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About this series
Keep Pressing Ahead
How to Make it Through Anything
There are times in our lives when we simply get to the point that we say, "I can't take it anymore!" This depression is just too dark. This marriage is just too hard. The job I lost, the family member I buried, the junk I'm going through. And deep, down inside your heart you say, "I quit. I'm done." And though you may go through the motions on the outside, you've just had it. Your mind says, "I've got to trust God," but your heart says, "I've heard it all before and it's not working for me." You begin to drift - from people and from God. This series, drawn from Nehemiah, will help you overcome adversity and keep you pressing ahead no matter what.More from this series
Can you do a little, quick Bible study with me? Are you ready? Open up to Exodus chapter 22, okay? Go backwards. Genesis, Exodus, second book of the Bible. Exodus chapter 22. And what I want you to get is that this guy is not just going off. Like, “You know what? I kind of like you didn’t do that.” What he’s realizing is: these Jewish nobles, leaders, and wealthy people are in such violation of the truth of God’s Word.
Exodus chapter 22, skim down to verse 25, and it talks about how Jewish brothers, in God’s economy, are supposed to handle lending money. “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you’re not to charge him interest.” That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?
“If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering, his cloak, for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.”
You see what He’s saying? This is just, often, for collateral. During the day, if a person is really poor, and you might lend him some money… What he’s saying is, if you take his outer garment that he used to wear during the day, and cover him – most people, they had enough food just for today. And this was their covering.
He says, “You give that back to him. Don’t put him in that situation, let alone take his home, his vineyard, his…” Now, skip over one more, if you will. Skip over to Leviticus chapter 25, okay? Next book. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus. Again, this is a book about how Jews are to treat one another, under God’s economy. Skip down to verse 36, and now we’re going to talk about interest, and attitude, and the poor. And this is what God says. This is how they’re supposed to live. It says, “Do not take interest from him, but revere God, for your countrymen to live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for grain. I am the Lord God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. And if a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you should not subject him as a slave service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner with you until the Year of Jubilee” – every fifty years, where everyone goes back free.
Now, are you catching the spirit? One more, one more. Deuteronomy chapter 24 – we’re making our way back to Nehemiah. What I want you to get is, there are certain things that are absolutely clear. You can’t have unity without truth, and you can’t have truth unless it’s enforced lovingly, kindly, and clearly, with the courage, and everyone has influence. This is what Nehemiah does.
Pick it up in verse 10: “When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring out the pledge to you. And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down, you should surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his own cloak and bless you” – and notice this shift – “it will be righteousness for you before the Lord your God. You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, when he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in the land of your towns.”
Now, would you say that’s a pretty clear rendition of what they’re supposed to do, and they’re doing just the opposite? Let me apply this, first, in a really big picture of how important this is, and what happens when we don’t do this. And we’re going to do a historical one, then a personal one.
Historically: Move the clock back about seventy, eighty years. It was about a twenty, twenty-five year swing, but it started in the twenties, thirties, went into the forties.
And there was a big, big debate, and the big, big debate – existentialism was coming on the scene, but it wasn’t public yet. Nietzsche was writing some things. Jean-Paul Sartre came along later. Dewey talked about pragmatism, and under his pragmatism he began to talk about, if it works, don’t worry about whether things are true. Later, situational ethics would grow out of this.
But at higher German criticism, what occurred in the major denominations – the ones that Wesley started, and Zwingli started, and Calvin started. And all the major denominations, seventy or eighty years ago, if you would walk to any single one of those and say, “This is God’s Word,” everyone agreed. “You need to have a personal relationship with Christ” – everyone agreed. “Mary was a virgin” – everyone agreed. “Heaven is real; hell is real; God loves people; Jesus was fully God, fully man” – everyone agreed.
And then, through the German higher criticisms who began to teach our seminary students, and then our seminary students started going out, about five percent of those major denominations began to teach that: “The Bible, I don’t know if that’s really true or not. The first twelve chapters of Genesis are probably myth. Jesus was a good Teacher, but I don’t know…” And pretty soon, a very elaborate scheme to undermine what God said.
And in the name of love, in the name of peace at any price, in the name of, “Who am I to judge anyone?” about five percent turned, over a period of the next several decades – many of those major denominations that loved God, loved His Word, into places where you can’t even recognize what the Bible teaches. In fact, moral issues that are black and white to non-Christians, they are now adopting, and saying it’s fine.
And here’s the reason: There wasn’t a Nehemiah. Or if there was, it was called the Fundamentalist Controversy, and all the fundamentalists were – that has become a negative word in most connotations – is they were saying, “No, we have to hold in the Methodist Church, or the Presbyterian Church, or the Episcopal Church, or the Congregational Church – we need to hold to the fundamentals of the faith.”
But often, the way they said it, and how they said it, was so antagonistic, that it alienated people. And so it’s not just confronting. There needs to be thoughtful consideration. It’s not just that you’re angry about things that are being done, but you need to be angry without sin. There needs to be gentleness, and strength, and winsomeness. And all I can tell you right now is that the decline of the major denominations that held to God’s Word sixty to eighty years ago is just astronomical. Closing their doors, all around the country, and all around the world, because they don’t have a message.
As one man said, “If you’re a liberal pastor, you don’t believe in the Bible. You don’t believe in a literal heaven. You don’t believe Jesus is God. You don’t believe there is really any hope. When you sit next to someone who is dying of cancer… “Be nice. It’s going to be a great world. Let’s just be kind.” I will tell you, there is no message for people dying. There is no message for how to live.
Second area that plays out is more local. And this is one that – if you want to email me you can, prefer you don’t. But I have just – I’ve been doing this about thirty years.
And this is with parents, Christian leaders, missionaries, smart people, high-caliber business people.
And I watch them, there’s a little journey when their kids get in pre-teens and teenage years, and they start this attraction, and they’ll get connected to an unbeliever. And they’ll begin to either date, and enter into a pretty deep, emotional relationship with someone who is not a follower of Christ.
And I’ve had these conversations in Hong Kong, Korea, South America, all over, with good friends. And they’ll say something like, “Well, you know what? I know they’re not a Christian, and I know that my daughter’s heart is moving this way and that way. It’s probably just a phase they’re going through, but I’m really afraid to set clear boundaries, because if I set really clear boundaries, I’m so afraid they’ll rebel.”
And I would say, “You don’t understand, they are rebelling. This is very clear. You want to lose your daughter or your son’s heart for God, allow them to get emotionally connected, and date, and begin to move in a direction – because infatuation is the strongest struggle on the face of the earth, stronger than cocaine.”
And when you’re infatuated, and feel like you’re in love, I got news for you: you can make the Bible, or anybody, or anything say whatever you want. And I’ve just watched young person after young person after young person... And then, I can’t tell you how many of my friends, ten years later, now their kids are twenty-four, twenty-eight, thirty-one.
And it started when they were fifteen. And someone needed to say, “In our home, you can’t be unequally yoked. I’m really sorry, this is the way it goes. And you can hate me for three to five years – I hope it’s not that long; I hope it’s only eighteen months.” Usually, infatuation wears off about then. “But this is the way it’s going to be in our home.”
Now, I went through that with three of my four kids. One was like, “Man, I’m not messing with dad; it’s just too much pain. I’ll find a different girlfriend.” All right? I had one who sneaked around, and we had this, and was there conflict? Was it difficult? Was it painful? Yes. Did he slam the door and, “I hate you, Dad, and who are you…?” Yes!
It’s really interesting now, with his three kids, and the way he thanks me that, “You know what? Boy, my, if I would have gone down that path…”
With one of my kids it was an issue that wasn’t even an unbeliever. But it was so obvious that, very good guy, very different, not a fit. And I remember the day that my daughter said to me, “Dad, what do you really think?” And we had spent considerable time.
And I remember having this knot in my stomach of saying, Am I going to be truthful? Because if I am, there is going to be a wedge in our relationship.” And, great guy. Nice guy. But for some of you, you’re actually the parent. You’ve actually lived longer. You’ve actually watched this child grow up, and you’re thinking, They’re like this, and this person is like this. This is not going to work.
And it wasn’t a forbidding. “So, what do you really think?” And I still remember saying, “Honey, I don’t think this is going to be good.” “Why? Why? Why? Why?” And she was just head over heels. And we had about a, I don’t know, thirteen, fourteen-month window, where our hearts had been so connected all the years, and it was just…it was as painful as anything I’ve ever been through with any of my kids.
Here’s what you need to understand, though. There is a reason that about eighty-five percent of all of those young people who grow up in Bible-teaching churches like this, four years after – they get either out of high school, or a couple of years out of college – about eighty-five percent of them don’t walk with God anymore.
Worship is a heart issue! God wants your kids’ hearts! Satan wants to take their hearts – and it can be money, it can be another person, but his goal is to capture your son or daughter’s heart, and make them believe that success, and significance, and happiness, and fulfillment is going to come through some other person, some other way.
And when that happens, I don’t mean they may never come back, but I will tell you what, some Nehemiah mom, or some Nehemiah dad needed to confront it, and open up to 2 Corinthians chapter 6, and say, “This is what it says. Now, help me understand how we apply this as a family.”
Now, you say, “Well, I don’t think my son or daughter will really listen to me. And I’m not sure I’m ready to do something like this in a small group.” Well, let’s talk about why Nehemiah was so successful.
Because here’s where the application comes, because some people have betrayed you, right? Some people in your small group have gossiped about you. Some of you had terrible relationship in churches that – someone – are you ready? A pastor actually lied to you.
I’ve had Christian leaders lie to me. I’ve had Christian leaders look me in the eye, and give me their word, and I give them my word, that had to do with six-figures and, later, seven-figure implications, and come back and look me in the eye and say, “Well, we didn’t write it down, so I don’t have to keep my word.”
So, here’s the – you know why I said that? Because sometimes you’re the person who is offended, and hurt, and betrayed, and there’s internal conflict, and – guess what – sometimes, if you’re really honest, you’re the person who is inflicting it. You’re the person talking about someone else. You’re the person gossiping. You’re the person who is bitter. You’re the person who is causing it.
See, we’re in God’s family and no one has arrived. So, let’s ask ourselves – see, there can’t be unity. Where there is unity there is power. But unity requires truth and purity. There is a lot of pseudo-unity, “Hey, man, how you doing? How you doing? Great.”
In the South, there was a lady that told me how this works. She says, in the South what you say, “Love your hair; hate your guts.” I said, “What’s that mean?” “It means that when we’re with people, we always say, ‘Love your hair.’ In other words, everything is fine. And then, privately, to someone else, we say, ‘Hate your guts.’”
And you know what? I’m fearful that a lot of the lack of power in the Church of Jesus Christ is, a lot of us are living little lives where, when there’s an issue, “Love your hair,” and then you get in the car and you say, “Boy, I don’t think that marriage is going to go anywhere,” or, “Boy, they better deal with that with their daughter,” or, “You know what? I know that – there’s nothing wrong with maybe a glass of wine here and there, but that dude is an alcoholic.”
Would you tell him? “Who am I to judge?” A brother, or sister, with God’s truth, to judge, to bring to light, to love, to restore. That’s who you are, called to, commanded to.
Well, let’s find out, what was it that gave Nehemiah – what gave him this power for people to respond in such a way? Because resolving conflict takes more than know-how, and skill.
Listen to verses 14 to 19, and then I’ll just summarize what he does. “Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until the thirty-second year” – twelve years – “neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted for the governor.” So, he had an expense account. He was the governor for twelve years, and he said, “I actually didn’t use my own expense account that I could have charged.”
“But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and they took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to the food and the wine. And their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on the wall.” In other words, he actually did it. He rolled up his sleeves. He modeled it.
“All of my men were assembled there for the work and we didn’t acquire any land.” “I didn’t use my position to get financial gain.” “Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as all those who came from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep, and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.”
Because his role – he’s a dignitary. He’s a diplomat. He’s the governor. He had people come every day – about a hundred and fifty – for lunch, or dinner, or something. And he said, “I can tax the people. That’s my right. But out of my own pocket I did it, because they can’t handle it.”
And then, notice where his focus is. He says – here’s a prayer – “Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.” That’s why he had courage.
Now, in your notes – here’s what I want you to get. Why was he so effective? Just jot down, “His example.” He walked his talk. Twelve years, doesn’t demand his rights. When you got up in the morning, there’s Nehemiah; he’s still got his clothes on. When you worked on a wall, there he is; he’s working on the wall. When you needed money, he lent you money, but he didn’t charge you interest.
See, there’s moral authority when you live out – by the way, some of you are thinking, I need to talk to one of my kids. Some of you, before you talk to your kids, you better talk to God. Because when you say to them, “Honey, this is what you need to do,” you’re going to hear – or at least see in their eyes – “Well, Mom” – or Dad – “how come you’re not doing this?” So, for some of us the first application is not what we say. It’s, we need to walk our own talk.
The second thing that gave him moral authority was his courage.
He cared enough to confront. He got mad! But he got mad under control. He didn’t compromise. That’s what’s killing us. It’s killing families. It kills denominations. It kills small groups. It kills people in the workplace. You’re a follower of Christ; don’t compromise.
Third, his love. The people mattered to him. Well, how much? Well, if I would look at the P&L statement for Nehemiah, “Nehemiah, where is your money going?” Because that always tells you where your heart is. Well, out of his own pocket, for twelve years, here’s the money. “I paid for this. I handled that. I made some loans.”
Where your time goes, and where your money goes, and where your energy goes – you can think whatever you want about what matters. That’s what matters.
Nehemiah loved people. And he loved them not to the point where he did a little something that made him appear that he was loving. He did things that cost.
Finally, his integrity. He feared God. Life verse for me on this one is Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man is a snare.” If it’s any help for you, when I come to a passage like this, these are not my favorite passages. I like passages like, “God loves everyone,” “Everyone, today we’re going to get a popsicle together.”
And here’s the deal: We either skim over one of these, or we talk about it like this, “This is what Nehemiah did, and that’s important back then,” but we never get down to what it means today.
God wants you to change. He wants me to change. And He’s given you His Word, and His Spirit, and He wants you to be a Nehemiah in your world. That’s how your home is going to change. That’s how your small group is going to change.
People in all those companies, living the life, and appropriately, wisely, at the right time, with no sense of self-righteousness, speaking the truth in love. And saying it in such a way where the people at work go, “It’s kind of hard to argue with a guy who comes in early, treats people well. He’s generous. Tell you what, she’s faithful. I know he’s one of those Christian-type people, but if we had a hundred of those working here, we’d be one hundred x on our profit.” And you have moral authority.
And we’re all afraid. We’re all people pleasers, to some level. But at the end of the day, Nehemiah said, “I’d rather be afraid of God, and not doing what He wants me to do, than afraid of what people think.”
And so, in summary, the leverage of your life is what gives weight to your words. It’s your life. And by the way, perfection? Absolutely not. But your life, your authenticity – when your kids hear you say, “I blew it. This came out of my mouth. I had an outburst in anger.” “When you walked in, you know what? I was watching something that I wouldn’t let you watch, and I shouldn’t be watching. I’m sorry. I told God I’m sorry.” You know what that does? That gives you credibility. You live it out.And something happens in the heart, in the soul of your children, and your friends, and the people in your small group, as you blaze a trail, and you’re a Nehemiah. We spur one another on to love, and to good works, and other people realize, I want to be like you. I want to walk with God like you. It’s contagious. That’s how great things get done.
This is the last prayer, on earth, of Jesus. And He says, “Father, this is My prayer, that these followers of Mine could be one, even as We are one. I want people to hear, not just these present disciples or followers, but the disciples that will hear and believe from them,” which is all of us, in the last two thousand years. “I long for them to have a unity, and a connectedness, and an authenticity with one another that, when they see how they treat one another, and how truthful they are, and how pure they are, and how authentic they are, they will then know that the Father has sent Me.”
And so, Father, I know it requires courage. I know that as Your Spirit speaks there are people going, Oh my lands, what does this mean? What do I need to do? And so, before we move on, can I just ask you to stop? Stop in your tracks and just ask the Spirit of God to whisper clearly, What’s my next step? Tell Him you want to obey. Accept His forgiveness. Ask for courage.