March 4, 2014 —
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And There Was Joy: Lessons From Nehemiah
Joy admist the weeping
Lately, I've been hanging out with my biblical boyfriend, Nehemiah
. His name keeps popping up in various circles, but I've especially enjoyed spending time with him during a small group bible study. So often, Nehemiah gets examined during a church's capital campaign or in terms of leadership development. I can certainly understand why. The theme of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the prayerful actions Nehemiah carries out show us the way to follow and honor God and give us an amazing portrait of faithful, wise leadership.
It certainly wasn't easy for Nehemiah, though. He faced opposition from all sides. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were specifically out to get him. Those who were on the inside got scared and fell prey to the intimidation tactics of those who wanted to bring them down. Yet, Nehemiah prayed a lot and kept his eye on the ball...er, rather on the Lord. As the work on the wall was completed in record time (a mere 52 days!), Nehemiah gathered the people together in an assembly for a time of worship. They gathered as "one man" in the square before the Water Gate and Nehemiah's buddy, Ezra, pulled out the Book of the Law of Moses and began reading. As the people listened, they understood God's Word. They began praising Him. And, they wept.
Wept? Really? What's that all about? Actually, I can relate, because I'm a weeper (which is why I thank God for waterproof mascara...). The waterworks often flow during times of worship. I weep and mourn over my own sin or I look around at my brothers and sisters in Christ and ponder their hurts or pains. Or I weep with joy because of God's work in our midst and the evidence of transformation. For Nehemiah, in the midst of the people's weeping and worshiping, one of my favorite statements from the Bible is proclaimed:
"The joy of the Lord is your strength."
Ahhhh, yes!! Joy, joy, joy in the midst of the weeping, mourning, and sorrow.
As I reflect on what I see going on in ECO, the teaching of Nehemiah rings true to us today. There may be opposition, frustration, and mourning, but there is great joy in what God is doing in our midst. And here's where I see some joy...
- The formation of the new presbyteries - We began with two widely spread out presbyteries of the East and West, but now the nine different presbyteries invite us to experience connectionalism in a new way. What a joy it is to have no more than twenty churches grouped together for the sake of relationship, deeper trust, and kingdom work together! Not only are we getting to know one another better through the work of MAGs, but also our work on the presbytery level allows us to grow and deepen our relationships.
- Development of new worshipping communities - In the East Central presbytery (think of the Deep South east of the Mississippi River, minus Florida), we're celebrating the ministry of Wes Barry and the South Charlotte church plant, which is praying to launch in early April. We also are affirming the organization of the Pump Road congregation, which started as a community of Third Richmond. There are three other developing communities who have been in touch with us and are interested in being a part of ECO. How cool is that? And, that's just in one presbytery.
- Living into accountability - As each of the new presbyteries are forming, ideas are turning to action as churches are meeting together in Mission Affinity Groups and pastors are connecting in Pastoral Covenant Groups. For some, it's been a bit difficult to find the right connections or the timing hasn't been quite right. Like in Nehemiah's day, this work isn't easy or without opposition. Yet, for those who have engaged in it so far, they are finding a real sense of transformation as life together is shared with one another.
- A new wave of creativity - As several ECO congregations have exhaled and begun healing from the dismissal process, they've been answering the question, "Now what?" They've found the Spirit's guidance in new creative ways to carry out the ministries and kingdom work to which God has called them. Elders are being called and commissioned in ways to serve in chaplaincy work or interim head of staff ministries. I've heard from some ECO churches about their Presbyterian Women circles ministries recognizing that they have freedom to either keep those ministries just as they are or adjust and expand them to a broader women's ministry across the congregation.
One of the things I love about Nehemiah is that his story and that of God's people is not a fairy tale, happily-ever-after type of story. The work wasn't easy or without complaint and certainly not without vast opposition on all sides. But, the work was accomplished by the mighty hand of our God – Nehemiah makes that very clear.
And, there was great joy!
There was celebration like they hadn't seen or done since the days of Joshua. So, friends, like Nehemiah, pray early and often; keep your eyes focused and fixed on the Lord; and don't let anything or anyone steal the joy from you we've found and experienced in ECO so far!