Tag Archives: Faith

The “How Long?” Blues

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How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 13:1 (NRSVCE)

Along my journey, I have come to observe that there is a natural ebb and flow to life. It’s like the Sage of Ecclesiastes pointed out. Time and seasons for everything. There are times of plenty, and times of want. There are times when everything seems to be going my way, and times when every circumstance seems stacked against me.

Back in Psalm 11, David penned that “the upright behold [God’s] face” and I mentioned in my post that day that the notion of seeing a King’s face was a metaphor in the ancient Near East which meant that you had the king’s attention and favor. David used the metaphor to close that psalm with the faithful assurance that God would come through.

What a stark contrast. In today’s Psalm David begins by asking God how long he will hide his face from David. If holding the King’s face is his favor, then the King hiding his face means just the opposite. Today’s psalm seems to be David’s cry to God during one of those stretches of the journey when nothing is going right.

The contrasting metaphor remind me of the way I thought of life as a child. If things seemed to be be going my way, then I assumed that I had been good and God was blessing me. When things weren’t going well then I assumed I had done something wrong and God was punishing me. It took me a long time to see what a self-centered perspective that really was, as if everything in life is about me. Jesus said that if I want to find Life then I have to lose it, including the surrender of a childish notion that I am at the root of every circumstance.

Back in Psalm 7, I pointed out that David was singing the “Why Me?” Blues. Today’s song can just as easily be entitled the “How Long?” Blues. And, I think that’s the point as I meditate on it this morning. What makes the blues such a powerful music genre is that it resonates with and expresses the cries of my heart when life’s road gets rough, as it does for all of us.

Along the way, I’ve learned that the road is going to have its ups and its downs. There are going to be good times and bad. It may not be about me, but it’s certainly for me if I’m willing to learn what each stretch of the journey has to teach me about faith, gratitude, perseverance, joy, praise, growth, humility, blessing, trust, and maturity. And, when the road seems like a hard slog and my petulant inner child feels like God has hidden His face from me, I can always sing the “How Long?” Blues in which David begins with lament but ends with a refrain of trust and a reminder of God’s goodness despite the struggle.

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

Much Needed Affirmation

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The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
    silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

Psalm 12:6 (NRSVCE)

As I have confessed many times, I am not by temperament an optimist. In fact, as a child I didn’t get into fights with other kids because I was so good at beating myself up. The spiritual journey, if one genuinely follows Jesus, will always lead to dealing with the shit inside, and I use that word deliberately. We all have spiritual, emotional, relational, familial, experiential, and/or personal waste gumming up our souls and stinking things up inside.

I was fifteen or twenty years into my spiritual journey following Christ before Holy Spirit led me to the toxic waste that my internal critic had been creating in my soul with repetitive negative messages I’d been feeding myself without every being really conscious of it. As I processed my way through this, talked with wise counselors, and addressed the issue, I learned how much I need regular doses of healthy, affirming messages that counteract the negative self-talk that I can so easily slip into like a comfy old sweatshirt.

The first half of 2020 has been the most tumultuous period of time that I’ve experienced in my lifetime. COVID, lockdowns, social breakdown, economic downturn, violence, hypocrisy, and rage. Each morning as Wendy and I read the news we can’t believe what we’re reading. It’s enough to trigger my old inner critic to feed me all sorts of depressing messages of doom.

The lyrics of today’s short psalm feel like they could have been penned today. David is looking at the world around him, the generation he finds himself living in, and everything seems terrible. People are leaving the faith in droves, everyone speaks lies and false narratives to make themselves feel good, people demand their own way with arrogant pride, violence and vile acts are not just tolerated but celebrated, and the poor and needy are forgotten in the tumult.

Even as I write those words I have images of recent events coming to mind.

The reason for David’s song is found in the third verse. Amidst the seemingly endless stream of lies, hypocrisy, hatred, and false narratives David reminds himself that God and His promises are “pure” and have been refined by the fires of current events time and time again throughout history. David’s song is his own version of a much needed healthy, affirming reminder. God hasn’t abandoned or forsaken him. God’s promises are true. God has always faithfully protected, provided for, and delivered David from his enemies.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for David’s little ditty. It reminds me that we are not the first generation of humanity to think everything was going to hell in a handbasket. I am not the only one who needs regular doses of healthy affirmation. God’s got this. I can believe it, and I can mentally run to that affirmation as many times as I need to today as I press on in the journey one more day.

Want to Read More?

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

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

About This Post

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

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

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

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

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Faith or Flight

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In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
    ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains;

Psalm 11:1 (NRSVCE)

“If I really believe what I say I believe….”

Yesterday morning I delivered a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and that was the statement I used to press into the subject of hope in death. (It’s on YouTube here.). I mentioned that it has been equally helpful for me as I read the news each day in these chaotic times.

The lyrics of Psalm 11 are, once again, penned by King David during an equally chaotic and troubling time of his own reign. When David sings, “If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” he is speaking specifically about the foundation of social order. In other words, the daily life of David’s kingdom was beginning to break down. Those advising King David were beginning to suggest that it was time for him to abandon the city and flee to a safe hiding place in the hills.

The notion of escaping the chaos and going to live somewhere else is not a foreign thought amidst today’s current events. I know those who have moved out of the country. Interestingly enough, I know those on both the left and the right who have/are considered leaving and living somewhere else. When you feel the very foundations of social order shaking, it’s a natural response.

And yet, if I really believe what I say I believe….

I can’t help but feel that David is whispering that same sentiment as he pens his lyrics.

He begins by affirming that God is his refuge, not a bunker in the hills.

He then affirms God is on the throne in heaven and fully aware of the current circumstances, including a knowledge of those causing the violent upheaval in David’s kingdom.

David then ends with a declaration of faith. “To see the king’s face” in the ancient near east was an expression of affirmation. It meant you had access to, and the favor of, the king who would hear your appeal and act on your behalf. In a time when monarchs regularly proclaimed themselves God in order to exercise power over their people, David once again humbles himself in acknowledging that he is a subject to the King of Heaven. David places his faith in having access to, and the favor of, his King.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of the many times I have written in these posts that I believe life is part of the Great Story that is being told from Genesis through Revelation. If I really believe what I say I believe, then the chaos and upheaval I’m currently reading about and experiencing through social media are part of the current chapter of the story we happen to be living in. If I really believe what I say I believe, then my job is to press on, day-by-day, in the role I’ve been giving of loving and proclaiming Love to those in my circles of influence. If I really believe what I say I believe then I can trust lyrics of the psalm I have tattooed on my right arm:

“[He who fears the Lord] will have no fear of bad news.
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”

A good reminder as I press on into another week. Have a great week, my friend.

Want to Read More?

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

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

About This Post

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

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

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

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

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Refuge in Royally Troubled TImes

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Happy are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:12

Saturday morning here at Vander Well Manor is typically a lazy affair. Wendy and I will often take our time getting up and going in the morning. We’ll typically sit in the dining room with our pot of coffee (I might even make a special French Press of the good stuff), our spinach and blueberry smoothies, and we’ll take extra time reading the extended weekend edition of the newspaper while we discuss the issues of the day.

This past Saturday morning I commented to Wendy that I hardly want to look at the paper these days. Between the doom, gloom, conflict, chaos, and crazy that seems ever-present in 2020, there are times that it simply feels overwhelming. Can I get a witness!?

Then yesterday morning among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I was reminded that “God’s kingdom is unshakable, unbreakable, and not in trouble.”

This morning’s chapter, Psalm 2, feels like a touch of synchronicity as if God’s Spirit is reminding me of this theme.

The first two psalms are bookended “orphans” (i.e. they have no title) that together frame a thematic introduction to the entire anthology of song lyrics that is the book of Psalms. Psalm 1 begins “Blessed/Happy is the one…” and Psalm 2 ends with “Blessed/Happy is the one….” As mentioned in last Friday’s post, Psalm 1 is all about the individual (the personal, Level 1, if you will). It addresses how I want my personal journey to be. Do I want it to be blessed and life-giving or wicked and death-like?

Today’s psalm is a “royal” song that was likely used during the coronation ceremony when one of King David’s descendants was crowned. God, pictured as the ultimate king and power, adopts the earthly ruler (who holds power amidst the [Level 3] institutions of this world) as a child and representative. The king and all the people gathered for the coronation are reminded that they serve God and God’s Kingdom. Ultimately, it is as Jesus prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth.”

Jesus’ followers understood that today’s Psalm was ultimately about Jesus. Peter and John quoted it to comfort and encourage Jesus followers after they had been arrested and then released by the institutional religious authorities who had conspired to have Jesus crucified in Acts 4:25-26:

Why do the nations conspire,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and his anointed…

Peter and John, like me, were in the middle of uncomfortable circumstances that were challenging everything they’d ever known and believed. Just a week or two before they thought they’d be picking out the wallpaper for their staff offices in King Jesus’ royal palace. Now they find themselves confronted with the reality that the road is going to be very different and more challenging than they had imagined. But, they weren’t despairing. Psalm 2 was a springboard of faith and encouragement. They found in Psalm 2 a reminder of the resurrected Jesus who was, ultimately, in charge. They began to understand that their mission was that of the King’s ambassadors in a fallen world:

[They prayed] For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
Acts 4:27-31

In the quiet this morning, I find the Spirit encouraging me amidst my own human weariness with this world. I also find myself challenged to embrace the reality that, like Peter and John, I may have to accept that the road may not be what I’ve always expected it to look like. This world may sink into all sorts of crazy just as it has time and time again throughout the Great Story. But, I know whom I serve. And, His kingdom is unshakable, unbreakable, and not in trouble.

“Happy are all who take refuge in Him.”

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

Into the Water

I’m trying something new. Would you rather listen to today’s post?

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back…
But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.”

Exodus 14:10, 13, 15 (NRSVCE)

In case you missed it, I reblogged our daughter’s blog post yesterday. It’s worth a read. She referenced my love of genealogy, which I mention from time-to-time in these posts, along with my love of history.

One of the themes I’ve noticed along this Life journey is that everyone has a choice to get stuck looking back, get stuck in place, or keep moving forward. I’ve come to believe that this is a facet of what theologians call “free will,” and it manifests itself in different ways on life’s journey.

I’ve observed individuals for whom life already happened. The “glory days,” as Bruce Springsteen sings it, happened in the past and spiritually the individual is stuck looking back at what was.

I’ve observed individuals for whom life stalls spiritually. Somewhere along the road they decided to spiritually settled down long the road. They’ve found a comfortable spot for their soul. Spiritually, they stake out the ground, build a comfy little shelter, and defend it for the rest of their lives.

I’ve observed individuals who never stop spiritually moving forward. They may walk backwards for a stretch to remember and to let the past inform their route. They may stop and rest along the way, because Sabbath isn’t just for our physical bodies. Our souls need it too. They don’t stay for too long, however, because they are always pressing on further up and further in. As Paul wrote the believers in Phillipi:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
Phil 3:13-16 (MSG)

In today’s chapter, I found it so clearly hiding in plain sight. Moses and the escaping Hebrews find themselves stuck at the shore of the Red Sea as the Egyptian army advances on them. In escaping their chains of slavery and oppression the Hebrews looked back at what was and found themselves mired in fear. Moses was focused on standing firm, but that leaves the situation between the proverbial rock and a hard place. God wants them to move forward.

“Move forward Lord? Into the water?”

Yes. Move forward into the water because that’s one of the grand themes of this Great Story I’m authoring. Through the deep creation begins. Through the water Noah and his family lead a new beginning. Through the water, God will deliver Moses and the people. Through the water of the Jordan River, the Hebrews will enter the Promised Land. Through the same water of the Jordan River and John’s baptism, Jesus begins His earthly ministry. Through the water of baptism, we are buried in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. Through the Living Water of Christ, we discover a Life-giving wellspring that never runs dry even in the seeming drought of our current circumstances. In his Revelation, the Angel reveals to John the end of the Great Story which is actually a new beginning with a “Water-of-Life River, crystal bright that flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.” (see Rev 22)

So yes, Moses, move forward through the water.

Leap, and the net will appear.

In the quiet this morning I find myself looking at our current events through this lens. Perhaps individuals can get stuck looking back. Perhaps we’ve become stagnant, comfortable, and complacent in our politics, our narratives, our comfortable plot of world-view which we feel we need to defend. Perhaps at this moment in the Great Story God is calling all of His children to move forward.

Down into the water, children. All of you.

Leap, and the net will appear.

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

Road Trip

So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.
Exodus 13:18 (NRSVCE)

I find myself in the middle of an unexpected and impromptu road trip this morning. The past week has been ugly for me personally, and that is layered on top of the ugly that permeates our world on so many levels right now. I am broken. I am humbled. There are many moments in life’s journey when things don’t seem right with my world. At different waypoints of the journey I’ve experienced things not being right with my world of work, my world of relationships, my world of community, the world of my nation, the world of family, friends, faith, or finances. But usually when it happens it is an acute ugly with just one part of my world.

Right now, the ugly feels like it’s permeating every one of my worlds.

Even as I typed that last sentence, I know it’s not true. I’m a Enneagram Four, remember. If there was a profession in which pessimism and extreme emotional angst was a requisite, we’d dominate the field.

Nevertheless, the ugly has permeated several of my worlds in the last week. And so, I jumped at the chance for a road trip. Jesus went off to a mountainside by Himself to pray. I sequestered in the car driving down I-49. I meditated. I prayed. I talked a little. I tried to listen a lot.

In today’s chapter, God is leading His people out of slavery. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, children uprooting their lives and everything they’ve known and hitting the road to who knows where. Everything is changing. Nothing seems right with their worlds. There is fear of their oppressors coming after them. There is fear of what lies ahead. There is confusion about what is happening and what this all means.

And then, God leads them “by the roundabout way of the wilderness.” He didn’t lead them on straight-and-narrow way to the Promised Land, even though there was one. God led them on a difficult path fraught with obstacles and difficulties. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I am humbled and actually learn what faith means. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I find that I can’t do things on our own and that I need God and others. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I learn to forget what lies behind, press on, and persevere. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I learn the power of praising God in all circumstances and the chain reaction that follows: activated faith, powerful prayers, overcoming evil, and learning what it means to be part of the divine dance.

In the car yesterday I found myself myself meditating on this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The straight path is found at the end of the roundabout way through the wilderness because the straight path can only be found via trust, loss of self-reliance, and faith.

Road trips are good for the soul (in more ways than one).

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

Seemingly Safe Assumptions

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
Exodus 5:22-23 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have, of late, participated in multiple conversations with others who are grieving. The grief being experienced is not the result of the death of a loved one, but rather the unexpected demise of seemingly safe assumptions.

Along this life journey, I have observed that I am constantly making seemingly safe assumptions about what the road up ahead is going to look like. When I was first married, I assumed my marital life would be “happily ever after,” until I found myself in the middle of a divorce. I raised our daughters never realizing that I assumed all sorts of things about what their education, careers, lives, and world-views would look like until they ended up looking much different in almost every way. I assumed I would go to college and get a college degree and successfully pursue my chosen career, but then I ended up in a job I never wanted nor expected. I have saved for retirement and look forward to many golden years traveling with Wendy and doting on our grandchildren, but I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the harsh realities of lives cut far short of that seemingly safe assumption.

In today’s chapter, our reluctant hero, Moses, obediently follows God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses and Aaron make their appeal asking Pharaoh to let the people go into the wilderness to make sacrifices to God. Instead, Pharaoh both refuses and places a heavier burden on his Hebrew slave labor. This leaves Moses stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no sign of Pharaoh capitulating and Moses’ people are ticked off as they are forced to work harder to meet impossible quotas for which they will likely be beaten and punished.

As I read Moses’ complaint to God about the situation, I found myself remembering exactly what God said to Moses in the burning bush conversation:

“I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.
Exodus 3:19-20

In the painful realities of the moment, Moses was quick to remember God’s promise to deliver his people and plunder the Egyptians. However, Moses conveniently forgot the part about Pharaoh’s obstinance and that it would take a process of wonders before Pharaoh would relent. Based on the power and wonders God had shown Moses back at the burning bush, Moses made a seemingly safe assumption that this whole deliverer gig had a quick turnaround.

I find myself this morning thinking about the many seemingly safe assumptions I made earlier in life. Never did I expect to find myself wading through my own moral failure, navigating divorce, life in a small town, remarriage, blended family, infertility, unexpected pregnancy, and spending my life in a career I’d never wanted but to which I was called and found myself perfectly suited to accomplish.

I can’t help but remember Jesus’ words:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

I have come to believe that any “seemingly safe assumption” about what my life, or the lives of my loved ones, will look like down the road is part of what Jesus is urging me to avoid. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I only know that “God promised to help me deal with whatever hard things come when the time comes.”

God, allow me the wisdom to give my entire attention to what you are doing in and through me this day, and the grace to entrust you with any and every tomorrow.

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

Exile, Then and Now

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark 16:8 (NIV)

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been entrenched in the them of exile since this past September. It’s been a fascinating and challenging theme. On one hand, the theme of exile is a meta-theme of the Great Story:

  • Since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden at the very beginning of the Great Story, humanity has been exiled from the intended, eternal relationship with God. This is relationship is restored at the very end of the Great Story at the end of the book of Revelation.
  • Jesus left His “home” in eternity with the Father and Spirit, to come to an exile on Earth to live an earthly existence as one of us in order to make the way for the redemption of all things.
  • Abraham followed God’s call to leave his home and wander in exile so that he might be led by God to “a land that I will show you.” (I talked about this in the most recent Wayfarer podcast).
  • Jacob and his family left Canaan to live in exile in Egypt where they escaped famine and were later enslaved by the Egyptians.
  • The tribes of Israel escaped slavery in Egypt and spent 40 years in the exilic wandering of the Sinai.
  • David had to escape from King Saul and spent many years living in exile in the desert where he became a mercenary.
  • The major prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah warned of the coming Babylonian exile.
  • The northern tribes of Israel were taken into captivity and exile by the Assyrians.
  • The tribes of Benjamin and Judah were taken into captivity and exile by the Babylonians.
  • The prophet Ezekiel prophesied in the Babylonian exile.
  • The story of Daniel takes place in the Babylonian exile.
  • The story of Esther takes place during the Babylonian exile under the Persian empire.
  • The stories of Ezra and Nehemiah are about the return from the Babylonian exile.

What struck me in the abrupt end of Mark’s version of the Jesus Story (abrupt endings were not unusual for writings and speeches of the period) is both the irony and the exile.

What is ironic is that Jesus spent much of His ministry telling those whom He healed and delivered to keep it to themselves. In almost every circumstance the person ignored Jesus and spread the good news. Now Jesus completes His mission and does exactly what He predicted He would do multiple times. The Marys are told to spread the good news, only this time they fearfully clam up.

This represents the dramatic shift that took place during the final week of Jesus’ earthly exile. He had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover as a celebrity. Crowds gathered to praise Him with their “Hosannas!” Jesus followers were vying for positions of prominence in what they were sure would be the Messiah’s earthly reign. “Jesus” was trending in all of the social media outlets of the day and His approval ratings were through the roof.

The Marys’ fear, trembling, and Fifth-Amendment-like silence indicate just how quickly the tables had turned. The powerful political and religious leaders of Jerusalem had successfully turned the fickle crowds against Jesus. Having executed the “Head,” the Marys and the rest of Jesus’ followers knew that their own lives had become expendable. The Godfathers of the Temple’s religious racket could very well be coming for them next. And, it wasn’t just the Jewish authorities. The power of the Roman Empire itself had hung Jesus on the cross, and the Romans were notorious for snuffing out any hint of opposition to their power.

In one week the followers of Jesus had experienced a shift from exaltation to exile. This makes the events chronicled in the book of Acts even more profound for me. If the body had been stolen, or if Jesus’ followers had not met, seen, touched, and received instructions from the resurrected Christ, then how do I explain their fearless 180-degree turn from “trembling, bewildered,” and hidden followers into fearless proponents walking boldly into the Temple courts just 40 days later to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection and face both persecution and martyrdom?

This morning I find myself contemplating a similar seismic shift that I have observed during my earthly journey. I have, in my lifetime, witnessed the waning of institutional Christianity in our world. All of the mainline denominations have fractured and imploded. I continue to witness arguably the most powerful Christian institution, the Roman Catholic church, as it suffers the consequences of its own internal corruption and deep moral failings. I observe that the current era is almost universally being dubbed the “Post-Christian” world. Even the positive contributions of Christianity and the critical role that Christian faith played in the lives of important figures over the past 2000 years are being erased from the historical narrative. In recent films such as Little Women, Tolkien, and Unbroken, I observe that the critical role that Christian faith played in the lives of the characters and protagonists has been completely removed from the narrative.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over what all of this means. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. In the first century, many followers of Jesus fled persecution in Jerusalem and lived in their own personal exiles. Scattered across the Roman Empire, their exile became a key ingredient in the spread of Jesus’ message. Perhaps followers of Jesus are, once again, finding ourselves entering a period of social exile. Looking back at the recurring presence and spiritual purpose of exile in the Great Story, I’m not sure that what I’m observing isn’t simply part of the divine storyboard.

No matter what, I come to the conclusion this morning that my role remains the same. To follow, to love, and to press on one step at a time.

Have a good week, my friend. Thanks for reading.

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!

Apocalypse and Labor Pains

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Mark 13:8 (NIV)

I recently finished a three-episode podcast series on time. The second episode of the podcast specifically on the so-called “end times” and the apocalypse. The apocalyptic and dystopian has always captured the human imagination, and one of the observations that I made in the podcast is that every generation has those who believe the end is near. I have also observed a pattern within every community of Jesus followers with whom I’ve been associated. As they get older, the more likely it is that they will be convinced that the return of Jesus and the apocalyptic end prophesied in Revelation is near. There must be something human in us that feels comforted by projecting our fear about the end of our own earthly journey on all humankind.

Well,” I hear an older woman [let’s cast Dame Maggie Smith in the role] saying with a shrug, “If I’ve got to die, it would be nice to have some company.

These things came to mind this morning as Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the persecution of His followers, and His eventual return “in power and glory.”

As I read the chapter, there was one little phrase that Jesus specifically uses that I have overlooked for my entirety of my forty years as a follower. He calls the signs of His prophetic events “birth pains.”

This brings to mind my last podcast episode in which I discussed the over-arching themes of the Great Story. One of them being:

Creation –> Destruction –> New Creation

So, the logical question I have to ask myself is: “What naturally happens after ‘birth pains’?”

A birth.

A new life.

A new start.

A beginning.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that Jesus told His followers not to worry, and not to be afraid, even in the midst of persecution, suffering, and apocalyptic predictions of incredible suffering and destruction.

It is ironic that Jesus encourages such faith and trust. It is just a day or two before He knows that He will endure incredible persecution, injustice, suffering, death, and hell. Jesus has prophesied that He will exemplify this apocalyptic, overarching Great Story theme. The events about to take place at the end of His own earthly journey are layered with meaning. They will be both a micro-human event and a macro-spiritual event. His trials, suffering, death, and resurrection are the “birth pains.” Even as Jesus says these words, amidst the escalation of conflict and the death threats of His enemies, He is feeling the contractions of His divine role in the Great Story. He is providing the example. He is blazing the trail. He is leading the way which does not end on the cross. It is the labor that will give birth to new life:

Life –> Death –> Resurrection

I am also reminded this morning that most apocalyptic movies and stories do not end with the depressing end of all things, but with the seeds of new hope being planted.

All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story.

 “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Jesus

And,” I imagine Jesus saying with a shrug, “if I’m going to live, I’d love to have some company.”

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!

Inside Out Transformation

[Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Mark 7:20-23 (NIV)

I was a young man when I began my spiritual journey following Jesus. The community of believers I often associated with were very concerned about religious appearance and moral purity. My hair was expected to be short and my dress was expected to be coat and tie. My ears were to be kept pure from rock music, my eyes kept pure from looking lustfully at women, and my body to be kept pure from the usual vices of drugs, alcohol, and smoking.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these things. I’ll be the first to confess that I wasn’t perfect, but I’m also quite sure that adhering to the religious rigor kept me from getting into various kinds of trouble. As I progressed in my spiritual journey, however, I began to observe a few things.

First, my peers who were born and bred into the religious rigor as part of their strict family and faith systems were often big on obedience to the rules and traditions but really short on any real spiritual or personal maturity. They adhered (at least publicly) to the letter of the religious rules to keep the family and community appeased, but I never saw any real inner desire to pursue the things that Jesus was really getting at.

Second, the adults in these communities and religious systems were really focused on all of the easily recognized and visibly apparent illicit behaviors. People, especially young people, were publicly shamed for all the usual social vices. No one, however, seemed to care when it came to gluttony at church potlucks, gossip between the youth group member’s mothers, the man in the church with anger issues who used the Bible to justify the secret physical abuse of his family, deacon John who was not shy about his racism, elder Bob who was a dishonest businessman who’d filed for bankruptcy three times, or that the women of the church treating Ms. Jones like a social leper because her husband left her, filed for divorce, and so she must not have been the dutiful wife he needed.

Finally, I eventually found myself really dissatisfied. When I made the decision to be a follower of Jesus, it was about me being less pessimistic, impatient, immature, shallow, dishonest, inauthentic, and self-centered. It was about me wanting to grow into more self-less-ness and more love, life, joy, and peace. Checking off a bunch of religious and moral rules wasn’t addressing my desire to become more like Jesus. In fact, I don’t think Jesus would want to be with these people. I realized that Jesus would probably want to be with all the people that got shamed and kicked out of that church for their public mistakes.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is hitting this stuff head on. He gets in trouble with the religious rule-keepers because they didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before supper. He looks at the good religious people from His own religious system and explains that they are doing the same thing I witnessed among my own religious community. They were keeping all of the religious rules about washing your hands and eating only the prescribed dietary foods, but they weren’t doing anything about the anger, malice, judgment, critical spirit, discord, gossip, dishonesty, selfishness, racism, hatred, and condemnation that was polluting their souls.

This morning, I find myself contemplating the Jesus that I’m reading about in Mark’s account. I love that He was not about me keeping external rules and regulations, but about me getting my heart and life transformed from the inside out. I love that Jesus heals the daughter of a “sinful” outsider who His religious community would never have even acknowledged. I love that Jesus continues to compassionately pour out love, kindness, and healing even when He was tired and wanted to be left alone for a while. I love that He keeps telling people not to talk about the miracles because they weren’t the point; The miraculous physical healings of eyes, ears, and limbs merely pointed to the real miracle He came to perform: His love transforming me from the inside out as His life emerges from my dead, self-centered spirit.

That’s the Jesus I want to be more like, and keeping rules won’t get me there.

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!