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.
The Bible’s “emergency letter”
Jude: I’ve dropped everything to write you.
There’s nothing leisurely about the little letter of Jude. In fact, you might call this an “emergency letter.” Jude has received disturbing news concerning happenings in an unnamed church. Events there are unfolding that could result in their turning away from the faith. He quickly reminds them of just how dangerous this is, listing one event after another from the Old Testament about spiritual failure and its consequences. Jude is just a short no-chapter book but if one takes time to follow all the references, the book expands considerably. The bottom line, though, is that they’ve allowed teachers into their number who aren’t teaching the Gospel. The result is that a cancer has begun to grow in the church that, if left unchecked, will have disastrous effects of biblical proportions concerning their salvation. Jude gives them a plan of action and urges them to act immediately. They’re to focus on the “most holy faith” and to pray “in the Holy Spirit” and to stay “right at the center of God’s love” and keep their “arms open and outstretched” to receive the mercy of Jesus in their lives. As they deal with those who are already wavering in the faith they’re to tread lightly and as they deal with those who are outside the church, the sinners, they’re to take it easy on them while standing firm against their sin. Jude has already told them what to do about the false teachers who have infiltrated their church: they’re to “fight with everything” they have “for the faith entrusted” to them. As I read this “two-page book” I’m reminded to be careful about who I allow to influence my spiritual life. Not everyone who claims to speak for Christ does so. At the same time I’m reminded not to get too worked up over this kind of stuff. Jude says: “Relax, everything’s going to be all right.” As I focus on the basics of love and prayer and the like, things will work out just fine for me.
Take Away: It’s a challenge for Christians to major on the majors and to minor on the minors and to tell one from the other.
Persisting in prayer
Luke 11: Ask and you’ll get; Seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open.
After teaching the disciples to pray Jesus tells them a story to illustrate how persistence in prayer works. A man goes to his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night asking to borrow some food so he can feed an unexpected guest. However, the neighbor calls out through the closed door that he’s in bed and he doesn’t want to wake up the whole family to answer the request. The man at the door, though, is persistent and is also somewhat perplexed. His need is real and his friendship with his neighbor is genuine. Not only that, but he knows his friend has the resources to meet his need. Perplexed or not, his faith in the good will and resources of his friend is unshaken. He doesn’t know why his friend doesn’t respond right off, but he persists, knocking again and again until his neighbor responds. Now, this story is told by our Lord to teach us to stay with it when we pray. The minor detail of the reluctant neighbor being in bed, etc. isn’t what this story is about. Obviously, unanswered prayer isn’t the result of the Lord taking a nap. The role of the Almighty is not in play here. This little illustration is about us. When I have a need, I can go directly to the Lord with that need. I go in assurance that he welcomes me to do so, and in faith that he has all the resources necessary to meet that need. With good will and faith I ask. On those occasions when the answer doesn’t come, Jesus tells me that it’s not against the rules for me to ask again. After all, like the man in the story, my need is real and I’m certain that my Neighbor can meet that need and that he’s my friend. I don’t understand why he hasn’t yet responded, but I do understand his good will toward me. So what do I do? I ask again: humbly, in faith, and probably with a bit more urgency. Asking again doesn’t show a lack of faith. In fact, it’s an affirmation of it.
Take Away: It’s nice when prayers are answered immediately, but when they aren’t it is okay for me to ask again, and again, if necessary.