On “Remember When Wednesdays” I look back at a post from yesteryear and re-blog one for newer readers. This was originally posted in August, 2006. Note to reader: If you read my previous post today, I would like to point out that I have actually gotten somewhat better at this!
Yesterday Wendy and I headed to Des Moines in my new company car. I was low on gas, but the car’s computer told me I had 58 miles left. I did the mental calculations to figure out if I needed to stop before we got to the Doctor’s office and then kept my eye on the odometer. As we trucked down University Wendy asked if we needed to get gas. “Nope, we’ll make it!” I answered. The computer told me so.
As we got off the exit at 22nd street in West Des Moines I had 10 miles left and a half-mile to the doctor’s office.
That’s when I ran out of gas.
Don’t trust the computer – trust your wife when she tells you to stop! :)
The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him… Nahum 1:7 (NIV)
The prophet Nahum lived and wrote his prophecy in troubled times. The kingdom of Israel had been split in two, the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah. When Nahum wrote his prophecy the northern kingdom had been attacked and decimated by the Assyrians.
The Assyrians were known for their brutality and cruelty. When they conquered a city, they would mercilessly hack the limbs off their victims and then leave the limbs and bodies stacked like a pyramid outside the city gates. It was their calling card, the sign that the Assyrians had been there. Now that the northern kingdom of Israel had experienced it, the southern kingdom of Judah feared a similar Assyrian attack.
Fear and anxiety are common emotions. Today I find it common for people to experience economic fear (When will the economy get moving again? Will we experience what happened in Greece? Is the stock market going to collapse?) and fear of terror-ism (When’s the next 9-11? Are ISIS terrorist cells on our soil just waiting to attack? ). There is anxiety about global politics (Will Iran get a bomb and attack Israel?) and climate change (Will global warming create disastrous change in weather patterns?). When Wendy and I watch or read the news we will often observe to one another that there seems to be one major theme: “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.”
Nahum also lived in a time of fear, and his prophetic message was to encourage his readers not to give into fear, but rather to trust in God. Nineveh (the capitol of the Assyrian empire), he prophesied, would be destroyed. His prophetic word was fulfilled. Assyria was destroyed by the Medes and Persians in 612 B.C.
It’s Monday morning as I write this post. The first Monday of a new month. For some of us, even the prospect of what the coming week holds brings anxiety. There is uncertainty about what we’re going to do in the coming month and how we’ll get through. Nahum’s message is a good one. Notice that he doesn’t promise freedom from trouble, but that we will find God a caring refuge in whatever comes our way.
Today, I’m choosing not to give into anxiety and fear, but to trust God to be a caring refuge for whatever comes my way.
Then the man brought me to the main hall and measured the jambs; the width of the jambs was six cubits on each side. Ezekiel 41:1 (NIV)
The political and religious geography of modern day Jerusalem is complex. An important center to three of the world’s major religions, it can be a dizzying mishmash of faith, culture, religion, and politics. This also makes it arguably the world’s most perpetual political hotspot.
I was in Jerusalem near the Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall,” which is located at the base of the Temple Mount. The wall is a section of stones which were part of a retaining wall that supported a large expansion of the temple mount by Herod shorty before the time of Jesus. The Hebrew temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. After the muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637 A.D. the el-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock were built on the site and remain to this day. Political tensions at the time meant that the mosque and Dome of the Rock were closed to non-muslims (though we were grudgingly allowed by muslim authorities to climb an adjacent rooftop and look over the area).
The temple, as envisioned by Ezekiel in these final chapters, has never been built as described. This leads many Jewish and Christian teachers to believe that it will, someday, be built. At one end of the Western Wall complex is a visitor’s center which is dedicated to planning for and the rebuilding of the temple once again. Many Christian scholars read the breadth of eschatological (study of the end times) material and believe that the temple will be rebuilt before the end in fulfillment of what has been written.
I stood at the Western Wall among a throng of Jews and Christians, looking up at the muslim complex which towers above it, and the stairway (blocked and barricaded at the time) that leads up to the temple mount. It was hard for me to fathom a shift in the political and religious stalemate which would allow for the rebuilding of a Jewish temple.
This leads me back to the mystifying subject of prophecy and the end times. I have come to understand that prophetic visions, dreams, and metaphors are layered with meaning, and it can be almost impossible to see and clearly comprehend all the layers. This morning I have more questions than answers as it relates to these things and confess that the on-going textual blueprint of Ezekiel’s temple vision seems to hold very little meaning for my Monday or the week ahead.
And so, I am thankful for the chance to visit Jerusalem and gain personal context for these things. I am trusting that all things will work together towards prescribed times and events. And, I am praying that I may not be so distracted by theological rabbit trails that I neglect more important matters of fulfilling the command to love God with all I’ve got, and to love others as I love myself.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. Job 42:3 (NIV)
Earlier in our walk through the book of Job I shared some of Wendy’s and my experience with infertility. Many of Job’s questions echoed our own questions during the darkest days of our striving to have a child together. The questions still arise from within us at times, but it happens less frequently the further we get in our journey.
The truth of the matter is that I still don’t understand. I have made peace with the fact that we will never understand on this side of eternity. Some things we will simply never know or comprehend. I can choose to let it eat away at my insides until my existence becomes enveloped in bitterness, madness, or both. That’s not a great way to live.
Wendy was the last of her close group of friends to get married. She was 33 when we wed nine years ago. She shared with me some of her struggles with singleness, and she finally found a place to rest in it. “If God is good,” she told me, “and I believe He is, if God has my best interests in mind, and I believe He does, then I have to trust that there is purpose and a plan for what I’m going through even if I don’t understand it.”
That same logic helped us through our struggles with infertility. I still find myself repeating it from time to time when the scabs on the soul wound begin to itch. As I read today’s epilogue from the story of Job, it seems to me that Job came to the same conclusion, though he used different words. Sometimes you have to choose to believe. That’s called faith. Not only is faith required to believe that God exists, but also to believe that God has a purpose and a plan for me despite my present circumstances.
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house,a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby,and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house,when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
Last night Wendy and I attended a special healing service at our church. The theme of the service was healing our losses. It was about facing those griefs that have us mired on life’s road, about processing them so we can spiritually move forward. There was a large crowd on hand, and a good portion of the night was spent in quiet worship. There were stations set up around the perimeter of the room for people to receive communion, prayer, holy water, or to symbolically surrender their losses. Wendy and I have both had our share of losses in life, and it was good to meditate, reflect, and have some personal conversations with God about those things.
What struck me most last night, however, was the tremendous compassion I felt for others. I was surprised how many people I knew. I was also surprised at the pieces of their stories I knew. The abused who became an abuser and whose life fell completely apart. The person who lost a spouse. The person whose marriage ended in terrible pain and whose life is out of control. The person with incurable disease that is wreaking havoc on the home front. On, and on, and on. My heart broke for friends and acquaintances. My own whining and petty complaints were silenced in relation to the pain I saw realized in the lives of others.
Job seemed an appropriate book to start this morning. I was struck by Job’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. We all fear getting “the call” telling us tragedy has struck, but Job gets four of them in rapid fire succession. Assets gone, employees gone, business gone, children gone. We all have our share of pain in this journey, but I imagine that precious few of us know the sheer terror of losing everything we own, and nearly everyone we hold dear in a matter of minutes.
Psalm 112 is a psalm that I’ve internalized as a foundational text for my life journey. It describes the kind of person I desire to be, and I found myself reciting it over and over in my heart last night at the service. It came to me again this morning as I read of Job’s unforeseen calamity:
“He has no fear of bad news, His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear. In the end he will look in triumph at his foes.”
I am going to have my share of tragedy in this journey. It’s inevitable. Worrying about it, fearing its arrival, and being anxious about what dark tidings the future may bring do nothing to make this day worthwhile. In fact, I’ve come to realize that the unholy trinity of worry, fear, and anxiety serve only to suck the life out of me and keep me from living this day fully and abundantly.
Today, I’m thinking and praying about those who are suffering tragedies and losses in life that I can scarcely imagine. At the same time, I’m trusting God with today, tomorrow, and each day of my journey so that I can be free to live this day fully. I will have my own share of grief and loss along the way, but I will also have God’s grace and provision in the moment(s) that I need them.
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)
I am up early after a fitful night’s sleep. As I write this post, summer is making its annual transition into the hectic pace of autumn. All around me, life is in transition. One of our daughters is in the midst of vocational transition, moving across the country this morning, and still uncertain where she is going to live. Our other daughter is packing up her worldly possessions, preparing to move across the ocean, and making a major investment in her education. Wendy’s sister, who has lived with us for the past year, is in the throes of that bumpy transition from youth to adulthood complete with the upheaval of routines, relationships and emotions that accompany it. My parents are in transition with the concerns of life and health as their life journey takes an unexpected twist in the road. This past weekend Wendy and I looked out over the newly poured foundation of the house we are building; A project that wasn’t even on our radar six months ago.
I have, for many years, made this chapter-a-day routine part of my daily life journey. One of the reasons for this habit is the regular experience I have of God meeting me right where I am in the moment, speaking to me in my need from the words in that day’s chapter. This morning is a perfect example
Worry was my bedfellow this past night; Anxiety my companion. Sitting red-eyed in the empty hotel lobby with my first cup of coffee I open my laptop, pull up today’s chapter, and silently enter into an intimate give and take with the Creator. Jesus says:
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
“Don’t worry,” I hear Him quietly add to my spirit as I finish reading. “I’ve got this.”
Along life’s journey I have had many counselors. Many were trained professionals and I paid for their services. Many were personal friends or relatives with wisdom and a willingness to listen when I needed to bend their ear; Those whom I trusted to provide me sage advice.
I have also had close friends and associates who have been confidants along the journey. These were not necessarily the same a counselors, though some were and are both. A confidant is a person whom I can entrust to know, keep and safely protect personal information and possessions – though I may not be looking for their counsel or advice with those things.
As I read the verse above, I meditated on the fact that each of us need good counselors and good confidants for our respective life journeys. Some may be with us for a lifetime, some for a small stretch of the sojourn, but they each play an important role in our story. Some, as in the case of Ahithophel, may prove to be unworthy of our trust. Ahithophel sided with David’s son Absalom in his plot to overthrow David, and committed suicide when the plot did not succeed. It’s a reminder to be wise in our choices of who we trust. I have my own tragic stories of confidences betrayed, though I choose to let those things go. I have enough to struggle with each day without adding on-going bitterness and animosity to the pile.
This morning I am thinking through the names and faces of those who have been my trustworthy counselors and confidants over the years and how blessed I have been to have each of them in my life.