Tag Archives: Theme

The Disorder Blues

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Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.

Psalm 25:16 (NIV)

One of the grand, overarching themes of the Great Story is present and revealed in multiple layers of metaphor:

Creation –> Fall –> Redemption
and
Order –> Disorder –> Reorder
and
Life –> Crucifixion/Death –> Resurrection
and
“Old” Life –> Death –> “New” Life

This is a pattern that God has woven into creation. It is present in a number of ways, and it is necessary to spiritual progress and maturity. Consider the words of James, the brother of Jesus, to the believers of Jesus scattered and living in exile from Roman persecution:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

We all love when life feel in order; When things happen pretty much as expected and things are “normal.” Yet every one of us will experience major periods of “disorder” along life’s road whether it be death, sickness, tragedy, loss, conflict, and any number of other life disruptors. The whole world is going through a period of “disorder” from Covid-19. “Disorder” is the path to “reorder” and in “reordering” we will have made gains in faith, perseverance, maturity, understanding, and wholeness.

Late last week I read that every one of the psalms can be categorized as either “order,” “disorder,” and “reorder.” I’m not sure I’ll ever read another psalm without asking myself which category of the grand theme it falls into.

Today’s psalm, yet another lyric penned by David, is another song written as a Hebrew acrostic. Each verse of the lyrics begins with the subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It definitely falls into the “disorder” category. David is “lonely and afflicted” and more than once he confesses his guilt and begs God’s forgiveness. David is surrounded by enemies and fears that he will be put to shame. His song is a cry to God for deliverance from the circumstantial disorder he’s feeling, and plea for God for reorder. It might as well be titled The Disorder Blues.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve experienced that understanding the theme of order, disorder, reorder doesn’t lessen the sting of life’s disorder when it occurs. It has, however, helped me put the disorder into perspective. It reminds me that disorder is a natural part of life’s journey and that I don’t spiritually progress without it. It also gives me a much-needed perspective. Knowing that reorder follows the disorder, I can let go of my “Why is this happening to me?” angst and lean into a “God, I know this all part of growing me up” faith instead.

Like most of the world, I am tired of the disorder of the past six months, and the prospect of it continuing. And yet, humanity has been through the disorder of plagues many times in history, and never in human history have we had the level of technology, communication, and global scientific cooperation we enjoy today. It doesn’t take away the circumstantial sting, but it reminds me that reorder is out there on the horizon.

Until then, I’m pressin’ on.

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

“Out of the Water”

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it…When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Exodus 2:5, 10 (NSRVCE)

There is something we love in stories about a special child, especially when that child is abandoned in order to be saved. The most recent example is, of course, Harry Potter whom Dumbledore leaves with his Muggle aunt and uncle in order to protect the boy from Voldemort and his followers. The theme is recurring, even in the comics. Cal-El is abandoned to Earth in an effort to save him from the destruction of his home planet. He grows up Clark Kent from Smallville, Kansas to become Superman.

In the Great Story, this is also a recurring theme. Joseph’s brothers abandon him into slavery and he eventually becomes the savior of the family. Hannah gives up her only child Samuel to the Temple and he becomes a great prophet and leader. With the incarnation, God the Father “gave his one and only Son” to become Savior of the world and to redeem all things.

In today’s chapter, I was struck by how much we are not told. The narrative moves fast and furious. It skips details and provides only the barest of story elements. In one chapter we go from “the child” (sentenced to die by Pharaoh’s birth control program for the Hebrew tribes) abandoned by his mother to become an adopted member of Pharaoh’s family, who commits murder in defense of one of his kinsmen, flees into another land and gets married.

One commentary I read this morning also mentioned this theme of “the child” (present even in ancient literature) and went on to observe that “Moses has ‘hero’ written all over him.”

The other important metaphor lost on many readers is the fact that Moses is so named by Pharaoh’s daughter because she “drew him out of the water.” This is yet another theme throughout the Great Story. Out of the water, Noah and his family are saved and given God’s promise in the rainbow. Out of the water, Jonah arrives in Ninevah to prophetically lead its citizens to repent. Out of the water, Paul arrives at Malta. Out of the water, Elisha miraculously proclaims his arrival as Elijah’s successor, and it is out the water turned to wine that Jesus miraculously signals the beginning of His ministry. Moses will eventually his people out of the water of the Red Sea towards the Promised Land. Out of the water of the Jordan River, Joshua will lead those people into the Promised Land. Out of the water of that same river, John the Baptist will lead people to repentance and proclaim Jesus the Messiah. It is out of the water of baptism that followers of Jesus are metaphorically washed of sin and set on the path of new life in the footsteps of Jesus. It is out of the water of life Jesus promises to give His followers that a thirsty soul is eternally quenched:

“Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”

John 4:19 (MSG)

In the quiet this morning, I find both my mind and my soul spinning as I think about all the themes and meaning present in the few verses of the chapter. I didn’t even mention the theme of fleeing into the wilderness, the fact that the Midianite people to whom Moses flees are also children of Abraham, nor the fact that Moses’ father-in-law is a “priest” even though the “priesthood” of God had yet to be defined through the law of Moses. Evidence suggests that the Midianites tribes were worshipping the God of Abraham but we know nothing about it or what that really meant.

Yet, I find myself coming back to the theme of water. It is something so essential to life, and yet for most of us, it is something we so take for granted that we don’t even give it a second thought. Along the journey, I have often found that the profound things of God are often quite simple, and hidden in plain sight for “those who have eyes to see.” I’m reminded of another thing Jesus said:

“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

Matthew 10:42 (MSG)

A cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty.

“Out of the water….”

How simple.

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

Exile, Then and Now

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark 16:8 (NIV)

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been entrenched in the them of exile since this past September. It’s been a fascinating and challenging theme. On one hand, the theme of exile is a meta-theme of the Great Story:

  • Since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden at the very beginning of the Great Story, humanity has been exiled from the intended, eternal relationship with God. This is relationship is restored at the very end of the Great Story at the end of the book of Revelation.
  • Jesus left His “home” in eternity with the Father and Spirit, to come to an exile on Earth to live an earthly existence as one of us in order to make the way for the redemption of all things.
  • Abraham followed God’s call to leave his home and wander in exile so that he might be led by God to “a land that I will show you.” (I talked about this in the most recent Wayfarer podcast).
  • Jacob and his family left Canaan to live in exile in Egypt where they escaped famine and were later enslaved by the Egyptians.
  • The tribes of Israel escaped slavery in Egypt and spent 40 years in the exilic wandering of the Sinai.
  • David had to escape from King Saul and spent many years living in exile in the desert where he became a mercenary.
  • The major prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah warned of the coming Babylonian exile.
  • The northern tribes of Israel were taken into captivity and exile by the Assyrians.
  • The tribes of Benjamin and Judah were taken into captivity and exile by the Babylonians.
  • The prophet Ezekiel prophesied in the Babylonian exile.
  • The story of Daniel takes place in the Babylonian exile.
  • The story of Esther takes place during the Babylonian exile under the Persian empire.
  • The stories of Ezra and Nehemiah are about the return from the Babylonian exile.

What struck me in the abrupt end of Mark’s version of the Jesus Story (abrupt endings were not unusual for writings and speeches of the period) is both the irony and the exile.

What is ironic is that Jesus spent much of His ministry telling those whom He healed and delivered to keep it to themselves. In almost every circumstance the person ignored Jesus and spread the good news. Now Jesus completes His mission and does exactly what He predicted He would do multiple times. The Marys are told to spread the good news, only this time they fearfully clam up.

This represents the dramatic shift that took place during the final week of Jesus’ earthly exile. He had arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover as a celebrity. Crowds gathered to praise Him with their “Hosannas!” Jesus followers were vying for positions of prominence in what they were sure would be the Messiah’s earthly reign. “Jesus” was trending in all of the social media outlets of the day and His approval ratings were through the roof.

The Marys’ fear, trembling, and Fifth-Amendment-like silence indicate just how quickly the tables had turned. The powerful political and religious leaders of Jerusalem had successfully turned the fickle crowds against Jesus. Having executed the “Head,” the Marys and the rest of Jesus’ followers knew that their own lives had become expendable. The Godfathers of the Temple’s religious racket could very well be coming for them next. And, it wasn’t just the Jewish authorities. The power of the Roman Empire itself had hung Jesus on the cross, and the Romans were notorious for snuffing out any hint of opposition to their power.

In one week the followers of Jesus had experienced a shift from exaltation to exile. This makes the events chronicled in the book of Acts even more profound for me. If the body had been stolen, or if Jesus’ followers had not met, seen, touched, and received instructions from the resurrected Christ, then how do I explain their fearless 180-degree turn from “trembling, bewildered,” and hidden followers into fearless proponents walking boldly into the Temple courts just 40 days later to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection and face both persecution and martyrdom?

This morning I find myself contemplating a similar seismic shift that I have observed during my earthly journey. I have, in my lifetime, witnessed the waning of institutional Christianity in our world. All of the mainline denominations have fractured and imploded. I continue to witness arguably the most powerful Christian institution, the Roman Catholic church, as it suffers the consequences of its own internal corruption and deep moral failings. I observe that the current era is almost universally being dubbed the “Post-Christian” world. Even the positive contributions of Christianity and the critical role that Christian faith played in the lives of important figures over the past 2000 years are being erased from the historical narrative. In recent films such as Little Women, Tolkien, and Unbroken, I observe that the critical role that Christian faith played in the lives of the characters and protagonists has been completely removed from the narrative.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over what all of this means. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. In the first century, many followers of Jesus fled persecution in Jerusalem and lived in their own personal exiles. Scattered across the Roman Empire, their exile became a key ingredient in the spread of Jesus’ message. Perhaps followers of Jesus are, once again, finding ourselves entering a period of social exile. Looking back at the recurring presence and spiritual purpose of exile in the Great Story, I’m not sure that what I’m observing isn’t simply part of the divine storyboard.

No matter what, I come to the conclusion this morning that my role remains the same. To follow, to love, and to press on one step at a time.

Have a good week, my friend. Thanks for reading.

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

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. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

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.

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. This includes social media such as Facebook or Twitter. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Greater Than Fair

“Truly I tell you,” [Jesus] continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Luke 4:24-27 (NIV)

There are many things I don’t understand in this world. Along my life journey, I have regularly been perplexed at the seeming lack of fairness in life. Like most contemplatives, I am perplexed as to why one person experiences great fortune and another person experiences great tragedy. Even as a follower of Jesus, I have been struck at the incredible diversity in stories and spiritual paths. One person’s life journey appears to be a stroll down Easy Street while another’s is a painful slog down a muddy path riddled with potholes, switchbacks, and roadblocks.

In today’s chapter, Jesus not only acknowledges this reality but also affirms it. As we pick up the story after Jesus is baptized by John, He heads on a sojourn into the wilderness where He successfully overcomes the temptations of the Evil One. Then follows the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and things get off to a great start. Everyone loves his teaching. He speaks with spiritual authority no one has ever heard before.

Then Jesus comes to His hometown of Nazareth. He quotes an ancient prophecy from Isaiah that proclaims the coming of the Messiah who will bring good news to the poor, make the blind see, and set prisoners free.

But not for you,” Jesus says to His long-time friends and neighbors. No miracles for you. He goes on to explain that there is this longstanding spiritual theme in the Great Story in which prophets are never honored in their hometowns. He references Elijah who could have healed any one of his homeboys but instead heals the son of a foreign widow in Phoenicia. Likewise, Jesus states, the prophet Elisha could have healed any leper in his local Jewish leper colony but instead heals a Syrian leper.

This lesson did not sit well with the hometown crowd. This wasn’t fair. So, they attempted to kill Him. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus’ message ended with death threats rather than any kind of spiritual transformation in His audience. He doesn’t seem concerned. Perhaps for the first time in His ministry, it seems that there is something bigger at stake that Jesus is trying to get at.

What I find fascinating about this episode at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is that it so perfectly foreshadows what was going to happen at the end of it. It will be His own people who reject Him and hand Him over for execution. When this happens, Jesus will again reference the recurring theme of His people killing their own prophets throughout their storied history. Jesus also foreshadows that, after His resurrection and ascension, His “Good News” would miraculously explode across the non-Jewish, foreign Gentile population that His own people despised (which is the story told in the book of Acts).

The other reality I cannot escape in this episode is that, on a purely human level, it isn’t fair. A group of people won’t experience Jesus’ miracles. Their demon-possessed children won’t be released. There won’t be a miraculous transformation of tap water into Tempranillo to keep the wine flowing and the reception going at his Nazareth neighbor’s wedding. And, all of these things won’t happen just because Nazareth happens to be Jesus’ hometown? It isn’t fair.

In the quiet this morning I am pondering the fact that Jesus never promised fairness. I searched for it this morning just to double-check. Jesus never said that He came to bring fairness. Of course, He also wouldn’t experience fairness either. He would be unfairly accused, unfairly tried, and unfairly executed. It would seem logical to me to assume that I should not then expect fairness in my following of Jesus either. And, some will choose not to follow Jesus for this very reason. That was the reaction of Jesus’ hometown entourage. I observe people making the same choice today.

But what if fairness isn’t the point? What if my earthly journey is about something purposed which is far greater than what appears on the surface? What if there is a spiritual economy that is, in the grand scheme, actually more real than the temporal experience of my five earthly senses and my base human appetites? In my almost forty-year study of Jesus’ life and teachings, I find that Jesus’ came not to make life fair, but to exemplify love and call us to follow that example. And love isn’t fair. Love sacrifices all that it has, and is generously extravagant, and almost always receives an inequitable return on the investment. I believe that’s what Jesus came to show me, and in doing so He points me to something greater; He leads me to faith in the understanding that the eternal which I cannot touch, taste, see, smell, or hear is far greater and actually more real than any fair thing on this earth.

And so, I keep following.

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!

Wander and Return

Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
    it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms.
He gives showers of rain to all people,
    and plants of the field to everyone.
The idols speak deceitfully,
    diviners see visions that lie;
they tell dreams that are false,
    they give comfort in vain.
Therefore the people wander like sheep
    oppressed for lack of a shepherd.

Zechariah 10:1-2 (NIV)

Seventy years the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon. They were subject to the Babylonian and Persian Emporers and were immersed in a foreign culture complete with foreign idols and religious practices. When Cyrus sent the exiles back to rebuild, and to restore their temple and the religion of Yaweh. (Note: Yaweh is the name God gave to Moses when asked “Who are you?” It means, “I am.”)

In the opening of Zechariah’s prophetic poem in today’s chapter, there lies hidden from most modern readers an important message to the exilic Hebrew. During that period of time, fertility was often viewed by cultures as coming from a specific idol, and many families had “household gods” that they worshipped for comfort and fortune. Zechariah is subtly reminding his audience that it is Yaweh, not fertility gods, who brings rain to feed the crops. It is Yaweh who speaks truth, gives visions, and provides comfort.

Zechariah then sums up the current climate of the Hebrew people’s faith. They’d lacked their own “shepherd” (a king) and therefore the people had, like sheep, wandered and mixed their faith in Yaweh with other local gods and idols.

What’s fascinating is that Zech goes on to encourage his readers that God was going to re-establish Jerusalem. He gives a vision of the Jewish people returning from all over the world, and of a strong leader, a “cornerstone” who would lead them. Security and strength, he assures them, would come from God.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of the repetitive cycle of wandering and returning that is present in the narrative of the Great Story. It wasn’t just the exilic Hebrews who needed this message. God’s people wandering and returning is present during the time of Moses, the time of the Judges, and the stories of the Kings. Peter denied Christ three times, as predicted, then returned and restored his faith after the resurrection. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son is a story of wandering and returning. In Acts, John Mark leaves Paul and Silas and wanders back home, and Paul writes the young man off. Yet, in Paul’s final days John Mark had clearly returned and Paul speaks of all that the younger man had done for him.

There is something in this theme of wandering and returning that resonates in so many life stories, including my own. I love that Jesus’ story and example was that of welcoming back the wandering exile with open arms and joyful celebration.

And now, it’s time for me to wander into my day, but I will return 😉

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!

Running and Return

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.
Jonah 1:2 (NIV)

Running away is a common theme throughout the Great Story. It takes many different forms. Call it running, hiding, fleeing, wilderness, or exile…

  • Adam and Eve hid from God in their shame.
  • Cain was doomed to be a restless wanderer.
  • Abraham was called to leave his home and people.
  • Jacob fled after deceiving his father and brother.
  • Joseph was sold into slavery and exile.
  • Moses fled to Midian after committing murder.
  • David fled to the wilderness from Saul.
  • Elijah fled to the wilderness after defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.
  • The Hebrews were taken into exile in Babylon.
  • Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted.
  • The prodigal son took the money and ran to a distant country.
  • The disciples fled to Galilee after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Today we start back into the story of a prophet named Jonah. He is called by God to go to Nineveh, a provincial Assyrian city about 550 miles to the northeast of Jonah, and prophesy against it. Instead, Jonah books passage across the Mediterranean to Tarshish, a city on the southern tip of what is now Spain, 2500 miles to the west. At the time of Jonah, Tarshish would have literally been considered the end of the world and as far away from Nineveh as one could possibly get. Jonah was running from his calling. He was fleeing his destiny. He went on the lam from God.

I have found that a great many people have periods of their life journey in which they flee something. It’s part of the human experience. There are things one learns, experiences, finds and/or acquires only in the wilderness. Perhaps that is why wilderness is a part of every mythical heroes journey.

I have my own period of self-imposed running earlier in my life. I ran from a lot of things for a lot of reasons. I wandered to places I should never have been and did things I should never have done. I now consider that stretch of my life journey “the dark years.” And yes, looking back with hindsight I see how it was critical for me to experience it.

In Jonah’s case, we find him trying to run away from God. I couldn’t help but hear King David’s lyrics in my spirit as I read the chapter today. Lyrics, by the way, with which Jonah would likely have been familiar:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about both the pain of my dark years and once again grieving the injuries I caused to those I love. I’m once again reminded that I was always aware of God’s presence, even in the darkest of places. I’m also thinking about the purpose that the dark years served in the long run of my spiritual journey.

You see, just as the wilderness is a consistent theme, so is the return.

The “Divine Right” (to Be Equal)

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NIV)

Wendy and I have a guest room that we’ve been decorating with a UK theme. We’ve loved our trips to the UK and thought it would be kind of fun (“cheeky,” even) to channel that into our home. On one of the walls we’ve hung portraits of royalty as well as some of our favorite British writers and actors. Of course, we felt the need to separate the portraits with the royals (and a couple of Prime Ministers) on one side and the those low-life, “commoner” artist types on the other 😉

Having grown up in a representative republic like America, the notion of royalty is a bit of romantic idea and the stuff of nostalgia for us. For most of human history, however, the idea of people being better than others simply because of the blood in their veins and the family into which they were born was part of the fabric of every day life. And, going all the way back to ancient rulers, it was commonly believed that there was some sort of divinity that marked the distinction. Rulers often claimed to be gods themselves. The idea of monarchs ruling by “divine right” was popularly held (mostly by the royals themselves) until recently.

Even in the times of Jesus and the early Jesus Movement, the notion of “divine” rulers was popular. One of the reasons the early believers were executed or thrown into the Roman circus to be eaten by lions for the sake of entertainment was that they refused to swear that Caesar was god.

In today’s chapter Paul is quick to reference that the believers in Corinth were not people of wealth and influence. For the most part they had little status in the eyes of the world. He reminds them, however, that they are highly esteemed by God.

We easily forget that one of the things that made the early Jesus Movement so radical was that everyone could freely accept the gift of salvation offered by Jesus. Everyone was equally a member of the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts were bestowed on every believer by Holy Spirit, and when the Spirit came upon a group of believers everyone manifested the experience regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or social standing. When believers met together for a love feast and to share in the ritual of the Lord’s supper everyone was welcome at the table. If a slave and the slave’s master were both believers, they had equal status at the table of Jesus’ followers.

This morning I find myself meditating on the reality that as the Jesus Movement became the institutional church and gained both power and influence, it quickly abandoned its egalitarian roots and developed rigid systems of hierarchy and status that exist to this day. In personal practice and in my, admittedly small, circles of influence I am consciously trying to lead us back to the egalitarian spiritual roots of the Jesus Movement where everyone is of equal status in the body of Christ and where everyone is welcome at the table. We’ll let the ancient notion of “divine” rulers  or those of higher or more noble “status” be simply a bit of nostalgia on our guest room wall.

Speaking of that. One of the decorative touches we want to make to our guest room is a collage of postcards from the UK. If I have any readers from across the pond who would like to contribute, we would be both humbled and blessed to have you send us a postcard (or two, or three!). Simply drop it in the mail it to:

Tom & Wendy Vander Well
c/o Intelligentics
801 Franklin St. #526
Pella, IA 50219 U.S.A.

Tomorrow begins the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. Please know that I am truly thankful for you who faithfully, or occasionally, (or even rarely) read my posts. Cheers!

The Dude Abides

[The man of lawlessness] will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 (NIV)

Yesterday, as I was getting ready, I had the Cohen brothers’ classic movie, The Big Lebowski, playing in the background. It’s become one of my all time favorites movies. What most people don’t realize is that The Big Lebowski is basically a classic 1940s film noir detective story set in the early 1980s with an unlikely stoner named The Dude unwittingly placed in the role of the protagonist detective.

I grew up watching a lot classic films and the hard-boiled detective movies (e.g. Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade) of the film noir genre were among my favorites. In The Big Lebowski you have all the classic detective movie motifs: the old millionaire, the millionaire’s daughter with whom the protagonist falls in love, blackmail, rabbit trails, crime lords, a secondary detective, and the protagonist detective getting “slipped a Mickey” (drugged with a drink).

I’ve observed that most people watch films in a vacuum, as though each film sort of stands alone. The reality is that all good stories and films borrow themes and motifs from one another. All of my favorite epics, for examples, have the overarching theme of good versus evil. Usually an epic story is about an ancient struggle coming to a climax. There’s always a prophecy woven into the storyline, as well. In Harry Potter there is the prophecy Harry retrieves from the Ministry of Magic. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is the prophecy and deep magic of the stone table. In The Lord of the Rings Aragorn is led to take the Paths of the Dead because of the “words of Malbeth the Seer.

I say it fairly regularly: “All good stories are a reflection of the Great Story.” Our stories reflect our own humanity. Deeper still, I believe that human history is a Great Story being told across the ages. I believe that evil exists and there is a very real struggle between good versus evil. I believe in the prophetic.

Along my life journey I’ve experienced the prophetic. I have found it to be both mysterious and messy and therefore quickly dismissed by many. I have come to believe that tragedy lies on either side of the tension between two possible errors: Dismissing the prophetic altogether or drowning too deeply in the mystery. I’ve always tried to hold the tension between the two.

In the early years of the Jesus movement there were many prophecies given concerning where the plot line of the Great Story was going. This led to many arguments and mistaken assumptions.  In today’s chapter, Paul is addressing some mistaken assumptions  in today’s chapter. Without drowning too deeply in the specifics, I find myself being reminded of two things.

First, there is evil, and evil opposes good. Jesus was very aware of the evil opposing Him. He knew that His coming was prophesied (He proclaimed Isaiah’s prophetic word in His first sermon). He cast out demons throughout His ministry. He knew He was being tempted by the evil one to abandon His sacrificial mission. We don’t like to think too much about the reality of evil, but it exists.

Second, evil cannot create but, instead, it always counterfeits. Tolkien clearly picked up this theme in his epic stories. Orcs were counterfeits made in opposition to elves. Trolls were counterfeits made in opposition to ents. Paul says there is prophesied a counterfeit messiah to come whom he calls the Man of Lawlessness. The Greek term he uses is anthropos (man, mankind, humanity; as in anthropology the study of humanity) anamos (opposition, lawless, wicked; from which we get the English word animosity). Paul explains that it has been prophesied that this counterfeit messiah will come before Jesus’ return in a climax to this Great Story.

In the quiet this morning I find myself pondering all of these mysteries. I don’t want to get lost in them, but neither do I want to dismiss them. Again, I find myself trying to hold the tension. I believe my life journey is part of the Great Story. How it fits and weaves into the larger plot lines is a mystery to me. I’m just trying to stick to the path appointed for me, to follow the steps I’m led, to do the good God calls me to do, and to be shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove, aware of both the evil and the good around me.

Or, as Jeffrey Lebowski would put it: “The Dude Abides.”

Abide well today, my friend.

Life, Death, Sacrifice, & the Multiverse

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Acts 20:24 (NIV)

Over this past week Wendy and I watched the third season of the Amazon Prime original, The Man in the High Castle. Most every television or movie drama hinges on some kind of threat to life. Someone’s life is in danger. Someone is trying to escape those who seek to end his or her life. Someone’s life had been taken and the protagonist must find out who did it before more people die. In The Man in the High Castle the writers throw in the twist of the multi-verse, the theory that parallel realities exist and people known as “travelers” can slip between them. Nevertheless, seeking to stay alive and striving to avoid the threat of death don’t change. They are always the common themes.

As I read today’s chapter, the themes of death and life are just as prevalent as they weave themselves through Paul’s story. The Jews plan another attempt to assassinate Paul, so he changes his travel arrangements. A boy falls from a third-story window and dies, but Paul miraculously brings the boy back to life. Paul then declares to the elders of the believers at Ephesus that he will not see them again on this earthly journey. Even though Holy Spirit has continually revealed that prison and persecution await, Paul is ready to face it: “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.”

Here we have yet a different twist on the theme of life and death: the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for a higher purpose. Paul has faithfully followed the footsteps of Jesus. Self-sacrifice is the way of Jesus:

  • “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
  • “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
  • [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
  • “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

In the quiet this morning I find myself wrestling with the themes of life, death, and self-sacrifice. In a relatively safe midwest American existence the threat of death is incredibly low. The odds for a long and relatively easy life are incredibly high. So, what does the way of Jesus, the way of self-sacrifice mean for me on this journey? In a culture that values a “better life” as defined by the acquisition of things and the accumulation of bucket list experiences, what does it mean to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow? I live in a completely different reality that Paul, Luke, and the Ephesus elders. I know what self-sacrifice looked like for Paul, but what about me in this place, in this century, in this reality?

Monday morning. More questions than answers. I’m gonna keep wrestling with this one.

Have a good week my friend.