The Book, and the Journey

While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the Lord, the priest Hilkiah found the book of the law of the Lord given through Moses.
2 Chronicles 34:14 (NRSVCE)

I was just 14 years old when I decided to become a follower of Jesus. The first thing I did after making that decision was to begin reading the Living Bible that I’d received for my confirmation a few years before with it’s puke green, imitation leather cover. I’d learned about the Bible all my life. I’d read verses from it, but I’d never really read it. Somehow I knew as I launched out on my faith journey that I had to read the Book for real.

A short time later I had an after school job and my boss asked if I’d like to do a Bible study together. I jumped at the chance. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we met together in his office. One of the first things he had me do was memorize Joshua 1:8:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (FYI, I typed this from memory. It’s still in there!)

That first memorized verse set the course for me spiritually. I have been journeying through God’s Message ever since. The Book is the source material of faith. I have read it through in a year. I’ve read it in different translations and paraphrases. I have studied it academically. I have studied it alone and in groups. I have memorized parts of it. I keep plumbing the depths, discovering new layers, and finding new meaning as I make my way through it again and again from altogether different waypoints in my own Life journey. (And, I continue to read it with those few brave souls who follow along here a chapter a day!)

In today’s chapter we are nearing the end of the Chronicler’s historical summary of the Kings of Judah. Mannaseh had reigned for fifty-five years and the nation had fallen back into its idolatrous ways. Now young Josiah becomes King and leads the people in a revival back to the God of their ancestors. First, he gets rid of all the idols in the land, then he begins a restoration campaign of the Temple of Solomon. This was not a quick process. The restoration of the Temple began 18 years into Josiah’s reign. During the restoration they discovered the Book of the Law (what we would know today as Genesis through Deuteronomy). In other words, the source material of the Hebrew faith had been lost and forgotten for years. They didn’t even know where it was, let alone did they remember what was in it!

How long had they been stumbling along without the source material of their faith? What were they relying on to inform them, encourage them, and instruct them? Oral tradition? The memory of old priests? How did they know they were living in accordance with God’s Law if they didn’t even have a copy of the Law to reference? The discovery of the Book of the Law was huge, as we’ll find out in the final few chapters of Chronicles.

This morning I’m thinking about my never-ending journey through the Book and the Great Story. How different my journey would be without this Source of wisdom, history, instruction, inspiration, encouragement, admonishment, and insight. I’m so thankful I took Joshua 1:8 to heart. I’m so grateful that I’ve not had to fly blind in my faith journey, that I’ve had the Book as my Source material.

Thanks for reading along with me.

Paying Heed

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they gave no heed.
2 Chronicles 33:10 (NRSVCE)

I had the lunch earlier this week with a young father. He and his wife have a two-year-old daughter. Over lunch we talked about some of the life lessons I’ve learned as a father. Chief among them is that, as followers of Jesus, we believe that “we are not our own but have been bought with a price.” In the same way I believe our children are not ours. They are a gift of God that we are called upon to steward in order that each child might follow God on their own respective journeys. The hard lesson is accepting that my child’s path may not look like the path I would choose for her.

In that vein, I often found myself sharing sage advice and wise counsel with my children. In many cases, the wisdom was born out of my own tragic mistakes and important life lessons. And, quite often, they paid no heed.

Welcome to parenting.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler shares the story of Mannasseh, the son of good King Hezekiah. We don’t know all of the circumstances of the relationship between father and son, but we do know from doing the math that Mannaseh was born when Hezekiah was in his early forties. Hezekiah had a great track record for following God and doing things by the Book. There was even that improbable deliverance from the evil Assyrians we read about yesterday. Talk about a great example to follow.

But, Mannaseh paid no heed to his father, to his father’s legacy, or to his father’s God. The Chronicler says that God spoke to Mannaseh and to the people, but he paid no heed.

Another lesson I’ve learned in parenting is that we often expect our children to behave differently than we, ourselves, behaved in childhood. It’s the “do as I say not as I did when I was your age (not that you’ll ever find out about that if I can help it)” principle. But I was like that. I had my own experiences with paying no heed to my parents, my grandparents and God. It’s part of my journey and a big part of those life lessons that led to wisdom.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about myself, not as a father but as the child of God that I still am. I can’t forget that Jesus said becoming like children is required if we want to be part of the Kingdom. Are there places, even now, in which Father God is speaking, whispering sage advice into my spirit, offering me wisdom from His Message…

…and I’m paying no heed?

The Improbable Actually Happens

[The Assyrians] shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.
2 Chronicles 32:18 (NRSVCE)

It’s such an improbable moment. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and your team trailing by three runs. The grand slam to win the game. It actually happened on Sunday night when a Chicago Cub rookie named David Bote actually pulled off the improbable home run that every kid dreams about on the sandlot.

Sometimes the improbable happens. Jesus, who pulled off all sorts of improbable feats, reminded His followers that with God nothing is impossible, no matter how improbable.

Today’s chapter records one of the most improbable events in history. The Chronicler provides a condensed description of the events, which were more thoroughly told by the scribes who wrote the book of 2 Kings and by the prophet Isaiah.

The Assyrians of the ancient world were really bad dudes. They had taken warfare to a whole new level and made themselves fabulously powerful and wealthy by raiding, plundering, and decimating other nations. They were the first to use siege engines and had a corp of engineers who found all sorts of ingenious ways of breaching the walls of the cities they attacked.

The weapon the Assyrians used most effectively, however, was fear. They were heinously brutal in their treatment of conquered. They impaled people on spikes, skinned people alive, dismembered people, and burned others alive. The Assyrians discovered that the more brutal they were, the more fear they spread into the next cities on their campaign and the more fearful people were, the easier it was to defeat them.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler records another tactic the Assyrians used. They had a master manipulator who would stand outside the city walls and talk smack to the people inside in their own language, psychologically wearing them down with fear and intimidation. The Assyrian envoy loudly mocks King Hezekiah, mocks the Judeans, and mocks God.

Hezekiah stands firm. He reminds his people, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.”

The defeat of the Assyrians is an improbability bordering on impossibility. Jerusalem didn’t have the defenses to withstand a siege. The Assyrians were on a roll. They were better equipped, more experienced at war, and had everything in their favor. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and King Hezekiah is down to his last strike.

And then the improbable happened. The entire Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem dies overnight. Historians to this day argue about what happened to the Assyrian army, but the improbable actually happened. Jerusalem was spared by the most improbable of events.

This morning I’m thinking about discouragement and fear. It’s so easy to get down and discouraged. I find myself bombarded in news media and social media with messages telling me to be afraid of everything. Everything is so bleak. There is so much to worry about. Things are so terrible, so awful,  and so hopeless. Ugh.

Today I’m encouraged by a grand slam and a historical event.

The improbable happens.

Fail, Rinse, and Repeat

Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke down the pillars, hewed down the sacred poles, and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all.
2 Chronicles 31:1 (NRSVCE)

I decided to become a follower of Jesus when I was a young man. As I began to walk this new journey there were a number of behavioral patterns in my life that I knew I needed to change. There were thoughts, words, and behaviors that were incongruent with the teachings of Jesus. Just like last week’s post I felt a certain internal conviction that I needed to “carry out the filth from the holy place.”

Some of these behavioral patterns were easy to remedy. I simply willed myself to behave differently and it happened. Other behavioral patterns weren’t so easily changed. For years I had fed certain natural appetites in unhealthy ways. These behaviors gave certain levels of comfort, pleasure, and masked some deep soul wounds in ways I didn’t even fathom. With the best of intentions I committed myself to changing the behavior only to find myself, in short order, back doing the same thing I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore.

In today’s chapter we read about the aftermath of King Hezekiah’s homecoming Passover festival. He’d invited all the Hebrew people scattered in the region to return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast which commemorated God delivering the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. It was a huge success. Revival broke out. The people were humbled and recommitted themselves to the Lord. They repented of their idolatry and went out to tear down their pagan idols. They were going to change their ways!

But wait a minute. Haven’t we read this somewhere before? The people repented of their idolatry during the reign of Asa back in chapter 15. And again during the reign of Jehoshaphat in chapter 19. And again during the reign of Joash in chapter 24. Each time they repented, vowed to give up their idols and follow God. Then they find themselves right back in their idolatrous ways.

Conviction. Repentance. Commitment. Obedience. Temptation. Disobedience.

Rinse, and repeat.

Oh man, do I get that. Along my journey I’ve battled my own demons in the form of appetites out of control. I’ve found myself cycling around and around and around with these unhealthy thoughts, words, actions, and relationships. I feel like a total failure. Here I am again. Ugh.

Looking back now from almost 40 years in the journey here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The cycle is a natural part of the journey. There are lessons to be learned in it. There are lessons that can only be learned in the on-going struggle against our own out-of-control appetites.
  • The cyclical journey and on-going struggle led me on a long slog to dig deeper (multiple counselors and mentors), search farther (reading, studying, friends, accountability, support groups), and to become more brutally honest with myself about my own weaknesses.
  • Plumbing the depths of my depravity led to a deeper understanding of, and experience with, God’s grace and mercy.
  • Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you’re truly ready to change.
  • With each failure, each renewed commitment, and each return to the path of repentance it was hard to see that I was getting anywhere at all but in hindsight I can see that this wayfaring pilgrim was making slow progress towards addressing the core issues that lay beneath my surface behaviors.

This morning I’m recognizing that the people of ancient Judah were a macrocosm of the human struggle against our human weaknesses and out-of-control appetites. Another call to repentance, another revival, another turn away from what was tripping them up. Somehow I don’t think this is the last time. The cycle of struggle was pointing them and me to a very important truth. I can’t do it on my own.

I need a Savior.

chapter a day banner 2015

Family Week at the Lake 2018

Ten years ago Wendy and I made what was a rather momentous decision for the two of us. We decided to buy my parents’ lakeside property and the 70′ single-wide on Lake of the Ozarks. It was their retirement home that became an annual family destination for family, love, and fun. Both Taylor and Madison had grown up spending summers at the “Playhouse” with Grandpa and Grandma. Wendy and I dreamed that it might be place with which we could bless others and someday share with our own grandchildren.

That in mind, just a couple of weeks ago was another rather momentous milestone. Our family gathered at the lake for a week of fun together, and it was our grandson Milo’s first trip to grandpa and grandma’s “Playhouse” at the lake.

The kids actually all arrived before Wendy and I did on Sunday. Madison flew into St. Louis with her boyfriend, Garrett. They rented a car and drove to the lake. Taylor, Clayton, and Milo drove from Des Moines, stopping in KC for a lunch and road break. It was late afternoon when Wendy and I arrived.

The week fell into a rather pleasant groove. It’s interesting to note that every adult had some kind of work they could, or needed to, do remotely so there were hours of each day in which everyone was engaged in doing his or her own thing.

Wendy had done a masterful job of arranging the evening meal plans and the girls pitched in helping with sides. It was fun enjoying an evening meal together each night along, having conversation around the table, and of course there were the requisite slices of Wendy’s cheesecake for dessert.

We enjoyed watching movies together at night and spending mornings and afternoons in the sun (and ducking the unexpected rain) on the dock. Milo got his first swim in the lake (he wasn’t exactly sure about the whole thing). We had wave runner rides and an unexpected wave runner breakdown resulting in pulling it out and taking it to the shop. There was an enjoyable afternoon in the pool at Bear Bottom.

Madison and Garrett headed back to SC on Thursday. The rest of us enjoyed lunch at the Red Head on Friday and the kids headed for home on Saturday morning. Wendy and I had a lunch date, taking the wave runners to Popeyz for lunch on Saturday. Then it was and afternoon and evening of clean-up and preparation for our next guests.

“Return”

“For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
2 Chronicles 30:9b (NRSVCE)

A few years ago I wrote a play and the entire play was created out of one simple truth: At some point, you have to return home. From there I reached out and plucked a leaf off the tree of tales about a young boy who ran away from his true love and stayed away for many years. When tragedy strikes just over a decade later he has no choice but to return home, and with it he must face the thing he’s been running from for so long.

The theme of “returning” is a big one across the Great Story. There are so many stories in which people find themselves off in some kind of wilderness. Sometimes they place themselves there and sometimes they are there against their will, but somehow they eventually return in some fashion whether they are led, they are invited, they are forced by circumstance, or they simply choose to do so.

In today’s chapter we pick up the story of King Hezekiah who is trying to help his nation heal after years in which they’ve willfully wandered from the God of their ancestors and many find themselves in the wilderness of captivity. In yesterday’s chapter, Hezekiah had the Levites clean out the temple and prepare it to be used as it had been intended for the worship God. In today’s chapter he sends out a proclamation throughout the land, even to neighboring countries where people were living in exile and captivity. The proclamation simply asked people to do one thing:  return.  Hezekiah wanted all of the Hebrew people to come to Jerusalem for the biggest annual festival on the Hebrew calendar. The Passover feast celebrated God delivering their nation from slavery in Egypt.

Along my journey I’ve seen the theme of return play out in the lives of many people in many different ways. I’ve observed that we often abandon faith in God early in life. Sometimes it’s a willful choice out of disagreement with the faith institution of our childhood. Sometimes it’s prompted by pain or a tragic victimization of some kind. Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing to go our own way. So we wander, and often our spirits are stuck back in childhood. Then later in our life journey I observe people returning, not necessarily to an institution, but to God whom they find altogether different than those childhood memories of pain, anger, doubt, and frustration. Not because God has changed, but they have changed and with it their understanding and perceptions.

In today’s chapter the people of Judah returned for the Passover. Just as Joseph returned to his family. Just as David returned after years as mercenary in exile. Just as the remnant returned from Babylon in Nehemiah’s day. Just as the prodigal son returned in Jesus’ parable. Just as Peter returned after denying Jesus. Just as Jesus returned to the Father after His resurrection.

Just as….

No matter how far we may wander, no matter where we may roam, I’ve found that God’s Spirit is always whispering to our spirits:

“Return.”

 

Carrying Out the Filth

[King Hezekiah] said to them, “Listen to me, Levites! Sanctify yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and carry out the filth from the holy place.
2 Chronicles 29: 5 (NRSVCE)

One of my projects this summer has been to get my garage organized. I’ve only gotten so far, however, because there’s some stuff in the garage that has been cluttering up the space and until I get rid of that I can’t move forward. I can’t get things moved around and bring in some organizational pieces that will make the garage a more workable space. So, I’m really excited today that I’ve successfully sold some things and they’re going to be gone today.

Here’s the simple, but profound truth I’ve learn along this Life journey: There are times when you can’t move forward and get where you’re going until you get rid of the stuff that’s in the way.

In today’s chapter we’re introduced to King Hezekiah who takes over the throne from the tragically flawed King Ahaz who we met in yesterday’s post. I have to remember that these stories don’t exist as independent silos or time capsules. They are connected. Hezekiah is inheriting the kingdom of Judah from Ahaz in a state of chaos, defeat, upheaval, and disunity. The place is a shambles.

I also have to remember that Ahaz didn’t follow God and instead basically followed every god available to him. He had no regard for Solomon’s Temple or the God of his ancestors. He not only took the utensils used in worship of God and had them cut up and given to the King of Assyria, but Ahaz also allowed Solomon’s Temple to become a worship center for other gods. It had become a pantheistic free-for-all with regional gods who practiced things like child sacrifice, temple prostitution, and a whole host of nasty stuff.

That is the state of things that King Hezekiah inherits. So the Chronicler is quick to tell us that Hezekiah’s first move is to tell the Levites (the Levite tribe was specifically tasked by God to be the caretakers of the temple) to go into the Temple and “carry out the filth from the holy place.”

Hezekiah gets the principle. Before they could move forward spiritually as a nation, they had to get rid of the crud cluttering up the place that was supposed to be holy and dedicated to God.

For followers of Jesus, this story has another layer of meaning entirely. Jesus was a game changer, and He taught His followers that the Temple, the holy place, was no longer a building in Jerusalem but it was his followers themselves. The night before He was crucified He told His followers that He would send Holy Spirit to “be in you.”

Game changer.

The “holy place” where God’s Holy Spirit descended and hung out would no longer be a small room in one temple in Jerusalem. The “holy place” would become human beings. God’s Message repeatedly tells me that my body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” who is in me and that I am “God’s temple.”

There are times when I, Tom Vander Well, temple of God, cannot move forward spiritually until I clean out the filth from the “holy place” of my very own body and soul.

Ugh.

Today, I declutter my garage so I can move forward with making it a better space.

What “filth” needs to be carried out of my soul so I can move forward spiritually?

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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