The Family Chronicler

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I have pneumonia. I’ve had it since Memorial Day, and the dry Denver air has made it tough to heal. A couple of days into my steroids, antibiotics, breathing treatments, and sinus flushes, it occurred to me that my grand genealogy project might be part of the problem. I had been scanning pictures touched by pink mildew and transcribing letters stained by hopefully dead-by-now black mold. But when it comes to breathing, “hopefully” isn’t good enough. I should have known better than to dive into the trunk without a respirator. First, because I worked for the Tennessee State Library and Archives for a semester–I archived for a living. Second, because the very women I am studying were tuberculosis nurses. I admit that for a fleeting hour moment, I thought I had somehow contracted tuberculosis from the trunk.

Excavating a bowl-lamp-bowl foundation
deposit in Ashkelon, Israel.

Standing at my kitchen sink staring at all the expensive prescriptions in front of me, I wondered, Why am I doing this? When I’m gone, I won’t have any children to will these albums and letters and garments to. No one will know I existed, and no one will care that these people existed. (Forgive my maudlin attitude–I was literally coughing up blood, and death felt imminent!)

Always ready to set me straight, my David reminded me that genealogies have rooted my career: I was briefly an archivist, I am a trained biblical archaeologist, and I translated and annotated 1 & 2 Chronicles for The Voice Bible. My entire adult life has been dedicated to preserving, cataloging, and respecting those who have lived before me. Why? Because history fascinates me. Even the genealogies in Chronicles. About six years ago an elder in our church called Chronicles “boring,” and I dared to challenge him. It was recent-grad-school-graduate bravado. Today I will admit that, yes, lists of names are boring (on the surface). But they are Scripture for a reason.

The key to genealogies (biblical or ancestral) is “reading between the lines.” Consider Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke:

This is the family history, the genealogy, of Jesus the Anointed, the coming King. You will see in this history that Jesus is descended from King David, and that He is also descended from Abraham. It begins with Abraham, whom God called into a special, chosen, covenanted relationship, and who was the founding father of the nation of Israel. (Matthew 1:1, The Voice)

He was assumed to be the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,…the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:22, 38, The Voice)

Jesus is who He is. His ancestors were who they were. So why don’t Matthew and Luke have the exact same genealogy for Him? That’s the interesting part! The Voice Bible does a good job of highlighting Matthew’s point: Jesus is Jewish–just as Matthew’s readers were. Luke, who was writing to the rest of the world, connects Jesus to God and makes Him supra-Jewish. The Gospels (and their genealogies) together tell New Testament readers that Jesus is for everyone.

So I look forward to returning to my family’s genealogy project as soon as I’m healed. I’ll do it with a respirator–so I don’t think I’ve contracted tuberculosis–but with renewed dedication to the importance of all history.

Flying Home

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Did you take an aptitude test in high school? My junior year the Air Force administered the ASVAB to all eleventh-grade students, and I learned that the career for which I was best suited was airplane pilot. This tickled Daddy to no end, as he was an aerospace administration major in college. He has the best stories about his first flights.

For a while my daddy flew corpses across the country as a part-time job and as a way to earn flight miles for his license. (It is important to this story that you know one not-so-polite fact: as corpses change altitude, they tend to release gases. Got it?) When he was pledging his fraternity, some brothers booked a fake flight. One of the boys hid in a body bag and made the appropriate noises for an hour or so as the plane approached its destination. Long after the sun had set and as he began his descent, Daddy felt a tap on his right shoulder.

“Gotta light?”

It was the 70s. I’m thankful they were only smoking tobacco.

The Air Force didn’t know and Daddy didn’t imagine just how important air travel would be in my life. David and I regularly earn 500,000 Southwest Rapid Reward miles each year. Unfortunately most of that is work-related instead of pleasure-oriented.

Worse than work-related flights are bereavement flights. David and I had been Colorado residents for 3 days–and the 12-year-old-looking Xfinity guy was installing internet at our condo–when I got the call: my papa (Daddy’s daddy) was dying. We had to fly home to Tennessee.

As it happened, Daddy was in Oregon that day for work of his own. He had already planned to return to Tennessee via Denver. Before learning about Papa, David and I had planned to just wave at Daddy as the plane crossed over our heads. Instead David got online and managed to book us the last two seats on the same flight as Daddy. For the first time since 9/11, I had one of those 90s-movie lovey-dovey airline-gate reunions that TSA has rendered practically impossible.

Never have I been so thankful to fly. I cried when David told me he’d gotten us tickets, when I saw Daddy waiting for us at the gate, when I boarded the plane and saw the last open seat was wedged between my father and my husband. And days later, I cried when Papa “flew home” to God and Granny.

Tonight, as I look out my window at that glorious sunset over a blanket of clouds, I am thankful for so many previously unnoticed primers God has used to prepare me for this life. He gave me an aptitude for and love of flying, a lifestyle that amasses frequent-flier miles and shrinks the size of my world, and a better “airport moment” than any Hollywood writer could describe. And one day, He’ll watch as I take my last “flight home” to Him (and my papa).

Happy [God]mother’s Day

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Dry Creek Crossing at 8:00a MDT

I woke up a little late this morning. It is snowing and sleeting in Denver today (while my own mother has sunny, 90-degree weather down in Tennessee), so the clouds kept my bedroom a little darker a little longer than usual. It was 7:30a when my eyes opened and I blindly reached toward my nightstand to grab my blinking smartphone. I had received an email overnight from a new friend in the Czech Republic, and I had to get up RIGHT THEN to answer her email RIGHT NOW. Her question reminded me of struggles my David and I’ve encountered in the last few years. If my answer could ease her pain, it needed to be sent halfway across the earth immediately!

Maybe an hour later I’d finished my reply. David had gotten up by then, and we were both settling into a restful, coffee-infused Sunday. He was watching golf, sneezing, and cursing this “ridiculous” weather; I was cataloging stuff from great-grand Aunt Bessie’s trunk; we both were avoiding church.

Mother’s Day isn’t a particularly happy Sunday for a couple who has had multiple miscarriages. In years past we’ve had church leaders who were sensitive to our feelings. Maybe they avoided mentioning Mother’s Day entirely, or maybe they made a point of including the parents of miscarried children as “mothers” worthy of honor on this day. We were thankful for their efforts, but no matter what anyone says or does, Mother’s Day is miserable for any woman who wants-but-doesn’t-have a particular child. If there’s a special children’s music program that day, it hurts. If the existence of the holiday is ignored entirely, it hurts worse (because Mother’s Day is the elephant in the room and you know you’re the reason why it isn’t being acknowledged).

So this Sunday, we stayed home. It was easy to do: the weather is indeed “ridiculous,” and we haven’t officially joined a church out West yet. No one would notice our absence.

From our balcony

A few hours later David went to bed with a painful sinus headache, and I stayed up working on the trunk stuff. In the quiet I heard a ding-dong from my smartphone: the mama of my soon-to-be goddaughter posted a picture of the mobile I had commissioned for her baby, and she thanked me for it. I remembered the words I’d typed to my new European friend just this morning: “But [are fertility treatments] right for you and your husband? That is for the Holy Spirit to tell you. After 7 years of … procedures and 5 miscarriages, David and I are confident that God doesn’t intend for us to raise children of our own. We believe He has other plans for us, such as being very involved in the lives of our godchildren and our future nieces and nephews.”

Yes, I stand by those words. God has shown to me that He wants to use me in nontraditional ways. As Paul said to the Corinthians,

My primary desire is for you to be free from the worries that plague humanity. A single man can focus on the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord, but a married man has to worry about the details of the here and now and how to please his wife. A married man will always have divided loyalties. The same idea is true for a young unmarried woman. She concerns herself only with the work of the Lord and how to dedicate herself entirely, body and spirit, to her Lord. On the other hand, a married woman has vast responsibilities for her family and a desire to please her husband. I am not trying to give you more rules and regulations. I only want to give you advice that is fitting and helpful. I want to help you live lives of faithful devotion to the Lord without any distraction (1 Cor. 7: 32–35, The Voice).

I am a married woman, but I can extrapolate Paul’s intention to apply to my situation. I am a woman who “desire(s) to please her husband,” but because my David and I don’t need to divide our loyalties between children and Him, we can together “live lives of faithful devotion to the Lord without any distraction.” Is that not exactly what a godparent is commissioned to do? To guide his or her godchild to “live lives of faithful devotion to the Lord without any distraction”?

Lilies of the Prairie

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Rocky Mountain Lake Park

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that Spring is my favorite season. I love watching the world come to life. I loved pruning my Tennessee lilac bushes and making tulip arrangements. I didn’t love the bees (I’m allergic) or the pollen (allergic to that too); but the sunshine, mild temperatures, fragrant plants, and general beauty were worth the energy I spent sneezing.

Springtime in Denver is different. Better, if you ask me. It seems as if every day is sunny and the temperatures never go above 75. The blooms aren’t as prolific here as they are in the South because the climate is so much drier in a prairie, but I don’t have any pollen allergies. And there are no mosquitoes. I can sit outside in a park with my laptop and write blogs without a box of tissues. It is glorious.

I am thankful to have a husband who appreciates beauty and nature as much as I do. Each weekend when we go into the mountains and hike, he lets me stop and just gawk at the snow caps and springs and (super-cute fuzzy) mule deer around us. He’d buy me “rocks” every day if he could, and he does manage to keep the vase on my mantle full of freshly cut flowers (now courtesy of Whole Foods instead of our backyard). Those cut flowers are the only Spring blossoms I’ve really seen around here.

Today the vase is full of lilies: a reminder of Easter week and an inspiration for an upcoming baby shower. My sweet niece and goddaughter, Lily, will join the Haley clan at the end of May. She won’t just be a result of the life that comes to earth in the Spring, but the embodiment of that life.

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27 NKJV).

Jesus is trying to explain why humanity should stop worrying. God is in control of everything. He brings life to the earth in the Spring, and He has brought life to my niece. Notice that after millennia of doing this, He still enlivens the world with great care. God takes the time to adorn His creation. He rains on all those beautiful plants when we forget them (not to say that I ever forgot to water my plants) and raises them up under His sunlight.

I’ve written a letter to Lily, and in it I’ve encouraged her to consider her namesake. Lilies are delicate and beautiful, yes, but they are also hardy and carefree. God wants these things for Lily’s life. God cares for my flower of a niece as He cares for His wild prairie blossoms: meticulously and completely. He will make sure that the irritants she encounters in life are beneficial just as bees and pollen that might irritate her immune system make for a more beautiful Tennessee spring.

But should Lily need to escape the itchy South and practice giving her worries to God, there’s no reason she can’t come to the Denver prairie for a season.

Aunties and Old Lace

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The priceless (but not valuable) treasures on this table include
falling-apart Bibles, black-feather handfans, 100-year-old
 medical school diplomas, and letters. So many letter.

My kitchen smells funny. It’s that acid-paper, old-glue, pink-mold-covered-photograph smell known to permeate museums and “private collection” sections of libraries worldwide. It’s not a bad smell; it’s just a distinctive smell. It conjures memories of writing graduate theses, opening grandmas’ hope chests, and working at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. When it isn’t in my kitchen I actually like this smell of nostalgia–unless I inhale fumes from pink-mold-covered photographs and must run for my hot-pink Benadryl. (Stupid allergies.) Why does my kitchen smell like the Vatican? As the very-unofficial family historian, I have temporary physical custody of all the old letters, photographs, and memorabilia of my Granny Womack and her ancestors.

Just before my David and I moved to Colorado, we asked my family if we could take “the trunk.” My Papa Womack, who would die only 9 days after we left Tennessee, gave his blessing as did my father and my aunts. This meant the world to me. Stored inside the Victorian-era luggage is everything my Granny and her Aunt Bessie deemed valuable: over 100-years’-worth-of love letters, angry letters, bad kids’ artwork, school report cards, and newspaper clippings; a flapper’s dress, a black-feather handfan, and a baby’s black-leather slipper.

My great grandaunt Bessie died in 1984 when I was three years old, but she ended up with a starring role in my book. She is the last woman I profile. She lived a book-worthy life: she lost her first husband to suicide, spent her career serving the people of Virginia as a tuberculosis nurse, and survived the violent rape by and pardoning of her assailant. The details of these events are only now becoming clear as I read old letters and newspaper articles. Her strength of spirit inspires me. Aunt Bessie never had her own children but raised my Granny Womack, and my family considers Aunt Bessie to be our matriarch (now three generations beyond her). Her example teaches me how a woman can be a mother when she has no children and a saint when she sometimes lacks virtue.

Life Happens…Especially in Exile

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Originally posted at Living in Exile.

Dear faithful listeners,

Life has happened to your podcasters. I write to you from Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas, as my David and I drive the final 300 miles of our move to Denver. A. J. will be sporadically checking his social media from Ohio, where his mother is very ill. We hope to be back to broadcasting next Friday . . . but life may “happen” again.

You expected to hear us tie up our exegesis of Ezra-Nehemiah today, so I’ll give you a couple of teasers:

  1. As soon as Nehemiah (cat) is away, the Israelites (mice) play.
  2. Nehemiah (cat) comes “back, the very next day. They thought he was a goner, but . . . he wouldn’t stay away.”

In chapter 13, Nehemiah has finished his mission in Jerusalem and returned to working in the Persian court when he learns that the Israelites are up to their old sins. He again drops everything to run to the next life-crisis.

2010 Nashville Flood in Amanda’s Neighborhood

In our fallen world, crises happen. In exile, we Christians do our best to plan our lives–be dedicated workers and loving family members–but sometimes life happens. I would hazard that those “happenings” are often God’s way of putting us back on His track and reminding us that He is the one in control.

This week, as you anxiously await the conclusion of Nehemiah’s memoir, ask yourself if your personal plans are aiding or inhibiting God’s kingdom work. Are you willing to drop everything and run back to “Jerusalem” where His people need you?

I Choose Heaven

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The last time my David and I were in Nashville, my best friend loaned me 4 books–The Hunger Games Trilogy and The Devil and Miss Prym. Melinda’s words to me regarding the Paulo Coelho book were, “Just make it through the first chapters. I promise it’s worth it.” Knowing I was more likely to read the possibly-boring Coelho book if I did it before I launched into the certainly-entertaining Hunger Games, I opened it that night.

I was on a plane in my usual corner when I finished it. I’d spent a good part of the flight tapping David on the shoulder and demanding he read a poignant line here and there; his first moment of peace was when I closed the book and sat in awed silence for a good 20 minutes. I don’t know that any book has ever had that effect on me. It was both thought-provoking and affirmative, simple and deep.

The plot–a man comes to a sleepy village and offers gold to anyone who will kill an innocent person–is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.” But where her story reflects on the dangers of mob mentality, Coelho studies the effects of injustice on an individual. It probes the popular question, why do bad things happen to good people? He ultimately argues that the why doesn’t matter; we decide for ourselves how to react in all situations: we can be happy in “hell” or miserable in “heaven.” I agree with this overall sentiment. How many people choose a woe-is-me attitude in the best of circumstances? How many others choose to find joy in misery?

“Your problem hasn’t to do with God’s justice…it’s more the fact that you always choose to be a victim of circumstance” (The Devil and Miss Prym, 123).

The perennial example of this dichotomy is Job, whom Coelho references in his story. Coelho argues that in the Scripture, Job curses God for his misery and that God is okay with being cursed because He sins against us as well. With this interpretation I disagree wholeheartedly. God does not sin against us; it is impossible for pure Righteousness to sin. In Job’s story I look past the flawed arguments of all four of Job’s “friends” and see that there is no logical, rhetorical answer to the human question of why bad things happen. If ever God had an opportunity to answer that question once and for all, this was it. But He chose not to. Instead He reminded Job–in great detail–of His glorious and unique creation (Job 38–41).

Would you go so far as to call into question My judgment?
Would you imagine Me guilty merely in order to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm just as powerful as God’s
and does your voice thunder as His does? (Job 40:8-9, The Voice).

Literarily, God’s answer to Job is a non sequitur: He circumvents the question why? by saying, “I’m the Creator. I’m the Greatest.” Theologically, God’s response makes perfect sense. You want to know why? Then you have to know God.

As we grow closer to God and walk in lock-step with the Spirit, God reveals more about Himself to us and we can see His righteousness even in our pain. The Holy Spirit then molds our attitudes toward the injustices in our lives, turning personal misery into joy. When we choose to know God, we choose to be in “heaven” no matter what we are experiencing.

Do you think I’ll find The Hunger Games so thought-provoking?

Still Not a “Proverbs 31 Woman”

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Do you remember this blog from last Summer? It inspired a conversation A. J. and I had about Proverbs 31 in the most recent episode of “Living in Exile.” Check it out!

No such thing as a “Proverbs 31 Woman”

This post was first published at HearTheVoice.com.

I first heard the phrase “Proverbs 31 woman” when I was in high school. I had a male friend who liked to call me that. He intended the moniker to compliment the evidence of my faith, the products of my kitchen (he loved my Magic Cookie Bars), and the way I cared for others. Five years later, after we’d both graduated from religious universities and more thoroughly studied the Old Testament, he confessed that in high school he had no idea of the context of Proverbs 31, and that I was not in fact like the woman described in that chapter. It wasn’t an insult–I agreed with him completely. I am not, and will never be, a “Proverbs 31 woman.”

Today Proverbs 31 is “trending” in popular Christianity. There’s a company by that name, there’s a women’s ministry that claims it, and I hear my own girlfriends quoting vv. 10-31 as some lofty goal they have for their lives:

Who can find a truly excellent woman? One who is superior in all that she is and all that she does?
     Her worth far exceeds that of rubies and expensive jewelry.
She inspires trust, and her husband’s heart is safe with her,
     and because of her, he has every good thing.
Every day of her life she does what is best for him,
     never anything harmful or hurtful.
Delight attends her work and guides her fingers
     as she selects the finest wool and flax for spinning.
She moves through the market like merchant ships
     that dock here and there in distant ports,
     finally arriving home with food she’s carried from afar.
She rises from bed early, in the still of night,
     carefully preparing food for her family
     and providing a portion to her servants.
She has a plan. She considers some land and buys it;
     then with her earnings, she plants a vineyard.
She wraps herself in strength, carries herself with confidence,
     and works hard, strengthening her arms for the task at hand.
She tastes success and knows it is good,
     and under lamplight she works deep into the night.
Her hands skillfully place the unspun flax and wool on the distaff,
     and her fingers twist the spindle until thread forms.
She reaches out to the poor
     and extends mercy to those in need.
She is not worried about the cold or snow for her family,
     for she has clothed them all in warm, crimson coats.
She makes her own bed linens
     and clothes herself in purple and fine cloth.
Everyone recognizes her husband in the public square,
     and no one fails to respect him as he takes his place of leadership in the community.
She makes linen garments and sells them in the market,
     and she supplies belts for tradesmen to carry across the sea.
Clothed in strength and dignity, with nothing to fear,
     she smiles when she thinks about the future.
She conducts her conversations with wisdom,
     and the teaching of kindness is ever her concern.
She directs the activities of her household,
     and never does she indulge in laziness.
Her children rise up and bless her.
     Her husband, too, joins in the praise, saying:
“There are some—indeed many—women who do well in every way,
     but of all of them only you are truly excellent.”
Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last,
     but a woman who reveres the Eternal should be praised above all others.
Celebrate all she has achieved.
     Let all her accomplishments publicly praise her (The Voice).

I share these goals with my girlfriends. I want to be a woman my husband honors, a woman who is good at everything she does, and a woman who is godly. (Who doesn’t?) But God did not include this passage in the canon to command that of me, as current popular Christianity may indicate; the Teacher of Proverbs didn’t slip this poem into the book to give me a checklist of everything I’m required to do as a woman. However, I fear most Christian women interpret the passage as such a checklist today.

Whenever we read a portion of the Bible, we should consider the context of the passage.

Proverbs is a book written for young men by the “Teacher,” an unidentified older scribe. The purpose is to encourage students to seek God throughout their lives, and much of the book is concerned with the dichotomy between Wisdom and Folly. These traits are personified in Proverbs, rendered in The Voice translation as “Lady Wisdom” and “Lady Folly.” Men are encouraged throughout Proverbs to follow the path of Wisdom, which leads to God. Lady Wisdom is depicted as an unmarried woman reaching out to young suitors. She is challenged by Lady Folly, who reaches out to the same men in insidious ways. The virtues of the former and vices of the latter are emphasized in Proverbs.

The conclusion of Proverbs–this very passage my friends (and I!) claim as personal goals–is actually the conclusion to the struggle between Wisdom and Folly for the hearts of men. Here, Wisdom is pictured as a married woman; she is the winner of the struggle with Folly. The Teacher is emphasizing to his students the perks of following Wisdom: safety, success, wealth, progeny. Wisdom leads to happiness.

Ladies, Proverbs 31 is not a checklist of what we should do as married women. It IS a depiction of the benefits that can come from choosing Wisdom over Folly. When you read this passage, please don’t interpret it as an unattainable goal for your life. Understand it as a vision for the life you could have when you choose Wisdom over Folly.

Only You Can Prevent Wildfires

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You’ve heard of Smokey Bear? I think his slogan has changed a bit since I was a child. I remember, “You, too, can prevent forest fires!” I guess somewhere along the way someone realized that fires aren’t limited to forests.

Since we’ve moved West, David and I have heard a lot about wildfires. We’ve seen the scorched earth from the window seats of airplanes and underneath our feet as we’ve hiked. Wildfires bring death and destruction. They leave you wondering, What if? How tall would that tree have grown? How many more families would have built cabins there?

Never leave your campfire burning. Never drop a smoking cigarette out your car window. One spark can cause a fire; that’s what Smokey tells us. That’s what the apostle James tells us too:

And do you know how many forest fires begin with a single ember from a small campfire? The tongue is a blazing fire seeking to ignite an entire world of vices. The tongue is unique among all parts of the body because it is capable of corrupting the whole body. If that were not enough, it ignites and consumes the course of creation with a fuel that originates in hell itself (James 3:5–6, The Voice).

James tells us this in the context of his caution to teachers in the first-century church. He warns his readers not to encourage a lot of people to become teachers because “teachers will be held to a higher standard” (3:1). Every time I write a blog or prepare for a podcast, I remember this verse. It terrifies me.

If you ever tell another Christian what to think or how to act, you are putting yourself in a teacher’s role. You may not be doing it consciously, but you are doing it. Before you presume to know anything better than your brother or sister, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Has the Holy Spirit gifted me as a teacher? (1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7)
  2. Will my words edify or corrupt the body of the church? (James 3:6)

I would argue that if you answer no to either question, you should keep your mouth shut. No matter how passionate you feel about something, don’t put yourself in the position of being “held to a higher standard.”

More often than not, a wildfire is started by accident. It was that smoldering campfire some hikers thought they extinguished or that idiot with the cigarette butt. No matter how innocently the fire started, the one with the spark is responsible for the destruction. How do you keep from starting a wildfire? Don’t ever strike a match.

Of course, not all fires are bad. Where would we be in winter without matches to start our heaters or light our candles?

This same tongue can be both an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father and a weapon that hurls curses upon others who are created in God’s own image. One mouth streams forth both blessings and curses. My brothers and sisters, this is not how it should be (James 3:9–10).

James tells us that in the church, our tongues are the matches. When the one speaking is a teacher–whose words are truly motivated by the Holy Spirit–then the flame he or she starts is beneficial to the body. The words may be instructive for every member of the church, or better yet, they may be praising God.

Unfortunately we are more likely to burn the body of Christ with our words than to enlighten it. Knowing that Satan uses our tongues to “corrupt the whole body” with words that are “a fuel that originates in hell itself,” we must choose them wisely and use them sparingly. Always remember that

A fool does not think before he unleashes his temper,
but a wise man holds back and remains quiet (Proverbs 29:11).

Be the wise man. Hold back your words use them only to enlighten your church family, not to scorch them.

Remember the “Good Ole Days”?

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Originally posted at HearTheVoice.com.

Since David and I have started our epic move West, we find ourselves without a “home.” Yes, we still own our house in Tennessee, but we spend so much time away from it that coming back feels like a vacation. When we are in Denver, we long for our idyllic home, friends, family, and church. When we’re in Tennessee, we miss the West’s laid-back culture and amazing restaurants. The grass is always greener wherever we aren’t. Such a longing for what has past is nothing new.

Consider the story of the first round of Jewish exiles returning to Jerusalem in the book of Ezra. About 60 years had passed since the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC, so most people’s idealized views of Jerusalem had been created by their parents, who vividly remembered the Judah–Babylonia war that destroyed the city and sent most of the population into exile. Fueled by the idea that they were returning to Jerusalem to rebuild what their parents had lost, the Jewish exiles’ first order of business was rebuilding an altar and the building’s foundations on the ruins of Solomon’s temple and sacrificing an offering to God. Then, “together they sang praises and gave thanks to the Eternal.

Priests and Levites: We praise Him because He is good and because of His continual and loyal love for Israel. 

All the people joined in, shouting praises to the Eternal because the foundation of His temple was complete. But in the midst of those praises, the priests, Levites, and tribal leaders who remembered the first temple wept loudly when they saw it because they knew this temple could never be as grand as Solomon’s. There were shouts of joy intermingled with cries of sorrow, and the entire ensemble grew so loud it could be heard a great distance away (Ezra 3:11–13, The Voice).

These people had fulfilled God’s command through Persian Emperor Cyrus to return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding her (Ezra 1:2–4). Why would anyone “weep loudly when they saw [the new foundations]”? They were anticipating that the new temple wouldn’t be nearly as grand as the one from the “good ole days.” They didn’t trust that the people whom God had commissioned to rebuild His house would do it as well as their ancestors had.

How often do we see conflicts in the modern Church between the “old” and the “new”? As our church built a new facility several years ago, there were heated discussions about pews vs. chairs, hymnals vs. projections, and piano vs. drums. Those wanting to maintain the status quo insisted that the past could not be improved upon; those wanting to change insisted that old habits were holding back the church. So often these kinds of arguments split churches down the middle, tearing God’s family apart. Neither side is ever completely correct.

I am happy to report that our church compromised, and no one left (to my knowledge) over the changes that were made. We unknowingly followed the example set by the exiles, both those who remembered the glory of the past and those who saw nothing but a vision of the future. Notice that the older Jews didn’t stop with their “cries of sorrow” and abandon the project; they were part of the “entire ensemble” that gathered to dedicate the new temple foundations. They showed up. Then they remained involved, and surely their input created a better temple in the coming years than any of the newbies could have built on their own.

No one at that dedication could have known that hundreds of years later, the foundations they had set would be part of Herod’s renovated temple complex, which dwarfed Solomon’s. It may be argued that the new temple was far grander than Solomon’s. Similarly our new church facility is bigger and more useful than the last. Yes, I am nostalgic for the white steeple under which David and I married, but the new building gave us more room to serve more people. Our congregation is twice the size it was in the old building, God’s Kingdom has grown, and 80-year-old Miss Tootie loves the drums. Together the old and the new have built a better home than either could have accomplished alone, and there is no greener grass than that which God planted.

For more about Ezra, check the “Living in Exile” podcast.