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November 30, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 16

Love is revealed in deed and truth. She said, "How can you say 'I love you' when you won't even trust me? Three times now you've toyed with me, like a cat with a mouse, refusing to tell me the secret of your great strength." She kept at it day after day, nagging and tormenting him. Finally, he was fed up—he couldn't take another minute of it. He spilled it. Judges 16:15-16 (MSG)

The use of 'love' as a means to selfish ends is as old as mankind. Looking back, I can recall being on both ends of this manipulative tactic. I can't point my finger without three fingers pointing back at me. Still, I like to think I've learned my lesson. 

I am always wary of phrases that begin: "If you love me, you will...?" or "How can you say you love me when you...?" For the true object of the question is usually the person asking, and the motivation is typically self-centered.

As I read the account of Samson and Delilah it struck me that, while they spoke of 'loving' each other, I found nothing in the text that illustrated love as God's message describes it:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Cor 13:4-7

Red flags always go up whenever I hear a person using love as a bargaining chip.

November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Vander Well Christmas Tree 2009  It's Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend. The Christmas tree is up and lighting the corner of the living room. Holiday music is playing in the background. The holidays have officially begun!

It's been a quiet Thanksgiving for us. My family were all headed out of town to visit other family. Wendy's family were pretty much all doing their own thing. Taylor is off doing her new thing with the in-laws. Madison was off to do Thanksgiving with her mom. So, Wendy and I found ourselves home alone and headed down the block to have a Thanksgiving meal with the Vande Lunes. The house was filled with great smells as Wendy made homemade rolls and sweet potatoes for the meal. She'd also made a chocolate cheesecake for dessert.

We had a wonderful meal with the VL's. My little buddy Nathan invited me to watch the parade on television with him. He then decided the parade would be much better if he was sitting on my shoulders. The only problem was that he was having a hard time climbing up on the back of the couch to get his legs around me. So, he grabbed the only thing available to give him leverage: my hair. With a little effort and relatively few of my hairs pulled out he managed to swing his legs around and so he was sitting snugly on my shoulders. That's when he tooted. I managed to breathe through my mouth for a few minutes to avoid olfactory damage. In the meantime, Nathan settled in to watch the parade while he nonchalantly played with my head like a toy. He used the top of my head as a bongo drum. He pulled my ears to see if they came out like Mr. Potato Head's. Then his hands moved down across my face and his finger decided to see what was up my right nostril!

Fortunately, the dinner bell rang and we enjoyed a wonderful feast with our friends. After dinner we headed to the VL's new, finished basement to have dessert and watch football. Between Shay and Wendy, there were four complete desserts prepared for the four adults and one half-pint in the room. We had baklava, pumpkin crisp, pecan pie, and chocolate cheesecake. No wonder I'm feeling fat.

We returned home in the mid-afternoon and kept it quiet the rest of the evening. Madison brought her friend, Phil, over to have pizza with us. We hadn't had a chance to get to know him, so we enjoyed chatting over dinner. Madison then took off to a friends while Wendy and I spent the rest of the evening watching the Bronco's beat the Giants (we watched the last quarter in bed).

We worked Friday morning, but knocked off to decorate the house for Christmas in the afternoon. It was fun to do it together and we had about as much done as we wanted to accomplish when Wendy's folks and sister arrived. The Friday night of Thanksgiving is traditionally the night when Wendy's Roozeboom side of the family (her maternal grandmother's family) get together at New Hope Church here in Pella for a potluck. Wendy's brother, Josh, buzzed over from Iowa City to join us. Wendy had been working on the family tree for this side of the family and passed out hard copies to check facts and additions. Great Aunt Jo had a devotional thought for the family and then we feasted. We finished the evening playing a card game, Golf.

Roozeboom Thanksgiving 2009 panorama LR

We went to bed well-fed and grateful for family. No big plans are left for the weekend. A little work to be done, a few projects around the house, and maybe a movie, a football game (or two). Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 15

Sibling squabble. Three companies of men from Judah went down to the cave at Etam Rock and said to Samson, "Don't you realize that the Philistines already bully and lord it over us? So what's going on with you, making things even worse?" He said, "It was tit for tat. I only did to them what they did to me." Judges 15:11 (MSG)

As a child, there were plenty of conflicts between me and my siblings. My sister was my closest sibling and, therefore, the one with whom I fought most of the time. We would cycle into periods of conflict when all we did was fight with each other. There was always a past hurt or misdeed she or I could point to justify our current attack. "She did that to me," I would argue, "so I don't feel the least bit guilty about doing this to her." And so, the pattern of perpetual conflict continued. Fortunately, our sibling grudges faded with time and maturity.

Nevertheless, I have seen the same patterns of conflict between married couples, friends, neighbors, and nations. There is no end to conflict when each party perpetuates and justifies it by pointing to a host of past wrongs. We see the same cycle at work in Samson's continuous acts of violence and retaliation.

Today, I'm thinking about conflicts in my own life and contemplating the ways I may be contributing its' ongoing cycle. The holidays are approaching and I'm mindful that God chose not to hold my sins against me, but to sacrificially reconcile me to himself. I think it's my job to be engaged in the act of sacrifice and reconciliation rather than perpetuating conflict.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and KenWilcox

November 24, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 14

We each have an Achille's heel. Samson went down to Timnah. There in Timnah a woman caught his eye, a Philistine girl. He came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, a Philistine girl; get her for me as my wife." Judges 14:1

The study of Samson is a study in human nature. He was a Nazarite from his birth, meaning that he was set apart by special acts of purity. No hair on his body had been cut and he'd never touched a drop of alcohol. Yet, we find in Samson an important historical lesson. Extreme human efforts at purity can't and don't blot out the darkness of sin that weeds it's way into our hearts. Sin finds a way to reveal itself in the behavioral patterns of our lives. Samson's calamitous life is a prime example.

Samson had a weakness. Like another strong man of antiquity, Achilles, Samson was all brawny hero with a tiny tragic flaw. Achilles flaw was his heel. Samson's flaw was his lust. Samson's tragic dalliance with Delilah was not the exception for Samson, it was the rule. Samson had a weakness for women. It wasn't just a fatal attraction for the opposite sex, it was a bad boy lust for the forbidden females of the Philistines. Today's chapter is an appetizer of the tragic events to come.

Samson's story is my story. It's humanity's story. It's a microcosm of the cycle of sin revealed in the theme of the book of Judges. Desiring to be good and striving for purity can't blot out my tragic weakness. Look at the patterns of my behavior and you'll see the inheritance of Adam at work cycling me back into the familiar struggle with sin and pointing to the Truth that I need a savior.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Frank Boyd

November 20, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 13

Sheer wonder. The angel of God said, "What's this? You ask for my name? You wouldn't understand—it's sheer wonder." Judges 13:18 (MSG)

There is so much about God which I don't comprehend. There are so many things I don't understand about His ways. I am befuddled. I'm so desperately frustrated with His silence and disappointed when my heart's desire is perpendicular to His Truth. I try to define Him. I try to wrap my finite mental boundaries around Him. I try to reduce Him into containable thought which will fit neatly and comfortably in the cultural, intellectual and emotional box I've created for Him. But, He never quite fits inside the box. It always ends up being both messy and uncomfortable for me.

Even His name defies reduction into our human language. It can't be contained in the limited letters, syllables and words of our most exhaustive dictionary. I reach to grasp for it, and find that it's always a little further up and further in. I sometimes touch it, but never quite grasp hold of it.

Today, I'm reminded of my need to sit in wonder and be content.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and wisdoc

November 19, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 12

The men of Ephraim mustered their troops, crossed to Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, "Why did you go out to fight the Ammonites without letting us go with you? We're going to burn your house down on you!" Judges 12:1 (MSG)

Once upon a time, I pastored a church in a small rural town. In this church there were two men. One of the men had "his pew" in one back corner of the sanctuary. The other man had "his pew" in the opposite back corner. Each week they would come to church with their wives and go to "their pew" for worship.

I didn't think anything of this. One day, an elder of the church explained to me that these two men had a dispute over the placement of a property line. Arguments ensued. Bitterness followed. They never spoke to one another again, choosing to sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary to avoid seeing or speaking to one another.

I think of those two men from time to time and remind myself that life is too short to live in anger and hatred. Arguments are usually really stupid. This is especially true when men and their pride are involved, as with the Ephraimites and Gileadites in today's chapter. Why do we choose to hold on to bitterness and it's gnawing, destructive consequences than humble ourselves and seek the healing of reconciliation?

November 18, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 11

Molech or chemosh When [Jephtha] realized who it was, he ripped his clothes, saying, "Ah, dearest daughter—I'm dirt. I'm despicable. My heart is torn to shreds. I made a vow to God and I can't take it back!" Judges 11:35 (MSG)

The story in today's chapter is a horribly tragic event that is incredibly confusing in today's world. It's easy to walk away from the story scratching our heads and throwing our hands up in the air. Yet, God's message is like Aesop's stories. There is generally a reason the story has been told. We just have to find the clues.

The first clue is a theme that has been running throughout the book of Judges. The people of Israel have been in a continuous cycle of idolatry. Try as they may, they keep mingling God, Jehovah, with the gods and idols of the people around them. They keep falling into idolatry despite God's numero uno command in the Top Ten List of commands God gave them through Moses. At the beginning of Judges, the theme is announced and highlighted when God warns Israel not to get mixed up with foreign gods or "their gods will become a trap" (Judges 2:3).

In the midst of Jepthah's parley with the Amomnites (vss 14-27), he mentions their god, Chemosh and he sets up the battle as a clash of between Jehovah and Chemosh. Here, the second clue is revealed. One of the things scholars know about the ancient god Chemosh is that human sacrifice was used on special occasions to secure the god's favor. If bowing before idols is against the rules, then sacrificing humans to those gods is a downright abomination.

As soon as Jepthah's victory on behalf of Jehovah is complete, however, he makes a silly vow and ends up sacrificing his own daughter in a despicable, senseless act. Jepthah sacrifices his daughter to God the way the Ammonites would sacrifice someone to Chemosh (a.k.a Molech, pictured above). For all of Jepthah's high spirited talk, his actions reveal that his faith has gotten mixed up with the gods of the Ammonites. It' reminds us of what Jesus said of the people of Israel: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." The moral of the story is revealed and points back to God's ominous warning at the beginning of the book: "don't get mixed up with other gods, or the consequences will be tragic."

Today, I'm thinking about the gods of this age and culture. I'm thinking about the god of sex, the god of money, the god of materialism, the god of convenience, and the god of self. I'm wondering how these gods have affected my relationship with God. How do my own actions reveal that my heart is incongruent with the words from my lips (and the words from my qwerty keyboard). 

Maybe I'm more like Jepthah than I care to admit.

November 16, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 10

Tom & Madison at Vikings game 111509 Then they cleaned house of the foreign gods and worshiped only God. And God took Israel's troubles to heart. Judges 10:16 (MSG)

I took my daughter to a Minnesota Vikings football game yesterday. They won the game, and we had a great time taking in the event. I was reminded, however, of a time in my childhood when I thought that it was somehow my fault whenever my favorite team lost the big game. Growing up in an era in which the Vikings lost four Super Bowls, I had plenty of opportunities to wonder what I did that made God punish me so.

I look back and shake my head at the notion. How selfish of me to think that my sins are so central to the cosmos, that a mere misstep in my ten-year-old existence would factor into the balance of power in the National Football League.

I have to admit, the book of Judges sometimes tempts me to revert back to that kind of silly thinking. There is so much time scrunched into so few verses. It feels like a constant stream of karma. The people worshiping other Gods and something bad happening. They repent and something good happens. It feels a bit like their faith is a lucky charm.

I don't think that my wrong doings make the difference in a football game. I don't believe in reducing God to a good luck charm or Santa Claus who will do whatever I want if I'm good enough. I do, however, think that my wrong doings have negative consequences. My faithfulness to God's message has positive consequences. My perpetual wrong doings have increasingly negative consequences, both spiritually and physically, for me and those around me. My obedience has increasingly positive spiritual and physical consequences (for me and those around me, but not for the Vikings).

November 15, 2009

A Different Daddy Daughter Weekend

Tom & madison @ Minneapolis Childrens Theater Since the girls were young, I've relished our daddy-daughter dates. As little girls, the dates were to McDonalds or a movie. As they grew, the daddy-daughter paradigm became weekends to Chicago or Minneapolis. Daddy-daughter time continues to change with time. A few months ago, Taylor and I took off for the weekend in what would be our last getaway before she got married. This weekend, Madison and I are in the Twin Cities looking at colleges. Next week she turns 18. Another reminder that the days of McDonalds PlayPlace, Polly Pocket and the Disney Store lie far behind us.

One of the things I promised myself when the girls were babies was that I would enjoy every stage of life, growth and parenthood for what it was. I remind myself of that promise all the time. You can't stop the train. Enjoy the ride.

Madison @ U of St.Thomas 111409 And so, I've really enjoyed my time with Madison this weekend. We've visited three very different colleges. From massive state university to small technical community college and private liberal arts college. I've enjoyed watching Madison envision herself in each as she thinks through the possibilities and challenges. She fell in love with the University of St. Thomas. It's quickly risen to the top of her list. An added bonus was free tickets to the St. Thomas vs. Northwestern football game. My high school buddy, Matt, is Athletic Director at Northwestern and we got a chance to meet up with him and catch up.

Interestingly enough, our fun time this weekend has been a reminder of daddy-daughter dates of years past. We went to Minneapolis Children's Theater production of "Cinderella." The production was funny, energetic and entertaining. Just as entertaining was the army of little girls dressed in their Cinderella costumes dancing in their seats. Ahhhhh, what memories that brought back to mind of Madison in her Snow White costume playing "Maddyella."

Last night, we went to Where the Wild Things Are, the movie based on the popular children's book. Again, memories came flooding back of Madison's favorite childhood books and stories while we had a very adult conversation about the themes and metaphors of the movie. How times have changed.

Today, Madison will give ol' dad his due - letting me take her to the Vikings game before heading home. It's been a great weekend. While the content of Daddy-daughter dates have certainly changed over the years, there is one constant: they are each priceless to a daddy's heart.

November 12, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Judges 9

Its lonely at the top. Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to Shechem to his uncles and all his mother's relatives and said to them, "Ask all the leading men of Shechem, 'What do you think is best, that seventy men rule you—all those sons of Jerub-Baal—or that one man rule? You'll remember that I am your own flesh and blood.'" Judges 9:1-2 (MSG)

It's lonely at the top, or so they say. No matter how lonely it may be, there always seem to be plenty of people lining up for the job. There is something in our human condition that wants some one to lead us. We like having a leader, an executive, a chairman, a general who will motivate, administrate and inspire. We also like having some one to blame when things don't go our way. We like having a scape goat at the pinnacle of the org chart.

In today's chapter, we see the beginnings of an important theme in God's story during this period of history. When the nation of Israel escaped Egypt and settled in the promised land, they had no formal leader or governing structure. They considered themselves a theocracy, with God as their ruler. It was a lofty and idealistic notion that didn't work so well in practical terms. The "Judges" were leaders who emerged in a time of national crisis, rallied the nation for a number of years, and then were gone. When the Judge died, the tribes of Israel went back into their loose system of tribal leadership.

Enter the crafty Abimelech. He recognized the leadership vacuum. He tapped into the discontent of the people who wanted some one to lead them. He heard the grumblings and whispers in the coffee shop. People wanted a king like all the powerful kingdoms around them. He recognized an opportunity and seized it in a fratricidal blood bath.

He also learned an important lesson in leadership the hard way: He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.

Today, I'm mindful of the authorities in my own life and God's command that I respect and pray for them. I'm equally mindful of those under my authority, and my responsibility to lead well.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and orvalrochefort