1Early the following spring, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never appeared sad in his presence before this time. 2So the king asked me, “Why are you so sad? You aren’t sick, are you? You look like a man with deep troubles.”
Then I was badly frightened, 3but I replied, “Long live the king! Why shouldn’t I be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been burned down.”
4The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5I replied, “If it please Your Majesty and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
6The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” So the king agreed, and I set a date for my departure. (Nehemiah 2:1-6, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
The book of Nehemiah is a classic study on effective leadership.
Nehemiah is a Jew in exile who happens to be the cupbearer to the King. When Nehemiah gets word that the wall in the city of Jerusalem is in ruins he’s understandably distraught. The king notices Nehemiah’s sullen demeanor, which could have been disastrous for Nehemiah given his position, but fortunately, the king is compassionate and inquires about the nature of Nehemiah’s anguish.
Nehemiah shares about the news he received concerning Jerusalem and to Nehemiah’s surprise, the king asks, “well, how can I help you?”
What comes next in the text is what I find most interesting. It says, “With a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied…”
Nehemiah prayed to God before making his request to the king, a request which was certainly bold in nature.
It might be easy to overlook the significance of this verse. After all, it seems quite reasonable that Nehemiah would pray before making such a bold request of the king.
But think about it for just a moment. Did Nehemiah really pray? It’s not likely he had the time to pause, kneel, close his eyes and pray to the Lord, at least not as we tend to think about prayer.
This “prayer” was made in the middle of a back-and-forth conversation with the king. Nehemiah did not have the time to beseech the Lord in the traditional way we think of prayer. It would not have even been appropriate for Nehemiah to make a traditional prayer in the king’s presence while he awaited a response from Nehemiah to his question.
So if Nehemiah didn’t actually pray, how is it that the text can say Nehemiah prayed?
I think the key is the phrase “with a prayer to the God of heaven, I replied…”
Nehemiah didn’t stop to pray as we think about it. Instead, he prayed AS he replied to the king. In other words, at the same time he was engaging the king, he was inviting the God of heaven to give him wisdom, to give him favor in the eyes of the king and to grant the request he was about to make.
This may be a paradigm shift in how you think about prayer. Prayer is not JUST a focused time where we lift our requests up to God. Prayer is not JUST a dedicated time of solitude where we pause, reflect and lift up our praises and requests to God. Instead, prayer is an attitude of dependence and reliance on God that we can practice at all times. Prayer, essentially, is directing our thoughts towards God, whether it is audible or not, visible or invisible.
In Nehemiah’s case, he obviously didn’t stop, pause and lift up an audible prayer to God. Nehemiah’s prayer was in reality more of a heart attitude toward God in which he, in that moment, was acknowledging his dependence on God and exercising faith that God would speak through him and grant him favor in the king’s eyes.
And God honored Nehemiah’s prayer and granted his request before the king.
You may not be able to set aside hours each day for dedicated prayer. You may not be able to set aside even 30 minutes, though this discipline can have many benefits. But no matter how much time you may have to set aside for uninterrupted prayer, Nehemiah’s example demonstrates that we can pray at any moment and dedicated, focused time in prayer is not requisite in order to connect with the God of heaven!
What has been your practice and discipline with prayer in the past?
How have you thought of prayer in the past? How have you defined and understood the nature and practice of prayer?
In what ways does Nehemiah’s example challenge your view and understanding of prayer?
In what ways can you implement Nehemiah’s example and make prayer more of an ongoing connection with God in which you are constantly directing your thoughts towards Him?
1The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh! Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
3But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the LORD. He went down to the seacoast, to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping that by going away to the west he could escape from the LORD.
4But as the ship was sailing along, suddenly the LORD flung a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to send them to the bottom. 5Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. And all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. 6So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will have mercy on us and spare our lives.”
7Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, Jonah lost the toss. 8“What have you done to bring this awful storm down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
9And Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” 10Then he told them that he was running away from the LORD.
The sailors were terrified when they heard this. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
12“Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. For I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
13Instead, the sailors tried even harder to row the boat ashore. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. 14Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. “O LORD,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death, because it isn’t our fault. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
15Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
17Now the LORD had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:1-17, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Earlier this evening, I saw the following tweet from renowned pastor and theologian, Tim Keller:
Interestingly, Jonah chapter one outlines this exact situation.
Jonah was a prophet of Israel at a time when the biggest, baddest guys in the neighborhood were the Assyrians. The Assyrians were the super power of the day, overtaking and subjecting every nation and every culture to its will and dominance.
Imagine Jonah’s surprise when God tells Jonah that He wants him to go to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, and announce God’s judgment on the people there. God wants to give the Ninevites a chance to respond to His impending judgment and He wants Jonah to be His prophetic instrument.
Jonah cannot wrap his brain around the idea that God would give the Assyrians an opportunity to repent and be saved. He is so repulsed by the thought that these evil, wicked Assyrians might hear a message of judgment and then repent and be saved that he runs in the opposite direction.
On the surface, it’s easy to throw shade at Jonah for rejecting God’s command and running away. It’s hard to understand why Job resists God instead of just doing what He asks. But actually, Jonah’s response is probably more typical than outlier.
How empathetic and compassionate are you towards the person or the people whom you hate the most? Do you find yourself moving toward them in love as we’re commanded in Scripture or do you find yourself hoping and praying for their destruction? This is the gist of Tim Keller’s tweet above.
This passage from Jonah demonstrates that God is not just a God of the Jews, as most Jews believed, but He has love and compassion for all people, even Gentiles. For the Jew during Jonah’s day, this would have been a complete paradigm shift. For us today, we might say that God is not just the God of my political party, but He is the God of those who have opposing views as well!
Chapter one of Jonah also demonstrates that we cannot hide from God or escape His will and plan for our lives. God’s purposes will be accomplished whether or not we comply with His will.
Lastly, we learn that God can use even our rebellion and resistance to follow Him for His ultimate glory. Even though Jonah resists God, the sailors on the ship are so awed by God’s great power that they sacrifice to Him and promise to serve Him.
What are some things God has been telling you to do that you’ve been unwilling to do? Why?
What is the group that would be the most difficult for you to demonstrate love and compassion toward? What makes it difficult?
What are some instances where God used a negative or difficult situation for His ultimate glory?
17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:17-27, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
This story in Mark 10 is also shared by Matthew in the 19th chapter of his account of the life of Jesus. I wrote about this story about a year ago here, in which I addressed the question of whether or not Jesus requires rich people to give up their possessions in order to be saved.
You can read my thoughts about that in the previous blog post as I’m not intending to regurgitate all my thoughts again here. Instead, I want to focus on an often overlooked part of the exchange Jesus has with this person of extreme wealth.
The passage starts with the man coming to Jesus and asking Jesus what is required to inherit eternal life. But what is often overlooked is how he addresses Jesus. He calls Jesus “good teacher”.
Jesus picks up on this and replies in verse 18, “Why do you call me good?….No one is good except God alone.”
You almost never hear any sermon that focuses on this verse or gives any explanation of why it’s there. In fact, if you just eliminated verse 18 from the story altogether, the main idea and explanation seems to remain unchanged. In other words. Jesus’ response to how the man addressed him does not appear to be central to the main point of the story, which is the idea that coming to Jesus and inheriting eternal life requires us to recognize our spiritual brokenness and our need for a savior.
So if Jesus’ response is not important to the main idea in the story, why is it there?
Jesus is using this exchange to fundamentally change our idea of what is considered good.
Think about it. Almost everyone everywhere thinks that making it to heaven is a matter of being a good person and I’ve never met a person who, no matter what bad things they may have done in their lives, didn’t consider themselves to be good. Jesus’s response alters the equation of what is required to gain eternal life, which is the central query of the rich young ruler.
Do you think you’re a good person? Jesus says that ONLY GOD is good. Jesus also indirectly points to his own deity in the process when he asks, “why do you call me good….no one is good except God.” Jesus is pressing the implication that calling him good is tantamount to calling him God, since only God is good.
The rest of the story is simply a process by which Jesus reveals to the rich young ruler that he does not measure up to the standard of goodness (perfection) that is required to gain eternal life.
The disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus responded that with man, it is impossible. Why? Because no man can achieve the perfect goodness required to save himself.
But all things are possible with God. Jesus makes the impossible possible through His death on the cross!
What has been your concept of goodness in the past? What is the standard you use to determine whether a person is good or not?
Do you agree with people who say that most people are basically good? Why or why not?
Do you think it’s possible for people to save themselves?
What do you think is required to inherit eternal life? How would you explain it to someone else?
10Those who love money will never have enough. How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness! 11The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what is the advantage of wealth—except perhaps to watch it run through your fingers!
12People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich are always worrying and seldom get a good night’s sleep.
13There is another serious problem I have seen in the world. Riches are sometimes hoarded to the harm of the saver, 14or they are put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. 15People who live only for wealth come to the end of their lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day they were born.
16And this, too, is a very serious problem. As people come into this world, so they depart. All their hard work is for nothing. They have been working for the wind, and everything will be swept away. 17Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud—frustrated, discouraged, and angry.
18Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat well, drink a good glass of wine, and enjoy their work—whatever they do under the sun—for however long God lets them live. 19And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—that is indeed a gift from God. 20People who do this rarely look with sorrow on the past, for God has given them reasons for joy. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-20)
The Daily DAVEotional
You may have seen in the news recently that President Joe Biden has decided to implement a “wealth tax” in his next proposed budget. The idea would be to tax those who make over $100 million a minimum of 20%.
Predictably, some are heralding this move as a positive step as it’s “about time the rich pay their fair share” while others have noted that the majority of taxes collected by the IRS are already paid by the rich, so what is the limit of what is fair?
My point is not to take a side in this particular legislation but to demonstrate that we live in an era where it has become fashionable by many, including Christians, to decry wealth as being immoral. Jesus himself seemed to care for the underserved and underprivileged so it is even asserted by some that Jesus was against wealth.
I wrote about this last year in a series of posts here and here. The problem for Christians who think that wealth is immoral is that there is nowhere in Scripture where wealth is actually condemned. Additionally, many righteous men and women of faith were people of great means.
I explain how these ideas are reconciled biblically in the previous posts but here, in today’s passage, Solomon, one of the wealthiest men in the Biblical record, helps us understand more deeply God’s view of wealth.
Here are some of the highlights:
Solomon doesn’t condemn wealth. He himself was EXTREMELY wealthy. But he does point out that the LOVE of money is futile because it cannot bring true happiness (verse 10).
One problem that comes along with great wealth is that others come to help you spend it. Many lottery winners have commented on how much more stressful life became when they hit it big. Not only was there the worry of how to keep what they have won but suddenly, everyone you’ve ever known shows up wanting a piece of the pie (verse 11).
People who have great wealth can sometimes lose it all because, as Solomon points out, the money is put into risky investments (verses 13-14). How many sad stories are told of athletes who made millions while playing but who are living in poverty because they didn’t know how to manage their money?
Solomon’s admonition against the dangers of wealth can be summed up in verse 15:
People who live only for wealth come to the end of their lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day they were born.
Notice that Solomon doesn’t condemn wealth but warns against “living only for wealth”. This is another way of describing greed. The problem with living only for wealth is that you can’t take it with you. Wealthy people will die with nothing just as everyone else does. Jesus made this same point in the Luke 12 passage that I blogged about here.
Solomon ends his short discourse by actually saying that receiving wealth from God is a GOOD thing. He declares that wealth and the good health to enjoy it is a gift from God.
It seems clear from Scripture that wealth in and of itself is not bad. The real issues that are problematic are greed and envy. These two sinful vices are not reserved for the wealthy alone but for anyone regardless of your financial position.
Whatever your net worth is, the biblical admonition is to be content, not envying what others have or being greedy for more of what you think might make life more comfortable and enjoyable.
We should heed Solomon’s admonition to “enjoy your work and accept your lot in life….People who do this rarely look with sorrow on the past, for God has given them reasons for joy.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20)
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your contentment with your current financial position?
Do you think money can bring true happiness? What are you relying on to provide happiness in your own life?
Do you agree with Solomon’s statement that people should enjoy their work and accept their lot in life? Why or why not?
What does it look like to “live only for money”? Have you ever had this attitude or disposition towards money?
When was a time when you experienced feelings of greed or envy? How can you ensure that your own heart motivations towards money and wealth are godly?
4 A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook. (Proverbs 18:4)
14 The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear it if the spirit is crushed? (Proverbs 18:14)
20 Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach; the right words on a person’s lips bring satisfaction. (Proverbs 18:20)
21 Those who love to talk will experience the consequences, for the tongue can kill or nourish life. (Proverbs 18:21)
The Daily DAVEotional
When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my parents invited some friends over to the house. They had kids who were about the same age as me and my brother so while my parents were entertaining their guests, we were hanging out as a group of kids.
I’m the youngest in my family and was always very small for my age. As a result, I was often teased by older kids and even peers for being small.
I vividly remember being teased in this setting. Though I don’t remember the exact nature of the teasing, I do remember going to my mother and telling her that the other kids were making fun of me.
Her response was the classic line, “You tell them that ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.’”
I soon learned that this phrase was a stock response to schoolyard bullying and verbal jabs and I used it frequently, until of course, I discovered more sophisticated ways of responding to the insults of others, such as the mocking “Neener, neener” and the classic “I know you are but what am I”.
The problem with the “Sticks and Stones” phrase is that it’s not true.
Of course there’s an element of truth to the saying. Yes, words cannot inflict physical damage on our bodies. But as Proverbs 18 shows, our words can bring life and healing to others OR they can wound or kill others.
The phrase disregards the sensitive nature of our emotions and our spirit.
Think about it. Our bodies have an immune system which fights off infections when we are sick.
Our bodies also have a repair system that kicks in when we are injured. An open wound will heal and even broken or fractured bones will heal themselves, though obviously, compound fractures may require special setting in order for proper healing to take place.
We don’t have an emotional immune system though to repair our minds when we are discouraged or damaged emotionally. We can carry the scars and wounds of emotional trauma for years.
We live in a culture where we can instantly communicate with just about anyone we want, and with social media, our words have an extensive reach that was unthinkable even 20 or 30 years ago.
There is a lot of anger and vitriol these days, especially on Social media platforms. Personally, I need constant reminders of the power of my words so that I don’t give in to the temptation to berate and belittle others, with no regard for the impact it has on them.
Think of a time when you were teased as a kid? How did it make you feel? What emotions and thoughts do you have now as you remember that experience?
When is a time when your words wounded another person? What did you say? Have you asked for forgiveness and reconciled with that person?
When was a time when someone gave you life-giving words that nourished your soul? What was the context and in what ways did those words lift your spirit?
What has been your experience with your words on social media? What steps can you take to ensure that your words on social media are life-giving and not wounding or harming others?
1When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went off teaching and preaching in towns throughout the country.
2John the Baptist, who was now in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3“Are you really the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
4Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him about what you have heard and seen—5the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 6And tell him: ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me. ’”
7When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “Who is this man in the wilderness that you went out to see? Did you find him weak as a reed, moved by every breath of wind? 8Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? Those who dress like that live in palaces, not out in the wilderness. 9Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,
‘Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way before you.’
11“I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people attack it. 13For before John came, all the teachings of the Scriptures looked forward to this present time. 14And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! (Matthew 11:1-15, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Matthew 11 contains a very strange passage about John the Baptist. While Jesus is preaching and teaching in towns throughout the country, John the Baptist hears about all the things Jesus is doing and then he sends his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he’s really the Messiah.
What’s going on here? If anyone should know the true identity of Jesus, you would think it would be John the Baptist. Remember back in Matthew 3 John was out in the desert baptizing people and he told the crowds that while he baptized with water, one would come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John said this person would be so much greater than him that he would be unworthy to even be this person’s slave.
Immediately after that, Jesus shows up and is baptized by John, after which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove while the voice of the Father affirms Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. I previously wrote about this baptism event here.
John had been born for the purpose of preparing the way for the Messiah. He had prepared his whole life for that moment of introducing the Messiah to a lost and dying world. He had known Jesus since birth and Jesus’ identity and mission had been confirmed to him and all those present at Jesus’ baptism.
So why is John the Baptist suddenly asking Jesus whether He really is the Messiah? If you think about it, you have to wonder why this passage was even included in the text at all. It doesn’t appear to add any new information of value to what we already know about Jesus. What then is the purpose of this odd interaction?
I think this passage demonstrates a universal phenomenon that we all deal with.
Imagine that. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, the way-maker appointed for preparing a path for the coming Messiah, the one who first identified Jesus as the Messiah and the Lamb of God to the crowds, the one who baptized Jesus and was a witness to the affirmation of Jesus by the Father and the Holy Spirit, is suddenly doubting whether Jesus really is the Messiah.
Why would he doubt?
I think a couple of things are happening that might help us understand.
First of all, John the Baptist had been arrested fairly soon after Jesus was baptized. In Matthew 4, Jesus goes out into the desert after His baptism and undergoes 40 days of temptation. The text says that after Jesus heard John was arrested, he began to preach (Matthew 4:12-17). So Jesus really doesn’t even begin his public ministry until after John is arrested.
Being in prison means that John cannot be a personal witness to the things Jesus is doing.
The bottom line for John is that things are not going the way he expected. He was not expecting to be imprisoned and he likely was also not counting on being sidelined while others had a front row seat as eyewitnesses to the many miracles and the public teaching of the Messiah.
When life doesn’t turn out the way we expect or hope, doubt can set in. Doubt can be so powerful that even the most stable, fundamental truths to which we’ve always held can suddenly be questioned.
Jesus’ response to John’s doubt is quite revealing.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t get angry or impatient. If it were me, I’d probably respond with a derisive, “Really bro? You know me. We grew up together. You were there when I was baptized. Remember that? And don’t you remember the dove descending and the voice from heaven? Why you gotta be a hater? C’mon man!”
Jesus is not upset and he’s not rattled. He simply responds to John’s disciples by quoting from Isaiah 29, Isaiah 35, and Isaiah 61, passages which describe what the ministry of the Messiah would look like. It just so happens, these are the exact things that Jesus is doing in His ministry.
Notice too that after John’s disciples leave, Jesus speaks glowingly to the crowds of John the Baptist and his ministry, calling him the greatest of all the prophets who had ever lived.
Jesus is not phased by John’s doubt. Jesus is not threatened or concerned by John’s doubt. Jesus does not use John’s doubt against him.
If Jesus can handle the doubt of a guy he called the greatest prophet who ever lived and who knew Jesus personally, He can certainly handle my doubt and your doubt.
It’s ok to doubt. Doubt is an expected response to unforeseen and unexpected circumstances.
But like John the Baptist, we shouldn’t wallow in our doubt. Instead, we should seek Jesus out, share our doubt with Him and allow Him to lovingly remind us of all the ways in which He has demonstrated who He is by the things He’s done in our lives and in the lives of others!
What are some common reasons or circumstances that you think cause people to doubt?
What is a time in your spiritual journey where you doubted? What were the circumstances? How did you deal with that doubt?
What has been your response to others you know who have doubted God or Jesus or Christianity?
What are some helpful resources or steps you could provide to someone who is experiencing doubts in their faith?
Here’s a simple litmus test to tell if a movie deserves to be in your Top 10 list of favorites.
Imagine you’re channel surfing and you see a movie playing that you have to watch, even though you’ve seen it dozens of times before. That movie, which you find yourself tuning into any time you see it on the TV is likely one of your favorites.
I have several movies that fit that category for me, including Braveheart, Tommy Boy and The Shawshank Redemption.
Recently, Pastor Rick Warren gave a sermon on “Experiencing Hope During Difficult Times.” I was reminded of The Shawshank Redemption, since one of the main themes in that movie is “hope”.
The Shawshank Redemption is based on a short story by Steven King (yes, that Steven King), but it’s not a horror movie. It’s a movie about prison. Some have dubbed it the greatest prison movie of all time.
The story centers around Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of double murder and sent to the notorious Shawshank prison to serve back to back life sentences.
Dufresne quickly befriends Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, a murderer who has already served 20 years of a life sentence, and though he sees the error of his foolish teenage act, nevertheless, sees no hope of ever being paroled.
There’s a critical scene about midway through the movie. Andy receives an unexpected shipment of books and vinyl records for the prison library and decides to blare music from an opera record to the entire prison population via the prison loudspeaker system.
This infuriates the warden, who punishes Andy with two weeks in “the hole” – solitary confinement in a room with no light source.
When Andy emerges from confinement his inmate friends are amazed to see him so upbeat after such a harsh punishment.
“Easiest time I ever did” is Andy’s response. “I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company.”
Andy’s prison-mates are understandably confused. Andy explains that Mozart is inside…in his mind and in his soul and then he declares, “there are places internally that they can’t touch.”
Andy’s friend Red asks, “What are you talking about?”
“Hope”, Andy replies.
Red gets a stern look on his face and says, “Listen here friend. Let me tell you something about hope. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You better get used to that idea.”
Pastor Rick, in his sermon, stated that we can have hope because we know that the situation we’re in is temporary….it will pass. He encouraged us to focus on that which is eternal instead of things that are temporary.
This is certainly good advice, but sometimes hard to implement. It’s difficult to focus on “eternal” things when there are so many immediate needs staring at you in the face, and often screaming for your attention.
We personally know people who have lost their jobs, are struggling financially, have lost their housing, have lost loved ones, are scrambling to figure out childcare and schooling options for the fall, are dealing with major health concerns with limited access to doctors, and many more issues that are magnified and amplified in this current Covid environment.
How exactly do we experience hope when there is so much pain and struggle in our lives?
I think Andy Dufresne provides a clue. Hope is something internal, rather than external.
Hebrews 6:19, speaking of Jesus, says,
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (emphasis mine)
The context of this passage is that Jesus is our High Priest. Through His death, He provided atonement for sinful humanity, making it possible for us to experience a relationship with Him.
For the Christian, Jesus is our anchor. He alone provides hope and meaning because He alone can provide ultimate fulfillment and purpose in life.
But what about all of the tremendous struggles we are facing? They seem overwhelming!
As we navigate life’s current realities, I realize how important the body of Christ is. We need others who can come alongside us when we’re struggling and offer real, tangible, material help, while reminding us of God’s goodness and pointing us to the hope that only Jesus can provide.
At the end of The Shawshank Redemption, Andy writes these fitting words to Red – “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
How are you doing in this current crisis? Are you more like Red – tired, disillusioned and lacking hope?
Or are you more like Andy, with a hope anchored to an internal, immovable source (Jesus).
Whatever your situation, let us know how we can pray for you! (Just click the Prayer tab at the top of the page)
Personally, we are grateful to our family and many friends who have been a source of encouragement and hope to us through the many struggles and trials we’ve faced over the past few months and years. You have helped us to continue to keep our hope anchored in Jesus!
The Third Target is the first in a series of political thrillers by Joel Rosenberg with journalist JB Collins as his central character.
Rosenberg draws on his years in the political arena and his extensive understanding of the current Middle East political climate as he weaves a story that draws on historical facts to create a possible modern scenario that is plausibly believable, emotionally engaging and action packed.
Rosenberg is an evangelical Christian whose novels often contain spiritual elements without being overly preachy or dogmatic. His characters are real. Rosenberg doesn’t give you the James Bond or Jack Bauer type, which you might think is required for a political spy thriller novel. Instead, he gives you characters who experience the kind of emotions you might experience if you were faced with the scenarios created in the story. His characters are faced with moral dilemmas and they think about deeper issues of identity, meaning and purpose.
Rosenberg continues to churn out novels that are a mix of modern day politics coupled with intrigue, action and suspense. The Third Target will keep you engaged and glued to the pages until the final page, at which point you will be shaking your fist at Rosenberg for creating a scenario that forces you to reach for the next book in the series!
And though I’ve been to France once, I don’t really know anyone who lives there.
So imagine my surprise when I was tagged in an Instagram post last week by someone I’ve never met who lives in France.
A couple of months ago, I started an account on Unsplash. If you’re not familiar with Unsplash, it’s a site that allows photographers to post their photos for the purpose of making them freely available for anyone to use.
It’s a popular site for bloggers because everyone who blogs is always looking for photos that fit their latest posts. I’ve been using Unsplash for a number of years and I decided to make some of my own photos available for others to download and freely use.
Among the photos I posted were a number of shots I took 2 summers ago when our boys were attending a week-long leadership experience at West Point.
At West Point, there is an area known as Trophy Point with absolutely stunning views overlooking the Hudson River. Situated among the trees and paths of Trophy Point are a number of concrete benches for people to relax, converse, or just take in the scenery.
I noticed that on the sides of all of these benches are stamped words that reflect certain character virtues. Words like “Responsibility”, “Trust”, “Discipline” and “Compassion”.
I didn’t think much of it but it turns out that these photos are among the most viewed and downloaded of the 60 photos I’ve uploaded to Unsplash so far.
Last week, an Instagram user from France, who goes by the name @s.ch.blog tagged me to alert me that they had downloaded one of my photos to use on their blog.
It was a nice gesture because Unsplash does not require that users alert photographers when their photos are downloaded. Nor is it required to credit the photographer when their photo is being used (though I always try to credit artists when I use their photos in my own posts).
The blogger who tagged me wanted to use my “Compassion” photo because they had written a poem, entitled “Compassion” and they thought my photo would fit well with their post.
Two weeks ago, I attended the Q Virtual conference (qideas.org). Q is an organization started a few years ago by Gabe Lyons that seeks to “equip strategically positioned Christian influencers to renew the way they believe, think and act in regard to culture.”
Jen and I attended a live Q conference in Nashville 6 years ago and it was there that Jen first experienced issues that initially led to an overnight stay in the local ER, followed by an eventual diagnosis of vasculitis, a rare auto-immune disorder. We missed most of that conference and have not had an opportunity to return, until this year.
The speaker lineup this year was packed with a range of cultural and theological leaders, including Tim Keller, Andy Crouch and Francis Chan.
However, one presenter, Sissy Goff, a mental health professional, spoke about “The Psychological Impact of Social Distancing”.
One of the many salient points Goff made regarding our emotional well-being was that in this time of sheltering in place and social distancing, we need to do one brave thing each day. She then asked, “what is one thing you’ve done in COVID that has required bravery?”
For me, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about slowing down, reflecting, and noticing things around me and capturing those moments with my camera. I’ve taken some steps to stretch myself and grow in my photography skills, including taking an online course and submitting some of my photos on unsplash.com. What follows are a number of images that give a glimpse into what we’ve been experiencing these past 7 weeks of the Covid-19 crisis…
The first time I went shopping during the Covid-19 crisis, I thought I would outsmart everyone by getting up early and getting in and out before the rush. Turns out, everyone else had the same idea and I was greeted to a long line just to get into the store.
In addition to long lines, I found the store to be quite barren of products. Most of the fruits and vegetable bins were completely empty as well as pretty much all dried goods (beans, pasta, rice, etc.) as well as meats, bread and dairy products. I found myself grabbing the most random items as substitutes for the items we really needed. In the end, I had to go to three stores just to get some semblance of groceries for the week.
Did I mention that our boys are home? They are still training and they are still eating…A LOT. That has magnified the grocery issues. After the Wal-Mart incident, Jen decided to start ordering stuff online, but that was hit and miss. Then she started using a grocery service, which worked well for about a week, maybe two, at which point, it became harder and harder to find time slots to get groceries delivered.
We finally got a grocery slot one week but we were told that groceries could be delivered any day between Tuesday and Sunday (which was Easter). No groceries came on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Finally, on Easter Sunday we were expecting our food to be delivered and boy did we need it. We had gone nearly 2 weeks without shopping.
Have I mentioned that my boys are home during this crisis? Have I mentioned how much they eat?
About mid-day, we got a message from the shopper saying that the store we had ordered food from was closed. They canceled our order and we were left with nothing substantial in the house for Easter dinner. It felt a lot like one of those cooking shows where they give each chef 6 random food items and ask them to make a gourmet meal out of it. Hmmm…what can we make with a can of sardines, a box of gluten-free spaghetti, a lemon from the tree outside, two eggs, a box of granola and a jar of salsa? GO!
Speaking of training, Jacob is a member of the Naval Academy Cross Country and Track teams. Though the season has been canceled, the athletes are all expected to keep working out in order to maintain their conditioning and long-term training cycle. There really is no break for distance runners.
It has been increasingly harder for Jacob to find places to do his workouts. He needs a track about once or twice a week in order to time his workouts. Other days are casual runs anywhere. Most local high schools are shut down with security keeping people from using the facilities. We were fortunate to find this dirt track locally that is not too crowded and has enabled Jacob to continue his training.
Initially we thought the lockdown might last just a few weeks or maybe a month. Our boys’ return to their academies was delayed by two weeks but then became indefinite.
As things progressed, businesses began to close and park playgrounds were shut down. We were told masks didn’t work and then a few weeks later, we were told we should wear masks. At first, we were told that social distancing was the primary step to curb the virus, but then the lockdown came and people whose jobs were not considered “essential” were urged to stay at home.
One of the things we have tried to do regularly to maintain some kind of routine is walk the dog. Most every day, Jen and I will try to get out in the afternoon to take the dog out. We pretty much walk the same route every day. One day while walking the dog, I spotted this small action figure lying on the sidewalk. It turns out that during Covid-19, even action figures are wearing masks!
It’s been interesting to slow down and try to notice things that I never noticed before. It’s amazing how much beauty and creativity is around us that we don’t pay attention to. Now that it’s spring time, we’re starting to see flowers blooming and plants coming alive.
As I’ve ventured out daily with the dog and my camera, I’m trying to notice the things around me that demonstrate life and bring hope during this challenging season.
A few weeks ago, in order to avoid an oncoming dog walker and maintain our distance, we darted to the other side of the street. I was walking down the same street but on the other side, and this gave me a slightly different perspective. Had I not gone to the other side, I would have missed the sidewalk chalk message – “Always Stop and smell the Flowers.” Our dog Scout decided to take the advice!
Attending church activities has been different. We are still able to attend our home group and men’s and women’s groups but everything is online now through Zoom and other video platforms.
We’re able to worship as a family by watching the sermon online every Saturday beginning at 4:00 p.m. at Saddleback.org. The worship team records all of their parts separately and the worship is edited and spliced together to give the feeling of a full live worship set. It’s pretty amazing what technology is enabling us to do. Pastor Rick Warren then gives his sermon online as well.
There is so much loss during this crisis. I think about all the high school seniors who have missed out on prom as well as all their other senior traditions, including commencement.
College seniors are also missing one of the biggest days in their lives. We know of weddings that have been postponed or canceled, vacation trips that have been delayed or lost altogether.
In addition, I think about all of the spring sports that have been canceled and all of the athletes who had no idea that their seasons were going to be cut short.
What have you lost as a result of this crisis? What are you grieving?
I think about my friends Jim and Charlotte Van Steenbergen, whom I’ve known for many years. Jim has been in declining health in recent months and I just learned that he passed away peacefully on Cinco de Mayo. Normally, I would have loved to visit and honor my friend in his last days. Unfortunately, that was not possible in this current environment. I grieve that lost opportunity to say goodbye and to thank him for the ministry he’s had in my life over the years.
What have you learned from this crisis? What have you found?
Being forced to slow down has its advantages. All those things you wished for in the past that you never had time for are suddenly available. And yet, I’ve learned that I am not always taking advantage of the extra time to do the things I’ve said I would do IF there was more time. I’ve learned that my heart is not always intentional and honest about my true desires and motivations.
I’ve learned to see more of the hidden treasures in life.
Recently, Jen undertook the long desired task of cleaning out the office. There’s a lot of stuff that we don’t use but is taking up space. Interestingly, as we’ve cleared out cabinets and purged the overstocked closet, we’ve actually “found” things we didn’t remember we had.
One of the things I “found” was the box to my Samsung smartwatch that I bought a few years ago. About 6 months ago, the band on the watch broke and I had to buy a new one online. I was planning to throw the box away, thinking I really didn’t need it anymore. But I decided to open it to see if there was anything inside. Low and behold, there was a spare watch band. I had the spare watch band all along but I didn’t realize it was there, so I needlessly bought a new band from an online seller.
We found many more of these kinds of hidden “treasures” while cleaning out our office. It’s a reminder to me that there are hidden treasures everywhere around us, evidence of God’s creation, power and beauty. I just need to slow down and look around to notice.
Like many of you, we are still able to work from our home. We have been working from home for a number of years so the shift wasn’t too radical for us. However, we were used to meeting people at various places throughout Orange County and beyond. In addition, we have conferences and other events we would typically travel to. All of those things have been either canceled or suspended and the bulk of what we are doing now is finding ways to minister to people online.
We continue to coach folks but we do it virtually instead of in person. We continue to lead groups and host groups online. Training and development conferences we are a part of have been converted to webinars and Zoom discussion groups. We’ve pivoted in a number of ways already but we’re actively seeking new ways to minister to people online in this current environment.
We are grateful for you, our friends, family and partners who have supported and encouraged us to press on, especially as Jen has been immuno-compromised due to a vasculitis flare she’s been experiencing.
We would greatly appreciate your continued prayers for Jen and her health and for us as we continue to navigate life and ministry in this new climate of social distancing, working from home and sheltering in place.
Just as I’ve been more intentional about seeking to recognize the things around us that may easily go unnoticed, please pray that we would “recognize” the ministry opportunities God is placing before us.