Mad About You

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

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

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

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Remembering  God Cares

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

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

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

 

Remembering God’s Actions and Provisions

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

 

You made a name for Yourself

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

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

You divided the sea

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

You hurled into the depths

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

 

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

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

Repentance, Worship and Revival O My!

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

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

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

Repentance

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

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

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

Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revival

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

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

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

God is still God, and I am not.

Crushed and Rejoicing

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

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

Crushed Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebration Day

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort Offered

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

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

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

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

But how?

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

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

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

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

Revival at the Gate

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

 

The Desire for the Law

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

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

They wanted their relationship with God restored.

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

Purposed from the heart

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

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

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

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

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

Response from the heart

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

New Day, Same Routine

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

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

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

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

Moving In, Looking Up

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

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

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

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

Checking the Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Friendly Fire: Handling Internal Conflict Biblically

nehemiah wall_final

 

So where are we in dealing with conflict? Do we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Conflicts are a way of life for us, right? Who among us has lived their life without ANY conflict? The answer is none. So while we will have conflict we don’t have to allow that conflict to divide us or destroy our fellowship. Sadly far too often this division and destruction is what happens. But why? If we are all filled by the Holy Spirit and have the same Savior, why do we let conflict make us into strangers? The answer, to quote Sherlock Holmes, is “elementary my dear Watson”. Conflict divides and destroys because we don’t deal with it in a biblical manner. We ignore it. We sweep it under the rug. We (wrongly) assume that the admission of conflict in one’s life is an admission of failure. In short, we don’t do the right thing when there are problems. And that relatively small problem grows and grows until it explodes. We are then left with a ruined relationship and an astonished look. But really it doesn’t have to be this way.

Nehemiah teaches us here in chapter 5 how to handle conflict. There are six principles I’d like to address that I have gleaned from this chapter. Each one is important enough to stand on its own so I’ll address each one separately. Let’s dig in and learn how to resolve conflict because is we ever want to do the Lord’s work, we must – MUST – resolve the conflicts we have with others in a biblical manner.

 

Righteous Reporting

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.

While chapter four dealt with opposition from outside, chapter five is going to help us deal with opposition from inside.

So what was the complaint? Well, they were being charged exorbitant amounts of money for food. See in v. 2 that they were mortgaging their possessions so that they could eat. These folks felt helpless and some of their children were being forced into slavery because the workers no longer owned their fields because they had mortgaged them to either eat or pay taxes. Pretty tough, huh! But this situation should not have existed within the community there. There were some who were taking advantage of others through high interest rate loans (we find this out later). These weren’t happy campers!

In order to deal with conflicts biblically, those in authority need to know about the problem. That seems obvious but it is overlooked quite a bit. Now here either they told Nehemiah directly or Nehemiah heard about it through the proverbial grapevine. How do you deal with things when they don’t go your way? Do you let the ones in authority know or do you act in a different way? We must remember that when something is wrong, we must address it to those who are in a position to effect change. Nehemiah is a wonderful example regarding how we should deal with conflicts.

Righteous Anger

First he got some righteous anger. Look at the beginning of verse 6 “Then I was very angry…”

This may surprise some of you reading this. “Nehemiah got angry? Really?” You may ask. Yep. He got some holy heat going on. Anger is not wrong (Eph 4:26, 31). It’s the motivation and the result of that anger that controls whether it is right or wrong. Anger that causes one to sin is likely unrighteous. Anger that causes one to act in a positive manner is righteous. To be angry about something that is corrupt, anti-God, anti-Christ is no vice. It may well be a virtue.  When we who know God and are His friend hear His name used as part of a cuss word, how can we not be angry? When we see His word perverted into some weird list of rules one must follow a specific way in order to gain eternal life, how can that not cause some discomfort in the people of grace?

If our anger motivates us to right a wrong, stand up for an oppressed person, or help someone in dire need, that anger is indeed righteous.

Righteous Discipline

The next thing that Nehemiah did was he stopped and thought about his response. He showed some control over his emotions. He showed some discipline.  Look in v. 7 “I consulted with myself…”

Nehemiah took time to reflect on his situation. He didn’t go off and start blasting away at those causing these conflicts. He took some time to ponder the situation and maybe even his response. We’re taught in Proverbs 16:32 that the one who is slow to grow angry is better than the strong ones or the mighty army rulers (my paraphrase).

So are you short-fused or long-fused? I hope you have a long fuse. If you don’t, look for ways to extend your fuse and remember that reflecting on your situation that is causing anger is an important step in handling the situation biblically.

Righteous Confrontation

Third Nehemiah followed the principles of biblical confrontation. You know sometimes when we cool off after being initially hot with anger we can decide to do nothing. But that is exactly the wrong response! Although cooling off is vitally important, we can’t cool off so much that we don’t care anymore.

Nehemiah situation was a significantly sticky one. He had to talk to the rich and powerful folks who were financing the project and providing labor. What would happen if these folks withdrew their support? Well, the facts seem to point to the fact that Nehemiah didn’t worry too much about these complications. He went to the ones causing the problems: “[I] contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!’” Nehemiah confronted those who were part of the problem. We are taught this principle in the New Testament (see Matt 18:15-16). Nehemiah privately confronted these rich men before her did anything in public. We could stand to listen to Nehemiah here. If someone has caused conflict, go to them first. Talk to them before anyone else knows. We don’t know if Nehemiah was successful in this private confrontation. We do know that this confrontation moved on to the public realm because he recounts that he held a “great assembly” against them.

In this public forum, Nehemiah spells out the problem. He doesn’t hold anything back. But notice what he doesn’t do. Nehemiah doesn’t attack the rich for who they are. No, he points out what they are doing that is wrong. He rebuked them (v. 8) and pointed out that their enemies would mock the Jews (v. 9) for the Jews treatment of their own people. Have you ever experienced this in the church? I have. And unsaved folks love to mock us. Oh boy, we should learn how to treat each other so that we would not be the object of ridicule.

We cannot allow fear to keep us from confronting other Christians about their sin. We must be willing to love someone enough to point out where their actions oppress others and cause others to stumble.

Righteous Behavior

The next thing Nehemiah did was that he set an example of godly behavior. He had redeemed (purchased out of slavery) some of the Jews with his own money (v. 8). He loaned money without charging interest (v. 10). He didn’t do this out of pride but as an example of godly leadership. He didn’t use his position or power to extract anything from the people (vv. 14-15), he feared God and genuinely cared for those who were hurting (vv. 15b, 18b), he was committed to the work at hand (v. 16) and he was generous (vv. 17-18).

Do you live your life as an example to others?

 

Righteous Accountability

The last principle is that if we want to handle conflict biblically, we must be accountable and willing to submit to God, His word, and His leaders.  In v. 13 we see that Nehemiah demanded accountability:

I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’

Nehemiah sets the standard here. This was a serious charge before God. Do you think God would shake someone or empty someone easily if that person continued to take advantage of others? Later, in v. 19 Nehemiah asks God to remember him for what he has done. He has no fear of asking God to remember him for his actions. But can we do this when dealing with conflict? Hmmmm.

 

So where are we in dealing with conflict? DO we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Our answers to those questions really determines if we desire to handle conflict biblically or simply expediently.