It’s been everywhere lately…..


The White House…..

The White House on Twitter…..

All news sources whether “fake” or “real”

Facebook – personal stories that would break your heart.

Facebook – personal attacks that brought friends of mine to tears.

The local coffee shop

Sexual abuse hotlines were inundated with people seeking help.

Instagram and I’m sure there were even people on SnapChat talking about it.

Oh and there were “big wigs” (supposedly important) people in various religious organizations and denominations who had to add their voice to the noise.

Who knew what? What said what? Who did What?

Who threatened what? Who had to take their family into hiding? Who had bad memories, horrible memories brought up again that they had tried to move past?

I am not even going to mention names, because while the issue is about a Supreme Court Judicial Nominee and his accuser, the issue is much bigger than that…..
• The issue is about our society’s treatment of women.
• The issue is about the church’s failure to stand up for the rights of the abused, no matter what color, what gender, what age they are.
• The issue is about why “adult” (and I use that term loosely) white men seem to think they can get away with anything – and why they have for so many years.
• I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the point……

“….If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.”
John 15:18-19 MSG

How many of the people who currently run the United States government claim to be “Christian?”

Do they live on the world’s terms or on God’s terms?

How many people who spoke up this past week trying to either minimize, downplay or explain what might or might not have happened, how many of them claim to be Christians?

Do they live on the world’s terms or on God’s terms?

How many people who currently run Christian organizations honestly believe that the people in the current administration run their personal lives and their actions in the government according to God’s terms?

If the leaders of churches, the people that every week we turn to for leadership and direction and encouragement, if they are openly supporting someone who doesn’t support life on God’s terms, what sort of message does that say about the church?

And we wonder why people are leaving the church?


Do we really wonder why people are leaving the church?

Or are we just afraid to face the answer to that question?

People are leaving the church because the church is leaving God.

Let me repeat that.

People are leaving the church


The church is leaving God.

The church is spending more time focusing on being popular and being liked and being welcoming and being this and that and less time focusing on what Jesus said it needs to be about:

The first and great commandment is this – Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul and strength.

And a second commandment is like it – Love your neighbor like you love yourself.

Now I think we should all go figure out what that means for our own people and our own world and make this coming week a better week.


An Open Letter to My Dad

Hey Dad,

It’s been a while.

Too long.

But it only seems like yesterday.

While we didn’t talk every day, we talked enough during the week that the silence is often deafening.

Today is 6 months.

6 months to the day when God said, “Come home, my good and faithful servant. Come and see the place that I have prepared for you.”

And you did.

6 months from when your family surrounded your bed and sang, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

And it is.

And it still is. Even when you are There and we are here.

Memories flood my soul and my eyes as I think back……

A friend from kindergarten (I can’t do that much math – how long ago was that?) waiting to be one of the last ones at the visitation.

A hug from a seminarian, “Your dad is the perfect blend of “grandpa” and “professor” that we seminarians needed. He is already and will be missed.”

Sitting in church on Father’s Day morning with tears rolling down my face, texting my wife who was taking her turn caring for really sick NICU babies, “I miss my dad.” Knowing that I couldn’t go over to see him or call him or hug him that day.

Sitting at the next generations’ Dr. Vanderwell’s graduation knowing that we missed having Dr. Vanderwell and Dr. Vanderwell together by 33 days.

But then the memories flood in from farther back……
⁃ the phone call to let him know he was probably less than 36 hours from being a grandpa (I’ve never heard him that startled before or since!)
⁃ Throwing three surprise 60th birthday parties for him in one week (yes, I think he was clueless). Looking back on it, I think it really helped him realize that age is just a number – it’s what you do with it (that’s part of why he never retired) – and was working at the Seminary two weeks before God called him home.
⁃ Hearing from people what a difference he made in their lives.
⁃ Learning by example that there are things that are more important than yourself. And that putting the needs of others ahead of your needs can often make you a much better and deeper person.

But you know what I miss most?

I miss the every day little things. The forwarded e-mails about things that went well. The questions about what the doctor said. Meeting for coffee and asking for input on this or that or just shooting the breeze. I remember him telling me one time that he didn’t believe it when he was told it but one of the biggest privileges of being a dad happened when the roles switched from parent/child to friends.

Dad, while you will always be my dad, you are more than that.

And Dad, I think I miss more today than I did 6 months ago. The reality of it has hit – I’m not going to see you again until such time as God chooses.

But I frequently picture you up in heaven and you are doing one of your favorite outdoor activities – walking. But you aren’t walking around the neighborhood, you are either walking with Peter, Paul, David, Solomon or a host of others and soaking up the knowledge that they have and can share. I can’t imagine, “Hey David, How’s it going?” Answering questions that you’ve wrestled with all of your time here on earth. Or, I can also see you meeting new people and walking and talking with them and sharing what you’ve learned. One thing I’ve learned in my time as a preacher’s kid is that almost everyone knows “Howie” so there’s no shortage of people in heaven who want to talk to you, I bet.

And Dad, I can see you smiling, from ear to ear and can’t wait to share heaven with more of us.

Dad, you fought cancer 5 times (and yes, I know you didn’t count the skin cancer on your finger – but guess what – the doctors did – so I’m going to) and you beat it. You beat it soundly and in the process of beating it, the scars, well, let’s just say the scars led to complications that ended the fifth fight with a glorious entry into heaven.

I wish you were “here” to walk with us on the medical journey that I’m currently on. But I know that even though you aren’t here, you’re watching and you’re here.

And I thank God for the way you’ve been here for me, for my wife, for my kids our entire lives. I miss you Dad. But I’m blessed by you every day.


God-School Graduation Rates?

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out.
He’s treating you as dear children.
This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training , the normal experience of children.
Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God?
We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live ?
While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them.
But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.
At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain.
Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.’
Hebrews 12:4-11
As I write this, I think of several friends….

  • One is joined with her husband in the battle for his life against the ugly word – Cancer.
  • Another has a son in jail facing very serious violent crime charges.
  • Another has a son with an arrest record longer than my first college English paper.
  • Another has a daughter……

So what is the writer of Hebrews saying here?  I think he’s saying a couple of things:

1. Don’t be a God-School Drop Out.   Don’t rebel against what God is telling you because it’s for your own good.

2. Don’t look at the trouble in your life (as a friend of mine said last night, if anyone tells you they don’t have troubles, they are either lying or mentally unstable) as punishment.  Instead look at it as training – as Laura Story said (I’ve told some of her story before) – you need to go from being angry and saying, “Why God?” to saying, “How God?”   “This is the path you’ve set before me how can I be faithful to you and help others on it?

3. If you read the chapter before this, Hebrews 11, it talks about the heroes of the faith and so many of them never got to see what they believed in and never lived to see God’s kingdom here on this earth.

If you’ve been reading for a while now, I’ve told you some of what 2018 has brought my way.   It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the Vanderwells.   On January 30, I had a medical procedure(surgery sort of) for the AVM (google it) in my left neck and shoulder to reduce risks of a brain bleed.   A very good think and the surgery was successful.   But remember how they always tell you that there is a “remote chance” that _______ or __________ could happen but it rarely does?

Hi, my name is rarely.   Without going into too many details, let’s just say my ears, my auditory system and my vocal system, none of them are working the way they used to.   Yeah, not fun.

So when I read in Hebrews 12 where it says, “The trouble you are in isn’t punishment, it’s training,” a couple of things pop in my head:

  • I’m glad it’s not because of something I did because then I’d feel guilty.
  • I find myself on a long journey from being mad at God and saying, “why?” to saying, “Okay, God, this is the new me, now what?”

Will we see the rewards for our efforts here?   Or do wait until God calls us home?

Only God knows,


God and Siri

Can Siri help your prayer life?

Huh?  You’re probably thinking, Tom, those teenagers in your house have gotten to you or you’ve lost your marbles.   Well, both of those could be true but they have nothing to do with whether Siri (or Google or Cortana or any of the voice apps out there) can help your prayer life.   I give credit for this idea to Pastor Darrell he shared this in an Elder’s meeting this week.

How often have you had it where you’ve been talking to someone and they said, “you know, next _________ my ________ is having _________ removed and we’re pretty ________ about it.   We’d love it if you could keep that in your prayers.”   Happens a lot – at least a good amount on Sundays at church it does.   And what happens?

We get home, we get busy with our own daily life and that day comes and goes and we totally forget to stop on that day and say, “Hey God, my friend ________ is nervous because her ___________ is having _______________ removed.   Can you give them an extra measure of peace today and can you make sure that all goes well?   I know they’d really appreciate it and I would too.   Thanks God.”

You missed the opportunity.

So, instead, try something else.   While you are still talking to the person, whip out your smart phone and say something like this,  “Hey Siri, remind me something, “   Set it for the lady with the British accent, “What would you like to get reminded about, “Remind me next ________ …….” and tell it all to Siri.   Siri will them remember it and at the right time on the right day, Siri will remind you.

And then the person that needs prayer knows that you will be reminded that they need prayer on that day and that will encourage them.   Oh and there’s this whole thing about the power of prayer.

Try it.   Get Siri involved to improve your prayer life.   I’m going to try it.


It’s Different This Time? Really?

You know, I could come up with pages up pages of things that are wrong about today’s world.   I could come up with natural disasters, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, and other things that “happen” to us (humans).

And then I could come up with another list of evil and difficult things that people have caused or let happen – either on purpose or on accident.   Ask the people in Flint Michigan about their water.   Ask the people near the Wolverine Worldwide dumping grounds about this thing called PFAS. 

And then there’s the evil and corrupt things that humans do to each other.   Ever hear of Allepo?   ISIS?  Drug Cartels? 

Surely this is the worst time ever.   Surely there has never been a ruler as bad as ____________.   Uh, ever heard of the guy named Nero?  Yeah the Emperor of Rome?  Yeah, the guy who burned down a large part of his city – with his people in it.   Why?   So he could blame it on the Christians and have a reason to arrest and murder them.   And what did he do while Rome was burning?    Sat in his very fancy and very safe mansion up in the mountains overlooking Rome and played his violin.

That’s right, Nero fiddled  while Rome burned.

And then we come to I Peter 5 and Peter says:

You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.”  I Peter 5: 8-11

I’m not writing this for you so much as I am me……

  • Keep a firm grip on our faith.   This hard time won’t last forever.
  • God has great eternal and glorious plans for you and for me.
  • He gets the last word.

He gets the last word.

He – God – not you, not me, not my preacher (sorry Pastor Darrell), not what Paul wrote, not what John wrote, God

God the ultimate power of the universe, the maker and creator of everything and everybody.

God the one who knows whether a hair will fall from my head (and yes they are).

He gets the last word.

Is it different this time?   Yeah, it is.   But it’s still the same too.   There’s evil, there’s sin, there is pain, there is corruption.

But God still gets the last word.

May we all rest in that fact today.

Whether we’re having a good day or waiting to find out if our belongings and our home survived a hurricane or a cancer diagnosis or whatever.

God’s got this.

And he’s got the last world.