Tag Archives: Prediction

Apocalypse and Labor Pains

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Mark 13:8 (NIV)

I recently finished a three-episode podcast series on time. The second episode of the podcast specifically on the so-called “end times” and the apocalypse. The apocalyptic and dystopian has always captured the human imagination, and one of the observations that I made in the podcast is that every generation has those who believe the end is near. I have also observed a pattern within every community of Jesus followers with whom I’ve been associated. As they get older, the more likely it is that they will be convinced that the return of Jesus and the apocalyptic end prophesied in Revelation is near. There must be something human in us that feels comforted by projecting our fear about the end of our own earthly journey on all humankind.

Well,” I hear an older woman [let’s cast Dame Maggie Smith in the role] saying with a shrug, “If I’ve got to die, it would be nice to have some company.

These things came to mind this morning as Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the persecution of His followers, and His eventual return “in power and glory.”

As I read the chapter, there was one little phrase that Jesus specifically uses that I have overlooked for my entirety of my forty years as a follower. He calls the signs of His prophetic events “birth pains.”

This brings to mind my last podcast episode in which I discussed the over-arching themes of the Great Story. One of them being:

Creation –> Destruction –> New Creation

So, the logical question I have to ask myself is: “What naturally happens after ‘birth pains’?”

A birth.

A new life.

A new start.

A beginning.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that Jesus told His followers not to worry, and not to be afraid, even in the midst of persecution, suffering, and apocalyptic predictions of incredible suffering and destruction.

It is ironic that Jesus encourages such faith and trust. It is just a day or two before He knows that He will endure incredible persecution, injustice, suffering, death, and hell. Jesus has prophesied that He will exemplify this apocalyptic, overarching Great Story theme. The events about to take place at the end of His own earthly journey are layered with meaning. They will be both a micro-human event and a macro-spiritual event. His trials, suffering, death, and resurrection are the “birth pains.” Even as Jesus says these words, amidst the escalation of conflict and the death threats of His enemies, He is feeling the contractions of His divine role in the Great Story. He is providing the example. He is blazing the trail. He is leading the way which does not end on the cross. It is the labor that will give birth to new life:

Life –> Death –> Resurrection

I am also reminded this morning that most apocalyptic movies and stories do not end with the depressing end of all things, but with the seeds of new hope being planted.

All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story.

 “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Jesus

And,” I imagine Jesus saying with a shrug, “if I’m going to live, I’d love to have some company.”

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

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Panic, Prudence, and a Prediction

The prudent see danger and take refuge,
    but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.

Proverbs 22:3 (NIV)

This past Saturday, Wendy and I made our annual clean-out of the storage room in our basement. This has become an annual event. Each Spring things are picked up and organized. Each year, upon completion, we vow to keep it picked up and organized. Then over the process of a year the room gets cluttered again.

There’s probably a apt proverb about such a pattern of behavior.

Part of the process in the cleanout was going through storage tubs, determining what was in them, and then making decisions about keeping it, pitching it, taking it to the thrift store, or putting it on the curb for what I like to call the town’s semi-annual Sanford & Son Memorial Fest. That’s when scores of pick-up trucks and minivans looking for buried treasure drive slowly up and down the street picking through and salvaging the neighborhood junk.

Sorting through the storage bins I came across an old Bible (I tend to inherit all the family Bibles) that says it belonged to my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. Inside the cover are handwritten dates in history such as the end of World War II and President Roosevelt’s death. There is also in the storage tub a stack of newspapers my grandparents held onto. Pearl Harbor, John Glen’s historic trip to space, man walking on the moon, Nixon’s resignation, and etc. To this stack I’ve added some of my own including the historic floods of 1993 and, of course, September 11, 2001.

As I write this, I can’t help but think the historic moment the world is experiencing right now. The world-wide pandemic of the Coronavirus has changed the world as everything shuts down and we are urged to keep our “social distance” in order to try and stop the spread of the virus. In fact, our weekend project was a happy coincidence as we stayed home and did our part.

Like many people, I have quietly been bemoaning the panic (seriously, if you need 300 rolls of toilet paper to make it through a possible 2-3 week quarantine, you’ve got other issues). Daily, I’ve been checking the stats and the numbers are still, blessedly, low.

In a nation of 330 million people, there are 3802 cases in the United States (.001152% or one-thousandth of one percent of the population). Worldwide, the statistics show the death rate to be about 7-8% of those who have gotten the virus, while about 92-93% of those with the virus recover. And, as I’ve been reminding people, the death toll last winter in the United States was over 80,000 deaths from the common flu. In other words, there is really no need to panic or to be afraid.

As I am fond of saying, truth is often found at the point of tension between the two extremes. So, while there’s no need to panic, it is equally important not to be completely dismissive. There is such a thing as prudence which the ancient Sage reminds us in today’s proverb. Medical experts are saying that the Coronavirus is highly contagious, has a long incubation period, can live on surfaces for a long time, and is deadly for those individuals who have weakened immune systems and weak respiratory systems (which, I’d guess, is about 7-8% of the population). The list of those at risk, however, includes people I love dearly including my parents, Wendy’s grandmother, and our grandson, Milo.

And so, while I personally don’t have a lot to be worried about, the world has stopped for a few weeks (maybe months) so that we can keep the virus from getting to Milo and Papa Dean and Grandma Jelly Bean. And, I’m good with that. I thought our daughter, Taylor’s, post said it very well this morning:

I don’t claim to be a prophet, but based on my experience with other tragic, world-interrupting events that I’ve lived through, here’s how I predict this will all play-out. Someday my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will hear about the great Coronavirus scare of 2020. Maybe they’ll even find a newspaper I placed in the storage bin recording today’s crazy reality. We will talk about how March Madness and every sporting event in the world was canceled. We’ll recount that there were no St. Patrick’s Day celebrations or parades, even in Dublin, Ireland. We’ll talk about school being out for weeks, stupid people hoarding toilet paper, everyone working from home, and social distancing. Then we’ll laugh about the generation known as the “Coronavirus Kids” or some other catchy term, who were all born nine-months after couples were stuck at home with no sports on television. We might be able to remember someone we knew who died of the virus. Then, we’ll talk about the fact that after a few weeks of crazy life returned to normal, the markets recovered, sporting events began again, and how, blessedly, very few people died in the grand scheme of things.

I was scheduled to be in Des Moines today for a meeting with a client. Just a few minutes ago I received an email from the client inviting us, “in light of the COVID-19 hype,” to join them and “play along” as we have a conference call instead of a face-to-face meeting.

Sounds like a prudent thing to do. Sure, I’ll play along.

Stay healthy, my friend.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

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

Poet, Chorus, Character

I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.

And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.
Zechariah 11:12-13 (NIV)

One of the things that I love about acting is the opportunity to bring a character to life. The first step in almost every rehearsal process is the “read through” in which all of the actors in a play sit down with the director and simply read the script out loud around a table. Then, over the process of a few weeks, those words are transformed as the actors embody the characters, are transformed by the costumers and make-up artists. Finally, they give action, expression, and relational interaction within a detailed setting on the stage.

One of the difficult parts of reading the ancient Hebrew prophets is that they often used different devices in their writing for different effects. In today’s, chapter, Zechariah begins with poetry just as he had in the previous chapter (vss 1-3). He then switches to prose and relates the message God gave him concerning a shepherd and a coming time of destruction (vss. 4-6). Zech then switches to writing in the voice of first-person. Much like an actor, he embodies the voice of the Shepherd.

Much like the prophet Isaiah whose prophesied the Messiah as a suffering servant (Is 53), the prophecy of Zechariah foreshadows a Messiah-King who is rejected by the flock. His payment is thirty pieces of silver. Historians say that this was the common price for a slave, and represents an insult.

Anyone familiar with the Jesus story will immediately recognize the foreshadowing of his final week in Jerusalem. The chief priests and leaders of the temple in Jerusalem were supposed to be shepherding God’s people but instead were running a religious racket that oppressed the people and made themselves rich. They reject Jesus (who, btw, claimed the mantel of “The Good Shepherd”) and they pay one of his disciples 30 pieces of silver to betray him. Judas later laments his decision and throws the silver back to the priests.

The description Zechariah gives of destruction, devastation, and even cannibalism is an accurate picture of the Roman siege of Jerusalem and subsequent destruction of the city and the temple in 70 A.D. The historian, Josephus, records that cannibalism did occur within the city as food supplies ran out during the siege.

At the end of the chapter, the “worthless shepherd” (a corrupt ruler over the people) is struck in the arm (arm is a symbol of strength) and his “right eye” (right is metaphorically associated with favor) is blinded. I can’t help but be reminded that in destroying Jerusalem, the Romans also torched all of the Hebrews’ genealogical records. Without being able to see and confirm direct descendence from Aaron or Levi, they are blind to who can offer sacrifices and run the sacrificial system. The sacrificial system of Moses was effectively ended. Without being able to see and confirm direct descendence from David, they are blind to know who can ascend to the monarchy of Judah. The earthly monarchy of David was effectively ended, as well.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again fascinated by the prophetic. It’s artistic the way Zechariah switches style three times within a chapter. He starts as a poet, then becomes the chorus, and then takes on character as he accurately envisions events that would occur some four hundred years later.

Once again, I’m reminded that there is a flow to the narrative of the Great Story God is authoring from Genesis to Revelation. There is a Level Four storyboard. I am endlessly fascinated by the mystery of it and repeatedly encouraged to know that the story is being played out, even in the crazy events I observe in the world news each day.

Click on this image to go to an index of all posts in this series on the writings of the prophet Zechariah!
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Sometimes It Sucks to Be Right

The ground is cracked
    because there is no rain in the land;
the farmers are dismayed
    and cover their heads.
Jeremiah 14:4 (NIV)

Growing up in Iowa one is learns just how dependent our lives are on weather. I didn’t grow up on a farm and didn’t have a single family member who did. I knew nothing about agriculture. Still, when a boy grows up in a state that produces 15 billion bushels of corn a year and is the nation’s leading producer of soybeans, eggs, and hogs you can’t help but realize how dependent life is on seasons, earth, sun, and rain. When weather doesn’t cooperate for an extended period of time it’s a serious deal.

I remember as a kid one summer the midwest, and Iowa in particular, was experiencing a serious drought. Weather dominated the local news each night and the drought become a daily topic for the daily national newscasts as well. One evening during the usual network sitcom I watched as our local news station actually ran a scrolling bulletin along the bottom of the screen reporting that rain had unexpectedly developed over a small town where the local church was holding an evening prayer vigil. When was the last time your local news broke into programming to report an answered prayer? Yeah, it gets serious when rain doesn’t fall around here.

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, drought was even more serious. In 21st century Iowa a drought means financial crisis. In Jeremiah’s day drought meant everyone could literally die.

That’s the backdrop on today’s chapter. Keep in mind that the book of Jeremiah is actually an anthology of the ancient prophet’s poetry and messages. Today’s chapter and tomorrow’s chapter are a poetic conversation with Jeremiah pleading with God for mercy amidst a drought and God responding (but not in a “Oh good! Let’s scroll God’s answer along the bottom of Magnum P.I.!” kind of way).

The answer Jeremiah gets from God is not good news and Jeremiah notices that he seems to be the only prophet who isn’t broadcasting optimistic prognostications of showers of blessing and a flood of deliverance. Jeremiah gets to be the lone voice proclaiming, “Tighten your belt, pack your bags, and get ready to move. This drought isn’t ending anytime soon,” and then he has the pleasure of adding, “after the drought the forecast is for famine and war.

Ugh. No wonder Jeremiah takes note that it seems much easier to say the things people want to hear. It sucks to be the lone harbinger of bad news. It sucks even worse to be right.

I’ve noticed along life’s journey that when the whole world is freaking out and broadcasting fear and anxiety 24/7 it is rarely as bad as the groupthink and crowd-speak makes it. The opposite is also true. When the groupthink and crowd-speak is predicting perpetually perfect conditions and a never-ending bull market of bliss, you can be pretty sure that the bubble’s going to burst at some point. I’ve learned to be wary of the din of the crowd. I try to keep my ears open for a lonely voice with a different message, usually found somewhere in the wilderness (or flyover country where I live).

Btw, it’s been rainy the past couple of weeks here in Iowa. I’d say things are looking good for planting season and the crops this year. But please don’t take my word for it. When it comes to farming I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

Grab Your Bug-Out Bag!

“Gather up your bundle from the ground,
    O you who live under siege!
For thus says the Lord:
I am going to sling out the inhabitants of the land
    at this time….”
Jeremiah 10:17-18 (NRSVCE)

Among the sub-culture of the “wild-at-heart” man’s man is a thing known as a bug-out bag. There was a lot of buzz about it among some of the guys in my circles a few years back. The bug-out bag is a single duffle or backpack (you have to be able to carry it) that contains what you need to survive should nuclear war, EMP grid blackout, Zombie apocalypse, or other kind of Mad Max or Hunger Games type dystopia become a sudden reality. The bug-out bag contains things you need to survive like water, food, and the means to create shelter. Oh, and a weapon to kill Zombies or hunt down your next meal is always a wise choice. For the record, I don’t have a bug-out bag so I guess Wendy and I are screwed should any of the aforementioned events transpire.

Life in Jeremiah’s day was infinitely more precarious that the one we live in today. As a human being you’d be fortunate to survive infancy, and if you did survive into your teens you could expect the average life-span to be around 30 years. Disease, famine, and local wars were a constant threat. At that time in history local city-states and tribal kingdoms were being swallowed up by rapidly growing regional empires who had begun to perfect their tactics of military aggression, siege warfare, and political assimilation. The Assyrian and Babylonian empires were chief among them.

Jeremiah’s broken-record prophesies were not really that crazy to the people of his day. The Assyrians and Babylonians had a reputation for ruthlessness that was well-known and well deserved. Assyria had already destroyed their cousins in the northern kingdom of Israel (Jerusalem was part of the southern kingdom of Judah). The prevailing tactic of regional Empires was to take over the city, plunder anything valuable, kill the leaders and take the best and brightest hostage (FYI: Daniel was one of these). So, when Jeremiah wrote in today’s chapter that the people of Jerusalem should grab their bug-out bags, they knew what he was talking about (and it wasn’t a Zombie apocalypse).

For those reading along with this chapter-a-day journey, it should also be noted that Jerusalem had been attacked just a generation before by the Assyrians. In that day the Jerusalem was miraculously spared as the enemy army was mysteriously wiped out overnight (2 Kings 19). This, of course, made Jeremiah’s prophetic task more difficult. The people of Jeremiah’s day believed that God would miraculously save them just as He had done before.

This morning I’m thinking about all the doomsday predictions I’ve heard across my lifetime. From Christian teachers and their mesmerizing interpretations of Revelation to economists warning of global monetary collapse to environmentalists warning of a coming ice age (that was the prediction I heard in elementary school) or global warming meltdown. With the proliferation of voices via the internet there is no lack of fear-inducing doomsday predictions to go around. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit-hole of fear.

When confronted with doomsday predictions I find myself trying to be discerning. I can’t do anything about the timing of events in Revelation so I might as well focus each day on loving others as Jesus calls me to do and not worry about that which I can’t control. I believe God calls us to care for the Earth, so Wendy and I try to be good stewards of natural resources, recycle, and make wise choices for the sake of the environment whenever we can. Yet, once again, there is only so much I can do on a personal level and what will be is out of my control. It seems a waste of mental and emotional energy to live in perpetual fear of that which I don’t know and can’t control.

I confess, however, that the notion of having a bug-out bag (with a compass and one of those giant Rambo-like survival knives) does stir my manly spirit. “Arrrggghh!”

Prophecy and Discernment

You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?” If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 (NRSV)

I believe that God continues to speak through His children who have been given the spiritual gift of prophecy. It’s both prescribed throughout God’s Message, and I’ve also experienced it at different moments of my journey. From the very beginning, however, God has instructed us to use discernment with such things.

There is a lady among our group of Jesus followers who has, on a couple of occasions, approached Wendy out of the blue to share something God spoke into her heart for Wendy as she prayed. This woman is not a close friend and she has no intimate knowledge of our lives. I could not pick her out of a crowd. Nevertheless, on these rare occasions when she has sought Wendy out and shared what God laid on her heart it has never failed hit the bulls-eye in ways that leave both of us shaking our heads.

There is another among our group of Jesus followers who has, over the years, made a steady stream of bold prophetic statements that have consistently failed to materialize as predicted. If this person lived in the time of Moses they would have stoned him for boldly predicting so many things that never came true. I’m glad we don’t live in the time of Moses and I wish no ill will on this person. I have learned, however, to lovingly and patiently roll the eyes of my heart when the next bold prophetic utterance comes flowing out of his mouth.

Today, I’m thankful that God speaks through others who are gifted in such ways. I appreciate those who have such gifts and use them in decent and orderly ways. I’m also reminded that I have a responsibility to be wise and discerning in these things, refusing to blindly accept another person’s prophetic utterance without testing it against God’s Message, against the counsel of the wise, and the ultimate outcome.

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I’ll Worry About Tomorrow, Tomorrow

hedgingWhat has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

There has been a lot of talk of late regarding the level of instability in the world. Just last Sunday our pastor, for the first time in his life, publicly declared that he personally believes that some things will continue to get worse and worse and that Jesus will return in the next 30-40 years.

This prompted some good conversations between Wendy and me over breakfast this week as we poured over the latest bad news from around the globe in the Wall Street Journal. I have heard predictions like the one our pastor made many times over the years by people I have considered both wise and intelligent as well as by those whom I’d consider to be fools. Jesus himself said that no one knows the day and the hour and that it will come suddenly “like a thief in the night.” I long ago gave up caring about this prediction or that prediction. I consider that, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes my say, “chasing after the wind.” My only responsibility with regard to Jesus return, according to Jesus own teaching, is to be ready for it to happen. That, I am.

As for things being more violent and unstable in the world, I’m not sure I agree. Things are relatively unstable right now, and we’re all feeling it, but as a student of history I can think of several periods of world history that were both incredibly violent and incredibly volatile.  I believe that if you lived in Europe during the Inquisition you’d find life both violent and volatile because of what the Church was doing. The Middle Ages were extremely unstable and life was extremely violent (they didn’t call them the “Dark Ages” for nothing), and coincidentally, Jesus followers of that day were equally convinced, based on how bad things were, that Jesus’ return was imminent. I think our current generation has already forgotten how unstable and violent the world was during the World Wars of the previous century.

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Some things have changed and there are some things that are unprecedented in human history. Population, for one. There are more people experiencing these things than ever before. Technology and communication are also giving this generation experiences that no generation before has had. I believe that our perception and emotional reaction to world events is greater today because we have instant access to photos and video of every horrific international incident being pushed into the palm of our hands 24/7/365. I believe that our culture is experiencing unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety because technology and media is bombarding our eyes and brains with images and first hand reports of every tragedy around the globe. It’s bound to have an effect.

This morning I am pondering the Teacher’s ancient words in light of living in circumstances that he couldn’t even fathom when he wrote them nearly three thousand years ago. Some things don’t change. There are some things that we as humans repeat over and over and over again like a squirrel in a wheel. Other things change greatly. Predicting the future is a risky proposition and getting overly anxious about tomorrow is something that even Jesus to us not to do:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So, I’m focused on today and walking the path laid right in front of me. Today I will live and love to the best of my ability right here in the place I am in and the place God has me. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.