Tag Archives: Life

Stinkin’ Synchronicity

This past Sunday I was given the honor of pitching in relief for our pastor at our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. The text I was asked to address was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

In case anyone is interested:

I thought I did a relatively okay job of unpacking the theme of Life and Death in the passage. Then, in a moment of synchronicity on Monday I stumbled on the blog post entitled “The Stench” by my fellow blogger at Beauty Beyond Bones. She happened to hear a different message on the same passage this past Sunday. She wrote a powerful post that articulated it all so incredibly well:

When I was “dead” in my anorexia, my stench could be smelled a mile away. Aside from the obvious skeletal body and having my hair fall out, there were also things like, isolating myself. Being angry with a micro-short fuse. Lying. Manipulating. Outbursts of venomous speech. You name it.

It was ugly. It “smelled bad.” It was the stench of death. 

But the thing about the story is that Jesus worked through the stench…

I encourage you to read her entire post (and follow her blog). She nailed in a short blog post exactly what I was desperately trying hard to get at in a 30 minute message.

Stinkin’ synchronicity. I Iove it.

“Harsh Realities”

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 10:34

Follow me for any length of time and you’ll discover that I enjoy the game of baseball. One of the many reasons I enjoy baseball is the way the game metaphorically reflects life in so many ways.

In the narration of his great documentary about the game, Ken Burns speaks about the game beginning each season with the hope of spring, and ending each year with the “harsh realities of autumn.” How often life is like that. The optimistic young soldier ships out with his head filled of dreams of glory and returns with his spirit tempered by the realities of battle. A couple begins their marriage in the fog of romance, but soon find themselves living day-by-day facing the sacrificial requirements of love. Just months ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth with greeting cards chalk full of words about hope for humanity, joy to the world, and peace on earth. In a few weeks we will remember Jesus’ kangaroo court trial, torture, and gruesome execution. Death must come before resurrection can even be a possibility. That’s a harsh reality.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is preparing his followers for what life is going to be like on their mission of taking His message to the world. It’s not a pep talk. It’s a sobering reality check. Jesus didn’t fill His messengers with visions of fame, fortune, and prosperity. He called them to austerity, humility, and sincerity. He did not send them out with hopeful promises that the Message they would carry would create inspirational social movements of unity, peace and brotherhood. He told them to be wary and shrewd, expecting opposition, persecution, and conflict. The sweet manger baby we all celebrated as the “Prince of Peace” has grown to deliver a more difficult message: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Along my journey I’ve come to accept that we as humans like to dwell on the things that are easy, optimistic, inspirational, and accessible. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the glass half-full and being grateful for it. We need hope and optimism to carry us in dark times. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that there is wisdom in being sober minded. We are quick to remember Jesus feeding a hungry crowd of people by miraculously multiplying a few loaves and fish. Few of us recall that just a day later Jesus drove that very crowd away when He asked them to “eat my flesh, and drink my blood.” The crowds wanted the former without the latter. We still do.

Baseball season starts in a week and a half. Right now fans like Wendy and me are experiencing the annual feelings of giddy excitement. Come the evening of April 2nd it will be hot dogs and cold beer at the Vander Well Pub. Every team’s record starts at 0-0, and everyone is hopeful. This year Wendy and I even get to feel the joy of our team starting the season as World Series Champions, and that’s a lot of fun. It does not wipe away, however, the knowledge that we’ve never felt it before.

Harsh realities of autumn 108. World Series Champions 1.

Play ball!

Glory!

 

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
Isaiah 60:1 (NIV)

There is a piece of the creation story that is often overlooked. Even those who have a mere trivial knowledge of the Bible know that “Let there be light” was the first act of creation in the Great Story. What most people don’t stop to realize, however, is that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day:

“And God said, ‘Let there be light in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth. And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.’ And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.” Gen 1:14-17

Fascinating. The universe begins with light, but not from sun or stars or moon, but from a mysterious unmentioned source. What makes this even more intriguing is that end of the Great Story also contains light without sun or moon:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… The city does not need sun or the moon to shine upon it, for the Glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Revelation 21:1, 23

So there is the theological answer to the riddle. God’s “Glory” is the source of the light. The same Glory that radiated so brightly off Moses’ once he encountered God on the mountain that he had to cover his face. The same Glory that radiated off Jesus so brightly on the mountain top that Peter, James, and John were reduced to frightened, babbling fools. The same Glory that literally blinded Saul on the road to Damascus.

In today’s chapter Isaiah prophesies the coming of God’s Glory amidst the dark days of his current national circumstances (defeat, destruction, death, exile). He prophesies a Moses-like radiance for those who look to the Light:

Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy;

He goes on to offer precursor to John’s Revelation:

The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.

Most of us are familiar with the word “glory.” We sing “Gloria” in Christmas carols and may even utter a “glory hallelujah!” in exclamation. I’m sure few of us stop to consider what that “glory” is. It is Light direct from the divine source. Its power is terrifying. It is blinding Light that fills dark voids. It is Light that cuts through evil like the most powerful cosmic laser. It is light that radiates off those whom it fills.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Like a lot of people I’ve been feeling the shadows creeping over my soul of late. A dark sludge of anger, conflict, bitterness, doubt, and fear seems to have flooded our collective cultural consciousness. I have to believe it was even worse for Isaiah considering the realities he and his contemporaries were facing. We are so self-centered to think we have it bad when just a hint of historical context reminds us we don’t have a flippin’ clue. Nevertheless, I identify with the darkness Isaiah describes in his prophetic poem and am encouraged by the Glory-ous Light he prophesies.

I’m praying for a little Glory to penetrate my spirit and radiate out through the creeping shadows today.

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

Hope We Never Wanted to Imagine

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”
Isaiah 54:4 (NIV)

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted. In yesterday’s post about our vacation in Palm Springs I gave a host of reasons why I’ve been on an unintended sabbatical. This morning I had to wake up to the realization that I was, perhaps, simply trying to avoid today’s chapter.

I don’t know what to do with ‘No,'” Wendy often said to me in the depths of our journey through infertility. Walking with Wendy through that stretch of our journey I had the same fear. Though I still don’t pretend to fully understand just how pervasive that fear is for a woman whose body and soul is uniquely crafted to bring a child into this world, and is then repeatedly denied the opportunity.

Yes” is the answer on which you place our hopes.

Yes, you are finally pregnant.”
Yes, the pregnancy will take this time and you will bring it to term.”

Wait” is the answer we didn’t want, but we would be willing to put up with.

Wait, it will happen – just not yet.”
Wait, you are going to realize what you so greatly desire. But, just like so many other women, you will have to wait longer than you wanted.

No” was the answer we didn’t know how to handle.

And yet, “No” was what we, and so many others, have walked through. It is a part of our story. We couldn’t fathom it in that moment. We couldn’t go there in our minds. We couldn’t wrap our hearts around it. We avoided the thought like the plague. And, then it happened. It became part of our story. But, it is not the story.

In today’s chapter Isaiah uses the barren woman as a metaphor of lost and forgotten hope. Out of the depths of hopelessness Holy Spirit breaths through the old prophet’s poetic pen to bring new hope to the people of Judah whose lives and city lay in ruins. At the same time, Holy Spirit breathes a much needed reminder of renewed hope to all of us who have realized some of our deepest fears.

Our stories are still being written, and the pain of the chapter called “Infertility” is a part of it. It is just a chapter in the story. It is not the story itself.  Wendy and I have experienced God’s compassion and everlasting kindness. In witness of Isaiah’s prophetic word, Wendy and I can attest that God’s unfailing love has not been shaken, nor has His covenant of peace been removed. I write this knowing that it will not bring comfort to those who find themselves in the reality of that same fear. Those who live in acute fear of “No” will desperately distance themselves from the thought of it possibly happening to them. However, things that are true need to be written, and they need to be said for those who may not want to hear it in the moment.

This morning I am thankful for the chapter of our lives called “Infertility.” The grief of it will never fully recede in this life. That grief marks all who make that journey. We are, however, truly thankful for what that chapter of our journey has taught us and for the good places to which it led. Sometimes in this life our deepest and most natural of hopes and desires go unrealized. For those willing to follow, the journey leads further up and further in to good places you never wanted to imagine in the moment.

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.

Inclusive Love in an Exclusive World

“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Isaiah 49:6 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to recognize that we as humans love to  categorize and label ourselves and our fellow human beings. It’s part, I believe, of an inherent desire to know ourselves and our place in this world.

“Who am I?”

“Where do I belong?”

“How do I fit in?”

In the process of self-definition, we come to understand our social groups. I belong to a groups genetically (Dutch, English, Irish), racially (White), sexually (Male Heterosexual), geographically (small town, Pella, Iowan, Midwest, American), religiously (Protestant Christian), educationally (college graduate), economically (upper middle class), politically (conservative), fanatically (Cubs, Vikings, Cyclones), and vocationally (business owner). I could go on, but you see the point. And, if you are reading this your mind is probably already contrasting yourself from me (and perhaps even judging me) based on your own contrasting personal social groups.

Never in my life journey have I recognized how people in society are so quick to label and categorize others. Never have I witnessed so many different social groups (racially, nationally, politically) being so judgmental and dismissive of those who don’t look, think, act, believe, and belong like they do.

This observation comes at a time when, in my own spiritual journey, I am becoming more aware than ever that God’s entire Message is about love and inclusivity.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet Isaiah is writing prophetically, in the first person. Isaiah is taking up the voice of the Messiah. He is writing the scripted the words of Christ. Christ speaks in the first person of God the Father giving Him a mission of being redeemer of the tribes of Israel, the primary genetic, cultural, and religious social group to which He would belong during His earthly mission. Then He adds “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

God’s love and God’s Message were never intended to be exclusive, secret, guarded, hoarded, and doled out to a selective few. They were intended to be generously and inclusively shared to every societal group we could ever think of or imagine. You can’t reach the “ends of the earth” until you’ve reached through every societal group and touched every one.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that I can’t fulfill Christ’s calling to me as His follower to inclusively share and spread that Love, Light, and Message, if I live and love exclusively within my own societal groups.