Memorial Day Weekend 2012

A lot of people asked Wendy and me if we were spending Memorial Day weekend at the lake. The truth of the matter is that holiday weekends get a little crazy at the lake. There are so many people, and we tend to enjoy it more when the lake is quiet and less populated. So, while my folks, my sister, and my niece enjoyed the throngs at the lake, Wendy and I spent a quiet weekend on the home front with hot but beautiful weather.

The weekend afforded me the opportunity to get to work on some landscaping and yard work around our house. Cutting, trimming, mowing, and washing kept me plenty busy. Wendy, meanwhile, continued the long process of reorganizing our basement after the spring waterproofing project.

We did, however, enjoy some fun and social time. On Saturday afternoon we took a break from all the work to walk up to the theater and take in the summer blockbuster The Avengers. We then enjoyed a quiet dinner and evening conversation with friends. Sunday we enjoyed an increasingly rare opportunity to sit and enjoy worship without being responsible for helping with the technical aspects of the service. Sunday evening was a cookout with five families at the VLs.

We worked hard and played hard. A great holiday weekend.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 25

Regional Art Museum, Uzhgorod, Ukraine
Regional Art Museum, Uzhgorod, Ukraine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the next day [King] Agrippa and [his sister] Bernice arrived at the auditorium with great pomp, accompanied by military officers and prominent men of the city. [Governor] Festus ordered that Paul be brought in. Acts 25:23 (NLT)

Confession time. When I was a young man, I was incredibly intimidated to be around people of worldly influence, social status, and power. When I began working for c wenger group, I was occasionally asked to accompany my employer and colleagues into meetings with prominent business leaders. I was nervous and self-conscious. My heart would pound and I could feel my cheeks become flushed if I was ever asked to speak. It took all of my training as a theatre major to act calm.

Over the years, the nerves, fear and anxiety faded. Time and experience taught me that I had nothing to fear. In fact, I began to realize two very important life lessons. First, I came to understand that the people in those positions of relative power are very much human like I am. They have the same human emotions and weaknesses as anyone else. In fact, often because of their position those individuals can feel more lonely and isolated than you might expect. Second, I learned that my position afforded me the sometimes unique opportunity to have relationships and show love to some of these individuals. God was giving me an open door to be a person of influence with persons of influence.

I thought about that as I read in today’s chapter about Paul getting called into deposition after deposition with the various leaders and rulers of the day. Each interview and trial was a unique chance to share his story and share God’s Message with an audience few if any could otherwise reach. It was also a direct fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic message to His followers:

“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!  Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.”

Today, I am thankful for the unique positions God places us in our jobs, our communities,  and in life circumstances – that we might have the opportunity to be people of influence. I pray that I will be a good steward of the opportunities I am given.

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Chapter-a-Day Acts 24

The Andaman Cellular Jail was the shadiest pri...
The Andaman Cellular Jail was the shadiest prison of the British rule in india. Now it is Indian National Memorial and tourist attraction at Port Blair. There is a single door with close up. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him. After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prisonActs 24:26-27 (NLT)

Going through divorce was a particularly agonizing stretch of my journey. I have found that while there are commonalities to the human experience, a relationship is like a fingerprint. While it looks similar to all other fingerprints, it is unique in detail between the two people who have created one relationship and then experienced its deterioration. It is not a pleasant experience when a marriage breaks apart.

Whenever the path leads through difficult times, it’s easy to ask “Why me?” Despite the fact that our circumstances are largely the result of our own choices and actions, we sometimes shake our fist at God and scream “Why me?” We might recede into depressed places and moan “Why me?” We could even choose an even more dangerous path to distract us from having to finish this particular stretch of the journey and avoid asking the question altogether (until we find ourselves in an even worse spot).

In the midst of the maelstrom of stress and emotions of divorce, I found myself talking to my Pastor. It was actually the first time we’d had a conversation. As I shared with him my experience, I wondered how he was going to respond to my story. Would he label, judge and condemn me the way so many others had? After I finished my rambling tale of woe, he looked at me and quietly said, “Someday, Tom, I believe you are going to be called upon to walk beside someone who is going through a divorce just like you are. Because of all that you are going through right now, you will be the right person to help someone else who needs understanding and wisdom in the midst of what they are going through. God is ultimately going to use all of this for His purposes.

I thought of that conversation, and the opportunities I’ve had, even in recent weeks, to walk with those who are traversing a similar stretch of their own relational journeys. I think about Paul languishing in prison because of ridiculous, trumped up charges and the Governor’s political machinations to keep the Jewish leaders happy. Paul could have screamed, “Why me?” and chafed at his difficult circumstances. Instead, he recognized the opportunities his chains afforded him to share the love of God with the Governor, his wife, and the “captive audience” all around him. He recognized that God was ultimately using Paul’s difficult circumstances for His eternal purposes.

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Chapter-a-Day Acts 23

English: Pharisees in the Temple in the synagogue
English: Pharisees in the Temple in the synagogue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul realized that some members of the high council were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, so he shouted, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, as were my ancestors! And I am on trial because my hope is in the resurrection of the dead!”

This divided the council—the Pharisees against the Sadducees— for the Sadducees say there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, but the Pharisees believe in all of these. So there was a great uproar. Acts 23:6-9a (NLT)

One of the tasks of my job is to provide one-on-one call coaching to my client’s employees. Tasked with helping individuals improve their customer service skills on the phone, I often find myself alone in a room with people who don’t want to be there and certainly don’t want to be coached. So, over the past twenty years I’ve learned a host of basic tricks used by people to avoid confronting the issues at hand such as the silent treatment or the happy distraction.

I find it ironic and a bit humorous that there is a reference to Paul’s sister in today’s chapter, for I believe that many of the tactics we learn to divert attention away from the subject of our own crime and punishment are learned as children with our parents. Paul played the artful dodge well, like a child who knows that if they can get his parents conflicting about how to render verdict on the child’s infraction, that child often slips through the cracks of the ensuing argument unscathed.

By raising the contentious issue of resurrection with the council, Paul effectively turned the spotlight off of himself and onto a religious debate that would keep the council arguing about something other than himself and would actually get a large part of the council to defend him.

Sometimes the important thing is not just in what we communicate but how and when we communicate it.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 22

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...
Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The crowd listened until Paul said [the word “Gentile”]. Then they all began to shout, “Away with such a fellow! He isn’t fit to live!” Acts 22:22 (NLT)

It’s amazing how one racially charged word can incite an entire crowd to violence.

In America we are constantly reminded of the historic racial tensions between whites and blacks that have framed our history and our existence for hundreds of years. As a young person I naively thought that Americans were the only people in the world who had such a struggle. Along the journey I’ve discovered that racism and prejudice run deep and wide in the human experience.

In today’s chapter the Jewish people in Jerusalem showed their prejudice against non-Jews. Of course, the Jewish people know what it means to be shunned and oppressed. Anti-semitism existed then and still exists to this day. When I visited Jerusalem several years ago I was amazed at the racial tensions that continue to exist within the city. The city felt to me like a powder keg of racial and religious tension with a very short fuse.

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the truth that God’s Kingdom does not exist for one particular racial, ethnic, or national group, but for all people and nations who will believe and follow. To this end, the two strongest leaders (Peter and Paul) were sent by God to share God’s Message with the non-Jewish Gentiles and begin the process of obliterating the wall of prejudice that stood between the two groups. The book of Acts sets the stage for the emerging historical record. Over the first few hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, the Message would be boldly carried by believers throughout the known world and shared with any who would listen regardless of race, creed, or nationality.

Today, I’m thankful to serve a God whose Kingdom exists above human limits and weaknesses, and who calls us to ascend out of our Earthbound prejudices to enter in.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 21

The next day Paul went with us to meet with James, and all the elders of the Jerusalem church were present. After greeting them, Paul gave a detailed account of the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry. Acts 21:18-19 (NLT)

I’ve been excited to read the e-mails and blog posts from my daughter, Taylor, and her husband, Clayton, from their three month internship in Uganda. It’s been interesting to read how they are discovering that what we read/hear on this side of the Atlantic does not always connect or completely translate the reality of the situation there:

Clayton and I have felt very privileged to be a part of what CV is doing. They are truly an incredible organization. The girls that graduated from the program and work here in the house speak so highly of it. It’s so hard for me to believe that these precious, giggly, dedicated young women were once child soldiers or wives. Clayton and I came here feeling so versed and knowledgeable of the LRA, Joseph Kony, the war, etc but we found ourselves quickly humbled. Who would have thought that the media would misinform us so much?! 😉 We can tell you all those stories some other time, but we have definitely gained a new perspective. Taylor Boeyink, e-mail 5/19/2012

I just don’t want any of these beautiful, precious ladies to think we’re plucking their stories to wear around our necks like some trophy. And this isn’t about my research project or my degree. It’s not ME. MINE. I. I never want their pain to be a picture for my slideshow or have their home feel like a tourist attraction. Its possible I am way overanalyzing this, but that’s how I feel. It’s one thing to read the stories out of a book and another to look into the eyes of the story teller. Like walking on glass. 

It is easy to see how Aid and ignorance has brought ruin to this place. We, as Westerners, might come to give, but we can also come to stake out our destiny. Ours is a history of dominance. Always the explorer, the colonizer in our blood, and it is hard to run away from when we’ve been so “blessed”. We come with our visions and strategies, our opinions and ideals, and without meaning to, we impose them. We think we know the way and we think we know how to do it better and more efficiently then the next person. And it comforts me to know that Child Voice recognizes this and does everything in its power to NOT follow those footsteps. All the staff here is local and they give local people jobs and truly take into consideration what is best for the girls at their center. Also, I’m not saying Westerners aren’t capable of shedding new light onto something or having good ideas. The depleted and dependent often need a helping hand, but we also need to empower and not overpower. But I’ve seen what a huge transition some of these girls have made and they are really healing and pressing forward. It’s remarkable and makes me so proud to be a part of the work that is being done here. Taylor Boeyink, posted on Gone to Gulu 5/22/2012

In today’s chapter, Paul discovers that the believers and elders in Jerusalem are living in a very different reality than those in the remote provinces of Greece where he’d been traveling and teaching. One gets the sense that the leadership in Jerusalem, while encouraged by Paul’s work, did not completely understand what Paul had been experiencing on his journeys and in the provinces, nor the everyday reality of believers living in Greece.

So often our perspective is framed only by what the camera lets us see, what the writer pens, or what the editor allows in print. It’s quite likely that James and the elders in Jerusalem would have a different perspective if they’d spent some time with the believers in Ephesus or Philippi rather than just listening to Paul’s oral report. “It’s one thing to read stories out of a book [or newspaper or blog post or see them on television or YouTube] and another to look into the eyes of the storyteller.” Very often, there is no substitute for going to see, hear and experience things for yourself.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 20

Fluoxetine (Prozac), an SSRI
Fluoxetine (Prozac), an SSRI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24 (NLT)

It is a depressing thing not to have purpose in life. We were created for a purpose. When we are blind to or unaware of that purpose, it can slowly erode the health of our soul. Days become burdensome. Existence feels meaningless. At that point, I’ve observed that we either seek after endless distraction and pleasure to medicate and cover the growing sense of emptiness, or we fall into despair.

I watched a recent television news program that cited statistics showing well over half of all Americans are on antidepressant medication. We are in arguably the wealthiest, most well provisioned and stable nation on the face of the Earth where we recognize everyone’s  right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And yet, a majority of us are so depressed we are taking prescription medication for it.

Contrast that with Paul who, despite a terrible problem with his eyesight, worked the menial job as a tentmaker so that he could frugally travel from town to town sharing with others the Message of Jesus. He was ceaselessly harassed, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked and threatened. He was constantly on the run from those who sought to kill him. Multiple attempts were made on his life. And, his soul experienced a fullness of meaning, purpose, and joy.

Somehow, in our “pursuit of happiness,” I believe we have misplaced our understanding of what gives life true and motivating worth, meaning, and purpose.

A Wonderful Tradition

The weekend before Memorial Day is permanently reserved on the Vander Well calendar. Several years ago we started an annual pilgrimage to the lake on this weekend with our friends Kevin and Becky. It’s become a wonderful tradition that continued this past weekend.

Some years the weather has been lousy and we’ve been bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets. This year, the weather could not have been nicer with sun and highs in the upper 80’s.

The agenda for the weekend is simple:

  • Good food
  • Good drink
  • Good conversation
  • Laughter
  • Repeat

Chapter-a-Day Acts 19

ROMAN EMPIRE, ANTONIUS PIUS 138-161 b (Photo credit: woody1778a)

“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!” Acts 19:25-27 (NLT)

A few years ago I read a book about the history of Dutch culture. Having come from Dutch heritage and living in a town steeped in its’ Dutch past, I thought it would be an interesting read. It was.

The author argued that Dutch culture sprang from three intertwining influences. On one side there was the influence of the great Dutch Catholic  philosopher, Erasmus who instilled in the Dutch the culture of education and the humanities. On the other side was the Protestant Dutch Calvinists who instilled strict morality and a strong work ethic. When the opposite poles of Catholic and Protestant influence conflicted with one another (and they always conflicted), it was the third major influence that became the tie breaker and trump card: Commerce. In other words: believe what you want across the spectrum of Catholic and Protestant doctrine, but don’t mess with business.

In today’s chapter we see a similar issue boiling to the surface. Paul’s missionary exploits were having the desired effect. Many people were putting their faith in Jesus and becoming followers of this new Christian religion called “The Way.” The idolatrous Greco-Roman culture with its dizzying array of gods did not seem to care much about this upstart religion, until it started to have an effect on the bottom line. Paul’s teaching about turning away from idolatry to the one true God created an economic recession for the local idol makers. Call the local chamber. Organize the Smith’s Union and start a rally. Don’t mess with business.

When spiritual truth is having maximum earthly effect, the spiritual transformation in individuals and communities creates systemic disruption in family systems, cultural systems, economic systems, political systems, and systems of commerce. Disruption creates anxiety. Anxiety creates fear. Fear creates strong, emotional reactivity.

“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” – Jesus

Chapter-a-Day Acts 18

Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was. Acts 18:3 (NLT)

I love the fact that Paul did what he had to do in order to fulfill the task God gave him. Not willing to be completely dependent on others, he worked diligently at the menial task of tent making so he could provide for himself. Coming from my Dutch Protestant heritage, I learned a lot about the worth of working hard and doing a job well no matter what the task. Being faithful with a small, menial task is generally rewarded with the opportunity to be given more responsibility with greater reward.

I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in my life. I’ve been paid to do a lot of different things:

  • Delivering newspapers
  • Babysitter
  • Lawnmower
  • Envelope stuffer
  • 35 mm film inspector/duster/splicer
  • Outbound telemarketer
  • Counter of nuts/bolts/screws for inventory
  • Corn pollinator
  • Package sorter
  • Bus boy
  • Book store clerk
  • Library clerk
  • Cook
  • Janitor
  • Driver
  • 35 mm film inspector/duster/splicer
  • Voice talent on radio commercials
  • PA Announcer for sporting events
  • Speaker
  • Writer
  • Napkin folder
  • Table setter
  • Cameraman
  • Photographer
  • Actor
  • Director
  • Administrator
  • Pastor
  • Counselor

I’m sure there’s more.

I sometimes get a kick out of people who sit in relative paralysis and endlessly wonder “what does God want me to do?” The longer I live the more I’m convinced that we are a lot like a jet ski. You can’t steer the dumb thing unless it’s moving forward.

Do something. Do anything. Just GO! God will direct you if you’re moving, working, and doing. He can’t direct us if we’re sitting dead in the water.