Tag Archives: Past

Everyone Has a Past; Everyone Has a Story

An illuminated manuscript showing Dr. Luke at his writing desk.
An illuminated manuscript showing Dr. Luke at his writing desk.

And Saul approved of their killing [Stephen]. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. Acts 8:1, 3 (NSRV)

Sometimes there is meaning not only in the text itself, but in the context of the writing. Dr. Luke is writing this historic account of the events surrounding the early days of Jesus’ followers after the resurrection. He not only investigated the events but was a primary source. He knew these people. He spoke with them, travelled with them, and observed many of these events first hand. Three of Paul’s letters (Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon) reference Luke specifically.

So, today as I read Luke’s account of Stephen’s execution and the bloody persecution of Jesus’ followers, it was not lost on me that Luke is not shy about naming the responsible party: Saul. In tomorrow’s chapter, Saul will be blinded by the Light and transformed into Paul. Paul, Luke’s friend and traveling companion. Paul, the author of most of the texts we find in the New Testament. Paul, who would be transformed from executioner into the  early Jesus followers greatest champion.

I wonder what it was like for Luke to write these things about Saul, even as he knew Paul.

This morning I am reminded:

  • Everybody has a past. I wonder how many of Paul’s later converts knew that he was responsible for the killing, torture, and imprisonment of many fellow believers. No time for shame. It’s not about who we’ve been, but who we are and who we are becoming.
  • God can transform lives. Saul became Paul. God can and does transform lives. Light shines in darkness. Love conquers hate. Old things pass away, and new things come.
  • Every person has a story to tell. I love hearing people’s stories. I find it fascinating to hear people talk about what they’ve experienced, what they’ve learned, and where they are purposing to go in life. So, what’s your story?

The Thunder of His Voice on the Horizon

source: andyrs via Flickr
source: andyrs via Flickr

“At this my heart pounds
    and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
    to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.”
Job 37:1-4 (NIV)

While I was in college I had a friend whose family owned a cabin on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan. One evening we were visiting their cabin and parked along some cliffs that afforded an expansive view of the western horizon, the Great Lake, and the Chicago skyline in the distance. It was a gorgeous, calm evening but behind the skyscrapers of Chicago we saw black clouds rising. Over the next couple of hours we watched a massive midwestern thunderstorm develop before our eyes. The dark clouds rose like mighty pillars and giant tentacles of lighting spread out like a breath-taking fireworks display across the evening sky. As the storm enveloped the city and began to cross the lake, the wind rose and giant white caps began to break against the shore beneath us. The thunder was deafening.

God says that His eternal nature is evident in creation, in what He has made. That night looking out over Lake Michigan I remember thinking that we were witnessing a tour de force of God’s might. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and as I read the opening lines of Elihu’s conclusion in this morning’s chapter, my mind took me right back to that night.

Elihu’s final words regarding the thunder of God’s voice foreshadows the final chapters of Job’s epic poem. After 37 chapters of silence in response to Job’s questions and the long debate with his friends, God is about to open His mouth to speak.

As I write this post it is the morning of New Year’s Eve day. I look back on a strange and somewhat difficult year in 2014. I stand on the precipice of 2015 with more questions than answers. It’s perhaps apropos that the year had ended with a journey through Job’s epic poem, with questions, and with struggle. It is equally appropriate that the current year ends waiting to hear from the Almighty, and that the new year will begin with God’s voice. Whether God’s voice arrives in the thunder of a  midwest storm or the whisper of a still, small voice, I’m anxious to hear what God has to say. I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.

Sometimes, You Have to Go Back

broken chainI am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.
Philemon 1:12 (NLT)

Sometimes the words are impotent outside the context of the story. Philemon is one of the shortest books in all of God’s Message. It is forgotten. There aren’t a ton of pithy statements worthy of a graphic on Pinterest. It’s not really inspiring in great ways. It’s simply a short letter from one friend and follower of Jesus to another.

But, the little told story behind this brief epistle is nearly Shakespearean.

Paul is in prison. He has been imprisoned for telling others about Jesus and creating a stir wherever he goes. So, he serves his time and shares about his experience on the Damascus road with anyone who will listen. He shows love and kindness to his fellow prisoners.

Enter Onesimus. He is in trouble too. A runaway slave from the town of Colosse, he stole from his master and took off. Both offenses are punishable by death under Roman law. Onesimus runs into Paul and the talk. Paul shares with Onesimus about Jesus and Onesimus chooses to become a follower himself. Then, the realization. The man from whom Onesimus stole and ran is none other than Paul’s good friend, Philemon. Imagine the conversation Paul had with Onesimus:

Paul: Onesimus, you have to go back.

Onesimus: Back? To my OWNER?! The man who considers me his PROPERTY?!

Paul:
Yes. You have to go back to him and make things right.

Onesimus: What’s all this talk about if Jesus SETS YOU FREE, YOU’RE FREE INDEED?

Paul: Your soul will not be truly free until you make right what you have wronged.

Onesimus: Do you get it, Paul?! He OWNED me!

Paul: And now that you’ve both taken up your crosses to follow Jesus, you are both owned by God. You are not your own. Neither of you. You’ve been bought with a price: Jesus’ blood. Philemon is now your brother in Christ. You must go back to him and beg his forgiveness.

Onesimus: But, he can have me KILLED!

Paul: Yes. Yes, he can. But, he can also give you what both of your souls truly need. You both need grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The chains that bind you, both you and Philemon, are not physical. Don’t be anxious. I will send a letter with you. Philemon is a brother in Christ. He is a good man, just as you are, Onesimus. He will listen to me. But, make no mistake, my friend. You must go back to Philemon. You must make things right.

I can only imagine the scene when Onesimus arrived back at Philemon’s house and confronts the man who “owned” him, letter from Paul in hand. What were Philemon’s emotions as the sight of the slave who stole from him and ran away? What was his reaction when he reads Paul’s letter to find out that God orchestrated a divine appointment between Paul and Onesimus? What conflict of heart, if any, did Onesimus feel looking into the eyes of a runaway slave and seeing a spiritual brother in Christ for the first time?

Sometimes, you have to go back and confront the past before your future can truly begin.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 8

Purim street scene in Jerusalem
Purim street scene in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day chosen for this event throughout all the provinces of King Xerxes was March 7 of the next year. Esther 8:12 (NLT)

Each May, the community where I live (Pella, Iowa) has a large festival to honor the Dutch heritage of the town’s founders. Our community of 10,000 will have upwards of 100,000 guests descend upon us to feast, enjoy one of the many parades, see people dressed in traditional Dutch costumes and (if nature cooperates) to enjoy the half-million tulips blooming around town.

When I was small, Memorial Day was a time when I would accompany my Grandma Golly to the cemetery to plant flowers on the graves of family members and to remember them. When our girls were small, my mother took them to the same cemetery to plant flowers on those same graves along with the grave of my grandmother who had stood there with me.

As a lover of history, I like feasts, festivals and commemorations like our annual Tulip Time or the simple act of placing flowers on family graves on Memorial Day. I think it’s great when peoples, families or communities celebrate their heritage or keep a significant historical event alive for subsequent generations.

For those not familiar with the Jewish culture, you may not know that the story of deliverance we’ve been reading in Esther is celebrated each year with a holiday called Purim. The festival’s date is based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, so the date moves on our calendar each year and lands in February or March. In 2013 Purim will be celebrated from sunset February 23 to nightfall on February 24.

The celebration is rooted in four obligations:

  1. Public reading of the story of Esther
  2. Sending gifts of food to friends
  3. Giving charity to the poor
  4. Eating a festive meal

In an age when change happens so rapidly and culture is pressing forward at a break-neck speed, I often wonder if it will become increasingly difficult for future generations to appreciate the past. I personally believe that it is more important than ever for parents and grandparents to instill in children and grandchildren an honor and appreciation for heritage, history and key events of the past that provide a strong foundation in times when both the present and the future seem shaky and uncertain.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 32

Read up on what happened before you were born;
dig into the past, understand your roots.
Ask your parents what it was like before you were born; 
ask the old-ones, they’ll tell you a thing or two. Deuteronomy 32:7 (MSG)

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a small group of historians at the Van Raalte Institute in Holland, Michigan. These distinguished academics have dedicated themselves to researching and preserving the history of the Dutch in America. It was one of their books, Iowa Letters, that provided the source material for a play I wrote a few years back and I wanted to express my gratitude. It was a very pleasant visit. I even learned a thing or two.

I love history on both a large and small scale. History on the larger scale has given me a better understanding of human nature and taught me valuable lessons with which I’ve been able to make better life decisions. As it is said, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it (usually to tragic ends). On a smaller scale, researching and learning about my family, my family’s history, as well as my ethnic heritage has had an even greater impact.

In researching my family and my heritage I have gained a greater perspective of who I am. It has afforded me the opportunity to see myself in a larger context of the community and family system that helped form me. It has helped me understand the community in which I live. This, in turn, has given me insight into both the cultural, familial strengths I want to exercise as well as the generational sins I wish to address and to avoid.

God consistently tells us in His Message to look back and remember. In looking back, digging into the past, and understanding our roots we gain context in which we better understand ourselves. We are also reminded of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations, encouraging us to trust that faithfulness in our own.

Day 12: Things You Want to Say to an Ex

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 12: Things you want to say to an ex.

To all who can call me an “ex”:

Yes, I do realize what a blind, self-centered, insensitive ass I was.

I am so, so sorry.

Please forgive me.

I hope life is well.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 2

Star of Bethlehem, Magi - wise men or wise kin...
Image by Wonderlane via Flickr

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.” Matthew 2:1 (MSG)

It’s interesting to read this passage in light of our recent journey through Jeremiah’s story. Five hundred years before the events in today’s chapter, the people of Israel had been taken into exile. Where? To Babylon and Assyria, in the east. Those taken into exile were the best and the brightest of Israel‘s young men who, in some cases, rose to positions of leadership and influence.

Now, hundreds of years later, a celestial phenomena sends these foreign scholars and astronamers searching for its meaning. How did they know this event in the heavens signaled the birth of “the king of the Jews?” Since there is no record of the prophetic sign in the scripture, it’s most likely that a prophetic word was given through one of the Israelites in exile hundreds of years before. Perhaps it was Daniel or one of his friends. We may never know who it was, but we know that these many years later God weaves the tragic events of the exile into the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. The scholars from the east become a beautiful word picture. Among the very first to recognize the messiah and worship him were non-Jewish gentiles. Even at his birth, Jesus was gathering the nations.

Today, I’m encouraged reading the story of the Magi. It’s a great reminder that God is in control. He weaves the threads of past events into our present circumstances to accomplish his purpose. Like the Magi, my journey is simply a thread in a much larger tapestry.

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