Tag Archives: Roots

Losing the Truth of Loss

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You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
Exodus 22:21-24 (NRSVCE)

I find it fascinating, as I read the laws of Moses in today’s chapter, that the Hebrews were commanded by God to take care of foreigners living among them, and to take care of socially and economically disadvantaged groups within their society. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene some 1500 years later, the Temple in Jerusalem had become a religious racket (which is why Jesus drove the currency exchange vendors out of the Temple). The religious system prescribed through Moses had become an institution that made money for the the chief priests and religious leaders who then leveraged their power and authority to line their own pockets at the expense of their own people, while they prejudicially looked down on anyone who wasn’t one of them. They religiously kept the rules that made them look pious while finding excuses for ignoring those that might require real compassion and generosity.

One of the reasons the early Jesus Movement grew so rapidly was the fact that Jesus’ followers were radically challenging the social structures of the day. There were no church buildings. They met in homes around the supper table and, at that table, everyone was welcome to sit together. Both women and men, Jews and non-Jews, and even slaves were welcomed to sit at the table with their master. Beyond that, the followers of Jesus took care of those who were socially and economically disadvantaged in the society of that day including widows, orphans, and lepers.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome a few hundred years later, the Jesus Movement became a powerful religious and political institution almost overnight. The good news is that Christians would no longer be persecuted and fed to the lions in the Roman Circus. The way was paved for sincere teachers and theologians to meet together, debate, and establish core doctrines. With the authority of the Roman Empire, there was an opportunity for real change.

Interestingly enough, what followed was ironically similar to the very things Jesus criticized in the religious leaders of His own people. The movement moved from the supper tables in peoples homes to churches and cathedrals, which required a lot of money. Generosity to disadvantaged groups was curtailed as funds were shifted to lining the pockets of the church leaders and their churches and residences. Women were once again diminished as male dominance was established within the institution. Those who threatened the emerging orthodoxy, like the desert fathers and mothers, were branded heretics and either killed or forced to flee. Leadership positions in the church suddenly became positions of socio-economic and political power that were bought, sold, and traded by rich, powerful, and connected families. That’s how we eventually ended up with an eleven-year-old pope (Pope Benedict IX).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself asking a lot of questions. Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has spent the last year grappling with the mega-trends we’re seeing in our culture and our world. There are fewer and fewer individuals claiming to be Christians. Churches, especially here in rural and small-town America, are closing for lack of members. Christianity is no longer accepted as the prevailing cultural worldview in our culture, and there is open and growing antagonism as the historic sins and failings of church institutions spark anger and resentment in many circles. Meanwhile, around the world, Christians are being persecuted and killed without earning much attention.

As a follower of Jesus, I find myself wondering if all of this is simply going to lead Jesus’ followers back to our roots. The history of the Hebrews and the history of Christianity both reveal to me that when the heart of God’s message to care for strangers, aliens, and disadvantaged groups is lost amidst the desire for social, economic, and political power, then there is a loss of spiritual potency and legitimacy. I can’t help but believe that the loss of cultural prominence is actually the road back to spiritual progress. The way of Jesus has always been about letting go, giving up, and leaving behind. The diminishment of self for the gain of others is not an optional path for those followers of Jesus who want an advanced spiritual placement. It’s foundational to being a follower at all:

“and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

-Jesus

I think that this has been lost. I confess that as I reflect on my own journey it’s clear that I am as guilty as anyone.

My heart and mind return to yesterday’s post. I want to stop being an ally to Jesus’ teachings and become an accomplice in putting them to work in tangible ways.

Want to Read More?

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

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

When Trouble Unexpectedly Blows In

In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord.
2 Chronicles 28:22 (NIV)

Just a few weeks ago a tornado descended on the small community where Wendy and I live. That day there were some 27 tornadoes that ripped through Iowa. The tornado here in Pella hit a local manufacturing company, wreaking havoc on multiple plants and turning cars in the parking lot into a pile scrap metal. Since it happened in the middle of the workday, it seems to me a miracle that no one was killed. Only a handful of people were injured, and none seriously.

In the weeks that have followed, it’s been fascinating to watch the community mobilize. The business that took the brunt of the damage is already in the process of rebuilding. Churches and charities are working with those in need. In a time of unexpected trouble, I can see the strength and faith of our community and its people. We’ll be alright.

Along my journey I’ve observed that times of trouble and unexpected tragedy are windows into Spirit. When trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descend like a tornado and blow through our lives, our response reveals what kind of spiritual foundation lies beneath the surface of our lives. It makes known how deep our spiritual roots descend into Life’s soil.

In today’s chapter, the story of King Ahaz reads like a spiritual tragedy. Not only does Ahaz not follow God, but he seems willing to follow any god, any time, any where. He goes from god-to-god sacrificing and paying tribute. When trouble hits Ahaz reaches out to Assyria for help, only to be double-crossed. Ahaz dishonors some of the articles of Solomon’s temple to try to buy his way out of trouble. It doesn’t work. When defeated by Damascus, Ahaz worships their gods in hopes that it will help. It doesn’t.

Ahaz is so willing to believe anything that his troubles reveal that he believes nothing. He has no spiritual roots. He has no foundation. His life was one of constantly grasping for anything only to be left with nothing. He was such a tragic failure, that the people of Judah refuse to entomb Ahaz’s dead body with the other kings.

I’m reminded this morning of how James put it: “the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown about and tossed by the wind.” I’m also reminded of how the Psalmist contrasted the righteous and the wicked in the lyric of Psalm 1. The righteous are described as strong trees with deep roots that continually produce good fruit and don’t wither in trouble. The wicked, however, are like dust blown helplessly in the wind.

On this life journey, I believe almost every one of us will experience trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descending into our lives like a tornado. In that moment, I find out what kind of spiritual roots I’ve developed. If my roots go deep then I will weather the storm, get back to work, and come through the experience even stronger. If I have no spiritual roots then I think I’m going to be more like Ahaz, blown about, grasping for something, anything to hold onto.

(Thanks to everyone who reached out to make sure Wendy and I were alright. We live on the opposite side of town from where the tornado struck and were not in harms way.)

“You Seem Incredibly Zen”

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4 (NIV)

In the late evening of November 2nd, when the Cleveland Indians had inexplicably rallied with two outs in the bottom of the 8th to tie game seven of the World Series, there was a high degree of angst in the family room here at Vander Well Manor. It seemed like it was all going to fall apart like it had done so many times before. Then came the rain delay that has already gained legendary status. Wendy and I had a chance to catch our collective breath along with the rest of the nation.

You seem incredibly zen about this,” Wendy said to me, observing the lack of emotional angst in my affect. I have written ad nauseam about our devotion to the Chicago Cubs over the years, so no need to expound on how momentous of a moment this was, nor how nervous I should have been.

The truth is, I was feeling an inexplicable sense of peace in that moment that I’m not sure I would have been feeling a year ago. I certainly would not have been feeling a sense of peace in this moment  five, ten, or 20 years ago. That night, I was.

When I was a young man, I memorized the words the ancient prophet Isaiah penned, pasted at the top of this post. At this waypoint in my life’s journey I’ve come to realize that peace is a relatively rare human experience on life’s road. This is especially true in the extra innings of World Series game 7, an unforeseen tragedy, an unexpected election result, or a painfully blank ultrasound reading.

On the night that Jesus was arrested, submitted to kangaroo court, beaten, scourged, nailed to a cross and mocked by the on looking crowd He looked at his followers and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

The testimony and stories of Jesus followers in the following hours and days were not stories of peace. They scattered and fled to avoid arrest and gathered clandestinely behind locked doors. The betrayer committed suicide. Their leader, Peter, followed Jesus at a distance, but three times fearfully denied any knowledge of the Man he’d earlier hailed as Christ. While the female followers of Jesus risked going to the tomb to anoint the body after the sabbath, the men remained fearfully hidden. Not exactly a picture of peace.

Tradition and history tell us, however, that something happened in the days and years that followed the tragic events of that fateful night. Something had been transformed in these same fearful, peace-less followers. They encountered a resurrected Christ. Forty days later they fearlessly proclaimed the risen Jesus to public crowds. They peacefully accepted arrest, imprisonment and trial. They scattered once more, not in fear but with a mission to share the Message with the known world. With the exception of John, who died of old age, the rest peacefully accepted the brutal death of martyrs.

This morning I am reminded that the peace that Jesus promised His followers did not come instantly. It budded, it took root, and it grew to fruition. God’s creation is a growing, expanding, organic cosmos. Miracles happen, but most of the time things take time to grow before you experience the fruit.

So it was on the evening of November 2nd Wendy noticed my zen-like peace during the rain delay. I think I’m finally hitting a stage of the journey in which I’m enjoying the fruit of peace after many years of steadfast seeking. Peace in the knowledge of a Divine Dance that is so much bigger, deeper, and greater than I’ve ever fathomed. Peace that comes with faith in the Great Story being told by the Author of Life. Peace with my place and role in that Story. Peace in the knowledge that our journeys are all full of bitter defeats and disappointments, but also include rare moments of satisfying victory. I’m increasingly at peace with the knowledge that I will certainly endure the former as I always have before, and might even gain a little wisdom in the experience. I will also enjoy the latter when it comes, even more fully in proportion to the measure of defeat that preceded it.

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured photo: kudumomo via Flickr

Sewage and the Source

Septic Tank: Illustration shows how an undergr...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wickedness never brings stability,
    but the godly have deep roots.
Proverbs 12:3 (NLT)

A few weeks ago, Wendy and I had five dead oak trees cut down near our lake home. Add to that total the three dead oak trees we had to cut down last year. When we updated our family’s lake property a few years ago there was a small forest between the house and the shoreline, and the trees gave shade to the Playhouse each summer. Now, the trees are gone along with the shade they provided. I have to admit I’m a little saddened by this and was a little confused why we lost the trees so quickly. When Jason came from the tree service to give me an estimate for cutting down the trees this spring, I asked the arborist what the problem could be and what we could do to replace them.

Jason quickly pointed out the problem with our dead trees and the reason it will nearly be impossible to replace them. As part of our renovation of the property, we added a new septic system which introduced a sprawling leach field across our yard and between the trees. Sewage from our home goes through a system of treatment tanks and then is leeched out across our lawn through a system of buried sewage lines that zig-zag in a snake like fashion across our lawn.

The feeder roots for trees like our oaks, Jason explained, are between ten and eighteen inches below the surface of the ground. When we introduced the sewage lines and their easy, shallow diet of moisture and nutrients, the trees quickly become dependent on feeding off the leach lines. The network of roots that would typically dig deep into the ground to get food and moisture in times of drought tend to go dormant because they aren’t needed. Then, a time of drought comes. Fall and winter arrive when no one is at the lake house using the septic system. The leach field isn’t spreading its sewage. The trees are shocked by the sudden change. There is no longer an easy meal for the shallow feeder roots and the deep roots are no longer doing their job. The tree can’t make the adjustment and dies.

What an amazing word picture. I thought of our trees when I read the proverb above from today’s chapter. How easy it is to feed on the shit this world seeps into the shallows of our lives. Momentary highs, thin pursuits, fast food and intoxicating distractions that offer a quick fix to feed the emptiness in our souls. All the time, our roots aren’t digging deep. We never seek after the life giving springs that lay buried deep below the surface.

The further I get in my life journey, the more I feel a need for my roots to go deeper. I want to tap into the deep wells of God’s living water. But in order to do that, I have to abandon the leach lines I’ve fed from for so long and choose to go deep. I must direct my time, energy and resources to the slow, arduous, often boring discipline of digging, and reaching, and seeking out the Source. When drought comes, and it always comes eventually, I want the roots of my life tapped into that which will sustain me.

Chapter-a-Day Colossians 2

 

Yellow Rose.
Yellow Rose. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:7 (NLT)

When we moved into our house about seven years ago, I discovered a meager little yellow rose bush growing behind the garage. You couldn’t see it from the patio and you only noticed it if you were looking for it. The back of the deteriorating garage is a bit of an inhospitable place. It’s a place where junk gets tossed amidst the remnants of old paint peelings and where the wind and weeds tend to collect blowing garbage.

I paid little attention to the humble yellow rose bush. I did nothing to tend it. Yet, every summer as I mowed around the back of the garage I would see beautiful pale yellow roses touched with pink blooming from the little bush. I’d snip them and bring them in the house for my Love.

Last summer I decided to plant a few rose bushes in our main garden bed behind the house, which is a bit of a joke because I have no agricultural acumen whatsoever. Nevertheless, I planted three rose bushes and decided I would transplant the meager yellow rose bush from behind the garage to join them. I grabbed my shovel and went to work to uncover the root structure of the little bush.

What I discovered as I dug deeper and deeper was a massive, thick system of roots that descended down into the soil deeper than I could easily unearth. I began to realize why this little plant continued to bloom despite the difficult environment and lack of tending. After a lot of digging I realized I was not going to easily get to the bottom of the roots. I finally decided to cut the roots as deep as I could. That was no easy task. The roots were strong and did not yeild easily to my blade. The rose bush did not like the move and struggled through last summer, but it is already showing signs of life again this spring. 

What a great word picture that little rose bush gave me in conjunction with the encouragement in today’s chapter to “let your roots grow down deep into [Jesus].” I’m asking myself, “If people dig around my life, what will they find? Are the roots of my life growing strong, thick, and deep into the source of Creation, who is Christ? Will my life continue to bear fruit despite the antagonistic surface conditions that I experience through the seasons of my everyday life?

Today, I’m thinking about where the spiritual roots of my life go. I’m determined once more to dig a little deeper.

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