The Covenant

Let me begin my being really clear on who this post is for: These words are for people who consider them Christians and are committed to the tumultuous and risky calling of discipleship. If you’re in the midst of figuring, or oftentimes refiguring, faith out, these words are not for you. These words are also for the people who have taken the time to grieve. If you haven’t, take a wander through the Book of Job. Meditate and chew on it. I have a series on suffering, and a playlist for lament if you’re looking for further resources.

When I was thinking and praying about what to speak into this moment, what kind of answer can even be given in the midst of yet another mass shooting, yet more innocent little children killed, yet another trans person who is the shooter, at a time of already unimaginable grief and tragedy for the queer community as bill after bill after bill limits trans individual’s ability to exist, I needed some time and some inspiration. What can be said, accurately and honestly, in the midst of all of this complex tragedy?

The word that God put in my mouth was not an immediately helpful one. It was the end of Joshua 24:15:

… but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

Joshua 24:13 NRSVue

This verse comes towards the end of Joshua, a semi-historical book documenting Israel’s conquering of Canaan, with the help of their leader Joshua and the hand of God. Chapter 24 comes at the end of a warning Joshua, in his old age, gives to the Israelites. He urges them to preserve the purity of the people of God and to preserve the Hebrew God as the only God worthy of their adoration. He reminds the Israelites that the land of Canaan has been given to them, not earned, an important distinction to keep the Israelites humble and obedient. Then, in an act of obedience, Joshua holds a covenanting ceremony to renew the people’s promise to God, and in turn, God’s promise to the people. In chapter 24, Joshua begins by retelling the story so far:

Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst, and afterward I brought you out.

Joshua 24:5 NRSVue

The story of IAM setting God’s people free has become a frequent source of comfort and challenge for me since July of last year. It began as a testament: God can do impossible things. Then, it changed into a celebratory reminder: there is nothing a tyrant can do but grasp at earthly power.

How do we respond to life under tyranny? First, we should give the tyrant an opportunity to free us on his own accord. In Exodus 5, Moses and his brother Aaron give Pharaoh the first of God’s message to him: Let my people go. In response, Pharaoh not only refuses, he makes the enslavement of God’s people harsher.

That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will pay attention to it and not to deceptive words.'”

Exodus 5:7-9 NRSVue

Don’t miss this first lesson, friends; when the tyrant tightens the reigns, freedom is imminent. But it’s also important to note here that asking the tyrant for freedom is acceptable in the sight of God. By all means, call your representatives and demand a more just world. With hope and humility, they will relent. But we also shouldn’t be surprised if the heart of a tyrant hardens into repeated refusal.

After numerous plagues, the Israelites flee Egypt. In a last-ditch power grab, Pharaoh and his men pursue the fleeing Israelites. The Israelites turn on Moses, enraged that they’ve escaped just to die in the wilderness. But Moses replies:

Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today, for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.

Exodus 14:13-14 NRSVue

Friends, I am as sure as I have ever been that God is a firm foundation to build your life on. I am as confident in the shadow of the tyrant as I was in the Promised Land: God frees and God conquers enemies. All we have to do is suppress everything our brains tell us not to do: be still, rest in the assured deliverance of God. Pslam 27 reminds us of the same war tactic: we become brave by being still. We are children of the Almighty God; we do not need the weapons of the world to conquer. Our victory is assured.

The issue with politicians and Pharaohs is that they earnestly believe their earthly power is enough to make us afraid. Maybe they’re right, maybe you are afraid.

I am.

Some person in a suit genuinely believes they know your body better than you do. They are passing laws to sentence people to death, to force people to come out, to stop taking life-giving medication, to stop being who God has called you to be. Just like the Israelites, we find ourselves backed up to the edge of impossible water, watching our captors pursue us, certain we are going to be slaughtered in an unfamiliar land, or even worse perhaps, an unfamiliar body. This is a death and a violence worth being afraid of.

And yet, in the midst of our fear, we hear the whisper of Moses, the whisper of David’s song, the whisper of our very God: Keep still, hide in his shelter, Know that I Am God.

As you move through these next few weeks and months and years of increased transphobia, gun violence, and chaos, rest assured that the God who created you is also fighting for you. The tyrant doesn’t win.

Let us also cast our minds to Easter: death itself doesn’t win. What fear can these feeble, power-hungry men offer us, especially in the end:

Then comes the end, when he (Christ) hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and very authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

1 Corinthians 15:24-26 NRSVue

Point #1: How do we respond in this moment of overwhelming grief and anger? We remember that the authority of death and of ruler hold no true power over us, just power that is tangible.

After Joshua reminds the people of the power and faithfulness of God, he instructs them to revere and serve God:

Now, therefore, revere the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the LORD.

Joshua 24:14 NRSVue

If you’re struggling to embody the first point, friends, it’s about to get a lot harder. I’m not preaching to you; I’m preaching to myself and hoping some of this self-talk is useful to someone besides me. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, offers some thoughts on how we as Christians can respond faithfully to persecution, how we can sincerely and faithfully serve the L-RD.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly, do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the LORD.’ Instead, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 13:14-21 NRSVue

As I read this passage over and over again, I want the way of Jesus less than ever. To be a disciple of Christ is going to cost us everything. Every intuition, every comfort, every morsel of food and drink and sense of fairness. To put this back in terms Joshua could understand, we have to put away the gods of our ancestors. We have to choose a different path than vengeance. We have to want peace more than we want justice, because we know that true justice flows out of peace. Again, I say: I want the way of this Jesus less than ever.

And yet I am simultaneously convicted of little else in this moment than that the world needs more Jesus. We need more of his gentleness, more of his submission to suffering, more of his counter-cultural peacemaking.

If we want to sincerely and faithfully serve our God, we have to feed our enemies. There isn’t another path. We have to overcome the vast and deep and profound evil in our world and faith communities by viciously committing ourselves to self-sacrificial good.

Here is another thing I am convinced of in this moment of profound suffering: I do not have control over very much. I can’t solve gun violence. I can’t cure transphobia. I can’t eradicate suffering in all of its forms from the face of the earth. Joshua acknowledged the limitations of his ability to commit the tribes of Israel to the covenant of the L-RD:

Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living…

Joshua 24:13 NRSVue

As I picture this scene play out in our modern context, I can hear Joshua name different gods: social media, guns, mental illness, {political party}. You can choose, right now, to serve that god. If the fight is too difficult, if the thought of feeding a gunman or a politician is too much for you to stomach, go find a different god worthy of your worship. I can’t make that choice for you, or for my senator, or my president, or my pastor.

But as for me, and as for my future house and family, queer and complicated and beautiful, we will serve the L-RD.

We’re going to do some rejoicing in the midst of celebration, and we are going to mourn alongside those who mourn.

We’re going to try to not repay evil with evil. We’re going to try to make peace and live peaceably even with the tyrants who live above us.

We’re going to heap some burning coal on the heads of some people.

Come, Lord Jesus, and make a way for us in this barren wilderness. Give us our daily bread, that we might remember our place and have the tools to be peacemakers in this wild world.

Point #2: How do we respond in this moment of overwhelming grief and anger? We decide that whatever god our nation and our neighbor is serving, we will serve the LORD.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition Bible, copyright © 1989; 2021 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America and are used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

What a Penny Press Taught Me About God


On a bench outside a tourist shop in La’ie, Hawai’i, my friend and I found God at the bottom of her purse. Last November, I flew to O’ahu to celebrate one of my best friend’s wedding. A few days before the ceremony, those of us in the bridal party met up with one of our mutual friends. We spent the lunch hour feasting on smoothies and chicken, and wandering through the local shops, checking off last minute Christmas shopping. My friend and I had finished while a few of our mutual friends were still exploring the wares. We sat on a bench chatting when, all of the sudden, my friend interrupts.

Oh my gosh, Bryce, please tell me you have a quarter. Across the walkway she had spotted her current tourist obsession: a penny press. Since I have a large international readership, and I’m not sure how universal gimmicks like these are, a penny press is basically a machine that “stamps” pennies (the lowest level of US currency) with an image or phrase reminiscent of the tourist location. You can see some brief examples here. Because the owners of the machine have to make money, they typically cost 51 cents – two quarters and the penny you get pressed. It’s not expensive, but in an age of credit cards and tap-to-pay, change is hard to come by.

Throughout the trip, one of my Bryceisms of the moment was saying “Provision!” whenever something unexpectedly good happened. It was my way of reminding myself that God provides. I had been in the midst of praying really big prayers, and I needed the reminder that my God was faithful, present, invested. I dug around in my wallet and found a quarter. In her wallet, she found a penny. The machine, though, cost 51 cents. We needed one more quarter, and we had exhausted both our wallets. There was nary another quarter in sight. Ugh. Let me check one last place. She reached an expectant hand into her bag and pulled out a quarter, fat and shiny, completely in the wrong place.

See! I told her. Provision! She strutted those 51 cents over to the penny press and walked back with a treasure. About a month later, she texted me about it. I had completely forgotten this experience. It was her prayer, her penny. Completely unmemorable to me. In her text, she told me she was running late to work and that, every time this happened, she got a terrible parking spot in her downtown parking garage. There’s never a spot if she gets there after 9. When she rolled into the garage, at a crisp 9:06, she spotted a miracle: a parking spot close to the front. You already know she yelled, Provision! Since then, she’s texted me a few other times, small reminders that tiny, significant miracles can happen. She told me she wants to get matching “provision” tattoos. Maybe at our next friend wedding, we’ll sneak out to a parlor and make it happen.


I was raised in a faith tradition that was nervous about these kinds of associations: mistaking the secular for the sacred. They warned about “over spiritualizing” something. Was that really a sign from God, or just a regular coincidence? Was God providing for you, or did you just get what you needed? Is the Enemy attacking or are you just hangry? I’m currently reading Tyler Staton’s book Praying like Monks, Living like Fools. In it, I came across a line that was balm against this reductionist theology:

If we effortlessly judge the parking space prayers of someone else, sure that we know the priorities of an incomprehensible God, our spiritual lives are suffocating and restricted while their God is ever involved, interested, present.

Tyler Staton, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools, page 118

I’m not saying there’s no place for a word of warning against over spiritualization. We’d be wise to test voices and experiences. But I think there is something to a staunch observance of God in the middle of the most mundane parts of our lives. That one experience finding a quarter on a bench in La’ie has provided bountiful encouragement to me over the past few months. In the midst of health crises my family has faced, I’ve thought about the provision of that quarter and the provision of my friend’s parking space. If God is that interested in showing up for the little things, why do I worry if God will show up to the big things?

The truth about our prayers is they can always get bigger. They can always get more urgent. Recently, I had another friend video chat me to catch up. Towards the end of the call she submitted a prayer request for a friend of hers that was just diagnosed with cancer.

What do you think? Is that a big prayer or a small prayer? An urgent need or a flippant want? If you’re my friend or I, that’s a big and urgent prayer. If you’re the woman with cancer’s kids, that’s a massive, breathtaking, knees-on-the-floor, anguishing prayer. That’s the prayer of your life.

But if you’re reading this from war-torn Ukraine, earthquake-ravaged Turkey, colonized Kingdom of Hawai’i, that’s a prayer you don’t have room for. Sad, maybe, but unexceptional.

During the season of Lent we are reminded how unexceptional we are, how meaningless our lives and the things we work towards are. My friend’s friend is one of almost 8 billion people. Although her life is massively significant to those of us that know and love her, her life is dust. She doesn’t mean anything to the vast majority of people alive today. She means everything; she means nothing.

Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books of the Bible (which I did a series on you can find here), does a great job balancing our profound significance and insignificance at once. I’ve had verse 9:9 stuck in my head for months now, but Eugene Peterson’s translation of 9:7-10 captures perfectly what I’m trying to get at here:

Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning. Don’t skimp on colors and scarves. Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, for there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 MSG

If you’re a foodie, you know the deep satisfaction, the vast importance, of a good meal. If you’re into fashion, there are few things better than finding the perfect accessory. If you’ve ever been in love, there’s no place better than being snuggled up in their arms. Vast, indescribable importance. And yet, the author reminds us, this life is meaningless. Even the biggest, most important aspects of our life are snuffed out. We die, a matter of decades after we’re born. Vast, indescribable unimportance.

If you want your god to be infinite, they’ve also got to be intimate.

In order to combat White Supremacy, God also has to understand the importance of a good lūʻau. In order to cure cancer, God’s got to have a seat at game night. If we want to trust that God can answer a once-in-a-lifetime big prayer, we have to have a testimony of small prayers God’s answered too. We don’t need them so God will answer us; we need them to remind us God answers.

You might think I’m over spiritualizing a penny press, but what I know is that God has used that moment on a bench to constantly and consistently remind me over these past few months that God can fix my marriage. God can maintain my sobriety. God can get me a parking spot when I’m overwhelmed and running late. God can gift me laughter in the middle of an episode of Abbott Elementary when I’ve had a stressful day.

God provides for me in big ways and small ways, because He is my Father and He does everyday life with me. He’s interested in it. He loves me. He has full custody of me and it isn’t enough for Him to just show up on holidays or when I really, really, pretty-please need something.

I serve a God who presses pennies; I serve a God who ceases war. Nothing more, nothing less.

God offers provision every single day if I only remember to look for it.




Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram or Goodreads.

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The Tyrant

We’re supposed to give up our love for them?

Knock at the Cabin

It is not enough only to have martyrs for the faith, people willing to die for the thing they believe in. We also need people willing to live under the threat of death, to endure a long life of suffering. Martyrs receive maximum suffering over the shortest amount of time. The ones who live endure varying amounts of suffering over a long amount of time. In evangelical America, many are willing to die for their faith; few are willing to live, to stomach what it means to endure.

You have heard in said in recent weeks that there is a revival in America, a reawakening of the Spirit on this land. I believe this is true; I can feel it in that hollow space carved into my heart. The Tyrant is tightening his gallows. Laws are being passed and censorship is sweeping our communities. The limits of grace have been set forth by human hands. The Tyrant is getting anxious. It is always, has always been like this. Darkest before the dawn. Defeat makes tyrants desperate.

I believe that there is a revival in America. I believe that God’s about to free some captives and fell some tyrants. I believe that I’m about to find myself in the wilderness, but that my children are going to feast on milk and honey. I believe that freedom is coming for the captives and I’ve felt it for a while.

For too long, though, I believed that captivity would be coming for The Tyrant. I needed to believe that my righteousness and my rightness and my rage would be redeemed. In Matthew 21, we see Jesus’ rage as he flips over the tables in his Father’s temple, condemning in righteous rightness. Rage has a holy and celebrated place in our worship. But rage is not the thing that saves the world.

Don’t miss this, friends. Rage cannot save any of us. Rage is balm for the suffering, a reminder that they are seen. Rage is a warning to repentance, a reminder to The Tyrant that human authority is just animated dust waiting, again, to crumble. Rage is important. Rage is necessary. Rage is not the thing that saves the world.

“While we were still sinners,” Paul writes, “Christ died for us.” The rage of God was righteous. It was right. It was deserved. It is only because the rage is inflicted on the undeserved. It is only because grace is undeserved that the world is save. Sacrificial love, which is a fancy way of saying suffering, is what saves the world.

God is on the way to loosen chains. God is on the way to set the captives free. God is on the way to fulfill good promises.

Promises that require suffering. Good that requires love. Freedom that requires the purging of righteous rage for peace and love that make no sense.

To follow Christ is to surrender everything – even rightness.

I don’t want to live in an equitable world or a just world. That isn’t enough for me. I want to sit at the same table as my captor. I want to look in his eyes. I want to know him as my brother.

Rage can’t do that. Only love can save the world.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

The Dissent

Living as an exile to Christian community grants you an interesting view of the inner workings. The two-year podcast expose of Seattle mega-church Mars Hill, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, capitalized on this. One of the more jarring quotes from then-lead pastor Mark Driscoll documented by the podcast was, “There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God’s grace, it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done.” Dissenters were unwelcomed at Mars Hill. If you had alternate ideas about the traction, direction, or speed at which the bus was going, you were welcome to freely discuss those ideas with the other corpses killed under the weight of ministry’s momentum.

It’s been a particularly bleak time for dissenters in my faith circles. At a Christian university I’ve been keeping a close eye on, the increasingly derelict and faithless administration sent a memo to faculty and staff to cease a years-long protest against a particular university policy. In protest, students and faculty staged a protest, hanging flags and signs in support of their cause, a frequent strategy by campus organizers. Historically, this kind of protest would be tolerated for the majority of the day. Not so this time. Just an hour after organizers began, their signs and flags were in the trash. If the email hadn’t been clear enough, the message was crystallized now: dissent will not be tolerated.

At one of the churches I’ve attended semi-regularly for a couple years, the pastor from the pulpit made a claim about a political issue. They went on to say, “You may not agree with us (referring to the church as an institution stewarding this opinion) and that’s okay. I hope you stick around anyway. Church can be a place where people disagree. You can have a different opinion, but ours is rooted in God’s truth. You can disagree with God’s truth, but it doesn’t change God’s truth. God’s truth is the truth.” This is a softened, but (in my opinion) more nefarious translation of the two above sentiments. The pastor’s point at its most basic level was: We welcome disagreement, so long as the people who disagree with us admit that they’re wrong, and not only wrong but are rebels against God. I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear this from this pastor. They had expressed a similar sentiment to me in a private conversation.

In my most recent letter of dissent to the aforementioned university’s board of trustees, I explained why I continue to participate in a church I fundamentally disagree with:

We as Christians are called to lives of exceptional discomfort. In my Sunday suffering, in that brutal weakness, the strength and redemption of Christ is that much more apparent. Because I have seen and believe so fiercely in the revelation and healing that transpires in spaces of deep and poignant disagreement, I ask you to turn from the wickedness of censorship and authoritarianism. I believe and am witness to the power of leaning into the spaces that are most hostile to you. Do not hinder the Messiah who came, not to bring peace, but division.

Excerpt from a private collection of letters


Dissent is holy and underutilized work. I want to be clear by what I mean by dissent because I’ve also worked in ministry, and I know that some of you just like to complain. Petty disagreements, anonymous complaints, hurt feelings of being asked to change your behavior is not dissent.

First of all, dissent is risky. Relationships are risky. Advocating for truth and being commissioned to work on behalf of the gospel message is risky. This means dissent requires you to speak from your chest. In Paul’s epistles, he doesn’t hide behind an anonymous letter or a fake Google Reviews account. He clearly identifies himself and provides an opportunity to correspond with him. He’s not here to condemn and be rid of; he’s here to support and convict. If the Spirit has charged you with a spirit of dissent, then you are sent in God’s authority and no human being can harm you. Say what you have to say in the courage of the daylight. Say it with your face clearly visible. Say it with a return address so that you can be patient and partnered in your love for a community.

Secondly, dissent is purposeful against patterns. Nitpicking is not dissent. Critiquing your pastor’s off day is not dissent, nor is mocking the flaws of human beings. When you are called to dissent, you are called to do so with humility. In Paul’s epistles, he doesn’t critique as though he’s a perfect practitioner of Christianity. Paul admits his failings and communicates that it is through God’s grace that we mend, not through human intentionality. Additionally, Paul does not hark on minor failings or one-time slip ups. He critiques a series of patterns which culminate into widespread failings on behalf of a group of believers.

Finally, in this brief exploration of dissent, we need to understand it as something that occurs from connected community members, not outsiders. If you aren’t willing to be a part of the problem-solving, your dissent loses its traction. The nature of Christian community in our Western world – a once or twice per week meeting of believers is not compatible with the nature of the early church, who lived and breathed and died together. Be slow to speak and be willing to help problem-solve.

Putting Dissent Into Action

Pastors/Church Leaders – Be receptive to the voices of dissenters in your community, and be humble in the stewarding of your flock. You are not the authority of your campus, your community, or your congregation. You are not kings of your earthly kingdoms; you are servants commissioned on the authority of the King. If you have become arrogant in valid critiques of the community you shepherd, then it might be time to put down the staff. If you feel the need to censor all protests against you, you are not unlike Pharaoh with his hardened heart. Keep humble and remember your place in the Kingdom.

 One of you says, “I follow Paul.” Another says, “I follow Apollos.” Aren’t you acting like ordinary human beings? After all, what is Apollos? And what is Paul? We are only people who serve. We helped you to believe. The Lord has given each of us our own work to do. I planted the seed. Apollos watered it. But God has been making it grow. So the one who plants is not important. The one who waters is not important. It is God who makes things grow. He is the important one. The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose. The Lord will give each of them a reward for their work. We work together to serve God. You are like God’s field. You are like his building.

1 Corinthians 3:4-9 NIRV

And yet, also be mindful of faithless dissenters whose only goal is to stir up division and negativity. Indeed, there are people in our congregations who moan and complain about everything, not because something is wrong, but because they want to be right. Jesus was killed, not by a government or a system of unbelievers, but by his closest friend in the betrayal of Judas. The Enemy infiltrates our communities to stir up division and cause doubt. Meet with your dissenters, and allow for open communication with your congregants, but test the voices and concerns they bring up. Not every voice is helpful, but not every critical voice is evil.

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:23-26 NIV

Congregants – Do not sit like a sponge amongst the faith leaders around you. You should not be sitting here reading this blog aimlessly or sitting in the pews believing every word that is spoken over you. You should also not be lying in wait, looking for opportunities to critique or tear down the people called to shepherd you. But, you need to be aware of false teachers and those below reproach.

 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their debaucheries, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. 

2 Peter 2:1-3a NRSVUE

You should not believe your pastor because they’re your pastor. You should believe your pastor because you spend your weekdays in prayer and in scripture and your pastor is partnered with the Spirit in convicting you of what is being revealed to you. You are not an idle thing to be told what to do by someone in authority; you are equipped with the Holy Spirit. Your pastor has no special access to God. They have gifts and a calling which may have set them apart to lead you. This is the only thing that differs between them and you. Appreciate and pray for your pastors, but do not blindly follow them and confuse their authority with God’s. Do not believe anyone who says what the Spirit has told you is true is a lie. Do not let the voice of a human replace the voice of God in your life.

“Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Acts 10:47-48 NLT

God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 15:8-11 NLT

My point is really, at its core, this: Be a people so rooted in the love of Christ, that your hearts breaks with the afflicted. Be so humble that the lowest among you can reach you. Be so surefooted in the gospel that you cannot be unmoored by the lies of a false and hypocritical teacher. Be of one body in unity that you may not be broken by petty quarrels, but if there is a sickness in the body, take it to the healer that you might be cleansed. Dissent to make peace and worship God with your own mind, not the mind of another.


Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

Prince of Peace


I have a longstanding tradition of picking a Christmas song that defined my advent season and framing my Christmas reflection around that. This year, I was stuck between two songs: O Come All Ye Unfaithful by Sovereign Grace Music and Here Comes Heaven from Elevation Worship. As I tested each of them, the Spirit sat quite silent. I thought there must be something else I’m supposed to do. In keeping attentive to what the Spirit might be leading towards, I realized one of Jesus’ title as foretold in Isaiah 9 kept sticking out to me: Prince of Peace.

The more I thought about this title, the more it made sense. We are a people desperately in need of peace. Our advent series, Weary World, touched on this topic: We are weary of the pious and need a sense of peace in the Church and a deepening of Shalom between our siblings. We are deeply desperate for peace in our need for control. We need to facilitate peace in how we love, and we need to cultivate peace amid difficult callings for our life. Focusing a Christmas reflection on our need for peace was easy and needed. But even this didn’t feel quite right.

We are a people who do need peace, and yet just saying this falls a little flat. All people need peace and, as a researcher who studies coping, all people are capable of finding and making peace. There’s nothing inherently Christian about peace itself. We might be able to argue that Jesus is the one that brings true, deep, and lasting peace, but to say that he is the only source of any peace would be inauthentic. I realized this even more so when getting coffee with a friend recently who had recounted her own journey for peace, utilizing what I would call both discernment and repentance, though not through a theological lens.

What, then, is special about Jesus as the Prince of Peace?  

Jesus as the authority on peace is quite interesting given the trajectory of his life.

Before he is born, Jesus’ arrival is a disruption into Mary and Joseph’s life. Pregnancy with Jesus may have marked Mary with favor from God, but it burned her with shame in her community. Her marriage to Joseph began with an extraordinary leap of faith in something beyond them. The pregnancy itself and the eventual labor, particularly in a dirty stable at a time before pain pills, was excruciating and uncomfortable and horrific. Jesus’ story did not start with peace.

After his birth, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus flee the genocide of King Herod. Refugees of authoritarian governments, the Holy Family hardly knows peace in their early years. The only glimpse of Jesus’ early life finds Mary frantically trying to find him after losing him in the temple. Being the mother of God incarnate is exceptionally chaotic.

As Jesus begins and expands his ministry, he brings peace to the marginalized and stigmatized, but only a few of them. His miracles are impactful yet few, his preaching deep but regionally limited. Jesus changed the lives of the people he met, but he only met a fraction of who was alive at the time. Jesus brings peace, but not a lot of it. At every step, the religious leaders and politicians of his day try to trip him up, begin plotting his death.

And then, even as we begin the Christmastide season, it is an inescapable truth that Christ has only really been born to die. Ash Wednesday and Lent are coming. Jesus gets no peaceful rest. He is beaten, bloody, and stained with human waste when he dies.

Jesus is an odd choice as the authority on peace.


As we begin Christmastide, and celebrate the birth of the Christ child, consider what it might mean to trust your life to the Prince of Peace, who is wholly and deeply acquainted with its opposite. “Peace” in Jesus’ title does not simply mean what our Western eyes read it as – an absence of war or strife. Peace, or Shalom, in the Bible refers to a restoration of oneness with God and each other, not present on earth since the origin myth of Adam and Eve in the garden. The peace that Jesus resides over is a deep and a lasting peace, yes, but it is also wholeness. It is the restoration of a broken marriage and the wiping of the widow’s tears. This peace is a shining beacon in a desolate, suffocating darkness. It is beyond our comprehension.

Jesus’ life of isolation and suffering proves, not negates, his authority. He came so that he might experience the mundane of our dusty existence. He came so that he might know the depths of war and disease in order to bring about real and genuine peace. He suffered at the hands of division so that he could appreciate the depths of unity.

If I’m honest, entrusting my life to the Prince of Peace is my perpetual Mark 9:24 moment. I believe that Jesus is capable of peace. I believe that he came to bring it. I believe that I have accepted the gift of it in my salvation. I believe in entrusting my life and my world and my future to the Prince of Peace.

And I believe also in the deep cuts of war. I have bled from the illnesses in my family and been pierced by deep fear of the future. I am shackled to the weight of my past and amputated by the depths of my iniquity. I have witnessed my entire life the evils of the Church and of humanity. Oh, the depths of my unbelief.

In the tech booth of a Christmas Eve service rehearsal, I heard the Spirit whisper again, “Come and see what God has done.” In the midst of the hustle and bustle, despite the anxiety and the addictions and the relational brokenness, God extends us this Christmastide invitation: Come and See.

Just come and see.

Come and meet God in a body your brain can comprehend. See the blood-soaked manger. Come and see what the Prince of Peace has to offer you. No need to make a decision right now. No need to leave the future in those tiny, adorable baby hands. Just come. Just see. Marvel for a minute at what the Lord has done.

Merry Christmas, my dear friends. The Prince of Peace that Passes All Understanding has come.

Hallelujah again and again and again.   

Come and see what the Lord has done.

See the places he has destroyed on the earth.

He makes wars stop from one end of the earth to the other.

He breaks every bow. He snaps every spear.

He burns every shield with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be honored among the nations.

I will be honored in the earth.”

11The Lord who rules over all is with us.

The God of Jacob is like a fort to us.

Psalm 46:8-11 NIRV

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.


City on a Landslide

Weary World: Advent 2022

I’m in a bar and everyone around me is drunk when a friend of a friend at the table next to me says, “Church? Man, fuck Jesus.” The mutual friend shoots her a look and she apologizes, which is kind but unnecessary. I always appreciate authenticity, and inebriation is good at authenticity because it makes us forget our filters. Besides that, she’s doing holy work, I think, cursing out Jesus in a too-loud sports bar. In Matthew 5:13, Jesus himself reminds us that salt that loses its saltiness is worthless. It should be walked over and thrown out. This friend of a friend is simply looking around, seeing a busted-out light on a distant hill and calling it darkness.


Today marks the arrival of a new season in the Christian calendar. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, marking our transition from Ordinary Time to the prepatory time for Christmastide. For Christians, this is a time of waiting with expectation for the coming of the Christ child. Advent is a season in which we as Christians heighten our relationship with generosity, joy, gratitude, hope, and love. It is a time for cheerful and eager expectation. for that hope our souls deeply long for, and a time for contemplation as we make ready the world for Christ’s arrival. On the first Sunday, in churches around the world, clergy light the hope candle and reflect on God’s people as beacons of light in the world.

As illustrated in the story above, I’m not sure how well we as a people have done in being lights unto the world, quietly pointing towards the coming hope of the savior. Many of us have given into the temptation of Nationalism. Our sanctuaries have turned from reverent to commercial. We’ve become too interested in laws over relationships. And the weary world, desperate to make sense of the senseless, to find joy amidst the suffering, to find somewhere to belong, has taken notice. The light of the world is missing because we are being a faithless people.

And yet, as I write to you, my friends, on this first day of the Advent season, I am still full of hope for God’s people. I am still hopeful on behalf of the weary world. The problems we are facing as a Body are not new. In Jesus’ life, the main adversaries to his ministry were not atheists; they were the religious. These leaders prioritized legalism over love, rightness over relationship, political power over humble suffering. Jesus’ birth, his life, and his eventual death, are completely wrapped up in the struggle for and against God’s own people. We cannot have a discussion about Christmas without having a discussion about the failures of God’s people.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. His mother Mary and Joseph had promised to get married. But before they started to live together, it became clear that she was going to have a baby. She became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph was faithful to the law. But he did not want to put her to shame in public. So he planned to divorce her quietly.

But as Joseph was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit. She is going to have a son. You must give him the name Jesus. That’s because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to bring about what the Lord had said would happen. He had said through the prophet, “The virgin is going to have a baby. She will give birth to a son. And he will be called Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name Immanuel means “God with us.”

Joseph woke up. He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife. But he did not sleep with her until she gave birth to a son. And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 NIRV

In Matthew’s account of the time leading up to Jesus’ birth, we see Joseph caught up in a legalistic scandal. The woman he is supposed to marry has been both unfaithful and impure. She’s pregnant and there’s no way it could be his. Even in the midst of the legalistic requirement to leave her, Joseph tries his best to be kind. He plans to “divorce her quietly” so as to not “put her to shame in public.” We don’t get reactions to Mary’s pregnancy from many others in the gospel accounts, but if Joseph’s initial reaction is any indication, I think we can imagine the horror Mary faced from the faithful around her. She’s the epitome of everything the traditional religious person hates. Today, we might think about Mary as a gay, drug-addicted, immigrant woman on her way out from an abortion clinic. She’s who preachers are talking about when they speak of the corrupted culture of today’s youth. She’s the failure of all her community’s dreams.

Obviously, as Joseph comes to learn, Mary has been called by God. This is a holy woman, not an impure one.

This is similar to how we experience life today. We don’t often get to see behind the curtains of someone’s life. We don’t see how God has called them, or how God is working in their life. All that we see is their behavior. We see the things they’ve committed, the people they’re surrounded by, the places they’ve ended up. And we compare that to the scriptures, to a right way of living, to the things we claim to believe but rarely practice for ourselves.

I have to wonder, in reading this account of an almost divorce, how wrong have I been about what I perceived was happening in my neighbor’s life? What assumptions did I use to guide my judgements on another person?

I am hopeful about the state of God’s people amidst all the grief they have caused me, my community, my friends and the people they love. I am hopeful because despite our ragged, assuming humanity, God is bringing a child to save the world. All that we need to do is love our wife, despite our failure to understand.

As you move through this first week of advent, consider how your own assumptions and behaviors have dimmed your light and have impacted your ability to represent Jesus to the least of these. Consider how you can feed the hungry simply because you have an extra loaf of bread and not because you are the self-righteous coming to redeem the starved. Reflect on how you might facilitate the passing of God’s love rather than enforcing the consequences of God’s laws. Ask God to intercede in your life and in your faith community to be people that get others curious about God’s redemptive mercy, not cursing out the son in a bar because Christians have been so unkind.

Have hope in your redemption, Church, but have the active kind of hope that moves.

Prayer: Deliver to us, the many-times-great-grandson of the sex worker Rahab, Lord, that we might learn to see you in unexpected places. Break us of our communal fears, that you might speak to us and reveal your plans. Make me a person of light, Lord, that I might die to myself to shine to your humble and simplistic reign.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

God Bless America

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 4

The last lie from Christian nationalists that we will discuss is the lie that America is the principal interest of God. From its inception, America the empire has confused itself with the empire of God. Manifest Density was the belief that God ordained the colonists to overtake and civilize the indigenous peoples, to claim their land as some twisted version of the promised land. When we speak of America like this – that it is God’s nation, that America is a Christian nation, that God is concerned with American First policies, that God should bless America over its adversaries, is to say that all of America, present, past, and future, is analogous with God.

Some of this might be true. America is founded (though not necessarily executed) on the idea that all people are free. In the same way, the Gospel is concerned with the elimination of societal definitions of inclusion so that all people might benefit from the love and grace of Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28). America has programs (though not necessarily effective) designed to come alongside widows and orphans (James 1:27). America has acres of natural beauty that testifies to the glory of God (Job 12:7-10). It is undeniable that some of America’s goals as an empire overlap with the goals of Christ’s Kingdom.

And yet, the nationalists are convinced that God is only concerned with the interests of America, and that any enemy of America is an enemy of God. In the same way that it is true that America is concerned with the elimination of disparate social groups, it is true that America is deeply concerned with the preservation of certain social groups, and the elimination of others. White women did not gain equal participation in the empire of America until over a century after its founding. People who were not White did not gain equal participation in the empire of America until almost two centuries into its existence. America has served widows and orphans, but it has also created them in the genociding of people groups and the bombing of countries in the pursuit of democracy. America has learned from the beauty of the nature within it, and desecrated it to earn money and claim its dominion.

When this world passes away, and the new creation is wrought (Isaiah 65:17), we will not see only English-speaking Americans tilling the soil. Indeed, there will be people from all nations, speaking in all tongues (Revelation 7:9). Whoever America hates – Iraqis and Russians and Chinese – and whoever Nationalists hate – teachers and democrats and police officers – will inhabit heaven alongside whoever it loves. God is in the interest of reconciling all the descendants of Adam, not just the ones we like or who serve our same interests.

Prayer: God of the multitude, help us destroy the idols of language and nation so that we may devote ourselves more fully toward the Kingdom of God instead of the Kingdom of Man. Break our expectations of the limits of grace. Lead us to places we consider too foreign, so that we might see your mercy and creative spark is limited only by our capacity to experience it.

Further learning:   

Flags on Sunday

Anabaptist Perspectives Episode 174: How Empire and Colonialism Perverted Missions


The Real Response to Persecution

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 3

As I mentioned in the first day of this tiny series, Christian Nationalists operate on the power of fear, particularly on the fear of persecution. Christian values, and Christians by extension, are under attack in this country. This is shocking, wrong, and in desperate need of fixing. Or, is it? Today, we take a look at how the Bible, not Nationalists, respond to persecution.


Expectation versus Surprise

Christian Nationalists try to shock you into believing that persecution is surprising. You need to be very alarmed and scandalized that Christianity is under attack, which is interesting given the Bible’s frequent prediction of Christian persecution.

Paul in his second letter to Timothy writes, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2:12-13 NIRV). Jesus himself forewarned his followers of their impending persecution: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:19-20). 

The truth is that you have never been promised an easy life as a believer in Jesus. You should expect to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Anyone who wants to coax you into shock at a little adversity wants something from you.

Joy versus Anger

Christian Nationalists want you to be angry and dismayed by your supposed persecution. They want to mobilize your anger to elect them into office and arm yourselves to complete acts of violence against image bearers.

In Jesus’ most famous sermon, he gives you the true reaction to actual persecution: “Blessed are those who suffer for doing what is right. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when people make fun of you and hurt you because of me. You are also blessed when they tell all kinds of evil about you because of me. Be joyful and glad. Your reward in heaven is great. In the same way, people hurt the prophets who lived long ago.”

Anyone who is trying to convince you to fear or be angry about your persecution is focused on the weight of what this world can do. Do not fear for such fickle, temporary things. A person of real faith, a person you should listen to, will tell you to focus on what happens when you arrive home. Rejoice and be glad in any ill that comes your way because of the gospel of Christ. Keep your eyes focused on the kingdom and let the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, and peace) replace the fruits of the nationalists (hatred, anger, and anxiety).

Strength versus Weakness

Christian Nationalists want you to think about your strengths and your power. They want you to put them in positions of influence and power. They want control and authority. They want to boast in their strength.

Paul discourages the church of Corinth from such ideas: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So I am very happy to brag about how weak I am. Then Christ’s power can rest on me. Because of how I suffered for Christ, I’m glad that I am weak. I am glad in hard times. I am glad when people say mean things about me. I am glad when things are difficult. And I am glad when people make me suffer. When I am weak, I am strong.”

The voices you should be listening to will be bragging about their positions in prisons, not palaces. The more suffering you endure, the less room you take up of yourself. When you have nothing, you make room for the One who has everything to enter in.

Prayer: Make me tiny, Lord, so that you might be visible to those around me. Make me weak, Lord, so that you are my only source of strength. Jail me, Lord, so that I may know where freedom comes from.

A Tiny Introduction to the Great Lie

Shaky Kingdom: A Tiny Series on Christian Nationalism | Day 1

The principle lie of Christian nationalism is that right now, you need to be very, very afraid.

In most churches around this country, there are people doing everything they can to convince fellow congregates that the government is stealing their rights as Christians away. In place of the spirited, testifying tongues detailed in the Acts 2 account of Pentecost, many Christians today are deeply concerned with exceptionally earthly matters. Regardless of what issue or issues that are of primary concern for them, Christian Nationalists want you to be deeply afraid.

They want you to be angry, to be shocked and surprised. And, as an antidote to this overwhelming fear, anger, shock, and surprise, they want you to reclaim power. By taking power, you reestablish yourself as a leader over that which fears you. By chopping off the head of your adversary, you quench your anger. By taking back control, you shift the unequal distribution of power so that you now hold the element of surprise.   

As we walk through this brief series together, I want to ask you to ignore and actively refute this great lie overtaking your siblings and thriving in your churches. I want you to take refuge in the gifts of Christ and to lead the lost among your congregation to the yoke that is easy. I’m asking you to reject what Paul calls the spirit of fear and timidness (2 Timothy 1:7).

In 2 Timothy, Paul also encourages us to receive the gift of power, but I want you to pay attention to the difference between how Paul conceptualizes power and how Christian Nationalists conceptualize power.


For the Nationalist, power comes through political overtaking. In order to “restore” Christ to power, we need to elect a certain politician, pass a particular policy, or destroy a widespread ideology. This power is, by its very nature, humanly defined. In order to receive or establish power, you need to take action. You need to vote or give money or sign petitions or raise awareness. The emphasis is on you and the mechanism by which you attain power is on earth.

The power Paul describes in 2 Timothy 1:7 is gifted to us by way of the Spirit, and it does not come alone. The power Paul conceptualizes is coupled with love and self-control. It is not the hatred of another that motivates power-taking, it is the love of others that facilitates power-receiving. It is not an active power-taking, in which you need to rise against an exterior force. Instead, power is coupled with the act of self-restraint, in which the entity you rebel against is your own human desire and tendencies.

Over the next few days, we’ll discuss what it might look like to be a people genuinely concerned with the rot in our own communities and began to cast a vision for a countercultural liberation movement characterized by love, vulnerability, quietness, and self-restraint. This is branded as a tiny series because the problem of Christian Nationalism is generational and gigantic in its scope. I won’t have all the answers on how we solve this overwhelming and dangerous trend, but my hope is that the Spirit might be fed by your attention to this issue, and that you might be encouraged to combat it each time it rears its head.

Prayer: Give me doubt against the fear from my misguided impressions of the world. Give me the courage to trust that a holy war is waged with surrender. Give me an accurate vision of myself that I might repent for what I have done and better align myself with the vision you have of me in your world.


The Bittersweet Answer


It feels as though, more often than not, answered prayers are bittersweet. From my mortal lens, I can’t tell if it feels this way because it’s true, the frequency of bittersweet answers outpaces the saccharine ones, or because we in our mortality are more likely to notice when things don’t go how we planned more often than we are to notice when everything is going exactly as we’ve planned. I suspect the reason may be the latter. The reason why is worth reflecting on but for now I want to talk about why the bittersweet answer stings and where we go after.

On the surface, we all claim to want clarity. Whether or not you’re a person of faith, we’re searching for answers on why we feel this way and what’s coming next for us. For example, just the other day, one of my friends asked the astrological expert of the group what the start of Gemini season means. “It’s bad. Probably fine for you, but not for us Pisces” she responded. Whether it’s the star season, or a closed door, clarity is sobering. It forces us to face a long awaited answer with the fullness of its truth. Sobriety, as any recovering addict will tell you, is great, but there’s a reason addictions are so common and why they last so long. We don’t really, truly want to face the world sober. It means the pain is in focus and we have nothing to buffer it.

A bittersweet answer can be the death of a dream. Maybe you have feelings for someone and you get the call that they’re moving away. Maybe you’ve been interviewing for that dream job and you get a rejection email. Maybe you miscarry a pregnancy. If we live our lives as instructed in Proverbs 3:5-6 then we bring all things to the Godhead and live according to the answers They provide. Yet that doesn’t always feel like good news.

In Isaiah 54:8 we are reminded that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. That disconnect often stings because we are so sure about that person, that job, that life, that plan and path for ourselves. And for some reason, even though we’ve thought of everything, even though we’ve seen how good and right that path is for us, God’s ways are higher and God disagrees. And it stings. It’s allowed to. The death of a dream is deserving of our grief for it. That’s the bitter.

A bittersweet answer can also be the belaboring of a nightmare. Maybe you’re in a relationship that makes you feel suffocated more often than held, but God asks you to stick through it. Maybe you’re at a job you hate or feel abandoned at, and while God is telling everyone else Go, God’s telling you, Stay. Maybe your kids are extra challenging these days and while all your friends are enjoying time with their kids, yours feel like a chore, and God is saying keep working. Things will get better, you’re certain, if you can find someone else, take a different position, or have healing for your kids. Yet God’s higher ways leave you where you’re at. The nightmare bites and it hurts and it’s allowed to. That’s the bitter.

The sweet is that God is answering at all. In the moment of clarity, it feels like slap in the face, and yet the alternative – abandonment – is not kind either. Recall the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 13. When God is silent, we are also stung by the silence. We long for God to deliver us and speak balm into our souls. The sweet is that even in a bold, red-lettered, capitalized no, God has heard us and answered. There is a miracle in that. Now that we have an answer, we can begin to pick up the shards of our broken dream and reimagine what they might form instead. Now that we have an answer, we can plant our feet to stay in the fight. We have a direction again. We know despite our circumstance we will see goodness while we are alive.

We can be confident of this goodness because after God tells us that Their ways are higher and better than our ways, God says:

For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11 NRSV

The closed door does not mean God is done working. God is just not done working yet.


We are not alone in this tension between the bitter and the sweet. If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you might know that my morning devotional has had me in the Old Testament for a while, specifically Leviticus and Numbers, books I typically don’t read. As I’ve been going through, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: The Israelites constantly have their mouths full. They are either stuffed with heavenly manna (God’s provisions and fulfilled promises) or complaints (human anxiety that God will not deliver on said promises). I see so much of myself in that tension, caught between the dead dream and the hope for the new one. Throughout these two books, the Israelites have repeatedly complained to their leaders that they should have been left to die and rot in Egypt. They are so consumed with the promise not coming at the right time, not being the right thing, that they are willing to trade in the coming glory for the devil the know.

It is a timeless human temptation to cling to the dead dream and bemoan the continuing nightmare. Yet I believe that the love we invest in unrequited people and stillborn babies is not wasted. I believe that the interviews and the jobs we endure will teach us skills for our career. I believe that the patience we give our children will make the waiting worth it. Our dreams are dead, yes, but they taught us to reach for more. Their fantasy gave us a taste of the coming glory and for that I am thankful. Our nightmare continues yes, but the struggle will give us the tools to climb the mountain so that we may enjoy it when we reach the top.

I leave you with two reminders from the Psalmist about the relationship of sorrow and joy. Sorrow is defeated by joy in the morning and sorrow is used to water the plant that brings joy. Mourn for your dream for those tears will fertilize an even better one. Endure the nightmare because the morning always wakes us from our slumber. The bitterness and the sweetness.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Follow him on FacebookInstagram, or Goodreads.

Curious why we don’t use he/him pronouns for God in this post? Click here.

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