When Worlds Collide

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What happens when two worlds collide? Usually sparks fly, stuff breaks, things shatter. It can be spectacular and ugly at the same time. It can inspire awe and seem revolting at the same time. This is especially true when we experience it in our lives.

God promises to change us to be more like Him as we walk this path of life. This is referred to in theological circles as progressive sanctification. We progressively change to be more like Christ as He works on us. This sanctification can be difficult and painful at times. Maybe it is painful all the time. I know this last round of sanctifying work of God in my life has been incredibly painful and challenging. My world’s are colliding and parts of me are breaking off, burning away. In many ways, the person I am is shattering with the promise being that the one who emerges from this will be more Christ-like.

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I have always been a very private person. I don’t readily share my deepest thoughts, fears, or regrets. I also don’t compliment others even when a compliment is appropriate. I am wrong and have to change. But I don’t want to change. Change hurts and I don’t like pain.

On the rare occasion that I do compliment someone, I try to make it as measured as I can. I rarely – if ever – say what I really think about someone for fear of being misunderstood or giving the wrong impression. I rarely talk about specific things when encouraging or complimenting others. I try to stay general in my observations, restrained in my words. I just don’t do encouragement or complimenting well. I’m private with those kinds of thoughts about others. But my world that wants to be extraordinarily private collided with another world recently – the one that wants to be extraordinarily encouraging to others. I really don’t know what to do about it either. Its really confusing.

I have purposed in my heart to be more encouraging to others and to compliment others when a compliment is appropriate. But as I have tried to put this into practice, I’ve struggled with it. When I try to encourage others – be they friends at work, my wife and family at home, or my Pastors at church – I encounter fears. Big fears.

I fear I will be misunderstood. I fear that I may say too many nice things. I fear I’ll stumble over my words and give the wrong impression. I think that maybe I should just keep my mouth shut – I’m just not good at this encouragement thing. I seem to mess it up every time I try. I try to always be accurate with what I say to encourage others. I try not to flatter them because empty flattery is insulting to the one its aimed at. But I do want to encourage others and compliment others when I believe a compliment is deserved. What is going on inside my soul!

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I am an insecure person. As far as I can remember I have been this way. My insecurity isn’t about just one thing either. It is about all of me – my appearance, my emotions, how I speak, and how I act…everything that makes me who I am. My sarcastic speech is my lame attempt to cover up my insecurities as a husband, father, brother, and friend. A really lame attempt at that.

I have wondered in the past if my my marriage would end one day. I worried about how I would mess up my family life. I’m thankful I have a wife and family as tolerant of me as they are. I certainly have received the better end of things with my wife and children. I’m still insecure about this though. I’m fearful that I’ll do something stupid that will wreck this great family God has given me.

Why do I do this? Why do I have these thoughts? I really don’t know. But I do know that their net effect is to inhibit me from doing the right thing. I know I should encourage other Christians. But I often don’t.

A recent conversation I had brought out many fears. It upsets me. And intrigues me. I’m really not sure what to do with what is bouncing around in my head right now. But I know God has brought this on me for my good. Maybe the collision of privacy loving Patrick is colliding with caring about others Patrick. Maybe God is sanding off some really rough edges and sparks are flying. I don’t know.

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My world’s are colliding – and it is disturbing, challenging, encouraging, and frightening. My faith and life, with all its responsibilities to my wife and family – and to my family in Christ, is colliding with my fears of vulnerability, transparency, and intimacy with other Christ followers. It is uncomfortable but necessary. I hate it but I love it. I’m conflicted and confused but never clearer in my goal.

I do know that the journey I call life is filled with challenges. I have challenges to my character and convictions. I have challenges to my way of thinking and doing. I have challenges to what I choose to believe and disbelieve. Challenges abound. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this latest set of fears and challenges, but I do know that God is in the business of sanctifying me. He is making me more like Him. To accomplish this old things must pass away. I have to be willing to change. But change, my friend, is scary.

So what will I do with my worlds colliding?

Maybe I’ll just ignore them. Maybe I’ll just make some sarcastic remark and move on without really dealing with them. Or maybe I’ll listen to them and believe them.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally face up to my fears and confront them, understand them, and have my faith in Christ conquer them. Being transparent and vulnerable is scary stuff.

I’m scared of what is going on in my heart and soul right now. But I think its time to have my faith collide with my fears. Sparks will fly. Pieces of me will be broken and destroyed.  I won’t be the same man  I was before my worlds collided. What will happen after all this is anyone’s guess but it is under God’s sovereign hand. What should I do? What will I do?

 

This is gonna hurt, but let my world’s collide and God’s sanctification of this fearful little servant continue.

 

 

 

 

Comfort for the Afflicted

‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure;

Lately I have been reading quite a few messages, emails, and stories about the trials and tribulations of life. Some are quite sad. Some make me want to run out and fix something or someone. Mix in with this the silly season of politics and we have plenty of reasons to fret. We hear accusations and counter accusations from the candidates. We see bullying that I thought was left on the playground in 5th grade. And the language. Oh, the language. All this can lead to despair. Life these days can be trying.

The issues in life today can seem out of control. We feel helpless. We feel afflicted. We despair.

Are you afflicted with physical pain?

There are times – almost all the time – that my back hurts.  My knees ache, I have bone chips in my left ankle. I hurt continually somewhere. But hey, I’m 52 years old and did stupid stuff when I was younger. I should feel some pain now. But sometimes the pain gets the best of me. The pain make me want to have a pity party and say to myself (and others) “woe is me! I’m in such pain.” But you know what? I shouldn’t do that. I have good reason not to focus on my physical pain.

I have good reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with chronic illness?

I have diabetes. I also have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I have high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, low good cholesterol, an arrhythmic heartbeat, and an immune dysfunction that cause my immune system to attack my own body from time-to-time. I’m a wreck! If I was a car, I’d be recalled for being a lemon.  I have these chronic illnesses. I won’t get rid in this life of them unless God intervenes and performs a miracle. I take nine pills each day. Nine pills just so I have a chance at a slightly less abnormal life. In looking at these many chronic problems I have, I could despair. I could give up knowing that I have no realistic hope that I’ll ever be rid of them, the pills or the pain they cause me on a daily basis.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my chronic illnesses. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with depression?

Do you have clinical depression? I do. Having it is a beast. Feelings of worthlessness, overwhelming powerlessness come up over and over. I have even contemplated suicide. My past won’t leave me alone and at times my future – at least the one I thought I was going to have – eludes me. I get bummed. I start to focus on the issues that surround me and not where I should focus. Then I think I’ll never climb out of this pit. I’ll never have a day where I genuinely feel good.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to focus on my depression. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with unfulfilled dreams?

I love to preach. I love sharing God’s word and encouraging those listening to do something with what they learn. The greatest compliment i ever received was when someone told me they acted on an issue because of what I said from the pulpit. But, sadly for me, I feel my preaching days are over. I’ve taken some hits – some stinging criticisms.  The person(s) who feel this way haven’t talked to me about their perception of me, but they have talked to others.  I have become a stumbling block to that person (or persons) learning when I preach. So I would rather not preach than to cause someone to stumble. And that fact – that I am a stumbling block – saddens me. My love for preaching goes unfulfilled now.  Perhaps you have yet to find your place in the Body of Christ. Maybe you’re looking for a job – any job – and can’ seem to find one. Maybe you’ve been laid off or fired and your heart aches. Maybe, like me, you focus on your loss and you begin to despair.

But I have reason not to despair. And so do you.

Are you afflicted with financial struggle?

I have a wonderful wife and seven – soon to be eight – children living under one roof. My house can be loud, messy, and dirty. It can also be a madhouse. But it is my house – the house God has given to me.

My wife is the most wonderful woman in the world. She manages everything so well, home schools our children and gets more beautiful by the day. She is wonderful. More than wonderful. I don’t have a word for her she is so wonderful. She is my heartbeat, she is my life.   My children are great as well. They are growing so fast. My oldest is nearly 13(!) and my youngest is about to be born in May or June. They are generally loud, running, jumping, active kids. And I love each one of them more and more each day.

But we struggle financially. We are a single income family. That is a choice my wife and I made before we got married. You may have made a different choice and that is OK. Maybe you struggle too. There are some months we don’t have two nickles to rub together. Other months we are better. But whether we have plenty or not, we have each other. Sometimes though I wonder. I wonder about the future, our paltry savings. I see the economy in the US faltering and wonder when I’ll be out of a job. I worry. I start to despair. You probably do too.

But I have good reason not to despair, not to worry about our finances or future. And so do you.

The Reason?

My Good Reason is simple: God is sovereign. Period.

 But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.       Psalm 115:3 NASB

God does what God pleases to do. Since God is holy and makes no mistakes, I should take comfort in that fact. And so should you.

In Isaiah 46:10 God says

Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;

You see God will accomplish all He plans to accomplish. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

I mess up every day. I sin. I fight against God. I struggle through His grace. Then I get frustrated that I’m not as holy as I’d like to be and should be. I wonder sometimes if I have crossed some line in the sand that causes God to have had enough of me. Then I read John 10, Jesus says

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-20 NASB

Jesus claims to be God here. He claims sovereignty over my life. If you are a Christian he claims sovereignty over your life too. You can’t be lost once you are found. And neither can I. I take comfort in that. And so should you.

Finally, in Romans, Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30 NASB

There is plenty in these few verses but I want you to focus in the first one. Everything in life is worked together for good by God for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. That means you Christian. Whether you are afflicted by physical pain, emotional strain or financial stress,

God is working it out for good in your life.   And we – WE – should take comfort in that.   No, we MUST take comfort in that.

Since God is sovereign in my life and in your life, we need not fret about those things that so easily distract us and stress us. Whether those things are temporary or chronic; whether they are physical or emotional; whether they are tangible or intangible; we should – we MUST – reject the control they desire over us and rely on on God.

 

We must find comfort in the absolute sovereignty of God for it cannot be found anywhere else.

Built on Committment!

The Path Less Traveled Final

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed?

This  week we will consider only two verses in  Genesis 22. I chose only two verses because of the many important things that occur in these two verses. To appreciate the importance of Genesis 22 as a whole, we must understand the importance of these two small verses. So off we go into the adventure of Genesis 22:11-12.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

The strong adversative But begins this section. This means there is a contrast to be illustrated in the words following the But. To fully understand the importance of this we must look at what immediately preceded the But here. Remember just prior to this Abraham had journeyed with Isaac, walked up s  mountain, built an altar, and assembled the wood for the sacrifice. He had just bound Isaac and placed him on the wood. And then he took the knife he had and probably placed it to Isaac’s neck. Now think about this for a  moment.

Abraham had not only followed God to the mountain of sacrifice. Not only did Abraham demonstrate his faith by walking with Isaac up the mountain to the place of sacrifice, but so did Isaac when they came to the altar. Isaac, remember, is probably a late teen by this time. He could have resisted at any point and Abraham would have been powerless to stop him.

But Isaac followed his dad and God to the point of death.

That brings us to the But in this week’s passage. And boy it is a big But. Imagine this scene: Isaac is bound and on the altar. Abraham has his knife in hand. Abraham takes the knife, stretches his hand out to place the knife on Isaac’s throat. He is ready to slice Isaac’s throat and burn his body as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Enter God’s But.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

Before Abraham could do harm to Isaac, the angel of the Lord interrupted him. Whether this angel was the pre-incarnate Christ or not is not important. Because the angel most definitely had the authority of the Lord in order to speak the way he did. If this was merely an angel sent to speak to Abraham and not the Lord Himself, that angel carries the full authority of the Lord. So the words here carry the same weight. So what did this angel say?

Do not…

The angel said not to stretch out his (Abraham’s) hand against Isaac. The angel was calling off the sacrifice. He said “don’t cut the boy’s throat.” That is quite a statement for the angel to make. This angel had to come with the Lord’s authority for only the Lord could say stop. Abraham was now not to do anything to Isaac. Why?

For now I know….

The angel of the Lord said that he knew that Abraham would not withhold the son of promise from God in any way, shape, matter or form. So what about this: did the Lord learn something about Abraham here? Oh boy, this opens a can of theological worms!

Without spending the next few months wading through that subject, let me say that God did not learn anything about Abraham. It was Abraham who learned something about himself. The context of this passage indicates this. It was in v. 1 that God tested Abraham. God decided to test Abraham’s faith. It seems to me that if God was testing Abraham, then God already had the answer but Abraham had not yet discovered this about himself.

So through the test, God was testing Abraham so that Abraham would learn the extent of his faith in God.

Parents do this to their children all the time. We ask our children questions, place them in situations, so they will react. We already know how they’ll react but they have yet to discover this reaction. When they react the way we knew they would react, have we learned anything? Nope. But we may say something like what the angel said to Abraham.

Abraham learned the extent of his faith in God. Abraham learned that he trusted God to the uttermost. He learned that nothing would ever replace his commitment to God, not even family. Abraham learned that he really did belong to God and would follow Him at whatever the cost. that is a good thing to know.

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed? If God called me – or you – to a place of sacrifice, would we go? You know, we should know that answer already.

God has called us to be living sacrifices. He has called us to take up our cross and follow Him. He has called us to leave all we know to follow Him on the narrow way into heaven.

We are at the place of sacrifice. Have we – you and me – discovered the extent of our faith? Just like Abraham, have we come to lay all on the altar in worship of Him?

 

 

When Fear Collides With Faith

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Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

So we come to the end of our journey through Nehemiah. These last few verses we will examine this week provide a nice summary of all that Nehemiah accomplished. God used Him in a mighty way not only to reestablish His people in His land but also His law in His people’s heart. Lets take a look and see what God does in the final verses.

The Restoration of the Sabbath

In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, [m]by profaning the sabbath day? Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.” Nehemiah 13:15-18 NASB

It came about that just as it grew dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and that they should not open them until after the sabbath. Then I stationed some of my servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the sabbath day. Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. Then I warned them and said to them, “Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will use force against you.” From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness. Nehemiah 13:19-22 NASB

 

We see in vv. 19-22 the continuation of Nehemiah’s actions from earlier in this chapter. Nehemiah is obviously concernd with the spiritual state of the people. He continues reintroducing elements of the Law to the people so that the Law can be reintegrated into the life of the nation. In these three verses we see that the Sabbath was restored. Why is this important?

Remember the Sabbath was a day of rest for the nation. They were supposed to recuperate from the previous six days of labor. This was patterned after the seventh day of creation when God chose to set the example of taking a day off after six days of labor. Though God didn’t need a day to recuperate, He intended man to take one because He knew what would happen if mankind didn’t take time off. For His people Israel, the Sabbath was a stress management tool. Evidently the nation had been neglecting this for some time. Nehemiah, determined to reestablish God’s rules for His people wasted no time in reestablishing the Sabbath.

He emphasized the Jerusalem would shut down commerce for one day a week. He got irritated with the merchants that would come to Jerusalem to sell their stuff. They were so desperate to sell their stuff that they camped outside of Jerusalem on the Sabbath. This served as a temptation to sin for the people. Nehemiah was having none of this. He threatened force  against these merchants if they continue to camp outside the city gates on the Sabbath. Was Nehemiah correct? I think so. Remember that the people were in captivity. They had lost their freedom at least in part for their neglect of God’s Law. Nehemiah determined to avoid that same issue coming up again. So he took extreme measures to ensure that the people not only did not sin but also that the temptation to sin was removed. Good job looking out for your people Nehemiah.

How often do we place temptation in front of ourselves and then get surprised when we give into it? Far too often in my life. How about you? Perhaps we should take extreme measures like Nehemiah in order to avoid the temptation to sin.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages

In those days I also saw that the Jews had [q]married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?” Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me. Remember them, O my God, [u]because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Nehemiah 13:23-29

Nehemiah now prohibits intermarriage. Well, actually Nehemiah reminds the nation that God had prohibited intermarrying with the nations. Why? Was Israel so special that they couldn’t marry anyone they liked? Yeah, they were. God identified with Israel. He chose to glorify Himself in this tiny nation who were surrounded by other much larger and stronger nations. So God wanted them to be totally reserved for Himself. He had set them apart. He expected them to act like the special people He made them. They were not like the nations that surrounded them. They didn’t worship idols. They didn’t trust in themselves. They didn’t act like them, believe like them or live like them. Now Nehemiah was determined to make sure that they remained pure. There were even priests who defiled the priesthood though intermarriage. Nehemiah drove all of them away.

Now while the commandment not to intermarry with other nations does not apply to us today since we are not the same as Israel, there are some things that we need to learn from this episode. We intermarry with the world when we make church about us. The gathering of the saints is for the corporate worship of God not our comfort or control. We intermarry with the world when we make their priorities our priorities.When we focus on the outward appearances of success – money, possessions and position – we intermarry.

We pollute the purity of our life of faith when we focus on these temporal things. Is it time for you – and me – to divorce ourselves from our unfaithfulness?

The Summation of Nehemiah’s Actions

Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. Nehemiah 13:30-31 NASB

The final purification has been accomplished. Israel has been restored. Pure worship in the Temple is happening, the walls surround the city. Respect for God’s commands is paramount once again. Israel is back. Nehemiah has accomplished his task and he asks that God remembers Him.

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When Nehemiah’s fear collided with his faith, he relied on God and doing what is right rather than giving into fear. Fear is a part of life. It comes and invades us. It collides with our faith. So what is our choice when face with seemingly insurmountable odds? Should we cower in fear, forgetting all that God has done for us? I don’t think I really need to answer that question.

We must remember that our priority is the glory of God, not the glory of our local Church or our own personal glory. This is hard to do sometimes. Honestly this is hard to do most times because we live in such a fallen world. But this difficulty doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to glorify God every step of life. Let’s dedicate ourselves to glorifying God not ourselves. Let’s renew ourselves to build the kingdom of God through glorifying Him instead of building our brand. Let’s be people of the book rather than people of the bank account.

Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

And may our faith overcome our fear, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

 

Remember us God, for good…

Standing on the Truth

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We could use someone like Nehemiah who isn’t willing to compromise the Word of God simply because the culture demands it.   So, are you willing to stand on the truth of God’s word?     Are you willing to say “thus says the Lord”  

To understand what is happening here, well, we need to look at the first seven verses of chapter thirteen. Specifically we need to understand verse seven. In verse seven we are told that Nehemiah returned to King Artaxerxes in the 32nd  year of his reign. This would put the year right around 432 BC. Why would Nehemiah do this?  In the ancient near east it was customary for a servant to return to his king to reaffirm his allegiance to that king. The time away from the king was variable from king to king, but the custom remained. The servant was required to go before the king who had sent him and restate his loyalty to that king. So that is what Nehemiah had done.

Nehemiah returned sometime later – perhaps between 432 – 431 BC since the prophet Malachi reproved the Jews in Judah for the very things Nehemiah details in this chapter. What we find here are reforms that are in direct response to the violations listed in Nehemiah 10:29-32.

 

The Exclusion of Foreigners

On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing. So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel. Nehemiah 13:1-3 NASB

Wow, this seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it. So what’s wrong with some Ammonites or Moabites living among the assembly of people? What is the problem with these folks living in and among those in Jerusalem? Doesn’t God like diversity?

There are a few things here that we need to understand. First, yes this is harsh. But God had set down His rules about this in Deuteronomy 23:3-4

No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of theLord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.             Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NASB

So the reason this happened was because these folks did not give the Israelites food and water? That event happened around a century before the current situation. Does God hold a grudge THAT long? It sure seems like it. But there is more to this issue. In Ezra 9 there is an account of when Ezra led a group back 30 years before Nehemiah to rebuild the Temple. What Ezra found was that the remaining Israelites had intermarried with, among others, the Ammonites and Moabites. These intermarriages, along with the aforementioned people’s detestable practices, spread impurity throughout the land and the Israelites. So in this light we see that God’s radical action was indeed necessary and preferred. When a person has cancer, that tumor must be removed somehow. That is what happened with vv. 1-3: the cancer of the Ammonites and Moabites was removed from Israel.

It was an issue of purity, not compatibility.

 

The Expulsion of Tobiah

Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. But during all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king, and I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense. Nehemiah 13:4-9 NASB

 

When I first read this section, my reaction was “Really!? This guy was living in the Temple? What’s up with that?” Remember Tobiah was one of the guys that was hurling insults towards the Israelites as they rebuilt the wall. He was one of the guys trying to intimidate and scare the Israelites off. So why is he in the Temple?

The Temple had many rooms used for different purposes. Some of these purposes included a storehouse for grain and such for the priests. Evidently Tobiah was an influential relative of the priest Eliashib. Eliashib cleared out a room and gave it to Tobiah so he’s have an apartment to live in the Temple.

Nehemiah was out of town when this happened. However he learned of it somehow and asked the king to return to deal with this. Now notice that the king (though it isn’t written here) gave Nehemiah permission to leave. This makes me want to respect Artaxerxes a little more. He knew Nehemiah’s burden for Jerusalem and didn’t demand that Nehemiah stay the entire time planned. That is a king who is concerned for his subjects.

So Nehemiah returns. Notice what he says about Eliashib’s actions: He calls them evil. They weren’t a mistake, a flub, or anything but evil. This gives another indicator of how serious Nehemiah was about the purity of Israel. Nehemiah returns and throws out Tobiah’s possessions and Tobiah himself. Nehemiah wasn’t playing around. Can you picture Nehemiah getting back into town and coming to Tobiah in the Temple? Imagine what Nehemiah said…imagine what Tobiah and Eliashib thought. Nehemiah wasn’t one to be trifled with. But it didn’t end there. Nehemiah gave an order to make that room ritualistically pure. The, after the room had been purified, Nehemiah returned to it it’s original contents.

Wow, Nehemiah was a great leader who knew what was right and was determined to do that which is right.

 

The Revival of Tithes

I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses.  In charge of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen. Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services. Nehemiah 10-14 NASB

The final section in this week’s article is dealing with the lack of tithes. The priests who attended the Temple lived off the tithes (literally tenths*) of the people. There were three tithes that comprised all the compulsory giving. Think of these as taxes. The total of these tithes were between 22% and 30% depending how one calculated the third tithe. In any event these tithes were collected for various purposes, not the least was the pay for the priests so they could attend to their duties. When the tithes weren’t being given, the priests had to find other means of support to meet their daily needs. When the priests did this, the Temple service suffered. So Nehemiah once again makes sure that the tithes were restored. He brought the people together and told them that the House of God – the Temple –  was being neglected because they had refused to tithe according to the Law. Well, the tithes were revived, reliable people from various walks of life were appointed  to distribute according to the needs, and sanity restored.

An interesting thing to me is that the four who were considered reliable was a priest, a scribe, a person of the priestly tribe of Levi and a layman. Every walk of life is represented by these four men. Looks like all the people of Jerusalem were involved in the revival.

 

When I think about our own situation as the church in difficult times, I wonder where our Nehemiah is?

Where is the one who will stand up to those who pervert the word of God? Who will stand and say that God’s word is opposed to the social engineering that is happening? Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexual *marriage* is wrong. And yet we have entire denominations falling into line with the culture on this and many other issues. How have we fallen so far…

So, are you willing to stand on the truth of God’s word? Are you willing to say “thus says the Lord”  and take the ridicule? The Church could use some true conviction coming from the pulpit these days. We could use someone like Nehemiah who isn’t willing to compromise the Word of God simply because the culture demands it. The church could use a people of conviction who are unwilling to watch the beauty of God’s word be degraded with immoral and, yes, evil behavior. The question isn’t who is going to do this. No, the question is…Is this person you?

Mission Complete

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Return of the Priests

We begin this week’s article where we left off in the last article – taking inventory of those who returned. We have this week the priests and the Levites numbered and accounted for. Why is this important? Well these were the leaders of the Temple. Without priests and Levites, there was no Temple worship. This is especially true of the High Priest. He was THE priest. He is the guy who would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle the mercy seat. Without him, well, it wouldn’t be good. The High Priest’s genealogy was very important. Only certain men could serve God as His High Priest. So the people of Israel had to be meticulous in their record keeping. In these first few verses of chapter seven we see 22 leaders given who returned in 537BC.

We also see in this first section the heads of the priestly families. The High Priests are listed in v. 22. The Darius mentioned as Darius the Persian was more than likely Darius II who reigned from 423 – 404 BC. And one more note to make here. The Book of Chronicles mentioned here is not the canonical book by the same name. It was probably another book that listed names and genealogies.

Dedicating the Wall

In this section we see the action taken by the people. This probably happened right after the other dedication services recorded in chapter 11. This is important. The people were dedicating everything to their God. They knew that it was because of who He is that they were back in the land and able to be a nation again. Lets look at how they prepared and what they did to dedicate this wall to their deliverer.

Preparations for the Dedication

Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres. So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth-gilgal and from their fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem.The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall. Nehemiah 12:27-30 NASB

This is a big deal folks. Look at the preparations listed here. First the Levites were sought out from all their places. They (the Levites) were hunted down and invited to take part in this celebratory dedication. Sought out. They were not an after-thought. They were foremost in the mind of the people. It was almost as if the people were saying “we can’t dedicate without the Levites.” This was for good reason. The Levites were the priestly tribe. These were the guys who dedicated themselves to a life serving God in and around the Temple and providing the spiritual needs of the people. Since the whole city of Jerusalem was being dedicated to God, logic would dictate that the Levites would be involved,

But not only were they to be involved, the nature of their involvement was to be one of gladness. Look at the plan that was set in motion. There were to be hymns of thanksgiving, songs, cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers were surrounding Jerusalem so the songs would be heard throughout the city. Wow, this is perhaps the first surround sound system in history! Finally everyone was ritually purified.

So we see here this wasn’t just a party. This was a deeply meaningful spiritual event in the life of the people.

The Dedication Ceremonies

Then I had the leaders of Judah come up on top of the wall, and I appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate. Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed them, with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the sons of the priests with trumpets; and Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. At the Fountain Gate they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.The second choir proceeded to the left, while I followed them with half of the people on the wall,above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, by the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard. Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets;  and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served. For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon. For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated portion for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated portion for the sons of Aaron. Nehemiah 12:21-47 NASB

 

What a sight this must have been. We have one large choir on the city wall walking around it in a counterclockwise direction. Then there was another choir on the same wall walking in the opposite direction. Both these choirs were probably singing as they walked around the city. Imagine the spectacle! What joy and happiness was evident in the re-dedication of their city to God. The celebration continued with the meeting at the Temple and sacrifices being made. All these folks on a wall that Tobiah said would fall down if a tiny fox had run on it. How do you feel now Mr. Helper? Singing, sacrifices, rejoicing. Oh the spectacle.

Nehemiah’s work – his vision and burden – had been completed. The city was restored, the wall rebuilt. The Temple was once again offering sacrifices. Israel was a nation again. Nehemiah and the people that returned reestablished themselves as a people once again, not just slaves of another nation. The feeling must have been wonderful.

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How often do we enter into worship with expectations that God will restore us? Or that He will even be present? How joyful are we to gather in whatever building you gather in as a church? I know in the United States there is a certain routine to it all. We sing a song or two, have announcements, sing another song or two or three, have a sermon, sing a song, take an offering and say goodbye. Oh yeah, we pray a couple times too. It all seems so routine.

I wonder what it would be like to just have a time together that was filled with rejoicing and praising God in song and testimonies of His goodness. You know, get out of the routine and cut loose with praise and rejoicing? I wonder what would happen if we left our bulletins behind, our order of service put away, and simply praised God in song, prayer and testimonies. I wonder, I really wonder…

Stocking the Cupboard

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Take a long look around you. Look at the Church and your local Church. Are there a variety of ministries being performed? Yes. Are there a wide variety of Christians performing them? Yes.

From the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin, Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the leader of the house of God, and their kinsmen who performed the work of the temple, 822; and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malchijah, and his kinsmen, heads of fathers’ households, 242; and Amashsai the son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, and their brothers, valiant warriors, 128. And their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of Haggedolim.

Now from the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; and Shabbethai and Jozabad, from the leaders of the Levites, who were in charge of the outside work of the house of God;  and Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer, and Bakbukiah, the second among his brethren; and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. All the Levites in the holy city were 284. Also the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon and their brethren who kept watch at the gates, were 172.The rest of Israel, of the priests and of the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, each on his own inheritance. But the temple servants were living in Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of the temple servants.Now the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mica, from the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God. For there was a commandment from the king concerning them and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day. Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was the king’s representative in all matters concerning the people. Nehemiah 11:10-24 NASB

 

In vv. 10 through 24, we see God stocking the cupboard of the city of Jerusalem. He was making provision for the various needs of the city. Let’s take a look at the various ministries established for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

First we have the priests. There were about 1200 of them. Within this group there were three groups. A kind of group within a group. The first subgroup of the priests were the ones who worked in the temple. These would be the ones who toiled inside the temple, the ones who carried on the traditional role of priest. Then there was the heads of the father’s households. Their role isn’t really described here but I imagine their ministry was to families in trouble. Perhaps they were arbiters of some sort, a set of counselors for families if you will. Finally we have the mean described as valiant warriors. These were fighters. These were the ones who defended the city when it was attacked. They indeed were brave ones who stood up and faced down threats from Israel’s enemies.

Second we have the Levites. The first subgroup of Levites were those who had charge over the work in the outside area of the temple. Now remember that the temple wasn’t just the temple proper but the entire area of the temple mount. That was a large area that needed constant care. This first subgroup of Levites were given that charge.

The next subgroup were the musicians. These were the ones who provided for the music ministry of the nation. How hollow their worship time would have been without the beautiful music that was performed by these talented musicians. If you wonder what they sang, take a look through the psalms.
Then we have gatekeepers who were stationed at the gates. They took care of those who passed through these gates. They probably directed traffic, gave directions and provided a friendly face as one entered.

There were more ministries listed in vv. 20 – 24. The point I think that is being made is that there was a ministry for everyone. Throughout the verses we have examined we see that God had a job for everyone. The cupboard of jobs was indeed full.

Regardless of where you started in life, God has a reason for your life.

So what!

So what, God used a bunch of people in and around Jerusalem. So what, He had His temple taken care of. So what, He put defenders around the wall. So what! What does that mean to us?
Take a long look around you. Look at the Church and your local Church. Are there a variety of ministries being performed? Yes. Are there a wide variety of Christians performing them? Yes. Those individuals performing ministry in your local church come from various backgrounds. Some come from very rough backgrounds. But God is still using them.

Regardless of where you started in life, God has a reason for your life. You may think that because of your past you have no future. When you think that way, think about Saul of Tarsus. He became Paul the Apostle. When you think your actions as a Christian will forever disqualify you from ministering in God’s church, think of Peter denying Christ and then being used mightily by God.

It matters not where you have been. God can use you. It matters not where God uses you. It matters that God uses you. Bring glory to God through a heart that responds to God’s call on your life, regardless of where you receive that call.