How strong are your walls?

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“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

I vividly recall walking through a grapevine in Israel examining each step attempting to avoid rolling my ankle when my gaze lifted above the vines to notice the remnants of a massive wall on the hillside above. Taken back by the enormity of the wall, I soon realized I was gazing at the remnants of one of the most powerful cities of ancient Israel, Lachish. The city was vitally important, protecting the valley leading to Jerusalem. The city gates and walls of Lachish were enormous and complex providing the greatest assurance of the time. Yet, 2 Kings 18 records the conquest of Lachish by Assyria. The walls of Lachish had fallen and Jerusalem was vulnerable to attack.

City walls were designed for one purpose, protection. An ancient city built without walls would have been easily destroyed and plundered by any invading force. Proverbs 25:28, written in a time of massive city walls, makes a startling comparison: “A man without self control is like a city broken into and left without walls.“ Essentially, a man who cannot control himself is one who is without protection. And I tend to believe that protection extends beyond himself to those he is designed to be a wall for. A man who cannot control his tongue towards his wife and children exposes them. A man who cannot control the integrity of his actions when no one else is watching exposes those closest to him to life’s looting.

Galatians 5, when listing the fruit of the Spirit, lists self-control. God designed us to live by the power of His Spirit enabling us to make choices that have either positive or negative consequences. A man who exercises self-control has an incredible opportunity to provide security to those he encounters, especially those closest to him. Living with integrity by controlling what he thinks, sees, touches, tastes, and hears builds a wall of protection around his own life and those he leads and loves.

God is described in Scripture as a fortress time and time again. He is the place we run to for protection. Living according to His truth builds the walls in our lives. We will still face the challenges of life but our walls will remain secure, built in Him. The rest of the story of 2 Kings 18 describes Hezekiah leading the people to trust the Lord, their fortress. God defeats the entire Assyrian army miraculously. The walls of Lachish had fallen, but the man who walks in self-control, rooted in Christ, will be protected.

In a day of instant self-gratification, how strong are your walls?

Smile

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Flipping through the PBS channel of late has brought to mind one of the best, in my opinion, documentaries ever compiled on the Civil War. Ken Burns masterfully walks through the bloodiest and most important war in American history. His documentary style has created what is known as the “Ken Burns effect” when viewing photographs. Still photos have never made great live shots until he invented the art of zooming in or out, bringing action to black and white photos taken 150 years ago. But it isn’t the artistry of the documentary that caught my attention. Instead, it was the photos themselves. Interestingly, very few of captured individuals are smiling.

I realize that war is certainly not a motivating factor to smile, but looking at a variety of pictures from that time reveals the same intriguing phenomenon. Exploring other photos of other cultures often portray the same sentiment, even modern photos. There are no smiles to be found. I am not sure when culture in America began insisting on our happiness in photographs. It is possibly the prosperity of the 1950’s or maybe just the evolution of culture across decades. However the process developed, and the result is, “Smile!”

Perusing family photos of weddings, vacations, birthdays and gatherings, one could conclude that life is always good and we are always happy. It is positive and reassuring to fondly remember the good times. But it has also created a mask. We see it every Sunday morning. Masses of smiling faces pile into Kingsland. Some just finished heated arguments, yelling at uncooperative kids, and rotating outfits because of the toddler’s need to throw breakfast across the kitchen. But we are smiling! Worse, some marriages are crumbling, relationships with sons and daughters straining, and the pain of lost love ones wells just beneath the surface. But we are smiling…

Colossians 1:11 states, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”. Displaying joy, when living by the power of Christ, is right and always appropriate. Demonstrating joy, however, is often not smiling at all. Attempting to look Christian, we can miss the source of much joy in the difficult journey of life. We miss His overcoming power because we rob the community of believers of our present reality. The Church, or body of Christ, is designed to love one another and support each other. Wearing the mask is only the illusion of strength. True strength in Christ is found in vulnerability with other believers. Joy then becomes a deep enduring foundation, held in the power of Christ, surrounded by His very body, the Church.

So the next time you feel the pressure to smile, make sure the mask is off first. The world looks on and knows our lives are not perfect, so let’s stop pretending they are. Who knows, we might discover real joy surrounded by the prayers and love of other Christians and the world might find our raw honesty refreshing.