Tag Archives: Trust

Into the Water

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

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

Exodus 14:10, 13, 15 (NRSVCE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Move forward Lord? Into the water?”

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

So yes, Moses, move forward through the water.

Leap, and the net will appear.

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

Down into the water, children. All of you.

Leap, and the net will appear.

Want to Read More?

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

About This Post

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

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

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

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

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Road Trip

So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.
Exodus 13:18 (NRSVCE)

I find myself in the middle of an unexpected and impromptu road trip this morning. The past week has been ugly for me personally, and that is layered on top of the ugly that permeates our world on so many levels right now. I am broken. I am humbled. There are many moments in life’s journey when things don’t seem right with my world. At different waypoints of the journey I’ve experienced things not being right with my world of work, my world of relationships, my world of community, the world of my nation, the world of family, friends, faith, or finances. But usually when it happens it is an acute ugly with just one part of my world.

Right now, the ugly feels like it’s permeating every one of my worlds.

Even as I typed that last sentence, I know it’s not true. I’m a Enneagram Four, remember. If there was a profession in which pessimism and extreme emotional angst was a requisite, we’d dominate the field.

Nevertheless, the ugly has permeated several of my worlds in the last week. And so, I jumped at the chance for a road trip. Jesus went off to a mountainside by Himself to pray. I sequestered in the car driving down I-49. I meditated. I prayed. I talked a little. I tried to listen a lot.

In today’s chapter, God is leading His people out of slavery. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, children uprooting their lives and everything they’ve known and hitting the road to who knows where. Everything is changing. Nothing seems right with their worlds. There is fear of their oppressors coming after them. There is fear of what lies ahead. There is confusion about what is happening and what this all means.

And then, God leads them “by the roundabout way of the wilderness.” He didn’t lead them on straight-and-narrow way to the Promised Land, even though there was one. God led them on a difficult path fraught with obstacles and difficulties. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I am humbled and actually learn what faith means. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I find that I can’t do things on our own and that I need God and others. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I learn to forget what lies behind, press on, and persevere. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I learn the power of praising God in all circumstances and the chain reaction that follows: activated faith, powerful prayers, overcoming evil, and learning what it means to be part of the divine dance.

In the car yesterday I found myself myself meditating on this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The straight path is found at the end of the roundabout way through the wilderness because the straight path can only be found via trust, loss of self-reliance, and faith.

Road trips are good for the soul (in more ways than one).

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

Seemingly Safe Assumptions

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
Exodus 5:22-23 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I have, of late, participated in multiple conversations with others who are grieving. The grief being experienced is not the result of the death of a loved one, but rather the unexpected demise of seemingly safe assumptions.

Along this life journey, I have observed that I am constantly making seemingly safe assumptions about what the road up ahead is going to look like. When I was first married, I assumed my marital life would be “happily ever after,” until I found myself in the middle of a divorce. I raised our daughters never realizing that I assumed all sorts of things about what their education, careers, lives, and world-views would look like until they ended up looking much different in almost every way. I assumed I would go to college and get a college degree and successfully pursue my chosen career, but then I ended up in a job I never wanted nor expected. I have saved for retirement and look forward to many golden years traveling with Wendy and doting on our grandchildren, but I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the harsh realities of lives cut far short of that seemingly safe assumption.

In today’s chapter, our reluctant hero, Moses, obediently follows God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses and Aaron make their appeal asking Pharaoh to let the people go into the wilderness to make sacrifices to God. Instead, Pharaoh both refuses and places a heavier burden on his Hebrew slave labor. This leaves Moses stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no sign of Pharaoh capitulating and Moses’ people are ticked off as they are forced to work harder to meet impossible quotas for which they will likely be beaten and punished.

As I read Moses’ complaint to God about the situation, I found myself remembering exactly what God said to Moses in the burning bush conversation:

“I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.
Exodus 3:19-20

In the painful realities of the moment, Moses was quick to remember God’s promise to deliver his people and plunder the Egyptians. However, Moses conveniently forgot the part about Pharaoh’s obstinance and that it would take a process of wonders before Pharaoh would relent. Based on the power and wonders God had shown Moses back at the burning bush, Moses made a seemingly safe assumption that this whole deliverer gig had a quick turnaround.

I find myself this morning thinking about the many seemingly safe assumptions I made earlier in life. Never did I expect to find myself wading through my own moral failure, navigating divorce, life in a small town, remarriage, blended family, infertility, unexpected pregnancy, and spending my life in a career I’d never wanted but to which I was called and found myself perfectly suited to accomplish.

I can’t help but remember Jesus’ words:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

I have come to believe that any “seemingly safe assumption” about what my life, or the lives of my loved ones, will look like down the road is part of what Jesus is urging me to avoid. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I only know that “God promised to help me deal with whatever hard things come when the time comes.”

God, allow me the wisdom to give my entire attention to what you are doing in and through me this day, and the grace to entrust you with any and every tomorrow.

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

Divine Call, Human Reluctance

But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
Exodus 4:10 (NRSVCE)

The first time I publicly spoke about my faith I was just shy of 15 years old and had been a follower of Jesus for two months. I was young, uneducated, inexperienced, and naive. It was a church “youth” service and I was one of three young people who each had ten minutes to share. Within months I was unexpectedly given more opportunities to speak, which turned into even more regular opportunities. Again, this was not something I expected at all.

I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I still do. I also learned a lot of valuable lessons in the process.

In the past few years, I’ve volunteered to lead and mentor others who give messages among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. The vast majority of individuals express fear when they start, which is natural given the fact that public speaking is one of the most common fears in all of humanity. There’s the fear of not knowing enough, saying something stupid, looking stupid, people pushing back, offending others, et cetera, and et cetera. It is not hard for people to find reasons to decline the opportunity.

I have always loved the story in today’s chapter. Moses, on the lam and living as a shepherd in the land of Midian, is confronted by God and called to return to Egypt and lead the Hebrew people out of slavery. As I have already noted in the previous chapters, Moses “has ‘hero’ written all over him.” In today’s chapter, we find our hero receiving a clear, miraculous “call” from God to lead a historic and heroic endeavor.

Moses doesn’t want to do it.

“What if my people don’t believe that you called me to this? What if I get pushback?”

“I’m not a great public speaker. I struggle enough in regular conversation. Speaking in front of a group of people would be a disaster!”

“Seriously. PLEASE call somebody else.”

It is such a human moment. Fear, reluctance, pessimism, and defensiveness are common human responses to the call. Moses is like all of us.

Along my journey, I’ve had three interrelated observations:

First, God’s Message makes it clear that every follower of Jesus who “answers the knock and invites Him in” is given a spiritual “gift” by the indwelling Holy Spirit with which they are to serve the larger “body” of believers and carry out Jesus stated mission to love everyone into God’s Kingdom. This is true of every believer regardless of age, gender, race, education level, social status, economic status, or experience. Peter called every believer a member of a “royal priesthood.”

Second, most human beings are, like Moses, reluctant to embrace the notion that they have any gift, talent, or ability. They are quick to decline any opportunity to take responsibility for serving the larger “body” or accepting the responsibility of loving others like Jesus in their circles of influence.

Third, for 1700 years the institutional church has largely entrenched the thinking that serving the larger body is almost exclusively a professional career for a select group of educated individuals who have successfully navigated the prescribed institutional education and bureaucratic hoops. Those who have not done so (all the rest of us) are, therefore, largely off-the-hook other than regular attendance and financial giving necessary to provide for the livelihood of the aforementioned ministry professionals.

That third observation is bovine fecal matter. And, I believe that it contributes to the impotence and decline of the Jesus Movement being witnessed in current society.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself appreciating Moses the reluctant hero. I also find myself appreciating the fact that God both made allowances for Moses to depend on the giftedness of his brother-in-law, Aaron, to accomplish the task. That’s the very picture of the “body of Christ” the Jesus Movement adopted. Everyone has their “gift” and contributes to the whole of the mission. Moses was a gifted leader. Aaron was a decent public speaker. They depended on one another.

I can always find an excuse to not serve. There’s always something that I can conjure up as an excuse that I am “lacking” (education, knowledge, experience, calling, opportunity, training, etc.). The truth is that all God requires is simple trust and obedience. Which brings to mind a song from many years ago…

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

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

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!

Acute Worry-Warts

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?
Luke 12:25 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I’ve taken over the leadership of the company I’ve worked for the past 25 years. As a market research and consulting firm, we tend to work on annual, recurring contracts. We’ve been blessed to enjoy client relationships that have lasted decades, but the beginning of the year is always an interesting time for us. There are no sure things. There are no long-term contracts. The workload ebbs and flows, and there are no guarantees. Working here has always required hard work, good work, and a generous dose of faith.

It’s been an interesting transition for me stepping into the leadership role. There has always been someone else a rung or two higher on the corporate ladder, and I’m glad to say that those individuals have been people I have respected and trusted, even when we had differences or disagreements. Looking back, I realize that I learned early on how to find a certain level of contentment placing my faith in both God and my colleagues who bore a greater responsibility for the company than I did. Now there are no human beings a rung or two above me.

I’ve been surprised at the challenge this change it has been for me. I confess the weight of responsibility feels heavier and the anxiety comes must faster and with greater emotional velocity. All of a sudden I’ve got acute and constant breakout of worry-warts.

That’s where God met me in this morning’s chapter. Dr. Luke begins this chapter by recording that Jesus’ miraculous mystery tour was now creating such tremendous crowds that people were crushing and trampling one another. Jesus’ teaching is gathering more and more followers. It’s no longer just his rag-tag entourage of former fishermen talking to the locals in the town synagogue. Jesus is speaking to stadium-worthy crowds. Jesus is leading a ministry organization that has experienced rapid change, explosive growth, rising expectations, growing opposition, and all the pressures that come with leadership in such situations.

In the midst of that reality he asks a simple question:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?

In the quiet this morning, as the calendar turns over and I feel the weight of leadership moving into another year of business, I needed Jesus to remind me of this rhetorical question. The reality is that things are no different than they’ve ever been. It’s been a faith journey all along. Nothing has really changed except the pressure and expectations I’m placing on my self. This means my mental and emotional focus is on my shortcomings (both real and imagined) rather than on the sufficiency of the One who has faithfully provided and led me to this place over 25 years.

Me of little faith.

After challenging His followers not to worry, Jesus adds this:

“What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

Luke 12:29-32 (MSG)

Not a bad reminder to start my day. I hope it encourages you as well, my friend. Thanks for reading.

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!

Measuring Up for a Move

Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked, “Where are you going?”

He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.”
Zechariah 2:1-2 (NIV)

It’s been a few days since I’ve written my chapter-a-day posts. One of the things I’ve observed along my journey is that sometimes life interrupts my routines. I can’t control when it happens, so I do my best to be present in the moment and not get too stressed out it. The life interruption of late has been two-fold. First, there has been a rather intense travel schedule for work that includes early morning flights and scrambling to prepare for presentations, meetings, and client deliveries.

The more intense interruption, however, has been the health of my parents. My father has been hospitalized for nearly two weeks with acute pain. Seemingly endless tests have led the doctors to believe that he has a nasty infection and they are growing cultures in the lab to find out just what they are dealing with. In the meantime, my mother’s Alzheimer’s requires that my siblings and I must be with her around the clock.

My parents’ situation has caused us to realize that it is time for them both to get a higher level of care. This week we will move them out of their independent living apartment into a smaller assisted living apartment in another building within their retirement community. And so, we find ourselves measuring furniture and determining what’s going to fit where, and what may need to go away.

The “measuring line” was a common theme in the prophetic visions of the ancient Hebrew prophets. In today’s chapter, Zechariah sees an angel with a measuring line. He says he’s headed to measure the city of Jerusalem. In Zechariah’s day, Jerusalem was a rubble heap. He was among those feverishly trying to persuade the Hebrew exiles living in Persia to return and rebuild.

My observation is that there are two reasons a measuring line is used as a metaphor in prophetic writing. One is to find that something doesn’t measure up and judgement, therefore, awaits. The second is that something is going to be built or restored. That is the image that Zechariah is providing for his fellow exiles. It’s a vision of a grand, restored Jerusalem that might inspire his reader’s and listeners to return.

In the quiet this morning, I find my thoughts scattered (An unexpected head cold is not helping!). Zechariah was trusting that God would enable and bless the restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem. As the events of today’s chapter took place, the very idea of a restored Jerusalem had to have seemed a daunting task. It did happen, however. Jerusalem would become a major city and sprawl well beyond its ancient walls just as Zechariah’s prophecy predicted. It remains so to this present day. Zechariah and the Hebrew people had to have faith, and the willingness to act on it.

And so I bring myself back to aging parents transitioning into new living arrangements amidst so much uncertainty and so much that is unknown. We are measuring and moving. We are trusting for a sense of restoration for them on the other side of dad’s quizzical medical issues. I’ve observed, and have come to accept, that there are moments along this life journey in which I have to accept that I can only do my best to make wise decisions, and trust God with the rest.

I stayed with my mother last night. As I wrote this post she woke from her slumber and began her dementia laced morning routine. It will take her a few hours to get ready and we’ll go to the hospital to check on dad. My siblings and I will continue the tasks of packing up my parents’ things for a mid-week move to a new place. We’re trying to make the wisest decisions. We’re trusting.

Now, where did that tape measure go? (Knowing my mother’s Alzheimers, it might be in the freezer!)

I pray for all who read this a blissfully routine week.

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!

Popcorn Prayers

The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king…..”
Nehemiah 2:4-5a (NIV)

I was honored a few weeks ago when I was asked to pray for our meal at my high school reunion. In part, I was honored because it has become increasingly common for prayers at public events to be ignored our outright forbidden. I also realize that I and my classmates grew up in a time when public prayer was hotly debated along with questions regarding whether it was appropriate for public school choirs to sing sacred music at events such as commencement.

I can remember during some of these debates about “school prayer” that it was humorously acknowledged that the school building will always be the center of a million prayers during finals week. Of course, there is a difference between a public prayer at a school event and the silent prayer students staring at the test that has just been placed before them.

For those who are not regular readers, I have been blogging through what’s known as the exilic books of God’s Message in recent months. These are the writings of the ancient Hebrews who experienced being taken into captivity by the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Medo-Persian empires. They eventually returned to Jerusalem to rebuild and restore their homeland. Being an exile, in its very essence, means living away from home, and being in exile often means a loss of power, control, and public standing. My local gathering of Jesus’ followers is currently exploring the notion that the people of God are, by nature, exilic and what that means for us in the 21st century.

Nehemiah was a cupbearer for the Persian king, Artaxerxes. In today’s chapter, Nehemiah could not hide his grief while serving in the king and queen’s presence. It was, in those days, deemed inappropriate to show any kind of negative emotion in the presence of the king. On a whim, the king could have his servant executed for such an infraction. So when Artaxerxes notices the depressed look on his cupbearer’s face, Nehemiah’s immediate fear was warranted.

What I found interesting is that the phrase “Then I prayed to the God of heaven” is sandwiched in between the king’s question and Nehemiah’s response. There is no way that Nehemiah said, “Can you hang on a few minutes while I get on my knees and pray for a while?” Nehemiah’s prayer to the God of heaven had to have been what I call a “popcorn prayer.” A popcorn prayer is the silent, sudden, internal exclamation of my spirit to God’s Spirit in an instant. It’s exactly what I did as a student before every Biology test (science was not my thing).

According to a 2017 survey by the Barna, 79 percent of Americans said they had prayed in the previous three months. Barna found prayer to be the most common faith practice among American adults, but it was also the most multi-faceted. In fact, the researcher concluded that “the most common thing about people’s prayers is that they are different.”

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve discovered that my own prayer life is much like Barna’s research. It’s multi-faceted. I do, at times, spend set periods of time in prayer. Sometimes, I audibly talk to God while I’m alone in my car driving. Wendy and I pray together before meals, and often we will pray together when it is just the two of us traveling in the car. I’ve sometimes described my life journey itself as one long, uninterrupted conversation with God. I’m constantly aware of God’s presence, and my “popcorn prayers” are popping constantly in the heat of Life’s microwave oven.

Our culture has shifted in the 35 years since I graduated from high school. I know some who see this as a source of grief, anxiety, fear, and even anger. Sociologists and scholars are calling our current culture the “post-Christain” world. Frankly, I’m not that worried about it. In fact, I think it might just be a good thing. Throughout the Great Story, it’s clear that God’s people flourish, not when they are in power, but when they live in exile. It’s a paradox that Jesus said He came to model and that He told his followers to embrace:

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”

Jesus (Matthew 20:25-28 [MSG])

Paul, one of Jesus’ early followers, put it this way:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul of Tarsus (2nd Letter to the Corinthians 12:10 [NIV])

In the quiet this morning I find my head swimming in thoughts of culture, and power, and exile, and prayer. Nehemiah found himself a servant to the King of a foreign empire. Artaxerxes had the power to execute Nehemiah for having a frown on his face, and yet his precarious position of impotence led him to depend on his faith in the power and purposes of God. Isn’t that the very spiritual reality that Jesus wanted us to embrace?

As I finish this post I’m saying a popcorn prayer for any and all who read it. Hope you have a great day, my friend.

“…Don’t Scare Worth a Damn.”

 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
Ezra 4:4 (NIV)

I’m on the road this week for business. I rarely sleep well when I’m on the road. My brain is buzzing from long days of meetings with our client and it is often hard for me to shut down my brain long enough to sleep. I have found that one of the things that help me sleep is to have something familiar playing quietly near me like a favorite audiobook or documentary. Last night, it was Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War, that accompanied me to my dreams.

As I woke this morning the nine-part documentary was still playing as it told of how Ulysses S. Grant was able to finally defeat the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. Lee had successfully defeated a long list of Union generals before Grant. Lee’s army was severely outnumbered and his resolute strategy was to discourage the Union’s resolve to wage war. It was working. When Lee won a battle, the Union’s response had always been to retreat. When Grant lost a battle, however, he refused to retreat. Grant continued to march his army forward no matter the cost or casualties. As one of his soldiers said, “Ulysses don’t scare worth a damn.”

I then read today’s chapter. The Hebrew exiles have begun construction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the repair of the walls. Their regional enemies, however, fear a rebuilt and powerful Jerusalem. So, they set out to thwart the rebuilding. Their strategy? Much like Robert E. Lee, they set out to discourage the Hebrews and break their resolve to rebuild.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that God’s Message tells me, as a follower of Jesus, I am engaged in a Level Four spiritual struggle. With the resurrection of Jesus, my enemy’s defeat is made certain, but it did not break my enemy’s resolve. Along my life journey, I have found that the enemy’s strategy is basically the same as Lee’s and the same as the Hebrews’ neighbors in today’s chapter. The enemy wants to discourage me, to diminish my faith and break my resolve to trust and obey the One I follow.

Will I retreat like a long list of Union Generals who always backed down despite overwhelming odds in their favor? Or, will I continue to march forward in the face of an enemy who continually works to discourage me from that resolve?

As I ponder this morning, I can’t help but desire that it would be said of me in the spiritual realm: “That Tom Vander Well. He don’t scare worth a damn.”

The Story is NOT Over. The Story WILL Go On.

He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.
2 Chronicles 22:12 (NIV)

I am convinced that there are stretches along every person’s life journey in which the road descends into chaos. Things we trusted to remain solid fall apart. Tragedy strikes suddenly and without warning. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, another bomb drops. The compass we’ve always trusted to point true north spins out of control. We lose our personal bearing. Nothing seems safe. It is as if nothing will ever be “okay” again.

Ever.

For the people of ancient Judah, their unshakable faith in God’s promise to King David had provided them with a sense of peace. The Davidic line would remain as a trustworthy sense of stability. The throne would pass from father to son, from generation to generation. You can count on it.

Until things descended into chaos.

Jehoshaphat marries his eldest son, Jehoram, to Athaliah the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Jehoram kills all of his brothers in a bloodbath intended to solidify his control. His reign implodes as enemies invade and kill his entire family with the exception of his youngest son, Ahaziah. The only viable heir of David, the young Ahaziah is placed on the throne. His one-year reign is a disastrous chain-reaction of events ending in his assassination. Ahaziah’s power-hungry mother, Athaliah, kills off the rest of the royal family to consolidate her own power over the nation of Judah.

The Davidic line wiped out. That which was trusted is lost.

The people of Judah had to be reeling in the valley of chaos. They trusted the Davidic royal line would be forever. A member of the reviled and evil house of Ahab and Jezebel is on the throne of their nation. The compass they always trusted to point true north is spinning out of control. Nothing seems safe. It’s as if nothing will ever be “okay” again.

Ever.

But, the story isn’t over. While the circumstantial events in the valley of Judah’s chaos seem eternal and inescapable, the perspective of history allows us to see that this is simply a dark chapter in the Great Story.

There is a woman. There is a baby.

(How often can we quote that line in the Great Story?)

The woman is a daughter of the king. She is the wife of the priest.  She has the courage to risk her life for what is right.

The baby is the son of the king.

In the moment, no one knows it. In the chaos they cannot see it.

The story is not over. The story will go on.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of the valleys of chaos into which I’ve descended. I’m remembering my own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. And, I’m looking back from a waypoint further down Life’s road that provides me with a much needed perspective.

The story is not over. The story will go on.