Build that wall!

Today’s passage: Nehemiah 1-2

As you may have heard, there is a certain wealthy and well-connected gentleman who advocates building a wall on the border. He believes it will help to keep undesirables out and sees it as a matter of homeland security. Although not everyone agrees with his position, he is convinced the wall will be a key component toward making the nation great again. He has a plan to get another nation to pay for the construction of the wall, even though it doesn’t seem to benefit them in any way and could even create some problems for that nation. Of course, that man is… Nehemiah.


Back in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar had invaded and wiped out Judah. Seventy years later, those who had returned to the homeland rebuilt the temple. But after another seventy years had passed, the wall around the city was still in ruins. The result was a people group with no national identity who hadn’t taken steps to regroup in 140 years.

Nehemiah finds out the city is still unfortified after all these years and the news devastates him. Even though Nehemiah had evidently never been to Judah, he took it personally that so little had been done to re-establish the land of his. His motivation wasn’t simply the idea that “Make Judah great again!” was a catchy slogan. God gave him a passion to see the wall rebuilt and propel the nation forward. He felt a sense of responsibility to do something about it.

Nehemiah was a well-connected guy. As the head of security in Persia, one of his jobs was testing the king’s food and drink for poison by taste-testing it. One particular day, Nehemiah doesn’t look so well. If you were the king and the guy who checked your wine for poison didn’t look so hot, you’d notice and start asking some questions. That’s exactly what the king does.

Nehemiah prays to God and asks the king for permission to go and rebuild this foreign city. This is a huge risk, since the king could interpret his request as disloyalty or as a threat to his own kingdom. Nehemiah could have come up with any number of excuses why he shouldn’t get involved, especially considering what he didn’t have. What he didn’t possess was any wall-building training on his transcript and no city planning experience on his resume. What he did have was a good job in the Babylonian White House, which he’d be walking away from. The perils to what Nehemiah wanted to do were obvious and were big enough to make the idea seem foolish to most people. But without his boldness, the story of the rebuilding of the wall simply doesn’t happen. The king not only gave him permission, but gave him a security detail and all the resources he’d need.

Are you living courageously? Living courageously means instead of talking ourselves out of getting involved, we talk ourselves into making a difference. It means being dependent on God and willing to take a faith-based risk. It means being counter-cultural and engaging in situations and topics that others are shying away from.

I want to live courageously. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and wonder what MIGHT have happened if I’d only had enough FAITH. Instead, I want to live and lead in a way that would rather take a risk WITH God, than stay STUCK in my comfort zone. What about you?

What wall is God calling you to build? What situation have you been avoiding or postponing because it just seems too big to tackle? What injustice are you especially passionate about? Living courageously means moving forward in faith. Even though you may not be able to rebuild the entire wall in a day, you can prayerfully take the first step just like Nehemiah. Pray about your situation and then trust God as you move forward in faith.


My drive from Tennessee to Michigan

Today’s chapter: Matthew 8

This past weekend I relocated from Tennessee to Michigan. The back of my truck was filled with book boxes, which needed to be taken directly to a storage unit because they had to stay dry and I had nowhere else to put them. So I HAD to get to the storage facility before the office closed at 5:00 on Saturday.

Michigan Pix

Fortunately, my wife reminded me on Friday that I’d be losing an hour during the drive because of the different time zone. I set out early enough Saturday morning to have a 90-minute cushion. I thought that would provide me with plenty of margin. But after sitting in traffic due to various accidents and encountering an unexpected road closure, I used up ALL my margin in the first half of the trip.

At 2:00 PM with 3 hours left on my personal countdown clock, my GPS told me I was still 3 hours away. I may or may not have begun exceeding the speed limit at that point.

About an hour later, I noticed my fuel gauge was getting close to ‘E’. I knew I didn’t have time to stop for gas, so I checked the onboard display and it said I could make it 150 miles before running out. I then checked my GPS to see how much farther I had to go: exactly 150 miles. Now I’m praying I don’t run out of gas AND that I don’t get stopped for speeding.

About this time, my bladder woke up and said hello. I said (out loud), “Are you kidding me right now?” My bladder reminded me that I was the one who decided to chug an entire bottle of diet green tea. I quit listening, started eating salty snacks, and decided my bladder would be prayer request #3.

I’m moving to Michigan because I’m convinced God has led me here. But now everything seems to be going wrong as I make the trip. I was a little confused. Was all this trouble some kind of sign? Could it be I had misunderstood God’s will? Why aren’t things going better?

Maybe you’ve been there before. Have you ever tried to follow God in some way and taken a step of faith, but then been bewildered when things didn’t go well? Ever tried to do the right thing and been convinced things it would lead to better times, but then they actually got worse? We expect following Jesus to lead to clear skies, so it’s puzzling when our steps of faith lead us into a storm.

In Mathew 8:23-27, the disciples find themselves on a boat in the middle of a major storm. It’s interesting to note that following Jesus had led them to this point. In fact, it was Jesus’s idea to get in the boat and go to the other side of the lake. So the disciples were in these circumstances specifically because they followed His direction. Even though things look bleak, they could know without a doubt that they were in this storm because it was exactly where He wanted them to be.

Jesus brought them to this crucial moment because He wants them to learn something they can’t learn any other way. He wants them to see and know He is Lord, even when things aren’t going well. He wants them to know they can trust Him with their fears and uncertainty. He wants their faith to be based not on their circumstances, but on His love for them.

When the going gets tough, your faith will be proven one way or the other. You’ll either become bitter or better. You’ll either take a step toward who God wants you to be or your heart will become a little bit harder.

What is happening around you is significant, but it isn’t as important to God as what is happening inside you. Your circumstances are temporary, but your character will last.

So if you’re going through a trial or tough situation, don’t assume it must be because you’re on the wrong path. Perhaps you’re exactly where He wants you to be. Maybe He wants to teach you what you can’t learn any other way.

Perhaps He will speak to your storm and bring peace to your marriage, resolution to your conflict, provision for your needs, or healing for your hurts. Sometimes He moves in miraculous ways and calms the storm. But even if He doesn’t, He is always willing to do the equally incredible miracle of calming you in the storm. So keep your focus on the One who promised to always walk beside you.

What is a concern you have that hasn’t been going the way you want lately? Talk with God about it. Boldly ask Him to miraculously bring the calm and peace that only He can. At the same time, allow Him to bring calm and peace to your soul. Allow Him to teach and shape you during this season of your life. Regardless of the path that led you into the storm, know He is with you even when you can’t see Him. Keep your focus on Him.


The truth is out there

Today’s chapter: Matthew 2

Even though I’m usually a fan of sci-fi stuff, I never really got into The X-Files TV show. It recently came back for an encore season and the reviews have been mixed. I saw enough episodes in the 90’s, though, to know the main plot. It was really a pretty cool concept.

A general view of the atmosphere during the FOX's 'The X-Files'

Agent Mulder was a big believer in the paranormal and was always convinced there was a massive government conspiracy concealing the truth about aliens. Agent Scully was the skeptic who worked alongside him and kept him in check. What united the two was they both were searching for the truth. The show’s catchphrase was: “The truth is out there.”

People have been going on quests to find the truth for a long time. Over 2,000 years ago, the Magi commenced their own search. Magi were wise men who were a cross between astronomers and scientists and philosophers. Since they came from the Mideast, their trip to find Jesus would have likely taken 5-6 months.

They had a serious commitment to finding the truth. It seems today we’re often interested in the truth, but don’t want to have to spend a lot of time on it. If we can’t digest it in a sound byte or read a summary of it in a 144-character tweet, it hardly seems worth the effort. But truth is important and is worth the trouble to discover it.

I can remember how shortly after I finished college, I began to have doubts about my faith. I wasn’t sure whether a Christian worldview really made sense, primarily because I wasn’t sure I could rely on the biblical account of creation. To be completely honest, I wanted to hold on to my faith, but I was afraid that if I began to seriously search for the truth, the answers I would find might contradict what I had always believed. I knew the truth was out there, but I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to know it.

Finally, I decided to begin my own search. I reasoned that if God was real, then surely He could handle my questions. I wanted to know the God who actually was, as opposed to the God I wished for. As I dug in and began to study, I came across Chuck Swindoll’s book, How Now Shall We Live? Buried within that book were the answers I was looking for.

Because I was willing to confront my doubts, I now have solid answers to those questions that once tripped me up. Whenever my experiences in life try to shake my faith, I go back to what I know to be true beyond any doubt about creation. The very issue that once cause me to have doubts is now a foundation for my faith. It’s a result of taking the time to search for the truth.

Jesus was born just a few miles away from the temple, which was considered the religious center of the world. Yet none of the religious elite went to him because they weren’t searching for him. The truth can be found by anyone who is willing to search for it, and the truth is what sets us free.

Are you actively searching for truth or passively going along with whatever comes your way? Finding the truths about God takes work and is an ongoing process. If you’re willing to confront your doubts, you’ll find the answers you’re looking for. Be honest with yourself about your doubts and take the time to research your questions. The truth is out there. And the end result is that you get to know the God who really is, as opposed to a God you only wished for.


When daddy is hungry, it’s time to eat

Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 5

Most evenings when dinnertime rolls around at my house, our boys are hanging out downstairs. I go to the top of the stairs and call out, “Alright pals, come to the table! It’s time for dinner!”

Man At Dinner Table Isolated Over White

Most days they bounce upstairs right away. But occasionally a couple of minutes pass and there is still no sign of them. I walk back to the top of the stairs: “Guys, it’s time for dinner! Let’s go!”

In all their teenage brilliance, my kids will respond, “We heard you the first time!” Grrr… If you heard me, then why aren’t you already at the table? Obey! And when I’m hungry, obey quickly!

Immediately after David is anointed as king, the Philistines began to mount attacks against Israel. They want to take out the new ruler before he amasses much strength. When David hears about the imminent raid, he doesn’t give an order to assemble the troops or calculate whether he has more soldiers than the enemy or head back to the caves to hide. His first response to trouble is to inquire of the Lord.

David knows he can trust God completely. The Lord had promised that some day he would become king. Against all odds, it has now happened exactly as God said it would.

Because God is good and always keeps His promises, we know we can trust Him. But even though we trust Him, following Him still isn’t always easy. God tells David he is going to have to go and fight, which means he will have to take action. When David again turns to God before responding to a second attack from the Philistines, the Lord tells him to pursue a battle strategy that would have seemed counter-intuitive. For David to simply believe God wasn’t enough. Success would only come when He acted on what God said and obeyed. That’s faith.

Contrary to popular belief, faith isn’t the belief that God will do whatever you want Him to do. Faith is believing God will do what is right (as He defines right) AND acting on that belief. As the old hymn says, we have to trust AND obey. It’s not one or the other: it’s both. Our actions always show what we really believe.

We can say we trust God all day long, but if we’re not doing what He says, then we really don’t trust Him at all. If you’re saying you want someone to spend the rest of your life with, but you don’t obey Him in the way you do relationships, then your actions are revealing you really don’t trust Him. If you’re saying you want a miracle in your finances, but you’re not obeying what He said by tithing, then you’re trusting your stash more than you’re trusting Him. If you say you want a better relationship with your spouse or kids, but you don’t obey Him by spending time with them, then your disobedient actions reveal a lack of faith.

Trust AND obey. There’s no other way. That’s what faith is all about.

What is an area of your life you’ve been wanting to see change? Consider whether there is some way you can show your trust in God by taking a step of faith in that area. If you can’t think of a step of obedience you could take, then tell a spiritually mature friend about your situation and invite them to suggest how you could be more obedient to God in the situation.

What is your next step of obedience?


What to do when life throws you a curveball

Today’s chapter: 1 Samuel 19

Once when we lived in in South Carolina, Erin and I were driving to Nashville to spend the holidays with our parents. When I say “we” were driving home, what I really mean is I was driving home while Erin settled down for a long winter’s nap.

Image by Google Maps

Image by Google Maps

Somehow as I came to the fork in the road in the picture above, I went the wrong direction. I’m pretty sure a Journey song was on the radio and I was too busy singing to be bothered with details like traffic signs.

By the time I realized my mistake, I’d gone 45 minutes in the wrong direction. I knew if I continued on to Chattanooga, another road there would take me from there to Nashville.

I started praying Erin would sleep for the entire trip and never know about my detour. But within minutes, she woke up. Almost immediately, she realized we were on the wrong road and asked what was going on.

I said, “Would you believe I wanted to take the scenic route?” She didn’t and the jig was up.

She still reminds me to “stay right” every time we travel that way. And I still sing Journey songs at the top of my lungs when she’s asleep in the car. But now I keep my eyes open on the high notes.

In 1 Samuel 19, David begins his life on the run from Saul. Although he had seemed to live a charmed life up to this point, suddenly God seems to be taking him on the scenic route. Rather than living in royal splendor, he is now hiding out in caves and wondering when God will make him king as Samuel had prophesied.

Sometimes it seems like God takes us on the scenic route because that’s where we learn some valuable lessons. If our circumstances were great all the time, we’d never learn how to depend on Him. Even as David ran for his life, he trusted God. God had protected him from lions and bears, so he knew he could depend on God to protect him from this man.

Maybe you feel like your life has taken a detour and things aren’t going the way you had hoped. What do you do in the meantime? Be faithful.

Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t give up.

Remember how God has sustained and provided for you in the past. If this is a new experience for you in your walk with Christ, then recognize the potential for God to use this chapter of your story to grow your faith. Enjoy the view as you travel the scenic route and allow Him to prepare you for the next part of your story.

Spend some time in prayer and talk with God about some of the times you’ve seen Him at work in your life. Express your gratitude and consider how those experiences shaped you and your faith. Commit to continue trusting God and allowing Him to continue to prepare you for whatever He has in store for you.