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Rabbit Trails

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Rabbit Trails

A man who bought a new hunting dog was eager to see how he would perform. So he took the dog out to track a bear. No sooner had they gotten into the woods than the dog picked up the trail. Sudden, he stopped, sniffed the ground, and headed in a new direction. He had caught the scent of a deer that had crossed the bear’s path. A few moments later he halted again, this time smelling a rabbit that had crossed the path of the deer. And so on and on it went until finally the breathless hunter caught up with his dog, only to find him barking triumphantly down the hole of a field mouse. (Bible Illustrator)
Like that dog, it is easy for us to get sidetracked. We can go chasing off in so many different directions that we miss the important things in life.
In your pursuit of God, don’t be sidetracked by the “rabbit trails” that can lead you away from God.
Nehemiah 6:1–2 NKJV
1 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), 2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm.

Prayer

Let me give you a quick background to set up this message for today.
The children of Israel had rebelled against God and at this time, the majority of the children of Israel were still in captivity in Babylon.
Just curious but does any one remember when you learned all of the 66 books of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments). Who can still quote them? We used to do what were called Bible drills. Before the days of smart phones, iPads, and/or computers. The leader gave out a verse in the Bible and everyone would begin to search the Bible for that verse. The first one who found it would stand up and read it. That’s another day and another time.
You may remember three books in the Old Testament (Ezra, Nehemia, Esther). Did you realize that these books are not listed in Chronological order. The order in which the events in these books actually occurred is actually Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah.
Who remembers the story of Queen Esther and how she became Queen? Who were the main characters?
King Ahaserous
Queen Vashti
Haman
Mordecai
Esther
The King became upset with the Queen and began the search for a new Queen. Held a beauty pageant and selected Esther as Queen. Haman, the King’s right hand man plotted to have all of the Jews/Israelites killed - Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) found out about the plot and Haman and his family ended up with the fate that he had planned for Israel. Mordecai got a promotion and all was going well in the kingdom.
In short, Esther became Queen to preserve the entire Jewish race.
Years later, most of Israel are still in captivity, but some had been released under the direction of Ezra, the priest, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The temple was being rebuilt with supplies and expenses paid by funds supplied by the King.
A few years later, a man by the name Nehemiah came on the scene. He no doubt knew Ezra and what he was doing in Jerusalem because the first chapter of Nehemiah indicates that he received regular reports of what was taking place in his native Judah and specifically Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was told of the situation - the survivors who are left in Jerusalem are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire.
When Nehemiah heard these words, he sat down and wept, and mourned for many days. He began to pray and repent and basically make himself available before God. Oh by the way, he was the king’s cupbearer. Now a cup-bearer was an officer of high rank in royal courts whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person had to be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold the position.
Nehemiah 2:1–6 NKJV
1 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. 2 Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid, 3 and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” 6 Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
Let me tie this together a bit for you. The King in this setting is Artaxerxes 1 - King of Persian - resided in Susa (now Iran) and was a younger son of Xerxes I, also known as Ahasuerus. Esther was Queen when his father ruled and although probably not his mother was still more than likely influential in Artaxerxes life. This may have been an extended reason for God placing her in her role as Queen (not only to preserve the Jewish people but to be influential in the rebuilding of the temple and overall restoration of God’s people).
So to complete the back story, here we find that Nehemiah is fulfilling the mission that he received from God when he made himself available and has been working to rebuild the walls.
Incidentally, if I understand correctly, the walls around Jerusalem were 2.5 miles long, 39.37 feet tall and 8.2 feet thick. The walls contained seven main gates.
The project that Nehemiah had embarked upon was no small venture and was definitely not without opposition.
Three characters represent the enemy in this story and relentlessly try to stop Nehemiah’s work. These three were high ranking offices in the Persian empire.
Sanballat - name means sin
Tobiah - the Ammonite
Geshem the Arab - name means rain
Let me read our text again:
Nehemiah 6:1–2 NKJV
1 Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), 2 that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm.
Now, the plain of Ono was 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem, about halfway between two cities, Jerusalem and Hakkephirim. Nehemiah’s enemies were suggesting a compromise. “Let’s meet halfway,” they said. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? After all, Why not meet halfway? Why not work out an agreement that’s suitable to both parties and live in peace with each other?
There’s only one problem: Nehemiah smells a rabbit, I mean a rat. They intended to do him harm. After all, why would they want him 25 miles away from Jerusalem, a whole day’s journey? And why would they want him in a place that borders hostile territory? Besides, Nehemiah would waste precious time getting there and back, which would delay completion of the wall. Ho. Nehemiah is not about to stop wall or risk getting himself killed. So Nehemiah says ...
Nehemiah 6:3–4 NKJV
3 So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.
Nehemiah stayed at the task God had given him to do and refused to be sidetracked by events that would take him away from his primary mission. Nehemiah refused to compromise with the enemy, and that’s what we need to do. When the enemy comes calling ...

Don’t Be Sidetracked By Compromise

Don’t get off on the rabbit trail of making concessions with the enemy. Don’t be diverted from your primary task by conceding with those who don’t share your core values.
Illustration:

Monopoly

Who likes to play Monopoly? What’s the purpose of the game?
Actually, the famous board game was designed to provide a warning about the dangers of greed and big business. The initial version, known as the Landlord’s Game, was invented in the early 1900s by Elizabeth Magie who wanted to teach players about the evils of monopolies and land ownership.
Over time, as the game spread through word of mouth and as people developed local version of the game, the focus drifted from that original vision and purpose. Instead, the game started focusing on building (rather than preventing) huge monopolies and bankrupting your opponents. That’s the game’s version that Parker Brothers turn into the super competitive game that we know today.
How does this relate to our topic? We don’t compromise our stand on the Word of God, and we don’t compromise our mission. We, as individuals, and the church, exist to equip people to follow Jesus, so that they KNOW Him personally, GROW in their relationship to Him, and SERVE Him as He has gifted them to serve. That’s our mission, and everything we do must be tied to that mission. Anything else, no matter how good, is just a distraction. Anything else, no matter how good, is a rabbit trail that will get us off track.
In our service for Christ, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” (George Sweeting). In other words, don’t be sidetracked by compromise. Don’t make concessions that take you away from your primary task. Second ...

Don’t Be Sidetracked By Slander

Don’t get off on the rabbit trail of thinking you have to answer all the lies said about you. Gossip and rumors will often come when you seek to serve God. Nehemiah didn’t let those false rumors stop him for one minute.
Nehemiah 6:5 NKJV
5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand.
After privately inviting Nehemiah four times to meet him halfway; on the fifth time, Sandballat does it publically. He does it by way of an “open letter”, which is meant for public consumption. This would be the same a having an article put in the local newspaper or television.
Nehemiah 6:6–7 NKJV
6 In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. 7 And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.
These are clearly lies, all of them, but Sanballat is trying to force Nehemiah’s hand. He thinks that by spreading such rumors, Nehemiah will have to stop his work on the wall and address those lies. Tell me: is that what Nehemiah does? Look at his reply in verse 8.
Nehemiah 6:8–9 NKJV
8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.” 9 For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.
Nehemiah STAYS at the task and PRAYS for strength. He doesn’t waste his time trying to answer the false rumors against him, and neither should we.
“When men speak ill of you, live so as nobody may believe them.” (Plato)
That’s the way Nehemiah lived. He didn’t care what people said of him. His character spoke for itself, and he knew no one would believe the negative press about him.
The fact is: if we take care of our character, God will take care of our reputation, and we won’t have to waste our time trying to stop the false rumors spread about us.
Think about you; think about me; think about the church - in the Power of the Holy Spirit. What could we do if we didn’t let the lies and threats of the enemy deter us from doing what God has called us to do.
In pursuit of God’s will for our lives, 1st - Don’t be sidetracked by compromise; 2nd - Don’t be sidetracked by slander; and 3rd ...

Don’t Be Sidetracked By Sin

Don’t get off on the rabbit trail of disobedience to God’s Word. Don’t be diverted by actions which SEEM right at the time, but go contrary to what the Bible SAYS is right. Here, Nehemiah refused to disobey God even to save his own life.
Nehemiah 6:10–11 NKJV
10 Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.” 11 And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!”
Nehemiah refused to go into the Temple, because it was contrary to God’s Law. God had made it very clear: Only priests were allowed in the Temple.
Numbers 3:10 NKJV
10 So you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall attend to their priesthood; but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”
You see Nehemiah feared disobeying God more than he feared losing his life.
“Give me 100 [men] who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; they alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.” (John Wesley)
Nehemiah was that kind of man. He feared nothing but sin and desired nothing but God, and no one was going to force him to disobey God. In fact, Nehemiah smelled a rabbit, I mean a rat, as soon as someone suggested it.
Nehemiah 6:12–14 NKJV
12 Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me. 14 My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.
You see, fear is often what leads people into sin. They’re afraid of losing their popularity, or their power, or some sort of pleasure; so they do what they know is wrong to try and keep these things. Here, Nehemiah doesn’t even let the fear of death lead him into sin, and we, like Nehemiah, must have the same attitude. Don’t let yourself be sidetracked by sin no matter what!
In your pursuit of God and His plan for your life, don’t cut corners; don’t slump on allowing the standards of Scripture to inspect every area of your life; don’t be sidetracked by sin - even if the sin seems logical at the time - it’s lethal to your walk with God and to the work He has called you to do.
Please, don’t be sidetracked in your pursuit of God. 1st - don’t be sidetracked by compromise. 2nd - don’t be sidetracked by slander. 3rd - don’t be sidetracked by sin. And finally ...

Don’t Be Sidetracked By The Wrong Company

Don’t let the wrong friends lead you off on a rabbit trail. Don’t let the wrong associations divert you from what God has called you to do. That was the problem in Nehemiah’s day with some of the people in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 6:15–16 NKJV
15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.
What a great thing God did! The wall was rebuilt in 52 days, but not without problems.
Nehemiah 6:17–19 NKJV
17 Also in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came to them. 18 For many in Judah were pledged to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. 19 Also they reported his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.
There were some unholy alliances here. The leaders of Judah were in partnership with the enemy. They had sided with Tobiah against Nehemiah, and it undermined the safety of the city.
We need to be very careful about the partnerships we form, because those partnerships can lead us astray. The Bible is very clear:
2 Corinthians 6:14–15 NKJV
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?
Now, this does NOT mean we cannot spend time with unbelievers. Otherwise, how would we encourage them to follow Jesus? No. What the Bible says is don’t form a partnership with an unbeliever. Don’t form a business partnership, a marriage partnership, or any other kind of partnership.
You see, these partnerships can only sidetrack the believer. That’s because the unbelieving partner is pulling in a different direction than the believer. For good or ill, the associations we form have a profound effect on our decisions and ultimately up the direction of our lives.
Illustration:

Home Field Advantage

I’m sure you have heard the expression “Home Field Advantage.” This is where the home team seems to win more often than the visiting team. In 2011, a Sports Illustrated article concluded: “Home field advantage is no myth. Indisputably, it exists .... Across all sports and at all levels, from Japanese baseball to Brazilian soccer to the NFL, the team hosting a game wins more often than not.”
The question is, “Why?” Well you might be surprised at the answer. According to Sports Illustrated article, it’s not the cheering (or jeering) fans that encouraged better performance. On a number of statistics - such as pitch velocity in baseball or free throw percentage in basketball (which over two decades was 75.9 percent for home and visiting teams) - home field advantage didn’t make a difference. Their research also eliminated other likely theories based on the rigors of travel for the visiting team or the home team’s familiarity with their field, rink, or court.
So what drives the home field advantage? According to the authors of the article, “Officials’ bias is the most significant contribution to home field advantage.” In short, the refs don’t like to get booed. So when the game gets close, they call fewer fouls or penalties against the home team; or they call more strikes against visiting batters. Larger and louder fans really do influence the calls from the officials, who naturally (and often unconsciously) respond to the pressure from the crowd. When the fans get angry, the refs make the calls that will lessen the pain of crowd disapproval. In the end, the crowd is a big influence on the calls the officials make. (Tobias Moskowitz & L. John Wertheim, “What’s Really Behind Home Field Advantage,” Sports Illustrated, 1-17-2011; www.PreachingToday.com)
Those who surround you really do influence you, no matter how hard you try to make the “right” calls. So be careful about the partnerships you form.
In your pursuit of God and His plan for your life, don’t be sidetracked by compromise; don’t be sidetracked by slander; don’t be sidetracked by sin; and, don’t be sidetracked by the wrong company.
Prayer
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