I’ve been told that when you build a house you should always plan on going over budget. That was certainly our experience when Wendy and I built our house a couple of years ago. And so, you put some things off for a while. Things like landscaping.
We’re now a couple of years down the road and we worked some landscaping into the budget this year. We’d been working with Country Landscapes over the winter on a site plan. The overall plan is pretty comprehensive, so it’s going to be implemented in phases over a long period of time. We got started with phase one this past week.
Country Landscapes did a lot of the heavy initial work, but Wendy and I decided to put a little of our own sweat equity into the project, as well. There’s a part of us (the sore muscles part) that is regretting that. This past Saturday Wendy’s mom came to help, and our good friend Anna and Aubrey pitched in. We had a bunch of small plants to get into the ground, and then came the big job of moving tons of landscape rock to various beds around the front of the house. Fortunately, we thought to rent a Dingo to help with the heavy lifting. Still it was a lot of hard work. We were both extremely tired and extremely sore, but it looks great.
We celebrated in the evening with burgers and dogs on the grill. It was a gorgeous Iowa evening so we sat on the back patio and enjoyed a little down time after a long day of work.
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?
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.
All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. Ezekiel 17:24 (NIV)
Ezekiel’s prophetic parable in today’s chapter is specifically related to the political circumstances of his day. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and carried off her royals, nobles and promising young talent back to Babylon. A royal family member, named Zedekiah, was set on the throne as a political puppet of the Babylonian king. But Zed had his own ideas and conspired with the Egyptians to deliver Jerusalem from Babylonian control. Today’s chapter is Ezekiel’s prophetic prediction of Zed’s failure and downfall.
Two things struck me this morning as I read the chapter this morning and considered the regional intrigue of Ezekiel’s day.
First, I am mindful of the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week and the reality that the political intrigue of that region of the world continues 2500 years later. The Israel of today has its capital in Jerusalem, the same capital city destroyed by the Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day. The Egyptians to whom Zedekiah pled for help remain a nation to this day. The ancient Babylonians are today’s Iraq. The Assyrian empire of Ezekiel’s day is today’s Iran. The names are slightly changed, but the peoples and the players are the same as are the regional power struggles and conflict. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Second, I was struck by God’s word through Ezekiel that there is a divine plan being worked out in all of this. God can bring down the powerful from their lofty heights and raise the lowly to positions of prominence. All the world’s a stage and there is a Great Story being played out amidst the proscenium of time. We are part of the same production.
All of this makes me and my silly little troubles feel small and insignificant. And yet, Jesus reminded us that there are no small parts. I may be a bit player and an extra in the chorus of this epic production, but the costume department considers me important enough that every hair on my head is numbered and the Producer/Director knows my name. I have a part to play, as small as it may be and as insignificant as it may seem. It starts with loving my neighbors as I love myself, and acting accordingly.
In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. Ezekiel 1:1 (NIV)
Ezekiel, like Daniel, was one of the exiles taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. The events of Ezekiel’s life, his visions and prophetic messages were roughly concurrent with those of Daniel. They were operating in the same time and space. While Daniel and his homeys were busy working in the royal administration, though Ezekiel appears to have been operating in different circles. Nebuchadnezzar took the best and brightest back to Babylon and Ezekiel, like Daniel and his trio, was clearly a man of great intellect. A priest, Ezekiel was a spiritual leader and certainly ministered to his fellow exiles in Babylon.
As I read the chapter this morning, I found myself thinking about this period of exile as it fits into the time line of the Great Story. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is a climactic period of time in the story line. For five hundred years the kingdom of Israel and split-off kingdom of Judah have existed, but now those kingdoms are coming to an end and there is the definite sense that we’re closing the chapter on this section of the story. But, it’s definitely not the end – and that’s a big part of the theme in the visions of both Daniel and Ezekiel.
I’m fascinated by the fact that God was extremely active among this group of exiles in Babylon. Through the visions and experiences of Daniel we realize that God is at work even in the rise and fall of these other nations. Through Ezekiel we will experience an even larger amount and greater depth of prophetic word and word pictures. The bottom line is that God has a plan, and He is working the plan. After this part of the story, there will be a long period (roughly 400 years) of relative silence before the angel Gabriel breaks the silence with personal visits to two unlikely women.
Today, I’m thinking about my own personal story as a microcosm of the Great Story. My experience is that God has been particularly active during certain stretches of life’s journey and relatively silent in others. My journey has contained distinct periods of time and purpose that seem to stand in contrast to one another, yet I sense are the working out of a larger part of a larger story that is beyond me. Stories within stories. Wheels inside wheels. Layers upon layers. Some mornings I simply marvel at it all.
When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NIV)
When I was five I intended to grow up and be an astronaut.
When I was seven I intended to grow up and become President of the United States.
When I was ten I intended to go into the navy and become a naval aviator.
When I was thirteen I intended to become a lawyer and politician.
When I was sixteen I intended to become a great evangelist like Billy Graham.
It was never my intention to live in Pella, Iowa. It was never my intention to spend twenty years in the customer research and quality assessment business or to be a business owner. It was never my intention to be divorced and remarried.
As I look back on my life’s journey I find that there are many things I intended to do that were clearly not part of God’s plan for me. David wanted desperately to build a temple for God, but that was not God’s intention. God intended for David to become the warrior leader who would establish the throne and prepare the way for his son to build the temple. There are many things in my life I never envisioned which I now believe God both knew and ordained for me.
Just last week Wendy and I were discussing a man we have observed who is aggressively striving after his own intentions, who appears to have failed miserably on many counts, and also appears to be in denial regarding it all. Wendy remarked that the man reminded her of Macbeth who destroyed his life intending to fulfill what he believed was his prophesied path. But, that’s one of the things I love about following God: He eventually redeems even our foolish wanderings and failures for His purposes.
Today, I am reminded to be discerning between my intentions and God’s designs. I desire to lean into the plan God has for me and follow the path laid before me. I have no time to waste blazing trails that lead, at best, to nowhere or, at worst, to tragic ends. I don’t want to end up thinking along the same lines as Macbeth who concluded at the end of his tragic strivings:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 (NIV)
One afternoon while in high school I sat at the counter in our kitchen/dining room and was having an after school snack. My mom had gotten home from work and was opening the mail. All of a sudden her hand went to her mouth (her signature gesture when she’s going to start crying) and she began to weep. At first I was scared, but then I realized that they were tears of astonishment.
My sister was in college. Times were tight. My folks were struggling financially. I hadn’t known it because I was a clueless teenager, and no one else knew it because my parents had not said anything to anyone. But, God knew. They received an envelope anonymous with cash in it and an anonymous note about God’s provision.
“Timing is everything,” they say.
Along the journey I’ve been both amazed and incredibly frustrated by God’s timing. I have witnessed what I consider to be miraculous events of God’s timing like my parents’ cash gift. I’ve also been through long, difficult stretches of life’s journey when my timing was definitely not calibrated with God’s timing. What I wanted, and felt I/we needed, was perpetually not provided. This has usually led to grief, doubt, silent tantrums, and anger. In most every case, a dose of 20/20 hindsight from a waypoint a bit further down the road made me grateful for God’s wisdom in NOT letting me have what I thought I wanted.
In today’s chapter we pick up the story of David, who had been anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel as a boy. But, the timing of his ascension to the position was not immediate. Saul occupied the throne and David refused to usurp the throne or depose Saul, choosing to defer to God’s timing. This led to David being branded an outlaw, having a price put on his head, fleeing to neighboring countries, and living for years on the lam. Now we read of David’s response when he hears of the death of Saul and Saul’s son Jonathon, who happened to be David’s best friend.
Today I’m thinking about God’s timing in my life. I’m exploring how I see God working in my journey on the macro level. I’m thinking about paths we desired to take which God blocked, paths that remain closed, and paths that have opened up to us. I want to follow David’s example from this moment of his own journey, when he acknowledged and honored God’s timing.
For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. Revelation 17:17 (NIV)
Yesterday I was having coffee with my friend just as we have done every week or two for the past several years. He and I have a relationship that goes deep. We know the most intimate details of one another’s lives, and we have shared the journey with one another for a good stretch through some low valleys as well as a few mountain tops.
Over a hot cup of coffee I was sharing some things that are happening in life for Wendy and me. My friend recognized in my sharing the same thing that I have sensed in the past several months. There is a shift happening in life for Wendy and me at this point in our journey that is beyond our conscious thought or human ability to facilitate. Some of the paths we have intended to take were inexplicably closed to us, and in some cases their closure has been the source of confusion, grief, and intense sadness. Now, all of a sudden, other paths have opened up and, out of the confusion, we both have an incomprehensible peace in our hearts about this course adjustment. We can’t explain it, we didn’t see it coming, but we both recognize that it’s happening.
Wise King Solomon said, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Wendy and I have long recognized that there is a divine plan at work in our lives. We have plotted our course and headed out on paths we believed would lead us where we wanted to go and where were supposed to go, but our steps have ultimately been directed to different paths on a different course. We know that our stories and our paths are part of a larger story and purpose. We don’t always see it with our eyes, but when we experience the life shift as we have over the past several months, we both know it in our hearts.
I believe that there is a larger story being told and a greater purpose at work in this life for which our lives are but a bit part (Actually, I have come to love bit parts – but that’s a different blog post). As I read through John’s account of his vision I am struck by the parallel we’re experiencing in our lives. I read the chapters and follow along as John is led through some strange visions. I catch little pieces I recognize but I largely struggle to see clearly what they mean in the whole. Underneath it all, however, I have an incomprehensible peace in knowing that there is a story being told whose chapters were written outside of time, and there is a divine purpose unfolding in today’s headlines which lead towards a conclusion that has long been foreshadowed. For Wendy and me, our job is to walk the steps established, to press on in the course, and to play out our bit parts to the best of our gifts and abilities.