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.

Project Management

ProjectFor any large building project, there has to be someone who is in charge, a person who takes the responsibility to see the project through till the end. There is either a project manager or a site supervisor that oversees all aspects of the building process. Two of the biggest responsibilities of this important role is to communicate the building plan and set a timeline for the many different trades to follow. We all know that we don’t live in a perfect world and things go wrong, problems arise, people and circumstances fail. One of the most powerful tools in the toolbox for the project managers is clear communication.

Even before Nehemiah made his way to Jerusalem to take on the role of project manager for the rebuilding of the wall he had to communicate his plan to the King. Nehemiah made his request (he came with a well-defined plan, how long it would take and a list of resources and materials that would be needed) and the king granted his appeal. After an inspection of the wall and a good knowledge of what needed to be done, Nehemiah setup his work teams and started working on the project. Nehemiah, as project manager had some tough choices to make, he had to deal with persistent opposition, there were physical threats, false accusations and more as he tried to keep the project moving forward. With a solid understanding of what was required Nehemiah was able to keep his focus not only on the project but on the people.

Nehemiah communicated on two different levels with the people, one, through his words and another through his actions. Nehemiah stood strong in the Lord’s call on his life to be on mission to rebuild the wall. He prayed often for determination and strength to carry on, both for himself and for the people. Nehemiah prayed, “Now strengthen my hands”, this was a cry out to God for the power to carry on in the face of all that was happening. When I reflect the story of Nehemiah, it communicates to me a message of hope, a message that when God calls us to be on mission for him, he stays with us. God has the “blueprints” already drawn up for each and everyone of us. His word communicates the building plan that helps us live according to his design. It is our job as project managers to stick to the plan.

 

Stumbling Blocks

obstacles_webTake a minute to think about how you got to where you are right now. I don’t mean financially or in respect to your profession or family but right now physically as you read these words. I imagine you walked from somewhere to the seat you are sitting in now. Did you have to think about walking? How many times did you stumble or fall? Other than stubbing my toe on a chair once and a while or stepping on a stray piece of Lego in the dark of night while checking in on my kids I do pretty well.

Ezekiel talks about a different kind of stumbling that has a profound effect on our lives, in fact he calls them “wicked stumbling blocks”. He is talking about the things that hinder our relationship with God, these are the sins, the idols and the practices that we hold on to in our lives. The audience Ezekiel is speaking to are some of the elders of Israel, these are the men called to be leaders and examples to the people. These elders have built up in their hearts and lives idols that have hindered their relationship with the only one true God, their trust in God has been diverted to the things of the world. Overcoming the stumbling blocks in our faith and relationship with God constitutes an authentic change of heart, a genuine repentance for the sins in our lives.

God hears our prayers; He waits for us to come Him knowing that we can’t do life on our own. I often think about the stumbling blocks in my own life that hindering my relationship with God, has the open line of communication with God through prayer become a little clouded or blocked by the idols I hold onto in life? I may be quick to judge the hindrances I see in others people lives but I have to continually examine my own life for those same things. We may have a good handle on physically walking around the things that might make us stumble but can we say the same thing for our spiritual lives?

God’s Timing and Prayer

old-clockWe all need reminders of things from time to time; this has been proven over and over throughout history. Peter writes to the believers of his time to encourage them as they face opposition and false teaching both inside the church and in their community. Peter’s encouragement for them was a reminder of what the Lord had done for them in the past; chapter 2 recounts many of the events throughout the history of their people.

As I reflect on the role of prayer in my own life and in the lives of others I was mainly drawn to the words of chapter 3:8-9,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

I know that Peter is talking about the coming day of the Lord in this passage; I find encouragement in these words when I consider them in respect to my prayer life. Often I pray for something and wait (sometime patiently and other times not so much) for God to answer my request. These verses remind me that we (God and I) work on a different timeline; He does promise to give us what we ask for (in His time and His way). As we grow in our relationship with God we can begin to understand how He can use this time to strengthen our faith. As hard as it is to appreciate I think that “unanswered” prayer prompt us to dig deeper into our faith and be patient in waiting just as He is with us.

This verse talks about His promises, not just that Christ will come back one day but He also promises to be with us here and now. The key to any great relationship is communication, time in prayer with God, spending time in the word are the ways we have to build and grow in our relationship with Him.

Sober and Alert

1_Peter_Title“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming”(1Peter 1:13). Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray” (1Peter 4:7). “Be alert and of sober mind” (1Peter 5:8). Alert and sober, two words used in the NIV translation that offer insight to an appropriate state of mind as we come to the Lord in prayer. Other translations use words like vigilant, disciplined, watchful and self-control, each of these words help shape our relationship with God.

When we think of the word sober it is often used in context to contrast the  the lack of self-control and over indulgence of alcohol, an unfortunate state that often numbs the senses and makes one careless and unaware of their actions. There are many things today that can pull us away from that alert and sober state of being that Peter writes about. Things like power, prestige, love/lust and even technology, all these things can distract or diminish our faith allowing us to fall away from God. Peter writes in chapter 4:7 that “The end of all things is near”, He is warning us to be in the right place with God so that we may pray and be ready to be in His presence.

When we set our hope and trust on the grace given to us through Christ Jesus we have an open line of communication to our creator who gives us when we humbly ask the ability to maintain a lifestyle of self control and reverence for Him. The key to staying “sober” is remaining vigilant and disciplined when it comes to our time in prayer with God. Taking time to remove ourselves from the distractions of life (Mat 6:6) will help us know our God more fully and help us live out a life that is pleasing to Him.

Blessings and Smiles

smileWe have all heard it, many of us could recite it, and I wonder how many could find it in the Bible? Hidden in the book of Numbers among the many instructions, directions and countless reminders of how God’s people failed to listen we run into a short poetic prayer that spells out a blessing that covers the whole nation of Israel.

 24 “‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

I have to admit that when I was growing up and still today as the preacher reads these words as a benediction instead of reverently bowing my head and listening to the words I have my eyes wide open looking up towards the heavens in expectation that I will get a glimpse of that light that is shining down on me. These words to me were an open invitation to experience the blessing of a pure and holy relationship with my Heavenly Father. This blessing spoken by Aaron in his time was to communicate the Lords love and commitment to His people.

This prayer and many others like it is the line of communication that helps us as believers to know the Lord and strengthens our personal relationship with him. Spoken through His appointed people these words encourage and ignite a passion that comes when we truly believe in Him. When I study these words I gain a sense of closeness with my God, He is not standing at a distance or behind a wall, He wants to be right here with me face to face. One bible translation replaces the word shine with smile; can you imagine that smile of our great and mighty God stretching as far as the eye can see? I can and it makes me want to smile. Thank you Father for your goodness to your people.

Prayer & Thanks

sermon_desertAs I read through many of the Old Testament books in the bible I often struggle with the dynamics of the relationship between God and His people. Let me try and explain.

It is hard for me to relate to the life and experience of the Israelite people as they wandered in the desert having to make sacrifices and offerings (burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings) for forgiveness when they had broken their covenant with God. As a believer today I have an open line of communication with God through prayer, through the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross I have privilege of coming before God through Christ to ask for forgiveness. I often wonder how my faith would have been different if I was wandering with the Israelites through the desert.

Reading through the book of Numbers gives us a glimpse into the life and actions of the people and it’s leaders. On behalf of the people Moses talked with God, he prayed for deliverance from afflictions and destruction when they all had sinned and turned their backs on God. In the face of difficulty and opposition we have a leader who stood strong and humbly went before the Lord on their behalf. As leaders today we have the privilege of praying for others. So far, it has been my experience that most people no matter their maturity in faith or understanding of grace and mercy continue to look to their leaders for prayer and direction. As a leader this becomes a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Like Moses we can be leaders who pray for God’s people and in light of the cross we have the opportunity to encourage them to pursue a personal relationship with Him. I am thankful for a loving, gracious and merciful God who sacrificed His Son so that we could have a relationship with Him.

Three Times a Day… Not just for Meals!

christian_prayerMany things changed for Daniel over his lifetime, there were major shifts in power from one King to another, He was taken from his family to serve in the palace, his life was threatened and yet there was one thing that never seemed to change. As we read through the book of Daniel we can not only find Daniel turning to God when he need help, but chapter 6:10 tells us that “three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before”. For Daniel, praying three times a day was a part of who he was.

Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 reveals a passion and purpose that should help us understand how we are to humbly come before our God confessing our sins, asking for forgiveness and giving praise to Him. Daniel “turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes”. Have you ever pleaded with God in pray and petition? We may never have donned sackcloth and covered ourselves with ashes as Daniel did but his example calls us to put aside all the distractions and things of life to be on our knees in front of our Heavenly Father.

Three times a day, most likely morning, noon and evening Daniel prayed to God, praising Him, confessing his sins, seeking wisdom and guidance as he was a leader and example to many. As vocational ministry leaders I believe we are called to be like Daniel, we must be set into a life that is centered around prayer. For many of us prayer is often the result or response to something that has happened, and that is OK. I am sure Daniel did the same thing as he worked through his day as things came up. It is his example and devotion to those personal times of prayer that should inspire us. Daniel spent time in his “upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem”; Matthew 6:6 commands us the same thing “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen”. There is never a time when God is too busy to listen, it is the busyness of life that draws us away from the practice of prayer.