Oh Lord, It’s Hard to Be Humble

One moment I stood confidently before my high school choir, a student conductor, all eyes trained on me as I led rehearsal. We struggled with a particular piece, so to lighten the mood I stepped my high- heeled boots up onto a wobbly, prop stool we used for a stage production. In a blink, I toppled backwards, landing on my back, all eyes watching.  It was 1970 something and mini-skirts ruled the school and my closet. Sure could have used one our church’s modesty prayer cloths that day.   ( See previous post.)

God uses funny circumstances in my life to cultivate more humility. Sometimes I careen through life too quickly, without thought. He uses those opportunities to take me to character school.  Listen, He’ll use any means necessary to grow high-value traits in us.

Another “teachable moment” occurred with a fashion trend called the broom skirt, (which looked attractive on no one).  It involved yards of lightweight fabric arranged in messy pleats. We had a brief love affair.  One Sunday morning, me and my skirt ran late for my pre-service restroom visit.  I hustled my cookies down a side aisle, from the rear of the sanctuary to the platform in the front, just as the music intro started.  As I flew past the instrumentalists, right before I strode onto the platform, I felt someone grab my skirt, hard, from the back, as I passed. I knew immediately that the entire back of it had been tucked up into my pantyhose, most likely observed by everyone sitting near the aisle when I raced by.  No one ever spoke about the incident to me, but I am profoundly grateful someone saved me from taking my wardrobe malfunction onto the platform at least.

In our family, we say this about pride:  You can choose to humble yourself before God, or He can just cut your knees out from under you.  Man, I hate that feeling of realizing I’ve been casual towards humility and God intervenes. Ugh.

The book of James talks so much about behavior issues it leads me to believe that these folks were quite a handful.  Like me.  In chapter 3 verse 13 he talks about moving through life with a humility which flows from wisdom.  He then describes “heavenly wisdom,” in great detail a few verses later. We’ll ponder the wisdom portion in the next post, but today I am struck by the link between humility and wisdom.

How does God view pride?  I thought this nifty chart might demonstrate the answer.

  Actions Natural Consequences and God’s response
Satan The original arrogant fool actually thought he could overthrow God? Tossed from heaven, doomed to eternal damnation
Joseph This arrogant dreamer should have been working in the fields with his brothers not visiting them.  Clueless, to imagine that his brothers were going to love his dream about them. Slavery, false accusations, prison, separation from his entire family. Yes, God used all this for great goodness but don’t assume that it would have all gone this way if Joseph had been a humble young man.
Nebuchadnezzar Even with the profoundly wise and humble Daniel at his right hand, this prideful king refused to acknowledge the sovereign God. The Word says it best: “He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” Dan. 4:33
Ahab and Jezebel They thought they could get away with mass murder of God’s prophets, murdering Naboth then stealing his property, PLUS leading the entire nation into idolatry. Ahab slaughtered in battle.

Jezebel tossed from a window, trampled by horses, eaten by dogs.

Pharaoh What kind of crazy arrogance would allow his nation to be decimated down to the deaths of all the first born and STILL not acknowledge God’s power? His kingdom left with no crops or drinkable water, a decimated, sickly and injured population, while he drowns (according to Psalm 136:15) with his army in the Red Sea.
King Saul This guy, who God exalted out of nowhere, got way ahead of himself, offering wrong sacrifices, consulting a witch and trying to murder God’s anointed, David. Dies a slow, excruciating death in battle, with his sons, including Jonathan, David’s best friend.

 

This chart could be several pages long to include the many arrogant kings of Israel and Judah, the Pharisees, Peter and so, so many others.

To say it simply, pride is the height of stupidity and completely incompatible with wisdom.  Pride will take you just so far then it will surely drop you on your head.

These days, when circumstances humble me, I recognize an opportunity to burn more of that old nature, that will try to assert its agenda until I die. Recognize when God is gently humbling you. These can be useful moments to recognize pride, with all its different masks, hiding somewhere in your character.  I fervently desire to be like Jesus who, “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient to death.” (Phipp. 2:7,8)

Tipsy Groomsmen, Queasy Brides and Micro-mini Mourners

 

So what exactly would you do with a nauseous, pregnant bride, trapped in a closet, in the middle of a wedding?  What words or strategies might you employ to help keep inebriated groomsmen from walking bridesmaids and guests into walls or the edges of pews? What is the best way to deal graciously with a micro mini-skirted mourner, bent over a casket and mooning everyone behind her?

Every pastor, musician, sound tech and church custodian accumulates a file of strange but true stories from weddings and funerals.  We are privileged to be part of some of the best and worst days of people’s lives.  Additionally, we are often presented with the opportunity to interact, in significant ways, with unchurched family and friends attending these occasions.  How do we welcome and respond to people who don’t know or understand the language and culture of our church world?

Jesus frequently hung out with the dregs of society, and they loved him. James writes some strong words about how we treat people that don’t look, sound or smell like us, but before I delve into that I will share how we handled the above situations.  My husband is the sultan of smooth. He is nonplussed by awkward situations and faster on his feet than any Olympic gymnast.

So, what about that nauseous bride?  During a wedding Ken officiated, the bride quietly said, “I’m going to be sick.”  With vows and rings done, he instructed the groom to escort his new wife to the rest room.  As they left, Ken explained the situation to the guests, asked the organist to play some music and invited people to socialize.  Unfortunately, the groom didn’t attend our church and instead of leading the bride out of the sanctuary, he took her into a large closet inside the sanctuary.  Ken simply left the platform, while all eyes watched, and guided the now pale green bride and the frantic looking groom out of the closet to the correct doorway.

The tipsy groomsmen showed up for wedding pictures in a bad state and clowned their way through the photo shoot, leaving the bride in tears.  After Ken observed them staggering outside to drink from pocket flasks, he decided to intervene.  He invited them into his office under the guise of resting in air conditioning. While he shared cups of coffee and bottled water with them, he spoke firmly but kindly about their behavior and what he expected from them during the ceremony.  They pulled themselves together and did fairly well with no major gaffs.

Finally, the micro-mini-skirt mourner seemed oblivious to the results of bending over in a tight, short skirt, yet her own family members did nothing except stare at her.  We were merely guests at this funeral, but just as I was about to make a move, the pastor’s wife glided up to the casket, put her arm around the young woman, hugged her, then gently led her away from the casket.  Well done.  At our church we see people fresh from the world frequently at our altar, so it wasn’t my first rodeo with clothing issues but it was lovely to see another sister handle this so graciously.

In James 2 he discusses the sin of snobbery.  Verses 1-12 are a stern lecture about treating people differently based on their outward appearance or behavior.  In verse 8 (NIV) he calls the golden rule the “royal law.”  In other words, in God’s kingdom, treating everyone well is the law.   This is not a negotiable or gray area and to make that crystal clear, he closes this section with a warning. “…judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”

The Greek word for filthy, in verse 2 is “riparian” which means that someone is so filthy that their body odor is noxious.  Ever been near someone whose body odor is so sour, it makes your eyes water and your gag reflex kick in? That’s the picture here.

So, how would you or your church treat a woman clearly dressed as a prostitute, if she showed up in your service?  What about an individual who is high?  What do you do with mentally unstable people if they start acting out during your services?  When a homeless, man dragging his filthy little suitcase, walks through your church doors how do people respond?

All of these scenarios are things we see at our church weekly. We do everything to make people who have been humbled and tossed aside by the world, welcome in our midst.  Sometimes they need us to throw an arm around them or just be with them and make conversation.  Other times, if they are disruptive, we gently lead them to participate in the service in a separate room where it’s televised.  We are prepared with handmade prayer cloths to preserve women’s dignity and modesty when they collapse under the power of the Spirit working in them. Listen, the Holy Spirit often deals with people trapped in numerous bondages and sins in ways that don’t always fit our neat little paradigms.

My question for you is, are you prepared for the lost souls of this world to turn up on your doorstep or at your church?  They come with emotional and physical messes and baggage so complex and filthy, that some believers just don’t want to deal with it, like the church people James scolded in Chapter 2.  Believers who are passionate about winning the lost need to be prepared to receive them graciously, warmly, when they do wash up on your doorway.  What do you need to do to be ready for them?

 

True Believers and Posers Part 3

Hi, I’m Sharon and I’m a recovering interrupter.  I started interrupting in childhood.  My report cards featured comments like, “Excellent class work but needs to talk less and listen better to directions.”  In Junior High, my friends and I talked over each other all the time, seldom listening to one another. By adulthood, this awful habit entrenched itself in my life, even though I knew it to be wrong.  My lack of self-control caused others around me to feel as if what they said didn’t matter.

My parents, husband, child and friends all pointed out my addiction to talking over the years, but I didn’t really change until God showed me the root sin of being an interrupter, pride.  Pride doesn’t listen carefully, but instead when others are speaking it figures out what it will say next.  Pride is impatient with people who lose their train of thought or speak slowly.  Pride loves the sound of its own voice more than any other.

Any position of leadership, in ministry or the marketplace, usually comes with a platform to speak your thoughts and be heard by others.  Except for my junior high friends, can I tell you that the worst interrupters and poorest listeners I’ve met are fellow believers.  Just because you temporarily hold the talking stick doesn’t mean you should use it to bang the heads of those under you.

James 1:19 describes some behavior of a true believer. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” NIV   

James is talking to church folk who missed the bar of good listening.  The Greek word for quick is “tachus.” The definition is a word picture of a runner straining to be the fastest and win a competition.  In Rick Renner’s devotional, “Sparkling Gems from the Greek,” he restates verse 19 like this: “Work hard to be a good listener as if you were trying to win a competition for listening.”

Whew, does that fly in the face of a culture obsessed with social media where everyone is fighting to be heard and very few people are working to listen. I wonder if one of the reasons we are not attracting more unbelievers to our message is because they think we are profound pontificators but lazy listeners.  Are we consistently striking up conversations with the unchurched folk? Do we ask them questions about themselves then listen carefully to their answers? Do we jump right in with a Bible verse and a solution in churchy language or do we affirm their feelings, frustrations and pains before we attempt to point them to Jesus thoughtfully?

When you lead a Bible study, prayer group, meeting or some other function, do you allow people to share their thoughts with each other and the group or is it your voice, your stories, your insights most of the time?  Studies of how students learn show repeatedly that the least effective teaching tool is a lecture yet so many leaders continue simply to stand before a group and talk  however long their time frame allows.

Sometimes we dominate a social gathering just chattering away, leaving very little space for shy or subdued people to share a thought or a story. I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to prompt me to take notice of less talkative people in a group.  When I see this, I’ll specifically ask them what THEY think about the current topic of conversation.

In my classrooms most days, students interacted and collaborated with one another to process information that I would share with them in under fifteen minutes.  When Ken served as a senior pastor, he mastered the art of presenting captivating, high impact sermons in 35 minutes and under. The rest of our services engaged the congregation with worship, dramas, Bible readings and other components that allowed people the opportunity to sing, speak and talk.  Both of us worked diligently to create opportunities for others to speak and interact with truth.

As leaders it’s so easy to become captivated by the sound of our own voice that our listeners simply feel like captives.  Instead,  we should be winning listening competitions regularly and showing others how it’s done.

I still speak too much sometimes at meetings, prayer groups and social gatherings, but not nearly as much as I used to.   I am in process and still growing in the art of showing people I value them by being a careful listener.  Join me in the race, won’t you?

 

 

True Believers and Posers Part 2

My daughter had a marvelous composition professor in college who suffers from a rare neurological disorder called prosopagnosia which literally means “face ignorance.”  Imagine walking into a classroom of students you’ve taught for a whole year and not recognizing a single face.  Imagine watching home videos of yourself and your friends and recognizing no one at all.  Imagine walking past your husband and children in a restaurant only to sit down by strangers you guessed might be them.  This is a small insight into the lifelong experience of Heather Sellers, author of several books on creative writing plus a book about her struggle with the disorder entitled, “You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know.”

Heather states that it is not a sight issue it is a brain storage and retrieval issue.  In the moment that Heather walks away from someone, she has already forgotten their face and could not possibly describe  it to someone else.  The only way she can “remember” faces is to make educated guesses based on clothing, location or context.

Sometimes believers are just like this.  We hear an outstanding sermon on faith on Sunday but Monday we experience an unexpected financial setback and we doubt God’s provision for us.  In our prayer time we put on the armor of God. Several hours later when our boss screams at us unfairly, we slip right out of our gospel of peace shoes and gossip about it to our co-workers.  In James 1, particularly verses 8 and 23, he describes this behavior as a double-minded man. He specifically uses the example of someone who steps away from a mirror and can’t remember what their own face looks like.

When I compare my baby boomer generation and those under me to my parent’s and grandparent’s generations, today’s Americans are seriously lacking when it comes it stability and maintaining a steady course.  Our elders survived The Great Depression and two world wars.  They endured tremendous loss of life from diseases we no longer think about.  They lived without phones and indoor plumbing and raised children without television or the internet.  Through it all, a majority of them showed incredible stability as a reliable work force, dependable family members and faithful church attenders. Today, people skip work because of Super Bowl parties ending late. We seldom enjoy family dinners together because everyone’s going a different direction and according to CHURCHLEADERS magazine, only 20% of Americans attend church anywhere.

Since the church is made up of individuals, I see wishy washy behavior on a corporate scale also.  People sign up as volunteers for a particular ministry or to attend an activity but don’t show up for the event.  Sometimes I press folks a little to find out why they went missing and at least half the time, the reason is that something better came up.  In our town, there is a whole set of folks that rotate their church attendance between my church and two others, and identify all three churches as their “home church.”  Every single summer, in many churches, giving levels take a dip because people simply don’t make arrangements to get their tithes and offerings in before or after a vacation.  I know these types of behaviors can be disheartening for pastors.

Precious sisters, God is not pleased with us when we waffle back and forth between things.  Indecisiveness and instability hinder God’s ability to bless us.  Look at what James says. “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:6-8.  Darlins,’ if I can’t even be faithful and stable with the basics like attendance and tithing, where am I possibly going to muster up the kind of radical faith it will take to ask and believe God to heal leukemia, restore a marriage or resolve financial setbacks?

Being double-minded is a lifestyle, it won’t confine itself to just one area of your life.  It will affect all of your relationships but most importantly the one you have with your Heavenly Father.  The truths of God’s word will often clash with what you are experiencing.  God is still my provider even when I can’t pay all my bills.  He is still my healer when I am ill.  He is always my strong tower even when I feel like the walls of my life have been torn down.  We must stop reading and believing God’s word one moment then doubting it the next when life is tough.

I’m thinking that part of our overall indecisiveness and instability stems from not fully believing one of my favorite Beth Moore quotes.  “God is who he says He is and He will do what He says He will do.”  Doubting this foundational Christian belief creates a cancer of the soul, which can affect other thinking processes.  It’s critical that we stow up the word in our hearts and minds so it can be retrieved in the face of life’s difficulties.

I’m going to pray that each soul that reads this will ask God to show them areas of their lives where they have not been receiving all He has for them, due to doublemindedness.  Sisters and brothers, let’s turn from this sin and start believing God for more than we can ask or imagine.

 

True Believers and Posers

I recently took some old, gold jewelry that I no longer wear, to an appraiser.  Thinking the pieces were gold-filled, I expected their value to be fairly high.  To my surprise, they turned out to be gold-plated, with little value.  When they are new, the difference in appearance between a gold-plated ring and a gold-filled ring is undetectable to the untrained eye.  The difference in value is astonishing.

In time, a gold-plated ring begins to chip and tarnish under the everyday pressures it experiences.  In contrast, gold-filled rings can be handed down from generation to generation because of their enduring quality.  I recalled the sheepish way I felt in the jewelry store that day while I studied the book of James this morning.  Much of the book lays out the differences between sincere religion and false religion, or as I call it, the difference between true believers and posers.

So many ideas that Jesus’ brother shares are high value for anyone in ministry so this is the first in a series of posts in which I’ll share the concepts which leaped out at me.  The first chapter launches with an exhortation that follows well on my recent posts about Nehemiah; it’s the idea of tenacity amidst troubles.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  James 1:2 NKJV

I used to be such a whiney biscuit, so quick to give up on joy, when trouble ruffled my petticoats.  God has grown me up a bit but sometimes, under pressure, I still find myself speaking sentences using the word “I” too many times.  I’m annoyed that I have to deal with “this” again, whatever that might be. On occasion I still feel fingers of fear starting to clamp down on my gut.  Other times frustration makes me blather on to my poor husband, or father, or daughter about something that’s got my cookies frosted.

In the past, those things used to be the start of a downward spiral that took a crazy amount of energy to pull out of. I’m a skosh wiser now so I usually catch myself and start speaking truth to my soul. I say things like, “Come on, this is only a test, and it’s ALL a test.   God is using this to shape off sharp edges.  I’ve got the full power of the Trinity working on my behalf.  This has all passed through God’s hands and He’s giving me everything I need to navigate this gracefully.”   Some days, me myself and I carry on long conversations until my joy is restored and the gospel of peace is firmly lashed back onto my feet.

The NIV translates the word “patience”, from the King James version of James 1:2 as perseverance and the NLT calls it endurance.  The Greek word for patience, perseverance, endurance is “hupomeno.” It’s a military term which means to hold a position or maintain a territory.  It makes me think of all the movie scenes of battles where officers shout to their troops while opposing armies advance, “Hold the line, hold the line!”

Just like gold-plated jewelry can’t withstand the pressures of everyday life, neither can Christian posers withstand a trial.  They whine, complain, run away, try to fix things on their own, try to get others to fix things and avoid confrontation.  They are spiritual deserters.  As a former deserter, can I just tell you that it takes just as much energy to run from a battle as it does to fight it.  Worse yet, our Father loves us too much to let us get away with that behavior.

We may be able to duck out of a particular skirmish, but God has a way of plunking us into a different battle that will develop the qualities we didn’t develop when we ran away from the first battle field.  In our family, we call that “goin’ around the same mountain again,” referring back to the Israelites turning an eleven-day trip into a 40-year odyssey, because of their disobedience.

So, the question is, how many times do you want to go around the same mountain in a wilderness?  True believers recognize trials as opportunities.  They put their heads down and keep on movin,’ armed and dangerous with the Truth.  The funny thing is, now that I’ve learned to run to the battle instead of whining about it, it seems like God delivers me through trials in much better shape than when I went into them. Sure, I falter and stumble at times. I’m not a top- tier gladiator just yet but I’m definitely in the ring.

Next post I’d like to look at the double-minded person James speaks of in Chapter one.  This kind of mind is epidemic in our culture and unfortunately turns up in the church too.  Join me in a few days to pick up some tips on how to be a “Steady Eddie.”

Be Prepared

“My little brother ate it.” If students put the same energy into their schoolwork as they put into making excuses for not doing it…….. Here’s the rest of my top ten list from unprepared students.

  1. My parents refused to help me. (At 10:30 when you finally started your homework)
  2. Oh, was that due today? (Clutching worksheet with due date in bold font at the top.)
  3. Didn’t I already turn that in? (Incomplete worksheet sitting on desk in plain view)
  4. I had football practice. (Which ended at 6:00 p.m.)
  5. My printer is only black and I wanted to print it in special colors. (This was a research report. Special colors?)
  6. I can’t remember the file name so I couldn’t print it. (So, how will you ever find it?)
  7. I felt sick. (Hmm, you seemed fine at the game last night.)
  8. Well, I had it on a flash drive, but it got lost in the lunch room. (Probably hiding out with a couple retainers somewhere)
  9. I don’t know how to put a document in an e-mail. (Really? My four-year-old granddaughter can do that.)

Often, under pressure, we make excuses. Sometimes we encounter hindrances that we should overcome and instead use them as reasons for failure.   Nehemiah’s building crew faced some major obstacles, like their lives and their families being threatened.  Instead of sympathy or hand holding, he helped the workers prepare for the attack then shouted a rally cry which many have echoed through history.

“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.  After I looked things over, I stood up and said….’Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’”

To overcome opposition, prayer and preparedness must work hand in hand.  God expects every believer to equip themselves with the armor and weapons with which He endowed us.   The helmet of salvation protects our minds and helps us keep a heavenly perspective on earthly conflict.  The breastplate of righteousness keeps our hearts and motives pure so we fight against our true enemy, not one another.  The belt of truth shields our guts, so we know what’s true and what’s false in our deepest most inner man.  The shoes of the gospel of peace enable us to wade through hell or high water and maintain serenity and objectivity.

Our shield of faith protects us from the verbal and physical assaults of the Tobias’ and Sanballats who will try to prevent us from achieving our destinies.  The sword of the Spirit cuts down strongholds and road blocks the enemy erects against us.

Can we not rally to Nehemiah’s cry today to fight for our homes and families, our churches, schools and cities?  While the tide of evil continues to rise in our cities and countries will we wring our hands or look to governments to solve problems with spiritual roots?  Are we so absorbed in our comfortable lives we are deaf to the pleas for prayer and support from those engaged in world-changing battles in other parts of the globe?

Frontline believers must be prepared and ready for opposition on the roads God lays out for them.  Just like Nehemiah, I won’t sugar coat it for you.  Warfare can be exhausting and make us want to retreat to some quiet corner where we think the enemy might leave us alone.  Don’t. God will lead you through this current battle and will make you stronger for the next one.  He will give you everything you need to endure, including times of rest and refreshment.  Read the rest of Nehemiah to see the fruit of the worker’s courage and labor, God’s presence in a way they had not experienced for generations.

We too can experience the joy of living in our promised lands if we will not cave under opposition!   

 

 

 

Opposing Forces Part 2

During my childhood, my school practiced air raid drills. A particularly shrill alarm consistently interrupted our education and sent us scurrying under our desks wondering if the Russians had finally launched their nukes.  We lived through the Cuban missile crisis so our parents and teachers too this seriously. Some of my friend’s parents even built bomb shelters in their backyards.

For decades most Americans shared a common enemy, Russia.  In those days Democrat, Republican. wealthy, middle class, impoverished Americans of all races united around one common belief, Russia was dangerous.  The phenomenon of radically diverse people uniting against a common enemy is frequent throughout history all the way back to ancient times.  In Nehemiah 4 we see a Horonite, an Ammonite and an Arab forge a bond based on their hatred of the Jews.  These people groups were driven out of the promised land long ago by Israel. We see an enduring bitterness which celebrated when Jerusalem collapsed and a rage at the possibility of its reconstruction.

Nehemiah and his crew experienced vicious hatred and devious plots to destroy them and stop their king-sanctioned building project. How did they stand up against the onslaught?  What fortified them to keep going instead of tucking tail and running?  They prayed and prepared.

Praying seems so obvious right, yet is it our first go-to when we encounter opposition? It didn’t used to be mine.  When a Sanballat or Tobias came after me, my first response consisted of calling a close friend or family member.  I longed for sympathy and for them to pray for me.  My gracious, what a weak response!  Don’t make the same mistake.

Nehemiah responded to attacks immediately with prayer.  Immediately. He didn’t run tattling back to the king or instigate a boo hoo party with other workers. Whatever fear or frustration he felt, he lifted it upwards towards the One who could settle Nehemiah’s soul AND deal with his enemies.  His prayers packed a spiritual wallop too, no weak-kneed whining here. “Then I prayed, ‘Here us, our God, for we are being mocked.  May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders.’”  Nehemiah 4:4 NLT

Whoa! Doesn’t this sound like Nehemiah is asking God to destroy his enemies?  He surely is! How does this fit with Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek and love those who hate us?  If fits perfectly because one of the main ways God destroys opposition is by converting people to be followers of Jesus.  This method worked fabulously with the Apostle Paul.  Be certain that as you pray these types of prayers, your motives are pure.  We want to see sinners converted and God’s justice executed on behalf of His people.

In the face of opposition turn to God first.   Here’s some great Scriptures I use in intercession:

Isaiah 54:17- NLT “ But in that coming day no weapon turned against you will succeed.  You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you.  These benefits are enjoyed by the servants of the Lord. Their vindication will come from me.  I the Lord have spoken!”    

2 Thesselonians 3: NIV “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

Deut 28:7 NIV  “The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.”

Deut.3:22 NIV  “Do not fear them, for the Lord your God is the one fighting for you.”

Psalm 44:5 NIV  “Through You we will push back our adversaries, through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us.”

Next post I’ll discuss the second part of Nehemiah’s strategy, preparation.     

Opposing Forces

Sandy Ballot filled with fury when the gossip grapevine informed her that the deacon board approved a building proposal to expand the church’s nursery and education space.  The education committee, led by the youth pastor, had submitted plans months ago to respond to the ongoing space crisis experienced every Sunday and Wednesday. Peace Community Church was enjoying an influx of young families but not everyone celebrated the growth.

Sandy called her best friend, Doris Tobias, to share the sour grapes. “What can they be thinking of?” she raged to Doris. “My great grandfather dug out the basement for that education wing and it’s been good enough for four generations of Ballot children!  Nothing’s good enough for young people nowadays.  We don’t know anything about some of these new ones! Sam Aria said he heard several of them never even went to church before! There’s no possibility they’ll find brick to match our original.  You can’t even find that quality anymore, you know.”

“Oh, I know it, I know it,” chimed in Doris. “And did you hear, they’re not even using Sam’s construction company to do the work?  One of those new people submitted a lower bid and the deacons took that instead.  Disgraceful!  Three generations of Aria’s in this church! The new stuff is going to be tacky and will probably come down around our ears, then they’ll all be sorry!”

Eventually, both ladies expressed all their “prayer concerns,” then hung up to make the next calls in the prayer chain.

Does this story sound familiar in any way? It’s actually an ancient one which I revised.  Here’s the original from Nehemiah 4.

Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices?  Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap-and charred ones at that?  Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”  Nehemiah 4:1-3 NLT

I used to think that opposition always meant I was doing something wrong in my ministry or classroom.  Sometimes I was. Most of the time, though, opposition comes to anyone determined to be part of the forward company in God’s kingdom.  In fact, it’s often a confirmation that you are moving in the right direction.

It’s easy to become offended and angered by the human pawns Satan uses in his opposition campaigns.  Read Nehemiah and discover that Sanballat and Tobias’ intentions went far beyond mere words.  Don’t waste your passions and emotions on the surface battle.  Hunker down in your prayer closet and pour your energy into the real battlefield, in the supernatural realm.  “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12 NLT

I know it’s so tough not to react when someone in the flesh is up in your face.  Some of you reading this are probably mired right now in an ongoing situation of intense opposition.  In one school I taught in, students cussed me out to my face with words I’d never even heard before! One woman actually told my husband she wished he would drop dead. I could list numerous stories from friends and family members of intense, unrelenting opposition to their ministries.  Consider the beatings and jail terms that Paul endured from people who opposed him.

You can run from opposition, you surely can, but it is highly unlikely you will fulfill your God-given destiny.  I’ve met folks over the years who walked away from God’s plan because they didn’t have strategies for overcoming and plowing through opposition and they simply couldn’t take it anymore.  This breaks my heart.  God makes tables of rich, spiritual food for us in the wilderness.  He finds quiet waters for us to rest by so He can restore our souls but these things are only for the sheep that stay close to the shepherd.

In my next post we’ll look at Nehemiah and his strategies some more.  Till then, be comforted weary souls.  A great cloud of witnesses cheers you on from the heavenlies. The full power of the Trinity is on your side.  Jesus is interceding for you right now.  Take heart! You can survive and even thrive amidst opposition!