DAY 21 NEHEMIAH – SUMMARY

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I’m writing today from my hotel room during our break at IF:LEAD2015. It has been an incredible time and there is more to come. Tonight: IF:Pray 2015. 500+ women here – 6 countries represented live streamed. Then to be joined by local groups in homes or churches all over – maybe the world. It is a powerful thought.

Prayer – that is where Nehemiah started. He heard news that distressed him and he prayed. I would not be wrong to say that every work of God begins at this place. We (I) need reminding.

Nehemiah was concerned with the disgrace of the ruined walls of Jerusalem. What are my concerns?

  1. Refugees. Kay Warren spoke today about “compassion” – being the arms of Jesus. This is the church’s mission and we are the best equipped organization in the world. We need to stop thinking Jesus is speaking to someone else. Praying for every local church to step up.
  2. Hunger for spiritual maturity. So many of God’s people are stuck on the road to maturity, pulled over in the ditch somewhere thinking that’s all there is. Praying the Spirit of God will woo them on.
  3. Praying to better understand what it looks like to love people well. Praying to listen better. Looking to find out exactly how Jesus did it…then follow after Him.
  4. Praying for the church (local and universal) for unity and love. This is how the world knows about Jesus. #BeTheChurch
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DAY 20 NEHEMIAH 13:15-31

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Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood [personhood], to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… Eph. 4:11-13

For all of Nehemiah’s vision and wisdom and administrative skills – his diplomacy and his anger – he never lost sight of his task. His job was to equip the people of God to do the work of ministry. No matter how gifted he was, no matter how successful things might be with him standing over them, that was not the goal. The goal was for the people of God, each one, to grow up – to become mature.

Sure, he poked and prodded. He rallied, he encouraged, he called sin “sin” and he wasn’t concerned about offending when offending was needed.

It’s hard to not feel discouraged when your mentor is so very capable. But Nehemiah used his gifts to foster their growth as a body – he did not flaunt them for personal benefit. He expected the people of God to become exactly who God intended them to be.

I think Nehemiah and Paul (and whoever wrote Hebrews) would have hit it off. Well, since they are all in heaven today, it would not surprise me if they have had some great times comparing notes. Paul understood the need for milk until the church was ready for solid food but he never stopped calling for maturity in Christ.

Here’s the takeaway:

Avoiding the pitfalls of personal notoriety, people pleasing and the preaching of pabulum, the work of a leader is to mentor the people of God on to maturity.*

…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col. 1:10)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*No, I did not try to get 7 ‘P” words.  It just came out that way. 🙂

DAY 19 NEHEMIAH 13:1-14

19“Why is the house of god forsaken?”

All you can say is the people of God are a roller-coaster work in progress!

There is always hope when people willingly respond to the Word of God. When they make really tough choices in order to be obedient you know God is at work in their hearts.

Corruption, especially in leadership, can be so discouraging. You get people who would rather be “in” with the outsiders than care for their flock. So much so, that they don’t even notice when people just move away. (Don’t even get me started – I would be right there with Nehemiah throwing things at them as I booted them out the door.)

And then there is hope again when you find there are steadfast and honorable people still there ready to both lead and serve God.

You just have to wonder “WHY?” That was exactly Nehemiah’s question!

God could demand strict and ready obedience but instead He asks . He woos, He speaks, He fixes, He renews plans, and He shows us again and again how it’s done. Like Nehemiah suspected he needed to check on things, God knows we are weak on endurance. That could just be why He gave us each other.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:32)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Heb. 10:24)

DAY 18 NEHEMIAH 12:27-47

18AND 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.

…at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem

Kind of reminds me of a wedding day. Everyone is ready for each participant to play their part. Scruffy brothers shine their shoes and volunteer to pick up elderly aunts. Bridesmaids bustle, groomsmen get solemn…everyone looks for their cue. You want to get this special day just right. If you never in your life kneeled at a prayer rail you are willing to today because that is “how it’s done.”

The people in all the cities sought out the Levites to lead them to the celebration. The singers gathered with their instruments, the priests and Levites purified – first themselves and then the people and then the gates and the wall. In official procession the two choirs lead the leaders around the city, walking on the wall. One group going north and one going south until they met at the house of God. As they walked the choirs sang praise and offered thanksgiving to God. At their meeting, great sacrifices were offered and songs were sung. And the hearts of all – men, women and children – were made glad. And they felt God in their midst and their joy rang for miles.

I can just feel being caught up in the whole ceremony and celebration and meaning. It is like a wedding – the Jews making themselves ready, making their vows, restarting a new way of life in union with God. The whole thing marks a day they will remember.

Personally I’m not much for formal celebrations that mean you have to dress up. I think it’s the awkward clothes and uncomfortable shoes. But I am one for vows of loyalty, marking occasions and making memories. I want to be on the record with my people. I want them to know the joy they are to me. I don’t want them to ever forget:  I.AM.FOR.YOU.

I think this is how God might have felt on this dedication day. “These are my people and I am for them.”

Lord, I am grateful for your never ending love, your patience, your forgiveness – your unsurpassed loyalty.  That word loyalty might not matter to some but You know it matters to me. Today Lord I will celebrate YOU! I will lean in and embrace joy even when so much I see and hear is far from joyful. Nehemiah said it – “the joy of the Lord shall be your strength.” If your joy is the prescription for endurance – for me and for others – then use me to get the message out. Amen.

DAY 17 NEHEMIAH 11:25-12:26

17…who with his brothers was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving…brothers who stood opposite them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch by watch.

What a great job to be in charge of the “songs of thanksgiving”, or praise and thanksgiving. Apparently David – the man of God – and a singer/songwriter/musician had set up some kind of plan. There was to be in place “praise and thanks” to God, arising from the people.

The ESV says “watch by watch”. It reminds me of the third watch or the sixth watch we read about in the Scripture. These are hours of the day or night. Other translations say “division by division” or “ward next to ward.” So either hour by hour or one set of people to the next – David’s plan was to make a time and place for God to be remembered.

I am thinking about how praise songs are a powerful way to keep my heart aligned with God’s. They focus me on who He is and how much He has done for me. Plus – singing is contagious. Just try humming Amazing Grace as you go through the grocery store. You’ll be surprised how many “innocent bystanders” will have the tune in their head all the live long day!

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:3

So, here we go…Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…

DAY 16 NEHEMIAH 11:1-24

16Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem. And the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem the holy city, while nine out of ten remained in the other towns. And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.

“Help wanted: must be willing to relocate.”

Nehemiah’s newspaper ad would have looked something like this. It was time for the day to day practice of what had been proclaimed. The leaders were in place but the city lacked the infrastructure people. (Funny, we dwell on electing the “position holder” but don’t think much of how many others it takes for him or her to do their job. Behind every successful X there are 50 other x’s making it happen!)

These worker bees are not insignificant. Their names are recorded in this chapter. They have been chosen by the casting of lots. While a common practice in Bible times – the Jews accepted the outcome regarding “spiritual” questions as the will of God. So, if I were a Jew living in a city and the lot fell to me to move to Jerusalem – then I would consider that a calling from God.

So the question becomes: if God is calling, am I willing to relocate? The Jews physically moved out of the safety of their homes to live in, work in and defend the city. I’m not sure relocating always requires a physical move – though I’ve always thought fondly about being a missionary to the French Riviera 🙂 .

Sometimes I am called to relocate my resources or my attention. And my experience confirms, a change of direction can come as clearly as the toss of the lot. Turns out a motorcycle accident or an aging parent can suddenly make you a caregiver. You’ve moved so fast you have to send for your stuff!

When the assignment is long, serving the infrastructure is tedious and defending the wall is hard work, I am apt to not see my job in much of a positive light. The Lord hears my complaints. Reminds me He instigated my relocation as a way to serve Him and He is with me. My heart is back on track. “Let’s do this!”

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. John 12:26

DAY 15 NEHEMIAH 10:28-39

15WE WILL NOT NEGLECT THE HOUSE OF OUR GOD.

The revival in Jerusalem has stirred a fire in hearts of the people. God’s requirements for so long have been forsaken. But now, – now that they have heard, their response is to be obedient. They did not just appointed or reinstate some leaders to handle the “worship service” and then go on about their own business – dropping in on the Sabbath to put their coins in the coffer. Instead they owed it. The people took responsibility for how the systems would operate and they divvied up the duties. It’s kind of grassroots.

It’s a good precursor to the New Testament church where every believer belongs to the body. Every believer has gifts to exercise because the body of Christ would be incomplete without them. This should be the framework for how a physical local church functions. Sometimes, without meaning to, the forms we fall in to get wonky. They become obstacles to the ideal. We need, therefore to be diligent about how we build.

There are two parts to not neglecting “the House of Our God” that come to mind.

The first is directed to leaders and planners. You are the framers. You decide where the walls go and where there should be doors and windows. You design the floor plan and how many outlets can be accommodated. Your dreams for community and participation will guide your building. You are also the maintenance workers. You watch for anything that might begin to pile up at a doorway or a window and you removed it. It may be a lovely obstacle but it is an obstacle none the less and people having access is the top priority.

The second is directed to the body. Matt put it so well. “Are you a contributor or a consumer?” You have gifts and they are not really optional. You are vital and we are not whole without you.

One final thought. The church may meet on one day of the week but her impact goes on 24/7. We grow together so we can GO together. Our charge is not only to build up the body – it is to build the Kingdom till Jesus comes.

DAY 14 NEHEMIAH 9:32-10:27

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“BECAUSE OF ALL THIS WE MAKE A FIRM COVENANT IN WRITING;

My friend Bobbie used to keep her schedule and appointments in a day planner. In her house cleaning business she would often have to move things around so she wrote everything in pencil. Work or personal, everything was written in that book…in pencil. Now Bobbie remains a faithful friend to me for over 30 years but I never liked the idea of our lunch plans being in pencil. It somehow lacked in naming the truth of her loyalty to me – it just wasn’t as permanent as she was.

I guess that’s how our joke got started. One day when she said she had penciled me in I just told her. “I don’t want to be in pencil – I want to be in ink!” It remains our code about important things to this day – “put this in ink!”

On this day of confession and humility, the Jews recognized their sin and rebellion had brought correction from a God who was ever faithful to love them.   At a moment when their hearts were tender and grateful they wanted to tell the Lord they wished to be faithful. I can so relate.  Oh God, help us – help me – to be faithful to You.

So, they made promises.  And they wrote it down. And all the leaders signed their names. Just like the Declaration of Independence and John Hancock, they documented their aspirations…IN INK!

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Jer. 31:33

DAY 13 NEHEMIAH 9:1-31

13Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Grace and mercy are not the natural character qualities of humankind but this prayer demonstrates they obviously describe our God.

“Unmerited favor” is a common way we define GRACE. God owes us nothing and yet has given us everything. In every cycle of disobedience – from Adam and Eve, to the nation of Israel to me – He is ready to welcome us home even before we have an inkling of an idea to ask for His grace. I think He might be more disappointed that we choose not to return than He will ever be in having to forgive us for the one-billionth time. His love is simply not based on our performance but on our being.

God has a LOVE/GRACE relationship with the people of his creation. Note that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus did not become our mediation in order to make God desire us – He was the proof of His desire.

“Be a giver of Grace“, John C. once told me. I took it to heart. I tried in the circumstance he was addressing and have tried to make it a practice. Probably would not be a news flash that I fall short – regularly. When I do succeed it is an obvious reminder that the Holy Spirit still lives in me.

Mercy – “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” I learned a lot from our study on the Beatitudes about mercy. Mercy is a wage or reward, if you will. It is what God decided to pay me even when I didn’t deserve it. The plan is I should pay it to others – that’s how it goes.

Paul says, “Be imitators of God.” Grace and Mercy in me are by-products of understanding of what God has given me. The well is deep on His end.

DAY 12 NEHEMIAH 8:13-18

12AND THERE WAS VERY GREAT REJOICING.

I love that once exposed to the Word of God, the people had a hunger to hear more. Since everyone could not be taught at once, the heads of fathers’ houses came to learn. And so the people learned, along with the Levites and Scribes from Ezra.

As they learned they brought back what they knew to their families and they sought to practice exactly what they were learning. So, they come across the requirement to celebrate the Feast of Booths in the seventh month. I can only imagine their excitement that this was the seventh month! They could do the very thing God required! They would DO it for the first time since Joshua’s time.

Everyone and his brother – literally joined in. People went looking for tree branches of every kind. They came home and began building their “booths” on their roofs, in the streets and in the courtyards! During all the seven days Ezra continued to read to them from the Book of the Law and the people were happy as little clams. On the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, just as it was described to them from the Word.

As a new believer my hunger for the Word was like this. I could not get enough. If I wasn’t at work I was reading my Good News Bible. Even late into the night after the kids were asleep I would read for hours. I was amazed at all God had done; all He said and all that He promised. I was like a starving person who had just found the best bread in town and it was ALL YOU CAN EAT for FREE.

It was a delirious and easy obedience for me, just as I believe it might have been for these “new” to the practices of personal faith and obedience.