One Comment to “Bringing the Stones Back to Life”

  1. Donald McMahon
    July 30, 2018

    “Bring the Stones Back to Life” (Nehemiah 4) (7.29.18)
    Nehemiah 4 (NIV84) Opposition to the Rebuilding
    4 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
    3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”
    4 Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
    6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
    7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
    10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
    11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
    12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”
    13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
    15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.
    16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.
    19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”
    21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.” 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.
    The word of God for the people of God.
    Title: “Bring the Stones Back to Life”
    In the early months of 2007, Carol and I attended a Certified Lay Speaker’s class down at Petersburg UMC in Cape May County. We learned many things about United Methodist traditions and about organizing church services. We learned that there was such a thing as a Licensed Local Pastor and they taught us about spiritual disciplines.
    Included in this experience of learning and doing was preparing a sermon. Through these exercises and experiments, I felt the nudging of God the Holy Spirit. I heard a whisper, “You could preach.” At 50 years old, this was a little surprising to me, but I shared with Carol that I believed God was calling me to preach. It was surprising to Carol, too. There may have been some wise remark questioning my sanity.
    In May, I wrote the District Superintendent a letter saying that I wanted to be a Candidate for Local Pastor. Well, it just so happened that there was a tiny church of 15 people with which he had had some difficulty with matching to a pastor. So, I was appointed as Pulpit Supply Pastor effective July 1st; which, like this year, happened to be a Sunday.
    Pastor Tom at Highland Community Church here in Galloway gave me some advice. He told me to go there ahead of time and walk the church property, claiming it for Jesus. A few days later, I drove down. Like here, there was an old cemetery surrounding the church, and a dilapidated two foot high stone wall surrounding the cemetery. I walked around, prayed, and claimed it all for Jesus. As I did this, I noticed that there were roof shingles in the cemetery, strewn about in a random manner. So, I looked up at the old church roof and it was obvious that the roof had to be replaced.
    That first Sunday in July arrived very quickly. It was suggested that my little red convertible would not make a good first impression on these farm folk. It was a 45 minute drive and I asked Carol to drive me in her car so I could go over my sermon a couple times on the way. When we got about three miles from the church, I asked Carol to pull over. My legs felt weak, my stomach was swirling and I was afraid I would be sick. Oh Lord, I prayed, what have I gotten myself into?
    Well, time would tell. Let’s just say that just like Nehemiah’s Jerusalem, there was rubble. There was actual rubble and there was metaphorical rubble. The roof was first on the agenda because when the roof went, which was on the precipice of destruction, everything below it went too. They had the money to fix the roof in a savings account of $50,000. The thing is they had lost faith. They needed to believe there was a future for their little church.
    In Nehemiah 2, after surveying the city, Nehemiah gathers the priests, nobles, officials, and the Jewish people together.
    Nehemiah 2:17–18 (NIV84)
    17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.
    They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
    Likewise, we called a meeting at my first church and it didn’t take much convincing that they had to decide quickly, that night, what to do. They responded to leadership and to the light of hope that a vision of the future casts. Not only did they decide to spend the money, they chose the longest lasting and most expensive shingles. This was a sign to me of the Lord’s blessing on this little congregation. They would teach me how to pastor as I shared my gifts and learned how to love the flock.
    As far as I can remember, I never preached Nehemiah 4 to them. Maybe it was too close to home because there were very strong similarities. But we too have a lot to learn from this account of the Jerusalem walls and gates being restored. While our facilities are in pretty good shape, they still need maintenance and upkeep.
    Yesterday, while we spruced up the church and grounds, I spent most of my time helping with power washing the front of the church. Butch and I discussed how the front, the north side, of the church is highly susceptible to the green mold and needs regular cleaning. I remarked that is a great metaphor. The front of the church doesn’t get much sun, s-u-n, and mold easily forms on it. Whenever we the church don’t get enough of the Son, capital S-o-n, we too get moldy.
    I want to look at some lessons that this historical account of Nehemiah and Jerusalem provide. Jerusalem is God’s holy city for his chosen people of Israel. When the Jews had been punished by God through their conquering and exile, the city suffered destruction. The Temple within the city, was the center of their religious life; and, it too was destroyed. Before Nehemiah returned, Ezra had rebuilt the Temple to a modest replica of its previous glory. Without secure walls and gates for Jerusalem, the Temple and the people were still in danger.
    In fact, enemies surrounded Jerusalem on every side. While the city was in ruins and the Jews discouraged and disorganized the enemy didn’t pay much attention. When leadership and a vision arrive in the person of Nehemiah, the enemy gets concerned.
    The same is true today. As long as churches are sleepy; as long as churches are shallow; as long as churches are self-centered and self-serving; as long as churches are lukewarm; as long as churches are glorified clubs; as long as churches are entertainment centers; the enemy is not threatened. Satan says, “Let them continue with business as usual. I don’t have to worry about them invading my domain.”
    Eugene Peterson, in his memoir called The Pastor, addresses this truth:
    “Church is a core element in the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus-inaugurated kingdom of God in this world. It is not that kingdom complete, but it is that kingdom. It had taken me a long time, with considerable help from wise Christians, both dead and alive, to come to this understanding of church: a colony of heaven in the country of death, a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God.”
    This is what we pray about when we recite the “Lord’s Prayer.” Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. This is the mission of the church because it is the mission of God. When we are living it out; when we are living into this mission; the Enemy and his minions will materialize. There truly is a cosmic struggle at hand and if we are being faithful to the great commission of making disciples and glorifying God, we will come under attack.
    Sanballat, Tobiah and the others were definitely enemies of Nehemiah; enemies of the Jews, enemies of God. When they first heard in chapter two that Nehemiah was on the way, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. 10 verses later we read that they mocked and ridiculed the effort. They even accused Nehemiah of leading a rebellion against the king. It was not a rebellion against king Artaxerxes; BUT YES, it was a rebellion against the Prince of this Dark World.
    Nehemiah responds to their accusation: Nehemiah 2:20 (NIV84), “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
    Notice this very significant juxtaposition: God gives success; but the success is materialized through God’s servants working. This is a common thread throughout scripture and throughout human history.
    In the 4th chapter that Hannah read for us, this divine handshake between God’s blessing and human effort is a major theme. The name of God is invoked five times, while the word work, human effort, is mentioned eight times. Also, the different kinds of work are specified over and over again.
    This 4th chapter opens with the enemy escalating the attack. They are not only angry, but also greatly incensed. You might say they are spitting mad. Strutting around in front of his army and friends Sanballat ridicules the Jewish people and their efforts. The Jews are too weak. They do not have the resolve to see the job through. It is too big a task for them. Do they really think they can restore their religion and resume sacrifices in the Temple? If they can’t finish this in a day, they won’t get it done. It’s an impossible task.
    Look at all the heaps of rubble in their way. Not only is the rubble an obstruction, because it is burned and the calcified stones are useless. There is not a sign of life left in the people or their building materials. Then Tobiah chimes in, “Even a light-footed animal like a fox would destroy their efforts.”
    Name calling, ridicule, mockery are meant to discourage. These are tools and tactics of the enemy. Certainly you have experienced this in your life and we see it all around us. Discouragement can lead to defeat and the enemy delights. Then the victory is his.
    We should not be surprised when the kingdom work of God is mocked and disparaged. They mocked our Lord Jesus during his sham trial; even spitting and striking him. The crowd even mocked him on the cross. Luke 23:35 (NIV84)
    35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
    In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we are warned that we too will suffer mockery, discouragement, and abuse:
    Matthew 5:10–12 (ESV)
    10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
    Nehemiah responds not to the mockers but turns to God in prayer. He calls on Yahweh to handle this battle on His people’s behalf. Most modern people have issues with this particular prayer of Nehemiah. It is a type of prayer we find often in the Old Testament. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord and the people call out in their distress for the Lord to defeat the enemy.
    Of course, the objectors have a valid argument because Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Personally, I don’t think it has to be strictly an either or scenario. Certainly we can see in Nehemiah that their enemies were God’s enemies. And, the enemy was thwarting kingdom work. We can pray for God’s will to be done; for God’s enemies to be defeated; but maybe the best approach is to pray that they are converted into allies. We can pray for them to come over to the side of righteousness, to join the kingdom effort. For instance, look at the Apostle Paul as a case study.
    After praying, Nehemiah and the Israelites returned to their portion of the mission. They rebuilt the wall up to half of its final height. They were making progress. “For the people worked with all their heart.” Too often, we only work half-hearted. Maybe we don’t give a full effort. Maybe we give a full physical effort but our heart isn’t in it; our motivations are selfish or misaligned; maybe we are working out of a sense of duty instead of from a loving response to Jesus’ saving work in our lives.
    Now the enemy got very angry. The conspired together. It seems that Satan has no shortage of workers. They tried to stir up trouble. They planned an attack. Violence was threatened from without and seeds of discontent spread within the walls. Rumors and gossip were spread. Propaganda in the form of fear mongering and anxiety was used by the enemy.
    This is a serious and effective tactic even today. While I was in the Coast Guard working in security, I went to a class the Air Force taught called PsyOps, which stands for Psychological Operations. You had to have a Secret Clearance to go this school. It taught you the historical cases where undermining the enemy’s state of mind was critical to the success of the mission. And, of course, modern methods and applications were taught.
    Again, Nehemiah responds appropriately. He organizes and positions the people. He equips the people with the proper tools and weapons. Then he reminds the people what is at stake. Fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
    Then he arms them with a great battle cry. You have heard “Remember the Alamo.” You have heard, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” Nehemiah declares, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome!” The war has not be won yet; but, this battle had been won. God frustrated the enemy, Nehemiah says; and, “we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.
    Warren Wiersbe, one of my favorite commentators, writes: Nehemiah realized that what he was doing was far bigger than simply repairing gates and rebuilding walls. He was serving the Lord God of heaven and getting the holy city ready for the coming of the Messiah!
    My friends, the Messiah came 2,000 years ago. He died and was resurrected. Sin and death were defeated but the cosmic struggle continues. We the church were created to be the living body of Christ here until his return. What are you doing to prepare your world for Christ’s return? Do you know what is at stake?
    Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:4–5 (NIV84)
    4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
    Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:22 (NIV84) And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
    The enemy wants to discourage us. “But we are not unaware of Satan’s devices.” We are equipped with the Armor of God. We claim the promises of the word of God: Jeremiah 1:19 “They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD.
    Victory is assured. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
    And, we the Lord’s servants are called to proclaim it.
    Amen and amen. Let us pray.


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