Lending a Hand

Have you ever felt like you needed a third hand? There are times in life when having that third hand would be handy. One of my hobbies requires some soldering from time to time and to make life easier I have what is called a third hand jig (also known as a helping hand). This adjustable device holds wires in place while I work with the soldering iron. Without that third hand the task would be difficult. 

Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is about helping hands. In many ways this chapter reads like one of those extensive genealogies found in other parts of scriptures. If you’re anything like me, I tend to just browse right past these types of passages because let’s be honest, we feel like they don’t have much to offer, plus all those names are hard to pronounce. 

Following his inspection of the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah began to assign workers to repair areas near where they lived or worked. Chapter three holds the blueprint to the reconstruction process. Starting in verse 2 we see the beginning of two repeating phrases that becomes the mortar between the bricks of such a massive project. “Next to him” or “next to them” is repeated in one form another over 20 times. As I read these words, I noticed a theme that connects to the many aspects of living and working in community both in Nehemiah’s day and here and now. 

Much like the situation Nehemiah and the people of the city found themselves in, we as followers of Jesus are living amid a similar but different re-building process. As the church gathers again after a challenging time of physical separation, many of them are starting to re-build. With what seems like an ever-changing blueprint in the process, there is one constant that remains and that is the message and mission of the Gospel. 

“Next to him” or “next to them” reveals to us a picture of a community committed to a purpose. In context, Nehemiah was writing about rebuilding the wall (phase two of his plan) so that God’s glory would be able to shine. In our context, it is about coming together again and working next to one another so that others will continue to see the glory of God shine through his people. 

Many leaders today are calling on the church (you and I) to come together, next to one another, to serve and love one another. No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls around Jerusalem; the same stands for today as we work to rebuild. We must work together if we are to continue our God given mission. Our work is to glorify God, to love one another, to serve with the gifts we have been given and to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know the incredible love of God. 

So, how might you be a “third hand” in helping the church grow into a renewed passion and presence in your community? Who will you work “next to”? Not for your glory, but for the glory of our Father in heaven? In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us start rebuilding.”

A Journey in Time

I remember the moment with vivid clarity, it was early January 2016, I was awkwardly crammed into the back of a vibrantly decorated Jeepney with a mission’s team and several new Pilipino friends. One of our new friends was a local pastor with a propensity for telling jokes. While we were nervously weaving in and out of traffic, he shared this joke: “Who was the shortest man in the Bible?”. Not knowing the answer, he regaled us with this witty response, “Nehemiah” but with a twist… (Knee-High-Miah).  

I share this with you because every time I turn in my Bible to the book of Nehemiah this memory floods back into my mind. This past week I spent some time reading through Nehemiah’s words and one of the themes I have been considering is that of “time”. This remarkable story recounts Nehemiah’s incredible leadership and reliance on God in completing the re-construction of the wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days. Yet, there is another important segment of time that precedes the building of the wall that was critical to its success. 

Chapter 1:4 records these words, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” While it takes us less than two minutes to read these words and transition to the next events of Nehemiah’s story we must stop and understand that “For some days” was a span of time that was approximately four months long. Today, living in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, high achievement and quick solutions four months might feel like a lifetime. 

After receiving news about the trouble and disgrace of what was transpiring in Jerusalem three things occurred in the months following for Nehemiah. First, he mourned over the circumstances surrounding the lives of the people and the city that was their home. Second, he fasted and third, he prayed day and night before the God of heaven to help the people of Israel. 

Something I need to ask myself and one thing I can ask of you is this: In the light of a difficult situation or experience do I/you take the appropriate amount of time to mourn, fast and pray for God’s direction in moving forward?  While some difficult experiences in life may not require a lengthy period of time to navigate, others will. Who we are will often influence the length of time each of us needs to work through life’s challenges, the important part is how we start the journey. 

The book of Nehemiah is filled with examples of his dependance on God through prayer to accomplish the tasks that God called him to. The meaning of the name Nehemiah is “Yahweh comforts”. In times of mourning, in times of fasting, and in times of prayer, God is our comfort. He is our hope, and he is our guide in life. Paul, in Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”. My prayer is that no matter what life brings our way, easy or hard, positive or negative, that we are on the journey together with a God who loves us. 

Knee-Jerk Reactions

In the medical field a knee-jerk reflex is a sudden kicking movement of the lower leg in response to a sharp tap just below the kneecap. We also use this knee-jerk expression to describe someone’s response or reaction to a question or situation, often in a very predictable way or without thinking. A knee-jerk reaction is typically a quick reaction that does not allow you time to consider something carefully. 

While I could share an overflowing bucket full of illustrations and stories from my own life that would make you either laugh out loud or shift uncomfortably in your seat, I thought it would be more valuable to share some thoughts about what should be at the epicenter of our reactions.

I was recently reading Paul’s words to the church in Colossae. In chapter three he gives instruction to his brothers and sisters in Christ to have their hearts and minds set on things above, not on earthly things. He calls them (and us) to rid ourselves of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. Each of these destructive “things” Paul describes can be a dangerously attached “spur” riding on the side of our reactive comments or actions. Be it un-intentional or otherwise, these “spurs” of destruction (a tool of the evil one) can have a powerful impact on the relationships we have with others. 

Paul offers us some strong counsel on how we as followers of Christ can work in our lives to help smooth the sharp points down on the spurs that can cause harm. He says: 

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12-14)

In Christ we have the power to overcome the fractured image of a once perfect reflection of our heavenly Father who created us. When the peace of Christ rules in our hearts and the perfect unity of love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience come together they are the means that help to condition (for better) our sometimes-hasty reactions. 

Knee jerk reactions are inevitable in life, they surface in our daily face-to-face interactions, through social media posts and other areas of life. We would do well to heed to Paul’s words in verse 17 of Colossians 3: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Today, it is my prayer for all of you that strive to live according to our Fathers will, that you will show a natural response of love and compassion in all your words and deeds with those around you.

What is in a Song?

Each Sunday for forty-six years (give or take a few weeks here and there) an integral part of my worship experience in church was listening to and singing songs filled with words of praise, honor, and glory to God. With the recent interruption to our regular pattern of worship and now the gradual return to gathering again, I have been thinking about the songs that we sing. 

A little while back I was sharing a meal with a friend and one of our conversations about life and faith led us into a short discussion about the purpose and power found in the songs that we sing in church. With our generational differences and personal biases in check we agreed that many of the songs we sing (old & new) speak powerfully the words of scripture and their message of salvation. 

Consider for a moment the purpose of the worship songs we sing together. In many of the older hymns that we sing the words were written to communicate the incredible truths of scripture. As we sing, we need to ask ourselves questions like, to whom is our worship directed?  What is our hearts desire as we sing? What scriptural truths are being revealed in our worship through song? Do we sing because it makes us “feel good” or brings back nostalgic memories? Are we truly and humbly giving praise, honor and glory to our God who loves us through our worship?

In 1910 John Wilbur Chapman wrote the mighty words of the hymn titled “One Day” (Living He Loved Me). Over the years these words have been used by contemporary Christian artists like Casting Crowns to continue spreading the incredible timeless truth of what Jesus did for us.

“Living he loved me, dying he saved me,
buried he carried my sins far away.
Rising he justified, freed me for heaven.
One day he’s coming back, glorious day.”

The beautiful words of this hymn tell the incredible story of why God sent his perfect son into a world plagued by the power of evil and the grip it continues to hold in the lives of his people. Read the words of this verse again. He loved us so much, he died to save us. He carried the sins of the world upon his shoulders so that our lives could be set right (justified) before God. Let’s not forget about that glorious day when as promised Christ comes back and we can all live into the incredible promise of eternal life with him. 

Songs like this present us with the transformational message of the gospel found in the pages of scripture. The next time you are singing along to your favorite worship song ask yourself, what is in this song? When you find the answer to your question, I challenge you to share that song with someone. Don’t keep it to yourself as the message it holds is for everyone to hear. 

True North

Most people are familiar with the designations of north, south, east, and west that are represented on a compass, but did you know a compass doesn’t point to true north? True north is where the lines of longitude converge in the geographic north pole. A compass (depending on where you are on the earth) locates the magnetic north which is approximately 500 kilometers away from the geographic North Pole. A compass works by magnetic force and can be affected by a variety of different factors, weather, other magnetic forces, and metal objects. 

What is your compass in life? Where is true north for you? 

This past week as I was reading scripture, I asked myself these same questions. 2 Timothy chapter 3, and particularly verses 16 and 17 inspired me to look and think about how God’s word to us is like a compass, but one that points to true north. These verses read, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

As followers of Christ, the Bible should be the compass or guide that we follow in life and faith. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy gives some instruction on how scripture (our compass) functions. First, he establishes the direction we receive comes directly from God himself, speaking to its authenticity and usefulness. Following this foundational truth Paul breaks down some of its usefulness for us. Teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness; while each one of these tasks is important, correcting was one that resonated with my thoughts of direction and being on a pathway to our true north destination. 

All of scripture points us in one direction. Think about all that happens in scripture, both in the Old and New testaments. Imagine for a moment that all of scripture, the many events that take place are the longitudinal lines on a map, they all converge in one place, at the foot of the cross with Christ and ultimately with our father in heaven. 

Like finding the point of convergence of true geographic north with a compass, our life and faith will need some course correction along the way. Often when we read these verses in 2 Timothy we have an outward focus, we use scripture to teach, rebuke or correct others. What if we applied the charge of correcting to our own life? There are forces at play in life that can easily pull us in directions that keep us from reaching our final destination of true north. 

Course correction is common in any form of navigation so why wouldn’t it be important for our life and faith today? While wrong turns in life are sometimes difficult, they are some of the best times in life that help us correct our course of direction.

We have been given the words of scripture to be our compass in life and faith, we have also been given a guide. As we stand at the foot of the cross and live a life that honors Christ, he equips us with the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit. The word of God (our compass) and the Holy Spirit (our guide) work together to help us reach our true north destination. As we apply the word of God to our lives and listen for his voice for direction in life there is no greater power that can knock us off course.

Transformation

I consider myself to be a bit of a woodworker. I enjoy making smaller projects that can be hung on the wall or displayed on a shelf. One of the trends in woodworking right now is using epoxy to make “river tables” and other beautiful projects. Epoxy typically comes in two separate containers, one with resin and the other with the hardener.  When combined, the two create a super strong bond that is virtually unbreakable. This chemical reaction transforms two liquids into a solid and is only possible when one part interacts with the other. 

The Christian life is centered around the power of transformation. One of the key verses that speak to this transformation is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” There are two key elements that make up the components of the life/faith transformation: God and us, that’s right, you and I. “In Christ” is the catalyst to the transformation of our heart, soul, and mind.

Christ, through his death and resurrection on the cross invites each and everyone of us to be made new in him; It is an open invitation, to be shared with everyone. One of the best examples of this transformation is found in Acts chapter 9. Saul, later known as Paul was one of the most feared opponents to the life and teachings of Jesus, his mission was to bring all those who followed him to “justice”. Almost immediately after his own encounter with Jesus, his heart, soul and mind were transformed. The “old Saul” was gone, the “new Paul” was here. 

The bond or spiritual connection we have in Christ is one unlike any other, it is life transforming in a way that inspires us to be like Christ. Filled with his Spirit, our hearts desire becomes one that wants to know and follow his ways, to be fully devoted to him. Our soul can find complete rest in him knowing that the promise of life everlasting is no longer beyond our reach. The renewal of our minds brings us to a new level of discernment to live in obedience to His will for our lives. 

Change in life is often hard but what about transformation?  The trifecta (heart, soul, and mind) of change in the core of who we are might seem impossible. On our own, it would be impossible, thankfully we are not alone. First, we have Christ in us, filled with his Spirit to lead and guide our decisions. Second, we have a community of believers around who are following on the same journey. If you continue to read Paul’s story in the book of Acts, you will see how he did not journey alone. In fact, he joined the disciples almost right away and God used him in incredible ways to highlight the power of Christ in him. 

These few words only highlight the very beginning of a thought on the powerful transformation that happens in our life as a follower of Christ. Our transformation in Christ is one that is in constant motion. We will grow closer to God through reading his word, spending time in prayer, and being in community with other believers. It is my hope and prayer that we all continue to be “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. (2 Corinthians 3:18) 

How Big Was That Fish?

Have you ever been regaled with a fanciful story of a fisherman’s retelling of the “big one” that got away? It seems like every-time the story is repeated the details get exaggerated just a little more. The fish is bigger, the fight to reel it in gets longer and the heightened leap out of the water and the seemingly impossible escape from the line is more dramatic. It might not be a fish story for all of us, but many of us can relate to the “size” of a story and how it can grow in its details. 

One of my all-time favorite verses in the Bible is found in John chapter 21:25. Throughout the book John writes about several miracles that point to Jesus’ power as the Son of God. At the conclusion of his book he writes, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose the even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Is John telling us a “fish story” here? In a way he is. He uses a literary device called hyperbole in this verse to help us understand two things. First, he recounts only seven of Jesus’ miracles to draw our attention to his sovereignty as the Son of God. As we read the other gospels, we hear of many more miracles that Jesus performed. So yes, there is more to the story of Jesus life that have been written down in this gospel. Secondly, it speaks to the infinite power and most certain point that God, through Jesus is never idle in His purpose for our lives. He leads us, guides us, corrects us, challenges us, grows us, teaches us, and forgives us. (the list could go on). What we have presented before us in this gospel and the others tells us of God’s story and his incredible love for us. 

John’s words in this verse also speak volumes to the praise, honor, and glory that we as Christ followers are to give to our Father in heaven. I am often reminded of the Psalms and the words of praise that are lifted to God; Psalm 150 is a great example:

“Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!”

When his (Jesus) story becomes a part of our story today we have opportunity to praise him for the work that he continues to do in our lives and the lives of others. The way we live our lives as followers of Jesus can also bring praise, honor, and glory to him. Praise is not limited to the sound of trumpets, tambourines, strings, or the sounding of cymbals. When we reflect God’s love, his mercy and grace to others this brings praise to his name. 

Let’s praise the Lord together for what he has done in our lives and pray for exciting new chapters in life filled with stories to share with those around us. 

Electrician, Musician, Physician…

The English language has some interesting ways of connecting words, ideas and thoughts together. The “-ian” attached to each of the words in the title is borrowed from the Latin iānus, which forms adjectives of belonging or origin from a noun. Electrician, musician and physician describe the role belonging to a person who might specialize in a particular area of expertise. Electricians work with all things electric, musicians’ study or play music and a physician as we know, is someone who is qualified to practice medicine. Knowing this, what comes to your mind when you think about the word Christian?

Acts chapter 11:26 is where we find the introduction of the expression “Christian” in relationship to those who follow Christ. “So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”. Known between themselves as “brethren”, “the faithful”, “elect” or “believers” the title Christian was given to followers of Christ by the community of unbelievers among them. 

Jesus, during his ministry among humanity called his followers disciples. The term disciple in the New Testament is used approximately 230 times and gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. A disciple in this context is defined as a “leaner” or “pupil”. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. 

I am not sure about you, but I feel like we have seen the meaning of the title “Christian” change over time. Today many people call themselves “Christians” because they go to church and live a good moral and ethical life. While that is good, I think there is a much deeper connection to our faith in Christ when we identify ourselves with him as one of his disciples. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to worship him, serve him and be a witness to the transforming power of his mercy, grace and forgiveness in our lives. 

First, our worship of Jesus is all about how we live our lives, Romans 12 says that we are to “offer up our lives as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. All that we do in life, yes all, should bring honor, glory and praise to God, that is how we worship him. 

Second, we are called to serve him by serving others. The love that we show to one another through serving is one of the key elements that identifies us as true disciples to the world around us. 

Third, as disciples we are called to be witnesses for him. Jesus, sent by his Father was on mission to reveal himself to us so that we might know him and save us from sin and death. This mission was accomplished through his life, death and resurrection. Since then, as his disciples we are called to carry on the mission by telling others about his love for them so that they too can become a part of his eternal family. 

I am not proposing we discard the title “Christian”; I would suggest that we continue to work at learning to live out our faith as true disciples. Like the first disciples we should be set apart by our actions, our words, and our witness. Let’s pray together for a renewed commitment to the mission Jesus commanded us to carry forward; to worship him, love and serve others and be a witness to the world for his glory. 

The Mechanic

I have the upmost respect for mechanics. I have attempted some DIY mechanics in my driveway and without fail every time I do, I am reminded that our wise and all-knowing Father in heaven gave that gift to someone other than me. Clearly there are many mechanics in this world but most of us “have a guy.” When it’s time for an oil change, brake job, or something else we have a trusted mechanic that helps gets the job done. I “have a guy”, he has been our mechanic now for many years and I trust in his ability to not only keep my vehicles in good running condition but safe for driving my family around each and every day. 1

In his first letter to the church Peter teaches us about living for God, to live not for what the world desires but for the will of God. Today, much like the audience Peter was writing to we face a similar battle. The habits or ways of the world have an uncanny way of drawing us into its power of looking out for number one… ourselves. In chapter 4:10 Peter says, “Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others… If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 

One of the things that made me stop and think after reading this verse a couple of times, was that Peters instruction for us had nothing to us. Let me explain. It’s about serving others, not being self-serving; It is about bringing glory and praise to God, not putting ourselves in the limelight. It takes a 

supernatural strength of character and humility to live a life that brings honor and glory to God over ourselves. A strength that Peter tells us God provides. 

What comes to your mind when you think about “gifts” in context of your faith? For the most part we think about passages like Romans chapter 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4 where we find references to the gifts of evangelism, teaching, giving, administration, healing and others. When we commit our lives to Christ, we, through the Holy Spirit are given one or more of these spiritual gifts. Being uniquely created by God, we use them in many different ways. The call to serve one another in 1 Peter 4:10 refers to an act of service done in genuine love and for the encouragement and growth of those who are being served. 

So, why did I choose to relate this message of gifts and serving to a mechanic?  Well, “my guy” the one who helps with my mechanical work, does so with an attitude of genuine love. Frist, he loves to help others. Second, he loves what he does. He does the work because it is a part of his ministry of serving others. I used this example of a servant’s heart because it is inspiring, it often sparks the desire in me to use the gifts I have been given to serve others. 

The things we do, the gifts that we have, whether it be fixing vehicles, creating cards of encouragement or thanks, making meals for those in need, lending a listening ear or quietly serving behind the scenes on a Sunday morning, each one when done with an attitude of genuine love for others brings honor, glory and praise to God. That is what he has called us to do. 

Weathering The Storm

Recently as I was sitting in my favorite chair reading a book my eyes were drawn to the quickly shifting clouds that passed by the large windows in my living room. Within a few minutes the bright light of the sun disappeared and was overtaken by a heavy gray cloud. Then came the storm! First, rain began to shower down like I have never seen it before. Moments later small pellets of ice followed and bounced off the metal railing making a loud machine-gun like sound. As the wind picked up momentum the giant fir trees began to sway as their deep roots held fast deep within the earth. A single clap of thunder followed by a streak of light passed over the horizon which signaled the procession of sleet then snow. Then, in the same way the storm so quickly darkened the day the sun came back to reclaim its rightful place. 

As I thought about the force of the wind and the incredible speed at which the storm came and went my mind wondered what it would have been like for the disciples as they experienced a similar storm on the sea of Galilee.

Matthew chapter 8 holds the account of the storm in which the disciples (some of whom were veteran fisherman) felt their very lives were threatened. They had just witnessed the incredible power of Jesus through the healing of a man with leprosy and Peter’s mother-in-law and other miracles. Tired and ready for a rest, Jesus and the disciples boarded a boat to sail across to the other side of the lake. Little did they know the next part of their journey would draw them into an epic storm that made them fear for their lives as they endured the wind and raging waters. 

Matthew’s account of this hair-raising experience through the storm is a testimony to the incredible power and sovereignty of Jesus as God. Verse 27 of chapter 8 describe the moment following Jesus’ rebuke (calming) of the storm, it says, “The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”” Matthew and the other gospel writers tell us that Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat as the stormy weather tossed them about; when I read this, I see a soul and mind warming picture of peace in the midst of the storm. Jesus, the author and creator of the earth we walk on and breath of life we live with is the anchor of peace that grounds us in a storm. 

In those moments while I was watching the storm from the comfort of my chair it reminded me of Gods incredible power, authority and control over all things in life, especially in the storms. The “storms of life”, the trials we experience can come as swiftly as the ones mentioned here. The outcome or weathering of the storm can be hard to navigate on our own; when we have the assurance of Christ as our anchor, we can be strong and courageous. In the storm we may be frightened or dismayed but often those feelings draw us closer to Jesus, we grow deeper into our relationship with him, and he uses those moments to know and trust him more. As believers Jesus is always in the boat with us, in full control as we live through the storms of life. He is our comfort and peace, what a beautiful promise for all of us.   

Isaiah 41:10 reads, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Go in peace today as you seek God in the storms of life and give thanks for his provision in the times of calm.