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.


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.

The Difference Between Dreamers and Doers (Nehemiah 2:5-8)

Do you know the difference between dreamers and doers? Dreamers have brilliant ideas about how to shape and influence the world. They may have a great idea for a new invention, product or ministry. They have passion, they have drive, but ultimately many dreamers fizzle out because they are never able to get out of the dream stage. So again, I ask, do you know the difference between dreamers and doers? …A well thought out plan.

Most dreams die on the drawing board, not the launch pad, because dreamers seldom ever take the time necessary to develop a strategy to see their dream become a reality. They imagine what it would be like if they had a certain budget, or enough folks, or the right kind of equipment but they never sit down and assemble a plan to get there. Rather than estimating costs, assembling a budget, and pulling others on board,  the dream dies because nothing substantial ever gets put down on paper, much less in the hands of someone who can help make the dream a reality.


And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. (Nehemiah 2:5-8 ESV)

Nehemiah has a specific plan. The king basically asks, “What do you plan to do?” and Nehemiah comes back with specific requests for letters of endorsement from the king. (Basically he asked for building permits and supplies to build the wall.) It’s important to note that if Nehemiah hadn’t already been thinking through about what the next steps would be that when he had such a huge opportunity he would have blown it by just sharing a dream.  It’s at this moment that having a plan ready to go is what turned Nehemiah into a doer and not just a dreamer.

Do you have dreams about the gospel impacting your school and your community? Do you imagine or dream that you could lead your lost friends to Christ? My next question for you is simple… What’s the plan?

  • Map your Neighborhood
  • Learn the Names of the Students in your Math Class
  • Establish goals like meeting all of your neighbors, or learning who else is a Christian at school, or setting up a 501c3

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

As I teach younger men and women how to relay biblical messages one of the key things we focus on is building a bridge between the text and context. By that I mean we hold in tension the Truth of the scripture along with a keen awareness of the people in the audience. The natural tendency is to default to one or the other. You will either be so immersed in the text that you ignore the people you are presenting to or you will be so immersed in cultural context that you will ignore the depth of biblical truth in front of you. The two must relate because at the end of the day you are hoping to impress the truth of scripture into the lives of individuals and groups in modern context. Make no mistake, the scripture is the source of Truth and the audience is in need of Truth.

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

In the preparation process, after I have done some study and feel like I have the basic understanding of the text, I like to build the bridge by asking myself a simple question: “What is the problem to solve?” 

When my son was going to preschool we used to tell each other stories on the way to school. I’ll be honest, his stories stunk. Mostly because there wasn’t anything WRONG. The whole story was a happily ever after kind of deal. So I started coaching him on how to tell a story. I told him that every good story has a “problem to solve.It could be a relationship to heal, an enemy to fight, a fear to overcome, etc… but there needed to be a problem otherwise there was NO story, just information. 

I think some people sit bored in their chairs because the speaker hasn’t presented them with a problem. I know that if you are speaking out of the Bible that there will always be a problem to solve, if not immediately in the context of a story (such as getting God’s people out of bondage in Egypt), it will be in the overarching theological theme of a passage (Your sin separates you from God, you can’t overcome that on your own, you need a mediator… I can’t leave this hanging, his name is JESUS).

I know it sounds simplistic right? But it really does help me to set up how I will bridge between the text and the culture or the culture and the text. When coming from the text, “Sin” will always seem to be that problem to solve. But sin looks like a lot of different things and each text will highlight a different aspect of sin, or how it causes a separation from God, or how we are incapable of dealing with it on our own, or how people have tried to deal with sin and failed, etc. So while it may be simplistic to answer, “sin,” it is helpful to explore that element a moments and use it to build tension at the beginning of your message.

Sometimes I will begin with a personal story, “there was a time in my life that I couldn’t forgive this guy…” and let it go from there into the text, “But listen to what Jesus says about forgiveness

Sometimes I will share a more general statement like, “What do you do when everyone around you is screaming at you to do something like, ‘fight! fight! fight!’? You know that if you fight, you have given into the crowd and if you don’t, everyone is going to call you a ‘chicken’ and laugh at you.” Then I move into the text from there: “Today I want to look at a similar situation in the scripture where Jesus encountered a crowd who was pressing in and trying to trick him, instead of saying ‘fight! fight! fight!, they threw a woman out into the way and said they had caught her in the very act of…

By putting the problem to solve at the forefront of your presentation you are showing the audience right off the bat that what you have to say matters to them, it applies to their life, they are a part of this now and in the end when you call for some sort of response to the preaching or teaching of God’s Word… It will make sense to either accept or reject what you have said. There is a huge difference between sharing information and showing a man his problem and providing the solution.


A Must Read for Christian Parents

Rock-Solid KIDS by Larry Fowler is a must read for Christian parents, Children ministry directors, Pastors and even youth pastors.  The book outlines a Biblical premise for ministry to children starting in the home and supplemented by the church.  The book is full of biblical wisdom and key insights.

The author didn’t share anything new or unfamiliar to me as a father, but did reaffirm several things my wife and I have sought to do as parents. That being said, I do highly recommend this book for three reasons:  It is brief, It is well written, and It contains the best chapter on sharing the gospel with children that I have ever read.

The book is only 142 pages, yet it packs punch.  You won’t find any wasted words or long diatribes.  Author Larry Fowler has done an outstanding job of  keeping the message simple and straightforward. The 8th chapter on sharing the gospel with children is one of the clearest and most straightforward I have ever read.  The 8th chapter alone is worth the market price of the book.  As a parent I’m grateful to our Minister to children for putting it in my hands.

I  highly recommend Rock-Solid KIDS to anyone who has influence in the lives of kids.  I can see it being especially helpful and encouraging for parents and ministers to children. The retail price is $17.99 (hardcover), and is available around the web in places like Amazon.com for $14.03.  I gave it five stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Book Every Young Pastor in a Small Church Needs to Read

Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell is a must read for any young pastor leading a congregation in rural America!  I was deeply blessed by almost every page in this book and even a little humbled.  Having grown up in rural churches and having many friends who are pastoring rural churches I can testify that Shannon has hit the mark.  What you will find with this book is a no-nonsense, practical, count-the-cost design for much needed change in many of our rural churches.  Shannon knows from first hand experience the cost of bringing change and leading a dying church back to vibrant health and he has a story to tell.

Throughout Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon tells the story of how he was called by God from being on staff at a large church to pastoring a small South Side Baptist Church in an 88 resident town in Arkansas.  Over the last six years God has blessed Shannon to be at the forefront of change in rural America to reach people with the gospel.  Today Shannon’s church, now renamed, Brand New Church reaches out to thousands of people each week through multiple campuses. Shannon’s passion to reach rural America at any cost is contagious.  Note this quote from the book…

As far as too many soldiers have shown us, it takes great personal sacrifice to willingly enter a conflict.  But if we are to fulfill our vision, we have no other choice.  It’s change, conflict, growth; change, conflict, growth; and you have to walk through that process.  It happens on a personal level every time we see someone freed from a massive addiction. The person makes a change, then there is a major conflict, but then there is unbelievable growth. It’s the same with church; we must go through change and then conflict in order to see growth. Nobody told me that before I went to rural America.  but it’s part of the game – one of the rules you will have to abide by play after play. When conflict comes most rural pastors give up on change. It’s just too hard. What can we do? We must be resolved to conflict in its many forms; we must pick our battles carefully, and we must choose which hills we are willing to die on- just as Jesus chose Golgotha. (page 81-82).

I highly recommend Transforming Church in Rural America.  In fact if you are considering a call to pastor a small church or a church in rural America, its a must read.  You won’t find this kind of transparency and passion for rural churches anywhere else. The retail price is $12.99 (hardcover), and is available around the web in places like Amazon.com for $10.39. I gave it four stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of the BookSneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The BOY who CHANGED the WORLD by Andy Andrews (review)

The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews is a large hardback children’s book based on the inspirational gift book The Butterfly EffectThe Boy Who Changed the World is about how every life and every person make a difference in lives of others.  The book is well written and the graphics certainly caught the attention of my four-year-old. The story only takes a few minutes to read and shares an inspiring message of hope.

The actual story of the book follows a chain of events back to a few significant moments in a few individuals lives that eventually lead to the feeding of over 2-billion people.  Its a great story for children to be inspired by and great for parents who are hoping to inspire their kids to attempt great things.  The message is clear and concise… You make a difference.

This is a great book to give the children in your life and read with them over and over.  The retail price is $16.99 (Hardcover), and is available at a discount at Amazon.com for $11.55. I gave it five stars.

Children book reviews

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of the BookSneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    3 Things You Should Know About My Mom

    I haven’t always been the best son.  I have a better mom than I deserve.  She has been and continues to be a great mom.  I’m all grown up now, but I will never miss a chance to get one of her hugs.  Next to my dad she has had more influence on my life than anyone else.  There are 3 things she does with her influence that radically shapes my life.

    1. She Prays for Me

    Growing up I remember that she prayed for me in family devotional time.  I also remember passing by my parents room and hearing my parents pray for all of us children.  I remember as a teenager coming home drunk one night and passing by her room and hearing her call out to God on my behalf.  One time she got with some ladies and asked God to birth a desire in me and provide a way for me to go back to school (and He did). I wasn’t there, but I’m sure my mom prayed for me before I was born (maybe even before I was conceived).  I believe God answers prayers, I’ve seen Him answer my mothers time and time again.  I am thankful for a mother who asked God for me and clung to promises when I was in the midst of rebellion.  I haven’t always been the best son.

    2. She leads me to love the Bible

    I remember a kids devotional book with a raccoon on the front (I don’t have a clue why a raccoon was on a kids devotional book).  My mom made sure that in addition to our family devotional time that I began to develop a daily time in Gods word through the aide of this little book.  Later it would be the purchase of an “encounter” teen bible complete with devotionals in the back.  It was in this Bible that I would first document that I thought God might be calling me into ministry.

    Beyond equiping me, she was in God’s word every morning too.  Often getting up early to read the bible and do her woman’s devotionals.  I remember several mornings waking up to use the bathroom and find my mom in the living room spending time reading her bible.  I knew she wanted me to get in the habit of reading God’s Word because she was in the habit.  I have a better mom than I deserve.

    3. She speaks truth

    Several times my mother has spoken with a prophet’s voice in my life.  The time I remember the most was the 16 hour car ride down to college.  She knew I was going into student ministry and took a moment to challenge me.  She said, “Jon, there are a lot of student ministries that are built around games and just hanging out, don’t lead one of those student ministries.  You teach the word.  Love people enough to tell them about Jesus.”  I really took her advice and a study of God’s word is what ultimately brought me to my own true conversion and trust in Christ.

    I can imagine that there were countless times as I was growing up that my mom was biting her lip wondering If I would get it.  If I would really listen.  If I would receive the blessings she was giving me.  I am sure there were times that she felt like she was defeated.  I was a very strong willed child.  But she has always had the last say.  Her words even now hang in the air and influence me long after she has said them.  She has been and continues to be a great mom.

    She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: (Proverbs 31:26-28 ESV)

    Communicating with Children:4 Tips for Hearing What Your Kids Have to Say

    Last week I posted that I needed your help on a project and promised that this week I would share more of my notes.  I was leading a short small group session on communicating with children and many of you weighed in with great comments and encouragement.

    4 tips for Hearing what your kids have to say

    1. Hugs & High fives or other forms affirmation

    Physically affirming and appropriate touch is very important to express that you are a safe and will listen.  Some children crave this kind of attention more than others and really receive love well through simple things like hugs, high fives, fist pounds, etc.  This often works better at some ages than others as well.

    I hug my daughter (4 year old) before and after every round of discipline and am always available for a hug.  I want her to know that even though she has been disobedient that she has not removed herself from my love. (the other side of this is that she needs to know she is being disciplined for being disobedient.  Being emotionally unavailable is not a good form of punishment… ie your children shouldn’t fear getting yelled at or pushed away because you are angry.  But that’s a whole nother blog post.)

    On the days that I get home before bed time I try and spend 30 minutes to an hour holding each one of my children.  With my daughter (4 years old), she shares about here day and I share about mine and I read her a few books.  With my son (4 months old) I feed him and hold him up smiling at him and tell him what he is doing (teaching him to communicate).

    2. Eye contact & other physical cues to let them know you are listening

    Put away distractions and look your child in the eye when they are talking.  This may involve getting down on their level or picking them up to yours.  This may also involve turning off the T.V., turning away from the computer and putting the phone down.  Let your child know that they have your best attention when they speak.

    Due to the nature of my job this is a little difficult to do.  I answer the phone when people are in crisis and stay up long hours writing paper for my graduate classes or sermon notes.  When I know I am busy I give my daughter 3 “tickets” that are anytime tickets for her to come see me.  She can interrupt what I’m doing for any reason, but she needs a ticket.  She usually burns the first two in a matter of minutes, but holds the last one until I’m through with my phone call or take a break from writing.

    I also take her to McDonalds once a week for breakfast.  She looks forward to this “date” all week long.  I put away my phone and talk with her all morning about the stuff that is important in her life.  If all else fails she has at least one hour of uninterrupted special “daddy time” each week where she has my undivided attention.

    My Son (again 4 months)  is a little less understanding, but I try and spend intentional time with him letting him explore my face with his hands and watching my mouth move as I talk.  He needs to know he has my undivided attention.

    3. Ask good questions

    One great way to show that you are listening and value what your child is saying is to ask good questions.  When your child is old enough to make choices about particular things ask them why they made that choice.  We just signed my daughter up for dance a month ago and so she will be telling me dance… so I’ll ask her, “what was your favorite part about dance?” Notice that this isn’t a “yes,” “no,” “good,” or “bad” question.  I didn’t ask, “so how was dance today?”  I intentionally asked an open ended question designed to get her to share more about world.

    4. Rephrase to make sure you know what they are saying.

    Rephrasing helps your child to know you understand what they are saying.  For example my daughter may say, “I have two dance teachers mrs. ___________ and _____________.”  I will say back to her, “wow, so you have two dance teachers not just ______________, Mrs. _______________ is in there too?” In fact in my house if I don’t rephrase for my daughter she will carry on the conversation by rephrasing for me until she feels I have sufficiently gotten the message.

    It can also be great to have your child tell you what you just told them.  You might be surprised how many times they say, “yes, ma’am” or “sir” and they don’t know what you are talking about because you have used a word that is not their vocabulary.  Often times when I do this with Rebekah I have her repeat the new word to me and I explain it to her until she can explain it to me.