Month: July 2016

Leadership 40

Keeping balance and focus as a leader requires constant attention. There is not a moment in the heat of the battle when we can relax our attention. Those who do find themselves victims, especially the leader. And the damage done is profound. Nehemiah 4 tells us that those who stood on the wall “never even changed their clothes.” (4:23)

Recently a mega church pastor found himself unguarded and in the crosshairs. For reasons only he and God understand he played the edges and fell over. While the cause of his failure was not a moral lapse, it was nevertheless a damaging one and much bruising occurred because of it.

This is the danger. We cannot compromise with the flesh and win anymore than we can tame a water moccasin.

Sometimes the Bible bids us to stand and fight the enemy. Sometimes it tells us to flee. But it never calls us to a diplomatic truce. If you don’t want the snake to bite don’t let it through the door.

The enemy is deadly. He will never be your friend. Nor will the world. Nor will the flesh.

Keep up your guard. And never forget the battle is the Lord’s, not yours!


FOR MEDITATION:   “…our God will fight for us.” Nehemiah 4:20

FOR REFLECTION: Where do you find yourself fighting battles for God instead of trusting Him to win the battle for you?

Leadership 39

Chapter 4 of Nehemiah outlines the strategy the Enemy uses to stop the work when God’s people are rebuilding. There are, in Scripture, three enemies mentioned that we must always be aware of: the world, the flesh and the devil. The world encases the cultural context we are working in; the flesh is the enemy within… the fallen nature that can rear its head against us; and the devil… the adversary that is always working. These three become barriers to completing the work.

In a historic framework and picture, Nehemiah contends with these in Chapter 4. However, this is not the first time they appear. Early in the process, as Nehemiah steps out by faith to go to Jerusalem, they had already visited. And if you are on the journey toward God’s calling in your life as a leader in any category, you are going to encounter these three visitors.

Nehemiah’s enemies had names: Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and assorted others. Your enemies may also have names: ridicule, resistance and rumors may visit your plans to walk with God. Ridicule keeps you aware that the world does not approve of what you are doing. Resistance comes from within as we face self-doubt and confront our own frailties and weaknesses. And rumors will always fly since the name of your adversary, Satan, literally means “slanderer or accuser.”

Sanballat and Tobiah and their friends ridiculed the work Nehemiah was accomplishing. When they ridiculed him, they did it in front of others (4:2). They sought to discourage him from thinking that what he was doing would last (4:3). Nehemiah constantly brought his own internal weaknesses and doubt to the Lord in prayer as he fought his own resistance and questions. The rumors flew as the enemy fueled the fears of people against Nehemiah and the builders.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament wisely reminds us to “not be unaware of the enemies’ strategy.” Don’t be blind to what is happening when ridicule and resistance and rumors are showing up. It means you are moving forward. And moving forward will always have a price tag.

And let me caution here again: our battle is not with people. We are fighting a spiritual war. Satan will always activate people to move against you and hide behind these “human shields” as he fights with you. The worst thing we can do is turn on people as these things happen. Remember something: hurting people hurt people. If someone is spreading rumors or innuendo; if a co-worker is acting out in an unexplained way, just remember the adversary has activated a hurting person to use as a weapon against you.

Be aware. Stay focused. Know that God will give you the victory as you keep your eyes on Him!


FOR MEDITATION: We prayed to our God and posted a guard. Nehemiah 4:9

FOR REFLECTION: So far in Nehemiah, we see the leader on his knees before the Lord constantly. “I prayed…” “I prayed” “I prayed…” we read throughout Nehemiah chapters 1-3. But here we see something different: “So we prayed….” That change of pronoun is profound. As the leader prayed, now others are joining him. Your example in your home, in your personal life before God will influence others.

Leadership 38

If this were a sermon, I would title it “Vigilance.” More than any other time, more than any other day I have ever lived through, “vigilance” is the order of the day. The Sunday before writing this, a church in Jacksonville was threatened by a man on the property with a shotgun. Had the church not been vigilant, that could have had a very bad ending.

We live in a day where our threats are real. Our staff recently had a discussion about safety in the church. It involved more than simply saying, “well just trust the Lord and it will be alright.” Jesus said in one verse “put your sword away” and then in another, “sell what you have and buy a sword.” So we live between a place where we trust in God and remember that “the wrath of man does not accomplish the will of God” and the need to “keep watch and be vigilant, for your adversary like a roaring lion is on the prowl.” God wants us to trust Him for protection but not to the exclusion of our being careful and vigilant. We are to watch and pray. One old preacher I heard translated it this way: “Pray with one eye open.”

Nehemiah 4 is an excellent example of godly vigilance. Nehemiah knew there were enemies around. He had met them. They had threatened him and so he posted guards as they continued building the wall. In fact their vigilance was such that “half the workers built and half stood guard with swords and shields and bows and armor.” (4:16) They trusted God (4:14) but they kept their swords sharpened!

We are also to “keep our sword and shield and armor” at hand. This is called “the Christian’s armor” and I do not believe this is just a metaphor or symbolic armament. We are literally, I believe, to pray through this armor as we confront the reality of the spiritual warfare around us. To move out without our armor is like running onto the field in a college football game without your helmet and pads! You will be destroyed by the first play! And so it has happened to many Christians.

Paul ends his challenge to believers in Ephesians 6 with this thought: “Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age….” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Be vigilant. Don’t sleep while on watch. Prompt each other to stay on the alert. And together, we will overcome!


FOR MEDITATION: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.        James 4:7

FOR REFLECTION: Check yourself. Are you ready for battle? Do you know the enemy is on the prowl and never takes time off? We need to be ever watching. And always prepared for war.

Leadership 37

A neuropsychologist named Karen Horney studied interpersonal trends in people and determined that there are three kinds of people. She called them “moving toward, moving away and moving against” people. We are all more comfortable in one of these interpersonal stances than the other. Gregarious, outgoing, friendly people are “moving toward” people. Shy, retiring or fearful folks are “moving away” people. And angry, critical, vengeful or mean-tempered individuals are called “moving against.”

I would add a fourth, respectfully. Some people are “moving forward” people. They are called leaders. “Moving forward” people are taking on a difficult path, a tough assignment or a growth challenge. Nehemiah was a “moving forward” person. Though his background did not betray this, he was a person who had instinctive “moving forward” tendencies. He knew how to lead people. Perhaps he learned by watching the most powerful man on the planet in that day… a king named Artaxerxes. Maybe he saw these characteristics in other people he admired.

But the “moving forward” person will always… let me underscore that… ALWAYS encounter the “moving against” people. In Nehemiah’s story, his “moving against” people were named Sanballat, Tobiah and a host of other men who aspired to leadership of the scattered remnant of Judah. His presence brought a threat that they could only “move against.” To do otherwise… to embrace his plan, to endorse his leadership or to retire away… would mean a substantial surrender of control and influence they had acquired.

Whether you work in a business environment, the political world or church-related work there will always be “moving against” people that must be confronted. And yet, as one high level leader has said, “a kite takes flight in resistance to the wind, not with it.” In our lives, when the hand of God is moving us to accomplish the work of God, the wind will always blow against us at some point. Don’t let it wreck your kite! Rise because of it. Know that “the Lord is your stronghold.”

When Nehemiah began to hear the repeated and intensifying taunts of the enemies around him, he did not attack them in return. IN fact, his strategy for rising was to fall… on his knees. He prayed, “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not forgive their iniquity, and do not let their sins be blotted out before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.” (Nehemiah 4:4-5)

So when the “moving against” people show up… and they will… don’t collapse in fear or attack in retaliation. Stand in prayer and let the Lord fight the battle for you. “Our warfare is not with flesh and blood…” Paul reminds us. And the victory is not ours… but the Lord’s. We simply need to learn to rise when the wind picks up… and pray when the pressure is greatest!


FOR MEDITATION: So we built the wall… for the people had a mind to work.      Nehemiah 4:6

FOR REFLECTION: How have “moving against” people made your life difficult? Are you fighting back… or falling down in prayer?

Leadership 36

I have a yellow fly in my backyard. Whenever I go out he usually finds me. He hates me. And I hate him. I know that flies normally live only two or three days, but not this one. He has bred with a cockroach. He could live through a nuclear holocaust and when the smoke cleared, he would have one mission:

FIND TIM!

He is my enemy. He is singularly focused on harassing, buzzing and biting me. Even when Pam is out with me and in my opinion, ALWAYS smells better than I do, he comes for me. He hates me. He is my enemy.

You have one too. Not a fly… an enemy. He comes at you in many different styles and titles, names and identities. Like a fly, he harasses you, stabs at you, makes you afraid, makes you miserable. And he has one assignment:

FIND YOU!

His name is “Lord of the flies”… Beelzebub. And yes, dear one, he is real. While salvation brought you peace with God it also made an enemy for you that never bothered you much pre-salvation. That’s because you were walking with him… not against him.

But now, he’s mad. And he has our names on his radar. Nehemiah had an enemy also… this enemy attached himself to Nehemiah in the names of two men: Sanballat and Tobiah. By Chapter 4, we are seeing their third appearance in Nehemiah’s history. “And when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he was furious.” (4:1) That’s because enemies don’t just go away any more than flies just give up. They keep coming and coming and coming.

Each time Sanballat and Tobiah appeared, Nehemiah’s heart must have sunk a little. You know how it goes: “Sanballat is on the phone for you Nehemiah.” “Did you see that Twitter post from Tobiah this morning?” “Sanballat and Tobiah need a meeting with you… they said it’s urgent.”

And so it goes. These men came with one agenda… to stop the good work that Nehemiah had begun. Your enemy comes with an agenda as well… to stop the good work that Christ has begun in you. To convince you that it’s not worth continuing. That what Christ is doing in you isn’t working. To show you that what you are trying to do is not possible.

What’s the name of your fly? Your enemy? His name is Satan…accuser of the brethren. He is the one who will oppose any effort you make toward rebuilding the walls of your life or in bringing the Kingdom of God to bear in this world.

“We wrestle not with flesh and blood…” the Apostle Paul tells us…”but with principalities and powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this age.” Listen. There is always going to be a “fly in the ointment.” They don’t go away. They change names and identities and places where they hit you.

All we can do is make sure our armor is in place… and in Christ’s name carry on.

So I’m thinking about getting a beekeepers outfit….


FOR MEDITATION: Be alert and of sober mind. Your adversary the devil roams about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8

FOR REFLECTION: What is the name of your enemy? Make sure the focus of your defense is against the REAL enemy and not the guise that he comes under. Pray always and keep your armor on. The battle is real. But in Christ the victory is already won!

Leadership 35

Nehemiah Chapter 3 looks on the surface like many of the Old Testament family genealogies that we glance through or speed read on our way through a read the-Bible-in-a-year plan. If we are not careful, we will miss the rich insights that are there for us. This is not a family genealogy or someone begat someone else. Nehemiah 3 is actually an Old Testament picture of the church.

Jesus said in Matthew 16, “I will build my church.” He builds it by consolidating members, parts, pieces… bricks together. Rather than a series of “begats” we have a record of how people stood “next to” each other as the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt. In Hebrew, the phrase “next to” translates a Hebrew word for “at the hand.” Literally, these families stood “hand in hand” as they rebuilt the wall that Babylon… the world… had torn down.

They didn’t just build it… they WERE the wall around Jerusalem! You see God isn’t as concerned about the building the church meets in as He is in the church that is in the building! Hand in hand religious professionals, politicians, perfumers, goldsmiths, civic leaders and families from as far away as Jericho came and, hand in hand, set about “the good work” that God had placed before them. Everyone… craftsmen, politicians and priests… stood on the level ground of rebuilding this broken wall.

Still today, the cross is the great leveler of men. All people need salvation. Our positions, possessions or prestige all disappear before the cross of Jesus. We stand even today “next to each other” as we do the work that God has set before us and as He builds His church. And while numerous individuals were named on this roll call, others who worked were not. But God does not forget. Though our names may not be in the spotlight of the world, God remembers our good work. Heaven applauds even if earth forgets. We must continue to focus, not on the applause of men but on the pleasure of God in what we do.

This text also stands as a reminder that it takes all of us to do this work. The sections were completed and the wall of Jerusalem rebuilt in 52 days because each man, each family participated. Notably, one group would not do their part. In verse 5, we are told that the “nobles” of the Tekoites would not “put their shoulders to the work of the Lord.” They were too proud… too good… to take direction from the supervisors and so their lack made the work of the rest of the Tekoite families more difficult. We must each do our part… whether it is glorious or menial… for the work to be done in a way that glorifies God. The work of rebuilding needs every person to participate, not just a choice few. At its finest the church is not a spectator sport. It is a unified work. It requires us all.

Does God have your best efforts?


FOR MEDITATION: For we are all part of the body of Christ and individually members of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27

FOR REFLECTION: It is a brutal but necessary question: If every member of your church participated at the level you are, what would your church be like? I realize that’s a tough question and for some it raises unnecessary guilt. If you are physically limited or hampered by care giving, your task is different. But if you are healthy but just busy… or if you never knew you were supposed to be a part of “the good work” God is accomplishing, apply the question to yourself: does your participation truly honor God… or not?

Leadership 34

The third chapter of the book or journal of Nehemiah is one of those “let’s skip that” chapters when we’re trying to read through the Bible. Most of us have done that. We glance through quickly but don’t try even in our minds to pronounce the multi-syllabic Hebrew names. Unfortunately when we do that we sometimes miss a treasure hidden in the midst of the verses.

In this instance, there’s a goldmine. This chapter filled with obscure and really hard to pronounce names, gives us a beautiful picture of what the Body of Christ should be. Literally, it’s a pristine, Old Testament picture of the church! The rebuilding begins at “the Sheep Gate.” (3:1) Don’t walk too quickly past that. The Sheep Gate, some believe, would hundreds of years later be the point of entry for Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday! The rebuilding of the wall literally begins with Jesus. That piece of the building process was led by the household of Eliashib who we are told, was the high priest at that time. The symbolism is too rich to be missed. Jesus, our Great High Priest, is the starting point for the rebuilding of broken walls and broken lives.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of His passion, He walked a path that every sheep, every lamb that would be offered as a sacrifice, had come through before. But Jesus was the end of that sacrificial system which pointed in shadow and symbol to Him! The blood of bulls and goats and sheep, while commanded by God, would be superseded by the sacrifice of our Great High Priest who would offer Himself as the ultimate blood-offering to cleanse our sin. The blood of a sacrificial animal would never be enough to satisfy the need for a truly perfect, willing and guiltless offering who was like us. And Jesus perfectly fulfilled those requirements. No one before Him or since could have done so. Only the God-man, Jesus, the firstborn, the only begotten of the Father, could meet that standard.

And on that one day at Calvary, He did. Your life broken, wrecked by sin? Turn to the One who entered by the Sheep Gate and stood in your place on the cross. Your world broken by guilt and shame? Only His perfect atoning work can wash it away. Your memories distorted by past sins? Only the blood of Jesus can rebuild your brokenness and give you a new beginning.

In Christ alone can the walls be rebuilt. In Christ alone can sin be forgiven. In Christ alone can a new beginning be yours.


FOR MEDITATION: So He said to them again, “Truly, truly I am the gate for the sheep (Sheep Gate).” John 10:7

FOR REFLECTION: The entry through the Sheep Gate was a one-way journey. The animals that entered there never went out again. The next stop was the sacrificial altar. But Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) Jesus not only went in through the Sheep Gate to be sacrificed for our sins… but He did something no sacrifice had done before… HE WENT OUT! And those who enter with him, while laying down our lives for Him… will “come in and out… and find pasture.” This is an incredible picture of resurrection life

Leadership 33

Leadership can be good or bad. Often it is both at once. If the last part of Nehemiah Chapter 2, teaches us anything, it’s that the enemy of our souls is not going to let us linger in victory for long. He will seek to remove our joy, our peace, our celebration from us as quickly as he can. Nehemiah had surveyed the devastation of Jerusalem, had planned for almost half a year, secured permission for a building permit from the king, met with the leadership of Jerusalem and the key people of the city and convinced them of the need and of their ability to do what was needed to rebuild the crumbled walls.

And then, almost immediately, upon the heels of his rallying speech and the affirmation, “let us rise up and build” and before they could together “set their hand to this good work,” three characters appeared to oppose the effort. Sanballat, Tobia and Gershem came and began to mock the efforts of rebuilding the wall. Anytime something good that God is doing begins to get traction; anytime you take a step of faith; anytime you attempt something great for God because your God is great, Sanballat, Tobia and Gershem show up.

They show up, first, to make you think you’re a fool for trying something that is so far over your head. They mock you, they gossip about you, they seek to discourage you and steal your joy by making you doubt yourself.

Then, if that doesn’t succeed, they threaten you. “Will you rebel against the king?” This was the very thing Nehemiah had been concerned about in coming to the king! He was a loyal subject and by no means wanted the king to think he was rebellious against his kingdom. And yet, this is exactly what the Accuser of our souls (Satan) does to us: he finds the place where we are most afraid and targets that with innuendo, with discouragement and just with fear.

But this time his arrow did not pierce Nehemiah’s heart. His defense? “The God of heaven will prosper us.” He knew this was God’s project and not his. He knew that God was truly the leader and not Nehemiah. He knew that this “good work” was a work God had called him to and nothing was going to stop it. His God was bigger than their discouraging words. Therefore, he said, “we His servants will arise and build…”

And so they did. And so must we!


FOR MEDITATION: So I answered and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” Nehemiah 2:20

FOR REFLECTION: Have you met Sanballat, Tobia and Gershem? If not, you will if you are seeking to walk seriously and obediently with God. They will come to you under different names and with different accusations, but the same spirit will drive the situation. They come to discourage… to tell you it can’t be done; to give you all the reasons why you should just give up before you ever start. Simply do to your Sanballat and Tobia and Gershem what Nehemiah did: remind them of who your God is.

Leadership 32

We need wall-builders: someone who can come alongside us and rebuild the walls of our world, of our country, of our culture so that “we may no longer be a reproach.” (Nehemiah 2:17) After seeing the devastation with his own eyes (Nehemiah 2:12-16) Nehemiah realized the enormity of the task. But the first brick in the wall, so to speak, was rallying the people around a common purpose. “Come, let us build the wall….” (Nehemiah 2:17) It was an “us” job, not a “we” job. Sometimes we point to a problem and we think or say, “somebody should take care of that.” Or it may be more pointed: “You should take care of that.” But Nehemiah wisely used the right word: “US.” It is an US problem and requires an US solution to be successful.

Too many “US” jobs become a one-person task. God puts us in a body for the purpose of allowing the full strength of all of US to get to the task of reaching the world. “We are all part of the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) This flies in the face of a culture that prefers to sub-contract important tasks out to the “professionals.” But when we return to the organic purpose of why we are the church, we realize that US is the central work force.

Many years ago a writer described the church like an NFL football game. He said there were eleven players on the field badly in need of rest being watch by 50,000 people in the stands badly in need of exercise! That’s so like the church. The numbers, sadly, do not change much: 20% of the people carry 80% of the load. Churches that get off dead center are those who learn how to active the resources of the 80%!

As we move forward to “rebuild the wall” that has fallen in our culture, it takes more than a few. 20% can’t make this happen.

It will take US.


FOR MEDITATION: Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”   Nehemiah 2:17

FOR REFLECTION: When you see a problem is your first thought to say, “Lord what should I do to help resolve this?” or is it “Somebody should fix this?” Most problems we encounter will require an “us” (meaning “YOU”) solution in conjunction with others. Ask God to help you find your place in His plan.

Leadership 31 – Advance 2020

Note: The following was shared yesterday with the Fruit Cove Baptist congregation

By the year 2020, I would like for Fruit Cove Baptist to attempt to follow Jesus’ Great Commission in the following ways:

  1. By having 2,020 in attendance. We can accomplish this through an intensification of our evangelism (expansion) and our discipleship (deepening) efforts. These numbers will include on and off campus attendance totals.
  2. By launching and supporting multi-campus ministry sites located in the growth corridors around us (e.g. Rivertown and Aberdeen) These will reflect diverse worship styles and will be staffed with worship teams and campus pastors. These properties may be purchased, leased or rented for use.
  3. By partnering in the planting of 20 new churches in St Johns, Florida; North America; Haiti and Cuba. (This number to include those with whom we are already partnering and will not include churches we currently support through Cooperative Program giving).
  4. By participating in the revitalization of 20 declining and dying churches in the Jacksonville Baptist Association (JBA). These will include churches we are already partnering with in conjunction with JBA through coaching and consultation as well as one-on-one revitalization agreements.
  5. By maintaining an amount equivalent to 20% of our church budget total through Cooperative Program and Great Commission giving to reach the nations. This total will include budgeted amounts and items outside of normal budget offering given (e.g. Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings)
  6. By developing a Family Enrichment and Counseling network to serve families in our community related to mental health, crisis counseling and enrichment ministries. The ministry will include the Celebrate Recovery ministry also.

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This will be a challenging goal in roughly a 3 ½ year window. It will require God’s supply to make it a reality. And it will require the best we have to give of our time, our energy, our enthusiasm, our encouragement and our prayers. This is not all inclusive list of every program, nor of everything I would like to see us accomplish. This is basically a growth strategy and not a thorough-going ministry plan that will surround and grow up around Fruit Cove as we work together toward these goals. But hopefully we can together rally around this plan to move forward and become all that God wants us to be… for such a time as this!

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