The story of God's people is also our story and my story.
The first theme, putting the Lord No. 1 is essential. Our God can do the impossible. Regularly we go down to Mexico to minister to people in the rubbish dumps. We took 418 food bags with dried goods in them, and 650 people came, and they all collected food bags. He multiplies food. Don't ever tell God what He can't do.
If God is the main thing, then we should be a deo-centric culture, with praise and worship at the heart of all we do. There is a danger in ministry where we let ourselves get busy doing things for God and neglecting our personal time to be with God. The main thing is God. Try not to let the secondary role become the primary role.
Is my whole life deo-centric, built around Him, in all aspects?
When God is at work, you can bet money there will be opposition from the enemy of humanity (that's what St Ignatius calls him).
Zechariah chapter 3 gives us an example of this opposition.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing at the altar of the Lord, with satan standing beside him accusing him. The angel said, 'May God rebuke you'. Joshua was standing in filthy garments. The angel said, ' Take off his filthy garments and clothe him in festal garments and a clean mitre. See, I have taken away your guilt.'
This is very similar to the story of Isaiah saying, 'Woe, is me, I have unclean lips', and an angel taking a hot coal from the altar and touching Isaiah's lips with it to remove his guilt.
Joshua represents not only himself, but also the people. Standing beside him is the father of lies, the accuser of the brethren, dumping accusation upon accusation upon Joshua. Be aware of this tactic of accusations. The purpose of them is to increase discouragement and hopelessness, often by playing tapes of past hurts and failures back in your head. They don't even have to be of past sins, any stupid comment of condemnation will do. God wants to remove the old and replace them with garments of celebration and marks of office.
God wants to remove that brokenness and clothe us in righteousness and to equip all to do the work of the Lord. This is God's desire for each man, woman and child. Everyone has a call and a vocation. There are no spectators in the kingdom of God. Everyone has something they were literally created to do.
The Lord silences the accusation, then God removes the gunk. He gives you your true identity and dignity. The evil one wants us to look down, the Holy One wants us to look up.
People often start acting out what they believe about themselves. Teachers look forward to school photo day, because that day being dressed up for the photo the students treat each other differently, and act differently.
In Texas there was a great teacher who left her cushy job and went to teach in a school for troubled kids. Before starting, the teacher asked to read the basic files on all who were to be her new students. In those files the teacher discovered that all of the new students had very high IQ's, genius level ones. So when the teacher met them for the first time the teacher was gushing, 'How excited and privileged I am to be working with you this year. I am going to push you. This is going to be a great year. There will be extra work for you, but you are so capable of it.'
Sure enough the year was transformational for these students. They discovered that they were capable of more than they ever dreamed they could be. What were hoodlums were changed into stars. It was only a long time later that the teacher discovered that it wasn't IQ scores in those basic files, but locker numbers (183, 184…). This teacher treated these students in a way that helped them find who they really were.
Do you treat everyone around you like a genius?
Do you treat everyone as a child of God?
Some years back I was in youth ministry at a parish, and there was this really difficult kid. I didn't like him at all. But God said, 'I want you to hang out with this kid more'. So I did. Then one day this kid says to me, 'What are you doing? Are you trying to change me? I am not worth your time. My Dad has told me I am nothing and will never be anything.'
Be mindful of how we treat others. Don't be an unwilling accomplice of the evil one.
God wants to restore the true authentic image of His will for us.
Take it on faith, whether you feel it or not.
God is bigger than the opposition.
Let's look at another kind of opposition. When Nehemiah brought the exiles back there were all kinds of other people living in the Holy Land. There were a whole lot of people who didn't want the Israelites back, and who exhibited hostility and enmity, overt and subtle towards them. No one was happy to see them come back.
For a host of reasons there are people who will oppose what you want to do, for all kinds of motives. Even our friends will oppose and resist.
Nehemiah did an interesting thing, he ordered the people to do two things. The first one was for everyone to sleep with their weapons in their hands. Then he set half the people to building the wall, and the other half to shielding and protecting the builders.
So this kind of opposition is dealt with in 2 ways; we carry our own weapons and one half of the group protects the other half.
You have a responsibility for your own life- only you. It is really easy to slide into a victim mentality, and very hard to get out of it. It is easy to stay trapped.
There was a new zoo in Germany, custom built habitats without cages and separated by moats. The bear exhibit had been created to delight the bears as much as Disney world delights children. To populate the zoo, the zoo was buying up circus animals. They found a circus bear who lived in a cage, and spent most of its life going 5 paces forward and 5 paces backwards. The zoo was so excited about this bear seeing the habitat for the first time that they called in the video cameras. They opened the cage, and the bear looked out, and then paced back and forth in the cage. The bear had to be lured out of the cage with bits of meat and a cattle prod. Now this massive bear was out of the cage for the first time since it was a small cub. What did the bear do? It still kept going 5 paces forwards and 5 paces backwards. The bear might have been out of the cage, but it was going to be much harder to get the cage out of the bear.
Even if you were dealt a bad hand in life like that bear, it is not the end of your story.
What are the weapons Nehemiah wants us to sleep with?
There are 5 things that together lead to spiritual prosperity:
These are the 5 normal ways God works in our lives. You will languish without them. They are the weapons we need to fight for ourselves.
When I am a victim, the whole world is about me. Serving helps us see the needs of others.
If you make these 5 things part of daily life, they are the best weapons for self protection.
We need this sense of belonging to each other. If half of us build and half of us protect, then we get it done together.
Gossip and criticism, we all fall into it.
Do you realise that each time we talk about each other and have a joke at each other (especially about that other person's weakness) we paint a target on them, and we are not protecting them. In fact we are giving the evil one the GPS co-ordinates of their weaknesses.
We are called to bear with each other. As long as we are alive, we will misunderstand and hurt each other. The trick is, what mechanism do we have to talk it through? We can get past this if we ask the Lord.
We have lots of superficial relationships. We don't know how to deal with disagreements. Something goes wrong, and people are not seen again.
Reconciliation comes from the Latin: re for again, con for with; cilia for eyelashes. When you are at odds with people it is hard to look at them. It is the human condition. Find a way to be reconciled to one another. What can't be done humanly can be done spiritually.
Say I have a problem with pride. Everyone knows about it except me. Wouldn't it be good if someone stood between satan and me, and stood in a spirit of prayer, fasting, compassion and mercy? Will you cover me instead of expose me?
Jesus did that. Jesus died for us in the weakest area of our lives, the places that drive our nearest and dearest nuts. Will you stand with Jesus there?
Doing this lets God help people to see their faults rather than letting satan know where those faults are. It is such an important principle!
Opposition during restoration. The people who came back with Nehemiah got discouraged and overwhelmed. They began the work of restoration, days, weeks, months, years of it. At some point the people just got tired and discouraged.
There are times when we too go through the motions without enthusiasm. It is OK that we get tired and weary. It is OK to say, 'Lord we are tired, we need restoration, renewal and refreshing'. God has got to stir something up that we just don't have.
Together let us seek how to turn back to the Lord and find the pulse and fire again.
God wants us to have that enthusiasm again, but we must ask for it.
Nehemiah's builders started fighting each other – which wasn't real smart given they had enemies on every side – but it is a normal human tendency. We feel freer to be meaner towards the people that we love. Why is that? Under pressure we start snapping at each other.
The Lord pleads with us for unity and for us to love each other. We have enough opposition out there, we don’t need the internal stuff.
Even as they rebuild, the people start to go back to their old ways and to go off track again. How do we hold up the vision of what God wants, aware of the gap of where we have fallen to? There is tension between 'what God wants' vs 'where the people are'. Sometimes God says, 'stir them up and correct and rebuke them', and sometimes we need to gently walk with and accompany people.
May the Holy Spirit give you guidance about how to cover that gap. You can't yell at people to change – that doesn't work. You can't lower standards either – that doesn't work.
Nehemiah began the restoration work with provisions from King Cyrus. However sometimes the supplier ran out of supplies or the enemies cut off the supply chain.
Know this: If God has given you a project to do, He will give you the means to do it. It may not match our ideas of how it should look, but He will give you all you need to do the job according to how He wants it to look. If things you think you need don’t come, then they may not be needed. Trust in the provision of God. His plans are not always as flowery and ornate as we like to imagine them to be.
Dare to dream that God wants to do a work of restoration in His people.
If you believe in God's plan of restoration, do you believe that you have some role in that plan?
If God wants to do a restoration work, can you believe God will equip His people with all that is needed to do the job?
Pray about these three things:
God is doing a work of restoration.
In some way, you play a role in that restoration.
God will give you and us all that is necessary for that restoration.
Let them percolate in your heart. Tell God about the one you have the greatest trouble believing.
When all the talks are transcribed and blogged, a printer friendly version will be provided.
Do you get the impression that the work of restoration that God wants to do is bigger and more extensive than we can imagine? It is much bigger than our parish's plan for this year. It is much bigger than the diocesan 5 year plan. It is about bringing a whole civilisation back to Him, and making it Christo-centric.
We can't do it alone; we can only do it in co-operation with God and as a community.
The restoration work occurs under battle conditions, and can only go ahead if our personal spiritual weapons are battle ready and if we protect each other. Every builder needs a prayer warrior-intercessor. How we treat each other and talk about each other matters.