All posts by Tom Vander Well

Wayfarer, husband, father, consultant, thespian, writer, thinker, and back porch musician. Pressing on through the journey one step at a time.


"D-Day" (CaD Jer 39) Wayfarer

And on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year, the city wall was broken through.
Jeremiah 39:2 (NIV)

The term D-Day has become historically synonymous with the Allied Forces’ invasion of Normandy in World War II, but the term was actually a way of generically referring to an operation when the date of the operation was unknown, or secret. The term H-hour was also used to talk about the hour that certain things would take place. When briefing troops regarding their tactical orders they might explain where the unit will be and what they will be doing on D-day minus one (the day before the operation is launched). Likewise, when planning the invasion, it might be explained where the strategists expected a unit to be at “H-hour plus 12,” twelve-hours after the launch of the operation.

For thirty-eight chapters, the ancient prophet Jeremiah has been repeatedly and prophetically claiming that the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Jerusalem, and that the people of Jerusalem would die or be taken into exile. This anthology of Jeremiah’s messages represent four decades of his prophetic proclamations. When he began his prophetic ministry, the notion that Babylon would even be an Imperial power in the region would have been laughable. Jerry kept proclaiming it, which is why is does get fairly repetitive. But even this fact, the idea of proclaiming the same thing for an entire generation causes me to pause and think.

For forty-years Jerry repeatedly and consistently speaks of an event that no one wants to hear about, and doesn’t even sound plausible from a geopolitical perspective in the early years of his prophesying. How many times was Jeremiah mocked? How many times did people roll their eyes, pull their children aside and tell the kids not to pay any attention to Crazy Jerry and that yoke he carries around all day? How often did Kings, priests, and officials laugh at him, and derisively demand that he reveal D-Day, when this highly unlikely scenario would happen?

Today’s chapter is Jeremiah’s D-Day. It finally happens. In the quiet this morning I noticed a few things:

First, in Jeremiah’s very first message back in chapter one, God tells the prophet:

I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord.

“Their kings will come and set up their thrones
    in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah records:

Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and took seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officials of the king of Babylon.

Next, for the past few chapters, King Zedekiah has been having conversations with Jeremiah, asking the prophet what will happen to him. Keep in mind that Nebuchadnezzar put King Z on the throne and expected Z to be a faithful puppet, but Z betrayed Neb and made an alliance with Egypt (which motivated the Babylonian siege). I find it ironic, downright Shakespearean, that Z has watched all of Jerry’s prophecies come true, and he trusts the prophet enough to ask for advice. Jerry tells him that if he surrenders to Neb he will be okay, but Z doesn’t even have the faith to trust the prophet who has successfully predicted everything that is happening for the past forty years. Z makes a run for it, and ends up watching the Babylonians kill his entire family before they pluck his eyes out and drag him back to Babylon. What a tragic character.

I also found it interesting that the Babylonians, who were notorious for their cruelty, acted with surprising deference to Jeremiah. But, Daniel and his friends, along with the prophet Ezekiel, have already been in Babylon for ten years. Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel a top official in his administration, and Jeremiah had written to Daniel and the exiles back in chapter 29. Nebuchadnezzar was likely well aware of Jeremiah’s prophecies. Jeremiah is released from his house arrest in the courtyard of the King’s guard and escorted to his hometown where his family could care for him.

It would also appears that Jerry had enough clout to get the Babylonians to extend the same grace to Ebed-Melek, the African eunuch who risked his own life to rescue Jerry from the bottom of the cistern where his enemies had thrown him and left him to die.

I also found it fascinating that after rounding up all of the citizens they considered worthwhile to take back to Babylon, the invaders give the poorest people left in the area land and vineyards. I can only assume that this act of generosity was intended to ensure that those left owed some debt of gratitude to their Imperial overlords. It would also ensure that those left would be able to continue to eek out a life and also continue paying tribute of some kind back to Babylon.

In the quiet this morning, I think about the events prophetically described by both Jesus and the apostles regarding the end of the Great Story. My entire life I’ve read them, studied them, and heard countless people proclaim that our apocalyptic D-Day is imminent. I’ve thought long and hard about this along my life journey, and here’s where I land.

Do I think it will happen? Yes.

Do I know exactly how it will play out? No. I humbly acknowledge that the greatest religious scholars for hundreds of years predicted and prophesied a Messiah who looked nothing like Jesus. They got it wrong because they interpreted prophesy from a self-centric human lens. God makes it pretty clear that our ways are not His ways and the human condition doesn’t change on this terrestrial ball. I’m betting that there’s a lot that scholars today have wrong in their apocalyptic prognostications.

Do I think it will happen soon? [cue: a shrug] I have mentioned in these posts over the years that I have observed along my life journey that it is common for followers of Jesus in their later years to feel certain that the end is near. And, I think that it is psychologically easy to come to this conclusion when the world is changing more rapidly than any time in human history which means that their personal past is far removed from the current world in which they find themselves. Add to this the knowledge that the end of their earthly journey is certainly near, and I believe it’s very easy to project one’s personal reality onto the entire world.

Jeremiah reminds me to place my faith in God’s D-Day, however it may eventually play out, even if-and-when it seems improbable on any given day.

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

Book Review: Bullies and Saints

I confess that it’s been a while since I had an actual summer reading list and endeavored to not only get through a few books but also share my thoughts with my subscribers.

Let the fun begin again!

I’m starting with a book, Bullies and Saints by John Dickson, that was recommended to me by a friend because it combines two of my favorite subjects, faith and history. I’ll share up front that I so thoroughly enjoyed it that I attempted to schedule an interview with Mr. Dickson for my Wayfarer Podcast. I’m sorry to say that I was unsuccessful. I would have enjoyed the conversation.

In the post Christian era in which we find ourselves, I have observed that the narratives and views of those outside of the faith can be filled with a cocktail of ignorance and antipathy that leads to both honest misunderstandings and malicious myths about the actual historical record when it comes to both the good and the bad that Christianity has brought to our world. In Bullies and Saints, Australian historian John Dickson does a masterful job of honestly exploring both the good and evil through his bifocal lens as scholar and follower of Christ.

Don’t let the scholar lens intimidate you. Bullies and Saints is an easy read for the average person, and Dickson does not get bogged down in the historical minutiae or academic vocabulary. He moves at a steady pace through his overview of Christian history. That said, he does not shy away from the difficult subjects that critics of religion and Christianity are typically quick to bring up: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Troubles of Ireland, and the religious motivations for war, conquest, and colonization. He also does not shy away from the hot-button issues of racism, anti-semitism, slavery, and the sexual abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic Church that have rocked the world in the past few decades.

Dickson does not get defensive or make excuses in his reporting of the institutional church’s many failings over the years. In fact, I found him to be quite transparent about his own failings, as well as those of the church, personally exemplifying the honest transparency he strives to achieve in examination of the institution. He does, however, attempt to put certain historic facts into needed context. Particularly those I have so often found to have been used out of context by critics. For example, he makes a case that the number of victims of the religiously motivated Inquisition pales in comparison to the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, which had far more secular and humanistic motivations and three times the number of victims in a much shorter period of time.

Some of the more enjoyable tidbits I found in Dickson’s book were the many positive things that the Christian understanding of Imago Dei and the Judeo-Christian belief system have given to the world. Some things we typically take for granted such as a weekend. It was the Christian emperor Constantine who first gave everyone a day off in honor of God’s command for a Sabbath. Charity, abolition, education, and social justice all have their roots in the Jesus Movement of the first three centuries.

In my chapter-a-day posts over the years, I have often made a distinction between the teachings of Jesus and the Jesus Movement He inspired and the human institution of “the Church” that emerged when the Jesus Movement morphed into the Holy Roman Empire. Bullies and Saints does a beautiful job of describing and solidifying this distinction with the historical record.

I highly recommend Bullies and Saints. It’s also a great audiobook read by the author in his enjoyable Australian accent in a wonderfully conversational style.

The Latest: Winter/Spring 2023

I’m finally catching up on “The Latest” with this post. After the holidays, I made a quick trip to San Diego for a short business summit with one of my partners. It was a great way to kick off the new year. Not only did we get in some great strategy sessions, but we also got to enjoy some very good meals and some very fine cigars on the balcony of the local hooka lounge. When you live your entire life in Iowa, the opportunity to get 60 degrees and sun is a godsend. I laughed at all the Californians walking around La Jolla in their parkas.

My mother moved into Memory Care at the Wesley Life Cottages in Pella just before Thanksgiving. It was an emotionally tectonic shift for both my mom and my dad. Dad struggled with the daily conversation they had when he would get ready to leave and she would ask why she couldn’t go with him. The nurses quickly determined that mom showed all of the signs of giving up, and suggested that allow the Hospice team to take over her care, which we did. She slept more and more and ate less and less. Some days she would sleep all the way through my visits, so I would sit by her bed and read the Psalms to her. She would occasionally open her eyes, look at me, and smile.

Wendy and I enjoyed a getaway to Cabo San Lucas in February. We had never been there before and were planning on having Suzanna and her family join us from nearby Mazatlan, but they had to decline just before we left and it turned out to be a wonderful vacation for the the two of us. We had an absolutely gorgeous view from our room and spent most days watching whales, reading, lounging by the pool, and taking naps. It was glorious. We also had some fun with Milo, who left one of his toys, Paul, at our house after the holidays. We took Paul with us on our various travels and sent Milo photos to track his adventures.

We have been so blessed by the Wesley Life family since my parents moved in last fall. My dad has worked with stained-glass for many years, and they helped him convert an old, unused Computer Room into a shop for his stained-glass. Dad even received a commission for a stained-glass piece from dear friends who are building a new house and who also have a loved one in the same Memory Care unit that mom was in. It has been so good for him to have something to keep his hands and mind busy, as well as a sense of purpose. I’m glad to say he’s already getting interest and inquiries for more projects and commissions.

Mom continued to decline as February gave way to March. All of my siblings made trips to Pella as the amazing Hospice nurses communicated each phase that brought mom closer to the end of her earthly journey. In the final days we spent a lot of time by her bed. She had fewer and fewer lucid moments, but I was amazed how peaceful she was, and in her conscious moments she would make little facial gestures just to crack us up along with the nurses. She was joyful and playful to the end.

Mom left her earthly body behind and crossed over into eternity on March 13th about 9:45 a.m. Her final moment was so peaceful. It was me, my sister, and my dad by her side as she left the Alzheimer’s riddled prison of her brain and body. It was a holy moment. Mom wished to be cremated and didn’t really want people staring at the frail remnants of what was physically left after Alzheimer’s had done its thing. A quick visitation and memorial service was planned just a few days later. On St. Patrick’s Day we celebrated her life together in a day filled with joy, just as she would have wanted it.

Spring 2023 also included some quietly joyful moments. Wendy and I always enjoy having friends over to the Vander Well Pub for a bevy and some good conversation. We enjoyed a belated Valentine’s Day feast thanks to our friends Matthew and Sarah. I even had a couple of trips to the lake. One was with my friend Kev and the other with Matthew. Always good to have a few days of retreat and guy time together. Kev even arranged a Saturday afternoon stogie gathering at a local smoke lounge. Our grandkids have been totally immersed in the Star Wars universe this past year. “May the Fourth” is now a thing with our family.

Another interesting wrinkle in life this year has been the fact that Wendy and I have given our home over to the youth group from our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on Wednesday nights so that several small groups can enjoy gathering in our home.

Wendy and I have turned the Wednesday night invasion into an opportunity to have a date night. We eventually started making Liberty Street Kitchen, our favorite restaurant in Pella, our go-to spot. This led to us enjoying table 40 with our dear friends Eric and Amy and we have become big fans of the amazing people who serve there.

Easter this year was a very quiet affair. Wendy and I had her folks, her grandmother, her Uncle Brad and Aunt Barb, along with my dad over after church for a traditional turkey and ham feast followed by a quiet afternoon of visiting together.

I unexpectedly had the blessing of a quick trip to South Carolina. Our company gained a new client based in Columbia, where Madison and G live. It was so much fun to be with the two of them and the pups, as well as the prospect of future, regular business trips there. Even got to go to a Columbia Fireflies game!

My birthday was uneventful. Another trip around the sun: check. Wendy and I once again did our annual community service for Pella’s Tulip Time the first full weekend in May. We dressed as Pella’s founding couple, H.P and Maria Scholte and welcomed people to the Scholte House Museum. We always enjoy getting a ride in a horse-drawn carriage for the afternoon parades. Other than a few sprinkles and a short deluge on Friday night, it was a beautiful Tulip Time weather-wise and the town hosted huge crowds.

Wendy’s mother celebrated a big birthday with a zero on the end. For months, her seven children had been conspiring to surprise her by showing up for Mother’s Day weekend. She knew that Wendy’s sister Becky would be in town with her family, but she expected it to simply be Becky with Wendy and Lucas who both live nearby who would spend Saturday at the folks’ house. About 10 a.m. on Saturday morning the doorbell rang and she opened the door to find her other four children who had flown in from east coast, west coast, and Mexico to be there. It was a great day of love and laughter. It’s so rare that all seven sibs can be together in the same spot.

Under Siege

Under Siege (CaD Jer 38) Wayfarer

So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Jeremiah 38:6 (NIV)

Being the victim of a siege exacts a huge toll on a person. Even in modern conflicts like the current war in Ukraine, the devastating effects of long-term isolation, starvation, anxiety, fear, and boredom are well-documented. Janine di Giovanni, author and senior fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs wrote of the siege of Aleppo, “Sieges destroy the body, but… what’s far more damaging is the annihilation of the soul.”

It starts with shock and disorientation, followed by depression and increased rates of suicide. As a siege drags on, apathy and alcoholism are common and eventually give way to breakdown of social structures.

Today’s chapter has all the signs that the Babylonians’ 30 month siege of Jerusalem had exacted the desired toll on the residents inside. Depressed and bored, four young men get tired of Jeremiah’s constant proclamations of death and destruction. They petition King Zedekiah to let them kill Jeremiah. The king apathetically grants their wish. Inside the court of the guard where Jeremiah is confined there is a deep water cistern. Because of the siege, it’s empty. All the water has been consumed leaving nothing but muddy sediment at the bottom. Jeremiah is thrown in and he sinks into the mud.

Fortunately for Jeremiah, he has at least one friend left. A young African eunuch serving the King hears of Jeremiah’s plight and petitions King Z to let him rescue the prophet. The apathetic King Z grants the petition, telling the eunuch to take 30 guards with him (presumably as protection against the men who wanted to kill Jeremiah in the first place).

After Jeremiah is rescued, King Z summons Jeremiah. It would appear that Z realizes that Jeremiah’s prophetic messages were true and he wants to know the truth of what will happen to him. In a private heart-to-heart, Z shares his fears with the prophet. Jeremiah tells the king to surrender. The king, realizing that there are still those who want Jeremiah dead, instructs the prophet what to say if he’s confronted and questioned.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like for Jeremiah to witness all that he had prophesied coming true. He had been proclaiming this fate for decades, and now he is suffering that same fate along with those who refused to listen and railed against him the entire time. He suffered rebuke, rejection, and retribution before the siege, now he is suffering the effects of the siege along with those who never believed him. Sometimes, it sucks to be right.

Once again, I am struck by my human need for a prophet in my life. King Z has never been a friend to Jeremiah, but as events close in on their climactic end, he realizes that the prophet is perhaps the only one he can trust to speak the truth to him. There are moments along life’s road when life feels like I am being besieged on all sides by circumstances I don’t control. It comes with this earthly journey through a fallen world, and it can exact a tremendous toll.

That is the truth. And, it’s in those moments I need a friend who is a prophet.

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

Wanted: A Prophet

Wanted: A Prophet (CaD Jer 37) Wayfarer

Then King Zedekiah sent for [Jeremiah] and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
Jeremiah 27:17 (NIV)

As I sat down to enter my time of quiet and contemplation this morning, I saw a headline of an article in The Free Press that caught my eye and I found myself reading it.The Free Press is one of a growing number of independent news outlets made up of journalists who still believe in the classic principles of objective journalism and have left the mainstream to work independently. Wendy and I have found it to be some of the best reporting we’ve read in years. The investigative reporter in the article I read this morning basically found that some official judges of high school debate contests state clearly that they will give a young debater an automatic loss if that young person argues against the judge’s personal political beliefs or world-view. Some judges publicly list the issues and arguments that will prompt them to give a young debater an automatic loss. In one cited case, the judge states the student who argues against his personal opinions on certain topics will also get a stern lecture and will give an earful to the student’s debate coach.

What fascinating times we’re living in.

As it turns out, the article was a bit synchronous with today’s chapter, in which the ancient prophet Jeremiah is imprisoned by King Zedekiah in a dungeon to keep him from publicly proclaiming his prophesies that the king and his administration found politically incorrect. Then, ironically, King Z has Jeremiah brought before him to ask, “Is there any word from the Lord?”

In other words, the King recognizes that Jeremiah is a real prophet and he further recognizes that what Jeremiah says actually proves to be true. He just doesn’t want Jeremiah saying it in public and he doesn’t want anyone to actually hear what Jeremiah has to say.

Being an ancient Hebrew prophet was not an easy gig.

I was reminded this morning that Jesus often indicted the institutional leaders of his day because of their treatment of the prophets. He even told His followers to expect similar treatment:

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:12

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.”
Luke 11:47-48

“And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Matthew 23:30-32

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Matthew 23:36-37

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Luke 16:31

Fortunately for Jeremiah, his appeal to King Z for reprieve from the dungeon meets with the King’s favor. It’s both fascinating and ironic that the King believes Jeremiah and wants to continue hearing what God has to say through Jeremiah, he just doesn’t want anyone else to hear it.

In the quiet this morning, my mind drifts back to the investigative report of high school debaters which stated:

Most students choose not to fight this coercion. They see it as a necessary evil that’s required to win debates and secure the accolades, scholarships, and college acceptance letters that can come with winning.

I find this sad, just as I find Jeremiah’s imprisonment sad. I’m equally reminded in the quiet this morning that we need prophets in both our society and in our lives. There’s a reason why prophets are a ubiquitous archetype in life and literature. One of the things I love about having Wendy as a life partner is that she is a truth-teller and has a prophet’s ability to speak hard words to me even if and when I don’t want to hear them. I have friends in my inner-circle who can and will do the same. I’m a better person for having “prophets” in my life. I will at least give King Z credit for knowing that he needed Jeremiah alive to hear what the prophet had to say.

When all that I hear are the things I’m comfortable hearing, something is dysfunctional in the system.

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

Controlling the Narrative

Controlling the Narrative (CaD Jer 36) Wayfarer

It was the ninth month and the king was sitting in the winter apartment, with a fire burning in the firepot in front of him. Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire.
Jeremiah 36:22-23 (NIV)

It’s popular to think of the prophet’s words as primarily religious in nature, but in the time they were written they were acutely political. It’s easy to gloss over the mention of dates in these ancient texts, but they provide critical context that adds meaning.

Jeremiah’s dictation of his prophetic messages to the scribe, Baruch was done in the the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah. Scholars place that date as the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in Babylon. Neb’s defeat of the Egyptian army at Carcemish is one of the critical battles in human history. It shifted the balance of power in the region from Egypt to Babylon. The Babylonian’s subsequently demanded tribute from all of the city states in the region, including Jerusalem.

The historic record reveals that one city, the city of Ashkelon, refused the Babylonians demand. Ashkelon is not very far from Jerusalem. It was a Philistine city that played a part in the story of Samson hundreds of years earlier. The Babylonians attacked the city, completely destroyed it, and burned it to the ground as a mafia-like reminder to all the other city-states of what happens when you refuse to pay for “protection.”

Today’s chapter goes on to share that Baruch read Jeremiah’s words publicly in Solomon’s Temple in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim when a time of fasting had been declared. Jeremiah couldn’t do it because he had been barred from the Temple. He was already a suppressed voice, unpopular with the current political and religious establishment. Fasting was not a regular part of the Hebrew’s ritual worship and was generally reserved for times of grief and spiritual need. This time of national fasting appears to coincide with Babylon’s destruction of Ashkelon. It is a time of fear and uncertainty as there’s a new Empire threatening their very existence.

Jeremiah’s words proclaim captivity, exile, destruction, and death at the hands of the Babylonians if the people don’t repent of their idolatry and give themselves wholeheartedly to God.

This is not the narrative King Jehoiakim wants proclaimed publicly. He wants his people to feel safe and secure under his administration. He needs prophets proclaiming Babylon’s downfall and Jerusalem’s survival. So, King J personally burns Jeremiah’s scroll (which would have been a very expensive and. time-consuming undertaking for Jeremiah) column by column and seeks to have both Jeremiah and his scribe arrested (read: silenced).

Sound familiar?

In my lifetime, I have never observed such a time as the one in which we are living, when political, media, educational and business institutions work hard to suppress and control anything contrary to the narrative they want publicly proclaimed. And, for the record, it happens on both sides of our divided political spectrum.

In the quiet this morning, I realize that I have the benefit of historical hindsight. Jeremiah was right. He was speaking the truth that the political and religious powers of his day didn’t want proclaimed. They considered Jerry’s religious editorials to be politically incorrect because they were critical of the current political and religious administrations. The leaders of the institutions didn’t want people stirred up against them. They wanted to control the narrative in order to control the people and maintain their political power.

Today, like everyone else, I wonder where things are headed in the months and years ahead. I’m no Jeremiah. Sorry.

I do, however, recognize patterns of human behavior throughout history. Whenever institutional leaders of any kind or political persuasion control what is said, suppress free speech, ignore factual evidence that contradicts their desired narrative, silences dissent, punishes or cancels dissenters, and refuses honest, open, and fair debate, it is not a good thing. It wasn’t a good thing in Jeremiah’s day, and it’s not a good thing today.

I don’t know what the future holds in the short run, but I know how the Great Story ends. I’m trusting the Story, and its Author. And, I’m committed to continue proclaiming it, as I have been called to do, all the days of this life journey.

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

Profound Simplicity

Profound Simplicity (CaD Jer 35) Wayfarer

“Jehonadab son of Rekab ordered his descendants not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me.”
Jeremiah 35:14 (NIV)

I mentioned last week that I was prepping for a message that I delivered this past Sunday among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers (you can find it on the Messages page). It was part of a series in which our local gathering has been unpacking seven metaphors that Jesus used to describe Himself (Bread, Light, Gate, Shepherd, Resurrection, Way, and Vine).

Last night Wendy and spent some time talking about the series and all of the messages we’ve heard from different teachers. One of the observations we made as we contemplated all that we’ve heard was that sometimes metaphors are so powerful in their simplicity that it can be a challenge to find anything else to say about it.

Ironically, I’m finding that to be the case with today’s chapter. It’s profound in its simplicity.

Back in Jeremiah’s day there were a tribe of nomads known as the Rekabites. They and their flocks wandered in the land, feeding their flocks, and living in tents just as Bedouin tribes still do to this day. The lived among the Hebrews and were on friendly terms with them. So, when the Babylonian army came into the area bent on conquest, the Rekabites chose to move inside the walls of Jerusalem for protection.

God tells Jeremiah to bring the tribal leader of the Rekabites, Jaazaniah, and his whole family to the Temple and offer him some wine. They refuse the offer, explaining that one of their tribe’s patriarchs said that his descendants must never drink wine, plant vineyards, raise crops, or build houses, but must always live in tents. In doing so, the tribe would always enjoy blessed lives as nomads. So, they have always obeyed their ancestor’s command and politely refused Jeremiah’s offer.

God through Jeremiah proceeds to state the meaning of this very simple metaphor. The Rekabites have for generations had trusted and obeyed the command of their forefather, but the Hebrews had refused to listen to, trust in, or obey the commands that God Himself had given through the law and the prophets simply to eschew idolatry and worship God alone. When the Babylonians leave, the Rekabites will take their flocks and tents and return to their simple, blessed nomadic lives wandering the land just as their forefather promised. The Hebrews, however, will suffer captivity, exile, and destruction.

As a disciple of Jesus, I have spent over forty years reading, studying, seeking, and plumbing the depths of what it means to follow Jesus. I have learned much and have forgotten much. I’ve read works of theology and philosophy so dense that getting through it is like cutting a brick with a butter knife. I’ve participated in conversations and studies that get so deep in the weeds that I lost my sense of direction and couldn’t find true north.

Along my journey, I’ve come to appreciate Jesus for His profound simplicity. He asks very simple questions like “What is it you are seeking in life?” and “Who do you say that I am?” His commands are equally simple. “Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself.” His requirements are also pretty basic: “Believe in Me and do the things I tell you to do.”

It’s not unlike Jeremiah’s word picture in today’s chapter. Simply be like the trusting, faithful, obedient Rekabites, not like the stubborn, willful, rebellious Hebrews.

Whenever I find myself deep in the weeds, I stop and grab hold once again of Jesus’ profound simplicity. Believe in Me. Love God. Love others. Do what I tell you. Trust the Story.

That’s my true north. Once I find it, I find my way.

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

Repenting My Repentance

Repenting My Repentance (CaD Jer 34) Wayfarer

Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.
Jeremiah 34:15-16 (NIV)

The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem is estimated to have taken 30 months. For two and a half years, the Babylonian army surrounded the walled city. No food or supplies could get into the city. This was a fairly common tactic used by armies throughout history. As starvation and fear slowly took over the population inside the city, cities would eventually surrender, or the besieging army would eventually breach the walls or the gate and storm the city, whose population was so weakened that they could not put up a vigorous defense.

It’s helpful to think about that context as I read these chapters of Jeremiah which were written during drawn out siege. Jeremiah was confined under house arrest inside King Zedekiah’s palace. He was privy, therefore, to what was happening on the political landscape and had access to the King when given a prophetic message from God.

The Babylonian siege was a consequence of King Z’s own betrayal. Jerusalem was under the thumb of the Babylonian empire, but he secretly made an alliance with Egypt to try and break the chains of their servitude.

Today’s chapter references some interesting events that took place during the drawn out siege. Having made an alliance with Egypt, Zedekiah sends a messenger to Egypt to request their aid in breaking the siege. The Egyptians respond by marching an army towards Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, inside Jerusalem the besieged residents of Jerusalem agree to free any Hebrew slaves inside the city. This sounds like a worthy and kind gesture given the grave circumstances, but it was likely motivated by a desire to appease God in the hope God would change His mind and deliver the city. It was also motivated by selfishness because a freed slave was responsible to find their own food, giving the former slaveowner more food to keep for themselves.

Eventually, word reaches the Babylonians that the Egyptian army is headed toward Jerusalem. The Babylonians withdraw from Jerusalem to meet the Egyptian threat.

Imagine the feelings of relief when those inside Jerusalem see the Babylonian army withdraw. So relieved, in fact, that the seemingly altruistic slave owners who had freed their slaves suddenly changed their minds and enslaved their servants once again. “Just kidding!”

Today’s chapter is God’s response to these events through the prophetic words of Jeremiah. In addressing the slave owners, there is a bit of word play in the original Hebrew that gets lost in translation. God says, “you repented” and freed your slaves (which was a good thing) but then you “turned around” and took them back. In Hebrew, the same word is used for “repent” and “turned around.” In other words, God is saying that the slaveowners repented from their repentance.

God goes on to sarcastically explain that because they did not proclaim freedom for their own people, God was going to proclaim freedom for the slaveowners – the freedom to die by sword or famine when the Babylonian army returns after taking care of the Egyptian threat. And, that is exactly what happened.

I have to confess that in the quiet this morning, I caught myself shaking my self-righteous, 21st century head at the slave owners and the residents of Jerusalem for their false kindness and self-centered motives. As I did so, I was reminded in my spirit that along this life journey I’ve also repented of my repentance a time or two. Indeed, I have. Guilty as charged.

I am no better than the falsely repentant slave owners. I am in total need of God’s mercy, fully dependent on God’s grace.

With that reminder, I humbly enter a new work week.

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

The Journey’s End (or Not)

Journeys End (or Not) [CaD Jer 33] Wayfarer

‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’
Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Jeremiah 33:3 is one of the first verses I ever committed to memory when I was a teenager and a fledgling Padawan disciple of Jesus. When I read it this morning as part of this chapter-a-day journey, it was like meeting an old friend on the page. The words are like a well-worn, favorite comfy sweatshirt I slip on when I’m not feeling well and it seems to bring emotional as well as physical warmth.

Last week in my post “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” I wrote about the ways that a verse can be pulled out of context and take on meaning that wasn’t intended in the original writing. At the same time, I recognize that words themselves are metaphors. They have a life of their own, and sometimes they can be layered with meaning.

When I memorized the words, ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know,’ I didn’t consider it a momentary truth, but a life-long mission. I couldn’t help but correlate it with Jesus’ words:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

So, here I am over forty years later still asking, still seeking, still knocking, still calling out to God in the pursuit of great and unsearchable things that I don’t yet know. And, to quote U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” as I have discovered the well of great and unsearchable things to be bottomless. That’s why I’m still on this chapter-a-day journey. Every time a trek back through a chapter, I’m at a different waypoint on the road of Life. The chapter meets me in a different place, and since my last time through I’ve added layers of knowledge and life experience. The chapter always has new things to reveal to me and builds on the foundation and layers from my previous visits.

In his book, Imagine Heaven, John Burke speaks with individuals who have physically died, had an afterlife experience, and then returned to their bodies. Some of them describe in their heavenly experience a kind of “knowing” that just sort of happened simply by being there, as if they were constantly being filled with knowledge and understanding. It makes me happy to contemplate what that will be like.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that there is no arriving on this earthly journey. I’ll always be a wayfaring stranger just traveling through. I’m constantly meeting individuals who are looking for some kind of arrival in life, a destination on the timeline of this earthly life when everything comes together at a point when you put your feet up, lay down your backpack, and feel some kind of satisfaction that you’ve made it. That fledgling Padawan disciple thought that too, if I remember correctly. The further I got in the journey, the more I’ve come to realize that the journey doesn’t end here. The journey is one from birth straight through until this wayfaring stranger crosses over Jordan. If I look to the horizon and see a point of arrival short of that, it’s just a mirage.

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

Up From the Ashes

Up From the Ashes (CaD Jer 32) Wayfarer

For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’
Jeremiah 32:15 (NIV)

For many years, Wendy and I have been part of a wine club. Every quarter we receive bottles of wine from small winemakers around the world, many of them small family vineyards. In recent years, one of our favorites has been a Sicilian wine called Tenuta Fenice, which means “House of the Phoenix.”

Back in 1968, a devastating earthquake destroyed the everything in the village where Dino Taschetta’s family grew their vineyards and made their wine. Everyone abandoned the region. In 2016, Dino returned to the ruins of his family estate and, from the ashes, resurrected his family’s vineyard of ancient, slow-growing vines. That year he produced the first vintage of Tenuta Fenice in a half-century.

I thought of this story as I read today’s chapter. Jeremiah is confined to the palace in Jerusalem, under house arrest. Jerusalem is surrounded by the Babylonian army who are laying siege to it. Jeremiah’s relative visits the prophet and offers to sell him a field.

Consider with me, for a moment, how ludicrous this proposition really is. Jerusalem is under siege. The Babylonian army surrounds it, everyone inside the city walls is trapped, nothing is getting in-or-out. There is little to no hope that anyone will survive, and once the city is ransacked and destroyed, the Babylonians will control everything. Everyone inside Jerusalem is starving, food is scarce, and inflation is through the roof. Every person needs their last shekel of silver to buy what scraps of food are left in the city. The most stupid thing you could do in this moment is spend your silver buying a field that you won’t ever see because you’re likely to be dead. Even if you do survive, the conquering Babylonians could claim it and its produce, leaving you with nothing.

Jeremiah buys the field, as God directs him.

It’s not a personal investment but a powerful word-picture.

Yes, the Babylonians will destroy the city.

Yes, those who survive will likely end up in captivity.

Yes, everyone’s emotional brains and survival instincts have kicked into overdrive and no one can think beyond how they might possible make it through their immediate, dire circumstances.

Nevertheless, Jeremiah buys a field, a vineyard. Jeremiah is looking beyond his momentary circumstances to embrace the larger story God is authoring in their tragic events. In doing so, Jerry foreshadows the same perspective Paul had despite suffering shipwrecks, imprisonment, beatings, lashings, and hardship I can’t possibly imagine:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

Though Jeremiah will not survive to see it, he purchases a field with the faith and hope of the promise God has proclaimed through him over, and over, and over again: After seventy years, God will bring his people back. The city will be rebuilt. The temple will be rebuilt. Wine will pour once again from this vineyard.

In fact, in about 500 years the wine of the new covenant will be poured out in this very city for the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of humanity. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the wine at Jesus’ last supper was from the vineyard Jeremiah purchased in today’s chapter?

In the quiet this morning, I contemplate the story of Jeremiah’s seemingly silly purchase. I contemplate the story of Dino Taschetta’s family vineyard, and their wine called “House of the Phoenix.” The mythical Phoenix was a popular symbol among Jesus’ early followers. The bird that rises up from the ashes to new life. Wouldn’t you know it, I’m preparing a message for my local gathering of Jesus’ followers this Sunday. The text? “I am the resurrection, and the life.”

I love God’s timing.

Up from the ashes. No matter the hopelessness of my momentary circumstances, God promises there is a larger Story He’s authoring.

I will trust the Story.

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