Family Get Together at the VWs

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It was a gorgeous day yesterday as Wendy’s family gathered to meet the newest member of the clan. Her cousin Emily made the journey down from northwest Iowa with her husband Dave and new son, Dylan. By late afternoon the house was packed. Family came from Boone, Iowa City and Montezuma to join the Pella crew. I stoked up the grill for a little supper out on the patio. It was the perfect night for it.

Dave, Emily and Dylan spent the night with us, along with Wendy’s sister, Sanna, who’s staying with us for a few days.

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Four Weeks and Counting for Taylor

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There is a lot of activity around the Vander Well house these days. Packages arrive daily addressed to Taylor. The stairway is often littered with boxes, tissue paper and various household items. The mail is full of beige 3×5 cards decorated in all sorts of creative ways. There is coming and going on a constant basis.

Four weeks from today, I'll be walking my daughter down the aisle. Yikes!

Last Sunday, Wendy threw a bridal shower for Taylor. The women-folk gathered to celebrate Taylor and Clayton's upcoming nuptials. I, personally, avoided it like the plague and watched football with Wendy's brother, Jesse. Nevertheless, I have been informed by multiple sources that a good time was had by all.

Yesterday, Wendy and Taylor drove to Des Moines to pick up Taylor's wedding dress. Once again, I am left in the dark as Taylor has determined not to let me see her dress until her wedding day (at which point I will be reduced to tears).

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Chapter-a-Day Exodus 17

Buddy up. But Moses' hands got tired. So they got a stone and set it under him. He sat on it and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on each side. So his hands remained steady until the sun went down. Exodus 17:12 (MSG)

Growing up I had the opportunity to do a little camping in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. The wilderness is vast in that area with long chains of remote lakes dotted with many uninhabited islands. It seems almost second nature now, but one of the first things I learned was never to go it alone. The buddy system is crucial to ensuring your safety and success on a journey through the wilderness. Whether climbing a mountain or camping in the boundary waters, you want to have a capable companion or companions to rely on.

Today's chapter was a good reminder to me of that principle. Moses was called upon to perform a priestly duty, holding his hands up before God while the battle raged below. He couldn't have completed the task were it not for Aaron and Hur to help hold his arms.

Jesus reminds us that the way of salvation is narrow and difficult. Obediently following God is a journey through the wilderness of this life. The buddy system applies. We all need companions who can be there when we need help being obedient in the things God asks of us.

Today, I'm thankful for those friends who have walked with me during stretches of my spiritual journey, and who would be there at a moments notice should I call upon them. I'm thankful for by buddies who are with me at this point in my life. I'm reminded of my need to be an Aaron or Hur in return, whenever they need me.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and kyknoord

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 16

Cries of a child. Moses instructed Aaron: "Tell the whole company of Israel: 'Come near to God. He's heard your complaints.'" Exodus 16:9 (MSG)

When I was a kid, my mom told me, "you're such a pessimist." At the time, I wasn't sure what a pessimist was. I suspected it had something to do with being ambidextrous, though I couldn't be sure. She was right. I was always fearing the worst and looking at the glass half-empty. I was the child quick to complain, and being the baby of the family I was all about pulling out the "fairness" card.

I'd like to think that I've come a long way since that stretch of life's road. I've travelled much further down the path and seen God's blessing. I've also experienced God's faithfulness and provision along the way. Based on that, I would consider myself much more of a glass-half full guy today.

Yet, I'm still human. Little Tommy Tucker can still creep up in my spirit and sing a full, pessimistic lament. As I journey through Exodus I read a lot of griping and complaining. I love that God, even when the people are childish, hears their complaints. When I read about Israel's wilderness wanderings, I often get the mental picture of a father dealing with an emotional toddler. And I, like most people, can find myself feeling childish emotions from time to time.

I'm thankful that God hears my complaints, even when they are simply the rant of this overemotional child.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Jeremy Brooks

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 15

Ticker tape parade. And the people complained to Moses, "So what are we supposed to drink?" Exodus 15:24 (MSG)

Since I was a teenager I've held a number of leadership positions for groups large and small. It's always fascinating for me to watch and experience group dynamics. I've exerienced first hand how quickly you can feel a shift in the winds of popularity and approval. I can see the same thing in today's chapter.

The 15th chapter of Exodus spends 21 verses describing the victory song of the Israelites. Can you imagine how Moses must have felt as the Red Sea parted to save them, then fell in to destroy their enemies? Can you imagine the praise that was heaped on him by the people at the post-game pep rally? Even as the people praised God, they knew Moses was the man God ordained as their head coach. 

"Moses is the MAN!" "Way to go, MO!" "Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo!"

Then, three days and two verses after the most miraculous victory in recorded history, the honeymoon is over. People are thirsty and the waters of Marah weren't fit to drink. In three days Moses approval rating plummets from all time high to unforseen lows.

Crowds are fickle. Popularity is fleeting. Those who build their lives on the approval rating of their family, friends and peers will experience the life draining insanity of that roller coaster. God's words to Moses at the end of the chapter were a timely reminder for Moses, for Israel, and for us. Whether you are riding a wave of popularity or trudging through a valley of criticism, God's call is the same: Listen to me, and obey.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Jery McNutz

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 14

Don't repent of your repentance. When the king of Egypt was told that the people were gone, he and his servants changed their minds. They said, "What have we done, letting Israel, our slave labor, go free?" Exodus 14:5 (MSG)

The origin of the word "repentance" alludes to the idea of turning and moving in the opposite direction. Repentance is generally a good thing. God calls us to repent. There are crucial times in life when we "repent" of bad actions, habits or thoughts and start moving in the opposite direction. We are like Pharaoh, who after much prodding and suffering negative consequences, relent and choose to do the right thing.

I don't know about you, but I can also look back and see that I, like Pharaoh, will often quickly second guess my repentance:

"I can't believe I said I'd start eating healthier today. Look at that plate of cookies. I'll start tomorrow instead."

"Why did I tell myself I was going to work out today? The big game is on and I just don't have the energy."

"What was I thinking saying I'd be nicer to him. He was such a jerk to me. Forget that!"

Let's not, like Pharaoh, repent of our repentance and reverse course back to old ways.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 13

Hands clasped in prayer. "Redeem every firstborn child among your sons. When the time comes and your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you tell him, 'God brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery, with a powerful hand. Exodus 13:13 (MSG)

When I was a child, our family had a few rituals. At dinner, we held hands and my father prayed for the meal. We, as children, then said a Dutch prayer our grandparents taught us. As I grew, I began to understand the depth of the simple, daily act. Holding hands not only served to keep young children from grabbing at the food, but created a unified circle of family holding each other hands. Touching. Clasping. The individual was part of a whole that was greater than himself/herself. Our father praying silently established his spiritual leadership and his prayer was a humble reminder that even dad recognized he was under a higher authority. The Dutch prayer spoke of history, of family, of the reality that our daily journey is part of a larger story.

God is a God of metaphor. The Passover meal represented the story of deliverance from Egypt. The Passover meal became Communion which represents the sacrifice of Jesus. Baptism metaphorically speaks of a person being buried in the likeness of Jesus' death, raised in the likeness of Jesus' resurrection, our sins washed away. Ritual, on a grand scale and on a daily basis, teaches us Truth with a depth of meaning that mere lecture or conversation can't reach.

I sit today and think about our daughters. One is getting married in a few weeks. The other is going to be graduating from high school in a few months. Have I instilled metaphors and simple ritual that will still resonate in their hearts when they have children of their own?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and soldiers media center

Facebook readers: Spacing and formatting issues result in the auto import from the original blog post. My apologies to all English teacher types.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 12

The Passover meal. When he sees the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, God will pass over the doorway; he won't let the destroyer enter your house to strike you down with ruin. Exodus 12:23 (MSG)

Many years ago some friends came over and prepared a Passover meal to celebrate with my family. To this day, I remember how blown away I was as we went through the ritual of the meal. There were so many parts of the story and the meal that, metaphorically, point directly to Jesus, who would arrive centuries later.

I love the way God's message fits together. As I read about the blood of the lamb covering the doorposts of the Israelites and Death "passing over" those who were covered by the blood of the sacrificed lamb, I can't help but think of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb whose blood covers us and swallows up Death through the power of His resurrection.

I've known many people who avoid reading the Old Testament because it's not always easy to connect the history to our lives today, But, without the story of the Passover, it's hard to fully appreciate the depth of who Jesus was, nor the way God's plan is woven through history.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and rmommaerts

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 11

God saw to it that the Egyptians liked the people. Also, Moses was greatly admired by the Egyptians, a respected public figure among both Pharaoh's servants and the people at large. Exodus 11:3 (MSG)

I have long been intrigued by the idea of God's "favor." Growing up, I noticed that there were many capable children in my class, but every once in a while there was one or two who seemed to have "favor" with the teachers, adults, and their peers. It wasn't that they were rich kids. It wasn't that they came from powerful families. It wasn't that they were particularly smarter or more gifted than other kids. They weren't even brown nosers. Nevertheless, you could see that they had a certain affinity with those around them.

As I read through God's message, I see a tiny thread woven through the fabric of the story. There is a string of God's favor that is given to certain individuals at certain times that God's purpose can be accomplished. Abraham had it with his neighbors. Jacob did, as well. Moses had it with the Egyptians. David had it with the people, as did many of the leaders in the book of Judges. I don't believe favor can be acheived by effort, nor can it be attained through some recipe of our own desire and good works. There is something much deeper and more spiritual involved.

Like Jabez, however, I believe we can seek God that He might grant us His favor at the right time and place to accomplish His purpose in us.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 10

Water pitcher. He said, "I'd sooner send you off with God's blessings than let you go with your children. Look, you're up to no good—it's written all over your faces. Nothing doing. Just the men are going—go ahead and worship God. That's what you want so badly." And they were thrown out of Pharaoh's presence. Exodus 10:10-11 (MSG)

There are two refillable water pitchers in our refrigerator so that there is always cold water ready and available. The rule of the house is: if you empty one of the pitchers, you go to the filtered water spicket at the sink and fill it up, then place it behind the other full pitcher so that the pitcher with cold water is readily accessible for the next person who wants water.

There is nothing more frustrating than to get to the fridge, open it and reach for the water pitcher to find that there are about two molecules of water left in the bottom. "It's not technically empty!" I can hear a teenager reasoning in the back of my head. "There's still water in it! RIGHT THERE! TWO MOLECULES RIGHT THERE AT THE BOTTOM!" (For the record, my wife would be giving me "that look" right now; the "you're such a hypocrite" look. Okay, maybe I've been guilty of leaving the water jug empty a time or two.)

The truth is that we all like to approach the rules on our own terms. There are so many examples in my life that I, like Pharaoh, have tried to set the terms of obedience with God. In my heart I'll agree to do just so much. It's not quite what God is asking, but I reason that it's part way so that should be good enough. I know God wants total obedience, but I'm sure he'll take what I'm giving because it's more than most people give. I know I'm supposed to fill the water jug when it's empty so that the next person has a full jug of water to enjoy, but it's technically not completely empty.

Silly Pharaoh. Silly me. Obedience is not negotiable.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Mark Strozier