Vision, Design, Measurement, Reality

Wendy Sold on Bos LotGreat Room

[God] took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. 
Ezekiel 40:3 (NIV)

In the past year, Wendy and I had a completely unexpected idea to build a  new house, purchased the lot, hired a contractor, worked on a design, watched it being built, and moved in. The reality of it still makes my head spin. From hair-brained idea to a new home in twelve months.

The result of this is that Wendy and I have spent the better part of a year using rulers and tape measures to size up drawings, blueprints, floors, walls, lot lines, doorways, driveways,  closets, counters, fireplaces, sinks, etc., etc., and etc. It’s a necessary part of building a new custom designed house. And, I’ll be happy never to do it again!

I had an eery feeling of deja vu this morning as I read of Ezekiel’s vision. After 39 chapters of doom, gloom, violence and judgement the theme of Zeke’s messages takes a huge turn. We have to remember the context from which he is writing. The city of Jerusalem had been sieged and destroyed, along with Solomon’s glorious temple by the Babylonian army. Ezekiel was taken into exile to the land of his enemy where he and his fellow expatriates can only grieve their home and their temple that lies in ruin. Perhaps we should expect him to have a doom and gloom outlook.

Starting with today’s chapter, however, Zeke’s final visions take on a new twist. From here on out his visions are about the restoration and rebuilding of a new city and a new temple. Today his vision is of a heavenly contractor, ancient tape measures in hand, who takes him on a construction tour to measure out the new temple which will be built. Measurement after measurement after measurement of walls, doors, floors, etc., etc., and etc. It’s part of the process of building something new.

Today I’m thankful that the “vision” and “measurement” phase of our new home is over and we are experiencing the reality of it. I’m thankful for the experience of being led through the whirlwind process of unforeseen vision to fulfillment and reality. The experience encourages me to have faith in the larger visions, plans and blueprints God reveals for this life and this world.

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source: fabbriciuse via flickr

source: fabbriciuse via flickr

They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. Ezekiel 39:26 (NIV)

I reached a point as an adult in which I realized that for much of my life journey I had been plagued with an underlying sense of shame, 

Shame (noun) \ˈshām\ a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.

I felt a constant sense of being “less than” some sort of ubiquitous “should be.” I had a friend and therapist who once asked me to place a label to the core pain I felt deep in my spirit. After pondering the question for a week or two the answer I came up with was “not enough.”

This led me on a journey of learning more about shame. There is healthy shame and there is unhealthy shame. Like our appetite for food, healthy shame is a necessary part of a balanced life. Shame for our honest mistakes and shortcomings motivates us to check our behavior and make positive changes. But, appetites unbridled lead to unhealthy places. Shame that is unchecked and out of control leads to all sorts of negative consequences like negative self image, depression, seeking to cover our nagging negative feelings in unhealthy ways, and etc.

I came to realize over time that I was not alone in my struggle. Most people, whether they realize it or not, grapple with an underlying sense of shame. I have come to the conclusion that unhealthy shame is a very natural part of the human condition after The Fall. My discoveries led me to a time of study, introspection, and change. I began catching myself when my thoughts were given over to shame. I started consciously allowing myself to be affirmed in an active counter balance to my destructive self talk. As a result, I have I’ve found myself in much healthier places over time.

Today’s chapter is a continuation of the prophetic foreshadowing of the end times that began in yesterday’s chapter. I found it interesting that one of the restorative spiritual promises God gives is that the people will, in this climactic conclusion, “forget their shame.” I look forward to the Day when I can completely forget my shame.

Until then, I will continue on in my struggle to keep unhealthy shame in check, one day at a time.

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Foreshadowing and Climax

Megiddo Valley of Armageddon

You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. Ezekiel 38:15-16a (NIV)

The prophetic messages of Ezekiel in today’s and tomorrow’s chapter are part of a curious and mysterious niche of theological study known as eschatology, the study of prophecy and the end times. The vision and message in today’s chapter calls out a leader named “Gog” of the land of “Magog” from the “far north” who will gather a multi-national coalition of armies to march on Israel in a massive battle.

Most scholars agree that these chapters parallel the vision of John (Revelation 16) who names the location of this gathering of kings for a final great battle: Armageddon. The valley of Armageddon near the ancient town of Megiddo is in northern Israel which is now the site of an on-going archaeological study and a tourist center. I had an opportunity to visit several years ago and that’s the valley of Armageddon behind me in the picture above.

As fascinating as these prophetic matters are to ponder and discuss, I have come to a few conclusions about them along my journey. First, I have known many people who become so obsessed with these prophesies (it can be like solving a massive, unsolvable puzzle) that they get lost in it. I don’t quite see the point of getting so distracted by trying to understand these things that we ignore more important and current matters.

Second, in any story the idea of foreshadowing is to hint at what is to come in the climactic chapters without giving it away. As author of the Great Story being told in history, I think God intended these foreshadowing prophesies to give us a hint of climactic events to come but never intended us to actually understand all of these matters with certainty. No author wants us to know the details of the climax until we actually get to that point of the story.

Finally, I have come to believe that these foreshadowing prophetic messages are there to remind me that there is a bigger story being told in this life. When encountering the daily headlines and the ebb and flow of international events, I take solace in faith that things are being played out toward a prescribed chapter. We are not yet to that point of the story. And, I’m okay with that.

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Cubs Win!

Document-Cubs vs. Padres Sat Apr 18 2015 Tom Vander Well Page 1

Document-Cubs vs. Padres Sat Apr 18 2015 Tom Vander Well Page 2

I’ve been enjoying watching the Cubs and scoring the games in this early season. Really nice win in extra innings. Though the bullpen blew the “W” in the 9th, the story-line thus far this season has been the young team’s ability to come through late. They didn’t give up, and ultimately got the job done.

It’s early, but nice to be two games above .500 and just one game behind the “evil empire” in St. Louis. Today was Kris Bryant’s first major league hit and RBI. It’s always fun to watch when you just might be witnessing a little moment in baseball history.

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The_Vision_of_The_Valley_of_The_Dry_BonesThey say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them….”
Ezekiel 37:11b-12a (NIV)

Over the past year, the news on the Vander Well home front has been less than encouraging. Late last summer my mother was diagnosed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In February of this year my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable form of cancer in his bone marrow. This past Sunday dad told us that, based on the available data and the doctors’ formulas, they guesstimate that he has around 3.5 years left in this life journey.

As I read this morning’s chapter, I found myself identifying with the groans of the Hebrew exiles. There are times in life when we feel dried up, cut off, and without hope. But, the point of today’s chapter was God’s response which was to provide a word of hope. To an exiled people who had seen more than their fair share of death, God delivered through Ezekiel a message of homecoming, resurrection, and life.

I have known many who have battled terminal illnesses over the years. I have observed that one of the key differences in outcomes is determined by simple differences in attitudes. I am reminded this morning of God saying, “I have set before you life and death. Now, choose life, so that you and your children may live.” I recognize that there are stretches in each of our life journeys when we are free to choose to focus on despair and hopelessness, or to choose to focus on life and hope.

I pray that I always choose the latter.

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Profanity, Obscenity, and Swearing

No Swearing

I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. Ezekiel 36:21 (NIV)

As I have led our local community theatre for the past decade, the subject of language has been an ever present topic of conversation. In fact, the subject of language on stage has always been a topic in productions. Playwrights often lace their characters’ lines with language that producers know will offend large portions of a local audience. If you eliminated all of the potential plays and musicals which contain language or content someone in your audience might find unsuitable, you’ll eliminate about 99% of classic works. Shakespeare himself is full of off-color language and bawdy humor, but most audiences today don’t catch it.

It is technically illegal to change a playwrights copyrighted lines without permission, but local productions regularly choose to tone down a play’s language for their patrons. Still, you can’t please all the people all of the time. Even after choosing to tone down a script’s language I still have to regularly write letters of apology to audience members with hyper sensitive ears. It goes with the territory.

Because of my experiences with language and the stage, I have studied the nature of “dirty” language over the years and found some fascinating lessons to be learned. Most people do not understand the difference between profanity and obscenity, but there is a key difference which adds a layer of meaning to our message from Ezekiel in today’s chapter.

Profanity can be thought of as taking something meaningful, and emptying it of its meaning for a more base use. The most common example would be the name of Jesus. Followers of Jesus believe there is spiritual power associated with the name, so when others use it as angry exclamation it profanes the name, emptying it of its spiritual meaning to be used as a common expletive.

Obscenity, on the other hand, can be thought of as dirty language. Think of George Carlin’s seven dirty words you can’t say on television (Well, you couldn’t say them on television back when he did the routine in the days of my childhood). Bodily functions, fluids, excretions and sexual references used for exclamation, descriptive embellishment or other effect.

The concept of swearing is actually a version of profanity. In the middle ages, people lived together crammed in one room and both the excretory and sexual body functions were not done as privately as they are today. Obscenities were not a social taboo because everyday social reality was itself a dirty existence. In those days, however, to take an oath (to swear) was thought of as having significant spiritual power. If you wanted to really let fly with profanity in those days, you’d make an oath and swear “by his (e.g. Jesus’) blood” or “by his (e.g. Jesus’) wounds.”

Shakespeare used contractions that were considered swearing (an oath), but not really. “Zwounds” or “Zounds” was a contraction of the profane oath “By his wounds.” In the same way we contract and alter words to soften the social blow (i.e. “Fucking” becomes “Fricking,” “God damn” becomes “Gosh darn,” “Jesus” is contracted down to “Jeez” or transformed to “Jeez Louise,” “Jesus Christ” is transformed into the doppleganger “Jesus H. Christ” which we all know is a completely different person ;-).

In today’s chapter, God takes exception with his people’s profaning His name. The word picture is of  them emptying a precious and priceless word of its meaning, pouring it out on the ground and dirtying it up.

Today, I’m thinking about my own words and the choices I make in every day conversation. I am admittedly guilty of letting colorful words fly from time to time. Today I am reminded that I need to be careful with the words I wield.

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source: spencerslife via flickr

source: spencerslife via flickr

Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.”
Ezekiel 35:6b (NIV)

This I have observed along my life journey, that we are pursued by the powers of darkness which we refuse to stand against.

  • If we refuse to stand against hatred, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against injustice, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against violence, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against ignorance, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against bigotry, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against prejudice, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against misogyny, it will pursue us.
  • If we refuse to stand against misandry, it will pursue us.

The things of darkness respond only to a forceful assault of Light.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”   – Jesus

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