True Compassion

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Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

When we remember all that God did to deliver His people from Egypt we should be amazed. God performed miracle upon miracle to get His people out of that place and to glorify His name. One would think that the ones who were delivered would never forget about the wonderful things God did. But they did forget. Boy, did they ever forget!

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.  -Nehemiah 9:16-17

Just as the people recalled God’s goodness, they also remembered their ancestor’s rebellion. Look at how they are referred to in this passage. They are called arrogant, stiff-necked and disobedient. They did not listen and did not remember. They chose to go in a different direction than God had for them. They sure were kind of “out there”. Lets look at a few things in this description.

First they became arrogant. Have you ever seen this type of transformation take place? It is a sight to behold. But it is a sad thing to witness too. To see a previous humble servant of Christ get full of himself and believe that everything is all about him is sad indeed. Politicians, singers, bands and writers have suffered through this type of transformation.

Next they became stiff-necked.  Now what does this mean? Well, the best way I can explain it is that they rebelled and rebelled obstinately. So think of someone so set on rebellion that they have no other course of conduct available. That is sad isn’t it?

They disobeyed, didn’t listen and didn’t remember. They were a mess.They chose their path and walked down it. They left God and His precepts. This rebellion led them to their destination. And that destination wasn’t freedom. No, that destination was slavery.

Before we get all full of ourselves and criticize Israel for doing this lets consider how many times we have done the exact same things. Have you ever wandered? Ever refused listen to the Holy Spirit and either doing something or not doing something He is prompting? Me too. Too many times in fact. But we should be encouraged by the person we know as God. Look at the next verse or two:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Therefore you did not desert them,   -Nehemiah 9:17

Grace and compassion

God shows His graciousness towards Israel. Notice how God is described: forgiving, gracious and compassionate. Are you known by those words? When I ask myself that question, I’m not too pleased with the answer. I often can be one of those three once in  awhile but I have a difficult time being all three all of the time. Maybe this is true of you too. But thankfully God is not mankind. He is all these things.

The final sentence here is spellbinding to me: Therefore you did not desert them. Think about the statement being made. God had every right to desert Israel. Hey, for that matter, they had already deserted Him! God would have been fully justified in leaving them behind. But He didn’t.

Similarly we wander from God, We don’t listen or obey. We judge, hurt and become proud. God has every reason to desert us – we have already deserted Him. But, just like God’s actions towards Israel, He doesn’t desert us. What a loving and compassionate God we serve!

And what’s more there seems to be no limit to what God endured with the Israelites.

When there were idols

even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.    -Nehemiah 9:18

The Israelites, I’m sure you remember, decided to have an idol. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people below cast themselves an idol and gave the credit for their deliverance from Egypt to this newly-minted golden idol. That had to hurt.

When they wandered

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.   -Nehemiah 9:19

Remember the wandering in the desert? That would have been a great place for God to say “I’ve had enough of you. I’m leaving. Figure everything out for yourselves.” But God did not do that. He lovingly and compassionately led them through their sojourn in the desert. He used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Interestingly, in the Temple, there was smoke or cloud in the most holy place where the glory of God would reside. Finally, He gave His Spirit to guide them.

These folks had it all. Boy, I wished we had this type of guidance today. But you know, we do. We have it even better. We have the Holy Spirit – God Himself – dwelling inside our mortal body. He guides. He instructs. He leads. Think about that. God Almighty lives in us so that He can guide us. Do we listen and follow like we should?

When they complained

You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.    -Nehemiah 9:20

The Israelites complained while wandering in the desert. They complained about the heat. They complained about the food (the Hebrew word Manna means What is it!) It seems they were always upset about something and never thankful for anything. What a bunch of whiners! I bet God really taught them a lesson for all their whining. He did. Just not the lesson that may have popped into your head.

God kept feeding them. God kept giving them water. God sustained them for forty years. An entire generation of people were sustained by God. Their clothes remained in good condition as did their shoes. Their feet never swelled up in spite of all the walking they did. Yeah, God taught them a lesson alright. He taught them  a lesson about love and compassion. How we need that lesson today.

Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

So how are you doing showing compassion and love to everyone around you? Don’t make the mistake thinking loving someone means you never disagree or even rebuke their conduct. Love will be present in those situations. Compassion will be there too. Perhaps God is tugging at your heart as you are reading these words like He is tugging at mine as I write these words. Maybe we need to redouble our efforts to show compassion and others to others in spite of how others are…or how they act.

 

Following God’s Provision

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God is still guiding us through His word, the Bible. He still provides food, shelter, water and all we need to survive. While the means of this provision seem natural, these provisions and guidance are still from God.

We begin this week with a continuation of the Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. We continue to see God acting in supernatural ways. We also see that the people in Nehemiah’s day have not forgotten how He acted toward them. Let’s take a look at the next few verses and see what God supernaturally provided for Israel.

Supernatural Guidance

“And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, And with a pillar of fire by night To light for them the way In which they were to go. Nehemiah 9:12 NASB

We need to notice first and foremost what the people continue to notice: this is all about how God led Israel, not how Israel followed God. We’ll get to how Israel followed – or failed to follow – God throughout their history. This part of this prayer is all about what God did. And it is pretty awesome!

In v. 12 we see that it was God who led during the day and night. He chose a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Think of the spectacle for a moment. Here is a nation of people, just freed from years of slavery being led through some very treacherous areas.

The cloud must have been huge to be seen by the entire nation. Here they were trudging across the desert following a cloud (or fire). That must have looked strange. But still they followed. And still God led.

How strange it must seem to those around us today to see a bunch of people following the teachings contained in a collection of books written thousands of years ago. How stranger still is there are those who are strangers to the culture and language of this collection of books. We don’t get a cloud or a fire. How strange that must seem.

Do we still follow?    Are we listening?    Do we even care?

Do we still look for God’s leading in spite of the roughness of our culture? God is definitely still leading us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Supernatural Instructions

“Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. “So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, And laid down for them commandments, statutes and law Through Your servant Moses. Nehemiah 9:13-14

The people continue with their recitation of history by stating that it was God who came to them. Look here in v. 13: YOU (God) came down to Mt. Sinai. Notice that God did not call the people to ascend to heaven to converse with Him or receive instructions. NO, God came to us. How strange is that! God decided to descend and speak to man on man’s turf, so to speak. Some would say that shows weakness in God but I don’t think so. I think that shows great strength. Only a weak and insecure God would demand that man should come to Him. But God isn’t like this. He is all-powerful but He chooses to come down to speak with them.

Look what God did. He didn’t have useless small talk. No, He gave rules and regulations that would provide instructions on how to live. These are thought of as “good” by the people in Nehemiah’s day. But isn’t that just the opposite of today? Doesn’t our society view rules and laws as impediments rather than helps? I think the answer is “yes” to that question. Think about it for a moment. We hear quite a bit about man’s freedom, but not so much about God’s sovereignty. Man loves to think he is in charge. Any hint of a rule or regulation seems to be met with the shout of LEGALISM! Why do we rebel so much against the good rules?

Yet God has provided us with rules and regulations to conduct our life.  Rules that are meant to ensure our compliance to God’s standard and provided for our benefit.

Finally I want to notice that God did all this through a man. This man was referred to as “[His] servant Moses.” I hope you notice what I notice. While God is the author, He uses man as the messenger most of the time. God seems to work this way throughout history. Look at Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, the Apostles and others. He used these folks to spread His message. And it remains that way today.

I’m not saying that what we say or do are necessarily inspired by God. In fact, when someone says that I tend to doubt the authenticity of their claim. What I do mean is that God has ordained the preaching of His word as the way of spreading His message. More often than not, God speaks through His word being preached through man rather than a burning bush speaking to a man. We should take that to heart. If you belong to Christ you have been ordained to communicate His good statues, laws, and ordinances to a hurting and dying world. Are you doing that?

 

Supernatural Provision

 “You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You told them to enter in order to possess the land which You swore to give them. Nehemiah 9:15 NASB

Well not only did God supernaturally guide and instruct the Israelites, He supernaturally provided for them. Look at what He did.

He rained down bread from heaven. This bread was known as manna. The meaning of that in Hebrew is “What is it?” Imagine every day having that day’s meal needs being provided by God. It may have been monotonous to eat the same thing each day, but obviously the food was nutritious. God provided for them. But it wasn’t only food. God provided water. But He didn’t have them dig a well or turn on a faucet. God provided water from a rock. A rock! Now that is miraculous. He gave the Israelites what they needed through some really unlikely sources. Food, water, instructions and guidance. What more could the Israelites want or need?

He not only provided for their journey but also for their destination. God swore to Abraham to give them a land – He promised them a land – and delivered on that promise. God is a promise keeper. When He says He’ll do something, you can count on Him doing it.

What does all this mean for us? How does this affect us? First and foremost, God is still working. But it isn’t just with Israel. God is still guiding us through His word, the Bible. He still provides food, shelter, water and all we need to survive. While the means of this provision seem natural, these provisions and guidance is still from God.

 

Are you thankful for what God has provided for you? Are you willing to follow God through the deserts of life? The deep seas of despair? To where He has promised to lead you – and me – heaven?

Mad About You

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While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

______________________________

Years ago there was a sitcom on TV titled Mad About You. It was about  man and his wife and the challenges a married couple faced in New York as newlyweds. One of the stars was Helen hunt. I don’t remember who played her husband. Anyway, the show documented the struggles of newlyweds, with some of the things quite humorous. Both the husband and wife, though sometimes at odds, were mad(ly in love) about each other.

In this week’s section in Nehemiah 9 we see that Israel is mad about You as well. The You being God. lets see what we can glean from this passage this week.

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. “Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants and all the people of his land; For You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, And made a name for Yourself as it is this day. “You divided the sea before them, So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; And their pursuers You hurled into the depths, Like a stone into raging waters. Nehemiah 9:9-11 NASB

 

The first section – actually all the verses today – remembers how God led Israel out of Egypt. Now why do you think this is so? Well, if we look at this section through the eyes of those who are returning to Jerusalem and all they have experienced, the reason may become clearer. Think about this for a moment: the returnees to Jerusalem experienced similar events as their forefathers. They had been slaves, then they had been led out by God and then they reoccupied the land. I think that is a wonderful thing to begin with – remembering God’s faithfulness to previous generations as they experienced it firsthand.

The exodus from Egypt was a big event in the history of Israel. There are about forty Hebrew words that are used to describe God’s miracles. These forty words are used about five hundred times in the Old Testament. Now here is the interesting thing: about half of these five hundred uses were descriptions of the exodus. So the exodus is a seminal event in Israel’s history. Here they begin with the fact that God saw the affliction of their forefathers in Egypt and their cry by the Red Sea.

They saw God not as some far off deity but as a very personal God who was concerned with His people, Israel.

Boy, could we learn a thing or two. How often do you start your prayers with a listing of God’s faithfulness to you, the  saints that have gone before and the events of history that demonstrated God’s faithfulness to the church? I need to work on that too.

This section continues by not only recalling God’s faithfulness but also His actions that demonstrated His faithfulness. Then you performed… is a remembrance directed to God. Did God need to be reminded of what He did?  Of course He didn’t. But this type of remembrance is a wonderful type of praise. God demonstrated His power to pharaoh and all the people of Egypt. God made sure that they knew that Israel’s God is the only true God.

 

Remembering  God Cares

Israel recounts how much God cared for them next. You knew…begins this short section detailing God’s care for His chosen people. Though the arrogance of the people of Egypt and especially of their pharaoh (who fancied himself a god) permeated all levels of their society, God was not napping during the difficulties Israel faced. God knew how the Israelites were treated by Egypt. God knew about it, He did not learn about it. God knew – He knew. That must have brought great comfort to them considering what this generation had just experienced.

Though they were exiled, God knew what was happening. And He cared about it.

Once again we should sense the conviction of God here. We (at least in the United States) have not experienced anything like what Israel experienced in Egypt or Babylon. Yet it seems that we doubt God knows about the various challenges we face. We feel all alone even though we (in the US) are still relatively free. We should be ashamed of ourselves! God is not ignorant of how the world and its agents are treating the Church. We feel surrounded by ungodliness and betrayal. Yet God knows all about this and is working through these events to sanctify us and bring about His will. We should find great solace in that.

 

Remembering God’s Actions and Provisions

The final section of this weeks section demonstrates what God did and the provisions He made for Israel during the exodus. This section has three very important phrases: [You] made a name for Yourself, You divided the waters, You hurled. Clearly Israel was mad about Him. They are recounting His actions which ensured the survival of the nation of Israel. Lets look at these three actions.

 

You made a name for Yourself

God’s actions were so radical – so awesome – that He established His name in the land of Egypt.

The Egyptians never forgot about the God of Israel and how He humbled their pharaoh, his magicians and their nation. God certainly made a name for Himself there. How did He do it? Well remember the miracles? The plagues? The Nile turned to blood. Frogs, flies, dead cattle. You’d think that the Egyptians would eventually get a clue…well they did but only after the angel of death swept through and killed every first born.

You divided the sea

So God took Israel out of Egypt and led them to the Red Sea. We don’t know exactly where they went but we do know that the Israelites felt they were cornered. Add what happened? Did God abandon them? Nope. He did what seemed impossible: He parted the Red Sea so Israel could walk over to the other side on dry land. But He didn’t stop there.

You hurled into the depths

This is a clear indication of what happened once Israel passed through the waters. God didn’t just get Israel across the sea. No, He then threw pharaoh’s pursuing Army into the sea like a stone into raging waters. Have you ever seen what happens when a stone is thrown into raging waters? It disappears almost immediately beneath the  turbulence. And  that is what happened to pharaoh’s army. God hurled them into the raging waters of the Red Sea and they disappeared.   Now that is a great protection plan!

 

So what about us? Well we should take some very important lessons away from this passage. First we should always remember and recount how God has remained faithful to the Church in spite of our own wanderings. Second, let us not forget that God does care about what we are experiencing here on earth. If He is sovereign and omniscient (and He is those things and much more) then He is not surprised or overwhelmed by the events we face. Third, we must realize that in spite of the way our world wants to isolate and ignore God, He has already made a name for Himself. We need not be discouraged by the constant drumbeat against God. God isn’t dead. He isn’t even sick. He is on His throne. He is reigning from on high and He is coming back for us. Just like He was faithful to Israel in Egypt and in Babylon, He is faithful to His Church.

While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

Repentance, Worship and Revival O My!

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God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous

When revival starts to spread in the land a number of things begin to happen. Here in Nehemiah 9 we will see two of the more prominent things that happen when revival hits the land.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Nehemiah 9:1-4 NASB

Repentance

Repentance is an interesting thing to observe. The reason it is interesting is that it is more than one action but it is only one action. Have I confused you yet? Let’s see if I can clear things up a bit.

The twofold nature of biblical repentance is what sometimes gets confusing. The first aspect of repentance is a turning from action. Now what is this turning from action? It is a turning from sin and a sinful heart. Here we see the beginning of their turning from in v. 1 – sackcloth and ashes is a way to illustrate mourning. Then in v. 2 we see that they separated themselves from foreigners. Now this separation is not based on frivolous things. This separation is based on religious grounds. Do you see what is being said here? The people had recognized that the Lord had made them a special people that was distinct from all others. They turned from their inclusion of other nations. They chose to return to the way the Lord wanted things done.

Now for the turning to part of repentance. We start to see this in v. 3: they stood and read from the book of the Law. They turned to God. So not only did they turn away from their previous sin, they turned to God and the way He wanted them to do things. This turning to God led them to worship here in vv. 3-4. This worship will continue in a different form in the coming verses.

Worship

This section constitutes one of the longest prayers in the OT. It was meant not only to serve as a traditional prayer but also to instruct those who were hearing it. This occurs in some of the Psalms (78, 105, 106, 135, and 136). It is quite interesting to see the heart change from grieving to rejoicing.

The first thing I want you to notice is God is praised as the Creator and maker of everything:

Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens…” Nehemiah 9:5-6b NASB

This is always a good way to start a time of intense prayer. How often have you begun your prayers with a simple praising of God for who He is and what He has done? Regardless of what Mr. Darwin thinks or theorizes, we did not arise from a bubbling sea of cosmic ooze to then evolve into man through a number of random mutations (all of which were positive). No, we were specially created by God to reflect His image in His creation.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Think of what is happening in your body right now. You are breathing, your heart is beating. You are reading this blog and comprehending the thoughts I have written. You do all this with very little effort. Just think of what you would need to to if you had to think “breathe in lungs, heart beat again, think brain!” I doubt much else could be accomplished if we had to will ourselves to continue to perform  basic functions.

In the next section we see the Lord as the all-sovereign one. He is the one who chooses man, not the other way around.

“You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. “You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise,
For You are righteous. Nehemiah 9:7-8 NASB

I love these verses in Nehemiah – they are theologically rich and so challenging to me. I hope they are challenging you to take a look at your life and how you are conducting yourself in this world.

Look how this section begins: You are the Lord God…. The declaration that their God, known by His covenant name YHWH, is THE sovereign one is quite the statement. these folks were not worried to say their way was the only way. Seems like we could learn a thing or two from them. Standing for what we believe is all good. But standing for truth is better. Are you ready to say that our God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – is the ONLY God in the universe worthy of our worship? I hope so.

Continuing through this section we also  see that His sovereignty is affirmed when they state that He chose Abram and called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Notice it doesn’t end with the call of Abram. God made a covenant with Abram to give him the land of the various “ites” that lived in the promised land. But God’s covenant didn’t end there. He swore to give the land not only to Abram but also to Abram’s descendants. So who are these descendants? Israel of course. It doesn’t matter what others think – the land known as “Palestine” belongs to Israel. Period. They will inherit it. They will possess it. Why? Because God promised it to them.

The final observation I want to make about this section is the final few words: You are Righteous. Now we may not think much of those words but they are heavy. To be righteous means to be without sin. Who could make such a claim? Only God can. He is the only one who is, by nature, without sin.

Revival

I don’t care what society thinks. Whether they recognize this truth or not, God is not dead. God is on His throne. And I don’t care if I am a laughingstock, a backwards man, or anything else. I will continue to say “God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous.

How is your revival going? Are you reviving your relationship with God every day? If you know about your sin and repent of it – like the Israelite’s did here in Nehemiah – you’re on your way.

But you also need to work on your worship. Recognizing God’s worth, recognizing who He is, is key to revival and worship. One very important way of worshiping God is how we pray. How are you in your prayer life? This one in Nehemiah sets the bar pretty high. But learning from it this week (and in the coming weeks) can only help you and me be better at praising God when we begin our prayer time. It will help us stay focused on this important truth:

God is still God, and I am not.

Revived!

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We must make doing the word of God a habit we embrace

 

When revival sweeps the land, it creates a hunger and thirst for knowing what the Bible states, not just reading it. To know the Bible we must spend time in it studying it. We must take time in this study to consult those who have studied it much more deeply than we have.

I have written before about progressive sanctification. In fact, that is one of my favorite subjects! While the Holy Spirit is primarily in charge of our progressive sanctification, we have a responsibility in this too. Our responsibility includes knowing the Bible. Notice i didn’t say reading the Bible. We must know what the Bible states not just read it once in awhile.

In our section this week we’ll see what happens when those who once rejected God’s Word embrace it with joy.

 

Investigating the Word of God

If you truly want change, you must study the Bible

Have you ever been around a Christian whose only desire is to know the Word of God? I know such a man. The joy his intense interest in knowing the Bible brings to those around him in overflowing! This man has this figured out. For you and I we must be serious about the Word of God if we truly desire life-change. Reading it isn’t enough: We must investigate it.

Here in Nehemiah 8, revival is sweeping the land. The people, who had completed the wall in spite of much opposition, have now turned their attention to rebuilding the spiritual life of the Nation. Let’s take a look at what we can glean from this newest rebuilding effort here in Nehemiah 8.

Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. Nehemiah 8:13-14 NASB

The first important thing we need to recognize is the fact that the representatives of the people and the priests came to Ezra to learn what the Word of God was teaching them. They recognized the need to seek out the expert in the Law to learn. That would be nice to happen today. Whenever anyone wants to know something about the Bible, instead of seeking out someone who has studied the Bible intensely at the feet of  theological giants, most simply use the internet and their favorite search engine. Sadly, the internet has made everyone an expert. But is was different here in Nehemiah. They sought out THE expert of the Law. And not only did they come to Ezra, they listened and learned.

They learned that they had been neglecting an important festival that the Lord had commanded. Look at verse 14: “They found written…” Have you ever discovered an important truth in the Bible? How did that make you feel? What did that encourage you to do? Well here they learned that the Lord had commanded them t  live in booths in the seventh month. Now what is that about?

The feast of tabernacles (or booths) was a feast that the Lord instituted in Leviticus 23:40-43. It was a feast that served as a reminder to future generations of how the Lord had brought the Nation out of Egypt. During this time they were out of Egypt and int he desert, they lived in booths. This feast served as a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness. So they learned this but it didn’t end there.

 

Initiating the Word of God

Once you know the Bible, you must act on it

So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and [h]wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. Nehemiah 8:15-16 NASB

The leaders of the people and the priests didn’t just learn about what the Lord required, they acted on it: they initiated the Word of God in their daily lives. In verses 15 through 16, the people sent out a proclamation to everyone to go out and gather the necessary parts for these booths. And everyone did. Each family built their own booth and lived in it on the roof of each person’s own house.

These folks, who had built the wall, built their homes, now chose – they CHOSE – to follow the instruction of the Word of God and live in a booth made of branches. That could not have been comfortable. But once they knew that the Lord had commanded them to do this, there was no question that they would follow through. It was as if there was no choice in the matter. And in a real way, there wasn’t a choice. Sure they could have ignored the command but the choice to follow was so clear – so necessary – that they really didn’t have any other choice than to follow through.

 

Installing the Word of God

Knowing the Bible and acting on the requirements leads us to making it our habit

In this final section, we see the effects of following the Lord’s commands. Notice in v. 17 that there was great rejoicing. Think of this for a moment. The Nation had not done what the Lord had commanded for generations. But when they followed the command, there was rejoicing. Following the Lord’s commands doesn’t kill the joy we experience in life. No, following the Lord’s commands enables us to experience true joy in this life. This lesson should not be lost on us. WE must follow the word of God like the Nation did following the end of their exile.

The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance. Nehemiah 8:17-18 NASB

 

In v. 18 we see that the Nation celebrated this feast for seven days and read from the  Law as well. They began to make some  muscle memory. They weren’t satisfied with just reading the word of God, they had to investigate it – they had to look deeply into it. But they didn’t stop there. Once they investigated the Word of God, they initiated it in their life as a Nation. Just knowing wasn’t good enough. They observed the feast of booths for the first time in many years. But it didn’t end there! They then installed the Word in their life as a Nation. They made it a part of their routine. They made it a part of their National life. They developed a habit.

So how are we doing? Are we satisfied to just know the word of God? Or maybe we’re satisfied to simply know about the word of God. It seems that the Christian world is satisfied with doing the least possible amount of study…we seem to want to just get by.

But that must not be enough for us. We must look deeply into the word of God. We must begin or initiate the word into our life. And finally – WE MUST – make doing the word of God a habit. When we do this, then we will have real change. We will really have progress in our sanctification. Perhaps we will finally become the unified body that Christ so wants us to be.

Crushed and Rejoicing

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We are holy not because we are perfect. No, we are holy because God has set us apart for a special purpose.

I remember back when I was just saved. It was in 1984. I was in the Marine Corps and had experienced things that made my salvation experience very real and emotional as well as spiritual. I decided that every Sunday I would do nothing except read my Bible and go to church. I had decided that Sunday was special and I would reserve it for the Lord out of a grateful heart.
What I didn’t realize is that I had recognized the meaning of the word holy. In both the Old Testament and New Testament, the idea of being holy is one of specialness – of being set apart from everything else – rather than the idea of being perfect. That is an idea that we, as the Church, need to remind ourselves daily.

Crushed Hearts

Here in Nehemiah 8:9-12, we see the effect of Ezra’s reading the Law to those gathered. It was devastating. And I mean devastating in a good way. The people were crushed. They were humbled. They were reminded of the true meaning of being holy.

Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Nehemiah 8:9 NASB

The first thing that leaps of the page at me is the fact that the people here were weeping. Now remember that this wasn’t just a few people. There were upwards of 50,000 folks there. And they were weeping. Imagine that for a moment. There are fifty-thousand souls gathered to hear the word of God read and explained. After that has been accomplished (and probably during the reading) the people were weeping. Fifty-thousand people weeping. Imagine the sound. It must have been beautiful to hear. Why beautiful? Yes, why beautiful indeed.

Their weeping was in response to the Law being read and explained. They had just been crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin. They more than likely understood why they had experienced the ruin and destruction of the recent past. No it wasn’t a petty god playing with them. It wasn’t the schemes of Satan hammering them. They realized that it was their own thoughts and attitudes that had brought them low. God promised them exile if they didn’t obey Him. They didn’t. God kept His promise. But God also promised them restoration if they repented. They did and God kept His promise.

 They were crushed by the beauty of God’s word and the ugliness of their sin.

The weeping here is the recognition of all that – and probably more. When we hear of God’s goodness – when we experience it – we are reminded of it – what other response can we have? And when all that is brought to our mind in spite of our own thoughts and actions…well, weeping may be too tame a word to describe what our reaction should be.

Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing the word of God preached? Have you ever been brought to tears after hearing how God restored you (or a loved one) to a right relationship? Or how about watching a brother or sister in Christ being sanctified before your very eyes? Have you ever wept over the effect of God’s word on you and others? I hope so.

When we see the culture crumble around us and it defy God’s holy word we should be brought to tears. But we should also be brought to tears as we see God working miracles in spite of the crumbling culture.

Celebration Day

Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 NASB

Nehemiah, who had already declared that the day was holy – completely set apart for the Lord – once again instructed the assembly not to weep or grieve but to celebrate. Let’s consider this for a moment in our own lives.

When we are confronted by our own sin – when we understand the gravity of our rebellion – we should weep. And celebrate. We should celebrate because we are aware of the sin and shame of our thoughts and actions. We should celebrate because God obviously is working on us still. He hasn’t (and won’t) abandon us to our own devices and vices. This is a great reason to celebrate.

 Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances.

Nehemiah ends this verse with the oft-quoted “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Our strength is found in the Lord not ourselves. His joy – which He is eager to give us – is beyond our comprehension. Now joy must not be confused with happiness. Joy is independent of circumstances while happiness is totally dependent on circumstances. So if we experience the joy of our Lord, no matter the situation we find ourselves, we can be joyful. After nearly thirty years as a Christian – and fifty-on years of life – I may be on the brink of understanding this. How about you? Have you found that living in the joy of the Lord is where your strength exists. Please, don’t look at your circumstances to be encouraged. Look at the Lord. Look at what He has done on your behalf. Your sin is gone. Regardless of what happens in your life, if you’re a Christian your destination is sure. You will live an eternity with Him as His friend.

Comfort Offered

So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:11-12 NASB

The Levites, who were the priests in God’s Temple, came to comfort the people. They reiterated the need to rejoice and not grieve. This was the most important thing the Levites could do in order to give comfort to the people.

The people had been confronted with their sinful thoughts and actions through the reading of the Law. They were obviously cut to the heart. They wept, they grieved. They responded this way because of the illumination of their sin when the Law was read and explained to them. The Priest come on the scene and tell them to go forward and celebrate, share food and rejoice. The reason the Levites said do this is because the people had understood the Law as it was read and explained to them. This is important for us.

If we ever want to be moved along in the process of progressive sanctification, we not only need to hear the word of God taught, preached and explained but also we must understand it. Reading and hearing isn’t enough.

But how?

Well the first thing we can do is study. We must be diligent in seeking to understand what the word of God actually says. To do this we must be part of a Bible believing fellowship that teaches the word of God. There are plenty of churches around us. Some are liberal and some are conservative. Those are easy to find. The hardest church to find is one that teaches what the Bible is rather than a pet interpretation of it. When you find a church that does that, stay there.

Next we need to submit to those who have gone before us. Yes I know that takes humility. We need to get over ourselves and realize not one of us has all the answers. We need to look toward those who have more experience, knowledge and wisdom to help us understand.

Third, and most importantly, we need to actively seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This is so often neglected. We must – MUST – seek His help in moving towards Christlikeness.

Seeing our sin as sin is not a curse. It is a blessing of the highest order. Because when we are taught and understand the word of God and we are grieved by what grieves God, we will move a step closer to being more like Him. And then rejoicing can begin.

Revival at the Gate

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The wall has been finished. Jerusalem has been occupied again. The job is finished, right? Well not really. The reconstruction of the wall and gates is done that is for sure. But there remains work to be accomplished. In some ways this task will be more difficult than the reconstruction of the wall. This task is the reinstruction of the people.

 

The Desire for the Law

And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.         Nehemiah 8:1-2 NASB

This chapter begins with a marvelous statement – “all the people gathered as one man” – at a certain place. As I read this I come to the conclusion that this was a spontaneous meeting. They gathered at this place because they were of one mind, one purpose. They were not ordered there by Nehemiah or someone else. They chose to gather together. And I don’t think the place was a mistake. Ezra, who had led the effort to rebuild the Temple, was there.
The first lesson we need to understand was that the people were hungry – they desired – the Law of Moses. They wanted to hear what was expected of them. They wanted to know the rules and regulations they were expected to follow. In short, their desire for the Law of Moses indicates their desire for God to lead them.

They wanted their relationship with God restored.

How wonderful this attitude would be if the Church had it! I sometimes wonder how many folks who attend Sunday services at a church are there out of duty. I wonder how many are there for a show. I know some who are. I even know some who sit in the place of a pastor because they think that will earn them points with God. How sad.
You see when we go to church out of duty, guilt or selfish motives we miss the blessing of gathering to gather to hear God’s word and be drawn closer to Him. When we gather together to appear to be holy, we demonstrate we have no real desire to be holy. When we gather together to be seen of men, we demonstrate that we do not want to be seen of God. When we gather to soothe our conscience, we demonstrate that our heart is in need of repair. Our motives for gathering together say everything about our condition before God. Here in the first verses of chapter 8, the motives are clear: they want to hear from God. What are your motives for attending church?

Purposed from the heart

He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Nehemiah 8:3-5 NASB

Ezra read the Law at the square or plaza in front of the Water gate.This was one of the gates that were in the wall that surrounded the Temple.Interesting, huh. The people flocked to the Temple. I mean they FLOCKED there. They acted as if they had one mind. And it wasn’t for a sermonette. I remember my first Pastor saying that sermonettes (short sermons) were for Christianettes! Anyway, these folks came prepared to hear a message that would last a bit longer than most of our messages today. Do you notice the phrase “from early morning until midday”? I wish NASB had translated this “from first light until noon”. The Hebrew is clear that the people gathered when they first had light and remained until noon. With that in mind, this gathering was probably five or six hours long. And we gripe if our pastors exceed their time limit of 45 minutes.

But they weren’t just standing there. Notice the phrase “were attentive”. The Hebrew here is quite colorful. In the Hebrew, this phrase means “the ears of the people were toward…” Can you picture that in your mind. Imagine a group of people, gathered to hear what God wants them to do, how to conduct their lives, all with their ears toward the speaker so they wouldn’t miss a thing. Could we learn a thing or two?

I’m sometimes discourage when I see folks in church playing on their smart phones or just doodilng away instead of listening intently to what our Pastor is saying. Have you ever experienced that? I admit, sometimes my mind wanders as well. In the hustle and bustle of a harried life, I sometimes don’t pay attention to what is being said. What a mistake that is! We should strain to hear what is said. This is God’s word being preached. Let’s listen to it!

We see that Ezra was on a wooden platform to address the crowd. This platform was constructed for this very purpose. This was probably quite large given the literal translation of this would be something like “wooden tower” or “tower of wood”. This was not to elevate Ezra. This was so that his voice could be heard throughout the crowd. It gives us another view of just how many had gathered. I tend to think it was the entire population of Jerusalem at the time. Remember that in chapter seven we learned that everyone in Jerusalem at that time was right around 50,000. Can you imagine that? There were fifty thousand people straining to hear God’s word that day. Wow. I mean….WOW!

Response from the heart

The last thing I want you to notice this week in our passage is the reaction of the people when the Law of Moses was opened. What did they do? In verse five, they all stood up. So what is that significance? Well, if we think about it, standing when someone enters a room is a sign of respect. The people, when the Law of Moses was opened, stood up out of respect for it. Notice that this occurred when it was opened, not just when it was read. Now that is some kind of respect!

How wonderful it would be if people had that kind of respect for the Word of God. Sadly though I think that is long gone. We have become too familiar with it. Not that we actually know it. No, we know just enough to be dangerous. Everyone has their view and feels their view has equal authority as the ones who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible in the original languages, submitting to instruction from men who have demonstrated faithfulness to the Bible, knowledge of the Bile and wisdom from the Bible. No, the Internet has made everyone an expert. Only that it hasn’t.

Our respect for the word of God – and the ones who preach it – is not what it used to be. In fact, I’m not sure it will ever be what it used to be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did see the Bible the way these folks in Nehemiah saw the Law of Moses? Wouldn’t it be wonderful each Sunday morning the people gathered in the churches throughout the world were straining to hear it preached and explained? If we had that attitude, would we be in the pickle we are in today? I doubt it.

But here we are. Good is called evil and evil is called good. Everyone seemingly does what is right in their own eyes. There seems to be no standard. Many churches, in an effort not to offend, have adopted a view of “live and let live”. But this is so wrong.

The Bible is THE Authority for life. There are standards for the conduct of life regardless if one wants to believe them or not. It is God’s message to man. We cannot expect others to listen if we, the Church, don’t listen to the Bible’s instructions to us.  O how we need the wisdom in the Bible to permeate our souls today.

 

 

 

 

New Day, Same Routine

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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.

Relaxing and Reflecting, Part 2

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When I lived in California I had a friend who owned a Ferrari. Now a Ferrari is one fast automobile. But it is so well engineered that I never knew how fast it was actually traveling. Honest. Really I didn’t know. Ahem. Well, one interesting thing I noticed about his Ferrari was that there was no rear-view mirror. When I asked him why his car didn’t have one he replied “It had one but I took it off. You’re in a Ferrari. What is behind you doesn’t matter!” Well alrighty then!

So often we look forward and fail to realize that there is a lot to learn from the past. In that spirit, I want us to take a rest, part two, from our normal time of listening to Nehemiah to take a moment to remind ourselves some of the lessons we have learned in the previous chapters.              This week we are covering chapter four through six.

Chapter 4 – Opposition Builds Character

I used to be an avid weight lifter. I owned free weights, a weight machine and I was a member of a gym with a personal trainer. I would work out 4 days a week, sometimes five. Each week I would try to lift heavier and heavier loads. I would try to do more sit ups than before, more pull ups and more push ups. As I got stronger, the weight increased. But as a result of the weight increasing, I became stronger. This is what we encounter in the first verses of chapter 4. The opposition has been encountered. They are strong and determined to stop the work and discourage the people. The opposition ridiculed their work with a statement such as in verse 3: “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” NOw imagine a wall multiple feet wide, getting taller and built with rather large stones. Now imagine a fox – a tiny little cute ol’ fox – running on it and the wall tumbling down. If someone said that, you’d be discouraged, wouldn’t you? I would. But that is just when we need to carry on as the workers in Nehemiah’s time did. We discovered in the first few verses of chapter four that opposition builds strength.

We must take the opposition at hand, resist it and, just like weight lifting, get stronger. 

And boy, oh, boy, we’ve got some opposition today! We have governments aligned against Christianity, the media are just waiting for the next failure, entire movements want to eliminate us from the face of the earth. It can be downright discouraging. But now is not the time to take a step backward or even to take a break. We must take the opposition at hand, resist it and, just like weight lifting, get stronger. And take the battle to the opposition. But how?

We also learned that prayer (vv. 4-5) is a source of strength and encouragement. When the enemy opposes your work in service of God, turn to God in prayer. Lift your burdens and your discouragement to Him. He’s big enough to handle it and make you stronger in the process.

But remember, our reaction to discouragement tells all others everything they need to know about us.

Discouragement in life, like here in chapter four, comes from many sources. We can be discouraged when our past creeps into our memory. We can be discouraged when folks simply don’t like us. It can come from family, friends and even other Christians. But remember, our reaction to discouragement tells all others everything they need to know about us. A true leader – and I dare say a true servant of God – reacts well and moves forward with God’s plan. How are you doing with discouragement?

Chapter 5 – Conflict Resolution the right way

I had a class in Seminary on Conflict Resolution. I had the same sort of class recently at work. Resolving conflict is difficult, especially when feelings are hurt and one’s character is attacked. I’ve been through that! In chapter five we learned the right way to handle conflict. Lets take a look and remember the lessons we learned.

First, anger is not our enemy in handling conflict.

What that anger causes us to do is the issue, not that there is anger. In Ephesians 4:26 we are told that when we are angry, we are not to sin. Notice that. We can be angry, just don’t let the anger control you to the point of sinning. Like here in Nehemiah, anger can be a great motivator for righteous living and repenting of past wrongs. But anger not used wisely can turn an opportunity for growth into a time of destruction. So be careful when you’re angry. Is it really worth destroying your testimony? Nehemiah here in chapter five stopped and thought about those things that were angering him. That is some good advice for us. In order to keep our anger in check, we need to pause for a minute or two…or three or ten for some of us! We need tp pause and reflect on the root cause of our anger and not just the anger itself. That will make all the difference.

When we do take this pause, we are showing that we have some discipline. I know that is difficult. But the times when my anger has done the least good is when I just react to something rather than take time to reflect first.

Next time anger comes your way, reflect before you react.

The last two things I really want to highlight here in chapter five is being courageous and loving enough to confront other Christians when they are wrong and keeping our behavior righteous. That may sound easy but it isn’t.

I don’t really like conflict. I’m not afraid of it, but I really don’t enjoy it much. I remember once I had to confront a man about his conduct when I was a Pastor. This guy was making phone calls, writing emails and generally undermining the ministry I had. I didn’t want to have conflict, but it sure looked like conflict wanted me. So one day I confronted him after church. It didn’t end well. Besides calling me a few choice names, he acted like he was going to punch me. But a funning things happened to me. Even though I was being yelled at and threatened, I grew calmer and calmer. You see I prepared for this conflict not by memorizing some lines but by spending time in prayer. Now truth be told, I haven’t always done that. But this time I had. The difference was amazing. While this man’s anger caused him to rage out of control, my preparation caused me to be calm and act righteously, focusing on the conduct and leaving the person’s integrity out of it. SO how are you doing? If you’re like me, you need some more work on this one.

When confronting others we must be focusing on the conduct and leaving the person’s integrity out of it. 

 

Chapter 6 – Hearing what is, not just what I want to hear

Have you ever been speaking and someone later accuses you of saying something you didn’t say? Or they misinterpret what you say because before you even say it, they’ve already made up their mind that you are wrong? This happens all the time. Sadly, quite a few Pastor’s have to endure this kind of stuff every Sunday after they preach. You see people often hear what they listen for. Oh it doesn’t matter what was actually said. If they expected something wrong to come out, the wrong thing is what they’ll hear.

You see people often hear what they listen for.

This lesson is important for us to learn because if this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. When this happens, we need to remind ourselves of the lesson here in Nehemiah six: when opposed unrighteously, lied to and lied about, we need to stand our ground, and pray. Our reaction to those who oppose God’s work being accomplished says everything about us. So take some time and remember these lessons from Nehemiah.

 

Relaxing and Reflecting, Part 1

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Let’s rest, relax and reflect on what God has taught us through His servant Nehemiah.

In a little while I’ll be on my annual family vacation. We routinely head to the beach to rest and relax. I do those two things but I have another reason for taking a vacation: I need to reflect.

Life is busy for me with a full-time job, a blog, writing two devotionals and having a wife with seven children with us. Because of this crowded schedule, I have a tendency to get so forward-looking that I forget to look back and learn from my previous experiences. So in the spirit of a vacation from our normal week, let’s rest, relax and reflect on the lessons we have learned from chapter 1 through chapter 6 of Nehemiah. In order to keep this article to a reasonable length, these lessons learned will be short. But by all means, look back and re-read Nehemiah 1-6 and see if you agree with me.

I’ll break this up into two articles. This week we’ll look at the lessons we learned from Nehemiah chapters 1 – 3.

Prayer first, planning later – Ch. 1

There is a movement that seeks to make the church completely insulated from the culture. This is a mistake. We must be aware of what is going on around us if we hope to reach those in need. Being in touch with society doesn’t mean being part of it. In Nehemiah 1 we learned that Nehemiah was absolutely broken over the state of Jerusalem and the state of those still living there. The walls were down and the people seemed content in the rubble. This bothered Nehemiah greatly. But he didn’t rush off to fix anything. No, he went to God in prayer, pouring out his heart before our mighty God.

Nehemiah’s action should resonate with us in these days. When we see the broken culture around us – both in the Church and outside the Church – we must, before doing anything, pray. Far too often I tend to formulate a plan then ask God to bless it. But if I listen to what Nehemiah did, I will slow down – or even stop – and pray for guidance from God. We need to plan, that is for sure. But that plan must be preceded by prayer. We should always remember that “our plan” is the plan that God gives us after we pray. We should never approach God with a plan of action that is devoid of prayer.

We should always pray for God to bless us with a plan rather than asking God to bless our plan.

So how burdened are you by our society? When you see the broken down walls of the Church – compromising doctrine to attract people – are you broken by that? Are you so broken that it spurs you to prayer? In the craziness and fast-paced nature of life in general, it is  difficult to stop and pray. But it is the most important thing we can do.

Prayer is an indispensable part of the Christian’s life. DO it often.

 

Being real with God – Ch. 2

We find out at the end of chapter 1 that Nehemiah is a high ranking official. He risks that position – and his life – by allowing the king to see him when he was sad. This was a huge no-no in those times. The king required all his subjects to be happy around him. But Nehemiah was just himself – sadness and all – around the king. When the king asked why he was so sad, Nehemiah didn’t hold back. He let his concerns be known.

This is an important principle for us. Many times we go around and think that if we are sad that somehow God is going to thump us on the head. We try to lie to God when we pray by putting on a happy face, dutifully saying all our “Thee’s” “Thou’s”  and “Thine’s”. But God, of course, knows better. We need to be honest with God when we are sad and let Him know – the one true King – why we are downcast.

Seeing beyond the rubble

Far too often we see only with our eyes. We need to see with God’s eyes. If we see with only our eyes, the task of sharing Christ will seem hopeless. Our culture is in ruins. There are many who claim to know Christ yet they violate and try to vitiate his Word every day. We need to see beyond the rubble of all this and remember that God’s plan will never be defeated. We need to remember to always see beyond the rubble to what God has promised.

The right tools for serving God are already present in the church

The ministries of the Church are vast and numerous. We have outreach, discipleship training, prayer groups, small groups, preaching and teaching ministry. Then there’s VBS, Operation Christmas Child and short-term missionary journeys. The task for the church can seem daunting and discouraging. However, a lesson learned here in Nehemiah is that God has already given every tool necessary to finish the job.

Size of the task doesn’t matter – only the size of God

When we consider the task ahead of us – the evangelism of the world and disciple-making of Christian – is so much bigger than any one body of believers, we can get discouraged. But we should never focus on the size of the task. No, rather than seeing the size of the task we need t remember the size of our God. He is bigger than any task ahead or any opposition we face…even the boogeyman!

 

Working for Christ according to MY gifts and talents – Ch 3

We see here in chapter three the use of various talents and gifts to build the wall around Jerusalem. We should learn from this that God supplies all we need to complete the mission God has given us. Rarely though – perhaps never – are all the necessary gifts and talents reside I only one person. We need each other. We need our diversity. While I may be strong in one area, you may be strong in another area. And each area of ministry is necessary and important. Furthermore, even of we share the same gift, we need to remember that the expression of the gift will be different because the life experiences are different for all of us. And this fact is a blessing. Imagine all the workers in Nehemiah’s time were only stone masons. Who would have guarded? Or if they were all military types? Who would have built the wall?

My wife is a stay-at-home mom. That role is quite often reviled in the culture of the US. Sometimes it is even reviled in the church. But my wife is so gifted in caring for our children and teaching them (we homeschool), that I can’t imagine her doing anything else so valuable. That is why we have only one joint bank account. She has equal access to the money I earn because without her I would not be in a position to earn it. In many ways, her job is much more difficult than mine. So relax church, the many gifts and talents are necessary for the good functioning of the church.

Diversity in gifts and talents is a blessing, not a curse.

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So how are you doing with these lessons from Nehemiah? Are they as convicting to you as they are to me? There is much more to learn from this wonderful book. But before we learn new things, next week we’ll look over chapter 4 through chapter 6. So, let’s take a vacation from our normal hectic life and relax and reflect on the wonderful truths we have learned in Nehemiah.