Tag Archives: Label

The Call

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:4 (NRSVCE)

Along my spiritual journey I have wandered in, through, and out of several different denominational and non-denominational tribes who carry the label of “Christian.” The differences between them were essentially three-fold: theology, style/practice of worship, and the behavioral expectations of members.

Along the way, I observed something that was common to all of them. Within each of those tribes were individuals who were members of the church, and those who were followers of Christ. There was a difference.

In today’s chapter, Moses is out tending his father-in-law’s flock (Note: Yet another theme of the Great Story. Moses was a shepherd, David was a shepherd, Jesus called Himself the “Good Shepherd,” Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.”). Moses sees a burning bush that keeps burning but doesn’t burn up. He investigates only to hear his name called. God speaks to Moses and calls him to “shepherd” his people out of Egypt.

In spiritual terms, this would be referred to as a “call” or “the call.” A person hears, senses, receives and then answers God’s calling out to them. It is a consistent theme in the Great Story from Adam through Saul of Tarsus. God calls, then the person answers and follows.

I find that this easily creates discomfort in many because there is a sense of there being spiritual “haves” (those who are “called”) and spiritual “have nots” (those who would say they haven’t). However, my own observation, and my understanding of the Great Story, is that Jesus made it clear that His “call” was universal. Jesus repeatedly told his audience that it was for anyone with “ears to hear.”

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

Revelation 3:20

“The call,” I have observed, is there for any and for all. This is why Jesus sends His followers “to the ends of the earth” to proclaim the good news. He is always knocking, though there is also His acknowledgement that there a some who will not hear or will not answer. To open the door, invite, receive, sit down together, have an intimate meal, talk, relate, and share… that’s a relationship between Jesus and the one who has heard the knock and opened the door.

That’s the difference. I have observed those who wear the label “Christian” but it appears to me that the label is based on their family’s (often generational) membership in a particular institution, their adherence to particular doctrinal statement or creed, and their religious observation of certain expectations regarding attendance, giving, and behavioral observations. It appears to be completely contractual without being in any way relational.

Those who have heard and answer the knock, or the call, have a different experience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a twentieth-century theologian who followed “the call” to follow Jesus to the hangman’s noose in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in one his most famous works: “When Christ calls a man, He bids Him ‘Come and die.'” To answer the call, he observes, is always a form of surrender. For Moses, answering the call will mean surrendering his pride, his liberty, and his quiet Bedouin shepherd’s life to shepherd twelve unruly tribes out of Egypt and into forty years of wilderness wandering.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself remembering the moment I heard the knock, and heard the call. It has been almost forty years now since I opened the door and invited Jesus in for our first meal together. The journey began. It has never been about church membership, adherence to a doctrinal statement, or dutiful religious obligations. It’s been about surrendering, following, seeking, forgiving, giving, loving, and sharing; Always with the effort and desire to be increasingly kind, gentle, patient, faithful, and self-controlled like Jesus example. Sometimes, embellished with the use of words.

As Moses found out, the eloquent words part is not that important. But, that’s tomorrow’s chapter.

Thanks for reading, my friend. May your journey lead you to pleasant places today.

Featured image by Claude Mellan (1663). From the Met Collection. Public Domain.

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

Reduced to a Label

The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him.
2 Chronicles 17:3 (NIV)

Confession: This morning as I read the first chapter of Jehoshaphat’s story the only thing I could think about was Daffy Duck. I grew up watching Looney Tunes every day, twice a day on television. “Jumping’ Jehoshaphat!” was one of Daffy Duck’s favorite exclamations of shock and surprise.

Jehoshaphat was more than a funny name made for humorous exclamations, however. King Jehoshaphat reigned in Judah for nearly a quarter century during a period of continued conflict and civil war with the northern tribes in the Kingdom of Israel. The Chronicler, writing to inspire and educate the returning Hebrew exiles from Babylon, spends far more time on Jehoshaphat’s story than the author of 1 Kings. Once again, we can see the Chronicler’s motivations at work behind the writing. There are three patterns of story emerging in the Chronicler’s writing:

  • Kings were “good” or “bad” depending on whether they followed God and shunned the local pagan dieties.
  • Immediate retribution is a continued theme. If the King obeyed God good things immediately happened. If the King disobeyed God bad things immediately happened.
  • “Good” Kings had their flaws and made their mistakes, but the Chronicler chooses to emphasize the good in his introductory summation and mention the negative later.

In today’s chapter, I couldn’t help notice that the Chronicler was careful to link Jehoshaphat with “his father David.” David was, in fact, Jehoshaphat’s great-great-great-grandfather. David was the undisputed greatest ruler. God said He would establish David’s throne forever. Linking Jehoshaphat to Davis is the Chronicler’s way of telling his readers that Jehoshaphat was all that.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the way the Chronicler goes about reducing lives, reigns, and historical events into succinct summaries. It’s not strange, we do it all the time in obituaries, funeral eulogies, personal stories, and even 140 character tweets. We don’t, however, have to wait for someone to die to do it. I’m sure each one of us have experienced being labeled or reduced in another person’s mind into the summation of being a “bad” or “good” person based on one or two isolated facts, rumors, or interactions.

I’m once again reminded this morning that each person, each life, is far more than those few known facts. The Chronicler was doing his job using the available, meager resources of quill and papyrus to share succinct stories of royal lives and events. But there was far more to these individuals, “good” or “bad,” than the Chronicler’s bullet points. Those things are lost to history, but the people I live with and interact with each day are not. Just as I would hope someone would not stick me with a label and instead would choose to try to know me and be known by me, so I need to do a better job catching myself when I’m mentally reducing another person into some singularly labeled entity to be thrown on the scale of “good” or “bad” in my mind.

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! I need to get started with my day.

Have a good one, my friends.

Jesus, the Meta Communicator

Source: sepblog via Flickr
Source: sepblog via Flickr

One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
Luke 20:1-4 (NIV)

One of our friends is a marriage and family therapist and over the years he’s commented on multiple occasions about the fact that Wendy and I meta communicate better than any couple he’s ever counseled. In other words, we communicate about how we’re communicating. Wendy and I don’t find this to be strange at all. We were both communication majors in college and theatre people by passion. We think about how things are being communicated all the time.

One of the things I love about Jesus is that He was a brilliant communicator. In today’s chapter, we find Jesus in Jerusalem the week before His execution and resurrection. He spends His days teaching in and around the Temple and He has stirred up a hornets nest of socio-political conflict. The crowds love Him. The religious leaders who control the Temple racket want Jesus rubbed out, but are afraid of His popularity and the potential political backlash if they move too quickly against Him. In an effort to publicly discredit Him and tarnish His popularity in the polls, the religious leaders send several waves of spies to try and trip Jesus up and provide them the ammunition to discredit the young rabbi.

But, Jesus (who had once claimed “I am the Word”) is a brilliant meta communicator. He sees through the questions coming at Him and immediately recognizes who is behind the question and what they are trying to do. So, Jesus applied a series of defensive communication strategies. First, He refuses to answer a direct question with a direct answer. Instead, Jesus responds to a question with a question and catches the chief priests in their own trap.

Wendy and I have noticed in recent years that our society and culture have slowly lost the art and ability to have honest, sincere conversations with people of differing opinions in an effort to explore ideas and opinions. The more polarized we become politically, socially and spiritually, the more our we find conversations are actually interrogations:

  • “Do you think homosexuals are going to hell?”
  • “Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God?”
  • “Don’t you believe a woman should have a right to do what she wants with her body?”
  • “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?”
  • “If a woman eight months pregnant is murdered, is it one homicide or two?”
  • “Do you really think a hunter needs an uzi?”

In my experience, questions like these are not typically asked with the honest intention to openly explore issues of life and society with another person, but instead are asked to trap the respondent into a corner from which the interrogator can easily label him or her. “Oh, well she’s obviously a [conservative, liberal, religious nut job, whacko, gun nut, feminist, misogynist, Republican, Democrat, homosexual, homophobe, and etc.]”. Once labeled, we find it easier to dismiss other people and their thoughts, words, beliefs, opinions, and person.

Today, I’m thankful Wendy and I enjoy a diverse group of family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who represent a broad spectrum of thoughts, experiences, ideas and opinions. I’m grateful for those who show me love and respect despite their differences with me, and I want to follow Jesus’ command to tangibly love my enemies (which includes perceived enemies of thought, opinion, beliefs and politics).

Chapter-a-Day John 3

Spiritual Transformation is a major theme in W...
Spiritual Transformation is a major theme in Western art. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’”
John 3:5-6 (NLT)

It is interesting how culture and media affect our understanding and our perceptions. They can influence the way we think (or refuse to think) about spiritual concepts. I often hear the term “Born Again Christian” thrown around in the news in an effort to identify a particular sub-culture.

How sad that our social and political views can taint our ability to approach and consider a simple spiritual teaching on its own merit. Let’s try to forget, for a moment, all of the socio-political connotations of the term “born again.” Jesus made a simple and profound statement about spiritual transformation. Those who wish to enter the Kingdom of God must go through a spiritual birthing process that parallels the physical birth we all went through. Just as the path of our physical life begins with a transformational experience in which we exit the safety of the womb and enter our physical world, the path of Spirit begins with a transformational experience in which we pass from a state of spiritual death and a new spiritual life.

I have come to abhor labels of any kind that are placed upon people. They are all a type of prejudice allowing us to categorize a complex human individual into a comfortable mental collective which allows then allows us to accept or dismiss them. How many great people have I missed knowing because I took one look, placed a label on them, and subsequently wrote them off?

Along my life journey I experienced a spiritual transformation that set me on this course, yet I find myself running from the “born again” label and all the baggage that comes with it. I’m saddened that an amazing spiritual metaphor has been effectively reduced to a cultural and political tag for the purposes of a media sound byte.