Monday, July 15, 2019

"The Sexy Christian"

Job 20.20 NKJV 

Dr. Ted and Diane Roberts“Because he knows no quietness in his heart, he will not save anything he desires.”

About ten years ago my wife and I experienced what some would call an ‘oxymoron.’ We attended a “Sexy Christian Seminar.” Is there such a thing a sexy Christian? Apparently, there is. Married, born-again, Bible-believing Christians can have great sex and great sex can get even better. Together with about five hundred other attendees, we enjoyed three days and four hours of ‘R-rated’ Bible instruction at the feet of a super-dynamic Christian couple. Ted and Diane Roberts, who were nearing their fortieth wedding anniversary, inspired, challenged, and invited attendees to go deeper in their marriages. I literally wept and laughed my way through the lessons following which my better half and I put some of the material into immediate practice.

One of the seminar highlights was what the Robert’s called “Home Play,” combining the sexual term ‘foreplay’ and their expectation of ‘homework.’ (“Home Play” sounds better than “Fore Work.”) My wife and I were required to privately discuss answers to relationship questions after each session. It was wonderful to learn more about what motivates my dear woman. I rediscovered the joy of listening and found out she really, really likes it when I do. Our personal discussions were so enlightening that I caught myself admiring my wife and wondering, “How did I ever find such a fantastic woman?” I loved my wife and was always quite certain I was the luckiest man alive!

The Sexy Christian Conference wasn’t all fun and games. I had to do a little bit of hard work. I re-discovered what I already knew… a man’s anger is a royal turn-off to his wife. Even mild anger robs inner peace and sends out vibes that your mate wants nothing to do with.

Occasionally, I have an issue with anger. I don’t rant and rave and rage. I’m not a rage-oholic. You won’t catch me cursing and yelling and stomping around the house. But certain things do irritate me. I murmur inappropriate words under my breath in a traffic jam. You might hear me sigh heavily or whine a little when things don’t go my way. I can be easily annoyed and almost never keep my opinions to myself. It’s quite possible for me to grumble at a change in plans and, if don’t get my morning coffee, well, you might want to steer clear. I can be just a little huffy. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while even I think I act like a jerk. 

The worst part is, I seem to be getting worse as I age. Am I becoming a grumpy old man?  

I received a fresh insight from the Sexy Christian Seminar (which, by the way, was fully reinforced by my wife during Home Play). I learned a guy has a simple choice… he can act like a jerk or he can enjoy great sex but he probably can’t do both. Hmmm.

This morning I read my Bible and stumbled on this verse:

“Because he knows no quietness in his heart,
He will not save anything he desires.”
Job 20.20 NKJV

Clearly, high quality sexual intimacy with my wife was one of my fondest “desires.” Equally as obvious is the fact that even mild uncontrolled anger will rob a man of “quietness in his heart.” Allow me to paraphrase Job 20.20:

‘Because he is annoyed and irritable in his heart,
He will not enjoy the great sex with his wife.’

I found new motivation to correct this issue in my life. I am super thankful for…

  • the creativity of the Holy Spirit in revealing this truth to me.
  • the amazing patience of my wife during my slow learning curve.
  • the willingness of Ted and Diane Roberts to share candidly and transparently.

Thank you Ted and Diane.

____________________

Dr. Ted Roberts is a renowned pastor, author, speaker, and founder of Pure Desire Ministries International. He is also a co-recipient of the Telly Award for excellence in video and film production. I strongly and wholeheartedly recommend every married couple attend a Sexy Christian Conference near you. Find out more at http://www.puredesire.org/sexy/.

This is a re-post. Today my wife is with Jesus, having suffered and died from Leukemia at the young age of fifty. I wish I would have appreciated her more and better followed my own advice in this post when she was in good health. I loved my wife so very, very much, and I always will.   

Friday, July 12, 2019

"Speak Up or Shut Up"

Job 16.6 “The Message”

“When I speak up,
I feel no better;
if I say nothing,
that doesnt help either.” 

Nothing compares to the horror of Job’s plight, other than perhaps the sacrificial death of the Christ. Job lost it all… his possessions, his wealth, his children, his reputation, and finally his health. Even Job’s friends, who began their mission of mercy with an incredible display of understanding and sympathy, eventually added unbearable insult to Job’s tragic injury. They blamed him for his own demise. They held Job responsible for his pain and accused him of creating his own tortured story. Their advise was cheap and easy and, of course, entirely misguided.

What would Job do? Job’s mind and ability to form words were all he had left. Unfortunately it did not help to talk about it. Nor did Job benefit by remaining silent. Nothing worked to lessen the pain...

“When I speak up, I feel no better; if I say nothing, that doesn’t help either.”

On not-so-good days in some households, it’s either the ‘silent treatment’ or the ‘talk it to death’ approach. In Job’s case, the ‘no-talk’ rule certainly didn’t work. But talking about his problems also did not help.
 
Dr. Louann Brizendine, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, in her best-seller, The Female Brain (Morgan Road), claims, “A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000.” This statistic seems to prove what my wife and I used to experience routinely. I once informed my wife of the research proving men use less words in a day than women. She was familiar with the statistics. I presented the idea hoping she would learn to accept my typical pattern of grunting when she wanted to talk. It’s normal for men to use far fewer words than women I argued. My wife answered, “That’s because women have to repeat everything we say to men.” I said, “What?” and proved her point.

I started talking more with my wife. She really liked that. For some reason, communication with me makes her happy, and I always reaped the benefits of my wife’s happiness. Actually, I was fortunate that a woman as intelligent as my wife wanted to talk to me.

My wife suffered from incurable cancer and died way too young. In the last few months of her life, I savored every moment of communication I could get with her. Those are days I shall never forget. 

Sometimes you have to talk things out. Other times it’s best to say nothing. Each situation demands a unique response. Poor Job. Neither talk or silence worked for him.

“When I speak up, I feel no better; if I say nothing, that doesn't help either.”

Occasionally, I relate to brother Job. When neither talk nor silence seem to work, I assume that’s a signal for me to wait and listen to God. Maybe God will bestow the same incredible gift my wife granted me every day of our beautiful courtship and marriage. Maybe He will condescend and speak to me like He eventually did to Job. 

"In Search of the American Jesus"

Job 12.16 NAS

“With Him are strength and sound wisdom, the misled and the misleader belong to Him.


No one can mislead without followers who are willing to be misled. Mis-leaders need mis-followers. Mis-leaders, using skillful leadership principles, create dysfunctional organizations and mis-management teams to insure the on-going success of the whole mis-adventure. God is bigger than all our conceptions about Him and how He would do things. “The misled and the misleader belong to Him.” But that does not stop us from trying to create bigger and worse ideas about who Jesus is. It’s called “totemism,” the human tendency to form a conception of God in our own image, and it’s as old as civilization itself.

“Human beings… take the values and traditions that we most admire about ourselves and project them onto a totem. Eventually, we stand in awe of that totem and end up worshiping an incarnation of the things we love about ourselves. As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘God created us in his image, and we decided to return the favor.’ ”[1]

The popular question “What would Jesus do?” can be very dangerous. Its answer depends entirely on who Jesus is. Strong leaders who invent Jesus in their own image form faulty conclusions and mislead others in their experiment of faith. Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution, had a personal experience with this scary idea while on a short-term mission trip...

“…a group of children were preparing a skit from the gospel story they had read. They came up to me and said, ‘Shane, we need you to play Jesus, because you are white and from America.’ Ouch! God forgive us. Buddy Jesus has become a white American resembling Mr. Rogers.”[2]

Totem Pole by Tripleman
Sometimes we act just like the children preparing for a skit. We allow ourselves to become easily misled. Our continual search for the American Jesus who fits our image of who He should be makes us vulnerable to any mis-leader with a so-called new and better vision. Mis-leadership does not always happen intentionally. We want so badly to perpetuate a notion of Jesus who approves of the lifestyle we adopt and wish to maintain that we easily deafen ourselves to the true voice of Him who said, “Follow Me.”

Thankfully, both “the misled and the misleader belong to Him.” I trust the real Jesus will stand up every day and reveal Himself in stark contrast to the Jesus I want Him to be.


____________________

[1] The Irresistible Revolution ~ living as an ordinary radical, Shane Claiborne, Zondervan, 2006, p. 112.

[2] Ibid. p. 112f.

The painting of Jesus with a tie is called "The Conformist" (alkyd on canvas, 12" x 16", 2003) by Clifford Davis B.A. Hamilton College, M.F.A. Cranbrook Academy of Art. Mr. Davis is a faculty member at Rivier College in Nashua, New Hamshire, and kindly gave me permission to use his painting on this post.

The image"Totem Pole" was shot by photographer Tripleman at Brockton Point in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia (http://www.tripleman.com/index.php?showimage=107).

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"From Womb to Tomb"

Job 10.18-22 NASB

from womb...“Why then hast Thou brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb.

Would He not let my few days alone? Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer before I go — and I shall not return — To the land of darkness and deep shadow; the land of utter gloom as darkness itself, of deep shadow without order, and which shines as the darkness.”

Have you heard about the luckiest baby alive? According to an ABC channel 4 news report in Ogden Utah, Isabella Rose Mecham was born on July 7th, 7:07 a.m. at Ogden Regional Medical Center in Utah and weighed in at, you guessed it, 7 pounds, 7 ounces.[1] On 7-7-07 at 7:07 and 7 lbs, 7 oz. That’s more than seven 7’s! Even if you don’t believe in luck, still you have to admit, Izzy’s was pretty lucky for for the Mecham household.

Job wasn’t that lucky. For Job, life was a short gulp of fresh air between two bottomless oceans of dark nothingness. He begged God to leave him alone so he could die in peace. “Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer before I go… to the land of darkness and deep shadow.” Both Job and his advisers agreed…

“Life is but breath… When the cloud vanishes, it is gone.”
“Our days on earth are a shadow.”
Job 7.7-8; 8.9

In his despair, Job hoped God would shorten his hard life on planet earth. He actually wished he had never been born. If Job had his way, he would have been stillborn, carried directly “from womb to tomb.”

...to tombHave you felt like Job: “I should have been as though I had not been?” Like the rebellious teenager who argued with his dad, “I didn’t ask to be born!” and the exasperated father’s response, “If you had, the answer would’ve been ‘No!’”

Life is not always easy for anyone. No one gets out of here without a little (or in some cases a lot of) suffering. Young and old, rich and poor, male and female, present and past, natural born and aliens. Everyone suffers. Some think they’d be better off dead or never born. “At least a million people are estimated to die annually from suicide worldwide.” [2] Even Job felt forced to admit “...my soul would choose suffocation, death rather than my pains” (Job 7.15).

What we know about Job, however, is that while he may have wished himself dead, Job did not choose to end his life. He waited patiently for the mercy and compassion of God to alleviate his suffering and, ultimately, that’s exactly what God did.

“You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of
the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
James 5.11

None of us, including Isabella Rose, the luckiest baby alive, had the option of selecting our own birth date, time, or weight. Nobody ever asked to be born. It was not our choice. The option of heading directly “from womb to tomb” was never ours to select. In times of suffering, we can only acknowledge our pain, then pray and wait for the mercy and compassion of Jesus. It came for Job. It will come for you and me.
______________

[1] I originally found the story about Isabella Rose Mecham and her birthday experience at http://www.abc4.com/content/features/story.aspx?contentid=647acdaa-ffd8-4e0e-b4bf-73378b5fbbd1 on July 13, 2007. It is no longer posted there.

[2] "Global suicide rates among young people aged 15-19", World Psychiatry, Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), June 2005, 4(2): 114-120 quoting from Bertolote JM. "Suicide in the world: an epidemiological overview", 1959-2000. In: Wasserman D, editor. Suicide - an unnecessary death. London: Dunitz; 2001. pp. 3–10.

"Through All This"

Job 1.22 NAS

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

Somewhere around two thousand years before the birth of Christ there lived a very influential man. He was “the greatest of all men of the east” (Job 1.3) and his name was Job. Job was a good man “fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1.1).

Tragedy befell this good man. He lost all his money and possessions. His seven children died in a hurricane. Then he was stricken with “boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2.7). If this was not bad fortune enough, his wife urged Job, “Curse God and die” (Job 2.9). He sat in a pile of ashes scraping the oozing sores of his diseased body with the fragment of a broken clay pot (Job 1.8). Job was a broken man. Yet,...


Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God”.

I’ve lost a lot of money but never all of it. Some of my seven children went astray for a while, but I’ve never had a child die and go away forever. I’ve been sick, but giant boils have not yet covered my body. My wife has never advised me to deny God nor wished me dead. I’ve had plenty of bruises and taken my share of stitches, but I never had to scrape my bloody skin with a dirty piece of broken glass. I’ve been depressed but I never sat in a pile of ashes.

If I had been Job, I probably would have sinned and blamed God. I may even have agreed to “curse God and die” (Job 2.9). But not Job…

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

Broken pots and pieces from Shea's Gallery on PicasaNone of my troubles have ever compared to those of Job’s. Nevertheless, I have sinned and blamed God for much lesser adversity. I’m not even as sympathetic as Job’s much maligned three friends. They wept out of pity for Job. I can’t remember the last time I cried for the misfortune of a hurting friend. Job’s friends tore their clothes and “threw dust over their heads” (Job 2.13) to identify in some small way with Job’s grief. I’ve never done that. And most amazing of all…

“Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.”
Job 2.13 NASU

Seven days! I’m lucky to spare fifteen minutes for a sick friend in the hospital and probably never went more than thirty seconds without talking. Job’s friends were more sympathetic than I will ever be and Job’s suffering is greater than any I will ever endure. I am inspired by a man who could wait for the mercy of God in the midst of his pain.

“You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of
the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
James 5.11 NASU

Job and his friends offer me two lessons:
  1. Learn to suffer quietly with more dignity and less whining.
  2. Learn to better empathize and comfort my hurting friends.
No one gets out of this life without some suffering. “Through all this” I need to stop complaining and accept my minor suffering with courage and grace. I thank God for historical mentors like Job and his friends who help us get “through all this” whatever “all this” may be.

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God”.

__________________

"Broken pot and pieces" is from Shea Lemley's Gallery on Picasa's Web Albums (http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/k2cr3xhQOLxiHM58hBJP0w). The image has been flipped and slightly tinted.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"Be Careful When You Correct Your Wife"

Esther 7.5-6 AMP

“Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, ‘Who is he, and where is he who dares presume in his heart to do that?’

And Esther said, ‘An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman.’

Then Haman was afraid before the king and queen.”

“I was wrong.” These are undoubtedly the three hardest-to-declare words in the English language. Try them on for size and you’ll see what I mean. I had an opportunity to say them a few years ago. My wife, Adonica, brought something interesting to read to the kids and me after dinner. It was a Fox news article.[1] Here’s an excerpt:
“It was a ginormous year for the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster. Visitors to the Springfield-based dictionary publisher’s Web site picked ‘ginormous’ as their favorite word that’s not in the dictionary in 2005, and Mirriam-Webster editors have spotted it in countless newspaper and magazine articles since 2000. That’s essentially the criteria for making it into the collegiate dictionary – if a word shows up often enough in mainstream writing, the editors consider defining it. ‘There will be linguistic conservatives who will turn their nose up at a word like “ginormous,”’ said John Morse, Merriam-Webster's president. ‘But it’s become a part of our language. It's used by professional writers in mainstream publications. It clearly has staying power.’”
This article was significant because I once corrected my wife on the use of this word. She described an event as “ginormous” and, in front of the children, I said, “There is no such word as ‘ginormous.’” I knew I was taking my chances. My wife is literally (almost) always right. But I was certain I had her this time. How could I have known that at the very moment I was correcting my dear wife, Merriam-Webster was adding “ginormous” to the next edition of their Collegiate Dictionary? This was a clear case of the providential humor of God. I was forced to admit I was wrong.

Haman was also wrong and he picked the wrong people to annihilate. Haman did not reckon with the Providence of God.[2] His plan to destroy the Jews was a political blunder of ‘ginormous’ proportions and set the stage for his own demise. Imagine his shock and terror as “they covered Haman’s face” and led him to the gallows he had built for Queen Esther’s cousin, Mordecai (Esther 7.8-10).

Thankfully my mistake was not as serious as Haman’s. Our kids had a good chuckle, at my expense, of course, when Adonica produced and read the article about Mirriam-Webster’s new word. The consequences of my wrong were minor and I hope, by the ‘ginormous’ grace of Jesus, to keep it that way.
__________________

[1] “New dictionary includes‘ginormous’”, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/2007-07-10-dictionary-new-words_N.htm?csp=34.

[2] No reference to “God” is made in the book of Esther, however God’s providential care and protection for His people is evident throughout the book.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

"Ask Why"

Esther 4.5 KJV

“Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king's chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was.”

The book of Esther is a fascinating story of the Jewish nation exiled in the land of Persia nearly five centuries before the birth of Christ. King Ahasuerus was tricked by his friend and high ranking advisor, Haman, into issuing an edict for the destruction of the Jews. By the providence of God and the courage of Esther, the queen of Persia and a Jewess herself, God’s people were miraculously saved from Haman’s awful plan.

Upon hearing of Haman’s scheme, Mordecai, Esther’s older cousin and caretaker from her youth, “wailed loudly and bitterly” (Esther 4.1) and Queen Esther “writhed with great anguish” (Esther 4.4). She demanded to know… what it was and why it was” that these things were happening.

The “what” was easy... the Jews would be destroyed. The “why” was not so evident. If Esther could understand why her people faced extinction, maybe she could put a stop to the terrible event.

Look around you. It becomes quickly obvious “what” is happening. The condition of the world, the plight of the poor, the health of the nation, the issues at hand, and the state of affairs. It’s all there for you to observe. If you open your eyes and ears you will learn “what” people think, “what” they want, and “what” they need. The “what” is not hard to know if you want to know it.

The “why” is another matter. When you know why things are the way they are, then you really know something. Until you know “why” you can’t make a lasting difference.

Queen Esther demanded to know both what it was, and why it was.” She was a woman of great beauty and courage who determined to know “what” was happening to her people. She was also a woman of great wisdom who demanded to know “why” these things were so. Knowledge of the “why” gave Esther the power to do something about the grave matter at hand.

It takes courage to face reality and decide to know “what” is so. It takes wisdom to develop an understanding of “why” what is so. Determining “what” is going on inside and around me is not so hard. Knowing “why” these things are so, is not as easy.

I must ask myself and others “why?” more often.

Monday, July 08, 2019

"Leaders Stand for Something"

Nehemiah 13.7-9 NLT

“When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib's evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. 

I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah's belongings out of the room. 

Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God's Temple,…”

Nehemiah was a leader. He stood for something and took appropriate action. He was passionate, even angry. By his own admission:


“I became very upset and threw all of Tobiahbelongings out of the room.”

Nehemiah wasn’t nice. Unlike most politicians, Governor Nehemiah did care about being perceived as polite or relevant. His faith mattered enough to take a take a chance and make a stand. Compare the actions of Nehemiah with one current, popular understanding of faith by a noted Unitarian minister:

Universalists believe that every human being needs to be absolutely free to follow his or her own conscience. We’re known as the uncommon denomination because we are a free faith. There is nothing that you have to believe. You don’t have to sign on the dotted line to believe a specific thing. But your faith is so important that you are required to pursue your own beliefs.”[1]

According to Universalists, “there is nothing you have to believe,” yet somehow “your faith is so important that you are required to pursue your own beliefs.” So, if I choose to believe nothing I am “required to pursue” nothing because of how “so important” my faith in nothing really is. The concept is confusing and uninspiring. I’d rather believe in something than nothing. 

Nehemiah put his faith “on the dotted line to believe a specific thing.” He actually believed the Temple of God should remain undefiled. It was not okay with Governor Nehemiah that the pagan leader Tobiah should be allowed a room in God’s house. Was Eliashib “absolutely free to follow his own conscience” and, as a Temple priest, authorized to offer a room in the Temple to anyone he wanted? Not according to the governor. When Nehemiah found out he “became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room.” Nehemiah made no popularity points with Eliashib or Tobiah and their friends. Nevertheless, Nehemiah was a leader, and he stood for something.

Leaders necessarily risk offending those who disagree. That’s the price you pay for having an opinion and sharing it.

Nearly two millennia ago a great leader bravely claimed to be “the way, and the truth, and the life.” He was audacious enough to announce, “No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14.6). He stood for and required something of the people who bore His name:

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, 
he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me”.
Mark 8.34 NASU

Jesus Christ was and remains to be a leader worth believing in, following, and taking a stand for.
___________________

[1] Quotation from the article “Unitarians’ faith (or not) on view”, by writer Nancy Haught, The Oregonian, June 23, 2007.

Friday, July 05, 2019

"How to Avoid Back-Seat-Drivers"

Seek Truth by eyepanda (http://s182.photobucket.com/albums/x312/eyepanda/)
Nehemiah 9.26-27a
Holman Christian Standard Bible

“But they were disobedient and rebelled against You. They flung Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who warned them to turn them back to You. They committed terrible blasphemies. So You handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them.”

My wife and I were driving after dark to a party one night before the days of GPS. I thought I knew the way, but I was wrong. Help, in the form of a map, was at my fingertips but I, of course, did not require a map. I was confident (proud) I could get to the party under my own guidance and was too busy (lazy) to plot my route with the use of a road atlas. After I became hopelessly lost, my dear wife offered some kind (direct) advise: “Why don’t you stop and ask for directions?” I hate those words.

Our final destination is a party in heaven. We drive through life in the dark thinking we know best how to get there and refusing to admit we’re lost. If we fail to seek truth from God’s road map (the Bible), it will take us longer to get to the party. Because He still wants to help us, God sends prophetic road signs and even a few back-seat-drivers. Hopefully we listen and avoid dead ends, wrong turns, and car wrecks along the way.

We encounter truth in two dimensions. The quiet, hidden and passive dimension is an untapped resource. This truth must be sought and discovered. First dimension truth is contained in the Bible and embodied in the person of Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14.6). This is invitational truth offered gently by a loving Lord about whom it is said, “If you seek Him, He will let you find Him” (1st Chronicles 28.9; 2nd Chronicles 15.2 ).

Our second dimension experience with reality is blatant and demands an immediate response. It contains the truth (whether you believe it or not) and delivers the truth (whether you want it or not). It’s a fully avoidable, last resort, prophetic truth taking the form of back-seat-drivers and harsh circumstances designed to help us to our knees in humble admission of personal limitations.

God is relentless about truth delivery because He loves us. Yet, God’s people have always rebelled against both dimensions of truth:
  • The “law” and the “prophets”
  • The road map and the back-seat-drivers
  • The Bible and circumstantial realities
The ancient Jews were forced to hear from the “prophets” because they did not pay attention to the written “law.” If I don’t want to hear from back-seat-drivers (and I don’t), I’should consult the map. If I want to be a first dimension Christian (and I do), I’d must find the truth before it crashes down upon me.
_________________

The black and white image "Seek Truth" is by eyepanda whose very interesting photography may be seen at http://s182.photobucket.com/albums/x312/eyepanda/.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

"The Thrill is Not Gone"

Nehemiah 8.10b, 12 NIV

“Nehemiah said,... ‘This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

Real Joy by Todd Baker

‘The joy of the Lord is my strength.’ I fondly recall singing and clapping to these words, joining a chorus of Full Gospel Business Men at Camp Berachah somewhere around 1980. I was in my mid-20’s and the experience was so real to me then. Me and eight hundred other guys would change the world!

What I remember most about those days is the joy. Pure and uninhibited moments of elation mixed with a fierce determination to do anything God wanted of me. I had a love for the Bible and felt as though Jesus spoke directly to me from the pages of His written word. 

Oh, the joy! Today, forty years later, I can still recall and feel the joy. It keeps me going. Life has beat me up a little. I am (hopefully) a little wiser and (certainly) a little less idealistic. But the joy is still there. It’s deep and abiding. I trust it. It gives me strength. “The joy of the Lord” is most definitely my strength.

Morning after morning I arise to greet Jesus in Scripture. He speaks to me, not in an unspecific, over-spiritualized way that is impossible to define. It’s simple and real. I open the Bible and read. A verse jumps off the page. I feel the excitement. God is talking. My body is energized and I “celebrate with great joy” inside my soul. Insights, ‘ah-ha’s’, revelations, epiphanies, moments of truth… they converge with a text and, empowered by the Spirit, explode into an actual encounter with the Lord Himself. The joy is unspeakable.

This experience is undeniably the best part of my day, weeks, and years. It helps me begin to make sense of my life and the people, things, and events in it. I have joined the ranks of twenty-five hundred year old saints who, upon hearing Ezra’s proclamation of Torah, felt the joy because they “understood the words that had been made known to them.” The ‘joy of the Lord was truly their strength and mine.’ The thrill of joy is not gone. 

It was good back in 1980 at the FGBMI retreat. It’s even better now.
_______________

The beautiful image at the top of this post is called "Real Joy" by Elmhurst, Illinois photographer Todd Baker. You can view his work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/technowannabe/562918256/in/set-72157600017063829.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

"Just Show Up"

Nehemiah 4.20 AMP

“In whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

We are not alone. “God will fight for us,” All we have to do is… show up!

 About twelve years ago, a very dear brother and friend lost his wife after a fifteen year struggle with cancer. I knew I must call him. I clearly heard “the sound of the trumpet... rally” me to his side. I had no words to share. I did not want to make the call. I felt afraid and awkward. I dialed the phone. “Hi Scott, it’s Dave.”

Scott took it from there offering encouragement and strength to both of us. His words were powerful, filled with wisdom and hope. I mostly listened. I wasn’t asked to say much which worked well since I didn’t know what to say. Scott knew why I called. I simply loved my brother and felt sorrow. I hoped somehow to convey that. I heard “the sound of the trumpet” in my soul. I was compelled to show up, even if only by phone. Scott helped me. His words catapulted us both into the presence of Jesus. I felt it. I know he did too.

Thank you my brother Scott for the compassion you showed an awkward friend who had nothing to say. Thank you for sharing your grief with me, both its sorrow and victory. I am honored to know you.

Scott said he appreciated my call which, of course, is amazing. He meant it. I had very little to give. I just dialed the phone. I heard “the sound of the trumpet... rally” me to share Scott’s time of pain, so I picked up the phone. Scott and Jesus took it from there. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

"But You Said..."

Nehemiah 1.8-9 NASU

Remember the
word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying,

‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ ”

Did you ever make a promise to a kid then try to renege? It’s almost impossible. “BUT YOU SAID” he’ll scream. He’s got you. You either fulfill your promise and demonstrate yourself to be a person of honor or… you don’t. The decision is simple but not easy. Becoming known as a liar in the mind of a child is a far worse consequence than simply doing what you said you’d do. 

Children possess an uncanny knack for remembering every detail of each promise you make, especially when it serves to their benefit. Even when you brush the pesty kid away with “We’ll see,” you have obligated yourself to revisit the question and render an eventual “yes” or “no.” A Boy Scout’s pledge, marriage vows, business contracts, or the promise to a child... it’s all the same. Keeping your word is a matter of honor. In fact, a person of honor “keeps an oath even when it hurts” (Psalm 15.4).

Nehemiah depended on God’s honor in much the same way. He knew God to be trustworthy and therefore approached Him with child-like “BUT YOU SAID” confidence: “Remember the word which You commanded…” [1] and then launched into an imprecise rendering of Deuteronomy 30.1-5. It was not an exact quotation but a free-flowing summary of the intent of God’s message contained in the Law. Nehemiah reminded God of what He said through Moses almost a thousand years before.

The Bible is filled with promises. Find one and personalize it. Remind the Lord of what He said. Try to memorize a passage of Scripture, at least the intent of it. Quote it back to Him whenever it comes to mind. This is a valid form of prayer. God is trustworthy. You can depend upon His word. He will perform on your behalf, not just because He is loving and compassionate, but because He is truthful and has honorable.[2] God is no liar. If He said it, He will do it!

”God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. 
Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”

Numbers 23.19 NLT
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[1] The Hebrew word for “remember” (zakar) is found 9 times in the book of Nehemiah. “When the soul remembers something, it does not mean that it has an objective memory image of some thing or event, but that this image is called forth in the soul and assists in determining its direction, its action.” (Israel ~ Its Life and Culture, Johs. Pedersen, Oxford University Press, 1926, vol. I, p. 106.)

[2] According to Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament on Nehemiah 1.8: “It must, however, be remembered that Nehemiah is not so much invoking the divine compassion as the righteousness and faithfulness of a covenant God, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy.”

Monday, July 01, 2019

"Seek, Do, Teach"

Ezra 7.10 NKJV

“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

Ezra the priest made a decision to seek, do, and teach “the Law of the Lord.” The man was determined. He would make the dangerous expedition from Babylon to Jerusalem. Nothing could deter Ezra... not the sad spiritual condition of his Judean audience nor the high personal cost of pursuing service to the Lord. Ezra made up his mind and “prepared his heart.” He was resolved to seek, do and teach the will of God.

Seek

Pick up your Bible and seek a connection with its Author. It’s not free. It takes a little effort, but the endeavor comes with a promise.

“I love those who love me. Those who seek me diligently will find me.”
Proverbs 8.17 WEB

Do

Allow yourself to be affected by what you read. You will be required to do something. Bible study that fails to place a demand on your life is not what God intended by interaction with His living word. 

“Not that Christians don’t own and read their Bibles. And not that Christians don’t believe that their Bibles are the word of God. What is neglected is reading the Scriptures formatively, reading in order to live.” [1]

Teach

Religion is not a private affair. You live in the community of humanity. Demonstrate the reality of God’s word in you and so teach others what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence
and your praiseworthy, noble, and good deeds and recognize and
honor and praise and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5.16 AMP

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[1] Eat This Book ~ a conversation in the art of spiritual reading, Eugene H. Peterson, Wm. B, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006, p. xi.