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”. 

The Beginning of a New Start

Have you ever worked through a home improvement project? At the beginning of most renovation projects there is a feeling of excitement and energy, there are hopes and dreams about what the outcome will be. Along the way there are many steps to bring those dreams alive. From demolition to decorating and everything in between each step of the job takes hard work and commitment to reach the end.

As I continue to read through the book of Nehemiah, the account of the wall being rebuilt comes to an end. I am sure that when the last brick was cemented into place and the final gate was hung by its hinges, Nehemiah drew a deep breath of relief to know that the wall around Jerusalem was finally restored. Step one was complete. With the wall finished, Nehemiah begins to focus on his next step, the restoration of the inhabitants of the city.

When you read through chapter 8 of Nehemiah the next stage of his plan is laid out for us. His goal in this phase is to help restore the people of the city back into a right relationship with God through the reading and understanding of the Law as given to them in scripture. It was time to focus on the spiritual needs of the city. Verse 8 of chapter 8 says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” 

The beginning of a new start for the people in the city was a reminder of who God is, what he has done for them and how his love for them has not changed over time. The message of what was being read was a reminder for the people to live in obedience to God’s will. 

In my last blog entry, I briefly talked about how we might “lend a hand” in the process of re-building the church after our time of physical separation. All through the pandemic things have constantly been changing for all of us. One of the incredible truths about scripture and its message for us is that it is unchanging. God’s word is and always will be the solid foundation on which our faith is built. 

The people of the city were gathered to hear God speak through these words, they were willing to stand and listen as scripture describes, attentively, from daybreak to noon every day for a week! When was the last time you had a thirst for hearing the word of God read out like this? 

Nehemiah fortified the walls of the city and provided a safe place for the people to gather and hear the words of God spoken and explained. Each day holds the potential beginning of a new start in life and faith as we seek to hear God’s voice for our lives. The words that Ezra read then were persevered for us and continue to inspire many people today as they read God’s word. 

It is my hope and prayer that as we gather again that the center of all we do is found in the words of scripture. From Genesis to Revelation and everything in between God’s Word is the best place to begin a new start. Where will you start today? What is your next step in life and faith? 

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.