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                     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 II

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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

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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

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

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

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

Nehemiah 2:9-10

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

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

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

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

David Guzik in his commentary on Nehemiah writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Like Christ was persecuted so too will be His church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Favor

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

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

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

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

Nehemiah 2:5-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            In HIS Service.

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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.

 

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PRAYING PART FOUR

5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:

6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.

7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.

8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:

9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

11 O LORD, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

Nehemiah 1:5-11

 

            Last time we began our look at Nehemiah’s actual prayer, with an eye towards its meeting our previous analysis of prayer.  We got through two topics last time, 1) Only God (that is the God of the Bible) is worthy of our prayers and 2) we must always acknowledge our humble state when we pray.

            Today we will explore the final two points of Nehemiah’s prayer, 1) His prayer was and our prayer must; be founded upon hope and 2) we must pray with faithful expectation. While at first glance these two may seem similar I hope to show their significant and important differences.

 

1)  Prayers must be founded upon hope  

Verse 8-9   Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:

9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

            It may seem obvious but I think it may be helpful if I first define the word “HOPE”.  Hope has come to mean the following:

noun

1. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

            Note the uncertainty of the matter, it is a feeling and desire

2. Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

            Again uncertainty; it may happen as in "he does see some hope for the future"

 

Now the classic or dare I say biblical definition is quite different. Although considered “Archaic” or out of fashion it is: a sense of trust or confident expectation

 

            You can see the modern translation is one of uncertainty a feeling without foundation as in wishful thinking. The biblical definition conveys conviction. It is in that manner Nehemiah prayed to God.

            Look with me what he prayed;

1) He implores God to remember

2) To remember His promise to the Israelites

3) That even though they had been disobedient and scattered abroad

4) If they repented He was powerful enough to gather them

5) Gather them not just anywhere but in Jerusalem

            Nehemiah points out that God had made certain promises and Nehemiah expected God to honor them. Should we expect anything less? I dare say no, for why pray to God if you do not trust Him to hear your prayers and more importantly be capable of fulfilling them.

            Our hope today is the same as Nehemiah’s. God has promised us just as He did the Israelites. Yet our Hope is founded upon something greater than that of those of Nehemiah’s time, our Hope is still in God but founded upon Christ.

1 Timothy 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;  I hope you see it is still God where our Hope lies, it is just founded upon Christ and His work at Calvary.   Psalm 130:5 reiterates this: I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.

            Our hope stands in stark contrast to that of the wicked (those without Christ):

 

Prov 10:28 The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish

            Our hope brings joy

Prov 11:7 When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.

            The unrighteous only hope is death

Prov 11:23 The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath

            Believers desire (hope in) good things the sinner in evil

Prov 23:18 Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

            Our hope is in a future that cannot be taken away          

 

2)  Pray with faithful expectation

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

 

You need not utterly despair even of those who for the present "turn again and rend you." For if all your arguments and persuasives fail, there is yet another remedy left, and one that is frequently found effectual, when no other method avails. This is prayer. Therefore, whatsoever you desire or want, either for others or for your own soul, "Ask, and it shall be given you." -- JOHN WESLEY

 

 

Elijah prayed to God for rain and then sent his servant to see if there was any sign of it (1 Kings 18:41–46). He sent his servant seven times—Elijah had great expectation in God! Expectant prayer conquers discouragement and waits upon the Lord. James 1:6–7 tells us to ask with unwavering faith. http://www.joelbeeke.org/author/jrbeeke/

            We have discussed many times that one must pray in a manner that honors God and acknowledges His authority and control in all matters. Praying in such a manner that imposes your will upon God, (belief things will always work out as you planned), that just by asking God He will remove all troubles in your life or asking God for proof He is with you, are all recipes for prayer disaster.

            Everyone who prays does so with expectations at some level. These prayers are either founded on Worldly Expectations or Righteous Expectations. Righteous expectations start with:

            1) God’s sovereignty - Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

            2) Obedience - Joshua 1:7-9 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success

            3) Faith - Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

            4) Confidence - 1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

            I like what R.C. Sproul says on the matter:

We can take comfort from the fact that God knows our hearts and hears our unspoken petitions more than the words that emanate from our lips. Whenever we are unable to express the deep feelings and emotions of our souls or when we are completely unclear about what it is for which we ought to be praying, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Romans 8:26-27 says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” When we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for in a given situation, the Holy Spirit assists us. There is reason to believe from the text that if we pray incorrectly, the Holy Spirit corrects the error in our prayers before he takes them before the Father, for verse 27 tells us that he “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”     Excerpt from Does Prayer Change Things?  by R.C. Sproul

            Let us look back on Nehemiah’s prayer a moment:

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

            By declaring himself and those in Jerusalem God’s redeemed Nehemiah has a righteous expectation of God hearing these prayers of His people.

11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

            Humbly but with confidence Nehemiah asks God to look favorably upon his prayer. The end of which is so significant but many miss it.

I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

            Note what Nehemiah asks for, mercy from the King of Persia. Nehemiah did not ask amiss. He pleaded with God to look favorably upon him not by building him up but by changing the heart of his captor. In essence Nehemiah prayed God use this pagan to bring about your will. There was no ego involved here, no vengeance against those who had oppressed God’s people, no self in this at all. Instead Nehemiah prayed for God to bring glory upon himself by using a pagan King to do God’s bidding. That my friend’s is a righteous prayer, it is a God centered prayer. Only with God centered prayers do we have a faithful expectation of being answered.

            I will close by citing part of an article by noted author and Pastor Derek Thomas. He expresses 4 points in the article and I will only quote the final.

How can we ensure that our prayers are God-centered? Consider the following five-step strategy:

1. Remind yourself that there is only one God in the universe, and that you are not Him.

2. Adoration comes first, before confession, thanksgiving, or supplication. Worship the Lord in your praying.

3. Read a psalm before you pray, and attempt to emulate what you find: a preoccupation with God in all His multifaceted nature. Find psalms of joy or grief, praise or lament, and note how the psalmist spends time with God, making Him the center of his thoughts and desires.

4. Learn to love God’s names so that saying and repeating them fills you with an inexpressible joy, a reminder of who He is and His covenant faithfulness to you in the gospel of His grace.

5. Learn to “wait” upon the Lord. Watch how the psalmist, “fainting” as he thinks of his own troubles, finds relief by deliberately focusing on the great things God has done:

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds (Ps. 77:11–12). http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/god-centered-prayer/

 

Until next time may God watch over and protect you.

 

In HIS Service

 

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PRAYING PART THREE

 

5 And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:

6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.

7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.

8 Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations:

9 But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

10 Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

11 O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer.

Nehemiah 1:5-11

 

            The last two times we were in Nehemiah we looked at the subject of prayer. How it was Nehemiah’s final response to learning of the brokenness of his people in and the city of Jerusalem. We discovered what prayer is (and is not), why we pray, to whom we should pray, the reason(s) we should pray, how are we to pray and our expectations in prayer. Tonight we will look specifically at Nehemiah’s prayer. I will use four points to illustrate what we discussed.

 

1)  Only God is worthy of our prayer.

 

Verse 5  And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:

 

            a.        Nehemiah starts prayer by crying out I beseech thee. His pray is both passionate and decisive. He is not just asking no; he it is more like begging God to hear his prayer. He does this with already understanding that God will hear.

 

            b.        But not to just anyone. No Nehemiah cry’s out to the only person who can be of help in the situation God. Not just any god either, but the Lord God of heaven.

 

            1 Tim 1:17   Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen!  Only one is all knowing, powerful and ever present. Only He is worthy of all praise.

 

            c.         Next Nehemiah recognized and clearly acknowledges the Lord God’s exalted position the great and terrible God. Men throughout history like Nero, Genghis Kahn and Stalin have been elevated to great status and most have been terrible human beings. In describing God as the great and terrible God; Nehemiah has something completely different in mind.

 

                        The great as in the One who is able to accomplish mighty things

                        The Terrible as in the One who is able to impose immense judgments

 

            God, creator of all is the only one capable of both righteous justice and mercy at the same time. Calvary is all the proof we need of that.

 

          1 Chronicles 29:10-11   Wherefore David blessed the Lord before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. 11 Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.

 

          Ps 97:9   For thou, Lord, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.

 

2)  Pray acknowledging our humble state

 

Verse 6-7  Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.  7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.

 

            Like Nehemiah when we pray we must acknowledge our poor state. By that I mean not our present situation whether it is illness, financial or legal woes we are battling, but our total and complete inability to rise above such a status without God.

 

            a.        Admit our limitations: 

 

1 Chronicles 29:6-9 (AMP)  Solomon said, You have shown to Your servant David my father great mercy and loving-kindness, according as he walked before You in faithfulness, righteousness, and uprightness of heart with You; and You have kept for him this great kindness and steadfast love, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne this day.7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of David my father, and I am [a]but a lad [in wisdom and experience]; I know not how to go out (begin) or come in (finish). 8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people who cannot be counted for multitude.9 So give Your servant an understanding mind and a hearing heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad. For who is able to judge and rule this Your great people?

 

            Solomon commonly referred to as the wisest man whom ever lived understood he was nothing apart from the wisdom and understanding that only God could provide.  So too did Nehemiah declare this by saying the prayer of thy servant and children of Israel thy servants. This is not a self-deprecating statement calling himself and all Israel servants. No it is an acknowledgment of their simple state of being.

 

            b.        Admit we are sinful men

 

Luke 18:9-14 (AMP)   He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves and were confident that they were righteous [that they were upright and in right standing with God] and scorned and made nothing of all the rest of men: 10 Two men went up into the temple [[i]enclosure] to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee [j]took his stand ostentatiously and began to pray thus before and with himself: God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of men—extortioners (robbers), swindlers [unrighteous in heart and life], adulterers—or even like this tax collector here. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I gain. 13 But the tax collector, [merely] standing at a distance, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his breast, saying, O God, be favorable (be gracious, be merciful) to me, the [k]especially wicked sinner that I am! 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified (forgiven and made upright and in right standing with God), rather than the other man; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted

 

            Whenever we come to God in prayer, no matter the reason, be it to beseech Him for help or offer praise for something He has provided; we must as Nehemiah confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I {insert your name here} and my father's house have sinned

 

            God cannot and will not have any part of sinful man’s prayers apart from the confession of sins. Asking God while hiding or withholding sin and you ask amiss. (Ps 66:18, Is 59:2)

 

            c.         Admit our unworthiness

 

Luke 15: 17-19 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

 

            The story of the prodigal son is oft told as a good news story. That no matter how bad you have screwed up God (our Father) has forgiveness in His heart and will always welcome you back into the fold.  Yet so many fail to get the key to God’s forgiveness is our own realization and admittance of our unworthiness to be called a son of God. If we fail to acknowledge our worthlessness and refuse to confess our transgressions how can a loving God offer forgiveness?

 

            Do not expect help from God nor a fellow believer if you will not admit your faults and your need for help. Nehemiah knew this and did not hesitate to declare it when he said we have dealt very corruptly against thee.

 

            d.        Admit our disobedience

 

            If you want God to help your efforts you must be obedient to His decrees. Nehemiah understood this and confirmed that the people of Israel; have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.

 

            There comes a time in everyone’s life when the will run out of excuses. Roman 14:11-12 says; For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.   For some unfortunately that day will not come in this world And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Heb 9:27).

 

            I am one of the blessed ones, God in His grace and mercy saw fit to bring me into that realization on the third day of my incarceration. I was tossed (he could not hand it to me due to the distance and bars) a bible by the Chaplain.  Catching it I opened it to where my thumb had landed and what I read brought me to my knees: Deut. 11:26-28 26 Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; 27 A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day: 28 And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.

 

            Although I had spent time years before in a bible preaching church even helping in their bus ministry I was not converted. I was a sinner running from the truth living on the dark side. But this day God made clear my future I could as it were continue down the road to damnation or cry out to God surrendering all to the call of God and enjoying the blessings of obedience.

 

            I would like to close with two quotes on the subject of prayer:

 

The prevailing idea seems to be, that I come to God and ask Him for something that I want, and that I expect Him to give me that which I have asked.  But this is a most dishonouring and degading conception.  The popular belief reduces God to a servant, our servant: doing our bidding, performing our pleasure, granting our desires.  No, prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my need, committing my way unto the Lord, and leaving Him to deal with it as seemeth Him best.                                          —Arthur W. Pink

 

To get nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees. ~ Billy Graham

 

            As these quotes point out God is not some instant genie granting wishes. No He alone is worthy of deciding life’s course. If we want that path to be one that honors and glorifies Him we have no choice but to humble ourselves and get on our knees in prayer.

 

            Next time we will look at the Hope and expectation of Nehemiah’s prayer.

 

 

 

Response to Brokenness Continued

 

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PRAYER PART II

 

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,

           

            Nehemiah 1:4

 

            Since we have so many new faces with us tonight I thought it appropriate to recap our exploration of the book of Nehemiah so far. I have attempted to show the similarities of Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem with the need for many of us to rebuild our own lives.

 

            We have spent 7 weeks in the first 4 verses of Chapter 1 which we should conclude this week. We saw the following themes so far:

·         Living as an Outcast

o   An overview of the book of Nehemiah with emphasis on his situation and how it pertains to those in bondage.

·         Trials or Tribulations

o   We looked at how Nehemiah may have experienced trails but not tribulation which we defined as suffering for Christ.

·         Recognition of Brokenness

o   Using verse III we discussed how one must recognize that they are broken before any repairs to their life can be made.

·         Response to Brokenness Part I

o   Nehemiah’s first response to learning his fellow Jews in Jerusalem are broken is to weep and mourn

·         Response to Brokenness Part II

o   Next Nehemiah responds by fasting

·         Response to Brokenness Part III

o   Nehemiah’s final response is prayer. Last time we discovered what prayer is (and is not), why we pray, why we should pray, to whom we should pray and the reason(s) we should pray.

 

            Tonight we will conclude with the final two points how we should pray and our expectations in prayer.  Let us look at our main text Nehemiah Chapter 1 verse 4 one more time:

 

4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,          Nehemiah 1:4

            The question that I think crosses all new believers minds is how are we to pray?  I mean I want to pray right so my prayers are effective.

                       

            Because we are children of God we can approach the throne of Grace with bold confidence Ephesians 3:11-13  According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. 13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. “Bold confidence’ however should never be mistake for arrogance.  Again using the WCF let us dig in to the word.

 

Q. 185. How are we to pray?

A. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God,[1183] and deep sense of our own unworthiness,[1184] necessities,[1185] and sins;[1186] with penitent,[1187]thankful,[1188] and enlarged hearts;[1189] with understanding,[1190] faith,[1191] sincerity,[1192] fervency,[1193] love,[1194]

 

            I love the beginning of this pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God. What sounds bad is actually so magnificent. Baker’s Bible dictionary notes: When confronted with God's awesome presence the inevitable human response is to quiver and cower. In fact, the Bible never records a direct personal encounter with God in which the individual was not visibly shaken by God's awesomeness. Awful apprehension is not the same as disgusting it is a sense of Awe, Wonderment, and our Smallness as compared to the Almighty God of the Universe whenever we enter His presence. 

           

            When we pray we are to acknowledge our unworthiness; let me pause there. It is impossible for us to appreciate the love of God and therefore to have fellowship with God until we FULLY understand our own unworthiness.  Next we need comprehend the very real need to pray to God, confess our sins, while being thankful that we have a God who listens and open our hearts to His understanding. All that we MUST do BEFORE we begin our petitions.

 

            Our prayers must be done:

 

                        a)  in faith Mark 11:24. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. James 1:6. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

 

                        b) in sincerity Psalm 145:18. The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. Psalm 17:1. Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer that goeth not out of feigned lips.

 

                        c) with frequency  I have heard it said prayers should be one and done. God hears us the first time no need to repeat. Well while technically true, God hears all righteous prayers, repetition demonstrates our resolve in the matter.

                        d) in Love 1 Timothy 2:8. I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

 

            In the jail a while back I was counseling a guy that was really angry. He spurted out “I hate these people; I pray God kills them all”.  Do you really think God will honor that I asked. He replied I do not care I hate them. Therein lies the rub, He really did not care what God wanted he only cared about what he wanted. God cannot and will not honor prayers of malice.

           

            I would venture to say from the text that it was Nehemiah’s love for his fellow Jews and their plight that drove him to prayer. Are there people or circumstances in your life that you love in need of prayer?

 

            Another issue in our prayer life can be our expectations of prayer. Prayer can be a mystery at times. Not because it truly is but because we miss use it so often. Our expectations are so high that anything less than immediate fulfillment of what we want leaves us lacking.

            R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier Ministries site has this to say about Eliminating Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes we all feel as if our prayers lack the power to penetrate our ceilings. It seems as though our petitions fall on deaf ears and God remains unmoved or unconcerned about our passionate pleading. Why do these feelings haunt us?

 

There are several reasons why we are sometimes frustrated in prayer. One is that our expectations are unrealistic. This, perhaps more than any other factor, leads to a frustration in prayer. We make the common mistake of taking statements of Jesus in isolation from other biblical aspects of teaching in prayer, and we blow these few statements out of proportion.

 

We hear Jesus say that if two Christians agree on anything and ask, it shall be given to them. Jesus made that statement to men who had been deeply trained in the art of prayer, men who already knew the qualifications of this generalization. Yet in a simplistic way we interpret the statement absolutely. We assume the promise covers every conceivable petition without reservation or qualification. Think of it. Would it be difficult to find two Christians who would agree that to end all wars and human conflict would be a good idea? Obviously not. Yet if two Christians agreed to pray for the cessation of war and conflict, would God grant their petition? Not unless He planned to revise the New Testament and its teaching about the future of human conflict.

 

Prayer is not magic. God is not a celestial bellhop at our beck and call to satisfy our every whim. In some cases, our prayers must involve the travail of the soul and agony of heart, such as Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Sometimes young Christians have been bitterly disappointed in “unanswered” prayers, not because God failed to keep His promises, but because well-meaning Christians made promises “for” God that God never authorized.

 

            The WLC in continuing question 185 says: and perseverance,[1195] waiting upon him,[1196]with humble submission to his will.[1197]

[1195] Ephesians 6:18. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. We are to persevere or endure how with supplications or prayer.

 

[1196] Micah 7:7. Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. In our on demand society waiting patiently is not always easy. God however does not work on your time clock. When we ask for something, lift something or someone up in prayer we must wait on the Lord.

 

[1197] Matthew 26:39. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. I firmly believe Nehemiah has a real expectation that God would hear, honor and grant his petition. I think when we take a closer look at Nehemiah’s actual prayer next time you will really get a better understanding of this.

 

            Like Nehemiah when we find that there is an issue in life’s journey we must turn to God for answers and help. Godly man and women understand that they apart from God do not have the strength on their own to surmount many of today’s challenges.

 

            In closing I wish to quote Charles Spurgeon who said "Even as the moon influences the tides of the sea, so does prayer influence the tides of godliness." 

If you wish to live a God honoring life you need to be in prayer.

 

 Next time we will begin to look at Nehemiah’s actual prayer in verses 5-11.

 

In HIS Service