Quick Thoughts: Repair Your Gate

And Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it and covered it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David.16 After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the mighty men. 17 After him the Levites repaired: Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, repaired for his district. 18 After him their brothers repaired: Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah. 19 Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress.[f] 20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai repaired another section from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. (Neh. 3:16-20)

When you look at the headlines from the last week, you see racial unrest boiling across the country. Terrorist attacks in Bangladesh. Flooding in China. Cops being assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The FBI director being interrogated by Congress. A presidential candidate facing possible indictment for mishandling classified information. Long term unemployment is higher than it was at the start of the Great Recession. And the people in charge (or the people competing to be in charge) do not seem to have any viable solutions to fix the overwhelming struggles that face us. The walls that used to surround our country and protect us from outside forces seem to have been trampled. The gates that used to be heavily guarded seem to have been burned to the ground, leaving us with the feeling that we are left only with rock and ash.

The feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness can be overwhelming. But this is where we can learn a valuable lesson from the story of Nehemiah. Each person came out and repaired the section of the wall that was in front of their home.  They did not huddle into private corners and complain about the sad state of.affairs. They did not discuss the impossibility of the task before them. Rather, they came out of their homes, evaluated the damage to tje wall in front of them, picked up a fresh rock or piece of wood, and stood firm as they repaired what belonged to them! They stood shoulder to shoulder, taking care of their responsibility, and within a short period of time, that which had been destroyed was restored.

Ask yourself: If I was to stop worrying and start working, if I was to take care of repairing the section of broken wall in my family, my community, or my church, what role would I need to play? How could I actively repair with my neighbor the intersecting parts of what used to make our lives safe and our faith strong to create healing within my small footprint in the world? How much complaining would I need to stop doing and how much solution-oriented activity would I need to begin in order to see the walls be rebuilt and the ash swept away?

But, you may ask, how can I be equipped to stand firm and meet the task in front of me?

Fortunately, God gives us this answer in Ephesians 6:10-20 (emphasis mine).

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Stand firm. Keep alert. Persevere. Rebuild.

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon<span class=”crossreference” data-link=”(Q)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-12377Q” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”> in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.  (Nehemiah 4:16-18, emphasis mine)

 

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Why I Decided to Stop Reading the Bible Every Year

fasting1When I was a teenager, I began the practice of daily Bible reading. My pattern was to read a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening in order to bookend my day with the thoughts of God.  Using this method allowed me to finish the Word approximately every two years. But this changed four years ago after I downloaded a Bible app to my phone. Excited with all of the functionality and options for studying that it allowed me to do, I chose to begin a new Bible reading plan, one that would allow me to read through the entire text in a single year. This meant that I would be reading four or five chapters a day from the Bible.

Admittedly, ego drove this decision more than devotion or fervency for God. I wanted to be able to say, at least to myself, that I had read through the Bible “x” number of times in my life. Something about the number made me feel good about my walk with God. In hindsight, though, this gory self-righteousness led me down a path that was neither spiritual nor helpful for my Christian life. Thus, I have decided it is time to stop reading the Bible every year. Below are my top 10 reasons why:

 

  1. The Bible is to be absorbed, not raced through like a NASCAR race
  2. The Bible is made for man and is best understood in small doses in order to understand its application to life, but reading through it in a year only provides a large 30,000 foot overview.
  3. The Bible is designed to reveal God but, as with all things, speed blurs perception.
  4. If I only have 20-30 minutes each morning to read my Bible, I will get more out of it by examining how this passage connects to others or meditating on a manageable bite size piece, rather than reading 4 chapters and having no time for meditation or study.
  5. The Bible is not only to be meditated upon but also applied. I cannot apply a lesson I have not taken the time to learn. Most likely the only lessons that I am “hearing” when I read through the Bible in a year are the ones I remember the Lord teaching me from the past, not new ones that challenge me.
  6. Reading it through in a year can be more about successfully accomplishing a goal than becoming closer to or more like the LORD.  If my life is to be lived in such a way so that others may see the perfections of God publicly displayed through me, then I must take the time to understand how to exalt the LORD with all of who I am. To learn how, as John the Baptist said, I must become less so that He becomes more.
  7. As Chaucer once said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This year I began to realize that I was reading the Bible much like a movie I have seen a hundred times, anticipating the memorable or favorite scenes, but not enjoying it. Such an exercise feels like a duty, not a relationship with the text or the Creator who wrote it.
  8. It taps into my sinful nature much more easily than I anticipated: perfectionism masquerading as holiness, self-righteousness obscuring shame, self-blame and feelings of failure when I miss days that I should have read, as well as pride in doing the safe and private task of reading instead of the dangerous task of actively serving others with the power that God provides.
  9. The Bible is to be a starting point, not an ending point, for Christian living. It points us towards God and holy living. Making our calling and election sure is more than an intellectual agreement with a specific set of teachings. It is also a daily behavior that confirms that we are Christ’s and that He is ours. That the two have become one. The choice to love God is not one we make only at a singular point in time. Rather, it is one that we continue to make throughout our lives, sometimes even several times a day, so that we may know the joy of continually turning towards each other, even when our beloved makes no sense or hurts us. In other words, it is embracing the vulnerability of love in order to gain the intimacy of relationship.
  10. Aside from the incarnation, the Bible is God’s most vulnerable expression of who He is. It is the place where He bares His heart, communicates His desires, shares the joys and sorrows of His past, explains His frustrations, and voices His profound yearning for a deeper relationship. But if I am trying to get through four or five chapters before I start my day, I will often hear His mouth, but miss the message of His heart.

 

What am I going to do instead? I think I will go backward in order to move forwards. Get out my pen, annotate the text, and really try to see how all the parts connect to each other. A chapter or two each day. As they say in the South, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

A Competition of Names

I am standing in a big bookstore, usually some large chain, like a Barnes and Noble, hovering around the periphery of the bestseller shelves. Customers come and go, but then one person catches my eye. She reaches over and pulls a title off the shelf, examines the cover art, and then opens the book.  Unlike the people who have come before her, she takes her time, beginning with the copyright page, the table of contents, the dedication, and then the first few pages of what she is holding. For a moment, she stands there, slowly turning the pages, until finally, with her eyes remaining in the book, her feet direct her to a nearby La-Z-Boy, and she sits down. The aura of sacredness surrounds her as she allows the words to draw her into a new reality. I feel guilty as I casually approach. Continue reading

Lessons from Proverbs 10

Throughout scripture we are told to pursue wisdom and to ask for it. But Proverbs 10 goes a little deeper and gives us a comparison/contrast between the person who is wise and the one who is foolish.

Wisdom/Righteousness

Foolishness/Wickedness

Brings joy to the Father Brings grief to Mother
Delivers from death Ill-gotten treasures are of no value
God does not let go hungry God thwarts their cravings
Diligent yields wealth Laziness yields poverty
Gathers crops at proper time Sleeps during the harvest (disgraceful)
Blessings crown their head Violence overwhelms their mouth
Their memory is a blessing The name will rot
Accepts commands Comes to ruin
Walks securely due to integrity Takes crooked paths and is found out, causes grief
Mouth is a fountain of life Violence overwhelms their mouth
Love covers over all wrongs Hatred stirs up dissensions
Discerning Lacks judgment
Stores up knowledge Mouth invites ruin
Wages bring them life Income brings them punishment
Heeds discipline and shows the way to life Ignores correction and leads others astray
Holds his tongue Conceals his hatred, lying lips, spreads slander, uses lots of words
Tongue is choice silver Heart is of little value
Lips nourish many  Die for lack of judgment
Delights in wisdom Finds pleasure in evil conduct
Given what he desires Overtaken by what he dreads
Stands firm forever Swept away by the storm
Fears the Lord, long life Years cut short
Their prospect is joy Their hope comes to nothing
The way of the Lord is a refuge The way of the Lord is a ruin
Will never be uprooted Will not remain in the land
Mouth brings forth wisdom Perverse tongue will be cut out
Lips know what is fitting Mouth knows only what is perverse

Now, instead of asking yourself which column best describes you, ask God to reveal to you the true state of your heart and how you may develop and display His wisdom in your life.

Fighting Entropy

 

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We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. (Gal 2:5)

Houses are always going up for sale in my neighborhood, so when I first saw it, I assumed it was just another advertisement. But as I focused, I realized the color was wrong. White background. Big red letters that were empty and stretched at the ends of the s’s.

I stopped, stretched my neck forward and squinted.

Did that say, “Star Wars”? Continue reading

From Supernovas to Snails: The Lack of Superfluousness in God

Why did God create?  What is the purpose of breathing out the stars (Psalm 33:6) or shaping the form of man with His hands (Gen. 2:7)?  When one considers the variety of species, people groups, cultures, languages, astronomical phenomena, and the breadth of the universe, it would seem as if God went a little overboard in creation.

Continue reading