“Oppositionists” — Solutionists Sermon, Week 4

Well, I really enjoyed preparing and then delivering “Oppositionists.” 


Now: I always enjoy preparation and delivery, but I really, really, really enjoyed the process this time.


Perhaps it showed through.  After the 11:30 service a friend pulled me aside.  I know his story pretty well, and so I know that he has been in recovery from alcoholism for over 25 years.  And he said to me, “That was the best Speaker Meeting I’ve ever been to.”


A “Speaker Meeting” is a special type of 12-Step Gathering.


Huh.  A Sunday morning that felt like a recovery meeting for 2000 people.  I think that’s what Solutionists is all about.


Here it is.  The bottom line:  God gives opposition to grow desperation.




Every person here has a Sanballat the Horonite. Every one. Turn to your neighbor and say, “You have a SanballattheHoronite, did you know that?” And no, that’s not a way of talking about a stain on your clothing or some food stuck in your teeth or even some communicable disease. None of that. But yet you all still have a Sanballat the Horonite in your life, and some of you even couple that with a Tobiah the Ammonite as well. Now that you are thoroughly confused, let me show you what I mean . . .
Because here’s what’s going on. Nehemiah is our ultimate solutionist. It’s 445 BC. Israel as a nation and the Jews as a people have been BACK in the city of Jerusalem for about 100 years now – they’d been exiled to and disciplined in Babylon for 70 years before that – but the city is still a wreck. In particular, the wall which provided both beauty and security is in disarray – the masonry is broken and the gates are burnt. So Nehemiah, because he is not one of those who points out problems but instead pinpoints solutions, leaves his place of luxury in the Persian king’s court, travel 1000 miles in four months and when he arrives in Jerusalem is somehow able to galvanize, catalyze, even posterize! hordes of people to rebuild the wall with him. He’s a solutionists with an uncanny knack for rallying co-solutionists around him.
Yet woven through Nehemiah’s story are these fascinating references to a man named . . . ready for this? . . . Sanballat the Horonite! So: everybody relax that you don’t have broccoli in your teeth and you don’t have a sketchy disease. But look how it starts:

10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites


 Uh oh. Most likely Sanballat was a govt official, in some authority over Jerusalem, and he immediately sees that Nehemiah is a threat to his position. Plus, like a lot of people, he sorta likes it when things are broken and in disarray. Then, a couple of chapters over, while the wall reconstruction is going on – beeping trucks when they go backward, PortaPotties as mandated by the state, and permit signs all over the place – he escalates his opposition in 4:1-3:

[a]When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”


 Note: chapter 2, he was “disturbed” and now in ch. 4 he is “angry & greatly incensed.” Escalation. You know what Sanballat is? He’s a hater. Yeah! I’m down with that! I know how you ppl talk! In fact, in ch. 4, he is so much a hater that he brings in Tobiah the Ammonite to lay dn more smackdown!
And then in 6:1-2 Sanballat and his fellow haters try to set up an ambush

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— Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages[a] on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me;

 Yeah, let’s meet out here in the middle of nowhere! Note that “plain of Ono” — like “oh no you DIDN’T just try to get me to an ambush!!”  Just to talk. Yeah, right. Fortunately, our solutionists doesn’t fall for the trap. So at every turn, for every solution, Nehemiah runs headlong into opposition. He comes face to face with his hater, Sanballat the Horonite, and for a busy man with lots to do and a wall to build, dealing with that resistance had to have been such a hassle.
But like I said, every one of you here has a Sanballat. Whether you are a solutionist or not – but much more likely if you are! There is someone in your life who represents resistance, hostility, opposition. Dare I say it . . . haters? Sometimes, even, your haters are the people who by all rights should love you the most. But we all have them! My gosh, I just recently heard of some UMC colleagues of mine who really don’t like the volume of water we use in baptism (they’re sprinklers and not dunkers) and would just as soon have me not in the UMC. One even called me a “formerly Methodist pastor” online! Even earlier, back in Monroe, someone asked me once why I’m not a holiness pastor since she wanted a good deal more formality in worship (not seeing the irony that Methodists were the first “Holiness”!). Even earlier, as a kid, I had a nemesis named Brad Stoffel who beat me for the longest time in tennis, and most of those times made him #1 in TX and me #2.

Lose To Brad 1974

Here’s an epic photo of the aftermath of him beating me 6-4, 6-2 in the Texas State Championships for Boys 12 and under.  That was just but ONE of FIFTEEN times in a row he beat me.

Talk about an oppositionist!

But do you want to know the good news?  No one beats Talbot Davis SIXTEEN times in a row. 

I have had seasons where I’ve had somewhere I wanted to go, some things I wanted to do, and at every turn (not that I was seeking it out!) – someone or something stands in opposition. And the more of a solutionist you become the more opposition you can expect.
For some of you, it’s the guy at work. You have ideas, you work for progress, you value innovation, and his priority is all about preservation and resistance. In face, you suspect he likes everything at work that is broken and burnt. Actually, that guy’s resistance is nothing new. When Robert Fulton invented the steamboat, a skeptic was on the dock calling out “It’ll never start! It’ll never start!” And then it did. So the hater edited: “It’ll never stop! It’ll never stop!” You’re just amazed that same guy has shown up at your work place!
For others of you, your Sanballat is closer to home. Way to close to home. It’s mom or dad. Or both. They have a knack of sabotaging & undermining. Even when you’re trying to get out of trouble and get into recovery, they don’t support that. Haters should be lovers. And then others, your Sanballat has to do with faith. It’s around here. You want to advance ministry, invite more people into a living relationship with Jesus, and yet you meet resistance in various forms. In church, out of church, at work, at home, you have your Sanballats and I have mine. And they are such hassles.
So what do you do with them? Is it like that great Irish prayer? 

May those that love us, love us;

and those that don’t love us,

may God turn their hearts;

and if he doesn’t turn their hearts,

may he turn their ankles

so we’ll know them by their limping.

Do you pray that? Or do you pack up and go home? Do you go fetal? Do you make plans to eliminate them? What do you do with your Sanballat-Haters-Oppositionists?
Which is why Nehemiah’s responses to those three incidents I looked at earlier are so great. The most interesting pattern emerges. Look at 2:18:

 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

Now at 4:4: Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.

And then at 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.

 At every turn the opposition does NOT move Nehemiah to defend himself; it instead prompts him to depend on God. The pattern here is not accidental! Opposition – Prayer. Opposition – Prayer. Opposition – Prayer. And why is that pattern so great? Because Nehemiah is supremely self-confident. He is accomplished. Talented. A tad bit cocky. His tendency would have been to trust in himself and his mad people skills. And God must have known how dangerous that would be. Nehemiah no doubt COULD HAVE gotten the wall built without divine assistance – and the result would have been Nehemiah’s Wall and not God’s. And God loves him way too much to allow that to happen.
So he gives Nehemiah THE GIFT of opposition! Yes! The haters are a gift! Not a hassle! An honor! Sanballat, Tobiah, and the others are an on-going reminder: “this only works, it really only works, when you are desperate for my help and strength. I am allowing these people to tell you you can’t so you will discover that I can. If I let you get away with doing this on your own . . . whew! I want you opposed because that opposition will bring you to your knees in desperate dependence on me. So . . . YOU’RE WELCOME for bringing Sanballat into your life!” That’s what happened. That’s why God engineered resistance in Nehemiah’s life. Not to distract him from the work! To focus him on the Lord! Here it is: God gives opposition to grow desperation.
Yes! All of you who have a Sanballat, those of you who wrote down that Irish prayer so you will pray it verbatim!, all of you who have started hating your haters . . . those who oppose you are not a problem! They are a promise! They are a promise that God has something bigger and better and deeper he wants to do IN you before he ever does another thing THROUGH you! Your Sanballats are not your hassle; they are your honor.  God gives opposition to grow desperation.
Who is your Sanballat? In your family, at your work, regarding your faith, even in your church? I want you to thank God for that person (do it now?). Because know this: God will be rough if he needs to be to move you away from self-reliance back into God dependence. He values few things more in your life than you lying prone before him, calling out, “I am powerless! I can’t do this on my own anymore!” What you think is pitiful God regards as beautiful. It looks to you like failure; God regards it as faith. My prayer as I prepared and thought about this particular talk is that every person in this place would stop looking at their Sanballats as problems, as hassles. And that you’d start looking at them as promises, as an honor. Even taking the spirit of God out of this equation . . . the only reason you have a Sanballat in the first place is because you’re doing something positive! And then bringing him back in to the equation, I’d love it for the people of GSUMC to full of ongoing, heartfelt thanks for every obstinate oppositionist in your path. It’s good for you.  God gives opposition to grow desperation.
A couple of very practical tips, if I may, when it comes to your oppositionists. 1) Don’t defend yourself. Many, many Sanballats operate by distraction. Their goal is to distract you from what you need to be doing. Get this: they seek to control a situation by asking questions that don’t need to be answered. (Repeat). That’s what Sanballat and Tobiah did! It’s really what I’d call crazy talk – and you can waste all kinds of time and all kinds of energy trying to answer what can’t be, and shouldn’t be, answered at all. I remember back at Xmas 2010 when we did What Child Is This? and you all gave $207,000 to fight sex trafficking in India – girls walking free TODAY because of what you did! – I got a few notes not long after Xmas Eve. “Where were our decorations?” We hadn’t gone all out on Xmas stage décor that year because we had a higher calling – freeing girls being raped for profit. “But where’s the star?” Man, if your take-away from a Xmas Eve about freedom for sex slaves was that your decorated Beth star got taken away … who has time to address that? I didn’t.
2) Keep at it. I said earlier that Sanballats love to distract. Gosh, they tried to lure Nehemiah into an ambush and he rightly answers in 6:3:

3 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?”

I love that!! “I’m busy!” And so are you. After you thank God for that oppositionist reminder to lean on God more, put your head down and get back to work. Man, in 2011, almost everything about this place changed. Why? Inviting All People . . . That power and focus of that mission puts the words of Nehemiah 6:3 in all our mouths. I get up every day wondering, “what massively small step can this church take today to invite all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ?”
Because ultimately, it’s not about you. Nehemiah had to learn that – and remember, he was so talented it could have easily been about him. But look at 6:16 again:

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.

Tremendous irony there. Nehemiah is NOT afraid of his oppositionists. They are afraid of his God. Which is how it should be. Makes me think of that time a few years ago when in the aftermath of some decision I wanted to be proved RIGHT. I wanted to be VINDICATED!  So searching for that “proven right,” I went to a student ministry gathering. Guitars, candles, prayers. I was lying down because you could. And the most random sentence came into my mind; some random and so memorable I knew it had to be God: My reputation is more important than your vindication. IOW, it’s less important that I be proved right than that God be proven great. I think he could only get through to me that way when I was lying down.
Because opposition isn’t the enemy. Self-reliance is.  God gives opposition to grow desperation.


We closed with this responsive prayer:

LEADER: Father in heaven, we come before you today with an odd gratitude

PEOPLE: We thank you today for our problems

LEADER: We thank you for those who disagree with us

PEOPLE: For those who don’t like us

LEADER: For those who have wronged us

PEOPLE: For those who ignore us

PEOPLE: And even for those who, like Sanballat, have opposed all of our good ideas

LEADER: We praise you, Lord, that all our problems show us we need to rely on you more than we trust ourselves

PEOPLE: We yield ourselves more fully to you today, asking that all of our human opposition grows godly desperation in each of us.

ALL: Amen.