I feel from both of them genuine respect, gratitude, and honor. Long gone are childish fears of parental wrath, which are replaced with a desire for healthy relationship void of disappointment, shame, control, enmeshment, and conflict. There is still a child’s natural desire for affirmation, encouragement, pride, guidance, and support from dad.
In today’s chapter, we finish the journey through the book of Exodus. The Hebrews have been delivered from slavery in Egypt. They have been introduced to God by Moses. A covenant between God and the Hebrews has been established along with a code of conduct and a system of worship complete with a traveling temple called the Tabernacle. Exodus ends with the completion of the Tabernacle and God’s “glory” descending in the form of a cloud that filled the tent and surrounded it. At night, the cloud appeared to be filled with fire. Even Moses, who had repeatedly been in the midst of God’s glory, was afraid of entering in.
The cloud and fire of God’s presence have been mentioned multiple times in the journey through Exodus. I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of Moses and the Hebrew people was like that of Taylor and Madison when I would enter the room of little giggling girls who weren’t going to sleep. There is respect, a little bit of awe, and a little bit of fear. I keep going back to my podcast Time (Part 1) in which I unpack the notion of human history being like a natural human life-cycle. Moses and the Hebrews are in the toddler stage of humanity. For them, God is this divine authority figure who loves them, delivered them, protected them, provided for them, and did mighty works they couldn’t comprehend. There is both appreciation, devotion, but also awe and fear.
Fast-forward 1500 years. Humanity is no longer a child and ready for the divine rite-of-passage. Father God sends His own Son to live among us, teach us, and exemplify His ways in humility, pouring out, surrender and sacrifice. The night before His crucifixion, as He is about to consummate this eternal rite-of-passage, Jesus speaks of the relationship between humans and God the Father in very different terms:
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:23-27 (NIV)
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:12-16 (NIV)
Can you feel the difference? This is no longer pyrotechnics and daddy booming “GO TO SLEEP!” to wide-eyed, little ones who have little cognitive capacity. This is the dad talk at the waypoint of launching and releasing into adulthood: “I love you. You’re ready for this. I’ll always be right here for you, but it’s time. You’ve got this. Remember what I’ve told you and shown you. Love, be humble, be generous, do the right thing, and love, love, love, love, love.”
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that it never ends. For those who ask, seek, and knock. For any who truly follows and obeys. This dance, this relationship, this journey never stops progressing. It keeps changing as we change. It keeps maturing as we mature. It keeps getting layered with more, deeper meaning, and deeper understanding.
Do you know what Exodus means? It’s defined as a “going out; an emigration.” God led the Hebrews in a going out of slavery, into the wilderness, toward the promise land. Jesus led us in a going out from a different kind of slavery, into a different kind of wilderness, heading toward the ultimate Promised Land.
That night that Jesus had “the talk” with His followers, He began the talk with these words:
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3 (NIV)
That’s where this Wayfarer is headed as I “go out” on another day of this journey. Thanks for joining me, friend. Cheers!
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Our children posted a rather hilarious video of Milo over the weekend. At first, we couldn’t figure out what he was doing shaking his bum towards daddy’s legs. As we listened to the audio it became more clear that Milo was making like the Stegosaurus on his shirt and shaking his spiky “tail” to protect himself from the predator, played by daddy, whom I presume was cast in the role of a T-Rex. Yesterday, on our Father’s Day FaceTime, we got to witness Milo reprise his role for us a shake his little dino-booty for Papa and Yaya’s enjoyment.
It’s a very natural thing for us to make word pictures and games for our children and grandchildren to introduce them to concepts, thoughts, and ideas that are still a little beyond their cognitive reach. Even with spiritual things we do this. Advent calendars with numbered doors help children mark the anticipation of celebrating Jesus’ birth. Christmas gifts remind us of the gifts the Magi brought the Christ child. Wendy often recalls the Nativity play she and her cousins and siblings performed each year with bathrobes and hastily collected props which helped to teach the story behind the season.
In leaving Egypt and striking out for the Promised Land, Moses and the twelve Hebrew tribes are a fledgling nation. Yahweh was introduced to Moses in the burning bush. Moses introduced the Tribes to Yahweh through interceding with Pharaoh on their behalf and delivering them from Egyptian slavery. Yahweh has already provided food in the form of Manna and led them to the mountain. In today’s chapter, God begins the process of providing a system of worship that will continue to develop a relationship of knowing and being known.
As I described in my podcast, Time (Part 1), we are still at the toddler stage of human history and development. The Ark of the Covenant (yes, the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the plan for a giant traveling Tent to house God’s presence, are all tangible word pictures that their cognitive human brains could fathom revealing and expressing intangible spiritual truths about God.
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that as humanity has matured so has God’s relationship with us. Jesus pushed our spiritual understanding of God. “You have heard it said,” he would begin before adding, “but I say….” I have come to believe that Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection were like the “age of accountability” in which we talk about when children become responsible adults. Jesus came to grow us up spiritually and to mature our understanding of what it means to become participants in the divine dance within the circle of love with Father, Son, and Spirit. On a grand scale, God is doing with humanity what Paul experienced in the microcosm of his own life:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
1 Corinthians 13:11
I have also observed, however, that human beings have a way of getting stuck in our development. Many adults I know are living life mired in adolescent patterns of thought and behavior. Many church institutions are, likewise, mired in childish religious practices designed to control human social behavior, but they do very little to fulfill Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. Again, Paul was dealing with this same thing when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Corinth:
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3a
There is a great example of this from today’s chapter. God provided the Ark of the Covenant, and a traveling tent called the Tabernacle, as a word picture of His presence and dwelling with the wandering Hebrew people. It was a physical sign that God was with them. Once settled in the Promised land, the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem became the central physical location of God’s presence. When Jesus came, however, He blew up the childish notion of the God of Creation residing in one place. Jesus matured our understanding of God’s very nature and the nature of God’s presence. With the pouring out of God’s Spirit to indwell every believer, Jesus transformed our understanding of God’s dwelling and presence. “Wherever two or three are gathered,” Jesus said, “I am among them.” The place of worship transitioned from the Temple to the dining room table. After the resurrection, Jesus was revealed during dinner in Emmaus, making shore-lunch for the disciples along the Sea of Galilee, and at the dinner table behind locked doors where the disciples were hiding.
Wendy and I have this quote from Brian Zahnd hanging on the fridge in our kitchen:
“The risen Christ did not appear at the temple but at meal tables. The center of God’s activity had shifted – it was no longer the temple but the table that was the holiest of all. The church would do well to think of itself, not so much as a kind of temple, but as a kind of table. This represents a fundamental shift. Consider the difference between the temple and the table. Temple is exclusive; Table is inclusive. Temple is hierarchical; Table is egalitarian. Temple is authoritarian; Table is affirming. Temple is uptight and status conscious; Table is relaxed and ‘family-style.’ Temple is rigorous enforcement of purity codes that prohibit the unclean; Table is a welcome home party celebrating the return of sinners. The temple was temporal. The table is eternal. We thought God was a diety in a temple. It turns out God is a father at a table.”
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the ancient Hebrew people struggling to mature their understanding from a polytheistic society with over 1500 dieties to the one God who is trying to introduce Himself to them in ways they can understand. I am reminded of the ways Jesus tried to mature our understanding of God even further. I find myself confessing all of the ways through all of the years of my spiritual journey that I have refused to mature in some of the most basic things Jesus was teaching.
As Wendy and I sit down together to share a meal together this week, my desire is to acknowledge Jesus’ presence. To make our time of conversation, laughter, and daily bread a time of communion with God’s Spirit. I think that’s a good spiritual action step.
Bon a petite, my friend. May you find God’s Spirit at your table this week.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it has been a crazy year-end for Wendy and me. A lot of travel for both business and personal reasons, two family weddings on separate shores of North America separated by only two weeks of time. Now we are packing for a trip across the Atlantic to spend the holiday with our family living there. Oh, and it’s year-end which means that for work we are wrapping up 2019 projects for clients, getting out 2020 proposals, and buttoning up all of the loose-ends of business before year’s end.
There is a certain pressure one feels when facing deadlines and feeling the pinch of time.
In today’s chapter, Dr. Luke continues to provide a series of short episodes from Jesus’ ministry. The countless times I’ve read this chapter my lenses have always been focused on the individual episodes and the spiritual lessons they have for me. In the quiet this morning, however, I found myself shifting focus to look at the larger context of what’s going on.
Luke has fast-forwarded the narrative on us. The last five chapters have concerned Jesus’ early ministry. Today, the story shifts:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
In two separate episodes within today’s chapter, Jesus predicts his impending death. He knows that when He gets to Jerusalem that He will be arrested and killed by His own people.
Jesus, quite literally, has a dead-line.
Going back and looking at the chapter in the context of Jesus knowing His time on earth is limited, I see that this is a time of intense preparation:
He sends the twelve out, on their own, on a ministry practicum (vss. 1-6), and tells them to trust God for all their provision, including food.
In the next episode, the disciples have returned from their practicum, but don’t seem to have learned much about faith in trusting God for one’s daily bread, as instructed. Jesus gives them a lesson in faith and provision as He feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. (vss. 10-17)
Jesus then predicts His death and attempts to impress upon his followers the seriousness of what it will ultimately mean to follow Him. (vss. 21-27)
Jesus gives His inner circle (Peter, James, and John) a glimpse of His true self and the glory of His being. Perhaps this was to inspire them with a better understanding of who He is and prepare them for becoming the leaders they will need to be after His departure. (vss. 28-36)
Jesus once again tells his followers that He is about to be executed. That’s twice in one chapter. Could it be that Jesus realizes that His followers don’t seem to be understanding and internalizing what the succession plan is going to mean for all of them? (vss. 44-48)
When his followers see a stranger performing miracles in Jesus’ name, they quickly bring Jesus their case for infringement and copyright litigation. But Jesus will have none of it. The work of His kingdom is not an exclusive enterprise of “Jesus & His 12 Associates Incorporated,” but inclusive of all who follow and embrace God’s Kingdom. They are going to have to understand this when the events recorded in Acts begin to happen. (vss. 49-50).
The chapter ends with Jesus still recruiting more followers to become a part of His earthly enterprise, and rejecting the applications of those who are unfit for the job (vss. 57-62).
Jesus is looking forward. Jesus continues to plan, and He continues to work the plan. In all of the preparation, I also observe an undercurrent of Jesus feeling the pressure:
Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 was not just a “Look what I can do” event. It was a “Hey, boys, don’t you get it?” event that comes on the heels of the twelve’s return from their individual ministry practicums in which they were sent out with nothing (no food, no money, and no extra clothes) and were expected to have faith in God’s provision. Immediately upon return, they come to Jesus spiritually blind to the possibility that just as God provided for one person on their missionary tour, He could also provide for 5,000. (vss. 10-17) For cross-reference read John’s testimony of Jesus’ subsequent rebuke to the crowds (John 6:25-71) which was so harsh even the twelve were rattled.
A demon-possessed boy is brought to Jesus, and Jesus is told that even His twelve couldn’t drive the demon away. Jesus is frustrated by His follower’s lack of faith. His response is harsh: “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (vss. 37-43)
After the second prediction of His upcoming death, His followers are still arguing about who among them is the greatest. Once again, Jesus immediately tries to provide them a word picture of the humility that will be required of them after His departure when they will be expected to carry on the Kingdom’s work. (vss. 46-50)
The twelve also don’t seem to understand the grace and mercy required of them. When a Samaritan village (good Hebrew men like the twelve had been taught to hate the racial half-breed Samaritans) does not welcome Jesus and his entourage, James and John want Jesus to kill them all with hell-fire. This earns them a stiff rebuke. (vss. 51-56)
While recruiting and taking applications from followers, Luke records that Jesus’ demands of those who would follow were intense. It feels like He is feeling the pressure to find the right people for the job as the window of training and preparation is closing. (vss. 57-62)
As I look at the task list this morning with all the things that must be accomplished before our impending departure, I admit to feeling the pressure of the preparation. I’m taking heart this morning that my pressure and preparation are minor earthly issues and not the issues of eternal significance Jesus was feeling in today’s chapter. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to be reminded that even the Son of God knows the feeling.
And, I’m reminded that this is what Christmas was about. The Son of God sent into exile on Earth to live as one of us, to feel our pain, to experience the human pressures common to all of us, and to show us the way of love, faith, peace, and perseverance.
And with that, I leave you to persevere with the items on my task list as I wish you a blessing addressing the tasks on your own.
If you bow low in God’s awesome presence, he will eventually exalt you as you leave the timing in his hands. 1 Peter 5:6 (TPT)
Along my life journey, I have come to experience what many others have described as “the flow.” Artists and creatives experience the flow as a spiritual, level four energy that empowers their creativity. As U2’s Bono discovered, “the songs are already written.” Athletes call it being “the zone” when the flow takes over and the ball slows down, they know what will happen before it happens, and their game elevates to an unprecedented level. Teachers and prophets experience the flow in both preparation and presentation. Rob Bell describes the flow when he experiences having a thought, a story, a metaphor, or an idea that “wants to be part of something” but he doesn’t know what it is. He records it, hangs on to it, and waits for the right time (which could be years later).
I remember experiencing the flow early in 2004. I just knew that I was supposed to do this thing, but exactly what it was and what it looked like was undefined. It was only a general notion, but I knew it at the core of my spirit. I even remember reaching after it but getting nowhere. Over time this thing I was supposed to do continued to reveal itself like little bread crumbs. Something would happen and I would think, “This is it! It’s falling into place.” But then, it wouldn’t.
That’s the frustrating thing about walking this earthly journey through finite time (as opposed to timeless eternity). We often find ourselves waiting, seeking, and longing for the right time or the right season for things. Wendy can tell you that I’m not always the most patient person when it comes to waiting. As an Enneagram Type Four, I tend to get pessimistic and overly dramatize my impatience and frustration. That’s when my Type Eight wife has no problem telling me directly what I know is true: the time just isn’t right.
In a bit of synchronicity that I honestly didn’t plan, the chapter today was the same text that I talked about in last week’s podcast, and the same text I taught on this past Sunday morning. That’s another thing that I have discovered along life’s journey. When the same thing keeps coming up in random ways, then there’s something God’s Spirit is trying to teach me in the flow. I should pay attention, meditate on it, and wait for it to be revealed.
The thing I was supposed to do eventually did reveal itself after about ten years. When it finally did fall into place it was at just the right time in a myriad of ways I won’t take the time to explain.
The ancient words for God’s “Spirit” in both the Hebrew and Greek languages are translated into English as “wind,” or “breath,” or you might say “flow.” I believe that sensing and experiencing the flow is simply tapping into God’s eternal Spirit who lives outside of time, but breathes into me bread crumbs and seeds which eventually lead to things in their due season and time.
What Peter wrote to the exiled followers of Jesus was that the waiting calls for humility. This past Sunday I defined humility as “the willing, conscious, intentional crucifixion of my own ego,” whose time frame is an impatient NOW, and who tends to demand that revelation and fulfillment happen in my time frame, not God’s.
If you want to know what tragically happens when we try to make the flow happen in our own way and our own timeline, see Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth and his lady are quintessential examples.
The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name. Zechariah 14:9 (NIV)
On my podcast this past week, I began a conversation about time. One of the more profound and mysterious aspects of God’s Message is, of course, the prophetic. What I regularly refer to as “The Great Story” is the story arc from creation in Genesis to the end of the book of Revelation when history as we know it ends and there is a new beginning.
One of the things I’ve noted in God’s creation is the number of recurring themes present. The way we depict an atom looks just like a little solar system, which is replicated in the moon going around the earth, the earth going around the sun, the solar system spinning in the galaxy, and etc.
One of the other great themes is simply the cycle of life and death. Physicists tell us that matter is energy. Genesis says God made humans from the dust of the earth, and when we die it was prescribed that “to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). There is a natural part of the life-cycle of creation in this. Our bodies die, return to the ground, decay, and then are recycled by creation to feed new life.
As mentioned in my podcast, I see this cycle replicated in the Great Story. I look at human history and see all of the life stages: infancy, toddler, child, teenager, and etc. There is a course of macro human development that I find is very much like the micro stages of an individual human life. And, we are reminded by the prophets, history like each of our lives will have an end.
In today’s chapter, Zechariah envisions the death throes of human history. His vision dovetails with John’s visions in Revelation 16:14-16 and again at the end of Revelation 19. A final battle between good and evil, when God sets up rule and reign over the Earth.
Of course, all of this can be terribly confusing and even frightening. A couple of thoughts as I mull these things over this morning.
First, prophecy is not a science and there is no iron-clad understanding. I have learned to approach the prophetic humbly, recognizing that the most learned and scholarly of God’s people completely misinterpreted the prophets understanding of the Messiah. Even Jesus’ own disciples expected Him to become what the scholars and teachers of their day expected Him to be. Therefore, I assume that the most gifted and emphatic of today’s teachers claiming they know the truth about end-times prophecy is likely wrong about most of it. The most common truth I’ve come to accept about prophecy is that, in hindsight, it doesn’t end up happening the way everyone said it would.
Second, I believe that the important message is not in the details but in the theme. History moves towards a death of the way things are just as each of our lives ends with the death of our earthly journey. This death comes complete with the struggle and “death throes” associated with the human fight against our physical death. And then?
This is the critical piece to the Jesus Story. At the climactic, dark moment there is a eucatastrophe. Death does not have the final word. Resurrection. Life springs out of the depths. The phoenix rises from the ashes. The old order passes away and a new order comes.
Once again, I can’t help to see the layer of meaning. In the same way that I, as a follower of Jesus, believe that after death I will experience new life through the resurrected Jesus, so I believe that at the end of this Great Story of humanity there will be a death and a resurrection. As the end of Revelation envisions there is a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, and a new order of creation. This is such a natural part of creation that I find the truth of it is hidden in plain sight. Here in Iowa the fields have yielded their harvest. The death throes have begun. I feel it in the chill as I got out of bed this morning. Death is coming when everything in this beautiful land will be dark, and cold, and colorless. But, a new year will come with new life, and warmth, and abundance, and vibrant color.
In the quiet this morning I find myself curious but scratching my head with regard to battles, and plagues, and rotting flesh, and earthquakes, and etc. What I find myself focused on is on the important conclusion: new life, safety, a flow of living water, and “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.“
Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder. Esther 9:16 (NIV)
This past weekend I attended my 35th high school reunion. It’s only the second reunion that I’ve attended and it was a lot of fun to catch up with old classmates and where their life journeys have taken them. I walked to Kindergarten with some of these people. We played Kick-the-Can, Freeze Tag, and Ding-Dong Ditchem’ as children and experienced all the awkwardness of adolescence together. It was especially sobering for me to see the table of memorials to all classmates who have already passed, and to recall moments and life events I experienced with each of them. It was strange to have such vivid memories with these amazing individuals from my childhood and to realize that so much time has passed. One of the common conversations that evening was how our children (and now grandchildren) have no concept of what everyday life was like for us.
I found myself expanding that thought to a macro-level this morning as I read the chapter. It’s been a while since this chapter-a-day journey took me into such a bloody text. It is difficult for this twenty-first century, enlightened Western mind to get my head wrapped around such bloodshed and carnage. I’ve observed along the way that we have a penchant in our modern culture to whitewash, rewrite, or simply ignore certain aspects of history, including the brutal violence which was an everyday part of the culture in ancient days. “Kill or be killed” was the way of life and survival for most tribes and people groups.
In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that Xerxes did not seem to bat an eye at the destruction of Esther’s enemies. But, I have to remember that his father, Cyrus, established the Persian Empire and became the world’s first “superpower” by destroying a lot of people. Xerxes had a reputation for holding onto that power and his Empire by brutally suppressing any kind of rebellion against him and his kingdom. Again, it was simply the way of life during that period of history.
There are two things happening in today’s chapter that are often lost on the casual reader. The first connects to something I pointed out the other day. The face-off between Mordecai (descendant of King Saul’s tribe of Benjamin) and Haman (descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites) is a historical rematch. In the first round (see 1 Samuel 15), Saul did not complete the task of wiping out Agag and his followers. In today’s chapter, the destruction of Haman and his followers was historically perceived by the Hebrews as righting an old wrong that Saul should have completed.
Second, while Xerxes’ proclamation gave the Hebrews permission to plunder their enemies, you’ll notice the text clearly points out that they chose not to do so. Again, this is further evidence that the events of today’s chapter were perceived as righting the wrongs of Saul, who was forbidden from plundering King Agag and the Amalekites but did so anyway. The story of Esther is layered with the theme of reversals: the reversal of fortunes, the reversal of specific events, and the reversal of past wrongs.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the march of time. Based on conversations this past weekend, I and my classmates clearly wish that our children could understand what life was like for us:
“If you only knew what it was like without smartphones.”
“If you only knew what it was like to write a research paper on a daisy-wheel typewriter without the internet, Google, or Wikipedia.”
“If you only knew what it was like to walk a mile to school every day in the winter.”
“If you only knew what it was like to be at college and communicate with your parents once a week (at most) because they didn’t want to pay for the collect call.”
“If you only knew what it was like to be expected to get a paper route and start working as soon as you were 11 or 12 years old.”
In the same way, I imagine Mordecai and Esther inviting me to take off my modern, rose-colored glasses and to attempt to see beyond my politically correct horror at the violence of their time in history. I imagine them beckoning me to try and imagine what it was like to live in the “kill or be killed” realities they experienced every day when there was no other choice. “If you only knew what it was like,” I hear them say, “to walk in our sandals as exiles and captives in a foreign land surrounded by enemies bent on killing us.”
I don’t think it’s fully possible, but I’ve found it worth the effort to try. The stories of history have secrets to teach me; Secrets that provide wisdom for my own life journey, and for the journeys of my children and grandchildren.
As Jesus said, “Seek, and you’ll find.”
And so my “seeking” begins for another day, in another week.