Crushed and Rejoicing

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We are holy not because we are perfect. No, we are holy because God has set us apart for a special purpose.

I remember back when I was just saved. It was in 1984. I was in the Marine Corps and had experienced things that made my salvation experience very real and emotional as well as spiritual. I decided that every Sunday I would do nothing except read my Bible and go to church. I had decided that Sunday was special and I would reserve it for the Lord out of a grateful heart.
What I didn’t realize is that I had recognized the meaning of the word holy. In both the Old Testament and New Testament, the idea of being holy is one of specialness – of being set apart from everything else – rather than the idea of being perfect. That is an idea that we, as the Church, need to remind ourselves daily.

Crushed Hearts

Here in Nehemiah 8:9-12, we see the effect of Ezra’s reading the Law to those gathered. It was devastating. And I mean devastating in a good way. The people were crushed. They were humbled. They were reminded of the true meaning of being holy.

Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Nehemiah 8:9 NASB

The first thing that leaps of the page at me is the fact that the people here were weeping. Now remember that this wasn’t just a few people. There were upwards of 50,000 folks there. And they were weeping. Imagine that for a moment. There are fifty-thousand souls gathered to hear the word of God read and explained. After that has been accomplished (and probably during the reading) the people were weeping. Fifty-thousand people weeping. Imagine the sound. It must have been beautiful to hear. Why beautiful? Yes, why beautiful indeed.

Their weeping was in response to the Law being read and explained. They had just been crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin. They more than likely understood why they had experienced the ruin and destruction of the recent past. No it wasn’t a petty god playing with them. It wasn’t the schemes of Satan hammering them. They realized that it was their own thoughts and attitudes that had brought them low. God promised them exile if they didn’t obey Him. They didn’t. God kept His promise. But God also promised them restoration if they repented. They did and God kept His promise.

 They were crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin.

The weeping here is the recognition of all that – and probably more. When we hear of God’s goodness – when we experience it – we are reminded of it – what other response can we have? And when all that is brought to our mind in spite of our own thoughts and actions…well, weeping may be too tame a word to describe what our reaction should be.

Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing the word of God preached? Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing how God restored you (or a loved one) to a right relationship? Or how about watching a brother or sister in Christ being sanctified before your very eyes? Have you ever wept over the effect of God’s word on you and others? I hope so.

When we see the culture crumble around us and it defy God’s holy word we should be brought to tears. But we should also be brought to tears as we see God working miracles in spite of the crumbling culture.

Celebration Day

Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 NASB

Nehemiah, who had already declared that the day was holy – completely set apart for the Lord – once again instructed the assembly not to weep or grieve but to celebrate. Let’s consider this for a moment in our own lives.

When we are confronted by our own sin – when we understand the gravity of our rebellion – we should weep. And celebrate. We should celebrate because we are aware of the sin and shame of our thoughts and actions. We should celebrate because God obviously is working on us still. He hasn’t (and won’t) abandon us to our own devices and vices. This is a great reason to celebrate.

 Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances.

Nehemiah ends this verse with the oft-quoted “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Our strength is found in the Lord not ourselves. His joy – which He is eager to give us – is beyond our comprehension. Now joy must not be confused with happiness. Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances. So if we experience the joy of our Lord, no matter the situation we find ourselves, we can be joyful. After nearly thirty years as a Christian – and fifty-on years of life – I may be on the brink of understanding this. How about you? Have you found that living in the joy of the Lord is where your strength exists. Please, don’t look at your circumstances to be encouraged. Look at the Lord. Look at what He has done on your behalf. Your sin is gone. Regardless of what happens in your life, if you’re a Christian your destination is sure. You will live an eternity with Him as His friend.

Comfort Offered

So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:11-12 NASB

The Levites, who were the priests in God’s Temple, came to comfort the people. They reiterated the need to rejoice and not grieve. This was the most important thing the Levites could do in order to give comfort to the people.

The people had been confronted with their sinful thoughts and actions through the reading of the Law. They were obviously cut to the heart. They wept, they grieved. They responded this way because of the illumination of their sin when the Law was read and explained to them. The Priest come on the scene and tell them to go forward and celebrate, share food and rejoice. The reason the Levites said do this is because the people had understood the Law as it was read and explained to them. This is important for us.

If we ever want to be moved along in the process of progressive sanctification, we not only need to hear the word of God taught, preached and explained but also we must understand it. Reading and hearing isn’t enough.

But how?

Well the first thing we can do is study. We must be diligent in seeking to understand what the word of God actually says. To do this we must be part of a Bible believing fellowship that teaches the word of God. There are plenty of churches around us. Some are liberal and some are conservative. Those are easy to find. The hardest church to find is one that teaches what the Bible is rather than a pet interpretation of it. When you find a church that does that, stay there.

Next we need to submit to those who have gone before us. Yes I know that takes humility. We need to get over ourselves and realize not one of us has all the answers. We need to look toward those who have more experience, knowledge and wisdom to help us understand.

Third, and most importantly, we need to actively seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This is so often neglected. We must – MUST – seek His help in moving towards Christlikeness.

Seeing our sin as sin is not a curse. It is a blessing of the highest order. Because when we are taught and understand the word of God and we are grieved by what grieves God, we will move a step closer to being more like Him. And then rejoicing can begin.

Revival at the Gate

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The wall has been finished. Jerusalem has been occupied again. The job is finished, right? Well not really. The reconstruction of the wall and gates is done that is for sure. But there remains work to be accomplished. In some ways this task will be more difficult than the reconstruction of the wall. This task is the reinstruction of the people.


The Desire for the Law

And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.         Nehemiah 8:1-2 NASB

This chapter begins with a marvelous statement – “all the people gathered as one man” – at a certain place. As I read this I come to the conclusion that this was a spontaneous meeting. They gathered at this place because they were of one mind, one purpose. They were not ordered there by Nehemiah or someone else. They chose to gather together. And I don’t think the place was a mistake. Ezra, who had led the effort to rebuild the Temple, was there.
The first lesson we need to understand was that the people were hungry – they desired – the Law of Moses. They wanted to hear what was expected of them. They wanted to know the rules and regulations they were expected to follow. In short, their desire for the Law of Moses indicates their desire for God to lead them.

They wanted their relationship with God restored.

How wonderful this attitude would be if the Church had it! I sometimes wonder how many folks who attend Sunday services at a church are there out of duty. I wonder how many are there for a show. I know some who are. I even know some who sit in the place of a pastor because they think that will earn them points with God. How sad.
You see when we go to church out of duty, guilt or selfish motives we miss the blessing of gathering to gather to hear God’s word and be drawn closer to Him. When we gather together to appear to be holy, we demonstrate we have no real desire to be holy. When we gather together to be seen of men, we demonstrate that we do not want to be seen of God. When we gather to soothe our conscience, we demonstrate that our heart is in need of repair. Our motives for gathering together say everything about our condition before God. Here in the first verses of chapter 8, the motives are clear: they want to hear from God. What are your motives for attending church?

Purposed from the heart

He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Nehemiah 8:3-5 NASB

Ezra read the Law at the square or plaza in front of the Water gate.This was one of the gates that were in the wall that surrounded the Temple.Interesting, huh. The people flocked to the Temple. I mean they FLOCKED there. They acted as if they had one mind. And it wasn’t for a sermonette. I remember my first Pastor saying that sermonettes (short sermons) were for Christianettes! Anyway, these folks came prepared to hear a message that would last a bit longer than most of our messages today. Do you notice the phrase “from early morning until midday”? I wish NASB had translated this “from first light until noon”. The Hebrew is clear that the people gathered when they first had light and remained until noon. With that in mind, this gathering was probably five or six hours long. And we gripe if our pastors exceed their time limit of 45 minutes.

But they weren’t just standing there. Notice the phrase “were attentive”. The Hebrew here is quite colorful. In the Hebrew, this phrase means “the ears of the people were toward…” Can you picture that in your mind. Imagine a group of people, gathered to hear what God wants them to do, how to conduct their lives, all with their ears toward the speaker so they wouldn’t miss a thing. Could we learn a thing or two?

I’m sometimes discourage when I see folks in church playing on their smart phones or just doodilng away instead of listening intently to what our Pastor is saying. Have you ever experienced that? I admit, sometimes my mind wanders as well. In the hustle and bustle of a harried life, I sometimes don’t pay attention to what is being said. What a mistake that is! We should strain to hear what is said. This is God’s word being preached. Let’s listen to it!

We see that Ezra was on a wooden platform to address the crowd. This platform was constructed for this very purpose. This was probably quite large given the literal translation of this would be something like “wooden tower” or “tower of wood”. This was not to elevate Ezra. This was so that his voice could be heard throughout the crowd. It gives us another view of just how many had gathered. I tend to think it was the entire population of Jerusalem at the time. Remember that in chapter seven we learned that everyone in Jerusalem at that time was right around 50,000. Can you imagine that? There were fifty thousand people straining to hear God’s word that day. Wow. I mean….WOW!

Response from the heart

The last thing I want you to notice this week in our passage is the reaction of the people when the Law of Moses was opened. What did they do? In verse five, they all stood up. So what is that significance? Well, if we think about it, standing when someone enters a room is a sign of respect. The people, when the Law of Moses was opened, stood up out of respect for it. Notice that this occurred when it was opened, not just when it was read. Now that is some kind of respect!

How wonderful it would be if people had that kind of respect for the Word of God. Sadly though I think that is long gone. We have become too familiar with it. Not that we actually know it. No, we know just enough to be dangerous. Everyone has their view and feels their view has equal authority as the ones who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible in the original languages, submitting to instruction from men who have demonstrated faithfulness to the Bible, knowledge of the Bile and wisdom from the Bible. No, the Internet has made everyone an expert. Only that it hasn’t.

Our respect for the word of God – and the ones who preach it – is not what it used to be. In fact, I’m not sure it will ever be what it used to be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did see the Bible the way these folks in Nehemiah saw the Law of Moses? Wouldn’t it be wonderful each Sunday morning the people gathered in the churches throughout the world were straining to hear it preached and explained? If we had that attitude, would we be in the pickle we are in today? I doubt it.

But here we are. Good is called evil and evil is called good. Everyone seemingly does what is right in their own eyes. There seems to be no standard. Many churches, in an effort not to offend, have adopted a view of “live and let live”. But this is so wrong.

The Bible is THE Authority for life. There are standards for the conduct of life regardless if one wants to believe them or not. It is God’s message to man. We cannot expect others to listen if we, the Church, don’t listen to the Bible’s instructions to us.  O how we need the wisdom in the Bible to permeate our souls today.





New Day, Same Routine

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The wall has been completed. The work was done. Or was it? Did the work continue after the wall was built? Did the completion of the wall signal only the beginning of the work Nehemiah had to do?

Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. Then I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house.” Nehemiah 7:1-3 NASB

Nehemiah continued to take precautions and be aware of the situation he and his fellow workers were in. They were still surrounded by adversaries who were bent of destroying them. These enemies, while suffering the set back of the wall built were nonetheless still opposing the Israelites moving back into Jerusalem. These enemies had enjoyed their ruling of the area when Israel had been sent into exile by God. Now they are losing their grip on this land. And they are angry.

You know when we do the work God has called us to accomplish, our enemy Satan is the same way. He gets mad. He gets violent. He never forgets that we are doing something to his kingdom of darkness. We must be ever vigilant to be on our guard as we work. Even when there is a victory, we must stand alert, ready and able to stand firm on God’s word regardless of the attack of the enemy.

Moving In, Looking Up

Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record: Nehemiah 7:4-5 NASB

In listing all the people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah is accomplishing a few things. First he is giving credit to all who helped build the wall. Remember that not all were actual builders. Some built the wall, some guarded, some ran errands. Everyone had their job. Nehemiah gives everyone credit for their part in securing the city. Second, Nehemiah indicates that they must continue on doing what they have begun. Now most of these folks came back under Ezra to rebuild the Temple. They did that and helped rebuild the wall. Nehemiah reminds them that there is still more work yet to be accomplished. He sets in motion a line of succession. He appoints godly men to carry on the work when he is gone.

Let’s not let this be lost on us. A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself and makes sure that when he is gone through moving, death or something else happening the work will continue. Although Nehemiah led the wall rebuilding project, he knew that the project belonged to God. Nehemiah was simply a steward for a time. He made sure someone else would be the steward of the on-going project of rebuilding Jerusalem.

  A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself. 

Checking the Books

Now from here on through verse 60 there seems to be an endless list of folks and their ancestry. Why include it here? Quite simply, Nehemiah wanted to make sure that only those who belonged to God entered Jerusalem. Nehemiah took seriously the fact that only those who belonged to God could reside in God’s city of Jerusalem.

The Church needs to learn a lesson here. We are far too quick to accept anyone into the fellowship of the saints. But do we really believe that everyone belongs with us? We can’t know for sure who truly believes in Christ as their Savior but we can take some steps to be reasonably confident. We need to ask hard questions of those who profess faith in Christ. We need to take a look at the person’s life to see if his walk matches his talk.
While we’re at it, have you taken a hard look at your faith? Do you belong to God or are you a foreigner trying to fake your relationship with God? I ask these questions not to make you doubt or waver but so that you may be sure of your ancestry – that you belong to God through faith in Christ. 

In vv. 61 through 65 we see some who could not prove their ancestry and the consequences of that.

These were they who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses or their descendants, whether they were of Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai, the Gileadite, and was named after them. These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim. Nehemiah 7:61-65 NASB

So here we are. A number of folks can’t prove their ancestry – that they truly belong to God. Some of these were even among the priests! So Nehemiah says that they were excluded from performing the functions of the priesthood and considered unclean. Notice that they were considered unclean. Nehemiah does not declare them unclean.

Nehemiah excluded those who were priests from performing the functions of a priest for their own protection. If someone who was not a priest tried to perform the functions of a priest (like offering a sacrifice) a severe penalty was enforced. Out of an abundance of caution, Nehemiah tells these folks that since they can’t prove they are a priest, they can’t do the work of a priest.

This is a very important point for us. Those who may be wavering in their faith in Christ need not be rejected by those confident in their position. No, when someone wavers we should consider them as not Christians so that we can love them either into a friendship with Christ or back into an intimate relationship with Christ.

The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and their female servants, of whom there were 7,337; and they had 245 male and female singers. Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720. Some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 gold drachmas, 50 basins, 530 priests’ garments. Some of the heads of fathers’ households gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,200 silver minas. That which the rest of the people gave was 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,000 silver minas and 67 priests’ garments. Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities. Nehemiah 7:66-73 NASB

The closing verses of the chapter give the number of people who returned to Jerusalem. Then there is an account of a great offering that was taken for the rebuilding of the walls. Finally, a note on how the suburbs of the city were settled.

Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts.

Let us never forget that while we may accomplish a goal God has for us, the work continues. As that work continues we need to be vigilant to be on guard for the attack of God’s enemy Satan. And while we work and while there are some victories, let’s remember that we can’t accomplish a thing alone. Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts. When the task is completed and we move onto another one, share the credit. Recognize those who contributed to the success of the project. Most of all let us give God the glory for what He has accomplished in and through us.

Charles Edward Montague, an English essayist who lived from 1867 to 1928 said “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.” -Disenchantment, ch. 15 (1922)

I’d like to change that to “there is no limit to what the Church can accomplish for God’s kingdom when we recognize that God gets all the credit” Let’s go out and live for God, not looking for credit but looking for ways to serve.

Relaxing and Reflecting, Part 2

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When I lived in California I had a friend who owned a Ferrari. Now a Ferrari is one fast automobile. But it is so well engineered that I never knew how fast it was actually traveling. Honest. Really I didn’t know. Ahem. Well, one interesting thing I noticed about his Ferrari was that there was no rear-view mirror. When I asked him why his car didn’t have one he replied “It had one but I took it off. You’re in a Ferrari. What is behind you doesn’t matter!” Well alrighty then!

So often we look forward and fail to realize that there is a lot to learn from the past. In that spirit, I want us to take a rest, part two, from our normal time of listening to Nehemiah to take a moment to remind ourselves some of the lessons we have learned in the previous chapters.              This week we are covering chapter four through six.

Chapter 4 – Opposition Builds Character

I used to be an avid weight lifter. I owned free weights, a weight machine and I was a member of a gym with a personal trainer. I would work out 4 days a week, sometimes five. Each week I would try to lift heavier and heavier loads. I would try to do more sit ups than before, more pull ups and more push ups. As I got stronger, the weight increased. But as a result of the weight increasing, I became stronger. This is what we encounter in the first verses of chapter 4. The opposition has been encountered. They are strong and determined to stop the work and discourage the people. The opposition ridiculed their work with a statement such as in verse 3: “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” NOw imagine a wall multiple feet wide, getting taller and built with rather large stones. Now imagine a fox – a tiny little cute ol’ fox – running on it and the wall tumbling down. If someone said that, you’d be discouraged, wouldn’t you? I would. But that is just when we need to carry on as the workers in Nehemiah’s time did. We discovered in the first few verses of chapter four that opposition builds strength.

We must take the opposition at hand, resist it and, just like weight lifting, get stronger. 

And boy, oh, boy, we’ve got some opposition today! We have governments aligned against Christianity, the media are just waiting for the next failure, entire movements want to eliminate us from the face of the earth. It can be downright discouraging. But now is not the time to take a step backward or even to take a break. We must take the opposition at hand, resist it and, just like weight lifting, get stronger. And take the battle to the opposition. But how?

We also learned that prayer (vv. 4-5) is a source of strength and encouragement. When the enemy opposes your work in service of God, turn to God in prayer. Lift your burdens and your discouragement to Him. He’s big enough to handle it and make you stronger in the process.

But remember, our reaction to discouragement tells all others everything they need to know about us.

Discouragement in life, like here in chapter four, comes from many sources. We can be discouraged when our past creeps into our memory. We can be discouraged when folks simply don’t like us. It can come from family, friends and even other Christians. But remember, our reaction to discouragement tells all others everything they need to know about us. A true leader – and I dare say a true servant of God – reacts well and moves forward with God’s plan. How are you doing with discouragement?

Chapter 5 – Conflict Resolution the right way

I had a class in Seminary on Conflict Resolution. I had the same sort of class recently at work. Resolving conflict is difficult, especially when feelings are hurt and one’s character is attacked. I’ve been through that! In chapter five we learned the right way to handle conflict. Lets take a look and remember the lessons we learned.

First, anger is not our enemy in handling conflict.

What that anger causes us to do is the issue, not that there is anger. In Ephesians 4:26 we are told that when we are angry, we are not to sin. Notice that. We can be angry, just don’t let the anger control you to the point of sinning. Like here in Nehemiah, anger can be a great motivator for righteous living and repenting of past wrongs. But anger not used wisely can turn an opportunity for growth into a time of destruction. So be careful when you’re angry. Is it really worth destroying your testimony? Nehemiah here in chapter five stopped and thought about those things that were angering him. That is some good advice for us. In order to keep our anger in check, we need to pause for a minute or two…or three or ten for some of us! We need tp pause and reflect on the root cause of our anger and not just the anger itself. That will make all the difference.

When we do take this pause, we are showing that we have some discipline. I know that is difficult. But the times when my anger has done the least good is when I just react to something rather than take time to reflect first.

Next time anger comes your way, reflect before you react.

The last two things I really want to highlight here in chapter five is being courageous and loving enough to confront other Christians when they are wrong and keeping our behavior righteous. That may sound easy but it isn’t.

I don’t really like conflict. I’m not afraid of it, but I really don’t enjoy it much. I remember once I had to confront a man about his conduct when I was a Pastor. This guy was making phone calls, writing emails and generally undermining the ministry I had. I didn’t want to have conflict, but it sure looked like conflict wanted me. So one day I confronted him after church. It didn’t end well. Besides calling me a few choice names, he acted like he was going to punch me. But a funning things happened to me. Even though I was being yelled at and threatened, I grew calmer and calmer. You see I prepared for this conflict not by memorizing some lines but by spending time in prayer. Now truth be told, I haven’t always done that. But this time I had. The difference was amazing. While this man’s anger caused him to rage out of control, my preparation caused me to be calm and act righteously, focusing on the conduct and leaving the person’s integrity out of it. SO how are you doing? If you’re like me, you need some more work on this one.

When confronting others we must be focusing on the conduct and leaving the person’s integrity out of it. 


Chapter 6 – Hearing what is, not just what I want to hear

Have you ever been speaking and someone later accuses you of saying something you didn’t say? Or they misinterpret what you say because before you even say it, they’ve already made up their mind that you are wrong? This happens all the time. Sadly, quite a few Pastor’s have to endure this kind of stuff every Sunday after they preach. You see people often hear what they listen for. Oh it doesn’t matter what was actually said. If they expected something wrong to come out, the wrong thing is what they’ll hear.

You see people often hear what they listen for.

This lesson is important for us to learn because if this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. When this happens, we need to remind ourselves of the lesson here in Nehemiah six: when opposed unrighteously, lied to and lied about, we need to stand our ground, and pray. Our reaction to those who oppose God’s work being accomplished says everything about us. So take some time and remember these lessons from Nehemiah.