Tag Archives: Metaphor

One Song, Two Stories

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You, God, know my folly;
    my guilt is not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:5 (NIV)

A few months ago I discussed prophetic writing in my Wayfarer Weekend podcast The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story Part 7. Two of the things discussed in that podcast was that the prophetic exists throughout the Great Story, not just in the writings of the prophets themselves and that the prophetic (like all metaphor) can be layered with meaning.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 69, is a great example.

This song of David is quoted more than any other psalm in the New Testament with the exception of Psalm 22. The followers of Jesus saw prophetic images of Jesus in David’s lament:

“Zeal for your house consumes me” foreshadows Jesus clearing the temple of the moneychangers and religious racketeers.

“I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children,” foreshadows Jesus whose family thought He was crazy and sought to have him committed.

Jesus’ suffering, trials, and crucifixion are foreshadowed in verses 19-21:

You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
    all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
    and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
    for comforters, but I found none.
They put gall in my food
    and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

“I am forced to restore, what I did not steal,” prophetically reveals Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed to restore the relational chasm that sin created between God and humanity.

What’s fascinating to me is that this same song was written by David at a time when the consequences of his own faults and sins were at the root of his suffering. David structured the song as if it were two halves. Remember that the “center” refrain in an ancient Hebrew song reveals the theme, the “one thing,” that the song writers is getting at. There are two of them:

You, God, know my folly;
    my guilt is not hidden from you
. (verse 5)

But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
    may your salvation, God, protect me. (verse 29)

The song was all about David’s sinfulness. David even confesses in the lyric that his suffering, the reason his enemies are piling on, are the consequences of his own sinful mistakes. David sees his wounds, his weakness, and his suffering as divine retribution for his own mistakes:

For [my enemies] persecute those you wound,
    and talk about the pain of those you hurt. (verse 26)

So, what David wrote as a lament of confession for his own sins, mistakes, and their painful consequences was, at the very same time, a prophetic vision of Jesus who would come and suffer on a cross to forgive and redeem those sins and mistakes. Talk about beautiful.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think back on the darkest moments of my own life journey when my sins and mistakes wreaked havoc on my life and wounded those I love. I know that feeling. I totally identify with that. I see my own shit in David’s shit. Just like my post a few days ago, I read today’s chapter and my spirit says: “THAT story is my story.”

At the same time, it’s not the WHOLE of my story because Jesus has forgiven, redeemed, and restored my life. My story doesn’t end in the painful consequences of my own mistakes. Because of what Jesus did for me I experienced His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, and His love. He pulled me out of the pit I put myself in. He led me out of the valley of the shadow of death.

One song is layered with meaning and captures both spiritual realities. My mistakes, and Jesus work to redeem those mistakes.

In the stillness, I hear the voice of Corrie Ten Boom on the whispering wind: “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

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

Journey

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Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
    from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

Psalm 68:19-20 (NIV)

Quite obviously, my entire blog and podcast is predicated on the metaphor of the journey. This is not novel or new. All the great epic stories are journeys. The journey is everywhere in the Great Story.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, and find themselves journeying out of fellowship with God into exile into the world.

When God calls Abram, He is told to leave his home and follow to a land that God would show him.

Joseph is sold in slavery by his brothers and journeys to Egypt, where God establishes him in preparation to save his family.

Moses journeys out of Egypt to Midian, then back to Egypt, then through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

The Hebrew people journey from Egypt through the wilderness, to the Promised Land in Canaan.

David flees and journeys through the wilderness until God leads him back and establishes his throne in Jerusalem.

The 23rd Psalm is a journey from pastures, through the valley of the shadow of death, and to the house of the Lord.

Jesus’ ministry was essentially a journey, complete with a period of wilderness wandering, from the rural flyover country of Galilee to His climactic death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

The story of the early Jesus movement was essentially a journey out of Jerusalem and into the world.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 68, is epic in its length. Scholars believe that it was meant to be a liturgical song sung as worshippers journeyed in procession to the temple in Jerusalem. It’s basically a song of two-halves.

The first half (verses 1-18) references the journey of the Hebrews from Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Law, to Mount Zion in Jerusalem where David established God’s temple.

The second half of the song, (verses 19-35) envisions God’s throne established on earth with the nations journeying to Jerusalem to offer gifts to God.

What really stood out to the early followers of Jesus were the first verses of the second half of the song which seems to prophetically point to the suffering and risen Christ:

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
    who daily bears our burdens.
Our God is a God who saves;
    from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.

With that being the hinge, the early believers viewed the second half of the song as a parallel vision to that of John in the Book of Revelation Jesus’ return.

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but meditate on this metaphor of journey. Why does it resonate so deeply in me? What is it about the journey that seems to weave itself into the fabric of everything? We even envision time as a line that moves from one waypoint to another.

For me, the journey resonates with purpose. Remember, I’m an Enneagram Four. Purpose is our core motivation. If this is just a material universe in which life emerged as a cosmic accident, then there is no real purpose to anything other than those things in which we choose to find purpose. But if there is no God, no eternity, no larger purpose to my existence, then it’s all smoke and mirrors and I’m only just fooling myself.

But if I really believe what I say I believe, the 19,927 days from April 30, 1966 to November 18, 2020 has been a journey from one point in time to another. I’ve matured, developed, learned, and progressed. I am not who I was, and not yet who I will be. My past mistakes have led to growth in understanding. My life, and my journey, are part of something larger than myself in the grand scheme, in the Great Story.

I can take comfort in that. It keeps me going. It frames each day. It leads me on, hinged on a savior who daily bears my burdens, who saves, and through whom death is swallowed up in victorious life.

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 Mystery of the Missing Word

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Selah
For God alone my soul waits in silence,

for my hope is in him.
Psalm 62:5 (NRSVCE)

For most of my life journey, I have spent the beginning of my day in quiet. It helps that I have been a morning person my entire life and am typically the first one awake in the house. It has allowed me to create a spiritual rhythm. Each morning it’s just me in my home office. The neighborhood is silent. The household is silent. I am silent.

You may not know it, but silence is endangered in our world. There are a niche of audio artists and recording specialists who endeavor to capture the simple, pure sounds of nature sans the noises of technology and human civilizations encroachment on it. They complain that their jobs and their passion are made increasingly difficult.

Noise is everywhere.

In my podcast series The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story I used three words to guide one’s journey through various sections and genres of ancient text that make up the compilation we call the Bible. The three words are:

Metaphor
Context
Mystery

This morning’s chapter led me into mystery. Bear with me as I lead you through it. I typically read each day’s chapter in The St. John’s Bible, the only handwritten and illuminated copy of the entire Bible produced in the last 500 years or so. I love it. It’s beautiful. It is a transcription of the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE…By the way, I explain why there are all these different versions in The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story Part 2). I will usually then switch and read the chapter a second time in the translation I’ve been most accustomed to for the last thirty years which is the New International Version (NIV). Something was missing:

Selah

In the illuminated manuscript of the St. John’s Bible the word “Selah” was written in red ink along the right margin between verses four and five. In the NIV the word was missing altogether. It was left out.

The game’s afoot, Watson!

Selah is, in and of itself, a mysterious word. The Hebrew language is thousands of years old and it was largely lost to the world for a long time. The result is that there are some Hebrew words that the most knowledgable scholars of the Hebrew language can only shrug their shoulders. The meaning is mysteriously lost to antiquity.

The editors of the NRSV translation chose to leave the mystery in the text.

The editors of the NIV chose to eliminate the word for their readers rather than try to explain it or allow me to consider it.

What a shame. Because mystery is part of the on-going journey of the Great Story, and words are literally metaphors. These squiggly lines made by pixels on my screen are just that. They are lines, symbols that my brain instantly turns into phonetic sounds which make words which are layered with meaning. And, as I continually remind myself, mystery is that which I can endlessly understand (Thank you Fr. Rohr).

It is popularly speculated that the word Selah was some kind of musical rest or pause because it always appears in the middle of musical lyrics such as the Psalms or the poetic work of the prophet Habakkuk. While this is pure speculation and educated guess, what modern wayfarers journeying through the Great Story have done is to find a layer of meaning in the letters and sounds of the word Selah.

I read:

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is in him.

But when I consider that the word Selah might very well mean to actually stop, pause, rest, wait a second, or as The Passion Translation chooses to say: “Pause in God’s Presence” then the verse takes on added meaning:

Selah (Pause in God’s Presence)
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is in him.

In a world of endangered silence, with ceaseless noise of humanity encroaching on me 24/7/365, I find this morning that I need the mystery of Selah, even if the metaphor is purely a layer of meaning I have chosen to attach to it in the endless understanding of possibility.

My spirit needs the pause.

Waiting. Silent. I hear the still, small voice of Holy Spirit.

Love. Peace. Joy. Hope.

Selah.

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

Same Song, Only Different

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God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
    you put them to shame, for God despised them.

Psalm 53:5b (NIV)

Wendy and I really enjoy being fans. For us, the fun is in being loyal to our teams, following them, knowing the players, following the drama, cheering for them, and experiencing what ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to describe each week as “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

A few years ago we found ourselves feeling the emptiness in the depth of our Iowa winter. January through March always feels like a slog, but we realized that it was made worse for us because our Vikings’ season was over and it would be April before our Cubs’ would begin their annual campaign. For whatever reason, the NBA has never tripped our trigger. So, we decided it was time to join our son-in-law Clayton and give the English Premier League a shot.

We knew that for us the fun is in following a team, so we began researching the various teams in a search for the team to whom we would pledge our loyalty. It’s surprising how many resources there are on the internet for Americans trying to choose a Premier League team. In the end, we chose to become fans of Liverpool FC (Football Club). And, as silly as it sounds, the clincher for us was the song.

One of the endearing things about Premier League is the singing. During most pre-covid matches when the stands are packed you’ll hear the crowd singing. Not just a specific moment in the match, like singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the middle of the 7th Inning. Premier League fans often sing themselves hoarse through the entire match. There are typically different songs fans have for different players, and teams typically adopt a theme song.

Liverpool’s theme song is Gerry and the Pacemaker’s You’ll Never Walk Alone which also happens to be a song from the Broadway Musical Carousel. Wendy and I discovered this fact in our research and then pulled up a YouTube video of the Liverpool crowd singing it before a match. We got goosebumps, and it sealed the deal. Two Liverpool fans were born.

So, you might be wondering to yourself, “Where on earth are you going with this?” Well, if you’ve followed my blog and/or podcast for anything length of time you know that I’m fond of saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is layered with meaning. The song You’ll Never Walk Alone is a great example.

For many people like Wendy and me, the song has been forever tied to the musical Carousel. A teenager growing up in the early 1960s might never have known it was from a Broadway musical, but the version by Gerry and the Pacemakers might have tremendous emotional ties to a crush they had on a boy or girl, dancing cheek-to-cheek at a school dance, or listening with friends on a crackly AM car radio as you scooped the loop. Then Liverpool takes the same song and it becomes an anthem of solidarity, loyalty, and community for fans of their football club around the world.

For me, the most interesting thing about today’s chapter, Psalm 53, is that it is virtually identical to Psalm 14. If you put them side-by-side you’ll notice that it’s the same song, but verse 5 is different. Scholars believe that the nation took David’s original and co-opted it after a national victory over armies who had sought to destroy them as in the story found in 2 Chronicles 20 when they were unexpectedly attacked by the army of Edom. When David wrote the song to mean one thing during his life and his generation, but a subsequent generation took the same song, the same lyrics, and made it about another thing.

In the quiet this morning, it has me thinking about something I’ve frequently observed in my perpetual journey through the Great Story. Something that had little or no meaning for me thirty years ago might suddenly be powerfully important for me today at this waypoint on Life’s road. Things that meant one thing to me then might take on a whole new layer of meaning for me now. I’m so grateful to my mentors who taught me at the beginning of my spiritual journey that reading and studying the Great Story was not a one-and-done deal. “On it you shall meditate both day and night,” says Joshua 1:8, the very first verse I memorized when I was 15. And, that’s what I’ve tried to do, and it’s made an unfathomable difference in both my spiritual journey and my life journey.

The Great Story meets me where I am every morning. A verse, or chapter, or passage can help me frame my past, make sense of my present, and direct my course for the future all at the same time.

Thanks for walking with me this morning and reminding me that “I’ll never walk alone.”

Go Liverpool! 🙂

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

King of the Mountain

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God is king over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne.

Psalm 47:8 (NRSVCE)

I think that the changing of the seasons brings back certain specific childhood memories. Here in Iowa the last few weeks have ushered in the harsh realities of winter. The snow has already begun to descend. In yesterday’s post I was thinking specifically about the memories of walking to-and-from school. This morning, it’s snow.

The cool thing for a kid growing up the city in Iowa was the way snow completely transformed the landscape. Not only did it layer everything with this thick blanket of white, but the snowplows and shovels created tiny mountain ranges of snow on every street corner, parking lot, playground, and driveway.

For kids this meant one thing: a game called “King of the Mountain!”

The game is simple. Climb to the top. Stake your claim as King of the Mountain, then get ready to take on all challengers your throne on the mountaintop of ice and snow. Go!! Seriously. Between King of the Mountain, public smoking, the ability for any child to buy cigarettes out of a vending machine, and the fact that seat belts were considered optional accessories that you stuffed into the crack between the seats so they wouldn’t poke you…How did we survive childhood in the 1970’s?!

Why did my brain go there this morning? Today’s chapter is Psalm 47 which was a song of enthronement. In all ancient Mesopotamian cultures the celebration of a king’s enthronement was a huge deal. There was a parade, a procession, loud music, an entire nation dancing, clapping, singing…think Kool & the Gang singing “Celebrate good times! Come on!” (Man, now my brain is stuck on Memory Ln.!)

The fascinating thing about this Hebrew song of enthronement is that the metaphor is that of God ascending His holy mountain (for the Hebrews that was Mount Zion where God’s temple was located) to be enthroned over all the earth, all the nations, all of creation.

The metaphor of God as king is one that that emerged during the time of the ancient monarchy of the Hebrews. The prophet Isaiah has his famous vision of being taken up into the throne room of God. The theme was written into the liturgical worship songs like Psalm 47. It is carried on through the entirety of the Great Story. The Messiah was pictured as king over the entire earth. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles all referenced Jesus sitting at “the right hand of the Father” in heaven. Paul (who had his own wild vision experience of being taken up into heaven) referred to Jesus as “King of Kings,” and he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi:

Therefore God also highly exalted [Jesus]
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the throne room of heaven where “The Lamb who was slain” sits on the throne.

Enthronement is a big deal in the Great Story, but the metaphor has very personal implications. When I became a follower of Jesus on a frigid Iowa winter night back in 1981, I knew that it was time for me to stop spiritually playing “King of the Mountain” with my own soul. I told Jesus that I was stepping down as king of my own life, and I invited Jesus to be enthroned in my heart and my life. I confess that I haven’t always been a perfect subject, but that spiritual reality has never changed for me over the last forty years. I have continually sought to give Jesus dominion on the throne of my life and pursue His purposes for me in this life journey.

And, what’s cool is that the metaphor doesn’t end there. Having spiritually abdicated and given Jesus the throne of my life, Jesus did not consider me an enemy, a threat, a usurper to be banished from the kingdom and taken out lest I try to take back the throne. No, I get adopted into the royal family. I am given a place, a role, an inheritance, and, in the Great Story, I am now referenced as a “co-heir” with Jesus. I have a place in the procession, at the king’s table, in the king’s family.

You know what that makes me think?!

[cue: Kool and the Gang]

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

Love Song

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The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
in many-colored robes she is led to the king;
    behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.

Psalm 45:14 (NRSVCE)

How on earth could you put together an anthology of the lyrics of 150 songs and not have at least one love song in it?

Today’s chapter, Psalm 45, is the lone love song in the book of Psalms. It was penned for the wedding celebration between the King and the princess of another nation who was being married as part of a political alliance between the two countries. The thought was that one king wouldn’t attack another king if that king was a son-in-law. It also meant that you had a family member who had eyes and ears on what was going on within a rival’s palace. This was a common diplomatic practice throughout history even into the last century. If you look at a chart of European royal families it looks like a spider’s web with all the crossing and intersecting lines. Even Queen Elizabeth married her own cousin.

The song is written from the perspective of the bride looking at her groom and singing of how handsome, strong, and powerful he is. The song’s climax is the bride and her virgin bridesmaids walking into the king’s palace and the very next verse is a promise to bear the king many sons (which was a sign of strength and succession), and also a little racy because it alludes to what’s going to happen once she enters the king’s chambers.

The chapter is also interesting from how it was used in history. After the Hebrews returned from exile in Babylon, psalm 45 was considered a messianic psalm pointing to the messiah who would come and ascend the throne of David. That is interesting because marriage was used by Jesus repeatedly as a metaphor when discussing His second coming and the climactic apocalyptic event known as “the Day of the Lord.” The metaphor is that Jesus will come back like a bridegroom to be united with all believers, collectively and metaphorically referenced as the bride.

In my podcast series The Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (I know, I know. I have two episodes left, and I will get a Wayfarer Weekend podcast done this weekend I promise!), I mention that God’s language is metaphor precisely because it can be layered with meaning. When I was a young man attending a fundamentalist Bible college I told to interpret passages like today’s psalm only in terms of its spiritual, prophetic meaning. I mean, we wouldn’t want young people in hormonal overdrive thinking about what’s going on in the king’s bed chamber.

Along my journey, I came to realize that this is not a case of “either or” but “both and.” Yes, there is messianic metaphorical imagery in the song, but that’s not why it was written. It was written as a love song to celebrate a beautiful princess entering the palace and the bed chamber of the king. Man, woman, wedding, love, expression of love, life, pro-creation. That’s beautiful. That’s holy.

[cue: Barry White]

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 Storms and Shelter

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The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

Psalm 29:10 (NRSVCE)

Just a few weeks ago the people of Iowa learned a new vocabulary word: derecho. The straight-line wind storm with hurricane-force winds blew through the state and caused an amazing amount of damage. We had friends who were without power for several days. I’m fortunate that our little town was on the southern tip of the storms and we were largely spared from the brunt of the damage. I did find myself running around our neighborhood chasing garbage and recycling bins that were getting blown around the street, which was fun.

There is something about the power of nature that both reminds us how powerless we are, and reminds us of Power greater than ourselves. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome and said:

...from the creation of the world, the invisible qualities of God’s nature have been made visible, such as his eternal power and transcendence. He has made his wonderful attributes easily perceived, for seeing the visible makes us understand the invisible.

Whether it’s standing in awe of the mountains, the ocean, a beautiful sunset, or the ominous threat of a midwest thunderstorm, humanity has always made a connection between the creation we interact with around us and the Creator.

Today’s psalm is a fascinating departure from the repeated song writing pattern I mentioned yesterday. It might be argued that David is describing a derecho-like storm as it blows in over the raging seas of the Mediterranean, blows down cedar trees in the forest of Lebanon, thunders its way south as David stands on the ramparts of Jerusalem and sees the black clouds flashing with God’s pyrotechnic lightning display. The storm moves south into the wilderness and David meditates on the display of the overwhelming power of creation he has witnessed. He finishes the song in wonder of the God of Creation who is the source behind, and enthroned over, such an awesome presentation of intense force.

In the quiet this morning as I write this post, I have very specific memories of storms I’ve witnessed, storms I’ve been in, and storms I survived. I’m actually surprised at how many specific memories I can access from my brain’s hard-drive. Amazing.

It’s a good reminder that along this life journey I am bound to have storms blow through. And not just tornados. There are the storms of relational conflict, sickness, financial loss, unforeseen tragedies, pandemics…there will always be powerful forces I don’t control that will affect my life. I’m reminded that on Wednesday, David’s lyric reminded me that

…[God] will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble

Growing up in Iowa, I learned very early in life that it’s important to make sure you always have shelter from the storm.

That lesson is layered with meaning that has nothing to do with the weather.

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 Layers and Flow

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:3 (NIV)

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Life has a rhythm. It has a beat and a flow.

One of the things I’ve observed along the way is that God creates things with layers. I’m constantly saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is always layered with meaning. Life exists on the micro-sub-atomic level and the macro-universe level. My friend Todd, a physical therapist, talked to me over the Fourth of July weekend about the challenges of his profession. The body, he explained, is so infinitely complex that isolating the cause of a patient’s pain sometimes becomes an unexplained mystery. The body is layered with systems that affect one another in strange ways.

In the same way, my life is layered. My well-being and attitude result from the state of many intertwining layers: physical, mental, relational, vocational, social, personal, financial, marital, parental, sexual, recreational, and spiritual.

Over the past three psalms, all written by the song-writing, warrior King David, I can’t help but notice a theme emerging regarding time of day. In the past two songs, David explains that he goes to bed at night and rests with peace and contentment because of his trust in God. In today’s psalm, David explains that his morning begins with time with God. Every morning he lays out his heart, his desires, his fears, his requests and then waits expectantly for God to do His thing.

In other words, David’s day begins with God. David’s day ends with God. In between, David’s day is waiting on, watching for, expecting, and trusting God to respond, act, interact, deliver, surround, save, answer, help, and intercede. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God is not just an isolated, religious compartment of his weekly routine that gets opened for an hour at the Temple on Sabbath and during mid-week Torah studies with the small group from his synagogue. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God permeated, informed, intersected, and affected every other layer of his life.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the conversation Wendy and I had early this morning in which we talked about the rhythm of our lives, how our physical and mental layers have changed over time, and what that means to the flow of the spiritual layer of how God is flowing in and through each of us, and both of us.

There are so many layers to life. I’ve experienced in my journey that if, like David, I’ve got the spiritual layer continually connected to God and flowing through all the other layers, the rhythm of each day and night flows better. And, when things aren’t flowing well in my life, I usually find that there’s a layer of my life that got disconnected from the spiritual layer and my relationship with God.

By the way, David’s layers got disconnected from time-to-time with really tragic results. It happens to all of us. I’ve also experienced that the quickly I reestablish connection, the more quickly things get back to a steady, healthy flow.

Time to flow into another day. Flow well today, my friend.

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

I Smell.

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“You shall make an altar on which to offer incense…”
Exodus 30:1 (NRSVCE)

I typically keep a fragrant candle on the desk in my office. I like scents of vanilla the best. Right now I’ve been trying out a candle labeled as “tobacco and vanilla.” I thought it might remind me of the smell of my grandfather’s pipe. Not so much. I do, however, like the scent.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that smell is the physical sense to which we give the least attention. Sight, hearing, taste, and touch get the most of our attention. Our olfactory senses aren’t as necessary for human survival as they once were. Nevertheless, a scent can create a powerful response with me. Some experts say that smells plays more of a role in attracting a mate than we even realize. More consciously, it can bring back a memory like the smell of a rose reminding me of my Grandma Vander Well’s perfume. It can create a sense of peace and security like the smell of freshly baked bread wafting up from the kitchen. It also works in negative terms. Some smells give me a headache or can make me feel physically ill.

Incense played a large part in ancient religious ceremonies. In today’s chapter, God continues to prescribe to Moses how the Hebrew tribes will worship. The chapter begins with designs for an altar on which incense is to be perpetually burned and it ends with a unique recipe for the fragrant ingredients a perfumer is to blend the incense. Because the fragrant oil used to anoint Aaron and the priests, and the incense burned in the traveling temple was unique, the smell would become associated in the hearts and minds of the Hebrews with being present at God’s place and giving their sacrifices and offerings. The smoke of the burning incense also became a metaphor for the prayers of God’s people wafting up to heaven.

Incense once again became part of worship in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions in Christianity, though I have head it argued that it was primarily a practical way for the priest to overcome the powerful pungency of body odor emanating from the poor, unbathed masses packing into the church on Sunday. It was never a formally prescribed practice of the early followers of Jesus. In the New Testament, the only references to incense point to either the practice in the Hebrew ritual or else to John’s visions of heaven in Revelation.

The use of incense in Hebrew worship was, however, linked to an important metaphor understood by early believers. In his second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul writes:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.
2 Cor 2:14-16 (NIV)

Once again, I find that the physical bricks-and-mortar (or in this case oil-and-incense) of the Hebrew system matures through Jesus and shifts into a flesh-and-blood understanding of what God is doing. In the former, people came to a central location where the fragrance of the priests and the burning incense reminded them of God’s presence. In the latter, every follower of Jesus becomes part of a “royal priesthood” taking the fragrance of Jesus with us wherever we go and among any and all people with whom we interact in our circles of relationship and community.

I have spent twenty-five years in a career in which I travel and regularly visit our clients in their places of business around the country. I am always praying that I will be the fragrance of Christ while I am there conducting training sessions, making executive presentations, and coaching or mentoring individuals.. What’s fascinating to me is that I have on several occasions had someone literally ask me if I’m a Christian. When I confess that I am, the response is typically, “I knew it. I could just tell.” Equally fascinating to me is that in almost every long-term engagement with a client there is an individual or two who react to my presence with intense animosity. In those instances, I get to practice returning curses with blessings and showing (often unreciprocated) kindness.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think of the message I gave yesterday among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Today’s chapter so beautifully illustrates a point I was making. I observe that many are stuck in the old paradigm of a religious institution founded on the notion of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. People gather to do the regularly scheduled religious bit, then forget about it until my next scheduled appearance on Sunday, or Christmas, or Easter.

Jesus changed all that in practice. He started with getting the Kingdom of God into the individual, transforming the human being into the Temple in whom God’s Spirit dwells. It is the individual who takes God’s Kingdom wherever they go and impacts people in every relationship and circles of influence. I don’t burn incense at the temple, I am the temple from which God’s fragrance seeps out in my love, kindness, gentleness, patience, faithfulness and self-control. Some are attracted. Some are repelled. That’s something I don’t control, though how I respond to it is.

Monday. Another week. Holiday coming up. I have appointments, a little travel, and a weekend full of friends. Hope I’m fragrant in all the good ways.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

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

Spiritual Horticulture

Then [Jesus] said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.
Mark 11:14, 20 (NIV)

Over the past three or four years, Wendy and I have worked on a phased landscaping plan for our yard. I’m glad to say that this past year was the final phase (for now). I have never been very good with plants and often joke that I have a brown thumb. Nevertheless, I have been growing in my proficiency as I try to keep the lawn, bushes, trees, flowers, grasses, and shrubs alive.

One of the fascinating things for me to watch is what happens when we plant multiples of certain plants. They may look exactly the same when I planted them, and while they are in the same bed and treated to the same amounts of light and water, one of them will die. I’m sure there are very good reasons why this happened (that I don’t care to spend time figuring out), but it always leaves me scratching my head a bit.

In today’s chapter, Mark tells a curious episode of Jesus and a fig tree. He and His followers were walking from the temple in Jerusalem back to where they were staying. Jesus sees a fig tree and looks for a fig to eat. Finding none, He curses the tree and says, “May no one eat fruit from you again.” The next morning on their walk back to the temple, the disciples find the fig tree withered.

I found myself pondering this rather curious episode this morning just as I would scratch my head wondering why in the world that one arborvitae on the north side of our lawn didn’t make it.

As I am fond of saying, God’s base language is metaphor. Jesus rarely did anything that was not intended to be a metaphorical lesson, so there is little doubt in my mind that the cursing of the fig tree was not just a moment of hunger-induced rage. So, what was that all about?

Jesus and the disciples have arrived at the epicenter of Jewish worship and power. In Jesus’ day, the temple consumed about 25% of Jerusalem area-wise and first-hand accounts say that as many as two million spiritual pilgrims would visit to celebrate the Passover. Passover was the festival which annually memorialized the Hebrews miraculously being freed from enslavement in Egypt (e.g. The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner). Being at the temple would have been a huge deal for Jesus’ followers. Think Times Square on New Year’s Eve, New Orleans on Mardi Gras, or Washington D.C. on the 4th of July.

As Jesus passes the fig tree they have just left the temple. They arrived late in the day and Mark records that they only had time to “look around” at the temple, the crowds, the courts, and the merchants. For Jesus and the disciples, who were from the simple, backwater region Galilee, I have to believe the sights, sounds, and smells of the awe-inspiring location would have been what was on everyone’s minds as they walked.

As I mulled this over, I was reminded of another episode from Matthew’s version of Jesus’ story. This happened during the very same visit to Jerusalem:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Matthew 24:1-2 (NIV)

Then there’s the metaphor of “fruit” which Jesus repeatedly used in His teaching, especially when talking about the religious leaders who ran the very temple they’d just exited:

Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 7:17-19 (NIV)

As I connected the dots, the metaphorical meaning of Jesus’ actions with the fig tree came into focus. The temple and the Law of Moses had been intended to bear good, spiritual fruit in the lives of God’s people, their community, and the world. Instead, it had become a corrupt, institutional religious system centered on power, prejudice, and greed. It was a religious tree bearing bad spiritual fruit. In the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus was providing a prophetic word picture to His followers consistent with what He had been teaching them all along.

Forty years after the events described in today’s chapter, the Roman Empire would tear down the temple and reduce it to rubble. They would also destroy the genealogical records necessary for determining who was able to perform priestly duties, sacrifices, and care for the temple according to the Law of Moses. In essence, the temple “tree” had been cut down for good.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded that the same metaphor of “fruit” would continue to be central to the teaching of Jesus’ followers:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Paul’s Letter to Jesus’ followers in Galatia 5:22-23 (MSG)

As I enter this post-Easter week in a world turned upside-down, I’m reminded that Jesus was never about being a religious rule-keeper. He was about being a cultivator of the spiritual fruit of love in life and relationships. And, I desire to have a green thumb when it comes to spiritual horticulture.

Now, if I could just figure out what the heck happened to those Pencil-Point Junipers by the patio. Oh well. Not as important.

All of Tom’s chapter-a-day posts from Mark are compiled in a simple visual index for you.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!