Tag Archives: Meditation

Songs of Assurance

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I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1 (NIV)

One summer of high school my friend Neal and I found ourselves standing in the middle of a desert in Mexico. It was something like 117 degrees that day. There were several vans of youth along with a few cars making our way toward Acapulco when one of the vehicles had an issue. Our local guide stayed behind to wait for and deal with a mechanic and our youth pastor told Neal and me to stay with him. I remember thinking, “This has got to be one of the strangest moments of my life.”

I don’t remember being afraid, exactly. Our guide was a native who was more than capable of making sure we’d manage. Neal was a great companion to have if you’re stuck in the Mexican desert. He’s a walking stand-up comedian act and can make any circumstance entertaining. Nevertheless, this was well before cell phones and there were a lot of “What ifs….” that ran through my mind.

I thought about that afternoon as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 121. It’s another “Song of ascents” that pilgrims would sing on the road to Jerusalem as they made their way to one of the annual festivals. The rugged mountainous terrain around Jerusalem could be somewhat dangerous for pilgrims as thieves and robbers were common. There’s a reason Jesus used a man beaten by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. His listeners would identify with that. It was a concern for any traveler in those days.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of this song as you imagine yourself with a caravan of other pilgrims walking toward Jerusalem. In the distance you see Mount Zion and Solomon’s Temple which, for them, was God’s earthly residence. So, looking to the mountains and asking “Where does my help come from?” would have been associated with the destination of their pilgrimage. Being safe on the road, not getting injured, being protected from harm walking by day and camping outdoors at night, this song was a repeated proclamation of faithful assurance in their “coming and going” to and from Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded by the lyrics of this song that sometimes I need words of assurance and affirmation along this life journey. They don’t magically protect me from harm, but they do help me to keep fear, anxiety, and insecurity in check. They remind me of God’s faithfulness no matter my circumstances.

In our bedroom, Wendy and I have a piece of encaustic artwork I bought for Wendy this past Christmas. Three little birds stare at us when we get up each morning and when we lie down each night. Behind the artwork is another frame with the lyrics of a Bob Marley tune: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

“I rise up this morning, smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds perched by my doorstep.
Singing a sweet song, with a melody pure and true.
This is my message to you:
Don’t worry about a thing ’cause
Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

I’ve always thought the song to be Marley’s reggae riff on the same encouragement and affirmation Jesus gave to His followers:

“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”
Luke 12:6-7 (MSG)

Just like the Hebrew pilgrims singing Psalm 121, I have my Bob Marley psalm of assurance that reminds me both day and night.

(By the way, our afternoon stranded in the hot, Mexican desert sun was uneventful. Another van full of youth saw us by the road, pulled over to make sure we were okay, and handed us an ice-cold gallon of orange juice. Every little thing was alright.)

Songs With Purpose

Human Systems (CaD Ps 122) Wayfarer

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
    that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Psalm 120:5 (NIV)

One summer of high school I got a job pollinating corn. It was the closest I got to working in agriculture. It was a hot, sweaty boring job walking through the fields. Each day I came home I was yellow from head to foot with corn pollen. I worked in the field with my friend Brian, and I will always remember it as the summer that I learned about work songs. Our crew would sing together as we worked and Brian, being a bit of natural comic, made-up work songs (think Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song) for us to sing as we made our way through the tall rows of corn. I still remember one song…

We work all day, and we work all night.
Three-ninety hour, hey! And that’s all right!
Day-O! Day-O!
Work for the dolla, everybody holla!
Sing Day-O!

My ol’ lady say, she say, “Bring home da pay,
Don’t you be gamblin’ it all away!”
I say, “No way, I’m gonna bring home da pay.
No way! I’m going gamblin’ today!”

There’s more, but I’ll spare you the part about hoecakes and a septic tank. I’m sure you get the idea. What connected with me that summer was that certain songs have a specific purpose in the human experience.

What that silly experience taught me that summer was that creativity often flourishes amidst repetitive, monotonous physical labor. My body was doing this repetitive act and my brain needed something to do. To this day, I find that some of my best message preparation and creative inspirations come when I’m engaged in some repetitive, mindless, physical activities like taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes.

The other thing I learned is that singing together as we worked helped create a sense of camaraderie. I couldn’t see my friends and co-workers through tall, thick corn stalks. Singing together made me feel less alone and reminded me that everyone on my crew was in this thing together. It was a fun way to pass the time in a boring job.

With today’s chapter, Psalm 120, our chapter-a-day journey brings us to a series of songs with the liner note: “a song of ascents.” The ancient Hebrews had seasonal religious festivals that required them to make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem where they would worship and make both sacrifices and offerings. It was a national thing, so large groups of people from villages and communities all over would travel together. And, since “pilgrimage” in those days meant hoofing it for miles and days for most people, they would pass the time by singing songs as they “ascended” towards Mount Zion and up the steps of the temple.

Today’s ancient Hebrew ditty is just a short song of lament in which the singer cries out to God to deliver him from being the victim of deceit. He feels stranded in his situation. When he says “I dwell in Meshek” (a far-away city north in Asia Minor) and “I live among the tents of Kedar” (a far-way city south in Arabia) he was metaphorically singing about feeling like he was in exile. Sort of like me saying, “I feel alone in a crowd.”

So why would one sing this song on pilgrimage? I can only speculate that the seasonal festivals were waypoints of the year in which one would focus on bringing to God both their gratitude and laments. Going to the festival and worshipping at the temple was the time for an individual to take care of business with God, even the business of feeling the victim of other people’s deceits.

In the quiet this morning, the chapter has me thinking once again about the powerful role that music plays in my worship, my work, my play, and my life. It has me thinking about the spiritual journey of Lent that I’m in, and how music might play a role in that in a way I’ve never thought about. What songs can help me focus on this virtual pilgrimage of spirit? What if I created a playlist specifically for this season with songs that help center my heart and mind? What songs should I put on that list, and why?

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

The Tension

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I have strayed like a lost sheep.
    Seek your servant,
    for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119:176 (NIV)

Like Psalm 117, the chapter from two days ago, Psalm 119 is also widely known as a trivial pursuit question. Coming in a mere two verses, Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm and shortest chapter of the Bible. The 176 verses of Psalm 119 make it the longest psalm and longest chapter in the Bible. If you actually read today’s chapter then you should pat yourself on the back for the accomplishment.

What makes this epic Hebrew lay even more fascinating is that the entire thing is about one central theme: The Great Story. The lyricist used eight different Hebrew words which get translated into English as law, word, commands, precepts, statutes, promises, and decrees. What’s also lost in the translation to English is that each stanza of the song begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet and every line of that stanza begins with the same letter. Psalm 119 is really an ancient work of art.

As I read through the lyrics, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey of reading, studying, meditating on, and memorizing the Great Story. It has been pretty much a daily part of my life for forty years. As I read it this morning, there were so many pieces of the psalm with which I identified with the lyrics. I have no regrets about my devotion to studying the Great Story. It has made me a better person and taught me so much wisdom.

Having said that, I also freely admit that it has not made me a perfect person. And that is one of the things I love about the writer of Psalm 119. Despite his almost fanatical dedication, the songwriter freely confesses on several occasions to his shortcomings, mistakes, and failures. The entire thing ends with the author admitting to being a “lost sheep” and asking the Great Shepherd to “seek your servant.” I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words:

By this time a lot of men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself holding the tension of both my spiritual pursuit and my personal journey. As I sit here and type, I stare over the top of my laptop at a shelf of Bibles lined up together. They are the Bibles that I have read, studied, and marked up over forty years. There’s the puke-green Living Bible my parents gave me when I was a kid. There’s the cheap faux leather version held together by red duct tape, and the paperback that’s covered with personal photos and ephemera. There are resource versions used for specific purposes across the years. And then there’s the beautiful seven-volume copy of the illuminated St. John’s Bible that I’ve collected.

And yet, like the lyricist of Psalm 119, my life has been dotted with foolish choices, acts of gross disobedience, and personal failures. You can accuse me of being a hypocrite, and I won’t deny it. In our current world of cancel culture, there are plenty of past mistakes that the mob of political and moral busybodies could use to summarily dismiss me and write me off. C’est la vie. Making the Great Story a part of my daily life hasn’t made me perfect or pure, but the Great Shepherd has always used it to find this lost sheep and call me back to the fold. My perpetual journey through the Great Story has helped me to slowly, steadily, sometimes haltingly, grow into becoming my true self. I hate to imagine the person I would be today without it.

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

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

Of Voices & Family

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Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

Wendy and I read a fascinating interview in the last week of an expert in race and culture. In the loud cacophony of voices lecturing about race and culture with stark in-group and out-group labels and distinctions, this academic stands as a proverbial “voice in the wilderness.” He has been studying trends for 50 years and pointed out facts that no one else is talking about or acknowledging.

The number of bi-racial and bi-cultural couples getting married and having children has increased significantly in the last 50 years and continues to rise. Both Wendy’s and my family are classic examples. Between our siblings, nieces, nephews, their spouses and children, we have the following races and cultures represented in just two generations: Dutch-American, Anglo-American, African-American, Korean-American, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Mexican.

In other words, the simple, binary labels on the census list are increasingly obsolete. For this, I am increasingly joyful.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 117, is most known for being the answer to trivial pursuit questions. As just two verses long, it is the shortest psalm and the shortest chapter in the Bible. (If anyone is starting this chapter-a-day journey with me today, you’re getting off to an easy start. Just a warning, the longest psalm is just two chapters away, so you might want to get a head-start! 🙂

In its brief content, however, this ancient Hebrew song of praise has a significant purpose in the Great Story. This short song, traditionally sung each year as part of the Hebrew Passover, calls all nations and all peoples to worship and praise. This fits in context with the calling of Abraham, father of the Hebrew people when God promises Abraham that through his descendants all nations and peoples will be blessed.

If we fast forward to the Jesus story, we find Jesus breaking down the racial and cultural walls that His tribe had erected to keep those they considered spiritual and racial riff-raff out. Jesus followers went even further to take the message of Jesus to the Greek, African, and Roman worlds and beyond. This created upheaval and conflict among Jesus followers of strictly Hebrew descent. It was Paul (who called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews”) who used today’s “trivial” psalm when writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome to argue that from the very beginning the Great Story has been about all nations, all races, all cultures, and all peoples.

When John was given a glimpse of heaven’s throne room, this is what he saw and heard:

And when [the Lamb who had been slain] had taken [the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation
.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:8-10 (NIV) emphasis added

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of texting our daughters of Suzanna’s engagement to Chino in Mexico a couple of years ago. The response to the news was, “Yay for more beautiful brown babies in the family!” (by the way, the first of those arrives this summer and we can’t wait to meet our newest nephew).

Along my life journey, I have observed that we humans like to reduce very complex questions into simple binary boxes and choices. As a follower of Jesus, I found that the journey seemingly began that way. I could choose to follow, or not (though my theologian friends will be happy to turn that into a very complex question for you). After that, things get exponentially personal and complex. Just yesterday, I gave a message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and I made the same argument about the season of Lent. Religious institutions want to make things top-down prescriptive when Jesus was always about things being intimately and spiritually bottom-up personal.

I find myself this morning meditating on the contrast between the voices of culture and the experiences of family. There are such complex questions we face today of race, gender, and culture. I don’t want to diminish or dismiss them. At the same time, I find myself encouraged by a profound truth simply stated in today’s chapter.

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.

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

Brooding

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Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

I have always been a world-class brooder. It comes in tandem with the pessimism that marks those of us who are romantic individualists known as Enneagram Fours. If there is a major relational conflict or some kind of crisis in life, I will tend to brood on it.

Brood is actually an interesting word because the most common definition in the English language means “to sit on” and “incubate” as a mother hen sits on her eggs. What an apt word picture for what I can do with a conflict or crisis. I mentally and emotionally sit on it, keep it warm, keep incubating as I stir it in my soul over and over and over again. I may look like I’m perfectly normal on the outside, but inside I’m a boiling cauldron of angst, fear, negativity, and insecurity.

Along my life journey, I’ve gotten a lot better at recognizing when I’m going into brood mode and when I find myself there. As a young man, I know I spent long periods of time in brood mode never knew I was doing it. To the world around me, I appeared to be functioning normally, but I was actually mentally and emotionally disconnected for long periods of time. This is when having an Enneagram Eight as a spouse is really helpful. Wendy is quick to see me go into my brooding mode, and she’s quick to address it.

Having said that, I’ve also learned that I am an internal processor who has also, along my life journey, developed decent communication skills. This means that I can typically talk through what I am thinking and feeling with others, but not before I’ve taken some time to process it alone. I believe Wendy has done a great job of recognizing that there is a difference between me processing something internally and giving me time to do so, and me silently disconnecting and descending into my brooding pit where I might not surface for a while.

Brooding is like mental, emotional, and spiritual spelunking (those crazy people who descend into and explore caves). A wise spelunker always has a safety line that is attached to a strong ground anchor above. Along the way, I’ve also learned that I need spiritual, mental, and emotional “anchors” with which to pull myself out of my brooding pit.

That’s what came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter and came upon the verse I quoted at the top of the post:

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

When I descend too far into brood-mode I have allowed myself to go into a mental space that is not healthy. I have learned that one of the best anchored life-lines I have is my spiritual journey and my life journey. I can look back on that journey and recall several stretches of stress and crisis which were brooding bonanzas. In each one I can recount how faithful God was to me, how things worked out despite the difficulties, and how God used those moments to bring about growth, new levels of maturity, increased faith, and spiritual fruit. By recounting these both the crises and the progress it afforded in my spiritual journey, it helps me put my current crisis in perspective, to trust God’s faithfulness, and to left faith help lift me out of brood-mode.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful for the waypoint I find myself in this life journey. I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned about myself, my loved ones, and how differently we engage in the world around us and in relationships with one another.

Socrates famously said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This morning, Socrates has himself a witness. Were it not for my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus, I’d have gotten stuck in a brooding pit years ago and might never have made it out.

(Did I mention Enneagram Fours have a flair for the dramatic? 😉

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

Dominion

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The highest heavens belong to the Lord,
    but the earth he has given to mankind.

Psalm 115:16 (NIV)

“Always keep a litter bag in your car.
When it fills up you can toss it out the window.”
– Steve Martin

Along my life journey, I’ve seen tremendous change. Here are some things I remember as a child:

Smoking was acceptable anywhere. Every car came with an ashtray, and there was an ashtray on the armrest of every airline seat. I remember always knowing which door led to the teacher’s lounge because the smell of smoke permeated it. When it came time to get grandpa and grandma (both smokers) a birthday or Christmas gift, we ponied up for a new cigarette case, a pipe lighter, or a box of cigars. One year we got grandma a little case that looked like a treasure chest. When you pushed the button a door would open and a skull and crossbones would bring up a cigarette from the chest as it played the deadman’s dirge.

There were no “adopt-a-highway” programs cleaning up the roads. Trash tossed-out car windows was prevalent and everywhere. Tossing trash out your car window was commonly acceptable.

There was no recycling. There was no composting. There was no “waste management.”

Every autumn, everyone raked their leaves in to a giant pile and burned them. Weekends in the neighborhood were one giant, cloudy haze as pillars of smoke rose from every back yard. The smell of burnt leaves permeated everywhere.

I could go on but will stop there. Our culture has come a long way in the last 50 years. There has been so much progress toward health, safety, and conservation. As technology has increased exponentially, so has the opportunities and expectations for taking care of ourselves and the world around us.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 115, the songwriter reminded me of something that is spelled out very clearly in the Great Story. It is not, however, taught or discussed very often.

At the very beginning, in the Creation story, God creates the universe and then creates Adam and Eve and gives humanity “dominion” over all the earth to be caretakers of it. So when the songwriter of Psalm 115 says, “The earth He has given to mankind” it is a reminder that humanity has both power and responsibility in caring for God’s creation.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on a couple of things.

First, I am reminded that the paradigm Jesus modeled in His teaching and ministry was one of radiating influence. Jesus didn’t do the thing that everyone expected Him to do which was to use His power to destroy Rome, ascend to the throne of earthly power, and force His will and justice on the world. Jesus, the individual, influenced and changed the lives of other individuals and then called them to follow His example. The individual radiated influence over those in his/her circles of influence, and it continued to expand to more and more and more.

I observe that we, as humans, often prefer the top-down paradigm in which I gain earthly power through wealth, politics, fame, or media so as to have the worldly dominion that allows me to force or impress my will on others.

As a follower of Jesus, that was never the paradigm He exemplified or asked of me. The only dominion that I know I have for sure is over my own life and actions. I find myself asking how I can play my role in being a caretaker of creation in my own world, and model it for others.

The second thought this morning is an observation. I increasingly see a generation rising up for whom human progress is “not enough.” It’s even condemned as if in the world of my childhood, I could and should have looked into the future, perceived 21st century ideals and somehow hit a cosmic “fast forward” button. The tremendous advancements made in my lifetime fall short of a perfection that is expected, even demanded, immediately.

Which brings me back to dominion. I can’t control others. I can only control the tiny circle of dominion that I have been given. So, I’ll ask myself to keep being a better caretaker of God’s creation in the ways that I personally control and interact with. I will continue to get better at being a positive influence on my circles of influence in my example, conversation, and encouragement. (Like the neighbor I saw throwing trash out their car window as they drove by my house. It still happens far too often. I went out to the street and picked it up.)

I find it ironic as I mull over these things that I have often heard people shun institutional religion for all of the “rules” it places on a person, while increasingly there are those who would dictate rapid change to reach the ideals of their world-view through institutional commands and control.

That was never Jesus’ paradigm. He was about changing hearts and souls so that individuals would positively change the world through love and responsibility that was motivated by love and sacrifice. I’ve been walking that path for forty years. I think I’ll press on.

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

Simple Songs of a Child

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The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise.

Psalm 111:10 (NIV)

It was a fairly warm day in early December this past year when Wendy and I got to spend the day with our grandson Milo for the firs time in almost a year. Wendy had some things she had to accomplish in town, so I took Milo to the park to keep him occupied. As we played on the swings, I made up a silly little song. It was simple:

Papa and Yaya love Milo.
Papa and Yaya love Milo.
Papa and Yaya love Milo.
Oh, yes we do.

After singing it a couple of times, I began again. This time I paused each time after the word love and Milo giggled and belted out his own name. Within a day, Milo himself sang it and he chose to alter the words…

Papa and Milo love Yaya.

then

Yaya and Milo love Papa.

The simple little ditty became a staple during their visit and it was so cute to hear him sing it. He always loved to sing all three verses to ensure the declaration of mutual love among the three of us was complete.

Instructional songs are as old as humanity itself. Music has always been a powerful way to learn and remember things. A quick memory job in the quiet this morning I recalled a number of songs I still remember by heart from shows I watched when I was a child; Shows like Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mister Rogers, Zoom, and Schoolhouse Rock. In seventh grade Social Studies class we had to memorize the preamble of the Constitution and, when tested, we had to write it word-for-word from memory. I guarantee you every one of us was singing the Schoolhouse Rock version in our heads as we wrote.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 111, along with its twin, Psalm 112, are written much like an ancient Hebrew form of Schoolhouse Rock, though this fact is essentially lost in translation to English. They are acrostic songs, with each Hebrew half-line starting with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When I read today’s psalm this morning it reminded me of some of the other wisdom texts in the Great Story like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The phrase “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” in verse 10 is used twice in Proverbs. And, the songwriter twice references God’s covenant being forever.

Short song.
Alphabet acrostic.
Simple instructional concepts.
Repeated phrasing.

It’s got all the marks of an instructional song intended for children (or adults) to quickly memorize and remember so as to learn simple spiritual truths.

In the quiet this morning as I ponder these things, it has me thinking about Jesus’ rather simple spiritual concept:

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

and

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

When Yaya and I would tuck Milo into bed I sang the same song I sang to his mother when she was his age…

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others, and let others do for you,
May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung,
And may you stay
forever young.

What could be more simple and essential than teaching a three-year-old like Milo that he and Papa and Yaya form a circle of love. And what could be more simple and essential for this adult to remember always?

Papa Tom & Milo. January 2021.

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

Geeking Out on the Great Story

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

Psalm 110:4 (NIV)

I confess. I am a Tolkien nerd. I have been most of my life. Before the advent of cell phones I would typically read The Lord of the Rings once a year. Now, I have it on audiobook and will often listen to it when I can’t sleep. Once I got a text from my daughter asking me, “Do you know the name of Theoden’s horse?”

I immediately replied. “Of course. Snowmane.”

She then texted. “Thanks. Playing pub trivia and I knew you’d know.”

But I couldn’t let it go at that. I then added:

“Gandalf’s horse is Shadowfax.
Sam’s pony is Bill.
Glorfindel’s horse is Asfaloth.
Aragorn’s horse is Hasufel.
Legolas’ horse is Arod.”

Okay. I was showing off and geeking out. Maybe I have a problem.

Geeking out came to mind as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 110, because it contains a geeky reference in the Great Story that I find even life-long followers of Jesus to be largely unaware. It is the mysterious character of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek makes his appearance towards the very beginning of the Great Story when God calls Abraham:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.


Genesis 14:17-20 (NIV)

That’s it. That’s the only reference to him and that’s all we know about him. And this is where the mystery begins. In the Great Story Abram is the first of the Hebrew “patriarchs.” At this point in the story, there are no Ten Commandments, no system of worship (which came through Moses centuries later), no record of any kind of formal “priesthood.” So, who is Melchizedek? Where did he come from? How did he become “priest of God Most High” and what exactly did that mean?

We. Don’t. Know.

So, why is he important?

In the Hebrew system of worship that God prescribed through Moses, the “priesthood” was relegated to Aaron and his descendants. If you weren’t in the line of Aaron then you couldn’t be a priest. When the law and sacrificial system was established through Moses the Hebrews had no “king.” It would be centuries before they established a monarchy. When they did, the line of King David was established as the royal line through which the Messiah would come. So, if the Messiah was to be both King of Kings (from the royal line of David) and eternal High Priest (and only descendants of Aaron could be priests) how is that possible?

David wrote the coronation song, Psalm 110, that prophetically provided the answer. Some scholars say that Psalm 110 is the most directly prophetic of all the psalms, but that isn’t easily understood by the casual reader. David references the mysterious priesthood before Moses and before Aaron. He connects the Messiah with the shadowy figure of Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High,” who “brought out bread and wine (sound familiar?). The early followers of Jesus saw it and the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews (also a mystery) fleshed it out. The priesthood and sacrificial system of Aaron was a temporary spiritual band-aid and living metaphor of what was to come. The ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus was sourced in an eternal priesthood that was older, deeper, and (from a human perspective) infinitely mysterious.

The author of Hebrews writes:

“Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of the Highest God. He met Abraham, who was returning from “the royal massacre,” and gave him his blessing. Abraham in turn gave him a tenth of the spoils. “Melchizedek” means “King of Righteousness.” “Salem” means “Peace.” So, he is also “King of Peace.” Melchizedek towers out of the past—without record of family ties, no account of beginning or end. In this way he is like the Son of God, one huge priestly presence dominating the landscape always.”
Hebrews 7:1-3 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning I feel like I’m geeking out on the Great Story like I geek out on The Lord of the Rings so forgive me if this post leaves you rolling your eyes and/or scratching your head.

A faith journey isn’t about reason or it wouldn’t be faith. In the mystery of Melchizedek, I’m reminded that faith requires of me the humility to accept that there are truths that lie in mystery. They are deeper, older, and unfathomable this side of eternity. Once again, I am grateful to Richard Rohr for introducing me to the concept that mystery isn’t something that we can’t understand but something we endlessly understand. The further I get in my spiritual journey, the more I have come to embrace and enjoy the mystery.

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