The Land We Don’t Buy: Nehemiah Part 3

There’s a few parts from Nehemiah that have gotten stuck in my head over the past few months. Here’s one of them, from chapter 5:

…Their subordinates also oppressed the people, but I didn’t do this, because of the fear of God.  Instead, I devoted myself to the construction of the wall, and all my subordinates were gathered there for the work. We didn’t buy any land.”
The “instead” here refers to Nehemiah not abusing his position as governor to demand food, wine, and money from the people he was governing. Not buying or cultivating land was a big sacrifice too. He was devoted to getting the wall built. Sidebar: his devotion positively impacted the way the people under him chose to act, which is pretty awesome and something to keep in mind when your devotion is wavering. And, spoilers: they do finish the wall, so their dedication pays off!

The Spirit is using this example to help me evaluate what I’m devoting myself to as well as to consider the things I can’t pursue as a result.

I have four kids five and under. They have a plethora of physical needs, not to mention the emotional and spiritual ones. And we’re starting off on our homeschool voyage this year. Devotion is a must. I had kinda hoped that maybe it wouldn’t be, but I’m finding that I can’t watch shows and listen to as many podcasts as I used to. Or go out as often. And that isn’t bad- but it is different. And truthfully, it’s the most taxing thing I’ve yet to face.

Nehemiah went from being the the king’s cupbearer to a quick career change into construction oversight, commander of a makeshift militia, governor, and all-around point person for a group of fearful and difficult recently resettled exiles. Shifts like that necessitate your full attention. I can’t imagine how stressful it was, and on paper it makes sense to me why he chose to dedicate himself to one thing at a time.

But in real life, that’s really hard to do. It would have been tough to spend twelve years in a place and not buy land. When comfort (food, wine, extra cash) is accessible, you gotta be convinced that there’s a better reward waiting to not take advantage of those amenities.

There are a lot of things I’m grateful for – living in the USA is such a huge thing to not take for granted- but I don’t want to be distracted from devotion to the work God has for me by all the entertainment and comfort available to me!

In my experience, guilt doesn’t work well as a long-term motivator. Sheer willpower works somewhat better sometimes. But time and time again what genuinely drives me to not give up when life feels crushing is being persuaded that God is powerful and fearing Him. He does reward those who seek to honor Him. That’s why Nehemiah 5 ends this way:

“Remember me favorably, my God, for all that I have done for this people.”

God remembers and sees. He loves His children and has prepared good works in advance for us to walk in. When those good works require all of your devotion and mean you don’t get to do _______ thing, take heart. Whatever your “instead…” may be, whatever land you don’t get to buy, He is your portion forever.

Be blessed,


Here for God: Nehemiah Part 2

“I do this thing for God, not for success in the work, or for happiness in my soul or for anything else. I am here for God.” – A Blossom in the Desert by Lilias Trotter

A few weeks ago in my daily non-fiction reading time I read that quote. It’s gotten under my skin like sand gets into an oyster. It was quite irritating at first, but has become less so as I see that it can help produce something beautiful within me that has lasting value.

At first read, the phrase “here for God” can conjure the image of clocking into a job to gain approval and/or avoid censure from a boss. But in light of the whole of Scripture, it can also bring to mind canceling all of our plans to spend time with someone we love deeply. As I see more of Who the threefold God is and how good and worthy He is, I don’t want to (or want to want to be) anywhere else but “here for God”.

I’ve been asking how the various roles I occupy and the tasks that accompany them might change if I fight to see them as being solely for God and not for personal fulfillment, gaining the approval of others, achieving measurable successes, etc. This is my list. I’d encourage you to make your own and ponder how being in them for God will look.

  • Wife
  • Mom
  • Church member
  • Friend
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Sidewalk counselor at the abortion clinic
  • Neighbor
  • Volunteer

As I’ve been considering this, I have thought a good bit about Nehemiah and his life work and example of steadfastness. It’s pretty clear that God produced and sustained a God-devoted heart in him.

In last week’s post we saw that his immediate reaction to the news of Jerusalem being in a shambles was crying out to God to show mercy and love to Israel according to His promise. As the book continues we see him emboldened to ask King Artexerxes for resources to rebuild the wall, which was a pretty risky ask.

Then, because it’ll be safer for everyone if rebuilding Jerusalem stays a secret for as long as possible, he’s out in the middle of the night riding around inspecting the wall. He even had to go by foot at points and when his animal couldn’t get through a space. He didn’t tell anyone what he was doing until afterwards, so he wasn’t in it for the kudos.

Then the verbal and physical threats and attacks from Sanballat & company start and continue to intensify throughout the construction project. Because renovation projects aren’t hard enough without people trying to kill you.

For those of us who have been or are currently at a difficult job, that’s when most people have already updated their resume and aren’t looking back. Even though he could have demanded tax money and all kinds of perks as governor, he didn’t. He led well, fearing God first and foremost. This made him a really great governor and the kind of boss we all wanna have.

So how did he do it? Throughout his account, both to his countrymen and to us, he shares how he saw God’s protective hand upon him. He’s honest about how he was terrified and weary at various points. He asks God to remember the sacrifices he’s made, showing that his hope isn’t found in the earthly Jerusalem or a human ruler but in an eternal city that’s coming and its eternal King (Hebrews 11).

Brothers and sisters, may we be here for God. Come what may. We can be certain that the end reward will be infinitely superior to anything this world has to offer.

“There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing.” – 2 Timothy‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭

Nehemiah Part 1: The Builder of All Things

“Instead, I devoted myself to the construction of the wall…” Nehemiah‬ ‭5:15

It’s been a year and a few months since I decided to memorize a full book from the Old Testament. Last year in Bible Study Fellowship we studied in the OT from Joshua to Solomon. In one of the first lessons we were encouraged to remember that to neglect studying the Old Testament (~60% of the Bible) is to leave a precious gift unopened. This exhortation spurred me to start memorizing the book of Nehemiah. Four chapters into it I started alternating and memorizing 1 Corinthians. By taking it slow and steady, I’ve recently finished Nehemiah 8 and started on 1 Corinthians 4.

I was pretty familiar with Nehemiah’s story and did a listen-through of the book before starting to memorize it, so it’s an exciting surprise that I still feel the suspense of his first-person account as I review it. Like I’ve found when I recite God’s answer to Job and Job’s confession there is something very impactful about audibly recounting these stories and words that have been written for our encouragement (Romans 15:4).

When Nehemiah learned that the walls and gates of Jerusalem are debris and ashes, he wept. I find myself groaning and crying with him. He subsequently fasted and prayed, confessing that the ruined city and scattered people are a result of he and his relatives’ sin. I join him in confessing my sin and also follow his example of asking God to show mercy according to His promises and faithfulness.

Although our callings and surroundings are very different, Nehemiah and I worship the same powerful and gracious King. He judges fairly and shows favor to undeserving people who call on His name. Fellow Christian, no matter what tasks He has called you to, He will sustain you as He did Nehemiah. He will show you where to devote your time energy and strengthen your hands as you seek to obey Him. He will protect you from enemies and remove obstacles – in His timing and for His purposes. May He be giving you hope today as you trust Him as the perfect Builder of all things (Hebrews 3:4).

In my current season it’s been difficult to find time to write (this post happened in four sittings with multiple interruptions each time) but over the next few weeks I’ll attempt to jot down more lessons that the Spirit is teaching me through Nehemiah.

Be blessed,


Free to Witness: Timothy Part 4

Publicly fretting over the potential loss of freedom is something that’s easily done in a free society. This isn’t unreasonable, given how many once-thriving countries have swiftly fallen to various forms of oppressive rule. When someone asked Benjamin Franklin what had been accomplished the Constitutional Convention, he reportedly gave this pithy reply: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Nevertheless, a journey through the corridors of history will reveal many stories of individuals who made remarkably noble and selfless choices despite appalling circumstances that continue to inspire and challenge us today.

This simple realization has come far too gradually for me: as Christians whose allegiance is foremostly and forever to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords we are in fact always free to obey Him and bear witness to the testimony about Christ. In the book The Insanity of God Nik Ripken (a brother in Christ for whom I am incredibly grateful and respect deeply) writes:

“This is one of the most important lessons that we learned from believers in persecution: They (and you and I) are just as free to share Jesus today in Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and communist countries as you and I are in America. It isn’t a matter of political freedom. It is simply a matter of obedience…”

Here’s the heart of it:

“…The price for obedience might be different in different places – but it is always possible to obey Christ’s call to make disciples. Every believer – in every place- is always free to make that choice.”

Indeed the price may be high. For the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11:35-40 as well as for many in the early church and onward it was and is homelessness, exclusion, and for some, martyrdom.

Yet they continued in their witness, obeying Christ’s command to be His witnesses regardless of the potential cost:

After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us! But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” – Acts‬ ‭5:29-32‬ ‭

Paul writes the second letter to Timothy from a prison cell, clearly frustrated about his circumstances, but confident that nothing will stop God’s gospel from reaching His children:

“Keep your attention on Jesus Christ as risen from the dead and descended from David. This is according to my gospel. I suffer for it to the point of being bound like a criminal, but God’s message is not bound. This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” – 2 Timothy‬ ‭2:8-10‬ ‭

The director of a camp I worked at in high school and college once observed that in modern language the word consequence(s) is typically only used in a negative sense. He asked us to consider thinking about the word and attached meaning as also holding a positive side. Good choices, etc –> good consequences!

I’ve applied that in my own life and in my parenting, and I think it applies here. There will be consequences when we cross the street or an ocean to tell others about Jesus’ great love and God’s call to repent and believe in His Son. Often to our eyes and hearts they will seem hard- we may lose a friendship or be disowned by family. Or they may be beautiful – God may use us to lead another to Christ! Regardless of how our choice to witness plays out this side of heaven, there will be a good consequence when we stand before our Master in heaven and receive, as Paul wrote to Timothy “the crown of righteousness [given] to all of those who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).

May He embolden and strengthen you wherever you are today.

Be blessed,


The Teaching that Promotes Godliness: Timothy Part 3

Godliness: conforming to the laws and wishes of God.

Paul uses word godliness nine times in 1 Timothy (in the Holman Christian translation at least- I memorize in that version often). Here’s screenshots showing these times:

1 Tim. 3:16 provides a foundation for why and how Paul can charge Timothy and all believing readers to pursue godliness. Jesus has come from God the Father and has made Him known (John 1:18) and has made full and final atonement for the sins of His people (Hebrews 9:24-28).

Because of this, Christians in all stations of life all over the globe can live godly lives. The Spirit doesn’t leave us alone to guess the best way to do this, either! Here are some ways, per the above verses:

  • Thank God for and pray for all people. Ask God to save those near and far, weak and powerful – petition for them to brought near to God by Christ the Mediator. In this way we please God and live tranquil and quiet lives, practicing godliness through intercessory prayer.

  • Avoid irreverent and silly myths. Seek to know God’s Word well enough to identify what is irreverent and worthless and don’t waste your time on those things. Reject foolish controversies. Don’t get entangled in civilian affairs. Instead, fight within yourself to be a peacemaker who thinks and speaks about the gospel of peace. Needs must, delete your social media accounts. Switch over to a dumb phone. Swap out some or all of watching or listening to the news with something more focused on the things above. Pray for the lost while you’re exercising – physical training does have some benefit, after all 😉

  • Honor your family. Practice godliness towards them by seeking to care for them. Paul specifically addresses children and grandchildren caring for widows in their families here. From the whole of the Word we know that God blesses His people so that they can be a blessing to others. If blessed with the world’s goods, the professing believer should use them to aid brothers and sisters and to alleviate the suffering of others whenever possible (Isaiah 58:1-10, 1 John 3:16-17). It can be a cup of cold water or a big check. Don’t wait around. Think about how freely He gave and be beyond cheerful as you store up treasures in heaven!

  • Right along with that: be content with what you have. Paul contrasts people who imagine that godliness is a way to make money with those who are rightly convinced that Jesus is more precious than hundred dollar bills and nice cars (or whatever you’ll shell out cash for to try to be happier). How will you respond when temptation to love money and temporary stuff arises? Paul says: run away from those temptations! Instead, he writes, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.”

Just today I had a moment when I chose to listen to a catchy song with a very temporary focus. I felt a restless old-self feeling of worrying that maybe I’m missing out on something with my seemingly mundane day-to-day life. By grace I did run- toward Christ and His perfect righteousness. I turned the song off and turned to prayer, asking for eyes to see the eternal reality of God’s perfect Kingdom. He answered that petition immediately and brought much joy and refreshment and the desire to show love and gentleness towards my family.

Throughout my life as a believer I’ve affirmed that the words Paul wrote are true based off of a conviction that Scripture is inerrant. It’s true. And now by the Spirit’s continued work in me I am seeing them to be trustworthy in moment by moment real life. Growing in the godliness Christ gives has no downsides. It holds promise for right now and for the life that’s coming. Let me know how I can encourage and pray for you in your pursuit of God.

Be blessed,


Against Such Things There is No Law: Timothy Part 2

I used to be a big fan of country music. It’s not as much a part of my life anymore since most of it isn’t particularly edifying and because I use my driving time for Scripture review now. But I did recall a lyric from a random song when mulling over thoughts for this post. “You don’t have to guess what I’m against/If you know what I’m for” – thanks, Pat Green!

Obviously it’s a bit simplistic, but it stood out to me since that’s one thing I’m learning from Paul’s letters to Timothy and from other parts of Scripture. In order to be able to identify and avoid what’s false and evil, I have to devote myself to what’s true and good. This begins in my thought life and consequently plays itself out in actions and the words I speak. Paul gives this exhortation in his letter to the Philippians:

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

As I’ve written before, there’s always a lot of conviction over sin, repentance, and striving for growth with each book I memorize. When I started the letters to Timothy I was aware that internet outrage culture wasn’t good in general and definitely wasn’t healthy for me, but I still frequented Twitter far too often. It’s a lamentable reality that even among professing Christians social media is populated with bully pulpits ranting about a myriad of issues. James might well rebuke us if he read a Facebook post belittling another image bearer followed by a link to a favorite praise song (see James ch. 3). I’m guilty of this and know I’m still at risk for falling right into that habit.

One oft-discussed topic in the Christian blogosphere is complementarianism. It isn’t as if this is a new discussion occurring within the church. Paul had to correct the Corinthians on it and included instructions for men and women within the church in his letters to Titus and Timothy as well. Rather than try to summarize, I’ll let the Spirit-inspired Word speak for itself:

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” -1 Corinthians 14:33-38

“But you must say the things that are consistent with sound teaching. Older men are to be level headed, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered. In the same way, encourage the young men to be self-controlled in everything. Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching. Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be ashamed, having nothing bad to say about us.” – Titus 2:1-8

“I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God. A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.” -1 Timothy 2:8-15

It’s true that there are prohibitions given in these passages. It’s also noteworthy how many beautiful truths are communicated here:

  • God isn’t a God of confusion but of peace.
  • He is the Source of His Word, not any mere human.
  • God created both man and woman in the right order – and we know that it was very good (see Genesis 1).

In 1 Timothy, the prohibition to women teaching or being in authority over men is preceded by an incredible encouragement to women of God to dress themselves in good works. Satan deceived Eve in the garden, tricking her into believing that God was holding something back from her because there was one tree that was off-limits. The enemy still spreads this lie, and we should flee anytime it tempts us. Our Father is perfect and isn’t trying to keep us from anything good!

Older men and women and younger men are given solid exhortations towards holy living. Titus is likewise encouraged to make himself “an example of good works” and to proclaim the sound message of Christ.

As I’ve meditated on 1 Timothy each Thursday for a little over a year, I’ve sought the Spirit’s enabling to be a woman who loves her husband and children, one who is kind, and one who prioritizes good works over expensive apparel. I fail a lot. I failed to be patient and gentle more times than I can count even within the time it took to write and edit this post! His grace abounds in Christ.

Yet I can testify that as He’s produced fruit in me in this area I’m less drawn towards controversies online or elsewhere. Reading a Bible story to the kids now comes before putting on eyeliner (which rarely happens anyway 😉 ). Having the time to prepare and deliver a meal to someone means that I need to be disciplined in managing our household and that there just isn’t a lot of time for aimless scrolling.

Thinking more frequently and more deeply on God’s gentleness, patience, love, and great mercy towards sinful people (of whom I am the foremost!) holds me back from snap judgments and subsequently gossiping or harboring unforgiving feelings towards others.

To close, I’ll share a passage we looked at in my Bible study this week – I love the phrase “against such things there is no law”! Family in Christ, let’s earnestly pursue those things together.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:22-25

Trustworthy + Deserving of Full Acceptance: 1 Timothy Part 1

A little over a year ago I read two books by a guy named Bob Goff- Love Does and Everybody Always. These two books- especially the latter- did for my love life (by which I mean the way that I love God + all of the people around me me, not just my spouse) what Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life did for my prayer life. That is, these books helped exposed how dry and near-dead my love for God and neighbor was. Then they pointed me to gospel hope, reminding me that God is the Source Who is never depleted and to rely fully on Him to love well.

It was also right around the time that I read these books that I finished up memorizing Genesis 1-4 and a few Psalms and was guided to 1 and 2 Timothy as my next books to commit to memory. By this time I knew the Holy Spirit always has reasons for when He wants me to dig into a certain part of the Bible. This now makes me a mixture of super excited to see what He has in store plus pretty afraid of how much conviction I’m gonna experience as a result. What He’s teaching me through Paul’s letters to Timothy has certainly brought so much needed rebuke, resulting in massive amounts of growth (still in progress) and much joy (with plenty of room for more!)

The way I’ve been describing it lately is that I’ve spent the majority of my Christian life (20 trips around the sun) privately thinking that it was acceptable to be a ‘jerk for Jesus’ as long as I got the main things right (i.e. doctrinal and moral issues). I couldn’t and didn’t see it that way, of course. If I offended someone with my words or actions regarding a faith-related issue, I rarely considered it to even be a possibility that I was at fault in any way.

And more to the heart of the matter, even when the issue was a legitimate one that warranted correction I rarely truly wanted the other person(s) to see Jesus clearly and have more joy in Him. My primary concern wasn’t for God’s glory. What I wanted was to win. For me. Even typing that out just now hurt quite a bit. It’s hard to admit and harder to keep away from the black hole of what-ifs. So let’s continue…

What woke me up? 1 Timothy 1. Paul greets Timothy as his true son, pointing him to the grace and mercy and peace God has given us. He then gives Timothy the job of staying in Ephesus to instruct certain people who are going off course in their doctrine to get back on track. So far so good for overzealous Emma. Go get ’em, Tim. Then, verse 5:

“Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”

Hmm. That does sound better than the goal of feeling intellectually and morally superior to somebody else. And if Paul is communicating this to Timothy so that he can share it with others, not everybody in Ephesus is doomed to be led astray by false teaching. The end goal of handling the problems in the Ephesian church was God’s glory and their good. We then read an explanation of the purpose of the law, including a list of sinful practices that Paul exposes as contrary to God’s glorious gospel. He then continues with this incredible paragraph:

“I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry — one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Paul 100% owns that he lived in opposition to God. He thanks God for showing him mercy and bringing him from ignorant godlessness into true belief in Christ! Just in case it might be missed, he puts it in bright lights:

This is trustworthy! Accept this fully! Christ Jesus came to save sinners!

God’s patience is extraordinary. And if He showed it to Paul, I’m confident He’s extended it to me. And I can live convinced that it reaches to those around me. The Spirit is changing my heart day by day to really want the believers around me to be free from sin and false thinking, completely certain that Jesus came to save them and to have joy to the full as they walk in God’s grace. He’s working in me to seek to share this good news with those who haven’t heard and/or don’t believe it as the best news, knowing that:

“…God our Savior…wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:3-4

So that’s it again: may we marvel nonstop that God reaches down and saves sinful people (there isn’t anybody else to save!) and that He is worthy of all glory and honor and praise forever. We’ll rehearse that again in the next post, Lord willing!

Be blessed,