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.

The Plot Thickens

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Our response to the threats of the opposition says everything about our commitment to God and the work He has called us to do.

We begin chapter six as the wall is being built.  In spite of previous problems from within to the workers as well as opposition from those around Jerusalem, we now see this opposition intensify. Let’s see what Nehemiah does in response to the threats and learn what we should do when those who oppose the work of God try to lure us to places we shouldn’t be.

The Plan

Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were planning to harm me. So 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?” They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way. Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. Nehemiah 6:1-5 NASB

We’ve seen previously that Sanballat and Tobiah have thrown verbal stones at the workers and Nehemiah when they began to make some progress in reestablishing the walls around Jerusalem. When that didn’t work Sanballat and Tobiah changed tactics. Their plot unfolds here in chapter six.

They, with their various allies, began to entice Nehemiah to a meeting in a place that is pretty far from Jerusalem. Chepherim in the plain of Ono is located west and slightly north of Jerusalem. It is approximately 30 miles or so from Jerusalem. If Nehemiah met these men there, he would have been away from Jerusalem for at least three days; and that is a very short estimate.

Nehemiah was truthful in his response but that did not deter them as they sent four more letters in the same manner. They were begging Nehemiah to come 30 or so miles away from the other workers to meet them for what Sanballat and Tobiah portrayed as a friendly meeting. Evidently Nehemiah knew their plan was more than a friendly meeting. Was it in the letter? Was it in their tone? Maybe the place? Perhaps it was something else that tipped Nehemiah off to the danger here. Maybe, just maybe, Nehemiah was tipped off by history.

Remember earlier how both Sanballat and Tobiah reacted to the rebuilding project? They were critical of the efforts to make the wall stand again. They hurled insults and threats at the workers. They massed armies and tried to intimidate Nehemiah. And then they send a letter saying “Hey, let’s get together and have a cup of coffee together!” and expected Nehemiah to meet with them.

When the enemy of God’s work suddenly become friendly we should take note and remember history.

 

The Letter and Lie

In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.” Nehemiah 6:6-7 NASB

We now begin to see what the enemies of God’s work believe. They say to Nehemiah that they have read that the Jews are planning to rebel against the king. This is the very king who allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the walls. These lies no doubt were told to subtly suggest that the king would be notified of the rumor. I’m sure these enemies wanted Nehemiah to think of the ways that the king would react.

Imagine for a moment you are the most powerful person on the planet. You can do whatever you want without fear of being opposed. I guess you can be opposed, but you know you have the means and attitude necessary to annihilate the opposition. How would you feel is someone whom you granted a major favor decided to rebel? Wouldn’t you feel betrayed? Wouldn’t you want to slam that person? If left to myself in that type of situation, I know I would. It is the way of the world – might makes right.

The motives of Sanballat and his allies are becoming clearer. They sent these threats through an open letter. That type of letter could be read by anyone. They were trying their best to discredit Nehemiah and the workers to the very person who granted them leave to do the work they were doing. The king even gave letters to protect the workers as they worked and supplies to get the work started. They were also trying to scare the workers. Yikes, these guys play dirty and play for keeps.

“Come on, Nehemiah” they said. “Let’s get together and talk about this.” The not so subtle threat is clear: meet with us or else. Nehemiah didn’t take the bait. Wow, that takes some serious guts to dent their request. Why do you think Nehemiah refused to meet? I can think of a few.

 

The Response

Then I sent a message to him saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands. Nehemiah 6:8-9 NASB

Nehemiah expressly denies the lies in the letter. This is important. When those who oppose the work we do for the Kingdom of God threaten us with lies designed to discredit us, we need to stand firm in the knowledge of the truth. Nehemiah saw through their threats. He knew that his opposition wanted the work to stop. The opposition wanted desperately to keep things as they were before Nehemiah showed up. Perhaps the presence of Nehemiah, rebuilt walls, another temple and a restored people to Jerusalem reminded the opposition that there is a God who will judge. I’m sure that wasn’t too comfortable for the opposition.

 

Isn’t this true of those who oppose the work of God today? They lie about us. They try to intimidate us. The opposition – who is really Satan and not those he sues – have not changes tactics in many thousands of years.And why should they? Sometimes they achieve their goal of getting us to stop doing what is right so that we will be safe.

But that is not our call. We are not called to live a safe life. We are called to live a faithful life. We must remain faithful to God and His word in spite of the difficulties and opposition. Hard times are coming, persecution of Christians will only increase with the passage of time. How will we respond?

Our response to the threats of the opposition says everything about our commitment to God and the work He has called us to do.

Friendly Fire: Handling Internal Conflict Biblically

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So where are we in dealing with conflict? Do we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Conflicts are a way of life for us, right? Who among us has lived their life without ANY conflict? The answer is none. So while we will have conflict we don’t have to allow that conflict to divide us or destroy our fellowship. Sadly far too often this division and destruction is what happens. But why? If we are all filled by the Holy Spirit and have the same Savior, why do we let conflict make us into strangers? The answer, to quote Sherlock Holmes, is “elementary my dear Watson”. Conflict divides and destroys because we don’t deal with it in a biblical manner. We ignore it. We sweep it under the rug. We (wrongly) assume that the admission of conflict in one’s life is an admission of failure. In short, we don’t do the right thing when there are problems. And that relatively small problem grows and grows until it explodes. We are then left with a ruined relationship and an astonished look. But really it doesn’t have to be this way.

Nehemiah teaches us here in chapter 5 how to handle conflict. There are six principles I’d like to address that I have gleaned from this chapter. Each one is important enough to stand on its own so I’ll address each one separately. Let’s dig in and learn how to resolve conflict because is we ever want to do the Lord’s work, we must – MUST – resolve the conflicts we have with others in a biblical manner.

 

Righteous Reporting

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.

While chapter four dealt with opposition from outside, chapter five is going to help us deal with opposition from inside.

So what was the complaint? Well, they were being charged exorbitant amounts of money for food. See in v. 2 that they were mortgaging their possessions so that they could eat. These folks felt helpless and some of their children were being forced into slavery because the workers no longer owned their fields because they had mortgaged them to either eat or pay taxes. Pretty tough, huh! But this situation should not have existed within the community there. There were some who were taking advantage of others through high interest rate loans (we find this out later). These weren’t happy campers!

In order to deal with conflicts biblically, those in authority need to know about the problem. That seems obvious but it is overlooked quite a bit. Now here either they told Nehemiah directly or Nehemiah heard about it through the proverbial grapevine. How do you deal with things when they don’t go your way? Do you let the ones in authority know or do you act in a different way? We must remember that when something is wrong, we must address it to those who are in a position to effect change. Nehemiah is a wonderful example regarding how we should deal with conflicts.

Righteous Anger

First he got some righteous anger. Look at the beginning of verse 6 “Then I was very angry…”

This may surprise some of you reading this. “Nehemiah got angry? Really?” You may ask. Yep. He got some holy heat going on. Anger is not wrong (Eph 4:26, 31). It’s the motivation and the result of that anger that controls whether it is right or wrong. Anger that causes one to sin is likely unrighteous. Anger that causes one to act in a positive manner is righteous. To be angry about something that is corrupt, anti-God, anti-Christ is no vice. It may well be a virtue.  When we who know God and are His friend hear His name used as part of a cuss word, how can we not be angry? When we see His word perverted into some weird list of rules one must follow a specific way in order to gain eternal life, how can that not cause some discomfort in the people of grace?

If our anger motivates us to right a wrong, stand up for an oppressed person, or help someone in dire need, that anger is indeed righteous.

Righteous Discipline

The next thing that Nehemiah did was he stopped and thought about his response. He showed some control over his emotions. He showed some discipline.  Look in v. 7 “I consulted with myself…”

Nehemiah took time to reflect on his situation. He didn’t go off and start blasting away at those causing these conflicts. He took some time to ponder the situation and maybe even his response. We’re taught in Proverbs 16:32 that the one who is slow to grow angry is better than the strong ones or the mighty army rulers (my paraphrase).

So are you short-fused or long-fused? I hope you have a long fuse. If you don’t, look for ways to extend your fuse and remember that reflecting on your situation that is causing anger is an important step in handling the situation biblically.

Righteous Confrontation

Third Nehemiah followed the principles of biblical confrontation. You know sometimes when we cool off after being initially hot with anger we can decide to do nothing. But that is exactly the wrong response! Although cooling off is vitally important, we can’t cool off so much that we don’t care anymore.

Nehemiah situation was a significantly sticky one. He had to talk to the rich and powerful folks who were financing the project and providing labor. What would happen if these folks withdrew their support? Well, the facts seem to point to the fact that Nehemiah didn’t worry too much about these complications. He went to the ones causing the problems: “[I] contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!’” Nehemiah confronted those who were part of the problem. We are taught this principle in the New Testament (see Matt 18:15-16). Nehemiah privately confronted these rich men before her did anything in public. We could stand to listen to Nehemiah here. If someone has caused conflict, go to them first. Talk to them before anyone else knows. We don’t know if Nehemiah was successful in this private confrontation. We do know that this confrontation moved on to the public realm because he recounts that he held a “great assembly” against them.

In this public forum, Nehemiah spells out the problem. He doesn’t hold anything back. But notice what he doesn’t do. Nehemiah doesn’t attack the rich for who they are. No, he points out what they are doing that is wrong. He rebuked them (v. 8) and pointed out that their enemies would mock the Jews (v. 9) for the Jews treatment of their own people. Have you ever experienced this in the church? I have. And unsaved folks love to mock us. Oh boy, we should learn how to treat each other so that we would not be the object of ridicule.

We cannot allow fear to keep us from confronting other Christians about their sin. We must be willing to love someone enough to point out where their actions oppress others and cause others to stumble.

Righteous Behavior

The next thing Nehemiah did was that he set an example of godly behavior. He had redeemed (purchased out of slavery) some of the Jews with his own money (v. 8). He loaned money without charging interest (v. 10). He didn’t do this out of pride but as an example of godly leadership. He didn’t use his position or power to extract anything from the people (vv. 14-15), he feared God and genuinely cared for those who were hurting (vv. 15b, 18b), he was committed to the work at hand (v. 16) and he was generous (vv. 17-18).

Do you live your life as an example to others?

 

Righteous Accountability

The last principle is that if we want to handle conflict biblically, we must be accountable and willing to submit to God, His word, and His leaders.  In v. 13 we see that Nehemiah demanded accountability:

I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’

Nehemiah sets the standard here. This was a serious charge before God. Do you think God would shake someone or empty someone easily if that person continued to take advantage of others? Later, in v. 19 Nehemiah asks God to remember him for what he has done. He has no fear of asking God to remember him for his actions. But can we do this when dealing with conflict? Hmmmm.

 

So where are we in dealing with conflict? DO we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Our answers to those questions really determines if we desire to handle conflict biblically or simply expediently.

Standing Firm

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The wall workers were initially excited. They began the work with great anticipation and joy. In fact, in v. 6 the workers were described as having a “heart” to work (translated “mind” by NASB and others) Everything was going well. The work was going on, the wall was going up. Progress – glorious progress – was being made. Then something happened.

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. Nehemiah 4:1-8 NASB

 

Have you ever led a ministry? Have you ever been in a ministry that received negative attention from others? If you have ever led anyone or any ministry, I’m guessing you have received criticism. Criticism goes with leadership – and especially when that leadership concerns kingdom work. In this section of Nehemiah, we’re going to see what happens when Nehemiah and his workers receive some taunts, verbal jabs and some veiled threats. Lets take a look at this and learn some important things about leadership and handling the discouragement that comes into our lives.

We need to understand a few things about discouragement. First, it is universal. No one is immune to discouragement. Every one of us has been discouraged at one time or another. Second, it can be recurring. Getting this disease of your soul does not impart immunity to it. If anything, when one contracts this, one can expect that it will occur again. Third, it is contagious. If you are discouraged, chances are that you are infecting others.

Here in Nehemiah, there are some verbal stones that are thrown at him and the workers on the wall. These verbal stones can – and usually does – cause discouragement. In fact, the type of these stones indicates to me they were intended to cause discouragement. Lets take a look at these verbal stones and how they affected the workers.

Stones being thrown 

Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was certainly no exception to this. When people take kingdom priorities seriously, Satan stirs up agitators to block the work of God. These enemies used two types of external forces.

verses 1-2: “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.”

Rocks of Mocking

This is the third time in the book that we come across Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s stiffest opposition. Every time we read about him he is standing against the work of God, rejecting and mocking everything that Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. This is nothing new. Satan often mocks those who do the work of God. Remember how the soldiers mocked Jesus when He was on the Cross? How about Goliath mocking David (and all Israel)? What about Satan (as personified by the snake) wryly mocking God in the garden? Satan mocks, that is what he does when he is confronted with folks serving God. Mocking is a powerful weapon too. Often the bravest person in the face of bullets flying past him in battle will fold oh-so-quickly when mocked.

Sanballat calls the workers feeble. The word used means miserable and withered.  Think of a person about to die. Think of a person who has lived long and lived hard. You know what I’m talking abut, right? Someone whose life is spent – one who is empty. That is what Sanballant called the workers. Now the evidence is that they were not feeble. They are building a rock wall with no construction equipment other than their hands, back and feet. This was his attack on their physical appearance. But it doesn’t stop there.

Rocks of Undermining

Sanballat then asks some mocking questions designed to impugn their character and intentions. They were also intended to undermine their confidence. The first question was Will they offer sacrifices? This is to undermine their confidence that what they are doing will be blessed by God and will result in the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. He moves on to ask Can they finish in a day? designed to attack their perseverance. You see, Sanballat knows if he can get them to focus on how long they have to go, they may never finish.

Then Sanballat asks Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones? Sanballat attacks their building materials. It is as if he is saying Geez guys, your building material is old and decrepit. This will never stand. Why even try?

Sanballat’s friend Tobiah joins in v. 3 and says “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Ouch! So now Tobiah joins and says their wall is so weak and decrepit that a little fox jumping on it would cause it to tumble. Tobiah was working hard to undermine their confidence. The workers were the punchline to these jokes. They were on the receiving end of these stones thrown at them by Sanballat and Tobiah. These stones hit there mark. And they undoubtedly hurt.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you engaged in kingdom work only to be criticized? Ridiculed? Mocked? Steel your resolve Christian, these things are to be expected when we engage in work that is ordained by God.

If the work we do meant nothing, then Satan would have no reason to attack and try to discourage us.

 

Take heart Christian if you have been attacked by those who oppose the work of God. Take heart that God has counted you trustworthy enough to undertake this type of work. Take heart because our labor for the Lord – doing what He has called us to do – is not useless, void, worthless or unrewarding. Stand firm and remember that He has prepared you for this.

We Are Family

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Amazing things can be accomplished by the Church when we focus on glorifying God and not ourselves.

 

I know chapter 3 has turned into a bit of a marathon. I appreciate you sticking with it and enduring to the end of my thoughts. Today we’ll finish up with two more principles and a little summary. Lets dig into what God has for us here in Nehemiah 3.

Some work with passion.

In this chapter filled with folks working together for a common goal, one person stands out from the rest. His name is Baruch. We see him in verse 20:

After him Baruch the son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the Angle                                         to the doorway of the house of Eliashib the high priest. Nehemiah 3:20 NASB

Notice the word “zealously”. It is an interesting term that means “to burn or glow”. So was Baruch on fire? Had he been too close to a nuclear power plant? Maybe he drank some weird potion that made him luminesce? Well, no, not really. The idea being conveyed is that Baruch was working so hard that he expended tremendous amounts of energy. In that way he was “on fire”. Have you ever met someone like this? Have you ever been like this? I hope so. I hope you are this way right now. The Church could sure use some Baruchs right now. We need some folks who just burn with passionate service to our God like Baruch did here. Everyone was working hard, but in a crowd of committed construction workers, Baruch stood out from the rest. How are you doing with this?

Do you blend in or stand out?

Some work as families. 

The final thing we see in this chapter is that some of the workers worked as families. They would work on a section right in front of their home or in a completely different “neighborhood” than where they lived. The point is that they worked with others as a family unit. Take a look at verse 3:

Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. Nehemiah 3:3 NASB

 

Now take a look at verse 12:

Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters. Nehemiah 3:12 NASB

Do you see what I see? In v. 3 we see the sons working. In v. 12 we see the daughters working. Everyone in each of these two families was doing his or her part. Just like the rest were doing. We see Priests,  anonymous folks, families. All strata of society was represented in the work. And they all worked together.

I wonder what our churches would look like if we all worked together on building up rather than tearing down each other? I wonder how attractive this would be? When we work as one – whether we are Pastors, teachers, police officers, nurses, homemakers, technical folks or whatever you may do for work and whatever your place in society – we make a phenomenal statement to the world that is watching. When we work together for the benefit of others rather than ourselves, we do show what Paul stated in Galatians:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.        Galatians 3:27-28 NASB

So how are you doing in your part of building the wall of the Church? Are you working zealously? Diligently? Lazily? Take a look at what you could be doing and what you are doing. Work with your family on a project in your neighborhood…or someone else’s neighborhood! Show someone the love of Christ.

When we engage in kingdom work, we are called to work together. We are called to forget about our position in society, be it a lofty or not-so-lofty position. We each have our part to do. Let us encourage one another with our actions, not leaving 90% of the work to 10% of the Church.

 

As we do the work of Kingdom building, let’s remember it is to God’s glory that we do this work, not our glory. Ronald Reagan had a quote on his desk during his Presidency. It stated (I’m paraphrasing)

Amazing things can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.

I’d like to change that a bit for us

Amazing things can be accomplished by the Church when we focus on glorifying God and not ourselves.

Whatever you are called to do with whatever gifts God has given you, do that! Look at the construction project of the wall as a way to glorify God in doing your part. Work zealously, be diligent, and most of all, give God all the glory as the wall is built.

Gleanings from Nehemiah 3

 

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When I was in California i did some work with an organization title Gleaners. They were mainly a prison  ministry who partnered with my church (and others) to reach out to those who were in a prison. Their name had a two-fold meaning. First it referred to the picking up of the leftovers after  field had been harvested. Another meaning was to pickup seldom overlooked truths and subsequently share them with others. I hope to accompilsh the latter while not ignoring the former.

In the next two articles, lets glean some truths and principles from Nehemiah 3.

 

Leaders must set the example

If anybody in the city should have been busy with the work, it was the priests, for God’s reputation was at stake. But take a look at verse 1: “Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate” The high priest had no hesitation using his consecrated hands to swing a hammer or push a wheelbarrow. He wore a sacred garment of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, made out of fine linen. On the upper part he had 12 precious stones set in gold with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel engraved on them. On his head, he wore a dark blue turban with the phrase, “Holy to the Lord” engraved on a diadem of pure gold.

And yet, here he was picking up rubble and laying brick. I wonder how much it took to clean it all…Though I doubt I’ll ever wear a turban, purple robe and 12 precious stones to do intense and laborious work, I do want to remember that no one is above hard work.

 

How we finish matters

Not only is beginning a project with the right attitude important, how we finish it matters at least as much, if not more. In finishing well we give testimony to God enabling us to persevere through difficult and trying times. Sadly Eliashib did  not stay working hard on the wall alone since he evidently gave Tobiah (an enemy of the rebuilding effort) an apartment in the storehouse

Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. Nehemiah 13:4-5 NASB

Eliashib gave Tobiah – an enemy of the rebuilding effort – a room in the Temple where the Levites had previously stored provisions. UGH! Double UGH! Eliashib lost sight of the task and showed preference for a family memeber rather than for the work of God.

This serves as a good reminder to us – it’s not as important how we begin a project, it’s how we finish that counts. Some people who enthusiastically begin a job or a ministry may drop out or even turn against it for one reason or another.

God uses all kinds of people

Take a look at verse 8: “Uzziel the son of Harhaiah of the goldsmiths made repairs. And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.” The Lord didn’t need just skilled masons and carpenters to rebuild the wall – he needed ordinary people who were willing to work. People from a wide variety of different backgrounds with differing skills and gifts worked together on the wall. Nehemiah had a place for every person. And the same is true for the church today. No matter what your skill is – no matter what your gifting – there is a place for you to serve. All you need is a willing heart. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something (see Romans 12:6)

Some people will not work

There will always be those who refuse to exert themselves. There will always be folks who sit on the sidelines. We see this in verse 5: “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Tekoa was about ten or so miles from Jerusalem. While some working on the wall travelled to work on the wall, these nobles could not be bothered with a task like building a wall. Perhaps they thought manual labor was below them. Perhaps they were just too proud.  We do know they refused to take orders because the text says that they refused to participate in the work of God. Wow, that a lot of pride. Of course we don’t have that problem now, do we…

The reason I think pride is the issue here is because of the phrase translated “…nobles did not support the work of their masters” is a phrase that makes me think of them being stiff-necked. This phrase is used to describe a “stiff-neckd” ox who refuses to be yoked. If the ox isn’t yoked, the ox can not work because the ox can not take instruction.

Some do more work

Just like there are those who are lazy or sack in their sharing of the load in work, there will always be those who do more work than others.
Remember the men from Tekoa? In verse 5, we read that they finished their section of the wall, even though their nobles didn’t help out at all. Drop down to verse 27: “the Tekoites repaired another section in front of the great projecting tower and as far as the wall of Ophel.” We see that these men from Tekoa still working hard and competing another section.These few from Tekoa refused to follow the very bad example of their leaders, Refusing to follow the bad example of their leaders, these workers went the extra mile. I can imagine them coming to Nehemiah and asking “What can we do now?” once they had finished their portion of the wall. I can also imagine the broad smile that spread across Nehemiah’s face.

We can sometimes think that when our assignment is done, we can sit down, let out a big sigh, and say “Wow, that was great working for the Lord. Where’s my tea? Sometimes we think that when one particular task is done, that it is time for us to rest, take some time off, declare ourselves finished. While I am an advocate of taking time off from time-to-time, I’m not an advocate of ever being finished with the work God has for me. Take breaks? Certainly. Stop? Only when God stops me.

As long as there is work to be done in God’s kingdom, there will work for you and me. As long as we breathe and can move there will be work for us to accomplish. We don’t accomplish kingdom work in our strength, we accomplish it in His strength.

The Toolbox

nehemiah wall_final

 God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools.

 

When I was in the Marine Corps many years ago, I remember a saying we had: the right tool for the job is the tool that does the job. This was a nod to the improvising the Marine Corps had to do just to survive. We rarely had what we needed so we would have to figure out a  way to use something else to get  a job done.

But life with God isn’t that way. And this is especially true when our fear collides with our faith. God has given us every tool necessary to build (or rebuild) our lives, either from the rubble of our sin. Now I have to emphasize that God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools, the blocks and the mortar to rebuild the broken down walls of our lives. He not only does that, but He takes us by the hand and rebuilds our wall, our hand in His.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tools very effectively.

 

Tools in Nehemiah’s Toolbox

I like tools. But I have to be careful with them because I have been injured by some. I have burned myself with a soldering iron, cut myself with a jigsaw, smashed my thumb with a hammer and cut my knee open with a chainsaw…but this didn’t happen at the same time! Anyway, just like us now, Nehemiah had the right tools for the job. Lets take a look at Nehemiah’s toolbox in the Nehemiah 2:1-3 (this will continue in my next article as well).

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:1-3 NASB

So what tools do we find in Nehemiah’s toolbox?

 

The Wrench of Waiting

The first tool Nehemiah used was the tool called waiting in verse 1. He was a man of decisive action, and when he prayed it was natural for him to ask God to provide an early, if not immediate, opportunity to speak to the king. Remember the closing verse in chapter one indicates that Nehemiah wanted success today in the presence of the king. But Nehemiah waited patiently on the Lord for an answer, just as we’re urged to do in Hebrews 6:12: “…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised.” Nehemiah could weep and pray and he could also wait and pray.

Why do I think Nehemiah had to wait? While we don’t know exactly when chapter one ended, we know when it began: the month of Chislev. That month roughly corresponds to our month of November/December. So I think it is safe to say that Nehemiah began his journey to Jerusalem in November/December. But what about when he approached the King? Well, in verse 1 the Bible states that it happened in the Month of Nisan. The month of Nisan corresponds roughly to our time of March/April. So Nehemiah waited for at least three months before he approached the king with this matter.  Did Nehemiah not see the King during this three month period? That is highly unlikely since Nehemiah was the King’s cupbearer. Although it is not stated here, I think Nehemiah waited on the nudging of the Lord before he approached the king.
Have you had to wait for God to answer a prayer? In Nehemiah’s prayer journal, nothing was entered for four months because nothing happened. Waiting time is not wasted time. Quiet reflection may have provided Nehemiah with fresh insight about how to approach the king. God wants each of us to get real familiar with this tool – we’re going to have to use it a lot.

The File of Faith

The second tool he fished out of his toolbox is faith in verses 2-3. Nehemiah was “sad” in the last part of verse 1. This word is used three other times to describe how he looked when he was in the presence of the king. The king asked him a question to find out why Nehemiah was not his chipper self. Nehemiah wigged out when Artaxerxes asked him this question because he knew the king only wanted to be around happy people. In verse 2, Nehemiah says that he was “very much afraid” which can  be translated, “a terrible fear came over me.”

I think he was very much afraid for at least two reasons. He knew that he was expected to be perfectly content just to be in the presence of the king. Subjects who were sad or melancholy around the king were usually executed for “raining on the king’s parade.” Second, he was about to ask the monarch of the Persian Empire to reverse a written policy he had made several years earlier about Jerusalem’s reconstruction. that is recoded in Ezra:

Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Ezra 4:21 NASB

Nehemiah knew it would take the power of God to get Artaxerxes to change his mind. I think I’d be afraid too. Here is the most powerful human being on the face of the planet. He wants only happy, happy, happy people around him. He is such a hard man that if your are anything but that happy, happy, happy person, he would execute you. Wow. That would cause some fear to creep into my life. How about you?

 

What are you afraid of this morning? Some of you might be afraid of the past. You’re worried that something you did long ago will catch up to you. Maybe you’re afraid of the present and find yourself crippled by the fear of people, snakes, or confined spaces. Others of you might be fearful about the future and even death.

Fear is a natural human emotion. To deny one’s fear is to deny one’s humanness. But though we experience fear, we must not succumb to it. Fear can paralyze us. It can make us not move forward with what God has for us. Fear can intimidate. Fear can be a real bummer! But what happens when our fear collides with our faith? Look at our example from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear. He did the right thing because he believed the promises of God. Notice what happened, “I was very much afraid, but I said…” Instead of paralyzing him, fear propelled Nehemiah to action. Months of prayer had prepared him for these crucial minutes. Courage filled him when he realized it was no longer possible to hide his grief.

The Hammer of Honesty

Then, using wisdom, he affirms his boss by saying, “Long live the king!” He honestly explains why he was sad in verse 3:

“Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried                      lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:3 NASB

Did you notice that Nehemiah never mentions the name of the city? Jerusalem’s history of independence might have turned the king’s thoughts toward questions of politics and national security. Instead of going political, he chose the personal route – that’s usually the better choice. What Nehemiah did say was, “I want to honor the burial place of my fathers.” This made a lot of sense to the King because the Persians honored their dead as well.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tool of trusting very effectively. He wielded these tools effectively but doesn’t stop with these three. No, next week we’ll continue in Chapter Two and discover more tools in the toolbox we can use as our fear collides with our faith and we rebuild from the rubble that is our lives.

How are you doing using the tools God has given you to build the wall of your life? Are you using them effectively? At all? Do you even know you have these tools at your disposal? I sure hope so. While a stone mason can have all the knowledge in the world regarding his craft, that knowledge is useless if he doesn’t use his tools.

Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear, and propelled Nehemiah to action.