I will never put a bumper sticker on my car.  I personally don’t believe my bumper is the best place to express a life philosophy.  But I am addicted to reading them. Anybody else a bumper sticker addict.  I read them all the time.  Let me give you a short list of my favorites.

  • Please don’t hit me
  • Honk if you’re amish
  • We ate your stick family
  • Very funny scotty, now beam down my clothes
  • 26.2
  • 26.2 oreos I can eat
  • .262
  • On the advice of my lawyer my bumper has no comment at this time

There is one bumper sticker I read regularly that sticks out more than any of them.  I used to go by it every day I went running.   But every time I see it, my heart aches.  It reads simply… “I’ve got nothing against God, it’s his fan club I can’t stand”

Every time I run past that I think to myself, what happened? Who hurt this person?  Was it a TV preacher spewing fire and brimstone?  Was it a parent who could talk Christianity but couldn’t walk Christianity?  Was it a friend who tried to shove the Bible down his throat?  I feel sad when I see a bumper sticker like that.  And not because I feel like that person is being a jerk.  I’ve been around long enough to realize that there are times when Christians deserve that kind of treatment.  It breaks my heart that somewhere this person faced someone who judged them harshly in the name of Jesus; that someone led with criticism rather than love; that there was someone in their life who was more interested in the rules they found or made up than the grace of God.   It breaks my heart.

Every time I read that bumper sticker I am also reminded that just by the mere fact that I call myself a Christian, I am going to face opposition.  Some people have already made up their mind that I am dogmatic and judgmental and hypocritical.

FACT: There Will Be Opposition

Whoever you are, whatever you try to do to care for people, regardless of the size or the scope, you will face opposition.  It doesn’t matter if you are leading a huge corporation or a family of five, opposition will come your way.  And, I hate to tell you, when you add the word Christian to your title, the opposition just got worse.  It’s a guarantee made by Jesus himself.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

That’s probably my least favorite promise in the Bible.  But there’s one person in the Bible who I’ve been focusing this blog on lately who knew how to deal with opposition: His name is Nehemiah. Now, why would we look to him for leadership advice?  Let me give you a quick recap.

Nehemiah Spark Notes

For 140 years the people of Israel had wanted to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem and for 140 years no one had succeeded.  But God laid a passion on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the walls and after God had opened up some doors, Nehemiah got the King’s blessing to rebuild the walls as well as all the funding he needed.  In Nehemiah chapter 3, the building begins but don’t think it’s all going to be smooth sailing just because God’s involved. In fact, the opposition start in the very next chapter. We can learn a lot from Nehemiah Chapter 4. In fact, over the next few blog posts I’m going to show you 3 different ways to overcome any opposition you encounter in life.

There’s a lot to cover here so let’s get right to it: The first way you can overcome, I actual prefer “love through” opposition, is by being ready for it. That’s what we’ve been talking about so far, right? As John said, there will be opposition; you can count on it! But once we are aware of this fact and we are prepared for it, we won’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and then we can start dealing with it. But first, in order to be prepared for it we have to understand the different types of opposition we will face, because not all opposition is created equal.

The reality is, especially when you lead, you will face opposition and you’ll face it on every side.  Nehemiah did.  He faced opposition from three angles, just as you will when you encounter opposition. In order to love through the opposition by being ready for it, you need to be aware of three different types of opposition you will be met with along the way:

Outside opposition

This is the most obvious opposition. It’s usually the first to arrive and the easiest to identify. Look with me at Nehemiah, chapter 4, verses 1-3:

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—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Nehemiah 4:1-3

The first question that pops into my mind when I read these verses is why would Sanballat and Tobiah oppose Nehemiah so strongly? Here’s why I think Sanballat made such a stink:  Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, which is just north of Jerusalem.  Samaria was made up of Jewish people who had intermarried with people of other cultures. Because of this, the Jewish people and the Samaritans hated each other, just like the way Raider fans feel about Charger fans. So when the Jews started rebuilding the walls, Sanballat opposed Nehemiah for one of the most basic reasons and it’s one of the most fundamental reasons why you and I will face opposition: Sanballat felt threatened.

Threat is one of the most basic causes of opposition.  It’s why a dog barks and a snake rattles and possums hiss and parents with teenagers say “as long as you live in my house, you’ll obey my rules.”  They feel threatened.  That’s one of my wife’s greatest fears by the way:  Possums I mean, not teenagers.

Any creature will attack when it’s threatened.  Let me show you how it happens with people: You decide that you want to better yourself and go back to school and yet you are shocked when some people around you are less then supportive.  Why would anyone not support someone who wants to grow and mature and learn?  Here’s why: They feel threatened.  Maybe they feel like you will get smarter then them. Maybe your going back to school causes them to feel guilty about their own education.  It’s not that you are doing something foolish that causes the opposition, it’s their own insecurity.  Let me give you some more examples of situations may oppose your actions or decision because they feel personally threatened:

  • They can oppose your decision to stay pure sexually.
  • They can oppose you for trying to get out of debt.
  • They can oppose the high standards you want to raise your kids by.

The bottom line is if you lead by love and try to lead and love and make a difference, most likely someone will feel threatened by you. Let’s look at another kind of opposition you will face.

Inside Opposition

After Nehemiah prays to God in verses 4-6 for help with the outside opposition, Sanballat really turns up the heat and instead of things getting better, he takes things to a whole new level of hard. Check it out:

But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.  They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.  But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.  Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Nehemiah 4:7-10

Did you hear that last line?  The outside pressure has come inside.  He’s now hearing it from his people too.  Notice when this is happening because this is the halfway point. This is actually a good thing. When the outside pressure starts coming in that’s usually when you are halfway to your goal! It’s not an easy place to be but it’s a sign that you are making progress towards accomplishing whatever God has placed on your heart.

The Halfway Point

The two most important and most difficult points in any leadership journey are getting started and the half way point. Don’t you agree? Have you ever gotten the idea one Saturday to clean your garage? You just woke up one morning and you were so sick of looking at the clutter that you started tearing it apart.  Have you ever gotten to the half way point and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”  The day after Christmas my sisters and I decided to help my mom clean out her garage. It’s fair to say that my mom is a pack rat so this garage was about 30 years overdue for cleaning. But that wasn’t the worst of it. She’s not just a pack rat; she had actual rats living in her garage.  And not just a few.  It was a rat metropolis.  Actually my mom found rats and possums living in her garage.  Were you aware that they hiss?  My wife informed me of that.  We got half way through this and thought, “What have we done?”  Not only do we have all this work in front of us, but the hypochondriac inside me is thinking “We are all going home with the black plaque today.”’

We Can’t

That half way point is where we find our find the people of Israel in chapter 4 and they start whining.  “There’s too much rubble…we’re under attack…we’re tired.”  And they cap it all off with the most discouraging words to any project.  “We can’t.”  “We can’t build the wall;” “We can’t remove the rubble;” “We can’t.”

One of the most damaging blows you’ll take are those two words: “We can’t.”  That internal struggle with those who are your partners can be so discouraging.  But still, that’s not the biggest opposition we face.  The worst opposition is…

Internal Opposition

In these verses (verses 1-3) Sanballat is basically heckling Nehemiah. He’s the guy on the sidelines watching the fight, watching the guy in the center of the ring getting pummeled and instead of shouting words of encouragement or climbing in the ring and helping him, he’s holding on to ropes yelling, “You suck!,” “You’re going down and you’ll never get back up!,” “What were you thinking when you climbed in the ring?,” “You are a loser and will always be a loser!” Let’s look at Sanballat’s words again:

  • “What are those feeble Jews doing?”
  • “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones.”

Do you see what I mean? Heckler. Bully. But those are the kind of words that can sneak into minds and stay there.  Maybe they’re right; maybe I can’t do it. My guess is, you have audio files in your head that sound just like that.

  • I don’t know what I was thinking when I started this business.
  • He’s right; I am a terrible parent.
  • Maybe my dad was telling the truth; I am a complete screw up.

Internal criticism is the hardest.  Let me show you why. Check out verse 6:

So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.  Nehemiah 4:6

They got half way. They were moving forward with all their heart.  Then the threats came and it did what opposition that gets inside always does: It divided their heart and a divided heart can’t love through anything. In fact, a divided heart is a paralyzed heart.

Folks, just like Nehemiah, if you ever love or attempt something truly noble or risky you will face opposition.  Don’t be surprised by it.  Be prepared for it and then proceed forward, full steam ahead. Being prepared for it is the first step of loving through opposition. Do you want to know the second step towards overcoming the opposition in your life? Do you want to know what to do once you are trying to do what God has called you to do and find yourself with a divided heart? If so, stay tuned to my next post. If you do, you will be rewarded with not one but two ways to get through the opposition with love. Til next time.

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