Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Verses that inspire - commitment

Lately we've mentioned commitment several times . . .
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,    and he will establish your plans. (Proverbs 16:3)
As believers, we are committed to God for our lifetime - and beyond!
Commitment, though, is a word that many people like to ignore in their vocabularies. And they would like to ignore it in their lifestyle, too.
That's not a strategy for Christians.
Commit your way to the Lord;    trust in him and he will do this (Psalm 37:5)
Because that's our plan for success.
First, we are committed to our Savior: we have a new way of life, of service and sacrifice:
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)
We are to be committed to other believers, too.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.... 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42, 44-47)
Commitment was huge in the New Testament church community. They devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship; they supported the apostles (leaders) and each other (other followers). They contributed financially and materially to the community, and even ate together, praising God. They were committed to the service of the Lord and each other. They were building the kingdom of God.
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. (I Corinthians 3:9-10)
Commitment is necessary in a marriage, as well. It's a lifetime partnership that should include taking cues from Christ:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:21-25)
Commitment is a part of our job, too, whether we are a nurse, a banker, a farmer, a construction worker, or a hospice worker. I don't mean those jobs.
I mean being committed to this job:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Commitment will bring success - in our spiritual life, in our life with other believers, in our marriage, and in our working for God's kingdom.

Lord, help us to commit our ways to You; help us to trust that You will establish our plans!

If a verse or passage has inspired you recently, I hope you will leave a comment to bless others as they study here.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Serving God - people skills

We're studying for our second week in the second chapter of Nehemiah. We're still focused on serving God, and doing it realistically; by that I mean not getting caught up in excitement so that we are disappointed when things get tough -- and also not getting pessimistic and thinking all is lost, so we throw up our hands and throw in the towel!

One thing is for sure -- when we are serving God, we must learn to work with people.
Nice people.
Not-so-nice people.
Happy people.
Grumpy people.
Hard working people.
People who would rather be spectators.
It's easy to be idealistic about the task God has for us, until we meet the actual, real, live, human beings that we have to work with!
A situation comedy that's now in syndication, Frasier, shows the everyday troubles of a radio personality. He sits in a quiet radio studio and speaks into a microphone, counseling callers about their problems and phobias. He sometimes gets frustrated by his callers, but oh, boy! When he has to actually relate to the people in his life in a one-on-one situation? Phew! Whole different story!

Isn't that the way we are sometimes?
We can pray and plan our task that God has given us. We can wait on Him to open the door for us.
But then we hit some roadblocks when we need to work with other people! Do we anticipate this, and respond tactfully? Are we ready to explain our plans, or are we resentful when people resist us?
Without knowing it, we can be abrasive.
After all, God gave us this task.
He wants us to do it.
We've prayed and planned.
But we also need to be sensitive to others. People skills are important!
Nehemiah is a good example for us. He responded graciously, with tactfulness, but when needed, he was strong, too.
Let's look at his example in working with an unbeliever: Artaxerxes. This was a situation that required a lot of prayer and a lot of finesse! After all, the king was his boss, and quite literally could make Nehemiah's head roll! Frankly, that is the reason why Nehemiah was a bit afraid when the king asked him, "Why are you sad in my presence?"  There could be severe consequences if you, as my grandma used to say, rained on his parade! Add to this the fact that Artaxerxes had stopped the work on the wall (remember back in Ezra?) before. The Medes and the Persians were known for being unchangeable - kind of a "my word is law" on steroids. So Nehemiah had quite a task ahead of him if he hoped to change that decree of Artaxerxes!

How did he do it? Well, first of all, it is amazing to us humans how God can soften the hearts of the Most Difficult People if we will spend time asking Him to do so! Secondly, Nehemiah had the respect of Artaxerxes. He was trustworthy and loyal -- so much so, that the king wanted to know when Nehemiah would be back. Lastly, our favorite cupbearer was tactful: instead of mentioning Jerusalem by name (that would have been a sore spot), he calls it the place of his forefathers' tombs. That is something that a pagan ruler can relate to. So, call him sensitive or call him tactful, Nehemiah was using his people skills, here!

Nehemiah also knew how to relate to demoralized people. The Jews in Jerusalem believed in God and His covenant, at least with head knowledge. But heart knowledge? They had lost hope. After all, they'd tried to work on the walls and they'd been shot down! They were likely to resent this outsider coming in and telling them how to do things. How Nehemiah proceeded after his arrival shows that he had anticipated some of this. He spent three days on what we call today "due diligence" and thinking about how to present this to overcome objections and rank negativity.  Then after those three days, he called everyone together for a discussion -- and he said he was "in the same boat" with them:
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace. (v 17)
See what he did there? It wasn't THEIR problem. It was OUR problem. And he appealed to a need that they all felt . . . the disgrace. Finally, he told them that God had already been working on their behalf:
I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. (v 18a)
They responded instantly:
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (v 18b)
There's an art to working with people and motivating them to do God's work -- Nehemiah shows us that we should combine wisdom and tact with plain truth.

The last group of people to test Nehemiah's "people skills" were the enemies of Jerusalem. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria (to the north). Tobiah ruled to the east. Geshem was the leader of the Arabs to the south. All three opposed a fortified Jerusalem: it threatened their political positions! They could not have cared any less about the plight of the Jews (or about God's glory) and they joined together to accuse the people of rebellion. Nehemiah was both wise and courageous in his response. He did not meet with them or hear their concerns, since compromise with them would have been a huge mistake! He drew the line between them and God's people, saying they could not join the project. He realize they intended to sabotage it. He said:
I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (v 20)
What an example for us in our service for God! Nehemiah's people skills were awesome. We'll learn more about how he handled problems when we study again.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Step three of waiting . . . that realistic outlook

Waiting on the Lord.
It's not something that comes easily to some of us.
But waiting on the Lord is an important part of having a realistic outlook on our situation. And being realistic can certainly help us do a better job of serving the Lord!
You see, we humans have a streak of drama in us. No? Yes?
Sometimes we swing toward pessimism. Nothing's going right. Nothing is GOING to go right.
Other times we swing toward optimism. Everything's going to be OK! Absolutely everything!
One way, we sound like Eeyore in the Thousand Acre Wood, and the other way we sound like Pollyanna!
But somewhere in between is where we can have a realistic, balanced outlook on our surroundings. And that balance will help us to serve God much better than the swings between "the glass is half empty" and "the glass is half full."

We've seen that step one of waiting on the Lord is prayer.
Step two we found to be patience.
Here's step three: planning.
Oh, yes, I know there will be some who take issue with me. "Leave it in God's hands," they will say. "Trust Him and everything will work out."
Yes, that is absolutely true!
But prayer and planning are not at odds with each other. They may be thinking it's un-spiritual to plan. I don't think so. Thinking about how to move from Point A to Point B is not un-spiritual. If we go to the other extreme and make elaborate plans -- and fall into the error of trusting the plans instead of the Lord -- then we have a problem.
Let's look again at our favorite cupbearer in chapter 2:
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. (v 4-8)
When you read that, do you get the feeling that Nehemiah had been doing some advance planning? That he'd been thinking about how to move forward? I sure do.
King Artaxerxes asked how long he thought he'd be gone, and Nehemiah "set a time." He didn't just wave his hand and say, "Well, as long as the Lord needs me there!" Or, "I'm not sure!"
We read later (in chapter five) that he was in Jerusalem for about twelve years . . . the scholars tell us that he probably finished the wall and returned to report to Artaxerxes. Then, he came back to serve as governor.
Now, he not only gave the king a definite time, he also had some pretty detailed requests that showed he had been giving this some serious thought -- he'd been planning this! He knew that he would be passing through some territory where he'd be considered a "foreigner," so he asked the king for letters to the governors of those provinces. A letter from Artaxerxes would pave the way for a smooth trip through the province, with no problems. He also asked the king for a letter to the keeper of the king's forest - he would need timber for making repairs to the walls and the gates, and he'd need a house for himself, too.
Yes, Nehemiah is an example to us of the balance of planning and trusting. Those are two things that can exist together happily. Nehemiah had a great grasp of how to balance waiting on God in prayer -- but at the same time, thinking and planning about what he would do when God opened the door.
Our Savior gave us some instructions on this -- planning is a GOOD thing!
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14:28)
And our old friend Solomon (wow, has it been that long since we studied Proverbs?) had this to say:
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,    and he will establish your plans. (Proverbs 16:3)
So, to find balance between pessimism and optimism, we should strive for a realistic outlook. And the best way to do this, as Nehemiah has shown us this week, is to wait on the Lord: and while we wait, we pray, we develop patience, and we plan.

More on Nehemiah next week!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Half full or half empty? Serving God realistically

Many people today like to "pigeonhole" others....they will say that one person is an optimist and another a pessimist. I'd like to continue our study of the second chapter of Nehemiah, and look at how we can be right in the middle: looking at things realistically! Serving God with a realistic attitude and outlook will prevent us from crashing and burning when things don't go as we would like.....

Last time we met here, we talked about how Nehemiah waited four months from when Hanani told him about the terrible situation in Jerusalem and when he mentioned it to the king, Artaxerxes. While he waited, he prayed.
What's step two?
Nehemiah developed patience.
Oh, no, not that.
That's a hard one!
I know, I know, patience is a fruit of the Spirit and God wants all of His children to develop that. But it's not one that I'm good at. The Spirit and I are still working on that. And I expect that we will be, for quite a while more. (Grin)
Whether we are leaders or followers, we can cause a lot of problems if we react impetuously. Or if we race ahead of God to try to fix a problem.
(As a leader, Nehemiah is going to show us that he is capable of swift, decisive action when needed. And we are going to learn that he is OK with that because he has bathed every situation in prayer!) For example, he didn't leave his conversation with Hanani and rush into the king's court: "Oh, king! I need to take a year's leave of absence! I believe God has called me to Jerusalem!"
Instead, he prayed and fasted, concealing his burden from the king. He presented his concerns to God in private, and waited for God to open the door of opportunity, so that he could talk with Artaxerxes. Only then did he move forward.
Later on (in a coming chapter) we will see his patience again, when Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem. He could have ridden into town with his traveling companions and imperiously shouted to the welcoming crowd, "I've come to help you rebuild the wall!" He could have dismounted his horse and informed them that they should join him at a town hall meeting in an hour to discuss the plans.
Instead, he waited three days before doing anything! Even then, he moved cautiously and patiently, guided by his prayer life with God.

Waiting on God means working on our patience. Sometimes as new believers, or as veteran believers, too, we are bursting with great ideas for tackling problems in the church. We are excited and want to move quickly. When we meet with resistance, we are surprised and taken aback. The metaphor of sowing and reaping can teach us that we need to patiently sow God's Word (or offer tactful suggestions on how to solve problems) and that Change. Takes. Time. (Grin)
Be still before the Lord    and wait patiently for him; (Psalm 37:7a)
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,    and in his word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5)
Nehemiah prayed and was patient as he waited on God to work.
And that is step two of looking at our situation realistically!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Is the glass half full? Serving God realistically

I hope you have found time to read the second chapter of Nehemiah. We are looking this week at pessimism, optimism, and that "happy medium" that my grandma always talked about. The spot right in the middle, where we are looking realistically at what God would have us to do.

Chapter two begins with a note about timing.
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?The king said to me, “What is it you want?”Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:1-5)
The scholars tell us that this means four months had gone by since Nehemiah heard the report from Hanani. Four months had elapsed since he heard about the situation in Jerusalem; he'd not had an opportunity, or the time had not "been right" to speak to the king. During that time, Nehemiah had been so burdened by this news that he had wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed for God to do something about the grievous situation.

We might wonder why he waited four months. But four months was a pretty short wait, compared to other men in the Bible whom God used.  Abraham waited more than twenty-five years for God to give him his son, Isaac. Joseph spent time as a slave, and then in prison, too, before being elevated to a position where he could save his family by moving them to Egypt. The children of Israel were enslaved for four hundred years before the exodus. Moses spent forty years in the desert before God used him to bring His people out of Egypt. Remember how David spent his youthful years running from Saul? And Paul spent three years alone in Arabia, learning and waiting before God would use him.
Long story short, if we want to be used of God, sometimes we must learn to wait.
Waiting is hard!
Life is too short! Let's get going! As grandma said, "Time's a-wasting!"
But sometimes in His wisdom, God puts us on hold.
What do we do while we wait? Let's "ask" Nehemiah . . .
While waiting, he prayed. I guess y'all think I'm really pounding on this concept this week, but you know what? IT'S IMPORTANT!! (Grin)
The prayer in chapter 1 was not a one shot deal for Nehemiah. It appears to be a summary of what he prayed over and over again during those four months of mourning and concern for God's glory and for His people. In the book bearing his name, Nehemiah is shown praying eleven times in thirteen chapters!
Many of these prayers are extremely short, like the one in verse four above. They have one important thing in common: they reflect the fact that in any (and every) situation, Nehemiah looked to God in prayer. He depended on God and is an awesome example for us of a man who did this:
pray continually, (I Thessalonians 5:17, NIV)pray all the time (MSG)Pray without ceasing. (KJV)
The Greek word translated "without ceasing" in the KJV doesn't mean without any break. That's just not possible. That Greek word can be used for a hacking cough that won't stop, and also can be used to describe repeated military assaults. (Caro, correct me if I'm wrong here, OK?) It means this: prayer should be something that we return to; something that we do again and again until we obtain an answer.
In our focus passage, the king notices that Nehemiah looks sad in his presence. That in and of itself was a breach of etiquette! Kings prefer to be surrounded by happy people, and this could have cost Nehemiah his job, or even his life! With those penalties in mind, I don't think that Nehemiah staged this, or looked sad on purpose. It seems more likely that he inadvertently allowed his sorrow to show on his face. After all, the verse says he was afraid when the king noticed. Just like us, in our Christian lives, we pray for something and hope, but when the opportunity comes, we are sometimes surprised, and sometimes apprehensive!

This had to be a silent, instantaneous cry of "Help me, Lord!" don't you think?
Or, "Give me your wisdom now!"
It was based on those four months of praying. And we see that Nehemiah knew it -- he didn't attribute the king's response to good luck:
And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me. (v8b)
I truly believe that Nehemiah knew and remembered this:
In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water    that he channels toward all who please him. (Proverbs 21:1)
One reason why God makes us wait on Him is to teach us this concept: to teach us to depend on Him in prayer. If He immediately granted everything that we ask for, like a kind-hearted neighbor filling our trick or treat sack, we would grab those goodies and run -- and forget God.
But when we wait on God in prayer, we learn to seek God Himself and to depend on Him. When the answer finally comes, we realize it is because of one reason . . . the good hand of our God was upon us.
And we give Him all the glory that He deserves!
That's the first step toward looking at the situation realistically, and serving Him well.
We'll look at step two tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Prayer requests

I don't know about you, but I find the book of Nehemiah so interesting and so inspiring that I have plowed through it multiple times now!
Are you doing that, too?
Have you "read ahead" of where we are camped in chapter two?

I know I've said this before, but I'm truly impressed (and convicted, too) by this man of commitment and prayer.
My thoughts about prayer have increased, lately, as has the time I've spent on my knees with our Savior.

Nehemiah knew the power of short prayers; he didn't always take the time for a long one. Have you ever been in church and listened to what seemed like an exceedingly long prayer? Sometimes it seems long because we are having a hard time hearing - like when someone in the congregation is asked to pray. Sometimes it is because it truly IS an exceedingly long prayer. (Grin)
Short prayers are powerful, too.
Is our heart weary? We can ask God for His power and strength, and for guidance to utilize them correctly.
Do we need inspiration in life? God is the source of our light and peace, and will infill us with inspiration.
Is a friend or family member facing difficult times? It's hard to know what to say. Prayers for them are important, as well as prayers for ourselves to know how to help and respond.

There is a famous prayer by St. Richard, Bishop of Chichester in the thirteenth century, that was adapted and put to music in the song "Day by Day" from Godspell. It is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it down!
......for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.
Is a friend managing hardships?
Are we?
Channel your inner Nehemiah and whisper a prayer before responding to anyone. Ask God for peace as we lie down to rest, and ask Him for new hope when we wake in the morning.
He is close.
He is strong.
He is wise.
He is with us.
He will hold us and protect us . . . forever!
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;    let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,    that those who love your name may rejoice in you. (Psalm 5:11)
I hope that you will feel encouraged by this familiar verse from the Psalms. If you have a burden on your heart, or a praise to rejoice about, please leave a comment and let us know.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Is the glass half full? Half empty?

Are you an optimist?
A pessimist?
Are you an idealistic person, or are you zeroed in on reality, instead?
When we are young, we often are refreshing to oldsters, because we are idealistic. We have a zest and a passion that can inspire hope in those who have lost theirs in the many battles of life. Even if our ideas are not practical, and our concepts are colored by our passion, we idealists can bolster the faith and hope of those who are tired and jaded.

As we mature, though, we learn that the real world isn't quite as perfect as we had envisioned. We even begin to believe the old jokes regarding Murphy's Law . . .
  • The other line moves faster -- whether it's at the bank, the grocery store, or a tollbooth. Also, if you change lines, the line you left will begin to move faster.
  • All papers that you carefully save will be unnecessary -- until you throw them away and they become essential.
  • When you are working on your car, any tool you drop will roll under the car to the car's geographic center, which is about three inches farther than your reach.
All of these statements are humorous, because they resemble the real world that we live in. Things don't always go smoothly, right?  Even when we have surrounded them with prayer.
Lord, save us!    Lord, grant us success! (Psalm 118:25)
Contrary to what some people will tell us, following Jesus doesn't guarantee a trouble-free life! In fact, it can get us into deeper trouble, nowadays, but that's a whole 'nother story, right? (Grin)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)
Part of Christian maturity is learning to deal with the world (and other believers, too) as they are, and not as we would like for them to be.

As we can see in Nehemiah, that applies in the realm of serving God, too. We will see in this second chapter that even though he was doing God's will, the path wasn't all smooth and strewn with rose petals. Studying this chapter can teach us to avoid being overly idealistic - then we can avoid crashing in disillusionment. It can also teach us to be realistic -- but to temper that with hope, so that we don't become cynical and quit.
Nehemiah faced some very real problems; he moved through them to accomplish things for God.

Please join me in reading chapter two of Nehemiah, so that we can study and learn from the Holy Spirit this week.