(Don’t) Be Afraid, (Don’t) Be Very, Very, Afraid

The Lord is good,
     a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him…
Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

The prophet Nahum lived and wrote his prophecy in troubled times. The kingdom of Israel had been split in two, the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah. When Nahum wrote his prophecy the northern kingdom had been attacked and decimated by the Assyrians.

The Assyrians were known for their brutality and cruelty. When they conquered a city, they would mercilessly hack the limbs off their victims and then leave the limbs and bodies stacked like a pyramid outside the city gates. It was their calling card, the sign that the Assyrians had been there. Now that the northern kingdom of Israel had experienced it, the southern kingdom of Judah feared a similar Assyrian attack.

Fear and anxiety are common emotions. Today I find it common for people to experience economic fear (When will the economy get moving again? Will we experience what happened in Greece? Is the stock market going to collapse?) and fear of terror-ism (When’s the next 9-11? Are ISIS terrorist cells on our soil just waiting to attack? ). There is anxiety about global politics (Will Iran get a bomb and attack Israel?) and climate change (Will global warming  create disastrous change in weather patterns?). When Wendy and I watch or read the news we will often observe to one another that there seems to be one major theme: “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Nahum also lived in a time of fear, and his prophetic message was to encourage his readers not to give into fear, but rather to trust in God. Nineveh (the capitol of the Assyrian empire), he prophesied, would be destroyed. His prophetic word was fulfilled. Assyria was destroyed by the Medes and Persians in 612 B.C.

It’s Monday morning as I write this post. The first Monday of a new month. For some of us, even the prospect of what the coming week holds brings anxiety. There is uncertainty about what we’re going to do in the coming month and how we’ll get through. Nahum’s message is a good one. Notice that he doesn’t promise freedom from trouble, but that we will find God a caring refuge in whatever comes our way.

Today, I’m choosing not to give into anxiety and fear, but to trust God to be a caring refuge for whatever comes my way.

 

The Latest 08-02-2015

Weeks come and go, but this past week held special significance:

Wendy reading her Charles Martin book in Starbucks as we waited out Taylor's 3 hour flight delay.
Wendy reading her Charles Martin book in Starbucks as we waited out Taylor’s 3 hour flight delay.

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  • On Tuesday night Wendy and I picked up Taylor at the Des Moines airport as she moved back from her year in graduate school at the University of Edinburgh. Her flight was supposed to be in at 8:30, but strong storms in the Des Moines area delayed her flight until just before midnight. Wendy and I holed up at the Starbucks on Fluer until they closed at 10:00. It was a late night and had been a long day of travel for Taylor. She fell into our arms and cried. We got home just before 1:00 a.m. to give her a tour of the house and show her to her new room.
You know it's been a long day on the road when you watch the sunset in your rear view mirror!
You know it’s been a long day on the road when you watch the sunset in your rear view mirror!
  • Busy week work-wise for me. Road trip to Sioux Center on Wednesday. Hopefully it will result in a new client. End of the month always means deadlines, so the end of the week had me chained to the desk.
Photo: Jim Palmer
Photo: Jim Palmer
  • It was the second weekend of USP’s Fiddler on the Roof which means we’ve seen very little of Suzanna. Wendy and I have been helping with ticket sales.

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  • Madison flew in on Friday. We tried in vain to remember the last time that the four of us last had a meal together at home. It’s been years. We boiled up some Iowa sweet corn, had Italian chicken in the crock-pot with salad and a nice bottle of wine. It was so wonderful to spend the evening together. After dinner we enjoyed wine and chocolate as the girls played videos and we all laughed.
  • After the girls headed to bed Wendy and I buzzed down the road to our friend Cyndi’s where we enjoyed an after show drink and conversation with she, Megan, and the McQuades. Lovely evening chatting about Fiddler and theatre. We were up much later than we’d planned on [shocking].
  • On Saturday morning we were up early to get ready for our nephew, Sam Keithley’s, wedding to Lydia Yoder. We had to be on the road for Des Moines at 8:30. It was so fun for me hearing Taylor and Madison getting ready together, hearing them laughing and singing. Made this papa’s heart extra joyful. We arrived at Westkirk Presbyterian at 9:30 for a quick Vander Well family photo. The wedding was at 10:30 with a brunch reception after. The bride and groom zoomed off to their honeymoon about 2:00. We headed to the folks new apartment in Woodlands Creek to hang out with them. Tim, Kumi, Terry, Bonnie, and Ellie all joined us. They, along with Taylor and Madison, had not seen Grandpa and Grandma’s new apartment. Madison took her leave to spend the night with Nancy. Taylor, Wendy and I made a stop at Baskin Robbins (Taylor’s request) before driving back to Pella.

 

Sunrise Through the Wildflowers

Wildflowers Behind the Manor

Last Sunday morning I woke early as the sun was rising. I could not help but notice how gorgeous the wildflowers looked at the back of our lot. So I grabbed my camera and snapped a few pics. I especially liked the way this one turned out and used it to update the header on my blog. Sometimes the most beautiful scenes are right in front of us. The play of the sunlight through a window, or the sun rising through the wildflowers. We simply have to open our eyes to see it, and be willing to take a moment to appreciate it.

“I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means”

 

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)

I’ve always been a movie lover. There are movies that I can watch over and over and over again and each time I do I seem to catch little things I’d never seen or heard before.  Lines from the film seem to enter conversation. For Wendy and me, one of those movies is Princess Bride. A favorite line of our is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

Among the community of Jesus’ followers the phrase “fallen from grace” is often used to refer to those who at one time were followers, but seemed to leave the path of faith to follow after sinful appetites. Other believers will say that this person has “fallen from grace.” In fact, these are the only circumstances in which I hear this phrase used. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using those words. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Paul does not use “fallen from grace” to describe those who have left the faith to pursue sinful appetites! He uses the phrase to describe those who have left the path of simple faith and have pursued legalistic religiosity. In Galatia, those whom Paul described who had “fallen from grace” were those who were telling non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Jewish legal, religious rules.

This is a huge distinction. Walking the journey of faith is a balancing act from which you can stumble and fall in either way. Certainly you can stumble and pursue unhealthy appetites. That’s why Paul says a a few lines later: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” But you can also stumble and “fall from grace” by pursuing a path of rigid, religious rules in which you judge a person’s faith by how they measure up to your religious yard stick.

To quote another famous movie line that creeps into my conversation on a regular basis: “Daniel-san. Must learn balance.

TBT: Life Under the Umbrella

Tom Travelers Teen

Archaeologists recently uncovered this gem (I found it in a tub of my parents’ family photos) from c. 1983. An early work by photographer Reed Davis (www.reeddavisphotopraphy.com). Anyone from the Des Moines area will recognize the iconic Traveler’s insurance sign that is a signature piece of the Des Moines skyline. The Traveler’s umbrella has been in a few different photos over the years.

tom travelers adult

About ten years or so after the first photo was taken, it was photographer Eric Smoldt  (http://ericsmoldt.com) who snapped this black and white photo of me under the umbrella on a downtown Des Moines photo safari.

Tom Travelers Wedding

Add another ten years or so, and it was Jeff Bokhoven (http://www.designerimagesphotography.com) who took this awesome photo of me and my best men on New Year’s Eve 2005, just before Wendy and I said, “I do.”

What’s really cool is that in the late 1970s and early 1980s my dad was partner in Eagle Sign Company who, at the time, owned and leased the Traveler’s Umbrella sign. So not only is the umbrella an iconic landmark, but I kinda get to claim it as a family heirloom.

What can I say? I love Des Moines.

A Son, Not a Servant

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)

I was blessed to grow up in a strong, nuclear family. The whole concept of adoption was fairly foreign to me. It was through a college roommate that I was first exposed to the realities of adoption. Married to Wendy, I have gained a greater understanding and respect for those families who have walked the path of adoption.

Wendy was adopted, twice. Her family includes five adopted siblings when you count her father adopting her. Family pictures with Wendy’s family are awesome. It’s a motley crew, to be sure. It has been great for me to be a part of their family. It has opened up for me a whole new area of understanding.

In today’s chapter, Paul uses the metaphor of adoption to discuss the spiritual relationship we have with God. Jesus established the metaphor after His resurrection. Before His death He referred to the disciples as “friends,” but when the ladies met the risen Christ Jesus told them, “go and tell my brothers that I am ascending to our Father.” The implication was clear, when we follow Jesus and receive Him into our hearts we are spiritually adopted as a child of God. We become co-heirs with Jesus.

An adopted child is not a servant. An adopted child is not “less than” his or her siblings.  An adopted child does not continually earn his or her membership in the family. And still, many of us who follow Jesus act as if we are in the employ of God rather than the fully adopted children of God. We work, we strain, we worry about our performance review. That’s not love, that’s indentured servitude.

Today, I’m thankful for my adoption into God’s family. It’s high time I stopped clinging to the idea that I’m in God’s employ and started embracing the reality that I am God’s heir.

The Path to Crazy

For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.
Galatians 3:3 (MSG)

While in college, I had two other guys with whom I began to share my life journey. We met on Saturday mornings in the Great Room of Volkman Hall right after PeeWee’s Playhouse. It was the first time in my life that I’d met regularly and intentionally with other guys just to talk about our respective life journeys. We waded into, what was for us at the time, the deep weeds of life. We shared openly about our hurts and confessed our sins to each other. For me, it was monumental.

When college was over, the three of us each took our own paths in divergent directions. One of the guys I have continued to keep up with through periodic phone calls and Facebook. As I read the chapter this morning, I struck me that the other friend went the of the “crazy” Galatians.

The third member of our trio contacted me a few years after college. He’d found his way to a group who taught him that only by following their rigid religious rules could anyone truly call themselves a follower of Jesus. He accused me of not measuring up, of not truly being a follower. It sounded insane; The kind of insanity Paul was confronting among the Galatians. Having once followed by simply believing, my friend was now convinced that only by following a strict set of doctrinal beliefs and behavioral rules could he be “holy” and acceptable to God.

Today, I’m offering sincere prayers for the other two members of my college trio. I have such good memories of Saturday mornings with my Judson College homies wrapped in blankets, listening for Pee Wee’s secret word, and moose slippers. It was an important stretch of life’s journey for me and I will forever be grateful for that time and these two companions. I trust that whatever crazy Galatians-like path my one friend followed, God has been faithful in helping him find his way back to the simplicity of Jesus’ message: faith, grace, love, and forgiveness.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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