New Day, Same Routine

nehemiah wall_final

 

The wall has been completed. The work was done. Or was it? Did the work continue after the wall was built? Did the completion of the wall signal only the beginning of the work Nehemiah had to do?

Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. Then I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house.” Nehemiah 7:1-3 NASB

Nehemiah continued to take precautions and be aware of the situation he and his fellow workers were in. They were still surrounded by adversaries who were bent of destroying them. These enemies, while suffering the set back of the wall built were nonetheless still opposing the Israelites moving back into Jerusalem. These enemies had enjoyed their ruling of the area when Israel had been sent into exile by God. Now they are losing their grip on this land. And they are angry.

You know when we do the work God has called us to accomplish, our enemy Satan is the same way. He gets mad. He gets violent. He never forgets that we are doing something to his kingdom of darkness. We must be ever vigilant to be on our guard as we work. Even when there is a victory, we must stand alert, ready and able to stand firm on God’s word regardless of the attack of the enemy.

Moving In, Looking Up

Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record: Nehemiah 7:4-5 NASB

In listing all the people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah is accomplishing a few things. First he is giving credit to all who helped build the wall. Remember that not all were actual builders. Some built the wall, some guarded, some ran errands. Everyone had their job. Nehemiah gives everyone credit for their part in securing the city. Second, Nehemiah indicates that they must continue on doing what they have begun. Now most of these folks came back under Ezra to rebuild the Temple. They did that and helped rebuild the wall. Nehemiah reminds them that there is still more work yet to be accomplished. He sets in motion a line of succession. He appoints godly men to carry on the work when he is gone.

Let’s not let this be lost on us. A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself and makes sure that when he is gone through moving, death or something else happening the work will continue. Although Nehemiah led the wall rebuilding project, he knew that the project belonged to God. Nehemiah was simply a steward for a time. He made sure someone else would be the steward of the on-going project of rebuilding Jerusalem.

  A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself. 

Checking the Books

Now from here on through verse 60 there seems to be an endless list of folks and their ancestry. Why include it here? Quite simply, Nehemiah wanted to make sure that only those who belonged to God entered Jerusalem. Nehemiah took seriously the fact that only those who belonged to God could reside in God’s city of Jerusalem.

The Church needs to learn a lesson here. We are far too quick to accept anyone into the fellowship of the saints. But do we really believe that everyone belongs with us? We can’t know for sure who truly believes in Christ as their Savior but we can take some steps to be reasonably confident. We need to ask hard questions of those who profess faith in Christ. We need to take a look at the person’s life to see if his walk matches his talk.
While we’re at it, have you taken a hard look at your faith? Do you belong to God or are you a foreigner trying to fake your relationship with God? I ask these questions not to make you doubt or waver but so that you may be sure of your ancestry – that you belong to God through faith in Christ. 

In vv. 61 through 65 we see some who could not prove their ancestry and the consequences of that.

These were they who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses or their descendants, whether they were of Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai, the Gileadite, and was named after them. These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim. Nehemiah 7:61-65 NASB

So here we are. A number of folks can’t prove their ancestry – that they truly belong to God. Some of these were even among the priests! So Nehemiah says that they were excluded from performing the functions of the priesthood and considered unclean. Notice that they were considered unclean. Nehemiah does not declare them unclean.

Nehemiah excluded those who were priests from performing the functions of a priest for their own protection. If someone who was not a priest tried to perform the functions of a priest (like offering a sacrifice) a severe penalty was enforced. Out of an abundance of caution, Nehemiah tells these folks that since they can’t prove they are a priest, they can’t do the work of a priest.

This is a very important point for us. Those who may be wavering in their faith in Christ need not be rejected by those confident in their position. No, when someone wavers we should consider them as not Christians so that we can love them either into a friendship with Christ or back into an intimate relationship with Christ.

The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and their female servants, of whom there were 7,337; and they had 245 male and female singers. Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720. Some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 gold drachmas, 50 basins, 530 priests’ garments. Some of the heads of fathers’ households gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,200 silver minas. That which the rest of the people gave was 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,000 silver minas and 67 priests’ garments. Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities. Nehemiah 7:66-73 NASB

The closing verses of the chapter give the number of people who returned to Jerusalem. Then there is an account of a great offering that was taken for the rebuilding of the walls. Finally, a note on how the suburbs of the city were settled.

Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts.

Let us never forget that while we may accomplish a goal God has for us, the work continues. As that work continues we need to be vigilant to be on guard for the attack of God’s enemy Satan. And while we work and while there are some victories, let’s remember that we can’t accomplish a thing alone. Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts. When the task is completed and we move onto another one, share the credit. Recognize those who contributed to the success of the project. Most of all let us give God the glory for what He has accomplished in and through us.

Charles Edward Montague, an English essayist who lived from 1867 to 1928 said “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.” -Disenchantment, ch. 15 (1922)

I’d like to change that to “there is no limit to what the Church can accomplish for God’s kingdom when we recognize that God gets all the credit” Let’s go out and live for God, not looking for credit but looking for ways to serve.

A Race Worth Running

Even with all the aches and pains that go along with running

this race, it is a race worth running.

 

Years ago I used to love to run. I didn’t like to run for speed but for distance. I always tried to run farther and farther each time I would run. I really didn’t care how long I took to run, I just enjoyed running. After a few knee surgeries, a broken ankle, and aches and pains that come with getting older, I began to make excuses. The pain I felt running outweighed the joy I got by running. To me running in a race against myself just wasn’t worth running anymore because of the pain it caused.

Have you ever felt this way about life? Have you come to a place where you are ready for the world to stop so you can get off? I’ve been there. I get tired of some of the junk of life and those who shovel it around. But each time I get discouraged, my mind is brought back to a particular passage of Scripture that encourages me. I hope this encourages oyou.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB

“Therefore…”

Whenever we see a “therefore” in Scripture, we need to know what it is there for. In this passage the author of Hebrews had just penned the “Hall of Fame of Faith” in chapter 11. That forms the basis of this passage. The “therefore” in v. 1 makes us look back on chapter 11 and remember all these persons of faith. Were they perfect? Had they lived an easy life? Uh, the answer would be an emphatic “No”. In chapter eleven you had a liar (Abraham), a murderer (Moses), a harlot (Rahab), and an adulterer (David). Perfect? No. Easy livin’ folks? No. But all listed as ones who lived their life by faith. So how does this affect chapter 12? Let’s take a look.

“since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…”

The author states in v. 1 that we have a “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us”. These witnesses must the ones listed in chapter 11. The “therefore” in v. 1 makes this so. So the author is saying because of these witnesses surrounding us, we should do some things.

Before we get to the things we should do, what are these witnesses doing? Well picture a stadium filled with these witnesses. Now picture you are running on the track below. The witnesses are so much cheering you on as much as they are inspiring you on. They are examples of those who ran their race by faith. This life run by faith should inspire us to look for the One in whom these folks placed their faith. I believe that all these lives, if properly understood, point not to themselves but to the One who perfected them.

“let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…”

First we need to lay aside everything that encumbers us. This is clarified by the next phrase “and the sin that so easily entangles us…” Do you have something that is always tripping you up? Get rid of it! The idea is not that we are sinless or perfect. In fact the text makes clear that the runners have sin issues. If you want proof, just look back at chapter 11. The idea here is to strip off anything and everything that causes us to stumble. So if you have issues with things on the internet, get off the internet. The same goes for TV. No matter what it is that causes you problems, you must get rid of it. After all, isn’t your love of Christ greater than your love of whatever thrill received through a particular sin.

Now recognizing a sin and ridding oneself from that sin are different things. Recognizing sin should be pretty easy. At least I want to believe it should be easy. Sometimes sin can become so ingrained in us that it is hard to recognize it. Has that ever happened to you? Honestly it has happened to me. Sin is sin no matter what we call it. We can get a little too comfortable with sin, can’t we? Well the author says that we need to get rid of these encumbrances and the sin that “easily” entangles us. We have to make a decision to rid ourselves of THAT sin. And once we rid ourselves of THAT sin, we need to move on to the other sins that will invariably come to the forefront.

“let us run with endurance the race …”

We are to run with endurance that which has been laid before us. Look at this again: run with endurance. We are not to run quickly, crazily, or in spurts. We are to run with endurance. The Greek word for endurance here is hupomone. It means “to remain under”. The idea is to remain in the stressful situation and not to look for an escape. This is the essence of endurance. Staying under pressure until the pressure achieves its purpose. Does this hurt? Yeah. Would I rather not be under pressure? Honestly, no. I have learned to embrace the difficulties. I’ve learned that the pressure is meant to purify me. While the pressure is not so pleasant, I’ve learned that it is necessary if I am to mature as a believer.

Have you learned to embrace the difficulties of life? Perhaps you have a “Mr. Helper” like me. He (or she) is always looking to remind you of past failures, real or imagined. These folks are everywhere. They have no other reason to live other than to try to knock you off your stride. They want to discourage you. They want to stop you. When you have a Mr. Helper in your life, embrace the challenge. And rely on your family in Christ. We need to be about encouraging one another, especially when there is a Mr. Helper involved.

“that is set before us…”

So endure as you run your race set before you. Did you see that? You don’t choose your race course. It is set before you. Your race—the road you take in life—may be quite different than the race set before me. That is fine. Actually that is better than fine! God is sovereign and we need to recognize that fact. When we submit to His sovereignty, things that previously made no sense and discouraged us now become part (somehow) of God’s plan for us. I can rest in His sovereignty knowing that nothing surprises Him.

“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, ”

But not only are we to put off sin and run with endurance, we are to fix our eyes on Christ. We are to place our gaze on Him—the One who authored our faith and the One who will make our faith complete. That is a “for sure” thing. So what is the bummer here? Through trials and tribulations our faith is perfected. We will one day be perfect. That day may not be today, but it will surely happen. It is guaranteed to happen.

“who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus, who is the one who authored our faith and the One who will perfect it, is our example. Just like Jesus endured the cross with its shame because of the joy set before Him, we should all endure the temporary pain of running this race of life because of the joy that is set before us: we are being used by the creator of the universe in glorifying Him.

So, have you had a tough day? Week? Year? Are you finding the pressure of life getting to you? Do you have a Mr. Helper who just loves to ridicule you and harass you? Well, you’re in good company because if you don’t have struggles and difficulties, you need to examine if you are even on the race course. Those who are engaged in the race of life will have difficult times. We will struggle. We will be tested. And we will be refined. The refining process, while hot and pressure filled, is rewarding. So submit yourself to the sovereignty of God, stand up, live under the pressure with grace. And experience God perfecting the faith He has already given you.

Even with all the aches and pains that go along with running this race, it is a race worth running. Run your race well.