Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other Part One
Topic: Fathers Passage: Nehemiah 4:1–4:20
The Lord put a message on my heart for our men and specifically our fathers this morning so we will be taking a short break from our study of Mark. Actually, as I was working on the message I realized that it was way too much to say in one morning so we will looking at part two of this message next week. These messages are primarily for our men and fathers, but the principles apply to all of us – don’t check out.
Turn with me to the book of Nehemiah chapter 4. Nehemiah is 3 books to the left of Psalms. We’re just going to be looking at a portion of one chapter but If you’ve never read Nehemiah I encourage you to read it – it’s a great book about trusting God while doing a great work and about leadership in the face of challenges. To set the context of what’s going on in the book of Nehemiah: sometime around 586 BC the nation of Babylon, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, began a brutal two year siege against Jerusalem that ended with the city in ruins and most of its inhabitants being taken into captivity. 70 years later, the Jewish exiles led by Ezra rebuild the temple, but the city walls are still in ruin – which in those days meant the city was in disgrace and vulnerable to attack. Those walls would remain in ruin for another 50 or 60 years until Nehemiah hears about the sad state of Jerusalem and God puts it on his heart to lead the Jews to begin the great work of rebuilding the walls. As we come to chapter four we see some serious challenges to the work emerging, namely the work is long and hard and the enemies of the Jews begin to openly oppose the work.
The Jews are building, but it’s slow, hard work and there’s a lot of rubble to work around and they don’t have much in the way of good materials and they’re tired. Discouraged. On top of that their enemies are mocking them and threatening them in order to get the Jews to give up and quit. On top of that, the Jews from the surrounding regions start encouraging them over and over again to quit and go back to their lives (with encouragement like that, who needs discouragement?). So there’s a lot of pressure to quit.
Nehemiah addresses this by breaking the job up into doable portions, stationing the people by their clans (families) in front of their own sections and then reminding them the Lord is with them so fight! Keep building, and fight! Fight for your brothers and sons and daughters and wives and homes! And so they keep building, but now they carry bricks with one hand and a sword in the other.
Men, I think that’s a great picture of what God calls us to: we’re called to build our families and we’re called to fight for our families. I’ve entitled the message this morning: Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other
It’s not hard to see that the family is under attack today. We see it in national trends and statistics and I was going to hit you with a bunch, but I don’t have time. We all know the divorce rate is between 40-50%, that millions of couples are living together out of wedlock, we see how quickly the push to make homosexual marriage the law of the land is happening, and that there are millions of babies being aborted every year. The statistics say the family is under attack – but statistics never tell the whole story because behind those statistics are real people – men, women, and especially children - whose lives are left devastated, scarred, and broken by the realities of this attack on the family. This is a war with collateral damage.
These aren’t political issues, these are spiritual issues – they represent a concerted effort to destroy the family as God ordained and meant it to be! We can almost hear the sneering sarcasm of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem towards anyone who would attempt to build their family on the biblical order of the family. God has called us to a great task of building our families, but it’s hard work and we have real enemies. I’m not talking flesh and blood enemies, talking spiritual enemies who want to demoralize us, discourage us, and stop us from building our families. Enemies that want to snatch our children away from Christ – who want nothing more than their eternal damnation. The war is serious and our enemies are serious, but take heart, we have serious help from the Lord. To paraphrase Nehemiah:
So remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and build with one hand and fight with the other.
There are two important ways we can build with one hand and fight with the other. The first we’ll look at today, build up our children with one hand and fight for our children with the other. The other area is our marriages, next week we’ll look at building our marriages with one hand, fighting for them with the other.
I. Build up our children, fight for our children
1. Build up our children
a. Build by example
The first thing we need to consider isn’t what we do but what we be. God does call us to instruct our children – that’s pretty much all that Proverbs is, a father instructing his son - but our teaching will go in one ear and out the other if our lives contradict our words. I think when it comes to our kids; it’s really true that “more is caught than taught”. They are watching closely and if things don’t line up, they notice.
Col. 3:21 says, Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Ephesians 6:4 says, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
The Greek word for “do not provoke” means “do not embitter”. Dads we need to be careful that we don’t discourage, embitter, or tempt our children to anger against us and one of the things that can tempt our kids to be bitter is when they see hypocrisy or dishonesty in us. Show me a kid who sees his dad being one thing in church and another thing at home and I’ll show you a kid who is going to be turned off to his dad and probably his dad’s religion. We don’t need to be perfect and we never will be, but we do need to be genuine and sincere or we are tearing down our children not building them up.
By God’s grace, the first breaches in the wall that we men need to close are the ones in our own character so that our children have, not a perfect example or a perfect father, but a true one. This starts by being honest about the breaches in our character but it doesn’t stop there – we have work to do. When it comes to our salvation we don’t have any work to do – it’s all of Christ – but when it comes to our sanctification, comes to our being genuine godly dads that our kids can watch and be shaped by, well, men, we have bricks to carry.
The first breach in the wall that we need to plug up are the breaches in our character because our kids
are watching who we are more than hearing what we say. Something I’ve been thinking about – who am I really at core? What are my core values? What do I really believe? It’s easy to preach messages because it’s Sunday and that’s what I do. Easy to say certain things, do certain things, but deep within – that’s where God does His work. That’s where each of us should ask the Lord to shine His light and help us to see the truth – even if it hurts, because the alternative of remaining blind to these things hurts more. We should ask ourselves core questions like:
• Am I really humble at core– or am I just putting on a “humble façade”?
• Am I honest – do I say what I really believe whether it’s popular or pc or not?
• Am I courageous? Am I willing to stand up for what I believe? Willing to risk personal well-being for the sake of another?
• Am I morally pure? Am I fighting against the flood of immorality or floating downstream with it?
• At core, am I loyal, loving, compassionate, unselfish, brave, wise? If this doesn’t drive us to Jesus I don’t know what will because that’s not who I am – not apart from his grace in me. And you aren’t either!
To the degree that we are called to shape our children, they will be shaped more by what we really are than what we pretend to be, so we need to build by example.
b. Build with tenderness
Purdue Chicken used to have as its slogan, it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. Well, it takes a tough man to make a tender father. We can’t leave the tenderness up to mom, guys. Our wives and our kids need to feel tenderness from us.
Tenderness has different facets like a carefully cut diamond. If you look at tenderness from one angle, you’ll see sympathy. If you look from another, you’ll notice compassion. Tenderness also carries the ideas of responsiveness, warmth, and kindness. – Steve Farrar
One of the quickest ways to an embittered child is by speaking harsh and angry words. Those are words that tear down and create breaches in the wall. When a child is embittered against his or her father, he or she is so much more vulnerable to attacks from the enemy– it’s like a large part of a wall has been torn down and if an enemy disguises themselves as a friend, an embittered child is more likely to welcome them in.
We can’t perfectly tame our tongue, but if and when harsh, angry, tearing, critical words come out we make a serious mistake if we just let them hang there. If we ask forgiveness, we are lessening their destructive force and promoting God’s work of grace in both our children’s lives, our wives, and our own souls. Please men, speak carefully, speak tenderly, and when you speak harshly, impatiently, angrily, be a man and ask their forgiveness. If you say, “I don’t ask my kids to forgive me” – don’t think that’s evidence of manliness. Evidence of pride and insecurity but not manliness. Screw up your courage (gird up your loins), look your son or daughter in the eye and say, “I sinned against you, please forgive me.” Dads, we need to build with tenderness.
c. Build with grace
The gospel we have received through Christ isn’t a moralistic message of being good and religious so God is happy with you, it isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts that help us to make it to heaven or make us better than those pagan heathen out there, it is the good news of God’s grace to undeserving sinners. The minute we think we are deserving of it, even a little bit, we’ve emptied the cross of its power.
Statistics say that between 60-70% of young people will drop out of the church once they graduate and I believe one of the primary reasons so many young people are leaving churches after graduation is because they see legalism and want nothing to do with it. Fathers, we have the primary responsibility to make sure our lives, our homes, and our churches aren’t built on rules and moralism and self-righteousness. We don’t want to raise Pharisees. We want to raise children who love and trust Jesus.
Even when we are seeking to motivate a child (or anyone) to change, we want to motivate with grace, not guilt or manipulation or stoking their pride, but grace.
• Grace points us relentlessly to Christ
Yesterday a good number of our teens went to Camp Cherith for a workday – guys I want to thank you – did a great job and worked hard! But a number of them were put on a job digging deep holes to pour concrete in to strengthen and deepen the pillars that a house/cabin stood on.
Paul said when there’s grace, there is only one foundation upon which we can build. Only one foundation goes deep enough and is strong enough for us to build our lives on. Christ. 10 according to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The foundation that grace builds our children’s lives on isn’t being good, being successful, it’s not integrity, or being charitable, or church attendance, or helping the needy. These can all be good bricks, but never the foundation. The foundation is Christ and we should point and pray our kids towards Christ. And in church we should always be pointing one another to Christ. We build the wall on Christ. There is no other foundation. So grace points us relentlessly to Christ.
• Grace speaks encouragement
The glue that holds the bricks together should be in large part encouragement. Grace is very encouraging. I don’t mean we never say anything discouraging ever – that’s not possible – but grace specializes in saying encouraging things.
The gospels are full of encouraging words. I was reading in Luke with my son Matthew the other morning and we read about the woman with the bleeding disorder who touched Jesus and was healed and how Jesus stopped the crowd and said “who touched me.” He wouldn’t move on until the person who touched him without authorization was found out. I pointed out to Matthew she was afraid – thought he would rebuke her, maybe take away her healing for having stolen it, maybe something worse. So she came trembling with fear and fell to the ground and confessed what she had done, and Jesus’ answer wasn’t angry or harsh or rebuking at all – it was grace, and it was encouraging:
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
So much encouragement in Christ: there is now therefore NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1, 28,39)
2. Fight for our children
On the other hand, we must fight for our children as well. We live in a day where there are so many gaps in the wall – so many areas where the enemy can infiltrate into the lives of our children.
a. Fight with firmness
I mentioned earlier that we need to build with tenderness, but we also need to fight with firmness. We need to balance the two – can’t be all tenderness and can’t be all firmness. Balance. When Paul says to bring our children up in the discipline (of the Lord), that word speaks of a kind of training that is firm, even using punishment when necessary. Hebrews 12 tells us that every father disciplines the son he loves – and it is painful for a time.
We fight with firmness because often our kids will not recognize the breaches in the wall, and they will welcome enemies disguised as friends. When they are younger we need to take the lead in disciplining them and not leave that up to mom and the goal of that discipline is to guide their souls and their hearts.
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Prov 29:15
Loving discipline – and that includes spanking, not in anger and never abusive, but administered lovingly to the seat of learning – is essential to guiding a child towards wisdom and away from foolishness. There comes a point when a child is beyond the reach of his father or mother’s discipline – his or her character is already set – so we need to be firm when our children’s souls call for it, especially when they’re younger. There is no one size fits all line so you as parents need to determine how and when you will discipline and when you won’t, but you do need to discipline. For their souls sake we need to be firm.
b. Fight by watching for breaches in the wall – monitoring media
Media isn’t neutral – movies, music, ads, books, the Internet – all carry agendas, many of which are harmful to the souls of our kids. A site on the Internet for teens to flirt with one another was just closed down because three teens were abused by adults posing as teens. Talk about a breach in the wall – do their parents know they are flirting with unknown people online? Doubt it. Movies have the power to insert lies in our kids heads that are so carried along with such powerful images and marketing that they are hard to resist. To get our values or belief systems from Hollywood is crazy, because nothing is more fake than Hollywood, but they are very good at making unreality look powerful and compelling.
Listen, in this arena every parent has to carefully give thought and determine what lines they want to draw. I’m certainly not going to draw the lines for you and you maybe wouldn’t agree with the lines that I drew anyway. There are those who draw lines for their kids that are much tighter than the lines I draw for mine– and there are parents whose lines are much looser. As our kids have gotten older I am not so concerned if there’s a curse word in it or some violence. Where there is a clear biblical line is in the immoral – we need to be careful about what we put before our eyes and hearts. But monitor our kids and how they’re processing what they’re watching or listening to.
But we also need to monitor how much they’re watching – and again this is relative, but be careful how much and how it’s affecting them. Technology has many great benefits, but it does open breaches in the wall and we need to monitor it and be willing even to change what we’re allowing.
II. Build and fight by connecting our children to the local church
This is long, and I am going to bring it in for a crash landing, but I want to say one more thing that, honestly, I think is so important both for building up our children and for fighting for our children: connect them deeply in the church. I know someone will think, “yeah, he’s the pastor, so this is just his plug for the church.” Let me tell you why it’s not.
When Nehemiah says, fight for your brothers he’s not talking about your little brother Sammy, he’s talking about your brothers in the community of faith. We stand side by side and fight side by side in the local church and we need each other.
• One of the strongest influences in my life towards Christ as a 16 year old is we started going to a good, solid church. That was 36 years ago and I’ve been in a church ever since. Some were so wild I cringe when I think of what we did and believed. One sweet church became very legalistic over time and I had to leave. Most were good and solid churches. I’ve pastored two of them for a combination of 18 years. Jesus has used these churches – and protected me in the bad ones – to help me grow in Christ.
• I know my kids are better in Christ because of the influence of the church. Yesterday about 16 teens dug and painted and sawed and worked hard all day in order to serve a ministry to young children. Over the years we’ve had a lot of car washes and our young people are the first and most enthusiastic to sign up. For most of us getting them to wash the car at home or do a few dishes is like pulling teeth. It’s called godly peer pressure and I’m all for it!
• But also sense where being a part of something bigger is good for their souls. Something that isn’t purely teen or purely older or purely anything – we all work and play together. I love it and it’s good for all of us! And it builds them up, and it helps them fight.
Nehemiah separated them by clans, but they were ready at the sound of the trumpet to fight for their extended family of faith.
Let’s bring this in for a crash landing with Nehemiah’s words:
Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. (vs. 14)
More in Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other
July 1, 2012Build With One Hand, Fight With The Other Part Three
June 24, 2012Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other Part Two