Do You Stand on Guard? (Nehemiah 7:4)

Do You Stand on Guard? (Nehemiah 7:4)

You never know when the enemy will attack. That is why fortresses keep soldiers on guard. The moment you send the guards home, the enemy will come in and pillage everything you were supposed to be protecting.  Sometimes the simple presence of a guard is enough to detour those who would want to break in and take something from you. The guard stands as a first line of defense. He often detours trouble before it starts. When trouble walks through the door he cuts it off before it becomes bigger. When the trouble is too much for one guard he sounds the alarm to save the city. Being a guard is an important job.

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And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.(Nehemiah 7:3-4 ESV)

Can you imagine the state of the city if Nehemiah hadn’t appointed guards? The walls would be relatively useless because ill meaning folks would be devising ways to ruin the city. By posting a guard Nehemiah was allowing the new wall to have its fullest effect as an enemy detourant. Anyone who wanted to breach the city would have to do it with their full force, subterfuge wouldn’t be possible.

We all have things in our lives where we are weak. Places that if we are not careful we will stumble and fall into temptation and sin. It is important that we place a guard in our lives especially around these areas to keep us from the things we know will hurt us the most. If you struggle with giving, then maybe giving should be the first thing you do out of your checkbook instead of the last. This can become a guard for you so that you don’t make decisions based on what’s left, but based on what’s right. If you are tempted to view online pornography, in addition to your repentance an internet filter that you don’t have the pass key too or even the elimination of your internet capable devices would be a good step towards placing a guard in your life. Ideally, you want these behaviors to come truly from the heart, but your heart won’t grow strong in these areas (and others) until you guard it from the sin that it is so prone too. Where are you tempted? How can you place a guard in your life in these areas?

Who Controls the Gates? (Nehemiah 7:3)

Who Controls the Gates?  (Nehemiah 7:3)

I used to have an old college professor who said, “There is nothing good that comes on TV after 10 o’clock anyway, you might as well go to bed and get up early.” In his estimation it was a waste of time to stay up late watching TV, playing video games, etc. He knew he was speaking to a bunch of young men and women who were used to having someone else set the rules for everything including bed time. Now that we were on our own it was up to us to decide how we would manage our time. Would we waste our lives on the trivial things like late night talk shows and video games or would we discipline ourselves so that we could make the most of our time.

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And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.” The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.(Nehemiah 7:3-4 ESV)

Nehemiah challenges the gate keepers to open and close the gates at certain times of the day. Keeping up with a gate schedule was important for the city of Jerusalem. They hadn’t had gates and walls for quite some time so getting adjusted to a new routine was a big deal. But more than the routine, the gate schedule would allow the guards and gate keepers to be diligent about seeing and inspecting anyone who came in and out of the city.

Gates are ultimately a good thing. They serve as an access point to the city. The city needed the gates in order for food, people, and commerce to come into the walls. But they also needed gates to keep out the enemy when they came knocking. The trick is that the enemy doesn’t always come dressed up as the enemy. The devil looks more like an angel than a red monster with a jet black beard, horns and a pitchfork (2 Corinthians 11:14).  The gate times would control the access to the city and limit the enemy from weakening the people from the inside. The high sun would make sure that every thing was exposed to the light and swords and other weapons of war would be easier to spot.

We all have access points into our lives. We allow what other people say, or things we see on television, or hear on the radio to effect us and how we live. Who and what has access to your life? Are you letting the enemy through the gates of your mind or are you keeping Him out?

Disappointment from the Inside (Nehemiah 6:15-19)

Disappointment from the Inside (Nehemiah 6:15-19)

Leadership is more of a burden than a reward most days. Somebody has got to do something and so you stand up to lead. You have a vision of things should be and how to get there. You spend your days and nights in earnest labor, rallying the troops, lifting spirits, encouraging people to do the right thing and then finally you see success is on the horizon. Yet, even in the midst of success there are often moments of disappointment.

Sometimes it is the people inside our circle that can disappoint us the most. We’ve trusted them, leaned on them and counted them as friends. Yet, we find they have a propensity to tolerate the untolerable and it is not because they are more inclusive than we are, it is simply for something as petty as an economic or social advantage.

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So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid. (Nehemiah 6:15-19 ESV)

 

Even Nehemiah faced the discouragement of betrayal among some of his leaders. He had to listen to folks talk about how good Tobiah was even while Tobiah was busy trying to tear down Jerusalem’s walls. He also had them constantly running off and telling Tobiah everything he said and did. Despite this seeming incongruity with his people, Nehemiah was able to lead his people to rebuild the wall in only 52 days!

It amazes me how little people have changed over the thousands of years since the events of Nehemiah occurred. In our churches today we have those who come in as wolves in sheep’s clothing who would love nothing more than for the church to run according to their style and preferences and we have those in the church who tolerate them. Many churches are little different than a country club operating on the “good-ole-boy” system and many truly godly leaders have been run out because they couldn’t endorse ungodliness in their midst.

 

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.

Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip (Nehemiah 6:4-9)

Gossip is cruel. It is what people who lack the physical strength or capacity to enforce their will resort to when all else fails. It’s what middle school girls do when they try and shame someone into conformity or to make themselves look better. It’s what boys do when they display their own insecurities in their words. They make idle threats through supposition and mindless chatter about someone else’s business. They assign their own motive, thoughts and emotions to the actions of another and call them into account.

 In reality gossip is just hot air designed to look and feel like fire. If you are not careful you will feel the brunt of it and think you were really burned, when the truth is, it has no power over you. It’s just idle breath and it says more about those who breath out such musings than those that are being spoken about. Sure in the moment it may seem like all eyes are on you, but know this that there will come a day when God will review every idle word that has ever been spoken (Matthew 12:36) and those who are guilty of gossip will give a full account.

Nehemiah was not above being gossiped about. When all else failed Sanballat resorted to gossip. He sent an open letter (meaning anyone could read the contents) to Nehemiah. In the letter he slander’s Nehemiah’s character and asks again for a meeting.

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And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. (Nehemiah 6:4-9 ESV)

So what is especially ironic about this letter is that Sanballat accuses Nehemiah of conspiring against the king. Then he asks for a meeting saying, “come let us take counsel together.” This was incredibly stupid on Sanballat’s part for the simple reason that if word ever got back to the king of this letter, it looks like Sanballat is wanting to make a plan with Nehemiah to rebel against the king. Indeed what was intended as slander for Nehemiah could very well be taken and used as evidence to convict Sanballat of treason! But don’t miss the point, that is what gossip does… in attempting to malign the character of someone else, it reveals the corrupt character of the one who is speaking, texting, writing, sharing!

So how does Nehemiah handle gossip? He prays, asks for God’s strength, and goes back to work. This takes incredible strength and trust on his part to know that God will take up his defense. Nehemiah knows he doesn’t need to waste his breath defending himself against lies.

Sometimes when we take up for ourselves, even though we are in the right, we look like we are in the wrong. Nehemiah gets that. He trusts God to sort this out. God will judge what has been said, God will handle those who have said it. In the mean times he has a wall to build.

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?