Tag Archives: Vision

Every Tribe and Tongue

Every Tribe and Tongue (CaD Ps 129) Wayfarer

“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
    but they have not gained the victory over me.”

Psalm 129:2 (NIV)

Wendy and I watched Godfather: Coda a few weeks ago. For those who aren’t familiar, it is the recent re-edit of the final film in the Godfather trilogy by the film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola. Originally released as The Godfather III back in 1990, the film has always been largely criticized for not living up to the first two films. Coppola claimed that he was at odds with the movie Studio on how the story should be told and was forced to rush the film to market. He was finally allowed, 30 years later, to recut it and tell the story as he and Mario Puzo imagined it.

The trilogy is really the story of Michael Corleone. Raised in a mafia family, he swears early on in the first film that he’ll never be part of the family business. The overarching story is how Michael descends into the underworld with the intent to save his family and then can’t escape, as his family is slowly torn apart.

One of the subtle storylines in the third film is that of Michael Corleone’s son, Anthony. Anthony, like his father, wants nothing to do with the family business. “I’ll never be part of the family business,” Anthony states. He then adds, “I have bad memories.”

“Every family has bad memories,” his father replies.

That line has always resonated in my soul because I find it to be true. Just the other day I wrote about my journey of discovery and uncovering some of my families’ bad memories when I was a young man. But there is also the larger reality that we are the product of the systems into which we were born. We are a product of our people. Michael wanted to escape, yet he chose in and tragically couldn’t find the exit.

Wendy and I are both products of a Dutch American tribe who risked everything to come to America, settled as a tribe on the plains of Iowa, and prospered. That prosperity was fueled by our tribe’s deeply rooted values of faith, frugality, and hard work. Wendy and I often acknowledge that we are products of our people with both the blessings and curses that come with every human system.

For the Hebrew tribes, history and identity as a people is one of constant struggle against other tribes and nations and their subjugation by human empires. That is what the writer of today’s chapter, Psalm 129, is pressing into with his lyrics as he describes being enslaved and beaten:

Plowmen have plowed my back
    and made their furrows long.

Psalm 129 was likely written after the return of exiles from captivity in Babylon. The sting of the experience would have still been fresh in the memories of those singing this song on their pilgrimage. It is the cry of a people that first acknowledges that God has blessed them and they have not been overcome, then asks God to justly deal with their oppressors.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself confessing that there are a host of human experiences that I can’t completely fathom because I haven’t experienced them myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t seek to understand, to empathize, and to learn lessons from the experience of others. Our Dutch American town holds an annual festival of our Dutch heritage. The motto of the festival is “Everyone’s Dutch for a day!” and visitors are encouraged to learn the history, try on a pair of wooden shoes, learn a Dutch dance, and eat lots of pastries. When invited in to learn and embrace the knowledge of other cultures and people groups, I observe that everyone benefits. When excluded from doing so, I observe that the walls of prejudice are fortified to the detriment of all.

One of the sins of the institutional churches and the abuse of their power in history is the perpetuation of prejudice, injustice, violence, and indifference for the sake of power and empire in the kingdom of this world. The Jesus Movement that was about tearing down walls of prejudice and spreading love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to every human tribe became a human empire. In the black-and-white binary choices to which the world likes to reduce everything, Christianity has been summarily dismissed by many.

I have found, however, that the heart of the Jesus Movement has always continued in the hearts and lives of individuals who embrace it and seek to carry out the original mission. A mission in which every human being of every people group can experience love, forgiveness, and redemption. When given a vision of eternity, John described the crowd as persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. When U2 described it in their psalm they sang, “I believe in the Kingdom come, when all the colors bleed into one.”

My heart this morning is crying out with the prayer of St. Francis. Perhaps it expresses more succinctly what my heart is trying to say in this post:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

King of the Mountain

King of the Mountain (CaD Ps 47) Wayfarer

God is king over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne.

Psalm 47:8 (NRSVCE)

I think that the changing of the seasons brings back certain specific childhood memories. Here in Iowa the last few weeks have ushered in the harsh realities of winter. The snow has already begun to descend. In yesterday’s post I was thinking specifically about the memories of walking to-and-from school. This morning, it’s snow.

The cool thing for a kid growing up the city in Iowa was the way snow completely transformed the landscape. Not only did it layer everything with this thick blanket of white, but the snowplows and shovels created tiny mountain ranges of snow on every street corner, parking lot, playground, and driveway.

For kids this meant one thing: a game called “King of the Mountain!”

The game is simple. Climb to the top. Stake your claim as King of the Mountain, then get ready to take on all challengers your throne on the mountaintop of ice and snow. Go!! Seriously. Between King of the Mountain, public smoking, the ability for any child to buy cigarettes out of a vending machine, and the fact that seat belts were considered optional accessories that you stuffed into the crack between the seats so they wouldn’t poke you…How did we survive childhood in the 1970’s?!

Why did my brain go there this morning? Today’s chapter is Psalm 47 which was a song of enthronement. In all ancient Mesopotamian cultures the celebration of a king’s enthronement was a huge deal. There was a parade, a procession, loud music, an entire nation dancing, clapping, singing…think Kool & the Gang singing “Celebrate good times! Come on!” (Man, now my brain is stuck on Memory Ln.!)

The fascinating thing about this Hebrew song of enthronement is that the metaphor is that of God ascending His holy mountain (for the Hebrews that was Mount Zion where God’s temple was located) to be enthroned over all the earth, all the nations, all of creation.

The metaphor of God as king is one that that emerged during the time of the ancient monarchy of the Hebrews. The prophet Isaiah has his famous vision of being taken up into the throne room of God. The theme was written into the liturgical worship songs like Psalm 47. It is carried on through the entirety of the Great Story. The Messiah was pictured as king over the entire earth. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles all referenced Jesus sitting at “the right hand of the Father” in heaven. Paul (who had his own wild vision experience of being taken up into heaven) referred to Jesus as “King of Kings,” and he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi:

Therefore God also highly exalted [Jesus]
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the throne room of heaven where “The Lamb who was slain” sits on the throne.

Enthronement is a big deal in the Great Story, but the metaphor has very personal implications. When I became a follower of Jesus on a frigid Iowa winter night back in 1981, I knew that it was time for me to stop spiritually playing “King of the Mountain” with my own soul. I told Jesus that I was stepping down as king of my own life, and I invited Jesus to be enthroned in my heart and my life. I confess that I haven’t always been a perfect subject, but that spiritual reality has never changed for me over the last forty years. I have continually sought to give Jesus dominion on the throne of my life and pursue His purposes for me in this life journey.

And, what’s cool is that the metaphor doesn’t end there. Having spiritually abdicated and given Jesus the throne of my life, Jesus did not consider me an enemy, a threat, a usurper to be banished from the kingdom and taken out lest I try to take back the throne. No, I get adopted into the royal family. I am given a place, a role, an inheritance, and, in the Great Story, I am now referenced as a “co-heir” with Jesus. I have a place in the procession, at the king’s table, in the king’s family.

You know what that makes me think?!

[cue: Kool and the Gang]

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

Hope Needs a Description

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”
Zechariah 8:4-5 (NIV)

There are certain stretches of the life journey when, as U2 sang, “You’re stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.” There are times when everything seems to crash in around you and if feels as if nothing will ever be right with the world again.

As I look back this morning, it’s the period of time around the divorce that stands out as one of those stuck moments. It was certainly not how I envisioned things to go, and a circumstance in which I never thought I’d find myself. There was the shame that I, myself, felt. There was the condemnation of others telling me I was going to hell. There was a constant reminder that everything was out of sorts. There were days when I was so discouraged that I couldn’t see beyond it.

I’ve been journeying through the writings of the prophet Zechariah. His visions coincided with a time when the city of Jerusalem lay in ruins. No one had been living in the rubble of the city. Everyone settled in nearby towns. Now, a remnant of exiles wants to return and rebuild. I can only imagine the discouragement of standing in front of the rubble heap and thinking, “How is this ever going to be a city again?”

In today’s chapter, Zechariah channels a stream of messages that God gave him for that remnant of exiles. What was fascinating to me was that it wasn’t just a pithy “Buck up, little campers. You can do it!” God gave specific word pictures of safety, security, and prosperity. He helped the exiles picture it in their heads: the old people sitting in front of their homes watching neighborhood children playing tag. He described times of plenty and times of peace.

It reminded me of particular friends who, during those dark days during the divorce, spoke to me specific things I had to look forward to. It wasn’t just a simple, It’s going to get better, but a “Tom, someday this is all going to be a distant memory. You’re going to walk alongside a brother who is going through it, and you’re going to be able to encourage him in his time of need.”

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that sometimes hope needs a description.

Mystery and Knowledge

Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.
Zechariah 6:12-13 (NIV)

One of my geeky interests in this life is art history. In college, I had an art professor who taught Art History from a Western Civilization textbook. His reasoning was that you can’t separate the art from everything that was going on in the culture around it. Politics, religion, commerce, and other popular art forms of the day were both influencing what the artist was expressing and being influenced by it at the same time. Ever since that class, my love of history and my love of art have overlapped.

One of the things I find fascinating in art history is that modern scholars can have vastly different interpretations of what an artist was trying to communicate. And, they might both be partially right, or completely wrong. That’s the way it is with no historical record from that artist explaining the piece.

When it comes to the prophetic writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets, I encounter much of the same kind of struggle. Very intelligent and educated scholars can interpret certain visions and metaphors differently. There are ancient words the prophets used for which we have no clear definition. Like a mysterious old painting, we are sometimes left trying to piece together contextual clues to figure it out.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah describes his eighth and final vision about the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem. Four Spirits in chariots with different colored horses are dispatched across the world. The exact meaning of the bronze mountains and the colors of the horses is speculative. The angel tells Zech that the Spirit that went north gave God’s Spirit “rest in the land of the north.” We do know that the north was considered the land of Babylon and the direction from which Jerusalem’s enemies came. This gist of this final vision indicates a time of peace.

Then Zech switches gears and receives a word from God to make a crown and put it on the head of Joshua the priest. What’s fascinating about this is that since the days of Moses when the religious system of the Hebrews was established (see the books of Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) the priesthood and the crown were two distinct offices. The king ruled politically, and the priest was the intercessor between God and the people. Only direct descendants of Aaron could be priests and only direct descendants of David could be king. Zechariah’s prophetic word describes a “Branch” who will unite the two.

Fast forward to Jesus. The family histories given by both Matthew and Luke establish that Jesus was a descendant of David. John the Baptist’s parents were both descendants of Aaron. In the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John there is a symbolic joining of the two. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the word pictures and descriptions of Christ and the metaphors are of both king and priest. In Revelation 5, for example, Jesus is “the lamb” (the priestly sacrifice) who sits on the throne (the king of kings). The book of Hebrews was written to establish how Jesus is both King and High Priest (see Hebrews chapters 1 and 7).

In the quiet this morning I find myself pondering on all the mysterious artwork of visions and dreams that come down to us from the ancient prophets. Some prophetic visions and word pictures, like what the two bronze mountains in Zech’s vision are supposed to mean, are as mysterious to me as they are to wisest of scholars. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the artwork of the word pictures and find meaning in them for myself. They make great fodder for speculative conversations over a pint. Others, like the joining of the priesthood and the crown weave together the Great Story that God is authoring across time. They thread together the tapestry of history and provide me a greater depth of meaning and understanding of my faith.

As I head out into my day I’m reminded that my life journey is like that. Some things are clear to me, while other things are mysteries to be endlessly understood. Another reason why this life is a faith journey and not a commuter ride.

Have a great day, my friend. Trek well.

Once in a While, I’ve Gotta Stop Looking at my Feet

“Announce and proclaim among the nations,
    lift up a banner and proclaim it;
    keep nothing back, but say,
‘Babylon will be captured;”
Jeremiah 50:2a (NIV)

Just yesterday I read an article about living in the later stretches of life’s journey. A few years ago I would have simply passed that article by. All of a sudden, it seems more relevant.

When I was a young man, I remember our (somewhat) annual family gatherings at the lake. I would never have imagined during that stage of the journey that my folks would buy a place here, that I would eventually own it, and what life would be like spending chunks of each summer living, working, and hosting family and friends here. In those days, I was just trying to get through each day and living week-by-week. I gave little thought to anything beyond the stretch of the journey I was in at that moment. My eyes were focused on my feet as I put one foot in front of the other.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s prophetic anthology is a fascinating. For most of the 50 chapters through which we’ve waded, the nation of Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar have been prophetically revealed as “God’s servant” gobbling up both Judah and the surrounding nations. Now, Jeremiah’s vision extends further down life’s road when Babylon will be defeated and suffer the same treatment they’ve dished out for years. At that time, the remnant of God’s people will return to their land. Jeremiah looks beyond the next chapter of the story to the subsequent chapters and the events in the plot line.

As a young man I had experienced relatively little of Life’s journey. Without the perspective that comes from experience, I found myself myopically focused on the day-to-day and the next milestone in view. The further I progressed and experienced more and more distinct stages of life, the more capable I’ve become at looking ahead. I can see past today. I can look past the next milestone. I can begin to envision that there’s not only a new chapter of life after this one, but also another one after that, and one after that. It doesn’t mean that I worry about the future, mind you. As Jesus reminded us in yesterday’s post, those tomorrows will take care of themselves. It is what it is. What will be will be. It does, however, give my today some much needed perspective.

This morning I’m reminded of a few specific stages of Life’s road that I thought would never end. There have been stages which required so much thought, energy, emotional, and spiritual resources that I couldn’t see beyond them. I can imagine that those taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and hauled off to Babylon felt that way in the midst of their exile. But Jeremiah’s message in today’s chapter stood as a reminder that there’s more to the story. Past this chapter of the story is another chapter, and then another, and another.

I can’t always see what lies ahead on Life’s road, but I’ve learned that it’s wise to stop looking at my feet from time to time. One in a while I need to look up, look out, and search the horizon. I can’t see clearly what’s coming, but I need the reminder that there’s more to the story. I will get there.

As for today? Press on.

Wisdom You Only Find Away from Home

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians.”
Jeremiah 24:4 (NIV)

I can remember running away as a child only once. Despite a memory that recalls some of the most arcane details of my early years, I can’t for the life of me remember what made me so angry that day. I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old when I announced to my mother that I was running away. I remember that she didn’t seem particularly worried. I left without packing a bag or giving a single thought to where I was going, how I was going to get there, nor what I would do for the most basic of necessities. (Wendy will not be surprised by this.) I hadn’t gone as far as two blocks up Madison Avenue before the realities of my poor decision making caught up with me. I turned around and headed home.

I never attempted to physically run away from home again. I learned along my life journey, however, that terms of exile and running away can happen as much in the heart, mind, and spirit as they do in the body.

Today’s short chapter is a brief word picture God gave the ancient prophet Jeremiah. He writes from the rubble of Jerusalem he had long foreseen and prophesied. The best and brightest of his people had been taken captive back to Babylon. The royal family had either been killed or fled to Egypt to escape being killed. Jeremiah is given a vision of two sets of figs: one good and one rotten. The word picture was simple. The poor exiles in Babylon were good fruit that God would bless and prepare for an eventual redemptive return. The royals and politicians who propagated the mess were rotten figs who would continue to rot.

This morning I mulled over Jeremiah’s vision and the realities faced by the poor exiles facing the harsh new realities of life in Persia. I’ve come to accept along this journey that there are pieces of wisdom that are only found away from home. Abraham was led away from his home and family. Moses was sent down river in a basket and later ran to the land of Midian. Joseph was exiled in Egypt, and his father Jacob redeemed his son only when famine drove him and his family to their own exile. David the anointed boy-king would spend years of exile in the desert wasteland before finally ascending to the throne. The prodigal son only learned how good he had it back home when he found himself covered with pig slop in a distant country. The prodigal’s elder brother, meanwhile, had no idea how lost he was at home.

As a father I came to expect that my children would someday run away in one way or another whether that was a childish block-and-a-half trek up the street or a secret exile of the young adult soul. Looking back I can see that each of them did so in their own way, though they may not be completely finished. Exile and running away can be cyclical or repetitive occurrences along one’s life journey. I realized early in my experience as a father that I would be foolish to shelter, hinder, or deny them the wisdom they will only find along those stretches of their respective journeys.

This morning I’m smiling at the memory of a young boy, in full-blown childish tantrum, announcing he was running away and storming out of the house. My mother didn’t stop me. She didn’t run after me. She didn’t try to convince me of the error of my ways or my foolish lack of preparation. She wished me well and watched me walk up Madison Avenue. A short time later she silently said nothing as I returned home having gained nothing but a simple piece of wisdom that has served me well the rest of my life.

Thanks, mom.

featured photo courtesy of wespeck via flickr

Letters, Numbers, Part and Whole

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

“Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who is close to me!”
    declares the Lord Almighty.
“Strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered,
    and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
Zechariah 13:1, 7 (NIV)

I am currently leading a team of teachers among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers as we share messages from Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth. [My kick-off message in the series on YouTube if you’re interested]

One of the first things that I did was to take the text of 1 Corinthians, strip it of all headings, footnotes, text notes, cross references, along with chapter and verse numbers. Then I put the text in a hand written font and handed it out to my team. “Here is Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth,” I told them. “Put yourself in the shoes of a member of the Corinthian believers and read it as if you just got it out of your mailbox.” The process has been transformational.

It’s amazing how the simple act of separating original, ancient texts into chapters and verses can alter our reading and understanding. I’m sure there are some readers who don’t even stop and consider that the Bible wasn’t originally written with all those numbers. They were added by scribes centuries later, and in doing so they sometimes detract from the writers’ original works.

Take today’s chapter for example. In yesterday’s chapter I mentioned Zechariah’s word from God  in which God speaks of the people looking upon Him, “the one they have pierced“, and mourn as mourning for the firstborn son. It’s a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus on the cross, pierced by the Roman soldier’s spear, as they sky darkens, the earth shakes, and His followers look on in disbelief. Then I got to the end of chapter 12 on this chapter-a-day journey and stopped reading.

Today I picked up with chapter 13 as if it’s a completely new section or thought and read the first verse:

“On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

This verse is a continuation of yesterday’s vision that foreshadows Jesus’ death, but in my one chapter a day habit it’s easy to think of this verse in my daily time capsule existence independent of yesterday’s chapter. But it was all one vision, one thought, one piece of writing. The death and piercing and mourning were all about God cleansing the people of sin and impurity. If I don’t connect the two chapters as one text I miss a crucial understanding of the whole thing in the same way that reading a hand-written letter as a bunch of independent verses and chapters loses its original intent as a personal letter from Paul to his friends in Greece.

Zac’s amazing prophetic roll continues today, describing the “shepherd” who is “struck” and the flock is scattered. Two-thirds are decimated and one-third survives but is “refined” by the process. Once again I find an uncanny description of the events of Jesus and  His followers in the first century. After Jesus’ death His followers scatter in fear for their lives, but instead of snuffing out the movement Jesus started it actually gains momentum. This momentum eventually sparks terrible persecution from the religious and Roman establishment. Jesus’ followers are hunted down, fed to lions in the Roman circus, stoned to death, impaled on pikes and burned alive to light Caesar’s garden. Many of them were wiped out just as Zechariah’s vision describes but it did not destroy the faith of those who survived. It refined their faith and made it stronger. Eventually, a few hundred years later, even Caesar becomes a believer.

This morning I find myself once again mulling over parts and whole. The first verse of today’s chapter doesn’t make sense apart from the previous chapter. Jesus’ death and the events of believers in the first century are made more meaningful and poignant when seen in light of Zechariah’s prophetic words penned 500 years earlier. In the same way people across the centuries have taken individual verses from the text of the Bible both to make inspirational Pinterest graphics and to justify all sorts of horrific acts of judgement, prejudice, violence, hatred, and persecution.

Some verses have incredible meaning in and of themselves, but I’ve come to understand that meaning should never be separated from the context of the author’s work and the Great Story that God is revealing across time, space, history and creation.

A Particularly Liberating Thought

Then I looked up—and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings! They had wings like those of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between heaven and earth.
Zechariah 5:9 (NIV)

In my casual reading this week I came across a historical figure I’d not remembered learning about in history. Girolamo Savonarola was a Dominican friar who led his own version of puritanical reign for a brief period on time in the city of Florence during the Renaissance. The fire-and-brimstone friar led a coup against the Medici family then set up his own regime designed to purge Florence of wickedness and turn it into the “New Jerusalem.” Of course, with himself acting as God’s ordained judge, jury, and executioner.

Savonarola went about bringing his version of moral righteousness by force, as religious tyrants of all faiths throughout history have done. Bands of young men dubbed “little angels” wandered the streets harassing women who wore clothing that was too bright. They broke into homes looking for evidence of “wickedness” such as playing cards, cosmetics, or pornography which was then brought into the streets and burned in a “bonfire of vanities.”

I was reminded of Savonarola’s version of religious fascism as I read today’s chapter in Zechariah. The ancient prophet’s vision addresses one of the major obstacles the rebuilders of Jerusalem were facing in his day. Thieves and false accusations drained precious time and resources from the monumental job at hand, as well as the everyday illicit behaviors that disrupted unity and diminished the rebuilding project. In one vision, God curses the thieves, false accusers, and their households. In another vision God sends two messengers on the Spirit wind to remove wickedness from the land.

What struck me about Zac’s visions is that God was the one responsible for judging and dealing with sin, not Zechariah or the high priest Joshua or the governor Zerubbabel. Unlike friar Savonarola and his ilk, Zechariah’s visions were not self-centric visions bestowing divine responsibility for purging the people and the land of evil. Dealing with iniquity and wickedness were God’s  to deal with. Zechariah and the boys had a more important task at hand.

This morning I’m reminded that history is full of individuals who use religion to justify their own self-centered agendas and ego-driven power grabs. God, on the other hand, repeatedly reminds us throughout the Great Story that judgement is not in our job description, just as His visions to Zechariah indicate. Jesus put it quite bluntly: “Don’t judge, or you will be judged.”

In the quiet I’m mulling over the fact that I’ve got enough on my plate trying to keep focus, energy, and love applied to the relationships and productive projects to which God has led me. If I believe what I really profess to believe, then God is perfectly capable and sufficient to manage the judgement end of things. And, this morning that feels like a particularly liberating thought.

Flexibly Staying the Course

And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous; for thus the Lord will do to all the enemies against whom you fight.”
Joshua 10:25 (NRSV)

Just the other night Wendy and I were with some friends and we recounted a period of time when we all worshiped together in the same church service. During this particular period of time the leaders loved having a catch phrase or motto that would be touted as the theme of whatever new initiative happened to spring into the leaders’ heads. There would be banners and bookmarks and an official launch of the great new theme. And, it would last for a mere few weeks until the next great theme came a long. There was a lot of laughter around the table as we recounted a number of themes and catch phrases that had been raised and then abandoned shortly thereafter when the next “it” theme came along.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating to find Joshua still clinging to the word God had given him back in the first chapter. “Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or discouraged.” We’re ten chapters and several battles (both won and lost) into the story. Joshua’s theme, however, has not changed with the winds of war or shifting sands of the landscape. In fact, Joshua makes a point of ensuring that  the theme is not forgotten. He takes the opportunity of victory to call the nation together and remind them to keep focused on that which God had said to him from the beginning.

Today I’m thinking about the challenge of staying the course amidst a culture of social media, news media, web content and trending topics that reduce our attention spans to mere moments. As a leader in family, business, church and community I’m thinking about my role in helping groups and individuals remain focused on vision, values, goals, and objectives. Like Joshua, I want to hold course to the vision, even while I remain flexible in adapting to ever-changing circumstances around me.

chapter a day banner 2015

Servant of One Master

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.
Romans 8:12 (NIV)

Yesterday my friend, Matthew, and I shared the third of four messages we prepared for our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on the topic of shame. Not coincidentally, Paul’s letter to the Romans which we are currently journeying through on our chapter-a-day sojourn figures heavily in the teaching. Without mentioning it, I chose to read through Romans as it dovetailed nicely with what I’m already pondering and sharing on Sundays.

We have a group of prayer warriors among our local gathering and it is customary for one of them to pray over those who teach after worship. Yesterday as our friend, Vicki, came to pray for Matthew and me she said she had been given a vision for me and wanted to share it.

She saw me on a dark stage. Small lights began to twinkle and swirl around. The number began to grow until they lit the stage. Tear streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees feeling the “freedom and love” God was pouring into me.

Our series on shame largely focuses on the dilemma that many of us feel. Our core sense of shame leads us to feelings of condemnation which then lead us to behaviors and “covers” (think fig leaf) to feel better about ourselves until those behaviors become addictive and deeply rooted patterns to which we become enslaved. Followers of Jesus know we are to be obedient to what we Jesus calls us to do, which is often contradictory to the deep-seated behaviors to which we feel enslaved. As Paul put it in his letter: The things I don’t want to do I end up doing, and the things I want to do I end up not doing! Who will set me free from this?! 

What was fascinating about Vicki’s vision yesterday is that she was describing, in detail, the opening scene of a play Wendy and I attended in Minneapolis a few years ago. The dark stage, the little twinkle lights swirling and growing in number until the stage was lit. Wendy and I often talk about it as one of the most breathtaking experiences we’ve had watching live theatre. The name of the play? The Servant of Two Masters.

Those who follow Jesus often feel the chaos of feeling like we are stuck trying to serve two masters, both the flesh and the Spirit. The point of today’s chapter and of the series that Matthew and I are teaching is that Jesus came to set us free from being “chained” and “obligated” to the flesh. We don’t serve two masters, but One.

This morning I’m thinking about Truffaldino, the lovable and comic trickster trapped by his own devices in Servant of Two Masters as he gets caught trying to serve two very different masters. I’m wondering if God sometimes finds it comical the way we foolishly swear obedience to serve Him and then sneak around trying to serve our own earthly appetites as if we’re being secretive about the whole thing. As Vicki envisioned, I drop to my knees in acknowledgement of what I have come to know: Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection set me free from any fleshly obligations. As Jesus said, “If I set you free, you are free indeed.”

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The featured image on this post is a picture of a Zanni mask (source: wikipedia) used in a genre of historical theatre called “commedia.” Servant of Two Masters belongs to this genre. The Zanni mask was worn by the dispossessed immigrant worker, often a trickster, like Truffaldino who finds himself trying to serve two different masters at the same time.