Nehemiah 9-10 B

Chapter 9 is just the best, isn’t it? I love all the specific details mentioned of God’s provision. How God came down from heaven to his people in the wilderness (9:13), how he took such good care of them, their clothes didn’t even wear out in 40 years (9:21). I jotted down the summary line by line, and it really highlighted the pattern of God’s relationship with his people. His repeated compassion and the mercy he extends. His presence among them.

It’s Saturday, you have a minute, right? Pour another cup of coffee and pull out a notebook. Summarize your journey with God. Take note of the details. When did he come down and stay with you, leading the way like a pillar of fire? When did you rebel, turning to other gods? How did provide for you?

The more we familiarize ourselves with God’s abundant provision and presence in our lives, the better. Know your story with him and you’ll be eager to tell it. Practice seeing the hand of the Lord in your life and you won’t be able to miss it. Even when you’re wandering in the wilderness, he’s with you.

-Carly

Nehemiah 7-8 B

I love the feast of booths. It’s one of my favorite festivals to imagine (mostly because it’s not entirely fixated on slitting animal throats).

The Jews are re-identify themselves as His people, honoring His word. Then, they all camp and share food, nay, feast.

Celebrating is the best. Camping is the best. My favorite thing all year is when my Montavilla church family camps together for a week in July. We eat so much and our campsites blend into each other. It’s one big, communal, celebration. We reflect together about the year, the goodness of the LORD, we laugh, play games, cry together, talk, eat, talk, eat, talk.

For Israel this was following major change: Their beloved city rebuilt, debts forgiven, slaves set free, enemies deterred, God’s protection and provision apparent after decades of sorrow. Oh there was much to celebrate.

This festival takes place in the fall. This year it will be in mid-October. It coincides with the end of harvest, hence the abundance for feasting. Indeed, Israel was feeling filled up in this moment. The first time in a long time.

I always want to make sure that in moments of victory and abundance, I celebrate. What does that look like for you? How do you express thanksgiving in seasons of fullness? Isn’t it so cool that this is a mandated holiday from the LORD?

-Bethany

Nehemiah 5-6 B

“The former governors, in contrast, had laid heavy burdens on the people, demanding a daily ratio of food and wine, besides forty pieces of silver. Even their assistants took advantage of the people. But because I feared God, I did not act that way.” 5:15

Nehemiah’s not a perfect leader, but he’s a godly one. It’s easy to get swept up in the quick-moving stream of everyone else’s behavior. But because Nehemiah is so familiar with what God expects of him, he knows something’s wrong when he sees it. This is especially tempting to ignore when it comes to money. Nehemiah’s decision to live modestly and work harder starkly contrasts the former governors. Why does he do this? Because he fears God more than he loves money. 

How do you respond when you notice corruption within a system?

 

-Carly

Nehemiah 3-4 B

These chapters demonstrate some of the best teamwork examples ever. Everyone has a job in front of them, and next to them is a fellow man also working hard. They’re all linked. When things grow more complicated by encroaching enemies, they continue to work as a team.

“At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” (4:20‬)

This reminds me of something Camp Tadmor would make its staff do every summer during training. Knowing that when campers arrived, we’d all be in different roles, spinning different plates (ie. Counseling, emceeing, activity facilitating, cooking, chopping firewood, etc.) we would do one major team building project–as a whole, all 60-80 of us–to drive home the fact that we will still be one team all summer.

These tasks were massive. Usually it involved moving something outlandishly large. I hated them. It was usually an entire day of pain, sweat, frustration and sometimes allergies (thanks, June in Linn County: grass seed capital of the world).

Carly and I would link up at the beginning of the day to make our obligatory “if I die during this exercise make sure they know my dying wish is for camp to stop doing these” vow.

However much I hated them, it was always amazing to see what could be accomplished when 70-ish people worked feverishly together.

This moment in Israel’s history would have sucked to live through, but it also would have been amazing to witness. Everyone working together in United purpose, focused on their section, but rallying to each other in times of need. Very cool. Even more epic, because they were all working with one hand, the other employed to carry a weapon.

While we might not be in seasons of life that require a lot of obvious teamwork, we can all improve the situations around us by being a team player.

What can we be doing for Team Humanity? Bringing a meal to a friend in a tough time? Recycling or walking to work? Volunteering in the community? Educating yourself and opening up to see things from the perspective of a neighbor?

What can you do for Team Family? The dishes? Put down your phone to play a game?

Getting out of our own heads and looking to the interests of others is one of the healthiest things we can do, both individually and communally. Maybe that’s why the Bible is such a broken record about it.

What will it look like for you today?

-Bethany

Nehemiah 1-2 B

How to respond when God convicts you about something:

Join with him in mourning the brokenness. (1:4a)  Sometimes we shake our fist at God, trying to convince him how horrible a situation is down here. You only think it’s horrible because he thinks it’s horrible; we are made in his image and desire life to be the way he designed it to be. 

Pray. And pray more. Fast and keep praying. Wait. And pray. (1:4b) There are a million, billion burdens to take on in the world. A godly response is to invite God into it and ask him how to respond. When something grabs your heart, ask him why. Is this for me to take on? Am I suppose to get involved? How? (Prayer is ALWAYS the first step!) Fasting is an easy way to hear from God and strip down distractions and noise when you’re leaning in to him about something.

Be ready when it’s time to jump in. (2:1-3) Nehemiah was distracted at work, and unable to snap out of it. His heart was heavy, he feels burdened and can’t compartmentalize what God is drawing him towards. When something is relentlessly tapping on my shoulder, and I don’t feel peace by just praying, I know God’s calling me in.

Don’t be intimidated to take a stand. (2:6) I’m a little shocked by how Nehemiah speaks to the king! He’s an exile, working for the king, and having a personal conversation that ends in him asking to be excused from work for a while. If God is inviting you to be involved in something, he will move around the logistics for you. The money will come in, the people will show up, and the details will sort out.

Is there something you feel God convicting you about? Spend time praying today about what it looks like for you to get involved. Maybe it’s a commitment to prayer. Maybe it’s dropping everything and rolling up your sleeves to rebuild what got torn down. Ask him!

 

-Carly

Ezra 9-10 B

These mixed marriages really spun Ezra out. He was very upset and ready to weed it out. However, we know these marriages snowballed into who we know in the gospels as the Samaritans: the half-breeds.

While we would categorize Ezra’s rage about these marriages as a holy anger (rightly so, marrying into idol worshipping families had escalated into an exile they hadn’t yet recovered from), we also see Jesus first reveal himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan.

The new thing about Jesus (or perhaps, the new depths of God’s love revealed through Jesus), was that while Ezra needed to bar half-breeds and mixed marriages from temple worship and community inclusion, Jesus said He was looking for new worshippers.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’” (John‬ ‭4:21-24‬)

This relational rift between the Jews and the Samaritans had gotten uglier over the 400+ years. It’s human nature to continue tacking on reasons to dislike each other when a matter isn’t resolved. Jesus was bringing a new resolution to a very old matter. New life, and it spread like wildfire among the Samaritan’s.

Now I’m way off topic here (maybe), but my brain likes making connections and this was where it went today.

Are there any relationships in your life that started out as holy anger or reasonable distain, and have gotten away from you? How can you invite Jesus into that relationship to bring life and true resolution?

-Bethany

Ezra 7-8 B

“And there by the Ahava Canal, I gave orders for all of us to fast and humble ourselves before our God. We prayed that he would give us a safe journey and protect us, our children, and our goods as we traveled. For I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to accompany us and protect us from enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king, ‘Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him.’ So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.”  8:21-23

I find this part of the story really interesting (and relatable). He’s hesitant to reach out for help, because he doesn’t want to invite doubt of God’s capabilities. Did he over-promise what God can do? Did pride creep in? Would it be reasonable to need horsemen and soldiers?

Sometimes we make promises for God that he doesn’t want us to, and this can bring more doubt and misunderstanding to people instead of more interest in a relationship with him.  

He doesn’t:

-Promise us safety.

-Guarantee anything (happiness, health, marriage, children, success).

-Need you to embellish his greatness. He is perfectly great.

He does:

-Love us perfectly.

-Know our hearts and how to reach people.

-Always show up.

It’s tempting to want to convince people about God’s greatness. I remember in youth group settings, the speaker or pastor would always urgently exclaim that a life with Christ was a “free gift!” You don’t have to do anything! Just pray a quick prayer and wham bam! The concept is true; we cannot earn God’s love and it’s available to everyone, all the time. But Jesus is the first person to warn us that it’s costly. It will cost you everything to be with him, and he wants us to think that over before we climb onboard (Luke 14). I think their eagerness to convince middle schoolers that God is worthwhile had them sweetening the deal, when it doesn’t need to be sweetened.

This is a bit of a rabbit trail from the text, but it caught my eye and got me thinking.

Do you find yourself hiding unfavorable parts of God’s character and over-promising things? 

Or, has this happened to you? Do you have some past hurt where you felt misled about who God is? Either way, reconcile with him about it today.

 

-Carly