You Have a Role to Play
We have a place in the story, whether we are great or lowly. It is a long and patient story with twists, turns, and gaps in reporting, but it is a story with miraculous continuity and eternal clarity.
In the midst of the story, we have only a limited perspective. We cry out the prayers of the Psalms such as:
"Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me." - Ps. 69:16
"For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners." - Ps. 69:33
"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." - Ps. 73:26
Then, we turn to narrative for hindsight and to the words of Jesus and His apostles for insight.
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." - Exodus 1:8
This is going to happen.
Joseph has his time. We have our times. He did his job. He elevated his people and all the people. He was well known and respected and he made a major contribution to the world.
Then, he died.
And he was remembered.
And then, he was forgotten, slowly, gradually, not completely, but enough so that honor and glory and strength of influence evaporated.
Generations had passed and the person of influence simply did not know Joseph. All he saw were people he perceived as a threat.
He lashed out with irrational and indiscriminate violence to commit an act of mass genocide. It was horrific and yet, it was the story of emergence. A new leader would emerge from the bulrushes who, 80 years later would stand before a king and lead a people to freedom.
And he would be reminded of the story of Joseph and he and those who later reflected upon his life and legacy would somehow, connect the two stories to make one continuous story.
That was the story of resurgent and emergent leadership in a world where leaders come and go and crises grow and recede.
Our stories may seem isolated, disconnected, intermittent, and separated by decades and more of discontinuity, but they are actually part of one story.
We are known, remembered, and forgotten. Then, years, decades, and sometimes centuries pass and some sliver of memory is passed to the next wave of God-work in human frailty and greatness. A new story grows out of the old story and something lost in memory comes again into memory and some tiny tentacle grows to connect the new to the old.
And it is one story from Joseph to Moses and to and through so many stories to our own generation, having passed through the cross and resurrection, the story continues and we cannot know how many more chapters shall be written before there is some grand tension that shall bring us to that last page that grips us with anticipation and then, the End, and then, we turn to page for ...
an Epilogue ...
for the "logue" is "logos" and the Word goes on and on and on ...
... and on ...
This is our time. What shall we do? How shall our story join the great ongoing story?
The story connects vertically AND horizontally.
"And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”" - Mark 8:29
"And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again." - Mark 8:31
Greatness and honor may come at a price too high for us to be willing to pay. Leadership is not about receiving accolades. This is demonstrated for us. Our place in the story, if we follow the Story Teller, is sometimes more humiliating than congratulatory. But it is the story and we are a part of it as well as beneficiaries of it. It is easier to read the first and last paragraph of every chapter and the first few words of every paragraph and skim over the gory details, but the big story includes some real pain, suffering, and sacrifice and most of that is done for us. Our place in the story is to take our place in the story and to want nothing more than for the Storyteller to finish it His way.
Thanksgiving and Anticipation
For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. - Isaiah 51:3
The God who comforts us has come with song. He has come amidst the sounds of thanksgiving and praise. He has come to a people in anticipation, a people longing for redemption. The God of comfort is He who turns deserts into gardens of delight. It is He who brings salvation and justice. It is He who writes His law upon on hearts. It is He who causes the ransomed captive to return singing. He is the God to whom we give thanks and whose advent we celebrate.
He takes our waste places and makes them flourish. Where are the waste places in your life? What of your hopes have you written off as hopeless? In what dimensions of your existence have you relinquished your dreams? These are your waste places. Into these wastelands comes the Messiah of Israel, your comforter.
Where is your wilderness? Change its name to Eden. By faith embrace the new day that God is bringing to you. Embrace Him in the desert and watch the flowers of new life bloom around you.
Sing with joy. Sing with gladness, Make melody in your heart. This is the day of thanksgiving. This is the time of refreshment. This is the time when longings swell into a chorus of fulfillment. The Day of the Lord is near.
He has indeed come. Every year we remember that as He once departed, He will come again in the clouds of glory.
This is our blessed hope. We welcome Him anew every Christmas season on the heels of Thanksgiving. We look back and we look forward. We are blessed with the big picture, but we also know that there is more to come.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Choosing a Path Through Treacherous Times
Make a difference kids
It is a crazy time in a crazy world and it would be easy to go crazy as a response.
Somehow, we have to choose a path that not only brings us through treacherous times, but let's us contribute. We need to choose a path that empowers us to make a difference in our world.
Going through some old social media posts, I thought I'd mash them all together with a bit of redaction and see if they could form a these. It started with shame, but while God's movements in our lives may pass through shame, they never end there. So stay with me.
There is a place for that emotion, especially in days of shameful deeds.
"Let them be ashamed and altogether dismayed who seek after my life to destroy it; let them draw back and be disgraced who take pleasure in my misfortune. " - Psalm 40:15
This is a prayer for those who seek to destroy, diminish, or marginalize life as well as those who take pleasure in the misfortune of others. It touches to those whose worst behaviors emerge in crisis rather than their best. It overlaps to greed, avarice, hatred, bigotry, and violence.
It is a prayer that they would find righteous shame in their actions and disgrace in their attitudes ...
That they might seek grace in its only true source.
We need a revival of shame, disgrace, and decency in a world that lacks compassion and truth ... and from there, the gladness of seeking God who regards the poor and afflicted. Then, we need to move beyond the shame.
Psalm 40 continues in verses 17- 19.
Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad;
let those who love your salvation continually say, "Great is the LORD!"
Though I am poor and afflicted,
the Lord will have regard for me.
You are my helper and my deliverer;
do not tarry, O my God.
Cry out to God and never lose hope.
It only seems that evil is winning. God is working behind the scenes to bring a victorious outcome for the righteous and oppressed.
Don't report the final score before the whistle blows and don't assume that set backs predict loss.
Furthermore, don't pursue that which is easy, popular, or compatible with the dominant narrative of any generation at the cost of the soul-searching, soul-wrenching, upside-down message of sacrifice, service, and radical discipleship.
The depth, reality, and long-term character of the call is seldom what would seem most expeditious in a meeting of our own minds for the purpose of securing short-term gains.
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"
And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others,one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah."
And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
"For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power." - Mark 8:27-9:1
The Kingdom is coming with power and not on our terms or by our own arranging.
We are compulsive arrangers ... at least those of us who labor under the dysfunctions of our own control issues. If things are working out, we easily fall for the call to quick and easy solutions, avoidance of pain and sacrifice, as well as the tendency to blame people.
Like Peter, we want to organize, fix, and manipulate things so that they will work the way we want them and never challenge our comforts, preferences, or aversion to chaos.
What follows from Paul is not a call to chaos or a condemnation of organization.
Rather it is a reminder that the great arranger is not some composite of us. Whatever we can do is not greater than what God is doing.
Behind the scenes, beneath the surface, and above our heads, something is going on beyond our control pointing to a better arrangement of things in the Kingdom that we could arrange ourselves.
It takes all the players.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. - 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
History, whether Heilsgeschichte (Salvation history), political history, social, or any other sort of history, is the story of learning, remembering, forgetting, cycling over and over, making some progress, taking some steps back, but always leaving markers along the trail of human experience.
It demonstrates to us, the progress of redemption and the capacity of a sovererign God to take anything that is thrown at Him (or us) and make it work for glory and for good.
For instance, reflect on this:
Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."
Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live."
But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?"
The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them."
So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live." -Exodus 1:6-22
The meaning emerges from the reflective insights that bubble forth in scriptural interpretation and contemplative prayer focused upon the key questions we ask and are asked by God and our fellow travelers.
Joseph died. His brothers died. His whole generation died.. At some point, all that will be left us us on earth will be the elements of our legacies.
What comes next is that which sets the stage for our decisions to reverence God and act with justice toward others or to bow to the waves of power and intimidation.
Deliverance would come decisively to the oppressed, but this passage only pulls back the curtain to reveal many coming years of darkness and oppression during which faithfulness itself would have to serve as its only reward.
It is a piece of the history.
In times of danger, in times of defeat, in times uncertainty and scarcity, remember God's power, goodness, grace, and presence. Pray for and work for the shalom of your city and community. Be a disciple. Exercise your dual citizenship here and in Heaven. Live graciously, generously, and fearlessly. Be different. Stick out like a sore thumb.
Don't retreat. Don't be afraid. Don't be cynical or let your hearts grow heart or faint.
Renew your faith in the God of positive outcomes.
Make a difference.
The Places You Will Go
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born March 2, 1904.
The world is a happier place because he was here.
Much that I needed to know for life, I learned from some very special children's books. His were among them.
He had no children of his own. In fact he said we could have them and he would entertain them, which he did.
Along the way, he tapped into feelings and issues with which children struggle. He acknowledged their questions and became a fellow explorer with them. He mastered the art of writing books that could speak to children and adults at any stage of life.
Dr. Seuss took us to many fascinating places, but left it to us to explore the rest.
I have been doing so since I was a child.
"OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!
THERE IS FUN TO BE DONE! THERE ARE
POINTS TO BE SCORED. THERE ARE GAMES TO BE WON."
Theodor Geisel died, September 24, 1991. Before that, and since, he was a tour guide for many of us, taking us many places and showing us the world through colorful lenses.
I was reflecting on the places within us where Dr. Seuss took us and I decided to look at some of his words and how they had affected my life.
"OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!"
I left home at 18 to go to college. I moved 6 hours from home. It might has well been across the world. It was a cross cultural move for me - from the Richmond with its unique cultural mix to Appalachia.
Then I moved to California.
I have yet to explore all of this state. I have been to many more. There is so much yet to explore.
But there is also the inner territories yet to find. Dr. Seuss said:
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
He brought perspective to the common insecurities of children and adults about who they were. He addressed our anxieties about being authentic.
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”
We have beginnings and endings, but the endings are beginnings and the beginnings are endings and on and on it goes. I do a lot of funerals. I collect stories - stories of well over 1000 people I knew but never met. Funerals are happy-sad times because the memories are sweet and the endings are bitter. It occurs to me that I frequently employ a principle he taught as I lead people in the celebration of the life of a loved one.
Dr. Seuss said:
“Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.”
I sometimes have tough questions with which to wrestle. I meet people every day who are embroiled in existential crises, in deep pain, and in profound despair. Questions without answers plague them. I share with them, pray with them, and mostly, listen to them, I dare not pontificate, but Seuss said,
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
We have to figure out how to ask the right questions and we will find ourselves closer to the answers.
He encouraged us to face our troubles.
"I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”
He encouraged us to be honest with our feelings and words.
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”
He encouraged us to learn.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
He warned us that life is but a vapor and is passing away - thus to embrace today today.
“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
Yes, Theodor Geisel died, September 24, 1991. Dr. Seuss lives on.
“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”