Empty threats

threatenEver made an empty threat? Now be honest… you know you have. We’ve told our kids they will be grounded for the the rest of their lives. And did we follow through? No, we didn’t. Some of you have made some bigger empty threats than that. You’ve written verbal checks with insufficient funds. You knew it when you said it;  you weren’t really going to do it. But to the person threatened, it feels much more real. That’s why we do it, right? We hope our kids take us seriously. It’s an unrealistic motivational tool. Nevertheless, it is used every day.

Being threatened isn’t fun. In fact, it can be downright scary. In the book of Nehemiah, the Jews who were rebuilding the wall faced these kinds of threats. Mean threats, scary threats, death threats.  Oh, and it’s important to mention… empty threats.

Nehemiah 4:11-14 11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” 12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” 13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 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.”

These threats were meant to intimidate and discourage. They were meant to keep the work of God from stopping. Yet all throughout history, threats have never stopped the work of God. Never have they caused God to tremble and wonder if He could pull it off. Not once has God second guessed Himself  because someone took Him to task.

Yet so many of God’s people listen to the voice of the enemy. They listen to his empty threats and it causes them to be paralyzed in fear. “I’ll destroy your family. You’ll never succeed, I’ll make sure of it. You won’t ever amount to anything. God couldn’t possibly use a failure like you. You will fail again just like you always do.” Threats. EMPTY THREATS. 

To those threats of the enemy on your life, I repeat the words of Nehemiah today. “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.” Call out the empty threats of the enemy today. Fight for what God has promised you and put your faith in Him!

This job stinks!

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Not every job is glorious. There are some jobs that are just downright crappy. Necessary, but they kind of stink. Mike Rowe stars in the Discovery show, “Dirty Jobs.” In the show he find the filthiest jobs in America and then does them. He discovers that there are necessary jobs out there that few people want to do. There’s a guy in the book of Nehemiah who had one of those jobs.

Nehemiah 3:14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Rekab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. 

It was called the Dung Gate. What do you think was somewhere nearby? That’s right: something that stunk. This couldn’t have been the most desired job in the rebuilding process. There were many places on the wall and gates to rebuild. Yet someone needed to rebuild the Dung Gate. Malkijah was that guy. This job stinks!

When I was reading Nehemiah 3 today, I found the details of this situation amusing. Prior to verse 14 is a listing of all the other gates that were rebuilt and who built them. In the case of the other gates, they were rebuilt by a team of people. The smallest team was 2 people, but most of the work on the other gates and areas of the wall was done by a group of people. Not the Dung Gate. Apparently, no one signed up for that one. Poor Malkijah got the job; maybe he had the least seniority. And so he worked, alone, with the “help wanted” sign still hanging from the wall.

There’s something I appreciate about Malkijah that he probably doesn’t get credit for. He did the crappiest job on this whole project. It wasn’t beneath him. He just did it. Sometimes we tend to think that we are “above” some things. We leave the little stuff, the stinky stuff, to the little people. Yet Jesus calls us all to become little people. THAT is the path to greatness. 

In the words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Where can you serve today?

Haters gonna hate

I don’t like being mocked and ridiculed. Who does? Nobody that I know. It doesn’t feel very good. Over the Christmas season, I watched the movie Elf with my family. One of my favorite scenes is the snowball fight. The poor kid is a joke because he is hanging around with a guy dressed like an elf. But when kids start throwing snowballs at them, Buddy gets even. Take that! I will not be mocked.mocking1

 

Today’s reading is a little longer, but bear with me. This is good stuff.  Nehemiah 2:17-20

17 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.” 18 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 this good work.

19 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?”

20 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.”

Right off the bat, Nehemiah faced opposition to the very thing God had called him to. He would later receive threats, but he set the tone early as to how he would respond. He basically said, “haters gonna hate” and left it at that. It didn’t seem to phase him. There was no worry, anxiety, fear, or trepidation. He wasn’t phased. Instead, he simply didn’t listen to those that set themselves up against his calling.

When we step out in obedience to the things that God calls us to, we will often hear the voices of those who tell us we can’t do it. They will give us all the reasons why it won’t work. They will tell us we aren’t qualified, that we don’t have the resources. The problem is that they are trying to focus us on what we don’t have. We need to focus on what we do have: God! And a calling from Him. 

There are places that God is calling you to. He has a mission for you. Are you listening to His voice? Or are you listening to the voices that tell you it will never happen?

 

Responding to bad news

“I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you; what do you want to hear first?” Okay, what kind of question is that? I mean, really. Most of the time the good news is just some reassuring garbage to make us feel a little better about the bad news. Right? When someone makes that statement to me, I know that they really just have bad news. “The bad news is that your hot water heater is not fixable. The good news is that I can replace it for a price that is higher than you can afford.” Someone tell me what the good news was again?

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To be honest, I don’t really respond to bad news all that well. “We messed up your reservation, your warranty expired last week, we’re leaving your church, it didn’t work out, etc, etc.” These things honestly just bum me out. And I think that’s an okay response, as long as it isn’t our only response. Let’s turn our attention to Nehemiah and his bad news.

He found out that the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down and the gates had been burned. The city of the Lord that he loved so much had been destroyed. Nehemiah 1:4a When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. 

See, Nehemiah was bummed out too. Here’s the thing: bummed out as he was, that wasn’t his only response. Let’s continue to Nehemiah 1:4b-6a For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. 5 Then I said: “LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. 

THEN I SAID… The bummed out feeling isn’t what ruled this situation. His first response may have been crying, but his next one was crying out… TO GOD! Lord, we need you. We need your forgiveness and we need your rescue. We need your courage and we need your strength. We need your blessing and we need your favor.

This is the truly great response to bad news. This is how Nehemiah changed the course of his nation. He cried out to God. He hit his knees and made his request known. Friends, this is how you respond to bad news.

So if you find yourself discouraged today, cry out to God. If you find yourself bummed out, hopeless, or depressed, cry out to God. If you just got some really bad news, turn to the God who is greater! Trust him, lean on him, take refuge in him if you need to. He is the God who turns our mourning into dancing, and our sorrows into great joy! Nehemiah would rebuilt those walls and you can rebuild yours, too.

Running the play like it’s called

The football team in my state recently released their former starting running back. To some fans, this seemed like a surprise, because the team had been saying that this was their guy. At the beginning of the season, he looked liked “the guy.” He ran hard, ran solid, and gained good yardage. But as the season went on, his production began to decline. He was replaced by a rookie and let go shortly thereafter. So what went wrong? Well, it seems that the team no longer trusted what he would do once he got the ball. Apparently, he wasn’t running plays like they were called. Rather than hitting the gap and fighting through contact for a few yards, he was bouncing to the outside, spinning, avoiding, running out of bounds. He was relying more on his judgement than on the play call by the coach. This ultimately led to his dismissal.

Hand drawing a game strategy with white chalk on a blackboard.

As a coach, it’s important that the players run the plays that you have drawn up. The coach generally has an idea of how he or she is trying to approach the game. And as a player, you have got to trust your coach. You need to run the play like it’s called. At my daughter’s soccer award night, the coach mentioned that when my daughter started catching on to the plays as called, she started scoring more. It’s true! She listened to the coaches’ instructions and had multiple games where she scored more than one goal. She simply just had to run the play like it was called.

Which brings me to Exodus 40:16 Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

This was the marker of Moses’ life. He ran the play like it was called. Over and over again, we read this statement regarding Moses. He did it the way God told him to. Moses wasn’t in danger of being cut from the team. He wasn’t going to lose his job. There weren’t any trust issues. Moses just ran the plays that God called. 

So how am I running the plays that God gives me? I can’t say I have the same track record as Moses did, but I am certainly trying. Reading that simple verse today challenges me. It challenges me to obedience when the Lord instructs. But it also challenges me to seek the Lord for the play in the first place. The truth is, that in life, I am sometimes just running around the field with no direction. But when I go to the Lord, He dials up the right play for me to run. The rest is up to me. Will I doubt? Or will I simply run the play like it’s called? I hope I run the play.

What about you?

 

Labels

I’m not a huge fan of labels. Ok, let me clarify. When I go shopping, a price label is a good thing. When I receive a package from UPS, I take a look at the label to see who it is from. When I am at an art store, the label helps me know what exactly the artist was attempting to convey with the painting. (I’m not much of a connoisseur, so the description helps.) So when I say I’m not a huge fan of labels, I’m really talking about labels that apply to people.

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Let’s be honest; labels on people generally have a negative connotation. We don’t necessarily label people as “awesome” or “outstanding.” Instead, we label them as lazy, arrogant, self-centered, indifferent, annoying… should I stop? Those are the kind of labels that we put on people. It seems that God labels people, too. But it’s not in the way you think.

Exodus 39:30-31 They made the plate, the sacred emblem, out of pure gold and engraved on it, like an inscription on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. 31 Then they fastened a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban, as the Lord commanded Moses. 

So here’s how it went down: they made this “holy to the Lord” label and fastened it to the garments of the priests. Now that’s a good label! Let it be known that God calls me holy! Watch out people, I’m holy to the Lord. It’s written right here on my uniform. That makes it true.

1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” You are chosen. You are a priest. You are a holy nation. You know what that means? It means you get to wear the uniform with the label, too.

God looks at you, His son or His daughter, and proclaims out over you: “HOLY!” You have been marked. You have been labeled. You have been set apart for the purposes of God. Wear your badge proud, my friends. Because the God of the universe sees you as holy. So be holy. Set your heart on it, set your mind on it. In fact, set your whole life on it. After all, Jesus set his whole life of attaining that holiness for you.

More than enough

Recently, I was shopping at Costco with my son. When we got home, I asked him to help me unload the car. There were lots of things to bring in so I handed him a box to carry. He told me that he could carry more than that, so I gave him more. Then I gave him more and more. “That’s enough,” he told me. The truth is, it was more than enough! He started laughing at the hilarious sight he knew he was, and attempted to carry in this tower of boxes.  He almost made it, too. It was when he tried to set them down that they all came crashing. We had a good laugh.

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As I was reading Exodus 36 today, that picture of my son carrying the boxes came to mind. You see, Moses had been collecting offerings in order to build the tabernacle. People were so generous and just kept giving and giving. It was awesome! Then this happened:

Exodus 36:4-7  So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more,because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.

Moses, please tell the people to stop giving; we have too much! Can you even imagine a scenario in your life where this is the case? This is some pretty extreme generosity. You see, the people saw the need and wouldn’t rest until it was met. How awesome is that? They not only gave enough, but they gave more than enough!

I’m not so good and giving more than enough. Don’t get me wrong, giving is awesome. It’s really cool to get to help someone meet their needs. I don’t mind buying someone lunch. But the Israelites not only bought lunch, they went for dessert, too. That’s some extreme generosity!

All this causes me to reflect on my own heart of generosity. Do I give of my time and my resources up to the point I am comfortable giving? Do I look first at what I can spare and give that? Or am I like the people of Exodus who just keep on giving to the point of overwhelming someone with extreme blessing?  The truth is, I’ve never been told to stop because I was too generous. The truth is, I tend to look at what I am lacking instead of what have. But the people of Israel didn’t let that stop them, nor did it stop the church in Corinth. In fact 2 Corinthians 8:2 says “their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” 

With our generosity, God can take poverty and turn it into richness. He can take the very little we have and overflow us with joy as we give. I am challenged today to be more giving. As we enter this season of giving, let’s be mindful that no one has probably ever told us to stop giving. Until that happens, there’s room to grow our generosity.