Roll Call

nehemiah wall_final

Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

Sometimes a passage in Scripture can seem as interesting as watching grass grow or paint dry. Let’s be honest, sometimes what is in the Bible – what God considers important – is a bit confusing and, on the surface, seems a tad on the boring side. This is especially true when it comes to genealogies and lists in general. I don’t know about you but I find myself sometimes asking God why He puts this stuff in the Bible. Sometimes I miss the blessing that is there because I see only with my physical eyes.

Today’s passage in Nehemiah is like that. Sort of. On the surface this passage seems as appetizing as a bowl of hot sand. But if we take a little time and exert some effort, we will soon see that it is as tasty as a filet Mignon. Or whatever food you’d like to put in there. Let’s take a bite out of God’s word and see that it is indeed good.

Nehemiah and the people he has led, have rebuilt Jerusalem. They have achieved their goal of once-again fortifying their city. Jerusalem – and her inhabitants – were once again a nation. But there was only one issue left. No one inhabited the rebuilt city! Before Nehemiah Jerusalem was a city without walls. Now, after rebuilding was completed, Jerusalem was a city without a population. Here in Nehemiah 11 we see Nehemiah’s efforts to repopulate Jerusalem.

 

The Voluntary Draft

Voluntary draft? Don’t those terms contradict themselves? Well, kind of. There are a lot of these types of contradictory terms around. Grammarians call these things oxymorons. A few examples would be military intelligence, congressional ethics and so on. I bet you can think of a few too. But I think the terms voluntary draft fit what is going to happen here in Nehemiah. Nehemiah held a voluntary draft to repopulate the City.

Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.  And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. Now these are the heads of the provinces who lived in Jerusalem, but in the cities of Judah each lived on his own property in their cities—the Israelites, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem Nehemiah 11:1-4a NASB

Think of the beautiful city of Jerusalem Newly minted, wonderfully protected and sitting high over the land of Israel. It is the capital of the nation but it has no people. Imagine how quite it was. How can one have a capital city that is uninhabited? That isn’t really possible. Nehemiah could have simply issued an order to populate the city. He was the governor and leader. I know that is how it would have worked in the Marine Corps. A group of us would have been voluntold to populate it and we would have dutifully moved in. But Nehemiah is going to take a different approach.

Nehemiah traveled through the towns where the people were located and cast lots to see who was called to live in Jerusalem. He would have expected that person and family to move in. But what is interesting is the use of the word volunteer in this section. Evidently the people could decline the invitation from God to move to Jerusalem. If someone declined, the lot was cast again and the process continued until a willing heart was found.

Many were called but only a relative few were willing. And those who were willing were blessed by the people for volunteering for this mission.

There are those reading this who have been called to a task by God. But you are either unwilling or still considering answering that call. I know what it is like to be faced with a decision like this. But let me tell you from experience that answering God’s call and volunteering to follow Him is a decision you won’t regret. It will be difficult in times like ours. But the reward – while not necessarily experienced here and now – is great. How are you doing choosing to follow God’s call on your life? Are you struggling with that decision?

Nehemiah’s List

Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite. All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men.

Now these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah; and after him Gabbai and Sallai, 928. Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second in command of the city. Nehemiah 11:4b-9 NASB

Beginning with the second part of v. 4 we will go through a series of lists that seem to have little application to us today. But let’s keep our eyes opened to what God is saying through these verses, OK?

The first set of names focus on two very important groups: the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. These tribes made up the southern kingdom of Judah. There are 468 from Judah and 928 from the tribe of Benjamin. Why are these interesting? I’m glad you asked!

Let’s take a look at the descendants of Perez. These make up a portion of the men labeled “468 able bodied men”. Now Perez had an interesting beginning. In Genesis 38 the tale of his conception through birth is told. Remember that his father Judah conceived Perez with his (Judah’s) own daughter-in-law. So Perez would be considered an illegitimate son. In fact there were twins in this birth. The first child began to emerge so the midwife tied a thread around that child’s finger to document which came first. But that arm went back in and the other child, named Perez, came out first! This is why this baby was named Perez. The meaning of the name Perez is roughly breaking out. And breaking out he did! Even though Perez had a rather difficult beginning and was regarded as illegitimate, he became one of the greatest heroes of Judah. He was so much so a hero that he was still being talked about 400 years after Judah lived. Another interesting fact is that his descendants are called the brave men of Perez.

Let’s move on to Benjamin. This tribe volunteered more than twice the number of Perez despite being a smaller tribe. Once again the history here is quite interesting. In the Book of Judges the sordid background of Benjamin is given. To make a long story short, in the last few chapters Benjamin’s devolution into a people who practiced sexual sin culminating in the practice of homosexuality. This was seen as a stain on the nation since homosexuality was thoroughly condemned by God. But here was a tribe that was openly practicing it.

Two very important men came from this tribe. The first one was named Saul. He was the first King of Israel. He started out well but jealousy and self-centeredness reduced him to an utter failure. He had forty years of reigning over Israel as a bitter, angry man. Saul was in full rebellion against God. Saul finally kills himself on the battlefield and ends his time as king.

Another person followed almost exactly an opposite path as Saul. That person’s name was Saul! Now Saul number two began his life as a man dedicated to God’s word, slid into intolerance of God’s Messiah and the Messiah’s called out ones, persecuted them, murdered them and finally came to be one with them. Do you know about whom I speak? Yep, that Saul. He wrote a lot of the New Testament. We know him as Paul. He was from the tribe of Benjamin. Amazing.

These two men so important in God’s story had such ordinary beginnings and such a tortured tribal history. But here they are. Can you see what God is teaching? Regardless of your beginning or your family history, God isn’t finished writing your story yet. He is going to use you for His glory.

Be ready to hear His call on your life. That means that you are growing steadily toward Christlikeness, holy living and faithful dependence on Him. Be ready when He calls to volunteer to follow Him. Following God’s call on your life is not necessarily an easy thing to do. Sometimes the call can lead to heartbreak. I know all too well about that. But that heartbreak is not the end or even the purpose of His call. God is about bringing glory to Himself. He uses us in specific situations to do just that.

SO whenever you are called into a situation that seems difficult or daunting, remember that it is for God’s glory and not your comfort that He calls you.

Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

To God be the glory.

Amen.

 

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.