Tag Archives: Politics

Much Needed Affirmation

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The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
    silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

Psalm 12:6 (NRSVCE)

As I have confessed many times, I am not by temperament an optimist. In fact, as a child I didn’t get into fights with other kids because I was so good at beating myself up. The spiritual journey, if one genuinely follows Jesus, will always lead to dealing with the shit inside, and I use that word deliberately. We all have spiritual, emotional, relational, familial, experiential, and/or personal waste gumming up our souls and stinking things up inside.

I was fifteen or twenty years into my spiritual journey following Christ before Holy Spirit led me to the toxic waste that my internal critic had been creating in my soul with repetitive negative messages I’d been feeding myself without every being really conscious of it. As I processed my way through this, talked with wise counselors, and addressed the issue, I learned how much I need regular doses of healthy, affirming messages that counteract the negative self-talk that I can so easily slip into like a comfy old sweatshirt.

The first half of 2020 has been the most tumultuous period of time that I’ve experienced in my lifetime. COVID, lockdowns, social breakdown, economic downturn, violence, hypocrisy, and rage. Each morning as Wendy and I read the news we can’t believe what we’re reading. It’s enough to trigger my old inner critic to feed me all sorts of depressing messages of doom.

The lyrics of today’s short psalm feel like they could have been penned today. David is looking at the world around him, the generation he finds himself living in, and everything seems terrible. People are leaving the faith in droves, everyone speaks lies and false narratives to make themselves feel good, people demand their own way with arrogant pride, violence and vile acts are not just tolerated but celebrated, and the poor and needy are forgotten in the tumult.

Even as I write those words I have images of recent events coming to mind.

The reason for David’s song is found in the third verse. Amidst the seemingly endless stream of lies, hypocrisy, hatred, and false narratives David reminds himself that God and His promises are “pure” and have been refined by the fires of current events time and time again throughout history. David’s song is his own version of a much needed healthy, affirming reminder. God hasn’t abandoned or forsaken him. God’s promises are true. God has always faithfully protected, provided for, and delivered David from his enemies.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for David’s little ditty. It reminds me that we are not the first generation of humanity to think everything was going to hell in a handbasket. I am not the only one who needs regular doses of healthy affirmation. God’s got this. I can believe it, and I can mentally run to that affirmation as many times as I need to today as I press on in the journey one more day.

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 Perplexing Mystery

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The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations shall perish from his land.
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:16-18 (NRSVCE)

We don’t talk much about evil anymore. It gets used as a weapon-word fired at the political “other” in the empty, name-calling wars on social media. It is referenced in conversations about acts so heinous that everyone agrees that they reached a depth of depravity so dark as to be inhuman. I observed, however, that even people of faith are dismissive of the notion that evil is set up in active conflict against good in the spiritual realm of this world.

Again, the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Matthew 4:8-9

The evil one was able to offer Jesus the kingdoms of this world and their splendor because this Level 3 world is where evil holds dominion until the final chapters of the Great Story. At every level of the socio-economic ladder from the grade school playground to Wall Street and Washington D.C. are those who will exploit anyone to advance their personal power base and portfolio of wealth. Unlike Jesus, they have knelt before the evil one and taken him up on his offer. These are the ones David writes about in the lyrics of today’s psalm.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, today’s psalm is connected to yesterday’s. Like We Will Rock You and We are the Champions by Queen, or Journey’s Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezing and City of the Angels the two songs are were meant to go together. One of the common conventions of Hebrew songs and poems that is lost in translation to English is the fact that each line begins with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order just as if you wrote a poem and each line began with A, B, C, D, and etc., Psalm 10 picks up with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet where Psalm 9 left off. In addition, there is no header or title to Psalm 10 like there has been for every other psalm we’ve read since Psalm 1. Psalms 9 and 10 go together.

With that in mind, King David is writing both psalms from his position as King of Israel. The thing I find most fascinating is that he is writing from a position of power. He’s at the top of the food chain. He holds more power in the kingdom than anyone else, and he is lamenting the wicked highway robbers who oppress the poor in the rural villages of his own country. He’s complaining about the wealthy brokers of power in his own kingdom who “prosper all the time” and establish their legacy for their descendants.

Why doesn’t he do something about it?

Along my journey I’ve observed that there is only so much that one can do in a world where evil has dominion. Not that I shouldn’t do everything that I can to act in the circles of influence in which I operate. I should. Nevertheless, I have witnessed good people, followers of Jesus, who have ascended the ladder of earthly power and influence only to find that there is only so much that they can do.

That’s the point I believe King David is getting to in his songs that read like a leader’s lament. His position of ultimate power in his kingdom cannot stop the wickedness of every rural bully bent on taking advantage of poor villagers. Even as King he is surrounded by the wealthy and powerful who have their own personal kingdoms built to oppose him.

It’s interesting that towards the end of today’s psalm David appeals to God as “King forever and ever.” At the end of his personal, earthly power that has fallen short of bringing justice to everyone, David appeals to God as the only higher authority who can step in and do something about it.

Welcome to one of the most perplexing spiritual mysteries of the Great Story. Jesus comes to earth and refuses to operate in worldly systems of the evil one’s dominion where injustice and wickedness reign and oppress the poor and the weak.

Why didn’t he do something about it?

Instead of confronting evil on earthly terms, Jesus goes instead to the rural, the poor, and the simple. He reaches out to individuals, encourages the personal transformation of individuals from self-centered evil to a life of self-sacrificing service to others. He triumphs not over earthly kingdoms but over Death. He wages war not against flesh-and-blood but against principalities, powers, and forces of spiritual darkness behind flesh-and-blood power. It leads me to consider that ultimately, the Great Story is not about this Earth. It’s not about this world. It’s not just about this 20,000 to 40,000 days I will spend journeying through this lifetime. It’s about something greater, something deeper, something more eternal.

In the quiet this morning I find myself identifying with David’s lament. At the end of the song, David expresses his trust that God sees the acts of evil and hears the cries of the oppressed. He entrusts the King of all with ultimately making things right. I have to do the best I can as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom on this earth in the circles of influence I’ve been given. Beyond that, I can only make an appeal to the King forever, and trust He will see this Great Story to its conclusion, joyfully ever-after.

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 in Royally Troubled TImes

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Happy are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:12

Saturday morning here at Vander Well Manor is typically a lazy affair. Wendy and I will often take our time getting up and going in the morning. We’ll typically sit in the dining room with our pot of coffee (I might even make a special French Press of the good stuff), our spinach and blueberry smoothies, and we’ll take extra time reading the extended weekend edition of the newspaper while we discuss the issues of the day.

This past Saturday morning I commented to Wendy that I hardly want to look at the paper these days. Between the doom, gloom, conflict, chaos, and crazy that seems ever-present in 2020, there are times that it simply feels overwhelming. Can I get a witness!?

Then yesterday morning among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I was reminded that “God’s kingdom is unshakable, unbreakable, and not in trouble.”

This morning’s chapter, Psalm 2, feels like a touch of synchronicity as if God’s Spirit is reminding me of this theme.

The first two psalms are bookended “orphans” (i.e. they have no title) that together frame a thematic introduction to the entire anthology of song lyrics that is the book of Psalms. Psalm 1 begins “Blessed/Happy is the one…” and Psalm 2 ends with “Blessed/Happy is the one….” As mentioned in last Friday’s post, Psalm 1 is all about the individual (the personal, Level 1, if you will). It addresses how I want my personal journey to be. Do I want it to be blessed and life-giving or wicked and death-like?

Today’s psalm is a “royal” song that was likely used during the coronation ceremony when one of King David’s descendants was crowned. God, pictured as the ultimate king and power, adopts the earthly ruler (who holds power amidst the [Level 3] institutions of this world) as a child and representative. The king and all the people gathered for the coronation are reminded that they serve God and God’s Kingdom. Ultimately, it is as Jesus prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth.”

Jesus’ followers understood that today’s Psalm was ultimately about Jesus. Peter and John quoted it to comfort and encourage Jesus followers after they had been arrested and then released by the institutional religious authorities who had conspired to have Jesus crucified in Acts 4:25-26:

Why do the nations conspire,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and his anointed…

Peter and John, like me, were in the middle of uncomfortable circumstances that were challenging everything they’d ever known and believed. Just a week or two before they thought they’d be picking out the wallpaper for their staff offices in King Jesus’ royal palace. Now they find themselves confronted with the reality that the road is going to be very different and more challenging than they had imagined. But, they weren’t despairing. Psalm 2 was a springboard of faith and encouragement. They found in Psalm 2 a reminder of the resurrected Jesus who was, ultimately, in charge. They began to understand that their mission was that of the King’s ambassadors in a fallen world:

[They prayed] For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
Acts 4:27-31

In the quiet this morning, I find the Spirit encouraging me amidst my own human weariness with this world. I also find myself challenged to embrace the reality that, like Peter and John, I may have to accept that the road may not be what I’ve always expected it to look like. This world may sink into all sorts of crazy just as it has time and time again throughout the Great Story. But, I know whom I serve. And, His kingdom is unshakable, unbreakable, and not in trouble.

“Happy are all who take refuge in Him.”

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

Into the Water

I’m trying something new. Would you rather listen to today’s post?

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back…
But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.”

Exodus 14:10, 13, 15 (NRSVCE)

In case you missed it, I reblogged our daughter’s blog post yesterday. It’s worth a read. She referenced my love of genealogy, which I mention from time-to-time in these posts, along with my love of history.

One of the themes I’ve noticed along this Life journey is that everyone has a choice to get stuck looking back, get stuck in place, or keep moving forward. I’ve come to believe that this is a facet of what theologians call “free will,” and it manifests itself in different ways on life’s journey.

I’ve observed individuals for whom life already happened. The “glory days,” as Bruce Springsteen sings it, happened in the past and spiritually the individual is stuck looking back at what was.

I’ve observed individuals for whom life stalls spiritually. Somewhere along the road they decided to spiritually settled down long the road. They’ve found a comfortable spot for their soul. Spiritually, they stake out the ground, build a comfy little shelter, and defend it for the rest of their lives.

I’ve observed individuals who never stop spiritually moving forward. They may walk backwards for a stretch to remember and to let the past inform their route. They may stop and rest along the way, because Sabbath isn’t just for our physical bodies. Our souls need it too. They don’t stay for too long, however, because they are always pressing on further up and further in. As Paul wrote the believers in Phillipi:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
Phil 3:13-16 (MSG)

In today’s chapter, I found it so clearly hiding in plain sight. Moses and the escaping Hebrews find themselves stuck at the shore of the Red Sea as the Egyptian army advances on them. In escaping their chains of slavery and oppression the Hebrews looked back at what was and found themselves mired in fear. Moses was focused on standing firm, but that leaves the situation between the proverbial rock and a hard place. God wants them to move forward.

“Move forward Lord? Into the water?”

Yes. Move forward into the water because that’s one of the grand themes of this Great Story I’m authoring. Through the deep creation begins. Through the water Noah and his family lead a new beginning. Through the water, God will deliver Moses and the people. Through the water of the Jordan River, the Hebrews will enter the Promised Land. Through the same water of the Jordan River and John’s baptism, Jesus begins His earthly ministry. Through the water of baptism, we are buried in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. Through the Living Water of Christ, we discover a Life-giving wellspring that never runs dry even in the seeming drought of our current circumstances. In his Revelation, the Angel reveals to John the end of the Great Story which is actually a new beginning with a “Water-of-Life River, crystal bright that flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.” (see Rev 22)

So yes, Moses, move forward through the water.

Leap, and the net will appear.

In the quiet this morning I find myself looking at our current events through this lens. Perhaps individuals can get stuck looking back. Perhaps we’ve become stagnant, comfortable, and complacent in our politics, our narratives, our comfortable plot of world-view which we feel we need to defend. Perhaps at this moment in the Great Story God is calling all of His children to move forward.

Down into the water, children. All of you.

Leap, and the net will appear.

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

Of Tribe and Time

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
Exodus 1:8-10 (NRSVCE)

When it comes to a film, the first shot the director gives you is always an important one. In movie terms it’s called the “establishing shot” and most casual viewers don’t realize how important it is to provide you with the setting, the environment, and the emotion. In many cases, the establishing shot will foreshadow the entire theme of the movie with one quick visual. For those interested, here’s a quick look at some of the best of all time…

Likewise, great authors provide readers with a literary version of an establishing shot. The opening prologue or chapter lay out the scene for the reader.

In today’s chapter, the author of Exodus establishes the scene for the story and the journey on which I am about to embark. At the end of Genesis, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) and his 70 descendants and their families, flocks, and herds had migrated and settled in the area of Egypt to escape a famine. His long-lost-son, Joseph was Pharaoh’s right-hand and had welcomed them and provided for them.

Exodus now picks up the story, and in the establishing shot, we find that Israel’s descendants have settled in Egypt and have been fruitful in multiple ways. His sons and grandsons are growing their families, having lots of babies, and each is becoming his own tribe. Between Genesis chapter 50 and Exodus chapter 1 we’ve gone from one Hebrew tribe to twelve growing tribes. The problem is, political winds have shifted.

In ancient cultures (we’re talking about 3500 years ago) the world was a harsh, violent, lawless and brutal place. It was tribal. You were born into a tribe, your tribe protected you, and life was about surviving against other tribes. Some tribes, like Egypt, had successfully become nations but every nation and every tribe was focused on protecting themselves against the threat of other tribes bent on conquest.

In Egypt, the new Pharaoh (that is, Egyptian ruler) and his administration take stock of the fact that Israel’s tribe has become tribes, and they have slowly proliferated within Egypt’s kingdom and territory. That is a threat. Remember, it’s a tribe vs. tribe world. Having that many people from a foreign tribe living in their kingdom was scary. It’s one thing to protect yourself from an attack from the outside. It’s another thing if a tribe living among you goes rogue. From a political perspective, Pharaoh had to address the threat. So, he moves to persecute the Hebrew people living among them and to limit their population growth.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over both the differences and similarities in our world. It’s that point of tension between two extremes. On one hand, the world has changed drastically in 3500 years and that’s the reason many 21st century readers struggle mightily with the brutality and violence of the ancient stories of the Great Story. If I want to understand the Great Story, I have to be willing to embrace that I will never fully understand ancient history yet embrace the understanding that it has value in the context of a larger eternal narrative.

On the other hand, I also find myself muttering that there is “nothing is new under the sun,” and the more things change the more they stay the same. In China, the government is persecuting people groups and religious groups within their population to try and stop their proliferation. They also have, over recent decades, infamously adopted birth control measures eerily similar to Pharaoh (e.g. allow the girls to live, but not the boys) in an effort to control the political and economic threat they feel from population growth. It also strikes me, as I mull things over, that the same tribalism at the root of the Egypt/Hebrew conflict presented in today’s chapter is at the root of everything from benign sports rivalries to toxic racial, social, nationalist, and religious prejudice. I also think of gangs, cartels, crime organizations, religious denominations, and political parties. Humans are still tribal in a myriad of ways.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, told the story of the Good Samaritan, healed the child of a Roman Centurion, and sent His apostles to “ends of the earth” He was pushing His followers beyond their tribe. He prescribed a different type of conquest in which tribal boundaries are breached with love and proliferate generosity, understanding, forgiveness, repentance, and redemption. That’s the tribe with whom I ultimately wish to be associated.

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

Middle of Nowhere

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
Luke 10:21 (NIV)

While we were away for the holidays, things really began to heat up back home in Iowa. We’re weeks away from the Iowa caucuses which are the first test on the road to political conventions for the Presidential candidates. Most Iowans can randomly spit in the air right now and risk hitting a Presidential candidate. The number of ads for Presidential candidates that we’re seeing on television right now is crazy. We go through this every four years.

Along with the candidates, we also get the press. Reporters from New York and Washington D.C. make their trek to the cornfields of Iowa. It’s usually the only time you’ll see a major reporter’s by-line read Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, or Sioux City.

During our U.K. sojourn, I read in multiple outlets a story of the host of NBC’s Meet the Press who went out of his way to disparage those who believe God’s Message as individuals who reject logic and believe in fairy tales; people who like to be lied to and are unwilling to accept “hard truths.”

Wow. I was glad to read that his fellow journalists distanced themselves from painting a large percentage of Americans with such a disparaging broad brush of generalization. Nevertheless, it’s a reminder that there are individuals who

In today’s chapter, Jesus is continuing his miraculous mystery tour of towns along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. His ministry is expanding. He sends out 72 followers in pairs as advance teams to the towns He’s planning on visiting. There are still small towns, like the little hamlet of Chorizin, who want nothing to do with Him. But the crowds are growing and word is spreading.

But here is the thing. Jesus has launched His ministry in the backwaters of the region. Everyone knows that Jerusalem is where it’s at. Everyone who is anyone knows that if you want to make a name for yourself you have to do it in Jerusalem. If you want to be big in the theatre you have to be in New York. If you want to be big in movies you have to be in Hollywood. If you want to be big in politics you have to be in the Beltway. If you want to be Messiah, you have to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where the greatest religious minds reside, where the power brokers make and break religious careers, and where young men like Saul of Tarsus can make their mark in the world of Judaism.

But Jesus rejects that model. He chooses a strategic plan that runs opposite of what the PR firms of the day would have told Him to do. When His 72 followers return from their practicums in the little towns and podunk villages of the Galilee backwaters, Jesus joyfully relishes the successful results of His rural, spiritual caucus:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Jesus will make His way to Jerusalem. He knows, however, that those religious power brokers will be threatened by Him and His teaching. He will stir the pot, and they will kill Him out of political expediency.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that the things of God run contrary to the things of this world. Jesus even told His followers, “In this world, you will have trouble.” Just as He did. I shouldn’t be surprised when power brokers in the institutions of the world paint me with broad brushstrokes of generalization.

In a few weeks, the political circus will pack up and move on to New Hampshire and elsewhere. Iowa will once again be largely relegated to the back-burner of national thought. I’m sure that politicians and reporters will swap war-stories of their weeks having to be here, in the middle of nowhere. That’s cool. We do this dance every four years.

I like it here. It’s the kind of place Jesus would start a ministry.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Phil Roeder via Flickr.

Foolish Anxiety and Real Threats

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Nehemiah 1:3 (NIV)

The immigration of large people groups tend to happen in waves. The town of Pella, Iowa, where I live was founded by a group of Dutch immigrants in the 1800s. It happened, however, in waves. The first group arrived on the Iowa prairie in 1847 and began a settlement. They were the trailblazers. In his book Iowa Letters, Johan Stellingwerff, chronicles the letters sent back and forth between the first wave of settlers and their families back home who were still preparing to make the voyage:

“Dear Parents,

I write specially about the expenses of my journey…The journey from Borton, New York, or Baltimore is tiresom and damaging for freight because of reloading. It is better and cheaper via New Orleans…..

Hendrik Hospers

It is important for readers to understand that for the exiles returning to the city of Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon and Persia, the same is also true.

For many years, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book with two sections. They were authored by two different leaders of the waves of returning exiles. There were actually three waves of people who returned. The first was c. 538 BC led by Zerubbabel (the rebuilt Temple of Solomon is commonly referenced by historians as Zerubbabel’s Temple). Ezra led the next wave c. 458 BC. Nehemiah led the third c. 432 BC.

In today’s opening chapter of Nehemiah, the author records the word that came back to him from the returned exiles in Jerusalem. The news was not good. The walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city were burned and useless. It’s hard for us to appreciate the magnitude of this reality for the people of that time. Raiding armies were common among the many tribes and factions in the region. Plundering and pillaging were common and walls were an essential deterrent. The success of the exiles in their return and rebuilding of the city was in peril if there were no walls or gates to protect them from outside armies and/or raiding parties.

It may be hard to relate to everyday life in the 21st century, but the truth is that in life and in business, I find myself mindful of potential threats. There are threats of weather for which we must prepare our home and property. There is the threat of catastrophic life events against which we buy insurance for our health and lives.

Along my life journey, I have struggled to find the balance between being prepared for unexpected threats and being worried about them. I am more convinced than ever that I live in a culture in which politicians, media, special interest groups, and corporations peddle a non-stop stream of fear and apocalyptic predictions, which in turn create human reactions in large numbers of people, which in turn leads to clicks, views, ads, votes, sales, revenues, and etc. Wisdom is required.

Yesterday, among our local gathering of Jesus followers I was reminded that the Kingdom of God is not in trouble.

Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to my wife, my family, my employees, and my loved ones. There is wisdom in taking honest stock of potential threats that could seriously affect our well-being, and to take realistic precautions. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city had burned down, he was not motivated by unrealistic fear but by wisdom with regard to very real threats to his loved ones and his people. Two previous waves of exiles had failed to address a very real threat to their existence, and Nehemiah immediately knows that something must be done.

As I begin this new day and this new work week, I find myself asking for wisdom in discerning between fear-mongering, foolish anxiety, and real threats.

“All People” and “Those People”

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people….
1 Timothy 2:1 (NIV)

A while back I was giving the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I asked everyone in the room to close their eyes with me. I then asked each of us to identify who came to mind when I uttered the words “those people.”

Over the last few years, as I’ve been making this chapter-a-day journey through God’s Message, I’ve been struck more than ever how inclusive the Message really is. It’s inclusive to an often uncomfortable degree. Consider the following blanket instructions and teaching Paul gave for followers of Jesus in this morning’s chapter. The phrase “all” is repeatedly used:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people… (not just the ones I like and with whom I am socially, culturally, politically, economically, and morally comfortable)

…for kings and all those in authority… (not just the ones on my side of the political spectrum)

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved… (not just the ones who look like me, think like me, believe exactly like me, and live within my comfort zone)

Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people (that even includes “those people“)

As I ponder in the quiet this morning, I am once again struck by how inclusive and expansive the love of Christ is. I find myself needing to honestly confess how exclusive and restrictive I have been, and still am, with my prayers, my kindness, my patience, my gentleness, my faithfulness, my love.

Lord, have mercy on me.

I enter this day with the reminder that if I exclude “those people” from the “all people” for whom Christ died and gave ransom, and the “all people” I am supposed to pray for and love, then I have entirely missed the heart of Jesus’ Message that I’m supposed to be exemplifying.

Wrestling with Subjection to Authority

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Romans 13:1 (NIV)

For the record, I don’t belong to any political party.

I was just reminded this morning of a passage in The Lord of the Rings when Pippin asks the Ent, Treebeard, whose side he was on. “Side?” Treebeard replies. “I’m on no one’s side, because no one is on my side.”

Along my life journey I have respected certain leaders from both of the major parties here in the States, and I have had personal disdain for leaders from both of the major parties. I’m thankful for living in a representative republic. There is always the possibility of change in every election cycle.

Paul is writing his letter to followers of Jesus in Rome during the time of the Roman Empire. One of the reasons the Romans were able to control such a large area of the western world for such a large period of time was the fact that Rome tended to bring and maintain a certain amount of law and order wherever they ruled. While there were always those unhappy with Roman occupation, there was a certain understanding among the common population that the system of Roman law and order was better than the chaos which was often the reality when a local tyrant or warlord reigned.

In today’s chapter Paul provides a fascinating perspective as he tells the followers of Jesus living in Rome itself to be subject to governing authorities, to pay their taxes, and to respect those in authority. This is the Roman Empire. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, whom Paul once worked for, have an entire terrorist network developing which is going to erupt into outright rebellion in about 20 years from the writing of Paul’s letter. Even one of the Twelve apostles came out of the anti-Roman Zealots. But Paul is direct, authoritative and unequivocal in stating that authority is a construct of God, so we must respectfully subject ourselves to government authority.

A couple of thoughts on this. Underneath Paul’s teaching on this matter is an understanding that on the eternal, cosmic, Level 4, Great Story perspective all things are moving toward the end of the Story, which is already written. If we want to get into the notion of God and eternity existing outside of the dimension of time then one might argue that it’s already happened. Maybe you need another cup of coffee before wrapping your brain around that.

There is also plenty of precedent from the Old Testament (Paul was a lawyer by training, remember) that God raises up and uses certain kings and rulers (Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, for example) who were not the most benevolent leaders. Even David respected and viewed Saul as God’s appointed authority and refused to depose and kill the mad king when he had every reason and opportunity to do so. In telling the Roman believers to subject themselves to their Roman authorities, Paul was channeling thinking and teaching that was quite ancient.

Then there is the most fascinating fact that Paul is a Roman citizen. This is no small detail. It’s a huge deal in his day and age. Roman citizenship was extremely hard to come by and afforded the person all sorts of perks in Roman society. Paul states elsewhere that he was born a Roman citizen, so he grew up enjoying the protection and status of that citizenship. Paul will soon use that status to appeal his upcoming conviction to Caesar himself. Paul will end up a prisoner in Rome itself.

What’s ironic is that Paul and the believers he’s writing to in Rome will be scapegoated by Caesar, blamed for the Great Fire of Rome to cover up Caesar’s own culpability, and they will be persecuted mercilessly. The Roman authorities to whom Paul is telling the believers to submit will throw them in prison, cover them in wax and light them on fire (while still alive) to illuminate Caesar’s garden, feed them to the lions in the Coliseum, and execute Paul by chopping of his head. By the way, beheading was another perk of Roman citizenship. If Paul had not been a citizen he’d have suffered a much more agonizing death by crucifixion, which was the gruesome fate awaiting Peter in Rome.

Would knowing the end awaiting him change Paul’s charge to subject themselves to Rome’s authority? I don’t think so. A few weeks ago I reminded our local gathering of Jesus followers that Jesus told Peter about the death by crucifixion that was awaiting him after His resurrection. Once again, the present, Level 1 daily circumstances were lived with an eternal, Level 4 perspective.

This is one of those mornings when, in the quiet, I have more questions than answers. What about…? What if…? Despite all the questions, I’m reminded that I’m not always going to like those in authority. I’m reminded that being respectful and lawful is part of being a “living sacrifice” (see yesterday’s post). I’m reminded that Jesus subjected himself to cruelty and a completely unjust execution after a series of kangaroo court trials before religious, secular, regional, and Roman authorities to whom He was always respectful. He knew that his Level 1 circumstances had Level 4 purpose. So did Peter. So did Paul.

That is whose footsteps I’m following.

Fear: The Great Motivator

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…for I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Godthat is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:1, 38-39 (NIV)

Just a few days ago there was a major Winter Storm Warning for our region. The local weather hyped it like no one’s business. Stock-up on provisions! (Never mind that Wendy and I could survive for years on what is in our pantry!) Cancel your plans! Stay home! Don’t travel! Schools cancelled and businesses told their people not to come to work.

Then, it didn’t happen.

Oops.

Here’s what I’ve observed along my life journey: Fear is everywhere. Fear gets our attention. Fear sucks us in. Fear motivates us to act. That’s why media, politicians, and religion all love to lead with fear. Fear works.

The left tells us to fear billionaires, Wall Street and capitalism.
The right tells us to fear socialists, unions, & academia.
Religion tells us to fear worldliness, sin, the devil, heresy, and damnation.
Media tells us to fear earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, lightning, blizzards, asteroids, flu, greenhouse gases, melting glaciers, rising temperatures, lowering temperatures, inflation, deflation, economic stagnation, dirty water, dirty restaurant kitchens, opioids, meth, gateway drugs, terrorism, bacteria, genetic engineering, GMOs, getting vaccinated, not getting vaccinated, scams, shams, abduction, murder, pedophile rings, product recalls, anything that causes cancer (which appears to be everything), nuclear war, nuclear anything, spies, conspiracy, gangs, criminal immigrants, rogue law enforcement, and on, and on, and on.
Parents tell children to fear every conceivable bad thing that’s happened to a child ever.

A long time ago I began paying attention to any entity that wants something from me. In ways both subtle and overt I find that I am being ceaselessly told to “be afraid.” I contrast this with Jesus who said “Don’t be afraid” over and over and over again. He asked His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith?” Great question to ask myself daily.

Today’s chapter in Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome is among the most encouraging, uplifting, and faith-building reminders ever penned. I find it an antidote to the steady stream of fear to which I am exposed each day, and which eventually starts to poison my thoughts and my outlook on the world. It’s full of hope in the moment, hope admits our current circumstances, and hope for the future. Paul gives encouragement and assurance.

In the quiet this morning I once again confess my own penchant for pessimism. People are often surprised when I tell them that, but it’s true. When faced with the least bit of fear or opposition I can quickly go into shut-down mode. Wendy and I were just talking about it yesterday over breakfast. I have found along the journey that it’s important for me to consciously let my heart, soul, and mind drink regularly from a deep well of encouragement and affirmation like today’s chapter:

The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Don’t be afraid, my friend. Have a great day.