Rebuilding the Foundations of Family and Community Life: A Lenten Devotional

In the weeks preceding Easter, during the Lenten Season, the teens in our church have a chance to step up and lead the congregation. They take on responsibility by leading a church service each Wednesday evening, providing both the lesson and the worship, as well as leading the High School Sunday morning class.

The teens also help prepare a Lenten Devotional which is compiled into little booklets and given to every member of the congregation, and also often given to friends and families of those members! The Lenten Devotional is comprised of devotions written by the teens, adults who help with the teens, and our church leadership. As in years past, I was blessed to be offered a chance to write on the devotional reflection this year.

For more information about the theme of our Lent Devotional see this Introduction, which happens to written by my dear husband! To see my devotional, continue reading below…

2017_LentDevotional_Cover
The cover of our 2017 Lenten Devotional

The following is crossposted on Redeemer’s Lenten Blog.

What if I accepted and offered forgiveness to others?

Jumping into chapter three of Nehemiah can be a bit overwhelming. There is an abundance of activity occurring in the city of Jerusalem. People of all trades, families, and leaders are each following Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild the wall. Gates are being repaired, stones are being laid, and communities are strengthening the portions of the walls closest to their home to provide them with protection from outside enemies. After I read the passage, I meditated on verse twelve, and tried to imagine what it might have been like for Shallum and his daughters….

12 Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.

With one hand she skillfully placed the small chisel on the markings she had made, markings that were barely visible against the dirty and rough texture of the large stone on the damp, morning grass in front of her. In the other hand she confidently wielded her father’s well-worn hammer. With a few precise strokes, she cut the rock to the perfect size. She smiled as she surveyed her work, just as a jeweler carefully crafts a gemstone for the king’s crown, she thought to herself. She allowed for a brief moment’s pause in the day’s work, which was only just beginning. Behind her, her older sister was dutifully scurrying about with a fresh bucket of mortar, while her younger sister methodically tapped stones into place with a small mallet. Her father, Shallum, was walking towards her with sweat starting to glisten on his brow. His job was to take each stone she cut and place it into its freshly mortared spot on the wall.

“Daughter,” he said gently as he approached, “Surely you are not daydreaming already? The sun has but merely risen in the sky!” Even as he chided her, he could feel the small grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. His middle girl had always been full of ideals, imagining grand stories, and ever yearning to grow closer to the LORD God of Heaven. He was proud of the work each of his daughters was able to provide in building Nehemiah’s wall, and he was pleasantly surprised with how quickly they had each learned their new tasks. Despite his growing grin, he could read the guilt on his daughter’s face, even though she had given no response to his initial question.

He spoke again, “Here, how about a proposition.” The guilt melted off her face and a mixture of curiosity and worry and took its place. She wasn’t sure if she was going to like his offer. The father continued, “My dear, what if you save your beautiful thoughts and share them with us all at dinner tonight. I know it is hard work out here, day after day repairing this wall. We will all surely benefit from hearing your wonderful dreams! But for now, you must keep working, my darling, these stones won’t cut themselves.” With a wink, he picked up the large stone and slowly made his way back to the wall.

That evening, when the sun had set and they had made their way home, when they were each sitting in their place around the table piled high with as much food as their mother had been able to prepare that day, the middle daughter was able to share her dreams.

“This morning as I cut the first stone of day, I thought of myself as a jeweler carefully crafting a gem for the king’s crown. At first, I laughed at myself, and I thought of how mother always says I have my head high in the sky, but as I looked around me at you, sisters, hard at work, and you, father, always ready for the next stone, I began to think my thought might not be so farfetched after all. I even thought of you mother, here in the city center and all of the other mothers, and bakers, and potters, and people helping to build the wall by making food to send to the workers, and even mending work gloves.

When we read the Law, father, you always tell us that we are a nation, Holy and precious to God. You told us how Nehemiah heard of our defenseless city and fell to his knees crying out to the LORD in confession. And, how God’s hand was on him and how God made everything work so that Nehemiah could come here and instruct us all in rebuilding our wall to protect our city. But I think, perhaps, this is about more than a wall. Our whole city is working together, side by side, even the curmudgeonly perfumer from two streets over! Somehow, I think our community, these relationships we are building each day out there by that wall, are truly like a crown for God, our king. I think, the LORD smiles at our job well done, when we do it together. Just like I smiled not only at my own little perfect cuts in the stone this morning, but in each of our perfect parts in making this wall a reality.”

As the father sat listening to the daydreaming thoughts of his middle daughter, he felt the grin from that morning return to his face. He knew that they would spend the rest of the evening poring over her thoughts as they recalled stories from the Law, and shared how God’s hand had been on them in their own lives…

***

It was God’s desire that his Holy nation be protected from outside enemies, despite their continual disobedience and turning away from his commandments, and Nehemiah was the man the LORD chose to be the leader of the rebuilding project.

I believe that, just as God had a plan for his Holy nation, he has a plan for each one of our lives. God has chosen us to trust him, and seek his guidance on the plans he has for us, just as Nehemiah sought God in prayer about rebuilding the wall. However, rebuilding the wall took a whole city! It is no doubt the same for us in our lives: whatever dreams God has for us are going to require that we have a strong, healthy community around us, if they are to come to fruition. (What are the dreams on your heart?!)

Scripture

“…and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
Luke 11:4

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:1-3

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:30-32

The verses from Luke and Ephesians remind me how important forgiveness is if we wish to cultivate healthy community around us. How do I forgive those who sin against me? How often do I extend grace to others? (And is it at all proportional to how often I expect others to extend grace to me?) Am I kind to those around me? Tenderhearted?

For Christmas this year, my grandmother asked me what she could get me that I would appreciate. I had had my eye on some lovely, little, beeswax tea-lights for my home. Apparently, beeswax candles have the added benefit of being able to improve air quality, which might explain their elevated price tag. When I unwrapped the box on Christmas and discovered the tea-lights, I was elated. I decided the tea-lights should have a special spot on a high closet shelf where they would live until the right occasion came for each of them to be used.

Little did I know that the right occasion for them to be used would apparently be the Redeemer’s Got Talent Show at the end of February. As I was standing by a beautifully decorated table talking with some teens, I realized part of the beauty on each table was due to my Christmas beeswax tea-lights! My husband, Trevor, had seen it fit to snatch them from the appointed shelf-space and use them all as decorations! I sputtered my surprise and dismay to the teens I was talking to as the realization dawned on me. “Well,” said one teen, wise beyond his years, “Remember when you got married and Pastor Ray said you would have to keep forgiving Trevor again, and again, and again? I guess this is one of those times.”

And it is true, I can often find compassion or grace for a stranger, but it is with-in my own home that I need to remember to forgive again and again. If my family wall is crumbling, if bricks are falling loose from their mortar, I have no foundation to follow God’s will for my life. And so, I turn my eyes to Christ on the Cross, He who forgave me of far greater things than using some silly candles, and I find the courage to forgive, again…and again…and again.

Prayer:
Father God, you who created mountains high, ocean waves, and seemingly endless skies, you who set the atoms moving in motion in our great world, you who reign over heaven on high, please hear my plea. There is much in my life for which I need to seek forgiveness, small things in my home, thoughts that do not bring you glory, and mistakes I have made both big and tiny. There are times I have spoken poorly, and times my actions have left someone not with a picture of Jesus, but a picture of my selfish self. Forgive me of all that I have neglected. Help me to turn from my sinful ways, and to turn towards you, LORD. Please renew me again, and again, and again, with your loving forgiveness. May I seek to love you with my whole heart, my mind, soul, and strength! And may you equip me again and again to love each neighbor I come across in my day as I love myself.

In the name of your son Jesus Christ, Amen.