Tag Archives: Men

Everyday People Making a Difference

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.
Acts 6:6 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a young person, it so happened that my sister and a handful of other young people from our mainline Protestant church had made similar decisions. Excited about what God was doing in our lives, we had some great ideas about how we could share the good news. We thought it would be cool to do a series of meetings over a weekend with live music and to invite a good speaker that people would want to hear. So, we took our idea to the pastor and educational administrator of our church. Our idea was shot down immediately.

This was the first of many run-ins I’ve had along my journey with institutional churches. Most traditional, institutional churches have been historically hierarchical (and patriarchal, as well). Authority is given from the top-down, and power is dispensed and brokered just as it was among the temple priests and teachers of the law in Jesus’ day; Just as it is in almost any large institution. My friends and I were shot down because we were just kids, our idea was not approved by the denominational institution, and the speaker we wanted, while highly educated and capable, wasn’t credentialed in our particular denomination.

The thing I find fascinating in reading through the book of Acts is this early, dynamic explosion of faith. Thousands were choosing to follow Jesus, believe His resurrection, and give everything to what had become a “movement.” But it was different than the institutional Temple where it began. The Temple divided people. There was a section for women, a section for Gentiles (non-Jews), and a section only for priests. The followers of Jesus, however, met together. Everyone met together, ate together, and prayed together whether old, young, male, female, Jew, Gentile, slave, or priest.

In the institutional, hierarchical Temple, only priests and approved teachers of the law had the authority to do certain things. When the Holy Spirit pours out in and through the followers of Jesus, suddenly the “unschooled, unlearned” believers began teaching and speaking with spiritual authority. Signs and wonders began to be displayed through all believers, irregardless of education, age, gender, tribe, or social standing.

In today’s chapter, a man named Stephen is described as having performed many signs and wonders. He speaks in a synagogue and, filled with Holy Spirit, argues circles around the institutional lawyers and teachers. Stephen wasn’t one of the twelve. He wasn’t an original apostle. He was just another member of the “Body” of Christ. He was simply an every day believer, filled with Holy Spirit, ministering to people whenever, wherever he could.

Last night there was a meeting at our house with brothers and sister from among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Those who sat around our dining room table are going to be teaching in the coming weeks. There were two pastors from our local gathering’s staff, but there was also a banker, a diesel mechanic, a corporate middle manager, and a small business owner. Everyday people, male and female, older and younger, classically educated and not, all together using the gifts of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Greatest Commandment so the Great Commission can be fulfilled.

Jesus’ mission was never about building or protecting an institution. It was about every day people connecting with God and loving others so that anyone and everyone can make the same connection.

Radical Verdict in Repressive Times

So Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.
Numbers 27:5-7 (NIV)

This past week I posted my first words to my grandson. The post “had legs” as is said of posts that become popular and start getting shared in multiple outlets. That makes me happy. They are words that young men, all men, really need to hear and take to heart.

It is, perhaps, a bit of synchronicity that today’s chapter should be a fascinating story of four daughters whose father had no son.  The prevailing tradition appears to have been that they and all of their father’s property would be absorbed by their father’s nearest kin and they would officially become part of that man’s family. Essentially, their father’s name and legacy would be snuffed out. Their branch would be pruned from the family tree forever.

So, the women bring their case before Moses, and Moses took the case before God. Those following along on this chapter-a-day journey may have noticed that Moses bringing things before God is a repetitive theme in the book of Numbers. Interestingly enough, God rules in favor of the women. It had to have been a radical verdict in that day, and I imagine it was intensely unpopular with the power male leaders of the Hebrew clans.

I am certainly aware of the many arguments my female counterparts  have about some of the historical mores that the Bible describes and prescribes regarding the role of women. Believe me, I am married to a strong woman and we enjoy spirited discussions over our morning smoothies when we journey through stories or teachings that strike women as particularly offensive. Nevertheless, I also find it fascinating that there is continually evidence through the Great Story of God specifically honoring women and raising up women. This is specifically true of Jesus who broke many societal barriers in his behavior towards loving and honoring of the women around Him.

This morning I’m struck that amidst ancient social and political traditions that were rabidly patriarchal, God decided the case in today’s chapter in the favor of women. It did not change all of the prevailing patriarchal attitudes of the day but it is a specific instance of a radically equitable verdict from God in an ancient society whose concept of gender was incredibly more repressive than our own.

Which is what I was trying to get at in my post and my words to my grandson. I myself can’t reverse thousands of years of injustice and single-handedly change society. Yet, I can make a difference in my own thoughts, words, and actions in my spheres of influence. I can influence the attitude of my grandson to do the same in his. Perhaps it will be the rolling of a small stone that will eventually start an avalanche.

First Words to My Grandson

My dear grandson,

These are my first official words to you. The first of what I hope will be long and enjoyable correspondence between the two of us as you journey through this life.

This past Sunday our house was filled with women who had gathered to celebrate your mother and your impending arrival in three weeks time. I spent the day before helping Grandma Wendy cooking, cleaning, decorating, and running errands to make sure that the stage was set for the occasion. As the women began to arrive I sequestered myself in the basement to be at Grandma’s beck-and-call should she need help with anything.

I was originally going to entitle this blog post Estrogen Overload as I experienced the humor of being the only male in the house with 20 females. I even used that term as I joked with some of the ladies late in the afternoon. It’s something I’m familiar with having raised two daughters and no sons. I’m quite used to being alone in the company of women.

Suddenly, it struck me that I wasn’t the only male in the room for once. There you were comfortably nestled inside your mother’s womb. Nevertheless, you were very much present. You were the very reason for the celebration. You and me with all the ladies. I smiled to myself at the very thought of it.

So, here are my first words to you, my grandson. Take a good look at these women surrounding you (I only wish we’d gotten more photos of all the ladies who were there and a photo of the entire group). Look at your adorable mother. Grandma Wendy and Grandma Brenda were there. There were three great-grandmothers and a great-great-grandmother present to celebrate you. There’s your cousin Emma, your great-aunt Jody, and your great-aunts Suzanna and Brooke who, amazingly, are younger than your Aunt Madison (I’m going to have so much fun helping you sort out all of this loving, mixed-up mess of a wonderful family). Then there are all the wonderful friends that were there along with family. These are amazing women. They have stories to tell and lessons to teach.

Much of human history has not been kind to our female counterparts. They have been treated like objects, servants, property, and second-class citizens because males have dictated it, encouraged it, and allowed it to be so. It is one of many sad realities of life that you’ll see and experience as you make your own way on your own path. But you will have the opportunity to make a difference simply in your thoughts, your choices, your words, and your actions.

Listen to grandpa. Hear me. Honor these women and all they represent. As a male you will find that much about females will seem mysterious to the point of frustration. There will be moments you’ll  be tempted to be dismissive, patronizing, and demeaning. Along your life journey you will be tempted to place women into two separate buckets in your mind: women to love and honor and women to diminish and objectify. You can’t have it both ways. When you embrace the latter you negate the former. I pray you will have the wisdom to resist these temptations. Someday, I’ve got a few things to share with you about the tragic foolishness of not doing so.

Respect women, all women, in the fullness of their being: body, mind and spirit. Respect the girls you grow up with, the woman you meet in a bar, the woman you work with, the woman you date, and the woman who is a stranger.  Respect them just as you respect the women in these photos. Respect women for all the ways they are different from us guys. Respect their strength. Respect their knowledge. Respect their spirit, ability, courage, and their passion. Learn their stories.  Embrace their wisdom. Love them well.

These women will make you a better man. This, I know from experience.

Thanks for being with me on Sunday. I’m sure it’s the first of many afternoons that you and I will share surrounded and outnumbered in the company of amazing women. I’ll teach you how to groan about it in manly fashion (and then secretly enjoy the heck out of it). I’m overjoyed to have your company.

Love you, little man.

Grandpa Tom

Ladies’ Man

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.
Judges 4:4-5 (NRSV)

I love women. I’m married to an incredibly strong woman. I was the son of an amazing woman and grew up in tight relationship with an awesome sister.  My maternal family line was led by a strong spiritual matriarch. I have raised two marvelous and capable young women, and have been blessed to play a role in the lives of other wonderful young ladies. I sometimes wonder at the fact that God saw fit to surround me with women.

This reality does not diminish my masculinity, nor does it minimize the role played in my life by my father, grandfathers, brothers (both biological and spiritual), or male mentors. Rather, I find that the plethora of strong women in my life continues to complement and enhance my understanding of what it means to be a man. Looking back, I shake my head at how utterly clueless I have been through most of my life journey. Sometimes we don’t perceive certain realities until they are revealed in contrast.

As I have returned again and again to the text of Judges, I have found my appreciation for Deborah has continually increased. She has become one of my favorite characters in the Great Story. Living in a misogynistic, male dominated culture, Deborah was a model of femininity. She was both wife as well as a spiritual and civic leader. She was a gifted prophetess and marked by wisdom. She was the right woman, at the right time, to play the crucial role God had for her. She reminds me of some women I know.

Today, I’m grateful for all of the ladies in my life in whom I see facets of the spirit of Deborah. They bless me with their strength, their wisdom, their spiritual giftedness, their purpose, and their love. They continue to make me a better man.

chapter a day banner 2015

 

Eireflensjes Night

I think most families have some kind of culinary traditions. For my branch of the Vander Well family, the number one foodie tradition is eireflensjes. Once a year or so, as I was growing up, my Grandpa Vander Well would mix up a huge batch of these Dutch treats. Last night at my folks house we upheld the family tradition, and both my taste buds and tummy were extremely happy!

Eireflensjes are basically the Dutch version of a crepe. The batter is made with a mixture of eggs, flour, milk and salt. Pour just enough batter to cover the bottom of a hot, buttered iron skillet and fry on both sides until golden brown. Stacks of of them are placed on the table with bowls of sugar. Sprinkle sugar over the top one, roll with a fork, then eat. Some have substituted the sprinkling of sugar with coating the eireflensje with jams/jellies, syrup, salsa, honey and peanut butter. Most of our family are purists, however, and stick with sugar.

Our family tradition has always held that the men of the family always make them, and everyone eats until the stacks are gone.

Unconditional Love for Irreconcilable Suffering

job-and-eliphaz2“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
Job 4:7-8 (NIV)

When I was young, I began to notice that men and women have very different sub-textual conversations. I became fascinated with a phenomenon I observed in my female friends. I would be in a social setting with a female when another female enters the room. My friend would suddenly turn and whisper some critical remark about the stranger. A few probing questions led me to the realization that within a nano-second my female companion had sized up the female who just entered the room and had filled out a complete mental dossier on her competition. She knew what the other female was wearing, her socio-economic status, what kind of person she was, and exactly where she was to be filed in the categorized file cabinet of her brain. The hi-speed, interpersonal judge, jury, and executioner from across the crowded room.

Along the journey I have continued to observe this non-verbal social world of women. I have, after all, spent much of my life in an estrogen wonderland surrounded by females. I find it fascinating. (Personal Note: I realize that I’m making a broad generalization here. I’m not picking on women. Men have similar unspoken judgments, but in my experience it just looks and behaves differently. That’s another blog post for another day.)

As Wendy and I were in the depths of our journey through infertility, I became aware of just how deep and strong women’s thoughts and core beliefs around pregnancy and motherhood can run. In this unspoken, invisible world of non-verbal female communication there exists a sub-culture in which fertility is spiritual currency. If you are a woman who gets pregnant at the drop of a hat and cranks out multiple children in succession, then you are a female all-star, blessed and living right. If you are a woman struggling to conceive then there are some serious question marks surrounding you and this curse you are experiencing. There must be some reason God is withholding this fundamental female blessing from you.

In yesterday’s chapter we left Job and his three friends on the ash heap. For seven days the four of them sat in silence when Job finally opened his mouth to speak. What poured out what was a highly emotional rant of despair that you might have expected from a man who had lost his children, his workforce, his wealth, and his livelihood before breaking out in painful sores all over his body.

Today, the first of his three friends opens his mouth to speak. His name is Eliphaz, and he comes from the ultra-religious wing of society for whom life is very simple. Everything in life fits neatly into their black and white box and it parallels the thinking I’ve observed around fertility in certain subsets of the female population. If you are visibly prospering you must be living upright and piously because God is blessing you. If you are visibly suffering then you must have done something to deserve God’s punishment. Plain and simple.

Too simple. Eliphaz asks, “Who, being innocent ever perished?” Stop right there, Eli. Let me give you a short list off the top of my head:

  • Still born and miscarried children
  • The millions who were marched into the Nazi gas chambers
  • Millions of civilian war victims throughout history
  • The journalists who were beheaded on video by ISIS to make a point
  • The Christian couple I read about in Pakistan who just last week were beaten to death by the Muslims in their village.
  • My friend who was hit by a drunk driver
  • My friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short by incurable diseases

Job has suffered incredible tragedy and the first thing he hears from his friend is a backhanded accusation that he must have done something to bring down God’s wrath upon himself. Eli’s words reveal his heart. He is less concerned with showing love, empathy, and compassion to his friend, and more concerned with trying to reconcile what he’s witnessed with the rose-colored glasses through which he sees a simple black and white world.

Today, I am thinking about those who suffer around me in ways I can’t comprehend. I am determined that I do not want to be a friend like Eliphaz. Trying to reconcile irreconcilable suffering within my personal world-view is less important than simply loving a suffering friend without reservation or judgment.

“Be Strong, Act Like a Man”

Conversation on the deck over wine and cheese before dinner.
Conversation on the deck over wine and cheese before dinner.

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man….”
1 Kings 2:2 (NIV)

Over this past weekend Wendy and I enjoyed deep conversation with our friends. While the discussion ran the gamut from soup to nuts, there was definitely a recurring theme around families and relationships. As conversation meandered through hours of conversation, I noticed a recurring theme of men who had been the source of pain in their marriages and families:

  • The man who lives life to eat, drink, and be merry, but refuses to go deep with his friends, his wife, or his children.
  • The man who is relationally A.W.O.L. while physically present.
  • The man who twists and contorts the Biblical concept of submission into self-centered justification for being an ass to his wife and family.
  • The man who acts like a selfish child when his wife and children need him to step up and be a man.
  • The man who simply chooses out of relationship.
  • The man who caused generations of trouble by refusing to accept an adopted granddaughter as his own.
  • The man who simply walked away at conception.

This morning as I read David’s charge to Solomon to “be strong, act like a man” I was reminded of all of these personal illustrations from the weekend. It saddens me the soul wounds inflicted by men who don’t have a clue what it means to be a man. It saddens me that our culture seems to have, by-and-large, lost the art of raising boys into manhood.

Today, I am praying for the boys and young men who are in my spheres of influence. I am praying for my role as a friend, a mentor, a role model and a guide.