Tag Archives: Pain

Old Wounds Die Hard

Old Wounds Die Hard (CaD Ps 137) Wayfarer

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.

Psalm 137:8 (NIV)

It’s interesting the places my mind can wander when my body is embroiled in a mindless task. This past weekend as I spent hours power-washing, I found my mind wandering back to a slight that I experienced fifteen years ago which became the death knell of a relationship that effectively ended ten years before that.

Old wounds die hard.

Along my life journey I’ve come to believe that some relationships are for a lifetime. Others relationships are just for a season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Then there are relationships that need to end for the health of both parties. When Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” I don’t believe that he meant that all relationships should be hunky-dory for the long-haul. Paul had a falling out with more than one individual along his own journeys. I’ve come to believe that sometimes to “live at peace” means to allow for relational time and distance

Old wounds die hard.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 137, is fascinating for its emotional honesty. The Babylonian empire laid siege to Jerusalem, razed it to the ground, and took the citizens into captivity in Babylon for a generation. They experienced their fair share of persecution. This was not only from the Babylonians, but also from Babylon’s allies which included a people known as the Edomites. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and grandsons of Abraham. Esau was the first-born twin. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and became a patriarch of the Hebrew tribes. Esau became the patriarch of the Edomites. Bad blood between them. Fifteen-hundred years later the descendants of the twins are still feuding.

Old wounds die hard.

The songwriter of Psalm 137 channels the pain of captivity, the humiliating treatment by his captors, the homesickness of exile, and the wounds of the feuding enemies, the Edomites. The song has three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the torment of exile, the second stanza expresses love and commitment to Jerusalem, and the final stanza is a raw expression of the vengeance the songwriter feels and the desire for Babylon and Edom to get their just desserts.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself appreciating Psalm 137 for being an example of healthy expression of unhealthy emotions. Along my journey I have had multiple waypoints in which I have felt betrayed and wounded. Those experiences lead to anger which can easily lead me to bitterness which can poison my soul. Wendy and I often remind one-another that anger is like me drinking poison thinking that it will hurt the object of my rage. Yet, I have to do something with my anger. I’ve got to be honest with it, process it, and find healthy ways to get it out.

Which is why the mental scab that I picked at while power washing was simply a fleeting visit down Memory Lane. I processed it and got it out a long time ago. Life has moved on for both me and the one who slighted me. I honestly hope that he is well and has continued to grow in his own journey. There’s not much left of that wound. It’s healed over. There are just the dried remains of scab that I brushed away with my power-washer.

Old wounds die hard, but I have found that they do eventually die when I, like the lyricist of Psalm 137, am honest with my anger. Getting it out, processing it, and expressing it allow for doing what Jesus asks of me: to forgive others just as I have been forgiven.

Of Rubble and Restoration

Of Rubble and Restoration (CaD Ps 126) Wayfarer

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.

Psalm 126:5 (NIV)

I had a great conversation recently with a gentleman who shared with me some of his life story. It read like a roller coaster of ups and downs in business from the luxuries of being at the helm of successful corporate ventures to the bitter pill of his own companies that failed terribly and lost him everything. As he reaches the twilight of his vocational journey, I observed a deep joy within him for all that he’d experienced and also deep wisdom sourced in the lessons of both successes and failures.

As I mulled over what he told me, it reminded me of my own dad who I observed navigating his own vocational highs and lows as I was growing up. There is so much I observed in my parents that I never fully appreciated until I was a husband and father trying to provide for my family and make my own way through vocational peaks and valleys. It’s in adulthood that I finally appreciated all of the joys of vocational success, all the anxieties of job changes, and all the pain of business failures.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 126, isn’t fully understood outside of the context of history. In 586 B.C. the Hebrew people had their own “lost everything” moment. Their nation was plundered, their capital city destroyed, and their temple was desecrated and reduced to rubble. Most of the people were taken into captivity and exile. For a generation, they were forced to make a new life for themselves in a foreign land left to wonder if they would ever return to their own land and rebuild their home. Those not taken into captivity were left to try and survive amidst the rubble and the carnage. Some were reduced to cannibalism just to survive.

One of those left behind was the prophet, Jeremiah. The book we call Lamentations is his poetic expression of grief at the devastation he witnessed when Jerusalem was destroyed:

“This is why I weep
    and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
    no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
    because the enemy has prevailed.”

At the same time, it was at this rock-bottom, lost-everything moment when Jeremiah’s faith was activated and he discovered this thing called hope:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

In 538 B.C. the first wave of exiles were allowed to return and begin rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple and for the next 100 years the restoration continued as more and more exiles returned.

Today’s chapter was a song likely written from the pinnacle of Jerusalem’s restoration and the realization of Jeremiah’s hope. As I go back and reread the lyrics, I imagine being the descendant of Jeremiah singing those lyrics on my pilgrimage to the Passover festival knowing that I was experiencing the realization of what the prophet could only dream.

As I meditated on this, I thought of my grandparents being newlyweds and starting a family during the Great Depression. I know their stories. They shared with me how little they had, how hard they struggled, and I got to observe them en-joy-ing the goodness they experienced in their later years, long after those tragic times. It strikes me that my generation is probably the last generation to have known that generation and to have personally heard their stories.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on the highs and lows of this life journey. There’s so much joy, faith, and hope to be found in life’s dark valleys if I choose to seek it. Wisdom is there if I open my heart to hear her speak to me. There is also so much to celebrate when the road of life winds its way up the next mountain and that dark valley is a distant memory and life lesson. That’s the waypoint from which the lyrics of Psalm 126 spring.

Betrayed

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May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
Psalm 109:8 (NIV)

I thought he was my friend, and I continue to believe that he truly was at one time. I’m not sure when the smile became a lie. I’m not sure when our conversations became reconnaissance for his operational purposes to hurt me. Looking back, I realize that the signs were there and I knew it. I even confronted him once, which is not like me. I chose, however, to believe the denial. I made a choice to believe the best in my friend. Perhaps, I should have been more shrewd. My friend’s treachery left an aftermath of chaos and broken relationships.

That was a long time ago. Still, as my mind wanders back to that season of life I can still feel the pain and the anger. I have come to believe that we all, at some waypoint on our life’s journey, will encounter betrayal. It’s another one of those trials woven into the human experience. And, if I’m truly honest with myself, I must confess to my own acts of betrayal along the way. That whole “speck-and-plank” thing that Jesus talked about. As usual, it would seem He was talking right at me.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 109, is a song of David. Once again he is pouring his heart and emotions into his music, expressing the hurt and anger of betrayal in song. It’s not so uncommon. I think many of us have music that we go to in our anger. Do you have “angry” music? Wendy and I have discussed the music that helped us exorcise our angst and rage through seasons of life. As I read through the lyrics of David’s song it is obvious that he is raging against a betrayer and in the game of thrones that existed in ancient kingdoms like his, betrayal was a matter of life-and-death. With my betrayer, it was simply a matter of relationships and reputations.

What’s fascinating about Psalm 109 is that Jesus’ followers found it a prophetic foreshadowing of the betrayal of Judas. After Jesus ascended, Peter quoted Psalm 109 when explaining to those who were left that they would find another to “take his place of leadership.”

Two things stick out to me as I meditate on David’s song this morning.

First, I am once again appreciative of the honesty of David’s rage. He doesn’t hold back. He lets it all out. He hopes his betrayer dies a quick death. While some readers may be taken aback by this, I find it consistent with what David always did, and I find it to be a good example. I spent a lot of my journey stuffing and hiding my emotions. I cloaked myself with a costume of propriety when my soul was crying. One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned is the need to be aware of, and honest about, my emotions. I don’t think David’s song offensive. I think he found in God a safe place to get it all out.

Second, I find myself thinking about betrayals. Some of them lead to a rather permanent end of the relationship like Judas. There are other examples in the Great Story that have happier endings. Paul (another person who could express rage) felt so betrayed by his companion John Mark that he severed the relationship with both John Mark and their fellow companion, Barnabas. Later in his life, however, Paul remarks in his letter that John Mark was with him. Things obviously got patched up.

Along the way I have found it common for followers of Jesus to expect an idyllic outcome to every human conflict. If things don’t get patched up with a pretty little bow then someone is still “wrong” and there is blame and shame to be doled out. I can’t escape the fact, however, that Jesus knew He would be betrayed. He even said to His betrayer: “What you are about to do. Do quickly.”

I have come to believe that I am responsible to live at peace with others, as I am able to do so. I have also come to believe that there is a grand purpose in relationships, even those that fall apart and break because of betrayal. In Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome he writes, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I choose to believe this, even in light of a friend’s betrayal.

One Song, Two Stories

One Song, Two Stories (CaD Ps 69) Wayfarer

You, God, know my folly;
    my guilt is not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:5 (NIV)

A few months ago I discussed prophetic writing in my Wayfarer Weekend podcast The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story Part 7. Two of the things discussed in that podcast was that the prophetic exists throughout the Great Story, not just in the writings of the prophets themselves and that the prophetic (like all metaphor) can be layered with meaning.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 69, is a great example.

This song of David is quoted more than any other psalm in the New Testament with the exception of Psalm 22. The followers of Jesus saw prophetic images of Jesus in David’s lament:

“Zeal for your house consumes me” foreshadows Jesus clearing the temple of the moneychangers and religious racketeers.

“I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children,” foreshadows Jesus whose family thought He was crazy and sought to have him committed.

Jesus’ suffering, trials, and crucifixion are foreshadowed in verses 19-21:

You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
    all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
    and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
    for comforters, but I found none.
They put gall in my food
    and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

“I am forced to restore, what I did not steal,” prophetically reveals Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed to restore the relational chasm that sin created between God and humanity.

What’s fascinating to me is that this same song was written by David at a time when the consequences of his own faults and sins were at the root of his suffering. David structured the song as if it were two halves. Remember that the “center” refrain in an ancient Hebrew song reveals the theme, the “one thing,” that the song writers is getting at. There are two of them:

You, God, know my folly;
    my guilt is not hidden from you
. (verse 5)

But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
    may your salvation, God, protect me. (verse 29)

The song was all about David’s sinfulness. David even confesses in the lyric that his suffering, the reason his enemies are piling on, are the consequences of his own sinful mistakes. David sees his wounds, his weakness, and his suffering as divine retribution for his own mistakes:

For [my enemies] persecute those you wound,
    and talk about the pain of those you hurt. (verse 26)

So, what David wrote as a lament of confession for his own sins, mistakes, and their painful consequences was, at the very same time, a prophetic vision of Jesus who would come and suffer on a cross to forgive and redeem those sins and mistakes. Talk about beautiful.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think back on the darkest moments of my own life journey when my sins and mistakes wreaked havoc on my life and wounded those I love. I know that feeling. I totally identify with that. I see my own shit in David’s shit. Just like my post a few days ago, I read today’s chapter and my spirit says: “THAT story is my story.”

At the same time, it’s not the WHOLE of my story because Jesus has forgiven, redeemed, and restored my life. My story doesn’t end in the painful consequences of my own mistakes. Because of what Jesus did for me I experienced His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, and His love. He pulled me out of the pit I put myself in. He led me out of the valley of the shadow of death.

One song is layered with meaning and captures both spiritual realities. My mistakes, and Jesus work to redeem those mistakes.

In the stillness, I hear the voice of Corrie Ten Boom on the whispering wind: “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

The “Bitter Defeat Blues”

The "Bitter Defeat Blues" (CaD Ps 60) Wayfarer

Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.

Psalm 60:11 (NIV)

Anyone who knows me and Wendy or who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that we love baseball. In particular, we’re Cubs fans, but the truth is that we really enjoy the game. In fact, when we’re at the lake during the summer I love going out on the deck, turning on the audio of the game, and then filling out my scorecard while I have a pint and a stogie. I’m such a geek.

What is ironic is that I was terrible at baseball as a kid. I was always relegated to the outfield, which we all know is purgatory in pee-wee little league, or else I was on the bench. I once considered writing a Cubs blog entitled Sliver Butt with the tag line “from benchwarmer to bleacher bum.” Another irony is that it was while I rode the bench while I played for the Pirates in Beaverdale Little League that I sat next to one of the coach’s wives who had the scorebook and she was keeping score. I was mesmerized by all the marks, symbols, and secret code she used to keep track of the game. I only got one hit that I can remember in two years of little league, but hey, I learned how to keep score!

The other major memory I have from my two-year career in Little League was the devastating loss my pee-wee team suffered. I played for the pee-wee Cardinals, which was a bad omen in and of itself, but we were terrible. There was this one game when we were playing one of the best teams and we were ahead by a ton of runs going into the final inning. I remember being so excited that we were finally going to win a game against a really good team, and then they rallied in the bottom of the final inning and beat us. I remember breaking down in tears in the backseat of our Volkswagen on the way home. I was convinced God hated me.

You’re probably wondering where on earth I’m going with this.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 60, is a song of lament that David wrote after suffering a bitter defeat. The song was intended for the entire nation to sing the blues.

If you listen to my podcast Time (Part 1) I made the case that I think the entire Great Story, the whole of human history, is like one giant, spiritual life-cycle. On this macro-spiritual level, humanity went through its own version of infancy, terrible twos, childhood, pre-adolescence, and etc. As I read David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” this morning it read a bit like a kid in pee-wees crying in the back of mom’s Volkswagen, convinced that losing was a sign that God hates me, God has abandoned me, and God is punishing me. In retrospect, I know that’s not true, but I had to work through that. I had to grow. I had to mature in my understanding.

One of the other things David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” had me thinking about this morning is Wendy and our daughters. Being the only male in the household for many years, I have come to appreciate that there are certain sections of the Great Story that just don’t resonate with women. While most guys can easily read passages about battles, banners, and the blood of enemies and it resonates in our wild-at-heart spirits, I’ve learned that most women simply go, “ew” and then skip over to be captivated by the story of Ruth or Esther. I get it.

Nevertheless, from this waypoint on Life’s journey, I find David’s song today is less about an actual battle than it is about feelings of loss, defeat, and despair. Those can be found in infertility, the disintegration of a relationship, a divorce, the death of a loved one, being unemployed, an appliance breaking down, or the cheesecake you made for a special guest falling. Everyone has “Why me God?” moments and they come in sizes from individual travel pack small to mongo Costco-sized huge.

At the end of David’s song today, even in the midst of defeat, he is already beginning the process of moving on. He is moving past the loss. He’s already proclaiming confidence that this defeat is not the end and God will help him and nation process the pain, press on, fight another day, and put this one in the review mirror.

That’s a lesson for me crying in my pee-wee little league uniform, but it’s still a lesson for me today in my company’s logo-wear. As I journey through life the defeats grow in proportion with me. I still have to process the pain. I still have to find the faith to press on to the higher, deeper, and more mature things God is calling me to seek and to find.

“Buck up, Tommy. Mom’s got lemon cake waiting for you at home.”

Have a great weekend, my friend.

Weeping and Joy in the Valley of Infertility

No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:13 (NIV)

For the past month, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been in a series entitled “Summer Stories.” Each week an individual has shared experiences from their own personal stories and the spiritual lessons they have learned from them.

Last Sunday, it was Wendy who chose to stand and share a piece of her personal story. When she and I married almost fourteen years ago, she was 33. She not only gained a husband but two teenage daughters. Nevertheless, having children together was something we wanted to do. We tried for many years.

Trekking together through the valley of infertility may be the most difficult stretch of life’s journey that I have experienced to date. I’ve heard experts say that tremendous stress either brings married couples closer together or it tears them apart. Looking back, I can certainly appreciate why many marriages don’t make it through the valley of infertility. It is a long, lonely and trying slog on multiple levels. We plumbed depths of grief and relational stress I didn’t think was possible during those years. Wendy’s message, however, was not about the pain as much as it was about her discovery of joy at the end of that journey.

I couldn’t help but think of her message as I read the chapter this morning. The exiles return home to Jerusalem and begin the arduous task of rebuilding God’s temple which lay in ruins after it had been destroyed decades before by the Babylonians. After laying the foundation for a new Temple, the people gathered to worship and praise God. Those who were old enough to remember the original temple wept while the others shouted their praise until “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping.” 

Yeah. I get that. That description captures our journey through the valley of infertility pretty well.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of one of the points that Wendy made in her message: “One can’t simply ‘choose joy’ any more than you can simply choose to get up off the couch and run a marathon.” As Jeremiah observed in his lamentation (over the destruction of the same Temple the exiles are rebuilding in today’s chapter): “Weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” In the valley of infertility Wendy and I learned that you can’t always distinguish the sounds of weeping and the sounds of joy, because they are often the same thing.

For any interested, here are both the audio and video of Wendy’s message, posted with her permission:

At Some Point, One Must Return Home

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.
Ezra 1:5 (NIV)

When I was a young man I spent five years in pastoral ministry. Three of those years were spent in a very small town here in Iowa. During those years I officiated a lot of funerals. Not only were these funerals for members of my congregation, but the local Funeral Home Director also called me when there was a family who had no particular faith tradition or church home. As a result, I spent a generous amount of time with grieving families.

During these funerals, I began to observe families in all of their glorious dysfunctions. I noticed, in particular, that these sad occasions brought prodigal children home, and that in many cases the children had not been home for many years. This taught me a life lesson: “At some point, one has to return home.” (By the way, this became the inspiration for my play, Ham Buns and Potato Salad.)

For the past few months on this chapter-a-day journey, I’ve been going through books related to what’s known as the “exilic” period when the Hebrews were taken captive and lived in exile under the ancient Assyrian, Babylonian, Mede, and Persian empires. Today I begin walking through the two books (Ezra and Nehemiah) that tell the story of the exiles return to Jerusalem and their work to reconstruct Solomon’s Temple and the protective walls of the city.

For the exiled Hebrews, their return had been something they’d longed for. Right at the beginning of today’s chapter, it’s mentioned that they’d been clinging to the prophecy of Jeremiah that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jer 25:11-12). The time for return finally arrives. At some point, one has to return home.

Reading today’s chapter, it’s easy to assume that Cyrus felt some special affection toward the exiled Hebrews and their religion. However, the decree and subsequent provision of temple articles stolen by Nebuchadnezzar represented a shift in Empirical policy. Earlier empires had ruled with an iron hand, destroying native temples and demanding that captured peoples adopt the culture of the conquerors. Cyrus, however, realized that allowing captured peoples to return to their homes and rebuild their native temples and shrines was good policy. He did the same for other peoples, as well. The move created goodwill with the people of his empire. In the case of Judah, the move also provided him with allies and a friendly outpost between himself and the yet unconquered kingdom of Egypt.

This morning I find myself thinking about returning home. It can look so different for different individuals. It might be a joyous reunion for some. For others, it’s a necessary immersion back into messy family dysfunction. There are those for whom the return home is a long-awaited return from exile. In many cases, it’s an important and necessary step in addressing past wrongs, emotional injuries, and spiritual blocks so that one can progress in his or her life journey. In many cases, I’ve observed that one can’t move forward until he or she makes the trek and faces the past. I, myself, discovered it a necessary stretch of my own journey.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself whispering a quiet prayer for those who have yet to return, those who have returned, and those who find themselves amidst the struggle of returning home.

Refining and Revelation

At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.
Daniel 10:2-3 (NIV)

This past Sunday I had the privilege of giving the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the things our team of teachers has been grappling with of late is a continued season in which we are experiencing an unusually high number of deaths. From young to old, from expected to unexpected, and from natural to painfully tragic, we have had almost two hundred families touched by death in two years. It has been a long season marked by grief that seems to continue. We are going through the very human experience of trying to process and find understanding within it.

The last half of the book of Daniel is a record of dreams and visions that he had. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of the strange images inside. It all seems as confusing as an acid trip for even learned readers. I find that most people bail on it quickly and move on.

I have learned along the way, however, that some of the great lessons I’ve discovered in my perpetual journey through God’s Message are not in the details but in the macro perspective when I step back and get a handle on what’s happening on the landscape of the chapter. Today is a great example.

Daniel’s strange visions are not unique to him during this period of history. Ezra and Ezekiel were other Hebrews in the same exile experience having eerily similar visions and visitations of a fantastical nature. They were all experiencing a particularly painful time of being captives far from home. They were all in mourning for their people, their home, their culture, and their faith in uncertain times and circumstances. They had spent a lifetime in exile and were eager for a sign or promise that their people would return home from captivity, that their Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and that restoration God promised through the prophets would actually happen (think 90-year-old Cubs fans prior to 2016). In today’s chapter, Daniel had been fasting, praying, and mourning for three weeks before the vision in today’s chapter was given to him.

My takeaway from this is that these dreams and visions were given to a specific group of mourning Hebrew exiles after a long period of suffering and in the midst of a time of intense personal struggle against doubt, despair, and grief.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking back to particularly stressful and painful stretches of my own journey. It was in these dark valleys of the journey that very specific and important spiritual lessons and personal revelations came to light. Is there a connection? I believe that there is.

In my message on Sunday, I quoted from Peter’s letters to the suffering believers scattered around the known world. He compares the trials they are experiencing to the way fire refines gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). I have come to believe through experience that it is in the midst of suffering and trial that the non-essential trivialities with which we daily concern ourselves are burned away. When our hearts are broken and our spirits laid bare with suffering we are particularly open to what God described to the prophet Jeremiah (33:3) as “great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

[Note: Speaking of messages, I realized in writing the post this morning that it’s been a while since I updated my Messages page, which I subsequently did for anyone interested.]

Chorus to a Tale of Pain & Purpose

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah…
And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel 1:1a, 21 (NIV) 

In the history of theatre, Greece was the first great age. The Greeks developed several theatrical conventions that are still widely used today including the use of what was called a Chorus to prepare the audience for what they are about to watch and to narrate the events. Shakespeare used the same convention widely in his plays, as do many modern productions.

The first chapter of Daniel is the literary equivalent of a Chorus. The author, traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, uses the opening of the book to provide a quick lay of the land with regard to the background of the story and introduces us to the major players. The fact that the chapter describes Daniel and his companions as being learned young men who were then given a thorough course in Babylonian literature and culture, is ironic. It seems to me that the chapter itself gives evidence to this in its structure and content.

In the next year, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers will be studying the theme of exile. I’ve written in previous posts about the theme of wilderness throughout the Great Story. The exile of God’s people in Babylon is one of the major examples and many casual readers don’t realize just how many characters, psalms, and books come out of this period. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezekiel, and Nehemiah are all books that chronicle parts of the Babylonian exile and return.

In today’s chapter, Daniel provides bookend dates of the story he’s about to pen. It starts in the “third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah” and ends the first year of King Cyrus. A little study shows this to be 605-539 B.C. In other words, Daniel was an educated young man from nobility in Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah. His hometown is destroyed in a long Babylonian siege in which Daniel watched people starve to death and, according to the prophet Jeremiah, reduced to cannibalism to survive.

Out of this horrific event, Daniel is taken captive by his enemy. He is torn from his family, his people, and his hometown which has been reduced to rubble. He ends up in the capital city of his enemy, Babylon, and finds himself subject to indentured servitude to his people’s enemy number one: King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s own name is taken from him and he is given a new name. He is forced for three years to learn everything about the history, culture, and literature of his enemy.

A young man of God forced to live in captivity and exile and to serve his enemies for about 65 years. Welcome to the story of Daniel, whom many people only know from brightly illustrated children’s books in the dusty Sunday School memory bins of their brains.

But the real story is far deeper and more complex than that, as Daniel tries to tell me as a reader in his opening Chorus. It is the story of a young man who finds a way to survive. He courageously maintains and lives out his faith in the midst of the unbelievably difficult circumstances that make up nearly his entire life.

In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the common misperception I observe followers of Jesus often have, and that I confess I find myself unconsciously falling into from time to time. It’s partially driven, I believe, by the American Dream and the Protestant work ethic. If we believe, work hard, and live good lives then life should be a breeze of material blessing and pain-free existence. But as I journey through God’s Message I find that this has never been the message. Daniel fires an explosive shot across the bow of that notion from the very beginning of his story.

Trauma, suffering, starving, captivity, bondage, indentured servitude, and life-long exile in the land of his enemies serving a mad king.

I find God’s purpose in my pain. That’s the message Daniel foreshadows in the Chorus of his book, and the one I’ve been reminded of over and over again on my life journey.

 

Creation and Re-Creation

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

I got my first tattoo in the fall of 2005. It was an incredibly tumultuous time in my journey. It was the most tumultuous stretch of the journey I’ve yet experienced, in fact. I was recently divorced, a reality I’d never imagined for myself, with two teenage daughters trying to make sense of their own shattered realities. Wendy had also entered my life. This was another unexpected and unlooked for reality that I knew in my heart was of God’s doing, but it made the whole picture a hot mess.

So, why not get a tattoo?

The tat is a celtic cross on my back. In the circle at the crux of the cross is a reference to Revelation 21:5:

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Wendy also got a tat that day. A butterfly with the same reference. It was a permanent reminder amidst temporary circumstances of the hope we had in Jesus. Wendy and I both knew by the faith that Paul writes about in today’s chapter that Jesus, the Creator, was in the process of picking up the shattered pieces of life and the mess that had been wrought by our respective human flaws and failings, and together was making something new out of it.

It was months later that I went to a weekend retreat for teens that our daughter Taylor was attending. She was going to speak to her peers and I had been invited to listen. It was hard. She spoke about her own pain amidst the divorce and remarriage and the tumultuous changes in her own experience and realities. “One of my dad’s favorite verses is Revelation 21:5,” she said before adding, “I don’t like that verse.” Ugh.

Our human failings create so much pain for the ones we love most.

Mea culpa.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve learned that God expresses themselves over and over and over again through the theme of creation and re-creation. It’s an integral theme in the divine dance. Old things pass, new things come. On the macro level consider the first chapter, Genesis 1, in which God creates the heavens and the earth. In the final two chapters of Revelation God creates a new heaven and a new Earth (Rev 21:1). On the cosmic level it happens at the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus refers to this creation and re-creation theme over and over again. “Unless a kernel dies and is buried in the ground,” He said, “It can’t spring to new life.”

I’ve also observed that many of my fellow followers of Jesus like to gloss over this theme with broad religious brush strokes of propriety. They like “old things pass away and new things come” to look pretty and proper with an emotionally moving musical score underneath. It’s so much easier to swallow when it’s neat and easy.

Maybe it is that way for some. I haven’t found it to be that way. Resurrection is proceeded by crucifixion. Crucifixion is a raw, naked, shameful, bloody mess. Just like my life back in 2005 when I got my first tat.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that when Jesus called followers, He made it clear that things would change. Old things would pass away. New things would come. And, not necessarily in comfortable ways.