Thankfully Broken

“When I see the Lord on His throne, I figure I won’t be able to stand, much less be able to chit chat with others about something that is suddenly not so important. I figure when I see God exalted, I will fall down in awe and worship. What will you do?”

 

I often wonder how I am doing with my thoughts about who God is. I wonder if I am really in awe of Him or if I’m just going through the motions. One of the best ways I think to figure this out is realizing how much sin I have committed, how much of my sin He has forgiven, and How holy He is. I really don’t have to contemplate this too much though. We have a wonderful encounter with God’s holiness and the brokenness of a sinner recorded in Scripture. We find this passage in Isaiah

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” – Isaiah 6:1-7 NASB

The first thing we experience here is that Isaiah sees something.

“…I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.”

This whole scene unfolds in a difficult time for Isaiah. Their earthly King – Uzziah –  had just died. I have little doubt that Isaiah was feeling a bit depressed and discouraged at this time. But in the midst of his discouragement, God gives Isaiah a vision of the Throne Room. Let’s read through the images Isaiah conveys to us.

First, Isaiah sees the Lord lofty and exalted.  What a beautiful description of God. Then Isaiah sees the train His royal robe filling the Temple. Now this probably refers to the entire Temple Mount. That is a lot of area to fill with the train of a robe.

Next Isaiah sees Seraphim – angels – who were attending the Throne of God and worshipping God by stating Holy, Holy Holy, is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. Imagine being there and experiencing this sight. This is followed by the foundations of the thresholds trembling at the voice of Him who called out while the temple was filling with smokeSo we have a vision of the Lord Himself, His holiness, demonstrated by the length of the train of His robe, angelic hosts worshipping God and an earthquake at the sound of his voice. Umm, wow. Wow.

The next thing I want to emphasize if that Isaiah realizes something.

Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Isaiah realizes who he is in light of the holy God who is before him. Look at what Isaiah says…

woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, 

Isaiah realizes that he is in bad shape because, as a sinner, he cannot be in the presence of the absolute holy God of Israel. But Isaiah’s realization doesn’t end there…

And I live among a people of unclean lips; 

Not only does Isaiah recognize his own sinful situation, but he also realizes that he lives with an absolutely sinful people. This poses a major problem for Isaiah and the nation. No unclean thing or person could stand in the presence of God and survive. Isaiah, is broken over this. Not that he is in pickle. No, I think he is broken over the holiness of God and his sinful nature.

Isaiah recognizes his sinfulness in light of the holiness of God. Think about how you would react. Would you or I react the same way? I wonder.

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When I hear Christians talk about eternity in trite terms, I cringe. I hear some Christians who say “When I get to heaven, I’m gonna give Adam a piece of my mind…” or they say how they want to speak to Paul or something along those lines. I’ve realized as I have grown older in the Lord that those things – while they may be neat to think about – probably won’t happen.

imagesWhen I see the Lord on His throne, I figure I won’t be able to stand, much less be able to chit chat with others about something that is suddenly not so important. I figure when I see God exalted, I will fall down in awe and worship. What will you do?

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Finally Isaiah experienced something.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

In short, Isaiah experiences the forgiveness of God. His sins are immediately cleansed. As a result, Isaiah volunteers (in the verses that follow these) to go on a mission that will not bear much fruit. But Isaiah goes on this mission quite enthusiastically.

Isaiah has seen the glory of God. He has seen God’s holiness. He has heard the angels, he has seen heavenly worship. And the result of all this?

Isaiah realizes his utter sinfulness. And he is broken over that. In that brokenness, God forgives him and cleanses him.

How are we doing?

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When we meet God – either at salvation or during prayer – do we realize what Isaiah realized? Do we realize that God’s holiness is so awesome that our puny mind cannot fully comprehend it? When we see that holiness and remember the forgiveness and cleansing God has performed on us, are we thankful? Are we broken?

I think we should be thankfully broken about our sin and our new life in Christ. We should never become arrogant – thinking we deserve this life. We should always remember whence we came. We should always remember the cost of our forgiveness. We should hit our knees in thankfulness. And brokenness. Like Isaiah, we should be broken.

Thankfully. Broken.

 

 

 

 

 

In, not Of

To be IN but not OF the world is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.

 

Have you ever worried about the way the influence the world may be having on your family? Or you? Does thinking about this make you want to run away to an island somewhere or an isolated mountaintop? The news is bad all the time it seems. We have people all over the world fighting with each other, folks cutting off the heads of people, and Christians being compared to terrorists…geez, it is getting bad. But the answer isn’t running away. Jesus wouldn’t want us to do that.

In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus prays in John 17

But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:13-19 NASB (emphasis mine)

So how does that affect us today? Are we to be in the world but free from the evil one? And if so, how does THAT work.

When we look at the world around us with all the chaos that is happening, the easy thing to do is isolate ones self from it. You know, run away to an island or mountaintop. I’ve thought about it. But I always come back to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. I am to be IN the world, but not OF the world. That is a tough thing to do.

Isolation

bubbleThere is a mindset that looks at the world and the Christian and chooses to isolate. These professing believers are what I call Protestant monks – they think their isolation preserves them for God.

For this group of believers, isolating themselves from the influences of the world includes isolation from the world. They have effectively removed themselves from the world. This affects every facet of life and every stage of life. They may refer to the public school system as Babylon and those who have their children attend as misguided and selfish.

These folks also typically prefer to own a business and play around with the IRS. They may not like to pay taxes since taxes support Babylon and Christians shouldn’t do that. They genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing. They withdraw from every area of life, sit in their holy huddle, and summarily judge anyone who believes differently than themselves.

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“We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should

be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission

in this world – to glorify God by preaching the

Gospel – in word and deed.”

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The sad fact is that their isolation only rejects what God has for them and preserves their reputation as being holier-than-thou types who look down their collective nose at anyone not as holy as they are. This should never be.

Distinct from the World – In not Of

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To be IN but not OF is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.

This approach is a bit trickier than the isolation approach. To be in but not of the world recognizes seemingly contradictory positions: we are distinct from the world yet we are in it. Think of it as being distinct from the world but not isolated from it. Christians should be different – perhaps even stand out – in a crowd. But the important thing here is that we should be in the crowd. Lets take a look at Jesus.

With whom did He dine? Sinners and tax collectors.

To whom did He grant forgiveness? Prostitutes, thrives and murderers.

With whom did He die? Convicted felons.

Clearly Jesus was in but not of the world. He definitely was a distinct individual. And it is this approach I think He was praying in John 17.

To be distinct but in the world means we don’t adopt the ways of the world. We should never be confused with a non-believer. But the reason we should be distinct is as important as being distinct.

Our distinctiveness should never be based solely on our words – though we should definitely speak boldly about Christ. No, our distinctiveness must also include our actions. The manner in which we live must reinforce what we say we believe.

We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission in this world – to glorify God by preaching the Gospel in word and deed. Are we doing that well? Are we doing that at all?

Current events (in America at least) seems to indicate that we have becomes a bit too cozy with the world. We no longer forcefully speak out about morality in our leaders. Its even worse than that – we openly embrace and defend someone who is about as immoral (perhaps amoral) as possible. But this person says the right things…he blows our dog whistle and we run to him, fawning over him.

He does so much that is right is the new mantra. So many Christians overlook behavior that is definitely not Christlike, behavior that would require a raining down of condemnations if the person was anyone but our guy. This is sad and disappointing.  Perhaps these Christians should reexamine their relationship to the world.

To live in, but not of, the world is difficult – thats the point of Jesus’ prayer. Regardless of the difficulty, may we all reevaluate how we are doing in this area and improve where necessary.

 

Stocking the Cupboard

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what!

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

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

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

Every Good Gift

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

 

The Intimidator

nehemiah wall_final 

 When we do the work God has called us to do, we will have people opposed to us.

 

Serving God is rarely easy. It is sometimes dangerous. Our faith shines when times are bad, not when the times are good. You see it is easy to be brave when the weapons are in the armory. But when the weapons of our enemy are  pointed at us, well, things change. Fear creeps in. Questions like “Did God really, REALLY, call me to do this” rise up. We wonder. We think. Sometimes we pray. Most often we plan. Most of the time we try to get out of the sticky situation. But we’ll see here in Nehemiah that there really is only one thing to do when we are opposed because we are doing God’s will. Let’s see what God has for us today.

When I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.” But I said, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered   his  prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me. Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me. Nehemiah 6:10-14 NASB

 

The Intimidator Begins

Shemaiah claimed to have received a prophecy from God (v. 10). This false prophet claims to have hidden knowledge. Some suggest that the phrase “who waas confined at home” suggests this man thought himself as prophet. Others suggest it means that he was somehow crippled and could not leave his home, or he had imprisoned himself to demonstrate his (Shemaiah’s) life and Nehemiah’s life was in danger. This last view makes the most sense to me. This Shemaiah character had access to the Temple which makes some to infer that he was a priest, perhaps on good terms with Tobiah. Whatever his connection, the text demonstrates that this guy is just bad news.

So what does Shemaiah suggest? Well he simply states it here (my paraphrase): “Nehemiah, we are in trouble with a capital T. We need to take cover ’cause there are folks wanting to kill us” This seems like a good plan considering the threats and taunts Nehemiah has received in the near past. But Shemaiah goes even further and suggests that they take refuge in the Temple. Hmmm. I’m not so sure about this.

Nehemiah, after hearing the invitation to the Temple evidently detected something wrong. But why? Well the Temple could be a place of asylum where the one hiding in it would be protected from those desiring to hurt him. That makes good sense to me. But not to Nehemiah. Why? Well Nehemiah smelled a rat. And he was no coward or one unwilling to face down those who opposed God’s work.

We must stand God’s ground in God’s strength.

 

The Man of God Stands

Nehemiah asks a rhetorical question “Should a man like me flees” Of course he was looking for the answer to be “No!” He went on to say he would not take refuge in the Temple. Nehemiah resisted the urge to leave the work God had called him to complete. And that is difficult to resist. Seeking self preservation is a strong urge in us humans. But Nehemiah didn’t seem too affected by it. Why is that so?

Look folks, when we do the work God has called us to do, we will have people opposed to us. We will live with threats and intimidation. We will be encouraged to hunker down and seek cover. But that is precisely the wrong attitude! When we are faced with these difficulties, we should – no, we MUST – stand our ground. It is not us the enemies of God are opposing. They are opposing God HImself. And if we identify with God, how can we ever seek protection from the threats of mere men? Nehemiah stood with God. We need to stand with Him too. Even when the threat is great.

Nehemiah saw through this false prophecy. Nehemiah knew – perhaps supernaturally – that Tobiah and Sanballat had hired Shemaiah for this dirty deed. Nehemiah knew this was intimidation pure and simple. They wanted desperately for Nehemiah to flee. They wanted to give a poor report on Nehemiah presumably to the king and I think the workers. If Tobiah and Sanballat could get Nehemiah to cower in fear in the Temple, he would look both guilty and afraid. Neither of which are good things to demonstrate to those you lead. This was probably their last best hope of defeating the rebuilding effort.  And. They. Failed.

It is not us the enemies of God are opposing. They are opposing God Himself.

The Man of God Prays

Instead of being cowered by fear, Nehemiah towered in prayer. He went to God in prayer in the midst of this frightening discourse and stood firm on God’s integrity. Nehemiah didn’t look to natural resources to get him out of this jam. He didn’t try to reason with this man. He simply said “I ain’t gonna run”. Nehemiah stood firm because he knew that God had brought him to this point. It was God’s ground on which Nehemiah stood. It was God’s will that Nehemiah remained. Nehemiah simply asked God to remember what these oafs had tried to do. I’m thinking it didn’t work out to well for Tobia, Sanballat, Shemaiah and their allies. Nope, I’m sure it didn’t work out too well for them.

This is a wonderful lesson for us. When the enemies of God try to get the Church to cower in fear, we should tower in prayer. We must stand the ground God has given us. Not in our strength. Oh no, may that never be. But we must stand God’s ground in His strength, totally convinced that He will have His will done.

So how are you doing? I have no doubt you have been intimidated in the past. Perhaps it is happening now. Maybe your government is telling you to shut up. Maybe your co-workers are telling you to cool the “religious talk”. Maybe your society – like mine here in the United States – is saying that Christianity is old fashioned and useless. Maybe they are trying  or have already criminalized your convictions. Don’t give in.

 

Stand firm on God’s ground. Don’t hide, cower, or flee. Stand firm my brother. Stand firm my sister. I am praying for you though I do not know your name. Please pray for me. Tough times are here. Its going to get worse. But together – as the family God wants us to be – we must stand God’s ground in God’s strength.

Instead of being cowered by fear, we must tower in prayer.