Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I have used zebra types of avatars for a good little while. It was a few months before I realized that zebra just may very well be the heart of me. You see, I see things in black and white. Usually, it is the black words on a white page of my Bible. I am really uncomplicated – black and white works for me. I think in black and white. I would not be surprised if I dreamed in black and white.

Black and white worked for me in my prior work life. For 36 years of my life, everything was in black and white – rules, regulations and procedures. When working in state government, there should be no grey areas. Some may think so, but it is not so because when you wander into a grey area, it is bending the rules. Bend them enough and they will break.

Rarely is there any grey in my world, but I can see an elephant in the room. I’m a zebra….I know an elephant when I see one.

I had been thinking a lot about Nehemiah for the last several days. Nehemiah was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. He was more than likely a eunuch. Evidently, Nehemiah became more than a butler to the king because the king eventually made Nehemiah governor of Judah.

The walls and gates of Jerusalem remained in ruins for more than 140 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. It was then that a brethren told Nehemiah of the condition of Jerusalem and the survivors of captivity.

And they said to Nehemiah, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” Nehemiah 1:3

When Nehemiah heard these words, scripture tells us that he sat down and wept, mourned for many days, then fasted and prayed to God. His prayer is recounted in Nehemiah 1:5-11. I hope you will read the prayer. It is powerful. He humbly ended by saying “For I was the king’s cupbearer.”

After fasting and prayer, the Lord put it in Nehemiah’s heart to help rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah was still cupbearer when he approached the king to seek permission from the king to travel to Jerusalem to help rebuild. When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he found a sorry mess. The city was in ruins, the wall broken down and gates burned. The people were distressed, weary from continual opposition of neighbors and there was a general apathy.

Nehemiah told no one what the Lord had laid on his heart. After 3 days, Nehemiah and a few men slipped away in darkness of night and rode around the perimeter of Jerusalem to view the extent if the damage. Still no one but Nehemiah knew why he was there in Jerusalem. After he assessed the damage, Nehemiah said “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” Nehemiah 2:17

And so began the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed and despised them. Nehemiah answered them and said “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:20

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel. Next to Eliashib the men of Jerico built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built. Nehemiah 3:1-2

And so it went, neighbor building the wall up to the next neighbor and so around the city returning to the Sheep Gate, and the walls and gates were rebuilt. What a sense of community! Happy ending? Almost….

But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish – stones that are burned? Nehemiah 4:1-2

Tobiah the Ammonite egged Sanballat on, joining in the mocking. The Jews prayed and continued building. Mocking and jeers turned to attack and the Jews set up guards with swords, spears and bows – and the rebuilding continued.

And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Nehemiah 4:14

The community strategized, set up guards, had a warning system with a trumpet and workers armed themselves… And they continued to rebuild the wall.

This is one of my favorite biblical accounts of the strength of prayer, faith and community in the face of adversity.

It is interesting to note that the walls and gates were rebuilt by the survivors. Nowhere will you find that the enemy lifted a finger, except to mock and threaten. It was a community of survivors who rebuilt Jerusalem.

I hear the term “mend fences” tossed around a lot…usually meaning that two who do not agree should patch it up. I do not agree. Some - yes - totally - no.

Those who tear down are not the same ones who rebuild. But I will readily agree that fences need to be mended between survivors, neighbors and a community.

Being a zebra is not always easy. I cannot tell you if seeing in black and white is a good or a bad thing. I simply am what I am. I make no bones about it. I will be honest about it…always.

There is an old joke… “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is “One bite at a time”. So what to do about that elephant in the room? I think we should take the first bite out of that big old butt.


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