Tag Archives: Authenticity

False Fronts

One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
    another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
Proverbs 13:7 (NIV)

Looks can be deceiving.

It’s one of those basic truths that I find myself conveniently forgetting time and time and time again. That perfect image being broadcast for everyone to see on Facebook and Instagram hides the inner shambles of life. The billionaire turns out to be bankrupt. A child buries his poor, elderly parents and is shocked to find out from the estate attorney that they’ve had millions all along.

The amazing little town where we live in Iowa was founded by Dutch settlers. We celebrate the Dutch heritage to the point that visitors from the Netherlands regularly comment that we are “more Dutch than the Dutch.” If you do business in our town your building (even the fast food places and national retail chains) has to have what we call a “Dutch front” with decorative flourishes that fit in with the town’s Hollander motif. In some of the old buildings downtown, the cute Dutch front you see from the street might easily hide a ramshackle, interior mess desperately in need of updating and renovation. It’s not unlike a set on a stage that looks amazing from the audience but actually hides bare lumber on a hollow, dark backstage.

Over the years, the concept of “Dutch front” has taken on a deeper metaphorical meaning for me. Religion regularly puts forth a false exterior of purity, piety, and self-righteousness for the world to see, while the interior life hides all sorts of dark desires, appetites, thoughts, and deeds. It is the same thing Jesus addressed with the religious leaders and teachers (part of a religious faction called the Pharisees):

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

Matthew 23:25-28 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I’m finding it hard to look at the spec of dust in the Pharisee’s eye and ignore the log in my own. The truth is that I can be just as guilty of wanting to be seen by others in the best light while keeping my flaws, faults, failures, and foibles conspicuously hidden.

As I walk the spiritual path of the season of Lent, one of the key practices to which I’m called is honest introspection. For non-believers or the non-religious, it’s basically the same thing as Step Four of the Twelve Steps: made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

And so, I find myself desiring this morning to be authentic in how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to hide behind a facade of piety (projecting false spiritual wealth to the world while I’m actually struggling because my spiritual reserve account is overdrawn), nor do I want to hide behind a facade of false humility (projecting to the world that I’m spiritually destitute while having a spiritual inheritance as a child of the Creator). To be honest, I’m not always sure where that balance is, but I know it starts with me being authentic in how I present myself whether it be in my work, my neighborhood, my relationships, my social media posts, these blog posts, or among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers.

The prayer that is welling up in my spirit this morning is actually a show tune. Here’s the YouTube for you. (Shout out to our friend Brystal for inspiring us with this. Your message that morning still resonates!)

<— 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

Todays featured photo courtesy of ucffool via Flickr.

My Secret to a Good Night’s Sleep

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
    but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.
Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)

For many years I have had a fascination with the largest, non-commercial blog in the world. It went viral so long ago that there may be many today who have never heard of PostSecret. Frank Warren had a simple idea for a local art contest. He distributed a bunch of blank, self-addressed postcards in random public places where they would be found. He asked people who found them to anonymously share a secret. A half-million postcards later, they continue to arrive in his mailbox daily. Each Sunday he posts a handful of new secrets he’s received to his ad-free blog.

Last summer I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers called It’s a Secret about the different types of secrets we human beings tend to keep and the unhealthy ways they affect our lives (You can download and listen here). I shared some of my own history of keeping secrets along my life journey and the lessons that l learned from them.

One of the things Frank Warren says from his years as the caretaker of hundreds of thousands of secrets is that sometimes we think we are holding on to a secret when, actually, the secret is holding on to us.

In today’s chapter of wise King Solomon’s ancient proverbs, Sol says that those who walk with integrity walk securely. When I read that I thought: those who give up their secrets don’t live in constant fear of being found out. I thought about my years of desperately keeping secrets. They were periods of anxiety, cyclical shame, and the fear of getting caught. To Frank’s point, my secrets were holding on to me, impeding my journey, and making me feel that there was a ticking time-bomb of revelation waiting to go off at any moment. My secrets kept me up at night. They were part of the reason I didn’t sleep well.

Along my journey, I went through a period of confession in which I owned up to my secrets and went on a sojourn to discover my authentic self. I sought out the person I really am without secrets and I embraced all of my glaring imperfections and indulgent appetites. In the process, I learned that darkness makes it hard to see things for what they really are. Secrets, sins, mistakes, and imperfections are far scarier and seem infinitely more powerful under the cloak of darkness. When brought into the light, they lose their grip.

This morning Wendy asked me one of our daily repeated, routine questions: “How did you sleep last night?”

I slept well, thanks.

I hope you are sleeping securely, as well.

<— 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

The Big Talker

Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord your God with your own mouth.
Deuteronomy 23:23 (NRSV)

Just a few weeks ago I saw something on television that brought back memories of a kid I knew in high school. He was the big talker. His mouth was a never ending stream of braggadocios comments and tall tales about his experiences and accomplishments past, present, and future. It was so bad that some of his insane statements became legend among my group of friends. As far as I know, he did not remain a friend of any of us for long.

He came to mind again as I read this morning’s chapter. Today’s chapter is full of rather interesting and miscellaneous laws the ancient Hebrews had regarding who could and couldn’t enter the Lord’s assembly, how to handle human excrement/emissions, and the line between snacking from a neighbors grave vine and downright stealing from him. Fascinating, but admittedly not the most inspirational of thoughts for my day.

Then I came to the verse pasted above and it leapt off the page at me. While I can claim innocence from the type of arrogant tall tales of my high school acquaintance, how often have I promised and then not delivered? How often, with the best of intentions, have I stated that I’ll do this or that and then not followed through? Elsewhere in God’s Message is says that if you’ve committed the least of these offenses you’re as guilty as having committed it all. Ugh.

Today, I’m reminded of a simple rule of life: I don’t be a big talker, even in little ways. I don’t want to promise what I can’t or won’t deliver, even with the best of intentions. Say what I’ll do, and do what I say.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image via quotesvalley.com

The Problem with Pictorial Directories

What if church pictorial directories showed us as we really are?
What if church pictorial directories showed us as we really are?

At that time Abijah son of Jeroboam became ill, and Jeroboam said to his wife, “Go, disguise yourself, so you won’t be recognized as the wife of Jeroboam. Then go to Shiloh. Ahijah the prophet is there—the one who told me I would be king over this people.”
1 Kings 14:1-2a (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege to give the Sunday message at Westview church in Waukee. I shared a tongue-in-cheek illustration about church pictorial directories. Every church I’ve ever attended has done a pictorial directory. A company comes in with their portrait cameras and families sign up to come to the church to have their professional portrait done. The company puts together a directory of the families for the church and makes money off of the photos packages that they sell.

My illustration was simply that when we go to have our family portraits done, we put on our nice clothes, get cleaned up for the camera, and try our very best to look the part of a picture perfect family. We want to appear to be who we think God and the church want us to be. I think it’s very similar to what many of us church-goers do every Sunday morning. We want to appear, not as we really are, but as who we suspect others want us to be. What would that portrait look like, however, if the camera captured us as we really are?

Jeroboam’s wife did her best to pretend to be someone she was not when she went to Ahijah the prophet. But, God and the prophet saw through her charade, as I believe God does with all of us whenever we try to pull the same trick.

This morning I’m thinking about living authentically and being honest about who I am. Life is messy, humans are imperfect creatures, and the further I get in life’s journey the more I discover the depths of my own depravity and my need of grace and forgiveness from both God and others. Hiding and pretending does nothing for my spiritual progression, and, in fact, only hinders and delays the process. Only when I am honest and authentic with myself, God, and others, can I deal honestly with my blind spots make progress on this spiritual pilgrimage.

 

Parenting and Integrity

Following in his footsteps
Following in his footsteps (Photo credit: AhmadHashim)

The godly walk with integrity;
    blessed are their children who follow them.
Proverbs 20:7 (NLT)

Notice that the proverb does not read that the godly walk with perfection.

As I look back over the past 23 years of being a parent, I am reminded of numerous mistakes that I have made. These mistakes include personal moral failures and regrets for little things I should have said or done differently both as a person and as a father. What has been clear to me is that my shortcomings are not hidden from my children. They are painfully aware of my weaknesses as well as my strengths.

Along the journey I’ve witnessed many parents who attempt to hide their weaknesses from their children. Taking on an attitude of perfection and high-minded omniscience, they act as if it would be disaster for their children to perceive a chink in the parental armor. They work tirelessly to offer the kids a spit-and-polished veneer of supremacy and will not admit failure or show weakness to their offspring. Mom and Dad are perfect.  They are not to be questioned.

I have tried very hard not to fall into that trap. I would rather my children learn that integrity is not about the illusion of perfection but rather about embracing the truth of my imperfections. I don’t want my example to be the appearance of being a flawless parent, but the honesty of being a humble, authentic human being. I want to teach by example how to admit my mistakes, seek forgiveness, and strive towards continually improving both myself and my relationships them, with God and with others. To me, that will do more good in preparing them for life than some false impression I try to create that I do no wrong.

[An index of all Tom’s chapter-a-day posts covering every book and chapter]

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 20

Many will say they are loyal friends, 
      but who can find one who is truly reliable?
Proverbs 20:6 (NLT)

Who are you gonna call at 2:00 a.m. when the world is crashing down around you and you are at the end of your rope?

That question has been asked at various men’s gatherings I’ve attended over the years. It’s is a worthwhile question every man should answer. As men, we tend to retreat into our man cave, switch on ESPN, fire up the video game, break open a cold one, and zone out. With other guys we talk sports, we talk cars, we talk babes, we play poker, we ride Harley’s, we hunt. But all the man cave manliness can easily distract us from developing relationships and having crucial conversations that get to the important stuff of life.

What does it really mean to be a man? How do I love my wife well? How do I do right by my kids? What do I really do with this whole “God thing?” When you’re not having those conversations with other men, then the shit hits the fan at 2:00 a.m., we need to pick up the phone and cry out for help, but there is nothing but a blank stare and a feeling of panic. I’ve got no one I can call.

Today, I’m thankful that I not only have a guy I can call – I have a list of guys on speed dial. I have a list of guys starting with my family, to my oldest friend, to guys from high school, to guys from college, to guys with whom I’ve walked this journey the past few years. I am so blessed with friends with whom I can live it up in the man cave having a blast being guys, but then I can then pour a cold one, stoke up a stogie, and wade fearlessly into the deep weeds of life.

Those kind of relationships are generally not stumbled upon. They aren’t the pay out of a relational lottery. They are sought after, cultivated, and consciously grown over time. If you live in my area, this is a great place to start the search.

Who are you gonna call?

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 14

“If the fungus breaks out again in the house after the stones have been torn out and the house has been scraped and plastered, the priest is to come and conduct an examination; if the fungus has spread, it is a malignant fungus. The house is unclean.” Leviticus 14:43-44 (MSG)

A few weeks ago, we had the upper portion of our house resided. The old siding was taken off and new siding replaced it. I had some fears about what the contractor would find when he pulled off the old siding. In one area, there had been water damage inside and carpenter ants had eaten away the wood structure beneath the siding. Fortunately, it was limited to one small area. We had the underlying structure rebuilt, sprayed the remaining wood, and made sure the water would not return.

Today’s chapter discussed the ancient prescription for dealing with the problem of mold and fungus in a house. Often, you don’t know what’s going on behind a wall, or behind your siding, until it’s too late to capably deal with the problem.

What an awesome word picture for our lives. We all tend to place siding on our lives with the way that we talk, the way we behave in public, the way we dress, and the way that we project ourselves. The real measure of a person, however, is what is happening beneath the public veneer we display to others. What really matters is not who we are when everyone is looking, but who we are in the places the public does not see. If we allow rotten and putrid things to grow unchecked behind the siding, it could very well mean the whole structure will eventually have to be torn down.