Tag Archives: Creation

Voices on the Whispering WInd

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

Psalm 67:6 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

1 Peter 1:24

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

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

Ecclesiastes 1 (MSG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed. Today, I give thanks.

Want to Read More?

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

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

About This Post

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

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

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

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

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Muted By 2020

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

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

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

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

I read:

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

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

I read:

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

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

I read:

“The hills are clothed with gladness.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do.

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

Want to Read More?

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

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

About This Post

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

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

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

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

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Honor of Creation

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Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:5 NRSVCE

One of the things I have come to love about living in Iowa is the fact that the landscape is always changing as the fields are cultivated, sown, fertilized, tended, harvested, and left to rest. This time of the year is one of my favorites. The dark green corn plants that pack the quilt-like patchwork of fields are fully grown to eight feet or more in height, and each stalk is topped by a golden tassel. From a distance, as I drive by, the tasseled corn creates a gorgeous visual effect of iridescence. A shimmering blanket of gold atop the deep, dark green covers the softly rolling hills as far as the eye can see. Photographs don’t do it justice to seeing it in person.

I have seen a lot of gorgeous things on this earth. I love the northern lights. I loved watching the sunrise over the pacific in Kauai, the full moon shining down on the Caribbean on a cloudless night. The Rocky Mountains are a majestic sight, as are the rugged Appalachians and the Badlands of South Dakota, especially for someone who lives on the plains of the Heartland. The Milky Way viewed from big sky country away from the ambient light of human population centers is breathtaking, as is Niagara Falls in her relentless display of aquatic force.

Today’s chapter is another song of David in which his lyrics express his own appreciation for the works of creation that surrounded him on earth and in the heavens. The song is bookended with a repeated refrain ascribing praise to God as Creator. It also repeats a theme from the Creation story, in which humanity is given “dominion” over the Earth which includes the responsibility to tend it and care for it. This is a great one to read when I find myself standing awestruck before nature.

I couldn’t help but notice that David’s lyric speak of humanity being given “honor” by God. In fact, both Hebrew words translated “glory” and “honor” in the verse I quoted at the top of the post have been translated as the English word “honor.” My favorite definition of the word honor is “to attach worth.”

God attached so much worth to we human beings that it was for us that God sent His Son to experience life as one of us, to die as one of us, and to open the way of eternity for us. Today’s psalm delves into another layer of honor God bestowed on us. In all of creation, humanity alone (that we know of) was given the “honor” of dominion and responsibility for God, the great artist’s, creative works. From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God made humans curators and caretakers of His creation.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about honor. We honor soldiers, police, firefighters, health care workers who serve and sacrifice themselves to care for the rest of us. We attach worth to them as we recognize that they are responsible for us. They attend selflessly to the care, protection, and provision of others. In the same way, God’s honor of us includes the responsibility He’s given us, and I’ve observed that it’s largely forgotten or ignored by many.

I’m also thinking about creation, and my responsibility to exercise my dominion in caring for it, tending it, and serving it. Not because I worship it, but I worship the One who created it, and it’s a specific duty I’m honored to have been given.

FYI, I’m taking a little break and spending some time in creation today and tomorrow. I’ll be back on this chapter-a-day journey on Thursday.

Have a great couple of days, 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

Positively “Horny” with Light

When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.
Exodus 34:30 (NRSVCE)

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“Let there be light.”

That’s the first act of creation in the poetic description of the beginning of everything in the opening verses of Genesis. This simple beginning, however, is not so simple. In fact, it’s hard to contain its meaning. It is part of the mystery of God and the universe that both theology and science have endlessly been attempting to understand. I can’t explain it any better than the Encyclopedia Brittanica does:

No single answer to the question “What is light?” satisfies the many contexts in which light is experienced, explored, and exploited. The physicist is interested in the physical properties of light, the artist in an aesthetic appreciation of the visual world. Through the sense of sight, light is a primary tool for perceiving the world and communicating within it. Light from the Sun warms the Earth, drives global weather patterns, and initiates the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. On the grandest scale, light’s interactions with matter have helped shape the structure of the universe. Indeed, light provides a window on the universe, from cosmological to atomic scales. Almost all of the information about the rest of the universe reaches Earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation. By interpreting that radiation, astronomers can glimpse the earliest epochs of the universe, measure the general expansion of the universe, and determine the chemical composition of stars and the interstellar medium. Just as the invention of the telescope dramatically broadened exploration of the universe, so too the invention of the microscope opened the intricate world of the cell. The analysis of the frequencies of light emitted and absorbed by atoms was a principal impetus for the development of quantum mechanics. Atomic and molecular spectroscopies continue to be primary tools for probing the structure of matter, providing ultrasensitive tests of atomic and molecular models and contributing to studies of fundamental photochemical reactions.

In the same way, light is fundamentally a part of the spiritually supernatural:

  • Light was the first order of creation on the first day of creation in the Genesis creation ( keep in mind the sun, stars, and moon weren’t created until the fourth day).
  • After healing a boy born blind, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
  • In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.”
  • Jesus took his inner-circle (Peter, James, and John) up on a mountain (just like Moses in today’s chapter) and was “transfigured” before them (e.g. Matthew records the He shone like the sun while Luke describes it as bright as a flash of lightning). And Moses appeared with Him.
  • Angelic beings are consistently described throughout the Great Story as shining radiantly.
  • At the very end of the Great Story in Revelation (spoiler alert: the end is a new beginning) “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”

In today’s chapter, Moses returns to the top of the mountain and spends another 40 days with God. When he returns, the text says that his face was so radiant that it freaked out the Hebrews (for the record, Peter, James, and John were equally freaked when Jesus revealed the light of His glory).

Here’s a bit of additional mystery for you. The Hebrew word used here is actually translated “horns.” That’s why many artistic depictions of Moses (the most famous is Michaelangelo) show him having horns on his head:

Moses

So, what’s up with that?! I talked in my podcast, A Beginners Guide to the Great Story Part 1 about the fact that when thinking about the ancient stories we have to consider the context of the times in which they were living. The mystery of Moses’ horns is a great example. There is an ancient Babylonian text that uses the Sumer word si which is also the word for “horn” to describe a solar eclipse in which the sun’s light appears like “horns” (think “rays of light”) shooting out from behind the darkened moon. It’s quite possible that the word “horns” was layered with meaning and the ancients understood what we call “rays” of light to be “horns of light.”

In the quiet this morning, I find my brain buzzing with all sorts of thoughts about light and how it is part of the mystery of both the spiritual and the scientific. Humanity has so often made the two into binary, either-or, opposites and enemies. The further I get in my journey, the more I am convinced that, in the end, we will understand that they are two parts of the same mystery. It’s a “both, and.”

As a follower of Jesus, I can’t help but go back to Jesus’ call for His followers to be “light” to the world”:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

-Jesus (Matt 5:13-16 [MSG])

What does that mean for me? Am I a light-bearer? Do these posts and podcasts shine? More importantly, do my daily words and interaction with family, friends, neighbors, strangers, community, enemies, acquaintances, and foreigners radiate with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Am I being generous with my life? Is my house open? Am I opening up to others?

It’s what I’m endeavoring to do increasingly today, each day of this earthly journey. I want the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, the work of my hands, and my interactions with everyone to be positively “horny” with Light.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

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

God Revealing, Then and Now

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them…”
Exodus 10:1 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have some connections to east Africa. We have, for years, supported a Compassion child in Kenya named Joyce. Taylor and Clayton spent time working in Uganda, and Clayton’s doctoral research has taken him repeatedly to Tanzania where we also support another Compassion child, Michael, who is slightly older than Milo and they share the same birthday.

Because of these connections, we tend to pay a little more attention to the situation there. In case you didn’t know it, they have been battling locust swarms this year. Massive locust swarms that I would tag as being of “biblical proportions.” A second wave of swarms hit the region just as they began fighting COVID.

In my recent series of podcasts, A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story, I talk a lot about context. An adult can’t reason with a two-year-old by getting him or her to sit and listen to you read a psychology textbook that explains his or her need to modify behavior. In the same way, understanding ancient stories require me, a 21st-century reader, to think outside the box of my 21st-century thought and sensitivities. They require me to think about how God is meeting with and interacting with humanity in the context of the way they lived, thought, believed, and interpreted their world. Today’s chapter is a great example.

Locust swarms have been part of the ecosystem forever. They happen on occasion just like floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, and viral outbreaks. Our post-enlightenment, educated minds turn to science to understand these things, deal with them appropriately, and lessen the negative effects.

In Moses’ day, no one thought in such a way. In Moses day, natural phenomena were always considered to be a manifestation of the gods. If something bad happens, the gods must be angry. If something good happens, the gods must be pleased.

In today’s chapter, God tells Moses that the plagues had a purpose. The purpose was to reveal Himself and His power to Pharaoh and his officials. What is lost on a 21st-century reader is the fact that the types of plagues being visited upon the Egyptians had connections to various deities they worshiped across the pantheon of more than 1500 gods they worshiped. Because many, if not most, of the plagues were natural occurring phenomena, the Egyptians may have historically associated them with other deities. Now, the God of Moses turns them on-and-off at will, which is a direct challenge to Egypt’s religious system. Each time a plague is turned on or off by “stretching out” their hand and staff, it is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s claim of being a god who rules by “my mighty hand.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about God revealing Himself. The story of Moses is an early chapter in the Great Story. There has been no described system of worship. There is no Bible or sacred text. There is no institution or organization. God has simply revealed Himself to Abraham and his descendants in mysterious ways. The plagues we’ve been reading about are the first recorded time in the Great Story that God attempts to reveal Himself to another people group in contrast to their own gods. This is a major shift in the narrative, and this theme will continue.

Interestingly, Jesus also made it clear that His mission was one of revelation:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”.

God has always been in the process of revealing Himself, and does so in multiple ways, including the very act of creation:

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.

Along my earthly journey, I have been ever-grateful to live in our current period of human history. Despite the doom and gloom peddled in the media, we live in a period of human history that is unprecedented with regard to low levels of extreme poverty, disease, starvation, war, violence, and high levels of education and safety across the globe compared with any other period of history. Humanity is in a very different chapter of the Great Story, and I believe God is revealed very differently in our world than in Moses’ day.

The basic dance remains the same. God revealing, inviting, drawing in. Me asking, seeking, knocking, humbly accepting, and receiving.

I’m glad it no longer requires a plague of locusts. In my quiet time this morning I’m praying for those who are actively trying to help the people of Africa to minimize the damage and for those who are suffering because of it.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

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

Jesus and the Religious Rule Keepers

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27 (NIV)

As a child, I did a lot of walking and playing outdoors with the kids in my neighborhood. The neighborhood around the 3100 block of Madison Avenue was pretty much a virtual playground for us. I still remember who lived in most of the houses on our block and several of the houses on the blocks around us. We knew all of the “shortcuts” between garages, through fences, and how to quickly both get to other places and to disappear in need. We also knew the quickest routes, by foot or bike, to the woods, creeks, and green spaces that surrounded our neighborhood.

As we would play tag, hide-and-seek, or walk to the woods, I can remember nonchalantly playing with whatever plant I happened to walk over or past. Dandelions could be turned into a woven bracelet, and their dead blooms could be blown to the wind as a natural form of confetti. The leaves from corn plants in people’s backyard gardens could be held tightly between your thumbs like a diaphragm and made to make the most unusual noises when you blew through the hole between your thumbs. Of course, apples, cherries, and other fruit could be picked as you walked by for a quick snack. If you could spot one, a four-leaf clover was always a must-grab for luck in our next game of Freeze Tag, T.V. Tag, or Kick-the-Can.

What struck me in today’s chapter was the fact that, as Jesus and his followers were walking, “they began to pick some heads of grain.” Of course, they did. They were no different than me and my neighborhood friends as we walked through a neighbor’s yard. If you’re on a walk and you walk through a field your hands naturally reach out and caress the heads of grain to feel the softness across your hand. Your hand unconsciously closes around one and your fingers rub the grain loose from the head. You let the chaff fall from your palm or blow it like the natural confetti of a dandelion. You pop a grain into your mouth without thinking much of it. I learned as a child that interacting with creation as you walk through it is as natural as breathing.

How silly, then, that the religious people of Jesus’ day thought the natural act of picking heads of grain to be breaking “the Sabbath.” The “Sabbath” day was simply a day of rest each week. It follows God’s example in the creation poem in Genesis. God creates the universe in six days and then takes a day off. God later told His people in the Ten Commandments: “Do just like I did. Work six days, but make sure you take a day off, a sabbath.” The rule was meant to help perpetuate a healthy life. I need sleep each day. I need a day off each week. I need a few weeks of vacation each year. It’s part of the healthy physical rhythm that promotes mental and spiritual health, as well.

Along my life journey, one of the things I’ve observed is that religion likes to translate spiritual principles into strict, prescriptive rules of behavior. I remember one Bible college a friend of mine considered attending desired that their students stay sexually pure, so the rule was that if a member of the opposite sex is sitting in a chair and vacates it you must allow time for the chair to cool from that person’s body heat before you sit in it. I wish I was making that up. Without the rule, I would have never even thought about residual female body heat on a classroom chair. The legalistic rule intended to keep me “pure” actually ends up creating the illicit thoughts it was intended to prevent. The religious rules intended to ensure that I keep the spiritual principle actually become more perverse than the sin it’s trying to keep away from. It’s a perfect illustration of what Paul told the followers of Jesus in Rome in his letter to them:

The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me.

Read Romans 7:8-12 (MSG)

So, let me come back to today’s chapter. Jesus and the disciples walking through a field casually picking off a head of grain. The legalistic, religious rule keepers confront Jesus and point to the behavioral rules they’ve manufactured to give clarity to the earlier code of conduct which was born out of the one rule God gave them in the Ten Commandments in order to adhere to a spiritual principle of making sure you get some rest and stay healthy.

Jesus, in reply to the religious rule enforcers, simply points out an exception to the rule that those same legalistic rule enforcers chose to ignore (e.g. “You’re condemning me for doing the same that King David and his men did, but I don’t hear you condemning him.”) Jesus then cuts to the heart of the matter: the Sabbath was made as a principle of rest to help give you have a good life and keeping your heart, mind, and body healthy.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking of all the ways I once adhered to religious legalism. I confess, there was so much about what Jesus was teaching and getting at that I didn’t get at all. But, that was my journey. I had to walk through those stretches in order to learn, fail, struggle, persevere, grow, and mature in my own heart and mind. As the old hymn says: I was blind, but now I see. I have come to perceive that I, as a religious person, can be more spiritually blind than the “sinner” I believe that I am trying to save.

In this season of Lent, as I walk towards the annual memorial of Jesus’ death and celebration of His resurrection, I can’t help but think of the confessed thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus. The confessed sinner went with Jesus to paradise while the religious rule-keepers, who condemned and had Jesus executed, stood there hurling insults and condemnation at Him. They were blind, as I once was. Even Jesus said in those moments as he looked down at his executioners and the good religious rule-keepers condemning him: “Father, forgive them. They have no idea what they’re doing.”

I’m left thinking that this wayfaring stranger would rather hang on a cross, a confessed sinner next to Jesus, than religiously stand in condemnation of others for their breaking of the rules that were addendums to the previous code of conduct, which were additions to the one ancient rule, which was originally intended as a principle to spiritually guide people to Life.

I think I’ll go for a walk today. No dandelions out yet to blow to the wind, but I can pick a few leaves, and just maybe a four-leaf clover.

Anyone up for a game of kick-the-can?

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

The Important Thing

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.
Zechariah 14:9 (NIV)

On my podcast this past week, I began a conversation about time. One of the more profound and mysterious aspects of God’s Message is, of course, the prophetic. What I regularly refer to as “The Great Story” is the story arc from creation in Genesis to the end of the book of Revelation when history as we know it ends and there is a new beginning.

One of the things I’ve noted in God’s creation is the number of recurring themes present. The way we depict an atom looks just like a little solar system, which is replicated in the moon going around the earth, the earth going around the sun, the solar system spinning in the galaxy, and etc.

One of the other great themes is simply the cycle of life and death. Physicists tell us that matter is energy. Genesis says God made humans from the dust of the earth, and when we die it was prescribed that “to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). There is a natural part of the life-cycle of creation in this. Our bodies die, return to the ground, decay, and then are recycled by creation to feed new life.

As mentioned in my podcast, I see this cycle replicated in the Great Story. I look at human history and see all of the life stages: infancy, toddler, child, teenager, and etc. There is a course of macro human development that I find is very much like the micro stages of an individual human life. And, we are reminded by the prophets, history like each of our lives will have an end.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah envisions the death throes of human history. His vision dovetails with John’s visions in Revelation 16:14-16 and again at the end of Revelation 19. A final battle between good and evil, when God sets up rule and reign over the Earth.

Of course, all of this can be terribly confusing and even frightening. A couple of thoughts as I mull these things over this morning.

First, prophecy is not a science and there is no iron-clad understanding. I have learned to approach the prophetic humbly, recognizing that the most learned and scholarly of God’s people completely misinterpreted the prophets understanding of the Messiah. Even Jesus’ own disciples expected Him to become what the scholars and teachers of their day expected Him to be. Therefore, I assume that the most gifted and emphatic of today’s teachers claiming they know the truth about end-times prophecy is likely wrong about most of it. The most common truth I’ve come to accept about prophecy is that, in hindsight, it doesn’t end up happening the way everyone said it would.

Second, I believe that the important message is not in the details but in the theme. History moves towards a death of the way things are just as each of our lives ends with the death of our earthly journey. This death comes complete with the struggle and “death throes” associated with the human fight against our physical death. And then?

This is the critical piece to the Jesus Story. At the climactic, dark moment there is a eucatastrophe. Death does not have the final word. Resurrection. Life springs out of the depths. The phoenix rises from the ashes. The old order passes away and a new order comes.

Once again, I can’t help to see the layer of meaning. In the same way that I, as a follower of Jesus, believe that after death I will experience new life through the resurrected Jesus, so I believe that at the end of this Great Story of humanity there will be a death and a resurrection. As the end of Revelation envisions there is a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, and a new order of creation. This is such a natural part of creation that I find the truth of it is hidden in plain sight. Here in Iowa the fields have yielded their harvest. The death throes have begun. I feel it in the chill as I got out of bed this morning. Death is coming when everything in this beautiful land will be dark, and cold, and colorless. But, a new year will come with new life, and warmth, and abundance, and vibrant color.

In the quiet this morning I find myself curious but scratching my head with regard to battles, and plagues, and rotting flesh, and earthquakes, and etc. What I find myself focused on is on the important conclusion: new life, safety, a flow of living water, and “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Click on this image to go to an index of all posts in this series on the writings of the prophet Zechariah!

Don’t Stop the Music!

For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Nehemiah 12:46 (NIV)

This past week, Wendy and I went to a craft brewhouse in Des Moines. About three times a year they have an event called “Hymns at the Hall.” There was a large gathering of people that night. There were young families with children playing board games. There were older folks (I guess you have to start including me in that demographic). It was a fascinating mix of people who gathered to eat, drink, and sing the old hymns of the faith together.

Along my spiritual journey, I have experienced that music can be the subject of tremendous religious passion for some people. I grew up with hymns accompanied by a pipe organ and traditional choral music. I witnessed the emergence and growth of the “contemporary” music industry. Music within the churches I’ve associated has shifted radically in one generation. Most children today have never seen a hymnal or sung in a church choir in which you had to learn to read music and sing harmony.

So here’s the thing: I have lent my ears to friends who bemoan the changes as watering down and diminishing worship. I have witnessed heated debates over the theological implications of certain songs. My observation is this: music continues to change and evolve as does music’s place in worship. With all of the change, there are three things that are constant:

  • Our general discomfort with change.
  • Music’s ability to stir spirit, emotion, and thought (sometimes it does all three at the same time) in individuals and groups.
  • Worthwhile things that are discarded by culture as “dead and gone” are eventually resurrected to experience new life.

We are nearing the end of Nehemiah’s account of the return of the Hebrew exiles from Persia and the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. In the previous chapter, the people made a legally binding agreement to rededicate themselves to the law of Moses, the responsibilities of the sacrificial system, and the contributions required to keep Temple worship going. In today’s chapter, Nehemiah calls all of the musicians together from the region and forms two great choirs to march around the top of the wall in worship and dedication.

At the end of the chapter Nehemiah observes:

For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Nehemiah 12:46 (NIV)

In other words, the music of worship and of the Temple had been silenced for many years. It had been silenced at least 70 years since the destruction of the Babylonian siege. It may have been silenced before that. Nehemiah was resurrecting a worthwhile thing of the past and breathing new life into it for the discovery of a new generation. The subtext of the statement feels as if Nehemiah is defending the action and explaining his rationale for those who are grumbling about the change (see my first bullet above).

As my friends and I shared our “Hymns at the Hall” on social media, we had friends and family who seemed to bristle at the idea of singing hymns and drinking beer at the same time. I quietly smiled to myself knowing that hymn writers such as Martin Luther and Charles Wesley often took melodies of well-known songs that were sung in bars and taverns and changed the lyrics. In the days of illiterate and uneducated masses, it was easier if they used tunes that everyone knew (and everyone knew popular bar songs). Ironic that the songs have found their way back home. As I sang I watched people being stirred. You can take the hymns out of the church, but you can’t take God out of the hymns.

In the quiet this morning, Alexa is playing Gregorian Chant and ancient choral music, which is what I prefer in my quiet time with God. Later in the day, I’ll switch to more contemporary worship music as Wendy and I work in the home office. This evening we might switch to Gypsy Jazz, blues, or the music of the Rat Pack as dinner is prepared.

I don’t get too hung up on music. For me, is not a “holy” or “unholy” “either, or” binary thing. Sure, any good thing can be coopted for profane reasons, but it’s easy to turn it off or tell Alexa to skip a song. For me, music is a “both, and” equation.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Expanding My View of “All Things”

For in him all things were created:things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

For God was pleased to have all his fullnessdwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven….
Colossians 1:16-17;19-20 (NIV)

Last fall I stumbled onto a book entitled Factfulness by Dr. Hans Rosling. A swedish medical doctor who has spent his life serving on the front-lines of disease around the world, Dr. Rosling and his team have observed that most human beings have a completely incorrect view of the world. He lays out his case using readily available facts and statistics from reliable sources and a short quiz he has administered to tens of thousands of educators, politicians, and corporate executives around the world over many years. Our world views, he says, are stuck in the early twentieth century while the world itself has rapidly progressed. Chimpanzees randomly choosing the answers to his multiple choice quiz score higher than  most “educated” human beings. I highly recommend you read the book. It has been a game changer for me.

Dr. Rosling’s insights about our world have coincided with a shift in my spiritual world-view in recent years.

For most of my spiritual journey, the theological institutions and brands of Jesus’ followers of which I have largely been a part have been primarily focused on the spiritual salvation of individuals. As I have read through and studied God’s Message time and time again I have observed that this is not incorrect or inappropriate. Jesus Himself made this plain in a verse referenced for many years in football end zones everywhere:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16 (NIV)

What if, however, the focus on the spiritual salvation of individuals has had a corollary effect on my view of creation? The earth is a terrible place from which we must be saved. The world is going to hell and we must escape it. Temporal, earthly things are not important. It is getting as many souls to heaven that’s the priority by instilling a message of the condemnation of this evil world and fear of eternal damnation.

And yet, as I wrote in my post the other day, the prayer Jesus taught us is about bringing the Kingdom to earth, not the other way around. In today’s chapter Paul makes it clear that Christ is not only the agent of creation, but the cosmic, eternal force that holds all things together. Paul goes on to state that Christ’s mission was that through him would come the reconciliation of all things. He doesn’t say the reconciliation of all people, but the reconciliation of all things in both heaven and on Earth.

Dr. Rosling has been expanding my view of the Earth. While there are still many problems to be addressed, we have made incredible progress over the past century and life is better on Earth than it ever has been. And, despite the fear tactics of media trying to keep your attention (so they can charge advertisers for it), it’s getting better at a rapid rate.

At the same time I feel Holy Spirit expanding my view of eternity, the Cosmos, and this Great Story. I perpetually hear myself being called away from my own ego. If I am to be one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father and the Spirit, and if in Christ all things hold together and all things are reconciled, then in Christ I am part of a bigger picture than I’ve ever considered. Forgive me, I haven’t laid hold of it and in the quiet I find myself struggling to articulate it. Suffice it to say that I feel myself called “further up and further in” and I’m more excited than ever to follow and experience where it all leads. It is a faith journey, after all.

Art History; History Art; Art, History

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Back in college I was required to take a visual art class as part of my major. Being a lover of history I chose to take Art History II. The fascinating thing about Professor Jeff Thompson’s class was that the text book was not an Art History textbook. It was simply a History textbook.

Professor Thompson began the class with a question: “Does art merely reflect history, or does it drive history?” If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll recognize this is a binary, “either, or” question, and the answer to his question that we arrived at was “yes, and.”

What was fascinating in the course of study was the connection between all that was going on during a certain period of time of history (politics, religion, economics, and etc.) and what we were seeing in the important artworks of that period. Not only that, but also the connection between what we saw in visual art (paintings and sculptures) and the other art mediums (music, theatre, architechture, and literature). The art of each period both reflected what was happening and drove history forward.

That class planted in me a seed which has grown over time to bear much fruit of thought. Here is the root of it: In creating art, no matter the medium, artists express themselves through what they create. It cannot be otherwise. It is inherent in that act of creation itself that artists express who they really are, what they see, what they think, what they feel, and how they’ve experienced the world around them. In expressing these things, they influence the world around them and they drive the action of this Great Story.

This morning, in this chapter-a-day journey, we make our way to Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus living in Rome, heart of the Roman Empire and epicenter of western civilization at the time. Today, art historians flock to Rome to see remnants of the ancient city with its architecture and artwork. The people Paul wrote to were surrounded by it as it was happening all around them, and to them he wrote this:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The creator revealed themselves in what was created. The Genesis poem says that humans were created in the image of the Creator. Just as Van Gogh painted the unique way he saw light and color, just as Bach channeled his love and understanding of mathematic order and the woven details of the universe into his music, just as Shakespeare expressed the tragedy of everyday humanity in the gilded trappings of man-made royalty, so God the Creator expressed  the light, energy, life, beauty, and power of their person(s) in all creation.

In the quiet this morning I’m pondering how through much of my journey I’ve viewed faith and science as living entrenched in their “either, or” camps like the armies of World War I dug in for the long haul, reduced to hurtling grenades at one another across no man’s land. At least, that’s the perception I’ve had from what has been presented to me by media who like to simplify complex issues into simple binary groups in conflict (it sells more). As I’ve proceeded in my journey I’ve met many fellow sojourners who could be easily labeled as a members of either trench, but who have wandered out into no man’s land. They observe and study and appreciate this cosmic work of art still expanding outward, still creating, still reproducing life, and  they’ve come to a “yes, and” realization, just as we did in Professor Thompson’s Art History class.

That’s where Paul begins his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He starts with the expansive canvas of the cosmos through which the Creator expresses self. From the mystery of the cosmos Paul will dive into the mystery of being human, and how he sees the Creator has interacted with creation in the Great Story.