Tag Archives: Contemplation

Refuge Within

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God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 46:1 (NRSVCE)

It seems strange in today’s world, but when I was a kid we walked to school and we would walk home. There were safety patrol members standing at the busy corners to make sure kids didn’t walk across the street when the sign said “don’t walk.” It was a sea of childhood humanity flooding out of the school and making a daily pilgrimage home.

Once you were off school grounds, of course, there was no adult supervision. It’s amazing how quickly we learned that there was safety in numbers, and since I had older siblings I had the advantage of knowing a bunch of kids older than me. I could tag along and feel the relative safety of being with a “big kid.”

The real goal, however, was home. There was a certain sense of safety once I got to my own block. That was my territory. I was known there. I experienced real safety, however, once I was inside my house. Any fear of bullies or anxiety of potential trouble melted away. I was safe at home.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 46, is a song that celebrated refuge. For the ancient Hebrews, home base was the walled city of Jerusalem. The temple was there on Mount Zion. For the Hebrews, God was there in His temple. Their warrior-king was there in his palace. Troubles may rage, but they celebrated the safety they felt being safely in the place God resided. For those who remember growing up singing the great hymns, today’s psalm was the inspiration for Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

As I have written about on numerous occasions, Jesus changed the entire spiritual landscape. He made it clear that God’s “temple” was not a bricks-and-mortar edifice. When I open my heart and life and invite Jesus in, God’s Spirit indwells me. The temple is me.

How radically that changes the metaphor of refuge. Refuge is no longer without. Refuge is within. Writing to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi, Paul explained that God’s peace, which is beyond human comprehension, guards my heart and guards my mind. Though troubles may surround me on all sides, I may find a peace within sourced not in me, but the Spirit in me.

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking comfort in that.

Very early in the Jesus Movement, believers began a ritual of “passing the Peace.” They would say to one another “the peace of Christ be with you.” It was a tangible way of reminding one another of this spiritual intangible of God’s refuge within.

In this world, we have lots of troubles. Jesus told us to expect it, and not to worry about it because He overcame the world. The beginning of another work week. Here we go.

The peace of Christ be with you, 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

Love Song

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The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
in many-colored robes she is led to the king;
    behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.

Psalm 45:14 (NRSVCE)

How on earth could you put together an anthology of the lyrics of 150 songs and not have at least one love song in it?

Today’s chapter, Psalm 45, is the lone love song in the book of Psalms. It was penned for the wedding celebration between the King and the princess of another nation who was being married as part of a political alliance between the two countries. The thought was that one king wouldn’t attack another king if that king was a son-in-law. It also meant that you had a family member who had eyes and ears on what was going on within a rival’s palace. This was a common diplomatic practice throughout history even into the last century. If you look at a chart of European royal families it looks like a spider’s web with all the crossing and intersecting lines. Even Queen Elizabeth married her own cousin.

The song is written from the perspective of the bride looking at her groom and singing of how handsome, strong, and powerful he is. The song’s climax is the bride and her virgin bridesmaids walking into the king’s palace and the very next verse is a promise to bear the king many sons (which was a sign of strength and succession), and also a little racy because it alludes to what’s going to happen once she enters the king’s chambers.

The chapter is also interesting from how it was used in history. After the Hebrews returned from exile in Babylon, psalm 45 was considered a messianic psalm pointing to the messiah who would come and ascend the throne of David. That is interesting because marriage was used by Jesus repeatedly as a metaphor when discussing His second coming and the climactic apocalyptic event known as “the Day of the Lord.” The metaphor is that Jesus will come back like a bridegroom to be united with all believers, collectively and metaphorically referenced as the bride.

In my podcast series The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (I know, I know. I have two episodes left, and I will get a Wayfarer Weekend podcast done this weekend I promise!), I mention that God’s language is metaphor precisely because it can be layered with meaning. When I was a young man attending a fundamentalist Bible college I told to interpret passages like today’s psalm only in terms of its spiritual, prophetic meaning. I mean, we wouldn’t want young people in hormonal overdrive thinking about what’s going on in the king’s bed chamber.

Along my journey, I came to realize that this is not a case of “either or” but “both and.” Yes, there is messianic metaphorical imagery in the song, but that’s not why it was written. It was written as a love song to celebrate a beautiful princess entering the palace and the bed chamber of the king. Man, woman, wedding, love, expression of love, life, pro-creation. That’s beautiful. That’s holy.

[cue: Barry White]

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 “What Have I done to Deserve This?” Blues

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All this has come upon us,
    yet we have not forgotten you,
    or been false to your covenant.

Psalm 44:17 (NRSVCE)

One of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever seen in a film is that of Antonio Salieri in the movie Amadeus played masterfully by F. Murray Abraham. We are introduced to Salieri at the beginning of the film as he resides in an insane asylum. He narrates the film as he tells his story to a priest. Salieri was an accomplished composer who was a devout believer and lived his life with the notion that there was a certain reciprocal arrangement between him and God: If he lived a good, devout life and sought to write music that glorified God then God would make him the greatest, most successful composer in the world.

At first, things were going along according to the plan. Then Amadeus showed up on the scene. Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart was a young, wild, profane man who gave himself over to every human appetite. And, he was an amazingly gifted composer. Soon, the depraved young brat Mozart was getting all of the commissions Salieri wanted, he was writing music so pure and inspired that it left Salieri made with envy. God appeared to have been granted Mozart the answers to all of Salieri’s prayers. Salieri felt cheated and he allowed his jealousy, rage, and resentment to drive his soul to madness.

I thought of Salieri as I meditated on today’s chapter, Psalm 44. This psalm is different. It’s a lament like other psalms, but rather than expressing the heart of an individual, Psalm 44 is a community lament, and it is written as the community struggles with the loss and defeats they’ve been experiencing at the hand of their enemies. The songwriter structures it almost like a well laid out legal argument to God:

  • In verses 1-8 establish God’s faithfulness through history and the covenant relationship between them and God. It remembers how God had done great things for them and they, in turn, placed their trust in God.
  • Verses 9-16 make an abrupt 180-degree turn and lyrics lament their current misfortunes and defeat, laying the blame for their woes squarely at God’s feet.
  • Verses 17-22 make a case for the people’s innocence and faithfulness to God.
  • Finally, in verses 23-26, the people pray for God to wake up. They cry out for deliverance and redemption.

One of the things that I love about the psalms is the way they express really honest human emotions. As an individual who has tried to follow Jesus faithfully through the years, it’s easy to feel that God has let me down when things don’t go my way or when I see what appears to be really bad human beings prospering in ways I can only dream about. The “What have I ever done to deserve this?” blues are a raw human emotion that I can identify with.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to realize that like children or teens blaming their parents for everything wrong in life, I sometimes can do the same thing with God. Yet, God never promised me life would be Easy Street or that every one of my self-centered wishes dressed up in the liturgical robes of prayer would be granted. The path of comparison leads to really tragic places. Just watch the opening scenes of Amadeus as the priest walks through the asylum to find Salieri.

In the quiet this morning I find myself challenged by Psalm 44 because I find the premise of the lyrics, that the nation’s defeat was somehow God’s failure, as misguided. At the same time, I am reminded that in my spiritual journey I’ve had to work through all sorts of misguided notions of my own including those not unlike that of today’s psalm. In expressing my honest feelings and getting them out in the open I make it possible to process them just like a child sometimes has to throw occasional tantrums on the path to maturity. Which is a much healthier path than the one Salieri took.

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 Thirst and the Why

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Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

Psalm 42: 5 (NRSVCE)

I was in a mentoring session with a client. I had coached this individual for a number of years when he was a front-line agent. Now he was in his first managerial role. He’d just received his first annual performance review as a manager and was spiraling downward into full emotional meltdown. Why? Because his boss had rated him a “4” out of 5 in overall performance.

It was obvious to me that my protégé needed to vent. The review had been given a few weeks before our session and I was aware that he had been waiting for our session to get things out. In the emotional flood of anger, frustration and shame that followed I was noticed a few things. First, it was clear that my protégé knew his weaknesses, and admitted there were things he could have done better. Second, the monologue rabbit trailed into childhood memories, family system issues from adolescence, and then projected issues in the current workplace. Third, we had been here before.

The emotional monologue began to wane after about thirty minutes. I then asked if I could ask a question and make an observation. My question was: “If I was your boss, and you freely admitted to me this handful of areas you know needed improvement, then why on earth would I give your performance a five out of five? Given the things you told me you needed to work on, I think four might be a generous vote of confidence!”

There was no immediate answer.

I then proceeded with my observation. Back in the days when I first coached my protégé on the service quality of his phone calls, there were times that he would be emotionally distraught when our team had marked him down for service skills he should have demonstrated, but didn’t. At one point, I remember tears being shed out of the intensity of emotion, and the exclamation “Every call should score 100!”

My protégé laughed as led him on this trek down memory lane, and my point was obvious. There was something within him that expected, personally demanded, a perfect score on any test, assessment, or evaluation that drove him to illogical and emotional ends despite cognitively recognizing the quality of his work didn’t match.

“Why do I always do this?” he asked.

Now, we’d gotten to the question the might lead to real improvement.

The chapter-a-day journey kicks off with the second “book” or section in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics known as Psalms. The section begins with songs written for a choir called “The Sons of Korah.” They were a family choir with the Hebrew tribe of Levi whom King David had appointed to sing in the temple. Those who compiled Psalms began the second book with seven songs that were ascribed for this choir. Seven, by the way, is almost always a significant number in the Great Story. It’s a metaphor for completeness.

Today’s song is a personal lament. The writer is struggling with “Why?” they are in such a funk, and why they can’t get out of it. They are singing the blues and struggling with why their soul is in the pit of despair even as they repeatedly choose to keep singing, keep trusting, and keep seeking after God. The song begins with the proclamation, “my soul thirsts for God.”

And, that’s what struck me this morning. It was the “thirst” for God that motivated the singing, praising, trusting, and seeking after the “Why?” It was the “thirst” for God that allowed them to not fall over the edge of despair but to keep seeking the answer to “Why do I feel this way?” even as they were in the tension of feeling it so acutely.

In the quiet this morning, I thought of my protégé finally getting to his own version of “Why do I always feel this way?” As a mentor, my next question is “What are you thirsting for?” If it’s an easy stamp of approval to deceitfully appease your need for perfection then you’re never going to mature. If you’re thirsting after an understanding of who you are, why you’ve got yourself tied up into emotional knots, and what needs to happen within to stop this repetitive and unhealthy emotional pattern, then there’s hope for progress toward maturity and success.

“Based on the evidence of my own life, actions, words, and relationships am I really thirsting after God? What am I really thirsting for?”

“Am I holding the tension of choosing to praise, trust, seek even as I wrestle with my own versions of despair and my own questions of ‘Why’?”

Those are the questions I’m personally asking myself as I head into this day, and I’m going to leave it here.

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

You Never Know

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You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:17-18 (NRSVCE)

As a young man, I was asked by a friend to accompany him to a friend’s wedding. I didn’t know the couple getting married, but my friend didn’t want to go to the wedding alone. “Tom? Do you know what a young, single man is at a wedding?” he asked me. I shrugged, wondering where he was going with this. “A carcass,” he answered as though bestowing his wisdom upon me.. “Every single, unmarried woman at a wedding sees you as nothing more than the piece of meat who might be the one to marry her.”

It was then that I realized that my egotistical friend, who happened to be engaged, asked me to be his wingman to help ward off the single women he assumed would be flocking around him. Arrogance and cynicism aside, I have attended and officiated a lot of weddings along my life journey. From what I have observed, there is a thread of truth beneath my friend’s hubris. When you’re young and unmarried and all your other friends seem to be getting married, it’s fairly common to wonder “What about me?” And then you start dreaming of a story in which you met “the one” at your friend’s wedding. Come on. We’re all human. It happens.

Jesus told a story about a wedding. In the Hebrew tradition of His day, weddings were at night. The groom and his entourage would arrive at the bride’s house where the bride and her virgin, unmarried bridesmaids waited to escort the wedding party to the groom’s house where the wedding would take place and the marriage consummated. Keep in mind there were no street lights in those days. The bridesmaid’s job was to carry an oil lamp or torch to illuminate the wedding party’s trek across town. The lamp/torch served a dual purpose. Not only did it light the way for the wedding party, but it also illuminated the bridesmaid herself who was an unmarried virgin looking for a husband. You just never know when one of the groom’s unmarried friends might “see her in a good light,” shall we say, and decide he wants to marry her. If a virgin bridesmaid was unprepared and missed the entourage or didn’t have enough oil in her lamp or on her torch to make the entire journey it would be considered a disgrace and a bad omen, but she might miss out on winning the eligible groomsman lottery.

In Jesus’ story. The bridegroom was waylaid. He and his entourage were taking forever to arrive. Some of the bridesmaids got distracted and felt like they had plenty of time. They didn’t have their lamps oiled and ready to go. The groom shows up suddenly, the unprepared bridesmaids ask to borrow some of their fellow bridesmaids oil, but no virgin bridesmaid is going to freely hand her ticket for the eligible groomsman lottery away. Besides, the less competition the better the odds. Are you with me?

So the unprepared bridesmaids run to the local Walmart for some oil. By the time they get back, the wedding has taken place. The reception is in full swing and the DJ has the whole crowd dancing to Love Shack. The groom’s servant at the door takes the young bridesmaids for wedding crashers and won’t let them in.

That’s the story. So, what was the point of the story?

Jesus was very adamant that someday He would return from heaven in what will be the climax of the Great Story being told from Genesis through Revelation. Jesus didn’t just hint at it. He was very clear about it. In fact, after Peter saw the risen Jesus ascend into heaven, there were angels who said to him and the other disciples: “In the same way you just saw Him ascend, someday He’s going to come back.” Peter, Paul, and the rest of Jesus’ original followers were convinced that Jesus could return at any moment. In fact, they fully believed it would happen in their lifetime even though Jesus said that even He didn’t know when it would take place. The original Jesus followers used a Greek word, maranatha, meaning “He’s coming back” as a salutation when greeting and parting with one another.

Of course, we’re still waiting 2,000 years later.

Today’s final chapter of Peter’s letter to Jesus’ followers, Peter addresses the issue of Jesus’ return for two reasons. The believers who were raised in Greek culture didn’t have any kind of developed understanding of apocalypse, eternity, or a judgment day that had developed as part of Hebrew and Christian teaching. So, the Greek believers struggled to understand it. Second, there were cynics who were like, “You keep talking about Jesus returning, but it isn’t happening.”

In essence, today’s chapter is Peter addressing the bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable. They were acting as if they could do whatever they wanted and there would be no accountability for their choices. Jesus wanted His followers to behave as though today is the day that He will return and settle accounts on a grand, eternal scale; Not being so foolish as to not plan for the future, but being wise enough to live each day with the understanding that tomorrow is never guaranteed.

With that, I head into day 19,890 of my earthly journey. I’m going to do my best to do it well.

Click on the image above for a quick index of all the posts in this series on the letters of Peter!

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

Betrayal

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Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

Psalm 41:9 (NRSVCE)

He was a friend. I really believe that. There was a time when we connected on both a personal and spiritual level. We understood one another, and I had all sorts of empathy and understanding for those parts of him that others misunderstood to the point of rejection. When I first saw the signs of betrayal I confronted him, but he denied it and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I shouldn’t have, but hindsight is always 20/20, as the saying goes. Ultimately, it was revealed that he had been betraying me for some time in, and with his betrayal he wreaked havoc on many lives.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 41, is the final psalm of the first “book” in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that is the book of Psalms. It is another song of David. It is another song written in a time of extreme illness when his political enemies were begging for his death. It is a song written from a position of loneliness and isolation. As the saying goes, “It’s lonely at the top,” and as I read the chapter in the quiet this morning I could almost feel David pouring out his heart as if God was the only friend he could count on.

The one element of today’s song that is unlike David’s other songs of lament in sickness is this glaring declaration of betrayal that sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the words and themes that I’ve already heard a number of times in the lyrics of his other works:

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

My mind immediately jumped to the prophetic. Jesus quoted this very verse as he dined with His closest follower on the evening of His arrest, calling out Judas on the plot he had already hatched with Jesus’ enemies. At the same time, while it is a prophetic utterance, it is not confined to that. In my podcast on the books of prophecy in the series Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story, I pointed out that God uses the language of metaphor precisely because it is powerfully layered with meaning. It is, once again, a “yes, and.”

Personal betrayal is as old as Adam blaming Eve for talking him into eating the forbidden fruit, and Cane killing his brother Abel. Betrayal is a part of the human condition and is present in all of our great stories. It is Iago plotting against Othello. It is Saruman the White leading the White Council while plotting his own power grab. It is Edmund betraying his siblings for one more helping of Turkish Delight. It is Peter Pettigrew plotting with Voldemort against James and Sirius.

Who has not experienced betrayal?

In the quiet this morning, I find myself unable to stop there. It is easy to play the victim card. I can wail in lament with David as I recall those who betrayed me like the person I described earlier. As I meditate on these things, however, I also hear the echoes of those who might easily accuse me of betrayal. Relationships are messy. As I let my mind wander across my entire life journey I have to confess that I am not spotless when it comes to acting and speaking treacherously out of my own pain, fear, envy, and insecurity. I have been a victim of betrayal. I have also been a perpetrator.

And so, I find myself whispering a familiar prayer this morning.

“Forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.”

Want to Read More?

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

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

Note: Featured image courtesy of Lawrence OP via Flickr.

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 “Woe-Is-Me” Blues

Listen to the audio podcast of this post at:
https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well

Come quickly to help me,
    my Lord and my Savior.
Psalm 38:22 (NIV)

I have very fond memories of my grandparents taking me on childhood visits to see Aunt Kate and Uncle Frank. It was typically an afternoon visit when the Dutch American tradition of mid-afternoon “coffee time” was strictly observed, though Aunt Kate always make tea and served some form of Dutch treats with it. Kate was my grandfather’s sister and was afflicted with what I assume is the same genetic form of hearing loss that also afflicted my grandfather and was passed to my father and then to me. She wore an early type of hearing aid that looked like a transistor radio that hung around her neck with a wired earbud that made it appear to my child-eyes that she was always listening to a ball game on the radio. Uncle Frank was legally blind, though he was a renowned gunsmith and he sightlessly crafted things with his hands that I couldn’t manage to craft with 20-20 vision and all the tools in the world. I once struck up a conversation with a complete stranger at a bar in Minnesota and somehow we ended up talking about Uncle Frank. The guy was seriously in awe and wanted me to try and get him Uncle Frank’s autograph (Frank had long since passed away).

As I grew older, it fascinated me to visit Kate and Frank and watch them navigate life together in their little house. She was his eyes. He was her ears. I never heard a word of complaint from either of them regarding their disabilities.

Illness and physical ailments are part of life’s journey. I recognize that, for some, it is significant to the point of being all-consuming. I count among my many blessings the fact that I have enjoyed relatively good health thus far in my trek. The genetic Vander Well hearing loss has been more annoying than debilitating in any way.

I have known many individuals along the way, like Kate and Frank, who have had to live with various forms of illness, weakness, and impairment. I have also observed the diverse ways that individuals handle their difficulties from those who courageously and wordlessly adapt to those who wallow ceaselessly in victim-status.

We are nearing the end of the first section in the anthology of ancient song lyrics that is the book of Psalms. The compilers ended “Book I” of the anthology with four songs with confession as a central theme. Today’s chapter, Psalm 38, is the first of them.

David is seriously ailing. The reason and nature of his wounds and illness are lost to history, but the warrior-king is ill to the point of distress and he hears the whispers (real or imagined) of those who are waiting for him to die so they can politically maneuver themselves into positions of power. He enjoyed a relatively long life and made his mark as a strong and heroic warrior. I can imagine that being physically diminished had to have been a struggle on multiple levels for him. So, as he always did, he channeled his emotions into song.

I have noticed that it is very human for those who have enjoyed health an strength to spiritually question sudden and drastic changes in their fortune. Job questions, agonizes, and laments at great length. So, it’s not surprising that David would wonder if there was something he did to bring on his own ill-fortune.

I have learned that one of the great things about the Psalms is that they often give words to my own very human feelings and emotions. I can identify with David’s own human emotions and struggles. Sometimes I encounter individuals who think that being a follower of Jesus is some kind of psychological crutch to avoid life’s harsh realities, but I have found it to be just the opposite. I can’t be a follower of Jesus if I’m not willing to fully embrace suffering life’s harsh realities. In doing so, it’s nice to know that others, like David, have been there before. I get to sing the blues along with him.

At the end of his “woe-is-me” blues David utters a simple plea for God to be near, and to help. I can almost feel him so depleted of life energy that all he can muster is a meager cry for help.

Sometimes on this life journey circumstance reduces us to compacted prayer,

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

Guernica

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Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35:1 (NRSVCE)

In January of 1937, Pablo Picasso was commissioned to do a painting for his native Spain to be displayed in the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair. His initial sketches for the project show very little difference from the theme of his other works at that time.

On the 26th of April, Nazi German and Italian Fascist air forces bombed the town of Guernica, Spain at the request of Spanish Nationalists who desired to strike against their Spanish political rivals in the region. According to local accounts, it was market day and most of the villagers were gathered in the town center when the bombs began to fall. In his diary, the commander of the Nazi squadron recorded that the town was still burning the following day. It was utterly destroyed. There were no military targets in the area. Guernica was the most ancient town and the cultural center of the Basque region. It was a terror attack designed to wipe out political rivals.

Guernica in Ruins after 1937 bombing

On May 1, Picasso read eyewitness accounts of the attack. He immediately abandoned his original ideas for his commission and began to work. The 25.5 foot wide and 11.5 foot tall painting, entitled Guernica, was finished in 35 days. Containing images of the suffering of people and animals wrought by violence and chaos, the painting prominently displays a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, dismemberment, and flames. Picasso painted it in black and white using a specially requisitioned matte house paint that was void of any gloss to give it the feeling of a black and white photograph recording a moment in time. Guernica is considered among the most moving and powerful paintings of all time.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

I find today’s chapter, Psalm 35, among the most unique songs David ever wrote. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, David’s life is quite a story. He had a lot of enemies throughout his life. There were military enemies from neighboring regions who wanted him dead. There were also internal enemies everywhere he turned. His own King wanted him dead, and therefore all of Saul’s political allies were against David. David’s own son rebelled against him, turned David’s political allies against him, and led an armed rebellion against him. David’s life journey was not an easy road.

Psalm 35 is David pouring out his emotions to God in song. You can almost feel the desperation as he begs God to take up his cause. Surrounded by those who want his life on every side, and betrayed by friends and family who he loved, David begs God to take up his cause. He pours out his soul in raw anger at his enemies, asking God to destroy them. It is not an easy read.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

One of the things that I love about the Psalms is the diversity of them. David wrote liturgical, religious songs for corporate worship events. David wrote the blues when he was down. David wrote songs of intense joy when he was delivered. David wrote songs of intense contrition when faced with his tragic flaws. David wrote songs of intense anger when enemies outside his control were closing in all around him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about our emotions. Emotions can have significant negative consequences when they lie hidden, suppressed, and ignored within us. Finding healthy ways to get out my negative emotions has been one of the greatest lessons of my life journey. Many people think of God as a strict moral judge who will be shocked and punish us for expressing our “negative emotions.” I don’t find God to be that at all. Like David, I find God to be a loving creator who is not shocked, dismayed, or surprised by any of my emotions – even the negative ones. I can cry, scream, rail, and vent to God, who is Love incarnate, because love is patient, kind, and gracious.

I imagine God listening to David’s angry rant of a song, that we now call Psalm 35. I imagine David getting to the end and being almost out of breath from the pouring out of his emotions. I imagine God smiling and saying, “There. Nice. Feel better?”

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 Story Behind the Song

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This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
Psalm 34:6 (NRSVCE)

Everyone has a story. In Monday’s post, I referenced pieces of my story that a lot of people don’t know. Along life’s journey, I’ve found that it’s very typical to only know pieces of other people’s stories. I’ve come to believe that real relationship begins when we begin to share and discover the lesser-known pieces of our respective life stories. Until we know one another’s stories, relationship remains somewhat in the shallows.

The truth can be said of characters in the Great Story. I find it common for people to assume that those told about in the Great Story are some kind of spiritual superheroes, but nothing could be further from the truth. With the exception of Jesus, I find that most every other character is tragically flawed like me, and I believe that’s the point.

David is mostly known for the oft-told story of him slaying Goliath, and that is typically told to children. I have observed that if people know anything else about him it’s that he was King, and perhaps it’s remembered that he had an adulterous affair with a woman named Bathsheba. We love a good scandal, don’t we?

There’s actually a lot to David’s story. While he was anointed as King as a kid (God instructed the prophet, Samuel, to anoint David the king), it would be decades before he actually ascended the throne. Years of David’s young adult life were spent on the run from the reigning king, Saul, and living in the wilderness. He had no real place to call home and, seemingly, everyone wanted him dead.

It was during those wilderness years that David went to a neighboring region called Gath. He was hoping to find an ally in the King there and as well as a safe place to reside from Saul’s henchmen, but his audience with the King of Gath suddenly went south. David realized in the moment that the King of Gath’s advisors had very little reason to provide him asylum while having every reason to serve up his head on a silver platter to King Saul. He’s alone inside the walls of the city surrounded and outnumbered by his armed enemies. How’s he going to get out of this alive?

David pretended to be certifiably crazy. He started acting like a mad man. He frothed at the mouth so spit was running down his beard. He put together such an impressive improv performance that the King of Gath wanted nothing to do with him and just wanted him thrown out of the city before whatever mental disease David had started spreading.

Having escaped with his life, David wrote a song to thank God for getting him out of a tight spot. That song is what we call Psalm 34 according to the liner notes.

Knowing the story adds a layer of context to the song lyrics, which creates added meaning for me as I read or listen. While I may never have been surrounded by armed enemies wanting to kill me (though at least once I’ve had an enemy who literally wanted to beat the crap out of me — but that’s another story), there are plenty of experiences along this life journey when I unexpectedly find myself in tight spots. David’s story, and his song lyrics, remind me that “this poor soul” can throw up a popcorn prayer and trust that God will hear me just as He did David.

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

Sui Generis

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Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

Psalm 33:3 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I attended worship with our local gathering of Jesus followers on Sunday. We’ve been sitting at home watching the live steam most Sundays since March. There are three spaces set aside for worship with proper space for physical distancing. The music and teaching are streamed from the main space to the other two. The auditorium that is where we usually call home is one of the spaces in which the live worship is streamed.

We walked in and sat down. I knew we were a minute or two late, so I was surprised when we weren’t greeting with the usual decibel level of worship music. It took me a second to realize that while the video of the worship music was live, the audio wasn’t being successfully streamed from the other room. Everyone sat and waited for our faithful tech volunteers to figure out the problem.

What struck me as we waited was that there were individuals already standing in anticipation of singing, clapping, and participating in corporate worship. I stood with them. Most people were sitting quietly while we waited. When the problem was fixed and the audio began to stream, everyone who was sitting immediately stood without prompt. People began to sing. Some people raised their hands in prayer. It was like the worship version of a Lamborghini accelerating from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds.

The thing that struck me in that moment was the feeling that everyone wanted to sing. There was a feeling of hunger to be there, to worship corporately with others and to sing, pray, and shout in praise and supplication.

Today’s psalm was most likely a song written for ancient corporate worship. If you step back and look at it, the “voice” of the lyrics lends itself to the first three verses being sung by a worship leader calling everyone to worship. Verses 4-19 could very well have been for a choir or select group to then instruct through song about God’s power, sovereignty, and goodness to protect and deliver those who place, in Him, their faith and trust.

The voice of verses 20-22 switch to a corporate “our” and could likely have been for the entire crowd gathered to sing in response to pledge their faith and trust.

There is something unique about a corporate worship experience when those gathered are not just going through ritualistic motions but are truly pouring out from their spirits their gratitude, praise, pain, need, faith, and desire.

Sui generis (pronounced soo-ee jen-er-is) is a latin term meaning “of its own kind.” Usually used as a legal term, its broader definition is something that is “unique” and in a “class by itself.” I once heard it used of certain worship experiences when a crowd of individuals begin to worship and, sui generis, a powerful whole emerges from the many. From many voices one voice. From many spirits one spirit. When it happens it is truly sui generis.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about worship, prayer, and praise. I’m grateful for technology that has allowed Wendy and me to join with our fellow Jesus followers through YouTube during the pandemic. Jesus assured His followers that He would always be present when “two or three are gathered” in His name. Wendy and I have enjoyed some really wonderful moments in our worship gatherings via YouTube. I am also grateful to join with others in one place and pour out our hearts and praise just as people have been doing for thousands of years like when Psalm 33 was introduced to the Hebrew people as a “new song” to corporately proclaim God’s protection and deliverance.

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