We’re All in Different Ruts Together

Dear fellow travelers,

Saint Augustine wrote in his Confessions “for it is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge….and another to tread the road that leads to it.”  Often along that road we get stuck in a rut, but what is a rut?

According to Dictionary.com, “rut” is a noun meaning: “a furrow or track in the ground, especially one made by the passage of a vehicle or vehicles” or “a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising: to fall into a rut.”

The second meaning comes from the first, earlier meaning.  On dirt roads, vehicles create a rut along a repeated path, and the vehicles that come after find it easier to follow the path of least resistance.  Therefore, without someone intervening and repairing the road, the rut gets deeper and its harder for any vehicle to avoid the rut.  The second meaning is a metaphor of people doing the same thing.  It’s easier to do what others have done before, or to continue what you’ve already done before, especially if repeated for a long period of time.

However, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25)

Life often feels like this. Photo by Aubrey Odom-Mabey on Unsplash

The Diversity of Ruts
Over time, I have found many ruts to get stuck in.  In my earliest memories I was already in a rut of passive Christianity, going through rituals that didn’t mean much to me.  As a young adult, I was in a different rut as a visibly vibrant church member, doing things like leading Bible studies and worship services.  Later, I was in a rut of private faith, studying the Bible and praying nearly every day but rarely talking to anyone else about it.  At other times I’ve been ruts of tribalism, comfortable practicing religion as acceptable to “my tribe,” whether a political tribe, a denominational one, or many others.

There were times in my life where I looked like a Christian but wasn’t, and also times where I was a Christian but didn’t look like one.  There were times where some people approved, and there were times when other people approved.

Much of what I’ve done has been potentially “good,” at least in appearance, but in all cases there was always something not quite right with it.  J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that “There was an Eden on this very unhappy Earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile.’”  We’re stuck somewhere we’re not meant to stay.  Each of our experiences is different, and the wrong paths I’ve been on are not always the same wrong paths you’ve been on, and what was wrong for me might be right for you.  But for many of us, ruts are comfortable.

When people, like vehicles following a rut in the road, follow others, it doesn’t “feel” risky.  But when in a rut, new ground is never uncovered, and new paths are never found.  There is no fruit of the Spirit from staying in a rut, doing something because someone else did it or because it feels “normal.”  God’s people grow in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control[1] as they find and follow His path for them, not by accident, by routine, or by doing nothing.

What may be less obvious is that the right path I should be on is not the same path you should be on.  As I’ve written, “Each of us is an intricate matrix of beliefs, at different levels of truth and of conviction on every possible topic.”  We all try to follow the same Shepherd, but we’re all in different places and He has different paths for all of us.  A person can be a passionate, sincere believer with characteristics from any or all of what were my ruts, while I may by grace have avoided the ruts of others.

Compelling, Clear, and Charitable
Why am I writing this?  I picked up a few new followers this week, thanks to a post of mine being shared by Mitch Teemley (please visit his amazing blog!) and wanted to publicly thank him and to welcome any new readers!

Here, inspired by Ephesians 4:15, I try to write posts that are “Compelling, Clear, and Charitable” as explained in this earlier post.  I try to write posts that “stir up my readers to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24).

It’s easy to use doctrine to criticize.  Luke 13:26 and elsewhere criticize public faith if done incorrectly, while Matthew 6:4, 6:6, 6:18 and elsewhere describe sincere religion as private, done in secret.  Politically, God’s people were exiled from the Promised Land because they used God’s institutions for their own purposes, but in exile were told to honor God in ways that benefit the nations they lived among.

Likewise, the people in the many ruts I’ve been in are often in conflict with each other.  For example, “visible” Christians can get frustrated with “private” Christians, and in fact make it more difficult for them to get out of it.  Strangely, I find myself often in conflict with past and current versions of myself.

If I write about a situation that feels like one you’re currently in, you might get offended because to you it’s not a rut.  It might be your true path.  Or you might be offended because the rut is comfortable and too deep to see out of.  It’s sometimes easier to see someone else’s rut than your own, especially if you’re in the same ditch together.  The ditch may be comfortable to both of the people in it.

Because of this diversity of ruts, being charitable is harder than being clear or compelling, but it is infinitely more important.  On the other hand, on a blog where I don’t know many of my readers, charity at a personal level can be impossible.

Now, Not Yet
We must try.  In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands God’s people to “make disciples of all nations.”  We all experience failure on this mission, but the only way to guarantee failure is to not try at all.  If I an Compelling and Clear here, I might have succeeded, but at something other than discipleship, for myself and for you.  If we have not love, we are nothing.  In addition, Proverbs 27:17 describes discipleship as “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  This verse is sometimes quoted with a smile as if it’s always rainbows and sunshine, but the verse is describing the violence of one piece of metal scraping bits off another piece of metal.  In the metaphor of this post, it might be describing the work needed to dig out of a deep rut.  Here, I make a humble attempt to make a better disciple of myself, but also to (hopefully charitably) share what I’ve learned in a way that helps others find their own path that is not a rut.

Even blogging may become a rut for me – it might have already – but it helps me move out of past ruts.  The path of comfort and of least resistance is appealing.  The temptation to create a new path defined by resistance to my past ruts is also appealing.  I may steer clear of Scylla and crash headlong into Charybdis.[2]  For now, I take comfort that God has used my past ruts to teach me what I didn’t know at the time and wouldn’t have learned otherwise, and that Paul encourages us all to use whatever diverse gifts we have: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” – Romans 12:6-8

When we arrive finally in the eternity we have been craving, Jesus will completely and finally pull all His people out of their ruts, and each will blaze their own perfect trail as an untainted bearer of His image.  Future me (and future you) will all be vibrant members of God’s family, constantly worshiping God in private prayer and public work, while perfectly manifesting the political Kingdom of God in a new heaven and new earth.  While the road between here and there is full of ruts, God is faithful and will get us there.  He promises that every rut we currently are stuck in is temporary, and also that in eternity the path of righteousness we should be on will be as easy and comfortable as our current ruts promise to be but fail to deliver on.  The good we did imperfectly in this world will be done perfectly there.

And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” – Revelation 21:21

There are no ruts in that road.

Welcome to my new and old fellow travelers.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Galatians 5:22-23
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Between_Scylla_and_Charybdis

He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 1)

Sometimes you watch a movie and years later only remember one or two things about it, and the rest is just “meh”.  In Undercover Blues, released in 1993, Stanley Tucci’s character Muerte, a mugger, is the best part of the movie.  He growls lines like: “My name is Muerte…it means death!  Remember my name!” before or after attacking his victims, with Mariachi guitar accompaniment.  It’s a bit silly, but Muerte isn’t to be trifled with – he brutally takes out multiple guys in the movie.

Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner play a married couple of ex-spies (their last name is Blue) on maternity leave in New Orleans who are harassed by muggers, including Muerte, along the way.  Unfortunately for Muerte, Jeff Blue is an experienced and confident fighter who isn’t intimidated by Muerte’s speech, and just says: “Well I’m pleased to meet you Morty.  My name is Jeff”

Then Jeff Blue beats up Morty and his crew with a stroller!  Evil Muerte had met his match.  Watch the one-minute video below – I’ll be referring back to it later.

A Conspiracy of Muertes
While Muerte picks up his lost tooth, here are key verses for this post, from Psalm 2:1-3:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
            against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
Let us burst their bonds apart
            and cast away their cords from us”

The Psalm refers to the rebellion of nations, peoples, kings, and rulers against the “bonds” and “cords” of “the Lord” and “his Anointed”, or God the Father and God the Son.  Nations are rivals, not just with each other, but also with the kingdom of God.

The ultimate example of this rebellion is referenced when the first two verses from above are quoted in Acts 4:25-26, followed by: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and our plan had predestined to take place.”  The crucifixion of Jesus was the result of a massive conspiracy, including possibly six separate trials by both Jewish and Roman authorities, resulting in the death of Jesus, who was not guilty of what He was charged with, but also is the only human to never participate in insurrection against His Father.  The Jews hated Him because He was not the political messiah that would lead an insurrection against Rome.  The Romans, led by Pilate, answered the call to crucify Him, to avoid a Jewish riot that would result in their punishment or removal by higher Roman authorities.  Jesus was a threat to their authority and had to go.

So, they literally succeeded in killing God.  Brutally.  But then Psalm 2:4 tells us:

“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.”

A Surprising Victory
Surprising even His followers, on the third day, He was resurrected from the dead, and after a few weeks, was raised “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”  (Ephesians 1:21).  This Jesus is the one laughing in heaven, and He can laugh because in a way He is like Jeff Blue in the scene from Undercover Blues.  At the 27 second mark of the video, after Muerte draws his switchblade, Jeff smiles and says “This is a really bad idea Morty.”  Muerte rages and plots in vain, however is no threat to Jeff.  Likewise, Jesus knows all nations are no threat to Him and His kingdom.

In “More Than Truth”, I wrote about how some truth “describes the world as it is”, such as Proverbs 14:20: “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.”  Jesus knows all of the descriptive truth about the problems of the world, including subjects of earlier posts:

  • That since the Fall in Genesis 3, “mankind became inclined to make things that glorify themselves, rather than God,” from the tower of Babel to kingdoms such as Edom
  • That “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” – Pr. 14:12 and 16:25
  • That every “Pax Romana” is just a narrative designed to make the state appear to be more than it is
  • That mankind is incredibly creative in attempting to thwart God’s purpose in creating His kingdom, populated by His family
  • That even the “religion” of the Old Testament Bible could not produce righteousness

However, all rulers and nations opposed to God are doomed to fail, because even killing God was not good enough to keep Him down.  Jesus laughs because He knows His plan will work.  In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told Peter that “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In Acts 4 above, Peter and John quote Psalm 2 after they were released by the religious rulers of Jerusalem, and they testify that Jesus’ enemies only do “whatever your hand and our plan had predestined to take place.”  Peter and John were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus, and knew that all the powers of the world could not keep Him down.  His plan would not fail.  They did not quote verse 4, but they knew that Jesus was exalted and laughing at the opposition to them.  They rejoiced that the same God who had resurrected Jesus had freed them from prison!

Therefore, take comfort that Jesus, knowing all the evil and rebellion of the world that we may feel threatened by or anxious about, laughs.  All who challenge God are Morty, not Muerte, even if they once “succeeded” in killing Him.

I read Psalm 2 if I am feeling stressed by the political state of the world, about the political state of my country, or about the 24/7 barrage of bad news online and on TV.  “He who sits in the heavens laughs” reminds me that Jesus is laughing at the cause of my stress – He is not threatened and He is in charge.  In some ways we are like the baby in the movie scene.  We would be helpless against Muerte, but Jeff Blue does not let anything happen to his child.  At the 34 second mark of the video, Jeff even checks in on the baby, who slept through the whole thing.  In our case, we are tethered to our forerunner[1], Jesus, our King laughing in heaven, who says: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” – John 10:28-29.

I’ll end this post here on a note of confidence, but there remains a trickier and important question…

Do we also laugh?  Is the laughter of Jesus descriptive, or prescriptive?  What is the truth that is like Proverbs 14:21: “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor”?

What defines how subjects in the kingdom of the One who laughs should behave? More in Part 2, coming soon.

[1] See “The Sure Eternal Path” for more on this metaphor from Hebrews 6:20.

[Originally posted October 2021]

Three Blessings to Count Today

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash

Some say that grace stands for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, but what are these riches?  David says at the end of Psalm 144 that:

Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
            Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!”

The desire of the Lord is to bless His people, in part in this world, and fully in the next.  The verse above follows verses 12-14, which list three specific blessings: family, prosperity, and safety:

May our sons in their youth
            be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
            cut for the structure of a palace;
may our granaries be full,
            providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands
            and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young,
            suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!”

Knowing God is no immediate guarantee of these things, but we may ask Him for them, and know that when we do receive them, they come from Him.  He has paid for our riches and our blessings in full on the cross, so that in Paradise we will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), be eternally His family (Ephesians 1:5), and our pain and tears will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4).

Today, count these blessings, praise God for them, and pray that His people will hope in His provision forever!

On Spiritual Mood Swings

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Life is often a battle with inconsistency.  We go from feeling good about our situations and God’s favor, to feeling like we are in a spiritual desert, and back again like a pendulum.  Knowing this, God provides verses like Psalm 126:4-6, which says:

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
            like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
            shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
            bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
            bringing his sheaves with him.

The metaphor is a comparison to the south of Israel, which has a very dry climate, yet experiences flooding in a rainstorm.  The Negeb also is mentioned in the story of Caleb and his daughter Achsah.  Her inherited land was in the infertile Negeb, and she asks him also for springs of water, which he gives her.[1]

Like Achsah’s father Caleb, our Father God also provides for us in our seasons of trouble.  Here, the Psalmist compares tears to seeds, reminding us that in the dry times as well as the times of overflowing blessing, God is with us, using those circumstances.  Our current loss is future gain, and our current time of suffering is bound and measured by God’s will, like the Babylonian exile was measured at 70 years[2] and the year of Jubilee came after every 49 years[3].  After our time, we will enter His rest and rejoice eternally.

In this life we may experience spiritual and emotional extremes, like drought and flood in the desert.  Don’t overreact to the pendulum swing but count your tears as seeds.  Pray that He will restore your fortunes and thank Him that our seasons are in His hands.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

[1] Joshua 15:18-19
[2] Daniel 9:2, 9:24
[3] Leviticus 25:8

Greetings to My Dear Fellow Travelers

Dear fellow travelers,

Have you ever wondered why posts here often start with that greeting?  But before that, why start with a greeting at all?  It started with an observation.

There are 27 New Testament books, and 17 start with the words “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or something very similar.[1]  It wasn’t an accident, which made me wonder: Do I greet others with grace and peace?  Do I intentionally bring grace and peace to relationships with others?  In real-time interactions, certainly not as often as I’d like, but in a blog, where I have the time to be very intentional, why shouldn’t I be able to?  So, what would be an appropriate greeting for this blog?

“Dear fellow travelers” first came to mind because it communicates motion and relates to the name of the blog.  In Taxi Cab by twenty øne piløts, God tells Tyler, the song’s author, that “We’re driving toward the morning sun; Where all your blood is washed away; And all you did will be undone.”  Where we are is not where we will be and becoming Christian changes our destination forever.  We’re going to a different place, but if we focus too much on the circumstances of our time and not enough on the implications of eternity, we lose sight of the Lord who is our Savior, and of the grace and peace He provides.

“Dear fellow travelers” also reminds us of this grace and peace.  The apostles started their letters acknowledging up front that everyone needs grace, even the author.  We are all travelers in this community of faith, and we should be dear to each other.  In addition, when Paul, Peter, or John wrote of peace, they didn’t mean just a sentiment or feeling.  The word translated as peace is rooted in a Greek verb meaning “to join”.  God’s grace enables us to overcome what divides us and to join together in Him.  Through grace, we all fellowship as one and experience peace.  We’re all in the boat together, and with Jesus as the captain we can be confident in the destination.

Since blogs can reach people in any place and theoretically at any future time through the internet, the blog’s greeting needed to be inclusive.  Nations and cultures don’t each have their own gospel of Christ.  There is one gospel, and it applies within, and above, all nations and cultures.  Christians in all places and times are traveling through a place that is not their home, to a place where we will all be together in perfect grace and peace.

So, dear fellow travelers, let’s keep driving!  Let’s strive to bring grace and peace to every encounter we have as we travel through this world.

[1] Refer to Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3, 1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2, 2 John 3, and Revelation 1:4.