Tag Archives: Lent

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 Generous Confession

A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed
.
Proverbs 11:25 (NIV)

Earlier this week I was with friends in our family room, and we were discussing the spiritual season of Lent that we entered into this past Wednesday. For those not familiar with the practice, Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon word for “length” which is also associated with “Spring”) is a period of roughly 40 days (there are multiple traditions who figure the days differently) leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter.

The 40 days traditionally relate back to the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the desert (Matthew 4) before he was tempted by the enemy. That 40 days of solitude, introspection, prayer, fasting, and temptation effectively launched Jesus’ three years of ministry. It was the spiritual boot camp that prepared Him for the determined purpose of fulfilling His earthly mission on the cross, through death, and out of the tomb. In the same way, Lent is intended to be a period of personal introspection, confession, denial, repentance, and preparation leading up to Good Friday (observance of Jesus’ death) and Easter (celebration of Jesus’ resurrection).

As my friends and I discussed our diverse religious backgrounds and personal experiences with Lent, we discussed the practice of self-denial and fasting that commonly occurs during the season. One member of our group alluded to a conversation he and his wife had about self-denial within generosity: You know a person who needs a special outfit for an event and they can’t afford it. It’s easy to say, “Here is an outfit from my spare closet that I haven’t worn for years. Take it. It’s yours.” It’s harder to say, “Here is my favorite outfit. It’s the best thing I own, and it cost me a pretty penny. Take it. It’s yours.” Which is true generosity and self-denial?

I thought of that discussion as I read today’s chapter and came across a verse that I, long ago, memorized. It’s today’s verse, pasted at the top of this post.

In the introspection spirit of Lent, I have a confession to make. Generosity has been a life-long struggle of mine. The struggle is two-sided. The obvious side is simply learning to be generous. Things were economically tight in my family growing up. As the youngest of four, I enjoyed a lot of hand-me-downs. The idea of being generous and giving things away was an honest struggle for me because when I had something new that was “just mine” I wanted to cling to it for dear life. It took me a long time to develop a heart of generosity, and even as I write these words I have specific, shameful memories of not being generous and being called out for it.

The other side of my generosity struggle comes from my core pain, which I long ago identified and labeled: not enough. So, even though I have come to embrace, en-joy, and practice generosity in greater measure than any time in my entire life, my Censor (that ugly whisperer inside my head and heart) ceaselessly tells me that it’s not enough.

Welcome to my Lenten introspection.

In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on, and thinking about, my generosity. Jesus was constantly urging His followers towards the virtues of love, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, humility, and generosity. Is it even possible to reach a point in my earthly life where I can say that I have arrived at having “enough” of these virtues in my life?

No.

Does that mean I’m an irredeemable failure?

No.

It means that I am on a spiritual journey and a Life journey. I am not where I once was (thank you God) and I can be encouraged by that fact. At the same time, I have not arrived (Lord, have mercy) and I can be humbled by that fact.

So where, does that leave me?

Time to lace ’em up for another day. I’m pressing on. Hope you are, too.

Oh, and if you wear men’s size 9 and you need a pair of shoes for the trek, I have a brand new pair. I think I’ve worn them only once. If you need them, they’re yours.

<— 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

Learning How to See

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
Ephesians 1:17 (NIV)

I’m back from a self-imposed exile on social media which I took in observance of the season of Lent. While  technically that season was over on Easter Sunday, I’ve found myself slow to return. It’s been an interesting and challenging sabbatical, but more on that in the days and weeks ahead. I’m still processing.

Do you remember the “Magic Eye” art that was a trending fad for about 10 seconds back in the 1980’s. It was a generated mixture of colors that originally feels like a computer generated Jackson Pollock painting, but if you “looked at it right” a three dimensional object would suddenly become visible to you. Once you “learned how to see it” you couldn’t stop seeing the hidden three-dimensional images while others around you struggled to do so. I have fond memories of watching my mother stare forever at a magic eye image “trying to see it” while her entire family tried to teach her “how to do it” (all at the same time). She never saw it.

I’ve had a similar experience in recent weeks with the concept of the four levels that I introduced in a message a few months and and talked about in my mid-Lent podcast. It seems I can’t stop seeing it, and today’s chapter is a great example.

The opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a preamble focused on introducing a Level Four (eternal) perspective to everything. Paul touches on the eternal past where we were chosen to be in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” It moves to the eternal future and “times fulfillment” when Christ will “bring unity to all things.” Paul goes on to pray that the believers will have the “eyes of your heart enlightened” (like suddenly being able to see a “Magic Eye” image) in order that they might know three Level Four realities:

  • Hope to which we are called
  • Riches of His glorious inheritance in his holy people
  • His incomparably great power for us who believe.

In the quiet this morning I look back over my journey and realize that much of it has been spent focused on seeing and experiencing life through my Level One to Three lenses while Spirit has been gently trying to open the eyes of my heart to see Level Four reality in all the other levels of my journey. Like my mother with the Magic Eye image, I’ve been slow to see it, but now I’m finding myself looking at my entire journey, past, present, and future, differently.

I’m praying Paul’s prayer this morning for more of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that I might continually know Him better. While I’m at it, I’m praying the same for you, too.

Have a great week, my friend.

 

 

Driving the Action

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.
Matthew 17:9, 22-23 (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting a message and the text was the raising of Lazarus in John 11. As we unpacked the story together, I made the point that Jesus was not a victim of the events around Him, rather Jesus was driving the action of the scene.

Whenever a writer crafts a story, play, or screenplay, he or she must be mindful of how to drive the action of the story and propel events forward. Sometimes action can be circumstantially driven when an event takes place which unleashes a subsequent series of events. In The Godfather, there is an unexpected attempt on Vito’s life and an attack on the Corleone family. [spoiler alert!] As a result of these events Vito’s son, Michael, who wanted nothing to do with his father’s illegal business will become just like his father.

Other times action is driven by a character in the story whose words and actions propel the story forward. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf makes a prophetic observation that even Gollum has some part to play in the events leading to the ending of the One Ring. Time and again Gollum’s mischief and machinations drive the action, even to the climactic moment of the epic.

One of the things that becomes very clear as we read the story of Jesus is that Jesus is driving the action. He is not a passive victim of others. He is not the victim of unexpected events that lead to execution. At every turn Jesus is driving the action which will lead to His arrest and even foreshadowing the events to come. In today’s chapter, Jesus twice refers to his death and resurrection. He knows what is coming because it was part of a larger narrative that He had storyboarded in the beginning, and had been prophetically envisioned for centuries (see Psalm 22 [c. 1000 B.C.] and Isaiah 53 [c. 700 B.C.]).

This morning I’m thinking that Jesus came with purpose. He was on a mission and He drove the action. What about me? What’s my mission? Do I act, think, speak with purpose, or am I passively awaiting for circumstances to drive the narrative of my life?

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning that Jesus told us to ask, to seek, and to knock. Those are not commands to be passive, but to participate with God in driving the action of our stories.

Featured image courtesy of bnorthern via Flickr

Chapter-a-Day Jonah 3

from West Point Public Affairs via FlickrThe people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow. Jonah 3:5 (NLT)

Wendy’s brothers have all served in the military. Her youngest brother just went through the rigor of basic training a year or so ago. Since my side of the family has, for the most part, never been big on military service I have found it interesting to observe. I’ve been knocked out by the transformation in Wendy’s young sibling. The methodical process of discipline and denial has had visible benefits that go beyond the mere physical.

It is, perhaps, a bit of synchronicity that today’s chapter comes on the day after Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Lent is the season of “preparation” before the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection which lasts for 40 days. The number 40 is not insignificant. The number appears throughout God’s Message and history:

  • 40 days of rain in the flood
  • 40 days Moses was on the mountain before God gave him the law
  • 40 years of wandering in the wilderness for Moses and his followers
  • 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness
  • 40 days after the resurrection Jesus was seen publicly before his ascension

These are just a few of the examples, along with the example in today’s chapter in which the people of Nineveh fasted and repented for 40 days to seek God’s mercy.

There is no magic in “fasting” or the act of denying yourself of something, but there is a process of spiritual formation that takes place. When, for a period of time, we deny ourselves and focus our hearts and minds on the things of God it becomes like spring training for our souls. It is spiritual boot camp and, like Wendy’s brother, you never emerge from boot camp unchanged in some way.

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Chapter-a-Day Matthew 4

Angels Ministering to Christ in the Wilderness
Image via Wikipedia

 Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. Matthew 4:2 (MSG)

In the wee hours of the morning, in the twilight between sleeping and waking, it struck me that we are in the season of Lent, when followers of Jesus prepare their hearts for the celebration of His death and resurrection. I hadn’t given Lent much thought.

I don’t know why that thought would rise out of my half-conscious brain, and I found it a moment of synchronicity that today’s chapter was about Jesus’ preparation for an hour temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’ ministry was bookended by tests: His testing in the wilderness and His testing in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prepared for this spiritual test with physical deprivation.

In a culture of abundance, willful deprivation is a strange concept to most of us. My experience, however, is that there is a relationship between physical appetites and spiritual power. There is something about the satiation of our physical wants and needs that dulls our spiritual awareness. When we stuff our physical appetites, our spirit is buried under a blanket of momentary, false contentment.

Today, I’m thinking about the condition of my heart in relation to Lent, and the current state of my own physical appetites. I’m meditating on what I need to do about either, about both.

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