Tag Archives: Divine

Broken Relationships; Divine Purpose

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Philemon 1:15-16 (NIV)

If you’re not a regular reader, please know that I’ve been reading and blogging through the letters of Paul in the chronological order they were likely written. In my last post, Seasonal Companions, I wrote about the conflict and reconciliation between Paul and John Mark. But that isn’t the only story of reconciliation hiding in the back stories of the personal greetings found at the end of his letter to the followers of Jesus in Colossae. Paul writes:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

Onesimus was a runaway slave from Colossae who was owned by one of the believers there named Philemon, a friend of Paul. We don’t know all of the facts of the story. What we do know is that Onesimus seems to have stolen from Philemon and fled. In what I’d like to think was a divine appointment, Onesimus ends up running into Paul in Rome and he becomes a follower of Jesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Colossae to make things right with the master from whom he stole and fled. Onesimus is carrying with him Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which we just finished reading. Onesimus is also carrying a letter to Philemon, which is today’s chapter. (Paul’s letter to Philemon became the shortest book in the Bible, FYI.)

Paul’s letter to Philemon is brief, but warm-hearted in its appeal to Philemon to be reconciled with Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to consider sending Onesimus back to help Paul while he is in prison. Paul urges Philemon to see how God used Onesimus’ offenses to bring about His divine purposes. Onesimus left Philemon a runaway thief, but Onesimus is returning as a brother in Christ trying to make things right.

In the quiet this morning the theme of my thoughts continues to swirl around lost and broken relationships. Paul’s letter to Philemon is a good reminder that sometimes a season of relationship ends because one or both parties need the separation in order to learn, experience, and grow so that a new season of deeper and more intimate relationship can come back around.

I find myself, once again, thinking on the words of the wise teacher of Ecclesiastes. There is a time and a season for everything. That includes a time for conflict, and a time for reconciliation. There is a time to make amends, and a time to forgive. Sometimes the time in between is just a moment. Other times it takes many years. Along the journey, I’ve come to embrace the reality of, and necessity for, both, along with the wisdom necessary to discern which is which.

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.

The Slippery Sweet-Spot Between Acting and Waiting

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
Numbers 9:8 (NIV)

There are many forks in life’s road. There’s no avoiding it. It just is what it is.

Where do I go to school?
Should I marry him/her?
Do I speak out or hold my tongue?
Should I take this job that’s been offered to me or hold out for the job I really want? 
Should we rent or should we buy?
Do I invest in new or get by with used?
Should we stay or should we go?

As we traverse the Book of Numbers there is a pattern or repetition that many readers don’t catch. The phrase “The Lord said to Moses” is used repeatedly. In fact, it’s used over 50 times. In today’s chapter, some of the people bring Moses a question about how to handle an exceptional circumstance regarding the Passover celebration. Moses simply says he’ll check with God and God provides a seemingly quick answer.

We then go on to read in today’s chapter that the decision of going or staying was miraculously provided for the ancient Hebrews. According to the story there was a cloud that hovered over their traveling tent temple which gave them indication whether God wanted them to move or stay put. When the cloud remained over the tent they stayed put. If the cloud lifted they broke camp and moved.

Wow, I’d love it if God’s guidance and direction were that easy for me to see. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that this may have been the only easy thing in the experience of the Hebrews. I’m quite sure I’d struggle living the life of an ancient nomad wandering in the desert with a couple million cousins.

I have discovered along life’s road that there is a slippery sweet-spot of tension between discernment and decision. We live in an age when time is measured in nanoseconds and we are used to getting things “on demand.” I perceive that the virtues of patience, peace and prayer are increasingly found in short supply in our culture. At the same time, I have known many followers of Jesus who take so long to “prayerfully consider” decisions that they make no progress in their respective  journeys.

This morning I find myself once again seeking to both find and hold the tension between acting and waiting. I don’t want to be so quick to make decisions that I forget to pray for guidance and to give wise consideration to options and potential consequences. At the same time, I don’t want to become paralyzed waiting for some divine sign when there is a clear need to act judiciously and with expedience.

Miraculous and Monotonous

This is what the Lord says to me:
    “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place.
like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
Isaiah 18:4 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus followers recently went through a book called Walls Fall Down by Dudley Rutherford. The subtitle of the book is “7 Steps from the Battle of Jericho to Overcome Any Challenge.” For those not well versed in their ancient Hebrew history, the battle of Jericho was an unusual event in which the Hebrews marched around the walled city of Jericho, blew their trumpets, gave a shout, and “the walls came a tumblin’ down.”

I had the opportunity to share a couple of the messages from the series. One of the reminders that I gave listeners is that the miraculous events of Jericho happened once. It is an amazing story and there are many worthwhile lessons one can gather from it. Nevertheless, the truth is that it happened just once. Israel didn’t take their Tower of Power horn section on a tour of every city in the land. The other cities of the land would have to be defeated the old-fashioned way.

Along my journey I have witnessed and experienced some amazing things. There have been climactic moments in which God intervened in everyday life in very cool ways. There have been even more moments in which I desperately would have loved for God to intervene, to supernaturally remove the obstacles before me, yet God remained just as the prophet Isaiah described in today’s chapter: quiet, and looking on. I was required to do the heavy lifting, to exercise faith, to learn the hard lessons, to suffer through the hardship.

Some blame God for not making things easier. Some try to package the miraculous into repeatable human formulas and promise that God will topple every wall. Some walk away in anger and resentment at the fact that God toppled walls for some one else, but not for them.

This is part of the journey, and it’s part of the lesson we are required to learn from it as we progress spiritually. Sometimes God acts in amazing ways and climactic events. Often, we are left to the daily slog of faith and the grind of pressing on one step at a time. They are equal parts of the journey and they each have their eternal purposes.

Excuse me while I lace up the hiking boots. It seems I have a long, uninspiring trek ahead of me today. You never know, though. Miraculous things might happen at any moment. Anything can happen.

The Cubs might even win the World Series! 🙂

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Featured image: six steps via Flickr

A Reasonable Mystic

In love a throne will be established;
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
    one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness.
Isaiah 16:4b-5 (NIV)

Yesterday I has someone approach me about a couple of dreams they’d had in which I played a part in their dreams. This person was nervous to share them with me, but they need not have been. I found the images interesting, though I can’t say for certain what they mean, or if they mean anything at all.

I consider myself a reasonable mystic. I believe that there are things in God’s creation, things of the Spirit, that lie outside our conscious understanding. I believe that God uses the prophetic. I believe that God sometimes speaks through dreams. I equally believe that we humans always mess things up whenever we try to package the divine into a human equation. I don’t believe all dreams are divine. Sometimes dreams are just dreams.

So it is with the ancient prophets. Isaiah was pronouncing a prophetic judgement against the Kingdom of Moab, a small nation that existed on the east side of the Dead Sea. Yet amidst the prophecy against Moab there lies a verse about the Messiah. It sort of sticks out in today’s chapter like a sore thumb.

Love is His throne.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” – Jesus

Faithful is the One who sits on the throne.
“…if we are faithless,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

One from the House of David.
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

One who in judging seeks justice.
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”
(Jesus quoting Isaiah) Matthew 12:18

and speeds the cause of righteousness.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” -Jesus

The world of the prophetic is an interesting place. It is a place where one prophetic message carries within it a wholly separate, though complementary prophetic message. Within a message for Moab on which Isaiah himself places a three-year timeline (vs. 13) is a prophetic word that would begin to be fulfilled some 700 years later.

And, sometimes dreams, which might otherwise be merely a natural nocturnal brain activity, contain snatches of the divine.

I thanked my friend for sharing the images and dreams with me. I explained that I would store the information and hold on loosely. If it’s something important then it will be made clear at the right time and place. If not, then it was certainly entertaining to hear the dreams described. I am discovering that the divine dance is an exercise in holding the right tension. Cling too tightly, step too mechanically and I step on my Partner’s toes. Hold too loosely and I let my Partner slip away. Then I’m dancing on my own, and that’s always awkward.

Surprised Anew by the Struggle to Hang On

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.”
Judges 13:2-3 (NRSV)

Any who sojourn through God’s Message will run across a number of stories of divine fertility like the one in today’s chapter. You can’t escape them. It is a recurring theme. When you have journeyed along the path of infertility, stories like this carry an emotional wallop. It is not a knockout punch as from a lone opponent standing before you. It is more like being surrounded and getting sucker punched from various directions before you have time to react.

Grief from giving up hope pushes one way, while eternal hope kicks in from another direction sending me spinning in two directions at once. Anger from “Why not us?”  hits hard in the gut just before faith in the possibility that God might still do something miraculous tugs me suddenly upright. Shame slides in from behind to trip me with “What have we done wrong?” and I struggle to maintain equilibrium with a less than confident “Thy will be done.” Contorted suddenly in unexpected ways, scabs stretch to the point of tearing old wounds open. I consciously reach for Joy that appears in this moment to be just beyond my reach.

Joy is not beyond reach. I grasp it. I cling. Some days I’m surprised anew by the struggle to hang on.

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featured image “El Angelus” by Jean-Francois Millet

An Epic Production; A Bit Part

2012 12 USP Joseph Backstage Grovel LR

All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
Ezekiel 17:24 (NIV)

Ezekiel’s prophetic parable in today’s chapter is specifically related to the political circumstances of his day. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and carried off her royals, nobles and promising young talent back to Babylon. A royal family member, named Zedekiah, was set on the throne as a political puppet of the Babylonian king. But Zed had his own ideas and conspired with the Egyptians to deliver Jerusalem from Babylonian control. Today’s chapter is Ezekiel’s prophetic prediction of Zed’s failure and downfall.

Two things struck me this morning as I read the chapter this morning and considered the regional intrigue of Ezekiel’s day.

First, I am mindful of the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week and the reality that the political intrigue of that region of the world continues 2500 years later. The Israel of today has its capital in Jerusalem, the same capital city destroyed by the Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day. The Egyptians to whom Zedekiah pled for help remain a nation to this day. The ancient Babylonians are today’s Iraq. The Assyrian empire of Ezekiel’s day is today’s Iran. The names are slightly changed, but the peoples and the players are the same as are the regional power struggles and conflict. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Second, I was struck by God’s word through Ezekiel that there is a divine plan being worked out in all of this. God can bring down the powerful from their lofty heights and raise the lowly to positions of prominence. All the world’s a stage and there is a Great Story being played out amidst the proscenium of time. We are part of the same production.

All of this makes me and my silly little troubles feel small and insignificant. And yet, Jesus reminded us that there are no small parts. I may be a bit player and an extra in the chorus of this epic production, but the costume department considers me important enough that  every hair on my head is numbered and the Producer/Director knows my name. I have a part to play, as small as it may be and as insignificant as it may seem. It starts with loving my neighbors as I love myself, and acting accordingly.