Tag Archives: Ancient

Thin Places

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Walk about Zion, go all around it,
    count its towers…

Psalm 48:12 (NRSVCE)

Throughout the history of the Jesus Movement and Christendom, there have been various geographic locations around the world that have come to be known as “thin places.” The concept is a very simple metaphor. It is a specific location where the divide between temporal and eternal, heaven and earth, matter and Spirit, is thin. The power of the Spirit seems to flow more palpably. “Thin places” might be locations where spiritual revivals have occurred, miracles have occurred, or where people experience God’s presence in extraordinary ways.

One of the things I’ve noticed in moving from Book I of the Psalms (Psalms 1-41) to Book II (Psalms 42-72). The songs in Book 1 are mostly songs of David expressing his personal emotions and faith. In the first six songs of Book II we’ve had a variety of songs that were written with specific liturgical purposes. There’s been a diplomatic wedding of royalty to another nation’s princess, a song celebrating a king’s enthronement, and a community plea/prayer after suffering military defeat.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 48, is a song that celebrates Jerusalem as the center of Hebrew worship. It celebrates Jerusalem as an ancient thin place where people find joy, where God has done great things, where the things of God are pondered, and spiritual guidance is found.

It was very common in ancient Mesopotamian cultures for major cities to have patron deities and temples to those deities. The Hebrews would have experienced this while in slavery in Egypt. They would have been familiar with the concept, and way back during the Hebrews flight from Egypt God made clear that a city would be established as the place where Yahweh would dwell and be worshipped (Deut 12:5). How fascinating that over 3000 years later pilgrims from all over the world continue to flock to Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall of the temple ruins. It is still considered by many to be a thin place.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 48 has me thinking about thin places. I have been to Jerusalem, I have walked its streets, and I have prayed at the Western Wall. Personally, I didn’t find Jerusalem to be a thin place but a dark place, despite knowing that the Great Story makes clear it still has a role to play in history’s climactic events.

I have, however, observed that our place at the lake is what I’ve experienced as a thin place. It is a place people have found peace. It is a place where both myself and others have found healing of both body and soul. It has been a place of retreat, of soul-searching, of life-changing conversation, of joy, of love, and of Life.

In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to believe it vital to identify and regularly visit a thin place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away alone or with his closest followers to the top of a mountain along the shores of Galilee to pray. Interestingly enough, when I visited that mountain-top location in Israel, I found it to be the thinnest place I personally experienced in my tour of many, many sites in the Holy Land.

This world bombards me ceaselessly with data, information, opinions, advertisements, and pleas for my time, energy, and human resources. My spirit needs a thin place to recharge, even if it’s a thin place just to me.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Of Tribe and Time

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
Exodus 1:8-10 (NRSVCE)

When it comes to a film, the first shot the director gives you is always an important one. In movie terms it’s called the “establishing shot” and most casual viewers don’t realize how important it is to provide you with the setting, the environment, and the emotion. In many cases, the establishing shot will foreshadow the entire theme of the movie with one quick visual. For those interested, here’s a quick look at some of the best of all time…

Likewise, great authors provide readers with a literary version of an establishing shot. The opening prologue or chapter lay out the scene for the reader.

In today’s chapter, the author of Exodus establishes the scene for the story and the journey on which I am about to embark. At the end of Genesis, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) and his 70 descendants and their families, flocks, and herds had migrated and settled in the area of Egypt to escape a famine. His long-lost-son, Joseph was Pharaoh’s right-hand and had welcomed them and provided for them.

Exodus now picks up the story, and in the establishing shot, we find that Israel’s descendants have settled in Egypt and have been fruitful in multiple ways. His sons and grandsons are growing their families, having lots of babies, and each is becoming his own tribe. Between Genesis chapter 50 and Exodus chapter 1 we’ve gone from one Hebrew tribe to twelve growing tribes. The problem is, political winds have shifted.

In ancient cultures (we’re talking about 3500 years ago) the world was a harsh, violent, lawless and brutal place. It was tribal. You were born into a tribe, your tribe protected you, and life was about surviving against other tribes. Some tribes, like Egypt, had successfully become nations but every nation and every tribe was focused on protecting themselves against the threat of other tribes bent on conquest.

In Egypt, the new Pharaoh (that is, Egyptian ruler) and his administration take stock of the fact that Israel’s tribe has become tribes, and they have slowly proliferated within Egypt’s kingdom and territory. That is a threat. Remember, it’s a tribe vs. tribe world. Having that many people from a foreign tribe living in their kingdom was scary. It’s one thing to protect yourself from an attack from the outside. It’s another thing if a tribe living among you goes rogue. From a political perspective, Pharaoh had to address the threat. So, he moves to persecute the Hebrew people living among them and to limit their population growth.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over both the differences and similarities in our world. It’s that point of tension between two extremes. On one hand, the world has changed drastically in 3500 years and that’s the reason many 21st century readers struggle mightily with the brutality and violence of the ancient stories of the Great Story. If I want to understand the Great Story, I have to be willing to embrace that I will never fully understand ancient history yet embrace the understanding that it has value in the context of a larger eternal narrative.

On the other hand, I also find myself muttering that there is “nothing is new under the sun,” and the more things change the more they stay the same. In China, the government is persecuting people groups and religious groups within their population to try and stop their proliferation. They also have, over recent decades, infamously adopted birth control measures eerily similar to Pharaoh (e.g. allow the girls to live, but not the boys) in an effort to control the political and economic threat they feel from population growth. It also strikes me, as I mull things over, that the same tribalism at the root of the Egypt/Hebrew conflict presented in today’s chapter is at the root of everything from benign sports rivalries to toxic racial, social, nationalist, and religious prejudice. I also think of gangs, cartels, crime organizations, religious denominations, and political parties. Humans are still tribal in a myriad of ways.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, told the story of the Good Samaritan, healed the child of a Roman Centurion, and sent His apostles to “ends of the earth” He was pushing His followers beyond their tribe. He prescribed a different type of conquest in which tribal boundaries are breached with love and proliferate generosity, understanding, forgiveness, repentance, and redemption. That’s the tribe with whom I ultimately wish to be associated.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Sex and a Larger Wisdom

Keep to a path far from her,
    do not go near the door of her house

Proverbs 5:8 (NIV)

One of the challenges in the reading of ancient wisdom is embracing the historical, cultural, and social differences I find rather than letting them get in the way. In our current culture of reactivity and the quick dismissal of anything that doesn’t fit neatly in the personal box of my world view, I’m afraid many miss out on the larger wisdom that is still there for anyone willing to see it.

The role and status of women in ancient cultures is a fascinating study. Just a few chapters ago I wrote about the fact that when the ancients personified wisdom she was a woman. Contrasting that honoring celebration of the feminine, today’s chapter is a head-scratching corollary. Solomon warns his son to beware of a caricatured predator: the adulterous woman.

It seems hypocritical for King Solomon to preach such monogamous virtue to his son, given the fact that the “wise” King was recorded to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Of course, it could also be argued that he was writing out of the pain of his own folly, as it is also recorded that he was “led astray” by having 1000 women at his disposal (though I doubt he was an unwilling victim).

Along my life journey, I’ve experienced that it takes two to do the tango of adultery. The peddling of forbidden sexual fruit is not discriminatory by gender, nor is the temptation to taste its pleasures. It is also my observation that gender is inconsequential when it comes to matters of seduction, sexual temptation, sexual surrender, promiscuous relationships and the bitter consequences typically experienced at the dead-end of those paths. It would be foolish of me not to look past the cultural differences between the ancient Hebrews and my own time to see the larger wisdom that Sophia has to share for anyone willing to listen to what she has to say about the foolishness of sexual promiscuity.

In the quiet this morning I find folly and wisdom in multiple layers. There is the obvious folly of promiscuity and the wisdom of relational fidelity presented in the text. I also find the folly of what I see on both sides of our current cultural discourse, in which I can easily be dismissive of others who don’t comfortably fit inside the box of my comfortable world-view. I find there is typically larger wisdom present if I’m willing to seek her out.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Ancient Paths

Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah 6:16 (NRSVCE)

Along life’s journey one encounters a number of crossroads. Take the easy route, or the road less traveled. Follow the crowd, or strike out on one’s own. Often I have found that divergent paths lead in seemingly opposite directions, yet there is no clear direction where each will lead and precious little guidance with which to make a choice. It is a faith journey, after all. I choose, and I live with both my choice and my path’s destination.

I find myself at times weary of living in a culture running hell-bent and headlong towards any and every new horizon. The whole world seems to chase after that which is trending. I find it easy to become addicted to the breaking news of the moment and the latest buzz getting pushed, tweeted, and incessantly notified on any number of devices. It’s so easy to begin fearing that I’ll miss out on the latest, the most recent innovation, the next great thing.

My soul is increasingly weary of keeping up. The next thing is always replaced by the next, and the next, and the….

I hear my soul whispering at each new crossroads to look, and to seek ancient paths. Rather than chasing after that which is new I find myself more and more compelled to seek and discover that which has been forgotten. What great wisdom has been cast off as worthless ballast in order to speed us on our way in pursuit of the endless and unsubstantiated promises of technology and fortune?

In today’s chapter the prophet Jeremiah called on his generation to look back, to seek the ancient ways, and to seek the restful fulfillment of soul over the insatiable, momentary fulfillment of the senses. His generation chose differently as will mine, I expect.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded of Jesus’ words:

“…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Nevertheless, I think I’ll endeavor to head that way with each new crossroads. It may seem lonely at times, but at least I can count on there not being any traffic jams.

Ancient Law; Modern Application

You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.
Deuteronomy 25:4 (NRSV)

The mission statement of my company contains the phrase, “…by applying the principles of God’s word to our lives and work….” When Mr. Wenger began the company there were certain decisions he consciously made in structuring the way we did business to adhere to specific biblical principles. For example, while incorporated like any other company he chose to call us a  “group” not a “company” because he wanted each member to know that, like the body of Christ, we are all in this together and what each one of us does affects the others.

One of the other principles by which our group does business is tied to a verse from today’s chapter. “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” In the days of Moses grain was usually milled by placing it between two huge, round millstones. In the featured photo of this post you can see me pushing an ancient olive press in Nazareth which operated in a similar fashion. In milling grain, an ox was yoked to the stones and walked around and around and around in circles, turning the millstone which milled the grain. The floor of the mill would be covered with grain and farmers found that the ox would naturally bend down and eat grain off the floor as it worked. Farmers began to muzzle the ox so it could not eat the grain as it worked. The law of Moses said that the ox should be allowed to eat grain freely and benefit directly from the work it was doing for the farmer.

So it is with our group that no member, from the owners down to the newest contract employee is paid a salary in which we get paid a lump sum no matter how much or how little work we do each month. Rather, each member is paid directly from the specific tasks we do on each job for each client. We’re not going to muzzle anyone. The more a member wants to work and the more work we have to do, the more opportunity we have to increase our income. If we choose not to work as much, or we don’t have as much work to do, then our income is going to drop accordingly.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that many of these laws of Moses which were written thousands of years ago for an ancient culture far different than ours still have relevance today. In fact, many of our own modern laws still trace back, in principle, to the laws Moses chiseled out in ancient times.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 1

“If the offering is a Whole-Burnt-Offering from the herd, present a male without a defect at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting that it may be accepted by God. Leviticus 1:3 (MSG)

My grandfather was a court bailiff and as a child I spent my spring break with him at the courthouse. I still remember the long bookshelves, stacked floor to ceiling with an important set of leather bound books entitled “Code of Iowa.” It was the “book of law” for the state of Iowa. Call it the rule book for our society. It prescribes the rules by which we live together and on which our judicial system judges those who break the rules.

Leviticus is not an inspirational book of song lyrics (like Psalms). It is not a devotional book of wise sayings (like Proverbs). It is not a biographical story (like Matthew). Leviticus is an ancient book of law. Like the Code of Iowa sitting on the county courthouse shelf, Leviticus is the “Code of (ancient) Israel.”

We also have to remember the time and historical circumstance in which the book of Leviticus was given. A couple of million Israelites had just left slavery in Egypt. An entire nation with their flocks and herds now found themselves wandering in the desert together. There was no system of government. There wasn’t an agreed upon set of rules. It was a law-less nomadic society; Imagine the entire population of the state of Iowa (complete with farmers taking their livestock) grabbing everything they could carry and making their way on foot toward Canada [Canadians will appreciate that I made them “the promised land” in this metaphor]. Leviticus was God’s attempt to provide some basic rules for life and worship to an ancient people whose daily life we can scarcely imagine in a time and culture very different from our own.

Besides being mindful of the historical context, there are two things I always try to keep in mind while wading through the Code of (ancient) Israel. First, the common link we have to that people is our sin nature. We all blow it and fall short of God’s holy perfection. The sacrificial system prescribed by Leviticus is an initial attempt in history to deal with the core spiritual problem: man is sinful, separated from God, and therefore stands condemned to die.

Second, God is a God of metaphor, so the Code of worship and conduct prescribed in Leviticus is going to provide word pictures and foreshadowing to the larger story God is authoring. For example, the first sacrificial offering prescribed is a “male without defect.” Picture Jesus, God’s own Son, a male without defect, dying on the cross. Two thousand years before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, God was trying to give people a word picture of the ultimate plan in the sacrifices He prescribed.

Today, I’m mindful of an epic story of grand design which is still being authored, of which I am a part. And, I’m thankful for a God of detail who has a master plan, even though my finite mind can’t completely comprehend it.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and rachael voorhees

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 16

But the old bronze Altar that signaled the presence of God he displaced from its central place and pushed it off to the side of his new altar.2 Kings 16:14 (MSG)

We live in the culture of the "new and improved." We don't build things to last. We build things to be disposed and replaced with the "new and improved." My grandparents had the same television for twenty years. The "new and improved" HD television I bought seven years ago was out of date in less than five. Before we even have a chance to get used to our iPod or cell phone, there is a new "generation" to displace it. Even the government gives people [borrowed] cash for clunkers so that we will dispose of the old car and buy the new.

Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong with new things. Even Jesus said he came to make all things new. I simply wonder how much of our dispose and displace culture creeps into the living out of my faith. The things of God are ancient. The things of God are eternal. They don't rust and wear out. And yet, I'm conditioned by my culture to distrust, displace and dispose of the old. I'm conditioned to yearn for something new and improved and trust that it is better, stronger, faster, quicker, more efficient, and more enviromentally friendly.

How easy is it for me to feel that faith of my fathers is old and outdated when I haven't even scratched the surface of its depth and truth?

I don't want to displace God from the central place in my life. I don't want to push Him off to the side. Instead of falling into the unconscious trap of dismissing the ancient things of God simply because they seem old, I prefer to spend my early morning hours digging in and plumbing their depths. Interestingly enough, I find that they are faithfully "new every morning."