Tag Archives: Time

Encouragement Needed

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’
Zechariah 8:9a (NIV)

In just a month or so, Wendy and I will be celebrating three years that we’ve lived in the house we built here in Pella. This morning I was thinking back to those months between August 2014, when we broke ground, and the end of February when we moved in. It seemed like an eternity. I was not prepared for all of the decisions that had to be made and the endless fussing and fretting over the most seemingly insignificant decisions.

The process did seem long and endless at the time, but the truth of the matter is that the building of a complex, multi-level, multi-room structure in six months would be nothing short of miraculous to those Zechariah was addressing when he wrote today’s chapter sometime around 500 BC. The “remnant” of exiles who returned to rebuild Jerusalem with its crumbled walls and broken down Temple were looking at not months, but long years – even decades of painstaking, back-breaking toil.

The rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple began in 536 BC but was abandoned two years later. It was picked up again fourteen years later and went on for another five years before it was eventually rededicated. The rebuilding of Jerusalem would continue for another 70 years.

Today’s chapter reads like a message of encouragement to the people facing the arduous task of continuing the work while in the depths of frustration at the rebuilding process. Through Zechariah, God encourages the people to imagine how great it will be when the work is completed and families of all generations are filling the city streets from children playing freeze-tag to old people leaning on their canes and reminiscing about the “old days.”

The truth is that whether we’re ancient Hebrews facing years of toil to rebuild our capitol city or a modern day couple standing in Lowe’s wondering if the project will ever be completed, we all sometime need encouragement to keep pressing on. The Apostle Paul consistently told the followers of Jesus, to whom he wrote the letters making up most of the New Testament, that he was writing to encourage them. He told them to encourage one another and reminded them  that their love, prayers and gifts were a tremendous encouragement to him. Paul was carrying out the task of building the church, not a building made of wood and stone, but a much messier task of building a living, breathing organization of diverse, flesh-and-blood people into a cohesive whole.

This morning I’m reminded that we all need encouragement on this life journey. It’s an important ingredient to any project, relationship, or process. Even God knew that the people of Jerusalem needed a shot in the arm, and today’s chapter is a record of the encouragement He sent through His prophet, Zechariah.

From time-to-time we all need others to encourage us and we, in turn, need to be on the lookout for those who could use a dose themselves. Encouragement is simple gift to give: a kind word, a postcard that takes you five minutes to write, a thank you note, a prayer, or a hug and sincere “Hang in there.”

Need a little encouragement today? Consider your reading of this post a divine appointment. Hang in there, my friend. Press on. Keep going. I know it may suck right now but I believe that your faith and grit are leading to good things ahead.

Returning Home

While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it.
Zechariah 2:3-4 (NIV)

Just over twelve years ago hurricane Katrina ravaged the southern part of the United States and decimated the city of New Orleans. I remember the timing because Wendy and I had reservations to honeymoon in New Orleans and had to scuttle our plans. Residents made homeless by the storm were scattered to communities around the United States willing to take them in.

One of the “Katrina” families lived in an apartment complex across the street from us. We live in a great little community of incredibly generous people, but I remember wondering how long the refugees would stay. Midwest winters are a tough challenge for those who aren’t used to them.

The theme of exiles returning home is a particularly timely one here in the States. Our own country is grappling with what to do about programs that offered “temporary” resident status to people displaced by tragic circumstances in their own country but who have no desire to return to their home country.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

The prophet Zechariah began to record his visions during a very specific time in history. The city of Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble under the hand of the Babylonians. People like Daniel and Ezekiel and thousands of others had been taken captive to live in Babylon. Others had been scattered to live as refugees among neighboring nations.

About 50 years later Nehemiah led a group to people back to the rubble of Jerusalem to rebuild the wall and rebuild the Temple. It was difficult work fraught with obstacles and threats on all sides. Zechariah began his writing nearly 20 years into the restoration and renovation process. The question plaguing the campaign was, “Will anyone come back to Jerusalem?” The people had been living in Babylon and other countries for over a generation. They’d put down roots, started occupations, grew families and their home land had become a distant, painful memory. Would anyone actually come back?

In today’s chapter, Zechariah has a vision of two angels, one of whom assures Zac that there will one day be so many people and animals in Jerusalem that the city walls couldn’t contain them all.

Fast forward again to current headlines. Jerusalem is a boiling hot spot of people from different nationalities, religions, political bents, and cultures. It is the center of world debate and political conflict. The city walls that remain from the Middle Ages frame a small central section of the expansive city. I couldn’t help to remember this morning my own experiences of walking around the city. The featured photo of this post is one I took from the King David hotel looking at the walls of the old city at sunrise.

This morning I’m once again meditating on the theme of “returning.” The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for wandering, and there is a time for returning. It is a common human experience to be scattered, to wander, and even to run away. It is just as common an experience in this life journey to realize that, at some point, we need to return home.

The Slippery Sweet-Spot Between Acting and Waiting

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
Numbers 9:8 (NIV)

There are many forks in life’s road. There’s no avoiding it. It just is what it is.

Where do I go to school?
Should I marry him/her?
Do I speak out or hold my tongue?
Should I take this job that’s been offered to me or hold out for the job I really want? 
Should we rent or should we buy?
Do I invest in new or get by with used?
Should we stay or should we go?

As we traverse the Book of Numbers there is a pattern or repetition that many readers don’t catch. The phrase “The Lord said to Moses” is used repeatedly. In fact, it’s used over 50 times. In today’s chapter, some of the people bring Moses a question about how to handle an exceptional circumstance regarding the Passover celebration. Moses simply says he’ll check with God and God provides a seemingly quick answer.

We then go on to read in today’s chapter that the decision of going or staying was miraculously provided for the ancient Hebrews. According to the story there was a cloud that hovered over their traveling tent temple which gave them indication whether God wanted them to move or stay put. When the cloud remained over the tent they stayed put. If the cloud lifted they broke camp and moved.

Wow, I’d love it if God’s guidance and direction were that easy for me to see. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that this may have been the only easy thing in the experience of the Hebrews. I’m quite sure I’d struggle living the life of an ancient nomad wandering in the desert with a couple million cousins.

I have discovered along life’s road that there is a slippery sweet-spot of tension between discernment and decision. We live in an age when time is measured in nanoseconds and we are used to getting things “on demand.” I perceive that the virtues of patience, peace and prayer are increasingly found in short supply in our culture. At the same time, I have known many followers of Jesus who take so long to “prayerfully consider” decisions that they make no progress in their respective  journeys.

This morning I find myself once again seeking to both find and hold the tension between acting and waiting. I don’t want to be so quick to make decisions that I forget to pray for guidance and to give wise consideration to options and potential consequences. At the same time, I don’t want to become paralyzed waiting for some divine sign when there is a clear need to act judiciously and with expedience.

Trusting the “Purposes of the Almighty”

When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family.
2 Kings 11:1 (NIV)

The ancient stories of blood, corruption and political intrigue continue in today’s chapter. As we pick up the stories of royal succession, the nation of Israel had now been divided in two for almost a hundred years. The northern kingdom, called the Kingdom of Israel, had been led by a succession of kings who killed and conspired to both gain and hold the position. The southern kingdom, known as the Kingdom of Judah, continued to follow the royal line of David. Judah trusted Nathan’s prophetic promise that the throne of David would be established forever and, through David, the Messiah would come.

Jerusalem was the capital of Judah and Solomon’s Temple continued to be the center of worship for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, worship of the local fertility god, Baal, had become popular in Judah just as it had been in the northern kingdom of Israel. Just like Queen Jezebel in their northern counterpart, Judah’s Queen Mother Athaliah was a Baal worshipper.

When Jehu seized power in the north, he killed both Joram, King of Israel, and Ahaziah, King of Judah. Athaliah saw opportunity to make a power grab of her own. She, like Jehu, also followed the bloody playbook of ancient takeover and commenced killing all of her son’s children (her own grandchildren) in order to establish her control and make sure the nation could not put one of her grandchildren on the throne.

There was also a religious element to Athaliah’s massacre. Destroying the “whole royal family” would essentially end David’s line. Doing so would render Nathan’s prophecy moot, and it would end the possibility of the prophesied messiah to come. This would cripple the worship of Yaweh and make way for the ascendency of Baal.

Athaliah’s plot is foiled when her infant grandson, Joash, is secreted away from her and hidden in the temple. David’s line survives to eventually give birth to another infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways our present reality hinges on past events. Wendy and I have been watching the television series The Man in the High Castle which is predicated on the notion of what life might have been like if the Allies had lost World War II. Historians studying the American Civil War tell us just how close Abraham Lincoln came to losing the election of 1864, which most likely would have led to a peace settlement between the Union and the Confederacy. How different our lives might have been had that happened. Lincoln’s faith was not well-defined, but he came to believe that the purposes of the Almighty were perfect and had to prevail.

So it is that I wonder about our own present realities. There is much turmoil in the world and much angst and anxiety. Here in my little Iowa town I have little power to do much about the course of history. I can only influence the lives around me and leave such legacy as I am able. Nevertheless, as a follower of Jesus I believe that there is a plan for this Great Story. Jesus made it clear that He came to fulfill the plan that had been laid in the law and prophets, and He said there was a plan for how the Great Story would end, as well. Like Uncle Abe, I’m trusting that the purposes of the Almighty must prevail.

Featured photo courtesy gageskidmore via Flickr

“You Seem Incredibly Zen”

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4 (NIV)

In the late evening of November 2nd, when the Cleveland Indians had inexplicably rallied with two outs in the bottom of the 8th to tie game seven of the World Series, there was a high degree of angst in the family room here at Vander Well Manor. It seemed like it was all going to fall apart like it had done so many times before. Then came the rain delay that has already gained legendary status. Wendy and I had a chance to catch our collective breath along with the rest of the nation.

You seem incredibly zen about this,” Wendy said to me, observing the lack of emotional angst in my affect. I have written ad nauseam about our devotion to the Chicago Cubs over the years, so no need to expound on how momentous of a moment this was, nor how nervous I should have been.

The truth is, I was feeling an inexplicable sense of peace in that moment that I’m not sure I would have been feeling a year ago. I certainly would not have been feeling a sense of peace in this moment  five, ten, or 20 years ago. That night, I was.

When I was a young man, I memorized the words the ancient prophet Isaiah penned, pasted at the top of this post. At this waypoint in my life’s journey I’ve come to realize that peace is a relatively rare human experience on life’s road. This is especially true in the extra innings of World Series game 7, an unforeseen tragedy, an unexpected election result, or a painfully blank ultrasound reading.

On the night that Jesus was arrested, submitted to kangaroo court, beaten, scourged, nailed to a cross and mocked by the on looking crowd He looked at his followers and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

The testimony and stories of Jesus followers in the following hours and days were not stories of peace. They scattered and fled to avoid arrest and gathered clandestinely behind locked doors. The betrayer committed suicide. Their leader, Peter, followed Jesus at a distance, but three times fearfully denied any knowledge of the Man he’d earlier hailed as Christ. While the female followers of Jesus risked going to the tomb to anoint the body after the sabbath, the men remained fearfully hidden. Not exactly a picture of peace.

Tradition and history tell us, however, that something happened in the days and years that followed the tragic events of that fateful night. Something had been transformed in these same fearful, peace-less followers. They encountered a resurrected Christ. Forty days later they fearlessly proclaimed the risen Jesus to public crowds. They peacefully accepted arrest, imprisonment and trial. They scattered once more, not in fear but with a mission to share the Message with the known world. With the exception of John, who died of old age, the rest peacefully accepted the brutal death of martyrs.

This morning I am reminded that the peace that Jesus promised His followers did not come instantly. It budded, it took root, and it grew to fruition. God’s creation is a growing, expanding, organic cosmos. Miracles happen, but most of the time things take time to grow before you experience the fruit.

So it was on the evening of November 2nd Wendy noticed my zen-like peace during the rain delay. I think I’m finally hitting a stage of the journey in which I’m enjoying the fruit of peace after many years of steadfast seeking. Peace in the knowledge of a Divine Dance that is so much bigger, deeper, and greater than I’ve ever fathomed. Peace that comes with faith in the Great Story being told by the Author of Life. Peace with my place and role in that Story. Peace in the knowledge that our journeys are all full of bitter defeats and disappointments, but also include rare moments of satisfying victory. I’m increasingly at peace with the knowledge that I will certainly endure the former as I always have before, and might even gain a little wisdom in the experience. I will also enjoy the latter when it comes, even more fully in proportion to the measure of defeat that preceded it.

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured photo: kudumomo via Flickr

Words That Reach to What Was, and Is, and Yet Will Be

How you have fallen from heaven,
    morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
    you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
    on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
    to the depths of the pit.
Isaiah 14:12-15 (NIV)

The language of God is metaphor, and metaphors (e.g. word pictures) are layered with meaning. That’s what makes them so powerful as a tools of communication. Their meaning resonates far deeper and reaches much further. Metaphors are layered with meaning. Like God, you keep mining the depths only to find there is more there than you ever realized before.

That is often what makes the words of the ancient prophets both confusing and powerful. Take the words from today’s chapter pasted above as an example.

Let’s start with the first layer of meaning: Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Babylon. Babylon was an aspiring superpower and becoming the largest city on Earth. Babylon was swallowing up peoples and territories. Babylon was swelling with pride at its greatness. One day its king, Nebuchadnezzar, would literally fulfill the sentiments cited by Isaiah (Read Daniel 4).

But let’s also go back in time and remember the root of Babyl-on. Think Babel. The story in Genesis 11. The people said, “Let’s make a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens and make a name for ourselves.” It’s the same root of pride. The same sentiment.

Let’s go back further to the Garden, where the serpent tempted Eve and Adam with the notion that they could eat the fruit and “be like God.”

Many commentators have said that Isaiah’s prophecy reaches further back and refers to Satan, or Lucifer, who tradition tell us was God’s most beautiful angel. Lucifer wanted to be like God and was cast from heaven to inhabit death. Again, the sentiment is the same. Wanting to ascend to the place of God. The same sentiment with which he tempted Adam and Eve.

Think forward to the prophecies of John in Revelation, in which he sees a woman, “Babylon the Great,” sitting on a beast covered in blasphemies.

Things that were. Things that are. Things that yet will be. The thread is the same: that which sets itself to ascend in its pride and become God, therefore diminishing God of all that God is (and was, and is to come).

And that’s where my heart settles in its meditation this morning. Where do the seeds and fruit of pride – those same seeds of Lucifer, of Adam, of Nebuchadnezzar, and of Babylon – show their roots in my heart and life? In what ways do I seek to be god of my life, my relationships, my spouse, my children, my business, my house, my possessions? Where does my pride ascend in thinking I create, conquer, possess, control, and/or dominate?

In what ways do I, in contrast to John the Baptist, seek to become more and make Jesus less?

Isaiah was writing about the nation of Babylon, but his word picture is layered with so much more meaning. His word picture stretches back before creation. It stretches forward to that which yet will be. It stretches forward in time to this morning, in this place, at this moment and ask this person to contemplate both the evidence of my pride, and my desperate need to seek humility.

More, Faster

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
James 5:7 (NRSV)

The culture I have known my entire earthly pilgrimage is one of instant gratification. In comparison to my childhood, the world I now experience on a daily basis is instant gratification on steroids. Things just keep moving at increasing speed. This is not the musings of an aging man, but the realities of a culture rebuilding Babel with Cat-5 cable and DNA strands.

When I was 5 I received an “electronic football” game for Christmas that was nothing more than a vibrating panel with little plastic men moving chaotically around the bouncing cardboard panel. Sometimes the “running back” with the magnetic ball on his base would spin around in circles. Sometimes he turned around and vibrate to the opponents end zone for a safety. I was, nevertheless, mesmerized by the experience.

When I was 10 I was playing a hand-held “Mattel Electronic Football” game that was nothing more than little red blips on a tiny screen which would switch on and off representing players (see featured image). I played it for hours, those red blips transformed by  my imagination into the Minnesota Vikings winning the Super Bowl.

When I was 30 I was playing football as a video game on my home computer. The black and white, heavily pixelated graphics seemed revolutionary. Now the computer could simulate actual players, teams and leagues and keep track of my stats across an entire fantasy season.

When I was 40 I had a gaming console playing a much more sophisticated and realistic video game version of football allowing me to play the game as a player, coach the team, or run an entire team franchise including roster moves and salary caps.

At 50 I can play electronic football that looks like a real television broadcast complete with commentary, and I can play against virtually any person, anywhere in the world from the comfort of my man cave.

This is just a trite example, of course. Yet, I can expand this example to almost everything I do during my day. I am growing increasingly used to getting what I want, when I want, and how I want it.

How is this affecting my spirit?

source: singularity.com
source: singularity.com

Throughout God’s Message we find example after example of people who waited. Noah built the ark and waited for years before it rained. Abraham and Sara were promised that their descendants would number like the stars in the sky, then waited for decades before their first child was born. Joseph, as a child, received a vision of his brothers bowing down before him then lived a lifetime of struggle, slavery, scandal and imprisonment before it was ultimately fulfilled. David was promised he would be king as an adolescent boy, then spent thirty years on the run with a price on his head before it would come to fruition.

I have learned along my journey that God’s sense of timing is not our human sense timing. Following Jesus and fulfilling our God-given purpose requires patience, waiting, and perseverance. These qualities are increasingly rare in a world in which I can order virtually anything I want from the palm of my hand and have it delivered to my door step within hours or days. Why on earth would I believe in a God who wants to groom me to accomplish His purpose for over 40 years when I can have my 15 minutes of fame on YouTube right now?

This morning I’m thinking about purpose and patience. In a world that keeps speeding up, I am realizing how critical it is for me to choose to slow down, breathe deeply, and be patient. God’s creation is about the ebb and flow of time and seasons. Humanity’s creation is about more, at increasing rates of speed. If I am going to embrace the former, I must consciously address the latter.

chapter a day banner 2015featured image source: dcjohn via Flickr