Nehemiah was a great man who accomplished amazing things for God and his Jewish people. Billions of men and women since his time are aware of his success of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days.
But Nehemiah’s success would have never been realized without one trait, that is relatively unknown. Note this phrase from Nehemiah 5:15:
“…because I feared God, I did not act that way.” Nehemiah 5:15
Fear. Did you notice that? This great man who seemed fearless in tackling the monumental task of rebuilding a wall of protection lying in ruins, understood the importance of fearing God.
While we are often encouraged to interpret the word “fear” as “respect” when reading it in the Bible, it’s clear here, and in many other passages, that this is literally FEAR. And this fear of Almighty God, led to changed behavior.
If we read the context of chapter 5 of Nehemiah, we see that the behavior of the culture, government officials, and the citizens, was one that was ungodly, uncaring, and lacking in love for those struggling under oppressive policies and practices.
But Nehemiah was like a fish swimming upstream. He resisted the pressure of the elite and the culture, and instead he forged a different path. But his reason for doing so wasn’t simply because he possessed extraordinary inner strength. Rather, it was because he feared God.
Having studied history, Nehemiah knew that his God was not only the God of love and mercy, but that his God also administered justice. Just as God held Israel to account for its wayward behavior, with devastating consequences, so too Nehemiah believed God would hold him accountable for embracing the cultural norm and status quo, when that behavior was at odds with God’s standards.
Nehemiah’s acts would not escape “El Roi” — the God Who sees. So this belief led Nehemiah to act differently from the rest of his culture. Nehemiah feared the justice of God were he to oppress and mistreat his fellow citizens, as was the norm for his culture.
So what about you and me? Do we fear God? And if so, does that fear result in our own changed behavior? Do we contrast what is accepted universally by our culture with what is taught singularly by God in His Word? Or do we we just follow the fish swimming downstream, because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Studying God’s Word will consistently expose the disparities between the masses and God, between our norms, and God’s standard. So may we be like Nehemiah, who feared God and acted differently, according to God’s Word.
“Now Jephthah of Gilead was a great warrior. He was the son of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute.” Judges11:1
Jephthah was an ancient warrior whose mother was a prostitute. Even though his mother was a woman of the night, Jephthah still grew up with his father and half brothers. His brothers, like so many kids, would jeer and bully Jephthah over his shameful past, eventually chasing him away from home.
Shortly after Jephthah was driven from home by his hateful brothers, he rebelled and hung out with a lot of other low-lifes. Apparently Jephthah was under the mistaken impression that because he had a shameful past, he needed to hang out with other shameful characters. But others saw something in Jephthah that he didn’t even see in himself. The elders of his community approached him about leading their army into battle against their enemies, and in exchange they would make Jephthah their ruler.
Jephthah was likely conflicted and distrusting of the very community that had caused him so many emotional wounds, but he agreed to the offer. And in spite of his shameful past, Jephthah became a national hero by defeating the enemies of Israel.
But if you read the entire story of Jephthah, you find out that there was a reason for his success. It wasn’t simply that Jephthah pulled himself up by his bootstraps, or he became a “self-made” man, or he went to classes on how to overcome low self-esteem. Rather, Jephthah was empowered by the “Spirit of the Lord” and through God’s direct intervention and guidance, Jephthah accomplished great things for God, and others were rescued and blessed. And because Jephthah turned and yielded himself to God, he overcame his shameful past.
You and I may not directly identify with Jephthah’s past, but if we’re honest, we may struggle with our own shameful pasts, some that were thrust upon us, and others that were of our own making.
Like Jephthah, too many choose a life of rebellion. They try to run from their past. They even engage in destructive behaviors, thinking that such activity will soothe or remove the shame they carry. But none of those choices will lead to freedom from the guilt that we chose to carry and embrace. Rather, only through the “Spirit of the Lord” indwelling us, as He did with Jephthah, will we ever truly be free from our guilt and our pasts.
While you and I may never be a national hero, we can chose to embrace the same God that transformed Jephthah’s life, and in so doing, we can be a blessing to others who may be struggling with their own shameful pasts.
“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14
“So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” John 8:36
“My houses. My cars. My bank accounts. My businesses. My properties. They are all mine. I’m a self made man.”
These phrases are frequently referenced and even celebrated in America. We use them so routinely that it’s almost second nature. But truthfully, in the nation that prides itself on capitalism and entrepreneurship, it should come as no wonder.
But in an era that condemns #FakeNews and seeks #Truth, are these statements accurate? Are they true? Or is there something deeply misleading about them?
In my years of pursuing the “American Dream” and seeking a bigger house, faster cars, larger bank accounts, and more profitable businesses, I have come to understand that there is a truth to these pursuits that sadly too often escapes our understanding.
As I’ve taken time to ponder, research and seek the meaning of life as it relates to possessions, wealth and stewardship, the following key truths have become clearer to me.
Truth 1: It’s not yours or mine
The first truth is that you and I don’t own what we routinely call ours or “Mine.” That home, car, property, bank account, business, or fill in the blank, is not yours or mine. There is a higher Power and Authority to whom it all belongs. The same One who created the universe, and you and me, also entrusted you and me with the possessions we have that we call our own. There are so many references in the Scriptures that affirm this truth, but here are just a couple:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.The world and all its people belong to Him.” (Psalm 24:1)
“Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.” (1 Chronicles29:11-12)
Truth 2: The “self-made” man does not exist. There is no such man
The idea that a man makes himself, as in his achievements, possessions and such, and they are are all his own creation, and it is he who is solely responsible for them, is false. In fact, it is the epitome of arrogance and it’s highly disingenuous to ignore every other person and circumstance that came together to enable such a person to achieve and possess. But worse, the idea of a “self-made” man ignores the One who breathed into each of us the gifts, skills, intellect, and health, and orchestrated the right circumstances that led to what our culture defines as success.
There are numerous examples in Scripture that speak to the flawed concept of a “self-made” man but in Deuteronomy 8 we read this warning from God:
“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Truth 3: Gifts do not appear out of a vacuum
Along with the misunderstanding about someone being “self-made” is the idea that our unique giftedness is simply our own doing. It’s true that gifts can and should be cultivated, but they are initially embedded in us by a Power much greater than ourselves. Again, we see this truth playing out repeatedly in Scripture. For instance, when God led Moses to build the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant, God singled out a man named Bezalel to be responsible for all the work involving precious metals, gemstones, and woodwork and also appointed Oholiab to be his assistant. We read this about these two men:
“Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel… I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! I have personally appointed Oholiab… to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make.” (Exodus 31:2-6)
Truth 4: You and I will give account someday for all the assets that were placed within our control
Perhaps this is the most sobering truth of all, at least for me. Whether we acknowledge that God owns it all, or that a “self-made” man is a delusion, or that our gifts come from God, someday you and I will give account for all that God placed within our control. The bank accounts and every other tangible asset and intangible gifts that we have controlled or will control are being monitored by our Heavenly Father. We will give account to Him for how we have managed and stewarded them. This also includes our time.
When I personally think about this truth, I am greatly disheartened as I recognize the many times I have mismanaged God’s resources, finite ones that He entrusted to me. But this truth also compels me to not merely look backwards but more importantly to focus on what is ahead. I cannot change yesterday but I can impact today and tomorrow.
What about you? Do you recognize that someday you will be called to account for every asset that is within your control? And if so, does that cause you to reevaluate your actions and priorities, and how you are using the finite resources in your life?
One of my favorite stories from Scripture relating to the topic of Stewardship is the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew 25. The quick summary of the story is this.
A master goes away for some time but before he leaves he provides his three servants with funds to work with while he’s gone. To the first servant he gives five bags of silver; the second he gives two bags of silver; and the third he gives one bag. While the master is gone, the first and second servant get to work. When the master returns, they both doubled what the master gave them, with the first earning an additional five bags of silver and the second earning two more bags. Consequently, both servants are amply rewarded.
However, when the master calls the third servant forward, he is only able to return the original one bag of silver, having earned nothing for his master. The master rightly becomes very angry, takes away the one bag of silver that had been entrusted to him, and the third servant is severely punished.
So we come to understand that just like these servants, we are all given varying amounts of resources, but someday we will be required to account for everything that God gave us, whether a physical asset or an intangible gift, or even an opportunity or our time, that we may have squandered. Recognizing this truth should cause us to reevaluate our view of possessions, wealth and stewardship. And as you and I do this, I trust we will become the kind of stewards for whom our Master will someday say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
Have you ever found yourself in a deep cavern or in a valley surrounded by mountains? If so, you’ve probably played the echo game, where you shout loudly and hear your returning echo. We’ve all done it. And what we hear back is exactly what we yelled.
Nothing new. Nothing extraordinary. Just the same message we uttered moments earlier.
Imagine for a minute though that listening to your echo was the only form of communication in which you engaged. Not only would your subject matter be limited and grow redundant over time, but you would never learn anything new. The content of your echo would be limited to the extent of your own knowledge and understanding. Soon your mind would begin to atrophy from the lack of new knowledge or truths. I call this the Echo Chamber syndrome.
As I observe our society, and have pondered my own behavior at times, I have seen Echo Chambers dominating our culture, often amplified on social media. They are formed based on one’s ideological, political or religious views. Our nation has become so divided that we have segregated ourselves into subgroups whose values, views and perspectives are seldom at odds with our own.
This Echo Chamber syndrome reveals several truths which are not only alarming, but are contributing to an increasingly divided and hostile culture.
1. Echo Chambers eliminate the potential for any outside ideas or solutions. We already know that yelling in a cavern returns the precise message as the one you uttered. So if you’re looking for new ideas or solutions to the problems you are facing, you will get none. Instead, the solutions within your Echo Chamber will be limited by your own ideological perspectives. Perhaps you’re ok with that, thinking that those outside your little tribe couldn’t possibly offer anything of value. But if you possess that view, then you have just validated the next truth about Echo Chambers.
2. Echo Chambers are elitist in nature and pose the ultimate example of arrogance and superiority. As I’ve engaged with folks on both sides of the ideological fence, including conservatives and liberals. I’ve found that they share very similar attitudes. First, they believe their perspectives are superior to all others. Period. No other view counts. Second, folks on both sides of the ideological fence view anyone outside their belief system with skepticism and disdain. Third, they posit that those who are outside the confines of their little chamber are inferior and not even worth getting to know. It’s as if the other side has a contagious disease and we must not have any contact with them, at least not in the context of an engaging dialogue. But that attitude leads to the next truth about Echo Chambers.
3. Echo Chambers reject the idea that we can “reason together” and find areas of common ground. Individuals who spend their lives in an Echo Chamber indirectly affirm the idea that sharing time with those who have differing views is hazardous to one’s own ideology. They believe that there is no common ground with millions of individuals on the “other side.” Period. So why waste one’s time even attempting to do so? But embracing this flawed thinking leads to another sad truth of Echo Chambers.
4. Echo Chambers discourage the forging of new relationships with those outside our little network. If conversations foster relationships, which in turn grow trust, there is no wonder that our nation is so divided. The mistrust is at an alarming level. And yet, there is a rather simple solution to breaking down those walls of distrust. Conversations. And no I’m not talking about everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Conversations can oftentimes expose areas of absolute disagreement, but, if done in a respectful manner, simply having the dialogues can increase respect for each other. As that occurs, relationships begin to form. But without relationships, this next reality of an Echo Chamber, perhaps the saddest, will prevail.
5. Echo Chambers are completely ineffective for sharing truth to those without the truth. If you believe you have the truth, whether it is the political ideology you embrace, or even the spiritual faith you practice, there is no greater way to hide that truth than to remain in an Echo Chamber. Those in your little chamber already have the truth as you see it. And so to remain in your little tribe results in many others never coming to know the truth. This verse in Scripture reminds me of this reality: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15) If you want your truth to be heard, then get outside your Echo Chamber and share it with those who have yet to hear or understand it.
I can already hear some saying, “yeah but the ideas of the other side are not only wrong, they are dangerous.” For a moment let’s assume that is correct. The “other side” is no doubt comprised of a few leaders and many followers. It’s likely that the leaders are incapable of changing their dogma. But the followers are less assured and may be willing to entertain sound arguments, particularly if they are presented in a safe and engaging dialogue, that is shared within a growing relationship. Those followers will never hear your truth if you regurgitate your message in your little Echo Chamber.
So for the sake of expanding your understanding of truth, and your own mental growth, I encourage you to exit your Echo Chamber. Begin making a difference by developing relationships that are based on mutual respect and honest dialogue. As you do this, I believe it can break down the walls that have served to divide us all. And who knows, you may even find that your perspectives were not so flawless after all.