Saturday, August 31, 2013

9/1/13- Putting our Honor in God's Hand

Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.

So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

Thoughts: Nehemiah 3 was about building up the wall all around but only to half its height at first.  When the haters of Nehemiah mocked them, they had a long way to go.
Yet Nehemiah did a very god-like thing- he asked God to defend them instead of making a verbal defense or starting a war.  Sanballat had threatened them, rousing up his army and giving reasons to go to war, but Nehemiah simply called on God and continued the work.  He had a prayer that was similar to an imprecatory Psalm.  Some would say it is mean-spirited.  But the essence was just for God to not be merciful to them.  Nehemiah was aware that every day we need God's forgiveness and mercy for our guilt and sins.  None of us are perfect or righteous.  Mercy is not something we deserve- it is not something that is rightfully ours.  Nehemiah is asking God not to go the extra mile for people who are despising His glory and His people.  Remember Nehemiah was not calling on his friend the king of Persia to save him and his people- though he could have rightfully done so.  He was not gathering his own forces for a preepmtive attack on Sanballat. Rather Nehemiah was calling on God to revenge him and was in effect turning the other cheek.
When people oppose what we know is God's will, we do not need to attack them verbally, financially or any other way.  But put them squarely in the hands of our defender and let Him be the judge.
Because of this attitude the people worked with all their heart.  They knew from this opposition that the wall was necessary.  Often in the middle of a project like this we see the real need that we could not see before.  

Prayer: Lord, may I see you as my defender.  I put my reputation and honor into your hands today and every day.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

8/31/13- Opposition to Rebuilding

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews,and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Nehemiah 4:1-3)

Thoughts: Whenever something good occurs, including something that seems as good as just rebuilding the wall of a city for its own safety, there are often objections, opposition, and animosity if not hostility.  Nehemiah did not focus on the opposition's arguments or their presence.  Instead he focused on the work.  In football there is a lot of trash talk that discourages or tries to get an edge- but the best answer is the answer shown on the field.  Nehemiah doesn't argue with the scorn (4:2 and 6:6) of Sanballat and Tobiah or their plots.  He just keeps on going with the work- sometimes posting a guard or encouraging the people to have a shovel in one hand and a sword in the other.  The work of the people of Jerusalem continuing and finishing is the best answer to those opposing him.  Doing what we know is good and the will of God- is not easy in this world.  But the same God who gave Nehemiah and the people strength and focus can give us strength in focus in answering our call to Him.

If you look at how they ridiculed Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem, you see some common patterns of what people do today. 
1) He criticized in the company of "yes" men.  His army and his nobles would not object to this criticism of the next kingdom over.
2) He mocked their strength- calling those who were building- "feeble"
3) He named their dreams in a mocking way- restore the wall, worship God, finish quickly.
4) He exaggerated their goal- "finish in a day"  of course not.  Even work blessed by God must take time and effort.
5) He asked, "Can they bring the stones back to life?"  Stones are not dead or alive.  While some of the limestone was burned and probably cracked, not all the stones were unusable.  
6) Tobiah criticized the quality of their work as if they were wasting their time. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to not listen to the voices of those opposing me as much as listen to your voice.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

8/30/13- Lift Up Your Heads You Mighty Gates

28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. Next to him, Shemaiah son of Shekaniah, the guard at the East Gate, made repairs. 30 Next to him, Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. Next to them, Meshullam son of Berekiah made repairs opposite his living quarters.31 Next to him, Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and the merchants, opposite the Inspection Gate, and as far as the room above the corner; 32 and between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and merchants made repairs. (Nehemiah 3:28-32)

Thoughts: The repairs continued going all the way back to the Sheep Gate up north.  The gate of the east (vs. 29) was the golden gate that the Messiah was supposed to go through (Ezekiel 43:4) and was the gate Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday from the Mount of Olives and straight into the Temple courts (Lk. 19; Mk. 11).  Ezekiel prophesied that this gate would remain shut after God entered through it (44:1,2).  Today the Muslims have walled up the golden gate that Jesus entered through. It appears that people made repairs in front of their own house for the most part and others filled in when there was no house owner to repair the wall.  Chapter three completes a circle of the new city Nehemiah was walling in.  It was not nearly as big as the old, and not nearly as big as Jerusalem in the time of Jesus or the current city of Jerusalem (see picture below.  But the beginning of the wall enabled the existence of the city.  If there was no wall around that small section of Jerusalem then, Jesus may not have entered into Jerusalem 400 years later.  The work we do today has consequences far beyond what we will see.  

Prayer: Enter into my heart, Lord Jesus.  May my heart be an open gate for you.  

(Above the Golden (Eastern) Gate to Jerusalem- walled off now). 

Click here to hear "Lift Up Your Heads O Ye Gates" by George F. Handel

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

8/29/13 Fulfilling the Dream

22 The repairs next to him were made by the priests from the surrounding region. 23 Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. 24 Next to him, Binnui son of Henadad repaired another section, from Azariah’s house to the angle and the corner,25 and Palal son of Uzai worked opposite the angle and the tower projecting from the upper palace near the court of the guard. Next to him, Pedaiah son of Parosh 26 and the temple servants living on the hill of Ophel made repairs up to a point opposite the Water Gate toward the east and the projecting tower. 27 Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel. (Nehemiah 3:22-27) 

Thoughts: It is too easy to skip over this section because the names are hard to pronounce.  But this is not like the genealogies of 1 Chronicles.  There are lessons here about how to work, how to succeed, and how to honor God, even how to fulfill a dream.
    Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's march.  There has been a huge change- evident in the south- from 50 years ago.  As Lewis said, people can "go where they want to go and be what they want to be, and eat where they want to eat."  There are no black and white bathrooms.  There was a dream fulfilled, and it is still being fulfilled.  The people in Jerusalem had a dream of escaping the ruins and disgrace of their city.  Nehemiah is about their fulfilling that dream.
    Jerusalem and her security was so important that others who did not live in the city helped build the wall.  So the priests from the surrounding region helped with the build.  True, if there was another major invasion, they would probably seek shelter behind these walls that they were helping to build.  But for day to day protection, they were not there.  On the other hand, there were many who built the section of the wall next to their house.  It is clear that the writer (maybe Ezra?) did not want to divide the people up into those who lived in the city and those who did not.  Rather he took it one section of the wall at a time all the way around. 

     One other interesting point here is found in verse 27.  The men of Tekoa were the ones whose nobles refused to work (3:5).  But they didn't let their leader's bad example keep them from the work.  They even repaired another section of the wall.  It is an exceptional thing to not be discouraged by poor leadership- but it is even more exceptional to turn that around into doing more work than expected. 

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to not let the failures of some keep me from doing what you want me to do.  Let me follow your example, O Lord.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

8/28/13- Repairers of the Wall

17 Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district. 18 Next to him, the repairs were made by their fellow Levites under Binnuison of Henadad, ruler of the other half-district of Keilah.19 Next to him, Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section, from a point facing the ascent to the armory as far as the angle of the wall. 20 Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 Next to him, Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired another section, from the entrance of Eliashib’s house to the end of it. (Nehemiah 3:17-21)

Thoughts: In contrast to the nobles of the small town of Tekoa (who refused to work) were rulers of districts and half-districts who worked hard and oversaw the work themselves.  The word "repaired" (hehezik in Hebrew) implies that the walls were not completely torn down, and that they were able to take stone already quarried and put them back up.  Another phrase that bears examination is "next to him."  Often soldiers say that in the heat of battle they were not fighting as much for a cause or for their country as for the person next to them.  Having someone working at the same time, in coordination, begins a sense of comradery and  teamwork- a synergism takes place.  As Ecclesiastes 4 points out- two are better than one.  The Levites were working, the politicians were working, the skilled and unskilled were working.  Doubtless the economy of Jerusalem came to a standstill.  They did not have time to gather crops, sell goods, wash clothes, do chores. But everyone dropping everything to do this important work, added to the energy and strength.  
    One note- Baruch "zealously repaired" the wall leading into the high priest's house (Eliashib).  Perhaps he wanted to do this for the Lord and his high servant.  We need some really zealous people to inspire us to answer God's call to us well.
     We do not have a contractor's account.  There are no figures about how much stone was brought in, or how much mortar was used.  The concentration here is on the willingness of the people to respond to God's call.  In the end- it does not matter how tough the work was, but that we did the work for the Lord. 

Prayer: Help me to be a repairer of broken walls.  Help me to be one who builds up and does not tear down.  Use me, Lord, for your glory. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

8/27/13- Named Helpers and Givers

The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah—Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth—places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section. 10 Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house, and Hattush son of Hashabneiah made repairs next to him. 11 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.

13 The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah. They rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place. They also repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Dung Gate.

14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Rekab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors with their bolts and bars in place.

15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallun son of Kol-Hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah. He rebuilt it, roofing it over and putting its doors and bolts and bars in place. He also repaired the wall of the Pool of Siloam, by the King’s Garden, as far as the steps going down from the City of David. 16 Beyond him, Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of a half-district of Beth Zur, made repairs up to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool and the House of the Heroes.

Thoughts: There are ten gates mentioned here.  This stands out not as just a mention of the topography of Jerusalem, or even as a list of givers and who's who, but as a record that the work was important and so many took part.  This is Nehemiah's naming opportunity fulfilled.  The Bible doesn't have a real problem saying who God used to do something. The plaque was not on the wall, but their names were in the Bible. It list names not giving glory to that person but in giving glory that God used them.
    Some things stand out about this list.  These were not skilled carpenters or stone masons.  Goldsmiths (jewelers) and perfume makers were building the wall (3:8). They believed God would help them do it- not that they already knew how to do it. It is a common held tenet of believers that if God calls us to do something He will equip us and help us get it done.  We need to believe that today.  
     The women (3:12) took part in the work- which was an unusual admission in the Old Testament. But God calls all to help glorify Him.
      Many people worked on the part of the wall that was right outside of their house (3:10, 28).  They knew the wall would help them.  

     Some of the people didn't even live there. Some lived in a different region- Trans-Euphrates (3:7).  So there were some who took part in the work who would not directly profit from the work.  Today, part of the selfishness of our time, we are taught to ask, "What's in it for me?"  For believers, the question is redesigned: "What is in it for the glory of God?"  Even secularists see that it is good to plant a tree even if you may not live to sit under its shade.  The Church succeeds when her people do the great work of God sacrificially.  The Church fails when we are nominal, and we do not live our faith out.  

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to be used by you to do your work.  Open doors for me.  Give me the grace to go through them relying on your power and ability.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

8/25/13- Pride and Refusal to Take Part

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Nehemiah 3:5)

Thoughts: In contrast to the high priest and chief priests working on the sheep gate (3:1), the "nobles" of the small town of Tekoa didn't want to work under their supervisors.  Perhaps they felt they were superior to this kind of work.  The idea of not putting their shoulders into it is the image of oxen who withdraw from their yoke.  This is to their shame, and they are the only ones who felt they were too good for the work.  Some indicate that these "little lords" also did not support the work with their funds.  It is a very sad thing when God calls people to a great work, and they feel that they are too good to take part.  No question that they doubted God's call and the priority of the work over their feelings.  The unity of the city, the unity of the people of God, and the unity of the building of the wall was disrupted by the pride of these no-named "nobles" or leaders of this small town.  If everyone takes part and answer God's call to the great work, it is a testimony to those on the outside and brings joy to those on the inside.  

Prayer: Help me to hear your call and respond.  Keep my pride weak and my awareness of your will strong. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

8/25/13- Starting the Work

 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zakkur son of Imri built next to them.

The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs.
(Nehemiah 3:1-4)

Thoughts: The first work recorded was done by the religious leaders- with the High Priest leading the way.  Religious leaders are not simply to inspire with words, but also with their example and hard work, showing their own motivation.   It would take the work of everyone.  All needed to work together on this project.  The priests, the nobles, the governor, the soldiers.  No one got a pass.  The best projects of the church are poured into by all the people.
     It is also important that we note that they fixed the most vulnerable sections first.  The gates were the most attacked parts when a city was invaded.  The northern section of Jerusalem was the most vulnerable with little geographic barriers.  There is no command to do the hardest- most important- work first, but it certainly makes sense, and could be an example to follow.  So take on the hardest part first and it is down hill form there.  

Prayer: When you call me to take part in something for you, Lord, help me to do my part and to face the toughest challenges head on.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

8/24/13- Facing Criticism

20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:20)

Thoughts: Nehemiah did not argue with them.  He could have easily pointed out that he had the king's permission in writing and even the king's soldiers.  Instead, he calls on God publicly to grant them success.  It becomes a matter of defending God's glory now.  In the end, if we do anything worthy of being called a success, God needs to be in it, and we need to depend on Him to make the project work.
    The governors of neighboring territories, and the Samaritans who lived in a neighboring land had no right- no historical or legal right to claim the land for themselves.  That would like someone in Canada telling South Carolina how to protect herself.
    Opposition to God's work is not necessarily because the opposers have a right to criticise or a better idea.  Many are great at tearing down with criticism, but not building up or saying how to do something constructive.  Be on the side of those who are actively trying to bear fruit for Christ- no matter what the criticism. 

Prayer:  May I focus on you, Lord, more than on the critics of life. 

(Nehemiah writing Sanballat)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

8/23/13- Blessing of grandchildren

Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
    who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
    blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
    within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.
Yes, this will be the blessing
    for the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion;
    may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
    all the days of your life.
May you live to see your children’s children—
    peace be on Israel.  (Psalm 128)

Thoughts: Today my second grandchild was born.  It is amazing that someone just by existing can be such a blessing from God.
    The Psalmist above defines blessing.  it is not by how much you have- but that certain things happen.  You reap what you sow- eating the fruit of your labor.  Your wife will be a blessing to you.  Children will be a blessing. The people of God are doing well in your lifetime, and you get to live to see your children's children- your grandchildren.
    Today I count it as a blessing fulfilled.  It is not a blessing deserved, but nonetheless I will take it as one of the great blessings in life.  Before 1915 the average male American lived until they were 45.  To live long enough to see your grandchildren is a super blessing.  The family, the ability to eat well, and the church are the three primary blessings.  I have enjoyed all three tremendously.  I am truly blessed and truly grateful to God.  

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see your blessing.  Bless me continually that I may be a blessing back to you.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

8/21/13- Getting to the First Step

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace. 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (Nehemiah 2:17,18)

Thoughts: Nehemiah said, "the trouble WE are in."  Nehemiah could have easily stayed in the palace of the richest and mightiest king of his time, but his faith and his love for his people would not let him.  Nehemiah did not want to be in disgrace, and did not want his people to be in disgrace.  He associated himself with those who needed to do the work- getting on their level.
     When the people came back from exile some years before they started building the Temple but then stopped and only proceeded when encouraged strongly by Haggai and Zechariah.  But they never really spent a great effort to build the wall.  They apparently had become happy with the status quo and comfortable in their ruins.
     Nehemiah inspired them urging them to build to escape their disgrace to which they had become numb.  He also told them about how God was with them in this project, already working and opening the doors, by opening the heart of the king to provide timber for the gates.  The pump was primed and the people began to respond.  Sometimes the church needs impetus to move forward off the plateau.  

    The people agreed to begin to build, and then they took the first steps of building.  It would be finished in record time despite opposition.  When we associate with people, encourage, and inspire them with what God is doing, the great work begins.  The longest journey begins with the first step.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to see what needs to be done, and encourage and inspire me by putting others in my life to get me going.  Help your church to begin to bear fruit for you again.  

(Ruins of Temple wall in Jerusalem today)

Monday, August 19, 2013

8/20/13- Evaluating the Situation

11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate.16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

Thoughts: To do things properly we need to evaluate the situation.  We need to ask what really is the problem, the weakness; where is the strength and energy that drives what is going on.  One globally popular TV show is "Undercover Boss"- which involves the CEO of a company disguising and working as an everyday employee of their own company.  It allows them to see weaknesses, and how people really feel, and to be sympathetic to their own employees.  Nehemiah did not gallop into town with guns blazing and assignments rifting off of his tongue.  Rather he went and listened.  He went at night when no one could see what he was doing, and looked long and hard at the demise of his city and his people.  
     To do anything positive, we have to first evaluate what is going on realistically and not romantically.  We need to look at the cold hard facts, and see what can be done to fix things.
      Today, the churches that are full of skepticism and quasi-pride, are often the churches that are plateauing.  It is perhaps as simple as this- churches who believe are growing, and churches who doubt for the most part are shrinking.  The crisis of the church is a crisis of faith.  We should not wish for "the good old days" when the church ruled (Constantine-like), but we should wish for God to use us as mission-lights shining in the secular and skeptical darkness.  The virus and poison of doubt and quasi-pride are destroying the church.  We need to humble ourselves as little children.  This does not mean we need to become naiive or unintelligent, but it does mean to trust God in simple, humble faith.  

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to see clearly what is going on around me so that I may discern what your next step is for me. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

8/19/13- Opposition Begins

10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. (Nehemiah 2:10)

Thoughts: Why would anyone really object to Nehemiah's trying to protect his own people?  Believers should have a right to be safe and defend themselves. This is true today too. This past week 70 Christian churches were burned in Egypt.  Persecution of believers in Christ occurs- simply for believing in Him and wanting/inviting others to follow Him as well.  Last year about 160,000 died worldwide for faith in Christ. In the instance recorded in Nehemiah opposition came from the desire for total control, and that there be no allegiance but to their government.
   Sanballat was the Persian governor of Samaria.  His opposition probably fanned the flames of prejudice that were present in Jesus' day between Samaritans and Jews.  In this book Sanballat opposed Nehemiah time and time again.  There is archaeological evidence of Sanballat's existence (Elephantine papyrus).  Tobiah was probably a worship of Yahweh and was governor of Transjordan (East Jordan).  Their opposition was probably an effort to preserve more of their political influence.  A weak Jerusalem meant more power, influence, and money for the territories/satraps around them.
   From another angle, whenever something really good is attempted, we should expect opposition.  We see this from the Bible (Jesus' ministry is a prime example of gentle goodness being opposed), and from history.  Nehemiah was determined and would not let criticism or opposition stop his resolve to serve God and His people.  When we know that what we are doing is right, and is clearly in God's will- having tested it with scripture and godly counsel, then we should not let opposition discourage or surprise us. 

Prayer:  Lord, let me do your will, even in the face of difficulty, criticism and opposition.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

8/18/13- Real Planning

Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

Thoughts: Nehemiah was really wanting to build the wall in Jerusalem.  Here the king of the mightiest empire was giving him a chance, and wanted to know if he has thought through this.  The practical plans take place after the prayers have been prayed and the need perceived deeply.  A schedule was asked for, the route was planned, materials were gathered, and protection was given.  But Nehemiah was very aware that everything was working out because "the gracious hand of my God was on me."  Without God's blessing we are spinning our wheels, walking through quicksand, or wasting our efforts.  In the end it is not the task that is nearly so important that we do with our lives, but the way we find God's blessings and favor.  

Prayer: Help me O Lord, that you gracious hand may rest upon me. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

8/17/13- Confidence in God and God's Ability to Use Us

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
(Nehemiah 2:4-5)

Thoughts: The cupbearer- who was not a builder- believed he could build up the city of Jerusalem and thus the church of God.  Confidence is one of the first steps to success.  Confidence is faith that you can do something.  For believers that confidence is not just in our own God-given abilities- but also in the God who gives them.  For God not only gives us all we need to fulfill the calling He gives us, He also goes with us into that call.  Nehemiah knew that he may not know what it takes to build, but the Great Architect and Builder was with him to see him through.  

Prayer: Lord give me confidence without pride.  Give me humble confidence in you. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

8/16/13- Preparing for the Next Step

 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, (Nehemiah 2:1-4)

Thoughts: It was four months after the original report that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were destroyed.  Nehemiah had been praying or planning for this moment.  Nehemiah was normally a cheerful and jovial guy who the king wanted to be around.  Nehemiah was not planning or faking sadness, he was sad deep within.  He was a lover of God and a lover of his country and the people of the covenant.  It is a bit like the Psalm written in captivity that says, "How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?"  (Ps. 137:4).  After 911 hit, it was not easy for many months to be joyful.  We were in a state of grief.  But after four months, it was time to do something.  The question of the king was what is the next step?  It is a question we need to ask when we see the church in shambles.  What is the next step that will stop the problem.  The question should not be asked in one place but in many places.  If every church did its part to witness, to make a difference, to help the needy, to stand up boldly for what is right- and not get sidetracked by petty squabbles, then we can turn things around.
    But Nehemiah's response was not a quick answer- even after thinking four months.  His response was to ask God for wisdom and help.  If we are to fix, to build, to bear fruit, to succeed- then our first step, second step and every step should be to look to God.  

Prayer: Help me O Lord, to feel the pain of your church, and to look to you to show us the next step.  

(Artaxerxes I- King of Persia who spoke to Nehemiah)