"Can These Stones Be Brought Back to Life?": The Story of Nehemiah
“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?” (Nehemiah 4:2b)
Have you ever had one of those projects you had great hopes for, but inevitably, it kept discouraging you, and you finally gave up and placed it in the "Could have been/Had so much potential pile?" But, in the back of your mind, you still had a little mustard seed of hope for it. You thought, "Who knows, maybe one day, I will get back to the project. Maybe, it could eventually be good and somebody else could be blessed by it." That's what this blog is about; it's about the resurrection of a dead project and the mustard seed of faith that God seems to be blessing.
This fall semester at Handong Global University was busy and yet fruitful as usual. We finished up the semester on December 19th, had six days off, and then started the winter term December 26th. I say "off", but, even though school was out, at our church we obviously had winter services: Christmas Eve, New Years, Sunday service, and I preached at Postech University's Christmas day service. In the winter course, I taught a Special Topics class using my rough book, "Nehemiah: A Study on Godly Leadership."
One of my hopes with this class had been to further edit the book for potential publication in the Bible Teacher's Guide series. The history of this book is a long one. At HIC, we preached through the book of Nehemiah, I believe, in the spring semester of 2012. At that time, I hadn't really considered making my sermons or lectures into books, so I never edited my manuscripts. Even though, I didn't preach every week, I always wrote the full sermon with small group questions throughout, in order to train our small group leaders to lead their groups. Therefore, at the end of the spring, I had a full manuscript on the book of Nehemiah that was fit to train small group leaders. The problem was, it was very, very rough and needed lots of smoothing.
That summer 2012 I started the PhD program at Louisiana Baptist University, an unaccredited distance education school. The PhD program did not have the rigor (or utility) of an accredited one, but it allowed me to further study topics that would enrich my ministry and my teaching. Also, instead of writing "academic" papers to complete courses, I was allowed to write lectures that I would eventually teach. For example, in order to complete a class on Theology Proper (the study of God the Father), I had to write at least a twenty-five page paper. Instead of turning in a twenty-five page paper, I turned in a lecture of over 150 pages. Since, I had already taught part of that subject in my Christian Foundation class, I just edited what I had and added to it, in order to thoroughly cover the topic. That eventually turned into my dissertation and published book, "Theology Proper: A Study of God the Father."
Anyways, I shared about the PhD program to say that one of the classes I had to take was an independent study on an Old Testament book. Since, I had already preached Nehemiah, I thought that I would simply edit the book, add references, and turn it in for credit. At least, I thought it would be "simple". Taking a collection of sermons, not originally meant to be published and trying to put them in book form was very difficult. I edited it once, added the references, and thought I was finished. Then I tried to read it again, and I thought, "This is terrible!" So in discouragement, I completed a paper on a passage in Isaiah for the class, and put the book away, not sure if I would ever pick it up again.
Well, since graduating May 2014, God has graciously allowed me to publish a few books. Fall 2014, I published the Bible Teacher's Guide: First Peter (which I initially turned in for a NT independent study) and BTG Theology Proper (which was initially turned in for my Theology Proper class). Sometime early spring 2015, BTG Colossians will publish with Authenticity Book House.
However, while working on these books, I still had a rough, unfinished Nehemiah lingering in the background. As I say that, it reminds me of the fact that Nehemiah, the biblical narrative, is a book about how Israel took the ruins of the wall of Jerusalem that had lain dormant for over 140 years and rebuilt them. Well, BTG Nehemiah, as far as I was concerned, was similarly in ruins and had been dormant for years. Every time I considered fixing the book, it always discouraged me.
Summer 2014, over two years after the initial writing of Nehemiah, I went to the Philippines for a mission trip with EHDS (English Handong Discipleship School). When we got there, I found out that they wanted me to teach a modular course to their seminarians--6 hours a day for a week. What should I teach, with no time to prep? I decided to again pull out the ruins of BTG Nehemiah, teach it, and maybe edit it at the same time. I thought,"Who knows, maybe God could use it both to enrich the pastors I was teaching and perhaps get it closer to being publishable." The Lord blessed, and I was able to tighten up much of the manuscript.
Though there was order forming amidst the ruins, there was still much work to be done. The story continues. This fall 2014, I decided to strategically teach Nehemiah for the university's international student chapel and for one of my small groups, with the hope of editing a chapter each week. Every Friday before my 5:30 pm small group, I would edit one chapter for about 2 to 4 hours before teaching it, and I would edit that chapter again when/if I taught it in chapel. When the semester ended, it ended with hope. From the ruins, walls were starting to arise.
Realizing that the book needed more polish, I decided to teach the book this winter for a credited modular course. Every day before lecturing, I gave a chapter another quick edit. To use Nehemiah's words, in Nehemiah 6:1, he said that all that remained to finish the wall was putting the doors into the gates. It is almost finished.
If you are familiar with that chapter in Nehemiah 6, Sanballat and Tobiah, the enemies of the Jews, gave one last all-out attack on Nehemiah in order to stop the completion of the wall. They tried to discourage him through gossiping about him, sending false prophets to lie to him, amongst many other attacks, with the purpose of weakening his hands so he could not complete the wall. Maybe, similarly, I've felt a lot of attack and discouragement every time I've had to edit the book. During the semester, I always felt so much weight right before trying to work on a chapter. This whole winter course, I don't think I've slept one night (and my wife either). It's been so strange. I'm wondering if it has to do with being so close to completing the wall, completing a wall that hopefully will help keep the enemy out of people's lives and even churches.
The doors that need to be put into place are primarily having a few editors polish it before sending it to the publisher. I've sent it to a few friends to help with the editing. In addition, I'm listening to Steven Cole's sermon series on Nehemiah in the mornings for my devotions and adding any small additions that I think will enrich the text. I'm hoping that it will be fully done by March, and then I will send it to a publisher.
I contacted ABH Friday (1/16/2015) about picking up BTG Nehemiah; they said they were interested and asked for me to send it to them in March. We'll see. Maybe, God will use these ruins after all.
Thanks for your partnership in the resurrection of these walls. Please pray for grace over the book and that God would use it richly for his kingdom. Pray that the Lord would use it to raise up walls around churches, ministries, and homes in order to keep the enemy out.
What project(s) have you put to the side that you are hoping (with a mustard seed of faith) that God will eventually resurrect and use for his glory?