Letter from a hospital bed to my children on the eve of open heart surgery

I had open heart surgery a few years ago to fix a leaky mitral valve that was damaged by a serious infection in my heart. I had already experienced a very small stroke and was in congestive heart failure when they discovered the root issue. I went in for a test to try and figure out why I was so sick and ended up being admitted to the hospital facing serious heart surgery. All this before I had ever turned 40.

I was warned that there was a very slight risk of complications that my surgery could end in a catastrophic stroke and or death. This really struck a nerve because my dad has a stroke in his early 40’s and it had really impacted me in a negative way. I was anxious that something could happen and that it would have a negative impact on my children.

I wrote each of my kids a letter, and I wrote this as a journal article for them to read as they grew older (I’ve edited it slightly to help it read better):

“Today I sit down to acquaint myself with all the things that could go wrong. To be honest, “wrong” on this is just my perspective. I really want to avoid hurt and pain, but they are at my doorstep knocking.They won’t let up until they enter my life like never before.

I write this now so you know my state of mind as I open the door.
There may be consequences for you that I never intended. Should things go “wrong,” it will be grief that comes knocking on your door.

Our scariest moments are the ones where we recognize we have no control. We either run to God or we run away from Him. We either call Him Evil, or we call Him Good. In those moments, there is no middle ground to practice a modified religion.

I didn’t choose this road. But it is the road that is set before me. In a thousand lifetimes I would not pick this pain. But I firmly believe that God has chosen me to endure it and so I will walk it, and you must know that I do not walk alone.

You must know that it is because of suffering that I cling to Him now, more than ever. I find that even in the darkness, and in the quiet, He remains true. So while this is not that path I would have chosen. It is the path that has led me closest to Him and for that I am grateful.

So I have to confess that when I ponder, “what might go ‘wrong’?” I say with confidence, that in some way, whatever happens, it will have also gone “right.” God is still in control.

It can be hard to imagine God is in control when we feel so out of control. I imagine the disciples were completely unnerved at the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps they thought all was lost. But three days later he rose from the dead! And the most tragic day in all of history became the greatest day in all of history. The resurrection changed everything. And this is where I place my hope that after whatever darkness may come we will experience the Light of God’s amazing grace.

This trial brought me closer to the Lord and that was a purpose greater than my own personal comfort could have ever been. I pray you press into the Lord no matter what comes your way. He has a way of taking the hardest circumstances and using them for his glory. It took me decades, but looking back and see how he used my dad’s stroke to work in my life. You may not see it or feel it now, but never lose the hope and true optimism that comes with trusting in the promises of God. – DAD”

I am grateful that my kids didn’t need to read that letter/journal entry. But I’m glad I wrote it for them. It helped me process some of my own feelings about my dad’s stroke (for the curious, he survived and I’ve written more about it elsewhere). I swore I’d never go into the ministry because of his stroke and the surrounding story, but as I look back, I’m probably in ministry because of it.

To this day we don’t know the cause of the infection in my heart. We probably won’t ever know. I’ve had to make peace that some things in life aren’t meant for us to understand on this side of eternity.

3 Things I Taught My Son By Cutting The Grass.

Being a dad is a big deal. Last week I taught my seven-year-old to cut the grass (push mower). I was hesitant to unleash him with a spinning mechanical blade, but his mom wasn’t there to stop me so I went for it and I’m glad I did (just kidding, she trusts me). In the process we had several unplanned father-son moments as his attention was hyper-focused on learning to mow the grass. Here are a few that I caught myself teaching him.

cutting the grass

  1. Your Actions and Lack of Actions Affect Others.

Our first task was to fix the self-propelled components of the mower. Though he is a strong kid, he is just seven. Having the self-propelled component working would help him be successful. So we got out the tools, pulled the cover off and started cleaning things up and looking at why it didn’t work. As we were doing this together, he was goofing around and touching stuff on the mower. I knew there was no real danger since starting a mower is an involved process but I asked him, “What would happen to my hands right now if you accidentally started the mower?” Of course he knew by where my hands were that he would “cut them off.” I then asked, “Is that something you want to do?” Of course he didn’t. So I suggested that when someone is working on a machine the best thing to do is stand back and watch, unless you are asked to help.  We then talked about how all of our actions affect others.

2. It is Easy to Mistake The Symptoms for the Problem.

Once we were fixing the mower we talked about how what we perceived as the problem (the self-propelled component wasn’t working) was actually a symptom of the real problem. Likely a part had broken, a belt had slipped, or we simply got to much stray grass had gotten under the cover. As it turned out there was a ton of grass and the belt had slipped off. It was an easy fix. In the process though we talked about how in everything from lawn mowers to relationships that when something is broken, we often see the effects before we can analyze the cause. It takes wisdom to look for what caused the problem and fix it instead of just looking at the problem and complaining.

3. Always be on Guard Against Mission Drift.

Mission drift is common in everything from cutting grass to life in general. If we are not careful we will be more concerned with where we are than where we are going and in doing so we will end up way off course! Without a vision for what needs to be accomplished it is easy to worry more about pushing the mower than where you are pushing the mower too. He learned this all too quickly as the first few rows were crooked, leaving pockets of uncut grass in some places, and mowing over the same territory twice in other places. I shared that We must always keep an eye on what God has called us to or we will miss the mark simply because we thought more of the moment than we did the outcome. I applied this especially to living under authority. I shared that even I as a parent and pastor fall under the authority of scripture.  It’s easy to respond to the feelings of the moment, but wise men go back to what God has said and follow that path.

I’m sure that a lot of the conversation went over his head. Yet, it has also become a background song to his life. He knows more about cutting grass and more about life than he did a week ago. I’m reminded that our children often learn more from us as they join us in activity than they do when we sit them down to have a specific conversation. I’m always looking for those teachable moments.

Unity is Good, But Why is it so Hard! (Meditations on Psalm 133)

A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalms 133:1-3 KJV)

Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Do you have kids? I have 2 kids. I had visions when I was younger that when I had kids that I would tell them what to do and they would obey me. I would see people lose their cool with kids in public or have a kid on a leash or something and I’d judge them. I would think, “I’m not going to do that when I have kids.” Then I had kids and the first time I chased my kid across 3 soccer fields (he had a huge head start) I was looking up how to buy one of those leashes… I also dreamed that they would get along, but they can find away to get on each others nerves from two different rooms in the house.  Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Anyone have to travel home for the holidays? There are four of us siblings and then most of us got married, and had kids. My parents have like 14 grandkids. Visiting is one thing, but staying is something else. Some people have room, but get a hotel room for their family to stay in when they travel just to save on the family drama. Then there is the gossip. There is always the black sheep of the family and they have always done something (by the way if you are thinking… not my family, we don’t have a black sheep… look in the mirror, you are probably it). Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

Then there is work, right? You work hard, do your best, and all of the sudden everything you were just working really hard on doesn’t count for anything and you have to start over on a new project because the higher ups had another great idea. Or your boss loves to dole out the criticism, but doesn’t seem to recognize what’s going on. You’re not the only one to notice this either. Sometimes you have a little prayer request session for the boss… never prayer… always prayer requests though… And if you’re the boss you are always wondering why people don’t just do their jobs. Why aren’t they happy with a paycheck, you don’t have time to go around and pat everyone on the head and give out golden stars… what is this kindergarten? Unity is good, but why is it so hard?

This is a Psalm of David written for the people to sing as they would come into Jerusalem, the Holy city, to celebrate one of the three major feasts they would have each year. It would be sung by travelers who met on the road headed for a common destination. They wouldn’t know each other but they would join each other in singing this song.

I find it interesting that David is the author. If anyone knew about the need for unity it was David.  David was anointed to be the next king of Israel when he was a young boy. He kills the giant Goliath in battle. He serves in the king’s court as a musician. He marries the King’s daughter. But Saul get’s very envious of David and tries to kill David on several occasions. David has several opportunities to kill Saul but never does. Finally Saul and his son Jonathan die in battle and David attempts to reunite the kingdom but Saul’s family rebels and for about the first 5 chapters of 2 Samuel Israel has a civil war. People are killing their own countrymen until a truce is called, the bloodshed is stopped and David is the rightful king, but there are some that still resent his kingship.

David knows what it is like to be leader and try to unite a people who seemingly don’t want to be united. I think this Psalm (song) serves as a good reminder that some things are bigger than the petty things that divide us.

There is something that can cause unity to occur among even seemingly total strangers on the road to a common destination.

UNITY IS WORTH IT

The first thing we note is that unity is both good and pleasant! Some things are good, but they aren’t pleasant. Vegetables are a classic example of something that is good. I mean no one doubts the general health qualities of fresh raw vegetables. But unless you have acquired the taste for raw broccoli it taste and looks like a mini tree. I remember one time my wife an I stayed at a hotel and we were a bit late getting to the breakfast buffet the next morning and all the good stuff was taken and everything that was left was just “good for you.” I was  scraping to get a few bacon crumbs so I could sprinkle them on my grapes and banana halves.

There are some things that are pleasant, but aren’t good. The world is full of things that we might enjoy a little too much, like a biting remark, or talking behind somebody’s back, that are not good.

But before we go on and address some of the difficulties of unity. King David wants us to know and sing up front that Unity is good but that it is pleasant. We should not only need unity, but we should want it!

What kind of sacrifices do you make for the things you want?

If you are in a hunting club, You are up there on weekends planting food plots, putting up trail cams, tracking where the deer are. Everything gets put on the back burner when dear season rolls around.

Maybe it’s your kids. No one is going to fault you for wanting the best for your kids, right? So maybe you want to get them in a better school and so you borrow grandma’s address or you move so your address will be right or you contact everyone you know so you can figure out how to get little Johnny or Suzie in the right district for school. Or maybe it’s not a district issue, it’s a private school and so that costs more money and you sacrifice there.

The first thing in this song is about how good and pleasant unity is and it’s there to drive in us a desire to go and get it. To find it, even if it costs us something, because it is worth it!

UNITY AS WORSHIP

In this next part David brings to mind the image of when the high priest would be anointed. Specifically he goes back to the first High Priest, Aaron. The high priest was someone who was set apart to mediate between Israel and God. The people know they had sinned against God and they needed someone who could make sacrifices, sin offerings on their behalf.

We were saying “unity is good, but why is it so hard?”  We’ll it is difficult because of our sin, isn’t it? We are sinful people. We sin against others and we are sinned against. Whether it be my sinful children terrorizing each other, or a family bickering about a situation, gossip at work, or even quarrels at church.

Sin separates us from one another and it separates us from God! When we sin we put a break or tear in our relationship. Just take the 10 commandments. If you steal from someone it affects your relationship to them. If you commit adultery it affects relationships in two families and then creates wider trust issues in the whole community. If you lie, if you disrespect your parents, if you murder… these things all have relational consequences. There is no unity where sin is practiced and tolerated.

The biggest problem we have with unity is that we are all sinful people. Not only are we separated from one another but we are separated from God by our sin! Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The prophet Isaiah wrote, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 50:2).

For true Unity to exist, Sin has to be addressed!

In the context of this Psalm the high priest would be the one who would address the sins of the Nation of Israel before God. He would make a sacrifice to atone or pay for their sins. Every year on the day of Atonement there would be a national day of repentance and this high priest would reconcile the people to God.

The imagery here is that of the anointing of Aaron this man who was Israel’s high priest. When he was anointed they would use a ton of super fragrant oil that would pour out and all who were present would be able to smell it and thus were taking part in the ceremony. It covered his head, his beard, his robe, it covered everything.

This is important because it was abundant. It wasn’t anointing on a budget, but extravagant. It was this way to show what great love God has for us in that he would deal with our sins. His love is poured out on us. We deserve the wrath of God for the sins that we have committed but we receive the Grace of God through his appointed mediator.

The priest would be wearing a special vest that would have twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and as the oil flowed down it would cover over them all! This was another symbol of unity that this man didn’t make atonement or offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness or sins of just one tribe, but of all the tribes.

In our context we know that Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5); He is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). We have the benefit of looking back on this now. We don’t have a high priest like Aaron. We have one better. We have Jesus Christ who made atonement for sins! He paid the price so that we might know God and have fellowship with him. His blood was poured out so that we might live.

The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:9 that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Also in Acts 3:18 we are told, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” It is through the work of Jesus on the cross that we can even know God and come into a relationship with Him through the forgiveness of our sins.

When we do we become a part of his church. Unity is one of the hallmarks of Christianity. Where there is no real unity, the devil has crept in and there is no real Christianity. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.”

Our unity is worship because it is evidence that our sins have been forgiven and that we have forgiven each other.

However, we’ve all seen or been in social situations where folks put on a plastic face and smile for the camera, but you know there is deeper tension beneath the surface. There is a sin issue that has to be resolved. I’ll never forget there was a woman in my former church who HATED me. I didn’t know why. She tried to get me fired! I didn’t know what was going on until someone told me.

My pastor said to leave it alone, but I couldn’t leave it alone, because for unity to exist, sin had to be addressed. For all I knew I had sinned against her somehow. If that was the case, her reaction was wrong, but while there was this issue between us, there would be no unity in the church. So I pulled a Matthew 18 and went to see her and her husband, asked point blank what I had done to offend them and sought reconciliation.

And do you know what… we were reconciled! It was a misunderstanding. She thought she heard something and rather than give me the benefit of the doubt she assigned me thoughts and motives that weren’t even there at all. She said she was sorry for saying all those mean things about me and trying to get me fired. I said I was sorry for not being clearer in what I said.

Unity is a WITNESS

This last part can appear a bit mystical. If you don’t know your bible geography very well you’ll always read these passages and just consider them as difficult names. However if you have the book of maps in the back of your bible you can look for these. If you see a map of Israel and in the north above the Sea of Galilee is Mount Herman. In the south is Jerusalem which is often referred to as Zion. There is over 100 miles between the two.

Mount Herman is the tallest mountain in the region and often has snow on the top. The mountain of Zion in the summer months especially is dry and arid. There is no way the abundant dew from Herman literally fell on mount Zion.

So this is what we see when we read this, the song writer David says Unity is an abundance of refreshing dew, that doesn’t occur naturally where we are… in other words it’s supernatural! It is something that can only happen because God has commanded it!

When we are united in Jesus Christ it sends a message to the world that something supernatural is taking place in our midst. We are drawn together not because of our love for bowhunting, or a particular nascar driver, or even for an SEC football team, but because of Jesus Christ.

 

ONE OF THE FEW

one-of-the-fewI had the opportunity to read One of the Few a few weeks ago. It’s a great read and well worth your time. I highly recommend it as a gift book for those who come into your life who are struggling (or should be struggling) with their world view. It’s a fantastic symphony of biography paired with practical application which makes it an easy and compelling read.

Jason Ladd is an authentic and engaging writer. One of the Few reads as his personal story of life as a Marine pilot and his conversion to Christianity. The window he opens into his life is also an invitation for the reader to examine their own life and evaluate their understanding of the world. Jason’s trasparent and intellectual writing style allow the reader to address real life issues in a thought provoking way.

The last part of the book is a great reference on different issues that confront the Christian worldview. Jason provides great answers as well as great references all throughout the book, but especially in these chapters that address varying lifestyle objections to Christianity. This makes the book especially valuable as a gift book to those who serve in our military who are struggling to discover a worldview that will answer life’s basic questions.

I can’t recommend this book enough. I think its a fantastic read for anyone, but can be especially powerful for men and women serving our armed forces that have real questions about Christianity. The Kindle version is on sale right now, but you will want to get a physical copy or two to give away.

Pragmatism, Principles, and Politics

It’s been a crazy election year. We are a few days away from a presidential election and many folks have asked me for my opinion. Generally I make it a rule not to write about politics. I had a passion for it when I was younger and enjoyed opportunities like Missouri Boy’s State to learn more about our great country and how it worked. Yet as I’ve grown into adulthood the cynic in me has taken over and I’ve found myself bored with politics and have subsequently left the discussion up to those who were more passionate… until now.

pragmatism. principles. politics.jpg

Lets talk politics and Christianity for just a minute. There is this sentiment that one’s religion need not interfere with politics. That is the position of senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate and choice for Vice President. It’s also a very religious statement. It’s religious simply because he said he could do something with his religion… forget about it when he makes political decision.

Folks have turned this around to say that we should check our religion at the ballot box. They have said, in effect that THEY know better than ME on how to practice MY religion (tell me that’s not a religious statement)... But let’s be honest, Tim Kaine’s religion doesn’t permit him to do that, he does it in defiance, not compliance to the faith he claims. He claims to be Catholic and his Pope (or any Pope before him) hasn’t said “check your Catholicism at the ballot box“… His church has a long history of standing against abortion (One of the issues that Kaine holds personally and religiously but doesn’t let interfere with his political life).

All this chatter about checking your religion at the ballot box is an attempt to persuade you to embrace an otherwise unappealing candidate by ignoring a major disagreement you have with them. It should be seen as manipulative and underhanded. Politicians don’t get to define YOUR religious beliefs and you should not fault them for theirs (if you could find one that held their beliefs with any sincerity).

Now let’s talk Pragmatism (it IS in the title anyway). There are folks out there who will tell you that you have to vote a certain way because you don’t want Hillary to win or you don’t want Trump to win. This is where I think a lot of evangelical pastors and theologians have compromised their principles. I don’t mean that flippantly so let’s investigate pragmatism for a moment.

Pragmatism is the philosophy that whatever works is “right.” So in essence the “end” justifies the “means.” So practically speaking you might vote for a particular candidate to get a certain end such as, “prevent Trump from blowing us all up” or, to “prevent Hillary from appointing liberal activist judges to the supreme court.” You cast a vote for someone you dislike (means) in order to get a result that you will be pleased with (end).

The problem with pragmatism is that for the Christian, the means matter just as much as the end! This is why I said some of our pastors and theologians have compromised their principles… they have endorsed a corrupt means… voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. 

It is not as though we don’t have a guide for such situations. We have a Savior who was perfectly obedient, even where we would choose not to be. Can you imagine Jesus casting his ballot for Trump? How about Clinton? Would he choose the lesser of two evils? Is there another way?

There is another way. The way where the means matters just as much as the end. Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He was promised the world as his kingdom without the cross (end), all he had to do was worship the devil (means). Yet He rejected this and chose the cross out of obedience to God and the cross became the means by which you and I can be saved from our sins (end)!

You see, the silly thing about pragmatism is that when you apply it to something like politics, ethics, or religion it breaks down because as you change the means… you change the end. You won’t just prevent Hillary or Trump by voting for one against the other, you will also be endorsing Hillary or Trump.

Now let’s talk about Principles. Principles are those beliefs that you hold at the foundation of your being. You build your personal actions based off of your principles. If you are a Christian you have deeply held principles that will come up every election cycle. You have principles about life, marriage, poverty, justice, and more. Anyone who tells you to ignore your principles and vote for them is telling you that your principles don’t matter… and if you vote for them against your better judgement… your principles really don’t matter. But that was because YOU gave up your principles when you voted against your conscience.

Now you’re going to tell me that you are stuck. You have two options and you don’t like either one. You can’t vote for Hillary because well, you don’t need me to tell you, you’ve got tons of reasons. Now you know you also can’t vote for Trump, again you don’t need me to campaign for or against these folks. You’ve seen the media. You’ve formed your opinion… You don’t think you can go into the ballot box, cast a vote, and come out clean.

You do have another option.Vote based on your principles, even if this leads you to a third party candidate. You can vote for someone else. It may feel like you are throwing your vote away but in the last several elections nearly half of the people who voted, voted for a candidate who lost… You see that’s the thing…. Someone will lose! What if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they lose? You might be able to wash that off, but what if you vote for Hillary or Trump and they win? What will you tell your children when they ask? History won’t remember the loser only the winner. 

In a few weeks when we know who will be the next president I’m sure that God will still be on His throne!  However, the ballot box says just as much about our principles (or lack there of) as it does about the folks who are running for president.

Anyhow to those who asked. That is my 2 cents on this election. Hope it helps.

Appointing Faithful Leaders (Nehemiah 7:1-2)

Appointing Faithful Leaders (Nehemiah 7:1-2)

We all have mountaintop and valley experiences in life. When it comes to spiritual matters I’ve learned that shortly after the mountaintop moment there will be a time of temptation. I have to be more aware than ever after camps, conferences, or even weekly preaching where I have been sharing or learning life transforming truth from God’s Word. It will be those moments in which I think something great has been accomplished that I will find myself challenged.  It usually begins with the temptation to coast. We usually justify coasting because of everything we have been through or our tiredness after an event. I’ve learned though that this is the exact time I don’t need to coast and no matter how tired I am, I need to keep the routine that has drawn me near to God.

It is normal to experience a mountaintop moment like camp and think your world has changed and maybe your world has changed, but it won’t be different for long without some intentionality to help you get through the valley that follows the mountaintop.

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Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.(Nehemiah 7:1-2 ESV)

Nehemiah understood that once the wall was built, the work wasn’t over.  There was still more to do. Leaders needed to be appointed. The people were feeling good about themselves and the work that God had accomplished through them. However, Nehemiah realized that without Godly leadership in place, even a city with walls could fall prey to its surrounding enemies.

He makes appointments to watch and guard strategic places along the wall and in the city. Most importantly he places his brother, as someone he can trust, in charge of the city. This is both someone who will be a Godly leader and someone who won’t give in to the pressures of people like Sanballat and Tobiah.  Nehemiah knows that he has to leave and go back to the king. He had already made that promise.

Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip is cruel. It is what people who lack the physical strength or capacity to enforce their will resort to when all else fails. It’s what middle school girls do when they try and shame someone into conformity or to make themselves look better. It’s what boys do when they display their own insecurities in their words. They make idle threats through supposition and mindless chatter about someone else’s business. They assign their own motive, thoughts and emotions to the actions of another and call them into account.

 In reality gossip is just hot air designed to look and feel like fire. If you are not careful you will feel the brunt of it and think you were really burned, when the truth is, it has no power over you. It’s just idle breath and it says more about those who breath out such musings than those that are being spoken about. Sure in the moment it may seem like all eyes are on you, but know this that there will come a day when God will review every idle word that has ever been spoken (Matthew 12:36) and those who are guilty of gossip will give a full account.

Nehemiah was not above being gossiped about. When all else failed Sanballat resorted to gossip. He sent an open letter (meaning anyone could read the contents) to Nehemiah. In the letter he slander’s Nehemiah’s character and asks again for a meeting.

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And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. (Nehemiah 6:4-9 ESV)

So what is especially ironic about this letter is that Sanballat accuses Nehemiah of conspiring against the king. Then he asks for a meeting saying, “come let us take counsel together.” This was incredibly stupid on Sanballat’s part for the simple reason that if word ever got back to the king of this letter, it looks like Sanballat is wanting to make a plan with Nehemiah to rebel against the king. Indeed what was intended as slander for Nehemiah could very well be taken and used as evidence to convict Sanballat of treason! But don’t miss the point, that is what gossip does… in attempting to malign the character of someone else, it reveals the corrupt character of the one who is speaking, texting, writing, sharing!

So how does Nehemiah handle gossip? He prays, asks for God’s strength, and goes back to work. This takes incredible strength and trust on his part to know that God will take up his defense. Nehemiah knows he doesn’t need to waste his breath defending himself against lies.

Sometimes when we take up for ourselves, even though we are in the right, we look like we are in the wrong. Nehemiah gets that. He trusts God to sort this out. God will judge what has been said, God will handle those who have said it. In the mean times he has a wall to build.

Nehemiah 4:18-23

Nehemiah 4:18-23

This past year I took one of my former students to camp with me as a leader. He commented how his experience as a leader was different than his experience as a student. He had the blessing of being my roommate so not only did he get to hear me snore through the night but he quickly realized that being a leader meant that you go to bed later than everyone else, wake up earlier than everyone else, and spend yourself all throughout the day concerned with how everyone else is doing. This was the burden of leadership that he had never seen before.

Most people from the outside looking in see leaders as those who bark orders, make plans, and get stuff done. Sometimes there are “perks” of leadership like looking at a set of plans in an air conditioned office building while the rest of the crew works outside putting the plans together; most often though, the demands of leadership are those of sacrifice and service. It wasn’t any different for Nehemiah.

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 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.  (Nehemiah 4:18-23 ESV)

In this passage he puts the trumpeter right by his side and he lets the people know, “When you hear the sound of the trumpet, run to the sound because that is where the fighting will be.” This communicated two things. One, that they would be able to know where to go should they be attacked at some point. Two, that Nehemiah would be right at the front lines of battle. After all, the trumpeter was with him!

Then Nehemiah went a step further and requested all the people to say in town so they could keep watch at night. It would have been easy for Nehemiah to post watches and go to sleep. He could have still taken advantage of his positions and taken baths, had his clothes washed, and even dined on a fine meal, but instead of taking leisure while everyone else was puling double time, he makes sure that he and his attendants serve just like everyone else. He sets the example.

Nehemiah made a promise to his people that when danger came he would be the first one into battle and that when the days got long and tired because everyone was pulling over-time, he would be the last one to get a bath. This type of leadership is called servant leadership. It doesn’t boast, gloat, or rule over others in a proud way. The people Nehemiah had come to help were already being exploited by people like Sanballot and Tobiah; they needed someone to lead them who loved them.

When I read this about Nehemiah I can’t help but also think of Jesus the ultimate servant leader about who the Apostle Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV).

Nehemiah 4: 15-20

Nehemiah 4: 15-20

Offense and defense are the two major aspects of any great sport. On offense you want to score a goal or earn points for your team on defense you want the stop the other team from scoring on you or marking points against you. What is especially interesting are the sports where you have to play keen offense and defense at nearly the same time. In basketball the ball can be stolen or in football it can be intercepted and everyone who was on the field to play offense is all of the sudden playing defense.  Players who may not be defensive players are still trained in how to tackle others so that when the momentum shifts, they are ready to stand up for their team.

In Jerusalem they had reached a point where it was necessary to go on the offensive of building the wall while at the same time being ready to defend their position. They had to be ready with a sword in one hand while having a trowel in the other. Everyone had to be a dual position player. They had to take their turn at watching the wall and building the wall.

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When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” (Nehemiah 4:15-20 ESV)

There is wisdom with being prepared and moving ahead on two fronts like Nehemiah did. In the Christian life we will always be called to reach out to others, witness, and disciple folks in the name of Jesus, but we will also need to stand guard against temptation. We are all prone to give in at various times to various sinful desires that if we are not careful we will let the wall down.

What was really encouraging for the folks in Jerusalem and what I think can be encouraging for us as well is in verse 20 where Nehemiah says, “Our God will fight for us!”  This is true. In our stand against temptation and sin it is our God who has fought for us. It is He who went to the cross and died for our sins and freed us from the power of sin and darkness. It is our God who lives in side of us as the Holy Spirit choosing our bodies as His temple. Placing his seal over us.

You may feel discouraged in the fight today and maybe you feel week when it comes to standing against temptation, but remember this; Our God will fight for us! So stand strong on the wall with your sword in one hand ready to resist the attacks of the enemy and with your trowel in the other hand building up the wall that God has called you too.

It is not what you say, but what you do that matters (Nehemiah 4: 6)

It is not what you say, but what you do that matters (Nehemiah 4: 6)

We just recently saw the 2016 summer Olympics. One of my favorite moments of the Olympics was when South African Swimmer Chad Le Clos’ taunted Michael Phelps. If you don’t know Michael Phelps has won lots of gold medals in swimming over the last several Olympics, he is the man to beat in the pool. It wasn’t just Le Clos’ shadow boxing in front of Phelps that brought a spark to the event it was some of the things he had said before everyone even got to Rio that made this an interesting rivalry. Le Clos’ was out to take down Phelps and his strategy involved trash talking and taunting.

What was really interesting was Phelps response. He just stared. It was a mean stare, no doubt, but it was just a stare. He didn’t say anything back. He didn’t engage in the trash talk. When it was his turn he just got in the pool and beat everyone to win another gold medal. You see Phelps knew something; you can talk all you want, but it’s what you actually do that matters.

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Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. (Nehemiah 4:4-6 ESV)

Nehemiah does something similar here. He has heard the trash talk from Sanballat and Tobiah. He has prayed to God. He knows he is on the right path. There is no reason to respond with words. The only reaction is with action. He, along with all the people of Jerusalem went right on rebuilding the wall. They didn’t have time to stop.  Shouting back wouldn’t have accomplished anything.

There will be those who come along who will attempt to discourage you from doing the Lord’s work. They will tell you all the ways you are doing it wrong and why it can’t be done. They are experts at trash talking. They will attempt to cause you to fear what they might do, using intimidation as a tactic. Remember though that when it comes to doing the Lord’s work that He will defend His name, we only need to put one foot in front of the other and keep on carrying out the mission.

After the two swimmers got in the pool and the race began someone’s camera caught a picture of the pair near the end. Phelps was winning and he was facing forward looking towards the finish wall. De Clos’ was behind looking across the lane watching Phelps win.

For me the pictures serves as a sober reminder that if Lord has given you something to do, do it with all your might and don’t waste time trash talking or trying to figure out what someone else is doing.