Who Gives You Advice? (Nehemiah 6:10-14)

Who Gives You Advice?  (Nehemiah 6:10-14)

One of my favorite things I get to do as a youth pastor is train volunteers to help lead in our ministry. We have an extensive handbook with policies, procedures, etc. I interview folks to get their background, their testimony and their reason for wanting to serve in student ministry. We really do try hard to make sure the people we put forward as leaders offer sound advice.

It wouldn’t go well for youth leaders to listen to students and share terrible advice like, “You should dishonor your parents.” (a HUGE NO-NO in our Student ministry because of… well the BIBLE). You couldn’t be a youth leader very long at our church sharing these types of opinions because not only are they just opinions but they actually contradict what we know to be true from God’s word.

This scenario brings up a great question; what do you do when someone who is in a spiritual leadership position suggests you do something that you know is wrong? You wouldn’t think it would happen, but it happens more often than you would think. I tell our students all the time, “Don’t take my word for it, read your bible, and know for yourself.”

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Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid (Nehemiah 6:10-14 ESV)

Nehemiah goes to visit a man by the name of Shemaiah who it appears is a prophet. This man has the credibility of speaking for God. He has respect in the community. He is someone that Nehemiah should be able to trust for good advice. We all need advice from time to time, especially leaders. Nehemiah listens to what Shemaiah has to say and immediately drawn back because Shemaiah advises him to do something that would break one of God’s laws.

Shemaiah wants Nehemiah to go hide in the temple. Not only would this be a cowardly thing to do, it would be a violation of God’s law! Only priests were supposed to be in the temple in such a way as was suggested. Shemaiah had been hired to give Nehemiah bad advice. If Nehemiah went in the temple not only would he have sinned against God, but he would have discredited himself as a leader.   Fortunately Nehemiah has a heart to honor God more than to save his own neck and so he rejects the advice of this false prophet.

I wish the church didn’t have any Shemaiah’s in it today, but the truth is that there are a lot of hucksters on TV and other places that are willing to take money in exchange for lying to you. They will give you all sorts of advice that sounds great on the outside, but will ultimately destroy you. The only way to protect yourself from listening to bad advice is to know God’s will by knowing God’s word.

Do you Care more for comfort or for People? (Nehemiah 5:14-19)

Do you Care more for comfort or for People? (Nehemiah 5:14-19)

There was a moment when our church wasn’t doing so well financially. The finance team brought forward a suggestion that we challenge the church to raise their individual levels of giving by 1% to reach our church budget goal. There was much discussion on the matter and then it was placed before a congregational vote. As I considered the weight of these matters in my heart I couldn’t help but imagine what a difference an increase in our personal giving by 1% would mean for our family. In my head all I could think about was a new TV and some furniture we had bought the year before. I realized that we could live on 1% less to ensure that our church was able to fulfill its gospel purpose. It came down to a choice between our personal comfort and caring for others. Thankfully we chose to become a little uncomfortable in order to care for others.

Nehemiah has a similar opportunity before him. Though for him it’s not a choice in what he will give, but in what he will take. The governors before him were given extravagant food allowances that the local people had to provide. They would eat the best of everything in the land while the people who provided the food often had to settle for meager rations. It was so bad that the servants of the governor would have eaten better than some of the people providing the food. Nehemiah had a choice to make. Would he take this perk of the job and enjoy it or would he remove this burden from the people and therefore have to provide food for his court from his own estate?

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Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people. (Nehemiah 5:14-19 ESV)

Nehemiah chose to carry the burden rather than place anything more on the people. Nehemiah cared more about the welfare of the people than he did about what he might get from them. This is an important aspect of leadership. People begrudgingly follow leaders who take from them, but they will adore leaders who care more about the people than they do about what they can get.

Think about those who have come along side and helped you to this point in the journey. How can you help and encourage them along way? How can you make sure that you are giving them more than you are taking from them?

Nehemiah 4:18-23

Nehemiah 4:18-23

This past year I took one of my former students to camp with me as a leader. He commented how his experience as a leader was different than his experience as a student. He had the blessing of being my roommate so not only did he get to hear me snore through the night but he quickly realized that being a leader meant that you go to bed later than everyone else, wake up earlier than everyone else, and spend yourself all throughout the day concerned with how everyone else is doing. This was the burden of leadership that he had never seen before.

Most people from the outside looking in see leaders as those who bark orders, make plans, and get stuff done. Sometimes there are “perks” of leadership like looking at a set of plans in an air conditioned office building while the rest of the crew works outside putting the plans together; most often though, the demands of leadership are those of sacrifice and service. It wasn’t any different for Nehemiah.

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 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.  (Nehemiah 4:18-23 ESV)

In this passage he puts the trumpeter right by his side and he lets the people know, “When you hear the sound of the trumpet, run to the sound because that is where the fighting will be.” This communicated two things. One, that they would be able to know where to go should they be attacked at some point. Two, that Nehemiah would be right at the front lines of battle. After all, the trumpeter was with him!

Then Nehemiah went a step further and requested all the people to say in town so they could keep watch at night. It would have been easy for Nehemiah to post watches and go to sleep. He could have still taken advantage of his positions and taken baths, had his clothes washed, and even dined on a fine meal, but instead of taking leisure while everyone else was puling double time, he makes sure that he and his attendants serve just like everyone else. He sets the example.

Nehemiah made a promise to his people that when danger came he would be the first one into battle and that when the days got long and tired because everyone was pulling over-time, he would be the last one to get a bath. This type of leadership is called servant leadership. It doesn’t boast, gloat, or rule over others in a proud way. The people Nehemiah had come to help were already being exploited by people like Sanballot and Tobiah; they needed someone to lead them who loved them.

When I read this about Nehemiah I can’t help but also think of Jesus the ultimate servant leader about who the Apostle Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV).

Nehemiah 4:10-14

Nehemiah 4:10-14

There is something energizing about the beginning of an adventure or project. You start out with all kinds of energy and gusto ready to take on all the challenges that lie ahead. You know that it won’t always be easy sailing, but you are ready for whatever comes. There is a sense of what it could be like; how the world or at least you little corner of it, will be different when it’s all said and done. You are spurred on by hearing success stories of other people in other places and you ask yourself, “why not here? Why not now?” You set your hand to the work and it the motivation comes easy.

Then somewhere in the middle as things begin to take shape you realize that the finished product may look different than your dream. The days seem to get longer when there is hard work to do and shorter when there are deadlines to meet. You find yourself wondering if you should just quit. You have met the resistance! Resistance is that inward voice that tries to get you to throw in the towel early and quit. It’s the part of you that says that it can’t be done. It’s the part that says you have done enough. It’s the little voice that says you gave it a good run or somebody else can take it from here.

Lots of people fade out half way through because of that little internal voice of resistance. They quit early. They miss seeing the mission completed NOT because the enemy outside was too great, but because they gave ear to a voice from the inside that said to quit.

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In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:10-14 ESV)

As Nehemiah was finding out, sometimes the greatest obstacles to success don’t come from outside the walls the come from voices inside. The progress was challenged by the internal voices of resistance. The people were talking to one another wondering if they could really get the wall completed with the materials they had on hand. They were already half way there (Nehemiah 4:6) but they were struggling to see the vision of how the other half would come together.

So what do you do when it’s the voice inside telling you to quit? You remember God! Look again at verse Nehemiah 4:14. He doesn’t give a long drawn out speech about duty, or honor, or anything like that. He goes straight to the point. He says, “Remember the great and awe inspiring Lord.” In other words he reminds the people that they didn’t call themselves into this battle. They didn’t start the ruckus. They didn’t even attempt to rebuild the wall in their own strength. This is of the Lord! If God had lead them there he would lead them through.

I don’t know where you are in your fight against resistance but there is only one place to go when the voice inside your head telling you to quit becomes almost deafening. You have to take it to the one who called you to the task in the beginning. Take it to the Lord! Remind yourself of who He is, what He has done, and that if He has called you to this, it will be accomplished! Spend sometime today reflecting on who God is. One of the passages that helps me reflect on the mightiness of God is Psalm 115.

Call to Build the Low Side of the Wall (Nehemiah 3:1-32)

Call to Build the Low Side of the Wall (Nehemiah 3:1-32)

The beauty of a God size task is that everyone has something to do. Every person no matter how small has some value to add. When it came to rebuilding the wall in Nehemiah 3 we see this principle worked out again and again. The priests, beginning with the high priest, lead by example, grabbing their work gloves and put their hand earnestly toward the wall next to them. The daughters of Shallum work tirelessly like their father. Everyone in town is engaged rebuilding the wall right where they are, no one it left out.

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This is also how it works in the kingdom of Heaven. God puts us within proximity of other believers who will complement our weaknesses and who will need our strengths. It is often easy to look at others on a far wall and think they have it better than you or that their laborers are stronger and so you should go over there, but have you considered that your labor is needed where you are? Looking too long at another wall also proves that you have spent too much time looking and not enough time doing.

It is easy to get dissatisfied when there aren’t any stones in your hand. Often we point to where the wall is the lowest like it is a problem rather than our purpose to rebuild it. We often abandon the places that need our resources and ability in favor of the ones that have already been built by someone else. In doing so, we stand on the accomplishments of others rather than fulfill our own God-given purpose.

The Difference Between Dreamers and Doers (Nehemiah 2:5-8)

Do you know the difference between dreamers and doers? Dreamers have brilliant ideas about how to shape and influence the world. They may have a great idea for a new invention, product or ministry. They have passion, they have drive, but ultimately many dreamers fizzle out because they are never able to get out of the dream stage. So again, I ask, do you know the difference between dreamers and doers? …A well thought out plan.

Most dreams die on the drawing board, not the launch pad, because dreamers seldom ever take the time necessary to develop a strategy to see their dream become a reality. They imagine what it would be like if they had a certain budget, or enough folks, or the right kind of equipment but they never sit down and assemble a plan to get there. Rather than estimating costs, assembling a budget, and pulling others on board,  the dream dies because nothing substantial ever gets put down on paper, much less in the hands of someone who can help make the dream a reality.

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And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. (Nehemiah 2:5-8 ESV)

Nehemiah has a specific plan. The king basically asks, “What do you plan to do?” and Nehemiah comes back with specific requests for letters of endorsement from the king. (Basically he asked for building permits and supplies to build the wall.) It’s important to note that if Nehemiah hadn’t already been thinking through about what the next steps would be that when he had such a huge opportunity he would have blown it by just sharing a dream.  It’s at this moment that having a plan ready to go is what turned Nehemiah into a doer and not just a dreamer.

Do you have dreams about the gospel impacting your school and your community? Do you imagine or dream that you could lead your lost friends to Christ? My next question for you is simple… What’s the plan?

  • Map your Neighborhood
  • Learn the Names of the Students in your Math Class
  • Establish goals like meeting all of your neighbors, or learning who else is a Christian at school, or setting up a 501c3

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.

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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.