I just returned from a trip to China with colleagues from Insight for Living. What a vast and beautiful country—and so much potential for ministry. While there, several of us got to visit the Great Wall.
(Photo: By Hao Wei from China. Flickr. CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
I was amazed at how vigilant the wall builders were to ensure the safety of their country against potential enemies. (See some of my pictures below from my Instagram Feed.) Of course, history reveals that a guard allowed the enemy to enter through a gate and compromise the wall’s security. 1500 miles of wall compromised by one traitor in the gate.
In our spiritual lives, we have that same traitor.
I always get a kick out of the road tests automakers perform on one another. As objective as the tests claim to be, the goals remain clear. GM tests Ford to show Ford’s weaknesses. GM tests GM to show its strengths.
When Ford does the testing, however, the purpose completely reverses. (Funny how that works, you know?)
Actually, this type of testing is biblical. Both God and Satan perform tests on you and me. These road tests reveal how the rubber meets the road in our Christian lives.
But the two tests have two completely different goals. Can you tell the difference?
I discovered there isn’t time to ponder your reaction when propositioned by a prostitute. Your first response is your response. It happened to me in a Russian hotel.
(Photo: St. Basils Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square. By Soerfm. Own work. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
I went with some missionaries to Moscow to help train national pastors. On our first morning, I headed to the hotel lobby to meet our team. Stepping out of the elevator, I scanned the lobby for others in our group. I saw no one I knew.
A small group of ladies at the bar sat and chatted with each other. All of them, that is, except one. This one very attractive woman was smiling and staring—straight at me.
As our eyes met, I suddenly remembered someone told me that prostitutes sat in the bar, looking for customers. This woman kept smiling and then leaned forward—and a literal chill ran up my back. I can still feel it. I froze.
At that moment, I heard three very distinctive words in my head.
The strength of a man’s virtue must not be measured by his efforts, but by his ordinary life.
Sometimes a deal looks so good it can’t be bad. Or what we stand to gain overshadows any thought of what we stand to lose. At the southern end of Israel sits a seaport with an ancient admonition to be careful.
The biblical city of Ezion-geber, near modern Eilat, served as Israel’s occasional port on the Red Sea. On one occasion, the gulf offered a tremendous opportunity for a lucrative shipping industry for King Jehoshaphat.
As with Jehoshaphat, Eilat parallels many opportunities you have today when your ship has come in:
- The financial deal promises a sure return on your investment.
- The kind, attentive gentleman asks for your hand in marriage.
- The promotion comes with the salary you’ve waited for a long time.
- The new church you’re attending is just around the block.
But in making these decisions, have you forgotten to ask the most important question?
Sometimes finding favor with God makes life much harder. You know the story. Gabriel informed Mary she would give birth to the Son of God. Many thoughts ran through her mind, not the least of which was how she, a virgin, could conceive.
What’s more, Mary knew the social and biblical fallout that occurs for a pregnant woman without a husband. How could she possibly explain that her pregnancy was an of God and not an act of passion?
Finding favor with God meant that she faced disfavor from people. Maybe finding favor with God isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
Christmas usually causes us to marvel at the virgin conception—and at the love of our God who would become Man so that He could die for our sins. But there’s another part of the Christmas story that amazes me just as much.
It comes from this amazing young woman.
Think of the places most significant to you. That’s right, the places. What makes them so special? Most likely, it’s not the places themselves but the events that took place there.
- The camp where you accepted Christ
- The old barn where you became engaged
- The park where your firstborn learned to walk
In our lives, events make places significant because of memories. But in biblical times, it was often just the opposite. The place itself often played a major role in causing a significant event.
The lands of the Bible offer more than a mere backdrop for the stories of the Bible. These places played an integral role in shaping the lives of those who lived there. God designed it so.
And for us, understanding how the land shaped its people gives us tremendous insight into understanding Scripture.
Even more, it gives us a glimpse as to how God uses even geography in our lives today.
Years ago my wife bought me a table saw for Christmas, and I’ve enjoyed the first hobby I’ve had in my life. I like what the Canadian born physician, Sir William Osler, once told an audience of medical professionals:
No man is really happy or safe without a hobby, and it makes precious little difference what the outside interest may be—botany, beetles or butterflies; roses, tulips or irises; fishing, mountaineering or antiques—anything will do as long as he straddles a hobby and rides it hard.
But woodworking is more than a hobby. It has marvelous metaphors for your spiritual life.
In an earlier post, I shared the first half of 10 ways I’ve discovered that woodworking affirms your spiritual life:
- You will have to cut cross grain, so stay sharp.
- Good tools save you time and give you better results.
- You can do a lot more than you think with the little you have.
- Following a plan gets you where you want to go with greater success.
- Mistakes always teach you, and they rarely ruin the piece.
In this post, let’s complete the list it’s taken me years to write.
What would you add to the list?
My favorite Jewish carpenter other than Jesus is Norm Abram. I’m a weekend woodworker, and the hobby has done more than just save me money and provide a healthy diversion for my mind.
It’s more than sawdust and saw blades. For me, it’s also spiritual.
(Photo: Completing a recent project)
During the many hours I’ve spent woodworking, I’ve come to realize how much of the craft relates to our walk with God. I’m not alone. The Shakers of the 19th-century viewed the craftsmanship of their unique furniture as an extension of their worship of God.
I want to share with you 10 ways I’ve discovered that woodworking affirms the spiritual life. I’ll do this in two posts.
For fun, I’ll also show you some pictures of stuff I’ve built.
We all need people to influence us. God made us that way. From the languages we speak to the character we develop—it all begins with those who surround us in our formative years.
It starts with our environment, but it shouldn’t end there. It cannot.
When it does, it’s tragic. That was the case with King Joash.
But it doesn’t have to be that way with us.