Tag Archives: Wind

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.)

Seed in the Chaff

“I will scatter you like chaff
    driven by the desert wind.
This is your lot,
    the portion I have decreed for you,”
Jeremiah 13:24-25a (NIV)

The community where Wendy and I live, and our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, is experiencing a season of acute grief. This past week a young man, the youngest son of our senior pastor and his wife, passed away unexpectedly. He should have been experiencing the prime of his life. It is unnerving when tragedy strikes like this. There are so many unanswerable questions.

In Sunday morning’s message the teacher gave us a word picture of a man who initiated a controlled burn of his lawn. The teacher watched as the fire spread across the grass turning the lawn into a field of scorched and blackened death. Confused, the teacher stopped and spoke to the man. “I don’t understand,” he said. “You’re killing your lawn.

Oh no,” said the man. “The seed’s already in the ground. Come back in a few months and you will see how lush and green it is with new life.”

I couldn’t help but think of that parable as I read Jeremiah’s prophetic poem this morning. He foresaw that God’s people would experience unspeakable tragedy. They would be conquered. Their city and their Temple would be destroyed. They would be “scattered like chaff driven by the desert wind.” This was their lot in life.

Why me? Why him? Why us? Why now?

So many unanswerable questions.

Then in the quiet this morning I pictured and watched the chaff driven and scattered by the wind. What Jeremiah did not see in his vision is that there is seed mixed in with the chaff. Jeremiah does not see Daniel raised to a position of unbelievable authority and honor within the Babylonian palace. Jeremiah does not see Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego standing with God in the flames of the fiery furnace without getting one hair of their head singed. Jeremiah does not see the repentance of Nebuchadnezzar, doesn’t read the handwriting on Beltshazzar’s wall, does not hear the beautiful lyrics of the psalmists’ lament from exile, and does not see the incredible ministry and visions the prophet Ezekiel will have in that land. Jeremiah does not see the return of the remnant under Nehemiah or the miraculous work of his people rebuilding the Temple and the walls of the city. The prophet’s does not foresee Jesus entering the walls of rebuilt Jerusalem, God’s Son sacrificed for sin once for all, and then resurrected to new and eternal Life.

We all experience tragedy along our our life journeys; We all will have times when we are shaken to the core of our souls. In such times our eyes become intensely focused on our lot in life and we ask unanswerable questions. In the moment, Jeremiah just sees himself, his people, and their lot in life; Their lot in life that cannot be changed any more than a leopard can change his spots. He stands and looks out and all he can see is dry chaff scattered on the scorching desert wind.

Look more closely.

There’s seed in that chaff.

The Sower is not finished with the Story.

 

Shifting Wind

Pope Francis“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Acts 28:28 (NRSV)

I have watched with keen interest the past few years and have noticed a trend. It began with the world’s largest and oldest institution of Jesus followers in Rome when they elected a humble outsider from South America to be Pope. Pope Francis has been shaking things up, and this Protestant will admit being a fan. One of the things I’ve noticed in my study of Jesus is that he was an equal opportunity offender by speaking truth and raising the ire of people on both sides of the spectrum. I’m seeing Jesus’ heart in Francis. He has been appointing more and more Bishops from the Third World into the upper levels of leadership in the Roman Catholic church.

A few months ago I received an e-mail from our friend who has, for several years, been the President of a large international ministry organization called the Navigators. Founded to reach out to men and women in the U.S. armed services, the group spread to college campuses and has since grown over the decades into a world-wide mission organization. Mike’s e-mail described the Navigators’ leaders from around the world gathering to pray for guidance in selecting his successor. Their choice to lead the Navigators was a couple who are natives of Kenya in Africa.

This morning as I read the chapter I found it interesting that Paul told the Jews in Rome that God, in response to the Jews unwillingness to believe, has sent salvation to the Gentiles. God uses the metaphor of wind to describe Holy Spirit. The wind moves, changes course, increases to gusts then falls back to a gentle breeze. It is not tamed nor controlled. Paul observes that the Spiritual winds are shifting and blowing away from Jerusalem and to the rest of the world.

Jesus said to be aware of the signs and the times. Paul was aware that God’s Spirit was shifting in his time. In our time I believe I have seen a shift in Holy Spirit wind moving and gusting through the Third World. I see it in Rome. I see it in the Navigators. I am seeing other weather vanes turn in headlines and news reports. I am not a prophet and I can’t see the future, but I want to be aware of what God is doing on a meta-level even as I struggle to fulfill my bit-part on a micro-level here in the middle of fly-over country America.

Today, I find my heart echoes the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “May your will be done on Earth….”

Elijah, the Spaghetti Western, and Me

28857-man-with-no-nameThe Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of theLord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

Elijah is such an intriguing character. His personality seemed uniquely created to be the person God needed. He appears on the scene like Clint Eastwood‘s “man with no name” in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. Out of the wild comes this charismatic loner displaying miraculous qualities and a passion for God. He seems invincible. Outnumbered 450 to 1, Elijah gets into a spiritual shoot-out with the prophets of Baal and, thanks to a heaven-sent fiery climax, he finds himself the last man standing. It’s the stuff of a Hollywood action blockbuster.

Then, the story takes an unexpected twist. The invincible hero does a complete 180 degree turn and becomes shockingly human.  Fresh from the miraculous victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah learns that Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head and he withers on the vine. After three years of famine, scratching out an existence in the wilderness, and the big showdown on Carmel, God’s heroic prophet is physically, mentally, and spiritually shot. He shows the all too familiar human qualities of fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and suicide.

Elijah runs away. He gives up. He throws in the towel, lays down to die, and begs God to bring the end quickly. He then goes on a self-pitying pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Upon his arrival, there is a cyclonic wind, a great earthquake, and a raging fire. God was nowhere to be found in the cataclysmic manifestations.

God appears in a whisper, and asks His man a profoundly simple question: “What are you doing here?

I find in this story of Elijah so much of my own frail humanity. I experience amazing, miraculous moments along the journey and then seem to forget them when petty anxieties paralyze me. I have episodes of victorious faith, then run from the next challenge. Given to blind, self-centric drama I fail to see all that God is doing in and through those around me while I project the weight of the world on my  own shoulders, blow my own problems grossly out of proportion, and then slink into a corner to obsess and lick my petty emotional wounds.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And yet, I am strangely encouraged by Elijah’s story. I am no different than this hero of the faith. Human frailties are common to every spiritual hero, because every hero is limited by his or her own humanity. The question is not whether I will experience common human episodes of fear, anxiety, insecurity, despair, depression, self-pity, weakness, and conflict. We all experiences these things. The question is how I will respond when they happen. And, they will happen. Too often I pray for and expect God to send dramatic winds of change, a seismic shift in circumstance, or a explosive miracle to sweep away my humanity. I am beginning to learn that what I need to listen for is God’s still, small voice meeting me right where I am, in the midst of my all too human condition.

Chapter-a-Day Zechariah 6

Effect of prevailing wind on a coniferous tree...
Image via Wikipedia

Then he called to me and said, “Look at them go! The ones going north are conveying a sense of my Spirit, serene and secure. No more trouble from that direction.” Zechariah 6:8 (MSG)

We live in interesting times. Technology, mass media, and communication have given our generation a better “global” perspective than any before it. A major event happens in a remote location on the other side of the world and in minutes everyone can have news, photographs and streaming video of the event thanks to the internet and sattelites.

As I read today about God sending out the one angel chariot Zechariah saw in his vision to send “a sense of [God’s] spirit,” I was reminded of efforts being made by many to track where God’s spirit is moving. Throughout history, great movements we’ve come to tag as “revivals” have been documented and chronicled. Huge numbers of people place their faith in Christ, lives are changed, miracles reported and local cultures are impacted. With the use of available technology, some are attempting to chronicle where God’s spirit is moving around the globe.

It is interesting to note that God has always referred to His Spirit in terms of the wind. When Jesus poured out His Spirit on his followers he breathed on them. When the Holy Spirit poured out on the masses in Acts 2 it came with the sound of a gale force wind. God’s Spirit blows where it will. It cannot be seen, but the effects of its presence become obvious to those in its midst and in its wake, like the tree pictured.

I’ve been told by friends who follow these things that God’s Spirit seems to be moving in the southern and eastern hemispheres in a big way. Today, I’m praying for God’s Spirit to move into my area like a great tropical depression.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 38

King Zedekiah caved in: “If you say so. Go ahead, handle it your way. You’re too much for me.” Jeremiah 38:5 (MSG)

King Zedekiah is an interesting study in leadership. Let’s quickly examine his tosses and turns in this one chapter:

  • He caves into one group of officials and lets them throw Jeremiah into the well.
  • An Ethiopian official tells the King he shouldn’t have done it, so the king changes his mind and orders that Jeremiah be hauled up from the well.
  • The King then decides he wants to hear what Jeremiah has to say and calls Jeremiah in for a secret chat.
  • The King then refuses to do what God tells him to do through Jeremiah, because he’s afraid of what the Judean political party might do in response.
  • The King then makes Jeremiah swear to lie about their conversation because he’s afraid of what his officials might say.

I’ve observed that people generally don’t follow, nor respect, leaders who change their minds and change their course like a shifting wind. Unbridled fear leads to poor decisions. Zedekiah provides an classic word picture of weak leadership. Unfortunately, everyone in Jerusalem suffered for it.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and spodzone