Scripture Reading Challenge (#15)

Have you ever had to keep a surprise hidden but couldn’t keep it secret because you were so excited to share it?  I remember one year at Kohl’s, I set inside the car with our baby boy while my wife and three or four-year-old daughter went Christmas shopping.  When they came out of the store and opened the hatch of the car, my wife said, “don’t tell Daddy what we got him for Christmas.”  Well, after my wife put my daughter in her car seat and before she could sit in her seat, my sweet daughter blurted out, “Daddy!  We got you a watch!”  It was great.  As we come to the end of this part of the story, Joseph is so overwhelmed with emotion, that he can no longer keep his identity secret from his brothers.

After today’s passage, we will be finished with our readings in Genesis and have 85 more readings to go before we are done.  Do you feel that you are getting a better grip on the Biblical story? I pray that you are already feeling strengthed in your faith and encouraged to keep on moving forward with the challenge.

Read Genesis 45:1-46:7

There are two passages that I want to focus on for our devotional today.  The first is Genesis 45:7-8, namely, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God.”  Wow.  God took the evil that Joseph’s brothers committed and turned it to everyone’s good.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  God had a plan for Joseph’s life, and nothing would thwart his counsel.  The same is true in our present reality.  Whatever trial and great difficulty come our way, God can take those and turn them into our good and to the benefit of others.  Nothing happens in vain when God is in our life.  Without him, anything and everything that happens good or bad are in vain.  The Lord makes everything have a holy purpose.

The second passage is Genesis 46:3-4.  The focus here is, “I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt…I will go down with thee into Egypt.”  I feel that this reinforces the previous point.  Look at Jacob and his families direction of life.  It’s going down.  Some may say it’s going up because they are heading to a land of protection and wealth because of the famine in the land.  However, even some good things can turn out to be wrong things because they are not the great things God really has laid out for us.  The good is that Egypt would supply them during the famine and be a good place to multiply numbers for the future nation of Israel.  However, the good turned to bad as Egypt would enslave Israel.  The great is that God had a promised land he wanted them to live in all along.   God would go down into good land of Egypt, but He did not want them to stay there forever

God would go down into the good land of Egypt but He did not want them to stay there forever, he had something better planned for them.  God does intend for us to be entangled in this world.  There are many good things here to enjoy, however, it is easy to lose sight of God’s Spirit in this world for the elements of the world.  God has something far better in store for the faithful.  He is with us here, but to make us ready and keeping us pure for what Jesus is preparing for us (cf. John 14:1-7).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#10)

God can transform people.  We are about to see that take place in the life of Jacob.  After many years away from his family, Jacob is about to return home a changed man.  He now has a family and many possessions.  He fears, however, for his life and is willing to sacrifice all of it to save his own skin.  But, then He reencounters God.  Jacob remembers his oath and how God has been faithful.  He comes face-to-face with God, and it changes him forever.

Read Genesis 32:1-33:20

Do you remember when you first came to faith in Jesus Christ?  I can.  In 1993, our family was on our way home from Sunday night service at Church.  My grandfather was the pastor of our local congregation.  I remember thinking about how his voice echoed in the sanctuary and how unique it sounded compared to others.  I wanted to have a voice like and a thought hit me on the way home.  There was a significant difference between me and my grandfather.  He was a saved, and I wasn’t.  I was convicted in my heart and asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come into my life.  At the age of eight years old, I came to Jesus Christ in faith.   I remember my mother asking me what I was doing, and I replied, “Talking to Jesus.”

Now, have I always walked since then in unbroken fellowship with my Lord?  Sadly, no.  I have strayed and not lived faithfully.  But, God is always faithful.  Through His faithfulness, I can say that through the guiding of the Holy Spirit, I have been kept from many regrets and pains in life.  God helped me make good decisions and make less and less bad decisions.  Like Jacob, God transformed my life.  How has God turned your life around?  What differences have you noticed in your life since Jesus saved you?

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 3)

Projects are sometimes complicated and slow.  However, the organization of a group can prove to be a useful companion in accomplishing tasks.  Chapter three shares in a detailed log how the people were divided into groups (primarily by families) and the particular area that they rebuilt and repaired.  It is the first of four lists of names found in the book (3, 7, 10, and 11-12).  Skipping over these lists is tempting.  However, in our approach toward leadership and change, we find two critical lessons from this chapter: appreciation and strategic change.

Appreciation

I usually consider it dangerous to recognizing people during a church service as either guest or for appreciation because often someone is left out unintentionally.  Still, people like to feel appreciated.  The reward for faithfulness is great for strengthening people’s loyalty, the direction they are going, and for their personal encouragement.  This can take place with sending a letter, an uplifting word, public recognition, a gift or something else befitting the work and person receiving the appreciation.  For these people, Nehemiah is giving them an enduring legacy in God’s Word.

Strategic Change

We have already talked about burden, vision, and mission but we now change direction toward putting things to work.  For leaders to create movement from the present reality toward the future vision, the intentional creation of a strategic plan for change is needed.  And, there are plenty of good, solid theories about how change takes place.  However, when it comes to Churches, they have a unique and spiritual design.  This happens because of the focus of the church is on worshipping God and making disciples.  The goals of the church are different than that of other non-profit or profit organizations.

How should Churches proceed?  Well, the first step forward has been created in the previous two chapters.  Prayer, carrying a burden, speaking with other leaders and creating a shared vision, understanding the resources available, and the size of the task have all been important pieces of change.  First, let’s look at Scripture and its encouragement to planning as a wise endeavor if we seek to keep God first.

  • “Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel.” (Psalm 20:4)
  • “Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard.” (Proverbs 13:15)
  • “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.” (Proverbs 14:8)
  • “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” (Proverbs 14:15)
  • “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)
  • “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness, but of every one that is hasty only to want.” (Proverbs 21:5)
  • “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” (Luke 14:28)
  • “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
  • “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” (James 4:14-15)

So, what is a strategic plan?  Basically, it is a tool for keeping an organization focused on whatever is considers to be its vision and mission.  For churches, this is making disciples. Helping individuals and families follow Jesus is our great commission.  It is easy to become distracted, and the main thing is no longer the main thing.  It helps a group become aligned in their particular gift sets, personalities, and the resources accessible to them.  It is the road map between the present reality of the organization to the preferred future.

Developing a Strategy

What does the strategic plan include?  Well, that will be different depending on the congregation.  It’s not that the goals are different (each church should be trying to fulfill the great commission) and it is certainly not that God is different anywhere else.  He is always the same.  What is different is the people, who have each been created with their own gifting.  The resources available to that group is also different.  However, each congregation has equal access to the Holy Spirit, and none should be paralyzed by the thought of the impossible.

The strategy begins with an understanding of where the organization is currently.  SWOT is a useful tool to analyze with, and surveys can help leaders gauge where the organization stands.  Some of my personal favorite surveys have focused on church health.  Church health surveys, in my opinion, are more geared toward the dynamics of ministry rather than church growth perspectives.  The ABC’s of church growth (Attendance, buildings, and cash flow) have their place in helping a church understand what it available to it but can mislead leaders and volunteers to lose their way.  A church health focus helps a church stay centered on impacting lives for eternity.

From this point, leaders can then create the actions steps as they feel the Spirit leading.  With the end in mind, the leaders will typically plan for where they envision and desire for the organization to be in ten years.  At this point, return to thinking about one year out.  What action steps will you need to be taking in one year to aim towards the ten-year goal?  You can either go year by year or even look at every couple of months.  However, I will look at just another year for example.  You can put new goals for that year, but there is another perspective that needs to thought of in each subsequent year.  That is the progression of the previous year’s actions.  If your organization keeps practicing the previous benchmarks behaviors, what will be the results?  It is important to keep evaluating and realigning along the way.  We will see this in the next chapter of Nehemiah.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

Seven Miracles in John: 2- The Nobleman’s Son

Jesus just had a wonderful ministry in Samaria and other places outside of his hometown. Nicodemus, women at the well.  Now he is returning home. Jesus knows the people’s hearts.  They will welcome him, but not with honor, not in the right way, but with improper motives.  This is the scenario that leads up to Jesus’ second miracle in John.

John 4:46-54

So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. 48 Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49 The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. 54 This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.

A person in need of help.

We Have no idea who this man was (vs. 46).  The Greek word used, “basilikos” just means the subject of the king.  He could have been a royal advisor, accountant, worker, or someone of importance in King Herod Antipas government.  We do not know who he was, but we are aware of the one he would seek for help.  This man found Jesus because he had heard of the other miracles Jesus had performed.  He knew that his son would die unless Jesus healed him.  It was the only way, and he came to Jesus with faith for this healing.

However, Jesus did not seem like He was going to help this man’s son.  What was going on in this situation?  Jesus was aware of the traps his hometown had fallen into concerning His fame.  They were proud of their relation to someone special.  We do this as well.  A sense of pride can be found among believers in an individual church, movement, song style, methodology, preacher, or singer.  Jesus’ followers had fallen into the trap of feeling entitled.  They felt that Jesus owed them miracles.  Falling headfirst, they only wanted Jesus because of the miracles He could perform.

Jesus, the giver of good gifts.

This man pressed on that he needed Jesus to heal his son or else he would die.  What Jesus did next was perform a miracle even though the man was not seeking Christ for salvation.  Jesus gave a good gift even when he is disappointed with the majority of people’s motive.  Grace that healed, regardless of the distance, immediately.  The man’s son was healed, and the man went home trusting that the healing had taken place while he was with Jesus.

While the man may have been seeking only a miracle, no doubt, his faith on Jesus increased.  Scripture goes on to say that after arriving home and finding his son alive and well, the man and his whole house believed in Jesus.  Romans 2:4 says, “despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”  The everyday gifts from God that sustain life and the supernatural works of God are given to us from the Lord to strengthen our faith and draw us closer to him.

Proverbs 3:5 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  Don’t be afraid to cry out to God.   Call on God first and seek Him early.  Not a last resort but as the only one.  The Lord is full of goodness and mercy.  His grace is sufficient for salvation and for every need that we have on a daily basis.