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.

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.

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.


The Resurrection of Relationships

To get caught up on the story so far, visit our Instagram. I had originally meant to split this up into three posts but just couldn’t swing it.


My flight touched down and I flipped airplane mode off. I sent a text to my mother that I landed safely, then opened Instagram to post a picture I had taken on the plane. (Don’t raise a boy in a Facebook world and expect him not to think he’s interesting). I had a dozen notifications in my DMs and more were coming in. I clicked the message icon and saw the profile picture of a dear friend who was home visiting family. I knew instantly what was going on and started praying every Psalm I knew as the flight attendants urged me off the sparsely occupied plane.

A few days later, I’m sitting on a different friend’s couch talking about his friend preparing to come out as gay. “I will never forget the fear on your face,” he says to me, recalling a night a decade or so ago I was doubled over on a sidewalk in Denver crying harder than I had in years. I had just come out to him and I knew that nothing I could ever do would shove those words back in my throat. I was no longer on a precipice; I was freefalling off the cliff and waiting to discover if I would fracture or be caught. “Throughout my life, I had never felt like I could lose everything just for being who I was,” he said. It was a perfect summation of what that night was like for me all those years ago.

Everything you know, everything you’ve built, all your little houses of cards could crash down in one moment of honest, simple, truth telling.

My Instagram friend was standing on the cliff about to jump. For years, this person has been trying to tell their parents a very simple truth. This trip, it was happening and they were asking for advice. Their native language doesn’t have a word for “gay” so on top of the fear, there was a tangible logistical obstacle. We spent the night making plans, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

You don’t have to be gay to wrestle with the fear of lost relationships. About a week after the couch, I saw a new friend as she was getting coffee. I had a mask on and was completely out of context out in public. We catch eyes and greet each other. As she goes to introduce me to her friend, she pauses right before she says my name and panic floods her eyes. We chat and say goodbye. She instantly texts me and says she swears she knows my name; she just had a brain fart. I completely understood and assuaged her of her guilt. “Oh thank god,” she texts back instantly. “I was so worried I ruined our blossoming friendship.”

The threat of broken connections is everywhere, all the time. For me on the sidewalk, my couch friend wrestling with how to come out, my Instagram friend fumbling for a series of words that convey his feelings, my friend in a coffee shop forgetting my name: we were all terrified of losing relationships. Why? What’s so great about them?

In the second Genesis creation myth, God tells The Earthling, “It is not good for man to be alone,” a verse and philosophy I’ll wrestle though in our next series. For today, though, I want us to think about the table, a symbol of Maundy Thursday. Jesus is terrified of death and in his final days, it’s the comfort of his friends he not only looks for, but eagerly seeks. Relationships matter because when we’re in our final days, we seek the comfort of the people who know us. And sometimes, the people we love prove our fear of loss justified.



In his book, The God of the Garden, Andrew Peterson writes about a time in his life he’s angry with, and feeling disconnected from, God. On a whim, and desperate for connection with the Holy, he heads to a silent retreat where he is greeted by a cold shoulder of an already silent God. On the last day, when he has already given up on breakthrough in his empty, broken relationship with God, he walks to the car with his bags when he’s stopped by a literal signpost beckoning him to explore some statues deep in the forest of this abbey. There, he finds a depiction of Christ on Good Friday that he describes like this:

Dead in the center, frozen in the gray light, was the statue of a man in deep desperation. This was no classical, pietistic display of a barely human Christ. No, this was different. He looked to have stumbled to his knees. His back was arched, his head was thrown back. His hands covered his face so that his elbows were splayed out. His friends were asleep, and all the dormant trees were sleeping, too. Not even his own creation kept watch with him that morning, as he knelt in the terrible silence of that lonesome forest.

The God of the Garden, Andrew Peterson, page 154

For Jesus, the table was a symbol of the deep love and bond of friendship. But in the garden, his friends fail him. When he asks them to simply stay up with him, to pray on his behalf for comfort in the face of death, they fall asleep. This passage from Peterson was so convicting to me, tangibly feeling the failing of relationships, the pain of facing painful fear completely alone. I see so much of myself in that fear and disappointment, in the anguish of sorrow alone. In a few more moments, one of his best friends will betray him for a bag of coins, not just ignoring his fear of death but leading him to the cross directly. Have you been betrayed? Backstabbed? Mistaken an enemy for a friend?

Another of his best friends will deny he knows Jesus thrice. Have you felt forgotten or neglected by friends? Have they chosen politics or religion over you? Jesus’ relationships fail. The cross then makes any chance of reconciliation impossible. His relationships faltered, then failed, then died with no hope of revival.


The Harrowing of Hell is a controversial doctrine that suggests that, while he was dead, Jesus preached the good news to the dead in Sheol. Some theologians argue that he just liberated Old Testament figures like Moses and Rahab. There are even some who depict this event as Jesus running through hell specifically looking for Judas, his friend and betrayer. I don’t know where I fall on any of this in terms of truth but truth is not the thing that always matters. If we believe in the truth and extremity of Jesus’ death on Good Friday, I really can’t think of a better depiction than the human Christ running through the chaos of hell to hold the hand of his betraying friend in an unimaginable display of grace and mercy. Mercy even here.



Sometimes, when you’re standing on a cliff about to come out, you do and you fall and you hit the cement floor at 50 miles an hour. Your friend leads you to your executioner and robs you of reconciliation. Is there any hope that you can wipe yourself off the cement and climb the mountain and learn how to love someone again? Is there any hope you can run through the pits of hell just to embrace your enemy?

Easter Sunday is the biggest celebration in the Christian liturgy because it is the end of all our doubts, the crushing of every fear. It is the hope that rivals every ounce of hopelessness. The answer is yes. He makes dead things live again. He makes dead people rise and repairs broken relationships to fullness. His friends are mourning, gathered together to grieve the loss of their leader and closest friend when suddenly Jesus appears. The relationship is repaired and the disciples are overcome with joy.

On Ash Wednesday, I challenged us to reframe sin as a collective problem in addition to the individual problem. On Easter Sunday, I want us to think not just the death of our sins and our restoration with God. I want us to also think of the restoration of relationships with those we have wronged and those who have wronged us, but the work of reconciling our collective sins. I believe he makes dead things live again. This Easter, I want you to think about a relationship that has broken or is fracturing that you’d like to have restored. God ultimately gives and takes away, but I believe that if we do the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation and perspective-taking, if we partner in vertical relationships with God, restoration is possible. If we don’t get it this side of heaven, I believe we might walk out of the process more merciful, more loving, and more patient.

And that kind of love and hard work is never wasted.

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.

Life with the Living

Background Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

I remain confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart

and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:13-14 NIV

I wrote the intro to this week before I started the series, which is funny because I allude to Ash Wednesday. I had planned to finish this series long before the holiday but work came up and I wasn’t able to. Now that we’re in the season of lent, I find it funny my thoughts were so focused on the season. Perhaps God is moving even here.

I was reading a devotion on patience when I came across verse 13. Something stopped me. There’s a song by Housefires called Rise in which they sing “I’ll see your goodness in the land of the living” over and over again. The depressed mind does strange things with language. I love this song. Every time I have sang it, I thought “the land of the living” was in reference to heaven – the land where all things live again. Where all things live in harmony. Suddenly, reading it in a different context, in a devotional about waiting for something while I’m still alive, I realized the land of the living is the land I’m in – the land of the literal living, the breathing, the wine drinking, the brief bit of life lived not in ash. This land.

Always, Rise was such a hopeful song for me. This body, this mind, this existence, is just for a moment. All the pain and suffering is eclipsed by the coming glory. How much more hopeful is it, though, when you can hope that even in the midst of all of this turmoil and agony, we can still have hope that God will do a good thing?

As I’ve walked through this series, I’ve been moved into this direction of juxtaposition: Bravery that looks like fear, fear that looks like hope, and belief that sounds like unbelief. There isn’t implicit juxtaposition in this verse, but I believe in the larger context, and hidden under the weight of waiting, we might find something unexpected.

A couple weeks ago, as I was revisiting my notes for what I had planned to say this week, I read my morning devotional which walked through Hebrews 11. Picture me, working on a devotional about hope, believing that I’ll see some type of goodness in this barren wilderness. Picture me writing a $500 check to the gas company to fill my house with heat in the middle of -35 degree blizzard, paying a $300 security deposit, sending hundreds of dollars to the government in taxes, facing increased rent as a roommate moves out and no one is stepping up to fill her place despite our best efforts, all while I try to figure out how to buy plane tickets and take time off work for my friends wedding and bachelorette party. The mantra I keep repeating is that there will still be goodness in the land of the living and I will bear witness to it. Hopeful peace that defies logic.

Then the reality sets in.

Hebrews 11:13 is introduced in recapping events of the Old Testament. Abraham and Sarah are promised to be the parents of generations but suffer from infertility and get too old to have kids. They’re promised a nice land of milk and honey but die before they get to see it. Their ancestors settle in the land and become so numerous they outnumber the stars. Nice, right? Kind of.

Verse 13 hits us with this nice little bluntness: All these people (such as Abraham and Sarah) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised.

In case you missed it, the point of Hebrews 11:13 is: Stay faithful your whole life and then die before you get to see the goodness God’s been dangling in front of you, the goodness promised to you.

How do you make sense of this? How do you reconcile the confidence of seeing the goodness of God with seeing the track record of God’s faithlessness in the past. Well, you’ve got to keep reading.

Hebrews 11:13 continues, “They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” If you’ve read my second book, you’ll know about my tattoo that reads, in Norwegian, “but I catch a glimpse.” What if the good thing isn’t the thing we think it is. What if the good thing is the glimpse of the good thing coming?

In his liturgy for dating or courtship, Douglas Kaine McKelvey writes “Give me patience and an eternal perspective that would govern well my choices today, and in all the days that follow.” The juxtaposition in the land of the living is repositioning yourself in time, living both in the present and the future. To believe that the goodness is coming now and also not coming until later. The goodness is the promise God gives to us and also the goodness is that God is here with us at all. Of course, it’s possible that the promise will be fulfilled, but Hebrews reminds us that there is still goodness, even if the promised land is never reached.


As you revisit your fears from week one, I want you to think about if they’ve changed. Has nuclear war entered the list? Has a previous fear abated? As the list grows in front of your mind’s eye, what do you make of the declaration that you will see goodness in the land of the living? Sometimes, confidence in the face of fear isn’t enough. We still have our habits based in fear. We can be confident in our voices and not confident in our actions. We can be too scared to trust completely.

As we end our journey through Sure, go in peace knowing that you will see goodness in this life, expected or unexpected. When we wait on the Lord, taking our time walking on the path laid out for us, despite all the evidence to the contrary, all of the wars and the disappointments and the liars, there will still be goodness to be seen in the land of the living. It is already a miracle to be here and I believe that more miracles are on the way for us. I’m not sure how it’s possible knowing all we do about the world. Somehow, the confidence remains.

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).

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In The Dying, The Rising

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Text, 12:06 AM: “I miss you so much. Are you able to see the same moon that I’m looking at now?”

I have been wanting the silence and, in many ways, my desire for it over the past couple months since we last spoke has only deepened. Things feel louder than they ever have been before. People have become far meaner than they were in May. Many more have told me to go to hell since I walked alongside the tree stuck in a fence. Like many of you, I’ve wandered into some deep forest of myself. Found a way to take each day one at a time. I’ve found plenty of joy and plenty of pain.

It was when I speeding down I-25, windows down, blasting Folklore and then, a playlist of Christian songs for the lamenting praise, that I remembered, in authenticity, the joy of speaking. More than likely, I will want the silence again tomorrow, but for tonight, I have awoken under a blooming spring tree and it’s time to lean into the hope pollen pollutes into our stiff joints.

My 2020 song has been Alive and Breathing, mostly because I know someone who is struggling with living and breathing and, for all the things I am lacking, I have these two: life and breath, at least for now. The question becomes what we do with in while we have them. There are many parts of this song that have encouraged me and spoken newness into me in a time where everything feels dead and buried. I want to speak now, though, about the bridge:

In the dying, the rising

Let it praise the Lord

Alive & Breathing lyrics © Be Essential Songs

I love the “it” portion. The dying praises and the rising praises. We, the dying, do not praise; the death itself does. We the rising do not praise, the rise itself does. In listening to this in my car, I was reminded of another song, this one from my time in campus ministry, sitting on carpet squares and threading fairy lights along the floor. I asked Siri to play me Rise by Housefires. I’ve always thought I would like this song played at my funeral when that day arrives.

The bridge and tag alternate in repetitious cries:

I’ll see your goodness in the land of the living.

Heaven is all around us.

Rise lyrics © Rebellious Vibes, Housefires Sounds, Kaplemusic

I’m struck by how right that first sentence is. How often is our sight blocked by the reality we find ourselves in? There is a pandemic that isolates us and kills us; there is no goodness, at least, not that I can see. And this virus has taken far more than our concerts and our paychecks; it’s taken the way we see and communicate with our siblings and our neighbors. The best we can do, the least awful wrong, is no longer enough. It has to be perfect, the best right, which, in a world where thousands of people die everyday, doesn’t seem to exist, or, if it does, is elusive. There’s not goodness I see on the earthly plane of disease we find ourselves in. And what about systems of oppression? Is there goodness somewhere in the smashing of necks into concrete? In war-zones in countries of peace? In Leukemia? In comas that trap our loved ones in places between spaces? If there is, I haven’t yet found it.

But have courage: we don’t need to see the goodness now to anticipate its arrival. I will see your goodness in the land of living. In 1st Thessalonians, when Paul reminds us that we do not live as those who have no hope, I have to remember that having hope can, at the same time, feel like hopelessness. We can feel the weight of hopelessness now because there is some level of hope that is out of our reach. We are still in the valley of Sheol. There is hopelessness, an inescapable loneliness inside. Yet, we’ve seen behind the curtain enough to know that we will one day see the fullness of Hope’s face.

We will see Goodness in the land of the living. And the news gets better.

The tag reminds us that heaven is all around us. It is still inaccessible, we can’t place ourselves into the land of the living while living in the land of the dead, but we can feel it, no? We can see it. We can taste its breath on ours.

I’ve seen this in the way a cashier’s eyes crinkle when they’re smiling underneath a mask.

I see it in the way my nephew digs in hands into fresh dirt because the only thing he sees under his nails is possibility.

I felt it when a friend told me she missed me and asked me to look at the moon while she looked at it. The world feels so vast and complex. It feels so hateful and divided. And yet two people can stare into the same dimpled cosmic being and shrink the sky from 2,000 miles away. We all sleep under the same light. How different, how unlovable to each other, can we really, truly be?

Tell me I’m going to hell and the dying will praise the Lord. Tell me I am full of glorious goodness and the rising will praise the Lord. I do not see goodness in the land of the dying but I know I will see it in the land of the living. When I squint my eyes at the pale whiteness of the moon’s scarred body, I think I see my great-grandmother’s mouth whispering into the ear of my God. I think I see the coming of a Kingdom. I think I see the destruction becoming holy.

It’s all around us; we just have to look. And if we can’t look now, all we have to do is know someday, some way, we will see.


Mercy Will Not End (Part Two)

As I look out into the softly falling snow, and see the hundreds of empty church buildings and streets, it’s hard to forget that Easter isn’t quite the same this year.

A few weeks ago, when the lockdowns began happening and the once booming metropolis I lived in transformed, overnight, to a small neighborhood, void of the markers of city life, I began to get worried. Would life ever return to normal? Would I die from this virus? Would someone I love?

As a world, we had fallen asleep in one plane of existence, and awoken in another. We’re stumbling through a darkness wondering when, and if, the light will once again return. Perhaps, then, this Easter isn’t so different at all. Perhaps we’re right where Easter is supposed to land.


There are two primary emotions the women who discover the empty grave experience throughout the four accounts: fear and confusion. In the first account, as told by Matthew (Matthew 28:1-8), an earthquake shakes the tomb open and a lightning strike brings down an angel. In typical celestial fashion, he lets the women know they shouldn’t be afraid. Jesus has risen, and the women run to tell the rest of the disciples the news “afraid yet full of joy.”

In Mark (16:1-14), the women had their routine changed. Instead of spending the Sabbath with Jesus, they go with spices to cleanse his corpse. They face immediate confusion when they realize neither is strong enough to roll away the stone from the grave, and again, when they arrive and it is removed. Their confusion turns to fear as they enter and find a man sitting up in the grave that held their friend, one of many zombie experiences in the Bible. This time, the women run away in fear, “shaking and confused, saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”

Luke (24:1-12) tells us a similar story of the women approaching the grave for the preparing of the corpse but this time, the grave is truly empty. The women stand in a confused awe until two men appear out of nowhere and “the women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground.”

In John, Mary discovers the empty tomb and, panicked, alerts Simon Peter and another disciple, who confirm the strange and terrifying event. Mary returns later, alone, sobbing, no doubt scared, confused, and frustrated with the taking of the Lord’s body. In fact, she accuses a gardener (who turns out to be Jesus) saying “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” She is desperate for an answer, for a way forward, for something to make sense.

If you find yourself like these early disciples, afraid, confused, unsure, you’re simply having a case of the Easter mornings. It’s okay to be afraid when you experience something scary, to be unsure when you discover something new, and confused when everything you thought you knew has changed.


As I walked to work all those weeks ago, scared and confused about the mostly-empty streets I walked along, Ellie Holcomb’s “As Sure as the Sun Will Rise” started playing. I was struck by the meditation on mercy, but also on the homophone of the upcoming holiday:

As sure as the sun will rise,

And chase away the night,

His mercy will not end. His mercy will not end.

As sure as the Son rises, the dark is chased away. The mercy ceases to end, even in death. Even after it.

Gloria and Bill Gaither wrote the hymn “Because He Lives.” They illustrate, in the final verse before the chorus, the day that we ourselves face the ultimate fear, the ultimate pain:

And then one day

I’ll cross that river

I’ll fight life’s final war with pain

And then as death gives way to vict’ry

I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives

There is pain, and fear, and confusion. There is death. There is a crossing of a bumpy and treacherous river.

The tomb can be empty even though the fear lingers. The tomb can be empty alongside the tears. The risen God does not shy from your confusion and hurt.

But one day we shall again see the lights of glory. We will, again, know he lives. We will sing of the mercy that never ends.


Couch Churches: Confronting Trauma, Friendship, and Tomorrow

Part Three: The Couch

My thoughts drift again to communion, and then to worship, the kind that brings you to your knees and throws your arms in the air without prompting. The kind of worship that leads you to speak in tongues. The kind that makes a fool out of you. The kind of childhood. My thoughts drift to these sacred spaces even though many, beefier theologians, would say they shouldn’t.

I’d say I’m the one who shouldn’t be here.

Continue reading “Couch Churches: Confronting Trauma, Friendship, and Tomorrow”

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