Tag Archives: Seek

The Pursuit

Whoever pursues righteousness and love
    finds life, prosperity and honor.

Proverbs 21:21 (NIV)

A recently released study showed that the number of church-going Christians in the United States has dropped significantly in the past twenty years. As usual, I have heard a number of media outlets fanning the flames of fear, anxiety, and panic at the news. I’m not getting my undies in a bunch over it. There are some fascinating questions to be asked, contemplated, and discussed regarding the details in the data. Fear leads to all sorts of silly, reactive behavior.

When I was young and starting out on my faith journey, many institutional churches had a keen interest in morality and political power. There was, I know, a genuine motivation in being followers of Jesus. I experienced it first hand in my own life and in the sincere mentors I wrote about yesterday who taught me spiritual disciplines. There was also, however, a drive for size, numbers, and political influence within media-driven pastors and leaders. I myself witnessed and was often a part of a push to get people to pray the sinner’s prayer and walk an aisle to accept Jesus. While that launched many faith journeys, my own included, there were many who simply believed that they had received the heavenly stamp of approval. They had their spiritual “fire insurance” policy that would keep them out of hell, and their ticket was punched for heaven. This was often not the start of a faith journey towards becoming more like Jesus, but a transactional religious rite.

Jesus addressed this in His parable of the sower. The seed falls on all sorts of soil. Some show signs of life and growth, but never grows to maturity or produces a healthy, abundant crop.

My own observation is that there have been many who were part of institutional denominations and churches for reasons that were far different than a personal spiritual journey to follow Jesus. It could have been familial, cultural, and/or social expectation in a time when the institutional church was part of the fabric of our society. There has been a huge shift in the past twenty years. Denominations are imploding. The institutions are falling apart. In addition, being a follower of Jesus involves regular fellowship with other believers and worship. Membership and participation in an institutional church provide the opportunity for those things. At the same time, I have known many regular church members and attenders who neither worship nor participate in any real spiritual relationship with others. In addition, an institutional church is not the only place that the disciplines of worship and fellowship can be found.

This brings me back to the proverb from today’s chapter that I pasted above. It cuts right to the heart of the matter and makes me ask: “What am I pursuing?” If it’s simply a religious rite or a transactional moment that gives me some sense of eternal security, then it’s a very different thing than me being a follower of Jesus. What I have discovered is that being a follower of Jesus is a faith journey because it is a never-ending pursuit and a seeking after becoming the person Jesus calls me to be. As the proverb states, it’s not a pursuit of religion and heaven, but of righteousness and love.

Jesus said:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [life’s basic necessities] will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

So, in the quiet this morning I find myself asking the very simple question: “What am I pursuing?” Then there is a follow-up question that is difficult, but necessary: “What do I want to say I am pursuing, and what do my daily words, actions, relationships, purchases, time spent, and energy expended reveal to be my life’s pursuits?

Righteousness and love.

Sometimes, I have to recalibrate and remember what the goal is. Otherwise, I get distracted pursuing so many other things.

<— 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

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

“But today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.”
Jeremiah 40:4 (NIV)

Some time ago a potential opportunity presented itself to me. It was unexpected, and ultimately not meant to be. However, for a few weeks Wendy and I grappled with the notion of picking up the tent pegs of the life we’ve established and moving on. It does seem, at times, as if the grass is always greener, the possibilities broader, and the road easier “in a new place.” Present reality and circumstance always feels like such a slog. It’s easy for my imagination to conjure how easy it must be in a different place with different circumstances.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story continues to unfold the events after the City of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. The Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, had left Jeremiah in the custody of the Captain of the guard. When the time came for the Captain to return to Babylon he releases Jeremiah from his chains and gives Jeremiah a choice. Go back to Babylon with the Captain and all the exiles, or stay in Judah with the remnant of people left to work the land (the poorest, oldest, and sickest of the population). Jeremiah, who is now advanced in years himself, chooses to stay.

Should I stay or should I go?

This morning I’m thinking about that question which I have grappled with on different occasions in my life journey. I’ve also walked beside friends and family members who have been presented with that question in their own respective journeys. The answer, I have found, is rarely clear or easy.

What I have found, however, is that sometimes there is no clear choice, and really no wrong choice. I choose to stay, or to go, and God weaves my choice into the tapestry of my story and journey. Other times I have found clarity for the right choice through prayer, contemplation, and conversation with my closest of confidants. The more I pray and ponder the more peace I feel with one choice or the other, and pursuing the Spirit’s flow to the path of peace is always a wise choice. Still other times I have found that God makes it very clear through a direct spiritual word, a sign, or the word of a prophet. I have stories I could tell, but I’ll save those for other posts.

This morning I’m thinking about Jeremiah and the choice given him. Was it hard for him? Did God give him clear direction what to do? Or did staying in the rubble of Jerusalem just seem easier for an old man than the long journey to a foreign land? Today’s chapter doesn’t say, but I can imagine his thoughts and questions.

As for me, I’m grateful for where my journey has led me. I’m thankful to be in this place, in this reality, with this people, even when the present circumstances feel like a slog (and they often do). I’m have peace. Last night Wendy and I sat on our back patio and stared out at the back yard which spread out like a huge, thick carpet on a beautiful spring evening in Iowa.

The green grass I’m standing on right here, right now, is just fine.

Dancers and Wallflowers

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (NIV)

Marriage is an interesting paradigm for we human beings. When followers of Jesus take marriage vows we usually include words and metaphors that speak of two becoming one, just as God is one, and then some poetic verses from Ecclesiastes are often quoted:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Two become one and a chord of three strands. Wait a minute, weren’t we talking about two? Where did the three come from? A man and a woman in relationship with one another and God creating a trinitarian relationship. Spiritual one-ness in the relationship of individual persons. A multiplication of the mystery and divine dance of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In today’s chapter, Paul is pushing into something different than marriage, but essentially it’s the same principle. Holy Spirit knows the thoughts of God. The night before Jesus died he told His followers that Holy Spirit would come to in-dwell them (Spiritual, relational oneness between the divine and the human), speaking only what the Spirit hears from the Father. The Spirit searches the thoughts of the Father and is able to reveal them within those in whom the Spirit dwells. Thus, it’s another extension of the divine dance in another trinitarian relationship: Father, Spirit, human.

One of the things I find fascinating is that today’s chapter says that the Spirit searches. So the relationship Jesus talked about between Father and Spirit is not a simple, rote hearing and repeating like the game of telephone. The Spirit searches the deep things of God. And the Spirit doesn’t just search the deep things of God, but searches all things.

Back to the divine dance of relationships whether that is the relationship between me and Wendy, me and Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit and the Father, the Father and Son. You get where I’m going with this. It’s all connected in this amazing, mysterious dance, but no partner in the dance can be passive or it’s not a dance. Wallflowers are at a dance, but wallflowers are not actually dancing.

How often do I find myself a wallflower at the dance of my marriage? How often do I find myself a wallflower at the dance of my faith?
How often do I find myself a wallflower at the dance of Life?

Following the example of Holy Spirit, I believe being a dancer in this energy called Life requires my spirit to be actively searching, curious and inquisitive about all things. After all, Jesus said to “ask, seek, and knock.” Following the example of Holy Spirit, I believe that being in any intimate, relational dance calls the partners to search the deep things of one another. The better each partner searches and knows and is known to the other, the better and more life giving the dance becomes between all the partners in the dance.

This morning I’m asking myself just how good of a relational dance partner I am. Am I actively reaching out, curious, engaging, initiating, and searching? Or, am I a wallflower standing along the edges of the relationship waiting to be invited, asked, and or told what to do?

Keeping Watch

This is what the Lord says to me:
“Go, post a lookout

    and have him report what he sees.”
Isaiah 21:6 (NIV)

In ancient days major cities had walls built around them. The walls protected the city from invaders. The walls were often tall and wide enough to accommodate soldiers who would watch the horizon for people approaching. It’s much the same concept as the Medieval castles, but on a larger scale. Around Europe and the Middle East you can find cities that still have walls, or remnants of walls standing. Even the old city of Jerusalem is walled, though the walls are from Medieval times, not the days of Isaiah.

Through the lyrics of David’s songs and the poetry of the prophets we find the metaphor of the “watchman” who stands on the walls and is on the lookout:

I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:5

The watchmen found me
    as they made their rounds in the city.
    “Have you seen the one my heart loves?
Song of Songs 3:3

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.”
Ezekiel 3:17

The prophet, along with my God,
    is the watchman over Ephraim…
Hosea 9:8

God’s language is metaphor. Paying attention to the metaphors and word pictures use throughout God’s Message provides understanding and insight. In ancient days, the watchman was a powerful word picture, though that power is easily lost in our days of suburbia. The watchman was a crucial figure. The watchman was on guard, ever vigilant in keeping watch on what was going on. The watchman could see things approaching from far off and could raise an alarm or provide important intelligence. The watchman was a perfect metaphor for the prophets who kept watch on what was coming and related the news to God’s people. The watchman is an apt precursor to the teachings of Jesus:

“Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.”

“He who seeks, finds.”

“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

Jesus made clear that, as His follower, I am to be aware, seeking and watching. We all have responsibilities as watchmen.

This morning as I write this post it is Election Day in the U.S. There is more angst and anger about this election than any election I have experienced in my lifetime. Historians tell us that there have been far more contentious elections and situations in our nations short history, though I think there are relatively few today who actually try to learn from the past (good watchmen look in all directions!).

Whatever the results of this election, it doesn’t take much of a watchman to see the numbers of the polls and know that tomorrow will dawn with more people angry and disappointed than relieved. It is the portents of contention ahead.

And so I’m reminded this morning of another important part of God’s Message, for a watchman should always weigh what he or she sees in context:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders. Romans 13:1-7 (MSG)

Be a responsible citizen. Fulfill our obligation. Vote.

Then be at peace, love our neighbors , and respect our leaders (whoever they may be).

Big Questions of the Grand Parable

And [God] said, “Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:9-10 (NRSV)

The further I progress in my journey, the more I’ve come to understand that the Author of Life weaves the story in characters that my human mind cannot begin to fathom. Along the way my own heart and mind were unveiled to see, hear, comprehend at particular times, in specific moments that seem to coincide with my own part in the Great Story. Though, I don’t fully understand how and why.

Jesus Himself pushed into this mystery when asked why He spoke in parables. Jesus quoted these very same lines of prophecy given to the prophet Isaiah:

[Jesus] answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah….

A friend of mine is currently reading a biography of the great baseball player, Ted Williams. Our text conversation last night meandered into how such a great ball player was such a horrible human being. We were asking big questions about how some characters seem blinded to the very basics of human kindness, humility and decency.

I don’t know. Nor do I understand fully why my eyes were unveiled to perceive certain truths in certain moments of my journey, while others’ eyes appear to remain stubbornly veiled to the same. My heart and mind refuse to stop asking the questions and seeking answers. I have come to acknowledge, however, that as I knock there are some doors of knowledge that are answered, while others remain tightly shut as they have for all earthly pilgrims through the depths of time.

This morning I am full of big questions for which I don’t have answers. The Author of Life is not writing a socialist manifesto in which all characters have some equal standing, purpose, provision, and calling. The character list is abundantly diverse and runs the gamut from evil to good, sinner to saint, and irredeemable to redeemed. There is obviously timing and purpose in this Grand Parable that, like all great stories, I don’t fully see until the last chapter is read.

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured image: pat_ossa via Flickr

Captivated

source: Novica
source: Novica

…and through [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:20 (NRSV)

In marriage I have come to a greater appreciation of the relational dance of give and take, of pursing and being pursued. Traditional roles say that when it comes to courtship and sex, men are the pursuers and women the captivated. I have found it generally true as are most generalities, but it’s too simplistic a construct for the intimacy of so mysterious and complex of relationship. I often find myself to be the pursuer, but it’s certainly fun when Wendy pursues me.

I find it fascinating that God so often uses the metaphor of marriage to describe His relationship with us. As a young man I struggled a lot with the notion of Jesus’ followers being described as “the bride of Christ.” To be honest, it was discomforting to my male ego. After years of navigating marriage, however, I realize how apt a metaphor it is. I begin to understand that it’s far more intimate and mysterious than the simplistic generalities of gender.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is described as the reconciler. He reconciled us to him. He pursued. He initiated. He came to us. He sacrificed Himself for us. He gave. He drew us in.

When Jesus found me, I was seeking, but looking back there is no doubt in my mind or spirit that it was Jesus who found me in my seeking and drew me in. He pursued me. He reconciled me to Himself.

I was, and am continually, captivated.

Carry On

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27 (NRSV)

A few weeks ago Wendy and I were driving through Des Moines and she was handling the DJ duties on the radio. Carry on My Wayward Son by Kansas came on and we rocked out to it together. A flood of memories came rushing back to me. As a boy, Kansas was my favorite rock group and I wore out the needle on my cheap record player with their albums and 45s.

One of the things that I remember loving about Kansas was the meaning I found in their lyrics. Kansas was the first group that I remember truly paying attention to the lyrics and in Kerry Livgren’s spiritual groping I found a kindred spirit.

Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
Well, it surely means that I don’t know

On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune,
But I hear the voices say

Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more no!

As I read Paul’s message to the people of Athens, my memory was suddenly stirred to my days of spiritual groping, setting my soul’s course to seek after God in song lyrics and wherever else I might find a hint of God’s presence. As Paul testified, I eventually found that God was not as far from me as I thought. It was a cold February night in 1981 that I opened my heart and began my relationship with Jesus. I stopped groping for Him and started growing in Him. I’ve been carrying on ever since. At times I merely stumble along, but I keep pressing forward none the less.

If you’re groping, carry on. He is not as far as you think.