Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

One of my favorite books is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. One of my favorite scenes is when Christian sees the Celestial City from a distance. He is excited and ready with anticipation to enter the city and see his King, yet on this last leg of the journey he meets an old friend who came in by a different way and as they approach the gate he sees that his friend doesn’t get to enter the city because he didn’t come through the wicket gate like Christian did. This last bit is sobering and it reminds me that many can put on a good front, but only those who are qualified in Christ get to enter into Heaven and those who reject him have rejected his Kingdom as well.

Today in Nehemiah we see something similar as Nehemiah seeks out qualified people to fill the city of Jerusalem. The key word there is qualified. You had to be from the city and from the people of Judah to live in the city. It was a big deal. The right credentials got you a city address. The wrong credentials got you kicked out of the city… it mattered.

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The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

We don’t place much emphasis on land these days but generations ago people were tied to geography. It mattered where you came from, even if you weren’t born there, it was “home.” Such was the case for Jerusalem. Many of the people who had come back weren’t born in Jerusalem. They didn’t have memories of growing up in Jerusalem. At best they may have had some old stories shared by their parents or grandparents about what life was like in Jerusalem before an invading army had come in and carried the people off into captivity. They were told to pray for the peace of the city where they found themselves (Jeremiah 29:7), but they never forgot that they really belonged back in Jerusalem. So when the time came and they were free to go back, many did!

I think the image of having a home that you have never seen is a beautiful image of what heaven is like for the Christian. We know that we live this life as aliens and exiles (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13-16) from the one true city that we have yet to see. We are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven. We haven’t seen it yet, but we have heard about it and we can’t wait to get there. Unlike Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem will already have walls and gates (Revelation 21:12), but just like in the day of Nehemiah this New Jerusalem is incomplete without its people.

Just like in Nehemiah’s day, you had to belong to the city before you could become a resident. There will be many who think they belong in Heaven but find out at the last moment that they were never citizens to begin with (Matthew 7:19-21). Jesus told us that the only way to get to God the Father and by consequence the Celestial City in which he reigns was to come through Him (John 14:6).

Disappointment from the Inside (Nehemiah 6:15-19)

Disappointment from the Inside (Nehemiah 6:15-19)

Leadership is more of a burden than a reward most days. Somebody has got to do something and so you stand up to lead. You have a vision of things should be and how to get there. You spend your days and nights in earnest labor, rallying the troops, lifting spirits, encouraging people to do the right thing and then finally you see success is on the horizon. Yet, even in the midst of success there are often moments of disappointment.

Sometimes it is the people inside our circle that can disappoint us the most. We’ve trusted them, leaned on them and counted them as friends. Yet, we find they have a propensity to tolerate the untolerable and it is not because they are more inclusive than we are, it is simply for something as petty as an economic or social advantage.

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So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid. (Nehemiah 6:15-19 ESV)

 

Even Nehemiah faced the discouragement of betrayal among some of his leaders. He had to listen to folks talk about how good Tobiah was even while Tobiah was busy trying to tear down Jerusalem’s walls. He also had them constantly running off and telling Tobiah everything he said and did. Despite this seeming incongruity with his people, Nehemiah was able to lead his people to rebuild the wall in only 52 days!

It amazes me how little people have changed over the thousands of years since the events of Nehemiah occurred. In our churches today we have those who come in as wolves in sheep’s clothing who would love nothing more than for the church to run according to their style and preferences and we have those in the church who tolerate them. Many churches are little different than a country club operating on the “good-ole-boy” system and many truly godly leaders have been run out because they couldn’t endorse ungodliness in their midst.

 

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.

Nehemiah 4:10-14

Nehemiah 4:10-14

There is something energizing about the beginning of an adventure or project. You start out with all kinds of energy and gusto ready to take on all the challenges that lie ahead. You know that it won’t always be easy sailing, but you are ready for whatever comes. There is a sense of what it could be like; how the world or at least you little corner of it, will be different when it’s all said and done. You are spurred on by hearing success stories of other people in other places and you ask yourself, “why not here? Why not now?” You set your hand to the work and it the motivation comes easy.

Then somewhere in the middle as things begin to take shape you realize that the finished product may look different than your dream. The days seem to get longer when there is hard work to do and shorter when there are deadlines to meet. You find yourself wondering if you should just quit. You have met the resistance! Resistance is that inward voice that tries to get you to throw in the towel early and quit. It’s the part of you that says that it can’t be done. It’s the part that says you have done enough. It’s the little voice that says you gave it a good run or somebody else can take it from here.

Lots of people fade out half way through because of that little internal voice of resistance. They quit early. They miss seeing the mission completed NOT because the enemy outside was too great, but because they gave ear to a voice from the inside that said to quit.

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In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:10-14 ESV)

As Nehemiah was finding out, sometimes the greatest obstacles to success don’t come from outside the walls the come from voices inside. The progress was challenged by the internal voices of resistance. The people were talking to one another wondering if they could really get the wall completed with the materials they had on hand. They were already half way there (Nehemiah 4:6) but they were struggling to see the vision of how the other half would come together.

So what do you do when it’s the voice inside telling you to quit? You remember God! Look again at verse Nehemiah 4:14. He doesn’t give a long drawn out speech about duty, or honor, or anything like that. He goes straight to the point. He says, “Remember the great and awe inspiring Lord.” In other words he reminds the people that they didn’t call themselves into this battle. They didn’t start the ruckus. They didn’t even attempt to rebuild the wall in their own strength. This is of the Lord! If God had lead them there he would lead them through.

I don’t know where you are in your fight against resistance but there is only one place to go when the voice inside your head telling you to quit becomes almost deafening. You have to take it to the one who called you to the task in the beginning. Take it to the Lord! Remind yourself of who He is, what He has done, and that if He has called you to this, it will be accomplished! Spend sometime today reflecting on who God is. One of the passages that helps me reflect on the mightiness of God is Psalm 115.

Philippians 4:1-5 (Devotional Thought)

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (Philippians 4:1-5 ESV)

The Apostle Paul reminds the church at Philippi that the loves them. He wants to be with them. That’s part of why he wrote this letter. He couldn’t be there, but he could still encourage them by writing. He wants them (and us) to take what he has written seriously. This is God’s word to the church. He challenges believers in light of everything he has written to “stand firm.”

I grew up in Montana. The Rocky Mountains range was just an hours drive from our house and so often we would go explore various parts of the mountains. I remember one time we set out to cross a broad river. It didn’t look intimidating because it wasn’t very deep, but the water was ice cold (it was fed from melting glaciers) and at the time the current was very strong. When I entered the river I panicked because I didn’t expect so much pressure from the current but after a while I was able to get my footing and cross the river.

When Paul says to “stand firm” it’s like resisting that current that I came across in the river. It requires diligence and attention. You can’t just read the scriptures and hope that’s enough. We now have to be intentional about trusting God through the middle of our lives. Their will always be a strong current of popular opinion, feelings, or other ideas about how we should do things. We will feel pressure to give in and go another route and that’s why Paul encourages us to stand firm in the “Lord.” We need his strength to withstand everything we are facing.

Paul makes an immediate practical application. He talks about two women there in the church “Euodia” and Syntyche” who have apparently had a serious disagreement. It would be easy to let the disagreement separate them. Indeed all over the world people get upset with one another for various things and friendships die everyday. The difference for these two women is that they both love Jesus. They’ve both partnered together for the sake of the gospel. So when conflict arises and it seems like they can’t work it out between themselves, Paul calls in reinforcements to help them work through their difficulties. Sometimes it takes a third party to help things work out.

In our culture we don’t like to seek people out and make amends. We somehow think that if enough time passes or if we start smiling like nothing was every wrong then the broken relationship will mend itself… seldom does that ever work.

One of the best conversations I’ve ever had was approaching someone who was mad at me. I was so nervous about talking things out because I already knew how they felt. Yet, when we sat down to talk and I expressed a desire for Jesus to be lifted up more than a desire to be right, we had a great conversation. I ended up confessing my sin to them and they confessed sin to me. We forgave each other and became better friends in Jesus because of it.
Do you have a strained relationship with another believer that you need to straight?

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Balancing Ministry And Family (Part 1:Children)

My dad was a pastor and church planter while I was growing up.  He would often work a regular job, pastor a small church, and do a bible study and some ground work in a community or ranch (sometimes up to 60 miles away) that would lead to a church plant.  Needless to say he was busy.  (Oh, and I forgot to mention there were four of us kids, all begging for his attention.) Yet, unlike several PK’s (pastor’s kids) I knew my dad always had time for me.  I never felt like I was in competition with the church or the ministry for his time.

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Perhaps this was because my Dad was incredibly gifted in balancing his time.  I still remember the fishing trips to a bend in the river 15 miles outside of town, the fossil hunting expeditions, catching snakes, looking for arrowheads, discovering a dinosaur bone, and pestering him while he worked on the car that always seemed to stay broken.  My favorite memories though are the weekly trips we would take out to a Bible study he was leading.  I was blessed to have a 45 minute ride each way with my dad.  All along the way there we would talk about life.  All the way back we would listen to radio preachers like John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, and Chuck Swindoll.

So then fast forward several years and now I’m an Associate Pastor of Students, taking graduate classes, and have my own little girl looking at both the ministry and my daughter thinking (with all of my other responsabilaties) that there isn’t enough time in the day.  How did my dad ever do it?  Then I realize that he didn’t view his time with me and ministry as in competition, but as a complimentary.  Sure we took special trips to hunt for arrowheads or go fishing (Quality time) but along the way he was sure to get plenty of time (quantity time) with me along the way through taking me along on some of his ministry outings.

So I stole a page from my dad’s playbook when it comes to stretching the hours in a day.  I take my little girl to the sporting events that our students are playing in.  Last week we went to three different games.  She got to watch a basketball game, a race, and a football game all in one week.  With my wife being a stay at home mom and pregnant with baby number 2, this works out well to give her a little personal mom time while Rebekah and I hang out and cheer our students on.

We also schedule consistent father daughter hangout time.  Right now because of her age its usually pancakes at McDonald’s every Friday morning.  She usually hangs out with me after I run in the evenings and I tell her everything I did that day (which has evolved into her telling me about her day… very strange for a 3 year old).  Sometimes I’ll walk instead of run so she can “run” with me around our neighborhood.

How do you ensure that you are spending quality time with your children when you are busy?

Where has the Time Gone?

When I was little Ifreeimages.co.uk photos of objects used to imagine all the free time I would have when I was a grown up and didn’t have homework.  I dreamed of all the places I would go, movies I would watch and fun I would have with all my extra free time.  I thought life would be easier as an adult.  Then came college and I quickly found my self busier than ever and I couldn’t wait to graduate.  Then I graduated and was a full-time student minister at a small church and I couldn’t wait to get married.  Then I got married and couldn’t wait to have kids.  Now I have a kid and one on the way and I remember the days of high school and college when I thought my life was busy. Now school, a half-dozen clubs, a few sports programs and a part-time job look like easy street and I wonder what I did with all my spare time.

I guess I have always had the same 24-hours in a day that every one else has had, it’s just that my responsibilities have multiplied.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  I have a beautiful wife that I love more than words can express.  I love my daughter and love to teach and train her in life.  I enjoy my job (well its really a calling to shepherd students and families).  And I really don’t have a desire to go back to high school or college.  I just remember when life was simpler and my priorities seldom ever came into competition with one another.

You see, it’s not really time that I am worried about.  It is the priories and responsibilities that compete for my time.  I don’t want to drop the ball as a husband, father, or pastor.  Really dropping the ball in any one of these areas can have a damaging effect on the others.  I guess the key is balance in spending the right time in the right area’s of my life so that I know I have given my best to God, my wife, my children and those I am given charge over.

These next few days I will be blogging on time, responsibility, and balance from a my perspective.  I will share some of the tips, insights, struggles and resources I have discovered along the way.  I realize life is a journey and I haven’t arrived yet.  Feel free to comment and share how you use the time, care for your responsibilities, balance your life or resources that you have found helpful.  I look forward to learning as well as sharing.

Grace,

Jonathan

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