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.

When Money is God, People Suffer (Nehemiah 5:1-5)

When Money is God, People Suffer (Nehemiah 5:1-5)

People fall on hard times. Sometimes there is a fatal error on their part such as mishandling money, sometimes it is due to circumstances such as cutbacks at work, etc. But there is no doubt that people fall on hard times. When folks have fallen on difficult times for whatever reason, they are vulnerable to exploitation. Someone with a little bit of cash can offer to make their situation temporarily better, the only problem is most often cash flows into these situations as a high interest loan rather than a gift.

Sometimes the folks doing the “helping” are just helping themselves rather than truly helping their neighbors in need. What seems like a solution can actually create a worse problem. Folks who needed a little help to get up end up being held down by that hand the was extended to them. This is how part of the cycle of poverty works.

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Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”(Nehemiah 5:1-5 ESV)

Building the wall was a hardship. It took people away from farming their fields and raising crops (their primary source of income). In essence they had to quit paying jobs in order to work a non-paying job. It also seems that when they stepped back from farming there was also a famine in the land which caused the price of food and other things to soar.

This created a situation where folks who had money could buy land and labor cheaper than before and those who didn’t have much had to sell what they had at rock bottom prices. It created a culture of exploitation that kept the rich people rich and the poor people poor. In this passage there are four groups of people.

  1. Those who had to borrow money to eat.
  2. Those who mortgaged their property to eat
  3. Those who couldn’t pay the taxes on the property and had sold their children into slavery
  4. Their fellow countrymen who had used this as an opportunity to gain land, money, and possessions rather than help out their neighbors in need.

Can you imagine your neighbors being in extreme need, even to the point of selling their children and you have enough money to help, but rather than giving them a gift you give them a high interest loan? Not only were the people of Jerusalem open to exploitation by those from outside the city, they were being taken advantage of by their own people! It got so bad that verse one says even the wives were crying out! This was uncommon for women to speak up in the public forum, but when enough has become enough the voice of reason will be heard even if it has to come from unconventional means.

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).

It is not what you say, but what you do that matters (Nehemiah 4: 6)

It is not what you say, but what you do that matters (Nehemiah 4: 6)

We just recently saw the 2016 summer Olympics. One of my favorite moments of the Olympics was when South African Swimmer Chad Le Clos’ taunted Michael Phelps. If you don’t know Michael Phelps has won lots of gold medals in swimming over the last several Olympics, he is the man to beat in the pool. It wasn’t just Le Clos’ shadow boxing in front of Phelps that brought a spark to the event it was some of the things he had said before everyone even got to Rio that made this an interesting rivalry. Le Clos’ was out to take down Phelps and his strategy involved trash talking and taunting.

What was really interesting was Phelps response. He just stared. It was a mean stare, no doubt, but it was just a stare. He didn’t say anything back. He didn’t engage in the trash talk. When it was his turn he just got in the pool and beat everyone to win another gold medal. You see Phelps knew something; you can talk all you want, but it’s what you actually do that matters.

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Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders. So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. (Nehemiah 4:4-6 ESV)

Nehemiah does something similar here. He has heard the trash talk from Sanballat and Tobiah. He has prayed to God. He knows he is on the right path. There is no reason to respond with words. The only reaction is with action. He, along with all the people of Jerusalem went right on rebuilding the wall. They didn’t have time to stop.  Shouting back wouldn’t have accomplished anything.

There will be those who come along who will attempt to discourage you from doing the Lord’s work. They will tell you all the ways you are doing it wrong and why it can’t be done. They are experts at trash talking. They will attempt to cause you to fear what they might do, using intimidation as a tactic. Remember though that when it comes to doing the Lord’s work that He will defend His name, we only need to put one foot in front of the other and keep on carrying out the mission.

After the two swimmers got in the pool and the race began someone’s camera caught a picture of the pair near the end. Phelps was winning and he was facing forward looking towards the finish wall. De Clos’ was behind looking across the lane watching Phelps win.

For me the pictures serves as a sober reminder that if Lord has given you something to do, do it with all your might and don’t waste time trash talking or trying to figure out what someone else is doing.

Don’t Speak About Your Dreams Before You Have Surveyed Reality (Nehemiah 2:11-15)

Have you ever met someone who was just an open sharer? Every time they opened their mouth they couldn’t help but share anything and everything that was going on in their life. This can be an especially bad condition for a dreamer. They will envision and imagine a brighter future, a better tomorrow, and get folks bought into the vision. But if they don’t have well laid plans; if they don’t have a structure in place, everything will fizzle out. It’s better for dreamers to hold their tongue sometime until they can get enough information to formulate a plan.

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So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.  (Nehemiah 2:11-15 ESV)

Nehemiah comes to the city and rather than announcing right off the bat that he is there to rebuild the wall, he takes a few days to get to know the city. He takes a few men by the stealth of night to inspect the wall. He knows in general that the wall must be rebuilt; now he needs to see specifically where it is weak and what must be done. Again, Nehemiah isn’t just a dreamer, he is a doer and it shows up in his resolve not to let the cat out of the bag until he knows for sure what he is up against.

You may feel compelled to make a gospel impact in your school and neighborhood, but declaring that you will isn’t the same as actually doing it. Sometimes it is good to bring a few like-minded individuals in to survey the situation and plan accordingly than it is to go fully loaded with just your passion and ego. You might want to bring folks like parents, teachers, youth pastors, etc into your dream and see if they can help show you what you might need to do.

You may need to bring a few Christian neighbors in or see what other Christians are doing on your campus. Clarify the needs around you. Too often we go on mission trips or into situations to “help” others and we assume we know what the needs are and too often we “help” meet a smaller need while ignoring a larger need. Find out about your school, neighborhood, etc.

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.

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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.

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.