Tag Archives: Tragedy

“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.

Holy Moments in the Dark

Holy Moments in Dark Places (CaD Ps 106) Wayfarer

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
    and glory in your praise.

Psalm 106:47 (NIV)

Yesterday, Wendy and I found ourselves discussing the concept of holiness as we enjoyed our weekly date at the local pub for pizza and a pint. It kind of picked up on what I discussed in my blog post a few weeks ago. In my experience, the concept of being “holy” has largely been reduced by the institutional church to mean “morally pure.” In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that it means so much more than that.

Our conversation sprung out a friend sharing with us about a loved one who finds themselves in one of life’s dark valleys. Wendy and I both identified with the story because both of our journeys include stretches in dark places of our own choices and consequences. Much like our friend’s loved one, the respective dark valleys on life’s road were not characterized by any kind of moral purity.

Go to any twelve-step meeting and you’ll hear people tell their own stories about dark valleys on life’s road. You’ll also hear them share that sometimes one must hit rock-bottom before they spiritually wake up to the consequences of their actions and their need to change.

In Jesus’ famous story of the Prodigal Son, the younger brother finds himself far from home, broke, alone, and literally wading in pig shit. In that rock-bottom moment Jesus shared:

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

Wendy and I discussed that this very moment, in the midst of the dark valley, at rock-bottom, and knee-deep in pig shit, was a holy moment. That’s the way the spiritual journey often works. Holiness is not confined to the definition of moral purity found at the mountain-top of righteousness. Holiness can also be found in the spiritual awakening that often happens not at the summit of morality but in the muck of a shattered life.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 106, is the final song in Book IV of the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms. It is another summary review of the history of the Hebrews. As the song comes to its conclusion, the songwriter pens:

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations

This would indicate that this song was likely written from a place of exile when the Hebrew tribes had been scattered across the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. What’s different in this re-telling of the history compared to the one I just read last week is the heart of repentance. The songwriter finds himself far from home, broken, living amidst his enemies and he recognizes that this dark valley was part of the consequence of his peoples own poor choices. Like the Prodigal, like Wendy and me, the songwriter is having his own holy moment of spiritual awakening. He’s owning his part (and the part of his people) in landing himself in this dark valley. He’s making the spiritual turn.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my own journey which includes holy moments that occurred both on spiritual mountain tops and sinful, dark valleys. King David wrote in another song (we haven’t gotten to it yet) that there’s nowhere that he could flee from God’s presence. Even in my lowest, darkest moments, God was not absent. It was there He helped awaken my spirit to my need to change the spiritual trajectory of my life.

It was a holy moment.

Rug-Pulling Moments

Rug-Pulling Moments (CaD Ps 89) Wayfarer

You have put an end to his splendor
    and cast his throne to the ground.

Psalm 89:44 (NIV)

This past week Wendy and I enjoyed hosting both of our daughters and their husbands, along with our grandson, Milo. It was a first in many ways. Madison and Garrett just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and it’s the first time that all seven of us were gathered under our roof. It was a really fun week together as a family.

Wendy and I particularly enjoyed three-year-old Milo climbing into our bed early in the morning to cuddle with Papa and Yaya. One morning Taylor joined us one the bed with her cup of morning coffee. A short time later Madison walked in and climbed on the bed, as well. We got to talk, laugh, share stories, and reminisce. What a joy.

On New Year’s Eve, Wendy and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t help but mentally juxtapose the week of being a family together in one house with this relational milestone. Fifteen years ago, the girls were young teenagers reeling from all the changes and turmoil that come when parents divorce and then remarry. It’s messy, and it’s hard when life doesn’t turn the way you planned, and the way you’d always trusted and believed that it would.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 89, is the final song in “Book III” of the compilation of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the book of Psalms. It was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. Through the first half of the song the lyrics read like an emotional tour of the “glory days” of King David, of God’s blessing on David, God’s anointing of David, God’s covenant with David, and God’s assurances that the throne of David would be established forever.

Then, the songwriter does a 180-degree pivot. After building up the rosy picture of the Davidic monarchy in all its glory, he quickly yanks the rug out from under me as a reader: “But you have rejected, you have spurned”. It’s such a shocking change of tone that it felt unsettling as I read it in the quiet this morning. And, I couldn’t help but think that this was the songwriter’s intent, to have me feel the shock that he was feeling when life didn’t turn out the way he’d trusted and planned.

The psalmist foreshadows the misunderstanding that surrounded Jesus’ followers when the Messiah’s kingdom turned out to look nothing like what they’d envisioned, believed, and had been taught their whole lives. David’s throne was established forever, which is why the Christmas story we are currently celebrating took place in “the City of David” with a mother and earthly father who were descendants of David. God kept His covenant with David, it just didn’t happen the way everyone expected. As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

Today’s psalm reminds me of the very human reaction I tend to have whenever life doesn’t turn out the way I planned. Tragedy, unexpected death, life-threatening illness, divorce, job-loss, global pandemic and leave me reeling like having the rugged pulled out from under me. There is shock, there is anger, there is grief, and there are oh so many questions. Like the ancient songwriter, my prayers in these reeling moments on the road of life tend to sound bitter, blaming, and cynical.

I’ve found it to be part of the journey. Like I said in yesterday’s post, these are the stretches of life’s road that lead to digging deeper roots and growing spirit strength. It was hard for me to see it in the middle of the shame of a failed marriage and feeling the anger and disappointment of teenaged daughters. This was never the plan. This was not how it was supposed to work out. Oh, so many questions.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that as a follower of Jesus I need the rug pulled out from beneath me on occasion. Comfortably standing on my own illusions and expectations of what I think life should look like will never allow me to follow Jesus where He is leading me. And even though there are still times when it leaves me reeling for a time, I’ve learned that there are divine purpose in the rug-pulling experiences on this life journey. It usually makes no sense to me in the moment.

Then, down life’s road fifteen years or so, I find myself one morning on the bed together as a family. We’re cuddling the next generation, drinking coffee, swapping stories, and experiencing the joy of being together.

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died (CaD Ps 72) Wayfarer

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
Psalm 72:20 (NIV)

I have the Don McLean classic American Pie going through my head in the quiet this morning. It’s funny how songs connect to so many thoughts and feelings. The first verse stirs so many memories of being a paperboy at the age of 12. Frigid Iowa mornings being the first person to see the headlines, and trudging in the dark before dawn hand-delivering newspapers to the doorsteps up and down the block.

McLean’s lyrics go like this…

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

I think the inspiration for those words has already been lost to most people. As Mclean’s lyric reveals, it was an event that became known as “The Day the Music Died.” A small plane crashed in an Iowa field and tragically took the lives of three of the most popular rock-and-roll musicians of their day: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 72, isn’t as meaningful to the causal reader without understanding the context of both the song and its placement in the larger work we know as the book of Psalms. As I’ve mentioned before, this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics was compiled by unknown editors. They’ve been lost in the fog of history, but they probably did their compilation sometime around the time the Hebrews were in Exile in Babylon about 500-600 B.C.

The editors didn’t just throw the songs together willy-nilly. There was tremendous thought put into themes, authorship, chronology, and how the individual songs fit into the larger whole. The Psalms are actually broken up into five sections we call “Books.” As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’ve come to the end of Book II with Psalm 72. Most all of the songs lyrics in the anthology, thus far, have been penned by King David. Yesterday’s lyrics revealed David’s thoughts and expressions near the end of his life.

The final song of Book II is an abrupt transition. The liner notes reveal that it is “of” Solomon or “for” Solomon (perhaps both/and), the youngest son of David and the offspring of Bethsheba (yep, the woman with whom he had a scandalous affair). Psalm 72 is a coronation song, meant to be used during the public rituals when a new king is crowned. As if the meaning of this song coming immediately after David’s aged reflections in Psalm 71, and the fact that we’re at the end of Book II, wasn’t clear enough, the anonymous editors of the anthology added a line at the end of the lyrics:

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

Old things pass away. New things come.

David, the warrior-king, God’s minstrel, has passed on.

It was “the day the music died” for the Hebrew people.

Psalm 72 reads like an idyllic vision of monarchy. Like an inauguration speech from a new President, it is full of hope for a new leader who will rule with justice, end poverty, end violence, provide for those in need, be esteemed by world leaders, and be forever established as God’s person for the job. The vision is so idyllic that both Hebrew scholars and early followers of Jesus viewed the metaphors as layered with meaning both as a national anthem for the newly crowned Solomon, and a prophetic vision of the coming and reigning Messiah.

In the quiet this morning, my Enneagram Four-ness can’t shake the melancholy (go figure). A little boy delivering newspapers in the cold, inspired in the grief of a terrible tragedy. In tragics deaths of an Iowa winter, a seed is planted in that little boy which will one day creatively spring to life in a new song that will mesmerize the music world for generations.

What a beautiful image of creation, of life, death, and new life. That’s the theme. That’s the theme of the Great Story.

Creation, Garden, Fall, Salvation.

Birth, life, death, new life.

A time and a season for all things under the sun.

Old things pass away. New things come.

As the Mandalorians in Star Wars would say: “This is the way.”

So, no matter where the journey finds you today, in joy or grief, in melancholy or happiness, take courage, my friend. The best is yet to come.

I have spoken. 😉