Persistence Persists

Faith’s Heartbeat

Scripture Resource Passage: Nehemiah 7

            I thought persistence during a pandemic was going to be the source of disruption and the leading news story for 2020. Tonight (as I shape these sentences) riots continue in the streets of North America. Anger flows like a swollen river across cities as supposedly aggrieved citizens burn, loot and destroy. Tear gas floats, bullets ricochet off mortar and steel, injuries abound and the National Guard stands ready to engage. Justice does not roll down like waters. Racial injustice degrades our republic. Neither does righteousness appear like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

            The unprepared city is a dangerous place. The unprepared soul is food for the adversary, cursed be his name (1Peter 5:8). There will always be cities and souls in need of work and repair by disciples of integrity (Nehemiah 7:2).

            If you are traveling through a deep look into Nehemiah’s day, you are traipsing through his profound struggles. The times are nearly riotous with unprovoked attacks and civil unrest as citizens seek a common aim—rebuilding those walls!            

            It was not a quick fix. No overnight wonder occurred. No one delivered power tools to construction sites. The message from Nehemiah can be found in this theme: persistence is the heartbeat of faith.            

            Protests against racism are always appropriate. Likewise, the violence of thieves is despicable. Regardless of your point of view, for disciples of Jesus there is an added insight—the lesson of persistence in faith

            Until the great promise (Revelation 21) occurs, times like those experienced by Nehemiah and by our own generation will persist. Citizens will riot. Injustices will occur. Innocent people will suffer. Souls will endure attacks from a violent enemy. There will be no golden era of peace until the trumpet sounds at the return of the King. 

            Until the day and hour, until the voice of the archangel sounds from Heaven’s court God’s people persist in being disciples like rebuilders on the walls of Jerusalem. We live in this land, doing all the good we can for as many as we can, for as long as we can. Until that moment of the King’s return…persist.

Life Applications

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  • What keeps you going when the going gets tough and the climb becomes difficult?
  • Resources for pondering: Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Discipleship in an Instant Society, InterVarsity PressAdditionally, from an award winning psychologist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, and is a MacArthur Fellow, Angela Duckworth’s New York Times bestseller Grit; the Passion and Power of Perseverance, Simon and Schuster. Each might be of assistance as you formulate your own strategy to be strong to the end and finally, finish with a flourish.
  • See you at the finish!

Lasting Instructions

Scripture Resource Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5–this week’s challenging read and reflection. I trust you don’t find either as dry as dirt!

Ibrahim said, “I had a teacher whose favorite summary was: ‘Finally, therefore and in conclusion….’ it drove me crazy but it helped me pay attention because I knew his instructions were going to be on the test!”

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                  Do you recognize a similar pattern in today’s passage? Paul’s first letter to disciples in Thessalonica includes numerous incisive instructions. The model of finally-therefore-and-in-conclusion is also present: the instructions are testing-time for disciples. 

                  At least nineteen specific instructions occur in 1 Thessalonians 5. Discipleship-testing may occur over any or all. You should be able to locate them with ease—I suggest you print out today’s passage to aid your study. 

                  Then, if you are up to a challenge, consider working on sobriety (mentioned twice), a challenge given in the context of Christ’s return—which is more than an instruction to avoid substance abuse.  Seeking sustainable sobriety means you will systematically process God’s desire for yourself and others—a significant spiritually tuned state-of-mind.

                  Disciples particularly seek to avoid substance abuse because it has been linked to distorted thinking about the return of Christ. Our brother Paul wrote: there is no value in speculating about the day of the Lord’s return for it will come “like a thief in the night”—at an unknown hour; but, but be assured the time is coming (I Thessalonians 5:2).  

                  The Apostle writes with authority for these words are a rephrasing of Jesus’ statement: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). Drawing from the truth presented by Jesus, Paul clearly had that one right—we are to avoid needless speculation (2 Timothy 2:14-18). A second instruction follows the first.

                  While sober, disciple’s live life as “children of the light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5) which draws from many images of God as Creator of light (Genesis 1). Sobriety continues to be a benefit as we participate in “putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).

                  Ibrahim, and each disciple can recall Jesus directing each of us when he appears to be saying, “Finally, therefore and in conclusion ‘You are the light of the world…’” (Matthew 5:14-16). 

Life Applications

  1. Do you see the test? “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to Your Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
  2. Consider including a song for your day’s spiritual emphasis. You could choose the old chorus—Thy Word or the recent work of Chris Tomlin, Jason Ingram and Louie Giglio,  “Speak What is True.” Each of these are available through numerous online platforms.
  3. Bible study helps: Evelyn Underhill, Light of Christ, 1945 and Jaroslav Pelikan, The Light of the World, 1962—available through various online sellers. Additionally, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias can be helpful.  Consider: H.J.S. Blaney, “Light,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume Three, General editor Merrill C. Tenny, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2ndprinting 1977. Though an older source the five volumes of this set continue to provide reliable assistance.

Mercy While Waiting Pregnantly

Scripture Resource Passage: Romans 8:22

Describing the pain of a woman near-term in pregnancy, with active-labor occurring, Scripture sets out the message of anticipation and struggle. Disciples have long pondered the signs of the Day when Christ returns—Scripture provides a hint.

            Anticipating the hours prior to the Return: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

            “My feet are tired. I wish I’d worn different shoes,” Jose’ sighed as he spoke. “Walking on the hard floor is wearing me out.” 

            Glancing at the digital screen he rubbed his face with weary effort. The monitors were working, doing their job, reporting on Martina’s and the unborn-baby-girl’s vitals. The colors on the screen were vivid. 

            Jose’ was smiling because after twenty hours in the room he had at least a little understanding of the numbers and colors. “Excellent care from the nurses—the monitors are saying ‘She’s okay—oops, they’re okay!’” he spoke to himself and smiled again. After a long night maybe the time had finally come and Mercy would be safely in their arms.

            Martina’s heart monitor and the baby’s monitor reported everything was working out as it should. The numbers had been explained by the bed-side nurses and Martina’s doctor. Dr. Belinda’s calm voice was another part of the safe feeling. The nurses had been skilled-caring-pilgrims during the overnight hours. Still, it had been a long night (Romans 8:25).

            Labor was extended—not unusual with a first baby. Anxiety walked around the room showing little regard for the wife and husband. 

            “All is good,” was Dr. Belinda’s favorite phrase. The first-time soon-to-be parents liked those words. The words they despised: “Just be patient, we’re almost there.” 

            Of all the life-lessons the phrase, “Just be patient,” are among the most difficult for all human beings (Romans 8:26-27).

            The same is true for disciples of Jesus. We are like first-time parents waiting for the return of Jesus—we are weary with anticipation. Our brother Paul portrays the waiting: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). 

            Labor-time waiting is complex—hormones, heart rates and humor mix together in the complex ritual of delivery. Anyone who thinks labor is uncomplicated has zero experience.

            Labor-time is personal—intimacies shared with very few people occur before delivery. Anyone who thinks labor is not in-your-face personal, probably sleeps through a fire-works blast.

Life Application Questions

What part of waiting for God brings your greatest challenge? 

Given creation’s apparent spiritual pregnancy, what do today’s heart monitors tell you about the time of the Creation’s new birth?

What is your sense of spiritual assurance as “all creation groans?”

Mercy While Waiting Pregnantly

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Coming Friday, October 23, 2020 a stand alone Reflection in the Thoughtful Study format.

Thank you for continuing to share the postings. You are always welcome to make copies and use them for small groups and classroom gatherings. Blessings to each of you.

Political Faith

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Scripture Resource Passage: Hebrews 12:14-29. I highly recommend you read the Scripture passage before reading the blog–just a thought.

Earth’s hope resides in the truth Who is Messiah. Governments come and their governance passes away. Civilizations are built up, and then except for a few structures and possibly a potsherd or two, they almost disappear—the stones crumble. Earth’s hope resides in the truth Who is Messiah.

It is election season in North America. Our world would benefit, and the Kingdom possibly be hastened, with a generation of politically skillful citizens bringing Christ’s ethics to the arena. A prayer for such disciples, highlights today’s citizenship reminder in this spiritual reflection (Matthew 9:38).

Attack ads and ones which simply encourage you to “Vote for me,” appear on street corners and artificial-intelligence-informed media platforms. They (the unnamed demographers) know who you are and have identified your interests. Check out a documentary, The Social Dilemma now featured on Netflix, if you choose not to believe what is known about you.

Extremists and legitimate candidates all vie for our attention. To whom shall we listen? “Me, me, me!” Whoever shouts longest and loudly wins? Every failed system will melt into the ground. Check out Psalm 2 for a solid insight.

Given the failings of each form of human government (and to date each form has failed) disciples of Jesus rest upon this stupendous promise: “…we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” (Hebrews 12:28). Today, the distinction of citizenship in the public arena, living in a most secular city, invites your response. 

Morality, holiness and divine wisdom are called for in each political level of public service. Your challenge is presenting God’s wisdom. Imagine a world with 10,000 champions for God’s holiness, justice and mercy in our leading-political offices—we can only imagine. 

Many disciples have tried to be politically influential. From the fabled utopia like societies, to the individuals who abandoned the ship of state and fled to the desert, many capsized their faith in the Slough of Despond. Today, who will enter the political arena, not as a moral majority, but as disciples of Christ Jesus? Who are you and will you answer God’s invitation? We need you.

While disciples live today in the Kingdom of God, there is also a fulfillment of the Kingdom yet to come. O Lord, hasten the day—until that hour, conscientious committed Christ-followers are desperately needed in the political arena. There are vacancies at all levels, waiting for disciples to rally in response.

Life Applications

  1. As a testimony I acknowledge that both my father and father-in-law served in the military during World War II. In honor of their service to our country our family always votes. Do you have a personal reason for voting and does this reason help you during this election cycle?
  2. Do you as a disciple of Jesus believe there is a godly purpose for government?

Not Covid!

Hmmmm…not Covid but the yearly appearing and much too common cold virus has laid me out with a buzzed head and clogged sinus passages. No fever. No cough. No Covid.

But yuck!

Thus, no new blog post this week so please spend a few moments investigating the Blog Feed for a read and encouragement.

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I hope to be back next week with a new slice of faith’s challenge to share.

Grace and peace to each of you; and thanks again for distributing info about the site to your contacts.

Slowly Fading

Ignoring Heaven’s Voice

Scripture Resource Passage: Nehemiah 13:1-22   The post works best when you read the passage first–just a suggestion.

She felt prompted to ask, “Was it a slow fade?” Another skeptically asked, “The Word of God, it disappeared overnight?” 

Apparently the written Word’s influence disappeared during bleak and silent nights when Heaven’s voice was ignored

Without hearing God’s written Word, without Scripture’s regular influence God’s people wander like blind men enduring a wilderness night. No guidance directs them, save what they personally create and what the Satan whispers. The impact is felt by individuals, families and nations.

When leaders (especially leaders) are not hearing and listening with understanding, everyone suffers—a spiritual pandemic. Faith, according to many illustrations in Scripture, always involves social relationships, not solitary Lone Rangers. Nehemiah’s day was not an exception. Hint: neither is ours. 

Nehemiah’s book documents a national-level tragedy as he reports what happens when the Word of God is not heard. Chart the sad circumstances in today’s Scripture Resource Passage and compare it to our own (Nehemiah 13:1-22).

Whether as a slow fade or rapidly chosen disobedience Nehemiah’s people walked away from God. Nehemiah-the-strong walks directly into the midst of those ignoring God’s instructions (Nehemiah 13:1-3). He corrects impudent sinful behaviors as direct disregards of God (Nehemiah 13:4-5).  Nehemiah demands that illicit practices immediately cease; and to ensure compliance puts new leaders into place (Nehemiah 13:13). 

Under what circumstances had the people gone astray? We wisely ask, “How had such things happened?” These defiant acts occurred because, the Word of God was absent. Jesus will later remind his disciples: “Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 as Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3).  Disciple’s must maintain the life-giving connection with God’s written Word.

Nehemiah presses forward asserting: “your behavior and your attitudes are not right. We must set the house of God into proper order [a Simkins’ paraphrase]” (Nehemiah 13:15-19).

Life Application

1.     In what ways do you arrange your life in order to hear God speak through Scripture?

2.     In your experience are the words of Mark Hall’s song from Casting Crowns a true vision of a slow fade in a person’s spiritual life?

It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away

It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray

Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid

When you give yourself always

People never crumble in a day

It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade.

Mark Hall, It’s a Slow Fade, by Casting Crowns from the album The Altar and the Crown, 2007.

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So Many Names; A Gracious Invitation

Resource Scripture Passage: Nehemiah 12, in the current Thoughtful Study Series

Reading some portions of the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament—may leave you wondering, “Why are so many historical details considered sufficiently important to be included as holy writ?” This is a great question. Thanks for asking. 

The expansive range of Scripture’s teaching moves from the creation account to redemption’s climactic scenes—yes, from Genesis to Revelation (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There are thousands of details! I sure hope there’s not a test.

Additionally, throughout Scripture’s historical record the Messiah is central. Though some might disagree (which is their privilege) disciples believe Jesus remains the premier personality of Scripture. (There is a see-further reference in the Life Application section of this post.)

The three indicators noted below help me make sense of times when Scripture lists details like names (but also more than names) which do not sound like anyone in my neighborhood (North America). Thankfully, God is not limited by geography to the North American continent.

Indicator One—Nehemiah 12 draws attention to God’s people as individuals. These names, though unknown and possibly challenging to pronounce, are the names of real people. You may recall (or check it out again) the blog posting for Nehemiah 3 of August 18, 2020 and the article by Jen Wilkin mentioned there. It is a solid reference. 

Indicator Two—notice the presence of the priests in Nehemiah 12. Scripture does not here expound on their role. Checking a Bible encyclopedia will help you in your understanding, if this is new awareness for you. Nehemiah’s book has not primarily been about rebuilding a city but about responding to God’s gracious invitation of returning to life as His people. This makes Nehemiah’s account sound like Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son—Luke 15:11-32.

Indicator Three—there is at least one group within the list of names of Nehemiah 12 who held another significant task—these individuals were to lead the songs of thanksgiving. Nehemiah 12 affirms:  “…the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, who with his brothers was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving” (Nehemiah 12:8).  

Life Application  

  • Given the three indicators mentioned above, what do you make of Nehemiah 12?
  • The see-further reference: The New Testament letter of Hebrews, chapter 4, verses 14-16 identifies Jesus as “…our great high priest.” Do you find a connection from the Old Testament to the role taken by Jesus?

Tough Teaching for Serious Disciples; Marriage Controversy from the Long Ago

Scripture Resource Passage: Ezra 10

Does God know best? Truly, we ask, “Does God know best?” Reading today’s Scripture Resource Passage will not make you happy. The passage screams with discrimination and discrimination toward women.

Highlight the following: If you’re not in a good soul-place, it might be best to read a more gentle passage, something like Psalm 23. Ezra 10 is neither simple, soul-satisfying or uncomplicated. Consider yourself warned, if you choose to read it. I choose not to walk idly by this passage, though it makes me uncomfortable. Frankly, for me, it is a very tough passage. Welcome to the challenge.

When a child does not listen or fails to pay attention it may be irresponsible behavior. Defiant behavior happens when you are looked in the face and a forbidden occurs. 

Imagine someone saying, “Some of the things God says are really tough; and God probably does not really mean it like it sounds.”  “After all,” the same someone proclaims, “Following God should be uncomplicated and really just a matter of choose-‘n-pick.” Meaning: we choose and then pick which of God’s instructions we obey.

Many individuals and nations have tried this approach—selecting the choose-n-pick strategy to God’s specific instructions. Does it surprise you to know that every group, in addition to some of God’s so-called leaders, have advocated choose-‘n-pick? 

An ominous Scripture reading occurs in Ezra 9 and 10. The episode (from the days of Nehemiah thus the emphasis at this point because of the Thoughtful Study Series) is a shaming report of times during which the people followed God’s instructions when they felt like it. Here is the context and it is a tough teaching. To God’s people, the Hebrew people of that time, marriage with anyone outside of the family of Abraham, was forbidden. 

Specifically, from the earliest days (Genesis 24) there is a strong bias for marriage to occur only within the family of faith. Many years later, during the time of the Exodus, Scripture documents a straightforward assertion of that which will happen should the people of Israel (moving into the Land of Promise), violate God’s instruction (Exodus 34). 

Other passages (Deuteronomy 7) are an insistent communication regarding marriage. Again, no ole choose-n-pick here. As you read the Bible accounts of Moses, Esau, Joseph (yes, that Joseph), David and Solomon, God’s clearly worded instructions are ignored. The instructions were not lost in complicated language—there was defiant disobedience. Deuteronomy records the instruction: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons….” 

Possibly one hundred years after those words were given Joshua reiterated the same instruction from God (Joshua 23). Not a ‘Follow this instruction if you agree;’ or, ‘Think about this, you might find it helpful.’ Simply ‘Don’t marry outside the faith.’

The words are easy. Read them in contemporary English or stretch back into the original language of the Hebrew Bible, the words are straightforward. Choose-‘n-pick is not an option. Now you know the context of why following God in the times of Nehemiah was intensely and extensively complicated. 

Life Application

  • Disciples ought to ask themselves: Are there times I play choose-‘n-pick with God?