A Matter of Perspective

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Some of us love new things that are shiny, unblemished, and in  ‘mint condition.’ We delight in the smell of a new car when you first step inside, sit down, and close the door. Freshly painted walls or newly installed ceramic tile or carpet make us smile with appreciation. A new pencil and an unused eraser tucked in a pencil holder on our desk amid other used ones is something to delight in.


My mother was someone who loved new things that were the latest invention. I recall her eagerness to get a new set of Melmac dinnerware when they were in vogue, setting aside her beautiful set of ‘depression glass dinnerware’ as out of fashion. Antiques were never her preference.


Some of us enjoy wandering through antique shops looking for that hidden treasure that isn’t blemish free, but shows the workmanship of years ago and evidence of being used and enjoyed. Some items to us are better if the paint is scuffed and chipped or a brass decoration is tarnished.


antiques-bicycle-chair-247929My parents had a dry sink that had seen a variety of uses since first purchased long before I was born. By the time I saw it, it was covered with a sickly green paint and sat in my parents’ garage where it was used for garden fertilizer and various small tools.


As we were clearing out the garage after my parents’ deaths, my husband planned to add it to a huge pile of things to be burned on what had been the garden. Despite its condition I was still fond of it since it was connected to some of my earliest memories and stopped that from happening. I saw some worth in it.


I contacted a former teacher friend of mine who did restorations and asked him to assess its worth. The figure he quoted astonished us. When I told him I would like him to refinish and restore it to its original condition, he said he would be glad to do so while noting it was valuable just as it was from the perspective of someone who knew more than we did about antiques.


Whatever our perspective about material items, we also make judgments about ourselves in physical appearance, skill level, gifting, and more.


Most of us want to look and be our best and would prefer others not see those parts of us (in any area) that are less so. The scars of our lives are too often devalued as things that diminish us somehow. We compare ourselves to others and our perspective on what we believe is their nearly perfect condition causes us to forget they are working as hard as everyone else to be seen as “having it all together.” We often don’t see what lays beneath what we see on the surface.


We intellectually know that perfection is not attainable, but there is much we don’t want showing (not unlike desiring not to see the edge of a slip below a hemline of some years casual-close-up-colors-2112733ago).


But life happens to us all and illness, accidents, financial losses, moral failures, and more become a part of our story even though we would wish otherwise. When things come crashing in and we lose our footing, to whom do we turn then?


Paradoxically it is the person we know whose own life has been less than perfect, the person who may not have the newest car, the highest salaried position, or the most perfectly behaved children. Our perspective has altered.  It’s this less than perfect person we are drawn to. This is the one to whom we are more apt to share our defeat rather than the person who has appeared flawless. This is the one whose nicks and dents have produced persistence and wisdom. This is the one who has something to offer us.


That contradiction may come because the person whose life is marred in some way can offer what the flawless person cannot. It is then we recognize the value of an imperfect life. It can speak to us as a flawless life seldom can.


“It’s those little nicks and dents and imperfections of spirit that allow us to flow out into a thirsty world. It’s our scars that allow us to relate to the scars of others, our suffering that connects us to others who suffer.”  

Lisa Wingate inThe Language of the Sycamores







May and June feature more than a few reasons to celebrate. Mother’s day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day (in the U.S.), May Day, Flag Day, and more give us those opportunities. These months are also popular choices for weddings as spring and early summer awaken us from winter’s cold embrace.


Even though graduations can occur at other times during the year, they are most numerous in May and June. Depending on your season of life, you will have some years where they fill up your calendar and other years when you barely notice they are happening.


This was a year of graduations for us. Our oldest grandson graduated from college and one of his sisters graduated from high school. Their accomplishments were lauded and applauded as they completed requirements to attain their diplomas. They were each celebrated with gifts, food, fellowship, and fun.


IMG_4583In the midst of such celebration, it is noteworthy that these mark transitions for each of them as well as their families. They bring an end to one period, but a beginning of another.


Our grandson has been in college five hours from home, but will leave for a medical school in late July that will be more than 900 miles from home. The moorings of his close relationships will shift. He will not only be farther from home − a big deal for him, but bigger for his parents and the rest of the family − but also his closest companions from college will be scattered to various places as well.


Our granddaughter has lived at home and will discover what life in college is like − more than 500 miles from home − as she leaves the cushion of parents and siblings to offer her reminders, hugs, and the occasional kick in the tush to support her each day.


Graduations are jumping off points where we start something new with the rewards or consequences of what we have just completed. It’s then that we discover what mattered from the place we just left.


But there are other graduations.


In the midst of celebrating our granddaughter’s high school graduation, I received a IMG_4689message that my dear friend had passed away. It was another graduation. It was a transition for her, but also a transition for me as I let go of the friendship of more than 45 years of this gentle, sweet 93 year old.


Those of us who knew and loved her were not surprised by this graduation. We had seen it coming for a number of months. That was our advantage. We could take time to make the most of moments together even though we knew she was ready and eager for this graduation with no less enthusiasm than the graduations of our grandchildren.


She did not fear death as so many do. She had already completed the path and design God had set before her. Not unlike Paul she could say as he did in 2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV):


I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”


My friend understood and embraced what Max Lucado wrote about death:


“Very few people understand death. Most are afraid of it. Most try to ignore it. Hardly anyone wants to talk about it. But God wants you to understand it. And He doesn’t want you to be scared.  Many think death is when you go to sleep. They are wrong. Death is when you finally wake up. Death is when you see what God has seen all along.”


 You see she had lived her life to the fullest, but with the end in mind.


Stephen Covey’s oft quoted Seven Habits of Highly Effective People lists “begin with the end in mind” as the second principle. This principle encourages each person to envision what you want for the future so you can work and plan toward it.


My friend had lived and loved each day knowing this particular graduation day would come even though she did not know when. It would be far more significant than her high school and college graduations. She had made a choice early in her life to set her eyes on the prize the Lord had laid up for her if she followed Him. Her choices each day reflected her desire to finish the course well.


Some of our last visits together were the most precious. We didn’t waste time on small matters or unimportant details nor did we feel compelled to fill up every moment with words. We had lived our friendship with purpose and had said the important things many times before. We had never taken time for granted so at this point in time, we could simply savor what mattered − holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes, expressing gratitude for so many other times before this one, restating our love − praying together as we had done often.


Not all graduations are like that. Some surprise us. Some are laced with unfinished business and too many words that were left unsaid for too long.


Even so, they remind us of the wisdom Lisa Wingate writes in her book, The Sea Keeper’s Daughter:


“If you could know − if you could always know − when the lasts in life are coming, you’d handle them differently. You’d savor. You’d stop. You’d let nothing else invade the moment.”







The Long Game




Today I come to the end of this series on Nehemiah. I hope those of you who have taken this journey with me have been encouraged and blessed by not only a review of the stories, but hopefully a new insight here or there. I confess this has always been one of my favorite Old Testament books. As I finished reading it recently, I couldn’t resist this journey I have written about. One of the study resources I used made specific note about Nehemiah’s godly leadership, evidences of that and how it was broadened by experience. As I was reading and studying, those points were ones I especially wanted to share.


I think that in an era where it can be hard to identify faithful godly leadership in so many arenas, Nehemiah has much to teach us. Today I want to look at one final characteristic:


A godly leader keeps leading


To gain a sense of that point, let me turn us to look at the story as we near the end of it.


The book of Nehemiah actually is at the end of Old Testament history even though Esther appears last canonically. So, in truth, Nehemiah is actually the last piece of Old Testament history we have. That gets my attention.


Throughout the story we have watched Nehemiah’s heart and actions respond to God in obedience. His leadership has been steady throughout. When we reach chapter 13, we see the Law is still being read, that same truth the exiles had committed to follow after hearing it read the first time and repenting. They were hearing clearly the people of God were to be separate from the people of other nations. Specifically, they were reminded the Ammonites and the Moabites were never to be living in their midst.


Once again, however, they were failing to be faithful. Tobiah was mixed up with the chief priest and had even allowed Tobiah to lodge in the temple. The chief priest’s grandson had also married Sanballat’s daughter. He had entered into a variety of alliances and ideas with the enemies of the people of God and instead of modeling what the Law taught, he was doing the exact opposite.


How did this happen? Read the text to see what you may discover, but one thing will be 2123034889-clead1clear: Nehemiah was out of town when all this was taking place and now has returned. As governor of the city, he once again demonstrates his courage by throwing out the chief priest who had not followed the Law and defiled the temple. He also threw out everyone who belonged to him or was connected to him in any way.


Nehemiah was acutely aware that God’s house was never to be profaned so he was clear he had to go about doing a thorough house cleaning. He discovers a lot. He learns the Levites had not been receiving their portions as the chief priest was caught up with the enemies of the people of God. As a result they had fled into the area surrounding the city because the people were not providing for them as outlined by the Law. Nehemiah called the magistrates of the city to account for not administering the city as had been directed and outlined. He took note of how the Sabbath had been profaned as well and grieved and acted to restore that day as God had outlined to Moses.


It was clear in the absence of Nehemiah’s godly leadership, everyone else went astray from his or her commitment. He needed to constantly remind the people of their promises. The people were caught up in the same kinds of sins evident throughout all their history prior to the story of Nehemiah. His work of leading never ended. He was a shepherd to the people and they sorely needed one.


We have been blessed to have had the Living Word, Jesus, show us the way and shepherd us. He came to provide the ultimate sacrifice because He loved us and knew that we too would be unable to keep our promises and walk in pure obedience. His death and resurrection would give us the path to relationship with Him forever. He wanted His to be assured of His everlasting love through His grace and mercy.


Even so, Nehemiah demonstrated godly leadership before the Word came in the flesh and in this series we saw the evidence of it in Nehemiah’s life.


  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s word
  • A godly leader confesses sin
  • A godly leader leads people in specific commitments
  • A godly leader keeps leading




Modeling Produces What Is Modeled



A long time ago I learned that I might try to teach my children and others a great many things. If I was fortunate they might actually learn some of the things I taught, but I could guarantee they would nearly always learn things they “caught” from me. It was what I was doing, saying, and modeling that really had the greatest impact and that was especially true when my words and behaviors did not match. They would be more likely to “catch”my behaviors even if I would have wished otherwise.


As I have been walking through Nehemiah with you the past several weeks, it has been clear that Nehemiah was demonstrating excellent evidences of leadership, godly leadership. Up until now, we have identified six qualities:


  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s Word
  • A godly leader confesses sins


It has also been clear that time and again Nehemiah’s choices and behaviors, his attitude and his strategies were consistent as evident of his godly character.


As we observe those in leadership over us in any and all arenas, we will discover if they live out what they would ask us to be and do. Their words and rhetoric may woo us and persuade us to follow them; but if we do that the inspiration they elicit will begin to fade when we do not detect those same principles lived out.


Modeling matters.IMG_2272


Throughout the book of Nehemiah we have noted how well he has modeled the life of not only a godly leader, but first of all a godly person. By the time we near the end of the story and the people have confessed their sins, we see another aspect of godly leadership.


At the start of the story Nehemiah demonstrated a commitment to follow what he knew was significant as a godly man. He knew Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt so the exiles living there could be protected and be reminded of who they were and whose they were. From the time he arrived in Jerusalem, his commitment was on display for all to see. It was there when he assessed the condition of the walls and gates. It was there when he came up with a strategy to rebuild those walls and gates and to handle the opposition to those very plans. It was there when the physical rebuilding was done and he recognized the need to hear the book of the Law opened so the exiles would be reminded of how they were to observe all God had laid out for them. It was there when he joined the community in the confession of sins and a heart of repentance.


Such godly leadership evoked a godly response from the people. After the confession they made, now they made an oath to keep God’s law. They not only said it, but they put it in writing and the leaders, Levites, and priests affixed their seals to it as well. They had heard the truth and they responded. After all, they had watched Nehemiah modeling this type of commitment from the beginning.


Their oath showed their seriousness as well because it included a curse if they would not follow their commitment to their pledges. Throughout the ninth chapter of Nehemiah their specific promises are outlined. These acted much like a covenant for the people.


Pledges and covenant are words not so common in our vernacular and neither is the word oath. When we do see those words or hear them, it is most often when someone is appearing in court or being sworn into office or being married.


Perhaps we no longer value such commitments.


Could it also be that too often we have observed that leaders we are submitting to do not make them or keep them so we feel excused from doing so?


Modeling matters.


A godly leader leads people in specific commitments.








After They Heard the Truth




A few weeks ago I started a series on Nehemiah. It is a favorite Old Testament book, but what stood out to me were the evidences of what a godly leader is and does as evidenced in the text.  I will add three more posts and finish the series.


If you have been following along in this series about Nehemiah, you will likely recall that when we left the story Ezra had read from the book of the Law to remind the exiles of who they were and how they were to be living. When they heard about the level of their sin, the people became sorrowful. Nehemiah, however, reminded them of the need to be joyful and celebrate the truth they had learned and they set about celebrating the Feast of Booths. (Ezra also continued to read for seven more days!)


After the feasting and celebration, the leaders now focus on the sins that had come to light as a result of hearing the Law. What did they do? They led them in a confession of those sins before God. The lengthy prayer began with them praising God and then specific confession of their sins and the sins of their fathers. They made no effort to blame or shift the responsibility for what they had done and failed to do on God or anyone else. How hard that can be for us so many times.


It seems quite evident that hearing the truth of God and seeing His character evident in His mercy and loving-kindness brought them into a much keener awareness of their sin.


God’s Word has a way of adjusting us to the right standard of His truth when we take time to read it. We should never look at the Word as a buffet we can pick and choose from to adjust it to our preference.


When the exiles heard God’s words to them, they saw His everlasting love and were reminded of His promises of love.


When we first come to know the Lord personally, we are acutely aware of our sinfulness and find it relatively easy to confess those sins to Him. What may not happen as often is how we attend to daily time in God’s Word and how that should not only lead us to worship Him, but also cause us to confess our sins that we can ignore or slough off without thought.


What we read informs our conscience of His love, mercy, and grace, but also His justice. What we read reminds us that our lives are meant to increasingly look more like Him and that can only happen when we are keeping short accounts with Him.


In this series, we have identified 5 characteristics of a godly leader so far. Here they are again:

  • A godly leader prays
  • A godly leader acts
  • A godly leader faces opposition
  • A godly leader cares
  • A godly leader turns people to God’s Word


The part of the story we have looked at today gives us a sixth characteristic to add to the list:


A godly leader confesses his sins and leads his people to confess their sins.