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?

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).

Nehemiah 4: 15-20

Nehemiah 4: 15-20

Offense and defense are the two major aspects of any great sport. On offense you want to score a goal or earn points for your team on defense you want the stop the other team from scoring on you or marking points against you. What is especially interesting are the sports where you have to play keen offense and defense at nearly the same time. In basketball the ball can be stolen or in football it can be intercepted and everyone who was on the field to play offense is all of the sudden playing defense.  Players who may not be defensive players are still trained in how to tackle others so that when the momentum shifts, they are ready to stand up for their team.

In Jerusalem they had reached a point where it was necessary to go on the offensive of building the wall while at the same time being ready to defend their position. They had to be ready with a sword in one hand while having a trowel in the other. Everyone had to be a dual position player. They had to take their turn at watching the wall and building the wall.

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When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 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.” (Nehemiah 4:15-20 ESV)

There is wisdom with being prepared and moving ahead on two fronts like Nehemiah did. In the Christian life we will always be called to reach out to others, witness, and disciple folks in the name of Jesus, but we will also need to stand guard against temptation. We are all prone to give in at various times to various sinful desires that if we are not careful we will let the wall down.

What was really encouraging for the folks in Jerusalem and what I think can be encouraging for us as well is in verse 20 where Nehemiah says, “Our God will fight for us!”  This is true. In our stand against temptation and sin it is our God who has fought for us. It is He who went to the cross and died for our sins and freed us from the power of sin and darkness. It is our God who lives in side of us as the Holy Spirit choosing our bodies as His temple. Placing his seal over us.

You may feel discouraged in the fight today and maybe you feel week when it comes to standing against temptation, but remember this; Our God will fight for us! So stand strong on the wall with your sword in one hand ready to resist the attacks of the enemy and with your trowel in the other hand building up the wall that God has called you too.

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.

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.