Adding it Up

Adding it Up (CaD Matt 1) Wayfarer

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:17 (NIV)

I was good at math as a kid. I was always pretty good with numbers. I was mid-semester in the eighth grade when my teacher suggested that I switch to advanced math. She thought I was bored with class (probably) and really needed to be challenged (probably not). Despite my protestations of not wanting to switch classes, she kept at it until I agreed to make the switch.

As I recalled this memory in the quiet this morning, Pippin’s words to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring echoed within: “Short cuts make long delays.”

The shortcut I took to advanced math, created a long delay in my love of math. It was a waypoint in my education. By the time I switched to the advanced math class, I had already missed out on a number of foundational lessons. Without those foundational lessons, I was suddenly lost and confused. I may have been bored with the basic class, but now I was discouraged and felt stupid. Looking back, I realize that it was at this waypoint that I abandoned math as a subject I enjoyed. Through the rest of my education, I avoided math like the plague. I graduated from High School with only one year of math, and I graduated college with one remedial semester of the subject.

It’s ironic that my vocational career has been largely spent around numbers, data, and statistics. That which I was too discouraged to learn in the classroom I found I enjoyed learning on the job. I rediscovered my joy of numbers that withered in me all those years before. I grieve that it happened. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I’ve discovered that math is a core way God reveals and expresses Himself in Creation.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I begin a journey through Matthew’s biography of Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. He was a numbers guy, so it makes perfect sense that he, just like God, uses numbers to express his purpose and reveal his themes. This, however, is largely hidden from a cursory reading of the text of the first chapter, which is mostly a genealogy (which, let’s be honest, most people skip over).

A couple of things to point out:

Three times Matthew refers to “Jesus the Messiah.” Three is a number of God (e.g. Trinity, three days in the grave, and etc.). Matt’s purpose in writing this biography was largely to explain to his fellow Hebrews that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He makes this purpose blatantly clear in the first chapter in multiple layers. He says it not only with text but also with the number three.

The Hebrew people knew from the prophets that the Messiah would be a King from the line of David. Not only does the genealogy make this clear, but Matthew chooses to list fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the exile to Jesus. In the Hebrew alphabet, letters perform double duty as numbers. If you take the Hebrew letters that spell “David” and add them together, they total fourteen. Three times Matthew numerically communicates to his Hebrew readers that Jesus was the “son of David” they knew the Messiah would be.

Time and time again in the Great Story I find that God is not who humans expect Him to be. He even says that through the prophet Isaiah: “My ways are not your ways.” The Hebrews of Matthew’s day expected the Messiah to be like human kings who lord over others through power and conscription. With his opening words, Matthew lays the foundation for revealing the Messiah that doesn’t look like the Messiah his fellow Hebrews expected. Jesus, the Messiah Matthew is going to reveal, came to be Lord of those willing to follow through love, servant-heartedness, and suffering. From the very beginning, Matthew expresses clearly that Jesus is the Messiah. From His family tree to His story to the words of prophets, it all adds up.

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

Acts (Sep-Oct 2018)

Each photo below corresponds to a chapter-a-day post for the book of Acts published by Tom Vander Well in November 2018. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Acts 1: Waiting and Watching

Acts 2: Worship Like You’re Drunk at 9 a.m.

Acts 3: Waypoints and Wisdom

Acts 4: When Systemic Power is Threatened

Acts 5: Human Endeavor vs. Divine Direction

Acts 6: Everyday People Making a Difference

Acts 7: Not Bricks and Mortar, but Flesh and Blood

Acts 8: Explosion Begets Expansion

Acts 9: Outside of the Lines

Acts 10: Arriving

Acts 11: Change, Action, & Reaction

Acts 12: Angels

Acts 13: Organism and Organization

Acts 14: He Went Back Into the City

Acts 15: Old Habits Die Hard

Acts 16: Money Trouble

Acts 17: The Truth About Trouble

Acts 18: Resurrection of the Organism

Acts 19: Of Mobs and Motives

Acts 20: Life, Death, Sacrifice, & the Multiverse

Acts 21: One of the Things We Continually Get Wrong

Acts 22: Paul the Lawyer & His Legal Chess Game

Acts 23: Polarized Parties, Powder Keg Issues, and Paul

Acts 24: The People v. Paul of Tarsus (Part 1)

Acts 25: The People v. Paul of Tarsus (Part 2)

Acts 26: The People v. Paul of Tarsus (Part 3)

Acts 27: Weathering the Storm

Acts 28: To Be Continued…

You’re all caught up! Posts will be added here as they are published. Click on the image below for easy access to other recent posts indexed by book.

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Galatians (Oct-Nov 2018)

Each photo below corresponds to a chapter-a-day post for the book of Galatians published by Tom Vander Well in October and November 2018. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Galatians 1: The Maverick

Galatians 2: From “Members Only” to “A Can of Worms”

Galatians 3: The Gap Instinct

Galatians 4: The Boulevard and the Gate

Galatians 5: Freedom, Indulgence, Hard Knocks, and Wisdom

Galatians 6: Sharing the Burden, Carrying the Weight

You’re all caught up! Posts will be added here as they are published. Click on the image below for easy access to other recent posts indexed by book.

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#1: The Pros and Cons of Tradition

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 July 27, 2015

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see Union Street Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof yesterday afternoon. It has been a long time since I’ve seen the show. I was a bit surprised how the musical, about changing times within a small, Russian Jewish community in the early 20th century, resonated with me.

We live in a small community with very deep Christian convictions, and our “Traditions” are very much like those of Anatevka, the community portrayed in Fiddler. For many, our Christian traditions provide a deep sense order and temporal peace in a rapidly changing world. When our traditions are threatened by change, it usually meets with loud and passionate objections fueled by anxiety and fear. As with Anatevka, there has historically been strong societal pressure to conform to the community traditions.

Paul was dealing with a very similar situation when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Galatia. Most of Jesus’ early followers came from Jewish traditions which were then being threatened by non-Jewsish (a.k.a. Gentile) believers. The changes this wrought within these fledgling communities of believers was immense and the passionate divisions it stirred was intense. Those from Jewish traditions saw their faith in Jesus as a mere extension of their Jewish traditions.  Those from Gentile traditions did not wish to adopt Jewish traditions to be followers of Jesus.

Paul, addressing these divisions, makes it clear that he has no interest in doing things simply to bow to human traditions and become a people pleaser. As Tevye and the residents of Anatevka discover in Fiddler on the Roof, the times, they are a-changing. Paul makes it clear that he will follow Jesus, even if it means abandoning many of his traditions and raising the ire of the society in which he was raised and from which he came.

Today, I’m thinking about my own traditions, the ones passed down to me by family and community. Some I honor and obey because I feel Jesus clearly commands His followers to do so. Some I honor and follow because I find them beneficial to me and to my life, relationships, and community. Some, I find silly and don’t care about whatsoever. Traditions are a good thing right up to the point they become more about keeping up appearances and pleasing the community than they do about sincere faith and personal spiritual benefit.

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

#2: David’s Personal Relationship With God

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 June 23, 2014

David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets. 1 Chronicles 13:8 (NIV)

For the better part of this year, we’ve been journeying through the story of David and before that the psalms which are ancient song lyrics attributed largely to David. In a bit of synchronicity, the group of believers with whom Wendy and I worship on Sunday mornings are starting a series of messages on the life of David next week. It flows out of a five week series in which we’ve been looking at the “chain reaction of praise,” and I’ve been asked to give the lead off message of the series.

The connection between the two series is the fact that, no matter the circumstances, David was a man of praise and faith. David the hero, David the warrior, David the outlaw, David the sinner, David the King, David the victim — no matter which part of David’s life you study you find him seeking God, praising God, crying to God, and consulting God. You can almost always find a psalm that corresponds to a particular episode in David’s life. Throughout his long journey David was always translating his daily life experiences into songs, poems, and prayers of faith and praise.

I thought about that as I read this morning of David the King who was not embarrassed nor ashamed to worship and dance “with all his might” before God and the ark of the covenant. He was not concerned with what it might look like to others. He was not worried about looking cool, kingly, and above it all. He was not one to order others to do his praising for him. For David, his relationship with God was not just “a part of the job.” David’s relationship with God was personal from the time he was a boy until he was uttering his last words on his death bed.

Today, I’m thinking about my own life and David’s example. I don’t want my faith and praise to be a compartment of my life which I take out on Sunday morning and sundry, appropriate occasions. I don’t want my faith to fit neatly into others sense of propriety. I want my praise to be with “all my might” and my relationship to be intensely personal each and every day of my life.

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

#3: Blind Spots

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 May 15, 2014

When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children do not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines and children with most all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that we never see David telling his children “no” nor do we see him discipline them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring of not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved first born son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light of our time and attention to addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

Today’s chapter seems perfectly timed as I’ve been made painfully aware of a blind spot in my life. If you’re reading this, and are a person who prays, please say a prayer for me as I address it.

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

#4: “I See,” Said the Blind Man

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 January 18, 2018

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
Zechariah 12:10 (NIV)

Ever notice that people have favorite sayings? My Grandma Vander Well, when struck by a realization, would always say, “‘I see,’ said the blind man when he picked up his hammer and saw.” Wendy’s Grandfather used the same phrase though he had a different twist: “‘I see,’ said the blind man to the deaf dog when he picked up his hammer and saw.” We have a friendly, ongoing feud about which one is “right.”

If you regularly asked my dad how he is you’re likely to hear that he is “busier than a cranberry merchant” a phrase that originally was a variation of “busier than a cranberry merchant in autumn” (when cranberries are harvested). He also might say he is, “slower than molasses in January.

If you read the Jesus stories by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John you’ll find that Jesus also had a favorite phrase: “He who has ears, let him hear” which also occasionally included a variant of “Let he who has eyes see.”

Jesus explained to his followers on different occasions that truths He spoke of God’s kingdom were things that many (especially the most institutionally religious people, interestingly enough) didn’t understand. Though they had ears they didn’t hear it. Though they had eyes they didn’t see it. They heard the words and saw Jesus’ miracles but they were deaf and blind to what He was really saying and doing. Jesus invited all those who listened to his stories and watched what He was doing to open the eyes and ears of their spirit to see what He was really up to.

In our journey through the prophetic writings of Zechariah, I’ve been noticing a pattern. There’s a theme that’s been coming across in the past few chapters. On the surface meaning of Zac’s prophecies, he is addressing his people, at his time of history, in the circumstance he and they were experiencing. Buried in the words, however, there are little nuggets that don’t seem to fit neatly in Zac’s current circumstances but eerily preview key moments in Jesus’ story, a story that would take place 500 years in the future:

  • In chapter 9 Zechariah presents the King of the Jews “gentle, riding on a donkey” which aptly describes Jesus’ “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem the week before His death when the crowds shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
  • In chapter 11 Zechariah prescribes the “thirty pieces of silver” given to Judas to betray Jesus, blood money Judas threw back to the Chief priests and was used to buy a “potter’s field.”
  • In today’s chapter it happens again (see the verses pasted at the top of this post) as Zac clearly describes the crucifixion scene of Jesus (who claimed Himself to be “God’s one and only Son”) pierced by the Roman soldiers’ spear and mourned by His followers.

Interesting pattern, isn’t it? Just as God in creation buries fractal patterns in the seemingly random nature scenes we see around us all day long, so He buries patterns in the prophets’ poetry and the patriarch’s stories that point to the design of a much larger story that He is telling across time. The patterns don’t appear on a cursory reading of the text any more than a cursory view of Jackson Pollack’s drip painting reveal the eerily exact fractal patterns of nature that he somehow was able to achieve in his seemingly chaotic and messy painting, yet “he who has eyes to see…”

This morning I’m thinking about layers. Layers of meaning prophecy. Layers of meaning in Jesus’ words and actions. Layers of meaning and design that have been buried in creation eventually reveal themselves through the perceptive eyes, ears, words, and work of artists, physicists, writers, and philosophers.

I don’t want to go through this earthly journey deaf and blind to the incredible things that God is doing all around me. I want the eyes and ears of my spirit wide open, perceptive, receptive so I can understand and experience more and more of what God is doing in this divine dance we call life. Then I can repeatedly honor Grandma Vander Well in my repeated realizations as I mutter: “I see said the blind man when he picked up his hammer and saw.

But for right now I have to finish this post and get ready for my day. Because, you know, “I’m busier than a cranberry merchant in autumn.”

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

#5: Joseph’s Talents

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 March 4, 2013

Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. Genesis 39:22 (NLT)

The other week a client told me about a capable young person in their employ. The young man, though rough around the edges, had shown promise of being management material. The employer arranged to fast track the young man into managerial training and told him so. I had no doubt that, with a little time and effort, the young man would have found himself managing a department and moving up the corporate ladder quickly.

The young man, however, was not content with the fast track. Assuming that his employer’s interest in his career gave him instant leverage, he quickly demanded a huge increase in salary. When the employer refused and explained that he still had to prove himself, the young man walked off the job.

In reading about Joseph’s rapid and successful rise in both the employment of Potiphar and even in his imprisonment, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the talents. Yes, God’s favor was certainly on Joseph, but Joseph didn’t sit around and have rewards thrown at him. He obviously worked hard, managed wisely, and served his master faithfully no matter who that master was. I can almost hear Potiphar and the prison warden echoing Jesus’ words from his parable: “You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things.”

In the business world I see fewer and fewer young people who take this very simple life lesson to heart: Patiently prove yourself faithful and capable with a few things and you’ll find yourself being given greater responsibilities and earning better compensation. Could it be that we as a culture have so filled our children’s minds with positive messages of self-esteem and freely showered them with everything they both need and desire that they have walked away with the expectation that the world will reward them with their heart’s desire just for showing up?

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

1 Thessalonians (Nov 2018)

Each photo below corresponds to a chapter-a-day post for the book of 1 Thessalonians published by Tom Vander Well in November 2018. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

1 Thessalonians 1: “What’s My Motivation?”

1 Thessalonians 2: Managing Misinterpreted Motives

1 Thessalonians 3: Destined for Tough Terrain

1 Thessalonians 4: Work, Retirement, and “Enjoying Life”

1 Thessalonians 5: Maturing into Child-like Wonder

You’re all caught up! Posts will be added here as they are published. Click on the image below for easy access to other recent posts indexed by book.

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2 Thessalonians (Nov 2018)

Each photo below corresponds to a chapter-a-day post for the book of 2 Thessalonians published by Tom Vander Well in November 2018. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

2 Thessalonians 1: Progress

2 Thessalonians 2: The Dude Abides

2 Thessalonians 3: The Simple Honor of Labor

You’re all caught up! Posts will be added here as they are published. Click on the image below for easy access to other recent posts indexed by book.

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Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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