Maybe I Should Apologize

Nehemiah 8-10

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Saturday, December 10

After the wall was completed the people gathered at the square which was in front of the Water Gate and they had Ezra read the books of the law to them and had them explained to them.  The people were so moved that they bowed down low and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.  Nehemiah and Ezra told the people not to mourn but to keep the day as holy to the LORD, to go and feast and be filled with joy because the LORD is their strength.  They were encouraged to make shelters of branches to help celebrate.  This was the custom that was known as the feast of booths or tabernacles that is celebrated to this day by the Jews.  Ezra read the law daily for the entire celebration lasting 7 days, and then there was a solemn service held on the eighth day.

After the reading of the scriptures something very interesting and dramatic happens.  The Jews separate themselves from any foreign people in their city and they fasted and smeared ashes and dirt upon themselves, wore itchy sackcloth, and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  Then in the hearing of the people the leaders told of the goodness of the LORD to the people throughout generations past.   Telling of all His mighty deeds.  Then the people all sign an agreement to follow the commands as God laid them out in His law, and to live holy and pleasing lives to the LORD from that time onward.  This national repentance and reconciliation was done in order to please the LORD.  Whenever God’s people do what pleases Him, His blessings are soon to follow.

What catches my eye about this is that the people hold a national time of repentance.  Could you imagine what would happen if we tried to do this today?  I’m sure the news stations would be all over it in an instant.  Watch out CNN!  The interviews could be quite interesting , and could lead to some very juicy gossip to be sure.    The point is that people today rarely apologize for anything.  They  find it even more hard to change their ways .  You may have some examples of  people you know who don’t apologize when it would be appropriate to do so.  You might also know people who say they are going to change their ways but find it difficult to set any new pattern in their behavior.  Personally, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a person struggling with addiction say they are going to quit – I would be very rich indeed!  I’m not saying that it is impossible for a person to change but it is in reality quite difficult for people to change their attitudes which are then reflected in their actions.

The Jews had this same difficulty.  They had a national time of repentance and even signed the document but as history unfolds we can see that they were not very good at keeping their promise to God.  It’s important to keep your promises to God.  Repentance is all about changing your ways.  It’s good to apologize to God when appropriate but even better is to change your behavior so that you don’t have to be in the situation where you need to apologize!  God wants us to be sincere in our words and our deeds.  Are there any of your actions that you need to apologize to God for, and change?  What do you think is the first step you can take to help change your ways so that they are pleasing to God?  God’s blessing follows true repentance.  What blessings do you think God might have in store for you when you are in right standing with Him?

-Merry Peterson

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No Way! That’s Impossible! 

Nehemiah 5-7

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Friday, December 9

God really knows how to get things done.  As work progressed on the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah was appointed governor over the land of Judah.  He was made aware that many of the Jews were oppressing one another.  There were famine like conditions and many people were being exploited in their plight to supply food to their families by fellow Jews.  This was appalling to Nehemiah and he ordered the people to stop exploiting one another.  He also was very generous in making sure that the workers on the wall were receiving food portions.

Then another encounter with Sanballat and Tobiah comes along.  Sanballat plots to meet with Nehemiah  outside the city so that the work on the wall will be stalled or ceased.  But Nehemiah refuses to leave the city.  Then Sanballat further entices Nehemiah to come and meet with him by telling him that lies are being told about him that people  – especially other rulers will believe and come against Jerusalem.  Nehemiah tells Sanballat that his words are just that – a bunch of lies, no one believes because they are lies, and he refuses to leave work on the city wall.   Then in desperation Sanballat and Tobiah hire a false prophet to entice Nehemiah to come and hide in the temple, but Nehemiah sees through the false prophet and work on the wall continues.

The wall is miraculously completed in 52 days!  News of this spreads to the surrounding nations and they know without a doubt that God helped the Jews to accomplish this task.

Can you imagine how awesome it would be to complete a project that big?  In our day and age it would take much longer than that to build a wall around even one of our smallest cities.  Contractors would be arguing, funding would constantly be an issue – in short we could not do that same task today even with modern technology and machinery.  The reason that Jerusalem’s walls went up so quickly and efficiently is because God was in the work.  He was also in the heart of the worker.  Nehemiah was faced with what seemed like an impossible task, but we know that God loves to help do the impossible.  With God all things are possible.   Are you facing a huge test, or a difficult situation, or a relationship that is troubling you?  Have you given that impossible situation, test, or relationship to God for him to handle?  With God all things are possible.  He always provides the answers to our impossible situations in His timing, and His perfect way.  It may not always be the solution that we are expecting but He is able to make impossible situations possible.  God is still able to work miracles and loves to help his children who put their trust in His ability.   Key Thought:  Give your impossible situations to God and let Him handle them – He loves to do the impossible.

-Merry Peterson

 

Hand Me A Hammer, And Maybe A Sword Too

Nehemiah 1-4

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Thursday, December 8

If you have a toolbox, then Nehemiah is the book you should read.  Nehemiah is the story of Nehemiah who was the cupbearer to King Artexerxes.  He had been wondering how the city of Jerusalem was progressing since the captivity of himself and others.   When he heard that the city wall was in ruins and the gates were burned he was greatly distressed.  He was so distressed, and so favored by King Artaxerxes that Artaxerxes  allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem.  With letters of the King’s blessing with Nehemiah he travels to Jerusalem where he does a midnight tour of the damaged gates and places of the city.  Then in the day he proposes to the people of Jerusalem that they rebuild the city gates and walls.  This suggestion is opposed by two men who prove to be enemies of the work named Sanballat and Tobiah.

Work is begun on the wall and each branch of the Jewish families takes on a portion of the wall to rebuild or gate to be hung.  Some families even take on more parts of the wall or structures to repair and rebuild.  The work is going well and is being blessed by God in that all are working toward a common goal – to rebuild the protective wall around Jerusalem.

Sanballat was extremely displeased with the progress of the city wall and plotted against the people of Jerusalem.  He gathered an army of men to come and attack the people who were restoring the wall but the plot was uncovered and Nehemiah devised a plan of his own.  He stationed families with swords, spears, and bows by the wall so that they would be able to defend the city should they be attacked.  He also had all the workers who were working on the wall carry a spear with them from dawn until dark and set night guards around the city as well.  The enemies were discouraged by Nehemiah’s quick  protective thinking, and work on the wall continued uninterrupted by any enemies.

The people were able to accomplish a lot because they worked together.  Nehemiah comments that the people had a mind to work.  Isn’t it a great feeling when people are working together in harmony?  It makes the work seem easier and makes it go faster.  Even when the people had to hold a spear in their hand and continue working they still kept a common goal and interest in mind – the completion of the wall.  How often do we find ourselves working with a group of people with the same goal.  The people in Nehemiah all came from different family backgrounds and professions yet they were able to collectively focus to work on a huge task.  How important do you think it is to be able to work with others ?  Are you able to work towards a common goal with people who have different backgrounds or ideas of what is best than you do?  God wants us to be able to work together with people who are different than ourselves.  When we work together for God’s purposes in life He is pleased with us and will bless our work, just as he blessed the people of Jerusalem who worked together.  Key Thought :  How can I work with others to accomplish God’s purposes.

-Merry Peterson

 

Camping in Enemy Territory

Ezra 8-10

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Wednesday, December 7

Who would have thought that there would be a story about camping in the Bible.  The book of Ezra goes on to tell about how Ezra went with a company of people and those of Levitical heritage on a journey to the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.  They had a long, dangerous trek ahead of them sometimes even camping  in enemy territory.  They did not ask for soldiers or guards to protect them for their journey because they had said to the king that their God would protect them.  They were placing their trust in God to see them through the rough territory and prayed specifically for Him to protect them, their  children, and their possessions.  God honored their trust in Him and protected them.  When they arrived at Jerusalem they were able to give the gifts that King Artexerxes had sent, and able to offer the appropriate sacrifices.  They were also able to deliver the king’s edicts to the governors in the provinces beyond the river, and so Jerusalem’s neighbors began to show support for Jerusalem and the people who inhabited it, and the temple of God.

Then it is brought to Ezra’s attention that God’s people have been intermarrying with the idol worshipping people of the area around Jerusalem.  God had specified that the people should not intermarry as not to become entangled in the worship of other false gods within their homes, and the pagan influence that would be brought upon their children.  God wanted to keep his people from being drawn into pagan idol worship as they were so prone to being drawn into.  Ezra went into a time of mourning for the situation of God’s people.   He pleads with God for forgiveness for the people’s sins of disobedience.   A time of group repentance was held and sacrifices made to pay for the sins of disobedience to God in marrying foreign women who did not worship God thus concluding the book of Ezra.

What caught my eye was that Ezra and his company of people camping along the way decided to ask God for His protection instead of asking the King for a human army of protection.  They could have been attacked at any time by enemy forces, but because they chose to ask God for protection and trust Him – God protected them.  Have you ever asked God for his protection?  Are there times that you have felt God protecting you?  God is faithful to his promise that when we place our trust in Him, He will bring us through whatever situation we find ourselves in.    Key thought:  Place your trust in God because he is faithful to his promises.

-Merry Peterson

 

 

 

 

Some People Lift You Up – Others Bring You Down

Ezra 5-7

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Tuesday, December 6

Some people really make your day, others – well they can really make your day worse.  With so much discouragement for the Jews in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem God decided to send several prophets to encourage the people in finishing work on the temple.  The prophets  Haggai and Zechariah were especially influential in bringing God’s encouragement to the workers rebuilding the temple.  A governor named Tattenai from beyond the river tried to put a stop to the rebuilding process by asking who had given them permission to rebuild the temple.    He wanted a detailed, official report from King Darius of who had truly funded this rebuilding project,  why this temple was being rebuilt and any details that might cast a negative light on the Jews rebuilding of their city.  King Darius looked into the matter and discovered that king Cyrus had indeed been moved by God to let the Jews rebuild the temple and their city with part of the bill being paid by the Babylonian empire.  Darius was so moved by the reading of the documents that he decreed that anyone who opposed the rebuilding project should be put to death and their home destroyed.  So the Jews were able to complete the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem with the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah.

The city was beginning to take shape, and this is where Ezra whom the book is named after  comes onto the scene.  He was a priest and scribe in Babylon who had favor with the Babylonian king after Darius which was king Artaxerxes.  Ezra was decreed by the King to go to Jerusalem and select men who would be rulers over the city and set up the civil government of the city, appointing magistrates and judges for the people.  But King Artaxerxes didn’t send them empty handed.  He sent them with many gifts to embellish the temple and many measures of wheat, wine, oil, and salt that would be needed.  He even gave authorization to use the royal treasury money for whatever else they needed to ensure that proper temple worship could be accomplished.  This greatly encouraged Ezra and the people of God in Jerusalem.

Thinking about the many players in this account of the rebuilding of the temple it seems to me that there are those who are determined to bring the people encouragement and those who are determined to bring the people discouragement.  Are there people like that in your life too?  You may have noticed that there are some people who lift up your spirit, and some people who bring your spirit low.  Notice how God knew the discouraging people who brought the people down, and would send someone like Haggai or Ezra along to lift the people’s spirits up again?  Does God do this for us too?  Has he ever sent someone to encourage you and lift up your spirit when you were discouraged?  Maybe He has used you to help lift up the spirits of someone else just like he used Zechariah,  Haggai and Ezra.  They brought an encouraging word to the people.  Will you let God help you to be an encourager to someone else this week?   Key thought:  Ask God to help you be a person who lifts others up rather than a person who brings others down.

-Merry Peterson

The Day God Needed a U-Haul Truck!

Ezra 1-4

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Monday, November 5

God could have used a U-Haul truck when His people were allowed to go back to Jerusalem after being taken captive into Babylon for 70 years.  God moved King Cyrus of Persia to allow the repatriation of the Jews back to their home in Jerusalem.  There were a lot of people who went , especially those who were from priestly lineage.  To find out just how many people went on this journey back to Jerusalem take a calculator and add up the number of people listed in chapter 2 verses 2-65!  They also had to pack up all the dishes that were to be used in the house of God that had been previously ransacked from God’s temple in Jerusalem some 70 years before.  That’s a lot of people, and things, to move all at once.

When the Jews did return to Jerusalem they began to re-instate the priestly duties of sacrifices even though the foundation of the new temple had not yet been poured.   They also began to celebrate their festivals as was their religious custom.  Cyrus had agreed to help them build the temple so orders for the cedar wood from Lebanon which was to be used, were issued.  The main contractor of this building project was a man by the name of Zerubbabel.  His job was to take this pile of rubble and figure out how to help make it into a beautiful place for God’s temple once again.  The people were overjoyed when the foundation of the new temple was laid and a celebration was held.  Things seemed to be looking up for God’s people but then some of their jealous neighbors in the land began to complain.  They sent complaints to Cyrus and the following kings of Persia making up all sorts of claims about the Jews who had returned which were not necessarily true.  So, with the distractions of unhappy neighbors in the land, and many hassles and arguments about the rebuilding that the Jews were doing, soon they became discouraged and left the project of rebuilding God’s house undone.  Not until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia did the completion of the temple happen.

Having been through a recent cross country move myself what caught my eye was all those dishes that were to be used in God’s temple that had to be transported.  5,400 to be exact!  They were made of gold and silver so they would have to be packed very carefully as not to be scratched or broken.  This gives dish duty a whole new meaning.  In my move a few of my dishes broke.  Thinking about this it makes me think of how broken the city was and the temple of God was when the people returned to their beloved city.  They must have been excited at first at the prospect of going back, but once there I’m sure that seeing all the brokenness of the city must have been very discouraging.

Think about one of the greatest things God can do — He can fix what is broken.  Sometimes we may feel broken , or tossed about by the circumstances in our lives.  So did the Jews.  The good news is that God can fix what is broken.  He helped the Jews to rebuild the temple to Him, and their lives after being exiled for so long – He made them beautiful again.  He can help us too by fixing the broken parts of our lives and shaping it into something beautiful.  Key thought:  Think about how God has helped to fix the broken parts of your life and think about how He chooses to make it beautiful.

-Merry Peterson

Hey, Listen Up!

II Chronicles 35-36

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Sunday, December 4

Have you ever wondered if God gets frustrated when people don’t listen to Him?  The people of Jerusalem had a great king while Josiah was ruler of Jerusalem but things quickly turned sour after his death.  Under King Josiah the people had experienced the re-instatement of the religious commemoration festivities of Passover.  The celebration was even mostly funded with animal sacrifices given by  Josiah and his officers on behalf of the laypeople.  We are told that such a tremendous Passover had not been celebrated like that in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet, and that no other Passover celebration was quite like the one that Josiah had with the Priests of God.  But then something tragic happens.  Josiah, who normally would have listened to God, and his messengers decides to not heed God’s warning and goes to war unnecessarily where he is wounded and dies.

This is where the story of the people of Jerusalem takes a dramatic, terrible turn for the worse.  Under their next two kings who are ungodly men the country goes into a spiritual downward spiral.  The people forget the goodness of God, their devotion to Him and refused to listen to the prophets such as Jeremiah that God would send to warn the people to turn from their wicked ways.   Again, and again they were warned but they continually mocked the messengers of God, thus  raising  the wrath of God until there was no remedy.  The people and their kings did not listen, so God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to overtake their beloved city and carry many of the people off into exile in the land of Babylon.  To make matters worse the Babylonians carried off the sacred vessels and treasures of God’s house to their own land, slew many of the people, burned the house of God, and tore down the protective wall around Jerusalem.  The people stayed exiled in Babylon, and the city of Jerusalem lay in ruins for 70 years before God brought about a change by stirring up within Cyrus King of Persia’s spirit that the people that had been taken captive in the previous conquests should be allowed to go back to their homeland and worship in their beloved city once again.

What caught my eye in this passage is that the people would not listen and mocked the messengers of God and scoffed at the prophets God sent.  Doesn’t that  sound like the society we live in today?

Many of us have friends who are unbelievers, or even friends who claim to be Christians but their life choices and their actions don’t seem to follow God’s standards.  Many of them are doing the same thing today by scoffing at the idea that there is a God who is in control of the Universe or mocking God by not following his standards instead choosing to do whatever makes them feel good.  People often make excuses why they are the exception to God’s rules.  Does God like this?   From what we have read, God doesn’t.   Scripture reminds us that we should not be deceived, God will not be mocked, people reap what they sow.  By sowing disobedience to God, in turn God removed his protection from the people of Jerusalem and allowed them to be overtaken by enemies.

Every action has a consequence, every choice has a consequence.  Choosing not to listen to God, and honor him  has its consequences as well.  The people of Jerusalem found that out the hard way.  If only they had just  listened to  God how differently things might have turned out!     Key thought:  Choose to hear when  God is speaking to you!

-Merry Peterson

 

A Little About The Writer:

Merry Peterson is an Associate Pastor at Freedom In Christ Church in Welland, Ontario, Canada.  She grew up in Canada and recently moved back there after  pastoring a church in Wenatchee, Washington for 15 years.  She is a graduate of Atlanta Bible College, and Clayton State University.  She enjoys hiking, baking, reading, and often has pet goldfish.  Merry has enjoyed being at FUEL as a camper and as part of the staff.