Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Mission & Vision)

One thing that I notice about leaders of organizations is that there is a significant amount of confusion between vision and mission.  Especially when it comes to the small church.  These guiding principles are essential for keeping the members aligned to God’s will for a congregation’s ministry and areas of focus.  The short way of understanding the distinctiveness of vision is a robust, long-term view of what an organization wants to take place in the future.  The same approach to mission is a shorter and narrower perspective of what the organization is presently doing to achieve the larger vision.

In light of Nehemiah, we can see a clear vision and mission resting upon him.  What follows is a demonstration of what vision and mission would look like in light of Nehemiah’s behavior and actions.  These are my musings of what was happening in Nehemiah’s mind.  Possibly, or maybe not.  The present reality of Jerusalem was dire, and the Jewish population was devastated.  Nehemiah was given four facts about his people and Jerusalem (Neh. 1:3).  The people were in great affliction, meaning oppressed by poverty and other people groups.  They were also in great reproach.  To be under reproach is to be disapproved by others, to receive derogatory remarks, and to be mistreated because of a perceived low status.  The city gates were continually burned like trash heaps, and the protective walls were broken down.

So, what was Nehemiah’s long-term vision?  No doubt, when he looked forward in time, Nehemiah saw from a far distance, a city built on a hill that could not be hidden.  Merchants and travelers walking with excitement toward Jerusalem.  He didn’t see smoke rising from a destroyed city, but perhaps he could see smoke rising from a restored temple as sacrifices were offered.  As he walks closer to Jerusalem in the vision, he can see the walls standing firm and providing protection to all the inhabitants inside.  The gates were bustling with life when open and formidable obstacles invaders could not pass through when closed.  As he walks through the city as he pictured it in the future, businesses are thriving.  Families are healthy and happy.  The order is maintained.  The people are devout in their faith.  The leadership is strong.  The buzz in the kingdom is that Jerusalem and God’s people are respected among the other nations.

Sounds like a beautiful vision, but there needs to be a bridge built between the present reality and the preferred future.  This is where the mission comes in for Nehemiah.  If the vision is where he envisions Jerusalem to end up, the mission is what is happening in the present that positions them toward achieving the vision.   It’s simple but it is more than a few words, or it becomes a motto.  Nehemiah 2:17 finishes with a great mission statement, “Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.”  It is succinct and clear.  We don’t have any questions about where their focus, resources, and energy are going.  The people react to this clear mission with excitement by creating a good short motto, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18).

I pray and hope that this little journey through mission and vision help you to understand the benefits for your organization.  We see the results that Nehemiah achieved as a faithful steward of God’s vision and the resources God put in his hands.  Perhaps this will be a tool for you to move forward where you serve.

How to pray the week before camp 2017 and take action.

In the week before the Christian Baptist Camp Meeting, preparations are still being made, sermons are still developing, songs are being practiced, volunteers recruited, tasks assigned, numbers crunched, and reports written.  It is effortless to come into camp and think that everything picks up and continues from where we ended the previous year.  In reality, life happens the other 51 weeks of the year.  Bills need to be paid, pipes burst, and leaders and volunteers have shuffled around because of life changes just to name a few.  There is a lot of work going on during the year in the association, and it does seem to culminate in a time of celebration, reflection, and aligning during camp.  However, while some leaders and volunteers are working around the clock, we need more help.  One of the most critical areas is prayer.  Here is a list of prayer and action items for each day of this final week leading up to camp and council.

Day 1: Pray for the leadership of the association, ministers, and local church delegates to come into a sense of celebration of spiritual victories over the past year and seeking of God’s will as a deliberative body during general council.  Take action by learning who is on the general board, ministers, and the delegates to general council and prayer for them or send a note of encouragement.

Day 2: Pray for the worship leaders and singers to in the worship services to be led by the Holy Spirit as they lead the congregation in praise and thanksgiving before God Almighty.  Take action by participating in the choir or congregational singing.  Even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, make a joyful noise.

Day 3: Pray for the preachers to be anointed by the Holy Spirit as they study and prepare their sermons and in delivery.  Pray that the hearers are stirred to greater faith and conviction of sin.  Take action by writing down notes from the sermon, sharing on social media quotes or scripture from the sermon.  Also, speak to the preachers and let them know that you are praying for God to use them and encourage their spirit.

Day 4: Pray for the financial support of the camp meeting and association.  It is a big week but only one out of the entire year.  Pray that God would use the churches, members, and you as partners in ministry and are actually invested in a bright future.  Take action by putting aside your offering designated for the camp and be ready to give at the first opportunity.  Take further action by giving over and above.  Be a cheerful giver.

Day 5: Pray for the youth that will be attending camp periodically during the week and the youth that will be staying the full duration.  Pray that God would help settle a call to holiness and ministry in their life.  Take action by speaking words of kindness and encouragement to them.  

Day 6: Pray for conversions and revival among the attendees.  Pray that the services will be attended and the distractions would be minimized.  Take action by inviting as many possible.  Take further action by bringing as many as possible.

Day 7: Pray that camp ignites a fire among the people in the local churches to make an impact in their local worship community and the greater community where they are located.  Take action by taking notes, pictures, and other memories to remember what transpired during the camp meeting.  Take further action by observing spiritual disciplines, ministering through your local church, and leading your family closer to God.

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 2)

By the time the second chapter opens, Nehemiah carried his burden for Jerusalem and his people very close to his heart for almost four months.  He had been able to keep straight faced until this period while at work.  We are told that before this time that Nehemiah, “had not been beforetime sad in his presence” (Neh. 2:1), speaking about King Artaxerxes.  Yet, his countenance betrayed Nehemiah, and the king questioned what was wrong since he was not sick.  Nehemiah was afraid because his job requirement was to be happy in the king’s presence.  He shared quickly about the plight of Jerusalem and the king further questioned if there was a request from Nehemiah.

Burdened in Prayer

We do not know any of the plans or preparation Nehemiah had made up to this point.  All we see is Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 for God’s grace to keep coming upon Israel and for Nehemiah to have mercy in the sight of the King each day.  However, Nehemiah’s burden overtook his ability to smile, and the king noticed and reacted with the mercy Nehemiah prayed about.  At the king’s question about a request, Nehemiah did not roll out his power points, his agenda, or his vision.  At least not the vision at first.

Nehemiah first prayed (2:4).  We can imagine this was a prayer raised in his heart since he was before the king and did not want to appear unprepared.  However, even short, unspoken prayers can be heard and answered by our great God.  Romans 8:26 reads, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Jesus shared a parable about a publican’s humble prayer justified him when only saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13-14).  We serve a prayer answering God.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  We would be much better off if we brought everything before the Lord in prayer.  In prayer, we not only receive help with material resources, although that can happen, we also receive help with guidance and peace from our Lord.  As Psalm 37:5 also says, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.”  By prayer, God stokes the fires of passion emitted by our burden.  By prayer, God directs our feet into the path we should go.  By prayer, God enables us by His sufficient grace to approach and apprehend the issues we face.  By prayer, God revives us when we are weak and tired.  By prayer, God receives praise for the good hand He places upon our shoulder.

Consulting and Resourcing

After the prayer, Nehemiah makes a simple statement to King Artaxerxes, “If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my father’s sepulchres, that I may build it” (Neh. 2:5).  At this point, Nehemiah’s vision was simple but clear: to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the walls.  However, the King needed more information, at least one piece that scripture points out.  How long would this project take (2:6).

We learn two things about the change process from this simple question.  Nehemiah was pleased with the question apparently because he knew the king was not mad or against the project.  In fact, he took it as a green light to go ahead and proceed.  We shouldn’t be afraid when people ask essential or tough questions about our vision.  Sometimes, finding the answer to those questions help to clarify for them, and us, the vision and the what is needed to accomplish successful change.  It promotes a team culture and builds a shared vision.

Secondly, we learn that time is a valuable commodity.  Vision ultimately outlives the visionary as others pick it up and keep moving it forward.  However, the projects and changes needed to take place require a time frame.  Volunteers are recruited easier when they know they won’t be enlisted forever.  Also, we are kept on task knowing that there are deadlines.  Procrastination is a killer force to change.

Once Nehemiah set a time, which we don’t know, but we do know he took 52 days to complete the walls (6:15), he was aware that resources were needed to accomplish his task.  After the king had accepted the time frame, Nehemiah went on to seek protection and supplies.  He wanted further proof of King Artaxerxes blessing to rebuild the walls by letters and the procurement of goods.  We live in a world that works with materials, economies, and legalities.  We must be aware of these issues in our planning and preparations, or we will be blindsided and discouraged by these barriers.

Trouble on the Horizon

Chapter two hints toward and then will fully unveil the greatest obstacle Nehemiah would face, other people (vs. 7, 9-10, 19-20).  Three men, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, were governors of the neighboring regions.  Even more, they were from people groups that Israel fought against when they first possessed the land.  They would use increasing levels of persecution against Nehemiah: mocking, physical harm, deception, and power plays in wielding influence.

Their attempts to stop the work of rebuilding were futile.  Namely, as alluded to in the Scripture, Nehemiah and Artaxerxes was open to the possibility of resistance (vs. 7, 9-10). However, being aware and prepared, though very important, is only part of the change agents success in dealing with trouble, whether people or other issues.  First, you have to keep faith in God.  We serve a big God and “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?  Secondly, we keep coming to that God-given burden.  Having a passion for an issue or project will help us keep mustering strength when going against the grain.

Clarifying the Vision

The last thing we note from chapter two is that Nehemiah only knew about the destruction of Jerusalem.  He did not see the actual devastation until he arrives in verses 11-18.  We are then told that Nehemiah did a late night inspection of the walls when no one else was looking.  Once he came back, he was more committed than ever and rallied the people with greater clarity.  What happened?  He saw reality.  His presumptions were confirmed, but the actual size of the work was no doubt changed.  He wanted to see the whole city restored.  He told the King that the gates were broken down, but now he fully saw that the protective exterior walls have been entirely destroyed.  For anything to move forward, he now knew that the walls needed to be the central focus.

We can have a vision of what we would like to happen or what we feel God prefers.  However, if we do not see the actual reality around us, we will underestimate the size of the work ahead of us.  It’s like a taking a leap.  We see where we want to land but if we do not look at where we are, we won’t know how much exertion is needed to make the jump.  We not only need a vision of the future but we need to clarify our vision with the present.  Assessing the current state of our churches or organization is vital if we are to cultivate a lasting change.

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 1)

After being in captivity for 70 years in Babylon, in 536 B.C., the first group of Jews returned to Israel under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the kingly descendant. In 458 B.C., Ezra the priest led the second group, and in 444 B.C. a third group was led by Nehemiah.  Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra restored proper worship and understanding of the law, and Nehemiah rebuilt the walls.  Work on the temple and Ezra’s attempt to restore Israel’s religion was hindered until Nehemiah came and led the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Before the walls were rebuilt, the city was defenseless to raiders and those who would sabotage the work and heart of the people.

Who was Nehemiah?

We are told in the book named after Nehemiah that he was the “king’s cupbearer” (1:11:).  The Persian King Artaxerxes trusted Nehemiah with his life since Nehemiah was to taste test everything before the king to make sure it was not poisoned.  We also know that Nehemiah had a happy soul because he was never sad before the presence of the king (2:1).  God had placed Nehemiah in a strategic place for the purpose of securing resources and the kings blessing to rebuild the walls the Jerusalem.

A Burden for Lasting Change.

What does Nehemiah have to do with change and why do leaders continually look to this book for inspiration?  Especially as it concerns our local churches and service before God.  I believe it is because Nehemiah demonstrates to us the foundation of producing real and lasting change.  Now, most consultants and other leaders will start with a vision and may quote some verse about not having a vision.  However, Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem, and he was not aware of anything needing help in Jerusalem.  He was unconcerned at first until he had a burden.

The book begins with Nehemiah receiving a message about the deplorable state of Jerusalem.  The walls were still broken down and were the laughing stock of the surrounding nations.   At this news, he broke down and mourned for some time (1:4).  It is not at this point that Nehemiah started to develop a vision.  No, instead he sought after God’s help.  Once we lose sight of God, we begin to be reckless. We cast off certain restraints from activities we know are wrong. We set prayer aside as well and cease having God’s vision in the little things of life. We naturally begin to act on our own initiative.  If we are eating only out of our own hand and doing things solely on our own accord without expecting God to come in, we are on a downward path.

The information that the messenger revealed was a dark contrast to Nehemiah’s knowledge of Jerusalem.  This presented a conflict in his soul that something more needed to be done.  He now had a burden and was cultivating it before God in prayer.  It would even affect his demeanor before the king (2:1-4).

What we learn in the episode of Nehemiah’s account is that burden must be present for change to occur.  It is a burden to make a difference that will help a person move forward with their work even when facing extreme difficulties.  A burden will stay when helpers are not found.  A burden will still be present when resources are low.  Yes, that can produce some pains, but it strengthen’s passion and a desire to follow-through with commitments.

Do you have a burden for a needed change in your church?  Or, in your life?  Seek God to imprint on your heart a strong desire to do something that in turn will point others to Christ and empower the believer to greater devotion before God.

 

 

 

A glorious and difficult task.

Our present society places before us the question, “why do we need ministers and preaching?”  This leads to frustration among many but what really puts pressure on ministers is the very impossible task of preaching.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Karl Barth put out three points that characterize this difficulty that lies before the minister in a chapter called the “Task of the Ministry.”  He said, “‘As ministers, we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison.”

First, we ought to speak of God

Often in sermons, there is a failure to point people toward God.  We apply sound biblical principles to everyday life, but we fail to make much of Jesus.  We have taken the aim to help people live better rather than helping them die before God.  What they need is God, and our preaching should contribute to pointing them to Him.

Second, we are human, however, and so cannot speak of God

We are finite creatures talking about the infinite Creator.  He is beyond us in every capacity, even imagination.  To talk about God is beyond our ability and cognition.  We would continually fail to correctly display God by our words.  Barth was famous for simply saying, “God is God.”  In that way, he described God but in reality, did not try to limit God by any human definition.

Third, we ought, therefore, recognize both that we should speak of God and yet cannot, and by that very recognition give God the glory

As God is infinitely above us and the task of preaching is given to us, we should use our voice and opportunity to praise God.  To praise and give thanks is to give God glory.  To proclaim to others the self-revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures and draw them to Him is to bring God glory.  Returning to the first statement, we ought to speak of God.  Make much of Jesus in our preaching.

The Water in Your Marriage 

My wife and I recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary.  We had courted several years before we were married.  In our marriage, we have experienced many beautiful moments and challenges.  Three children, a few pets, and plenty of adventure have blessed us in our journey together.  I love her more and more each day (I know that is mushy).

It is interesting is that there is a common misconception that marriage for Christians is no different than unbelievers.  The caveat to the stats is that those Christians most likely to end their marriage are nominal believers.  Meaning, they may identify as Christians but do not actively participate in the faith.  Recent research (click here) showed that “Catholic couples were 31 percent less likely to divorce; Protestant couples 35 percent less likely, and Jewish couples 97 percent less likely” (Stetzer, 2014).  The pastor’s marriage has also been seen as difficult. However, Barna research showed “Most pastors – 96 percent of whom are married – are satisfied with their relationship with their spouse” (2017)

Periodically, I speak with new and veteran couples about their relationships.  When the conversations turn toward my wife and my experience, I share my life verse for marriage.  It came from King Solomon when he was teaching his sons how to live well.

“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” -Proverbs 5:15

Chapter five is one of the few chapters were Solomon seems to focus on one subject.  Yet, a significant portion of all his teaching centers around purity and faithfulness to your spouse.  He geared his instruction toward his sons specifically and his children in general, however, I believe what we see in this passage is helpful to both husbands and wives.

After a simple reading, we quickly note that Solomon is encouraging fidelity.  In light of the whole chapter, the challenge is put forward to be faithful in your relationship marriage.  You will be tempted to stray, but the end is filled with pain.  Remaining faithful in the good and bad has its own reward.  To understand that reward we need to dig a little deeper.

We understand the need of water for the body, and this is why Scripture is full of references to spiritual water for our souls that only Jesus can provide.  Solomon in another place of Proverbs wrote, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25).  Water refreshes and satisfies.  Marriage is provides the same thing.  To demonstrate this, Barna Research found that 75% of women say their marriage is their strongest form of social support by helping them be satisfied with life, understand priorities, be the best person they can be, set healthy boundaries, live out purpose, and connect to a community (2017).  When we enjoy those intimant moments and conversations we share only with our spouse, we are refreshed and deeply satisfied as our reward.  To be unfaithful will corrupt the waters of our marriage.

Still, there is one more thing that stands out to me in this passage about marriage.  Solomon is keen to use specific words to separate cistern from well.  In the Hebrew, the word he used for cistern (בּוֹר bôwr) can also be translated as pit or well.  Also, the word chosen translated for us as well (בְּאֵר bᵉʼêr), can be translated as a pit.  I like to think that Solomon is demonstrating to different containers for water.  Wells and cisterns both hold water, but, they receive their water in various manners.  A well receives its water from an underground source like a stream or lake.  Well water springs up from itself.  Cisterns, however, must receive theirs from an outside source above the ground.  Typically, brought in by a water truck.  

What I hear Solomon saying, be faithful and enjoy your marriage by pouring your life into your spouse.  The picture is we view self as a well and our spouse a cistern.  If we do not pour our love, energy, time, and focus on our partner, they will dry up.  We will no longer be satisfied with them, and we will try to wander and find other sources to quench our thirst.  Being faithful is also about being intentional.  To have a great marriage, you must continue to invest in your spouse, even after you have said your vows.

References

Barna (2017) The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity.  Barna Group

Stetzer, Ed (2014) Pastors, that divorce stat you quoted is probably wrong.  http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/163047-pastors-that-divorce-stat-you-quoted-is-probably-wrong.html

Seven Sign in John: 6 – A Blind Man Healed

The sixth miracle seems similar to the previous healing miracle we saw in chapter 5 where Jesus healed a paralyzed man for 38 years.  The movements of Jesus are the same: Jesus healed, disappears, and then reappears.

John 9:1-7

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

Jesus focuses on this man who was blind from birth.    From here, the conversation ensues about the cause.  The disciples’ inquiry Jesus as to whether the man’s blindness is a direct effect of sinning.  However, Jesus doesn’t focus on the cause but rather the purpose. He will continue to describe the purpose through the next two verses.  What we see here is that God permits suffering and difficulties to arise in our life so that the work of God can be clearly seen.  We look at the events in the world and say, why does God permit such things? Why doesn’t God do something?  Yet, only through God’s work, which comes through Christ’s and His Church, can we see things made right.

 The work of God

What are works of God?  Jesus’ answer to this question was “I am the light of the world.”  Of course, we keep asking good questions, “why light?”  Light is essential to physical life as it is essential for many of the same reasons spiritually. Light dispels darkness.  Light enables life to reproduce – photosynthesis.  Light helps to warm.  Light helps us to see and therefore, it guides us as well.

 How does Christ give us light, especially since Jesus uses spittle and dirt to bring the healing?  It just seems amazing that Jesus’ supernatural power was seen through spit, mud and obedience.  Jesus used spit three times in Scripture, one for a deaf man (Mark 7:33) and two for blindness (this passage and Mark 8:23).   Still, what does is this supposed to point us toward?  That is John’s intention in writing, right? I think first this is going back to the creation of man when God formed us out of the dust of the Earth.  God created in the beginning and still has power over his creation.  Secondly, I show that Christ blesses the use of his creation to promote his work.  Namely the church.  We are the clay in God’s hands and we pray that you would use us to deliver Jesus’ light to this dark world.

 Through our witness let us show people God’s love.   Matthew 5:14 says, “ye are the light of the world, A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”  We should seek to let our life dispel the darkness of times.  To let God’s power be on display in our life.  Our cry is Ephesians 5:14, “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”