Tag Archives: Restoration

Renovation or Destruction

He shall have the house torn down, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place.
Leviticus 14:45 (NRSV)

We spent this weekend with friends at the lake. It was a wonderful time of hanging out together and enjoying good conversation. Our friends bought a house a few years ago and have been in slow remodel mode ever since. The conversation this weekend meandered often to brainstorming thoughts and ideas for renovating their place. Wendy, who avidly keeps the television in her office on the DIY and Home & Garden channels, was more than happy to jump in with her thoughts and ideas.

There is a house on the lot next to ours at the lake. You can barely see it through the trees in the summer, but those who spend any time at our place on the lake eventually notice the place, and can’t help but be curious. We are often quizzed about the house by our guests. As far as we know, the small house has not been occupied by humans since the 1970s. The structure is largely rotted and the house is literally falling apart. Holes and openings in the structure have led to infestation of all kinds of critters. Those curious enough to wander through the brush to inspect the house closer will find that black mold covers the inside which was abandoned while still furnished. The furniture is equally rotten and covered with mold.

A newer home being updated. An abandoned house rotting. I thought about the contrast as I read this morning’s chapter about the ancient Levitical rules for “cleansing” of “diseases.” The cleansing not only included the human body but also the houses humans lived in. If there was the presence of mold or some other unhealthy thing growing in the house of an ancient Hebrew, the priest was called in to inspect it. If it could not be addressed the entire house was to be destroyed and the rubbish removed from the community.

I am struck this morning by the contrasting word pictures. Sometimes life is structurally sound, but there are always opportunities for improvement. An update here, a renovation there to raise the usefulness and value of the entire house. Other times in life, the core structure is rotten (even if hidden beneath several coats of fresh paint). Renovation is not an option because it changes mere appearances but does not address what is rotten at the core. Old things must pass away in order for new things to come.

Jesus addressed this very issue when he spoke with the priests and religious leaders:

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.”

chapter a day banner 2015

When the Walls Come a Tumblin’ Down

[The travelers from Judah] replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.”

When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NRSV)

In ancient days, a nations walls were everything. Every major city (which subsequently controlled the nearby lands) was surrounded by walls. Walls were your security, making it impossible for enemies to easily invade. Walls were your pride. Their height, width, and engineering told the world how prosperous, industrious, and educated you were. Your gates were your calling card. Being the weakest point of defense, your gate said everything about you. The more secure, enamored, and embellished the gate, the more your city state would be held in high esteem.

The book of Nehemiah is about the walls and the gate of the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed (along with Solomon’s temple) by the Babylonian empire in 587 B.C. Most of the nations best and brightest were carried off into captivity in Babylon. Ezra, Nehemiah and their families were among them. As the scene is established in the opening sequence of today’s chapter, Nehemiah runs into some travelers who had arrived in Babylon from back home. He inquires about the state of their homeland and capitol city, and learns that the walls and gates had been utterly destroyed. The remnant back home feel utter shame.

If you have no walls, you are nothing.

Nehemiah’s reaction to the news was telling. He is grief stricken. He weeps. He fasts. He prays and confesses to God his sins, the sins of his family, and the sins of his nation.

We don’t have literal walls surrounding our homes and capitols [Unless you live in a gated community…there’s a good conversation to be explored there. Trump’s promised border wall is another interesting parallel conversation, but I digress] Walls as a line of defense became obsolete hundreds of years ago. The word picture, however, still carries weight for me in my personal life. I still build walls, metaphorically, around my heart and life. I build walls of protection against forces spiritual, emotional, relational, and cultural. I erect walls of possessions and words revealing to others what I want them to see, while hiding safely that which I desire to hide. I engineer relational walls that warn people off, walls that keep people out, and gates of relationship that open and close at my will.

And, my walls can crumble and fall just like Jerusalem’s.

On my left bicep I have a tat that references Psalm 51. It is an ancient song of confession, the lyrics written by King David at a moment when the walls of Jerusalem stood tall and proud, but the walls of his personal life had come crashing to the ground. The gates to his soul lay in utter ruin. It is on my left bicep because the ancients identified left, and left-handedness (I’m a lefty, btw), with foolishness, iniquity, and sin. It is on my bicep because it is a reminder to me that my strength is not in the quality of the walls I build around myself, but in humility and the utter honesty of my confession.

Nehemiah is having a Psalm 51 moment. I have had my own (multiple times). Walls crash and burn. Life sometimes lays in ruin before us. I have learned along the journey that in those moments when life crumbles around me the key to finding seeds of redemption and restoration lie not in the strength of my biceps, but in the condition of my spirit. Nehemiah gets it, too.

Breaking Points and Places of Restoration

Lake Mug 2 Snapseed LRWhen [the members of the Corinthian synagogue] opposed and reviled him, in protest [Paul] shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 18:6 (NRSV)

Wendy and I arrived home from the lake last night after a long weekend with friends. I tweeted yesterday that there are some weekends there that you just never want to end, and that’s truly the way I felt yesterday. I wasn’t ready to come home. Wendy and I have realized over time the same thing that my parents realized as they owned the place before us, that the lake is a place of soul restoration.

Our life journeys can wear us down at times. We get depleted. Our feet get dirty from walking through life’s muck. At some point, perhaps at many waypoints along the path, we reach a breaking point like Paul experienced in Corinth in today’s chapter. We can’t take any more of what life is throwing at us. We give up, give in and throw in the towel.

For Paul, showing love and kindness to those who reviled and hated him was wearying business. I think we all experience the breaking point from time to time when our spiritual, emotional, and mental reserves are tapped out. I get the feeling that the reason Jesus often stole away to a mountain side by Himself  was because He was driven by need to refresh His spiritual, emotional and mental batteries.

I’m reminded this morning that we all have breaking points. It’s part of the human journey. Jesus experienced it, Paul experienced it, I’m going to experience it too. The question isn’t “if” but “when.” Today, I’m grateful for places of restoration. I’m thankful for quiet and the encouragement of friends who recharge our soul batteries in ways that allow us to press on.

Vision, Design, Measurement, Reality

Wendy Sold on Bos LotGreat Room

[God] took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. 
Ezekiel 40:3 (NIV)

In the past year, Wendy and I had a completely unexpected idea to build a  new house, purchased the lot, hired a contractor, worked on a design, watched it being built, and moved in. The reality of it still makes my head spin. From hair-brained idea to a new home in twelve months.

The result of this is that Wendy and I have spent the better part of a year using rulers and tape measures to size up drawings, blueprints, floors, walls, lot lines, doorways, driveways,  closets, counters, fireplaces, sinks, etc., etc., and etc. It’s a necessary part of building a new custom designed house. And, I’ll be happy never to do it again!

I had an eery feeling of deja vu this morning as I read of Ezekiel’s vision. After 39 chapters of doom, gloom, violence and judgement the theme of Zeke’s messages takes a huge turn. We have to remember the context from which he is writing. The city of Jerusalem had been sieged and destroyed, along with Solomon’s glorious temple by the Babylonian army. Ezekiel was taken into exile to the land of his enemy where he and his fellow expatriates can only grieve their home and their temple that lies in ruin. Perhaps we should expect him to have a doom and gloom outlook.

Starting with today’s chapter, however, Zeke’s final visions take on a new twist. From here on out his visions are about the restoration and rebuilding of a new city and a new temple. Today his vision is of a heavenly contractor, ancient tape measures in hand, who takes him on a construction tour to measure out the new temple which will be built. Measurement after measurement after measurement of walls, doors, floors, etc., etc., and etc. It’s part of the process of building something new.

Today I’m thankful that the “vision” and “measurement” phase of our new home is over and we are experiencing the reality of it. I’m thankful for the experience of being led through the whirlwind process of unforeseen vision to fulfillment and reality. The experience encourages me to have faith in the larger visions, plans and blueprints God reveals for this life and this world.

Restoration

Front Stoop Construction1Even though the destroyer has destroyed Judah,
    the Lord will restore its honor.
Israel’s vine has been stripped of branches,
    but he will restore its splendor.
Nahum 2:2 (NLT)

Eight years ago this summer Wendy and I bought our little brick tudor house just a block north of the town square. I dubbed it “Vander Well Manor” on Foursquare, which never fails to make my heart smile. It is such a quaint little home that I have a hard time not romanticizing it. When I look at our house from the street I think of how Obi Wan Kenobi described the light saber: “an elegant [house] for a more civilized age.” It was about seventy years old when we bought it and was showing significant signs of age and wear. It has no central air conditioning and an ancient boiler from somewhere near the Eisenhower administration. We have slowly been updating and fixing what it desperately needs in the moment. We have done a lot, but there is so much more to do.

Over the past couple of years Wendy and I have engaged in a long, on-going conversation about the investment required in continuing to fix our little house up to bring it to the state we both really want it to be. Do we keep pumping time, energy and resources into the old house or do we invest in building something new from the ground up? It’s hard not to look at the numbers and think that selling this place and building something new might be the wiser investment. We have gone back and forth, but we keep ending up choosing restoration over replacement. We love this house. The girls come back and call it home. It is in this place that we’ve shared so much of life.

Beyond that, there is something spiritual in the theme of restoration that resonates deep within me. Throughout God’s Message we see God restoring what is old, broken and discarded and bringing out of it something more precious and powerful. The ancient, childless couple Abram and Sara become parents of the nations. The old and dishonored Moses is transformed into a leader for the ages. David, a scalawag bandit with a price on his head, who wanders in the desert for twenty years rises to unite the nation and  rule for 40 years. In today’s chapter Nahum envisions the restoration of Israel. Jesus’ bloody, crucified body is raised to new life of eternal splendor.  Twelve largely uneducated men of questionable character carry Jesus’ message to the nations and literally turn the world upside down. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. Restoration through God’s amazing grace.

So, perhaps I’m over spiritualizing it. Perhaps I’m waxing poetic so as to feel better about the money we just spent to pour a new front stoop and patio. The truth is that I love word pictures. They speak to the depths of my soul. Each time I drive home and pull into the driveway and then into the rotting garage with a door that won’t close, I am reminded that I too am a work in progress. Restoration takes time, energy and resources. God is not finished with me and, thankfully, hasn’t given up on me.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 23

Quiet conversation on the dock.

he leads me beside quiet waters….
Psalm 23:2b (NIV)

My friends and family know that life has been a little bit of crazy for Wendy and me this summer. Nothing bad, mind you. Thank God, we are well and the craziness has not been the result of tragedy or ill circumstance. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. Business for us has been the best it’s been since the recession began in 2008. New projects seem to pop up unexpectedly. Our little community theatre, where we both serve as board members, is producing some great shows, was recently awarded for an outstanding show, and has a silver anniversary celebration coming up for which we’re largely responsible. Our Playhouse has been buzzing with activity this summer which requires some unique work and stress of its own. We are are so blessed at the moment.

On the back door of our house is a mezuzah. If you don’t know to look for it, you might not notice it’s there. It’s a small box that, in the Jewish tradition, is fixed to the door post of your house to remind you of God’s message as you go in and out. Our mezuzah is ceramic, and I bought it in a little hole-in-the-wall shop off the narrow streets of Old Jerusalem in Israel. Inside the mezuzah are various verses from God’s Message. Along with the traditional verses, Wendy and I each picked out a few of our own to put in there when we hung it a few years back.

Calling Wendy from my hotel last night, she asked me if I remember the verses she picked to put in there. I did not. She reminded me that one of the verses says:

Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Malachi 3:10b (NIV)

With that we spent a few minutes counting and naming our blessings and uttering a quick prayer of thanks. Our crazy summer is not the result of bad things but good things. We are scrambling to keep up with our blessings, and we don’t want to take that for granted. Things can turn on a dime. We are so grateful.

Today’s chapter are the familiar lyrics of the 23rd Psalm. I know them well. In fact, as I slogged down to the hotel lobby, still half-asleep, to fill my travel mug with coffee I began mulling over the words in my mind from memory. I came to “he leads me beside quiet waters” and immediately my heart was on the dock at the lake as the sun rises behind the trees at the back of the cove. The quiet waters of the lake have always been a place of peace for me. The gentle lull of the waves are the conduit for God’s spiritually restorative powers.

I’m feeling weary this morning and I’m appreciatively taking refuge in God’s promise to lead me to restful places beside quiet waters. In 48 hours, God willing, I’ll be on that dock as Wendy and I entertain good friends at the lake this weekend. Until then, I’ll seek my rest in God’s presence and promises.

Chapter-a-Day John 21

A third time [Jesus] asked [Peter], “Simon son of John, do you love me?” John 21:17a (NLT)

Wendy and I have been in Texas on business the past several days. Yesterday afternoon and evening is about the only break we’re going to get before flying home on Wednesday. So, we enjoyed it. We went out in the afternoon and enjoyed a long walk in the sun. We enjoyed a nice meal together and then sat out in the hotel courtyard in the evening to enjoy a glass of wine and some quiet conversation.

Our conversation meandered into the subject of grace: being freely given God’s love, forgiveness and favor even though you don’t, in any way, deserve it. We discussed our mutual observation that those individuals who screw their lives up the most seem to understand grace best. As the sun went down, Wendy and I recounted our lives, our personal failings, and how God used them to teach us about His unmerited favor. Once you’ve experienced grace in the midst of your own moral bankruptcy, you find it much easier to love others you encounter in the midst of theirs.

Perhaps that’s why I love the story of Simon Peter from today’s chapter. The undisputed leader of Jesus’ followers, it was Simon who publicly denied Jesus three times even after being warned by Jesus that he would do so. Jesus asks Peter three times to affirm his love for Him. Three affirmations, one for each denial. For the second time in his life, Simon Peter stands on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and hears Jesus call him to follow. He would emerge from his own public failure changed by grace, and would become an even better person and leader because of it.

As the dark of night crept in around us, Wendy and I finished our glass of wine and marveled at where our individual journies have brought us, and where our journey together is leading us. We thought about Taylor, and Clayton, and Madison; We pondered where they are in their own individual journies of grace and where we see it leading them. Amazing.

It was a wonderful evening.