From 35,000 Feet Up

There is a first time for everything.  I like that saying.  It rings true at the moment as I’m writing this post from an airplane in excess of 30,000 feet.  This is one of the perks of being married to a working professional.  I realize that sounds highly reductionistic, but it’s true.  My wife is a business woman at the top of her game, and I reap the benefits as her husband.  It costs money to use the internet on flights, but my wife had a promotional code in order to waive the cost.  I could say that I’m fortunate, but what about blessed?

Once again, I know that previous statement crosses the line into ridiculousness.  Let me just say that I’ve learned quite a bit about traveling and airports from my wife.  Gone are the days of using paper boarding passes.  I have the airline apps to Delta, United, and American, and checkin online while using my iPhone to scan the electronic boarding pass.  In Disney’s Aladdin, Princess Jasmine and Aladdin sing the classic tune, “A Whole New World,” as they enjoy the sights and sounds high above on a magic carpet.  It’s a romantic song underscoring a romantic sequence.

Here is the connection between the song and my life.  Marriage to my wife has thrust me into a whole new world.  I’m soaring on great heights enjoying fabulous sights and sounds from a vantage point totally foreign to me fifteen to twenty months ago.  When I saw her at the birthday party in March of 2013, I only pictured a potential date and nothing more.  I had been on so many first dates that I lost count.  My current wife could have been another statistic.  Instead, she is my partner for life, who knows a thing or two about life and airline travel.  I am blessed, but it humbles me, too.

I know that I made a conscious choice to strike up a conversation with my wife at the birthday party.  I engaged my will to keep dating her and then take things to the next level.  Those are very real decisions that I made after praying through them.  Somehow I cannot quite escape an inner knowing that God guided me to my wife.  He was behind my will to choose my wife.  He opened my heart and eyes to see  and receive her.  God brought her to me the same way he brought Eve to Adam in the Garden (Genesis 2:22b, ESV).  It is amazing that such goodness and blessing has been possible in a fallen world.

Again, it causes me to stop and think.  In the midst of a sin cursed world, life and beauty and love spring into being.  Thorns and thistles continue to grow, but only for a time (Gen. 3:18; cf Roman 8:21, ESV).  My marriage is evidence that the kingdom of God has broken into this world.  The Spirit of God has formed my marriage, and it is my hope and prayer that I allow him to sustain it.  There are things I am to do as a husband; however, I am to do them by the power of the Spirit.  This means surrendering to God and his word.  He has the answers, the wisdom, the know-how.

Before I sign off, there is one more thing that I want to add.  Marriage has given me new insight.  It has softened some rough edges, but more remain.  Humility has been a constant theme.  I have needed to rely on God, his Spirit, and his word more than ever.  It is crucial for me to recognize where God is, who he is, and my place in relation to him.  I will end with these words from the prophet Isaiah: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite'” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).  

“…Now, we must remember we may be more like Job than Joseph.  Joseph eventually got to see what God’s plan was.  Things came together and he could look back and see God working all along.  More of us, however, never get to see that much of God’s plan for our lives.  We are often like Job, who even at the end of the ordeal never is told what the reader knows, that Job’s trial was seen by the heavenly council and became the subject of one of the great literary works of the ages.  Most of us are neither like Joseph–who saw many of God’s reasons behind his suffering–nor like Job–who saw almost none of them.  It is likely we will see some, and perhaps a few more as the years go by.  But regardless of how much we are able to discern, like Joseph, we must trust God regardless.”

 

(Timothy Keller, “Trusting,” Chpt. 13, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p263, 2013)

Tim Keller on Trusting God in Trials

“It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing.  It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well.  These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory.  When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God who sees our hearts.  Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.”

(Thomas a Kempis, “The Value of Adversity,” The Imitation of Christ, p9, original pub. 1418, Dover Ed. 2003)

 

Thomas a Kempis on the Value of Adversity

In Between Christmas and New Year’s

I have found the time between Christmas and New Year’s to be uneventful.  Sometimes I have returned to work during this time, which always interrupts the celebratory feel.  It is true that this valley between Christmas and New Year’s is a time to recover and rest from the stress of buying and exchanging gifts, traveling, preparing meals, and so forth.  In the end, it seems to me that my wife does it best.  She takes two weeks off in order to finish the year celebrating and partying, and then start the New Year on the right track.

Many people do not have the luxury or ability to take that much time off over the holidays.  In my case, I must return to work this coming Tuesday for a mandatory work day.  It is what it is, and I do not begrudge my employer one bit.  What is even better is when the celebrating continues after they officially end.  Here is what I mean by that statement.  Christmas Eve and Day are behind me along with the wonderful food and gatherings common to those two holidays.  I’m wrapping up my time in Florida this Christmas, but one final gathering remains much to my surprise.

The celebration starts in about two hours here in Titusville, Florida.  Homemade paella is on the menu.  This is a glorious Spanish dish with seafood and rice.  To me, this means more food and more fun.  Both are yesses in my book.  By now, there will be tons of articles discussing ways to follow through on New Year’s resolutions about exercising and losing weight.  I’m sure that I’ve gained my holiday pounds, but these gatherings only happen once a year.  Something tells me that what I’m about to say will sound cornball or cheesy.  From my perspective, I will be celebrating during the in-between times or the time between the times, which refers to Christmas and New Year’s.

 

Behind the Scenes of Daniel’s Prayer in Daniel 10:1-14

I’m a movie buff or in elitist terms, a cinephile.  In many ways, I speak and think using images and sounds.  The movie language is my language.  When someone asks me to name my favorite movies, I trip over the answers all the time.  There are too many, and I wind up making a list by genre.  What I find even more fascinating about movies is the behind the scenes footage.  I love seeing how they did it.  One gains a deeper appreciation and understanding for the movie and for those who brought it to life.  It is like being given new eyes and ears.  The passage below could be described as “behind the scenes footage” regarding prayer.  Here it is:

12. Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.  13. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,  14. and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days.  For the vision is for days yet to come'” (Daniel 10:12-14, ESV).

Before diving into this fascinating text, let me supply the background to it.  In the second and third verses of Daniel chapter ten, the writer records that the prophet had been fasting and mourning for three weeks (Dan. 10:2-3, ESV).  This sort of thing should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the book of Daniel.  The very first chapter records the young, Hebrew prophet leading his three friends into a time of prayer and fasting at the beginning of their captivity (Dan. 1:8, 12-16, ESV).  When King Nebuchadnezzar orders his soldiers to kill all the wise men of the land for their failure at interpreting his dream, it is Daniel who buys some time through prayer and fasting with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 2:12-19, ESV).

There are two other instances recorded in the book of Daniel about the prophet fasting and praying for God to speak.  One occurs in the sixth chapter and the other in ninth.  The former pertains to Daniel learning about a decree that punishes those who refuse to pray to Darius by casting the offender into the lion’s den (Dan. 6:6-10, ESV).  In the ninth chapter, the prophet’s life is not under any threat as he desires to know the outcome of his nation and people within God’s purposes and plans (Dan. 9:1-3, ESV).  All of these circumstances reveal a man committed to the Lord by submitting himself to a lifestyle of fasting and prayer.  Each time the God of heaven and earth either delivers Daniel from his situation, or grants him divine revelation into the matter at hand.

After reading account after account of God answering Daniel’s prayers, it comes as no surprise to see the same thing take place in Daniel 10:12-14. In fact, I would argue that this is precisely what the reader should expect at this point.  The difference this time around has to do with this particular account portraying demonic opposition toward the angelic messenger (Dan. 10:13, ESV).  What amazes me is that God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer had been given as soon as he began to pray; however, the answer had been delayed twenty-one days (or three weeks) because the prince of Persia fought against the messenger (Dan. 10:12-13, ESV).  This is a vivid depiction of God’s kingdom in direct conflict with Satan’s, who dispatched the prince of Persia after eavesdropping into Daniel’s prayer to the Lord.

What are we to make of this passage?  It is behind the scenes footage (or intel) regarding some prayers and their answers.  In the church, it is often taught that God responds in three ways to the prayers of his people: yes, no, or wait.  Waiting tends to stretch or test the faith of the one praying.  What this passage in Daniel chapter ten seems to teach is that a delayed response is not always God saying “Wait.”  In Daniel’s case, the Lord’s reply was actually an unmistakable yes. The delay had to do with the enemy’s opposition to the answer.  Of course, this raises plenty of questions, but I will not address them for the sake of time and space.  If there is one takeaway about this passage, then let it be persistence. Daniel prayed for three weeks, which was the same amount of time as the enemy’s resistance toward the angelic messenger.

Did Daniel know about this conflict?  The text does not say, but I think not.  Daniel kept fasting and praying right up until the moment the angelic being appeared to him (Dan. 10:4-5, ESV).  The prophet’s persistence in prayer brings to mind Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow in the gospel of Luke, the eighteenth chapter.  I do not have the time and space to unpack this wonderful parable.  I encourage my readers and followers to read that passage side by side with this one in the tenth chapter of Daniel.  Here is the point.  The spiritual principle of persisting or persevering in prayer is found in both testaments.  Prayer is spiritual warfare.  It positions God’s people to see and hear in the midst of a violent conflict.  This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel: “…the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12b, ESV).  Prayer is the believer’s battle cry while on earth.  It is a cry heard by his God in his heavenly temple (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4, ESV).