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!

My House Is In Ruins

Haggai

Yesterday we ran across Ezra 5:1-2, which mentions that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah come and encourage the people in Jerusalem to continue rebuilding the temple. As promised, today we are zooming into Haggai’s role in this. How convenient that there is a book in the bible named Haggai that gives us this information.

We know from Ezra 4 that the people in Jerusalem were forced to stop rebuilding the temple by the Persian king Artaxerxes. Some time passes by, and Haggai comes on the scene to prophesy to them. God has some things to get across to them.

The temple sits unfinished, and people of Jerusalem are either too fearful or apathetic to continue working on it. God calls them out on this, saying that his house is in ruins while they are decking out their own. They have been running around doing their own thing, and they never seem to have enough of anything. It’s a rat race. And since the house of God is being neglected, there is a drought in every aspect of their lives. God commands them to get working on the temple again.

This convicts their hearts as it should ours as well. What is the work God has called us to do that we’ve been putting off? What are we allowing to distract us from it? How could we be more intentional about building the opportunities to encounter God in our daily lives?

Heeding this conviction, the people begin building again, but there are some who are discouraged about something we saw in Ezra 3. The people who are old enough to have seen the original temple think this new temple is nothing in comparison. God tells them to take courage, and work, because he is with them. He assures them his spirit is among them as promised when he brought them out of Egypt. That hasn’t changed, don’t be afraid. God tells them he will “shake” things, which at first sounds like an earthquake, but is a dramatic way of saying he will upset the balance. The treasures will be transferred from the nations to his house. He owns all the gold and silver anyway! What doesn’t God own? God promises the splendor of this new temple will be more than the old, and that he will give prosperity.

When you work for God, you do what you can. It is easy to get discouraged. But the one who commissioned you will honor your efforts. He has all the resources in the universe at his fingertips to make it happen. What may be impossible for you is possible for God; he wants it to be your project too.

What follows is an interesting discussion about how contagious holy and unclean things are. If you are carrying around a holy ribeye steak and it touches your fries or soda, does it make the fries and soda holy too? No. But if you touch a dead guy and then touch your fries or soda, does it make them unclean? Yes. Holiness doesn’t just spread automatically, it takes work. Spreading bad things around takes no effort at all. You don’t have to do anything at all, things will fall apart without your attention. “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, says the LORD; and so with every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean.” It’s like there was a contagion of apathy spreading while they were not doing the work, or the work they were doing was with the wrong heart, and things were not going well for them. But now that they are working on the temple according to God’s wishes, they will be blessed. They’ll have enough of everything.

What’s the reason God wants them to build a temple, anyway? It isn’t like God needs a temple. He would be just fine without one. The temple is the way they know how to connect with God and have his life-giving presence among them. To build this temple is to invite his presence. To not build it is to signal to God that they aren’t interested enough in his presence. For us, the temple isn’t a structure we go to, but a kind of metaphor for the sacredness of our own bodies, the network of others in our churches and faith communities, and the use of our time.

At the close of the book of Haggai, God mentions shaking things up in a dramatic way again, and that he will make the governor Zerubbabel a “signet ring” or chosen one. It sounds like God is making him a messiah of sorts. Of course, with hindsight, we know he won’t be the messiah. But he is being recognized by God as a leader of significance. And to add to his significance, he is from the line of David, mentioned in the genealogies of Christ provided by both Matthew and Luke. That’s quite the legacy, when you think about it.

There’s a lot that God wants to do, and he is asking for our cooperation, to take up the projects with him, and by doing so, to invite his presence. My advice to you, and I am speaking to myself as well, is to not put off those good things God has put on your heart to do. Even if you don’t feel ready, you’ve got the support network of the God of the universe, and your brothers and sisters in Christ.

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here – Haggai 1-2

Tomorrow we read Zechariah 1-7 as we continue on our

The Long Journey to Rome

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Acts 27

Today it only takes a few hours to travel from the Holy Land to Rome. A non-stop plane ticket costs just a few hundred bucks. For a couple of hundred more, you can get upgraded to first class. That sounds rather nice–flying over the beautiful Mediterranean sea, being waited on hand and foot, heading to the former center of the Roman empire to take in the sights and sounds of this majestic ancient city.
For Paul, though, the journey was not so short…or luxurious. And it certainly wasn’t non-stop. The trek to Rome included a slew of problems for this man from Tarsus and his companions, such as a snakebite, a shipwreck, and a plan to slaughter prisoners. What happened during this voyage would have tested the most experienced seafarer. But throughout the storms and chaos, Paul remained calm and determined. When others had lost hope and were filled with fear, the Apostle took charge and restored order.
Paul was able to remain composed and didn’t cave to fear because of where he placed his trust. He had been informed by the Lord that he would make it to Rome to testify there and he believed this wholeheartedly. God had been faithful thus far and Paul knew this would continue. After all, he did write the words of Romans 8:28.
“We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (CEV)
God has a plan. From the Bible, we can gain a general understanding of it. We can see how He has worked in history and what He intends to do in the future. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult for us to see where we fit in the grand scheme of things or how God can work in us. God used Paul as an instrument for His glorious plan. It wasn’t because he was special that God chose to employ Paul as His messenger to the Gentiles; he was special only because he was chosen. We don’t have to be special for God to use us either (which is a good thing…because we’re not).
Paul found himself on that arduous adventure because he was doing work for God. If we are going to be active followers of Christ and productive promoters of his Good News, sometimes we’re going to find ourselves in difficult situations as well. But we, like Paul, can have courage knowing the plan God has for the future and confidence because we are doing His will.
-Joel Fletcher

One Mind

acts 15 25

Acts 15  –  Conflict is Inevitable

Life would be SO much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.

BUT – I am not always right.

AND – conflict is inevitable.

 

Acts 15 is about a whole lot of conflict.

First, the Jewish Christians thought the new Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians needed to follow the whole law of Moses – and prove it with circumcision. However, the Gentile Christians felt their faith in Christ – proven by baptism, not circumcision – provided salvation rather than the old law.  And, the church in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were teaching and preaching was being torn apart by the division.  Sometimes conflict does that.

 

But, here we get to see some great steps for conflict resolution.

 

  • Go to find wise counsel. Look for spiritually mature and trustworthy individuals.  In this case Paul and Barnabas were sent with a delegation to the Jerusalem church elders 300 miles away (a trip that may have taken them approximately 15 days if they were able to cover 20 miles per day – sometimes conflict resolution takes some time – but it is worth it).
  • Everybody gets to share their side of the argument. And even through “much debate” (vs. 7), we see order and respect – standing to speak and not speaking out of turn.   And, during the debate – lots of listening (rather than merely preparing your rebuttal).
  • After everyone has had their say – listen to the leadership (in this case, James the brother of Jesus – vs 13) and be prepared to peacefully abide by their decisions.
  • And don’t forget to go to God’s Word! James shares words of the Prophet which clearly say that it is God’s desire that all mankind will seek Him and that there will be Gentiles called by His name.  Using this and the evidence that had been shared of how God had been working amongst the uncircumcised but believing Gentiles, James gives his judgment – no circumcision is needed, but Gentiles must follow some basic rules to be set apart to God and holy.
  • Share the findings with those impacted by the decision – aiming for peacefully being of one mind. A letter is written and members of the Jewish church are sent back with the Antioch delegation to share the letter with the body of believers caught in this conflict.

 

The Antioch church received the letter and delegation and “rejoiced” and were “strengthened” and were at peace.  Conflict resolution at its best!  Unfortunately, we know this issue will come up again throughout the New Testament as other churches grapple with the change.  Old traditions die hard for the Jewish believers.  So too, we must be careful to be tuned into God’s will rather than traditions or merely what “I want” or “I think” or has always been done this way.  Search out what God thinks on the subject.  Aim for becoming of one mind – centered on God’s mind – not yours.

 

Just as peace is reigning once again in Antioch, a new conflict transpires!  But, this time it’s a very personal one – and between our two heroes – Paul and Barnabas!  Even great heroes of the faith don’t always see eye to eye.  Barnabas – always the encourager – wants to take Mark on the next missionary journey.  Paul – perhaps more “task oriented” – remembers that Mark left them in the middle of the last journey and doesn’t want to give him a second chance.  “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another” (Acts 15:39).  It could have easily become an opportunity to grow sour and bitter toward one another, or even God’s work – allowing bad feelings to fester.  However, sometimes a decision to peacefully disagree and get on with God’s work – even if it results in parting ways at least temporarily – can actually deepen relationships and be a useful thing.  In this case, the missionary efforts were doubled since Barnabas went in one direction with Mark to teach and preach and Paul chose Silas and went in another direction to preach and teach.  Differences remained – but both were still actively spreading God’s Word.  And, what fun to later read (Colossians 4:10) that Paul would find Mark to also be very useful in ministry.

 

Life would be so much easier (for me) if everyone always agreed with me.

BUT – I am not always right,

AND – easy isn’t always better.

When we use Biblical models and Godly wisdom to face the conflict, we can grow through the conflict and come out stronger, wiser, and more in line with what God has designed us to be – either as a church, a marriage, a friendship or an individual.  Face your conflict – with much prayer, Bible searching and wisdom and Godly counsel.

 

-Marcia Railton

Grieving the Heart of God

Lamentations 1

lamentations 1

Thursday, March 16

 

The book of Lamentations does not make it onto most people’s “Top Bible Books to Read” list. Its title actually comes from the word “lament”, which means “to mourn (a person’s loss or death)” as a verb, and “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow” as a noun. This book is a compilation of Jeremiah’s laments about the destruction of Jerusalem and all the events leading up to it. He emphasizes that all this calamity is a result of Judah’s disobedience.

 

Jeremiah definitely had a good excuse for some serious lamenting. Sometimes we wallow in self-pity parties about silly little things like how the brand-new Chick-fil-A in our town doesn’t have a play place (true story, and very sad for this momma!), but when is the last time we offered up lamentations to grieve about and lament over an injustice in the world?

 

I live in Ohio, near the crossing of two major highways: Interstate 75, which travels from the Canadian border in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to deep into Florida, and Interstate 70, which spans the great distance from Utah to Maryland. Because of this intersection, the Dayton area is a major hub for drugs and sex trafficking; in fact, Dayton recently made national news for its record-breaking number of fatal opioid overdoses (which included at least one person I knew personally). When I think of how many lives are ruined or stolen by drug addiction and sex trafficking, I feel angry and mournful. It is cause for lament.

 

There are so many other injustices in the world: babies being murdered in utero every day; murder, violence, abuse, racism, discrimination; the growing porn industry; a failing mental health system; families being ripped apart … I’m sure you could add dozens to my list that are worth lamenting!

 

However, it is not enough to just sit on our bums and lament. God wants us to be active in His work in this world. What happenings today do you think grieve the heart of God? Pray with me that God would instill a sense of unrest in our hearts that drives us to fight against the injustices in the world, and to give us opportunities to help lead people toward freedom and hope in Jesus! While Jeremiah had much reason to lament, he was also a man of action (as we will see again in a few chapters), and we need to be people of action too!

-Rachel Cain

 

(Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8GDFPdaQZQ – this link will take you to the Bible Project – with a video of hand drawings and explanations for every book of the Bible – pretty interesting stuff!)