365 Ezra & Nehemiah

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Dear 365 Readers,

Well, I hope that you have been more consistent than I have with the readings… I think I missed the last 20 chapters of 2 Chronicles.  May has been challenging.  So, if you’re behind like me, you have a couple of choices:

  • Lie down and give up on Bible reading forever,
  • Do a big catch-up session where you read (or listen) to what you missed,
  • Just start reading and let go of the parts you missed.

I personally hope (a) isn’t your choice!  I would like to recommend (b) if you’re not too far behind, or (c) since we are starting the VERY SHORT book of Ezra on Tuesday!  Join us for Ezra and Nehemiah, they’re not so intimidating and then you’ll know what happens when the exiles return to Jerusalem.

You know by now that the Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon and taken into exile.  Then Babylon was conquered by the Persians.  The Persian rulers had an official policy to allow conquered peoples to practice their own religions, and they offered the exiles an opportunity to return to Jerusalem.  Please note that the exiles returned in three (3) waves – see the chart on my 365 resources page.  The book of Ezra tells the story of the first two waves and the rebuilding of the temple, and there is a twenty (20) year gap between chapters 4 and 5.    Nehemiah tells the story of the last wave and the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.

Ezra and Nehemiah are the story of a new beginning!  Israel at this point is less a nation and political entity, and much more like a church, struggling against sin on the inside and distractions on the outside.  Consider what spiritual and leadership lessons can be drawn from these two books as you read.

We Are So Distracted!

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“Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall.” Nehemiah 5:16

We were talking in class yesterday and we concluded that one thing really impressed us about Nehemiah:  He did not allow ANYTHING to distract him from the task God had laid upon his heart.  There was nothing that caught his attention enough to make him pause, swerve, or give up while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem!  He endured verbal assaults, physical threats, discouraged laborers, fear, rumors, death threats, spies on the inside, abuses of power, gossip, and economic distress – but still he carried on!

What are the top three things that most distract you from the things God has put in your heart?

Think about it.  Make a list – in your head or on paper.

What keeps you from doing the things you know God has called you to do?

We made a list in class yesterday.  This is our list:

Look at that!  We all agreed – it is PATHETIC that we allow these things to keep us from fulfilling the will of God for our lives.  One of our classmates also pointed out – it is a very American, middle class list.  Indeed!  We are not prevented from obedience by things like war, hunger, poverty, illness, or torture.  Oh no, it is our television and our air conditioning that get in our way.  Uggh.

Decide today that you are NOT going to let petty, insignificant things of no eternal value or laziness distract you from obeying what God has put on your heart.

God Will Fight For Us

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In the midst of great opposition, under threat, and with rubble frustrating the rebuilding project Nehemiah stopped to pray.  He organized guards to watch over the builders (4:9).  And when he saw their fear he gave a motivational speech:

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” – Nehemiah 4:14

Indeed our GREAT and AWESOME God frustrated the plans of the opposition.  God took care of the problem for them.

How quickly we forget and collapse in a heap of tears, trembling because we are afraid!

“Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” – Nehemiah 4:20

God will fight for us.  This phrase, repeated throughout the Bible, was a promise that those who were doing what God called them to do, those who walked in obedience – would see God’s intervention on their behalf.

God will fight for us.  What does it mean to you personally?

Let us be inspired by Nehemiah’s unrelenting belief and trust in God.  He was certain that God would fulfill the vision given to him, inspite of opposition and troubles on every side.

Romans 8:31-39 “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Take just a minute or two to listen to this Chris Tomlin song and let this great truth sink deep into your soul – Our God is Greater, Our God is Stronger…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlA5IDnpGhc

– Nehemiah, a Bible study by Kelly Minter.

What Are You Repeating?

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Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” – Neh 4:12

After discouragement came the next enemy from within the ranks – FEAR.

True – there was a death threat issued (4:11) and the possibility of an unseen enemy sneaking inside the walls and killing workers was real.

But repeating the issue ten times over?  Really?  Someone who should be on your own side has suddenly become part of the opposition!  Family members and close friends are famous for this kind of behavior…

Outside Jerusalem concerned mothers and relatives were stressed and afraid and they ratcheted up the fear factor by repeating over and over again the danger the workers in Jerusalem faced.

But everyone is saying….  Haven’t you heard… Don’t you know… It’s not good… You should stop… Come to a safe place… Why are you being so insistent, so hard-headed… It’s dangerous for crying out loud!

Kelly Minter calls them “ancient-day re-Tweeters of Sanballat’s threats”.

She also writes, “I believe the Jews from the surrounding areas were loving and concerned citizens, but they had lost sight of what was most important: the successful rebuild of Jerusalem.  Even well-meaning people can unintentionally draw us away from God’s will in our lives.”

Discouraging words may be true.  You must choose what to do with them.

Who is repeating discouraging messages to you?  Stop listening to them.

Are you repeating discouraging messages to yourself or others?  Stop re-tweeting what is not helpful for building others up. (Ephesians 4:29).

Let us not lose our focus on the things we are called to be doing.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith… “Our great and awesome God” as Nehemiah called Him.

– Nehemiah, a Bible study by Kelly Minter.

Removing the Rubble

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Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” – Neh 4:10

DISCOURAGEMENT.  The opposition tried ridicule, then they tried physical threats.  But it was discouragement that nearly brought everything to a halt.

“We are not able!”  It almost sounds like, “There are giants in the land!”  Where is their faith?  Are they afraid of hard work?

Kelly Minter writes, “Rubble threatened to stop the laborers in Jerusalem dead in their tracks.  Forget Sanballat’s nasty threats, forget the Ammonites who were planning to fight against them.  It was that exhausting rubble that just about took them down.

The problem with rubble is that it hangs around well after the initial destruction.  Though the attack on Jerusalem’s walls had long since passed, the rubble was still present.

What rubble in your life is presently the most discouraging and exhausting?  (For example, finances, additions, or relationships?)

It’s important for us to deal with our personal rubble or we may find ourselves still climbing over it 30 years from now.  How can we rebuild properly if we never address our rubble?

Getting rid of rubble requires we do something.

What specific actions can you take to deal with your rubble?  It might include seeking counsel, asking for help, or requesting accountability.”

Do not allow rubble to discourage you.  Follow the example of the Jews in Nehemiah – bond together with a small group (in their case it was family) and work at removing the rubble.  Until the rubble is gone, it will be difficult to build new, strong, beautiful defenses in its place.

– Nehemiah, a Bible study by Kelly Minter.

* Photo of collapsed section of Hadrian’s Wall near Cawfields, England by R. Witcher

 

Nasty Words!

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“When Sanballat (the governor of Samaria) heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Neh 4:1

OUCH!  Discouraging.  Painful.  Mocking.

Ridicule was the first major attack from the opposition.  They mocked the workers, the project, and the materials.

Think about a time when you felt attacked on every side.  What did you learn from this season, and how did it affect your relationship with God?

My first response when attacked is to fire back in defense of myself.  Later, when it is quiet, I usually want to hide under my covers and cry.  Insults hurt, and the ones that wound the most usually have shards of truth in them.

I have learned that I must search my heart carefully.

Sometimes I am wrong.  In that case, I must be quick to admit it.  I must ask for forgiveness from offended parties.  I must work to repair the damage, including making a public statement if necessary.

Sometimes I am right.  In that case I must stand quietly and patiently, persevering with utter disregard for the foolishness coming out of the mouths of others.

Nehemiah prayed (4:4-5) and then he went back to work.  What a great example he is of courage and perseverance in the face of opposition!

— Nehemiah, a Bible study by Kelly Minter.

* photo of awesome tshirt: www.johngushue.typepad.com

Working Together

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“Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that. They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Rephaiah son of Hur, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section.” Neh 3:8-9

 It would be easy to skip over the long list of names and sections of the wall that comprises most of chapter 3.  However, there are several interesting things to note:

–          The rate of participation is extremely high.  As a volunteer coordinator, I am impressed.  There are 38 individuals and 42 different groups mentioned by name in this passage.

–          The people seemed unified, of one mind, sharing a common vision.

–          Everyone did a little bit, usually right in front of their own house, where they had a vested interest in doing a good job and adding to their own security.

–          They were not all builders – some of them were goldsmiths, elected officials, servants, and even a perfume maker.  It was a very disparate group – rather like our churches today.

–          In at least one instance the high priest was off building the wall near the temple, so his neighbors rebuild the wall in front of his house for him. (3:1,20) They were serving God by helping out their neighbor!

Most importantly, God has not called us to serve Him ALONE.  God’s people are to work together to accomplish the purposes of His kingdom.  We are the body of Christ and each of us has been given specials talents or gifts that allow us to serve in a unique manner. (1 Corinthians 12)

The role of those in church leadership is to equip others that they might serve (Ephesians 4:12).  Often we get that backwards, thinking that the church leadership should be doing everything and we can relax and be consumers… Instead church leadership should be helping identify the passions and gifting of church members and encouraging them to work and support the whole body.

Nehemiah had the vision to do something and God sent him all the people he needed to get it done.  Never forget that God provides ALL the people and the resources for the kingdom projects He has inspired.

– Nehemiah, a Bible study by Kelly Minter.