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?

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.

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.