Rebuilding without Resources (Nehemiah 3)

Rebuilding without Resources (Nehemiah 3)

The situation in Nehemiah 3 is interesting. The word, “built” is used six times. It literally means “to rebuild” it reminds us that the material for building the wall was already there. The stones that had been taken down to weaken the wall still lay scattered across the base of the wall and the valley floor below. It’s not as though Nehemiah had to go and get new stones to rebuild the wall, they were already there.

Sometimes when we look at a situation like our neighborhoods and schools we might wonder what we could do with more resources, but the odds are the resources we need are already there. There is a neighbor who is willing to help, a teacher who will host a club in his or her room, a student from another church, a parent who wants to help, a youth pastor who is willing to work with a leadership team, a business owner who is willing to donate funds to help with a project. Don’t look at what’s not there, look at what is already all around you ready to be assimilated into a strong spiritual wall of protection.

Cover

The word “repaired” is mentioned 35 times. It means to “make strong or firm.” I think it is essential to note that the wall that Nehemiah and the folks of Jerusalem were rebuilding wasn’t a weak wall. It was a strong wall, made of quality materials that were put together in the right way.

It’s essential as you search out God’s plan for your school, neighborhood, or city that you seek Him on how to organize the resources you already have on hand. It’s not enough to recognize that you have different folks with different gifting, calling, and occupations. You must also find a way for everyone to work together in concert so that they are stronger together.

Twice the Work (Nehemiah 3:4-5,12,21,27)

Twice the Work (Nehemiah 3:4-5,12,21,27)

I’ve got a friend who works in the AC business. During the summer time he is extremely busy. It seems like someone somewhere is always having AC issues. He puts in long days grabs a bite to eat and then often heads back out on his own time to help a friend or a friend of a friend who can’t afford much, but needs someone to look at their AC. He works hard and often it costs him to help some of the people he does. He sees it as a ministry and he always has a cheerful attitude. He’s told me before, “God called you to be a pastor, he called me to this.” He is a hard worker and there are a ton of folks in our town who are thankful for him.

Cover

Throughout this list in Nehemiah 3 we come across some hard workers, folks who put their fair share of work into rebuilding the wall and then some. The Takoites we talked about yesterday worked on two sections of the wall even without the help of their nobles (3:5, 27). A fellow by the name Meremoth did the same (3:4, 21). Shallum also went out to repair the wall, but what is interesting is that his daughters came out with him and put their hands to work. This kind of work wasn’t something that was considered “women’s work” back in the day, but it was so important to Shallum and his daughters that they worked anyway.

What’s amazing is that even when people like the nobles of Takoites wouldn’t come and work, that others stood up and worked double. There will always be those who catch the vision and see it a little clearer than the rest. They will be hard workers and dedicated to any cause the Lord is in.

Pray without Ceasing (Nehemiah 2:4)

We had set out early that morning, a van full of teenagers on the way to camp. Before we left we had prayed, like we always do, and asked God for safety as we traveled. We loaded the van and seven hours later we are almost at camp. We are just getting past Chattanooga, TN and the traffic starts to clear. For the first time in a long time we had a little open space on the road. I pulled over to the far left lane. There was no reason to do so, but as I decided in my mind I should pull back in the middle lane a tire on truck that used to be beside us went out pulling him into the middle lane! Fortunately no one was injured, but I reflected that we had been in that lane just seconds before, had we been there when the truck tire blew we would have been in a horrific accident. I prayed quickly in that moment a prayer of thanks but once we arrived at camp I reminded our students that we had asked God for safe travels and he answered our prayers. Sometimes we are able to pray small prayers in the moment based on larger prayers that we have prayed before.

Cover

Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.(Nehemiah 2:4 ESV)

Have you ever had one of those situations where it seemed like nothing was happening, but then all of the sudden everything was happening? Nehemiah is in one of those moments. He has been in mourning for his people. He has been fasting, praying and asking God to use him, to use his position with the king, and then all of the sudden the king asks him a question. What do you do in a moment like that? When it seems like your whole future will swing or not swing on the hinge of the next few moments? You pray!

To be sure it wasn’t a long and drawn out prayer. He didn’t hush the king and ask for time to run to the chapel. He quickly and humbly in his heart prays to God. His prayer has been anchored in the foundation of intentional prayer where he has been for the last several months. Remember his emotion was brought into focus by prayer and fasting; now he sees the hand of God moving to answer his prayer. Nehemiah can’t help but confess his dependence on Him.

Nehemiah avoids every opportunity to declare himself a great man and instead has to declare that God is a great God! This is what humble leadership looks like. Before he will launch into any kind of four point plan, or share his dreams about a wall being completely rebuilt, or even ask the king for advice he goes straight to God and acknowledges that this could only be a work of God’s hand and so he moves forward holding on to that hand, not trying to navigate this alone.

The Value of Sharing a Personal Story (Nehemiah 2:1-3)

There is value in sharing your personal story of heartache over injustice. It is more moving than sharing the statistics of what is going on. It gives people a face and a name. There is a difference between hearing of the thousands of starving children on another continent and hearing the story of Daniel, a small boy who doesn’t have enough to eat. It’s like this when Nehemiah presents his case before the king; it is much more personal than it is political.  Most likely this king had never before thought about how his actions had affected so many people so far away, but when he saw how it affected Nehemiah, he was moved.

Compassion International does an amazing job of presenting in this way. When you hear of the millions of people around the world living on below $1.50 a day it is a poverty issue, but when you see a picture of an individual child and you read their story, it is a personal issue. You might want to end poverty, but most likely until it becomes personal, you won’t do anything to actually fight it. Personal stories move people to action and here Nehemiah’s personal relationship to what is going on is what gives him credibility before the king.

Cover

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:1-3 ESV)

When you stand before a king it is important to have your act together. Nehemiah most certainly did, most of the time. But on this one occasion he let his grief get the best of him and he was sad in the presence of the king. Many modern readers won’t pick up on this, but this was a big deal. The king could have assigned Nehemiah’s sadness to a host of places. He could have accused Nehemiah of not liking his policies, or even worse considered that he was in on a plot to assassinate him. He could have ordered Nehemiah’s execution for nothing more than a frown and a tear.

Nehemiah responds quickly with a salute to the king. He declares, “May the king live forever!” He wants the king to know that he is not burdened politically, but personally. His tears represent a real story of heartache and hardship endured by his people who don’t have a wall to protect them. He doesn’t accuse the king (though the king is ultimately most likely the reason the wall hasn’t been rebuilt). He simply presents his story.

Your heart has most likely been stirred over the past week as you have been encouraged to empathize with the people in your city, school, neighborhood, or workplace. You have been asked to remove distractions and bring your feelings about these people and God’s glory into focus. Take a moment now to go a step further and journal personal stories of individuals you know and how they have affected you.

For me it was a little girl who came to a student lead club and told the leaders that she really wanted to go to church, but her mom wouldn’t take her. Her mom would let her come to the club that met before school though so she heard the gospel from her peers there and had a chance not only to accept Jesus into her life, but connect with a group of believers from several different churches. I am convinced that we were able to empower our students to reach this girl who would have never been reached by our traditional church and youth group methods.

More Than A One Man Plan (Nehemiah 1:11)

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV)

When was the last time you prayed for revival? Did you place yourself in the center of the prayer? God use ME, use MY church, use MY denomination. Were you really asking for God to be revered in your town or were you asking for your own prestige? Sometimes our most holy prayers can be covered up in pride. We lasso our prayers short of heaven because we fill them with all sorts of selfish ambition. We are like James and John who approached Jesus and asked if they could be at the left and right hand of Jesus when He came into His kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). We want to be center stage… next to Jesus of course. Leadership isn’t there for the asking in the kingdom of God though; it is bestowed upon those whose chief characteristic is that of a servant.

Cover

Nehemiah asks God not only would He hear his prayer, but the prayers of all those like him. Nehemiah recognizes that he is not alone in this task of prayer and asking God to do something great in Jerusalem again. He is part of a bigger plan. He is out for God’s glory and the restoration of his people, not his own name.

Sometimes we pray for revival and we are lazy. We ask God to move, but we want to sit back and ride the wave of success. We forget that sometimes God calls us to work. I think that is why when Nehemiah uses the term servant it’s important. He presents himself to God to take part, any part in rebuilding the wall. He is there to serve.

Think of it like this. Life is a drama. Everyone is an actor. God is the author and director. Nehemiah submits himself to God’s plan and says; place me where ever you will. Too often we try to tell God (the author and director) how his play should go. We try and take our minor rolls and pitch them to him like we should become the lead. We don’t understand that we have a place and a purpose if we would just listen to Him.

When God calls us to a task we are seldom ever alone in that task. We always have the Holy Spirit present but often He is working in the lives of other believers as well to bring about something great. Start looking around for others in your neighborhood, school, or workplace that God might also be calling to the same mission he is calling you too.

For me I began to seek to gather with our local student pastors for a time of fellowship and prayer. Overtime real friendships evolved and I saw relationships strengthened as we were all working for a common purpose on different fronts in our city.

Does God Like Our Music? (Intro)

Several years ago I heard a story about believers in Asia who met in a cave in order to be able to sing praise to God. It was illegal to assemble as the church in their country and so if they wanted to sing praise songs together in community they had to rise early and travel a great distance to this cave and sing. To be honest when I heard the story (I have every reason to believe it was true) I couldn’t help but be a little bit curious as to why these believers would risk so much just to sing? What was it about singing that would draw them to that cave? The more I thought about it, the more I questioned myself, Why do I sing? What is it in the life of a believer that calls not just for prayer, or bible study, but song… And not just a solo, but the need to join a chorus of other believers in offering praise to God?

So I’m going to take a few blog posts here to chase that thought. I won’t be chasing it though my mind… I don’t have the answers. I’ll be chasing it through the scriptures. We will examine song in the scriptures and the compulsion for believers to offer God worship through song.

Worship Music

To be clear, music or singing isn’t worship. Music is an avenue of worship, but song alone does not exalt God. There are many songs that honor God and many that dishonor God. Music just like sex, food, and all the rest of God’s pleasures were designed to be good and for His glory, but can also be perverted. Sex is perverted when you look for sex for sex sake. Food is perverted when you look at food for food’s sake and music/ singing can be perverted when you look at music for music’s sake.

Music touches our emotions like nothing else can. When used legitimately there is nothing that can compare to the rise that music gives. The Bible is saturated with music! The book of Psalms is the songbook for the nation of Israel and it contains 150 songs for most any occasion. Stack on top of that all the times that people burst into song in the Scripture and you will quite soon realize that if we were to dramatize the scripture it would be a musical. People in the Bible sang! There was something in them that called for a response to the acts of God that couldn’t be expressed with normal words spoken in a normal way.  Their voices had to elevate to put words to meter and music! Moses led the entire nation of Israel in a song when  God wiped out an Egyptian army by way of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Mary sang upon visiting her cousin Elizabeth and receiving confirmation that she was carrying the messiah in her womb (Luke 1)! The angels sang to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2) The Song of Solomon is a wedding song written by or for Solomon. And there is more than I have time to write here.

Music expresses our emotions and it can help change our emotions. How about all those love songs that make you want to grab someone, hold them tight, and not let go. Then there are the songs that make you want to cry. Then there are songs that put a little pep in your step (great for a workout play list). I know that a little classical music on the drive home goes a long way towards curbing my anger issues at other drivers.  When the Lord sent an evil spirit  upon Saul, it was only the harp music of David that could calm him (I Samuel 16). Music does something for us! Even those people like me who can’t carry a tune or play an instrument. The writer of James tells us to sing when we are joyful (James 5:13).

We’ll look more into music and song as an avenue for worshiping God as well as the compulsion to sing corporately in the next post. Until then feel free to like this post, share it, comment below, and be sure to sign up to get new posts sent to you via e-mail (on the top right of this page).

 

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

As I teach younger men and women how to relay biblical messages one of the key things we focus on is building a bridge between the text and context. By that I mean we hold in tension the Truth of the scripture along with a keen awareness of the people in the audience. The natural tendency is to default to one or the other. You will either be so immersed in the text that you ignore the people you are presenting to or you will be so immersed in cultural context that you will ignore the depth of biblical truth in front of you. The two must relate because at the end of the day you are hoping to impress the truth of scripture into the lives of individuals and groups in modern context. Make no mistake, the scripture is the source of Truth and the audience is in need of Truth.

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

In the preparation process, after I have done some study and feel like I have the basic understanding of the text, I like to build the bridge by asking myself a simple question: “What is the problem to solve?” 

When my son was going to preschool we used to tell each other stories on the way to school. I’ll be honest, his stories stunk. Mostly because there wasn’t anything WRONG. The whole story was a happily ever after kind of deal. So I started coaching him on how to tell a story. I told him that every good story has a “problem to solve.It could be a relationship to heal, an enemy to fight, a fear to overcome, etc… but there needed to be a problem otherwise there was NO story, just information. 

I think some people sit bored in their chairs because the speaker hasn’t presented them with a problem. I know that if you are speaking out of the Bible that there will always be a problem to solve, if not immediately in the context of a story (such as getting God’s people out of bondage in Egypt), it will be in the overarching theological theme of a passage (Your sin separates you from God, you can’t overcome that on your own, you need a mediator… I can’t leave this hanging, his name is JESUS).

I know it sounds simplistic right? But it really does help me to set up how I will bridge between the text and the culture or the culture and the text. When coming from the text, “Sin” will always seem to be that problem to solve. But sin looks like a lot of different things and each text will highlight a different aspect of sin, or how it causes a separation from God, or how we are incapable of dealing with it on our own, or how people have tried to deal with sin and failed, etc. So while it may be simplistic to answer, “sin,” it is helpful to explore that element a moments and use it to build tension at the beginning of your message.

Sometimes I will begin with a personal story, “there was a time in my life that I couldn’t forgive this guy…” and let it go from there into the text, “But listen to what Jesus says about forgiveness

Sometimes I will share a more general statement like, “What do you do when everyone around you is screaming at you to do something like, ‘fight! fight! fight!’? You know that if you fight, you have given into the crowd and if you don’t, everyone is going to call you a ‘chicken’ and laugh at you.” Then I move into the text from there: “Today I want to look at a similar situation in the scripture where Jesus encountered a crowd who was pressing in and trying to trick him, instead of saying ‘fight! fight! fight!, they threw a woman out into the way and said they had caught her in the very act of…

By putting the problem to solve at the forefront of your presentation you are showing the audience right off the bat that what you have to say matters to them, it applies to their life, they are a part of this now and in the end when you call for some sort of response to the preaching or teaching of God’s Word… It will make sense to either accept or reject what you have said. There is a huge difference between sharing information and showing a man his problem and providing the solution.