So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. Genesis 23:17-18 (NIV)
I spent some time with my parents yesterday as they continue to prepare matters related to the end of their respective journeys on this earth. Don’t get me wrong, they are currently in relatively good health and reside in independent living at their retirement community. They are just getting ahead of things for the sake of me and my siblings.
It felt like a bit of synchronicity that today’s chapter is the story of Abraham buying a tomb to bury his wife, Sarah. What is fascinating about the story is that God promised to give Abraham’s offspring the land. Abraham has been living as a nomad the entire time and it feels a bit ironic that the cave which will serve as he and his family’s tomb is the first time he actually owns a piece of the land God promised.
The cave of Machpelah in Hebron exists to this day, and Jewish tradition holds that Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are all buried there. It was customary in those days from families to use a cave that was used to bury entire families. Recently buried bodies would be placed on shelves carved out of the rock. When a body decomposed to the point that it was just bones, the bones would be placed deeper in the cave, often in some kind of vessel, to make room for newer remains.
King Herod built a giant structure over the cave which is still standing (see featured photo). The actual cave is sealed and no one is allowed in, though two clandestine entries were made in modern times and the testimony of students who made one of the visits testified that they found two chambers and in one they discovered pottery vessels and bones.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the march of time. I remember all four of my grandparents’ funerals. With the last of them, I remember pondering the reality that my parents had transitioned to being the eldest living generation of my family. The day draws nearer when I and my siblings will make that same transition. Wendy and I will be the ones making plans to save Taylor and Madison from worry or responsibility.
Our culture is obsessed with living well, but I don’t observe many people who consider what it means to die well. As a follower of Jesus, I learn that dying is requisite to living. So, perhaps it’s not a subject I should avoid, but rather one I should embrace.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…” The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Genesis 11:4, 6 (NIV)
Over the past month, Wendy and I have been listening to a podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The podcast documents the story of a small group of people in Seattle who started a church, which became a movement, and then it was gone almost overnight. It’s also the story of the pastor, a young man who became one of the most famous and influential individuals in Christian circles. Yesterday, while I spent the day driving on a business trip, I listened to a bonus episode about another young man who also became famous and influential at about the same time, and then deconstructed his faith (something of a fad at the moment, FYI) and eventually announced on social media that he no longer identifies as a Christian.
After I returned home last night, Wendy and I discussed the episode. On one hand, there’s a morality tale in the stories of these individuals about the effects of celebrity, fame, and influence. There’s also a larger societal story about our culture of celebrity itself in which an individual can be a famous celebrity without having any particular talent or having accomplished anything other than to have become a celebrity.
Today’s chapter tells the story of the Tower of Babel and is the final story in Genesis which scholars would classify as primeval. It joins the story of creation, the Garden, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Great Flood as foundational stories of the Great Story. On the surface, the Tower of Babel is intended to describe how humanity went from one people and then was scattered into different nationalities, cultures, and languages. Under the surface, it’s about humanity’s pride nature, and its ends.
Humanity is one homogeneous people group, and they conspire to build a tower to the heavens “to make a name for ourselves.” I thought this a bit of synchronicity in the quiet this morning as my heart and mind continue to mull over the stories I heard in the podcast about two young men who “made a name for themselves” only to find their own lives and the worlds of those who followed them crumble. In the case of the intervie w I listened to yesterday, at least one of the two is still reeling, confused, and lost like humanity itself at end of the Babel story.
But there’s another aspect to the Babel story that I recognized thirty years ago. As my life journey and spiritual journey have progressed, the more important I think this lesson is. In the story, God recognizes that humanity’s capabilities coupled with sinful pride will result in “nothing being impossible for them.” It seems that the narrative of the storyline is moving too quickly for God’s design, and the scattering of the peoples and confusing of the languages appears to be God’s way of slowing the pace of the narrative back down.
My earthly journey has been a fascinating time to live. I’ve watched the dawn of the computer age, experienced the beginning of the internet, I watched it grow, and witnessed how technology has effectively united the globe. Think about the coronavirus, which originates in China where scientists and countries from around the world had invested in woring together on biomedical research in a country who is considered less than friendly. I can’t imagine this happening even a generation ago.
Never, since the Tower of Babel, has humanity been more of a global village increasingly uniting under the umbrella of technology and connected to all countries and cultures through social media. Just last week the Wall Street Journal said that Facebook will soon be the sole news source for 80-90 percent of the entire world population.
I’ve also come to recognize that perhaps, for the first time since the Tower of Babel, we’re living in a generation that can say “nothing is impossible for us.” We can genetically design babies. Scientists hope to birth a Wooly Mammoth in the lab within a few years. W illiam Shatner, at 92, will take a commercial ride in space next month. In the last month I’ve read articles about scientists who are focused on making it possible for humans live forever. Mining asteroids, life on Mars, and now Amazon announced a robot for your home that rolls around to assist you and monitor your home for threats. I can have my own personal Wall-E.
The question, of course, is where does it all lead? What fascinates me the most as I contemplate the answer to this question is that, factually, life on Earth has never been better on the whole. There’s less extreme poverty, less sickness, longer lives, better education, higher status for women, more access to information, better access to clean water supplies, and less starvation and malnutrition. This is true. It is a fact. Read Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness.
At the same time, I observe more and more confusion about who we are. Adults are asking children what gender they believe they are, then arranging to physically alter their biology. Scientifically, there are still just two genders, but philosophically we’re how told that there are endless genders to choose from based solely on my choice to identify in the moment. After centuries of progress towards ending slavery, reducing prejudice, and accepting bi-racial and cross-cultural marriages in an increasingly large global village, we’re suddenly regressing back into racial separation and segregation. What was once good is now bad. What was once bad is now good. What was once regressive is now progressive. Children now make life-altering adult decisions. Adults now chase an endless childhood. I am who I identify myself as in the moment, but that might change. What is important is what’s trending in the moment. What’s not important is anything in the past or that which is not trending.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself fascinated by the world in which I live, where increasingly “nothing is impossible.” I find myself mulling over the possibility that we are in process of building a new Tower of Babel with DNA, 5G networks, stem cells, lasers, robotics and fiber optics. I find myself marveling at a culture that appears to me to be increasingly confused despite all of our knowledge and advancement.
I find myself grateful for my simple identity…
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NIV)
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
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.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” John 9:39 (NIV)
The world has changed dramatically in the 40 years I’ve been a follower of Jesus. When I began my journey as a teenager, I observed and experienced that Judeo-Christian thought was a dominant world-view in culture. Even those who chose not to believe typically respected the tradition and basic tenets. Fundamentalist movements like the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition sought political power to legalize their morals and beliefs back in those days.
A generation later, I observe that the cultural pendulum has swung to the other side. I confess that Christians and the institutions of Christian religion are largely to blame. Child abuse swept under the rug, televangelists conning peopIe out of their money to build earthly empires of ego, abandoning our call to care for the poor and needy while satiating our edifice complexes, ignoring racism in our midst, and high-profile sex scandals of mega-church celebrity pastors have all eroded public trust and respect. People are leaving churches in droves. Churches are closing. In Canada, churches are being burned to the ground and no one seems to notice or care. Fundamentalism on the opposite side of the spectrum now seeks to legalize their morals and world-view.
As an amateur historian, I often think about what I make of it all and where it will all lead.
Today’s chapter has become one of my favorite stories in all of the Great Story from Genesis to Revelation. After yesterday’s showdown with the religious leaders, we learn that they have done what institutions always do with people who are a threat to their power and control: they outlaw Jesus and anyone who follows Him. If you believe that Jesus is who He says He is then you’ll be cancelled, socially outcast, and thrown out of the synagogue.
Fundamentalist movements of every kind have all of the same tactics. They maintain strict “in-group” and “out-group” distinctions. Forty years ago I watched fundamentalist churches publicly shaming and kicking out homosexuals, women who got pregnant out of wedlock, and men with long hair in the fundamentalist bible college I attended for one semester. Today, woke fundamentalists are cancelling and shaming anyone who doesn’t mark lock-step with their world-view. Different group, different beliefs, but the same fundamentalist playbook.
While the religious leaders are busy threatening people with cancellation, Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. He heals him on the sabbath day of rest which is only going to push the buttons of His opponents. It was already a point of contention between them and Jesus addressed it head-on during his public teaching earlier that week:
Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” John 7:21-24 (NIV)
The religious leaders launch an investigation, because that’s also in the institutional playbook. It becomes obvious that the investigation is not about getting to the truth, but maintaining control and finding reason to officially discredit Jesus. They call in the man’s parents as part of the investigation. Afraid of being cancelled, they plead ignorance and pass the buck back to their son. They then summon the man a second time, but they only seem interested in entrenching themselves and doubling down on the official institutional narrative.
Jesus, meanwhile, introduces Himself to the former blind man who becomes a believer because, well, he was blind and now he can see.
Jesus then makes a fascinating statement: “I have come into the world so that the blind will see, and those who see will become blind.” How fascinating, to think that the Light of the World causes some to see while causing others to be blind. I’m not always sure what to make of that, though I have certainly observed it. Along my spiritual journey I’ve known many people who, like me, claim the same testimony as the blind man in today’s chapter after experiencing Jesus’ amazing grace: “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” I’ve also known many people who have never experienced it and tell me I’m the one who am blinded by my faith. And, that’s fine. They have their own journey. I’m walking mine.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of why I try to maintain a healthy skepticism of human institutions of every kind, especially those who operate by the fundamentalist playbook. I’m also reminded of the Jesus I’m following; Not the plastic caricature that the institutional church has painted over the centuries to maintain power and control, but the wayfaring nobody from backwater Nazareth who threatened earthly institutional religious and political power with simple, divine love for blind beggars, children, women caught in adultery, racially oppressed divorced women, blue-collar fishermen, lepers, and me (a broken, adulterous, divorced, sinful nobody from small town Iowa). I see in Him, the One I want to be.
And so, I press on and follow.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
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.