Hope and the Pit

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O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Psalm 30:3 (NRSVCE)

A couple of weeks ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers and spoke about Hope in Death. I’ve been doing a lot of meditating on death recently, mainly in conjunction with that message, but also because of the pandemic. Fear of contracting the virus and not surviving is very real.

In my meditation, I’ve observed how prevalent death is in most all of our stories. Antagonists are trying to kill protagonists. Protagonists are trying to avoid being killed. Writers of films and television shows love to stir our emotions by allowing us to witness what had to have been the death of our favorite character and then stir them again when it’s revealed the character actually survived. In the ending of Yellowstone, one of our favorites the writers left us with the classic season cliffhanger and we’ll have to wait a year to find out if a character survived. Wendy and I binged all ten season of the British whodunnit Vera this summer (loved it!) and of course all classic mysteries are predicated on death. The shows start with a dead body.

In short, I’ve observed that death is everywhere we turn for both news and entertainment, even though I don’t really think about it that much.

Today’s psalm, once again penned by King David, tells a story. David thought he was going to die. Whether it was sickness, war wound, or a combination of both is not known. In the opening verse he cries out to God for healing because God “brought up his soul from Sheol and restored him from those who go down to the Pit.”

Human understanding and belief systems with regard to death and the afterlife have evolved over time. In Part 1 of my podcast on Time I talked about how human history is like a life cycle. Humanity itself is growing, maturing, and changing just a you and I grow, change, and mature on this life journey. The Hebrews in David’s day believed a lot like other Mesopotamian cultures. After life was a shadowy, uncertain state of existence. The underworld was known as Sheol and it was considered to be a dark pit in the deepest recesses of the Earth. For David, there really wasn’t hope of an afterlife. There was just fear of death. In escaping death, David writes this song of joyous praise for God’s deliverance.

Fast forward roughly 1,000 years from David to the time of Jesus. In Jesus’ day, the Hebrews’ beliefs had evolved but there was still vastly divergent views on what happens when we die. One school of thought (the Sudducees) believed there was no afterlife at all. The most prominent school of thought (the Pharisees) believed there was an afterlife or resurrection. Jesus certainly believed in resurrection. In the Jesus’ story He predicts His death and resurrection on multiple occasions. Before raising his friend Lazarus from the dead Jesus tells Laz’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.” (see John 11). While in Jerusalem, the Sadducee scholars approach Jesus in an attempt to debate Him on the subject (see Matthew 22).

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the joy of David’s escape of death, but the unbridled praise is rooted in his absolute fear and hope-less despair at the prospect of dying. As I mull this over, I can’t help but think about what a game-changer Jesus was. In his letter to believers in the city of Corinth, Paul doesn’t quote from David’s fear of the Pit, but this verse from the prophet Hosea:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

I realize that one of the things that has grown and matured in me as a follower of Jesus are my thoughts and feelings about death. Though earlier in my journey I feared death a great deal, I’m no longer afraid to die. I’ve heard and read the stories of those who have gone and have been sent back. The further I get in this journey the more fully I believe that this earthly life is about me fulfilling my role in the Great Story. When my role is finished I will make my exit to that which is more real than this 19,848 days of physical existence.

I will sing with David his words from today’s psalm:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy

Not because I escaped physical death to live another day, but because Jesus conquered death and I’ll escape this this earth-bound life for eternity.

In the meantime, it’s another day in the journey. Time to press on.

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

A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 8)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 8 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of the “Gospels” and the Acts of the Apostles.

Click on the following link to listen, or click on the banner below for easy links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app.

https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/episodes/WW-Beginners-Guide-to-the-Great-Story-Part-8-eissvs

Of Storms and Shelter

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The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

Psalm 29:10 (NRSVCE)

Just a few weeks ago the people of Iowa learned a new vocabulary word: derecho. The straight-line wind storm with hurricane-force winds blew through the state and caused an amazing amount of damage. We had friends who were without power for several days. I’m fortunate that our little town was on the southern tip of the storms and we were largely spared from the brunt of the damage. I did find myself running around our neighborhood chasing garbage and recycling bins that were getting blown around the street, which was fun.

There is something about the power of nature that both reminds us how powerless we are, and reminds us of Power greater than ourselves. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome and said:

...from the creation of the world, the invisible qualities of God’s nature have been made visible, such as his eternal power and transcendence. He has made his wonderful attributes easily perceived, for seeing the visible makes us understand the invisible.

Whether it’s standing in awe of the mountains, the ocean, a beautiful sunset, or the ominous threat of a midwest thunderstorm, humanity has always made a connection between the creation we interact with around us and the Creator.

Today’s psalm is a fascinating departure from the repeated song writing pattern I mentioned yesterday. It might be argued that David is describing a derecho-like storm as it blows in over the raging seas of the Mediterranean, blows down cedar trees in the forest of Lebanon, thunders its way south as David stands on the ramparts of Jerusalem and sees the black clouds flashing with God’s pyrotechnic lightning display. The storm moves south into the wilderness and David meditates on the display of the overwhelming power of creation he has witnessed. He finishes the song in wonder of the God of Creation who is the source behind, and enthroned over, such an awesome presentation of intense force.

In the quiet this morning as I write this post, I have very specific memories of storms I’ve witnessed, storms I’ve been in, and storms I survived. I’m actually surprised at how many specific memories I can access from my brain’s hard-drive. Amazing.

It’s a good reminder that along this life journey I am bound to have storms blow through. And not just tornados. There are the storms of relational conflict, sickness, financial loss, unforeseen tragedies, pandemics…there will always be powerful forces I don’t control that will affect my life. I’m reminded that on Wednesday, David’s lyric reminded me that

…[God] will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble

Growing up in Iowa, I learned very early in life that it’s important to make sure you always have shelter from the storm.

That lesson is layered with meaning that has nothing to do with the weather.

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

Patterns

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Hear the voice of my supplication,
    as I cry to you for help

Psalm 28:2 (NRSVCE)

Back in the days before iPods, iPhones, and digital streaming, the only way one got music in a car was the radio. Since I spent a lot of time in rental cars for my job, I got used to spending the first part of any journey scanning “the dial” for the available stations and programming the stations I wanted to keep into the car’s radio.

One of the things I noticed as a young man scanning the airwaves was that it generally took me less than a second to identify the kind of music any station typically played as I quickly made my way across the dial:

“Classical, Classical, Classic Rock, Country, Country, Pop, Country, Pop, Christian, Rock…”

There is a certain sound, pattern, cadence, and frequency to different types and styles of music.

As I read the psalm this morning, the thing that struck me was how similar it is to the previous few psalms. That’s because it is. David had patterns that he repeatedly used as he penned his songs. We do the same thing. Symphonies typically follow a pattern of four movements. Your basic popular song is typically structured verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, verse, chorus.

Those who compiled the anthology of song lyrics we call Psalms put the section we are reading through together with similarly structured songs. It is a simple, repeated pattern: They all start with a praise and plea for God to listen followed by a complaint and/or petition, and end with a proclamation of faith and assurance that God has or will hear and answer.

In the quiet this morning, this got me thinking about patterns. Almost everything in life falls into certain patterns. Almost everything in life has patterns. Good patterns can provide a sense of health, security, and surety to life. Bad patterns of thought and behavior result in destructive and unhealthy consequences in my life and relationships. That’s rather obvious. What’s not so obvious is that some patterns that were good and necessary for a time can actually become unhealthy for me without me really recognizing or realizing it.

Along my life journey, I’ve come to observe that spiritual progress always involves the breaking of old patterns and establishing new ones. A faith journey always requires that I leave behind something that is tangibly known and comfortable in order to pursue something that is not clearly evident and is only hoped for.

“You have heard it said,” Jesus would say to his followers before adding, “but I say…” In other words, there was an established pattern that Jesus was calling His followers to change. He called for old, established patterns to pass away so that new patterns could emerge. The word repentance is rooted in the word picture of changing direction. Whenever Jesus told someone “Follow me” it was always a call to leave things behind to pursue things to which He was leading.

What started out as good, even healthy, patterns can lead to stagnation. Stagnation leads to settling. Settling leads to spiritual atrophy. Spiritual atrophy leads to decay. Decay leads to death. That’s what Jesus was getting at when he told the religious people of His day:

“You’re hopeless… Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

-Jesus, Matt 23:27-28 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on my own patterns of thought, behavior, relationship, and spirit. The truth is that almost every pain-point I experience on life’s journey can be traced back to unhealthy patterns. Growth, progress, and maturity necessitate the breaking of unhealthy patterns and the establishment of healthier ones, even those patterns that were once good for me but have actually become unhealthy.

David’s song this morning felt familiar to the point of me being kind of bored with it after reading psalms with the same pattern every morning this week. C’est la vie. It happens. Having journeyed through the Psalms many times, I am mindful that when we get to Psalm 40 David writes that he is singing “a new song.” God called David “a man after my own heart.” Even he could get stuck in certain patterns that he had to break in order to move on where God wanted to lead him.

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

The Feed

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I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I typically spend the start of our day together. We meet over coffee, a blueberry-spinach smoothie (mine is sweet; Wendy’s is sour), and a perusal of the day’s top stories. We have a couple of media outlets that are our go-to, and occasionally we rabbit trail to others. On weekdays it may only be for a few minutes that we sit together, read, and discuss current events. Saturday mornings we typically enjoy a long and more leisurely breakfast together as we read and discuss. It has been many years since we watched the news on television with any regularity.

In recent years I have made a couple of observations. First, whenever I happen into a room where a news or sports network is playing I am amazed at how jarring it is for me. The sheer volume and motion of visual information scrolling below, above, and on the side of the screen feels like sensory bombardment. Voices are loud, and often there are multiple voices vying for attention with the volume of their voice. Certain subjects are discussed ceaselessly and the discussions are repeated over and over and over again. I wonder how many times the words COVID, coronavirus, or virus are mentioned in a typical hour on any of the news networks.

My other observation is that if I regularly want news that is good, encouraging, inspiring and uplifting I must look for it. There are precious few news outlets who make it a point to find and pass along good news.

In the lyrics of today’s psalm, David has plenty of bad news that he is exorcising through song. Enemies are assailing him, he is surrounded on all sides, and the threat of war is real. There’s not a lot of good news. Then in verses 4 and 5 David makes a very conscious shift…

He turns to God with his request.

He seeks after being in God’s presence.

He makes a conscious effort to find God’s beauty.

“Come,” he says of his heart, “seek [God’s] face!”

By the last stanza of the song David is confident that he “will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But it didn’t just happen. He went looking for it.

I find it fascinating that news being broadcast is called “a feed.” I meditated on that in the quiet this morning. I am fed the news. Writers choose the perspective with which they see the facts. Editors decide which stories get fed to us and which stories get completely ignored. Senior editors decide the larger story they people to be fed with what is seen, heard, and read in their feed.

I have come to understand that my mental diet is as important to my health and well-being as my physical diet. When I mindlessly feed at the trough of any news source, I end up wondering if there is anything good, positive, or optimistic in this crazy world.

There is. Every day God’s goodness is evident in the land of the living:

It’s there. But I’ve learned that I have to consciously choose to turn away from the never-ending, 24/7/365, voluminous, bombarding stream of sickness, death, war, violence, protest, anger, rage, tragedy, greed, and corruption that I am being fed.

I have to choose to feed my heart and mind a regular diet of something that is good for me.

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

“If I Really Believe What I Say I Believe…”

Would you rather listen? Subscribe to The Wayfarer Podcast Now on Your Favorite App!

O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell,
    and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26:8 (NRSVCE)

“If I really believe what I say I believe…”

I used this phrase a few weeks ago as the foundation for a message I gave about resurrection and eternity. It’s a phrase that I utter increasingly in my personal conversations with Life. Along my spiritual journey, I have observed that the institutions of Christianity to which I’ve belonged, along with their respective members, are faithful in reciting what we believe, but our personal beliefs and subsequent behaviors don’t always align with the recitations. Often, this is because of well-worn patterns of thought and belief that are embraced without question.

Jesus came to radically change the way we think about God and relate to both God and others. Instead of believing, embracing, and living out what Jesus taught us, the institutional church largely fell back into ancient patterns of religion. In short, we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

One of the more common ways I’ve observed “stated belief” being incongruent with “true belief” came to mind this morning as I read David’s song lyrics. David states that he “loves the house in which [God] dwells, and the place where [God’s] glory abides.” For David, he is referencing God’s tabernacle/temple which is the central location God asked the Hebrew people to worship.

Jesus changed that. Jesus changed that completely. Jesus tore down the established human concept of “temple” and told His followers to follow an entirely different train of thought.

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

John 2:18-19

You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you? No one will get by with vandalizing God’s temple, you can be sure of that. God’s temple is sacred—and you, remember, are the temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (MSG)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

Jesus shifted the location of God’s dwelling on Earth from a physical building in a central location to the flesh and blood humans in whom His Spirit resides. For the first 300 years after Jesus resurrection and ascension, the followers of Jesus had no buildings. There were no churches. Believers met mostly in homes around a dinner table. God’s temple was the flesh and blood individuals who believed and followed Jesus.

So, if I really believe what I say I believe…

I don’t go to church, I am the church.

Loving God’s house means loving my own body.

When I don’t take care of my body, I’m not taking care of God’s temple.

Treating my body with contempt, neglect, or abuse is a spiritual issue in which I am profaning the dwelling place of God.

Acting one way on Sunday in a church building and another way all week at work or home is evidence that I really don’t believe.

In the quiet this morning, I get why followers of Jesus went back to the old edifice complex. For 1700 years we rebuilt temples made with human hands and ignored one of the fundamental changes Jesus came to make on Earth. We shifted the dwelling place of God from ourselves back to church buildings, cathedrals, and basilicas. In essence, we said:

“No thank you, God. Really. It’s nice of you to want to dwell in me, but I’ve come to realize that it’s so much easier the old way. I’m much happier if your house is a building down the street. If you’re dwelling in me, then there are so many strings attached. That’s a whole new level of expectation, and I’m not sure I’m up for that. I mean, there’s no escape. This whole COVID thing has taught me that sometimes I’m better off having my own space. Seriously, if you dwell in me, all the time, you’re always there. I have to be honest. I’m not sure you want to see me at my worst. I know I don’t want you to see me like that.

“In fact, God. I have to tell you. I’m not all that thrilled with this body you’ve given me. I despise it sometimes. And I know you created it, and that’s just not a conflict I really want to get into because I’m pretty comfortable being self-critical. It’s all I’ve really known.

“So, let’s go back to the old way of doing things, God. Hang out in that building down the street and I’ll visit you on Sundays and holidays. I’ll drop in, sing your praises, say that prayer you taught us, and recite the words on the screen. I’ll even give a few bucks. Is it still tax deductible? Whatever. I’ll give. Let’s just forget this dwelling in me and me. Let’s just keep our boundaries.

Trust me, it’ll be better for both of us.”

If I really believe what I say I believe. Then loving the house in which God dwells takes on a whole new level of meaning.

I’m headed to CrossFit.

Have a great day.

The Disorder Blues

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Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.

Psalm 25:16 (NIV)

One of the grand, overarching themes of the Great Story is present and revealed in multiple layers of metaphor:

Creation –> Fall –> Redemption
and
Order –> Disorder –> Reorder
and
Life –> Crucifixion/Death –> Resurrection
and
“Old” Life –> Death –> “New” Life

This is a pattern that God has woven into creation. It is present in a number of ways, and it is necessary to spiritual progress and maturity. Consider the words of James, the brother of Jesus, to the believers of Jesus scattered and living in exile from Roman persecution:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

We all love when life feel in order; When things happen pretty much as expected and things are “normal.” Yet every one of us will experience major periods of “disorder” along life’s road whether it be death, sickness, tragedy, loss, conflict, and any number of other life disruptors. The whole world is going through a period of “disorder” from Covid-19. “Disorder” is the path to “reorder” and in “reordering” we will have made gains in faith, perseverance, maturity, understanding, and wholeness.

Late last week I read that every one of the psalms can be categorized as either “order,” “disorder,” and “reorder.” I’m not sure I’ll ever read another psalm without asking myself which category of the grand theme it falls into.

Today’s psalm, yet another lyric penned by David, is another song written as a Hebrew acrostic. Each verse of the lyrics begins with the subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It definitely falls into the “disorder” category. David is “lonely and afflicted” and more than once he confesses his guilt and begs God’s forgiveness. David is surrounded by enemies and fears that he will be put to shame. His song is a cry to God for deliverance from the circumstantial disorder he’s feeling, and plea for God for reorder. It might as well be titled The Disorder Blues.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve experienced that understanding the theme of order, disorder, reorder doesn’t lessen the sting of life’s disorder when it occurs. It has, however, helped me put the disorder into perspective. It reminds me that disorder is a natural part of life’s journey and that I don’t spiritually progress without it. It also gives me a much-needed perspective. Knowing that reorder follows the disorder, I can let go of my “Why is this happening to me?” angst and lean into a “God, I know this all part of growing me up” faith instead.

Like most of the world, I am tired of the disorder of the past six months, and the prospect of it continuing. And yet, humanity has been through the disorder of plagues many times in history, and never in human history have we had the level of technology, communication, and global scientific cooperation we enjoy today. It doesn’t take away the circumstantial sting, but it reminds me that reorder is out there on the horizon.

Until then, I’m pressin’ on.

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

A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 7)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 7 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of the books of the Prophets and some insight into understanding prophetic text.

Click on the following link to listen, or click on the banner below for easy links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app.

https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/embed/episodes/WW-Beginners-Guide-to-the-Great-Story-Part-7-eii6n8

Of Rules and Appetites

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Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false…

Psalm 24:3-4b (NRSVCE)

The further I get in my life journey, the more I’ve come to understand that the black-and-white behavioral rules of the most strictly religious groups are really about social control in which an institution or group exercise authority over another. The goal and benefit is a sense of order, collective security, and control. Within this type of system, the individual’s role is simple and strict obedience to the group’s behavioral rules (those written, and those insidiously unwritten but understood) under the threat of public shaming and being socially ostracized from the group. This type of system exists as religious fundamentalist sects and denominations, fraternal organizations, gangs, cults, secret societies, and the systemic equivalent can even exist in businesses, corporations, sports teams, and community organizations.

Systems like this have existed throughout history and continue to this day. It is this type of system with which Jesus conflicted in the Temple when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables and railed against the Temple’s religious cabal. It was this conflict that led them to treat Jesus as a threat who was to be ostracized and executed. It is the same system out of which Paul transitioned to becoming a follower of Jesus. Paul also was considered a threat they needed to ostracize and execute.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. It doesn’t really matter which system we’re talking about. They all operate the same way and follow the same basic systemic rules.

The problem with this type of system is that it chains the individual to the group rather than freeing the individual from self. Behavior modification is not about spiritual health but of social order. The individual tries to control behaviors rather than be spiritually transformed. Paul recognized that all the behavioral rules of the system only created more rulebreakers sneaking around in the dark breaking the rules and trying not to get caught.

Scholars believe that today’s psalm was a song David wrote to be sung as the people entered God’s Temple in Jerusalem. If you read it and imagine the Hebrews carrying the Ark of the Covenant (cue: Raiders of the Ark Theme) into the Temple as they sing this song you get the gist. It starts by asking the question: “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord?” (That refers to Zion, on which the Temple was built) and then “Who can stand in his holy place?” (That would refer to the “Holy Place” within the Temple as designed and prescribed through Moses).

The lyric of the song then describes who may do these things. The description is that of a good person, but here’s where translation from the original language (Hebrew) to English can make a huge difference. In verse 4 the English phrase “do not lift up their souls” has an original Hebrew physiological imagery that references the throat. Some scholars argue that the word picture here is more like “nursing an appetite” and the Hebrew word translated “false” is rooted in the idea of “empty” or “vain.” So it’s really about those who don’t nurse their appetites for things that are empty.

In the quiet this morning, that’s what really struck me. What I’ve learned along my journey is that all the religious and systemic rule keeping does not address the real issues of Spirit that lead to transformation. Keeping the rules so as to appease my church leaders, parents, college, pastors, teachers, and peer group in the attempt to avoid being shamed and ostracized did not transform my soul.

What really led to transformation for me was when I realized that all my human appetites were good and created within in me by God. Paul realized it too when he said “Nothing is unlawful for me. It’s just that some things aren’t beneficial.” My appetite for food, for drink, for pleasure, for rest, for sex, for relationship, for security, for peace, for affirmation…all of them are good and part of what God created in me. It’s when I “nurse my appetite,” any one of them, and indulge my good and healthy appetites in empty and unhealthy ways that I hurt myself. And, I bring the unhealthy results to every relationship and system in which I am a part.

It’s not about me behaving for acceptance in a system. It’s about me being the person, the true and healthy self, God created me to be. It’s about what Jesus said when He told His followers to nurse their appetites for the things of God, and not for the things of this earth (including the safety and acceptance of a human system). How can I “love my neighbor as myself” if my unhealthy indulgence of natural appetites is leading to my continual self-injury and disrupting my relationships, my work, my family, and my life?

What appetite am I going to nurse today? That’s the question as I head into the weekend.

Have a great weekend.

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

The Predicate

The Lord is my shepherd…
Psalm 23:1 (NRSVCE)

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What is there to say about, arguably, the most well-known passage of the Great Story? Books have been written about it. It is recited incessantly by millions of believers every day. I think it may have been read at every funeral I’ve ever attended. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers did an entire series of messages on it. It has been explained, dissected, put to music, memorized, and printed on more trinkets, bookmarks, and wall plaques than any other text of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, as I meditated on the text, my soul landed on the opening five words: The Lord is my shepherd….

That’s the phrase that gets quickly forgotten when I recite it. I want to get to the green pastures and quiet waters part, because my soul desperately needs rest. I want to get to the restoration of soul because weariness seems to be its constant reality. I want to get to that comforting part, though I don’t know how a staff could do that. I just know that I really want to be comforted in the midst of a world that churns and blares with endless messages that create fear, anxiety, confusion, and depression in me. I want to get to the goodness and mercy, because I secretly hold in my faults, mistakes, flaws, and insecurities and the guilt, the shame, is sometimes debilitating.

As I read through David’s most well-known lyrics for the millionth time, this is what comes to mind. Everything described from the rest to the restoration, the anointing, the overflow of blessing, the kindness, the mercy, the homecoming, and safe dwelling, all of it is predicated on this One Thing: The Lord is my Shepherd.

But, is He?

Who is Shepherding me?

Is it possible that I could be allowing myself to be “shepherded” by another human being, a religious institution, a teacher, a university, a parent, a government, a political party, a screen, a device, a drug, a drink, a dream, a job, an appetite, or a cause?

Is it possible that the weariness, anxiety, fear, neediness, aimlessness, guilt, and shame which makes Psalm 23 so meaningful stems from the fact that I’m really just trying to “shepherd” myself?

This poured out onto my morning pages this morning:

Lord, I surrender to you my ego,
with all its insatiable neediness for security and affirmation.
I surrender to you Lord, my body,
with all of its insatiable appetites desiring indulgence.
Lord, I surrender to you my thoughts,
with all the destructive recordings that loop incessantly which no one sees or hears, the toxic things I feed it, and the worthless things on which it insistently dwells.
I surrender to you, Lord, my being,
which you created for your glory and not my fame or well-being.
Lord, I surrender to you control,
which I foolishly cling to in my doubt and disillusionment.
Lord, I surrender to you all that I possess,
and with it, the deceptive notion that I possess anything
for there is nothing I possess that does not threaten to possess me.
I surrender to you, Lord, my money,
and with it, the masquerade that tells me this world has anything of eternal value that could possibly be purchased.

Lord, be my Shepherd.

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