Tag Archives: Endurance

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.

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.

Good News, Bad News, Encouragement, Call

photo by Spyros Papaspyropoulos via Flickr
photo by Spyros Papaspyropoulos via Flickr

Nevertheless, I have this against you….
Revelation 2:20 (NIV)

I am thirty three years into this faith journey as a follower of Jesus. I’ve come a long way. Jesus led me where I had no desire or expectation of going. I like to think that I’ve gained some wisdom. My faith is deeper and more resonant than ever. Nevertheless, I have a long way to go. I still have blind spots. The deeper my faith penetrates my mind, my soul, and my life, the more sludge it finds which must be dealt with. It is a process which will not end in this lifetime.

As I read John’s letters to the seven churches to whom the Book of Revelation was addressed, I notice a distinct pattern throughout the letters (granted, there a few noticeable exceptions to the pattern).

There is good news:

I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

Then there is bad news:

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

There is an encouragement:

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations

There is a call to listen:

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Today, I’m thinking about the never ending process of spiritual maturity. The good news is that I’ve come a long way and have persevered in my faith journey for many years. The bad news is that there are still dark and sinful intentions, thoughts, words, actions which I must acknowledge, confess, repent from and actively seek to change. I am constantly encouraged by the hope that awaits if and when I finish this journey. I can’t afford not to be keep my eyes and ears open to what Holy Spirit is trying to say to me.

Enhanced by Zemanta

In Sight of the Journey’s End

homestretchI have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)

For Paul, who languished in a Roman dungeon and put the finishing touches on his letter to Timothy, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall. Emporer Nero was a couple of years into his rather successful pogrom to blame followers of Jesus for the Great Fire of Rome and exterminate as many of them as he could as gruesomly as he could. There would be no pardon for Paul this time.

For roughly thirty years Paul, who had begun as a persecutor of Jesus followers himself, had been arguably the greatest champion of Jesus’ message. The twelve disciples, Jesus’ twelve closest followers, initially stuck close to home and spent much of their time sharing Jesus’ message with their fellow Jews. It was Paul who became the unlikely game changer by focusing his efforts on carrying Jesus’ message of salvation with non-Jewish Gentiles far away from Jerusalem. The road had not been easy. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth, Paul briefly related just how harrowing his own road had been:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

In today’s chapter, we hear a very different tone. Paul knows that he is in the homestretch of his Earthly journey. He can see the finish line. He is not giving into despair. In fact, his tone is confident. He is not giving up and limping home. In fact, he is still dishing out orders for Timothy to bring his scrolls and parchments so he can continue to work until the end. But, Paul is reflective. He looks back at his life and confidently makes three strong statements:

I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith.

No one knows, for the most part, exactly when their own earthly journey will end. Lord willing, I am still only at the half-way point of my own journey (even though I realize this morning that I have followed Jesus about as long as Paul had when he was martyred). It will take me twice as long to accomplish less than a ten thousandth of what Paul did. A humbling thought.

Nevertheless, today I am encouraged and motivated by Paul’s words. I have a long way to go, but when that day comes that I sense the finish line approaching I hope that my heart will confidently whisper Paul’s words to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Continue

Monument Valley Utah
(Photo credit: gordon2208)

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….”
2 Timothy 3:14a (NIV)

I regularly refer to my life as a journey. If you don’t know it, the word “wayfarer” (the name of my blog) means one who is on a journey. Along the journey there are mountain top vistas and deep, dark valleys. There are occasionally breathtaking views and long stretches of monotony. Along the way we will all face our share of disappointment, tragedy, difficulties, stupid mistakes, unintended consequences, and personal failures. We will also experience our share of joy, pleasure, love, achievement, rest, recognition, and personal victories.

One of the lessons I have learned along the way, and increasingly appreciate, is that momentary stretches of the journey are best viewed in relation to the whole. My tragedies and difficult stretches always end up in my rearview mirror, and I always end up a little wiser for the experience. Likewise, I have come to have a much greater appreciation and gratitude for pleasureable moments of love and joy. Our daily journey through work and tasks and chores and honey-dos can get monotonous. If we’re not careful, we forget to relish the moments of joy when they occur.

As Paul writes his letter to Timothy from a Roman dungeon (one of the many dark stretches he faced) and realizes that his own personal journey’s end could not be far off, I found it poignant that the admonishment he gave to his young protege was: continue.

Keep going. Press on. Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Take another step.

Here we go.

This Has Not Changed

verses in the stairwayMy old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NLT)

On the stairway leading d0wn to the main floor of our home hangs a frame in which three different verses from God’s Message are hand written in three different calligraphy fonts. It was a gift to me from one of my brothers, who penned the verses himself and had them framed as a college graduation gift. The three verses were ones that I had memorized as a young follower of Jesus. They were verses I considered to be spiritual stakes in the ground and they took on deep personal meaning about who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life when my spiritual journey and my life journey were in the early stages. One of those verses was the verse above from today’s chapter.

It has been a quarter century and those verses have hung in every one of a dozen or so places I have called home. The paper is yellowing with age. The frame shows wear. Each day I pass it countless times as I walk upstairs to my office and back downstairs again. Every time I catch sight of it in my peripheral vision I remember the three verses. They go through my head once more and my heart touches them like a compass seeking true north. I think about where I started in my journey. I think about where I am today. I think about where I am heading.

A lot of water under the bridge; I’ve journeyed far since the day I first opened my gift. I’ve attempted short cuts that proved tragic dead ends. I’ve stumbled and fallen, and have gotten back up again. I’ve seen much, heard much, and lived much. I’ve experienced good times and bad. I’ve struck out more times than I’ve gotten on base, but I’ve also knocked one or two out of the park. I’m older. My hair seems to turns more gray with each passing day. I’m losing my hearing at a sad, rapid rate. Though blessedly healthy, I don’t have the strength or stamina that I used. I am nowhere near the waypoint I thought the journey was taking me when I was young and naïve (and that’s ultimately a good thing).

Still, I pass those old framed verses and I am reminded that this has not changed:

I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself up for me.

Back to Reality

Italy
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tenderhearted women
    have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
    to survive the siege.
Lamentations 4:1o (NLT)

Wendy and I just returned from ten days at the lake. We had a wonderful time with a house full of family for Independence Day, then had a week of peace and quiet. When I stopped to see my folks on Tuesday, my mother commented (numerous times, in fact) that this week was “back to reality” for me. After spending summers at the lake for a decade, she and my dad know what it’s like to unplug for a couple weeks at the lake only to return to a pile of things demanding your attention that have been building up back home.

In yesterday’s post I commented at the 180 turn Jeremiah’s epic blues poem made in the previous chapter. From the depths of the pit he is reminded of God’s love, faithfulness, and mercy. Out of the darkness his spirit is raised with unexpected ray of hope. What struck me this morning is the “back to reality” nature of today’s chapter. Jeremiah’s hope did not change his present circumstances. People were still starving. Death and destruction still surrounded him on all sides. Women were still eating the flesh of their own children to survive.

So it is with hope. Hope does not change our circumstances, but it changes our perspective of those circumstances. Jeremiah’s faith did not miraculously turn stones into bread to feed his stomach, but it fed his soul the nourishment needed to press on another day.

Hope does not change our reality, it simply changes our view of reality.