Christ Our Solid Foundation

My wife and I last summer took our dogs to the park for some exercise. There is a shallow creek that runs through the middle of the park. This was our pup’s first trip to the park and he took to the water. As we walked down the creek, we came across a section I never saw before. The water was a little deeper in this section of the creek, but manageable. However, the sand beneath my feet shifted and I was stuck.  Of course at the time it was embarrassing, but I did manage to call my wife, who was walking our other dog to come over. My wife took the pup and I freed myself.  I became stuck because I did not pay attention to my surroundings and left the more solid footing of the shallow end of the creek. How many times in our spiritual lives have we left the solid foundation of Christ for the shifting sands of the world?

As Christians, we live in this world, but we are not part of this world. We are in Christ and the Bible assures us that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Our spiritual foundation must be in Christ and His Word and not the fickle doctrines of this present world.

“For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18-22, NKJV).

Our standing in Christ is not an excuse to live a lifestyle of sin

Of course, we will struggle with sin as long as our “flesh man” reigns in place of the “Spirit man,” but, we cannot cheapen the grace of God nor weaken our foundation by living a lifestyle of willful and habitual sin.

 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, NKJV).

 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1, NKJV).

“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).

We must build on God’s Word and not the doctrines of men

 We live in a vast consumer culture, where billions of dollars are spent on advertising new products, fads, and trends. No more than one trend or fad is established, the newest, greatest, and latest product trend or fad comes along. Unfortunately, churches can fall into this trap as they seek ways to be more “seeker friendly” and try to boost attendance. What often happens in these cases is that the Gospel of Christ becomes watered down and has no lasting effect in the lives of church members. However, I believe what it says in Hebrews that “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8, KJV). As the Church, we must preach the simple truth of the Gospel and allow the Lord to do the work in the lives of believers.

 “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, NKJV).

 “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NKJV).

We must stand fast in the hope of Christ

Once we have secured our foundation is Christ, we must continue to stand in the hope of our faith to a world looking for hope.

 “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13, NKJV).

 “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27, NKJV).

 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2, NKJV).

May the Lord bless all of you richly and abundantly.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah- Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series on Leadership Principles from Nehemiah. To read part 1, click here https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/leadership-lessons-from-nehemiah-part-1/ or go to the “October 2015 archives.”

Leadership Principle #5- Expect to have critics

Whether it is in our personal lives, our jobs, inside the church, we will run into people who seem to criticize our every move, try to make us second guess our work and to discourage us. Though Nehemiah had obtained favor with the king to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, he encountered opposition from two men, Sanballat and Tobiah, who opposed Nehemiah at every turn.

“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, [rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls] they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” (Nehemiah 2:10, NIV). Brackets mine.

“But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. ‘What is this you are doing?’ they asked. ‘Are you rebelling against the king?’” (Nehemiah 2:19, NIV).

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall” Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble- burned as they are?’ Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, ‘What are they building- even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!’” (Nehemiah 4:1-3, NIV).

Leadership Principle #6- Don’t argue with critics- stay focused on the Lord and the work

Nehemiah and those rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem faced constant opposition from Sanballat and Tobiah, yet Nehemiah did not waste time getting into useless debates and arguments with his critics, instead he spoke the Word of God over the situation, focused on the work at hand and prayed for those who were ridiculed him.

“I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:20, NIV).

“’Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.’ So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” (Nehemiah 4:4-6, NIV).

Leadership Principle #7- Deal with problems decisively

Besides the opposition he faced in rebuilding the walls, Nehemiah also had to deal with rumors of armies trying to invade and plots to kill him. In these cases, Nehemiah acted quickly to arm the people working on the wall and discerned when people wanted to harm him. Nehemiah also acted decisively when he found out when Israelites were charging interest to their fellow Jews- which was forbidden in the Law. Because of the interest charged, people had to mortgage their homes, fields, and vineyards just to buy the necessities and to pay the required taxes, which placed hardships on people and their families.

“When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, ‘You are charging your own people interest!’ So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: ‘As far as possible, we have brought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!’ They kept quiet because they had nothing to say. So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?’” (Nehemiah 4:6-9, NIV).

Nehemiah held demanded that they stop charging interest and made the nobles and priests swear an oath to God. The nobles declared they would give back the money, which they did. Leaders must make difficult decisions daily and must take action when a problem arises because it can create larger problems down the road.

Leadership Principle #8- Don’t demand of your position, be a servant

Nehemiah was appointed governor of Judah and was entitled to an allotment of food. However, Nehemiah new that his allotment of food would cause a hardship on the people to provide, so Nehemiah refused his allotment of food as governor (Nehemiah 5:18). Here, Nehemiah demonstrates the principle of servant leadership in that one should never demand from their position of leadership. Just as Jesus stated that He came to serve and not to be served. As Christians and as leaders, we must live out our leadership responsibilities as servants of Christ.

The Bible tells us that Nehemiah and his people completed rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in fifty-two days. Nehemiah did not allow opposition and obstacles to stand in his way of completing the task the Lord called him to complete. We must remember that God will be with us and guide us during the rebuilding times of our lives as He did with Nehemiah.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah- Part 1

The term “rebuilding” is often associated with professional sports, when a formerly great team has to go through losing seasons with younger players due to star players retiring or moving on to different teams. In ancient times, cities were rebuilt upon the foundations of previous civilizations. In modern times, one building is demolished to make way for a new, usually bigger building. However, rebuilding is not exclusive to the worlds of professional sports or architecture. All of us at one point or another may find ourselves in a state of rebuilding- whether it be from the death of a loved one, a divorce, a financial bankruptcy, illness, addiction, job loss, or anything else that may come our way. Surviving those times will require faith and strength along with God’s grace. In addition to faith, strength, and grace, there are biblical leadership skills we can apply to our situations.

The Old Testament Book of Nehemiah is a prime example of leadership in action during a time of rebuilding. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, which included the destruction of the first Temple and the city walls being destroyed. Eventually, the Medo-Persian Empire supplanted the Babylonians as the dominant world power and the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree for the exiled Jews to return to Israel. Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes and received devastating news about Jerusalem.

“In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:1-3, NIV).

Leadership Principle #1- A problem is a perfect time for prayer

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4, NIV).

 Nehemiah goes on to intercede for the nation of Israel, asking God to forgive them of their sins. Throughout Nehemiah, Nehemiah’s first response to a crisis is prayer. When we are faced with a crisis, we must not cower in fear, but we should come boldly to God’s throne of grace. It is through prayer and fasting, that God will give us the direction we need in a situation.

Leadership Principle #2- God will give us the resources we need

Nehemiah was still very distraught over the state of Jerusalem when he went before the king. The king sensed Nehemiah’s distress and asked him what was wrong. (Keep in mind that anyone who was sad in front of the king could be executed).

 “I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’” The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so I can rebuild it.’” (Nehemiah 2:2b-5, NIV).

I believe the Lord placed Nehemiah in such a position of trust and prominence to the king for the sole purpose of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. Nehemiah chapter two goes on to state that the king granted Nehemiah’s request and gave him letters to grant him safe passage, all of the timber he needed, and also sent a military escort to accompany him.

 It is important to remember that we cannot overlook the way in which God provides for our needs. For example, say someone wants to go to college and they do not have the personal means to do so. Someone may get discouraged if they do not receive a miracle check in the mail, but they overlook financial aid, scholarships, grants, and other ways to raise money. If the Lord has placed a task on your heart, He will provide you with everything you need to complete it.

Leadership Principle #3- Give God the glory

If we are not careful, pride can sneak in our hearts and we will believe that our abilities accomplished the task. Just as Nehemiah gave the glory to God, so must we give Him the all of the glory.

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my request.” (Nehemiah 2:8b, NIV).

  “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, NIV).

Leadership Principle #4- Be an encourager

When the Lord calls us to complete a task, He does not call us to go at it alone, but will send people around us. Just as Jesus had his disciples and Paul mentored Timothy, so too did the Lord call people around Nehemiah to help him rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Though leadership of any kind can be a difficult task, the best leaders will try their best to encourage those around them. As a leader encouragement involves others “buying into” the vision God has laid out before you.

 “Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.’ I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, NIV).

  “After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials, and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember, the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’” (Nehemiah 4:14, NIV).

            The remaining principles will be shared in the next post.

Servant Leadership

Much has been written and discussed on the subject of leadership. What are the qualities of a leader? Are leaders born or made? Who is a leader? Does a leader have that “it” factor that makes them sets them apart as a leader? These are just a handful of questions that arise when leadership is discussed.

What comes to mind when you think of a leader? Do you think of your boss? Someone who is highly educated? Someone with all the right connections? Someone who knows how to take charge in a crisis? The truth is everyone at some point in their lives will find themselves in a position of leadership. Granted, not everyone will be elected President of the United States or be the CEO of a large multi-national corporation, but everyone assumes leadership positions. For example, do you raise children? Do you teach children or coach a little league team? Are you a supervisor or manager at work? Do you pastor a church or are you on the church board? Are you serving or served in the military where you led other soldiers?

Leadership can take on many different forms as there are as many different people and styles of leadership. There are leaders who lead with an aggressive authoritarian style and there are those who lead with a quiet strength and character. What does the Bible have to say about leadership? What does God look for in a leader? Are there biblical principles on leadership that we can apply to our everyday lives?

In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, we learn about Israel’s desire to have a king rule over them. Through the prophet Samuel, God anoints Saul as Israel’s first king. However, through continued disobedience, God rejects Saul as king and sends Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel. Jesse brings out his sons and Samuel sees Eliab, the oldest son.

“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’” (1 Samuel 16:6, NIV).

Samuel thought Eliab looked like a king, the same way people discuss whether or not a presidential candidate “looks presidential.” Samuel believed Eliab had that “it” factor- he looked like a king, he was tall and probably well built, had a commanding presence, but God had other ideas.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).

Jesse brought seven of his sons out before Samuel and God rejected every one of them. Samuel asked Jess if he had any more sons. Jesse said he had a son who was shepherding the sheep, his youngest son, David. Jesse sent for David and Samuel waited for him to arrive.

“So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’ So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.” (1 Samuel 16:12-13, NIV). In the next chapter of 1 Samuel, we come across the story of David taking down the giant Goliath. Eventually, David overcomes many obstacles and becomes king upon the death of King Saul.

This brings up the first characteristic of a servant leaders: In order to lead, we must have our hearts right toward God in order to serve others. The way for us to lead is to follow the example of Jesus. In Matthew chapter 20, the disciples James and John are jockeying for position as to who can sit on Jesus’ right and left hands when he enters into his kingdom. Jesus used the moment to teach all twelve disciples about servant leadership.

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:25-28, NIV).

What Jesus talked about with His disciples was certainly a radical concept at the time and still is to this day. In order to lead, you must know how to follow. In the secular business world, there are those who seem to revel in making themselves look great by putting down others. To people such as that, it does not matter how many people they step on while climbing “the ladder of success.” In fact, those people may say “The end justifies the means” or “Win at any cost.”

This brings up the second characteristic of servant leaders: In order to lead, we must have an understanding of authority and submit ourselves to God’s purpose and plan.

The Apostle Paul expands on Jesus’ example of servant leadership:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knees should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11, NIV).

The Lord Jesus came to this earth to fulfill the purpose for which he was sent- to die for all of the sins of humanity. This was always the plan of God- even before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is our example of serving God with humbleness and singleness of heart. We must look at everything we have and are as gifts from God. If we humble ourselves, God will exalt us in his time. However, if we exalt ourselves, God will humble us as he did powerful kings and mighty nations. If we have the proper understanding of God’s will for our lives and submit to him, we will be ready when called upon. As in the Bible, God calls upon ordinary people to do extraordinary things- even things that seemed impossible and beyond natural ability. A few examples are Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promise Land, Gideon leading an army of 300 against the Midianites, David conquering Goliath with five stones and a slingshot, and Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

Now with Jesus as our example for submitting to God’s authority, servant leaders display a third characteristic: Servant leaders also submit and pray for our earthly leaders.  When posed with the question of whether taxes should be paid to Rome, Jesus responded by asking to see a coin. Jesus asked whose picture was on the coin and they said Caesar’s. Jesus then said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17, KJV). As Christians, our first allegiance is to God, but we are to follow authority, because all authority is put in place by God.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2, NIV).

“I urge, then first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people- for kings and all those in authority, that we may love peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV).

As a leader, there are many decisions to be made on a daily basis. A supervisor may find himself in a situation where he has to evaluate employee performance. A commanding officer may have to devise a battle plan. Whatever the situation, there may arise gray areas in business or in the field of leadership. Not every decision or action by a leader will be clear or even popular with the group, hard choices have to be made. How do I cut money out of the budget? Whom do I let go? How do I deal with this crisis? This brings up the fourth characteristic of servant leaders: Servant leaders seek wisdom from God’s Word and apply to their lives.

      When he became king, Solomon was asked by God what he wanted. In essence, God gave Solomon a blank check- Solomon could have asked for anything he wanted- fame, money, possessions. However, Solomon asked God for the wisdom to lead Israel. Wisdom is needed to lead, whether it be leading a family, finances, a business, or a country. Wisdom is essentially applying God’s Word to a given situation. We must keep God’s Word close to our hearts. We cannot ignore the wisdom contained in the Bible or seek it half-heartily. If we apply the principles of God, we will be successful.

“Be strong and courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9, NIV).

Though not a complete or exhaustive list, these principles can serve as a foundation from which we can succeed in life. We must remember success God’s way is not about material possessions or titles, but it is about serving him with our whole hearts because he gave us everything when his Son, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. Jesus came first as a servant, but he is returning King of kings and Lord of lords. Whatever your current lot in life, there is a God who loves you and will lead you by the still waters and give you peace and rest in our tumultuous world.