Tag Archives: Direction

Warning Signs & U-Turns

Warning Signs & U-Turns (CaD Gen 19) Wayfarer

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is controversial for more than one reason, largely because it contains references homosexuality, misogyny, and incest. All of these topics are worthy of a deeper dive into the text, context, and subtext. For the purposes of this devotional, chapter-a-day trek, I found myself pulling back from a focus on the deep weeds in order to get a handle on a larger picture of the forest.

A few chapters ago, Abraham humbly gave his nephew, Lot, the choice of settling anywhere he wanted. Lot chose what appeared to be the greener grass of the Jordan plain, despite the fact that the nearby towns of Sodom and Gomorrah had reputations like that of Las Vegas in our own day and arguably even worse.

In the previous chapter, the divine visitors tell Abraham they’re going to destroy the cities because of their wickedness. Abraham barters with God to spare the cities if there are ten righteous people living there. While Abraham does not name his nephew and family, the number of Lot and his direct family (including betrothed sons-in-law) is ten.

In today’s chapter, Lot and his family are spared though they are given a three-fold instruction for escaping the destruction: Flee to the mountains, don’t look back, and don’t stop. Lot’s wife disobeys. The Hebrew word used is translated “look” but a careful reading of the text implies that she chose to literally make a u-turn and return for some reason, while Lot and his daughters had made it safely to the town of Zoar.

Archaeological excavations in the area support the history of a cataclysmic burning in the region, by the way. A violent earthquake could easily have ignited the deposits of sulphur in the area. Just recently, a team of scientists have concluded that there was a meteor strike that may have ignited the entire Jordan plain.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating two overarching spiritual lessons I excavated from the story.

First, Lot chose to settle in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah because it promised to be the best land for his livestock, even though he knew that he would be required to deal locally at Sodom and Gomorrah, towns with the reputation of being wicked places. I found myself asking: “Have I ever made decisions that appeared a benign choice on the surface of things while ignoring the warning signs that I should have heeded, only to have circumstances tragically turn against me?

The answer for me is “yes,” by the way. You?

Second, Lot’s wife chose to turn back after being warned not to do so. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus’ core message was that of repentance, which literally means to “turn around” and proceed in the opposite direction. Along the way Jesus met a would-be follower who told Jesus that first he needed to “go back” to his family. Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The spiritual principle is the same as that of Lot’s wife. Turn away from what is evil, cling to the good direction where God is leading, and don’t go back.

As I launch into another work week, these lessons resonate. I’m asking myself asking three questions:

  • Where am I headed? Am I on a wise and spiritually healthy course?
  • Are there any warning signs I should heed as proceed on this path?
  • Are there any temptations to abandon course and return to foolish and spiritually destructive ways and places?

Have a great week, my friend. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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

My Heart’s Highway

My Heart's Highway (CaD Ps 84) Wayfarer

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Psalm 84:5 (NRSVCE)

This past week, Wendy and I have been blessed beyond measure to have our kids and grandson home from Scotland. On Saturday night we took Taylor and Clayton out for dinner and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Milo was being watched that night by Clayton’s mom, so the four of us got to enjoy uninterrupted adult conversation, in person, for hours.

One of the paths of conversation led to a discussion about one’s direction in life. The kids are about the age I was when I settled into what would become my career after having five different jobs in the first six years after college. It is a time of life filled with both opportunity and uncertainty. We talked about the difficult (some might even call it impossible) task of finding a career in life that offers both financial security and a sense of purpose.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that this is a fascinating on-going conversation. It doesn’t end once a young adult settles on a career path. There are a number of waypoints on life’s road in which this subject of direction, security, and purpose comes up again. A new job opportunity arises that offers both greater risk and the potential for greater reward. A person hits the proverbial glass ceiling in a corporation and suddenly has to grapple with considering a career change they never expected or wanted, or learning to embrace that his or her vocation is nothing more than a means to providing for a purpose that is found outside of work hours. I’ve also observed individuals and couples who have left positions of relative security to embrace faith in choosing a purpose-full path to which they have been called. Still, there are others I’ve observed who find themselves in unexpected places of tragedy in which there was no choice of direction and, like Job, they find themselves reeling in a struggle to understand the purpose of it all.

Our direction on this road of Life continues to require asking, seeking, knocking, and faith.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 84, is the first of a subset of six songs that wrap up Book III of the larger anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we call the Psalms. The song appears to have been penned by someone from the tribe of Levi. The Levites were the Hebrew tribe responsible for Temple worship. As the tribe grew over time, the Temple duties were divided into “shifts.” One might make a pilgrimage to God’s Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem one or more times a year to serve for a short period of time before returning home. The songwriter laments not being in the temple where he finds joy and purpose in God’s presence.

I couldn’t help but notice verse 5 as I read it in the St. John’s Bible this morning. Happy are those “in whose heart are highways to Zion.” The songwriter found tremendous purpose in being present in God’s Temple, even if it was only periodically. I love the metaphor of a “heart’s highway.” It’s got my mind spinning this morning and my heart ruminating.

I find myself thinking about the highways of my heart, Wendy’s heart, and the hearts of our children. Where do those highways lead? On this Monday morning and the beginning of another work week, is the highway of my heart and the highway to my vocation the same path? Parallel paths? Divergent paths? Obviously, the stimulating dinner conversation from Saturday night is still resonating within me.

I also couldn’t help but notice that a rather well-known, modern worship song is pulled directly from Psalm 84 and my heart hears the familiar melody to the lyric: “Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.” Yet this takes me straight back to the “one thing I always fail to see” from a post a couple of weeks ago.

Unlike the songwriter of Psalm 84, followers of Jesus are not limited to a physical location for worship. The concept of a church building is nowhere to be found in the Great Story. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension it the flesh-and-blood followers who are God’s Temple. I am the temple, therefore “one day in your courts” is not about me going to church on Sunday. For followers of Jesus, it is a spiritual pilgrimage of the heart to seek commune with God’s Spirit within my heart, soul, and mind in each day, each hour, each moment.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 84 has me meditating on the “heart’s highway.” Where is headed? Where is it leading? Is my heart, soul, and mind heading in the right direction?

Good questions for a Monday morning.

Have a great week, my friend.

An Observation

At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud…

Proverbs 8:2-3 (NIV)

I saw an individual the other day in a coffee shop.

I live in a small town, so this person is not strange to me. I know the story. I’ve heard it first hand from this person. I’ve heard other versions of it from this person’s loved ones and friends.

The story reads like a tragedy. Ill-fortune has been this person’s plight. Tragedy seems have followed them on the path, and they have been a victim of circumstance at every turn. Broken relationships lie in their wake along with failed opportunities and countless fruitless attempts at sustained, gainful employment. Addiction, according to the story, has been this persons constant companion though I honestly can’t tell if this is actually true, or if it’s simply a convenient excuse for the chaotic mess of the individual’s life.

In today’s chapter, Lady Wisdom makes clear that she is never hidden. She doesn’t lurk where others can’t find her. She is on the heights where she can bee seen from miles around. She is at the crossroads where traffic is heavy. She is there in public at the gates of the city where everyone passes by. She cries out like a street preacher on his soap box.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to realize that Wisdom is omnipresent. It’s always there for the taking. In every temptation, Wisdom is there to provide good counsel. In every mistake, Wisdom is there with meaningful instruction. In the dark valley of every tragedy, Wisdom is present with guidance and directions towards Light that is waiting just a little further up the road. I’ve not always listened to her, but I’d like to believe that I’ve gotten better at it the further I’ve progressed.

I have observed that Wisdom is never hidden, except for those who are spiritually blind and those who choose to ignore her. Temptations, tragedies, foolish mistakes, and the painful bedlam of our own poor choices are common waypoints on every human being’s life journey. It appears to me that those who listen to Wisdom learn from circumstance and allow these things to inform future thoughts, choices, and behavior. Those who choose to remain blind to her presence and deaf to her words tend to remain in the dark valley with tragedy, excuse and blame as a trio of companions.

Lord, have mercy.

Getting Direction and Flow Right

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility….
Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)

It’s quiet in my home office this morning. A steady rain is falling and resonating off the roof and window as I sip my coffee. Today marks the end of my 53rd year on this life journey which has me in a particularly introspective mood as I mull over today’s chapter.

For the past year our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been studying the book of Acts. In this chapter-a-day journey I’ve been making my way through the letters of Paul in, more-or-less, chronological order. As a twenty-first century westerner, I’ve come to accept that it is virtually impossible for me to understand the racial, social, and religious division that existed among the first century believers. There was a giant, black-and-white dividing line between those of Jewish heritage and non-Jewish heritage. For centuries they had lived highly segregated lives. Now they were suddenly trying to live together as followers of Jesus.

The conflict within those early groups of Jesus’ followers was very real, and often intense. It was the reason for the first major “Council” of leaders of the Jesus Movement (Acts 15). Most local gatherings struggled with the division. I believe the political divide in our current era provides a hint of the divisive emotions percolating within the two groups, but I believe even that parallel falls short of the divide that Paul is addressing.

In today’s chapter Paul continues to focus his readers on the eternal, cosmic, Level Four spiritual realities in which both Jewish believer and non-Jewish believer stand on common and equal footing. All knew and experienced lack of control with our human appetites (lust, greed, pride, sloth, anger, and etc.). All had been saved by grace (unearned merit) through faith, not in who they were or what they had done to earn God’s favor, but in what Jesus had done on the cross and through His resurrection.

Having established that Level 4 reality, Paul then moves on to  address the conflict that was being felt in individuals (Level 1), between believers (Level 2), and in society (Level 3) between these sharply divided two ethnic groups. He repeatedly speaks of the “two” being “one” through what Christ had done on Level 4. Hostility is transformed into peace, division gives way to unity, and that which is separate becomes whole.

I can’t help but notice the direction and flow of thought. Paul’s focus on, and acceptance of, Level 4 reality flows down and transforms the very human conflict and struggles of Levels 1 through 3. As I look back across my 53 year journey I realize how often I have done the exact opposite. I allow my Levels 1-3 realities to flow upward and dictate my Level 4 perspective. I essentially transform my perception and belief system on Level 4 to justify and defend my entrenched prejudices on Levels 1 through 3.

This morning I contemplate 19,359 days on this Earth, and quietly wonder about however many I have left. I can’t change any of those nearly 20,000 yesterdays, but I want to make sure today, and moving forward, that I get the direction and the flow right. I want the eternal Spirit realities to transform my daily life and relationships here on this terrestrial ball. Not the other way around.

Human Endeavor vs. Divine Direction

“Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)

When I was younger I had all sorts of ideas of things that I could do for God. I was part of a number of groups and fledgling movements and ministries that I, and/or others, were convinced were going to be “big.” Looking back, I confess that I regularly confused what I was going to do for God with what God wanted me to be doing. I’m pretty sure that my motivations were often the same as Peter and the boys when they were selfishly vying for positions of power and prestige in Jesus’ earthly administration.

What a contrast in today’s chapter to see the change in Peter and John now that they find themselves immersed in what God intended, as opposed to what they were envisioning they would do for God just a few chapters back.

I have always loved the simple wisdom presented to the Jewish leaders by Gamaliel (who, btw, was the Apostle Paul’s teacher and mentor). If what is happening is a human endeavor motivated by human desires under human power, then it will fade and fall apart. If, on the other hand, it is something divinely directed by God and part of what God is doing, then no one can stop it.

I long ago gave up my efforts at spiritual prognostication and looking for ways to predict and be in on the “big” thing that God’s going to do. I find that God is constantly doing a lot of really awesome and powerful things through a lot of amazing, faithful people. That’s cool, but it doesn’t mean it’s what God is divinely directing me to do. I discovered long ago that it is easy for me to become enamored by the desire to be part of the next “big” thing God is doing and ignore the “little” menial acts of daily spiritual discipline that make up the core work of being a follower of Jesus. If I focus on the latter, then the former takes on a completely different perspective.

I sometimes hear prophetic words given that God is going to do this or that. I think it’s awesome and I believe that nothing can stop God from doing what God is going to do. I’ve simply come to the place in my journey where my core desire is to be discerning between human endeavor and divine direction.

I simply be where God wants me to be, doing what God wants me to be doing. The rest will take care of itself.

God’s Will for Your Life. Really.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

I have noticed that throughout life’s journey there distinct stages in which followers of Jesus spend a lot of time preoccupied with the question of “What is God’s will for me?” For those who are not so spiritually inclined to consider God in the equation, there are still natural periods of life’s journey when we ask, “Where am I going?”

The first major phase of questioning comes around the time of high school when decisions about college or military service or entering the work force are staring down at you. This can be a nerve wracking time. So many options leading down different paths. Which one is correct? Does God or fate have a role to play? What if I choose wrong?

Another round hits post college or military service when careers and/or family generally merges with life’s natural path. Wendy and I have walked along side our daughters in recent years as they’ve navigated those decisions. “Where am I going?” “Where should I live?” “Do I take the job I’m not sure I want or hold out for the one that I do?”

As a child, I observed that my grandparents and parents generations often settled onto a path for 35-45 years until retirement, when the next round of “What do we do now?” began. Increasingly, I observe that mid-life career changes, a rapidly changing economy, and a mobile society have thrust some of us into ceaseless questioning. It can create all sorts of anxiety, fear, and doubt.

On occasion our daughters and others have asked me my thoughts on these big decisions about life’s direction. I don’t profess to be a Sage, but there are a few things I’ve come to understand. The bad news is that I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you with certainty God’s will for the choice of your life’s direction, college, spouse, or vocation. The good news is that I can speak with certainty about God’s will for you.

I think we do ourselves a disservice looking for some singular, well defined path that God has ordained for us. While that may be the experience for some, I’ve definitely found that it’s the exception and not the rule. Jesus definitely foreknew that certain things would happen, like Peter denying Him three times, or Judas’ betrayal. Jesus even gave Peter a shadowy prophetic word about how his life journey would end. But Jesus fell far short of providing his closest followers a detailed road map for their lives after His ascension. Life is a faith journey, not a Google Maps prescribed expedition.

What is God’s will for us, however, is well defined. It’s simply and directly provided in today’s chapter.

Rejoice always. Good times are for thanksgiving. Stretches of monotony are for developing patience and persistence. Bad times are all about growing perseverance and character. Rejoicing in each moment, no matter where we find ourselves on God’s road, is God’s will for us.

Pray continually. This life journey is about process. It’s not just about our destination, but about the development of ourselves and our relationship with God. God doesn’t abandon us to figure it out for ourselves, but is with us each step of the way. If we continue to ask, seek, knock, and conversationally process with God, I believe we progress much faster. That’s why it’s God’s will that we dialogue with Him.

Give thanks in all circumstances. It’s easy to fall into the cycle of self-centered pessimism. I do it all the time. Willfully choosing to think about each and every person and thing for which we can be thankful gives us much needed perspective throughout each stretch of life’s journey. I have one acquaintance who, every night before she retires, tweets what she is thankful for. I appreciate her example, and it reminds me that God wants me to do the same.

What is God’s will for your life? If you’re asking me what college you should go to, what career to choose, or whether you should get married then I’m sorry I can’t do any more than help you weigh your options and apply what wisdom is available in making your choices. I can tell you however, without question, God’s will for your life:

  • Rejoice always.
  • Pray continually.
  • Give thanks in all circumstances.

Perhaps if we focus on these three every day, the answer to all the other questions we have about God’s will for us on this life journey will organically take care of themselves.

 

Turning in the Opposite Direction

Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Ezra 10:2 (NIV)

The word repentance means to turn and go in an opposite direction. Those who repent of their actions are deciding they are no longer going to do those things, but will turn their lives in an opposite direction.

When I decided to follow Jesus there were a number of things from which I needed to repent. I needed to turn my life, my thoughts, and my actions around and to move in the opposite direction. To do so meant moving in a direction opposite of some people in my life with whom I had been close friends. It was a natural consequence of the repentance process. I couldn’t turn and move in an opposite direction and continue walking down the same old path with those friends at the same time.

There is a lot about this morning’s chapter with which I struggle to understand. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I believe that there are major cultural and historical differences that we scarcely understand today. But I do know this: Ezra and the exiles were experiencing a time of intense corporate confession and repentance. They had just returned, rebuilt the temple, and were trying to be the first of their people for an entire generation to re-establish a good relationship with God.

It was a season of intense repentance, and they recognized that they had allowed themselves to be greatly influenced by the culture and peoples around them. In today’s chapter, they are moving in the opposite direction, and they recognize that moving in the opposite direction necessitates separating themselves from those who have had negative spiritual influence on their lives. It is difficult to realize that this meant separation from their own family members, but I am also reminded that Jesus said sometimes the cost of following is leaving family behind.

Today, I am reminded that along our journey there are times in which, for our own spiritual health, we need to repent, to turn around, and to move in an opposite direction. I’m reminded that there is a cost associated with repentance, and I’m reminded that I can’t move in the opposite direction and keep moving in the same direction at the same time.

A Change of Plans

On “Remember When Wednesdays” I look back at a post from yesteryear and re-blog one for newer readers. This past week Wendy and I have been  watching Taylor apply for jobs and assisting as we may. It’s an exciting time as she ends one stretch of her journey and begins another.

I originally posted the following in August 2008. It was actually a repost from Taylor’s blog when she was at another crossroad in her life journey, and things took an unexpected turn. Come to think of it, life has taken a number of unexpected turns since then. C’est la vie.

taylor_vander_well.jpg

Dear friends, family, associates, and fans of Jesus,

There comes a time in life when high school seniors must choose the next step in life and, as many of you know, my choice was to attend the University of Iowa this fall. I was registered for classes, rooming with my best friend, and buying laundry detergent for the first time; I had everything ready to roll. After returning home from my mission trip to Romania (thank you everyone for all your prayers and support) my parents heard from my youth pastors that they had been praying, and wanted me to go to the Desperation Conference in Colorado Springs. So I headed out on the glorious twelve-hour bus drive.  It’s really quite funny how just when you think you have life planned out, God shows up and says, “Just kidding!” and messes everything up (but I guess it’s in a good way).  While at the conference, I had the chance to hear someone talk about YWAM (Youth With A Mission) Discipleship Training School, and immediately I felt God tugging at my heart to be a part of this team. After many restless nights, visiting Iowa City again, and lots of prayer, God made it very clear that this is what He wants me to do. God sometimes asks us to do things that require making uncomfortable adjustments, and for me, this is one of them. However, at the same time, I’m excited to watch my faith soar and let Him use me on the mission field once again.

Backward Glance

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead….

Philippians 3:13b (NIV)

Anyone who has regularly read my blog, listened to me speak, or who knows me for any length of time comes to realize that I am a lover of history and one who appreciates the past. I have this freaky brain that remembers all the names of the kids in my 1st grade class but can’t recall the name of the guy I met this morning. I have an appreciation for the way our past has shaped us and has led us to where we are today.

I have equally come to appreciate this reality: While the past has shaped my present I am not bound to it. I am free, in the present, to choose this day what I will do and how I will act. The past may have ushered me to this place, but I choose where I go from here. The only power that the past has over me is that which I choose to give it.

Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, is fit for service in the kingdom of heaven.” If I’m looking backwards then the row I’m hoeing will be crooked. I can’t move productively forward in life if my mind, will and emotions are fixed on what happened to me, or what I did and chose to do, in the past.

A glance backwards can be beneficial as a point of reference. Where have I been? How far have I come? How did I get here? What can I glean from where I have been? I cannot, however, truly progress in my life journey until I willingly choose to turn away from the past, look at where I am, give thought to where I am going, and move.

 

photo:  madelinetosh via flickr

Endings, Beginnings

2014 02 Caribbean Cruise26

“‘The end! The end has come
    upon the four corners of the land!'”
Ezekiel 7:2b (NIV)

This past weekend Suzanna reminded Wendy and me that it was just a year ago (on Valentine’s Day) that she and I left to go on a glorious seven day cruise. Over the weekend I have been thinking about all that changed in life since we returned from that cruise. Yesterday, as we gathered with our fellow Jesus followers, we were given time during worship to do some journaling. I poured out a list. Here’s a partial list:

  • We gave up our long-term dream of renovating 607 Columbus
  • We bought a lot and started planning to build a house
  • Suzanna finished high school and entered the working world
  • Taylor went through a divorce
  • Madison became a flight attendant
    • Moved to Salt Lake City for a month of training
    • Moved to Chicago to work out of O’Hare
    • Moved to back to Colorado
  • Taylor moved to Scotland to start grad school
  • Wendy’s parents moved
  • My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
  • We broke ground on a new house
  • We decluttered 607 Columbus and put it on the market
  • Seismic shifts in work, relationships, and directions
  • Robbery of my hotel room: Computers, electronics, photos all stolen
  • 607 Columbus sold, closed, and packed up after almost a decade.
  • Holidays without either Taylor or Madison present

Needless to say, life has felt a bit like shifting sand under our feet. I was reminded again by Ezekiel’s words this morning. The “end has come” for many things in our lives since Wendy and I arrived back in the harbor one year ago. With endings come certain feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and grief. And yet, I am reminded that God’s Message also tells there is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for endings and a time for beginnings. There is a time for some things to die away and a time for new things to be born. There is a time for old things pass away and a time for new things come.

Today, I am choosing to embrace both the grief and hope that come with transitions.