Sunday, January 29, 2012


This narrative begins as Nehemiah hears that the city of Jerusalem is not doing well and has broken down walls and gates destroyed by fire.  He is an official in King Artaxerxes's administration and allows the king to see him after he has been heart broken by the news of Jerusalem.  The king asks what is wrong, and Nehemiah tells him.  The king grants Nehemiah leave and gives him a royal letter granting him safe passage and material help.  Upon arrival, Nehemiah secretly surveys the damages and assesses the needs.  He then begins to rally the people to rebuild even in spite of an immediate voice of opposition from locals.  Chapter three details the various groups and individuals involved and the specific sections of the wall they rebuilt.  The enemies of Jerusalem begin to openly mock and seek to discourage the Jews.  This escalates to threats and intimidation.  The Jews pray and set up a guard.  Eventually, they split those who are there in half.  Half the men stand guard with weapons drawn while the other half work.  Everyone is called to sleep within Jerusalem.  Nehemiah encourages the people to trust fully in God.

Nehemiah's next challenge comes from problems within the Jewish community.  The wealthy and powerful Jews in the region were oppressing the poor Jews.  Nehemiah commands that they cease their exploitation of the people and return their property and the interest charged to them.  The wealthy agree to do this.  Nehemiah does without his wages and the normal allowance for his expenses as governor of the land to also lighten the burden on the people.  He asks for God to remember this. 

Outside enemies once again employ various tactics seeking to intimidate and instill fear in the Jews.  They even hire a man within the community to act as if he is Nehemiah's friend and claim to have knowledge of an impending attack on Nehemiah, but he does not fall for it.  Finally, the wall is finished after 52 days.  There are some within the community that have ties to Tobiah, one of Nehemiah's enemies, and they continue to try to influence Nehemiah's perceptions about Tobiah.  Nehemiah wants the people to remain vigilant for any attacks.  God lays it on his heart to list the exiles who returned to the best of his ability.  He does this, and a list is given.  There are some priests who want to be listed, but they cannot prove their lineage.  Therefore, they are excluded from the priesthood.  Many of the leaders give gifts of their own wealth.  

Ezra reads the law before the people, and as he is reading it, men are present with Ezra to help and be sure that the people understand it clearly.  The people initially weep and grieve as they grasp the law being taught to them, but the leaders correct them and explain this is a holy day.  They encourage them to feast, celebrate, and share with those who are without.  The next day, they learn about the feast of booths that is proclaimed in the law.  They decide to observe the feast of booths.  The people join in crying for God's mercy, and the Levites lead the people and seek to acknowledge to God his great faithfulness and their ancestors' stubborn and consistent disobedience.  They do this by revisiting their history and many milestones in Israel's past.  Finally, they submit a written covenant of repentance to God.  Chapter 10 begins with a list of prominent names that signed the covenant, and it goes on to indicate the specific practices that they are pledging to follow through with as they seek to walk in repentance and obedience. 

The leaders take it upon themselves to live in Jerusalem, and the people cast lots to pick one in ten from the people to also live there.  These people are honored, it seems, because of the higher level of danger to live in the city.  A list of Jerusalem's inhabitants is given.  A list of priests and Levites is also given.  It starts with Zerubbabel and Jeshua who were among the original returning exiles, and it goes from there.  The wall of Jeruasalem is dedicated with sacrifices and much loud and joyful celebration.  The storerooms for the priestly and Levitical portions of the sacrifices are established.  The law of Moses is read, and the Jews choose to separate themselves from foreigners in response to becoming aware that Ammonites and Moabites were never to enter the assembly of God.

Finally, after a time away, Nehemiah discovers many wrongs have taken place upon his return.  Eliashib the priest uses what is supposed to be a storage room for the grain, spices, etc. from worhip as a room dedicated to being used by Tobiah, a relative of the priest.  Nehemiah throws out Tobiah's possessions and orders the room to be cleansed.  The people have not been faithful to bring the portion for the Levites and singers, and they have had to go back to their fields to survive instead of doing their temple duties.  He finds people profaning the Sabbath with work and trade, and some people have intermarried.  He seeks to correct these wrongs and institute reforms again.  The book ends with his request that God remembers all the good he has done for these people.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Paul has a plan

I recently had the opportunity to engage in an extended conversation with a man who had been homeless for about 3 or more years.  During the course of this conversation, the man named Paul would on a couple of occasions start referring to what he had in mind regarding his own future.  He was confident that if he could just get his hands on a tent and a sleeping bag from Wal-Mart that he would be set.  He also occasionally spoke about some getting back into playing the drums and maybe seeing where that could take him.  Paul was certain that if he could get further south, perhaps to Florida, that this location change would also revolutionize his life for the better.  These are the kinds of ideas Paul had regarding future opportunities for personal betterment.  I am fairly certain Paul was in his late 50's.

 Of course, I would  try to steer Paul towards seeking help through one of the many homeless shelters available to him in the area.  I tried to point out to Paul that it was going down to the 20's the following two or three nights, and he needed to find somewhere he could be safe from such temperatures.  Also, the homeless shelters seemed to me to be the obviously best option available for what I considered to be more meaningful improvements in Paul's life going forward regarding job prospects, safety, improving his health, and other potential issues I was sure were probably plaguing Paul.  Paul refused that route and remained confident that his plan was the way to go.  The last I saw of Paul was outside a Flying J truckstop where he was panhandling money. 

I mention this interaction because a couple of days after this,  I was revisiting this encounter, and it dawned on me that Paul's skewed thinking is very reminiscent of our own in terms of how I believe we interact with God.  I believe that many of us think that we know some "good ideas" to get going in the right direction in regards to spiritual growth and improvement, but our perceptions are so warped by our lengthy time living in a state of spiritual malnutrition that we can't see how short sighted our goals are.  We are stubbornly unwilling to submit ourselves to simpler and more fundamental steps (not changing our current situation, but resubmitting our hearts more fully to and intensely in pursuit of Christ).  We think if we can just do this or that, it will turn things around, but we are not acknowledging the depth of our need.  This is not meant to be a downer for anyone nor accusatory(these thoughts applied to myself when thinking them at the time which was recently).  On the contrary, when we allow ourselves to determine the next steps when in a state of spiritual malnutrition (lack of a prayer life, Bible study, fellowship, consistent disobedience, etc.), we are keeping ourselves from walking in a place of fulfillment, meaningfulness, joy, and peace that we don't even think is possible.

 We must recognize God is the one with clarity, not us.  We get that clarity simply by hiding ourselves deeply within Him as we did when we first came to him as little children.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Learning about Mormonism

Below are some great video clips walking you through key points regarding Mormonism and the crucial need for Christians to arm themselves with the gospel for effective defense AND witnessing opportunities that can often present themselves to us.  I hope you find them as helpful as I have.  This has rekindled my appreciation for Way of the Master with Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.  I may be visiting them and their web site more often.

Way Of The Master Mormonism Mormons Part 1

Way Of The Master Mormonism Mormons Part 2

Way Of The Master Mormonism Mormons Part 3