Tag Archives: Lent

Music, Ritual, & Meaning

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:29 (NIV)

Music plays such a fascinating role in the human experience. Music has the power to express thought and emotion in ways more potent than the mere words themselves. Music has a unique ability to bring people together in unity, even complete strangers. It happens in sporting events, in religious events, civic ceremonies, and virtually every birthday party you’ll go to or happen upon. Music is typically a part of every funeral service. I personally can’t hear Taps without it stirring emotion in me.

Last week I mentioned in these chapter-a-day posts that Psalms 113-118 make up series of songs known at the Hallel in Hebrew. They are the songs sung throughout the Hebrew feast of Passover. Today’s chapter, Psalm 118, is the final song. The lyrics were originally written to be a song of Thanksgiving that the king would sing with the people after a great victory. The “king” does most of the singing the way this song was structured, singing verses 5-21. In verses 22-27 the people rejoice over what God has done. The king then sings the final two verses.

What I found interesting as I read through and mulled over the song in the quiet this morning, is that it’s traditionally believed that Jesus and His followers were eating the Passover meal together the night He would be betrayed and arrested. If this is true, it is very possible that when Matthew records “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” it was Psalm 118 they were singing.

With that in mind, I went back and read the lyrics again, this time I imagined Jesus singing the part of the king and His followers the part of the people. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He predicted it on multiple occasions and he pushed the buttons that put into motion the political mechanism that would seal His earthly fate. I read the lyrics, placing myself in Jesus’ sandals, knowing what was about to happen the next day and on the third day.

It gives the lyrics a whole new layer of meaning as He sings:

The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.

And as his disciples sing:

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.

When, after the resurrection, Peter is brought to trial before the very same religious leaders who put Jesus to death, it is this lyric that Peter quotes back to his accusers (Acts 4:11). Could it be that Peter was, at that moment, remembering singing those lyrics that fateful night just weeks earlier when he himself rejected and denied knowing Jesus?

And then I thought of Jesus, knowing that He is about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, flogged, mocked, and crucified, singing the final words of Psalm 118 and it being the last song He would sing on His earthly journey:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find the irony (perhaps divine appointment?) of reading these songs during the season of Lent when followers of Jesus focus our thoughts and spirits on Jesus’ final days, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. Music plays a part in the remembrance, just as Psalm 118 likely played a part in Jesus’ remembrance of God’s breaking the bonds of Hebrew slaves and delivering them out of Egypt. Music, ritual, and meaning are threads that connect the three human events. The Exodus, the Passion, and my celebration of the Great Story in this season.

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

Division

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Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.

Psalm 114:2 (NIV)

Along my journey, I have experienced discord and division among any number of groups to which I belonged. This includes family, churches, community organizations, and most recently, a nation.

When division happens, no matter the size or scope of that division, it creates so much relational mess in its wake. Suddenly, individuals who love one another find themselves on opposite sides of a topic or circumstance. Mental lines get drawn. Emotional trenches are dug. A relational no man’s land grows between, and neither party feels very much like being the one to crawl out of the trench and initiating the crossing of no man’s land.

It’s hard.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 114, is the second in a series of Ancient Hebrew songs known as the Hallel, which is sung each year at the Passover feast which celebrates God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Like yesterday’s psalm, it is sung before the Passover meal. In eight simple verses, the song overviews the major events of their exodus out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land. As yesterday’s chapter was metaphorically the “call to praise” of the Passover feast, today’s chapter is, metaphorically, a prologue that overviews the journey participants will take through the feast.

What struck me the most as I read this morning was the second verse:

Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.

Casual readers are likely to miss the weight of this verse for the ancient Hebrews who sang it back in the day. Scholars say that the song was penned during a period in Hebrew history known as “the divided monarchy.” The twelve tribes of Israel were divided into two nations. Two tribes, led by Judah, became the southern nation of Judah with Jerusalem as its’ capital. The other ten tribes joined into the northern nation of Israel. There was perpetual discord, division, and civil war between the two.

As with any event of human discord and division, there was the drawing of mental lines, digging of emotional trenches, and the development of relational no-mans-lands.

The Passover feast, to which all good Hebrews were expected to attend and participate in was held in Jerusalem at Solomon’s temple in the capital city of Judah. This meant that the faithful who lived in the northern nation of Israel had to cross no-mans-land. I can only imagine the relational tension that existed in the city on that week each year. A festival that was meant to unite the people in remembrance of the unifying event of their national identity became a political and religious powder keg. I can’t help but feel an acute identification with that reality in light of my own nation’s recent events.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking back to those divisions which I have experienced and which dot the timeline of my life as painful waypoints on my journey. Given time, I’m glad to say that I’ve experienced relational healing and reconciliation in certain relationships. In others, the relational division led to separate paths that I don’t expect to converge on this side of eternity. In yet others, I have made attempts to cross the emotional no-mans-land only to be greeted with an emotional fence of barbed wire. I must also confess that there are yet other circumstances in which I would say that I desire there to be reconciliation, but that desire has not led to my willingness to initiate a crossing of no-mans-land. Those are the ones that lay heavy on my spirit this morning.

I find it ironic that my chapter-a-day journey happens upon the Passover Hallel on this week when followers of Jesus begin the annual spiritual pilgrimage with Jesus to Jerusalem, to crucifixion, and to resurrection. The final, climactic events of Jesus’ earthly life happened during the week of Passover. Followers of Jesus see the two events as spiritually akin. Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. Jesus led any who will follow out of bondage to sin, through the wilderness of this earthly journey, to an eternal promised land.

It’s also ironic that today happens to be known as Ash Wednesday, which it the opening event of the season follower call Lent. It’s the day we are called to Spirit mode to embark on a spiritual journey of remembrance with Jesus to the cross. Just like yesterday’s chapter and today’s chapter called the Hebrews to the spiritual journey of remembrance with Moses to the promised land. (By the way, I didn’t plan this!)

I find myself answering the call to that annual journey this morning in the quiet of my office. I find myself thinking about those relationships on the other side of no-mans-land. Holy Spirit whispers the words of Jesus to my spirit:

“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”

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

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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