September 30 – Stop and Think about Where Your Life Should Go Now

Nehemiah 7 gives a long list of who returned to Jerusalem and the surrounding towns from Babylon. I’m going to omit the long list of names and numbers this time, and just include the opening and closing verses of the chapter as well as the beginning of chapter 8.

Nehemiah 7: 1 – 6; 63 – 73 and Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3

“After the wall was finished and I had set up the doors in the gates, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed. I gave the responsibility of governing Jerusalem to my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah, the commander of the fortress, for he was a faithful man who feared God more than most. I said to them, “Do not leave the gates open during the hottest part of the day. (or keep the gates closed until the sun is hot) And even while the gatekeepers are on duty, have them shut and bar the doors. Appoint the residents of Jerusalem to act as guards, everyone on a regular watch. Some will serve at sentry posts and some in front of their own homes.”

At that time the city was large and spacious, but the population was small, and none of the houses had been rebuilt. So my God gave me the idea to call together all the nobles and leaders of the city, along with the ordinary citizens, for registration. I had found the genealogical record of those who had first returned to Judah. This is what was written there:

Here is the list of the Jewish exiles of the provinces who returned from their captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar had deported them to Babylon, but now they returned to Jerusalem and the other towns in Judah where they originally lived. 


63 Three families of priests—Hobaiah, Hakkoz, and Barzillai—also returned. (This Barzillai had married a woman who was a descendant of Barzillai of Gilead, and he had taken her family name.) 64 They searched for their names in the genealogical records, but they were not found, so they were disqualified from serving as priests. 65 The governor told them not to eat the priests’ share of food from the sacrifices until a priest could consult the Lord about the matter by using the Urim and Thummim—the sacred lots.

66 So a total of 42,360 people returned to Judah, 67 in addition to 7,337 servants and 245 singers, both men and women. 68 They took with them 736 horses, 245 mules, 69 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.

70 Some of the family leaders gave gifts for the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 gold coins, 50 gold basins, and 530 robes for the priests. 71 The other leaders gave to the treasury a total of 20,000 gold coins and some 2,750 pounds[v] of silver for the work. 72 The rest of the people gave 20,000 gold coins, about 2,500 pounds of silver, and 67 robes for the priests.

73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Temple servants, and some of the common people settled near Jerusalem. The rest of the people returned to their own towns throughout Israel.

In October, when the Israelites’ had settled in their towns,

Nehemiah 8

all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given for Israel to obey.

So on October 8 (445 BC) Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law.”

Nehemiah is now the governor of Judah, a much larger area than just Jerusalem. He appoints his brother, Hanani, to be the governor of Jerusalem. Hanani was the brother who first told Nehemiah in chapter 1 about the mess that Jerusalem was in. He was the one who got Nehemiah started on the road to this project.

God works in interesting ways. Sometimes as we pray, ideas come to our minds about what we should do next. Sometimes ideas keep popping up in our minds, and we start to wonder about why we keep thinking about that particular thing. That is when we should start praying, and asking God if this is something he wants us to do – this thought might not be random. Sometimes, we hear about a project that’s beginning and just know it’s something we want to be involved in, something that God can use our abilities for. Or, another person might make a comment to us about a situation that really strikes home – just like Hanani and Nehemiah.

Nehemiah is an organizer. When he heard about the lack of walls and protection in Jerusalem, he couldn’t get it out of his mind, He knew God was asking him to do something about that situation. But in the months while he prayed about how to do it, he also started organizing what would be needed to complete this project. When King Artaxerxes said he could go, Nehemiah had his list of things needed all ready to go. On arriving in Jerusalem, he spent a few days quietly going around and getting a first-hand look at the situation before he approached the leaders in Jerusalem. Once the project started, he knew exactly who was going to build each part of the wall.

Now the wall is done. The inner city needs more work; houses are needed. Notice Nehemiah doesn’t think he has to do it all. He appoints other people to run the city of Jerusalem – “I gave the responsibility of governing Jerusalem to my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah, the commander of the fortress, for he was a faithful man who feared God more than most.” (v. 2) Did you notice the quality of leadership Nehemiah was looking for? “A faithful man who feared God more than most”. He was looking for a man you could count on, someone who does what he says he will do. And he was looking for a man who was committed to putting God first.

This ability to delegate work is important to the success of a project. Although the leader is important, they are not the ‘be all and end all’. God has given each one of us abilities that fit into the larger plan of things. We each have our part to play. As Covid continues on past 6 months, we have learned a lot about how isolated and lonely it feels with our churches shut down. God is working through all this, as we start to figure out how to reconnect in our churches. It’s not just up to the Senior Pastor to do all the work and run the whole thing. He’ll be looking for people who will take on the various aspects of the work and people who will support the ideas. Look at that long list of people who gave items to get the city of Jerusalem going again. Everyone had a part to play.

Chapter 7 segues into chapter 8 – in fact, the sentence continues from one chapter to the next. Ezra stands before the people and reads The Book of the Law. It’s amazing that the wall is now complete, and the people feel safe. There is a leader in the city of Jerusalem to make sure things run smoothly. But that’s not all there is to life. What does God want?

These people in Jerusalem had been taken away to Babylon a few hundred years before. They were just being allowed to return to their homeland in the past 50 or so years. They were steeped in the culture and ways of doing things in Babylon. At this moment, they were discovering what God wanted of them, and we’ll be looking at their reaction tomorrow. In 2020, Covid has brought us to a halt. None of us has ever experienced anything like this pandemic. We’ve been living busy lives, rushing from work to home, to volunteer commitments, to taking our kids to extracurricular activities, to vacations, to …. This ‘halt’ has likely made a lot of us start rethinking how we want to live our lives. There are things we know we need to eliminate. There are things we want to concentrate on more. It’s definitely a time to reorganize.

We need to stop and pray. What does God want of us now?

Where does God fit into our new plans?

Our song for today is Word of God Speak by Mercy Me

September 29 – Can’t Things Go a Little More Smoothly?

Nehemiah 6

“Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono.

But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”

Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply. The fifth time, Sanballat’s servant came with an open letter in his hand, and this is what it said:

“There is a rumour among the surrounding nations, and Geshem tells me it is true, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel and that is why you are building the wall. According to his reports, you plan to be their king. He also reports that you have appointed prophets in Jerusalem to proclaim about you, ‘Look! There is a king in Judah!’

“You can be very sure that this report will get back to the king, so I suggest that you come and talk it over with me.”

I replied, “There is no truth in any part of your story. You are making up the whole thing.”

They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination.[c]

10 Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home. He said, “Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.”

11 But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!” 12 I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me.

14 Remember, O my God, all the evil things that Tobiah and Sanballat have done. And remember Noadiah the prophet and all the prophets like her who have tried to intimidate me.

15 So on October 2 (October 2, 445 BC) the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. 16 When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God.

17 During those fifty-two days, many letters went back and forth between Tobiah and the nobles of Judah. 18 For many in Judah had sworn allegiance to him because his father-in-law was Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan was married to the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 They kept telling me about Tobiah’s good deeds, and then they told him everything I said. And Tobiah kept sending threatening letters to intimidate me.”

Things have been going really well. The wall has been finished; there are only the last finishing touches to do. The Gentile people in the area are not happy. That project has been too successful from their point of view. How can they stop it – or at least mess it up in some way? Aah, let’s get rid of the leader. Things will fall apart if he’s not around.

Satan is not happy when God’s work is going ahead. Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, churches are finding ways to continue despite all the restrictions. Services at LSA have begun again, and people are registering quickly to be able to attend in person. Some people who don’t realize that there is a need to preregister are also coming, and there is an overflow area for those people. We’re figuring out how to do our online services effectively. Our new senior pastor, Brian McGuffin, has arrived in Windsor and has been loved by the congregation. Looking ahead, we’re trying to figure out how to connect people better, and broadcast faith in our amazing God to our community. Do you think Satan is happy?

Have you ever noticed that when your life seems to be moving along nicely, something happens that ‘throws things for a loop’? We don’t live in a perfect world. Things have been broken ever since Satan’s run-in with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. When we are living well, tuned in to God’s plans for our lives, difficult things will come up. Just as in Nehemiah’s day, Satan is not happy when he sees God’s children demonstrating God’s love and power to the people around them. 1 Peter 5: 8 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”

At first Sanballat and company tried to lure Nehemiah out to the plain of Ono, which according to Charles Swindoll in his book, Hand Me Another Brick, says was a beautiful lush area, somewhere you would want to go for rest and peace. Nehemiah had been working hard, and perhaps a lovely setting to discuss the future with those difficult leaders might be tempting. Maybe they could settle their differences. When Nehemiah said, no, they got a little more aggressive. They threatened to tell King Artaxerxes that Nehemiah was actually planning a revolt. Then they went back to being devious. Sanballat had relatives who lived in Jerusalem, and he got them to try to lure Nehemiah into the Temple to protect himself from attack. Nehemiah refused to be intimidated or lured into leaving working on the wall.

Satan tries to deceive us too. John tells us a little about Satan’s tricks. “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. “ (1 John 2: 16) He loves to distract us from putting God first in our lives, and he has multiple tricks to try and do that.

One of the things we know about Nehemiah is that he prays over everything. As these ploys by Sanballat and the other surrounding leaders showed up, Nehemiah realized they were not from God. His prayer life helped him understand what God wanted. That is what we also need to do. Pray often.

As LSA starts to restart its programs, and as Brian McGuffin begins as our new senior pastor, we can expect ‘bumps’ along the way. In our own lives, as we seek to follow God in our families, our workplaces, and our neighbourhoods, we can also expect difficulties to show up. But, we can also know that God is with us. As we seek his strength, he will be there.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” James 1: 2 – 4

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1: 6)

Keep praying! Keep on working! Know that God is with us!

Our song for today is What a Friend by Matt Maher

September 28 – Integrity

Integrity! The dictionary defines it as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty”.

Nehemiah 5: 14 – 19 NLT

“For the entire twelve years that I was governor of Judah—from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of the reign of King Artaxerxes (445 – 433 B.C.) – neither I nor my officials drew on our official food allowance. 15 The former governors, in contrast, had laid heavy burdens on the people, demanding a daily ration of food and wine, besides forty pieces of silver. Even their assistants took advantage of the people. But because I feared God, I did not act that way.

16 I also devoted myself to working on the wall and refused to acquire any land. And I required all my servants to spend time working on the wall. 17 I asked for nothing, even though I regularly fed 150 Jewish officials at my table, besides all the visitors from other lands! 18 The provisions I paid for each day included one ox, six choice sheep or goats, and a large number of poultry. And every ten days we needed a large supply of all kinds of wine. Yet I refused to claim the governor’s food allowance because the people already carried a heavy burden.
19 Remember, O my God, all that I have done for these people, and bless me for it.”

Nehemiah has received a promotion to governor of Judah. It appears that King Artaxerxes decided that Nehemiah was doing a great job and didn’t need to return to the palace. Promotions bring more authority, and we see from reading our verses today, that Nehemiah took that very seriously.

Sometimes we think of leadership as someone with great power and position – a prime minister, a company CEO, the owner of a business, etc.. But leadership actually means being involved in such a variety of ways. Mom and dad, you are the leaders in your family. If you are a Sunday School teacher or a school teacher, you are the leader in your class. If you are on a committee at work, at church, as a volunteer, you are leading there. If you are on staff at a church, you are a leader. You may think that you are only an employee, but even you have an influence where you work. So, Nehemiah’s example is for all of us.

Nehemiah was likely paid some kind of a salary for his job. What he didn’t do was use his position to further his own personal wealth. He could have levied taxes on the people – taxes that political leaders in that day were allowed to create – but he didn’t. He didn’t require extravagant food allowances. He didn’t purchase any land for himself to build that amazing mansion on. He did entertain and feed all those guests who seemed to expect lavish meals on his governor’s budget. Previous governors had always ‘gouged’ the system. No one would have been surprised if Nehemiah had done that. But Nehemiah was different. Why?

“But because I feared God, I did not act that way.” (v. 15)

Nehemiah also got down and did the dirty work needed as well. “I also devoted myself to working on the wall … And I required all my servants to spend time working on the wall.” (v. 16) Some people look at leadership as a position of prestige, above the average worker. But Nehemiah was willing to be very involved in building the wall. ‘Getting his hands dirty’ wasn’t a problem for him.

On Friday, we saw Nehemiah chastising the “officials and nobles” for draining the people so they could live sumptuously. One of the reasons he was so upset was how the surrounding people looked at them. They didn’t respect the Jewish people because they didn’t see any difference that God made in their lives. They claimed to be God’s chosen people, but acted the same way their neighbouring countries did.

Nehemiah realized that if we are serving God, we need to act in a way that represents God truthfully. We need to behave with integrity. That is still true in 2020. We serve a God who loves every single person on this planet. Do we? We love a God who was willing to come to earth, live a simple life, and experience a horrifying death – just for each one of us. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to help others? Are we willing to live a simpler life, or are we caught up in getting ahead? We serve a God who champions honesty, integrity. Do we? Or, do we tell mistruths to avoid embarrassment? Do we fudge on our income taxes? Do we skip duties at our jobs to make life a little easier? What would the non-Christians who rub shoulders with us say about us? What would our kids say about us?

These verses in Nehemiah strike home in 2020. Am I known for my integrity?

The song for today is All to Jesus I Surrender written by Judson W. VandeVenter in 1896 and sung by The Newsboys:

September 25 – What a Mess I’ve Made

Nehemiah 5: 1 – 13 NLT

“About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews. They were saying, “We have such large families. We need more food to survive.”

Others said, “We have mortgaged our fields, vineyards, and homes to get food during the famine.”

And others said, “We have had to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay our taxes. We belong to the same family as those who are wealthy, and our children are just like theirs. Yet we must sell our children into slavery just to get enough money to live. We have already sold some of our daughters, and we are helpless to do anything about it, for our fields and vineyards are already mortgaged to others.”

When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. After thinking it over, I spoke out against these nobles and officials. I told them, “You are hurting your own relatives by charging interest when they borrow money!” Then I called a public meeting to deal with the problem.

At the meeting I said to them, “We are doing all we can to redeem our Jewish relatives who have had to sell themselves to pagan foreigners, but you are selling them back into slavery again. How often must we redeem them?” And they had nothing to say in their defense.

Then I pressed further, “What you are doing is not right! Should you not walk in the fear of our God in order to avoid being mocked by enemy nations? 10 I myself, as well as my brothers and my workers, have been lending the people money and grain, but now let us stop this business of charging interest. 11 You must restore their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes to them this very day. And repay the interest you charged when you lent them money, grain, new wine, and olive oil.”

12 They replied, “We will give back everything and demand nothing more from the people. We will do as you say.” Then I called the priests and made the nobles and officials swear to do what they had promised.

13 I shook out the folds of my robe and said, “If you fail to keep your promise, may God shake you like this from your homes and from your property!”

The whole assembly responded, “Amen,” and they praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

When you start a new project, don’t be surprised that all kinds of problems show up. We already saw that the workers were tired and, working long days apart from friends and family – feeling isolated. They were worried about attacks from the surrounding areas. Those were all situations that we could understand because we’ve experienced them ourselves. We’ve been involved in projects that took away a lot of hours from our families and we’ve been tired. We’ve faced criticism from others who don’t agree with what we’re doing.

But here we see another issue – corruption from within. Remember from the introduction to Nehemiah that Israel had been invaded and destroyed 300 to 400 hundred years before this? Ezra had just returned to rebuild the Temple 13 years before Nehemiah arrived. It appears that the Jewish faith had disappeared during those long years. People had taken on the practices of the surrounding countries who had no faith in God. It’s actually easy to do in our own lives; we get busy with everything we’re involved in, and God gets pushed to the side. We start taking on the perspective of our friends at work and in our neighbourhood – those who do not put God first.

What were they doing wrong? Money had become the focus, getting wealthy. Those who considered themselves “nobles and officials” were gouging the average worker. To make things worse, there had been a famine so enough money to survive was hard to come by for those workers. There was likely also a strain on supplies if the crops had not done well because of the famine, and there was also an influx of people outside of Jerusalem who were helping build the wall. But the “nobles and officials” were forcing people to borrow money to survive, charging interest, and even taking their children as slaves. These people were their own people – people who had returned to Jerusalem to build Israel up again. Nehemiah was furious!

Did Nehemiah react in anger? No. Verse 7 says he thought it over. What was the best way to deal with this issue? He called a public meeting and stated exactly what was wrong and what needed to be done. They were charging interest on loans, they were using children as slaves, and the surrounding Gentile leaders were mocking them for their behaviour. What kind of reputation was that!

There are passages in the Old Testament that talk about how to handle money. If they had been following their faith, they would have known this:

“Do not charge interest on the loans you make to a fellow Israelite, whether you loan money, or food, or anything else. You may charge interest to foreigners, but you may not charge interest to Israelites, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you do in the land you are about to enter and occupy.” (Deuteronomy 23: 19 – 20)

“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you. Do not charge interest or make a profit at his expense. Instead, show your fear of God by letting him live with you as your relative. Remember, do not charge interest on money you lend him or make a profit on food you sell him. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell himself to you, do not treat him as a slave. Treat him instead as a hired worker or as a temporary resident who lives with you, and he will serve you only until the Year of Jubilee.” (Leviticus 25: 35 – 40)

Nehemiah told them they needed to change their ways and make restitution. They also needed to promise before the priests that they would do what they said. The realized that what they were doing was wrong, and they did repay the money. That was a huge turn-around. “The whole assembly responded, “Amen,” and they praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.” (v. 13)

This whole issue with money is not unknown to us in 2020. Our North American culture worships success and money. Wealth is our dream – big houses, amazing vacations, late model cars, promotions, good salaries. Aah, doesn’t that sound so good? But, what does the New Testament say about that?

“But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6: 9 – 10)

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be … No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” (Matthew 6: 19 – 21; 24)

These verses don’t condemn wealth. It’s the focus on wealth that takes us away from God. It’s the “love of money” that is the problem. We can look at those “nobles and officials” in Nehemiah and think they were just awful. Imagine requiring someone to sell their daughter into slavery? What Nehemiah wanted was obedience to God first. Follow God’s instructions as written in the Torah. God wants us to take care of the people around us.

When we stop pointing fingers at those ‘nobles and officials”, and look at ourselves, what do we see? Is our relationship with God our primary focus? Or, is chasing financial security what we are most concerned about? Are we more concerned about ourselves, or do we care for others? One day, a young man asked Jesus: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 36 – 37)] 

We should likely stop for a moment, and think and pray. Is my attitude and priorities what Jesus wants?

Our song for today tells us we can be forgiven for the mess we create – East from the West by Casting Crowns.

September 24 – Everything, all at once

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Mark 14:34 NLT

The process of making olive oil relies on the intense pressure applied to the olive, squeezing out the oils producing the form of olive oil we utilize today. 
The interesting fact in this procedure, is that the olive is not fully destroyed and only some of the best parts are extracted. Perhaps you’ve heard this parallel before:
There are moments in life where we are pressed, overwhelmed, stressed, fatigued.. the list could go on. We can’t imagine another single thing our plate, and then ____ happens.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” -2 Corinthians 4:8-12 NIV

What do we do? When we are hard pressed on every side? 2 Corinthians states that life is at work in us. How could we possibly emit life, when at times life is being sucked from us? Pressure shows us what we’re made of, who we are made by, and the source of our strength. We were created in the image of God, we were meant to go through this and survive. Crushing times are never typically wanted, yet they are necessary. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was to remove this cup, as he knew what His fate were to be.

“He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?” At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.”
Luke 22:43 MSG 

As the olive tree mirrors why our hearts go through such crushing times. Gethsemane, which literally means, “oil press”, reminds us that our pressure isn’t final.

I am pressed but not crushed
persecuted, but not abandoned
struck down, but not destroyed
I am blessed beyond the curse,
for His promise will endure
and His joy will be my strength

Though the sorrow may last for the night
His joy comes with the morning.”

Trading My Sorrows, Delirious 

September 23 – Discouraged?

Nehemiah 4: 10 – 23 NLT

10 Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.”

11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”

12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!” 13 So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows.

14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!”

15 When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. 16 But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.

19 Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!”

21 We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard. 22 I also told everyone living outside the walls to stay in Jerusalem. That way they and their servants could help with guard duty at night and work during the day. 23 During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.”

Discouragement is setting in. They were tired physically from all the work they had been doing. They looked around and saw so much ‘rubble’ – discarded stones and mortar from the previously destroyed walls. Besides building the new wall, where would they get the strength to clean up the old one? In verse 6 yesterday, we know that the wall was at half its height. The job was only half done, and they were exhausted. They started out so excited and enthusiastic, but look – it’s only half done – there’s so much more to do. And now they were feeling insecure because they heard about the threats from their enemies in the surrounding territory. No wonder they were discouraged.

This reminded me of my daughter’s life at the moment. They are redoing their lower level of their split-level home. There was carpeting down the stairs and all through that level. They are replacing it with vinyl ‘hardwood’. It’s a big space with 2 bedrooms, a large family room, a bathroom and laundry room, not to mention the hallway. All the walls need to be repainted as well as repaired in some places. They are over half done, but there is still so much more to do. Life is starting up with the kids back at school, and sports also on their agenda. It feels a little discouraging at the moment; there’s work to be done and less time available. You may have areas in your life that feels discouraging too.

It also reminds me of trying to get our churches back up and running again. How do we make the services safe, and yet feel ‘normal’? How do we get programs going again? Can we get small groups in our homes started again? That doesn’t feel safe, but we miss seeing our friends and the encouragement we get by doing studies together. Some folks complain that we’re being too cautious; some folks say we’re not being cautious enough. Some folks quite enjoy listening to the services online with a coffee in hand, and don’t plan to return in person for a long time. It’s a time of hope, but also discouragement.

In his book, Hand Me Another Brick, Charles Swindoll talks about how Nehemiah gives us an example of how to deal with discouragement. I am going to admit that what I’m writing now is a summary of what that books says. (Chapter Six, pages 75 – 82)

The first thing that Nehemiah did was rearrange the way the wall was being built. Prior to this, people were stretched out at various locations along the wall. Now he asks families to get together and work at one place. (v. 13) It is easier to work if you feel supported. Some of the family members were to have some kind of arms – swords, spears, and/or bows. That way, you didn’t feel alone, and you knew there was someone ready if an attack came. Family support is so important. You may not have a supporting family near you – they live far away, or you live alone for whatever reason. Talk with your friends and be honest about the things that are discouraging you. Ask for their support.

Next Nehemiah tells us to remember who God is. “Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (v. 14) When is the last time you took some time to really think about who God is? Are there some songs that remind you of how wonderful our God is? Play them and sing along. Look up some verses that tell us how amazing God is. Write them on pieces of paper and put them around your home. For example:

“Tell everyone about God’s power. His majesty shines down on Israel; his strength is mighty in the heavens.” (Psalm 68: 34)

“This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1: 25)

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.” (Ephesians 1: 18 – 19)

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3: 18 – 21)

When you concentrate on our loving God who is able to do beyond what we could ever imagine or think, it drives away discouragement.

Then Nehemiah gave them a practical plan. They were to work and guard each other. In verse 16, he tells them that half of the people were to work on the wall, and the other half were to stand guard. That sounds like a good balance. I’m sure that they took turns working and standing guard. That way you could have work time, and rest time – you still had to be vigilant, but at least you were not getting tired physically. Sometimes when we’re working hard at something, creating new plans like we are during Covid, we get discouraged because we’re actually working too hard. We need balance. Share our ideas, share our workload. Even take a break for a bit.

Finally, Nehemiah gives them a plan in case there is an attack. If something goes wrong, blow the trumpet and everyone will come rushing to your aid. If you are feeling discouraged, talk about it. Tell people. They will come to your aid. As a community of Christ followers, we are there for each other. But … that means you need to be willing to help someone else too. If you are a leader in some area, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Be willing to delegate the work to others. If you are just helping out some project, don’t underestimate your worth. We need to work in community knowing that there is help and support. Be aware and be willing to step in when encouragement is needed.

Every single one of us has been discouraged at some point in our lives. Our projects/commitments take so much more out of us than we expected. We can feel that we’re bearing the burden all alone. We can wonder if we are competent enough. We face criticism. So many things can ‘get us down’. Think about what Nehemiah recommended. Discouragement is not the end. In fact, it may be the beginning of a new exciting re-commitment.

Our song for today is Always by Owl City

September 22 – How Do We Deal with Criticism?

Nehemiah 4: 1 – 9 NLT

“Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”

Then I prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders” (or – for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders).

At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm.

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.

When a new project begins, there will always be some criticism, and Nehemiah faces it here from people in the surrounding area. They likely enjoyed feeling superior to the poor Jews in that crumbled city. This new wall threatened their power. The sarcasm rained down on the heads of all those people building the wall, many of whom were not your professional construction folks. When we’re starting something new, and feeling a little insecure, that kind of criticism really hurts. We wonder if we’re doing the right thing.

When we’re criticized, we often have two reactions – one to fade away and boil inside, and the other to respond with anger and dish the nasty words right back. Let’s look at Nehemiah’s response. “Then I prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are being mocked. May their scoffing fall back on their own heads, and may they themselves become captives in a foreign land! Do not ignore their guilt. Do not blot out their sins, for they have provoked you to anger here in front of the builders.” (v. 4 – 5) Once again, Nehemiah prays!

As I’ve been writing these devotions, I am becoming so aware of how little I turn to God in prayer over the various events of my day. That seems to be Nehemiah’s first response to everything, and it’s something I need to change in my life. I suspect you may be thinking that as well. When every problem arises, Nehemiah prays.

In his prayer, Nehemiah gives the situation to God. He definitely asks God to punish these mockers. He’s human; he’s angry with those men. But Nehemiah doesn’t decide to take revenge himself. If any ‘revenge’ will occur, it will be in God’s jurisdiction. Again, what an example for us. When someone hurts us in some way, we can turn it over to God. Paul tells us what to think when we face criticism in 2 Corinthians 4: 7 – 9 (J.B. Phillips)

 “This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us. We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out!”

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1: 5 (NLT)

As we serve God in the many areas of our lives, we can know that God has our backs no matter what anyone else says. Our goal is to honour God, not put ourselves on a pedestal. So we pray.

When we are serving in our church, in our jobs, in volunteer positions, we are likely to hear some criticism. Sometimes we need to listen. Others can have some good ideas and the criticism is valid. When changes come, it is a difficult time. We certainly know that today in our Covid time. Are we making the right decisions over so many things? We need to listen. But sometimes after quietly thinking and praying about it, we need to ignore the criticism and carry on.  In his book, Hand Me Another Brick, Charles Swindoll says:

“Everyone must develop the ability to measure the value or worth of criticism. He has to determine the source and the motive, and he has to listen with discernment. Sometimes the best course of action is to respond to criticism and learn from it. Other times, it must be completely ignored.” (page 58)

As so many things start up again in our community – our church, our job, our volunteer work – we may be criticized for the way we’re doing things. We may be criticized for even getting involved, our friends may think we’re not being safe enough. Follow Nehemiah’s example. Pray! If we think that God wants us to do this project, whatever it is – think, pray and continue on.

Our song for today tells us about how we can influence people with love – Every Act of Love by Jason Gray.

September 21 – Every Single Person is Important!

If I were reading my Bible for personal devotions, and came across this chapter, most likely I would skip over it. It lists all the people who helped build the wall. All those names that I have difficulty reading/pronouncing would urge me to just go on to the next chapter. Even Charles Swindoll’s book, Hand Me Another Brick (commentary on Nehemiah), omits chapter 3 – well there is one short paragraph.
But I’m going to challenge you to actually read it. While you read, look for the occupations of the people, where they live, how much they did – or any other pieces of information that strike you as you read.

Nehemiah 3

“Then Eliashib the high priest and the other priests started to rebuild at the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set up its doors, building the wall as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and the Tower of Hananel. 2 People from the town of Jericho worked next to them, and beyond them was Zaccur son of Imri.
3 The Fish Gate was built by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid the beams, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. 4 Meremoth son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz repaired the next section of wall. Beside him were Meshullam son of Berekiah and grandson of Meshezabel, and then Zadok son of Baana. 5 Next were the people from Tekoa, though their leaders refused to work with the construction supervisors.
The Old City Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid the beams, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. 7 Next to them were Melatiah from Gibeon, Jadon from Meronoth, people from Gibeon, and people from Mizpah, the headquarters of the governor of the province west of the Euphrates River. 8 Next was Uzziel son of Harhaiah, a goldsmith by trade, who also worked on the wall. Beyond him was Hananiah, a manufacturer of perfumes. They left out a section of Jerusalem as they built the Broad Wall.
9 Rephaiah son of Hur, the leader of half the district of Jerusalem, was next to them on the wall. 10 Next Jedaiah son of Harumaph repaired the wall across from his own house, and next to him was Hattush son of Hashabneiah. 11 Then came Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-moab, who repaired another section of the wall and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Shallum son of Hallohesh and his daughters repaired the next section. He was the leader of the other half of the district of Jerusalem.
13 The Valley Gate was repaired by the people from Zanoah, led by Hanun. They set up its doors and installed its bolts and bars. They also repaired the 1,500 feet of wall to the Dung Gate.
14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, the leader of the Beth-hakkerem district. He rebuilt it, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars.
15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallum son of Col-hozeh, the leader of the Mizpah district. He rebuilt it, roofed it, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. Then he repaired the wall of the pool of Siloam near the king’s garden, and he rebuilt the wall as far as the stairs that descend from the City of David. 16 Next to him was Nehemiah son of Azbuk, the leader of half the district of Beth-zur. He rebuilt the wall from a place across from the tombs of David’s family as far as the water reservoir and the House of the Warriors.
17 Next to him, repairs were made by a group of Levites working under the supervision of Rehum son of Bani. Then came Hashabiah, the leader of half the district of Keilah, who supervised the building of the wall on behalf of his own district. 18 Next down the line were his countrymen led by Binnui son of Henadad, the leader of the other half of the district of Keilah.
19 Next to them, Ezer son of Jeshua, the leader of Mizpah, repaired another section of wall across from the ascent to the armory near the angle in the wall. 20 Next to him was Baruch son of Zabbai, who zealously repaired an additional section from the angle to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 Meremoth son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz rebuilt another section of the wall extending from the door of Eliashib’s house to the end of the house.
22 The next repairs were made by the priests from the surrounding region. 23 After them, Benjamin and Hasshub repaired the section across from their house, and Azariah son of Maaseiah and grandson of Ananiah repaired the section across from his house. 24 Next was Binnui son of Henadad, who rebuilt another section of the wall from Azariah’s house to the angle and the corner. 25 Palal son of Uzai carried on the work from a point opposite the angle and the tower that projects up from the king’s upper house beside the court of the guard. Next to him were Pedaiah son of Parosh, 26 with the Temple servants living on the hill of Ophel, who repaired the wall as far as a point across from the Water Gate to the east and the projecting tower. 27 Then came the people of Tekoa, who repaired another section across from the great projecting tower and over to the wall of Ophel.
28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall. Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house. 29 Next Zadok son of Immer also rebuilt the wall across from his own house, and beyond him was Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, the gatekeeper of the East Gate. 30 Next Hananiah son of Shelemiah and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section, while Meshullam son of Berekiah rebuilt the wall across from where he lived. 31 Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the wall as far as the housing for the Temple servants and merchants, across from the Inspection Gate. Then he continued as far as the upper room at the corner. 32 The other goldsmiths and merchants repaired the wall from that corner to the Sheep Gate.”

Did you actually read it? Or did you skip to here? (lol) Before I start my comments, I did read Matthew Henry’s Commentary to get some ideas of who some of these people were, and where they lived.

The very first person mentioned was Eliashib, the high priest – along with other priests. That’s rather interesting since I doubt priests were builders; it would seem that priests would more likely be scholars studying the Torah than learning how to build huge walls. They rebuilt the Sheep Gate and the walls surrounding it. The Sheep Gate was the place where the sheep were brought to the Temple for sacrifice, so that would be an area of keen interest for the priests. It mentions that they ‘dedicated’ it (v. 1). It’s not totally clear if they meant only the gate area, but perhaps it was a dedication for the whole project.

Dedication at the beginning of a new project is important. It’s so easy to get carried away with excitement about new ideas and how to implement them – both at our churches and in our own personal lives. As we start something new, prayer and dedication help us to realize that our world is God’s world. We’re not the major players here; God is. It is God’s plan we seek; it’s God’s help we need. As we start emerging from the Covid pandemic with new ways of doing things, we need to continue to pray and ask for God’s leading in our plans. How best can we reach our community with our faith? How can we connect with people within our church?

Be honest now. In your mind, do you think of pastors as construction workers? I’m sure if we searched, we could find a pastor who was in the construction industry before being called to ministry and seminary. But it’s not that common. We all have unique skills that God has given us to serve him, and each skill is totally necessary and important. In this chapter, it is interesting to see how everyone pitched in to help regardless of their particular skills. The priests were mentioned along with the High Priest. There was a goldsmith and a manufacturer of perfumes (some translations say pharmacist) (v. 8). Merchants were involved (v. 32). I loved verse 12 – “Shallum, son of Hallohesh, and his daughters repaired the next section.” In a patriarchal society, women working on the walls would have been unusual. It also mentioned that Shallum was “the leader of the other half of the district of Jerusalem”. Here is a man in leadership who seemed to look at women equally. As I try to picture this wall going up, I wonder how many people were looking for advice from those around them. It sounds like a project that fostered friendships and close working ties.

There were even people who came from the surrounding area to help. Men from Jericho came (v. 2), as well as from Gibeon and Mizpah (v. 7) and Zanoah (v. 13). It also mentions that several area political leaders helped. They were referred to as leaders of certain areas, or even leaders of half of an area. Everyone helped no matter how important or wealthy – or whatever they might think of themselves. With one exception – the leaders of Tekoa. I wonder how they felt afterward when the wall was built, and others likely looked at them with disdain.

Some of the workers built large sections of the wall. For example, “the Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallum son of Col-hozeh, the leader of the Mizpah district. He rebuilt it, roofed it, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. Then he repaired the wall of the pool of Siloam near the king’s garden, and he rebuilt the wall as far as the stairs that descend from the City of David” (v. 15). Others built small areas. “Meremoth son of Uriah and grandson of Hakkoz rebuilt another section of the wall extending from the door of Eliashib’s house to the end of the house” (v. 21).

Nehemiah included everyone’s name in his list no matter how big or small their contribution was. That is the Christian way of doing things. Everyone’s contribution counts. There is no ‘big shots’ versus ‘little guys’ in God’s work. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16) God doesn’t see us in some order of importance. Each one of us is special in God’s eyes. Jesus died for each and every person – no matter who they are.

So … here we are in a pandemic time. Our churches are open for only a few people because of spacing requirements. The services themselves feel strange with so few people, and not being able to stay and chat with friends in the foyer. Distancing and masks seem odd in a place that usually encourages connecting with people. How long will this go on? How can we rebuild our churches when it is safer to do so?

Everyone has a part to play – the pastors, the leaders, and every person no matter how important or insignificant you think you are. Some techie pros can figure out the sound system and how to make the online service effective. Some can wipe down the fixtures and seats to make sure everything is clean and disinfected. Both are important! The pastor can preach what God puts in his heart and mind. You can ask a neighbour who you know has been struggling with the pandemic to come to church with you, or watch the service online with you. Both are important! You can lead a group that meets at LSA. You can come ahead of time to make sure the chairs are arranged in a correct distancing pattern. Both are important! You could decide to lead a small group with people in your ‘bubble’ – in your home, at LSA, or on Zoom. It doesn’t have to be a group with lots of people; safety is key. You don’t have to be an experienced leader. Just be ready to share and connect. That’s important!

Start praying. Be patient. God has something for you to do in this pandemic time and as we emerge from it. Realize that God as a special job for you. You are important!

Our song for today emphasizes how much Jesus loves you. You are important to Him.

Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

September 18 – Thinking and Planning

Nehemiah 2: 7 – 20 NLT

“I also said to the king, “If it please the king, let me have letters addressed to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah. 8 And please give me a letter addressed to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber. I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.” And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.
9 When I came to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, I delivered the king’s letters to them. The king, I should add, had sent along army officers and horsemen to protect me. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel.

Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem’s Wall

11 So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, 12 I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. 13 After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. 14 Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.
16 The city officials did not know I had been out there or what I was doing, for I had not yet said anything to anyone about my plans. I had not yet spoken to the Jewish leaders—the priests, the nobles, the officials, or anyone else in the administration. 17 But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” 18 Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.
They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.
19 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of our plan, they scoffed contemptuously. “What are you doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” they asked.
20 I replied, “The God of heaven will help us succeed. We, his servants, will start rebuilding this wall. But you have no share, legal right, or historic claim in Jerusalem.”

Yesterday we looked at the importance of prayer. So far in Nehemiah, prayer has been the focus. When Nehemiah became aware of a problem that needed to be fixed, he prayed for days. Then he waited and prayed for 4 months for an opportunity to speak to the king. He even prayed before he answered the king’s question about what was bothering him. Nehemiah prays!

But as we read these verses today, we realize that Nehemiah does more than pray. He plans! Now, he’s not one of those people who barge in with their ideas and plans and bowl you over. He starts his answer with “if it please the king”. He is gracious and not demanding. The king could have said, “No”. Nehemiah is confident that if this is God’s plan, it will happen. So, he can be kind and gracious, not pushy.

But he is ready with his plans. He knows what he needs to get this job done. He needs letters of permission and supplies. He has figured out how long this project will take because he is ready with an answer when the king asks how long it will take. When he gets to Jerusalem, he doesn’t show up with plans in hand stating why he is there. They must have wondered who was this man who arrived with some of the king’s soldiers? But once again, he was patient and waited until he could check out the situation with the walls at night. He was not pushy.

There is a phrase that appears twice in these verses that really strikes me – “the gracious hand of God was on me”. When the king agreed to let him go to Jerusalem and provided all the materials necessary for the construction job, Nehemiah was quick to say that this was God at work. When he talked to the city officials and the temple leaders, again he was quick to say that God was at work. Nehemiah was a thinker and planner, but he also readily acknowledged that God was the one in control.

You and I were created in the image of God. (Genesis 1: 26 – 27) We have the ability to think and plan. We have the ability to create new things, new ways of doing things. Following God’s will doesn’t mean we “fly by the seat of our pants”; that we don’t plan and expect everything will just fall into place. So, if you are thinking of something that you feel God wants you to get involved in, don’t hesitate to think and plan what needs to be done. If there is a situation in your home, or at work that needs to be fixed, don’t hesitate to think and plan what would work best.
Pray! Think, plan and pray! Know that “the gracious hand of God is on you”. There is where success lies – a close partnership with God.

Our song for today is Shepherd by Amanda Cook

September 17 – Fall into Place

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

Some things in life miraculously line up. Such as, finding a soul mate, finishing a complicated puzzle, or how an airplane returns to land.
As we all desire the areas of our lives to come together, we all know with experience, our ideas, hopes and plans don’t always line up. 
Although, as time goes on, we can look back and appreciate that certain things didn’t pan out, such as relationships, home purchases or career decisions. There are times God protects us from going through such events that we don’t see at first. As we all enjoy the idea of our lives lining up, we know that some things are beyond our control. 
In Romans, it says “GOD causes everything to work together for good for those who love him…”

There is a form of comfort that lies in knowing a creator that has bigger and better plans than ours.

My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans.

– Isaiah 55:8-10 CEB

The person who gave us thoughts to accomplish great things, and the perseverance to see these goals out is with us as we journey. So, when those goal don’t come together, and the future doesn’t line up to our standard, keep hope in the person of Jesus. This deeper core message is the message of refinement and trust. That we can trust Him to accomplish what we can’t.

Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for GOD’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. 
– Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG

During a year of unexpected change and uncertainty, we can find confidence in a God who goes ahead of us in our lives’ decisions and work. Even when things don’t fall into place, there’s a bigger narrative working.

“Trust in God’s timing. It’s better to have to wait a while and have things fall into place then to rush into something and have things fall apart.”
– Adam Cappa

Further Reading:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
– Philippians 1:6

“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.
– Matthew 10:38 (MSG)

September 16 – Praying and Waiting

Nehemiah 2: 1 – 6 NLT
Nehemiah Goes to Jerusalem
Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, (the months of either April or May) during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.”
Then I was terrified, but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
6 The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request.”

Remember in chapter 1 how Nehemiah prayed that God would change King Artaxerxes and make him open to Nehemiah leaving for Jerusalem? Well, now it’s 4 months later. Have you ever prayed asking God to change a situation that really concerned you, and you felt that God wasn’t listening because nothing seemed to be happening? Nehemiah must have felt that way. Four months is a long time to wait when you’re concerned about something.

In 2020, our culture counts on speed. On the news this past week, it was announced that Amazon was opening 2 more warehouses in Ontario to help them make faster deliveries – within a day or two of ordering. We don’t use mail much anymore to communicate – why would you when you can email, message or text anytime? During this pandemic time, we’ve seen people get frustrated with the restrictions placed on them to stay safe – and it has been hard over the past 6 months. We’re used to doing whatever we want, when we want, for the most part. Waiting is hard for us!

We need to recognize that God has his timing, not necessarily ours. That is something I have to remind myself so often. I like things organized and want to get them done – now. So often I have to confess to God that I am desperate to run things on my timing. There is a boss or co-worker who drives us crazy. There is a neighbour who irritates us. Our kids have habits that drive us insane. We want change sooner than later. Patience is difficult. And God’s timing is definitely not our timing. These verses might make you gasp:

Psalm 90: 4 “For you a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”
2 Peter 3: 8 “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”
Don’t get discouraged by those words. God does love us, and he is very aware that in comparison to him, our lives and time are short. He does listen to our prayers, but he also knows the right timing for us.

What was Nehemiah doing during those 4 months? Praying. We find on this particular day when the king asks him what is bothering him, that Nehemiah prays immediately. Prayer is an important foundation in Nehemiah’s life. I suspect that prayer is something many of us struggle with. I know I do. It seems that life starts the moment I get up, and finding time to be quiet and away from people seems hard to do. Nehemiah’s habit of praying, praying … really struck home to me. To find that patience to deal with life’s twists and turns, I need to concentrate on including prayer in my everyday life.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 6 – 7)

Why was Nehemiah terrified when Artaxerxes asked him why he was looking sad? Apparently, in those days, you were to look alert and happy in the presence of the king. You were not allowed to do anything that would upset the king’s day. It appears that over the past 4 months, Nehemiah had been his cheerful self, even though he was sure God was calling him to fix the walls in Jerusalem. He hadn’t let that concern change his pleasant behaviour. But he also realized here was the opportunity he had been waiting for. Pray and take a deep breath. (Note, once again, that Nehemiah prays?)

Artaxerxes wasn’t known for being a generous kind person. It’s interesting that Nehemiah includes Artaxerxes’ wife in his account of what happened that day. Maybe she leaned over and whispered to her husband that he should be generous with this excellent cup bearer. God had certainly been at work in Artaxerxes over the past 4 months, because he went beyond what Nehemiah asked for. He even sent some soldiers along to protect Nehemiah. And he asked Nehemiah when he would return, so he must have valued Nehemiah’s work in his palace and home. This moment was obviously God’s timing.

Nehemiah gives us a great example of someone who prays and waits. As LSA begins to open its services again, and programs start up in this new pandemic way, you may be hearing God speak to you about how to get involved again. Pray! Be patient! If you’re facing problems at home or at work, pray. Be patient. Ask God to give you the right moment to speak, to do something.

Our song for today is Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher

September 15 – When Problems Crop Up

Nehemiah 1: 1 – 11 NLT
“These are the memoirs of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah.
Nehemiah’s Concern for Jerusalem
In late autumn, in the month of Kislev (likely November or December), in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa.
(Hebrew In the month of Kislev of the twentieth year. A number of dates in the book of Nehemiah can be cross-checked with dates in surviving Persian records and related accurately to our modern calendar. This month of the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar occurred within the months of November and December 446 B.c. The twentieth year probably refers to the reign of King Artaxerxes I)
 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. 5 Then I said,
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
8 “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honoured.’
10 “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honouring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favourable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.”

Before we begin looking at this chapter, I want to take a look at an idea that may be floating in the back of your head. You may be thinking Nehemiah is about a person with great influence who is going to take on the leadership role in fixing the problem in Jerusalem. I am not that kind of important person. I am just an ordinary person who is willing to help, but anyone could do what I am able to do. It’s not that big a deal.

You may be a leader, or you may be just an ordinary volunteer, but … no matter how important, or unimportant, you think you are – you are an ‘influencer’. You make an impact on the people in your family, the people you meet, the people you work with, your neighbours. And what we can learn from Nehemiah’s experience is how to be that person who influences those around him/her in a positive way.

One of the first things Nehemiah asked his brother and friends was how the people in Jerusalem were getting along. Then he asked how things in the city of Jerusalem were going. When he heard things were not going well, he was devastated. To be an effective, caring person, we need to be aware of the problems. Sometimes it’s actually easier to ignore problems. You hope someone else will fix the problem. You avoid things that might lead to an argument. You hope it will just go away. But to really know what is happening, we may have to ask questions. And the answer may not be what we want to hear.

So, did Nehemiah rush to King Artaxerxes? No. He prayed and thought about it for days – not just for an hour or so, but for days. As he did that, what thoughts seemed to have been impressed on him? That verse about praying for days really struck me. How much do I consistently pray about something?

First, he recognized that God was great and awesome. That is so important when we face situations that need to be fixed. So many times as I face a problem, I get all wound up in the fact that I’m not sure how to deal with it. I go over and over several solutions in my mind, and worry about making the right decision. I need to stop and comprehend that God cares about me, and that God is great and awesome. My life is in his hands, and as I pray, the Holy Spirit prays for me and helps me to understand what God wants. Yes, there are problems on this earth, but God is with us; we are his children. He cares. Stop and let that sink into your mind and heart when you become aware of a problem.

Next, Nehemiah confesses he hasn’t been following God’s commands given through Moses. Not Nehemiah, nor his family, nor the Israelites. He understands that God disciplines those who don’t follow God. It’s not that God abandons us. He doesn’t! Even Nehemiah, whose religious practices in the Old Testament made a big deal about obeying the laws, knew that God was willing to forgive. But Nehemiah realizes he must confess and make his relationship with God right again. When life hands us some big problems, sometimes we need to stop and figure out if we’ve been ignoring God, putting him aside in our busyness. Do we need to stop and confess? There are some verses in 1 John that talk about our need to confess when we have been putting God aside in our lives.
“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practising the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1: 5 – 9)

Finally, Nehemiah asks God to help him in the plan he has figured out. “Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (v. 11) King Artaxerxes is not Jewish; he does not follow any Jewish practices. In fact, he may think they are a small people, easily conquered, and not really worth much concern. It’s OK if they are allowed to go back to their home country, but not worth much more attention than his permission. Nehemiah feels that God is calling him to go to Jerusalem, so he asks God to make the king agree to his requests.

That is something we also need to do. When we feel God calling us to step into some situation, to volunteer for some project – whatever we feel God is calling us to do – we need to ask God for help in making it happen. If the ‘door slams shut’, then we know it was not in God’s plan. But we can be reassured that God will change the most difficult situations if that is God’s plan.

As LSA reopens, and as our new pastor, Brian McGiffin, arrives, we have many new opportunities coming. Church will not likely be the same for a long time – if ever. How as Christ followers can we continue to spread God’s love and concern to our community and among church members? You may have a particular concern in your mind – something you think should be done, something you think would be effective, something that could be improved. Do what Nehemiah did. Pray and think about it for a while. Be willing to confess any sin to God. Pray and ask God to make people receptive to your suggestion. Know that God is great and awesome.

Our song for today is You Say by Lauren Daigle

September 14 – How Big is This Challenge?

Summer is over for sure, and many of our kids are back to school. We’re back to reading through books of the Bible. I’m taking a plunge into an Old Testament book, something that makes me nervous. For some strange reason, I find New Testament books so much easier to figure out.

So, this is the beginning of reading through Nehemiah!

LSA has come through a tumultuous two years, and is still trying to cope with the pandemic and all its restrictions and fears. It hasn’t been easy and we still wonder what the future holds for our church. Our new lead pastor, Brian McGuffin begins this week. I can’t imagine what it’s like coming to a new city and church in the Covid-19 era. How does he meet the congregation? How does he remember who each one is since we are all wearing masks? Finding a new house also isn’t easy during pandemic times. Pray for Brian and his family as they make this huge transition from Manitoba to Windsor.

Nehemiah also faced a difficult time. We’re going to take a quick look at the history behind this book to see the issues Nehemiah faced. I’m using information I’ve gained from reading Charles Swindoll’s book, Hand Me Another Brick. I think we can learn a lot about how to face 2020 and 2021 ourselves from looking at the Book of Nehemiah.

Jewish history begins with Abraham about 2000 years BC. The country of Israel became well known under kings Saul, David and Solomon about 1000 years later. However, when Solomon died, Israel split apart in a civil war; the northern tribes were called Israel and the south was known as Judah. This was an extremely chaotic time, and then in 722 BC, the Assyrians invaded. The northern kingdom ceased to exist, and some of the people fled south.

Judah existed for about 300 years, but in 586 BC, Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar invaded and took the people captive.
“The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. 19 Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. 20 The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power.” (2 Chronicles 36:18-20 NLT)
Under Nebuchadnezzar and his sons, the Israelites lived as they had before in Egypt as slaves. Then a new rising power took over and defeated Babylon – the Medes and Persia. King Cyrus of Persia decided that the Jews should be allowed to return to Israel.

The first group went back under the leadership of Zerubbabel as their commanding officer. About 80 years later, the second group went back under Ezra as their commander-in-chief. Cyrus died and King Artaxerxes took over. Nehemiah led the third group back 13 years after Ezra. Remember this is a country that had been destroyed by Babylon. They had to rebuild houses and get an economy going again. Ezra’s group rebuilt the temple and we read about that in the Book of Ezra that comes right before the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. But the city of Jerusalem is still in a mess and the walls of the city are non-existent – just piles of rubble – so there is no security or safety in that city.

So, who is Nehemiah? He is the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. That gave him a close connection to the king. He was trusted to taste the wine and any food that the king was served to make sure the king was safe from any attempts to poison him. That would mean that any time the king or his family were eating, Nehemiah was present. But, one day, Nehemiah was struck by some information that threw him for a loop. Some friends of his had returned from Israel and in their conversation, Nehemiah asked them how things were going in Jerusalem.

“In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1: 1 – 4 NLT)

Have you ever been struck by a situation that needs fixing? Perhaps in looking after your home, you have left something until one day, you realize, ‘I have to do something about this right now’. Or perhaps you’ve sensed a relationship you have seems to be slipping away, and then something happens that makes you figure out you need to confront the situation and see if it can be fixed. You can’t let it slide any longer, or it may end. Or you’ve heard your kids complaining about something at school, and then one day you realize you should likely get in touch with the teacher to find out what is really going on.
At LSA we have spent time healing from the division in our congregation two years ago. Anger and bitterness began to die down. New people were coming to the church. Hope for the future resurrected. Then Covid hit! The Search Team had been looking for a new lead pastor for close to a year, and was in contact with Brian early in 2020, but how do you interview and get to know a possible new pastor when the country is locked down? We haven’t met as a congregation since the middle of March.

It reminds me a little of Nehemiah’s situation. Israel was in captivity and hope seemed lost. Then King Cyrus said they could go back and resurrect the country of Israel. People were trying to do that, but things were still a mess in Jerusalem. It wasn’t all bad – the temple had been rebuilt. Then God laid on Nehemiah’s heart the situation in Jerusalem. Nehemiah had a good job in King Artaxerxes’ court. He could have just stayed there and enjoyed life. But that day when his friends were telling him about Jerusalem, he suddenly realized he needed to get involved. God does that! We can be sailing along through life, when God plants an idea in our minds. We need to listen.

Right now, LSA is at the edge of a new beginning. Our new lead pastor is arriving. We are cautiously and carefully emerging from severe Covid-19 restrictions. Like Nehemiah did, start praying and thinking about how God wants you to step up and help get LSA going again. There are so many ways you can volunteer in a church. It doesn’t even have to actually be in the building.

Pray! What does God want you to do? Pray!

Our song for today is Take My Life and Let It Be, sung by Chris Tomlin. It was originally written by Frances Havergal in 1874.

September 11 – Feeling a Little Overwhelmed

So, summer has ended, and next week we start looking at the Book of Nehemiah. 95% of the time, I look up commentaries to make sure I’m on the right track in writing the devotions. This time I’m using a book by Charles Swindoll – Hand Me Another Brick. I’m excited. The Book of Nehemiah really hits home today as we watch Nehemiah try to fix a mess with God’s help.

Proverbs 30
Did you know that the last 2 chapters of Proverbs were not written by Solomon? Proverbs 30 was written by Agur and Proverbs 31 was written by King Lemuel. I’m going to leave Proverbs 31, maybe until Mother’s Day, since it has that famous passage about how amazing women are. helped me find out who Agur was – sort of.
“Proverbs 30:1 says the chapter’s words are “the sayings of Agur son of Jakeh.” Agur was writing “to Ithiel and Ucal” (NAS); these men could have been disciples or friends of Agur, although some Bibles translate the meaning of the two names with the assumption that they do not refer to actual people. Most commentators believe Agur lived in the same era as Solomon. We don’t know much about Agur except what we can glean from this one chapter.
The name Agur comes from a Hebrew word meaning “collector.” Agur and Jakeh are only mentioned here in the Bible and are otherwise unknown.”

Proverbs 30: 1 – 9 NLT
“The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh contain this message.
I am weary, O God;
    I am weary and worn out, O God.
2 I am too stupid to be human,
    and I lack common sense.
3 I have not mastered human wisdom,
    nor do I know the Holy One.
4 Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?
    Who holds the wind in his fists?
Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?
    Who has created the whole wide world?
What is his name—and his son’s name?
    Tell me if you know!
5 Every word of God proves true.
    He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.
6 Do not add to his words,
    or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.
7 O God, I beg two favours from you;
    let me have them before I die.
8 First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
9 For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”

Have you ever felt as confused as Agur seems to be in these verses? My guess is ‘yes’. I think we all have moments when we feel so inadequate. Agur feels “weary and worn-out”, unable to think clearly, and even feeling he doesn’t have the intelligence to live well. Life seems overwhelming to him.

I know I’ve felt that way many times. Something breaks and you don’t know how to fix it, or who you can call to help out. One of your kids is involved in something that scares and concerns you, and you don’t know how to get him/her back on track. They just won’t listen. A serious illness or crisis – like loss of a job – happens in family life, and you feel helpless. During this pandemic, you want to see friends and family, but you’re not sure if that is a safe decision. Do you go out to restaurants? Do you send your kids back to school? Am I really smart enough to deal with the problems life brings?

Agur does know that there are no humans on earth that have God’s power. (v. 4) No one has the ability to do life perfectly and solve all problems, or if there is, who is it? “What is his name – and his son’ name? Tell me if you know!” But, Agur also knows one more thing – “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.” (v. 5) We may feel overwhelmed and not smart enough to figure out what to do, but … God does!

One of the key things to staying calm is realizing that we can turn to God. We don’t have to do everything by ourselves. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3: 5 – 6) I think Agur lived that way. He had a prayer which asked God to help him be honest in everything. He also asked God to provide him a life that was just adequate enough to keep him humble and trusting God. Think about those requests for a minute. Being open and honest, and trusting God can lead to a much calmer life without overwhelming worry.

Here are some verses in one of my favourite chapters in the Bible that reinforce that concept of trusting God.

Romans 8

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” (v. 8)
 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (14 – 16

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (v. 26 – 28)

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (v. 31)

We can feel overwhelmed with whatever is coming our way, but God is for us, taking care of us.

Our song for today is God of All My Days by Casting Crowns

September 10 – Milestones

“A milestone is less date and more definition.”     

The Blue Zone is a term that has been used to categorize a place in the world that holds a large amount of people who’ve live/lived to a significant old age. These peoples’ diets, genes, environment, way of life, and mentalities are studied to unlock the secret of what has allowed them to live to such an age. As we mark our age through birthday celebrations and accomplishments, graduations and promotions, each of our lives is dotted with milestones of importance.
Reaching a milestone is almost parallel to a mile marker in a race. As you continually cross mile markers in life, you know you are that much closer to your end goal.

“So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into. Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us.”
-Hebrews 12:1 TPT

As they say, life is about the journey, and recognizing our milestones produces a form of gratitude and admiration for how far we’ve come. So perhaps it’s less about our age, or significance in numbers, but of quality of time given. Each milestone in life a moment of reflection or pause.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”
-Psalm 90:12 NIV

So, enjoy today’s milestones, God’s gift of another day. What may be ahead of us could be challenging or daunting. Or maybe, you can’t wait to get to the next mile marker in life. Whatever the case, our now is to be celebrated.

“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.”
-Anna Quindlen, A Short Guide to a Happy Life

Further Reading:

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
-2 Corinthians 4:16-18 MSG

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.  Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.
-Psalm 37:23 NKJV

“It’s easy to see how far you are from your desired outcome. It’s easy to see that you are not the man you want to be. The easy thing is not always the best thing. It’s also easy to get discouraged about the marathon that you are only a fifth of the way through. Instead of focusing solely on the hard work and pain ahead of you, take the time to celebrate the steps you have made, the milestones you have passed.”
-Josh Hatcher

September 9 – Protests

Proverbs 28 and 29

Several of the verses in these chapters of Proverbs deal with justice and leadership, and our personal reaction to it. I’m a little nervous as I write today because our world at the moment seems to be full of injustice and protests. It seems that people are of two minds – law and order at all times, or just crash everything apart. People are so divided on what is happening. What does Solomon say?

First of all, lets’ look at what Solomon says about leadership:
Proverbs 28
“When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.
5 Evil people don’t understand justice,
    but those who follow the Lord understand completely.
12 When the godly succeed, everyone is glad.
    When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
15 A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.
16 A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life.
28 When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
    When the wicked meet disaster, the godly flourish.

Proverbs 29
2 When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan.
4 A just king gives stability to his nation,
    but one who demands bribes destroys it.
7 The godly care about the rights of the poor;
    the wicked don’t care at all.
8 Mockers can get a whole town agitated,
    but the wise will calm anger.
12 If a ruler pays attention to liars,
    all his advisers will be wicked.”

Solomon sees two kinds of leadership – leaders who are morally rotten and don’t follow God’s principles, or godly leaders. We are so fortunate in Canada to have leaders who may not be committed Christ followers, but who do follow many Christian principles of caring for others and being accountable. It doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes, but overall, their concern is for our country and the people who live here. As we look around our world today, we see leaders who seem to be only concerned with their power and with their personal wealth. For example, after the disaster in Lebanon, we’re seeing other world leaders saying they are willing to help, but only if the corrupt ruling class gets out of the way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard people be quite that open and strong in their criticism.

Solomon states that good leadership brings stability. It brings justice and fair practices to a country. It cares about the people. People who ignore God’s values only bring instability, and their people hide looking for protection knowing their leaders are only out for personal benefit.

Then Solomon addresses the average person in a country:
Proverbs 28
“Young people who obey the law are wise;
    those with wild friends bring shame to their parents.
God detests the prayers
    of a person who ignores the law.
14 Blessed are those who fear to do wrong,
    but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble.
23 In the end, people appreciate honest criticism 
   far more than flattery.
26 Those who trust their own insight are foolish,
    but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

Proverbs 29
18 When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
    But whoever obeys the law is joyful.
20 There is more hope for a fool
    than for someone who speaks without thinking.
22 An angry person starts fights;
    a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin.”

Following the law seems to be the main idea here. Today we are seeing so many violent protests. In a way, I understand why that is happening. If people think that peaceful protests haven’t accomplished anything, and distress is running high because they think they are not listened to – then control is lost and violence breaks out. But is breaking the law, toppling statues, burning and trashing buildings the solution?

Following the law – not breaking the law – is what God wants. “God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” We are allowed to criticize the government. We can protest in a law-abiding way. We can look for ways to access government leaders and influence the decisions they make. We can run for leadership positions in local and higher levels of government. What God wants is for us to walk in his ways, to advocate for his values – “anyone who walks in wisdom is safe”.

In our troubled times, we can be thankful that God is still present with each one of us, guiding us through each day.

Our song for today is Is He Worthy? by Chris Tomlin

September 8 – What Do You Think of Yourself?

School starts right after Labour Day – at least until the pandemic hit. As a retired teacher, I must admit that September seemed more of a start to a new year than January 1. The postponement and then the staggered start days seem so strange! As a result, I’ve decided to ‘extend summer’ this week and continue with verses from Proverbs. Next week, we’ll go back to going through a book of the Bible. We’ll be looking at Nehemiah, a book about a man who faced a mess and tried to figure out how he could fix it. That rather resonates with our times today.

Proverbs 27: 1 – 2; 19; 21 NLT

Don’t brag about tomorrow,
    since you don’t know what the day will bring.
2 Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth—
    a stranger, not your own lips.

19 As a face is reflected in water,
    so the heart reflects the real person.

21 Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but a person is tested by being praised.

Solomon is warning us to be thoughtful about our opinion of ourselves. We need to be careful that we’re not ‘tooting our own horn’. We also need to be careful that we don’t fall for the praise coming from others. That may make us too proud, and as a result, too careless. We might get a swelled head. On top of all that, we don’t know about what will happen tomorrow. We are foolish if we think we have it all under control. When you get right down to it, Solomon is warning us not to get too confident in how wonderful we think we are. We need to take a good look at who we are down deep – in our hearts.

“As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”

What does God want us to know about ourselves?

The first thing we need to know is that God created us to be somewhat like him and to ‘rule’ this earth. Genesis 1: 26 – 31:

“Then God said, “Let us make human beings[a] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[b] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.
31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.”

So, yes, we have intelligence and creativity. We long for relationship. We like to organize things. We have many of the characteristics of God – “So God created human beings in his own image” (v. 27) We are special creatures on this planet; we are in charge here.

But, we are not perfect. We are not God. Sin has made a huge difference in the way this world operates. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3: 23) We still have all those amazing characteristics that God created in us, but they are flawed. Does that mean we should look at ourselves as pathetic, not worthy? No!

We are loved by God. Each one of us is special to God. (I don’t want to take up too much space in writing this devotion, but if you struggle with self-esteem, read Psalm 139.) There are so many verses in the Bible that reassure us that we are loved by God. Let’s take a look at them, and understand our worth is based on God’s love for each one of us.

Romans 5: 8 – “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
Romans 8: 28 – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the god of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
Romans 8: 35: 38 – 39 – “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 3: 17 – 19 – “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ.”

Our song for today is Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

September 7 – Labour Day

Today is traditionally a day to celebrate the workers in our country. It’s supposed to be a holiday, but in 2020 with our 24/7 mindset, it’s impossible for everyone to have this day as a holiday. But it is a day when we can be thankful for all the hard workers that keep our country flourishing.

Solomon had some advice/sayings in Proverbs for those who work hard:

Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards. (12: 14)

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. (21: 5)

Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave. (12: 24)

Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich. (10: 4)

Lay people want much, but get little, but those who work hard will prosper. (13: 4)

Wealth from get-rich schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time. (13: 11)

It’s obvious that Solomon admired hard workers and was sure that they would be successful. And we would probably agree with the statements he made.

However, I was interested in Solomon’s thoughts when I read Psalm 127 – a Song of Ascent attributed to Solomon. explains what a Song of Ascent is:

“The city of Jerusalem is situated on a high hill. Jews traveling to Jerusalem for one of the three main annual Jewish festivals traditionally sang these songs on the “ascent” or the uphill road to the city. According to some traditions, the Jewish priests also sang some of these Songs of Ascent as they walked up the steps to the temple in Jerusalem.

Each of the psalms in this collection begins with the title “A Song of Ascents.” While perhaps they were not originally composed for this purpose, these psalms were later grouped together for use in travelling toward Jerusalem for the yearly Jewish festivals.” (Psalms 120 – 134)

Here is what Solomon said:
“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” (Psalm 127: 1 – 2 NLT)

Solomon may admire hard workers, but down deep he realized that God was at the root of success. It’s not just ‘working your head off’ that makes you productive. It’s putting our trust in God that brings results – and rest.
Does God work hard?
David talks about that in one of his psalms: “I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done.” (Psalm 143:5) One of the first mention of God’s work is in Genesis 2.
“So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (2: 1 – 3)
The creation of this universe was an incredible piece of work. And then God rested, and declared this seventh day was to be a holy day – a day of rest. This idea of balance in life between work and rest has been there from the beginning of creation, and it’s something we need to remember. In our culture today, we seem to find scarce time to rest. Many of us have jobs that require us to work on Sundays, and that seems to take our rest day away from us. But, we can still make it a priority to find that one day in a week where we have time to rest, to think about God, to take time to pray.

Some other ideas about work came to my mind. Some of us think that to please God, we need to work hard at it, that our work will make us acceptable to God. Our acceptance by God actually has nothing to do with our work. Romans 4: 5 says, “But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” Ephesians 2: 8 – 10 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

See! Our acceptance by God does not rest on how hard we work to impress Him. But God does help us to live well; we don’t just sit back and do nothing.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)

So … all of you who are working hard – at your jobs, in your homes, at your church, in your neighbourhood – wherever God has placed you:

Remember to take some rest time and soak in God’s love for you
Remember you don’t have to work hard to be accepted by God
Remember that God is helping you to live well and please him. It’s not all on your shoulders.

“The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.” (Psalm 69: 32)

Our song for today is The Goodness of God by Bethel Music

September 4

Proverbs 27: 6; 9 – 10; 17 (NLT)

“Wounds from a sincere friend
    are better than many kisses from an enemy.

The heartfelt counsel of a friend
    is as sweet as perfume and incense.
10 Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. 
   It’s better to go to a neighbour than to a brother who lives far away.

17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend.”

Friends are amazing! What would we ever do without them?

In this pandemic time, when we are so shut in and not meeting in groups, having a friend we can connect with saves the day. Even connecting by Zoom or Messenger – or whatever device you have – is much better than talking by phone. There is something about being able to see each other that boosts our spirits. After the weather warmed up in the spring, meeting outside while we kept distancing rules, was such a boost to the soul. Even neighbours stared chatting while gathering in spaced groups at the end of our driveways.

Solomon talks about how friends can encourage us and help us grow into the people God intends. A friend can give us “heartfelt counsel”. A friend can “sharpen” us. So many times over the years, especially at work as a teacher, I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. Was I connecting with the students in a way that helped them learn? Were my lessons interesting enough? It was so good to have teacher-friends where I worked, who told me they thought my ideas were great. Or they told me some new ideas to try? Or they would reply to a suggestion I was making that they had tried it, and it flopped. As a teacher, I knew I improved because I had friends on staff.

As a young mom, I had friends who I met with for Bible study a couple of times a month. Having that group of friends where I learned to grow In my faith was so helpful. The fact that we could be honest about our stresses as moms and wives with each other, also helped us be better moms and partners. We learned so much from each other. This fall as the pandemic rules allow us to meet in small groups, think about starting a small group with friends who will encourage you to grow.

Over the years doing volunteer work, I’ve met people who have become friends. As I watched others work their heads off helping whatever cause we were volunteering for, I learned how valuable volunteers are. I learned so much from listening to the experiences of those volunteers – things I later could apply to my life.

Friends are also great when you don’t live close to family. Solomon talks about the importance of friends in that situation. “When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbour than to a brother who lives far away.” My husband and I lived far from our families, and our kids as they grew up took off for far-flung places too. (no surprise since we did that too). There were moments of crisis when friends came to the rescue, and we appreciated that so much.

My husband was my best friend. He saw me at my very worst – when I was losing it and being really nasty. He saw me make mistakes because I wouldn’t listen to good advice. Thankfully, he also saw me at my best. But he was such an encourager. He kept telling me I could do something when I was sure I couldn’t. He was the one that persuaded me that living in Kenya for close to a year at a mission station would be something our family could do. A partner who pushes you when you are afraid and reluctant is a friend who “sharpens” you, and one I’m so glad I had.

Even better, our very best friend is God. He knows us inside out, he knows our thoughts, he knows what we’ve done, and still loves us.
“For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
(Romans 5: 10 – 11 NLT)

We mess up, but God doesn’t abandon us. We can go to him and ‘fess up’, and he is willing to forgive us and keep on encouraging us. The Holy Spirit lives within us and helps us to grow in our faith. He is the one who produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” in us. (Galatians 5: 22 – 23 NLT)

Reread these verses from Proverbs:

9 The heartfelt counsel of a friend
    is as sweet as perfume and incense.
17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend.”

Isn’t God our very best friend?

Our song for today is What a Friend by Matt Maher

September 3 – Pieces

“God, pick up the pieces. Put me back together again. You are my praise!”
-Jeremiah 17:14

A tree fell in my parent’s backyard this week and miraculously missed their house and anything of value in the yard. As perhaps this tree was ready to fall, it triggered a cliché saying “what goes up, must come down.” This particular tree grew to its limits, and had slowly been breaking down. But as we are taught, to pick ourselves up back again when things go south, I reminisced that, this particular tree will never be upright again. It’s left in pieces on the backyard floor. 
It has fallen, but it won’t get back up. As we all have fallen in our lives, we strive to pick up the pieces to pull ourselves back together. We journey on in life and our experiences show us that there will be times we fall. We won’t always get put back together the same way. Perhaps we will grow elsewhere, or perhaps we learn to live with our fallen selves. 

“Put your broken pieces into God’s hands and watch Him use them to work His wonders.”
-Christine Caine

As we are all sinners, yet we are all saints -worthy of love, and grace and cherished beyond measure. Our striving to pick up our pieces, is healthy yet it isn’t all about our performance, it is who we become when all falls apart. 

Julian of Norwich said:
“First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God.”

We know a God who loves who we are, whether standing strong, or broken up on the lawn below. Our value and uniqueness remains, our purposes still present. We look at what has become of us, and ask God to make us to become who we were made to be. Not to shame, but to appreciate, that yes we can pick ourselves back up, but we were made for recovery, growth, journey and love. 
You are deserving of grace today, let’s pass that forward.

Your love is wild for me
It isn’t shy, it’s unashamed
Your love is proud
To be seen with me
‘Cause You don’t give Your heart in pieces

-Pieces, Steffany, Dawn Gretzinger

Further Reading:

“Sometimes what we think is best is actually not the best for us. God knows the beginning from the end and knows how to make you whole. Your brokenness is not the end of who you are; it is the beginning. Life will break you, but God will mend you and make you stronger through it all. The society in which we live approaches brokenness with trying to fix it themselves. We cannot fix ourselves. The truth is only God can turn a life that is broken into a thing of beauty.” 
― Mandy Fender, Beautifully Broken: Giving God the Broken Pieces