Tag Archives: Endurance

“…Don’t Scare Worth a Damn.”

 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
Ezra 4:4 (NIV)

I’m on the road this week for business. I rarely sleep well when I’m on the road. My brain is buzzing from long days of meetings with our client and it is often hard for me to shut down my brain long enough to sleep. I have found that one of the things that help me sleep is to have something familiar playing quietly near me like a favorite audiobook or documentary. Last night, it was Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War, that accompanied me to my dreams.

As I woke this morning the nine-part documentary was still playing as it told of how Ulysses S. Grant was able to finally defeat the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. Lee had successfully defeated a long list of Union generals before Grant. Lee’s army was severely outnumbered and his resolute strategy was to discourage the Union’s resolve to wage war. It was working. When Lee won a battle, the Union’s response had always been to retreat. When Grant lost a battle, however, he refused to retreat. Grant continued to march his army forward no matter the cost or casualties. As one of his soldiers said, “Ulysses don’t scare worth a damn.”

I then read today’s chapter. The Hebrew exiles have begun construction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the repair of the walls. Their regional enemies, however, fear a rebuilt and powerful Jerusalem. So, they set out to thwart the rebuilding. Their strategy? Much like Robert E. Lee, they set out to discourage the Hebrews and break their resolve to rebuild.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that God’s Message tells me, as a follower of Jesus, I am engaged in a Level Four spiritual struggle. With the resurrection of Jesus, my enemy’s defeat is made certain, but it did not break my enemy’s resolve. Along my life journey, I have found that the enemy’s strategy is basically the same as Lee’s and the same as the Hebrews’ neighbors in today’s chapter. The enemy wants to discourage me, to diminish my faith and break my resolve to trust and obey the One I follow.

Will I retreat like a long list of Union Generals who always backed down despite overwhelming odds in their favor? Or, will I continue to march forward in the face of an enemy who continually works to discourage me from that resolve?

As I ponder this morning, I can’t help but desire that it would be said of me in the spiritual realm: “That Tom Vander Well. He don’t scare worth a damn.”

“Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be Alright”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Thirteen years ago today I was living in a personal exile of sorts. I was in the process of a divorce that I had once promised myself would never happen. Rumors were flying, most all of them untrue. I had become a social pariah among many whom I’d once considered friends. I remember at the time clinging to the fidelity of a few individuals who “had my back” along with a word picture of living each day like a turtle. I stayed within my self-protective shell and continued to press forward, slow and steady. Not only did I firmly believe that God had not abandoned me, but I had faith that there were redemptive purposes God has planned for me on the other side of this difficult stretch of my life journey.

Jeremiah 29:11 (pasted at the top of this post) is one of the most optimistic, Pinterest-worthy verses from the entirety of God’s Message (see the featured image, a screen shot from Pinterest). Yet those who quote this verse and post it probably have little or no understanding of the context from which it was originally penned.

Jerusalem is in ruins. Solomon’s Temple, once one of the wonders of the ancient world, is reduced to rubble. The treasures of Jerusalem have been plundered by the Babylonian army. The best and brightest of Jerusalem’s people (artists, artisans, musicians, writers, thinkers, teachers, politicians, prophets, and priests) have been chained and led back to Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar and ensure that no one is left in Jerusalem to mount a revolt against him.

As you can imagine, those forced into servitude in Babylon are anxious and fearful. They find themselves in a strange land among a strange people with different culture, history, philosophy, and religion. Nothing is familiar. Nothing is safe. Nothing is sure. They just want to go home. Life in exile is filled with constant uncertainty.

Jeremiah, meanwhile, had been left behind. So the ancient prophet writes a letter from the rubble of Jerusalem to all of the exiles in Babylon. Compared to the doom, gloom and dystopian vision he’s always painted in his prophesies, his letter reads like a wise grandfather telling his grandchildren not to worry. He assures them God has not abandoned them. It’s all going to be alright. It is in this letter that Jeremiah pens the famous verse. While things may look dark and hopeless in Babylonian exile, God has a plan and a purpose for their good, and for their future.

I’ve come to understand that along life’s journey I will face personal periods of wandering, treks through wilderness, and/or stretches of personal exile. In wilderness, in exile is where I always meet Lady Wisdom. In hindsight I can see that she called out to me from the security and comfort of home, but I refused to listen. It is in exile I find her. It is in the wilderness, stripped bare of the illusions of my securities, that the ears of my heart are open to what she has to say. Her lessons are essential to God’s ultimate plans and purpose for me.

This morning happens to be my birthday. It’s the 52nd anniversary of the beginning of my life journey. This morning in the quiet I am thinking back to thirteen years ago when I woke up in a strange place of personal exile. What a different place on life’s road I find myself this morning. God’s plans and purposes are continually being revealed. I’m grateful for the things Lady Wisdom had to teach me back then.

One of the theme songs of Wendy’s and my life journey together is flitting through my head this morning. It’s a riff on Jeremiah’s encouraging letter to all those in exile from brother Marley:

Don’t worry about a thing,
’cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”

Prophetic Pattern, Hero’s Journey, and the Belly of the Whale

 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
    and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
    and flow from all the hills,
    and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.”
Amos 9:13-14a (NIV)

Life sends us all into places we don’t expect or desire. This is a journey and every journey includes both ups and downs. A friend who is a regular reader and fellow wayfarer recently referenced Joseph Campbell’s outline of the hero’s journey in a comment on one of my posts. This prompted me to refresh my memory of Campbell’s work, in which he explores the power of our myths and epic tales in understanding both ourselves and our stories.

Follow the path of this journey closely and you will recall specific episodes from all our favorite epic heroes from Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker to Bilbo Baggins. Yes there is treasure and reward at the end of the tale as well as magic and adventure along the way. Yet, the journey also includes reluctance, fear, trials, flights from danger, the need of courage, and a final battle. How often I appreciate the trials and struggles of my favorite epic heroes but want to shortcut past the trials and battles right to the treasure and reward in my own life.


Infographic: Hero's Journey | Venngage
Chart courtesy of Sara McGuire. See this on Venngage Infographics.


Just as there is a pattern to the hero’s journey, there is also a pattern to the poems and visions of the ancient prophets. Their prophetic visions are mostly filled with doom, gloom, and predictions of pestilent woe. They don’t mince words in their warnings or their calls to repentance and spiritual reformation. For this reason, I know many who prefer to avoid reading or studying the prophets altogether. It often feels like such a downer.

Yet the prophetic pattern almost always ends with redemption and hope. The poetic visions of the prophets are eucatastrophic in nature. Yes, we make a mess of things and that mess will lead us through consequences that produce all of the dark moments of any hero’s journey. At the end, however, the divine light shines in the darkness. Hope breaks through the dark clouds when we least expect it. Redemption graciously appears and leads us to the reward and treasure.

In today’s chapter Amos ends his volume of prophetic poems in the same pattern. After slogging through eight chapters of doom we end with the hope of restoration, repair, blessing, and abundance.

I confess that I begin this day of my journey feeling a bit like I’m in the belly of the whale. I have a sense that I’m moving toward a prescribed place, but here in the belly of the whale I can’t really feel the momentum, I can’t see where this is all headed, and I don’t particularly like the environment at the moment. It is dark, cramped and a particularly odorous stench. Yet, Amos and Campbell remind me this morning that doing a stretch in the belly of the whale is part of life’s journey just as it is part of any good story. Hope and redemption lie ahead. I will cross the threshold at the right place and time. Faith is required at the moment, as well as perseverance.

Pinching my nose. Slogging on.

Thanks for your companionship.

Consider it Joy

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy….”
James 1:2

Sometimes a verse becomes more than a verse. You take it in. You ingest it as a morsel to one who is starving. It is not about sweetness or delectability. It is about survival. The words are broken down within you. The truth of their meaning courses through your veins and brings essential spiritual nourishment to unseen corners within. The experience is not a random, unexpected inspirational event. Rather, it is the practical choosing of life. As Jesus said to our enemy in a moment of battle between flesh and spirit: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word the proceeds from the mouth of God.”

James 1:2 is one of these verses for Wendy and me. It is a waypoint of our journey, when in the depths of the valley of death we ingested the truth of it. It was not an inspired mountaintop moment, but a desperate hanging on. We learned in that valley that joy is not the by-product of affluent blessing, but a choice amidst suffering.

Consider it…”

Consideration is a choice. It is a willful task. It requires time and mental effort. Joy comes out of our deliberate consideration amidst difficult circumstances, when hope and faith are on life support. We consider, again and again…

If God is good, and we believe He is.
If God knows what is best for us, and we believe He does.
Then we can be joyful, even as the tears stream down our cheeks.
Out of our consideration, again and again, we choose into joy.

Eventually there follows endurance, maturity, and a whole-ness we had not known before.

The internal lesson was important enough for Wendy to indelibly print a reminder on her forearm.

Continue in What You Have Learned

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….
2 Timothy 3:14 (NIV)

When the weight of the world seems to land on your shoulders,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When doubts nag, and scurry about your mind like pests,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When negative circumstances fall around you like dominoes,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When prayers seem to hit  the ceiling and bounce back in an echo,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When the way is cloudy and the future uncertain,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

When the day lies ahead, and it looks to be an uphill stretch,
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo by Ewan Cross via Flickr

Words in My Heart

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Deuteronomy 6:5-6 (NRSV)

I’m posting a little late today because, I’ll be honest with you, it’s been a really rough couple of weeks. I don’t want to whine and I’m not complaining. It just is what it is. There has been unexpected trials in business. There has been unforeseen relational conflict with friends that hit like a blind-side tackle. Then last night we discovered our basement flooded. Somehow the electrical plug to our sump pump got pulled a tiny bit out of the outlet. The heavy rains of last week and the watering of our newly seeded lawn backed up into our storage room and family room. I’ve spent much of the past 24 hours in Noah mode.

As I was working the wet-vac into the wee hours last night, I found myself thinking about Job, for whom things were much worse than a wet basement, and yet he said, “The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I had other verses come to mind like those from James when he wrote “Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Or, the prophet Isaiah who said, “Don’t fear for I am with you. Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God. Surely I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you.” Or the prophet Jeremiah who while looking over the desolation of his home town said, “This I recall to mind. Therefore I have hope. God’s love never ceases. His compassion does not fail. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.”

These various words are not just in my head. They are in my heart. And, as I read Moses command this afternoon to keep God’s Message in our heart, it struck me that the difference between having these words in your head and having them in your heart is all the difference in the world. When they are in your head they affect your thinking. When they are in your heart they affect your life.

Last night was a long evening of sorting through our ruined belongings. Many of them were irreplaceable and with priceless sentimental value. We had a very short night’s rest and woke sore and worn but got right back to the clean up. Mid-morning, Wendy and I took a breather. We found ourselves laughing. We hugged, and between the two of us we found a few silver linings for which to be grateful. Among the things for which we are grateful are God, His promises, and His mercies that are new each morning – even when that morning calls you back to the clean up.

Super Tom! (Not)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

When historians look back on these times that we are living in, one of the major themes that they will address is how social media has changed the world. Society has changed dramatically in the past ten years and I’m not sure we can fully realize in the moment the breadth and depth of the change.

We live in a Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook culture in which thoughts are reduced to 140 characters or a 400×400 pixel image. Please do not read in this post what I am not writing. This is not a judgment on social media, merely an observation.

One of the things I observed is that in reducing the message to fit the medium, the context of the message can change dramatically. Take Paul’s words to his friend in Philippi in today’s chapter. The more well known translation is ” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Talk about Pinterest quote material.

Yet, in isolating and reducing the message of the verse it appears to be a promise of unlimited potential. I might as well photoshop your face on the body of a comic book superhero to use as the background of my Pinterest post. SuperMe to the rescue. I can do all things!!

But when I read Paul’s words in the context of the previous sentences, the message of that phrase takes on what I believe is a significantly different meaning. Paul’s life journey has taken him to high mountaintops of earthly success and deep valleys of death. He has experienced “the good life” and he has found himself shipwrecked on an island like a real life episode of Lost. When he writes, “I can do all things” he is saying, “I will survive. I will be okay. Whether it’s a good day or bad, I can be content and trust that God will give me the strength to get through.

Today, I’m thankful for context. I’m glad that Paul was not writing an empty promise of superhumanity which does not fit my reality. I may be typing this post in my Batman boxer shorts, but that’s where my super hero capabilities end and I know it. To hear Paul’s encouragement to walk today’s journey knowing that whatever comes my way God will give me the strength to endure…well, that’s a message my heart can really use as I begin my day.