Tag Archives: Rebellion

Nowhere to Hide

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.
Jeremiah 36:32 (NIV)

Along my life journey I have taken a few willful detours. I chose to leave the path of following Jesus and, instead, struck out on my own way. It was during these detours that I learned the lesson of the prophet Jonah: You can’t actually escape from God because no matter where you run He’s already there. It’s like the lyrics to David’s psalm:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In today’s chapter, Jehoiakim the King of Judah is spiritually on the run. Jehoiakim wanted nothing to do with God. He barred the prophet Jeremiah from the temple. He put layers of bureaucracy between himself and the prophet so that he wouldn’t have to listen to Jeremiah’s incessant messages telling the King to turn from his rebellious ways.

And so, Jeremiah dictates God’s message to his servant and scribe, Baruch. He then sends Baruch to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops at the temple. God’s favor appears to be on Baruch as he recites the words of the scroll and his message gets passed up the chain of command until he finally has an audience with the king.

King Jehoiakim’s hard heart, however, was unmoved. As the envoy reads the scroll, King Jehoiakim has each column cut from the scroll and thrown into the fireplace of his chamber. He then tries to have Jeremiah’s servant arrested. So Jeremiah repeats the message to Baruch so that a copy would survive, and he adds a prophetic prediction of the negative consequences Jehoiakim and his royal line will experience because of his willful choice to shun God.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about King Jehoiakim. He also was experiencing the lesson of Jonah, the same reality I experienced on my rebellious detours on my life journey. You can’t really successfully run from God. No matter where you run, God’s already there. I can harden my heart. I can refuse to listen and willfully ignore the truth, but then I’m just like the child who puts a cardboard box over their head and thinks no one can see him.

 

The Natural Order of Things

“…but I will remember in their favor the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, to be their God: I am the Lord.”
Leviticus 26:45 (NRSV)

When our girls were young I could have said of them that when they were a bit older they would bristle against their father’s authority and would test what I had always said about right and wrong. Our relationship would be strained and stretched thin. They would, in one way or another, choose to do that which was unpleasing to me. They might even rebel against me and say things against me that were untrue. They would likely spurn my advice and choose their own path and experience the consequences of their actions. But, my love for them would not change nor would it change my caring for them in need or my desire to have harmonious relationship with them. In time, their hearts would turn back toward me and we would have a good relationship once again.

As I write that previous paragraph I am recalling specific moments with both of my daughters over the past 15 years. How could I have predicted all of this when they were young? Because it is the natural order of things. Children grow to be their own persons. They bristle against authority and roll their eyes at parents. They test that which they’ve been authoritatively told. They stake their independence and choose their own way. Once they strike out on their own path, their perspective changes. The father who seemed so stupid a few years earlier suddenly seems to have worthwhile wisdom.

God is winding down His ancient law given to Moses. In today’s chapter God delivers an amazingly prescient foreshadowing of what’s to come in His relationship with His children:

  • “If you will not obey me…” (they wouldn’t)
  • “If you continue to be hostile to me…” (they would)
  • “But if, despite [correction] you continue to be hostile…” (they would)
  • “I will scatter you among the nations…” (He did)
  • “Those who survive I will send faintness into the heart of the land of your enemies…” (Like Daniel, Esther, Ezekiel, and etc.)
  • “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors…” (they did)
  • “Then I will remember my covenant…” (He did)

As I read this foreshadowing this morning I am reminded that God is parenting His fledgling children. I could have predicted when our girls were small what was likely to happen, and I’m nowhere near as omniscient as God. Yet there’s an order to God’s creation. There is a natural way of things and God knew how they were going to go. He wove it into telling of the Great Story.

This morning I’m thinking about the natural order of things. This morning our daughter will arrive at the lake after making a 14 hour road trip to join us for a few days. We can’t wait to see her and to be with her. There was a day, not so long ago, when I’m not sure she would have considered a 14 hour road trip just to spend a day or two with dad and Wendy worth her time. But today it is, and we’re overjoyed. It’s the natural order of things. I can fight against it, or I can learn to be at peace with it. I think I will continue to fight my natural inclination toward the former and continue to seek to embrace the latter.

Choosing In

An engraving on an eye stone of onyx with an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II. Anton Nyström, 1901. Source: Wikipedia
An engraving on an eye stone of onyx with an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II. Anton Nyström, 1901. Source: Wikipedia

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.
Daniel 1:3-4 (NIV)

At the beginning of every script, the playwright “sets the scene.” Perhaps it’s my years of working on stage, but whenever I launch into reading a book I’m always wanting to “set the scene” before I begin. For the story of Daniel and his three friends, I think it’s critical to understand the context.

The Babylonian (modern day Iraq) army swept into Palestine and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. It was an ugly time. People were starving. The prophet Jeremiah describes people reduced to cannibalizing their own children to survive. Jerusalem eventually fell and the Babylonians ransacked the city. They burned the city, tore down its protective walls, and destroyed the beautiful temple of Solomon that had been one of the wonders of the ancient world. Daniel and his friends would have been witness to a horrific holocaust at the hands of these enemies. And now, they are enslaved to their enemy and expected to serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians.

I think it’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like for these four young men. It’s very likely that their own families had died during the siege or had been slaughtered by the Babylonians. Their homes and families were decimated. The level of despair laced with rage that they felt had to have been off the charts. I’m reminded of the song lyrics of these Babylonian exiles in Psalm 137:

     By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
         when we remembered Zion.
     There on the poplars
         we hung our harps,
     for there our captors asked us for songs,
         our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
         they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

In today’s chapter we find Daniel and his friends choosing a path of righteous rebellion. Their choice was to serve God and be faith-full in the midst of their terrible predicament.

We all go through periods of tragedy in our lives, even if the pale in comparison to what Daniel and the boys experienced. Nevertheless, I find that when people experience intense suffering and injustice they spiritually tend to go one of two ways. They become angry with God for their circumstances, flip Him off and walk away, or they choose in to believing that God has some ultimate purpose for them in the inexplicable pain.

Today, I’m appreciative of the mettle it took for these young men to choose in and to cling to their faith in God despite all they had seen and experienced. We will see that there was, indeed, eternal purposes in their dire circumstances. They will see and experience things they could have never imagined. I’m reminded this morning of the adventure of choosing in.

(Un)Like Father, (Un)Like Son

Chip off the ol' block.
Chip off the ol’ block.

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”  2 Samuel 18:33 (NIV)

A few years ago I ran into some old friends of the family whom I had not seen since I was a teenager. When the gentleman looked at me he exclaimed, “My goodness, there’s no mistaking who you are. You look just like your old man!” As I get older, the more comments I get about looking like my father.

“Chip off the ol’ block,” they say of children who become like their parents. My brother and I have even joked about it. “I may have the Vander Well nose,” he said to me this past year, “but at least I didn’t get the receding hairline and the bad hearing.” I think he feels he got the better end of the deal.

It is interesting the ways we are similar and dissimilar from our parents. This morning I found it interesting to think about, not at the similarities, but at the contrast between David and his rebellious, prodigal son Absalom:

  • As a young man David was the anointed king, but refused to take the life of Saul or take the throne by force. He waited and suffered for years to let God’s plan unfold. Absalom schemed and plotted to take the throne and kingdom away from his father in a coup d’etat.
  • David was a warrior with blood on his hands, but he also stayed opportunities to kill his enemies, and he even ordered his generals to afford Absalom the respect and gentleness his son, a prince. Absalom, on the other hand, was more indiscriminate. He killed his own brother out of revenge and arguably would not have afforded his old man the same courtesy his father sought to afford him.
  • David made his share of mistakes, but he also acknowledged his failures when confronted with them. While not perfect, David’s self-awareness led to humility and he was constantly aware that even the king was subject to a higher authority. Throughout the story, Absalom’s actions appear to have been motivated out of anger, pride, and hatred. His actions were a pursuit of vengeance and ultimately, the pursuit of personal gain.

I was struck this morning as I pictured David mourning for the son who had caused him and his kingdom so much injury. I imagined what Absalom would have done had he been successful at stealing the throne and confronting his father. I can’t picture Absalom being as gracious and forgiving.

As a parent I am fully aware of the ways our daughters have inherited my DNA, and how they’ve been affected by my words and actions both positively and negatively. I believe David was aware of this, as well. David understood that the seed of Absalom’s rebellion took root in the wake of David’s own moral and relational failures. It did not absolve Absalom of his poor choices, but it afforded David the ability, much like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, to be gracious in his attitude toward his son.

This morning I am thinking about motivations, character, family, and choices. We don’t get to choose our family. We must all play the hand that we’re dealt. As I’ve progressed in my own life journey I’ve discovered that there is a fine line between acknowledging and understanding the ways our parents and family system affected us and using that knowledge as an excuse for our own poor choices. I think David and Absalom, father and son, lived on opposite sides of that line.

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“If You Can’t Do the Time…”

david absalomAbsalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. 2 Samuel 15:6 (NIV)

Being forgiven does not erase the fact that we must face the natural consequences of our actions. After being confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent conspiracy to commit murder, David showed great remorse and sought God’s forgiveness but the events sewed seeds of scandal, anger and resentment both inside David’s family and in the public. Nathan’s prophetic word that the sword would never depart David’s house is fulfilled as the consequences of David’s blind spots now bear bitter fruit.

David’s children knew their father’s weaknesses both as a father and as a king. In today’s chapter, Absalom masterfully exploits his father’s scandal and weak leadership in a brilliantly planned and executed coup d’etat. David was forced to make hasty preparation to escape the city with his closest followers and arrange for spies to gather inside information regarding his the rebels’ plot. David’s very own son had stolen his kingdom and was reaching out to steal his crown.

Today I am reminded of many mistakes I’ve made along the journey and their residual effect on relationships, circumstances, and perceptions. Jesus advised people to “count the cost” before agreeing to follow Him. The same advice might also be given when tempted. There is a cost to wrong-doing and we are all wise to give consideration to the tragic consequences that might arise in the wake of our poor choices. As the saying goes, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

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Chapter-a-Day Hosea 14

Photo taken by me as an example of a stay at h...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord says,
“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
    my love will know no bounds,
    for my anger will be gone forever.
Hosea 14:4 (NLT)

It has been said that a child’s view of God often comes directly from their relationship (or lack of relationship) with their father. How a child sees God is often the same as they see their dad. I get why kids make the comparison, and as a dad I’ve often felt the weight of that responsibility.

Perhaps that’s why when I read the prophets I sometimes feel a pang of understanding with God’s point-of-view as He relates and responds to His children. While not universally true, I think it is generally true that fathers tend to be the hand of justice in a family while mothers provide a balance of compassion. Dads often make the unpopular and difficult decisions, risking the temper tantrums and cold shoulders, trusting that the child will eventually realize that it was ultimately for their benefit.

Dad’s also tend to be the executioner of punishment. Among my numerous friends with small children, I still hear the phrase “wait ’til your father gets home” used in high frequency. As the judge, jury and executioner of family justice, I find it easier to relate when the prophets warn, cajole and speak of God’s anger at His children’s foolishness and outright rebellion. But I also realize that this is not the whole story.

Underneath this father’s iron fist of justice beats a soft heart of love and compassion. Our daughters may have felt my stubborn wrath, but my wife will tell you at just how deeply I agonize over the girls when I have ever had to make difficult decisions that resulted in the girls disappointment, frustration, or anger. I get it when God continues to remind His children through the prophets that at the source of the fire hose of justice you’ll find the still waters of love and compassion. As the saying goes, “still waters run deep.”

Today, I’m thankful for being a dad and the spiritual lessons it affords. I continue to pray that, despite may many failings, I will always be for my children (and someday their children and their children’s children) a worth example of our Heavenly Father.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 24

The Andaman Cellular Jail was the shadiest pri...
The Andaman Cellular Jail was the shadiest prison of the British rule in india. Now it is Indian National Memorial and tourist attraction at Port Blair. There is a single door with close up. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him. After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prisonActs 24:26-27 (NLT)

Going through divorce was a particularly agonizing stretch of my journey. I have found that while there are commonalities to the human experience, a relationship is like a fingerprint. While it looks similar to all other fingerprints, it is unique in detail between the two people who have created one relationship and then experienced its deterioration. It is not a pleasant experience when a marriage breaks apart.

Whenever the path leads through difficult times, it’s easy to ask “Why me?” Despite the fact that our circumstances are largely the result of our own choices and actions, we sometimes shake our fist at God and scream “Why me?” We might recede into depressed places and moan “Why me?” We could even choose an even more dangerous path to distract us from having to finish this particular stretch of the journey and avoid asking the question altogether (until we find ourselves in an even worse spot).

In the midst of the maelstrom of stress and emotions of divorce, I found myself talking to my Pastor. It was actually the first time we’d had a conversation. As I shared with him my experience, I wondered how he was going to respond to my story. Would he label, judge and condemn me the way so many others had? After I finished my rambling tale of woe, he looked at me and quietly said, “Someday, Tom, I believe you are going to be called upon to walk beside someone who is going through a divorce just like you are. Because of all that you are going through right now, you will be the right person to help someone else who needs understanding and wisdom in the midst of what they are going through. God is ultimately going to use all of this for His purposes.

I thought of that conversation, and the opportunities I’ve had, even in recent weeks, to walk with those who are traversing a similar stretch of their own relational journeys. I think about Paul languishing in prison because of ridiculous, trumped up charges and the Governor’s political machinations to keep the Jewish leaders happy. Paul could have screamed, “Why me?” and chafed at his difficult circumstances. Instead, he recognized the opportunities his chains afforded him to share the love of God with the Governor, his wife, and the “captive audience” all around him. He recognized that God was ultimately using Paul’s difficult circumstances for His eternal purposes.

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