The LIFE TRANSFORMING Lesson I Discovered While Reading a List of Names in the Bible!

Have you ever caught yourself reading through the Bible and you come to a long list of names and you think, “Do I still get credit if I skip these? There are a few passages in the scripture that can make you pause and wonder if there is really anything to be gained by reading a particular list of hard to pronounce biblical names? (Before you comment… I know all about the genealogy of Jesus and the four women mentioned there as well as characters of biblical  significance.) I’m talking about the lists in the Old Testament where someone’s name is mentioned once and never seen or heard from again! Places where we have NO history other than a name thrown in among dozens if not hundreds of other names. To be honest, I never doubted that these lists were scripture and were profitable some way, but I figured that I didn’t have the biblical chops to know exactly who Nephishesim was and why his name was in the bible. But then I messed up…

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I told a bunch of students that we would go chapter by chapter through the book of Nehemiah! I had read Nehemiah dozens of times, but I always skipped the long list of names, therefore I forgot that Nehemiah chapter seven actually contains a long list of names! (It takes up over two whole pages and four columns in my bible!) So there I was, stuck with a commitment to go through this book chapter by chapter and I came to chapter seven and I had to prepare a message for our students or eat crow and explain that I had forgotten about this chapter or worse, I would have to admit that I was in over my head. I firmly held then (and even more so now)  that ALL Scripture is, “God-Breathed and useful” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)but this put it to the test.

I stared blankly at the text. I begged God. I looked up name meanings realizing that perhaps this was a stretch. I asked “Why?” a whole lot. When I was about to give up… He Spoke through the names!

They were there, because they mattered! I know, simple right? These people were listed because they were there! In this instance, they were there building a wall with Nehemiah. Then it hit me, the book might have Nehemiah’s name as the title, but it was just as much about the faithful who responded to his leadership. These folks weren’t only witnesses, they were participants.

I realized a two things:

  1. God cares about people.
  2. It’s incredibly good leadership take time to recognize and remember the work of the people you lead.

I still can’t pronounce half the names on that list, but I know this, seeing their name has impacted me and changed the way I lead. Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to tell them that God used a list with their name on it to bless me! Until then, I write thank you notes, applaud and do my best to encourage everyone who participates in the life of our church. After all, these people belong to God! I may be the leader up front at our church, but I am not the only one serving God.

So today I am thankful for a long list of names in the bible because it helps me really see the people around me.

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

It’s not about counting people as much as realizing that people counted (Nehemiah 7)

I get what it’s like to be exhausted as a leader, but a leader must never forget the people he is leading. I once had a leader tell me that, “I don’t have time to train you and all these other people.” It was the moment he forfeited his leadership. To be sure, he was still a leader and he still had my respect, but he had forfeited the very point of leadership… moving people.  We all lose focus sometimes.  The temptation of leadership is to consider our path and place as greater than the people we lead. The reality is that we cannot be leaders if people are not willing to follow. It serves us well to remember that those who follow in the darkest of times all have their own stories of calling and sacrifice.

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is remembering all the people who have helped along the way. Nehemiah takes a moment to review the record and note in his account that the people who built the wall and staffed the city had names. At first glance Nehemiah chapter 7 looks like just a long list of names and numbers, but names reflect something more than just another number to be counted… these are people counted.

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Each person listed had a story to tell about their family, their life, and why they felt called back to Jerusalem and Judah. Each person listed had a choice to make on whether to stay where they were or to travel back to their homeland. Each person made sacrifices; I’m sure both financial and social in order to fulfill their calling. Which brings up an interesting point, Nehemiah couldn’t have rebuilt the wall alone, God had called THESE people, back to His city, at this time, to accomplish the task of rebuilding the wall! So while the whole book may not be named after them and while they certainly didn’t write it with their pen, their names still show up because they did help write the story with their lives and a great leader never forgets that his life story is tied to hundreds if not thousands of other life stories.

If you are a leader it may or may not come naturally to you to think about all the people along the way that you lead but if not, take a moment today and write a few thank you notes, send out a few text messages, write down the names of the people who have sacrificed along the way and pray over them. Take time to make sure that the people you lead count for more than just names than on a roll that add up to numbers.

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.

Who Gives You Advice? (Nehemiah 6:10-14)

Who Gives You Advice?  (Nehemiah 6:10-14)

One of my favorite things I get to do as a youth pastor is train volunteers to help lead in our ministry. We have an extensive handbook with policies, procedures, etc. I interview folks to get their background, their testimony and their reason for wanting to serve in student ministry. We really do try hard to make sure the people we put forward as leaders offer sound advice.

It wouldn’t go well for youth leaders to listen to students and share terrible advice like, “You should dishonor your parents.” (a HUGE NO-NO in our Student ministry because of… well the BIBLE). You couldn’t be a youth leader very long at our church sharing these types of opinions because not only are they just opinions but they actually contradict what we know to be true from God’s word.

This scenario brings up a great question; what do you do when someone who is in a spiritual leadership position suggests you do something that you know is wrong? You wouldn’t think it would happen, but it happens more often than you would think. I tell our students all the time, “Don’t take my word for it, read your bible, and know for yourself.”

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Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid (Nehemiah 6:10-14 ESV)

Nehemiah goes to visit a man by the name of Shemaiah who it appears is a prophet. This man has the credibility of speaking for God. He has respect in the community. He is someone that Nehemiah should be able to trust for good advice. We all need advice from time to time, especially leaders. Nehemiah listens to what Shemaiah has to say and immediately drawn back because Shemaiah advises him to do something that would break one of God’s laws.

Shemaiah wants Nehemiah to go hide in the temple. Not only would this be a cowardly thing to do, it would be a violation of God’s law! Only priests were supposed to be in the temple in such a way as was suggested. Shemaiah had been hired to give Nehemiah bad advice. If Nehemiah went in the temple not only would he have sinned against God, but he would have discredited himself as a leader.   Fortunately Nehemiah has a heart to honor God more than to save his own neck and so he rejects the advice of this false prophet.

I wish the church didn’t have any Shemaiah’s in it today, but the truth is that there are a lot of hucksters on TV and other places that are willing to take money in exchange for lying to you. They will give you all sorts of advice that sounds great on the outside, but will ultimately destroy you. The only way to protect yourself from listening to bad advice is to know God’s will by knowing God’s word.

Danger of Devilish Distractions (Nehemiah 6:1-3)

Danger of Devilish Distractions (Nehemiah 6:1-3)

Several years ago one of our presidents lowered the bar and made it possible for faith based ministries to receive government funding to aid in their addiction and recovery programs. Up to this point many of these ministries had been self-sustaining in that they raised money through donations, thrift stores, local church partnerships, and even fees for those who could afford it. I know of one ministry who jumped at the chance to receive government funding and set out to enlarge the tent of their ministry. However as administrations changed so did the rules that accompanied the funding and this particular ministry was put into the difficult decision of either watering down their curriculum or losing funding that they had come to depend on. The end result was that ministry centers were shut down and many of the people who depended on them were turned over to other ministries or back to their own devices.

The slow fade of this once vibrant ministry serves as a diligent reminder that it matters who you partner with to accomplish the work that God has called you to. There will be some folks along the way who offer to help you, but when understood clearly their offer to help is actually an offer to destroy you from the inside. It is during these times that leadership matters the most. It can be hard to turn down help, but help from the wrong source can lead to destruction.

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Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:1-3 ESV)

When they found out that they couldn’t intimidate Nehemiah, Sanballat and Geshem attempted to sidetrack Nehemiah with the offer of a meeting. They proposed a meeting place that would have been about equal distance for them and Nehemiah to travel, but would have also taken a day away from building the wall. Their goal was to remove Nehemiah from Jerusalem and perhaps sow seeds of discord while he was gone, or spread rumors about him, or perhaps even to kill him.

Nehemiah realizes that their character hasn’t changed overnight and that they are up to no good. He knows they don’t have his best interest at heart. A deal with Sanballat would ultimately come back to haunt him. So Nehemiah doesn’t even hesitate and tells them. The work I’m doing is too important. I can’t come down and deal with you right now.

This is an old tactic of the Devil. He would offer us his help, but his help always comes with a cost. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with what appeared to be helps. He offered him bread for his hunger, a way to prove he was the messiah, and even all the kingdoms of the world without the cross. Of course all he asked was that Jesus betray all of Heaven and worship him (Matthew 4:1-11).

It matters who you partner up with. Some partnerships will cost you more than they will help you. Nehemiah chose to stay engaged with those working on the wall rather than seeking outside help from some shady characters. Sometimes what you are doing is so important that you can’t risk it by partnering with the wrong type of folks.

Do you Care more for comfort or for People? (Nehemiah 5:14-19)

Do you Care more for comfort or for People? (Nehemiah 5:14-19)

There was a moment when our church wasn’t doing so well financially. The finance team brought forward a suggestion that we challenge the church to raise their individual levels of giving by 1% to reach our church budget goal. There was much discussion on the matter and then it was placed before a congregational vote. As I considered the weight of these matters in my heart I couldn’t help but imagine what a difference an increase in our personal giving by 1% would mean for our family. In my head all I could think about was a new TV and some furniture we had bought the year before. I realized that we could live on 1% less to ensure that our church was able to fulfill its gospel purpose. It came down to a choice between our personal comfort and caring for others. Thankfully we chose to become a little uncomfortable in order to care for others.

Nehemiah has a similar opportunity before him. Though for him it’s not a choice in what he will give, but in what he will take. The governors before him were given extravagant food allowances that the local people had to provide. They would eat the best of everything in the land while the people who provided the food often had to settle for meager rations. It was so bad that the servants of the governor would have eaten better than some of the people providing the food. Nehemiah had a choice to make. Would he take this perk of the job and enjoy it or would he remove this burden from the people and therefore have to provide food for his court from his own estate?

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Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people. (Nehemiah 5:14-19 ESV)

Nehemiah chose to carry the burden rather than place anything more on the people. Nehemiah cared more about the welfare of the people than he did about what he might get from them. This is an important aspect of leadership. People begrudgingly follow leaders who take from them, but they will adore leaders who care more about the people than they do about what they can get.

Think about those who have come along side and helped you to this point in the journey. How can you help and encourage them along way? How can you make sure that you are giving them more than you are taking from them?

When Money is God, People Suffer (Nehemiah 5:1-5)

When Money is God, People Suffer (Nehemiah 5:1-5)

People fall on hard times. Sometimes there is a fatal error on their part such as mishandling money, sometimes it is due to circumstances such as cutbacks at work, etc. But there is no doubt that people fall on hard times. When folks have fallen on difficult times for whatever reason, they are vulnerable to exploitation. Someone with a little bit of cash can offer to make their situation temporarily better, the only problem is most often cash flows into these situations as a high interest loan rather than a gift.

Sometimes the folks doing the “helping” are just helping themselves rather than truly helping their neighbors in need. What seems like a solution can actually create a worse problem. Folks who needed a little help to get up end up being held down by that hand the was extended to them. This is how part of the cycle of poverty works.

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Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”(Nehemiah 5:1-5 ESV)

Building the wall was a hardship. It took people away from farming their fields and raising crops (their primary source of income). In essence they had to quit paying jobs in order to work a non-paying job. It also seems that when they stepped back from farming there was also a famine in the land which caused the price of food and other things to soar.

This created a situation where folks who had money could buy land and labor cheaper than before and those who didn’t have much had to sell what they had at rock bottom prices. It created a culture of exploitation that kept the rich people rich and the poor people poor. In this passage there are four groups of people.

  1. Those who had to borrow money to eat.
  2. Those who mortgaged their property to eat
  3. Those who couldn’t pay the taxes on the property and had sold their children into slavery
  4. Their fellow countrymen who had used this as an opportunity to gain land, money, and possessions rather than help out their neighbors in need.

Can you imagine your neighbors being in extreme need, even to the point of selling their children and you have enough money to help, but rather than giving them a gift you give them a high interest loan? Not only were the people of Jerusalem open to exploitation by those from outside the city, they were being taken advantage of by their own people! It got so bad that verse one says even the wives were crying out! This was uncommon for women to speak up in the public forum, but when enough has become enough the voice of reason will be heard even if it has to come from unconventional means.