Tending to the Fire

One of my favourite things to do while camping is watching the burning fire. The sight of the flames dancing around, the smell and sound of the wood burning, and the comforting warmth all work together to help me slip into a mysteriously hypnotic state. Fires need tending, a constant supply of fuel to keep burning; without it, the fire slowly burns out leaving small burning embers or nothing more than a pile of ash in its place.

From the moment when Nehemiah first inspected the damage to the walls surrounding Jerusalem, to the time he returned to his position as cup bearer for the king (a span of 12 years) he had been tending “fires” of a different kind. Not only did Nehemiah light the fire of inspiration and drive of the people to commit to rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but he also re-kindled the fire and passion in the hearts of the people to fall back into a life that honored and glorified their Heavenly Father.  

Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the elements of a binding agreement or covenant the nation and its leaders made and committed to follow together. At that time the priests and Levites were responsible for the continued spiritual leadership of the city. In many ways they were responsible to tend the “spiritual fire” that brought the people back into a right relationship with God. As we continue to read on, Nehemiah outlines for us in chapter 13 several things that, after he left, began to stifle the desire (the fire) of the people to stay on track with a life devoted to following the laws and commands given to them. 

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to today, we can see some similarities to our own walk of faith in the Lord. 

Many of you can remember the time in your life when you first accepted the good news of the gospel and made Jesus a part of your life. There was an excitement, a fire that burned inside of you as a new believer; you devoted your life to following and serving the Lord, loving him, and loving others. God’s word (the bible) became your guide for life, you immersed yourself in it and you surrounded yourself with others who lived with that same fire in their soul. 

I have seen in others and experienced for myself this incredible feeling as the fire burned bright in life. I will be the first to admit that there are times when the fire does not burn as bright as it should. There have been times when the fuel for the fire seems in short supply, and we only see a few burning embers. 

Nehemiah saw a fire in need of tending among the people of Jerusalem and once again did his part to help re-kindle the flames of life with God among them. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and seek God’s mercy and grace in our lives; confess to him our weaknesses and He will begin a work in us to restore that burning fire in life. Keep the fire fueled through the reading of his word. When you do, you will hear his voice, his direction for your life. Surround yourself again with those who share in the warmth and comfort of knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. Consider these words of an old hymn that continue to inspire new life in Christ, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. 

The Beginning of a New Start

Have you ever worked through a home improvement project? At the beginning of most renovation projects there is a feeling of excitement and energy, there are hopes and dreams about what the outcome will be. Along the way there are many steps to bring those dreams alive. From demolition to decorating and everything in between each step of the job takes hard work and commitment to reach the end.

As I continue to read through the book of Nehemiah, the account of the wall being rebuilt comes to an end. I am sure that when the last brick was cemented into place and the final gate was hung by its hinges, Nehemiah drew a deep breath of relief to know that the wall around Jerusalem was finally restored. Step one was complete. With the wall finished, Nehemiah begins to focus on his next step, the restoration of the inhabitants of the city.

When you read through chapter 8 of Nehemiah the next stage of his plan is laid out for us. His goal in this phase is to help restore the people of the city back into a right relationship with God through the reading and understanding of the Law as given to them in scripture. It was time to focus on the spiritual needs of the city. Verse 8 of chapter 8 says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” 

The beginning of a new start for the people in the city was a reminder of who God is, what he has done for them and how his love for them has not changed over time. The message of what was being read was a reminder for the people to live in obedience to God’s will. 

In my last blog entry, I briefly talked about how we might “lend a hand” in the process of re-building the church after our time of physical separation. All through the pandemic things have constantly been changing for all of us. One of the incredible truths about scripture and its message for us is that it is unchanging. God’s word is and always will be the solid foundation on which our faith is built. 

The people of the city were gathered to hear God speak through these words, they were willing to stand and listen as scripture describes, attentively, from daybreak to noon every day for a week! When was the last time you had a thirst for hearing the word of God read out like this? 

Nehemiah fortified the walls of the city and provided a safe place for the people to gather and hear the words of God spoken and explained. Each day holds the potential beginning of a new start in life and faith as we seek to hear God’s voice for our lives. The words that Ezra read then were persevered for us and continue to inspire many people today as they read God’s word. 

It is my hope and prayer that as we gather again that the center of all we do is found in the words of scripture. From Genesis to Revelation and everything in between God’s Word is the best place to begin a new start. Where will you start today? What is your next step in life and faith? 

Lending a Hand

Have you ever felt like you needed a third hand? There are times in life when having that third hand would be handy. One of my hobbies requires some soldering from time to time and to make life easier I have what is called a third hand jig (also known as a helping hand). This adjustable device holds wires in place while I work with the soldering iron. Without that third hand the task would be difficult. 

Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is about helping hands. In many ways this chapter reads like one of those extensive genealogies found in other parts of scriptures. If you’re anything like me, I tend to just browse right past these types of passages because let’s be honest, we feel like they don’t have much to offer, plus all those names are hard to pronounce. 

Following his inspection of the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah began to assign workers to repair areas near where they lived or worked. Chapter three holds the blueprint to the reconstruction process. Starting in verse 2 we see the beginning of two repeating phrases that becomes the mortar between the bricks of such a massive project. “Next to him” or “next to them” is repeated in one form another over 20 times. As I read these words, I noticed a theme that connects to the many aspects of living and working in community both in Nehemiah’s day and here and now. 

Much like the situation Nehemiah and the people of the city found themselves in, we as followers of Jesus are living amid a similar but different re-building process. As the church gathers again after a challenging time of physical separation, many of them are starting to re-build. With what seems like an ever-changing blueprint in the process, there is one constant that remains and that is the message and mission of the Gospel. 

“Next to him” or “next to them” reveals to us a picture of a community committed to a purpose. In context, Nehemiah was writing about rebuilding the wall (phase two of his plan) so that God’s glory would be able to shine. In our context, it is about coming together again and working next to one another so that others will continue to see the glory of God shine through his people. 

Many leaders today are calling on the church (you and I) to come together, next to one another, to serve and love one another. No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls around Jerusalem; the same stands for today as we work to rebuild. We must work together if we are to continue our God given mission. Our work is to glorify God, to love one another, to serve with the gifts we have been given and to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know the incredible love of God. 

So, how might you be a “third hand” in helping the church grow into a renewed passion and presence in your community? Who will you work “next to”? Not for your glory, but for the glory of our Father in heaven? In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us start rebuilding.”

A Journey in Time

I remember the moment with vivid clarity, it was early January 2016, I was awkwardly crammed into the back of a vibrantly decorated Jeepney with a mission’s team and several new Pilipino friends. One of our new friends was a local pastor with a propensity for telling jokes. While we were nervously weaving in and out of traffic, he shared this joke: “Who was the shortest man in the Bible?”. Not knowing the answer, he regaled us with this witty response, “Nehemiah” but with a twist… (Knee-High-Miah).  

I share this with you because every time I turn in my Bible to the book of Nehemiah this memory floods back into my mind. This past week I spent some time reading through Nehemiah’s words and one of the themes I have been considering is that of “time”. This remarkable story recounts Nehemiah’s incredible leadership and reliance on God in completing the re-construction of the wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days. Yet, there is another important segment of time that precedes the building of the wall that was critical to its success. 

Chapter 1:4 records these words, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” While it takes us less than two minutes to read these words and transition to the next events of Nehemiah’s story we must stop and understand that “For some days” was a span of time that was approximately four months long. Today, living in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, high achievement and quick solutions four months might feel like a lifetime. 

After receiving news about the trouble and disgrace of what was transpiring in Jerusalem three things occurred in the months following for Nehemiah. First, he mourned over the circumstances surrounding the lives of the people and the city that was their home. Second, he fasted and third, he prayed day and night before the God of heaven to help the people of Israel. 

Something I need to ask myself and one thing I can ask of you is this: In the light of a difficult situation or experience do I/you take the appropriate amount of time to mourn, fast and pray for God’s direction in moving forward?  While some difficult experiences in life may not require a lengthy period of time to navigate, others will. Who we are will often influence the length of time each of us needs to work through life’s challenges, the important part is how we start the journey. 

The book of Nehemiah is filled with examples of his dependance on God through prayer to accomplish the tasks that God called him to. The meaning of the name Nehemiah is “Yahweh comforts”. In times of mourning, in times of fasting, and in times of prayer, God is our comfort. He is our hope, and he is our guide in life. Paul, in Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”. My prayer is that no matter what life brings our way, easy or hard, positive or negative, that we are on the journey together with a God who loves us. 

Project Management

ProjectFor any large building project, there has to be someone who is in charge, a person who takes the responsibility to see the project through till the end. There is either a project manager or a site supervisor that oversees all aspects of the building process. Two of the biggest responsibilities of this important role is to communicate the building plan and set a timeline for the many different trades to follow. We all know that we don’t live in a perfect world and things go wrong, problems arise, people and circumstances fail. One of the most powerful tools in the toolbox for the project managers is clear communication.

Even before Nehemiah made his way to Jerusalem to take on the role of project manager for the rebuilding of the wall he had to communicate his plan to the King. Nehemiah made his request (he came with a well-defined plan, how long it would take and a list of resources and materials that would be needed) and the king granted his appeal. After an inspection of the wall and a good knowledge of what needed to be done, Nehemiah setup his work teams and started working on the project. Nehemiah, as project manager had some tough choices to make, he had to deal with persistent opposition, there were physical threats, false accusations and more as he tried to keep the project moving forward. With a solid understanding of what was required Nehemiah was able to keep his focus not only on the project but on the people.

Nehemiah communicated on two different levels with the people, one, through his words and another through his actions. Nehemiah stood strong in the Lord’s call on his life to be on mission to rebuild the wall. He prayed often for determination and strength to carry on, both for himself and for the people. Nehemiah prayed, “Now strengthen my hands”, this was a cry out to God for the power to carry on in the face of all that was happening. When I reflect the story of Nehemiah, it communicates to me a message of hope, a message that when God calls us to be on mission for him, he stays with us. God has the “blueprints” already drawn up for each and everyone of us. His word communicates the building plan that helps us live according to his design. It is our job as project managers to stick to the plan.

 

What Just happened?

bangheadonwallNehemiah completes the building of the wall and puts into place leaders that he feels are competent to carry on with the duties of caring for and maintaining the structure he has put in place. He returns to his post in serving the king of Babylon and later returns back to Jerusalem to check in with his leaders. Although I am sure the wall around the city was in good shape I don’t think Nehemiah felt the same way about what was happening inside the city, the appointed priest has setup shop a nice place for his buddy to stay in one of the storerooms. The Levites and the singers were left to their own resources and fled from the temple so they could survive. Last but not least they people had broken their promise to keep the Sabbath holy.

I put myself in Nehemiah’s place for a moment and felt like banging my head against the wall. All the time, effort and love Nehemiah poured out to rebuild the city and the people seemed to be slipping away again. I like what Nehemiah does next, he doesn’t just give his head a shake and walk away, he takes the “bull by the horns” and starts to clean house. He evicts the illegal tenant from the temple storehouse, he set straight the division of the tithes and offerings, pulls the Levites and the singers back to their rightful place and threatens the people with the “smack down” if they don’t return to observing and respecting the Sabbath.

Nehemiah took direct action in dealing with the problems; he put new leaders in place to help fix the situations. Nehemiah always surrounded himself with others when he needed something done; he built a team around him that allowed him to make the necessary changes. At the beginning of Nehemiah’s story we know that he spent much time in prayer asking for God’s direction and I have no doubt that he did them same at the end of the story. As I walk away from this story I am better equipped through Nehemiah’s actions as a leader to face the challenges ahead of me as I grow.

Managing Teams

The beginning verses of Nehemiah chapter five are filled with outcries from the people who were poor and suffering with hunger, the loss of land and having their children taken into slavery; all these sufferings were for the benefit of wealth and notoriety of the nobles and officials. Verse six gives us Nehemiah’s emotional response, “When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.”

These events and the emotions pushed Nehemiah beyond just building the wall, Nehemiah had to stop and manage his team “So I called together a large meeting to deal with them” (vrs.7b). Nehemiah became aware of the problem and dealt with it, he didn’t shrug it off and return to the project at hand, he took action. Nehemiah had compassion towards the people and did his part to make things right.

Nehemiah had the opportunity to become one of the elite, he could have let his powerful position control his actions but he chose to honor God by not following in the footstep of those before him. Nehemiah models for us a great leadership quality that helped cultivate more loyalty from the people than the few that could have been in his close circles. Nehemiah’s relationship with God was the first priority and focus and through that he was able to rise up from a cupbearer to the king to a prominent leader among the people of Israel.

Passion for God, Compassion for People. This statement is a wonderful short summary of our mission and vision as a church in Departure Bay. Reading through the chapters of Nehemiah inspires me and encourages me to have the same passion for God and the same compassion for people as Nehemiah did.

More than Just a Wall…

As I read through Nehemiah’s account in chapter three of the designated tasks for the rebuilding of the wall I can’t help but wonder about the organizational “spreadsheet” he had to keep track of all the work and the workers. The rebuilding of the wall was a massive undertaking and like many of our modern day projects came up against opposition, questions, doubt and  logistical issues.

Even though chapter threeunity reads like one of the many tiring genealogies in scripture to me it was encouraging. Look beyond the wall and the gates, what else was going on? I see a picture of unity and support throughout these verses, there are priests and leaders coming together with their brothers and getting their hands dirty in the construction of the gates and walls. We see sons and daughters working along side their fathers to complete their tasks. Banding together through the provisions the Lord had provided through Nehemiah the people completed the project in 52 days.

I have never been a part of a massive building project but have had the opportunity to be involved with projects that have required a team of people to come together and work side by side to accomplish their goal. When I relate this to our church today I see the “building project” as our mission and vision, each of us has been given a gift from God to help accomplish the work set ahead of us. As a leader it is part of my duty to help people (the church) work together in unity toward fulfilling the mission that Jesus has commanded us through the great commission.

Therefore Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Nehemiah on his Knees.

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Armed with my highlighter and pen I started to read thorough the book of Nehemiah reflecting on how Nehemiah accomplished the huge undertaking of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Twelve times I highlighted the places where Nehemiah took the time and space to pray to God for direction as he and the people worked together. Each time Nehemiah finds himself in a place where trouble arises he takes it before God and trusts in his direction. As we follow through the book we have prayers that move from Nehemiah’s personal struggles to the struggles of the people, prayers for the poor and prayers of protection from their enemies.

Chapter 9 of Nehemiah holds the longest recorded prayer in scripture, a prayer from the people of Israel. This prayer from the Israelites in an expression of confession, a request seeking forgiveness for the sins they committed in their unfaithfulness in following God. Chapter 13 closes the book with 4 prayers all beginning with the same word, remember, three times Nehemiah asks God to remember him and once to remember the people. I don’t think God has forgotten anything of what Nehemiah has done or what the people have done; Nehemiah was putting his trust in God knowing that He will work through him according to His will.

Being willing and ready to pray in all circumstances is what I learn from Nehemiah. From the beginning of his journey Nehemiah sets for us the standard in which we can use as we work forward in ministry. Our ministry leaders need to be surrounded by and committed to prayer so we can give the glory to God for the work he is doing in our lives personally and in the life of the church.