On this Wayfarer Weekend Podcast, I interview Kathie Evenhouse, co-author of Strike the Match, Light the Fire. The book unpacks the “chain reaction of praise” that I’ve blogged about before. Kathie shares the impact this has had on her own life experiences and how praising God in every circumstance is the first step on the path to overcoming.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asked his closest followers one day. The boys gave various possibilities and arguments they’d heard debated over pita bread and humus among the locals in the cafe.
Jesus then asked his closest friends a more penetrating question.
“Who do you say that I am?” He asked.
Over 2000 years later that question still resonates and penetrates. It’s a blunt question Jesus asks, and it would seem He wants from me a blunt answer.
“Come on, Tom. Step up. Decide for yourself. Make a declarative statement, because it determines many things. Who do you say that I, Jesus, am? By the way, refusing to answer is an answer that tells me as much as if you just declare what you think and believe.”
When I was a young man I grappled honestly with the answer to this question. I think the answer can change for all of us over time. C.S. Lewis famously speaks of going for a bike ride. When he started the ride he didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, and when he arrived at his destination he did. Such is the journey of faith.
I held a debate within my heart and mind over a long period of time. There were days when I would have answered “a good man,” “a prophet,” “a great teacher who was somewhat confused about the answer himself.” It was a cold February night in 1981 when I made a declarative decision that changed the course of my life. I came to what was basically the same conclusion Peter came to when Jesus first confronted his followers with the question:
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Hebrews is a letter that was intended to be dispersed specifically among the followers of Jesus scattered across the world who were also Jewish by birth and/or tradition. Who wrote the letter is a matter of long debate across the centuries, but whoever wrote it was educated and very knowledgable about the Hebrew scriptures (what we commonly refer to as the Old Testament). The purpose of this letter we call The Book of Hebrews is to lay out an answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” for Jewish believers.
This morning, I’m once again pondering Jesus’ question anew. While my basic answer to the question has never changed since that cold February night, the answer has grown, matured, deepened, and evolved. When I say today that I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, it means something much fuller, richer and deeper than it did back then. I’m grateful for that, and meditate this morning on the journey that’s brought me from there to here.
It’s been five years since I last trekked through Hebrews on this chapter-a-day journey. I’m looking forward to treading familiar ground from a different waypoint in this life journey.
Confession: I am a terrible reader. There is a stack of “must read” books in my office that never shrinks. It remains a perpetual source of shame. For this reason, it took a while for me to make down the stack to my autographed copy of Officer Involved, the debut novel of Iowa author Bill Zahren. I’m so glad I got to it!
For the record, I love the mystery novel. I will always love Chandler and Hammet’s hard-boiled detectives. In my opinion, Sharon Kay Penman does not get enough credit for her historical Queen’s Man series. My heart, however, especially melts for those authors who can, tongue-in-cheek, make me laugh while compelling me to keep turning the pages. The greatest compliment I can give Bill Zahren is that he has officially joined the hallowed ranks of Gregory McDonald (Fletch) and Laurence Klavan (The Cutting Room) in my list of authors who can spin a great yarn while making me guffaw out loud as I read.
Officer Involved is set in Sioux City, Iowa. You read that correctly. Sioux land in northwest Iowa is not exactly known as a hotbed of mystery and intrigue. That’s part of the enjoyment. Despite the media’s constant, willful ignorance interesting things actually happen in flyover country. While we resent the snubs from both coasts, we also appreciate being left alone. Zahren is one of us. He gets this and uses it to make Officer Involved a novel with a unique setting.
Tom Kingman, deft investigative journalist covering the latest Iowa heat wave, finds himself an unexpected witness to a police shooting. Assistant District Attorney Hillary Reed asks Kingman to sit on some of the facts of the even to protect a much larger story. In return for his silence, Reed promises Kingman an exclusive once the larger story breaks. As suddenly as a midwest thunderstorm, the pair find themselves embroiled in circumstances far deeper and more dangerous than either anticipated. I chuckled and kept turning the pages as Zahren swept me along for the ride.
I had a lot of fun with the story and the budding relationship between Kingman and Reed. I appreciate the humanity Bill writes into both characters and the subtext to which he allows us to be privy. I found them not to be cookie cutter protagonists. In Officer Involved I was introduced to both Tom and Hillary, but finished the book wanting to know more about each of them, and I was itching to find out where Bill is taking us in future installments.
I have HUGE respect for Bill and his courageous leap into publishing. I’m so glad he followed his passion, brushed off the manuscript, repressed his doubts, and worked his butt off to introduce us to Kingman and Reed. If you’re looking for a good yarn for the summer reading list support a local author and enjoy Officer Involved!
You can find Bill Zahren on Facebook and follow him on twitter @BillZahren.
…after having heard that Lazarus was ill, [Jesus] stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
John 11:6 (NRSV)
One of the things that has always fascinated me about Jesus’ story, is the way in which Jesus is aware of the bigger picture of all that is happening in and around Him. There is a master plan that is being carried out. The conflict between Jesus and the religious powers-that-be has been growing for some time, but it is all part of the Great Story narrative that God has been authoring since Genesis. Jesus continually speaks and acts in a way to move the narrative toward its prescribed conclusion.
Life and death, death and resurrection are the grand themes of the Great Story. Jesus knows that events are falling into place. Characters are in their places and the cues are being called. Jesus will soon play His part in the grand climax of the story. He will die and then rise again to life in three days. For those who had ears to hear it, Jesus has been saying it all along…
“I will destroy this temple and raise it in three days.”
“Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so for three days the Son of Man will lie in the earth.”
In today’s chapter, Jesus hears of Lazarus’ illness and chooses to stay right where He is. He is waiting for Lazarus to die. This is part of the story, though for Mary and Martha their brothers sudden illness and Jesus’ subsequent refusal to act must be both unexpected and frustrating. Jesus must allow Mary and Martha to suffer the grief and sorrow of their brother’s death, knowing the eucatastrophe that will ultimately allow them to experience the power of Life. The author of creation is a master artist and writer, and He is calling the shots. One dramatic miracle, the resurrection of Lazarus, will accomplish multiple layers of purpose:
- Lazarus’ resurrection will foreshadow Jesus’ resurrection.
- Jesus’ miracle will up the ante. He has revealed power of sickness and nature, but now He raises the stakes and will publicly reveal His power over death itself.
- In upping the ante, He will force the hand of His enemies. They will feel compelled to go all in.
Over this past week, Wendy and I have experienced a small handful of unexpected life events that have us scratching our heads. We can’t see clearly where circumstance is leading for us or our loved ones, nor do we have focus regarding how these small events fit in the bigger narrative of our stories. This morning I am reminded, and encouraged, that the author of creation is a master story-teller, and I can trust that He is writing our own stories to fit perfectly into the Great Story narrative.
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
Ezra 7:10 (NIV)
One of the things I’ve learned in the process of writing scripts is that words are not chosen idly. When writing what a character says, the writer is trying to capture and communicate that character’s voice. With an eye to what the story is trying to communicate as a whole, the author often chooses a word very carefully for a foreshadowing or subtle thematic effect. Actors, myself included, are notorious for playing fast and loose with the script (e.g. “I know it’s not word perfect, but I got the gist of it!“). Writing has made me a better actor as it’s made me pay more attention to the script and to be more honoring of the words the playwright crafted.
So it is that over the years I’ve increasingly found that when I’m reading God’s Message in the morning I experience a word jumping off the page at me. I try to pay careful attention when this happens because it generally leads me down important paths of thought and meditation. This morning it was the word devoted that jumped off the page at me.
Devotion is not just about duty or obedience. Devotion carries with it a component of the heart. There is a yearning and desire that comes with devotion. I thought what a great legacy Ezra left behind to be known as a person who devoted himself to studying, living, and teaching the earliest chapters of God’s Message.
This morning I find myself asking the question, “to what or whom am I devoted?”
Tom is devoted to _________________________.
When others observe my life, if they are asked to fill in the blank, what would they say? Am I devoted to things that matter? Things that make a positive difference in the lives of others? Things that are eternal? Or, am I devoted to silly things that are temporal and of no consequence? To what or whom am I devoted?
You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. Ezekiel 38:15-16a (NIV)
The prophetic messages of Ezekiel in today’s and tomorrow’s chapter are part of a curious and mysterious niche of theological study known as eschatology, the study of prophecy and the end times. The vision and message in today’s chapter calls out a leader named “Gog” of the land of “Magog” from the “far north” who will gather a multi-national coalition of armies to march on Israel in a massive battle.
Most scholars agree that these chapters parallel the vision of John (Revelation 16) who names the location of this gathering of kings for a final great battle: Armageddon. The valley of Armageddon near the ancient town of Megiddo is in northern Israel which is now the site of an on-going archaeological study and a tourist center. I had an opportunity to visit several years ago and that’s the valley of Armageddon behind me in the picture above.
As fascinating as these prophetic matters are to ponder and discuss, I have come to a few conclusions about them along my journey. First, I have known many people who become so obsessed with these prophesies (it can be like solving a massive, unsolvable puzzle) that they get lost in it. I don’t quite see the point of getting so distracted by trying to understand these things that we ignore more important and current matters.
Second, in any story the idea of foreshadowing is to hint at what is to come in the climactic chapters without giving it away. As author of the Great Story being told in history, I think God intended these foreshadowing prophesies to give us a hint of climactic events to come but never intended us to actually understand all of these matters with certainty. No author wants us to know the details of the climax until we actually get to that point of the story.
Finally, I have come to believe that these foreshadowing prophetic messages are there to remind me that there is a bigger story being told in this life. When encountering the daily headlines and the ebb and flow of international events, I take solace in faith that things are being played out toward a prescribed chapter. We are not yet to that point of the story. And, I’m okay with that.
So [Elijah] did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:5-6 (NIV)
The prophet Elijah is one of the most intriguing characters in the entirety of God’s Message. He appears out of nowhere, has a brief ministry marked by miraculous events, confronts the evil and powerful King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, and then disappears in a whirlwind.
Most people don’t realize it, but Elijah also figures into Jesus’ life and teachings. When asked who people that Jesus was, his followers respond that Elijah was a trending vote getter. Jesus told His followers that John the Baptist was the person of Elijah returned to restore all things. On the mount of transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in His glory, Elijah appeared with Him. Jesus referred to Elijah in His teaching on multiple occasions. While hanging on the cross, witnesses thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah.
As I read today’s chapter, I found it interesting that the miracles of Elijah seemed to strongly parallel the miracles of Jesus. The widows flour and oil never ran dry, much like the baskets filled with bread and fish when Jesus fed the crowds with His all you can eat fish fry by the Sea of Galilee. When Elijah takes the dead widow’s son into an upper room and bring’s the boy back to life, it is eerily reminiscent of Jesus going into the room of Jairus’ dead daughter bringing her back to life.
One of the things I have come to appreciate more and more in my sojourn through God’s Message is the connections, parallels, foreshadowing, and recurring themes that stretch across the entirety of the story that God has told and is still telling. I love that God is both an artist and an author. He is telling a story. It is His-story.
With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus….
Luke 1:3 (NIV)
This morning I was up early and spent some time hyperlinking all of the chapters of 1 Chronicles, which we just finished yesterday, into the Chapter-a-Day Index. As I was doing this mundane task I began to think about all of these posts I’ve written day-by-day for over eight years. My brain, still fogged by sleep, had a silly thought: “If I was running for President [talk about a nightmare for all of us], and both the press and public started pouring over my blog to find out more about me, what would they conclude about me based on what I’ve written?”
I then opened to the Luke’s biography of Jesus to start on this morning’s chapter and read Luke’s introduction to Theophilus, the person to whom Luke addressed his account of Jesus’ life. Having just been thinking about what your writing reveals about the person, I realized how much Dr. Luke [traditional holds that he was a physician] revealed about himself in his introduction.
- He is methodical, making sure that his “orderly” account was properly introduced. There’s a formality to Luke’s style and structure.
- He notes that his account is the result of “careful investigation,” and I could imagine the brain of a scientist at work.
- He had researched everything “from the beginning.” The good doctor was thorough as well as methodical.
As I’ve poured over the “big four” biographies of Jesus countless times, I’ve come to appreciate particular things that are unique to each. The thing that I quickly observed in reading Dr. Luke’s investigative report, and which I have come to greatly appreciate over the years, is that it contains small details and entire episodes in the story of the life of Jesus that aren’t found in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John. A physician diagnosing the events he’d witnessed, you can feel Luke’s brain systematically questioning, researching, cataloging, and filing all of the facts so as to lay them out to Theophilus in the most clear and logical manner. These details and episodes provide incredible color and context to the story.
This morning, I am thankful for context and color. I’m thankful for diverse peoples and personalities whom God created to bring that color and context to both His-story and to each of our own stories. I’m thankful for Dr. Luke, whose physician’s brain does not work like mine (I think I’m more like John), and his meticulous investigation which I have enjoyed and from which I have greatly benefitted.
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:5 (NIV)
We love stories. We love stories that fit together and are well told. We love stories that ring true to our human experience. We love stories that move us where we are and give us a glimpse of what we can yet be. We love stories in children’s books, stories in the newspaper, stories on the television, stories on stage, stories in novels, stories on blogs, and stories in magazines. We love audio book stories and the family stories shared orally by our parents and grandparents around the table.
In the movie When Harry Met Sally, one of the greatest romantic comedy stories ever, Billy Crystal’s character always reads the last chapter of a book first. That way, if he dies while reading it, he’ll always know the end. I thought of Harry this morning as I opened up the final chapter of God’s story.
One of the great things about reading the entirety of God’s story is the subtle connections that you begin to recognize between totally disparate chapters emanating from different pens at different points in time. Today as I’m reading the final chapter I’m fascinated by the parallels and connections to other parts of the story. There’s even a direct correlation made when Jesus points out “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
- Light is the first act of creation in Genesis and receives the final mention in Revelation.
- Light was created, but it was created before sun and moon.
- Light shines forever in the City of God, but it is not from sun or moon. The Light is from Jesus, the Lamb of God.
- Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.”
- Jesus is the agent of creation: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:2 and “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16
As we’ve read through the book of Revelation, I have been impressed more than ever at the story that’s being told, not just in this vision of the end, but in the whole of God’s story. There’s a wrapping up of loose ends. There is the bringing of things together and to a conclusion, while at the same time leaving the story line open for all sorts of possibilities in a sequel.
I love that God is the author of creation and a story teller. I love that all of us who are created in God’s image have our own stories that fit into the whole.
What’s your story?
We are a couple of weeks into rehearsal of Ham Buns and Potato Salad, which is a play I’ve written and re-written over the past five years. It will make its stage premiere April 10-13, 2014 in Pella, Iowa thanks to the hard work of Union Street Players.
FYI: I do not have a part in the play. I am working with the director, Ann Wilkinson, and am enjoying the luxury of observing the process as writer and playwright. Most rehearsals I simply sit back and watch and document things with my camera. I’ve had to make some small changes to the script, and have chosen to make others. Ann consults with me once in a while on whether I think this or that choice will work. She and the actors are doing a great job, and I’m anxious to see the finished product.
Here are five things I’m learning in the process of watching a script I’ve written be produced:
- The contribution of others makes it stronger. Over the past five years Wendy and I have hosted a number of readings in our home with a number of different people. I’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback and have revised the script based on that feedback. I also had the privilege of taking the script to the Missouri Playwrights Workshop at the University of Missouri where I received incredibly valuable feedback from objective sources who understand the writing process much better than I do. What I’m discovering is that not only did the feedback allow me to make my script better, but all of the readings allowed friends and community members to feel a vested interest in the piece. They’ve had a hand in it. They feel a sense of ownership and responsibility that I find humbling.
- You can’t please everyone. Because I received a lot of feedback, I had to make very thoughtful and sometimes difficult decisions about which feedback I wanted to embrace and which I wanted to respectfully leave alone. In the end this is still my vision, my story, my characters, and my script. I have to be true to the voice inside of me and what I’m expressing.
- It will never be exactly what you envisioned in your head. I can picture the little town of Hebron. I see the houses, the yards, the porch, and the swing. I envisioned these characters. I heard their voices saying their lines in my head. Now that the show is in production, I’m finding that the set doesn’t look like I envisioned. The characters aren’t always saying the lines the way I heard them in my head. Sometimes the director and actors don’t get the things which I just intuitively know and understand about these characters and this story. Perhaps a movie script writer can storyboard, direct, shoot, manipulate, and edit the video to get exactly what they envisioned. The stage is a messier artistic playground. The bottom line is that I have to accept that I will never see on stage exactly what I envisioned in my head.
- There’s more there than you ever knew or intended. At the same time, I am finding that Ann and the actors are finding things in the script and characters that I never envisioned and that’s a good thing. I’m finding that there are layers to the story and the characters which I didn’t consciously write into the script. In the hands of capable artists the script takes on a life of its own. Things emerge. I’m blown away by it.
- You’ve got to let go. A professor of mine, and a playwright, always spoke of the process of writing in terms of birthing. You conceive an idea, it grows and is knit inside you, and then you give birth to it. The birthing process can be scary, painful, and messy. As with parenting, you’ve got to let go and let your baby become the person it was meant to be. Trying to cling and control will ultimately only serve to harm all parties involved.
Ham Buns and Potato Salad will be produced by Pella, Iowa’s award winning community theatre, Union Street Players, and performed April 10-13, 2014 on the stage of the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium in the Pella Community Center, 712 Union St., Pella, IA. Tickets are $8 in advance for adults ($10 at the door) and $6 in advance for students ($8 at the door). Tickets are available on-line. Click here to order tickets online.