As an English major, I love seeing words come alive in a new light, especially when it’s in the light of faith. Dale Vander Veen is a retired pastor who emails daily devotions and he graciously welcomed me to share his theological discoveries in the word solvent

I love to find ways to open the gospel in one word. And when that one word has more than one meaning, all the better.

Solvent: able to pay all legal debts (as defined by Merriam-Webster). Solvent definition from GoogleThe opposite of solvent is bankrupt: reduced to a state of financial ruin; utter impoverishment. Maybe you know where I’m going with this one. I am spiritually bankrupt. I am unable to pay my debts to God; I am ruined, utterly impoverished. My dictionary goes further in defining bankrupt: exhausted of valuable qualities.

God says, “Dale, your dictionary goes too far. You may feel that you are ‘exhausted of valuable qualities.’ I disagree. You are of great worth to me. I have claimed you as my own, redeemed you, given you a new start. I have solved your insolvency once and for all.” Wow! Paul puts it this way: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Wow again!!

Solvent: a liquid substance capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other unwanted substances (as also defined by Merriam-Webster). My sin is an “unwanted substance.” It is a deep stain, a seemingly irremovable stain. Only one liquid substance can make me better than OxiClean. “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” One more Wow!!!

::– –::– –::

For nothing good have I whereby thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary’s Lamb.
Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain; he washed it white as snow.
————————— – Elvina M. Hall, “Jesus Paid It All”

…Contact Dale directly if you’d like to receive his e-devotions, too:


Cartoon found via Google

This past spring we had a plumbing problem. Our kitchen sink wasn’t draining properly so we got out the plunger, washed down baking soda with vinegar, pushed a wire hanger through the pipe, and even resorted to emptying our neighbor’s Drano Max Gel clog remover (no subliminal product placement intended) down the hole.

Unbeknownst to us while we were fighting the plugged drain upstairs, water was backing up and spurting out of a pipe downstairs.

When I went down later it was quite the shock to see water pooling in our storage room. Thankfully the floor is concrete. It only took a few hours to remove our stuff and dry the floor so I admit right away that this was nothing like the flood Rock Valley experienced in 2014 when people had water in their basement up to the floor joists and there was extensive damage in over 150 homes throughout our city. That was a disaster; what Monica and I experienced in our house was only a mild inconvenience by comparison.

An expert plumber from Oostra Plumbing, Heating & AC (not-so-subliminal business recommendation intended) quickly had our drain issue fixed. Judging by the debris that was mixed in the water, he figured our problem was connected with our garbage disposal. In the water we mopped up, we identified pieces of vegetable scraps that had gone down the drain. Those carrot and cucumber bits accurately reported what had recently been on our menu.

The pieces of food floating in the water giving evidence to what we had eaten reminds me of evidence of something else: A lot of words flood out of my mouth on a daily basis. What kind of debris is mixed in with those words? I suspect that a lot of what I read, what I watch, what I listen to, and what I think about gets mixed in. So if I’m listening to stuff with objectionable content or surfing the internet to places better avoided, eventually evidence of that will appear in things I say – whether it’s using foul language, speaking ill and inaccurately of individuals or people groups, or just having a negative tone.

On the other hand, soaking up good and wholesome things will result in me saying more good and wholesome words. Time spent playing games with family or reading a story to my children, time spent in the Bible or in prayer – these sorts of things keep my language positive and helpful.

Just as I’m going to be more conscious about what goes into the garbage disposal, it wouldn’t hurt to be more conscious about what goes into my mind. I suspect that will keep undesirable debris in my daily flood of words to a minimum.

::– –::– –::

I wrote this column for The Rock Valley Bee back in May. Since then we have received lots of advice about garbage disposals and we promise to never put coffee grinds or egg shells through one again.


Word and SacramentsThe diploma on my wall declares I am “qualified for and admitted to the Sacred Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments in the Christian Reformed Church.” Although the language on my diploma gives them equal weight, I probably think of myself as a minister of the Word more than as a minister of the sacraments. (Look! I even capitalize Word but not sacraments!) Other people will call me a preacher before they’ll call me – what? – a sacrament officiant.

I appreciate that without the Word – both the Word written and the Word made flesh – there would be no sacraments. And I understand that, echoing Belgic Confession article 2, God makes Himself known to us most clearly by His holy and divine Word, more clearly than any physical things of the world – even water, bread, and juice, I suppose.

But having reflected on the sacraments over the past several blog entries, I don’t think it would hurt me to remember more often the “sacraments” part of the line on my diploma. The Belgic Confession goes on to teach in article 33:

God has added [the sacraments] to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what God enables us to understand by the Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.
For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God gives us five senses, and He uses all five to communicate the mystery of His love with us. Preaching is connected mostly with the sense of hearing. The sacraments allow God to “speak” to us through more senses: We see and hear the water poured into the baptismal font and feel it on our heads; we see, touch, smell, and taste the bread and juice. Teachers know that students may remember things better if they are engaging more senses while learning the material – even the sense of smell, believe it or not. Through the sacraments, God engages all our senses to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” something He wants and helps us always to remember.

I wouldn’t be able to fully do my job if I was limited to only engaging peoples’ sense of hearing (i.e. preaching). People would be missing out on something if speaking was the only tool of my trade. As CRC pastor Leonard Vander Zee writes,

We need more than words. To echo the pop star Madonna, we are material beings in a material world. Graciously God stoops to us, as to children, communicating his grace and salvation through the material stuff of bread and wine.

God uses everything He can to help us receive and perceive the Gospel. Some of the things God uses may include a beautiful rainbow (as God did with Noah), dreams (think of Joseph – both the Old Testament Joseph and the New Testament Joseph), even a painful thorn in the flesh (something with which Paul struggled). I’m most grateful for how God graciously speaks to us through the Bible and, especially these days, how He communicates grace to us by means of water, bread, and juice (to echo “Our World Belongs to God,” ¶37). When it comes to experiencing God’s grace, I’ll take all the ways God uses that I can get!

Recent posts about Baptism:
Recent posts about the Lord’s Supper:
 “Invited” (part 1)
 “Invited” (part 2)

Word and Sacraments graphic
from Trinity Lutheran Church, Copperas Cove TX

Take back

How many times have I said something I later wished I could take back?  Or angrily sent an email dripping with sarcasm that should have never left the drafts folder?

The next time that happens, I’d better make sure my van has decent Bridgestone tires.

Either that, or I just need to remember and live St. Paul’s advice to not let any unwholesome talk spew from my mouth, email messages, Facebook posts, or Twitter tweets (as I’ve said before).

Biblical guidance on our talk, texts and tweets

It’s always encouraging and helpful when people think of applications to something you’ve said in addition to the ones you gave.  For example, a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of preaching at Smithers CRC where I spoke about the apostle Paul’s command, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…”  After the service, someone approached me and together we reflected on how this not only applies to the words we literally speak out loud (the emphasis in my message), but also to the words we type.  This person was painfully aware of a situation where something posted on Facebook created a lot of hurt and trouble.  The individual who posted it didn’t mean for it to be (so) hurtful, only later to recognize how insensitive and damaging those words really were.  And, as in real life, you cannot take back something you’ve put on the internet: People will still remember it in addition to the reality that they can save to their computer what you post before you have the chance to remove it.

If Paul were writing today, perhaps this would have been his command:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk, texts, tweets, or Facebook comments come out of your mouths, cell phones or social websites!”