Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:13-15 (NIV)
There are certain waypoints along life’s road when things change. There are rites of passage that cultures celebrate to mark the ending of one phase of life and the beginning of another. I remember the first time I was old enough to go hunting with my father. Then there’s the moment at twelve years of age when I had my own paper route and was suddenly responsible for a small business. Of course there’s graduation, wedding, and the first time I held my child and was suddenly a father.
There are other waypoints marking a change on life’s road that are less desirable to write about. Lying alone in a borrowed apartment, my life shattered and lying in pieces all around me because of my own tragic choices. Being fired from a job. Filing for divorce. These are also waypoints on life’s road when things changed.
Chapters 13-17 of John’s biography of Jesus mark a similar waypoint in his life, and the lives of all who were in Jesus’ entourage. It is a rite of passage. The teacher’s earthly mission is almost over. Theirs is just beginning, and they have no clue just how much things are about to change.
In today’s chapter, Jesus marks a very important change when He tells His followers that they are not servants, but friends. Their identity is changing.
“I am His disciplefriend.” “Let me tell you about my masterfriend.” “I am a servantfriend of God.”
Going to a church is a rather meaningless exercise. Membership is a transaction. Likewise, cognitive assent to a list of beliefs requires very little of the one saying “I do” to a rote set of spoken criteria.
Being the friend of one who loved you enough to die for you, that changes things.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
[Note:I know I did Psalm 145 yesterday, but it became obvious to me this morning that I needed to spend some more time in it. So, consider this a blogging BOGO from me to you! :-)]
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. Psalm 145:15 (NIV)
He was weeping over the phone. Across the miles, on the other end of the connection, I knew that this moment was qadosh, a holy moment. It was holy, not because of any kind of religious piety or righteous achievement, but because of the depth of its suffering.
Along my life journey I’ve observed that religion has done a number on our concept of holiness. The institutional church has, as it always does, warped holiness into some kind of religious merit badge, a litmus test of morality, a trophy for those religious over-achievers at the top of the Sunday School class. In doing so, religion profanes the fullness of holiness.
Holiness is woven into creation unbound by church membership or religious ritual. Holiness is an encounter with the divine in the human experience. Holiness is not limited to the transcendental, spiritual glory of Jesus’ transfiguration. The emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual agony of his unjust, illegal, blood-drenched execution was a holy moment, as well.
That’s how I recognized the holy moment as my friend wept from the darkness of his own personal pit. He was joining the ranks of many who have gone before him. He was the woman kneeling naked and ashamed in front of the Son of God as her adultery lay publicly exposed. He was the prodigal covered in pig shit and eating the slop of his own choices. He was the wanton woman knelt down before Jesus as her tears wash the feet of the One she fully expects to condemn him like everyone else is in his life seems to be doing. He was me, 20 years ago, as I wept alone in the darkness of a warehouse apartment crying out over the shattered pieces of my life.
I knew this was a holy moment because I had been there myself. This was a holy moment because every human and religious pretense had been stripped away. He was, in that moment, spiritually naked and empty. He had reached a point when he could no longer play the game. This was his breaking point before the One who redeems, recreates, and uses broken things; The Potter who takes the lump of collapsed clay spinning on His wheel and begins to make something new. Whether my friend recognized it, or not, this was the waypoint on his journey that is the inflection point when old things begin to recede in the rearview mirror, and he will find a light on the horizon leading him in a new direction.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 145, begins the last five songs in this 150 song anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics. The editors end their compilation with five songs of praise. Today’s is a beautiful description of God’s goodness and I could have picked out any number of verses to chew on, but it was the phrase “you give them their food at the proper time” that resonated deep in my soul.
Remember that God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphors are layered with meaning. Make no mistake, food is food, as in the miraculous Manna that God provided the Hebrew tribes on their wilderness wanderings and the loaves and fish Jesus turned into an all-you-can-eat, filet-o-fish-o-rama. It’s also that which is necessary for spiritual survival and sustenance, as Jesus reminded the Enemy after fasting for forty days: “You can’t just eat physical bread. You need the spiritual bread of the Word.”
From there the metaphor expands to even more layers of meaning:
“In the beginning was the Word…”
“I am the Bread of Life…”
“He took a loaf and broke it, saying, ‘This is my body, broken for you.'”
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve experienced God’s provision of “food” at the “proper time” on both the physical and spiritual level. I remember being married with two small children, my first mortgage, no job, and no idea what was going to happen next. There have been moments when clients unexpectedly pulled the plug on projects, and I wasn’t sure how we would pay the bills. Then there was that lonely night in the dark warehouse apartment when every religious facade I had mistaken for being an actual spiritual resource had been revealed to be impotent, and my soul was starving for a scrap of real spiritual nourishment.
I had religiously participated in the ritual of Communion countless times in my life, yet that moment was the first time I truly tasted the Bread of Life. It was a holy moment. It was qadosh.
In the quiet this morning, I’m praying for my friend who was on the other end of that call. He’s got a long, long road ahead of him. I did my best to assure him that if he relies on the Bread of Life to sustain him, and he doggedly presses on, one-day-at-a-time, towards that Light on the horizon, he will find himself in amazing places. He may find himself in a deep place, but grace is deeper still. He may despair in the moment at the waste he’d made of his life, but God may transform it into wisdom.
I’ve been there.
In the moment all he could see was the unholy ruins of his life.
Little did he know, it was the holy start of a new creation.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 (NIV)
As always, if you know anyone who might be encouraged with today’s post, please feel free to share.
Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Mark 5:17-18 (NIV)
Wendy and I have a recurring conversation about life. There is no doubt in either of our minds that we were supposed to walk this journey together. It’s a story that I should write someday. Our relationship has been such a good thing that we often wonder: “What if we had experienced our younger adult years together?”
While the hypothetical question is a natural one, we both agree in this recurring conversation that the younger versions of ourselves (me the religious rule keeper and good little preacher boy, she the rebellious wild-child) would likely not have hitten it off. My personal journey, walking through my “Prodigal” years, the failure of my first marriage, becoming a father to Taylor and Madison, were all part of what prepared me for the waypoint in which our story could begin.
Yesterday I wrote about the fact that every follower of Jesus has a unique story. Some follow in one season of life, while it takes others until a later season and waypoint further down the road before they are at the right place to follow. Some don’t reach that waypoint until their final moments on this earth. There is a mystery to the flow of it.
As I read today’s chapter, I found a connected truth. Mark’s version of the Jesus Story continues. While Mark has previously alluded to the miracles Jesus is performing, in today’s chapter he gives three major illustrations: a man possessed by a legion of demons, a woman who is miraculously healed by Jesus without His conscious decision to do so, and a twelve-year-old girl raised from the dead. I feel like Mark is telling me “Look, Jesus wasn’t just healing people from a runny nose or a tummy ache. We’re talking dead people being raised back to life kind of stuff!”
In the midst of these three episodes is a curious event. The people in the towns where Jesus cast the demons out of the man begged him to leave their region. The very next sentence has Jesus getting into the boat to shove off. I am reminded that when Jesus sends out His disciples to do their own internship practicum (coming up in the next chapter) He tells them if they are not welcomed by the people in a town to “shake the dust off your feet” and leave. In today’s chapter, Jesus exemplifies what He will command His followers to do in the next chapter.
In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the notion that Jesus does not force His way in. Tell Him to stay away and He is perfectly willing to move along. To the point of yesterday’s post, it may not have been the right season for the people of that region. Curious that the demon-delivered man asks to follow Jesus and Jesus tells him to stay and tell everyone in the region his story. In doing so, Jesus scatters “the seed” through this man’s story and witness which may take root and bear fruit in a future season.
Through many years of my journey, I observed the institutional church often trying to force itself in where it was not welcome and to manufacture converts via what I would liken to a process of systemic spiritual cloning. As I read through the Jesus story, I find Jesus’ actual example to be far more natural, more organic, more authentic, and more trusting of what God’s Spirit is doing in the Great Story and in the story of individuals within it.
Which brings me back to the journey of Tom and Wendy that began when two very different lives found themselves in the right season and at the right waypoint on life’s road to become one.
“If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.” Esther 5:8 (NIV)
A number of years ago I was asked to speak to a group of middle schoolers. I costumed myself with the best secret agent look I could pull off and, after being introduced, I entered the room to the theme from Mission: Impossible being blared on the auditorium sound system. I then announced to the rowdy bunch of young people that I had a secret mission for them (should they choose to accept it), and there was one rule. When their parents asked what I talked about or what the lesson was, they could only respond with, “I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.” I told them that if their parents got upset, to tell them to contact me directly.
I then talked to the kids about simple practical ways to honor their parents, not because they had to, but out of a covert operation to respect, honor, and show gratitude for all their parents do for them. I also assured them that, if they followed my operational procedures, they would be driving their parent’s crazy wondering who kidnapped their middle schooler and replaced them with a well-behaved clone.
It was less than an hour after the night’s program ended that I started getting texts from curious parents going crazy because their kids were simply laughing and refusing to tell them what they’d learned that night.
That night was a lot of fun. I ultimately don’t know how effective it was at teaching kids about being respectful and honoring of their parents, but I certainly got everyone’s attention. There is something we human’s love about the thrill of pursuit, delayed gratification, and prolonged curiosity. One of my all-time favorite birthday gifts for Wendy was the year I started her off by letting her open one present. It was a GPS device on which she discovered there was a programmed route for her to follow. At each waypoint on the route, she found one of her friends waiting for her to get a manicure, have a cup of coffee, and etc. We love the tease of the unknown and the thrill of pursuit.
In today’s chapter, Esther uses the thrill of pursuit to heighten her husband’s curiosity about her request. Actually, Esther was following a common practice in ancient near-East civilizations when it came to making a specific request of someone in power. It was a culturally prescribed method intended to honor the one of whom the request was being made and to engage our human love of curiosity and the thrill of pursuit. We see the result in Haman who is excited to tell his wife and friends all about it.
In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the ancient practice that Esther employed in contrast to our 21st culture. I wonder how much technology and the instant gratification we enjoy for so many things in life has robbed us of the thrill of pursuit and the positive character qualities that are developed with delayed gratification. In the Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience research my company regularly produced for clients we are finding that customers are increasingly expecting instant gratification to their desire to reach a human being in Customer Service or getting access to information they desire. I sometimes wonder if where it’s all leading.
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritismbut accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)
Wendy and I have been enjoying photos and videos that Taylor has been sending us this weekend from Stockholm, Sweden. She, Clayton, and Milo are visiting the Scandinavian city with their friends and, according to the visual evidence, having a marvelous time.
I’ve been thinking this morning about the experience of travel. When going to a new place, one can learn many things about the destination. You can learn about where you will be, you can be told about it, but until you actually get there, you don’t really experience it for yourself.
In today’s chapter, Peter is called by God to visit the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. The resurrected Jesus had told Peter and the rest of His followers that they were to share Jesus’ story and their first-hand accounts of their experiences with Him to “the ends of the earth.” Nevertheless, the followers of Jesus had remained a Jewish sect. While there may have been some Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) converts, the twelve had continued to be headquartered in Jerusalem and they still centered their activity around the Temple and the Jewish community.
Now God calls Peter to visit the home of a Gentile, which was against Jewish custom and law. To enter the home of a Gentile was to make oneself spiritually unclean. It was a strictly taboo in the Jewish religion and culture of the day. Not only was Cornelius a non-Jew, he was also a Roman Centurion, which added an entire layer of political and social stigma on top of the religious prohibitions. The Romans were military occupiers of Judea. They were hated and they were detested by the Jewish people.
Now God is once again blowing-up human division and Jewish tradition by sending Peter to visit the unclean home of what a good Jewish man would have considered a “vile and detestable” Roman officer. Cornelius and his entire household believe Peter’s stories about Jesus, and Holy Spirit pours into them. Peter says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritismbut accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
Peter had witnessed Jesus breaking social barriers. Jesus made friends with a Samaritan woman and healed a Centurion’s child. Peter had been told by Jesus that they were to take the good news of Jesus to the “ends of the Earth.” I’m sure that the earlier believers had already been talking, even debating among themselves, whether they should accept non-Jewish converts and how that was going to work. God had been leading Peter and the other believers towards this reality in their journey. At Cornelius’ house, Peter finally arrived and knew for himself where Jesus had been leading them. It was waypoint in Peter’s journey that would change the course of the Jesus movement and human history.
In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about our lunchtime conversation yesterday with a friend. She shared about a major spiritual break though that she’d been moving towards for four years. It finally arrived this past week and we all shed tears hearing about her experience. It was not unlike Peter’s experience. She’d been moving toward this spiritual reality for years, but didn’t really experience it until she arrived at that waypoint.
This is a spiritual journey. We don’t experience things once and for all. We experience things progressively as we continue to press on in faith asking, seeking, knocking. In my experience it can be frustrating, but it also exciting to look ahead and wonder what God has in store there on the horizon.
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Acts 3:18 (NIV)
There are some lessons of life and wisdom that I’ve observed are only learned along certain stretches of life’s road. As Taylor, Madison and Suzanna traverse their twenties I’m watching them grow, experience particular waypoints in life, and learn the lessons that come along during this particular stretch of the journey. Watching them, I remember learning some of the same lessons.
Some of those lessons were things that, in retrospect, things my parents had tried to help me recognize, teach me, and get me to learn earlier in my journey. I wasn’t there yet. Eventually, I recognized the lessons, learned them, and incorporated their wisdom in my on-going journey.
In today’s chapter, we find Peter and John entering the Temple in Jerusalem. Through the power of Christ, they heal a crippled man which starts a large commotion. As the crowds gather, Peter addresses the crowd. Amidst the message, Peter shares about the suffering and death of Jesus, then proclaims, “But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.”
Wait a minute. Back the truck up.
This is the same Peter who seemed always confused when Jesus suggested the notion He must suffer. This is the same Peter who pushed back at Jesus when confronted with Jesus’ prediction that He would be taken and crucified while his followers stood by. This is the same Peter who was convinced that Jesus would be an Earthly King and he, Peter, would be Jesus’ powerful Chief of Staff.
Now, on this side of the climactic events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter appears to get what Jesus had been teaching all along. Now Peter realizes that he’d been picking an choosing the prophetic messages he wanted to listen to, while conveniently ignoring prophetic passages such as Isaiah 52-53 and the 22nd Psalm; Passages which clearly describe Messiah as sacrificial lamb to suffer and be slaughtered.
This morning I’m reminded that this journey is a process. I can see certain truths and understand particular wisdom with so much clarity from my current waypoint on life’s road. It reminds me to have grace and patience with those who are coming up behind me in the journey. It reminds me of the incredible impact I can yet have on the road ahead. It reminds me again, just as I mentioned in my post on Monday, to be patient for those things I yet long for. They are at a waypoint just ahead.
Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Leviticus 10:1-2 (NRSV)
The opening of today’s chapter is a pretty harsh “good morning” as I begin my day reading with sleep weary eyes. These two sons of Aaron screwed up on the incense portion of the whole sacrificial system. They broke the balk rule of the Levitical code. The penalty? Immediate death by fire.
I often say that one of the important things about the journey through God’s Message is that, over time, you begin to connect dots throughout the Great Story. In this case, the first dot goes back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve commit a balk with the forbidden fruit, it starts a chain reaction. Sin, that penchant for willfully doing what we know we shouldn’t while willfully choosing not to do things we know we should, enters the human equation. And, a holy God can’t abide sin. So it is announced right at the beginning, that the penalty for all spiritual balks is death. Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden. The Great Story is about humanity’s wayfaring journey to get back Home.
Along this journey, there are other scattered dots to be connected. They are like waypoints hearkening back to Adam and Eve’s original balk, and reminding us that God’s spiritual balk rule does not change. Nada and Abihu are actually not the only ones:
Cane’s offering was not pleasing to the Lord. He is cursed and eventually dies.
Hophni and Phineas treated God’s offering with contempt, and died.
A man name Uzzah reached his hand out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. He touched it, and died.
Ananias and Sapphira lied about he and his wife’s offering to the Lord, and died.
These waypoints remind us that God’s spiritual balk rule is foundational to the Great Story. It doesn’t change over time. The penalty of sin is death. Forgiveness and redemption require that the penalty for the spiritual balk rule must be satisfied. In the days of Leviticus the remedy was a labyrinth of sacrifices and offerings. Ultimately, it would be God who would send Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb to pay the ultimate penalty for all of our balks, once for all.
Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them; and having taken possession of it, they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors…. Joshua 21:43-44a (NRSV)
Sometimes, I find the most odd moments of a story to be the most memorable. There’s a great, rather arcane moment in the movie While You Were Sleeping that often comes to my mind. Peter Boyle plays Bill Pullman’s father, the owner of the family furniture business. Pullman’s character drops by the house with donuts early one morning and the father waxes philosophical about how you work hard all your life to reach that moment when life settles into a groove and everyone in the family is okay and everything is going to work out as you planned. Pullman, who has come that morning to disappoint his father and break the news that he doesn’t want the family business, sheepishly tells his father: “Pop, this isn’t one of those moments.”
We are all enamored with the happy ending. We are raised as children with our stories consistently ending “happily ever after.” We pay good money to watch Hollywood neatly tie up our movies with happy endings. Wendy and I just enjoyed playing the “awwww” moment for audiences in Almost, Maine when the couple in love have their magical moment as the snow begins to fall. We heard the audiences gasp and moan with contended delight as I lifted Wendy up and kissed her.
We all love a happy ending, and I found it interesting that today’s chapter contained a classic happy ending text. The tribes of Israel had possessed the land. The land was divided among the tribes. Prophecy fulfilled, enemies thwarted, promises claimed, and they all lived happily ever.
Hang on a sec. “Pop, this isn’t one of those moments.”
Things may have been happy for a moment, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves with the “ever after” part. The story isn’t finished. We’ve reached a memorable waypoint in the journey. This is a momentary conclusion at the end of a chapter in the Great Story. There are more enemies lurking both without, and more insidiously, within. The curse of Eden has not been addressed, and East of Eden the larger conflict still looms for humanity and must be resolved.
This morning I’m thinking about moments of peace I get to experience along life’s road. I’m remembering waypoints of contentment and the happy endings of particular chapters in this life journey that I’m blessed to have experienced. I’m equally mindful this morning that this is a journey through life, and I do not have the luxury of stopping the story like a DVR recording whenever and wherever I desire. I must press on, and I do not know what lies ahead for me or my loved ones. At the core, this is a faith journey for all of us.
These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months. David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years….1 Chronicles 3:4 (NIV)
Time has been on my mind a lot lately. From my current waypoint on life’s road I’m watching our daughters in the early stages of their adult lives. Taylor has been working and planning for grad school. Madison is taking a year off of being a full-time student to work and get her Colorado residency. They are dealing with jobs and bosses and learning lessons about living life on their own. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, has been living with us for almost a year. We’ve helped her manage her senior year of high school, watched her graduate, and now we’re helping her navigate job, plans for college, and setting a course for life. These three very capable young ladies have so much of life ahead of them, so many lessons to learn, and so many things to experience. I’m excited for each one.
Wendy and I are at a very different place in the journey, and it sometimes feels odd to me in the same way it feels odd for Taylor not to have the summer off, for Madison to be taking time away from school, or for Suzanna to think she never has to go back to high school. I look at our parents and assume that they have their own oddities they feel with their respective waypoints on life’s road. The journey is about being in motion. The road never stops taking you to places unfamiliar. Try as you might, you can never rush the journey. “Shortcuts make for long delays.”
I’m reminded once more this morning of David’s journey. Anointed King of Israel as a boy, it was many years before he was crowned the head of his tribe, and another seven and a half years before that led to the throne of Israel for which he was anointed and destined (remember that destiny and destination are related!). Roughly twenty some years lay between those two waypoints in which his life’s road twisted, turned, rose, fell, and switched-back in odd ways. C’est la vie.
Today I’m grateful for God’s faithfulness and abundant grace. I’m excited and prayerful for our girls as they follow behind on life’s road. I’m prayerful and supportive of our parents who blaze the trail ahead. I’m content knowing that with every knew experience along the way come odd feelings and new lessons. Our job is to keep moving. We’ll reach our respective waypoints in God’s perfect timing.
The lyrics of David’s psalm this morning are straight and to the point. Had it not been for God, he sings, he and his people would have been swallowed up by their enemies. Suddenly as I read the lyrics this morning I thought of all the ways my life’s path and destination would be different “If the Lord had not been on my side.”
If the Lord had not been on my side:
I would have given myself over to dark impulses a long time ago
I don’t believe I would have found my way out of dark places
I would be buried in and paralyzed by crippling shame
I would be a far worse arrogant jerk than I am
I would be nowhere near the waypoint in life I find myself
I would likely have never met Wendy
Wendy and I might not have survived a few of those years
As David sings: “The raging waters would have swept us away”
What a worthwhile mental and spiritual exercise to start my day, which leads me to a similar conclusion as it did David in his song.