Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Nehemiah 13:10-13

Ten years had changed many things. Tobiah had moved into the temple property, and the storehouse had been converted into bedrooms for him and his family. With a righteous indignation, Nehemiah drove the scorning enemy out of the temple and out of the city.
As he came to the fields outside the city, Nehemiah noticed that the Levites and the temple singers were in the fields tilling and sowing. Their job was to oversee the ministry of God’s house, not to work in fields. They were called to do a specific job, and others were to provide for their needs, but since no one had provided them with food, they had been forced to sow and harvest their own crops. This meant that there would be times when the workload was so great that no one would be doing the functions of the temple. There would be no sacrifices for sin. There would be no singing to God. There would be no worshipping God. The ministers would be too busy with the common every day grind of harvesting crops that they would not be able to do the greater eternal work.
Nehemiah rushed into the temple property and called together the rulers of the people. He showed them the dilemma, and re-established the system whereby people would provide for the workers of God. God’s work must get done. People must contribute. God was too great to be ignored.
At times, we get too busy with the menial that we fail to see the eternal. Sadly, everyone becomes so focused on their own goals, that God’s desires are sidelined. The question of “What do you want to do with your life?” has replaced the greater, “What do you think God would have you do?” The temporal is often so shiny and flashy, that our eyes are distracted from the eternal.
Perhaps we need to widen our spiritual eyes. We need to have eternal vision like Nehemiah. We must be able to see the eternal component in all the things we do. We must view our interactions, and our desires as kingdom building, or kingdom inhibiting. God’s ongoing eternal work is too valuable to be forgotten and neglected.

Food For Thought: How can we view our daily menial tasks with eternal vision?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Nehemiah 13:1-9

Ten years passed after the dedication of the city of Jerusalem. For the past decade Nehemiah had been fulfilling his duty in the palace of Artexerxes.
When we arrive at Nehemiah 13, we find Nehemiah taking a vacation back to Jerusalem to see how things had been going.
No doubt, he longed to see God’s people thriving, and worshipping. He looked forward to arriving at the temple to hear the singers proclaiming God’s glory. He longed to hear the bustle and braying of the busy city, as people moved inside the walls of God’s protection that he himself had labored on.
When Nehemiah arrived back at the city, everything seemed as normal. The people hurriedly scurried about the city taking care of their daily business. All seemed well.
But the honeymoon phase didn’t last very long. As he explored the city, it came to his attention that the enemy of God had moved into one of the warehouse rooms on the back of the temple.
Tobiah, the Ammonite scorner from the beginning of the story, had found his way into the city. The worst part of his coming into the city wasn’t that he had sneaked into the city unawares of the priests, rather, the high priest, Eliashib, had invited him in. In “good ole boy” fashion, the scorner had even been allowed to enter the holy temple property. But why? Why would the one whose express job was to maintain the holiness and purity of the property allow someone to come and live there, when not even common Israelites were allowed to live there?
One song writer called it the “slow fade,” – that gradual regressive movement from doing what is right to that place some time later where you realize you haven’t been doing what’s right any more. Often we can find ourselves doing the exact thing that Eliashib did here in the temple property.
We know what is right. As a matter of fact, we have seasons of excited fervor, where we meditate on and celebrate God’s goodness. It doesn’t take too long, and we slowly lose our zeal. The new complacency becomes acceptance, and acceptance is followed by folly. We wouldn’t have dreamed of making the foolish decision in the midst of our God-driven zeal, but after dropping a couple of ice-cubes in the spiritual coffee, that bad decision just felt normal.
But we cannot accept the new normal. We must fight and war for what is right in our lives. With the fervor of Nehemiah, we must drive the spiritual enemies of indifference and complacency from our lives. We must daily with a spiritual vigor strive to purify ourselves and dedicate our lives to God. We cannot afford to become casualties of the “slow fade.”

Food For Thought: In what ways can we find ourselves slowly fading into what is wrong?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nehemiah 12:44-47

As Nehemiah 12 closes, we find a special group of individuals with one of the most thankless jobs. With the goings on of a city, there would inevitably be jobs created that were less forefront and accolade-laden, and more monotonous and laborious. Whether it was the position as gatekeeper where everyone knew your name, or the role of priest where people handed their sacrifices to you daily, or even the singers that travelled around the city, singing praises to God, it seemed like all the parts of the city were highly visible and everyone knew everyone. But there was a hidden cog and wheel job. It was not showy or flattering. Like the gears that drive the hands of a watch, these workers were never noticed, but their work was absolutely crucial.
These men worked in the temple warehouse. Their entire job was to log the gifts for the Levites and place them on shelves in the storehouse. They were not at the front gate of the temple, rather they were behind the scenes. But how important the thankless job was! If it had not been for their diligent labor, the piles of goods and grains that came in would become awkward and inconvenient. The priests who were meant to offer sacrifices would have to stop sacrificing to sort through the pile. The singers whose job it was to constantly proclaim God’s grandeur would have to hush their song so they could find something to eat in the pile. This thankless job may have been unflattering, but it was undeniably important.
And this is how the Body of Christ is. There are seemingly thankless roles. At times, people are enamored by the singers or the ministers who are in front of the congregants or Sunday school classes. At times it seems that there is no other way to serve in a church than to teach a Sunday school or sing in the choir. But this just isn’t the case. There are countless other things that happen behind the scenes at a church. Some people use their gifts to serve (mow the lawn, change air filters, clean bathrooms, change light bulbs, build play sets, run a sound booth). Others use their gifts of encouragement (to say kind words, or write letters, or bake cookies). Others use their gifts of giving (time, finances, goods).
The danger of any believer is to think that if we are not in the limelight, we must not be serving God well. This is just not the case. God is glorified when we are diligent to use the gifts that His Spirit has equipped us with. We have been custom designed for the health of our local church. And just as the warehouse workers were vital to the success of the temple, God wants you to use your gifts in your local church.

Food For Thought: What human tendency do you think plays into our desire to always be in the limelight? How does Galatians 1:10 help shape our thinking in regards to this issue?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nehemiah 12:31-43

Nehemiah wanted the dedication to go smoothly. It required a little bit of planning, but his intentionality was just the way he ensured that things would get done.
All the leaders of the Levites were assembled, and all of the head musicians came together. Nehemiah then started dividing all of the musicians and priests into different troops. They were going to dedicate every square inch of the city, and they would tackle this in differing parts.
This was not new to Nehemiah. As a matter of fact, Nehemiah was most likely borrowing the idea from the first time Jerusalem was dedicated to God under King David, nearly 1,000 years earlier. In that first dedication, David had assigned several groups of priests and singers to walk differing routes through the city so that they might proclaim how great God is, and how willing they were to use Jerusalem to always give Him praise.
Now Nehemiah drew up the order of service for the dedication. His having structure did not inhibit the worship of God, rather it ensured the worship of God. Often rigidity is accused of being the enemy of freedom. Especially when it comes to worship, people are very quick to cast stones at the lack of “wiggle room for the Holy Ghost” in a modern day church service. Some people see the routine of a church service as an impediment to the free working of the Holy Spirit. If they can’t find a problem with starting at a specific time, they will point out that perhaps God didn’t want the service to finish at a specific time. Two songs per service is too few for some, and too many for others. Why do we pray so many times? What is the point of announcing the things that are already in the bulletin? People can often get aggravated with the rigidity of the average church service.
But Nehemiah knew that the people of Jerusalem could be better equipped to worship God. He wanted to ensure that nothing was left undone in the magnifying of God. With deliberate steps of preparation, Nehemiah postured the inhabitants of the city to be able to exalt and praise God well.
At times, we need to be very specific about our personal worship of God. We need to set out specific times and places where we can gaze at His grandeur in the Bible. Perhaps you do not have any set time or place for consistent Bible intake. I strongly encourage for His glory and for your joy that you start today. I would even say, start right now.

Food For Thought: Reread Nehemiah 12:31-43. Read 1 Chronicles 23:5-6. How many groups did Nehemiah make? How many groups did David make? Why do you think the number was different?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Nehemiah 12:1-30

The wall was complete, and Jerusalem was surrounded with a constant visual reminder of God’s protection and provision. The families who had volunteered to move into the city had begun to relocate their belongings, and Jerusalem was quickly turning into a bustling city. For the next several days, the temple musicians began their practices to perfect their singing. Half-choruses rang through the city, as worship leaders honed their choirs into precise praise machines. The temple workers stoked the flames of the altar and the smoke of incense rose again to fill the temple. The gates of the city quickly became the arteries of business that they were designed to be. Porters guarded the gates with a watchful eye, carefully inspecting everyone who came into the city. Jerusalem was great again.
The city had become an emblem of the grace of a Sovereign God. Now, Governor Nehemiah called the people together to dedicate this great city to God. The city had been God’s gift to His people, and now the dedication of the city was going to be the people’s gift back to God. He was the God of Providence, now they wanted to publicly say that they acknowledged this as His great gift and that they wanted to use this gift to worship Him for ages to come.
God had placed something in their hands. They then took an intentional step to offer that thing back to God. They did not view Jerusalem as “their” city. They openly wanted all of the world to know that Jerusalem was and always would be God’s city. So what was their role? Their role was explicitly to maintain and steward what God had given them. It was in their hands, but it had His name on it.
We should have this same view with the gifts that God gives to us. All of our possessions, all of our relationships, all of our opportunities should be seen as gifts from the heart of a loving Sovereign. They were in His mind before they came into our hands. Knowing that every good gift is from our God, we should live in such a way that intimates this reality. From a heart of gratitude then, our words, our actions, our very motives should all point toward the deep inward reality that all is His, even if it may currently be in our hand.

Food for Thought: Read James 1:17. What does this verse say about the gifts that we receive?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nehemiah 11:20-36

God seems to be “pro-music.” At the end of time, Revelation says everyone will gather around God’s throne, and true, deep, heartfelt worship for the great God of all the ages will begin. Singing. Praising. Worshipping. The Lord God Almighty will be praised for His greatness and goodness.
In Ephesians, Paul encouraged believers to minister to each other with spiritual songs and hymns. Singing was to be an elemental component of Christian gathering.
The gospel of Mark records that Jesus Himself led His disciples in a song to finish the last supper.
As if that is not enough, the longest book of scripture is Psalms, literally a book that is composed of worship song after worship song.
The Old Testament is replete with the songs about the victories that God had provided for His people over their enemies.
Music was the way to communicate His majesty. It was a way to remind His people of His splendor. It was a medium to transmit the heart-felt emotion of gratitude for all He is and all He has done.
Job 38 goes on to tell us that singing was even a part of the creation process, as the celestial bodies began singing while God laid the foundations of all things.
Music is at the heart of God’s work with mankind. And it should be at the heart of man’s worship of God. He created us as musical beings, designed to create music, invent and play musical instruments, and even to use our voices as an instrument of His praise.
It is no wonder then that part of the assignment of tasks in the newly established city of Jerusalem was to have families of singers literally singing God’s praise every day. God’s glory was to be echoed by His people, and there was no greater way to do this than the verbal exaltation that the temple singers would bring Him. For nearly a century the harps had been silent. No tambourines or cymbals had sounded out rhythms. No choir had called out God’s name. But now the worship had begun.
We too are designed to create and music and worship God through this means. Whether it is through recorded media or songs from our heart, our God deserves to be exalted with all the sounds of music that His creation can muster.

Food For Thought: How can we worship God in musical ways? List at least three.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Nehemiah 11:1-19

The golden days of laboring together on the walls of the city were over, and now, the people had to move to the every day grind of life. When hand joined in hand, it was hard work, but the sense of community was invigorating. Now the work of daily discipline began. The highlights of celebration would be fading memories.
All the people living in Jerusalem began to fulfill the role to which they had been called. If the city were to survive, it would have to be inhabited by people. However, since the city had been in such disrepair for decades, the population had dwindled to a dismal level. Now, people would be asked to move from their homes in outlying towns and villages, to occupy the city of Jerusalem.
One by one, families volunteered to move their homes and their livelihood within the walls of the great city. Abandoning the land of their fathers, and even of their own financial stability, the volunteers filed into their new life style as citizens of the great city of Jerusalem.
In a culture that thrived on the cohesion of the family unit, this move would have been heart-breaking. Villages that were inhabited by several generations of family members were being asked to send away some of those family members so that the newly built walls could be inhabited.
Although this seemed like one of the most difficult tasks, people willingly sacrificed themselves to the necessity. They viewed themselves as part of something greater than their own families.
In Luke 14:26, Jesus spoke of a similar sacrifice that His followers would have to make, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” With these stiff words, Christ expressed to His disciples the same priority set that Nehemiah was looking for in the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
People had to view their calling as more valuable than their physical relationships. The temporal must take the back seat to the eternal. It was not a call to neglect family, rather, it was a call to put family in the right place on the priority list. And just as the inhabitants of Jerusalem saw the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a higher priority than their own financial success, we too are called to view the desires of God as greater than our own endeavors.

Food for Thought: Read 1 Timothy 5:8. How does this verse differ from what Christ calls us to in Luke 14?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nehemiah 10

After the walls had been rebuilt, and the Law had been read, the people assembled to do the nitty-gritty work of assigning roles and tasks for all of the citizens of the newly established city. A key part of the tasks to be done in the newly built city was the maintenance of the temple and the provision for all of the temple services.
One by one the people were assigned, and families volunteered to take on the roles of service. They viewed themselves as members of a great work that God was accomplishing.
Serving God was not something that they viewed as an inconvenient requirement, but rather, they were thrilled with the opportunity to be fulfilling the role for which God had created them.
Some were supposed to sing, others to labor, but most of them were simply called to give. It was absolutely necessary to show up and attend, but if the gifts of crops, and animals, and wood, and bread dough, and oil, and money did not come in, the temple would not be able to operate.
At times, we can get side-tracked as to what our role in the Body of Christ is. We can view ourselves mistakenly as merely “attenders” of our church.
We may hear of a special day that “our church” is going to have, and we grab a flier to invite someone to come to “our church’s” program. Often we think that because the Pastors or Elders are organizing it, it is something that “the church” is putting on. The failure of this perspective is that it sees our individual role as one of receipt. We view “church” as something that is done to us or for us. We don’t see it for what it really is.
So what is “church”?
We ARE the Church. Everyone who would be called a member of the local body of believers is the church. We don’t attend the picnic that “the church” is throwing, rather we bring food and plates and drinks to “our picnic” that we are actively inviting people to. The church is not a place we attend, it is something that we are.
And with this perspective, we become much more like the people of Jerusalem who saw their roles and volunteering not as an inconvenience on their schedule but as their very identity. It defined who they were, not where they attended.

Food for Thought: In what ways do you serve as part of your church?

Nehemiah 9:4-38 (part 2)

After reading and explaining God’s Word, the priests and scribes called the people to corporate prayer. No doubt the reading of the book of Exodus before prayer helped the people form their prayer to God. No longer was He just an undefined Deity in heaven Who moves in ways that they could not see and could not understand, but rather, He is a God with a pretty consistent character and an unchanging nature.
The stories of the disobedient and ungrateful Israelites in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan must have offered a sense of hope to the ignorantly disobedient immigrants who were now living in Jerusalem.
As the scribe read the story of the forgiveness of God to a repentant people at Mount Sinai, the hearts of these immigrants must have been comforted at the realization that the God they served was truly a forgiving God. They saw that if He could extend mercy to those who so quickly had lost sight of His great hand, He certainly would extend mercy to those who were seeking to do right.
With their perspective shifting closer toward the true reality of Who God is, they now could pray well to God.
At times, our prayer life is tepid or even unbiblical. We have not read enough about Who He is, or what He desires, so that we can pray well. Without a firm understanding of God’s true nature, we find our natural default of prayer to be anything but praying based upon the broad character of God. Instead we fill our times of prayer (when we have them) with a list of grievances that we desire God to fix.
Our desires become the impetus for prayer, not His. It was only when the people heard the law read and knew Who God was that they knew how to pray.
Repentance was a great part of their prayer as well as beckoning for forgiveness. Gratitude was on every other breath as the constant reminder that He was listening and that He was forgiving them settled in their hearts. With a biblical perspective of Who God is, they could pray, and pray they did.
Perhaps we need to take the example of the returned exiles in Nehemiah and look more deeply into the text to get to know our God so that we may pray and pray well.

Food for Thought: What does 1 John 5:14 tell us about praying based upon God’s desires (will)?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nehemiah 9:4-38 (part 1)

For months, the people had followed the crackling, thundering pillar of smoke by day and the glowing fire by night; and just a week earlier, the cloud of guidance poured over a mountain, smothering like a thick blanket. The cloud and fire seemed to engulf and consume the mountain, and all the people were mesmerized by the occurrence.
Suddenly, the air cracked with an ear-shattering thunder as the smoke-layered mountain seemed to roar with a million trumpets. All of the wanderers scattered around the base of the mountain hushed and turned to watch the cloud swirl and slowly settle like a thick fog over the entire mountain.
Moses spake.
The trumpet stopped, and from the mountain came the clear, deep voice of God, “Moses, come up the mountain.”
All eyes turned to Moses as he made his way through the camp and walked into the smoke that consumed the mountain.
A few weeks later, Moses had not returned.
“Aaron, build us a new god.” “Moses isn’t coming back.” “He’s been gone too long.” “Let’s make an idol for the gods that brought us out of Egypt.”
The unsettled and restless people approached Moses’s brother, Aaron. They told him that they had been stuck at this mountain long enough, and that they needed to keep on moving through the desert.
While the testimony of their great God had rumbled in the mountain in front of them, they had missed it. While His goodness had refreshed them with daily provision, they had overlooked it and forgotten where it came from. The greatest One in all the universe was taken for granted by the self-consumed, self-absorbed people He had chosen to be kind to.
Aaron succumbed to the pressure of those around him and fashioned a cow out of donated gold. To make matters worse, he fashioned an altar from which the people could worship the golden cow.
Disobedience and rebellion had taken on a new height. The God of grace and mercy was being tested by wicked, ignorant men. What would He do?

Food For Thought: Why did the people who were receiving God’s provision forget about God? How do we do the same thing?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nehemiah 9:1-3

In his first epistle, the apostle John explains the forgiveness of God this way, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a story of a tax collector who prayed to God saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus went on to say, “this man went down to his house justified…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The Psalmist writes of God’s forgiveness with, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”
Knowing this, why would we not repent of our sins? Why would we not avail ourselves of the forgiveness and mercy that He extends? Why would we choose to hide, or excuse, or ignore, or rationalize, or belittle our sin?
If the gracious gifts of forgiveness and restoration are available, why would we not open our palms to receive them? Why rather, with clenched fists would we go on in self-deprecating sin?
When we read Nehemiah 8-9, we find that the people of Jerusalem are experiencing a revival of repentance. The gravity of their disobedience to the law of God has sparked in them a desire to undo the wrongs. They had praised and worshipped God for His goodness only to find shortly thereafter that even in their praise they had been disobedient to Him. But He is longsuffering and patient.
As Ezra read the law, the people must have been comforted by the truth of God found in the book of Numbers, “The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression…”
If they were willing to repent, He was willing to forgive. What a great God we serve! He is not a “once and done” God. He would be justified if He were, but He is even more glorious because He extends grace and forgiveness to those Who transgress against Him. He holds restoration in a higher regard than punishment. So find restoration today. Whatever thing you are wrestling in your soul, confess it. Ask Him for the forgiveness that He already said He wants to give you.

Food For Thought: Write out a verse and reference that deals with the forgiveness of our God.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nehemiah 8:13-18

Life and hope come from the very words of God, and lasting truth is only found on the pages of Scripture. It is not found in the flamboyant, comical personality of a speaker. It does not come from a catchy tweet, or a quote on Facebook. Lasting life change comes from God and God alone.
God has made Himself expressly clear through Scripture.
The Bible is composed of words, and these words are contained in sentences. These sentences make up paragraphs, and these paragraphs make up larger portions of narrative, doctrine, history, poetry, and even prophecy. When we come to God’s Word, we must read it as such.
It is not sufficient to read a single word and find all the meaning of that one word. If God desired for us to learn the quirky ins and outs of the individual words of Scripture, He would have given us a list of words instead of flowing texts. God also didn’t write the Bible as a great decoder ring whereby word counts and name meanings would reward the most tedious scrutinizer with secrets of the future. Rather, He had His authors pen the Scriptures to present Himself, the Gospel of Jesus, and wisdom whereby we can grow, be helped, and help others.
The Bible is designed to be read. It is a book that when read, brings hope. When understood, brings life. When obeyed, brings joy. And how we read it is crucial.
I heard one author put it this way, “Never read a Bible verse.” The idea being that the context and the flow of a text bring far more to a verse than our own perceptions of what that verse may be meaning.
Ezra knew this when he mounted the pulpit in front of the people of Jerusalem. The text says that he “read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense (or meaning), and caused them to understand the reading.”
Revival and obedience came when people understood the Word of God as it was written. Whether reading it at home or listening to a minister in the pulpit, God’s Word will always be most effective when understood as God wrote it.

Food For Thought: After reading Neh. 8:13-18 today, what was the result of the Jews’ hearing and understanding God’s Word?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nehemiah 8:9-12

Ezra began reading at the beginning of the law. As he read, the crowd buzzed with excitement. “What would God say?” “What had He written in His word?” “What life changing truth would they hear?” With earnest expectation they all leaned in to hear the Words of God. It did not take very long for the smiles and excitement to slowly disintegrate. As Ezra read on and on, their posture shifted. Those that had leaned forward in excitement dropped their shoulders with the weight of what they were hearing. This is not what they expected. They thought they were going to hear the words that would tell them how good they were being, but instead, they found out that they had not been following all of the desires and designs of God.
Joy turned to devastation. Song turned to mourning.
After hearing the law, the Jews began to weep. The gravity of their situation was frightening. They had been inadvertently disobeying the Law of God. Their situation was overwhelming.
Nehemiah stopped the reading and mounted the pulpit. He told the people to hold their tears. They did not need to wallow in devastating guilt. God had been merciful up to this point. He had been longsuffering. He had cared and loved and brought them to this point in spite of themselves, and that wasn’t going to change in this instant.
The worship should go on. It should not be turned to lamentation.
God was gracious and He deserved to be praised. Nehemiah wanted this day to be marked with rejoicing not sorrow. The priests comforted the people with the character of God. It was through God’s grace that this day was even possible. If He was going to judge them, He already would have.
This is the truth of grace: it should bring joy and not sorrow.
The love of a forgiving God should be reassuring not crippling. He is a God that is so great, and so kind, and so gracious that we would only ever want to run to Him, not away from Him.
And daily, we should run to Him. We should be broken for our sins, and repenting, but we should be reassured and rejoice in His grace and forgiveness. We cannot wallow in self-pity or guilt; rather, with joy we should embrace the forgiveness that was accomplished for us in Jesus.

Food For Thought: Why were the people upset? Why should they not have stayed upset?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Nehemiah 8:5-8

Worship is the natural outpouring of inward realities. When you realize that God is great, you will worship Him as such. When you see Him accomplish an unbelievable thing, you will praise Him for it. If you have felt fear and terror, but have been comforted by the security His Sovereignty offers, you will praise Him. Worship is the natural outpouring of the realities of a relationship with a powerful God.
For months the people had been living under the threat of attack, but God had protected them. Every need they had along the way, He continued to provide for. He had given them a humble leader who had led them through some of the darkest days of their lives. God had taken care of His people.
As we get to verses 5-8, the people begin their worship of God. They have been under His protection and provision, and they now have the chance to hear directly from His Truth. So the meeting begins with hands up and heads down. And God was worshipped. This group of ragtag immigrants all hushed as Ezra “blessed the Lord, the Great God.”
He truly deserved to be praised for all He had done. He could have abandoned them. He could have allowed it to be more difficult for them. He could have allowed the neighboring tribes to invade. He could have allowed the work to remain unfinished. He could have allowed disunity to devastate the work. He could have allowed their crops to be ruined. But He didn’t. He was an all-powerful, all-loving God who had provided everything that they needed. Now they praised Him for it.
At times it is good for us to stop and open our hearts to the realities of what God is doing around us so that we can properly worship Him.
He has given us a never-ending list of blessings that we can worship Him for: health, family, daily provisions like clothes and food, friends, forgiveness for our sin, spiritual guidance in His Word, help in weakness, hope in sorrow, unending love and everlasting joy.
Perhaps today you just need to take a moment and with hands lifted and head bowed have a time of worship. The God Who has done all things and provided all good things deserves all the praise we can muster.

Food For Thought: List below some of the things that God has done for you in the past month.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nehemiah 8:1-4

The evening was dark, and candle flames flickered in the upper room. Jesus, the rabbi, and His closest followers sat huddled around a table. Judas had already left the table to “do quickly” what he was planning to do (betray Jesus). Jesus taught His disciples for a little while longer, and the night grew darker. As He finished the lesson, He looked up to heaven and prayed for his disciples:
“I have given them thy word…Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
He finished praying, and they departed for His arrest.
One of the last things He taught during His earthly ministry was that God’s Truth (i.e. the Bible) would be the thing that God would use to sanctify us.
God offers His truth in His Word, and when people realize that they can obtain that truth and wisdom, the excited fervor that overwhelms them is uncontrollable. This explains the explosion of Christianity across Asia and Europe in the first several centuries following Christ’s incarnation. This hunger for truth explains why the access to truth spread the Reformation like wildfire through Europe in the 1500’s and 1600’s.
Truth liberates. Truth invigorates. Truth offers hope. Truth offers direction. Truth melts frustration and confusion.
When we get to Nehemiah 8, we see that the wall had been completed, and the people desired to hear the Truth of God. Ezra the scribe mounted a wooden pulpit to fulfill this task. I can imagine the excitement of the people as they huddled in little family groups to hear the proclamation of God’s word. They must have been filled with hope and joy as they were preparing to hear the words that were from the very mouth of God.
We too have God’s truth. It is contained in the library of books we call our Bible. Page after page, book after book, God has laid out His soul-feeding, life-giving, hope-breathing truth.
With intentionality, and excitement, let us dive into the truth that God has given us. Let us learn of His character. Let us breath in the truth of His gospel. Let us engulf ourselves in the mind-settling theology of His word.

Food For Thought: Read John 8:31-36. What does Jesus say the truth will do to those who obtain it?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Nehemiah 7: 5-73

In Genesis 13, God tells Abraham, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look…for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.“
God always tells the truth. So, what is truth? Truth is the relationship between what is spoken and what actually occurs. Truth is only truth when what is spoken becomes what is.
There are a few characteristics of God that make this possible.
1) Omniscience: God knows everything. (Omni – “all”, science – “knowledge”) This omniscience includes what is called “prescience,” (pre – “before”, science – “knowledge”) or foreknowledge. God is the only one who knows the future. (Isa. 46:10) Because He knows all, and specifically what will occur in the future, every time He speaks about the future, He is speaking from a position where He can see all things as clearly as if they have already occurred.
2) Omnipotence: God is all-powerful. (Omni – “all”, potent – “powerful”) This omnipotence means that God can do anything and everything. Revelation 19 says that God reigns in omnipotence. Therefore, He has the power to ensure that anything He says will come to pass.
3) Holiness: God cannot sin. God is the embodiment of holiness. (Lev.19:2) It is the attribute that adorns all the other attributes. It means that He can only do what is right. It is not an attribute that binds Him to a set of rules, it is an attribute that defines His very nature. It is not that He cannot lie, it is that He will not lie (He would never even desire to).
So God tells the truth. He always, only tells the truth. And when God told Abraham that his descendants would own this land, nothing could stop that.
Nehemiah and the wall builders began the census to count all the children of Abraham that have returned to the land. As the family names are called out through the streets of Jerusalem, the truth of an Omniscient, Omnipotent, Holy God echoes down into reality. He had said they would inhabit, and they now did.
God tells us the truth. We can believe Him at what He says. It is in His very nature to only utter what is true. In Hebrews 13:5, this truth-telling God says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
Let the truth of a Good God breathe comfort into your life today.

Food For Thought: Read John 14:1-6. What does Jesus say in regards to “truth” that points toward His divinity?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Nehemiah 7:1-4

The meeting had been set, and all parties were present. Wu Sangui of the Ming Empire was secretly meeting with the Manchurian King Dorgon. Betrayed by his own dynasty, and exhausted by years of endless warring with the neighboring Manchurians, Wu decided to change his loyalties.
This would not have mattered much if Wu was a common soldier. But this was not the case. General Wu was responsible for the Shanhai Pass. The Shanhai Pass is a massive gate on the Great Wall of China, located 190 miles from the Forbidden City, the headquarters of the Ming Emperor.
Disenchanted by the affairs of his own people, Wu offered to open this crucial gate to the enemy Manchurian army. In a few short days the Manchu invaders had overwhelmed the Forbidden Palace and established the new Qing dynasty. The 2,500 miles of stone wall that the Mings had built for their protection had proven to be only as strong as one of the gatekeepers that guarded it.
As we get into Nehemiah 7, we find that the wall of Jerusalem was completed, and the gates were in place. Nehemiah then chose a handful of men to be “porters” (gatekeepers). Verse 2 tells us that for this role, he discerningly chose “a faithful man, [who] feared God above many.”
Like the Shanhai Pass, Nehemiah’s gate would only be as strong as its guardian. Nehemiah took specific care in choosing whom he would trust with such an important duty.
Just as Nehemiah had to carefully choose the ones who would control the city gates, we too must be discerning when it comes to those we allow to influence our lives. We must guard our affections and motivations. Whether it is friends who offer “good times” in exchange for godliness, or TV programs that offer humor at the expense of holiness, or even peers who offer recognition and acceptance in exchange for our relationship with Christ, we can never be slack in our decision to guard against wrong influences.
The rest of the story: A few years after the Qing dynasty had taken over, General Wu regretted his decision and tried to overthrow the new emperor. However, it was too late. The invading army had become too powerful and Wu’s forces were defeated.

Food For Thought: Read Proverbs 4:23-27. What phrase does Solomon use to describe setting up a “porter” in our own lives?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Nehemiah 6:15-19

It had been the home-stretch. The wall was being rebuilt, and the final wave of opposition had come and failed. Through pressing on in shear obedience, the people of Israel saw God accomplish this great thing in their midst.
They had been told it was impossible. They had been told they could never do it. They had been threatened with shame and even death, but they were undeterred. If they had trusted themselves, perhaps they would have quit, but their hope was set in an all-powerful God.
Paul said it this way, “If God be for us, who can stand against us?”
There is no level of opposition that can overcome an omnipotent God. There is no level of power than can stand against Him. All the kings with all the armies of all the world are like a particle of dust in the hand of a mighty God.
Nehemiah trusted God for the strength to complete the wall. He had trusted God to provide all things that would be needed. He had trusted God to protect them while they were building. He had trusted God to vindicate him when others were lying about him. And the God of Nehemiah’s faith proved to be trustworthy.
“So, the wall was finished,” verse 15 says. This great insurmountable task was completed. The thing that everyone spoke against and said was impossible, Nehemiah and his faithful wall-builders had completed in just 52 days. The God of the miraculous had accomplished great things through humble, faith-filled, weak, obedient workers.
So what is that thing that God has called you to that seems so impossible? Perhaps you have been called to have the right attitude with your peers, or maybe it is that you have to stand for what God desires in the face of scornful, mocking coworkers. Maybe you have a friend or a family member who is not a believer and you just don’t know that they ever will become one. No matter what the insurmountable thing is, there is a God Who dominates insurmountable tasks. A firm reliance in His power, and a willingness to obey His commands can lead to overcoming the impossible. If He desires it, it can be accomplished. And if you are willing, He might just use you to accomplish it.

Food for Thought: How long did it take God to build the wall with Nehemiah and his wall-builders? What can we learn from this scenario?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Nehemiah 6:5-14

Perhaps you have heard the expression, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” When we read today’s text, we find a different expression used by Nehemiah’s enemies, that is just as unbiblical, and used just as much if not more than the statement above, it goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, lie about ‘em.”
Nehemiah had withstood all of the attacks of his enemies. The tactics had changed, but Nehemiah was able to continually adjust his methods and remain unaffected by the onslaught of the enemy. Most recently the enemies had crafted a subversive invitation to Nehemiah trying to prey on the human desire for recognition and prestige, but he had thwarted their plan because he had the character of a godly man.
Now the tactic shifted, and they sent a message to Nehemiah saying they were going to write to the king who had personally commissioned Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem and build the wall. They were going to tell the king that Nehemiah was trying to usurp the king’s authority. They were going to spread evil rumors about how Nehemiah was power hungry and deceitful.
Concurrently with this news, they hired a man who called himself a “prophet.” This man went into Jerusalem and told Nehemiah that Jerusalem was going to be attacked that day and that Nehemiah needed to hide.
This two-fold lie must have been quite a bother to Nehemiah. But his faith never wavered. Very soon, he was able to see through the deceit of the false prophet. Nehemiah could see through the empty threats and deception. He relied on God. He didn’t need the affirmation or acceptance of God’s enemies.
When faced with opposition we sometimes find ourselves accused with a set of lies. This is usually unsettling, since none of us enjoy being lied about. But instead of engaging in a vicious conflict of character-slashing and verbal assaults, with a godly character like Nehemiah, and firm trust in a just God who will judge all wickedness, let us confidently stand our ground. Do not waver in your faith, rather, like Nehemiah, look to God to be your strength.

Food For Thought: What two lies did Nehemiah’s opposition use against him? Why did Nehemiah not get sucked into their trap?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Nehemiah 6:1-4

By the time we get to the middle of the book of Nehemiah, the work God desired Nehemiah to accomplish has been threatened in a number of ways: 1- Nehemiah’s own fear of the king (Neh. 2); 2- The ridicule of an enemy (Neh. 4); 3- The threatening assaults of opposition (Neh. 4); 4- The discontentment of the workers (Neh. 5).
Nehemiah was constantly under attack, and every test, was a test of his faith in God. It was literally an examination of his heart to see if he truly trusted the God Who had called him to this great work.
The tide turns in Nehemiah 6. Those who have opposed him in the previous chapters now seemingly open their arms to embrace him. This would be a highlight of most people’s lives. The governors of the neighboring tribes had sent an open invitation to Nehemiah to come and talk with them.
They were some of the most powerful men in the region, and they had invited measly little Nehemiah to come and talk with them.
At this point, Nehemiah faced one of the greatest threats to his obedience to God – self-exalting, self-promoting pride. It would have been easy to neglect his friends and the workers for a few days, while he travelled to the neighboring towns to meet with such dignitaries, but Nehemiah would not be deceived.
Solomon wrote, “Favor is deceitful.” As a dignitary that understood the power and influence offered by friends in high places, Solomon still said that favor was a thing not to be trusted.
Nehemiah saw through the plans of his enemies. They had been enemies of God all along, and he was not going to entangle himself with them, even if it meant the possibility of becoming more famous or more powerful.
He had his hope set in God. He trusted God to provide all things for him that he needed.
At times, the pursuit of our hearts becomes the very thing that Nehemiah declined – prestige. We seek to better ourselves in the sight of our friends. We want to look a certain way, or talk a certain way, or act a certain way, so that those around us think more highly of us. But pleasing the ungodly is not a great accomplishment, pleasing the Almighty is.
Just as Nehemiah never compromised, and sought only to do what God had called him to, we too should be willing to walk away from preeminence if it is at the expense of God’s desire.

Food For Thought: Reread Nehemiah 6:2. What phrase does Nehemiah use to describe his unsettled spirit in regards to the praises of the other nobles?