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Archive for the ‘Life issues’ Category

The following may seem a strange blog for Ezerwoman. However, on this Independence Day of 2017, I think it an appropriate way to express gratitude for a godly man but also to explain what it is that sustains godly men (and women) in times of difficulty and peril. 

Howard Linn was born an Iowa farm boy. Today, at 94, he confesses that he was also born a sinful creature. Indeed, he had inherited the sin of his ancestor, Adam. But, on his Baptismal day, Howard was washed clean by water and the Word. The gift of faith was given to him and his identity was forever changed. He was marked with the sign of the cross and, because of what Jesus Christ did for him, Howard became a son and heir of God.

Did Howard think much about his Baptism and its effect on his identity? Did he fully understand the significance of Jesus’ invitation to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven”?

From childhood on, Howard prayed, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Did Howard understand that he was asking God the Father to strengthen and preserve him and, through times of suffering, keep him steadfast? What would this mean?

Howard has vivid memories of going to church with his parents and family. Like most Lutheran boys, he was catechized in the Christian faith. Would he ever appreciate the liturgy, hymns, and Scripture verses committed to memory?

On May 19, 1944, Sergeant Howard A. Linn was forced to evacuate the gun turret of his B-24 Liberator while on a bomb run over Germany. Under attack of a group of German Faulke-Wulf 190s, and with engines engulfed in flames, Sergeant Linn had no choice but to parachute. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” His prayer was answered when Howard landed safely and undetected by the enemy.

After a brief night of forested sleep, Howard began walking toward a village where he could get his bearings. About noon, two-thirds of the way through town, a boy sighted Howard just as a policeman on a motorcycle came around the corner. The boy flagged the policeman down and pointed to the American soldier. The policeman took Howard into the boy’s house. Calls were made. Then he was placed in a barbed wire enclosure where people from the village came to look at him. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” Later, Howard learned that if he had been shot down near a town that had suffered a bombing, he might have been beaten and tortured by angry citizens. The people of this village, however, had never experienced a bombing. They were curious about this American flyboy, but not hateful. Around 4:00, Howard was picked up by a German Luft-Waffe officer and delivered in a Volkswagon to a forced labor camp.

The following day, Howard and two other American airmen were transported to an interrogation center in Frankfurt. Every two hours, Howard was taken from his basement cell to be questioned by a stern German officer. Howard knew how to answer: Name. Rank. Serial number. And he knew how to pray. “Our Father, Who art in heaven.”

“Our Father … give us this day our daily bread.” Howard was given a loaf of heavy, dark, sour bread before he was packed into a railroad car with other U.S. Airmen. That bread sustained him for four days as the train carried him to Stalag Luft 4, a prison camp about 100 miles north of Berlin in Stettin, Pomerania.

On June 1, Howard’s parents were notified that their son was “reported missing in action since Nineteenth May over Germany.” On June 30, they were informed that their son was “a Prisoner of War of the German government.”

That young man, known as Prisoner 1525, continued to receive “daily bread” in the form of barley cereal, ersatz coffee, and sour bread in the morning; thin soup at noon; and boiled potatoes at night. The camp was crowded with allied soldiers and heavily guarded. Police dogs were turned loose every night.

There was plenty of time to think in prison. Howard often thought about the day he was shot down. He was acutely aware that many of his fellow crew members were married men. Why was he, an unmarried man, allowed to survive? A buddy in the turret where Howard was usually positioned was killed. Only two other crewmen and Howard lived. He grieved for his buddies and, although he bore them no harm or ill-will, he suffered under the weight of guilt for a long time. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There was peace for Howard in knowing the merciful forgiveness of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There wasn’t a German chaplain to pray with Howard or strengthen him through the Sacrament of Holy Communion. But he could draw upon all that he had been taught as a child. The liturgy and hymns that Howard had grown up singing, the Scripture verses that he had been encouraged to memorize, and parts of the Catechism that he had not fully appreciated as a boy served him well.

This was true for many of Howard’s Christian brothers in that POW camp. Men who had been involved in their congregations back home helped lead worship services on Sundays for anyone who wanted to attend. Everything was done from memory. There was opportunity to ponder the things that really matter most and to come to grips with the fact that earthly life is short in comparison to eternity. There was a visible difference between the men with faith and those who didn’t appear to have any. Those men constantly worried about not having any control of their lives. They had little hope of getting out alive. As a result, there was a ward full of guys who were mentally unstable. Perhaps they didn’t know the Lord who invited them to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One day, Howard watched a man run for the high barbed wire fence. He was given a warning, but persisted in climbing halfway to the top knowing full well what would happen. There was a single shot. The man fell to the ground, dead.

In times of suffering, Howard learned that we do one of two things. We either depend on ourselves, or on God. Howard knew God. He had grown up, learning to trust his Heavenly Father; therefore, he had hope outside of himself. Suicide wasn’t an option. A son of God can pray, “Our Father, Who are in heaven … lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.”

Today, when Howard thinks about the circumstances he endured, the prophet Elijah comes to mind. Elijah was threatened by an intimidating enemy, the evil King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. In fear and loneliness, Elijah asked the Lord to take his life. The Lord’s answer was a cake of bread and jar of water. Elijah was strengthened for forty days and nights. Howard admits to feeling very much like Elijah, alone and far from home. Countless times, he wondered, “Will I be shot?” “Will I be put through more than I can endure?” But, for Howard, there was always a cake of bread. A jar of water. And then, a Christmas Eve.

On the night before Christmas in 1944, the German Commandant told the prisoners they could stay outside their barracks until midnight with floodlights on if they promised not to try to escape. The singing of Christmas carols filled the night and comforted troubled souls.

Howard was in Stalag Luft 4 for about nine months. Life had been miserable, but it was going to get worse. His stamina and will to live were to be sorely tested. On February 6, 1945, with the Russian army quickly approaching, Howard’s compound was evacuated. The men were told they would be on the road for three to four days. But the forced march across frozen land extended to 87 days.

The guards, among them the hated Gestapo, marched the prisoners as much as 18 miles a day. Destination was unsure. Nights were spent in barns, sleeping on hay atop manure, or outside in the rain and snow. Food consisted of bread, thin soup ladled into a can, and powdered milk from Red Cross parcels. Sometimes, vegetables were stolen from a farmer’s winter stockpile. If possible, prisoners scrounged for wood and built a fire. Latrines were trenches dug by the prisoners. Many of the men had dysentery. Howard was sick with such terrible cramping that he felt he wouldn’t make it, but at the end of three days, the illness was removed and never plagued him again.

The forced march paused to camp in Hanover, but continued advancing when rumors that General Montgomery and the English army were getting close. Passing through cities that had been heavily bombed, Hitler youth spit and shouted at the POWs. In April, some of the guards fled, but others stayed with the POWs because they didn’t want to be captured by the Russians. On May 2, 1945, after marching some 600 miles, Howard learned that the war was over. Two thousand men started the march. Howard was one of the 1500 who survived and was granted freedom.

The men were instructed to continue walking and hitchhiking west. No encouragement was needed. Upon arrival at British command, the clothes Howard had worn for 87 days were burned. There was a trip—no, maybe three or four—through the delouser. A haircut and a shave. Gentle food for his shrunken stomach. A pillow for his head. Slowly, human dignity was restored. With the White Cliffs of Dover in the background, Howard set sail for Boston Harbor. Hearing the song, “Sentimental Journey,” stirs his emotions to this day.

Howard shares this and so much more with family, friends, and groups who invite him to speak. He is held is high regard by members of his Lutheran congregation. Do we listen to Howard, but then say, “I could never endure such things.” Do we hear Howard describe atrocities, but then respond, “I do not know such evil.” Do we applaud Howard, but then walk away, asking, “What is his story to me? He was held captive by the enemy. I have no such bondage.”

Howard would respond: You can endure such things. Evil does exist today. In this earthly life, we are too often held captive. The only Savior from Satan, ourselves, and any false hope to which we cling is Jesus Christ.

We can endure “such things” as indignity and suffering. Jesus knows our suffering because He, too, suffered. During the indignities of war—or cancer, bullying, or false rumors that stain a reputation—we can look to Christ who suffered humiliation, hatred, and death for us. Jesus does not promise ease of life, but says, “If you would be My disciples, pick up your cross daily and follow Me.” Jesus does promise to be with us in every circumstance. He promises to be in His Church. He is in the Word of Divine Service, in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Communion, and in Absolution.

Howard found himself in enemy territory, and so do we. Satan, the world, and our sinful nature assault us every day. Howard endured by remembering his Baptismal identity and praying, “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” We can do the same. The faith given to Howard provided light in the darkness. His childhood catechesis and familiarity with Scripture as sung in liturgy and hymns comforted and renewed him. He was grateful, and we can be, too. Howard could trust that an ascended Jesus had kept His promise to send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who interceded for him in times of weakness. We have that Helper, too.

Evil does exist today; it comes naturally in a fallen world. We are vulnerable people because we are corrupted by sin. Cain killed Abel. Hitler and his Nazis killed six million Jews and five million Christians, gypsies, “useless eaters,” and so-called “undesirables.” The United States has sanctioned the killing of over 56 million little boys and girls by the hand of abortionists since 1973. Human life is at dreadful risk when we do not believe that God is our Father and we are His children.

Howard confesses to being born a sinful creature, and so are we all. In war, Howard learned that our corrupted nature is reality. We are capable of terrible evil. Until we recognize our sinful nature, we cannot resist it; instead, we do awful things out of fear, or for power, or to gain control. We raise ourselves above God. We love ourselves more than our neighbor. Freedom to resist evil and do good comes only in Jesus Christ. His mercies are new every morning for the repentant sinner who looks to the Lord for his salvation. Evil has no dominion over a child of God.

In this life, we are too often held captive. It is not barbed wire, but our own sin that binds us. Whenever we cling to human desires, fears, false hope, guilt, and bitterness, we fall into the despair of slavery.

One would think that Howard sees a better world than during WWII, but he does not. We seem to think we are entitled to happiness. We trust our own feelings first and, if God is needed, it is to make our life trouble-free. We make a vow on our wedding day, but the commitment is too quickly dishonored when things become difficult. Human life has value when it pleases us, but not when we are inconvenienced by it. There was nothing convenient about being a POW on an 87-day forced march, but Howard could see even unsightly men covered with lice and bent over with dysentery as children of God for whom Christ died. That made them his brothers.

But could Howard ever accept the German people as his brothers? Yes, but only with the example of Christ before him. In forgiving Wilfried Beerman, the German boy who alerted the police, Howard was free of bitterness. Today, the families of Howard and Wilfried enjoy an abiding friendship.

Howard was physically taken captive by his enemies, but they could not threaten his identity or imprison his spirit. He was always a free man in Christ. Looking back, Howard knows that he was always under the protection of his Heavenly Father. Strength was given when he was weak, bread when he was hungry, a cup of water when he was dry. War raged all around him, but Howard’s spirit was at peace.

Seventy-two years later, Howard still trusts the promise of His Heavenly Father:

Even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Is. 46:4).

 

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Dear Gary,

It is with sadness too deep for words that you, my friend, mourn the death of your beloved wife. Through the months and days to come, you will think of Verdeen and all that she was to you.

She was your bride. She was the mother of your children. She was a role model and mentor. She was a skilled craftswoman. She was the love of your life.
But do you know that Verdeen was—and still is—so much more?

At much too young an age, your beloved began to change as she suffered the progressive disease of Alzheimer’s. How many times did you hear someone say, “She isn’t the person she once was”?

But do they know that the person, Verdeen, was—and still is—so much more?

How difficult it must have been when you understood that your wife could no longer be a homemaker but would, instead, be a patient in the care center.

But, oh my friend, do you know that Verdeen was—and still is—so much more?

Do you know that as a baptized Christian, Verdeen has an identity that never changes no matter her appearance, abilities, or circumstances in life? Illness did not change who Verdeen really is. Nor did her funeral. Verdeen will always be the person she has been since her Baptism. On that day, she was washed with water and the Word, given faith, and dressed in righteousness and purity. She was marked with the sign of the cross and made a daughter and heir of God because of what Jesus her Savior and Lord did for her.

Think of it, my friend! Jesus invited both you and your beloved wife to pray, “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” The Apostle John writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).

But the world does not know who Verdeen is because it does not know God. If the world does not know God the Father, it cannot know His sons and daughters.

My friend, you are not like the world. Even though it has been difficult to watch the changes in your wife, you treated her with the honor and dignity that an heir of God deserves. It would be a lie to say that you didn’t suffer with her, or that you never experienced frustration, impatience, and even anger. But when we see another human being in the way that God does, our attitude is transformed. Indeed, each human life is a treasure for whom Christ gave all He had.

Dear friend, in all your years of courtship and marriage, did you see that Verdeen was dressed in Christ’s Robe of Righteousness and proclaimed “holy” in the eyes of God? Yes, I think you did. That is why you held her in high esteem and put her needs before your own. That is why you read to her, held her hand, looked at family photos with her, brought her flowers, sang hymns with her, wiped her bloody nose, combed her hair, and prayed with her.

Here, my friend, is your comfort and peace. You did not love as the world loves. You loved with compassion which means to “suffer with.” You loved more than a bride, the mother of your children, a role model and mentor, a craftswoman, and the romance of your life. You loved a daughter of God who now enjoys her “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for [her]” (1 Peter 1:4).

My friend, you defended the life of your beloved and honored her as her Father desired. You helped her navigate her earthly journey until her Father said: Well done, good and faithful husband. Now let Me carry My daughter home.

Oh, and there is one more thing, says the Lord: You will see her again.

Image credit:
gerardnadal.com

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There is a strange silence surrounding the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) on young girls.  Perhaps we are too anesthetized by the legalized mutilation and death of girls (and boys) in the womb through abortion.

According to a 2012 report of the CDC, an estimated “513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or had been subjected to female genital mutilation.”  Amanda Parker of the Aha Foundation reports that “the increase in FGM in the U.S. is almost entirely, if not entirely, due to the increase in immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced.  Somalia, Egypt, Sudan and others all have very high rates of FGM with more than 90 percent of girls in each country undergoing this abusive practice.”

In America today, FGM is illegal in only 24 states.  My own state of Iowa does not outlaw this crime against women.

Why aren’t more of us speaking on behalf of little girls brutalized by FGM—or babies who feel pain during an abortion?  Because both FGM and abortion have been placed in a religious and cultural context.  Americans who once enjoyed civil discourse over contrasting perspectives now fear being offensive if we oppose or even question a faith or practice different from our own.  To “offend” someone in America today is to risk judgment for a “hate crime.”

FGM is protected by Sharia law.  Sharia law is part and parcel to the religion of Islam.  With Islam’s Sharia law also comes forced marriage, honor killings, pedophilia, sexual slavery… and Sharia courts.  

Christianity does not force marriage, honor murder, or defend sexual sin.  Christianity understands that God wants us to first love Him and then love our neighbors as much as ourselves.  Children are our littlest neighbors and we should not keep silent as they are being carried to the butcher.

Christianity understands that every boy and girl—in the womb or born—has value, not because of how their parents perceive them, but because of what Jesus did for them.  To silence a voice that protests FGM or abortion is to silence the Lord who says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.”  To silence a voice that exposes any child abuse is to silence Jesus the Shepherd who gathers the little ones in His arms.

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One of our grandchildren recently stayed with us for the first time alone without his parents or siblings.  As I was packing his bag for the return to his own home, this three-year-old looked at me and said, “I want to stay.”  Those are words that warm a grandmother’s heart.

But why did he want to stay?  Was it because everything he did was fun?  Was it because he received my complete and undivided attention?

And why, after he left, did I wander through the house in such a melancholy mood?    

I began to question myself as a grandmother.  Had I given my grandson enough of my attention?  Did I play with him enough?  Did I do all the things he wanted to do?

No, I had not.  In struggling with this, my thoughts were turned to my own childhood and memories of overnight stays with my grandparents.  What do I remember most about those visits?  Why were they so special?  Did my grandmothers sit down and read to me every time I asked?  Did they get on the floor with me to play games?  Did they take me to the park or give me ice cream when I asked?  No.  Those things are not etched in my memory. 

When staying a week with my grandfather and grandmother who lived in another town, I often entertained myself.  I created my own “house,” prepared meals in my own “kitchen,” took care of my baby dolls, played dress-up; in other words, I did all the things I watched my grandmother doing.  I wasn’t getting all her attention, but I was in her presence.  I was near enough to hear her, watch her, imitate her.  I remember going with her to the garden where she picked the lettuce for the salad she made for my lunch.  She was working, and I was in her presence… either attempting to pick leaves of lettuce, too, or content that she was caring for my needs while I ran around the yard chasing butterflies.  

I spent even more time with the grandparents who lived only a mile from me.  I do not remember my grandma sitting down to play with me or taking me to the park.  What I remember is how she talked with me while she baked bread or cookies and how she invited me to help by asking me to set the table.  I listened to her speak with kindness as I watched her labor with her hands.  I remember that she was never idle.  When she wasn’t attending to the affairs of her household, she was volunteering at church, singing in the choir, or nurturing relationships by opening her home to family and friends.  At the end of a long day, my grandma settled into her chair and took up her crocheting.  She was making someone a birthday present or perhaps a blanket for a new baby.  Grandma wasn’t ignoring me.  She was mentoring me.  She was welcoming me into her life and teaching me how to do the things she did, most of them for others.

In my grandma’s presence, I felt respected and somehow older than I really was.  I knew she cared enough to have me in her home and help me discern right from wrong.  Whether I was in the same room with her or in another room pretending to be a grown up like her, I was blessed being in her presence.  In this way, my grandma was focused on me.  She was preparing me to be an adult. 

These memories are a great comfort as I think about my grandson’s visit.  I remember him swiffing the floor while I prepared dinner, planting a pretend field of corn with his John Deere tractor while I finished writing a letter to a friend, and building a fort while I organized last minute details for a community “Life Fair.”  I wasn’t on the floor with him, but we shared a companionship in our “work.”  These activities of our day made into good bedtime stories before praying that God would give us restful sleep and the promise of new morning.

Why was I in a melancholy mood after my grandson’s departure?  The house was empty of his presence.

And when my grandson said, “I want to stay,” I think he was telling me that being in my presence mattered to him, too.

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They said that Roe v. Wade would shift a nation toward reproductive freedom for women. But Baal demands what the Lord God does not. Nearly 60 million sacrificed babies and wounded mothers later, we ask: What has improved? In what way are women more free or healthier and happier? Are women and children less… or more at risk?

 

Aware of abortion’s piercing blade, thousands of my fellow pro-lifers joined the Annual March for Life on January 27 in our nation’s capital.   On that day, I was reading National Geographic’s Special Issue on “Gender Revolution.”  One contributor asked, “Can science help us navigate the shifting landscape of gender identity?” Again, Baal demands what God does not. Like fearful and navel-gazing societies before ours, we will cry “Freedom!” and burst “the chains that bind us.” We will think ourselves wise. Live as we desire. But when the “landscape” shifts, what kind of people will we be? Who among us will escape sorrow? Where will peace be found?

 

The landscape may shift. Souls will hunger and thirst. The cold, stone god Baal will be silent, but the Lord Jesus Christ will speak as He always has: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden. My burden is light. Repent… and fear not… for My love is steadfast and true.”

 

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joseph-and-his-rib-biblepictures-net

Joseph, a young man from the house of David, was probably like every other soon-to-be husband: nervous, but excited all the same.  That is, until his fiancée came to him with shocking news.  Mary was pregnant, but Joseph was not the father.  The world, as Joseph knew it, had collapsed around him.  He felt betrayed, hurt, angry.  Break the engagement, whispered his pride, and walk away from this woman.

Everything had changed.  Plans were ruined.  Reputation was at stake.  Unchartered territory lay ahead.  At this precarious moment in his life, Joseph had nothing to hang on to… nothing, that is, except the Word of the Lord.

The Word gave Joseph courage.  “Don’t be afraid!”  It was the word that showed Joseph how to be faithful.  “Take Mary as your wife.  She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20-21).

Perhaps, in holding on to the Word, Joseph remembered the experience of his ancestor, Adam.  Perhaps, in a moment of truth and with eyes focused, Joseph could picture Adam standing next to his wife, Eve.  Perhaps, with wisdom only from the Holy Spirit, Joseph recognized the significance of Eve’s creation by God from man’s rib.

God made (literally: “built”) woman using part of man.  With this, He established their relationship within the order of creation.  A rib is structural; it supports.  A rib guards and protects the heart and breath of life, yet it is vulnerable.  Under attack, it can easily be fractured or even broken.  Satan despises the order of creation that God uses to protect the man and woman He so loves.  So, that day in the Garden, Satan set his target and went straight to Adam’s rib.  The man was responsible for using God’s Word to cover his wife, yet he did nothing.  Joseph knew the consequences that followed.

Perhaps, with discernment only from God, Joseph understood that he must not repeat the sin of his ancestor and do to his rib what Adam had done to his.

Perhaps, in remembering what Adam had failed to do, Joseph was given the courage to cover his wife, Mary, and lead her to safety.  Let the village talk!  Adjust carefully-made plans!  Trust the Word of the Lord!  Although it meant leaving his zone of comfort, Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do.  He covered his rib by taking Mary as his wife.  And, when Mary’s child was born, Joseph named Him Jesus.

God wanted Joseph to make a difference – a difference that would impact the world.  But, such a difference could be made only by being faithful.  Such faithfulness required that Joseph leave all that was familiar and put his life and the life of Mary into the hands of God.

Today, when a young man pressures his girlfriend to have sex, he is leaving her physically, emotionally, and spiritually vulnerable.  He has placed his “needs” before hers and, in so doing, left her open to attack.  When a man does not promise to love, cherish, and cover a woman with his name, but simply share living quarters and a bed, he is leaving her open to attack.  When a man fathers a child but does not accept the privilege and responsibility of being a daddy, he is leaving both mother and child uncovered and vulnerable to the world.

But, when a man remembers God and His call to leadership, he is able to make a difference.  A young man who guards his girlfriend’s virtue makes a difference.  A husband who remains true to his wife makes a difference.  A dad who understands the privilege, responsibility, and generational influence of fatherhood makes a difference.  Men of faithfulness have a grand opportunity to defend against chaos and leave a legacy of hope.

Convenience told Joseph to walk away from Mary.  Self-defense told Joseph to think of “number one.”  Pride told Joseph that he could do better.  Fear told Joseph to hide.  But, God told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

Joseph did what the angel of the Lord commanded.  He covered Mary, his rib, and the unborn Child whose heart beat under her own.  And, after the Baby was born in the most humble of circumstances, Joseph named the Child Jesus.  Through all the frightening days ahead, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And the Lord did not forget Joseph.  In the midst of danger, the angel of the Lord warned Joseph.  When uncertainty abounded, the angel of the Lord directed Joseph.

It’s true that life wasn’t ever the same for Joseph.  It certainly wasn’t what he had planned.  But, Joseph remembered the Word of the Lord.  And, in doing so, he received courage to do what was asked of him.  Joseph was faithful to cover Mary, his rib.  He raised her Son Jesus in a godly home and took Him to worship.  Some 2000 years later, the Boy who grew to be a Man in the house of a carpenter is still changing lives.

Joseph made a difference.

by Linda Bartlett
Revised 2010
(image: biblepictures.net)
“Joseph & His Rib” available from LFL

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Nehemiah buildingWhat is a Christian to do?  It’s as if God asks the impossible of us.  He wants us to build with one hand and resist evil with the other.  But with more cultural decay comes more evil.

Mindful of raising up a new generation of Christians but also keenly aware of our own inadequacies and failures, parents, pastors, and all who love children become discouraged and even fearful.  With fear comes the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of God’s Word and more easily accept the help of passionate unbelievers.  “Why do you cling to ancient traditions?” they ask.  “Can’t you see?  We have something new!”

There is a lesson to be learned from God’s people who, in a time before us, were also discouraged, overwhelmed, and taunted by unbelieving neighbors who offered something new.

The remnant of Israel that had survived exile in Persia returned home to find the walls of Jerusalem broken down and city gates destroyed.  To this small number of faithful people was given the arduous task of re-building the temple and walls of Jerusalem.  God also wanted His people to grow faithful families.  He wanted them to be holy and set apart in their worship and practice.  When people in the neighboring land saw that Jerusalem was being restored, they offered their help.  After all, these people explained, they worshipped God, too.  (In reality, they were a people of blended religions.)  Fearing that they would commit themselves to false worship, the Israelite fathers refused the offer of resources and help.  They knew that God had entrusted the job of rebuilding the temple and walls only to them.  So “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5).

The culture in which God’s people found themselves made the building project very difficult, but the Word of the Lord consistently commanded the people to persevere.  God also reminded His people that they were to be holy and set apart for His good purpose.  But the people of Israel, following the example of some of their leaders, mixed themselves with the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and others through marriage (9:1-2).  The people were guilty of breaking faith with God and allowing impurity of worship, teaching, and practice.  There was confession and absolution but, because the potential for continued corruption of worship was so great, illegal marriages were identified and ended (10:18-19).  The rebuilding of the temple, restoration of the walls, and growing of faithful families began anew.

However, when the neighbors in the land saw that the Israelites were again doing the work of God in rebuilding Jerusalem, they were angry.  “[T]hey all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh. 4:8).  It was easy to cause confusion and discouragement among the Israelites because fathers, mothers, and grandparents were overwhelmed by the task that lay before them.  “There is too much rubble.  By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (4:10).  The enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (4:11).  Nehemiah encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (4:14).  When the walls were rebuilt and the gates restored, the law of God was read to the people who were both joyful and repentant (chapters 8 and 9).

Everything was coming back into order and Israel was prepared to live by the truth of God’s Word.  What could go wrong?  What went wrong is incredibly significant.  Eliashib, the priest appointed over the chambers of God, gave Tobiah the Ammonite a place in the temple (13:4-5).  Under the guise of helping God’s people, Tobiah was given a room formerly used to store the offering for God.  There, within the temple, sat Tobiah and his possessions.  Nehemiah was away when this happened, but when he returned, he “was very angry, and [he] threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.  Then [he] gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and [he] brought back there the vessels of the house of God” (13:8-9).

God entrusted the rebuilding of His temple and the city walls to His people.  He entrusted the growing of holy families to husbands and wives equipped with His Word.  He does the same today.

God wants His people to keep their worship, teaching, and practices pure and different from that of the dark and unbelieving world.  Certainly, there are resources in the world that can be practical and helpful to the Christian.  But we must take care especially when it comes to instructing Jesus’ little ones.  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).  It is a frightening thing indeed to compromise one of the Father’s children.

Compromise happens, however, when God’s people are weary and burdened, or prideful and above reproach.  Compromise happens when we let down our guard and grow comfortable with the world.  At such times it is easier for an opposing foe to gain access by offering some kind of help or resource.  It was for this reason that Nehemiah “stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows … each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (Neh. 4:13, 18).  The men were on guard at night and labored by day (22).

We are weary and overwhelmed by a multitude of life issues.   Sometimes we are prideful after doubting God’s Word and trusting something else.   As the culture decays and evil abounds, we may believe that God asks the impossible of us.  But, Martin Luther reminds us that the task of rebuilding the temple and shoring up walls was given to a weak people, few in number; a people against whom stood powerful princes and nations, which lived round about and daily threatened imminent destruction.

There will be days when failure distracts us from the building project.  There will be those like Tobiah who mock our faithfulness to an ancient faith while tempting us with new practices.  In the face of evil, let it be said of us:  Look!  They remember “the Lord who is great and awesome,” and they “fight for [their] brothers…sons…daughters…wives…and homes” (Neh. 4:14).

Excerpted from The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity
(pp 61-63) by Linda Bartlett;
Amazon.com.  Please also visit Our Identity Matters.
Image: mudpreacher.org

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