Tag Archives: Contemplation

A Time to Shout!

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Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Psalm 100:1 (NIV)

I have shared over the years that one of the things Wendy and I enjoy doing is being sports fans. We’re not “rabid win-at-all-costs because our lives are ruled by it” fans, which is a good thing since most of the teams we cheer for have long histories of being underdogs and perennial losers. We just enjoy choosing a team, following the team and the players, rooting for them through the season, and generally being loyal fans.

January in Iowa has typically been made even more bleak for Wendy and me because of the lack of sports that we enjoy. Our Vikings season generally ends early in disappointing fashion. Spring training for our Cubs is weeks away. Our son-in-law, Clayton, influenced Wendy and me to find a English Premier League team to cheer for in order to bridge the gap. It just so happens that his team and our team have a big match this weekend. We’re already planning our watch party. It will be something fun in the midst of quarantine.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 100, is the final in a series of ten ancient Hebrew songs of praise. This little ditty is only five verses long and it begins by calling the worshiper to “Shout with joy to the LORD.”

Throughout my spiritual journey, I have heard teachers challenge congregations with the fact that we cheer more for our teams than we do for God. This, in the institutional and denominational churches I’ve attended throughout my journey, is very true. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, the Jesus movement became a political empire that was more interested in controlling the masses than it was in sincere worship. The Holy Roman Empire controlled worship in the Western world for 1200 years. When the Protestant Reformation came along, it led into the “age of reason” in which head knowledge of the scriptures and theology was held as utmost in importance. Thus, the Catholic Church and the vast majority of Protestant denominations were given to quiet, reverent, and generally passive worship styles.

And yet, throughout the Great Story the examples of worship and calls to worship I’ve been reading in the psalms are active, loud, and participatory. Shout, sing, dance, raise your hands, clap your hands, and raise the roof! King David got in trouble with his wife when he was so worked up in dancing and singing to God that he had peeled down like silly shirtless college boys in a December Iowa State football game. I confess that the last time Wendy and I got that excited was the Cubs winning the World Series and the Minneapolis Miracle.

At the same time, the further I’ve gotten in my spiritual journey, the freer I’ve become in worship among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I sing loud. I’ll lift my hands in prayer. Yes, I’ll even shout. And what’s hilarious is that this is not the worship tradition of my local gathering. I once had an elder of the church who was a pious, multi-generational loyalist of the denomination ask me sincerely why I raised my hands when I sang in worship. I pointed him to a number of places in the Great Story where God’s people are called to lift hands in praise and prayer. Funny how individuals who claim to live in devout obedience choose to ignore those things with which they are uncomfortable. Greet anyone with a holy kiss lately?

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. There are times for spiritual quiet, silence, and reverence. Lord knows we need a lot of it right now amidst the 24/7 din of politics and pandemic conflict in the news and on social media. The Sage who wrote Ecclesiastes would tell us that there is a time for quiet reverence, and there’s a time to shout, dance, and blow the roof off. And, I get that there are individuals who will forever be hands-in-your-pockets mouth shut type of followers, and that’s cool too. Whatever.

It’s just that Wendy and I have noticed as we worship that there’s often what feels like a spiritual lid on the room. You can feel people waiting for an excuse, or for someone to give permission to shout, cheer, and let out some God-given, human emotion. Countless times we’ve witnessed that when one person breaks the ice, then the praise really begins to flow.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about all the worship traditions I’ve experienced and enjoyed along my spiritual journey from the silence of the Quakers to the call and response of a black Baptist congregation. From the pomp of a Roman Catholic cathedral in Ireland to the down-home fire-and-brimstone of a back-woods Pentecostal church in Appalachia. I find that so often people put their own spiritual experiences in the box of their traditions. Along the way, I’ve found that it’s not a right-or-wrong either-or thing. Once again, it’s a “yes, and.” I can learn from experiencing and participating in diverse styles and traditions of worship. I take things that are meaningful for me and find ways to weave them into my own spiritual expressions. It’s been good. It’s helped me grow. It’s expanded my spiritual understanding.

I promise that if/when I see you next I won’t greet you with a holy kiss.

Finally, it was a bit of synchronicity that I saw this post this morning of a mother shouting her praise as she finds out her son passed the bar exam. It’s worth the watch!

Want to Read More?

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

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

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

That’s Qadosh

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Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.
Psalm 99:9 (NIV)

While being in quarantine has frustrated my extroverted need for interpersonal interaction over the past ten days, I have also been mindful each day to appreciate the opportunity it has afforded Wendy and me to spend lots of time with our grandson, Milo, who normally resides across the pond in Scotland. Yesterday, my exercise monitor informed me that I’d set a new personal record for exercise in one day. If you’re having a hard time getting into that New Year’s workout routine, I suggest finding someone to loan you their three-year-old for a few days.

One of the more endearing developments during our extended time together has been Milo’s desire to go to sleep at night in Papa and Yaya’s bed. Last night, Wendy and I climbed onto the bed with Milo between us. We read three books together, then turned out the light. We sang softly in the darkness. Wendy reached over Milo and held my hand as we lay and sang with Milo nestled between us. Even with my hearing impairment, I could hear Milo’s deep breaths as he drifted to sleep. We then whispered a prayer over him before slipping out of the room.

That, my friend, was a special moment. I wanted to just stay in that moment forever. If only I could bottle it up and hold onto it. I immediately knew that it was a memory I will remember and cherish always.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 99, continues in this section of ancient Hebrew praise songs. They were likely used for liturgical purposes to call the Hebrews to worship in the temple. The lyricist of Psalm 99 layered this call to praise with metaphorical meaning that casual readers in English would never pick up.

Remember in yesterday’s post/podcast I shared that “everything is connected?” The Hebrews found spiritual connections with numbers. Each number had meaning. Seven was a number that meant “completeness.” Three was a number spiritually connected to the divine. There are three stanzas, each with four verses (4+3=7). Seven times the songwriter uses the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh. Seven times he uses Hebrew independent personal pronouns. Three times he refers to God as “holy” (Hebrew: qadosh).

I confess that “holy” is a word, and a spiritual concept, that I failed to fully understand, or flat out got wrong, for most of my journey. The concept of holiness as communicated by the institutional churches I’ve been involved in my whole life made holiness out to be simple moral purity in the utmost sense. The equation was “no sin” plus “going to church” equaled “holiness” (x + y = z). Which meant that holiness, unless you were Mother Theresa, was pretty much unattainable.

I have come to understand, however, that qadosh has a much larger meaning. There are moments in life in which everyone in the room knows there is something meaningful, something special, something larger that is happening in the moment.

Our daughter, Taylor, has an audiotape of the moment she entered the world in the delivery room. You hear her squeaky cries. You hear Dr. Shaw announce it‘s a girl. You hear me talking to her on the warming table. That moment is qadosh.

Last October I stood with our daughter, Madison, in a courtyard. We watched the congregation stand and turn toward us. The beautiful bride, whom I taught to walk, I now walked down the aisle to “give her away” to the man she loves. People smiled and wept. That moment was qadosh.

I sat in the dark room of the nursing home as my grandmother’s life ebbed away with each strained breath. Through the wee hours I kept watch over her. I held her hand. I sang her favorite hymn. I read the final chapter of the Great Story to her and I realized in the moment that it was like reading a travel brochure for the trip she was about to take. That moment was qadosh.

Last night as Wendy and I held hands and hovered over our peaceful, sleeping grandson lying in our bed. We sang. We prayed blessings over him. It was a holy moment. That’s qadosh.

Throughout the Great Story, when God made a special appearance (theologians call that a theophany) the person to whom God appears is mesmerized, speechless, dumbfounded, or overwhelmed. To be in the presence of God, described by lyricist of Psalm 99 as the royal King of Kings. That moment is qadosh.

When the psalmist calls me to worship, he’s not religiously demanding that I dutifully “go to church” in an effort to attain some pinnacle of moral purity. In fact, when I meditate on the fullness of all the qadosh moments I’ve recalled, then all my old notions of what it means to be “holy” are silly in their triteness. The psalmist is calling me into the mysterious, beautiful, meaningful moment of qadosh.

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

Connected

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Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth…
Psalm 98:4 (NIV)

I took a class on Psalms back in college. It was a winter post-term class which meant we took the entire three-credit course in three weeks of January between our holiday break and second semester. It’s funny how the senses connect with memories because doing this chapter-a-day journey through the same text at the same time of year has brought back certain memories for me from that class.

As I think back on that class from 35 years further down life’s road, I’ve found myself meditating on a few observations.

First, while I learned a ton about the Psalms in the three weeks of that college class, it’s a fraction of what I’ve learned in the three and a half decades since. My chapter-a-day habit is just a part of an on-going, life-long pursuit of Jesus in which I’m always learning more.

Second, knowledge and wisdom are two different things. I cognitively learned facts about these Hebrew song lyrics in that class. Many have stayed with me. Yet, my brain and my spirit were still forming at that waypoint on Life’s road. What is spiritually important is the connection of what I know to my life; As I perpetually endeavor to weave my knowledge of the Great Story and Jesus’ teaching into my daily thoughts, words, actions, habits, and relationships the tapestry of knowledge and experience produce wisdom.

Third, I have yet to reach a point where I know enough (there’s my one word again). The further I get in my life journey the deeper I find layers of knowledge, connection, and understanding in the Great Story.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 98, continues this section of ancient Hebrew calls to praise. As I read the text this morning, two things struck me. First, there are three stanzas of lyrics (vss 1-3, 4-6, 7-9) with three lines each. The praise progress outward like three concentric circles. The first stanza is the Hebrews worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem. Then it pushes out to “all the earth.” Finally the shouts of praise reach out to all of creation.

As I meditated on this, two clear connections came to mind.

First, I began to realize that the lyrics of this song foreshadow what followers of Jesus call “the great commission” or the mission Jesus gave to his followers to take His love and message “to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Like the praise of Psalm 98, the love of Jesus to radiate outward.

I also couldn’t help but recall the moment when Jesus is entering Jerusalem at the beginning of his final, fateful week. As crowds of people were praising Him and the religious busybodies criticized Jesus for allowing His followers to praise Him. “Even if they kept quiet,” Jesus replied, “the stones would cry out in praise.” Creation resonating with praise to the creator is a theme throughout the Great Story, just as physics reveals that all matter resonates at frequencies our ears can’t hear. It’s as if Jesus is connecting with the concentric circles of Psalm 98. “You might forcefully censor the praise of this crowd in Jerusalem, but you have no power over the universe as it cries out ceaselessly at 432hz.”

It brings me to one of the grand spiritual mysteries I’ve endlessly discovered over forty years: Everything is connected.

I couldn’t have made those connections in the January chill of my winter post-term as I fell into a crush with a classmate and worked on my extra-credit assignment of putting one of the psalms to music with my guitar. But, I made the connections that I could make at that point in my journey. And in the chill of this January’s quarantine I realize that those connections were part of these connections I’ve made in the quiet this morning.

Concentric circles. God’s Spirit, God’s creation, God’s love, God’s praise are always pressing outward, reaching out, embracing, pulling in, and sending out. As I follow Jesus, that’s where I’m constantly led in my spiritual journey: living, loving, praising further out, further up, and further in. And the further I get, the more I realize that the love and praise were already resonating before I got here.

Just like Jesus said.

Just like lyrics of Psalm 98.

Everything is connected.

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

Macro and Micro

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The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.
Psalm 97:1

Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, Lord.
Psalm 97:8

This past week was among the most unique experiences of my entire journey. I spent the week in quarantine with Wendy, our daughter, and her family. While we were cooped up in the house together, the outside world here in the States seemed to sink deeper into a level of crazy I would have never thought possible were I not witnessing it. I have found the juxtaposition of those two realities are a bit strange and unsettling.

And yet, I sit here in the quiet at the beginning of another day, and a new work week. Each is a clean slate. Both are tiny reset buttons in this journey. Just as the prophet Jeremiah wrote as he sat amidst the chaotic rubble of Jerusalem, his life, and everything he had ever known:

Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)

Today’s chapter, Psalm 97, is another in a series of celebratory songs of praise. The editors of the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms, put several of them together in this section we happen to be trekking through. Psalm 97 is a call to the listener to join in rejoicing and praising God.

This song is two thematic sections (vss 1-6; 8-12) that are hinged on a central verse (vs 7). What I found interesting as I read through it and meditated on it in the quiet this morning is that the first section recognizes God as Lord over creation, the universe, and literally everything. The second section brings things down to God being the Lord over Jerusalem, the little villages of Judah, and God’s people therein.

As I mulled this over, I was reminded of one of my recent posts and my morning pages. In my stream-of-consciousness journaling I discovered that I seem to have an easier time trusting God with the big things of the creation, time, and the universe. It’s in the small, personal things of my own personal journey that I tend to struggle.

The macro and the micro.

Chaos in the world outside and family quarantine here in our house.

In the quiet this morning, I hear God’s Spirit whispering to my spirit. The Spirit gently reminds me that, in both the macro and the micro, “I’ve got this.”

I simply have to listen, receive, embrace, and believe in each strange moment of the strange, present realities in which I find myself on both the macro and micro levels.

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

New

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Sing to the Lord a new song…
Psalm 96:1 (NIV)

It’s a new year, and it is very common for individuals to use the transition from one year to the next to hit the “reset” button on life in different ways. So, it’s a bit of synchronicity to have today’s chapter, Psalm 96, start out with a call to “Sing a new song.”

In ancient Hebrew society, it was common to call on “new songs” to commemorate or celebrate certain events including military triumphs, new monarchs being coronated, or a significant national or community event.

Throughout the Great Story, “new” is a repetitive theme. In fact, if you step back and look at the Great Story from a macro level, doing something “new” is a part of who God is. God is always acting, always creating, always moving, always transforming things. When God created everything at the beginning of the Great Story, it was something new. When God called Abram He was doing something new. When Abram became Abraham it was something new. When Simon became Peter it was something new. When Jesus turned fishermen into “fishers of men” it was something new.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:19

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Ezekiel 36:26

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…”
Amos 9:13

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.”
Luke 5:37

“A new command I give you: Love one another.”
John 13:34

..after the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Luke 22:20

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
Revelation 21:1

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
Revelation 21:5

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most human beings struggle with real change. A new gadget? Cool! A new release from my favorite author? Awesome. A new restaurant in town I can try? I’m there! But if it comes to a change that messes with my routine, a change that requires something from me, or a change that brings discomfort, then I will avoid it like the plague. Why? I like things that are comfortable, routine, and easy.

What I’ve observed is that “new” is always considered better as long as I think it will makes things easier or better for me. If it will rock my world, create discomfort, or expect something of me outside of my comfort zone, then I think I’ll cling to the “old” thing that I know and love, thank you very much.

And thus, most New Year’s resolutions sink down the drain of good intentions.

In the quiet today, I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Great Divorce, in which a bus full of people in purgatory visit the gates of heaven. There they are given every opportunity to accept the invitation to enter into the new thing God has for them on the other side. One individual after another finds a reason to stick with the drab, gray, lifeless existence they know and with which they are comfortable.

As a follower of Jesus, I embraced the reality that I follow and serve a Creator who is never finished creating. “New” is an always part of the program. It may not always be comfortable, but it’s always good.

As long as I am on this earthly journey, I pray that I will choose into and embrace the new things into which God is always leading 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.

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

“Just the Way it Works”

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They slay the widow and the foreigner;
    they murder the fatherless.

When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:6, 19 (NIV)

While a college student, I took a semester off of classes and worked as an abstractor. My job was to take the abstract of a property that was being bought or sold and search the county records for the property, the buyers, and the sellers with regard to most recent taxes, liens, contracts, or transactions. While I worked for an abstract company with an office in the county office building, most of my day was spent visiting various county offices.

The county I worked in had long been under the tight control of a political machine, and my daily observations were a harsh life lesson. There was a law against smoking in public buildings, but some county employees continued to smoke at their desks as much as they wanted without consequence. I remember one office in which a county employee told me she wasn’t going to help me simply because she didn’t want to do so that day. I was told by my employer that there was nothing that could be done about it. “That’s just the way it works,” he said. Then there were the employees who sat in offices and pretty much did nothing all day knowing that they were “untouchable.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that corruption exists everywhere. It exists in governments, business, education, healthcare, and religion. Wherever you find a human system you will find individuals who will rig that system for personal power and gain. There is no perfect system because there are no perfect people. I’ve come to believe that the best we can do is to have systemic accountability through checks and balances.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 94, is a song of lament from of one who sees a corrupt system, and those who suffer because of it. In particular, the songwriter calls out the three most vulnerable groups in the Hebrew society of that day: widows, orphans, and foreigners. What is both fascinating and depressing is that the Law of Moses clearly instructed the Hebrews to take care of these three vulnerable groups. The writer of Psalm 94 laments that the system isn’t working.

From my own experience, it’s a helpless, hopeless feeling.

“That’s just the way it works.”

The song shifts in verse 12, and the songwriter places his hope and trust in God being the eternal “Avenger” who will ultimately bring justice to a corrupt world. In placing faith in God’s ultimate plan, the psalmist’s anxiety gives way to joy.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I live in a representative republic in which individuals have some opportunity to address systemic corruption through the voting booth, the courts, speech, protest, and press. At the same time, I recognize that there are some places, even in the best of human systems, in which corruption is “just the way it works.”

This leaves me responsible to do what I can, within the systems I’m in, for those who are most vulnerable. That’s what Jesus calls me to. It also leaves me trusting Him who was crucified at the hands of a corrupt human system, to fulfill His promise of ultimately bringing justice and redemption at the conclusion of the Great Story. Joy, like that the psalmist expressed in the lyrics of today’s chapter, is experienced not in the absence of negative circumstances and human corruption, but in the midst of them.

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

Faith in the Fire

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Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.
Psalm 93:2 (NIV)

On the Wayfarer Weekend podcast this past weekend I shared my experiences with a spiritual exercise that Wendy and I have participated in for several years in which we choose “one word” to be “my word” for the year.

In 2020, my word was “believe.” Early in 2020, as I meditated on the word I found myself asking questions that started with the phrase “If I really believe what I say I believe….” and the reciprocal answers were sometimes blunt.

“If I really believe what I say I believe…

…then I believe that eternity is greater by far than this earthly life.”

…then I have no choice but to forgive this person.”

…then I should be more generous than I feel like being in the moment.”

…then I must respond to that jerk on Facebook with kindness.”

And this was all before the world was thrown into a global pandemic, before racial inequity blew up America, and before political tensions around the presidential election completed a cultural cocktail which further polarized people both in the States and around the world. My soul rattled as the world rocked from the tension.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 93, is fascinating for both its brevity and its singular focus on God’s eternal enthronement over the cosmos. “Enthronement” songs were popular in religions of the ancient near east. What made the Hebrew belief system unique was the declaration of Yahweh as the one God.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV)

Kings were not deities. Human were not deities. Other deities were simply statues and trinkets made from human hands. There is one God enthroned over everything; One God over us all.

“If I really believe what I say I believe…

…then while the world around me rocks from the trifecta cocktail of pandemic, protests, and politics I am assured that God is still on the throne of the cosmos. The Great Story will be played out (with all the earthly turmoil that Jesus, Himself, predicted) and God’s kingdom is not in trouble.”

Following Jesus is a faith journey because it requires me to find assurance in hope that isn’t readily apparent in my present circumstances. It requires me to trust in that which I can’t see, touch, hear, taste, or smell in the flesh. It calls me to see everything through the lens of spiritual truth rather than reactionary human emotion.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reflecting on the spiritual lessons I will take with me from 2020. For me, choosing the word “believe” on which to focus in the most troubling and tumultuous year in my lifetime was a divine appointment. Faith is easy when life is the same. When the fecal matter comes into contact with the electric, rotary oscillator then the genuineness of my faith gets tested as precious metal in the forger’s fire. (See 1 Peter 1:6-7)

The lyrics of Psalm 93 are an amazing statement of faith and praise.

The question is: “Do I really believe it?” And, if the answer is “I do,” then my response to circumstances around me on the global, cultural, and personal levels, will be congruent with that belief.

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

Dark Places

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For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.

Psalm 88:3 (NRSVCE)

I found it ironic this morning that in the very midst of the holiday season my chapter-a-day journey would bring me to perhaps the darkest song we will encounter in this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics. As we reach the end of 2020, mental health experts have warned that social isolation, fear, anxiety, and depression created by the pandemic will have long-term effects. Just a few weeks ago it was reported that San Francisco has had more deaths by drug overdose in 2020 than Covid deaths. It is clear that many people are finding themselves in dark places mentally, emotionally, and spiritually right now.

One of the things that I’ve come to appreciate about the Great Story is that it doesn’t gloss over the darkness that is experienced on this earthly journey. In fact, what I have found in the 40 years that I’ve been studying it is that suffering is consistently presented as an essential ingredient in spiritual development, formation, and maturity. I’m reminded of our landscaper telling Wendy and me not to be too generous in giving water to our newly planted trees and shrubs. “They need to suffer a little bit,” he said, “even if it looks like they’re struggling you want to force them to push their roots deep into the soil. It will ultimately make them stronger and healthier.”

The liner notes of Psalm 88 attribute the lyrics to Heman the Ezrahite, who was well-known as a Hebrew sage in the days of Solomon. If the song is at all biographical, then Heman had a rough life. There is no uplifting statement of faith or hopeful assurance like those found in the darkest of King David’s songs. There is darkness, the pit of despair, the loneliness of being a social outcast, and the ever-nearness of death. If you’re an angst-filled teenager or a melancholy Enneagram Type Four, then you’ll love wallowing in the gloom as Heman pens “the Darkness is my closest friend.” It is part of the human experience to attribute life’s difficulties with divine wrath, retribution, or judgment.

It’s easy to overlook, however, that the lyrics quite purposefully state that the person is still praying morning (vs. 13), noon (vs. 9), and night (vs. 1). He is struggling through the darkness, blaming his troubles on the God to whom he continues to cry out, to pray, and to seek. As I meditated on this fact, God’s Spirit brought two other passages to mind:

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (MSG)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning I find myself reflecting on the difficulties we’ve all experienced in 2020. On this life journey, I’ve observed that every person treks through dark places when the last thing I want to hear is a cheery “Buck up little camper” or some over-spiritualized encouragement. As an Enneagram Four, I’m given to wallowing in the melancholy. In my own life journey, like Heman the Hebrew Sage, I’ve found myself in those stretches just continuing to press on in seeking, stretching, crying out morning, noon, and night.

Jesus told His followers that He was “the vine” and His Father was “the gardener.” From my current waypoint on life’s road, I can look back and see how in the darkest stretches of my life journey the Gardner was present, watching over me, pruning, and prodding: “Keep thirsting. Dig those roots deep into the soil. That’s where you’ll find Living Water.”

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

Stop, and Listen

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I will listen to what God the Lord says;
    he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—

Psalm 85:8a (NIV)

Shame can be toxic. It’s that deep sense of being worth-less, and I while I find most seem to perceive me as having all sorts of self-confidence, the truth is that I have quietly battled that nagging, pessimistic self-perception of shame my entire life. I have acknowledged it, processed it, studied it, and have learned to work through it while learning how to have grace with myself even as I open my heart to receiving the amazing grace that God has given me.

The seeds of shame, I have come to learn, are typically sown in childhood. From some individuals I’ve met in the struggle, it was the repeated words of an adult or an older sibling telling them things like, “You’re stupid,” “You’re good for nothing,” or “You should have never been born.” Born into a loving family, that was never my issue. For me, the seeds of shame were misunderstandings of my place in the world and a negative self-perception that was fueled by my Enneagram Four temperament. I grew up being so self-absorbed as to think that any negative circumstance in life stems from something I did, or else it some divine retribution prompted by my worthlessness. The Minnesota Vikings’ loss in four Superbowls was totally my fault for stealing all of the family’s cash envelopes off of Grandma Golly’s Christmas tree in 1972. My apologies to Vikings nation.

As a person who knows the struggle against shame, I totally identify with today’s chapter. It felt a bit like looking into a spiritual mirror. Psalm 85 was written as a song to be used when the Hebrew people gathered to worship. Fourteen lines long, it is a song of two halves. Things had not been going so well for the Hebrew people. Scholars think it may have been written during this historic drought that occurred during the time of the prophet Hosea.

The first half of the song reads like me when I was a kid.

“God, you’re angry with me. I’ve done something wrong. I thought you were over that Christmas cash thing, but obviously I haven’t served my time. How long is this going to take, Lord? How long until you get over your anger with me?”

The song then pivots 180 degrees in the second-half, which kicks off with the songwriter declaring, “I will listen to what the Lord says.”

As the songwriter gets his eyes off of himself, and gets his ears to turn away from the endless loop of negative self-talk being played in his spiritual, noise-cancelling AirPods, he begins to recognize the very different message that God has been perpetually saying. God promises salvation, affirms his faithfulness, peace, generosity, and goodness.

One of the things that I had to learn along my journey of addressing shame was the very same process. I have a well-worn page that I put together ages ago. Like the songwriter of Psalm 85, I turned my ear to the Great Story and wrote down a list of God’s specific messages, including, but not limited to:

I am…
fearfully and wonderfully made… (Ps 139)
made in the likeness of God… (James 3:9)
worth more than many sparrows… (Matt 10:31)
God’s workmanship… (Ephesians 2:10)
born again… (1 Peter 1:23)
a son of God… (Galatians 3:26)
and heir of God… (Galatians 4:6, 1 John 3:2, Rom 8:17)
God’s temple… (1 Cor 3:17)
the aroma of Christ… (2 Corinthians 2:15)

You get the idea. I still, on occasion, have to pull this well-worn sheet of divine affirmations out and literally read through the list again. Often, I read all two-pages out-loud to myself. It’s like spiritual chiropractic. When my shame has me bent out of shape and tied up in knots, the affirmations from the Great Story get my head and heart back in alignment.

In the quiet this morning, I find my heart ruminating once again on this difficult year. I think about strained relationships created by differences in world-views. I think about our business which took a sizable hit in 2020. I think about the mental and emotional fatigue from the never-ending conflict in every medium of media about a host of hot-button topics. It’s amazing how silently shame’s whispers can creep back into my head and heart without me realizing it. Like the writer of Psalm 85, I find myself having to consciously stop and listen “to what God the Lord, says.”

FYI: Here are the entire set of affirmations I compiled for anyone who might benefit in both image and document forms. The PDF was a handout from a message series on shame several years ago.

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

My Heart’s Highway

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Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Psalm 84:5 (NRSVCE)

This past week, Wendy and I have been blessed beyond measure to have our kids and grandson home from Scotland. On Saturday night we took Taylor and Clayton out for dinner and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Milo was being watched that night by Clayton’s mom, so the four of us got to enjoy uninterrupted adult conversation, in person, for hours.

One of the paths of conversation led to a discussion about one’s direction in life. The kids are about the age I was when I settled into what would become my career after having five different jobs in the first six years after college. It is a time of life filled with both opportunity and uncertainty. We talked about the difficult (some might even call it impossible) task of finding a career in life that offers both financial security and a sense of purpose.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that this is a fascinating on-going conversation. It doesn’t end once a young adult settles on a career path. There are a number of waypoints on life’s road in which this subject of direction, security, and purpose comes up again. A new job opportunity arises that offers both greater risk and the potential for greater reward. A person hits the proverbial glass ceiling in a corporation and suddenly has to grapple with considering a career change they never expected or wanted, or learning to embrace that his or her vocation is nothing more than a means to providing for a purpose that is found outside of work hours. I’ve also observed individuals and couples who have left positions of relative security to embrace faith in choosing a purpose-full path to which they have been called. Still, there are others I’ve observed who find themselves in unexpected places of tragedy in which there was no choice of direction and, like Job, they find themselves reeling in a struggle to understand the purpose of it all.

Our direction on this road of Life continues to require asking, seeking, knocking, and faith.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 84, is the first of a subset of six songs that wrap up Book III of the larger anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we call the Psalms. The song appears to have been penned by someone from the tribe of Levi. The Levites were the Hebrew tribe responsible for Temple worship. As the tribe grew over time, the Temple duties were divided into “shifts.” One might make a pilgrimage to God’s Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem one or more times a year to serve for a short period of time before returning home. The songwriter laments not being in the temple where he finds joy and purpose in God’s presence.

I couldn’t help but notice verse 5 as I read it in the St. John’s Bible this morning. Happy are those “in whose heart are highways to Zion.” The songwriter found tremendous purpose in being present in God’s Temple, even if it was only periodically. I love the metaphor of a “heart’s highway.” It’s got my mind spinning this morning and my heart ruminating.

I find myself thinking about the highways of my heart, Wendy’s heart, and the hearts of our children. Where do those highways lead? On this Monday morning and the beginning of another work week, is the highway of my heart and the highway to my vocation the same path? Parallel paths? Divergent paths? Obviously, the stimulating dinner conversation from Saturday night is still resonating within me.

I also couldn’t help but notice that a rather well-known, modern worship song is pulled directly from Psalm 84 and my heart hears the familiar melody to the lyric: “Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.” Yet this takes me straight back to the “one thing I always fail to see” from a post a couple of weeks ago.

Unlike the songwriter of Psalm 84, followers of Jesus are not limited to a physical location for worship. The concept of a church building is nowhere to be found in the Great Story. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension it the flesh-and-blood followers who are God’s Temple. I am the temple, therefore “one day in your courts” is not about me going to church on Sunday. For followers of Jesus, it is a spiritual pilgrimage of the heart to seek commune with God’s Spirit within my heart, soul, and mind in each day, each hour, each moment.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 84 has me meditating on the “heart’s highway.” Where is headed? Where is it leading? Is my heart, soul, and mind heading in the right direction?

Good questions for a Monday morning.

Have a great week, 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