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Not of this World

“Therefore rejoice, you heavens
    and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
    because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
    because he knows that his time is short.”
Revelation 12:12 (NIV)

Several years ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in which I talked about how the writers of the James Bond film, Skyfall, subtly tapped into themes of the Great Story in order to make Bond into a Christ-like figure (you can watch/listen here). I shared that morning, as I have many times in these chapter-a-day posts, that all good stories are reflections of the Great Story.

That came to mind this morning as I meditated on today’s chapter. The images of John’s vision like those in today’s chapter sound like some kind of bad acid trip to most modern readers, but to learned Hebrews and Gentiles of John’s day, they echo themes and images from familiar mythologies. Both the Greeks and Egyptians had myths of dragons or serpents chasing mothers to kill their young.

Once again this morning, I set aside the minute details in order to consider the larger picture being presented in Revelation and in today’s chapter. The Great Story told from Genesis to Revelation is ultimately a story of good and evil on a grand spiritual scale. I have observed along my spiritual journey that as an earthbound human who views reality through my brain and five physical senses, it is difficult to comprehend, let alone understand, what Jesus taught: that there is a spiritual reality that is not only “not of this world” but also more “real” than this world. I find it interesting that those who have had neath-death experiences in which they experienced heaven commonly relate two things: First, they didn’t want to come back. Second, they don’t have the vocabulary to express how amazing and how “real” it was. Having been to heaven, they realize how our earthly “reality” is but a shadow world in comparison to what awaits us in eternity.

Today’s chapter has two main characters. A woman “clothed” with the sun and moon and twelve stars on her head. Hebrew mythology and prophecy often referred to Israel as a “mother.” Joseph’s dream was of the sun, moon, and eleven stars (his brothers, the tribes of Israel) bowing down to him. The second main character is the dragon, which is also a recurring image in the prophets and the psalms, and the text tells us that it represents Satan.

The overarching theme of the entire Great Story is established in Genesis 3. Satan temps Adam and Eve. They are expelled from the Garden, cursed to an earthly life, and to suffer death. God establishes enmity between Satan and the woman, especially her offspring whom Satan will attack. God prophesies that Satan will bruise the heel of woman’s offspring, but He will crush Satan’s head.

Today’s chapter is a re-telling of this great spiritual conflict that lies at the heart of the entire Great Story. Once again, the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt is a microcosm of this grand spiritual conflict. The Dragon pursues the Woman to the wilderness (like the Egyptians chasing after the Hebrews). The Dragon attempts to stop the woman with water (like the Egyptians trying to pin the Hebrews at the Red Sea). The earth swallows up the waters (like the Red Sea swallowing up the Egyptian army).

In the grand spiritual conflict, Satan has always been seen as the ultimate heavenly accuser and prosecutor (cf. Job 1-2). In today’s chapter, as the end of the Great Story draws near, there is a spiritual battle in heaven and Satan is thrown down to earth with his hoard of fallen angels. Furious, Satan goes after “the rest of her offspring” which would, presumably, be the people of God left on the earth. This is, again, the overarching theme of John’s Revelation; The great spiritual conflict of heaven is coming to a climactic head on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I come back to the familiar themes of the Great Story and all the good stories that echo them. Good and evil, the threat of death and the desire for immortality, the grand struggle, the threat and fear of a dark ending before the grand moment of eucatastrophe. There are many who revere Jesus and His teaching, claiming to respect His teaching as a guide for living on this earthly journey. As a disciple of Jesus, I find that His teaching for living and relating to others on this earth was ultimately not about this earth, but about His kingdom that He said is “not of this world.” John’s visions are glimpses of it, just as Jesus referenced it on His way to the cross:

A large number of people followed [Jesus], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Luke 23:27-31 (NIV)

And so, I proceed on this another day of an earthly journey, believing not just that Jesus offered a helpful guide for behavior in this temporal, earthly existence, but that He came as part of a Great Story, pointing me to a Kingdom that is more real and beyond description with the limitations of human vocabulary. In fact, it might seem like an acid trip to my human understanding (based on friends who’ve told me about their acid trips). I choose to believe that my story is a part of that Story in ways that equally lie beyond my human comprehension.

Note: I’m taking tomorrow and July 4th off. See you back here on Tuesday of next week.

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

Willful Independence

Willful Independence (CaD Jud 18) Wayfarer

[The Danites] answered [the Levite], “Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” The priest was very pleased. He took the ephod, the household gods and the idol and went along with the people.
Judges 18:19-20 (NIV)

When I was a child, going to church was not an option. It was something my family did every Sunday. After my confirmation at the age of 13, my parents gave me the opportunity to choose for myself if I wanted to go to church or not. I claimed my independence and immediately stopped going. Thus began one of the most tumultuous stretches of my life journey.

I wasn’t a follower of Jesus at that point. I was just a religious person doing the ritually religious things that I was taught by family and church. It was easy to walk away because it wasn’t personal faith but systemic expectation.

In today’s chapter, the author of Judges continues to reveal how the lack of a monarchy led to the break down of Hebrew worship and disobedience to the Law of Moses. In yesterday’s chapter the household of a man named Micah set up an idol and shrine in his home and hired a Levite to be a priest of their own household cult. Today, the entire tribe of Dan leaves the land that had been allotted to them and migrates north of the promised land to settle an area there. Along the way, they steal Michah’s household idols, convince the Levite to join them, and adopt Micah’s household cult as their own.

In sharing this story, the author Judges reveals how the seeds of idolatry and independence were sown during this period of the Judges. Hundreds of years later, the northern tribes would eventually claim independence from the powerful tribe of Judah and the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. They would continue their idolatrous ways until they were conquered by the Assyrians in fulfillment of the messages God sent to them from the prophets.

The author of Judges is writing in retrospect. The book was likely written sometime during David or Solomon’s reign. From the perspective of a united kingdom and centralized worship in Jerusalem, the story of Micah and the Danites’ staking their independence and establishing their own idolatrous cult stands out in stark contrast. The author is saying: “Look what happens when there is no strong leadership and everyone is free to do whatever they want!”

Which is a bit like me looking back at the period of time when I claimed my own independence and walked away from the religion I’d grown up with. There’s a line from Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome that says “all things work together for good,” and that’s how I now look back on that brief stretch of my spiritual journey. I needed that tumultuous period to teach me my need of God. Not the ritual religious trappings and empty motions of church going, but a personal relationship with God as a follower of Jesus.

In the quiet this morning, I’m identifying with Micah and the Danites. I get what it’s like not to really embrace the religion you’ve been taught. I know what it’s like to stake your independence and go your own way. I also know the consequences of doing so. Like the Prodigal Son, I had to find myself spiritually starving in the muck in order to realize my need. If I let Him, God will use my willful independence and disobedience to teach me things I wouldn’t otherwise learn.

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

#10: Getting Away from Crazymakers

Top Chapter-a-Day Post #10 (CaD) Wayfarer

Note: I’m on a holiday hiatus through January 9, 2022. While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to reblog the top 15 chapter-a-day posts (according to number of views) from the past 15 years. Cheers!

Originally published April 24, 2013

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife;
    gossip separates the best of friends.
Proverbs 16:28 (NLT)

Over the years I have learned: Just as important as choosing good companions for the journey, it is equally important to avoid sharing life’s sojourn with “crazymakers.”  Like the troublemaker in the proverb above, crazy makers plant seeds of strife wherever they go. They waste our time and suck us into the black hole of their neediness. They passive-aggressively pit people against one another and stir up dissension. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julie Cameron nails it with her description of crazymakers:

  • Crazymakers break deals and destroy schedules. They show up two days early for your wedding and expect you to wait on them hand and foot. They rent a cabin bigger than the one agreed upon and expect you to foot the bill.
  • Crazymakers expect special treatment. They suffer a wide panopoly of mysterious ailments that require care and attention whenever you have a deadline looming.
  • Crazymakers discount your reality. No matter how important your deadline or how critical your work trajectory at the moment, crazymakers will violate your needs.
  • Crazymakers spend your time and money. If they borrow your car they return it late with an empty tank.
  • Crazymakers triangulate those they deal with. Because they thrive on energy (your energy), they set people against one another in order to maintain their own power position dead center.
  • Crazymakers are expert blamers. Nothing that goes wrong is ever their fault.
  • Crazymakers create dramas – but seldom where they belong. Whatever matters to you becomes trivialized into mere backdrop for the crazymaker’s personal plight.
  • Crazymakers hate schedules – except their own. If you claim a certain block of time as your own, your crazy maker will find a way to fight you for that time, to mysteriously need things (you) just when you need to be alone and focused on the task at hand.
  • Crazymakers hate order. Chaos serves their purposes. When you establish space that serves you for a project, they will abruptly invade that space with a project of their own.
  • Crazymakers deny that they are crazymakers. “I’m not what’s making you crazy,” they will say, “It’s just that … [add something else to blame].”

I have found that the path to increased levels of life, growth, and understanding is often the one path that leads us directly away from a crazymaker.

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

Destruction and Redemption

Destruction and Redemption (CaD Gen 7) Wayfarer

The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
Genesis 7:24 (NIV)

Most of my childhood was spent in or around water. I swam competitively starting at an early age and continued into high school. Our family vacations were at lakes where we would swim, ski, boat, and fish. And of course, my folks retired to a place on the lake which Wendy and I now own and where we retreat multiple times each year. And, going on a cruise is my favorite kind of vacation. Going on a round-the-world cruise is something I would love to do before my earthly journey is finished.

I love water. I love the recreation, joy, and peace that I find in it, on it, and being around it.

And yet I have also experienced water’s destructive power. I have vivid memories of being on the water in dangerous situations. I remember surviving 10 days with out fresh water due to the Great Flood of 1993 shutting down the Des Moines, Iowa Water Works. We have experienced some of the worst flooding on the lake and have witnessed the destruction it unleashes.

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is one of the most well-known stories from the Great Story. Many people, however, don’t know that cultures around the world, on every continent, have some version of an ancient flood story. There are some 35 different flood stories documented that bear at least some resemblance to the story of Noah in Genesis. I find that fascinating.

The flood of Genesis was destructive, but it was ultimately about the reordering of creation that I discussed in yesterday’s post. It ends with a covenant and a promise. And the water of Noah’s flood serves double-duty as a metaphor for what would become the sacrament of Baptism. Peter wrote:

You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience. 1 Peter 3:20-21 (MSG)

When a follower of Jesus is baptized by immersion it is a word picture of being buried (in the water) as Jesus was buried, being raised (out of the water) as Jesus rose from the dead, and having sin washed away by Jesus, the Living Water.

The water in today’s chapter was an agent of divine judgment and is transformed into an agent of divine redemption, and that is a beautiful picture of Great Story itself; God redeems my sinful self through a cleansing flood of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness.

Some mornings as I stand in the shower, I am reminded of Jesus’ cleansing of my life. It’s a good thing not only to have my body washed and ready for the day, but to recognize that my spirit is equally washed and ready.

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.

Prison Blues

Prison Blues (CaD Ps 142) Wayfarer

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.

Psalm 142:7 (NIV)

Thus far in my life journey, I am happy to say that I have avoided prison time, at in the traditional sense of the word. But, in the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about prison in a metaphorical sense. Along life’s road, I’ve found myself imprisoned in different senses of the word. I’ve been imprisoned in circumstances (some of my own making, others not). I have been imprisoned to addictive behaviors and indulgent appetites. There are certain unhealthy patterns of thought from which I had to find freedom. I also have experienced the realization of being unwittingly trapped in systemic roles within family, jobs, or other groups for years, and didn’t even know it.

As I think back on all of these examples, I begin to realize that I have “done time” in different ways.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 142, has a more specific liner note than most of the ancient Hebrew songs in the Psalms anthology. It says that this song was a song of David wrote in a cave. It was a very specific period of time in David’s youth when his predecessor, King Saul, put a price on David’s head. David was on the lam for a long period of time and spent most of it in a wilderness region south of Jerusalem near the Dead Sea. The area is a natural labyrinth of steep hills dotted with caves.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of David’s song in the perspective of his circumstances. A young man, perhaps still a teenager, forced to flee from the most powerful man in the land and all the powerful thugs who could use the bounty on his head. He is completely alone in a desert wilderness within a dark cave struggling to survive.

Sounds like prison to me.

So, David does what he always did in tough circumstances. He sang the blues. He poured out his heart, his hurt, and his longing into the lyrics of a song. As I type this I’m imagining the lone voice of David reverberating in the echo of a cave. If all I heard was the echo of my own voice, I think it would probably only serve to remind me just how alone I really was in the darkness of that cave.

Over the last 2500 years, the Psalms have served as the go-to spiritual pick-me-up for individuals who are experiencing their own personal prison moments. I know I have. There have been very specific moments on life’s road when I went to the Psalms knowing that I could at least find words there to commiserate with the personal prison I was in. The lyrics, like today’s chapter, have given me words for my emotions that my heart just couldn’t find in the moment. They were the prayer that I didn’t know how to muster myself. They reminded me that others have been in personal prisons worse than mine. It has also been encouraging to sing David’s blues and remember that David eventually found his way out of the cave and into the light of better circumstances.

In the quiet this morning, I earmarked Psalm142 so I can quickly find it the next time I need it. 🙂

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 10)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is the final episode of a ten-part series: Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. We wrap up the series with a brief introduction to the ever-intriguing subject of the book of Revelation and the topic of what the Bible has to say about the end times.

(WW) Beginner's Guide to the Great Story Part 10 Wayfarer

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 9)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 9 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of “the epistles” or “letters.”

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-9-el6vrm

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

(WW) Beginner's Guide to the Great Story (Part 8) Wayfarer

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.

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

(WW) Beginner's Guide to the Great Story Part 7 Wayfarer

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.