Leading the Way

 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:1-9 (NIV)

Being placed in a leadership role can be scary. Depending on the size and scope of the organization, there can be times when the role may be daunting. The health of the organization may add to the burden of leadership if there are issues of concern. Transitions within the organization and/or its direction can also create leadership challenges. Many times there is no playbook on how to navigate these situations. Insight from other leaders and the organization’s 

own governance documents and policies may be of some assistance. Leaders can often feel alone. Leaders can experience high levels of stress accompanied by a multitude of concerns. A sense of inadequacy for the leadership role to which the person has been called can enter her/his thoughts.

A leadership transition is occurring in today’s reading from Joshua. Moses has died and his assistant, Joshua, will become the new leader of the Israelites as they enter the promised land. The Lord is giving Joshua instructions as the new leader of the Israelites. The Lord tells Joshua as the people cross over the Jordan that they are to strictly follow the law Moses gave from God. Success will come by following what God has said. God reminds Joshua to be strong and courageous in his leadership. God promised Joshua to always be with him.

These words must have been important to Joshua because he was dealing with a multitude of issues at the time. Moses was Joshua’s leader and mentor. Joshua probably assumed that Moses would be the one to lead the Israelites into the new land and help them to become established but now Moses was dead. Joshua quickly goes from being an assistant to being the leader of a rather rebellious group of people. Even though Joshua had watched Moses as he led by God’s guidance, there was no handbook to follow outside of God’s commands. God gives Joshua the pep talk and assurance which Joshua needs to be a leader of people entering a new land.

We may not be called upon to lead people into a new land but the Lord’s words are still helpful to us. Whether we are called to  be a leader of a large or small organization, or to be the leader in our own house, these directions from the Lord apply to us. It is important that we use God’s commands and Jesus’s teachings as our guides in navigating life’s journey. Knowing that the Lord has promised to always be with us wherever we go provides the confidence we need to face whatever may lay ahead of us on our journey. So let us go boldly into each day whether that day we are leading or following. The Lord has given us guidelines to follow and a promise of being present with us wherever we journey.

Need It The Most

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:13-17 (NIV)

When there has been a major accident or natural disaster, emergency responders have to check every person to evaluate and triage them. This allows the first responder to determine who needs care first due to the nature of their injuries. They also then are able to determine what type of care is going to be the most beneficial. Medics on a battlefield were the originators of triage. This tool is vital due to the limited time and resources which is available to save lives. Clearly the patients who are in the greatest need of care which can lead to survival receive priority in care decisions. If a person is not in danger of dying or will not benefit from care, they are made as comfortable as possible. These are not easy decisions to make even with the excellent training our first responders receive.

When we read the passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks of triage. Jesus first calls Levi, the tax collector and an undesirable to Jews, to follow him. When he eats with Levi, other tax collectors, and other sinners, the Pharisees question his choice of dinner companions. Jesus tells them that the sinners are the ones who need his help, not the righteous (triage). Jesus has done the necessary triage and knows where the greatest need is at this time. He has a limited amount of time so he must use it to fill the greatest need. The Pharisees are more concerned about image and entitlement.  This is a bit ironic since they do not even believe Jesus is who he claims to be but they wish to be Jesus’s honored guests at table instead of the undesirables. 

This passage makes a strong point to us. Gathering with and spending time with fellow believers provides us opportunities for growth and support. We may even expect our faith leaders to prioritize their time to be with us in order to meet our needs, Jesus would take some issue solely using these approaches. 

First, Jesus wants us to go to those who have the greatest need like he did in his ministry. We gather with fellow believers to recharge and strengthen ourselves but then are sent to those who need to experience the grace and love of God. Second, we invite those who the world labels to be undesirable to join in our fellowship and sit at table with us. Third, we support and encourage our faith leaders to spend their time and energy looking after the needs of those outside our fellowship. This is the example which Jesus has given us to follow.

Leadership Transitions

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

John 3:22-30 (NIV)

One of the hallmarks of the way in which our nation is governed is the peaceful transition of power following an election. This is a closely followed tradition at every level of government from the President of the United States to the members of our local school boards. This type of transition sets our nation apart from many other countries. Nations which have adopted a variety of forms of democracy have emulated this quality of the United States. Even in very contentious elections, this hallmark has always been honored. The transition of power is a well-orchestrated process. How smoothly this occurs is based on the character of the individual in leadership prior to the election.

The passage from John’s gospel is about a transition of power. Prior to John baptizing Jesus, John had been the heralder of the Messiah and the one chosen to prepare the people for the coming of God’s kingdom. John was a leader who drew many people to himself. Once Jesus had been baptized by John and had begun his ministry, the process of transition was placed in motion.

Today’s passage brings Jesus in close physical proximity to John. Both men were continuing to teach and baptize the people who came to them. Because they were in the same area, a person came to John to point out that more people were going to Jesus than John. This is when we get to see the nature of the leadership of John. He reminds them that he had already said he was not the Messiah but instead he was to point others to the Messiah. Then John indicated that it is proper for the transition to take place. Jesus is to be the one who gathers more people to him while John’s influence is to diminish.

Transitions can be easy or very difficult. When the transition involves power and influence, the nature of the transition is amplified among humans. John, the Baptist, provides an excellent role model for leaders. Instead of fighting to retain power, control, and influence, a strong leader acknowledges the need for transition. The leader gracefully lessens the role which they now play and welcomes the new leader. This is the model which has been followed in our country since George Washington. This is the model of a servant leader. May we always see this model followed by all our leaders this day and forever more in our nation.

Servant Leader

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:17-28 (NIV)

Many years ago, Robert Greenleaf wrote a book on the subject of servant leadership. In his book, Greenleaf indicated that service should be an identifying characteristic of leadership. Over the next thirty years, corporations, schools, government bodies and nonprofits began to examine and implement some of the concepts which Greenleaf presented. The idea of allowing company employees to volunteer during some of their work time grew out of the servant leadership theories. Higher education began to include a section on student applications where students were expected to share how they had served others through volunteering. This section was included in the decision process for admitting students into the institution. Servant leadership became a common buzz phrase.

Looking at the passage for today, we can quickly see that Greenleaf was not the first person to introduce servant leadership. Jesus demanded it of his disciples. The passage begins with Jesus telling the twelve what is about to happen when all of them enter Jerusalem. Clearly Jesus will be taking on the role of a servant in the greatest way possible. Throughout the three years of ministry, there had been endless examples of Jesus serving others. Now that service will result in his death and resurrection. In the midst of this comes the request for two of the twelve to receive the highest seats of honor beside Jesus. Jesus has a conversation with the two, in which he questions how far they are willing to go in service. This then sets up a leadership dispute. Here is  an opportunity for Jesus to explain a reversal in God’s kingdom. He tells the twelve that with God the leader must become a servant and the last will become first. For Jesus, service brings honor and the right to lead.

We tend to struggle with God’s reversal of what we have determined is the right order of things. Even in the United States where our ancestors have thrown off the robe of royalty, we still believe that leaders are to be given certain honors and privileges, especially when we are in leadership. However, Jesus would disagree at some level. Leadership is seen in service. Honor is given based upon how the person has assisted others. Servant leadership is the only type of leadership found as important in God’s order of the world.

Scarcity Versus Abundance

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21 (NIV)

During my professional career, I have attended many conferences and even helped plan a few. One of the challenges for conference planners is making sure there is the correct amount of space for the number of people who attend. This requires making projections and estimations. A colleague of mine used to always comment when we were in a room too small that the planners did not properly plan for success. Another way to look at situations like this is an attitude of scarcity versus an attitude of abundance.

The attitudes of scarcity and abundance are visible in the passage from Matthew today. Confronted with a resource supply issue, the disciples recommend that Jesus send away the crowd. They tell him that having only five loaves of bread and two fishes is not enough to meet the needs of the people. The disciples are focused on what they are lacking, an attitude of scarcity.

Jesus has a completely opposite analysis of the situation. When addressed by the disciples, he responds that they should take care of the people’s needs. In Jesus’s view, the disciples have everything necessary. When the disciples are unable to see the abundance of their resources, Jesus steps in and demonstrates this reality.

Like the conference planners and the disciples, we can easily fall into the trap of adopting a scarcity viewpoint. As we attempt to evaluate needs and then balance those against our perceived resources, we can tend to identify why something will not work instead of why it can work. We must be practical yet that does not mean we have to limit possibilities.

Another key factor which is present in Jesus’s example of an abundance attitude is the God factor. The God factor is the certainty that God is able to take what we have available and use it to meet the needs which are before us. Initiating this factor is possible through prayer and trust. Prayer is our communication of the need of which we are aware. Trust is belief that God is able to provide for the need. When the God factor is put in play, we discover we have abundance.

Everywhere But Home

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 53-58 (NIV)

Growing up in a small town has advantages and disadvantages. Small towns provide a sense of safety and familiarity. While common sense in regards to caring for your personal property still is important, crime is not a major feature of a small town. The familiarity is a double-edged sword. You are easily recognized and trusted. At the same time, people tend to know more about you and your activities than you may like. When you leave the small town, people who remain always identify you with the characteristics and behaviors you exhibited when you lived there.

Our reading today comes at the point when Jesus has ended his most recent session of teaching and returns to his hometown. After he arrives, he starts going to the synagogue which is his custom in any town he enters. It only seems natural for him to teach the people while in the synagogue. They are amazed with his teaching. This is the general response he receives everywhere but here is a little different. When the people saw and heard Jesus in this synagogue, they saw and heard him filtered through the memories of the boy who had grown up there. They knew his parents and siblings well. They knew he had wisdom and power which he did not obtain in Nazareth. So they began to see him as someone trying to be something he did not have the background to be. As it states in the passage they were offended. You can almost hear someone ask, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus is aware of their disbelief so decides he will discontinue his work in Nazareth because they have failed to see who he really is.

How often do you fall into the same category as the people of Nazareth? Jesus seems to indicate with what he says that this is common with others, not just himself. It can be very easy to have preconceived notions of who a person is, especially if we have witnessed them growing up. Sometimes a person can also revert to their characteristics and behaviors from childhood when returning to their hometown. A message which seems to come from this passage is that we must realize that people change, discover new gifts and skills, and can offer more than we think they are capable. Trying to keep a person in the mold we saw created when we knew them before does a disservice to them and us.

Citizenship

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Philippians 3:12-21

Election Day has arrived in the United States. Many voters have cast their votes prior to today through absentee, mail-in, or early voting. Today is when those votes, along with the ones from people who go to the polls today, are added together to determine who has been elected. This year we vote not only for senators, representatives, county officials, judges, and city officials but also for the President of the United States. There is uncertainty this year if we will know the winner of the election or not tonight. No matter what, it is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to participate in the election by voting. If you are reading this when the polls are still open in your area and you have not cast your ballot, stop reading and go do so right now. If you have already voted, thank you.

In the passage today from Philippians, Paul speaks of being citizens of heaven. He tells us that this citizenship has been obtained through Christ.  Paul reminds us that we should turn our heads from what is behind us. Our faces should be toward what lies ahead. We should set the goal of striving after Christ’s example. Some will focus on what they can obtain now, on earth. Paul encourages us to reach for what is obtainable with our heavenly citizenship.

On this day when our citizenship in the United States is front and center, Paul’s words speak important ideas to us. Being reminded that we have citizenship in heaven puts our earthly one in proper perspective. With citizenship comes responsibility. Our citizenship in the United States carries a core responsibility as well, exercising our right to vote. Our heavenly citizenship gives us the responsibility to follow the example of Christ.  As we complete the election cycle, Paul’s reminder to look ahead is important. We cannot change the past nor can we change the results of the election so we need to move forward. In our moving forward we can work on changing opinions as God guides us, this may result in changing our own opinions at times. No matter if the election goes the way you desire or not, never forget that we are all citizens of the United States and more importantly, citizens of heaven.

Time to Rebuild

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:

“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah 1:1-11 (NIV)

Having grown up in and spending a majority of my adult life thus far in the Midwest, I have seen many tornadoes and the destruction which they leave behind. Standing in front of a home which has suffered the impact of a tornado creates a sense of awe, amazement, and grief at the same time. The apparent randomness of what remains standing and what is reduced to rubble seems to defy logic. A wall with a china cabinet against it and all its contents unmoved right next to a wall which is now laying on the ground in pieces causes one to scratch the head in disbelief. There are countless stories which emerge following a storm containing a tornado which seem too bizarre to be real. A person stands there, cries, and then moves into action to clean up and begin again.

Nehemiah stands in shock as someone might stand before a tornado-damaged home. Grief overwhelms him when he receives the report of Jerusalem’s destroyed city walls and burned out city gates. He sits and begins to weep. Then in the midst of his grief, he begins to fast and pray. His prayer was one requesting that God restore the people and the place which they had called home prior to the exile, one which their sin had brought upon them.

Reading about Nehemiah and his reaction to the news, I see a pattern to follow when we are faced with devastation in our lives. The physical destruction of a tornado, or in the case of the Israelites, an invading army, is not the only possible devastation which one may encounter. The loss of a job, a divorce, or the death of someone very close to us may have an equal impact on us. Nehemiah gives us an example of how to respond. Take some time to allow yourself to grieve. Life necessity may dictate how much time of inactivity is possible but there is no time limit on the grief. Whatever the case, make sure you allow at least some time to be inactive and cry. Then after this pause, engage in a period of spiritual discipline and prayer. Seek restoration from the Lord. Request the necessary resources to rebuild. Now, you are ready to determine next steps and take action.

My Neighbor

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

Like many in my age group, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood on PBS. Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor who became a television icon with a show which he began in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The show featured puppets along with actors portraying various public servants you would encounter in your neighborhood. He even had famous guest celebrities who made occasional visits. Through this show, Rogers explored feelings children may have, difficult experiences a child may encounter and how to respond, and of course, who is our neighbor.

Jesus encounters a teacher of the Law who asks a question that leads to a second question Mr. Rogers could easily have answered. The man first seeks to find out how to obtain eternal life. Loving God and loving neighbor is the answer which Jesus coaxes out of this teacher of Law and Jesus affirms this answer. But then the man wants to know who this neighbor he is to love might be. Jesus responds by telling the story of a man who is beaten, robbed, and left beside a road. Two Jewish leaders, a priest and a Levite, see the man but refuse to offer help. A Samaritan man, whose ethnicity  makes him an enemy of Jews, stops and provides care for the man to the point of taking him to an inn. He even pays all costs related to his recovery. A definition of neighbor is provided followed by Jesus saying the teacher should live according to the Samaritan’s example.

For many reasons, our understanding of “neighbor” has been altered. I grew up in a small, Midwestern town. Our neighbors were the ones whore houses surrounded my own but also the approximately 850 other inhabitants of the town.  Everyone knew everyone and in times of need the whole town and surrounding farm families jumped into action. My definition of neighbor was broad even though my community was pretty homogeneous.

Today, we live in a global society. Modern transportation and the internet has greatly reduced the perceived size of our world. Yet, there seems to be a shrinking definition of the word neighbor. There are people who do not even know the names of the individuals living in the houses adjacent to their own. We have isolated ourselves for a couple of reasons. First, we isolate for safety since fear is continuously reinforced by frightening crime reports. The second reason is we perceive we do not have time to get to know our neighbor. Yet if we cannot even get to know the people living next to us and love them, how can we ever love our neighbor in the broader sense which Jesus parable implies.

We need to follow the wisdom which Mr. Rogers shared with us. A wisdom which is surely based on the lesson taught to the teacher of the Law and us by Jesus. We need to take the time to get to know others and show love by taking care of them when needed.

Persuasion

And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.

11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)

To King Artaxerxes,

From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:

12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.

13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.[a] 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.

17 The king sent this reply:

To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:

Greetings.

18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?

23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Ezra 4:7, 11-24 (NIV)

While in college, I participated in a debate club for a few years. The goal of our form of debate was to persuade those listening that your stance on the assigned topic was the correct stance. As the debater, you used collected evidence and persuasive speaking to prevail in the debate. Sometimes the persuasive speaking was more important than the evidence. Persuasion can be used in positive and negative ways depending on one’s point of view.

The act of persuasion is used in the situation recorded here in the Book of Ezra. The Jews had been allowed to return to Judah from their captivity in Babylon, now known as Persia. King Cyrus had directed them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. However, not all the Persian leaders felt this was a good idea. When Artaxerxes became king, three of these leaders convinced him to search the archives to discover what rebellious people the Jews had been. Their persuasive argument that if he allowed the Jews to finish rebuilding Jerusalem  it would lead to them rebelling and no longer paying him taxes won out. He found the evidence of previous Jewish rebellions and listened to the leaders. The king ordered them to stop the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem. The persuasion to protect his treasury was convincing for the king even if it was not the bet for the Jews.

In life we are faced with having to make many choices. Television, social media, and flyers in our mailboxes all contain persuasive arguments attempting to sway our choices. Everything from which aging cream is best for us to which dentist is the best for us can be covered. The key is to look at the source of these persuasive arguments. We need to examine what evidence exists, if any, that supports the words. Take time to determine the motives of the one making the claims. Then determine the potential impact of the choice you make.  From this you can hopefully make the right choice.  Prayer during this process is always helpful.