Standing Firm

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The wall workers were initially excited. They began the work with great anticipation and joy. In fact, in v. 6 the workers were described as having a “heart” to work (translated “mind” by NASB and others) Everything was going well. The work was going on, the wall was going up. Progress – glorious progress – was being made. Then something happened.

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” 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 4:1-8 NASB

 

Have you ever led a ministry? Have you ever been in a ministry that received negative attention from others? If you have ever led anyone or any ministry, I’m guessing you have received criticism. Criticism goes with leadership – and especially when that leadership concerns kingdom work. In this section of Nehemiah, we’re going to see what happens when Nehemiah and his workers receive some taunts, verbal jabs and some veiled threats. Lets take a look at this and learn some important things about leadership and handling the discouragement that comes into our lives.

We need to understand a few things about discouragement. First, it is universal. No one is immune to discouragement. Every one of us has been discouraged at one time or another. Second, it can be recurring. Getting this disease of your soul does not impart immunity to it. If anything, when one contracts this, one can expect that it will occur again. Third, it is contagious. If you are discouraged, chances are that you are infecting others.

Here in Nehemiah, there are some verbal stones that are thrown at him and the workers on the wall. These verbal stones can – and usually does – cause discouragement. In fact, the type of these stones indicates to me they were intended to cause discouragement. Lets take a look at these verbal stones and how they affected the workers.

Stones being thrown 

Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was certainly no exception to this. When people take kingdom priorities seriously, Satan stirs up agitators to block the work of God. These enemies used two types of external forces.

verses 1-2: “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.”

Rocks of Mocking

This is the third time in the book that we come across Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s stiffest opposition. Every time we read about him he is standing against the work of God, rejecting and mocking everything that Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. This is nothing new. Satan often mocks those who do the work of God. Remember how the soldiers mocked Jesus when He was on the Cross? How about Goliath mocking David (and all Israel)? What about Satan (as personified by the snake) wryly mocking God in the garden? Satan mocks, that is what he does when he is confronted with folks serving God. Mocking is a powerful weapon too. Often the bravest person in the face of bullets flying past him in battle will fold oh-so-quickly when mocked.

Sanballat calls the workers feeble. The word used means miserable and withered.  Think of a person about to die. Think of a person who has lived long and lived hard. You know what I’m talking abut, right? Someone whose life is spent – one who is empty. That is what Sanballant called the workers. Now the evidence is that they were not feeble. They are building a rock wall with no construction equipment other than their hands, back and feet. This was his attack on their physical appearance. But it doesn’t stop there.

Rocks of Undermining

Sanballat then asks some mocking questions designed to impugn their character and intentions. They were also intended to undermine their confidence. The first question was Will they offer sacrifices? This is to undermine their confidence that what they are doing will be blessed by God and will result in the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. He moves on to ask Can they finish in a day? designed to attack their perseverance. You see, Sanballat knows if he can get them to focus on how long they have to go, they may never finish.

Then Sanballat asks Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones? Sanballat attacks their building materials. It is as if he is saying Geez guys, your building material is old and decrepit. This will never stand. Why even try?

Sanballat’s friend Tobiah joins in v. 3 and says “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Ouch! So now Tobiah joins and says their wall is so weak and decrepit that a little fox jumping on it would cause it to tumble. Tobiah was working hard to undermine their confidence. The workers were the punchline to these jokes. They were on the receiving end of these stones thrown at them by Sanballat and Tobiah. These stones hit there mark. And they undoubtedly hurt.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you engaged in kingdom work only to be criticized? Ridiculed? Mocked? Steel your resolve Christian, these things are to be expected when we engage in work that is ordained by God.

If the work we do meant nothing, then Satan would have no reason to attack and try to discourage us.

 

Take heart Christian if you have been attacked by those who oppose the work of God. Take heart that God has counted you trustworthy enough to undertake this type of work. Take heart because our labor for the Lord – doing what He has called us to do – is not useless, void, worthless or unrewarding. Stand firm and remember that He has prepared you for this.

We Are Family

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Amazing things can be accomplished by the Church when we focus on glorifying God and not ourselves.

 

I know chapter 3 has turned into a bit of a marathon. I appreciate you sticking with it and enduring to the end of my thoughts. Today we’ll finish up with two more principles and a little summary. Lets dig into what God has for us here in Nehemiah 3.

Some work with passion.

In this chapter filled with folks working together for a common goal, one person stands out from the rest. His name is Baruch. We see him in verse 20:

After him Baruch the son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the Angle                                         to the doorway of the house of Eliashib the high priest. Nehemiah 3:20 NASB

Notice the word “zealously”. It is an interesting term that means “to burn or glow”. So was Baruch on fire? Had he been too close to a nuclear power plant? Maybe he drank some weird potion that made him luminesce? Well, no, not really. The idea being conveyed is that Baruch was working so hard that he expended tremendous amounts of energy. In that way he was “on fire”. Have you ever met someone like this? Have you ever been like this? I hope so. I hope you are this way right now. The Church could sure use some Baruchs right now. We need some folks who just burn with passionate service to our God like Baruch did here. Everyone was working hard, but in a crowd of committed construction workers, Baruch stood out from the rest. How are you doing with this?

Do you blend in or stand out?

Some work as families. 

The final thing we see in this chapter is that some of the workers worked as families. They would work on a section right in front of their home or in a completely different “neighborhood” than where they lived. The point is that they worked with others as a family unit. Take a look at verse 3:

Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. Nehemiah 3:3 NASB

 

Now take a look at verse 12:

Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters. Nehemiah 3:12 NASB

Do you see what I see? In v. 3 we see the sons working. In v. 12 we see the daughters working. Everyone in each of these two families was doing his or her part. Just like the rest were doing. We see Priests,  anonymous folks, families. All strata of society was represented in the work. And they all worked together.

I wonder what our churches would look like if we all worked together on building up rather than tearing down each other? I wonder how attractive this would be? When we work as one – whether we are Pastors, teachers, police officers, nurses, homemakers, technical folks or whatever you may do for work and whatever your place in society – we make a phenomenal statement to the world that is watching. When we work together for the benefit of others rather than ourselves, we do show what Paul stated in Galatians:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.        Galatians 3:27-28 NASB

So how are you doing in your part of building the wall of the Church? Are you working zealously? Diligently? Lazily? Take a look at what you could be doing and what you are doing. Work with your family on a project in your neighborhood…or someone else’s neighborhood! Show someone the love of Christ.

When we engage in kingdom work, we are called to work together. We are called to forget about our position in society, be it a lofty or not-so-lofty position. We each have our part to do. Let us encourage one another with our actions, not leaving 90% of the work to 10% of the Church.

 

As we do the work of Kingdom building, let’s remember it is to God’s glory that we do this work, not our glory. Ronald Reagan had a quote on his desk during his Presidency. It stated (I’m paraphrasing)

Amazing things can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.

I’d like to change that a bit for us

Amazing things can be accomplished by the Church when we focus on glorifying God and not ourselves.

Whatever you are called to do with whatever gifts God has given you, do that! Look at the construction project of the wall as a way to glorify God in doing your part. Work zealously, be diligent, and most of all, give God all the glory as the wall is built.

Gleanings from Nehemiah 3

 

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When I was in California i did some work with an organization title Gleaners. They were mainly a prison  ministry who partnered with my church (and others) to reach out to those who were in a prison. Their name had a two-fold meaning. First it referred to the picking up of the leftovers after  field had been harvested. Another meaning was to pickup seldom overlooked truths and subsequently share them with others. I hope to accompilsh the latter while not ignoring the former.

In the next two articles, lets glean some truths and principles from Nehemiah 3.

 

Leaders must set the example

If anybody in the city should have been busy with the work, it was the priests, for God’s reputation was at stake. But take a look at verse 1: “Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate” The high priest had no hesitation using his consecrated hands to swing a hammer or push a wheelbarrow. He wore a sacred garment of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, made out of fine linen. On the upper part he had 12 precious stones set in gold with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel engraved on them. On his head, he wore a dark blue turban with the phrase, “Holy to the Lord” engraved on a diadem of pure gold.

And yet, here he was picking up rubble and laying brick. I wonder how much it took to clean it all…Though I doubt I’ll ever wear a turban, purple robe and 12 precious stones to do intense and laborious work, I do want to remember that no one is above hard work.

 

How we finish matters

Not only is beginning a project with the right attitude important, how we finish it matters at least as much, if not more. In finishing well we give testimony to God enabling us to persevere through difficult and trying times. Sadly Eliashib did  not stay working hard on the wall alone since he evidently gave Tobiah (an enemy of the rebuilding effort) an apartment in the storehouse

Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. Nehemiah 13:4-5 NASB

Eliashib gave Tobiah – an enemy of the rebuilding effort – a room in the Temple where the Levites had previously stored provisions. UGH! Double UGH! Eliashib lost sight of the task and showed preference for a family memeber rather than for the work of God.

This serves as a good reminder to us – it’s not as important how we begin a project, it’s how we finish that counts. Some people who enthusiastically begin a job or a ministry may drop out or even turn against it for one reason or another.

God uses all kinds of people

Take a look at verse 8: “Uzziel the son of Harhaiah of the goldsmiths made repairs. And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.” The Lord didn’t need just skilled masons and carpenters to rebuild the wall – he needed ordinary people who were willing to work. People from a wide variety of different backgrounds with differing skills and gifts worked together on the wall. Nehemiah had a place for every person. And the same is true for the church today. No matter what your skill is – no matter what your gifting – there is a place for you to serve. All you need is a willing heart. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something (see Romans 12:6)

Some people will not work

There will always be those who refuse to exert themselves. There will always be folks who sit on the sidelines. We see this in verse 5: “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Tekoa was about ten or so miles from Jerusalem. While some working on the wall travelled to work on the wall, these nobles could not be bothered with a task like building a wall. Perhaps they thought manual labor was below them. Perhaps they were just too proud.  We do know they refused to take orders because the text says that they refused to participate in the work of God. Wow, that a lot of pride. Of course we don’t have that problem now, do we…

The reason I think pride is the issue here is because of the phrase translated “…nobles did not support the work of their masters” is a phrase that makes me think of them being stiff-necked. This phrase is used to describe a “stiff-neckd” ox who refuses to be yoked. If the ox isn’t yoked, the ox can not work because the ox can not take instruction.

Some do more work

Just like there are those who are lazy or sack in their sharing of the load in work, there will always be those who do more work than others.
Remember the men from Tekoa? In verse 5, we read that they finished their section of the wall, even though their nobles didn’t help out at all. Drop down to verse 27: “the Tekoites repaired another section in front of the great projecting tower and as far as the wall of Ophel.” We see that these men from Tekoa still working hard and competing another section.These few from Tekoa refused to follow the very bad example of their leaders, Refusing to follow the bad example of their leaders, these workers went the extra mile. I can imagine them coming to Nehemiah and asking “What can we do now?” once they had finished their portion of the wall. I can also imagine the broad smile that spread across Nehemiah’s face.

We can sometimes think that when our assignment is done, we can sit down, let out a big sigh, and say “Wow, that was great working for the Lord. Where’s my tea? Sometimes we think that when one particular task is done, that it is time for us to rest, take some time off, declare ourselves finished. While I am an advocate of taking time off from time-to-time, I’m not an advocate of ever being finished with the work God has for me. Take breaks? Certainly. Stop? Only when God stops me.

As long as there is work to be done in God’s kingdom, there will work for you and me. As long as we breathe and can move there will be work for us to accomplish. We don’t accomplish kingdom work in our strength, we accomplish it in His strength.

The Toolbox

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 God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools.

 

When I was in the Marine Corps many years ago, I remember a saying we had: the right tool for the job is the tool that does the job. This was a nod to the improvising the Marine Corps had to do just to survive. We rarely had what we needed so we would have to figure out a  way to use something else to get  a job done.

But life with God isn’t that way. And this is especially true when our fear collides with our faith. God has given us every tool necessary to build (or rebuild) our lives, either from the rubble of our sin. Now I have to emphasize that God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools, the blocks and the mortar to rebuild the broken down walls of our lives. He not only does that, but He takes us by the hand and rebuilds our wall, our hand in His.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tools very effectively.

 

Tools in Nehemiah’s Toolbox

I like tools. But I have to be careful with them because I have been injured by some. I have burned myself with a soldering iron, cut myself with a jigsaw, smashed my thumb with a hammer and cut my knee open with a chainsaw…but this didn’t happen at the same time! Anyway, just like us now, Nehemiah had the right tools for the job. Lets take a look at Nehemiah’s toolbox in the Nehemiah 2:1-3 (this will continue in my next article as well).

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:1-3 NASB

So what tools do we find in Nehemiah’s toolbox?

 

The Wrench of Waiting

The first tool Nehemiah used was the tool called waiting in verse 1. He was a man of decisive action, and when he prayed it was natural for him to ask God to provide an early, if not immediate, opportunity to speak to the king. Remember the closing verse in chapter one indicates that Nehemiah wanted success today in the presence of the king. But Nehemiah waited patiently on the Lord for an answer, just as we’re urged to do in Hebrews 6:12: “…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised.” Nehemiah could weep and pray and he could also wait and pray.

Why do I think Nehemiah had to wait? While we don’t know exactly when chapter one ended, we know when it began: the month of Chislev. That month roughly corresponds to our month of November/December. So I think it is safe to say that Nehemiah began his journey to Jerusalem in November/December. But what about when he approached the King? Well, in verse 1 the Bible states that it happened in the Month of Nisan. The month of Nisan corresponds roughly to our time of March/April. So Nehemiah waited for at least three months before he approached the king with this matter.  Did Nehemiah not see the King during this three month period? That is highly unlikely since Nehemiah was the King’s cupbearer. Although it is not stated here, I think Nehemiah waited on the nudging of the Lord before he approached the king.
Have you had to wait for God to answer a prayer? In Nehemiah’s prayer journal, nothing was entered for four months because nothing happened. Waiting time is not wasted time. Quiet reflection may have provided Nehemiah with fresh insight about how to approach the king. God wants each of us to get real familiar with this tool – we’re going to have to use it a lot.

The File of Faith

The second tool he fished out of his toolbox is faith in verses 2-3. Nehemiah was “sad” in the last part of verse 1. This word is used three other times to describe how he looked when he was in the presence of the king. The king asked him a question to find out why Nehemiah was not his chipper self. Nehemiah wigged out when Artaxerxes asked him this question because he knew the king only wanted to be around happy people. In verse 2, Nehemiah says that he was “very much afraid” which can  be translated, “a terrible fear came over me.”

I think he was very much afraid for at least two reasons. He knew that he was expected to be perfectly content just to be in the presence of the king. Subjects who were sad or melancholy around the king were usually executed for “raining on the king’s parade.” Second, he was about to ask the monarch of the Persian Empire to reverse a written policy he had made several years earlier about Jerusalem’s reconstruction. that is recoded in Ezra:

Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Ezra 4:21 NASB

Nehemiah knew it would take the power of God to get Artaxerxes to change his mind. I think I’d be afraid too. Here is the most powerful human being on the face of the planet. He wants only happy, happy, happy people around him. He is such a hard man that if your are anything but that happy, happy, happy person, he would execute you. Wow. That would cause some fear to creep into my life. How about you?

 

What are you afraid of this morning? Some of you might be afraid of the past. You’re worried that something you did long ago will catch up to you. Maybe you’re afraid of the present and find yourself crippled by the fear of people, snakes, or confined spaces. Others of you might be fearful about the future and even death.

Fear is a natural human emotion. To deny one’s fear is to deny one’s humanness. But though we experience fear, we must not succumb to it. Fear can paralyze us. It can make us not move forward with what God has for us. Fear can intimidate. Fear can be a real bummer! But what happens when our fear collides with our faith? Look at our example from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear. He did the right thing because he believed the promises of God. Notice what happened, “I was very much afraid, but I said…” Instead of paralyzing him, fear propelled Nehemiah to action. Months of prayer had prepared him for these crucial minutes. Courage filled him when he realized it was no longer possible to hide his grief.

The Hammer of Honesty

Then, using wisdom, he affirms his boss by saying, “Long live the king!” He honestly explains why he was sad in verse 3:

“Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried                      lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:3 NASB

Did you notice that Nehemiah never mentions the name of the city? Jerusalem’s history of independence might have turned the king’s thoughts toward questions of politics and national security. Instead of going political, he chose the personal route – that’s usually the better choice. What Nehemiah did say was, “I want to honor the burial place of my fathers.” This made a lot of sense to the King because the Persians honored their dead as well.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tool of trusting very effectively. He wielded these tools effectively but doesn’t stop with these three. No, next week we’ll continue in Chapter Two and discover more tools in the toolbox we can use as our fear collides with our faith and we rebuild from the rubble that is our lives.

How are you doing using the tools God has given you to build the wall of your life? Are you using them effectively? At all? Do you even know you have these tools at your disposal? I sure hope so. While a stone mason can have all the knowledge in the world regarding his craft, that knowledge is useless if he doesn’t use his tools.

Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear, and propelled Nehemiah to action.

His Blood

“It is OK. It is His blood, not mine.” Chaim Engel

I am fascinated by World War II. I have been interested in it since I was in junior high school. I’m not sure why I am fascinated by it. Perhaps it was the dark charisma that Hitler possessed that fascinates me. Perhaps its how a charismatic demagogue like Hitler led a cultured people to either do or ignore the savage things that happened during that war. Whatever it is, I just cant’ get enough of history regarding that time period and what happened in Europe during that time.

Back in the 1990’s a co-worker of mine let me borrow a movie of his. It was about a revolt in one of the death camps in Poland. That movie’s title was Escape from Sobibor. It was about the largest and most successful revolt of Jewish prisoners in a death camp. Since that time I have looked high and low for information about it.

Recently there was a documentary on Public Broadcast System about the revolt at Sobibor. It had a few of the survivors in it sharing their experiences and the how the actual plan to revolt had progressed. One particular scene in that documentary got me thinking about the Christian life and how often we mess it up because we don’t see properly.

At one point of the documentary,there is the story of one of the Jewish prisoners killing a Nazi in an area filled with other guards and such. The man who performed this grisly task was named Chaim. His girlfriend (and later his wife) Selma went looking for him. She heard screams coming from the Administration Block where the killing was taking place. She was sure it was Chaim. When Chaim emerged from the building looking dazed and confused, he was covered in blood. When she noticed the blood she was certain that Chaim had been injured. Replying to her, Chaim said “It is OK. It is his blood, not mine.” That statement stuck with me.

How many times do we forget whose blood covers and cleanses us. 

Do you doubt?

Living in a fallen world with our battle with our old nature, we oftentimes focus on the battle that rages and not the war that has already been won. In other words we focus on our battle and not His blood. This focus problem can cause us to doubt our position in Christ. Paul writes concerning this battle within himself

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  -Romans 7:24 NASB

Paul recognizes his wretchedness in performing the very things he really does not want to do. Have you ever felt this way? Have you been this broken by your sin? Have I? I sure hope so because being broken over my sin shows that the war rages…which means I am sensitive to the evil that I still do. But one thing I must remember in this struggle agains the sin that resides in me is that I do not gain victory through my efforts or strivings.

The longer I live the life God has given me the more I realize that I still sin. The more I walk this pilgrims path the more I hate my sin. I know that I’m saved but there are doubts that creep in every now and again. When the doubts do come, I need  not turn to others for comfort (though my close friends are a source of comfort). I need only to look in my mirror and realize that I am covered by His blood, not mine. It is His blood that cleanses me. It is His blood that was spent to buy me. It is His blood that secures me. My blood and effort mean nothing. The only thing that matters is that His blood was spilled to redeem me.

 

When the sea billows of sin roll – when the thunder of accusation boom in your life – when trials come and we fail once again – all we must remember is that it is not by our effort that we are saved or stay saved. It is only through Christ that we have victory over sin.

After all, it is OK. It is His blood not mine.

 

New Year, Old Problems

Yes the world is spiraling towards the abyss. Yes the world seems to think that right is wrong and wrong is right. Yes there seems to be an amorality pervading the world. Yes it looks hopeless. But I’m here to tell you, in spite of the downward trajectory of our culture, there are better times ahead. These are not the good ol’ days.

Happy New Year! 

So it is 2015 already. I remember all the hubbub about Y2K and the associated paranoia about computers going bonkers that day. I was working for a defense contractor at that time and we had to take steps to ensure that a our systems were Y2K compliant. What a nightmare that was! Do you remember that time? Do you remember that next-to-nothing bad happened? And now we are 15 years beyond Y2K. You know what? We still have the same problems we had before Y2K – only worse.

Our society is breaking down. We have some folks chopping heads off. We have riots in the streets of the US because someone gets shot. We have police officers who are getting executed in their cars because they are police officers.

Drugs. Disease. Murder. Mayhem. And it is only getting worse. Is this as good as it is going to get? Are these the good ol days?

As Christians we must answer those questions with a resounding NO!

Yes the world is spiraling towards the abyss. Yes there are times it looks hopeless. But I’m here to tell you, in spite of the downward trajectory of our culture, there are better times ahead. These are not the good ol’ days.

Evil seemingly grows stronger

So is this statement a contradiction; “Evil will increase in the world but the future is bright”? Nope, not in the sightest. In fact I think it is the most biblically based statement I could make about the future. You see the Bible is full of statements regarding the ever-worsening state of this world. At one point in history Satan (through his anti-Christ) reigns on earth for seven actual years. That can’t be good.

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. Matthew 24:21 ESV

Take a look at this verse for a moment. In Matthew 24:21, Scripture states that there is coming a time of great tribuation. This time of tribulation will be unique in its intensity. When this time occurs there will be nothing like it in history. That sounds pretty bad. But we shouldn’t stop there.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. Revelation 13:1-8 ESV

Ugh! Here in Revelation we are introduced to the beast. This beast is empowered by the dragon, normally understood as Satan himself. He’ll seem to suffer what should be a fatal wound to his head yet survive. He will be worshipped and he will gladly receive that worship. This beast will blaspheme and be a prideful person. He will reign for forty-two months (3.5 years).

These two passages highlight the problems waiting in the future. They seem insurmountable, don’t they. For some these future problems create fear and paranoia. They stock up on food and water, They pack their basement full for the coming problems. They fear the future. Because of this fear they become unreasonable in their present life. Their problem isn’t with seeing the tribulation as bad. Their problem is seeing God as less than sovereign.

But is there any hope for us? Is there anything positive about the future? There will be problems like never before. Satan empowers his beast to rule the earth for 3.5 years. There will be blasphemy, pride, worship of Satan…geez, where is the good?

Our future is bright

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.   Revelation 19:11-21 ESV

The problems come. Evil seems to be winning. Until the return. Jesus Christ comes back riding on a white horse. He comes with the armies of heaven and destroys the nations that have gathered for battle. And it isn’t even close. In chapter 20 there is 1000 years of Christ reigning on earth. Boy that sounds great doesn’t it. Christ stomps His adversary and then reigns on earth for 1000 years. In those 1000 years there is unparalleled peace and prosperity on the earth. Noting could top this, right? Well, like Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

After Jesus reigns on earth there will be a rebellion. Yeah, you read that right, a rebellion. But never fear, like before, this battle is a battle in name only. Jesus stomps His adversary again, and the final judgment occurs. After that judgment, those who belong to Christ – whether  save 3000 years ago or during the tribulation or thousand year reign of Christ – will enter into eternity with Him.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

It will be a happy new year for sure. You see though our new years are plagued by old problems, this final new year will include a new heavens and new earth…and no old problems. The core issue – sin – has been dealt with and completely defeated. No more sin. No more death. No more drug abuse, disease, murder, or mayhem.

So for us who belong to Christ, no matter what happens in the next few years, we should be joyful. Regardless of who is President, who is murdering others, or who is wreaking havoc in the word, our future is bright. It is bright because Jesus has this. He is in control. He is sovereign. Since we know where we are going to spend eternity, does it really matter all that much what happens while we await our arrival there?

If you are worried about the times and trials, set your mind on the future. Set your mind on Christ and where He is. Remember that you belong to Him forever.

Lift your head, Christian. Your redemption is near.

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.

What Christmas Did…

Because Christ was laying in the manger, Christ would be nailed to the Cross. 

 

Another year is quickly coming to a close. We are about to celebrate Christmas 2014. I need to let that sink in for a moment. Christmas 2014. This is my 50th Christmas. Wow, thats a lot.  There are plenty of memories through those years. Plenty of memories for sure.

I remember the expectations rising as Christmas day neared. I remember my brothers and I decorating the Christmas tree my dad would bring home. I remember making my “wish list” out of the giant Sears catalog that would arrive in the mail every year. Ah yes, I remember it well. Over most generations, Christmas seems to be a time of expectation. We are always looking forward to Christmas.

The day itself, of course, is a reminder of what happened in the past. There is little consequence if this is or is not the actual day Jesus was born. What matters is that He was born. And He was born to die. For me. And you. For OUR transgressions. Wow.

Sometimes I wonder if God is remembering Christmas. I wonder if He looks back on the birth of Jesus at all. When I begin to think about that I am reminded that God has always looked forward to Christmas…and I’m not speaking of December 25th. I am speaking about the birthday of Christ which we celebrate on December 25th.

You see Christ being born was determined before man set foot on God’s earth. Before man, before sin, before the world was placed in  the heavens. Yes that long ago, God determined there would be a Christmas. That is, before anything was, God was looking forward to Christmas,

 

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.  1Peter 1:20 NASB

What a wonderful truth Peter shares with us here in 1 Peter 1:20. In his discourse in chapter one, Peter begins a talk about the conduct of the Christian and the call to be holy beginning in verse 13. Peter continues to talk about the need to be holy because that is the call of the Christian because God Himself is holy. Peter then speaks about giving a reason for our actions to be pure – because Christ was sacrificed for us. And with that Peter comes to the above passage – that the death of Christ was known before the foundation of the earth. So if God knew beforehand about salvation coming through the death of Christ,then He must have known beforehand that Christ would be born. He declares as much through the prophet Isaiah

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 NASB

Isaiah uttered those words a more than 700 years before Jesus was born. And if there is any doubt to whom those words were directed, Matthew states

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23 NASB

God planned for Jesus to come to earth before the foundation of the worlld. He declared it to be so  more than 700 years before His birth. But did you know that this event was foretold even before that?

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel. Genesis 3:15 NASB

Right after the fall of mankind – when pronouncing the curse that will befall creation – God brings forth His promise of a Savior. This is sometimes referred to as the first time the Gospel was proclaimed. It certainly is the first time there is a promise of the defeat of Satan. What a place to give hope!

 

So why do I share this at Christmas? Well the plan of God is not some grab bag of ideas thrown together at the last minute because of some surprising development. No, God’s plan and purpose is a careful one that brings glory to Him. God is not surprised for anything but has planned everything to bring glory to Himself.

And that is what Christmas did. Because Christ was laying in the manger, Christ would be nailed to the Cross. And with Him on the cross were my sins. And yours. The provision for the atonement was planned before it was needed, provided for before it was necessary, and promised before it arrived. In our moments of greatest desperation, God gave us then – and gives us now – hope. That hope came on Christmas.

From my family to you and yours – may you have a blessed Christmas. May your coming year be filled with a new zeal for God and the things of HIm rather than the things of this world. May your life be blessed. Most of all, may all that you think and do, bring glory to God in the highest.

 

Merry Christmas!

Tuning into Christ at Christmas

During the Christmas season there is a lot of noise. That noise can make hearing Christ at Christmas very difficult. 

 

When I was growing up in North Carolina my older brother and I would listen to the radio broadcast of the Saint Louis Blues hockey team. We would sit around my brother’s radio and try to listen to the broadcast closely to hear if our favorite player would score. This was long before the days of XM radio, digital radio, and HD radio. All we had was AM, FM and shortwave! What came with the broadcast of the games was static, And there was a lot of static. We would hear weird sounds and some crossover signals where we could here a station we didn’t want to hear. All we wanted to hear was the broadcast of the game. It was hard to hear but we would focus our attention on what we wanted to hear in such a way that we were able to ignore the noise of the other signals.

Just like my brother and I focusing on our beloved hockey broadcast, we too can focus our attention on Christ, in spite of the static and noise of Christmas. It helps to know where the noise is coming from though. And around Christmas there are plenty of contributors to the noise we hear.

 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,  full of grace and truth.                    John 1:14 ESV

 

The Santa Claus noise and static

It seems that we have a lot of this noise. You know the story, A fat guy who lives at the North Pole travels the world on Christmas eve with a sleigh full of toys pulled by flying reindeer. This guy somehow makes it to every child in the world, scooting down their chimney to place just the right toys under the Christmas tree in the house. I grew up with this story and believed it for many years. I (and probably you) chuckle that I believed such a tale.

Many Christians are so upset with this tale that they will go to great lengths to debunk this myth – even to the point of insulting others. We have taught our children the meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. We also have frank and open discussion regarding the multiple Santa’s that are around us this time of the year. We make sure our children understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas like us. We also make sure they understand that we don’t condemn those who believe in Santa Claus but take every opportunity to share Christ.

But we don’t stop there. We talk to our children about where Santa Claus came from and the true story of Saint Nicholas. So if you want to effectively deal with the noise and static of the fat Santa Claus in a sleigh, take a little time to stress that this is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. Also take some time to educate yourself about Saint Nicholas. Research him and tell the REAL story. It is an amazing and inspiring story.

 

The “This day has pagan roots” noise and static

Critics of Christians – especially those critics who are also atheists – are quick to point out that Jesus was probably not born in December. They are also quick to point out that December 25th has roots in pagan religions. Some Christians react poor to this. Some will deny any such connection to paganism. They’ll huff and puff and get red in the face. They’l deny, deny, and then deny some more. They’ll protest claiming a great conspiracy trying to rob Christ of His birthday. What should our response be to this if or when it comes up?

Once again education is the Christian’s friend here. December 25th was celebrated as a pagan holiday long before Christians made any claim to it being Christ’s birthday. That is simply a fact. We have reams of evidence for this. Google it sometime and you’ll see it for yourself. Also Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th. We don’t know for sure the date of His birthday but the evidence in Scripture appears to lend credibility to the idea that He was born sometime in the Spring.

So what should we do with this information? Should we abandon December 25th as Jesus’ birthday celebration? What should we do?

Well first i think we should admit the fact that December 25th was a pagan holiday. That is just a fact. But I don’t think we should abandon it as the celebration date of Jesus’ birthday. This date is the one we set aside to celebrate His birthday. I don’t think there is anything wrong with designating it His birthday celebration, especially since any date we designate will be just a guess. This plus the fact that this date has been celebrated as His birthday for such a long time that at some point we should give a nod to tradition. Again, while this noise can be loud, focus on Christ and don’t interfere with those who want to criticize.

 

The consumerism noise and static

This noise is particularly difficult in the United States. I recently read somewhere that the average American spends over $700.00 (US) per person for gifts. Yikes, for a family my size that would come out to $6300.00 (US) every year! I don’t have that kind of money to spend on gifts that will soon be neglected and forgotten. We have made Christmas much more about getting stuff rather than Christ – at least we have in the United States. My wife and I wrestled with this question a number of years ago. What we came up with may not work for everyone but it does work for us to be able to ignore the noise of “You have to buy this for Christmas!” mantra that is chanted every November/December.

We practice a type of minimalist Christmas. Now what do I mean by that? What is a “minimalist” Christmas?

Well, what we do is we draw names in our family. Once we have done that we have a rule that we enforce regarding presents: each person who gives a gift must make that gift with their hands. They can buy the parts they need, but they must put it together with their hands. Normally we’ll buy one family gift and we do buy some stocking stuffers for them, but we don’t go crazy spending thousands of dollars on gifts. After all, we are not celebrating their birthdays…we are celebrating Jesus birthday.

 

So what now? What about all this noise and static at Christmas?

Though ignoring the noise and static I wrote about is much easier said than done, it is possibe. In our family, filtering out that noise and static has made Christmas a much more meaningful time for us. Christmas is much more enjoyable because we focus on the reason for Christmas rather than simply buying something for someone.

The very best we can do at Christmas to filter out the noise and static – not just the ones I named but also other sources – is to focus our attention on Christ. Just like my brother and I did all those years ago with the St. Louis Blues where we focused so much on those that we wanted to know about, so too about Christ and Christmas. If Jesus is as important as we say He is, there should be no difficulty focusing on Him.

In spite of the noise of Santa, paganism and consumerism, we can hear Christ clearly by making Him the most important part of this noisy holiday – tune into Christ. Focus on Christ. Focus on the eternal.

And have yourself a very Merry Christmas.

 

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.