Tag Archives: Tragedy

“The People Said Nothing”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Stories, My Story

But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say as well.” 2 Samuel 17:5 (NIV)

It is said that one of the aspects of great stories is their timelessness. When I studied theatre in college there were entire sections of study devoted to Greek tragedies like Antigone and Oedipus Rex and, of course, the works of William Shakespeare. It was the late 20th century and in many classes, I spent more time studying plays and stories that were hundreds and thousands of years old than contemporary works.

As I read ancient stories like the story of David we’re wading through now, I can’t help but hear echoes of other timeless stories and make connections between them. Power plays for the throne (Game of Thrones), tragic human failure (Anakin Skywalker), and the intrigue of family rivalries (Succession) are the stuff of which classic stories are made. Today as I was reading the chapter, I thought of The Godfather films and the saga of the Corleone family; A timeless classic in its own right. As they led their mafia family, Vito and Michael Corleone always tried to have a guy, loyal to the family, on the inside of a rival family or faction. Luca Brasi dies while trying to convince the Tataglias that he wants to betray Don Corleone. Michael sends his brother Fredo to Las Vegas which not only serves to get Fredo out of his sight but also plants his own brother inside of an operation he doesn’t trust.

A few chapters ago, amidst the chaos of Absalom’s coup, the last thing that King David did before fleeing the palace was to plant his man, Hushai, inside Absalom’s inner circle. It proved to be a cunning move. Absalom took the bait hook, line, and sinker. In today’s chapter, David’s scheme comes to fruition and Hushai sets the hook which will be the undoing of Absalom. Absalom was a cunning young man and had planned his moves against his brothers and father well. In the end, however, he underestimated all the wisdom and experience his father had gathered while running for his life in enemy territory for many years. In addition, Absalom’s self-seeking motivation was about anger, vengeance, hatred, and personal power. The repentant David may have been facing the tragic consequences of his own blind spots and failings, but at the core of his being his heart was still humble before God.

In the third act of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather epic, Michael Corleone’s son confronts his father about the “bad memories” he has of his family and childhood. “Every family has bad memories,” Michael replies. And, so they do. Another appeal of great stories is the connections we make to our own lives and experiences. We are all part of the human experience. Even in my own family, there are true tales of tragedy and intrigue. Times change, but people are people, and our common human flaws source similar tales in our own lives and families. We each play our part in the story. We are each a cog in our family’s system. The cool thing is that we get to choose our character and influence the story with our daily choices of words, relationships, and deeds.

How will I choose to influence my story, and my family’s story, today?

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

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

The Spiritual Test

The Spiritual Test (CaD 2 Sam 12) Wayfarer

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
2 Samuel 12:13a (NIV)

When I was five years old, while on a Christmas Eve sleepover at my grandparent’s house,  I stole all of my siblings’ gift envelopes off of the Christmas tree and hid them in my suitcase. I watched in silence on Christmas day as grandma racked her brain to figure out where those envelopes went. Then, I promptly forgot that my mom would be the one unpacking my suitcase when we got home. I was totally busted. My butt was as rosy as Santa’s cheeks from the spanking that quickly followed. The cheeks of my face were quickly stained with tears of remorse. I called grandma to confess my heinous crime and to ask her forgiveness.

I learned at an early age that your sins find you out. Having said that, let me readily admit that it didn’t stop me from sinning. I’ve made plenty of tragic choices since then. Along my journey, however, I’ve come to realize that hiding, concealing, obfuscating, blaming, and excusing my wrongdoing is both delaying the inevitable and stunting my spiritual growth and development. The further I get in the journey the more readily I’ve embraced my fallibility and shortcomings. I might as well cut to the chase, admit I blew it, and allow everyone to move on.

I’ve been reading the book Seven by Jeff Cook which explores the link between Jesus’ “Beatitudes” and the seven deadly sins. He writes,

“Being poor in spirit is like being part of an AA meeting where all the participants confess openly that their lives have become unmanageable. Poverty in spirit is a conversation over coffee in which tears and regrets and inadequacies cover the table…Those who know they are poor in spirit are blessed because they alone know they need help – and any step toward help must be a step toward community…When we make our hurts and our past and our junk public, we are healed. When we keep them private, it is only a matter of time before they destroy us.”

In this morning’s chapter, David is confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his illicit affair with Bathsheba and his conspiracy to murder Bathsheba’s husband. His attempt to conceal the fact that he was the father of Bathsheba’s child is revealed in dramatic fashion. David’s response was to quickly confess his wrongdoing and seek God’s forgiveness. It’s a fascinating contrast to David’s predecessor. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul with his wrongdoing, Saul excused his behavior and refused to repent of his actions.

We all make mistakes. We all make selfish choices that hurt others. I’ve learned along my life journey that the true spiritual test is in how I respond to God and others in the ensuing shame and guilty conscience, or when my mistakes are confronted and exposed.

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

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

“Blessed”

"Blessed" (CaD 1 Sam 19) Wayfarer

Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall. That night David made good his escape.
1 Samuel 19:6 (NIV)

If you’ve followed my blog/podcast for any length of time, you know that Wendy and I typically have a “word” on which we focus every year. My word for this year is “blessed,” and this has led me to memorize Matthew 5:3-12, which is the opening of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” also known as “the Beatitudes.”

A few weeks ago I was with a friend who was asking me some really good questions about life. I recounted with him some of the life challenges Wendy and I have experienced and are experiencing this year. As I got through the list, my friend exclaimed, “Wow!” He then asked me, “And what is your word for this year?”

“Blessed.”

We shared a good laugh together.

One of the observations I’ve made along my spiritual journey is that it’s quite common for people, myself included, to assume that life should be easy. When I encounter troubles or trials on life’s road, it surprises me. I didn’t see it coming. I wasn’t prepared. My natural response is often pessimism, complaint, and descent into a funk of despair.

In today’s chapter, Saul’s madness and obsession with killing his rival, David, only intensifies. David has done nothing wrong to deserve Saul’s homicidal rage. In fact, David is living a “blessed” life. A shepherd boy from a backwater town, he has been anointed king by Samuel, become a royal minstrel, defeated Goliath, become a national hero, proven himself a gifted military leader, and married a princess. Despite all this, David has big troubles. Saul is hell-bent to kill him, and because of this, his life has become untenable.

The famous psychologist, Carl Jung, would point out that David is on an archetypical “hero’s journey.” Heroes always face trials and obstacles. At some point, they find themselves in the wilderness. It’s a repetitive pattern in the epic stories we love.

It’s also a repetitive pattern in life.

As I’ve been meditating on the Beatitudes in my memorization process, it has struck me that what Jesus is really getting at is an attitude of embracing the trials, obstacles, suffering, and tragedies with humility, trust, lament, right motive, and peace (props to Mark Scandrette and his book The Ninefold Path of Jesus). There are blessings within the struggle if I will stop fighting them as some kind of heinous and unexpected aberration in life, and start to flow with God in the midst of them.

Life is filled with trials, obstacles, suffering, and unexpected tragedies.

But it doesn’t mean I’m not blessed.

Like me, David’s going to learn this the hard way.

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

The Tragedy of Saul

The Tragedy of Saul (CaD 1 Sam 18) Wayfarer

When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.
1 Samuel 18:28-29 (NIV)

The history of theatre traces its roots back to ancient Greece. The stories that the Greeks adapted for the stage were typically comedies or tragedies. Even Shakespeare’s plays are categorized as comedy, tragedy, or history. The iconic comedy and tragedy masks continue to symbolize the theatre to this day.

In all of the Great Story, Saul may arguably be the most tragic figure. Given the opportunity of a lifetime, his ego, pride, and envy lead him on an ongoing, downward spiral as he becomes obsessed with his anointed rival, David.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel documents the stark contrast between David and Saul. David is humble and successful in everything he does. He’s a successful warrior, musician, leader, and lover. Five times in today’s chapter the author reminds us of David’s success and God’s favor towards him. Six times in today’s chapter, the author documents Saul’s anger, jealousy, envy, and rage.

To make matters worse, Saul appears to heed The Godfather’s advice: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” He intertwines his life with David to the extent that he can’t escape. David is always there. David is his minstrel. David is one of his best military officers. David is his son’s best friend. Jonathan treats David like a brother. David is the husband of his daughter. Michal is in love with the guy. Every decision Saul makes assures his self-destruction, while every decision David makes solidifies his success to Saul’s envious chagrin.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed individuals whose lives appear to be an echo of Saul’s. Their lives are one ongoing series of tragedies, the fruit of their own foolishness and cyclical poor choices. I’ve also observed those whose lives appear to be charmed like David. They succeed at everything they do and appear blessed in every way. In contrast, they appear to make routinely wise choices and enjoy a general sense of favor.

In the quiet this morning, there were two things that struck me as I meditated on the contrasting characters of Saul and David. First, I’ve learned along my spiritual journey that I have a nasty envious streak. Not surprisingly, it is the core weakness of an Enneagram Type Four (that’s me). It took me years to see the fulness of it in myself. I’m still in process of learning how to address it in a healthy way. So, I have to confess that I identify with Saul more than I care to admit.

The second thing that struck me is simply the cyclical and systemic pattern of Saul’s decline and David’s rise. The text states that God’s favor was with David and not with Saul, so there’s a spiritual component to it, but there is also the fact that Saul continuously made poor choices that ensured his failure, while David continuously acted with humility and made wise decisions. This leads me to consider my own choices – the choices I made yesterday, and the choices I will make today. Where am I making poor choices? Where am I making wise choices? How can I make fewer of the former and more of the latter?

David wasn’t perfect, by any means, but I’d prefer that my story look more like his than Saul’s.

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

Justice Then and Now

Justice Then and Now (CaD Jos 20) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
Joshua 20:1-3 (NIV)

Some of our most epic stories have ridiculously high body counts. I’ve had the joy of seeing many of Shakespeare’s plays produced on stage. His tragedies, in particular (e.g. Hamlet, Macbeth) end with seemingly everyone in the play dead. The same with the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. The same is true in more modern epics like the Godfather trilogy in which warring families endlessly kill one another. Game of Thrones also found creative and nasty ways to rack up the body counts. Even the climactic final chapters of Harry Potter contained the death of some of my most beloved characters.

Throughout history, our epic stories are reflections of our humanity, complete with its deepest flaws and tragic ends. Ever since Abel’s blood cried out, murder, death, and vengeance have been a part of human tragedies.

In today’s chapter, God reminds Joshua of a rudimentary system of justice outlined in the law of Moses. Knowing that tragic deaths could often result in violent, systemic, and generational blood feuds between families, clans, and tribes, Cities of Refuge were designated. If a tragic death occurred unintentionally yet a person was accused of murder, the accused could flee to one of these cities of refuge. The town protected the accused from acts of vengeance until a trial could be held by the tribal assembly and a verdict rendered. It was rudimentary, but it provided a time-out so that hot tempers could cool off and vengeance could be stalled in order for justice to be carried out.

As a student of history, I have often read about the historical implications that the Law of Moses had on humanity. It’s the recognized seminal code of law on which our own system of justice is built. No human system of justice is perfect, just as no human system of government is perfect. But in the story of the Hebrews, I see God prescribing a huge step forward toward a more just society.

So what does this have to do with me here in my 21st-century life journey? First of all, I’m grateful to have very little need for a justice system thus far on my life journey. I am blessed to have lived what amounts to a relatively peaceful life. I take that for granted sometimes, and so I whisper a prayer of gratitude in the quiet this morning.

I also recognize as I meditate on the chapter that justice is more pervasive in the human experience than the weighty matters of manslaughter and capital murder. Justice is a part of every human relationship and interaction. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t ignore that He calls me to be just, generous, loving, and merciful in every relationship. Jesus taught that In God’s kingdom:

  • Cursing another person is as serious as murder.
  • Lust is as serious as adultery.
  • I shouldn’t worship God if I’ve got an interpersonal human conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • I am to forgive, as I have been forgiven, and then keep forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, as and when necessary.
  • When cursed by others, I am to return blessings.
  • When asked for a favor, I am to go above and beyond what was asked.
  • As far as I am able, I am to live at peace with every person in my circles of community and influence.

And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just a top-of-mind list that came to me in the quiet.

And so I enter another day in the journey, endeavoring to be a person of love, mercy, generosity, and justice in a world that has always desperately needed it at every level.

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

Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective

Pilgrimage, Pandemic, and Perspective (CaD Gen 47) Wayfarer

And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.”
Genesis 47:9 (NIV)

This morning as I booted up to write this post and record the podcast, one app flashed a big banner saying “2021 is a Wrap” and offering to show me all the stats and data from the last twelve months. And so, it begins. December and January are typically times of contemplation about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Get ready for media to start posting all of the lists of the “bests,” “worsts,” and “mosts” for 2021.

We’re coming up on two years since COVID changed life on our planet. In early 2020, Wendy and I went on a cruise with friends. The pandemic had barely begun and was believed at that point to be confined to China. Our cruise line told us that passengers from China had been barred from the cruise. Within a few weeks after that cruise, the world was in full lockdown.

One of the observations I’ve made in these two years is the degree to which people fear death, and just how powerfully that fear can drive a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.

Today’s chapter is fascinating to read in the context of our own times. The known world was in a similar state of mass insecurity due to the seven years of famine they were experiencing. Step-by-step, Egyptians submitted their money, livestock, land, and their very selves to the State in exchange for their survival. By the time the famine was over, the State of Egypt owned everything and everyone.

The thing that resonated most deeply with me was Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh when asked his age. He speaks of his life as a pilgrimage. The Hebrew word is māgôr and it isn’t very common, though it’s already been used a few times in reference to the lives of Jacob, his father, and grandfather. What struck me was the metaphor. He sees his entire life as a pilgrimage, a sojourn, a period of exile on this earth. As the songwriter put it: “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.”

Jesus called His followers to have this same perspective as Jacob. He called me to understand that what happens after this earthly life is more real, more important, and valuable than what happens here on this earth. What comes after this life is where Jesus tells me to invest my treasure, which in turn changes the way I observe, think, believe, and live in my own pilgrimage as a “poor wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe.” Jesus also tells me to expect trouble on the earthly journey and to be at peace in the midst of it.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded by Jacob’s experience that there is nothing new under the sun. Pandemics, famines, floods, earthquakes, wars, and eruptions dot human history. Jesus not only tells me to expect more of the same but also calls them the birth pains which will lead to the nativity of something profoundly new.

Wendy and I are once again going on a cruise with friends to start 2022. I’m looking forward to it despite the continued restrictions. Just as our last cruise marked, for me, the beginning bookend of COVD, I’m hoping I might look back on this cruise as the other bookend. In the meantime, I continue to press on in my own pilgrimage on this earthly journey and expectantly look forward to a homecoming that lies beyond its end.

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

God in the “Hevel”

God in the "Hevel" (CaD Gen 45) Wayfarer

[Joseph said] “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Genesis 45:5, 8 (NIV)

Two weeks ago, among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I was tasked with giving the final message in a twelve-weeks series on the book of Ecclesiastes. One of the main themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that everything is “meaningless,” a word the author uses 33 times in the book. The Hebrew word the ancient Sage used was “hevel” (or “hebel“, it can be transliterated either way) for which there’s not really a good English equivalent. It’s like smoke or vapor that you can see with your eyes but can’t physically grasp or hold onto. It evades full comprehension or understanding.

In an earlier message in the series, I used my blog post on Ecclesiastes 9 as a springboard to try and help communicate what I think the Sage was trying to get at by describing life as smokey hevel:

One couple in our midst prayed for a baby and gets pregnant. Another couple prayed for a baby and remains childless. “What the hevel?”

We watch so many young people grow to adulthood while a family tragically loses a child at a young age. “What the hevel?”

One person in our community is miraculously cured while another suffers and dies when no miracle occurs. “What the Hevel?”

I provide you this flashback on Ecclesiastes because the story of Joseph could be Exhibit A in understanding hevel. I even used it as an illustration in my message. The fact that I was reading through the story at the same time I was tasked with the message felt like a divine appointment. Joseph, the favorite son did nothing more than share with his family a dream he had. He’s beaten, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused of rape, unjustly imprisoned, and unfairly forgotten. He had every reason to sit in prison groaning “What the hevel?! Why is this happening to me? Life isn’t fair. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Why me, God? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Why!?”

We find out in today’s chapter, which is the climax of the story. Joseph, having been raised to a leadership position in Egypt, and having miraculously been given prophetic foreknowledge of a seven-year famine, reveals himself to his brothers. The same brothers who sold him into slavery now come and bow down to him, begging him for food. Joseph reveals himself to them. It all comes together, and Joseph sees God’s hand in the hevelish circumstances that brought him to this moment. As Paul might have described it: All things worked together for good.

Just yesterday morning, over coffee, Wendy and I recounted some painful moments and relationships we’ve experienced over the years. With each one, we were able to look back and see how God used those moments and difficult stretches of the journey both in our lives and the lives of others involved.

I ended my message two weeks ago with an observation. Just a few chapters further into the story, in the book of Exodus, God will lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Each day, for 40 years, God will lead them by appearing in the form of a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s like smoke. You might say it’s hevel.

God is in the hevel.

My friends even gave me a coffee mug to remember the lesson. 😉

FWIW: Here’s a link to the message I referenced in today’s post. You can find it and an archive of other messages on my Messages page.

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

Proven Character

Proven Character (CaD Ruth 3) Wayfarer

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Ruth 3:11 (NIV)

At the suggestion of a friend, Wendy and I have been listening to the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill which chronicles the story of a megachurch in Seattle that became one of the largest and most influential churches in America, and then disappeared almost over night. In telling the story of Mars Hill, the podcast also shares a larger story about the history of megachurches in America and their pastors, including Willowcreek in Chicago, where I attended regularly during my college years.

One of the most fascinating common themes of these stories is that of the talented, charismatic pastors who rose to positions of incredible prominence and celebrity status, then had their own very personal and public descent into scandal. The stories reveal a pattern. Very talented and charismatic young men who rocketed into positions of power and leadership in their 20s and 30s, arguably before their characters were fully formed through the process of experience. And, these were churches they themselves started, so the systems that grew up around them protected them and allowed them to fire, threaten, minimize, harass, shame, or marginalize anyone within the system who they didn’t trust or deemed personally disloyal. One said it plainly : “We value loyalty over honesty.”

In today’s chapter, we find Ruth, the widowed foreigner, boldly taking the initiative with Boaz. With suggestions and instructions from her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth dresses herself up in her best outfit and puts on her best perfume. After Boaz has feasted and made merry with this servants in celebration of the harvest, he goes with the other men to sleep by the grain pile to protect it from robbers. Ruth uncovers the feet of Boaz and lies next to him. When he wakes up and asks who is lying there, Ruth asks him to “spread your garment over me” which was a request for Boaz to marry her in fulfillment of his obligation as a guardian-redeemer. Similar customs are still practiced in some middle east cultures today.

Boaz, whom the author has already established as a man of faith and good character, then observes that Ruth has proven herself to be a woman of “noble character” and everyone in the community knows it. What’s interesting is that the Hebrew word for “noble character” is the same that is used in the famous passage of Proverbs 31 which describes an ideal, godly woman. The phrase is the only used three times in the Old Testament: Ruth 3:11, Proverbs 31:10, and Proverbs 12:4.

Boaz then tells Ruth that there is a potential glitch in the matrix. There is an unnamed kinsman-redeemer who is closer in relation. Boaz must defer if the closer relative wishes to redeem Ruth and marry her. He vows to settle the issue immediately, and sends Ruth back to Naomi with a gift of more grain.

One of the themes of this tender story is that each of the main characters behave with proven character. Naomi, in her emptiness tries to do right by her daugthers-in-law. Ruth does right by Naomi and behaves honorably so that an entire community sees her as a woman of “noble character” despite being a foreigner and a widow. Boaz is a man of faith, kindness, generosity, and handles Ruth’s bold request honestly and honorably.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the believers in Rome who were facing persecution:

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

There is a spiritual maturation process that happens in facing trials, difficulties, and suffering in life. Character is not a spiritual gift, nor is it cheaply acquired. Character is developed by walking through the valleys on this life journey, persevering, pressing on, and learning the harsh lessons experience. Boaz is not a young man. Neither is Naomi. Naomi and Ruth are walking through a long, dark valley on life’s road. Each of them is a person of genuine character.

Which brings me back to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and the observation it makes regarding the character issues of young pastors who found themselves in positions of prominence and power relatively early in their life journeys before experience, trial, perseverance, and wisdom could fully develop character which led to tragic ends. I confess that as a young man I admired and was envious of some of these individuals and their success. Looking back from my current waypoint on life’s road, there is no doubt in my mind that had I been in their shoes I would have met a similar, scandalous crash-and-burn. Believe me, I had to experience my own character-honing failures, mistakes, and tragedies in those years. I just didn’t have millions of people watching. And for that, I’m grateful.

“There, but for the grace of God…”

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

Dealt a Bad Hand

Dealt a Bad Hand (CaD Ruth 1) Wayfarer

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Ruth 1:20-21 (NIV)

Along my journey, I’ve known many people who I would describe as having been dealt a bad hand in this life. I have experienced multipole stretches of the journey in which I felt I was dealt a bad hand. There are unexpected tragedies, unforeseen illnesses, and circumstances that come out of left field. As I ponder things, I feel as if the entire world got dealt a bad hand the past year-and-a-half. It’s one of the realities of this earthly journey. Despite all the wonderful promises of name-it-and-claim-it televangelists, the Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds us of a hard reality: in this life there are times and seasons when things like death, war, tearing, weeping, searching, relational distance, mourning, and hate are our experience. In every time and season, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.

Today we begin the short story of Ruth, one of only two books of Great Story named after women. Ruth is one of a select handful of women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, so her story is a meaningful chapter in the Great Story. It is set in the dark period of time known as the time of the Judges. The story begins with a woman, Naomi, to whom God deals and incredibly bad hand.

There is a famine in the land, and Naomi’s husband leads her and her sons to the foreign land of Moab in a search to find food. At first, it appears that they’re playing their cards right. They settle in, have food, and even find Moabite wives for their sons. There was nothing illegal with Hebrew men marrying Moabite women, though it will certainly raise some orthodox, prejudicial eyebrows if and when they should return home to the little town of Bethlehem (yep, that Bethlehem).

Then there’s a change in seasons, just like the Sage reminds us. Naomi’s husband dies. Then both of her sons die. For a woman in the dark age of the Judges, this was the worst hand God could deal her. Widows had no status, no viable means of income, and there was no social structure to provide for their needs. Naomi’s situation is essentially hopeless.

Naomi recognizes that the situation for her daughters-in-law is not as dire. They are young, beautiful, and have child-bearing years ahead of them. She urges them to “fold” their hand, stay in Moab, and trust that their local Moabite god will deal them a new and better hand. One takes her up on the offer, but Ruth chooses to ante up, stick with Naomi, stick with Naomi’s God, and see this hand through. On the surface, this is a bad decision. Being a Moabite widow in Bethlehem and expecting a positive result is about the longest odds one could imagine in the context of the times.

Sure enough, widow Naomi’s return to Bethlehem with her foreign, widowed daughter-in-law, has the two buzzing with gossip. Naomi sums up her situation by asking people to call her by a different name:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara (which means “bitter”), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Bitter. What a great word for those times when I suddenly find myself playing a bad hand in life. Bitter at God. Bitter with the situation. Bitter that others seem to have it easier than me. Bitter that all the televangelist’s prophesies of my prosperity and the self-help guru’s promises of my success turn out to be null and void. Bitter that God dealt me this hand when He could have dealt me something different.

In the quiet this morning, I feel for Naomi, I mean Mara the Queen of bitter. I find myself recalling some of my top-ten bitter moments of this life journey even as I admit not one of them was nearly as dire or life-threatening as Naomi and Ruth. At the same time, I’m reminded that the Great Story is ultimately a redemption story that is layered with redemption stories. The way stories work, you can’t experience redemption without first experiencing the bitter. The bitter hand is the pre-requisite of redemption. I don’t experience the latter without the former.

It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned along this journey of following Jesus. When dealt a bad hand, never fold, because that assures perpetual bitterness. Playing out my hand is the only path to redemption, even against the longest of odds.

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