Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Do You Belong Here? (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

I was out to eat a Cracker Barrel as a young teenager. I had to use the restroom and so I excused myself and went in what I thought was the “men’s room” it was on the left just like the “men’s room” at the Cracker Barrel back home. If I had looked around I would have found it odd that there were no urinals, but I had to go! After I finished business I was washing my hands and a woman came in the restroom. Feeling slightly embarrassed for her I said, “excuse me, I think you are in the wrong restroom.” She did a double take stepped back out, came back in and said, “No, You are in the wrong restroom!” Horrified I looked at the wall and where the urinals should have been, there was a mirror! I sheepishly tried to escape the bathroom without anyone noticing that I had gone in the wrong restroom but I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was staring at me. I had gone to the wrong restroom!

I don’t know if that has ever happened to you, but I can let you know that it’s a life scarring event that you will need to blog about or seek therapy for later. As bad as it was though, can you imagine what it would be like to be cheering on the rebuilding of a city only to find out that you don’t belong there? It comes time to fill the city of Jerusalem and only those who meet the qualifications can live there.

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The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

There was a shortage of people in Jerusalem. This was a problem because if the city came under attack it would need able bodied people to defend the city. Rather than putting out a call all over the land to allow anyone to live in the city. Nehemiah goes back to the records to determine who had the right to live there. It was important that those who lived in the city had a genealogical right to live there. If they allowed anyone in, they may as well have not built the wall because the enemy would be living inside with them. It was important to know who your ancestors were.

In the New Testament Jesus sets up a different standard for the Kingdom of God. He tells a man named Nicodemus that genealogical pedigree doesn’t matter as much as if he has ever been “born again.” Jesus issued a new standard: Not, who were your parents? But, who is your Savior? To be part of the kingdom of God, Nicodemus would have to recognize that his Jewishness wasn’t enough, that he had to come by faith in what Jesus could and would do for him on the cross.

Like Nicodemus we will be judged not on our birth, but on what we have done with Jesus. Like Nehemiah we will or won’t be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven based up on our qualifications. Either we will try and enter on our own merit or we will plead that Jesus is all the merit we need.

Who or what are you depending on getting you to Heaven today?

Appointing Faithful Leaders (Nehemiah 7:1-2)

Appointing Faithful Leaders (Nehemiah 7:1-2)

We all have mountaintop and valley experiences in life. When it comes to spiritual matters I’ve learned that shortly after the mountaintop moment there will be a time of temptation. I have to be more aware than ever after camps, conferences, or even weekly preaching where I have been sharing or learning life transforming truth from God’s Word. It will be those moments in which I think something great has been accomplished that I will find myself challenged.  It usually begins with the temptation to coast. We usually justify coasting because of everything we have been through or our tiredness after an event. I’ve learned though that this is the exact time I don’t need to coast and no matter how tired I am, I need to keep the routine that has drawn me near to God.

It is normal to experience a mountaintop moment like camp and think your world has changed and maybe your world has changed, but it won’t be different for long without some intentionality to help you get through the valley that follows the mountaintop.

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Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.(Nehemiah 7:1-2 ESV)

Nehemiah understood that once the wall was built, the work wasn’t over.  There was still more to do. Leaders needed to be appointed. The people were feeling good about themselves and the work that God had accomplished through them. However, Nehemiah realized that without Godly leadership in place, even a city with walls could fall prey to its surrounding enemies.

He makes appointments to watch and guard strategic places along the wall and in the city. Most importantly he places his brother, as someone he can trust, in charge of the city. This is both someone who will be a Godly leader and someone who won’t give in to the pressures of people like Sanballat and Tobiah.  Nehemiah knows that he has to leave and go back to the king. He had already made that promise.

Overcoming Insecurity: How Leah Became a Princess

At some time or another we all wrestle with insecurity. Insecurity acts like emptiness. It’s a place where we feel inadequate, like something is missing. Sometimes our insecurity can cause us to cross lines we normally wouldn’t cross. We try and cover over a perceived lack, fill the void in our life, go on a quest for what we perceive to be missing. We can look for fulfillment in things like money. We may or may not have a lot of it. When things go well, we buy something. When they don’t go well, we buy something. Money becomes our fix. We sooth over our hurts with a new stereo, set of sunglasses or even just compulsive shopping spree at check out center at Walmart.

Some of us look for fulfillment in a relationship, we think that if we find the right guy or the right girl that it will fix whatever is broken so deep inside of us. We go from relationship to relationship, or we go on in a doomed relationship because we are scared to face life alone. We make compromises to please the other person, just to stay in the relationship.

I want to tell you a story about Leah. Leah had a big insecurity in her life that caused her to make big compromises. She was lonely and the people who were supposed to love and support her, like her dad, didn’t have much confidence in her. Leah just wanted to be loved and one day someone gave her the opportunity to take a short cut to have all of her dreams come true. She just had to cross a line. The kind that once you cross it, you can never come back. I don’t know how Leah felt about crossing the line, but I know that she did it… She wanted to be loved that badly. She would do ANYTHING to fill the void in her life. Continue reading “Overcoming Insecurity: How Leah Became a Princess”

Prayer Involves Community

We are not alone. We do not get to call God, “My” Father as if we had an exclusive relationship. He has saved many sons and daughters. Those who have come to him in faith, belong to him in community. There are no lone-ranger Christians. We are compelled even when we pray to recognize that we belong to God…together.
The “our” here is a large collection of folks. In the context of this prayer it encompasses people from every tongue, tribe and nation (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). It includes men and women (Gal. 3:28). It includes those who have been outcast (Lk 16:19-31). Those who were sexually immoral, those who worshiped idols, those who have committed adultery, those who were homosexuals, those who were thieves, those who were alcoholics, and former con-artists… anyone who has died to self and picked up to follow Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
This is precisely the point where Christianity and radical Hinduism are extremely different. We say there is no karma, just sin. Repent and be saved. They say there is karma and what you’ve done in a previous life has set you up for whatever suffering you get in this life. So the high cast and the low cast people are not equal. Within Christianity everyone is equal. We were all sinners. We all come by the blood of the lamb.
Realizing this we acknowledge that we do not act in isolation. Our actions have consequences that affect the greater body of Christ. We will give an account to our Father about how we have treated our spiritual siblings and others. Earlier in this larger section of scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mat. 5:23-24).

When we pray, we are to recognize that we are not in isolation, our actions for and against our spiritual siblings count. Some of you have hindered prayers because you have grievously sinned against your brothers. It doesn’t matter how great your speech is, or how eloquently you can present your requests to God. When your fellowship is broken with your brother/sister in Christ then you will have difficulty in real prayer… I’m sure you could still get out a bunch of words, but authentic prayer comes from the heart. The Apostle Peter writing in first Peter pleads with husbands to honor their wives so that their prayers won’t be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). There is no us vs them in the family of God…just us.

The Revival that Began with Fire And the Execution of 400 Men

It was a terrible time to live in the land of Israel. The evil queen Jezabel reigned with her husband. She instituted practices that would lead the people away from the worship of the one true God and into a wicked worship of the false god Baal. Baal didn’t have any real power. It was just an idol crafted as fine as human hands could sculpt it. The false god Baal couldn’t speak. It had no throat. It had no lips, no mouth. It was mute. This false god had no hands. It could not extend it’s arm to save. It didn’t have ears. It couldn’t hear the prayers of the people. It had no eyes. It couldn’t see the people or the sacrifices they made on this Baal’s behalf. It only appeared to have these things, but in reality it was powerless. Yet the wicked Queen Jezabel had prompted the people to worship this powerless and impotent god.

One often wonders why men would offer their hearts so freely to something they made with their hands. Surely they understood that they were the power brokers in this situation. Surely they must have known that they were the one’s yielding control over the blocks of wood and figures of clay, silver and gold. This false god only contained the power given it by the weak minds of men… Perhaps that is why the people of Israel were so quick to follow Jezabel in this idolatry. There is an upside to having a less than sovereign god. A false god could easily be manipulated, cajoled, or extorted… providing the worshiper with the real power. Like a doll in the hands of a little girl a false god would have to be cared for, comforted and helped.

We shouldn’t be quick to condemn the ancient Israelites. We do much of the same thing with money. We think that if we have a little more, we will be happy. We try to bring ourselves comfort by stocking up, spending wildly or even stretching our dollars. We think that if we have enough of these that we will be safe… that we will be “okay.” But dollar bills don’t have eyes to see your need. They don’t have ears to hear your cry. Your bank account can’t hear your prayers, much less answer them. Your credit card doesn’t really solve any of your problems. In many cases… it creates them. But somehow we still think that if we can manage these bills, get enough money, get a higher paying job or even turn the economy around… then, then we will be okay. But money doesn’t buy you time, health or even happiness. In fact the over-pursuit of money can steal from your time, your health, your family and even your happiness. We really aren’t much different than the ancient Israelites at all.

Whatever the reason the worship of Baal was in and the worship of God was out. Jezabel had done her best to hunt down the prophets of God and have them killed. She wanted no competition for her false god, Baal. But there was one thing she didn’t count on… You see God wasn’t like her false god. He not only had eyes to see, but he created the human eye. He not only had ears to hear, but he created the human ear. He not only had a mouth to speak, He actually had spoken the whole earth into existence. Her god Baal was false. The one true God was real… and you can’t get rid of him by killing a few prophets.

Elijah stood on the side of the mountain and challenged the 400 prophets of Baal. They were doing their best to get a god who didn’t really exist to light a fire that wasn’t happening. Elijah mocked them, telling them to call out a little louder because their god Baal was perhaps asleep or maybe he was in the bathroom. They tried everything, but in the end, the god whom they so desperately wanted to respond was incapable of responding.

So then it comes Elijah’s turn:
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
(1 Kings 18:36-40 ESV)

Elijah prays a three part prayer. He confidently asks God to reveal himself as the one true God in Israel, to reveal that Elijah is God’s true prophet, and for God to mercifully allow the people to repent and turn to Him at once.

You see, not only were the people worshiping a false god, but they were rejecting the worship of the one true God. Not only were they calling on a god that couldn’t hear them, they were being offensive by forsaking God alone as their provider and sustainer of life and giving respect and homage to a little statue in His place.

Much like many of us seek to control our lives through the spending, saving, and moving around of our money without a thought or prayer as to how God would have us live our lives. We pursue P-R-O-F-I-T-S but not P-R-O-P-H-E-T-S. It is not as though we have rejected God completely. Our money still says that we trust Him, but we do not seek His will for our lives. We seek OUR will for our lives and if He or any other god can help us get there, then we are game. But in our day and age we don’t worship at the altar of Baal. We worship more often at the altar of consumerism.

Elijah prays that God would reveal Himself as the one true God in Israel. That the Israelites would no longer seek a false god who cannot hear their prayers (that much is obvious from the demonstration of the 400 false prophets.) Perhaps the most loving thing God can do is let us come to the end of our rope after we have tried it our way and then come in and show us who He really is.

Even though these people rejected God, he did not reject them. It gives me hope in the character and nature of God, because I know my own heart. I know how often and easily I am tempted to pursue small pleasures that don’t even satisfy. I know I need God.Even in the midst of the people’s rejection of God, He loved them enough to send them a righteous prophet who would show them the way and turn their heart back to God.

Elijah prays secondly that the people would know He is God’s servant and has done everything at God’s word. God had not left himself without a witness in Israel. While the rest of the nation was worshiping an idol, God had kept for himself the prophet Elijah and others who refused to worship a false god.

Elijah’s job was then to call the nation to repentance. They needed to see the futility of worshiping an idol when they had a special relationship with the one true God. They needed to see that it wasn’t Elijah’s will to hold off the rain, it wasn’t Elijah who would light the fire, it wasn’t Elijah who could call a nation to repentance in just a moment. It was God who called Elijah to the task at hand.

God uses people much in the same way today. When we have opportunity to share our faith with others we are really only doing a small thing. We are telling others about who God is and what God has done on their behalf. The real power to save someone is accomplished by God. He is the one who made us in His image. He loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and raise him from the dead. He is the one who takes up residence in our lives once we become believers. It’s by his authority and in his power that we tell others about him.

Elijah was just being obedient to God. He was the right man, at the right time to call a nation to repentance. The people not only heard Elijah’s prayer, but they saw a holy and awesome display of God’s power. They knew immediately that there was one true God in Israel and they had been following after the false god of Baal. They immediately fall to their faces in repentance declaring that God was God and no one should take his place.

However they didn’t just repent with their lips, they also repented with their actions. They obeyed Elijah and killed the 400 prophets of Baal. God had already given them the command way back in Deuteronomy that if anyone came proclaiming to be a prophet for a false god that they were to be put to death. Israel needed to clean house and that started with killing the 400 false prophets. This was at once an act of obedience to God and a way of reducing the temptation to go back to Baal worship by removing the promoters of Baal.

Question: What is it in your life that competes with God? What needs to be removed so you can worship God more freely?

Philippians 4:8-9 (Devotional Thought)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)

We are responsible for the kind of thoughts we have. Our thoughts, or habit of thought, is something that we develop and feed. The way we think is similar to the way we enjoy food. The first time I tasted coffee I thought it was awful. However, I developed a strong taste and appreciation for coffee while in college (my parents don’t even own a coffee pot). I now drink coffee every day. I’ve gotten to where I like it so much that I drink it without cream, sugar or anything else. I have acquired a taste for coffee.

Paul urges us to acquire a taste for good thinking. He challenges us to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise. This becomes a filter to help us see how we currently think and move us toward godly thinking. How we think will ultimately determine how we act.

So for example there are a lot of things you can expose yourself to by watching TV. I have to admit that often times we look at a movie and wonder how much “bad stuff” are we going to have to fast forward through if we buy or rent a particular movie.

I remember one time when I was younger we went to the video store to rent a movie. We picked one out that we thought was cool. We got home started watching it and five minutes into the movie my dad got up, ejected the movie and put it back in the case. He said, “Hey kids, I’m sorry. We are not going to watch that movie tonight. It has too many curse words in it. As you know I don’t use those words and I don’t want you to use those words. If we had a guest in our house talking like that, I would ask them to change their tone or leave. I thought by the rating on the video that it wouldn’t be this bad, but I was wrong. We’ll take it back tomorrow and find another movie.”

At the time I was totally furious with my dad. I was hooked. We had watched five minutes of the movie and I was being entertained! Now I look back and realize that my dad was trying to guard our thoughts… By-the-way I’ve since come to really respect my dad for that day. He was being a good dad!

It’s not just staying away from bad thoughts, the actual command here is proactive. We are to think about good things. We are to be the kind of people that intentionally focus on the things for which we can praise God. I think this involves filling our mind with the scripture, singing worship songs and hymns, surrounding ourselves with people who will encourage us in the Lord, participating in the life of the local church, telling others about Jesus, and so much more.

Paul offers his own life as an example for the church at Philippi to follow. Who is a godly person in your life that as best you can tell models what it is like to focus on good thoughts?

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