Tag Archives: Purpose

Silly Things I Could Be

Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

I couldn’t help but think of my last podcast episode about “appointed time” when I read this proverb in today’s chapter.

Jesus said:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Matthew 7:7-8

I have spent most of my earthly journey asking for God to lead me, seeking God’s purposes for my life, and knocking on doors of opportunity in anticipation that they might be the entrance to a new stretch of my journey that God had ordained. Which, in turn, leads me back to asking God to lead me. It’s been such a core motivation along the way that I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think how much it has shaped and informed the entire journey itself.

There are so many plans I can make in my creative and never-tiring Type Four imagination. You’d laugh if you heard some of the crazy thoughts and colorful ideas I can come up with and the lives I imagine leading. The monk, the vagabond backpacker, the professor, the professional actor, the stranger, the road warrior, the recluse, the secret millionaire philanthropist, the ex-patriot, the lone biker of the apocalypse, the Dude… I could go on, but you get the point. My brain can constantly make up potential roles for myself of what I imagine would be really cool for my life journey to look like.

Then, there is the asking, seeking, and knocking that spiritually keeps my feet grounded on the actual journey I’m trekking (with all of its own cool peaks and painful, dramatic, valleys) that has led me to this place at this time. And, though I never planned to be here, like the proverb I have no doubt that I am right where God has purposed for me to be even though I don’t always see it all clearly. Life could look like a lot of things. I could even chase after any number of those crazy paths (To Wendy: Don’t worry, Luv. I’m just waxing hypothetical!), but my heart’s desire is for this life to accomplish God’s purposes. When my wayward, creative hearts starts spinning tempting fantasies, my spirit keeps my feet contentedly grounded.

In the quiet this morning, I’m enjoying laughing at all of the silly plans I could conceive and spin for myself. I also find my heart feeling so grateful for my life. My realization this morning, as I mull it all over, is that I continue to receive, I continue to find, and I continue to have new doors open even as I never cease asking, seeking, and knocking.

Time to seek what this day has for me, my friend. Thank you for reading.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

No Apology Necessary

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.
Zechariah 3:3 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I’ve been serving as a mentor and coach for individuals in our local gathering of Jesus’ followers who are developing their gifts and abilities as teachers/preachers. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience and it’s a radical paradigm shift for almost anyone who grew up in the institutional, denominational church.

When Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit bestowing spiritual “gifts” on believers (see 1 Corinthians 12-13) for the common good, there are no limits or caveats mentioned regarding age, education, gender, race, or occupation. Spiritual gifts are given to every believer for serving the whole. Everyone is included. No one is exempt. Our local gathering is courageously believing that there are individuals within our midst who are spiritually gifted teachers despite the fact that they have not been institutionally trained as such. Like Paul himself, who worked tirelessly as a tentmaker, the teachers I’ve been privileged to serve over the past few years represent a diverse array of day jobs including diesel mechanic, corporate executive, middle-manager, engineer, non-profit director, IT network specialist, banker, writer, realtor, church staff member, and stay-at-home mom.

The feedback I and fellow team members provide each week is both the identification of a teacher’s strengths as well as opportunities to improve. At last night’s teacher’s meeting, I shared my observation that the most common opportunity for improvement I’ve identified across the broad cross-section of apprentice teachers is our seemingly requisite need to apologize to listeners for what they are about to hear. I’ve heard apologies for lack of ability, knowledge, experience, education, preparation, professionalism, and genetic similarity to the senior pastor. The apology almost always comes out in the opening statements. It takes the form of self-deprecating humor, humble confession, and nervous admission. Yet, I’ve observed that in every humorous, humble, or honest guise, this self-deprecating statement at the start of a message asks something from the listener (empathy, sympathy, mercy), when the teacher’s main role is to give something worthwhile to her or his listeners.

I’ve pondered on this for a long time. I’ve observed that there are two common motivations for this need to self-deprecate. The first reason is the simple fear of public speaking and the terror that comes with imagining yourself saying something wrong, silly, stupid, or offensive. The second reason is more intimate, and it’s the question any worthwhile teacher asks herself/himself in the quiet before she/he steps up in front of a group of listeners: “Who am I?”

I know my tragic flaws, my shortcomings, my hypocrisies, and my secret sins. “Who am I?” I whisper to myself as I’m ready to step up to the podium, “to think I have anything worthwhile to say to these people?” And so, I lead with an apology. I beg my listener’s mercy. Immediately, with that apology, I create unwanted and unnecessary nervousness, anxiety, tension, contempt, mistrust, or outright dismissal within the ranks of my listeners.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah has a vision of the high priest, Joshua. This is part of a series of visions intended to instill confidence and hope for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and God’s Temple among the exiles living in Persia. Keep in mind the context. It’s been 70 years since the temple was destroyed, and it was abundantly clear from the prophets, like Jeremiah, that the sins of the nation (including the priests) led to their captivity and exile.

In Zech’s vision, Joshua the high-priest stands there in filthy rags (a common, ancient metaphor for being sinful). Satan (the original Hebrew is more specifically translated “The Accuser”) stands next to him. I can easily imagine “the Accuser’s” stream of whispers: “Who are you to think you’re any better than your grandfathers that got them into this mess? Who are you to think you have anything to offer? Who are you to think you can actually restore God’s temple? Do you compare to Solomon?”

In the vision, the Angel of the Lord oversees the removal of Joshua’s filthy rags, and new garments are placed on him. “I’ve taken away your sin,” Joshua is told. “I’ve made a place for you here.” Joshua was called to fulfill God’s purposes despite his weaknesses, flaws, sins, and shortcomings. There is not one person on this planet whom God could call who doesn’t have weaknesses, flaws, sins, and shortcomings.

In the quiet this morning, I’m finding all sorts of encouragement in that word picture for myself and those I serve on the teaching team. I sometimes think that we do such a good job accusing ourselves that we make The Accuser’s job easy. The truth, however, is that since the ascension of Jesus there’s not one person who’s stepped up in front of a group of listeners to share His Message from Paul (murderer, a persecutor of the church) or Peter (who denied Jesus three times) to Martin Luther, John Calvin, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa or Pope Francis who didn’t stand in the darkness of the wings whispering “Who am I?”

“You are my child, my friend, and one whom I love,” I hear Holy Spirit whisper in response. “I’ve forgiven your sin. I’ve made you clean. I have given you a gift and a calling. You are purposed for this. You have something to say.”

“Say it, without apology.”

When I open the ears of my heart to hear, embrace, and embody that message, I grow to become a better teacher.

Click on this image to go to an index of all posts in this series on the writings of the prophet Zechariah!
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Consecrated

I said to them, “You as well as these articles are consecrated to the Lord.”
Ezra 8:28 (NIV)

Growing up in my mother’s house, there was a set of decorative, fine china and silverware that was reserved for the most special of occasions. Typically it was a holiday feast or special event with extended family that brought out the precious place settings on the table.

Perhaps the notion of fine china still exists in homes today, though my personal experience is that society, in general, has become much more functional with our tableware. That’s the way it is in our house. Everyday china is used every day but it is embellished with special decoration or accessories for special occasions. Still, there is a small set of wine glasses handed down to Wendy from her family that  I almost always use whenever we happen to celebrate the Lord’s Supper around our table. It just feels right to use a glass that is connected to family, history, and generations for such a purpose.

Consecration is a word we don’t use very often anymore. It means to be set apart or dedicated for special purpose. It’s like fine china reserved for the most special of occasions or a wine glass that’s only used for the purpose of Communion.

In today’s chapter, Ezra and the Hebrew exiles are preparing for their journey from captivity back to their home in Jerusalem. They are bringing with them special items that had been consecrated for use in the religious system of sacrifices and offerings in the Temple. These items were plundered by the Babylonians when Jerusalem was besieged and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed and plundered. These consecrated items along with gold and silver dedicated to the restoration of the Temple were carefully accounted for and given to individuals who were responsible for their safekeeping and protection during the journey.

Ezra makes an interesting statement to these individuals who were given responsibility for guarding the consecrated items. He tells them they are each consecrated just like the item in their possession.

Peter, writing to Jesus’ followers spread out through the Roman Empire, says something similar:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9

Just as Ezra’s exiles were themselves consecrated for carrying special items of worship in the Temple, followers of Jesus are consecrated, “holy” and “special possessions.” Indwelled by God’s Spirit, we carry in and with us the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found that believers are slow to accept or embrace this spiritual reality. Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to embrace the responsibility of it. Peter, in the very next paragraph of his letter, goes on to admonish the exiled believers to conduct themselves accordingly with their consecration:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1 Peter 2:11-12

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about special meals. I’ve enjoyed some wonderful, formal meals with the works: full place settings, fine china, special silver, and cloth napkins. I enjoy those special occasions. I’ve also, however, experienced some special meals that were just as special and meaningful in which the table setting and bill of fare was nothing extraordinary. It was the “consecrated” individuals sitting around that table that made all the difference.

I head into a new work week and a new month this morning reminded that Jesus Himself acknowledged that God had “set Him apart” and “sent into the world.” Jesus was consecrated for God’s purpose, and He knew it. It motivated what He did and said. I confess that I often lose sight of the reality that God has said He “consecrated” me. I forget that Jesus said “As the Father sent me (consecrated, with purpose), so I am sending you (consecrated, with purpose).” I wonder how different this week and month will go if I embrace and embody this reality?

Unlikely Hero

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14b

In a couple of weeks, I’m scheduled to give a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers entitled “It’s a Secret.” In preparation for that message, I have been pouring over some of Frank Warren’s PostSecret books. For those who are unfamiliar, Warren is simply a small business person who decided to do an art project. He handed out about 3000 black postcards with his address printed on them and asked people to share their “secret” with him. Years later they keep arriving from all over the world and his blog at postsecret.com is among the most popular in the world.

As I read today’s chapter, in which Queen Esther is made aware of Haman’s plot to annihilate her people, I thought about her secret. Esther had successfully managed to become the queen of Persia by being keeping her heritage and ethnicity a secret. She had assimilated into Persian culture. She did not demand a kosher diet, which would have given her away. She did not bring up any moral objections during her year-long education in providing the king sexual pleasure. The evidence would suggest that Esther was not a “godly woman” (by the strict definition of religiously following the tenents and disciplines of Judaism) and the faith of her people does not appear to have been something she practiced or felt compelled to take seriously.

I was also reminded, once again, that God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. It’s also interesting that when Esther asked Mordecai and her people to fast for three days it does not mention prayer in conjunction with the fasting. While prayer and fasting traditionally went together, the prayer part of it is not mentioned by the Queen.

Along the journey, I’ve observed that the institutions and adherents of my own faith like to try and keep God in their own binary boxes. I confess that I have, at times, fallen prey to this notion myself. People are either “sinners” or “saints.” God’s pleasure and purpose are reserved for the latter but definitely not the former. And yet, there are so many examples of God using people who wouldn’t pass our moral or religious litmus tests in order to accomplish His purposes. I’ve come to embrace the fact that when Paul wrote of God who is “able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” it includes working through and accomplishing His purposes through the most unlikely, seemingly unworthy, of individuals.

Esther is an unlikely hero who reveals herself to be, like all of us, very human. I compare her to Daniel who zealously and religiously clung to his faith, religious discipline, and heritage, and he still succeeded to carve out position and purpose throughout a lifetime in captivity. Esther, on the other hand, follows the easier path of cultural compromise. She keeps her heritage, her people, and what faith she might have had in her people’s religion a secret. She likely kept her secret in order to avoid prejudice and persecution. Some would call that cowardice. Her response to Mordecai upon learning of Haman’s genocidal plot reveals her feelings of powerlessness and fear. All of this, and still she finds herself in just the right place at just the right time to accomplish God’s purpose of saving her people.

Ever since I became a follower of Jesus, I’ve sought God’s purpose in my life journey. I’ve tried to be a person of zealous, disciplined conviction like Daniel, but any who care to look closely at my track record will find that it is dotted with the same kinds of compromises, secrets, easy choices, and fear revealed in Esther. My solace is that God did accomplish His purposes in both of them, and I believe that somehow in the mysterious tension between God’s sovereignty and my free will I continually find myself at just the right place, at just the right time, to accomplish the purposes God has for me at this very moment.

And so, I begin another day in the journey. Press on, my friend.

Patience and Appointments

…for it will still come at the appointed time.
Daniel 11:35 (NIV)

I have never been great with patience. When I was a boy and the youngest of four siblings I watched my older siblings doing things I was not allowed to do, and it drove me crazy. I was always pushing to do things ahead of the set social, physical, cultural, legal or familial timelines. I wanted to skip ahead, cheat the system, and do all the things I was “too young” to do. This impatience was not without some positive effect, but it also brought its share of tragedy.

One of the keys to prophetic writing in God’s Message is understanding that there are appointed times for certain events. In some cases, the events prophesied by Daniel have already taken place and they become clear in retrospect. In other cases, prophecies point to events that have yet to be fulfilled and their exact timing remain a mystery. Even Jesus told His followers when speaking about the end times: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

As I’ve progressed in my life journey I’ve had to learn how to cultivate patience. Part of the lesson has been to both experience and embrace that certain events, even in my own earthly journey, have timing and purpose. If I try to pull a MacBeth and force events to fit my interpretation of what’s supposed to happen, then the ends are typically tragic. Thankfully not as bloody and dramatic as Shakespeare’s tale, but negative nonetheless.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that my job is to be faithful in the daily business of pressing on in my journey, loving well, and doing right. I have learned that I can trust God with what’s appointed to happen when the timing is right.

Have a great day wherever your journey is leading you, my friend.

 

Broken Relationships; Divine Purpose

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Philemon 1:15-16 (NIV)

If you’re not a regular reader, please know that I’ve been reading and blogging through the letters of Paul in the chronological order they were likely written. In my last post, Seasonal Companions, I wrote about the conflict and reconciliation between Paul and John Mark. But that isn’t the only story of reconciliation hiding in the back stories of the personal greetings found at the end of his letter to the followers of Jesus in Colossae. Paul writes:

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.

Onesimus was a runaway slave from Colossae who was owned by one of the believers there named Philemon, a friend of Paul. We don’t know all of the facts of the story. What we do know is that Onesimus seems to have stolen from Philemon and fled. In what I’d like to think was a divine appointment, Onesimus ends up running into Paul in Rome and he becomes a follower of Jesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Colossae to make things right with the master from whom he stole and fled. Onesimus is carrying with him Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which we just finished reading. Onesimus is also carrying a letter to Philemon, which is today’s chapter. (Paul’s letter to Philemon became the shortest book in the Bible, FYI.)

Paul’s letter to Philemon is brief, but warm-hearted in its appeal to Philemon to be reconciled with Onesimus. Paul asks Philemon to consider sending Onesimus back to help Paul while he is in prison. Paul urges Philemon to see how God used Onesimus’ offenses to bring about His divine purposes. Onesimus left Philemon a runaway thief, but Onesimus is returning as a brother in Christ trying to make things right.

In the quiet this morning the theme of my thoughts continues to swirl around lost and broken relationships. Paul’s letter to Philemon is a good reminder that sometimes a season of relationship ends because one or both parties need the separation in order to learn, experience, and grow so that a new season of deeper and more intimate relationship can come back around.

I find myself, once again, thinking on the words of the wise teacher of Ecclesiastes. There is a time and a season for everything. That includes a time for conflict, and a time for reconciliation. There is a time to make amends, and a time to forgive. Sometimes the time in between is just a moment. Other times it takes many years. Along the journey, I’ve come to embrace the reality of, and necessity for, both, along with the wisdom necessary to discern which is which.

Prisoner of Whom?

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles….
Ephesians 3:1 (NIV)

One’s perspective makes all the difference.

Having just journeyed through the season of Lent, I was reminded time and time again that Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, suffering and execution had been predicted. Jesus knew what was going to happen, and He made it clear to His followers. Despite this foreknowledge of what was to happen, Luke writes the Jesus “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (9:51)

Jesus wasn’t the victim. He was driving the events that happened. He was on a mission.

As I’ve been studying the events surrounding Paul in the Book of Acts, there is a very clear parallel to Jesus’ story. Paul was a citizen of Rome. It was a rare status that afforded him all sorts of privileges. When Paul was arrested and put on trial, he could have easily gotten off. Instead he appealed his case to Caesar assuring that he would be taken prisoner to Rome. As he waited for his trial before the leader of the Roman Empire, he wrote letters. Ephesians is one of them.

I couldn’t help but notice in today’s chapter that Paul doesn’t call  himself a “prisoner of Rome,” but rather a “prisoner of Christ Jesus.” Paul, like Jesus whom he followed, does not see himself as a victim of circumstances, but a servant of Christ. He’s not a victim. He’s on a mission. There is no moaning about his imprisonment. He tells the believers in Ephesus not to be discouraged by his sufferings. The entire chapter is focused on God’s eternal, cosmic, Spirit-ual, Level 4 power:

  • God’s grace given me through the working of his power” (vs. 7)
  • boundless riches of Christ” (vs. 8)
  • God, who created all things” (vs. 9)
  • the manifold wisdom of God” (vs. 10)
  • “[God] from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (vs. 15)
  • out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit” (vs. 16)
  • how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (vs. 18)
  • this love that surpasses knowledge” (vs. 19)
  • him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (vs. 20)

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about the perspective with which I approach my own circumstances. Am I walking this life journey as a person who happens to claim to be a follower of Jesus but then lives my life as if I’m a victim of random earthly circumstance? Or, am I on a mission, as well? Like Jesus, like Paul, is my faith-journey propelling me to a larger purpose and mission rooted in Level 4 power and purpose?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it….”

Wrestling with Subjection to Authority

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Romans 13:1 (NIV)

For the record, I don’t belong to any political party.

I was just reminded this morning of a passage in The Lord of the Rings when Pippin asks the Ent, Treebeard, whose side he was on. “Side?” Treebeard replies. “I’m on no one’s side, because no one is on my side.”

Along my life journey I have respected certain leaders from both of the major parties here in the States, and I have had personal disdain for leaders from both of the major parties. I’m thankful for living in a representative republic. There is always the possibility of change in every election cycle.

Paul is writing his letter to followers of Jesus in Rome during the time of the Roman Empire. One of the reasons the Romans were able to control such a large area of the western world for such a large period of time was the fact that Rome tended to bring and maintain a certain amount of law and order wherever they ruled. While there were always those unhappy with Roman occupation, there was a certain understanding among the common population that the system of Roman law and order was better than the chaos which was often the reality when a local tyrant or warlord reigned.

In today’s chapter Paul provides a fascinating perspective as he tells the followers of Jesus living in Rome itself to be subject to governing authorities, to pay their taxes, and to respect those in authority. This is the Roman Empire. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, whom Paul once worked for, have an entire terrorist network developing which is going to erupt into outright rebellion in about 20 years from the writing of Paul’s letter. Even one of the Twelve apostles came out of the anti-Roman Zealots. But Paul is direct, authoritative and unequivocal in stating that authority is a construct of God, so we must respectfully subject ourselves to government authority.

A couple of thoughts on this. Underneath Paul’s teaching on this matter is an understanding that on the eternal, cosmic, Level 4, Great Story perspective all things are moving toward the end of the Story, which is already written. If we want to get into the notion of God and eternity existing outside of the dimension of time then one might argue that it’s already happened. Maybe you need another cup of coffee before wrapping your brain around that.

There is also plenty of precedent from the Old Testament (Paul was a lawyer by training, remember) that God raises up and uses certain kings and rulers (Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, for example) who were not the most benevolent leaders. Even David respected and viewed Saul as God’s appointed authority and refused to depose and kill the mad king when he had every reason and opportunity to do so. In telling the Roman believers to subject themselves to their Roman authorities, Paul was channeling thinking and teaching that was quite ancient.

Then there is the most fascinating fact that Paul is a Roman citizen. This is no small detail. It’s a huge deal in his day and age. Roman citizenship was extremely hard to come by and afforded the person all sorts of perks in Roman society. Paul states elsewhere that he was born a Roman citizen, so he grew up enjoying the protection and status of that citizenship. Paul will soon use that status to appeal his upcoming conviction to Caesar himself. Paul will end up a prisoner in Rome itself.

What’s ironic is that Paul and the believers he’s writing to in Rome will be scapegoated by Caesar, blamed for the Great Fire of Rome to cover up Caesar’s own culpability, and they will be persecuted mercilessly. The Roman authorities to whom Paul is telling the believers to submit will throw them in prison, cover them in wax and light them on fire (while still alive) to illuminate Caesar’s garden, feed them to the lions in the Coliseum, and execute Paul by chopping of his head. By the way, beheading was another perk of Roman citizenship. If Paul had not been a citizen he’d have suffered a much more agonizing death by crucifixion, which was the gruesome fate awaiting Peter in Rome.

Would knowing the end awaiting him change Paul’s charge to subject themselves to Rome’s authority? I don’t think so. A few weeks ago I reminded our local gathering of Jesus followers that Jesus told Peter about the death by crucifixion that was awaiting him after His resurrection. Once again, the present, Level 1 daily circumstances were lived with an eternal, Level 4 perspective.

This is one of those mornings when, in the quiet, I have more questions than answers. What about…? What if…? Despite all the questions, I’m reminded that I’m not always going to like those in authority. I’m reminded that being respectful and lawful is part of being a “living sacrifice” (see yesterday’s post). I’m reminded that Jesus subjected himself to cruelty and a completely unjust execution after a series of kangaroo court trials before religious, secular, regional, and Roman authorities to whom He was always respectful. He knew that his Level 1 circumstances had Level 4 purpose. So did Peter. So did Paul.

That is whose footsteps I’m following.

The Unexpected Prophecy

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3 (NIV)

During the 2008 presidential election, both John McCain and Barack Obama were interviewed at a leadership conference. Both men, in turn, were asked a fascinating question. The candidates were asked to speak about their greatest failure. True to his masterful ability, I recall that Obama spoke for a few minutes in response. His answer articulately wove a beautiful tapestry of words in that graceful, assuring baritone voice. And, I have no recollection whatsoever of his answer.

Asked the same question, John McCain’s answer was immediate and simple: “The failure of my first marriage.”

I will never forget a conversation I had with a wise counselor as I was navigating the failure of my first marriage. My life was strewn in shattered pieces around me. It was the lowest point of my life, and I had been scheduled to speak with this spiritual sage. To be honest, I expected to hear more of the condemnation I felt like I was receiving on all sides. I expected a message of judgment. I expected a righteous tongue lashing and words of dire warning. What I didn’t expect was a prophecy.

Someday,” the counselor said, “you are going to be called upon to walk along side someone who is going through exactly what you are experiencing in this moment, to guide them, and comfort them, and see them through their pain.” That is all that I remember from my hour with him.

It was an Easter Sunday morning several years later that I was walking out of the annual celebration service and spied a man who I had desired to befriend for some time. Seizing the moment, I pulled the acquaintance aside from the crowd and expressed that I would enjoy getting together with him and get to know him better. I’ll never forget the puzzled way he looked at me for a long, uncomfortable moment. Then he leaned in and whispered in my ear a direct answer with the succinct clarity of John McCain: “Tom, my wife left me. Nobody knows it.”

I had the privilege of becoming a friend of that acquaintance, and walking alongside him as he traversed the same agonizing path of marital failure. I got to guide him, comfort him, and see him through that valley. I was privileged to witness, over time, God’s redemption in his story.

Along life’s journey I’ve experienced that suffering produces a common, repetitive question: “Why?”

Sometimes there  is no answer to that question, and I won’t pretend that there always is. Yet, I’ve also experienced in my own suffering that there is often purpose in my pain, just as I’ve read time-and-time again in my chapter-a-day journey. Consider these three similar messages from three different authors writing to three different audiences:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-3

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7

In the midst of my greatest failure, and in the deepest valley I have thus far traversed in my journey, I unexpectedly learned a valuable lesson through the words of a prophet. Sometimes my suffering, and the spiritual comfort I come to find, in Christ, amidst the agony, prepares me to someday comfort another who is making their way through the same dark valley.

Truth About Trouble

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.
Acts 17:10 (NIV)

Trouble in the water, trouble in the air
Go all the way to the other side of the world, you’ll find trouble there
Revolution even ain’t no solution for trouble

Trouble
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Nothin’ but trouble

-Bob Dylan, Trouble, 1989 (Shot of Love)

These are the lyrics from the song that flitted into my brain as I read today’s chapter. That’s the way my right-brain works. It connects events I’m experiencing or what I’m reading with an appropriate theme song from memory. I know. Weird.

The book of Acts is the story of how the Jesus movement explosively expanded in the decades following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Whenever a company, organization, or movement expands rapidly there are certain inflection points at which a major shift occurs in perception and reaction towards that expansion. We saw one a few chapters back when the Jesus Movement broke through the borders of its Jewish roots.

In today’s chapter, we’re following Paul, Silas, and Timothy on a journey through Greece. As always, the goal of their journey is to proclaim the Message of Jesus to those who’ve probably never heard it. They have a standard game-plan which is to start in the local Jewish synagogue where Paul uses his steel-trap knowledge of the Law and Prophets to explain to the Jews that the Messiah is not who they think He is. He’s not some human conqueror who would show up with an army to wipe out Rome and set up an earthly Kingdom. Rather, Paul argued, the prophets describe a suffering servant who would be sacrificed for humanity, then raised from the dead to declare victory over death, not Rome.

While Paul’s preaching had gotten him in trouble before, in today’s chapter we see that trouble begins following him. Locals aren’t content to simply drive Paul and his posse from the city, now his detractors are following him, and bringing trouble with them. Trouble in Thessalonica drives Paul to Berea, but Jews from Thessalonica arrive to stir up trouble for Paul in Berea, which drives Paul to Athens.

What strikes me in the circumstances is how trouble, rather than thwarting God’s plan, actually advances it. How long would Paul have stayed in the Thessalonica if everything had been peaceful? How long would it have taken him to move on to Berea? And, would Paul have even made the long journey Athens had it not been for trouble?

Along this Life journey I’ve encountered periods of trouble when daily existence is accompanied by emotional stress, sleeplessness, anxiety, unwarranted fear, and the like. It’s easy for me to obsess about the troubles I’m experiencing. It’s also easy for me to feel that only doom and gloom will be the outcome. Today’s chapter is a good reminder for me to stop obsessing about the trouble, and start looking for where God might be using the trouble to propel and advance His purposes for me.

The very next track after Trouble on Bob Dylan’s Shot of Love LP is Every Grain of Sand which contains this lyric:

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

Sometimes trouble propels me toward the place the Master’s hand is guiding me if I’m willing to open my eyes to see it.

Have a great day, my friend.