Beneath the Text

Enoch walked faithfully with God.
Genesis 5:24

I’ve always been interested in family history. Over the years I’ve learned a great deal, but there’s a point at which the scant evidence of names and dates leave a lot to be desired from a story perspective. My “van der Wel” surname seems to spring from one particular neighborhood in Rotterdam, while the Bloem genes trace back to Gronigen. I have McCoy genes that likely lead back to the McKay clan in Scotland. My Hamblen genes trace back to Virginia during the American Revolution, and then back to England where there’s a knight entombed in effigy in eastern England. Informational clues that leave a lot to the mystery of history.

In the same way, the first 11 chapters of the Great Story are considered “primeval” history. They provide a broad brush sketch of creation and God’s relationship with all of humanity with scant information and a lot of mystery, but there’s plenty of good stuff to mine in the mystery.

For example, numbers and patterns play a role in the telling. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet do double-duty as numbers, and the authors of ancient Hebrew often hide numerical patterns in the writing. The number 10 is associated with harmony and completeness, especially related to humanity. The book of Genesis is divided into ten sections. Ten times in Genesis the phrase “God said…” is used. The genealogies in today’s chapter and again in chapter 11 both list ten generations. God will later deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt through ten plagues, and subsequently provide humanity with ten commandments.

Yesterday’s chapter told of the sin and curse of Cain and then traced his family line to the 7th generation after Adam. Seven is also a number associated with “completeness” but it is more associated with the divine, as in the seven days of Creation. The seven generations of Cain’s line hint at the completeness of God’s divine judgement on the family which remained rebellious toward God in the 7th generation. The 10 generations listed in today’s chapter hint at the complete human family line of Adam that will perpetuate humanity to, and after, the flood.

Then there are the patterns that emerge in the telling. The seventh generation in the line of Cain was Lamech who continued his ancestor’s murderous and rebellious ways. The seventh generation on Seth’s line is Enoch who “walked faithfully with God.” There’s also the fact that Cain, the first born son, was cursed and it was through a younger son, Seth, that humanity was blessed and perpetuated. In human terms, the blessing, power, and position always go to the first-born son, but God’s blessing through the younger son is a pattern repeated through Genesis as well as the Great Story:

Seth over Cain.
Shem over Japheth
Isaac over Ishmael
Jacob over Esau
Judah and Joseph over their brothers
Ephraim over Manasseh
David over his brothers
Solomon over his brothers

The pattern of going against human tradition is a continuous reminder of what God would later say plainly through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

As I always say, God’s base language is metaphor. Today’s chapter is more than a genealogy. It is layered with numbers and patterns that metaphorically speak to the moral contrast between Cain’s family line and Seth’s family, the contrast of divine judgement and blessing, and the contrast of death and life.

On Sunday, I’m giving a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers from Ecclesiastes 3, the passage made familiar to millions by the Byrds: “To everything there is a time and season.” One of the things I plan to discuss is that my own life contains patterns that lead to deeper understanding of self, of family, of life, if I’m willing to search under the surface of simple dates and memories.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

In the Land of Nod

In the Land of Nod (CaD Gen 4) Wayfarer

So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Genesis 4:16 (NIV)

From the beginning, I called this blog/podcast “Wayfarer.” Over the 16 years I’ve been blogging, I’ve discovered that the word is unfamiliar to many people. It means “one who is on a journey.” Not only do I perpetually use the metaphor in referencing my life journey and spiritual journey in this life, but the blog has become a chronicle of that journey and of my chapter-a-day thoughts which all come out of a unique time and place on that journey.

I walk with purpose. I have a fixed destination like the Wayfaring Stranger in the famous old folk tune. And yet, along the way I have observed many who appear to be walking their respective earthly journey without purpose, or with a purpose that stands in stark contrast to mine.

Today’s chapter is the ancient story of the very first restless wanderer and the story of his family to the seventh generation from Adam (seven is not a coincidence, btw. It’s the number of “completion” and is paralleled by the listing of the seven generations of Seth in the next chapter). Cain was the first son born to Adam. The “first born son” was a position of power and prominence in human systems throughout history. From the start, however, there is a self-centered and rebellious nature in Cain that carries down through his descendants.

Cain and his younger brother Abel bring offerings to God. Cain brought “some” of his produce while Abel brought “the first-fruits.” The difference is that Cain chose to give God what he wanted (it might not have been the first or best of his crops) while Abel’s offering was the first and best, which was a way of Abel saying to God “It’s not mine. It’s all yours, and only by your blessing am I blessed with it.” Cain’s offering did not find favor, so the seed of his self-centric pride sprouts into envy and anger toward his little brother, which leads to murder, then to Cain’s famous denial “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Interestingly enough, God’s judgement for this fratricide was not “eye-for-an-eye” capital punishment. Instead, God condemns Cain to a life of restless wandering in the “land of Nod.” Nod means “wandering” in Hebrew. Cain and his descendants keep pushing against God’s design and judgement:

  • Cain spends his human effort to contradict the sentence of “wandering” by building a permanent home (vs. 17).
  • Lamech was the first polygamist (vs. 19), rejecting God’s design of monogamy in the Garden (2:20-24), and perhaps overcome God’s curse by having more children at a faster rate.
  • Lamech then follows Cain’s example by killing a man for “wounding” him and glories in his vengeance (vss. 23-24).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of the restless wanderers I’ve observed along my own life journey. Those who appear aimless in life. Those who appear mired in destructive generational patterns. Those who appear motivated to think, speak, and act in perpetual, oppositional defiance. The spiritual descendants of Cain.

As I mull these things over, I don’t feel condemnation or judgement. I feel empathy, even sadness. The story of Cain and his descendants is a sad one, and they represent those whom Jesus came to redeem. Were it not for my decision to become a Jesus follower, I can only imagine where my restless wandering would have led. I’m quite sure it would not have been to good places. I’ve struggled enough following in Jesus’ footsteps and still finding myself prone to wander off course.

I’m reminded of a lyric from one of my favorites from Bob Dylan: “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.” (from the song Every Grain of Sand on the Shot of Love album).

And so I wander into another day on the journey grateful to have purpose, a fixed destination, and a savior who is the Great Shepherd of lost sheep. A Shepherd who will leave the flock to find one lost lamb, even in the land of Nod.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Entering a World of Pain

Entering a World of Pain (CaD Gen 3) Wayfarer

“And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman…”

Genesis 3:15 (NIV)

A number of years ago, I was asked to speak to a chapel service at the local Christian high school. I was asked specifically to talk about pornography as I had been very open about my own story of being exposed to it at a young age and the addictive struggles it grew into. I thought it went well. One of the teachers commented afterwards that it would forever be remembered as the first time the word “masturbation” was uttered in a chapel service. Come to think of it, I’ve never been invited back.

One of the things I talked about in that message was the basic spiritual implications of pornography that are rooted in today’s chapter and what theologians call “the fall.” Adam and Eve are good, innocent, and streaking around the Garden of Eden naked without a thought or care. Then the evil one enters and we get the first glimpse of what has become his well-worn playbook:

First, get them to question what God has said:
“Did God really say…?”

Second, deny, minimize and diminish the consequences:
“You will not certainly die”

Third, make God out to be the bad guy and killjoy:
“For God knows that when you eat of it…”

Fourth, make the false promise of power, independence, and freedom:
“…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

Eve is then enticed by the unholy trinity of temptation:

The lust of the flesh:
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food…”

The lust of the eyes:
“…and pleasing to the eye…”

The pride of life:
“…and desirable for gaining wisdom…”

(Note: cross-reference 1 John 2:15, and btw: the three temptations the evil one used on Jesus were the exact same flesh, eyes, pride tactic. Again, it’s a well-worn playbook.)

The consequence of the disobedience was immediate and organic. Shame replaced innocence. Relationship was broken. Then God arrives and pronounces to Adam and Eve that they are entering a world of pain and, eventually, death. For the man, it means the pain of labor to survive in a dog-eat-dog world of never-ending obstacles. For the woman, it means pain in childbirth and a constant struggle against subjugation and misogyny. For the evil one, God announces that there will be a unique enmity and hatred between him and women, and the prophetic pronouncement that one day it will be a woman’s offspring who will “crush your head.”

Which brings me back to that chapel service several years ago. Rather than approaching the subject of pornography from the usual surface level and shaming arguments of purity culture, I opted to approach it from the depths of the overarching spiritual conflict of good and evil, God and anti-God, that began in today’s chapter.

As I have progressed in my spiritual journey and have been surrounded by women (see yesterday’s post), the more acutely I have observed this unique enmity God pronounces between the evil one and the woman. The evil one, once the most beautiful of God’s angels, hates – dare I say, envies – the woman for her unique beauty “in the image of God.” The evil one, hating the life that God creates, hates the woman for being the one through whom human life perpetuates. And so, the evil one embraces his hatred of the woman and says to himself:

“Let me take the woman in all of her beauty, strength, complexity, and purpose and reduce her to a simple two-dimensional object of optical and sexual lust. I might even convince her that doing so will give her power, even freedom.

“Let me take the act which produces and perpetuates God’s gift of life and transform it into empty, yet addictive, pleasure for profit which produces shame, grows ever more violent, painful, and degrading, and actually diminishes the perpetuation of life while subverting God’s natural order.

“Let me, once again, offer the woman the opportunity to be like God. This time I will give her the power freedom to pronounce that the life inside her is not really a life at all. In her desire for pleasure, power, independence, and freedom, God’s unique and beautiful ‘vessel of life’ shall become my agent of death.”

A few weeks ago on my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, I asked my guest, Dr. Bob Laurent, what some of the meta themes he’s observed in his life journey as he approaches his mid 70s. He commented that we shouldn’t be surprised by the world descending into confusion and chaos because that’s exactly what the Great Story says will happen. The “prince of this world,” the evil one, is still at work to turn, twist, and transform:

God’s love into hatred.
God’s joy into depression.
God’s peace into conflict.
God’s patience into demand that everything to be fast and immediate.
God’s kindness into meanness and antagonism
God’s goodness into evil.
God’s gentleness into raw, destructive power.
God’s faithfulness into rejection.
God’s self-control into insatiable lust for every appetite.
God’s order into chaos.
God’s oneness into division.
God’s Life into death.

The Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds me that while things rapidly change on the surface of things, at the spiritual root of all things, there is absolutely nothing new under the sun.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

2 Peter (Sep 2021)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of 2 Peter published by Tom Vander Well in September of 2021. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

2 Peter 1: On Being a “Member”

2 Peter 2: The Well-Worn Playbook

2 Peter 3: Is This the End?

Ezer Kenegdo

Ezer Kenegdo (CaD Gen 2) Wayfarer

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

For whatever reason, God saw fit to surround me with women most of my entire life journey. My eldest brothers are twins, my sister came five years later, and I brought up rear. Most of my childhood the sibling dynamic in my family system was two pairs: the twins and Jody and me. When I was very young, I can remember times when dad and the twins would be off doing something and I was home with mom and Jody. It made an impression on me.

Further down life’s road, I find myself the father of two girls, and then was blessed to have Wendy’s sister live with us for a few years. I always seem to find myself in situations in which I’m surrounded by women. About four years ago I wrote a post with my first words to my grandson, discussing this very phenomenon.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I rather enjoy it most of the time. In fact, the experience has significantly changed my view and understanding of women along my life journey. For most of my early journey I loosely held a fairly fundamentalist view of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives. And, I confess that many of my views early on were downright misogynistic. My life experiences, my spiritual journey as a Jesus follower, and the amazing women in my life, have led to embracing what I consider to be a deeper understanding of women and all the incredible things they are in creation.

In today’s chapter, God looks at Adam and makes a “helper suitable for him.” The Hebrew words are ezer kenegdo. Ezer simply means “help” or “assistance.” Kenegdo is made up of three words. The study text I read this morning stated that it suggests: “someone God fashions for the man who would correspond to him.” This does not imply inferiority, weakness, or submission, but rather one who “uniquely his counterpart and uniquely suited for him.”

And that brings me to Wendy, the woman who is the definition of my ezer kengdo. We couldn’t be more different in so many ways, and the Enneagram Institute describes relationships between Fours (me) and Eights (Wendy) “the most inherently volatile” of combinations, though it adds the combination can be “one of the most creative relationship couplings.”

Wendy and I do everything together. We work together out of our home, we serve together, and we play together. There are certainly things each of us do and enjoy alone, but for the most part we are around each other 24/7/365 in our daily lives. And that’s a good thing for me. It’s a great thing for me.

I had a member of my company’s Board of Directors once ask me if I could imagine doing my job without Wendy. My response was immediate: “Absolutely not.” In fact, I can’t imagine doing it without her. I can’t imagine doing anything without her. She’s “uniquely suited” to make me better at everything I do in life, in community, and business as I like to believe I am uniquely suited to make her better in the same.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. We’re not perfect. We clash. We have flashes of volatility as the folks at the Enneagram Institute describe. Sometimes sparks fly. Yet that, I believe, is inherently a by-product of ezer kenegdo. Not alike, but uniquely suited.

So, in the quiet this morning, I think there are a whole host of things that I could have blogged about from today’s chapter. It is chock full of truth on multiple layers. Yet, on this chapter-a-day journey, I often find that the thing that is most meaningful to me is the thing that rises to the top of mind and soul. To me, this day, that is ezer kenegdo; that is Wendy, and all of the women with whom God has surrounded me my entire life journey to teach me about manhood, and to make me a better man.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

And So it Begins…

And So it Begins… (CaD Gen 1) Wayfarer

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Genesis 1:2 (NIV)

A few months ago, a dear friend sent me the text of an autobiographical account about a young adolescent girl who coincidentally (or not) struck up a relationship with an old Frenchman she quite literally ran into while running. He told her to call him Mr. Tayer, and the two of them began walking together in the park two days a week. The quirky old man opened the eyes and the mind of this young girl to see the world in new and transformative ways. On the Thursday before Easter, at the end of their walk, he bid her good-bye. He stopped showing up for their walks.

Many years later, she read a book that had been given to her by a friend. The things she read in the book were so reminiscent of the things that Mr. Tayer would talk about on their walks. She searched to find a photo of the author of the book. Mr. Tayer’s real name was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a world-renowned paleontologist, scientist, philosopher, a Jesuit priest, and man whose ideas were so controversial that the Roman Catholic church forced him to stop publishing or speaking publicly.

I had heard of de Chardin, but I knew very little about him. The account of his impact on this girl’s life, the way he saw creation, and controversy he inspired made me think he was my kinda guy. I’ve been learning more about him ever since.

de Chardin’s most well-known for what he called “the Omega point.” The details get a bit thick, but the notion is that everything is connected and that everything will eventually unify and collapse into one point, just as physicists believe that everything began with one tiny point (“the Alpha point”) before the Big Bang.

As a follower of Jesus, of course, this reminds me that Jesus revealed Himself to John as “The Alpha and Omega.” In the divine dance of Father, Son, and Spirit, it is Jesus who is identified as the agent of creation in the Great Story. John writes in his own beautiful creation account at the beginning of his biography of Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Today my chapter-a-day journey take me back to the beginning with the book of Genesis. It’s been eight years since my last journey through these parts, and as I read through the well-known account of creation, I found both my heart and mind struggling to distill my thoughts down to a simple, coherent thought. So, I began to explore with both heart and mind what it was that my heart and mind were struggling with.

First, there’s the reality that over 40 years of study I have observed so many teachers, preachers, and scholars who try to simplify the account of Creation into a box that serves their purpose. Instead, as I read it, I find it infinitely complex in beauty, form, and mystery.

And that reveals to me the next layer of my struggle. There is so much here that to try and condense it into a blog post on a Monday morning in September feels like a fool’s errand. I don’t want to be yet another reductionist of something so expansive in both significance and subtlety.

That’s what brought me back to Mr. Tayer and his young friend walking through park and stopping to consider the wonder of a caterpillar (just like Wendy and I were doing with our grandson Milo on a FaceTime call this past week) and metamorphosis, and time, and physics, and connectedness, and a giant, ever-expanding universe, and the notion of everything being contained in one small point, and of Jesus being the Alpha Point from which everything flows in the beginning, and Jesus being the Omega point to which everything flows in the end, and that same Jesus become flesh-and-blood and moving into the neighborhood.

And so it begins, this journey through Geneisis. In the quiet I find myself determined to enter this journey, not constrained by what I’ve been taught it is or is supposed to be, but with my mind and heart open to the possibilities that it is far more than I ever imagined.

If you’d like to read the story of “Mr. Tayer” by Jean Houston, you may download it here.

A new message (on Ecclesiastes 2) has been uploaded to the Messages page.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Is This the End!?

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…
2 Peter 3:14-15 (NIV)

In recent months, I’ve had multiple followers of Jesus who I know to be learned and wise ask me whether I believe the return of Christ will happen in our lifetime. I’ll get to my response in a few moments, but let me explain the question, and why I find it fascinating.

Jesus spoke quite directly about a day when He would return in the final chapters of the Great Story (see Matthew 24-25). At His ascension, Jesus’ followers were told by angels that He would one day return just as He departed (see Acts 1). Naturally, The Twelve asked Him “when” (multiple times). Each time they asked, Jesus responded that the answer to “when” is “hidden” with Father God. Before the ascension, He quite directly told His followers, “It’s not for you to know.”

So, of course, like children being told we can’t play with a certain toy, it only serves to make us want the thing even more. In today’s chapter, Peter addresses those in his generation who desperately wanted know “when,” along with addressing those who scoffed at the notion it would ever happen. And so, I’ve watched people in my generation obsessed with cracking the mystery that the Son of God Himself said was hidden from even Him and “not for you to know.”

And, that’s why I found it intriguing that my wise and learned friends are asking the question to which they and I both understand to be unknowable. Why is this question being asked now? And how do I answer?

First, as an amateur historian, I’ve come to believe that from the time Peter was first scratching out his second letter to today, there has not been a single generation that has not contained individuals convinced that Jesus return and the end times would happen in their lifetime. In addition, the more tumultuous the times (wars, plagues, revolutions, etc.) the more acutely people have felt “this is it!” Furthermore, I have observed in my own lifetime that the older believers get (and feel the impending end of their own life journey) the more they feel anxious about the changes of life and culture in their own lifetime. Thus, as they feel the end of their own earthly journey drawing nigh, they become convinced that the end of all things is near.

Second, and keeping these things in mind, I must also logically conclude that some of the descriptions of life in the end times as revealed in Revelation have never been more possible: cataclysmic natural disasters, events that affect the entire globe, one-word government, one global currency, the entirety of a persons finances and transactions being dictated by some kind of mark on the hand or forehead, and etc. Never in human history have these descriptions been more possible or probable.

So, it makes sense to me that my friends are asking this unknowable question. We are living in tumultuous times while at the same time observing that the events described in the final chapters of the Great Story feel less like spiritual science fiction and more like current events.

When asked the question of “when” by The Twelve, Jesus told them a story of unmarried bridesmaids whose responsibility it was to have their oil lamps filled and trimmed in anticipation of the bridegroom arriving for the wedding. It was their responsibility to provide illumination for the nighttime ceremony, and their lamps illuminated these eligible girls for all the eligible groomsmen and guests looking for a wife! In the story, some of the bridesmaids (like the scoffers of every generation who say, “It’s never going to happen”) got tired of waiting for the groom, and essentially gave up, believing the groom would never show up. But he did, and they were caught off guard. Not only would they be shamed for not upholding their duty, but they would also miss out on finding a husband themselves.

And, that’s my answer.

Are these events going to happen? Yes! Absolutely!

Will they happen in our life time? I don’t know. Silly question.

Am I ready if they do? Yes, of course. That’s what Jesus asks of me. Bring it on!

In the meantime, I wait and walk this journey doing the best I can to love God and love others in increasing measure in hope that others will follow along with me. I’m ready if Jesus should return, unconcerned whether it happens in my lifetime or not, and content not to know the unknowable.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Well-Worn Playbook

The Well-Worn Playbook (CaD 2 Pe 2) Wayfarer

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”
2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)

The Great Story is, at its heart, a story of good and evil. The evil one tempts Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s demand by questioning God’s goodness and promising them that they will be “like God” if they just have a taste of that forbidden fruit.

The punishment is their expulsion from the Garden and fellowship with God to live and die in the world, where the “Prince of this World,” as Jesus referenced the Evil One, has dominion over the kingdoms of this world. Before starting his mission, Jesus and the Prince of this World met, and Jesus faced the same basic temptations used against Adam and Eve (the Evil One’s playbook is really pretty basic). He offered to give Jesus all the “kingdoms of this world” if he would merely bow and worship. Jesus passed on the offer. The night before He was crucified, Jesus told His followers that the “Prince of this World” stood condemned. His sacrificial death and resurrection was righting a wrong on a grand scale.

The final chapters of the Great Story tell of the climactic confrontation of God and evil. It’s an end, and then a new beginning, which is yet another recurring theme in the Great Story.

Along my life journey, I’ve tried to be mindful of this foundational conflict as I interpret all that see and experience along the way. God is Love, and that Love is the source of life and goodness. Evil is an oppositional force. It opposes all that God is, and does, and desires. God is love, and so evil sows hatred. God is for life, thus evil gloats in death. God is about goodness and order, and so evil rejoices in destruction and chaos.

In today’s chapter, Peter is writing to the first century followers of Christ about the oppositional forces that were already at work to disrupt the powerful impact that their faith, expressed through Christ’s love in action was having in the world. Individuals with selfish and evil motives were leading Jesus’ followers astray. Interestingly enough, one of the tactics Peter mentions is their promise of freedom. He states that these false teachers were telling people that they are free to indulge any and all of their appetites (both the Greeks and Romans were famous for indulging all their appetites in creative and unrestrained ways). Peter warned them to be wary of this deceit.

Jesus is often quoted: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Rarely do I hear the previous sentence quoted with it: “You are truly my disciples if you do what I tell you. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

See the oppositional forces at work? Evil tells me “indulge your appetites and you’ll experience freedom,” though what I end up experiencing is self-focused indulgence which leads me into slavery to my own appetites and all the destructive consequences that go with it (personally, relationally, physically, spiritually, and mentally). In contrast, simple obedience to Jesus’ law of love, which gets expressed in part by the spiritual fruit of self-control keeps me free of those destructive consequences so that all the other fruit of love (goodness, kindness, etc.) has room to pour out of me into others.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but recall a Tweet I saw yesterday from a celebrity and former Disney star:

Again, the playbook is pretty basic. “Indulge your appetites and you will experience freedom.” As the Sage of Ecclesiastes says, “There’s really nothing new under the sun.” And yet, I’ve never found anything really free or good traveling down any alley of indulgence. Pleasure? Certainly. But that’s fleeting and then requires another fix to feel it again, then a bigger fix, and then yet another even bigger fix. I like the way Bob Dylan described it: “A bad motorcyle with the devil in the seat, going ninety-miles an hour down a dead-end street.”

And so, I press on in this earthly journey one more day, choosing the path that Jesus prescribed to freedom. As for me, I have yet to be disappointed on this path, nor has it ever led me down a dead-end street.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

On Being a “Member”

On Being a "Member" (CaD 2 Pet 1) Wayfarer

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:8 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I have served a number of local churches in either a volunteer or paid part-time basis. As a young man, I spent a total of five years in full-time pastoral ministry and served two different churches in very different denominations. These two full-time stints were very different experiences, but there was one thing the two experiences had in common. In the middle of my tenure at each of these churches, I was called to account by well-intentioned, legalistic busybodies for having not become a “member” of the said church.

I will never forget receiving a phone call asking me to be at an emergency meeting of the elders; the raw emotions of disappointment, anxiety, and suspicion expressed with regard to my reasons for not being a “member.” I will also not forget the abject silliness of jumping through all the institutional, bureaucratic hoops to appease the religious busybodies, including apologizing in a congregational meeting for my “oversight” and requesting that my “membership” be approved by the people who hired me to be their pastor.

It was no different than Jesus getting called to account for healing someone on the Sabbath day of rest. Being a member of a church does not make one a follower of Jesus, and being a follower of Jesus has nothing to do with adherence to religious, institutional bureaucracy. Confusion of the two is one of the legitimate realities that lie at the root of the world’s criticism and condemnation of Christianity. There are a host of other reasons, both legitimate and illegitimate, that lie with it.

In the opening of Peter’s second letter to first century followers of Jesus, he begins by identifying those who are legitimate followers of Jesus. You won’t find mention of a “membership certificate” or congregational approval anywhere in the description. Rather, Peter points to the evidence of ever-increasing spiritual maturity:

Faith that leads to goodness in words and deeds toward all.
Goodness that motivates a desire to know more about the things of God.
Knowledge that contributes to personal self-control in temptation.
Self-control that contributes to perseverance in tough stretches of the journey.
Perseverance that produces deeper levels of godliness in the daily mundane.
Godliness that shows up in sincere affection for others more than self.
Affection that results in acts of sacrificial love for others.

Peter goes on to explain that the goal is life that is effective and productive. This is exactly what Jesus told Peter and the team on the night before He was crucified: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” The goal is a life of connection to Jesus, being a “member” of the divine dance in the larger work He is accomplishing in the Great Story. Being a “member” of Christ effectively produces fruit in my life, and that fruit includes the very character traits Peter listed.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about this penchant I’ve witnessed in many for taking institutional church membership so seriously. I’ve just never considered the bureaucracy worthwhile. I’ve always believed that my “membership” is proven, not by taking a class, signing my name, receiving a certificate, and saying “I do” to list of rote questions, but rather by the evidence of my being spiritually effective and productive within my local gathering of Jesus’ followers and my community, just as Peter describes. If I have the former without the latter, then “my faith” is not faith at all. It’s just a membership that carries as much spiritual benefit as my membership in the rewards club of my local grocery store.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Latest: Summer 2021

Summer for Wendy and me has increasingly become a series of celebrations in recent years. The big three summer holidays (Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day) are the pillars of the season which we spend at the lake. Then there are minor celebrations and summer moments unique to each year’s trip around the sun.

This summer began with the annual VL, JP, VW Memorial Day gathering at the lake. When we started this tradition the eldest JP and VL children were babies. Now we have high school and middle schoolers enjoying the rays, waves, and lake fun.

June was marked by a visit from Wendy’s sister and her family. Wendy’s sister let us know that raising their daughter, Lydia, was like raising a “little Wendy.” Lydia let Aunt Wendy know that we’re welcome to adopt her. We also enjoyed the perks of having a brother in the sign business. Tim and Kumi stopped by on their never ending travels to install that sign that he designed and made for the Vander Well Pub.

After the year of COVID, I was feeling the need to get out of Dodge and indulge a growing case of wanderlust. What better way to appease both than the Great American Road trip? One week, three-thousand miles, and over fifty hours behind the wheel. Pella, Elkhart, Logansport, Richmond, Columbia, Gainesville, Little Rock, Sunrise Beach, and back home. I got to mix a little business with a little pleasure, as well as meeting a few old friends face-to-face. By the time I got home my body was a little stiff, but my soul was full.

My road trip was highlighted by G, Madison, and me at the Columbia (SC) Fireflies game. So much fun!!

Wendy and I continue to enjoy supporting our community (the coolest small town in America). We loved supporting the Pella Opera House at their annual gala. We also loved celebrating the Pella Historical Society on a gorgeous summer evening of Big Band music. The new Wyatt Earp experience (Did you know Wyatt Earp grew up in Pella, Iowa?!) is amazing.

The pinnacle of the summer was our Fourth of July week at the lake with the family. Tay, Clay, and Milo were back in the states for six weeks from their home in Scotland. They were with us for a week in Pella. We got to spend some time at the Atkins’ Oasis and Milo got to ride on the tractor with Papa. We then for a week at the lake. Madison and G (and Bertha) made the road trip from SC to join us all at the lake. It was so fun getting to introduce Milo to his first water slide ride, fun on the beach at Captain Ron’s, and swimming off the dock.

One of the worst parts of COVID has been the way it has kept us from being with people we love. We were, therefore, so excited to have our friends Kevin and Linda with us at the end of July for a visit. The visit was way too short, but we made the most of it doing the things we love: great food, great drink, cigars, laughter, love, and spirited conversation. We can’t wait to visit them in Palm Springs.

We were sad to see our Scottish crew go in August. Nevertheless, we were so excited to have Tay and Milo join us for one last night together and to join us at our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Clay joined us for a final meal together in Pella. We also made a quick trip to DSM for one last hug before they left for home.

This summer was also marked by the arrival of two new nephews, bringing our total count of nieces and nephews to a baker’s dozen. Ian, born to Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, was born at home in Mexico. We can’t wait for the opportunity to meet him in person. Owen, born to Wendy’s brother, Lucas, arrived here in Iowa and we have enjoyed getting to hold him.

As always, Labor Day weekend marks the end of the summer. It has been a tradition for many years to toast the season’s finale with an adult weekend at the lake with the VLs and JPs. We did so again this year. It was a mellow weekend of good meals, good drink, and good conversation. Our friends left a few hours ago.

Wendy and I love the week after Labor Day at the lake. The crowds are gone, but the summer weather remains. We’re looking forward to working remotely this week and enjoying some time together in the quiet, by the water.