Letter from Dr. Joseph Tkach - Jan. 2017

Date: 

January 1, 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Of the 66 books of the Bible, Nehemiah might be one of the most overlooked. It doesn’t have the pages of heartfelt prayer and praise that the Psalms do. It doesn’t have the mighty creation story of Genesis. It doesn’t have the life and teachings of Jesus or the theology of Paul. But, as the inspired word of God, it’s important to us just the same.

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January 2017  

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Of the 66 books of the Bible, Nehemiah might be one of the most overlooked. It doesn’t have the pages of heartfelt prayer and praise that the Psalms do. It doesn’t have the mighty creation story of Genesis. It doesn’t have the life and teachings of Jesus or the theology of Paul. But, as the inspired word of God, it’s important to us just the same. It can be an easy enough book to skip over as we flip through the tail end of the Old Testament, but there’s a lot we can learn from it today – especially about true community and missional living.

Nehemiah is categorized as a historical book, because it is primarily concerned with major events in Jewish history. Along with Ezra, it teaches about the restoration of the city of Jerusalem from the ruin caused by the Babylonian conquest. Nehemiah is unique as a book of the Bible for its first person narrative; we get to hear Nehemiah’s story in his own words, and learn how this faithful man fought for his people.


Nehemiah viewing the ruins
of the walls of Jerusalem

Nehemiah had an important position in the court of King Artaxerxes, but he gave up his power and influence in order to help his people when they were hurting. He got permission to return to Jerusalem to try to rebuild the walls of the city that had been destroyed. Having a city wall may not seem important to us today, but in the 5th century B.C., whether a place had walls determined whether it could be populated. For Jerusalem, the center of worship for God’s chosen people, to be in ruins and without defenses broke Nehemiah’s heart. He was given the chance to restore it to a place where people could live and worship free of fear once again. But the task of rebuilding Jerusalem was not an easy one. Nearby enemies were less than happy to see the Jewish people begin to thrive. They threatened to destroy what Nehemiah was trying to restore. This is where the Jews had to be prepared.

As Nehemiah himself says, “half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other” (Nehemiah 4:16-17). This work was no joke! In order to rebuild the city God had set aside for them, the Israelites had to take turns working and guarding those who worked. They had to be prepared at every moment for what might come.

Many of God’s people world-over still feel the threat of persecution for living out their faith. Even for those of us who are not in daily danger, there is much to learn from Nehemiah’s preparedness. It’s worth thinking about how we can “guard” one other, even in less extreme circumstances. When we set about to build up the body of Christ, the world meets us with distraction and discouragement. When someone is working for God’s people, we as a community should come around them and support them.

Nehemiah and his people demonstrated constant watchfulness and preparedness, ready for whatever might come – whether that be work to build up the city of God’s people, or to defend it. They weren’t necessarily called upon because they were the best for the job, but because the job needed to get done.

Few of us may feel that we’re called to great things. Unlike many figures in the Bible, Nehemiah’s call isn’t explicit. God doesn’t speak to him through a burning bush or a dream. He just hears of a need, and turns to prayer to see how he can help. He asks to be given the task to rebuild Jerusalem, and is given permission. He takes initiative to care for the people of God. When we see a need around us, and we are moved to respond, this can be just as powerful a way for God to lead as when he led with a pillar of smoke or a voice from heaven.

We never know when we might be called to serve. Nehemiah didn’t seem the likeliest candidate: he wasn’t an architect or a mason. He had a comfortable political position he left without any assurance of success because he saw a need. He lived a missional life, valuing that God’s will and ways be lived out among the nations in a particular place and time, in Jerusalem. And he valued this purpose more than his own security and gain. And Nehemiah’s preparedness didn’t end there. Throughout the rebuilding, he had to be ready at any time to meet adversity or advise his people.

I think about how often serving one another might seem inconvenient to us. I think about how often I feel like someone might be better suited to meet a specific need than I am. But the book of Nehemiah reminds us that, as God’s community, we are asked to care for one another. We are asked to be prepared to give up our own security and advancement to respond to the needs of God’s people.

I am so grateful for the stories I hear about GCI members and coworkers reaching out to help those around them both with their own hands and their resources – that anonymous bag of groceries or clothing left on a needy family’s doorstep or the invitation to dinner for a neighbor who is hurting and needs to know they are loved. I love to hear about God’s love flowing through his people! I am also grateful for donors like you who give so that we can share God’s love in a corporate way. When a congregation within our body is hit by natural disaster or when help is needed with pastoral transitions or they require financial or legal guidance, we can respond because of your generous gifts. As we respond to the needs around us we are truly living on mission, being prepared for whatever comes, and trusting that God has placed us where he has for a reason. He uses each of us, sometimes in unlikely ways, to support one another and to shine a bit of light out into our world.

With care and gratitude,


Joseph Tkach
President – Grace Communion International

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