Tag Archives: Layer

Spiritual Seasons

Sluggards do not plow in season;
    so at harvest time they look but find nothing.

Proverbs 20:4 (NIV)

Here in the state of Iowa Spring is beginning to appear. The temperatures have been slowing creeping into in the 60s and 70s during the day. The last of the giant mountain of Winter’s snow piled up in front of our house was finally completely melted this week. Our brown lawn is starting to “green-up” and the bare trees will soon have a green hue as the leaves begin to bud.

Friends, clients, and colleagues who have never experienced life in the Midwest will often tell me that I’m crazy to live here. It’s like spending your Winter in the arctic and your Summer in Death Valley. There is some truth to the face that we get to experience weather in all of its extremes. But, we also get to experience all four seasons in their unique, diverse distinctions in ways my friends never will.

Along my Life journey, I’ve come to understand that there is a spiritual lesson to be gained in the seasons of a year. Life, death, resurrection, renewal, struggle, trial, perseverance, change, and contentment. They are all part of creation’s perpetual story from Spring to Summer to Autumn to Winter each year.

As I read the proverb above this morning, I was struck by the word “season.” If I’m not disciplined to put in the word and plow in the Spring, then when Autumn’s harvest arrives and I need what is necessary to survive Winter, I have nothing. This means I might not survive to the next Spring.

But it wasn’t nature here in the agrarian land of Iowa that the proverb made me think about.

God’s base language is metaphor. Metaphor is layered with meaning. Here is the layer of meaning that the proverb surfaced for me in the quiet this morning…

Even as a successful farmer is disciplined in cultivating, planting, weeding, pruning, harvesting and storing, so there are spiritual disciplines that are required throughout the seasons of Life to prepare for the unknowns of future seasons.

As a young man, I was taught and mentored in spiritual disciplines such as quiet, study, Word, contemplation, prayer, introspection, sacrament, worship, fellowship, generosity, and service. These disciplines in life’s Spring-like seasons when things are good and life is easy are spiritual seeds. It takes mindfulness, time and discipline to sow them, cultivate them, and tend to them daily. But, they eventually grow and bloom into spiritual fruit such as love, joy, peace, faith, perseverance, and self-control. This fruit will be required when, eventually, Life’s harsh seasons of death, trial, and tragedy blow in unexpectedly.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thankful for those who taught me, schooled me, mentored me, and exemplified for me spiritual disciplines. Along Life’s road, I’ve witnessed and walked along-side individuals who had no spiritual reserves when seasons of tragedy caught them by surprise. Winter gets long if I have nothing stored up. Spiritually, I might not survive.

<— 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

Unaltered original photo by Scott Mcleod via Flickr

Plans and Purposes

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:3 (NIV)

I just finished up an “over the coffee” conversation with Wendy this morning. We talked about race and culture. One of the observations we mulled over was that it’s very easy for things to be perceived as simple, binary, either-or issues when it’s just not. There are so many layers.

I find that the same can be true when reading through Proverbs. It’s really been hitting me as I journey through them this time around. The attraction of ancient sage wisdom is that they are simple. They are binary couplets. It’s wisdom or foolishness, hard work or sloth, honesty or lies, pride or humility. They are easily absorbed and understood. It’s easy to take them at face value and that typically works.

Sometimes, however, it’s not that simple. There are more layers. Context is needed. Take the verse from today’s chapter. At face value, it’s an easy concept. Commit your plans to God and He will establish them. Done. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Rub the lamp and the Genie will appear. This is the kind of verse that can easily get misunderstood:

“I prayed and committed my plans for going to Harvard to the Lord, and I got a rejection letter. God didn’t establish my plans. I guess the whole thing is a lie.”

It’s a bit of synchronicity that this came up in the chapter today because I talked a lot about this in my podcast that was published yesterday. The mysterious, divine dance between my plans and God’s purposes is complex choreography that I never perfect. Just when I think I’ve got it down the steps, Holy Spirit (who is leading the dance) suddenly goes where I didn’t expect or the music changes.

I bring my plans to the dance, but Jesus also talked about asking, seeking, and knocking. My “plans” could be coming from a place of pride, or selfishness, or vain ambition, and what God is ultimately trying to establish for me and where God is leading me is something I can’t see from my current waypoint on Life’s road. In my podcast, I shared the story of my “plans” to have a career in pastoral ministry. Actually, before that, I planned to be an astronaut, a naval aviator, a lawyer, POTUS, a private detective, a professional actor, and one day while drawing on the back of my mom’s old recipe cards, I remember planning to be a cartoonist. What was eventually established was that I would spend my career in the one place I never planned to be: the corporate world. Even though I had been given a foreshadowing of this, I couldn’t see it. I refused to see it.

So, does the fact that my “plans” didn’t come to fruition mean that today’s proverb is a lie?

Not from my perspective. It’s not that simple.

When I chose to become a follower of Christ it was the first step in a never-ending process of surrender. The “plan” that I committed to at that moment was to follow where God led, do what God called me to do, and strive to become more like Jesus each step of the way. The becoming like Jesus part starts with not living for myself, but to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as I love myself. If I do that, it changes my plans, which ultimately results in this journey being all about the things that God is establishing as He leads me. God’s purposes will always take precedent over my plans. When you follow Jesus, it’s part of the gig.

I look back now and am overjoyed that my career did not end up in pastoral ministry (sorry, mom), or in law, or in politics, or in space. What God established out my plans to follow where I was led turned into a job that I love and a job that has blessed me in so many amazing ways.

[The cartoonist thing might have been pretty cool, though. I’m just sayin’.]

In the quiet this morning I am thankful for being led down this path on my journey, despite the struggles, heartache, confusion, anxieties, stress, and pains I’ve encountered along the way. The reality is that those are all part of the journey no matter where we’re led or choose to go. And, who knows but that God might lead me into a completely different career at some point. After all, I’m letting Him lead the dance.

<— 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

“Wait for it…”

Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 42:7 (NIV)

Just yesterday I was reading a fascinating article about Peter Wohlleben the scientist and forester who wrote The Hidden Life of Trees. How fascinating to find that Tolkien’s characterization of trees as living characters is more true than I ever thought possible. Science is discovering that trees connect to one another through a vast underground network. Trees act communally, share resources, communicate danger to one another, and care for their young. The more I learn about creation, the more amazed I am by it and our Creator.

Take time and space, for example. I, like most people, have spent most of my life journey stuck in the paradigm of time being flat and linear. Physicists (thank you, Einstein), have come to understand that both time and space bend. There is far more dimension to it than a linear plane. Depending on the school of thought to which one prescribes there are at least 10, perhaps 11 or even 26 dimensions of space and time. This does not shake my faith any more than Galileo’s discovery that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Rather, it only expands my faith to consider and discover new facets of Life, Spirit, and eternity.

In today’s chapter of Jeremiah, the armed contingent who rescued the captives of the governor’s house in yesterday’s chapter have decided to head to Egypt. They are afraid that when the King of Babylon finds out about his Governor’s assassination that head’s will literally roll. Before leaving, they decide to ask Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord what Word He has for them. Jeremiah agrees to do so, and the Word comes to Jeremiah ten days later.

Ten days. Why ten days? Why not immediately? Was there something wrong with Jeremiah’s antenna or spiritual satellite dish? Were solar flares creating signal interference? What’s up with having to wait ten days?

As I meditate on this question there are two major thoughts that come to mind.

First, the number ten is not without significance in the Great Story. It is a number of completion. Ten commandments, ten plagues, ten generations, ten as percentage of tithe, ten lepers, ten virgins, ten talents, and etc. So, the contingent having to wait ten days has spiritual weight. Would the fearful contingent display the completeness of faith to wait for God’s word from Jeremiah, despite the pressure of knowing Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath could arrive before then? The ten days was, perhaps, less about God being out on a coffee break, and more about the revealing of the contingent’s heart and motives.

Second, I have found along my own spiritual journey that the concept of time and season described by the author of Ecclesiastes (see Ecclesiastes chapter 3) is far deeper than mere poetry. In the complex fabric of time and space (which is far beyond my comprehension) there seems to be a spiritual weaving of circumstances, events, and places into the tapestry of the Great Story. Things happen at a particular time and place in our journeys. We call them happenstance, coincidence, and fortune. As a believer, I have faith that these things aren’t random. God exists outside of time, and I’m beginning to understand that our Creator has layered and bent time and space in ways my finite mind cannot imagine.

At the end of this morning’s chapter Jeremiah’s words suggest that by the time the Word from the Lord came to him, the contingent who asked for it were already packed for their escape to Egypt. How often has that been true in my own life? I say I want to ask for God’s guidance and direction, but my will was decided before I asked. I really don’t have the patience to wait for God’s time and season. The sand is slipping through the hourglass, baby. I can’t wait anymore. Gotta head on down the line. Gonna make something happen!

This morning I’m feeling the need to admit the impatience that has dotted my own journey’s story line. As I take the final sip from my first cup of morning coffee, I’m reminded that at times I will wait ten days, ten months, or ten years for God to reveal, speak, move, or act in the space-time continuum He’s created for the telling of the Great Story (and my place in it).

Rest…breathe…chill…relax…flow….

Wait for it….

“God makes all things beautiful in their time.” (Ecc 3:11)

Connected to a Larger Story

Though I scatter them among the peoples,
    yet in distant lands they will remember me.
They and their children will survive,
    and they will return.
Zechariah 10:9 (NIV)

I walked into Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv as I and my friends were heading back to the United States. After spending a week in Israel I had an even greater appreciation for the surreal experience there. Every international airport is a melting pot, but Ben Gurion seemed to take things to an entirely new level. Not only were there people from all over the world, but there was also the unrivaled diversity of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sub-cultures. My time in Israel was an amazing cultural experience of dining with and making new friends among both Jews and Arabs and from every religious persuasion. At Ben Gurion Airport all of diverse groups were represented and crammed together in one place at one time.

Looking around I saw Hasidic Jewish men in their tell-tale black clothing and hats as well as modern Jewish women with their own distinctive manner that radiates a certain larger-than-life personality. There were Jewish tourist groups from literally all over the world which was made evident by the cacophony of clothing and languages. There were Arabs in their turbans, Catholic priests and nuns in their robes, and even my fellow small-town American tourists with their own distinct drawls and a certain air of cluelessness.

And, of course there was tension. I found that there’s always tension in Israel. I felt surrounded at all times by the uncanny sense that something might just erupt at any given moment. In fact, as my friends and I stood in line at check-in a nearby baggage x-ray machine detected something amiss. Loud sirens suddenly blared at a deafening decibel level all around us. Bright lights flashed out in warning.

Paralyzed by the sensory shockwave, I turned to watch people of every religious, national, and political persuasion bolting for the doors out of fear that a terrorist’s bomb was about to explode. Thankfully, it was false alarm. Still standing in both panic and confusion, I was just as surprised at the speed with which things returned to normal, or what passes for normal in that place.

I mention my experience because, politics and religion aside, my time in Israel gave me a newfound respect for the amazing story of the Jewish people throughout history.  They have been scattered again, and again, and again, and again by wars, empires, politics, and persecution.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet Zechariah speaks to the scattering of his people and prophesies their return from the remote reaches of the world. This was a contemporary issue for Zac because he was part of a remnant who had returned to rebuild a destroyed Jerusalem. In the previous hundred or so years the empires of Babylon, Assyria and Persia had scattered his people to those regions. He and his contemporaries were acting in faith that if they took the risk of rebuilding Jerusalem that his people would return.

I’ve mentioned before that prophetic writing is layered with meaning. It can address something in the moment and something in the distant future all at the same time. As I stood in Ben Gurion Airport it was like witnessing what Zechariah wrote back around 500 B.C. :

I will signal for them
    and gather them in.
Surely I will redeem them;
    they will be as numerous as before.
Though I scatter them among the peoples,
    yet in distant lands they will remember me.
They and their children will survive,
    and they will return.
I will bring them back from Egypt
    and gather them from Assyria.
I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon,
    and there will not be room enough for them.

This morning I’m reminded of the Great Story that God is telling in the life-cycle of human history. It’s part of why I love history so much because I believe that it’s all connected. I believe we are all connected by this same story and we are a part of it. I’m just in a different chapter than Zechariah, but knowing his story and reading his prophetic poem layers my own experiences with new and profound depths of meaning. Even the seemingly insignificant experience of standing in an airport suddenly connects my story to the Great Story that is so much larger than myself.

 featured photo via speaking of faith and Flickr

Jezebel’s Epic End

“Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.
2 Kings 9:33 (NIV)

I have long been a fan of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy for the epic story it tells across life and generations. Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed introducing friends to the original film over a feast of spaghetti and cannoli, complete with some good Italian red wine.

One of the things that makes a great story is when it is layered with truth and meaning. Epic stories are mines that yield new treasure each time you descend into them. With each telling they reveal something you hadn’t seen before. Yet, even with all of the layers of meaning the narratives of great stories are typically built on something quite simple.

The Godfather epic might be summed up with Jesus’ simple words to his disciple, Peter: “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords.” It is a generational tale in which the characters give themselves to “the sword” with what they believe are the best of intentions to protect those they love dearest. Their course, however, only serves to destroy the very things they tried to protect.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I read today’s chapter in the handwritten text of The St. John’s Bible. The stories of the ancient kings of Israel and Judah are epic stories, though I find that I have to move beyond the scribe’s text and descend into the story before I begin to see the layers.

The story of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, belongs in the same genre of epic stories of those who live and die by the sword. Their tale is about lust for power, corruption, vengeance and blood.  Today’s chapter is the closing scene on their story. Ahab is dead and Jezebel feels her power slipping away as the leader of a coup d’état reaches her stronghold. Jezebel goes back to her tried and true playbook, putting on her make-up and doing her hair so as to seduce her way out of the corner where her own nefarious actions have placed her. But true to Jesus’ observation, the way of the sword ends badly for those who follow that path. The power of seduction fades and becomes impotent. Jezebel’s very own servants, no doubt weary of her wickedness, are only too willing to join the coup, chuck her out the window, and watch the dogs devour her dead flesh.

This morning I’m thinking about epic stories and the way they reveal truths about life and soul. This week at the lake Wendy and I enjoyed much conversation with our adult daughters. Along the meandering path of our discussions was the observation that we humans never seem content with “enough.” Vito Corleone and Jezebel followed the insatiable way of the sword, violently taking all they could for themselves believing that it would provide security of position and provision. They ignored the reality that when you violently take from others there will eventually be others who will violently take it from you.

Express Yourself

The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. Then I made love to the prophetess,and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”
Isaiah 8:1-4 (NIV)

The world of the ancient Hebrew prophets was a whacky place in which everything in their lives was fair game for being living metaphors of their spiritual messages. Marrying a prostitute, walking around the city naked strapped to an ox yoke, and building a city out of Legos in the middle of the city square in order to lay siege to it are among a few of the rather bizarre word pictures God had them act out.

The poor sons of Isaiah had the enjoyable distinction of being born to be given names from their father’s prophetic work. And, I have to believe it likely got them ridiculed and beat up on the ancient playgrounds of Jerusalem:

  • She’ar-Ya’shuv meant “a remnant shall return” which foreshadows the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon, and the remnant who returned to restore the temple (as told by Nehemiah).
  • Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz meant “spoil quickly, rush to the plunder” which foreshadowed the impending attack and plunder of King Ahaz’s enemies by the Assyrians.

While S-Ya and the Baz-man may have names that seem very strange to us today, the act of layering names of our children with meaning is not new. Taylor and Madison both have middle names that reference women in my family, one on my mother’s side and the other on my dad’s. While Madison is not named for the street I grew up on, I love the added layer of meaning it has for me. It is quite common to give children names layered with meaning by naming them after role-models, inspirational figures, Biblical characters, and etc.

We all do things metaphorically. We layer things with meaning. Metaphor is God’s language. It’s God’s modus-operandi in communicating. Made in God’s image, we all inherently do it. We express ourselves (who we are, and what we believe/think) in what we wear, drive, hang on our walls, do with our time, and post on social media. The prophets simply pushed the envelope. Prompted by God, they were more intentional and more creative with their metaphors.

This morning I’m thinking once again about how I wordlessly express myself, both unconsciously and intentionally. I am no ancient prophet, but it seems to me I have an opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to be mindful and intentional in all the ways I express myself.

chapter a day banner 2015

Messiah’s Soundtrack

The BlacklistThe Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies     
a footstool for your feet.”
Psalm 110:1 (NIV)

Now that Wendy and I have had a few nights free to sit on the couch together and enjoy some entertainment, we’ve been wading into the backlog of our DVR queue to enjoy a few of the new shows from this fall. This past week we’ve been making our way through The Blacklist, which we’re finding to be a unique and well written show. The other night we were watching one particular episode in which I thought that the music choices they made to play beneath the action were brilliant. At the beginning of the show, the anti-hero, played by James Spader, is seen being led in shackles by FBI agents. In the background we hear The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. Later in the episode as the plot is revealed in a flurry of action we hear the unmistakable rhythm of Nina Simone’s Sinner Man (“Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to?”).

Music makes such a huge difference in the telling of a story in television and film. It’s amazing how some songs become iconic and take on layers of meaning that were originally never intended in the writing.

In the catalog of David’s song lyrics (a.k.a. The Psalms), Psalm 110 stands out as one of the most unique and important that David penned. In the nearly 1000 years between it’s writing and the public ministry of Jesus, the lyrics had already be considered “Messianic” (e.g. about the coming messiah) by Jewish scholars. In particular, there are two verses of this song that are of particular importance.

The first verse (see above) was actually quoted by Jesus in an argument with the religious leaders who were trying to trap and kill him:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:41-46 (NIV)

In writing “The Lord said to my Lord” Jesus teaches that David was writing about two persons of the trinity: “The Lord (God, the Father) said to my Lord (God, the Son [Jesus])” having been inspired by the third person of the trinity (God, the Holy Spirit) to write the prophetic lyric. Jesus’ point was that David did not call the Messiah his progeny, his son, or his child. The messiah was “Lord” and authority above his own earthly throne.

The other important and prophetic lyric comes in the fourth verse:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

In the Old Testament there is a clear distinction between the offices of priest and king. God established in the law of Moses that only descendants of Aaron from the tribe of Levi could be priests. After the monarchy is established (which we just read about this past month or so in the book of 1 Samuel), God establishes that the messiah will come from the royal line of David. David was from the tribe of Judah. And so, we have a conundrum. The messiah cannot be purely from both the tribe of David and the tribe of Levi.

David provides the answer to the conundrum by writing in reference to a shadowy, footnote of a figure from the book of Genesis:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High…. Genesis 14:18 (NIV)

Long before the law of Moses was given, establishing the rules of who could become a priest in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, there lived in Salem (an ancient form of “Jeru-Salem”) a king named Melchizedek who was also a priest of God Most High. Little is known of Melchizedek, but he blessed Abraham, the father and patriarch of Israel. The order of the priesthood from Melchizedek is far older and more mysterious. But David points to Melchizedek as the model of the messianic King-Priest combination, and in doing so also establishes his authority as God’s king on earth with limited, but very real priestly responsibilities.

Forgive me this foray into a little arcane lesson of prophecy and theology. As I mentioned in the outset of this post, soundtracks add layers of meaning to a movie or television program. The Psalms are the soundtrack of God’s story. The more you study them, the richer they become in depth and meaning. And, the more they compliment  your understanding of everything else you read in God’s Message.