I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us…he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
2 John 1:9, 10b, 12
When I was a kid and my mother had to take me to the Doctor’s office, there was always a Highlights magazine to peruse in the lobby. One of the regular features inside Highlights was a comic called Goofus and Gallant which simply contrasted the behaviors of good and bad behavior. Goofus always behaved improperly and Gallant always did the proper thing.
I thought of the two characters from my childhood as I read today’s chapter. In his letter to his friend Gaius, Paul calls out two specific men. First he calls out Diotrephes the self-seeker who is unwelcoming and mean spirited. Next, he compliments Demetrius who has a positive reputation among all the believers.
Today, I’m thinking about simple contrasts. Goofus and Gallant. Diotrephes and Demetrius. Sometimes life boils down to very simple questions:
- What do I want my actions to say about me?
- Who is it I really desire to be?
- What do I need to change?
State Fair is over. School is back in session. Summer is quickly fading back into the routine of autumn. Cooler temperatures even meant that we could turn the air conditioner off for a few days this past week.
Our lives paralleled the societal trend this week as work routine took over. I headed to the Twin Cities for a long couple of days with a client while Wendy and Taylor held down the fort back at home.
On Friday afternoon the week’s work gave way to wedding festivities. Wendy’s Uncle Brad got married to his fiancé Barb in a small wedding in the lobby at Third Church. I felt privileged that Brad asked me to stand up with him at the ceremony, so I donned my best gray suit and stood by him as he and Barb were hitched. All of Brad’s girls were present as were all of his siblings sans Linda. Wendy took my usual role as amateur family photographer during the ceremony and handed the camera back to me at the reception.
The reception was in the back room at Monarch’s, a room where Wendy and I have great memories. Our own rehearsal dinner was held in the back of Monarch’s. It was a lot of fun to hang with the family for the celebratory evening. There was a lot of laughter and cheer. The joy was radiating off of Brad and Barb and it was fun to be part of their launch.
Saturday was a good day of getting things done around the house. My honey-do list included pocket-door adjustments and a sticky door knob. I then spent the afternoon going through the tub of family photos given to me by my folks. One of my fall projects is getting them organized and to begin scanning and digitizing them.
Saturday evening we walked down the block to McQuade’s Pub for a script reading of Almost Maine, which Kevin will be directing for Union Street Players. Wendy and I had never read the script and were really, really impressed with it. We were the first to leave the party, but it was still late when we walked the half-block home.
Wendy and I were both on camera at church this morning. Wendy spent the afternoon working while I continued my photo-sorting project. We’re settling in for a Cubs vs. Dodgers evening and pita pizzas. I’ve got my scorecard ready and plan to relax and score the game.
Sometimes photo opportunities come from paying attention to details. While in Edinburgh this past summer I began noticing that many of the old buildings contained small decorative flourishes with a message. They were often Bible verses or a moral reminder. Once I started noticing them I began to take photos of them. Themed photos can make for fascinating collages.
Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Ezra 10:2 (NIV)
The word repentance means to turn and go in an opposite direction. Those who repent of their actions are deciding they are no longer going to do those things, but will turn their lives in an opposite direction.
When I decided to follow Jesus there were a number of things from which I needed to repent. I needed to turn my life, my thoughts, and my actions around and to move in the opposite direction. To do so meant moving in a direction opposite of some people in my life with whom I had been close friends. It was a natural consequence of the repentance process. I couldn’t turn and move in an opposite direction and continue walking down the same old path with those friends at the same time.
There is a lot about this morning’s chapter with which I struggle to understand. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I believe that there are major cultural and historical differences that we scarcely understand today. But I do know this: Ezra and the exiles were experiencing a time of intense corporate confession and repentance. They had just returned, rebuilt the temple, and were trying to be the first of their people for an entire generation to re-establish a good relationship with God.
It was a season of intense repentance, and they recognized that they had allowed themselves to be greatly influenced by the culture and peoples around them. In today’s chapter, they are moving in the opposite direction, and they recognize that moving in the opposite direction necessitates separating themselves from those who have had negative spiritual influence on their lives. It is difficult to realize that this meant separation from their own family members, but I am also reminded that Jesus said sometimes the cost of following is leaving family behind.
Today, I am reminded that along our journey there are times in which, for our own spiritual health, we need to repent, to turn around, and to move in an opposite direction. I’m reminded that there is a cost associated with repentance, and I’m reminded that I can’t move in the opposite direction and keep moving in the same direction at the same time.
Speaking of Dutch heritage, for Throwback Thursday let me show you this rare gem of the clan hanging with their homeys on the farm in northwest Iowa circa 1938. The white-haired gentleman under the tree is, I believe, Walter Vander Well Sr. born Wouter van der Wel in Piershil near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He came to the states as a young man by himself. The gentleman just to the right with the stylin’ white shoes and the baby on his lap is my grandfather, Herman Vander Well. The baby is my father, Dean. The other kid standing on the right of the photograph is my Uncle Bud.
My grandpa always had a penchant for ice cream and would often have a bowl before bed. I have to imagine that the fact that they’re all eating ice cream cones in this picture means they’d just made it for the occasion.
“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’”
Ezra 9:10-12 (NIV)
I grew up in a great neighborhood on the northwest side of Des Moines. The neighborhood was packed full of young families, not only on our block but on the surrounding streets. There were a lot of kids running around the area, but you tended to hang with your homeys on the street you lived. You’d stick close to the kids on your own block. They were the nearest to you, you knew them well, and more importantly your parents knew their parents.
On occasion, kids from another street would migrate over to play and hang out. I can remember the rare occasion when my mom would tell me that certain kids were “bad news” and she didn’t want me hanging out with them. In fact, I was to steer clear of that kid altogether. Looking back, I know exactly why mom gave me the order and it was a wise thing to do. Some of those kids were, in fact, bad news.
In the melting pot of modern America, reading a chapter like today’s regarding the strict commands the Hebrews had not to intermarry with neighboring peoples can feel strange and prejudiced. “Pureblood” wasn’t an idea J.K. Rowling dreamed up for the Harry Potter series. The truth of the matter is that history is full of examples of peoples and socio-economic groups desperately trying to remain homogeneous; Sometimes rabidly so.
Ancient Egyptian royalty, who believed themselves divine, would sometimes only marry their own immediate family members to keep the bloodline pure. European royalty, who would only marry their children to other royals, became so intertwined that to this day the royal families of Europe are all related to one another. Living in a small Iowa town settled by a handful of Dutch families, I experience the same thing at any community social event as people constantly play a game we call “Dutch Bingo” discovering how community members are related to one another (and, they usually are).
I found it interesting, however, that as I read today’s chapter Ezra pointed to the motivation God had for telling them not to intermarry. Just like my mother back in the ‘hood, Father God knew that some of these other tribes were bad news. In many cases, the area religions were glorified excuses for sexual indulgence and got into some really nasty stuff including child sacrifice. The command not to intermarry was not some elitist attempt to keep bloodlines pure but about cultural and spiritual self-protection.
This morning I am once again reminded that reading ancient sections of the Great Story is often difficult in light of the immense changes of culture and civilization over time. As an adult, my parents would never tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, but as a child they knew that hanging with the homeys from our block was a wise thing and that I needed help in discerning that some kids were bad news. So it is that I believe God’s relationship with humanity changes as civilization matures and as the relationship itself has changed between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus.
featured photo: adwriter via Flickr