Tag Archives: Future

The Mystery of Uncertainty

Since we are approaching the end of all things, be intentional, purposeful, and self-controlled so that you can be given to prayer.
1 Peter 4:7 (TPT)

Wendy and I had the joy of hosting a houseful of her family this past weekend. It was fun to have Wendy’s grandmother over and to surround her with loved ones she doesn’t get to see very often. Grandma is in her nineties and still living independently here in town.

I remember my own grandfather who lived well into his nineties. I have observed that there’s a particular reality that people go through at that age. There’s a loneliness that sets in when most everyone they knew as contemporaries are gone. With it, there is a questioning of why they are still on this Earth.

As I was among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers yesterday morning I happened to note those who have gone through the agony of having children die.

Those who wonder why they are still here, and those who wonder why that had to bury a child before their young lives even got started. Welcome to the mystery.

In today’s chapter, Peter tells the followers of Jesus scattered and living in exile that the end of all things was near. This was something that the early believers wholeheartedly believed. Despite the fact that Jesus Himself said that no one knew when He would return, the early believers assumed it could be any minute, and urged Jesus’ followers to live as if it could be any minute.

Along my life journey, I have observed that believers of almost every generation I’ve lived with have been convinced that Jesus’ return and the end of all things were near. As an amateur historian, I’ve learned that believers throughout history have been convinced of the same.

Theologians call it “the imminent return of Christ.” In other words, it could happen at any moment, and I do believe that. I also believe that Jesus was right when He told His followers that the exact time of the end times would remain a mystery. That means that it is also very possible that those of my generation will be like Peter and those of every subsequent generation who was convinced they would live and die believing they’d see the events of John’s Revelation take place in person.

In the same way, I have also observed that this earthly journey is both fragile and mysterious. While the average person expects to live to the average age, every day the journey ends for individuals far sooner than anyone expected. This is also part of the mystery.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself coming to one spiritual conclusion from these mysteries of the unknown future: Let the uncertainty of tomorrow inform the way I approach today.

As Jesus put it:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

And so, I enter another day. Have a good one, my friend.
Click on the image above for a quick index of all the posts in this series on the book of 1 Peter!
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Ancient Paths

Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah 6:16 (NRSVCE)

Along life’s journey one encounters a number of crossroads. Take the easy route, or the road less traveled. Follow the crowd, or strike out on one’s own. Often I have found that divergent paths lead in seemingly opposite directions, yet there is no clear direction where each will lead and precious little guidance with which to make a choice. It is a faith journey, after all. I choose, and I live with both my choice and my path’s destination.

I find myself at times weary of living in a culture running hell-bent and headlong towards any and every new horizon. The whole world seems to chase after that which is trending. I find it easy to become addicted to the breaking news of the moment and the latest buzz getting pushed, tweeted, and incessantly notified on any number of devices. It’s so easy to begin fearing that I’ll miss out on the latest, the most recent innovation, the next great thing.

My soul is increasingly weary of keeping up. The next thing is always replaced by the next, and the next, and the….

I hear my soul whispering at each new crossroads to look, and to seek ancient paths. Rather than chasing after that which is new I find myself more and more compelled to seek and discover that which has been forgotten. What great wisdom has been cast off as worthless ballast in order to speed us on our way in pursuit of the endless and unsubstantiated promises of technology and fortune?

In today’s chapter the prophet Jeremiah called on his generation to look back, to seek the ancient ways, and to seek the restful fulfillment of soul over the insatiable, momentary fulfillment of the senses. His generation chose differently as will mine, I expect.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded of Jesus’ words:

“…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Nevertheless, I think I’ll endeavor to head that way with each new crossroads. It may seem lonely at times, but at least I can count on there not being any traffic jams.

The Recurring Theme of “Old and New”

theoden-transformation-gif

On this last weekday of 2016 it seems to me a bit of divine synchronicity that I should read these words from the ancient prophet, Isaiah:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!”
Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

Old gives way to new. Growth. Metamorphosis. Transformation. As I have journeyed through God’s Message these many years I find this to be one of the basic, recurring themes in all of God’s Message to us. In fact, it’s a recurring theme in all that God has created. God is all about transformation:

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
– Jesus (Matthew 9:17)

 “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
– Jesus (Matthew 13:52)

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.”
– Jesus (Mark 2:21)

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 7:6

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1,4

Another year draws to a close. Once again I am prompted to reflect on where I’ve been, recognize where I am, and set course for where I’m going. I can’t do anything about yesterday. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. But I can choose what I think, say, and do today. I will set my trajectory. I can make a course correction. I can let go of that which has brought death. I can reach out and choose Life.

This morning, I find my spirit whispering (once again):

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

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Pondering the Prophetic

Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
    the pride and glory of the Babylonians,
will be overthrown by God
    like Sodom and Gomorrah.
She will never be inhabited
    or lived in through all generations;
there no nomads will pitch their tents,
    there no shepherds will rest their flocks.
Isaiah 13:19-20 (NIV)

Prophecy is a part of the human experience. It is a mysterious thing, yet even our great stories are filled with it:

  • The weird sisters prophesy that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland.
  • The otherwise prophetically inept Professor Trelawney utters the  prophetic words that speak of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort’s  connected fate.
  • Aragorn cites the words of Malbeth the Seer in making his fateful decision to traverse the Paths of the Dead.

I find it fascinating that our greatest stories quite regularly contain an element of the prophetic. Good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. The prophetic is a mysterious part of our human experience.

Reading and interpreting the prophetic writings of the ancient Hebrews requires knowledge, context, and discernment. The writing of the ancient prophets like Isaiah point to things that were, things that are, and things that yet will be. They are often woven together in a stream of poetic imagery that can be, and often is, misunderstood as we try to separate the strands.

As I attempt to understand the weave of prophetic strands in today’s chapter, there are two themes on which I find myself meditating this morning.

First, God was not opposed to utilizing kingdoms like Babylon and Assyria, to accomplish His purposes. This is not an isolated to occurrence. In fact, it is a recurring theme in the Great Story. From Balaam’s donkey, to the mysterious Melchizedek, to Rahab the prostitute, to the evil King Herod whose tax-raising census brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy, God uses a diverse and motley cast of characters and nations to drive the story line of history. This raises a number of fascinating questions. This morning, however, I find myself reminded not to try to put God in a box that He has not defined.

Second, I’m thinking about the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, which are very visible today. While God used the Babylonian kingdom (despite their wickedness) and wove them into narrative in interesting ways, Isaiah’s prophecy is quite clear about the ultimate end (see the verses above). The ancient city of Babylon was, by all accounts, an amazing city. During two periods of history it was the largest city in the world. The hanging gardens there were among the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” But, within a few hundred years of Isaiah’s writing, the words of his prophecy would be fulfilled.

The ruins of Babylon are located just outside of Baghdad in Iraq, and can still be seen today. Despite Saddam Hussein’s failed attempt to resurrect the glory old city, Babylon remains “a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris.” (Wikipedia)

In a time of political upheaval and present uncertainty, I find myself this morning taking quiet solace in the larger narrative of the Great Story, in the realization that God weaves many diverse Peoples and political regimes into that narrative, in the mystery of the prophetic, and in the present evidence of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words.

 

The Importance of the Backstory

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
Leviticus 20:10 (NRSV)

Over recent months I have been reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. It is not an easy read. Rather than a simple and continuous narrative, The Silmarillion is a collection of stories that, together, create the cosmology of Tolkien’s fictional universe from its creation.  Having a lot of excellent on-line reference material has been extremely helpful.

Slogging my way through The Silmarillion I am constantly inspired as I make connections and gain a broader understanding of the backstory of The Lord of the Rings. Knowing the backstory makes the story I know so well even more colorful and thought provoking. I better understand why the elves are leaving Middle Earth and where they are going. I better understand exactly what the “Three rings of elven kings” really are and represent. I learn the skinny on Shelob the giant spider and the evil Sauron, the scary faces in the Dead Marshes, all the obscure references made by the hobbits and about hoard they find with the barrow wights in the Old Forest, and the song Aragorn sings as he and the hobbits camp on the road to Rivendell.

In many ways The Silmarillion parallels the loose collection of history, poetry, prophecy, and legal text that make up what is commonly known as the Old Testament. For many people these ancient writings are difficult to wade through and understand. Nevertheless, I’ve always found that without them I have an incomplete view of who Jesus is, what His message was about, and why things happened the way they did. The stories of Jesus suddenly gain more color and depth in context with the backstory.

One such example struck me this morning. According to Levitical law in today’s chapter, those who committed adultery were to be put to death – both the man and the woman who committed the deed. I then thought about the story in John’s biography in which the religious leaders, seeking to trap Jesus and discredit him, bring a woman to Him. She had been caught “in the act” of adultery and deserved the death penalty. They wanted Jesus to render the verdict. If He let them kill her then it would be unpopular with the crowds, but if He let her off then they could accuse Him of being a lawbreaker.

But Jesus knew today’s chapter as well as they did. If she was caught “in the act” then where was the man who was committing adultery with her? He was to be put to death as well. The story said that Jesus sat doodling in the dirt as the religious leaders were making their case. Perhaps Jesus was symbolically writing the name of the woman’s lover into “the record.” Knowing the law, I begin to understand how hypocritical, misogynistic, and crooked these religious leaders proved themselves to be with their accusations. Without even saying a word, Jesus’ brilliant response called the leaders to a legal point-of-order. His gracious forgiveness of the woman means even more to me in light of this context. [Note: you can read the brief story in John 8]

This morning I’m thinking about backstories. Beyond The Silmarillion and the Old Testament, there are also backstories to our lives, our families, our communities, our nation, and our world. I realize, once again, this morning why I love history. Knowing backstories helps me better perceive and understand things in the present. With that, I can made better decisions and judgements in the present just as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery.

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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

Foreshadowing and Climax

Megiddo Valley of Armageddon

You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. Ezekiel 38:15-16a (NIV)

The prophetic messages of Ezekiel in today’s and tomorrow’s chapter are part of a curious and mysterious niche of theological study known as eschatology, the study of prophecy and the end times. The vision and message in today’s chapter calls out a leader named “Gog” of the land of “Magog” from the “far north” who will gather a multi-national coalition of armies to march on Israel in a massive battle.

Most scholars agree that these chapters parallel the vision of John (Revelation 16) who names the location of this gathering of kings for a final great battle: Armageddon. The valley of Armageddon near the ancient town of Megiddo is in northern Israel which is now the site of an on-going archaeological study and a tourist center. I had an opportunity to visit several years ago and that’s the valley of Armageddon behind me in the picture above.

As fascinating as these prophetic matters are to ponder and discuss, I have come to a few conclusions about them along my journey. First, I have known many people who become so obsessed with these prophesies (it can be like solving a massive, unsolvable puzzle) that they get lost in it. I don’t quite see the point of getting so distracted by trying to understand these things that we ignore more important and current matters.

Second, in any story the idea of foreshadowing is to hint at what is to come in the climactic chapters without giving it away. As author of the Great Story being told in history, I think God intended these foreshadowing prophesies to give us a hint of climactic events to come but never intended us to actually understand all of these matters with certainty. No author wants us to know the details of the climax until we actually get to that point of the story.

Finally, I have come to believe that these foreshadowing prophetic messages are there to remind me that there is a bigger story being told in this life. When encountering the daily headlines and the ebb and flow of international events, I take solace in faith that things are being played out toward a prescribed chapter. We are not yet to that point of the story. And, I’m okay with that.

I’ll Worry About Tomorrow, Tomorrow

hedgingWhat has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

There has been a lot of talk of late regarding the level of instability in the world. Just last Sunday our pastor, for the first time in his life, publicly declared that he personally believes that some things will continue to get worse and worse and that Jesus will return in the next 30-40 years.

This prompted some good conversations between Wendy and me over breakfast this week as we poured over the latest bad news from around the globe in the Wall Street Journal. I have heard predictions like the one our pastor made many times over the years by people I have considered both wise and intelligent as well as by those whom I’d consider to be fools. Jesus himself said that no one knows the day and the hour and that it will come suddenly “like a thief in the night.” I long ago gave up caring about this prediction or that prediction. I consider that, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes my say, “chasing after the wind.” My only responsibility with regard to Jesus return, according to Jesus own teaching, is to be ready for it to happen. That, I am.

As for things being more violent and unstable in the world, I’m not sure I agree. Things are relatively unstable right now, and we’re all feeling it, but as a student of history I can think of several periods of world history that were both incredibly violent and incredibly volatile.  I believe that if you lived in Europe during the Inquisition you’d find life both violent and volatile because of what the Church was doing. The Middle Ages were extremely unstable and life was extremely violent (they didn’t call them the “Dark Ages” for nothing), and coincidentally, Jesus followers of that day were equally convinced, based on how bad things were, that Jesus’ return was imminent. I think our current generation has already forgotten how unstable and violent the world was during the World Wars of the previous century.

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Some things have changed and there are some things that are unprecedented in human history. Population, for one. There are more people experiencing these things than ever before. Technology and communication are also giving this generation experiences that no generation before has had. I believe that our perception and emotional reaction to world events is greater today because we have instant access to photos and video of every horrific international incident being pushed into the palm of our hands 24/7/365. I believe that our culture is experiencing unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety because technology and media is bombarding our eyes and brains with images and first hand reports of every tragedy around the globe. It’s bound to have an effect.

This morning I am pondering the Teacher’s ancient words in light of living in circumstances that he couldn’t even fathom when he wrote them nearly three thousand years ago. Some things don’t change. There are some things that we as humans repeat over and over and over again like a squirrel in a wheel. Other things change greatly. Predicting the future is a risky proposition and getting overly anxious about tomorrow is something that even Jesus to us not to do:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So, I’m focused on today and walking the path laid right in front of me. Today I will live and love to the best of my ability right here in the place I am in and the place God has me. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Sometimes, You Have to Go Back

broken chainI am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.
Philemon 1:12 (NLT)

Sometimes the words are impotent outside the context of the story. Philemon is one of the shortest books in all of God’s Message. It is forgotten. There aren’t a ton of pithy statements worthy of a graphic on Pinterest. It’s not really inspiring in great ways. It’s simply a short letter from one friend and follower of Jesus to another.

But, the little told story behind this brief epistle is nearly Shakespearean.

Paul is in prison. He has been imprisoned for telling others about Jesus and creating a stir wherever he goes. So, he serves his time and shares about his experience on the Damascus road with anyone who will listen. He shows love and kindness to his fellow prisoners.

Enter Onesimus. He is in trouble too. A runaway slave from the town of Colosse, he stole from his master and took off. Both offenses are punishable by death under Roman law. Onesimus runs into Paul and the talk. Paul shares with Onesimus about Jesus and Onesimus chooses to become a follower himself. Then, the realization. The man from whom Onesimus stole and ran is none other than Paul’s good friend, Philemon. Imagine the conversation Paul had with Onesimus:

Paul: Onesimus, you have to go back.

Onesimus: Back? To my OWNER?! The man who considers me his PROPERTY?!

Paul:
Yes. You have to go back to him and make things right.

Onesimus: What’s all this talk about if Jesus SETS YOU FREE, YOU’RE FREE INDEED?

Paul: Your soul will not be truly free until you make right what you have wronged.

Onesimus: Do you get it, Paul?! He OWNED me!

Paul: And now that you’ve both taken up your crosses to follow Jesus, you are both owned by God. You are not your own. Neither of you. You’ve been bought with a price: Jesus’ blood. Philemon is now your brother in Christ. You must go back to him and beg his forgiveness.

Onesimus: But, he can have me KILLED!

Paul: Yes. Yes, he can. But, he can also give you what both of your souls truly need. You both need grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The chains that bind you, both you and Philemon, are not physical. Don’t be anxious. I will send a letter with you. Philemon is a brother in Christ. He is a good man, just as you are, Onesimus. He will listen to me. But, make no mistake, my friend. You must go back to Philemon. You must make things right.

I can only imagine the scene when Onesimus arrived back at Philemon’s house and confronts the man who “owned” him, letter from Paul in hand. What were Philemon’s emotions as the sight of the slave who stole from him and ran away? What was his reaction when he reads Paul’s letter to find out that God orchestrated a divine appointment between Paul and Onesimus? What conflict of heart, if any, did Onesimus feel looking into the eyes of a runaway slave and seeing a spiritual brother in Christ for the first time?

Sometimes, you have to go back and confront the past before your future can truly begin.