Build that wall!

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Today’s passage: Nehemiah 1-2

As you may have heard, there is a certain wealthy and well-connected gentleman who advocates building a wall on the border. He believes it will help to keep undesirables out and sees it as a matter of homeland security. Although not everyone agrees with his position, he is convinced the wall will be a key component toward making the nation great again. He has a plan to get another nation to pay for the construction of the wall, even though it doesn’t seem to benefit them in any way and could even create some problems for that nation. Of course, that man is… Nehemiah.

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Back in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar had invaded and wiped out Judah. Seventy years later, those who had returned to the homeland rebuilt the temple. But after another seventy years had passed, the wall around the city was still in ruins. The result was a people group with no national identity who hadn’t taken steps to regroup in 140 years.

Nehemiah finds out the city is still unfortified after all these years and the news devastates him. Even though Nehemiah had evidently never been to Judah, he took it personally that so little had been done to re-establish the land of his. His motivation wasn’t simply the idea that “Make Judah great again!” was a catchy slogan. God gave him a passion to see the wall rebuilt and propel the nation forward. He felt a sense of responsibility to do something about it.

Nehemiah was a well-connected guy. As the head of security in Persia, one of his jobs was testing the king’s food and drink for poison by taste-testing it. One particular day, Nehemiah doesn’t look so well. If you were the king and the guy who checked your wine for poison didn’t look so hot, you’d notice and start asking some questions. That’s exactly what the king does.

Nehemiah prays to God and asks the king for permission to go and rebuild this foreign city. This is a huge risk, since the king could interpret his request as disloyalty or as a threat to his own kingdom. Nehemiah could have come up with any number of excuses why he shouldn’t get involved, especially considering what he didn’t have. What he didn’t possess was any wall-building training on his transcript and no city planning experience on his resume. What he did have was a good job in the Babylonian White House, which he’d be walking away from. The perils to what Nehemiah wanted to do were obvious and were big enough to make the idea seem foolish to most people. But without his boldness, the story of the rebuilding of the wall simply doesn’t happen. The king not only gave him permission, but gave him a security detail and all the resources he’d need.

Are you living courageously? Living courageously means instead of talking ourselves out of getting involved, we talk ourselves into making a difference. It means being dependent on God and willing to take a faith-based risk. It means being counter-cultural and engaging in situations and topics that others are shying away from.

I want to live courageously. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and wonder what MIGHT have happened if I’d only had enough FAITH. Instead, I want to live and lead in a way that would rather take a risk WITH God, than stay STUCK in my comfort zone. What about you?

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What wall is God calling you to build? What situation have you been avoiding or postponing because it just seems too big to tackle? What injustice are you especially passionate about? Living courageously means moving forward in faith. Even though you may not be able to rebuild the entire wall in a day, you can prayerfully take the first step just like Nehemiah. Pray about your situation and then trust God as you move forward in faith.

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Why I’m glad I never dated anyone named Karen

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Today’s chapter: Matthew 3

I can still remember how excited and nervous I was on my wedding day. My beautiful bride, Erin, had spent months planning the event. For the most part, I had wisely chosen to stay out of the way as she finalized all the details. Now that the ceremony was underway, I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything to mess it up.

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When my pastor told me to repeat after him, I listened closely to get my lines right.

“I, Todd, …” I repeated what he had said.

“… take you, Karen…” Um, wait a minute. I’d never done this before, but I knew if I followed his lead and said the wrong name, I’d be in the doghouse for the rest of my life. Awkward!

I froze long enough that the pastor looked at me. Fortunately, he then realized his mistake. He said, “I mean, Erin. It is Erin you’re marrying, right?”

A wedding is a ceremony where two people are initiated into a new stage of their relationship based on their shared commitment to each other. The couple makes a public vow and allows friends and family to celebrate this moment with them.

In a lot of ways, baptism is similar. It’s a ceremony that initiates people into the life of the church. By being baptized, believers are publicly demonstrating their commitment to Christ and inviting their friends to celebrate with them as they take this important step.

John preached about and offered a baptism of repentance. The word ‘repent’ means to change directions. When I repent, I’m switching from going in my own direction and doing things my way to following Jesus and becoming more like Him.

I’ve talked with lots of people who said they weren’t ready to be baptized yet because they still had so many bad habits or didn’t feel like their relationship with God was as close as it should be. But baptism isn’t reserved only for people who are worthy or have mostly gotten their lives in order. Baptism is a public statement that a person is changing directions and committing to follow Jesus today.

If you’ve been putting off baptism because your current or past lifestyle isn’t godly enough, then you’ve missed the point. Baptism isn’t about how well you’ve followed Jesus in the past, but is based on your commitment to follow Him starting now. In fact, since Jesus commanded us to follow in His footsteps and be baptized, by delaying your baptism you’re continuing in your own direction. You can “repent” and follow Him by changing direction and taking this public step.

John initially didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he mistakenly thought Jesus was submitting to a baptism of repentance, like everyone else. But just as He would later alter the meaning of the Passover Meal when He observed it at the Last Supper, Jesus was forever transforming the ritual of baptism. As Jesus began His public ministry, His first act was to make baptism a symbolic doorway to a new kind of life, and He would be the first to walk through it.

Baptism is an important way we publicly identify ourselves with Jesus and choose to be aligned with Him, but it doesn’t end there. Every day we have new opportunities to either be identified with Jesus or to align ourselves with something or someone else.

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Do you have friends or acquaintances who you’re careful to not discuss your faith with? Are their certain environments where you try to not let your faith shine through? Change directions by committing to be identified with Jesus at all times. Be intentional about allowing your faith to show up in settings where you’ve concealed it in the past. Your boldness will encourage others and God might even use your public faith to impact someone you had thought was unreachable.

In what setting are you sometimes tempted to keep your faith in the background?

 

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