“Listen to their Story”

“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 exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find 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? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them–the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.” “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of his house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised. “ – Nehemiah 5:6-13

The Gingerbread Man Reloaded

When my son was a toddler, I purchased a book titled “Bedtime Stories for 365 days”. He and I would read a different story every night, and then I would tuck him into bed and pray the “Sandman” would whisk him away to Toddler Land – The place where the world is a big sandbox, Green Apple Jolly Ranchers, and Bugs Bunny Cartoons; where carrots were forbidden, and the word “no” was abolished. Then it happened; one night we read the story of the “Gingerbread Man”! He was so tickled that the Gingerbread Man escaped the perils of being devoured by the little Ol Lady who created him. He REALLY got excited when we would chant:

“Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.”

So, the next night, there was another story to read. He listened for a few moments, and then his little eyes filled up with tears. I asked him, “What’s wrong Son”? His response (in toddler dialect): “I wanna to hear more Gingabreadman” At that very moment I heard in my head “Danger Will Robinson Danger”. How am I going to read this story, EVERY NIGHT, for the next 300 plus nights? I asked him again: “Son, don’t you want to hear the other stories”? His response (in more toddler dialect): “No Daddy cause this story my story”. So, for the next 300 plus nights, I had to become “creative” with crafting the “Gingabreadman” into one of the other stories.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

King Henry:

Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose

To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,

And in the calmest and most stillest night,

With all appliances and means to boot,

Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Henry IV, Part 2 Act 3, scene 1, 26–31

When you read Nehemiah 5:6, he has heard the complaints of the congregation. Nehemiah’s “To Do List” is past full on the “Project Gauge”. He is having to deal with daily business operations, as well as reconstruction of the wall. However, Nehemiah does two things: 1) He listens and 2) He responds (notice how important it is to listen first, then respond). As a leader, whether it is secular employment, or in ministry, grumbles, grievances, and gripes are very seldom going to appear during times of your convenience. As a matter of fact, they will show up as you are planning the Annual Friends and Family Day; show up as you are planning the annual budget for the church; show up before and after a wedding or homegoing service; show up after the worship benediction. Complaints won’t wait until you are ready to deal with them. Complaints won’t always be packaged nicely. Protests won’t always come from just one person, but maybe a group of people. Grievances won’t always make full sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to the one(s) making the claim. Nehemiah didn’t tell them to come back between the hours of 9am and 5pm. Nehemiah didn’t tell them he had bigger fish to fry. Nehemiah didn’t tell them “just deal with it”. Nehemiah LISTENED.

Secondly, Nehemiah responds.   The congregation was barely out of Babylonian captivity, and here their own were taxing and putting burdens on them that were totally dishonest. Nehemiah was livid! Sometimes, it’s a very good thing for your employees and congregation to see that sin, evil and injustice angers you. However, in your anger, sin not.

Nehemiah understood, that if he listened and followed through with their complaint, he would end up receiving more assistance, and less non-productivity or “feet dragging” from those who lodged the complaint. Those who you lead, at different times in their lives, need you to show that you care, versus just saying you do.

. . . as fast as you can!

The Church is by far not a perfect place. You have imperfect people, serving a Perfect God. As long as Satan is around, so will there be evil. We are living in perilous times, yet as leaders we have to deal with what lies before us.

Nehemiah didn’t believe in sticking his head in the sand, and the problem will go away. He dealt with the issues his people had. Nehemiah didn’t brush the people off like a gnat at a picnic; he showed compassion and went to bat for them. The “Gingabreadman” did not believe in dragging his feet. He ran as fast as he could.

Sexual harassment in the congregation? Deal with it as fast as you can.

Child molestation in the congregation? Deal with it as fast as you can.

Sexual deviation in the congregation? Deal with it as fast as you can.

Brother addicted to drugs and alcohol, and the wife comes to you for help? Deal with it as fast as you can.

Sister has a miscarriage or still birth, and the husband comes to you with briny tears rolling down his cheeks? Deal with it as fast as you can.

Young brother commits murder or suicide and the parents comes to you with a heavy heart? Deal with it as fast as you can.

Young sister comes to you, parents on both sides of her, two months pregnant and need guidance? Deal with it as fast as you can.

“There are three qualities a leader must exemplify to build trust: competence, connection, and character.” – John Maxwell

~ Blessings


Man Up . . . or Quit!

“Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”” – 1 Sam 4:9

Among the final directions from Paul in his first epistle to the church in Corinth is this interesting expression in the KJV and ASV. It is grouped among other admonitions in First Corinthians 16:13: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” This expression comes from a single Greek word that is only found once right here in our passage. 

It actually means the very opposite of that which it sounds—Paul is encouraging these brethren to discharge their duties in true manly fashion. In other words, they were not to be cowards. They were not to be timid in their pursuit of godly things. They were not to allow their enemies to alarm them and create fear to the point of discouraging them from doing that which they knew was right. They were to be brave. In modern times, we would express it, “Be a man!” This expression, along with the others within First Corinthians 16:13, is a verse for soldiers and warriors!

Whenever we have difficulty understanding a Biblical expression, it is often helpful to research other translations to gain a better understanding. Note the following:

  • “…act as men” (McCord).
  • “…act like men” (NASV).
  • “…have courage” (NCV).
  • “…be men of courage” (NIV).
  • “…be brave” (NKJV).
  • “…be courageous” (RSV).
  • “…acquit yourselves like men” (WNT).

It is interesting that while we do not find this word anywhere else in our Greek New Testaments, we do find this word in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) a number of different times. Most notably, we find this expression within the emphatic encouragement that God gave to Joshua as he took the reins of leadership following the death of his mentor, Moses: “Be strong and of a good courage” (Joshua 1:6-9), to which even several of the tribes of Israel responded assuredly in the same fashion (Joshua 1:18). David gave this same encouragement to his son, Solomon: “Be strong and of good courage” (1 Chronicles 28:20). Hezekiah encouraged his captains concerning the invasion of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, with these same words: “Be strong and courageous” (2 Chronicles 32:7). One may find this expression about nineteen other times in the Septuagint.

In addition, we can see the same expression translated in the same way in the Old Testament. For example, the Philistines rang their battle cry against the Israelites, “Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight” (1 Samuel 4:9). In similar fashion, Joab, captain of the Israelite army under King David, encouraged the troops when he said, “Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the Lord do that which seemeth him good” (2 Samuel 10:12). 

Thus, when Satan sends enemies to attack us and other saints within the church of our Lord, we do not flinch! We maintain our ground. We press forward and strike as good soldiers of the cross (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20). May we all resolve to become Christians who are brave in the face of moral danger! 

~Cmon Men!

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“Standing in the Gap”

As our children return for another school year, we must be diligent in standing in the gap for them. Ezekiel 22:30 “So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.” Notice some of the key components of this scripture:

          a)      The Lord was looking for a man / men.

          b)      The Lord wanted a man / men to build a wall (protection).

          c)      The Lord wanted a man / men to stand in the gap before HIM.

We must realize that as a male we have been marked and designated as the ones who will crush the head of the enemy. The Son of Man did it ultimately but we have been called out to do it on a daily basis.  A woman can defeat the enemy but we are the ones that are to lead the way.

We are the ones in the church who should be on the front lines fighting the brunt of the battle. Yet, so often who does the fighting? Our prayer warriors are almost always the sisters. Where are the men? One man said, “If a man-eating lion got loose in the church he would starve to death.” We can no longer set back and let the ladies fight all of the battles. We have been marked and designated. Matthew declares that “The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold to it.” Moody said, “The world has yet to see what one sold out man of God could do.” Yet we have churches full of spiritual widows. We have shut down spiritually. A lot of our churches lack leadership by Godly men. Ezekiel 22:23 declares there will be no rain or spiritual blessing because the enemy had devoured the people and there many widows. Until men take their positions we will not see the full blessings of God in our churches, communities, and homes.

Men, we must teach our children to:

~ Have respect for authority, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1)

~ Develop healthy relationships, “My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent.  If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait to shed blood; Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause;  Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,  And whole, like those who go down to the Pit; We shall find all kinds of precious possessions, We shall fill our houses with spoil;  Cast in your lot among us, Let us all have one purse”–  My son, do not walk in the way with them, Keep your foot from their path;”  (Proverbs 1:10-15)

~ Submission to God, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Some our kids are on the road to jail, death, and a personal hell.  It is our responsibility, men, to shield and protect our nest. If we don’t cover our nest there will be casualties.

C’mon Men!  God is still seeking for men in our churches, our communities, our homes.

~ Standing in the Gap

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“At What Cost”?

“Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished.  He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)  Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”  “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”  But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.”Genesis 25:29-34

“He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. . . . “ – Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Esau was the oldest, but did not hold this blessing as an honor in the family and community.  Esau was a skillful hunter; rugged looks to match a rugged lifestyle, living and playing in rugged conditions.  Esau, the poster child for wild men; hunts wild animals in wild conditions.  Society, today, would call Esau an undisciplined and unmanageable man.  Jesus offers undisciplined and unmanageable men, a word of caution, “”Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matt 7:6)

Esau was born in the family lineage of Abraham.  Esau was an heir to the promises God made to Abraham.  God called Abraham His friend and told him that he was going to build a nation and a people that would number as many as the stars in Heaven.  Furthermore, as the eldest, Esau was destined to receive a double portion of this inheritance.  Esau, to satisfy his flesh for a moment, sold his birthright; threw his birthright to someone who didn’t deserve it.

We have young men who are destined to be:

–           Astronauts

–           Doctors

–           Lawyers

–           Physicists

–           Engineers

–           CEOs

–           Senators

–           Presidents

Instead, they rather live wild, live undisciplined, live unmanageable.

–           Drunk

–           Drug addict / dealer

–           Gang banger

–           Baby maker

–           Angry, cold, callous, lazy, destructive, and indifferent.

This is what Satan does, he tempts us in order to make us lose what God has put into us.

Satan brings:

–           Distance

–           Disunity

–           Discontentment

–           Disassociation

–           Destruction

Esau blamed his mistake on others; Satan’s lie existed then, as it does today.  Satan is telling our young men that they have a right to do wrong!

Blame society!  You have a right to do wrong!  You were born in less than favorable conditions!

Blame your Daddy!  He walked out on you and Mommy!  Left you to go into the streets to help you and your Mommy and siblings to survive!  You have a right to do wrong!

Blame the church!  While some are preaching “Pie in the Sky”, I have to watch Mommy’s “friend” abuse her every weekend; drunk, cussing, and abusing!  I have a right to do wrong!

God’s Word stands true, and reminds us,”The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;” (John 10:10a)

–           Steal their birthright

–           Kill their dreams.

–           Destroy their inheritance.

Pull some young men aside, and tell them, God says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11)

–           You can be a good husband.

–           You can be a good father.

–           You can be a good brother.

–           You can be a good son.

–           You can be a good employee.

–           You can be a good mentor.

–           You can be a good church leader.

No matter what it takes, protect your birthright at all costs!  Don’t sell your birthright; don’t give it to the pigs and dogs!

~ Selah

Paying the Fiddler

 “Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.  Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.  But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.” – Judges 16:20-22

When I was enduring the horrors of basic training at Fort Jackson, SC, our Drill Sargent used to tell us, “If you want to hear a tune, you have to pay the fiddler.”  Now, I understood the definition, but didn’t have the heart to correct him. . .  LOL!  The correct term was “pay the piper”, and the definition is:  To pay a price that you deem high or unfair, but failing to pay the price often results in dire consequences; to bear the unfavorable consequences of one’s actions or pleasures. 

This was Samson’s testimony. 

Samson grew up in a God fearing home.  Both his father and mother were present.  As a matter of fact, the angle of the Lord appeared to his mother, and had her make a covenant with God, as her son was to be reared under the Nazarite Law (In the Hebrew Bible, a nazirite or nazarite, (in Hebrew: נזיר, nazir), refers to one who voluntarily took a vow described in Numbers 6:1–21. “Nazarite” comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”. This vow required the man or woman to:

Abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, intoxicating liquors, vinegar distilled from such substances, and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes.

Refrain from cutting the hair on one’s head; but to allow the locks of the head’s hair to grow.

Not to become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members.

Samson grew into a male, but his manhood never connected.  He had his mother and Pops set up a marriage with somebody he didn’t even know.  Then, he tried sex without commitment; he went to bed with a prostitute.  Well, marriage didn’t work out, and hooking up with the hooker didn’t pan out either.  However, Samson still loved the women.  The Holy Writ reminds us, Galatians 5:16 – [This] I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Also, 1 John 2:16 – For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. Samson’s lust was directed towards women.  Some of our young men and men, have the same lust, but when combined with:

Lust for money. . . . . Lust for fame. . . . . Lust for power.

The end results are the same; you end up paying the fiddler!

Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu wrote:  “his focus was on the outside, the external, and not on the inside, the internal.”  Real love is internal; looks and lust are external.  In steps Delilah, and the cost associated with her.

1. Sin always takes you farther then you want to go.

Delilah must have been a very beautiful woman because she caught Samson’s eye and he fell in love with her.  Because of his deep infatuation with Delilah, Samson went farther than he wanted to go.  He had a secret to keep; it was the secret of why he was so strong.  The Philistine men wanted to know the secret because they hated Samson. They hated him because he had killed so many of their friends.  So the Philistine men convinced Delilah to get him to reveal the secret of his great strength.  3 times she tried and 3 times Samson gave her misleading information about the source of his strength. Finally after the third time Delilah let Samson have it, she said, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me?”

Samson was about to go farther than he wanted to go.

The longer Samson entertained his desires, the longer he gave into the temptation of being with Delilah the more willing he was to reveal the secret of his great strength.

He knew that he was set apart. He knew that he was chosen by God. He knew that he was to deliver Israel. And yet sin was taking him farther than he wanted to go. His lust for Delilah was controlling him.  Instead of having his eyes focused on the source of his strength Samson was focused on something that brought him momentary pleasure.  The longer he stayed with Delilah the easier it became to sin.

Our young men and men out in the streets, might start off with a little gang in middle school, and end up joining a full fledge street gang by 16 years of age.  Might start out shoplifting Duncan yo-yo’s and end up robbing banks, breaking and entering.  Might start out sipping wine coolers and end up drinking hard alcohol for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

2. Sin keeps you longer than you want to stay.

Not only did his sin take him farther than he wanted to go, it also kept him longer than he wanted to stay.

By giving into Delilah, Samson lost his power. When he lost his power the Philistines were then able to overtake him, gouge his eyes out, and throw him into prison where he would push a grinding stone until he died.

The longer we stay in our sin the more we are bound by it. There comes a point in time when we become prisoner to sin. We are entrapped by it and unable to escape it.

The Apostle Paul explains it like this, “We do the things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things we want to do.”

Because of sin, Samson was a prisoner. His sin was more important to him than God was and it was.  Sin will bind you.  Sin will blind you.  Sin will imprison you.  Sin will make you entertain the devil.

3. Sin will always cost you more then you want to pay.

God had a great plan for Samson. He was to deliver the people from the hands of the Philistines but instead of being all that God wanted him to be, Samson was thrown into prison and then killed in one last attempt to strike at the Philistines.

Samson died.  Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Men.  God has a plan for all of us!  Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Sin cost Samson more than he was willing to pay. It cost him his life.  Sin took Samson farther than he wanted to go, kept him longer than he wanted to stay, and cost him more than he wanted to pay.  And sin does the same thing to you and me.

If you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior you have never asked God to forgive you of your sins. Sin is controlling you. You may not even realize that it is controlling you but the fact is, your eyes are not on Jesus and you have not been washed by His blood.  The Apostle John reminds us, “If the Son sets you free then you are free indeed.”

We may fall from time to time, we may lose a battle now and then, but the more we fix our eyes on Jesus the easier it gets to say no to temptation.

When we are tempted to sin let us remember that there is always a way out and that way is through Jesus.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

~ Shalom

“Let Us Start Rebuilding”

“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 upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.” – Nehemiah 2:17, 18

As a young lad growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, it was not uncommon to receive a cap gun for Christmas or your birthday. We played days at a time; cowboys and Indians or army soldiers. Those were some awesome times to live in, as the only care we had in the world, was running out of caps. In today’s world, young men have graduated from the “cap gun” to AK-47’s, AR15’s, Mossberg 930’s and other weapons of destruction. It seems like every day, some young man dies a horrible death, or has committed a horrible crime, resulting in the death of an innocent person. Violence is the result of pathology of the soul. The very first dysfunctional family on earth, Adam and Eve, gave birth to a son, who carried out the first murder. When Cain killed Able, evil showed us that violence does not begin with wars in foreign lands, or with just the evil notion of “ethnic cleansing”. No, violence is a close to us as our own hearts. In Genesis 9:6, a foundation is built with a weighty code on how God feels about violence: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

We cannot talk about murder without talking about rage. We cannot talk about shootings in schools and movie theaters without talking about the infections of hatred, malice, and anger in our culture. We have a generation of “fatherless” homes, with teenage pregnancy on the rise, HIV/AIDS being the new norm, and young men aspiring to be the new Cocaine or Meth King. While the “cap gun” generation has grown into adult hood, somewhere along the years, “the community lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.” So, how do we begin to rebuild the community? Jesus laid out the design for rebuilding, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Keeping the peace and being managers of peace, is not an easy task. As a matter of fact, Peacekeeping is hard and tiresome work. However, Jesus mandates that if we are to be called by His name, then we need to be the catalyst for peace.

This challenge is daunting—but it is Jesus’ clear call for his followers in all times. Our entertainment industry fills our minds with violent images and lyrics. The formidable technology of war today takes on a life of its own. Many people are living a hair-trigger life. And every time a school shooting occurs, and we have 24/7 media coverage, a thousand potential copy-cats—people living in the shadows of society, people who are disconnected or outcast—have their pulse quicken at the idea of having their names in the headlines.

Somehow the work of peacemakers needs to begin long, long before the bullets are loaded in the magazines. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: “The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When he called them they found their peace, for he is their peace…. they are told that they must not only have peace but make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult.”
What can be done about violence?

There are many professionals whose work is peacemaking, and we need to pray for them and support them. Law enforcement, criminal justice, educators, mental health professionals, and many others. Safety and security in a community comes from a network of collaborators. We will never eliminate violence, but we can lessen it. We don’t need vigilantes, we need vigilance. Followers of Jesus are called to do more than passively waiting for the next person to draw his gun. Our Lord and Savior command us to close the gap with people rejected by others.  To connect with the wounded before they lash out and wound others. To bring down the level of tension and stress around us by living in shalom.

So, “Let us start rebuilding”, “Let us begin this good work”.

~ Shalom