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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Joab: What a tangled web we weave…(Part 4)

A Shameful End

David comes to the point where he no longer trusts Joab. But removing his nephew from commanding Israel’s army was not easy, as Joab had used his talents and skills to amass much power and influence and gain a loyal following. Yet eventually the king did remove him from his lofty position.

This did not sit well with Joab—especially when his cousin Amasa took his place as commanding general (II Sam. 17:25; 19:13).

When King David was forced to put down another internal rebellion, Joab saw the chaos and confusion as an opportunity to rise back to power. Again using treachery and deceit, he killed Amasa and assumed command of David’s army (II Sam. 20:8-13; I Kgs. 2:5). Not one soldier dared to bring Joab to justice—a testimony to how powerful and influential he was.

But Joab’s power grab was short-lived. As his death drew near, King David advised his son Solomon, whom he chose to become his royal successor, to waste no time dealing with his cousin Joab. He said, “Moreover you know also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet. Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoary head go down to the grave in peace” (I Kgs. 2:5-6).

After the king’s death, Joab—relying upon human reasoning, as usual—supported David’s son Adonijah and his claim to the throne (1:7; 2:28). But Adonijah’s attempt to become king failed miserably, and those who supported him paid dearly for not backing King Solomon.

Joab knew that Solomon would deal with him next. Seeking sanctuary from harm, he ran to God’s holy tabernacle. Joab assumed that no one would dare execute him as long as he held on to the horns of God’s sacred altar.

He was wrong (2:28-34).

The Irony

The name Joab means “The LORD is Father.” Yet, ironically, Joab failed to look to God for fatherly guidance and wisdom. He did not rely upon His Creator to direct his life.

Joab had been exposed and intimately privy to David’s righteous example, as well as his human weaknesses. From the former, Joab should have learned to “trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6), and “Be not wise in your own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil” (vs. 7). From the latter, he should have learned that even the most righteous servants of God must wage a lifelong battle against the pulls of human nature (II Cor. 10:3-6).

However, without God’s Spirit working within him, Joab was convinced that his talents, gifts and abilities were all he needed for success and prosperity. He spent his life relying upon himself, selfishly amassing power and influence, and the fame and wealth that come with it. In other words, he wasted his natural abilities chasing things that do not last.

But there is one thing that is permanent—truly lasting forever—holy, righteous, GODLY CHARACTER. Only a tiny few have been offered the privilege to build and develop God’s character in their lives. And those who do—who reject the way of Joab and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—will go on to become priests, judges and rulers in the kingdom of God!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Joab: What a tangled web we weave (part 3)

David, still unrepentant, sent Uriah back to the frontline, along with a sealed letter to Joab. Upon reading the king’s letter, Joab was surprised by its message. In it, David ordered that Uriah be positioned at the forefront of the battle, where the fighting was heaviest—then Joab was to pull away the troops so that Uriah would be struck down and die. This is one of David's drkest hours and darkest deeds. The important lesson here, is that even though David is praised for being "a man after God's own heart," he is till a mortal man. But, he will pay...

Joab immediately realized that David had used Uriah—a loyal friend and servant—to unwittingly deliver his own death warrant!

Joab was faced with a life-or-death decision: Do the right thing and risk suffering the consequences for preventing a murder—or play it safe and allow an innocent man to die.

Joab played it safe.

In Ezekiel 22, God denounces the corrupt ways of the “prophets,” “priests” and “princes”—the religious and government leaders—of America, Britain and all the other modern nations descended from ancient Israel. Notice: “The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: Yes, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully” (vs. 29).

In the very next verse, God says, “And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it: But I found none.”

God continues to look for people who are willing to stand in  the gap...to do the right thing, regardless of potential consequences. Leaders of true character and values are scarce! Sadly, like so many who wield power and authority in today’s world, Joab failed to “stand in the gap.”

Playing Politics

Today, there are leaders who roam the halls of government and big business using “office politics,” “spin doctoring” and situational ethics to get what they want. Such men and women are not above using flattery, bribes, extortion, deceit or any other kind of political manipulation to achieve their agendas. They live and work by a personal code of ethics: “The ends justify the means.”

God’s principle of serving those under you (Matt. 20:25-27) and esteeming others better than yourself (Phil. 2:3) are foreign concepts to such people—as they were to Joab.

Known for his outstanding speaking skills, U.S. president Ronald Reagan was called “the Great Communicator.” Similarly, Joab could have easily been called “the Great Manipulator,” due to being a master at political manipulation. Absalom, Joab’s cousin, must have learned from his worldly example, as he used strong-arm tactics to bully Joab into doing his will (II Sam. 14:28-33).

Stubborn Disobedience

Craving power, Absalom launched a military rebellion against his father, causing David to abandon Jerusalem and flee for his life. Joab played a pivotal role as the commander of David’s forces, eventually leading to Absalom’s defeat.

But despite all that Absalom had done, David could not bring himself to harm his son. The king gave his soldiers strict orders that Absalom should not be killed. Yet when a man reported that Absalom had been found alive, caught in a tree, Joab ordered Absalom’s execution (II Sam. 18:1-33).

Joab disobeyed his king, the one God placed to be the head of His people. In God’s eyes, rebellion and stubborn disobedience is just as evil as witchcraft (I Sam. 15:22-23)!

Callous and Heartless

Joab rebuked David for publicly mourning over Absalom, and, in one sense, he was correct in doing so. Public mourning over the death of a rebellious and murderous son would have set the wrong example for Israel. (When Israel wandered the wilderness generations earlier, God commanded Aaron not to publicly mourn over the deaths of his rebellious sons Nadab and Abihu – Lev. 10:1-7.) It might have also sent a mixed message, potentially causing the Israelites to feel guilty for supporting their king.

However, Joab was wrong in the way he rebuked David. He did not empathize with the great pain and grief his uncle suffered. Nor did Joab appreciate a father’s unconditional love for his child.

David was a type for Jesus Christ—the One who, as the Word, said, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?…and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (Ezek. 18:23), and who also said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kill the prophets, and stone them that are sent unto you; how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen does gather her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Luke 13:34).

Joab may have given good counsel, but he did so in a callous, heartless manner.

Again, the way of Joab was a mixture of good and evil, reflected by the ways of our modern world. For instance, there are people who sacrifice their time and money to help feed the poor and needy. Though such may have good intentions, they are acting on their own, without God’s divine guidance and direction. In the end, their good intentions amount to treating the effects, not the cause—applying band-aids to cancer. Only the arrival of the kingdom of God will solve all of man’s problems, the causes of which are spiritual in nature.

Ultimately, the fruit of their works is not borne from the tree of life, but from the wrong tree—the way of self-knowledge and earthly wisdom (Jms. 3:11-18).

[more tomorrow...]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Joab: What a tangled web we weave… (Part 2)

Bitterness, Treachery and Revenge!

Before David became ruler over all 12 Israelite territories, hostility existed between the house of Judah, which he led, and the house of Israel, ruled by Ishbosheth, son of Saul.

One day, Abner, commander of Ishbosheth’s troops, led a small army of soldiers to Gibeon. There, they accidentally crossed paths with Joab, who was also leading a small army of soldiers. Joab’s brothers Abishai and Asahel were with him. Tension mounted as every warrior stared across from opposite sides of a watering pool.

Abner offered a proposal: Rather than fighting an all-out battle, he and Joab should settle hostilities through a contest of champions. Joab agreed. Twelve of the best warriors from each army got up to fight, tugging and pulling each other by the hair, and stabbing one another in the side with small swords. All 24 soldiers died on the spot.

Abner and Joab’s contest of champions had settled nothing. It only served to fuel even more hatred, causing every soldier to wield his weapon and fight. After a fierce and bloody battle, Joab’s troops gained the upper hand and defeated their opponents. The survivors fled, with the soldiers of Judah in hot pursuit.

Asahel chased after Abner, determined to kill him and take his armor as a trophy. Wanting to stay out of harm’s way, Abner tried to outrun him—but Asahel would not let up. So Abner tried to warn him away, telling him to choose another soldier to hunt down. But Asahel refused.

Finally, Abner said, “Turn back now, or else I’ll have to kill you!” Abner did not want to do this, for he knew that Joab would seek revenge for his brother’s death. Apparently, Joab had a reputation for taking matters into his own hands.

Yet when Asahel still refused to give up the chase, Abner concluded he had to defend himself. So he plunged the back end of his spear into Asahel’s stomach—and Asahel fell dead.

Joab witnessed the death of his brother, and let out a cry of rage. Then he and Abishai pursued after Abner, who managed to escape unharmed.

As professional soldiers, Abner, Joab and Asahel knew and understood the deadly risks of their bloody profession. And Abner did try to keep himself from harming Asahel.

But when it came to the death of his brother, these facts meant nothing to Joab. He allowed his emotions to stew in bitterness and resentment, which simmered into murderous thoughts and attitudes. Joab wanted revenge.

His opportunity would come some time later, when Abner and Ishbosheth had a falling out. Feeling betrayed, Abner sent messengers to King David, proposing to enter a peace agreement with him, promising to use his power and influence to persuade everyone in Israel to accept David as their ruler. The king gladly accepted.

Abner did as he said he would, and convinced the elders of Israel to accept David as their ruler. After having similar success with the elders of Benjamin, Abner, escorted by a company of soldiers, went to Hebron to tell David the good news. The king honored his former enemy with a great feast. At last, peace between Judah and Israel was finally within reach.

But, when Joab and some of his soldiers returned to Hebron from a military mission, he learned about Abner’s recent visit. Asahel’s death still haunted Joab; just as Asahel had refused to let go of pursuing after Abner, Joab refused to let go of seeking Abner’s death.

After being told that Abner had already left Hebron, Joab angrily confronted King David: “What have you done? Why did you let Abner come in here, and then let him go? Abner is a deceiver—he came to trick you! All he wanted was to find out how strong your army is and to know everything you’re doing.”

The king tried to calm down his nephew, but Joab would not listen to reason. Instead, he devised a plan to get Abner, once and for all. Unbeknownst to David, Joab sent some messengers to catch up with Abner and tell him that the king urgently needed his counsel on a matter. Abner agreed to return to Hebron with the messengers.

When they came to a well at Sirah, about two and a half miles outside of Hebron, Abner was surprised to see that Joab and Abishai were waiting for him.

Before Abner could suspect anything, Joab pretended that he needed to discuss an important matter with him in private. Abner let down his guard, certain that Joab would not use King David’s name as a guise for exacting revenge—yet that is exactly what Joab did. In a sudden change from friendliness to violent fury, he pulled out a small sword and thrust it into Abner’s belly.

Joab had allowed his thirst for revenge to run unchecked in his thoughts and attitudes. In his mind, he was justified in deceitfully using David’s good name to conspire against Abner—who came in peace—and lure him into a deadly trap.

Though God says, “Vengeance is Mine” (Rom. 12:19), Joab decided to exact revenge himself.

Playing It Safe

God called David “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). Yet, like all human servants of God, David had flaws and weaknesses, which he needed to battle and overcome.

The lowest spiritual point in David’s life came when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his most loyal soldiers. When Bathsheba became pregnant with David’s child, the king knew that this great sin and act of betrayal would be exposed for all to see. But instead of repenting and seeking God’s forgiveness, David relied upon himself. He recalled Uriah from the frontlines of Israel’s war against Ammon, and tried to get him to sleep with Bathsheba so that Uriah would be deceived into believing that the unborn child was his own. But the king’s plan backfired.

[more tomorrow...]

Monday, June 27, 2011

Joab: What a tangled web we weave... (Part 1)

We are back to the life of King David to look at another character, Joab. Joab was well-supplied with natural talents; gifts, skill and training. He had everything, yet his life came to a brutal and sudden end—why?

First up , who was Joab?

Joab was a nephew of King David. He and his brothers, Abishai and Asahel, served as military officers during their uncle’s rule. Joab grew up in God’s “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) of ancient Israel. From his youth, he was taught God’s commandments, statutes and judgments, and he grew up learning the traditions, customs and practices that were being taught and upheld by the ministry, the Levitical priesthood.

Joab developed into a very skillful leader. As a leader at Jerusalem, he often gave counsel to the king. For example, he had correctly warned David not to number Israel, as he understood that nothing good would come from it (I Chron. 21:1-3). In effect what he said was that by numbering how many men were available to be used as troops, King David’s actions told God that he was placing his trust in men rather than in the One who truly enabled Israel to defeat its enemies.

Joab was also an excellent field leader. After he had led a successful assault on the fortress of Mount Zion, he was promoted to the position of commanding general of David’s army (II Sam. 8:16; 20:23; I Chron. 11:6; 18:15; 27:34). Joab went on to mount additional successful campaigns against the armies of Syria, Ammon and Edom. So, in a sense, he managed the military arm of the Work of God.

When the Ammonites rebelled against Israel’s dominion (II Sam. 10:1-9), Joab led a humiliating defeat against them. The surviving rebels regrouped at Rabbah, Ammon’s capital city. Joab’s military leadership and tactics proved to King David, who was a skilled warrior in his own right, that he was responsible enough to besiege Rabbah and end the war. Delegating such an important task allowed the king to concentrate on other areas of his reign.

Under Joab’s command, the Israelite troops captured a heavily guarded fortress that protected the city’s precious water supply. This brought Rabbah one step closer to capture. But instead of leading the final attack himself, Joab shrewdly advised David to take over: “Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it: lest I take the city, and it be called after my name” (II Sam. 12:28).

Joab came to be known for his political cunning, which he used to reconcile David with his wayward son, Absalom (14:1-24).

Yes, Joab had been blessed with natural talents, gifts, training and ability. Yet, despite all these wonderful attributes, his life came to a brutal and tragic end.


Despite all his talents, abilities, training and even knowledge of God’s laws, Joab lacked one crucial component: God’s Spirit. Without the power of God,
  • converting his mind,
  • guiding his thoughts, and
  • enabling him to build holy, righteous character,
Joab chose to rely upon himself. This sounds a lot like the initial moves made by Moses.

The great skills, gifts and responsibilities he possessed convinced him that he was smart enough to direct his own life. Joab did not understand that “the heart, the natural mind, is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9)—or that “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (10:23)—or that “there is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). Joab was doing “just fine” in his own eyes. He saw no need for turning to God for help and guidance.

The life of Joab is a classic study in the way of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (see Genesis).Like the fruit of that tree, his decisions and conduct were a mixture of right and wrong, a blend of good and evil. And isn't this how we get ourselves all twisted up?

We do the right thing for the wrong reason; or justify doing what we know is the wrong thing for a justifiable (if not right) reason. We leave God out of the equation and judge based on what we see or on our oiwn instncts, or even what we hope the outcome will be. And curiously, that perceived outcome is almost always in our own best interest...

Joab may have made certain correct decisions and had good intentions from time to time, but his pride, envy and selfish ambition, all the spiritual poisons, elevated him in his own mind. They led him to rely upon himself, and caused him to produce the wrong kinds of fruit. Ultimately, this led to his downfall.

Let’s take a closer look at Joab’s life, and see where he went wrong.

[more tomorrow...]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bonus: Kirk Franklin- Hello Fear

Quotes to Change the World

The one that gets me every time is Ann Frank. Ultimately killed by the Nazis, she says that it spite of everything, she thinks that people have good hearts. Really? Wow!

Okay, your turn. Comments?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Nehemiah...Again? (Part 5)

What are some of the lessons we can learn from Nehemiah?

1. God’s leader responds to a call

Nehemiah understands his leadership as a calling from God (Nehemiah 2:12b). Nehemiah listened and came to see the need (1:1-4).

2. God’s leader cares for the people and their situation

Nehemiah listened to the voice of the people. He showed care for their situation. Nehemiah identified with the people. He thought in terms of “we” and “us” ( 2:17, 20). He came to understand and identify with “the trouble we are in” ( 2:17).

3. God’s leader helps define the reality of the situation

When Nehemiah said, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned,” he was not describing his own personal agenda but assessing the common situation faced by all the people. Unless the reality can be described honestly, progress is impossible. “Nothing is more limiting to a group,” says Peter Senge, “than the inability to talk about the truth.”

4. God’s direction and vision are sought by the leader and people

Nehemiah frequently asked God to provide a vision for him. He understood that a true vision must come from God. It must be a God-inspired and God-revealed vision. Only such a vision is worthy of leadership. The vision must be “what God has put into my heart” ( 2:12). This vision emerged in the midst of a devastating situation. It would have been easier to give up in despair, but God’s leader always seeks God’s vision, even in difficult times.

5. Prayer is essential to know God’s will

We often overlook it, but prayer is the fundamental act for people of God. God’s leaders and God’s people must be in the right place to hear God’s voice. God can speak to us at any time, but if we are not turning our hearts toward God to seek God’s guidance, it is more difficult for God’s vision to reach our hearts. The prophet Habakkuk, who we will discuss another day, climbed into the tower believing that God had a vision for him and his people. Habakkuk was willing to wait for the vision, but knew that he needed to put himself in a position to receive it.

6. God’s vision is simple; not simplistic! 

God’s vision tends to be very simple. People build complicated systems, but God’s will is often extremely simple. For Nehemiah and his people the vision was captured in three words: “rebuild the wall.” There were many needs, hopes, and dreams of the people, but God’s vision for the immediate future was captured in rebuilding the wall. Without this initial vision, the other needs could not be met.

7. God’s leader builds a team

Nehemiah gained the trust of the people. This gave him the opportunity to build a team that could make the vision happen. People shared responsibility to accomplish the goal. No one person, not even Nehemiah, could accomplish this vision alone. Nehemiah began with a few, then he expanded the team to include virtually everyone. The people committed themselves to the “common good” (2:18b). The talents of the people were named and used (chapter 3). Different people worked on different sections of the wall. People were assigned to work closest to their homes.

But even God’s people get tired. They felt the task was taking too much time and was too difficult. There were internal disputes. Someone has said, “Everything looks like failure in the middle.” But Nehemiah was able to find ways to alleviate their concerns without losing the vision.

8. God’s leader keeps the real purpose before the people

It is easy for people to forget the purpose behind the vision even as they work to fulfill it. The vision was to rebuild the wall, but the wall was not the important part of the vision. The wall was a means to a larger purpose. What Nehemiah and his people were really about was reclaiming their identity as people of faith. What was at stake was not just a wall but indeed their very faith (Chapter 8; 12:27). Nehemiah had to make sure the people were reminded of their ancient faith. Because their task was tied to a larger purpose, they put their hearts into their work and were able to complete the task in 52 days ( 6:15-16). What an amazing feat this was.

9. God’s leader is not discouraged by adversity

As they rebuilt the wall, they were ridiculed and mocked. Their enemies did everything possible to discourage them. They threatened to tell untrue stories about Nehemiah. Nehemiah listened but persisted. Nehemiah knew he was “doing a great work” (6:3) and could not come down from the wall to debate with the enemies. Nehemiah persisted even when adversity came. God’s people cannot give up when adversity comes.

10. God always has another vision

When people work so hard to accomplish a great goal, the temptation is to want to stop and rest. God’s people should stop and celebrate victories, just as Nehemiah and his people did; but God is never finished with us. After we give thanks to God for bringing us to a new place on our journey, then we must turn again to God in prayer asking, “What, now, is your will for us?” It is time for revisioning.

We are always on a journey with God. We rest for a brief time, but we do not stop. We keep seeking the new land that God is calling us to reach. God always has something else for us to do. We cannot become what God wants us to be by remaining what we are.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nehemiah...Again? (part 4)

Note well, that if you are going to be a person of influence, you are going to get criticism. Your knee-jerk reaction needs to be falling on your knees in prayer. But prayer isn’t the only thing we need to do at this point. We need to buckle down and finish the task at hand! No one who takes on a difficult task and does it to the best of their ability ever loses self-respect!

Now Nehemiah faces another problem: 4:10-12 When strength begins to wane and burnout is imminent, work comes to a standstill. In these kinds of situations, a leader of influence must keep his own personal thoughts in check and hold to a secure faith in a God that is a lot bigger than the problem!

How does Nehemiah goad them back into action? With amazing human insight. 4:13-23 He observed that the basic unit of encouragement was the family. They had been broken up by working in different places on the wall, and this system was counterproductive. So, he re-organized the work around the family with a common goal. In V.14 – When he saw their fear, he knew he had to act fast. The look of fear is quite recognizable; it is highly contagious. Until he did something about this creeping dread, little progress would be made. There’s no greater way to push back fear than to point their attention to an Almighty God…and to rally them to defend their own family!

In V.15 – When you feel you have done all you can do and the problem won’t budge, don’t give in or up. You are not through yet; leave room for God to work! God encourages our hearts, and He frustrates the plans of our enemies!

What do we learn from Nehemiah as we watch him work through these thorny issues? A person of influence is able to stick to the battle plan and not be distracted by distracting skirmishes! Nehemiah presented a plan to the people that gave them peace of mind while allowing the project to move forward.

As a fallback, Nehemiah provided them a rallying point in the event of an attack and reminded them God was fighting with them! So much for fear…we have a plan, and a backup plan, and most importantly, we have God.

Thanks for taking the journey with me. I think we can let Nehemiah rest for a bit. We shall see…


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nehemiah...Again? (part 3)

In V. 18-9 – Most of the people rose to the challenge, among much criticism. The criticism came from the brethren and kinsmen. We expect to have opposition from outsiders, but the painful truth is that much of it will come from those we thought we could count on. Everyone wants to talk about change and what and who needs to change…BUT, no one wants to change their own actions or be the change! People are quick to point out the things what has gone wrong in someone else’s area, but are very hesitant to do any type of introspection. People will fight tooth and nail to stay in their comfort zone…even if they are uncomfortable.

I have recently given this some thought, and considered putting out a survey asking 1- What one thing do you think should be changed in the organization (church), 2- What one think can you do, stop doing, or teach someone else that would improve the way we function?

What do you think? (I am asking for some feedback!)

In V. 20 – Why is Nehemiah so bold? We just talked about this last week with Moses. He KNOWS that God is with him.

So we have Nehemiah. A man who has an iron constitution, unlimited energy, total awareness and faith in an all-powerful God. Like Nehemiah, God wants to use you to fortify the spiritual walls of those around us, when they are weak. But first, we must have our OWN spiritual walls fortified!! We must be sure our own spiritual house is in order.


There is a cost to being a leader. One of those costs is receiving criticism. In Chapter 4, verses 1-9 Sanballat & Tobiah criticize, AND they stir others up join in on their critical mood. {{If a tongue sins in one area, you can just about count on it being unbridled and sinning in another area!}}

Why would Sanballat, Tobiah and the other wealthy men of Samaria be against the rebuilding of Jerusalem? One of the main roads linking the Tigris-Euphrates river valley with Philistia & Egypt ran right through Jerusalem. With the wall re-fortified and rebuilt, Jerusalem would once more be well-protected, it would attract trade & Samaria’s influence and wealth would dwindle to nothing.

Every group has a Sanballat in it. Notice that Nehemiah doesn’t react directly to him. In 4:4-5 He talks to God instead! When you feel that vengeful spirit welling up inside, it’s best to leave it to God to execute! Instead of striking back and lashing out by saying things you will likely regret, spend some time pouring the bitterness out to God!

So, instead of striking out at Sanballat, notice how Nehemiah reacts to the criticism: 4:6 He stayed at the task. After getting off his knees with renewed strength, he pumped some of that determination into his workers. “Pass me another brick!”

Notice the intensity with which Sanballat now reacts: 4:7-8 Nothing riles (can I say pisses off) a critic more than having their criticism result in more progress! Notice that Nehemiah did not let this distract him. Look at 4:9. Nehemiah matched the intensity of the criticism with intensified prayer; but this time he brought the workers with him when he knelt before God!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nehemiah...Again? (Part 2)

Let’s pick up the story at Nehemiah 2:11-20

In verse 11, Nehemiah waits 3 days before he does anything. Why? And, why does he wait in silence? When faced with this huge task, Nehemiah spends time in solitude with Jehovah; the place to go to get our faith reservoir refilled! Last week we talked about Moses, and acting in haste. Have you ever acted in haste or spoken too soon because you put your feelings and your sense of rightness out "there" before you spent time with God to sort the plan out? The important concept here is to stay “prayed up.” Keep in touch with your prayer warriors, those who help watch your back even when you are too foolish, or in too much of a hurry to do it yourself.

So, what are our first cues?

---- Step back, spend some time with God

---- Stay prayed up, and stay ready

In verses 12 and 16, Nehemiah tours the walls at night. Why? He wants an honest assessment of the situation and the damage without a horde of people “helping” him and distracting him from the task. Have you ever been in a situation where everyone, even people not involved in the situation…everyone has advice, opinions and directive…but no one wants to step up front to take leadership or ownership? We must walk with our eyes open, looking at the problem with new and fresh eyes. Take ownership of the problem. These 3 days of silence was when God to put His plans into Nehemiah’s heart.

--- Look at the problem from a new perspective

Why fix the wall? Shoun't we do something about their deplorable living conditions and crumbling houses first? Nehemiah “attacked” the problem of the wall first because this was Jerusalem’s most important protection against their enemies and the missing wall made them essentially defenseless.

--- Figure out what the most important part of the problem…

--- What’s the linchpin?

--- What’s the tipping point ?

In verses 13-15, as Nehemiah returned home, his path led him through the Kidron valley or Valley of Hinnom. This is where garbage was dumped and the smelly fires burned constantly. It was later known as the Refuse or Dung Gate. Nehemiah was willing to walk through the worst, smelliest valley to reach his goal! And, notice that he is alone. He doesn’t have any cheerleaders or anyone to show this off in front of.

--- Sometimes you have to go through the valley and the muck before you can really move forward. This is the hard part of the journey. Few, if any will stand alongside you when the going is hardest.

In verse 17, after his time with God and his time of solitude, Nehemiah is now ready to commit himself to the task of helping the people. People will follow leaders that roll up their sleeves to join in on the hard task. When Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons during the war, he said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Notice that Nehemiah’s only motivation in this was “to remove the reproach of Jerusalem.”

--- People will work best with and for us if we are willing work along with them


Monday, June 20, 2011

Nehemiah...Again? (Part 1)

Text: Nehemiah 2:11-20; 4:1-23

Sorry guys, I’m back staring at the battered and beleaguered walls with Nehemiah. We have visited with Nehemiah recently, but I think he has a little more to offer us (me) right now. At least a portion of my angst is being generated by a little turmoil I am experiencing in my church life right now. If I can be just a tiny bit transparent, I am having not so much a faith crisis, as a people-in-church crisis.

So the question we must keep asking ourselves is, “How do we as leaders keep others motivated when the going gets tough?” And, this brings us back to Nehemiah.

When I am faced with adversity, I usually think of two old sayings...

“Tough times will make you better or bitter,” “What doesn’t kill us is bound to make us stronger.”

Adversity, however does not leave us untouched or unscathed. So, the truth of the matter must lie somewhere between these two extremes; somewhere between the bitter and dying and the better and stronger.

What moves us to one side or the other of this equation? Why are some of us crushed and others elevated when life torments us? What makes the difference? The short answer is- the ability to reach deep within to find the inspiration to carry us through depends on our reservoir of faith. If our personal tanks are empty, we can often find encouragement through an experienced leader to replenish it. Of course, right now I’m speaking of Nehemiah.

In 444 B.C. the city walls of Jerusalem were in ruins and the gates of the city were burned. The smoke had long dissipated, but the people were still in great distress. Despair had taken the very heart out of the people.

Nehemiah was a great leader who reached deep within to find the motivation to say, “Give me the utensils, and we will finish the work!” At times like this, a simple speech can have a great impact. Words can find their way into fearful hearts and liberate disconsolate souls! And when encouraged people unite, they can become a tenacious and formidable force that can bring about victory!

For those of us that may feel downcast, or disheartened, God is calling us from defeat to victory. That is His God’s call upon our hearts today. Our businesses, families and churches need someone who is in touch with a great God to lead us through the tough times. That’s you!

Since we’ve been here recently, I’ll just give the highlights of the Book of Nehemiah and draw attention to some of the principles that show us Nehemiah was a great example. Setting – Nehemiah was in captivity in Babylon. He heard about the hardship and ruin of Jerusalem’s walls/gates. He asked to be allowed to go repair them and was given permission and the resources to accomplish it...

[more tomorrow...]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Few Motivational Quotes

Which of these speaks to you personally? Look through these quotes and write down your own thoughts, your own take on these and share with us.

1. Excellence is a habit

2. Sometimes as hard as we think it will hurt, the best way to get to the other side of a misadventure is to go through it…and learn

3. Often it feels like we are beating our heads against the same wall, but occasionally we make a dent, once in a while we can see a little light go off in someone’s eyes when they finally “get it.” Keep pushing forward

4. The more resistance you get for a fresh idea or a new perspective, the more likely you are on the right path

5. If you think you cannot…you are right. Why? Because you will not give it your best effort as you enter in.

6. What we dwell on, we become…This speaks to our inability to let go of old hurts and labels that people have placed on us; not letting go of the negative values we may have learned as a child. Failing to forgive ourselves for our errors and staying stuck. Think better thoughts, and become more!

7. You can only get better with practice, and by accepting the fact that you may fail sometime. You won’t make the game-winning shot every time

8. To change the world you will probably have to change yourself as well

9. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey…there are many lessons along the way. Grow by breathing them all in. Don’t miss out (especially with the people you love) by focusing only on the end. Celebrate the small victories along the way.

10. Our first job is to serve others!

What about you?

(write them down...its important. You are important...always, always, always remember that!)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Join the March of the Unqualified

Have you ever felt unqualified or disqualified to be a follower, or unqualified to help lead others to Christ? We all feel this way occasionally, but thank God that He is the One who has "qualified us" or "fitted us" or "made us sufficient" to inherit the blessings. He has done this by redeeming us, forgiving us our sins and clothing us in the righteousness of his Son (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). Whatever training or credentials we feel we formerly lacked, we have now been given. Whatever things we have done in the past, that bring us a sense of shame or at least a feeling of disqualification, or not-good-enough-ness, they are forever forgiven.

Whatever feelings of inadequacy that may have crippled us in the past, God has certified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light! If you find yourself saying, "I'm not up to the task. I'm a miserable failure. I don't deserve to stand in God's presence," God now says to us that we who are in Christ are "Qualified! Forgiven! Adequate in Jesus! Righteous in my Son! Come and receive and enjoy your inheritance together with all the saints in the life-giving, soul-cleansing light of my kingdom!"

And what is this inheritance in which all believers share?

 Ruling angels (1 Corinthians 6:3)!

 Inheriting the earth (Matthew 5:5)!

 A glorified body (Romans 8:17-25)!

 The kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)!

But none of this means anything if God isn't there. Our inheritance is God and is in God! He is our exceeding great reward. John Piper said it best when he wrote that "the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment. The saving love of God is God’s commitment to do everything necessary to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying, namely himself” (God is the Gospel).

Thank you God, that You have filled us with joyful and glad-hearted gratitude, and for having qualified us to inherit you . . . your presence, your beauty, your glory forever and ever.

That You for having qualified us by grace alone...


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Leadership Lessons from Moses (Part 5 / conclusion)

There are four main lessons from this discussion about the life of Moses, so let us review...

1) We are to shun sin

In Hebrews 11:24-26, it reads that... "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward."

2) We need to learn to exhibit patience

Like Moses, this is one that I occasionally have issues with. Notice the rationale that Moses uses in Acts 7:25-28, and from it we can see that being in the will of God was not enough. We cannot assume that everyone around us will understand what we are trying to accomplish. If we are acting within God's will and God's timing, a proper way will be made for us and our gifts. "For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Wilt thou kill me, as thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?"

Moses wanted to be the deliverer for the people of Israel, but not in God's time. Moses then worked for another 40 years before God was ready for him. Acts 7:30 "And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the wilderness of mount Sinai an angel of the Lord in a flame of fire in a bush."

Luke 8:15 "But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience."

Psalm 27:14 "Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD."

Luke 21:19 "In your patience possess ye your souls."

3) We must stop making excuses for not moving forward. Eventually we must stop the talk and the stalling and DO SOMETHING!

As we have read in Exodus (3:11, 12; 3:13; 4:1, 2; 4:10, 11; 4:13, 14), Moses had lots of ready excuses for not wanting to do God's will, but God did not take kindly to these excuses.

God still speaks to us in this way...

Today God says, "Seek ye first…." Matthew 6:33

God says, "Do all to the glory of God" 1 Corinthians 10:31

How many times do we say to ourselves and to others, "I can't, because ________________?"

We can do all things through Christ! Philippians 4:13

Are we seeking to excuse ourselves from our responsibilities or do we humbly submit to God's will?

4) Proceed in meekness

Moses was meek. This in no way implies that he was weak! We should be meek, but we should never compromise God's truth. Moses never did this. Instead we see Moses as the man who was in Mt. Sinai and stayed for 40 days and nights. We see him as a bold and courageous leader of God's people. We see him as someone who defied the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abijah.

Meekness is a trait which all we as Christians should have. Notice Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
Meekness is one of the items listed in the fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5:23

It is something that we need to receive God's word. James 1:21tells us, "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls."


Moses' life serves as a model for us on many levels, not just about leadership. We tend to pick and choose certain figures to bring our certain points or lessons for life. We must keep in mind that the Bible is not just a storybook, with lots of little plays and vignettes to tickle our fancies. The Bible is one story, held together by one message- redemption.

So, if you feel as though you have fallen away from the path, Moses' life serves as a great example of faithfulness and as such calls us back to God. He did not let the pleasures, promises and seductions of this world interfere with his responsibilities toward God. Do you?

Perhaps you’ve never been on the path…this is how it works:

Find a friend to help you, or find a church community…

a) Hear the word; Romans 10:17 "Faith comes by hearing . . ."

b) Believe with all your heart; Hebrews 11:6 "For without faith it is impossible . . . ."

c) Repent of your sins ( Acts 17:30).

d) Confess Jesus as the Son of God ( Matt. 16:16).

e) Be baptized for the remission of your sins ( Mark 16:15,16).

Now, go and DO!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leadership lessons from Moses (Part 4)

Moses’ life teaches us the lesson that there are certain sins that will continue to haunt us all throughout our lives (Lesson #6). That same hot temper that had gotten Moses into trouble in Egypt also got him into trouble during the wilderness wanderings. I mentioned Meribah earlier in the discussion. At Meribah, Moses struck a rock in anger in order to provide water for the people. However, he neglected to give God the glory, and he had not followed God’s precise commands. This is why God forbade him from entering the Promised Land. In like manner, we all give in to certain besetting sins which plague us all our days.

Our favorite sins require us to be on full and constant alert!!!

These have been just a few of the practical lessons that we can learn from Moses’ life. However, if we look at Moses’ life in light of the Scripture taken as a whole, we see larger, theological truths that fit into the story of redemption.

The author of the Book of Hebrews (probably the Apostle Paul) devotes ten verses of the eleventh chapter to Moses and the faith he displayed. We learn hear that it was by faith that Moses refused the splendor of Pharaoh’s palace in order to identify with the predicament of his people. The writer of Hebrews says, “[Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26). Moses’ life was one of faith, and we well know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Likewise, it is by faith that we, looking forward to heavenly riches, can endure daily hardships in this lifetime (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Moses was a “type,” a predecessor, a foreshadowing of the life of Christ. Like Christ, Moses was the go-between or intermediary of a covenant. Once again, the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to demonstrate this point (Hebrews 3, 8–10). The Apostle Paul also makes the same points in 2 Corinthians 3.

The difference is that the covenant that Moses mediated was temporal and more importantly conditional; whereas the covenant that Christ mediates is eternal and unconditional.

Like Christ, Moses provided redemption for his people. Moses delivered the people of Israel out of slavery and bondage in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land of Canaan. Christ delivers His people out of bondage and slavery to sin and condemnation and brings them to the Promised Land of eternal life on a renewed earth, which will be consummated upon His return.

Like Christ, Moses was a prophet to his people. Moses spoke the words of God to the Israelites just as Christ did (John 17:8). Moses predicted that the Lord would raise up another prophet like him from among the people (Deuteronomy 18:15). Jesus and the early church believed and taught that Moses was speaking of Jesus when he wrote those words (John 5:46; Acts 3:22, 7:37).

In so many ways, Moses’ life is a forerunner of the life of Christ. As such, we can catch a glimpse into how God was working His plan of redemption in the lives of faithful people throughout all of human history.

This gives us hope that just as God saved His people and gave them rest through the actions of Moses, so too will God save us and give us an eternal Sabbath rest in Christ; both now and in the life to come.

Finally, it is interesting to note that even though Moses never set foot in the Promised Land during his lifetime, he was given an opportunity to enter the Promised Land after his death. Moses was seen on the mount of transfiguration with Christ and Elijah.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Bonus: Herding Cats

I have a church meeting later today, and I suspect in it will be something like this...herding cats. Pray for me, pray for us...

Leadership Lessons from Moses (Part 3)

Lesson #1:

The first lesson for us in this study of Moses' life has been that we must be acutely aware of not only doing God’s will, but doing God’s will in His timing, not ours. As we can see with countless other biblical examples, when we attempt to do God’s will in our timing, we usually make a bigger mess than originally existed.

Moses needed time to grow and mature and learn to be a little more meek and humble before God. This brings us to the second 40 year span in the life of Moses; his 40 years in the land of Midian. No longer a prince of the realm, during this period of time, Moses learns the simple life of a shepherd, a husband, and a father. God took an impulsive and hot-tempered young man and began the process of molding and shaping him into the perfect instrument for His use.

What can we learn from this part of his life? If the first lesson is to wait on God’s timing, then Lesson #2 is to not be idle while we wait on God’s timing. While the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time on the details of this part of Moses’ life, we do not think that Moses was sitting lazily waiting for God’s call. He spent most of these 40 years learning the fine points of being a shepherd and supporting and raising a family. These are not trivial things!

I find it interesting that God would make him a shepherd and he would have to learn firsthand how to get sheep to do what they are supposed to. Sheep are not the sharpest tools in the animal cracker box…And what does that say about Christ and the leader of the church being shepherds? Why do you think we are called sheep?  Hmmm...

But back to becoming leadership material. While we may long to have a ‘mountain top’ experience with God, the bulk of our lives are lived in the valley doing the mundane, day-to-day tasks that make up a life. We need to live our lives for God while we are ‘in the valley’ before He can possibly enlist us into the battle.

It is hard to make a good and compassionate leader out of someone who has never been led, or one who refuses to submit to any authority!

There is something else we learn about Moses and the time spent in Midian. When God finally did call him into service, Moses was resistant. The man of action in his youth, now 80 years old, had become overly timid. When called to speak for God, Moses said he was “slow of speech and tongue.” Some commentators believe that Moses may have had a speech impediment, like stuttering. Perhaps Moses just didn’t want to go back into Egypt and fall flat on his face again. This is not an uncommon feeling.

How many of us have tried to do something (whether or not it was for God) and failed, and then been hesitant to try again; reluctant to get back on that horse?

There is however, something that Moses seems to have overlooked now that he is being called into service. That God would be with him. Moses failed at first not only because he acted impulsively, but because he acted without God.

So, Lesson #3 is that when we discern a clear call from God, we should step forward in faith, knowing that God goes with us! Do not be timid, but be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (Ephesians 6:10-3)

The third and final segment of Moses’ life is the portion that the Scriptures spend the most time recording, namely his role in the redemption of Israel. What additional lessons lie in these pages for us?

The first of these lessons is how to be an effective leader of people. Moses in actual fact had responsibility over 2 million Hebrew refugees. When things began to wear on him, his father-in-law, Jethro, suggested that he delegate responsibility to other faithful men. This is a lesson (#4) that many people in authority over others need to learn.

In Moses, we also see a man who was absolutely dependent on the grace of God to help with his task. Moses was repeatedly pleading on behalf of the people before God. Wouldn’t it be great if all people in authority would petition God on behalf of those over who they are in charge! (Lesson #5)

Moses’ life also teaches us the lesson that there are certain sins that will continue to haunt us all throughout our lives (Lesson #6). That same hot temper that got Moses into trouble in Egypt also got him into trouble during the wilderness wanderings. I mentioned Meribah earlier in the discussion. At Meribah, Moses struck a rock in anger in order to provide water for the people. However, he neglected to give God the glory, and he had not followed God’s precise commands. This is why God forbade him from entering the Promised Land. In like manner, we all give in to certain besetting sins which plague us all our days. These sins require us to be on full and constant alert.

[more ...]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The New You (Part 1)

Part 1

Text: Colossians 3:1-11

We talk a lot about the transforming power of Christ, and being changed, becoming a new creation, becoming something other and hopefully better than what we are today. Many people say it, but Paul offers us sound advice on how to do it, as he writes to the church at Colossae. Let's look at our text.

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

I am showing my age by using this story but, there’s an old Candid Camera episode that shows an actor on a busy sidewalk and he begins looking at the ground. He walks around a bit and continues to look down. People are passing by him and a few give him strange looks. After a couple of minutes, he decides to get down on his hands and knees and begins feeling around with his hands. People begin to slow down and watch what he’s doing. Finally, one person stops and starts looking at the ground. Then another one begins searching the sidewalk. In a few minutes, the camera shows about a dozen people looking down, some even on their hands and knees! At this point, the actor, who got all this started in the first place, quietly gets up and walks away. No one else notices that he has left. They’re so intent in their search that they never even bothered to ask what it was they were looking for. This is a good picture of how many people live in our society today.

We’re searching for something because we know there’s got to be more to life. But, we’ll never find it if we don’t know what it is that we’re missing. What are we looking for? It is possible to tell a great deal about a person’s character by finding out what they really love and what their goals are.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you're thinking about this:

1. What are the three things you are most earnestly working for right now?

2. What are the three things you love the most?

3. What are the three things you think about the most?

This is essentially the same method used by Jesus to determine a person’s true character when He speaks in Matthew 6:19-21,  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The heart is the seat of the emotions and it determines how and what we think.

Proverb 23:7 says -- "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:"

If you’ll be honest with yourself, you will probably find (as I did) that, for the most part, your affections, as revealed by your thoughts, are more focused on the things of this world than on the things of God.

If you question this, open your checkbook register or online bank statement and see how much of your income is devoted to financing your earthly desires, vesus how much is devoted to the Kingdom of God. It‘s a difficult dilemma. Why is it so difficult for us Christians to set our minds and affections on eternal things? To say it a little bit differently, why is it so hard for God’s people to be "heavenly-minded" people while we’re still here on earth?

Some might answer, "Well it’s because of our sinful nature." And certainly there is some truth in that. But, Christians have two sets of desires that are constantly at war with one another; the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit. But our difficulty in focusing on eternal values cannot be completely blamed on our sin nature. The fact is that God has placed Christians in a difficult, though not impossible situation.

He asks us to be citizens of two worlds. Twice Jesus specifically says that God’s plan is not to take Christians out of this world, but rather, to send them into the world (James 17:15,18).

So, how do we live in this world with its responsibilities and temptations without loving this world and being conformed to its values? Our text this morning, Colossians 3:1-11 addresses some of the answers this dilemma.

According to our text, to be heavenly-minded means to conform our everyday desires, attitudes, and actions to the image of Christ. In other words, being heavenly-minded simply means loving what Jesus loves, thinking like Jesus thinks, and viewing everything in our daily life from His heavenly perspective.

 Your first thought will be, "Well, I’ve tried that many times and I just can’t do it consistently. I just can't seem to stick with it." I completely understand this feeling. I empathize and sympathize with you; been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the scars (both physical and emotional) to prove it. But, I am here to tell you that just because you and I haven’t done it very well in the past doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It just means that we have been going about it the wrong way. It usually works something like this…

We read the Bible or listen to some preaching or teaching and the Holy Spirit convicts our heart of some sin in our life.We decide that we need to fix that “thing”. So we make a mental judgment to eliminate "this and that" from our life and we may even go so far as to replace it with something more godly. We pray for strength and announce our decision and commitment to God. Then we go home and try our best to live up to our new commitment.

However most of the time we find that, no matter how determined we are, we are still subject to the sins and pleasures of this world. The shine wears off our new commitment and we fail! Our failure brings frustration, which often leads us to believe that since we can’t live the kind of perfectly godly life that we want, then there is really no point in trying.

But then we read our Bible or we hear some preaching or teaching and the Holy Spirit convicts our heart and the whole thing starts over again.

But there is a formula that will work for us. And it is found in our text, Colossians 3.

If we want to break free from the past, then where we put our eyes is very important. Instead of looking down, Paul challenges us to: look up (1-4), look out (5-9a), look in (9b-10) and to look around (11). In Colossians, we learn that if we get Christ right, we get everything else right. Jesus is supreme over His creation, His church, and we’ll see that He is supreme over the Christian.

There are practical implications that should be evident if one surrenders to the supremacy of Jesus. It does little good if we can declare and defend the truth but fail to demonstrate it in our lives. We make a mockery of ourselves and Christ.


(originally posted 4/5/11)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Just a thought or two: End of the World

If you're reading this post, then the world probably didn't end last night. At least not for all of us. I have been trying to ignore this story, but fully half the blog posts, and every third tweet has some related story or inane joke.

But as Christians, we should not really be bothered or concerned with this foolishness for a number of reasons. Here are my random thoughts about this:

1. If we have faith, we fully trust that the Lord will provide and we will wake up in our heavenly home.

2. If we have waited until the day before the Rapture to worry about whether or not we are going to make it "in," then there is probably not enough time left to make up for an inconsistent, foolish or faithless life. We should have been working on it all along. Or, as the older folks might say, we should have been laying up some timber before now.

3. If I didn't have faith, and the world were to end tonight, how would I know? I'd be gone. So why should I waste energy worrying about it now?

4. Many of my friends have heard me say, "You can only go on time." If we truly believe that our days are indeed numbered, then we realize that we cannot willfully increase or decrease them. When it is time to go, that's it. It will come whether we are asleep, sitting in a movie, listening to a sermon, having surgery, or white water rafting. The end comes to us all. And whenever it comes, it's over....but apparently not today.

Walk in faith my friends. Do the work that the Lord has given you, while it is day...


[NB: With rare exception, I will no longer be posting on Sunday. Sermon notes tomorrow.]

(originally posted 5/22/11)

Monday, June 6, 2011

What does God want from us? (Micah 6:8) Part 1

Part -1 “What does the Lord require of you?"
We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what we expect from God, and how we should or shouldn't respond when we don't get what we want. We spend precious little of it discussing what God requires of us. Our mantra tends to sound a lot like that old Janet Jackson song, "What have you done for me lately?"

There are indeed things that are required of us. Look with me at what the prophet Micah understood to be “God’s requirements.” Requirements that should be written into our hearts. So that when someone asks, “What does the Lord require of you?” Your response will be, “To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

It really sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” It almost sounds like the scouting oath. Be fair. Be nice. Be humble.

But when we study the prophet who spoke those words, and we look at the context in which he spoke them and their impact on those who heard them, we soon realize that it is much more than a glib motto.

To understand Micah we must first place him in context of the history of the Hebrew people. So unfortunately, that will require a very brief Bible history lesson:

The Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt, making bricks and starving, when God called Moses to the top of a mountain and spoke to him from a burning bush. God sent Moses to the Pharaoh with one message: “Let my people go!”

God, through Moses’ leadership, led the people out of bondage to the Promised Land. During this time, God established a covenant with the Hebrew people: "I will be your God and you will be my people.” God’s loving actions of freeing the Hebrew people from slavery and giving them the Promised Land are among the many ways God held up His end of the deal. God promised to continue to provide for them.

But, a covenant relationship, like any other relationship, is a two way street. Both parties have responsibilities and required (expected) behaviors that sustain and maintain the relationship.

It is just like a marriage covenant, where two people promise to love each other, to care for each other, to respect each other. Most of us have at least heard of those promises: "To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, til death us do part." We agree to the requirements of a marriage covenant because we love somebody and want to commit our lives to them.

Well, God made just such a covenant with the Hebrew people. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” And what were God’s requirements of the Hebrew people? Here’s a summary…two "simple" commandments. “Love me and yourself and others like I have loved you.”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6:5] and “love your neighbor as yourself.” [Leviticus 19:18]

God added some other specifics like: Don’t murder, don’t lie, don’t steal, be faithful to your husband or wife, don’t be jealous of your neighbors and want their stuff. All of these seem pretty clear requirements for good relationships. And God added another reminder. In Leviticus 6: 12 He said, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

What God is saying here is that once you get comfortable in the Promised Land and begin to enjoy a life of freedom and the abundance of the land, don’t forget about me and our relationship. Don't forget the things you need to do to maintain our relationship. Don't forget that this is a two-way street. When you are free and safe and fat and happy, remember me.

Our prophet today is named Micah. His name means, “Who is like Jehovah?” Micah held an high idea of the holiness, righteousness and compassion of God.

The heart of his book is expressed in the closing chapter: “Who is a God like You?” (Micah 7:18). And the unspoken answer is…None!”

[ more this week...]

(originally posted 3-14-11)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blogging vacation

I will be at a conference during the week of June 5th-13th. Instead of trying to post new material while I am supposed to be learning, I will post the most popular posts from the site. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to read some of the older blogs that you've missed, or check out some of the blogs I follow.

Have a great week!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Leadership Lessons from Moses (Part 2)

Let us continue with the historical setup for Moses. We are all formed by the things that happen to us, the good, bad and ugly. Those things help make us who we are. And, as we can see in the case of Moses, life's trials and God's intervention helped form Moses into an extraordinary leader.

After the exodus (migration) from Egypt, Moses leads the people to the edge of the Red Sea where God provides another saving miracle by parting the waters and allowing the Hebrews to cross over to the other side, while drowning the Egyptian army (Exodus 14). Moses brings the people to the foot of Mount Sinai where the Law (the Ten Commandments) is given and the covenant is established between God and the newly formed nation of Israel (Exodus 19 - 24).

The rest of the book of Exodus and the entire book of Leviticus take place while the Israelites are encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai.

God gives Moses detailed instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, the traveling tent of worship, all of the worship utensils, and finally the Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones). The Ark is representative of God’s presence among His people. God has also gives Moses explicit instructions on how He is to be worshipped.

The book of Numbers shows the Israelites moving from Mount Sinai to the edge of the Promised Land. But, relying on their own strength and understanding instead of God, they refuse to go in without checking it out first. They send twelve spies out, and when ten of twelve bring back a bad report, they do not want to go forward. God condemns the entire generation of Jews to die in the wilderness for their disobedience and subjects them to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

This is a trip that should have taken them 40 days, and they are stuck here for 40 years!

By the end of the book of Numbers, the next (and new) generation of Israelites is back on the borders of the Promised Land and properly poised to trust God and take the next step by faith.

The book of Deuteronomy shows Moses giving several sermon-type speeches to the people, reminding them of God’s saving power and faithfulness. He gives the second reading of the Law (Deuteronomy 5) and prepares this generation of Israelites to receive the promises of God.

Moses himself is prohibited from entering the Land because of a sinful issue he had back at Meribah (Numbers 20:10-13). At the conclusion of the book of Deuteronomy, we have the record of Moses’ death (Deuteronomy 34). He is taken up on Mount Nebo and is allowed to look at the Promised Land. Moses was 120 years old when he died and the Bible records that his “eye was undimmed and his vigor unabated” (Deuteronomy 34:7).

These are the highpoints and salient features of Moses’ life. What can we learn from all of this?

Moses’ life is broken down into three 40-year periods.

The first was his life in the court of Pharaoh. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses would have been given access to all of the advantages and privileges of a prince of Egypt. He was instructed “in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). As the plight of the Hebrews began to gnaw at his soul, Moses takes it upon himself to be the savior of his people.

From this incident, we learn that Moses was a man of action, as well as a man possessed of a hot temper and prone to rash actions; boy, that sounds a lot like Peter in the New Testament.

Did God want to save his people? Yes.

Did God want to use Moses as his chosen instrument of salvation? Yes.

But Moses was acting rashly and without really thinking. He tried to do things in his own timing what God wanted done in His timing.

Lesson #1:
The first lesson for us is that we must be acutely aware of not only doing God’s will, but doing God’s will in His timing, not ours. As is the case with many other biblical examples, when we attempt to do God’s will in our timing, we usually make a bigger mess than originally existed.

[ more...]

Friday, June 3, 2011

Leadership lessons from Moses (Part 1)

Moses is one of the most prominent figures in the Old Testament. Abraham is referred to as the “Father of the Faithful” at least in part because he was the recipient of God’s unconditional covenant of grace to his people. Moses was the man chosen to bring redemption and deliverance to his people. God specifically chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt to salvation in the Promised Land. Moses is also commonly referred to as the giver of the law. And finally, Moses is the principle writer of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and the foundation of the Old Testament.

Unfortunately, this is going to take a little history to set up. Our main Text: Exodus 2:1-3.

We first encounter Moses in the opening chapters of the book of Exodus. In chapter 1, we learn that after Joseph rescued his family from the great famine and moved them to the land of Goshen (in Egypt); their descendants lived in peace for several generations. This worked well until there was a new Pharaoh who “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). He subjugated and enslaved the Hebrew people and used them for the construction of his massive building projects. Because God had blessed the Hebrew people with rapid numeric growth, the Egyptians began to worry that the Jew would overrun them. This and several other factors lead the Pharaoh to order the death of all male children born to Hebrew women (Exodus 1:22).

In Exodus 2, we see Moses’ mother attempting to save her child by placing him in a basket and putting it into the Nile River. The basket was eventually found by Pharaoh’s daughter, and she adopted him as her own and raised him in the palace of the Pharaoh himself. As Moses grew into adulthood, he began to sympathize with the plight of his people, and upon witnessing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, Moses intervenes and kills the Egyptian. Later, in another unrelated incident, Moses attempts to intervene in a dispute between two Hebrews, but one of the Hebrews chides Moses and sarcastically comments, “are you going to kill me as you did the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14). Realizing that his criminal act was made known, Moses flees to the land of Midian where he is once again cast into the role of hero, as he rescues the daughters of Jethro from some bandits. In gratitude, Jethro grants the hand of his daughter, Zipporah, to Moses.

The next major incident in Moses’ life is his encounter with God in the burning bush (Exodus 3) where God calls Moses to be the savior of his people. You know this stuff from Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments or the animated movie The Prince of Egypt. Well, this is where it came from.

Eventually, Moses and his brother Aaron go to Pharaoh in God’s name to demand that he let the people go to worship their God. Pharaoh stubbornly refuses and ten plagues follow which are representative of God’s judgment upon the people and the land; the final plague being the slaying of the first born. Prior to this last plague, God commands Moses to institute the Passover, which is a remembrance of God’s saving act in redeeming His people from bondage in Egypt.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

God, R U kidding me? (Part 6 / conclusion)

Text: Jonah 1:2, 4:1-10

And sometimes we get angry that God asks us to do these things. There are all kinds of people out there. People we would like to ignore. People that if God said I want you to go and serve them, we would try to find a way to run away from it. We would try to find some kind of way to make it difficult for God to use us that way. Maybe God will forget and will send somebody else. City people? People of other races? People of other countries or speak other languages? Gay people? Rich people? Poor people? There are so many people we would like to ignore and just stay comfortable, stay inside of what we would like, what we expect from God in our own lifestyle.

And what Jonah is teaching us is that that isn't always an option. Jonah did not want to be at Nineveh. God who loves even the Ninevehites called Jonah to go there.

These words are to shake us out of our own selfishness. And God finally asks us, “Why are you so concerned about doing something you like? Why are you so concerned about your career proceeding a certain way? Shouldn't you be more concerned about serving the people who need to hear the word of God?"

And, finally we hear it, and we understand it; but we aren’t a whole lot more graceful than Jonah in obeying. We all have these parts of our lives that are like Jonah. God is calling us out of the shade. God is calling us out of our comfort zone. He is calling us to serve somebody, to sacrifice for somebody who is different than us

When that call comes, and that hard thing shows up in our lives, we don't have to be hypocrites. Jonah was a hypocrite. We don't have to be. The same mercy we have received, we can share. We can share it here, in our homes and churches. We can share it out in our communities, or overseas on mission trips. We can share it to the ends of the earth.

The most important thing we want to take away from the story of Jonah is that we don’t really want to be like him. Instead our call is to be like Jesus Christ who willingly gave up all that was due to him and took upon himself the form of a servant. He became human and suffered willingly for us. He was willing to face the cross for our sakes, to bear the weight of our sins. That is our Lord. That is our Savior. That is what we rejoice in and that is the pattern we are called to follow.

So, get over yourself. Pray and calm down. Get back in the race. Be the people God expects us to be.