Opposition – Nehemiah 4. RBT Notes, 2nd December

Opposition happens. It’s one of the very few certainties of the Christian life. If, that is, we’re really living the Christian life. A insipid religious hobby will get noone’s back up. But building a life for Jesus, and striving to build a ministry of teaching and sharing His Gospel, will get reaction. And not all of it will be pleasant.

Sanballat was a powerful local pagan. We’ve seen him disturbed at the news that help was on its way for Jerusalem (2.10), and then we hear his mockery (2.19). Now we see that he is “angry and greatly incensed” (4.1). He scorns their efforts, and tells them that the job is far too great for them (v.2). His friend Tobiah joins in, ridiculing their work so far (v.3).

What are your strategies when you’re mocked and threatened as a disciple of Christ?

1. You pray (vv.4-5). God knows, and He cares. Prayer helps you keep your perspective. And Nehemiah entrusts God’s enemies to His purposes.

2. You keep going (v.6). Give up, or even slow down, and you’ve lost. Seek grace, and work with all your heart.

3. Take precautions (v.9). Pray, and guard your work.

4. Don’t resent the difficulties, work with them (vv.10-13). Everyone was feeling the strain, and the workers were anxious and discouraged. Leaders need to listen to their people’s anxieties, and respond to them. Nehemiah does just that.

5. Encourage the workers (v.14). We can all forget that God is in charge when tough times come. We need to remind ourselves and one another – He is the Lord! (v.14). There is everything to fight for, given that He is in charge. And with that conviction and that work we can overcome all opposition (v.15).

 

The work’s not done in a day, though, or in a week. Constant effort, constant vigilance are needed, as well as plenty of plans for when opposition comes again (vv.16-23).

Sometimes when discipleship is costly, you have to ask yourself why you’re living as you do. Why the stress of building a wall in the face of this opposition? Because the Kingdom of God is in the balance. As we serve the Gospel, God is building His Kingdom.

Fight the good fight of faith, in the power of grace.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I’m more cowardly and weak in my faith than I’ve realised, yet. You’re also more powerful and loving than I’ve yet discovered. You alone can make me strong, and make me stand, as I live for You. Do it, Lord, for Your Glory. Amen.

 

 

 

Let’s Do This – Nehemiah 3. RBT Notes, 1st December

“The God of heaven will grant us success” (2.20). Brilliant! Bring out the sun loungers, crack open the bubbly, hang up the streamers. Success is on its way. It is. But success in God’s plans means toil. It means people coming together, praying, planning, swallowing their differences and working together in order to achieve something lasting for God. Success means the people of God dedicating themselves to God’s work to achieve something which only hard work and plentiful grace could ever achieve. No toil, no triumph.

Now is the time for work. The chapter is a flurry of activity. In all of the detail, notice these points:

Repair isn’t fun, but it is necessary. Most people like a new project, but very few like having to make an old project good again. That is their call, though. Rebuilding and repair are the key projects. So, a question: are we prepared to make a bad job good? Are we prepared to put in the work to make an old ministry effective again, or a decaying relationship a vibrant one again? That sort of work takes humility and perseverance. Have we got what it takes?

Some people will always be too important. The church has its “nobles”, those who are too important for hard work (v.5). The self-appointed important people never bow to anyone else’s instructions. Unteachability and a proud heart are a blight in the church. Those who stand on their rights never bow to the Saviour.

If you get grace, no job is too low for you. Malkijah’s name was mud – rather, it came to be associated with it . Malkijah rebuilt the Dung Gate (v.14). That’s a dubious honour, isn’t it? There probably wasn’t a queue of people contending for that job. But thereagain, there wasn’t a queue for the Cross, was there?

Enjoy this chapter. Learn from it. And get to work, with others. No job in the Kingdom is unimportant, and none is beneath you.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord of the Cross of shame, fill my cold heart again with love for You, my Saviour and my Master. Lord, that is my prayer. That I might be filled with love for the Lord who undertook everything necessary for my salvation. My I commit myself again in Your Spirit’s power to the work of Your heart, Your Kingdom. Make me a servant, Lord. Amen.

Attempt Great Things for God – Nehemiah 2 – RBT Notes, 30th November

Four months is a long time to live with an anxious, broken heart. Nehemiah has been seeking God for His forgiveness and mercy, and for His intervening power. He loves God’s people, loves God, and longs that God would move to restore His city, Jerusalem. Nehemiah offers himself for that purpose. This man, a close official, has been praying that God would “give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man” (1.11). Four months later, Nehemiah discovers that God’s “today” has come (2.1).

Nehemiah didn’t contrive to put on a sad face in the king’s presence, but Artaxerxes notices it, and asks about it (vv.1-2). We don’t know if Nehemiah’s words are premeditated, or just tumble out in an agony of heart. After his explanation, he has the opportunity he must surely have been praying for – and must have hardly dared request: leave to return and rebuild Jerusalem (vv.2-5). The other officials must have been stunned at the favour Nehemiah found. The king is intrigued, but gives his permission, and then agrees to share resources for the project after Nehemiah has the audacity to ask for them (vv.7-9).

How come Nehemiah finds such favour? Because he cared, prayed, and was courageous. Ultimately, because “the gracious hand of my God was upon me” (v.8). That is grace, and grace, though always utterly undeserved, is the gift enjoyed through believing prayer. After all, God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3.20). It’s not enough to know the theory – prayer is the asking and the receiving of that abundant and powerful grace. So do we?

But any work we attempt for God is the focus of Satan’s attacks. There will be opposition, difficulty, discouragement, disloyalty, upset, frustration and exhaustion. Doesn’t Jesus warn us to count the cost of serving Him? The first hint is in v.10. And Nehemiah knows how ambitious his plans are, and is careful at the moment to keep them to himself (v.11-12). He surveys the scale of the work ahead of him (vv.13-16), again, keeping his plans secret. Notice that he’s no Lone Ranger, and he’s looking for partners. So, once he knows what he’s calling others to commit to, he gathers the community leaders, and tells them three things: what needs doing, that God is good – and that they have work to do.

The work begins. There are the gathering clouds of opposition and discouragement (v.19), but the bright conviction of faith (v.20). With God all things are possible. Do you believe that? Do you believe that God’s work is the best work to do, and that His servants will be filled with His Spirit for it? Then what are we waiting for? Let’s offer ourselves to His work.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You are worthy of all risk, effort, sacrifice and danger. I know that, but I don’t know that. I’m always so tempted to run back to the safe and the familiar. Forgive me my cowardly and unbelieving heart. Thankyou for Your brave Son, who was faithful to the end, paying for my sins and showing me the way of brave Gospel service. I go in His Name, in His power. Amen.

Just Care – Nehemiah 1. RBT Notes, 29th November

Grace makes you care. Gone are the days when you would have shrugged off other peoples’ struggles as their own problems, and nothing for you to worry about. Grace is the involvement of a compassionate God in your life. That grace forges compassion in you for others. Their needs are your concern.

Nehemiah knew that judgment fell on his people through the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. He knew that they had received what they deserved from a holy God. He finds himself far away, in the comforts of the Persian palace, the new superpower who had conquered Babylon. When news comes from his homeland – and it’s bad news – Nehemiah doesn’t sigh and settle back into his cozy life: he sits down and weeps (vv.1-4).

There is a place for tears in the Christian life. Sometimes the Lord wants to see them far more than He wants to hear our words. If we don’t care, what value do our prayers have? And what meaning, anyway?

Nehemiah is broken by the news that his countrymen are in distress.  These are people he has never met, hundreds of miles away, but he loves them deeply. He fasts, prays and pleads with God for them. He feels their sins and his own, and begs for God’s mercy (vv.5-7). As he reflects on their wickedness, for Nehemiah it’s as if these sins have just been committed.

He knows that God has been just. He knows, too, that God has plans. In fact, he knows that God has plans for His city of Jerusalem. He knows that its welfare is crucial for the very Kingdom of God (v.9). Without Jerusalem there can be no future for the Kingdom.

And so, Nehemiah prays. What does he pray for? Success (v.11). What sort? We don’t yet know. We do know, though, that his plan is shaped by his compassion. Compassion cares. Compassion weeps, prays, steps forwards, wants to get involved, embraces risk.

So, the challenge of this chapter? Care. Care about God’s people, His purposes. Care about your sins. Do not harden your heart against tears, confession or service. Care. And do it.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You have my heart. But so often I want to snatch it back, to hide it, and harden it. Lord, teach me to care, make me care. Teach me how in Your Son You are so compassionate towards me. And lead me in ways which astonish me, to be a caring, broken-hearted and loving disciple. Amen.

In the End – Micah 7. RBT Notes, 28th November

The end has come. Micah sees God’s judgment fall on His disobedient people, as they are given over to their sin. Micah feels like a man expecting harvest, only to find the leftovers noone wants (v.1). His society is wasted – violent, vicious, corrupt, godless, perverted (vv.2-6). God has given them over to what their hearts lust for. This is His judgment, then as well as now.

This is our society. For His people, complaining achieves nothing. Capitulating to its values brings God’s displeasure. We are called to the daily discipline of going back to God in Christ, seeking Him, trusting Him, going deeper into His Word, and resting in His power: “I watch in hope for the Lord” (v.7). Then, rather than complaining about our world – and possibly not really actually caring about it – we start to feel deeply for our lost world, to pray for it, and to long to bring the Gospel of grace to it: “my God will hear me” (v.7).

With that prayerful attitude comes a strength of conviction. We depend on Him as never before. Yes, we become more aware of our own sins (vv.8-9), we also become more and more aware of the the awesome power of God, both to come in forgiveness and restoration, and in final judgment (v.10). Living with God is not easy, and sometimes far from comfortable: but living with Him is living in reality. And only a fool wants to live in his own pretend world.

For those who come to the Cross, and live close to it, there is a world of mercy to enjoy. Evil will be judged and grace will overflow to those who confess their sins (vv.11-13). Grace will triumph, as the Spirit will draw men and women to the exalted Saviour, Jesus Christ (vv.14-17). Just marvel at the scope of this anticipated grace, which makes pagans into believers, and snakes into servants (vv.16-17).

And finally, revel in the glorious declaration of all that God is in Jesus Christ, in vv.18-20: He is forgiving, and so merciful and compassionate. He is the triumphant destroyer of all of our sins. His love and promises are utterly faithful.  His Kingdom shall never end. His is the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, mighty Lord, majestic Saviour, loving Shepherd of Your sheep, thankyou for this vision of Your immense power, and Your transforming love. Lord, I confess that I need Your transformation. Teach me to love You, to feel my need of Your grace moment by moment. As as I tremble before all that You are, empower me to take Your Gospel word to those who need to discover Your compassion in Your Son. Amen.

Hard hearts – and broken ones – Micah 6. RBT Notes, 25th November

“What have I done to you?” (v.3).

Do you have a problem with God? Has He failed you? Has His grace not been enough? Are His commands a burden? Is your redemption tedious? Is heaven a drag?

Israel was bored of God. And God knows it. He is bringing heaven and earth as His witnesses, that for all He has done for His people, they just can’t rouse themselves to get excited about God, and certainly can’t manage to obey Him (vv.1-2). Just look ahead to verses 9-16. Sin and warning are presented to this lazy people. The Spirit of God brings the same warnings to us. I wonder, are we guilty of just the same sins? Are we slouching our way through life, hard-hearted towards others, cold-hearted towards God, and excited only for our own pleasures? We have been warned.

Beware of how your heart murmurs. Your sighs and complaints say everything about your real spiritual condition. Take some time today: write a list of the things you’ve heard yourself complaining about recently. Then write a list of reasons why you have no mandate to complain – ever. You are a child of God in Christ. He has won you at a great price. You belong to Him, heart, mind and body. Complaining hearts are cold hearts, and need the fire of Gospel grace again.

The heart that knows this, that it belongs to grace, lives in awe. We know that we can bring God nothing, we can earn no favour, we can never out-sacrifice Him, make Him our debtor, or feel that anything we do merits His love. He is the Lord, holy, majestic, awesome. We come, and we worship. Simply that. And then we rise off our faces to go and do His revealed will, in the power of the Spirit, to the praise of the Son: “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (v.8).

 

A Prayer to Pray

Oh Lord my God. You are truth, life, righteousness, love and peace. And You give all that You are to me through Your Son. Forgive me granite heart, and break it open in praise and humble thankfulness once more. Teach me to love You, to serve others, to be humble, to delight, really delight, in Your grace. For You are delightful. Amen.