Nehemiah forgot to close the door. I know, I know, it can happen to anyone. We’ve all gotten up in the morning and a door left unsecured or the alarm not set…or maybe it was accidentally left open. Thankfully, we awakened safely and no unwanted guests were waiting for us when we got out of bed!
Nehemiah 6:15 gives us the victory shout of Nehemiah’s journal: “Now on the 25th day of Elul the wall was completed in 52 days.” If you’ve seen the old city of Jerusalem and the walls around it, you know that was no human task. It was God-empowered! Fifty-two days is an Olympic record of construction… from rubble and disorganization, to disenfranchised and discouraged workers, to out-and-out opposition and threats of terrorism while the stones were being rebuilt… it is nothing short of amazing and no one would have been shocked had it taken 52 weeks or 52 months to complete!
But 52 DAYS… that was a God-sized achievement. And it was an unavoidable confirmation that God had sent Nehemiah; first to rebuild the structure of the wall and then to participate in the rebuilding of the government of God’s people. He went quickly from contractor to governor… not his agenda but that’s what happened. But first the walls had to be rebuilt… the framework and identity of the people of Israel… their call to be a “peculiar people,” a missionary nation… a lighthouse… was contingent on those walls going back in place. God had promised it would happen.
And He delivered!
We see again that God’s purposes always prevail. God always does what He said He would do. He keeps His Word. But we have to make sure something happens… we have to watch for the entrance of deception and impurity inside our “walls” personally. Nehemiah built the walls but “the gates and bars had not yet been hung.” And Sanballet, and Tobiah and Geshem kept finding a way in!
And as long as they were open, the enemy kept coming. Whenever the devil can find an entrance, he will always use it. It may be a temptation that keeps knocking… a grudge that keeps reoccurring… wrong choices that we keep making. Far too many fall because of unsecured areas and entrances into their souls and lives.
Keep the door closed. God wants us to live at peace but when the doors are open the “enemy comes in like a flood.” Watch for weak points. Station guards to make sure those areas are secure. Pay attention to breaches in the wall. God empowered Nehemiah to build the wall but apparently it was up to him to make sure the doors were closed.
Be watchful; be on guard. As your rebuilding is concluded, don’t forget that most important piece of the fortification:
FOR MEDITATION: 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. Nehemiah 6:16 ESV
FOR REFLECTION: Are there unsecured areas in your life right now: your relationships, your thought life, your intake of media, reading or listening? Be careful that these do not become open doors for the enemy to enter your life. What is one area you could decide to close today?
A few years ago while doing a missions conference in Dubai with our missions personnel working in the Red Sea cluster, I was preaching through the book of 2 Corinthians for the Bible study. When we came to 2 Corinthians 4 where it speaks of our bodies being like “jars of clay,” our worship leader at the time decided we could maybe find some “clay pots” to put on the stage for decoration. So Richard hailed a cab driven by a Pakistani man, and set off into the city of Dubai to search for “clay pots.”
Richard had far too much confidence in his driver’s English because when he asked him to take him somewhere to purchase “clay pots,” the driver heard something else. The next thing Richard knew, he was driven off the main road onto a residential side road where the driver told him he could find “pot” here!
Thankfully, we didn’t have to bail him out of a Saudi prison for his excursion down a side road. We didn’t have “pots” or “pot” that night but we did have our adventurous friend safely with us!
Focus is essential to success whether in sports, business, building or rebuilding a family or ministry. We have to keep our eye on the ball! Great athletes tell of learning to live “in the zone” when they are competing; meaning that they are mentally fighting to keep focus on the moment at hand rather than listening to the crowd or the jeering of their opponents.
It’s far too easy, in life and in leadership, to find ourselves down a side road and off the track we thought we were on. Sometimes it’s really no fault of our own. Life is distracting… many things crowd our attention and our focus off the “main things.” Sometimes the enemy comes in and decides to allow distraction to serve as his greatest weapon. This was a battle Nehemiah fought on his way to the finish line of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. His detractors, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, invited him to a meeting (translated: a trap) in the area of Ono. A friend of mine in ministry tells when teaching this passage that whenever someone invites you to a meeting in Ono, you need to just say “oh no!”
Wisely, Nehemiah did. He refused because “he was doing a great work.” He knew what was at stake in this “side road” meeting. He kept his focus. He kept his eye on the goal. And because he did, he finished well!
FOR MEDITATION: I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down and meet with you.
FOR REFLECTION: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” What is the main thing in your life?
For most people, learning to deal with adversity is commonplace. It visits us through any number of doorways in our world. But for many, adversity is not the greatest challenge. Promotion is. One writer said that for every ten people who can manage adversity, only one can handle promotion well.
Nehemiah was promoted. There was no fanfare; no election or pesky campaign commercials or slogans. It was a seamless transition with a lot of detail omitted, from manager of the construction of the wall of Jerusalem to appointment (obviously from Artaxerxes himself) to the position of governor of the now rebooted Jerusalem.
Promotion requires preparation but not always through the normal or expected channels. Nehemiah had no university degree with a major in political science. We have many who are well-educated occupying roles of leadership. They just aren’t doing it well. Education alone does not make us right for promotion. He was not a lawyer, a legislator or a high profile personality. He was simply… a leader. As is true of some, his credentials were earned in the trenches of years of listening… and learning how to lead from the most powerful man on the planet in those days. His leadership lessons (as is true most times) were more “caught” than “taught.”
And he proved himself in the field. He was worthy of his designation as governor. With the exception of Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem and their buddies, he seemed to be both loved and respected by the majority of the people. And he handled his promotion well.
- He never forgot that he was a servant to the people not an autocrat assigned to rule over them. Like our Lord Jesus, Nehemiah had no problems getting his hands dirty with the problems and pains of his people. Jesus said, “I have come to be a servant, not to be served.” So did Nehemiah.
- His promotion was never celebrated in his memoirs. There was no moment of celebration or partying. He simply mentioned he had been appointed governor.
- He modeled concern for the people. He mentioned that he would not take “the governor’s portion” (a tax) to feed his staff and those in government with him. He did this out of his own pocket. He would not profit during the misery and suffering of his people.
- He didn’t stop leading even though he had “arrived.” He didn’t delegate his responsibilities or seem to do anything differently after being appointed governor than before. While delegation is an important task to learn in leadership, Nehemiah understood the extremity of the time. He stayed in the trenches with the troops while things were uncertain and difficult for the people.
- He led… by example. There was no of seeking privilege from his role. He led well… and if you didn’t like his speeches, then watch his life!
Promotion causes weaker people to stumble. The air at the top is rarefied but the honor that comes with leadership also comes with seductions and opportunities to fail with a bigger spotlight on you! If you are promoted, thank God for it. And make sure it becomes and remains a privilege to serve those you lead…
and not an opportunity to serve your own purposes.
FOR MEDITATION: From the time I was appointed governor of Judah… neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provision.
FOR REFLECTION: How do you handle promotion? If you have been promoted, what are the unique challenges you must confront in your new role that are different from those before your promotion?
Last week we dealt with several of the points of opposition faced by Nehemiah. In Chapter 2, we see how he dealt with derision. In Chapter 4, he had to work through personal and group discouragement as well as dangerous threats to his safety. And then in Chapter 5, he had to confront division. Each of these “deadly D’s” will accompany the leader’s path as changes are made and progress is happening.
In conversations I have been a part of with high-performing, leadership people, all of the “D”s will come up at some point in the story. But most will agree that maintaining unity and harmony is the greatest challenge to face. Division happens behind the wall. It happens from the lips and rumors and even out and out lies that come from “friendly fire;” those who should be on your side!
We need to be careful when dealing with division in our system – our church, company, start-up or nonprofit – that unity stays the central message. Ephesians 4:3 tells us that we are to “maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” That implies some important things:
- Unity is a given when anything begins. Unity is the product of people thinking together toward the same goal. It is a natural, harmonic, organic thing. It is a living thing. It can be nurtured and will grow stronger or neglected and wither.
- Unity is ours to lose. Again, at its inception, any organization begins with unity. That is not to say things are uniform… it means we are all moving in the same direction toward the same goal at the same time; bringing all of our diverse talents, experiences, thoughts and gifts to bear on the ultimate goal.
- Unity is everyone’s responsibility… not just the leader’s. If a church loses unity, that may or more possibly may not be the fault of the leader. The gift of unity belongs to everyone, therefore everyone must guard it at all costs. No entity, no organization, no system survives with the cancer of division running amuck.
Reality says, “To dwell above with saints we love, oh that will be glory! To dwell below with saints we know, well, that’s another story!”
How much better the Psalmist who said,
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”
FOR MEDITATION: Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3 NIV
FOR REFLECTION: Does you attitude, thinking and speech move the church body you are part of toward unity… or division?
In a book that chronicled his experience of persecution and witnessing martyrdom in Uganda, a pastor named F. Kefa Sempangi wrote painfully of his experience and escape from the genocide of those days. From that horrific time he fled to the US and enrolled as a pastor in seminary.
As he continued to learn and grow and try to process what he had seen and experienced, his prayers became more and more impersonal and superficial as God became a concept and not a person. He buried his pain under layers of academic experience and theological abstractions.
And then, a moment came when God brought all of this to the surface for him. This is what he wrote:
One night I said my prayers in a routine fashion and was about to rise from my knees when I heard the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit.
“Kefa, who were you praying for? What is it you wanted? I used to hear the names of children in your prayers, the names of friends and relatives. You prayed for Okelo and Topista and Dr K and Ali, for Nakati and your father. Now you pray for ‘the orphans’ and ‘the church’ and your fellow ‘refugees.’ Which refugees Kefa? Which believers? Which orphans? Who are these people and what do you want for them?”
It was a sharp rebuke. As I fell again to my knees and asked forgiveness for my sin of unbelief, I knew that it was not just my prayers that had suffered. It was not my bad memory that caused the names to vanish from my mind and turned those closest to me into abstractions. God Himself had become a distant figure. He became a subject of debate, an abstract category. I no longer prayed to Him as a living Father but as an impersonal being who did not mind my inattention and unbelief.
From that night on, my prayers became specific. I prayed for real people, with real needs. And it was not long before, once again, those needs became the means by which I came face to face with the living God.”
I found myself personally convicted and wondering if sometimes we do the same… and allow God to become a “distant figure” even in the middle of doing “church work” and living out our faith. It’s a dangerous and treacherous slope we find ourselves on when the our relationship to God becomes an academic and theoretical exercise rather than a drawing near to the true and living Father.
Don’t let the embers grow dim. Fan the flames of your relationship to God. Meet Him again in the needs of those for whom you pray. And come face-to-face with Him again.
FOR MEDITATION: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8
FOR REFLECTION: Find one new thing, one new way to “draw near” to God this week in prayer….if your wording is routine, change it. If you sit when you pray, think about walking. Bring freshness every day to the fire of your love for God. And never, never let God become “a distant figure.”
Several have requested that I post the poem I used on Sunday about persistence. I have done so below. It is, without a doubt, one of the most needed challenges of our day, as so many find themselves fighting battles of discouragement and are about ready to give up. We need to hear the words of the anonymous poet who wrote this.
I want to let go, but I won’t let go
There are battles to fight
By day and by night
For God and the right
And I’ll never, never let go.
I want to let go, but I won’t let go
I’m sick, tis true
And worried and blue
And worn out through and through
But I’ll never, never let go.
I want to let go but I won’t let go
What? Lay down in the field
Surrender my shield?
No, I’ll never let go.
I want to let go but I won’t let go
Let this be my song
Mid legions of wrong
O God keep me strong
So I’ll never, never let go.
These words could be spoken by many… those who continue to hang in there through the rigors of chemotherapy or the routine of rehabilitation or on the heels of battling an addiction. They could be spoken by an aging saint or a discouraged college student; by a CEO in a corner office or a maintenance woman who works in the basement. The words would resonate with a couple struggling in a marriage or parents with a special needs child. We all need encouragement and the constant reminder to never, never let go!
FOR MEDITATION: …so we labored in the work. Nehemiah 4:21
FOR REFLECTION: How do you need to be encouraged today? Find a way to surround yourself with encouraging people, music or thoughts. Pray for God’s grace to hold you and never, never let go!
It is inevitable in leadership that criticism will come. Usually when change is proposed in any system that affects the perception of stability, the critic will emerge to try and “right the boat.” Critics come in all shapes and sizes, and all of us have not only been criticized but if you’re honest, you will have to admit that you have also been the critic!
But what should we do with the critic? Do we simply dismiss them because they make us uncomfortable? Do we dwell on their criticisms?
An author of a leadership book proposed the following acronym to help us deal with critics in church, in business, in education, or in any area when leaders are present and are leading change. He suggested the idea of thinking “slim” when it comes to critics.
S Consider the source of the criticism. Nehemiah had to do this with Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab in Nehemiah 4. These critics had followed him from the moment of his arrival in Jerusalem. He knew their agenda was to keep progress from coming that would allow the Jews to regain power, thus dethroning them or lessening their influence. Their criticisms had to be weighed in light of their motivation.
L Listen and learn from the critic. This is hard to accept but there is usually some kernel of truth in most criticism. Every critic is not irrational. Some are making a point that we may not want to hear. Be humble. You don’t have it all figured out. Listen to the critic. Learn what you can. But then….
I Ignore most of it. Most criticism needs to be handled like chewing gum. Chew on it a little while, then spit it out! Don’t swallow it! And don’t chew on it too long!
M What is the motivation behind the criticism? What is the critic really saying; really doing? In psychology there is a syndrome called “reaction formation” which basically means we act out in ways that are opposite of how we feel on the deepest subconscious level. Sanballat and his friends criticized Nehemiah for inciting rebellion. Perhaps on a deeper hidden level they were planning to do the same! Sometimes we need to understand that a person may be reacting against some unresolved issues with a mate or a parent. We can’t always know but we dare not take this type of communication personally. It may not be meant that way at all!
Learn to think SLIM. This isn’t a diet plan, though it will filter the kinds of things that pollute our minds and wreck our days. And when the critic comes, sift the criticism through this lens. It will be amazing how the sting of the critic is lessened!
FOR MEDITATION: Nevertheless we made our prayers to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.
FOR REFLECTION: When the critic appears, the two things Nehemiah practiced are crucial: “Pray…..and watch.” Keep your heart humble and before the Lord in prayer… and watch out for those who would stab you while your eyes are closed!
Finding our way through discouragement is a key to success in life. It is certainly key to our success in leadership. Leadership is always standing at the door of any project; any forward movement in our lives. Many open the door too easily to this unwelcome visitor.
Most of us would never allow a stranger to enter our home without some hesitation, yet many Christians allow discouragement to enter far too easily and make itself at home. How do we rid ourselves of this unwelcome guest and close the door on it once and for all?
- Watch your thought life. We sometimes think that we must hang on to every thought that crosses through our mind. But some experts tell us that nearly 80% of what we think about on a normal day is a lie! WE lie to ourselves constantly. Sometimes we hear voices from our past that tell us things that are untrue. Unhook yourself from unhealthy thoughts. Talk to yourself… out loud if necessary… to clean up unhealthy thinking patterns. Tell yourself the truth!
- Keep your perspective. Sometimes discouragement comes when we focus on the wrong thing in the wrong light. The workers on the wall in Nehemiah became discouraged when they focused on the rubble around them. In reality the rubble piles were getting smaller… but from their perspective the piles were growing larger!
- Surround yourself with people that encourage you. So many of us spend our lives around negative, gossiping, critical people that we get immersed in their discouragement. Distance yourself from the critic. Bring people into your inner circle who build you up.
- Encourage yourself in the Lord. Sometimes discouragement enters our lives due to a spiritual vacuum… we are not spending enough time filling ourselves with GOD’S WORD or thoughts about the Lord. Discouragement will not leave us alone simply because we try to stop being discouraged… but when we fill ourselves with encouragement that God provides freely.
FOR MEDITATION: Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
FOR REFLECTION: Discouragement needs your permission to enter your mind… the next time it knocks on the door, let Jesus answer for you!
In a blog post that could be seen as more science fiction than reality, the director of the National Institute for Health on August 4, asked for permission to fund research that would involve inserting the stem cells of animals into a human embryo (unborn baby). This so-called “Chimera” research, named for the Greek mythological creature that was part goat, part snake and part lion, would be attempted to generate organs like kidneys and pancreas for transplant into human beings.
While the outcome may be promising since we have a chronic shortage of healthy organs for transplant, the research also involves inserting human stem cells into animal brains, producing a hybrid animal-human or an animal with some degree of human intelligence. Have we gone too far in science?
In a culture where literally, science is regarded as the ultimate authority and the ultimate good by many if not most, we are now dabbling in the human genome in a way that could have drastic and dramatically negative outcomes.
On the first level, it seems this research is moral and well-intended. However, it will involve over and over the destruction of human embryos for the research to be continued. The question becomes, at which point does the end no longer justify the means? While I have no moral struggle with a pig that is able to grow a human kidney that can be harvested and the rest of the animal eaten for breakfast, I must draw the line at the intentional destruction of a viable human embryo being discarded and disregarded for the sake of “progress.”
And on a deeper and not-so-fanciful level, what if this animal with a genetically modified brain manages to reproduce? Though they have promised safeguards would be set in place to prevent this (which means it COULD!!!!!!) anyone who has been around animals much would take issue with their promise.
So to answer my own question, YES we have gone too far. The fact that we can do something doesn’t mean we SHOULD do it. The fact that there may be some immediate benefits, say to a person needing an immediate kidney transplant, the slippery slope we find ourselves on is not going to end well for us.
God made man in His image. He could have made animals in His image. He didn’t. He could have chosen a monkey or an elephant or a leopard. He chose an Adam… a man… to breathe His breath and His Spirit into… relating man to God in a unique and singular way. There was a reason God did this… and a reason we are distinct and created this way.
To play with that formula will only lead us downward.
FOR MEDITATION: So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him…. Genesis 1:27
FOR REFLECTION: What does being made in God’s image mean to you… and how does it affect how you think about what is right and wrong in life… what is moral or evil?
This Sunday, August 14 prayer walks are scheduled for Duval & St. Johns County Schools:
- 2pm- elementary campuses
- 3pm- middle schools
- 4pm- high schools
Participate in the prayerwalk at the school(s) you are zoned for.
Here are 10 prayers for schools:
- Love. “Father, may the students and staff of this school experience Your love through the Christians they know in profound and authentic ways” (John 13:35).
- Truth. “Lord, release truth in this school. Help students to rightly discern truth and not believe false teachings” (Proverbs 23:23).
- School board. “I pray blessings on each school board member (try to pray for them by name). Father, may your will be done at board meetings” (Romans 13:1).
- Principal, Faculty and Staff. “May (name of principal) recognize the God-given responsibility he/she has for the best interests of the children who attend the school. May the faculty and staff walk in wisdom, integrity, grace, and truth” (Proverbs 2:1-11).
- Failing students. “Lord, I ask you to encourage those children who are struggling with their studies. Strengthen their minds. Help their teachers and parents know how to help them learn. Protect them from feelings of worthlessness and shame” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
- Violence. “Lord, stay the hand of violence against the children and staff of this school. Dismantle any plan to bring harm to them. Expose any weapon brought into the school premises and render it harmless” (Psalm 34:7; 54:1).
- Christian programs. “Father, I pray for abundant blessings on programs that bring Christ into this public school. Help the groups who sponsor such programs function according to your Word and in harmony with each other. Bless the leaders and bring forth new and growing believers” (1 Corinthians 12:12,13).
- Christian students. “Grant the Christian students who attend this school wisdom and boldness in living out their faith. Help them share effectively the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ with their classmates” (1 Timothy 4:12).
- A chosen generation. “Father, may your kingdom come. From the students at this school, raise up a generation of people who worship you in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23,24; 1 Peter 2:9).
- An open door. “Lord, may there be an open door in this school for the gospel to be shared with students and staff. Allow full advantage to be taken of every opportunity to name the name of Jesus” (Matthew 7:7; 1 Corinthians 16:9).