Responding to Trouble

If you are in Christ:

1. God has called you to a great work.
2. Toxic people will oppose you, lie about you, try to flatter you, and try to stop or delay your work.

Scripture References & Transcript

Nehemiah 4-6

Matthew 6:33

Matthew 7:6

Luke 6:22-23


Day after day, Alicia felt overwhelmed by the personal pleas of a coworker named Jennifer, who was all but bearing her with the chaos of Jennifer’s life. She wanted Alicia’s counsel, she wanted her help. Sometimes she would even ask for prayers, but it became so extensive. Alicia would be bombarded with text messages all hours of the day and night on weekends off work, hours on holidays. She might get 11 minute phone messages and expecting a response or four page single spaced emails until Alicia realized she just didn’t have what Jennifer was asking of her. She was spending more time almost trying to avoid Jennifer than getting her work done. So she tried to create some professional boundaries. So Jennifer, let’s just not talk about personal issues at the office. Happy to talk to you about business, but I just don’t think I can help you the way you want to be helped.

Jennifer was appalled and went to Christians in Alicia’s office. She knew Alicia was a Christian. Said, is this the way Christians are supposed to act? Is this what Jesus would have you Christians do? And most of the Christians took Jennifer’s side and they came to Alicia. Alicia, you’re a Christian. Is this the way we wanna represent Jesus here at the office? So Alicia was a little concerned. She came to me as one of her pastors. Gary, what? What do you think? Am I following Jesus or not? Am I supposed to just keep giving out on this or did I do the right thing?

What would you say to Alicia? Felicia came to you over a cup of coffee and she asked what you would, what advice you would give her as a fellow believer. What would you say? You might be surprised at how relevant and practical, the example and the words of a man who lived 2,400 years ago named Nehemiah has for us today in the office at home and in so many areas of life, you’ve been away for a couple weeks. You started a series on Nehemiah. We’re gonna look at chapters four through six today. But just to catch you up, I want to give you a 32nd recap. Israel was down to a remnant called Judah. Two of the tribes, they had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon in 5 86 bc. Babylon responded by leveling Israel, destroying the wall, destroying the temple so that there was no physical representation of the worship of Yahweh on the earth.

Think about that. It was gone. About 50 years later, Cyrus King of Persia took over. Babylon, gave some Jews permission to come back to Jerusalem. They rebuilt a very much smaller portion of the temple. And following that, a man named Nehemiah believe that God called him to reestablish the wall of Jerusalem, to have a place where God’s name would be proclaimed and worshiped. And immediately the opposition against building that wall was vicious. It was intense, it was violent. Might ask why? What? What was the big deal? Well, what’s happening this weekend could be politics, could be issues of power. I believe there was a lot of spiritual opposition in it as well. And it will be true for us in a micro level. Any real work of God will be met with adversaries who either seek to delay or to destroy our work. And that’s what we see happening there.

And it’s what Jesus told his followers would be the case. Matthew 6 33 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives all of us our marching orders seek first the kingdom of God. I know I quote this a lot. It’s a life verse for me because when I wake up it reminds me, life is not about me. It’s not about you, not our comfort, not our enrichment, not our reputation. Life takes off when we realize we’re to live for God’s kingdom first, even above our own. That’s what we stressed last week. What portion of the wall is God asking you to build the part that only you can build. But then in the same sermon, six verses later, virtually the same paragraph, after Jesus said, I need you to go on the offense and seek my kingdom. He warns us that there will be times when we need to play defense.

He says this in Matthew seven, six. Do not give what is holy to dogs and do not throw your pearls before swine or they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces. Six verses after Matthew 6 33, after Jesus says, go on the offense, he says, but look out for the spiritual dogs and the spiritual pigs. I know that sounds harsh. I’m quoting Jesus because as you try to seek first my kingdom, they’re going to try to stop you or delay you because even though you’re giving them something that is so good, when he says, do not give what is holy to dogs, he’s speaking of kosher food. Dogs don’t care if food is kosher or give a pearl to a pig. Pearls were so valuable, but a pig doesn’t see it as valuable. So you might be saying something true and precious and they will resent you for it and they will try to destroy you.

And Jesus is saying, look, I want you to go on the offense, but I want you to be wise and strategic that there are those who will viciously oppose you and you avoid them. I found that Matthew seven, six is sort of like a Rorschach test for Christians. You know those old ink blot tests, psychologists would say, what do you see in this ink blot? Well, Matthew seven six says a lot about how we view the Christian life. ’cause if you think Christianity is about being the nicest, most polite person in the room, you probably can’t even believe that Jesus actually said that. But if you think that Christianity is about being fruitful, producing fruit, doing the work on the wall that God has called you to do, you can recognize it as golden as great advice, as a help for you to accomplish the work that God has called you to do.

There were years in my life when I would’ve failed that Rorschach test. I thought it was about being the nicest person and toxic people could have a field day with me, consume all of this time, never to any effort. And through a series of events, God led me do a whole new discovery. I ended up writing this book When to Walk Away Finding Freedom from Toxic People when I realized I had to learn how to play defense and recognize these people. Now the problem with having written a book that’s related to a sermon, I’ve got a four hour seminar I can do at churches and trying to condense that into 35 minutes. I’ve been pulling my hair out all week. If you were new, I looked like Zach Efron last weekend. All right? I mean this. This is my love for Cherry Hills that I will look like this to serve you.

But two things I believe are true of every person who is in Christ here this morning. One God has called you to a great work, stressed it last week. You can go back and listen to it. You have a role that only you can fulfill. Your life matters, no exceptions, whether you’re 18, 48 or 88. But this week when you have that work, toxic people will oppose you. They will lie about you. They will try to flatter you, to manipulate you and basically try to stop and delay your work. And so we wanna look at what Nehemiah did, how he responded to be armed today so that we’re not deterred from building our portion of the wall. The first attack against Nehemiah was ridicule. We see this in chapter four, verse one. Now it came about that when sandal heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.

That word mocked is a very polite way of a very ugly vile, antisemitic slur that they were using to ridicule them. Oh, you think you’re builders, you think you can do this? They were just making fun of them. Can I just say ridicule is almost always Satan’s first weapon, but it can be an effective one. Jesus warned us it would be an attack in Luke 6 22 through 23. Jesus said this, blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the son of man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. I’m a little bit ashamed to admit this has been an effective attack on my life. I wish it wasn’t. I wish I was stronger, but there’s something about ridicule that just makes me pause. I can go back to the fifth grade and I can picture Alan. ’cause sometimes we had groups that would meet. I would bring my Bible to school in the fifth grade and I can picture Alan today. I can see it and I can hear it with other kids around him. Make it fun. Read the Bible every day and all the kids laughing. That’s what Gary does.

More pathetically. I can remember how ridicule felt in my fifth decade long after I should have gotten more mature and stronger and just moved past it and not let it direct me. But there’s just something about ridicule. You just say, man, dude, I want this. Do I want to be made fun of? For some of you, it’s not as big a deal as it is for others of us. But Jesus makes it clear it’s a package deal. It’s part of being affirmed by him. In a great autobiography, Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court Justice wrote his autobiography was called My Grandfather’s Son. And he tells the story of running the Marine Corps marathon long before he was a Supreme Court Justice. The Marine Corps marathon is in Washington DC It’s manned by Marines. They’re the ones that hand out the gels and the water. And at about mile 16, which is what most difficult stages of a marathon, ’cause you’ve run 16 miles, you’re tired, you got 10 more to go.

Big time for doubts and and Clarence was just looking for a little sympathy. So he goes up to the table where a marine was standing next to it and Clarence said, man, this is so hard. But the Marine wasn’t about to give him sympathy. He just stood there and said, it’s what you signed up for Sir <laugh>, I have sympathy if ridicule is as difficult for you as it is for me, but it’s what we signed up for. But let’s look at the whole package. Jesus offers us peace with God. A purpose that I never wanna live without joy. Spiritual empowerment, comfort, eternal security, all of the things that God says you have with me. But the price Gary, is that some people will mock you and make fun of you. And we have to come to a place where we say, is it worth it?

Is the price of God affirming us and using us worth people making fun of us? What about you at school? Younger people, this can be a big one. You believe that at the office. For some of you at home, you start with God. You’re excited ’cause you’ve met God. He has healed you, he has met you, he has empowered you and you’re so grateful and so you’re outspoken and then you’re made fun of and you let ridicule stop you. Nehemiah didn’t nor the people with him. We read this. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height for the people worked with all their heart, far from stopping him. They put in extra effort. And so the toxic opponents stepped up the attack, the second attack, threats of violence. Chapter four, verses eight and 11. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.

We will kill them, they said and put an end to the work. Nehemiah had already pretty much said, you can assassinate my character. Fine. That’s not gonna stop me. So they say, okay, and we’ll assassinate your body. But he didn’t let that deter him either. We read in four 13 through 14, therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families with their swords, spears and bows. After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the pap people, don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome. Yeah, you these people are vicious and they’re mean are God is great and awesome. Focus on him and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.

No significant work of God will ever be done without opposition. Why? To make God your friend is to make His enemies. Your enemies. Now we’re to love our enemies. We’re not to hate on them, but that doesn’t mean we have to please them or let them control us. And so the violence than against you. It might not be about your body. It might be about your job, which had more time to tell this courageous story of a man who worked for a famous company, always walking the edge. He knew he was on the verge of losing his job ’cause he didn’t believe as the owner believed. Or maybe they say they’re gonna annihilate you on social media and de platform you or demonetize you. Maybe you lose your place at the club or at a family table.

Are you gonna let threats of violence turn you astray? I don’t want to lie. The threats are real. But the lesson we get from Nehemiah though the threats are real. So is our God who is great and awesome. There’s this great quote, I don’t know who said it. I gave four people, everybody’s arguing over who said it. It’s a great quote. Anyway, I am immortal until my work for Christ is done, knowing that God is great and awesome. If I need to be on social media, I’ll be on social media. If I need to be in front of, I’ll be in front of a church. Same thing with you. I I just trust in God that nothing’s gonna happen to me until God says it’s time. So last week we said build your portion of the wall this week I’m saying, but it will take courage and trust ’cause there’s another attack coming.

A third attack is a little more subtle. It’s coercive control. Look at chapter six verse two, sand ballot. And Geisha sent me this message, come let us meet together in one of the villages on the plane of Ono. Now Ono is about 25 to 30 miles away from Jerusalem. I don’t think I need to point out they didn’t have Jeeps in 4 46 BC They didn’t even have running shoes and it was dangerous. If Nehemiah leaves Jerusalem, he’s leaving the people who are fight fighting with him. How long would that take? Days, if not a week to travel, meet and get back. They’re at least trying to delay him and putting him at risk. Nehemiah sees through the facade chapter six, two and three. But they were scheming to harm me. So I sent messengers to them with this reply, I’m carrying on a great project and cannot go down.

Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? He believed in what God had called him to do. He didn’t even wanna delay it. He nehemiah’s, toxic foes wouldn’t take no for an answer. Verses four through five four times they sent me the same message. Each time I gave him the same answer. Then the fifth time sand ballot sent his aid to me with the same message. Now look, it’s fine if somebody pushes back, I tell ’em no, we all are this way. Right? Okay, yeah you can. Are you sure? Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t mind you checking up if they ask you or me a third time. Aren’t we thinking this person is kind of obnoxious a fourth time we’re getting at the end of our patience. Can I recommend if they hit a fifth time? You know, just to forget this, because if you interact with the fifth time, there will be a sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth time.

Why? Because your first five nos are just their category, just their strategy to wear you down. Why? They are going to try to control you. That’s what toxic people do. They wanna manipulate you. Our call based on Matthew six thirty three is to seek first what The kingdom of God. Toxic people. No, you will do what I want you to do and I will wear you down until you give in. They’re very controlling. When I wrote this book, when to Walk Away, the thing that shocked me is how unrolling God is. Think about it. I I almost felt like if God did control me, I I would do better everything I do and say. But it’s not the way he operates. He speaks and he invites famous passage from the book of Joshua After Moses has died, Joshua’s now in charge. And he’s not gonna be coercive, he’s not to be controlling.

Remember what he said. Choose you this day whom you will serve. It’s for me and my house. We will serve the Lord. And what he’s saying is, you’ve, you’ve seen what God has done. You’ve received the written revelation as I have. Now you have to make another choice. Are you still in? It was inviting. Look at the other end of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Jesus says to one of the churches, I stand at the door and knock. If you open the door. He doesn’t say, I’m gonna break down the door. He says, if you open the door, I’ll come in and I’ll dine with you. But you’ve got to open the door. I I I document many times where Jesus let people walk away from him without Jesus giving chase or Jesus chose to walk away from them. ’cause he’s not controlling. He speaks and he invites.

You know who is controlling Satan? If you read the gospels and the book of Acts, there’s these horrific accounts where they call it demonic possession where Jesus will just take over a personality and make it act maybe even against its will. Not once do you see an account of God possession. Yeah, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit. But Paul says to the Corinthians, the spirit of the prophets is subject to the control of the prophets. God doesn’t control us. That’s Satan’s strategy. God invites. And so the hallmarks of God’s servants are grace toward others and surrender to God’s will for us and for others. I want you to do what God has called you to do. Hallmarks of Satan servants, malice toward others and a determination to get others to bow down to them and their will and their tireless. The send ballot responds to Nehemiah’s refusal by doubling down and launching these threats verses five through seven.

Then the fifth time sand ballot sent his aid to me with the same message. And in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written. It is reported among the nations. And Geisha says it’s true. He’s got witnesses that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt and therefore you’re building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports, you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you and Jerusalem. There is a king in Judah. Now this report will get back to the king. So come let us meet together. So you keep refusing me, Neil, but I have witnesses and I’m gonna go to the king. And, and and by the way, what do you think the penalty was for treason and four hundreds BC It was death. Nehemiah, this isn’t just a disagreement. We will kill you.

We’ll have the king kill you if you don’t do what we say. It’s what toxic people do when you say no to them, they bring in other people. It’s what happened to Alicia with Jennifer After Alicia tried to have appropriate boundaries. Jennifer went to the Christians in the office. And again, is this how Christians are supposed to act? What do you think about what Alicia is doing? What would you say to this fellow Christian of yours? And can I just say as a pastor, I’ve seen this so many times, Christians, non-Christians love to tell Christians how to act like Christians. They don’t follow Christ, but they know how we’re supposed to. They think they’re experts at what Christians are supposed to do and they try to use it not because they care about following Christ or they would follow Christ, but to manipulate you.

I worked with a younger family that had young kids and the husband, the father, his dad and his mom were both abusive physically and verbally and emotionally when he was growing up, there were still active addicts. They weren’t in recovery. So a lot of things that can, that that really concerned him now just trying to be a good son. He would occasionally bring his kids to visit, but they always had to be with them in eyesight the whole time until the dad and mom kept saying, well, when do they get to spend the night? And he very responsibly said, never. That’s never going to happen. I said, why? He goes, you know why? You know how you treated me? And the dad got furious. You haven’t forgiven us. Have you? You such a goody two shoe Christian. Aren’t Christians supposed to forgive? Your Bible Says you’re supposed to forgive.

You haven’t forgive us. It’s not about forgiveness, it’s about protecting his kids. He was making a wise choice, but people like that. Again, if he cared about serving Christ, he would be following Christ. He was trying to use Christ to manipulate his son. Christians don’t use Christ. We worship Christ. Which is why if you want to seek first the kingdom of God, I I think this is the quote from my book that I have quoted back to me. More often than anything, Christians need to stop worrying about the unhealthy fallout of unhealthy people who are challenged by healthy decisions. You can’t expect unhealthy people to react positively to a healthy decision. You can’t expect toxic people to understand how people committed to Christ are going to respond. And and this is where it gets difficult ’cause so many issues I wanna go into that I just don’t have time for what is a toxic person.

Every toxic person is difficult, but I’m not calling every difficult person toxic. There’s a different kind of toxicity we have to be aware of. And I’ve talked about gossiping and and whatnot. And, and, and that’s what really got Alicia because she, she was wondering, what am I gonna do when all these Christians come after me? And I said, Alicia, we prayed about this. Right? How did they find out that you weren’t willing to talk to Jennifer? Did you tell ’em? She said No. I said, so she’s gossiping about you. I said, yeah, I guess. And it it just put it in a different light. ’cause it seemed like they were acting out of concern. I said, after we prayed and you sought counsel and made a right decision and you were driven by that, are you now gonna be redirected to act a different way because people are gossiping about you?

Are you gonna let your life be directed by that? But we all can have a tendency to do that. Here’s the difference. Toxic people are fed by their acts. We can do toxic things, but we wanna repent. One woman, dear servant of Christ, was worried when you heard me talk. Gary, I think I’m controlling my son. Am I a toxic person? Well, her son is an addict and she admits she was trying to control him, which is not a good or an effective thing to do. Not because she’s toxic, but because she loves him and she’s scared out of her mind that he might hurt himself. There’s so many issues we don’t have to get in time to. But we know that Nehemiah was not manipulated by the coercive coercion. He says in chapter six, eight through nine, I sent him this reply. Nothing like what you are saying is happening.

You are just making it up out of your head. They’re all trying to frighten us, thinking their hands will get too weak for the work and it will not be completed. But I prayed now strengthen my hands and I love this response. This will cite you free instead of trying to say the 10th and 11th and 12th time to talk to person. No. Or trying to convince them that you’re actually a good person. Talk to God. See God strengthen my hands. This is crazy. Just, I’m gonna turn my head away. I’m gonna watch, strengthen my hands so that I can do the work that you’ve called me to do. And you wanna pray that prayer because there’s a fourth attack that’s coming and that fourth attack is foe faith and fae friendship. One day I went to the house of Shamiah who was shut in at his home.

He said, let us meet in the house of God inside the temple and let us close the temple doors ’cause men are coming to kill you by night. They’re coming to kill you. Shamiah is a religious name. He was a prophet. He’s a supposed man of God. And so Nehemiah’s opponent said, well, he won’t listen to ridicule. He won’t listen to threats. We can’t control him. Let’s bring out the big guns. Let’s get a man of God who will challenge him. But not every man of God supposedly is following God. Some of you single women may have faced this. The guy asked you on a date, you say, no, he asked you a second time, not not interested, a third time you’re getting really frustrated. Then he throws out, well, you know what? I had a dream. God says, we’re supposed to get married.

Go all Taylor Swift on him. We are never, ever, ever getting together. Not again, but ever. ’cause you can say, look, I worship God. I’m never gonna date someone who would try to use God to manipulate me. But Shamiah is trying to present himself as a foe friend. Look, I’m your friend. Let me help you out. You’re being threatened. I’m trying to save you. But the reality is he’s trying to trick Nehemiah. It was illegal for Nehemiah to enter the temple. He wasn’t a Levi or a priest. It would break a very serious law. He could be arrested. So they’re trying to lure him into the temple with a threat for his life so that they could have witnesses and he could be arrested for that violation and wouldn’t be available to finish the wall. Nehemiah didn’t follow for it six 11, but I said, should a man like me run away and abandon those who are bravely building the wall?

Or should someone like me, i e not a priest, go into the temple to save his life? I will not go. I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Samba had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. Can I just be honest? If somebody says, look, I’m your friend. They’re usually not <laugh>. Think about it. I mean, I have so good friends. I would never have to tell ’em I’m their friend. I’ve demonstrated it or I haven’t. But that’s what toxic people will do. They will feign friendship and faith because they want to manipulate you and control you, not because they love you or God. Now, all four toxic attempts failed.

Nehemiah persists. He’s bold, he’s courageous. Look, look what happens in six 15. So the wall was completed on the 25th of a Lowell in 52 days, a seven to 10 foot wide wall completed in 52 days. It’s extraordinary. For 150 years there wasn’t the wall around Jerusalem, not a visible rep representation of the worship of Yahweh. And you think if it could be done in less than two months, why didn’t they do it years ago? And the answer is because there wasn’t a courageous, determined leader, a nation that would resist the ridicule and the attacks that stopped them from that would stop ’em from building. Which tells us for today, mission-minded people can accomplish more than they could ever imagine if they ignore the attacks and set to seek first the kingdom of God. It’s what Alicia found when she finally made it definitive with Jennifer, there will be no more outside texts.

We’re only gonna talk about professional issues. She was amazed at how much more work she could get done. When she first came to me, she was kind of feeling guilty. ’cause I pointed out to her, your boss doesn’t pay you to solve Jennifer’s personal problems. She goes, yeah, that’s right. And she was taken away from her family getting worried about getting these texts or having to respond to these phone messages so she could be a better wife, she could be a better mom. She could do what God has created her to do. It wasn’t until she walked away from that toxicity that she had at work that she was actually able to do the work that God had called her to do. So what about you? I hope this doesn’t impact any of you, but I bet it does. Many what could you get done next year, the next decade if you resolve like Nehemiah ridicule will not stop you.

Toxic threats of violence are not going to deter you. You will not let yourself be controlled and manipulated and instead of continually interacting, you’re just gonna start praying to God. God strengthen my hands. If you ask Nehemiah, he might tell you that you’re gonna have a very fruitful spiritual life. Live to the glory and pleasure of God to review the four attacks, ridicule, threats of violence, control through intimidation, full faith and friendship. We are to seek first the kingdom of God to build all our portion of the wall. But toxic people have a different agenda. Here’s what toxic people will say. I will make fun of you. If that doesn’t work, I’ll threaten you. If that doesn’t work, I will try to undermine your integrity. If that doesn’t work, I’ll pretend I’m your friend and try to trick you. I will enlist other civic and religious authorities to back me up. But I am determined that you will eventually do what I want you to do. Sons and daughters of Nehemiah, and I hope you will respond like this. I serve the one true God, not you. I do his will, not yours. I’m driven by his mission, not your attacks. You are not my God and I will neither serve nor pay attention to you. Instead of spending any more time arguing with you. I will pray. Lord, strengthen my hands.