Tag Archives: Endurance

Prepped for Success

King David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold from all the nations he had subdued…. 2 Samuel 8:11 (NIV)

Yesterday I was in my client’s office and he was sharing with me a little bit about his background. He took me through a brief overview of his professional journey and resume. At the end of it, he had connected the dots to reveal how his entire career had uniquely prepared him for his current role in his company and industry. Laughing, he told me “I guess I learned a thing or two along the way.”

I thought about that conversation this morning as I read today’s chapter. David was on a roll. Bent on expanding and establishing his kingdom, his energies were focused on conquest. Connecting the dots, I recognize how all those painful years on the run from Saul now benefitted him greatly. Those difficult years prepared him uniquely to be a successful leader. He had been forced to live in foreign territories and had gathered around himself an international military team. He knew how to lead a diverse group of men. His understanding of neighboring nations, their politics, their militaries, and all of the geopolitical nuances of the region allowed him to be shrewd in his decisions as a general and a king. Like my client, David had learned a thing or two along the way.

I have to believe that all of those years depending on God for daily strength, courage, provision, and perseverance also prepared David with humility. He knew what it was like to be an outlaw living life in a cave. Now that he was king and the military victories were stacking up David had not lost sight of the fact that it was God who made those victories possible. The trophies of his victories he dedicated to God, refusing to take the glory for himself.

Today I am reminded to place credit where credit is due in my own life and victories. Like my client, like David, I can connect the dots in my journey and see how God has led me to this place. I’ve learned a thing or two as well, and have been prepared for my calling.

Though my victories are relatively small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, there is no doubt that I have been richly blessed. God has been good to me and I never want to lose sight of that fact, nor take credit for what has been graciously and undeservedly given.

A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m take a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Rogues Gallery

Rogues Gallery (CaD Rev 17) Wayfarer

The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.
Revelation 17:16 (NIV)

In my previous post, I drew upon a comic book character to discuss the topic of justice in relation to the justice God brings upon the earth with a trinity of judgments that culminates in seven bowls of God’s wrath. This morning, as I meditated on the chapter, I found myself once again finding the world of comic books an apt parallel.

In classic comics like Batman and Spiderman, we are introduced to a rogues’ gallery of antagonists with whom our superheroes wage a battle of good and evil. Occasionally, the writers will weave a storyline in which all of the bad guys join together to fight the intrepid hero or heroine.

In a similar way, today’s chapter reveals John being given a vision of a rogues’ gallery of earthly power-players bent on waging war on God and God’s people:

  • The “Great Prostitute”
  • The “Beast” on which she rides
  • Seven Kings that are also seven hills
  • An eighth King, the anti-Christ, allied with the Seven Kings
  • Ten Kings who have yet no kingdom, allied to the Beast

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, Satan (whom Jesus called the “Prince of this World”) showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in all their earthly power and splendor. The Prince of this World then offered to give them all to Jesus if Jesus would only bow and worship him. Jesus passed on the offer, knowing that His kingdom was “not of this world” and that He was sent on a mission with a much higher purpose.

The rapidly approaching climax of John’s Revelation, just like a great story or movie, has the key players from the beginning of the story and conflict advancing towards the story’s ultimate clash: God, the Serpent, and fallen humanity. Satan and his rogues’ gallery scramble for power and authority to wage this war.

What struck me as I read the chapter was the in-fighting among these earthly power players. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in Galatia, Paul listed the characteristics of those who live according to the Prince of this World: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.” When you have multiple players each driven by hatred, discord, and selfish ambition, it’s basically impossible to create any sustainable alliance toward a common goal. Evil always ends up imploding from the inside out as evil ones will always eventually turn on their own to satisfy their personal hatred, rage, and selfish ambition.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that in the earthly conflict of good and evil to which I am subject on this earthly journey, God continually reminds me to persevere and endure. Jesus passed up the quick and easy way to earthly power offered by the Prince of this World instead choosing instead to endure the suffering and death that led to a eucatastrophic resurrection and eternal power. So Jesus urges me to follow in His footsteps.

The opening verses of Hebrews 12 came to mind as I pondered these things:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Facing the Giants

At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns.
Joshua 11:21 (NIV)

I sometimes marvel at the fact that Wendy and I are such sports fans. Neither one of us was an athlete. It’s not like we love sports for the sake of sports. You’ll never find us listening to sports podcasts or watching Sportscenter on ESPN. It’s more like we’re the fan of certain teams. We tend to follow our teams, and we only follow the sport as it relates to our team. I know. We’re quirky.

The interesting thing is that when I consider the teams we cheer for there is a certain underdog theme to our choices. Our teams tend to be the ones who rarely, if ever, have won the big one. Our teams tend to have perennial rivalries with teams who are perennial winners and almost always (at least it feels that way) beat our team. This means that winning the big game is a rare treat. But man, oh man, does it feel good when that day finally comes and our team faces the giant and wins.

Today’s chapter marks the end of Joshua’s seven-year conquest of the land of Canaan. The last enemy he and the army face are the Anakites. The Anakim were legendary people rumored to be giants in size. It’s fascinating to note that today’s chapter mentions that there were still Anakim living in the Gath region after the conquest. About 300 years later, a young shepherd boy named David would fight a giant warrior named Goliath, who was from Gath.

It’s also important to remember that 40 years before the events of today’s chapter, Moses and the Hebrew Tribes were camped on the other side of the River Jordan. Twelve spies were sent out to get a look at the land and the people living there. Joshua and his colleague Caleb were the only spies who believed that the Hebrews could take the land. Ten of the spies were afraid to do so because the Anakites lived there. They were afraid to face the giants.

The events of today’s chapter are a victorious vindication for Joshua and Caleb. It took 40 years, but they finally faced the giants and were victorious.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the “giants” I have faced and continue to face in my own spiritual journey. When I think about giants, I find myself considering:

  • Sins and fears to overcome
  • Broken relationships to heal
  • Callings to faithfully follow
  • Trials to endure
  • Disciplines to instill and develop
  • Enemies to love, bless and forgive

The author of Hebrews said that our lives and spiritual journeys are like a marathon. My friends who have trained and run marathons tell me that throughout the 26-mile course one might “hit the wall” multiple times and consider quitting. I thought of this as I contemplated the “giants” I have faced along my journey and the ones I face today. There’s always another wall to hit or another giant to face. I guess that’s why the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to “run with perseverance” this marathon of life we’re on.

Joshua and Caleb finally faced the Anakites and won. The conquest was ended. Now for the challenges of dividing and maintaining the land. I’m not sure Joshua had any idea how giant those challenges were going to be.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Trouble and Peace

Trouble and Peace (CaD John 16) Wayfarer

They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” 
John 16:2 (NIV)

The little Iowa town where Wendy and I live has a fascinating history. It was founded and designed by a pastor who was escaping persecution in the Netherlands. That sounds odd to most people since the Netherlands is known for being a place of tolerance. In the early 1800s, however, the King of the Netherlands, and the government, controlled the church of the Netherlands. Pastors were told what to preach, and were threatened and punished if they disobeyed.

There was a group of rebellious young pastors who led an organized secession from the state church. Some were imprisoned for it. The leader of the secessionist movement was H.P. Scholte, and it was during this period of conflict with the state church of the Netherlands that he decided he wanted to experience the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech guaranteed to all Americans. In 1847, he led hundreds of followers to the Iowa prairie and created a town out of nothing.

In America, Scholte fully exercised his freedoms. Always a maverick, he refused to join any denomination and eventually built his own church which he led as a local, independent, non-denominational congregation. He practiced his freedom of speech by publishing his own paper, loudly speaking out for the abolition of slavery, and getting involved in the political process. He became a friend of Abraham Lincoln. The faith and spirit that Scholte and his wife imbued in this town is still evident for those who have eyes to see it.

Today’s chapter is the third of four chapters that John dedicates to all the things Jesus told His followers on the night before His crucifixion. Almost 20% of his biography is dedicated to those few hours on a Thursday evening.

Two chapters ago, I observed that all of the players present in the “fall” in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) are represented and/or referenced on this fateful evening. Again in today’s chapter, Jesus references the “prince of this world.” Jesus points to the fact that the events of this evening are part of a larger story; They are part of the Great Story.

What fascinated me as I, once again, read Jesus words to His followers this morning was both the warning and the promise with which today’s chapter is bookended. Jesus begins by warning His followers of the difficulties they will soon face: institutional persecution and the threat of death. Jesus wasn’t lying. All but one of the eleven disciples listening to these words (Judas was, at that moment, carrying out his betrayal) would be killed, martyred, for carrying out Jesus’ mission. At the end of the chapter, Jesus reiterates the “trouble” that they will experience in this world adding that “in Him” they would find peace amidst the conflict.

As I contemplate this, I am reminded of three things:

First, that when Wendy and I attended our local gathering of Jesus’ followers yesterday, it was the result of a legacy of believers who literally risked life and limb to escape “trouble” to carve out lives in the freedom of America.

Second, I am reminded of the “trouble” that many followers of Jesus face this day. I recently read that in Nigeria, 43,000 followers of Jesus have been killed in the past 12 years. An additional 18,000 have permanently disappeared. 17,500 churches have been attacked. There are 49 other countries in which the risk of “trouble” for being a follower of Jesus is rated “very high” to “extreme.” Those are dangers a follower of Jesus in America can largely ignore because it’s not my reality.

Which brings me to my third thought. In recent weeks, almost 60 churches have been attacked and burned in Canada, and last week a group of followers exercising their right to freely assemble and publicly worship were physically attacked by Antifa while police allegedly stood by and did nothing. “Trouble” is suddenly hits closer to home in ways I never expected to see in my lifetime.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Jesus’ promise which was a very direct contrast statement: In this world you will have trouble,” He stated, while In me you will have peace.” The latter was never intended to negate or escape the former. Rather, it was intended as the means to endure it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Psalm 136 is one of the most fascinating of all the songs in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we all the book of Psalms. The ancient Hebrew songwriter crafted it in such a way that the the meaning and metaphor of the lyrics are as much in the structure as they are in the words. First, there’s the organization of the the theme:

  • Six verses about creation
  • Six verses about the Hebrews deliverance from slavery
  • One verse about the Hebrews being led through the wilderness
  • Six verses about the Hebrews conquest of Canaan
  • Four verses that echo/summarize the previous themes
  • A final call to praise God

There is no other psalm in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that utilizes the call and response device as this song does. Twenty-six times the refrain “His love endures forever” is used. That number is important because for the ancient Hebrews, the letters of their alphabet also did double-duty as numerals. Every letter was used as a number. When you add up the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH (Note: the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have vowels) the total is, you guessed it, 26.

As I thought about the structure of the song, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels every life story, my life story.

I have a creation story. There’s the time in which I was born, the family in which I was raised, the community of my childhood, and the events that set me on my path in life.

Like the Hebrew exodus from slavery, I have climactic events that shape and define my life journey. My decision to follow Christ and subsequent call to proclaim His message, my being cast in a film and meeting the mentor who would play an instrumental part in my life, my early marriage, the births of Taylor and Madison, the divorce that would end my first marriage after seventeen years, and the unexpected arrival of Wendy in my life.

Like the Hebrew wilderness experience, I have my own stretch of life’s road in which I wandered in the wilderness of my own choosing. I chose the path of the prodigal. I ran. I squandered. I was unfaithful to those I loved most. I had my own pig-slop “Aha!” moment. I had to find my way back.

Like the Hebrew conquest, I have my own slate of victories in life. I have accomplishments, awards, and successes.

And, through it all, God’s faithful, enduring love is woven through every major success and every tragic failure. His love is woven through my best moments and my worst. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul wrote that at the end of the Great Story that contains all stories, including mine, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love. he adds, “The greatest of these is love.”

In the quiet this morning, as I look back at my own story, I am realizing just how much God’s love shows up like the repeated refrain of Psalm 136. I am also reminded that like the 26 love refrains the song writer metaphorically employed to point me to God, Yahweh, I am pointed to a God who is love incarnate, which is the destination and goal of my entire story and life journey through this world. If I’m not growing into love in increasing measure as Jesus defined it, then I am (perhaps even with the best of intentions) headed in the wrong direction.

“…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