Tag Archives: Kingdom

I Smell.

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“You shall make an altar on which to offer incense…”
Exodus 30:1 (NRSVCE)

I typically keep a fragrant candle on the desk in my office. I like scents of vanilla the best. Right now I’ve been trying out a candle labeled as “tobacco and vanilla.” I thought it might remind me of the smell of my grandfather’s pipe. Not so much. I do, however, like the scent.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that smell is the physical sense to which we give the least attention. Sight, hearing, taste, and touch get the most of our attention. Our olfactory senses aren’t as necessary for human survival as they once were. Nevertheless, a scent can create a powerful response with me. Some experts say that smells plays more of a role in attracting a mate than we even realize. More consciously, it can bring back a memory like the smell of a rose reminding me of my Grandma Vander Well’s perfume. It can create a sense of peace and security like the smell of freshly baked bread wafting up from the kitchen. It also works in negative terms. Some smells give me a headache or can make me feel physically ill.

Incense played a large part in ancient religious ceremonies. In today’s chapter, God continues to prescribe to Moses how the Hebrew tribes will worship. The chapter begins with designs for an altar on which incense is to be perpetually burned and it ends with a unique recipe for the fragrant ingredients a perfumer is to blend the incense. Because the fragrant oil used to anoint Aaron and the priests, and the incense burned in the traveling temple was unique, the smell would become associated in the hearts and minds of the Hebrews with being present at God’s place and giving their sacrifices and offerings. The smoke of the burning incense also became a metaphor for the prayers of God’s people wafting up to heaven.

Incense once again became part of worship in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions in Christianity, though I have head it argued that it was primarily a practical way for the priest to overcome the powerful pungency of body odor emanating from the poor, unbathed masses packing into the church on Sunday. It was never a formally prescribed practice of the early followers of Jesus. In the New Testament, the only references to incense point to either the practice in the Hebrew ritual or else to John’s visions of heaven in Revelation.

The use of incense in Hebrew worship was, however, linked to an important metaphor understood by early believers. In his second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul writes:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.
2 Cor 2:14-16 (NIV)

Once again, I find that the physical bricks-and-mortar (or in this case oil-and-incense) of the Hebrew system matures through Jesus and shifts into a flesh-and-blood understanding of what God is doing. In the former, people came to a central location where the fragrance of the priests and the burning incense reminded them of God’s presence. In the latter, every follower of Jesus becomes part of a “royal priesthood” taking the fragrance of Jesus with us wherever we go and among any and all people with whom we interact in our circles of relationship and community.

I have spent twenty-five years in a career in which I travel and regularly visit our clients in their places of business around the country. I am always praying that I will be the fragrance of Christ while I am there conducting training sessions, making executive presentations, and coaching or mentoring individuals.. What’s fascinating to me is that I have on several occasions had someone literally ask me if I’m a Christian. When I confess that I am, the response is typically, “I knew it. I could just tell.” Equally fascinating to me is that in almost every long-term engagement with a client there is an individual or two who react to my presence with intense animosity. In those instances, I get to practice returning curses with blessings and showing (often unreciprocated) kindness.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think of the message I gave yesterday among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Today’s chapter so beautifully illustrates a point I was making. I observe that many are stuck in the old paradigm of a religious institution founded on the notion of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. People gather to do the regularly scheduled religious bit, then forget about it until my next scheduled appearance on Sunday, or Christmas, or Easter.

Jesus changed all that in practice. He started with getting the Kingdom of God into the individual, transforming the human being into the Temple in whom God’s Spirit dwells. It is the individual who takes God’s Kingdom wherever they go and impacts people in every relationship and circles of influence. I don’t burn incense at the temple, I am the temple from which God’s fragrance seeps out in my love, kindness, gentleness, patience, faithfulness and self-control. Some are attracted. Some are repelled. That’s something I don’t control, though how I respond to it is.

Monday. Another week. Holiday coming up. I have appointments, a little travel, and a weekend full of friends. Hope I’m fragrant in all the good ways.

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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

Pierced

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
Zechariah 12:10 (NIV)

For any reader who has not been following along with these chapter-a-day posts, a quick word of introduction. For the past few months, I’ve been blogging my way through the ancient Hebrew writings that come out of a period of exile they experienced 400-500 years before the birth of Jesus. Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon were destroyed by the Babylonians and for 70 years all of the best and brightest of the Hebrews were forced to live in the area of Babylon and Persia (present day Iraq and Iran).

Exile is a consistent theme throughout the Great Story, and while the prophets all speak of eventual redemption, restoration, and peace, they are equally consistent in speaking of suffering as the path through which humanity reaches that destination. I just spoke about this in a message this past weekend. Through the entirety of God’s Message, believers are told to expect joy and peace but to expect it within suffering. This was the modus operandi for Jesus, as well. God’s Son came, not to live a life of privilege and prestige, but to be pierced for humanity’s iniquities and inequities.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah continues to eerily foreshadow the crucifixion and suffering of Jesus (see the verses at the top of this post). Zech was not the first to do so, however. King David prophetically described the same in the lyrics of Psalm 22:

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.

Psalm 22:16 (NIV)

It was also prophesied by Isaiah:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

Jesus’ disciple, John, was an eyewitness of the crucifixion. He chronicles the fulfillment of these prophetic words in his gospel:

…one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

John 9:34 (NIV)

After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciple, Thomas, says he won’t believe unless he puts his hand in the holes that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet, and the wound in his side where Jesus’ was pierced by a sword, he wouldn’t believe:

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

John 20:24-27 (NIV)

This morning I find myself, once again, intrigued by the mystery of the prophets foreshadowing of actual events. I’m also reminded that God’s Kingdom, as Jesus proclaimed it, runs counter-intuitively the way this crazy world operates. I’m reminded that, as a follower of Jesus, I’m expected to walk in His footsteps. That may mean a certain amount of suffering, in which I will find a peace that passes human understanding and discover a joy that runs deep, to the very core of being.

At the same time, I am mindful that suffering is relative. I am blessed beyond measure, and my momentary sufferings are of but little consequence compared to most of my fellow followers. For that, I find myself whispering a personal prayer of gratitude this morning.

Another work week gets completed today on this exilic earthly sojourn. Enjoy your weekend, my friend. Thanks for reading. See you on Monday.

Click on this image to go to an index of all posts in this series on the writings of the prophet Zechariah!
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A Different Kind of Kingdom

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9 (NIV)

Over the past few years, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been focused on the phrase Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Over a three year cycle, we have contemplated the meaning of God’s kingdom within each of us, God’s kingdom in our community with others, and God’s Kingdom as we are sent to interact with the world around us.

In my own personal contemplation, I’ve found myself meditating on the fact that God’s kingdom operates opposite of the world I live in.

The world I live in encourages me to acquire more and more, while Jesus said that if I really want to be rich in God’s economy I should practice radical generosity.

The world I live in encourages me to hate my enemies, be suspicious of those who are not like me, and fight against those who have a different worldview than mine. Jesus said that in God’s kingdom I am not to repay evil for evil, but bless those who curse me.

The world I live in encourages equitable pay for equitable work. Jesus said that if I want to be part of God’s Kingdom, I have to be willing to walk further than what’s expected, to give more than has been asked, and to be content if and when I see others who seemingly have it better off than me.

The world I live in worships and rewards audacity, wealth, celebrity, and ego.

The prophet Zechariah lived and proclaimed his prophecies during the period known as the Babylonian exile. Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and torn Solomon’s Temple into ruins. Seventy years later, Zech’s messages and prophecies concerned the rebuilding of Jerusalem and God’s promises of restoration.

In today’s chapter, Zechariah prophetically envisions the “coming king” arriving in a rebuilt Jerusalem, not with the pomp of a royal parade, but humbly riding on a donkey. And, that’s just what Jesus did. Jesus’ followers thought that Jesus was going to wipe out the Romans, give the corrupt religious leaders their just desserts, and set up an earthly kingdom in which they would have positions of worldly prominence. Instead, Jesus suffered cruelly and died violently at the hands of His enemies. After rising from the dead, Jesus reminded His followers of what He’d been telling them all along: They would experience the same fate.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the economics of God’s Kingdom, which is so opposite the way my world operates. It’s so different than the way I’ve been taught to operate in this world. The media has already trended a million different ways since two weeks ago, but I can’t help but think about Brandt Jean forgiving his brother’s killer in public, then going the extra mile to ask the judge if he can give her a hug.

At that moment Brandt Jean brought God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. He gets it.

God, as I enter this new day, help me to do the same.

Click on this image to go to an index of all posts in this series on the writings of the prophet Zechariah!

A Very Different Time and Place

The Lord said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

Remember Pearl Harbor” was a popular phrase in the years of World War II. It was a reminder to all Americans that the United States had been attacked by the Japanese without warning or provocation. To this day, most Americans need only see the number 9/11 to raise up similar feelings of sadness, grief, disbelief and anger. While trends on twitter may come and go in minutes, there are some events for which national memory is slow to forget.

For Moses and the Hebrew tribes, the phrase “Remember Peor” may have been a similar phrase. Just a number of chapters back we read the story of how the Israelites were camped near the Midianite town of Peor. The Midianite King tried to hire a well-known seer named Balaam to curse the Israelites, but Balaam couldn’t do it because he knew God had blessed them. So, Balaam conjured a clandestine plan to subvert the Israelites. Midianite maidens were sent to seduce Israelite men and convince them to worship their Midianite gods. To the ancient Israelites, the seduction of their men into worshipping the Canaanite dieties was more heinous and personal than a surprise military or terror attack.

In today’s chapter, Moses is at the end of his tenure as leader. His last task as leader of the Israelites is to close the loop on the Peor incident. The Midianites are destroyed along with Balaam the seer.

Chapters like today’s are difficult for 21st century readers to comprehend. We cannot comprehend the kill-or-be-killed reality of daily life in the time of Moses. We cannot comprehend living in a time when most humans didn’t live past 15 years of age, and if you were fortunate enough to make it to 15 your life expectancy was still only somewhere between 25-35 years of age.

This morning I’m gratefully meditating on the amazing time and place of history in which I’m fortunate enough to make my life journey. I’m conscious of how totally clueless I am at understanding the realities of Moses’ time, place, and culture. I’m thinking about how Jesus changed the entire paradigm of conversation. In the early chapters of human history, Moses and Aaron were all about building a nation and system of worship that would survive the horrific realities of life on earth in those days. Jesus quite consciously spoke about a very different Kingdom and urged those who follow Him to usher that Kingdom to earth through our thoughts, words, and acts of loving-kindness, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

“Enough” With Which to be Faithful

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
Matthew 25:22-23 (NIV)

A wise counselor once asked me to name my pain. “At the depth of your soul,” he asked me, “what would you label the core ache that feeds your strongest feelings of sadness and inadequacy?”

I pondered the question, but it didn’t take me long to come up with an answer: “Not enough.”

I came to realize that most of my life I have had to actively work to overcome an inherent sense of never being enough, giving enough, doing enough, loving enough, caring enough, sharing enough, serving enough, or achieving enough. Addressing “not enough” is a  large part of my spiritual journey.

In today’s chapter Jesus tells a parable that has grown increasingly powerful to me as the years have gone on. As with most of Jesus’ parables, it is quite simple. A master gives each of three servants different amounts of his money and goes away for a long time. The master returns to find that two of the three have invested his money and earned a return on the investment. The third buried his master’s money out of fear and returned just what he’d been given.

Two lessons from this parable have become quite important to me.

First, the master does not evenly distribute his money among the servants. One was given five bags, another two, and the other one. This is another reminder to me that a seemingly fair and equitable distribution of anything in this temporal world has never been part of the economy of God’s eternal Kingdom. I have been given more than some and less than others. The question has never been what I’ve been given, but what I do with what I’m given.

Herein lies the ying and the yang of my core pain. I must learn to be content with what I’ve been given, but also accept that I am responsible for it. I must learn to accept that I have been given “enough” and that God knows I am capably adequate to faithfully invest it wisely.

The second lesson I take from this parable is in the master’s compliment to his servants. “You have been faithful with a few things” he says. The servants were not burdened with the entirety of their master’s affairs. They were given a relatively small amount and were rewarded simply for being faithful with what they’d been given.

Sometimes my feelings of “not enough” grow to epic disproportion in my heart and mind, fueling all sorts of unproductive thoughts and paralyzing fears (much like the third servant in the parable). I quite literally blow everything up in my mind until its completely out of proportion to the truth of the situation. In these moments the master’s compliment helpfully reminds me to boil things down to the simplicity of being faithful to the tasks right  in front of me.

This morning, that means serving my client well in a day full of meetings. If you’ll please excuse me, I have a few things to which I must faithfully attend. And, that will be enough for today.

Have a good day.

Featured image courtesy of AZQuotes

Laying Down the Law

Furthermore, I [King Darius] decree that if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it. And for this crime their house is to be made a pile of rubble.
Ezra 6:11 (NIV)

One of the things that I loved about college was that you got to explore, study, ruminate and argue about all sorts of questions of life. I remember one semester a classmate of mine and I had an ongoing discussion and argument as we worked together in food service at Judson College. The argument was over the best system of government. I started by arguing that a representative republic was best, and he argued that a socialist system was best. By the end of our argument we came to agree that we were both wrong. We agreed that if you had a good, true, intelligent and just person to lead [which, we conceded, you’d never consistently find in this fallen world], then the ideal form of Government was a monarchy.

I won’t belabor or editorialize on our debate. I will say, however, that one of the reasons we came to our conclusion was that a monarch does have the ability to lay down the law. A strong central leader can cut through red tape just like Darius did. Which is why I thought of it while reading today’s chapter.

When we left off, the Hebrew exiles had been harassed by their local neighbors and officials regarding the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrews appealed to King Darius that their construction had been decreed by his predecessor. In today’s chapter, King Darius responds, firmly lays down the law, and settles the matter. Sure enough, the King’s scribes found the original decree and he allows the building of the temple to continue. Darius goes one step further and commands that the local officials who caused the ruckus, to their humiliation, assist in the rebuilding. If they don’t they’ll be impaled on a load bearing beam from their own home so that they die and their own house collapses. [Yikes!]

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that all human institutions are fundamentally flawed because humanity will always have to deal with this nagging seed of corruption that God’s message refers to as sin. In today’s example, the outcome was favorable for the Jewish people. History, however, is rife with examples of unfavorable outcomes for the Jewish people. This side of eternity we all must face joyful victories and disappointing defeats for our particular political and spiritual persuasions. Perhaps that’s why Jesus laid down the law in a very different way:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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Keeping it All in Perspective

Presidential Election 2012 Vector Sticker
(Photo credit: Vectorportal)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 47

God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
Psalm 47:8 (NLT)

It is sometimes hard not to get sucked into the vortex of current events. As I write this post the United States is a week from our presidential elections. You can’t turn on your television without seeing non-stop political advertisements. Political ads are now popping up on-line everywhere as well so you can’t even escape them on your computer. Here in Iowa, which is a swing state, our phones are ringing off the hook with recorded messages and survey takers. Newspapers and television news media are talking about little else. To be honest, it’s all a bit of a crazy maker.

One of the things that I love about our daily trek through God’s Message is the much needed perspective it often provides. This morning provided a good reminder for me. The truth is that I hold dual citizenship. I am at once a life-time citizen of the United States and an eternal citizen of the Kingdom of God. Presidents will come and go every four to eight years and God will still be on the throne.

It’s easy to feel a certain amount of anxiety and fear when we’re in the climactic hoopla of a national election. This is especially true when advertisements from both sides are telling you that the alternative to their candidate is doomsday. Yet, God reminds us time and again to step back and remember that things are all ultimately subject to His eternal control.

Sweet. Which way to the nearest monastery? I think I’ll become a hermit for the next ten days or so.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 22

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...
Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The crowd listened until Paul said [the word “Gentile”]. Then they all began to shout, “Away with such a fellow! He isn’t fit to live!” Acts 22:22 (NLT)

It’s amazing how one racially charged word can incite an entire crowd to violence.

In America we are constantly reminded of the historic racial tensions between whites and blacks that have framed our history and our existence for hundreds of years. As a young person I naively thought that Americans were the only people in the world who had such a struggle. Along the journey I’ve discovered that racism and prejudice run deep and wide in the human experience.

In today’s chapter the Jewish people in Jerusalem showed their prejudice against non-Jews. Of course, the Jewish people know what it means to be shunned and oppressed. Anti-semitism existed then and still exists to this day. When I visited Jerusalem several years ago I was amazed at the racial tensions that continue to exist within the city. The city felt to me like a powder keg of racial and religious tension with a very short fuse.

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching was the truth that God’s Kingdom does not exist for one particular racial, ethnic, or national group, but for all people and nations who will believe and follow. To this end, the two strongest leaders (Peter and Paul) were sent by God to share God’s Message with the non-Jewish Gentiles and begin the process of obliterating the wall of prejudice that stood between the two groups. The book of Acts sets the stage for the emerging historical record. Over the first few hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, the Message would be boldly carried by believers throughout the known world and shared with any who would listen regardless of race, creed, or nationality.

Today, I’m thankful to serve a God whose Kingdom exists above human limits and weaknesses, and who calls us to ascend out of our Earthbound prejudices to enter in.

Chapter-a-Day Zechariah 9

Ticker tape parade for presidential candidate ...
Image via Wikipedia

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion!
   Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem!
Your king is coming!
   a good king who makes all things right,
   a humble king riding a donkey,
   a mere colt of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (MSG)

I think about the mental images in my mind of Kings and Generals marching victorious into their cities. I see in mind the rows upon rows of German troops with Hitler riding in his car up Paris’ Champs-Elysees’ with the Arc de Triomph in the background. I see American heroes riding through Manhattan, the sky so thick with ticker-tape that you’d think it was a blizzard. I envision massive crowds, starched dress uniforms, and and polished dress shoes reflecting the noonday sun like millions of tiny mirrors on the streets. I imagine the impressive site of row upon row of Roman legion with their bright red capes flowing in the wind as they march through the streets of Rome.

I contrast that with the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. I can picture King Jesus on a small donkey with his hapless parade of simpleton followers; Fishermen and yokels from out in the sticks north of Galilee marching into Jerusalem’s gate for the Passover. No wonder the mighty Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate,  looked with incredulity when the beaten, bloody Jesus was brought to him by the religious power brokers less than a week later.

“This guy? A king?!” I can hear him say. “Seriously? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 8:36 (NIV)

One of the things I love about Jesus, one of the things that leads me to believe that he is exactly who He claimed to be, is that He is not like any of the others my history books describe. He is a King, though not of this world.

Jesus is nothing that I have come to expect, and everything that I’ve discovered I need.

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Chapter-a-Day Daniel 2

King born in a manger.  "Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all: He changes the seasons and guides history, He raises up kings and also brings them down, he provides both intelligence and discernment…." Daniel 2:20-21 (MSG)

This is the time of year when all of the media outlets come up with their "Top 10" lists from the previous year. It's interesting to look back, but it can also get kind of depressing for me. There's so much craziness in the world on so many levels. I don't need a recap of the death, tragedy and scandals – thank you very much.

As I watch the daily news, I have to remind myself that God is guiding history. It sometimes takes conscious effort to recall that God "raises kings and brings them down." It is so easy to get discouraged and fatalistic.

I was reminded again in todays chapter of the season of Advent we are in. David reminds King Nebuchadnezzer that throughout the earthly kingdoms God will be "building a kingdom that will never be destroyed." Advent is the season of expectant anticipation of the coming of the King of Kings. Advent culminates at Christmas, the celebration of the birth of the "Prince of Peace" who came to establish God's Kingdom work on Earth.

Even so, come quickly King Jesus.
 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mtsofan