Thursday, September 10 2020
I CONFESS THE SINS... 2500 years ago, the Jewish patriot Nehemiah took on the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. At the time, he wasn’t even a citizen of the Persian kingdom where he lived. He was a second-generation Jewish refugee, born into forced exile in a foreign land. He could have pointed his finger at a multitude of other people and nations and played the blame-game. Instead, Nehemiah prayed to God Almighty and confessed His sin, his father’s sin and the sins of his entire nation.
“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses." Nehemiah 1:4-6.
Nehemiah understood why Israel had been decimated as a nation, split in two with the surviving remnant of Judah forced into Babylonian exile, then ruled by the conquering Persian Empire for 150 years. He helped document it all. According to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, after the sixth-century capture of Jerusalem, there were thousands of skilled craftsmen, warriors, citizens of middle class and above exiled to Babylon, with more deportations in the ensuing decades.
Also, according to the books of Ezra–Nehemiah, around 538 BC, the Jews in Babylon began their return to the Land of Israel, by decree of King Cyrus, who also ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, dedicated in 515 BC. The return of the exiles to Judah during the next 110 years is known as the “return to Zion”, a synonym for the return to Jerusalem as well as to the biblical Land of Israel. The word “aliyah”, the act of “going up” came from the ancient event of “going up to Jerusalem” and has now become the term used for Jews returning to Israel. Right after the decree, around 50,000 Jews made “aliyah” as described in Ezra, but most remained in Babylon.
Nehemiah was born in Babylon during the exile of Judah. The book of Nehemiah begins when he lived in the capital city of Susa in Persia. While serving as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah was given the unenviable task of guarding the King's cup and tasting it to insure it was not poisoned. On the positive side, the position required that one be regarded as totally trustworthy, which usually carried the reward of a high position in the kingdom. Indeed, Nehemiah was appointed as master of ceremonies in the palace of King Artaxerxes, who ruled Persia from 465-423 B.C.
Historical records also suggest that the position of cupbearer was as influential a position as the Queen was to the King. Ironically, through the influence of the great Queen Esther in the court of King Xerxes in the very same palace, the people of Israel had been saved from annihilation several decades earlier. Some historians even speculate that King Artaxerxes was the stepson of Queen Esther, and son of King Xerxes.
The rest of Nehemiah's prayer is just as powerful as the beginning when he confessed his sins, his father’s sins, and the sins of his entire nation. “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
His prayer petition ends with the curious statement about granting him favor in the presence of a man. Then Nehemiah identifies himself as "cupbearer to the King." This is clarified in the following chapter when Nehemiah asked God to grant him success when he humbly asks the King's help for the people of Judah who were attempting to rebuild. Further in chapter 2, Nehemiah privately gave God all the credit for the plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. “I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:12
Not only did Nehemiah receive the King's help, but because Nehemiah was a close confidant of the King, he was also allowed to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, which could have threatened the Persian kingdom itself. He returned to Jerusalem as its appointed governor for 2 separate terms.
"So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God." Nehemiah 6:15-16.
Nehemiah led the remnant of Judah who had made “aliyah” to Jerusalem, to come together and work toward a common goal. Indeed, it was never about rebuilding a physical wall. God’s plan was for their nation to be spiritually rebuilt under His watch-care and the authority of His Word. United, they moved forward accomplishing social reforms for the poor, forgiving debts, and bonding together in praise of the Almighty for His mercy and long-suffering love for them, spiritually influencing the world around them.
God continued to work through Nehemiah's governorship in Jerusalem to bring about a spiritual awakening to the people of Judah. Not only did they confess their sins as a nation, but also the sins of their fathers. "...The Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God." Nehemiah 9:1-3
Wonder what would happen here in America if we Christians followed ancient Judah's example. Instead of playing the blame-game and pointing fingers at everyone else for their problems, Nehemiah led in a national confession of sin, and freed them to praise God in an awesome and magnificent way with these immortal words: "Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you."
No time like the present for each and every one of us in America to change our focus and stop blaming others for all our national problems. The 25th of Elul on God’s calendar, the date of Nehemiah’s completion of the wall, is the 13th of September on our 2020 Gregorian calendar. Despite resistance from surrounding nations and national turmoil, even their enemies could clearly see that God was behind it all.
This is not just a bible story. It DID happen. Biblical Archaeology Review 35:2, March/April 2009 confirms that Nehemiah rebuilt portions of the walls of Jerusalem around 445 BC.
And it all began with the humble words uttered by just one man in repentant prayer on behalf of himself, his ancestors, and his nation.
I CONFESS THE SINS…
Friday, September 04 2020
GIVE CAREFUL THOUGHT TO YOUR WAYS...The Hebrew figure of speech for this phrase is literally “put your heart on your roads.” God has designated the sixth month of Elul, August 20-September 18 on our 2020 Gregorian calendar, as the month for "soul searching" and turning back to Him. Indeed, the Hebrew word for this month, "Elul" means to search out deeply, as in the heart.
In God’s perfect timing, His specially anointed Day of Trumpets is appointed to occur on the first day of the following 7th month, just weeks away. We Christians should recognize immediately that trumpets herald the possible second return of Jesus, the Son of God!
There have been thousands of Eluls on God’s calendar, adding up to thousands of chances for humanity to get it right. 2600 years ago, on the first day of God's 6th month, He sent Haggai to people just like us who were really good at saying God should be first, but poor in actually making Him a true priority in their daily lives.
Haggai 1: 1-11: “In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,(shih AL tih el) governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak, (JAHZ uh dak) the high priest: This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
We should already have a handle on the very first problem we religious folks have run into for thousands of years. Notice that God's chosen people of Judah didn’t say they weren’t going to rebuild the temple; they just seem to be saying “Not yet.” We want to serve God in ways that suit our lifestyle and timing and are under our control. We usually pull the infamous procrastination “I’m praying about it” to justify our inability to commit ourselves totally to the calendar and timing of the Almighty.
As we continue on in this chapter, we read, “Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
We should carefully consider that scripture. Life is always in God's timing, like it or not. He appoints it impeccably and knows exactly what needs to happen and when. He has His priorities straight. We, on the other hand, need a hard lesson with putting Him first, and ourselves last.
"Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” Haggai 1: 5-6
We can do a whole lot of work as Christians, but never accomplish one single eternal thing. And we can consume a lot of knowledge along our well-traveled roads of seminars, sermons, and causes. But the truth is Christian works and ministries, as well as nationalistic pride, can become a bottomless pit of excuses to serve and glorifiy ourselves. Enough is never enough. We not only drive ourselves crazy, but in the end, those around us suffer as well. The bottom-line is we were never called to be LIKE other Christian leaders. We are called to be LIKE CHRIST.
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
"Give careful thought to your ways." That scripture resonates. Taking time to examine why we are doing what we are doing is absolutely vital. We ALL need to focus on our true blessing found IN the joy of the Almighty, not in trying to manipulate His blessing to "fall" into our lives. We need to quit trying to build our own glorified version of His church, justifying it by calling it His House.
Head up His mountain road. Do it His way. Otherwise, don't be surprised if things don’t turn out the way you expect. In fact, the Lord may curse the very “labor of your hands” as He did in Haggai, even as you call it “Godly”.
That brings us to the mindset of the road we literally stand upon as we celebrate our national holiday. The "labor of our hands" is only fruitful when we seek to glorify the Lord, and never our grand ministries and Christian agenda. Indeed, this is what Jesus said about labor in Luke 10:2. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Notice, just like His mountain road, the harvest is His, not ours. Indeed, here is what the Bible says about laboring toward the harvest of the Almighty: Our labor for the Lord is: a labor which will be rewarded (I Corinthians 3:8); a labor which is to be done together (I Corinthians 3:9); a labor not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58); a labor for eternal things (Colossians 1:28-29); a labor God does not forget (Hebrews 6:10); a labor of love (I Thessalonians 1:3); a labor recognized by Christ, Himself.. (Revelation 2:2).
“…The Lord made them and the rest of the people excited about working on the Temple of their God, the Lord All-Powerful. So they began this work on the 24th day of the sixth month in the second year Darius was the king.” Haggai 1:14-15.
It’s amazing to realize that Tuesday, September 12th on our 2020 Gregorian calendar, is the 24th day of God’s appointed 6th month. By placing ourselves on God’s calendar and in His timing, we can receive His eternal Word for this exact time of the year. And it is especially exhilarating that God's lesson on building His temple has crossed the chasm of time to become our spiritual focus for this Labor Day week of 2020.
May our focus be to glorify the Almighty on the road to His Kingdom as those laborers who were praised in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3. ”…Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
GIVE CAREFUL THOUGHT TO YOUR WAYS (PUT YOUR HEART ON YOUR ROADS)
Sunday, August 23 2020
https://youtu.be/vrOje2phrv4 BE STRONG AND TAKE HEART AND WAIT FOR THE LORD…For over 3000 years, Psalm 27 has been read during this time of the year and the month that follows. That’s because God has designated this time as the sixth month of Elul on His calendar. The word “Elul” means to search out deeply, as in the heart. This is the month of “soul searching”, and turning back to God.
Yes, in God’s timing, for thousands and thousands of years, this has been the month with special emphasis on getting our hearts aligned with His before our Lord comes. August 24 on our 2020 Gregorian calendar is the 5th day of Elul, the 6th month on God’s calendar. Right on target, through the power of His Holy Spirit, on His timetable, God is calling us to search out those things that are stumbling blocks in our relationship with Him.
On the 5th day of Elul, the ancient prophet Ezekiel experienced the hand of the Sovereign Lord upon Him. “In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign LORD came on me there.” Ezekiel 8:1. “The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel…” Ezekiel 8:3-4
This north gate opened into the great court where the notorious image of Ba'al had once been erected by Manasseh, King of Judah. It would probably have been a favored spot to place idols by subsequent kings and rulers. Set at the very entrance of the inner sanctum of the Almighty, this would have been a blatant affront to God, who considered Himself “married” to Israel. This was also the gate the sacrifices were brought through to God’s very presence. What a sickening insult to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would fulfill all sacrifices as the Perfect Lamb of God!
The Almighty continues by exposing 70 elder leaders who are defiling His house by worshiping other things in secret, thinking God somehow doesn’t notice details anymore because of the turmoil in their nation. He then points toward the practice of women stretching worship in His House to include sympathy and support of worldly ideas and traditions. He also reveals 25 men standing in the inner court of His intimate sanctuary, literally turning their back on God because they are focused in another direction instead of on Him. The Almighty uses the strong word “detestable” 5 times in this chapter to describe this utter disarray and spiritual adultery in His house.
What does all this mean for us Christians today? Plenty! Spiritual idolatry always begins in the heart, the seat of the love relationship with the Almighty. Colossians 3:1-6 speaks directly about this. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”
We should also be humbled by this stern admonition from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11. “I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough…such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."
In Ezekiel 8:12, the Lord says “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The LORD does not see us…”
In the 9th chapter, Ezekiel is taken deeper to see from God’s spiritual perspective. “Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, ‘Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.’ And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.”
“Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, ‘Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.’”
Obviously, from a spiritual viewpoint, we should get it that someone upstairs is keeping track of EVERYTHING that goes on down here. And, He is looking for those whose hearts align with His.
“The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The LORD has forsaken the land; the LORD does not see.’ So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.” Judgment arrived to the House of God. The Babylonian army brought down Jerusalem and burned the Temple of the Lord less than 100 years after Ezekiel’s vision.
In Ezekiel 10, the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moves to the threshold of the temple, and the court is full of His radiance. The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks. Ezekiel sees a man clothed in linen, taking fire from among the “wheel within a wheel” of the Cherubim. Then the glory of the LORD moves from over the threshold of the temple and stops above the cherubim. As Ezekiel watches, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, taking their “wheel in a wheel” with them. They stop at the entrance of the east gate of the LORD’s house. And the glory of the God of Israel leaves the temple and is now above the cherubim, at the very gate recognized for thousands of years as the gate through which the coming Messiah would enter Jerusalem.
In Ezekiel 11, the Lord says this to the great “nation under God”. “8. You fear the sword, and the sword is what I will bring against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. 9. I will drive you out of the city and deliver you into the hands of foreigners and inflict punishment on you. 10. You will fall by the sword, and I will execute judgment on you at the borders of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.” 16 “Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 “Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ 18 “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. 19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
The name of this month Elul, spelled with the Hebraic characters Alef-Lamed-Vav-Lamed is said to be an acronym of "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li," "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." It is believed this period of time is set aside for the loved ones of God to search their hearts and return to their first love, as this letter to the church of Ephesus instructs in Revelation 2:2-6: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
We close today’s lesson with Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.”
“Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.”
“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord;”
“BE STRONG AND TAKE HEART AND WAIT FOR THE LORD.”