Tag Archives: Old

Before “Old Things Pass Away,” They Often Lure Me Back

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Exodus 32:1 (NRSVCE)

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Along my life’s journey, I have gone through multiple stretches of time in which my life experienced major change. In each one, it was a period of upheaval, deep introspection, conscious breaking with old patterns of thought and behavior, seeking to reach for new things that were further up and further in than anything I’d experienced before. Each time I have gone through one of these shifts has been a period of discomfort. Comfort, on the other hand, is both simple and easy. All I had to do was stay in the same patterns of thought, relationship, and behavior.

When I was in my mid-to-late twenties I began to seriously address some hard-wired, addictive behaviors, and unhealthy patterns of thought and relationships in my life. I began working with a counselor and going to support-groups with others who were dealing with their own unhealthy patterns. One of the things that quickly came into focus for me was that many of the patterns of thought and behavior I was struggling with were present in me as a child and in my adolescence.

In a moment of God’s synchronicity, I just happened to be traveling on business to the city where my older brother lived. My brother is seven years older than me and we rarely saw one another in those days. We got together for dinner and I discovered that he was walking his own version of trying to figure out his own unhealthy patterns. As dinner turned into several hours of late-night conversation, we found ourselves attempting to unravel and understand a mystery to us both. Why, when we return home as adults, do we seem to fall back into what feels like this defined role we had always played in the system with which our family operated, complete with scripted lines, well-rehearsed relational blocking? My brother and I walked that stretch of the journey together. In fact, we’re still on it! But, together we’ve made significant progress and some really worthwhile personal discoveries that have informed our respective lives and relationships.

For anyone who grew up annually watching The Ten Commandments with their family every Easter/Passover weekend, today’s chapter should be eerily familiar. Several chapters ago, Moses when up the mountain to talk with God. It’s been over a month now, and he still hasn’t come down from the mountain. So, the Hebrews basically give-up on their relatively new leader and his unfamiliar God with His really strange belief system. They approach Aaron and ask him to make for them a god just like one of the 1500 gods they were familiar with back in Egypt. Aaron relents, makes a golden calf god, and Moses finds the camp in religious revelry.

I confess this morning that every time I watched the movie and every time I’ve read this story before, I have been led to the prescribed audience reaction. I shake my head and whisper a “tsk, tsk” in self-righteous judgment for the weak-minded Hebrews.

This morning, however, I’m seeing it in a whole new way. The Hebrews were only doing what I so often do. I try to push forward into being more like Jesus in how I think, act, and related to others only to find myself slipping back into comfortable old’ patterns that are comfortable, simple, and easy. I spiritually go home and just mindlessly play the old role I’ve always played. It’s just easier. The Hebrews are simply doing the same. God is pushing them out of Egypt, out of victim-mentality, out of the chains of slave-mindedness, into the spiritual boot camp of the wilderness, into a new way of understanding and a new level of maturing relationship. It feels hard, uncomfortable, strange, and unfamiliar. So, they default to back to what is familiar, comfortable, and easy.

In the quiet this morning, I’m recognizing a pattern that has emerged in this chapter-a-day journey through the Moses-story. I keep seeing how the Moses story relates to the Jesus story. Jesus, like Moses, led His followers into major shifts in understanding God, how we have a relationship with God, and how that should lead us to relate to one another and our world. However, when the Jesus movement became the institution of the Holy Roman Empire it was the golden calf moment for Jesus’ followers. In short order, the Jesus movement went back to old, entrenched patterns of social hierarchy, patriarchy, and religious institutionalism.

How do I change? How to I grow? How do I allow old things to pass away and lay hold of the new things God has for me? I’m still learning that piece, but I have learned along the way that it takes both willful determination and the faith to jump and trust that the net will appear. It requires the patience and perseverance to endure discomfort and to keep running even when I hit the wall. It’s helpful, almost essential, to have good companions with me and good mentors out ahead of me. It demands that I learn to have grace with myself when I stumble, stall, and fall back; To receive the grace that God endlessly showers on me if I simply open my heart to it.

It requires that I press on.

And so, on this Monday morning I’m lacing ’em up once again. Another wayfaring stranger on his way home over Jordan.

Thanks for being my companion on the journey today, my friend.

Let’s go!

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

Out with the Old, In with the New

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)

A couple of weeks ago Wendy and I went through a process of going through ever article of clothing we own. All the closets were emptied along with the drawers, boxes, bins, and racks. We went through everything and then had discussions about keeping, selling, pitching, and giving. It took a few hours on two different Saturdays, but it was well worth the time. What was left was manageable and organized. Having taken a thoughtful inventory,  it became clear in the process where there are opportunities to update and improve.

In today’s chapter, Paul mentions a similar process of spiritual inventory and life change. As you break it down in the English translation, there are three distinct steps in the process:

  1. Put off your old self. What old habits am I hanging on to, even though they haven’t served me well? Why do I cling to behaviors that only cause me and my loved ones pain and problems? What immature appetites do I continue to indulge when nothing good or worthwhile comes of it?
  2. Be made new in the attitude of the mind. The word “repent” has gotten a bad rap in our culture, conjuring up images of fire-and-brimstone preachers spewing condemnation. It’s a good word, however, and Jesus was clear that following Him required decision and change. Paul tells me in that the process of old-to-new life change starts with my mind and attitude. Willingness, desire, and openness to change coupled with a conscious decision to act.
  3. Put on a new self. When I empty out the old, I find myself all of a sudden with room. If I don’t consciously make wise choices of what to do with the time and space, then I’m only going to find myself cluttering up with the same old junk. Then I’m back to where I began. Once I’ve cleaned up the old, I need to intentionally change how I fill up the Life-space.

I continue to be pleasantly surprised how much better I feel about something as simple and silly as my wardrobe and closet after working through what ended up being a very simple process. I’m reminded by today’s chapter that the same process works more meaningful and worthwhile things in life.

I write this on a Monday morning. The beginning of a new work week is a good morning to meditate on things that I need to “put off,” decisions that need to be made, and new things that I need to “put on” in life.

The Wisdom of Those Who’ve Gone Before

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.
2 Chronicles 10:8 (NIV)

Like most young people, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life. As a young man I’d heard God’s calling to be a Messenger and  I made a young man’s naive assumption that this necessitated some kind of full-time vocational ministry. For whatever reason, I decided to go to a handful of my elders who were in pastoral ministry and ask them a question: “If you had the ability to go back and do college all over again, what would you do differently?

I found it fascinating that the answers I received from different people were eerily similar. They told me that they found much of their their Biblical studies in undergraduate and graduate school to be wasted repetition. “When you go to college, study something you love. Follow your passion and your gifts,” they told me. I listened, and majored in Communication with an emphasis in Theatre. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

One of the great life lessons I learned in that experience was that seeking the advice of those who have gone before me is a wise thing to do.

Solomon’s son Rehoboam had enjoyed a charmed life. He was heir to the throne and was afforded all of the privileges that came with the wealth, opulence, and deference that came with being the one who would succeed his successful father. We can assume that he and his frat-boy buddies grew up getting everything they wanted and being denied little or nothing they desired. In his very first political crisis, Rehoboam makes a classic young person’s mistake. Like me, he received the advice of his elders, but he chose to listen to his homies instead.  He foolishly chose the path of power instead of the path of mercy. He chose pride over humility. It cost him the kingdom and ranks as one of the most memorable and epic fails in recorded history.

This morning I’m looking back at my life and feeling gratitude for the grace that was afforded me to seek and heed wise counsel as a young man. As I transition to a new position of leadership in business this year I realize that seeking the wise counsel of those who’ve gone before me on this path is now almost second nature. I’ve learned that the journey goes much smoother when I seek the wisdom of those who’ve already traversed the section of life’s road I currently find myself trekking.

“This Changes Everything”

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:13 (NIV)

Have you stopped to think how radically technology has changed in our lifetime? How clunky does a first generation iPhone seem to most of us today? Or a flip-phone? The first iPhone was just ten years ago. Think about your first personal computer. How different was it from what you use today? My first computer was an IBM PS1 and it didn’t even have a hard drive. I had to buy and install a 300 Mb hard drive and I thought that was all I would ever need! Oh my, how the landscape has changed on this life journey.

Yesterday over breakfast Wendy admitted to me that she doesn’t enjoy the book of Hebrews that we’re wading through on this chapter-a-day journey. Her sentiment is shared by many, I’m guessing. I understand it. We tend to love books like Proverbs with its simple wisdom, Psalms with its emotional poetry, or the Gospels with their fascinating take on Jesus’ story. Hebrews, however, rarely gets mentioned as a “favorite,” even by me. Perhaps that’s why it’s been five years since the last time I blogged through it.

One of the reasons I think we struggle with Hebrews is that the letter was written to a very specific audience for a very specific purpose. The author was writing to first century Jews in an effort to unpack the tectonic, theological paradigm shift  they were experiencing. For the original readers, this was life changing stuff. This was a rotary-dial, chorded phone to an iPhone 8 kind of shift in thinking about God. It’s hard for us to appreciate just how radical of a change this was for them.

In Jewish thought, the concept of “covenant” was/is an important one. Covenant means agreement, like an official binding contract. Throughout the Great Story there are a number of important covenants God makes with humanity. The most important of these covenants to the original readers of Hebrews was the covenant God made through Moses that included the ten commandments, the “law” along with an entire system of sacrifices, offerings, and feasts.

Jesus was a Hebrew as were all twelve of his inner circle. The early Christians were known simply as a Hebrew/Jewish sect before the teachings of Jesus spread through the Greco-Roman empire and “turned the world upside down.” Now, the author of Hebrews argues, God fulfilled what was prophetically foretold by Jeremiah 600 years prior. Like emerging technology is to us today, this was emerging theology for first century Hebrew believers. It’s just as the Apple ad for the first iPhone said: “This changes everything!” God is making a new covenant through Jesus that makes the covenant of Moses obsolete.

One of the overarching themes in the Great Story is rebirth, regeneration, renewal, and resurrection. Old things pass away, new things come. Death leads to life. The old covenant has given way to a new covenant. That’s the point the author of Hebrews is getting at.

This morning I’m sitting and pondering the many things that have “passed away” in my life across my own personal journey. I’m thinking about the many new things that I’ve experienced which were unthinkable to me in my earlier years. This is part of the fabric of creation. It’s part of any good story line. Few of us would read a book or watch a movie in which nothing happens.

In the quiet I find myself expressing to God my openness to embracing wherever it is this journey is leading. This includes being open to things that may need to pass away, and new things that may emerge unexpectedly…whatever those things may be.

Btw, I’m not talking about the iPhone 8 😉

 

The Recurring Theme of “Old and New”

theoden-transformation-gif

On this last weekday of 2016 it seems to me a bit of divine synchronicity that I should read these words from the ancient prophet, Isaiah:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!”
Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

Old gives way to new. Growth. Metamorphosis. Transformation. As I have journeyed through God’s Message these many years I find this to be one of the basic, recurring themes in all of God’s Message to us. In fact, it’s a recurring theme in all that God has created. God is all about transformation:

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
– Jesus (Matthew 9:17)

 “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
– Jesus (Matthew 13:52)

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.”
– Jesus (Mark 2:21)

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 7:6

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1,4

Another year draws to a close. Once again I am prompted to reflect on where I’ve been, recognize where I am, and set course for where I’m going. I can’t do anything about yesterday. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. But I can choose what I think, say, and do today. I will set my trajectory. I can make a course correction. I can let go of that which has brought death. I can reach out and choose Life.

This morning, I find my spirit whispering (once again):

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

chapter a day banner 2015

Character Arc

scriptworkThis means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

Writers, actors and playwrights will often talk about “arcs” in a story or a particular character. When preparing for a role, I think through where my character is (as a person, in relation to himself, to other characters in the play, to God, and etc.) as the play opens and where he ends up at the end of the play. The real work of the play is to discover the thoughts, actions, conflicts, and obstacles that occur between the two.

Art imitates life. The same questions I ask myself as a character in a play are worthy of being asked in my every day life. Those who profess a relationship with Jesus are living out a spiritual character arc and should quickly be able to describe the following:

  • This is who I was before I entered into a relationship with Jesus
  • This is who I have become in my journey of following Jesus
  • This is who I am becoming and and ever hope to be as I am transformed by Jesus

Of course, like all good plays, we don’t know the end of the story until the final curtain. And, like all good stories and plays, if I cannot point out and see my own character development then something is dreadfully amiss (and critics will likely rip me a part).

Personal transformation and and character arc are evidence of those who truly follow after Jesus. As God works in us, our lives become a living, compelling story.

What’s your story?

The Old Man in the Crowd

"If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them." - Carl Bales
“If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them.” – Carl Bales

Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
    they will remain vital and green.
Psalm 92:14 (NLT)

Most people that I find myself around are younger than me. Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of friends who are my age or older. Most of the time, however, I find myself around younger people and I am the unmistaken “old man” in the room. Because my hair started to gray at an early age and I inherited the hearing loss gene from the Vander Well side of the family, it sort of puts the proverbial frosting on the cake. “Who’s that gray haired, deaf guy hanging out with those young people?” 

I’m exaggerating, but the truth is that sometimes I feel it acutely.

When I was young I often felt marginalized and dismissed by older people because of my youth. I memorized a verse from Paul’s letter to a young Timothy: “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” I worked hard to earn people’s respect and trust.

Now that I am older, I find that young people can just as easily marginalize and be dismissive of those who are older. I now look back at my younger self and realize that while I was feeling dismissed by older generations I was just as dismissive of them for being “out of touch” with my generation and the times.

Age is a funny thing. I’ve come to the conclusion that the suspicious dismissing of the young by the old, and the suspicious dismissing of the old by the young is a natural part of life. It will never change. The bottom line is that I want to cultivate life and produce good fruit every step of my earthly journey until I cross the finish line. Every generation has much to contribute and much to teach me if I’m willing to listen (and if I have my hearing aids in) and engage in life giving conversation. I can’t do anything about what other generations think of me other than be an example in my love and life. I can, however, act to appreciate and honor the generations that came before me and the generations that are coming up behind me.

I’m sorry. What was that you said?

Doing the Harlem Shake with Theatre Central

When my fellow cast members told me we were going to do the Harlem Shake, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. As Carl Bales used to tell me: “If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try and keep up with them.”

Strong Through the Home Stretch

English: 2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland) 中...
English: 2007 Dublin City Marathon (Ireland) 中文: 2007年爱尔兰都柏林城马拉松 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 17

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Genesis 17:17 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I memorized and clung to this line from Paul’s letter to his young protege Timothy:

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.

I figured that if God had given me spiritual gifts like everyone else, then I was totally going to use those gifts and be of service. I wanted to make a difference. I tried to instill that same spirit in my daughters in their youth, and continue to get jazzed when I see young people with a passion for God actively living out their faith.

Today, I’m at a different place in the journey. If averages and genetics hold sway, you could say that I’m still in mid-life. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the fact that I’m likely on the downhill side. Instead of not letting others think less of me because I’m young, I sometimes feel the need not to let others think less of me because I’m old. As technology advances at breakneck speeds, I wonder if the gulf between generations is expanding and making it easier for in the back stretch and making the final turn to feel irrelevant and lost.

I think that it’s awesome that God made such a huge play in Abram’s life right when Abram was turning 100 and Sarai was in her nineties. God willing, I want the last half of my life to be more productive than the first. I want to live with purpose and witness God doing big things in and through my life when I’m old. I don’t want to stagger and limp to the finish. God grant that I finish strong. I want to be kicking it in to a full sprint when I hit the home stretch and find myself heading for the tape.

You go, Abe.

Still Playing My Part, to the Best of My Ability

tom as warbucks
Playing Warbucks

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 71

Now that I am old and gray,
do not abandon me, O God.
Let me proclaim your power to this new generation,
your mighty miracles to all who come after me.
Psalm 71:18 (NLT)

One of the things I’ve learned from the stage is knowing your part and your place. I’ve played parts under many different directors. Some of them have been brilliant and knew far more than I will ever know. Others have been inexperienced and clearly struggled with what they were doing. In either case, my job is still the same: to play my part to the best of my ability.

I was a young man in my twenties when I was working in pastoral ministry. I was subjected to regular interrogations about my youth and inexperience. I felt under constant scrutiny. Times change. I’m a little further down life’s road and I’ve finally got a little life experience and wisdom behind me. It’s funny, however. Now I tend to feel old and irrelevant to the generations who follow after me. From young and suspect to old and irrelevant, the tipping point came and went without me noticing.

Perhaps that is the way of it. You can’t control such things. Psalm 71 is a lament from David’s elder years. I can’t imagine what he experienced as he got older. He was the boy hero of Israel who slew Goliath and then led countless military exploits for both Israel and Judah. He made his name on youth, strength, and the physical deeds of a warrior. He must have grieved getting older and coming to the realization that the things which made him famous were only a distant memory.

I can’t control who is directing  a show. I can’t control time. I can’t control the doubts or perceptions of others. There will always be critics. The only thing I control is the part I play. I control what I do and say and write each day. As the Bard said, “All the world’s a stage” and as I play out my part I have an audience of one. In old age I will recite the same soliloquy and proclaim the same Message I communicated when I was young. I will play my part to the best of my ability.  In this I have faith that I’m playing for the most creative and brilliant Director that has ever been and will ever  be. What He chooses to do with me on this grand stage is totally His call. He has a grand vision for this production called life which is beyond my capacity to comprehend. My job is simply to play the part I’ve been given to the best of my ability.

Places.