Godly Living in a Pagan Society

As we move on from Nehemiah to Esther, we find people living with grace in the midst of a pagan society.

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 13:1- Esther 3:15

It is difficult to imagine more challenging circumstances than those of Esther.  As a Jew she sought to be faithful to God but all her people who are in exile are condemned to death.  What do you think you would do if you were her?

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Taking Time to Celebrate

The wall builders took time to celebrate the work accomplished.  Do you?

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

Don’t let the relentless pressure to produce more and more rob you of times to pause, praise, and party.   God is at work through His people and we need to recognize that frequently.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Weekend readings May 28-30, 2016

Here are our scheduled readings for the weekend.  The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a wise leader who changed his nation for God’s glory through prayer, faith, and obedience.

Saturday, May 28 — Nehemiah 1:1-4:23  Exemplary Leadership

Sunday May 29  — Nehemiah 5:1-7:72 Work Done with the Help of God

Monday May 30 (Memorial Day in the USA) – Nehemiah 7:73-10:39 The (Often) Missing Element in Prayer

See you on Tuesday!

For more on these passages see my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days available on Amazon in either Kindle ($4.99) or print format ($12.99).

Praying to a Big God for Big Things

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 12-13; Acts 4:23-37

14 Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.                                                              Nehemiah 13:22b

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,                                                                                  Acts 4:23-24

How a person prays reflects much about his or her faith in and knowledge of God.

A notable feature of the book of Nehemiah is his prayer life. On a number of occasions, he asks God to “remember him” (5:19; 13:14, 22, 31). It appears that Nehemiah is comfortable turning to God in the midst of his writing. He shows a recognition of God’s holiness and his own need for forgiveness, despite his many works of obedience. At times, it seems like he is offering his works as a basis for his acceptance before God, but we should probably not judge him too severely if he did not grasp as fully as we can the grace of God through the atonement for sin made by the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, in the verse quoted above, he shows an awareness of and dependence on the love of God.

In Acts, Peter and John have been released from arrest by the chief priests after being warned not to preach in the name of Christ. What do they do? They look for their friends, their fellow believers, they make a report as to what had occurred, and then they begin to pray. How do they address God? They address Him as the “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”  What do they pray for? Well, they do not ask for safety. They do not pray for the destruction of their enemies. They pray for boldness to keep speaking God’s Word. And God hears their prayer, fills them with His Holy Spirit, and gives them continued boldness.

What can you learn from these examples of prayer? Be sure you remember who God is and what He wants of us. Pray to a big God. Pray for big things, things that you know He wants. After all, He is the Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, isn’t He?

Believers under Political Authority

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 9-11; Acts 4:1-22

36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.                                               Nehemiah 9:36-37

19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.                                                                                                        Acts 4:19-21

God’s people, if they are wise and mature, understand that the rulers and authorities of this world are servants of God whether they recognize it or not and that they must not be obeyed when they command what God has prohibited or prohibit what God has commanded.

Nehemiah, the governor of Judah under King Artaxerxes, gives an eloquent analysis of the history of Israel, from Abraham to the return from captivity. He sees how God has been gracious and good to them, giving commands that, if obeyed, would bring them prosperity and security. Even after repeated episodes of rebellion, God showed mercy to them. Nehemiah reflects on their status in his day and sees that the people, although living back in their land of Judah, are, in reality, slaves in their own land. They are not free to enjoy the fruit of their labor. They are controlled by a foreign power, due to their rebellion. He calls the people back to faithful worship of the Lord and they make a covenant to be faithful. This is a wonderful example of a political leader proclaiming spiritual truth and actually facilitating the population’s obedience to God.

Fast forward to the time of Peter and John who, in Jesus’ name, healed a lame man in the temple and preached the gospel to the crowds. They face opposition from the authorities who prohibit their preaching in the Savior’s name. Peter says that they will obey God, and the authorities will have to deal with the results. Peter understands that the chief priests are under God’s authority and they will suffer if they prohibit what God commands and command what God prohibits.

Are you aware that the powers of our government are granted by God and that our officials must answer to Him, just as we all must? Are you ready to obey God rather than be complicit in disobedience if it comes to that? Be prepared with knowledge of His Word and trust in Him. Follow the leading of His Holy Spirit. God can give us wise leaders who fear Him, like Nehemiah, but, if not, we will listen to God rather than man.

 

How You Know You’re Saved

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 4-6; Acts 2:14-47

12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.                                                                               Nehemiah 5:12-13

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.                                                                                                      Acts 2:44-45

Generosity is evidence of true faith in God and sincere love for others. Faith in God and love for others are signs of salvation, of being reconciled to God (Acts 16:31; John 13:34,35).

The Jews had suffered greatly through the captivity. When the exiles returned to Judah, some were destitute. Others had managed to accumulate some wealth. The ones in poverty were reduced to selling their children into slavery to other Jews, just to pay their taxes. When Nehemiah learned about this he was furious. He called the people together and immediately rebuked the officials who had engaged in this abusive practice. The response was good because the loan sharks did recognize that they had violated God’s law and they stood in fear of Him.

Thanks to Nehemiah’s bold and swift leadership, the crisis was averted. The wall building resumed amidst joy and unity.

In the early church, there was also a disparity of material resources among the believers, yet the power of the gospel and presence of the Holy Spirit so moved them that they voluntarily looked out for one another. There seemed to be no need to rebuke them to share with one another, at least at this point.

Does your use of material resources reflect trust in God and love for others? Are you generous with what you have? If you have less than others, do you resent your lack or are you content with food and clothing (I Timothy 6:6-10) ? Flee from the love of money. Be as generous as you are able. Learn contentment. As Martin Luther told us, we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.  Salvation bears fruit in generosity, love, and contentment.

Emotional Engagement

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 1-3; Acts 2:1-13

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.” Nehemiah 1:11

6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? Acts 2:6-7

The life of faith is not a cold, intellectual exercise. The presence of God manifested by His mighty works brings deep emotional engagement to those who believe.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples gathered together on the day of Pentecost, they suddenly are empowered to preach to the crowds in various languages and the people are able to understand them perfectly.   God was manifesting Himself at that time and place through His apostles. The work of God, so dramatically revealed, stirred up all kinds of emotions in these devout men: bewilderment, amazement, astonishment, perplexity.

Nehemiah was burdened by the news that the walls of his beloved Jerusalem were in ruins. True, Cyrus had ordered the rebuilding of the temple and exiles had been allowed to return to do that work. Now, decades later, Nehemiah learns that the city is defenseless. He goes to God in prayer, a prayer that reveals his deep knowledge of the Lord. Nehemiah mentions a fascinating characteristic of God’s servants that they delight to fear His name.

Do you think of a devout believer as one who is cold and stoic? We see in Scripture that believers most certainly feel deeply the power and presence of God. Do you think of fear as being antithetical to delight? “How can someone delight to fear God’s name?” you may ask. Yet the knowledge of Almighty God brings a proper fear and awe to the heart of the believer that is delightful. The fear comes because we know Him to be Almighty, but that knowledge is also accompanied by joy, delight in knowing that He can and will fulfill His Word and keep us safe until He gets us home to glory. Fear God. Delight in the fear of Him. Be amazed. Just don’t be cold.

Taking Time to Celebrate

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

My selection: Nehemiah 12:43

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

My reflections: Care was taken to dedicate the wall and to give thanks to the Lord for His strength and blessing which allowed the work to be completed. All of the people were invited and many were given responsibilities for the sacrifices and the music. Men and women, boys and girls of all ages were included. This was a time of joy that came from God and was lifted up to God. What a happy moment this must have been as “the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”

My challenge: It is wise and good to take time to celebrate the achievements accomplished by God’s providence. God has built one day in seven into our lives for the purpose of giving thanks and worship to Him. Do you review His blessings and celebrate His goodness to you regularly?

Beware of rushing through life pursuing one goal after another with no thought of praising and thanking God. Stop and praise Him now for successful projects accomplished and goals achieved.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 13:1-Esther 3:15

The (Often) Missing Element in Prayer

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 7:73-10:39

My selection: Nehemiah 9:1-2

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

My reflections: Here is a notable example of God’s people confessing their sins corporately in worship before the Lord. Notice that they do not merely gloss over their sins but go into thorough detail about their own sins and the sins of their nation down through the years.

There is a well-known acrostic for prayer: A-C-T-S. It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Yet as popular and widely known as this acrostic is, I wonder if there is a not a lack of serious confession of sin by believers today.

In public and private prayer, confession should not be hurried or minimized but neither should specific requests for forgiveness and assurances of forgiveness based on the Word of God.

Old Testament believers knew that they needed to confess their sins and that their forgiveness depended on the Messiah who was still to come. How much better is our hope, no longer based on a future atonement but on the offering of Jesus Christ for the sins of His people.

My challenge: Be sure to take regular time to confess sin, ask forgiveness and be reminded that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” Ephesians 1:7.

It gives God joy to forgive you for Christ’s sake, fellow Christian, so may the joy of the Lord be your strength.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

Work Done with the Help of God

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 5:1-7:72

My selection: Nehemiah 6:15-16

15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

My reflections: The wall was finished in 52 days. The enemies were stunned, afraid, and humbled. Not just because the people had worked so hard and so well, but because they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of their God.

There was no other way to explain this feat. None of the things the enemies had said were true. None of their opposition had been effective. God had been with His people.

Jesus told His disciples, ” …let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16. In the case of Nehemiah, even his enemies had to admit that God had helped them. Even his enemies had to, in a sense, give glory to God for the finished wall of Jerusalem.

My challenge: What seemingly impossible task has God called you to do? Are you trusting Him to overcome obstacles and for the success of it? Is your desire that He be glorified in its accomplishment?

Approach your impossible task today in His strength, with His help, and for His glory.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 7:73-10:39