Tag Archives: Perseverance

Encouragement Needed

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’
Zechariah 8:9a (NIV)

In just a month or so, Wendy and I will be celebrating three years that we’ve lived in the house we built here in Pella. This morning I was thinking back to those months between August 2014, when we broke ground, and the end of February when we moved in. It seemed like an eternity. I was not prepared for all of the decisions that had to be made and the endless fussing and fretting over the most seemingly insignificant decisions.

The process did seem long and endless at the time, but the truth of the matter is that the building of a complex, multi-level, multi-room structure in six months would be nothing short of miraculous to those Zechariah was addressing when he wrote today’s chapter sometime around 500 BC. The “remnant” of exiles who returned to rebuild Jerusalem with its crumbled walls and broken down Temple were looking at not months, but long years – even decades of painstaking, back-breaking toil.

The rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple began in 536 BC but was abandoned two years later. It was picked up again fourteen years later and went on for another five years before it was eventually rededicated. The rebuilding of Jerusalem would continue for another 70 years.

Today’s chapter reads like a message of encouragement to the people facing the arduous task of continuing the work while in the depths of frustration at the rebuilding process. Through Zechariah, God encourages the people to imagine how great it will be when the work is completed and families of all generations are filling the city streets from children playing freeze-tag to old people leaning on their canes and reminiscing about the “old days.”

The truth is that whether we’re ancient Hebrews facing years of toil to rebuild our capitol city or a modern day couple standing in Lowe’s wondering if the project will ever be completed, we all sometime need encouragement to keep pressing on. The Apostle Paul consistently told the followers of Jesus, to whom he wrote the letters making up most of the New Testament, that he was writing to encourage them. He told them to encourage one another and reminded them  that their love, prayers and gifts were a tremendous encouragement to him. Paul was carrying out the task of building the church, not a building made of wood and stone, but a much messier task of building a living, breathing organization of diverse, flesh-and-blood people into a cohesive whole.

This morning I’m reminded that we all need encouragement on this life journey. It’s an important ingredient to any project, relationship, or process. Even God knew that the people of Jerusalem needed a shot in the arm, and today’s chapter is a record of the encouragement He sent through His prophet, Zechariah.

From time-to-time we all need others to encourage us and we, in turn, need to be on the lookout for those who could use a dose themselves. Encouragement is simple gift to give: a kind word, a postcard that takes you five minutes to write, a thank you note, a prayer, or a hug and sincere “Hang in there.”

Need a little encouragement today? Consider your reading of this post a divine appointment. Hang in there, my friend. Press on. Keep going. I know it may suck right now but I believe that your faith and grit are leading to good things ahead.

Prophetic Pattern, Hero’s Journey, and the Belly of the Whale

 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
    and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
    and flow from all the hills,
    and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.”
Amos 9:13-14a (NIV)

Life sends us all into places we don’t expect or desire. This is a journey and every journey includes both ups and downs. A friend who is a regular reader and fellow wayfarer recently referenced Joseph Campbell’s outline of the hero’s journey in a comment on one of my posts. This prompted me to refresh my memory of Campbell’s work, in which he explores the power of our myths and epic tales in understanding both ourselves and our stories.

Follow the path of this journey closely and you will recall specific episodes from all our favorite epic heroes from Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker to Bilbo Baggins. Yes there is treasure and reward at the end of the tale as well as magic and adventure along the way. Yet, the journey also includes reluctance, fear, trials, flights from danger, the need of courage, and a final battle. How often I appreciate the trials and struggles of my favorite epic heroes but want to shortcut past the trials and battles right to the treasure and reward in my own life.


Infographic: Hero's Journey | Venngage
Chart courtesy of Sara McGuire. See this on Venngage Infographics.


Just as there is a pattern to the hero’s journey, there is also a pattern to the poems and visions of the ancient prophets. Their prophetic visions are mostly filled with doom, gloom, and predictions of pestilent woe. They don’t mince words in their warnings or their calls to repentance and spiritual reformation. For this reason, I know many who prefer to avoid reading or studying the prophets altogether. It often feels like such a downer.

Yet the prophetic pattern almost always ends with redemption and hope. The poetic visions of the prophets are eucatastrophic in nature. Yes, we make a mess of things and that mess will lead us through consequences that produce all of the dark moments of any hero’s journey. At the end, however, the divine light shines in the darkness. Hope breaks through the dark clouds when we least expect it. Redemption graciously appears and leads us to the reward and treasure.

In today’s chapter Amos ends his volume of prophetic poems in the same pattern. After slogging through eight chapters of doom we end with the hope of restoration, repair, blessing, and abundance.

I confess that I begin this day of my journey feeling a bit like I’m in the belly of the whale. I have a sense that I’m moving toward a prescribed place, but here in the belly of the whale I can’t really feel the momentum, I can’t see where this is all headed, and I don’t particularly like the environment at the moment. It is dark, cramped and a particularly odorous stench. Yet, Amos and Campbell remind me this morning that doing a stretch in the belly of the whale is part of life’s journey just as it is part of any good story. Hope and redemption lie ahead. I will cross the threshold at the right place and time. Faith is required at the moment, as well as perseverance.

Pinching my nose. Slogging on.

Thanks for your companionship.

Progression and Regression

“For three sins of Judah,
    even for four, I will not relent….”
Amos 2:4a (NIV)

Yesterday was my birthday. Weather-wise it was an awful day. It was rainy, cold, and windy; A good day to stay inside and enjoy some quiet with family and friends. My folks came down from Des Moines and brought Taylor with them. We enjoyed lunch together around the warm fireplace and then enjoyed conversation into the afternoon. It was a nice birthday, and it was wonderfully uneventful.

The quiet gave me some time for reflection throughout the day. I thought about the past year, the past 13 years in Pella, the past 23 years in my profession, the past 50 years of life. My life journey has been full and has taken me fascinating, unexpected places. I have continued to explore, continued to grow, continued to press further up and further in. I look back at where I was in my journey just ten or fifteen years ago, and I can see how I’ve progressed.

In this morning’s chapter the ancient prophet Amos, writing his poems from his small town, begins his small volume of prophetic works by taking aim at seven regional nations (Israel is a divided kingdom, so he addresses both Israel and Judah). Amos starts with Israel’s neighbors, drawing his Hebrew readers in with prophetic curses on their enemies. He was likely getting a lot of nodding heads and affirmations through the first six sections. Then things suddenly change for his contemporary readers.

Amos saves his final prophetic rebuke for his own people. The spiritual charges he brings against them come down to two basic things. First, the life and blessings they’ve been afforded haven’t resulted in a progression of spirit, of life, love, faith or wisdom. Second, their regression into indulgence of their appetites has resulted in a wide array of spiritual and social problems which they are choosing to ignore.

This morning, as I begin my 51st year of life, I find myself continuing to meditate on my journey. As much as progress as I’ve made along the way, Amos reminds me to not be ignorant or blind myself to ways I may have regressed. Where have I blinded myself to  unhealthy indulgences? Where have my choices actually been detrimental to others? Where do I need to make changes as I begin another annual trek through the calendar? The journey isn’t finished until it’s finished. I’ve still got a long way to go, and a lot of progress yet to be made. It’s out there; Further up and further in.

The Struggle for Spiritual Perception

“You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

“You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand?”

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Matthew 16:3, 8-9, 23 (NIV)

Over the winter months this chapter-a-day trek journeyed through the writings of the ancient prophet Isaiah. One of the many relevant and memorable take aways for me from that trek was this:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

On my ceaseless pursuit to observe and plug-in to the flow of what God is doing around me, I am constantly aware of my finite limitations to see, perceive, and know. Today’s chapter is another good reminder.

The religious leaders came with their hearts and minds closed, testing Jesus by asking for a “sign from heaven,” as if all the miracles Jesus had publicly performed were not evidence enough. Jesus walked away. “You don’t get it.”

The disciples had now been following Jesus for some time. They’d been continuously, listening, following, learning, and working together. Jesus had spoken incessantly in parables and word pictures for months. He’d even interpreted parables for them on a constant basis. The boys still couldn’t make the mental shift to think in metaphor. You can almost hear Jesus’ frustration when he says, “You still don’t understand?”

Peter even makes a huge declarative leap of faith to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. Yet in the very next moment Peter proves how little he really knows as he tries to get in the way of Jesus’ real mission. “Peter, you’re only seeing from your own self-centered perspective. You really have no clue.”

Those who didn’t really want to see remained blind.
Those who really wanted to see still didn’t fully perceive.
The one who saw in part still revealed a skewed perspective.

This morning I’m reminded of what little I see, how poorly I perceive, and how skewed that perception can be from my own self-interested perspectives. I’d like to stand in judgment thinking that I’m more open than the religious leaders, sharper than the dull-witted disciples, and more perceptive than Peter. But, I confessed earlier in this post that I’m ceaselessly pursuing, seeking, and struggling to perceive. I certainly have no room to judge.

My prayer today is that I can honestly embrace God’s message through Isaiah. I don’t fully perceive the mind of God, nor do I comprehend all that God does. At least today’s chapter reminds me that I’m in good company.

I take solace in the fact that Jesus did not reject His motley crew of followers or strip Peter of the mantel of leadership that He’d just laid on the ol’ bass master. Jesus urged His followers on, and they changed the world. I think I’ll just keep pressing on and pursuing God’s flow despite my acute lack of perception. Maybe God will use me to accomplish a little something along the journey, as well.

Featured  photo courtesy of Jenny-pics via Flickr

More, Faster

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
James 5:7 (NRSV)

The culture I have known my entire earthly pilgrimage is one of instant gratification. In comparison to my childhood, the world I now experience on a daily basis is instant gratification on steroids. Things just keep moving at increasing speed. This is not the musings of an aging man, but the realities of a culture rebuilding Babel with Cat-5 cable and DNA strands.

When I was 5 I received an “electronic football” game for Christmas that was nothing more than a vibrating panel with little plastic men moving chaotically around the bouncing cardboard panel. Sometimes the “running back” with the magnetic ball on his base would spin around in circles. Sometimes he turned around and vibrate to the opponents end zone for a safety. I was, nevertheless, mesmerized by the experience.

When I was 10 I was playing a hand-held “Mattel Electronic Football” game that was nothing more than little red blips on a tiny screen which would switch on and off representing players (see featured image). I played it for hours, those red blips transformed by  my imagination into the Minnesota Vikings winning the Super Bowl.

When I was 30 I was playing football as a video game on my home computer. The black and white, heavily pixelated graphics seemed revolutionary. Now the computer could simulate actual players, teams and leagues and keep track of my stats across an entire fantasy season.

When I was 40 I had a gaming console playing a much more sophisticated and realistic video game version of football allowing me to play the game as a player, coach the team, or run an entire team franchise including roster moves and salary caps.

At 50 I can play electronic football that looks like a real television broadcast complete with commentary, and I can play against virtually any person, anywhere in the world from the comfort of my man cave.

This is just a trite example, of course. Yet, I can expand this example to almost everything I do during my day. I am growing increasingly used to getting what I want, when I want, and how I want it.

How is this affecting my spirit?

source: singularity.com
source: singularity.com

Throughout God’s Message we find example after example of people who waited. Noah built the ark and waited for years before it rained. Abraham and Sara were promised that their descendants would number like the stars in the sky, then waited for decades before their first child was born. Joseph, as a child, received a vision of his brothers bowing down before him then lived a lifetime of struggle, slavery, scandal and imprisonment before it was ultimately fulfilled. David was promised he would be king as an adolescent boy, then spent thirty years on the run with a price on his head before it would come to fruition.

I have learned along my journey that God’s sense of timing is not our human sense timing. Following Jesus and fulfilling our God-given purpose requires patience, waiting, and perseverance. These qualities are increasingly rare in a world in which I can order virtually anything I want from the palm of my hand and have it delivered to my door step within hours or days. Why on earth would I believe in a God who wants to groom me to accomplish His purpose for over 40 years when I can have my 15 minutes of fame on YouTube right now?

This morning I’m thinking about purpose and patience. In a world that keeps speeding up, I am realizing how critical it is for me to choose to slow down, breathe deeply, and be patient. God’s creation is about the ebb and flow of time and seasons. Humanity’s creation is about more, at increasing rates of speed. If I am going to embrace the former, I must consciously address the latter.

chapter a day banner 2015featured image source: dcjohn via Flickr

Consider it Joy

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy….”
James 1:2

Sometimes a verse becomes more than a verse. You take it in. You ingest it as a morsel to one who is starving. It is not about sweetness or delectability. It is about survival. The words are broken down within you. The truth of their meaning courses through your veins and brings essential spiritual nourishment to unseen corners within. The experience is not a random, unexpected inspirational event. Rather, it is the practical choosing of life. As Jesus said to our enemy in a moment of battle between flesh and spirit: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word the proceeds from the mouth of God.”

James 1:2 is one of these verses for Wendy and me. It is a waypoint of our journey, when in the depths of the valley of death we ingested the truth of it. It was not an inspired mountaintop moment, but a desperate hanging on. We learned in that valley that joy is not the by-product of affluent blessing, but a choice amidst suffering.

Consider it…”

Consideration is a choice. It is a willful task. It requires time and mental effort. Joy comes out of our deliberate consideration amidst difficult circumstances, when hope and faith are on life support. We consider, again and again…

If God is good, and we believe He is.
If God knows what is best for us, and we believe He does.
Then we can be joyful, even as the tears stream down our cheeks.
Out of our consideration, again and again, we choose into joy.

Eventually there follows endurance, maturity, and a whole-ness we had not known before.

The internal lesson was important enough for Wendy to indelibly print a reminder on her forearm.

“Welcome to the Journey, Padawan”

But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.
1 Corinthians 11:31 (NIV)

Discern /dəˈsərn/ verb [from Latin: discernere]
  1. Perceive or recognize (something).
  2. Distinguish (someone or something) with difficulty by sight or with the other senses.
One of the more intriguing themes I’ve enjoyed in the Star Wars epic is the spiritual journey and formation of the Jedi. In the world of Star Wars, those who are strong in the force begin their training as “younglings.” Eventually, developing Jedi become a “padawan learner” who is coupled with a mentor. The process of development never ends, as Obi Wan says to his rebellious padawan (Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader) in their final battle: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Great stories resonate with us because they echo our own human experiences and our deepest human longings. Much like a Jedi, I have found that my spiritual journey on this earth has been a journey of ever and increasing self-discovery. When I was a young man (youngling, if you will) I did many things out a sense of compulsion or ignorance. I had no idea why I felt compelled in certain ways. I did not understand why I said and did certain things. I acted out of my broken human nature without giving it a second thought.
When I became a follower (a padawan, if you will) of Jesus I experienced an acute desire to be more like Jesus and the person Jesus described in His teachings. This resulted in the awareness that many of my behaviors did not match up to Jesus’ teaching and example. A process of behavior modification began spurred by God’s prompting/power along with my willingness to change and be transformed.
Some behaviors were snap to change. Others required a wee bit of humility, patience, and determination. I was making progress and feeling good, but as time went on I recognized that there were the pesky, ugly things of my character and behavior that were of the Dark Side. They seemed hard wired and immovable. Discouragement, doubt, and frustration set in.
As much as I desired for God’s power to simply, and miraculously remove such things from my character, I came to realize that this was part of my spiritual journey. God’s power and grace (and patience) would be key ingredients, but much would be required of this padawan learner along this marathon journey of spiritual self-discovery:
  • Self study: A willingness to take the time to dig beneath my words and behaviors to excavate my past, my thoughts, my relationships, my emotions, my personality, and the desires of my heart and soul.
  • Meditation: A willingness to think honestly and transparently about the things I learned about myself, to fix the eyes of my heart steadily on Jesus, and to ingest God’s Word in my very soul.
  • Conversation: A willingness to have an on-going dialogue, not only with God, but with a select group of trusted companions who are on the journey with me. An openness to listen to and honestly embrace what they see, hear and perceive in me.
  • Professional Assistance: The assistance of professionals (in person or through their writings) who understand both spiritual truth and human psychology.
  • Perseverance: Accepting that the process of self-discovery and the spiritual transformation of becoming more like Jesus (a process theologians call sanctification) continues uninterrupted through this earthly journey’s end.
In today’s chapter Paul is writing to a young community of Jesus’ followers. They are spiritual younglings and a long way from becoming spiritual Jedi. Their behavior and conflicts, as described in Paul’s correspondence, reflect the blunt, early stages of spiritual transformation. And to this Paul says that they need discernment. They need to perceive the spiritual, emotional, social, relational drivers of their behavior and conflicts.
Welcome to the journey, my young padawan. Lace ’em up tight. It’s a long trek…. and an absolutely worthwhile journey!