Tag Archives: Humility

Faith or Flight

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

Psalm 11:1 (NRSVCE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to Read More?

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

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

About This Post

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

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

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

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

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Breaking a Stiff-Neck

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For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’”
Exodus 33:5 (NRSVCE)

One of the ironies of this period of COVID-19 pandemic is that everyone has been stuck inside with nothing to do, but because the quarantine includes actors, crews, studios, and production companies there’s been nothing new to watch on television! So, Wendy and I have been extra excited to have new episodes of Yellowstone airing the past three weeks.

If you haven’t watched Yellowstone, it’s about the patriarch of the largest ranch in the United States that also happens to be some of the most valuable and sought after land in the world. Kevin Costner plays the widowed, wealthy, and powerfully connected rancher John Dutton who struggles to control his dysfunctional family and protect his ranch from a host of enemies who want to take him down and get their hands on his land. Wendy and I have both observed that it’s a lot like a modern-day Godfather, but rather than Italian mobsters in New York it’s cowboys in Montana.

One of the subtle, recurring themes in the show is that of wild horses that need to be broken. In the first season, we’re introduced to Jimmy, a drug-addicted, two-strike loser going nowhere. As a favor to Jimmy’s grandfather, Dutton takes Jimmy on as a ranch-hand. In an iconic moment, Jimmy is tied and duct-taped onto a wild horse that no one else could break. All-day long Jimmy is bucked, spun, and tossed on the back of the horse. By the end of the day, the horse is finally broken, and so is Jimmy.

Today’s chapter is a sequel to yesterday’s story of the Hebrew people abandoning Moses, and the God of Moses, by making an idol for themselves and reverting to their old ways. In response, God calls the people “stiff-necked” (other English translations and paraphrases use words like “stubborn’ or “willful”). One commentator I read stated that the imagery of the original Hebrew word was an ox, bull, or another animal that was unbroken and wouldn’t yield to being yoked. I couldn’t help but think of poor Jimmy duct-taped to that horse.

One of the things I’ve observed in certain human beings is an unbroken spirit. I recall Wendy sitting with a toddler who was determined to climb up our bookcase at the lake which, of course, would have been a dangerous thing to do. The little one had revealed a habit of willfully proceeding whenever an adult said “No.” Wendy sat there and repeatedly pulled the child’s hand and foot off of the bookcase over, and over, and over again as she gently and firmly repeated: “No.” I remember Wendy explaining to the child that she would sit there all day and repeat the process until the child understood. The child cried, wailed, and threw a tantrum in frustration as Wendy calmly continued to deny the toddler’s willful, stiff-necked desire.

Of course, adults can be simply grown-ups who are stuck in childish patterns of thought and behavior. One of the most fascinating things about the story of the early Jesus movement is the transformation in the strong-willed, stiff-necked followers such as Peter, Paul, and John. With each one there was a process involved in the spiritual transformation that included moments of their strong-wills being broken and their spirits humbled as they learned what Jesus meant when He said things like “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” and “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.”

In the quiet this morning I am looking back on my nearly 40 years as a follower of Jesus. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Life has tossed me around a time or two. Some stretches of the journey felt like I was spinning in place. But I’ve come to realize that the spiritual journey is just me being poor Jimmy on that horse. I’ve found God to be a lot like Wendy at that bookcase repeatedly and gently telling a childish, stiff-necked Tommy “No.” The breaking of my will is a prerequisite for discovering God’s.

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

A Spiritual Contrast

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”
Exodus 8:25 (NRSVCE)

The story of Pharaoh and the plagues is fascinating. Like many ancient cultures, the Egyptians believed that their leader, Pharaoh, was a god. At least, that’s what Pharaoh would have them believe. By raising themselves to the status of deity, leaders put themselves in a social class all by themselves. They could do no wrong and their actions could not be questioned.

Under the literal events in the text, there is a subtle battle going on between Pharaoh (a god, remember) and the God of the Hebrews. It was common for Pharaohs to claim that their deeds, successes, and victories in battle were done by Pharaoh’s “mighty hand.” Throughout the last few chapters, God through Moses and Aaron continues to claim to accomplish these plagues by God’s “mighty hand.” God even has Moses and Aaron “stretch out” their hand with the staff. In each case, this is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s authority.

The repeated phrase about Pharaoh’s heart being “hardened” can also be interpreted as a challenge to the Egyptian ruler’s claim of being above reproach. According to the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” the ancients believed that in the afterlife their heart would be weighed on a scale to determine if it is heavier than the metaphorical feather that they believed represented what was right and just. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart may be interpreted that with each turn it is getting heavier, and thus it is an indictment that the ruler is guilty, even by the Egyptians own religious beliefs, of not doing what is right and just by the Hebrew people that he’s enslaved.

What really struck me as I read today’s chapter was Pharaoh’s struggle. He refuses to let the Hebrews take three days to go into the wilderness and worship God. Then, Pharaoh promises to let the Hebrews go if Moses will pray to relieve Egypt of the plague, and then refuses to keep his promise. Then, Pharaoh promises to let them go but only if they do it on his terms by not going into the wilderness.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded that Christ asks me to humbly submit myself to God and to others. In fact, that was posture Jesus exemplified in becoming human and obediently suffering on the cross and sacrificing Himself for all. Following Jesus is about following that example, and humbly putting God and others ahead of myself.

In Pharaoh, I see an individual who is sitting on a throne both literal and metaphorical. Pharaoh is the poster child for pride, self-aggrandizement, and self-deception. He is desperately trying to save face and retain some sense of power and authority, but each time he does he continues to reveal that his pride is actually a weakness and a tragic flaw perpetually exposing the deception he’d created for himself.

As I exit the holiday weekend and enter another week, I find myself meditating on the contrast between Pharaoh and Jesus. I don’t have to look very hard to find ways that my thoughts, words, and actions appear more Pharaoh-like than Christ-like. That’s not the person I want to be. I’m reminded of Saul of Tarsus, the powerful and proud Hebrew who was transformed from Jesus’ most zealous enemy to Jesus’ most zealous follower. In the transformation, Paul discovered that weakness is actually strength:

…but [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

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

Being “Like God” or Being “Like God”

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.
Exodus 7:1 (NRSVCE)

For 21st century followers of Jesus, the idea of being God’s agent on Earth is a common one. Jesus made it clear that He was entrusting His on-going mission to His followers. Holy Spirit was poured out to indwell believers, impart spiritual gifts to each, and empower every believer as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom. Believers often speak metaphorically of being Jesus’ eyes, ears, hands, and feet; We are asked to be, expected to be, the embodiment of Jesus’ love to others.

It struck me then when God told Moses “I have made you like God to Pharaoh.” The only time that being “like God” has come up in the story before now was when the snake tempts Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, stating that it will make them “like God.” Until Moses appears, God has been intent on making Himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At this point in the story, however, the Hebrews had become a nation of people living in Egypt for hundreds of years with the 1000+ Egyptian dieties.

One of the subtle themes that has already been established in the Moses story is that God wants the Hebrew people to “know” Him, and for Pharaoh to “know” Him. “They will know,” and “Egyptians will know” are repeated statements. In this way, Moses is really the first example of God using a human instrument through which others will come to know God and through whom God will display His power.

This, of course, sets up a really interesting and important contrast.

Being “like God” can be opposite sides of a coin. I can be “like God” by seeking complete control of my life and the lives of everyone around me. If I want to be “like God” by sitting on the throne of my own life looking out for numero uno, doing as I please, and determining my own way with every step, then my path is going to lead to spiritually dark places (even if I wear the facade of being a good and faithful member of my local church). This is the dark side of “being like God.”

When Moses was being “like God” and when Jesus’ followers become “Christ-like” it is a process of humility, vulnerability, and submission. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words to Peter after the resurrection:

Jesus said [to Peter], “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.”
John 21:17-19 (MSG)

Jesus explains that Peter had lived the dark side of being “like God” self-centeredly determining his own way, but now he is going to experience the Light side of being “like God” in which he will (like Jesus’ did) humbly surrender his own rights of self-determination and become obedient to places he doesn’t want to go (i.e. “Father, let this cup pass from me”), even to his physical death.

In the quiet this morning, I’m finding myself surprisingly emotional as I meditate on this very simple concept. In my daily life, in the writing of these blog posts, I take on the mantle of being a follower of Jesus. But, are my daily life, words, and actions a demonstration of the dark side of being “like God” or the Light side of being “like Christ”? Am I living for myself under the veneer of being a good Jesus follower? Is my life a demonstration of the humility, vulnerability, and surrender required to be an agent of Christ-like love?

I’m not sure I like all of the answers I’m coming up with to these questions.

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

“The Woman”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Mark 14:3 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Jesus was at a dinner party given in His honor. Mark wrote the shortest of the four biographies of Jesus, and his efficiency in story-telling requires that details be left out in order to get to the heart of the matter. In this case, however, I found that the omission of certain details also reduced the power of the moment.

Mark states that “a woman” anoints Jesus with some audaciously expensive perfume. John, who was present at the dinner party, explains in his account (John 12) that the person Mark calls “a woman” was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had just raised from the dead. The other thing we know about Mary is that much earlier when Jesus paid a visit to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus she had been chastised by her sister, Martha, for not helping with dinner (see Luke 10). Mary was intent on sitting near Jesus and listening to Him while Martha dutifully prepared supper. In John’s account of the dinner party, Martha was once again focused on serving. Mary was focused on Jesus.

I had a couple of observations as I contemplated the scene this morning.

Jesus said that Mary, in anointing him with the perfume, was preparing Him “for burial.” Because of the lack of modern embalming methods, bodies were covered in perfumes and ointments that would counteract the stench of death that the body would emit relatively quickly. Yet, Mary’s act is happening a couple of days before Jesus would be arrested and executed.

While #TheTwelve and Jesus’ other followers are deaf and defensive to Jesus repeatedly insisting that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected, Mary embraces what Jesus has been saying. She shows faith and trust that no one else did. Her act metaphorically tells Jesus, “If this is what must be done, then I’m in. I’m going to trust you, that it will be just as you said. Allow me the honor of preparing you for what you say you must do.”

Mary does this immediately after she witnessed Jesus literally calling her brother out of the grave. Mary was standing there when Jesus said to her sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Mary’s anointing of Jesus also symbolically says “I believe. I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life. I believe you will die and that you’ll be raised from the dead just as you said.”

It is, ironically, Judas who questions the “waste” of the expensive perfume (worth an entire year of typical wages in those days) which he says could have been sold and used for more “practical” purposes. Jesus rebukes Judas sharply. To paraphrase: “Judas, shut up and leave Mary alone. This woman understands what I’m doing better than you and the other eleven.” I can’t help but hear the echoes of Jesus repeatedly asking #TheTwelve in previous chapters: “You still don’t understand?” It was Mary, who had been intent on watching and listening to Jesus, who saw it better than anyone else. It was this rebuke that sends Judas over the edge. He leaves the dinner party to arrange his betrayal.

I also hear the echoes of Jesus’ repeated admonition, “If you have ears to hear.” Mary’s spiritual ears were wide open to hear what no one else heard. Her spiritual eyes saw what no one else did. She was the only one connecting the spiritual dots between what Jesus had said and done raising her brother from the dead, and what Jesus said was going to happen to Him. And, she was the one who had been intent on sticking close to Jesus to watch, listen, and learn.

In the quiet this morning, I find it poignant that the person who seemed to “get it” was a woman outside of #TheTwelve. In those days, women were considered second rate to men. They were often treated as possessions and they typically had little education or social standing. It is a recurring theme in the Great Story for God to choose and to use the least, the youngest, the broken, the weak, and the marginalized to demonstrate His power. At the beginning of the Great Story is was “the woman” who was blamed for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. In this case, it was “a woman” who understands what Jesus is doing. In a few days, it will be “the women” who first hear of the resurrection. It will be “the women” who are the first to believe it. It will be “the women” who are entrusted to share the good news with #TheTwelve. I believe that there is an important lesson for me in this.

I have observed along my journey that even today it is often “the women,” like Mary, who show a greater interest in and sensitivity to the things of the Spirit, as well as a greater understanding of what God is up to. I have come to embrace that I have a lot to learn from them. I also have come to embrace the reality that it is sometimes those whom I’d least expect who get the things of God better than I do. Mary reminds me that in this spiritual journey, humility is required.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

A Good Day

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Mark 10:35 (NIV)

Every parent knows a set-up question when they hear it.

“Dad? I’m going to ask you something and you have to answer ‘yes.'”

“Mom? Haven’t I been really, really good this week?”

The set-up question is intended to get the desired answer from the real question. I remember being a young boy playing this game in my prayers with God. If I wanted the Vikings to win the game or my older brothers girlfriends to simply “stop by” our house (they always doted on me, and I loved it), then I would barter with the Almighty to get my wish. I might make the case for my good behavior to have been good enough to “earn” what it is I wanted. I might have promised all sorts of obedient services I could render on the back-end of my fulfilled wish should my Genie-God grant my self-centered request.

Obviously, as a young boy, I had a lot to learn about God, prayer, the Great Story, and my role in it. I’m grateful that God is eternally patient and faithful.

In today’s chapter, I found my lesson wrapped in the layout of events that Mark includes as Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem for the climactic week of His earthly sojourn.

First, Jesus sends a rich, young man away sad because the man was unwilling to do the one thing that stood between him and God: sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. In the post-event discussion with His followers, Jesus reminds them that in the economy of God’s Kingdom (the real one, not the false one that the institutional church created for 1700 years) “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

The very next thing, Jesus tells #TheTwelve for the third time exactly what’s going to happen:

“We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Sometimes I’ve noticed that the chapter breaks and headings that modern scholars have introduced into the text keep me from seeing the flow and connections between pieces of the story. Today was a great example. Jesus reminds the disciples that the first will be last, and then He gives them the ultimate example: I, the miracle-working Son of God who heals, frees, feeds, and raises people from the dead, am going to submit myself to suffer and die in order to redeem all things.

What happens next?

James and John come to Jesus with a “set-up question!”

“Um, Jesus? We want you to promise to do whatever it is we’re about to ask you.”

What was the question? They were looking out for numero uno. If Jesus was going to die, then the brothers Zebedee just wanted to tie up some loose ends. They wanted to make sure that their eternal future was secure. They wanted to ink the deal with Jesus, once and for all, to make sure they ended up “Top Dog” on the heavenly food chain.

I can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from what seems like every single chapter I’ve read the past two weeks: “Do you still not understand?”

For the record, James and John got about as far as I did with the Vikings winning the Super Bowl.

In the quiet, on this Good Friday morning, I am reminded of all the ways I have cast myself in the role of James and John. It might have been cloaked in religious set-up questions, bartered goodness, and the economics of a worldly institutional kingdom dressed in religious robes. The truth is what I’ve been quietly contemplating this week. In so many ways, I know that I still don’t completely get it.

Good Friday. The secret trials. The kangaroo court. The beatings. The mocking. The jeering. The crowd screaming for blood. The scourging. The nails driven into wrists and feet. The hanging naked on a cross as public spectacle; Naked, bleeding and losing control of his bodily functions in front of His own mother. And, as He hangs there between heaven and earth on the cusp of death…

Making sure his mother will be cared for.

Forgiving His executioners.

Extending grace to a confessed and convicted thief.

“The first shall be last. If you want to be the greatest, you must become the servant of all.”

A good day to open my head and heart to continue understanding, to continue getting it, and continuing to let it change me.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

No Exemptions

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
Mark 9:37 (NIV)

Yesterday I was doing some study and reviewing notes for an upcoming series of messages that will be given among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. The focus of the messages is on the mystery and meaning of the Trinity, in which believers recognize God is one in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One is three and three is one. It is not either-or, but both-and. It is sometimes said this way:

God the Father: God for us.
Jesus: God with us.
Holy Spirit: God in us.

I love the Greek word for Trinity: perichoresis. “Peri” is circle (as in, perimeter) and “choresis” is dance (as in choreography). It is a circle dance.

As I was contemplating these things, it struck me how often I have observed the institutional church (and I include myself in this) mentally ascribing to the doctrine of the Trinity (e.g. we say we believe it), but ignore the very simple and practical conclusions I must come to if I really believe in the Trinity.

For example, in today’s chapter #TheTwelve were arguing about who was greatest among them. Nothing surprising here. As boys we play “King of the Mountain” on the piles of snow made by the plows, and as men we play a constant game of “Who’s Top Dog” in business, politics, sports, and social standing. I can’t point the finger at Peter and the boys without three fingers pointing back at me.

Jesus turns the very natural male instinct for competition on its head as He tells His closest followers that whoever wants to be “greatest” must become the “least” and the “servant of all.” He pulls a little child up into His arms and says, “If you welcome this child, you welcome me and the one who sent me.”

Follow the logic with me. If I believe that Holy Spirit (God in us) indwells believers, then if I welcome that child I welcome God’s Spirit in that child. Because One is indistinguishable with Three, I am therefore also welcoming Jesus and “the One who sent” Jesus. In treating that person with loving kindness I am treating God in that person with loving kindness. At the same time, if I treat that child or person with contempt, abuse, or condemnation I am treating God in that person with contempt, abuse, or condemnation.

At this point, my old-self wants to make a point-of-order that this “if you welcome them you welcome me/us” paradigm only applies to those in whom God’s Spirit is indwelling. But I am still left without excuse if 1) I believe that “in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17) and if I ascribe to the teachings of Jesus who tells me 2) to love my enemies and bless those who persecute me and 3) He came to love and redeem that person whom I treat with contempt.

As I follow the circle dance all the way around I keep ending up back at the same conclusion: there are no exemptions to the law of love.

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but think of individuals for whom I would really like to have an exemption. I also can’t escape the fact that the most sensitive, self-centric, hair-trigger or rage for me is when I feel dishonored by another person. In those moments I’m not choosing to “serve the least” but staking my own personal claim as “Top Dog” worthy of honor.

It is Maundy (Latin for “Sorrowful”) Thursday as I write this. The day followers of Jesus remember His Last Supper and the agony with which He faced the suffering and crucifixion of the coming day. In those Thursday evening hours He prayed to the Father and expressed His despair at the prospect of humbly laying down His life for others. Still, He chose to press forward. The way of the cross. The law of love.

No exemptions.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

False Fronts

One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
    another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
Proverbs 13:7 (NIV)

Looks can be deceiving.

It’s one of those basic truths that I find myself conveniently forgetting time and time and time again. That perfect image being broadcast for everyone to see on Facebook and Instagram hides the inner shambles of life. The billionaire turns out to be bankrupt. A child buries his poor, elderly parents and is shocked to find out from the estate attorney that they’ve had millions all along.

The amazing little town where we live in Iowa was founded by Dutch settlers. We celebrate the Dutch heritage to the point that visitors from the Netherlands regularly comment that we are “more Dutch than the Dutch.” If you do business in our town your building (even the fast food places and national retail chains) has to have what we call a “Dutch front” with decorative flourishes that fit in with the town’s Hollander motif. In some of the old buildings downtown, the cute Dutch front you see from the street might easily hide a ramshackle, interior mess desperately in need of updating and renovation. It’s not unlike a set on a stage that looks amazing from the audience but actually hides bare lumber on a hollow, dark backstage.

Over the years, the concept of “Dutch front” has taken on a deeper metaphorical meaning for me. Religion regularly puts forth a false exterior of purity, piety, and self-righteousness for the world to see, while the interior life hides all sorts of dark desires, appetites, thoughts, and deeds. It is the same thing Jesus addressed with the religious leaders and teachers (part of a religious faction called the Pharisees):

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

Matthew 23:25-28 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I’m finding it hard to look at the spec of dust in the Pharisee’s eye and ignore the log in my own. The truth is that I can be just as guilty of wanting to be seen by others in the best light while keeping my flaws, faults, failures, and foibles conspicuously hidden.

As I walk the spiritual path of the season of Lent, one of the key practices to which I’m called is honest introspection. For non-believers or the non-religious, it’s basically the same thing as Step Four of the Twelve Steps: made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

And so, I find myself desiring this morning to be authentic in how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to hide behind a facade of piety (projecting false spiritual wealth to the world while I’m actually struggling because my spiritual reserve account is overdrawn), nor do I want to hide behind a facade of false humility (projecting to the world that I’m spiritually destitute while having a spiritual inheritance as a child of the Creator). To be honest, I’m not always sure where that balance is, but I know it starts with me being authentic in how I present myself whether it be in my work, my neighborhood, my relationships, my social media posts, these blog posts, or among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers.

The prayer that is welling up in my spirit this morning is actually a show tune. Here’s the YouTube for you. (Shout out to our friend Brystal for inspiring us with this. Your message that morning still resonates!)

<— 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

Todays featured photo courtesy of ucffool via Flickr.

A Seat at the Table

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
Luke 14:7-9 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I was honored to be invited to a special banquet. I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to attend such an occasion again in my lifetime. The banquet hall was enormous and it was filled with some of the most powerful individuals in the world, including politicians, diplomats, and celebrities. The speaker’s table on the stage, by the podium, was a who’s who of the most elite individuals I was used to seeing in the news almost every day.

The individual who had invited me was a person with a certain amount of social status in certain circles. I was just a young man and a nobody who was shocked to have even been allowed to be there at all. So it was, that I shouldn’t have been surprised that when we approached the ticket table and my host asked for our tickets, my host was given a ticket with a table and seat assignment. My ticket, however, relegated me to stand in a line outside the banquet hall with a throng of similar nobodies. I would only be admitted if some VIP didn’t show up.

I can remember being really disappointed and embarrassed. I had felt so honored to be invited, and now I felt so humiliated to have to stand outside while my host enjoyed the banquet. I also remember my host’s attitude upon realization of the situation. The subtext of my host’s words felt to me like: “Well, sucks to be you. Good luck! Hope you get in.”

The banquet was well underway and many of the guests were already finished with their meal when the door opened and an usher pointed to me. I was led through the sea of tables to a table right in front of the ballroom, just a few feet from the podium. I was given the seat of an international diplomat who hadn’t shown up for the banquet and had the privilege of a front-row seat to hear some of the most incredible speakers in the world.

After the banquet, I met back up again with my host who was clearly frustrated. Their guaranteed seat was at a table at the very back of the banquet hall. They could barely see the stage and podium. To be honest, I felt a bit of schadenfreude at that moment. I kinda still feel it as I retell the story.

That experience came to mind this morning as I read Jesus’ words to the guests at a banquet. Be humble. Let others have the seat of prominence. Be willing to wait in the lobby for an open seat.

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In the quiet this morning I have to confess to you that my attitude wasn’t so humble as I waited behind the banquet hall door. I felt anger and disappointment. The end of the story, however, taught me an important lesson that I’ve never forgotten.

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!

The Pressure of Preparation

But Jesus turned and rebuked them.
Luke 9:55 (NIV)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it has been a crazy year-end for Wendy and me. A lot of travel for both business and personal reasons, two family weddings on separate shores of North America separated by only two weeks of time. Now we are packing for a trip across the Atlantic to spend the holiday with our family living there. Oh, and it’s year-end which means that for work we are wrapping up 2019 projects for clients, getting out 2020 proposals, and buttoning up all of the loose-ends of business before year’s end.

There is a certain pressure one feels when facing deadlines and feeling the pinch of time.

In today’s chapter, Dr. Luke continues to provide a series of short episodes from Jesus’ ministry. The countless times I’ve read this chapter my lenses have always been focused on the individual episodes and the spiritual lessons they have for me. In the quiet this morning, however, I found myself shifting focus to look at the larger context of what’s going on.

Luke has fast-forwarded the narrative on us. The last five chapters have concerned Jesus’ early ministry. Today, the story shifts:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

In two separate episodes within today’s chapter, Jesus predicts his impending death. He knows that when He gets to Jerusalem that He will be arrested and killed by His own people.

Jesus, quite literally, has a dead-line.

Going back and looking at the chapter in the context of Jesus knowing His time on earth is limited, I see that this is a time of intense preparation:

  • He sends the twelve out, on their own, on a ministry practicum (vss. 1-6), and tells them to trust God for all their provision, including food.
  • In the next episode, the disciples have returned from their practicum, but don’t seem to have learned much about faith in trusting God for one’s daily bread, as instructed. Jesus gives them a lesson in faith and provision as He feeds 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. (vss. 10-17)
  • Jesus then predicts His death and attempts to impress upon his followers the seriousness of what it will ultimately mean to follow Him. (vss. 21-27)
  • Jesus gives His inner circle (Peter, James, and John) a glimpse of His true self and the glory of His being. Perhaps this was to inspire them with a better understanding of who He is and prepare them for becoming the leaders they will need to be after His departure. (vss. 28-36)
  • Jesus once again tells his followers that He is about to be executed. That’s twice in one chapter. Could it be that Jesus realizes that His followers don’t seem to be understanding and internalizing what the succession plan is going to mean for all of them? (vss. 44-48)
  • When his followers see a stranger performing miracles in Jesus’ name, they quickly bring Jesus their case for infringement and copyright litigation. But Jesus will have none of it. The work of His kingdom is not an exclusive enterprise of “Jesus & His 12 Associates Incorporated,” but inclusive of all who follow and embrace God’s Kingdom. They are going to have to understand this when the events recorded in Acts begin to happen. (vss. 49-50).
  • The chapter ends with Jesus still recruiting more followers to become a part of His earthly enterprise, and rejecting the applications of those who are unfit for the job (vss. 57-62).

Jesus is looking forward. Jesus continues to plan, and He continues to work the plan. In all of the preparation, I also observe an undercurrent of Jesus feeling the pressure:

  • Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 was not just a “Look what I can do” event. It was a “Hey, boys, don’t you get it?” event that comes on the heels of the twelve’s return from their individual ministry practicums in which they were sent out with nothing (no food, no money, and no extra clothes) and were expected to have faith in God’s provision. Immediately upon return, they come to Jesus spiritually blind to the possibility that just as God provided for one person on their missionary tour, He could also provide for 5,000. (vss. 10-17) For cross-reference read John’s testimony of Jesus’ subsequent rebuke to the crowds (John 6:25-71) which was so harsh even the twelve were rattled.
  • A demon-possessed boy is brought to Jesus, and Jesus is told that even His twelve couldn’t drive the demon away. Jesus is frustrated by His follower’s lack of faith. His response is harsh: “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (vss. 37-43)
  • After the second prediction of His upcoming death, His followers are still arguing about who among them is the greatest. Once again, Jesus immediately tries to provide them a word picture of the humility that will be required of them after His departure when they will be expected to carry on the Kingdom’s work. (vss. 46-50)
  • The twelve also don’t seem to understand the grace and mercy required of them. When a Samaritan village (good Hebrew men like the twelve had been taught to hate the racial half-breed Samaritans) does not welcome Jesus and his entourage, James and John want Jesus to kill them all with hell-fire. This earns them a stiff rebuke. (vss. 51-56)
  • While recruiting and taking applications from followers, Luke records that Jesus’ demands of those who would follow were intense. It feels like He is feeling the pressure to find the right people for the job as the window of training and preparation is closing. (vss. 57-62)

As I look at the task list this morning with all the things that must be accomplished before our impending departure, I admit to feeling the pressure of the preparation. I’m taking heart this morning that my pressure and preparation are minor earthly issues and not the issues of eternal significance Jesus was feeling in today’s chapter. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to be reminded that even the Son of God knows the feeling.

And, I’m reminded that this is what Christmas was about. The Son of God sent into exile on Earth to live as one of us, to feel our pain, to experience the human pressures common to all of us, and to show us the way of love, faith, peace, and perseverance.

And with that, I leave you to persevere with the items on my task list as I wish you a blessing addressing the tasks on your own.

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!