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

Response to a Broken World

Nehemiah 1-5

I love the man Nehemiah! I love his passion, his prayers and his “get ‘er done” action. At the start of our story he holds the position of royal cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, so we can assume he is no slacker but is quite driven, reliable and trustworthy. He has spent his whole life in Babylon/Persia, and done very well in this “foreign” environment. But kudos to those who raised and influenced him, for his Jewish heart was still steadfast in serving the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his ancestors.

It had been 90 years since the first group of Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem. And just 13 years ago Artaxerxes had allowed Ezra to return to rebuild the temple. Nehemiah learns some have just come from Judah and he asks them how his “homeland” is doing. And what he hears breaks his heart. It is natural to be heartbroken at bad news. But for a lot of people the heartbreak is soon replaced with other feelings – perhaps relief that it didn’t happen to you, perhaps just busy-ness with other daily activities. But Nehemiah mourned, fasted and prayed (with confession) for several days when he heard that the people of Judah were still in distress and the walls of Jerusalem were still torn down. Just as this was breaking God’s heart, Nehemiah allowed his heart to be broken, too. And as he prays and fasts he listens for God’s answer, and just like Esther he too uses the position God has placed him in to be a part of the solution. If you find yourself mourning what God mourns, and you don’t know what to do…follow Nehemiah’s example with prayer and fasting and watch for God’s plan to develop – and then do it!

I won’t retell the rest of the story that Nehemiah tells so well – but make sure you catch some of the neat details that we would do well to remember when we seek to do God’s work.

Nehemiah was scared to death going before the king – this was not an easy thing to do, and it could even cost him his life – but doing God’s work is always worth it.

Even as the king was asking Nehemiah what he wanted, Nehemiah was praying away! He knew he wasn’t doing this on his own – and he would continue to give God the credit for the king’s generosity and for the work that would be done.

Nehemiah didn’t try to build the wall on his own. There was something for everyone to do – and Nehemiah got them going. The city officials, the temple servants, the families, the daughters, even the goldsmiths and the perfumers were out there working. Certainly most of them would never have said their spiritual gift was rebuilding walls – but Nehemiah provided the leadership, the need was presented to them and, most of them, were ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. What job is God calling you to do with your brothers and sisters?

I would have loved to see Baruch the son of Zabbai complete his section of the wall – Nehemiah reports he “zealously” did his work. This wasn’t a half-hearted effort for him. Will you be known as one who zealously does the work of the Lord?

The world didn’t stop to applaud God’s construction team – in fact, God’s people faced much opposition, ridicule, anger, threats and violence from many sides. It would have been easy to give in to their fears and give up. But instead, they responded FIRST with prayer and then they kept at it – with one hand to do the work and one hand to carry the weapon to defend themselves if needed. They meant business. They looked after one another and once again commited themselves to finishing the job God gave them.

Nehemiah also stood up for those who had been taken advantage of and he corrected those who had performed acts of injustice for their own selfish gain.

The world could sure use more leaders like Nehemiah. How will you step up? There is much broken in our world today. What is breaking your heart and God’s? Begin with prayer and fasting. And then continue with prayer as you attack God’s work with wisdom and action even in the face of opposition. His work is always worth it.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Nehemiah 1-5

Tomorrow we will read the next two chapters in Nehemiah’s story as we continue on our journey through the

Can you believe next week we start the New Testament!

Hallelujah – Praise God – Amen

Nehemiah 11-13

picture1

picture2

Sunday, December 11, 2016              

Today’s Bible reading wraps up some of the bleakest days in Israel’s Old Testament history due to the exile of God’s chosen people. Nehemiah’s courageous leadership prompted walls being restored and repaired to fortify Jerusalem. The precious contents of the temple could now be protected and temple service could begin again. A re-population of the Holy City was beginning to take place and the ancient promises of Yahweh were again being demonstrated to His people when they worshiped Him only.

The bulk of chapters 11 & 12 basically read as a holy “roll call.” While the inclusion of the long list of names do not make for much intriguing reading, (comparable to phone book reading for pleasure perhaps), it should prompt the reader to understand how a God of detail fondly remembers those who have been faithful to the cause, working to restore and revive His name.  These were brave families returning to a city in ruins, desperate to see God’s glory shine again in their land.

The end of chapter 12 sets the scene for one of the greatest days in the history of this holy community – a party of all parties! Imagine the pageantry of a redeemed people taking back their rightful place as they occupied the strategic places of Jerusalem and dedicated the walls. The atmosphere must have been electric and how the people must have rejoiced.

In chapter 13 it is apparent that Nehemiah returned to the king of Babylon for an undisclosed amount of time. Upon return to Jerusalem he finds that some of Israel’s enemies are residing and thriving within the city once again. He is outraged and leads a purging once again of foreign worship and mixed marriages. He institutes financial support of the temple and demands observance of the Sabbath.

He concludes the chapter and book by asking God to fondly remember him with favor for the work he has done there.

Reflecting over today’s reading this entire account reminds me of an upcoming event where new residents will move in, dedication and reforms will begin to unfold, and great service will be remembered in celebration. A “changing of the guard” of our own Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith headquarters will soon be taking place. Slated for the second week of January 2017, a new CEO, Chief Executive Officer, will begin to learn and assume duties as the leader of our General Conference and Bible College in Atlanta, Georgia. I am diligently praying for Seth Ross as he takes the baton from Dr. Joe Martin to lead our organization. I hope you are too.

The Book of Nehemiah provides a great illustration of how prayer and hard work can accomplish seemingly impossible things when a person determines to trust and obey God. Nehemiah was a man of responsibility, vision, prayer, action, cooperation, and compassion. Thank you, Dr. Joe, for displaying those same qualities over the years. We are excited about the future as Seth Ross, another dedicated leader, takes the reins to rightly divide the Word of Truth and the work of God in our conference. May it be our prayer that just as in Nehemiah’s day, many will hear and answer the call to follow as well. May you remember us all with favor, O God, as we long for your Son’s return and work for Your renown!

Julie Driskill

 

Julie Driskill is an encourager who celebrates the process of Divine pilgrimage wide open.  She’s never met a stranger and her distinguishable laugh is a dead give away in a crowded room.   

Receiving a B.A. in Education from the Clayton State University, Morrow, GA, she jointly attended Atlanta Bible College where she studied and worked for several years.  Julie’s philosophy of life revolves around service.  One of her favorite life quotes is “Service is the rent we pay to be living.  It is the very purpose of life….and not something you do in your spare time.” – Edelman

With the steadfast support of friends and family over the past twenty years she has pursued this goal of service by developing and implementing the work of Higher Ground Camp, an Ohio based 501 (c) (3).    

For the past two years Julie has expanded her duties to collaborate with Family & Youth Initiatives, of New Carlisle, Ohio, as an in-school educator for the Real Life Teen Choices Program. She teaches sexual risk avoidance curriculum to students in grades 6-12 in public and private schools in eight counties. Developing after-school leadership programs and peer to peer mentoring networks for at-risk youth has become her specialty.

 

Maybe I Should Apologize

Nehemiah 8-10

nehemiah-8-10

Saturday, December 10

After the wall was completed the people gathered at the square which was in front of the Water Gate and they had Ezra read the books of the law to them and had them explained to them.  The people were so moved that they bowed down low and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.  Nehemiah and Ezra told the people not to mourn but to keep the day as holy to the LORD, to go and feast and be filled with joy because the LORD is their strength.  They were encouraged to make shelters of branches to help celebrate.  This was the custom that was known as the feast of booths or tabernacles that is celebrated to this day by the Jews.  Ezra read the law daily for the entire celebration lasting 7 days, and then there was a solemn service held on the eighth day.

After the reading of the scriptures something very interesting and dramatic happens.  The Jews separate themselves from any foreign people in their city and they fasted and smeared ashes and dirt upon themselves, wore itchy sackcloth, and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  Then in the hearing of the people the leaders told of the goodness of the LORD to the people throughout generations past.   Telling of all His mighty deeds.  Then the people all sign an agreement to follow the commands as God laid them out in His law, and to live holy and pleasing lives to the LORD from that time onward.  This national repentance and reconciliation was done in order to please the LORD.  Whenever God’s people do what pleases Him, His blessings are soon to follow.

What catches my eye about this is that the people hold a national time of repentance.  Could you imagine what would happen if we tried to do this today?  I’m sure the news stations would be all over it in an instant.  Watch out CNN!  The interviews could be quite interesting , and could lead to some very juicy gossip to be sure.    The point is that people today rarely apologize for anything.  They  find it even more hard to change their ways .  You may have some examples of  people you know who don’t apologize when it would be appropriate to do so.  You might also know people who say they are going to change their ways but find it difficult to set any new pattern in their behavior.  Personally, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a person struggling with addiction say they are going to quit – I would be very rich indeed!  I’m not saying that it is impossible for a person to change but it is in reality quite difficult for people to change their attitudes which are then reflected in their actions.

The Jews had this same difficulty.  They had a national time of repentance and even signed the document but as history unfolds we can see that they were not very good at keeping their promise to God.  It’s important to keep your promises to God.  Repentance is all about changing your ways.  It’s good to apologize to God when appropriate but even better is to change your behavior so that you don’t have to be in the situation where you need to apologize!  God wants us to be sincere in our words and our deeds.  Are there any of your actions that you need to apologize to God for, and change?  What do you think is the first step you can take to help change your ways so that they are pleasing to God?  God’s blessing follows true repentance.  What blessings do you think God might have in store for you when you are in right standing with Him?

-Merry Peterson

No Way! That’s Impossible! 

Nehemiah 5-7

nehemiah6verse91

Friday, December 9

God really knows how to get things done.  As work progressed on the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah was appointed governor over the land of Judah.  He was made aware that many of the Jews were oppressing one another.  There were famine like conditions and many people were being exploited in their plight to supply food to their families by fellow Jews.  This was appalling to Nehemiah and he ordered the people to stop exploiting one another.  He also was very generous in making sure that the workers on the wall were receiving food portions.

Then another encounter with Sanballat and Tobiah comes along.  Sanballat plots to meet with Nehemiah  outside the city so that the work on the wall will be stalled or ceased.  But Nehemiah refuses to leave the city.  Then Sanballat further entices Nehemiah to come and meet with him by telling him that lies are being told about him that people  – especially other rulers will believe and come against Jerusalem.  Nehemiah tells Sanballat that his words are just that – a bunch of lies, no one believes because they are lies, and he refuses to leave work on the city wall.   Then in desperation Sanballat and Tobiah hire a false prophet to entice Nehemiah to come and hide in the temple, but Nehemiah sees through the false prophet and work on the wall continues.

The wall is miraculously completed in 52 days!  News of this spreads to the surrounding nations and they know without a doubt that God helped the Jews to accomplish this task.

Can you imagine how awesome it would be to complete a project that big?  In our day and age it would take much longer than that to build a wall around even one of our smallest cities.  Contractors would be arguing, funding would constantly be an issue – in short we could not do that same task today even with modern technology and machinery.  The reason that Jerusalem’s walls went up so quickly and efficiently is because God was in the work.  He was also in the heart of the worker.  Nehemiah was faced with what seemed like an impossible task, but we know that God loves to help do the impossible.  With God all things are possible.   Are you facing a huge test, or a difficult situation, or a relationship that is troubling you?  Have you given that impossible situation, test, or relationship to God for him to handle?  With God all things are possible.  He always provides the answers to our impossible situations in His timing, and His perfect way.  It may not always be the solution that we are expecting but He is able to make impossible situations possible.  God is still able to work miracles and loves to help his children who put their trust in His ability.   Key Thought:  Give your impossible situations to God and let Him handle them – He loves to do the impossible.

-Merry Peterson

 

Hand Me A Hammer, And Maybe A Sword Too

Nehemiah 1-4

nehemiah_rust_door-1024x682

Thursday, December 8

If you have a toolbox, then Nehemiah is the book you should read.  Nehemiah is the story of Nehemiah who was the cupbearer to King Artexerxes.  He had been wondering how the city of Jerusalem was progressing since the captivity of himself and others.   When he heard that the city wall was in ruins and the gates were burned he was greatly distressed.  He was so distressed, and so favored by King Artaxerxes that Artaxerxes  allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem.  With letters of the King’s blessing with Nehemiah he travels to Jerusalem where he does a midnight tour of the damaged gates and places of the city.  Then in the day he proposes to the people of Jerusalem that they rebuild the city gates and walls.  This suggestion is opposed by two men who prove to be enemies of the work named Sanballat and Tobiah.

Work is begun on the wall and each branch of the Jewish families takes on a portion of the wall to rebuild or gate to be hung.  Some families even take on more parts of the wall or structures to repair and rebuild.  The work is going well and is being blessed by God in that all are working toward a common goal – to rebuild the protective wall around Jerusalem.

Sanballat was extremely displeased with the progress of the city wall and plotted against the people of Jerusalem.  He gathered an army of men to come and attack the people who were restoring the wall but the plot was uncovered and Nehemiah devised a plan of his own.  He stationed families with swords, spears, and bows by the wall so that they would be able to defend the city should they be attacked.  He also had all the workers who were working on the wall carry a spear with them from dawn until dark and set night guards around the city as well.  The enemies were discouraged by Nehemiah’s quick  protective thinking, and work on the wall continued uninterrupted by any enemies.

The people were able to accomplish a lot because they worked together.  Nehemiah comments that the people had a mind to work.  Isn’t it a great feeling when people are working together in harmony?  It makes the work seem easier and makes it go faster.  Even when the people had to hold a spear in their hand and continue working they still kept a common goal and interest in mind – the completion of the wall.  How often do we find ourselves working with a group of people with the same goal.  The people in Nehemiah all came from different family backgrounds and professions yet they were able to collectively focus to work on a huge task.  How important do you think it is to be able to work with others ?  Are you able to work towards a common goal with people who have different backgrounds or ideas of what is best than you do?  God wants us to be able to work together with people who are different than ourselves.  When we work together for God’s purposes in life He is pleased with us and will bless our work, just as he blessed the people of Jerusalem who worked together.  Key Thought :  How can I work with others to accomplish God’s purposes.

-Merry Peterson