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Summary: Nehemiah, Pt. 5

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THE WIND BENEATH MY WINGS: FROM ACRIMONY TO AGREEMENT (NEHEMIAH 5)

The worst cold war I have ever witnessed was between two pastors I knew. One was the senior pastor and the other was the Mandarin pastor of the same church. Some deacons in the church board wanted to force the old senior pastor in his early 60s into early retirement and install the talented and dynamic younger pastor in his 30s to take the senior’s place.

The senior pastor was no cream puff, and he reacted the only way he knew from years of supervising employees before entering the ministry: fighting them tooth and nail, including the Mandarin pastor, who had no ambition to replace or succeed him, but was too inexperienced and too powerless to say no to these powerful church leaders.

When the two complained to me about each other, I arranged a meeting for the two to iron out their problems and not let the situation worsen or let the enemies divide them or the church. The most unbelievable thing happened when they met each other even though they agreed to meet. In my presence they denied they had a problem with each other, that there was a problem in the church and they had anything to say to each other.

Eventually, the board members left when they were unable to unseat the senior pastor and started their own church, with the hope of luring and recruiting the Mandarin pastor to join them. The young pastor did not join them; neither did he stay with the church. A year later, the senior pastor retired, knowing he had no equal or opposition, but the damage was already done.

Christians need to be a community that stand by one another, to bear one another’s burden, to lend a helping hand, especially when others need our assistance. That’s the sign of a healthy church, a spiritual community, a forgiving fellowship.

In chapter four Nehemiah faced pressure from outsiders, but now a more subtle danger awaited him. Exploitation, resentment and quarrels were rampant within. The phrase “great outcry” (v 1) is not used lightly. The other two occasions this phrase was used in the Bible were when Esau cried for the loss of his birthright (Gen 27:34) and the Egyptians for the death of their firstborn (Ex 12:30).

What was Nehemiah to do? Speak up and alienate people? Say nothing and let the situation worsen? Say little and do nothing? How should a believing community address problems within? How do we resolve internal problems? What is the outcome of a strong but sensitive approach to solving problems?

Avail a Safe Place for Confiding in One Another

5:1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. 2 Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” 3 Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” 4 Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” 6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. (Neh 5:1-6)

This study may not be unique to America, but a survey of 1,467 Americans reveal a third fewer have close friends and confidants than just two decades ago, a sign that people may be living lonelier, more isolated lives than in the past.

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them, says a study in American Sociological Review. In 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all. The study finds fewer contacts are from clubs and neighbors; people are relying more on family, a phenomenon documented in the 2000 book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, a Harvard public policy professor. The percentage of people who confide only in family increased from 57% to 80%, and the number who depend totally on a spouse is up from 5% to 9%, the study found. The study is based on surveys of 1,531 people in 1985 and 1,467 in 2004, part of the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The chief suspects: More people live in the suburbs and spend more time at work, Putnam says, leaving less time to socialize or join groups. (“Study: 25% of Americans Have No One to Confide In,” USA Today 6/23/06)

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