Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip is cruel. It is what people who lack the physical strength or capacity to enforce their will resort to when all else fails. It’s what middle school girls do when they try and shame someone into conformity or to make themselves look better. It’s what boys do when they display their own insecurities in their words. They make idle threats through supposition and mindless chatter about someone else’s business. They assign their own motive, thoughts and emotions to the actions of another and call them into account.

 In reality gossip is just hot air designed to look and feel like fire. If you are not careful you will feel the brunt of it and think you were really burned, when the truth is, it has no power over you. It’s just idle breath and it says more about those who breath out such musings than those that are being spoken about. Sure in the moment it may seem like all eyes are on you, but know this that there will come a day when God will review every idle word that has ever been spoken (Matthew 12:36) and those who are guilty of gossip will give a full account.

Nehemiah was not above being gossiped about. When all else failed Sanballat resorted to gossip. He sent an open letter (meaning anyone could read the contents) to Nehemiah. In the letter he slander’s Nehemiah’s character and asks again for a meeting.

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And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. (Nehemiah 6:4-9 ESV)

So what is especially ironic about this letter is that Sanballat accuses Nehemiah of conspiring against the king. Then he asks for a meeting saying, “come let us take counsel together.” This was incredibly stupid on Sanballat’s part for the simple reason that if word ever got back to the king of this letter, it looks like Sanballat is wanting to make a plan with Nehemiah to rebel against the king. Indeed what was intended as slander for Nehemiah could very well be taken and used as evidence to convict Sanballat of treason! But don’t miss the point, that is what gossip does… in attempting to malign the character of someone else, it reveals the corrupt character of the one who is speaking, texting, writing, sharing!

So how does Nehemiah handle gossip? He prays, asks for God’s strength, and goes back to work. This takes incredible strength and trust on his part to know that God will take up his defense. Nehemiah knows he doesn’t need to waste his breath defending himself against lies.

Sometimes when we take up for ourselves, even though we are in the right, we look like we are in the wrong. Nehemiah gets that. He trusts God to sort this out. God will judge what has been said, God will handle those who have said it. In the mean times he has a wall to build.

How Do You Handle Righteous Anger? (Nehemiah 5:6-13)

How Do You Handle Righteous Anger? (Nehemiah 5:6-13)

When I was sixteen years old I was bending down at my locker to get some books out of the bottom and another big guy bumped into me causing me to bump my head on the locker. I was angry. My friend pointed to the guy who did it and said, “He did it on purpose, are you going to let him get away with that?” And before I knew it, in my anger I pulled on his shoulder and said, “Hey, why did you bump me into my locker?” At that moment, it seemed like the whole school had organized to form a ring around us and everyone began to chant, “Fight, fight, fight.” It didn’t matter what he would have said next, my anger had lead me into a situation where I felt like I couldn’t back down and so I threw the first punch I had ever thrown in my life. It landed squarely in his mouth and cut a huge gash in my knuckle and left a scar that I carry to this day. The scar is a good reminder of how stupid I can get when I am angry.  

Don’t get me wrong. Anger can be a good emotion. We should be angry about some of the things that go on in the world. I’m angry whenever I hear about someone abusing or neglecting children. Anger in that context is an appropriate emotional response to an unjust situation. The trouble can come though when I act in anger. You see just anger can and should be used to move us into just action, but if we are not careful our anger will move us to action without concern for justice at all.

In my first fist fight I was angry and I was moved to action, but it wasn’t just. I didn’t take the time to evaluate, much less discuss what had happened. My anger blinded me and in a series of poor choices my anger helped me do more harm than good. You see that’s what action without reflection does, it sabotages our best efforts and turns them into destructive decisions.

Nehemiah was human. He heard some news and it made him angry, but look at his reaction. He was able to process his anger into something productive. I wish I had thought like Nehemiah when I was sixteen years old.

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I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised. (Nehemiah 5:6-13 ESV)

The first thing Nehemiah does is to “take counsel with himself.” In other words he mastered his feelings and brought his anger under control. He realized that while emotions are a good indication of how he feels, they do not get to decide how he acts. Rather than letting the anger control him; he controls the anger.

Anger is like a high powered water hose used by firefighters to put out a blaze. When pointed in the right direction it can actually help put out the fires of injustice that blaze around our world. However, the same hose when not controlled can whip around wildly and cause more destruction than the fire it was designed to put out.

How Should You Deal With Anger?

angry-womanAnger is one of those difficult emotions to talk about because many people don’t deal with their anger in a productive way. When we talk about anger it’s common for some people to feel shame either because of the way they have acted out when they were angry or because they feel they are responsible for someone’s actions when they were angry. My goal in bringing up anger isn’t to make you feel bad, but to actually help remove that shame.

The truth is, I’ve been an angry person and there are days that I still struggle with how to deal with my anger. Once when I was in college, I was on the phone with my girlfriend, I don’t remember the conversation, but I do I know that my anger caused me to I crossed a line. There was a split second where in my head I thought, “what she has just said makes me very angry” and I had a choice to make, a stupid choice, but a choice. I could end the conversation and hang up the phone or I could hang up the phone and go into an animal rage… for some reason the animal rage thing seemed like it would make me feel better and so I demolished a 55 gallon trash can. I took a rubber made trashcan and bent it inside out. If it were a person they would have gone to the hospital… My roommates had no idea about the phone conversation came out wide eyed and saw what I did to the trashcan and were like, “Wow, what happened?” And all I could mutter was, “Stupid Trashcan.”

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I felt so ashamed. I had crossed a line. In my rage I destroyed a trashcan. (Can I tell you that Rubber-made trashcans don’t always bounce back). That isn’t all that my anger destroyed. It destroyed my reputation with my roommates. Once everything calmed down it became a joke around our cottage. Don’t get Jonathan angry he will dent you like a Rubber-Made. Anger has the capacity to destroy.

But don’t think that anger is just a negative emotion, anger can also cause you to do great things. I think anger is a gift from your Creator. I know that Jesus was angry. Take a look at Mark 3:5, “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”
Do you know what made Jesus angry? The hardness of the people’s heart. They had made a rule, a false rule. They had taken God’s rule “to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” and added so many other rules around it that when Jesus, who had the power to heal, walked into town, they forbid him to heal people on the Sabbath! Imagine your sister lying sick on a bed dying of cancer and there is nothing that modern medicine can do for her other than make her a little sicker and hope to give her a few more months to live and Jesus comes to your town on a Sunday. He’s willing to heal, but these guys actually show up at the edge of town and say, “No healing on Sunday’s, we’re watching you mister!”

I’d be angry. Jesus was angry. He was right to be angry. Anger can move you to action faster than compassion. Most people who want to change the world do so not because they are compassionate people, but because they have been angry at injustice. They see the wrong in the world and they feel like they are on a mission to fix it.

The apostle Paul actually tells us to be angry. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV). But we have to be careful about how we are angry. Anger is like handling a loaded weapon. You don’t play games with a loaded gun.

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So anger isn’t wrong, but how we react can be wrong, because let’s face it, not many of us get mad about something and start a charity to provide clean drinking water in Sudan. Usually we get mad about something much more personal and centered on us so we yell, we argue, we punch, we shut down and don’t talk, we glare, we gossip, we tear down, we hurl insults, we cry, we do things we are not proud of and in just a moment we say or do something that we regret. The reason is because we are angry for the wrong reasons.

We feel right in the moment because we have endorphins running through our head. You can say the stupidest things when you are angry and  it will make perfect sense to you. You will feel so right and justified about what you said or did in your mind. You can’t reason with an angry person it’s like they are high on stupid. They just keep repeating the same old stuff like it makes sense… “San Antonio is in California!”

James reminds us though that just because we feel right in our anger doesn’t, it doesn’t make us right. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV). Most of our anger is wrong, because we choose to be mad for the wrong reasons. You see it’s easy to see injustice when it is happening to someone else. It is difficult to see when it’s us. We like to take up to our defense too quickly. It’s like calling your own fouls in basketball. It’s way to easy to be they guy fouling the snot out of everyone else and then calling the slightest bump on you. You don’t have the right perspective because human nature has a tendency to cause us to be lenient on ourselves and harsh on others.

I got into a fight at school one time because a guy accidentally bumped into me. I though he did it on purpose. I got angry and took up for myself. I quickly judged his motives as being accusatory.  Had I been patient I would have realized it was an accident, as it was, I punched him in the face and then asked, “Why did you bump me in the hall way?” And as he nearly knocked me out with his return punch, he said, “it was an accident.” After that I learned that it’s always good to ask questions before you throw punches.

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When it comes to anger you need to deal with it quickly. It’s like  milk. Milk is initially good and good for you, but if you leave it sitting out past it’s expiration date and you get something different. Your anger is the same way. Hold on to it for too long and it will turn into bitterness! Bitterness can sour everything in your life. Paul says, “be angry and do not sin.” Milk is good for you, it’s good for your skin, your bones, etc. but rotten milk… not so good, at least for your stomach. Deal with your anger quickly. (and by deal with it I don’t mean beat up a rubber made trash can).

Jesus had a great strategy for dealing with anger. It involved going to the one who made you angry and seeking reconciliation. See what he said in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24 ESV)

What is really cool about Jesus’ words here is that he lived them and went beyond them. We were separated from God, isolated by our rebellion, choosing our own way over the design of our creator. God had every right for his anger and wrath to burn against us (indeed it was stockpiling for the day that it would be unleashed), but he choose to send Jesus to endure the wrath we deserved so that we could have a relationship with God. He didn’t wait for us to apologize or to say we are sorry, the bible says that, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It’s important to know that even though God was the offended party, he initiated reconciliation. When we turn from our sins and trust Jesus our sins are forgiven because he has already paid the price.

If you are a believer, who are you to hold on to your anger? Don’t you know that Jesus paid for your sins? If he paid for your sins, could it be that he has also paid for the sins against you? On my best days when I am tempted to anger my heart cries out to God and I am reminded of his great love for me and that his wrath was satisfied in Jesus. So I ask Him that I would be satisfied in Jesus in those moments too. My anger becomes a vehicle to appreciate the love of God all over again. No more rubber-made trash cans and I’d like to think that one day my anger will be more like Jesus’ anger than the trash can destroying variety. Indeed I know it will because I’m promised to be conformed to his image (Romans 8:29).

James 1:19-21

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:19-21 ESV)

I had a friend that I used to play basketball with, but he was extremely competitive. There is nothing wrong with being competitive but my friend’s competitive nature lead him to get angry about a lot of things. He would often blow up and get mad on the basketball court. He would call fouls on other people when he missed a shot or he would deny that he even touched a guy when the referee called a foul on him. He would get extremely upset over a bad call and on more than one occasion was ejected from a game. The one thing my friend kept missing was that it was the referee’s job to call the fouls, not his.

Like my friend when we are angry we feel confident that we are in the right. Our anger flares up and we do things and say things we wouldn’t ordinarily say. We don’t take time to hear from others because we think we have all the answers. We make bold declarations, we call people names, and in our hearts we feel justified or we feel right about doing it. But the author of James reminds us to pause and listen. We should be, “quick to hear and slow to speak.” Feeling justified in our anger doesn’t make us right. He says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” In other words when we feel cheated, hurt or betrayed we need to submit our anger to God. God is the one who judges everything rightly. We need to be quick to listen, not quick to blow our lid. We need to be slow to speak, not slow to hear. The key to overcoming anger is to trust God more than you trust yourself.

7 Steps of a Unified Group

My aim in writing this post is to point you in the right direction on unity.  Most often the discussion on unity is centered on how a group of people are not unified and how they should be.  The problem with this kind of discussion is that it tends to lead the group to become even more fractured as those discussing the issue of unity become frustrated with the behaviors of others (all the while missing thier own missbehavior along the way).  Supporting the following seven steps is one underlying principle: We find unity in common purpose.  For the Christian and hence the church (youth group, etc.) unity is found in Glorifying God through Jesus Christ.

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Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

(Ephesians 4:15-32 ESV)

Step One: Speak the Truth (In Love)

In Ephesians 4:15 and again in verse 25 we are told to “Speak the Truth.”  Truth speaking should always come from a heart of  love and a desire to grow and see others grow in the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4:15).  We are not to be deceptive.  We are not to lie, manipulate or pretend in front of others about what is going on in our lives.  Speaking the truth about our selves makes us vulnerable and accountable for the sake of the larger vision (seeing more of Jesus in our lives).  Speaking the truth to others shows genuine concern and accountability.

Step Two: Be Angry, but don’t sin

People are not perfect and the truth is that sometimes you will get angry with others.  Anger is a natural emotion.  However, many people use anger as an excuse to sin against others. They justify small and petty acts of retalliation like gossiping about someone, being mean or hostile to people, or defriending them.  However, these expressons of anger rarely solve the problem, they usually create more problems like bitterness, division, and hatred.  A better expression of anger is to address the issue that has stired the anger (in an non-sinful way).

We are  told to not to let anger go beyond a day (Ephesians 4:26).  Letting anger grow and fester becomes a foothold for the devil to create more issues in our life and keep us side tracked from the greater vision of Glorifying God.  If you find yourself handeling your anger in the wrong way you need to repent and ask God for healthier ways to evaluate and express your anger.  Don’t let anger cause you to lose focus.

Step Three: Be Generous…Work to Share with Others

Ephesians 4:28 reminds us that we are not to steal, but rather work hard so we will have something to share with everyone else.  Too often people come looking for what they can get, rather than what they can give.  In nature parasites are identified as creatures that take from thier host, but never offer anything in return.  If we all come to the group as parasites looking for what we can get, but never offering to others we have missed the point of growing in Christ likeness.  We are to work hard to so we have something to offer everyone else who is there.  You will find the more you serve and meet the needs of others, the more your needs are met.

Step Four: Watch what you Say

Paul says in Ephesians 4:29-30 that we should guard out mouths.  You do not glorify God by using your words to teardown, belittle, and destroy the efforts of others.  You grieve the Holy Spirit of God when your words are designed to tear down.  You may have a different preference than others on certain side issues, but you do not have  to verbally assault everyone who holds a different opinion than you.  When you talk about or too your group it should be to build it up, not to tear it down.  (By the way, this includes talking about all those people who are “in the way” of your group being unified).

Step Five: Put Away Bitterness

Bitterness is a disease that is rampant in our churches and congregations today.  Bitterness happens when you disagree with someone (rightly or wrongly) and you hold  a grudge.  The grudge grows and festers to effect the way you see that person.  What started out as a small dissagreement between two people is all the sudden blown up into a larger scale drama where the person you are holding a grudge against can’t do anything right (in your eyes).  Bitterness causes us to lose focus on Glorifying God and growing in Christlikeness and focus on small and petty disputes.

Step Six: Be Kind

The goal of a group is to work to gether to glorify God.  Kindness goes a long way in helping others to feel accepted, invited, and part of the project.  Kindness can disarm the wepons of the enemy.  Deal with others kindly (they way you would want to be treated).  When you deal withpeople who are not  on task with the goals or mission of the group treat them kindly.

Step Seven: Forgive

This is probably the hardest step to take.  If you have been wronged it can be difficult to forgive a person for what they have done.  I’ve written more on forgiveness here.