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Feb 01, 2015

The Mortar of Truth in a World of Lies

The Mortar of Truth in a World of Lies

Passage: Nehemiah 5:14-6:19

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Rebuilding the City

Keywords: perseverance, truth, lies, attacks, leadership, modeling


This passage deals with the power of Nehemiah's modeled leadership, how he dealt with attacks and what God calls each of us to do to persevere.


The Mortar of Truth in a World of Lies

Nehemiah 6

February 1, 2015


Most of us know the name Rosa Parks. This rather quiet, introverted African American woman dared to challenge the racially prejudiced laws and practices in Montgomery, Alabama in December of 1955.  On December 1st that year, she refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. Her act of defiance and the resulting Montgomery Bus Boycott  became iconic symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement.  Her birthday is this week, February 4th

            Rosa knew the importance of every-day actions.  She knew that every one of us is a model for something…so she chose to be a model of peaceful resistance in the face of racial injustice. She is quoted as saying, "Each person must live their life as a model for others.”  And she certainly did.

INTRO:  What makes for great role models?  (Elicit answers.)

  • Integrity of character
  • Consistency
  • Transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Sacrifice
  • ???

No matter what it is you are trying to learn, there is nothing like having a role model to watch and see how it’s done. 

  • Portland Raceway experience
  • Watching good skiers while riding up the mountain.
  • Learning from Ed Underhill as a teenager and collegian.

We all need and benefit from good role models.  And we’ve all be marked by less than perfect ones.  Today as we work further through the book of Nehemiah, thinking about how God has called us to rebuild our city as he called Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem, I’d like us to focus on the model this man presents to us.  Nehemiah is an extraordinary leader.  He’s also a great citizen, great public servant, great strategist and great shepherd of people. 

            We didn’t get to the latter part of chapter 5 last week so I’d like to pick it up there this week. Let’s begin in vs. 14 (NLT). 

14 For the entire twelve years that I was governor of Judah—from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of the reign of King Artaxerxes—neither I nor my officials drew on our official food allowance. 15 The former governors, in contrast, had laid heavy burdens on the people, demanding a daily ration of food and wine, besides forty pieces of silver. Even their assistants took advantage of the people. But because I feared God, I did not act that way.

            Here’s a man in high public office, actually the highest political player in his entire country, and he acts SO unlike so many politicians and office holders in our country.  Hardly a week goes by when some public official isn’t indicted for misusing their office in some way. 

            But here is a man who, looking back as he is writing this history, can say to the people who knew him best, “Here’s how I lived among you for 12 years.  And not only me, but my entire staff, my entire team, all my advisors…we all lived this way.” 

            That was a stark contrast to previous governors.  How so?  Well, apparently the system allowed for the governor to collect daily rations of food for his governor’s mansion.  It also allowed for a collection of “40 pieces of silver.”  We’re not sure if that was a daily average or what everyone had to pony up for on an annual basis.  Those 40 pieces of silver were equivalent to 2/5ths of an ounce of silver…or roughly a pound of silver.  At today’s prices spot prices for silver, that would be roughly $275. I’m guessing every family in Jerusalem might have been required to pay that under previous governors.  As we saw last week, that might have meant for many families struggling economically in Jerusalem the difference between having to indenture your child as a servant to someone and being able to keep them free for most of their life.  

            So what was the motivation for Nehemiah to have such a radically different leadership practice from his predecessors?  It was his relationship with God.  In the end of vs. 15 he tells us why: “…because I feared God, I did not act that way.”  A leader’s relationship to God…or lack thereof…matters.  I don’t think there is a single leader in history you can point to whose actions in office were not shaped by what they really believed and experienced with God. 

            John Adams, first Vice President of the United States, second President after Washington, and one of the key framers of the Constitution said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  By religion, he clearly meant the Christian religion, not just any religion.  Adams knew that if either the leaders or the people in our nation became majoratively immoral and non-or-anti-religious/Christian, the Constitution of the United States would not serve us. 

            But Nehemiah was a God-fearing man.  He knew that the most important authority and judge of every action he took in leading people was not his Persian boss Artaxerxes or the local power brokers; it was God almighty.  And as a result, he treated his power and privilege with great restraint…and he treated the people with compassion. 

APP:   I’ll avoid going on a tirade about contemporary politicians who have driven our entire nation into debt to the tune of nearly 21 trillion dollars to date while taxing us to the tune of more than 6 trillion a year.  But I won’t avoid calling on you to pray regularly, fervently and boldly that God would raise up God-fearing public officials at all levels in our nation who will be more afraid of God then of any other source of power or money or influence.  World over, good leadership, good laws and good policies rise and fall on the leaders’ relationship to the only true God.  No human leader other than Jesus Christ some day will rule perfectly.  But what they do or don’t do in their private life with God will affect how they govern. 

            The reason for that is that good leadership flows from godly character.  The more a leader’s character is aligned with God’s character, the better off her or his subjects will be.  The more a public official seeks to govern as Christ would govern, the more they will be a true public servant rather than master.  And, friends, if we’re not praying for leadership like that, nobody else will.  And if we don’t and least pray that way…and I would even add vote that way when given the choice…, I very much doubt that God will give us leaders like Nehemiah. 

He goes on to talk more about his leadership. 

16 I also devoted myself to working on the wall and refused to acquire any land. And I required all my servants to spend time working on the wall. 17 I asked for nothing, even though I regularly fed 150 Jewish officials at my table, besides all the visitors from other lands! 18 The provisions I paid for each day included one ox, six choice sheep or goats, and a large number of poultry. And every ten days we needed a large supply of all kinds of wine. Yet I refused to claim the governor’s food allowance because the people already carried a heavy burden.

19 Remember, O my God, all that I have done for these people, and bless me for it.

Where talking a significant out-of-pocket expense for Nehemiah.  Feeding 150 or more people every day takes easily a thousand of dollars every DAY in contemporary terms.  Yet here is a man who had not taken this job because of what it would do for his personal finances.  In fact, it was probably going to move his personal finances the wrong direction in terms of the world’s values.  He didn’t use his position to get great land deals…or any land deals.  He required that his servants work on the city project like every other citizen.  And he himself worked on the wall just like his servants.  Here was a leader that led from the front…and led from godly character. 

            That’s not the standard in business or government or even education in American today.  Here’s how bad it has gotten. 

ILL:  About 9 years ago, I got a call from some pastoral head-hunter who tried to match available pastors with churches looking for a senior pastor.  It was about the time I was reading the handwriting on the wall in our former church, so I agreed to stay in touch and see what opportunities he might present. 

But the next call I got from him was just after I had resigned.  Without asking how things were with me or what was going on, he blurted out that whatever I did, I didn’t want to resign without having another church on the line.  That would be a real career buster and mistake, he assured me.  Well, I informed him that I had already taken that step…and that I wouldn’t be needing his services in the future either! 

If that is how pastors are thinking these days, is it any wonder that our business and government leaders make decisions about cities and corporations the way they do?  That’s an overlord mentality, not a servant mindset.  And that is why we have very few leaders…in or outside the church…who lead with humility and integrity.

I sincerely hope that I’m not saying this because I want you to think that I’m some sort of saint.  God knows I have plenty of leadership flaws and growth areas.  But I think how a leader handles finances, especially the finances that affect others under their care, says a whole lot about who they are trusting in and how they intend to lead. 

In vs. 16, Nehemiah shoots up another one of his famous arrow prayers when he simply asks God to “remember for my good…all that I have done for this people.”  Do you think God did?  Or do you think God ended his days in poverty and oppression?  Here was a leader who was looking to God to balance the books of life.  Here was a man who knew how and where to invest the resources God had given him in this life.

I want to share with you something I’ve never told a church in 30 years of pastoring.  I want to tell you that your pastoral leaders are people who not only talk a good line when it comes to giving of their own resources; they walk it.   

ILL:  This last week I asked our bookkeeper to just give me one number on last year’s finances—the amount of giving simply our Mosaic staff gave just to Mosaic.  When she did and I did the math based on last year’s giving, your staff gave over 22% of our entire budget.  And that doesn’t include our giving to other ministries. That also doesn’t include the lay leaders at Mosaic.  I’m proud to be a part of a leadership team that walks what they talk. 

I don’t say this to try and make us look good.  Nehemiah could have been criticized for telling the whole world far more specifically what he had done with his personal part in the project.  So, why do you think he did that?  (Answers?)  What does it do to a group or team of people when they know the leader is actually sacrificing more than what she or he is asking them to do?

            Good leaders pay a personal price to be leaders.  They don’t just draw a salary, use an expense account and drive the company car.  Good leaders expend their own resources of money, drive, energy, health and hard work to see something through to completion.  They have a “sink or swim” attitude that says, “We’re going to get this done if it costs me my life!”  Where most people will give up on the 5th or 6th lap, they refuse to give up until they collapse on the track!  

            APP:  I think every one of us needs to find the cause important enough and the passion deep enough to live life like that.  In a world today where millions of deceived fanatics are willing to blow up themselves, their wives, their children and anyone unfortunate enough to be near them to wage a war that will impose one of the most oppressive, degrading and unrighteous political and religious systems ever known to mankind on the rest of the world, don’t you think it is time that we, followers of Jesus Christ, stop nibbling around the edges of life, stop surrendering our freedoms in some vain search for the “good life”, for peace at any price, for the curse of being left alone to veg out in front of our TVs, our video games and our romance novels? 

Friends, we’ve forgotten what spiritual warfare looks like.  We’ve forgotten WHY we must storm the gates of hell.  We’ve forgotten that there are very few things for which it is worth sacrificing your life.  And as a result, we’re wasting our lives on a host of things that simply aren’t worth it when it comes to eternity.  

Real progress and victory has never come easily or without great sacrifice when you’re talking about living in a world of sinners, dominated by the prince of the power of the air and coached by the Father of Lies.  There is nothing wrong with longing for being able to just live in peace, minding your own business.  But in a world where sin and evil are proliferating at a staggering rate, that is simply an illusion by which we cannot afford to be seduced.

I may be a fool to say this, but if I and the other leaders of Mosaic are not those kind of leaders, then go and find someone else who is!  Learn to follow leaders who are willing to lay it all on the line for Jesus.  Don’t settle for leaders, especially spiritual leaders, who are getting fat off the sacrifices of their people, their sheep, but not willing to sacrifice themselves for kingdom battles that will lead others to Christ.

This is why I find opulence in ministry so infuriating.  If you want to make a lot of money, go into business somewhere and work your tail off there.  But if you want to lay down your life for Jesus Christ and His sheep, don’t expect to live the high life.  Expect to spend and be spent. 

ILL:  I heard some time ago of a pastor whose church was facing a budget crunch.  So he appealed to his congregation to give more, to step it up and be more generous.  He told them that if they didn’t, he would have to lay off some of their beloved staff. 

The only problem with that is, that pastor was drawing a double salary himself!  He was drawing his full-time wage as a pastor from the church and another full-time wage from another non-profit organization at the same time.  That’s not the kind of leadership the church in American…or anywhere…needs today.  That’s not the kind of leader I want to be following.  And it is certainly not the kind of leader I want or intend to ever be however long God gives me breath on this earth. 

Brothers and sisters, character matters.  And character is demonstrated when privilege is not used or abused.  Nehemiah was that kind of leader.  May God raise up more men and women like that today.  God knows, that is what is desperately needed to turn this city, this nation and this world around.

[Stop and pray for leaders?]

So we come to chapter 6 of Nehemiah.  It’s a chapter that pits lies against truth on the battlefield of human interaction.  Nehemiah writes,

1Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono.

But I realized they were plotting to harm me…”  It’s probably a good idea to be just a little suspicious of an invitation to meet your enemies at a place called “O no!” J

Nehemiah apparently was too and pretty much replied, “O, no!”

 So I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”

Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.

“Come talk with us,” was the request every time.  And so the reply every time was the same, “I’m too busy…and the work is too important.”  This is what every one of us should be able to reply to anyone who wants to get us off track in life:  “What I’m doing is too important…and I’m all in on it.  No, I don’t have time to come sit in another committee meeting.”

It’s amazing how unrelenting evil is.  And it’s amazing how persistent good people must be at rejecting its offers and demands.  The wall is all but finished.  Only the gates remain to be installed.  This project is 95% done.  But as long as there is a 5% chance that the project won’t be finished, evil won’t stop. 

            APP:  This is why perseverance, endurance and steadfastness are all SO vital to the Christian life.  We are in a war!  Wars are won, not by brief skirmishes but by protracted, years-long battles.  Rarely does a conquering army win all its battles.  It suffers losses.  It has defeats.  But it perseveres to the end. 

The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10:36—“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.”

He goes on in 12:1 to say, “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”  God has set a different race before each of us.  He is himself the finish line for all of us.  But the route you take may vary from mine.  However the direction should be the same—always pressing on to rise to the heights of the high calling we have in Christ.

Romans 5:3-5 confirms that when it says, 3 “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

Here’s what Paul prayed for his churches in Colossians 1:11—“We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.” 

Even the Apostle James chimes in to tell us in James 1:2-4,

2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

            What we see as simply a nuisance, God sees as a tool.  What we see as trouble, God sees as refining.  We serve a God who is persistent and enduring in all he does.  And he wants his children to share in his nature.  So he allows sinful people and evil in this world to batter and beat and abuse us so that we might grow to be more like Him—our Savior who suffered battering, beatings and abuse at the hand of sinners so that he too “learned” that obedience that can only come “through the things that he suffered”  (Heb. 5:8). 

            APP:  Where is God asking you to be persistent? Persistently doing the right thing is one half of the coin.  Persistently fighting against evil is the other side.  Both must exist together.  Nehemiah persisted in finishing the wall while he persisted in his fight against evil, destructive men. 

  • What is the good God is asking you to persist in?
  • What is the evil God is asking you to persistently fight against? 

Will you embrace both those calls to endurance?

(Prayer telling Him so?)

Until this point, apparently these letters from Nehemiah’s enemies were private correspondence.  The enemy will always try to threaten, scare, discourage and lie to us in his “private correspondence” with us…in our thought life.  But that isn’t the only weapon in his briefcase.  When that failed with Nehemiah, he went public with a whole pack of lies.  Here’s how it went.

The fifth time, Sanballat’s servant came with an open letter in his hand,and this is what it said:

“There is a rumor among the surrounding nations, and Geshem tells me it is true, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel and that is why you are building the wall. According to his reports, you plan to be their king. He also reports that you have appointed prophets in Jerusalem to proclaim about you, ‘Look! There is a king in Judah!’

“You can be very sure that this report will get back to the king, so I suggest that you come and talk it over with me.”

This is nothing but pure gossip and threats.  There was not a stitch of evidence, not a single credible witness that could corroborate this charge.  There were plenty of liars on the outside willing to say this is what was going on.  Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab were happy to feed the rumor mill if they could.  While their accusations might have worked if there had been some measure of truth to them, they apparently didn’t get any real traction at this point because people who knew Nehemiah knew he wasn’t hiring false PR prophets to boost his ratings nor making plans to proclaim himself king of Judah.  It just didn’t carry water with people who knew him.

            So Nehemiah did what any good leader should do when under fire from outside detractors seeking to sow seeds of doubt in the hearts of those on the inside:  state the truth and keep going.

Nehemiah 6:8-- I replied, “There is no truth in any part of your story. You are making up the whole thing.”

ILL:  About the second year after we launched Mosaic Fellowship, I started getting some really wacky emails from a guy proclaiming himself to be “Rabbi Stanley.”  I’ve never met this fellow in my life.  He doesn’t live in Spokane and doesn’t even lived in the U.S. much of the time.  He’s never called or asked me to meet with him.  (Maybe he lives in Ono???)  But for 6 years, he’s been on a relentless campaign to smear my character. 

In fact, if you Google my name, you’ll see that he’s set up a whole website under the URL of mosaicspokane.home-stead.com/  where he has my wife and my picture and this enticing opener…in 4 different languages!

  Pastor John Repsold is nothing but a liar and a thief. I've emailed him many times and asked him to stop using our name "Mosaic Ministries". John Repsold said he had checked to see if the name had already been in use... but John Repsold is a liar because we've been using that name in HIS VERY STATE for 20 years! 

            At first I tried to reason with this man by simply stating the facts. I informed him that the State of Washington had approved our incorporation under that name and that they wouldn’t have allowed us to use it if his organization had that name first.  Furthermore, we had no idea any other ministry was actually using that name…and we don’t really go by the name “Mosaic Ministries” either. But the more I communicated with him, the wackier he became.  So I just decided to stop feeding the beast.  J

            I occasionally hear these ads on the radio for some company that guarantees to go after people who spread malicious rumor on the internet about you or your business, and something in me wants to bite on that.  But then I’m reminded that an honest life and a truthful reply is all that God requires of me…and I happily change the station…as well as my thoughts.

            APP:  Every one of us hears things like this all the time.  But as brothers and sisters in Christ, it is our responsibility to be truth-tellers and truth-bearers...especially when it concerns another’s reputation.

            ILL:  A few weeks ago, someone I trust contacted me with a disconcerting word about another ministry Sandy and I support here in town.  I was pretty disappointed in what I heard and told the caller I would check into it.  So this past week, I contacted the organization and asked for some further information which they graciously supplied.  While the particular letter in question was not how I might have stated the issues, it was far more favorable to this organization than I had been led to believe. 

            Nehemiah teaches us to be neither instigators of gossip or carriers of that destructive disease.  Gossip by people claiming to be godly has done more damage to the health of the church through the ages than about any other things.  Don’t fall prey to it…and take responsibility to stop it when you hear it by combating it with simple truth.   

Listen to the impact falsehoods had on Nehemiah.  It was like fuel to his belly.  Vs. 9—“They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination.”  You’ve gotta love Nehemiah.  Give him lemons and he makes lemonade!  Rather than giving up and getting all down in the dumps, he takes ongoing opposition as fuel to be even more energized about what needed to be done. 


  • Struggling with a class in school? Decide to double your effort.
  • Got a boss who keeps needling you on something.  Determine to really bug them by loving them more!
  • Trying to make some positive change in your life and getting beat down by setbacks or distractions.  Use the opposition to fortify yourself even more that what you’re trying to accomplish must have been noticed by some enemy of your soul. 

So let’s finish up this passage for today.  Nehemiah 6:10-14

10 Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home. He said, “Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.”

11 But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!”12 I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me.

14 Remember, O my God, all the evil things that Tobiah and Sanballat have done. And remember Noadiah the prophet and all the prophets like her who have tried to intimidate me.

            Some of the most dangerous attacks come to us cloaked in spirituality.  Here was Shemaiah, probably an older, wise man of Jerusalem…possibly of the priestly line because he seemed to have access to the temple… trying to incite fear in Nehemiah.  He wanted that fear to move Nehemiah to do things that God had forbidden for him to do. All Nehemiah had to ask two questions that would go straight to the heart of the truth:

1.)    “Should someone in my position run from danger?”  Leaders are not appointed to lead only when times are good.  They are called to lead through thick and thin.    No one in a responsible position of leadership should “run from danger” because they think their life might be in jeopardy.  Don’t sign up to be a leader if you don’t want to face a few arrows.

  1. Parents, that’s why you don’t abandon your children no matter how hard it gets.
  2. Men, that’s why we don’t run from conflict that undermines healthy leadership whether with your wife or in the church.
  3. That’s why we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the men and women of our armed forces who don’t run from danger but choose to stand and fight every day of the year to protect our freedoms and way of life.

Answer to the question, “Should someone in my position run from danger?”  NO!  So what’s the place, the position, God has placed you in that you’re tempted to run from? 

2.)    Second question:  “Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life?”  Nehemiah knew the answer to that question.  Under the Law of Moses in Nu. 18:7, a layman like Nehemiah was forbidden to go beyond the altar of burnt offering at the temple.  Again the answer was a resounding, “NO!” 

The purpose of all this fear-mongering was to “be able to accuse and discredit Nehemiah.

APP:  When we run from the battles God allows into our lives, we discredit ourselves and the call God has put on our lives. Rather than hang in there and see something through to the end, we open ourselves up to the accusations of the enemy and we lose the respect that helps others follow our leadership. 

            So what are you tempted to run from right now that will diminish your leadership respect?  What are you afraid might really wear you out or run you into the ground?  God did not given us “the spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).   

Even when we fail in our little leadership responsibilities in this life, it is wonderful to have a Savior who suffered to and through death in order to shepherd and lead us back to the Father.  We will fail from time to time.  But the Shepherd of our souls never has nor ever will fail.  And as we grow more in Christ, we will become more like him and we will lead better.

  • Invitation to believe in Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of your soul, who gave his life to deliver us from our sins and lead us into the protective presence of the Father.
  • God asking you to be persistent and steadfast in some area or relationship of life?  Do you see that challenge as the very means by which God will build that Christ-like quality into you?  Don’t run.  Stand strong. Fight well.  Persevere to the end. 

Questions for Further Study

  1. Some might criticize Nehemiah for “blowing his own horn” at the end of chapter 5.  Why was it important for him to make his personal actions a public matter? What was he trying to accomplish with this?  What motivated his actions?  How important should it be that we know our leaders are actually living up to and often above and beyond what they are asking us to do?
  2. What are some of the lies that you know Satan likes to throw at you personally that might sidetrack you from what God wants you to be and do? What does Nehemiah teach us about dealing with those lies?  Write out some principles that any believer could use to identify and combat lies. 
  3. What has been particularly helpful for you in learning to discern between truth and lies regarding things others may say (either about you or others)? 
  4. How can we discern when we should respond to false rumors about us versus letting them die out on their own?
  5. How can we know which doctrines are worth taking a stand over and which doctrines should be set aside to preserve unity?
  6. Since Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and his servants as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15), what can we do to guard against and stop people in the church who might be doing or saying things that are actually carrying out our enemy’s plan?  
  7. What place does fear play in your life today?  Where is courage needed in your own experience and in spiritual leadership today?  According to Nehemiah 6:16, why is spiritual courage so important?