Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Seabees - long before the Seabees :-)

And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work. So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armour; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me. – Nehemiah 4.15-18

The Seabees are members of the US Navy whose primary focus is construction. Seabees comes from the initials CB (construction battalion). They are now the United States Naval Construction Forces.

When they were first started the Seabees were not armed. They simply went into war zones to build roads and runways and all manner of construction projects. Obviously it was a dangerous job. Eventually though it was too costly to protect the Seabees with armed troops so the Navy decided to start giving them weapons. They literally dug ditches and drove equipment and hammered nails with weapons in their backs or on their belts.

There is a great film titled ‘The Fighting Seabees.’ The leader was played by John Wayne.

What does that have do with the Jews building the walls of the city? Just read the passage above.

The builders on the wall were faced with an enemy trying to stop them. Just like the Seabees of so many years later some of the men built while others were prepared for war. And, just like the Seabees, some did the building while they had swords strapped to their sides.

I am reminded about the dual nature of our work as the church. Our battle is both physical and spiritual. While we are doing God’s work we had better be prepared to the battle. The only difference is that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal weapons. We fight the battles with pure heart and clear consciences and holiness.

Build God's church by preaching the gospel and loving others. Fight the world, the flesh, and devil through spiritual preparedness. That’s our task.

By the way, wouldn’t John Wayne have made a great Nehemiah in a film?

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

It's just too hard

Then Judah said, “The strength of the labourers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.”
And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.”
So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, “From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.”
Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” – Nehemiah 4.10-14

We have nothing left.
There is so much rubbish that we can’t do it.

The people of Judah’s great mind to work was now discouraged. Things had been going so well. They had seen God work. They knew His hand was on them. They had teamed up and got busy and arose and worked and everything looked fine. But then they looked around amidst the taunting and mocking and opposition and they were ready to quit.

It was too much
It can’t be done
What are we going to do?

I can tell you that I have been there more times than I like to remember. It seems sometimes that every step forward means two back. Satan seems to know just the time we start to get the slightest bit encouraged and he does all within his power to get us down. We get excited about something happening and then it feels just like it did to them. ‘I’ve got nothing left. I’m done. I’m tired of all this rubbish.’

But Nehemiah stirred these folks up.

Don’t be afraid
Remember the great and awesome Lord
Fight for you families and your homes

In other words – don’t give up. Get back into the fight. We can’t afford to leave the work half done.

That message to the Jews is the same message I need today. God help me to stay in the fight.

Monday, 29 August 2016

A mind to work

But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?”
Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.”
Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.
So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. – Nehemiah 4.1-6

The Bible says a lot about work. From the Fall onward work had been a part of what people do. Adam himself had to work the garden in order for it to produce food. The Bible talks a lot about work. ‘Work with your hands that which is good.’ ‘Six days you should labour.’ ‘If a man doesn’t work he should not eat.’ It tells us that when we work we are to work as if we are working for the Lord instead of working for our boss. We are to all we do, even our work, to the glory of God.

Here we see the work principle in action. The people built the wall – at least half way up – because they had a mind to work. Their mind to work came despite great opposition and mocking. It came despite their fears. They decide to work.

Serving God is a bit scary. I think most of us fear mocking and opposition. In our culture the chance that we are going to really face physical danger for being believers is rare. But that doesn't make the mocking and taunting and teasing any easier. But there is still a work to do - just like there was for these folks.

They had a mind to work – and they worked. We can all get excited about the work. We can have the mind to to the work. We can have all the best intentions. But are we going to get busy and do it?

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Everyone did their bit

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel. Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
Also the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, made repairs. Next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs. Next to them Zadok the son of Baana made repairs. Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.- Nehemiah 3.1-5

When you read Ezra chapter 3 at first glimpse it looks like just a big list of names kind of like you might see at the beginning of Chronicles.

But as we read it we see the amazing story.

Then Eliashib …rose up...and built…Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built.. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built…

And so it goes verse after verse. Everyone pitched it to build the wall and do the repairs and they work all butted up against the next guy. No matter what their normal profession everyone did their bit in doing the building. (There is an interesting note that the nobles did no work. I’m not sure what to make of that).

But for the most part the integrity of the wall depended on everyone doing their part. If anyone let down or failed there would be a breach in the wall and it would be open to the enemy.

This is kind of teamwork that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12.  Every member of the body has their own job to do. If one member of the body fails something does not get done. If we don’t all do our part there will be a chink in our armour.

In Ephesians Paul actually speaks of the church as a building where all the parts are ‘fitly joined together.’ Everyone has their place.

We are not all meant for the same job in the same place. Everyone must do their part, not someone else's. Only then can we be about doing God’s work properly.

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


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.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

God given wisdom

And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them. Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment. – Ezra 7.25-26

With all these exciting stories it is sometimes easy to forget that not only did he Jews have enemies in Jerusalem, but they were already living amongst the enemy in Babylon. Most of them had never known freedom. For decades they had been trying to live as God’s people in a foreign land.

Some of them lived and served amongst government officials. Some even served in the government. The developed reputations based on their testimonies. They had become a part of culture and society there in Babylon.

But still they needed to go back to their land. They may have been well treated captives, but they were still captives. They lived as strangers in a strange land.

While they were there they made an impact. People saw their faith in God and they saw the kind of godly character they had.

Here King Artaxerxes had issued a decree that Ezra be permitted to return to Jerusalem with another group of exiles and reestablish worship in Jerusalem. The King was very generous with funds and support.

Toward the end of the letter Artaxerxes addresses Ezra himself and acknowledges that Ezra had ‘God given wisdom.’ Artaxerxes takes it a bit too far when he issues a law that involved the death penalty for anyone who did not follow God. There is however no doubt that Ezra’s faith and God given wisdom and testimony had a huge impact on this powerful king.

The people around Ezra knew that there was something special about him. They knew, including the king himself, that his wisdom could only come from God. Do people even notice the difference in us as we live as strangers in a strange land?

Friday, 19 August 2016

To do it

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. – Ezra 7.10

The altar was established. The Temple was built. Now it was time for the spiritual rebuilding of the land and Ezra was the man for the task.

As leader Ezra knew how to ready himself for the task.

He prepared his heart to seek God’s law.
He did God’s law.
He taught God’s law to the people.

I can’t think of a better pattern for spiritual revival be it for a person, a church, a nation, or anything else. We can and should pray for God to stir us up and revive us, and indeed there will be no revival without His doing that.

But I think we also have a part and our part ought to look a lot like what Ezra did.

First of all Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord. We all know that anything we do for God must start in the heart. We have to fix the inside before the outside can change. All that we do comes from the heart. Our heart reflects who we really are. If we only fix the outside then there really is no change. If only the outside is fixed then nothing is really fixed.

And then he did what we should with the word of God – Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of God and he did it. The preparation is vital – but if there is no doing the seeking does no good. Going to church, studying your Bible, listening to sermons, attending Bible studies are all good. But we have to do for it be be effective.

And then the future – Ezra taught the people. Just like Ezra we have to teach. If we don’t teach it dies with us. Paul knew this when he told Timothy to take the things he had learned and to pass them on to faithful men so they could them to other faithful men.


Sounds like a plan.

Thursday, 18 August 2016


Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. – Ezra 6.21-22

It is a tough call to try to live in this world and not be a part of this world. We have to live here. We can’t crawl away in a hole someplace or gather together in a cave and ignore the fact that the world is here. We have family and friends and co-workers and neighbours and associates that we see every day. We can’t just withdraw from the world.

And that is not want the people did here. They were in the world but they had learned to separate themselves from the filth of the nations in order to seek the Lord God. In the world they were not of the world. They were in the world but the world was not in them.

Of course we are ‘go out from among them and be separate.’ That’s clear from God’s word. We need not let the filth of this world corrupt us. We have to separate form it. When Jesus prayed for us He did not pray that God would take us out of the world, but that He would deliver us from the world and its sin and filth.

These Jews could not seek the Lord while defiled by the world. They had to choose one or the other. And so do we. We can’t seek the Lord while allowing the filth of the world to impact our lives.

At the moment I am preaching about the time Paul was all alone in the pagan city of Athens while he waited for the rest of the missionary team. He had a couple of choices. He could have just given up and joined in with the life of the city. He could have just become angry and attacked the people. But what he did is what we should do – he simply preached Jesus.

That’s how we respond to the world. We don’t get involved with the wickedness and we preach Jesus. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

God wasn't done with them

So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. – Ezra 6.14

The word of God has great power to work in the hearts and minds of God’s people. After Haggai and Zechariah preached the people built. Not only did they build but they prospered through the preaching. Not only did they build and prosper but the finished the work.

These folks had a renewed purpose. That alone is encouraging because it reminds me that God isn’t done with us when we get off track and our fervour dies off. I know several people who were saved young, got distracted by the world or their or flesh or the wiles of the devil, but eventually came back to the Lord and did an amazing job serving Him. When I was first saved I was really excited about my salvation and loved telling people about the Lord and fellowshipping with other believers and serving God. However, I slowly fell back into my old ways. God would have been justified in just casting me off, but He didn’t. He was there and after about eighteen months He drew me back to Him. Since then my days have not been perfect, but I feel like I have generally prospered in serving Him.

When we blow it, get off track, and backslide lets remember the nation that laid God aside for fourteen years but returned to the work and prospered. Let's also think about those who may be in that same situation and pray and love and be there for them.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

They could not make them quit

But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius. Then a written answer was returned concerning this matter. – Ezra 5.5

Once the people got going they were really going. With the encouragement of the prophets and the knowledge that God was with them. The opposition was still there after fourteen years. But now, they were determined and they could not be stopped.

I really like this kind of determination. I am a sports fan so have been watching the Olympics off and on. The other day a British distance runner was tripped and fell. He was the favourite. Instead of filling off the track and twisting in agony he simple rolled back into a run and went on to win the race. I have seen some videos of runners who battled pain and weariness to get to the end of the race. These folks had a race to run and they could not be stopped. I like the determination that says ‘you’re not going to stop me’ and keeps on keeping on.

We all face those challenges. They are times when we feel like we have just had enough and the enemy tries to discourage us and we think it would be so much easier to stop. Why bother with prayer and Bible reading? Why bother with church? Why bother with telling people about Jesus? Why bother with holy living? Why not just go along with the crowd and quit trying so hard?

Because it is worth it to keep on going in the long run. Because in the long run everything that seems so dear and so precious is going to be gone. For those of us getting on a bit eternity is becoming more and more real.

We can’t quit now. The finish line is in sight. Let's not let anything make us quit.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Back to work

Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them. – Ezra 5.1-2

Fourteen years. That's a long time for a building site to go untouched. We have a planned shopping mall right in the middle of our town that was started before the Celtic Tiger ran off in fear about eight years ago. It is a horrible eyesore with graffiti and rubbish and grass and weeds and all kinds of filth. It is a blight on out town and three massive cranes mar our town outline because it was cheaper to just store them here than to move them.

But the Temple foundations had lain untouched for fourteen years. I can’t imagine what our abandoned mall site will look like in 2022. It must have been as discouraging for them, more so because that was God’s work. There have been all kinds of talks about what to do, but still it sits there getting worse and worse.

Just like Naas, Jerusalem needed some kind of motivation – but they got it. God sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to preach to them about getting back to work. Haggai mostly preached about getting priorities right and Zechariah mostly preached about the importance of the Temple for the future of the Jewish people and the preparation for Messiah.

And it worked. When Haggai preached everyone got busy and went back to work and got the Temple built. They famously ‘considered their ways’ and got moving.

I don’t suspect that God is going to send a Haggai and a Zechariah to tell Naas to get busy and finish that shopping mall. I am however concerned that you and I need the same challenge when it comes to dealing with priorities in our lives. Where on our list of priorities is living a life that pleases God? Maybe at some point serving God was number one but we have ‘left our first love.’ Maybe all kinds of rubbish has collected in our lives that we need to deal with.

Maybe, as Haggai said, we need to consider our own ways and get back to the work of building our lives for the glory of God.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The work stopped

Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. – Ezra 4.24

Sometimes the discouragement and opposition and fear and despair and disappointment just get to be too much. That's what happened here – the work in Jerusalem ceased. It wasn’t just an overnight date. The worked stopped for fourteen long years.

Fourteen years is a long time. Day after day the construction site would have looked worse and worse. Dust and dirt and rubbish would have gathered there. It would be overgrown. Everyday when the people walked by they would have seen the result of their stopping the work.

Quitting can have devastating effects as it did here. Once we quit it is really had to get back on track. Sometimes we never get back on track and our efforts are wasted. To be honest the only time we ought to get is when we are on the wrong track to start with.

I wonder if Paul was thinking about this when his missionary team was suffering intense opposition. Something motivated him to say, in the midst of the severest battles, ‘seeing that we have this ministry we will not lose heart.’ He also wrote later on that we ought not be weary in well doing because when the time is right we will reap if we don’t give up.

These folks had forgotten the words 'be not afraid and don’t be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you.’ Let's be warned by their example and keep on keeping on.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

We alone will build

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, - Ezra 4.1-4

Like any work for God the building of the Temple was bound to bring opposition. But is it interesting to see how this situation played out.

The first thing that happened when the building started was that the local came and offered to help. ‘Let us build with you’ they said, ‘we seek your God just like you do.’

It seems kind of strange that the response to their offer was ‘You will have nothing to do with our work. We alone will build the house of God.’

Then of course the people of the land hassled and harassed the people of Judah as they did the work.

Let's go back. Why would the Jews refuse the help of the locals? Why didn’t they let them help? They would have had a easier time building and it might have brought some kind of peace among them.

They principle is that if they had allowed the local people to help them it would not have been their own. The local people would always have laid claim that the temple was as much theirs as it was the Jews’. These people had already opposed the work so it was clear that the motivation was not right. God’s people needed to depend on God, not on their opponents.

I think there is a picture here of something that has happened in a lot of places. In many countries Christians have enjoyed having governments and societies on their side for a long time. Pro-Christian laws and tax benefits and such have been great, but they have brought a problem. We have learned to be dependent on their help and support.

Things are changing now and we don’t like it. It has been nice having the world help us do God’s work. Now that laws are changing some folks go so far as to call it persecution because we don’t have things as easy as we once did. We've been spoiled.

We need to remember these Jews. The refused the help. They had great opposition. But when they got the work done they knew it was they had done it with God’s help and God’s help alone.

Friday, 12 August 2016

In my day...

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off. – Ezra 3.12-13

I’m not an old guy yet. (I keep telling myself that in hopes that I can convince myself of it)

However I was saved as an adult and I have been saved since February 1974. I was living in Alabama though I was going to college in Pennsylvania. Alabama in the mid 1970s was the belt buckle when the American Deep South was the Bible Belt.

I remember city-wide revivals. Though I wasn't saved yet I remember when shops closed all day Sunday and then closed at noon on Wednesday so folks could go to mid-week prayer meetings. I remember when ‘everyone’ went to church on Sunday and Wednesday. I remember that cultural values matched up with Bible values. I remember when laws protected Christians. In those days and in that place there was a lot of excitement about being a Christian and one could hardly be blamed for thinking we were going to bring in the millennium all on our own.

Of course, there was a lot of delusion and rose tinted glasses, but still those days can seem like the ‘good ole days’ and we look back almost with wonder.

So it's not too surprising that us old timers don’t get too excited these days when we see the ‘little’ victories and ‘small advances.’ I’ve not only changed times, but also cultures so it is somewhat easy to look at things and almost have an attitude of ‘well yeah, that's great, but in my day…’

That's kind of where the Jews found themselves here. It is somewhat surprising that we see the reaction to the completion of the Temple when we remember the celebration after they laid the foundation. They had laid the foundation of the Temple and were well on their way to restoring worship. The same problem is going to crop us when the Temple is done.

How it must have felt to be excited about God’s work being done and have a bunch of old people crying because it was not like the good old days. How discouraging to have your praise dampened by nostalgia.

Those of us who are getting that little bit older must not ever be guilty of dampening the fervour of young believers who are excited about what God is doing today because it is not like ‘it was when I was young.’

Let's rejoice together at what God is doing today. God is at work and He is still worthy of praise.

Thursday, 11 August 2016


When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. – Ezra 3.10-11

The rebuilding of the temple was both a physical and a spiritual work. While the builders laid the foundation the priests and the Levites worshipped God and gave thanks and and praise to God for what was being done. It was a time of great celebration. The workers and the priests and all the people praised God together ‘for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.’ They sang with joy and shouted wth a great shout when they praised. The foundation was laid – they were well on their way.

It is exciting when there has been a great victory won and a great work has been done. It is a praiseworthy time and people ought to shout with a loud voice because of what God has done though His people.

The work was not done though without everyone working together. The priests and other spiritual leaders did their work and the builders and construction workers did their work and the job got done.

We are not going to get anything done today unless everyone pitches in. The preachers and missionaries and others must do their work. But unless everyone is in their place through the week reaching out to those in their homes and estates and jobs and clubs and sports teams and wherever else our work of bringing men to Christ is not going to get done.

The work of the church is a team effort. Everyone must do their part.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Even though fear had come

And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening burnt offerings. – Ezra. 3.1-3

It is amazing how little things really change. The Jews went back to Judea to rebuild the temple and to rebuild Jerusalem. That sounds fine, but there was a problem. There were other people there as well. There were people there who were descendants of the people who have lived there since the time of the Canaanites. It is not too much of a stretch to equate the situation then to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians today.

So with that in mind try to imagine how the Jews must have felt when they went back. Most of them had never been to Jerusalem. Though they were captives they had become comfortable there by the rivers of Babylon.

But their fear did not win out. Though fear had come upon them because of the people of the lands they set up the altar and restored worship to the Lord.

It is still a fearful thing to serve the Lord in this corrupt old world today. People aren't going to like it when we do what God wants us to do. But that fear is not from God and sometimes we have to act even when we are afraid.

Fear is a crippler. It is a paralyser. How do we defeat fear and move on. Defeating fear requires faith. ‘When I am afraid I will trust you’ the word of God says. To serve God our faith must be stronger than our fear.

Be strong and of good courage, don’t be afraid is so true. But sometimes even when we are still afraid we need to exercise the faith to keep on going.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Lord stirred his heart

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. – Ezra 1.1-3

God is going to accomplish His purpose. We can get the idea sometimes that if we don’t sort things out, especially in politics, that somehow God’s plans are going to be thwarted.

Decades had passed since those sad words had been written ‘till there was no remedy.’ Cyrus was now king of Babylon. He was not a Jew. Up until this point there us no indication that he had any interest in the Lord.

But this is not the first mention of Cyrus. A full 150 years before the Prophet Isaiah has prophesied that God would use Cyrus to deliver His people. That’s right, 150 years before Cyrus was born Isaiah called his name and said that God would use him to restore the nation.

So the book of Ezra opens with the exact same words as 2 Chronicles closes with. God, to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy, stirred up the heart of King Cyrus. He stirred up Cyrus’ heart to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and to release any Jews who wanted to go to return.

God’s work was done and Cyrus, who at least acknowledged that the Lord was God, gave glory to Him.

God did what He said He would do. He said He would use Cyrus and He did. ‘The heart of the king  is in the hands of the Lord.’ God can do what He wants no matter who the rulers are. That is a blessed though in these troubling days.

Monday, 8 August 2016

TIll there was no remedy

But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. – 2 Chronicles 36.16

Over and over again God had put up with unfaithful kings and unfaithful people and cycles of repentance and falling back into sin. Good king, and bad king. Sin and repentance. Follow God and follow false gods. Listen to the prophets and ignore the prophets. And so it went year after year after year.

But finally God had had enough. The people had mocked the messengers and despised His words and scoffed at His prophets long enough. The wrath of God arose against His own people and there was no longer any solution. It was done and God allowed the nation to be carried away into Babylon. God was gracious and patient, but eventually sin was going to take its toll.

God’s spirit does not contend with man forever. He is just and righteous as well as loving and gracious and patient. One day God’s judgement will come. One day the world will be done making the messengers of God. One day the world will be done despising His word. One day the world will be done scoffing at God’s prophets. Then the wrath of God will be poured out and there will be no earthly way out.

But God does provide a remedy today. The remedy He provides today is the free gift of salvation through the blood of Christ.

The day of God’s judgement is coming. This time there is a remedy. We had better be about sharing that remedy with the world.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Cleaning house

Thus Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not depart from following the Lord God of their fathers. – 2 Chronicles 34.33

We’ve mentioned Josiah back in the 2 Kings’ account of his life. Every time I read about him though I am more and more impressed by the kind of boy and man he was.

When it came time to clean things up Josiah didn’t do things halfway. He removed ALL the abominations. He had ALL who were there serve the Lord. He did not depart from the Lord ALL the days of his life.

Josiah was not a guy who did things half way. When he decided to lead the country to follow God He was serious about it. He got rid of everything that did not belong.

That's really God’s desire for us today to. When we follow Him we ought to strive to clean house just like Josiah did. Most of the time though we are like the rest of the kids. We do right, but… Or, we follow the Lord except in the matter of…

What kind of things do we hold back in the dim recesses of our heart? What are those pet sins we can’t quite see to get rid of?

Josiah is our example. Maybe it's time for you and me to clean house like he did.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

In his affliction

Therefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon. Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. - 2 Chronicles 33:11-13

You would think that as bad as Manasseh was God would have ignored his pleas for help, but God was still there for him when things went disastrously bad. The Lord allowed the Assyrian army to come and take Manasseh into captivity. These were vicious people. When they took captives they bound them hand and foot and then they used flesh hooks to keep them from escaping.

So now, when Manasseh ‘was in affliction,’ he implored God and humbled himself and prayed and when he did all that the Lord listened and heard him and restored him back to Jerusalem.

It was only then when Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Just think of all the trouble he could have saved himself if he had obeyed God from the very start. God is gracious and patience and full of mercy. He is the Father waiting for His erring children to return.

When I look at Manasseh and all that he had done and remember that God was still willing to restore him I am encouraged that God is surely waiting there for me when I slip and fall. He is still my Father and I am still His child.

But think of the problems we could save ourselves if we didn't wander in the first place.

Friday, 5 August 2016

They would not listen

And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen. – 2 Chronicles 33.10

Manasseh was not a good guy. He kept ignoring God and His ways. He did nothing about the problem of false gods. In Judah’s dark days Manasseh did nothing to alleviate the darkness.

Because God loved His people God spoke to the king and the people. Here was their chance. God spoke to them so all they had to do was listen to God and obey His instructions and everything would be fine.

So God spoke, but, in what must be some of the saddest words ever written, they would not listen.

As parents and grandparents we would be uncaring and unloving to not speak to our children when we see them going the wrong way. While they are young we have more control on what they do with it, but as they get older all we can really do is to speak. That's not pushy. That's not butting in. That's the loving thing to do.

But, of course, they don’t always listen.

We can be the same way with our heavenly Father. He tells is all we need in His word. He gives us all the answers. He shows us the results of our choices. When we don't listen, how can we blame Him?

We have a God who communicates with His people. He doesn’t leave us in the dark. The problem is that sometimes we don’t like His answers so we don’t listen. Maybe we ought to do more listening and less try trying to make our own plans work.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Pride and humility

In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death, and he prayed to the Lord; and He spoke to him and gave him a sign. But Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up; therefore wrath was looming over him and over Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah. - 2 Chronicles 32:24-26

Hezekiah was like a lot of us. He had a roller coaster kind of relationship with God. One of his problems was pride. He would get in trouble, get things right, get in trouble again, get right again, and so on.

Here is an example. Hezekiah was sick unto death so he prayed. God heard his prayer and answered. But Hezekiah didn’t repay God’s favour and he got lifted up in his pride again. Then, as God’s wrath loomed Hezekiah again humbled himself and God  held off on his wrath.

I am reminded of God’s patience when I read things like this. I don’t know if I would be as patient with me if I were not me. Like Hezekiah I fail over and over and over and yet every time when I repent God restores our precious fellowship.

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Hezekiah is a picture of how that can often be the same person.

Thank God that He is patient enough to put up with us.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Strengthening words

 “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah. - 2 Chronicles 32:7-8

King Hezekiah was a good leader. He found his nation in trouble. The enemy was at the gate. There was trouble all around – and, of course, the people were afraid.

So the King addressed the people’ be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or dismayed by the king of Assyria. Don’t be put off by his mighty army. There is more for us than there is for him.

Hezekiah reminded them that while the king of Assyria had ‘the arm of flesh’ Judah had the Lord to help them and fight their battles.

And the people were strengthened by Hezekiah’s words.

These are discouraging and scary days. It seems today like the enemy is at the gate. Evil is everywhere and it would be really, really easy to get discouraged. It seems like the arm of flesh is so strong and that the multitude is so mighty that we are overwhelmed and dismayed by all the bad.

It's easy for us to get down and join in the chorus and woe and gloom. We can forget that we have hope. Not only that our victory is already secured through Jesus Christ.

Like Hezekiah our words ought to strengthen the family of God instead of weaken it. We ought to encourage, not discourage. We ought to be edifying instead destroying.

By the grace of God may you and I be strengtheners by our words and glorify God in our speech.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Great joy

The whole assembly of Judah rejoiced, also the priests and Levites, all the assembly that came from Israel, the sojourners who came from the land of Israel, and those who dwelt in Judah. So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven. - 2 Chronicles 30:25-27

‘So there was great joy in Jerusalem…’

What was the source of the joy that was greater than any joy since the time of Solomon and the building of the Temple. The joy came from the fact that Passover was observed and worship was restored and they prayed and God heard their prayers.

True joy, the kind of great joy talked about here, comes from worshipping God and being in true fellowship with Him and with other believers.

Sunday morning started badly for me. I woke up with a terrible sense of oppression and foreboding. I couldn’t shake it. I texted the men in our church and asked them to pray for me and then battled my feelings and emotions until time for church.

But when we got there and the service began that heaviness slowly but surely was replaced with the joy of the Lord.

That’s the way true joy is. True joy is not based on feelings or circumstances. It is not based on how things are going. True joy comes in doing what is right, obeying God, and being with God’s people.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Single minded

So the runners passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun; but they laughed at them and mocked them. Nevertheless some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the Lord. – 2 Chronicles 30.10-12

It is obvious that the best way for any group of people to be successful they need to be united. A house divided against itself surely cannot stand.

The runners who were sent out by Hezekiah to try and turn the nation back to God were mostly rejected. But a few from a few tribes did humble themselves and come t to Jerusalem for the Passover. Those who did had a ‘singleness of heart’ to obey the king and submit to the word of God.

It's this singleness of mind that caught my attention. It is something that transcends Old and New Testaments. We read things like it is good that men should dwell together in unity. We also read that double cord is strong but a triple cord is nearly unbreakable. Jesus said that a house divided against itself cannot stand and President Lincoln much later said the same thing about a divided America.

But I think my favourite passage about unity is from the book of Philippians. Paul is stresses the importance of believers having one mind when he says: ‘ Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfil my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.’

So how do we achieve that like-mindedness? Paul writes in the same context ‘let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.'

Think about it. If we all have the mind of Christ we will all have the same mind. And the wonderful bit is that that same mind will be the mind of Christ. Imagine a church where everyone has the mind of Christ. If everyone did that there would be no selfishness, no self-centredness, and no greed. Instead the spirit of agape would be the thing that untied us and gave us a single mind.

So strive for unity, not division. That doesn’t mean we compromise truth – it means that we lay aside our petty preferences for that single, Christ-like mind.