God’s City Needed Godly People

Nehemiah 8

March 27

Most of the time when people think about Nehemiah, they immediately think of how he rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. The wall itself was very important to the health of the city by providing protection and regulation regarding who came in and who came out. In fact, the walls even served as meeting spots for important governmental purposes. However, Nehemiah didn’t stop with the wall; he felt there was much more to Jerusalem than a protective structure. Nehemiah understood something that we would do well to also recognize–God’s city needed godly people. At this point in Israel’s story, they have returned from the violent and sinful nation Babylon. Previously, Babylon invaded Jerusalem, left the city in ruins, and brought its citizens back to serve them in a pagan land for 70 years! When these people came back to Jerusalem, it was a rough life to say the least. Not only did they live in a barely surviving wasteland, but they came back to a remnant of people who had lost sight of their God! In reality, the city’s physical state of ruin displayed the deeper spiritual ruin of the people.

That is why this chapter of Nehemiah is so powerful and beautiful. Nehemiah gathered the nobles, officials, Levites, priests, and musicians to help rebuild the spiritual status of Jerusalem. The scene we see in chapter 8 is basically a sunrise service where Ezra, the scribe, reads God’s word and law to people who probably couldn’t remember a time when they last listened to it. Ezra, the other Priests, Levites, and Scribes were also giving clear instruction regarding the law as to set the people up for as much success as possible. Nehemiah and those devoted to Yahweh wanted to do everything they could to rebuild Jerusalem’s relationship with God. This chapter makes it clear how the people responded to this desire to rekindle their faith with God! They were attentive, they shouted “Amen, Amen”, they lifted up their hands, and they bowed their heads in worship! Keep in mind that this was in response to reading what we sometimes see as a boring section of scripture called the “Old Testament laws”. These people finally got a chance to know their God and how to live in his wisdom after years of poverty, depravity, and sinful living. The rest of the chapter contains the joyous celebration of worship as they began their process of reuniting to God’s will and rejuvenating their strength in “the joy of the LORD”.

But does this story only apply to a particular group of ancient Jewish people? Is there wisdom here that worked in their day as well as ours? I believe so. God did miraculously create and preserve these words so all people of all time can grow in their relationship with God after all. I’m not suggesting that we have to follow all of God’s ancient laws. I’m not suggesting that we need to have a sunrise service in our town squares for all to hear. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we need to see our role in the church and our community the same way Nehemiah saw himself in his community–as a workforce building a godly city by building up godly people. We too should do everything we can to set others up for success. We too should see our efforts to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, and rebuild the impoverished community as a platform to bring people closer to God! I encourage you all to keep this in your mind and heart today as you read this chapter. I encourage you all to see what you personally can do to help rebuild the world around you to be a more godly place.

-Isaac Cain

We asked Isaac to introduce himself…”My name is Isaac Cain, and I’m married to my wonderful and beautiful wife Madison Cain (( Cisler). I am the pastor of the Rock Solid Bible Church. I love spreading God’s word and playing DiscGolf.”

This week we will finish hitting the highlights of the Old Testament books of history – and then begin the New Testament gospel of John, as we prepare for Resurrection Sunday!

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Can a godly people be created without a firm connection to God’s Scriptures? In this chapter how often and how long did they read from God’s word (vs.2, 3, 13)? What accompanied the reading (vs. 8)? How does this compare to your use of God’s Scriptures?
  2. What was the people’s response (vs. 6, 9)? When was the last time you said “Amen” or wept or worshiped while hearing/reading the words of the Lord?
  3. When is the time for mourning and when is the time for celebrating the words of the Lord? What do you think Nehemiah meant when he said, “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (vs. 10)? How can the joy of the Lord be your strength? How is that related to your use of God’s word?
  4. Prayerfully consider what you personally can do to help rebuild the world around you to be a more godly place.

Jerusalem’s Walls & Enemies

Nehemiah 6

March 26

Today’s reading (Nehemiah Chapter 6) begins  with these fellows you might remember being mentioned in yesterday’s reading:  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.  Who might these gentlemen be? In simple terms, enemies. But a little more context, gives us:

Sanballat:  A Horonite

Just this name makes me thinks of hornets, but apparently he was called this since he was from Beth-Horon, and  was a Samaritan leader in the Persian Empire. Samaritans had mixed Judaism with pagan beliefs and intermarried with pagan societies, and had some distinct conflicts with some Jews because of this.

Tobiah: An Ammonite

If you didn’t read about the Ammonite folks earlier in the week in our II Chronicles study, I’ll tell you they were not known for their warm fuzzy tendencies. They were created via an incestuous relationship of Lot and his daughter which didn’t start things well apparently, worshipped pagan gods including Molech, and were known for infant sacrifice and cruelty. Just who Nehemiah needed hanging around on the job-site I’m sure.

Geshem: an Arab

An ally of Tobiah and Sanballat, general antagonist to Nehemiah. Did not worship the one true God.

At the start of Chapter 6, things are coming along nicely with the wall rebuilding project in Jerusalem. In fact, it sounds like pretty much just the gates were left at this point. If success was going to be prevented for Nehemiah and the Jews, it was time to act.  

First, Sanballat and Geshem extend an invitation in verse 2 to hang out on the “plain of Ono.” Sounds nice enough. But, Nehemiah was able to discern this was not progressing God’s work and was a distraction at the time. He declined. And declined again. And again. And again. If a person declines your invitation to join them four times with practical reasons, you could take a hint….or ….you could disparage him or her on social media. 

And that seems to be the next tactic in verses 5-7. Before the days of the internet, there were these things called papyrus scrolls, and because of obvious reasons, they were typically SEALED prior to delivery. Ahh,but this time….Sanballat must have forgotten to seal it tightly. Almost like he wanted everyone to read it and start gossiping? Sounds familiar. And in this case it wasn’t just gossiping, but information in the untruthful message could have definitely gotten Nehemiah in trouble claiming there was another king in Judah. And I had to laugh at “Geshem says it is true” in vs. 5.  Certainly if Geshem “liked a post” it must credible?!  I love verse 8 when Nehemiah responds because it sounds like it could be completely fitting in 2022 as well “. . .you are just making it up. . .” Nehemiah denies the claim and calls out the lie. But, he doesn’t stop there, and he doesn’t let the lie distract him from the work or from the source of sovereign guidance He needs. 

 Being a man of prayer, we see him in a dialogue right away with God in verse 9. He discerns what is going on and the battles around him, and asks God to strengthen his hands.  (I’ve got to say, as a hand therapist, I really tried to work some fun analogy here….but I didn’t want to insert drivel into a meaningful text…and I got nothing other than. . .you want your hands strengthened, you need your upper arm/core strong to support it. If your hands are tired, you’d better make sure further up the chain is working because everything is connected. And in this case, Nehemiah knew how high up the chain to go. GOD would strengthen his hands and he didn’t even need to go buy a  stress ball.)

In verse 10 our troublesome trio seems to have acquired more assistance in their unrelenting efforts to mess up Nehemiah. And this time they involve someone close enough to have access to the temple.  Maybe a priest? We also see Tobiah mentioned toward the end of the chapter and get a feel for how “important” and influential he was in their community as he was actively seeking to intimidate Nehemiah also. What a mix of people, purposes, deceit, selfishness, and fear we see working against Nehemiah.  And yet, how easy it is for the “church” to get caught up into politics and popular agendas, for “Christians” to be bought out and deceived, for the things of God to be muddled by the plans of man. How essential it is that we demonstrate discernment, prayer, and scripture as the source of our truth and gauge for success and ambitions like Nehemiah shows us. 

Despite opposition, verse 15 tells us that in 52 days (minus Sabbaths I’d presume), the walls were re-built.  With modern technology and equipment, this still seems impressive. 

And while this story wasn’t my favorite to go out on with all its corruption and negativity, verse 16 is great stuff:

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.

Nehemiah’s re-built walls didn’t last either, and the Romans made sure to destroy them along with everything else they did. But, scripture tells us that the New Jerusalem, the city of God, will have walls and gates. If we seek first this city, this hope, living a life as a follower of Christ, we have a wonderful eternal promise of a city with streets of gold. And intact walls. 

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you ever been intimidated by others while you were at work for God?
  2. What can we learn from Nehemiah regarding how we deal with our enemies, those who want to stop us from doing God’s work?
  3. How do you seek first God’s kingdom?

Who Do You Talk to First?

Nehemiah 2

March 25

When the main character starts the story in tears and depression, you typically know you are not reading a comedy. And Nehemiah is not one for sure. Today’s reading (Nehemiah 2) starts with Nehemiah despondent, having been in tears the chapter before when he learned the news that Jerusalem’s wall and gates had been destroyed and the remnant of Jews who had survived the exile were in disgrace. Approximately 150 years prior to Nehemiah, King Nebuchadnezzar had violently charged through Jerusalem destroying the city, its walls, and countless Jewish lives, leaving it the heap of rubble and ruin Jeremiah had warned Judah about. Those still there were in affliction.

Sometimes we can mask our pain and sorrow. Sometimes we blast it on social media. And sometimes it is just too raw to hide from those closest to us. In this case, Nehemiah was at work and he was not himself. Many of us have had those days. He was working as cupbearer to the king which was the interesting career of being an entrusted, royal official charged with serving the wine, protecting it from those wanting to poison the king, at times tasting it first to ensure it was safe. And in this story,  the king, who was close enough to him to recognize a broken spirit, asked what was wrong. Nehemiah explained,

 “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3)

And then the king asks what he wants of him. All in all, it seems like the king was acting like a pretty good boss on this occasion. I’ve had the privilege of working for some wonderful bosses over the years, and it is so nice when they do recognize when things aren’t okay, listen to you, and ask how to help. Same with teachers, family, and friends. I was struck with Nehemiah’s response being a little different than I had remembered though.  For some reason what had stuck with me from different sermons and lessons on Nehemiah over the years was how Nehemiah had been willing to ask for specific things, and how he was bold yet humble, and how he rebuilt walls. All of those things are true and noteworthy in Nehemiah. But, what I forgot were the incredibly important few little words tucked away at the end of verse 4.

The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king,

I personally don’t think it matters as much what Nehemiah said after that or how he said it, but rather what he did prior to making the request. He prayed to the God of heaven. Before expressing his own highly emotionally-charged thoughts on the subject, he prayed to God.  And in the chapter prior, when he learned of the state of Jerusalem, he wept and prayed to God.  Nehemiah is remembered for rebuilding walls, and our chapter today is the start of his journey to rebuild and restore. But, Nehemiah knows it wasn’t possible because he put on the just-right-amount-of-depression-and-attention-seeking face and earned the king’s sympathy, nor was it because he was very concrete in his request and willing to ask for just what he wanted. Nehemiah gets it. 

“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests” (v.8).

How different the world could be if we each prayerfully considered our words, our requests, and our actions. If we trusted God most and sought God first. If we went to God with our concerns and problems before others, prayed before answering others, and lived a life consistently casting our cares on Him rather than casting judgment or personal opinions so flippantly.

Nehemiah was a rebuilder, a cupbearer, and he did ask for something specific in a humble way. But, let’s also remember that he was a man of prayer.  As was our Messiah.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Can you think of a time (or two) when you didn’t stop to think – and more importantly – pray before speaking and your words caused problems or weren’t received as you had hoped. How could pausing a quick moment to pray have changed what you said, how you said it or the response you received? How can you remember to pray next time?
  2. What do you generally do when you are in pain and sorrow? What helps? What does not?
  3. How can you be more aware of those around you who are hurting? What do you have that you can share with those in pain and sorrow (both material -a cup of coffee and a spot on my couch – and spiritual encouragement and support)?
  4. Would others know you to be a person of prayer? Does God consider you a person of prayer like Nehemiah? Any changes you want to make? How?

The Overwhelming Compassions of God

Nehemiah 9-10

Everyone needs compassion. Our gracious God, the ultimate source of love and mercy, readily extends compassion to us when we face the great challenges in our life.  But it doesn’t stop there.  God is not “deservingly” showing compassion to us because we have made sacrifices for his namesake.  He overwhelms us with compassion when we deserve it the least.  When our ears have been deaf to his calling, when our back has been turned, when our eyes are glistening with selfish pride, that is when he is most compassionate.  It is pretty simple:  life is best lived in and by the design of God.  Anything else is to be pitied.  But we do not serve a God of overwhelming pity.  He doesn’t stop at, “man, that stinks, wish you would have made some better choices there, bud.” He picks us up in our filth, gives us the full concentration of his blessings, and turns our feet back on the path that leads to him.  Over and over again. Undeservedly. In today’s reading, we get a quick lesson in the history of compassion of Israel from Abraham to Nehemiah.  Draw some (rather easy) parallels to your own life as your study this account of the rich mercies of God.

“But they, our ancestors, were arrogant;  bullheaded, they wouldn’t obey your commands. They turned a deaf ear, they refused to remember the miracles you had done for them;…And you, a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, Incredibly patient, with tons of love – you didn’t dump them.” – Nehemiah 9:16 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even after you have been arrogant.  You can attempt to go it alone.  God doesn’t give up that easily.  When the miracles no longer come, when the blessing subside, and you decide to turn back, he doesn’t merely say, “told you so.” He says “turn around, I’m still here.”

“Yes, even when they cast a sculpted calf and said, “This is your god Who brought you out of Egypt,” and continued from bad to worse,  You in your amazing compassion didn’t walk off and leave them in the desert.”  – Nehemiah 9:18 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you don’t give him credit.  Oh, how we like to take credit. How scorned are we when we don’t get the little credit due to us?  And we haven’t really done anything.  It would be simple enough to say, “Good luck in the desert by yourself,” yet God hears the cries of his people and comes rushing in to, again, fight the battles.

But then they mutinied, rebelled against you, threw out your laws and killed your prophets, the very prophets who tried to get them back on your side— and then things went from bad to worse.  And in keeping with your bottomless compassion you gave them saviors: saviors who saved them from the cruel abuse of their enemies.  – Nehemiah 9:27

  1. God still has compassion for you, even when you stab him in the back.  That’s right, literal stabbing of prophets delivering the word of God.  Maybe you are not guilty of such a crime, but openly denying the word of God delivered to you in your life is an equal abuse of the Word of God.  That’s pretty much what sin is.  But guess what?  Those who openly and defiantly deny the gospel, receive sanctification and redemption through Jesus Christ if they make him the Lord and Savior of their life.  Your confession is never rejected, if done so from the heart.

But as soon as they had it easy again they were right back at it—more evil. So you turned away and left them again to their fate, to the enemies who came right back. They cried out to you again; in your great compassion you heard and helped them again.

This went on over and over and over. They turned their backs on you and didn’t listen. – Nehemiah 9: 28, 29 MSG

  1. God still has compassion for you when you return right back to your sin.  That’s right, we are almost cartoonish in our behavior sometimes.  Do the sin.  Ask for forgiveness. <5 min later> Do the sin.  Ask forgiveness.  Thankfully, we have a God of infinite mercies, BUT as Paul says our goal is not to exhaust the grace of God.  If you haven’t figured it out, somewhere in our sinful nature is the habit to turn back to sin, but we must try to actively stop or flee from it.  God is unfatigued with extending his compassions if we truly seek him through repentance.

You put up with them year after year and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; But when they refused to listen you abandoned them to foreigners. Still, because of your great compassion, you didn’t make a total end to them. You didn’t walk out and leave them for good; yes, you are a God of grace and compassion.  – Nehemiah 9:30,31 MSG

  1. If you’re reading this, God still has compassion for you.  You are not abandoned.  It may feel foreign because you have pitched a tent outside the wall, but there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Maybe you’re seemingly satisfied to be out there for now.  Man, that’s awful.  You will not receive even the pity of men if this is where you stand.  But God looks compassionately upon you, and leaves the gate open, giving every opportunity to be a part of his grace, love, forgiveness and hope.  There is a time limit though, an end game. Once you stop breathing, it’s over.  There are no guarantees when this will be.  An even more compelling argument than “no guarantees” is every moment you are not living in the presence of God, you walk around heavily burdened with sin, guilt, doubt, and shame because you don’t know His compassion.  He will take it all from you and cast it as far as the east is from the west.  Stop. Turn. Cry. Listen. Let go. It is time to let His compassion overwhelm you.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway – Nehemiah 9-10 NIV or – from The Message Nehemiah 9-10 and 1 Corinthians 11

The Shack of Your Choice

Nehemiah 7-8

Nehemiah’s vision is complete.  The wall of Jerusalem has been repaired and the Jews reestablished their home, yet there is much to contemplate.  It would be easy to focus on what isn’t present at this moment.  Generations have passed away in captivity and exile, to close their eyes in death as slaves.  The present state of a skeletal city is a reminder that there is still so much work left to do to bring Israel to its former glory.  There are fears of the future and the foes taking camp around a city that is trying to put itself back on the map.  Instead of being driven by doubt, regret, or worry, Nehemiah and the priest of Israel establish the completion of the wall as a time to celebrate the return of God’s people.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

As God’s timing would have it, the completion of the wall shared a seam with the Festival of Tabernacles of the Feast of Booths and the words shared from the Laws of Moses.  You may be familiar with this week-long celebration from your earlier reading this year, but this might be a good time to summarize the origin and purpose of this festival.  God had redeemed his people, the Hebrews, out of enslavement in Egypt.  He did this through sending a series of plagues to Egypt, parting the Red Sea, and giving his commandments.  There were a few bumps in the road.  The Jews spent a great deal of time wandering in the desert because of their lack of faith and disobedience, yet he remained with them wherever they were, and he still blessed them with receiving the Promised Land, the very place where Nehemiah and those who followed him out of exile had returned.

We don’t serve a God who is solely responsible for the harvest.  We don’t serve a God who is solely responsible for the rain. We serve a God who works in the harvest, and works in the rain, but also works on the days that are in between. We may endure a great deal of prosperity or adversity, but ultimately, we take count of the blessings and realize that compared to eternity and the Kingdom of God, we are just living in booths, moving, temporary structures built from our feeble attempts to gather a few sticks or a few bricks.  After a long journey, we may seek to call it home, but it won’t be, right?  It is only a place to eat a few meals and get some rest until we no longer want it, it is destroyed by the elements, or someone else is enjoying it because we are pushing up daisies. 

The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. – Nehemiah 8:17,18a

Therefore our home as we wait is not established in a certain location, but is rooted in the Word of God – in our Savior Christ Jesus, The Word and Cornerstone. Additionally, His Word, is the saving knowledge of the Gospel testified to by the Living Word, that is meant to be shared with all, especially those who have not prepared (v.10).  The harvest has not yet come, so we could be freshly stepping out of captivity, like the Hebrew or those returning from Babylon.  If this be the case, there is a lot to do to ensure our initial success – like create some solid boundaries.  Maybe we feel as though we are in exile, we are a far cry from the person who was once called Christian. Listen to God’s calling.  Recognize his blessings.  There is a promised land, even for those who wander (and truly, only for those who wander).  No matter the season, God is there, and the greatest of harvest is coming soon.  Enjoy this spectacular vista from the shack of your (but really, God’s) choice.

-Aaron Winner


Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 7-8 and 1 Corinthians 10

Crumbling Walls and Stumbling Blocks

Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8

It was just a week ago, at the close of summer school, when a student poignantly asked me if I had ever been a bully. Hmm.  My gut answer was immediately, “No.”  Well, at least I don’t think so.  Right?  Then he referenced a sheet of paper he read outside the door to my classroom that stated “Mr. Winner is a bully, but in a good way.”  Truth. I remember seeing this phrase as I freshly hung up papers from my former students to my incoming classes.  The forms they filled out were entitled “10 Things to Know about Mr. Winner’s Classroom.” While the more consistent items were “Mr. Winner will throw things at you,” or “Mr. Winner will make sure you won’t go hungry,” or “Mr. Winner really cares,” there were two people who listed “Mr. Winner is a bully” but with the comforting caveat “in a good way.”  I literally scratched my head as I tried to dissect the information in front of me for a moment.  Maybe I am a pusher? Or do I tease the students too much?  Or bully the bullies creating some ironic form of verbal justice? I didn’t come to a clear conclusion, but I reflected a bit more on my past and present.  I responded, “I think I’ve been a bully before, but I am doing my best not to be.”

Like all of us, I often think before I speak.  This happens significantly less at 36 than a half of a lifetime ago at 18, but my words can be quite cutting when my pride is wounded.  I have a rapier wit sharpened through the first-world sufferings of low self-esteem and some extra weight in high school (and at other points in my life too).  While some mighty say that my rebuttals to ridicule were simply justified self-defense, I know I have often lost control and engineered shock-and-awe offensive assaults.  At several points in my life, my tongue has been an unbridled mess (James 3).  While there is more restraint over words today, neither can I stop craving the attention they give, nor can I shake the overwhelming urge to be right.

Now out of the dark recesses of psyche and into today’s reading.  In the Old Testament (Nehemiah 3,4), we get a detailed look at the many groups who return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under the direction of Nehemiah.  They are faced with two named nemeses, Sanballat and Tobiah, who openly criticize what they deem as futile work.  In the New Testament (1 Corinthians 8) Paul deals with the issue of food, specifically food that isn’t deemed clean by the conditions of the Law, and speaks to the nuance between licensed actions and actions of the conscience.  Both beg the question of what our response should be when faced with open criticism to what we know is correct.

“Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at <Sanballat’s> side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones” – Nehemiah 4:3

“Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.  So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” – Nehemiah 4:4-6

It is easy to be distracted from an important purpose to respond to bullies who are critical because of their own malice, jealousy, or ignorant nay-saying.  If you are shaken by their words, then your next step should be to consult God through his Word and in prayer before continuing.  If he approves, then being despised by the right people can truly be a wonderful thing (James 1:2-4 — said by someone who also loves to be liked).  What arrows will find their mark if God is on your side? Let God handle the frustrations (v.15) and land the blows. Save your wit.  Hold your tongue. You won’t cross the finish line running your mouth; you must use your feet to run his race.  “Yes” and “no” are sufficient replies, (Matt 5:37), and it’s okay to be on your guard, (v.22), but you must continue your efforts to build His kingdom.

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9

But should we ever care about what others think?  Paul, inspired by God, says we MUST consider the feelings of our brothers and sisters in Christ (and those who we are speaking the words of God to).  Culture and maturity play roles in what is and what is not perceived as permissible. While we may have license or liberty to enjoy certain things, like dancing, indulgent foods, clothing trends, worship music styles, or maybe a glass of wine, not everyone is on the same page about all of these things.  You may very well have the scriptural support that gives you the greatest of freedoms, but if they are not requirements to be a follower of Jesus, they are discrections NOT worth causing a divide in the body of Christ.  You are not justified in bullying someone into your belief or preferences (again, if it is a permission and not prescription). In fact, Paul adds , “(12)When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” So being “right” by the law, but wrong by the heart is the most ironic form of sin. See: legalism.


Circling back, in the context of my classroom, I hope the words “bully in a good way” are just a lack of expression of some more positive quality that I possess that is a little more like Jesus and a little less like the man I am trying to flee from. However, in the context of our reading, being a bully, even if it is in a good way, doesn’t get a ringing endorsement.  God wants us to work diligently to fulfill his calling.  Some days it is as simple as denying ourselves a certain privilege for the sake of unity. Other days it can be a bit more difficult, carrying on big callings while being openly criticized and attacked.  In either instance, God wants others to see more of him and less of us as he works to rebuild the biggest of crumbling walls and remove the smallest stumbling blocks.

–Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 3-4 and 1 Corinthians 8

Overcoming Apathy

Reading for Today:

Nehemiah 1-2 … 1 Corinthians 7

The story of Nehemiah begins in about 445 B.C.  The same ruler of Persia, Artaxerxes I who had sent Ezra to Judah thirteen years prior, was still emperor of Persia. We don’t know a lot about Nehemiah, but we do know that he was a Jew who had risen to be the cupbearer to the king (1:11).

The cupbearer’s job was a position of considerable importance. That Nehemiah was in such a position shows that some of the Jews who had been exiled rose quite high in the ranks of the governments where they had been resettled.

Living in the lap of luxury, Nehemiah may never have even known of the plight of his fellow Jews. And once he found out, he could have easily ignored it. But we will see that he did hear of it and he did act on what he heard…even being willing to leave his high position in order to serve.

Some people prefer not to know what’s going on in the world because information might bring obligation. There’s an old adage that says, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” but I think we all know that’s not true.

Nehemiah knew what was going on in Jerusalem because he asked.

“And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem…” (1:2)

When we truly care, we want to know the truth, no matter how difficult it may be. Aldous Huxley said, ‘Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.’  Closing our eyes and ears to the truth could be the first step toward tragedy for ourselves as well as for others.

Are we like Nehemiah, anxious to know the truth even about the worst situations? Are we the kind of people who care enough to ask?

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4)

Once Nehemiah heard of the plight of the Jews in Jerusalem, he was burdened.

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (1:4)

He heard of the condition of Jerusalem’s wall and knew the situation was desperate. Without a wall, people returning to Jerusalem after years in captivity would be unprotected and vulnerable to attack.

Nehemiah was brokenhearted, but he didn’t tackle that problem immediately. This is something I love about the book of Nehemiah. He prays. A lot.

The state of Jerusalem’s wall reflected the condition of the people’s relationship with God. Disobedience had left their city and their lives in disarray. So, before Nehemiah could fix the brokenness surrounding the city, he asked God to fix the brokenness inside the people of the city. This was the foundation everything else would be built on.

Then he took action on the wall.

This is a pattern that would be wise for all of us to copy, I think.

  • Actively seek out need.
  • Feel the burden.
  • Pray. A lot.
  • Take action.

We’ve had a couple of different people present at our church in the past year on the travesty of child sex trafficking. The latest statistics show that around 2 million children are currently being trafficked into sex slavery. Every 26 seconds a child is trafficked.

According to one perspective, child sex trafficking is the worst atrocity we’re facing today.

While looking simply at sheer numbers, abortion may affect more children, but as I heard it aptly stated, “There are worse things than death.” In fact, one of the draws of human trafficking is that people (unlike drugs) can be sold and resold–used and reused. Every 26 seconds.

You’ve heard.

Do you feel the burden?

If you would like some specific ways to pray and perhaps take action, here are a couple of resources you can check out:

Operation Underground Railroad
https://ourrescue.org/

Destiny Rescue

The Storyteller Café (this local project is in my community, just 5 minutes from our home!)

https://www.storytellercafemn.org/

You can also check out the online shop here:

https://www.storiesfoundation.org/store

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 7

With Great Joy

Nehemiah 11-13 & Psalm 126

Now that the wall’s been built, the city secured, and they’ve read from the Book of the Law to relearn God’s ways, it’s time to dwell in Jerusalem and the

cities.  The leaders were designated to live in Jerusalem and the people cast lots to see which one out of every 10 would dwell in Jerusalem.  The rest would dwell in cities surrounding Jerusalem.  I lived in Israel 25 years and for most of the time we lived in a little village 10 miles west of Jerusalem.  It’s a mountainy and rocky area forested with some trees.  Most villages and Jerusalem were built around a water source, perhaps some type of spring.  Pictured is a photo of ruins of a Nehemiah period fortress in the hills of Judah near Jerusalem. (This photo courtesy of Israel Department of Antiquities.)

            It was a time of rejoicing.  Singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem (12:29). Also, two large Thanksgiving choirs with specific names and place locations are listed.  It’s amazing the record we still have today of the detailed descriptions of their locations. Also, great sacrifices were offered for God had made them rejoice with great joy.  The joy of Jerusalem could be heard from afar.  It’s amazing on the quiet of a shabbat or holiday when places are closed the noise that can be heard from a greater distance.  Psalm 126 says with singing they returned from captivity.  There must have been a joy to be back in the land of Israel again after being exiled. Though they “sow in tears, they’ll reap in joy.” At our oldest daughter’s wedding I told this to people as I wept, that I sowed in tears (such hard work raising kids overseas) and now I was reaping and weeping in joy, not out of sorrow but gladness that we made it to that day!! 😊

    

        Nehemiah returned after some time to Jerusalem and like a good parent had three firm corrections to make.  First, Eliashib, the priest, allowed Tobiah (Ammonite official) to have a large storeroom for himself, where articles and supplies for the Levites, singers, gatekeepers, were to be kept.  Thus, he threw out Tobiah’s things and cleansed the storeroom for proper use.  Then he asked God to remember him. (13:14) Secondly, he contended with the people for buying and selling on Shabbat and commanded the gates be shut and not open until after the Shabbat.  In current the state of Israel, every Friday afternoon stores, including all the malls shut down all over the country and remain closed until after sundown on Shabbat (Saturday), once two stars are visible.  Some weeks with holidays, the malls are closed for THREE full days!… Nehemiah prayed that God remember him. (13:22) Lastly, he contended with some of them, cursed them, struck some of them, and pulled out their hair, and made them swear not to give their children to foreigners!  That’s quite aggressive and zealous. Imagine the uproar he’d receive from all kinds of people and media today for those actions! But he prayed and asked God remember him for good. (13:29,30)

-Stephanie Schlegel

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 11-13 & Psalm 126

Tomorrow’s reading will be our last book of the Old Testament – Malachi – as we continue on our 2020 Reading Plan. God has great things in store! Come follow along!

Feasting on His Word

Nehemiah 8-10

Now that the wall of Jerusalem was completed the people gathered together at the Water Gate to have Ezra read from the Book of the Law of Moses on the first day of the seventh month (which was actually last weekend on the Jewish calendar and the Feast of Trumpets. It’s not really the Jewish New Year, that was adapted from a later time in exile. The first month of the Jewish year is Passover). It states NINE times that “all the people” are included in the events happening in chapter 8.  The priests even helped the people to understand the readings, (8:8) and the people responded with WEEPING (8:9). Nehemiah encouraged them to go and “eat fat and drink sweet” for this day is holy to the Lord. They weren’t to be sad, for “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (8:10) They knew the words were declared to them.

 The second day they gathered again to hear the Law and learned that in the seventh month they were to dwell in booths for a week.  They were to go to the mountains and gather olive branches, myrtle, palm, and leafy branches to make a booth.  The other day on my fast walk in the neighborhood I plucked various leafy bushes to add to the pop-up booth card I’m making to send to our grandson next week. 😊   I’m going to also include some fruit snacks he can enjoy by his “booth” as a celebration of the end of the harvest season. In Israel today, where we lived for many years, they still make and “dwell” in booths during this weeklong holiday.  They’re on rooftops, balconies, and yards.  They’re decorated with paper chains, lights, and pictures. Our kids liked to sleep in them some nights with their friends.  The people in Nehemiah’s time hadn’t celebrated the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles since the time of Joshua, so it was a time of “great gladness” (8:17), and still is to this day. Although, this year might be different as they’re on a full lockdown in Israel during these holiday times because of Covid.   

            They continued to read the Book of the Law for a ¼ of the day and for another ¼ of the day they confessed their sins and worshipped the LORD their God. (9:3) Some of the Levites stood up and recalled God’s work through Moses, Egypt, Wilderness, and how He brought them into a good land.  However, they “cast His Law behind their backs and killed prophets sent to them.” (9:26) So God “gave them saviors” when they cried out for help and many times delivered them. (9:27) “For many years You had patience with them and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets, yet they would not listen.” (9:30)

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and awesome God, who keeps covenants and mercy… (9:32) You are just in all that has befallen us.” (9:33) How patient God was and is with His peopleIt says not the kings, princes, priests, or fathers have kept God’s Law.( 9:34)  How important it was for all the people to gather together and recall God’s work over time and their own lack of commitment, and thus to refocus their love and service for the LORD their God for the future.  Now that the wall of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, they needed God’s protection over them. Instead of blaming God for failures, it’s good they acknowledged they were wrong and refocus on Him as they move forward.  We too, can learn from their example in our lives today.

Stephanie Schlegel

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 8-10

Tomorrow we will finish the book of Nehemiah and read Psalm 126 as we continue seeing God’s faithfulness in our

Overcoming the Opposition

Nehemiah 6-7

So much work had already been done – the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – now they just needed to finish the gates. Surely this project was God-ordained and he picked the right leader for the job – Nehemiah. He was able to get everyone motivated and working together, and despite the opposition they were able to finish their job on the 25th of Elul (which appears to correspond to somewhere between Sept 15 and October 2). So, this week is a super time to celebrate the work that is accomplished when working for God.

So much good had been done already – but the work did not end and neither did the opposition!

Nehemiah was under attack. Satan (along with Tobia, Sanballat, Geshem and the rest of those fighting against God) were using every weapon at their disposal to bring this righteous leader down: lies, fear, wolves in sheep’s clothing, attempting to distract him from his work with other business, spreading gossip and accusations of sedition to either silence him or get him in serious trouble with the authorities, even hiring a false “prophet” to scare him into sinning.

But Nehemiah stood strong. We continue to see him turn to God in prayer. Asking for strong hands and asking for God to take care of those getting in the way of the Lord’s work. He obviously had a strong knowledge of God’s law to not be tricked into sinning. This gave him wise discernment in knowing who to listen to and what to do, and not do. And, he knew to fear God not men.

We can learn a lot from Nehemiah today because Satan keeps using the same ploys. Adolf Hitler wrote, “Mental confusion, contradiction of feeling, indecisiveness, panic; these are our weapons.” Evil men seeking to destroy God’s work have come and gone and yet remain today. It is indeed a vivid reminder that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). They love nothing more than trying to interrupt God’s work and if they can bring down a godly leader at the same time they probably get bonus points.

We see so much of this evil and oppression today. But like Nehemiah, we must not give up! We must turn to God again and again when faced with the lies and fears and Satan’s strong man tactics that would love to have us throw in the towel and take the easy way instead. Pray, fast, seek His word and His way, don’t fear man, resist sin, use discernment in knowing who to trust, what to say and do. Pray, too, for our leaders that they will have the wisdom and strong hands of Nehemiah

Satan has been running rampant and the result is a broken world. Keep at God’s rebuilding work – one brick at a time.

Marcia Railton

Speaking of our opposition, mental confusion, lies, panic, and pleasing man not God, reminds me of the life and death fight for the most innocent of God’s creations. Tonight would be a great time to watch See Life 2020 and #LoveEveryHeartbeat. And pray for strong hands – and hearts – to do the work God wants you to do.

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 6-7

Tomorrow we will read Nehemiah 8-10 as we continue seeking God on our

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