Tag Archives: Seasons

The End of the Line

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.
2 Kings 17:6 (NIV)

In this life, some things end. That’s the simple truth of the matter. Along this life journey I’ve come to the realization that we human beings like to feel a sense of the eternal amidst the temporal. We like things to remain fairly stable. We are lulled into a state of accepting that what has been always will be…

  • I will always live here…
  • I will always have this job…
  • We will always be together…
  • We will always be friends…
  • My parents will always stay together…
  • My children will outlive me…

And then suddenly, things end. Relationships end, jobs go away, homes are destroyed, people move away, churches split, companies are acquired, and so on, and so on, and so on.

World rocked. Equilibrium off. Heart breaking. Mind spinning.

Life changing.

In today’s chapter, we get to the end of the line for the northern Kingdom of Israel. For 190 years they had existed through a roller coaster succession of monarchs. Hoshea would be the final king. The Assyrian empire lays siege to Israel’s capital city, Samaria. It is destroyed, plundered, and the Israelites taken back to Assyria as slaves. Using the ancient playbook of conquest, the Assyrians move a melting pot of other immigrants peoples into the neighborhood to ensure that the Israelites left behind don’t unite in rebellion against the Empire. It is the end of the Kingdom of Israel.

As I read and mull over this morning’s chapter, I’m reminded of our chapter-a-day journeys through the prophets who warned that this was coming. For those who had ears to hear, the warning signs were there. Amidst the chaos, grief and questions that arise when things end, we can often look back with 20-20 hindsight and see that the signs were all there. In our desire for the eternal amidst the temporal we simply choose to ignore them.

I’m also mulling over the lessons that I’ve learned both in my journey through God’s Message and my journey through life. Things must end for us to experience new beginnings. In order for there to be resurrection, something must die. God even wove this truth into His artistic expression of creation. The seasons teach us that the new life and recurring promises of spring don’t happen with out the long death of winter. In summer Iowa has such lush green landscape with deep blue skies that it almost creates a new color all its own. But eventually we reach the end of the line. Lush green corn turns to ugly brown stalks, and the blue skies give way to the dull gray snow clouds of winter. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Old things pass away, then new things come.

For the people of Israel, this chapter of life is ended. But the story isn’t over. The prophets predicted this, as well. A new chapter has begun. Perhaps unexpected. Perhaps unwanted. Perhaps scary and unnerving. Yet that’s why we love great stories. They take us to unexpected places and new experiences we hadn’t dreamed or imagined. But we don’t get there without journeying through the end of the previous chapter(s).

Resuscitating a Worn Out Phrase

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
John 3:5 (NRSV)

I find it fascinating how some words or phrases take on unintended meanings. As I follow the media coverage of the presidential elections, I will on occasion hear those in the media labeling people, or groups of people, as “Born Again” Christians. The phrase became popular back in the 1970s when Chuck Colson, a convicted Watergate conspirator, wrote a book entitled Born Again to tell the story of his own spiritual rebirth. Now when the label is used by members of the media, I get the feeling that the intended image is that of a narrow-minded, widely ignorant, politically conservative, socially repressed minion blindly leading some televangelist. While there are definitely people who fit that description, I find it sad that they seem to have become synonymous with the term “born again” because it empties the phrase of its intensely powerful meaning.

The phrase “born again” did not originate with Chuck Colson or evangelical Christians. It comes directly from Jesus, and it’s found in today’s chapter. Jesus was having a conversation with a religious man name Nicodemus and he simply makes the statement that if you want to enter God’s kingdom you must experience a rebirth.

The idea of rebirth is not new and it wasn’t new when Jesus said it to Nicodemus. It’s a theme woven into the tapestry of time and creation, and even Jesus seemed a bit frustrated that Nic was perplexed by something so spiritually elementary. Every year lifeless seeds buried in the ground bear life from the ground in the spring, grow to maturity in the heat of the summer, bear fruit during autumn’s harvest, then die and decompose in the harshness of winter. Spring is an annual, seasonal rebirth. Each week we start on Monday and work towards Friday night when we can take a break, end the week and start a new one. Every night we go to bed in darkness, enter the oblivion of sleep then with the break of light and the dawn we start a new day.

“Wait ’til next year.”
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“This is only for a season.”
“I just have to get through this week.”

God layers the Great Story with this theme of rebirth. The final chapters speak of a new heaven and new earth, and God says, “Behold, I make all things new” (btw, the reference to that verse was embedded in the the crux of my first tat). So, it should not be a surprise that Jesus tells Nicodemus that one of the basic realities and necessities of God’s Kingdom is a rebirth of Spirit, a new start, a new season, a spiritual new beginning. It has nothing to do with political affiliation, demographics, denomination, or attending church. What Jesus was saying was simple and organic: those facing a dead end need a new start, anyone whose spirit is languishing in darkness needs a new day to dawn, those whose hearts are frozen need the thaw of Spring, everyone who is dead in their sin and shame need to experience the power of a spiritual resurrection.

Today, I’m feeling the desire to breath new life into the worn out phrase “born again.”

The Natural Ebb and Flow of Conversation

source: bitzcelt via Flickr
source: bitzcelt via Flickr

They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening…. 1 Chronicles 23:30 (NIV)

I am continually learning. The further I progress in my journey the more I find that there are certain religious trappings and traditions that have no meaning for me, and so I let them go. I also find layers of meaningful discovery that add color and texture to my relationship with God and my spiritual sojourn.

One of the discoveries that has emerged for me in recent years is actually quite ancient. In fact, I have come to believe that it was woven into the very fabric of life by God in creation. I have discovered the connection between the natural cycles of creation and my ongoing conversations with God.  Just as there is an ebb and flow to the conversation between Wendy and me at different parts of the day, so there is an ebb and flow to my conversations with God. Prayer is not a compartmentalized moment, but a flowing conversation that continues throughout time. I saw an allusion to it in the above verse as it talked about the responsibilities of the Levites in the ancient temple.

In the morning my conversation with God is in gratitude for a new day, never promised, yet full of possibilities. As I wander through my day, the conversation flows into gratitude for daily provision, into contemplation of decisions that need to be made, of the need for strength, patience, endurance, and/or courage in the tasks. As people flow in and out of my day through phone calls, e-mails, and visits, my internal conversation with God flows into requests made on the behalf of others I encounter and my own responsibilities in those relationships. In the evening the continuing conversation of spirit ebbs towards reflection, processing the events of the day, of letting go of things I cannot change, and of gratitude for blessings that I encountered along the way.

That is just one day. I have come to realize that there are similar cycles of conversation and relationship which ebb and flow on a more macro level of seasons of the year, years in the life span, and life span in eternity. Conversely, there are also layers of the conversation on a micro level which ebb and flow with each inhale and exhale of breath.

Today I am thankful for the ways that my relationship with my Creator and Redeemer grows richer and deeper the further I proceed in life’s journey.

Steering Out of Unhealthy Ruts in Life’s Road

The Road to Home
Familiar ruts (Photo credit: Universal Pops)

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.
Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

There is an ebb and flow to life. Things cycle. Relationships repeat familiar refrains. We often wander thoughtlessly from day to day, then wake from a daydream to realize that we are in the same place we’ve been before. If you’ve noticed, our life journeys follow patterns of our own unconscious making. Like tires that slip easily into the well worn ruts of a dirt road, we slip into well worn patterns of thought and behavior.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself in an emotional valley. I recognize this place. I’ve been here many times before. I’ve come to know that the depth of winter is a difficult seasonal stretch of the journey for me. Short, gray days give way to long, dark nights. The holiday hoopla is over and with it comes a certain physical, emotional and relational hangover. My subconscious links familiar sensory stimuli to painful memories of seasons past. With my guard down, anticipation for the year ahead is lined with an uncertainty that easily lends itself to anxiety and fear. Ugh. Back in the rut.

I ran into the above verse this morning and I heard in it the whisper of the Spirit calling gently to my soul. Return to the rest God has for me in healthy paths and patterns. I have learned from experience that the first step in progressing out of unprofitable emotional or behavioral ruts is to recognize that I’m in it. Once aware of the situation, it takes a conscious resolve to steer out of the rut, which may require an initial jolt of personal effort and energy:

  • Replace: Combat negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
  • Replenish: Do one tangible thing each day to show care for myself.
  • Refresh: Do something loving and unexpected for someone else.
  • Relate: Make time with friends and family who will encourage and fill my life and love tank.
  • Return: to familiar, healthy patterns and paths that have led to good places in the past.
  • Remind: myself daily. Without conscious attention, I easily slip back into mindless, unhealthy ruts.
  • Repeat: There are cycles and patterns to life. Healthy, positive ruts will not made by doing things once, but many times over and over and over again.

 

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An Iowa Psalm

Iowa annual fainfall, in inches, created in ES...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 65

You take care of the earth and water it,
    making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
    it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
    for you have ordered it so.
Psalm 65:9 (NLT)

For the record, I’ve never been a farmer. Though I’ve lived all but four years of my life in the state of Iowa I’ve got the most rudimentary understanding of how farms operate. I was raised in the city and have rarely stepped foot on a farm. Nevertheless, I’ve come to understand that being from Iowa gives you an appreciation for the land and the symbiotic relationship we have with it. You can’t escape it. The land and the people woven together. There’s cadence to life here that begins with planting, leads to harvest, followed by subsequent thanksgiving and celebration of the holidays before it ends in deep winter and the hope of next year and doing it all over again.

I tend to think that this relationship and dependence on the land and the weather is what gives us a rather humble and simple faith. Those whose livelihoods are rooted in agriculture realize our dependence on so much that it completely out of our control. You live life constantly making adjustments to what the earth and sky throw at you and have faith that it’s all going to work out in the end. When harvest does come and the crop comes in, there’s a realization that a large part of your success had absolutely nothing to do with you.

The chapter this morning tapped in to all of those thoughts and emotions. This is an Iowa psalm; A farmer’s psalm. David’s lyrics are full of that humble understanding that God’s creation is immense. No matter how much we strive to tame it, it only takes one massive storm, flood, or drought to remind us how dependent we really are.

Today, capping off a holiday weekend of Thanksgiving, I’m saying Psalm 65 as an extra prayer of gratitude.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 4

source: Google Earth

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32 (NLT)

In front of our house is a majestic oak tree. Its branches spread out over both our house and the house next door, and when you approach our house from down the street you can see the tree towering over our neighborhood. I’ve often wondered how long the tree has stood there. I sometimes imagine that it first emerged from the ground when Dutch settlers founded our town over a hundred and fifty years ago.

Each year, our tree drops acorns. Our tree drops a lot of acorns. In the late summer they begin dropping from the tree like little bombs shelling our roof around the clock. A fortunate family of squirrels incessantly patters across the roof right above my home office, gathering the acorns for winter storage. I suspect that our mighty oak tree alone feeds a whole pack of squirrels for the entire winter.

Some days I walk into the house, crunching acorn shells beneath my feet, and I think about those tiny little seeds. Our sprawling oak tree started out just like one of those small seeds I trample underfoot. Through harsh winter blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, violent spring thunderstorms, and blistering midwest doughts our tree has continued to slowly grow. Each year it experiences a cycle of death and rebirth. With each season the tree  puts roots deeper down into the Iowa soil to draw nourishment for its perpetual reach toward heaven.

I want to be like that old oak tree. Weathering all that life throws at me, I want to keep digging deeper so that I can continue reaching higher. As I grow, I want to spread myself out to shade and protect those around me. I want to provide for the little ones who scurry around, almost forgotten, at my feet. I want to offer a continuous supply of life giving oxygen for others to breathe. I hope that some day, when my trunk lays rotting on the ground, an entire forest will stand around me as a silent, living, and perpetuating memorial to this life that I have lived.

Speaking of Changes in Life

Speaking of life changes. There is, perhaps, no bigger change in life than the ones you make during adolesence. I recently found my Jr. High and High School I.D.s in an old album. Check out the change over six years. I also want to be sure to point m’boy Clayton to my Junior year in high school when I was growing a righteous mullet. The only problem was that my hair was so curly when it grew out that I couldn’t get it to hang straight down the way it was supposed to. True story: When my mullet was at its longest I went to the bank one day. I opened the door for an elderly gentleman who was shuffling slowly into the bank at the same time. “Why thank you young lady,” he said to me. I got my hair cut that afternoon and never looked back. C’est la vie.

My School I.D.s from 7th through 12th Grade