Every once in a while, you feel led to do something and you can’t always put your finger on why. For Christians, at least the ones who genuinely try to live out and practice their faith 24/7 and not just say they are “Christian”, this usually means an encouraging word, a generous gift or being directed to a particular point in Scripture. Obviously, those three things are not an exhaustive examples, but the umbrella idea, is a leading to do something out of the ordinary, out of routine and most often, outside one’s comfort zone…which Scripture is full of those instances.
So for whatever reason this morning, I felt I needed to open the Bible. Not looking for a place in particular, I flipped once or twice and without paying attention, landed in Nehemiah 13. Without giving a history lesson, Nehemiah has finished rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, his “great work” in which he was “too busy” for distractions (a whole another subject entirely, sermon, blog or otherwise). There’s a whole list of the priests and Levites and people involved in the care of “the house of God.” The wall of Jerusalem is dedicated. Men have been put in charge of the storerooms, where the Israelites made their contributions, firstfruits and tithes, that were shared with the people as well as portions for the gatekeepers, priests and other positions.
Then, in this final chapter, Nehemiah asks a very disturbing question.
“Why is the house of God neglected?”
Israel had let foreigners in the land and long story short, realized they had done wrong and corrected the matter by excluding the foreigners. But before that happened, the priest Eliashib, whowas put in charge of the storerooms gave one of the rooms to a “close associate”, Tobiah. Nehemiah learns of this (as it happened when he was not in Jerusalem) and boots Tobiah and his belongings from the storeroom. To make matters worse, portions that were to be issued to the Levites had not been issued and people in certain positions, left their posts and returned to the fields.
Wow. So you before you point out how different this post looks from most the others, Nehemiah’s question really struck something in me. Not only for neglect for the house of God, but also for the neglect in our lives….as the New Testament reminds us, that we are His Tabernacle. Christ now dwells inside of us.
So much resonates in this verse. Physically…yes, the house of God is in neglect. Churches in America are closing left and right and the purpose for which the building exists is not being fulfilled. Entire communities lay in the wake of a closed church. Churches that remain operational are in various states of neglect. Burned out pastors struggle to bring a relevant word to the communities in which they live and serve. The great American dream and people who are attempting to attain it bring pressure and unrealistic expectations into the house of God. They leave hostile, frustrated and disenfranchised…not too mention the fact that whatever issues they felt they needed help with by coming to church have now infected the congregation, leaving the church community in worse condition than when they arrived. The health of many congregations is failing. It’s not because they are not capable of helping. They are.
You’ve heard the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people”. The flip-side of that statement is that “Helped people help people”. What wins here then, is a two way street of commitment. The needing help coming to the helped and working it out. One has been so helped that nothing will prevent them from helping others. Others have been so hurt, they will do anything to hurt others. Hopefully not intentionally, but if they insist on not seeking or accepting help, then hurt will inevitably flow from them. For out of the heart, the mouth speaks.
So one who has been extended grace should…
…and I don’t always. Yeah…I have some work ahead of me.
What really bothers me about this passage though, is that the caretakers of the temple were not taken care of. The heart of a healthy, thriving church is found in health and sustainability of the congregation. At the core of the congregation, though, is the leadership. The caretaker of your place of worship needs to be taken care of. Their ability to help you relies on your ability to be a part of their mission and vision and calling. Three elements they possess because of what God has placed on their heart to do!!
To only be present with them in body is detrimental to their success. It’s the difference between being with someone and being with someone. The friend who sat with you in detention b/c he recognized he was just as wrong in whatever you did as you were, was really “with” you. The friend who placed all the blame on you… not so much. The man who doesn’t leave the hospital for days on end, while his wife lies in bed…..with. The friend who calls everyday to make sure haven’t lost the faith…3am conversations, cries and coffee… with. The dad with the troubled child or the dad praying over and with that troubled child. The needy. The poor. The orphans. The widows. The addicts. The family facing eviction. Leaders struggle with problems on the home front. A pastor who experiences a moral failure. A congregation there on Sunday but gone when he falls? Gone Monday-Saturday? Too many congregations have people in the stands, cheering when the game goes well, booing when it’s “not so much”.
Pastors burn out from their continually giving and being with the people of that community only to discover in their time of need, the people were just with him… but few were there when he needed. Tragic.
I haven’t even talked about how, we as the body of Christ, as He resides in our hearts and we neglect our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our spirits. We fail to take care of the purpose for which we have been created. We fail to fulfill His plan for our lives. And in regards to pastors, there’s probably a message in there about leadership being careful about who their “close associates” are. Obviously, Tobiah had his own ideas about what to do, since verse 8 tells us that Nehemiah “threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room”.
The result of this was a purification process. After that, what belonged in the house of God was put back in it’s place. What things are out of place in your life? Habits, relationships, goals, dreams. The reason so many people fail to fulfill their purpose is they don’t take the time to discover what it is. They don’t take the time to discover it, because we live in a day where many don’t believe a plan and purpose exists for their life. We have the ability to create and make plans because God created you and made a plan for your life. Made in His image, we are capable, to an extent, of the principles and abilities which He has. We can plan because He has a plan. We can fulfill our purpose in life, just as God’s son, fulfilled His purpose in life. To make sure you had a way to be restored with God.
Do not neglect your life. Do not neglect your house and the house of God. If we care about the purpose first and foremost, then nothing should prevent us from sticking to and fulfilling that purpose. If we stick to that and do not let “foreigners” (i.e. objects and activities and relationships that do not fulfill said purpose) then we won’t have to worry about orders being issued to “purify”. That’s not to say we won’t make mistakes, but when Nehemiah “purified” the room, he threw everything out. There’s a difference between something in the room of your life being out of place and “everything” in your life being out of place. Tobiah and His stuff had taken over the storeroom, instead of God and things of God that belong there, being there.
Make sure what is in your life is supposed to be there and less time will be spent talking and working on the things that don’t belong. Guard Against Neglect. Take Care.