Tag Archives: Trouble

When Trouble Unexpectedly Blows In

In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord.
2 Chronicles 28:22 (NIV)

Just a few weeks ago a tornado descended on the small community where Wendy and I live. That day there were some 27 tornadoes that ripped through Iowa. The tornado here in Pella hit a local manufacturing company, wreaking havoc on multiple plants and turning cars in the parking lot into a pile scrap metal. Since it happened in the middle of the workday, it seems to me a miracle that no one was killed. Only a handful of people were injured, and none seriously.

In the weeks that have followed, it’s been fascinating to watch the community mobilize. The business that took the brunt of the damage is already in the process of rebuilding. Churches and charities are working with those in need. In a time of unexpected trouble, I can see the strength and faith of our community and its people. We’ll be alright.

Along my journey I’ve observed that times of trouble and unexpected tragedy are windows into Spirit. When trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descend like a tornado and blow through our lives, our response reveals what kind of spiritual foundation lies beneath the surface of our lives. It makes known how deep our spiritual roots descend into Life’s soil.

In today’s chapter, the story of King Ahaz reads like a spiritual tragedy. Not only does Ahaz not follow God, but he seems willing to follow any god, any time, any where. He goes from god-to-god sacrificing and paying tribute. When trouble hits Ahaz reaches out to Assyria for help, only to be double-crossed. Ahaz dishonors some of the articles of Solomon’s temple to try to buy his way out of trouble. It doesn’t work. When defeated by Damascus, Ahaz worships their gods in hopes that it will help. It doesn’t.

Ahaz is so willing to believe anything that his troubles reveal that he believes nothing. He has no spiritual roots. He has no foundation. His life was one of constantly grasping for anything only to be left with nothing. He was such a tragic failure, that the people of Judah refuse to entomb Ahaz’s dead body with the other kings.

I’m reminded this morning of how James put it: “the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown about and tossed by the wind.” I’m also reminded of how the Psalmist contrasted the righteous and the wicked in the lyric of Psalm 1. The righteous are described as strong trees with deep roots that continually produce good fruit and don’t wither in trouble. The wicked, however, are like dust blown helplessly in the wind.

On this life journey, I believe almost every one of us will experience trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descending into our lives like a tornado. In that moment, I find out what kind of spiritual roots I’ve developed. If my roots go deep then I will weather the storm, get back to work, and come through the experience even stronger. If I have no spiritual roots then I think I’m going to be more like Ahaz, blown about, grasping for something, anything to hold onto.

(Thanks to everyone who reached out to make sure Wendy and I were alright. We live on the opposite side of town from where the tornado struck and were not in harms way.)

(Don’t) Be Afraid, (Don’t) Be Very, Very, Afraid

The Lord is good,
     a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him…
Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

The prophet Nahum lived and wrote his prophecy in troubled times. The kingdom of Israel had been split in two, the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah. When Nahum wrote his prophecy the northern kingdom had been attacked and decimated by the Assyrians.

The Assyrians were known for their brutality and cruelty. When they conquered a city, they would mercilessly hack the limbs off their victims and then leave the limbs and bodies stacked like a pyramid outside the city gates. It was their calling card, the sign that the Assyrians had been there. Now that the northern kingdom of Israel had experienced it, the southern kingdom of Judah feared a similar Assyrian attack.

Fear and anxiety are common emotions. Today I find it common for people to experience economic fear (When will the economy get moving again? Will we experience what happened in Greece? Is the stock market going to collapse?) and fear of terror-ism (When’s the next 9-11? Are ISIS terrorist cells on our soil just waiting to attack? ). There is anxiety about global politics (Will Iran get a bomb and attack Israel?) and climate change (Will global warming  create disastrous change in weather patterns?). When Wendy and I watch or read the news we will often observe to one another that there seems to be one major theme: “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Nahum also lived in a time of fear, and his prophetic message was to encourage his readers not to give into fear, but rather to trust in God. Nineveh (the capitol of the Assyrian empire), he prophesied, would be destroyed. His prophetic word was fulfilled. Assyria was destroyed by the Medes and Persians in 612 B.C.

It’s Monday morning as I write this post. The first Monday of a new month. For some of us, even the prospect of what the coming week holds brings anxiety. There is uncertainty about what we’re going to do in the coming month and how we’ll get through. Nahum’s message is a good one. Notice that he doesn’t promise freedom from trouble, but that we will find God a caring refuge in whatever comes our way.

Today, I’m choosing not to give into anxiety and fear, but to trust God to be a caring refuge for whatever comes my way.

 

He Went On

source: Keith Chastain via Flickr
source: Keith Chastain via Flickr

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NRSV)

I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He is one of my inner circle of friends with whom I share the most intimate parts of my life journey. In the midst of our conversation he asked some very direct questions about life. He is keenly aware of some difficulties I have been facing over the past year and he was doing a spiritual check in. I needed it, and I left our time together re-freshed.

Life gets difficult. Our path sometimes leads through dark places. We face obstacles of many kinds. This shouldn’t surprise us, though I’ve observed that our natural human reaction is almost always to react with incredulity and shake our fists at God while asking, “Why me?”

The truth is that Jesus told His followers to expect difficulties. Time and time again God’s message tells us that the path of spiritual progress leads directly through painful places. It’s how it works. We are called to find joy in the midst, bring good companions for the sojourn, and to persevere.

I was amazed at Paul’s example in today’s chapter. He was stoned until incapacitated, his seemingly lifeless body drug outside the city, and he was left for dead. Talk about a bad day. Then his friends surrounded him, he picked himself up, and he went on.

Today, I’m reminded of this simple fact: He went on. Paul faced obstacles and difficulties that make my momentary stresses pale in comparison. And, he went on. So shall I.

Have a great day.

Strength and Peace in the Moment

source: tonythemisfit via Flickr
source: tonythemisfit via Flickr

“Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” Daniel 10:19 (NIV)

This morning as  I read today’s chapter, I was struck by Daniel’s response to the visions given him:

  • “I mourned three weeks”
  • “I ate no choice food; not meat or wine touched my lips”
  • “I used no lotions at all” (He apparently understood moisturizing)
  • “I had no strength left”
  • “My face turned deathly pale”
  • “I was helpless”
  • “…set me trembling on my hands and knees”
  • “I stood up trembling”
  • “I bowed with my face to the ground and was speechless”
  • “I am overcome with anguish”
  • “I feel very weak”
  • “My strength is gone”
  • “I can hardly breathe.”

Daniel’s response to being in the spiritual realm was one of physical exhaustion and he was troubled, not encouraged, by what he saw and experienced. He required strength and encouragement to carry on.

I am reminded this morning that spiritual matters are not always easy matters. Dealing with matters of Spirit is often physically and emotionally draining. The visions and dreams given to people are often unsettling and disturbing. Yet, there is a promise that God will never dish out more than we can handle. Daniel was given strength and peace in the moment he needed it, just enough to get him through.

Today, I am thankful for strength and peace given in the moments we desperately need them.

Living for the Dot, or Living for the Line?

the dot on the lineSo we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

Many years ago I used an illustration while sharing the morning message in my home church. I stretched a piece of plain masking tape from the front of the church to the back of the church using a few chairs in the aisle to prop up the 75 feet or so of tape. I then spread out some pens on the floor and asked everyone to get up from their chairs, make a small dot on the tape with a pen, and write their name next to it.

I asked everyone that morning to imagine that the tape was a time line that continued on through the floor at the front of the stage as far as our eyes could see and out the back of the room to as far as our eyes could see. The tape was eternity, and our little dot on that time line was the 70, 80, or even 100 years that we will spend on this earth. The question I asked that morning was very simple: Are you living for the dot? Or, are you living for the line?

It is so easy to get wrapped up in momentary desires, circumstances, situations, troubles, and issues. But, those things are typically just insignificant blips on the radar when you consider them in light of eternity. We all need a little perspective adjustment from time to time, allowing our heart and mind to consider our immediate troubles in light of God’s Grand Scheme.

Today I’m reminding myself that my immediate troubles are a minute speck on a fleck of ink on a small dot on the masking tape timeline of eternity.

Honest Reflections

English: King David engraving from a front pag...
English: King David engraving from a front page of the French protestant psalm book of 1817 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 71

Though you have made me see troubles,  many and bitter,  you will restore  my life again;  from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.  Psalm 71:20 (NIV)

The Christmas season and the subsequent New Year is always a time of reflection. Where have I been this year? What kind of year has it been? Where am I going and what will next year bring? How has our family changed this year? In what ways are we always the same, the repetitive behavioral and relational patterns stuck like a record player in the same old groove?

Both Psalm 70 and Psalm 71 are songs of reflection. Both of them were penned in David’s old age. I like the above lyric. It comes from the wisdom of a long and active life. David was a boyhood hero, a son-in-law of the King, a best friend of the prince, a successful military leader, a King of his own tribe Judah and eventually a King of the nation of Israel. He was a warrior, a conqueror, a lover, a song writer, and a poet. Above all else, God called him “a man after my own heart.” Talk about a great story.

But, that’s not the whole story. David was also an outlaw, a rebel, a wanted man, a deceiver, a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, and a poor and distant father. He spent much of his early adulthood on the run from the law living in caves. His eventual reign as King was marked by political discord and scandal.

Life is what it is. Beneath the most whitewashed public lives you’ll find “troubles, many and bitter.” Despite our culture’s desire to see humanity as inherently good and progressive, God’s Message clearly teaches that humanity is tragically flawed. Despite our best efforts our penchant to look out for our own desires and needs instead of loving others more than ourselves keeps getting in the way with tragic results.

Like David, my reflections of the past are filled with both good times and difficulties, of both successes and bitter failures. Each year’s time of reflection always reaches the same conclusion:

God, have mercy on me. I always fall so short of the person I should be. I need a savior.

Fortunately, these annual reflections and this repetitive conclusion coincide with Christmas.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Don’t Worry, It’s on the List

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 56

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Lists. My life is full of lists. Wendy is the Queen of the Lists. Her royal highness manages the Vander Well realm via a series of lists. There is the white board calendar list which used to list our daughters schedules, but now lists our evening meals for the week. There is the kitchen grocery list that is updated any time you use the last of something in the kitchen. There is the Playhouse list of what needs to go to the lake. The other day I was asked to print the rehearsal list for the theatre. I have a work list, a honey-do list, and a list of people to call. I have a list of chapters we’ve covered on this chapter-a-day journey. There’s a list of DVDs we own, a “must see” movie list, and a list of movies in our queue. My computer holds mailing lists, show lists, and cast lists.

This post is beginning to feel like Dr. Seuss.

Big list. Little list. List, list, list.
How many lists must I insist
on managing all that life persists
to throw my way as I exist?

In the days when David wrote the lyric of today’s psalm, kings and rulers in authority were known to be keepers of lists and records. Because the written word was rare and reserved almost exclusively for rulers, it was a big deal for Kings to have anything that was written down read to them. Sometimes, if the king had a bout of insomnia for example, he would ask his servants to read from the records, chronicles and lists. In doing so, he would sometimes run across an item on the list on which he would act. There are at least two very clear references of God using circumstances like this to fulfill His purposes in the old stories:

In the story of Esther: “That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.” (the chapter-a-day entries for this chapter from 2009 and from 2012)

In the story of Josiah: “Then Shaphan the secretary informed [King Josiah], ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.” (the chapter-a-day entry for this chapter)

When David’s lyrics refer to his tears being stored up and his troubles recorded, the image he is creating is that of his lament being written on God’s royal record. It is chronicled and will not be forgotten by God who sits on the throne. God sees. God knows. It will not be forgotten. It’s written on the list.

We all go through periods of life when we feel alone. Our troubles seem so huge. Our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and bounce back. We wonder if God is listening. We question whether God even cares.

Today, I’m reminded that God says the number of my days is already accounted for in His records. My name is recorded in His book. Even the decreasing number of hairs on my head is on a list somewhere in heaven’s royal archive. Certainly, I am not abandoned despite the intensity of my feelings to the contrary. My troubles are not forgotten. My cares are known.