The Thunder of His Voice on the Horizon

source: andyrs via Flickr
source: andyrs via Flickr

“At this my heart pounds
    and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
    to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.”
Job 37:1-4 (NIV)

While I was in college I had a friend whose family owned a cabin on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan. One evening we were visiting their cabin and parked along some cliffs that afforded an expansive view of the western horizon, the Great Lake, and the Chicago skyline in the distance. It was a gorgeous, calm evening but behind the skyscrapers of Chicago we saw black clouds rising. Over the next couple of hours we watched a massive midwestern thunderstorm develop before our eyes. The dark clouds rose like mighty pillars and giant tentacles of lighting spread out like a breath-taking fireworks display across the evening sky. As the storm enveloped the city and began to cross the lake, the wind rose and giant white caps began to break against the shore beneath us. The thunder was deafening.

God says that His eternal nature is evident in creation, in what He has made. That night looking out over Lake Michigan I remember thinking that we were witnessing a tour de force of God’s might. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and as I read the opening lines of Elihu’s conclusion in this morning’s chapter, my mind took me right back to that night.

Elihu’s final words regarding the thunder of God’s voice foreshadows the final chapters of Job’s epic poem. After 37 chapters of silence in response to Job’s questions and the long debate with his friends, God is about to open His mouth to speak.

As I write this post it is the morning of New Year’s Eve day. I look back on a strange and somewhat difficult year in 2014. I stand on the precipice of 2015 with more questions than answers. It’s perhaps apropos that the year had ended with a journey through Job’s epic poem, with questions, and with struggle. It is equally appropriate that the current year ends waiting to hear from the Almighty, and that the new year will begin with God’s voice. Whether God’s voice arrives in the thunder of a  midwest storm or the whisper of a still, small voice, I’m anxious to hear what God has to say. I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.

Top 10 Blog Posts Published in 2014

Yesterday I shared the Top 10 viewed posts in 2014, regardless of when the post was published. Today, from the home office in Pella, Iowa, I’d like to share the Top 10 blog posts I published in 2014. Perhaps you missed a few. Enjoy!

  1. You Heard Right…We’re Moving
  2. “There are No Wrong Notes”
  3. A Recap and Review of our Caribbean Cruise
  4. 10 Ways I Tried NOT to Exasperate Our Children
  5. Joy of the Dance
  6. Blind Spots
  7. The Courage to Audition
  8. “Yes, You Can.”
  9. The Prodigal’s Lesson for Parents
  10. Throwback Thursday: Before Pella’s Tulip Time

Don’t Let Evil Off the Hook

source: jared polin via Flickr
source: jared polin via Flickr

But if people are bound in chains,
    held fast by cords of affliction,
he tells them what they have done—
    that they have sinned arrogantly.
Job 36:8-12 (NIV)

As I have read the words of Job’s friends, I find the theme has remained largely the same despite the nuances of their arguments. Elihu thinks he’s adding to the argument, but I find him regurgitating the same: If you’re suffering it’s because you’ve sinned against God. Repent and your suffering will be over and you will be blessed.

As I read through these words, I can’t help but think of the endless examples of innocent humans suffering inconceivable, undeserved cruelty. My mind recalled the three women in Ohio who were kidnapped and enslaved inside their kidnappers home. I think of the young ladies Taylor worked with in Uganda who were terrorized, raped and “wed” to members of the LRA terrorist group. I think of the girls whom Madison met in Asia who were sex slaves. I think of Jewish children terrorized, herded liked cattle, and marched to the gas chambers. I could go on, and on, and on.

I find it interesting as I look back across all of the debate between Job and his friends that the presence of evil has not once been raised. At the beginning of this poem we find that Job’s sufferings begin when the evil one, motivated to destroy Job’s faith in God, seeks to afflict the righteous man. Job, his friends, and his wife have spoken only of two parties in this drama: God and Job. They remain blind or ignorant to the presence of evil who was at the source and plays an active part in Job’s circumstances.

Growing up in the latter part of 20th century America, I was raised to believe in the goodness of humanity. I learned to walk as Armstrong walked on the moon. Nothing was impossible. The generation of peace was putting and end to Vietnam, the corruption of Watergate, and ushering in a new utopian era of love, peace, and ecology. If we embraced our inherent goodness, loved our fellow man, and cared for the Earth we could build a world where there is no violence, war, hatred, or prejudice. And, no one talked about evil. We didn’t discuss the necessity of confronting and overcoming forces (spiritual, physical, mental, educational, religious, social, corporate and/or political) who seek to destroy, dominate, steal, hoard, enslave, and kill whether for twisted, self-centered ideology, lust for personal power, or senselessly for no reason at all. It seems to me we continue to make the mistake of Job and his friends.

Today, Job has me once again mulling over senseless suffering and human tragedy. I am thinking about evil. I don’t want to be blind to it or ignore it. I don’t want to let evil off the hook or leave evil out of the conversation. I want to expose the darkness to Light. I want to confront that which diminishes and seeks to destroy both Light and Life. I desire to fight the good fight each day armed with love, forgiveness, joy, peace, patience, random acts of kindness, goodness, gentleness, fidelity, self-control, a pen, a paint brush, a blog post, a computer keyboard, and an internet connection.

Who’s with me?

10 Most Popular Posts in 2014

source: sam churchill via Flickr
source: sam churchill via Flickr

As 2014 winds down, I’m taking time this week to look back at my blog stats to see what seemed to generate the most traffic. I’ve been blogging for over eight years, and it’s interesting to see which posts continue to generate interest over the years even though they may be ancient in terms of the world wide web.

I’ll be posting a few different lists this week. Here are the ten most popular posts from my blog in 2014, regardless of when they were published:

  1. 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success
  2. Top 5 Things Wrong with “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug”
  3. You Heard Right: We’re Moving
  4. Preparing for a Role: Rehearsal Process
  5. Preparing for a Role: How Do You Memorize All Those Lines?
  6. Getting Away from Crazy makers
  7. Theatre is Ultimate Fitness for Your Brain!
  8. “There are No Wrong Notes”
  9. Art Heals (continued)
  10. The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy

Affecting the Almighty

source: oxfordshire church photos via Flickr
source: oxfordshire church photos via Flickr

If you sin, how does that affect him?
If your sins are many, what does that do to him?
Job 35:6 (NIV)

Elihu, the fourth and youngest of Job’s so-called friends, continues his pent-up diatribe in today’s chapter. His point seems to be that God’s lofty omnipotence places the Creator above the affectations of humanity. Eli calls into question whether our sins or wickedness have any affect on the Almighty, and I find the question fascinating.

A few summers ago I read the book Holy Sh*t by Melissa Mohr who explores the history of swearing and profanity. I learned therein that throughout the middle ages Western culture would have answered Eli’s question emphatically. The really bad swearing of the day was to swear by Jesus’ blood or Jesus’ wounds. For example, in the opening scenes of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, the bawdy Jack Falstaff utters profanity in saying “‘sblood” (contraction of swearing “by His blood”) and “‘Zounds” (contraction of swearing “by His wounds”). The culture of that day held that swearing by the body, blood, or wounds of Christ was so profane that swearing in such a manner resulted in further bodily injury to Jesus. If you swore you were perpetrating actual physical harm to the Savior in heaven. Wow.

This morning I am once again finding truth at the point of tension between the two extremes. Elihu’s projection of God who is above being affected by humanity is inconsistent with the entire story of God’s Message, in which God intimately cares for His fallen creation and loves us sacrificially in order to redeem us. The believers of the middle-ages, however, took that intimacy to an opposite extreme in thinking that when my momentary frustration leads to an inappropriate utterance, I have Jesus crying “ouch” in heaven’s throne room. That idea of that, in fact, seems more than a little bit twisted.

My long sojourn through God’s Message and my experiences in this life lead me to believe that God does care about us. I believe that God cares about what we think, say, and do. I believe that God is grieved at our penchant for doing the things we know we shouldn’t and choosing out of the things we should say and do. Let’s not forget that at the beginning of Job’s story God actually expresses His pride and deep appreciation for Job’s righteousness. God could be above it all, as Elihu suggests, but that’s the beauty of the Christmas story which we just celebrated last week. God cared. God sent His Son as a gift to make a way for salvation, and He made a point by sending His Son to be born of a seemingly insignificant peasant girl, arriving in squalor, worshipped by poor shepherds. That doesn’t sound like an aloof God unaffected by humanity. It seems to me that this is a story of God’s affections for even the least of us.

Christmas 2014

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this Christmas seemed a bit odd and low key compared to previous years. 2014 has been a year of transitions and Christmas reflected that fact in many ways. Taylor was in France and Madison was flying the friendly skies and enjoying a layover with Uncle Terry, Aunt Bonnie, and Ellie. With nine weeks to moving, our decorations at Vander Well Manor were minimal and Wendy and I opted to forego gifts as we have a lot of “gifts” to buy for our new house.

Madison was home briefly the week before Christmas, and that kicked off our holiday gatherings. The Vander Well and Keithley clans got together for a pizza party at Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne’s.

Christmas Eve we headed to Ankeny in the afternoon with Grandma and Suzanna. Wendy and I dropped the ladies off at mom and dad Hall’s and then met up with our friends Dave and Maria who were visiting from Grand Rapids. Back to the Hall’s we enjoyed a wonderful “Iowa soul food” meal of roast from the crock pot, mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade bread. Christmas goodies were abundant for dessert. It was a small crowd. Beside Wendy and Suzanna, Lucas was the only other sibling to join us. Becky and Courtney joined us for a FaceTime session with baby Lydia. We had the gift exchange after dinner and enjoyed a quiet evening swapping family stories and enjoying each other’s company. Wendy, Suzanna, and I headed back to Pella late that evening.

Christmas morning in Pella was quiet for the three of us. We made our traditional Christmas breakfast and enjoyed it together before exchanging gifts. By late morning, Wendy and I had packed up a crock pot of French Dip beef and two bottles of wine, and headed to Des Moines for lunch with the Vander Wells. Suzanna headed back to Ankeny to spend Christmas day with her folks. On the way to Des Moines we spoke to Madison who was still celebrating with Uncle Terry and Aunt Bonnie. She had a wonderful time with them and we were so happy to know she could spend Christmas Eve and morning with family.

 

Sam and Emma were the only grandkids present for Christmas at the VWs this year, but Sam arrived with his girlfriend, Lydia, who added extra energy to our family gathering. We enjoyed a laid-back lunch before heading downstairs for the gift exchange, which then led to family games. Taylor called on FaceTime from France and the whole family got to grill her about her experiences across the pond. By late afternoon, Wendy and I were feeling really tired. I had been up at 2:30 a.m. to turn on the slow cooker and never really got back to sleep. Wendy and I headed home and hung on to consciousness as long as possible, finally heading to bed around 9:30. Goodness, I feel old typing that.

Saturday was our final family gathering. It was back to Ankeny to celebrate with the Vander Hart crew, once again at mom and dad Hall’s. Plenty of food and Christmas treats to spare for the small gathering. Grandma Vander Hart had been staying there since we brought her up on Christmas Eve day. Deb and Doug, along with Brad, were the only VH siblings to join us. Suzanna, Wendy, Nicole, and Brant were the grandkids present. Brant and Amy’s kids Addy and Clayton provided equilibrium to the generational curve.

Now we turn our attention to the New Year as Wendy and I prepare to celebrate our 9th anniversary!

 

Meaning-Full Gifts

Wendy, Suzanna and I have been blown away by Apple’s Christmas ad this year. In the ad, a young lady discovers a 45rpm record her grandmother made for her husband who was away in World War II. The granddaughter spends some time on her Apple computer editing the song, adding her own voice and instrumentals to it. On Christmas morning, the grandmother finds her granddaughter’s iPod on the kitchen table along with memorabilia from that period of her life. Perched atop the stairs, her granddaughter watches her grandmother put in the ear buds, push play, and begin to cry. Then it’s kleenex all around at our house every time we see it.

This year, our entire Christmas seemed to be one gift card exchange. I get it. Our family is spread out, Wendy and I are in transition, our folks don’t really need anything, yada, yada, yada. But, I have to admit that the exchange of plastic cards at times seems boring and silly. This year we gave our brother Lucas a Target gift card, and guess what he gave us? Yep, a Target gift card! Feel the joy. God bless us, everyone.

This year I did give my parents one extra gift that cost me nothing but a little time. Utilizing the existing software on my MacBook, I pulled family photos I have taken and scanned over the years and put them into slideshow. It really wasn’t that difficult. I mixed old family photos of previous generations to photos of our own nuclear family through the years, and added a song from my iTunes library as background. I burned it to DVD and, after the gift cards had been exchanged, I played the DVD for my folks. The best gift I received all Christmas was watching my parents as they watched the slide show. I did feel the joy as I watched them light up at the sight of old family photos and calling out the faces and names of people they recognized from previous generations. Before it was over they had both began to cry. My mother’s tearful hug when it was over was priceless.

Wendy and I have talked a lot about this concept of meaning-full gifts this year. We have become so focused on the consumption of goods, that we are often blind to gifts that will be truly valued. A few Christmases ago our dirt-poor college age daughter gave me a simple candy tin on which she painted a colorful design. Inside were some of her favorite photos of the two of us and a couple of colorful magnets. I could take out whichever photo I wanted, attach it to the front of the tin with the magnet, and sit it on my desk. I don’t remember anything else I received that Christmas. I still remember that.

Wendy and I received two meaning-full gifts this Christmas. Suzanna, our dirt-poor college age, live-in sister, spent time sequestered in her room upstairs working on two drawings for Wendy and me. Her own pencil portraits of Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball, with “Merry Christmas” hidden in Charlie’s hat ribbon, and Lucy’s necklace. It was unique, original, and made with her own hands. We will treasure them. The other meaning-full Christmas gift came from my dad who made a stained-glass piece which will hang in a prominent place in our new house (I am choosing not to show a photo of it at this point. We’ll let you see it when it’s installed and the sun is shining through it!). We can’t wait to add it to our collection of family artwork displayed in our home.

2014 suzannas christmas drawings

You don’t really need a ton of creativity or artistic ability to make and give meaning-full gifts. Here are a few suggestions for next Christmas or an upcoming gift giving holiday:

  • A playlist or music mix provides all sorts of possibilities. Share music that is meaningful between the two of you. Share with your children or grandchildren the music that you listened to as a kid, what songs bring back memories, and what those memories are. Share with your parents the music you remember from your childhood or the music that your parents taught you to appreciate. Don’t forget to add some liner notes describing why you chose each song.
  • Memories are always meaningful. What family treasures or heirlooms can you utilize to honor those special moments of the past? Still have that trove of love notes/cards your spouse gave you when you were courting? How about a simple treasure chest box from the local art/hobby store in which you place all of those special notes, along with a brand new love note to add to the horde.
  • Old family movies on 8mm film or VHS videotape gathering dust in the attic can easily be transferred to digital formats which can be edited or played on almost any media. Most computers today come with built-in software which allows you to take the digital video and make your own home movies. You don’t even have to edit. Most family members will love watching the raw, unedited footage of years past.
  • In this age of e-mail, a hand-written letter has become rare, and in my estimation more valuable. I have always believed that our handwriting, sloppy as it may be, is an original work of art. A handwritten letter that’s signed, sealed, and delivered is a welcome surprise amidst the daily pile of junk mail and bills delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Write a letter thanking your parents for all they’ve done for you (give examples), tell your children how proud you are of them (give examples), say “I’m sorry” to a loved one you’ve hurt, say “I forgive you” to a loved one who hurt you, or take a trip down memory lane and share with a loved one a meaningful memory the two of you share.

A big “thank you” to all who gave me gift cards this year, including my wife. I will enjoy using them on special treats for myself, and am truly grateful. I hope you enjoy the piece of plastic I gave you in return. I hope we all realize that meaning-full gifts are gifts in which the value cannot be established by a magnetic strip on the back.