Tag Archives: Expectations

Grappling with the Unexpected

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:7 (NIV)

A few years ago, our daughter called late in the afternoon and asked if she could stop by. The last thing on Earth we expected to hear that evening was that she was pregnant. She and Clayton had been divorced for three years and we had no idea that they had seen one another. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Milo’s conception was as improbable as it was unexpected. There are times that God makes it perfectly clear that a baby is meant to happen.

I recommend you click on the image below and read Taylor’s post:

Ironic, isn’t it? The juxtaposition of yesterday’s post and today’s post is not lost on me. What a fascinating journey.

As I read the very familiar story in today’s chapter, I couldn’t help but recognize the poor interpretation that many of us were given in the bathrobe Christmas pageants of our childhood. The familiar King James version of today’s chapter says that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the Bethlehem Motel. The translation “guest room” is more accurate, and it gets to the bigger picture that is lost on most readers.

Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census because that was his family’s hometown and ancestral home. In those days, families all lived together communally. If Joseph had to go to Bethlehem for the census, so did his parents, siblings, and cousins. Many scholars also believe that the genealogy of Jesus that Luke provides in tomorrow’s chapter is the lineage of Mary, in which case all of Mary’s family, siblings, and cousins would have been required to go to Bethlehem as well. It was a full-scale family reunion thanks to the Internal Revenue Service of the Roman Empire.

A big family reunion in the ol’ hometown. And, there was no guest room available for a very pregnant Mary and her betrothed.

At the beginning of John’s biography of Jesus, he states: “{Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The prophet Isaiah wrote of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected.” These things were true of Jesus from the very beginning before he was even born. An unwed teen mother telling stories about an angel saying she’s pregnant with God’s child didn’t receive a favorable response from the fam.

Wendy and I have been overjoyed the past two weeks to have our kids and grandson back in the states with us. Milo may have been an unexpected and improbable addition to our family, but there is no doubt in my mind that he was intended.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded that this life journey is filled with unexpected circumstances. I’ve observed along the way that our journeys rarely end up being what we thought they would be or what we planned for them to be. Nevertheless, it’s easy to feel disappointed, cheated, or somehow surprised by this reality. I’m not sure how or why I ever came to the notion of life’s predictability in the first place. The further I get in my journey the more I try to not fight the unexpected but to trust and flow with it instead.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

The Miraculous and the Mundane

“There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.”
Daniel 5:11 (NIV)

The book of Daniel is actually a literary compilation with two distinct sections. The first six chapters are selected stories from Daniel’s life in exile. The rest of the chapters are a journal of Daniel’s prophetic dreams, visions, and prayer.

In order to understand the context of the first section of the book and today’s chapter, I have to dig a little into the dates. Daniel, along with a host of other Hebrews, was taken into exile and captivity in 597 B.C. He was a young man. Today’s story takes place when Belshazzar lost the Babylonian throne to the Medes in 539 B.C. It’s now 58 years that Daniel has lived in captivity. Even if he was only 12 when taken captive, he’d be 70 years old in this story.

The six stories told in the first six chapters of Daniel are great stories. They are incredible, miraculous events both instructive and inspiring. But there are six of them in roughly 60 years. Across a lifetime of living captive in exile trying to be faithful to God in a foreign nation often hostile to foreigners, Daniel experienced six miraculous events. There are almost 22,000 days in a 60 year period. Daniel had six incredible days. So, what about the other 21,994?

Daniel served as an administrator for a foreign king. He went to work. He spent time in prayer. He sought God and did his best to be faithful to God’s commands. He did what all of us do as we walk this earthly journey. The mundane, everyday stuff of walking the journey for 21,994 days. And, he had six amazing experiences that were instructive and inspiring.

Along my own life journey, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for those of us fortunate enough to live in the luxury of the West to get addicted to experiences. We go to great lengths to have amazing experiences. For those of us who follow Jesus and regularly gather to worship, we desire to have amazing, miraculous experiences and events, even to the point of trying to conjure them and make them happen.

I’ve had a small handful of amazing spiritual experiences myself. I’m happy to say there were no fiery furnaces involved, and I am by no means saying they were on par with what I’ve read the past few days in Daniel. They were, however, pretty cool spiritual experiences that were unexpected. They were unlooked for. They came out of nowhere. I did nothing to conjure them. I was simply physically present, and spiritually open. Without wasting a lot of time recounting how many I’m talking about, let’s say there are five of them.

The rest of my 19,424 days on this Earthly journey have been spent doing what is the often mundane monotony of walking this life journey. I spend quiet time with God most mornings. I gather with other followers to worship once a week which is often spiritually filling and sometimes just feels routine. I work. I pay bills. I maintain stuff. I cultivate friendships. Wendy and I enjoy time together doing things we do.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the focus of my life. It’s so easy to slip into a mode where I’m chasing after experiences of all kinds. I’ve observed that social media isn’t helpful with this. I see everyone’s amazing experiences that make my mundane, routine existence today feel like I’m doing something wrong or that my life sucks compared to others.

I’ve come to the conclusion of late that if I seek after and find God in the everyday, mundane liturgies of my life then I find myself both more content and open to God doing the amazing and miraculous in His time, for His purpose, if and when He chooses.

And so, I enter day 19, 429.

Spiritually There are No Age Limits

The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.
Jeremiah 1:1-3; 6-7 (NIV)

While in high school I was part of an incredible church youth group. I almost typed the adjective “unique,” but to this day I don’t think there was anything “unique” about me and my peers. We were typical high schoolers with all the angst, foolishness, idealism, drama and absentmindedness of any group of teens. Our youth pastor for most of my high school years was a man named Andy Bales whose journey has taken him to do amazing things for the homeless in Los Angeles. Our church’s worship leader was a gentleman named Mike Mars.

The thing about Andy and Mike was that they believed that God could accomplish far more through us than anyone else believed or expected (even ourselves). Andy didn’t just disciple us, he taught us how to disciple others including our parents. Mike didn’t just assemble a “youth choir” to sing in front of our parents once or twice a year. Mike taught us how to put together an entire program, how to work together as a team, and then sent us on the road almost every Sunday of the school year to minister to other churches all over our state. Mike didn’t travel with us. He trusted us to do everything ourselves from making a first impression to set up, rehearsal, performance, giving the message, tearing down and loading out for the trip home. A couple of parents or adults chaperones rode along to watch, but they never had to do a thing.

Many of the “kids” in my youth group have gone on to continue in vocational ministries as missionaries, pastors, ministry directors and youth workers. I observed that most others have approached their life journeys as ministry opportunities to serve God as educators, doctors, and professionals in the business community.

This personal experience has colored my own world view. When our daughters were young people I tried to instill in them that they could be used by God’s Spirit and have an impact for God’s Kingdom right now. I’m proud of what they attempted, accomplished, and learned.

I am fond of reminding my local gathering of Jesus’ followers that no where in God’s Message is there an age requirement for being a believer, being called by God, being filled by the Spirit, having spiritual gifts, or exercising those gifts for God’s Kingdom. In fact, the list of Biblical characters who were called by God as young people (without education, without training, without official institutional certification of any kind) is impressive: Timothy, Mary, David, Samuel, Joseph, Esther, and Mark.

In today’s opening chapter of Jeremiah’s anthology of prophetic messages he shares that he was called by God as a boy. As typical of young people, Jeremiah responded to God, “but I’m just a kid!” But age is not a qualification for being called by God or doing God’s work. And when young people are called by God they tend to have spiritually productive life journeys. Jeremiah himself was a prophet for 40 years during a period of time when life expectancy itself was around 30 years (if you were one of the lucky few to survive infancy).

Forgive me for sounding like an old curmudgeon, but along my life journey I’ve observed that our culture seems to expect less and less of our young people. We protect them. We shelter them from life’s natural pains. We entertain them endlessly and hover over them to ensure that they experience minimal discomfort. We build up their egos while minimizing their opportunities to experience the lessons of accomplishing things on their own and learning the invaluable lessons of failure. We keep extending childhood to the point that becoming a capable, responsible adult is a post-graduate crisis experience with its own word: adulting.

This morning I’m thanking God for teaching me as a boy that I had a role to play in the Kingdom of God and that role began immediately. I’m saying a prayer of gratitude for Andy and for Mike who believed in me and my peers more than we believed in ourselves. I’m praying for a generation of young people who will rebel against being treated like snowflakes and who will lead a spiritual storm of revival and culture change that no one expects.

The old curmudgeon rant is over. Have a great day.


Reflections on 10 Years of Blogging

Today is my 10th anniversary blogging. On March 26th, 2006 I set up a free blog in three easy steps and wrote the following simple post:

It’s sunday morning and the house is getting ready for church. Why is it that the whole household can be up, ready and out the door by 8:00 Monday thru Friday, but  on Sunday you can’t make it to church on time by 11:00? <sigh> One of life’s little mysteries.

That was the beginning of my journey. Ten years and 3,412 blog posts later, I’m still going. I am not, by most people in the blogosphere’s standards, the definition of success. I haven’t made a fortune. My number of subscribers remains very meager. I have about 240 subscribers through WordPress and a reach that extends to a couple thousand people through Facebook and Twitter. On a typical day my blog gets about 150-200 views.

On this 10th anniversary I’ve been looking back and reflecting on what I’ve learned in my blogging experience. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Know your motivation. My blog has always had a very simple motivation. I just want to write about my life journey. I want to record my thoughts and experiences on different subjects. I want to share what’s going on with family and friends. As time has gone on I realize that my blog serves as a diary and a record. It will be an accessible archive for children, grandchildren and future generations of my experiences and my heartfelt thoughts. I have come to accept that my blog will never generate tons of subscribers simply because not that many people know me or are interested in my vacation pictures.
  • Know your content focus. Your motivation determines your content. The vast majority of my posts over the past decade have been my chapter-a-day posts. If I was really trying to establish my blog as an inspirational of devotional blog I would center my blog on those posts and reserve my personal journal, theatre, and photography posts elsewhere. My motivation, however, is for my blog to be a repository of my personal thoughts and experiences. My chapter-a-day posts are simply a record of my thoughts in my own daily quiet time. I’m not trying to preach to anyone or market myself as an author. I’m just sharing my daily, personal thoughts after reading a chapter of the Bible. My blog is a wide-angle lens on my life and it includes all kinds of different posts. A blogging expert would tell me that my wide range limits my audience, but my motivation has never been to build a big audience. I just want to express myself.
  • Just write. According to a NYTimes article, 95% of blogs are abandoned. I’ve known many who have started a blog, but after a post or two they walk away from it just like the Ab Cruncher they purchased ten years ago and used twice. I would argue that most people stop blogging because they aren’t really motivated, they struggle to know what they want to say. I think many people get discouraged that the world does not beat a path to their URL. Blogging requires a certain amount of fortitude. You’re going to write a lot of crap that no one wants to read. Keep writing. Post regularly. Be content with a few followers. The first six years of my blog I averaged about 15-20 views a day. It’s only in the past few years that it’s grown ten-fold. I’ve come to accept that blogging is about the journey, not the destination.
  • You never know what’s going to resonate. I have written a lot of really great posts, at least I thought they were profound. Virtually no one reads them. They never “get legs.” Then, I’ll post a random thought hastily typed and with little consideration and it will start to generate all sorts of traffic. I’ve given up trying to judge or prognosticate.
  • The rewards are not what I thought they’d be. I will confess that I, like most aspiring bloggers, have pipe dreams of my blog becoming wildly popular. I regularly talk myself off that ledge and laugh at myself. I then remind myself of everything I’ve written in this post thus far. The rewards I’ve reaped from my blogging journey are not what I expected, but I consider them to be priceless:
    • I’ve become a better writer. When I go back and read some of my chapter-a-day posts from the early years I regularly cringe. They were so short. The thoughts are undeveloped. Ugh! The contrast, however, serves to remind me that writing 3,412 posts is going to make me a better writer. I value that.
    • I’ve met some really great people. From my early blogging mentor, Mike Sansone, to people like Terry, Samantha, Jonathan, Michael, and David. My blog has opened up opportunities at relationships and networking I might otherwise have never had.
    • I have built an online personal reference source. What year was it that we took that trip to Cooperstown? Do you remember what year we performed Much Ado About Nothing? My blog makes it much easier to find definitive answers. Trivial, perhaps, but I value it.
    • I’m leaving a legacy. Those most close to me, my family and my friends, will have a record of my life experiences and my thoughts that will live beyond me. I sometimes think of my love of family history and how much I wish I had a journal of my great-great-grandfather to learn what life was like for him, what he thought, and what he felt. Perhaps I will have a great-great grandson or granddaughter who will appreciate my little blog. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to have a positive impact on their lives.
    • I occasionally make a difference in someone’s day. Every once in a while I’ll get a message or an e-mail saying something like, “Thanks. I needed your post today.” Rarely do I get to know how or why. It’s nice to know, though. I’m grateful when people tell me, and it helps motivate me to keep going.

Thanks to those of you who follow along on this journey. Thanks to those who stop by now and then. Thanks especially to Wendy and Kevin R. who regularly discuss, respond, and encourage. Here’s to the next decade!

Prayer and the Christmas Catalog

Source: Todd Lappin via Flickr
Source: Todd Lappin via Flickr

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4:10 (NIV)

When I was a child, the annual arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog was a big deal. The giant selection of toys at the back of the catalog was poured over countless times. By early December the catalog was looking worn and dog eared from the constant flipping of pages. Many items got circled so I would remember to transpose them to my letter to St. Nick. My list for Santa contained a long list of the coolest looking toys, sports equipment and gadgets that a little boy could ask for.

There is a certain brand of Christians to whom I refer as the “Name it and Claim it Crew.” Made up mostly of televangelists and their ilk, this brand of believers approach God much like the giant lottery in the sky. Their teaching is focused on getting in on all the material blessings that God is dishing out much like Santa Claus, or perhaps more like Drew Carey on The Price is Right. If you listen long enough, you’ll hear the message subtly shift at some point into a spiritual ponzi scheme with the preacher taking on the mantel God’s investment broker: “You sacrificially send me and my ministry $100 and God will bless you with $1000 or more.”

Many years ago, there was a book that came out about the prayer of Jabez. We read Jabez’s prayer in today’s chapter. I’ve pasted it above. It’s a small nugget slipped into the seemingly endless genealogical lists we’re wading through in the book of Chronicles. The Prayer of Jabez made the bestseller list and I remember a period of time when the prayer was all the rage. At the time, I remember a lot of people approaching the prayer like some sort of magic incantation that eerily reminded me of The Name it and Claim it Crew.

Just yesterday in worship Wendy and I heard a message about praying powerful prayers. It prompted a conversation between us on the way home and continued while we prepared lunch. The reality is that we don’t always get what we pray for any more than a child gets every item on his Christmas wish list. Faith is not a game show or a lottery. God is not Santa Claus. What we wish for, what we need, and God’s ultimate purposes and provision can become a confusing menagerie.

I don’t believe that asking God for safety, favor, and blessing is wrong. I do it all the time. I even admit to regularly offering a loose facsimile of Jabez’s prayer in my on-going conversations with God. I am constantly, however, checking the motives of my own heart. In my mind, approaching God like some sort of material vending machine is to reduce Him into a lucky charm or one of the pagan idols He gets so worked up about. Doing so ends with me feeling like a bitter child, angry at Santa for not contractually delivering everything on the list and wondering which of my behavioral infractions kept me from getting that cool chemistry set.

Prayers and God’s purposes are so much deeper than a childish give-and-take. Paul wrote that when he was a child he spoke and acted like a child, but when he became a man he gave up childish things. I’m thinking this morning about the ways I slip into a “child at Christmas” thinking in my prayers and expectations of God. I confess that I do it more than I care to admit. Today, God and I are going to have a chat about that.

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No Satisfaction

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 63

You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
    I will praise you with songs of joy.
Psalm 63:5 (NLT)

Seriously. Aren’t we all just looking for satisfaction?

We strive for satisfaction in our jobs and never really find satisfaction with the amount of money in our paycheck. We want satisfaction from our spouse and in our marriages. We seek to be satisfied by our kids, our friendships, and our church. We’d kill for a satisfying night’s sleep. Many of us are entering this Thanksgiving Day will all sorts of expectations of how family, food, and football will fill us up. But, as the Rolling Stones so wonderfully remind us, satisfaction is elusive.

Sometimes this chapter-a-day journey provides just the perfect touch of synchronicity. How poignant on a day of Thanksgiving feasting to read this verse from Psalm 63. I’m reminded this morning that satisfaction can even elude us on a day when we’re supposed to stop and be thankful for all with which we’ve been blessed, and all with which we are called to be content.

As Wendy and I sit down to share a Thanksgiving meal together today,  Psalm 63:5 will be my prayer.

P.S. Among the many things for which I want to express gratitude today are those of you who take the time to read this blog once in a while and share the journey with me. Some of you I know. Others of you choose to quietly lurk, and that’s cool, too. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 16

Footprints of Beach-ChickensWe can make our plans,
      but the LORD determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

I never planned to be a businessman.
I never planned to live in Pella, Iowa.
I never planned to be divorced, nor remarried.
I never planned to build a place on a lake (I dreamed about it, but I never planned on it).
I never planned to write a blog.
I never planned to…
I never planned to…
I never planned to….

Looking back, I can see so many places where my plans for the path my life would take and the actual steps of my path diverged. As I examine the past I can clearly recognize poor choices, sinful acts, wise moves and divine interventions at specific points in time. What becomes impossible for me to clearly differentiate are the consequences of will from God’s eternal purposes for me, for they weave together into one road that has brought me to this place on this day. All I am left with is the determination of what I will do with this day. At this moment, standing at this place on life’s path, whom will I serve and what will my next step be?

God, help me this day make wise choices with my every action I take, with every word that comes out of my mouth, and every meditation of my heart.

I’ll trust you with where that step will lead.

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