Tag Archives: Great Story

“That Story Is My Story”

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Come and hear, all you who fear God;
    let me tell you what he has done for me.

Psalm 66:16 (NIV)

It’s been a number of years since I’ve been on stage. Other than a bit part in a friends movie short in which I played a creepy figure in some guys sub-conscious, I have to tax my memory to recall the last part I played that required me to do the work of character analysis. The process of character analysis is, for me, where all the fun is.

Character analysis is a process of peeling back the character you are embodying layer by layer. The playwright gave you the words and the story. Now you begin to dig into who this person really is. This character may have been played a thousand times by the best actors in the world, but not by me. I don’t want to mimic what other actors have done. I want to understand the character myself. What does he look like? How does he walk? How does his voice sound? What is it he wants, and that is it that drives him? How does he feel about every other character in the play?

In the process of character development, I find connections of both sympathy and empathy with my character. The character is going through a divorce. Oh yeah, I sympathize with that because I’ve been through it. It’s not going to be hard for me to feel those feelings on stage. I’ve been there. I’ve never murdered another person, however, so I have no clue what that kind of remorse feels like. So, maybe I need to read different stories or confessions of actual murderers so that I can begin to empathize and cognitively identify with those feelings.

As I read through and identify with the Great Story, one of the things I’ve learned is that God uses story because we find a connection to ourselves, our lives, and our stories in the story. A couple of years ago I gave a message during the season of Lent predicated on the James Bond movie, Skyfall. I know. It was a bold choice. I wasn’t sure I would ever be asked back! The message was really about where we find ourselves in the story of Jesus’ final week on earth. I asked people to make a connection between our life and a character in the story. Am I…

the betrayer?
the denier?
the grieving mother?
the religious rule-keeper?
the crowd member shouting “Crucify him!”?
the fearful follower running for cover?
the doubter demanding evidence?

One of the most important things in reading and studying the Great Story is finding the personal connections to my story.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 66, the songwriter does something very interesting in the lyrics. At the beginning of the song he writes, “Come and see what God has done” and then references the Hebrew story of God leading them out of slavery, through the trials of the wilderness, and into the Promise Land. In the last stanza, the songwriter then says, “Come and hear what God has done for me.” He then describes God hearing his prayer and answering it, ending with words of praise. He found a connection between what God had done for him and what God had done for the Hebrews in the exodus.

Been there. Done that. That story is my story.

In the quiet this morning, this song of thanksgiving for answered prayer, guidance, and provision is connecting with me as my heart and mind prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday coming up. In a year filled with so many trials, I have so much with which I can be thankful; there’s so much, in faith, I have to look forward to.

That’s a good thought for a Monday morning heading into the workweek. I find myself mindful of God’s goodness to me on the road I’ve traveled, thankful for where God has me on this day, and hopeful of where God is leading me in the journey ahead.

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

Fear Response

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When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (NIV)

This past weekend I enjoyed watching the full moon rising through our window on All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a rare occurrence. It was fun to have trick-or-treaters dressed up and ringing the doorbell on Saturday evening, though the numbers were certainly down in this year of COVID. On Saturday morning Wendy and I enjoyed FaceTime with our grandson, Milo, in his costume. We loved watching him do his rendition of a monster while mom and dad sang The Monster Mash.

For some, of course, Halloween is a time of celebrating fear. And, to be honest, I have never been into scary movies and stories when the intent is to create a false sense of fear in me. No, thank you. I’m happy to avoid fear when at all possible. I have enough experiences in life that create the real emotion of fear!

Today’s chapter, Psalm 56, is the second song David penned out of one very real and fearful moment in his life (the first song was Psalm 34). David found himself alone in the middle of his enemy’s walled city and gated city, surrounded by the enemy’s army. He went there to try to convince them to make an alliance with him as a mercenary, but then he suddenly realized that the enemy wanted to capture him and turn him over to King Saul and collect the bounty Saul had placed on his head. He was out-numbered, out-gunned, and seemingly out of options. He had every reason to be really, truly afraid.

Confession: Compared to David’s dire circumstances, any fearful moment in my life seems relatively silly. Sometimes comparison is good for a healthy dose of perspective, isn’t it?

Along life’s journey, I’ve found fear to be a debilitating emotion and acting out of fear to be spiritually counter-productive. I’ve observed that I can’t really walk in faith and fear at the same time. They cancel each other out. I’m either allowing one to control my thoughts, words, and actions, or the other.

What struck me in the lyrics of David’s song this morning is that he speaks of trusting God as a willful, conscious, intentional act:

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

What does that look like? For me, it requires a conscious verbal commitment in which I acknowledge my fear and then tell God that I am choosing to trust Him. That might initially be a period of time in which I have a heart-to-heart conversation with God detailing my fears, anxieties, and worries. I might also spend some time meditating on past situations in which I felt afraid and God was faithful in getting me through. At some point I specifically verbalize it: “God, I’m choosing to put my trust in you.” I’ll also focus on a verse or verses of scripture like David’s prayer in Psalm 56:3 and memorize it.

Then as I’m going through my day and recognize the fear welling up inside me, I quietly restate that verse like a popcorn prayer.

I’ll think it. “When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

I’ll whisper it to myself as I’m sitting at my desk. When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

If I’m alone I’ll even say it out loud: When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

I might repeat it incessantly as a mantra:

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

In the quiet this morning I find my thoughts swirling around the most contentious American presidential election in my lifetime. I have loved ones camped on both sides of the aisle. I long ago observed that politicians use fear of the other side as the core of their campaign playbook because they have long known that fear is the easiest tool to motivate humans to act. With that in mind, I enter this work week with the realization that my country is divided down the middle and the one thing we most have in common is fear of each others’ candidates.

Fear is spiritually counter-productive. I can’t walk in faith and fear at the same time. If I really believe what I say I believe, then, whatever happens, it will be part of this Great Story that is playing out across history.

And so I enter into this week acknowledging my fears and consciously choosing to trust the Author of Life. So, if you see me the next few days and I seem to be mumbling to myself, now you know what I’m mumbling

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

You’re welcome to join me.

When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.
When I am afraid I put my trust in you.

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

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 10)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is the final episode of a ten-part series: Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. We wrap up the series with a brief introduction to the ever-intriguing subject of the book of Revelation and the topic of what the Bible has to say about the end times.

Click on the following link to listen, or click on the banner below for easy links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app.

https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/episodes/WW-Beginners-Guide-to-the-Great-Story-Part-10-elrsbp

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

Same Song, Only Different

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God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
    you put them to shame, for God despised them.

Psalm 53:5b (NIV)

Wendy and I really enjoy being fans. For us, the fun is in being loyal to our teams, following them, knowing the players, following the drama, cheering for them, and experiencing what ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to describe each week as “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

A few years ago we found ourselves feeling the emptiness in the depth of our Iowa winter. January through March always feels like a slog, but we realized that it was made worse for us because our Vikings’ season was over and it would be April before our Cubs’ would begin their annual campaign. For whatever reason, the NBA has never tripped our trigger. So, we decided it was time to join our son-in-law Clayton and give the English Premier League a shot.

We knew that for us the fun is in following a team, so we began researching the various teams in a search for the team to whom we would pledge our loyalty. It’s surprising how many resources there are on the internet for Americans trying to choose a Premier League team. In the end, we chose to become fans of Liverpool FC (Football Club). And, as silly as it sounds, the clincher for us was the song.

One of the endearing things about Premier League is the singing. During most pre-covid matches when the stands are packed you’ll hear the crowd singing. Not just a specific moment in the match, like singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the middle of the 7th Inning. Premier League fans often sing themselves hoarse through the entire match. There are typically different songs fans have for different players, and teams typically adopt a theme song.

Liverpool’s theme song is Gerry and the Pacemaker’s You’ll Never Walk Alone which also happens to be a song from the Broadway Musical Carousel. Wendy and I discovered this fact in our research and then pulled up a YouTube video of the Liverpool crowd singing it before a match. We got goosebumps, and it sealed the deal. Two Liverpool fans were born.

So, you might be wondering to yourself, “Where on earth are you going with this?” Well, if you’ve followed my blog and/or podcast for anything length of time you know that I’m fond of saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is layered with meaning. The song You’ll Never Walk Alone is a great example.

For many people like Wendy and me, the song has been forever tied to the musical Carousel. A teenager growing up in the early 1960s might never have known it was from a Broadway musical, but the version by Gerry and the Pacemakers might have tremendous emotional ties to a crush they had on a boy or girl, dancing cheek-to-cheek at a school dance, or listening with friends on a crackly AM car radio as you scooped the loop. Then Liverpool takes the same song and it becomes an anthem of solidarity, loyalty, and community for fans of their football club around the world.

For me, the most interesting thing about today’s chapter, Psalm 53, is that it is virtually identical to Psalm 14. If you put them side-by-side you’ll notice that it’s the same song, but verse 5 is different. Scholars believe that the nation took David’s original and co-opted it after a national victory over armies who had sought to destroy them as in the story found in 2 Chronicles 20 when they were unexpectedly attacked by the army of Edom. When David wrote the song to mean one thing during his life and his generation, but a subsequent generation took the same song, the same lyrics, and made it about another thing.

In the quiet this morning, it has me thinking about something I’ve frequently observed in my perpetual journey through the Great Story. Something that had little or no meaning for me thirty years ago might suddenly be powerfully important for me today at this waypoint on Life’s road. Things that meant one thing to me then might take on a whole new layer of meaning for me now. I’m so grateful to my mentors who taught me at the beginning of my spiritual journey that reading and studying the Great Story was not a one-and-done deal. “On it you shall meditate both day and night,” says Joshua 1:8, the very first verse I memorized when I was 15. And, that’s what I’ve tried to do, and it’s made an unfathomable difference in both my spiritual journey and my life journey.

The Great Story meets me where I am every morning. A verse, or chapter, or passage can help me frame my past, make sense of my present, and direct my course for the future all at the same time.

Thanks for walking with me this morning and reminding me that “I’ll never walk alone.”

Go Liverpool! 🙂

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

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 9)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 9 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of “the epistles” or “letters.”

Click on the following link to listen, or click on the banner below for easy links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app.

https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/episodes/WW-Beginners-Guide-to-the-Great-Story-Part-9-el6vrm

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

Hope and the Pit

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O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Psalm 30:3 (NRSVCE)

A couple of weeks ago I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers and spoke about Hope in Death. I’ve been doing a lot of meditating on death recently, mainly in conjunction with that message, but also because of the pandemic. Fear of contracting the virus and not surviving is very real.

In my meditation, I’ve observed how prevalent death is in most all of our stories. Antagonists are trying to kill protagonists. Protagonists are trying to avoid being killed. Writers of films and television shows love to stir our emotions by allowing us to witness what had to have been the death of our favorite character and then stir them again when it’s revealed the character actually survived. In the ending of Yellowstone, one of our favorites the writers left us with the classic season cliffhanger and we’ll have to wait a year to find out if a character survived. Wendy and I binged all ten season of the British whodunnit Vera this summer (loved it!) and of course all classic mysteries are predicated on death. The shows start with a dead body.

In short, I’ve observed that death is everywhere we turn for both news and entertainment, even though I don’t really think about it that much.

Today’s psalm, once again penned by King David, tells a story. David thought he was going to die. Whether it was sickness, war wound, or a combination of both is not known. In the opening verse he cries out to God for healing because God “brought up his soul from Sheol and restored him from those who go down to the Pit.”

Human understanding and belief systems with regard to death and the afterlife have evolved over time. In Part 1 of my podcast on Time I talked about how human history is like a life cycle. Humanity itself is growing, maturing, and changing just a you and I grow, change, and mature on this life journey. The Hebrews in David’s day believed a lot like other Mesopotamian cultures. After life was a shadowy, uncertain state of existence. The underworld was known as Sheol and it was considered to be a dark pit in the deepest recesses of the Earth. For David, there really wasn’t hope of an afterlife. There was just fear of death. In escaping death, David writes this song of joyous praise for God’s deliverance.

Fast forward roughly 1,000 years from David to the time of Jesus. In Jesus’ day, the Hebrews’ beliefs had evolved but there was still vastly divergent views on what happens when we die. One school of thought (the Sudducees) believed there was no afterlife at all. The most prominent school of thought (the Pharisees) believed there was an afterlife or resurrection. Jesus certainly believed in resurrection. In the Jesus’ story He predicts His death and resurrection on multiple occasions. Before raising his friend Lazarus from the dead Jesus tells Laz’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will never die.” (see John 11). While in Jerusalem, the Sadducee scholars approach Jesus in an attempt to debate Him on the subject (see Matthew 22).

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the joy of David’s escape of death, but the unbridled praise is rooted in his absolute fear and hope-less despair at the prospect of dying. As I mull this over, I can’t help but think about what a game-changer Jesus was. In his letter to believers in the city of Corinth, Paul doesn’t quote from David’s fear of the Pit, but this verse from the prophet Hosea:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

I realize that one of the things that has grown and matured in me as a follower of Jesus are my thoughts and feelings about death. Though earlier in my journey I feared death a great deal, I’m no longer afraid to die. I’ve heard and read the stories of those who have gone and have been sent back. The further I get in this journey the more fully I believe that this earthly life is about me fulfilling my role in the Great Story. When my role is finished I will make my exit to that which is more real than this 19,848 days of physical existence.

I will sing with David his words from today’s psalm:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy

Not because I escaped physical death to live another day, but because Jesus conquered death and I’ll escape this this earth-bound life for eternity.

In the meantime, it’s another day in the journey. Time to press on.

Want to Read More?

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

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

About This Post

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

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

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

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

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Perplexing Mystery

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The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations shall perish from his land.
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:16-18 (NRSVCE)

We don’t talk much about evil anymore. It gets used as a weapon-word fired at the political “other” in the empty, name-calling wars on social media. It is referenced in conversations about acts so heinous that everyone agrees that they reached a depth of depravity so dark as to be inhuman. I observed, however, that even people of faith are dismissive of the notion that evil is set up in active conflict against good in the spiritual realm of this world.

Again, the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Matthew 4:8-9

The evil one was able to offer Jesus the kingdoms of this world and their splendor because this Level 3 world is where evil holds dominion until the final chapters of the Great Story. At every level of the socio-economic ladder from the grade school playground to Wall Street and Washington D.C. are those who will exploit anyone to advance their personal power base and portfolio of wealth. Unlike Jesus, they have knelt before the evil one and taken him up on his offer. These are the ones David writes about in the lyrics of today’s psalm.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, today’s psalm is connected to yesterday’s. Like We Will Rock You and We are the Champions by Queen, or Journey’s Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezing and City of the Angels the two songs are were meant to go together. One of the common conventions of Hebrew songs and poems that is lost in translation to English is the fact that each line begins with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order just as if you wrote a poem and each line began with A, B, C, D, and etc., Psalm 10 picks up with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet where Psalm 9 left off. In addition, there is no header or title to Psalm 10 like there has been for every other psalm we’ve read since Psalm 1. Psalms 9 and 10 go together.

With that in mind, King David is writing both psalms from his position as King of Israel. The thing I find most fascinating is that he is writing from a position of power. He’s at the top of the food chain. He holds more power in the kingdom than anyone else, and he is lamenting the wicked highway robbers who oppress the poor in the rural villages of his own country. He’s complaining about the wealthy brokers of power in his own kingdom who “prosper all the time” and establish their legacy for their descendants.

Why doesn’t he do something about it?

Along my journey I’ve observed that there is only so much that one can do in a world where evil has dominion. Not that I shouldn’t do everything that I can to act in the circles of influence in which I operate. I should. Nevertheless, I have witnessed good people, followers of Jesus, who have ascended the ladder of earthly power and influence only to find that there is only so much that they can do.

That’s the point I believe King David is getting to in his songs that read like a leader’s lament. His position of ultimate power in his kingdom cannot stop the wickedness of every rural bully bent on taking advantage of poor villagers. Even as King he is surrounded by the wealthy and powerful who have their own personal kingdoms built to oppose him.

It’s interesting that towards the end of today’s psalm David appeals to God as “King forever and ever.” At the end of his personal, earthly power that has fallen short of bringing justice to everyone, David appeals to God as the only higher authority who can step in and do something about it.

Welcome to one of the most perplexing spiritual mysteries of the Great Story. Jesus comes to earth and refuses to operate in worldly systems of the evil one’s dominion where injustice and wickedness reign and oppress the poor and the weak.

Why didn’t he do something about it?

Instead of confronting evil on earthly terms, Jesus goes instead to the rural, the poor, and the simple. He reaches out to individuals, encourages the personal transformation of individuals from self-centered evil to a life of self-sacrificing service to others. He triumphs not over earthly kingdoms but over Death. He wages war not against flesh-and-blood but against principalities, powers, and forces of spiritual darkness behind flesh-and-blood power. It leads me to consider that ultimately, the Great Story is not about this Earth. It’s not about this world. It’s not just about this 20,000 to 40,000 days I will spend journeying through this lifetime. It’s about something greater, something deeper, something more eternal.

In the quiet this morning I find myself identifying with David’s lament. At the end of the song, David expresses his trust that God sees the acts of evil and hears the cries of the oppressed. He entrusts the King of all with ultimately making things right. I have to do the best I can as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom on this earth in the circles of influence I’ve been given. Beyond that, I can only make an appeal to the King forever, and trust He will see this Great Story to its conclusion, joyfully ever-after.

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

A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 6)

Subscribe to The Wayfarer Podcast Now on your favorite podcast app!

In this episode, we’re going to talk about metaphor and the books of poetry (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs). From “Why do bad things happen to good people?” to a healthy expression of the God-given expression of sexuality, this episode is an entry-level introduction to ancient Hebrew poetry and how it continues to resonate with us today.

Previous episodes in this series:

Part 1: Mystery, Context, & Metaphor
Part 2: Decoding & Diving In
Part 3: Meta-Themes of the Great Story
Part 4: Books of Law
Part 5: Books of History
Part 6: Books of Poetry

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

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 5)

With this episode, we’re going to continue our journey through the major sections of the Great Story. We pick it up at the end of Moses’ story and overview the continuation of the overall narrative through the “Historical Books” of the Old Testament.

This episode if brought to us by the letter “C”:

  • Conquest
  • Cycle of broken humanity
  • Crying for a king
  • Civil War
    • Chaos of power (in the Northern Kingdom)
    • Continuation of David’s line (in the Southern Kingdom)
  • Conquered
  • Captivity
  • Constructing the past
Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 5)

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