Tag Archives: Inspirational

Of Layers and Flow

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:3 (NIV)

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Life has a rhythm. It has a beat and a flow.

One of the things I’ve observed along the way is that God creates things with layers. I’m constantly saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is always layered with meaning. Life exists on the micro-sub-atomic level and the macro-universe level. My friend Todd, a physical therapist, talked to me over the Fourth of July weekend about the challenges of his profession. The body, he explained, is so infinitely complex that isolating the cause of a patient’s pain sometimes becomes an unexplained mystery. The body is layered with systems that affect one another in strange ways.

In the same way, my life is layered. My well-being and attitude result from the state of many intertwining layers: physical, mental, relational, vocational, social, personal, financial, marital, parental, sexual, recreational, and spiritual.

Over the past three psalms, all written by the song-writing, warrior King David, I can’t help but notice a theme emerging regarding time of day. In the past two songs, David explains that he goes to bed at night and rests with peace and contentment because of his trust in God. In today’s psalm, David explains that his morning begins with time with God. Every morning he lays out his heart, his desires, his fears, his requests and then waits expectantly for God to do His thing.

In other words, David’s day begins with God. David’s day ends with God. In between, David’s day is waiting on, watching for, expecting, and trusting God to respond, act, interact, deliver, surround, save, answer, help, and intercede. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God is not just an isolated, religious compartment of his weekly routine that gets opened for an hour at the Temple on Sabbath and during mid-week Torah studies with the small group from his synagogue. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God permeated, informed, intersected, and affected every other layer of his life.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the conversation Wendy and I had early this morning in which we talked about the rhythm of our lives, how our physical and mental layers have changed over time, and what that means to the flow of the spiritual layer of how God is flowing in and through each of us, and both of us.

There are so many layers to life. I’ve experienced in my journey that if, like David, I’ve got the spiritual layer continually connected to God and flowing through all the other layers, the rhythm of each day and night flows better. And, when things aren’t flowing well in my life, I usually find that there’s a layer of my life that got disconnected from the spiritual layer and my relationship with God.

By the way, David’s layers got disconnected from time-to-time with really tragic results. It happens to all of us. I’ve also experienced that the quickly I reestablish connection, the more quickly things get back to a steady, healthy flow.

Time to flow into another day. Flow well today, 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

Hollywood Moment in Colossae

But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.
Philemon vs. 14

One of the things you learn in the world of theatre, film, and story is that conflict is what makes a story interesting. It’s Friday before 4th of July weekend as I write this, so we’re all being treated by Hollywood to blockbuster conflicts of good and evil in the form of comic book heroes and alien invasions. Fun epic conflicts that feed the adrenal glands while requiring very little of us emotionally. The more personal and human a story’s conflict, the more deeply it affects us.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is an overlooked personal story amidst the grand epic of the Great Story. It’s a deeply personal moment between two men: Philemon and Onesimus. It’s a moment made possible by an unexpected, divinely appointed meeting.

Philemon is a man of means. He’s a respected local businessman in the city of Colossae, where he met Paul and became a follower of Jesus. Philemon became a generous benefactor to the believers in Colossae. He opened his home for them to meet and worship. He was generous in love and deed and greatly respected by Paul.

Onesimus was a slave owned by Philemon. At some point in time, Onesimus stole from his master and ran away. Under Roman law, Onesimus was guilty of crimes punishable by death.

The exact details of the historical story are sketchy, but as a story-teller I’d dare to believe that as a runaway slave, Onesimus likely stuck to a life of petty theft to stay alive and on the run. Petty thieves, especially those who are poor runaway slaves, get caught and thrown into prison. As fate would have it, Onesimus is thrown into jail with a religious disturber of the peace named Paul. Paul recognizing the thief as a member of his friend, Philemon’s household, befriends Onesimus. The runaway slave becomes a sincere follower of Jesus.

Paul tells the slave and fledgling follower that while he has repented of his sins and his sins have been forgiven through Jesus sacrifice, he still must make things right with his master. Onesimus the runaway slave must return to his master, Philemon, as a brother in Christ. Paul pens his short letter. Onesimus, upon his release from prison, returns to his master in Colossae, letter in hand.

What a Hollywood moment. What a churning mixture of emotions as slave owner sees thief and runaway slave walking back through his door. What a moment when Philemon reads the letter from Paul and begins to fathom how God has orchestrated this story. What layers of meaning on personal, spiritual, and cultural levels as matters of slavery and human conflict gets intertwined with fate and personal faith. Runaway slave returns as a fellow follower of the faith. I can only imagine Onesimus’ fear mixed with memories of anger and hatred toward to this man who “owned” him. Philemon’s feelings of legal rights, personal betrayal, and desire for justice is now in conflict with his conscience as the word’s of Jesus’ prayer run through his head: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgiven those who sin against us.”

Today I’m reminded that the test of our faith is in our interpersonal conflicts.

 

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Inflection Points

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12

Along life’s journey I’ve grown increasingly fascinated with words. Words, in and of themselves, are creative expression. At the root level they are metaphors. A series of squiggles on a page that correspond to a series of vowels and consonants which mean something to any who can read or understand the language. Words come in and out of fashion. Words you never heard before suddenly become “buzzwords.”

Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard the words “inflection point” used a lot in business. It’s become a bit of a buzzword in some circles. It’s a great little term from the world of calculus. It describes the point at which a curve moves from being concave (downward) to convex (upward), or vice versa. Businesses have adopted the term to describe the point at which a trend (in sales, for example) stops rising and starts declining, or vice versa. The inflection point is the point of change. It’s a change of direction.

I think the term “inflection point” has strong spiritual connotations, as well. God’s Message repeatedly calls people to make a sudden change of direction. Turn from darkness towards the Light. Turn from evil ways and embrace that which is good. Turn away from hatred and pursue Love. Turn from sin and pursue God. Spiritual journeys are all about inflection points.

In today’s chapter, the walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt. The gates are back in place. As a way of celebrating, Ezra brings out the scrolls with the law of Moses. It’s likely that the words of the law of Moses had not been widely read or heard publicly since Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple had been destroyed some 150 years earlier. Many who lived in Jerusalem may never have heard it. Perhaps no one in their families had heard it since the days of their great-great grandparents.

The reading of God’s story and the law of Moses becomes a spiritual inflection point. The people realize how far they have spiritually wandered away from God’s path. They weep. They grieve. Their hearts turn towards God.

I love the response of the Levites to the people. “Don’t grieve. Feast. This is a moment of joy!” I can’t help but think of the prodigal son returning to his father in humility and shame, and the father’s contrasting expression of joy. That’s the way spiritual inflection points work. They are a moment when grief and turn to joy.

This morning I’m thinking about all of the different metaphorical ways the term “inflection point” applies to life. I’m thinking about the inflection points I’ve experienced, both positively and negatively. Fiscal inflection points, relational inflection points, vocational inflection points, and spiritual inflection points. I’m meditating on the inflection points that still need to occur in my spiritual journey. Followers of Jesus often talk about their conversion as the inflection point of their life. While I certainly look back on that moment as monumental, I’ve found that following Jesus is a never ending series of inflection points. I don’t mature or progress unless I experience them.

Inflection point. Good words.

When You are Weak…

Liberacion_de_San_Pedro_Murillo_1667But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Acts 12:24 (NIV)

Executions. Imprisonments. Persecution. And yet, the word of God continued to spread and flourish.

There were so many reasons for hopelessness and despair. If you were a gambler there was every reason to put your money on the powers-that-be. These Jesus followers, becoming known as “The Way” or “Christ-ians,” were such a rag-tag, motley crew of uneducated misfits. The power was with Rome. The power was with the regional ruler, Herod. The power was with the politically leveraged Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Put your money on the power brokers. These Jesus people are doomed.

But wait a minute…
“‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8

I’ve been mulling over our daughter’s blog post the past few weeks. It keeps bubbling up in my heart and mind at random moments. It bubbled up again as I read this morning’s chapter. She writes:

My faith, which had once seemed small and simple became increasingly challenging and complex. I went to six different countries and in each I was confronted with injustice and brokenness that sank my heart and made my blood boil. But I found it impossible to be disheartened to the point of giving up on my faith because the people who had every reason to believe that God had abandoned them were the most faithful, resilient, grateful and joyful people. Consistently. Everywhere I went. And they could tell you of all the ways God provided for them. Even when the world was dark and evil, He was still good, they told me. There was never any denying of the loss that comes from war, poverty, famine, or disease…but there was always rejoicing in hope. I think in much of the third-world there is a greater understanding of Jesus’ words, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The river of God flows upstream. The Kingdom of God is not a Kingdom of this world. The Spirit does not operate in the same way as flesh and blood. Those who have the least in this world realize that they have more than anyone perceives. Those who are weak and find a source of power that is not of this world. Those doomed discover that God can do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think.

We who have so much are blind to the true depths of our poverty.

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A Hint of Heaven

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15 (NIV)

Those who follow along with these chapter-a-day posts will recognize the fact that I’m not delving into the prophetic interpretation and meanings of John’s Revelation. This is a conscious choice. Having studied and taught the book on multiple occasions, I find that a brief blog post on each chapter would never offer enough time and space to adequately address the often complex world of prophetic writing and imagery. In addition, my chapter-a-day posts have always been intentionally devotional in nature. My primary motivation each morning as I read the text is: “What does God have in the chapter for me today?” These posts have never been an in-depth study, but simply a spiritual thought for each day’s journey.

One of the things that has piqued my interest this time through Revelation is the scenes of heavenly worship that John witnessed and recorded. In particular, I find the verses and words of praise and adoration used by the angels, the elders and the creatures fascinating. I have also been pleased to read some of these words and to connect them with songs both ancient and contemporary that are familiar. It’s had me thinking about what I can do with this in my own personal worship.

Today I ran across the verse above and, of course, the familiar sounds of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus immediately popped into my head. Each year at our high school Winter concert, it is the last piece presented and anyone who wishes to join in can step on stage with the high school choir. There’s always a crowd. It had been a few years since I’d been to the Winter concert, but with Suzanna living with us this year I found myself back on stage with the high school choir this past December. I don’t know if there is something special and powerful in the heavenly words from John’s vision, or if it’s the combination of words and inspired music from Handel’s score, but I can never get through the whole thing without tears.

Reading again John’s vision of God’s throne room these past two weeks, I get the sense that the Hallelujah Chorus is a hint of heaven’s majesty.

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