Tending to the Fire

One of my favourite things to do while camping is watching the burning fire. The sight of the flames dancing around, the smell and sound of the wood burning, and the comforting warmth all work together to help me slip into a mysteriously hypnotic state. Fires need tending, a constant supply of fuel to keep burning; without it, the fire slowly burns out leaving small burning embers or nothing more than a pile of ash in its place.

From the moment when Nehemiah first inspected the damage to the walls surrounding Jerusalem, to the time he returned to his position as cup bearer for the king (a span of 12 years) he had been tending “fires” of a different kind. Not only did Nehemiah light the fire of inspiration and drive of the people to commit to rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but he also re-kindled the fire and passion in the hearts of the people to fall back into a life that honored and glorified their Heavenly Father.  

Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the elements of a binding agreement or covenant the nation and its leaders made and committed to follow together. At that time the priests and Levites were responsible for the continued spiritual leadership of the city. In many ways they were responsible to tend the “spiritual fire” that brought the people back into a right relationship with God. As we continue to read on, Nehemiah outlines for us in chapter 13 several things that, after he left, began to stifle the desire (the fire) of the people to stay on track with a life devoted to following the laws and commands given to them. 

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to today, we can see some similarities to our own walk of faith in the Lord. 

Many of you can remember the time in your life when you first accepted the good news of the gospel and made Jesus a part of your life. There was an excitement, a fire that burned inside of you as a new believer; you devoted your life to following and serving the Lord, loving him, and loving others. God’s word (the bible) became your guide for life, you immersed yourself in it and you surrounded yourself with others who lived with that same fire in their soul. 

I have seen in others and experienced for myself this incredible feeling as the fire burned bright in life. I will be the first to admit that there are times when the fire does not burn as bright as it should. There have been times when the fuel for the fire seems in short supply, and we only see a few burning embers. 

Nehemiah saw a fire in need of tending among the people of Jerusalem and once again did his part to help re-kindle the flames of life with God among them. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and seek God’s mercy and grace in our lives; confess to him our weaknesses and He will begin a work in us to restore that burning fire in life. Keep the fire fueled through the reading of his word. When you do, you will hear his voice, his direction for your life. Surround yourself again with those who share in the warmth and comfort of knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. Consider these words of an old hymn that continue to inspire new life in Christ, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. 

Lending a Hand

Have you ever felt like you needed a third hand? There are times in life when having that third hand would be handy. One of my hobbies requires some soldering from time to time and to make life easier I have what is called a third hand jig (also known as a helping hand). This adjustable device holds wires in place while I work with the soldering iron. Without that third hand the task would be difficult. 

Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is about helping hands. In many ways this chapter reads like one of those extensive genealogies found in other parts of scriptures. If you’re anything like me, I tend to just browse right past these types of passages because let’s be honest, we feel like they don’t have much to offer, plus all those names are hard to pronounce. 

Following his inspection of the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah began to assign workers to repair areas near where they lived or worked. Chapter three holds the blueprint to the reconstruction process. Starting in verse 2 we see the beginning of two repeating phrases that becomes the mortar between the bricks of such a massive project. “Next to him” or “next to them” is repeated in one form another over 20 times. As I read these words, I noticed a theme that connects to the many aspects of living and working in community both in Nehemiah’s day and here and now. 

Much like the situation Nehemiah and the people of the city found themselves in, we as followers of Jesus are living amid a similar but different re-building process. As the church gathers again after a challenging time of physical separation, many of them are starting to re-build. With what seems like an ever-changing blueprint in the process, there is one constant that remains and that is the message and mission of the Gospel. 

“Next to him” or “next to them” reveals to us a picture of a community committed to a purpose. In context, Nehemiah was writing about rebuilding the wall (phase two of his plan) so that God’s glory would be able to shine. In our context, it is about coming together again and working next to one another so that others will continue to see the glory of God shine through his people. 

Many leaders today are calling on the church (you and I) to come together, next to one another, to serve and love one another. No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls around Jerusalem; the same stands for today as we work to rebuild. We must work together if we are to continue our God given mission. Our work is to glorify God, to love one another, to serve with the gifts we have been given and to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know the incredible love of God. 

So, how might you be a “third hand” in helping the church grow into a renewed passion and presence in your community? Who will you work “next to”? Not for your glory, but for the glory of our Father in heaven? In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us start rebuilding.”

A Journey in Time

I remember the moment with vivid clarity, it was early January 2016, I was awkwardly crammed into the back of a vibrantly decorated Jeepney with a mission’s team and several new Pilipino friends. One of our new friends was a local pastor with a propensity for telling jokes. While we were nervously weaving in and out of traffic, he shared this joke: “Who was the shortest man in the Bible?”. Not knowing the answer, he regaled us with this witty response, “Nehemiah” but with a twist… (Knee-High-Miah).  

I share this with you because every time I turn in my Bible to the book of Nehemiah this memory floods back into my mind. This past week I spent some time reading through Nehemiah’s words and one of the themes I have been considering is that of “time”. This remarkable story recounts Nehemiah’s incredible leadership and reliance on God in completing the re-construction of the wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days. Yet, there is another important segment of time that precedes the building of the wall that was critical to its success. 

Chapter 1:4 records these words, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” While it takes us less than two minutes to read these words and transition to the next events of Nehemiah’s story we must stop and understand that “For some days” was a span of time that was approximately four months long. Today, living in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, high achievement and quick solutions four months might feel like a lifetime. 

After receiving news about the trouble and disgrace of what was transpiring in Jerusalem three things occurred in the months following for Nehemiah. First, he mourned over the circumstances surrounding the lives of the people and the city that was their home. Second, he fasted and third, he prayed day and night before the God of heaven to help the people of Israel. 

Something I need to ask myself and one thing I can ask of you is this: In the light of a difficult situation or experience do I/you take the appropriate amount of time to mourn, fast and pray for God’s direction in moving forward?  While some difficult experiences in life may not require a lengthy period of time to navigate, others will. Who we are will often influence the length of time each of us needs to work through life’s challenges, the important part is how we start the journey. 

The book of Nehemiah is filled with examples of his dependance on God through prayer to accomplish the tasks that God called him to. The meaning of the name Nehemiah is “Yahweh comforts”. In times of mourning, in times of fasting, and in times of prayer, God is our comfort. He is our hope, and he is our guide in life. Paul, in Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”. My prayer is that no matter what life brings our way, easy or hard, positive or negative, that we are on the journey together with a God who loves us. 

Strength (integrity)

A quick online search for “strongest material on earth” results in a storm of websites listing Graphene as number one. Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon 200 times stronger than steel. One engineer said that It would take an elephant balancing on a pencil to break a sheet as thin as Saran wrap. Incredible when you think about it isn’t it? 

When I think about the strongest man in the Bible my first instinct is to think of the mighty Sampson. Called and gifted by God, Sampson displayed some miraculous feats of physical strength. Yet for me, another man jumps to my mind when it comes to a different picture of strength, and that is Job. Job’s integrity as a faithful servant of God withstood some of the most painful personal hardships that one man could ever face.  

Job 1:1 (NIV): “This man (Job) was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. The whole book deals with the realities of suffering and righteousness, something many christians continue to struggle with today. Verse one of chapter one describes Job as “blameless”, not necessarily sinless. Romans 3:8 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord.” Job’s integrity and devotion to God was tested through the unfathomable loss of his family; his good health was stripped from him and every material thing he had was taken away. In the midst of all these things Job utters these words, “he tests me — I shall come out like gold” (23:10)…“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. (42:5). 

We are given a picture of Job’s integrity in heart, soul and mind as we read his story. There is no doubt in my mind that Job struggled with sin in his life, he was human just like you and me.  His story tells us that his suffering was not because of any sin that he may have committed (despite what his “friends” try to tell him). Job’s integrity came out of his fear of God, it was an attitude of respect, obedience and upmost trust that guarded his integrity of heart from failure.

Job’s life, his experiences, should not drag us down, it should build us up with hope as we continue to live in a world filled with suffering and injustice. It has the power to encourage and inspire each of us in our own lives. This life of integrity lived by one man is and has been a model for many generations of believers. 

I Am the Shepherd

IMG_3205To fully know what something is we must also understand what that something is not. The antithesis (a person or thing that is the direct opposite of someone or something else) helps us hone or sharpen our understanding of the subject. John records many of Jesus’s “I am” statements in his Gospel. In order to grasp Jesus’s claim to be our “shepherd” we can understand what he means by looking at what a shepherd is not.  Ezekiel uses the metaphor of a shepherd in a way that helps us understand what role a shepherd is not. Here are some of the highlights.

  • They focus on their own gain, not the well-being of the flock. (34:1-3)
  • They ruled harshly and brutally. (34:4)
  • When the sheep were lost, no one searched or looked for them. (34:6)

There are many more examples in scripture that use this same metaphorical language of “shepherd” to describe who Jesus is. Isiah puts it beautifully with these words, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;” (40:11). Johns record of Jesus’s clear statement in chapter 10:11 says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The implications of what Jesus says with these words is beyond incredible. The role of the true shepherd in Ezekiel chapter 34 is described as fulfilled by God, Jesus makes the claim in John’s gospel that He (as God in flesh) is the one fulfilling this role.

Jesus came to care for his sheep and to lead them back into a relationship with His Father. His focus was not on himself but for the well-being of the people. He chose to seek out the lost, the broken and the hurting, to lead and guide them with love and compassion. Jesus willingly laid down his life for us as our shepherd, for the forgiveness of our sins. He came back to life and continues to lead and guide us through the work of the Holy Spirit, what an incredible gift. Who are you following? Are you trusting in Jesus as your shepherd? Have you experienced the life transforming power of the Holy Spirit in your life? Jesus, the Good Shepherd is calling out your name, he is your shepherd, take a moment to listen and follow his call.

That’s Handy

HandThat’s handy… Can I give you hand with something?… That’s a job for the handyman… They were welcomed into membership with the right hand of fellowship… She has the upper hand in this challenge… I could use an extra pair of hands to get this setup… There are a handful of expressions I could write to complete this paragraph, yet, I will leave it in your capable hands to come up with some of your own.

The book of Isaiah has a wealth of imagery that reveals who God is through the descriptive words and references to His hand. Here is a great example, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” (40:12). The deep hollow and incredible breadth of his hand reveal to us the immensity of God and his sovereign power over all creation. Chapter 5:25 reads, “His hand is raised and He strikes them down”. These words reveal his mighty power, his anger towards sin and mankind’s disobedience which ultimately leads to the actions of his divine justice. Chapter 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” These words so beautifully reveal the reassurances of the compassion and love that God has for his people. With his righteous right hand, with power and authority he will not let us fall.

There are many other examples I discovered in reading through these incredible words written by Isaiah. One of the most powerful and meaningful verses that made an impact on my understanding of who our God is can be found in chapter 8:11, here it talks about “his strong hand upon me”. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel make reference to these words which reveal to me that our God is a personal God, one who is present among us through the work of the Holy Spirit.  The hand of God leads and guides every life that he creates, helping us to navigate life in a world of sin and temptation. Whose hand are you holding on to in life? Grab a hold of God’s hand, it is reaching out for you today.

Move That Bus.

Bus“Bus driver, move that bus.” This was the moment everyone was eagerly waiting for as work crews put the finishing touches on the massive surprise home renovation project for a family in need. Huddled behind the bus, a family who had just returned from an all-expense paid vacation waited in anticipation for the grand reveal of their new home. As crowds gathered around the family, they all together would yell “bus driver, move that bus”, and ever so slowly the bus would drive forward and reveal the newly renovated home.

The book of Exodus is filled with many extra-ordinary examples of how God revealed himself to his people. Why move a bus when you can move a mountain? “The smoke billowed up from it (Mount Sinai) like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (19:18b). Can you imagine the feeling of power and the impact of that moment on the lives of the Israelite people? What about the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud that directed and protected the path of the people as God led them away from Pharaoh and his army in Egypt. God reveals himself as the provider of life by supplying the physical needs of nourishment through a daily portion of manna and quail and draws fresh water from a rock. We read about the supremacy and authority of God as revealed through the incredible events surrounding the parting of the Red Sea. The ten plagues are an important reminder of God’s promise of deliverance to the forefathers of Israel, each plague revealed the wonders and power of God that eventually brought Pharaoh to his knees just as he promised in chapter 3:20, “So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.”

God continues to reveal himself to us today through the bible, through the events and lives of those who came before us. God reveals himself to us through nature and his creation, through other believers, and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God revealed himself to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Is there a “bus” blocking the way for you to see God today? Just remember, God can move mountains, He can calm storms and He has the power to change lives. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mathew 7:7-8) What “bus” can you ask God to move today?

 

A Close Shave

straight-razors

When I was younger, I would go to Frank’s Barber shop to have my hair cut, there was an older gentleman there who was all about doing things “old school”. After you sat down he would pull out a long leather strap along with his unusually lengthy straight blade; with great care and a seemingly sinister look on his face, he would hone the edge so it was razor sharp. You never told him what kind of cut you wanted, and he never asked, you just sat as quiet and still as deer staring into the headlights of a car while he meticulously worked his blade around your head cutting and shaving until each and every last hair was touched.

The book of Ezekiel describes God’s judgement on Israel like that of a razor (chapter 5). Take a second to this about these words: annihilate, eradicate, obliterate, demolish and destroy. In the first thirty-three chapters the main theme or message is all about doom, the plight of the chosen people of God because of their disobedience to his law. Statements like “I will inflict punishment on you… I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again… I myself will shave you… I will not look on you with pity or spare you.” (5:8-12) The word shave used in the NIV is used to explain the idea of being cut off, removed or withdrawn. God, who is righteous and just in his actions, tells the people through Ezekiel that they will be cut off from His presence, he will withdraw from their lives just as they have withdrawn from life in him. God’s swift razor of judgment came through the finishing actions of the sharp sword, famine and plague.

In between the words of doom and destruction we are reminded of God’s promise to carry a remnant of people through the impending judgement on them. Thinking in terms of a close shave or well-defined hair in respect to the straight razor, I am reminded that the remnant of hair left on top of my head was also affected by the sharp cut of the blade; it had been cut off, damaged and left to grow again. God did not promise that the remnant, those who were scattered among the nations would not be affected by his judgement, I can only imagine what happened to them left visible and defining scars both in a physical and mental sense; a reminder that God’s promise of justice over the whole nation of His people were not just empty threats. “They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the Lord” (6:9-10a)

The Alarm is Sounding.

Alarm ClockI’m not sure I have met anyone who enjoys waking up to the sound of an alarm clock. If you are old enough to have had one of the “old school” bell ringing alarm clocks, you will recall that they have only one volume, and that is LOUD. Today most of us have digital alarm clocks on our bedside tables and alarms set on our digital devices to wake us up or remind us of an important task. No matter what you use the alarm for, it is a wakeup call, a reminder of something important.

The book of Revelation is much like an alarm clock, it is a “loud and dramatic” wakeup call, a reminder of the reality of how great and powerful our God is. It is a wakeup call to the church to hear, understand and respond to the truth and message of the gospel. God’s message through John to the seven churches is quite clear as you read through the first three chapters of Revelation. “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die… But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” John is revealing the words of Christ to us, the church, proclaiming a future judgement over all the earth. There is a profound sense of hopelessness and despair when we read John’s revelation the churches.

Where can we find hope in such a fallen world? Through Christ. In Christ. He who stands before us calling each and every one of us to him. There is a promise of victory in the future for those who open their hearts and lives to him. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:20) “Consider how far you have fallen, repent and do the things you did at first.” (2:5) The church, the believers then and now exist in a world filled with sin, hurt, pain and suffering. Christ is calling us back to a restored relationship with him. He made the ultimate sacrifice and provided a way for all of us to overcome sin and judgement when he returns. The book of Revelation brings us a picture of future blessings, given by a God who is just in all his ways, who is true to his word and a God who is the final judge in life and death. The alarm is ringing, wake-up, open the door and let God be by your side.

Talking to a Brick Wall.

michal-grosicki-221225You have probably heard the statement “in one ear and out the other”, this implies the person or people you are talking to are in the room and for whatever reason your words or message didn’t sink in. This might seem like an odd question but have you ever tried talking to a brick wall? Brick walls don’t listen. In fact, your voice, the words you speak will bounce back from the hard surface and come back at you like a “slap in the face”. Brick walls are not only hard to break down, it is even difficult to put a hole in one so you can reach the other side.

At times, I think Jeremiah felt like he was talking to a brick wall. The people God had called him to speak to had built up walls with their own “brick and mortar”, materials that were not up to God’s standards. The people chose to ignore the words that God spoke through Jeremiah, “they did not listen or pay attention” (17:23) “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words” (13:10). Jeremiah knew for the most part what he was up against from the time God called him into this role, 7:27 says, “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.” When we continue to read through Jeremiah we see the other half of the picture. Jeremiah was beaten (20:2), left for dead (38:6), called a liar (43:2) and again, threatened with death by the priests and prophets (26:11). Not only was the “brick wall” Jeremiah facing not listening it was “fighting” back, growing in strength and height as he pursued his calling to prophesy God’s impending judgment on the people if they did not repent and begin to follow Him.

Jeremiah had every reason to run the other way, to throw in the towel and let the people deal with God’s wrath on their own, but he had one very good reason to stay, and that was God. When we see God as our all-powerful (sovereign) Lord and King through Jeremiah’s story we get a glimpse of how God provided for all of Jeremiah’s needs. Knowing exactly what he needed and when he needed it and ultimately how much his mortal mind and body could handle, God walked alongside Jeremiah through all the trials that he faced. Jeremiah put his hope and trust in God to carry him through as he promised (1:8) Just as God worked through the life of Jeremiah to reach a lost and wandering nation of people He calls us to do the same. God created this world and all that is in it. As his people we are commanded to “go out into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”. (Mk 16:15) Breaking down brick walls and reaching into the  lives of the lost so that they may come to know God in all his power and glory should be our goal. It is our responsiblitiy to live in obedience to his will, it is what He desires.