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.

RACIAL RECONCILIATION, Pt. 1

You most likely heard about it in the national news. On September 16th, an unarmed 40 year old African American male, Terrence Crutcher, was shot to death by a Tulsa police officer, Betty Shelby. Within just a few days, thanks to the good work of our District Attorney’s office, Ms. Shelby was charged with 1st degree manslaughter. She has pleaded not guilty and will eventually go to trial, by which time we will no doubt learn more about all that took place.

But, I suspect, regardless of whatever decision is reached, that our Savior is grieving over yet another loss of life. Regardless of the circumstances, an unnecessary loss of a life that He created. A son, a brother, a friend. Undoubtedly, our Savior also grieves over all the societal issues that swirl about such a tragedy. We’re doing a little better job in Tulsa at naming those issues that we had come to ignore for so long, but we now need to do a much better job resolving those issues. We need more answers. I wish I knew what all those were. But mothers of black children shouldn’t have to inordinately fear for their children’s lives.

In the meantime, we have to do what we do know to do. On the one hand, we must patiently hold our system of justice accountable for determining the truth in such cases. And, with the other hand, we have to keep reaching out with the love of Christ- who on the cross “has destroyed… the dividing wall of hostility…”

I’m deeply grateful for the recent relationship our church has established with Antioch Baptist in N. Tulsa. . Antioch has a close relationship with the Crutcher family and hosted the funeral service for Terence. Our two churches- one, predominantly white; one, predominantly black- gathered together for the first time back in early June for a shared night of worship and prayer. Antioch hosted us. It’s hard to explain what all happened that night other than simply saying, “God showed up!” Soon afterward we set the date for our second night of worship on September 28th. In the meantime we had no idea of the events that would take place prior to that time. As God would have it, our second gathering together for worship and prayer took place just four days after the funeral for Mr. Crutcher. And, again, God showed up in a way that is hard to explain.

I believe that what we are experiencing is a key to racial reconciliation in our city. That is, racial reconciliation happens in relationship with one another. More to come…

WAREFARE, Pt. 3

In previous posts, I’ve been talking about the example given to us by Nehemiah of powerful prayer. His prayer continues in VV 8-9; “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ God’s warnings were accompanied by a promise! And, Nehemiah is claiming the promises!

He says, “God, remember the instruction you gave!” Can you imagine telling God to remember? Does God have to be reminded of what he has said? Of course not! Then why do this? It is to remind us, to help US remember what God has promised. In vv. 8-9, Nehemiah is referencing promises that God had made in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30. You don’t have to memorize the book of Leviticus to have a strong prayer life. But, the point is this… the more familiar you are with the promises of God in His Word, in the Bible, the stronger your prayers will be! Nehemiah prays the promises of God!

Then finally, Nehemiah makes his petition to God. Sometimes we may call this, “supplication.” He makes an earnest and very specific request of God. Vv. 10-11; “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

God knows what you need before you ask Him, right? Of course. But you don’t know if you’ve gotten a specific answer unless you make a specific request! Nehemiah is asking specifically for “favor in the presence of this man.” The “man” being the one who sits on the throne at this time- King Artaxerxes. And he adds, I was cupbearer to the king. Sounds like he was a butler or something, but it was much, much more. The cupbearer to the king was one of the most important and most trusted positions in the kingdom! That’s why he needs the king’s favor… Nehemiah is about to make a huge ask.

His prayer is a great example for us. But let me ask a question. Do you think when Nehemiah first heard that report from his brother that the first thing that came to his mind as he began to mourn and fast and pray was, “Hot diggedy dog, I’m going to go rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and get her done in 52 days!” Not at all. Again, he prayed over this for 4 months! I suspect what happened is that sometime toward the end of that third or early in the fourth, that it began to dawn upon Nehemiah that HE could be the answer to that prayer, that God could use HIM to go and rebuild the wall. So, his prayer evolved from, “Oh God, please help the people of Jerusalem,” to, “God, please give ME success in helping the people of Jerusalem!”

Prayer can be dangerous like that. At the very end of Matthew 9, Jesus tells the disciples to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers. And, at the very beginning of chapter 10, guess who Jesus sends out? The disciples! Let’s all do some dangerous warfare praying today.

WARFARE, Pt. 2

When you look at the life of Nehemiah, you look at one of the greatest leaders in history… period. In the previous post, we pointed to two keys to his successful leadership. First, he deeply cared about the same things that God cares about. And, second, he was a man of prayer.

We all benefit from the example of powerful praying demonstrated by Nehemiah in Chapter 1:5-11. V. 5, Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments… Nehemiah begins his prayer with adoration, or praise. In other words, he is basing the request he is later going to make on the character of God. You are a great and awesome God… you are above all and you are more powerful than all! You are a loving God, You are a promise-keeping God! He acknowledges WHO God is.

When we bring our burdens and needs to God, when we begin with adoration and praise, what is it that begins to happen? The greater God becomes in our hearts and minds, what happens to our problems? The smaller our problems become! Here in Tulsa, if you’ve caught the national news recently, the needs of our city are big, but our God is much, much bigger!

Nehemiah begins with adoration, then moves to confession. Vv. 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.

Confession, as we all know, is simply agreeing with God about sin. Once again, remember why the city of Jerusalem is in the condition it is in- why it 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. So, notice something very powerful that is part of Nehemiah’s confession. Did you catch how many times he uses the word "I" or "we?" He says "I confess… myself… my father’s house … we have acted wickedly … we have not obeyed." But Nehemiah wasn’t even born when Jerusalem was destroyed! He was born in Babylon. It wasn’t his fault they went into captivity. Yet, he is including himself in those national sins. He says "I’ve been a part of the problem".

In the Bible we find examples of both personal confession- confessing personal sins- and, also, of corporate confession of sin. Nehemiah is doing both. 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.

It’s a mark of courageous leadership. Nehemiah essentially says, “The buck stops here, I’m not kicking the can down the road any longer! God, forgive our past, forgive us, forgive me. WE have sinned against you!”

For Christians here in Tulsa, I believe this principle is integral to the healing of our city- that is, when we are willing to assume corporate responsibility for sins of generations past as well as the present. As it has been said, “We ARE our brother’s keeper!” We must take a very honest look at our hearts right now. And, we must take an honest look back as well.