Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Nehemiah and Integrity

On Sunday evenings at Woodward Park, we're journeying through the chronicle of Nehemiah's effort to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. The account of Nehemiah's leadership is fascinating as his life exemplifies deep care, persistent prayer, and careful planning.

The introduction to Nehemiah in The Message carries a powerful reminder about the integrity of the people of God. Somehow, somewhere, we bought into an unbiblical concept of life as compartmentalized, living by segments rather than integrity. Of the many things Nehemiah teaches, one of the most penetrating is the call to integrity -- to view all of life, including our work, as wholly devoted to God.

"Separating life into distinct categories of 'sacred' and 'secular' damages, sometimes irreparably, any attempt to live a whole and satisfying life, a coherent life with meaning and purpose, a life lived to the glory of God. Nevertheless, the practice is widespread. But where did all these people come up with the habit of separating themselves and the world around them into these two camps? It surely wasn't from the Bible. The Holy Scriptures, from beginning to end, strenuously resist such a separation.

The damage to life is most obvious when the separation is applied to daily work. It is common for us to refer to the work of pastors, priests, and missionaries as 'sacred,' and that of lawyers, farmers, and engineers as 'secular.'

It is also wrong.

Work, by its very nature, is holy. The biblical story is dominated by people who have jobs in gardening, shepherding, the military, politics, carpentry, tent-making, homemaking, fishing, and more.

Nehemiah is one of these. He started out as a government worker in the employ of a foreign king. Then he became a building contractor, called in to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. His co-worker Ezra was a scholar and teacher, working with the Scriptures. Nehemiah worked with stones and mortar. The stories of the two men are interwoven in a seamless fabric of vocational holiness. Neither job was more or less important or holy than the other. Nehemiah needed Ezra; Ezra needed Nehemiah. God's people needed the work of both of them.

God's people still do."