Tag Archives: Events

To Be Continued….

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.
Acts 28:30 (NIV)

It’s always frustrating when a television series that I love comes to an untimely end. There have been a number of shows over the years that I wish had continued. What makes it even more frustrating when a smart, intelligent show gets cancelled is all of the mindless schlock that seems to perpetuate itself for decades.

As an amateur writer, I’m always fascinated how the writers and producers handle a show’s storyline once they know the show has been cancelled. Many shows are written from the beginning to contain multiple story lines or “arcs.” This allows for there to be a sense of closure after one season, or a part of a season, while leaving other story arcs open to lead into future seasons. So, what happens when the writing team is told that they only have two episodes to wrap things up for good?

I’ve observed that some try to wrap up all of the loose ends, which leaves things feeling clunky, because not all of the story arcs have been fully fleshed out. Some introduce a tragic end to the protagonist which allows for a reason that the series has ended. Much like the untimely end of a loved one in real life, this option leaves viewers grieving for what “might have been.” Sometimes the writers simply let the series end without ever trying to give viewers closure. This, in turn, reminds me of Wendy.

Wendy has always been an avid reader. She tells me that when she was a young girl she never wanted to put a book down in the middle because she was afraid the story would go on without her. Instead of “to be continued” the next time she picked up the book, she feared that the story wouldn’t wait for her.

I mention this because in today’s final chapter of the book of Acts we find Paul arriving in Rome to wait for his trial with the Roman Emperor, Nero. The tension of the story has been building as Paul appeals his case to Caesar and makes an epic journey, including shipwreck, to Rome. In this final chapter, Luke tells us that Paul rented his own place, was allowed to live a relatively free existence with his Centurion guard. He met with the local Jewish population. He “welcomed all” who came to see him and continued to proclaim the Message of Jesus.

And then it ends, as if the show suddenly got cancelled. Luke simply leaves the storyline there, and we must assume that his historical narrative, penned for a man named Theophilus, was wrapped up and sent off at this point. Luke leaves the rest of the story open because it hadn’t happened yet.

The rest of Paul’s story is left for us to piece together from the writings of early Christians and Roman historians. In July 64 AD the “Great Fire of Rome” broke out for six days. According to the Roman historian, Tacitus, only four of Rome’s 14 districts escaped damage. Nero blamed the fire on Christians and immediately set out to persecute them. It is documented that Nero had both Paul and Peter executed, which is consistent with his persecution of Jesus’ followers. The exact dates and the specifics surrounding the events and executions were not well documented at the time.

In the quiet this morning I’m smiling as I think of a young, curly-haired Wendy, with her nose in a book, convinced that the story will go on without her. Indeed, as the story of Acts comes to an abrupt, even unsatisfying end, I’m meditating on the fact that the story did go on. We know that Paul was executed and that the Message of Jesus continued to spread despite horrific persecution. The story continued, and continues to this day. Having taken up the mantel of faith in my youth, I am a part of the same story; Just a wayfaring stranger traveling through this particular story arc, in this particular chapter, during this particular point in the epic.

I only hope that I to play my part as faithfully and as well as those in Acts who led the way.

Have a great day, my friend.

The Challenge in the Way We See the World

The earth will be completely laid waste
    and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
Isaiah 24:3 (NIV)

Over the past week in the United States we have seen a clash of peoples with very different world views; People who see the world very differently. The presidential election has brought those stark differences into the spotlight, along with our continued struggle to to love those with whom we disagree and to let discourse rule over discord.

I don’t hear people talking much about world views any more. I had an entire class on it in college in which we defined many of the more popular world views, discussed them at length, and weighed their differences. My impression is that higher education has changed a lot in the past 20 years. At the liberal arts college I attended we were taught that the loss of an election to those who saw the world differently was reason for fascination, personal challenge and understanding rather than fear and loathing.

World view is the primary way we see the world. World view is the lens of our core religious, political, and socio-economic views. Our world view is the filter through which we see the world and process news and events. It is a very human thing to assume that our world view is right and others world views are wrong; to struggle with those who don’t share our own personal view of the world.

There is, however, value in understanding how I view the world and to have it challenged. This is where discourse is a worthwhile friend.

Today’s chapter highlights a piece of world view that has been challenged in recent years. I had a discussion about this with Wendy and one of my daughters this past week in light of the surprising results of our election. Many followers of Jesus hold to what is essentially a medieval world view as it relates to our view of the future. This world view holds that things are going to get progressively worse and worse until there is apocalypse, and then Jesus will return and redeem everything in a eucatastrophic climax to the Great Story.

There is another world view I’ve been reading from some modern day mystics which takes an opposite view. God is progressively redeeming things. Things are getting better all the time, though we can’t really see it. Despite our fears, worries and a media bent on showing us all that is sensationally wrong with the world things are actually getting better as God’s resurrection power spreads in an ever-expanding universe.

So which is it? Apocalypse and eucatastrophe or evolving redemption? Isaiah’s prophetic words today certainly lends itself to the former. The world laid waste in desolation, but in the end the Lord is reigning in Jerusalem.

This morning I’m mulling over these things in my  mind. I’m pondering how I see the world and weighing what I read in God’s Message. I’m watching the news of the day and trying to see them both in context of my personal world view while understanding how those same events are perceived by those who see the world differently than I.

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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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Top Five Tuesday: Trips with Teens

Speaking of trips with a youth group, here are the Top Five trips I loved taking with teens both as a youth and then as a youth leader:

  1. Missions trips. Whether the slums of Mexico City, the hollers of Kentucky, or reservations of South Dakota, my all-time favorite trips were those where the kids got a chance to serve others, to see, and to experience what life is like for people in drastically different circumstances than they knew. I can still see the faces and hear the stories of young lives that changed, and life journeys that took drastically new trajectories because of a week spent on a mission trip.
  2. Culture trips. Those who know me will not be shocked to learn that I loved exposing young people to cultural opportunities that they might not have had otherwise. More than once I had uncomfortable conversations with parents to explain why this or that movie, play or event would be beneficial for their kid, but the conversations with the young people afterwards and the lessons I observed the them learning was priceless.
  3. Amusement parks. I don’t often admit it, but ever since my Grandma Golly took the Vander Well kids on an annual summer excursion to Riverview Park in Des Moines, my inner child has been in love with amusement parks. Being a youth pastor gave me a great excuse to entertain my inner child a couple of times each year.
  4. Ski trips. I’m not great on the slopes, but I loved strapping on the skis and zipping down the mountain. It was a treat to get to do it a time or two each year with the kids. Truth is, I haven’t been on the slopes since the last time I took a group of kids over 20 years ago.
  5. River tubing. It’s a blast just to float down the river in an inner tube. Before there were “lazy rivers” at every water park in America, we had to go to a river and pay to have someone drop us off at one point and pick us up at another. I loved it though. The scenery always changed and you never knew what was around the next bend.

The Ultimate Question

The church I attended every week as a child.
The church I attended every week as a child.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Luke 9:18-20a (NIV)

Growing up, my family attended church regularly. I sang in the children’s choir, put on my robe each week, and walked in processional up the center aisle and into the choir loft. In the summer I went to Vacation Bible School. In the fall I and my went to the church’s Christmas bazaar (usually because my mother was a volunteer). Every Easter week our family attended the Maunday Thursday communion service. Every Christmas week our family attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Every year or two I went to the Father/Son banquet with my dad. At the age of twelve I dutifully attended the confirmation class required by our denomination, and at the end of that year I put on my white robe and was accepted as a member of the church. I got a certificate for my pains and a box of envelopes with my name on it for my weekly offerings.

Michael Corleone
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of these activities and events made me and my family good, religious people. We observed all of the right things. They did not, however, make us believers in Jesus. Like Michael Corleone standing at the baptismal fount dutifully renouncing Satan while his orders to assassinate all of his enemies was carried out, the rituals and religious trappings had no real relationship with what was going on inside my heart and soul. All of the religious activity really didn’t affect my motives, thoughts, words, or actions on a daily basis.

In today’s chapter, Jesus confronts his followers with two questions:

“Who do the crowds say that I am?”

Simple. There are many answers to this question. We can spend all day going through the options. Some say this, and some say that. Good teacher, Son of God, messiah, prophet, wise man, looney tunes, charlatan, or huckster.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Now that’s a direct question. That’s a very personal question. It’s an important question. In fact, it’s the ultimate question. The answer to that question makes all the difference.  C.S. Lewis famously wrote that there are three logical answers to Jesus’ question:

  1. Liar. Jesus knew He was not God, but told everyone He was. If Jesus lied then He was morally corrupt and a deceiver. In which case, there is no point in believing in Him or following Him.
  2. Lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God, but was not. In which case, despite all of the nice sayings and good deeds, Jesus was actually crazy and should have been locked up in the psych ward with all of the other lunatics claiming to be God. Again, there is no point in giving Him much thought.
  3. Lord. Jesus was, in fact, who He claimed to be, in which case we much choose to accept Him or reject Him.

When I was 14, in a moment that had nothing to do with my family, church, denomination, or confirmation I found my spirit confronted with the ultimate question:

“But what about you?” came the question deep from in my soul“Who do you say I am?”

“I believe you are, indeed, who you say you are,” my spirit replied to His spirit. “Come into my heart, and be Lord of my life.”

And, that made all the difference.

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 47

As of July 2010, the Doomsday Clock reads 11:54pm.
Image via Wikipedia

“Oh, Sword of God,
   how long will you keep this up?
Return to your scabbard.
   Haven’t you had enough? Can’t you call it quits?”
Jeremiah 47:6 (MSG)

Doomsday is a funny thing. With all of the upheaval in the world, it’s been getting a lot of press again lately.

Oh Doomsday, how we love thee. Let me count the ways:

  • My first brush with doomsday was a guy by the name of Hal Lindsey who wrote all sorts of books about the end of the world happening in the early 1980’s.
  • I also soon learned during my childhood about the “doomsday clock” that shows us how close we are to atomic annihilation. To this day I read about it from time to time. If you want to synchronize your watch, it’s currently six minutes to midnight.
  • In the early 80’s there was another guy who bought up ads in all the major newspapers in the world predicting the end of the world on a certain day at a certain hour. Man, was that a waste of advertising dollars.
  • I was a senior in high school in 1984. The whole George Orwell buzz got a lot of press.
  • I had a Bible prof who went to great lengths to prove that the Soviet Union was the evil empire Gog and Magog from Biblical prophecy who was going to invade Israel. About the time the Berlin Wall came down, I chuckled as I pictured him having to rewrite all of his exhaustive booklets, pamphlets and lecture notes.
  • In 1987 there was a “harmonic convergence” in which planets aligned. Lots of people gathered at “power centers” waiting for a major “energy shift.”
  • Then there was a rash of world events in the late 80’s and early 90’s that had everyone buzzing. The fall of communism, Tianamen Square, the Challenger disaster,  the San Francisco earthquake, and the baseball strike.
  • Of course, can we forget Y2K and the global doomsday that was about to befall us when the world’s computers couldn’t change their date to a new century? A few fortunate people still had atomic bomb shelters from the 1950’s to stockpile with supplies.
  • There’s a lot of buzz about the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 and the end of the world. I’m not too worried about it. My Norman Rockwell Calendar from Van Wyk State Farm ended on January 31st, 2010. The sun dawned on 2011 just fine.
  • Wendy read me an article from the Wall Street Journal this past week about a million dead sardines washing up on shore in southern California. Some are seeing it as a sign of doomsday, but the only sign I see in it is that a shortage of sardines means the price of my Ceasar Salad dressing is likely to go up.

As I look back over my journey, I’ve learned to take prophetic doomsday predictions with a large grain of salt. Do I believe that world events are moving towards an eventual climax of events prophetically outlined in scripture? Yes, I do. Can worrying about the timing of these events add value or quality to my life? No.

I’m not worried about doomsday. I’m just worried about following God’s path for me, loving my wife and kids well, working hard, giving generously, and living full. As the old Keith Green song said, God can take care of the rest.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 60

Time. "I am God. At the right time I'll make it happen." Isaiah 60:22 (MSG)

Time rules our lives. We wake to it, eat to it, work to it, play to it, and sleep to it. We rarely stop to ponder how time affects every area of our daily life and perceptions. This is especially true in an era when we place increasing demands on time, and in turn feel the effects of time's increasing demands on us. Faster. Quicker. Efficient. Productive. More in less. Overnight.

This pressure of time, I believe, makes it increasingly difficult to follow the command to "wait on the Lord." That patience is a fruit of God's Spirit in us is quickly lost on us.

God exists eternally beyond time. He has the ability to see each individual circumstance in context of the whole. God sees purpose in our painful moments. He walks each leg of the journey with us even as he stands with us at the finish line.

Chill. At the right time, He makes things happen.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and DaDaAce