Monday, May 07, 2012

May 6, 2012 Ancient Stories and Timeless Truths: Rebuilding Life

May 6, 2012
Nehemiah 5:1-12

It’s an interesting perspective from where I stand on Sunday morning.  Choir, don’t you think this is an interesting perspective?  One reason it is so interesting is that when I look out at you I see what could be called the “ducks floating on the water” view.  You know the old saying about a duck casually floating on a pond?  On the surface they seem calm and serene but below the surface they are paddling like crazy. 
When I look out on the congregation I see a group of people who look calm (perhaps some of you are too calm, as your eyes are closed) but I know the reality is very different.  You may appear very calm on the outside, but inside you may be a wreck, and perhaps your life is a wreck.  In a group of people this size it will always be true that some will be going through times of great difficulty.

Today’s message is Rebuilding Life, which is from the book of Nehemiah.  You’ll remember that Nehemiah’s book tells the story of the Hebrew people finally being permitted to return home after years of captivity in Babylon.  When they returned to Jerusalem they found a city in ruins and they began the difficult process of rebuilding the walls of the city.  The people faced immense challenges as they sought to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and their lives.  As Nehemiah writes of the rebuilding of the city walls he is writing about far more than just rebuilding walls of stone and mortar; he is writing the story of rebuilding life.

There is no way I can do justice this morning to all the material we find in the book of Nehemiah, so I will just be skimming the surface.  I hope you will take some time in the coming days and read through the entire book.

Over the years I have repeated a phrase countless times to Tanya.  I will say wouldn’t it be nice to lead a normal life?  But what is a normal life?  If you think everyone but you is living a normal life, think again.  And if you get tired of juggling any number of responsibilities, we’re not the first people in history to have to do so.  As the people rebuilt the wall, there was so much opposition they had to work with one hand while carrying a weapon in the other in order to defend themselves.

Some people may have a vested interest in seeing that we do not change.  Perhaps our decision to change will confront others with the reality that they too need to change and to rebuild their lives.  Some people may simply be skeptical of our commitment to change.  Do not let the doubters stop you from rebuilding your life; do not let the doubters determine how successful you will be in your efforts; do not let the doubters tell you that you cannot change.

But what they also do is affirm that God is the foundation of their lives, and they affirm the ability to change through the power of God.  There is a spiritual component to life, and it is the foundation of life.
A very important principle comes from the life of Nehemiah himself.  Nehemiah was a very strong and effective leader.  We certainly need great leaders, but what we must remember is that everyone must lead their own life.  Leadership is not only a commodity in short supply in our nation and even our churches; leadership is also in short supply in the lives of individuals.  Nehemiah was someone who took responsibility for his life and did what he was called to do.  Take a hard look at your life – are you a leader for your own life?  Are you doing what you have been called to do, what you need to do?

In chapter five we find another principle.  In verse ten we find the people complaining about the financial difficulties they were being forced to bear.  After suffering for over seventy years in exile, they were now being taken advantage of by their own countrymen.  They were facing bullies among their own people.

There are bullies in this world who seek to take advantage of others.  We must speak up against the bullies we face.  This is not easy for many, but there are times when we must stand up and confront the situations that are unhealthy for us.  When someone is treating us in a manner that is hurtful to us, we must speak up and confront the situation. As difficult as it can be to confront a situation or a person, there are times when such action is both necessary and justified. 

And we must speak up on behalf of others. As you can see, I’m not a big guy, and I wasn’t a big kid, and I had to face bullies. I remember very vividly when a friend of mine stood up for me when others were trying to bully me.  This is what the people were asking for in the passage we read this morning – they were asking for someone to stand up and speak on their behalf.

There are religious bullies that must be faced as well. In another church where I served, on my first day in the office, I had a visitor who announced to me that their goal was to make my life and ministry as difficult as possible.  The person was a bully who sought to get their way on every matter and had bullied the church for years. A few weeks ago, North Carolina pastor Sean Harris, in a sermon, advocated violence by parents against children who give any indication they may be gay.  I serve on the board of a foster care agency, and what we see happening to children is both heartbreaking and heart wrenching.  When someone such as Pastor Harris gives a religious sanctioning to using physical violence against children, we must speak out and say that it is wrong, as is anyone who advocates violence in the name of Christ.

It is necessary that we ask ourselves the question am I doing anything that is harming someone else or making it difficult to rebuild their life?  If you read in chapter five we find the situation of people returning from exile and then being placed in slavery by the abuse of their own people.  Upon return, many people were in financial difficulties and they were taken advantage of to the point they had to sell members of their own family into slavery.  When they complained to Nehemiah, he called the people together and denounced the practice and it stopped.  Things don’t always work out this way, unfortunately, as people who are doing something to complicate or hurt the life of another don’t recognize – or they refuse to recognize – how their actions are hurting someone else.

When I was attending seminary I had a job working in the Butchertown section of Louisville.  The couple that owned the business bought an adjoining property with an old house they decided to refurbish.  I spent most of a summer stripping layers and layers of old paint of the doors of that house.  It was monotonous work and I was tired of it after several weeks and I was gripping about it one day to Scott, who owned the business.  My opinion was to just add some more paint, but he told me sometimes you have to remove the accumulation of years to make it new again.  And he was correct.  After scraping off that paint I discovered beautiful wood, and they were once again like new.

The years of life add a lot of accumulation to us.  We experience difficulties and get a few scars.  We have some trials and tribulations and we get some calluses.  We receive hurts and disappointments and we put a protective layer around our hearts.  We make a few mistakes and we begin packing around a load of guilt and regret.  But the grace of God removes the accumulation of the years, and the Spirit begins to reshape and rebuild life. 

Perhaps your life needs rebuilding.  What is keeping you from doing what you need to do to rebuild your life?  Have you spent time in prayer, asking God to give you direction and strength about what you need to do to rebuild your life?  Perhaps you believe it is too late or too difficult to start over and rebuild life.  It is never too late.  It may be difficult, but it is not too late.  What will you do to change your life?  What will it take to allow God to enter into your life in a powerful way and change your life?

Do you need to rebuild your life?  If so, will you begin to do so today?

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