Tag Archives: Blog

Voices on the Whispering WInd

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The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.

Psalm 67:6 (NIV)

Growing up in the city, I had very little personal exposure to the agricultural industry that fuels our region. The news radio my dad had on every morning made a big deal about farming and markets, but it made no sense to me. I have this one memory of riding along with our dad in the family station wagon. I had to have been about five years old. I watched my dad jump a fence into a cow pasture to collect dried piles of cow manure into the back of the station wagon which he used to fertilize the garden in the backyard. That’s pretty much it other than driving through the fields to my grandparent’s house.

As an adult, I’ve spent about twenty years of my life in small rural towns where agriculture is all around me. Behind our back yard is an open field. There are cows on the other side of the golf course that winds through our neighborhood. The building where our local gathering of Jesus followers meets is next door to livestock farm, and when the wind is blowing just right the smell motivates you to high-tail it inside. I don’t have the buffer and insulation I had as a kid. Agriculture surrounds me at all times.

Because of this, and the fact that Wendy grew up on a farm and her dad taught Agriculture, I’ve gained an appreciation for the people, the lives, and the industry that helps feed the world. It’s also helped me understand and appreciate, with greater depth, an important spiritual principle: me, my life, and my circumstances, are of little regard to Creation. The Great Story constantly reminds me to keep my life in perspective:

“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall”

1 Peter 1:24

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
    There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
    but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old
        planet earth.
The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
    then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
    Around and around and around it blows,
    blowing this way, then that—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
    but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place,
    and then start all over and do it again.
What was will be again,
    what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth.
    Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”?
    Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.
Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
    And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either.
    Don’t count on being remembered.

Ecclesiastes 1 (MSG)

Without faith, these are kind of depressing thoughts. With faith, it becomes essential spiritual perspective. The fields yielded their fruit again with the autumn harvest, things will die in winter and new life will emerge once again in the spring. Just like it did for the The earth continues to spin, the seasons continue to cycle, the planets continue their dance around the sun. The sun continues its dance around the galaxy. The galaxy continues its trek in the universe.

The coronavirus is nothing in the grand scheme of eternity, and neither is a presidential election. I grumble and complain, yet if I incline my ear to the whispers on the wind of history I hear voices, millions of voices, calling out.

200 million voices of those who died in the Black Death in Europe and Asia in the Middle Ages.

56 million voices who died of Smallpox in the 1500s.

40 million voices who died of the Spanish Flu between 1918-1920.

30 million voices who died in the plague of Justinian. In 541, it is estimated that there were 10,000 deaths per day and there were so many bodies they couldn’t keep up with burials so bodies were piled up and stuffed in buildings and left out in the open.

And still, the whole of creation continued its dance. The earth danced around the sun every 365 days or so. The seasons came and went like clockwork. The crops sprouted each spring, they grew each summer, they yielded their fruit each fall before the death of winter prepared for another annual resurrection.

In the quiet this morning, I’m listening to those voices on the whispering wind. My heart grumbles, but it never grumbles with essential spiritual perspective in mind. Grumbling only happens when my momentary circumstances deceive me into putting on my blinders of self-importance.

Thanksgiving is in 10 days. When I finish this post and podcast I’m headed into town for coffee with a friend. I’ll drive past the fields that have, once again, yielded their abundance. Those same fields fed families and provided for those who suffered through three years of the ravages of Spanish Flu. They will still be feeding generations who will have long forgotten my existence when the next pandemic makes its way through humanity.

Essential spiritual perspective that Jesus used the fields he and his followers were sitting in to make this same point.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Indeed. Today, I give thanks.

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

“That Story Is My Story”

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Come and hear, all you who fear God;
    let me tell you what he has done for me.

Psalm 66:16 (NIV)

It’s been a number of years since I’ve been on stage. Other than a bit part in a friends movie short in which I played a creepy figure in some guys sub-conscious, I have to tax my memory to recall the last part I played that required me to do the work of character analysis. The process of character analysis is, for me, where all the fun is.

Character analysis is a process of peeling back the character you are embodying layer by layer. The playwright gave you the words and the story. Now you begin to dig into who this person really is. This character may have been played a thousand times by the best actors in the world, but not by me. I don’t want to mimic what other actors have done. I want to understand the character myself. What does he look like? How does he walk? How does his voice sound? What is it he wants, and that is it that drives him? How does he feel about every other character in the play?

In the process of character development, I find connections of both sympathy and empathy with my character. The character is going through a divorce. Oh yeah, I sympathize with that because I’ve been through it. It’s not going to be hard for me to feel those feelings on stage. I’ve been there. I’ve never murdered another person, however, so I have no clue what that kind of remorse feels like. So, maybe I need to read different stories or confessions of actual murderers so that I can begin to empathize and cognitively identify with those feelings.

As I read through and identify with the Great Story, one of the things I’ve learned is that God uses story because we find a connection to ourselves, our lives, and our stories in the story. A couple of years ago I gave a message during the season of Lent predicated on the James Bond movie, Skyfall. I know. It was a bold choice. I wasn’t sure I would ever be asked back! The message was really about where we find ourselves in the story of Jesus’ final week on earth. I asked people to make a connection between our life and a character in the story. Am I…

the betrayer?
the denier?
the grieving mother?
the religious rule-keeper?
the crowd member shouting “Crucify him!”?
the fearful follower running for cover?
the doubter demanding evidence?

One of the most important things in reading and studying the Great Story is finding the personal connections to my story.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 66, the songwriter does something very interesting in the lyrics. At the beginning of the song he writes, “Come and see what God has done” and then references the Hebrew story of God leading them out of slavery, through the trials of the wilderness, and into the Promise Land. In the last stanza, the songwriter then says, “Come and hear what God has done for me.” He then describes God hearing his prayer and answering it, ending with words of praise. He found a connection between what God had done for him and what God had done for the Hebrews in the exodus.

Been there. Done that. That story is my story.

In the quiet this morning, this song of thanksgiving for answered prayer, guidance, and provision is connecting with me as my heart and mind prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday coming up. In a year filled with so many trials, I have so much with which I can be thankful; there’s so much, in faith, I have to look forward to.

That’s a good thought for a Monday morning heading into the workweek. I find myself mindful of God’s goodness to me on the road I’ve traveled, thankful for where God has me on this day, and hopeful of where God is leading me in the journey ahead.

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

Muted By 2020

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You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
Psalm 65:11 (NIV)

I sincerely wonder if there’s an individual in America who isn’t ready to put 2020 behind us. It continues to be the strangest, most turbulent year the world has experienced during the stretch of my life journey. And, it’s not over, as we all know well. Which made this morning’s chapter, Psalm 65, feel almost incongruent.

The editors of the compilation of Hebrew song lyrics we call the book of Psalms put psalms 65-68 together. They are all psalms of “thanksgiving” and how ironic that this chapter-a-day journey has me wandering my way through them in the weeks leading up to our Thanksgiving holiday in America this year.

I have a confession to make this morning. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 65, I found that my weariness of current events make my heart cynical. My spirit is grumbling.

I read:

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders.”

My heart cried, “yeah, like the production of viruses.”

I read:

You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.

My heart cried, “just not on the ledger sheet of my business this year.”

I read:

“The hills are clothed with gladness.”

My heart cried, “While I’m clothed with a mask.”

Along this life journey, I’ve learned that it’s critical for me to be conscious of the silent conversation my heart, soul, and mind are having with Life. That private inner dialogue is a leading indicator of the state of my spirit.

It isn’t doing so well this morning, and perhaps I needed Psalm 65 to both reveal my need, and provide me with the antidote.

One of the things I’ve done a little reading up on in the last year or so is that of resonance and frequency. I’ve learned that all matter constantly vibrates and emits sound waves at different frequencies. When two objects have a matching frequency they resonate.

I am hearing impaired because certain parts of my auditory system have died. When sound waves vibrating at particular frequencies reach my ears, they no longer resonate with me. I can’t hear those sound waves. Because the consonants in human speech (the hard sounds like a “t”, “g”, “b”, “s”) often vibrate at the frequencies my ears can’t hear, my brain scrambles to try and connect the combination of vowel sounds it heard (the “a”, “e”, “i”, “o,” and “u” which are frequencies my ears can hear) and figure out all the possibilities of the words you might have just said to me.

Welcome to Wendy’s world. By the way, if you’re wearing a mask it’s very likely I won’t understand 90-95% of your words. But, I will smile and nod and pretend I totally got it. I’m a trained actor.

My point is this. When David writes that the fields, the hills, and the valleys of creation shout and sing for joy, and when Jesus told his critics that the rocks would cry out and sing praise, they were correct. Creation is constantly vibrating, shouting out their frequencies in songs we simply don’t hear with our human ears. All of God’s creation continually sings its praise. And here’s the thing…

The coronavirus doesn’t stop the song.
Masks don’t stop the song.
Political rhetoric won’t stop the song.
Social media can’t stop the song.
My personal circumstances have no effect on the song.

Creation has no choice but to sing the creators praise. Only I have that freedom of will.

In a few weeks, Vander Well manor will welcome family for Thanksgiving dinner. The majority of family members present have already survived their bouts with COVID. We will feast, we will love, and we will give thanks. A few weeks later, I will hug my grandson for the first time in a year. God willing, our daughters and sons will be home together from the distant locations they call home. It will be the first time everyone will have been in our home together since Garrett joined our family and became our son. My heart will vibrate with joy. My mouth will offer praise and thanks.

I have written before about the Chain Reaction of Praise. In the quiet this morning I realized something important. I, as a follower of Jesus, am told to “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think I’ve allowed 2020 to mute my thanks and muffle my praise like one big, thick spiritual surgical mask.

I hear you fields. I’m listening rocks. You don’t have a choice.

I do.

Hey God? Praise you. I’m so thankful you can hear me through my mask.

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

Unraveling

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Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
    protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Psalm 64:1 (NIV)

Stepping up and into the spotlight of leadership always makes one an easy target. In virtually every position of leadership I’ve ever held, I’ve heard the sharp words of detractors. Typically, they come in the form of second-hand whispers or passive-aggressive remarks. The higher the position of leadership, the worse it gets. The positions of leadership I’ve held along my life journey are incredibly minor in the grand scheme of things. I may have faced challenges leading a small-town Iowa community theatre and a rural gathering of Jesus followers, but I can’t imagine how bad it gets leading a nation.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 64, is a lament of King David as he feels the sharp threats of conspiracy and the plots of his political enemies. One lesson every good leader knows is that you can’t control the thoughts, words, or actions of others. Trying to chase down and confront every critic or perceived antagonist is a recipe for disaster on several levels. David appears to have understood this well. The lyrics of this song stand as a testament to the fact that when it came to the twisted plots and the conspiratorial attacks of his enemies, David went to God.

Knowing that he had no control over his critics or their schemes, David gave them over to the only one he could count on in the situation.

Lying beneath the surface of the lyrics, David hid a creative, poetic image. Most of it survives the translation into English, but it’s seen with clarity in Hebrew, David’s native language. David uses specific words to metaphorically describe those twisted plots of his enemy:

evildoers (vs. 2)
tongues (vs. 3)
shoot (vs. 4)
suddenly (vs. 4)

In the second half of the song, as his lyrics describe God defending him and unraveling those twisted plots, he uses the same words in reverse order:

suddenly (vs. 7)
shoot (vs. 7)
tongues (vs. 8)
works of God (vs. 9)

The same words used in reverse order are a hidden metaphor. David is entrusting God to unravel the conspiracy, untwist the plots, and protect David from those enemies he can’t control.

In the quiet this morning I find myself, in a small way, identifying with David’s plight. I’ve learned in this life journey that all I can do is to keep pressing on, asking for God’s guidance, seeking God’s purposes for me, and knocking on the door of every opportunity I have to grow in love, grace, and mercy. There will be obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks. Those are all part of the journey. I will never be able to completely avoid, nor control them.

So every time those obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks have my heart and mind twisted up in anxious knots, I have Psalm 64 to remind me what David did. He gave them over to God like Wendy handing me a necklace that’s hopelessly knotted up.

“Here, unravel this.”

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

The Nightwatch

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On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.

Psalm 63:6 (NIV)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve always been a morning person. I also struggle with bouts of insomnia. For me, insomnia is waking up sometime after 1:00 a.m., usually around 3:00 a.m. My mind, even in the twilight between sleep and consciousness, starts to spin and ruminate on tasks that need to be accomplished and items that weigh heavy on my soul. Some mornings I gut it out and lay there quiet until I fall back asleep. Some mornings I get up and move to the couch downstairs where I put a movie or documentary on the television that I know so well I don’t need to pay attention, and I can sometimes get back to sleep. Yet other mornings, I go to my office to start my time of quiet with God early.

Those mornings that I opt to meet with God early, I tend to start by “praying the hours.” It’s an ancient tradition of praying prescribed prayers at various times of the day and night, knowing that you are joining with thousands, even millions, of other followers of Jesus in praying at the same time. I have a set of these “Hours” or “Offices” called The Night Offices by Phyllis Tickle. They are prayers specifically prescribed for the hours between 10:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m:

The Office of Midnight (prayed between 10:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.)
The Office of the Night Watch (prayed between (1:30-4:30 a.m.)
The Office of the Dawn (prayed between (4:30-7:30 a.m.)

It’s usually during the Office of the Night Watch that I find myself, like David, thinking of God “in the watches of the night.”

I’ve always loved that metaphor. It comes from ancient times when walled cities were susceptible to surprise attacks from enemies in the dark of the night. “Watchmen” would be posted on the walls through the night to keep on the lookout for enemies approaching, or any other threat seeking to breach the wall or gates when they were least protected in and hidden in the dark of the night.

The final prayer of the Office of the Night Watch goes like this:

Now guide me waking, O Lord, and guard me sleeping; that awake I may watch with Christ, and asleep, I may rest in peace. Amen.

The word picture is a reminder to me that, spiritually speaking, Jesus always pulls the Nightwatch. I have this mental vision of Jesus standing on the walls in the dark. The Nightwatch is a lonely duty. In ancient times, there were often two assigned to keep each other awake as added protection. Two, alone together on the walls in the stillness of the night. All is quiet. The world is asleep. Nothing to do for hours but watch, and talk, as we wait for the dawn.

I pray the hours. I join Jesus on His Nightwatch. I keep Him company. We talk. He asks how things are going. The Nightwatch is always somehow like a confessional. Somehow, in the darkness and quiet the things that lie heavy on my heart gain clarity and rise to the surface of my consciousness more easily. There are no interruptions in the Nightwatch. Our conversation can be focused on those troubling thoughts, and then the conversation can wander into dreams and desires and hopeful visions.

Some mornings, Jesus sends me back to join Wendy in bed, assuring me He’s got the Watch and telling me to get a few more winks. Other mornings, we greet the new day together with The Office of the Dawn which always quotes from the lyrics of Psalm 130:

My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

The lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 63, begin with the proclamation that David is always seeking earnestly for God. It’s a longing of soul. It’s a longing and a thirsting to feel God’s presence, to experience God’s peace and power. In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded of the spiritual simplicity of Jesus’ teaching: Seek and you’ll find.

Of course, that means I have the will and option to seek and to find whatever I desire. Jesus once spoke to the religious people in His audience asking,

“When you went out to hear John the Baptist, what were you seeking? John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

In the quiet this morning I stand with Jesus on the ramparts of my life. We sip coffee together as we look out on the horizon at a pink Iowa sky illuminating the patchwork of harvested fields at sunrise. We’re quiet, thinking about the day ahead.

“Tom?” Jesus asks, his gaze still fixed on the horizon.

I glance his way as he lifts the cup of coffee to His mouth. He drinks slowly. A smile comes to his lips.

“When you came up to join me this morning. What were you seeking?”

Some days He asks me a question, and I know He’s not expecting a quick answer. This is one He means for me to ponder.

If I don’t like what I’m finding in my life, then what is it I am seeking?

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

The Mystery of the Missing Word

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Selah
For God alone my soul waits in silence,

for my hope is in him.
Psalm 62:5 (NRSVCE)

For most of my life journey, I have spent the beginning of my day in quiet. It helps that I have been a morning person my entire life and am typically the first one awake in the house. It has allowed me to create a spiritual rhythm. Each morning it’s just me in my home office. The neighborhood is silent. The household is silent. I am silent.

You may not know it, but silence is endangered in our world. There are a niche of audio artists and recording specialists who endeavor to capture the simple, pure sounds of nature sans the noises of technology and human civilizations encroachment on it. They complain that their jobs and their passion are made increasingly difficult.

Noise is everywhere.

In my podcast series The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story I used three words to guide one’s journey through various sections and genres of ancient text that make up the compilation we call the Bible. The three words are:

Metaphor
Context
Mystery

This morning’s chapter led me into mystery. Bear with me as I lead you through it. I typically read each day’s chapter in The St. John’s Bible, the only handwritten and illuminated copy of the entire Bible produced in the last 500 years or so. I love it. It’s beautiful. It is a transcription of the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE…By the way, I explain why there are all these different versions in The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story Part 2). I will usually then switch and read the chapter a second time in the translation I’ve been most accustomed to for the last thirty years which is the New International Version (NIV). Something was missing:

Selah

In the illuminated manuscript of the St. John’s Bible the word “Selah” was written in red ink along the right margin between verses four and five. In the NIV the word was missing altogether. It was left out.

The game’s afoot, Watson!

Selah is, in and of itself, a mysterious word. The Hebrew language is thousands of years old and it was largely lost to the world for a long time. The result is that there are some Hebrew words that the most knowledgable scholars of the Hebrew language can only shrug their shoulders. The meaning is mysteriously lost to antiquity.

The editors of the NRSV translation chose to leave the mystery in the text.

The editors of the NIV chose to eliminate the word for their readers rather than try to explain it or allow me to consider it.

What a shame. Because mystery is part of the on-going journey of the Great Story, and words are literally metaphors. These squiggly lines made by pixels on my screen are just that. They are lines, symbols that my brain instantly turns into phonetic sounds which make words which are layered with meaning. And, as I continually remind myself, mystery is that which I can endlessly understand (Thank you Fr. Rohr).

It is popularly speculated that the word Selah was some kind of musical rest or pause because it always appears in the middle of musical lyrics such as the Psalms or the poetic work of the prophet Habakkuk. While this is pure speculation and educated guess, what modern wayfarers journeying through the Great Story have done is to find a layer of meaning in the letters and sounds of the word Selah.

I read:

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is in him.

But when I consider that the word Selah might very well mean to actually stop, pause, rest, wait a second, or as The Passion Translation chooses to say: “Pause in God’s Presence” then the verse takes on added meaning:

Selah (Pause in God’s Presence)
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is in him.

In a world of endangered silence, with ceaseless noise of humanity encroaching on me 24/7/365, I find this morning that I need the mystery of Selah, even if the metaphor is purely a layer of meaning I have chosen to attach to it in the endless understanding of possibility.

My spirit needs the pause.

Waiting. Silent. I hear the still, small voice of Holy Spirit.

Love. Peace. Joy. Hope.

Selah.

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

Postcard Promises

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From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;

Psalm 61:2a (NIV)

Wendy and I have been working on finishing the decor in our guest rooms. We’re agonizingly slow about it, but the process has been to allow a theme to emerge for each room over time. For the room right next to my home office the theme has been written words. As the unofficial family historian, I have a bunch of letters and ephemera that have come down to me through the years. We’ve been trying to find creative ways to use them.

There’s a postcard that I framed and hung up in the guest room. It’s dated July 23, 1954 and addressed to my Great-grandmother. It’s unsigned, but reads:

Couldn’t make it last nite. But I will see you tomorrow.
Don’t worry everything will be okay.

I have no idea who wrote the postcard. I have no idea what the circumstances were. Yet there was something in the cryptic message that resonated in my soul, along with the nostalgia of a time when you could mail a postcard in a small town in the morning and know that it would be delivered that afternoon. That was texting in 1954.

What was causing the anxiety? Why was the sender delayed? What was it in receiving this written assurance that motivated my Great-grandmother to tuck this postcard in a shoebox or a family Bible like an heirloom?

That postcard came to mind as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 61. It’s a short little ditty written when the songwriter, perhaps King David, was not in a good place. Like the postcard in our guest room, the circumstances are unknown, but the lyric starts out by establishing that the author is “at the ends of the earth” calling out to God in this musical prayer as his “heart grows faint.” In ancient mythology of the Near East, the world was understood to be flat, and at the “ends of the earth” you’d discover the threshold to the underworld, the netherworld, or what the Hebrews called Sheol. Metaphorically speaking, the songwriter feels as far away from God as humanly possible.

The song goes on to express the author’s longing which was to dwell in God’s tent taking refuge in the shadow of His wings. For the Hebrews, God’s presence was considered to be in the traveling tent temple that was constructed in the days of Moses, specifically the Ark of the Covenant, winged Cherubim adorning the box that contained the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses. In other words, this song is about feeling alone, isolated, and distant and longing to feel safe in God’s presence and protection. The song ends with the author’s hopeful vision of being back in that presence when everything would be okay.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the many moments on this life journey when my prayers have felt like a cry from the ends of the earth. It’s part of the experience. One of the great things about this chapter-a-day journey and spending my life reading and studying the Great Story is that Jesus words are forever stored on my mental and spiritual hard drive. Even when I feel a chasm between me and God, Jesus’ words remind me that it’s a mirage.

“I am with you always.”
“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.”
“The Father and I will come
to you and will make our home with you.”

No matter where this post finds you today, even at the ends of the earth, consider it a postcard.

“Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”

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

The “Bitter Defeat Blues”

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Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.

Psalm 60:11 (NIV)

Anyone who knows me and Wendy or who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that we love baseball. In particular, we’re Cubs fans, but the truth is that we really enjoy the game. In fact, when we’re at the lake during the summer I love going out on the deck, turning on the audio of the game, and then filling out my scorecard while I have a pint and a stogie. I’m such a geek.

What is ironic is that I was terrible at baseball as a kid. I was always relegated to the outfield, which we all know is purgatory in pee-wee little league, or else I was on the bench. I once considered writing a Cubs blog entitled Sliver Butt with the tag line “from benchwarmer to bleacher bum.” Another irony is that it was while I rode the bench while I played for the Pirates in Beaverdale Little League that I sat next to one of the coach’s wives who had the scorebook and she was keeping score. I was mesmerized by all the marks, symbols, and secret code she used to keep track of the game. I only got one hit that I can remember in two years of little league, but hey, I learned how to keep score!

The other major memory I have from my two-year career in Little League was the devastating loss my pee-wee team suffered. I played for the pee-wee Cardinals, which was a bad omen in and of itself, but we were terrible. There was this one game when we were playing one of the best teams and we were ahead by a ton of runs going into the final inning. I remember being so excited that we were finally going to win a game against a really good team, and then they rallied in the bottom of the final inning and beat us. I remember breaking down in tears in the backseat of our Volkswagen on the way home. I was convinced God hated me.

You’re probably wondering where on earth I’m going with this.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 60, is a song of lament that David wrote after suffering a bitter defeat. The song was intended for the entire nation to sing the blues.

If you listen to my podcast Time (Part 1) I made the case that I think the entire Great Story, the whole of human history, is like one giant, spiritual life-cycle. On this macro-spiritual level, humanity went through its own version of infancy, terrible twos, childhood, pre-adolescence, and etc. As I read David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” this morning it read a bit like a kid in pee-wees crying in the back of mom’s Volkswagen, convinced that losing was a sign that God hates me, God has abandoned me, and God is punishing me. In retrospect, I know that’s not true, but I had to work through that. I had to grow. I had to mature in my understanding.

One of the other things David’s “Bitter Defeat Blues” had me thinking about this morning is Wendy and our daughters. Being the only male in the household for many years, I have come to appreciate that there are certain sections of the Great Story that just don’t resonate with women. While most guys can easily read passages about battles, banners, and the blood of enemies and it resonates in our wild-at-heart spirits, I’ve learned that most women simply go, “ew” and then skip over to be captivated by the story of Ruth or Esther. I get it.

Nevertheless, from this waypoint on Life’s journey, I find David’s song today is less about an actual battle than it is about feelings of loss, defeat, and despair. Those can be found in infertility, the disintegration of a relationship, a divorce, the death of a loved one, being unemployed, an appliance breaking down, or the cheesecake you made for a special guest falling. Everyone has “Why me God?” moments and they come in sizes from individual travel pack small to mongo Costco-sized huge.

At the end of David’s song today, even in the midst of defeat, he is already beginning the process of moving on. He is moving past the loss. He’s already proclaiming confidence that this defeat is not the end and God will help him and nation process the pain, press on, fight another day, and put this one in the review mirror.

That’s a lesson for me crying in my pee-wee little league uniform, but it’s still a lesson for me today in my company’s logo-wear. As I journey through life the defeats grow in proportion with me. I still have to process the pain. I still have to find the faith to press on to the higher, deeper, and more mature things God is calling me to seek and to find.

“Buck up, Tommy. Mom’s got lemon cake waiting for you at home.”

Have a great weekend, my friend.

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

Surrounded and Slandered

Rather listen? Subscribe to The Wayfarer Podcast Now on Your Favorite App!

You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
    you, God, are my fortress,
    my God on whom I can rely.

Psalm 59:17 (NIV)

Today’s chapter, Psalm 59, is fascinating in that the liner notes reference something we don’t have a record of anywhere else in the Great Story. In earlier podcasts, like two days ago, when David finds himself with the opportunity to kill his antagonist and father-in-law, King Saul, in a cave, the whole story is well documented. The story referenced by David in today’s song is nowhere to be found.

According to the brief superscription, King Saul sends his goons to hang out around David’s house and keep an eye on him. I have to assume that this happened early in David’s life when Saul is growing jealous and suspicious of David’s success. Perhaps David is married to Saul’s daughter at his point so Saul uses the pretense of keeping an eye on his daughter. I can’t help but think of The Godfather. It would be like Don Corleone sending Clemenza’s men to watch Carlo and Connie’s place.

David, however, is no Carlo. He’s feeling insulted and dishonored that the King and his men are so disrespectful and treating him unfairly. What’s interesting about this song in contrast to yesterday’s imprecatory psalm calling for the gruesome death of his enemies, David is dealing with his own people, his own fellow citizens, and people whom he will rule if and when he ascends the throne. This isn’t people from another nation seeking to kill him, but people of his own nation targeting him with insults, slander, and spiteful words intended to publicly belittle him.

Does that sound familiar? And people say the Great Story isn’t relevant today.

David specifically writes in his lyrics that he doesn’t want God to kill them, but rather he asks God to make sure that their pride, their lies, and their slander will be revealed for what it is. David wants them to live, so that people will see and remember when the circumstances are reversed and David is the king and these goons no longer have any power over him.

In the quiet this morning, I am once again amazed at how the more things change the more they stay the same. The lyrics of David’s songs stand as testimony to the personal, spiritual playbook he used his entire life and career from being a young man and newlywed son-in-law within Saul’s court, like today, to when he was an old man facing a coup by his own adult son, like Psalm 55. He took his plea to God. Whenever he was powerless, he went to God. He expressed his emotions. He consciously and willfully trusted God to be his shield, his defender, his advocate, his avenger, and his judge. His lyrics are a permanent record of his faith.

Just last night as we lay in bed I expressed to Wendy that all it takes is for me to glance at any social media app right now and feel misunderstood, slandered, belittled, and dishonored. I have to believe I’m not alone in that. I found David’s song to be a timely spiritual antidote. I needed the reminder and the attitude adjustment:

But I will sing of your strength,
    in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
    my refuge in times of trouble.

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

Getting it Out

Rather listen? Subscribe to The Wayfarer Podcast Now on Your Favorite App!

Then people will say,
    “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
    surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
Psalm 58:11 (NIV)

My buddy, Spike, and I have a friendly on-going conversation about baseball. Spike is a life-long fan of the New York Yankees. He even tried to get me to be a fan in our younger years. He bought me a subscription to a Yankees fan magazine one year. While I will always appreciate and respect his passion, he failed to convert me.

In baseball fandom, the Yankees are that team that everyone loves to hate. It’s the same kind of schadenfreude that America has had for New England Patriots the last ten years. Baseball, however, is a much older sport and the animosity runs much deeper. The Yankees are a team that everyone loves to hate, and when it comes time for the postseason I believe that there are millions of baseball fans who, next to their favorite team, will cheer for “any team but the Yankees.” Spike argues that having a team that is the Darth Vader of the sport is actually good for the sport and that the Yankees serve a legitimate and healthy purpose in this. I’ll leave that argument for meaningless conversation to have over a pint at the pub.

Still, I have noticed that in the passion and emotions that sports stirs up in people, it is common to have that rival, that enemy team, about whom you feel intense negative emotion. And when you lose, again, to that hated rival you curse them and secretly hope the worst for them even though you know it’s silly and rather meaningless behavior for an adult in a world where there are legitimately other things we should really care about. Nevertheless, sometimes like screaming into a pillow, it feels good to exorcise those negative emotions. It reminds me of a friend of Wendy’s and mine who, as a mother of young children, admitted that some days she sneaks out into the garage to scream profanities that she just has to get out.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 58, is part of a genre of ancient lyrics known by scholars as “imprecatory” songs. To “imprecate” means to “call down curses on another person or persons.” It was a common practice among cultures in the Ancient Near East. For modern readers of the Great Story, imprecatory psalms can be tough to stomach. The language, anger, rage, and emotion of the lyrics are raw. In one verse of David’s lyrics, he asks God to make the wicked like a stillborn baby who never sees life.

Two things I noted as I meditated on David’s lyrical curses in the quiet this morning. First, the focus of David’s curses are wicked, rich rulers who rig the system and don’t care anything about the poor, the needy, and the socially outcast. He’s cursing the injustices of this world and those who propagate them. It’s really the same anger we’ve seen in protests and riots this year.

The second thing is that David is taking his righteous anger, rage, and emotions to God in song. He’s not taking out vengeance himself. He’s not violently taking matters into his own hand. He’s not rooting out the wicked who inspire his rant and executing them which, depending on the time this song was written, he had both the authority and ability to do. Like a young mother screaming F-bombs to her minivan in an empty garage, David is exorcising his emotions to God, who is neither shocked nor surprised by our emotions.

In that way, I think Spike has a good point that it’s good to have a bad guy on whom we exorcise those negative emotions. Along this life journey, I’ve come to acknowledge that I can’t avoid anger. Even Jesus got righteously angry, and Paul told the followers of Jesus in Ephesus not that anger is wrong or bad, but what we do with it. Psalm 58 and the imprecatory psalms were the ancient Hebrews way of getting it out. And, on this post-election morning, it’s not lost on me that there may be many people who need to exorcise some negative emotions in a healthy way.

Spike has often told me “it’s not an official World Series if the Yankees aren’t in it.”

If you’ll excuse me, I think I left something in the garage.

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