Tag Archives: Complex

Of Voices & Family

Of Voices and Family (CaD Ps 117) Wayfarer

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

Wendy and I read a fascinating interview in the last week of an expert in race and culture. In the loud cacophony of voices lecturing about race and culture with stark in-group and out-group labels and distinctions, this academic stands as a proverbial “voice in the wilderness.” He has been studying trends for 50 years and pointed out facts that no one else is talking about or acknowledging.

The number of bi-racial and bi-cultural couples getting married and having children has increased significantly in the last 50 years and continues to rise. Both Wendy’s and my family are classic examples. Between our siblings, nieces, nephews, their spouses and children, we have the following races and cultures represented in just two generations: Dutch-American, Anglo-American, African-American, Korean-American, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican.

In other words, the simple, binary labels on the census list are increasingly obsolete. For this, I am increasingly joyful.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 117, is most known for being the answer to trivial pursuit questions. As just two verses long, it is the shortest psalm and the shortest chapter in the Bible. (If anyone is starting this chapter-a-day journey with me today, you’re getting off to an easy start. Just a warning, the longest psalm is just two chapters away, so you might want to get a head-start! 🙂

In its brief content, however, this ancient Hebrew song of praise has a significant purpose in the Great Story. This short song, traditionally sung each year as part of the Hebrew Passover, calls all nations and all peoples to worship and praise. This fits in context with the calling of Abraham, father of the Hebrew people when God promises Abraham that through his descendants all nations and peoples will be blessed.

If we fast forward to the Jesus story, we find Jesus breaking down the racial and cultural walls that His tribe had erected to keep those they considered spiritual and racial riff-raff out. Jesus followers went even further to take the message of Jesus to the Greek, African, and Roman worlds and beyond. This created upheaval and conflict among Jesus followers of strictly Hebrew descent. It was Paul (who called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”) who used today’s “trivial” psalm when writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome to argue that from the very beginning the Great Story has been about all nations, all races, all cultures, and all peoples.

When John was given a glimpse of heaven’s throne room, this is what he saw and heard:

And when [the Lamb who had been slain] had taken [the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation
.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10 (NIV) emphasis added

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of texting our daughters of Suzanna’s engagement to Chino in Mexico a couple of years ago. The response to the news was, “Yay for more beautiful brown babies in the family!” (by the way, the first of those arrives this summer and we can’t wait to meet our newest nephew).

Along my life journey, I have observed that we humans like to reduce very complex questions into simple binary boxes and choices. As a follower of Jesus, I found that the journey seemingly began that way. I could choose to follow, or not (though my theologian friends will be happy to turn that into a very complex question for you). After that, things get exponentially personal and complex. Just yesterday, I gave a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and I made the same argument about the season of Lent. Religious institutions want to make things top-down prescriptive when Jesus was always about things being intimately and spiritually bottom-up personal.

I find myself this morning meditating on the contrast between the voices of culture and the experiences of family. There are such complex questions we face today of race, gender, and culture. I don’t want to diminish or dismiss them. At the same time, I find myself encouraged by a profound truth simply stated in today’s chapter.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Building People

Building People (CaD Ex 39) Wayfarer

They made the rosette of the holy diadem of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.”
Exodus 39:30 (NRSVCE)

As I’ve mentioned many times in these posts, I have been part of many different churches along my spiritual journey. I’ve been part of small rural churches, various types and sizes of denominational churches, and suburban mega-churches. It’s been fascinating to have a plethora of experiences.

I recall being part a very large church who was in building mode. There was a giant fundraising campaign, and I remember being invited to a big dinner where the plans for the building were announced. The plans were impressive to say the least. It would be the largest church in that state with state-of-the art everything inside. One might even say that it was opulent.

I remember speaking with one of the staff members and questioning the grandiosity of plans and whether it was necessary. He pointed me to these past few chapters of Exodus and the design of the Tabernacle with its gold diadem, the priestly breastplate of precious gems, the tent made of expensively dyed cloth, and the ark made of wood overlaid with gold leaf. His point was that God appreciates and desires his temple be richly fashioned.

But, Jesus both lived and taught a very different way:

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Luke 9:58 (NIV)

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, â€śDestroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John 2:18-20 (NIV)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I believe that having a building to meet in is a good thing. I also believe that people across history have created beautiful works of architecture and artistry in a sincere attempt to honor and glorify God. At the same time, I can’t escape the fact that Jesus never once told His followers to build a building, temple, chapel, sanctuary, cathedral, or basilica. The only time Jesus mentioned building a church He was speaking metaphorically about Peter’s faith being the rock that would be the church’s foundation; Not bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood.

In retrospect, I learned a huge lesson as I observed a pastor and staff driven by an edifice complex that they desperately tried to justify, an edifice they desperately made happen, and a church that eventually imploded from within. Last I knew, the edifice has sat empty and in disrepair for many years.

I keep coming back to the understanding of context as I near the end of this journey through Exodus. I’ve found a lot of spiritual lessons in the 39 chapters of Exodus, but much of the lessons come from understanding what God was doing with Moses and Hebrews in the context of their time and place in history. Like the good religious Hebrew, Paul, the best lessons are in how humanity has grown and matured; How God has matured the relationship and led to a much deeper understanding of the mystery. Exodus has reminded me just how dramatically Jesus changed things and how humanity, myself included, keeps getting stuck and falling back into our ancient patterns of religious thought. Just like that pastor justifying a building that no one needed.

I believe that this spiritual journey has a destination, and as I make progress on Life’s road I’m also supposed to also be progressing in my spiritual maturity and my relationship with God. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Colossae: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” … the Son of Man with no place to lay His head. Jesus, who taught His followers to build people instead of buildings.

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

Plans and Purposes

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:3 (NIV)

I just finished up an “over the coffee” conversation with Wendy this morning. We talked about race and culture. One of the observations we mulled over was that it’s very easy for things to be perceived as simple, binary, either-or issues when it’s just not. There are so many layers.

I find that the same can be true when reading through Proverbs. It’s really been hitting me as I journey through them this time around. The attraction of ancient sage wisdom is that they are simple. They are binary couplets. It’s wisdom or foolishness, hard work or sloth, honesty or lies, pride or humility. They are easily absorbed and understood. It’s easy to take them at face value and that typically works.

Sometimes, however, it’s not that simple. There are more layers. Context is needed. Take the verse from today’s chapter. At face value, it’s an easy concept. Commit your plans to God and He will establish them. Done. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Rub the lamp and the Genie will appear. This is the kind of verse that can easily get misunderstood:

“I prayed and committed my plans for going to Harvard to the Lord, and I got a rejection letter. God didn’t establish my plans. I guess the whole thing is a lie.”

It’s a bit of synchronicity that this came up in the chapter today because I talked a lot about this in my podcast that was published yesterday. The mysterious, divine dance between my plans and God’s purposes is complex choreography that I never perfect. Just when I think I’ve got it down the steps, Holy Spirit (who is leading the dance) suddenly goes where I didn’t expect or the music changes.

I bring my plans to the dance, but Jesus also talked about asking, seeking, and knocking. My “plans” could be coming from a place of pride, or selfishness, or vain ambition, and what God is ultimately trying to establish for me and where God is leading me is something I can’t see from my current waypoint on Life’s road. In my podcast, I shared the story of my “plans” to have a career in pastoral ministry. Actually, before that, I planned to be an astronaut, a naval aviator, a lawyer, POTUS, a private detective, a professional actor, and one day while drawing on the back of my mom’s old recipe cards, I remember planning to be a cartoonist. What was eventually established was that I would spend my career in the one place I never planned to be: the corporate world. Even though I had been given a foreshadowing of this, I couldn’t see it. I refused to see it.

So, does the fact that my “plans” didn’t come to fruition mean that today’s proverb is a lie?

Not from my perspective. It’s not that simple.

When I chose to become a follower of Christ it was the first step in a never-ending process of surrender. The “plan” that I committed to at that moment was to follow where God led, do what God called me to do, and strive to become more like Jesus each step of the way. The becoming like Jesus part starts with not living for myself, but to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as I love myself. If I do that, it changes my plans, which ultimately results in this journey being all about the things that God is establishing as He leads me. God’s purposes will always take precedent over my plans. When you follow Jesus, it’s part of the gig.

I look back now and am overjoyed that my career did not end up in pastoral ministry (sorry, mom), or in law, or in politics, or in space. What God established out my plans to follow where I was led turned into a job that I love and a job that has blessed me in so many amazing ways.

[The cartoonist thing might have been pretty cool, though. I’m just sayin’.]

In the quiet this morning I am thankful for being led down this path on my journey, despite the struggles, heartache, confusion, anxieties, stress, and pains I’ve encountered along the way. The reality is that those are all part of the journey no matter where we’re led or choose to go. And, who knows but that God might lead me into a completely different career at some point. After all, I’m letting Him lead the dance.

Lady Sophia

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
    she raises her voice in the public square…

Proverbs 1:20 (NIV)

The further I get in my journey the more I both appreciate wisdom and realize how little I have understood wisdom through the years. In my youth, I thought of wisdom as simply making good choices. I have come to realize and appreciate that that wisdom is deeper and more mysterious than I ever knew.

Today begins our chapter-a-day journey through the ancient book of Proverbs. It is a collection of thoughts and short sayings about wisdom. Even in today’s introductory chapter, I find the wisdom is presented in multi-faceted fashion:

  • It comes from instruction. (vs. 3)
  • No matter how much you have, there’s more. (vs. 5)
  • There is a spiritual component at its root. (vs. 7)
  • There is a generational component, as those who are further in their life journeys have wisdom to offer me of which I am ignorant at my current stage of life. (vs. 8)
  • There is a communal component to wisdom that finds its source in the people with whom I surround myself and the influence I allow them to have on my thoughts and behavior. (vs. 10-19)

The most fascinating thing I find about wisdom comes from the second half of the chapter. Wisdom is personified and embodied. Wisdom begins to speak. Wisdom is a woman.

In ancient literature and mythology, the personified Wisdom is often named “Sophia,” from the Greek word defined as “wisdom.” That Wisdom should be personified as female makes complete sense to me. I have written on multiple occasions regarding the lessons I’ve learned from being surrounded by women most of my life. As with wisdom, women are multi-faceted. They can at once be simple and complex, strong and gentle, resilient and fragile. Just when I think I have a handle on understanding them, I am reminded that there is a mystery to be endlessly understood.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating Sophia. It’s been a while since the last journey through Proverbs (April/May of 2013), and so much has changed for me in those seven years. I’m at a completely different waypoint on life’s journey. I’m looking forward to what God has to teach me through Sophia and the book of Proverbs in the next few weeks. When I was a young man I considered myself wise, but from where I currently stand on Life’s road I’ve come to realize that there is always more wisdom a little further up and further in.

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.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Hamilton, History, and Me

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.
2 Chronicles 14:2 (NIV)

Yesterday Wendy and I  joined our friends in jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon. A regional touring production of the popular Broadway show about one of America’s founding fathers opened in Des Moines yesterday. The bottom line: Yes, it’s as good and amazing as everyone says it is.

Last night in bed Wendy was reading through different blog posts and articles about the places the hip-hop operetta strays from the facts of history. To be honest, I considered most of them to be nothing more than the typical ways writers are required to take license with history in order to tell one man’s life story in less than three hours on stage and to entertain the audience at the same time. I guarantee you that Hamilton has done more to motivate a generation of young people to dig into America’s history than any high school history teacher could do.

This morning as I read today’s chapter, the first of three chapters on the life of Judah’s King Asa, I thought about chroniclers of history whether they be relating stories via papyrus scroll, published novel, text book, research paper, or Broadway musical. The motivations and mediums may differ, but at a basic level the writers are all taking a lifetime of facts and reducing them into their own retelling.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles were written at a time when Hebrew exiles had left the land of their captors in Babylon and returned to their homeland to rebuild and restore their country. The people, who’d been living in Babylon for a generation, are now staring at the rubble of Jerusalem and the rubble of Solomon’s Temple and they’re asking themselves all sorts of questions. Are we still connected to our history? Are we still connected to the God of our ancestors? Do we cling to the stories and faith of our ancestors, or do we ignore them and start over?

As I read through the accounts of the Kings of Judah written by the Chronicler I begin to see patterns. As noted in the past couple of weeks, the Chronicler is putting a positive perspective on the historical record. I can almost feel him encouraging his contemporary readers to dig-in, reconnect with their history, and celebrate their heritage just as Hamilton has done for our generation of Americans. He is also presenting a very simple, cause-and-effect story line. The kings who served God succeeded. The kings who abandoned God, worshipped idols, or were otherwise unfaithful experienced disaster and failure.

As I pondered this simple, cause-and-effect pattern I couldn’t help but think of Parson Weems who gave Americans the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. The story was less about historical fact and more about teaching a moral lesson. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. The Chronicles are historical retelling (not fables as is Pastor Weems stories), but I can feel in the pattern of the Chronicler’s retelling that there is a moral lesson he wants his readers to catch: Follow God and be blessed. Abandon God and be cursed. It’s a good moral lesson. However, in the quiet this morning I’m looking back and finding that along my Life journey I’ve observed that Life does not always break down into  simplistic, dualistic terms.

This morning I’m thinking about all the lessons that history has to teach us. After the show last night Wendy and I joined our friends for a spirited conversation over dinner about history, stories, and the wide-range of areas into which Hamilton poked and prodded our thoughts. The Chronicles, similarly, provide historical stories and lessons for us to take an apply to our daily journey some 2500 years later; Lessons that, like life itself, can at once be both remarkably simple and amazingly complex.

Me, Wendy and our friends Kev & Beck at the June 28 performance of “Hamilton”

Chapter-a-Day Acts 14

from typicalmacuser via flickr

Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NLT)

I was sitting with my friend the other afternoon talking about leadership. He made the comment that good leaders have a way of simplifying things for those they lead. A good leader can take a complex issue or circumstance and provide a very simple and clear explanation along with marching orders for his/her team.

That conversation came to mind this morning as I thought about Paul dealing with all sorts of complex social, cultural, political and spiritual situations. I’m intrigued by this verse about being Paul being stoned and thought dead, but then getting up and moving on with his mission. I often think that complex spiritual circumstances revolve around a deceptively simple principle of life, death, and resurrection. Paul was thought dead, but there was still life in him.

Along the journey there have been many death-like periods of time in which everything feels void of life and I seem surrounded by grief, sorrow, and emptiness. But, these times have always given way to new seasons of life, hope, and joy. Today I am thankful that death-like stretches of the journey are like Paul’s stoning – they are death-like, but they are not death itself. Death-like seasons of life give way to life-giving seasons of fresh beginnings, fullness of life and renewal.

Press on.