Monday, June 29, 2009

Nehemiah Chap 5

So far in Nehemiah, we see how the enemies from outside the camp hindered the work, but in this chapter we learn that the injustice wasn't limited to the likes of Sanballat and Tobiah, but also there was injustice inside the camp. Nehemiah show us how to defend the oppressed and rules without harsh burdens on the people. When you see injustice around you, what do you do to respond to the need? We learn in chapter 5 that we should always do right out of reverence for God.

At the beginning of this chapter we find that men and women came to Nehemiah to make him aware of the mistreatment they were enduring at the hands of their Jewish brothers. They had great numbers, but didn't have enough to eat during the famine. In exchange for food, they mortgaged their homes, their fields and their vineyards. They had to borrow money to pay their taxes and sell their children into slavery. They incurred so much debt they had no hope of getting free and were perpetually being oppressed by the rulers of the people. They were powerless to do anything to save themselves as the fields were mortgaged and they were redirecting all their proceeds to pay their debts. They knew the truth of Proverbs 22:7 "just as the rich rule poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender."

The same strategies that keep people oppressed and enslaved today were used in the time Nehemiah. Think about this... whoever controls the purse strings controls your life. This passage in Nehemiah could be a page from our newspaper today. I was very encouraged to see that Nehemiah was a strong leader who was not afraid to confront wrong. I wonder if the same could be said for me. Do I go to the effort to make things right when I see wrongs being committed?

Nehemiah was outraged that the leaders would treat the people this way. He called them together to give them an opportunity to speak for themselves about the charges that were brought to him. When they were confronted they had nothing to say in their defense. I think they knew that what they were doing was wrong and they couldn't defend it. They were caught.

I think of the recent news with Governor Mark Sanford being caught in adultery. When he was caught by the media he didn't defend his actions, but renounced them. Interesting though that he didn't renounce them before being caught. Before we point our finger to others too much, how many times have we done the same thing justifying our wrong choices and rebellion. Have you ever said "I am sorry, officer when caught speeding?" Do you ever knowingly speed? Do you ever use your employer's materials and equipment for personal purposes? We go down a very slippery slope accusing others and evaluating ourselves by a lesser standard.

It demonstrates that we need enforcement to keep us honest. Nehemiah needed to stand against the wrongs being committed in order to correct the situation. If we merely say that we can't judge another's behavior, we will never stand for right and we will be guilty of allowing the wrong continue. People who are guilty of wrong do not want their deeds exposed because they know that they would have to change their behavior. What deeds are you doing that you don't want exposed. Change now before the light is shone on them. Encourage others to change their sinful ways before they stand before judgment with no defense as these leaders did.

Nehemiah had sufficient burdens as a leader just confronting the opposition of Sanballat and encouraging the workers to keep progressing in the face of the enemy. Now there is internal strife that must be dealt with. He needs to stand boldly against internal abuses. He is a true leader in that he forfeits what he could require as governor in order to strengthen the people and set the example for them to focus on the task of rebuilding.

Nehemiah was a man willing to do right out of reverence for God. He stood for justice, he had compassion for the oppressed and he led as a benevolent leader. Will you take courage to stand against the wrongs around you? Nehemiah kept his focus on the Lord and because he was strong in the Lord he was able to boldly confront wrongs and to enforce right. Can you?

Nehemiah Chap 4

When you encounter opposition how do you respond? When someone maligns you, do you counter back with choice words of your own; do you walk away in self pity? Nehemiah gives us some good guidance in Chapter 4 where he shows us that opposition tests our faith and increases our stamina as we live our lives for Jesus.

We start out chapter 4 with mockers speaking against the rebuilding. There are several rounds of threats each escalating in greater danger. At first it is just words but by the end, it is clear that annihilation is their objective. When the opposition wasn't successful in deterring the work of building the wall through mockery, threats turned to physical harassment and then open hostility.

Now here is Nehemiah's example to us in facing opposition: each threat Nehemiah repeatedly did two things; 1. prayer to God and 2. diligent activity to defend his work. So often I am guilty of one or the other, and frustrated when I had limited success or no success at all. In this passage we learn that faith in action stands against any foe.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer; that is how he could know that this was a mission of God that he was called to. It was also how he gained his focus and strength. Nehemiah could confidently proceed with the work because he had God's clear vision for the project. How often have I undertaken projects and felt frustrated or defeated because I did not pray and have God's clear direction and purpose. For Nehemiah, prayer was his first and foremost weapon. Nehemiah looked to the Lord for his defense, but he also prepared his men for battle at the same time knowing that God often uses his people to accomplish his purposes.

Nehemiah also encouraged the people to consider how God was greater than their enemy and to trust him to supply their need. As enemy threats increased, the people started to become discouraged and fearful. The hard work was taking its toll on their stamina. The project was huge without opposition. The threats made the completion of the wall virtually impossible. Nehemiah needed not only stand against the enemy, he needed to strengthen the resolve of his people to persevere.

Nehemiah not only relied on prayer, but he acted on his prayers, joining God in the defense of the building project. He outlined 5 strategies to prepare the people for battle:
1. 1/2 people worked while 1/2 defended the workers
2. workers and defenders were armed to stand against the enemy if needed
3. workers worked all day and then guarded their work at night
4. trumpet signal used to call the people to the location of a threat
5. men wore weapon at all time; even when getting water.

Every defense that could be made was. Nehemiah didn't go about his business and not prepare to address the threat; he looked to the Lord first and then prepared his people to join the Lord in battle against the enemy.

Whatever your opposition today, you can be assured that faith in action can stand against any foe. Your enemy may want to discourage you and make you feel insufficient to the task, but if you belong to the Lord, you have a defender on your side that is greater than any opposition you face. Look to him for your strength and then stand firm!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nehemiah Chapter 3

When is the last time you gave recognition to all those who have helped you in your work? Nehemiah is very careful to document all the people who have helped build the wall. He wanted there to be a good record. Section by section he lists out who did the work and the type of work they did.

Interestingly, Nehemiah also notes the people who didn't contribute. Look at verse 5... "their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors" I am not exactly sure what happened; was it pride that made the nobles think they shouldn't have to work or was it submission to the supervisors authority? In any case, we know that there were some who did not carry their load. I hope that when my work is written down, that no one will say that of me.

Here is another interesting thing I found...Hananiah and Malkijah show up twice once in verses 8 and 11 and then again in verses 30 and 31. Clearly there were some that carried more than their fair load. Nehemiah was faithful to record the work so that their names are forever examples for us today as we glean inspiration for our day today.

Another thing I noticed that Shallum who ruled a 1/2 district of Jerusalem was not only working hard, but also he got his daughters to help as well. We don't know their names, but clearly the work was not limited to the men.

There were also people who were not from Jerusalem who came to help with the project. In verse 13 we see the residents of Zanoah were helping out. A bold move considering the mounting opposition from other area forces, but they were written down in the record as helping out as well.

Even the priests who I would not have pegged for building walls were helping.

There were gates, towers and walls to be constructed and anyone who was willing was tagged for the work. Thank God Nehemiah recorded the help that he received. My application today is to make sure that I recognize someone who has been a help to me and thank God for them. No one should have to work without being given credit; but ultimately we need to credit God for all the work that is completed in the end. Let's be people looking to give credit where credit is due!

Nehemiah Chapter 2:11-20

I am a person of action. I love having a project and I like to dig right in and start making progress. In this section of Nehemiah, I find that jumping right into the middle is not always the best course of action. Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and doesn't begin the project immediately but surveys the work three days after his arrival. He didn't share God's calling with anyone immediately. He was clearly collecting data and learning about the needs and the resources that were available to him.

As I begin a new work that has been a large focus of what I am doing is learning about what programs exist in our area to help people in financial distress and what is the best way we can achieve financial stability. I need to make sure that I have completed the community assessment and developed some strong goals and assessed my resources before going off into action. I need to be careful about presenting my agenda before learning about the agenda's of others.

Nehemiah did his first survey of the city after dark with a few escorts to guide him around. I am sure that his heart was sorrowful as he saw first hand the destruction of Jerusalem.

After surveying the damage he went to the priests and nobles of the city to encourage them to join in the rebuilding. He told them about how God had granted him favor with the king and his calling to the project. Seeing only the upside of the project, the priests and nobles agreed. If Sanballat had been present that might have been another issue as they had lived under the oppression others for so long; I am sure they were weary and afraid.

I love how Nehemiah didn't shy away from confrontation of Sanballat, but gave glory to God even before the project was begun. Nehemiah was assured of his calling and therefore he was assured of it's success he could boldly say that God would complete the work and they would have no share or claim to the city after its completion.

As I consider applications for my own life, I think that first and foremost, I need to continually be praying to have the assurance of my calling and to know how to best direct my actions to see my own project through to its completion.

Secondly, I need not to begin a work until it is properly assessed and the survey is completed. Having a plan is important before the project begins not developing the plan as you go.

Third, I think that we need to bring others into our projects and allow them to share in the work and to lend their expertise.

Fourth, we need not fear or shy away from confrontation or opposition. We can know that our God is greater than any enemy we face and we don't need to be ashamed of our work done for him.

Finally, we need to give God the glory right from the get go. God's glory is our mission. Did God get glory for your day yesterday? If not, let's make sure he gets the glory for our work done today!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nehemiah Chapter 2: 1-10

At the beginning of Chapter 2, there is an interesting scenario. The King seems interested in the welfare of his cupbearer, Nehemiah; but clearly Nehemiah is nervous and afraid. We don't know him well at this point; but later we learn that Nehemiah is not easily taken off his game. If Nehemiah was afraid, I am sure there was history to substantiate negative responses toward requests. Nehemiah had prayed and clearly felt that he should bring the King into the matter of Jerusalem's devastation and request his support.

We are reading the story knowing the end from the beginning, but I think back to the times when God in response to my prayers has led me to do things that I was uncomfortable with (like making peace with an instigator in my life or asking for forgiveness when I was only 1/2 of the conflict or letting go of a particular means of security in favor of obedience) I am sympathetic to Nehemiah's position.

But look how God began moving before him... 1. He didn't introduce the matter, the King asked about his sad countenance, 2. the King asked him what he wanted - Nehemiah didn't have to ask.
Nehemiah didn't answer how the King could help without lifting up a quick prayer while he was there and about to speak. Nehemiah's reliance on prayer is amazing. He didn't do anything without putting the issue before the Lord and asking for help.

After praying he asks for some time off to go to Jerusalem to help rebuild. After getting a positive response he then asks for a little more - safe passage through all the nations he needs to pass throug and a little lumber for the job. I am impressed that God worked on Artaxeres heart even before the request...and gives even more than asked. Nehemiah got army officers and calvary to accompany him.

At the very end of this section we find the opposition identified setting the stage for the conflict that Nehemiah has to stand against in the upcoming chapters.

Now, what are the applications for our lives? I think the clear application from this is that if we will seek God's leading and follow it, He will order our steps and give favor to us in our service. Nehemiah was a man of prayer and service.

To be selected as a servant for his work, we need to be knowledgeable of God's commands and be walking with him daily. We can't just neglect study and prayer and expect to be found useful. What am I doing to improve my walk with the Lord and do I give prayer the precidence it needs?

Another application we can take is that if the Lord calls us to a work, he may take us out of our comfort zone, but he will still go with us and empower us to complete the task if we will be faithful.

Finally, I think we need to be aware that if the Lord calls us to an assignment, it is very likely we will encounter opposition. That is not an indication to turn back but to press forward. The enemy does not like seeing the Lord be victorious and get glory. He will use the means at his disposal to thwart God's projects.

Nehemiah is already an inspiration for me. I hope you find him an encouragement to your soul too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nehemiah Chapter 1

Nehemiah starts his story by giving you some background. Who he is, when this takes place, and who he works for. He was serving King Artaxerxes in his 20th year of reign when one of his brothers arrive with some friends to let him know the condition of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was brokenhearted to hear that the people were living in such disgrace and that the city of Jerusalem would be so destroyed and lying in ruins. His brothers had traveled a very long way to deliver the news. They had no way of knowing that Nehemiah could help but I am sure his brother knew that Nehemiah was a man who was resourceful and he worked for the king. His brother must have hoped that Nehemiah would be able to work some favors with his position.

Nehemiah's response is noteable. He first mourned. He was visibly shaken by the news and I am sure he started thinking about how to make things better. His first stop was in prayer to the Lord. I just loved the prayer. It starts at verse 5 and continues to the end of the chapter. He has a model for us.

1. Nehemiah recognizes the greatness of God and his relationship with his people.
2. He acknowledges that the covenant with the people looks to their love and obedience.
3. It is on the basis of the established covenant that he lays out his request before God.
4. Nehemiah confesses not only his own sin, but the sins of the entire nation of Israel
5. He refers to promises given to Moses and asks God to bring them back together from the places they were scattered.
6. He reminds God that the nation of Israel is his people who have been redeemed by him.
7. He asks for success with the king and God's favor to be upon him.

As I look at this chapter I am inspired to not look to human salvation as perhaps Nehemiah's brother hoped for but to go to God and acknowledge his might and our full dependence on him for our success. I think that I for one often don't confess my sin as I should. We humans often discount our own behavior and presume upon God's grace when we should be asking for forgiveness.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer and great faith in God. God needs more men and women like him who will first go to him in prayer before trying to solve the problem on our own. I need to end this so that I can go talk with my Lord. Do you want to too?

Nehemiah Study

This summer I have begun a study in Nehemiah. I think I was doing a devotional one day and realized how he had to endure a lot of opposition and had a lot of leadership challenges. I am beginning a new endeavor at work and am challenged with creating a program that will reach our entire region with tools to increase their financial stability. Since God opened this door for me, I realize that this is his endeavor and that whatever is done should glorify him. I am also humbled as this is a project bigger than anything I have ever done before; I know I need the Lord's help to make this a success. Nehemiah seemed to have a lot in common with me.

I am hoping that as I go through this study, that I will see principles I can apply to leadership and project management. I hope that the Lord will show me how I can increase in my reliance on the Lord and accomplish his purposes in my life and in the lives of those I meet along the way.

I am thrilled at the prospect that the Lord might use me to minister to others in need. I just know I can't do it in my own effort, that I need his wisdom, provision and strength to see this project through.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New Blog

Check out my new blog at It is called In God We Trust. I hope you enjoy.

I hope to encourage you to apply God's financial principals as you make spending and savings decisions throughout your days. Learn what God has to say about our money decisions!