Friendly Fire: Handling Internal Conflict Biblically

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So where are we in dealing with conflict? Do we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Conflicts are a way of life for us, right? Who among us has lived their life without ANY conflict? The answer is none. So while we will have conflict we don’t have to allow that conflict to divide us or destroy our fellowship. Sadly far too often this division and destruction is what happens. But why? If we are all filled by the Holy Spirit and have the same Savior, why do we let conflict make us into strangers? The answer, to quote Sherlock Holmes, is “elementary my dear Watson”. Conflict divides and destroys because we don’t deal with it in a biblical manner. We ignore it. We sweep it under the rug. We (wrongly) assume that the admission of conflict in one’s life is an admission of failure. In short, we don’t do the right thing when there are problems. And that relatively small problem grows and grows until it explodes. We are then left with a ruined relationship and an astonished look. But really it doesn’t have to be this way.

Nehemiah teaches us here in chapter 5 how to handle conflict. There are six principles I’d like to address that I have gleaned from this chapter. Each one is important enough to stand on its own so I’ll address each one separately. Let’s dig in and learn how to resolve conflict because is we ever want to do the Lord’s work, we must – MUST – resolve the conflicts we have with others in a biblical manner.

 

Righteous Reporting

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.

While chapter four dealt with opposition from outside, chapter five is going to help us deal with opposition from inside.

So what was the complaint? Well, they were being charged exorbitant amounts of money for food. See in v. 2 that they were mortgaging their possessions so that they could eat. These folks felt helpless and some of their children were being forced into slavery because the workers no longer owned their fields because they had mortgaged them to either eat or pay taxes. Pretty tough, huh! But this situation should not have existed within the community there. There were some who were taking advantage of others through high interest rate loans (we find this out later). These weren’t happy campers!

In order to deal with conflicts biblically, those in authority need to know about the problem. That seems obvious but it is overlooked quite a bit. Now here either they told Nehemiah directly or Nehemiah heard about it through the proverbial grapevine. How do you deal with things when they don’t go your way? Do you let the ones in authority know or do you act in a different way? We must remember that when something is wrong, we must address it to those who are in a position to effect change. Nehemiah is a wonderful example regarding how we should deal with conflicts.

Righteous Anger

First he got some righteous anger. Look at the beginning of verse 6 “Then I was very angry…”

This may surprise some of you reading this. “Nehemiah got angry? Really?” You may ask. Yep. He got some holy heat going on. Anger is not wrong (Eph 4:26, 31). It’s the motivation and the result of that anger that controls whether it is right or wrong. Anger that causes one to sin is likely unrighteous. Anger that causes one to act in a positive manner is righteous. To be angry about something that is corrupt, anti-God, anti-Christ is no vice. It may well be a virtue.  When we who know God and are His friend hear His name used as part of a cuss word, how can we not be angry? When we see His word perverted into some weird list of rules one must follow a specific way in order to gain eternal life, how can that not cause some discomfort in the people of grace?

If our anger motivates us to right a wrong, stand up for an oppressed person, or help someone in dire need, that anger is indeed righteous.

Righteous Discipline

The next thing that Nehemiah did was he stopped and thought about his response. He showed some control over his emotions. He showed some discipline.  Look in v. 7 “I consulted with myself…”

Nehemiah took time to reflect on his situation. He didn’t go off and start blasting away at those causing these conflicts. He took some time to ponder the situation and maybe even his response. We’re taught in Proverbs 16:32 that the one who is slow to grow angry is better than the strong ones or the mighty army rulers (my paraphrase).

So are you short-fused or long-fused? I hope you have a long fuse. If you don’t, look for ways to extend your fuse and remember that reflecting on your situation that is causing anger is an important step in handling the situation biblically.

Righteous Confrontation

Third Nehemiah followed the principles of biblical confrontation. You know sometimes when we cool off after being initially hot with anger we can decide to do nothing. But that is exactly the wrong response! Although cooling off is vitally important, we can’t cool off so much that we don’t care anymore.

Nehemiah situation was a significantly sticky one. He had to talk to the rich and powerful folks who were financing the project and providing labor. What would happen if these folks withdrew their support? Well, the facts seem to point to the fact that Nehemiah didn’t worry too much about these complications. He went to the ones causing the problems: “[I] contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!’” Nehemiah confronted those who were part of the problem. We are taught this principle in the New Testament (see Matt 18:15-16). Nehemiah privately confronted these rich men before her did anything in public. We could stand to listen to Nehemiah here. If someone has caused conflict, go to them first. Talk to them before anyone else knows. We don’t know if Nehemiah was successful in this private confrontation. We do know that this confrontation moved on to the public realm because he recounts that he held a “great assembly” against them.

In this public forum, Nehemiah spells out the problem. He doesn’t hold anything back. But notice what he doesn’t do. Nehemiah doesn’t attack the rich for who they are. No, he points out what they are doing that is wrong. He rebuked them (v. 8) and pointed out that their enemies would mock the Jews (v. 9) for the Jews treatment of their own people. Have you ever experienced this in the church? I have. And unsaved folks love to mock us. Oh boy, we should learn how to treat each other so that we would not be the object of ridicule.

We cannot allow fear to keep us from confronting other Christians about their sin. We must be willing to love someone enough to point out where their actions oppress others and cause others to stumble.

Righteous Behavior

The next thing Nehemiah did was that he set an example of godly behavior. He had redeemed (purchased out of slavery) some of the Jews with his own money (v. 8). He loaned money without charging interest (v. 10). He didn’t do this out of pride but as an example of godly leadership. He didn’t use his position or power to extract anything from the people (vv. 14-15), he feared God and genuinely cared for those who were hurting (vv. 15b, 18b), he was committed to the work at hand (v. 16) and he was generous (vv. 17-18).

Do you live your life as an example to others?

 

Righteous Accountability

The last principle is that if we want to handle conflict biblically, we must be accountable and willing to submit to God, His word, and His leaders.  In v. 13 we see that Nehemiah demanded accountability:

I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’

Nehemiah sets the standard here. This was a serious charge before God. Do you think God would shake someone or empty someone easily if that person continued to take advantage of others? Later, in v. 19 Nehemiah asks God to remember him for what he has done. He has no fear of asking God to remember him for his actions. But can we do this when dealing with conflict? Hmmmm.

 

So where are we in dealing with conflict? DO we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Our answers to those questions really determines if we desire to handle conflict biblically or simply expediently.

Strength Through Opposition

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If we never have resistance, we never become stronger. 

Have you heard the saying “Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger” (or some variant)? I have. Sometimes I wonder why folks say that in the midst of a trial or some type of tribulation. Sometimes I wonder if they think they’re being profound. They sure don’t seem to care much about what I’m going through. Perhaps you have heard the same thing in similar circumstances and felt the same as I. But you know what? I’m wrong in my feelings.

 

The truth of the matter is that trials and tribulations enter our lives because God chooses them to enter our lives for the purpose of refining us and strengthening us (James 1). If we never have resistance, we never become stronger. But when we face resistance with the right attitude and meet it head-on, strength for our journey of faith is increased and God is glorified.

 

We just saw what discouragement can do to us through the example of Nehemiah and his builders. They were fatigued, frustrated and fearful. But did they stay there? Or did they find the result of the resistance to doing God’s was better – much better – than their initial reactions. Let’s take a look and see.

When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water. Nehemiah 4:15-23 NASB

 

Resilient

The first way we are strengthened by opposition is that opposition makes us resilient.

When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. Nehemiah 4:15 NASB

Notice the progression here in verse 15. There enemies heard that their plans had been revealed to the builders and that God had frustrated their plan. The result was that the workers – all of them – returned to work on the wall. While the builders were initially frustrated at their circumstances, their circumstances made them resilient enough to bounce back – with faith and reliance on God – and continue the work they had been called to accomplish.

Nehemiah didn’t give lectures to the workers. He didn’t try to guilt the workers into returning to work. Nehemiah simply reminded the people that God was for them, not against them. That God had brought them to this point not to break them but to build them. God was making them into a resilient bunch!

How are you doing in being resilient in spite of opposition? I know this is an area where I struggle quite a bit. Sometimes I just want to hide when opposition to my serving God occurs. Does that ever happen to you? When it does, remember this lesson from Nehemiah –

God is for you, not against you. Bounce back and get back to building your wall.

 

Rethink and Reorganize

Another way we are strengthened by opposition is by the opposition making us rethink and reorganize our priorities. Nehemiah had already organized the people in chapter 3 and they had finished half of their task. Now, however, a new situation had come about that required a change in organization.

Nehemiah had to rethink his strategy for building the wall. Before this opposition, Nehemiah had organized the builders in teams and everyone built their portion of the wall. Now that there was some serious opposition rearing its ugly head, Nehemiah revisited that strategy. He had to think anew – rethink – the best way to accomplish this task in light of changing circumstances. We shouldn’t let this get lost on us. When our circumstances change and we are opposed by the enemies of God, we need to rethink our strategy. We need to be flexible enough to change how we are going about doing God’s work. So Nehemiah thought and came to a conclusion: if the enemies were going to attack they would most likely do so at the weakest places. So Nehemiah put guards at all the vulnerable spots. This served two purposes – it discouraged the enemy and it encouraged the people because it dealt with their fear.

When we’re discouraged, one of the things we can do is to reorganize our priorities. You can look at your life. You can adopt a change in approach instead of becoming so discouraged that you quit. Do you have a problem in your marriage? In your job? Church? Walk with God? If so, don’t bail out! Rethink your problem, reorganize your thoughts and keep moving toward the goal to which God has called you.

In verse 16 the workers reorganized again by dividing responsibilities – half worked and the other half kept watch. Those who worked used one hand for pushing the wheelbarrow, and with the other hand, they carried a weapon. And, they worked together as a team.

 

Remain

Now let’s back up and look at this passage as a whole. Do you see what I see? The workers did not flee. They remained at the worksite, they remained building the wall. That is the final thing I think we can glean from this passage in Nehemiah. When opposition comes (and it will), remain where God has called you.

When I was a pastor of a small church, there were times where I just wanted to flee. I just wanted out. Why? The opposition had planted a Sanballat and Tobiah in our congregation. They stirred up trouble and discouragement. It was difficult to be sure to get in the pulpit each week knowing – KNOWING – that I was going to be criticized for how I preached that morning or how I failed to do something according to the expectations of the enemies of God’s work. But I remained. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t fun. I focused myself on what God had called me to do and not my circumstances. God eventually peeled the veneer off my Sanballat and Tobiah. He revealed them for who they are. Now it took the death of the church I pastored for that to happen. But is was a worthwhile price to pay for others to be warned about these folks and their unrepentant divisiveness.

 

Remember and Redouble

Are you experiencing opposition in your service to God? Perhaps it is from a friend as it was in my case. Maybe your government is acting against you. Maybe it someone else. Whomever is opposing your work, remind yourself that they are opposing God, not you. If they hate you, they hate you because of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Let the haters hate. Let them say what they want. Redouble your effort to be resilient in your response, rethink and reorganize your priorities and method of doing your work and remain at the task God has given you.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. I Corinthians 15:58 NASB

 

Discouragement in the Ranks

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Our Savior, when confronted with difficult tasks never gave up. He did not give in to fear. He never once stopped because of opposition. The Apostles never did either. Neither did the early martyrs of the church. And neither should we.

But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

Thus in Judah it was said,

“The strength of the burden bearers is failing,
Yet there is much rubbish;
And we ourselves are unable
To rebuild the wall.”

Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” Nehemiah 4:9-14 NASB

 

So the opponents of God’s work in Jerusalem are angry. They were so mad that they conspired together to come and fight the Jews. These guys were ticked off and were willing to kill. Wow. What was their response to all this? They prayed.

But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.

They prayed and they took action. These guys took positive actions after they prayed. How often, when we are threatened by God’s opponents, do we pray first and then take action? We need to work on that, don’t we.

There are at least three things that cause discouragement in the ranks. These three are Fatigue, Frustration and Fear. When these three happen together the effect they have on discouraging God’s work is amplified. Lets take a look at what happened in Nehemiah’s situation and how we can apply that to ours.

How do you feel after a really difficult task? Are you fulfilled? Excited? Tired? Yeah, tired. Me too. Now think of being in the middle of a difficult task and feeling the same way. You look around and realize that there is still much work to be done. Do you suddenly feel more tired than before? Me too. Let’s take a look at the fatigue that had set in and how it affected the workers on the wall.

Fatigue

Verse 10 reads,  “Thus in Judah it was said, ‘The strength of the burden bearers is failing…'” Simply put, the workers were tired. They were hitting it hard and needed some rest. The phrase “giving out” carries with it the idea of “staggering, tottering, and stumbling.” These guys were tired with a capital “T”. And this is a major issue.

Whenever you or someone else is physically tired and drained, discouragement at the slightest problem comes quite easily. Why were they fatigued? Take a look back at verse 6:

So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height

That is quite a bit of lifting and placing heavy stones on a wall. We’d be fatigues and drained as well. Imagine the amount of work and energy required to achieve this goal. They had every reason to be tired.

Perhaps a contribution to their discouragement was that they were just halfway done. Their job remained unfinished and they were receiving threats and persecution on every side. They were pretty much done. They wanted to quit.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been so tired of doing what God has called you to do that you’re ready to just stop? I have. In the midst of trying and discouraging times, losing the focus of our labor is easy to do. When we forget that we work for God’s glory and not ours discouragement is not far behind. Take time to take a break from your work. Take time to recharge.

 

Frustration

Another contributor to discouragement is frustration. Verse ten continues by stating

…Yet there is much rubbish…

So not only do they see the half finished wall, but they also see the enormous amount of rubble lying around. There were broken rocks, dirt and other assorted debris. I can imagine it looks as messy as one of my children’s rooms!

When things are so messy we can sometimes lose sight of the job before us. What we can forget amid the frustration of the moment that, like these folks, in the process of working toward our goal the mess will as a result get tidied up. In Hebrews the author challenges us to strip off anything that would hinder us from running this race of life well. Our goal, like the goal of building the wall, must remain in the forefront. We need not be frustrated by the debris all around us. We also don’t need to keep the unnecessary impediments that we carry with us.

Whatever is entangling you – be it television, the internet or something else – and tripping you up, discard it and refocus your effort on doing the task that God has called you to do.

Fear

The enemies of the Lord’s work had struck fear in the hearts of God’s people and they felt like giving up.

Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.

The workers had set their minds on what the enemies had said. And the enemies did not just say they would do harm – they marshaled an army against them. These workers were intimidated. They were fearful. And the fear they felt led to their discouragement.

Notice who grew fearful first:

When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,”

The Jews who lived nearest to the threat from the opposition grew fearful first. Being on the front line of any conflict has its costs. Fear is one of those costs. While it is normal to fear aggression, being disabled by that fear is not an option for us.

Are you on the front lines? Are you fearful of what the enemy has pledged to do to you? There are plenty of threats to biblical Christianity. We are routinely tarred with the charge of being ignorant, stupid, intolerant or some other insult. Stopping our work for the Lord is easy. We stop and the insults and intimidation stops. But, in the words of Buzz Lightyear, we should “Never give up. Never surrender!”

Our Savior, when confronted with difficult tasks never gave up. He did not give in to fear. He never once stopped because of opposition. The Apostles never did either. Neither did the early martyrs of the church. And neither should we.

Our task in life is to glorify God, not win a popularity contest with those who hate God. We glorify God by living out His word and completing the task placed before us. Our society is a mess. The rubble is all around us. We look around and the enemies seem to be winning. Their words try to discourage us and humiliate our actions. They threaten. They demean. The work of standing for Christ looks like it can not be accomplished. It looks too hard. We seem too tired. The enemies appear too numerous. Rebuilding seems just too hard…

Can someone hand me another rock?

 

Standing on Faith

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Someone once said that the real test of a leader is how that person faces crisis and reacts to opposition. 

What was your reaction when you were leading a work that God had led you to do and you were opposed? I’m not talking about being passively opposed but actively opposed. How did you react? Could you have done better? I know I could have done better any number of times.  We’ll discover in today’s section how Nehemiah reacted to the opposition he faced and how we can apply that to our lives.

 

Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. Nehemiah 4:4-8 NASB

 

The opposition to what Nehemiah was doing was coming fast and furiously. Tobiah and Sanballat were trying to discourage, insult, and intimidate the workers by any means necessary. These folks used used ridicule (vv. 1-6) as well as armed resistance (v.8) to oppose the work. Another translation of the Hebrew word rendered “wealthy” (v. 2) is “army.” I like that better considering the context. It is in this context we need to consider the intent and content of Nehemiah’s prayer.

Nehemiah’sprayer is considered an imprecatory prayer. By imprecatory it is meant that Nehemiah is asking God to intervene and do something about the situation as only He can do. Have you ever prayed this way? Nehemiah’s imprecatory prayer was more than likely based on God’s promise in Genesis 12:1-3 (emphasis added):

Now the Lord said to Abram,“Go forth from your country,and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 NASB

 

Nehemiah’s first action after the opposition reared it’s ugly head was to pray.

This should be our first response to opposition to God’s work. The Church should always look to prayer as a first response rather than a last resort. But what about the content of Nehemiah’s prayer. Lets take a look at his prayer and learn from him.  Nehemiah prays that God would return their reproach on them and would not forgive their sins. Sounds pretty harsh, huh! The next phrase gives insight to what Nehemiah was referring: for they demoralized the builders. Nehemiah was requesting that their particular sin of opposing God’s work not be forgiven. Their sin was opposing God’s ordained work in Jerusalem.

Next, notice that Nehemiah doesn’t ask that God uses him for this task.

How often do we do that? How often do we pray instead, “God I know that vengeance is yours. I submit myself to you. I do request O Father, that though vengeance is Yours, that you will use your humble servant as your agent. I am more than willing!”  The earlier harsh language can be best understood if we understand that the work was divinely appointed. The opposition that Nehemiah experienced wasn’t against him and his workers. No, the opposition was against God Himself. This is why Nehemiah reacted the way He did.

My final observation here is that Nehemiah was seeking for God to take action, not for God’s people to take action.

God had already pronounced judgement against their enemies in Joshua 1. Essentially Nehemiah was praying for God to deliver His people from His enemies. There is nothing wrong with that type of prayer. We should never forget that.

Warren Wiersbe once said “God’s people sometimes have difficulty working together, but the people of the world have no problem uniting in opposition to the work of the Lord.”

In verses 7-8 we see the opposition resolved to defeat Nehemiah and his workers. The Ashdodites were added to the opposing army that now surrounded Jerusalem. Please understand this important point: the workers were surrounded on all points of the compass. This had to be intimidating to them. Sanballat and the Samaritans on the north, Ashdod on the west, Tobiah and the Ammonites on the east, and Geshem and the Arabs to the south. The workers were surrounded and lived in constant fear of being ambushed. This, naturally taken, is intimidating. But, in v. 6 we learn that despite the insults and intimidation, the workers joined together and built the wall to half its height.

Their heart was still in the work God had called them to perform.

So what are we to do? When God’s work is opposed by others in our society, our government, our friends, are we justified to pray “God I need a lightening bolt over there now. Go!”? I don’t think so. We know opposition will come. We need to be prudent in our response always relying on God’s promises. The workers had good reasons to fear for their safety and for the works God was doing. But what is interesting is Nehemiah’s response.

We have reason to fear for our safety and the future of our children. However we should not give in to these fears. God’s promises are not negated by the opposition of man.

Faith always trumps fear.

 

Seeing beyond the Rubble

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In the mid 1970’s my parents bought a house in my hometown. We had lived on our street for a number of years and in two different houses. The house we were renting at the time was a two-story house with a bit of land. The house my dad was interested in buying was also a two-story house with a bit more land than what we currently had. Sounds good, right? Well what I have yet to tell you is that the condition of the house and land. It was…well, it was in bad shape. And by bad shape I mean really not good shape. It was really old, the grounds had been overgrown with weeds, briars, and other such things. I thought my dad had lost his mind. But the problem was that I was seeing the present condition and my dad was seeing the finished product. My dad saw beyond the rubble. So did Nehemiah. So does God.

We see the present situation while God sees the finished product.

We see spiritual things much like I saw that old house. We see the present situation while God sees the finished product. We need more than ever to see the finished product in spite of the present condition. Nehemiah did this when he saw the walls. He was able to communicate his vision of the finished product to those around him. Lets take a look at Nehemiah, the wall, and the people.

Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”         – Nehemiah 2:17-20 NASB

 

Nehemiah was faced with a massive undertaking. The walls of Jerusalem had been toppled. The gates were burned. Complicating things was that Jerusalem was surrounded by folks who hated them. Nehemiah had to perform many tasks just to get to the point of beginning the rebuilding effort.

Recruiting

After replenishing his resources and assessing the need, Nehemiah now recruited workers in verse 17. In some way not mentioned in the narrative, Nehemiah gathered together a large group of prospective partners. Let’s look and see how he put his work force together:

First, he identifies with the workers: “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in.” Nehemiah is passionately involved in the city’s welfare and feels its need as acutely as though he had been living in the desolate city all his life.

Next, he presents spiritual perspectives. They are in trouble – and its not just because Jerusalem is in ruins. He sees their spiritual disgrace. The sight of those collapsed walls for well over a century has created the impression in the pagan mind that the God of Israel has abandoned his people. He recognizes that there are always spiritual issues involved – a building project is more than just brick and mortar. As His people, we have to be aware of the spiritual opportunities and challenges as they present themselves to us.

Then, he invites immediate action. Everybody knows exactly what is required, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace,” and everyone realizes that the task must begin without further delay. Nehemiah is asking a lot of the people. He’s not afraid to ask them to step up to the plate. The sacrifices will be huge. They will have to take time off from work in order to rebuild the walls. Who will protect their families? Before people can respond they need to know that there is someone greater than Nehemiah behind this project.

 

Inspiring

That leads to the next task – Nehemiah inspired confidence in the people in verse 18. While rebuilding the walls is an important job, the central theme in the book is the sufficiency of God. His mind dwells on the greatness of God and he wants his workers to do the same.

Our growth is important, but the central thrust must be the sufficiency of God.

Listen to Nehemiah’s testimony: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.” He didn’t reach Jerusalem because he was a skillful persuader, or because the queen was possibly a compliant helper, or because the king was a generous benefactor, but only because God was a sovereign provider. Since God had done all that, He would certainly help them to complete the task of rebuilding the walls.
By telling the people what God had already done, he was firing them up for what He was about to do. His appeal was positive as He focused on the glory and greatness of God. When you think about it, it’s amazing that the people said, “Let us start rebuilding.” Think about what they could have said. They could have been apathetic – they had been living in the rubble for a long time and could have just stayed there. They could have reminded Nehemiah that the Jews had “already tried that” before in Ezra 4 and were stopped by the authorities.
We often face those same two obstacles within the church. Either “we’re content with the way things are” or, “we tried that before and it didn’t work!”

  Someone has defined leadership as “the art of getting people to do what they ought to do because they want to do it.”   I want to do all I can to help us do the things we ought to do because we want to do them – because the gracious hand of our God is upon us.

 

Protecting

The fifth task comes almost immediately after the decision to make an impact takes place: He Handled opposition. Whenever we get serious about kingdom work, Satan will oppose us. The first two enemies have already been identified in verse 10. Now Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite are joined by Geshem the Arab. In verse 10, the opponents are “very much disturbed,” now this troublesome trio becomes highly vocal in their attacks on Nehemiah and his work crew.

Let’s look at their tactics:

First, they derided the efforts of the workers. Verse 19 says that they “mocked and ridiculed” them. Verbal onslaughts have always been part of the enemy’s demoralizing tactics. They laughed at the workers and belittled both their resources and their plans.

Next, they suggested that they were rebelling against the king – that weapon had worked once before in Ezra 4: “What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” This was a cutting allegation to the timid workers.
I love how Nehemiah deals with these bad guys. He doesn’t answer their lies or engage in a conversation with them. Nor does he just ignore them. He first exalts the God who called him to do the work in verse 20: “The God of heaven will give us success.” He wasn’t concerned about their fictitious insinuations – he was concerned that God would get the glory in the project.

Whenever we get serious about kingdom work, Satan will oppose us.

 
Nehemiah wanted his people to know that God had everything in control. Even though Geshem controlled the southern approach to the city, and the other two thugs patrolled the north and east, Nehemiah was not ruffled. In his reply, he made three things clear:

· Rebuilding the wall was God’s work
· The Jews were God’s servants
· Their opponents had no part in the matter.

 

Involvement

The last part of verse 20 says it rather strongly: “We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Their opponents had no past right, not present prerogative to be there, and no future role in the city.
Let me just say that as believers we should expect spiritual opposition and even be thankful for it. It’s a sign that we’ve angered the enemy and encroached on some territory that He thinks is his. If there’s no conflict or opposition, then we’re probably not disturbing the enemy enough. Remember, Satan only shoots at moving targets!

Have you ever looked on a situation as hopeless? Have you ever been intimidated by the task ahead. Sometimes – perhaps oftentimes – we do this because we use only our eyes when looking at problems or issues. When we are faced with obstacles that look insurmountable, we need to see with God’s eyes as much as possible. We need to see beyond the struggle – beyond the problems – and see the goal, the finished product that God sees.

Laying Brick with Mortar and Prayer

nehemiah wall_final

“Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.”  –Martin Luther

 

We should never ask God to use us then make ourselves unavailable. If we do that, then our prayers are mere words, devoid of conviction. We should always present ourselves for God’s use to answer prayers if He chooses to so use us. That is what Nehemiah did here in chapter one. This attitude should permeate us in our sanctification.

Do you see the progression in Nehemiah’s prayer? His concern about the problem led him to brokenness. While he was weeping and fasting, he expressed his conviction about God’s character. As he focused on the greatness and awesomeness of His holy God, he was quickly reminded of his own wickedness and therefore cried out in confession. After owning his role in the nation’s depravity, he prayed boldly and with confidence in God’s promises. This then leads him to a commitment to get involved. We see this in verse 11:

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man. I was cupbearer to the king.”

While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. He didn’t pray for God to send someone else – he simply said, “Here am I, send me!” He knew that he would have to approach the king and request a 3-year leave of absence and so asked God for “success,” in his request to the king. He wanted to see God break out on his behalf when he goes in front of the king to make his request. Proverbs 21:1 states “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse where He pleases.” Nehemiah was committed to get involved and not just sit on the sidelines and lament the condition of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was a different type of guy. We should be like him. He saw a problem with Jerusalem, was burdened by it, asked God to bless him with a plan, and then acted on the plan. How often do we follow these steps in our prayer time. Far too often we treat prayer as a one-way device: we summon God to listen to us but we fail to listen to Him. We lay our requests at His feet and then walk away. Instead of waiting and listening, we just move on as if God is constrained to do as we please.

God is not at our call. We are at His.

And this is how we should approach our responsibility in our progressive sanctification. As we saw in the last article, God has promised to fully sanctify every person He calls to salvation. We can count on His promise to do that. But we do have a responsibility to participate in our sanctification. God’s plan for each of us may vary greatly. The trials we face may be different – well, they WILL be different. Their difference may be in the nature, depth, intensity, or length of the trial. But there will be differences. All trials make us more like Christ and we need to embrace them fully…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself!

In our prayer life we must be willing to commit to God’s plan for our sanctification, rely on His promises, be very honest with God, understand our problem and ask God to bless us with a plan rather than for Him to bless our plan.

Where are you in this prayer process right now? Are you concerned about your requests? Do you have a conviction about God’s holy character? Are you ready to confess your sins? Do you have confidence in God’s promises? Are you ready to make a commitment to get involved in God’s kingdom work?

The walls of our lives have been toppled by our sin nature, deafness to God’s voice, selfishness, and arrogance. We are confronted with only two choices now:

1. To learn to live in the rubble of our lives

2. To be bold enough to admit our sins, ask God for His plan for our sanctification, and then commit to be  involved in that plan.

Which way are you going to proceed? The choice you make will affect you in a monumental way.

Fear-n-Faith

 

The Church – not a local expression of it but the universal one true Church – must lock arms and get to work together. We must move forward in both sharing our faith and expressing our faith in ever-increasingly hostile environments.

 

 

 

Fear

Have you ever been afraid? Have you ever feared doing something? I’m not talking abut a fear of heights or a fear of swimming with crocodiles. No, I’m talking abut a fear of answering a call God has on your life. Perhaps that call involves moving somewhere you’re not familiar with or taking a job that you feel you don’t fully understand. You know what I’m talking about: fear of the unknown.

 

Faith

But what about your faith? Shouldn’t that override your fear? Well, yes it should. But sometimes engaging our faith in a time of fear is difficult. We don’t know what that looks like so we often times just give in to fear and wait longer than we should. So what doe it look like when my fear of the unknown (whether it is a job, a call, or where I live or what I do) intersects with my faith in an all-knowing, all-good God? Hmmmm.

 

Fear and Faith

I’m beginning a series of devotionals from the book of Nehemiah. I’ve wanted to do this for some time but kept putting it off for some reason. I’ll blame it on the winter blues. With the first day of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere) fast approaching, I figured I’d better get off my you-know-what and get to writing this devotion. So beginning Monday March 23, 2015, I will begin publishing my devotions from Nehemiah. I hope you profit from my observations. This week I’m focusing on introducing you to the book of Nehemiah and the series of devotionals coming up in the next few weeks and months.

 

nehemiah wall_final

 

The book of Nehemiah is actually titled Ezra-Nehemiah in the Hebrew canon. This is because the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are seen as one in the Hebrew canon. They were first divided in 1448 when a Hebrew manuscript first divided them. Since then that division has been the norm.

 

Nehemiah means “YHWH comforts” and was authored by – you guessed it – Nehemiah! Now there is the possibility that another chronicler worked on this book as well but the majority of the writing belongs to Nehemiah since the vast majority of Nehemiah is in the first person. Ezra appears to have combined his work with Nehemiah’s. Another possibility is the chronicler may have combined Ezra and Nehemiah into one work at a later (but not much later) date. Speaking of dates, the date of writing for Nehemiah is sometime around 433 – 400 BC.

 

Purpose(s)

From reading the book of Nehemiah, one comes away with multiple purposes for the book. Among these purposes is the historical one of providing a record of the reconstruction of the destroyed city of Jerusalem to the spiritual one of emphasizing of covenant renewal in the restored community in Jerusalem. While there are more purposes we can find in the book of Nehemiah, I want to focus on these two for various reasons.

 

The first reason is to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to His word. We’ll see this early in Nehemiah when Nehemiah recalls the promise of God to restore His people to the Promised Land. The second reason is to demonstrate that even through severe trials God’s plan is always good regardless of the obstacles in the way. The third reason I want to focus on the above two purposes of Nehemiah is because of thir direct application to us today. We need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past as we navigate the treacherous waters of the present and future.

 

Application

I think the title of this series gives away my application of this book: what happens when my fear collides with my faith. Throughout the individual devotions I hope to provide a practical application to what we have just learned. I hope those applications will provide you with encouragement to face the ever increasing difficulties of life in general.

As we stand on and for our faith, we must realize that opposition to us and our faith is mounting. We are facing difficulties now and will continue to face them in the future. The Church – not a local expression of it but the universal one true Church – must lock arms and get to work together. We must move forward in both sharing our faith and expressing our faith in ever-increasingly hostile environments.

I hope you enjoy this series. But more importantly I hope you both profit from and are encouraged by the observation I make. To God be all the glory!

Deflated Footballs, Inflated Egos, and Repentence

Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.

The current “scandal” involving a American football team – the New England Patriots – has enthralled Americans and taken over the endless news cycle. There has been many discussion with some becoming quite heated concerning whether the Patriots did indeed cheat in a football game. The evidence (at least that which has been released) seems to indicate that the Patriots cheated by using under-inflated footballs for when their team was trying to score points. An under-inflated football is easier to grip when the weather is nasty – and the weather was nasty for this game. The “they cheated” crowd is yelling about the principle of sportsmanship and fair play while the “they didn’t cheat” crowd makes a point that every team cheats in one way or another so, hey, what’s the big deal?

After I reflected on a discussion I participated in where the “everybody cheats” excuse was brought up I discovered why I find this whole event so disconcerting. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the apparent cheating. It also has nothing to do with the fact that cheating is prevalent in society. No, my reason for being so upset had to do with something much deeper and, in my opinion, more important that the cheating itself.

FIrst some facts…

We all sin and cheat

I am not using this as an excuse for anyone else cheating and thus saying their cheating does not matter. No I am observing a simple fact. All of us – you, me, everyone alive on this planet right now – have cheated and sinned.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God  – Romans 3:23 NASB

We are all in the same boat. We all do things that are wrong. We all try to game the system. In the parlance of this scandal, we all use under-inflate footballs to gain a competitive advantage. Yes even those reading this that think yourselves as good, moral people. So get over yourself – and myself – already. We are imperfect cheaters who want to win at just about any cost.

We are all helpless to change on our own

I don’t care how much you try to change, you will remain stained with sin as long as you try to change. “Turn over a new leaf” those around you may say. “Take some behavior modification classes” others may offer. Regardless of what you try to do, you will never be able to stop sinning on your own accord. Why? Because we are all as a dead person when it comes to sinning. What can a dead person do to change his condition? Yeah, thats right, nothing.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  – Ephesians 2:1-2 NASB

So what’s the rub here?

So if we are all sinners and cheaters and we can do nothing to change that fact, why then should we get so upset about the Patriots apparently cheating their way to the Super Bowl? If everyone does, what’s the big deal? It’s just humans being human, right?

It is about their attitude

The Patriots have come out and said they didn’t cheat. They have given implausible (my opinion) explanations about how a football will lose pressure. Their denials actually create more troubling questions for me. Their attitude seems to be of indifference to what they have done. They seem to be trying to dismiss this from everyone’s memory. I don’t think that will work.

So what is the Secret Sauce here?

What would help them get over this scandal and move forward? Simply put, they need to ‘fess up and repent of this mess and then they can move forward. Without that, this will follow them throughout the rest of their history as a team and franchise. And that is a good thing. But what does it mean to “repent”?

Repentance

The Greek verb for repent is metanoeo (meta-no-e-o). It means simply “to have a new mind”. The idea of this word is to have a new mind regarding Christ (for issues of eternal salvation) or a new mind regarding the issues of one’s sin (temporal salvation). Though both aspects are important, I’m mainly concerned with the latter point.

How often do we feel bad or sorry about what we have done that is wrong? Whether what we have done is run a red light, take more than allowed, taken something not ours, or some other act, do we feel a sorrow for having done that thing?

 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 2 Corinthians 7:9 NASB

The passage above is referring to Paul’s scathing letter to the Church in Corinth that roundly condemned their hedonistic practices and perversion of the Lord’s Supper. If you want a good dressing down about sin, read through 1 Corinthians sometime. read it all at once. I dare you to stay the same after that. But in the selected passage here, Paul refers to the the sorrow that produced repentance. The Corinthians evidently repented of their wrongs when confronted about it. And here in 2 Corinthians Paul is commending them for it and even rejoicing that they did repent.

So what does all this have to do with me or you?

Well, simply put it has EVERYTHING to do with me and you. We have issues confront us every day where we must make a decision to sin or not sin. Every. Single. Day. What we do with that decision indicates where we are in our process of sanctification. If (when) we make the wrong decision and choose to sin or cheat, we suffer loss. Hopefully our conscience confronts us. When our conscience confronts us (as well as anyone else who confronts us) we have choice to either deny it and try to prove that everyone does it or we can choose to change our mind about our sin, agree we were wrong, ‘fess up and move on.

This is much more important than a football game where cheating happened. This has to do with your walk with Christ. Far too often we try to cover up our sin or even deny we did anything wrong. This is a huge mistake. Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.  HIding behind excuses does nothing but enrage those around us and create further hindrances to our own spiritual growth.

So the next time you cheat, sin, or deflate footballs in order to win a game in bad weather and then get caught at it, don’t deny, obfuscate, or offer other excuses. Change your mind about your sin. Admit what you did, ask forgiveness, and then move on after being a changed person.

Christmas on the Couch

Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

 

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays tucked in my least favorite season of winter, So it is always kind of an oasis for me in the midst of cold, blustery weather. But this year was just wow. It was THAT good.

For many an ideal Christmas would include snow, plenty of presents, family, food and friends. A Christmas would include a trip to grandmother’s house, a cracking fire, hot chocolate, special coffee. The smell of mincemeat pie wafting through the air while Nat King Cole plays over our speakers would make things perfect.

So was this the kind of Christmas I just experienced? Not quite. In fact, it wasn’t even close. But still, this year was the best Christmas ever.

My family got sick the Sunday before Christmas. It was a particularly ugly bug. There was throwing up, fevers, chills, stomach aches, sore throats…the whole shebang! This bug decided it liked us so much that it hung around through Christmas (and beyond). Just when we thought it was over, we would have someone throw up again. Couple this with a severe lack of sleep and the recipe was there for a horrible Christmas.

We were on couches with blankets and buckets around. We were physically miserable. But my was this a magnificent day. We looked like a quarantine area for a deadly virus but we had a wonderful day. How did THAT happen?

We re-discovered joy.

Make no mistake, we were not happy. Our circumstances stunk. We were sick and could not do the many things that we normally would do on Christmas. I think that was the point God was driving home to me and my family. Because we were not slowing down, God put the brakes on and stopped us. And it was wonderful.

So how do we rediscover joy when we are struggling? Here are some hints I hope are helpful.

 

Always remember your position in Christ is unshakeable

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NASB

In Paul’s closing of his dissertation on our deliverance from bondage and our victory in Christ, Paul minces no words, leaves no doubt that our eternal destiny is secure. When you are sick on the couch and the pressure of the now closes in and makes you wonder of God’s goodness, think about your security in Christ, Regardless of what you or I experience, knowing that when this life is done I have an eternity in the presence of God guaranteed makes me rediscover joy though I may not be happy.

 

Always remember the trial here now is not always going to be around

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NASB

Here James centers us on some very important truths. First, trials are a part of the Christian life. Second, trials have a divine purpose. Third, that divine purpose is competed in us. Our sanctification is accomplished through these trials. Fourth, trials come in various shapes and sizes. Each trial is custom made to give us a missing part.

Trials come and go. How they affect us though, remains forever. For our Christmas on the couch, we learned through the trial of sickness that we did not need our traditions or preferences. We needed only to focus on Christ.

 

Always remember that others can help you bear the burdens that come up

 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NASB

During our weeklong illness we had a number of co-laborers in Christ encourage us and offer to help us. We also had a few who braved our infectious house to drop by and say hello and drop off some yummy treats for when we were feeling better. We received encouragement from our Pastor as well. A final bit of advice about having your unexpected burden shared – be humble enough to joyfully accept the help. Don’t rob those who offer to help of a blessing. Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

So how was your Christmas?

I hope you were well, experienced a wonderful Christmas, shared Christ with others and, most of all, had a joyful time. This is my prayer for you for the coming year – that you will grow closer to Christ, become more like Him and experience life-altering joy all year long.

My prayer is for you to have the best year ever.

Fake Stuff Can Kill

We should always prefer the real stuff—however it is presented—over the fake.

I have no doubt that quite a few of you who are reading this have heard about the multitude of studies linking the fake stuff we put in our food to all sorts of bad things. I am amazed at the wealth of information out there regarding some of the additives we place in food and deleterious effect on the human body. Before I go too far, here is my disclaimer: I’m not a nut! I don’t think everything ever made in a lab is necessarily bad for us. But I do know that there is good, solid, scientific evidence for some of the stuff that is in our food that can kill us. Or at least really injure us.

One of my sons can not have red food coloring. If he has this red food coloring—well, lets just say he looks like “Dash” in “The Incredibles”! He’ll run around like a crazy man. He’ll stand on his head on our couch. He jump off stuff. He’s a maniac when he has red food coloring. He can’t control himself. That can’t be good for his body. He gets in trouble. He doesn’t prosper. He becomes a real mess.

Just as one of my sons can’t have red food coloring and be normal, the church can’t expect to be prosperous if it settles for fake stuff. Let me explain.

I’ve seen some uncharismatic men in the pulpit. And their delivery was passionless (or at least appeared to be). They were dry, slow, and some would say boring. But they absolutely needed to be in the pulpit. They were gifted and people prospered under their teaching. I’ve seen very charismatic men in the pulpit. They have the winsome personality I would love to have. They meet people and quickly make them close friends (or so it seems). I’ve seen men like this—and the ones I’ve seen should NEVER be in the pulpit. (There is nothing wrong with being charismatic. But if charisma is all you have, then stay out of the pulpit)

I’ve sat at the feet of at some of the most gifted teachers in Christendom. I’ve learned from them many different things. Most of all I’ve learned about selfless service. These great men of God—Dr. Jim Mook, Dr. Thomas Edgar, Dr. Mark Meyer, Dr. Todd Beall, Dr. George Harton, Dr. Ken Quick, Dr. Dan Mitchell, Dr. Ed Hindson, and many more—taught me that serving in one’s giftedness is more important that simply serving somewhere. When a gifted person is plugged in where he/she is gifted, watch out! Now all my teachers are very different in their approach to teaching and their style. Some are not as charismatic as others. But each one is authentic. And the students who have studied under them have prospered.

You see it isn’t what we see with our eyes that matters. What matters is the heart.

God told Samuel not to look at outward appearances when choosing a King. God said He looks differently than man. Man looks at the outward appearance—how attractive, “king-like” a person appears. But God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

When the church chooses fake stuff—whether that be a preacher who shouldn’t be preaching or a teacher who shouldn’t be teaching—because they are just sooooo cool and charismatic, the church is in trouble. When we choose the smooth style of Mr. Charisma over the authentic but perhaps charismatically challenged preacher/teacher, we’re in trouble. (This is not to say that every person who is charismatic is bad. Or that every person who is not charismatic is good. These are broad generalities)

We need to look as much as we can on the inside not the outside. Is the person I’m sitting under truly called of God to that position? Is he authentic? Does he really care?

Sometimes we can get the answers directly. If a man claims to be a teacher but has never submitted to a teacher, we should have great pause. In order to teach one needs to be taught. If a person is a self-trained person, that is reason to be cautious. Being self-trained isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be.

I truly believe that to be a Pastor today requires a seminary education. Yes, REQUIRES a seminary education. Why? The proliferation of false teachers and false teaching screams for those in the pulpit who have been tested and tried at the highest level. And a good, solid seminary will test a person before he becomes a Pastor. A Pastor needs to be able to address these false teachings and horrible interpretations of the Bible that false teachers spread. We need pastors who can pass on what was entrusted to them (2 Timothy 2).

Would we trust brain surgery to a self-trained medical doctor? Or how about someone who was trained in veterinary medicine? How about someone who graduated top of his/her class in gardening school? Would you want them messing around in your noggin? I wouldn’t. Well then, why would we allow an untrained man to perform soul surgery on us? Why do we allow an untrained man teach us truths that were written in a culture far removed from our own or  in languages far different than our own? I am convinced that Pastoral ministry is the only “profession” where an advanced degree is seen as a hindrance.

But this isn’t just about Pastors. It is about everyone. When we choose based on appearances we are rejecting God’s model of looking at the heart of a person. When we want our building to look “just so” or our music to be “just this” we are looking at the outward. When we want to program worship so that there is a specific response at a specific time we are trying to be the Holy Spirit. Whatever happened to God moving in the midst of His people? Why can’t God simply be God and we simply worship Him? Sure we’ll worship differently but so what! Some may raise their hands in worship. Others may close their eyes. Me? I usually close my eyes and sing while holding one of my children. And I imagine in my mind that my heavenly Father is doing the same to me.

How cool would it be if we left our preferences at the door of church each week and simply enjoyed the fellowship of the saints of the preaching of His word?

The church has far too often embraced the appearances rather than the true. I’d much rather sit under a charismatically-challenged person who is a selfless, heart-full, compassion-full, grace-filled man rather than the most eloquent, charismatic fraud. The ineloquent, charismatically-challenged authentic Christ-follower will always bring life, love, and liberty . The fake, while he may give a little “sugar (or red-food coloring) high” for a while, will always bring about death, division, and degradation.

Choose the true. Look at the heart. Live authentically. Serve God only.