When Fear Collides With Faith

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

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

The Restoration of the Sabbath

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages

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

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

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

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

The Summation of Nehemiah’s Actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Remember us God, for good…

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.

A Six Pack of Promises

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If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

I remember when I was growing up that I wanted to have what is termed “six pack abs”. Do you know what I mean? That term refers to one’s ab muscles being so well developed that they look similar to six individual muscle groups – a six pack if you will. Well needless to say, I’ve never quite developed those abs. I have 2 liter abs right now. My abs look like a couple of liters of soda rather than anything that resembles a six pack. But oh well.

We continue in chapter ten experiencing a number of promises the nation made to God. Now remember that they have committed in writing to these promises. Actually, they committed to keep these promises to God. And boy are they serious. These folks have had enough of wishy-washy thinking. They not only said they would keep the Law in general terms but now they are spelling out exactly what they mean. And these terms are specific. These promises, unlike my abs, were well developed and stood out from their previous behavior. These promises would definitely qualify as a six pack…a six pack of promises to God! (All verses are taken from the New American Standard Bible)

 

Promise to be Pure

and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.

Now on the surface this looks kind of odd. And I guess it really is. In the Law, Israel was forbidden to intermarry with any of the nations, regardless of the physical beauty of their people or the standing in society. This was done to keep the nation’s blood pure and dedicated to the Lord. Here the nation recommits to keep that alive. They are refusing to allow daughters or sons to be given to (or take) a husband or wife from any of the nations around them. This was a heavy promise to make. There was a limited number of brides available in the nation. But these folks decided their promise to marital purity was more important than convenience.

Promise to Keep the Sabbath Holy

As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

Every seventh day, the nation was supposed to cease from labor and take a day off. They weren’t supposed to work at all but take time from their labor. Likewise, every seventh year they were supposed to allow the land to take a rest from it’s labor of producing crops. So the people had to trust that the sixth year would yield enough food to last them for two years. They had to trust. They needed to have faith that God would meet their needs.

Evidently they had been neglecting these commands. They were not trusting, they were not believing that God would provide for them. But now, after God so magnificently provided all they needed to rebuild their wall and the Temple,  they made a promise to show the faith in God they should have been demonstrating all along.

Promise to Tithe

We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood among the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law;

Now this is a big bite of verses to cover. But the gist of it is that they decided they wold renew their pledge to give as the Lord demanded, not how they felt like doing. Now look what they are promising to do. They promise to give for the showbread, the continual grain offering, the burnt offering and so on. They were pledging to take care of the Temple and the needs for the sacrifices that were deemed necessary. Now understand this; this promise wasn’t cheap. This was an expensive promise. I’m sure they intended to make good on it.

Now why do all this? They were obviously convicted about their past conduct. They knew that the Temple needed these things. Instead of withholding them or simply ignoring them, they decided to to explicitly state that they would fulfill the needs as required by the Law. These folks were serious, weren’t they.

 

Promise to Keep the Sacrifices

and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the Lord annually, and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God. We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God

Again, here is another very expensive promise. The nation is promising to bring the first of everything to the Temple. There are no leftovers here! They are bringing the first fruits of the field, their herds, their flocks and every bit of what they have. They are bringing the first of it all, not what is left over.

God is serious about being first in everything – and rightly so. The nation, in their rebellion, had decided to make Him somewhere down the list of priorities. He didn’t like that much…actually He didn’t like it at all. So the nation learned a hard lesson. And now they are pledging the first of everything. The best. The very best for God.

 

Promise to Provide

the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns. The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers.

These promises have to do directly with the Levites. Now the Levites, in case you don’t know, were the priestly class of people. Their only job was to minister in the Temple. In fact they could not do anything else. The people of the nation were to provide for them. This didn’t always happen and the Levites were challenged to either starve or break the Law. Guess which one they did? But it should have never been that way. If the people had taken things seriously, the Levites would have always had their needs met. There would have been no conflict.

But the people didn’t always provide as they should. This caused a domino effect to happen. The nation’s adherence to the Law crumbled and so did the nation. Now  the people appear to be serious about providing for those who minister in the Temple of God.

Promise to be a Steward

Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.

This promise looks small in comparison tot he other ones made in this passage. Perhaps this is the biggest one. It is at least the one that encompasses all the others. The people simply stated “We aren’t going to ignore Your house anymore, God.” And by not ignoring His house, they pledge not to ignore Him. How refreshing that must have been for God to hear these words. His people have decided to return to Him.

They decided that He did know best. They decided that He is right – all the time. They decided that His way is the only way to live.

 

So what does this have to do with us, the Church? While we are definitely not under the Law, we can learn a few things about living for God instead of ourselves. When we place God first in our lives, all other things pale in comparison. Money, position, future wives or husbands don’t really matter. All that matters is our commitment to God. Oh sure other things still occur, but their relative importance is in proper perspective.

If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

How are you doing with this? Is God first and foremost in your life or is He somewhere else on your list of priorities? How is your commitment to supporting your Pastor? Helping at church? Are you willing to do some work around the building and give money so your Pastor can dedicate himself to studying and preaching the Word of God?

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.

True Compassion

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and compassion

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

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

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

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

When there were idols

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

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

When they wandered

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

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

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

When they complained

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Following God’s Provision

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

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

Supernatural Guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supernatural Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Supernatural Provision

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mad About You

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

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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.