image  image

                     PAST                                  FUTURE

Looking Back to Get Ahead

14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

              - - - Nehemiah 5:14-19 (ESV) all scripture ESV unless otherwise noted

 

            We conclude chapter five this week by focusing on the actions of Nehemiah after he has successfully navigated the many roadblocks that had been set before him and the peoples of Jerusalem in the preceding chapter and a half. 

 

            First there is one obvious thing I would like to point out in our text before I move on to the main points for tonight. It is the uniqueness of Nehemiah being governor of Jerusalem. He is a Jew, and has been appointed so by Artaxerxes the king, a pagan king. Nehemiah has been rewarded for his honesty and his loyalty, but to whom?  But remember as we have seen time and again throughout this series he is loyal to God before all others. It is God who has rewarded him though this pagan king.  It is imperative we understand this; that God alone is in control. Why else would you bow down and worship Him?

 

            The main point I wish to emphasize tonight is the same thing Nehemiah did some 2600 years ago. That in order to move forward, in order to rebuild our lives we can NEVER forget the mistakes of the past. We must look to the past in order to move ahead with our lives.

 

            Now I know if this were a TV or radio sermon some of you would be reaching to change the channel right now, because my statement above seems to fly in the face of the modern evangelical hyped teachings of today but please bear with me. Let’s look at what God’s Word says:

 

 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 “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,”

 

            On the face of it, it would seem we should never look back “Remember not the former things”  or “forgetting what lies behind”  Or the so often miss applied Luke 9:62 “Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” But is that really what God is saying? Does God really tell us not to remember our past?

 

            Again let us dig further into scripture looking at The Whole Counsel of God!

 

Turn back to Nehemiah 1:8-11 “Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

 

            We are encouraged to remember God’s promises to us, especially in times of trouble and conflict. Can you think of any other familiar passages of scripture folks go to in times of trouble? 

Psalm 23 and Psalm 91 come to mind or a favorite of mine Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

 

Nehemiah 9: 18-24 “Even when they had made for themselves a golden[c] calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. 22 “And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would.”

 

            We are to remind ourselves daily of the many blessing God has given unless we become dissatisfied with God.  Here in Nehemiah chapter 9 the story of the Exodus in all its Glory and sorrow is recounted as a reminder that God is a God of promises and one who keeps His promises.  He promised the Jewish people a promised land and even though they were rebellious and continually turned away from Him, He kept that promise. What would you have done?  We also see one of his greatest promises in the sky Genesis 9:15-16 “I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

           

            How about 2 Peter 1:15-21 “And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

 

            We need to be able to recall biblical truths. How else are we to share the Good News of Christ with others? This the great commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 is the duty of all believers.

 

            Are you confused yet? This is where the naysayer (fancy word for doubters) that is those who claim the bible is a lie, made up and written by men contradicts itself. They point out that in some places it says do not look back on your past and in other places it says to recall the past. So see it’s all a bunch of junk.  Well if you are one of those who mind has been blinded by the god of this world (Satan) 2 Corinthians 4:4 that would make sense. To the rest of us in our right mind we can reason this out.

 

            Let us start with a text every believer knows   2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Does this mean you will not battle with sin? Not in the least listen:

15 For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [[b]which my moral instinct condemns]. 16 Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. 17 However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me.18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot perform it. [I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.] 19 For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds that I do not desire to do are what I am [ever] doing.  That is none other than the Apostle Paul from Romans Chapter 8. Did you hear his words? Can you feel the struggle he is experiencing? This is Paul the writer of 2/3 of the New Testament, not just some average Joe.  How are you to combat dealing with sinfulness of the flesh if you cannot look to your past experiences Like Paul?

           

            Another of the Proverbs that comes to mind is Proverbs 4:25-27 “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. 26 Ponder[c] the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. 27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. I like this one because I am guilty of not doing this. I am speaking of eyes look directly forward I won’t embarrass everyone by asking for a show of hands but I bet I am not the only one to have walked into an unmovable object because I was not watching where I was going.  

 

            God’s admonition in this verse and other verses like it is to not forbid looking back on the past while trying to move forward.  He is saying do not dwell on the past while trying to move forward. Do not get stuck in the mud, bogged down in your past, mired in the muck of your past mistakes.  You cannot move forward if you are having your own little pity party and decide all is lost because of your past mistakes.  At the same time it would be foolish to try and move forward and not remember your past behaviors and mistakes.

 

            Let us look at our main text again.  Nehemiah is a wise governor he has learned from the past mistakes of others.  In verse 15 we read “The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.”  Note why Nehemiah did not do so, was it because he was scared of God?  No the Greek word translated fear in English means reverence. It was because of his admiration, his awe his devotion to God. In the remaining four verses of our main text we see Nehemiah again demonstrating changes to the previous administrations burdensome rule.

 

            Let us put this in perspective, many here have struggled with alcohol or drugs over the years. So you get released and the first place you find to rent is a small studio. It is a good deal, the rent is affordable and the landlord is nice and understanding about folks who have been in your shoes. He is even willing to ask around about jobs for you. Sounds like the perfect place except it is right above a bar. Now if you believe and follow the advice of those who advocate NEVER looking back on our past then living there will be no problem. However if you believe and follow the Word of God that arrangement has DANGER! ! ! written all over it. 

 

            Oswald Chambers wrote on the matter: "A man's disposition on the inside, i.e., what he possesses in his personality, determines what he is tempted by on the outside. The temptation fits the nature of the one tempted, and reveals the possibilities of that nature. Every man has the setting of this own temptation, and the temptation will come along the line of the ruling disposition. Temptation yielded to... is a proof that it was timidity that prevented the sin before." In other words, Satan isn’t no dummy he knows how and what with to temp you.  Yet here we go putting ourselves right in the midst of the very temptations that contributed to our problems. Of course we will pray beforehand Matthew 6:13 “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” I am sorry but that is S.O.S. disease at its best. Asking God for favors and then doing something that thumbs your nose at the favor.

 

            In closing I want to reexamine Luke 9:62 “Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Why was Jesus so adamant in this statement? It sounds like on casual reading that if anyone looks back after becoming a Christian they are doomed, not worthy of entry to heaven. We’ll again need to look at the Whole Counsel of God by backing up to the previous verses for a clue. In verses 57 -60 we have conversations between those who wish to follow Jesus and Christ who tells them the cost.  You remember elsewhere when he says it can be a heavy price, even one’s own family. Then in verse 61 we see “Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 “Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Do you see it, Jesus is not saying do not remember the past he is saying once on the chosen path do not deviate from it. There is a huge difference between those two meanings. Our Lord is telling the person, if you have truly decided to follow me, then do so, make me the priority and not those who are left behind. Nowhere does He, Jesus, say do not think of them, just do not look back and long after that life you are leaving behind. If you do you cannot stay on the path of righteousness. Using metaphors or images of the plow He easily makes His point understood by all. Put in modern terms if you have ever tried to drive a mower or tractor forward while looking backward you will understand the results are UGLY.  Unfit for any lawn or farmers field.

 

            Like Nehemiah prayed in verse 19 “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.” We need to stand ready to call upon God to remember us as we look back to get ahead.

 

            Let’s pray, most gracious and heavenly father I ask that you continue to work in the minds and hearts of the hearers and readers of this message. That it will build them up that they may glorify you in all that they do. I pray father that if anyone knows not Christ Jesus as their Lord and Saviour that you would choose them now send your Holy Spirit upon them convict them of their sins, have them repent and claim the free gift of Christ. We pray this in His most Holy and precious name. Amen.

 

In HIS Service

Mike

 

 

Road Blocks   Part IV

image

 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nation’s our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest.11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold[a] of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. Nehemiah 5:1-13 ESV all scripture ESV unless otherwise noted

 

            We wrap up the section on Roadblocks, this week looking at the beginning of Chapter five and the theme here is financial burdens.  I could have easily slid this in with the last sermon on discouragement but it deserves a place of its own those who are following Nehemiah are complaining of the injustice being carried out by the rich rulers of their day a familiar theme in our time.

 

            Matthew Henry in his Commentary on the matter says “How bravely Nehemiah, as a wise and faithful governor, stood upon his guard against the attacks of enemies abroad, we read in the foregoing chapter. Here we have him no less bold and active to redress grievances at home, and, having kept them from being destroyed by their enemies, to keep them from destroying one another. Here is, I. The complaint which the poor made to him of the great hardships which the rich (of whom they were forced to borrow money) put upon them, v. 1-5)..."

 

            You too upon your release will be facing many issues with respect to financial responsibilities. Normal everyday expenses include the following:

1.      Food

2.      Shelter (Rent plus Utilities)

3.      Phone (You cannot get a job without one today)

4.      Transportation (Most employers are not going to pick you up)

5.      Tools (Depending on the job you may need tools of the trade)

6.      Alimony or Child Support

            As ex-mates you may have additional expenses that include:

1.      Restitution

2.      Court Fees

3.      Parole or Probation Fees

 

            You can choose to do what many in our country today have done taken the unbiblical Social Justice approach of blaming every one of our problems on those with wealth, trying to redistribute the wealth from the rich to the poor claiming it is all in the name of equality. Along with this umbilical Social Justice approach goes the equally unbiblical government sponsored social welfare system. The bible calls for families and the local church to care for widows and orphans not the government. Yet millions of “Christians” have bought into this lie.    

               

            An excellent article on the subject can be found here http://www.gotquestions.org/social-justice.html at Got Questions dot Org a portion of which I will relate:

“The problem with this doctrine is twofold: first, there is a mistaken premise in economic egalitarianism that the rich have become wealthy by exploiting the poor. Much of the socialist literature of the past 150 years promotes this premise. This may have been primarily the case back when Karl Marx first wrote his Communist Manifesto, and even today it may be the case some of the time, but certainly not all of the time. Second, socialist programs tend to create more problems than they solve; in other words, they don’t work. Welfare, which uses public tax revenue to supplement the income of the underemployed or unemployed, typically has the effect of recipients becoming dependent on the government handout rather than trying to improve their situation. Every place where socialism/communism has been tried on a national scale, it has failed to remove the class distinctions in society. Instead, all it does is replace the nobility/common man distinction with a working class/political class distinction.”

 

            The alternative if you are going to wear the Badge “Christian” is to choose to do what the bible teaches here in Nehemiah and elsewhere, the biblical approach to fiscal responsibility. Again from the same article:

“What, then, is the Christian view of social justice? The Bible teaches that God is a God of justice. In fact, “all his ways are justice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Furthermore, the Bible supports the notion of social justice in which concern and care are shown to the plight of the poor and afflicted (Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17; 27:19). The Bible often refers to the fatherless, the widow and the sojourner – that is, people who were not able to fend for themselves or had no support system. The nation of Israel was commanded by God to care for society’s less fortunate, and their eventual failure to do so was partly the reason for their judgment and expulsion from the land.”

               

            Let us break down God’s word here in Nehemiah 5:

 

            Verse 1 & 2 “Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers For there were those who said, With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain that we may eat and keep alive.” Having a large family is great, but it can at times seem a blessing and at other times a curse. Trying to feed a large family on a tight budget can be tough.  But then again there are more of them to help earn a day’s wage or do chores.

 

            Verse 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.”  The lesson for all of us here is simple do not over extend our selves. If you cannot afford it do not buy it. Oh but I can get it on payments if I just fill out this form from that nice salesman. After all God is good I should have a better job soon. Sure you will, un huh.

 

            Verse 4 “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. Listen no matter what you are still going to have to render unto Caesar (Matt 22:21) but whom do you pay first? Is it the government, your bills or God?

 

            Verse 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”  The price of repayment of their debt had gotten so high that their fellow Jews had demanded their sons and daughters be brought into servitude as payment. Servitude is a polite term for slavery. While today in America we do not have slavery or do we?  According to Federal Reserve Statistics the average American household owes $15,863.00 in credit card debt alone. Most American households are SALVES to consumer debit.

 

            The miseries of debt include

I. Mental unrest. One of the leading causes of suicide

II. Social degradation. The poor are looked down upon

III. Family ruin. Arguments, fights and divorce over money is rampant

IV. A disregard of a Divine command: “Thou shalt not steal.”

            Application--

1. Christians should set the world an example.

2. Watch the beginnings of extravagance. {Oft times take from Peter to pay Paul} Again the question of Tithing

            3. In small things as well as in greater act on Christian principle.

 

            Verse 6 & 7I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. Note what Nehemiah does, he takes counsel with whom? That is right, himself; he had to determine what was to be done, what method to be taken to correct these complaints. I know what you are thinking how come Nehemiah this great praying man (remember all the times he consulted God in the previous Chapters) of God did not immediately drop down and pray to God for guidance. Does this not somehow violate Proverbs 3:7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. Or how come he did not do that modern slogan I dislike so much “Let go and Let God” I will tell you why, Nehemiah was a man called by God, appointed by God, equipped by God and therefore made capable by God.  Those who “Let God and Let God” at every instance are just lazy. There are occasions when you cannot do anything about a given situation that you must “Let go and let God”, but that is not the norm. God expects us to do our part that is why he will judge us (2 Corinthians 5:10).

 

            I am actually going to stop my verse by verse commentary here. In the remaining verses Nehemiah points out the error to the rich Jewish leaders according to the scriptures and they recant and make compensation for their ways. I would not expect that in today’s world my friends. Go ahead try and bring it to the attention of some worldly landlord how the place he is renting is in bad shape. If he makes any repairs he is likely to jack up the rent not make restitution for overcharging you in the first place.  

 

            What are the lessons to be learned for us today? Well first we need to be right with God if we are to expect God’s blessings upon us. That includes his financial blessings. I recently had an ex-mate contact me with the woe, woe pitiful me story line about how tough it had been lately. Then he told me how he and his girlfriend had just moved into an apartment and it had cost so must right after that work slowed way down and they laid him off. I responded so you are being obedient to God in all things and you are still having issues wow that’s tough. He remained silent of course. Living in a sinful relationship and expecting God’s blessing is a form of SOS (Suck on Stupid) disease.

 

            Even when we are obedient to God that is no guarantee things will go smoothly. Look at Job.  There was none like him in all the land and yet God let Satan put him to a test I dare say all of us would fail.

 

            That is why each morning we must arise and rejoice in the new day praising God and placing our hope: 

 

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

            Let’s pray, most gracious and heavenly father I ask that you continue to work in the minds and hearts of the hearers and readers of this message. That it will build them up that they may glorify you in all that they do. I pray father that if anyone knows not Christ Jesus as their Lord and Saviour that you would choose them now send your Holy Spirit upon them convict them of their sins, have them repent and claim the free gift of Christ. We pray this in His most Holy and precious name. Amen.

 

In HIS Service

Mike

Road Blocks   Part II

clip_image002

 

7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. 10 In Judah it was said, "The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall." 11 And our enemies said, "They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work. 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, "You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and aroseand said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. "

- Nehemiah 4:7-14 (ESV) All text ESV unless noted

            We continue working our way through Nehemiah Chapter four and the theme of Roadblocks, this week looking at threats of attack. Next week we will close with verses 15 to 23 where we will see them by way of by way of discouragement.

 

            A reminder as I noted last time ALL Christians have roadblocks, obstacles, trials call them what you may in their lives. James 1:12-13 "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." Some of these Roadblocks will come from our own making and some as in our text will come from those who oppose us. It is how we react and handle these obstacles that will dictate where our futures lie.

 

             'He pushed me, well he pushed me first, no I didn't.' If you are a parent this may be a battle that has gone on in your home a time or two. The fact is though as believers it is not our earthly siblings or even the humans in a foreign land that we are really at war with. God's word tells us in Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

 

            That is whom Nehemiah faces attack from in our text. 7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. My point is we should never be surprised that someone wants to attack, that is physically harm us for going about and doing God's work. Note I said going about and doing God's work, this ****assumes**** you are doing something God has called you to do, trained you to do, and sent you to do. I cannot place enough emphasis on this point. There are just to many "Christians" out there doing what they want and calling it God's work. Many of them look good, many of them sound good but a large number of them will one day meet God and he will say to them: Matthew 7:21-23 Amplified Bible (AMP) 21 Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name and driven out demons in Your name and done many mighty works in Your name?23 And then I will say to them openly (publicly), I never knew you; depart from Me, you who act wickedly [disregarding My commands}.

 

            So what do you do when you find out there is an attack planned? What do you do in a situation like the tragedy on 17 June 2015 at the church in Charleston, S.C.? This can be a difficult topic because to some the bible would seem contradictory. Some verses such as:

 

Proverbs 25:2-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

 

Matt 5:39 But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

 

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

 

            These verses almost make is sound like Christians are meant to be pansies, pushed around by everyone and just have to suck it up and take it. But how do we reconcile that with John 2:15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. That "He" is Jesus, and it sure does not sound like He was turning the other cheek. In fact it sounds like He was the instigator in that action.

 

            Confused yet? Well let's look at the biblical mandate to preserve life; which by the way flies in the face of the Supreme Court decision to legalize murder in the U.S. by calling it abortion. Since that fateful day in 1973 nearly 58 Million murders have been committed in America. More than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and all the rest of the worst 20th century war criminals and mass murders combined.

 

Psalm 82:4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

 

Proverbs 24:11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

 

Ezekiel 33:6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes anyone of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.

            If that was not enough to make the head spin then there are many verses in the Old Testament where God commanded the nation of Israel to completely destroy everyone and everything in the Promise Land. So it is clear, to me at least, that God is not opposed to war, that He is in favor of protecting life, yet it is just as clear He is also completely opposed to unnecessary bloodshed. So what is a man to do when the treat comes like in our text? First, pray and ask God for guidance. This should be our daily task in all things. Look what Nehemiah and his fellow workers did 9 "And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night."  They asked God for the biggest and baddest weapons to nuke their enemies till they glowed. Uh no not exactly they asked God for a guardian to protect them. A watchman if you will to act as guardian. That is the very first thing we need to do is ask God for is help.

 

            Next be a Solomon in these situations and ask for Wisdom. Yeah I know you know it all. NOT! I do not care how rough and tough you once were (or are) in the military, or wherever, remember the guy directing this fight is the devil himself. He maybe six times removed from it all but his evil influence is in there somewhere you can bet on it. So why fight spiritual evil with physical might? To use an expression from a movie (can't remember which now) that is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Pray and ask God for wisdom to defeat your enemies in the battle to come.

 

            Then you must be prepared. I do not want to sound like a dooms day prepper but those days are coming maybe not in my lifetime; but surely in my children's or grandchildren's lives. Would you enter the court room with no plan, no defense just a dumb look on your face? Of course you would not. Be prepared for the fight to come. Have a plan what are you going to do if a fight comes your way.
How are you going to respond? How are you going to protect your family, your home?

 

            Arm yourself. Not only do we have Nehemiah in our text 12 "At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, '"'"You must return to us," 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows." We can also look to Jesus in the New Testament who calls on the disciples to arm themselves: Luke 22:35-38 And he said to them, '"'When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "Nothing." 36 He said to them!' "But. now let the one who has a moneybag take it!' and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors/ For what is written about me has its fulfillment:" 38 And they said, "Looh, Lord, here are two suiords." And he said to them!' "It is enough,"

 

            Arming yourself is a fool's errand if you are not properly trained. King
David u
nderstood this
Psalm 144:1 Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war!' and my fingers for battle. In the New Testament we see 2 Timothy 3:17 That the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. While this verse is obviously speaking of the use of scripture I do not feel it to far a stretch to imply that as we find in 1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink!' or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. That is if we are going to arm ourselves we must do so in a way that Glorifies God by being properly trained with our weapon of choice. I know folks who insist on owing a "Dirty Harry" .44 Magnum revolver. "The most powerful handgun in the world", well not anymore but it will still break your wrist if you do not know what you are doing. Not much help for self-defense then. A well-aimed .22 Magnum with a 30 round clip can do just as much damage, is easier to handle and holds a lot more affordable ammo, just a consideration.

 

            In closing it would be thoughtless of me if I failed to note that it is wrong to admire "viciousness men." I am not advocating nor do I believe the bible teaches violence but preparedness. The bible clearly tells us to be humble, slow to anger and not to esteem violence:

 

Proverbs 3:31-32 Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways, 32 for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord, but the upright are in his confidence.

 

Proverbs 1:16 for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.

 

            I believe however you can see there is clear biblical mandate for men to protect themselves, their families and property. We must nevertheless understand and never forget who the Commander-In-Chief of our Army is. God, He alone has the authority to issue the order to attack. Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

 

            Again let us look to Nehemiah in the last verse of our text 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes." Nehemiah got it. He knew the battle could only be won if he (we) depend upon the Lord to deliver the victory.

 

            The grand lesson in all this is not that the bible condemns this or condones that. It is that apart from fellowship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, you (we) will be facing spiritual/fed physical attacks alone. As prepared as you may think you are, you will never be prepared enough. Would you not prefer to go into battle wearing the Full Armor of God? You can because God offers it as a benefit of His free gift of Salvation. If he is calling upon your heart tonight please acknowledge you are lost in a world of sin, needing the work of Christ at Calvary to rescue you from eternal damnation. Make Christ the Lord of your life tonight and that armor is yours to keep.

 

 

In HIS Service

Mike

 

Road Blocks  Part I

image

Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

----- Nehemiah 4:1-6 (ESV) All scripture ESV unless otherwise noted.

           

           

            When last we looked at Nehemiah in Chapter three, he and a host of volunteers were hard at work rebuilding the gates and walls of Jerusalem. We discussed how like Nehemiah, we too, if we are to be successful in rebuilding our lives, must have a team to help us.  There is a biblical mandate for us to have fellowship (communion, which is unity, close relationships, working together) with God and other likeminded believers.

            As we explore Chapter Four and Five our theme will be Roadblocks.  You can be assured that during our rebuilding process we are certain to run into many of them. We will break Chapter four into three main types of Roadblocks: verses 1-6 mockery or ridicule, verses 7-14 threats of attack and verses 15- 23 we will see them by way of by way of discouragement.

            Before we begin in earnest let me be clear ALL Christians have roadblocks, obstacles, trials call them what you may in their lives. James 1:12-13Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” Some of these Roadblocks will come from our own making and some as in our text will come from those who oppose us. It is how we react and handle these obstacles that will dictate where our futures lie.

            I wish to start tonight with the one obstacle that for many of you may be the hardest to overcome. If you have your bibles turn with me to Matthew 10:35-36For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household”.  The Reformation Study Bible comments on this, Although coming to Christ brings peace to the heart (Matt 11:29), embracing the gospel also makes life more difficult in some respects, because Jesus demands allegiance that takes priority over the natural ties of life.”

            Some of you came to the place you are at in life now with no real faith in Christ. Oh you may have gone to church on Sunday but that’s not what I am referring to. I am speaking of a true deep personal relationship with Jesus. It is a relationship that makes Him both Savior and more importantly; LORD of your life.

            When you get out the family you left behind will notice this change and for some they will not know how to handle it. A few will quietly accept it. A few may just ignore you and some will even mock you.  You must be prepared for this, you must remember that they are just as confused and living in the dark (John 3:19) as you once were. Your response must be to pray for them. Never abandon Christ for your earthly family.

            In Job we find; Job 14:1 “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble”. Job understood the facts. Man can and will apart from constant interaction with God get into trouble. Psalm 73:26 says: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."  You too will have set backs simply because you are not perfect. It is alright to make mistakes, to fail at things. The mark of a true Christian is how we handle these roadblocks in our rebuilding process. Do you use these trials as reasons to quit and go back to drinking, drugging or other criminal activities? Or are these opportunities to call upon God; to draw closer to him in joyous fellowship. The choice is yours.

            Ok let’s look at verse 1-6 again. That lowly gofer of Satan Sandballat is at it again. You know the type, a whole lot of mouth especially if he has an audience, which it seems he may have here: 2 “And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing?” I don’t know about you but when I was in the U.S. Army I could talk all kinds of smack. I mean I had the men and the goods to back it up. This guy though does it not for any good or noble reason he does it for evil. He is trying to upset, irritate and provoke Nehemiah and his teammates.

            You know the type the guy (or gal) that knows just the right button of yours to push. The near magic words to make your blood seem to boil. So what do you so? Fly off the handle punch them in the face because the deserve it. That is one option; a wrong course of action certainly and costly too.

            Let us consider who is Sandballat and those like him mocking? Are they really mocking you? In most cases I would say probably not. Look at Isaiah 57:4 with me “Whom are you mocking? Against whom do you open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit?”  Isaiah is describing the futility of Israel’s idolatry by asking them whom is it you think you are mocking? Later Jesus confronts the Pharisees by pointing out a similar issue in Luke 16:13-15 “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

            It is not really Nehemiah that Sandballat and his clowns are making fun of it is God. It is not you; most of the people who mock you are making fun of it is our Lord and Savior. That my friend is a good thing for it means they are seeing Christ in you. If they are truly mocking you then the light of Christ is to dim in you today.

            We have Jesus as our example He was mocked, ridiculed scorned call it what you may. We as His followers should expect the same. Especially if it is being done so because of the things we are doing for Christ: Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

imageThere are many running around today claiming to be doing “things” for Christ. I would be very cautious of and weary of any person(s) or organization that does not have the full support and backing of their local church.  Just because someone uses Jesus’s name does not mean they are on Jesus’ team.

            The mocking of God’s people is nothing new. In the Old Testament God in His loving kindness sent messenger after messenger to Judah in an effort to get them to reform : 2 Chronicles 36: 15-16  The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.  Well, no to disagree with the word of God but there was a remedy of sorts if you will, it was called an invasion. God had enough and He allowed the Babylonians to invade Israel and the nation of Israel ceased to exist in approximately 582 BC. Not to regain national status until 1948 AD a period of 2530 years.

            The admonitions continued and we were left with the same warnings in the New Testament:

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that yin the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, obedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

2 Peter 3:3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires

Jude 17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.

            So how do we handle these folks those who would mock, ridicule and scoff at us. We already mentioned one way was to haul off and clock them. It is ungodly solution for sure one that would prove their point and show your lack of faith in God.

            First rely on God and His word. The bible says only a fool says there is no God Ps 14:1. Those that mock believers for being believers are denying the existence of God. Do not be mad at them pray for their souls. You were once like them lost without hope.

            Next do as Nehemiah does in verses 4-6:

4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives.

5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.

6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

What do you do in times of trouble PRAY. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us in Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. I am not going to lie and tell you that is an easy task. I will tell you it is a doable task.            

            Remember last week’s theme? That is correct teamwork. Who was the most important teammate we had, God of course? Not only is He numero uno, He is all powerful so let Him handle it. Why get your hands dirty? Look at what Nehemiah prayed. His prayer was not so nice goody covered in love for his enemy’s thing, nope. It was a in your face I am upset and you need to handle this God kind of prayer. He says:

·         Do not cover their guilt

·         Do not blot out their sin

·         They provoked you God

·         So turn back their taunts

·         Give them up to the land for plunder

            In closing I wish to relate one last verse this time from Colossians. Paul is closing his letter to the church at Colossi and imparts these words of wisdom: Colossians 4:5-6 (AMP) 5 Behave yourselves wisely [living prudently and with discretion] in your relations with those of the outside world (the non-Christians), making the very most of the time and seizing (buying up) the opportunity. 6 Let your speech at all times be gracious (pleasant and winsome), seasoned [as it were] with salt, [so that you may never be at a loss] to know how you ought to answer anyone [who puts a question to you].

            If you wish to mitigate or lessen the opportunities for mockery and ridicule there is no better advice to follow than that given by Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Act appropriately in a manner at all times that brings honor and glory to God and the devil and his followers will have few occasions to establish roadblocks in your recovery.

Let’s pray.

In HIS Service

Mike

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

           

           

 

 

             

 

           

 

Time to Stop Think then Do

Part II

image

 

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
.

            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

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

image

 

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.

clip_image002

 

And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him: and I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.

2 Wherefore the king said unto me, why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? This is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was very sore afraid,

3 And said unto the king, Let the king live forever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?        

 4 Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven    

                 Nehemiah 2:1-4

 

            Last time we looked Nehemiah was crying out to God for wisdom on what to do about the devastation in Jerusalem. For many of us that is where our story would end. We have recognized that our lives our broken and that only God can fix them. We even pray and ask God for help in correcting our broken lives and then we stop.

 

            I believe the greatest deterrent to men and women moving beyond praying and doing things needed to rebuild their futures is fear. Oh I know men “we don’t fear anything”; yeah right. Sorry I am not convinced.

 

            Fear takes many forms. There is actually a website http://phobialist.com/  dedicated to listing all the things people are afraid of. Some are common like Acrophobia- Fear of heights or how about Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places like markets it includes the fear of leaving a safe place. Others like Arachibutyrophobia- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth would seem rather rare.   This site lists hundreds maybe thousands of know fears, all of which folks can easily use to be indecisive and inactive.

 

            Before I go on let me clarify one point, I do believe that some folks have legitimate medical explanations for having these phobia. But I dare say that number is minimal compared to those who are just looking for an excuse to sit on the side lines.

 

            The Bible on the other hand only defines two forms of fear. First there is what I will call healthy fear. As you may recall in our look at Nehemiah’s prayer he called God “great and terrible”. This was in reverence to God as Nehemiah recognized and clearly acknowledges the Lord God’s exalted position.  The great as in the One who is able to accomplish mighty things and     The Terrible as in the One who is able to impose immense judgments. This first type is righteous and is to be encouraged. It is a fear that requires action. It requires faith and it requires a strong fellowship with God.  It is the fear Nehemiah had when the King asks him what was wrong.

 

            Then of course there is unhealthy fear, this is a crippling fear, filled with weakness and quivering. It leads to inaction and loss. It is what Ray Stedman describes as: Many today find themselves in almost total ruin. They have lost their way and are wide open to the attacks of any destructive or hostile force. Others have severely damaged areas in their lives. They are, perhaps, still held in bondage to wrongful attitudes or habits. It almost goes without saying that if you are praying for help, as Nehemiah prayed for help in the opening chapter of this book, then you should expect an answer: Expect God to do something. Be ready for it when it comes.

 

            I believe that the type of fear most associated with why people do not take action to change or rebuild their lives is the fear of change. This fear of change or changing things is called Metathesiophobia.  We get so used to our rebellious ways that we do not feel comfortable in any other environment or the thought of making moves to improve our lives is far too scary a thought to act upon.

 

            We can come up with all sorts of excuses like, what can I do I am only one person, or resignation like whatever happens, happens. Two modern quotes seem to dispel these notions:  If you think you're too small to make a difference, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room – unknown and from R.S. Sproul No choice is a choice. No choice is to accept things as they are---and they are unacceptable.  

 

            While in the Army I had a 3x5 card with the saying “The max effective range of an excuse is zero meters” on it. It was a daily reminder that inaction equaled failure and where lives matter failure was not an option.  You may have heard the old farm saying “make hay while the sun shines” or how about “never put off tomorrow what you can do today” and any sailor would recognize “Time and tide waits for no man”.  All these sayings have one thing in common they require us to take action to not procrastinate, to get about doing something.

 

            I entitled this sermon Carpe Diem or Seize the Day. While dictionaries define this as meaning:  the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future. I take it as a battle cry to take every opportunity to make righteous changes in our lives. Note I said righteous changes. In a  believer’s life it is getting about God’s work for us.

 

            Let us look back at Nehemiah for a moment. In Chapter 1 verse one; we are in the month of Chisleu or Kislev which equates to our Nov-Dec. Now look at today’s text in verse one; we have fast forwarded to Nisan or Mar-April time frame.  When I say we must seize the day and make righteous changes to our lives I mean us to be like Nehemiah. He and we must be patient and wait upon the Lord.  Nehemiah did not pray and go off halfcocked without any preparation. No Nehemiah took a lesson from Habakkuk 2:3 - For the vision [is] yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. I hope you can see it.  Even though the bible is silent on the matter we can extrapolate that Nehemiah waited upon the Lord before taking action. This is not much of a leap since even if we assume Dec 31st and March 1st for the dates referenced in Chapters 1 and 2 we are taking a period of 2 months. What was Nehemiah doing for that period? We do know his countenance {or expression} was sad. One can only guess that he continued on prayer seeking God’s guidance.

           

            It is when God actually reveals to us the chosen path that we must spring into action.  The bible is very clear on this matter it takes a dim view of those who are lazy (slothful)

 

Proverbs Chapter 24:30-32  I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; 31 And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, [and] nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. 32 Then I saw, [and] considered [it] well: I looked upon [it, and] received instruction.

 

2 Thessalonians 3:10 (AMP)  For while we were yet with you, we gave you this rule and charge: If anyone will not work, neither let him eat

 

            Compare that with what the Bible says about working:

 

James 1:23-25 ESV For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

 

James 2:18 ESV But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

 

Colossians 3:23-24 ESV Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

 

            Verse three of our text is very telling:

 

(AMP) And said to the king, Let the king live forever! Why should I not be sad faced when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchers, lies waste, and its [fortified] gates are consumed by fire?

 

One thing that might easily be missed is back in verse 2. The King recognized something was amiss in his servant Nehemiah. I want to tell you this is a trait of a very good leader. I cannot begin to tell you the number of leaders (bosses) I have seen over the years that were clueless. I or one of my fellow employees could be bleeding all over the floor never mind just looking sad and they would never notice. But notice Artaxerxes does recognize something is wrong with Nehemiah. Then Nehemiah, in verse 3, does not hesitate in his response to the King. He clearly and intelligibly points out that he has every reason to be sad. He seizes the opportunity to plead the plight of his people before the King.  Nehemiah had waited (and prayed) for 2 to 4 months for God to give his insight on how to help the people in and the city of Jerusalem. When God provided the occasion to take action he did not waiver. He found the strength in his belief that God is able in His (God’s) time.

 

            The King responds to what Nehemiah has told him in a manner I think most bosses would; what do you want me to do about it? While some would ask this with sarcasm I do not think it the case here. The text would seem to imply genuine concern on the part of the King, Nehemiah’s boss.

 

            The final sentence of our text is the most telling to me. I for one when asked this by the King would probably launch right into suggested courses of action. You know give the King some options on what I think could be done to rectify the problem(s). Yet Nehemiah does something I need to do more of, he: prayed to the God of heaven. Here is a guy who apparently has been praying for 2-4 months and he immediately prays some more. So what’s up with that? Isn’t he prayed up enough? Can’t Nehemiah handle it on his own after all that prayer? An emphatic NO!!!!!  Nehemiah (unlike many of us) does get it. What he gets is he is nothing and God is everything. 

 

            Nehemiah chooses Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. What will you choose when your opportunity for change comes? Will you seize the day or be muddled in fear.  Will you be a Nehemiah fearless in your work for Christ? Or maybe you are unable to “seize the day” and will be more like  the rich young ruler—who was afraid of change and unwilling to give up the comfort of his wealthy lifestyle to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-23). The choice is coming and it is yours alone to make.

 

In HIS Service.