Dedicating Yourself unto the Lord

 

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel.  - - - Nehemiah 3:1 (ESV)

 

            So finally after months of prayer and planning, a long journey and a brief rest and reconnaissance Nehemiah starts to build the walls of Jerusalem. Well actually he starts at one of the many gates that surround the city, the sheep gate. We too will come to that point when the time comes to finally begin rebuilding from our brokenness.

 

            Like Nehemiah I would hope you have a solid plan in place, you have taken a few days to rest and reassess the situation before you begin the process of rebuilding. Also like Nehemiah I hope you do not waiver in your cause for Christ and move forward with the righteous plan you have laid out. It is what Nehemiah does next and what I believe we should all be doing in our daily walks that I wish to speak about tonight.

 

            Look at verse one with me again. Did you see what is says they did after they built the gate? They consecrated it. That is they asked God’s blessing on it. The Geneva study bible says: In Hebrew they sanctified it, that is, they finished it, and so dedicated it to the Lord by prayer, in desiring him to maintain it.

 

            Now before anyone thinks I am making some weird new idea notion. I am not suggesting that every time you put a nail in the wall to hang a picture or tighten a loose screw you ask God to bless and maintain that item. That is not what Nehemiah and the men did.

           

            I am absolutely suggesting that you dedicate things to the Lord and ask Him to maintain them. An example we are as many of you know constructing a new church building. We are always asking God to bless the work week, we dedicate it to His glory and when the church is complete we will have a “dedication” ceremony asking Him to maintain it.

 

            The idea of consecrating or dedicating “things” unto the Lord in nothing new it is found from the beginnings of the Old Testament. Cain and Abel’s offerings in Genesis Chapter 4, Noah’s building an altar and offering sacrifices consecrating the end of the flood, or the Passover in Exodus Chapter 12. The significance here is most likely because this is the “Sheep Gate” aptly names because this is where the cleaned sheep would enter into the temple for sacrifice. The priests would definitely want this entrance consecrated unto the Lord and as we will read later it is the only one they dedicate.

 

            One of my favorite bible verses tells us that we should always do all things as unto the Lord: Colossians 3:17 (ESV) And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  As we have seen Nehemiah is a great example of this he consistently goes about his daily affairs in a manner that glorifies God all the while giving thanks to God for each thing.  It is this “thing” that is most important for us to consecrate unto the Lord in our rebuilding process; ourselves! It is here in the area of what the bible says about consecrating ourselves unto the Lord that I wish to spend the remainder of our time.

            Leviticus 20:7 (ESV) Tells us: Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. That my friends can be a tall order for anyone, especially if you feel the world has the deck stacked against you as it were. Someone who has been broken and is trying to recover from that brokenness is seemingly at a disadvantage. As I am so, so fond of saying read the book. God never ever leaves us hanging. The very next verse He writes: Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

 

            Do you see it? We are to consecrate ourselves which is dedicating ourselves unto the Lord God. Live a God glorifying life.  But God understands you cannot do it on your own. No he says I am the LORD who sanctifies you. If you get up and try to live for God on your own you’re going to end up working for Satan. You must depend upon God for this rebuilding process and lifelong sanctification (same word as dedication and consecration) to work.

 

            Listen there is no one in this world that is more qualified to help in this process. There is no one in this world more willing to help in this process.  I am reminded of a hit song back in the day called Lean on me by Bill Withers. Part of it went like this:

 

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand

We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem that you'll understand

We all need somebody to lean on

 

            Sounds good right? Now listen to this:

Psalm 55:22 (ESV) Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Answer me this to whom would you rather “Lean On? A friend with problems of their own or the ever present, all knowing, all powerful God of all the Heavens and Earth? You would think the choice would be simple.

 

            But the sad truth is some listening to this tonight or reading it on the web will inevitably make the wrong choice. This brings to mind the often misquoted Philippians 4:13 (KJV) I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. I hope the inflection in my voice (and bold and light print) was a telltale sign of my meaning. I cannot do all things even with Christ in me for I am not God.  Matthew Poole’s Commentary on this verse tells us:  we are not to understand it absolutely, but restrictively to the subject matter he had before mentioned in the precedent verses, intimating he could by the Lord’s help use well both prosperity and adversity: or, all those things the Lord called him to and put him upon.

 

            Another area we must be willing and ready to consecrate is our bodies. 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 (ESV)  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.  Dedicating our rebuilding process unto the Lord must include cleaning up our bodies. Whether it is alcohol, drugs, tobacco or unhealthy eating habits whatever is defiling your body which is the temple of the Living God must be made clean. Again for many this is an often agonizing process, but one that can be overcome but the power of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.

 

            Paul was so serious about this that he practically begs (appeals very similar) in Romans 12:1 (ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Paul says we worship the Lord God by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice.

 

            Lastly I wish to look at the importance God places upon each of His chosen people. Look at 1 Peter 2:9-10 (ESV)  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

            That is some strong language there. Let’s break it down:

1)     YOU are a chosen race; elect of God no other way to get there.

2)     You are a royal priesthood = immediately we become Co-heirs with Christ that’s Royalty.

3)     You are part of a Holy Nation = the body of true believers all worship God

4)     For His own Possession = more accurately purchased for His possession

5)     Our mission = Simple proclaim the Gospel, telling others how He dragged you out of darkness into the light.

6)     I/You were once lost without mercy now mercy abounds.

 

            After all that how could anyone calling themselves a Christian not want to consecrate, dedicate, sanctify themselves call it what you may, unto the Lord. If you are truly born again, regenerated your overwhelming desire will be service to the Lord. All else falls in comparison to the debt we owe. The debt we are incapable of repaying. The love that drives us forward each day as we together with the Lord rebuild our lives in order that we may glorify Him.

 

            If you do not know and understand that love, if you are still lost in the world of selfish sin. I beg you to turn away from those evil ways, repent of your sinful self and let Christ Jesus rule as Lord of your life.

 

In HIS Service

 

Mike

           

           

 

 

             

 

           

 

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Four out of ten “Christians” (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective. A minority of Christians indicated that they believe Satan is real by disagreeing with the statement: one-quarter (26%) disagreed strongly and about one-tenth (9%) disagreed somewhat. The remaining 8% were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan.

Although a core teaching of the Christian faith is the divinity and perfection of Jesus Christ, tens of millions of Christians do not accept that teaching. More than one-fifth (22%) strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17% agreeing somewhat. Holding the opposing view were 9% who disagreed somewhat and 46% who disagreed strongly. Six percent did not have an opinion on this matter.

Much like their perceptions of Satan, most Christians do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living force, either. Overall, 38% strongly agreed and 20% agreed somewhat that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” Just one-third of Christians disagreed that the Holy Spirit is not a living force (9% disagreed somewhat, 25% disagreed strongly) while 9% were not sure.  © The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.

             As the above reference shows we in America have lost our understanding of biblical truths. These truths fall under the doctrine of Sanctification, the biblical term for being set apart by God to God for the purpose of growing on Grace. This is also known as maturing in the faith.

            Today I would like to look at what someone else termed the Seven Pillars of Biblical Truth1. I came across these seven truths and their corresponding verses sometime back on the internet and copied them down as a reminder to me. Unfortunately I forgot to copy the source.

            The first is Pillar is in my opinion the most significant as it states:

[1] I copied this title for an unknown source. I found this on the web some time ago and failed to cite the source not thinking I would use it as a sermon. I have made and attempt to keep the original 7 pillars and their corresponding verses intact and easily identifiable. If anyone recognizes the text and can cite where it comes from please inform me.

 1) Our God is True

So that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us - - - - Hebrews 6:18

            Our God has to be true not just some of time but all the time. This is so essential for His word also says:

Isaiah 45:6-7 That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.

This denial of this basic biblical truth is a leading cause in the failing of evangelical churches in America today. Listen to what Rev. Jim Flowers is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Mobile, AL has to say about God:

God does not have a plan. I have always bristled at the phrase "God has a plan." It is often said with all good intentions to calm one's fears, but for me, it has always been unnerving, an insidious, false sense of security. The thought of God as a dogmatic** cosmic puppeteer, a God of prescriptive design, evokes serious questions as to the problem of evil and violence in the world, the disparity between wealth and power and the lack thereof, the dispossession and suffering of innocent millions. If God has a plan … it ain't working.

God doesn't have a plan. Instead, God is like a jazz musician, as it were, improvising creation into being, making it up as God goes, open to imaginative possibility, playing artfully the music of creation anew.

                        Whom do you wish to follow? A God who is in complete control? A God who numbers the very hairs on your head? Or a God who is at a loss for what is happening today in the world and can only react to the problems and do the best he can.

            Let me tell you folks the choice for me is simple I have no desire or intention of bowing down to someone who has no more power or control over things than me. Our God must be in control which means He must be True.

** Dogmatic is a term defined in secular world as bigoted, suborn, unyielding, intolerant or narrow minded. Yet I would assert the most dogmatic man to ever live was Christ Jesus

2)  Our Conversion must be True

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me      - - - John 14:6

            As I Said above very dogmatic don’t you think? No one, no way except through me?

There is an old saying up in Maine “Ya can’t get there from he-ar” Neither can all these so called modern age evangelicals with their watered down version of the Gospel.

            They are what the bible warns us against:

2 Peter 2:1-3 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

            Take note where the deceivers of the good news will come from. That’s right from within the church. A little knowledge in the hands of the wrong people is a dangerous thing. It will lead to a false Gospel messages being spread.

            My own conversion story covers an 18 year period. In 1980 I went forward to an alter call because a Baptist pastor told me if I came forward and said a special prayer I could avoid hell. Well hell did not sound like any place I wanted to be; so forward I went. Was I converted, saved, No! I had no sense of duty to God. No commitment to change.

That well-intentioned preacher only told part of the story. He played the get out of hell card but failed to mention the Lord of your Life clause. That came 18 years later when I had slumped to the lows of life and God in His mercy and Grace pulled me from the miry muck.

            In Tim Challises’ blog (18 Apr 2015) he quotes John MacArthur who looks at Mark 4 and says:  This is a critical lesson, by the way, to all evangelical manipulators and clever marketers who think they can make people believe. No human being no matter how persuasive, no matter how clever, makes a contribution to regeneration, conversion or justification. All we can do is give the truth. We can’t change hearts and we can’t produce life from dead people. That’s something the Lord alone does. “No man comes to me except the Father draws him.” And once He begins to draw him, then it’s the blade, then it’s the ear, then it’s the full grain. It needs to be drummed into the heads and hearts of all Christians who have been seduced by the contemporary lies, that if we just get better at marketing the gospel, we can be more convincing and we can convince people to be saved. Just tell the truth {and people will be converted}.

            The test for true conversion is simple, Conviction of Sin, if a person sins are they convicted of that sin? Or do they just ignore it and laugh it off like they always have and the rest of the world continues to do? To me that is the easiest way to tell a true conversion.

3) Our Beliefs are based on Truth

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. (Jesus speaking)   - - - John 17:8 

Christ Himself testifies that Gad the Father gave Him (God the Son) {Same God Same Person ALL Part of the Trinity} the very words to speak to His followers.

The same is factual for all of scripture it is of and by God. Yes it was penned by men but under direct inspiration of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Read with me:

John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 Peter 1:20  Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.

4)  Our Worship is based in Truth

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and in truth -- John 4:24

Listen it may seem obvious to those with even an inkling of common sense but you just cannot get on the same level plane with God, at least physically speaking. Yet that is exactly what many have tried to do with the worshiping of graven images and beasts of burden and such.  Many forget the preceding verse John 4:23 reads:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

            The hour is now and God is looking for a few Good Folks. But just like the US Marine Corps, our God is a bit picky and is not about to take just anybody. No the bible clearly says HE is seeking those, who will worship Him in spirit and truth.

            No God calls us to worship Him in true spirit, and spiritual truth. They cannot be separated. The rich ruler in Luke 18 or Ananias, with Sapphira in Acts 5 are both certain examples of NOT following this principle.

5)  Our Walk must be in Truth

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;              - - - - PS 15:1-2

            Ok, I get it this one is a tough one because we all know we are but sinners saved by Grace. Yet even though we are destined to sin again we are not compelled to live a life of deceit. Walking blamelessly does not necessarily mean without sin. I am certain I have a few of you confused so let me try and clear things up.

            First look at 1st Peter:

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation    - - - - 1 Peter 2:12

            Now there is no way to do that apart from the power of God working in you.

2 Peter 2:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence                       

He has given you all things that pertain to Holiness, which does not mean we will always use them at the proper moment. Hopefully even after we have sinned the holiness kicks in and we repent, ask forgiveness of those we have offended, make restitution as needed, etc. None of which we would have done apart from Christ. That is what I meant by our walk may have moments of sin but still be in truth.

6)  Our Conversations must be true

            Considering the fall of mankind was predicated upon a lie Gen 3: 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely dieI for one would think it wise for mankind to abstain from the practice. The bible clearly tells us we should always practice truthfulness in all our speech.

Proverbs 18:20-21 From the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Matthew 15:11 It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another                                                                                 - - - -Eph 4:25

1 Peter 1:15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

            During my research I came across this illustration and I could not resist using it, I hope you get it:

In the early 1900s George Riddell acquired the sensational London newspaper The News of the World. Meeting British journalist Frederick Greenwood one day, Riddell mentioned that he owned a newspaper, told Greenwood its name, and offered to send him a copy. The next time they met, Riddell asked Greenwood what he thought of The News.

"I looked at it and then I put it in the wastepaper basket," said Greenwood, "and then I thought, 'If I leave it there the cook may read it,' so I burned it." Today in the Word, November 3, 1993.

            Not only does God require of us that our tongue speak no evil but our pen must not write any either.  Ask yourself does what I am about to write Glorify God? If not, it DOES NOT belong on paper.

            But the Bible not only warns against false speaking it warns against those who would suppress truthful speech. This should be very familiar to anyone who has seen the shift in the geo social political climate in America the last 10-20 years.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness   - - - - - Romans 1:18

7)  Our Proclamations must be true

Henry Augustus Rowland, professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University, was once called as an expert witness at a trial. During cross-examination a lawyer demanded, "What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?"

The normally modest and retiring professor replied quietly, "I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion." Later a friend well acquainted with Rowland's disposition expressed surprise at the professor's uncharacteristic answer. Rowland answered, "Well, what did you expect me to do? I was under oath." Today in the Word, August 5, 1993.

What too many may seem like arrogant boasting was in fact biblical. Professor Rowland was at the time considered by most the ultimate expert in the field of physics. His answer while brash was truthful. We too must be ready at all times to give an answer in nearly the same manner.

            Let me explain. A somewhat more acceptable answer from the Professor might have been ‘I am considered by my peers and colleagues the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion’. This way the truth is presented without you sounding boastful.

            But the real message in this pillar is not to be humble. It is that all of us, each and every Born Again, Converted, Sanctified believer has a duty to share the Gospel and to do so in a truthful way.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  - - - - 2 Tim 2:15

Less you think you are exempt from this because you are not a preacher, think again. The great commission puts you in the club folks.

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

            To whom was Jesus speaking? Many think to the Apostles alone, but this is incorrect. He was in fact speaking to His disciples and if you are a follower of Christ you too are a disciple and this commission is for you.

            Now the Bible is full of cautions and warnings and this is no different. For those of you would be teachers, preachers and the like listen up:

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  - - - Romans 2:6-8

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.    - - - - Hebrews 13:17

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.    - - -  James 3:1

            It is my prayer that you will be able to use these seven pillars as a guide to help you in your Spiritual growth with Christ. The key to that growth is and always will be biblical truths.

            My closing illustration comes from Our Daily Bread:

The story is told of a young girl who accepted Christ as her Savior and applied for membership in a local church. "Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your Life?" inquired an old deacon. "Yes, sir," she replied. "Well, are you still a sinner?" "To tell you the truth, I feel I'm a greater sinner than ever." "Then what real change have you experienced?" "I don't quite know how to explain it," she said, "except I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved. I'm a sinner running from sin!" she was received into the fellowship of the church, and she proved by her consistent life that she was truly converted.

            I would encourage you today to make that commitment to God. If the Holy Spirit has pricked your heart with the guilt of your sins, confess them now making Christ Lord of your Life.

In HIS Service

Mike

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First preached at Bayside Baptist Church, Lakeshore MS, 19 April 2015

Time to Stop Think then Do

Part II

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17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.”

18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”

20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”- - - - Nehemiah 2:17-20

            As a matter of reviewing what we looked at last time, Nehemiah the main subject of the book has just arrived in Jerusalem after a long journey from the palace of the Persian King.

            Nehemiah arrives and we jokingly said pulled up his recliner and a cold one. Of course the bible just says he was there three days (v11) and really gives no clue as to his actions. We made some assumptions based upon what we learned of him in Chapter one.

            I used these assumptions to develop the Stop, Think then Do title in which we covered the first two portions last time. At that time we learned that whenever we are about to take any action; it is wise to always first Stop and assess the situation become familiar with your surroundings. This may seem silly but I left for basic and advance training in the Army returning some 6 months later I got pulled over. The officer asked the obligatory “do you know why I stopped you? I honestly replied I had no clue. He said I was going the wrong way down a one way street. I finally stooped long enough to look around and sure enough all the cars were going the wrong wayJ. I asked him when they had made this a one way he said about 4 months ago.  Things change take time to think about what you intend to do. Our Final and most important things to consider before taking action was this: If it is not illegal, immoral or unethical you are probably on the right path. I want to stress probably. Finally you need to confirm your walk with Reflection, Meditation and Reevaluation insuring it will accomplish the most important criteria of all, does it Glorify God?  You see you can do things in this world that are NOT illegal, NOT immoral and NOT unethical and DO NOT Glorify GOD. As a brother or Sister in Christ you should have no part in them.

            In our second look at Nehemiah’s initial arrival in Jerusalem we get to the doing part, the action part.  I want to look at three topics here. First is Personal Motivation, Next is Personnel Motivation and finally dangers of being lazy associated with Doing things for God.

            Look at verse 17 Nehemiah urges the men that had inspected the city with him to Do something, Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem. Doing something anything takes motivation. Just try getting your 8 year old to pick up after themselves and you’ll understand what I mean. For Nehemiah this motivation seems to come from a deep sense of anguish he felt for the suffering and despair of his fellow Jews in the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah stays the course. He remains focused on the objective that God has placed upon his heart from the beginning, Again I cannot stress enough that he has gone through the process of reevaluating the objective, being confident nothing has changed. Once assured only then does he proceed to attack the objective to use military terms.

            While that might seem sufficient, for Nehemiah the Holy Spirit saw fit to have added the following text to verse 17: that we may no longer suffer derision.” That changes the reason for the Doing not for Nehemiah but for those hearing his plea.

            Nehemiah is still on a mission from God. He will not be deterred. But the people of Jerusalem have lived in despair and in ruble for some time with seemingly no effort to overcome the situation. They needed some serious motivation if they were going to get with the program. Along comes Nehemiah with a troop from the King and all is supposed to be fix right. Not! These people needed a reason and God provided one. The ESV translates the word derision, the King James, reproach the Hebrew Transliterated Word is Cherpah meaning reproach, scorn.  God gave them a reason He said you’re being made fools of.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

16-17. the rulers knew not—The following day, having assembled the elders, Nehemiah produced his commission and exhorted them to assist in the work. The sight of his credentials, and the animating strain of his address and example, so revived their drooping spirits that they resolved immediately to commence the building, which they did,…

            What is it that motivated these men so? Was it as JFB states; the King’s credentials and the animated plea of Nehemiah’s voice? In part I must agree. I can see Nehemiah giving a rousing speech along the lines of Robert Lowery’s[1]To arms! To arms! Ye soldiers song; listen to just a portion:

To arms! To arms! Ye soldiers,
The trumpet call obey!
With Jesus as our Leader,
We’re sure to win the day.

’Tis not to rest, or banquet,
Or proud parade we go;
The fight of faith is fiercer,
Than worldly warriors know
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            No I would suggest the real reason was pride. We probably all know or have heard some version of Proverb 11:2 ESV When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Normally being prideful in the bible is not looked upon as a good thing. Yet we cannot forget Jeremiah 9:24 ESV but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”  The Apostle Paul even quotes this to the church on Corinth 1 Corinthians 1:31 ESV so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

            Have I lost you yet? Do you get where I am going with this? Who is Nehemiah’s audience? The remnant of Jews left behind in Jerusalem. The elders, the Rabbi’s the leaders of the city, God’s chosen people and He tells them you/we are being mocked, made fools of because of the way we live. Our enemies think our God is nothing, has no power, and cares nothing about us. Join with me and prove them wrong.  This is not personal pride but pride in their God in other words a righteous pride.

            One last idea I wish to make. Nowhere in the bible does it talk about using bribery as a source of motivation. Earlier I made reference to an 8 year old cleaning his room. Some teach today that you should “bribe” a child promise them a treat (like a doggy treat?) if they are obedient and clean pick up after themselves. Really y’all need to show me that one in the book. Just saying!

            The last topic I want to talk about is slothfulness or laziness. Look at verse 19 with me: 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”

            Why are these guys hootin and a hollerin at the Jews? Because they were lazy bums. They liked things the way they were and knew that any change was not going to be in their favor.

            Yet Nehemiah has an answer for them and it was not name calling back at them.  Me I might of called for a cavalry charge, I mean the King sent a mounted troop why not use them? No Nehemiah is level headed and calls upon God again: 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”

            Nehemiah calls upon God and takes Sanballat, Tobiah and their cohorts to task. If you won’t get with the program, if you will not be a part of the solution you will have to part of the rewards. 

            God’s word is very straight forward no nonsense about those who are lazy. Here are just a few of my favorite verses:

Proverbs 10:4 ESV A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

            And who does not riches/

Proverbs 13:4 ESV The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied

            It takes diligence, that is steady determination and hard work to obtain those riches

Proverbs 14:23 ESV In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty

            One must work for their gain. Sanballat, Tobiah and their cronies had it easy and they wanted to keep it that way. They wanted nothing to do with real work. So they mocked, and teased the Jews under Nehemiah hoping to make them feel every more inadequate than before. Nehemiah just continued to remind them v.20 “The God of heaven will make us prosper.

             What about you? Who will make you prosper in the rebuilding of your life? The Sanballat’s of this world or the God of all heaven and earth.

In HIS Service

Mike


[1] New­man Hall, in Wel­come Tid­ings, by Ro­bert Low­ry et al. (New York: Biglow & Main, 1877

    Two articles by two very accomplished writers that I think will open your eyes to some hard facts about the state of churches in America today.

When the Good News Isn't Proclaimed Evangelization on the Wane?

By: John Stonestreet| March 10, 2015 8:00 AM[1]

And

Fifteen Reasons Our Churches Are Less Evangelistic Today

By: Thom Rainer | February 24, 2015[2]

First John StoneStreet

Here’s an uncomfortable question for all of us: When was the last time we shared the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with anyone? The last time we told someone that Jesus died so that God could forgive their sins, and that we must receive that gift in trusting faith?

According to the Barna Group, although 100 percent of “evangelicals” believe they have a personal responsibility to evangelize, a full 31 percent admit to not having done so in the past 12 months.

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, notes that his church—the Southern Baptist Convention—is reaching non-Christians only half as effectively as it did 50 years ago. Rainer calls the trend “disturbing.” And indeed it is. “By almost any metric,” he says, “the churches in our nation are much less evangelistic today than they were in the recent past.”daily_commentary_03_10_15

Southern Baptists say that reported baptisms have fallen in seven of the last nine years. “I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness,” Rainer told Baptist Press. “May God renew all of us, including me, with a greater heart for the lost.”

To find out why this is happening, Rainer conducted an unscientific Twitter poll, with the question, “Why do you think many churches aren’t as evangelistic as they once were?” I’ll give you the top five, and you can come to BreakPoint.org for a link to the rest. It’s painful to read. #1, “Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.” #2, “Many Christians and church members do not befriend and spend time with lost persons.” #3, “Many Christians and church members are lazy and apathetic.” #4, “We are more known for what we are against than what we are for.” And #5, the churches too often are using ineffective evangelistic strategies. Ouch!

It’s not just Southern Baptists, of course. Barna found that the practice of evangelism is falling among self-identified “born-again” “Baby Boomers” and “Baby Busters.” However, evangelism is actually growing among a group you might not expect—“born again” Millennials. Some 65 percent of Millennials shared the Gospel in 2013, compared to 56 percent in 2010. That’s a good trend!

So what do we do? Well, Ed Stetzer of Lifeway says in Christianity Today that while the message of evangelism should never change, our methods—in response to a changing culture—must change. Stetzer points out that in past decades, radio ministries, bus ministries, and evangelistic crusades reached many—and of course still do. But one thing that’s always been constant, and is more important today than ever, is relational approaches.

As Stetzer says, “I lead a small group in my neighborhood every Sunday night . . . I might not be able to take them to a Billy Graham crusade, but I can invite them to my home because they already know me and trust me.”

Also, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reports very encouraging results using online evangelism. According to CT, “Of the 1.6 million people who told the BGEA they prayed ‘to accept Jesus Christ as [their] Savior’ in 2014, less than 15,000 did so in person, while more than 1.5 million did so with the click of a mouse.”

Of course, evangelism is not the ultimate goal—discipleship is, seeing hearts and minds changed by the increasing realization of the Lordship and sufficiency of Christ which leads to a life of obedience—that’s the summary of the Great Commission. But there’s a first step, isn’t there? So let’s all recommit ourselves to sharing the Gospel with friends and neighbors—in whatever way the Lord leads and however He has equipped us.

Further Reading and Information

When the Good News Isn’t Proclaimed: Evangelization on the Wane?

As John pointed out, our first step is sharing Christ's love and forgiveness, and encouraging others to be His followers. After all, Jesus' command to us is pretty clear, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15) And Paul urged us to proclaim the good news of Christ, professing "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believe" (Romans 1:16).

Now Thom Rainer

I conducted an unscientific Twitter poll recently to see what church leaders and church members thought of this trend, My specific question was: “Why do you think many churches aren’t as evangelistic as they once were?” The responses arrived quickly and in great numbers, both in public tweets and in direct messages to me. Indeed, I was still receiving responses four days after I sent my Twitter question.

By almost any metric, the churches in our nation are much less evangelistic today than they were in the recent past. In my own denomination, we are reaching non-Christians only half as effectively as we were 50 years ago (we measure membership to annual baptisms). The trend is disturbing.

We certainly see the pattern in the early church where “every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). In too many of our churches today, the congregations are reaching no one for Christ in the course of an entire year.

The Poll

I conducted an unscientific Twitter poll recently to see what church leaders and church members thought of this trend, My specific question was: “Why do you think many churches aren’t as evangelistic as they once were?”

The responses arrived quickly and in great numbers, both in public tweets and in direct messages to me. Indeed, I was still receiving responses four days after I sent my Twitter question.

The Results

The response was highly informative for me. Here are the top fifteen responses listed in order of frequency:

  1. Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.
  2. Many Christians and church members do not befriend and spend time with lost persons.
  3. Many Christians and church members are lazy and apathetic.
  4. We are more known for what we are against than what we are for.
  5. Our churches have an ineffective evangelistic strategy of “you come” rather than “we go.”
  6. Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.
  7. Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.
  8. Church members are in a retreat mode as culture becomes more worldly and unbiblical.
  9. Many church members don’t really believe that Christ is the only way of salvation.
  10. Our churches are no longer houses of prayer equipped to reach the lost.
  11. Churches have lost their focus on making disciples who will thus be equipped and motivated to reach the lost.
  12. Christians do not want to share the truth of the gospel for fear they will offend others. Political correctness is too commonplace even among Christians.
  13. Most churches have unregenerate members who have not received Christ themselves.
  14. Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.
  15. Our churches have too many activities; they are too busy to do the things that really matter.

So What Is the Solution?

I received hundreds of responses to this poll. There is obviously widespread concern about the lack of evangelism in our churches and among Christians.

First, let me hear what you think of these responses. Second and more importantly, offer some solutions to the challenges. Make certain those solutions include what you can do as much as what they should do. I look forward to hearing from you.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on 24 Feb 2015 Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

  It is my hope that the readers will print this, email this share this, and forward this do whatever they can to get the word out that the state of the evangelical main stream church in America today is in decline. While praise God pockets of devoted believers proudly waive the banner of Romans 1:16. Sadly far too, too many will need to look it up.

 In HIS Service

 Mike

Hi folks,

I pray this finds everyone in good health and spirits. It has been quite a while since I have sent out a formal update so please excuse the length of this one.

First Naida and I are both healthy and doing quite well. She is still volunteering a few days a week at the Mercy House and loving it more and more. Since my youngest daughter move here last fall with three of the grandkids Naida has even been happier if that is possible. The blessings keep pouring in as my daughter recently got a very good job locally so it looks like she’s here for the long haul (hoorah)

Lakeshore Baptist Church is also doing well. We have unofficially been using the new church building since January even though it remains incomplete. PLEASE keep that a matter of prayer. We need volunteers (used to be our summer calendar was full by now this year one team) especially to help finish the outside. I still serve as project manager for that and the house on Pike Street.

We have been getting many visitors lately and are praying God will put it on their hearts to make LBC their home. I am not sure but I think our membership stands at around 50 with weekly average attendance at about 65. On Easter we had 100+. Again pray the Lord will grow His body of believers here. Bro. Don continues to preach the unfeigned Gospel and I truly believe it is that (not fancy gimmicks) that will draw men unto the Lord.

As for me, much has transpired. Last fall I thought I was in line to become a Chaplain in Training with Good News Jail & Prison Ministry. Then do to a series of circumstances that seemed to fall through. I persisted in my duties as Volunteer Chaplain (I have been for over 1 year the de-facto Chaplain) and three weeks ago received a call from the GNJ&P regional director asking if I still wished to interview for the position. God’s plans are not always on our timing hey. Needless to say I said yes and the interview was conducted two weeks ago Friday. It is a long process with no guarantee of being taken on board but with many supporters (my Pastor, the Warden, Sheriff, fellow volunteers and correctional staff) I have begun the process to fulfill the added requirements.

Today I begin online classes at Belhaven University as a Junior with the goal of BA in Biblical Studies. As some of you know I was working on my master’s thesis. It was from a non-regionally accredited college and not acceptable by GNJ&P. Going back to the classroom after all these years has me both excited and intimidated. Please keep me in prayer on this matter.

Finally I need to mention Faithful Steward Ministries. As you may realize we are no longer publishing the Apologist. This still bothers me but realistically there is just not enough time in the day to accomplish everything on my plate as it is.

I am still posting sermons (rewrites) from the jail and other items on the website www.fsmandfsmwo.org I encourage you to look at it and follow us there or on Facebook at tp://www.facebook.com/pages/Faithful-Steward-Ministries-and-FSM-Womens-Outreach/178166535561150

 The goal is to transition FSM&FSMWO to a Hancock County Jail Ministry web site and FB page and eventually put out some form of quarterly or semi-annual newsletter/publication.

            Well I have rambled on long enough. If you have any questions please email me or feel free to call or text me.

 

In HIS Service

 

Mike P.

 

Time to Stop Think then Do

Part 1

11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.

12 And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.

13 And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire.

14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king's pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.

15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned.

16 And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.

- - - Nehemiah 2:11-16

 

Today we explore what I consider a very important life lesson, at least for me. Too often I find myself charging ahead without consulting others or God.  I will formulate a plan; dig in and find it near impossible to deviate from it.  The lesson I have learned is that from time to time we must take a step back and reevaluate the situation. This is what Nehemiah does upon his arrival in Jerusalem. I call it time to Stop, Think then Do.

 

After gaining the Favor of God and King Artaxerxes; Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to the grief of some of its residents.  His long journey over; the bible tells us he sat back in his recliner, big screen on a cold one in his hand and rested. Well not exactly look at verse 11 again. It simply says he was there three days. So what can we understand from this short statement. I searched the online archives and there is no clear cut description anywhere in recorded history of what exactly Nehemiah did. But I believe we can infer some things based upon the man’s past actions.

            I think the bible supports the theory that Nehemiah used the STD acronym upon his arrival. Yes I am sure he rested, but more importantly Nehemiah upon reaching Jerusalem STOPPED.

                        Nehemiah would have made a great military tactician. Upon reaching an objective a good leader will always Stop, Think about the objective and evaluate if the original plan still holds. Only then will a commander issue the order to proceed. We too who are rebuilding our lives must also take time to Stop, Think about our actions and only then take action (Do).  Let us look at each of these acts individually.

            Like Nehemiah, before we attack a problem we need to Stop! I cannot emphasize enough the need to slow our roll as it were. Far too often we get going pedal to the metal and forget that the world has changed and our plan is no longer valid. I am a short term, intermediate term and long term planner. When my wife and I made the decision to move to MS as domestic missionaries I had worked out a five year plan for our work.  Rest assured becoming a volunteer chaplain never entered my mind or plans. Now I could have pushed on with the original plan, but I took the time as each incident outside the original plan arose since we arrived to Stop and begin a reevaluation process.  The same needs to be done for all of our actions. As we go about rebuilding our futures we too must take time to Stop.

            Some of you are planning (hopefully on paper) what you are going to do when released. If you’re smart you are developing a working plan for both release and relapse prevention. But whether your release date is 1 week or one month or one year from now things in your plan are bound to change. Once released before fully implementing or acting upon your plan your need to Stop and look it over.

            This may seem like a contradiction to an earlier sermon entitled Cease the Day but it is not at all. I am not suggesting nor do we have in Nehemiah a quitter or someone not eager to be about God’s work. I think he had what          J.C. Ryle describes as Christian zeal, he writes on the subject:

Zeal in Christianity is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire, which is not natural to men or women. It is a desire which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when they are converted to Christ, however, a desire which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called "zealous" men and women. This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a person, that it impels them to make any sacrifice-to go through any trouble-to deny themselves anything-to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend themselves and be spent, and even to die-if only they can please God and honor Christ.

            But I would be negligent in my duties if I were to leave it at that. No my friends, yes we must be zealous for God but we must couple it with restraint. Look at what Paul writes in Romans 10:1-3 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Paul is warning us not to off on our own. We must constantly submit to God’s righteousness. Something we cannot do if we are charging full steam ahead.

            The next step in this life lesson is to Think. I know you’re thinking we are always thinking. Ok, but what is meant here is (if you will) a more formal thought process. It is a time of. Reflection, Meditation and Reevaluation

            Again Verse 11 tells us Nehemiah was there for 3 days before he takes further action. Like I said earlier he could have spent that time dusting of the dirt of his trip, kicking back and taking a well-deserved siesta. Yet his character does not support that theory.  No I am convinced Nehemiah used this time to reflect upon his mission to that point. It is important for us as we rebuild our futures to always remember where we have been in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past. Equally important is to remember what has worked for us (righteously) in the past.

            Two often misquoted scriptures on this topic are:

Isaiah 43:18-19 Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

            Many times people try and use these to say we should forget the past and only focus on the future, which my friends is a receipt for failure. No Isaiah was warning the Jews of the coming Messiah and telling them to forget their former failures under the law. Paul is reminding us to not dwell on our sinful past but focus our hearts upon the prize that God is calling us to in Christ Jesus.  We must not forget the past but neither should we live in it.

 

            Next I believe Nehemiah took time to Think in the form of Meditation. We spent weeks going over how Nehemiah was a man of prayer. He prayed when he heard about the brokenness of Jerusalem. He prayed for 2-4 months waiting upon God’s guidance on what to do about the situation. I cannot envision him not being a man of prayer at this moment.

            Isiah understood this. In his prayer for the Lord’s Mercy towards Israel he reminds them Is 30:21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.' I do not contend to be a great scholar but this one seems obvious to me. If we are going to allow God to guide our every step while rebuilding our futures; we must listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Sometimes that requires us to slow down and meditate upon His word and communicate with Him. In other words pray. Do not be too big a man to ask for help from the one person who can always deliver.

            The final step in the Thinking process is to reevaluate the situation. As many of you know in addition to being a Volunteer Chaplain I am also Project Manager for Rebuild Lakeshore. My duties are basically overseeing all the ongoing volunteer construction projects for the ministry. Again I am a planner but as Robert Burns wrote "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" (often paraphrased in English as "The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry or twisted"). I must frequently take a step back and reevaluate what has been accomplished and prioritize what still needs to be done.

            Listen this is a skill most inmates already have.  I once was a guest speaker at a luncheon and was asked what was the greatest skill set men getting out had. I quickly replied Strategic Planning. Knowing Wikipedia defines it as Strategic planning is an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy I think they were more than a little shocked. But follow me here for a moment if you were a B&E man you cased a place looking for the best way to get in the best route of escape etc. That is strategic planning and all of you are guilty of that at least.

            Nehemiah does the same as we can clearly see in verses 12-15. Nehemiah strategically goes about scoping out the city. Look at his statements that support this:

          I went out by night: shows he was humble in his quest for God. He did not flaunt the fact he was a representative of the King.

            Verses 13-15:  And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. 14 Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king's pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. 15 Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned. He moves about to various places around the city on an inspection tour in verses 13-15

            Once again looking at verse 11 we find: Neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart shows me he was not overzealous; no Nehemiah understood the need to be certain of the facts before making his move.

            In verse 16 we find: And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work. Was this just more humbleness on Nehemiah’s part or is he sending us a message. I believe it is the later. He is telling us to wait upon the Lord’s timing to speak or Do.

Look at the following verses from the ESV with me:

 

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

            We must wait upon the Lord in all things

Ecclesiastes 8:6 For there is a time and a way for everything, although man's trouble lies heavy on him.

            No matter how enthusiastic you are, no matter the burden of your heart we must wait upon God’s timing.

Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

            Only after we have taken time to Stop and Think over the situation can we have the strength to carry on God’s work seeing it through to the end. The same applies to all our decisions as we go about rebuilding our futures.

            I encourage everyone to take time today to Stop and Think about what you are doing. If it is not illegal, immoral or unethical you are probably on the right path. Confirm you walk with Reflection, Meditation and Reevaluation insuring it will accomplish the most important criteria of all, does it Glorify God?

            Next time we will look at the Doing of God’s work.

In HIS Service.

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

Grieving Our Enemies a Good Thing

image

9 Then I came to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.

10 When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.

Nehemiah 2:9-10

            Normally one would not associate causing someone else grief (anguish, heartache or pain) as a good Christian trait. I hope in the next 45 minutes to unpack God’s word in such a manner to show there is occasion to do just that in a righteous manner.

We start this sermon with some action. Nehemiah says “Then I came (or went)”.  He busts a move in the modern vernacular of my grandson. He does this after, as we learned in the last two sessions, he has (or one must) Cease the Day or the opportunity(s) God puts before him (us). Then in order to accomplish those opportunities now he had to (we must) Find Favor with God and man.

            The next step in Rebuilding our lives and Our Future is to do as Nehemiah and take action. After months of mourning, praying and planning Nehemiah leaves the comfort and safety of the palace and travels approximately 800 miles to Jerusalem. Now this today may not seem like much. Folks in America regularly drive farther than that on vacation. Yet in Nehemiah’s time this was quite the undertaking.

            It was typical for a person to travel about 20 miles a day on foot in that time. This journey had it been on foot would have then taken 40 days. The question must be asked, how many of us would walk for 40 days into the unknown for God? Let us assume for a moment that Nehemiah had a ship of the desert that is a camel or as verse 9 suggests was on horseback. He would have been able to make a little better time and cut his trip by 8 days. No matter the mode it shows a commitment to and a determination to God’s work that many today are sadly lacking.

David Guzik in his commentary on Nehemiah writes:

i. Many people have a heart touched like Nehemiah’s. They may also have the heart for prayer, the wisdom, the vision, the plan and the faith of a Nehemiah - but they stop short of actually going out and doing what needs to be done for the goal to become a reality.

ii. Sometimes we substitute talking about something for actually doing it. It is one think to stand around with other believers and talk about doing some evangelism; praying about it, planning it, talking about it - it is another thing to actually go out and do it. God is in the doing of the thing.

            One other thing I believe worth mentioning about verse 9 is Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me. What may seem as trivial I think has significance. The King sent a military escort with Nehemiah. The obvious reason is for protection. No one would mess with the Persian Army at that time.  Yet I believe greater significance is that these “guardian” let everyone know that Nehemiah’s mission was not to be messed with. He was on a mission for the King and lest we forget God. The presence of the Army sent a clear message to all that this was an important mission.

            Verse 10 opens with When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it… First heard of what? The coming of Nehemiah and the kings troops to Jerusalem. So big deal two guys hear about it what is so special I am sure many more heard too.

            Well let me see if I can shed some light. It appears Sanballat was from a city in Moab and Tobiah from a city in Ammon.  If you remember back to Genesis 19:37:38 the biblical account, Moab and Ammon were born to Lot and Lot's elder and younger daughters, respectively, in the aftermath of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible refers to both the Moabites and Ammonites as Lot's sons, born of incest with his daughters. Throughout history the nation of Israel had a love hate relationship with the Moabites and Ammonites. Sometimes they got along well and other times it was all out war. Both were leaders of anti-Jewish regions and peoples adjacent to Judah and Jerusalem, fearful of any returning/renewed influence of the Jews.

             The second part of verse 10 clarifies why the mention of these men specifically is says: it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.  Seriously someone comes into town and wants to do good deeds and these guys are saddened by the news.  A key to understanding this part of the text is the word the KJV translates grieved. It is the Hebrew word Yara` which is otherwise translated displease, grievous, evil, ill, harm, and sad. The ESV renders it:  it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel and the Amplified Bible: it distressed them exceedingly that a man had come to inquire for and require the good and prosperity of the Israelites.

            The importance is not what word is used but the meaning is clear. These men were grieved, upset, unhappy, troubled, peeved call it what you will that someone was concerned about Jerusalem and the Jews. 

G K Chesterton wrote that the Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.

This certainly was true in Nehemiah 2. Nehemiah's arrival in Jerusalem was a threat to Sanballat and his associates (Neh. 2:10), who wanted to keep the Jews weak and dependent. A strong Jerusalem would endanger the balance of power in the region, and would also rob Sanballat and his friends of influence and wealth. When things are going well, get ready for trouble, because the enemy doesn't want to see the work of the Lord make progress. As long as the people in Jerusalem were content with their sad lot, the enemy left them alone; but, when the Jews began to serve the Lord and bring glory to God's name, the enemy became active.

Opposition is not only evidence that God is blessing, but it is also an opportunity for us to grow. The difficulties that came to the work brought out the best in Nehemiah and his people. Satan wanted to use these problems as weapons to destroy the work, but God used them as tools to build His people.

            This should not be a news flash for any true believer. I have often said if your walk with God is covered in a bed of roses you probably are not on the correct path. Man and Satan will always attack those doing God’s work.  Let’s look at a few verses on the matter:

Psalm 9:13 (AMP)  Have mercy upon me and be gracious to me, O Lord; consider how I am afflicted by those who hate me, You Who lift me up from the gates of death

            We will be afflicted by or suffer at the hands of those that hate us for doing God’s work.

Jeremiah 20:11 (AMP)  But the Lord is with me as a mighty and terrible One; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not overcome [me]. They will be utterly put to shame, for they will not deal wisely or prosper [in their schemes]; their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

            We will have persecutors who attempt to make us stumble. But if we are faithful in our work for the Lord it is they who will stumble.

            Matthew 5:12 (AMP)  Be glad and supremely joyful, for your reward in heaven is great (strong and intense), for in this same way people persecuted the prophets who were before you.

            Our experiences will be nothing more than has been seen before. The faithful stewards of God’s word have been persecuted for grieving those opposed to God from the beginning.

John 15:20 (AMP)  Remember that I told you, A servant is not greater than his master [is not superior to him]. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word and obeyed My teachings, they will also keep and obey yours.

            Like Christ was persecuted so too will be His church.

Romans 8:35 (AMP) Who shall ever separate us from Christ’s love? Shall suffering and affliction and tribulation? Or calamity and distress? Or persecution or hunger or destitution or peril or sword?

            But the Glory of God is He promises us that this persecution will be nothing compared to His love.

            It was Charles Spurgeon that said God had one Son without sin, but He never had a son without trial.  If we spend time pondering the enemy's attacks, we will give Satan a foothold from which he can launch another attack even closer to home. The best thing to do is to pray and commit the whole thing to the Lord; and then get back to your work! Anything that keeps you from doing what God has called you to do will only help the enemy.

Less someone thinks I am encouraging everyone to go about provoking trouble with those who oppose God that is definitely not the case. Look with me at what the word of God tells us:

Romans 12:20 ESV  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

            Paul encourages us to be kind to those who would oppose us. He says this kindness will be as heap burning coals on his head. Paul is quoting Proverbs 25:21.

Luke 6:27 ESV “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

            Pray, Pray, Pray I often hear from men and women that they are being falsely accused of this or that. My response is always pray for you accusers. We must always pray for those who would oppse us.

Romans 12:14 ESV Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

            Who are you to pronounce a curse upon anyone? You who apart from the love of God and the shed blood of Christ at Calvary were mired in sin as your oppressor.

Proverbs 24:17 ESV Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,

            Do not rejoice at the fall of your enemy no, pray for their righteous recovery.

            I hope I have made my point. By going about and doing what God has for us to do, as was the case with Nehemiah we will undoubtedly cause some who oppose God grief. That is Okay, it is a good thing as long as the grief we inflict is not because of some outward act outside what God would have us do.  In other words if we are being faithful to God’s charge (mission) as Nehemiah, not going about instigating troubles and that distresses (grieves) folks, so be it.

Let the enemies of the Lord be grieved while we are busy for His glory.

Finding Favor

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5 And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it.

6 And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.

7 Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah;

8 And a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.

Nehemiah 2:5-8

            When last we met we looked at the first four verses of Chapter two which I had entitled “Carpe Diem or Seize the Day”.  It is my hope that everyone got the message that when God provides the opportunity for us we must not be gripped by fear but by courage and Seize that occasion for God’s glory.

            As you will see in as our study continues Nehemiah was very good at seizing the circumstance God so graciously provided. He patiently waited on the Lord but when He opened doors Nehemiah did not hesitate to stick his foot in there. So to must we, as we set about rebuilding the brokenness in our lives be patient but ever ready to plant our foot securely in the opening(s) God delivers?

            Like anything else in life; when those doors open there is a correct (righteous) and wrong (unrighteous) way to proceed. I for one am like a bull in a china closet. Yes sir, a type “A” personality pedal to the metal kind of guy. For sure it has gotten me in some trouble over the years. I thank God I am learning to slow down some (yeah, getting older is having something to do with it). But mostly it is God working in me to correct my faults.

            I often joke that for some folks God needed a 2x4 upside the head to bring them around well for me it was a 6x6. There are days when I bet He wishes He used a 10x10. That is why I have entitled this sermon “Finding Favor”. When the time comes to enter the path God has put before you, you must do so with a proper attitude. One that will find favor with those you encounter along the way and of course with God too.

            Look at verse 5 with me again. Nehemiah says And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it. Twice Nehemiah asks “if”, if it please the king and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight.  I thought Nehemiah was a trusted servant of the King why is he asking “if”? It is because Nehemiah understands his position in life, at that moment in time. Although a trusted servant he is in fact a servant and slave and to ask otherwise would be presumptuous (arrogantly bold) and he would be asking amiss.

            Let me chase a rabbit for a moment. Far too often today I hear of preachers saying (in print, radio and TV) that we have this power of faith and we have no need to ask God if. That is “if it be your will Lord”.  They would have us cast a seeming magic spell by claiming things in Jesus’s name. That is unbiblical; somehow these men and women feeding this garbage to the masses have forgotten to read “The Book”. For in my bible I find Jesus at Gethsemane where He prays Matt 26:3942  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done. Listen “if” it was good enough for Jesus the living God to pray and ask “if”; you better believe it is good enough for you and me. Further who are you to claim things in Jesus’s name? Are you sinless and able to pay back that marker?

            Ok, back to our text. Let us explore the means by which we find favor with God and Man. I believe there are FIVE (5) essential elements of finding favor with God and man. They are prayer, obedience, humility, diligence and sensibility.

            Psalm 90 is in fact a prayer. In fact many bibles have a heading at its beginning defining it as a prayer of Moses. Moses acknowledges that God is there refuge or hope, that he is Glorious and the creator of all, eternal and powerful. That is we, his children, must be willing to be taught by Him.  It is the final verse that stands out as Moses closes with; PS 90:17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! Moses calls upon God to find favor in their work. Not because their work is so good but because it is in fact the work God ordains or establishes and they wish it to be pleases to Him. Prayer is essential to all we do, never more so than if we desire to find favor in the sight of God and Man.

            Prayers are of no help if we are in a state of disobedience (sin).  Proverbs 3:1-4 tells us My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments: 2 For length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.  3 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.  4 So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Note what is says if we wish to find favor we must keep God’s commandments not just some, not just the ones we find easy or agree with, no all of them. I know, I know that is impossible. True but it is what every true believer strives for daily; to be perfect in the Lord.

            Next we read in Proverbs 3:33-35: The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous. 34 Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor. 35 The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace. One of the things I see most often in today’s society is the attitude that I am on equal footing with everyone else. Folks I am here to tell you that is simply a lie. A private in the Army is in no way equal to his squad leader never mind the company commander. It’s called the chain of command for a reason. A person living in South Central Los Angeles has in no way equal financial footing as a person living in Beverly Hills. Obviously one has inherent advantages over the other. An inmate is on no way on equal footing with a guard. It should be obvious but I constantly see inmates mouthing off like they are completely equal. While the private, the kid from South Central and inmates may have some advantages (knowledge, health or a relationship with Christ) over the others they are still disadvantaged in many ways. It is here that this verse speaks to us.

            We must be willing to humble ourselves before God and Man is we wish to secure favor from God. This is a no brainer there is no better example than of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:5-8; Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. It may seem simplistic but if Christ could humble Himself for me it’s the least I can do towards Him.

          We must diligent seek God and Mans favor. Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. In today’s society if you mention this most folks think your nuts. “I do not care what others think of me” is an often heard quote. But it is totally unbiblical for a Christian. We should be very concerned what others think of us. Oh not in the sense that they think we are crazy to be a believer but in the sense that they think of us as a person. Our actions as seen by others are a BIG part of our witness for Christ. How many times after you have done something and heard “and I thought you were a Christian” or “and you call yourself a Christian”. I know we have all heard it undeservedly but I for one have had that comment justifiably leveled at me more than one time. Just as importantly we must not be shocked or offended if we cannot find favor simply because of our faith.

            Noah is a great example of this. The language of Genesis 6:8 gives us insight into Noah’s character. “Found” is a simple active perfect verb, not a passive one. Thus, Noah found favor—grace—in God’s eyes because he was diligent that is actively looking for it. He diligently worked at his standing with God. So should we.

            Common or good sense is another thing I find lacking today. People do the dumbest things. If you have driven anywhere lately cell phones are a HUGE problem. Last fall I rounded a corner on our motorcycle and there was a car backing up at full pedal to the metal because they missed the turn into the Gas station. Of course they were taking on the phone. I was blessed and avoided the collision but a friend was not so fortunate and his bike was nearly totaled in a similar incident. What were these folks thinking? The answer is they were not thinking.

            Another sensible thing I see absent amongst so called believers is a lack of understanding there position. Working hand in hand with a lack of humility is this attitude of “Entitlement”. We make demands upon God and others because we feel we deserve to be _______________ you fill in the blank. Really, who am I to make demands on God that is the all-powerful, all-knowing and ever present God of all? It makes no sense.

            In Proverbs 13:14-16 we find: The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life that one may turn away from the snares of death. 15 Good sense wins favor, but the way of the treacherous is their ruin. 16 In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly. In all things we need to be asking ourselves does doing this make sense. For a Christian that means does it Glorify God and edify others. If not why are you even thinking of it?

            In closing I am not advocating you become some push over. Nor am I suggesting that you should be overly concerned about pleasing everyone. I am however strongly encouraging you to diligently seek to find favor (approval) with God and mam as you work to rebuild your future. That means praying, obeying His commands, humbling ourselves before him and those he has appointed over us. In short doing what is right and sensible to His glory.

            In HIS Service.

Very Interesting article from our friends at Prison Fellowship.

It is a struggle for so many who have never been incarcerated. For ex-mates the challenges can seem insurmountable. But with God and His people it too can be overcome

Why Ex-Prisoners Can't Find Work.