MISSION POSSIBLE SERMON SERIES
DIE HARD – UNDERSTANDING THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE
JUNE 30, 1996
It all started when our youth pastor, Paris Wallace, gave my four year old son, EJ, a tattoo at a recent youth concert. Not that EJ needed another tattoo, he has more tattoos than Dennis Rodman; Spiderman tattoos, Power Ranger tattoos, Dream Team tattoos. Let me, right up front, set the record straight. My wife, Lisa, is not putting the four kids into the suburban, driving them down to a Deep Ellum tattoo parlor weekly for the real deal. We are talking about fake tattoos, temporary tattoos, the kind you peel off, wet, and stick to your skin. EJ is crazy about tattoos. He calls them tattunes. When Paris handed him his prize possession at the youth concert, the first words out of EJs mouth were, “Daddy, please put the tattune on now, now, now.” I said, “EJ, I can’t right now, we are in a concert. I promise you once we get home we will put the tattoo on before you go to bed.” “Ok, ok, ok.” Thirty minutes later, “The tattune, Dad, the tattune.” “I can’t do it now but I will when we get home.” As we were driving home from the concert, EJ had an attitude problem. He had a brief altercation with his nine year old sister, LeeBeth. Then he made the mistake of talking back to Lisa and I. I interjected a statement that children hate to hear, “Son, because of your behavior, there will be no tattoo tonight.” Hysteria and theatrics followed.
We were saying our bedtime prayers and EJ said, “God, please give me the tattune, now.” The next morning EJ wakes up at 6am when Lisa and I were still sleeping. He walks to my side of the bed, puts his face about three inches from mine and says, “Daddy, will you please put the tattune on now?” That Saturday morning EJ began doing voluntary acts of service, for example, sharing with the twins. Finally, I broke down and gave him the tattoo and he still has it right there on his left forearm.
What was going on here? My four year old son was modeling a characteristic which happens to be our topic today; persistence. You see, EJ was focused, he was relentless. He had a mission and his mission was to secure that tattoo or in his vernacular, tattune. Today we are going to look again at the life of a man who modeled persistence as well as anyone who ever lived. His name was Nehemiah. This is the last session of a six week series on this outstanding leader. If you will remember, Nehemiah was asked by God to do something that seemed impossible. He was asked to go to Jerusalem and to rebuild the city walls, something which had not been accomplished in over ninety long years. Through it all, Nehemiah met discouragement, he met defeat and he met danger, yet he persisted. I believe today we can learn a thing or two about persistence from this man.
Before we jump into the topic of how to be persistent, I want to ask you a question. I want you to think about two or three areas in your life where you need to persist. Could it be in a marriage, some sort of relationship, a business opportunity, a project, continuing your education? What could it be? How do you persist?
Right up front Nehemiah shows us. If we are going to persist we have to learn how to dodge distractions. Remember that the wall Nehemiah was building was almost complete. They were planning the ribbon cutting ceremony. Everything was working beautifully. They were putting the finishing touches on the wall. Nehemiah 6:1. “When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it – though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates …” It was almost done, a defining moment in the life of Nehemiah and look what happened. Nehemiah began to go through temptation, a time of testing, a time of conflict, a time when his personal security and self-esteem were threatened. Yes, we have to watch out for temptation when times are tough, but also we have to watch out during the good times, right before we reach the peak, right before we are at the pinnacle, at the office, at school, in some relationship or in the athletic domain. When did Bathsheba cross the gaze of David? When David was number one, had never known defeat in any area of his life, that is when he looked and lusted and fell. Remember Jonah, the quintessential running man. God said, “Jonah, go to Nineveh, there are a lot of people who matter to me there and who don’t know Me. I want you to preach about me to them.” Jonah said no. Finally, the reluctant prophet went to Nineveh and God used this man who had a close encounter with the great white shark. He used him to bring forth a spiritual awakening in the great city of Nineveh. Over 100,000 came to know God personally. And right after that, you would think Jonah would be elated. Instead, he entered the moan zone. He had a little pity party. After a defining moment, or right before a defining moment, Satan wants to get us off into this area or that area. He wants us to get distracted. And sometimes the temptation will follow.
Jesus after His spiritual high point of being baptized with the three persons of the trinity involved, after that Jesus was driven out into the wilderness and tempted. The most difficult day that I have during the week usually is either Sunday evening or Monday. God can have blessed in a mighty, mighty way. We could be riding the crest of a wonderful weekend service but for some reason that is when I feel down, many times. So we have got to watch out for those times and Nehemiah did.
Nehemiah 6:2. “Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.'” They wanted to sidetrack Nehemiah, to get him distracted, to get him involved in this meeting and to miss doing what he should have been doing. Do you know people who get trapped in the maze of meetings? They go from one luncheon to the next luncheon, from one breakfast to another, from one seminar to the next conference, they are lost in the maze of meetings. Many times meetings are good, but for the most part, in meetings you talk about what you should be doing. If we did what we know right now we would be a lot farther ahead in the game than going to another meeting or another conference or listening to another tape or watching another television show. We all know what it takes to be in great physical shape, eat properly, no fried foods, very little red meat, vegetables and fruit, work out aerobically four to five times a week, thirty to forty-five minute duration, pump some iron, do some pushups. It’s not complicated. “But I’ve got to read another book. I’ve got to buy another abdominizer. I’ve got to talk to the trainer.” Hey, that is great and fine but it is really a simple process. I kind of laugh when people say that spiritual maturity is something way out there. “I have got to have this special anointing or this special blessing or this particular truth from the Hebrew or the Greek. Then I will be spiritually mature.” Hey, spiritual maturity is simple. Spend time in God’s word, spend time in prayer, get involved in a local church. It takes discipline. Put into practice what you already know. Are you caught in the maze of meetings? You see, if we are going to be effective leaders we have got to say no about one hundred times to every yes. I am going to challenge you to play a brand new game every day, whether you are a homemaker, whether you are a student, whether you are a businessman or businesswoman. It is called Dodge the Distraction. You dodge it by saying no. By saying no to the golf game now and then. By saying no to the hunting trip now and then. By saying no to yet another Little League team. By saying no to another ballet recital. By saying no, no, no. You say no because there is a bigger yes behind the no. Dodge the distractions. These meetings and conferences will just pac-man our time if we don’t watch out.
Nehemiah said, “Oh, no.” to the meeting on the plain of Ono. Nehemiah 6:2; “But they were scheming to harm me….” How did he know that? You see this seemed like it was just a little ole meeting but Nehemiah saod. “No, I see the deal, they are scheming to harm me.” Nehemiah was able to dodge distractions because he had something we all need; discernment. Discernment is the God-given ability to read between the lines, to see what is really going on. Discernment helps us cut through the glare of deception to understand the implications of the situation. “…they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply; ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? Four times they sent me the same message and each time I gave them the same answer.” They E-mailed him, they faxed him, they left stuff on his voice mail. I bet Nehemiah’s recorder sounded like this. “Thanks for reaching the home of Nehemiah. I am not here, I am on the wall right now. If this is Sanballat, Tobiah or Geshem, sorry no chance I am talking with you. If it is someone else please leave a message after the beep.” Each time I gave them the same answer.
How do you get discernment? The people who have the best discernment are the people who spend time knowing what God says in His word, and people who spend quality time on their knees in prayer, and also people who communicate and live in community with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, you can have a natural discernment gift, but if you want that gift to be multiplied exponentially, if you want to be able to dodge distractions, and many times the distractions seem good or harmless, begin to pray and see as God sees. You begin to read the scripture and then everything will change and you will see distractions as distractions.
But we don’t just stop with dodging distractions. We also have to ground gossip. During the first five chapters, the opposition went after the group, the Jews rebuilding the wall. Now they are grasping at straws. Now they are getting personal. Now they are going after the leader, the man, Nehemiah. When I was in college, I drove a horrible car, a Cherokee Chief. This thing had about 120,000 miles on it, it had to be jump-started at least once a week, it was a nightmare. One morning I got up, walked downstairs in my parents home and walked outside. The car wouldn’t start. Oh, man. No one was at home but me. My father was out of town somewhere. I though whatever can I do. Oh yeah, Dad’s brand new Lincoln Continental is in the garage. It had 27 miles on it. So I cruised back to the garage, turn his car on and pull his car right in front of the Cherokee Chief. I picked up the jumper cables that I always carried in the front seat of the Chief. I hooked up his battery, hooked up the Cherokee’s battery. I jumped in the Cherokee and started the car. It turned over and I goosed it several times. Then I saw a little fire happen and the jumper cables explode. They are engulfed in flames and I watch the fire take the cables and melt them into my father’s brand new car. Oh, no. I learned a great lesson that day. You have to property ground the cables when you are jumping a car. If you don’t, your car and the cables can fry.
In life, if we don’t properly ground gossip, it can fry our existence. And Nehemiah had to deal with gossip. Notice what he did, he was able to ground it. Nehemiah 6:5. “Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter…” I’ll tell you what an unsealed letter was. An unsealed letter was something that Sanballat’s aide read from Samaria or Jerusalem. It was not private. It was kind of like what Jason Kidd did this week when he went to the press instead of going to the Mavericks first. “Oh, let me tell you what the problem is with Nehemiah. You see, Nehemiah is leading a revolt and he is also building a wall. Take a wild guess, Nehemiah is going to go back to Persia and take King Artaxerxes position. Can you believe it? It is unreal.” And Nehemiah’s enemies began to put some serious wind into the blades of the rumor mill. Look at this rumor. These guys were good. “It is reported among the nations…” Let me drop in here the first characteristic of a rumor. The source is never quoted. “Well, people have been coming to me with this, so let me tell you what the problem is.” If you inquire who said it, they can never identify the source. “It is reported among the nations – and Geshem says it is true – that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king.” Rumors are most often exaggerated, and the source rarely quoted.
Write this verse down if you would. Ephesians 4:29. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen. Here is your challenge. Take that verse and tape it to the telephone. Every time you are going to say something to someone, ask yourself this question. Is this constructive? Is what I am getting ready to share confidential? Or is it under the prayer request gossip? “We really need to pray for Sally, do you know what she is involved in?”
What did Nehemiah do with this gossip? Did Nehemiah try to chase it all down? Again, they wanted him to leave the wall and chase down all this stuff and miss his purpose. He didn’t do it. He didn’t play that game. He ignored it for the most part and he responded in this way. “Nothing like you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head…” The way you deal with a lie is to deal with the liar. All criticism is not bad, folks. Don’t ever think that. But when it comes in the form of gossip or you feel the wind of the rumor mill going, you had better run from it. And too many of us feed on gossip. We are like a bunch of speckled puppies eating Purina Dog Chow. “Oh, give me some more.” And we spread it and we move it around.
How do you ground gossip? Nehemiah 6:9, “But I prayed…” When you are struck down by gossip, you pray. You talk to God about it. “Now strengthen my hands.” It was straining him. He was a sensitive person and gossip hurts everyone, ladies and gentlemen. He asked God to strengthen his hand. Notice that Nehemiah got his strength, not from man, he got his security from God. If you are always worrying about what this person, this group, this team thinks of you, you are going to be insecure all of your life. I have got to wear this, join this, drive this just to please people. Nehemiah was not a man pleaser, he was a God pleaser. He saw who he was in the eyes of God. He saw that he mattered to God. He saw that he was one of a kind.
I want to say something to only the people here who are in the family of God. You see, if you are in the family of God, if you know the Lord personally, you can get your security from the three persons of the trinity. God, the father. We get our security from God, the father, because we are a member of His family. We are adopted into His clan for eternity. That is security. We get security from God, the Son, when we realize that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, shed His precious blood and rose again. That signifies our worth. So we are part of God’s family. God, the Son, gives us our worth. Then God, the Holy Spirit, enters us and works from the inside out to produce supernatural stuff in your life and mine. That gives us security because of the power that we have available in this relationship with the Lord. So we get our identity from the trinity.
Dodge distractions. Ground gossip. And also you have to be able to face fears. You have got to face the fear. Question. Do you think that Nehemiah was fearful? Oh, yeah, he was fearful. He was scared. Question. Do you think Nehemiah was a man of courage? No doubt. You see, you can be a courageous person and still be fearful. I think you have to have both. But, courageous people are willing to face their fears and take them on. Let’s see what the word of God says about it. Nehemiah 6:9. “They were all trying to frighten us…” When we are afraid our first reaction is that we will run. Leave the marriage, get out of the company. Poor Nehemiah, his friend Shemaiah sold out to Nehemiah’s enemies. I sort of feel sorry for him. He tells him to come on over to the temple, that they could hide and have a prayer service together. You know what the word temple here means in Hebrew. Temple is rendered the Holy of Holies. Nehemiah knew the word. Nehemiah understood from the book of Deuteronomy, chapters 13 and 18, that God said no one was to enter the Holy of Holies unless he was a priest. Suddenly Nehemiah had his discernment device going again. “Oh, oh, Shemaiah is messing me around now. I had better run from this situation.” He didn’t even pray about this one. Why? Because he knew that God had already said not to enter the Holy of Holies. So many of us waste time and energy discussing and counseling and praying for things that God already has spoken about and decided upon. “Well, should we have sex outside of marriage? We really love each other.” That is a no brainer. God has already said we are to abstain from sex until we are married. “Well, I wonder if homosexuality is OK. You know this is the 90s.” God says homosexuality is a sin before Him. “I wonder if adultery is wrong.” God already has said that adultery is wrong. “I wonder if I can just cheat Uncle Sam out of a little money because the government is so messed up anyway. Surely God won’t mind.” God says don’t do that. That is a sin. That is cheating. This is dishonesty. And we spend all this time talking about stuff when God has already mentioned it. Nehemiah didn’t waste time, he just said no, I won’t do it.
Nehemiah 6:12. “I realized that God has not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him…” Nehemiah 6:15, “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.” It was two and a half miles long. Do you realize that we have been in this series six weeks, forty-two days. Just think, Nehemiah is ten days away from completing the construction of a city wall against depression, against famine, against danger. Unbelievable. Nehemiah 6:16. “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” Once again, Nehemiah says it is a God thing. He orchestrated it. He designed it. It is His mission.
Contrast Nehemiah’s stance with the stance of a person mentioned in the book of Daniel, his name was King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 4:29. “Twelve months later as the King was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power for the glory of my majesty.” It is a little bit different. You know what God told Nebuchadnezzar after this? He said, “Because of your ego trip, because you think you did it, because you think you were the catalyst you, in a very short time, will be out in the fields eating grass with the cows.” And sure enough if you read on in Daniel 4, there is old Nebuchadnezzar with the animals.
The problem in our lives is that we are too flexible. We pat ourselves on the back too much. “It’s my project. I’m so great. I’m incredible.” When you are too flexible, when you get into the Nebuchadnezzar problem, it is just a matter of time before you lose it. Or you can say, it is by God’s mercy. It is by God that I am here.
Jesus is foreshadowed in the life of Nehemiah. Do you remember when Jesus was hanging on the cross, dying for your sins and mine? The people around Him said, “Look at Him. He is trying to save everybody else but He can’t save Himself. He can’t even jump down off the cross.” Jesus didn’t come down from the cross. Why? He could have saved Himself but He saved you and He saved me, because that was the overriding purpose in His life. “Nehemiah, come down off the wall. Nehemiah, go to Ono. Nehemiah, what about this rumor. Nehemiah, go to the Holy of Holies.” Nehemiah said, “No, my purpose is greater. This is my agenda.” And if Nehemiah would have left the wall he would have missed God’s best for his life. Again, what part of the wall do you want to leave? What part of the wall are you working on when you feel distractions? What part of the wall work is hurting you because of the gossip? What part of the wall job is causing you fear?
It is my prayer, for my own life and for your life, that we persist because God will do great things in the lives of people who love Him and who lead for Him.