Led to Lead

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. – Nehemiah 2:11-12

Nehemiah was a wise and able leader. What he and the Jewish remnant were able to accomplish in just 52 days (rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem) was an administrative and engineering marvel. No doubt, God’s hand was upon them all, but certainly providing wisdom and protection to His anointed and appointed leader.

As with Nehemiah, a visionary leader often gains an understanding of where God is directing before those who follow do. Perhaps this is because a biblically informed leader walks with God daily and humbly seeks His direction, but it might also be a result of focus and attention to the task at hand. However a plan begins to form, the wise leader will not speak until the direction is fully formed in his or her own mind and heart. Once led by God, His servant is ready to lead.

Whatever we find ourselves doing in this world, may we always seek to understand God’s mind first, gain some assurance that we are aligned with it, then work within the family of God to see things carried out according to His will and not our own.

Leadership always has to be learning. – Jack Hyles

With God’s Help

When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. – Nehemiah 6:16

Nehemiah was the trusted cup bearer to the king of Persia when he learned of the sad state of Jerusalem. By faith, he asked his boss for permission to restore the wall that the Babylonians had destroyed and with God’s favor, he led the people to accomplish in 52 days that which many believed could not be done.

Throughout the duration of the wall project, Nehemiah and the workers were continually harassed by their opponents. He was personally ridiculed and slandered. They even tried to deceive him and distract him, and would have killed him if they had been given the opportunity. Yet through all of this, Nehemiah remained undeterred and finished the task that God had given him to do. In the end, it was clear to everyone that God’s hand had been upon this skilled leader.

Any attempt to accomplish anything of worth for God will be met with opposition. Yet, the entire purpose of the difficulty is not to establish our own ability to endure, but rather that in accomplishing the task that God has required, His faithfulness is glorified. Therefore, while we should certainly acknowledge a leader’s perseverance, let us be sure to remember the One who made it possible.

Samson knew that he was only as strong as God let him be. How dangerous it is to see more in ourselves than is really there. – Lawrence Kimbrough

Getting Out the Gravel

Food gained by fraud tastes sweet, but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel. – Proverbs 20:17

As a trained accountant, I have been able to assist some churches, organizations, and networks by performing an informal review (audit) of their books and financial statements. During a much overdue review of one such entity, I discovered a discrepancy of $2,200 between what had been reported by the treasurer and the amount recorded by the bank. Since the treasurer had served in the position for many years, I assumed that there was something I had looked over in my calculations. Certainly, an explanation was readily available. There was, but it was not what I expected. My simple questioning led the treasurer to admit his embezzlement of $14,000.

Was it my excellent auditing skills that caused this grievous error to be discovered? Not quite. Yes, I discovered the initial amount, but it was the treasurer’s own guilt that helped to clean up the mess. If this long-term volunteer had not confessed, it would have taken a lot more time to uncover the full extent of the fraud. It seems that he just got tired of the taste of “gravel.”

Ultimately, restitution was made, and this man was restored, but surely the scars of his actions remained. Whatever is achieved through unrighteous means will ultimately “sour” in our hearts and the only way forward is through the cleansing of confession (1 John 1:9).

It is only deliberate, willful sin that has not been confessed and forgiven that makes us feel that God has forsaken us, for that sin causes Him to hide His face from us. – Alan Redpath

When Wronged

Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you. – Proverbs 20:22

I can think of some occasions in life when I have been “wronged” by another, but can’t we all? Typically, the first reaction when someone treats us unfairly is to be hurt and offended, then this is usually followed by the immediate desire to hurt them back!

While I wish I could say I have never “reacted” when offended, it is just not true. There have been times when I have allowed my emotions to get the better of me; however, as soon as I realized my error (and this was not always immediately afterward) I was able to ask forgiveness and many times (though not always) the relationship was reconciled. It was hard, humbling, and painful, but also absolutely necessary for God to be glorified in the situation. I had to understand that it was not necessary for me to right, but rather that I display righteous behavior.

It is very difficult to consider how God might be glorified when we are personally mistreated, but that is exactly what we must do. Otherwise, how can God’s justice ultimately be served? If we honor God in our response, we remove ourselves from the path of His vengeance. When wronged, we must determine to not allow the offense to be repeated through our own actions.

If you take care of yourself and walk with integrity, you may be confident that God will deal with those who sin against you. Above all, don’t give birth to sin yourself; rather, pray for those who persecute you. God will one day turn your persecution into praise. – Warren Wiersbe

Hell Missed or Glory Gained?

In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them. – Esther 8:17

For years, preachers have used the fear of hell as a motivation for people to repent and trust in Jesus. While it is true that hell is a topic we should not avoid and also true that eternal damnation and suffering awaits the unrepentant sinner, I believe that it is possible to scare a person into a decision or profession that does not result in possession of a personal relationship with Christ. Like those residents of Persia that lived with the Jews in the days of Esther’s retribution, many have feared the consequences of rejecting salvation rather than loving and worshiping the Son of God who has delivered them.

I believe that most no longer fear the eternal torment and separation that hell presents. The all-pervasive nature of media (movies, video games, etc.) has made most verbal depictions ineffective. Yet, we cannot cease to teach the biblical truth of its existence and warn others of its inevitability just because they think it isn’t real.

At the same time, let us be consistent in preaching the truth of our God who desires to be glorified. Yes, hell is real, but escape will not lead to worship. If we intend to deliver the whole counsel of God, we must also speak of His ultimate and overarching purpose in glorifying the Son through the life of the believer. A life in Christ is so much more than just missing hell.

Having held the glory of God in contempt through ingratitude and distrust and disobedience, (those without Christ) are sentenced to be excluded from the enjoyment of that glory forever and ever in the eternal misery of hell. – John Piper

Only One Master

“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”— but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12

Wherever a person travel in this world, freedom is valued. As a resident of the United States of America, I recognize that one of the most attractive things about my country is the freedom we enjoy. Yes, I know that some might argue this point from both sides of the political spectrum, but as someone who has traveled widely, I would contend that the USA still leads in this area.

There is an even greater freedom in Christ, a freedom that allows us to willingly submit to His lordship over every aspect of our lives. There are no limits to what God would have us accomplish in the Spirit, but there are absolute boundaries to our life in the “flesh.” The controlling factor is not a list of “thou shalt not’s,” but rather an intense desire to glorify God by listening to and remaining under the control of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul understood this principle. He had the “right” to do anything, but no “thing” would master him, only Christ Jesus would have that power.

Our freedom is not an excuse to indulge the flesh. It is a tool to magnify the Savior.

We must have a spirit of power towards the enemy, a spirit of love towards men, and a spirit of self-control towards ourselves. – Watchman Nee

Hold On Loosely

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Each day we read or hear of tsunamis, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, landslides, blizzards, forest fires, earthquakes, and droughts somewhere in this world. At any moment in time, someone on this earth is suffering loss due to a natural disaster. Any one of us could be affected tomorrow or even today. In spite of all our technology and scientific advancement, this world in its present form is indeed passing away.

Two millennia ago, the apostle Paul understood this truth and cautioned the church in Corinth about clinging too tightly to all that was temporal. “Stuff” like our supposed possessions can certainly be enjoyed, but should not be grasped. Even the relationships that we hold most dear (as many have tragically come to understand) can disappear in a moment, leaving those of us who have lived solely for another person irretrievably devastated by the loss.

Every single “thing” in this world will not last, yet while we as God’s creation do “last,” we must honor God with them. Be it a garden, a task, or a marriage, we are God’s stewards. As much as it depends on us, He expects us to care well, work hard, and love deeply. May we not cling too tightly to this world, but wholly worship the One who carries us through it.

Be careful to make a good improvement of precious time. – David Brainerd

Exercising Your Rights

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. – 1 Corinthians 8:9

A follower of Jesus enjoys a wonderful amount of freedom. We are, within the boundaries of God’s commands and with respect to the government that God has established, free to make our own rules for life. We are also forever freed from the bondage of sin, meaning that we have been given the victory over it and now have the privilege to live as God intended.

Problems occur however when we try to make our rules equal to God’s in authority. For when this happens, the “rules” of one will often clash with the “rules” of another.  The “strong” (those who understand their freedom in Christ) must learn to bear with the “weak” (those who add to God’s rules), teaching them that humanity’s rules and traditions pass away with time, but the Word of God is eternal. A lack of boundaries make some people nervous, but prohibiting what God has not expressly forbidden is exactly what the Pharisees were accused of and Jesus Himself condemned.

On the other hand, if we exercise a “right” and in doing so offend a brother or sister in Christ, we are not loving and grieve the Holy Spirit. None of us lives unto ourselves. We live for Christ within His Body; therefore, let us always act in a way that pleases the Lord and edifies His church.

He that is kind is free, though he is a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king. – Augustine

Make It Your Slave

No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:27

Temptation comes in many forms, but the source is always the same. No, the Devil did not “make” you do it. The origin is “the flesh,” meaning that part of the Christ-follower that still yields to old patterns that existed before conversion. How can we know it is the flesh at work? Cognitively, it goes like this:

I am worried, so I will (substitute activity that feels good, but is not beneficial).

Or, things are not going as planned, so I will (same answer).

Basically, any time we consider running away from the Lord (and His truth) and turning toward the world and its lies, we are being “tempted.”

This is why these words from Paul are so convicting. Our bodies should be “slaves” of Christ in the same way that our minds and hearts are. This, of course, extends to the maintenance of our health, which is often ignored. There should be no acceptable “sin” for the servant in God’s Kingdom, including poor stewardship of our physical bodies. In order to maintain a consistent witness as disciples, we must “get a grip.” We must be able to go and make disciples with stamina because we manage the vessel God has given us.

Our “earth suits” are not designed to last forever, but as much as it depends on each of us, may we manage them well until they are glorified.

The world asks, “What does a man own?” Christ asks, “How does he use it?” – Andrew Murray

Overcoming

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NIV)

Temptation is a common human malady and there is no sin in it. To “desire” is human.

On the other hand, desiring God Himself above all else is “super-human” and requires supernatural strength. Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted just as we are, but never sinned. As our perfect Holy Spirit filled and led example, He was able to overcome the need for anything this world could offer, even physical hunger and thirst. Overcoming temptation is only possible for those who walk in the Spirit and follow Christ diligently, but it can be done.

On the other hand, arrogance in one’s own ability to overcome temptation can lead to a fall. No one is immune. Victory can lead us to believe that we have defeated sin when the truth is, we have not overcome anything. Our victory over the “flesh” is in Christ alone. A continual courting of temptation will only bring failure. When tempted, look for a way out because God will always give you one.

Finally, if you are looking for a way to shorten the list of things that tempt you to sin, cultivate a walk with the Holy Spirit immersed in the truth of God’s Word and remember, no one ever said that it would be an easy “walk,” only that you would reach your destination.

Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in. – Billy Sunday