15 June 2010

building walls

In his classic book on leadership, Hand Me Another Brick, Dr. Charles Swindoll examines the recorded events of the life of Nehemiah which are given in Scripture. As he provides an evaluation of this biblical figure, Swindoll interweaves lessons on leadership which are as applicable to modern life as they were to Nehemiah. (They are also principles which have been studied by leaders in areas both sacred and secular.)

The final pages of the book give insight into the significant problems which Nehemiah faced upon his return from a period away from the newly rebuilt Jerusalem. Swindoll investigates four primary issues which I believe are as prevalent in modern Christianity. While the four problems listed are in his words, the additional commentary is mine.

1. the problem of a compromising companionship
Nehemiah faced a situation where his own leadership was distracted from the task at hand, thus moving away from the calling of God upon them. For Nehemiah, this meant a head-on confrontation and challenge with one of his leaders which lead to a very unpopular and uncomfortable confrontation. This happens often in our own churches, where the leadership becomes focussed on things which are not part of God's kingdom, but which are more concerned with the happiness and contentment of others - in other words, the stress of appeasement pushes hard on the will of God. Christians need to be wholly committed to truth, and unafraid to live it out regardless of the public consequence.

2. the problem of a financial fiasco
Every church in every age is going to, at some point, run into the problem of finance. Not so much whether or not there is enough money to keep the ministry afloat, but what is being done with the money of the church and how responsible we are in using it for the kingdom. Often the biggest issue with church finance is that we simply don't use enough money for the work of the kingdom. Building cushions can easily amount to burying treasures, and quickly leads to all sorts of panic when said cushioning begins to deplete (which was the whole point of having the saved cushion in the first place!). Issues surrounding money abound, and one of the most common is the ongoing threat of the so-called 'large donors' who will leave the church in a lurch if they are not happy with every tiny decision. Yet, time and again Scripture shows us that it never ends well when people use money to hijack God's will or his people.

3. the problem of the secularized Sabbath
One of the problems with the anti-legalistic reading of the sabbath is that we've officially swung the pendulum too far the other way - we are completely lax about sabbath observation to the point where it is difficult/impossible to distinguish between Christians and non-Christians. Recently I reviewed The Lost World of Genesis One, which gave a better definition of the sabbath than most commentators. It is not so much our chance to 'rest' in that we are going to have quiet time and afternoon naps (though I find that I appreciate them more as I grow older), as it is our opportunity to celebrate God's ascension in the cosmos. When God "rested" on the seventh day of creation he did so in a royal sense, not an energy sort of way. He rose to his rest upon the throne of this world in order to rule it, and now summons us to celebrate his reign by how we spend our seventh day - which should not be anything 'ordinary.'

The point is this: we might not need the physical rest on a seventh day, but we do need to be reminded of God's supremacy in creation - thus the sabbath was made for humanity, humanity was not made for the sabbath.

4. the problem of domestic disobedience
Upon taking a quick glance around our world, it becomes quite evident that 'domestic disturbance' is the norm for our culture. Our families are crumbling from within, our relationships are not healthy, our neighborhoods unfriendly, our faith undemonstrated. We have sought to be so 'politically-correct' and 'diplomatic' that we've sacrificed the values that ought to make us kingdom-people, both in word and deed. A renewed commitment to ourselves, our families, our churches and our God is necessary for this trend to reverse.

Although the power of the darkness is strong, the light is all the more effective. A list like this demonstrates how much work is ahead of us as the people of God. But his Spirit is also at work in giving us the means to accomplish his tasks.

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