HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah 

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 19, 2017)

It was a perfect end to a busy week. I had accomplished everything on my agenda, which is rare. Now it was time to head home and catch up on some well-needed family time. My face was smiling, my shoulders were relaxed, my mind was clear, my steps were unhurried, and I was humming Old Satch, “What a Wonderful World.” Then it happened. In a matter of seconds, the smile vanished, the shoulders became tense, the mind turned muddy, the swag was gone, and I think I began humming Old Hank, “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.” The family time was nothing like I had envisioned. If truth be told, it was a rather miserable weekend. You ask, “What brought such sudden and miserable change?” Well, I ran into a toxic person. You know the type who pushes you into Bunyan’s Slough of Despond, the fictional bog in which a person sinks under the weight of sin, guilt, shame, and discouragement. Have you ever been a victim of a toxic person? Let me share with you how to handle them:

First, recognize them for who they are. Toxic people come in all types. Dr. Travis Bradberry (double PhD in Clinical and Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence 2.0) identifies 10 kinds of toxic people: The Gossip, The Temperamental, The Victim, The Self-Absorbed, The Envious, The Manipulator, The Dementor, The Twisted, The Judgmental, and The Arrogant. Most of these designations are self-explanatory except for maybe the Dementor and the Twisted. The former are the kind who suck the life out of the room by their negativity and pessimism and the latter are out to hurt you, make you feel bad, or get something from you. Bradberry warns, “toxic people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs…Toxic people don’t just make you miserable—they’re really hard on your brain.”

Next, always be prepared to face toxic people. To think that we can avoid them completely is unrealistic and naïve. They might be in the family, neighborhood, workplace, or social organizations (even church!). Trying to ignore them or keep them at arm’s length will only aggravate the situation and attempting to mirror their behavior will only lead to disaster. Instead, learn their behavior patterns and establish the appropriate emotional boundaries in your mind. Don’t get smug like me and stumble into a bad weekend. Also, avoid any toxic song, show, movie, book, or event in your life. Such things only add unnecessary toxicity to your life.

What if the damage has been done? Many years ago I allowed a toxic person to steal my joy. It took a toll on my health, family, and spiritual life. God in his mercy sent a mature person into my life who immediately recognized my distress. He pointedly asked, “Do you want this toxin out of your system?” At first I pretended to be fine and then the Holy Spirit convicted me of my pride. This godly person told me that he too struggled with it and he found help in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44 “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” He said, “Start praying that God would bless this person who has been toxic in your life. Pray for the next 20 days for physical, spiritual, and financial blessing in their life. Be aware that the first time you pray that it will be impossible to mouth those words. Do it again the next day and you might feel sick to your stomach but don’t stop. Eventually, it will become easier and easier. Then, there will come a day when you will pray and actually find yourself praying sincerely as if for a friend. Somewhere towards the end of the 20 days, you’ll wake up one morning and realize that you are free. The toxin has cleared out of your system.” Guess what! It actually worked!

Ultimately, sin is the toxin and only the grace of God through Jesus Christ can heal your life. Give it a try today.

When Ministry Grows by Pastor Abidan Shah

WHEN MINISTRY GROWS by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

whenministrygrowsIntroduction: This is our second message in our new series – NO BENCHWARMERS and this one is called – “WHEN MINISTRY GROWS.”

Nehemiah 4   6 So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. 7 Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, 8 and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. 9 Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.

Bridge: How many of you would agree with the statement – “Anytime something good begins to happen, the Devil always shows up”? It is true in our personal lives, in our families, in our workplaces as a Christian, and even in our church.

Nehemiah - Gustave DoreContext: The Book of Nehemiah is a perfect example of this. The Jewish people led by Nehemiah were trying to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. If you remember, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 587 BC, destroyed the Temple, and the city walls. In 539 BC God had brought the people back into the land and commanded them to rebuild. They rebuilt the temple by 516 BC but the city walls lay in ruins. A city without walls is a city without security, stability, and identity. So God sent a man by the name of Nehemiah in 445 BC to bring the people of Jerusalem and Judah together to rebuild the city walls. If you do the math, that’s almost 100 years after they were back to the land! It’s easy to tear down a work but it’s very hard to rebuild one. By much prayer, Nehemiah rallied the people to begin the work but it wasn’t long before the opposition showed up. In today’s message, we’re going to see what happens when ministry grows and opposition shows up.

Question: Are you part of God’s rebuilding project at Clearview? Are you even aware of what God is doing here at Clearview? Can you see how God is rebuilding lives, homes, marriages, young people and our community? Have you asked Him where He wants you to be in His building project? Are you saved? Are you a citizen of the Heavenly City?

4 things we will learn about what to do when a ministry grows and opposition comes:

I. EXPECT OPPOSITION.

Nehemiah 4:1 But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.

Sanballat the HoroniteBackground: Literally it means – this man named Sanballat was hot and irritated when he saw the Jewish people rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and he began to mock and make fun of the people rebuilding the wall. Who was Sanballat? Archaeologists tell us that he was the governor of Samaria to the north of Jerusalem. He was Nehemiah’s chief enemy. The wall was a threat to him. So what does he do? He begins to ridicule the Jewish people. Ridicule or mockery is Satan’s choice weapon to discourage and dishearten God’s people. Shakespeare called ridicule “paper bullets of the brain.” Scottish Philosopher Thomas Carlyle once called ridicule “the language of the devil.”

Tobiah the AmmoniteWhat did Sanballat say? 2 And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? (He mocked them physically.) Will they fortify themselves? (He mocked their construction knowledge.) Will they offer sacrifices? (He mocked their faith) Will they complete it in a day? (He mocked their determination.) Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?” (He mocked their resources) 3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him…” Who was Tobiah? He was the governor of Ammon to the east of Jerusalem. He came from a family of very powerful Jewish aristocrats. He wasn’t happy either because the wall was also a threat to him. “And he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.’” Chuck Swindoll remarked – “Critics run with critics.”

Application: Have you ever had to deal with Satan’s mockery? I’ve had to. Sometimes he uses people who appear very close to you. You would think that it would be easy to brush it off but its not. Warren Wiersbe said, “Some people who can stand bravely when they are shot at will collapse when they are laughed at.” Have you abandoned some God-given dreams because someone ridiculed you? Let the Holy Spirit help you refocus and get back to the task God has called you to. As a church, we have to be aware of Satan’s opposition. Be aware of his ridicule through some Sanballat or some Tobiah.

II. REMEMBER TO PRAY.

4 “Hear, O our God, for we are despised…”

Background: Nehemiah could have become angry; he could have argued with Sanballat and Tobiah; he could have believed them and given up. Instead, he did what he did when the work first began. He turned towards God. Listen to his prayer: 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! 5 Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer. He prayed what is known as an imprecatory prayer, where he prayed for God’s judgment upon the enemy. That sounds awful, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t they have prayed like Jesus – “Father forgive them for they not know what they do”? Keep in mind that Nehemiah was not praying for personal vengeance. He was reminding God that the enemy had dishonored Him. They were provoking Him. Nehemiah knew that ultimately this was God’s work. And did prayer work? 6 So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

Application: At Clearview we believe strongly in the power of prayer. Every Sunday morning we have the Sunday Morning Prayer Zone where men pray for the service. Every Tuesday morning the ladies come together for a time of prayer. Wednesday evening before Bible study we have a time of prayer. Then this weekend, Friday noon to Saturday noon we will be having our prayer vigil. If you haven’t signed up, go by the welcome room and sign up. Men – we need you to sign up for the night hour so the women can come in and pray during the day hour. The only way we as a church still have “a mind to work” is because God keeps giving us the strength to persevere in the face of opposition.

III. GUARD THE MISSION. 

Nehemiah's enemies7 Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, Keep in mind that the Enemy never gives up. God is blessing Clearview. Lives are being transformed. Do you think the Enemy is happy? Absolutely not. Once he knows that we’re not going to respond to his ridicule, he will return with another weapon. 8 “and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.” Another of the Enemy’s choice weapons is confusion. He likes to come in and get the people all confused about their roles and the direction“I don’t know what I am doing…” “I don’t know where we are going…” What happens when people are confused about those two things? They turn on each other and before you know it the work is over.

What did Nehemiah and the Jewish people do? 9 Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night. Meaning: They prayed and actively began to guard the work against any confusion from the enemy. They were clear about who they were and what they were doing.

Today we had our first annual praise team retreat. The one thing they discussed more than anything else was the mission of Clearview. Do you know the mission of Clearview? Our mission is to “lead all people into a life-changing and ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” Our slogan is “Making Christ Visible.”

Application: Do you guard yourself against the Enemy? Do you reject his attempt to bring confusion into our church family? Do you know what is the mission of our church? Do you know what your role is in the body?

IV. DIVIDE THE WORK.

Nehemiah guards vision10 Then Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.” Who is Judah? It is another designation for the Jewish people. It was a way of saying that all the Jewish people began to lose their momentum. The task seemed too big. Plus, verse 11 And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.” The Enemy is relentless, especially when people are tired.

Can this happen at church? Oh yes! The 20% gets tired and wants to quit. They start hearing a negative comment here and an attitude there and they want to give up. What was Nehemiah’s reaction to all this? 13 Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. Nehemiah is dividing up the work and every family is involved in doing their part. But, there’s something more – 14 And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Nehemiah does not tell them to build the wall. He tells them to see the big picture. Fight for your loved ones.

Application: How do you see your role at Clearview? Is it “I got to teach Sunday School. I have to keep nursery. I have practice tonight. Is it Kindle again this week?” Or do you look at what you do as fighting for your brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, wives, and husbands?

16 So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. 17 Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Nehemiah continues to divide the work and guard the vision.

Application: Have you been praying and asking God where He wants you to work? The title of the series is “No Benchwarmers.” Are you a benchwarmer?

Just so we don’t walk away thinking that Nehemiah was a very skillful project manager, listen to these verses – 19 Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

In the end Nehemiah reminded them that God was going to give them victory. In the end God will work everything together for good at Clearview. Our best days are here and even better days are coming ahead.

Are you trusting God to fight for you? Do you know the Living and True God? Are you saved

Loving the Unlovables – Part Two

LOVING THE UNLOVABLES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
unlovables2

Introduction: This morning we are in part 2 of our message – “Loving the Unlovables.” It’s easy to love people who love us. It’s easy to love people who are just like us. But, it’s very difficult to love people who hate us and want to hurt us. If I may say it, it’s impossible to love them without the love of Christ in our hearts.

Matthew 5   43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Overall Background: The passage we just read is the crescendo of the Sermon on the Mount. R.T. Kendall, a famous Bible teacher and one time pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, said (I’m paraphrasing), “If the Sermon on the Mount is the Swiss Alps (beautiful and majestic mountain ranges in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and France) of the Bible, then the passage we just read is the Matterhorn or the highest peak in the Swiss Alps.” The other passages are important but this one is the most difficult of all. Listen again to verse 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies…” It goes totally against our visceral nature, our natural human tendency. Let me repeat what I said earlier – “It’s easy to love people who love us, but it’s very hard to love people, be kind to people, do good to people who do not love us or hate us, or even want to hurt us. Our natural inclination is to payback, to fire back, or to return hate for hate.”

Question: Who comes to your mind right now? Is there someone in your life who is difficult to love? Do they seem to bring out the worst in you? Do you wish that if this person were not in your life, it would be so much better? Again, please don’t misunderstand – this passage is not about bombing terrorist hideouts and fighting back when someone threatens your life, family, or country. This passage is about loving people who are difficult to love. The Holy Spirit has brought you here for a reason. Are you saved? If not, you are an enemy of God. Christ came to reconcile you.

3 questions we will try to answer from this passage on how to love the unlovables:

I. WHO CAN BE OUR ENEMY?

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies…”

Background: First, who is our neighbor? According to Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Neighbor was anyone who was part of the family of Israel. You were obligated to love them. Enemy was anyone who was not part of the family of Israel. They were outside your blood family or religious family. In other words, you’re not going to see them at family reunions or church service. You are connected to them because of some obligation or need or some situation. You may see them at work, neighborhood, or community but other than that you have no bond with them.

Let me clarify – not everyone who is not blood family or church family is necessarily our enemy. There are people we come across with daily that we get along with. Here’s a positive example: In our flight from New York to Tel Aviv, we got stuck because of the snow. When you are around the same group of people in the same situation for an extended period of time, you develop a bond. I sat next to an orthodox Jewish man and we talked and laughed and got along well. It was positive. But here’s a negative example: On our way back from New York to RDU, our flight was delayed about 7 hours because of the snow. Finally, when we got on board, the airhostess had a very bad attitude. She had a scowl on her face and she snapped at everything and everyone. If I’m not wrong she even called me a name under her breath. She was the enemy. I had no obligation to her. I didn’t want anything from her. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and get away from her and even report her.

By the way, on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s a 2. But, the enemy could be much worse. A 10 is someone who wants to kill you. Hopefully none of us have any 10s in our lives! When Jesus said those words I can almost visualize hands going up – “Do you mean that I have to love these Romans who desecrate our holy ground, who kill our people, who control our lives?” “Do you mean that I need to love these filthy Samaritans who harassed our ancestors, who don’t believe like we believe?” “Do you mean that I need to love these immoral tax collectors and prostitutes who corrupt our culture, who have no regard for God?” You can almost visualize the crowd thinning out. “I can’t do that. That’s too much. No one can do that.”

Question: Who comes to mind right now? Who do you wish was not in your life? Is it a neighbor, co-worker, someone you came across at the grocery store. Is it because you come from a different cultural, geographical, political, or theological background? Is it because you have different skin pigmentation? Is it because they are envious over your looks? Is it because they are envious over why you keep getting blessed and they don’t? “Why do you have a better life, better education, better job, better home, or a better car? Why does it always work out for you and not for them?” Let me flip that around – Whose enemy are you? Who considers you as a thorn in their side? Both situations are just as sinful – to have an enemy or to be an enemy.

II. HOW SHOULD GOD’S CHILDREN RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES?

44 But I say to you, love your enemies…

Background: How do people typically respond to their enemies? Our basic response to our enemies is to retreat – just get away from them. Just like I felt towards that airhostess. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane. Sometimes people just try to repress it. Or sometimes it is retaliation. We want to give them exactly what they give us. If they curse us, we want to curse them back. If they hate us, we want to hate them back. If they spitefully use us and persecute us, we want to do the same to them. Sometimes we even apologize but it is false reconciliation. I like to call it “disguised retaliation.” You apologize to someone but add something like this – “I’m sorry for whatever I did to you.” It’s another way of saying – “You are being over sensitive.” Or, like this man who sent me an email – “I just want to tell you that I have forgiven you for all the hurt you caused me.” Then he threw in a couple of verses, preaching to me. The problem is that this man was still angry over a decision I had to make against him. He was still retaliating. I was still his enemy and he was paying me back. The only time you ever say “I forgive you” to someone is if they need to hear that from you.

So how should we respond to our enemies? Listen to what Jesus said – 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…”

In other words, you cannot ignore them, avoid them, argue with them, gossip against them, or use disguised retaliation against them. You show real, genuine, godly love towards your enemy by blessing them instead of cursing them, doing good to them instead of hating them, and praying for them instead of spitefully using and persecuting them. That’s easier said than done!

Who is your model? Your Father in heaven! Listen to verse 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Meaning: God is not just a holy God but He’s also gracious. We are to be like Him.

Application: How do you respond to your enemies? Ironically, I was on this passage when this airhostess was being rude. The Holy Spirit convicted me and reminded me to put this into practice. It was hard. First, I had to pray for her. Next, He told me to speak to her on the way out.

III. WHY DOES IT MATTER HOW WE RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES? 

48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Background: The Greek word for perfect is “teleios.” Some people argue for sinless perfection but that’s not the meaning here. In fact, James 3:2 counters this very well – “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” In other words, “We all sin but if anyone can avoid sinning by words, he is a perfect man.” The meaning of the word “teleios” is also mature. What Jesus is saying is that when you begin to love your enemies instead of hating them, bless them instead of cursing them, and pray for them instead of paying them back, you will be like your Father in heaven and be more spiritually mature.

The airhostess was being immature but it was up to me to prove my pedigree. Will I be just like her or will I be truly spiritually mature and prove that God is my Father. The plane landed and the Holy Spirit told me once again to speak to her. So I turned around with a genuine smile and asked her if she’ll be able to make it home. She replied – “I can’t. This one-day trip has turned into a five-day trip. Now, I’m looking for someone to watch my kids.” I wished her well. Thank goodness for this passage or I was planning on reporting her. I’ve been praying for her ever since.

Sometimes things are not that easy. Some years back an individual broke my trust and went on a rampage against me, talked trash about me, and just hurt me. For a long while I was carrying this heavy load. It affected my personal life and spiritual life. One day I was talking to a friend of mine and he told me if I want to be set free from this. I said – “Of course I do.” Then pray for him. “Of course I do. I pray that God will convict him and lead him to repentance and all that.” He said that’s not what he was talking about. “Pray that God will bless him.” It’ll be hard but that’s the only answer. I tried it and guess what it worked! It took 3-4 weeks.

This is what Jesus did on the cross. He prayed Luke 24:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” G. Campbell Morgan once remarked that he expects to see in heaven the very men who nailed Jesus to the cross. After all, Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.

Invitation: Whom do you need to pray for today? Could it be that you are blessed because your enemy has actually prayed for you? Are you saved?

KEEPING YOUR SPIRITUAL FIRE BURNING (article)

KEEPING YOUR SPIRITUAL FIRE BURNING, Pastor Shah, Henderson

(Article in the Local Newspaper – The Daily Dispatch, Henderson, July 20, 2013)

Keeping your Spiritual Fire BurningOne of the saddest sights for me is to see a Christian person or a church or a ministry that began in a fire but now living in a smoke. William Booth (Founder of the Salvation Army) once said to a group of new officers, “I want you young men always to bear in mind that it is the nature of a fire to go out; you must keep it stirred and fed and the ashes removed.”

The Book of Nehemiah is a great example of how the fire went out in the life of the Jewish people. You may remember the story – Nehemiah came to help them rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. It was a monumental task. They had to face opposition from the local rulers – Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Nonetheless, they looked towards God, worked round the clock and completed the project in only 52 days! It was clear testimony to the hand of God upon their lives. The people were full of joy and faith. They stood for hours and read the Bible and confessed their sins before God. They made a covenant with God never to turn from Him. It was a real revival!

But, by the time we get to the final chapter of the book, we see a completely different picture. Everything that Nehemiah had worked for in twelve years had fallen apart. In fact, if I were writing the Book of Nehemiah, I would have left out chapter 13. Such is not the case with the Bible. It is the Word of God and it never tries to air brush the character flaws of its heroes. How did this spiritual decline happen? It began when Nehemiah had to leave Jerusalem and go to Persia for a year. While he was gone, the old enemy Tobiah saw his opportunity to sneak back in. The priest had allowed Tobiah to set up office inside the holy temple. Keep in mind – this was the same Tobiah who had who mocked the Jewish people and tried to discourage them. Now that he was allowed in, he was doing everything possible to sabotage the work. No wonder the temple was in disarray; no wonder the people were not giving and assembling; no wonder the spiritual fire had burned out.

How did Nehemiah react to all this? In his words, it grieved me bitterly.” (Neh. 13:8) All his hard work had gone to waste. He was outraged. It didn’t take him long to recognize the root of the problem. He immediately threw Tobiah’s belongings out of the temple and had it cleansed. Next, he brought back the articles of the house of God along with the grain offering and the frankincense. He chastised the rulers for neglecting the house of God and failing to pay the Levites. He challenged the people to start giving their tithes and offerings to the Lord. He did not mince words in confronting the people about their failure to assemble and intermingling with the pagans.

What is the lesson in all this for us? It is very easy to slip back to the same old in the Christian life. The place to begin is to recognize where we have allowed some Tobiah to creep back into our lives. Remember – this Tobiah can be a person, a habit, an attitude, or some sin. They may appear to be spiritual and friendly but they are the devil in disguise. Unless you deal with them harshly, your spiritual fire will continue to die. The next step is to restore your first love. Bring back your worship, your giving, and your allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

As Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “You are doing a lot of good things. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

WHEN YOU ARE NEAR THE FINISH LINE

WHEN YOU ARE NEAR THE FINISH LINE by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson

Three Examples:

1. A young girl grew up in church, great potential, wonderful goals in life. Next thing, she gets around people who pretending to be her friend lead her astray. Now she is no longer focussed and heading to her goal but has gone off the deep end.

2. Last Thursday I received an email from a friend. In the email, he mentioned a famous person whom I have admired for sometime. Most of you would know who he is if I were to mention his name. But I won’t. This friend mentioned this famous person and used the adjective “fallen.” Immediately, I went on the Internet and typed his name. Sure enough this man whom I had admired had left his wife of twenty years and was living with a mistress. He had a very high-profile position; he had influenced thousands of people for good; he had run very well; He was near the finish line but he had fallen.

3. A church that is doing great things for the Lord. Next thing, there are terrible problems. Now the church has gone through several splits. It no longer has any vision or direction.

Nehemiah 6:1-4 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm. So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.

Overall Background: Nehemiah had to overcome incredible odds to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.

  • He had to get permission from the King of Persia.
  • He had to travel 700 miles across the desert to get to Jerusalem.
  • He had to deal with the taunts and threats of the enemies.
  • He had to deal with the lack of motivation of some people.
  • He had to deal with internal problems among the people.

When You Are the Near the Finish LineIn spite of all the obstacles, Nehemiah led the people to finish the wall around Jerusalem but then listen to what happens in verse 1: Now it happened whenSanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm. Knowing that the work was almost done, Nehemiah’s enemies did not stop their attacks. Instead, they rallied together for one final, ultimate assault.

Listen carefully—Just because you can see the finish line of your life, marriage, work, and ministry does not mean the race is over. In fact, the greatest attack of the enemy is usually right before you cross the finish line. He knows that he cannot stop the work; he knows that he has failed before; yet he still believes that he can get you and he launches every weapon in his arsenal to bring you down. Just like the person I mentioned earlier, many people forget that the last quarter of the race is just as important as the first quarter of the race.

This morning, I want us to see how Nehemiah handled these attacks. First, I want us to see how the attacks came against him.

I. LET’S PUT THE PAST BEHIND US.

Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, Who were these two men?

Background: If you remember, thus far, Sanballat was the chief enemy of Nehemiah. He was the governor of Samaria to the north of Jerusalem. He hated Nehemiah from Day One. While Nehemiah wanted to help the people of Jerusalem, Sanballat wanted to advance his own agenda. He knew that if the Jewish people were successful in rebuilding the wall, he would no longer be in control. So he did everything he could to sabotage the project. He was not a friend but the ringleader of the opposition.

Geshem, if you remember, was also a major opposition of Nehemiah. Some archaeological discoveries describe him as the governor of Dedan; others describe him as the king of Kedar. That being the case, Geshem controlled the eastern desert region of Syria, northern Arabia, Sinai, and northern Egypt. He was a very powerful ruler and he was afraid that rebuilding the wall and empowering the people would interfere with his lucrative trade in myrrh and frankincense, besides many other things. He was not a friend but a huge opposition.

What did they want? “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” Ono was halfway between Samaria and Jerusalem. It was a kind of a neutral ground but it was away from Jerusalem. It was closer to the enemy territory.

How did Nehemiah respond? But they thought to do me harm. Nehemiah felt in his spirit that this was a mistake. “Why would these people who have opposed me so far want to be my friends?” More than likely their plan was to lure him away from Jerusalem and then kidnap him or kill him or just say, “he had an accident.” Nehemiah had what the world calls a “sixth sense” but what we know to be a sense of discernment.

So what did Nehemiah do?So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner. Meaning: Nehemiah knew that unless God had changed their hearts, they were up to no good. Unless the grace of God through Jesus Christ breaks and molds the hearts of the people, they don’t change.

How did Nehemiah have this sense of discernment? Because he was a person of prayer. Every step of the way he had prayed and trusted God and the time he spent with God made him aware of the enemy. Just like King Solomon prayed before God – Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil.” (1 Kings 3:9) Some people consider their bad experiences as their sense of discernment. But your past can make you a bitter recluse. Some people consider their suspicious personality to be their sense of discernment. But your personality can leave you looking over your shoulders all your life. It’s only the Holy Spirit through prayer who gives the most accurate discernment against the enemy.

For e.g. I can give you plenty of negative examples but let me give you a positive. When Nicole’s dad began as a pastor, there was a man in his church by the name of George. This man opposed him every step of the way. Later, Nicole’s father left and went on the mission field and pastored some other churches. About 10 years later, he was asked to help plant a church in one of the fastest growing areas in the country. They began meeting in a high school auditorium and one Sunday morning guess who walked in? George. Pastor Jerry said to himself, “Oh no!” Little did he realize what God had done in George’s life. He was not the same man. Long story short – George became his right hand man until the day he died and the church had several hundred in just a few months.

Application: Let me ask you a question – would you like to be a bitter recluse or a suspicious person or would you rather have the Holy Spirit’s discernment in your life? It only comes through prayer.

II. LET’S GET EVERYTHING OUT IN THE OPEN.

Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand.

Nehemiah open letterBackground: In those days, letters were written on papyrus or leather sheet, tied with a string, and then sealed. Only the person addressed could break the seal and open the letter. Sanballat send an open letter so that everyone who saw it could read its contents.

What was in the letter?In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. This was a psychological tactic. “Everybody knows what’s going on. Even if they didn’t, they do now with the open letter.” The Persian kings did not tolerate people pretending to be kings. Nehemiah worked for the king and he knew that very well.

What’s the solution? 7b Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together. Meaning: Let’s straighten things out. We’ll hear both sides of the story and then we’ll get all this sorted out. They were using the “guilty unless proven innocent” approach. How tempting it was for Nehemiah to say—“ I don’t want these rumors to go any further. Let me clear up my name.”

For e.g. I see this on Facebook – people trying to clear up their name. “You know who you are and I know what you said about me.” Why do people fall for this foolishness?

How did Nehemiah respond?Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.” Meaning: Thanks but no thanks. Nehemiah was a man of prayer and he knew that they were making this up. He had no need for anyone to take care of his reputation. He trusted God with his integrity.

For e.g. I’ve been there myself. Someone was talking trash about me. Another person wanted to play the mediator – “I will sit with both of you and help you work this out.” This person wanted to play the mediator but they couldn’t work out their own relationships. About the same time, another person came to me who had known me for sometime and said, “I trust you. I don’t need to know the other side.”

What else did Nehemiah do? For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands. He went back to his work and went back to prayer.

Application: May I ask you – “Who is trying to distract you from your work?” Who is trying to play the mediator in your life?

III. LET’S PROTECT YOU FROM THE ENEMY.

10 Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.”

Background: This was a very shrewd tactic. This man Shemaiah pretended to be a friend and pretended to be a prophet of God who wanted to protect Nehemiah from the enemy. His plan to Nehemiah was to go hide in the temple. What’s wrong with that? Only the priests were allowed to enter the sanctuary. According to Numbers 18:7c “the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” In II Chronicles 26 we hear about King Uzziah who tried to burn incense in the temple and God struck him with leprosy. Shemaiah plan was two-fold: Get Nehemiah in the temple and then have him killed according to the Law or to let God strike him with leprosy.

How did Nehemiah respond? 11 And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!” 12 Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me. Being a person of prayer and integrity Nehemiah recognized the true intent of Shemaiah and he refused his offer.

Listen carefully: A true friend will not lead you to disobey God. A true friend will lead you to trust God more and obey Him and reject fear.

Let me say this as your pastor: If I ever teach you to live in fear, I don’t need to be your pastor. 2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

The enemy used everything possible to attack Nehemiah. 1. Let’s put the past behind us. 2. Let’s get everything out in the open. 3. Let’s protect you from the enemy. At first glance, they all seem legitimate and harmless. But when you pray, you can see the beady eyes of the devil behind every one of them. Nehemiah prayed and trusted in God.

What was the result? 15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. (just two months) 16 And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.

As the pastor, my heart’s desire is very simple: When all is said and done, no one should say, “Oh that church grew because of the preaching or music or programs or leadership or building.” Instead, the world should say “This work was done by God.”

When the dust settles, people should see Jesus Christ and no one else. Do you know Him? Are you looking to Him or are you looking at the enemy?

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