Company of the Committed

nehemiah wall_final

Now, are we willing to take a stand against our checkered past for our future with Christ? Are we willing to stand up and say we have been unfaithful but we desire to be faithful?

I remember when I was taking one of my psychology classes in my undergraduate studies a particular statement by my professor. We were discussing why folks take very public stands on things. My professor remarked that when we vocalize what we believe internally, that act of public declaration makes backing off our private beliefs more difficult. It is a way that we make sure that we follow through with our beliefs. The same is true in this chapter of Nehemiah. The people, led by Nehemiah, are about to take a very public and very vocal stand on what they believe and what their actions will look like. These folks are serious about this change.

Now to observe this in context, we should remember chapter 9 verse 38:

Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests. Nehemiah 9:38 NASB

So we are introducing a covenant. The people that will be listed in chapter 10 will be those who have made a contract with God because of His everlasting faithfulness to them in spite of the ever present failures.

Writing it down

Now on the sealed document were the names of: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah. These were the priests. And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; also their brothers Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, Baanah. Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding, are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes;   Nehemiah 10:1-29 NASB

Whew! Now there were some names. I recognized a few of them by honestly most of them don’t mean much to me. They could have signed with an “X” and it would mean as much. Sort of. What does mean something is the cross section of the people we see here. Let’s start with v. 1. Who’s there? Nehemiah. The big cheese here. He signed the document. He took the pledge and the public stand. Now it would seem to me that if Nehemiah had led them this far, taking another public stand for what he has been advocating for so long would be unnecessary. So why did he do it?

Its called leadership. Nehemiah led not only with his words but with his actions.

He didn’t say “Now you all sign that you are committed to change. I’ve already shown my commitment. Now you show yours.” That would have incredibly insulting to the people. They had joined Nehemiah in risking their lives to rebuild the walls and now Nehemiah joined them in a very public way. So this list begins with the governor. Who else is here?

Well we have the Levites. These were the religious leaders. We also have the nobles and leaders. These were the upper crust of society.These folks were the ones who more than likely led the rebuilding of the wall. They got their hands dirty. They engages in manual labor. They risked everything to rebuild the walls. And now they are putting their names on the covenant making some important and serious commitments.

These folks weren’t just standing by and watching things happen…they were in the middle of them.

As we continue in chapter 10, we see others involved as well. We see the everyone else, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and everyone who had decided to separate themselves. What stands out in this list to you to this point? Think about who is represented in signing this covenant for change.

We have the governor, the priests and the nobles listed. In terms of our society today, these first ones would be the white collar executive types who were first to sign. But we also have others – the gatekeepers, singers, temple servants –  to take this public stand. In essence the entire nation was taking a stand and signing this covenant. The entire nation. Every part, every social position. Big and small. Famous and not famous. They all took a very public stand in this covenant. This is an important point we can’t let escape us. The whole nation was on board with these changes. They effectively locked arms and said “We are in this together. Let’s not only keep ourselves accountable…let’s keep each other accountable.” This is a big deal.

All these folks took an oath to walk in God’s laws, keep His commandments and His ordinances and statutes. They were recommitting themselves to the Lord in a very public way.

One other thing I’d like to draw your attention to. This is the statement “a curse and an oath”. This is probably what is termed a hendiadys. What this phrase basically means is that that took an oath that came with penalties. Again, this shows the seriousness these folks had toward this commitment.

_____________________________________

When was the last time you took a public stand about changing your actions to be more Christlike? Are we even willing to do something like this today?I know, our society is different, the culture is different, blah, blah, blah. you know things really aren’t that different. We experience the same pressures as the people in Nehemiah’s day experienced. They’re different because of the changes in technology but they are really the same. We have idols competing for our time and loyalty. We have sin crouching at the door waiting to pounce. WE have temptations waiting to seduce us. We have our ride, our ego, position, power, etc. We’re really not all that different.

God has been just as faithful to us as He was to Israel. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we have been just as unfaithful to Him as Israel was to Him.

Now, are we willing to take a stand against our checkered past for our future with Christ? Are we willing to stand up and say we have been unfaithful but we desire to be faithful? Are we willing to write this down? Do it publicly? Perhaps this sounds weird, but I think we need to have a moment at some point where we do write down our commitment to God and pledge publicly to follow through. We need to write out what we pledge, sign our names on it, and display that so that we can be held accountable. Are you willing? How about me?

Let’s start our own Company of the Committed and commit ourselves anew to following Christ regardless of the cost.

 

The Song Remains the Same

nehemiah wall_final

God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

This great prayer of repentance and remembrance continues here in chapter 9. As I read through the passage for this week I remembered something my brother and I used to say all the time: the song remains the same.  We said that to each other as a way of conveying the fact that nothing had changed in our lives despite a separation by our living miles apart.

In the passage today, as the people repent and remember the past, we see that in Israel’s history, the song remains the same. Let’s review last week’s article focused on some important points that I want to stress again in order to experience the gravity of this week.

One of the takeaways from last week was that God keeps His promises. We saw this in a couple of actions, first by God then in Israel’s response. The end of this was that Israel entered and possessed the land God promised to them. Israel had acted in faith and followed what God said (after a rebellious generation had passed). So this generation would be on-fire, right?

Not. So. Fast.

The Song Remains the Same

But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies. Nehemiah 9:26-27 NASB

This part of this prayer begins with a big  BUT. There isn’t a better word in any language to stress how significant a shift has taken place. The Israelites, who had possessed the land God promised, had victories over others as God promised and prospered in their home now decided they knew better than God. Oh boy, here we go again.

Look at what this new crop of Israelites did. First the were disobedient and rebelled against God. The next phrase sums up everything: they turned their backs on your law. You see Israel was now smarter than God – or at least they thought they were. God gave His law to Israel for their protection. He regulated their worship life so they would please Him. God was generous with them. He blessed them. He provided for them. And what did they do in return for all of God’s benevolent gifts? They rebelled. They turned their backs on Him.

But they didn’t stop there. God sent prophets to correct Israel’s path. One would think that Israel would listen to these prophets. But no, sadly Israel did just the opposite. They refused to  listen and then killed the prophets God had sent. But it didn’t end there. Look at what happened: they performed awful blasphemies. They took God’s perfect law and turned it on its head. They did the opposite of What God wanted the to do. So God took them out of the land and gave them to those who would oppress them. God disciplined His people.

But when they repented and cried out, God  heard them and had compassion on them. God sent Israel deliverers. These deliverers took Israel out of bondage and back to where they belonged.  God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

 

Israel’s Heart of Disobedience

But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time. Nehemiah 9:28 NASB

I feel I should just copy and paste my first section here! Everything that happened before happened again. What  a sad commentary on their heart. They continued to rebel and refuse to follow what God prescribed for them. The last few words of v. 28 indicates the breadth of God’s compassion: you delivered them time after time.

God’s Abounding Grace and Mercy

You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:29-31 NASB

In these last few verses we see an important indication of God’s character: He pursued Israel, He wanted them to turn back to Him. Look at the time in view – for many years…” This wasn’t a one time ordeal. This went on for years. And years. And years. Still God pursued them. Still God loved them. Still God had compassion on them. God’s abounding grace and mercy is on display here. Look at v. 31:

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

What else could I possibly say about God? He is gracious and merciful. Even with all the disobedience, arrogance, stiff-neckedness that Israel has displayed throughout the years, God still – STILL – showed them mercy. How’s that for a giving God!

______________________________________

So what does this mean to us? This is all about Israel, right? Well, no it isn’t all about Israel. This is all about God. God reveals Himself as a compassionate, long-suffering and patient God. Regardless of how many times we fail to do what is right – regardless of how many times we fail to obey – if we truly belong to Him He will never – NEVER – abandon us or turn His back on us.

That truth should not encourage us to sin more but to sin less. Because He is so compassionate and willing to endure our up and down behavior, we should be more sensitive to when we fall short. We should want to obey Him more because of who He is. God’s compassion should make us more willing to obey, not less.

How are you doing with that?

Every Good Gift

nehemiah wall_final

Throughout the history of Israel we see a series of interactions between God and Israel. God would do something and then Israel would react – good or bad – to God’s actions. Here in Nehemiah the people are remembering their history with God through a prayer. The section I am addressing today is somewhat short but no doubt evoked powerful memories and emotions in the people as they remembered God’s actions. Let’s continue to step our way through this wonderful prayer with more memories of God’s actions and Israel’s reactions.

What God Did

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples, And allotted them to them as a boundary. Nehemiah 9:22 NASB

This section of this prayer begins with an action of God. Now notice carefully what happened: God gave Israel something. Now that something was kingdoms and nations. Don’t rush through this. What does this gift mean? Is there anything we can draw out of this that is not on the surface? I think so.

If God gave kingdoms and nations to Israel, that means God owns those kingdoms and nations. He has the right to do with them what He pleases. And it pleased Him to give them to Israel. Now what nations and kingdoms did God give Israel? Ultimately it was Canaan for they were in the land God gave Israel. Was Canaan a righteous nation? Not by a mile! So what does this say about God?

He is sovereign over all nations, not just Israel. He can do whatever he wants with whomever He chooses. It is God who raises up rulers and puts them down (see Daniel 2:21). This should be a sobering thought.This should remind us of just Who is in charge. This should remind us of our place as the created ones, not the Creator. The fact of God’s sovereignty over everyone should give us comfort.

But does it? I hope so.

 Israel’s response

They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon And the land of Og the king of Bashan.Nehemiah 9:22 NASB

Sihon was a king of the Amorites and Heshbon was a city east of the Jordan. In Number 21:21-32 the story of the encounter with this king is given. Israel wanted to pass through his land on their way to the promised land. He didn’t want them to pass. Lets just say it didn’t end well for good ol’ Sihon! God gave Israel Sihon’s land and the Israelites took it.

The same thing happened to Og. He too was an Amorite king who decided he’d take on Israel and Israel’s God. As with Sihon, it didn’t end well for Og. He was purported to be a giant, mighty in his own sight. He ruled a kingdom of 70 walled cities and was quite impressed with himself. But God was not impressed. He gave him and his kingdom to Israel and they possessed it.

We should learn a valuable lesson here. Just because a nation appears ferocious and invincible, does not mean that they actually are that. God owns everything. As He said in Daniel 2, He decides who is on the throne. Again we should find comfort in this statement. No matter how ungodly and anti-Christian a leader of a nation may appear to be, God owns him and will do what He pleases with him. But God will accomplish His work in His time. So let’s be patient with His plan for the world. He owns it and He will accomplish His purpose.

What God Did

“You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven, and You brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers to enter and possess. Nehemiah 9:23 NASB

God chose to prosper the nation of Israel. How many stars are there in the sky? That is how many descendants of the original nation there are. God did that. God is not sovereign over the land of the world – not only is He sovereign over kings and kingdoms – but He is also sovereign over descendants. Now I realize there are a number of views regarding family size. But regardless of what we think, God is sovereign over the conception and birth of a child.

Well God not only prospered the descendants in a numerical way bit He also prospered them in a land sort of way. Notice that it was God who brought them to the land He had promised their parents. They eventually possessed the land. God kept His promise and fulfilled that promise through these children.

God keeps His promises. Take comfort from that.

 

So God brought Israel to the land. What did they do? The parents of the descendants who entered the land refused to take it. So God took them on a forty year journey through the desert. And then He brought the descendants back to the land. So what happened this time?

Israel’s Response

So their sons entered and possessed the land. And You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, And You gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, To do with them as they desired. They captured fortified cities and a fertile land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing, Hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, Fruit trees in abundance. So they ate, were filled and grew fat, And reveled in Your great goodness.Nehemiah 9:24-25

Israel took the land. They possessed it. They took over and conquered all who lived in the land that God had given them. It didn’t matter if they cities were fortified (with walls and defenses) or not. Israel simply followed God and took possession of the land God had promised to them. This land – filled with cisterns for water, fruit trees for food and every good thing. This was a sweet place to live. And they had it because God had given it to them. But though the gift was made many years before, it was theirs when they took it.

_________________________________________________

 

We need to be careful with this but far too often we don’t possess the promises God has made to us. He has promised not to abandon us. He has promised that we would one day be dwelling with Him.  He made these promises. He will keep them. But will we posses them? Do we live like folks whose destiny is settled?

I’m not saying we should with reckless abandon but with righteous abandon. Since we have the promise of God that He will keep us until the end of time on earth, we should never fear death, torture or anything else.

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale. He was strangled then burned at he stake on this date in 1536 for the great crime of translating the Bible into English. His work provided the basis for the majority of the King James version of 1611. He died doing what was right. Evidently he valued his possession of the promises of God rather than his possession of physical life. We should not seek martyrdom. But we should not shrink from it. God has made very real promises to the Church. Just as He kept His promises to Israel as recounted here in Nehemiah 9, He will keep His promises to the Church.

Let’s live like those who possess the promise of heaven and eternity with the One True God.

True Compassion

nehemiah wall_final

 

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

nehemiah wall_final

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

nehemiah wall_final

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.

Crushed and Rejoicing

nehemiah wall_final

 

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.

Relaxing and Reflecting, Part 2

nehemiah wall_final

 

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

nehemiah wall_final

 

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.

__________________________________________

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.

Listen to Your Commander

nehemiah wall_final

 

“People hear what they are listening for.”

November 2, 1982 is a day that I will remember for the rest of my natural life. That was the day that I graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp aboard MCRD Parris Island, SC. “I made it” I thought as we marched around the parade deck. I was part of First Battalion, B Company, Platoon 1071. We were the worst platoon in the history of Parris Island. I arrived on the Island on August 10, 1982, mere months after graduating high school. “I’m almost done. Almost done” I silently exclaimed as we formed up for the final order. We were last in the series of platoons to be dismissed. The entire group would have to wait on old platoon 1071. Heh heh heh….

 

Our Company Commander yelled “Senior Drill Instructors, dismiss your platooooooons!” Everything was silent – at least it seemed to be silent to me. The only thing I wanted to hear was my Senior Drill Instructor’s voice. My ears strained to hear his voice. Then my ears heard that which they wanted o hear. Staff Sergeant Hodges, my Senior Drill Instructor barked his order: “Plaaaaatoon ten sevumty one, DISMISSED!” Then silence.

The band broke the silence. An explosion of yells ensued from recruits – former recruits, now Marines – in jubilation. I shook the hand of the Marine to my left and my right. I hunted down my drill instructors to thank them. Yes, I thanked them. Then I left the Grinder (the not-so-fond nickname given to the parade deck). I saw my dad, a twenty-year veteran of the Marine Corps, standing and smiling. I approached him and he stuck out his hand and said “Congratulations, Marine.” TO hear my dad say that to me was like pouring water on a dying plant. As I walked over to grab my junk (my seabag and uniform bag) I thought “It’s over!” “I’m done. I’m finally done. It is finished!”

But I was wrong. So very wrong. My journey in the Marine Corps had just begun. I would need to remember the lessons learned in the swampland of Parris Island many times over the next few years. I had graduated boot camp. But I was far from being done.

So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me. Nehemiah 6:15-19 NASB

 

The End in Sight

Fifty-two days to build a thick wall around the city of Jerusalem. Fifty-two days. That was really quick. Sometimes I wonder why it takes the department of highway two months to pave a highway when it took under two months for Nehemiah and his crew to build a wall. But I digress…

Lets take a look at a few notable things here in chapter six.

The wall was finished in the month of Elul, which corresponds to the month of August. Now that is a hot month. These guys built the wall around Jerusalem during the hottest time of the year. Yikes! Imagine the sweat that was pouring off the workers. Now look at the effect this had on the enemies of Nehemiah in v. 16

When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 

 

The Enemies Lose

They lost their confidence because they recognized God’s hand on Nehemiah and the workers. Isn’t that amazing! Here are angry folks surrounding Jerusalem. Some are Jews others are not. Regardless of their ethnicity, they were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the workers from completing their task. But when the task was completed in rather quick fashion, the enemies recognized it was God who was with the workers and they (the detractors) lost their confidence. Thats pretty cool in my book. Even the enemies of God can recognize God’s hand of blessing.

But this recognition wasn’t just an “A ha!” moment. I think it had been realized over the course of the rebuilding project. In v. 17 we are reminded of one of Tobiah’s methods of intimidation: letters. Tobiah had been writing letters to discourage the builders. He also had threatened in other ways. But these letters, it seems, were the constant thing. Imagine getting a letter (or in our day an email) on a routine basis that blasts you and your service. Has that ever happened to you? What has been your response?

Nehemiah responded by not listening to the lies of the enemy. He knew he had a job to do. He rallied the workers around the knowledge that what was being accomplished had God’s blessing and indeed was God’s will. This paid off in the end because the wall was completed and the enemies recognized that God was behind it all.

So what are you listening for today? Whose voice dominates your ears? If you are listening to your Tobiah, stop. Tune your ears to the voice of God and listen to Him.

The Character Tobiah

We also get a glimpse of this Tobiah character here in v. 18. He evidently was part Jewish, having intermarried to a Jewish family. People were “bound by oath to him” and spied on Nehemiah and reported back to Tobiah what Nehemiah had said and presumably done. The result of all this spying and gossip was that Tobiah would send letters to frighten Nehemiah. But that didn’t work. Nehemiah led his workers to accomplish the task in spite of opposition.

So what does this mean to us? Well first lets commit to practicing saying “yes” to the priorities of God rather than the priorities of man. Too often we get sidetracked by what we think is urgent only later to recognize it was a distraction from what God has for us.

So, take time to discern what God would have you do and then do that thing, whatever that thing is.

Hearing what We Need to Hear

I remember hearing a story once of a Native American named Running Bear visiting a city with his friend Bob. As Running Bear and Bob were walking down a busy street Running Bear stopped and said “I hear a cricket.” Bob, amazed by this because all he could hear was the traffic, said “No way”. Running Bear  looked around for a moment, stooped down and picked up a cricket.

“That’s amazing” exclaimed Bob. “You must have really sensitive hearing!”

Running Bear smiled and asked Bob for some coins. He obliged and gave Running Bear a couple of quarters and a dime. Running Bear smiled at Bob and then dropped them on the sidewalk. Although the sound of the coins hitting the concrete were no louder than the chirping of the cricket, a number of people stopped their walking and tried to pick up the dropped coins. Bob cocked his head to one side and said “Wha…”

Before he could finish, Running Bear said “People hear what they are listening for.”

 

So what are you listening for today? Whose voice dominates your ears? If you are listening to your Tobiah, stop. Don’t listen to the voice of the enemy. If you are listening to the shouts of praise from man, stop. You’re not all that. Tune your ears to the voice of God and listen to Him.

While the other voices may be louder, there is no voice as valuable as God’s voice.

Go build your wall.