Temper, Temper


In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah – Psalms 4:4 (NIV)

There can be a lot to be angry about in this life – injustice, greed, hate, bigotry and other symptoms of that hideous disease called sin.  There really isn’t a problem with the anger itself, but where it comes from and where it leads us.  This is what the psalmist is warning us about.  He is not asking us to guard against anger, but to have the right relationship with it.

I have a temper.  If I had been irradiated with gamma rays instead of Dr. Bruce Banner, the Hulk would have been around a lot more often.  That being said, God is patient and works on this with me with gentleness and persistence.  He has worked on this most effectively through my children.

It isn’t so much that they give me all sorts of opportunities to get mad; they are wonderful girls and have blessed me more than I can say.  But they do have their fallen moments.  My love for them has created a new lens for me to see my anger through.  When I feel that heat rising from my neck to my ears and my jaw clenches, I have to ask, “Is this really worth getting angry about?”

God knows exactly what to get angry about.  His anger is always righteous and always deserved.  I cannot say the same for mine.  I have questionable motives.  I have pet peeves which reveal more about my flaws than the object of my peeving.  I would like my anger to reflect God’s anger, but unfortunately anger tends to be a door to stupid and not saintliness.  So comes the warning from the psalmist.  We have to be leery of our anger.

I have heard plenty of teachings on anger and too often they will look at God’s anger, or Jesus casting the moneychangers out of the temple and use that as a rationalization for angry Christianity.  I even bought that for a while, but it doesn’t getting you anywhere good.  This passage warns us to be wary when anger begins to rise in us and I think that is excellent advice.  I don’t want to get angry at my children just because God got angry with His.  I want my anger to be like God’s anger so that means I have to question it every time.

I know that I will get angry at my children again in the future (probably sooner than I’d like), and I want to be ready for that moment.  I want to make sure that my anger does not lead me hurtful words, or misplaced blame.  My children deserve the same patience, grace and compassion that God has given me, so anger has to be watched for and controlled.  My kids don’t need the Hulk, they need Jesus, and that means anger has to get out of His way in my life.

Lord, help me to control and understand my anger.  Help me to know where my anger is coming from and how to handle it when it rises.  Give me a peaceable spirit, especially in disciplining my children. Amen.

The Challenge of Pain


At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. – Job 1:20-22 (NIV)

Loss is a part of life, but for some the loss is greater.  I have never had a Job moment.  The losses I have experienced were painful, but the extreme nature of Job’s misery has never visited my doorstep.  However, I cannot live with the misguided notion that misery will never darken my door.  There may come a time where grief could overwhelm me and pain makes its home in my heart.   I hope not, but that day may come.  Am I prepared for loss? Am I ready for the pain?

The true but uncomfortable answer to both those reasons is no.  It is not as if I can manufacture loss and pain to practice, nor do I want to.  I can read of other’s experiences, but they are different personalities with different strengths and weaknesses.  What is to come is unknown to everyone except God and therein lays the hope for us.  God knows.  He knows what we will face, what we will need to face it and what will bring us through.

This is somewhat of a relief and a challenge.  It is a relief because we do not have to spend our lives preparing for our best guess of what might happen.  We do not have to live with the anxiety that question marks induce.  As a father, this is a great comfort, but also a challenge.  We must work diligently to be in step with God.  We have the advantage of the Holy Spirit that was not available to Job.  Through Him we have everything we need, but that does not mean we utilize all that has been given.  The challenge is to pursue a walk with God that leads through every step of every circumstance as He desires.

I don’t know if I will ever have a Job-like experience, but I am beginning to not worry about it.  I am more and more becoming concerned with God shaping me into the husband and father I need to be to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Lord, help me to be the man You desire me to be and the husband and father I need to be for my family.  Help me refuse the anxiety and worry that so easily plague my mind and heart.  Give me a faith that is strengthened every day by Your presence in my life.  Amen.

Following Through


So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. – Nehemiah 6:15 (NIV)

It is good advice in baseball, football and basketball.  It is key in a golf swing and sought after in valued employees.  Follow through; the discipline of finishing what is started.  Nehemiah had follow through.  Not once did he see any challenge as an excuse to end his run at completing the task God had set before him.  In fact, it seems Nehemiah saw them as opportunities for God to reveal Himself to His people and those who would stand in their way.

We seem to have lost our sense of follow through in our post-modern sentiments.  Shows are cancelled part way through their season, people quit jobs because they don’t “like” their boss and we change our opinions more often than our clothes.  We hop churches, jump fences and switch allegiances.  Our steady drift toward the importance of the individual has eroded the emotional strength and mental maturity required to make sacrifices and hard choices.  We don’t follow through.  I don’t follow through.

I want my children to finish what they start and I want them to finish well, so it is incumbent on me to stick with those things I have committed to with tenacity and toughness.  I need to develop the disciplines and determination Nehemiah brought to bear on his work.  I need to know what it is I am about and be about it without hesitation.  Prayer, time in the Word and time in community will need to be where I live each day with eyes and ears ready to see and hear what the Lord has set before me.  I will need to develop a heart and mind intent on following through.

What is it the stops us from see the finish line?  Why do we find ourselves making excuses instead of making plans?  I will start with the mirror and say that it is easier to stay where I am comfortable.  Thank God that He does not leave us alone in our comfort.  He chastises us to pursue something more – the abundant life – by speaking conviction and encouragement into our hearts.  He brings others into our lives to spur us on.  He points us to the story of Nehemiah and shows us the value of follow through.  God brings everything we need each day to finish well, but He has left it to us to make choices that get us there or not.  I want to get to the finish line at the end of each day.

Lord, help me to follow through in life.  Help follow through in work, in play, in relationships and in pursuing You every day.  May I finish well in everything I do each day.  Give me the discipline and desire to pursue the finish line with passion, integrity and hope. Amen.

How to Build Community


The third chapter of Nehemiah has the phrase “next to” twenty-one times.  This chapter describes in detail the families and locations that they were responsible for in rebuilding the wall.  That is a powerful phrase when you are in a difficult situation: next to.  It is a source of courage and solace to know that you have help at your side in the face of adversity and struggle.  It is a blessing to be next to others as they face the struggles of rebuilding what has been broken.

Families should be about that phrase.  They should be next to each other in facing this life.  They should be next to each other in overcoming obstacles and facing challenges.  They should be next to each other when the world is against them.  The strength and solidity of community begins at home.  If we learn to be next to one another in our families, it prepares and equips us to be next to our extended family in the church.

Our children need be the kind of people who stand next to others, who face challenges with others.  They can learn so much from seeing the space next to others as a place of privilege and blessing instead a place of burden duty.  For Nehemiah it wasn’t just about rebuilding the wall, it was about rebuilding his people, God’s people.  He wanted those community ties to be reconnected and tied even tighter.  Every day they worked on the wall, the families of Israel were reminded that they could not do it alone.

We should not be in this alone.  We need to have others come and stand next to us when the walls are crumbling and the enemy is threatening to attack.  Let’s be families that are next to others in the life of God’s people.

Lord, help me to be a man that is next to my wife and children.  Help me lead my children into an understanding of the privilege and blessing of living our lives next to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Amen.

Cup-bearer to the King


In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before,  so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah?  And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.  So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. – Nehemiah 2:1-9

Our God is the God of perfect timing.  He places where we need to be, when we need to be, around the people we need to be around.  He doesn’t miss anything or make mistakes in this regard.  However, we can and do miss these opportunities.  Our focus is on something else, or we move the other direction out of fear, but we miss the appointment He has set for us.  Nehemiah made his appointment.

Cupbearer to the king was a trusted position in the court.  He was responsible for protecting the king from poisoning and had unparalleled access to the king and his family.  Very often cupbearers were chosen for their attractive qualities, both physical and mental.  In other words, Nehemiah had a lot going for him.  His position and the manner in which he filled it gained him the concern of a very powerful king.  And yet, by Nehemiah’s own words was “very much afraid.”  It was Nehemiah’s willingness to overcome fear that allowed him to say the right thing at the right time to the right person.  God had moved things in such a way to place Nehemiah in that circumstance and Nehemiah completed the equation.

Parenting requires us to not only pay attention to the appointments God has for us, but the appointments He sets for our children.  We need to have open eyes and attentive ears to take in all that God is putting out there for us to see and hear.  We need to be in tune with Him so He can use us as instruments of His will and work in our children’s lives.  We will need to overcome our fears to keep our eyes on Jesus and not the potential risks of raising children.  And God will meet us every step of the way.

Lord, help me have the courage of Nehemiah to be in the right place at the right time with the right heart for my children.  Give me eyes to see and ears to hear when You are moving in the lives of my children.  Let me be an instrument in Your hands to draw them toward You. Amen.

A Good Confession


“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.  From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.” – Ezra 9: 6-7

Ezra is heartbroken in this passage.  His return to Jerusalem, the land of his forefathers, becomes a tragedy instead of a victory.  After all the time the people spent rebuilding the city God had delivered them to, they had fallen short in obeying His commands.  It is this tension between being God’s people and acting as God’s people that has Ezra tied up in knots.  He clearly sees that there are consequences to disobeying God, and is upset that his current generation is moving in that direction.  His confession speaks volumes about how we face sin in ourselves and in those around us.

First, Ezra includes himself in the confession even though he had not participated in the actual disobedience in question.  He sees himself as part of the problem, because it happened on his watch.  Parents have the same burden to carry with their children.  When we challenge our children over their behavior, part of our process needs to be a sense of ownership because we are responsible for them.  Ezra doesn’t look for ways to excuse the behavior or punish the behavior, he just recognizes it and owns his responsibility in the transgression.

Second, Ezra ties action to consequence.  Teaching our children that there are consequences for their actions has become more difficult because our culture is trying to remove fault and place it anywhere else but the individual.  It is the parent’s fault, or society’s or environment or TV, but it isn’t the individual’s fault.  Ezra blames no one, but those who broke the law.  Confession helps our children take responsibility for their actions and helps them face the consequences.  And confession is the doorway to repentance.  This is where Ezra is heading the people of Israel, but he begins with confession.

It is one thing to help your children deal with the sin in their lives, but it is an entirely different discipline to own the sins of our children.  We can blame the world and make excuses about the influences of society, but if the Son of God can take on our sin, it is not too much for us to take on the sins of our children.  We can’t pay for their sin, but we can pave the way through it to confession and repentance.  If we have a high priest who sympathizes with us, we can sympathize with our children even in their worst moments.

Lord, help me to take the burden of my children’s sin and walk them through confession and repentance.  Grow in me the compassion, mercy and humility I need to lead my children through the consequences of disobedience.  Make my heart more like Yours every day. Amen.

Opposing Forces


Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.  They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia. – Ezra 4:4-5 (NIV)

It is hard to be a good neighbor when your neighbor hates you and wants to see you fail.  It is difficult to stay in hostile territory, especially when you have no other friendly place to go.  This has been the problem of God’s people throughout their history; firstIsraeland now the body of Christ.  We are unwanted by the world.  We stand opposed to the humanized view of our place in the cosmos and preach a gospel that rejects the relativism of the world’s morality.  Some have responded to this dilemma by becoming isolated communities, others have bought into a more militant approach, but either one gets us stuck without any ability to handle the other.

Israelwas isolated, but not because they chose to be.  They were isolated because the chose to follow God and the nations around them decided that wasn’t going to go well for them.  When isolation didn’t work, the nations became combative.  What is interesting is thatIsraelwas prepared for either situation as long as they were obeying God and doing the work He wanted them to be about.  WhenIsraelwas successful, it was because they were keeping in line with what God wanted for them.

This is a hard lesson to learn, but we cannot live our lives reacting to the world.  We have to live our lives in obedience to God and trust that He will take us where we need to go, whether that is into isolation or confrontation.  We don’t need to run away from a fight or run into it, we just need to follow the one who is worth fighting for and shelters those He calls His own.  Teaching our children to be peacemakers and warriors for God at the same time is challenging, but possible if we keep them focused on seeking the heart of God.

Lord, help me live a life that is balanced by Your will and not imbalanced by my emotions and passions.  Teach me to know when to fight for Your purposes and when to sow peace.  Grant my children the hearts and minds to pursue You above all else. Amen.