Tag Archives: Prophet

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.

“I’ve Got This”

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 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 6:30-34 (MSG)

This past week was our first trip down to the lake this year. I have said before that our family’s place on the lake always has been what many call a thin place. It’s a place where things of the Spirit are perceived with greater clarity.

So it was that I began to realize during our time at the lake just how anxious I have become about certain things in life. A bout of insomnia and some time of reflection unearthed a host of things I have been increasingly worried about. I’ve been harboring anxiety; My mind dwelling on things I ultimately can’t control. Being at heart a pessimist, my natural personality tends to take these little anxieties, hide them in the dark corners of my mind, and quietly grow them like bacteria.

On our drive home, I brought these things out into the open in conversation with Wendy. Along life’s journey I’ve discovered that fears and anxieties tend to lose their power when brought out and exposed to the light of conversation. It was helpful to talk it out, and to have Wendy challenge each anxiety with her lock-tight logic.

Yesterday after our local gathering of Jesus followers, I had a few friends praying over me. After a while in fairly routine prayer mode one of my friends, who is a prophet, said out of the blue, “You’re carrying too much. Stop worrying about…”  they then proceeded to name, specifically, the things I’ve been anxious about. There was more that was said, but suffice it to say that I got the message.

This morning I’m reminded that we as humans sometimes need repeated reminders. In today’s chapter Jesus continues His classic “Sermon on the Mount.” One of the simplest reasons I continue to daily journey through God’s Message is that often I’m given exactly the spiritual reminder I need. So it is today. It’s like Jesus personally following up on Wendy’s reasoned logic and the words spoken through my friend yesterday.

“Tom, when has worrying done anything for you? Chill out. Keep going. Stay focused on me. I’ll take care of you.

“I’ve got this.”

Public Fear; Personal Assurance

It has been fascinating for me to watch the post-election panic and fearful protests on the streets of many American cities since the election. Fear leads us to behave in interesting ways, as it has throughout human history. People are people, and the fearful residents of Jerusalem c. 701 B.C. are also displaying their fear in public ways.

Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted,

    no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
    its witnesses are despised,
    no one is respected.
Isaiah 33:7-8 (NIV)

The fear in Jerusalem is well justified. The dreaded army of the regional superpower, Assyria, has swept through the north and is now moving on Jerusalem. It is a large army well-trained, well-equipped, and battle hardened. It is an army unlike anything the people of Jerusalem have ever faced. The Assyrian army’s reputation for destruction, violence, and brutality has preceded them.  It is no wonder that order is giving way to fearful chaos on the streets of Jerusalem.

It is always darkest before the day dawns, it has been often said. That is the overarching theme of Isaiah’s message in today’s chapter. In darkness we tend to grasp for light. If the power goes out we seek flashlights and candles, when things get spiritually dark we reach for God. The ancient seer describes the fear of Assyria leading the people to repent and call on God for deliverance, and he then promises that deliverance.

Jerusalem will not fall to Assyria, Isaiah proclaims, though it will not be delivered by human effort:

Your rigging hangs loose:
    The mast is not held secure,
    the sail is not spread.
Then an abundance of spoils will be divided
    and even the lame will carry off plunder.

A wealth of plunder and spoils, but not from anything the people of Judah have traded for. The word picture is of a trade ship that has sailed no where. So where will the all the spoil and plunder come from? God is going to deliver it personally. God will deliver the people of Judah from the Assyrians.

This morning I am thinking about how Isaiah’s message was received by his family, friends and neighbors who were shaking in fear. I have a hard time believing that it was accepted heartily. I doubt that it provided many with comfort and assurance. Rampant fear is not so easily assuaged, as current events bear witness.

Nevertheless, I look back on my life’s journey and recall many times of corporate fear. As a child I learned to duck and cover from a Soviet nuclear strike, and as an adult I watched friends and family stockpile gold, guns and supplies for the apocalypse that was feared with the new millennium and the Y2K virus.

I understand that some threats are real and some fears are justified. Still, if I am truly a follower of Jesus, then my heart tells me that Jesus’ personal teaching should always trump public fear:

“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 6:33 (MSG)

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The Challenge in the Way We See the World

The earth will be completely laid waste
    and totally plundered.
The Lord has spoken this word.
Isaiah 24:3 (NIV)

Over the past week in the United States we have seen a clash of peoples with very different world views; People who see the world very differently. The presidential election has brought those stark differences into the spotlight, along with our continued struggle to to love those with whom we disagree and to let discourse rule over discord.

I don’t hear people talking much about world views any more. I had an entire class on it in college in which we defined many of the more popular world views, discussed them at length, and weighed their differences. My impression is that higher education has changed a lot in the past 20 years. At the liberal arts college I attended we were taught that the loss of an election to those who saw the world differently was reason for fascination, personal challenge and understanding rather than fear and loathing.

World view is the primary way we see the world. World view is the lens of our core religious, political, and socio-economic views. Our world view is the filter through which we see the world and process news and events. It is a very human thing to assume that our world view is right and others world views are wrong; to struggle with those who don’t share our own personal view of the world.

There is, however, value in understanding how I view the world and to have it challenged. This is where discourse is a worthwhile friend.

Today’s chapter highlights a piece of world view that has been challenged in recent years. I had a discussion about this with Wendy and one of my daughters this past week in light of the surprising results of our election. Many followers of Jesus hold to what is essentially a medieval world view as it relates to our view of the future. This world view holds that things are going to get progressively worse and worse until there is apocalypse, and then Jesus will return and redeem everything in a eucatastrophic climax to the Great Story.

There is another world view I’ve been reading from some modern day mystics which takes an opposite view. God is progressively redeeming things. Things are getting better all the time, though we can’t really see it. Despite our fears, worries and a media bent on showing us all that is sensationally wrong with the world things are actually getting better as God’s resurrection power spreads in an ever-expanding universe.

So which is it? Apocalypse and eucatastrophe or evolving redemption? Isaiah’s prophetic words today certainly lends itself to the former. The world laid waste in desolation, but in the end the Lord is reigning in Jerusalem.

This morning I’m mulling over these things in my  mind. I’m pondering how I see the world and weighing what I read in God’s Message. I’m watching the news of the day and trying to see them both in context of my personal world view while understanding how those same events are perceived by those who see the world differently than I.

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“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]

 

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featured image from joewcampbell via Flickr

Prophecy and Discernment

You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?” If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 (NRSV)

I believe that God continues to speak through His children who have been given the spiritual gift of prophecy. It’s both prescribed throughout God’s Message, and I’ve also experienced it at different moments of my journey. From the very beginning, however, God has instructed us to use discernment with such things.

There is a lady among our group of Jesus followers who has, on a couple of occasions, approached Wendy out of the blue to share something God spoke into her heart for Wendy as she prayed. This woman is not a close friend and she has no intimate knowledge of our lives. I could not pick her out of a crowd. Nevertheless, on these rare occasions when she has sought Wendy out and shared what God laid on her heart it has never failed hit the bulls-eye in ways that leave both of us shaking our heads.

There is another among our group of Jesus followers who has, over the years, made a steady stream of bold prophetic statements that have consistently failed to materialize as predicted. If this person lived in the time of Moses they would have stoned him for boldly predicting so many things that never came true. I’m glad we don’t live in the time of Moses and I wish no ill will on this person. I have learned, however, to lovingly and patiently roll the eyes of my heart when the next bold prophetic utterance comes flowing out of his mouth.

Today, I’m thankful that God speaks through others who are gifted in such ways. I appreciate those who have such gifts and use them in decent and orderly ways. I’m also reminded that I have a responsibility to be wise and discerning in these things, refusing to blindly accept another person’s prophetic utterance without testing it against God’s Message, against the counsel of the wise, and the ultimate outcome.

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