Tag Archives: Confusion

Iron-Clad Uncertainty

As for you, go your way till the end.
Daniel 12:13a (NIV)

Many years ago I was asked to lead a study with a large group of young people about prophecy and the book of Revelation.  The room was packed each week, not that this had anything to do with me or my teaching. My lessons rarely commanded such interest. Only one of my classes garnered such popularity and that was the one on the topic of sex (go figure). There’s something about the prophetic and the idea of knowing what’s going to happen in the future that intrigues people.

I thought of that class from 30 years ago as I read today’s final chapter of Daniel. There are a couple of specific and unique references in the chapter. In one, the angelic figure in Daniel’s vision tells him that the events he describes will be for “a time, times, and half a time.” In another, the angelic figure makes a specific reference to 1,290 days and then 1,335 days. In the school of thought in which I was raised and educated (and then taught 30 years ago), the phrase and days are referenced as part of a future time referenced in the book of Revelation as “The Great Tribulation,” which is said will last 3.5 years:

a time” = 1
times” = 2
half-a-time” = .5
Sum= 3.5

As I’ve progressed in my journey, experienced more life, and read other learned commentators on the subject, I’m less certain of the iron-clad interpretation with which some of my teachers pompously prognosticated and which I emphatically parrotted 30 years ago. It’s possible that the interpretation is correct, of course, and I have no problem suggesting it as such. There are just so many variables.

Daniel was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Hebrew is an ancient language and the definition of many words remain mysteries to the most scholarly of linguists. Aramaic is a dead language no longer even used today. Interpretations of the strange phrase the angel used vary, and the two numbers don’t seem to coincide with any particular events in the past or in prophecy. The Babylonian culture and the educational system in which Daniel was schooled was steeped in very sophisticated arithmetic that they connected to both astronomy and their native religion. So, to emphatically state that the word translated “times” absolutely means “two” and this certainly relates to 3.5 years of the seven-year Tribulation referenced in the seventh chapter of Revelation which was written almost half a millennium later, well…you catch my drift.

I also remind myself that the most learned and emphatic prophetic prognosticators of Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah was going to arrive as a warlord, wipe out the Romans, and set up a global kingdom. Even Jesus’ own followers believed that right up to the time He was hanging on a cross. Oops. The lesson I’ve tried to learn from this is simply to be humble about that which can be known and that which requires faith, defined in God’s Message as “the assurance of what we hope for and the evidence of that which we cannot see.”

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that the further I travel this earthly existence the less need I feel to be emphatically certain about some things, and the more en-joy-ment I derive from living in the mystery. I love the way the angelic being leaves Daniel scratching his head and reeling with confusion about all the mysterious prophetic numbers and phrases. I love that the angel ends the book by telling Danny Boy: “As for you, go your way until the end.”

Keep going.  Press on. Just keep going doing the things I’m doing. When it comes to the prophetic, I can have faith that things will take care of themselves.

The End of the Line

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.
2 Kings 17:6 (NIV)

In this life, some things end. That’s the simple truth of the matter. Along this life journey I’ve come to the realization that we human beings like to feel a sense of the eternal amidst the temporal. We like things to remain fairly stable. We are lulled into a state of accepting that what has been always will be…

  • I will always live here…
  • I will always have this job…
  • We will always be together…
  • We will always be friends…
  • My parents will always stay together…
  • My children will outlive me…

And then suddenly, things end. Relationships end, jobs go away, homes are destroyed, people move away, churches split, companies are acquired, and so on, and so on, and so on.

World rocked. Equilibrium off. Heart breaking. Mind spinning.

Life changing.

In today’s chapter, we get to the end of the line for the northern Kingdom of Israel. For 190 years they had existed through a roller coaster succession of monarchs. Hoshea would be the final king. The Assyrian empire lays siege to Israel’s capital city, Samaria. It is destroyed, plundered, and the Israelites taken back to Assyria as slaves. Using the ancient playbook of conquest, the Assyrians move a melting pot of other immigrants peoples into the neighborhood to ensure that the Israelites left behind don’t unite in rebellion against the Empire. It is the end of the Kingdom of Israel.

As I read and mull over this morning’s chapter, I’m reminded of our chapter-a-day journeys through the prophets who warned that this was coming. For those who had ears to hear, the warning signs were there. Amidst the chaos, grief and questions that arise when things end, we can often look back with 20-20 hindsight and see that the signs were all there. In our desire for the eternal amidst the temporal we simply choose to ignore them.

I’m also mulling over the lessons that I’ve learned both in my journey through God’s Message and my journey through life. Things must end for us to experience new beginnings. In order for there to be resurrection, something must die. God even wove this truth into His artistic expression of creation. The seasons teach us that the new life and recurring promises of spring don’t happen with out the long death of winter. In summer Iowa has such lush green landscape with deep blue skies that it almost creates a new color all its own. But eventually we reach the end of the line. Lush green corn turns to ugly brown stalks, and the blue skies give way to the dull gray snow clouds of winter. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Old things pass away, then new things come.

For the people of Israel, this chapter of life is ended. But the story isn’t over. The prophets predicted this, as well. A new chapter has begun. Perhaps unexpected. Perhaps unwanted. Perhaps scary and unnerving. Yet that’s why we love great stories. They take us to unexpected places and new experiences we hadn’t dreamed or imagined. But we don’t get there without journeying through the end of the previous chapter(s).

Embrace the Mystery of the Moment

Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13:7 (NRSV)

There was a lot that Jesus’ followers did not understand. It is a subtle, but recurring theme in John’s biography of Jesus:

  • Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
  • They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.
  • Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word.
  • Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
  • His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

Along my life journey I’ve discovered that I almost always desire clarity and understanding, but it quite regularly eludes me in the moment and in my immediate circumstances. It is only when I reach a waypoint down the road that I look back and perceive with clarity and understanding how God was at work around me, in me, and through me. I have come to accept that there are some things that will continue to elude me until my journey is over and I am safe at home.

At least I’m not alone. I take heart today in the realization that Jesus’ best friends and closest followers on this earth were perplexed in the moment, too. Being physically present with Jesus and hearing His every word, they still didn’t get it until further on down the road. Maybe it’s time for me to cut myself a little slack.

I’m reminded that this life journey is, for me, a faith journey. I will rarely have clarity and understanding in the moment. I am, however, assured of the hope that God will complete His good work in me. Having looked back at how He has brought me to this point, and all that He has faithfully accomplished thus far, it is evident that I can trust that my present circumstances are part of the plan.

You do not know now what I am doing,” Jesus says to His followers, “but later you will understand.”

Indeed.

So, go with it. Trust. Have faith.

Embrace the mystery of the moment.

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featured image by odreamer via Flickr

Unexpected Events in the Narrative

…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.

 

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A Purposed Change of Course

Compass usage illustration
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. Revelation 17:17 (NIV)

 

Yesterday I was having coffee with my friend just as we have done every week or two for the past several years. He and I have a relationship that goes deep. We know the most intimate details of one another’s lives, and we have shared the journey with one another for a good stretch through some low valleys as well as a few mountain tops.

Over a hot cup of coffee I was sharing some things that are happening in life for Wendy and me. My friend recognized in my sharing the same thing that I have sensed in the past several months. There is a shift happening in life for Wendy and me at this point in our journey that is beyond our conscious thought or human ability to facilitate. Some of the paths we have intended to take were inexplicably closed to us, and in some cases their closure has been the source of confusion, grief, and intense sadness. Now, all of a sudden, other paths have opened up and, out of the confusion, we both have an incomprehensible peace in our hearts about this course adjustment. We can’t explain it, we didn’t see it coming, but we both recognize that it’s happening.

Wise King Solomon said, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Wendy and I have long recognized that there is a divine plan at work in our lives. We have plotted our course and headed out on paths we believed would lead us where we wanted to go and where were supposed to go, but our steps have ultimately been directed to different paths on a different course. We know that our stories and our paths are part of a larger story and purpose. We don’t always see it with our eyes, but when we experience the life shift as we have over the past several months, we both know it in our hearts.

I believe that there is a larger story being told and a greater purpose at work in this life for which our lives are but a bit part (Actually, I have come to love bit parts – but that’s a different blog post). As I read through John’s account of his vision I am struck by the parallel we’re experiencing in our lives. I read the chapters and follow along as John is led through some strange visions. I catch little pieces I recognize but I largely struggle to see clearly what they mean in the whole. Underneath it all, however, I have an incomprehensible peace in knowing that there is a story being told whose chapters were written outside of time, and there is a divine purpose unfolding in today’s headlines which lead towards a conclusion that has long been foreshadowed. For Wendy and me, our job is to walk the steps established, to press on in the course, and to play out our bit parts to the best of our gifts and abilities.

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When a Hallmark Card Just Won’t Do

English: Illuminated letter of Elkanah and his...
English: Illuminated letter of Elkanah and his two wives. Manuscript Den Haag, KB, 78 D 38 I (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why are you crying, Hannah?” Elkanah would ask. “Why aren’t you eating? Why be downhearted just because you have no children? You have me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:8 (NLT)

Trust me when I say that this was NOT the right thing for Elkanah to say to his wife as she struggled with infertility.

In my experience, men have a traditionally difficult time understanding women in general. When it comes to the depth of pain women experience when trying, and not succeeding, to conceive or bear children the complexity of thoughts and emotions becomes almost unfathomable for a man to understand or appreciate. Elkanah’s attempt at encouraging his wife, while I’m sure delivered from the best of intentions, only served to make Hannah feel more isolated and alone. His question convinced her that he did not have a clue what she was going through. As I read Elkanah’s question a second time, I imagined that I heard Hannah’s unspoken thought as it poured out of the anger and rage of her emotional pain: “No, Elkanah, at this moment I believe ONE son would be better than TEN of you!”

Walking with a spouse through the dark valley of something as emotionally wounding as infertility requires a tremendous amount of patience, compassion, courage, and perseverance. This is why many marriages to not survive the journey. I believe that no man is truly prepared for this journey and task. A pre-game pep talk doesn’t help. A pat on the back or a Hallmark card doesn’t help. Weak attempts at cheering her up doesn’t help.

Be present in the pain. Share the pain. Step into the pain with her. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. It is fraught with confusing moments. Even this will not help take the pain away and may not even make things better. She will, however, not be alone in the valley. There is hope in that.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 8

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 02:  Kyle Korver #26 of th...
CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 02: Kyle Korver #26 of the Chicago Bulls passes the ball under pressure from Courtney Lee #5 of the Houston Rockets at the United Center on April 2, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Rockets defeated the Bulls 99-93. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.  Acts 8:2 (NLT)

The other night I watched a snippet of an interview with Kyle Korver of the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have struggled all season with their star player injured and on the bench. The other players rallied behind their ailing MVP all season and ended with the best record. In the first game of the playoffs, however, their now “healthy” MVP blew out his knee. Now the team has to face the playoffs without their most important player. No one is giving them much of a chance.

“We’ve got a great story here,” Korver said in response to the situation. He’s right. No one wants to read the story of a team who packs their bench with the biggest stars and then waltzes to a championship everyone expects them to win. The story of a rag-tag team of bench players who rally together and win against all odds – that’s a story people want to read, and watch, and be a part of.

A shake-up can be a healthy for all of us. Tragedy and persecution are thought of as bad things, but God’s Message says in many places that we are to be joyful when we encounter trials and tribulations. Difficult times force us to grow. Tragedies refine our character. Pain pushes us to persevere. Maturity is found at the end of a difficult stretch of the journey. And, they are all the stuff of great stories.

In today’s chapter, the followers of Jesus experience a huge wave of persecution. People are being hunted down, arrested, imprisoned, and stoned to death. It is no longer safe to be associated with Jesus and His followers. People scatter out of the city and the region to avoid the persecution. I’m sure some were fearful and anxious asking God why He would allow such a thing to happen. By the end of the chapter, we begin to see the fruit of the persecution. Jesus’ message is carried with the fleeing followers to every corner of the country and beyond. The movement spreads out to reach more and more people and the incredible stories of people believing, miracles happening, and lives being changed begin to pile up.

Having a difficult time? Feeling beat down and persecuted? Be joyful. What you’ve got is a great story in the making. God uses temporary tough times and tragic earthly circumstances to tell an amazing eternal story. We’ve just got to open our eyes to see it, trust God to see us through, and press on.

Go Bulls!