Posts Tagged ‘Nehemiah’

Many long term readers know that my family takes time each night to read together and sing. We usually pick a spiritual song to sing, then take time to read a chapter of our scriptures (Hebrew Bible/Christian Testament) as we work through a complete book or something else. Take some time to discuss, and then close with prayer. For the past 10 days we have been blessed to enter into the story of Nehemiah from the Hebrew Bible (you can read through Bible Gateway here). This was one of the stories explored in my leadership courses at Alberta Bible College, so has been used by me for allegories and teaching periodically in my career to share leadership tips with others. This is not going to provide a chapter by chapter or verse by verse guide. What is going to be shared is some key thoughts and points, that if you enter into reading Nehemiah you can see where they pinpoint for you, as well as some questions for reflection at this point and time in your story, and then just a song we sung during our exploration time (and you will see the songs, don’t really need to tie into the themes but can).

A ride to assess the full scope of a project, yet we are jumping ahead (though sometimes as a story teller isn’t it more fun to jump in to the rising action and then flashback to how we go there?). Seriously though, Nehemiah is one of the leaving exile stories. It is about rediscovering who we are, and the pieces of community that are needed for health and functioning. The Coles Notes of Exile is simple, the nation of Israel/Judah had decided individuality, power and money were more important than God and Neighbour, in spite of many prophets coming to sound the alarm and show the path back (and a history of Judges that lived through the reset with them) they did not listen and were warned that there was punishment coming. That is the loss of nation and imprisonment, where the fallacies would be laid bear, and they dysfunction of the system the 1% had imposed on the people revealed.

It was in exile as slaves, some rose to more prominent slave roles than others. Nehemiah was one such, he was cup bearer to the king. What a role, living in the court, but being responsible to ensure no poison was present (so yes, luxury but never knowing when death would come). This is when he would get the call, as it was being said some were being released from exile and heading back to rebuild the ruined Jerusalem. Nehemiah would get this call to the unknown. The king would support it.

  1. Listen into the silence. Are you on the right path? Is there a call being laid on your heart that is a passion for you? How can you tell? Is fear or anxiety maybe creating the gremlin voices to surge to hold you back?

Nehemiah would head out to take over the lead on the rebuilding project of the walls and gates of the city. A new start, but what a project, very overwhelming as it comes into view what needs to be done. What does Nehemiah do? He takes a high level ride to assess what all needs to be accomplished. A full scope understanding of the project to see what needs to be done, so when he meets the people he can assess their strengths to accomplish the rebuild (and yes he would go to the high plains a few times to assess progress).

2. Ensure you have all the pieces of the project and purpose from a high level before jumping into planning (First Things First).

Other pieces in the story? Simple, all were involved in the re-build, regardless of previous career, socio-economics or caste. Each person brought forward with their strengths, and assigned areas to rebuild. It truly was an all in this together. For, without each person doing there part, the work would not be accomplished in time to ensure community safety and prosperity. As well, it lowered the hierarchy-patriarchy that had caused the exile. Neighbour met neighbour, and it was no longer possible to simply cast one aside as a statistic or label.

3. We’re all in this together.

Be reactive to change as the project progresses. As those who do not want to see the status quo change, who enjoy the subjugation of others, who are lost in fear of what is coming, of the new system of inclusion. Anger and hate can be channeled to create chaos and violence. As they built and this became apparent, Nehemiah was not only doing his duty building in the trenches, but the builders also had tools in one hand, and a weapon in the other in case of attack. Versatility, there may be specialists, but in crisis generalists need to improvise and stretch roles for success.

4. Be ready for the aggressive clapback with positive change and as a leader be alongside your team in the trenches.

Another key piece of the story is the listening to experts (in our era, researchers and scientists) to understand who we are, where we have been, and what this can mean where we are going. Ezra, is this character, he shares the story of the nation, that which led them into exile and loss. When those in the midst of re-building under stress and confusion of change, try to behave the same way, Ezra is the one that “Gibbs'” them (ever see NCIS on CBS? Lead Agent Gibbs’ curt head smack when an agent goes off course, that is what happens here). It is the knowing who we were, who we have become, and who we are becoming. While being prepared to rapidly answer those that want to re-create the cycles of oppression, hatred, and pain that created the crisis in the first place.

5. Know one’s history, learn from it, grow from it, and ensure that you do not cycle back.

Finally, there is quite a few chapters laying out roles and names. It can seem daunting, but why is it there? Simplicity of understanding for a society to be healthy and thriving everyone’s role is to be valued. Everyone must be cared for, and able to have simple things such as water, food, home, belonging and purpose. This is why these points exist, and what this ancient wisdom has to share with us today. In a world where we try to shame minimum wage work and argue it shouldn’t be something that one can live off (contrary to the actual legislation when enacted decades ago); when we try to deride someone as “drama teacher”, janitor; waitress/server, etc… What we need to understand is simply every job in society is need for us to function, they should be celebrated for doing the job. For some it may simply be a job while they pursue other interests/artisan callings, for some the job may be where they find purpose and belonging with those they serve and serve with. But truly, it is about crafting a society where everyone’s calling can be affirmed and happens; where everyone belongs, where everyone has a home.

6. Ensuring we have a society that honours our work; a society where all find authentic belonging; a society where no one goes hungry; and all have a HOME.

For the 6 major points take time to reflect and process what they mean to you? Where are you currently in your journey?

If money was not an issue (or other gremlin voices) where would the tiny heart voice in the silence be leading you?

As we move through this time of c-tine, what are you emerging out of exile into in your life and community?

Where is the rebuilding calling you?

One of the songs we discovered for our sing-a-longs, from Blake Shelton, just fit more with the theme of rebuilding out into the new:

Joseph Smith was given the Golden Plates that made up the Book of Mormon at once. The Prophet Mohammed had the entire Qur’an recited to him.  The Holy Bible is not that. It is a journey. There has been additions, subtractions, sections and books that were in and out at different moments and dependent on geographic location. This post is not to dive into a hermeneutical spiral but I will touch on quickly the need to read the stories in context which includes historical, cultural, genre to name but a few. As well, the question of why it matters today? What does it say about and into now?

Actually, the way the Bible came to be assembled is much the same way our own stories work. There is memories, shaped by the context, and distance. There is those things that cause negative and positive ripples throughout our lives. Those things with experts we can go back into and rewire to remove the trauma, but still let the memory be there though act as director within our script of life for a more functional outcome. That is what we anchor to.

Today we explore a tidbit from a book that was part of post-exile Israel’s story. Think of the trauma of slavery, displacement, rape, religious sex trafficking, basically being degraded to the point you were no longer seen as a “person”. This is the point where Israel was emerging, I refer you to the stories of Nehemiah and Ezra about the rebuild and return. These works are a reboot for the nation, we see emerging out of this period a sanitized history of 1 & 2 Chronicles that took out all the horrors from the stories of the people with God. During this time to, Ezra, “discovered” the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah (in Greek Pentateuch). It reshaped the worship story, tightened up the ship post exile to exclusivity on worship and laws. It was laying down a frame work of protectionism for the nation of Israel.

Yet, as with our world today, the sanitizing and protectionism did not bear fruit. In fact, it bore more subjection and oppression from the religious leaders and the Roman Empire…hmmm…anyone see any parallels in our world today? In your local communities? Local churches? What ripple effect does that have within your own being and family?

Oh, and like today though, this sanitized world, have what we have in the Western world as a cornerstone of our faith:


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and the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10 when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe

-Deuteronomy 30:9-14 (New Revised Standard Version)

We tend to focus on the first chunk, the idea, that held in the ancient world, if you made the cut we know this because God blesses you, you are the wealthy, the powerful. Yet, that first part is tied into an unpacking of the Great Commandments. The blessing comes from our communal responsibility, neighbourhood, care for ourselves and one another. Embracing, loving and honouring the Imageo Dei.

For 6,000 years in the Abrahamic faiths, we have had the Great Commandments. Longer if we roll back into Indigenous teachings. Is it not about time, we actually lived what we profess to believe?

That is, what does it mean to love with our all?

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Renewing Leaders

Posted: January 27, 2019 by Ty in Brunch & Bible
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The stories of Nehemiah and Ezra  are about returns from exile. Communities growing and changing, rebuilding themselves. Deciding what is the important pieces of their historical story, and what needs to be left to the shadows. How many people and organizations are in this flux currently? Mainline or evangelical churches?

There are some keys lessons within these stories to be teased out. The first is a belief in what one is called to do. Nehemiah could have continued on as the cup bearer to the oppressor king, but he took a risk on something different. An act of rebuilding and renewal. I know many look to this as how devout he was, and this is probably true to hear the still quiet voice and respond, but there is still the internal struggle of change, the grieving for what is lost as one steps into the unknown.

At the rebuilding of the city wall, we get two lessons in leadership. One is being in the midst of the work with the front liners. Literally these workers were building with one hand, and had a sword in the other. Nehemiah as a leader understood the stressors that the workers were going through, the risks they were taking because he was not hidden from them. He was in the midst.

Then he would take midnight rides. Those times a leader must pull away from the day to day operations on the lines, to get to a higher plain (a balcony view some call it) to take in the whole scope of the work, the project. It can be a quiet coffee shop away from work in today’s world to remove distractions, unplugging from phone, e-mail, social media for a span of time- a day retreat, a few hours, to remove the constant white noise buzz of busyness, and rest in the silence. In the silence to hear the guidance, to renew one’s mind, heart and eyes to look anew upon what is being done.

This clarity leads to better understanding, on how to manager transition, transformation, rebuilding and renewal, while bringing as many as possible along for the ride. If there are losses, it can create a space where those are healthy transitions.

In Ezra we see the high priest, rebuilding the sacred imagery by rebuilding the temple. In ancient wars, as we see echoes of today by extremists, winning was not just beating the other army but proving one’s deity (ideology) superior to theirs by laying waste to that which they held sacred. It is in the rebuilding history guides us to the “discovery” of the lost fifth roll of the Torah- Deuteronomy. It is within this re-telling of the Law, that rules are tightened up and there is a move to transform the community. Though it still uses the same understandings, meta-narratives, and trappings that provide comfort.

It is easy when on the journey of change to want to be an iconoclast, I also enjoy blowing things up. Letting the pieces blow away in the breeze and start anew. Sometimes though, it is honouring what has come before, building the next level upon the already existing foundation. It was through this journey of renewal that the sanitized history of Israel would be produced- 1&2 Chronicles, which re-writes the stories of 1& 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings, but takes out all the drama, treachery, rape, bloodshed, and well, non-holy things that the people and kings had done to end up broken and in exile. The new history was a way to highlight that when things were done as they should be, when the new-old system was working properly, things were good. It was an encouragement text. It was also a prime example of how history can change due to one’s own point of view.

As one enters into leadership, it may not be as a Paul or a Peter striking something brand new, it could very well be tasked with a vocation like Nehemiah or Ezra in rebuilding and renewing. Which do you feel called into?

The story of Nehemiah, found in the Hebrew Bible, after the work of Ezra (the one who re-established the priestly role in Jerusalem post-Babylonian Exile) is a story of reconstruction, and illustrations of leadership. It is a short 13 chapters and it would be unfair to say that the principles I am to write about are found only in certain chapters, they go throughout the short book.

See Nehemiah had established a life for himself in Babylon, he was cup bearer to a king. Yet he was still open to the work of the Holy within his life, and got a call from God (first leadership principle: be open to hearing, not just talking, to God) and it was this call that weighed on him so the king inquired and supported his decision to lead the return to Jerusalem and rebuilidng of the wall (Principle 2: Confirmation and support of call by others).

Principle 3 is illustrated in most project management texts today, but Nehemiah did it by horseback. First he rode through the shattered city (micro level of the project), then he move up higher to be able to see the whole city in ruins (Macro level) to inform his plan. So being able to see an issue/project on all levels, or being able to remove yourself from a situation to the higher plain.

But I have skipped ahead for there are two imporant principles within #2 to be teased out.

2.1 Spiritual companionship with The Holy Mystery. Or some would say prayer, but that is living in a constant reflective relationship with the Holy.

2.2 Removing barriers to forward movement (as seen when the king provided letters of passage). What are the challenges you will face? Who in your network can aid in their removal?

Principle 4 is delegation. That is Nehemiah broke the project down into zones and assigned each zone to a mixed group of individuals who could accomplish that priority. That is delegation and with that in the system those individuals not only given the responsibility to complete a task, but empowered with the proper authority to do it.

Principle 5 is pragmaticism. We may want to come up with flowery theological answers, but sometimes you just need to work in shifts so half can be armed and half can work. When there was stumbling blocks, the simplest solution was the easiest one to follow to remove it to lay the ground work for success.

Principle 6 speaks to fairness, or as the prophets say justice (some translations righteousness) that is doing what is right, as we see in ensuring all are cared for. (chapters 5-7)

Principle 7 is seen brightly in chapter 6, but it illustrates that a good leader needs to have their thumb on the information pulse of a community (or for today media and new media) and be able to respond in truth, and transparency.

Principle 8 is living the Core. Nehemiah had Ezra in brin the people the Law, a renewal of the core of loving God and celebrating this.

These are 8 principles my inductive reading of Nehemiah revealed to me. What have you seen?

Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer


            Oswald Sanders’ (2007) Spiritual Leadership Principles of Excellence for Every Believer is an easy read, that is to say not easy concepts, but rather targeted around a grade five or six reading level, much like the daily paper. It is a resource that can be used for private study, devotional times, or better yet a small group discussion tool or within a mentoring relationship. This short review will look at whether or not this tool should be used though in those situations, not whether or not they are. To that end, what shall be reviewed are end chapter questions; main topics; and within each area commentary upon stylistics. The final thoughts from this writer are simple, like with any text on leadership it is neither the first nor last word and should be used within a context of learning and discipling.


            As we move through each chapter, at the end they have questions for personal reflection, as well current editors have added a study guide. But are these useful? By the 2007 edition, editors have also deemed the reader in need of updated language so as not to get trapped in confusion by the context of a preacher/teacher in 1967 (rather paternalistic actually, when if someone is embarking on leadership they should have the skills or have someone with them with the skills to research simple contextual answers).

            The questions themselves are rather pedestrian, and on personal reflective journaling without having the self-efficacy to bring them into your own context will be simply glanced over and simply answered.  The same can be said within a mentoring or small group study; one has to be willing to open him or her up within the depth of relationship for actual reflection fear of recrimination or abuse before more than superficial answers will be granted. It is unfortunate that these questions detract from the content of the work.

Main Topics

            Sanders is easily read, yes I am commenting from the revised edition in 2007, but forty years earlier if the rhythm of the talks was preserved, Sanders himself could be coined as another C.S. Lewis, for he does strike at the heart of the issue by using Biblical archetypes as they were intended in teasing out spiritual truths. Whether it was looking to Paul, Peter or Nehemiah he pulls out the best and worst in their leadership to build hope for the student leader. The challenge also being showing yes there are earthly examples, but a overt and covert resonance in his words is that the leader to be looked to is Christ, that is Jesus of Nazareth’s life and teachings.

            For within these we see that we are to reproduce leaders, and not to worry about replacing for the central leader of any movement of G-O-O-D is Christ (within). This centre cannot be replaced for it is eternal, what happens is transitions, and what is needed in leadership is handling transitions well so as to ensure that leadership grows under strong leadership, the true focus is kept, and through these choices as with Nehemiah—the wall is built, that is the goal is achieved.


            In spite of the updated language to “contemporary” that actually detracts from the message; and the “fluff” reflection questions, the text itself is a useful tool to aid a growing leader in learning some skills or theories. For the seasoned leader, it is a good reminder that in conversation with peers, mentors, and mentees if used appropriately for building ones leadership skills and self-reflection.