Tag Archives: Joy

Fire, Dross, Faith, and Joy

Aluminum Dross (source: Wikipedia)
Aluminum Dross (source: Wikipedia)

Son of man, the people of Israel have become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver.” Ezekiel 22:18 (NIV)

In today’s chapter God uses the metaphor, or word picture, of dross to describe the ancient nation of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and the people (specifically the rulers and power brokers). So, this morning I’ve been doing a little internet search on metallurgy and learning about dross.

Dross is solid waste material made up of impurities and appears when you fire metal with intense heat into it’s molten, liquid form. The impure dross floats on top of the molten metal and, in the way it would have been dealt with in Ezekiel’s day, was skimmed off as waste.

The word picture is clear to those who had been following and listening to Ezekiel’s messages. The fire of God’s judgement would reveal the impurities in the rulers of Jerusalem, marked by corruption, idolatry, and moral failure. When the heat was turned up (the Babylonians were coming to lay siege to Jerusalem) the corrupt and impure leaders would be skimmed away like dross off of molten metal.

The thing I love about the metaphors God uses throughout His Message is that they are layered with meaning across time and space. Over 500 years later God would speak through Simon Peter in his letter to persecuted Jesus followers scattered across the land:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

 Once again we find the fires of persecution blazing, this time in the form of the Roman persecution of anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus. Instead of the fire revealing and skimming off the dross, the fires accomplish a different purpose. The fire refines and reveals the genuine gold, which is the faith of those who were willing to be thrown to the lions in the Roman Circus rather than recant their belief in Jesus.

Today, I am reminded that all of our lives are subject to times of suffering intense heat in circumstances that can run the gamut from judgement to persecution to tragic circumstances that defy reason. I have learned along life’s journey, however, that there is purpose in the pain. Suffering reveals things about our souls and our character. It separates the pure metal from the dross. For those who have faith to see, we find inexplicable joy amidst the suffering.

Receipts and Rejoicing

Statute of Kukky. Photo by rimski via Flickr.
Statute of Kukky. Photo by rimski via Flickr.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

So, the past few days I’ve had to play both sides of the field in response to having all of my stuff stolen. Defensively, I’ve been protecting against identity theft by changing accounts, user names and passwords. Offensively, I’ve had to initiate three different claims (hotel’s insurance, personal insurance, work insurance) and tell the same story over and over and over again. I’ve also had to start replacing and rebuilding both my personal and business lives as they relate to all that I do on computers (which is almost everything). I haven’t had much time for anything else, which means other things are piling up.

Arrrrrrgghhhhh. Didn’t I say something yesterday about the possibility of you catching me grumbling not-so-nice words? Taylor did reply with a creative idea for responding to the thieves should they ever be caught: send glitter to your enemies. Thanks for that.

So, the prophet Habakkuk’s final stanza was a good reminder for me this morning. He and his people were facing national annihilation at the hands of an army of merciless marauders. I’m simply trying to *$#&Sing remember where in the world I might find documentation for that *#&@ing pen. Despite the massively dire circumstances he faced, Habakkuk (Meaningless aside: How did his family and friends shorten his name, anyway? Hab? Haba? Bak? Kukky?) was intent on remaining joyful. Given the, in contrast, relatively minor annoyance of my own current circumstances, the least I can do is be intent on the same. I will rejoice, even though I still can’t find that bloody receipt.

 

Simple Virtues; Simple Joys

A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.
A Des Moines Tribune headline from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1981 I still have in my archive.

You will eat the fruit of your labor;
Psalm 128:1-2a (NIV)

This morning as I went to the front door to gather the newspaper off the front porch, I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia. The simple joy of gathering the paper off the porch on a frigid January morning, and reading it over morning a hot cup of coffee is deeply rooted in my soul. I got my first job when I was almost twelve working as a paper boy for the now defunct Des Moines Tribune. There were two Des Moines newspapers when I was a kid. The Des Moines Register was the morning paper and the Des Moines Tribune was the afternoon paper. My buddy Scott Borg and I would categorize people in our neighborhood into “morning paper” people and “afternoon paper” people. Me and my family were afternoon paper people until the Des Moines Tribune closed up shop.

As a paperboy for “The Trib” I picked up my bundle each afternoon after school at the corner of Madison and Lawnwoods Dr. With a big yellow canvas paper carrier that was slung over the shoulder and a bag of rubber bands (or plastic bags on rainy days), I would begin my trek each week day west up Madison Avenue to Lower Beaver Road, then south to Douglas Ave. I would make my way back north on Lawnwoods Drive, as I zig-zagged up and down the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues. Delivering The Trib also meant you had to deliver the giant Des Moines Sunday Register early every Sunday morning. The slug who delivered The Register each weekday morning got to sleep in.

Map of my old paper route.
Map of my old paper route.

Every two weeks I was tasked with making a personal visit to each of my Tribune customers to collect their subscription fees. They would pay me and I would give them a little receipt torn from a perforated sheet of receipts. I would have to count the money, balance the amount, and turn it in to my regional manager. I got to know many of the people in the neighborhood around my home and even got a tip from time to time.

I come from a family in which the protestant work ethic was firmly engrained. Work was a virtue to be pursued at an early age. From my early career in the newspaper business I became an “Inventory Specialist” for my dad’s sign company. The monotonous task of counting hundreds of screws, bolts and washers out of large bins taught me very quickly that I just might want to do something different with my life. Paperboy, bolt counter, corn pollinator, lawn maintenance, film duster, actor, babysitter, bus boy, and retail clerk. By the time I left high school and headed off to college I had a wealth of work experience. By the time I left college I could add librarian’s assistant, cook, dishwasher, resident assistant, waiter, caterer, and voice over talent to the list.

There is honor in doing a job. There is even greater honor in doing a job well. That was the example of my grandparents, parents, and older siblings. That was the ethic of my Dutch ancestors. I’m grateful for that. This morning I’m thinking about simple virtues like doing a job, and about simple joys like opening up a newspaper with your morning coffee and reading your news “the old fashioned way.”

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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.

Clear, Concise, and to the Point

Use Recommendations
Use Recommendations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)

I laughed to myself when I heard a preacher admit from his pulpit, “I know that I’m just standing up here saying the same thing over and over.” (I observed that his confession did not lead to a quick conclusion of the message.)

I love messages simply crafted, clearly delivered, which get effectively to the point. As I have read through the letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James countless times I am always struck when they conclude with a quick, and to the point, summation. In today’s chapter, Paul concluded his letter to the believers of Jesus in the city of Corinth with this summation:

  • Be joyful.
  • Grow to maturity.
  • Encourage each other.
  • Live in harmony and peace.

It’s like a quick check list. Without consciously thinking about it I read this one short list and find myself asking, “How am I doing?” as I read through each bullet. Questions abound. Am I joyful? Why or why not? Am I growing more mature? How do I know? What signs can I point to in my life? Am I encouraging others? Who? How? Am I living in harmony with others? What’s discordant? What is in harmony? Where am I sharp? Where am I flat?

I then find myself seeking one thing I can do today to experience joy, to grow, to encourage or to live in peace and harmony. One thing to keep pressing on towards my goal.

Quick, clear, concise, and to the point.

Got it. Let’s roll.

Confidence, Pride, & Encouragement

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I have the highest confidence in you, and I take great pride in you. You have greatly encouraged me and made me happy despite all our troubles. 2 Corinthians 7:4 (NLT)

Late this summer Wendy and I were blessed to have Wendy’s youngest sibling, Suzanna, come and live with us. Suzanna is attending her final year of high school here at the local public high school and getting involved in some of the artistic exploits she loves and are available to her in our wonderful little community. Last night was parent teacher conferences and we headed over to check in with Suzanna’s teachers. I must admit that it was a bit surreal returning to the high school. Madison graduated three years ago and I thought I was finished. But, you never know where the path will lead and what adventures lie ahead of us on the journey.

Having a teenager back in the house has prompted this father to a lot of personal reflection in the past few weeks. It has brought back a lot of memories, and even made me wax a little nostalgic for the days when Taylor and Madison buzzed back and forth in front of my home office and argued in the bathroom as they got ready for school in the mornings. It has been so quiet here on the 2nd floor of Vander Well Manor for so long.

As I read Paul’s words (above) I thought of Taylor and Madison who are grown and have struck out on their own respective paths. I have such confidence in them, am so proud of them, and am so encouraged to see the amazing women they have become. I thought of our sister, Suzanna, and the glowing comments we heard from teachers last night at parent teacher conferences. I am blown away by her courage to take a step of faith, enter a new community, attend a new school, and stretch herself in almost every way. She is proving herself to be such a capable, intelligent, articulate young woman in so many ways. We are blessed to share this time of life with her.

I have always believed that job one for a parent, starting day one, is to work yourself out of a job by raising children who can capably and successfully strike out on their own faith journey, make their own way in this world, and have their own positive influence on the lives of others. To watch it actually happen is the source of tremendous encouragement, pride, and joy.

My Kids

 

My and my youth group of 1980s kids in stonewashed denim, parachute pants, and permed hair!
My and my youth group of 1980s kids in parachute pants and permed hair!

I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth.
3 John 1:4 (NLT)

Twenty-five years ago I had just graduated from Judson College and was beginning two years of service as Youth Pastor of First Baptist Church in Marshalltown, Iowa. I can still remember my time there. I was young and head strong and, hindsight being 20/20, full of myself. But, it was a wonderful two years of working with an amazing group of young people. While my path quickly led elsewhere, I often regret not spending more time in Marshalltown. I am still in contact with many of the kids from my youth group through Facebook and am privileged to still be regularly sharing life with a few of them.

This Sunday “First B” is celebrating its 150th Anniversary and having a special gathering and celebration. All of the former pastors and staff have been invited back. Wendy is joining me as I head back up there to join in the festivities.

I thought of all my “kids” this morning as I read John’s letter to Gaius and the above verse. A quarter century has gone by, but I still think of every one of them as one of my spiritual children. On occasion I have received a note or an e-mail from one of them sharing how God is working in their lives today and of the things they learned while they were in youth group with me. Talk about a deep sense of joy. There are precious few things in life that compare. I know exactly what John was feeling. How awesome to know that my kids are walking in the truth twenty five years later.

Along with thinking about my youth group kids this morning, I’m also reminded of George Bailey and the way that every life touches every other life. You don’t have to be a youth pastor or serve as a minister to do the work of a minister. We do it every day in our homes, in our places of business, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, and when we’re in the grocery store. Ministry is not a job, it’s a smile, a kind word of encouragement, and a random act of kindness. What a joy we could provide to someone to simply share with them a word of thanks for the difference they’ve made in our lives.