Danger of Devilish Distractions (Nehemiah 6:1-3)

Danger of Devilish Distractions (Nehemiah 6:1-3)

Several years ago one of our presidents lowered the bar and made it possible for faith based ministries to receive government funding to aid in their addiction and recovery programs. Up to this point many of these ministries had been self-sustaining in that they raised money through donations, thrift stores, local church partnerships, and even fees for those who could afford it. I know of one ministry who jumped at the chance to receive government funding and set out to enlarge the tent of their ministry. However as administrations changed so did the rules that accompanied the funding and this particular ministry was put into the difficult decision of either watering down their curriculum or losing funding that they had come to depend on. The end result was that ministry centers were shut down and many of the people who depended on them were turned over to other ministries or back to their own devices.

The slow fade of this once vibrant ministry serves as a diligent reminder that it matters who you partner with to accomplish the work that God has called you to. There will be some folks along the way who offer to help you, but when understood clearly their offer to help is actually an offer to destroy you from the inside. It is during these times that leadership matters the most. It can be hard to turn down help, but help from the wrong source can lead to destruction.

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Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:1-3 ESV)

When they found out that they couldn’t intimidate Nehemiah, Sanballat and Geshem attempted to sidetrack Nehemiah with the offer of a meeting. They proposed a meeting place that would have been about equal distance for them and Nehemiah to travel, but would have also taken a day away from building the wall. Their goal was to remove Nehemiah from Jerusalem and perhaps sow seeds of discord while he was gone, or spread rumors about him, or perhaps even to kill him.

Nehemiah realizes that their character hasn’t changed overnight and that they are up to no good. He knows they don’t have his best interest at heart. A deal with Sanballat would ultimately come back to haunt him. So Nehemiah doesn’t even hesitate and tells them. The work I’m doing is too important. I can’t come down and deal with you right now.

This is an old tactic of the Devil. He would offer us his help, but his help always comes with a cost. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with what appeared to be helps. He offered him bread for his hunger, a way to prove he was the messiah, and even all the kingdoms of the world without the cross. Of course all he asked was that Jesus betray all of Heaven and worship him (Matthew 4:1-11).

It matters who you partner up with. Some partnerships will cost you more than they will help you. Nehemiah chose to stay engaged with those working on the wall rather than seeking outside help from some shady characters. Sometimes what you are doing is so important that you can’t risk it by partnering with the wrong type of folks.

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).

Is it God’s Will for Me to Face Opposition? (Nehemiah 2:10)

I had a conversation with a friend one day who was discouraged by some of the circumstances in his life. He thought God had called him to participate in a certain ministry. We reached a point in our conversation where I finally asked him why he was so discouraged. He shared that if it was God’s will for him to be a part of that particular ministry, why was it so hard? In particular, he wanted to know why even seemingly good people wouldn’t jump on board and help.

I understood his thoughts. I’ve been there before. In our culture we have watched so many fairytale movies where everything works out perfectly in the end. We imagine that if God is in something, it will be like that. We are puzzled when we meet opposition. We are discouraged that even though we have prayed and know we are on the right track that forces quickly rise against us.

I was sure to counsel this young man that most often when we are in the center of God’s will, we will face opposition. I pointed him to the cross of Jesus and shared. No one on earth ever walked a path more perfectly, yet faced so much opposition (Hebrews 12:4). Following God’s plan leads us through opposition, not around it, or over it.

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But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.(Nehemiah 2:10 ESV)

 

The story of Nehemiah was turning into a fairytale; he seemed to be getting everything he wanted. He had a dream, he had a plan, he had permission, but now he faced opposition. Finally on the road to rebuild a wall, before he even enters the city, the governors of the surrounding land marshal their minds together and let him know of their displeasure. He doesn’t slow down, he knows he is in the right; he has God on his side, what can opposition mean, other than this is a moment where God will shine the most.

If you plan to effectively reach those in your school and community around you, you must know that you will face opposition, don’t be surprised by it, be ready for it, have your heart prepared in prayer and face it.

Differences That Don’t Divide (Nehemiah 2:9)

I have two friends who have a disagreement about how to handle a headache. One will get a headache and muscle through it, use a cold rag, essential oils, anything they can before they would ever attempt to take an over-the-counter pain medicine. The other will have a headache and pop an over-the-counter pain medicine right on the spot. They both insist the other is wrong in how to treat a headache. One accuses the other of being too quick to take medicine, the other one accuses them of suffering needlessly when God has provided medicine… Who is wrong and who is right?

I try to convince them that even though they are addressing the same issue (headaches) two different ways that the other person doesn’t have to be wrong. They can still love God just as much as they do, have the same amount of faith, etc. One just trusts that the over-the-counter pain medicine is evidence of God’s grace and the other prefers different means. Too often we as Christians can fight over non-essentials and make a big deal out of something that isn’t a sin or lack of faith, but is simply just a different approach.

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Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.  (Nehemiah 2:9 ESV)

The occurrences of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah happen pretty closely together. Indeed they used to be considered one book. Ezra was embarrassed to ask for a military escort when he went back to Jerusalem because He had made a big deal about how great his God was (Ezra 8:22).  So Ezra went and made it safely without a military escort, yet when Nehemiah went to Jerusalem he went with a military escort (Nehemiah 2:9). Both had a genuine faith. One believed God would provide without a military escort, the other believed the escort was God’s provision. What we know is that both men had a deep faith and a calling from God.

Nehemiah would end up working with some of the men who returned with Ezra. It was important that though they saw God’s provision in different ways that they trust each other when it came to the task of building a wall.  The body of Christ is too often divided and fractured today not by essential doctrines, but by preferences and differences.

Know Who You Are Talking Too (Nehemiah 1:5)

And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, (Nehemiah 1:5 ESV)

There once was a young boy at the Louvre Museum in Paris who came up to the world famous painting, the Mona Lisa. He started to comment to no one in particular and then to a crowd as people began to gather around him. He said things like, “look it’s got lots of tiny cracks in it. The artist obviously wasn’t very good.” And “look at that smile, have you ever seen such a hideous half-way smile in your life?” The boy thought he was doing good as he continued to make his comments about the painting, but then the curator to the museum showed up. He gracefully said, “I’d like to correct some of your misconceptions about the painting. It is THE most famous painting in the world. It was painted by the master Leonardo da Vinci. There is much mystery surrounding this painting but one thing we know for sure… It is a master piece.

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oo often when we pray we talk to God like we have a full grasp of the situation, like what we see is all there is to the world! We pretend to educate God rather than being educated by him about the world he created! Instead of coming to him and asking, “God what is your plan,” we come to him with a plan in mind. Our list of petitions (requests) come off more as like a wish list at best or demands at worst. We totally forget who God is.

Biblical prayer starts with a recognition of who God is. It’s hard to petition God with my petty list of wants and desires after I have recognized who he is. My prayer turns from “me” focused to “God” focused. That’s how Nehemiah prays here and it is how Jesus teaches us to pray in the model prayer (Matthew 6:9). Beginning with reverence and honor for God helps us remember who we are talking to and the nature of prayer.

Too often the first word in prayer is “I,” “I need this” or “I want you to…” We are reflecting on the wrong person in prayer when we do that. We don’t have the power to accomplish anything otherwise we wouldn’t be praying. We are going to God to see how he will act and move in this situation. We are asking him to do what only He can do.

Take time today to reflect on who God is and ask Him for His will to be done in your life. Use the model prayer (Matthew 6:9-11) and pray it in your own words as you wait on Him to reveal His will for your life.

The Model prayer was a game changer in my personal prayer life. I used to come to God with a wish list of things I wanted Him to accomplish. I had prayer all wrong. When I started coming to him and asking Him to do his will in my life and submitting my life to Him I began to see God work in ways I never thought possible. There is a huge difference between asking God to do what you want and asking God to do what He wants in your life.

“I’m Not Getting Fed”:Confronting the voice of Consumer Christianity

As an American I live in a consumer culture. Just check out the cereal isle of your local grocery store and take note of how many options there are for corn flakes and that is just corn flakes! We’ve coined phrases like, “The customer is always right,” “the customer is king,” and my favorite slogan from days gone by, “Your way, right away.” We’re used to paying for things and getting what we want. Almost every industry has someone else competing to offer a better or alternative product so we are never without a choice in the matter. You have tons of options when it comes to car insurance, cell phone coverage, or even what kind of pick-up you want to drive.

i'm not getting fed

To be fair, that’s probably healthy for our economy… but when we carry consumerism into other area’s of our life it can be deadly. We’re so used to getting upgrades, new leases, and trading in the old model when something new, better, more convenient that we have let that mindset creep into our relationships. Can you imagine cutting ties with a friend because a better friend came along? Or how about filing for divorce in order to get a newer younger model? (unfortunately those phrases have been used). Consumerism can trick us into thinking we have options in places where we should have commitments.

I see it in the church too. Folks send their children to one church for it’s children’s ministry, their students go to another church for student ministry, and the parents attend a different church’s community group and maybe they all show us on a Sunday morning where they have opinions about the musical style or the preaching. Folks talk about a pastor or church and say something like, “I wasn’t getting fed” and “My needs weren’t being met,” and “they didn’t have anything for me.” (All phrases that remind me of when my children were infants by the way) And that’s the rub, Christianity for these folks is just a product to be consumed. It’s about getting their needs wants met.

While that may work for corn flakes, it doesn’t work in real relationships like marriage. Consumers quit on marriages because they are consumed with their own needs instead of the needs of their partner. They would soon discover that there is actually real joy in focusing on meeting the needs of your partner and marriages can flourish that way, but that takes commitment. It’s the same way with raising children. As a society, we remove children from the homes of parents who can’t see past their own needs to meet the needs of their children. If you’re a parent, you know that there is a real joy that comes in meeting the needs of your child and even providing some of their wants along the way (despite everything their selfishness may put you through).

That is how church is supposed to work. We are to look out for one another (Philippians 2:4) and work together (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) and meet regularly for encouragement (Hebrews 10:25) and in doing so train our children to be those who commit in relationships, not those who consume. The church is the people, not the program, not the building… the people, and that implies a relationship one to another.

If you really want to grow, do more than just absorb the programming. Get involved, be invested, participate in the life of the church by volunteering. If you have children and you think the children’s ministry could up it’s game, don’t send your kids to another church, volunteer for the children’s ministry team! If you don’t/ can’t volunteer… provide snacks, offer to help financially if you are able, find a way to invest. Find the church the Lord leads you too and get plugged in and serve. You will find there is more joy in the commitment than in consuming because church really has more to do with relationships than it does with products and programs. Ultimately it is about a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I get how God might call you to serve another church. He does this sort of thing all the time. He certainly called my family from one church to serve another, but be sure you are following God’s call and not your own consumer impulses. And as much as possible worship together with one congregation.