What we need
is an Extreme Makeover! #1
(First in a series of 3 messages from Nehemiah)
By Iverna Tompkins
Transcribed by Jane Vaughn
We have learned what happens in the natural is often a key for us in understanding what’s happening in the spiritual realm. Too frequently, those special keys are left dangling unnoticed on God’s keychain and seem to be unimportant. In other words, we miss many things by not realizing or acknowledging that God is saying something to us prophetically through the weather or other natural happenings. Whatever God plans to do, He begins by speaking to His people, but if we don’t listen, He allows the world to do it to get our attention.
One of the interesting things we currently can observe in our world is the major emphasis on “extreme makeovers.” Can we be honest enough to admit what is needed in the church today is an extreme makeover? God is quite capable of doing that for us and with us. I imagine everyone has seen one of the programs (unless you’re too spiritual to turn on the box :-) ) that performs and reveals these makeovers – whether it’s the homes that are completely made-over or the women (I think men just don’t admit the need! :-)). Whatever the specific situation – the subject is a person or something that is in dire need of an exchange from where it is to where it wishes someone else would put them! Do you understand that – clearly? I think that’s where we are today as the people of God. We know we need to change certain things, personally and corporately – we need to grow up – but figure we’re unable to or it’s just too hard to effect what is needed. We want someone else to wave their “magic wand” or say the perfect prayer over us and bring about the necessary changes – the makeovers.
Another thing we do today is to miss the incredible depth of meaning in certain common sayings, like: “Promises! Promises! Promises!” To that, I can only say, “Yes! It’s time for us to pick them up – to receive what God has promised!” Or, here’s another common statement we hear today – “Learn to think outside the box!” Anyone who’s ever been in business knows that means “Try a little creativity.” “Don’t get locked into these four walls.” “You were hired to accomplish this, so do that, then more!”
In the church, we have been so boxed in by: “God called me to be – ‘this.’” Or, “God called me to be – ‘that.’” When people say to me, “What are you in the Body of Christ?” I usually respond, “I don’t know, I think I’m a hole-plugger! Wherever there’s a hole, I try to fill it!” :-) I’m simply unimpressed with titles or labels. Know this: when God called you, He never intended for you to put a ceiling over your ministry! That is so limiting! One limitation I see today is the way we confine our thinking to our tiny world. I don’t care if you have a church of 2000, 5000, or even 10,000 – that’s merely a tiny piece of the whole!
I believe God is trying to enlarge our thinking – so that He might enlarge our anointing – so that He might enlarge our influence! As long as we only see our church, or even the Church – we still are thinking very small. Our thinking needs a makeover!
We are going to look at the Book of Nehemiah. There is evidence to support that at one time, Ezra and Nehemiah together formed a single Book. If so, that larger Book covered a period of 110 years. Nehemiah alone covers approximately 11 years. It describes a time when the Persian culture had reached it’s zenith. Both Greece and Rome had just begun to flourish with all their pomp and power. The Jews, meanwhile, were struggling for mere existence. Now, if you think I gave you that information as a history lesson, you missed the whole point! Remember our principle of observing in the natural to understand the spiritual. Let’s notice then the essential similarities to today.
I hear Pastors and leaders say, “If only…” and then they may continue this way: “If only we had the money! We have the vision; we just don’t have the pro-vision!” Or, “If only we had the influence….” When we get excited about the power of the Lord and stand before our own people, we remind them: “Remember, we’re not the tail; we’re the head!” (Deut.28:13,44) Take a look around, Church. That is a promise of God – but it isn’t happening right now! We’re not the head! The Church of Jesus Christ certainly is not leading this society today! We’re not making the impact that we need to be making. Our influence is not what it ought to be. And the reason we’re not? Let’s look into the Book of Nehemiah and find out.
Chapter 1, verse 1. It is interesting to me that even these opening words carry a great deal of meaning for us – if we will discover it: “the words of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah” (vs.1a). Seemingly nothing but biographical, those two phrases hold great revelation! Everything in the Bible says something to us if we simply look carefully enough. Here in verse 1, we find the importance is related to the meanings of those two names. Hacaliah (Nehemiah’s father) has 2 distinct meanings. First, it means “waiting on Yah” (or Jehovah). The second meaning is “Yah enlightens.” We actually could stop right there and preach for an hour! But there is more! Nehemiah’s name means, “the comfort of God.” If we put the two names together, we see that Nehemiah – the comfort of God – was born to one who knew how to wait on God and be enlightened by God. Selah.
You and I will never have divine enlightenment until we learn to wait – on God! And – our comfort comes through that enlightenment.
What a heritage! Can that be said of our children? Not only about the children from our loins – but I’m talking about our “spiritual children” – those with whom we have had some sphere of Christian influence. Can it be said that we waited on God until we were enlightened – and were then able to impart to them so they could be the very comfort of God to society? What an awesome thought – and challenge!
This is a good example of never quickly passing over individual words in Scripture. If a specific word is there – probably – there’s a specific reason! :-) We must remember God was and is The Author, divinely inspiring His human writers to select specific words to exactly communicate what He wanted us to know. If we learn to look carefully at what is there in print – just as we can observe what’s occurring naturally in our world – we will be able to feel what I call the “nudgings” of the Holy Spirit. He’ll prompt us saying, “There’s a lesson here. Take a look at what it means.”
Let’s look together to unearth some more of God’s “hidden treasures” from Nehemiah. It really is like searching for gold. We can skirt around the edges, knowing there must be more than we can see on the surface, but we have to dig to discover the mother lode. Sometimes, we may even have to dig deeply and it could take us awhile to find the real wealth, but the rewards are always worth it.
The text continues: Nehemiah – this comfort of God – “in the citadel of Susa” (vs.1b, NIV). Now that too is so easy to skip over. Our goal is to get to the “meat” of the Word and this seems to be informative, but not so important. We’ve just, however, been given two prime t-bone steaks! Hello? This is meaty if we allow our Teacher, the Holy Spirit (Jn.14:26), to show us a few things.
I want you to see where this man is in life. We often speak of Nehemiah as being the “layman.” He had no title, no special credentials. He wasn’t in the priesthood. But I prefer to think of him as a “Kingdom-man” instead of as a “layman.” Kingdom men and women do not slough off any opportunity by simply saying, “It’s not my call.” Anything we can do to be a blessing in the Kingdom of God is our calling! Nehemiah says, “I was in the citadel,” or, “I was in the palace in Susa.” When you first look at it superficially, who cares? Well, I care! And you will too by the time I finish unwrapping this. :-) I care, because what this says about Nehemiah is, in our colloquial speech, “he had it made.” Historians tell us he was a wealthy man. This is not a poor little struggling person whose desire is to become somebody big. Nehemiah isn’t looking for a title. This is a man who already has a very important position. He is privileged. He lives in the palace. How good can it get?
Verse 2 – “Hanani, one of my brothers,” – we presume this is a biological brother – “came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.” Why would Nehemiah care about how things were in another land when they were so far removed from his own existence? Allow me to be very candid. All too often, it’s the man or woman with a little church and a small influence who really cares about others. It’s not the one who has “made it big.” That’s just the awful truth. When you try to get the big important ones to attend a meeting, they don’t identify that they need you. They don’t need anything outside their own walls. They don’t need the city-wide meeting – they don’t need to join some support group or prayer group – they don’t need teachings – they just do not “need.” They are self-contained. “We have 5000 people and we have everything we need. Bless your little heart, you ‘puny little nothing.’ I hope you can survive till Jesus comes and then you’ll be rewarded for whatever it is you do!” :-) Okay, that was meant to elicit a smile-reaction, even a chuckle, but if we could be honest, we would admit it is the way the “biggies” (living in the palace) treat the “little guys.”
The “little guys.” They have no clout – only small acceptance – and equally small respect. All too often, the way they are greeted is: “How many do you actually have there?” “What denomination are you affiliated with?” People really don’t like it when I answer that question because I usually say, “All of them. I’m affiliated with all of them – whether they know it or not!” :-) That’s because I’m a firm believer in the Kingdom of God – and I’m praying, “THY Kingdom come and THY will be done!”
People may say, “You are such a little drop in the bucket!” That may be true, but I know it won’t get full without me! :-) We each have our place and until we can grasp the bigger picture of God, we tend to join those who look down on us – in thought – in attitude – in concept of ourselves – and think, “Well, I’m not very important you know…” No, I don’t know! Why aren’t you important? If you’re really not important, you’re a real waste of God’s time! “Well, I don’t… I - I don’t want to have pride. I just want to be humble” (see Jas.4:6; 1Pet.5:5). That’s not humility – that’s self-degradation! “There’s no condemnation in Christ Jesus” (Rom.8:1). If you’re waiting until you get to live in the palace before you try to influence anyone, there’s no hope for you – or them! Influence is because of God working in and through you, not what you can muster up for yourself! We merely need to surrender to His purposes and allow Him to do what He wants with our lives – large or small congregations – a little hut in the bush of Africa – or someplace in a palace. What matters is that surrender to God (see1Sam.15:22; Ps.51:16,17) and fulfilling our assigned place in His Kingdom, to the best of our ability – honestly.
“I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem” (vs.2b). Why would Nehemiah ask about the remnant? How long has it been since you asked? Will we really care about one another or are we just going to compare notes? “How’re things going where you’re from (wherever that is)?” “What’s the latest thing you’ve found out?” “How many young people do you have?” Oh. “Do you still sing from the hymnal?” Tsk-tsk.
Nehemiah has a real concern for all of God’s people – those who returned to rebuild in the Promised Land as well as those who remained in the land of their captivity. If I could get that across to us, including me, if we could maintain that perspective of genuine caring, there’s no telling what God could or would begin to do! If we really, honestly cared about the people in our own fellowships – and people in other fellowships – about the people in the Kingdom of God – about Believers everywhere – we could be so influential! I don’t think we have an inkling, not even a faint idea of what God could accomplish in our land!
Go to Part 2