Tag Archives: God

Parental Covenant

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Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.
Exodus 19:5 (NRSVCE)

Our daughter, Madison, just closed on her first house this past week. We’re so excited for her and her husband, Garrett. What an exciting waypoint in their journey.

As we were discussing home ownership, the subject of paperwork and bureaucracy came up. I told Madison, “Just wait until you close!” There is nothing like sitting there with a stack of paper that requires your signature and initials everywhere for everything. Even if you’re trying to be careful and understand what you’re signing it all becomes a fog. By the end of it my brain was fogged over and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome had permanently settled in my left hand. The closing agent just kept thrusting papers in front of me and I kept signing.

All the paperwork, of course, is part of a complex contract between buyers, sellers, real estate agents, government, and financial agents. It is an agreement between parties.

In ancient times, this type of contract was known as a covenant. It was the ancient form of a binding contract between parties. It’s already come up in the Great Story. God made a covenant with Noah after the flood. God made covenants with Abraham. In today’s chapter, God makes a covenant with the Hebrew people. The concept of a “covenant” between God and people was unlike any other religion of that day. But the Hebrews would have understood the concept because covenants were common in personal, familial, business, and international relationships. Two parties agree to binding terms and obligations. While the “Sinai Covenant” in today’s chapter is like other ancient covenants, scholars point out that it is unique and has no direct parallel in antiquity.

The covenant in today’s chapter is quite simple. God agrees to make the Hebrew people His “treasured” people, a priestly kingdom, and a “holy” nation. In return, the Hebrew people agree to be obedient and keep their obligations as will be set out in the commandments and laws given through Moses.

In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over one of the commentaries I read about this text:

Typically, both parties to a contract, treaty or similar legal agreement could expect to benefit from their commitment. It is not at all clear that the Biblical text wants its readers to believe that Yahweh will receive some benefit from this relationship with the Israelites that he would not otherwise be able to obtain. The text speaks of great benefit awaiting the Israelites for their consistent obedience to their covenantal obligations. For Yahweh’s part, his actions do not appear to be based in self-interest but in a willingness to be gracious and to extend freely his blessing.

What is Yaweh getting out of the covenant? “His actions do not appear to be based in self-interest but in a willingness to be gracious and extend freely his blessing.”

I couldn’t help but think of these words from Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Philippians:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

God is establishing and foreshadowing the core theme of the Great Story. What was lost in Eden? Relationship. How does the prophesied story end at the end of the book of Revelation? Restoration and relationship. In my podcast Time (Part 1) I talked about the Great Story being like a human life-cycle from birth-to-death-to-rebirth.

What is a parent’s relationship like with a toddler? The parent dictates the rules and asks the child to obey. Rules and obligations. Parents graciously extend protection and provision. They expect obedience. While the child can’t cognitively understand just how graciously his or her parents are being, they simply understand that when they obey things are okay and when they disobey they get in trouble.

At Sinai, I believe that God and humanity are in the toddler stage of relationship.

I’m looking at it, of course, from 2000 years past Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’re much further in the life-cycle of the relationship between God and humanity. There are a couple of things I’ve learned in my parenting journey now that our daughters are grown and have established their own adult lives and families.

First, the desire and willingness to be gracious and extend blessing never ends no matter how old your children are. Second, the desire for relationship with them does not end, but only gets stronger. When they come home, reach out, call, or write it is the best blessing ever.

The bottom-line. God desires relationship with me. The Father graciously sent His Son to suffer on my behalf. The Son willingly did so. The Father and Son sent their Spirit to abide in me. Everything is about inviting me into this relationship, this circle of love, this divine dance.

I just have to choose in.

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

Let it Flow

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…
1 John 4:10 (NIV)

As number of years ago our daughter lived in the Catholic Worker community in Des Moines. She participated in the communal living and, as part of that community, daily worked to serve the poor and homeless.

One of the observations she shared with us from her time there was a realization she came to as she listened to people sharing their stories. Person after person shared tales of brokenness and the insecurity of being one step away from homelessness and the hopelessness of having no safety net. Then came the understanding that she has never, and likely will never, experience that reality. She has a safety net. In fact, she has multiple safety nets of family and friends who love her and to whom she could turn in need. Love, safety, and provision had always flowed freely, surrounded her, and remain a phone call away.

In today’s chapter, John continues to write to Jesus’ followers about love. What struck me was that there is a flow to the love John describes:

  • Love comes from God
  • Everyone who loves is born of God
  • This is how God showed his love, by sending his son…
  • This is love. Not that we love God, but he loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice for our sins.
  • He has given us his Spirit.
  • We love because he first loved us.

The source is God. God is love incarnate. Love flows down, in, and through.

Father (God for us) love creates, gives, sends

Jesus (God with us) love comes down, touches, gives, and sacrifices

Spirit (God in us) love indwelling, flowing through

As I enjoy being endlessly reminded, the Greek word for Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit; Three is One; One is Three) is perichoresis, literally “circle dance.” When I, standing like a wall-flower at the middle-school mixer, choose to accept the invitation to join God in the dance, then I join the circle. I participate in that dance; I become an active, participating member of love’s flow:

Me (God through us) receiving, changing, forgiving, giving, loving

Then I get to this from John’s letter: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Suddenly I find myself thinking of those I’ve met along my journey for whom God is punishment and condemnation. That’s always been their experience just as Taylor’s friends at the Worker who have never gotten to experience love, security, and provision. How tragic that humanity’s penchant for works-driven religion based on shame, guilt, punishment, and condemnation continues to flourish. It flourished in Jesus’ day, too. That’s what He spoke against.

In the quiet, as I mulled these things over in my mind this morning, I realized that there is a certain relationship between my willingness (because willingness plays a part) and choice to accept, receive, and experience God’s love and the extent to which that love can transform me and flow through me to others. And that’s the point. How can love’s transformational work be experienced by those mired in punishment and condemnation if it doesn’t flow through me to them by my acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?

And, that’s where yesterday’s uncomfortable realization continues to motivate me to be willing and decisive to let more and more of God’s love transform me so it can flow through me with greater power to others.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Let love flow.

More.

Want to read more?

Click on the image of John to be taken to a simple visual index of all the chapter-a-day posts from 1 John.

You can also click here to open a simple visual index of chapter-a-day posts indexed by book of the Bible.

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

Open Spiritual Eyes

Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him.
Luke 19:47 (NIV)

I’m am spending a couple of days this week working on-site with a client. I will meet with members of my client’s inside sales team and talk to them about the service they’re providing customers on the phone, which we have assessed. We’ll listen to calls together and I’ll share tips and strategies for improving the customer’s experience in those “moments of truth.”

Over the years I have learned, however, that there is something much broader that is always going on when I’m on-site with a client. The agents I train don’t work in a vacuum. There are all sorts of things going on around them, systemically, that affect their behavior and attitudes which spill out, often unintentionally, in their conversations with customers. Office environment, corporate policies, relationships with managers, and crazy-makers on the team can all have a significant impact on an individual agent’s thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. If I don’t have my antennae up to understand the larger picture, I’m going to be ineffective at helping my client focus on what he or she needs to do.

When reading through a chapter, it is so easy to focus on the individual stories and lose sight of the larger context of what is happening. In today’s chapter, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for His final, climactic week.

Politically, the hottest issue of that day was Rome’s occupation of Judea. There was constant tension between Rome and the Jewish leaders. The temple was more than just a religious center. It was the epicenter of power and finance in the area. The religious leaders of Jerusalem who held sway had a very lucrative racket going.

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the biggest religious festival of the year. The Passover attracted tens of thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem and the temple. Jewish faithful were required to offer sacrifices and offerings while they were at the temple. Often those sacrifices and offerings were sold outside the temple, but the temple had its own currency. Pilgrims first had to exchange their currency before they could buy their sacrifices. The leaders were making money on both the exchange rate and the sacrifices and offerings they were selling.

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, He tells a parable about servants who are given money by their employer to invest while he’s away. It’s a parable that Jesus has told before, but on the eve of His arrival in Jerusalem He changes it. In this telling, the employer leaves to be made King, much like the local monarch, Herod, would have traveled to Rome to be given authority for the area by the Roman Empire. The pending ruler’s people in Jesus revised telling do not want this person to be King. Nevertheless, he returns as King and pays back his followers based on how they’d invested what had been given.

Jesus immediately heads into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling an ancient prophecy, as His followers proclaim Him as King. The religious leaders vehemently complain much like those in the parable who did not want the protagonist of the story to be King.

Upon His arrival, Jesus goes to the Temple and drives out the money changers and vendors selling sacrifices. Again, it relates directly to the parable Jesus just told. Those leaders of God’s people who had been entrusted with oversight of God’s people and God’s law. Rather than investing in love and generosity, the leaders perverted it for their own self-centered power and personal wealth while treating others with self-righteous contempt and condemnation.

Jesus was not the first “messianic upstart” the religious leaders had dealt with. They had a well-worn playbook of getting rid of anyone who threatened their power and wealth. Jesus was in their sites. Jesus knew it.

As He entered Jerusalem, Jesus offered a lament for the city and its religious leaders. They didn’t see, perceive, or understand what God was doing and saying through Jesus. Like the parable, they would suffer the consequences. Within a generation, the political resistance to Rome would boil over. Rome will surround the city and fulfill Jesus’ prophet words. The city and the Temple would be utterly destroyed.

On Sunday Wendy and I were traveling. We were talking about our “word” for the year, and conversing about where we find ourselves in our spiritual journeys and our life journeys. We don’t want to live in a vacuum, unaware of what God is doing in us, through us, and around us. We prayed together, seeking for those things to be revealed and not hidden.

This morning I’m praying for spiritual eyes that are open to see what’s happening systemically in my client’s office, to see the subtext of what’s going on in today’s chapter, to see the bigger picture of what God is doing in and around me and Wendy as we walk this journey together.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Ephesians 1:18a
Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

The Flow and Right Timing

If you bow low in God’s awesome presence, he will eventually exalt you as you leave the timing in his hands.
1 Peter 5:6 (TPT)

Along my life journey, I have come to experience what many others have described as “the flow.” Artists and creatives experience the flow as a spiritual, level four energy that empowers their creativity. As U2’s Bono discovered, “the songs are already written.” Athletes call it being “the zone” when the flow takes over and the ball slows down, they know what will happen before it happens, and their game elevates to an unprecedented level. Teachers and prophets experience the flow in both preparation and presentation. Rob Bell describes the flow when he experiences having a thought, a story, a metaphor, or an idea that “wants to be part of something” but he doesn’t know what it is. He records it, hangs on to it, and waits for the right time (which could be years later).

I remember experiencing the flow early in 2004. I just knew that I was supposed to do this thing, but exactly what it was and what it looked like was undefined. It was only a general notion, but I knew it at the core of my spirit. I even remember reaching after it but getting nowhere. Over time this thing I was supposed to do continued to reveal itself like little bread crumbs. Something would happen and I would think, “This is it! It’s falling into place.” But then, it wouldn’t.

That’s the frustrating thing about walking this earthly journey through finite time (as opposed to timeless eternity). We often find ourselves waiting, seeking, and longing for the right time or the right season for things. Wendy can tell you that I’m not always the most patient person when it comes to waiting. As an Enneagram Type Four, I tend to get pessimistic and overly dramatize my impatience and frustration. That’s when my Type Eight wife has no problem telling me directly what I know is true: the time just isn’t right.

In a bit of synchronicity that I honestly didn’t plan, the chapter today was the same text that I talked about in last week’s podcast, and the same text I taught on this past Sunday morning. That’s another thing that I have discovered along life’s journey. When the same thing keeps coming up in random ways, then there’s something God’s Spirit is trying to teach me in the flow. I should pay attention, meditate on it, and wait for it to be revealed.

The thing I was supposed to do eventually did reveal itself after about ten years. When it finally did fall into place it was at just the right time in a myriad of ways I won’t take the time to explain.

The ancient words for God’s “Spirit” in both the Hebrew and Greek languages are translated into English as “wind,” or “breath,” or you might say “flow.” I believe that sensing and experiencing the flow is simply tapping into God’s eternal Spirit who lives outside of time, but breathes into me bread crumbs and seeds which eventually lead to things in their due season and time.

What Peter wrote to the exiled followers of Jesus was that the waiting calls for humility. This past Sunday I defined humility as “the willing, conscious, intentional crucifixion of my own ego,” whose time frame is an impatient NOW, and who tends to demand that revelation and fulfillment happen in my time frame, not God’s.

If you want to know what tragically happens when we try to make the flow happen in our own way and our own timeline, see Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth and his lady are quintessential examples.

Click on the image above for a quick index of all the posts in this series on the book of 1 Peter!

“Bless You”

Never retaliate when someone treats you wrongly, nor insult those who insult you, but instead, respond by speaking a blessing over them—because a blessing is what God promised to give you.
1 Peter 3:9 (TPT)

In over 50 years of this life journey, I have enjoyed relationships with many friends. Especially among my male friends, I have regularly encountered those individuals with what I will describe as a particular soul wound. They never received a blessing from their father.

In ancient days, a father’s blessing was a cultural ritual. The blessing was the spoken favor of the father given, typically, to his son. The first recorded blessing in the Great Story is God’s blessing to Abram:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)

In Genesis 49, Jacob calls all of his sons and speaks to each one of them “the blessing appropriate for him.” It was a rite of passage, often spoken before death in those days.

Along my journey, I’ve come to realize that our culture has largely forgotten the importance of children receiving a blessing from their parents. I have come to believe that it’s important for a child to hear a blessing from both parents. I have observed, however, that a son receiving a blessing from his father has a major spiritual and emotional impact on a man’s life. I have known men who received nothing but curses from their fathers, and I have known men who received nothing but silence from their fathers. The soul wound is often hidden behind a male ego and masculine bravado, but I’ve seen how it can cut deep and create all sorts of spiritual, emotional, and relational handicaps.

Speaking a blessing doesn’t have to be a formal ritual, though it certainly can be a very meaningful rite of passage when it’s done that way. The most simple blessings are simply words of love and affirmation:

  • “I love you.”
  • “You’ve got this. I believe in you.”
  • “You’re going to be okay. I know it.”
  • “I’m proud of you.”
  • “That was great. Well done.”
  • “You are loveable, valuable, and capable.”
  • “I have no doubt that you will succeed at whatever you’re led to do in this life.”

In today’s chapter, it struck me that Peter instructed believers to specifically speak a blessing over those who wrong you. I find myself wondering if we even know how to do that anymore, even with those we love, let alone doing it with our enemies. Given what I see on social media, cursing appears to be de rigueur.

In the quiet this morning, I’m discovering my renewed desire to bring blessings back. There’s a reason why I speak a blessing at the end of my podcast. I would love for blessings to become fashionable again, but I suppose that means I’ve got to start being more intentional about it. So, here you go, my friend. Receive an old Celtic blessing from this wayfaring stranger (I spoke it as I posted it):

May the blessings of the Light be upon you,
Light without and Light within,
And in all your comings and goings,
May you ever have a kindly greeting
From those you meet along the road.

Have a great day. Press on. You’ve got this.

Click on the image above for a quick index of all the posts in this series on the book of 1 Peter!

The Priest Paradigm

But you are God’s chosen treasure—priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world.
1 Peter 2:9 (TPT)

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found that the definition of “priest” is not commonly understood, and yet I find it to be absolutely critical to my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

The classical definition of a priest is that of a conduit. The priest is a go-between and represents others before God and represents God to others. In the Mosaic system, there was one high priest and he was the only one who could enter God’s presence in the Temple each year. Priests had to be descendants of Aaron, and they were the only ones who could offer sacrifices. It was an exclusionary position, and the only way an everyday person could get to God was through this representative.

The exclusionary paradigm of the priesthood was one of the entrenched religious practices that Jesus and His followers blew up. Paul explained this to Timothy:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV)

This was one of the most radical pieces of the early Jesus movement. Jesus was the High Priest who made one final sacrifice for all and became the eternal conduit through which every person has direct access to God. Man, woman, child, adult, sinner, saint, or scumbag can reach out to God at any time from anywhere. No more human go-betweens are necessary. No more need for human representation to access God and His forgiveness or blessings for us.

If you were raised in the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox or Episcopal traditions, then you’re probably saying, “Wait a minute!” Yes, many Christian traditions still maintain the old priesthood paradigm. But, that structure developed only after the early Jesus movement became Christendom and the Holy Roman Empire. Institutional Christendom suddenly had both religious and civic responsibility to control the masses. What better way to do so than to return to the old exclusionary system in which the common man is dependant on a priest for access to God?

For the first three centuries, the Jesus movement was made up of a loose organization of tens of thousands of local gatherings meeting in people’s homes across the known world. Even Peter, who is writing his letter to all of the exiled believers scattered across many nations, writes this open letter to explain that they are all a “royal priesthood.” Peter, the designated leader of the Jesus movement, tells all believers that they are the priests.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating the fact that Peter didn’t say the priesthood was obsolete, it simply became universal to all believers. As a follower of Jesus, I wear the mantel of a priest like everyone else. Every believer is a representative of God to the world, as Peter put it “broadcasting his glorious wonders to the world” through our love, self-sacrifice, and the fruits of the Spirit.

I’m trying to embrace that reality each and every day of this earthly journey.

Click on the image above for a quick index of all the posts in this series on the book of 1 Peter!

A Tale of Two Building Projects

And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished.
Zechariah 5:3 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I’ve had the experience of being part of several different churches both large and small. One of the large churches I was a part of for a time announced that they were going to build a giant, new auditorium filled with extravagant features and opulent appointments. I observed over the course of the building campaign that there were multiple red flags hinting that this was not a wise choice. Nevertheless, the hubris of the leader pushed the project through. Within a few years, I watched as that church imploded from within, and the giant new auditorium became an albatross, and then an empty shell.

I contrast this with another church of which I was a part. It also decided to launch a building campaign. Given the story I related to you in the previous paragraph, I was admittedly skeptical. This time, however, I observed a different heart in the leadership of the congregation. The project was not driven by the ego of a leader, but was the culmination of years of corporate prayer and seeking what should be done. The project was completed, and I watched as it resulted in an abundance of blessings for the church, its people, and the community.

What a contrast.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Zechariah continues to have strange visions that, at first, may sound like he’s having an LSD trip. But God’s language is metaphor and the word pictures have specific meanings. that connect to the building project that Zech and several other key leaders have undertaken: to rebuild God’s Temple in Jerusalem. In previous chapters, the visions have been about the key players in the rebuilding project. Today’s vision is about key roadblocks in finishing it.

The first vision concerns those who would swear to pledge money to the project and then pull out (swearing falsely) and take money pledged to the project for use in other things (stealing). The second vision concerns the iniquities of those who might become a spiritual stumbling block for the project. In both of these cases, God is taking responsibility for removing the potential roadblocks and sending them packing through the friendly skies.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of a familiar verse from Solomon, the leader of God’s initial Temple project:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

The underlying theme of Zechariah’s prophetic writings thus far has been God’s divine leading in the rebuilding project, and God’s provision for the leadership needed, and the protection needed, to get the job done.

These lessons are not just about church projects and men with edifice complexes. Along my journey, I’ve come to realize that there are many projects, endeavors, and campaigns we personally embark upon in our own lives. The principle is the same. If my endeavors are about me, my self-centered desires, and/or my personal pride, then the results will ultimately be at best unsatisfying and at worst, disastrous. When I seek after God’s leading in my personal endeavors and follow where I am led, God has a way of blessing and expanding things in unexpected ways.

I’m reminded this morning that I don’t want to push into self-centric personal endeavors and then ask God to bless them. I want to be a part of what God endeavors for me on this journey.

Speaking of which, I’ve got a job to do today. Have a great day, my friend!

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

Weathering the Storms

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.'”
Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)

Along my life’s journey, I’ve come to recognize that there are particular stretches of the trek when trouble, trial, and trepidation seem to close in on every side like a perfect storm. You can’t escape it. You can’t plan for it. They just happen. The real question is, have I prepared myself, spiritually, to weather such storms?

This past week my siblings and I moved our parents into an assisted living facility. My dad has been in the hospital for the past three weeks. Diagnosed with a nasty bacterial infection that only complicates his cancer and cardiac issues, we need to get him into a skilled-care facility for about six-weeks of IV antibiotics. Meanwhile, our mother, in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, is now struggling with the realities of a new environment, a whole host of unknowns to confuse her, and the loss of my father’s constant presence and protection. This, on top of what was already a dizzying travel schedule, seasonal pressures from work, and a daughter getting married half-way across the country in a few weeks. Oh, and I’m now into the second week of a nasty head and chest cold that has zapped much of my energy and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

“I don’t understand how you are doing all of this” Wendy said to me a couple of times this week amidst much needed empathetic and medicinal hugs.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah records the fifth vision of encouragement he has for the exiles who are seeking to restore Jerusalem and the Temple. This vision is centered on Zerubbabel, the appointed Governor who is tasked with leading the daunting project from a political perspective. It is not an easy task. He is subject to a pagan Persian Emporer. He is surrounded by enemies on all sides who want him to fail. He is leading people who are divided regarding whether this is even a worthwhile project to pursue. Then there is the sheer magnitude of the task.

God’s word to the overwhelmed leader:

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

I have come to the conclusion that I cannot keep the storms of life from pouring down upon me. That’s just part of the journey. I can, however, prepare myself to weather the storm in healthy ways.

First, I recognize that I am not alone in this. If I truly believe what I say that I believe, then God is always present from which to draw upon the spiritual resources I need. And, I am surrounded by a community of family and friends for camaraderie and support.

Second, I try to stay present in each moment and focus only on what that moment requires. I can’t do anything about the past. It’s useless for me to waste time and energy on the “if only’s” and “we should have’s.” Likewise, Jesus reminds us: “Tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” What do I need to decide or accomplish on this day, in this particular moment?

Third, I choose small ways to care for myself. Choosing not to worry about a task that isn’t a priority right now. Eating a healthy meal, getting a good night’s sleep, consciously noting all of the blessings I have despite the circumstances, taking a short nap, slipping in a quick ten-minute walk around the hospital floor, or sneaking away for a few minutes of solitude and prayer in a quiet place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away by Himself. If I’m not caring for myself, I’m not going to well at caring for others and the needs of the moment.

Which is why I find myself in the quiet this morning. I have a lot on the task list today as I prepare for another week on the road. But, I needed the same reminder God gave Zerubbabel this morning. My might and strength only go so far. It’s the infinite resources of God’s Spirit that I require in the perfect storm raging around me. It is the recalibration of mind and heart that I need on this Monday morning.

And now, it’s time to move on to what this next moment requires.

Have a good week, my friend.

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Coincidental Presence

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.
Esther 6:1-2 (NIV)

I am currently listening to the book The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather. It tells the true story of a Polish army officer who volunteered to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in order to smuggle out news of what was happening in the camp and to attempt to create a resistance movement from within. After enduring the hell-on-earth realities inside the camp for years, he escaped and was able to offer primary source evidence of what was happening inside the camps to the Allies.

As I’ve been listening, it has brought to mind the story of Corrie Ten Boom (told in her book The Hiding Place), a Dutch Christian who ended up in the Ravensbruck concentration camp with her sister. She and her family hid Jews in their home until they were caught by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. She was the only member of her family to survive. I have a connection to Ten Boom through my mentor, and the founder of our company, who was head of marketing for the feature film made about Corrie Ten Boom’s life (also called The Hiding Place). He spent a lot of time with her and she had a tremendous impact on his life. As long as I knew him, he had a photo of Corrie in his office and he loved telling stories about her.

The first-hand accounts of life and death inside the Nazi concentration camps are always sobering and difficult to read or hear. They are so horrific and difficult to fathom or absorb. I’m reminded, however, of Corrie’s description of her sister, Betsie, who never failed to experience God’s presence, and even joy, amidst the terror of their daily existence inside the camp. Corrie was released from Ravensbruck because of a clerical error. She spent the rest of her life telling her story and telling whoever would listen: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

In today’s chapter, we reach the narrative center of the story of Esther. Things look bleak. Esther, Mordecai, and the Jewish exiles are in a deep circumstantial pit. The king has decreed the annihilation of the Jews throughout Persia and his highest official is bent on leading the genocidal slaughter, beginning with Mordecai. But now, unexpectedly, a coincidental event becomes the pebble that starts an avalanche of events which turn the tide of the story. The King has a bout of insomnia and he insists that the annals of his reign be read to him. It just so happens that the story of Mordecai unearthing an assassination plot (about five years earlier) is read to him, and he realizes that Mordecai was never honored for bringing the dark plot to light.

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. But I find God present and active in the coincidences and events that happen in the story. If God is omnipresent, and most followers of Jesus would cognitively say that He is, then God is always present even when His presence isn’t acknowledged. Even in the deepest and darkest of pits. Betsie Ten Boom didn’t just believe in God’s omnipresence, she experienced it amidst the hell of a Nazi concentration camp, and her sister Corrie was, coincidentally, released by a clerical error in order to tell the story to millions of people.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the notion of God’s omnipresence, and what that really means. I’ve always found it odd that people in church pray almost every week for God’s presence, and in doing so deny the very thing we say we believe. If God is omnipresent, then it’s silly to ask Him to be present. What we really should pray is that we actually experience God’s presence there, here, everywhere, at all times in all circumstances. Because God is always present.

I remember sitting at the bar just inside the front door of our local pub last summer. The door was propped open to allow fresh air in the place and a friend from my local gathering of Jesus followers happened to walk by and see me there. He stood in the doorway and greeted me, then engaged me in a conversation, but it was obvious that he was not about to step foot inside the establishment and the whole conversation felt incredibly awkward. Knowing a bit about my friend’s background, I realize he was raised to believe that one should never go inside a bar and I honor his conscience. Nevertheless, I’ve known fellow believers who would avoid going into a pub as they believe it to be a godless, evil place. I’ve had some amazing God experiences and conversations in pubs. God is there.

I want to experience God’s presence at all times, in every place, and in each circumstance. It’s then that I begin to see the coincidences of clerical errors and ironies of a King’s insomnia for what they really are.

Unlikely Hero

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14b

In a couple of weeks, I’m scheduled to give a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers entitled “It’s a Secret.” In preparation for that message, I have been pouring over some of Frank Warren’s PostSecret books. For those who are unfamiliar, Warren is simply a small business person who decided to do an art project. He handed out about 3000 black postcards with his address printed on them and asked people to share their “secret” with him. Years later they keep arriving from all over the world and his blog at postsecret.com is among the most popular in the world.

As I read today’s chapter, in which Queen Esther is made aware of Haman’s plot to annihilate her people, I thought about her secret. Esther had successfully managed to become the queen of Persia by being keeping her heritage and ethnicity a secret. She had assimilated into Persian culture. She did not demand a kosher diet, which would have given her away. She did not bring up any moral objections during her year-long education in providing the king sexual pleasure. The evidence would suggest that Esther was not a “godly woman” (by the strict definition of religiously following the tenents and disciplines of Judaism) and the faith of her people does not appear to have been something she practiced or felt compelled to take seriously.

I was also reminded, once again, that God is never mentioned in the book of Esther. It’s also interesting that when Esther asked Mordecai and her people to fast for three days it does not mention prayer in conjunction with the fasting. While prayer and fasting traditionally went together, the prayer part of it is not mentioned by the Queen.

Along the journey, I’ve observed that the institutions and adherents of my own faith like to try and keep God in their own binary boxes. I confess that I have, at times, fallen prey to this notion myself. People are either “sinners” or “saints.” God’s pleasure and purpose are reserved for the latter but definitely not the former. And yet, there are so many examples of God using people who wouldn’t pass our moral or religious litmus tests in order to accomplish His purposes. I’ve come to embrace the fact that when Paul wrote of God who is “able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” it includes working through and accomplishing His purposes through the most unlikely, seemingly unworthy, of individuals.

Esther is an unlikely hero who reveals herself to be, like all of us, very human. I compare her to Daniel who zealously and religiously clung to his faith, religious discipline, and heritage, and he still succeeded to carve out position and purpose throughout a lifetime in captivity. Esther, on the other hand, follows the easier path of cultural compromise. She keeps her heritage, her people, and what faith she might have had in her people’s religion a secret. She likely kept her secret in order to avoid prejudice and persecution. Some would call that cowardice. Her response to Mordecai upon learning of Haman’s genocidal plot reveals her feelings of powerlessness and fear. All of this, and still she finds herself in just the right place at just the right time to accomplish God’s purpose of saving her people.

Ever since I became a follower of Jesus, I’ve sought God’s purpose in my life journey. I’ve tried to be a person of zealous, disciplined conviction like Daniel, but any who care to look closely at my track record will find that it is dotted with the same kinds of compromises, secrets, easy choices, and fear revealed in Esther. My solace is that God did accomplish His purposes in both of them, and I believe that somehow in the mysterious tension between God’s sovereignty and my free will I continually find myself at just the right place, at just the right time, to accomplish the purposes God has for me at this very moment.

And so, I begin another day in the journey. Press on, my friend.