A failure of leadership
Nehemiah 13: I was angry, really angry.
Having accomplished his mission of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and having had a unanimous agreement from the Jews there to live according to God’s Law, it’s time for Nehemiah to return to Babylon. He leaves things in the hands of those who are to keep things organized and on track. However, Nehemiah’s heart is now in Jerusalem, so he once again asks Artaxerxes for permission to return there. When he arrives he’s greeted with all kinds of bad news. One man has made a deal with one of the old enemies of the Jews, Tobiah, who he’s allowed to use the Temple storerooms. The worship leaders were left unpaid and have had to leave the Temple to earn a living. The civic leaders have forgotten the Sabbath and are allowing that day to be a time when business as usual is being conducted. And, the Jews are again intermarrying with the idol worshiping people of the area. Nehemiah is “really angry” about all this and immediately goes to work repairing all this damage. I can’t help but wonder where all those declaration signers are, or even more, where Ezra the priest of God is at this time. That’s a mystery the Bible doesn’t solve for us. However, the rest of it is pretty easy to understand. Nehemiah’s a strong leader and when he leaves it creates a void that no one steps in to fill. One of the dynamics of the human race is that people, even well-meaning people, need leaders who not only cast a vision and oversee the pursuit of that vision, but, even after the fact, provide a compass that keeps things moving in the right direction. This doesn’t excuse those civic and other leaders for their failure, in fact, they should have provided some of that “God-centered” energy themselves. Reading this story is a real life lesson in leadership. It also reminds me of the importance of my staying focused, even when the biggest part of the project has already been done.
Take Away: Even when the biggest part of the work is done there remains the danger of losing focus and giving up gains that have been made.
Deuteronomy 13: You are to follow only God…hold on to him for dear life!
Moses says that sometimes other gods look attractive and actually seem to deliver the goods. When that happens we’re tempted to abandon the Lord God and follow the latest trend of society. In fact, Moses says, God allows that to happen to test our love for him. If I’d rather have the latest fad I can have it — but it will be my loss. As a sports fan, I’ve learned that, even though the names of the players change, the game remains the same. With this passage in mind, I’m reminded that, while the latest gods are not the deities of Egypt or Canaan, the game is the same. My loyalty to the Lord God is tested by the lure of the gods of my culture. They seem to deliver the goods, and millions follow these gods named “Pleasure,” “Affluence,” “Success,” “Power,” and “Entertainment,” telling me how wonderful it is. As one of God’s people I must remain ever alert to the subtle influence of that which erodes my loyalty to the one true God. I must “hold on to him for dear life!”
Take Away: Only as we keep our focus on the Lord are we absolutely safe from being swayed by the false gods of our society.
The heart of it all
Colossians 1: We preach Christ.
The Apostle sits in a jail as he writes this letter to the Christians in the city of Colossi, located in what is now the nation of Turkey. He wants his readers to stand firm for Jesus over the long haul, not in some grim, miserable, “unto death” sort of a way, but with joy and confidence and strength. In fact, Paul wants them to be absolutely focused on Jesus and not allow themselves to journey down “dead-end alleys.” They’re to be so in love with Jesus, so impressed with him, that they can’t imagine anything but living in him and for him. Actually, all Paul wants for them is what he has for himself. He’s bought into Jesus, “hook, line, and sinker.” In his mind Jesus towers above all else; always has – always will. He tells them, and us, that the world exists only by Jesus. He’s “supreme,” “God’s original purpose,” and gives everything in creation “its proper place.” When Paul preaches, he has only one subject: Jesus. When his ministry is finished, the result, he hopes, will be many mature, settled followers of Jesus. How important this message is today. We’re pulled this way and that. Decisions are demanded of us. The circumstances of life threaten to erode our souls. At the end of the day – at the end of life – what’s going to matter? In Paul’s words I find the answer: “Christ! No more, no less.”
Take Away: I want the compass of my life to always point to Jesus.
Paying attention to the big deal of life
Ephesians 5: Observe how Christ loved us.
So what does a thoughtful, genuine Christian life look like? What examples are good ones for me to study and then apply to my life? Paul says the place to start is by looking upward. As a child of God I study his behavior, doing all I can to make true the proverb, “like Father like son.” If I want to see those attributes “with skin on them” I look to Jesus. Whatever I see in Jesus, I attempt to copy into my life. And what do I see? I see extravagant love. Out of love my Lord gives of himself without reservation. He doesn’t use God for his own purposes. Rather, he reflects the loving compassion of the Father in all he does. The Apostle says that I get chances to live like that. Opportunities to love selflessly come my way and I need to make the most of those opportunities. Some folks miss that boat and rather than filling their lives with Christ-like love they let other things dominate their lives. I understand the problem. Everyday a thousand voices cry out to me. Like carnival front men they invite me to try their game. If I’m not careful, I wander off into their diversion. Today, I’m reminded that love is the thing. When all is said and done in my life, the big deal will be love. Have I loved God with all my heart and soul and mind? Have I loved my neighbor as myself? This passage reminds me to “make the most out of every chance I get.”
Take Away: Love is the thing.
Making the main thing the main thing
Romans 14: None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters.
There’s trouble down at the church. Some folks have decided that they have a corner on God’s truth. Other folks have done the same and their “truth” is different than that of the others. They’ve had duels with their Bibles and some of the discussion has brought more heat that light. There have been a few church parking lot conversations and not a few phone calls. Any day now things are coming to head and the result won’t be pretty. The outsiders don’t even understand the fight but they do see this as another example of the failure of Christianity. “They can’t even get along with one another, much less save the world.” The thing is that this isn’t Christian behavior. The Bible says that one Christian isn’t supposed to demand that other Christians do things their way. Paul’s main example is dietary concerns and he also tosses into the mix the concept of keeping a day as holy. The Apostle practices what he preaches here. If I think something is important I’m to pursue it in my life, doing it as unto the Lord. Meanwhile, I’m to leave you alone about it. We have bigger fish to fry (or maybe tofu in this case). The Lord invited us to follow him and to join him in extending the hope of salvation to others. How can we do that if we’re fussing about the finer points of the Law? Beyond that, this isn’t optional in the Christian life. Paul says we’re not “permitted to insist on our own way in these matters.” He adds, “Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ.”
Take Away: If God’s people live in obedience to these words of Scripture the entire church world will be turned upside down.
Luke 10: Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.
When their friend Jesus arrives everyone at Martha’s house is excited. They love Jesus and they can’t think of anything better than spending some quality time with him. Mary is quite literal about that. She stays in the room where Jesus is, hanging on his every word. Martha, though, feels a sense of responsibility to make her guest comfortable. In fact, she’s frustrated with her sister for not pitching in and helping with the meal Martha’s preparing in honor of Jesus and his disciples. It’s as she busies herself with these practical matters that frustration grows to the point that having Jesus there becomes secondary to her feeling of aggravation. I can just imagine it: many people, including Mary, are in the living room listening to Jesus when the door bursts open and there stands Martha. Without meaning to, she interrupts Jesus, demanding that he order Mary to help her. Our Lord responds to her with an ever so gentle rebuke. I’m so glad that his rebuke is a gentle one because I identify with Martha. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no cook and I’m certainly not known for having the gift of hospitality. However, I do sometimes get so focused on the nuts and bolts of things that I miss the big picture. Maybe you’re like that too. Maybe you can’t give yourself fully to the worship service because the guy running the video keeps getting the words out of sync. Maybe you spot cobwebs under a pew or notice that one light bulb in the chandler is still burned out. If you tend to focus on stuff like that you have to join me in appreciating the fact that the rebuke Jesus gives to Martha is, at least, a mild one.
Take Away: Sometimes it takes a bit of self-discipline to focus on Jesus rather than some of the minor distractions of life.