What we need is an Extreme Makeover! #3
(Final in a series of 3 messages from Nehemiah)
By Iverna Tompkins
Transcribed by Jane Vaughn
I grew up in ministry, all but 2 stubborn years. My father was my pastor; his father was his. I have 4 brothers, 3 of whom have been in full time ministry. The 4th is our intercessor. I usually say little about my life because it’s not really about me! It’s about Him. But I also know what it is to be curious about a speaker.
During that time of being away from the Church, I met and married a handsome 6-foot 4-inch man with black wavy hair. Then early in our marriage, I came back to the Lord. It was a very rocky and painful 10 years that followed. The only reason it lasted that long was that he was in the service and gone for long periods of time. So, when he came home on leave I had become Mrs. “Super-Christian.”
I had about as much wisdom at that time as would fit on the head of a pin, and I laid down the law: “From now on… in my home…” I think you can hear it. Finally he found someone that he preferred, and I didn’t know how to “win” him to Jesus. All I knew was how to set the rules. Are you there? So, for whomever this is – if it’s just to know about me – okay. But it’s also a wonderful tool for you to use with young people who have walked away from the Lord. If they won’t immediately turn (repent) and come back to Him, tell them this: “Please don’t make any major decisions about your life while you’re away from Jesus.” A Christian is not capable of making “good decisions” without the counsel of God. I have two wonderful children from that marriage and now 3 grandkids, but that doesn’t justify my rigid, religious ways.
Someone usually says to me, “Well, why didn’t you re-marry?” I simply respond with a question: “Can you think of anyone that could put up with this?” :-) Their answer is always – silence. So, I rest my case. :-)
But God has been faithful to me through every moment. I raised my children alone – yet not really alone because He said, “When you are let down by others, I will lift you up.” He’s taught me much through the years and I’ve been able to help many, many marriages stay together. Some of you could testify through several decades of marriage that there have been times when you wondered, “What on earth did I do? Draw the short straw?” :-) And yet you realize there exists a covenant-bond between the two of you, and you choose to hang in there through the hard times until the expression of love once again becomes a reality from within. I’m saying this because recently someone made the statement: “Let’s win.” I have to add: “Let’s not just win a battle – let’s win the war!” I’d just like to see marriages and homes stay together. I’d like to be able to display an example to the world that it can work. It can happen. God can unite a husband and a wife together in holy matrimony and see them through thick and through thin!
Just as surely, I long to see leaders in the Church who have a call of God on their lives know that it’s for eternity. There’s so much talk about “retire.” Let’s just forget that spelling. I think we need to re-fire. I dare to say that because I’m still going. I agree with occasionally taking time off and pacing yourself and all those nuggets of wisdom, but I believe we must also realize that the longer we live, the more we know that needs to be shared with the next generation. “Passing the baton” is not “passing the buck.” :-) One of the most needed things we can do is raise up others to come behind us. It’s also called “mentoring” these days and we need to be involved actively in training up new leaders in the Body of Christ.
Before we pick up our study of Nehemiah again, I want to mention something – perhaps by way of instruction for leaders. When I am speaking at any given location, I rarely, personally, give an altar call or remain there through them. The Lord has literally mandated, in these latter years, that I preserve my energies for the preaching of the Word. I rely on the local leadership to oversee that part of the ministry and to have trained personnel to do the altar work. Moreover, I trust the Holy Spirit to direct those leaders as He desires and trust them to be mature enough to hear His direction and follow it.
Here’s the instruction for you: when I return to my room after preaching, I never simply forget the service in which we have just ministered. I head to the Throne Room of God and intercede, often at length. First, I take myself to the altar and begin to take inventory in light of what God just delivered through my own mouth. I never want to say anything that doesn’t apply to me first and then to the audience. This is a time I come as honestly as I can to the Lord in confession of sin with repentance, or in releasing whatever He may direct. After that I earnestly pray for each person who heard the message. I pray for them to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit within, and for enough honesty and humility to respond to His conviction.
Learn this too: there are well over 75 intercessors, my own trained intercessors, who travel with me in the spirit to every service, interceding all the way through. They even set their clocks for the different time zones so they can be praying actively during the meetings. You see, none of us is alone. I would be frightened to be out there alone. I’m not alone. Along with God, these people intercede, not just blindly asking for His blessings on me and the meetings! Pastors, I strongly encourage you personally to train a good number of intercessors who are committed to you and to the strong ministry of God’s Word. Moreover, you who travel especially need this kind of constant, prayerful covering. The attacks on us out in the field are horrendous – both spiritually and physically – and we need people that are powerfully interceding as we travel. I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer, and I thank God for every intercessor I have.
With that bit of counsel said, let us pick up where we left Nehemiah in our previous message – Extreme Makeover #2. We have seen how such a transformation is truly needed in the Church today. At the end of chapter 4, Nehemiah is speaking. What this says is that he has followed a few logical steps: first, he received his vision, then checked it out, made a plan, shared it with a few, and at the right time, shared with many more who agreed to work, and now there must be an impartation of the vision to all the people.
You can spend your whole life just trying to get hold of God’s will, or vision. I can only say: “Get it and get on with it!” Hello? It’s time for us to know the will of the Lord (Eph.5:17). It’s not hard to know! I am sorry we spend so much time trying to teach people how to know the will of God. It’s not hard at all. Read the Book! He wrote it! He put it altogether and said, “This is My will.”
Once we receive that, once we understand what it is God is saying to us, then these other steps I have just recounted for you have to follow (see above: receive the vision, check it out, make a plan, share with only a few, etc.). Now the time for implementation has come and Nehemiah says, “Okay, the people were willing to work and they voiced agreement.” And so “neither I nor my brothers, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me…”(vs.23) – this is what we have spoken of lightly as “Body ministry.” This man is not doing the work alone. He’s not a burnt-out pastor. He has trained some people. He’s taught some people. There’s been a period of time during which he obtained the help of others and now he’s saying, “Here’s what we have to do, Team. We want to rebuild these walls. We’re going to use burnt stones. There’s a lot for us to do and it’ll be work.” Then he adds, “Not one of us put off our clothes…” And I’m so glad he told us that. J Every lady who reads it is glad for the rest of that verse – “except that everyone put them off for washing.” :-) I just know that was written for us women! :-)
What Nehemiah is saying here is that it takes a lot of hard work in order to build the vision. And when we say to people, “This is where we’re going. This is what God wants,” we need to make it clear to them, from the beginning when they’re making their big commitments: “This is going to take some work.” I know this is an Old Testament story but it’s quite a New Testament teaching, if you will. “No man builds a tower but that he first sits down and calculates the cost” (Lk.14:28f).
No wonder we have so many drop-outs! We forget to tell them the cost! We’ve made life so easy in the church by our soft and encouraging words, and then when the people come up against hardships, they don’t know how to handle them. We need to be honest with people and say, “You know this is a long walk. This is a life-long walk. We’re not offering an altar call here where I lay hands on you and instantly you have everything you want. There is no instant maturity. This is not a simple ‘add water and stir.’” :-) This is LIFE, Church. And Christians are not immune to problems. There’s nothing in the Bible that teaches “Christian immunity from problems.” We are susceptible. The further truth is: God gives us His strength and grace and mercy to do our task and to survive the taunts of the enemy. Hello? If you say, “Well, I don’t want to hear that – if I have enough faith, I don’t have to go through anything.” Uh, meet me later and we’ll have a little chat. :-) If you have enough faith, you can go through it.
Have you ever had a tunnel experience? A time when you started on a path and thought you knew where you were going, but got halfway there and could no longer see light – at either end? That’s a tunnel experience. At that point, in the middle of the tunnel, in the darkest time, we have to make a decision. Many times, I’ve said, “I’d go back if I knew how!” :-) “If I just knew how to get back where I started – if I could undo what I did to get this far…” Tell the truth – haven’t there been times when you would have retreated if you could? There are those times in our lives when we honestly would retreat. But – I’m more leery of going back than I am of pressing forward! I don’t know how far it is ahead but I do know I’ve already come a long way!
That reminds me of a story on the Internet a few years ago. A mountaineer was climbing the face of a cliff and suddenly night falls too soon with a misty fog. He misses a step and falls to the full extent of his lifeline. Dangling at the end of his rope, literally, he begins to pray in earnest and with great fervor. God hears his cries and asks, “Do you trust Me?” In the dark, the once courageous mountaineer isn’t quite so certain – of anything. The voice of God encourages: “Cut the rope. Trust Me, it’ll be okay.” Can you imagine? At day break, the rescuers discover the dangling mountaineer suspended all night long by his lifeline – only a few feet from the ground. He just didn’t know how far he had to go. Can we trust God and move forward, even though we cannot see all the details?
I’ve had several of these in my life – tunnel experiences. When I finally arrived at the far end, I saw the light, emerged from the darkness, and rejoiced for a time – a period of time – a season, if you will. “Oh, thank You Lord for getting me through that!” All of a sudden (have you noticed that everything God does is “all of a sudden” – even if it takes a hundred years? :-) ). All of a sudden, I forgot the pain of the tunnel. Ladies, it’s like having a baby. You know – you’re in labor and you’re thinking curses against him :-) and what he did to you, :-) and a myriad of other thoughts :-) especially, “I’ll never do this again!” And then, suddenly, there’s the baby! All we hear then is: “Oh, is he gorgeous! He’s so wonderful! We need to have another one!” :-)
Well, that’s the way these tunnel experiences are as we come through them, because when the load is lifted, so is the memory of the pain. Now we’re out there on the other side thanking the Lord for victory. “You brought me through!” We can even sing it: “Oh, He brought me a mighty long way!” We’re so excited! And the next voice I often hear is His saying, “Now, go back!” “I’m not going through that again.” “Yeah,” He says, “you are.” “Why?” I demand! “I came all the way through. You held my hand. You brought me through. I’m here giving You praise for it. I’m thanking You.” He says, “I know – but there are a whole lot of people back there on the other side that don’t know the way through, and you do now.” That’s why we have to say to people, “It’ll cost you, but I know the way.” A real leader can say, “I’ve been there – I’ll go with you.”
We need to fully understand this: the taunts of the enemy are not “personal,” they’re universal. “You’ll never make it.” “You’re too old.” “You’re too young.” “You’re too uneducated.” “You’re too over-educated.” “You’re too skinny” (Oh, would to God that was true! :-) ) “You’re too fat.” “You’re too tall. “You’re too short.” I know we’ve all heard those things! They sound so personal, but I promise you, they are not! You’re not that big a deal! :-) These are universal efforts to stop the building of the wall of the City of God! Don’t take them personally because the minute you do, the moment you do, you open a pathway for the enemy to halt your progress. We should just ignore those accusations!
There are times when we do have to take authority in Jesus’ name. People sometimes say, “Iverna, you act like you never cast out the devil.” The devil is real and demons are real, but the Blood of Jesus Christ applied to a Believer causes the enemy to have very limited access to us! His only access is to stand outside of our lives and shout in. If we’re foolish enough to listen and tune an ear to him and spend our ministry talking about him, it is inverted praise and he loves it! Most of the time, we simply need to ignore his taunts, because we know the Truth!
“I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help.” Why? “My help cometh from the Lord who made heaven and earth!” (Ps.121:1,2). I don’t want to spend time looking at the devil. I don’t care what color he is or what he says is his name. He’s an accuser (Rev.12:10). He’s a liar and the father of lies (Jn.8:44). I should think he’s going to tell me the truth? :-) The only one he couldn’t lie to was Jesus! He can lie to me. I could call out the wrong thing and he’d stand there laughing. I just don’t want to deal with all that unnecessarily. But! – if he interrupts a service? Yes, “In the Name of Jesus – out!!” Just don’t mess with it – you don’t have to tie him to a pole and have five people deal with it. We need to know who we are and Whose we are! “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world!” (1Jn.4:4).
Now leaders, having the vision, implementing the vision, ignoring the enemy, and teaching people of their power in God and that they need not fear the enemy is a “piece of cake” compared to Chapter 5 of Nehemiah. Chapter 5 is about internal conflict – not external. It’s about the people. It’s about people in your church taking advantage of other people in your church – taking undo advantage – wrong advantage – cheating – lusting. It’s like the man with many sheep longing to take the only sheep of another man (2Sam.12).
Read the whole story in the rest of Nehemiah. The people that had some advantage when the whole system fell apart – they had the right stocks and enough money to wait it out – are now taking undo advantage of those who couldn’t afford to buy even a single stock share. “Well, if you had wisdom – if you had done what I did with my money, you’d have money too.” That’s what chapter 5 is all about.
These people get together – the “have-nots” – and say to Nehemiah, their leader, “You know, we don’t even have food because we were so destitute but they had a big field. We were desperate and had to feed our children but they over-charged us for everything!” Read the chapter. It is the horrendous conflict all leaders face – the specifics just work out differently in each different place. “So-and-So’s talking about So-and-So” and “Such-and-Such had a problem with Such-and-Such.”
How ridiculous that we have to go to the civil courts to settle our disputes! The reason we do that is we don’t have strong leaders! No one wants to take a firm stand for righteousness because we might offend the biggest tither! “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who upbraideth not but giveth to all men liberally” (Jas.1:5). We need more wisdom today than we have ever needed in our lives.
We also need the boldness to take some definitive stands, and to listen to conflicts and say, “Is this how you see it? I’m listening.” And, “This is how you see that? I’m listening.” “Now, here’s the way I see it as the 3rd party.” Not trying to be the all-wise one – not the Commander-in-Chief. But – “here’s how I see it – as your leader and as the 3rd party. We need to pray for this…” or however God shows you to handle it. But it needs to be handled internally because it exists internally and if you try to handle it externally, it becomes a mar, a real blemish on the Church, and consequently on the Kingdom of God!
Being a leader. Listening. Being willing to take a stand. Listening. Leading. Walk through your tunnel so you know the way. Walk through some hard things so you can come back and help others find their way – to God’s Way. Look at your people – be realistic about their lives. See the truth in conflicts. Understand what they’re going through. See a marriage that’s rocky. These things exist – in your church.
Go to Part 2