Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lessons from Nehemiah as We Enter 2013

Over the last few months I have spent much time studying Nehemiah and learning from his leadership example. As I look ahead to 2013, I see many parallels and lessons from Nehemiah for the church in America.
In 2012, we witnessed mass shootings leaving dozens dead; the breakdown of the family through divorce, absent fathers, and the legalization of same-sex marriage; an estimated 1.2 million abortions; rampant sexual immorality; and corporate ethical failures. This is just a snapshot of the current state of America.
As cup bearer to the king, Nehemiah held a very important position, akin to the role of Secretary of State in our society.  As Christians, we are children of the King- ambassadors for Him (2 Cor 5:20) and part of the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).
Nehemiah was broken over the condition of the walls in Jerusalem when approached by his brother. Just as the current state of America is nothing really new or unique- the walls had fallen 140 years prior to Nehemiah 1. Will 2013 be the year where the current state of America will break our hearts? Will 2013 be the year that we fall before the Lord in weeping, mourning, and fasting as we look around us? Will we be marked by prayer of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication as Nehemiah was in chapter 1? We must express adoration to the Lord for who He is and how He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture. We must confess our sins as individuals and churches. We must thank Him for the great promises that the gates of hell will not withstand the moving church (Matthew 16:18) and that all of our needs will be supplied (Philippians 4:19). We must go before Him with our specific needs moving forward. We must truly be people of prayer!
Nehemiah demonstrated great respect to those in power, specifically King Artaxerxes. As the people of God, we must demonstrate respect toward those in power (Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 2:13) because God may also grant some of them to look up on us with favor as Artaxerxes did toward Nehemiah, and pray to that end. As missionary Hudson Taylor said, “it is possible to move men through God by prayer alone.”
Nehemiah had a clear sense of calling to the task and knew what he needed to do. Likewise, as Christians in America at the start of 2013, we know what we must do: proclaim the gospel and make disciples- teaching them to obey the Word of God (Matthew 28:18-20). Nehemiah exhibited a strategic plan (2:5-8), so must we as the church in America- proceeding forward with specificity and clarity.  Like Nehemiah, we must also recognize it is because of God’s hand being upon us as His church that we can accomplish anything (2:8)!
A key leadership strategy for Nehemiah was that he laid out the work into manageable sections. The wall to be repaired was several miles in length, an overwhelming task for many. Yet, Nehemiah broke down the work into doable sections and got everybody involved in the coordinated effort. As we look at the state of America today, the tasks and problems seem equally overwhelming. Yet, as individual believers, we all have small/manageable spheres to have a significant kingdom impact- our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities. Many small works will have tremendous kingdom impact.
Nehemiah was no stranger opposition and encountered it throughout his work: ridicule, threats of violence, internal opposition and personal attacks. As we complete the work we have been called to we should expect nothing less; we are at war. Nehemiah did not retaliate, prayed continually, and persevered in the work while taking specific actions when needed (e.g. setting up the guard, addressing sin within the people of God); recognizing that God is the one who will fight for them (4:20). We must approach opposition in the same way.
Nehemiah addressed internal sins and the call to holiness in chapter 5. As churches and individual believers, we must be striving to live lives of holiness in every area. In addition to being called to holiness (1 Peter 1:15, 2 Peter 3:11), as the church we do not want to give any fuel for our opponents (5:9).  
As a result of Nehemiah’s courageous leadership, empowered by God and rooted in prayer, the wall was completed in 52 days. Likewise, as we move forward as the church in 2013, rooted in prayer and empowered by the Lord’s strength- there will be a Kingdom impact!
I believe that 2013 will be a challenging year in many regards. However, as individual Christ-followers and as His church, our mission has not changed. May we be broken over the current state in America and move forward: grounded in the Word, rooted in prayer, and led by the indwelling Holy Spirit. May our actions in 2013 have a tremendous impact that will ripple into eternity!

Top Books of 2012

2012 is drawing to a close and it is time for my annual “top books of the year” posting. This is my fifth top books posting. Recognizing that life would change drastically with entering parenthood in April, I only set my goal at 25 books to be read for 2012. However, as the year ends, I have managed to read 47 books!  Here are my top five books with a few honorable mentions at the end:

5. The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters by Albert Mohler. Mohler is one of my favorite pastors/scholars and a great leader. He presents the 25 key principles for Christian leadership in relatively short chapters. This is one that I will return to regularly in the coming years.

4. Creature of the Word: The Jesus Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Eric Geiger, and Josh Patterson.  I was deeply challenged to evaluate the role of the gospel in my life and the life of the church in this book. All of our ministry in the life of the church from the pulpit to the “flower committee” must be centered on Jesus and the gospel message.

3. William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity by Kevin Belmonte.  A well-written biography about William Wilberforce, a great man of God living out his convictions, persevering during trial, and growing in his faith as he led the abolitionist movement in England. A great hero of the faith and example to us as we apply the same principles in the issues which the church must step up and address in our day. 

2. Leading from the Sandbox by T.J. Addington. This book specifically pertains to church leadership and leading the church with efficiency and focus. Key insights and strategies which I believe are essential for the church continuing to move forward in the 21st century; proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. 

1. The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung.  I have read this relatively short book (140 pages) twice so far and will reread it multiple times in the coming years. DeYoung addresses an issue which requires attention in today’s church: practical holiness. Unfortunately, many Christians in America looks little different than the world around us.  DeYoung makes the strong biblical argument that practical holiness is not optional and even lays out the case that a professing believer who does not demonstrate a desire toward holiness and the obedience to the commands of Scripture is not truly converted. He does not teach works-based salvation but rather the fruit a truly changed life, with a new identity in Christ will produce.  This book desperately needs to be read and discussed within the evangelical church today.

A few honorable mentions, in no particular order:
·         Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals by Trevin Wax
·         The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
·         Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous
·         As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in Mentoring Relationships by Howard Hendricks
·         Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger