Tag Archives: Confidence

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 “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

Prayer of Desperation

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Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Psalm 54:4 (NIV)

It could be argued that in King David’s young adult years he was a loose archetype of the legendary character we know as Robin Hood. He is living in the wilderness with a rag-tag band of some 600 vagabonds, mercenaries, and outcasts. David’s got a price on his head and mad-king Saul is hell-bent on killing his young rival whom he knows is God’s anointed replacement to his throne.

The thing about having a big price on your head is that you never know who you can trust. David and his merry band of exiles have been on the move, trying to stay one step ahead of Saul and his army. While hiding in a region known as the Desert of Ziph, the people of that area see a prime opportunity to cash-in on the sizable bounty Saul has laid out for David’s capture and strengthen their diplomatic ties with the current ruler.

In short order, David and his men find themselves on the run. Saul and his army are closing in. It’s a dire situation and things look hopeless. In the midst of his desperation, David writes a song. It’s the song we know as Psalm 54.

I love about Psalm 54 is short, sweet, and to the point. It’s like a guttural prayer that surfaces in the heat of the moment. It’s just seven short verses that begin with a plea for God’s vindication and end with David’s proclamation of faith that God will rescue David from his tight spot. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Hebrew songs like this were structured to be symmetrical with the center verse being the key to the entire thing. The center verse is the heart of what the songwriter is trying to express:

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Along this life journey, I also encounter moments when I feel pinned down by circumstances stacked against me. There are times when I feel like I’m stumbling around with the darkness closing in. I have flashes when my prayer feels like Princess Leia’s hologram.

In the quiet this morning I found myself ear-marking Psalm 54 for those times when I, like David, have the enemy bearing down on me and there are others who seem to be against me. David’s song makes a great prayer of faith and assurance in the midst of desperation.

Psalm 54 is also a reminder that God does answer prayer. Just as Saul and his army were about to capture David and his men, a messenger arrives to tell Saul that a foreign army was raiding the land. Saul and his army had to stop their pursuit. David and his men escaped to a hideout in another area. It turns out that David’s musical prayer was prophetic:

You have delivered me from all my troubles,
    and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

May you be blessed to find yourself delivered from your troubles today, 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

The Aftermath of Life’s Unexpected Transitions

Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:2 (NIV)

A year or two ago our daughter shared with us the news that the company she works for had been sold. The news caught Madison and her fellow employees by surprise. In her initial shock, she naturally wondered what this would mean for her, her employment, and ultimately her career.

In my own career I’ve had the experience of working with multiple companies who have been acquired. So, I talked Madison through what she would likely experience. “Nothing is going to change” is usually the initial mantra, followed by transitional leadership in the executive and upper management ranks. I’ve also noticed that the first year after an acquisition there is usually a natural exodus of employees looking for, and finding, other employment before they can be laid off or experience the changes they fear are coming. Cultural changes are often the first things to be noticed on the front-lines. Significant changes in structure and operations often start, if they start, about 12-18 months after the sale.

I talked through my observations with Madison and discussed her options. It was another one of those forks in life’s road that I wrote about on Friday, when one asks “Should I stay or should I go?”

In today’s chapter of Jeremiah, we read about a very different kind of transition. The chapter continues to tell of the aftermath of Babylon’s hostile takeover of the nation of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Just as there is a pattern I’ve observed in what happens after a business acquisition, there was also a similar pattern to how ancient empires handled the aftermath of their successful siege victories. The King of Babylon and his army take the best and brightest captive back to Babylon to celebrate victory He leaves behind a governor and small military contingent to manage the mostly old, poor, and destitute citizens who are left in the area.

In all of the destruction, chaos, and transition there remains among those Judean citizens left a heady mixture of fear, anxiety, rage, and opportunism. A distant member of the royal line of Judah takes out a vendetta against the new governor appointed by the Babylonians. He arranges dinner with the new Governor, and then assassinates the Governor and his guard, taking the rest of the household captive.

An army officer and his men form a posse and chase after the assassin and his men. They rescue the captives, but the assassin and most of his crew escape. Realizing that they could easily be held accountable by the King of Babylon for allowing the governor’s assassination, the army officer and his men make plans to flee to Egypt. Talk about a whole lot of chaos.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions that I’ve experienced along my life journey that were out of my control. Transitions in family circumstances, unexpected tragedies and death, transitions in church leadership, transitions of companies for whom I worked, and transitions in organizations with whom I was involved. Transitions are a natural part of life. When they come suddenly and unexpectedly they create a certain disorientation among those effected. With the disorientation there can be all sorts of chaos and crazy-making. It’s that disorientation and subsequent chaos Jeremiah chronicles in today’s chapter.

Personally, I’ve learned that managing these times of unexpected transition requires drawing on faith and spiritual resources I’ve built up along my journey. First, I draw upon my faith that I can trust God amidst my present circumstances. God has led me thus far, and there’s no reason to stop trusting that God will continue to lead me because of an unexpected curve in the road. Second, I have confidence in what I’ve been promised. God is not going to leave me or forsake me. I can cast all my anxieties and fears on God and trust God’s plan for my life journey. Third, I have good companions who will walk with me, listen to me, encourage me, and remind me of what I know to be true even when I’m tempted to forget.

I can’t always control life’s transitions, but I can develop the spiritual and relational reserves necessary to handle the transitions when they come.

Walking Backwards Into the Future

Remember those earlier days…
…So do not throw away your confidence.
Hebrews 10:32,35a (NIV)

Just yesterday, in a Facebook post, I was reminded of my college days and my dear group of friends from Judson Theatre. It’s funny how one thought leads to another. I went to bed thinking about my friends and my college days. Perhaps that’s why this morning I was reminded in my  quiet time of a word picture one of my profs shared in a chapel service. It’s a word picture I’ve never truly forgotten, though I have to dust it off once in a while on a day like today.

Picture a person walking across the platform facing backward, but with his/her hand stretched out behind their back as if being led. This, my prof argued, was what God continually asks us to do. Hold out our hand to be led by Him, but perpetually face backward. Look back across the journey and remember all of the ways God proved faithful: providing needs, guiding, leading, fulfilling promises, healing, restoring, and filling.

This is what the Hebrews did. This is why their exodus from slavery in Egypt is referenced time and time again. It’s referenced by the prophets Haggai, Micah, Amos, Hosea, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. It’s referenced again and again throughout the Psalms. As they progressed on their journey through history they have continually looked backwards and remembered all that God has done to faithfully guide, lead, and preserve.

Why? Because remembering all that God has done before reminds me that I can have faith and be confident that God will see me through whatever I might be going through today.

This all came to mind while reading today’s chapter. The author of Hebrews perpetuates the walking backwards word picture by urging his/her readers “Remember those earlier days…” and references a particular period in which the early Christians were persecuted severely. God had brought them faithfully through the persecution. The author then ends the paragraph with “So do not throw away your confidence.” There it is. Turn backwards. Remember. Then have faith. Press on confidently with your hand outstretched to be led.

This morning I’m thinking about the road lying before me on this life journey. I have many questions about where the path is leading. I also confess to more than occasional bouts with fear, doubt and anxiety.  I’ve been reminded this morning by a memory and a word picture from college. I’m taking a little time in the quiet to glance backward instead of ahead. I’ve been following Jesus on this life journey for over 36 years. I’ve experienced many things from God’s miraculous power to God’s presence and peace amidst tough times to God’s quiet faithfulness in the everyday mundane. In the remembering I’m reminded that I can trust God’s power, presence, peace and faithfulness for the road ahead, as well.

Hand outstretched, I’m going to keep walking backwards…confidently.

Featured photo courtesy of Mandee Johnson via Flickr

Content with What I Cannot Fathom

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
          declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

When I was a young man I may not have thought I knew it all, but I was pretty certain I had a firm grasp on most of it. The further I get in my journey the more I am convinced that what I know, indeed what we know as human beings, is the visible and temporal tip of an eternal iceberg. I am increasingly captivated by the mystery of what I do not know, and what I can not fathom.

Embracing of mystery, or perhaps better said letting mystery embrace me, is not something I could really do when I was younger. I needed to feel the self assurance of having it all figured out, neatly ordered in my own intellectual box, and tied up with the ribbon of my institutional doctrines. And yet, if I am going to faithfully believe what God has said through His Message, then I must embrace the truth of Isaiah’s poetic verse in today’s chapter. God uses the inverse of my iceberg metaphor. God’s thoughts and God’s ways are light years above what I can see or seem. So, why would I want to even pretend otherwise?

I know what God has expressed through what has been made, which itself confounds the greatest of human minds in the ways with which it functions. I know what God has expressed through Jesus, which is rich in diverse metaphors and spiritual paradoxes that have kept better minds than mine debating since they were spoken. I know the Great Story as it has been told and handed down through the millennia. Chapter-by-chapter I continue my journey through it and find myself ever captivated by the depths of it that I continue to unearth. I have accepted that I will never stop finding new discoveries within it, and asking questions for which I do not know the answers. Still, it will speak to me anew each time I delve into it.

I remember hearing a respected teacher, Gordon McDonald, speak at a conference many years ago. He said he had something he wanted to share with us and then added [I paraphrase], “You may disagree with me. That’s okay. I’m too old to care whether everyone agrees with me or not.” As a young man who cared a great deal that everyone agree with my neatly packaged and wrapped box of knowledge, I was blown away by this statement. Today, I get where Gordon was coming from.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
          declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

More than ever, I’m good with that.

Overwhelmed, and Short on Confidence

[Gideon] responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Judges 6:15 (NRSV)

History is, by and large, filled with stories of privileged people. Kings, rulers, nobles, and generals were typically people born into the right families. They had the means to the best educations, were connected to the right people, and leveraged the opportunities at their disposal to become “great.”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to appreciate one of the meta-themes of God’s Message which is summarized in His words to the prophet Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Throughout the Great Story, God time and time again goes to the youngest, the least, and the weakest to use for His purposes. Today’s story of the calling of Gideon is a great example. You can feel the shame that exists at the core of Gideon’s soul. He is a nothing, a nobody, a person with no privilege, no means, and no connections. That is, until he received a visit from a very peculiar guest.

On this Monday morning, with a pile on my desk and a task list long enough to rival a child’s wish list to St. Nick, I can identify with Gideon’s attitude of being largely overwhelmed and a little short on confidence. Yet today’s chapter reminds me, once again, that God delights in calling unlikely individuals to particular tasks, and then graciously providing what is needed for the task to which one is called.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 4

[Moses] said, "Oh, Master, please! Send somebody else!" Exodus 4:13 (MSG)

The most crucial tasks in life are rarely easy, and seldom do I feel confident and up to the challenge. The most crucial tasks come down to the realization that no one else is going to do it, and if it's going to be done, it's up to me to do what needs to be done.

I read through the chapters that tell the story of God calling Moses, and I'm struck by how honestly the story is told. Moses was no superhero and he certainly didn't believe in himself. In fact, Moses was reluctant to follow God, nor did he have a willing spirit.

Following God is not always an easy path. Even Jesus said the path to life is narrow, and the gate is small. Sometimes, it comes down to swallowing fear and taking that first step.