Tag Archives: Gloom

On a Brighter Note…

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.
Jeremiah 52:31-32 (NIV)

Have you ever had one of those stretches of life’s journey in which seemingly everything that can go wrong does go wrong? Yeah, it’s been one of those.

I won’t bore you with all the details but the past two weeks have included a trip to the emergency room, stitches, illnesses, hospitalization of loved ones, multiple broken implements, breakdowns, and a cracked engine block. Ugh. Bob Dylan’s bluesy psalm Everything is Broken has been flitting through my head as I try to keep my bent towards pessimism in check:

Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken

Anyone who has followed my posts for any length of time knows that I’m a baseball fan. And, every baseball fan knows that winning streaks and losing streaks are all part of “the long season.” When a team or player is in a funk, you’re waiting for that one clutch hit or amazing play that signals a turnaround. So it was last night that Wendy and I watched our beloved Cubs win on a two-outs-bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off grand slam by Jason Heyward.

<Watch the Grand Slam!>

I thought to myself, “Maybe this is a sign that this funk we’ve been in is over.” Hey, cut me a break. Baseball fans are superstitious. Rally caps work! (Sometimes.)

Today’s chapter is the last chapter in a long journey through the anthology of the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s messages. The unknown editor who put the anthology together concludes the book with a historical epilogue. Interesting enough, it’s almost a verbatim copy of a section from 2 Kings 24-25. It gives a Cliff Notes summary of the Babylonian exile and ends with a bright spot: King Nebuchadnezzar’s successor releases Judah’s King Jehoiachin from prison, raises him to a place of honor, and he remains there for the rest of his life.

In other words, a book full of pessimistic, apocalyptic doom and gloom ends with a base hit in the bottom of the ninth. “This game’s not over, folks,” the editor is telling us. Put on your rally caps!

This morning I’m mulling over life’s ups-and-downs. We all have them. They come and they go. Some weeks it feels like everything is flowing and you’re on a roll. Some weeks, well, everything breaks. C’est la vie. It is what it is. The further I get in my journey the more wisdom I have to know the winning streaks will eventually end, as will the losing streaks.

I just have to keep looking for that bright spot, that base knock, that reminds me this game’s not over.

Featured photo courtesy of the_matt via Flickr

Don’t Walk Out in the Middle of the Movie

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch….”
Jeremiah 23:5 (NIV)

I have a vivid memory from about the age of 13. My mother sat me down at our family’s dining room table and explained to me that, financially, things were not looking good for our family. My father was in a business  that was not doing well and my father had decided to walk away from the partnership in order for it to survive. There was a possibility, my mother explained, that we would lose our house and have to move. She wanted me to understand that things were tight and there would be no money for extras. We all had to “tighten our belts.”

As is typical with children, I’d never given much consideration to our family’s socio-economic status. Our needs were met. We had a loving family. My parents were hard workers and things were always status quo. This message of doom was a shock for me.

I do remember a few lean years as my dad switched to a couple of different jobs and ended up commuting an hour each day to work. My folks plugged away to make ends meet. It was the years of the farm crisis of the late 70s and early 80s and, while we weren’t farmers, there were plenty of people struggling. As a teenager, I learned some important life lessons in those years about perseverance, hard work and simple faith. In fact it was during those years that I found my faith in Christ.

It is common, I have found, for casual readers to wade into the ancient messages of the prophets and find only doom and gloom. And, to be honest, there’s plenty to be had. There is a lot of violence from a very violent period of history. It’s easy to get weighed down by the negativity. But, if you’re not careful you’ll miss the larger story.

In today’s chapter, amidst a terrible siege and Jeremiah’s prophecies of destruction, death and exile, the message takes an abrupt u-turn. From the royal line of David, Jeremiah predicts, God is going to raise up a “Righteous Branch” to shepherd His people. From a macro-view, it appears that God is pruning back the royal line which has been bearing bad fruit for a long time. There will be lean years. Things look pretty gloomy. That’s what happens when you prune things back. But from that royal line a new Branch will spring which  will become the Vine from which the fruit of the Spirit and new wine will be produced. Matthew and Luke were careful to record Jesus’ family tree in their respective Gospels. They wanted everyone to know that Jesus’ sprung from David’s tree. The “Righteous Branch” had bloomed.

This morning  the chapter has me thinking about the doom and gloom of the prophets. Every great story includes conflict and a period of time in which everything looks bleak. The hero is a “goner” and it’s all going to fall apart. Then comes the eucatastrophy and the climactic moment when it all comes together and works out.

I’ve discovered that giving up on the prophets in the middle of the doom and gloom is like giving up all hope because dad’s job changed and things are going to be tight financially. It’s like walking out of the movie when the hero is tied up next to a bomb and the countdown timer is at two minutes. Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” reminds me today to “wait for it.” There is hope, light, and redemption at the end of the tunnel, but I have to press on and persevere.

“I Will Bring You Home”

“At that time I will bring you home….”
Zephaniah 3:20 (NRSV)

Here in the heartland of America, in the great state of Iowa, we have been experiencing an early spring. It’s March Madness, which is usually a time when we receive the final blast of winter’s fury. The state high school girl’s basketball tournament is mythically synonymous with “blizzard.” But not this year.

The temperatures have been unseasonably warm. The tulips are already shooting up from the earth. We’ve already used the grill on the patio multiple times. The sounds of Cubs baseball is becoming daily ambient audio here at Vander Well Manor, even if it is just spring training.

There is something exciting about spring. The death of winter gives way to new life in spring. We celebrate the journey from gave to empty tomb. Shivering in the cold yields to basking in the sun’s warmth. Resurrection, hope, and joy are kindled in our souls, reminding us that old things pass away and new things are coming.

How apt, I thought, that in this morning’s chapter we find Zephaniah’s predictions of doom and gloom giving way to hope and salvation. And, amidst the hopeful promises God gives through the ancient prophet is the simple phrase “I will bring you home.” That phrase has so much meaning for me in so many layers:

  • As I care for aging parents and grieve the “home” that I once knew.
  • As I watch our girls spread their wings and scatter to their respective paths and realize the “home” that I have so recently known and loved has suddenly gone the way of winter in an early spring.
  • As I come home from three long days working with clients to find Wendy waiting at the door for me with a cold beer, hot meatloaf, and a warm kiss; realizing in that moment the home that I am so blessed to experience each day, right now.
  • As I wax poetic in my annual giddiness for baseball season and ponder anew the game in which the goal is to arrive safely home.

I will bring you home,” God says through Zephaniah.

[sigh]

 

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image from joewcampbell via Flickr

Doom and Gloom from Zeph to CBS

“That day will be a day of wrath,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness….”
Zephaniah 1:15 (NRSV)

Wendy and I start most mornings with coffee, breakfast and the newspaper. We read through the news and discuss world events. We  talk about the elections and the latest prognostications from modern-day prophets on the editorial pages. More often than not we  chuckle at the horror, the doom, and the gloom that we find there.

There is something innately human about the way we flock to bad news. News outlets know that we, like lemmings, will be drawn and to blood (10 Dead in Latest Rampage) and fear (Study Shows Water Will Kill You). Publications on the left know that their readers are motivated by fear of the right (Ted Cruz Wants to Arm Babies!) and publications on the right know that readers are motivated by fear of the left (Hillary’s Secret E-mails Gave ISIS Our Nuclear Protocols!). What’s more, fear sells papers and draws viewers which generate advertising dollars. And fear creates lucrative financial opportunities (Do Cell Phones Breed Brain Worms? Congress Earmarks Funds for Research).

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

The ancient prophets were also doom and gloom-ers. Read today’s chapter and it’s enough to motivate a call to your physician for a prescription of Zoloft. The scenes of devastation that Zephaniah pictures are horrific, much like the scenes of devastation described by CBS Sunday Morning this past Sunday in their predictions of the earthquake,  “The Big One,” that will someday hit the Pacific northwest.

The thing is, there is truth in the doom and gloom. Read the historic accounts of Judah’s siege and devastating defeat to the Babylonians and all of a sudden Zephaniah seems fairly prescient. When you think about 15,000 dead in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami five years ago, the predictive doom and gloom for Seattle and Portland become more than mere yellow journalism.

History is full of tragedy, destruction, war, famine, suffering, and death. It has always been part of the human experience and it always  will. The question is not whether bad things will happen but how I will respond when they do. I can obsess in fear about what might happen in the future, or I can be wise in how I walk life’s journey on this day. I can choose to focus on anxiety-producing “what ifs” regarding tomorrow, or I can choose to focus on being a person of love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness today.

This morning, on this day, I am focused on Jesus’ words:

“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.” Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

Vision, Design, Measurement, Reality

Wendy Sold on Bos LotGreat Room

[God] took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. 
Ezekiel 40:3 (NIV)

In the past year, Wendy and I had a completely unexpected idea to build a  new house, purchased the lot, hired a contractor, worked on a design, watched it being built, and moved in. The reality of it still makes my head spin. From hair-brained idea to a new home in twelve months.

The result of this is that Wendy and I have spent the better part of a year using rulers and tape measures to size up drawings, blueprints, floors, walls, lot lines, doorways, driveways,  closets, counters, fireplaces, sinks, etc., etc., and etc. It’s a necessary part of building a new custom designed house. And, I’ll be happy never to do it again!

I had an eery feeling of deja vu this morning as I read of Ezekiel’s vision. After 39 chapters of doom, gloom, violence and judgement the theme of Zeke’s messages takes a huge turn. We have to remember the context from which he is writing. The city of Jerusalem had been sieged and destroyed, along with Solomon’s glorious temple by the Babylonian army. Ezekiel was taken into exile to the land of his enemy where he and his fellow expatriates can only grieve their home and their temple that lies in ruin. Perhaps we should expect him to have a doom and gloom outlook.

Starting with today’s chapter, however, Zeke’s final visions take on a new twist. From here on out his visions are about the restoration and rebuilding of a new city and a new temple. Today his vision is of a heavenly contractor, ancient tape measures in hand, who takes him on a construction tour to measure out the new temple which will be built. Measurement after measurement after measurement of walls, doors, floors, etc., etc., and etc. It’s part of the process of building something new.

Today I’m thankful that the “vision” and “measurement” phase of our new home is over and we are experiencing the reality of it. I’m thankful for the experience of being led through the whirlwind process of unforeseen vision to fulfillment and reality. The experience encourages me to have faith in the larger visions, plans and blueprints God reveals for this life and this world.

Contrasting Messages; Contrasting Paths

"Relatively easy path to the summit" photo by Brian Taylor via Flickr
“Relatively easy path to the summit” photo by Brian Taylor via Flickr

You will be sought, but you will never again be found, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
Ezekiel 26:21b

There’s no getting around the fact that the messages of the prophets were and are, by and large, depressing. Doom, gloom and judgement are a tough assignment to continuously deliver. I’ll admit that we’ve only made a little more than half way through Zeke’s anthology of prophetic messages and I’m already looking at the calendar with an eye to when we’ll be through it. I have been finding some fascinating stuff in it, but it’s hard to read day after day and not want for a little positive reinforcement.

Which, as I ruminate on it this morning, I believe is part of the point. The doomsday messages of the prophets is set on the timeline of history 400-800 years before the birth of Jesus. When the prophet Malachi ended his prophetic messages c. 430 B.C. there was a long silence until the angel Gabriel broke the news to Mary that she was pregnant. And, with that message doom began to give way to hope and salvation.

That Message of hope and salvation embodied in Jesus stands in stark contrast to the messages of doom and judgement of the prophets. I find it interesting that Ezekiel’s message in today’s chapter is of being lost and never found, while Jesus’ messages were consistently about finding that which was lost. Jesus preached of finding lost sheep, lost coins, and lost children.

On this life journey we experience different times and seasons. We may journey through difficult stretches in which our own foolishness, rebellion, and hard hearted choices consequentially result in having to plod along difficult paths. Feeling lost and hopeless are not unique to the human experience, and there are times when we can identify with the prophets doom and gloom. Jesus was sent, however, to show us The Way that leads to Life for any who has faith to ask, seek, knock, and follow.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 11

For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Hosea 11:10 (NLT)

When reading through the writings of the ancient prophets like Hosea, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the repetitive doom and gloom. It’s important to realize that the prophetic texts were not typically written to be one cohesive book. Books like Hosea’s were a collection of their messages, and every preacher gets a little repetitive over time.

True prophets are critics by their very nature. They point out wrong actions and remind people of the eventual consequences of those actions. Because people are generally hard headed and we like to excuse our moral failings the prophets continue to hammer their message over and over and over.

Along the way, I’ve come to notice that the crux of the prophet’s message is not in the heavy forecast of immediate gloom, but in the ray of sunshine that eventually always appears in the extended outlook. I couldn’t help but think of the Prodigal’s father as I read the above verse in today’s chapter. After the long suffering of watching the Prodigal rebel, runaway, and foolishly squander the family fortune the father eventually sees his broken and repentant son return.

Today, I’m thinking about God’s own long suffering with me. I am grateful that the story is not about the immediate gloom, but in the extended outlook for son-shine.