Of Rubble and Restoration

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Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.

Psalm 126:5 (NIV)

I had a great conversation recently with a gentleman who shared with me some of his life story. It read like a roller coaster of ups and downs in business from the luxuries of being at the helm of successful corporate ventures to the bitter pill of his own companies that failed terribly and lost him everything. As he reaches the twilight of his vocational journey, I observed a deep joy within him for all that he’d experienced and also deep wisdom sourced in the lessons of both successes and failures.

As I mulled over what he told me, it reminded me of my own dad who I observed navigating his own vocational highs and lows as I was growing up. There is so much I observed in my parents that I never fully appreciated until I was a husband and father trying to provide for my family and make my own way through vocational peaks and valleys. It’s in adulthood that I finally appreciated all of the joys of vocational success, all the anxieties of job changes, and all the pain of business failures.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 126, isn’t fully understood outside of the context of history. In 586 B.C. the Hebrew people had their own “lost everything” moment. Their nation was plundered, their capital city destroyed, and their temple was desecrated and reduced to rubble. Most of the people were taken into captivity and exile. For a generation, they were forced to make a new life for themselves in a foreign land left to wonder if they would ever return to their own land and rebuild their home. Those not taken into captivity were left to try and survive amidst the rubble and the carnage. Some were reduced to cannibalism just to survive.

One of those left behind was the prophet, Jeremiah. The book we call Lamentations is his poetic expression of grief at the devastation he witnessed when Jerusalem was destroyed:

“This is why I weep
    and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
    no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
    because the enemy has prevailed.”

At the same time, it was at this rock-bottom, lost-everything moment when Jeremiah’s faith was activated and he discovered this thing called hope:

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

In 538 B.C. the first wave of exiles were allowed to return and begin rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple and for the next 100 years the restoration continued as more and more exiles returned.

Today’s chapter was a song likely written from the pinnacle of Jerusalem’s restoration and the realization of Jeremiah’s hope. As I go back and reread the lyrics, I imagine being the descendant of Jeremiah singing those lyrics on my pilgrimage to the Passover festival knowing that I was experiencing the realization of what the prophet could only dream.

As I meditated on this, I thought of my grandparents being newlyweds and starting a family during the Great Depression. I know their stories. They shared with me how little they had, how hard they struggled, and I got to observe them en-joy-ing the goodness they experienced in their later years, long after those tragic times. It strikes me that my generation is probably the last generation to have known that generation and to have personally heard their stories.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on the highs and lows of this life journey. There’s so much joy, faith, and hope to be found in life’s dark valleys if I choose to seek it. Wisdom is there if I open my heart to hear her speak to me. There is also so much to celebrate when the road of life winds its way up the next mountain and that dark valley is a distant memory and life lesson. That’s the waypoint from which the lyrics of Psalm 126 spring.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Lessons in the Landscape

Lessons in the Landscape (CaD Ps 125) Wayfarer

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 125:2 (NIV)

I have always had a touch of seasonal affect issues. The long, dark nights and confining temperatures of deep winter in Iowa tend to easily put me into a funk. The past few days, the sun has been rising noticeably earlier and with it the temperatures have been rising, as well. The thick, white blanket of winter snow is almost gone. I can feel my endorphins kicking into gear like seeds buried underground in spring.

Yesterday, Wendy and I had appointments late in the day and found ourselves driving down the highway starting at a bright sun and seeing the Iowa landscape uncovered, ready for the resurrection we get to witness around this time every year. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate the metaphors of creation. Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that Romans 1:20 has become a recurring theme in these posts:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

I have found that the spiritual truths that God wove into creation increasingly come into focus and gain clarity as my eyes weaken and my vision fades with age.

My chapter-a-day journey is trekking through a series of ancient Hebrew songs that the editors compiling this anthology put together because they were all “songs of ascent.” They were songs commonly sung by thousands and thousands of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for seasonal religious festivals.

Of the six songs of ascent I’ve read in recent days, three of them begin with references to “lifting my eyes” and “mountains“:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains” Psalm 121:1
“I lift up my eyes to you” Psalm 123:1
As the mountains surround Jerusalem” Psalm 125:2

Just as I drove through the Iowa countryside noticing the spiritual lessons embedded in the spring landscape, so the songwriters of the the songs of ascent were writing from the perspective of rural pilgrims hoofing it to Jerusalem. For many, it was a trip that took days or weeks to complete. What do I do when I’m on a road trip and heading to a particular destination? I look to the horizon for that moment I can see my destination and know that I’m almost there.

The lyrics of these songs of ascent use this common human behavior for spiritual purposes. Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple sat at the crest of a mountainous range. Viewed from a distance there are even taller mountains in the “surrounding” landscape. As a road-weary pilgrim finally seeing Jerusalem and those mountains in the distance, I would find myself still miles from my destination. My soul still has hours with which to meditate on the spiritual truths that God wove into creation.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling gratitude for the sun rising earlier and staying out later. I’m grateful for the sun’s warmth and the promise of the new life ahead. I’m also mindful of the spiritual lessons that creation has to teach me and remind me during this season each year; Lessons that Jesus pointed out to His followers:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Of Traditions

Of Traditions (CaD Ps 124) Wayfarer

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 124:8 (NIV)

Here’s a little trivia for you: The now almost requisite playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events dates to 1918 at the first game of the World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox. The series almost didn’t happen that year because so many Americans were across the Atlantic fighting in World War I. Fred Thomas, the Red Sox’ Third Baseman, and furloughed U.S. sailor got up during the seventh inning stretch and sang a moving rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. At that point, it wasn’t even the national anthem (that happened in 1931). It was so moving that it became a seventh-inning-stretch staple. During WWII, technology allowed for the anthem to be played by recording and it was moved from the seventh inning stretch to before the ball game. Other sports followed.

Obviously, the anthem has been a point of tension in recent years. It’s just interesting to me to realize that there were many decades of professional baseball when that the tradition didn’t exist. I find it fascinating how traditions can become so important to us as human beings, whether those traditions are religious, civic, social or familial. Messing with traditions can create major disruption in any human system.

I thought about the national anthem as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 124. The lyrics of this Hebrew pilgrim’s song read like a community anthem reminding the traveler of God’s blessing on their nation and deliverance from many enemies. The lyrics basically read like a national anthem for the Hebrew nation, and thinking of it being a tradition for Hebrew pilgrims to sing it while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem makes me think that it’s not that much different than the Star-Spangled Banner before every ballgame, or singing God Bless America at the ball game on Sunday.

When the songwriter of Psalm 124 penned “the flood would have engulfed us” the imagery was that of a dry river bed that fills up suddenly during seasonal rains and creates devastating flash floods. It’s a metaphor for the warfare and pillaging attacks that happened seasonally, just like the rains.

The song is structured for the first stanza to be sung by an individual leader, describing what would have happened had God not been with them. The second stanza is sung by all the people, praising God for deliverance from their nation’s enemies.

I find myself meditating on traditions in the quiet this morning. Wendy and I even talked about the season of Lent which our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is in the midst of celebrating. Lent is a tradition of followers of Jesus that goes back as early as 325 AD. There is nothing written in the Great Story in regard to it and there’s no requirement to celebrate it in any way. It’s simply a tradition that annually connects followers to Jesus’ story. That’s the way I’ve personally always approached Lent and every human tradition for that matter.

I’ve observed along my life journey that traditions can be a great way to remind a group of human beings about any number of things we find important from gratitude, to sacrifice, to history, and to matters of Spirit. I’ve also observed that when traditions themselves become sacred to the human beings within the system, then the meaning of the tradition can often be lost. The reason behind the tradition sometimes loses focus or potency as the tradition itself becomes the focus of the human system that holds it. I have experienced that the breaking of certain traditions has been a spiritually healthy thing for me personally. I have also found that rediscovering lost traditions, that may have needed to go away for a time, can be equally as healthy to my spiritual journey.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Songs for Different Seasons

Songs for Different Seasons (CaD Ps 123) Wayfarer

We have endured no end
    of ridicule from the arrogant,
    of contempt from the proud.

Psalm 123:4 (NIV)

I have, throughout my life journey, had the honor of regularly speaking to groups of people both large and small. One of the things that I have learned along the way is that those who may be listening are all over the map when it comes to their motivations for being there, the struggles they are experiencing both physically and spiritually, and what it is they are seeking. Everyone has a story and, depending on the situation, I may no a few, if any, of them.

Today’s chapter is another “song of ascents” or a song that Hebrew pilgrims would sing on their way to Jerusalem. What’s been fascinating as I journey through them this time is to see the variety of themes in the lyrics. Among the thousands and thousands of wayfarers making the sojourn to Jerusalem, there was any number of things weighing on their hearts and lives that they wanted to bring to God.

Psalm 120: Those feeling alone and in exile.

Psalm 121: Those seeking assurance of safety and security.

Psalm 122: Those seeking out justice.

Psalm 123: Those suffering the ridicule and contempt of others.

There were different songs of ascent for the different seasons of life each spiritual wayfarer might be in on the repeated journey to and from Jerusalem. Today’s song resonated with those whose hearts and lives were stinging from being the object of contempt and ridicule.

One of the realities that I find is often lost or forgotten among followers of Jesus was just how much contempt and ridicule He faced. After His first public message, in His hometown, the listeners rioted and wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Entire towns refused to let Jesus enter and teach in their villages, some let Him enter and treated Him and His message with contempt. Jesus’ own family attempted, at one point, to take control and have Him committed. Thousands of people were following Jesus one day, and the next day virtually all of them rejected Him and walked away. His closest followers were tempted to do the same, and one of those followers ultimately gave himself over to contempt and accepted a bribe in order to seal Jesus’ death with a kiss.

As I read the words of Jesus, these things shouldn’t surprise me:

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

“They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my name. And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other’s throat, everyone hating each other.”

“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the thousands of ancient sojourners trekking to Jerusalem, each with their own story, their own burden, their individual spiritual needs. Each with their own song of ascent to sing and prepare their hearts for worship, offering, and sacrifice. I think about the individuals who listened to me a week or so ago, each with their own story, their own burden, their own waypoint on the spiritual journey. Perhaps some, like those ancients who sang the lyrics of today’s chapter, feeling the ridicule and contempt of others.

I am reminded that this is a spiritual journey that I am on. The song of ascent that my heart sings today is not the one that resonated with me at different waypoints on the journey, in different chapters of my own story. My spirit will be singing a different song of ascent if my earthly journey continues a year from now, a decade from now, or beyond.

I have always experienced God meeting me right where I am at on the journey, no matter what song my heart happens to be singing.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell



Human Systems

Human Systems (CaD Ps 122) Wayfarer

There stand the thrones for judgment,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Psalm 122:5 (NIV)

I am happy to say that I have had very little experience with the judicial system along my life journey. Only once have I been sworn in to testify before a judge. I’ll be happy for it to never happen again.

That said, a system of justice has always been a cornerstone of human civilizations. In the ancient Near East, justice typically began and ended with the king who sat on the throne, though there were often larger systems set up in order to disperse the workload so that it didn’t fall solely on the monarch to hear every little dispute.

This is exactly what Moses was dealing with when his father-in-law, Jethro, visited him in Exodus 18. Moses was hearing every dispute from early morning until late at night. Jethro told him to create a judicial system and appoint judges to hear all of the cases, and only the hard cases would work their way up to Moses.

For the ancient Hebrew tribes making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the seasonal religious festivals, one of the side-benefits to the visit was to bring judicial issues to be decided. It was common for there to be a judgement seat or throne at the gate of the city where these judicial matters were heard and settled.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 122, is another ancient Hebrew pilgrimage song. In the lyrics of this song, the pilgrim is standing at the gates and he sees the thrones of judgment where the pilgrim can find justice. The lyrics then pray a blessing over the city so that the entire nation, including the pilgrims and their families, may live in peace and security.

In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind are meditating on two things that I’ve observed along this life journey, three things I’ve concluded. First, there will never be a perfect system of government or justice if human beings are involved. There is corruption in every human system of government and justice. Based on my experiences and observations, I believe it unreasonable and foolish for me to expect otherwise. This leads to my second observation. The best human systems of government and justice provide checks and balances to help protect the system from corruption and address corruption when it occurs. And, when the system fails to address and correct corruption it is my responsibility to do what I can within my power, citizenship, and rights to address it myself via the voting booth, free speech, and free assembly. Some systemic corruption gets addressed and corrected. Other systemic corruption continues unabated and is even accepted and praised by those who benefit from it. When I see that, I refer myself back to my first observation.

Interestingly, Jesus’ teaching had very little to say with regard to human systems of government and justice. His mission was not to change the kingdoms of this world but to instill the Kingdom of God into the hearts of individuals, into my heart, that I might bring that Kingdom into the human systems in which I interact every day. Jesus addressed individuals with the expectation that I should conduct myself in such a way as to deal honestly, honorably, and justly in my own interpersonal relationships and dealings. To serve others, and consider others more important than myself.

I’m not perfect, but I’m endeavoring to, once again, get better at it today.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Songs of Assurance

Songs of Assurance (CaD Ps 121) Wayfarer

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1 (NIV)

One summer of high school my friend Neal and I found ourselves standing in the middle of a desert in Mexico. It was something like 117 degrees that day. There were several vans of youth along with a few cars making our way toward Acapulco when one of the vehicles had an issue. Our local guide stayed behind to wait for and deal with a mechanic and our youth pastor told Neal and me to stay with him. I remember thinking, “This has got to be one of the strangest moments of my life.”

I don’t remember being afraid, exactly. Our guide was a native who was more than capable of making sure we’d manage. Neal was a great companion to have if you’re stuck in the Mexican desert. He’s a walking stand-up comedian act and can make any circumstance entertaining. Nevertheless, this was well before cell phones and there were a lot of “What ifs….” that ran through my mind.

I thought about that afternoon as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 121. It’s another “Song of ascents” that pilgrims would sing on the road to Jerusalem as they made their way to one of the annual festivals. The rugged mountainous terrain around Jerusalem could be somewhat dangerous for pilgrims as thieves and robbers were common. There’s a reason Jesus used a man beaten by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. His listeners would identify with that. It was a concern for any traveler in those days.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of this song as you imagine yourself with a caravan of other pilgrims walking toward Jerusalem. In the distance you see Mount Zion and Solomon’s Temple which, for them, was God’s earthly residence. So, looking to the mountains and asking “Where does my help come from?” would have been associated with the destination of their pilgrimage. Being safe on the road, not getting injured, being protected from harm walking by day and camping outdoors at night, this song was a repeated proclamation of faithful assurance in their “coming and going” to and from Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded by the lyrics of this song that sometimes I need words of assurance and affirmation along this life journey. They don’t magically protect me from harm, but they do help me to keep fear, anxiety, and insecurity in check. They remind me of God’s faithfulness no matter my circumstances.

In our bedroom, Wendy and I have a piece of encaustic artwork I bought for Wendy this past Christmas. Three little birds stare at us when we get up each morning and when we lie down each night. Behind the artwork is another frame with the lyrics of a Bob Marley tune: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

“I rise up this morning, smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds perched by my doorstep.
Singing a sweet song, with a melody pure and true.
This is my message to you:
Don’t worry about a thing ’cause
Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

I’ve always thought the song to be Marley’s reggae riff on the same encouragement and affirmation Jesus gave to His followers:

“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”
Luke 12:6-7 (MSG)

Just like the Hebrew pilgrims singing Psalm 121, I have my Bob Marley psalm of assurance that reminds me both day and night.

(By the way, our afternoon stranded in the hot, Mexican desert sun was uneventful. Another van full of youth saw us by the road, pulled over to make sure we were okay, and handed us an ice-cold gallon of orange juice. Every little thing was alright.)

Songs With Purpose

Songs With Purpose (CaD Ps 120) Wayfarer

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
    that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Psalm 120:5 (NIV)

One summer of high school I got a job pollinating corn. It was the closest I got to working in agriculture. It was a hot, sweaty boring job walking through the fields. Each day I came home I was yellow from head to foot with corn pollen. I worked in the field with my friend Brian, and I will always remember it as the summer that I learned about work songs. Our crew would sing together as we worked and Brian, being a bit of natural comic, made-up work songs (think Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song) for us to sing as we made our way through the tall rows of corn. I still remember one song…

We work all day, and we work all night.
Three-ninety hour, hey! And that’s all right!
Day-O! Day-O!
Work for the dolla, everybody holla!
Sing Day-O!

My ol’ lady say, she say, “Bring home da pay,
Don’t you be gamblin’ it all away!”
I say, “No way, I’m gonna bring home da pay.
No way! I’m going gamblin’ today!”

There’s more, but I’ll spare you the part about hoecakes and a septic tank. I’m sure you get the idea. What connected with me that summer was that certain songs have a specific purpose in the human experience.

What that silly experience taught me that summer was that creativity often flourishes amidst repetitive, monotonous physical labor. My body was doing this repetitive act and my brain needed something to do. To this day, I find that some of my best message preparation and creative inspirations come when I’m engaged in some repetitive, mindless, physical activities like taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes.

The other thing I learned is that singing together as we worked helped create a sense of camaraderie. I couldn’t see my friends and co-workers through tall, thick corn stalks. Singing together made me feel less alone and reminded me that everyone on my crew was in this thing together. It was a fun way to pass the time in a boring job.

With today’s chapter, Psalm 120, our chapter-a-day journey brings us to a series of songs with the liner note: “a song of ascents.” The ancient Hebrews had seasonal religious festivals that required them to make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem where they would worship and make both sacrifices and offerings. It was a national thing, so large groups of people from villages and communities all over would travel together. And, since “pilgrimage” in those days meant hoofing it for miles and days for most people, they would pass the time by singing songs as they “ascended” towards Mount Zion and up the steps of the temple.

Today’s ancient Hebrew ditty is just a short song of lament in which the singer cries out to God to deliver him from being the victim of deceit. He feels stranded in his situation. When he says “I dwell in Meshek” (a far-away city north in Asia Minor) and “I live among the tents of Kedar” (a far-way city south in Arabia) he was metaphorically singing about feeling like he was in exile. Sort of like me saying, “I feel alone in a crowd.”

So why would one sing this song on pilgrimage? I can only speculate that the seasonal festivals were waypoints of the year in which one would focus on bringing to God both their gratitude and laments. Going to the festival and worshipping at the temple was the time for an individual to take care of business with God, even the business of feeling the victim of other people’s deceits.

In the quiet this morning, the chapter has me thinking once again about the powerful role that music plays in my worship, my work, my play, and my life. It has me thinking about the spiritual journey of Lent that I’m in, and how music might play a role in that in a way I’ve never thought about. What songs can help me focus on this virtual pilgrimage of spirit? What if I created a playlist specifically for this season with songs that help center my heart and mind? What songs should I put on that list, and why?

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Tension

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I have strayed like a lost sheep.
    Seek your servant,
    for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119:176 (NIV)

Like Psalm 117, the chapter from two days ago, Psalm 119 is also widely known as a trivial pursuit question. Coming in a mere two verses, Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm and shortest chapter of the Bible. The 176 verses of Psalm 119 make it the longest psalm and longest chapter in the Bible. If you actually read today’s chapter then you should pat yourself on the back for the accomplishment.

What makes this epic Hebrew lay even more fascinating is that the entire thing is about one central theme: The Great Story. The lyricist used eight different Hebrew words which get translated into English as law, word, commands, precepts, statutes, promises, and decrees. What’s also lost in the translation to English is that each stanza of the song begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet and every line of that stanza begins with the same letter. Psalm 119 is really an ancient work of art.

As I read through the lyrics, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey of reading, studying, meditating on, and memorizing the Great Story. It has been pretty much a daily part of my life for forty years. As I read it this morning, there were so many pieces of the psalm with which I identified with the lyrics. I have no regrets about my devotion to studying the Great Story. It has made me a better person and taught me so much wisdom.

Having said that, I also freely admit that it has not made me a perfect person. And that is one of the things I love about the writer of Psalm 119. Despite his almost fanatical dedication, the songwriter freely confesses on several occasions to his shortcomings, mistakes, and failures. The entire thing ends with the author admitting to being a “lost sheep” and asking the Great Shepherd to “seek your servant.” I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words:

By this time a lot of men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself holding the tension of both my spiritual pursuit and my personal journey. As I sit here and type, I stare over the top of my laptop at a shelf of Bibles lined up together. They are the Bibles that I have read, studied, and marked up over forty years. There’s the puke-green Living Bible my parents gave me when I was a kid. There’s the cheap faux leather version held together by red duct tape, and the paperback that’s covered with personal photos and ephemera. There are resource versions used for specific purposes across the years. And then there’s the beautiful seven-volume copy of the illuminated St. John’s Bible that I’ve collected.

And yet, like the lyricist of Psalm 119, my life has been dotted with foolish choices, acts of gross disobedience, and personal failures. You can accuse me of being a hypocrite, and I won’t deny it. In our current world of cancel culture, there are plenty of past mistakes that the mob of political and moral busybodies could use to summarily dismiss me and write me off. C’est la vie. Making the Great Story a part of my daily life hasn’t made me perfect or pure, but the Great Shepherd has always used it to find this lost sheep and call me back to the fold. My perpetual journey through the Great Story has helped me to slowly, steadily, sometimes haltingly, grow into becoming my true self. I hate to imagine the person I would be today without it.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Music, Ritual, & Meaning

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:29 (NIV)

Music plays such a fascinating role in the human experience. Music has the power to express thought and emotion in ways more potent than the mere words themselves. Music has a unique ability to bring people together in unity, even complete strangers. It happens in sporting events, in religious events, civic ceremonies, and virtually every birthday party you’ll go to or happen upon. Music is typically a part of every funeral service. I personally can’t hear Taps without it stirring emotion in me.

Last week I mentioned in these chapter-a-day posts that Psalms 113-118 make up series of songs known at the Hallel in Hebrew. They are the songs sung throughout the Hebrew feast of Passover. Today’s chapter, Psalm 118, is the final song. The lyrics were originally written to be a song of Thanksgiving that the king would sing with the people after a great victory. The “king” does most of the singing the way this song was structured, singing verses 5-21. In verses 22-27 the people rejoice over what God has done. The king then sings the final two verses.

What I found interesting as I read through and mulled over the song in the quiet this morning, is that it’s traditionally believed that Jesus and His followers were eating the Passover meal together the night He would be betrayed and arrested. If this is true, it is very possible that when Matthew records “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” it was Psalm 118 they were singing.

With that in mind, I went back and read the lyrics again, this time I imagined Jesus singing the part of the king and His followers the part of the people. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He predicted it on multiple occasions and he pushed the buttons that put into motion the political mechanism that would seal His earthly fate. I read the lyrics, placing myself in Jesus’ sandals, knowing what was about to happen the next day and on the third day.

It gives the lyrics a whole new layer of meaning as He sings:

The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.

And as his disciples sing:

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.

When, after the resurrection, Peter is brought to trial before the very same religious leaders who put Jesus to death, it is this lyric that Peter quotes back to his accusers (Acts 4:11). Could it be that Peter was, at that moment, remembering singing those lyrics that fateful night just weeks earlier when he himself rejected and denied knowing Jesus?

And then I thought of Jesus, knowing that He is about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, flogged, mocked, and crucified, singing the final words of Psalm 118 and it being the last song He would sing on His earthly journey:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find the irony (perhaps divine appointment?) of reading these songs during the season of Lent when followers of Jesus focus our thoughts and spirits on Jesus’ final days, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Music plays a part in the remembrance, just as Psalm 118 likely played a part in Jesus’ remembrance of God’s breaking the bonds of Hebrew slaves and delivering them out of Egypt. Music, ritual, and meaning are threads that connect the three human events. The Exodus, the Passion, and my celebration of the Great Story in this season.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Of Voices & Family

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Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

Wendy and I read a fascinating interview in the last week of an expert in race and culture. In the loud cacophony of voices lecturing about race and culture with stark in-group and out-group labels and distinctions, this academic stands as a proverbial “voice in the wilderness.” He has been studying trends for 50 years and pointed out facts that no one else is talking about or acknowledging.

The number of bi-racial and bi-cultural couples getting married and having children has increased significantly in the last 50 years and continues to rise. Both Wendy’s and my family are classic examples. Between our siblings, nieces, nephews, their spouses and children, we have the following races and cultures represented in just two generations: Dutch-American, Anglo-American, African-American, Korean-American, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican.

In other words, the simple, binary labels on the census list are increasingly obsolete. For this, I am increasingly joyful.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 117, is most known for being the answer to trivial pursuit questions. As just two verses long, it is the shortest psalm and the shortest chapter in the Bible. (If anyone is starting this chapter-a-day journey with me today, you’re getting off to an easy start. Just a warning, the longest psalm is just two chapters away, so you might want to get a head-start! 🙂

In its brief content, however, this ancient Hebrew song of praise has a significant purpose in the Great Story. This short song, traditionally sung each year as part of the Hebrew Passover, calls all nations and all peoples to worship and praise. This fits in context with the calling of Abraham, father of the Hebrew people when God promises Abraham that through his descendants all nations and peoples will be blessed.

If we fast forward to the Jesus story, we find Jesus breaking down the racial and cultural walls that His tribe had erected to keep those they considered spiritual and racial riff-raff out. Jesus followers went even further to take the message of Jesus to the Greek, African, and Roman worlds and beyond. This created upheaval and conflict among Jesus followers of strictly Hebrew descent. It was Paul (who called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”) who used today’s “trivial” psalm when writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome to argue that from the very beginning the Great Story has been about all nations, all races, all cultures, and all peoples.

When John was given a glimpse of heaven’s throne room, this is what he saw and heard:

And when [the Lamb who had been slain] had taken [the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation
.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10 (NIV) emphasis added

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of texting our daughters of Suzanna’s engagement to Chino in Mexico a couple of years ago. The response to the news was, “Yay for more beautiful brown babies in the family!” (by the way, the first of those arrives this summer and we can’t wait to meet our newest nephew).

Along my life journey, I have observed that we humans like to reduce very complex questions into simple binary boxes and choices. As a follower of Jesus, I found that the journey seemingly began that way. I could choose to follow, or not (though my theologian friends will be happy to turn that into a very complex question for you). After that, things get exponentially personal and complex. Just yesterday, I gave a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and I made the same argument about the season of Lent. Religious institutions want to make things top-down prescriptive when Jesus was always about things being intimately and spiritually bottom-up personal.

I find myself this morning meditating on the contrast between the voices of culture and the experiences of family. There are such complex questions we face today of race, gender, and culture. I don’t want to diminish or dismiss them. At the same time, I find myself encouraged by a profound truth simply stated in today’s chapter.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

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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