Tag Archives: Word

Waiting and Watching

[Jesus] said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
Acts 1:7 (NIV)

I must confess that I am an impatient person. I always have been. Perhaps being the youngest child in a family of four was a contributing factor. You watch all of your sibling growing up and they are always allowed to do cool things while you have to wait.

You’re not old enough yet.
You’ll have to wait until you’re older.
Someday you’ll be allowed to do that.

Ugh. I can still feel my childish annoyance with these statements.

As I look back on the early years of my journey I can clearly see how impatient I was with the very process of life. I doggedly attempted to push the process whenever I could. I graduated early from high school. I started college early. I was on a mission to find a wife, to get married and get on with life. In retrospect, I can see how often I pursued shortcuts to get further down the road faster. In at least a few cases, the shortcuts had tragic results from which I’ve had to learn some very hard life lessons.

As we enter the book of Acts this morning we find Jesus’ followers in a period of waiting. It’s not just the 11 remaining appointed disciples, but also the women who had long traveled with and supported Jesus’ ministry. There is also a larger circle of a hundred or so believers in the entourage including Jesus’ mother and brothers.

What’s next?” is the burning question among the crew. The resurrected Jesus has been making appearances over a six-week period. With their question “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” the disciples are clearly hanging onto their repeatedly stated desire for a shortcut to what they hope is a restoration of the earthly kingdom of the Jewish monarchy (and their own positions of temporal power and authority within that administration).

Jesus first lays down a difficult truth for his followers: You don’t get to know the whole plan. He goes on to explain that the next step is to keep waiting, and to keep praying, for an upcoming event in which the believers will be immersed in Holy Spirit power. Their mission will then be to give witness to ever spreading circles of influence around the globe.

Great,” I can hear his disciples mutter. “More waiting.”

This morning I write from a stretch in my personal journey in which I’m experiencing a process of fulfillment in areas of life that I’ve long waited for. I confess that I’m still impatient. Time, experience and maturity has helped, but I still identify with Peter and the crew. I want to know the plan, with dates, and details about what God is going to do in our lives and when He’s going to do it. I have, however, walked this journey long enough to know that this is not how it works. This is a faith journey, and that usually means simply pressing on to the next step.

In the quiet this morning I find myself once again asking God for patience, and surrendering my self-centric desire to want to know, and to know now. “Just wait,” I hear Holy Spirit whisper to my spirit. I catch what I perceive is a grin. “It’s coming,” the Spirit whispers, “Trust me in this. With each step that is revealed there will be more mystery sitting further up and further in. That’s how this works. It’s a faith journey. You can be confident that all that Father has planned will be accomplished at the right time. You can be sure of this, even if you can’t see it yet.”

Three Rules for the Prophetic

Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.”
Jeremiah 28:15 (NIV)

On occasion, along my spiritual journey, I have had individuals speak prophetic words to me. In fact, it’s happened more in the last few years than ever before. Prophecy is woven into the fabric of the Great Story, and it is a part of most all of our great epic stories. Even the epics of recent years (e.g. Star Wars, The Matrix, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and etc.) have strong prophetic themes running through them.

In our age of enlightenment I’ve observed that we’ve discounted and diminished the role of the prophetic. In fact, I confess that even writing about it this morning gives me a certain level of discomfort. I’ve observed over time that the institutional churches in the West have largely ignored the fact that I Corinthians speaks of the spiritual gift of prophecy as being among the most important of spiritual gifts and believers are encouraged to be “eager to prophesy.” Most all the churches with which I’ve ever been associated have simply ignored this or have chosen to interpret “prophesy” as being a good preacher.

I get it. Prophecy is a mysterious, strange, and slippery part of the spiritual journey. It always has been.

In today’s chapter we get a fascinating peek at how it worked in the days of the ancient prophet, Jeremiah. It’s easy for casual readers to think that “the prophets” were unique individuals on the landscape of history but the fact of the matter is that most kings in Jeremiah’s day had hoards of prophets in their service. It was quite common for prophets to be spiritual “yes men” who divined what the king wanted and then gave him the spiritual rubber stamp with their prophetic visions.

Today’s chapter tells a fascinating story of a prophetic duel between Jeremiah and another prophet named Hananiah. Jer was hanging out in his ox yoke (see yesterday’s post) telling all the kingdoms of the region that they would end up in servitude to the King of Babylon. Along comes Hananiah who, in front of everyone, takes the ox yoke off Jer’s neck and breaks it. It was a public slap in the face. Hananiah upped the prophetic ante and told everyone what they wanted to hear: Things aren’t going to be as bad as Jeremiah keeps prophesying. Hananiah then claimed that after two years of serving the King of Babylon, God would restore all the kingdoms that Babylon would conquer.

Jeremiah then goes in private to Hananiah and tells the prophetic contrarian that not only is he wrong, but that he’ll be dead within a year. And, he was.

The realm of the prophetic is a mysterious place. Along my journey I’ve had people tell me that they “have a word” for me, but whatever it was they said amounted to nothing and was ultimately forgotten. I’ve also had some pretty wild experiences in which people have said things which were amazingly prescient and powerfully true.

Three rules I’ve come to embrace when it comes to people saying they have a prophetic word for me:

  1. Hold on loosely and let it be. If it’s true, it will be true. If it’s not, it’s not worth my time, energy or consideration. Those who receive a prophetic word and go out of their way to try to make it happen are likely to be as successful as the tragic hero in that Scottish play Shakespeare wrote.
  2. Consider the source. If someone claims to be prophetic yet, like Hananiah, their words are what most people want to hear and the prophecies usually seem to ingratiate the prophet to the hearer, I’m always wary. The occasions I’ve received prophetic words, the messengers were humble, unassuming, and at times as mysterious as the prophetic word itself.
  3. Listen to wise counsel. On my journey I’ve surrounded myself with wise and mature friends (my wife being chief among them). They know me, love me, and they desire the best for me. I trust them to assist me in being discerning about any prophetic word given to me.

Once again in my pursuit of what is true I find myself holding the place of tension between the two extremes. I don’t ever want to dismiss the prophetic outright, nor do I want to blindly give myself over to any and every prophetic message I hear.

Spiritual Diet

When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
Jeremiah 15:16 (NIV)

I was a young man when I embarked on my spiritual journey following Jesus. One of the first things that I did was to start reading, really reading, the Bible. I had read passages here and there for Sunday School and confirmation class but I had never really read the Bible for myself. So I grabbed the green (seriously, it was the color of mold) hard back copy  of the Living Bible I’d been given for my confirmation and dove in. I was quickly amazed at how much I was learning.

It was less than a year later that my boss in an after-school job offered to do a study with me. The first assignment he gave me was to start memorizing verses, and the first one assigned was Joshua 1:8 (and I can write it from memory almost 40 years later):

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

One of the foundational spiritual lessons I quickly learned as a youngling embarking on my spiritual journey was that there was a difference between reading God’s Message and ingesting it. Even Jesus riffed on this word picture when tempted in the wilderness: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” The parallel is clear. God’s Word is spiritual food, sustenance, and nourishment. There’s a difference between having a taste once in a while and sourcing it as part of a steady spiritual diet.

So began a process of reading, memorizing, studying on my own, studying with groups, studying academically, studying different interpretations, studying different translations and studying different paraphrases. And yes, devotedly reading and blogging a chapter-a-day.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah continues his poetic conversation with God. Once again we see the metaphor of the Word as spiritual food (this word picture is sprinkled throughout God’s Message). Jeremiah reminds God that when God’s words came he ate and devoured them. They were a source of joy and delight. It’s quite possible that Jeremiah references the finding of the Book of Law during the reign of Josiah (see 2 Kings 22) after it had been lost and forgotten in Solomon’s Temple.

When I was a kid the big nutrition program in school reminded us continually that “you are what you eat.” As a young man I learned that this is true for the mind and spirit as much as it is for the body. This leads to all sorts of pertinent questions to ask myself. On what am I feeding my mind? Am I giving my spirit any nourishment with the media and conversation I ingest each day? Would a change of mental and spiritual diet be healthy for me?

Healthy questions for mind and spirit to mull over in the quiet this morning. And now, my body is calling for a little nourishment as well.

Have a great day, friends.

Fahrenheit 451 and a Famine of Words

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”
Amos 8:11 (NIV)

Twenty-four years ago, in the summer of 1993, the City of Des Moines was hit with a terrible flood. No one living in Iowa had seen anything like it in our lifetime. The city’s water works facility was flooded and was unable to generate clean water for ten days. I will never forget those days of having to chug five gallon buckets of water from our apartment building’s swimming pool to use for flushing toilets. Walking to watering stations where tanker trucks would fill whatever receptacles you could find with fresh water to use for cooking. The mindless daily routine of showering took on new meaning.

We don’ t realize how much we take for granted until it’s gone.

The same can be said for spiritual things. The first chapter of John’s biography of Jesus is one of the most beautiful passages ever penned. John introduces us to Jesus, the “Word.”

Food provides for our physical daily nourishment. In the same way God tells us that the Word provides us with spiritual daily nourishment. In our day and culture, this resource is ours in abundance and I know that I take it for granted. I have access to God’s Message on my bookshelves, library, cell phone, tablet, and computer. We don’t realize how much we take for granted until it’s gone.

In today’s chapter God gives the ancient prophet Amos a vision of what’s to come. A spiritual famine was coming to Israel: “A famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” The famine did come generations later. The last prophet of the Old Testament was Malachi who died in 430 B.C. For over 400 years there was spiritual silence. There was a famine of the words of the Lord. Until a deeper and far older prophecy was fulfilled when, as John wrote, “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

This morning I’m pondering the incredible luxury I have of enjoying such unfettered access to the Word. I have such rich spiritual nourishment so readily available to me 24/7/365 from countless sources. Such a thing was unthinkable just a few generations ago, and I wonder what happens when we begin to take such a thing for granted.

I’m reminded this morning of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. It was required reading back when I was a kid, but I’m not sure younger generations know it or study it today. In Bradbury’s dystopian vision parallels Amos’ vision of a famine of words. Society is given wholly to quick and efficient media entertainment. Books are first abridged then completely outlawed, burned, and forgotten as needless and having no value to society. The Bible and all great works of literature are tossed aside for easier, shorter, and more entertaining media. I’ve never forgotten Bradbury’s vision of a small group of people living in the wilderness and committing great works to memory to pass down to future generations.

I know there are some who regularly read these blog posts that I scatter like seed across the internet, and I’m grateful for those who care to read my thought and words. At the same time, I hope that readers click on the chapter and verse link at the top of each post and read the very chapter themselves. It’s one thing to read my thoughts about a chapter, but there’s nothing as spiritually nourishing as tapping directly into the Source.

Reclamation of “Revival”

For this is what the high and exalted One says—
    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Isaiah 57:15 (NIV)

“Revival” is a buzzword in many churches, and it is used in many different contexts across our culture. It commonly refers to a period of time when there is an outpouring of Holy Spirit resulting in many people become believers.   It also is used to describe special meetings or services that churches might have over a period of time in which they bring in a special speaker and encourage people to follow Jesus. As a teenager, I became a follower of Jesus at just such a “revival” event. In that vein the word also conjures up images of tent revivals held under a canopy on a hot summer night in which a fire and brimstone preacher calls sinners to repentance. Oh, and it can also mean that you’re producing a stage play that hasn’t been done in a long time.

Words at their very core are metaphors. Something which represents something else without using “like” or “as” (that would be a simile). The particular four lines manipulated into the particular shapes used in the English alphabet to write “love” become a metaphor for the sounds we make when we say the word “love.” The lines represent the sounds which represent the many ways our brains filter meaning of the concept of love. Those lines and sounds can represent my appreciation of Madison’s Facebook post (e.g. “I loved your post”). Those same squiggly lines and unique blend of sounds can also represent the unfathomable depths of my thoughts of, feelings for, and attraction to Wendy (e.g. “I love you.”).

This is what makes communication so tricky, though very few people take time to give it much consideration. We use the same metaphorical lines or sounds to mean very different things in different contexts which can also change radically with time and culture.

The very word “revival,” when you break it down (re-vive-al) has its roots in French (“vivre,” meaning “life”) and also the Latin (“vital,” also meaning “life”). When you add the “re” to the front of it now changes the meaning to include doing something again. To live (vive) again (re). The suffix of “al” simply gives it the meaning of “pertaining to.” So, “revival” has the core meaning of “pertaining to live again.”

So, while “revival” may conjure up images of sweaty, screaming preachers under a tent canopy along the highway, it’s core meaning is to make something live again.

In today’s chapter God tells the prophet Isaiah that He lives in a “high and holy place” but also with someone who is “contrite and lowly in spirit,” a prophetic foretelling of Jesus who humbled Himself to take the form of a servant and to become human like one of us. The purpose is to bring the spirit and heart of those who are lowly and humble back to life.

This morning I’m thinking about those whose hearts are broken and crushed. I’m thinking of those whose very life has oozed out of their spirits until they are void and empty. I’m thankful for One who came to make those very hearts and spirits live again. To take those who are dead, and make them live again. All of my journey has taught me that this is what Jesus and His teachings are about at the very core.

chapter a day banner 2015Featured photo courtesy Mennonite Church USA via Flickr

One Word for 2017 … (continued)

I mentioned in a post a week or two ago that over the past couple of years Wendy and I, along with some other family and friends, have been engaged in finding “One Word” that is like a theme for our year. For Wendy and me, the idea is not that we consciously choose a word we desire to be the theme of our year, but that we are open to what word we believe God has chosen for each of us in that year. It’s a faith thing. Ask. Seek. Listen. You’ll know it when you hear it.

I shared in my recent post that the word I’ve been given for 2017 is “empty.” I’m still wrestling with that.

Those who know us well know that Wendy is far more deliberative (literally, about every single thing in life) than I am. I’m an intuitive go with your gut and go with the flow kind of person. Wendy typically weighs and reweighs decisions, and then she double checks her choices in case she might have made the wrong one (I can, at this moment, hear God joyfully cackling at our union). So, the reality is that one year Wendy didn’t really get her one word until sometime in the summer.

Having said this, there are times when Wendy determines something quickly and with abnormal (for her) immediacy. When that happens I’ve learned to pay attention because it’s usually God at work.

So it was yesterday during our weekly worship that Wendy told me that she felt called to go to the elders for prayer. This is a regular thing among our local gathering of Jesus followers. Elders stand ready during worship to pray for anyone who desire is. Wendy went to the side of the room to pray and was there a good while.

On our ride home Wendy shared with me that she had felt prompted to go over for prayer because she has been feeling so “empty.” Yes, she used that exact word. Then she said that as one of the elders (a dear friend and prophet whom God has used to speak into our lives at different times) prayed, she uttered a word that dropped onto Wendy’s spirit. “I went, ‘I think that’s my word!‘”

Pay attention,” the Spirit said to my spirit.

Abundance. Her word was abundance.

My word is empty.

This is going to be interesting.

One Word for 2017

A few years ago our local gathering of Jesus followers went through a series of messages entitled “One Word.” One of the exercises we were challenged to undertake was to pray about one word that would be our personal word for the given year – a theme of sorts.

To be honest, I haven’t expended much thought or effort into the process. I have just tried to keep my spirit open and listen. I’ve had a sort of “you’ll know it when you hear it” kind of attitude.

Two years ago my word was fulfill, or as I liked to write it full-fill. Going into the year I had all sorts of ideas about what that meant. That year saw the fulfillment of a decade of leadership in our local community theatre. We were fulfilled to watch our daughters finishing their graduate and undergraduate degrees, respectively. We fulfilled our time of Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, living with us. We fulfilled a calling to build a house. At the end of the year was the unexpected fulfillment of a legacy as the founder of our company, and my life-long mentor, passed away.

Last year my word was focus. Once again I think my early expectations of what that might mean in coming year was not at all what it ended up being. It is easy for me to feel like it was an epic fail when I think about ways that I wanted to focus my time, energy and life. Instead, it seemed to be more about how life required me to focus my time and energy, at times in less than fun ways.

This year my word is empty which, honestly, does not strike me as particularly inspiring or Pinterest-worthy. More than once I’ve asked in my spirit, “Really?!” I always feel the confirmation.

The past two years I’ve entered the year with my word inspiring all sorts of grandiose notions of what it could mean, only to find in the end that reality was more grind than grand. This year my word has my spirit whispering, “Oh, shit.”