Posts Tagged With: Nehemiah

Three Ways God Changes Our Hearts to His Vision

As you read through Nehemiah, you do not see much organizational or even spiritual drift. God planted a vision in him, and the intentionality by which he come, connected, and contributed to that vision kept him on course. A lack of intentionality and enthusiasm toward accomplishing God’s vision for His people will subtly shift the hearts of the people, and bring on the not-so-subtle drift of the organization.

ARBC, from the pastors to the leaders to the team members to the members of the church must be decidedly intention with Christ and His purpose. God raises up leaders with a special call, who bid others to come, connect, and contribute.  What ways and means does God use to change our hearts to His vision?

First, we must have our eyes open to reality of the situation.

Go to Nehemiah 1:1-2:

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem.

What happened with Nehemiah? God providentially brought Hanani his brother across his path. The key phrase is, “Now it happened.” Nehemiah could simply have been conveying an actual event. Yet, he could also be saying that this happened by chance. We shall see that nothing about this was by chance, and as Nehemiah went on, he recognized how God’s good hand was upon him.

Nehemiah had two issues of concern: the Jews who escaped, and Jerusalem itself. He has a passion for His people and he has a passion for the land God promised to His people centuries ago. It was no secret among that generation of Jews that they lived in Babylon/Persia because of God’s judgment. Deuteronomy 28 lays it out clearly. Obedience brings blessings in family and land. Disobedience brings curses to family and land.

He had his head firmly grounded in reality. He knew their predicament.  Are churches willing to examine theirs?  Is ARBC willing to examine ours?

Second, we must have our eyes open to the quandary of the congregation.

And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Nehemiah 1:3).

The wall of Jerusalem, as it was with all other cities, protected the cities from enemies and allowed those on the inside to flourish in peace. All through their history, they had shown how Yahweh had protected His people—and they let all others know that God is the God and their God.

But where was their God now? Do you see how the walls being down was not simply a structural issue or a political issue? This presented to the world that this God was (1) not able to protect after all (wrong), or (2) this God brought this blight on them in judgment (rightly so).

Nehemiah’s vision blossomed in helping to see the beauty and strength of the living God.  And that must be the aim of our church.  Churches and Christ are connected, but the church has been so inept in moving forward in a Christ-centered, gospel-driven vision, that they begin to disconnect Christ from His church.  So churches begin to see this quandary, resolve to partner with Christ as His bride so she will be spotless to Him and to a watching world.

Thirdly, we must have our eyes open to the sovereignty of our God.

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven (Nehemiah 1:4).

The bigger our God, the bigger our prayers should be. Keep in mind, God’s greatness and majesty is never based on our views of Him. Our views of Him are deduced from His Word.

Ed Welch wrote a wonderful book entitled, “When People are Big and God is Small,” and set the course when he said:

Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God.).  The task God sets for us is to need them less and love them more.[1]

Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16).  He will build His church His way.  He will add whom He adds, He will remove those whom He will.

And He uses us.  Yes, He ordains the ends, but He also ordains the means in using His church and the gifts therein to accomplish His will.

May God change our hearts to His vision.

[1]Ed Welch, When People are Big and God is Small (Phillipsburg, PA: P & R Publishing, 1997), 19.

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Why Churches Should Beware of the Numbers Game

Ever played the numbers game? Many churches and institutions do. Thanks to John Samson for passing this along in a very recent post.


J. I. Packer, in his book, “A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah” (Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 207-209, writes:

“I have found that churches, pastors, seminaries, and parachurch agencies throughout North America are mostly playing the numbers game—that is, defining success in terms of numbers of heads counted or added to those that were there before. Church-growth theorists, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, news reporters, and others all speak as if

(1) numerical increase is what matters most;

(2) numerical increase will surely come if our techniques and procedures are right;

(3) numerical increase validates ministries as nothing else does;

(4) numerical increase must be everyone’s main goal.

I detect four unhappy consequences of this.

First, big and growing churches are viewed as far more significant than others.

Second, parachurch specialists who pull in large numbers are venerated, while hard-working pastors are treated as near-nonentities.

Third, lively laymen and clergy too are constantly being creamed off from the churches to run parachurch ministries, in which, just because they specialize on a relatively narrow front, quicker and more striking results can be expected.

Fourth, many ministers of not-so-bouncy temperament and not-so-flashy gifts return to secular employment in disillusionment and bitterness, concluding that the pastoral life of steady service is a game not worth playing.

In all of this I seem to see a great deal of unmortified pride, either massaged, indulged, and gratified, or wounded, nursed, and mollycoddled. Where quantifiable success is god, pride always grows strong and spreads through the soul as cancer sometimes gallops through the body.

Shrinking spiritual stature and growing moral weakness thence result, and in pastoral leaders, especially those who have become sure they are succeeding, the various forms of abuse and exploitation that follow can be horrific.

Orienting all Christian action to visible success as its goal, a move which to many moderns seems supremely sensible and businesslike, is thus more a weakness in the church than its strength; it is a seedbed both of unspiritual vainglory for the self-rated succeeders and of unspiritual despair for the self-rated failures, and a source of shallowness and superficiality all round.

The way of health and humility is for us to admit to ourselves that in the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success the way God sees it. Wisdom says: leave success ratings to God, and live your Christianity as a religion of faithfulness rather than an idolatry of achievement.”

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The Five Points of Criticism–and How to Respond

The book of Nehemiah is a fascinating account of how God instills a vision for His glory and the good of His people, then how God works in Nehemiah and the surrounding circumstances to carry it out.

But challenges arose–significant challenges that could only be withstood by a man whose heart was gripped by God’s call on his life.  Nehemiah’s task was to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, for the destruction of the city and its walls left it exposed to enemy threat and pilfering.  When Nehemiah heard the account of Jerusalem from other Jews who had visited there, he wept and prayed (Nehemiah 1:1-11).  Through this, God galvanized him in approaching the king, asking for materials and safe conduct to rebuild the wall, and to rally the troops to go help.
But those challenges.  They came in the form of Five-Point Critics.  How so?  Nehemiah chapters 4 and 6 give a blueprint for us to spot out the Tobiahs and the Sanballats of our walk.  Here’s how to spot the ungodly, selfish critics that may come our way.
  1. The quality of the workers. When Sanballat saw that they were moving ahead and rebuilding the wall, he said, “What are these feeble Jews doing?”  Critics will go after your qualifications, your experience, your supposed strengths.  What fuels them?  Envy, jealousy, power?  For Sanballat, it was anger and rage.   Who knows what lies in the heart of man, except that the heart is evil and desperately wicked above all things–who can know it (Jeremiah 17:9)?  The end product is discouragement.
  2. The quantity of the work.  “Will they restore it themselves?  Will they sacrifice?  Will they finish up in a day?  Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that” (Neh. 4:2b)?  Critics see the bigness of the task.  Christ-followers see the bigness of Christ who calls to the task.
  3. The quality of the work.  Tobiah chimes in:  “Yes, what they are building, a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:3).  Self-explanatory, yes, but we see that these critics discourage by questioning the structural soundness of this wall.
  4. The quantity of the critics.  Critics breed more critics–it’s a contagious disease, to be sure.  “But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward… they were very angry … and they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and cause confusion in it” (Neh.  4:7-8).  Critics come together like birds of a feather to work to undermine God’s work and will.  When God continues to move regardless of their complaints, they recruit more critics to fight and confuse.  They will do whatever it takes to get their way and slow down the process of the sanctifying momentum among God’s people.
  5. The cruelty of the critics.  Nehemiah shows an enemy warned by Shemaiah that they would come to kill Nehemiah, so he should lock himself up in the Temple for protection (Neh 6:10).  If they cannot frustrate the plans, they will destroy the one executing the plans–even if those plans come from God himself.
How did they respond?
  1. Nehemiah prayed (4:4-5). (“Hear, O our God, for we are despised… .”)
  2. Nehemiah kept moving (4:6). (“So we built the wall.”)
  3. Nehemiah left the fighting to God (4:20). (“Our God will fight for us.”)
  4. Nehemiah remember the great work and wouldn’t come down (6:3). (“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”)
  5. Nehemiah held fast, even when death would possibly approach from his enemies (6:11). (“Should such a man as I run away?”)
  6. Nehemiah did his homework on his enemies (6:12-13).  (“And I understood and saw that God had not sent him.”)
  7. Nehemiah prayed again (and again, and again, and again)(6:14).  (“Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things they did.”)
  8. Nehemiah persevered until completion (6:15). (“So the wall was finished… .”)
  9. Nehemiah used it as an opportunity to teach the people to give glory to God for His blessings (Neh 8-9).  (“They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave sense, so that the people understood the reading.”)
  10. They praised God by dedicating the wall to Him–putting into practice what they had been taught:  give glory to God for His amazing grace (Nehemiah 12). (“And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”)
So much more could be said.  Criticisms will come, dear Christian.  God warns us about this–and gives us the prescription to respond.  Praise Him for His kind providence in Christ Jesus.

[Addendum:  I just noticed that 9 Marks had a blog post from a few years back on the Five Points of Criticism on how to engage in godly criticism–worth reading, I might add.]

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The Higher the Expectations, The More Prone To Disappoint

Politico has a report regarding the President-elect’s appointments to his cabinet as well as some of his agenda:

Liberals are growing increasingly nervous – and some just flat-out angry – that President-elect Barack Obama seems to be stiffing them on Cabinet jobs and policy choices.

Obama has reversed pledges to immediately repeal tax cuts for the wealthy and take on Big Oil. He’s hedged his call for a quick drawdown in Iraq. And he’s stocking his White House with anything but stalwarts of the left.

Now some are shedding a reluctance to puncture the liberal euphoria at being rid of President George W. Bush to say, in effect, that the new boss looks like the old boss.

“He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right cabinet. But we do hope that before it’s all over we can get at least one authentic progressive appointment,” said Tim Carpenter, national director of the Progressive Democrats of America.

OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers went so far as to issue this plaintive plea: “Isn’t there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?”

Even supporters make clear they’re on the lookout for backsliding. “There’s a concern that he keep his basic promises and people are going to watch him,” said Roger Hickey, a co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future.

These small paragraphs give all leaders one good moral maxim to stand by: “The higher the expectations, the more prone to disappoint.” Barack Obama’s campaign was filled with promises for progressive (read: liberal) change, therefore many progressives were rejoicing at his election, feeling that he would implement that change immediately.

I do commend Obama for coming in, evaluating the situation, and realizing that changes do take time. One man cannot implement change all by himself, especially when the often inconvenient system of checks and balances are in place. Plus, the man is not officially president yet!

Nehemiah was a leader who understood the need to discern and evaluate the situation before running hogwild into his mission. He heard the problems (Nehemiah 1:1-3), began praying to the God of heaven for wisdom (4-11), came to the leaders with the problem as well as a solution (2:1-8), then surveyed the situation himself (2:9ff) before coming up with a plan (2:19ff).

So regardless, let your expectations match reality.

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