Month: February 2018
Psalm 66:1 (in the NIV) declares!
Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!
Loud, exuberant, whole-hearted praise & thanks to God is always appropriate! A subdued, disengaged time of worship when the gathered church meets, or a worship-deficient personal life-style is just out of place with the reality of who our God is and what He has done for us.
Having re-built the wall, re-populated the city, renewed their faith and their covenant with God, having renewed their contributions to God’s house now it was time for praise and thanks.
Nehemiah and Ezra organise a praise party, a celebration of glorious praise befitting of the exhortation of Psalm 66:2.
Two great choirs are amassed to help in dedicating the city to God. A dedication that was to be full of gladness, thanksgiving, singing & musical instruments… The worship was lead by singers with Jezrahiah as their leader and the time of worship was so great, so gloriously magnificent that the ‘joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.’ (vs43)
Corporate worship is so important to God’s people. God gifts people with singing ability, with worshipful hearts, with skill on instruments and with leadership and the best use of those gifts is to cause God’s people to remember, to reflect and to thank God in songs of exuberant praise that are worthy of our magnificent God.
Oh, how I love to worship with God’s people in moments like this! May our praise, our thanks and our worship in church always reflect our magnificent God, who He is and what He has done for us. I urge you to bring your part every-time we gather – together making His praise glorious! Amen.
In chapter 10 we read all the names of the people who as representatives signed the renwal of the covenant with God. And we read details of how they renewed their contributions, their giving to the temple so that something could happen…
God’s design was always that 11 of the 12 tribes had been given land so that they could work the land and provide for themselves and that they should also bring their tithes into God’s storehouse which in turn would provide for the 12th tribe – the Levites who weren’t given their own fields/lands and so couldn’t provide for themselves but needed to rely on the other 11 tribes as they devoted themselves to serving in worship and ministry.
God’s design was that 1 tribe would consecrate (set themselves aside to focus on something) themselves so that they could serve God and serve the other 11 tribes by ministering to them. And God’s design was that the other 11 tribes would commit to that 1 tribe in providing for them and would benefit from that 1 tribe in that they would be ministered to by that tribe.
God’s design is still the same, some are gifted and then set apart to give all their time to serving God by ministering to His people for their benefit, and those they minister to would in turn provide for them. A symbiotic relationship that serves God’s purposes in all people.
This incredible chapter of Scripture looks back on the story of God’s people from the time of Abraham to the present time of Nehemiah and the story is a remarkable one!
Read through the chapter and make note of every reference to God, every thing that describes who God is, what God is like & what God has done for His people…
What emerges is a powerfully clear incredible portrait of our great God!
Now go back through the chapter and look for every reference to God’s people and make not of how they/we are described…
They were and we too are a weak, disobedient people!
God is so patient with me and with you. God is so faithful and gracious and loving inspite of what we are like. Thank Him and praise Him!
The renewal that started as Ezra read out the from the Book of the Law in 8:1-8 continues into a second day of rediscovering God’s word. In verse 13 we read that a group of people; heads of household, levites and priests got together for the express purpose of studying God’s Word together.
As they do so, they uncover a festival (the festival of Booths/Tabernacles) that had been ignored. It was a festival that looked back on the goodness of God’s care and provision for the people of God during the Wilderness years. They instruct the people to not mourn but to rejoice and to partake in this 7 day festival of feasting, sharing and joyful thanks to God.
So what? What relevance does this have to your life and mine?
Two things strike me from this verses.
1. Reading in Community
This rediscovery of God’s will for His people came about because a group of people got together to study God’s Word together. Historically, God’s word has not been read primarily in private but was more a communal activity.
We find this hard to imagine in our era which has the Bible unprecedentedly available on every device we own, and many believers frequently having more than one Bible in their homes.
There is something powerful about reading God’s Word in community, with others, allowing God to speak to you through others and to others from His Word. I love how this renewal of this festival God had initiated 1000yrs earlier was re-discovered as it were by the returning exiles as they read God’s word, studying it together.
I urge you to, not just read the bible alone, but to find ways to read it ‘in-community’. This will not only stimulate group learning but will also help to keep you from incorrect conclusions as you read and also provides some form of accountability for what you’ve felt God say through His Word.
This is one of the reasons in our church we have a Bible Reading Plan! By doing so, we are creating the context where by you and I can read the same passage in a day and share with one another even if we are not physically able to be in the same room.
You can also read in community, with your TRIO (A TRIO is 2-3 Christ followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church) and or your Community Group.
2. The Ultimate Fruit of Repentance
The second stand out in this passage, is that the re-sensitisation to God’s word, the realisation by God’s people that they had sinned and failed to obey God’s commands did not only result in repentance and contrition.
When we have sinned and we see it, contrition (sadness over our sin) is appropriate but it is not appropriate to stay in that place! Contrition is part of repentance, it makes repentance possible in one sense but for repentance to be complete it needs to make way for the ultimate fruit of repentance which is JOY.
Where there has been true repentance joy is appropriate because having seen one’s sin, and having taken responsibility for one’s sin, and having asked God to forgive you of your sin, and having turned from your way of sin to a new way – then joy is the only appropriate response.
Scripture is clear that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because God is faithful to forgive the repentant sinner, joy is the appropriate response for those who have been forgiven, as joy honours God as having forgiven.
Therefore, to wallow in self-pity and shame does not honour Jesus but rather implies that Jesus can’t or hasn’t forgiven you, or implies that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough or that God has withheld forgiveness from you.
Friend, when we see that we have sinned, wronged God, wronged others, contrition is appropriate but it leads to what is ultimate because of Jesus – the joy of having been forgiven and set free.
So, face up to your sin, be sad about it but then repent and be forgiven and then rejoice in your great Jesus who is able to save you to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Amen.
Wellness is a just modern term for an old idea. Wellness refers to the holistic mental, physical, relational & spiritual well-being of a person. I would argue that the term could also be applied to a group of people – the whole groups sense of stability and well-being in all these areas.
In terms of physical & relational wellness, the people of God in Nehemiah’s time had returned to the Promised Land and to Jerusalem, they had rebuilt the walls together side-by-side in a show of unity and as a result were secure and had rebuilt their esteem before the other nations, relationally injustices had been dealt with through repentance and restitution and yet something was still missing…
As we saw from the previous devotional, Nehemiah clearly had a life-giving relationship with God, but the people’s spirituality, their rhythms of worship had broken down and their lives did not reflect God’s covenant or God’s commandments. So although there was great improvement there was still a need for spiritual renewal amongst God’s people.
Nehemiah chapters 8-12 records the spiritual renewal of God’s people that all started with the reading of God’s word in Nehemiah 8:1-8 by the priest & scribe – Ezra.
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1)
We read that all the men, the women & the children who could understand gathered as a mighty assembly to listen to God’s Word being read out to them all by Ezra. We also read that there was great care taken by the Levites to help explain God’s Word and presumably apply it into the lives of the gathered congregation (vs7-8).
Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (Nehemiah 8:7-8)
Wellness is not possible without spiritual renewal! Jesus urges us to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33) we need a life-giving relationship with Jesus restored in our life if we have any hope of wellness in all other areas.
What we learn from this passage is that wellness requires spiritual renewal and spiritual renewal is founded on God’s Word. Our attitude to and commitment to God’s word is probably the single greatest factor in our spiritual well-being. And so our own personal commitment to the authority of God’s word in our lives, our own reading and obeying God’s word and our listening to God’s word expounded and explained through preaching is crucial to spiritual vitality!
I love how the levites take pains to ensure that the people were helped (vs7) so that the people would understand and be able to obey and apply God’s Word to their lives (vs8). This is the main reason I blog and write these devotionals each day, this is why we have a Bible Reading Plan in our church and this is why when we preach we want to preach from the text, reading, explaining and applying God’s word, not trying to impress or entertain but trying to help people understand and then apply God’s word so that they will be spiritually renewed and inspired to obey God.
Do you desire wellness?
May I urge you to submit to God’s Word in your life, commit to reading, understanding and applying God’s word and then I promise you, you will grow spiritually.
“Then my God put it into my heart to…” (Nehemiah 7:5)
All through this book, Nehemiah’s relationship with God is on display.
Nehemiah has a real life-giving 24/7 type relationship with God. He is constantly shooting up quick prayers, asking for wisdom, God’s intervention, is open to God speaking to him and guiding him. What an appealing picture of what a true relationship with God looks like!
Having succeeded in re-building the walls, Nehemiah is prompted by God to ensure that there is a re-population of Jerusalem and surrounding areas so that the physical city would live again filled with families and all the interactions common to a city.
God prompts Nehemiah to organise and mobilise 42 360 people as life comes back to Judah as God promised it would 70yrs ago way back in Jeremiah 29:1-14;
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
God moved Nehemiah in the courts of Artaxerxes, God answered Nehemiah’s prayers and provided for the re-building of Jerusalem, God helped Nehemiah to lead well, answered his many quick-fire prayers when opposition came & God whispered into Nehemiah’s heart about how to re-populate Jerusalem and Judah in so doing fulfilling a 70yr old promise of God’s…
Nehemiah is not an exception but an example of what your life and my life can be like, what God wants for your life journey as you follow Him. Why don’t you re-set your expectations of hearing God, speaking to God all through your days and seeing God do wonderful things in and through you as a result!
Despite the opposition in chapter 4 & the challenges brought on by the famine conditions and oppression of the marginalised we read about in chapter 5 the work on the wall has continued. As a result, gruesome threesome of Sanballat, Tobiah & Geshem are not happy!
They know that the work on the wall is nearing completion, soon Jerusalem will have been restored and so their influence and ability to regulate and intimidate will have diminished!
So they introduce a new tactic, one far more complex than those that have gone before. Up to now they have tried to oppose using ridicule, mockery, intimidation & threats of violence. These have all been upfront and confrontational in nature.
Now in chapter 6, a new tactic is introduced that is both subtle & difficult to discern at times. Their plan is to get Nehemiah to compromise and in so doing to divert him from his God-given mission. They invite him to a meeting to talk things through.
Compromise is often subtle & therefore can come in under our radar undetected. The request for a meeting may have seemed reasonable at first, maybe meeting would help create an amicable environment in which the building work could continue unhindered.
Compromise is like that, it often doesn’t appear too bad, it might even appear reasonable at first. But Nehemiah’s reply is a model of clarity;
“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”(Nehemiah 6:3)
Nehemiah knew his priorities, knew what mattered most.
As finite beings, if we give ourselves to one thing that means we ignore something else.
So, if I decide to spend 5-6 hours playing a round of golf, by implication I have chosen not to spend 5-6 hours doing something else like spending time with family (unless they were playing with me).
Nehemiah turned down the request for a meeting because he valued his God-given mission higher than anything else! He refused to meet with the gruesome threesome because doing so would mean not continuing the work God had given him to do.
Bill Beckham said; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”
Nehemiah showed what he valued by what he chose to and what not to do! Knowing what we value will help us to avoid sin and self-centred compromise.
In vs10-14 under the false guise of a prophetic word Nehemiah is tempted by Shemaiah to look out for himself and his personal safety, to forget the wall…
Here again we see Nehemiah’s principals coming to aide his decision making process as he responds to Shemaiah with principals stronger than his personal fear of death.
My paraphrase: He says; ’Should a man like me run away? I will trust in God rather than try to save my own life’
Once again, the compromise seems reasonable. Surely God would want Nehemiah to consider his own personal safety? But doing so would have taken him off the wall and would have caused him to compromise & sin by doing what he was prohibited from doing.
More than this, Nehemiah couldn’t enter into the temple as he wasn’t a priest and God prohibited anyone from entering it who was not a priest. So, Nehemiah feared God more than someone who could take his life! More than anything else he wanted to hear God say over him one day; “Well done Nehemiah, with you I am well pleased.”
He valued God being pleased with Him above even a fear for his own life! This kept him from sinning. The power of sin is broken when we realise this: that in God and delighting in God we will be satisfied:
Is there any area in your life where there is temptation to compromise? It might seem reasonable but it will rob your focus from God’s call on your life. Identify the tactic of your enemy and resist like Nehemiah did (6:3).
Do a personal audit of your time remembering that; “We value what we do, and we do what we value”. Do you need to make any adjustments?