Study Guide Brian Hofmeiste Kyle Stuart r& What’s it all about? This teaching series takes us through the story of Nehemiah…a guy who led one of Israel’s most important building projects. The neat thing about Nehemiah is that he also turned his building project into a time of personal renewal and collective rallying to the mission of God, exactly what we want to do! Through this series we want to: 1. Be ready for how Jesus wants to disciple us personally next. 2. Rally together, and be ready to serve our neighbors and new guests the way Jesus would. This study guide is meant to supplement what is taught at Lakepoint on Sunday mornings. Please use it to guide discussion in your Missional Communities, study on your own and share it with friends. Each week provides portions of Nehemiah’s story to read along with questions to help you think, discuss and apply to everyday life. Still not satisfied? Many of the weeks also have “extras” to help you go even further. Things you’ll need: 1. A Bible – one with study notes is helpful 2. Pen 3. Paper, notebook or journal Get ready to become built to last! First, a little background on Nehemiah… Week 1: This Cannot Be As we begin the book of Nehemiah, we are actually diving into the middle of a rd story. It’s like a trilogy where we are watching the 3 movie without the first two. In this study guide we’ll reference back to the others. The four books that make up this trilogy (1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah) shared a common editor, adding to how well they read together. Big Idea: “Holy discontent” is the first step towards God’s plan for the world. Before getting excited about God’s plan, we’ve got to get mad that his original plan wasn’t received, and the world is not as it should be Part one of our trilogy begins in 1 and 2 Chronicles, covering the years 1000-­‐538 BC. The people of God are doing alright-­‐under the leadership of King David, and then with King Solomon who followed. Israel was a superpower. After David and Solomon, chaos takes over. Leadership is poor and devotion to God get watered down with other religions. Civil war breaks out, leaving ten tribes in the North called Israel, and two in the south called Judah. The north is taken captive by the Assyrians in 722, and the south by Babylonians in 586. The Jews (South) who once were so powerful, now are nothing. Their capital city, Jerusalem, has been destroyed, their temple which was the symbol of God’s blessing has been knocked out, their walls ruined. They are slaves. For seventy years the Jews lived as exiles in Babylon. God made promises to restore the Jews, but not until this 70 year period (time specified in Jeremiah’s prophecies in Jeremiah 25:11-­‐21,29:10) purged their idolatry and turned their hearts. After the king of Persia conquers the Babylonians, and he tells the Jews that they needed to go back and rebuild the things that they had lost. This is how part one ends. Part two opens with hope in the book of Ezra. Some of the Jews go back to Jerusalem, led by Zerubbabel. This is their chance to start over, to recapture some of their lost pride. But this optimism does not last long. People continue to make stupid decisions. They continue to ignore God. So 80 years after they have returned God sends another leader who brings another group of Jews home with him from Babylon: Ezra. Ezra is the leader of the spiritual revival. rd This is how the 3 part of our trilogy begins. It is fifteen years since Ezra returned to Jerusalem, and 95 years after the first Jews arrived to try to piece things back together… and for the m ost part everything is still in pieces. Where as Zerubbabel and Ezra led masses in a return to Judah, the third return isn’t more than Nehemiah and his entourage. His story starts in the King of Persia’s palace -­‐ Susa to be exact. Scripture: Nehemiah 1, Lamentation 1:1, 5:15-­‐22 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: 1. 2. 3. 1:2-­‐3 What kind of “brother” is coming to Nehemiah, and who is the “remnant?” Much of what we’ll be learning goes back to the idea of broken walls. To understand what this m eans metaphorically for us, we always have to dig into what this meant to the original audience. This poetic expert from Lamentations captures the emotions the Jews ascribed to the broken walls of their city. Read Lamentations 1:1, 5:15-­‐22 1:4-­‐5a A ny one of Nehemiah’s four responses would have been significant, but how what do you personally read into the weight of his response when all four are combined? Apply 4. 5. 6. 7. Identify a broken wall around you. Could be you, someone, or situation. What brokenness around you would God have you carry the weight of like Nehemiah did the wall of Jerusalem? 1:5-­‐11 Narrative stories from the Bible rarely include everything that was done and said – excerpts were taken to capture the main point. Three main points are included from Nehemiah’s prayer, in the order that he felt most captured his intent for praying them. Discuss each paragraph of Nehemiah’s prayer, and why he chose to build point after the next: 1:5-­‐7, 1:8-­‐9, 1:10-­‐11. Get ready to rebuild the wall God is calling you to. Using Nehemiah’s three part prayer as an outline, outline what your prayer needs to be for the broken wall around you. Closing: Form triads in your missional community. Amongst the three of you, commit to praying each other through the rebuilding of the broken walls you are taking on. Week 2: Friends Foes and a Vision Worth Fighting For Big Idea: We’re not allowed to hide in our prayer closet. We’ve got to step forward in God’s plan for us. We know we’ll get plenty of opposition. We’re telling God we need at least a couple friends to open doors – because we can’t make it on our own. Scripture: Nehemiah 2, Ezra 1,4,7 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: 1. 2. 3. Background: Nehemiah gives dates in 1:1 and 2:1 to indicate that he’s been praying his chapter 1 prayer for four m onths before something happened. Is that significant? 2:1-­‐2 Look up who King Artaxerxes was in your study Bible (or blueletterbible.org), as well as what it meant to be a cupbearer to the King in that time. Base on the background info and opening of this story, to what extent do you think Nehemiah was a bottom-­‐rung servant, or was he a trusted friend and advisor? 2:3 Would the king have empathized with Nehemiah’s situation? If your house burned down, and years later your stuff was still in a pile for others to look at and sift through, would you feel similar embarrassment? 7. 8. 9. 2.10,18-­‐20 There is new leadership and inspiration in Jerusalem to rebuild, but what do you think it would have felt like to have opposition like Sanballat and Tobiah in the mix? Ezra, like Nehemiah, documents opposition as quickly as success. Zerubbabel lays the foundation of the temple in 537 BC with vigor and enthusiasm, but a strong opposition of hired lobbyists (Ezra 4:5) stopped the work so quickly that it was little m ore than a foundation for the next 16 years! Have you ever had a great start, that you know came from God, which someone or something stopped just as quickly? God often supplies friends like Artexerxes, and allows foes like Sanballat and Tobiah. What relational dynamics are you facing right now in the rebuilding of your wall? How will you embrace the friends and push through the foes? Is anything keeping you from saying like Nehemiah, “The God of heaven will give us success?” Missional Communities pray for each other in groups of three. For the Road: Lent sneaks up on us, so come up with your plan now. What can you give up to give more to rebuilding broken walls around you? Week 2 Extras: The decree of Artaxerxes took place in 445 BC. A similar decree was made by King Cyrus of Persia in 538 BC. Read Ezra 1:2-­‐4 Apply: It’s interesting that Artaxerxes is now a friend to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Not long before this, Artaxerxes was the one who brought the rebuilding of the temple to a dramatic halt. Read Ezra 4:18-­‐24 4. 5. 6. When you think of the broken wall you’re trying to rebuild, who is feeling the shame of it the most? 2:4-­‐9 Nehemiah’s four months of prayer was not idle wishing. He had a goal, a game plan, and approach prepared so that when the King asked him “What do you want?” he had a concise response ready to go. Make some notes on Nehemiah’s plan: a. End Goal: b. Means He’s Requesting: c. Time He’s Requesting: d. Repeated Wording Prepared for His Request: A second time (2.11-­‐18 ), Nehemiah plans and prepares before the next step. If God, or someone God put in your life, asked you, “What do you want?” would you know specifically what to say? Week 3: Going On, Even if You Can’t Go On Big Idea: Nehemiah focused on God, and the plan, even when everyone was terrified and hard pressed to repair the brokenness. When we really go after the life God wants for us, we will face a major battle. There will be attacks on us in so many areas. We need to learn to as Nehemiah said, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.” We need to continue our work, while also putting up defenses against the things that attack us and tempt us. Scripture: Nehemiah 4, Ezra 5 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: Take turns reading Nehemiah 4 out loud, this is an awesome part of the story! 2. How does Sanballat attempt to discourage the people from rebuilding the wall 3. What is Nehemiah’s response to Sanballat’s mockery? (v. 4-­‐5) 4. Make some observations about the methods Nehemiah used to post guards, continue building the walls and stay alert for a potential attack. Apply: 5. 6. 7. How do the Sanballat’s of life get you m ost discouraged from the work God calls you to? Ex. You feel too weak, like you’ll never see results, the task is too big or you’re just not “spiritual” enough. Given the example of Nehemiah, what should our first response be to these kinds of discouragements? What does it look like to do your work with one hand and carry your weapon in the other in everyday life? Week 3 Extras: Remember that Sanballat is the governor of Samaria, just north of Jerusalem and was the primary political enemy of Nehemiah while he was rebuilding the wall. It’s interesting that the Jews and Samaritans continued to hate each other even in the time of Jesus in the New Testament. Sanballat’s mocking questions attempt to point out: a. The Jews’ weakness due to enemies surrounding them and poor economic situation b. The huge task it is to rebuild the wall c. A supposed lack of devotion to God since they are rebuilding the walls of the city instead of focusing on the “more spiritual” act of offering sacrifices. d. An exaggerated time frame – “will they finish in a day?” aka “They will never finish it!” Nehemiah posts guards by family, keeping people close to their wives, sons and daughters who they would be m ost m otivated to defend. No one is alone, everyone is helping each other, always ready for anything Week 4: Everyone Plays A Part Big Idea: You need a team to be built to last. Nehemiah organized people to build different portions. You have to play your part; the next person plays there’s; the wall gets built. Scripture: Nehemiah 3, Ezra 2, I Corinthians 12 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: Briefly look at Nehemiah 3 and then flip over to 1 Corinthians 12 and read v. 12-­‐20 1. Why do you think Paul is writing about this to the Corinthian church? What potential problems m ight he be trying to address? 2. How does what Paul says about being a part of the body relate to what we’ve been discussing in the story of Nehemiah? 3. Read 1 Corinthians 12:21-­‐26 – What does it look like for the body of Christ to act dysfunctional? What should it look like? 4. What is our role in m aking sure the body functions the way it should? 5. Read 1 Corinthians 12:27-­‐28 and identify the different roles God has us play as part of his body Apply: 6. What gifts/passions to you have to offer as one of God’s builders? 7. Do you feel like those gifts and passions are being used right now? If not, where do you think you need to jump in as one of God’s builders? 8. What is God telling you to work on? How can we help? Week 4 Extras: Nehemiah 3 seems like a really hard text to study and apply, and it is! It’s just a list of people, and who took which part in rebuilding the temple. Whenever you’re tempted to toss out portion of the Old Testament as irrelevant, try to take some time to consider what points and principles get revisited in the New Testament. Cross-­‐reference tools in your study Bible (or blueletterbible.org) will help with this, or perhaps something will come to memory from what you’ve read before. Rather than repeat the points on Nehemiah 3 from the Sunday Sermon, lets follow the most relevant cross-­‐reference to 1 Corinthians 12 for this week’s study. It’s a more applicable take on the same point the wall builders learned with Nehemiah: Everybody Plays a Part! Ezra 2 lists the families who traveled with Zerubabel as the first wave of people to inhabit and rebuild Jerusalem. 49,897 people are counted, as well as their contributions. It’s just another great example that every person matters and has a part to play. Week 5: Good for Everyone Big Idea: A life that is built to last is always about reaching those who are ignored, forgotten, etc. It requires us to us recognize, as Nehemiah did, “the heavy burden” that is placed on the overlooked: Kids, Divorced, Single Parents, Peru, Cornell Circle. We must fight for the forgotten and use our positions, time, resources, and finances to help them. We are building our wall as a refuge for them too. All are welcomed in. Scripture: Nehemiah 5 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: 1. Read Nehemiah 5:1-­‐6, what kind of crisis is going on? Is it an internal or external crisis among the Jewish people? 2. Read v. 6-­‐8, why is Nehemiah so angry and what is the significance of calling such a large m eeting? 3. What does the term usury m ean? 4. People were getting overlooked during the rebuilding of the walls in Nehemiah’s day. What kinds of people are getting overlooked in our world today? 5. What does our response need to be with regards to those overlooked people? 6. How does overlooking certain people affect the m ission of God on earth? See verse 9. Apply: 7. Is there anyone in your life that you are overlooking? Someone who could benefit from you showing them love, grace, forgiveness, etc… 8. Are their any specific ways you can think of to meet the needs of overlooked people as a m issional community? As an individual? Week 5 Extras: Keep in m ind that the people rebuilding the walls are facing external opposition already to their project. The fact that there is crisis within their own camp is extremely discouraging and greatly inhibits what they are trying to do. People were struggling to have enough food, maintain their properties, pay their bills and keep their families together. Week 6: Listening Again Big Idea: Being who you are supposed to be now usually means being reminded of who you were supposed to be in the first place. The Jewish leaders read the law and the teachers broke down it’s meaning for everyday life. Traditions got renewed. The first response was tearful regrets on what they had failed to be, but leaders like Nehemiah stepped forward to remind them to celebrate and get on with really listening the second time around, to become who God was always making them. Being built to last means we always keep a listening ear to God. Scripture: Nehemiah 8 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: Remember that Ezra and Nehemiah are contemporaries. Ezra’s chief contribution was the rebuilding of the temple and reviving worship. Nehemiah’s contribution was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and reviving God-­‐centered government. They needed both to thrive. Both have a book written from their work, complied by a common editor. Nehemiah 8 shows a key instance where these two leaders overlapped in their efforts. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 8.1-­‐3 Nehemiah has already completed the walls and Ezra the temple. They (especially Ezra), have been at work for years. Why do you think that now is the time for the reading of God’s words? 8.4-­‐12 List out all the ways the Jews responded to God’s words. Comment on when and how each bares relevance in the way we hear and respond to God’s voice today. Sidebar: Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your m ind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Verse 10 says that “The joy of the lord is your strength.” After all the learning, tell about some of the ways that God made sure you got on with doing what you’re supposed to be doing. If you were around for Lakepoint’s January series, and heard “one word” from him to guide your year, how are doing at living out that one word three months in? 1. The Feast of Tabernacles (Feast of Booths) was a tradition Israel used to remember their Exodus time in the wilderness. In this tradition, they’d spend the week, living out of small shelters (like tents), listening and sacrificing to God. They relived the instability to remind themselves of God’s provision in times of waiting. It was used to thank God annually for their harvest, and therefore their ongoing provisions from him. In new eagerness to listen to God, the Jews now reinstitute this tradition. What is the role of tradition in helping us hear from God? What traditions do you feel help us most? Apply: 2. 3. How do you hear from God? Or, in what ways will you turn more of a listening ear to him? Closing (in groups of three): What is God telling you to work on? How can we help? Week 7: Remembering Where You Came From Big Idea: You have to confess where you’ve been to commit to where you’re going. There is a turning point for every wall that’s built – an acknowledgement and decision to be a builder, not a breaker. Scripture: Nehemiah 9 & 10, Ezra 9-­‐10 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Do you find it harder to stay moved, or be moved in the first place? 9:1. Where does today’s story fall in time relation to the last chapter’s account of the reading of the law? Be thinking about how you’ll read the rest of the chapter differently in relation to that. 9:2-­‐3. Confession is slid in alongside worship and the reading of God’s words. How do you think those three relate to each other? 9:5-­‐37 covers the cycle discussed in Sunday’s Sermon: we 1) get blessed, 2) forget God, 3) cry for help, 4) get forgiven, 5) start all over again. You could dig into text to observe the detail from Israel’s history on how that all played out, or you could just ask each other: where are you stuck in that kind of cycle right now? 9:38, 10:29-­‐32,35. Why do they bring accountability and commitment into their confessions? Should we? Ezra 9:1-­‐5. How does Ezra grieve sin, and what can we learn from that for ourselves? Apply: 7. 8. Ezra 9:6-­‐16. Outline the key components of Ezra’s prayer of confession. Which part especially jumps out to you in leading your own prayers? Closing (Groups of Three): What is God calling you to confess? How would you like us to keep you accountable? Week 7 Extras: Motivation is they key to getting out of where you’ve been and m oving to where you’re supposed to be. Ezra 1:5 says “Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved— prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” Not everyone returned to Jerusalem – just those whose heart God had moved. For some, the issue is being moved in the first place. Many Jews enjoyed their homes and careers in a foreign land, and just assume stay there instead of moving to something better. Do you ever feel like you’re settling for the way life is, instead of believing there is something better? For others, the issue is staying moved. For as eager as people were to follow Zerbubabel or Ezra into something new, they became discouraged and went back to the way things used to be. Do you feel like you’ve returned to the way things used to be? Week 8: Stay the Course Big Idea: Nehemiah dedicates the wall, resumes his original post elsewhere, but returns to find that their social and moral fabric is breaking again.You have to stay the course. Built to last people and churches aren’t measured by what they start, they’re measured by where they stay to course to completion. 1. Apply: 2. Scripture: Nehemiah 11-­‐13, Ezra 6 Opener: What has God been doing in your Everyday Circles, or what would you like to see him do next? Study & Discuss: Consider how often, good intentions ended with little accomplished. 3. 4. 1. The first return of Jews (under Zerubbabel) were opposed in rebuilding the temple (Ezra 4), and instead directed their attention to make a living instead of completing the temple. 2. At the second return (under Ezra), he found intermarriage with pagans rampant (Ezra 9). 3. When a third development opens under Nehemiah’s leadership, he finds exploitation of the poor (Nehemiah 5). 5. 4. Even after Nehemiah’s reform, he spent some time away and returned to find that hateful foreigners were allowed into leadership, the spiritual system and workers were not being funded, people were working on the Sabbath (the sacred weekly day-­‐off), and intermarriage with pagans was again common (Nehemiah 1 3). Thankfully, God always sent a reformer to lead them out of their mistakes, but we have to let the implications sink in. How many years and generations get wasted by not sticking to God’s plan? How much more would we be if we stayed the course with God’s plan? What does it take to stay the course? 6. 7. Share your thoughts on the background information given. Are you doing anything that might be delaying God’s ultimate plan for you and your everyday circles? Read Chapter 13, and comment on all the ways the Jews backslid. For each backsliding issue, how did Nehemiah tackle it as a rebuilder and reformer? Think about some of the broken walls God has rebuilt in people’s lives through you, and how many of them have stayed fixed. Share some stories where things backslid. Where are you called to be a reformer right now? 12:27-­‐47 celebrates the completed wall with a dedication. Without getting caught up in big names and small details, make some observations of what it would be like to celebrate on this day with them. What will you praise God for when Lakepoint gets to dedicate their first church home? Sidebar: Ezra led a similar celebration at the dedication of the temple. Ezra 6:17 “ For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering[b] for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel.” In Chapter 11, the Jews host a draft to inhabit the city. 1/10 are selected. Everyone was called to build, but not everyone was asked to stay. For some, it’s back to life as usual. Sometime God moves you to the next thing (perhaps building the next wall), sometimes he has you camp for the long haul where you are (keep building in all the small ways). Is God calling you to stay and maintain the broken walls you’ve rebuilt throughout this series, or is there a new one he’s calling you to now? What’s your big take-­‐away from this series? How can we help you grow in that?