At the age of 15, just a few months after my decision to become a follower of Jesus, I met Andy Bales. For the next three formative years he was my youth pastor, my mentor, and my friend. When I think of Andy I think of John the Baptist’s words about Jesus: “I’m not worthy to tie his shoelaces.”
Andy is an Iowa boy who has given his life to serve the poor, addicted, homeless, and most destitute people.
This week, my Wayfarer Weekend podcast is a conversation with Andy. I’m not worthy to tie the laces of the shoe on the one foot he has left, but I’m grateful for the opportunity of having this conversation and sharing it with you.
Songs for Different Seasons (CaD Ps 123) –
We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud. Psalm 123:4 (NIV)
I have, throughout my life journey, had the honor of regularly speaking to groups of people both large and small. One of the things that I have learned along the way is that those who may be listening are all over the map when it comes to their motivations for being there, the struggles they are experiencing both physically and spiritually, and what it is they are seeking. Everyone has a story and, depending on the situation, I may no a few, if any, of them.
Today’s chapter is another “song of ascents” or a song that Hebrew pilgrims would sing on their way to Jerusalem. What’s been fascinating as I journey through them this time is to see the variety of themes in the lyrics. Among the thousands and thousands of wayfarers making the sojourn to Jerusalem, there was any number of things weighing on their hearts and lives that they wanted to bring to God.
Psalm 120: Those feeling alone and in exile.
Psalm 121: Those seeking assurance of safety and security.
Psalm 122: Those seeking out justice.
Psalm 123: Those suffering the ridicule and contempt of others.
There were different songs of ascent for the different seasons of life each spiritual wayfarer might be in on the repeated journey to and from Jerusalem. Today’s song resonated with those whose hearts and lives were stinging from being the object of contempt and ridicule.
One of the realities that I find is often lost or forgotten among followers of Jesus was just how much contempt and ridicule He faced. After His first public message, in His hometown, the listeners rioted and wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Entire towns refused to let Jesus enter and teach in their villages, some let Him enter and treated Him and His message with contempt. Jesus’ own family attempted, at one point, to take control and have Him committed. Thousands of people were following Jesus one day, and the next day virtually all of them rejected Him and walked away. His closest followers were tempted to do the same, and one of those followers ultimately gave himself over to contempt and accepted a bribe in order to seal Jesus’ death with a kiss.
As I read the words of Jesus, these things shouldn’t surprise me:
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”
“They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my name. And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other.”
“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the thousands of ancient sojourners trekking to Jerusalem, each with their own story, their own burden, their individual spiritual needs. Each with their own song of ascent to sing and prepare their hearts for worship, offering, and sacrifice. I think about the individuals who listened to me a week or so ago, each with their own story, their own burden, their own waypoint on the spiritual journey. Perhaps some, like those ancients who sang the lyrics of today’s chapter, feeling the ridicule and contempt of others.
I am reminded that this is a spiritual journey that I am on. The song of ascent that my heart sings today is not the one that resonated with me at different waypoints on the journey, in different chapters of my own story. My spirit will be singing a different song of ascent if my earthly journey continues a year from now, a decade from now, or beyond.
I have always experienced God meeting me right where I am at on the journey, no matter what song my heart happens to be singing.
I’m publishing this podcast on my 20,000th birthday. I’m 20,000 days old today. When I was a young man my mentor encouraged me to “number my days.” Years later he asked me if I’d be willing to speak at his funeral and share about the things I learned in doing so. I’m sorry to say I didn’t have the opportunity to do that, but I’m sharing it with you in this podcast.
Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. Psalm 93:2 (NIV)
On the Wayfarer Weekend podcast this past weekend I shared my experiences with a spiritual exercise that Wendy and I have participated in for several years in which we choose “one word” to be “my word” for the year.
In 2020, my word was “believe.” Early in 2020, as I meditated on the word I found myself asking questions that started with the phrase “If I really believe what I say I believe….” and the reciprocal answers were sometimes blunt.
“If I really believe what I say I believe…
…then I believe that eternity is greater by far than this earthly life.”
…then I have no choice but to forgive this person.”
…then I should be more generous than I feel like being in the moment.”
…then I must respond to that jerk on Facebook with kindness.”
And this was all before the world was thrown into a global pandemic, before racial inequity blew up America, and before political tensions around the presidential election completed a cultural cocktail which further polarized people both in the States and around the world. My soul rattled as the world rocked from the tension.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 93, is fascinating for both its brevity and its singular focus on God’s eternal enthronement over the cosmos. “Enthronement” songs were popular in religions of the ancient near east. What made the Hebrew belief system unique was the declaration of Yahweh as the one God.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV)
Kings were not deities. Human were not deities. Other deities were simply statues and trinkets made from human hands. There is one God enthroned over everything; One God over us all.
“If I really believe what I say I believe…
…then while the world around me rocks from the trifecta cocktail of pandemic, protests, and politics I am assured that God is still on the throne of the cosmos. The Great Story will be played out (with all the earthly turmoil that Jesus, Himself, predicted) and God’s kingdom is not in trouble.”
Following Jesus is a faith journey because it requires me to find assurance in hope that isn’t readily apparent in my present circumstances. It requires me to trust in that which I can’t see, touch, hear, taste, or smell in the flesh. It calls me to see everything through the lens of spiritual truth rather than reactionary human emotion.
In the quiet this morning I find myself reflecting on the spiritual lessons I will take with me from 2020. For me, choosing the word “believe” on which to focus in the most troubling and tumultuous year in my lifetime was a divine appointment. Faith is easy when life is the same. When the fecal matter comes into contact with the electric, rotary oscillator then the genuineness of my faith gets tested as precious metal in the forger’s fire. (See 1 Peter 1:6-7)
The lyrics of Psalm 93 are an amazing statement of faith and praise.
The question is: “Do I really believe it?” And, if the answer is “I do,” then my response to circumstances around me on the global, cultural, and personal levels, will be congruent with that belief.
On this Wayfarer Weekend podcast, the second-half of my chat with Matthew Burch. As a therapist, consultant, and advisor, Matthew believes that everyone is having a conversation with life. We continue to unpack what that means.
I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— Psalm 85:8a (NIV)
Shame can be toxic. It’s that deep sense of being worth-less, and I while I find most seem to perceive me as having all sorts of self-confidence, the truth is that I have quietly battled that nagging, pessimistic self-perception of shame my entire life. I have acknowledged it, processed it, studied it, and have learned to work through it while learning how to have grace with myself even as I open my heart to receiving the amazing grace that God has given me.
The seeds of shame, I have come to learn, are typically sown in childhood. From some individuals I’ve met in the struggle, it was the repeated words of an adult or an older sibling telling them things like, “You’re stupid,” “You’re good for nothing,” or “You should have never been born.” Born into a loving family, that was never my issue. For me, the seeds of shame were misunderstandings of my place in the world and a negative self-perception that was fueled by my Enneagram Four temperament. I grew up being so self-absorbed as to think that any negative circumstance in life stems from something I did, or else it some divine retribution prompted by my worthlessness. The Minnesota Vikings’ loss in four Superbowls was totally my fault for stealing all of the family’s cash envelopes off of Grandma Golly’s Christmas tree in 1972. My apologies to Vikings nation.
As a person who knows the struggle against shame, I totally identify with today’s chapter. It felt a bit like looking into a spiritual mirror. Psalm 85 was written as a song to be used when the Hebrew people gathered to worship. Fourteen lines long, it is a song of two halves. Things had not been going so well for the Hebrew people. Scholars think it may have been written during this historic drought that occurred during the time of the prophet Hosea.
The first half of the song reads like me when I was a kid.
“God, you’re angry with me. I’ve done something wrong. I thought you were over that Christmas cash thing, but obviously I haven’t served my time. How long is this going to take, Lord? How long until you get over your anger with me?”
The song then pivots 180 degrees in the second-half, which kicks off with the songwriter declaring, “I will listen to what the Lord says.”
As the songwriter gets his eyes off of himself, and gets his ears to turn away from the endless loop of negative self-talk being played in his spiritual, noise-cancelling AirPods, he begins to recognize the very different message that God has been perpetually saying. God promises salvation, affirms his faithfulness, peace, generosity, and goodness.
One of the things that I had to learn along my journey of addressing shame was the very same process. I have a well-worn page that I put together ages ago. Like the songwriter of Psalm 85, I turned my ear to the Great Story and wrote down a list of God’s specific messages, including, but not limited to:
I am… fearfully and wonderfully made… (Ps 139) made in the likeness of God… (James 3:9) worth more than many sparrows… (Matt 10:31) God’s workmanship… (Ephesians 2:10) born again… (1 Peter 1:23) a son of God… (Galatians 3:26) and heir of God… (Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:2, Rom 8:17) God’s temple… (1 Cor 3:17) the aroma of Christ… (2 Corinthians 2:15)
You get the idea. I still, on occasion, have to pull this well-worn sheet of divine affirmations out and literally read through the list again. Often, I read all two-pages out-loud to myself. It’s like spiritual chiropractic. When my shame has me bent out of shape and tied up in knots, the affirmations from the Great Story get my head and heart back in alignment.
In the quiet this morning, I find my heart ruminating once again on this difficult year. I think about strained relationships created by differences in world-views. I think about our business which took a sizable hit in 2020. I think about the mental and emotional fatigue from the never-ending conflict in every medium of media about a host of hot-button topics. It’s amazing how silently shame’s whispers can creep back into my head and heart without me realizing it. Like the writer of Psalm 85, I find myself having to consciously stop and listen “to what God the Lord, says.”
FYI: Here are the entire set of affirmations I compiled for anyone who might benefit in both image and document forms. The PDF was a handout from a message series on shame several years ago.
Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. Psalm 84:5 (NRSVCE)
This past week, Wendy and I have been blessed beyond measure to have our kids and grandson home from Scotland. On Saturday night we took Taylor and Clayton out for dinner and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Milo was being watched that night by Clayton’s mom, so the four of us got to enjoy uninterrupted adult conversation, in person, for hours.
One of the paths of conversation led to a discussion about one’s direction in life. The kids are about the age I was when I settled into what would become my career after having five different jobs in the first six years after college. It is a time of life filled with both opportunity and uncertainty. We talked about the difficult (some might even call it impossible) task of finding a career in life that offers both financial security and a sense of purpose.
Along my life journey, I’ve observed that this is a fascinating on-going conversation. It doesn’t end once a young adult settles on a career path. There are a number of waypoints on life’s road in which this subject of direction, security, and purpose comes up again. A new job opportunity arises that offers both greater risk and the potential for greater reward. A person hits the proverbial glass ceiling in a corporation and suddenly has to grapple with considering a career change they never expected or wanted, or learning to embrace that his or her vocation is nothing more than a means to providing for a purpose that is found outside of work hours. I’ve also observed individuals and couples who have left positions of relative security to embrace faith in choosing a purpose-full path to which they have been called. Still, there are others I’ve observed who find themselves in unexpected places of tragedy in which there was no choice of direction and, like Job, they find themselves reeling in a struggle to understand the purpose of it all.
Our direction on this road of Life continues to require asking, seeking, knocking, and faith.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 84, is the first of a subset of six songs that wrap up Book III of the larger anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we call the Psalms. The song appears to have been penned by someone from the tribe of Levi. The Levites were the Hebrew tribe responsible for Temple worship. As the tribe grew over time, the Temple duties were divided into “shifts.” One might make a pilgrimage to God’s Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem one or more times a year to serve for a short period of time before returning home. The songwriter laments not being in the temple where he finds joy and purpose in God’s presence.
I couldn’t help but notice verse 5 as I read it in the St. John’s Bible this morning. Happy are those “in whose heart are highways to Zion.” The songwriter found tremendous purpose in being present in God’s Temple, even if it was only periodically. I love the metaphor of a “heart’s highway.” It’s got my mind spinning this morning and my heart ruminating.
I find myself thinking about the highways of my heart, Wendy’s heart, and the hearts of our children. Where do those highways lead? On this Monday morning and the beginning of another work week, is the highway of my heart and the highway to my vocation the same path? Parallel paths? Divergent paths? Obviously, the stimulating dinner conversation from Saturday night is still resonating within me.
I also couldn’t help but notice that a rather well-known, modern worship song is pulled directly from Psalm 84 and my heart hears the familiar melody to the lyric: “Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.” Yet this takes me straight back to the “one thing I always fail to see”from a post a couple of weeks ago.
Unlike the songwriter of Psalm 84, followers of Jesus are not limited to a physical location for worship. The concept of a church building is nowhere to be found in the Great Story. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension it the flesh-and-blood followers who are God’s Temple. I am the temple, therefore “one day in your courts” is not about me going to church on Sunday. For followers of Jesus, it is a spiritual pilgrimage of the heart to seek commune with God’s Spirit within my heart, soul, and mind in each day, each hour, each moment.
In the quiet this morning, Psalm 84 has me meditating on the “heart’s highway.” Where is headed? Where is it leading? Is my heart, soul, and mind heading in the right direction?
On this Wayfarer Weekend podcast, we welcome Matthew Burch. As a therapist, consultant, and advisor, Matthew believes that everyone is having a conversation with life. We’re going to unpack that notion over the next two Wayfarer Weekend podcasts.
(WW) Conversations With Life and Matthew Burch (Part 1) –