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,

Emma

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,

Emma

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,

Emma

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,

Emma