I’m now into my 6th week of my short-term ministry break. I hadn’t expected it to go this long to be honest, but it’s a good character building moment. I’m not sure why this has extended out this long. I think it has to do more with miscommunication and non-communication than anything. It’s hard to explain, and to explain the issues here would be inappropriate, in fact, me even saying this much is questionable, so suffice it to say, I’m not sure where I stand at the moment with a lot of things. To be honest, that drives me crazy. I need to know, which in some of the aspects of life, that is a good trait. The thirst and curiosity to seek out information and knowledge, but it also is a hindrance because we tend to get in God’s way and try to play the “Holy Spirit”. I’m trying to step back and allow God to work, but my own human traits of wanting to know what’s going on are getting in the way. A bunch of questions keep popping up and I’m not sure of a lot of things. For all I know, I may be looking for something new in the New Year. Then again, that something new may be a renewal of what was, only stronger. Who knows, I do know God is at work in this situation and however this plays out it will be for HIS glory. The biggest thing that aggravates me is my perception that it’s affecting a bunch of different relationships with others in the youth group and the church. I just kind of dipped out without saying anything to anybody, so I don’t know if they think I just abandoned them, or if they understand that I just needed to take a break. Now that we’re on 6 weeks and counting, I think my presence is irrelevant now. Those are just my human feelings at work, and it drives me crazy to be honest. I want God’s best, I want God to do a work in my life and in the lives of the people around me, and if it means I have to be absent for a time, then I have to be patient and let God do those things GOD does in the background. Personally, I have to stop freaking out over things I have no control over, and let GOD do the work that HE’s doing in my life and focus on running passionately after GOD. If I say I want HIS best, then HIS best may be something completely different. I kind of hope not, because I love where I’m at, I love the people, and I love ministering with the team I was a part of. I want to go back, but I also know that I have to be obedient.
Now, On to Nehemiah 9
It’s the 24th day of the month that they had completed the wall. They’re 17 days post festival, life is proceeding forward for them, they have been having a revival of sorts that is still ongoing thanks to Ezra and the priests and with the support of Nehemiah. On this particular day, there is a gathering of all Israel, it’s almost like a national day of mourning because they are still broken over their sins, and the sins of their preceding generations. What happens in this chapter is incredible:
9 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. 4 Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. 5 And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.[a]”
“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.
All Israel, (around 50,000 by this time) had gathered and were dressed in their mourning clothes and had been fasting. For a half day they spent in equal parts confession and worship. They had realized that they were in the situation they were in because of the sins of the past by their ancestors, but they also realized that they themselves needed to confess for their own sins. It’s interesting, because the focus of the next couple chapters, including this one, isn’t on Nehemiah, but on the Levites and the people. Nehemiah chooses to focus on the actions of his people and the priests. The need for the people to repent and the need for the Levites to lead them and use their gifts. Nehemiah is stepping back and allowing the Levites take the stage to bring the people to repentance. He knows it’s not his place or position. His place and position is governing and overseeing, the Levites are the ones who are in supposed to be the ones leading the spiritual lives of the nation. Nehemiah realizes it, and while he doesn’t remove himself, he does step back and allow the people GOD has placed to use their gifts and abilities, by doing that something amazing happens: REVIVAL!! It’s tough for a leader to step back and allow those who are a part of the team to take the stage, but a leader knows they can’t do it all, they allow and empower while observing, and if need be, restraining. What followed is amazing. Confession is good for the soul, both individually and collectively.
Verses 6-37 deal with the historical context of the Jewish people. A review of how GOD had chosen them and set them apart, how God had supported, cherished, and supplied them. It’s also a review of how they had literally screwed up and how they lost everything because they took their eyes off of GOD.
6 You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
7 “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.
An acknowledgement of GOD’s position as the one true eternal and everlasting GOD. I love vs 8, God found Abrams heart faithful. That’s an amazing statement. GOD knows our hearts, our heart desires and reaches out to us and makes an unbreakable promise. What GOD promises, GOD delivers. In HIS time and fashion, which is a little frustrating sometimes for our limited and time focused humanity, but HE delivers right on time.
Verses 9-15 deal with how GOD delivered them from slavery in Egypt and how HE had supplied them with everything. Protection, nourishment, guidance. It’s incredible to read how God provided the food, how GOD parted the Red Sea, how HE supplied a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day to lead them. The story of providing the law is incredible. It’s unbelievable how much GOD interacted with the Children of Israel during this time, which makes the next couple of verses even more disheartening.
16 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. 17 They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, 18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.
19 “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.
Even after all they had witnessed, the Children of Israel took GOD for granted, they became disobedient and took their eyes off of God. When you look back in Exodus, you see a constant battle of wills, usually one the Children of Israel lose, but what’s amazing is that GOD is loving and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, HE didn’t abandon them. HE disciplined them and punished them, removed quite a few of them from life, but those who repented, HE restored and renewed and they moved forward and they lacked nothing in their journey. GOD does the same for us. We take our eyes off of HIM, and for a moment HE lets us do our thing, but then HE steps in and discipline happens, but followed closely behind is compassion, restoration and renewal. The takeaway for a leader is similar. The people who a leader supervises will screw up. How do you handle that? God gave the template. Discipline, compassion, renewal, restoration, move forward. stronger and better educated.
Verses 22-25 deal with the aftermath of the renewal. Israel went and conquered the land they inhabited the land, and they thrived in the land. When we focus on the things of GOD, HE blesses us with things that we can not comprehend at times, and it can be overwhelming. When we get to the point where we are no longer thankful to GOD and take it for granted that HE’s a loving, compassionate GOD who supplies our needs, then problems crop up.
26 “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. 27 So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.
28 “But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.
Do you see it? Disobedience and rebellion brought punishment, repentance brought compassion and salvation. When we lose focus and go about our own way, GOD steps in….or maybe it’s more like HE steps back. and allows what HE’s shielding us from to hit us to get our attention. When it does, well, HE steps back in and restores. The only lesson for leaders on this one is that when people take their eyes off of GOD, sometimes it’s best to step out-of-the-way and let GOD be GOD. The leader needs to point the people to GOD, if he’s doing anything else then the leader needs to repent, but if someone on the team or the organization is out of line, then they have to be disciplined. GOD is our template for leadership. If there are times when GOD steps back and allows natural consequences to happen, then shouldn’t the leader do the same thing? The amazing thing about this is that GOD steps back in at just the right time, as a leader, the question becomes, at what point do you step back in to restore and renew…..or cut loose.
32 “Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes—the hardship that has come on us, on our kings and leaders, on our priests and prophets, on our ancestors and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today. 33 In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our ancestors did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the statutes you warned them to keep. 35 Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.36 “But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. 37 Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.
WOW!!! Those 5 verses are an incredible statement. An incredible admission. To state that they were the ones that had acted wickedly and that GOD had acted faithfully, how many people can actually admit that when they’re in the middle of a storm that GOD has been faithful and that the storm they’re in is (a lot of times) due to choices they’ve made? Personally, looking back over my own situation, the reason for my break (both ministry wise and emotionally) were due to choices I had made that were, well, less than stellar. It’s hard to admit that we’ve screwed up, it’s even harder to admit that GOD has remained faithful, because, let’s be honest, we blame GOD. We accuse God of abandoning us and ignoring us, when in reality, it’s the other way around. GOD has never left our side, or our sight. WE have this tendency to ignore, overlook, disregard, whatever word we want to use, GOD and think we can minister/live/lead/etc on our own without guidance from GOD. What happens? The last 5 words in this section: “We are in great distress”. However, when we’re in distress, GOD provides rescue.
What’s amazing in how this chapter ends is that the Levites, the leaders, the people, don’t hide from their responsibility. They understand that they need to change and they have to make it official and binding.
38 “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.”
They in essence, make a contract with GOD. They contract their obedience and loyalty to GOD. They still have a human king they have to answer to in Assyria, but they realize their first loyalty is to GOD. A leader (pastor/youth pastor/coordinator/director/etc) must make sure those he leads understand that their first loyalty is to GOD. Always point those he leads first to GOD, and then the vision/goal. Anything less is a disservice to GOD and those he leads.
WOW!!! So much in this chapter. It’s a bit long, but I hope the four people who actually read this understood what the point of this was, and that is that GOD is compassionate, loving, and forgiving, but HE also is a GOD that won’t withhold consequences and will discipline when HE needs to. HE is also about restoration….in his TIME.