Saturday, 27 August 2016

We will arise and build

Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me. 
So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”
So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” – Nehemiah 2.17-20

So what did the people do when they were convinced that the hand of God was upon them?

They said ‘we will arise and build.’ But they were mocked by the opposition. In their laughter that enemy said ‘what are you doing? Are you going to rebel against the king?’ They had already said that even if they built the wall it would be so weak that a fox could knock it down.

But Nehemiah would not be rattled. “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us – we will arise and build.’

This spirit of getting up and getting to work is a spirit that God’s people of all generations need to hear. Our task is awesome. We need to be loving people and  sharing the gospel and caring for the poor and supporting the weak and doing all the things that need to be done. It's time that we get up and do it.

Paul worded it perfectly when he said that it was high time to wake up out of our sleep. We are told to ‘work while it is day.’ We are also told to ‘redeem the time.’

God’s work is serious work. People are hurting. People have needs. People need the Lord. Sure, the opposition is real, but let's remember that God’s hand is on is just like it was on the returning Jews.

Friday, 26 August 2016

The hand of our God

Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me. 
So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”
So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.” – Nehemiah 2.17-20

I can't imagine how it must have felt for these folks to return to Jerusalem. Their parents and grandparents would have told them of the great city and the beautiful Temple. They must have thought ‘we are going home’ and everyday looked westward to get their first glimpse.

Then, there it was. Jerusalem lies waste and her gates are burned with fire.

It could have been a desperate time. The people could have been so discouraged that they gave up or maybe even when back to Babylon.

But Nehemiah stepped to the fore. ‘Come, let us build the wall. The hand of God is upon us and we have the support of King Artaxerxes.’

They faced what looked like an impossible task. And even with the king’s support it was a daunting task. More than that however they were empowered and strengthened by the hand of God and that is all the help they would need.

Our world today reminds me of what Jerusalem must have looked like. It is in spiritual ruins. Our task looks impossible. What can we do to reach this wicked world?

It is a wonderful thing to know that we have the same hand of God on our efforts today. As we go out to serve Him we don’t do it in our own power.

We need not be afraid or intimidated or daunted or put off by our task. God’s hand is with us. We are not alone.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Respect for authority

And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.”
So I became dreadfully afraid, and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”
Then the king said to me, “What do you request?”
So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” – Nehemiah 2.1-5

It is easy to forget sometimes that these Bible events took place in real places and real time and with real historical figures. Historians differ on who this Artaxerxes was. Some think he may have been the King of all Persia. Others think he was a satrap, or kind of a local king. It really doesn't matter though. Artaxerxes was a real king in a  real place at a real moment in time dealing with a real Nehemiah.

This real Nehemiah was a captive of the king. His people had been moved 800km from home. No one could have blamed Nehemiah if he hated Artaxerxes and his government. Who would be critical if he had served with hatred and bitterness.

We have however a hint that things were not that way at all. After Nehemiah had heard the news about Jerusalem he was crestfallen. He went to work one morning and Artaxerxes saw the difference.’Why are you so sad?’

For the king to sense this sadness he had to know Nehemiah and that this sad face was unusual. When Artaxerxes asked Nehemiah he spoke with both frustration and respect. Because he did that the King gave him permission to go.

I think there is a lesson here for us. A lot of Christians now think it is acceptable to be rude and ugly and angry toward our political leaders. We think they are fair game for our hatred and vitriol. We can be not only disrespectful, but downright vicious.

The thing is that I can find any support for that. God’s people always have shown respect and honour toward their leaders even when they were under attack and persecution. Sure, Jesus called Herod a fox, but that was God’s judgement on Herod. Unless one of us has godlike knowledge that is not our place.

Peter writes the words ‘honour the king’ in reference to vicious Roman rulers. Daniel spoke with respect to Nebuchadnezzar. I don’t know what makes us any different.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Supplication

O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king's cupbearer. – Nehemiah 1.11

Nehemiah’s prayer not only noted God’s worthiness and the nation's unworthiness, but he also admitted his powerlessness and absolute dependence on God to sort things out. He admitted that there was nothing he could do so it was up to God to do it.

I love those two-fold attitude toward prayer. “Please let Your ear be attentively those who have a heart to fear you. Let me prosper in this effort. Grant me mercy to do something about the mess in Jerusalem.”

After all Nehemiah was a key part of the king’s household. How could all this possibly workout.

Humanly speaking it couldn’t work. That's why Nehemiah threw himself on God’s mercy.

God’s mercy. If we think about it that is all the hope that any of us have, isn’t it? We are sinners saved by the grace of God alone. He doesn't owe us a thing. As recipients of His grace we have access to his mercy that is fresh every day. When we don't know what to do, when there is nothing we can do, there is something we can do. We can go, like Nehemiah, to God on bended knee and seek His mercy for the struggle or the situation or the trial we are facing. We can trust His mercy for the future unknown.

What was going to happen to Nehemiah next? He didn’t know – but he knew he could trust the mercy of God.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Praise and confession

And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. – Nehemiah 1.5-7

As the book of Nehemiah opens we find Nehemiah working the king’s household. It seems like, from our reading, that he was nothing more than a glorified butler, but the position was probably much more than that. As we will see later he was the ‘king’s cupbearer’ which was more of a confidant or counsellor or maybe something like a chief of staff.

While he was there one day a message came to him. The news from Jerusalem was not good. The Temple was built, but the walls of the city were broken down and the people were discouraged.

That had to be heartbreaking. Being far from your people when bad news comes is hard because you are not there and can’t do anything about it. And Nehemiah really felt it.

So he did what he could do. He prayed. And his prayer is a model for us. We could look at a lot of things about his prayer but I only want to look a couple of aspects today and tomorrow.

In this first part of his prayer Nehemiah did two things – he praised God for His worthiness and he confessed the nation’s unworthiness.

That's where prayer starts. When we talk to God we need to remember who we are talking so and approach Him with the awe He is due. He is the great and awesome God and we are sinners who act corruptly. When we keep that straight we realise that God doesn’t owe us anything.

God is there. He is loving and just and caring and compassionate and all that. He desires to help His people. But He owes us nothing.

When we pray let's remember who He is and who were are as we draw to him and realise that the only confidence we have is because of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Monday, 22 August 2016

So we fasted

For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. – Ezra 8.22-23

‘I was ashamed to ask the king for help because I had already said God’s hand is on us.’

Ezra knew the trip to Jerusalem would be a dangerous and arduous one. There were enemies all along the way. It was a journey of almost 900km (550 miles). There were no lay-byes or hotels along the way. Water was scarce.

But he had already told the king that God would be with them. He already said that God would deal with the enemies, so he couldn't bring himself to ask for a guard for the trip.

So instead they decided to fast and to pray.

And God answered their prayer.

I wonder what has happened to prayer and fasting? I never heard about it for many years. Our little church here prays and fasts on occasion, but prayer and fasting is certainly not high up on our priority list.

I think we are missing something when we don’t fast and pray. In happened all throughout the word of God. Jesus assumed we would do it because He said ‘when you fast…’

Ezra and the people faced an impossible situation so they did all they could do. I know that I ought to fast more often in those ‘impossible’ situations. When we have no other solution it's time for fasting and prayer. It's not hard – you just do it.

What kind of prayer and fasting situations do you face today?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

So I was encouraged

Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes. So I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me. – Ezra 7.27-28

Ezra and the rest of the people were longing to go home, even though most of them had never been there. They all knew Jerusalem was where they belonged. The priests made them aware of that and it was close enough in time that they still remembered grandparents who remembered the city. Some of the leaders, like Ezra, were discouraged. Some of the people had already gone back – why were they stuck in Babylon?

But in the midst of the encouragement God sent the encouragement we mentioned yesterday. The king was behind the work and sent his support and his blessing on the mission to go back to Jerusalem.

‘So I was encouraged,’ said Ezra, ‘as the hand of the Lord was upon me.’

God’s encouragement is something every single one of us needs at times. We really mess up when we ignore God’s encouragement and instead get distracted by our own discouragements. God encourages us through His provision. He encourages us through others. He encourages us through bringing us through trials.

My problem is that I get so focused in the world’s discouragement that I miss God’s encouragement. If I focus on my discouragements I will get nowhere.

Lord, help me  to keep my eyes on your encouragements and not my discouragements.