We wait. Some more than others. We wait. Different ways. We wait. For different things.
I have sat quietly … rarely, as the holidays are busy for me and my family … thinking about a specific truth: people throughout the Old Testament sat, like me, only for much longer periods of time, waiting on the Messiah. I found these words on a website,
“Almost a millennium and a half prior to the birth of Jesus, God began to give His people an enormous amount of specific information about Jesus’ life and ministry … Barton Payne itemized 127 Messianic predictions … more than 3,000 Bible verses … 574 verses referring directly to a personal Messiah … ”
“1 Peter 1:11 speaks of the Old Testament prophets’ predictions ‘ … the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow’ (NIV). The Messiah’s coming was not a secret left in a corner, but the repeated revelation of God to His people in the Old Testament.”
Here are fourteen Old Testament references about Jesus coming to fulfill the prophecies, and to bring New Life, and hope to a dying world:
2 Samuel 7:16.
I am lacking in words to reflect my awe in the faith of countless sojourners, who went ahead of me … not only me, but ahead of the birth of Christ … who never quit waiting, and hoping, and praying, and believing, that Jesus would truly come. Centuries. And their beliefs, and instructions were passed on through generations. I’m afraid we are not so successful in our communication of the redemptive truths, from one generation to the next. Today, we celebrated Christmas. Many … like me … waited, for Christmas to come. And, yes. Christmas came. Now, what? We go to work tomorrow. But that’s not all there is to it. We know a truth, and hope, and a faith, deeper inside our hearts and souls that we are … definitely … a significant, sacred, piece of something, and some One, bigger than ourselves. We are told by the Father, to not grow weary. We keep waiting. We wait, actively, for what Jesus has in store for us: this side of heaven, and the other side of heaven.
Tolkien’s Gandalf, opens up The Two Towers (2nd of three films) facing off with a Balrog on one side, his people on the opposite side. Gandalf standing in the gap, armed with a staff and a sword; armed with courage, passion, wisdom, life-experience, vision and redemptive confidence.
The sword, such an intense symbol for quite a few ideas, concepts, realities, etc. A fairly famous place where a sword is used metaphorically is in Ephesians 6. The reference, there, is “the sword of the spirit.” Another place, Hebrews 4, the reference is “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Lately, I have found myself in some uncharted waters, facing some grueling battles within me; but far more accurate and evident, I have been in the midst of fighting against the forces of mediocrity, self-pity, and the notorious enemy emphasized in the New Testament. So, in the context of life, I am stepping out of … “that” … and into “this”. And as I step out of “that” and into “this”, my intent is to keep in step with He who saves, and He who fights for us, and with us, and equips us. Indeed, I am equipped with a sword for when the battles come … and they have come, and they will come … and I know that I will prevail over those dark spirits and principalities who oppose the Christ, the Body, and my family. What other choice do I have …
I have been forgiven for so much, including my choices to give up hope on different days, at different hours. I am in the process of reclaiming hope, now. I reclaim lost ground, now. A stake has been driven into the earth, pounded down beneath the snow-covered surface of the ground: a stake that proclaims this ground as sacred. And it was the ground, the surface of this fickle earth, that some supernatural Blood was spilled on to from the Christ … a man from a place known as Nazareth. This was long ago, but the Blood of Jesus Christ of Nazareth has transcended every day, week, month, year, century since then to fight against the strongest foe, and to wash away all of our stuff that makes us unclean.
Some things, you get a good hold on, and don’t let go.
Some things, go, kick them out the back door, “And don’t come back!”
” … we do not lose heart … outward man is perishing … inward man … renewed day by day … our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory …we do not look at the things … seen, but at the things … not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Romans 4:16-18
The crowds of nonsense run rampant, and they want you to run with them. Places to go, people to see, things to do. Or… Slow down, hold on, don’t jump … just to follow the crowd. Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song called “Hold On to Jesus”:
“I have come to this ocean
And the waves of fear are starting to grow
The doubts and questions are rising with the tide
So I’m clinging to the one sure thing I know
I will hold on to the hand of my Savior
And I will hold on with all my might
I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting
And hold on to Jesus
I will hold on to Jesus for life … “
A bull rider, gets ready for the chute to open. Maybe the most important thing for him to do, is to get his grip on the rope just right. The roaring and angry bull is fighting to get out of the chute. The bull rider is holding on for the ride of his life, because his life may depend on it. The bull rider knows what is true, in that moment, what is real: the focus of getting his grip ready; a 2,000 pound bull fighting underneath him to get the heck out of that chute. Indeed: the bull is true. The bull is real. I need to approach each day, getting a good, tight, grip, for the ride of my life.
A good-hearted soul spoke a blessing into my life recently. The content below is paraphrased, and reframed as a general blessing, as opposed to a specific blessing:
“God loves you and He will turn your sorrow into great joy. He will show up, and give you ___________ and ___________.”
This person cares enough for me, nothing short of kind and unselfish, to speak good words, words of life, into my life. The idea that God would speak to, and through, this individual with a message for me is awe-inspiring (no sarcasm here). The fact that God will do something big in my life, specifically, is amazing to me. Having said that, I am stirred by this scenario, a scenario that has happened before, the scenario where one tells me what God is going to do in my life.
Here is the rub. What a man or a woman tells me, that God is going to do, may be accurate. Or, maybe not. At times I wonder, “How does someone know for sure that God told them this?” Is it possible that they misunderstood God? One amazing attribute of God is that His mystery. It’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s painful. Regardless, part of our journey, especially if we embrace this part, is to sit … as still as possible, as quiet as possible … in that mystery; the mystery of God. When someone tells me, “Bro! God can do that!” My response is, “Oh yes … I know. I know that He can do that, and whatever else He wants to do. But will He?” Interesting, how as individuals, we have opportunities to do something, but we are unwilling (to differing degrees). Some of this is about doing what we are supposed to dod, and when we are supposed to do it. To put it a different way, sometimes we don’t do what we are capable of doing because we are not supposed to do whatever it is we are being pressured / asked to do. So, just like life itself, this stuff can get a bit messy,eh?
“When the Lord brought back [a]the captive ones of Zion, We were like those who dream. 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter And our tongue with joyful shouting; Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” 3 The Lord has done great things for us; We are glad.” Psalm 126: 1-4
From captivity, that which holds us back …
We dreamed … and we dream,
We laughed … and we laugh,
We were joyful … and we are joyful,
We know that God has done good things for us … and will do good things for us,
Mr. Griff, if you are out there, and you know you are, accept my thanks for passing on those words … many years ago:
“A self-made man must have a very small god.”
A variation …
And here are some words that were a bit strange, the first time I saw them / heard them from Galatians 2: “I have been crucified with Christ and Inolongerlive, butChristlives in me. The life I now livein the body, Ilive by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This life, of mine, is bigger than myself. There is something bigger going on, than me. In many ways, I am not the point. I wonder about this “self-made”man. Arguably, there are two different contexts; or … a different thought … two different types of a “self-made” man. The one that we are more familiar is described with one my favorite “go-to” websites:
A “self-made man” or “self-made woman” is a person who was born poor or otherwise disadvantaged, but who achieved great economic or moral success thanks to their own hard work and ingenuity rather than to any inheritedfortune, family connections or other privilege.
The other self-made man, the one I am referring to is the one who believes that, on some level, he really doesn’t need God. Oh, sure … God is important; and religion. But when it comes down to it, “I fix my own problems; I bring about my own success.” Frankie (Sinatra) sang a song, “I did it my way.” I am coming up short in my objective of writing about this topic thoroughly. I am missing something, and I don’t know what it is. I am grappling with this idea. Maybe this is a good way to wrap this up … A self-made man’s god doesn’t require as much as God does. And,the inverse of that is that a self-made man’s god does not give as much freedom as God does. One can, up to a point, control his god. One cannot … control his God. The god, that starts out being controlled, holds another inverse: such a god often times controls the individual. The example I was thinking of is a drug addict. In most cases the drug addict starts off not being addicted. The drug addict ingests the drug, decides he likes it, and chooses to try it again, And again. And again. In this experience, the control shifts from the user to the god. The meth-addict might lose his or teeth quite rapidly; his / or face may become scarred for life from sores. At this point, the user is no longer control of his God. In the realm of Christianity, worship is considered a good thing. With a self-made man’s god, however, worship is a unfathomably dangerous choice.
I wrote a post entitled “Bucket Problems”, about addictions. One of the guys I try to keep up with, through his blogs, gave me feedback about that post. His encouragement and insight brought me back to the writing desk, on the Other Side of the Trees, to write more about “Bucket Problems.” Here is a hypothetical scenario, where addictions are at play:
A man pours his energy, heart and soul, into a bucket. The idea is that the bucket will hold all that is valuable and sacred. A shiny, good-looking, bucket. But, emptiness happens. Something is wrong. He pours more of who he is, what he has, into the bucket. But, the emptiness continues, and is stronger. He pours out more of his sacred self into the great bucket. The bucket, however, is not a great bucket. In fact, it is not even a good bucket. The bucket has holes. There are bucket problems.
“Addictions”, in our society, often refers to several categories: substance abuse; binge eating; alcoholism (even though alcohol is a substance). Other addictions fly under the radar and are socially acceptable (and therefore are not considered addictions). Check out some of these potential addictions, a short list:
Being a victim
An addiction is not just about substance abuse. Part of the human soul craves relief. We want something that will ease the pain of living in this world. We, as individuals, can (try to) hide in our addictions: work, reading books, eating. My work in addictions, my work with addicts and recovering addicts led me to the realization thatthe addiction is not just about the addiction. Something is driving the addiction(s).
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon (many people believe that the author was Solomon) wrote about his realization that everything he pursued for meaning and comfort was … meaningless. That is, everything but God.
1:12-14 ” … I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.13 I … study (studied) and to explore (explored) by wisdom all that is done under the heavens …14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
1:18 … For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
Pleasures Are Meaningless (subtitle)
2:1-26 … I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test (self) with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless.2 ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?’3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards …5 gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem … the delights of a man’s heart.9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done? 13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. 14 The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God,25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Solomon’s words “chasing the wind” suggest that such pursuits are futile. Such cravings, are part of a desperate search for meaning, for comfort. How we manage that, how we control that, is up to the individual. My belief is that it is only through the“reliance” on God, that the“holes in the bucket are plugged.”*Note: the words quoted came about in a discussion with a poet-photographer-friend who blogs:
I would like to acknowledge one of my “go-to” books on addiction: Addiction and Grace by Gerald May. I would not say that this volume is “easy reading” ; but instead an excellent reference for looking at addictions from a non-religious, non-denominational, and non-judgmental spiritual perspective. The same author wrote The Awakened Heart, which I heartily recommend.
Thanks for reading this lengthy post, and I hope you found some value here.
Image. Jesus tells Peter to be “a fisher of men”. And, Peter follows His words.
Image. Jesus tells Peter to cast his nets in an area that Peter had already done so … But Peter followed His words, again, and threw his nets into the area that Jesus was referring to. Result? Peter caught some serious fish! The nets were maxed out.
Quote and image. “The (enemy) loves to fish in troubled waters.” There are times when I avoid the name(s) … for different reasons. The image. I see a silhouetted fishermen (all black) standing up in a boat, his fishing pole bent forward toward the water, the line tight, because he has caught someone .. bringing in his catch.
Quote and image. “Catch and release”. A wise man holding a fish, then removing the line, and returning the fish to the water, watching the fish swim off. Catch and release.
This morning, I went through the motions of chores, making my wife coffee, and I found myself plagued with memories of the past, along with a particular story from the news that happened several years ago. For many years I worked with kiddos (between ages 10 and 17) who were in the custody of Social Services / Human Services. Often the case was that they had been removed from their homes because of abuse (sexual / physical) due to parents and / or siblings. The stories do not completely go away from my mind; I am not completely healed from the secondary trauma I have sustained from my experience, sitting with these kiddos in a counseling office. Remembering comes back. It is sort of like what we talk about in addiction recovery. For recovering addicts / alcoholics, the importance of acknowledging relapse symptoms cannot be minimized, and one expression is powerful: “The wolves still howl.” A variation of that expression is: “The wolves still howl; maybe not as frequently, maybe not as loud, but they do … still … howl.” I think that expression applies to my disruption, even though there is not an addiction dynamic happening. Indeed, the wolves still howl.
So, when the wolves howled this morning … when the memories of these kiddos and their stories flooded back … I found myself angry. This process led me to the idea that God does not intend to “keep” everything we find. The healing is not up to us. Bringing justice to the situations … it’s not our responsibility. We are called to “release” the pain. We are not called to carry this pain with us for the rest of our lives. Not every fish we catch goes into our boat. I think … the anger will never go away. I also think that I could be very wrong about that. As I “release” those kiddos to God, who loves them, and their pain, and their stories, and the perpetrators … maybe I am called to release my anger.
“(Pause) Hmmm. That bucket looks alright, on the outside. Is it working for you?”
“Actually, I haven’t tried it out, yet. Heck, let’s give it a trial-run,” … he picks up a water hose, turns it on, and points the end of the hose into the bucket. Water comes flowing out, into the bucket).
We both watch the bucket, and immediately water comes out of the bottom of the bucket; three or four different streams. Apparently, there are holes in the bottom of the bucket. The owner, and the custodian, of the bucket is no longer enthused about his “new” bucket. Now, he is concerned, confused, a bit angry, and embarrassed about his bucket. I speak into the uncomfortable silence: “You have bucket problems. In fact, you have holes in your bucket. (Pause) What were you going to use that bucket for, anyway?”
“I was going to pour my energy into this bucket. I was planning on the bucket giving back to me, joy and relief from the hardships in this world, a place to escape for a while.”
In the realm of addictions, individuals pour their hearts and their energy into buckets with holes at the bottom. But, the bucket never gets full. I have quoted from three of Gerald May’s books numerous times in my writing. Now, I think of a word / concept May used in his book Addiction and Grace: “attachments”, which he often uses interchangeably with the word “addictions”. “Attachments” connects with us more effectively than “addictions”. We get attached to ______________ (consider filling in the blank, even it it is regarding someone other than yourself). The buckets that we use, sometimes, are deceptive. We might believe that that there is joy, meaning, relief, to be found in that bucket. But unless we rely on God, most buckets have holes, toward the bottom. The desperate sojourner responds by continuing to fill up that bucket, even though whatever we put into that bucket is simply coming out of the bottom.
So, these three heavies … corrupt politicians … walk up to two guys, surround them with their henchmen, take them downtown to the station, throw them into the slammer for the night. Next morning, the two guys are brought in front of the heavies with the judge:
“WHAT … in the heck are you guys thinking? Going out in the city, talking to people about this Jesus guy? Everything that goes along with it? UNACCEPTABLE! You know who’s in charge: us.” (Pause)
(Another heavy speaks) “By what power or what name did you do this?”
(Peter, an apostle, speaks) “Okay. Here’s the deal. I’m Pete. This is John. We aren’t here to start any trouble. And, yeah, I get it that you guys are the ones who are in charge, at least to a very limited degree.”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them:
“Rulers and elders of the people!If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed,then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected which has become the cornerstone.’ … “
And if I was there, I would have said this:
“So, how about them apples?”
In a different conflict,some of these guys talking about Jesus were seized, brought before the heavies, the Sanhedrin. Once again, these power people were confused about what to do.
“A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5: 34-39)
The first time I read this passage, I was curious. Who is this Gamaliel?
Quite an adventure, here. These guys went up against the heavies; they stuck to their guns, to use an odd expression. And, good things happened. These guys had no idea that there would be someone sitting with the Sanhedrin … someone who would speak in favor of them. Life definitely can be strange.