Too Much Baggage

On more than one occasion I remember doing obstacle courses when i was in the army. There were vaults. There were ropes. There were beams. Think up an obstacle and some how a cadre member had already dreamed up that creative problem for you to overcome. To get through some obstacles we had to ditch some of our gear. Nehemiah gets off his horse. He has too much baggage. All he needs for YHWH to intervene is nothing. Empty handed, he now has the ability to receive.

Nehemiah 2:12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass.

We are now in the second chapter of Nehemiah. He has left his job as the royal cupbearer. He has heard of the plight of his fellow jews and has entered into their situation. When he arrives in Jerusalem he discovers the derelict walls. But he is not satisfied with secondhand information about the state of affairs. In the stillness of night, he steals away to inspect the wall. There comes a point that he realizes he cannot know the actual state of the walls unless he strips down from his position of privilege. There is some information that can only be gained indexically, that is, by first hand experience.

All you need is nothing. 

In order to properly survey the ruins he must enter into the ruined condition of the walls. He must ditch all pretenses and airs of being sorted. The only way that the city’s wall can be repaired, is if he admits his inability to bring about this repair.

Quite literally, Nehemiah has to get off his high horse. All he needs for YHWH to intervene is exactly nothing. The moment he comes to God empty handed, he now has the ability to receive. He never had the ability to receive while he was clinging to his power, wisdom, money and talents.

So it is with us. Often we come to God and say, “I will take you plus a little of my goodness.” Or “I will take you and little bit of my talents.” It is only when we come and say, “I will take you and no one else,” that we enter into that amazing covenant of love with God.

Jesus is not just the nobleman who dismounts a horse to inspect a wall. He leaves Heaven to enter into his people’s plight not only to see their broken down ruins, but to become broken down and ruined on the cross that we might be whole.

Lay your baggage down.

Want to be Shameless?

Neh 1:3-4 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Ready Nehemiah 1:1-11

At one point or another of our lives we have felt shame. But how do we deal with shame?

Picture a room, Sartre tells us.(see his book “Being and Nothingness”) Now picture someone inside this room. On the outside there is someone else peering in—viewed or unviewed, real or imagined. This, he says, is the essence of shame. To be viewed by an unviewed viewer is dehumanizing Sartre argues. As Christians this is actually the beginning of true freedom.

One of the greatest problems we humans face is the issue of shame. When we do something wrong we feel a sense of shame. Nehemiah tells us the story of an exiled people feeling shame. The walls that covered them and made them feel secure were battered down by foreign powers. They face the national shame of feeling defenseless. Internally, they feel the personal shame that their individual actions have let God down. They have collective and individual shame.

In verses 3 and 4 we see two possible reactions to this same situation. One may feel an unhealthy shame or one can choose, much like Nehemiah, to have Godly guilt. Shame is self-centred and only sees the effects of one’s actions in relation to oneself. Guilt sees the effects one’s actions in respect to others.

This is the difference between remorse and repentance. If we are only remorseful, we only feel sorry for our actions and their effects on us. If we are repentant, we feel sorry for actions and their repercussions towards others.

Nehemiah’s prayer is one of repentance. He issues what many call the 7 A’s of Confession. He:

  1. Addresses everyone involved (All those whom he has affected)
  2. Avoids if, but, and maybe (He does not try to excuse his wrongs)
  3. Admits specifically (He admits both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledges the hurt (He expresses sorrow for hurting God and others)
  5. Accepts the consequences (He will make restitution spiritually, verbally and then even physically)
  6. Alters his behavior (He will change his attitudes and actions.)
  7. Asks for forgiveness

Repentance similar to Nehemiah’s is seen in the Gospel of Matthew. We see guilt and shame masterfully contrasted. Peter and Judas both betray their master. Peter weeps seeing how his actions have harmed his best friend (Matt 26:75); Judas unrepentant, but remorseful wishes to return the silver pieces of betrayal. In Matt 27:3 the “remorse” of Judas does not have “the power to overcome the destructive operation of sin”(Yale Anchor Bible Dictionary).

We need an unviewed viewer who can do away with our shame.

Just as God covered over the shame of Israel by providing for rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, so God, in Christ, has provided the perfect sacrifice to cover our guilt and do away with our shame. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive. (1 John 1:5-10)

This week let us practice Godly repentance and turn our back on self-centred remorse.

The Cockroach in the Room

Psalm 112

1 Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commandments!

7 He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.

A Fearing Man

Often we hear the words “fear of God” and “fear of man” and our minds are triggered as though by some pavlovian response to indulge in religious jargon and lose the very nature of the “fear of God.”(v.1) Have you ever been afraid of insects, or known someone who is afraid of insects. I remember walking into a room with someone who was afraid of cockroaches. As we turned the light on, their only and chief concern in the room was the cockroach. My friend could not fuction, think or do anything else than think about the cockroach. This is a much more helpful illustration with regards to the fear of God than any religious jargon or vocabulary can offer.

Such is the story of this “Blessed Man” who fears the Lord.

 A Fearless Man

The Psalm goes on to enumerate all the other things that may be in the “room” of his life, but do not fill his attention span. We see family (v.2), wealth, success and money (v.3), personal morality and business ethics (v.5), or piety (v.9). Most of the furniture in this “Blessed Man’s” room is good. We should think focusing on this would not be a bad thing. Surely a little bit of fear with regards to how one’s family runs, how successful one is, or how one conducts business and life in an all-around moral way is not a bad focus fear.

What is it that makes this “Blessed Man” afraid of God but not afraid of failure or bad news?

The fearless man fears God. In other words he worships God, not success. He worships God, not family. He worships God, not success. The Psalmist tells us that this blessed person is utterly fearless with regard to bad news, because he does not worship success.

So what is the source of his fearlessness?

A Feared God

God is the only object of worship who when you fail him he will forgive you. All other objects of worship can become hard task masters. The reason why the Psalmist is fearless is that he knows his great debt has been paid. You can almost hear this Psalm echoing these words “with you there is forgiveness [therefore] you are feared.”(Psalm 130:4) V8.

God is feared, not because of his power, but because of his mercy. That is the awe inspiring truth. Jesus had no reason to go to Golgotha and suffers the scars of the scourge, except to bring about our forgiveness. Once the Psalmist experiences forgiveness, his only response is awe.