YAC, Pt. 5

Opposition to your ministry is one of the primary causes of burnout for pastors. We have been looking to Nehemiah for help in dealing with opposition. While rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem he reached a critical point in Chapter 4. The opposition became so intense and the discouragement of the people so overwhelming that work on the walls came to a halt. So, what did he do to get the people back on track?

The first thing he did was revise his plan. Nehemiah was inflexible when it came to his vision to rebuild the walls, but he was flexible with his plan for how to get there! A change of plans is not a change of vision. To overcome all the discouragement, he needed a change of plans. If you need to change horses in the middle of the stream, that’s ok, if it takes a different horse to get you to the other side. Don’t let your pride and ego get in the way of your own vision.

So, what was Nehemiah’s revised plan? Nehemiah 4:13,Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places (security and confidence), posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. Why by families? Because… when you are under attack, you NEED support! Never fight alone!

Earlier this fall, the Los Angeles Dodgers earned their way into the playoff for the National League Championship. It was just over 70 years ago, when they were still the Brooklyn Dodgers, that history was made when the Dodgers’ General Manager, a man named Branch Rickey, hired the first black professional baseball player… the great Hall of Famer, Jackie Robinson.

It was a great vision that was shared by both Rickey and Robinson. In the initial interview, Rickey asked him, “I know you’re a good player, but do you have the guts?” Of course Robinson had guts. Then Rickey clarified what he meant by that question; “Do you have guts enough NOT to fight back?” Rickey knew in that day and age that Robinson would be subjected to all kinds of terrible verbal abuse, and to verbally or physically fight back would have disastrous results.

Rickey- a devout Christian himself- knew it would require a superhuman effort on Robinson’s part. He knew that Robinson could not do it alone- that he needed support. That support would come from Jackie Robinson’s own personal relationship with God, from Branch Rickey, from Jackie’s wife, Rachel; and, ultimately, from his teammates as well.

The verbal abuse from opposing teams and fans was unbelievable. At a game in Cincinnati, not long after he joined the team, the fans there were hurling all kinds of racial slurs and abuse at Robinson. All of a sudden, the Dodgers famous shortstop, Pee Wee Reece, called time out, slowly walked all the way across the infield and put his arm around Robinson. The crowd clearly understood the meaning of the gesture: “If you are against this man, you are against all of us! We stand together as a team!”

When you’re facing opposition, make sure you have support! Like the running back on the football field who needs a team, you need a team, too! You need your church family, you need your small group, you need CPR brothers. You need support.

V14, After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” There’s a play on words here. The words in Hebrew for “afraid” and “awesome” are the same word! He’s saying, don’t fear your opponents, fear God instead! If you fear God– if you lean into your relationship with him with ultimate honor and trust– then you are not going to fear people!

Instead of constant fearful thinking about your opponents that only leads to more discouragement, think instead upon the Lord— remember the Lord! Which is exactly what Nehemiah had already been doing! At the beginning of the verse 14, he said… “after I looked things over…” The implication of that phrase is that Nehemiah himself had found renewed strength/vision/confidence/security as he remembered back on all that God had done and all that God had provided in order to bring him to this place to fulfill the vision. By looking back he found the strength to move forward and into the future!

I recently had the privilege of preaching at the 20th church anniversary of a dear friend named, Rich. Rich and I had roomed together in seminary for a couple of years and have remained good friends ever since. I’m very grateful for his friendship. In fact, I probably would not be standing here this morning if not for him. I was working at the first church I served out of seminary in Little Rock, AR. I had been on staff at that particular church for a little over two years when, for a variety of reasons, I arrived at a one of the lowest points ever in my ministry. Quite honestly, I was about to give it up. I had applications to a couple of grad schools sitting on my desk as I pondered pursing a different career.

Then, late one afternoon, just before I was about to leave for the day, my friend, Rich, following a prompting from God, stopped by to say hello. He had come to Little Rock for the day for a DMin seminar and still had a good three hour drive ahead of him going back home, but he stopped anyway. It didn’t take long before I started to pour my heart out to him and told him that I was about to hang it up and pursue a different career in life. He listened to all I had to say. And then he spent some time helping me REMEMBER. He helped me think back to my calling from God to ministry, he helped me recapture the whole reason why I was doing what I was doing- why doing ministry! He prayed with me and went on his way. As a result, I decided to hang in there. Within the next week, circumstances around my greatest cause of discouragement completely and unexpectedly changed, and I became even more convinced of God’s vision for my life. I put the applications in the garbage.

When opposition comes, pray first, don’t strike back… don’t be discouraged… invite others to pray with you… revise your plan… lean on your support… and remember the Lord!

Look what happens as a result… v. 15, When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.

The vision continued!

YAC, Pt. 4 (Dealing With Opposition)

Well, unfortunately, as Nehemiah’s enemy conspiracy spreads, discouragement starts to set in among his people. Ever encountered that phenomenon in your ministry? Where the talk among the people seems out of control? Nehemiah 4:10, Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.

They’re physically losing strength. They are worn out. By the way- do you recall how far Nehemiah tells us they had gotten at this point? Halfway done! Isn’t that so often the most discouraging point in a major project?

When we moved to another house about 5 years ago, I remember getting to what I figured was about the halfway point of the packing up process and thinking, “Holy cow, there’s still so much to do and I’m already worn out!” I told my wife that I didn’t think it was God’s will for us to move. But she reminded me that my Teddy Bear was already packed and she wasn’t getting it back out until we got to the new house! Halfway can be discouraging! Vince Lombardi said, "Fatigue makes cowards of all of us."

They were tired. And, they also started losing their vision. Notice they said, “there is so much rubble … ” I’m guessing when they first got started that they rarely even thought about how much rubble there was. But, when the opposition is mounting and your strength is fading, it’s easy to get discouraged and start focusing on the rubble instead of the vision. Are you focusing on the rubble or on the vision in your life?

Then they also start to lose their confidence. At the end of v. 10, notice, it’s not their opponents but themselves who say, “we cannot rebuild the wall.” The people who started with such a heart for the work now are losing heart.

And then they lose their sense of security as well! V. 11, Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”

The opposition is using a scare tactic- a terrorist tactic- spreading the word by making sure as many of the Jews as possible are overhearing or being directly told their surprise attack plans, “Hey, we have a plan and you don’t know what it is, just be assured, when you least expect it, bam! We’ll get you so fast you won’t even know what happened.”

V. 12,Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” It was turning into mass hysteria! “The CLOWNS are coming! Wherever you turn, CLOWNS are going to attack us!” (Did that happen in your community recently? J)

When you lose your strength and vision and confidence and security- you get discouraged!

At this point Nehemiah must’ve felt a bit like that running back trying to stay on his feet at this point. He hits the hole at full speed and bam- he’s stopped, he spins out to his left and bam- he’s stopped again, he shakes loose and spins out to his right and bam, he’s stopped there, too. He’s still on his feet, but it’s sure looking like no gain at this point, or maybe even being thrown for a loss!

With so much discouragement, what is he to do to get everyone back on track rebuilding the walls??? We’ll discover the answer to that in my next posting!

YAC, Pt. 3

One of the common causes of burnout in ministry is criticism and opposition. For whatever reasons it seems that some pastors have to deal with more than their fair share of it. But, for all pastors, it is something that comes with the territory. We have to learn to deal with it. If we don’t, we’ll burn out.

Nehemiah was one of the greatest leaders in the Bible, and he had to deal with opposition in a big way as he led the Jews in rebuilding the walls of the city of Jerusalem. In the previous post, we saw that the first key to dealing with opposition is to take it to God in prayer. Through prayer we invite God into our struggle and in doing so, we put the opposition in proper perspective. We are able to evaluate it from God’s perspective. If there’s something we need to learn from it, and sometimes there is, God will help make that clear to us. Through prayer, Nehemiah was able to keep his focus on the vision of rebuilding the walls.

I wish I could say that when you take it to God in prayer that your opposition will all go away. But, sometimes it doesn’t. In fact, sometimes the opposition intensifies. That’s what happened to Nehemiah. After Nehemiah rebuffed his initial opposition, we read; Chapter 4: 7-8, But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.

The conspiracy against the Jews grows! Now the Arabs and Ammonites and people of Ashdod are brought into it- people groups whose locations meant that Jerusalem was now surrounded! And, once again, Nehemiah responded with prayer. But, this time was different. This time, he was not the lone prayer. This time the people followed his lead and joined him! V.9a, But WE prayed to our God… And, in addition to praying, Nehemiah said, V. 9b, and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

Some people may try to make a big deal out of the posting of the guard and say that Nehemiah was demonstrating a lack of faith. But, that’s not the case at all. God gives us the gift of prayer. But, He also gives us the gift of common sense. Think about it. If you received word through your neighborhood association or the local authorities that thieves were frequenting your neighborhood and had already robbed two houses, how would you respond? Certainly, you would pray for God’s protection. But, is that all you would do? Absolutely not! You would also make sure you kept all your doors locked and the alarm set.

When opposition comes, trust God and pray. But, use your common sense to also respond as needed! Common sense may dictate certain actions you can take that will provide practical protection. Pray and respond with appropriate common sense.

(To be continued…)

YAC, Pt. 2

Nehemiah 4:1-3; When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

YAC… a term in the NFL that stands for Yards After Contact by the opposition. An effective running back is one who learns how to keep his legs moving in such a way that he is able to continue to gain yards after contact by his opponents.

As I said in the previous post, when you pursue God’s vision for your life or for your church, you are going to encounter opposition. And it will be your ability to make “YAC” that will make all the difference toward fulfilling that vision. Nehemiah learned how to keep his legs churning in the face of opposition. How did he do it?

The first thing that he did immediately upon being hit by the opposition was what he had already been doing every step along the way… he prayed! Nehemiah 4:4, Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

That’s quite a prayer, isn’t it? Not what you might expect. It’s funny, some commentators just refuse to accept this for face value and go through all kinds of interpretive gymnastics to try to explain it away as not being what Nehemiah really meant. Well, I think this is exactly what he meant! Because I’ve prayed prayers like that too! And I’ve thought much worse! Nehemiah is angry! He’s been working hard night and day for what he knows to be the right thing- he doesn’t need this!

When you’re as deeply committed as HE was, emotions are running high, and nothing sticks in your craw more than criticism or ridicule at times like that! Especially when it comes from the cheap seats… from people who have little or no stake in the process… from what I call, “OPPOSER HOSERS. ” That’s people who don’t have the spiritual or moral courage to personally talk to you- so they attack from the outside or undermine clandestinely from within. Like Sanballat and Tobiah they usually run in two’s because they need at least one other person to validate them. And, there’s no better place to let off steam than with God!

But, notice something else very important here that Nehemiah does! Upon hearing the criticism, he IMMEDIATELY prays! I don’t know about you, but when I’m criticized, prayer is not always my first reaction! Our most natural response to personal criticism is what??? We want to defend ourselves! We want to fire back! Proverbs 26:4; Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Only a fool fires back!

It’s hard to be hit like that- to be criticized- and especially ridiculed. It riles you up big time! But to fire back at your critics is to play their game. It makes you no better than the person firing all the ridicule and criticism at you. But, worse than that, when you start firing back, your focus shifts away from what is most important and onto your critics instead.

Don’t fire back… and, don’t bottle it up either- that takes you down the road of depression and stomach problems, etc. And certainly don’t go home and dump it all on your wife and kids and kick the dog. The best (and healthiest) thing you can do with those emotions is to take them to God- to pray! Prayer is the only way to keep from firing back. God can handle it! He sees it as an act of trust on our part, a part of developing real intimacy with God.

Prayer helps you put criticism and ridicule in proper perspective… you’re able to evaluate it from God’s perspective. If there’s something you need to learn from it, and sometimes there is, then God will show that to you! Nehemiah didn’t fire back or suppress it or dump it, he prayed! Through prayer, he is able to keep his eyes on the vision of rebuilding the walls. He prayed, and then he went back to work: V. 6, So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

YAC, Pt. 1

Are you familiar with the term, YAC? What is YAC? Well, I’m not talking about this…

I’m talking about this…

The term, YAC, was apparently coined by the former coach and broadcaster, John Madden, several years ago. It’s a stat he created for running backs in the NFL. It refers to Yards After Contact; the number of yards a running back makes after being hit by an opposing player. When an opposing player hits a running back, that running back doesn’t stop, does he? He doesn’t throw the ball down and walk off the field. He doesn’t suddenly throw the ball up in the air and say, “You can have it…” and take off in the opposite direction. What does he do? He keeps his legs churning after he is hit, he keeps moving forward, he keeps straining toward the goal line.

Being a pastor requires a lot of YAC, doesn’t it? A lot of yards after contact, after being hit by the opposition. Nehemiah is one of the greatest leaders in the Bible. As you recall, he led the Jews in rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem, accomplishing the feat in just 52 days! Achieving that required a lot of YAC because he was hit by a lot of opposition. Even though we are ominously introduced to his primary opposition in Chapter 2, he doesn’t get hit hard until Chapter 4.

Nehemiah 4:1-3; When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

This character named, Sanballat, hit Nehemiah and the Jews first with ridiculing criticism. Notice, he was very thorough with his criticism. He criticized the character of the builders, their ability, and their commitment to really get the job done. Hee questioned the integrity of the project altogether! “Can they bring stones back to life?” Then Sanballat’s buddy, Tobiah, also chimed in, essentially declaring that the builders were all incompetent- that the mere weight of a tiny fox climbing on top would be enough to bring the wall down. Obviously, their goal is to discourage Nehemiah and the Jews from fulfilling their vision to rebuild the walls!

Pastor, what is the vision you believe that God has for your ministry right now? Have you been hit with opposition yet? I say, “yet,” because inevitably it is going to happen at some point. And when you get hit, you have to learn how to keep going and get those YAC. You have to learn how to keep your legs churning in the right direction. Because, it will be your Yards After Contact that will make all the difference toward fulfilling the vision God has for you.

Nehemiah learned how to keep his legs churning! We’ll continue to explore how this amazing leader was able to do so in the next post.

RACIAL RECONCILIATION, Pt. 3

I grew up in the mid-south. In some respects, when it comes to the issue of racism, the south gets a bad rap. When I went away to a college that drew students from all parts of the country, I discovered that racism was not isolated to the south by any means. It is an issue that is not determined by geographical regions. It’s a part of our sinful nature, which is wherever we are.

It’s only in and through Christ that racism, then, can be overcome. On the cross, Christ “…destroyed… the dividing wall of hostility.” (Eph. 2:14) It won’t be completely overcome until we see Christ face to face, but in the meantime, with His help, we can make a difference. I talked in my last post about the need for confession. In this context its understood that repentance accompanies that confession. That’s the first big step.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that the next big step is relationship. Build relationships across racial lines. Given the fact that the most segregated hour in America these days is still at 11am on Sunday morning (or whatever time a church may have its worship service), we have to be intentional about it.

We have gotten intentional about it at our church. Several months ago, we, a predominantly white church, planned a night of worship and prayer together with a church that is predominantly black. It was not a night of preaching or choir performances, it was a night of worship and prayer together. For our prayer time, we worked through the old ACTS acrostic; a time of adoration followed by confession followed by thanksgiving, followed by supplication. Between each segment we sang together. And, for supplication, we divided into small groups (making sure every group had both churches represented), shared requests and prayed for one another. We concluded the night with communion.

We’ve shared two such nights together- the first at their church, the other at ours, and all I can say is, God showed up! Barriers were broken down and RELATIONSHIPS have begun. I’ll keep you posted, but I’ve seen enough to know that this is part of the answer.

If you have questions, feel free to email me at hess or give me a call at 918-261-4913.

RACIAL RECONCILIATION, Pt. 2

I sat recently in a meeting with 70+ other pastors and ministry leaders from our city. The turnout was unusually good for such a meeting based upon the sense of urgency out of the recent shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer. We were challenged to think about and discuss possible ways to bring about racial reconciliation in our city.

One of the main presenters suggested that one of the keys would be confession. I was hoping he would elaborate, but he did not. Because when it comes to confession, lots of questions are raised. It’s challenging enough for us to individually accept responsibility for our own struggles with racism that exists in our hearts and minds. But, the whole idea of corporate confession for generations past is even that much more difficult.

Listen to the confession of Nehemiah, as he takes personal responsibility for sins committed by others long before he was even born! Nehemiah 1: 6-7; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. Remember why the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. It was the result of years and years of sin… of turning away from God, of disobedience and following after false gods and the refusal of the people to repent.

In the Bible we find examples of both personal confession- confessing personal sins- and, also, of corporate confession of sin. Nehemiah is doing both. Ezra (ch. 9) and Danel (ch. 9) do the same. Corporate confession is when an individual(s) confesses for the sins of many people, even for an entire people group (Israelites)- and they confess not just for present sins but for sins many years in the past as well.

This corporate aspect of confession is very strange to us as Americans because we are so individualistic. Our society teaches that you are responsible for you, yourself, and no one else. But, that is not the case. It’s very difficult to explain- something mystical about it- but God honors the sense of spiritual responsibility that we assume for the wrong or evil things that a previous generation may have done- even long before we were even born- when we confess that sin to Him.

Our church affiliates with the Southern Baptist denomination. Some years ago, during one of the annual conventions, there was a time of corporate confession of the sins of Southern Baptists back in the 1800s regarding slavery. It’s a mark of strong leadership. It’s essentially saying, “The buck stops here, not kicking the can down the road any longer! God, forgive our past, forgive us, forgive me. WE have sinned against you!”

Personally, I believe this principle of corporate confession is integral to the healing of our city- of any city- where God’s people are willing to assume corporate responsibility for sins of generations past as well as the present. As another has observed, “As Christ-followers, we ARE our brother’s keeper!” We need to take an honest look back, even as we take a very honest look right now at our own hearts.