More than transformed rubble

Nehemiah 12 commences with a generational roll call of eminent priests and Levites (v.1-26) among whom is Abijah (v.4) from whom Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist was descended (Luke 1:5).

Having shared his account of the building of the wall in chapters 1-7, Nehemiah now depicts for us the dedication day, with its twin processions and loud rejoicing for their restoration (v.27-43).

After an extensive rebuilding program that touched the lives of the entire community and brought security and pride to the people of Jersulem again. It was a time to celebrate the goodness of God and give thanks. There is no doubt that this would have been a spectacular event to behold, bringing together Levites, singers and musicians from the surrounding regions. But it was also a sacred event requiring the purification (v.30) of the Levites, the people and gates and wall itself.

Two impressive choirs led the processions which departed in different directions to circumnavigate the city, coming together at the house of the Lord (v.40) where great sacrifices and loud rejoicing was offereds because “God had given them great joy.”

In verses 44- 47, this show of joy and zeal is tapped into, to ensure that worship remains part of the fabric of society with key appointments made to collect and look after the tithes and offerings and lead worship.

While the story of Nehemiah teaches us that rubble can be transformed to restore pride and give security again, the Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33-45 further educates us that more than physical walls can be built with that which has been rejected.

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvellous in our eyes’?

Jesus prophecises of a time when those very walls that Nehemiah built up, were about to come tumbling down again, because the religious zeal for God had been lost (v.43-45).

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A new book – Nehemiah

Today’s (Sa 05/08/2017) FDR is Nehemiah 1 and Matthew 18:10-20

Beginning a new book today we can take a brief but broad view of what we are about to read for the next few weeks.

Nehemiah is a book largely about renewal, in this case principally about the wall for the defence of Jerusalem.  The wall that is used to control and regulate the way of life inside the city by the use of its gates in accordance with ritual and commercial processes inside the city.

For us though, there is a strong reason to see this account as a broad euphemism for our own renewal and protection against being drawn into sin and keeping our walk with God righteous.  The image of the wall and the struggles of Nehemiah to establish a rebuilding operation are much like our own struggles to keep evil out of our lives and to walk in the paths of our God.  So too its possible to see in this record’s course our own use of defences and primarily the acts of relying on God for both guidance and sustenance for the whole journey.   For example, the acts of adding weapons to the work parties on the walls mimics our need and adoption of prayer, in faith, and actions that seek to keep us from falling into sin.  Yet there are plenty of distractions in our lives to sin and so too Nehemiah and the people are constantly buffeted by opponents.

Enjoy Nehemiah and encourage each other in our own lives before God and each other.

Glenn

 

 

HEAR the word!

Today’s faithful daily read is Nehemiah 8 and Matthew 13:1-23

What an amazing account we see in Nehemiah today – the people of God gathering together and responding to God’s word!

Nehemiah’s recount of the renewing of the covenant and the submission of God’s people once again to God’s law provides a wonderful example of the gathered church. Ezra preaches up a storm, expounding the word of God and ‘making it clear’ (v8). The people respond in worship (v6), weeping (v10) and celebration (v12)… and the celebration is very great indeed! It is great not because of the works of human hands in rebuilding walls but because of God’s goodness to his people (v10). What a sermon! What a response!

I find an interesting common thread between our two readings today, Nehemiah highlights the joy of the people ‘because they now understood the words that had been made known to them’ (v12) and in Matthew, Jesus quotes from Isaiah and concludes ‘blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear’(v16). We should never take for granted what a wonderful blessing it is to hear and understand the word of God. Not only so, we should pray continually that the word of God would cut with sharpness and clarity through our hard hearts and that we would respond accordingly!

Perhaps, like me, you have heard the parable of the sower so many times that it almost becomes overly familiar and we no longer hear what it says? Just as Nehemiah’s message prompts the Israelites to respond, so Jesus words in Matthew demonstrate how we may respond to Gods word. We are warned of hearing but not understanding, receiving and responding superficially and being choked with worldy concerns. The right response is to not just hear the word of God but by His spirit, understand the word and respond in fruitful service (v23).

Protect the walls. Be ready for battle.

Nehemiah 3

What a fascinating list. Goldsmiths; a perfume maker; rulers of half-districts and districts; high priests and priests; nobles (some of whom wouldn’t lift a finger to help!) and men. A ruler’s granddaughters helped as well. They lived near the wall and away from it, but they were all protected by that wall. All were committed to its repair.

Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar a century and a half before. Artaxerxes permitted Nehemiah to return with a final group of exiles and reconstruct the defensive walls. I envisage our congregation building defensive walls against the attacks of the devil through our culture. How do we protect the walls/health of our congregation? Earlier this year we read in Ephesians 6 of the Christian’s armour and his only offensive weapon – the word of God. But what protects the whole congregation? Ephesians chapter 4:1ff gives a clue: “As a prisoner of the Lord I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received … Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit …”. In that same chapter Paul goes on to describe that, “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (v 7). Do you know how God has equipped you? Are we using our gift to unite and build up the body? Our leaders have the God-given role to “equip us for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (v12). We pray for the leadership in their task of building us up and for ourselves as we work towards unity.

Matthew 10

In Matthew 10:1-4, I am struck by the authority Jesus gave to his disciples. Note that Jesus gave this authority only to the Twelve he had chosen and trained. They were the apprentices of the day, living with and learning from their master. This was their commissioning. Like the Apostles we must stay close to Jesus and learn from him before we can be trusted with spiritual authority.

Jesus sends us out like sheep among wolves (10:16). I don’t want to know that – it’s too threatening. I don’t want conflict but peace in my relationships. Yet we live in a hostile world where it easy to do harm and hard to do good. Jesus tells us be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. The dove symbolises purity and innocence; the snake may be dangerous, but it avoids danger if it can.

In witnessing there are two extremes to avoid: to encourage persecution by pushing the gospel on everyone we meet, or to seek to be inoffensive and so limit our usefulness in God’s service. There will be occasions when it is prudent to flee danger (see 10:23) and other times when our conversation uses the wisdom God provides (10:19, 20).

The Jewish religious leaders were already checking up on Jesus, questioning his breaking of their traditions. Jesus knew his message was revolutionary – and it still is. If they called him Beelzebub (“prince of demons”, see 12:24) how can we anticipate anything different (10:25)? In our society we may be ostracised, pitied, thought a little strange. If we were in a different culture we may be dying for our faith. That reality is my wake-up call.

I am comforted to read of Jesus’ ongoing care for us (10:29-31). It is his care that gives me the confidence to speak of him in everyday encounters.

Verse 38 is challenging: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me”. Paul makes this practical: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1, 2).

Moving from words to action

Todays FDR are Nehemiah 11 and 1 Cor 7:25-40

In our old testament reading we see the repopulation of Jerusalem following renewal of the covenant in chapter 10. Ten percent of the population leave their properties and homes in the Judean countryside to take up residence in Jerusalem. I find it interesting that the decision for who will go to Jerusalem and who will stay is done by casting lots. The scripture does not tell us whether those who drew the lot to return to Jerusalem where happy or sad about leaving their homes. Perhaps we can presume a bit of both? However, what is clear is that the covenant renewal made in the preceding chapter required committment and action… and they dedicate themselves to this task. I wonder if I would have been obedient to the result of a lot draw if it meant giving up my home? I am encouraged by the obedience of these Israelites who not only proclaim the renewal of a covenant but also live it out. Jesus quotes Isaiah in Matthew 15:8 when he states ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me‘. I think these Israelites are a good example of people who honour God with their hearts, actions and lips. For me, this is a great encouragement for us today to be faithful in living our lives, not just willing but actually giving up whatever it takes to follow Christ.

Paul continues his treatise on marriage in our 1 Corinthians 7 reading today. Sometimes I struggle to understand the application of this part of God’s word in today’s world – stay single or get married – I would be very happy for others to comment on how they think this passage could be applied today. Certainly Paul starts by saying he has ‘no command from the Lord’ and then proceeds to launch into a significant amount of advice. Paul indicates there is some urgency  regarding ‘the present crisis’ (likely famine) that ‘time is short’ and ‘the world is passing away’. His encouragement to the Corinithian church is to not waste time – whether you are married or single, or you want to get married or want to stay single then dedicate yourself to the task. I think it his helpful to read all of 1 Cor 7 as a whole to gain a proper perspective of the high regard Paul has for marriage. Paul makes no distinction in terms of sin between staying single or getting married (v36) and encourages individuals to make a decision freely but with due regard for the importance, gravity and responsibility of such a committment. I pray today that whether we are single or married we will all keep our focus first and fore mostly on Jesus and honour God where he has placed us.

Covenant

When was the last time that you made a covenant with someone? Not just a promise, which is often one sided and generally benefits one person more than the other; rather a covenant that is mutual and where both parties seek the best for each other. Of course there are two covenants that immediately come to mind. The day I became a Christian and the day I became a husband. These were not half hearted covenants. I covenanted that I would serve Jesus faithfully forever and that I would serve my wife faithfully forever.

I am spurred on by the Israelites covenant renewal ceremony in Nehemiah 10, to renew my covenants with God.

Nehemiah 10:29

all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.

And I am spurred on by 1 Corinthians 7:1-24 to renew my covenant with my wife

1 Corinthians 7:3-4

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.   

In a culture that values authenticity I am constantly surprised how unauthentic covenants can be.

Lord make me a man of my word. Lord make me a man of your word.

Seeking Forgiveness

What an incredible act of reverence and humility from the Israelites. Nehemiah 9:3

They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God.

Rarely do we see people today standing as a sign of respect, and even rarer is standing for a quarter of a day (except perhaps for those who have moved toward standing work stations, but I don’t think that is a respect thing). I know that as I read my bible at my desk or even in bed I am prone to doze off. Perhaps I will try standing. What the Israelites who were rebuilding the wall realised is that they had dozed off and forgotten that they were in the presence of God almighty. The consequences were devastating as the nation was plundered by enemies.

Perhaps when the Israelites moved to the second quarter of the day they took up a kneeling or prostrate position as a sign of humility in confession. Sometimes I close my eyes when I confess, and sometimes I doze off. Perhaps I will try lying face down on the ground next time.  I also found it interesting that confession and worship were occurring together. When I think of exulting God in worship I think of an uplifted soul and hands (metaphorically) raised. Perhaps next time I will consider my confession time as a time of worship as I magnify who God is and what he has done even though (or especially because) I have sinned. Earnestly seeking forgiveness is an important part of worship.

Forgiveness is the greatest gift we have been given by God. Forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give others. Perhaps this is why Paul is so eager for the Corinthians to forgive before they get to court (1 Corinthians 6). Like the parable of the unmerciful servant who did not appreciate how much he had been forgiven, I too can forget how much I have been forgiven when I hold something against my brother or sister.

May we fully understand how much we have been forgiven, and with the measure used on us, may we measure out to others.