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Thin Places

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Walk about Zion, go all around it,
    count its towers…

Psalm 48:12 (NRSVCE)

Throughout the history of the Jesus Movement and Christendom, there have been various geographic locations around the world that have come to be known as “thin places.” The concept is a very simple metaphor. It is a specific location where the divide between temporal and eternal, heaven and earth, matter and Spirit, is thin. The power of the Spirit seems to flow more palpably. “Thin places” might be locations where spiritual revivals have occurred, miracles have occurred, or where people experience God’s presence in extraordinary ways.

One of the things I’ve noticed in moving from Book I of the Psalms (Psalms 1-41) to Book II (Psalms 42-72). The songs in Book 1 are mostly songs of David expressing his personal emotions and faith. In the first six songs of Book II we’ve had a variety of songs that were written with specific liturgical purposes. There’s been a diplomatic wedding of royalty to another nation’s princess, a song celebrating a king’s enthronement, and a community plea/prayer after suffering military defeat.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 48, is a song that celebrates Jerusalem as the center of Hebrew worship. It celebrates Jerusalem as an ancient thin place where people find joy, where God has done great things, where the things of God are pondered, and spiritual guidance is found.

It was very common in ancient Mesopotamian cultures for major cities to have patron deities and temples to those deities. The Hebrews would have experienced this while in slavery in Egypt. They would have been familiar with the concept, and way back during the Hebrews flight from Egypt God made clear that a city would be established as the place where Yahweh would dwell and be worshipped (Deut 12:5). How fascinating that over 3000 years later pilgrims from all over the world continue to flock to Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall of the temple ruins. It is still considered by many to be a thin place.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 48 has me thinking about thin places. I have been to Jerusalem, I have walked its streets, and I have prayed at the Western Wall. Personally, I didn’t find Jerusalem to be a thin place but a dark place, despite knowing that the Great Story makes clear it still has a role to play in history’s climactic events.

I have, however, observed that our place at the lake is what I’ve experienced as a thin place. It is a place people have found peace. It is a place where both myself and others have found healing of both body and soul. It has been a place of retreat, of soul-searching, of life-changing conversation, of joy, of love, and of Life.

In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to believe it vital to identify and regularly visit a thin place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away alone or with his closest followers to the top of a mountain along the shores of Galilee to pray. Interestingly enough, when I visited that mountain-top location in Israel, I found it to be the thinnest place I personally experienced in my tour of many, many sites in the Holy Land.

This world bombards me ceaselessly with data, information, opinions, advertisements, and pleas for my time, energy, and human resources. My spirit needs a thin place to recharge, even if it’s a thin place just to me.

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

Refuge Within

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God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 46:1 (NRSVCE)

It seems strange in today’s world, but when I was a kid we walked to school and we would walk home. There were safety patrol members standing at the busy corners to make sure kids didn’t walk across the street when the sign said “don’t walk.” It was a sea of childhood humanity flooding out of the school and making a daily pilgrimage home.

Once you were off school grounds, of course, there was no adult supervision. It’s amazing how quickly we learned that there was safety in numbers, and since I had older siblings I had the advantage of knowing a bunch of kids older than me. I could tag along and feel the relative safety of being with a “big kid.”

The real goal, however, was home. There was a certain sense of safety once I got to my own block. That was my territory. I was known there. I experienced real safety, however, once I was inside my house. Any fear of bullies or anxiety of potential trouble melted away. I was safe at home.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 46, is a song that celebrated refuge. For the ancient Hebrews, home base was the walled city of Jerusalem. The temple was there on Mount Zion. For the Hebrews, God was there in His temple. Their warrior-king was there in his palace. Troubles may rage, but they celebrated the safety they felt being safely in the place God resided. For those who remember growing up singing the great hymns, today’s psalm was the inspiration for Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

As I have written about on numerous occasions, Jesus changed the entire spiritual landscape. He made it clear that God’s “temple” was not a bricks-and-mortar edifice. When I open my heart and life and invite Jesus in, God’s Spirit indwells me. The temple is me.

How radically that changes the metaphor of refuge. Refuge is no longer without. Refuge is within. Writing to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi, Paul explained that God’s peace, which is beyond human comprehension, guards my heart and guards my mind. Though troubles may surround me on all sides, I may find a peace within sourced not in me, but the Spirit in me.

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking comfort in that.

Very early in the Jesus Movement, believers began a ritual of “passing the Peace.” They would say to one another “the peace of Christ be with you.” It was a tangible way of reminding one another of this spiritual intangible of God’s refuge within.

In this world, we have lots of troubles. Jesus told us to expect it, and not to worry about it because He overcame the world. The beginning of another work week. Here we go.

The peace of Christ be with you, 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

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 9)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 9 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of “the epistles” or “letters.”

Click on the following link to listen, or click on the banner below for easy links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app.

https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/episodes/WW-Beginners-Guide-to-the-Great-Story-Part-9-el6vrm

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

The Thirst and the Why

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Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

Psalm 42: 5 (NRSVCE)

I was in a mentoring session with a client. I had coached this individual for a number of years when he was a front-line agent. Now he was in his first managerial role. He’d just received his first annual performance review as a manager and was spiraling downward into full emotional meltdown. Why? Because his boss had rated him a “4” out of 5 in overall performance.

It was obvious to me that my protégé needed to vent. The review had been given a few weeks before our session and I was aware that he had been waiting for our session to get things out. In the emotional flood of anger, frustration and shame that followed I was noticed a few things. First, it was clear that my protégé knew his weaknesses, and admitted there were things he could have done better. Second, the monologue rabbit trailed into childhood memories, family system issues from adolescence, and then projected issues in the current workplace. Third, we had been here before.

The emotional monologue began to wane after about thirty minutes. I then asked if I could ask a question and make an observation. My question was: “If I was your boss, and you freely admitted to me this handful of areas you know needed improvement, then why on earth would I give your performance a five out of five? Given the things you told me you needed to work on, I think four might be a generous vote of confidence!”

There was no immediate answer.

I then proceeded with my observation. Back in the days when I first coached my protégé on the service quality of his phone calls, there were times that he would be emotionally distraught when our team had marked him down for service skills he should have demonstrated, but didn’t. At one point, I remember tears being shed out of the intensity of emotion, and the exclamation “Every call should score 100!”

My protégé laughed as led him on this trek down memory lane, and my point was obvious. There was something within him that expected, personally demanded, a perfect score on any test, assessment, or evaluation that drove him to illogical and emotional ends despite cognitively recognizing the quality of his work didn’t match.

“Why do I always do this?” he asked.

Now, we’d gotten to the question the might lead to real improvement.

The chapter-a-day journey kicks off with the second “book” or section in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics known as Psalms. The section begins with songs written for a choir called “The Sons of Korah.” They were a family choir with the Hebrew tribe of Levi whom King David had appointed to sing in the temple. Those who compiled Psalms began the second book with seven songs that were ascribed for this choir. Seven, by the way, is almost always a significant number in the Great Story. It’s a metaphor for completeness.

Today’s song is a personal lament. The writer is struggling with “Why?” they are in such a funk, and why they can’t get out of it. They are singing the blues and struggling with why their soul is in the pit of despair even as they repeatedly choose to keep singing, keep trusting, and keep seeking after God. The song begins with the proclamation, “my soul thirsts for God.”

And, that’s what struck me this morning. It was the “thirst” for God that motivated the singing, praising, trusting, and seeking after the “Why?” It was the “thirst” for God that allowed them to not fall over the edge of despair but to keep seeking the answer to “Why do I feel this way?” even as they were in the tension of feeling it so acutely.

In the quiet this morning, I thought of my protégé finally getting to his own version of “Why do I always feel this way?” As a mentor, my next question is “What are you thirsting for?” If it’s an easy stamp of approval to deceitfully appease your need for perfection then you’re never going to mature. If you’re thirsting after an understanding of who you are, why you’ve got yourself tied up into emotional knots, and what needs to happen within to stop this repetitive and unhealthy emotional pattern, then there’s hope for progress toward maturity and success.

“Based on the evidence of my own life, actions, words, and relationships am I really thirsting after God? What am I really thirsting for?”

“Am I holding the tension of choosing to praise, trust, seek even as I wrestle with my own versions of despair and my own questions of ‘Why’?”

Those are the questions I’m personally asking myself as I head into this day, and I’m going to leave it here.

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 Corruption and Cravings

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Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.
2 Peter 1:4 (NRSVCE)

I ran across a quote yesterday by the Roman stoic, Seneca. He said, “all cruelty springs from weakness.” What fascinates me about this quote is the fact that Seneca was an advisor and tutor to the Roman Emperor, Nero, who was perhaps the most cruel of all Roman Emperors. It was Nero who burned followers of Jesus alive around his garden to provide light for his parties.

Certainly, Seneca had plenty of opportunity to witness cruelties we can scarce imagine in today’s world. It would appear that he failed in his tutoring of Nero. Nero eventually demanded that Seneca commit suicide, a cruel request to which Seneca stoically complied.

I decided to take a quick break from the chapter-a-day journey through Psalms and to finish this week with Peter’s second letter to followers of Jesus. The date of this letter is the subject of much scholarly debate, but in today’s chapter Peter claims to know that his death is soon in coming, and it is generally believed that Peter (and Paul, btw) was executed during Nero’s cruel persecution of Jesus’ followers whom he used as a scapegoat for a massive fire that burned much of Rome in 64 AD. Ironically, Nero’s subsequent scapegoating and persecution of Christians in coincides with Seneca’s ordered suicide in 65 AD. The playwright in me finds an intriguing storyline there.

“All cruelty springs from weakness.”

The quote came to mind once again this morning as I read Peter’s words “the corruption in this world because of lust.” My brain immediately paraphrased it as a parallel to Seneca’s observation:

“All corruption springs from lust.”

Corruption is everywhere. It’s particularly visible at this time as it is during all elections. Politicians and power brokers (on both sides of the aisle and in every arena) obfuscate, deceive, stretch truth, speak in white lies, and hypocritically change positions with the prevailing winds of circumstance and poll numbers. All of those dark ads with ominous tones and carefully chosen photos intended to make their opponents look like criminals as the ad itself bends the truth out of context to make it look as damning as possible. All of the bright ads making themselves look like saviors, and shining examples of goodness and light. It’s corrupt and it springs from lust for power, position, and money.

Along my life journey, my perspective about sin has changed. When I was a child I thought it was simply about rules and obedience. Between parents, school, church, and community I was taught a list of rules to follow and a fairly strict guideline for right and wrong, good and bad. As I got older, I found that I broke some rules religiously no matter how hard I tried not to. I also found that if I keep certain (easy) rules in public where others could see them, then it blinded others to the “ugly” rule breaking I did in private and outside of the public eye. That’s corruption, too. It’s a personal form of the same hypocrisy and corruption found in politics on a much grander scale.

This is what led Paul to write to Jesus’ followers in Rome: “Everyone sins and falls short of God’s glory.” Or, as Bob Dylan sang it in his modern psalm quoting Paul quoting the Sage of Ecclesiastes:

“Ain’t no man righteous. No, not one.”

I began to realize that the problem wasn’t the rules, the problem was my appetites. Some appetites were easy for me to control, but other appetites were seemingly insatiable. An appetite out of control is a craving, a lust. Appetites are natural, but an unchecked lustful craving of that appetite which leads to indulgence will always end in corruption of some form.

It’s easy for me to point to the unbridled lust for worldly power, wealth and prestige found in Nero and present day politicians. But, that only diverts your attention to easy targets and away from me. It is my out-of-control appetites which wreak havoc on my life. My appetite for rest turns into slothful passivity. My appetite for food turns into gluttony. My appetite for sex turns into pornographic proclivity. My appetite for security turns into greed and an insatiable desire for more of everything. My appetite for safety turns into a never ending quest to avoid all pain and suffering.

In the quiet this morning, as I ponder these things, I return to Peter’s letter. My rule-keeping self saw faith and salvation as the end result of obedience. By being obedient to the rules, I thought, I would arrive a place of being good enough to be acceptable to God. But that’s just the opposite of what Jesus, and Peter after Him, taught:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
2 Peter 1:5-9

Faith in Christ, salvation, and the cleansing of sin is at the beginning of the journey. It is the motivation. It is the spiritual catalyst that pushes me forward into increasing measures of goodness, knowledge, and appetite control. Not because I’m trying to earn something with my goodness, but because I’ve received something priceless in the gift of forgiveness, grace, and mercy that Jesus freely offers.

Click on the image above for a quick index of all the posts in this series on the letters of Peter!

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

Betrayal

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Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

Psalm 41:9 (NRSVCE)

He was a friend. I really believe that. There was a time when we connected on both a personal and spiritual level. We understood one another, and I had all sorts of empathy and understanding for those parts of him that others misunderstood to the point of rejection. When I first saw the signs of betrayal I confronted him, but he denied it and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I shouldn’t have, but hindsight is always 20/20, as the saying goes. Ultimately, it was revealed that he had been betraying me for some time in, and with his betrayal he wreaked havoc on many lives.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 41, is the final psalm of the first “book” in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that is the book of Psalms. It is another song of David. It is another song written in a time of extreme illness when his political enemies were begging for his death. It is a song written from a position of loneliness and isolation. As the saying goes, “It’s lonely at the top,” and as I read the chapter in the quiet this morning I could almost feel David pouring out his heart as if God was the only friend he could count on.

The one element of today’s song that is unlike David’s other songs of lament in sickness is this glaring declaration of betrayal that sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the words and themes that I’ve already heard a number of times in the lyrics of his other works:

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
    who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

My mind immediately jumped to the prophetic. Jesus quoted this very verse as he dined with His closest follower on the evening of His arrest, calling out Judas on the plot he had already hatched with Jesus’ enemies. At the same time, while it is a prophetic utterance, it is not confined to that. In my podcast on the books of prophecy in the series Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story, I pointed out that God uses the language of metaphor precisely because it is powerfully layered with meaning. It is, once again, a “yes, and.”

Personal betrayal is as old as Adam blaming Eve for talking him into eating the forbidden fruit, and Cane killing his brother Abel. Betrayal is a part of the human condition and is present in all of our great stories. It is Iago plotting against Othello. It is Saruman the White leading the White Council while plotting his own power grab. It is Edmund betraying his siblings for one more helping of Turkish Delight. It is Peter Pettigrew plotting with Voldemort against James and Sirius.

Who has not experienced betrayal?

In the quiet this morning, I find myself unable to stop there. It is easy to play the victim card. I can wail in lament with David as I recall those who betrayed me like the person I described earlier. As I meditate on these things, however, I also hear the echoes of those who might easily accuse me of betrayal. Relationships are messy. As I let my mind wander across my entire life journey I have to confess that I am not spotless when it comes to acting and speaking treacherously out of my own pain, fear, envy, and insecurity. I have been a victim of betrayal. I have also been a perpetrator.

And so, I find myself whispering a familiar prayer this morning.

“Forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.”

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.

Note: Featured image courtesy of Lawrence OP via Flickr.

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

Eye Opening

The audio podcast of this post can be found at:

anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vanderwell

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:3 (NIV)

In the Great Story, faith is described as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

The spiritual journey is often referred to as a faith journey, and along my personal journey following Jesus I’ve found that it is the increasing understanding of spiritual realities amidst contrasting circumstances in this physical world.

There is a great story of the ancient prophet Elisha who, along with his servant, was staying in the town of Dothan. The king of Aram wanted Elisha dead because God, through Elisha, had been tipping off the King of Israel regarding the Aramian army’s location. So in the middle of the night, the Aramian army surrounded Dothan. Elisha and his servant woke up the next morning to find themselves surrounded. Elisha’s servant freaked out.

“Don’t worry,” the prophet said calmly. “There are more with us than against us.”

“Dude,” his servant said. “What have you been smoking? Don’t you see the entire Aramian army out there?!”

Elisha then prayed, “Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.”

The eyes of his servants were then opened to see the realm of the Spirit dimension, and he saw that the hills surrounding Dothan were filled with an entire army of angels sitting on chariots of fire.

David psyched me out a bit this morning as I began to read Psalm 40. After two songs (Psalm 38 and Psalm 39) in which he has been lamenting his poor health and despairing over his circumstances, he beings Psalm 40 with a declaration of being restored and delivered. He’s pulled up out of the muddy pit and firmly established on solid rock. He’s singing a “new song.”

“Yes!” I thought to myself. “After patiently waiting, David has finally experienced healing and restoration!”

But then as I continued reading David’s song lyrics it becomes clear that his circumstances really haven’t changed. He’s still poor and needy, his troubles still surround him, and his heart is still failing.

So what has changed to inspire the opening lines of the song?

Faith.

As with Elisha’s servant, the eyes of David’s heart are being opened to see the realities of Spirit amidst his physical circumstances. His spiritual confidence is growing and allowing him to actually experience that for which he is hoping for despite there being no change in his temporal earthly realities.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about our current earthly realities that are creating so much fear and anxiety. It can feel a bit like being surrounded with no possible way out.

I’m personally praying Elisha’s prayer.

“Lord, open the eyes of my heart to see Your reality in the realm of the Spirit dimension.”

Jesus said to His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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

“Sit On It”

Listen to the audio podcast version at: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.”

Psalm 39:6 (NIV)

Wendy and I are in Austin, Texas this week with some friends. It’s a getaway we had planned well over a year ago. We’re spending part of the day working and then enjoying the rest of our time together going out for meals in Austin’s amazing diversity of dining options.

Last night we went to a wonderful restaurant. It’s a popular spot for which reservations are required well in advance and they serve a crowd every night. Thus, we found ourselves looking around the lobby while we waited for our table. It doubled as a gift shop selling mostly jewelry. The hostess informed us that the jewelry came mostly from estate sales. As I browsed through the rings and the necklaces I wondered to myself about their original owners. Where were they from? What was it that attracted them to this strange-looking ring? Or, was it a gift they would never wear in a million years, but they never felt right getting rid of it?

There were few rings for men as I let my eyes wander through the table full of jewelry. I finally spied one large silver ring and lifted it up to look at it. It was definitely a men’s ring. It was flat on top and hand-stamped on it was the phrase “SIT ON IT,” a kitschy fad phrase made popular in my childhood by the character Fonzie in the television series Happy Days. It made me laugh. For the record, I chose not to spend the $95 they wanted for it.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the four psalms from 38-41 were placed together in the compilation of ancient song lyrics because they had a common theme of confession, contrition, and lament. In today’s chapter, Psalm 39, David is waxing introspective in light of his physical ailments. He’s thinking about his own death. As with yesterday’s song, David clearly believes that his troubles are some form of divine discipline so he is crying out for mercy, healing, and deliverance. In the time of David, the Hebrew people had no developed understanding of eternity or life after death, so there is a brooding undertone as David considers his life journey’s brevity and the finality.

David’s song was structured symmetrically. The central theme of his song is placed in the center, with two verses on either side of it each with five lines in one and three lines in the other. The crux of what David is getting at is that central verse which I pasted at the top of the post:

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
    in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
    without knowing whose it will finally be.”

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think about that stupid “SIT ON IT” ring I looked at last night. When I was a child, Happy Days was a cultural phenomenon and anything Fonzie said was repeated endlessly on the playground, including the shouting “Sit on it!” when telling a friend to piss off (which was actually a good thing because “piss off” would have gotten me in big trouble!).

Someone back in the 1970s bowed to popular culture and a viral fad. They bought a big silver ring with “SIT ON IT” hand-stamped on it. It ended up in an estate sale with who knows what other earthly possessions. One generation later it ended up on sale in the lobby of a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

It’s the same thing David was mulling over in his song. Everything I own and every possession I value will outlast me on this Earth. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I thought perhaps this morning this is an important reality, and the Spirit is telling me to “sit on it” for a few minutes and ponder.

David, as he always did, channels his brooding into a prayer. He proclaims hope in God to which he is clinging then cries out in a plea for healing and the chance to find joy in life before his number comes up and his earthly journey ends.

Today’s chapter is not a cheery pick-me-up for a day of vacation, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can easily intoxicate myself with endless distractions to the point I am never sober-minded about significant matters of Life and Spirit. Today’s chapter is a good reminder to fully enjoy the goodness of Life on this day that lies before me. A day may come when I, like David, desperately struggle to do so.

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