Tag Archives: Hebrews

Thin Places

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Walk about Zion, go all around it,
    count its towers…

Psalm 48:12 (NRSVCE)

Throughout the history of the Jesus Movement and Christendom, there have been various geographic locations around the world that have come to be known as “thin places.” The concept is a very simple metaphor. It is a specific location where the divide between temporal and eternal, heaven and earth, matter and Spirit, is thin. The power of the Spirit seems to flow more palpably. “Thin places” might be locations where spiritual revivals have occurred, miracles have occurred, or where people experience God’s presence in extraordinary ways.

One of the things I’ve noticed in moving from Book I of the Psalms (Psalms 1-41) to Book II (Psalms 42-72). The songs in Book 1 are mostly songs of David expressing his personal emotions and faith. In the first six songs of Book II we’ve had a variety of songs that were written with specific liturgical purposes. There’s been a diplomatic wedding of royalty to another nation’s princess, a song celebrating a king’s enthronement, and a community plea/prayer after suffering military defeat.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 48, is a song that celebrates Jerusalem as the center of Hebrew worship. It celebrates Jerusalem as an ancient thin place where people find joy, where God has done great things, where the things of God are pondered, and spiritual guidance is found.

It was very common in ancient Mesopotamian cultures for major cities to have patron deities and temples to those deities. The Hebrews would have experienced this while in slavery in Egypt. They would have been familiar with the concept, and way back during the Hebrews flight from Egypt God made clear that a city would be established as the place where Yahweh would dwell and be worshipped (Deut 12:5). How fascinating that over 3000 years later pilgrims from all over the world continue to flock to Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall of the temple ruins. It is still considered by many to be a thin place.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 48 has me thinking about thin places. I have been to Jerusalem, I have walked its streets, and I have prayed at the Western Wall. Personally, I didn’t find Jerusalem to be a thin place but a dark place, despite knowing that the Great Story makes clear it still has a role to play in history’s climactic events.

I have, however, observed that our place at the lake is what I’ve experienced as a thin place. It is a place people have found peace. It is a place where both myself and others have found healing of both body and soul. It has been a place of retreat, of soul-searching, of life-changing conversation, of joy, of love, and of Life.

In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to believe it vital to identify and regularly visit a thin place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away alone or with his closest followers to the top of a mountain along the shores of Galilee to pray. Interestingly enough, when I visited that mountain-top location in Israel, I found it to be the thinnest place I personally experienced in my tour of many, many sites in the Holy Land.

This world bombards me ceaselessly with data, information, opinions, advertisements, and pleas for my time, energy, and human resources. My spirit needs a thin place to recharge, even if it’s a thin place just to me.

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

Whining Then and Now

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But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
Exodus 17:3 (NRSVCE)

It’s been so much fun over the past six months to watch our grandson, Milo, as he’s made so many developmental leaps. He’s carrying on actual conversations. He’s making discoveries and connections. His vocabulary is growing exponentially. He’s learning all about dinosaurs (and will be happy to share). He’ll even demonstrate a T-Rex roar if you ask.

Of course, with this stage of development also comes the natural human penchant for whining. The repeated wailing at loud decibel levels. Emotions run amok and bereft of any governor of logic or reason. The passionate translation of momentary light affliction into problems of heinous and lethal proportions.

One of my observations along life’s journey is that humans have a penchant for whining at every stage of life, it just looks different in adults than it does in childhood. It transforms from emotional tantrums in children to adults wallowing in grumbling, complaining, and lament. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. I’m not making an editorial comment about current events.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew nation (remember 1-2 million people and livestock) is camping in the wilderness. There is a lack of readily available water. So they grumble and complain to Moses to the point that Moses is afraid they’re going to stone him to death. What I noticed in this was the pattern that has been emerging:

They grumbled when Moses’ first meeting with Pharaoh resulted in more work and persecution. God miraculously sent the plagues and delivered them from slavery.

They grumbled when they were caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea. God miraculously parted the Red Sea, swallowed up their oppressors, and delivered them from their enemies.

They grumbled when they feared there wasn’t enough food for everyone as they entered the wilderness. God miraculously sent quail and manna to provide daily sustenance and delivered them from hunger.

Today they grumble because there isn’t enough water…

I see the pattern.

One of the most difficult spiritual lessons I’ve learned along my journey is that spiritual maturity requires that we respond to difficult circumstances with gratitude, praise, and trust:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! (John 16:33)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings… (Rom 5:3)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds… (James 1:2)

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials… (1 Peter 1:6)

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)

Earlier in this chapter-a-day journey through Exodus, I was reminded that this entire Exodus epic was about God wanting the Hebrew people to know Him. He heard their cries. He was acting to deliver them. He wanted a relationship with them.

In my own spiritual journey, I’ve learned that my knowledge of God doesn’t increase when things are easy, when everything is going my way, and when I am sitting pretty in life. Paul said in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome that in the end there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love.

Faith is only developed when trusting and believing is a necessity because circumstances are uncertain. Like when you’re stuck between a sea and your enemies.

Hope is only developed when the outcome is uncertain. Like when there’s not enough water.

Love is developed when there is an exchange between two parties in which protection, trust, hope, and perseverance through difficulty are experienced.

The evidence of the Hebrews’ repeated whining suggests that there is little spiritual or relational development happening on their end. Get ready. This pattern is going to continue.

In the quiet this morning, I’m left contemplating my own spiritual journey and spiritual development. Do I grumble perpetually, or have I learned to trust? Do I whine about my circumstances, or have I learned to have faith that God has something for me to learn in them? Am I mired in gloom and pessimism thinking that God is going to pull the rug out from underneath me, or am I hope-full that God is leading me to good places on this journey and there is a Promised Land ahead?

I’d like to say that I’m perfectly exemplifying the latter of these, but I confess I’m not. I have made progress, though, if I think back to where I was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. That’s called development. Hopefully, I have grown out of the spiritual child stage and am gaining some maturity. I’m reminded this morning that this is a journey. A journey is about progress, not perfection.

And so, I’m lacing them up at the beginning of this another day. Time to press on into faith, hope, and love.

May the God of Love bless you where ever you find yourself on life’s road today.

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

Doing Something

…on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.
Exodus 12:12 (NRSVCE)

We are living through strange times.

Yesterday Wendy and I attended our local gathering of Jesus’ followers which was meeting corporately for the first time in months. With everything set up and following social distancing rules by local and state authorities, it just felt weird and disconcerting. This physical and relational reality only intensified the spiritual and emotional turmoil Wendy and I found ourselves in as we grapple with the inexcusable murder of George Floyd and the intensity of reactions it sparked across our nation and the world.

As worship began I fell to my knees as the emotional dam burst within me. Wendy and I wept together. Like almost everyone else with whom we discuss the situation, we are sad and angry. We agonize over what we can and must do in the wake of this crime and the evil, complex, vast, and multi-dimensional injustice of racism that continues to perpetuate in our nation, as it has for hundreds of years.

As I read today’s chapter, I felt the synchronicity that often comes in the morning when I open to the chapter that has fallen onto my schedule that day. It felt like no mistake that I was reading of the Hebrews’ climactic escape from their slavery in Egypt. What struck me this morning, and which I never internalized in the countless times I’ve read and studied it, is that the event is more than just the freedom of the Hebrews out of the chains of their slavery. Their escape took place amidst the wailing cries of their oppressors. God arranged for the oppressors to experience the pain, suffering, and loss that they and their system had visited on others for hundreds of years.

I also cannot help but mull over the fact that this same Hebrew/Arab conflict has lasted for millennia. The hatred and acts of aggression, oppression, and violence have gone back and forth and lasted for so long that I personally consider it impossible to completely plumb the depths. Guilt and innocence, oppression and suffering are found on both sides throughout history. From ancient tribal disputes to the settlement disputes on the West Bank today. How strange to read today’s chapter and to realize that the events lie at the root of yet another vast, complex, multi-dimensional human conflict that continues to perpetuate to this day.

So where does that leave us?

Wendy arranged for us to have a Zoom meeting with our children yesterday afternoon. From their homes in South Carolina and Scotland, we all talked and shared about our thoughts, feelings, experiences, struggles, and desire to do something. Every one of us shared our thoughts and intentions around what we can do.

In our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, we heard a humble, vulnerable, and honest message from Kevin Korver who, to his credit, passionately addressed the situation head-on. In the end, he led us in this corporate action list:

As we remain and abide in the circle of love, the divine dance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we will:
Repent and confess
Bear good fruit
Listen, hear, and pray with love
Bless not curse
Love sacrificially
Become a bridge builder
Seek new friends
.

Will it make a difference? It’s not a miraculous answer to the evil, complex, vast, and multi-dimensional injustice that continues to perpetuate in our nation. But, perhaps if I who profess to be a follower of Jesus actually and intentionally do these things it will make a change in me and those around me.

I’m reminded this morning that Harriett Tubman led approximately 70 slaves to freedom on some 13 missions. Seventy out of some 6 million slaves. She courageously and intentionally did what she could.

There’s no reason I can’t expect the same from myself.

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

Spiritual Hearing and Sight Impairment

Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
Exodus 6:9 (NRSVCE)

When Jesus was teaching, He would repetitiously tag his message by saying, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” This phrase has always resonated with me. Maybe more so because in the experience of delivering a message I have always experienced that some people really “hear” the message and others do not. Jesus was constantly acknowledging this truth. In explaining to His followers the reason He taught with parables He went so far as to embrace that this is part of a larger spiritual mystery revealed by the prophet, Isaiah:

That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
“Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
    Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
    so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
    so they won’t have to look,
    so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
    and let me heal them.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear!”

Matthew 13 :13-16 (MSG)

Not everyone wants to see it or hear it in this moment.

Not everyone is ready to see it or hear it in this moment.

In yesterday’s chapter, Moses’ first attempt at getting Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go was a dismal failure. Not only did Pharaoh reject the appeal, but he made life even worse for the Hebrews whom Moses is trying to lead. In today’s chapter, Moses is prompted by God to have another go at it but his people would not listen “because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on those whom I observe to be suffering from spiritual hearing and sight impairment. In my experience, the institutional church and its regulatory minions have been too quick to diagnose such a person with a terminal spiritual condition. Judgment and condemnation quickly follow before shaking the dust off and returning to the cloister. I confess that, in my own spiritual journey, I have been guilty of this very attitude.

Mea culpa.

As I began to walk life’s journey along-side those who are struggling to spiritually see and hear, I found them to be a lot like the Hebrews in today’s chapter. There is something broken spiritually. Often it is something old and painful that is deep-seated. Typically it is of no fault of their own. It is the scars of circumstance. I have also observed that there is almost always a true desire to spiritually hear and see, but there is a process. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, the first time Jesus rubbed the man’s eyes everything was blurry. It took another repetition before the man gained his full sight.

It’s going to take repetition for Moses’ people, too. They are broken. They’re struggling under the weight of their chains and the scars of their overseers. It’s going to take time, repetition, and perseverance before they can hear what God is saying and see what God is doing through Moses.

Along the way, I’ve learned that if someone is spiritually deaf and blind, it simply means I need to keep speaking in love, listening patiently, acting kindly, responding gently, serving faithfully, and controlling my reactions. I’m reminded that on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was still complaining that His closest followers weren’t hearing Him or seeing what He was doing.

Some things take time.

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

Sex and a Larger Wisdom

Keep to a path far from her,
    do not go near the door of her house

Proverbs 5:8 (NIV)

One of the challenges in the reading of ancient wisdom is embracing the historical, cultural, and social differences I find rather than letting them get in the way. In our current culture of reactivity and the quick dismissal of anything that doesn’t fit neatly in the personal box of my world view, I’m afraid many miss out on the larger wisdom that is still there for anyone willing to see it.

The role and status of women in ancient cultures is a fascinating study. Just a few chapters ago I wrote about the fact that when the ancients personified wisdom she was a woman. Contrasting that honoring celebration of the feminine, today’s chapter is a head-scratching corollary. Solomon warns his son to beware of a caricatured predator: the adulterous woman.

It seems hypocritical for King Solomon to preach such monogamous virtue to his son, given the fact that the “wise” King was recorded to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Of course, it could also be argued that he was writing out of the pain of his own folly, as it is also recorded that he was “led astray” by having 1000 women at his disposal (though I doubt he was an unwilling victim).

Along my life journey, I’ve experienced that it takes two to do the tango of adultery. The peddling of forbidden sexual fruit is not discriminatory by gender, nor is the temptation to taste its pleasures. It is also my observation that gender is inconsequential when it comes to matters of seduction, sexual temptation, sexual surrender, promiscuous relationships and the bitter consequences typically experienced at the dead-end of those paths. It would be foolish of me not to look past the cultural differences between the ancient Hebrews and my own time to see the larger wisdom that Sophia has to share for anyone willing to listen to what she has to say about the foolishness of sexual promiscuity.

In the quiet this morning I find folly and wisdom in multiple layers. There is the obvious folly of promiscuity and the wisdom of relational fidelity presented in the text. I also find the folly of what I see on both sides of our current cultural discourse, in which I can easily be dismissive of others who don’t comfortably fit inside the box of my comfortable world-view. I find there is typically larger wisdom present if I’m willing to seek her out.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

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

What’s Your Story?

In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly.
Nehemiah 9:33 (NIV)

Everyone has a story.

In recent years, I have started asking people a simple question:

“What is your story?”

I find that those I ask are often taken aback by the question. It’s not unusual for a person to sit quietly for a moment and size me up. I imagine that, at times, the person is questioning my motives for asking. I also assume that some individuals are pondering just how much they really want to reveal to me. A person’s story, the revelation of self, is an intimate gift. What an individual chooses to share with me, and how they frame their own story, says way more about the person than his or her mere words.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew exiles gather on what was known as a “Day of Atonement.” They recounted the story of their people from creation, through Abram, slavery in Egypt, Moses, the giving of the law, the wilderness, conquest, kings, prophets, captivity, and exile. At the end of their story, they summed things up:

“In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly.”

Nehemiah 9:33 (NIV)

I have been a follower of Jesus for almost forty years. No one knows my own story, my own journey, as well as I do. Like the returned exiles in today’s chapter, like everyone else, my life journey is a tale that contains both incredible blessing and tragic mistakes. I have witnessed and experienced the miraculous, and I have willfully exhibited misdeeds and immorality.

I find in today’s chapter a good example to follow. It’s a healthy thing to remember and to recount my story warts and all. In all of the joy and pain, the triumphs and trials, the blessings and mistakes of my journey I am reminded of God’s faithfulness, guidance, goodness, and abundant grace despite my many missteps.

In the quiet this morning, I’m recounting my story to myself. It leaves me with feelings of gratitude and humility in light of God’s goodness. It reminds me that the story is still being told. Thanks for being part of it.

So, what’s your story?

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!

“…Don’t Scare Worth a Damn.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stages of the Journey

“Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages….”
Numbers 33:1-2 (NIV)

Yesterday our daughter Taylor was featured in a blog post by Ivory House photography. It was an artistic and poignant photo essay of our very pregnant daughter, and a tribute to all of the incredible qualities that emanate from her empowerment as a woman. Last night I read the essay and took time to appreciate how Whitney captured the beauty of Taylor and her pregnancy. I was struck at the new stage of life into which Taylor is ushering us as she gives birth to this little man we are so anxious to meet.

I woke up in the wee hours this morning. My heart was stirring. My brain wouldn’t shut down. I got up and started journaling. What came out was a stream of thoughts, fears, and hopes as I sense Wendy and me on the precipice of a new stage of our life journey. Unexpectedly becoming grandparents at the end of this year is a significant piece of it, but just one piece. This has been a year in which certain callings and responsibilities have been relinquished. There are new things coming for us at work that were unforeseen a year ago. We feel God pressing us forward in other areas of life. Again, things we didn’t see coming a short time ago.

This New Years Eve will be our 12th Anniversary. Twelve years. In my unending journey through God’s Message I’ve come to learn that twelve is a significant number. It’s a number of completion.

One stage coming to completion.
Another stage about to begin.

Old things pass away. New things come.”

Some days I’m amazed at God’s synchronicity. Finishing up my journaling, I opened up today’s chapter and what do I read?

Journey, stages, and God’s command to Moses record the stages.

Every life journey has its stages. In my experience, some stages are harder than others. Some stages feel like an endless trek through Death Valley, while others are an oasis. Some stages are an uphill grind, while others are a coast. Some are obstacle courses, and some stages are mountain top experiences so full of goodness and life that I don’t want to let them go or move on from them.

Moving from one stage to another may be a relief, or a sudden terrifying drop off the cliff, or an anxious unknowing. No matter the shift, I always find the transition comes with questions, trepidation, fear, and anxiety. Even transitioning from a difficult stage to an easier stage is still a step of faith. I rarely know what a new stage truly is until I’m well into it.

Moses and the Israelite tribes had stages of their journey from slavery in Egypt to Promised Land: Victories. Trials. Blessing. Conflict. Miracles. Struggle. And, God wanted them to record it.

Pay attention,” God says. “Record. Remember so you can look back and see in context….”

Where have we been?
Where are we right now?
Where are we going?

This morning I’m thinking back to the stages I’ve been through. Through all the ups and downs I can see God’s provision, God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, God’s presence and leading. That’s helpful as I turn my gaze ahead and contemplate the next step.

I stand at the precipice  of a new stage of life like the Israelites standing at the River Jordan. What will this new stage be?

Only one way to find out.

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

A Sacrifice of Aroma

The Lord said to Moses, “Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Make sure that you present to me at the appointed time my food offerings, as an aroma pleasing to me.’”
Numbers 28:1-2 (NIV)

I remember as a young child taking a school field trip to the Wonder Bread bakery in Des Moines. I can still remember the overwhelming aroma of all those loaves baking in the industrial oven. Pardon the pun, but it was a little slice of heaven to me. At the end of the tour each of us were given a mini-loaf of freshly baked bread still warm from the oven. The simple joy of that experience is still fresh in my memory almost fifty years later.

There is, perhaps, no aroma more pleasing to my soul than that of freshly baked bread. Over the past few weeks, between baby shower and Thanksgiving celebrations, Wendy has made multiple loaves of bread at home. The aroma wafts up the stairway from our kitchen into my office. I don’t know whether it is the nostalgic memories of my mother baking in the kitchen or something more innately human that connects my spirit to the smell of something so basic to life. It fills my spirit in a way that’s almost impossible to describe or quantify.

I find it fascinating that God prescribed to the ancient Hebrews sacrifices of aroma. In my experience we rarely, if ever, connect the spiritual to our sense of smell. Yet we depend on our olfactory senses in such basic ways. When the deli meat has been in the refrigerator for a while Wendy asks me to smell it to discern whether it’s still good. I have cologne in my bathroom cupboard that I refrain from putting on when Wendy and I are going on a date because I know the smell turns her off.  Quite often one of us will stop and say, “I smell something rotten” because our sense of smell has determined there is something amiss.

In his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth, Paul makes the point that they are the “aroma of Christ.” I’ve always been attracted to that word picture. I’ve blogged about it multiple times. When I’m on site with a client today will my spirit, my attitude, my words, and my actions be a pleasing aroma to those around me? Just as my soul smiles at the smell of Wendy’s freshly baked bread, will there be some sense in which my clients will think, “I always like it when Tom shows up.”

Conversely, it is perfectly possible that I might possibly “stink up” a place. When my life, my mind, or my soul are slowly rotting from the effects of fear, anxiety, judgement, anger, hatred, envy, bitterness, pride, conceit, or the like, others can “smell” it in the air when I’m present.

In another letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome, Paul tells them to  offer themselves as “living sacrifices.” I’ve never connected the two, but this morning I’m thinking of my “living sacrifice” being a sacrifice of aroma just like God asked from the ancient Hebrews in today’s chapter. Today I want my life and actions to be like the aroma of freshly baked bread in God’s nostrils. I want my presence on-site with my client today to be a similarly pleasing spiritual fragrance for them.

In order for Wendy to produce the aroma of freshly baked bread in our home, she has to actively preheat the oven, mix the recipe in the kitchen, let the dough rise, and bring about the conditions in which the bread will bake and the aroma will be unleashed. Similarly, I’ve got to consciously put together the recipe of intention, thought, words and actions to produce a pleasing aroma for God in my day today.

Of course, in order to produce a stench I don’t have to do a thing. When a living thing sits long enough in stagnation the rot will eventually, naturally happen on its own.

Family is Family

 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;
Numbers 21:4 (NIV)

My maternal grandfather, Claude Hendrickson had a particularly difficult childhood. Grandpa Spec’s father committed suicide after learning he had tuberculosis. It was assumed that Perry Hendrickson wanted to spare his family the medical costs and difficulties associated with a long, terminal illness. My grandfather, the eldest of three siblings, was farmed out to his maternal grandparents to be raised. His mother retained custody of the younger siblings.

“Spec,” as he was known this whole life, experienced a strict upbringing with his grandparents. There was, however, discipline and faith. He managed well, got married, worked hard, and made a decent life for his family. Meanwhile, his siblings suffered their own difficulties as their mother, Olive Hendrickson, went through a string of failed marriages. Spec’s brother Ralph, an alcoholic, came looking for a job from his older brother. Spec agreed to hire his brother, but explained that he would fire him the first time he found his brother drinking on the job. When that eventually happened, Ralph was fired and promptly returned family in Illinois where he spread malicious lies about Spec among the family there. Spec felt ostracized by much of his family from that point on.

Spec and Ralph remained estranged, yet when Ralph died Spec drove to Illinois to pay his respects and to face a family who thought the worst of him because of Ralph’s malicious stories. Imagine my grandfather’s horror when the funeral director handed him the bill for his brother’s funeral. As “next of kin” the family expected him to pay the bill for his estranged brother who had caused him so much trouble. My grandfather paid the bill, returned home to Iowa, and let it go.

Family is family,” I can hear my grandfather say from his rocker, chewing on a cigar.

This story came to mind as I read today’s chapter. There is a subtle, recurring theme through the story of the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrews. It appears again today when the nomad nation takes a circuitous route to avoid the land of Edom. Skirting Edom to the east meant living in an extremely desolate area east of the Dead Sea.

Back in Deuteronomy God had told Moses to leave Edom alone because the land of Edom had been settled by Esau, the twin brother of Jacob (aka Israel). The story of the twins is back in Genesis 25. Esau had been Jacob’s older twin, but Jacob had deceived Esau into giving him his birthright. The result was “bad blood” between the brothers and their descendants.

It has been some 600 years since the days of Jacob and Esau, and now the nation of Israelites are living in a desolate desert wilderness clawing out their survival because God had ordered, through Moses, that they leave Esau’s land alone. The people weren’t happy.

“Family is family.” There has always been an unwritten human principle about being faithful to family, to provide for family, to be true to family. In my life journey I believe I’ve seen the power of this sentiment slowly fade in our culture as families spread out over larger and larger geographical areas. Yet, I’m not sure it will ever fade completely. There’s something that’s built in our DNA. It’s why millions of people are doing DNA tests and searching out their roots to understand who their family is and “where I come from.” There is a part of us and our life journey that we realize is only understood in the context of the family from which we spring.

This morning I’m thinking about our human family and the things that connect us. I continue to marvel that modern genetics has definitively shown that all of us descend from what scientists refer to as “Genetic Eve.” We are all part of the same human family. Like the Hebrews, over time we feel less and less connection. Despite the fact that God reminded the Hebrews that the Edomites were “family” they didn’t think of the Edomites in those terms. They saw their distant cousins as enemies who refused to allow them to pass through the land. The Edomites didn’t see the Hebrews as distant cousins but as a threat to their very existence. Along the way our self-centered fears and desires turns human family members into mortal enemies.

Then there are those like Grandpa Spec. Despite having every reason to save his money and walk away angry from his brother’s funeral, he simply paid the funeral bill and let it go.

Family is family.

Indeed.