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June 30, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Nehemiah 7

Family tree. They looked high and low for their family records but couldn't find them. And so they were barred from priestly work as ritually unclean. Nehemiah 7:64 (MSG)

For most people in the world, our family records have little real value. There are those of us who scour family records on a personal quest to better understand ourselves, where we came from, and how that made us who we are today. Yet, with the exception of a few who trace their lineage into some dusty old position of noble status or the rare family fortune, our family records have little tangible affect on our day-to-day life.

For the Israelites, family records were essential. The priestly duties of the temple and the sacrifices were to be done by members of the Levite tribe alone. As we read in today's chapter, if you couldn't prove you were a true Levite, you couldn't perform the priestly duties. It's a small footnote with major implications.

Fast forward from Nehemiah's day (around 400 B.C.) to 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem and tore down the temple. Just 40 years before, Jesus the "lamb of God," had given himself as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. As part of the destruction of the city, the Romans burned all of the genealogical records. Without adequate recorded proof, no one could prove they were a lawful temple priest. One generation after Jesus had "fulfilled the law and the prophets" the sacrificial system of Israel was effectively over.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and smokey_blue

June 29, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Nehemiah 6

Beware of crazymakers. When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that there were no more breaks in it—even though I hadn't yet installed the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent this message: "Come and meet with us at Kephirim in the valley of Ono." Nehemiah 6:1-2 (MSG)

When undertaking any worthwhile endeavor, there are two key obstacles to overcome. One is distraction and the other is discouragement. Nehemiah faced both of these in today's chapter, and he recognized them, instantly, for what they were.

Beware of crazymakers. These are the individuals who, like relational black holes, seek to suck us into their pathological vortex of need. They can't abide the fact that we are doing the work before us, focused on something other than their insatiable desire for attention. They are Sanballats and Tobiah's calling us down from our own building projects for a conversation, only to distract us from that task which we are called to do.

In her book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron provides a great description of crazymakers:

Crazymakers are those personalities that create storm centers. They are often charismatic, frequently charming, highly inventive, and powerfully persuasive. And, for the creative person in the their vicinity, they are enormously destructive. You know the type: charismatic but out of control, long on problems and short on solutions. Crazy makers are the kind of people who can take over your whole life. To fixer-uppers, they are irresistible: so much to change, so many distractions...

God, help me be diligent in the task(s) you've given me. Help me to recognize the crazymakers in my path and, like Nehemiah, avoid getting distracted.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and anitacanita

June 26, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Nehemiah 5

Airliner. But out of fear of God I did none of that. I had work to do; I worked on this wall. All my men were on the job to do the work. We didn't have time to line our own pockets. Nehemiah 5:16 (MSG)

I travel on business frequently. In almost every case, my client is paying for my travel expenses. One of the ways that I try to serve my clients well and keep a clear conscience is by refusing to charge them excessively for my travel expenses and keeping my expenses to a minimum. I never charge a percentage on top of my travel expenses, asking simply to be reimbursed for the exact amount I spent (you'd be surprised how many consultants tack on a percentage to their expense reports). I don't charge for extras. I keep my meals reasonable. I stay in moderately priced rooms and will always stay where the client has a corporate rate established. When traveling alone I rent a smaller, cheaper car rather than the standard full sized car.

A few years ago my colleagues and I were out for lunch with our client. He was the Vice-President of a large company. He told us that he wanted to buy us a nice meal because he appreciated that we were the only consultants who didn't "line their pockets" on their expense reports. He then went into a litany of examples of consultants who expensed $200 bottles of wine, magazines to read on their flights, luxury hotel suites, and etc.

I often see leaders who use their position to line their pockets luxuriously. That disappoints me. It even angers me, as it did Nehemiah. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we ultimately answer to a higher authority. Just because we can get away with something doesn't justify us doing it.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Matt Hintsa

June 25, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Nehemiah 4

Sandbagging. We kept at it, repairing and rebuilding the wall. The whole wall was soon joined together and halfway to its intended height because the people had a heart for the workNehemiah 4:6 (MSG)

In July 1993, my home city of Des Moines was under water with what experts called a "Thousand Year Flood." I had just moved back to the area a few weeks before the worst of the flooding hit. As the rivers rose, an army of citizens rose with them to fill sandbags and fight the flood. The President came to view the damage. News crews from all the major networks arrived to chronicle the damage and cover the hour-by-hour change in water level.

A news crew from New York sat perched on high ground looking down on Fluer Drive and the Des Moines Water Works. Thousands of people scurried about like an army of ants, shovels and sandbags in hand. Around the clock people came to join the effort in an attempt to save the city's water supply.

"Who is paying all these people?" the news producer asked.

"No one," was the answer. "They're volunteering. They just showed up to help."

The producer shook his head in disbelief. "That would never happen in New York!" he exclaimed.

I think the producer was proved wrong in September of 2001.

When people have a heart for the work, virtually nothing is impossible.

June 24, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Nehemiah 3

The Dude abides. Above the Horse Gate the priests worked, each priest repairing the wall in front of his own house. Nehemiah 3:28 (MSG)

I was watching the beginning of the movie, The Big Lebowski, the other day (one of my favorites, I must confess). In the prologue, the gruff and resonant voice of Sam Elliot tells us:

Now this story I’m about to unfold took place back in the early nineties—just about the time of our conflict with Sad’m and the Eye-rackies. I only mention it ’cause sometimes there’s a man—I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here—sometimes there’s a man who, wal, he’s the man for his time and place, he fits right in there—and that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles.

The story of Nehemiah is the ancient story of how the ruined walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. As I read through the third chapter it struck me that the people who rebuilt the wall had been living in Jerusalem all along. Nehemiah didn't bring an army of contractors and brick layers with him from exile in Persia. The labor was available. What they didn't have was a leader. What they needed was a man for his time and place to rally the people, confront the opposition and lead the charge. Nehemiah was the Dude, in Jerusalem, in 413 B.C.

Where is my place? What is my time? How has God strategically placed me to influence the world, the people, the culture around me?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Sleeper Cell

June 23, 2009

The Fortnight Begins

Tom on Henman Hill with Court One behind    

Ever since I was a kid, the last week of June and first week of July have been among my favorite times of the year. I love watching the Championships at Wimbledon. I was hooked watching Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe from Grandpa and Grandma V's living room floor. I've been an avid follower each year since.

And, this year Wendy and I are going to have even more fun watching since we were there a few months ago and got to tour the grounds. Already I have ESPN2 on and am thinking "I was there!" - "I remember that spot!" - "Hey, I stood right there!"

Oh, the silly things that amuse us : )

Wimdledon Court Number One Wide LR

Chapter-a-Day Nehemiah 2

Critic When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very upset, angry that anyone would come to look after the interests of the People of Israel. Nehemiah 2:10 (MSG)

Ever since I was elected Captain of the Woodlawn Elementary School crossing guard in 6th grade (does anyone else remember those bright orange belts?), I've held a string of leadership positions. Student Council, Class Officer, Student Chaplain, Pastor, Father, Corporate Officer, and Community Theatre President to name a few from across the years. And, one of the constants I've experienced across the span of leadership experiences is conflict.

Whenever a person steps up to lead, he or she makes himself or herself a tasty target for naysayers, critics, blamers, nit-pickers, fault finders, detractors, slanderers, worriers, naggers and mud-slingers. No leader, worthy of the task, will please all the people all the time. Expect opposition.

How you handle the opposition and stick to the task is where you prove your mettle as a leader.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and jontintinjordan

June 21, 2009

Fun on the Waverunners!

Wendy waverunner 01 062009 LR Tom waverunner 01 062009 LR Wendy waverunner 02 062009 LR Tom waverunner 02 062009 LR Wendy waverunner 03 062009 LR Tom waverunner 03 062009 LR Wendy waverunner 04 062009 LR Wendy waverunner 05 062009 LR

June 20, 2009

Good Morning: A Few Photos from the Lake

I was up early this morning to watch the sun rise over the lake. Thought you might enjoy seeing a few of the views I witnessed while you were still asleep : )

Morning reflection 062009 LR Dock lights before dawn 062009 LR Pre-dawn 062009 LR Here comes the sun 062009 LR Red sky at morn sailor be warned 062009 LR Red dawn 062009 LR

And, a few of our friends from yesterday...

Hang on 061909 LR Slow and steady 061909 LR

June 19, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Nehemiah 1

The confession. Pay attention to this prayer of your servant that I'm praying day and night in intercession for your servants, the People of Israel, confessing the sins of the People of Israel. And I'm including myself, I and my ancestors, among those who have sinned against you. Nehemiah 1:6 (MSG)

Several years ago, my daughter came to me and requested a special audience. There was something she  needed to talk about. We sat down in the living room and she began to weep. Through her tears, she blurted out a confession of a bad choice she had made a few months before. She fell apart as she shared what she'd done. It was obvious her guilt had been eating away at her soul.

I wasn't shocked by what she'd done. I wasn't angry with her. She needed no punishment. Her guilt and guilty conscience had obviously done a number on her. Her entire being was twisted up into a knot of shame. I was proud of her for admitting it. I watched as she slowly felt the freedom that comes when we unload our soul.

I find it interesting that Nehemiah confessed his shortcomings before he requested God's favor with the king. There is something powerful in confession. Confession is spiritual chiropractic, bringing our center core back into proper alignment with God. It helps keep our personal requests and gimmes in their honest, proper perspective.

A good reminder from Nehemiah today: Before I request - confess.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and emelio labrador