Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When preparation meets Opportunity

Read Nehemiah 2.

Someone defined success as when preparation meets opportunity.

Nehemiah poured out his broken heart before God.  He fasted and continued to pray for God to:
1. Give him success
2. Grant him mercy before the king
He was spiritually prepared.  He was praying for the opportunity.

Being a slave, any displeasure from King Artaxerxes could have meant dismissal or even death.  But he went back to work and trusted God to do what he could not do.  God can direct the hearts of leaders.  The king noticed his countenance and asked what was wrong.  Nehemiah was ready.  Very succinctly and to point, he stated his case.

This would not have happened if Nehemiah had not been a loyal and faithful person at work.  This, also, played into the preparation for this moment.  Though a slave, obviously the king cared for this man and was even eager to help him.

More preparation would be needed as there was opposition awaiting him.  How would he handle them?  He had not seen the extent of the project.  How would he organize the work?  He had not told the local leaders about his purpose for being in Jerusalem and the written authority he had from the king.  How would he connect with them and engage them for the work?

He prepared himself spiritually, continually casting his dependence upon the LORD for help.  Step by step he prepared himself and others to achieve the work ahead.

When the opportunity came to inform the leaders, they said, "Let us rise up and build."  The opposition laughed at them.  Nehemiah replied, "The God of heaven will make us prosper."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Working while you Wait

Read Nehemiah 1.

Imagine your home without doors.  Anyone or any animal could simply walk in with no basic security for your family or your belongings.

This was the dilemma of Jerusalem.  The gates and walls had been destroyed.  Yet, the people were trying to resettle the land after the 70 years in exile.  Surrounding them were other people groups who did not want them to come back.  They took every advantage to discourage, infiltrate, embarrass, and apparently rob the returning Jews.

With the Persians ruling the vast empire from India to Egypt, Nehemiah lived in the capital, personally serving the king.  When he heard the bad news from his brother how the people back home were living in "great trouble and shame", it broke his heart.  He knew he had to go and be a part of the solution.  It would require the king's permission; the biggest hurdle.  One did not make bold requests of the king, especially slaves.  The king would have to initiate the conversation.  Only God could cause this to happen.

Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed for days.  His prayer request was "give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man."

Nehemiah could have rationalized an escape.  He could have broken the code of conduct and approached the king, feeling the emergency warranted it.  Queen Esther took that very action in her time of need.  But this godly man wiped his tears, went back to work, and trusted God do what he did not have the power to do on his own.

Many days are just like that for a person who is committed to pleasing God in daily life.  Living by faith means trusting God for what we cannot see, but at the same time knowing that God is at work on our behalf.  He will not disappoint.  The wait will be worth it.

"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Saying you are sorry is not Enough

Read Ezra 10.

This is an amazing picture of national repentance.  It began with one man, Ezra, who became so broken over the sins of his people that he publicly fasted, prayed and mourned.  God moved on the hearts of national leaders.  Shecaniah believed "even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this."  They called every person in the land to a solemn assembly and threatened anyone who did not attend.

The people sat in the public Temple square shivering in the cold rain, trembling before God as Ezra spoke.
1. He named the sin.  They had broken faith with the God of heaven.
2. He called for them to agree with God about what they had done.
3. He challenged them to do God's will and separate themselves from the source of their sin.

Separating oneself from sin is often a very painful decision, requiring a courageous commitment to do what is right.  For some it may mean ending a sinful relationship.  For some it may involve stopping a sinful habit of action, thought and/or speech.  All of these bring us down to the essence of real life: do I live to please me or do I live to please the LORD?

One may result in a temporal pleasure.  The other will result in an eternal honor.

Even now there is hope.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Responding to the sins of a Nation

Read Ezra 9.

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, the spiritual challenges and needs of the people were worse than he could have imagined.  But that is why God sent him there.  The root issue was not racial but spiritual.  Nationally, only the Jews worshiped the true and living God.  Intermarrying with surrounding nations meant spiritual compromise as paganism would certainly be included with the unbelieving marriage partners.

The response, not only by Ezra but "all who trembled at the words of God," was to sit in stunned silence and fasting for the rest of the day.  Then, at evening, this spiritual leader broke the silence with his prayer of brokenness.

1. He confessed specific, historic, national sins.
Their sins had resulted in them losing the blessing of the land and their freedom.  Even at this point, after 70 years of exile and captivity, they sinned even more.  It was not "their" shame only.  As a spiritual leader, Ezra owned the shame with them.  Note his use of the words "our" and "we" in his prayer.

2. He acknowledged that despite the nation's disobedience, God was gracious to them, had never forsaken them, and had remained faithful in His love to them.  God did this in order "to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God".

3. He made no requests of God.
In his devastation, for the moment, he could say no more.  He left the next step to God and His mercy.  "Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this."

Questions for us:
-Am I a person who trembles at the words of God?
-Do I see the problems in our nation as spiritually rooted?
-Do I feel the shame of the sin and evil of my nation?
-Do I fast and pray for God to revive my nation? 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

4 indispensable elements of a godly Mission

Read Ezra 8.

Ezra faced a 900 mile journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.  His mission was to teach and serve those Jews who returned from the exile.  Including all the Levites, priests and their families, the number of those who accompanied him would easily be in the thousands.  They carried millions of dollars worth of gold, silver and bronze.  The group gathered at the Babylonian canal of Ahava for three days to prepare.

Here are the steps he used before setting out on the mission:
1. To accomplish the mission, the right leaders needed to be in place.  He realized that leading the return and ministering to a nation of people were too much for one man.  He needed solid leaders around him; men of insight and discretion (vv.16 and 18).

2. To accomplish the mission, everyone needed to be spiritually prepared.  Ezra proclaimed a fast "that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods" (v.21 and 23).  They used this time to pray to the LORD "and he listened to our entreaty."

3. To accomplish the mission, the resources were handled with great stewardship and accountability.  Twelve leading priests were charged with that responsibility (vv.24-25).

4. To accomplish the mission, God protected them along the way.  "...he delivered us from the hand of the enemy..." (v.31)

Right leaders.  Prayer and fasting.  Great stewardship and accountability.  God's protection.  Those elements will work for any achievement for God.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The 3 keys to experiencing God's Power

Read Ezra 7.

Ezra was teaching priest.  As a scribe, he hand copied the Law and the books of the Old Testament up to that time.  He was a scholar and "a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD" (v.11).  Along with other teachers, God called Ezra to return to Jerusalem from Babylonia and minister to the people as they rebuilt the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.

God moved the heart of the king of Persia, Artaxerxes, to encourage, authorize, and finance their efforts.  Three times in this chapter Ezra stated that "the hand of the LORD my God was on me."

There is no better confidence in life than when one knows they are where God wants them to be, doing what God wants done.  Contentment is the sister to such God-inspired confidence.

How did this man Ezra know God's will for his life?  How did he have such confidence?  How did he get to experience the power of God's hand on his life, including moving the heart of the king?

"For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD and to do it and to teach his statues and rules in Israel." (v.10)

1. To know God's word one must invest the time to study it.

2. To have confidence in God's will one must take action and put God's word into practice.

3. To experience God's power one must communicate God's word as He provides daily opportunities. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

3 questions before moving Ahead

Read Ezra 4-6.

Whenever action is taken to achieve God's work, expect opposition.  Opposition does not mean that anything is wrong.  Indeed, it may be the very confirmation that it is right.

The pagan neighbors watched as the Jews returned to resettle in Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  To stop the work, they tried to infiltrate the work force.  When that plan failed, they began to say and do things to discourage the people and make them afraid.  The enemies even used bribes.  Next, they sent a letter to the new king of Persia with accusations that prompted Artaxerxes to call a halt to the project.  The king acted on partial information and not the whole truth.

God's people had full authority to move forward, yet there is no record of fighting with those who opposed them.  And, there was no rebellion against the king.  Instead, God used two of His spokesmen (prophets) to encourage the people to go back to work.  Haggai's message was short, immediate and direct regarding priorities.  Zechariah took a long-range view and encouraged them to finish the work for the coming Messiah.  Zerubbabel acted quickly to restart the project.

The opposition's plan back fired.  Once the next king, Darius the Mede, received all the information, not only did the Jews have permission, but the government was to pay for it.  The king's new decree: "Let it be done with all diligence.” (6:12)

Again, there will always be people with their own agenda, wanting to do different things, their way, and on their timetable.  Sometimes (not always) it is Satan who energizes opposition to godly leadership.  Many times people with differing ideas oppose godly leaders due to personal pet projects, their own feelings of fear and/or inexperience.

Questions leaders must ask and know the answers before moving ahead:
1. Is this what God wants done?
2. Is this how God wants it done?
3. Is this when God wants it done?