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…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned….
2 Timothy 3:7, 14a (NIV)

When I am studying a particular passage I will, on occasion, go back and read these chapter-a-day posts to see what I wrote about the different times I posted something about that chapter. Inevitably, I can hardly stand to read some of my earliest posts. I’ve progressed through the years in life, in spirit, in thought, and in my writing. Going back an reading an early post can be like looking at pictures of myself in Middle School. Ugh.

At the same time, I realize that this is the point. Immediate perfection was never the expectation, no matter what a parent, pastor, or teacher may have seemed to communicate. “Pressing on,” “pursuing,” and “continuing” are the types of words used again and again in God’s Message. By the end of Jesus’ three years on Earth, His closest and best followers were still blowing it on a regular basis and they still didn’t get all that He was trying to say or accomplish. Eventually, after pressing on and continuing to progress in their understanding of what they’d been taught, they would “turn the world upside down.”

In this morning’s chapter, there is an interesting contrast that Paul gives to Timothy. He first speaks critically of those who are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” They are running in place, going through the motions, repeating the rituals, but there is never any progress, growth, or maturity. Later in the chapter, Paul urges Timothy to “continue in what you have learned.” Timothy, in contrast to his earlier example, had been growing and maturing and Paul urged him to never stop.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about my teenage self, my young adult self, and the person I was when I started writing these posts thirteen years ago. I’m glad I’m not in those places of life’s road anymore. I’m grateful for where I’ve come in life, and I’m determined to keep going. As Paul once wrote, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Continue on, my fellow sojourners.

Have a great day.

It’s Colder than the Arctic. Oh, the Joy!

I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
2 Corinthians 7:4b

Note to subscribers: I had a technical glitch publishing this post this morning with some nasty HTML coding issues. My apologies. I trashed the original post and am reposting, so you may have gotten two emails. Sorry. Maybe it’s the cold 😉

I write this post from the depths of winter in Iowa. It’s -13 as I tap out these words, which is a bit warmer than it was yesterday. This morning I woke up to find our hot water heater isn’t working. Lovely.

Just a week or so ago I was sitting in O’Hare airport in Chicago chatting with a wonderfully gregarious transplant from New Zealand. He was complaining about the weather extremes he’s learned to live with here in the midwest of North America. It reminded me of an observation Garrison Keillor once made: Living in the midwest is like spending your summers in Death Valley and your winters in the Arctic. Indeed. Here’s the headline from the Des Moines Register on Tuesday:

 

Article Headline from Des Moines Register, January 29, 2019.

Along the journey we face all kinds of different challenges. While it’s human to grumble and complain, I often find it personally necessary to make myself put things in context. This morning’s chapter provided it for me.

In writing to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul references “all our troubles.” Later in the letter he provides specifics. Let me jump ahead for the sake of today’s thought. Paul writes:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received the forty lashes minus one.(Note: 39 lashes with a scourge was the ancient prescription to bring the punished to the point of death without letting them actually slip into the comfort of death). Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones (Note: Paul’s would be executioners actually believed they had successfully stoned him to death. His body was carried and dumped outside the city of Lystra and left for dead.), three times I was shipwrecked (Note: He doesn’t mention the venomous snake bite that should have killed him.), I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move (Note: Scholars say that Paul logged some 10,000 miles during his journeys. That’s roughly 21,120,000 steps without a FitBit) . I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

As I said: Context can be a good antidote for self-centered misery. It’s cold this morning and my water heater is broken. I am, however, in a warm house, with warm clothes, and a warm wife. The water heater guy will be by in a few hours to deal with the hot water problem. Boo-hoo for me.

What I found even more fascinating as I read Paul’s words today was that while he endured torture, stoning, shipwrecks, snakebites, imprisonment and the rest, he states that his “joy knows no bounds.”

Along this journey Wendy and I have learned a lot about joy (though I will freely confess that I know far less than Paul). Joy always jumps off the page at me, because it is one of those words that holds a lot of meaning for Wendy and me. We’ve learned from our journey together that joy is something deeper than a momentary feeling such as happiness which flits in and out with the ever shifting winds of circumstance. Joy comes from a deep spring. It’s not a surface, run-off emotion. You have to drill through bedrock of suffering to experience the flow of joy. It is a spiritual by-product of the three things that remain when all else is stripped away: faith, hope, and love.

In the quiet (and a blessedly warm home office) I am thankful this morning for the flow of joy that Wendy and I have come to experience, independent of whatever momentary personal circumstances we may be experiencing.

By the way, temperatures here in picturesque Pella, Iowa are forecast to be 57 degrees (above zero) on Sunday.

Context.

Stay warm, my friend. Have a great day.

“Return”

“For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
2 Chronicles 30:9b (NRSVCE)

A few years ago I wrote a play and the entire play was created out of one simple truth: At some point, you have to return home. From there I reached out and plucked a leaf off the tree of tales about a young boy who ran away from his true love and stayed away for many years. When tragedy strikes just over a decade later he has no choice but to return home, and with it he must face the thing he’s been running from for so long.

The theme of “returning” is a big one across the Great Story. There are so many stories in which people find themselves off in some kind of wilderness. Sometimes they place themselves there and sometimes they are there against their will, but somehow they eventually return in some fashion whether they are led, they are invited, they are forced by circumstance, or they simply choose to do so.

In today’s chapter we pick up the story of King Hezekiah who is trying to help his nation heal after years in which they’ve willfully wandered from the God of their ancestors and many find themselves in the wilderness of captivity. In yesterday’s chapter, Hezekiah had the Levites clean out the temple and prepare it to be used as it had been intended for the worship God. In today’s chapter he sends out a proclamation throughout the land, even to neighboring countries where people were living in exile and captivity. The proclamation simply asked people to do one thing:  return.  Hezekiah wanted all of the Hebrew people to come to Jerusalem for the biggest annual festival on the Hebrew calendar. The Passover feast celebrated God delivering their nation from slavery in Egypt.

Along my journey I’ve seen the theme of return play out in the lives of many people in many different ways. I’ve observed that we often abandon faith in God early in life. Sometimes it’s a willful choice out of disagreement with the faith institution of our childhood. Sometimes it’s prompted by pain or a tragic victimization of some kind. Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing to go our own way. So we wander, and often our spirits are stuck back in childhood. Then later in our life journey I observe people returning, not necessarily to an institution, but to God whom they find altogether different than those childhood memories of pain, anger, doubt, and frustration. Not because God has changed, but they have changed and with it their understanding and perceptions.

In today’s chapter the people of Judah returned for the Passover. Just as Joseph returned to his family. Just as David returned after years as mercenary in exile. Just as the remnant returned from Babylon in Nehemiah’s day. Just as the prodigal son returned in Jesus’ parable. Just as Peter returned after denying Jesus. Just as Jesus returned to the Father after His resurrection.

Just as….

No matter how far we may wander, no matter where we may roam, I’ve found that God’s Spirit is always whispering to our spirits:

“Return.”

 

It’s Not About Me

When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered Judah and Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam.
2 Chronicles 11:1 (NIV)

As a follower of Jesus, I am aware that God is at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. “You are not your own,” Paul wrote to the Jesus followers in Corinth, “Therefore honor God.” The practical application of this is that I think about the life decisions Wendy and I make. I not only concern myself with what we want, but also with what we sense God doing in our lives and the lives of others.

I found it fascinating this morning that King Rehoboam of Judah, having experienced the humility of having ten of the tribes of Israel rebel against him, immediately musters is fighting men for war. This is such a classic male reaction. This is the stuff of boys on a playground. “You wanna fight about it?” 

In describing Rehoboam’s reaction, the Chronicler is careful to also share with us Rehoboam’s motivation. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for whom? God? The legacy of his father and grandfather? Nope. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for himself.

What a contrast Rehoboam is to his grandfather David who, having been anointed King as a boy, refused to claim the throne for himself. David waited for God to arrange the circumstances and make it happen. David was all about honoring what God was doing and waiting for God to raise him up. Rehoboam was all about acting out of his momentary rage and humiliation to get what he himself wanted.

Do I want to be a Rehoboam, or do I want to be a David?

That’s the question I find myself asking in the quiet this morning. Of course, I choose the latter. I want what God wants for my life and the lives of my loved ones. It means that it’s not all about me and what I want, and that’s exactly what Jesus taught, to love others as I love myself and to treat others as I would want to be treated.

Return

Return, O faithless children,
    I will heal your faithlessness.
“Here we come to you;

     for you are the Lord our God.”
Jeremiah 3:22 (NRSVCE)

I recall an episode with one of our daughters a number of years ago. The details of the episode are irrelevant. Our daughter had placed a considerable amount of relational distance between herself and me. She made some choices that she assumed would not make me very happy, and she basically hid from me for a period of time.

When things were eventually revealed I was, admittedly, upset. My anger, however, was not so much with the choices she feared would upset me as it was with the fact that she felt she must hide and distance herself from me.

“When have we ever been unable to talk things out?”
“When have I ever been unreasonable?”
“When have I ever demanded my own way of you?”
“When have I not allowed you to make your own choices?”
“What must you think of me that you can’t be honest with me?”
“Do you honestly think I would reject you?”
“Do you not realize how much I love you?”
“Do you honestly think my love for you is so conditional?”

These are the questions that plagued me. The injury I felt ultimately had less to do with the choices she had made, for they affected me very little. The injury I felt had more to do with the relational choices   between her and me. They affected me deeply. I love her so much.

Eventually, we talked. We reasoned. There were injuries and misunderstandings that lay underneath the surface. I am not a perfect parent. She is not a perfect child. We slogged through the hard stuff. We forgave. We reconciled. We restored. We learned valuable lessons about ourselves and each other in the process. We let go of what was behind and pressed forward. Old things pass away.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah’s prophetic poem is about a heavenly father’s frustration with wayward Israel and wayward Judah. Anger and frustration are present, but ultimately there is simply a call to return, to come home, to be reconciled, and for relationship to be restored.

“Return” is a recurring theme throughout the Great Story. Jesus took it to a new level in the beautiful parable of the Prodigal son. Jesus would experience the theme interpersonally in Peter’s denial and ultimate restoration on the shores of Galilee. It is a human story and a Spirit story. We all experience it in various forms both relationally and spiritually in our own respective journeys.

This morning in the quiet I am thinking about the theme of “return” in my own multi-layered experiences across 50-plus years. I’m thinking about my own wayward actions as a son of my parents. I’m thinking about my experiences as a father. I’m thinking about my own prodigal stretches in life when I walked in the shoes of my own daughter; When I made the same mistaken projections and misguided choices.

It’s easy to read God’s Message and to feel the weight of a Father’s frustration so acutely as to miss the heart and the hurt of a loving parent aching for His child to return. Jesus came to recalibrate our thinking and to reconcile us to God…

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Return. The Father is waiting.

“All Things are Yours”

All things are yours,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
1 Corinthians 21:23 (NIV)

On the Enneagram, I am a Four (“The Individualist”) and Wendy is an Eight (“The Challenger”). Here’s how the Enneagram Institute describes relationships between Fours and Eights:

This can be one of the most creative relationship couplings, although it is also one of the most inherently volatile. Both Enneagram Fours and Eights are intense and have strong emotional responses; both seek to get a reaction from the other, and both can be dominating of their environments. Both types take a certain pride in having a larger than life quality about them: Eights in their larger than life willpower and quest for control, Fours in their larger than life emotions and in their quest for self-expression. Both types want to be free and to be free from having anyone control them, particularly in their careers and private lives. If they feel that the other is trying to control them, both types can become enraged, easily triggering gargantuan battle, financial and sexual intrigues, and rampant feelings of hatred.

Oh my goodness, I chuckle every time I read this. Let’s just say that our marriage is never dull. I’m planning to write an entire post exploring how we navigate our “creative” and “inherently volatile” 4/8 relationship at some point, but that’s not the point this morning.

Yesterday evening I returned home from a business trip and the two of us enjoyed a happy hour pint and conversation downstairs at the V-Dub Pub. Our conversation led us back to a discussion of our differences. Wendy made a really interesting observation. “As a Four,” she said (and I paraphrase), “you talk about always thinking and believing that you are ‘not enough.’ But we Eights are always thinking and believing  that we’re ‘too much.’

In this morning’s chapter Paul begins by making a distinction between “flesh” and “spirit.” He observes that the followers of Jesus in Corinth are people of “flesh” comparing their spiritual immaturity with being like infants scrambling after their most basic needs. This is why they were descending into petty arguments and quarrels regarding who was following the “right” leader.  He compares this to maturity of “spirit”, which he implies is an understanding that there is far more going on to what God has done and is doing. He encourages them to open their eyes to discover a deeper understanding of God’s Spirit.

As Paul ends the chapter he explains “all things are yours”  including all of the various leaders people were fighting about and ends with the explanation that “all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” This is a continuation of yesterday’s thoughts about this dance of relationship in which God’s Spirit indwells us and we become a part of the divine dance of relationship and being along with Father, Son, and Spirit. Now Paul is inviting the Corinthians to understand that they are all part of the same diving dance: Father, Son, Spirit, Paul, Apollos, Peter, the Corinthians, the Jewish believers, the Greek believers, the slaves, the slave owners, the men, the women, the black, the white, the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick, the infants, and the grown ups.

All things are yours” Paul explains to the Corinthians. They just don’t see it. They haven’t realized it. They’re still stuck in “not enough” feelings of scarcity and inferiority leading to an unconscious need to be “right” and prop themselves and their chosen human leader as “better” while everyone else was “wrong” and “less than me and my leader.” This leads to arguments, quarrels, bitterness, and division (which makes for really bad dance partners).

Which led me back to Wendy’s observation from last night. In the quiet of this morning as I mulled these things over in my mind and heart her words returned to me. God’s Spirit whispered to mine: “Not enough” is an immature blindness to (even rejection of) the spiritual reality of “all things are yours.”

Which led me back to thinking about Wendy and me, Eight and Four.

Our always creative, occasionally volatile relational dance allows for Wendy’s Eight to see when I’m sinking into my subconscious “not enough” individualist reactions and challenge me to open my eyes. This, in turn, affords me the opportunity to accept, confess, learn, stretch, push, grow, and ultimately to become a better dance partner; Not only a better relational dance partner for her, but for all to whom I, and we, are connected: Father, Son, Spirit, family, friends, coworkers, community members, fellow citizens, and fellow human beings.

And so, I waltz into another day. The dance continues. “One, two, three. One, two, three. One two, three.

Enjoy the dance today, my friend.

It’ll Pan Out in the End

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.
Zechariah 14:9, 16 (NIV)

One can’t journey through the totality of God’s Message without running into prophetic messages of the end of things as we know them, though it is important to note that the idea of there being an “end” is a misnomer because God consistently speaks of “new” beginnings. “Old things pass away, new things come” aptly describes one of God’s core message to us throughout the Great Story.

Even in creation of all that we know, the process of death and life is ever-present. Science tells us that the totality of this expanding, living universe is made up of energy that takes on different forms and phases. When solid matter dies and decays it is converted to a different kind of energy that, in turn, feeds other systems. We bury or burn a dead body, it decays, biodegrades or is consumed and the ecosystem uses the converted energy to feed the system in other ways.

The book of Revelation, which we often think of as describing “the end” because it reveals a chaotic time of pain and suffering. But the book actually ends with comfort, peace, joy, and  new life in a new beginning:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
Revelation 21:1 (NIV)

Today’s final chapter of Zechariah follows the exact same pattern. There is a period of intense conflict and suffering followed by a new reality under a sovereign God who calls everyone to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was an annual harvest feast. Think about it, harvest is that time of year when all that has been sown, cultivated, watered, tended, and pruned is finally harvested. In other words, as plants reach the end of their life-cycle we chop it down and gather it so that it, in turn, will feed everyone (its solid matter changed to a different kind of energy in our digestive systems) and perpetuate life.

Along my life journey I have studied many different theories on the mysterious prophetic texts of the Bible. One thing that I’ve come to learn about prophetic imagery is that it is easy to find in all the mysterious images and metaphors all kinds of things that spark endless theories and debates, which often turn into feuds, which separate people into various opposing camps. Reading today’s chapter I can understand how the Jewish scholars in Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to show up on the scene, wipe out the evil Romans, and usher them into global power. It’s what Zac seems to be describing in today’s chapter. However, the Messiah described in the previous chapters is gentle, riding on a donkey, suffering betrayal and death.

What a mysterious contradiction.

This morning in the quiet I’m mulling over some basic beliefs and world views about where our world is headed. Some contend that humanity is essentially good and, despite our penchant for focusing on all that is bad and negative, our world and humanity is slowly getting better and better and moving in designed progression towards the joy, peace, goodness and life described in the final chapter of Revelation among other visions of utopia. Others believe that humanity is essentially flawed and things are only going to get worse and worse until in the final depth of darkness and doom God will show up and save the day. I find it fascinating to observe that friends who occupy both schools of thought are given to doomsday thinking and dire doomsday proclamations depending on the circumstances they see around themselves and their belief (though not knowledge) of where it is leading.

As I make my way through this life journey I find myself increasingly and humbly relinquishing any sense of surety with regard to prophetic versions of the end times. I think of one Christian scholar who was confronted with an either-or question about the Book of Revelation regarding three major theories of the return of Christ. He was asked whether he believed in the pre-tribulation rapture, mid-tribulation rapture, or post-tribulation rapture. Realizing that the question was intended to pigeon-hole him for the questioner’s judgement, the scholar refused to be trapped into the either-or debate and responded, “I’m a pan-tribulationist. I believe it’s all going to pan out in the end.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or in that murky, vague period we see in the future and have dubbed the “end times.” I’m not sure even my speculation profits me or anyone else very much. I do know that we live in an intricately ordered  system that is perpetually converting things from one type of energy to another type of energy to perpetuate life. I know that the Bible describes a beginning, tells stories filled with beginnings and endings that lead to new beginnings, and then ends with mysterious visions of a large-scale ending and new beginning. I believe that Jesus was God incarnate who, interestingly enough, came to suffer, die, and then rose from the dead to usher in a whole new beginning of things. I see in Jesus’ teaching and resurrection the exact same paradigm revealed in creation, in today’s chapter, and in the Great Story as a whole.  I believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” just as He claimed to be, and that’s why I follow.

And so, I will continue to follow Jesus and grow my faith. I will cultivate in my life and relationships the love, grace, and forgiveness that Jesus exemplified and to which He call me. I trust that this earthly journey will lead me to a time of natural harvest from my earthly body and existence. My body will be converted to different kind of energy for the time-being and my spirit (which science can’t produce, quantify, examine, or reproduce) will then be ushered into new beginnings of an eternal nature just as Jesus described. What will that all look like exactly?

I’d be happy to chat with you over coffee or a pint. We can talk about what the Bible says and what scholars and artists have speculated over time. We can talk about people who have seen things in near-death experiences. I’ll be happy to share with you what I’ve come to believe in my studying and reading and contemplation.

Just know that at the end of our conversation, after I have told you what I think about prophecies and end times and heaven and resurrected bodies and eternity, I will shrug my shoulders and tell you, “It will all pan out in the end…right before the next beginning.