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Focal Points of Failure

Nehemiah 9:38 - Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing; and on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and priests.

Read Nehemiah 10 and Nehemiah 13.

January is the month when most of our New Year's resolutions are broken. Before the very first month of the year is over, our "new start" is history. Our resolution to jog 10 minutes a day has been changed to a walking program of 10 minutes a week! Our resolution to lose a pound a week has been rationalized to a "no gain" policy! Our resolution to get up an hour earlier each day for time alone with the Lord has been modified to a short 5 minute devotional plan sometime during the day--if nothing more important comes up! As human beings, we have a natural tendency to fail in whatever we set out to do. And as growing Christians we are not immune. Our well-laid plans for more discipline and efficiency in our lives as Christians often result in just that--only plans! How discouraging! What is the answer?

The answer from Scripture can be stated the following way:

1) We don't have to fail in any point.

2) But we will fail in some points.

3) Therefore concentrate on what may become focal points of failure.

As to the first part of the answer, the Bible teaches that when a person becomes a Christian he receives brand new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new life is empowered by the Holy Spirit Who indwells everybeliever (1 Corinthians 6:19). Thus Christians are enabled not to sin (Romans 6:11-14 and Romans 8:9-12).

We know also from Scripture that God never permits an overwhelming test or temptation to confront a Christian. 1 Corinthians 10:13 assures us that there is never a "can't handle" situation in the life of a Christian. It may be extremely hard at times, but a Christian does not have to sin or fail in any particular situation.

The second part of the answer is equally true for every Christian. We are not perfect--yet! Most of us will not argue that point!! 1 John 1:8-10 tells us that every Christian still sins. Although we have new life in Christ, we still struggle with sin because sin is still at work within our mortal bodies (see Romans 7:15-25). We cannot say that we are completely failure-free until we are with the Lord. Then we will be perfect (see 1 John 3:2 and Romans 8:23). In the meantime, we are to make every effort not to yield ourselves to sin (Hebrews 12:1 and Romans 6:15-19), but to yield ourselves to the Spirit of God Who indwells us and empowers our new life in Christ (Galatians 5:16-18 and Romans 8:1-4). And what about the sins that we will inevitably commit? We confess them to the Lord. Confession brings sure cleansing (see 1 John 1:9 and 1 John 2:1).

The reason for the third part of the answer is a very practical one. Sin snowballs! When we fail in one area, it isn't long before the other areas are affected. Therefore we should concentrate on key areas--areas that can become focal points of failure. When sin and failure take place in these areas there is a tendency to "blow it big". Sometimes a life of failure is the result.

Three Focal Points

There are three basic areas in which a growing Christian should be especially committed before the Lord. Let us call them the areas of our ties, our time, and our treasure. This sounds like a trite little sermon outline but it may help us to remember these key areas of commitment. "Ties" has to do with our relationships; "time" has to do with our priorities; "treasure" has to do with our possessions. If these basic areas do not remain focal points of commitment they can become focal points of failure.

The Scriptures which were selected from the book of Nehemiah impress on us the importance of being committed in all three areas. Nehemiah records for us the events in the history of Israel near the close of the Old Testament period. Nehemiah motivated the Jewish people who had returned to the homeland from the captivity in Babylon to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem (chapters 1-6 of Nehemiah). Upon completion of the wall, there was a time of great rejoicing and revival among God's people (chapters 7-9). The revival occurred not only because of a physical return of the people to their land but because of a spiritual return of the people to their God.

In Nehemiah 9:38 we see that the leaders of the people of God made a "New Year's resolution" to faithfully follow the Lord from that time forward. In chapter 10 we find that not only were the leaders involved, but all the people agreed to the terms of the resolution--even the teenagers (vs28-29)! As we examine the last half of chapter 10 we discover that the specific areas of commitment agreed upon were their ties (v30), their time (v31), and their treasure (vs32-39).

When we come to chapter 13, at least twelve years had elapsed since the time of commitment. During the latter part of this time, Nehemiah was gone from Jerusalem on official business (13:6). When Nehemiah returned, things had changed and the situation was pretty bad. The three focal point of commitment had become focal points of failure.

Ties

In Nehemiah 10:30 Israel promised that they would not inter-marry with their pagan neighbors. They would remain pure in their relationships. In Nehemiah 13:23-28 we find that the people of God had broken their pledge. As a result, the children of these mixed marriages were infected with the surrounding pagan culture (v24). Even the high priestly family was no longer separated (v28).

The application of this to the growing Christian is pretty straightforward. 2 Corinthians 6:14 tells us that we are not to be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers". Marriage to an unbeliever results in all kinds of bad fall-out for years to come. The home is not Christ-centered and the children are infected with the surrounding world system. An "unequal yoke" becomes a focal point of failure. God, in His wonderful kindness, can step into the situation and pick up the pieces, but scars can remain. God's Word is clear on the point of marriage, and it is to be obeyed.

Certainly commitment in the area of our relationships or ties can be applied to areas other than marriage, but because marriage is a critical part of our lives, let us be sure we are committed on this point. If we fail here, the rest of our lives can be affected. The drastic action of Nehemiah in verse 25 forces us to realize the seriousness of such failure. The mention in verse 26 of King Solomon and his place before God should convince us that even the most mature Christian is vulnerable. Are your own ties a focal point of commitment right now?

Time

In Nehemiah 10:31 the people pledged that they would put God first in the use of their time. Every seventh day and certain feast days would be set apart for worship and service for the Lord. These times would not be used to buy or sell or "do their own thing". The Lord would have top priority. In Nehemiah 13:15-22 we see that Israel failed in this area. The Sabbath day had become like any other day. Instead of using this time to worship and serve the Lord, the people were using it for their own ends--working and buying and selling for themselves.

What a reverse in priorities! But what about our priorities? Is God first in the area of our time? Let's face it. If the Lord does not have top priority in reference to our time, we don't give Him much time at all. Just as it was in Nehemiah's day, there will always be plenty of activity to gobble up the Lord's time. Little by little He is squeezed out of our busy schedules.

Wrong priorities become a focal point of failure. Our Lord Jesus promised that when we put God first, He will take care of all the really necessary things of life (Matthew 6:25-34 and especially verse 33). Our problem is that we are not content with what the Lord provides. Too much of our time is consumed with "buying and selling" for more than we really need. Our priorities need to be put in order. Our time must be a focal point of commitment because there is never any "left-over" time for the Lord.

Treasure

In Nehemiah 10:32-39 the people of Israel declared that they would continually give of their possessions to support the work of the Lord. They promised to faithfully give back to the Lord a tenth of all He gave them. These gifts would always include the first part of their income--not whatever happened to be left of their paycheck or their "allowance"! In Nehemiah 13:10-14 we find that the people of God failed in this area also. The tithes and offerings were not being brought to the temple nor given to the priests and other servants of the Lord. The Levites, who were responsible for much of the work around the temple, were forced back to secular employment (v10).

Neglect in the area of their treasure had caused this area to become a focal point of failure. And this can happen to us as well. The proper use of our "treasure" for the Lord must be a focal point of commitment. We are to be disciplined in our giving to support the Lord's work. We should follow the example given to us in 1 Corinthians 16:2. The Corinthian believers are told to put aside part of their money each week for the Lord. This is disciplined and proportionate giving, and this should characterize the growing Christian in the use of all of his possessions.

It's a complete cop-out for a Christian to say, "I don't give proportionately because all I have is the Lord's!" If we don't get down to the "pencil and notebook" stage of Christian giving it usually doesn't come off at all! It isn't long before the work of the Lord suffers somewhere. May God help us not to let our possessions become a focal point of failure.

In chapter 13 we find Nehemiah taking drastic action to correct the areas of failure. This adds to the beautiful character description we have of Nehemiah, and teaches us that we may have to take drastic action to "shape up" in these three basic areas of commitment. Before this first month of 1977 is over we'll probably fail in a few of our little New Year's resolutions. Let's concentrate on keeping the three "biggies" from becoming focal points of failure.
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