Tag Archives: Difficulties

A Good Place

A Good Place (CaD Jos 21) Wayfarer

Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
Joshua 21:45 (NIV)

Looking back on my life journey, there are moments along life’s road when I found myself at a waypoint that was a “good place.” A milestone had been reached, a long-awaited goal was achieved, or life at that moment just seemed to be in a positive and peaceful flow.

I always try to remind myself to enjoy those moments when they happen. It never lasts.

One of the movies we tend to watch around Christmas time is the rom-com While You Were Sleeping. One of my favorite scenes is when the family patriarch, played by Peter Boyle, waxes eloquently about how he’s at one of those “good place” moments in life when everything is working out, everyone is getting along, every family member is doing well, and life is good. His son, played by Bill Pullman, has come over to drop a bombshell that he doesn’t want to inherit the family business, “Hey Pop,” the son says, “This isn’t one of those moments.”

In today’s chapter, the Levites are the last tribes to receive allotments. The Levites were the priestly tribe, and while they didn’t get tribal land, they were given towns within the other tribes to settle with their families, flocks, and herds. The priestly tribe was spread out and sprinkled within the other tribes so that every tribe had priests among them to perform priestly duties.

With that final distribution, the author of Joshua proclaims one of those “we’re in a good place” moments. A goal had been achieved as the major conquest campaigns were finished and there wasn’t an enemy left with the power to dislodge them. A milestone had been reached, and they were settled in the promised land. They were in a good place and took a moment to recognize God’s faithfulness and fulfilled promises.

Enjoy it. It won’t last.

I’m really not trying to be the pessimist here, but after 40+ years of studying the Great Story from Genesis to Revelation, I can tell you that this earthly journey is filled with trials, faith tests, and tough times. I’m told to expect it, to prepare for it, and to not be surprised when I think we’re finally in a “good place” on Life’s road. Then Life unexpectedly says, “You know what? This isn’t one of those moments.”

Being a disciple of Jesus, I’ve spent a lot of time studying His teachings, and a lot of them are about how I am to respond to the stuff that this earthly life throws at me:

When I am taxed, I’m to render unto Caesar.
When I am slapped, I’m to turn the other cheek.
When my coat is unjustly conscripted, I’m to offer my shirt as well.
When I’m forced against my will to walk one mile, I’m to walk two.
When I’m wronged, I’m to forgive, and forgive, and forgive, and forgive.
When I find myself with less, I’m to treasure what awaits me in eternity.
When I’m poor in spirit, I’m to consider myself blessed.
When I’m in mourning, I’m to consider myself blessed.

So many of Jesus’ teachings are predicated on the fact that I will face difficulties, hostility, pain, loss, and trials on this life journey.

So if and when I occasionally find myself at a waypoint that’s a good place and all seems right with the world, I’ve learned to enjoy the heck out of it, thank God for it, and soak it all in while I can.

The “good place” that the Hebrew tribes find themselves in today’s chapter will not last. The period of the Judges, which is the next book in the Great Story, is a time of systemic sin and cyclical violence. But, that’s still a few chapters away. In today’s chapter, everything is groovy.

I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Knowing and Not Knowing

Knowing and Not Knowing (CaD Gen 46) Wayfarer

[God said to Israel] “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
Genesis 46:3-4 (NIV)

When I was a kid, many years before Top Gun was a thing, I wanted to be a Naval aviator. I’m not sure how this developed in me, though I’m pretty sure the television show Black Sheep Squadron and the movie Midway were somewhat involved. I wore a sailor cap all the time. I read my Uncle Bud’s Navy manual, and I corresponded with him about his experiences in the Navy during the Korean War. Those are letters I regretfully did not save.

At some point after what seemed like a long period of correspondence in those days, Uncle Bud said he wanted to have a talk with me. He wanted to give me a reality check regarding what life was really like for him in the Navy. He wanted to share with me the things I was not asking him about as I looked at his stories through rose-colored aviator goggles.

My desire to be a Naval aviator quickly died. I consider this a good thing in retrospect.

In today’s chapter, God speaks directly to Israel and assures the elderly patriarch that he should take his entire family and all that he has and go to his son in Egypt. God even foreshadows what will happen next. The clan is going to grow exponentially in Egypt. And God will bring Jacob back. There’s a double meaning in this. Yes, Jacob’s body will be returned and buried in the family tomb. God is also foreshadowing the next chapters in the Great Story when God will deliver and lead the “nation” of Israel’s descendants out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land in the book Exodus.

What stood out to me, as one who knows the story well, is that God omits any mention of Israel’s descendants being enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years as they become “a great nation there.” Looking at this as an isolated incident on a merely human level, this seems unjust and unfair. Yet, along my spiritual journey, I have personally learned and observed that struggles, trials, and difficulties are requisites for spiritual maturity in this life. This is not hidden. It’s stated directly in multiple places in multiple ways.

If I had forewarning of every difficulty I have personally faced on my life journey, I’m quite certain I would have opted out of most of them, just like I opted out of my childhood dream of being a Naval aviator. In hindsight, I see now that opting out would have been to my detriment in so many of my life’s struggles. Yes, I would have avoided painfully difficult circumstances, but I also would have avoided the wisdom and spiritual maturity that was forged in me through them. That, I realize from my current waypoint on life’s road, would have been eternally detrimental.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back and being grateful for both stretches of difficulty on life’s road as well as times of deliverance and protection. They are equally important chapters in my story, just as they are in the Great Story. I find it an important reminder as the deliverance of Israel’s clan leads into hundreds of years of slavery between the final chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of Exodus.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Weathering the Storms

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.'”
Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)

Along my life’s journey, I’ve come to recognize that there are particular stretches of the trek when trouble, trial, and trepidation seem to close in on every side like a perfect storm. You can’t escape it. You can’t plan for it. They just happen. The real question is, have I prepared myself, spiritually, to weather such storms?

This past week my siblings and I moved our parents into an assisted living facility. My dad has been in the hospital for the past three weeks. Diagnosed with a nasty bacterial infection that only complicates his cancer and cardiac issues, we need to get him into a skilled-care facility for about six-weeks of IV antibiotics. Meanwhile, our mother, in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, is now struggling with the realities of a new environment, a whole host of unknowns to confuse her, and the loss of my father’s constant presence and protection. This, on top of what was already a dizzying travel schedule, seasonal pressures from work, and a daughter getting married half-way across the country in a few weeks. Oh, and I’m now into the second week of a nasty head and chest cold that has zapped much of my energy and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

“I don’t understand how you are doing all of this” Wendy said to me a couple of times this week amidst much needed empathetic and medicinal hugs.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah records the fifth vision of encouragement he has for the exiles who are seeking to restore Jerusalem and the Temple. This vision is centered on Zerubbabel, the appointed Governor who is tasked with leading the daunting project from a political perspective. It is not an easy task. He is subject to a pagan Persian Emporer. He is surrounded by enemies on all sides who want him to fail. He is leading people who are divided regarding whether this is even a worthwhile project to pursue. Then there is the sheer magnitude of the task.

God’s word to the overwhelmed leader:

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

I have come to the conclusion that I cannot keep the storms of life from pouring down upon me. That’s just part of the journey. I can, however, prepare myself to weather the storm in healthy ways.

First, I recognize that I am not alone in this. If I truly believe what I say that I believe, then God is always present from which to draw upon the spiritual resources I need. And, I am surrounded by a community of family and friends for camaraderie and support.

Second, I try to stay present in each moment and focus only on what that moment requires. I can’t do anything about the past. It’s useless for me to waste time and energy on the “if only’s” and “we should have’s.” Likewise, Jesus reminds us: “Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” What do I need to decide or accomplish on this day, in this particular moment?

Third, I choose small ways to care for myself. Choosing not to worry about a task that isn’t a priority right now. Eating a healthy meal, getting a good night’s sleep, consciously noting all of the blessings I have despite the circumstances, taking a short nap, slipping in a quick ten-minute walk around the hospital floor, or sneaking away for a few minutes of solitude and prayer in a quiet place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away by Himself. If I’m not caring for myself, I’m not going to well at caring for others and the needs of the moment.

Which is why I find myself in the quiet this morning. I have a lot on the task list today as I prepare for another week on the road. But, I needed the same reminder God gave Zerubbabel this morning. My might and strength only go so far. It’s the infinite resources of God’s Spirit that I require in the perfect storm raging around me. It is the recalibration of mind and heart that I need on this Monday morning.

And now, it’s time to move on to what this next moment requires.

Have a good week, my friend.

Difficult Paths; Explicable and Not

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 29:29 (NRSV)

My life journey has led me on some difficult paths…

Some paths were difficult, but I willfully chose them knowing full well where they would likely lead. As Bob Dylan put it, “like a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat, going 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street.” Those difficulties and the natural, negative consequences which affected myself and others are on me.

Some paths were difficult because of the willful choices of others and their natural, negative consequences which directly affected me in hurtful ways. Those difficulties are on the individuals who made those choices.

Still other paths were made difficult because we live in a fallen world in which sickness, disease, and inexplicable tragedy may suddenly affect any one of us at any time. Those difficulties are on Adam, Eve, and all of us who tread this earth east of Eden.

Some paths are made difficult because we live within a Great Story of good and evil. Evil exists in the world carrying out its chaotic and self-centered motives to destructive ends. Whether through direct attack or ripple effect, those difficulties are on the evil one and all who follow.

Then there are difficult paths I tread and I cannot explain them. They don’t fit neatly in any of the previous sources I’ve identified. These are the most perplexing. These are the things which I place within the description found in today’s chapter. These are the secret things that belong to God. I don’t see God’s purposes or perceive His reasons, and I struggle perpetually to find a place of contentment or peace in the mystery of it.

This is why it is called a faith journey.

 

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 46

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“No, I’m not finished with you yet.” Jeremiah 46:28 (MSG)

I am bankrupt both financially and spiritually.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
I am utterly alone. There’s no one to help me.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
My dream lies in fractured pieces around my feet.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
I did it….again. I’m such a wretch.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
I’m always a finalist, but I never get the job.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
Old age is upon me. My body is wasting away.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
My every attempt to have children is a miscarriage.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
My body is wracked by incurable disease.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
I am nobody, nothing, going nowhere.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”
My life counts for nothing. I’m a squirrel in a spinning wheel.
“No, I’m not finished with you yet.”

Believe.

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Chapter-a-Day Exodus 2

Wilderness wandering. Pharaoh heard about it and tried to kill Moses, but Moses got away to the land of Midian. He sat down by a well. Exodus 2:15 (MSG)

It's amazing to think about how much story can be crammed into one verse; how much life experience can be condensed into two short sentences.

Moses, the "chosen one" now stripped of every luxurious blessing that was afforded him as an adopted son of Pharaoh. Moses, the murderer. Moses, the man on Egypt's "Most Wanted" list. Moses, the man on the lam. Moses, the rich and famous member of the King's household now alone, broke, and homeless in the barren wastelands.

How often do we find God's people alone in the wilderness? Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden, and flung into the wilderness outside. Abraham leaving his comfortable home to become a nomadic wanderer. The nation of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years in search of the Promised Land. David, anointed king of Israel, flees from Saul into the wilderness of Judah and waits almost 30 years before ascending to the throne. Elijah, the triumphant prophet, flees into the wilderness in fear for his life. John the Baptist, preaching repentance from his desert pulpit. Jesus, led into the wilderness for 40 days of testing and temptation.

Life's road leads us all to barren places. The wilderness is an unavoidable stretch of the journey for any who desire to follow in Jesus' footsteps. You don't learn about perseverance in Pharoah's palace. The lifestyles of the rich and famous do little to build the necessary character qualities God desires from His disciples. Purity is acheived in the refining fire. Maturity is found on the journey through the hinterlands.

And, you never know what divine appointment God has for you when you stop at the well for a drink.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Hamed

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Chapter-a-Day Psalm 137

"Oh, how could we ever sing God's song in this wasteland?" Psalm 137:4 (MSG)

The lyrics of Psalm 137 don't pull any punches. This song was sure-fire, sixth century B.C., mesopotamian, ten verse blues. The song writer was living in captivity. Uprooted from his home in Jerusalem when it was sacked and destroyed (Read more about that from another "soul man," Jeremiah, in the book of Lamentations), we find our lyricist standing by the Euphrates river as his Babylonian captors mock him and call for a song. In defiance, he hangs his blues harp on the limb of a nearby willow tree and sits down to weep and cry out to God in an angry rage.

Life's road will take us through some pretty barren wastelands. Consider another bluesy musical trip down Route 66. Chicago is a rocking great place to start. There are some amazing views through the plush green of middle-Missouri and into the plains of Oklahoma. But, before you wet your toes in the deep blue Pacific off the Santa Monica pier, you've got some long stretches of desert wasteland to traverse.

We can't always control where life's road will lead. As another psalm writer, Solomon, penned, there are times along the journey to crank up the music and sing with the windows rolled down; there are also times to hang our blues harps on a tree by the road and keep silent. Both are equal parts of the journey.

Our job is to keep going.