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The daunting task of rebuilding the wall was ostensibly before the Israelites. The audacious opposition from neighboring enemies prevailed against the Israelites. God’s people, the ones called for His Name’s sake, faced an endeavor larger than their abilities, harder than their strength, more hopeless than their possibilities, more relentless than their energy, and more despairing than their will.

Does this new year find you with a new battle, or maybe one that has been tormenting you at your heels for months or years? Can you identify with the Israelites? Does it seem as if you do not have the capabilities, resources, help, willpower, guts, or right perspective to overcome? Does your courage seem lost in the rubble and destruction of your past?

HELP IS ON THE WAY!

Nehemiah (a Jew), while still in Babylon, heard of his people trying to survive in the aftermath of a burned down, broken down city: “‘[survivors]are in great trouble and disgrace'” (Nehemiah 1:3). With a broken and heavy heart, Nehemiah requested the king’s permission to help his own people through the dark time. The pagan king miraculously granted Nehemiah permission to leave his position of cupbearer and return temporarily to his hometown. King Artaxerxes not only let Nehemiah go, but sent him out in the most elite style! This is one of my favorite parts of the story! Just so we get the picture and profoundness and punch and phenomenal of this unprecedented moment, the following are different translations for Nehemiah 2:9:

“Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.” ESV
“The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.” NIV
“The king even sent along a cavalry escort.” The Message
“Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.” NASB
“Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.” KJV

Truly surreal. We hear the word “surreal” thrown around in the media especially during interviews where the interviewee just won a game, match, reality contest, or when something out of the ordinary occurs. It is a moment in time when what just happened or is happening seems unreal or dreamlike. For me, the time that captured the meaning of the word “surreal” was at my oldest daughter’s wedding. She was engaged to the man God ordained for her, and we were blessed beyond measure for the two of them to spend the rest of their lives together. We had planned every detail of the wedding months ahead of time, but when all the guests arrived and lavished the outdoor venue with their attention onto my daughter, the radiant bride, I felt as if I were in a dream. The reality or acceptance that we had the wedding of my firstborn literally took a year for me to comprehend. Makes me wonder what Nehemiah must have felt as he was traveling with the king’s cavalry as his escort, riding in pomp and splendor with the king’s stamp of authority! He brought with him the best the world could offer to the men, women, and families who fiercely needed a rescuer – someone who could see beyond their mess and do something about it. Just a few short months before his royal ride, he was at home in Babylon weeping, fasting, and begging God on behalf of his relatives. He prayed, “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant…” (Neh. 1: 6). When the time was right for Nehemiah to inquire of the king about leaving and helping the remnant of Jews, he was just hoping to live through it! Now he sits atop the back of one of the king’s horses with the king’s military men surrounding him! God heard and answered Nehemiah’s humble prayers in only the way He can do. Reminds me of Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Sounds like a surreal experience to me! Don’t give up praying! Keep seeking God for yourself or for a loved one or friend. God hears your prayers and is “delighted” in you (Psalm 18:19).

So…without announcing in a grand way his arrival, Nehemiah instead quietly investigates Jerusalem, specifically the destruction of the wall which was in utter ruin and useless to protect. Then, he gathers a group of men and explains why he is there and how “the good hand of [his] God was upon [him]” (Neh. 2:8). It wasn’t about him. It never was. Nehemiah didn’t risk his life for anyone’s sake except the Lord’s. He gave glory to his God and proclaimed what God had done through the king. He had worldly authority and could have taken advantage of his luxuries, but he chose to represent his heavenly Authority and glorify the King of kings.

One by one the men worked under the leadership of Nehemiah to repair and rebuild the protecting wall around Jerusalem. They were working as fast as they could, and at the same time standing guard from the onslaughts and mockery of the nearby neighbors. The Jews hadn’t worked this hard or come together as one in a long time. This was a turning point for everyone. They had a bold leader, determination in their hearts, and able bodies to accomplish what would be a defining task that would mark the Israelites as once again a separate nation. The enemy then dug deep in his bag of tricks to do anything in his little power to emotionally defeat God’s people from prospering. Called them names. Mocked their obedience. Ridiculed their efforts. Belittled their supplies. Accused their abilities. Plotted against them. It almost worked. It almost worked. Satan’s name calling against you, Satan’s mockery, ridicule, belittling, accusations, and plotting are nothing but a bunch of lies. His work is meant to destroy you and keep you from fulfilling God’s purpose and plan for your very life and life of your family. Pray mighty warrior, pray! Enlist other close warriors to pray on your behalf. This is war.

This is the moment Nehemiah gave the pep talk of a lifetime. As the Israelites were at the point of giving up, not having the last bit of strength to keep going, Nehemiah gathered the men together and charged them with these words: “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (NLT).

Don’t be afraid!

Remember the Lord!

And fight!

Nehemiah’s testimony: “So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out” (Neh. 4:21).

May this too be your testimony, my testimony. That we will continue to do “good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do,” (Eph. 2 10) and that we will “hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:16) knowing that God “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8).

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12(NIV)

When you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. When the day seems as dark as the night. When you haven’t heard the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit in far too many days. When hope seems lost. When the answers don’t come. When the waters around you seem to engulf you.

“But God remembered Noah…” (Genesis 8:1).

Is the reader to infer that Noah had been forgotten by God? Maybe Noah and his family felt forgotten. Do you feel forgotten? Does your “new normal” seem unbearable? Are you sick and tired of suffering? Is there no relief? Is the same ‘ole same ‘ole depressing? Do you wander how much longer you are capable of continuing?

The real live story of Noah and his family, as told in Genesis 6-9, encourages me. Can you even imagine how ready Noah and his family were to get out of the ark? Talk about cabin fever! This ark by theologians has been described as being tomb-like, as well as like a prison. It was a dark place with no sunlight to warm their souls. We recall that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, but did you realize they were in the ark for more than a year? After it poured from the sky for more than a month, they were not able to leave the ark until the waters receded and the ground dried up. Noah had been warned by God that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights. But, did he expect to be in the ark for more than a year? Did he know to forewarn his family of the length of their stay in the boat? Did they trust Noah like God trusted Noah?

I wonder if Noah’s wife whispered ridicule in her husband’s ear, or if she yelled in front of the whole family her doubts about Noah’s faith? Did she criticize her husband and say God has left them to die? That God doesn’t really care. Did the wives of Noah’s sons question their father-in-law mocking the ark as being one of the largest coffins ever made? They all must have been so ready to get back to a normal life – to wash and bathe in private, to eat from the ground, to cook without holding on to everything. Ready to get a good nights rest on a bed that didn’t sway. Ready to feel the sunlight on their faces. How restless they all must have felt as they cautiously established a new normal on the ark. As days went on and on and so much rain – so much tossing and turning – and so many questions unanswered. When will they be released? Has God forgotten? How and where will they live after the flood? Will there be food? Would the sun shine again?

We, too, may feel forgotten by God. Noah knew about the timeframe of the rain; we don’t normally get the exact about of days a trial or tribulation may last. Our tribulation may have been forewarned by a doctor’s prognosis. It may also though have come completely out of the blue catching us in the most unexpected moment of our lives. We count the days. It’s been 3 days, then a week, then a month, then before we know it, its been hammering us for almost a year. Why doesn’t He do something for me? Where is He? Why can’t He just answer this one prayer of mine? How much longer do I have to wait? Does He even hear me? Maybe I should just take matters into my own hands.

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). Amid all the corruption on the earth, Noah had intimacy with God. Even though everywhere he turned wickedness prevailed, Noah walked with God. He sought the Lord, he heard from the Lord, he had a relationship with his Creator. Noah fellowshipped with His heavenly Father. He didn’t have a church family, accountability group, Christian radio, or Bible studies. He didn’t have access to Christian conferences, podcasts, retreats, devotionals, magazines, or books. And yet, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). Don’t you love and admire that about Noah? God distinctly gave Noah instructions and he followed them unwaveringly. It took Noah 100 years to build the ark. I have no words to express a man like that’s patience, perseverance, faith, hope, and stability. Astounds me!

I think Noah lived like he wasn’t forgotten!

Oh, I am sure he wanted to escape the ark just as anyone would! He must have been craving for fresh air and open skies. He may have even felt sorry for the animals as they had no place to run free. But, he knew God had told him to build the ark. Then, God did just as He had said He would; God brought the rain and preserved he and his family from death. God had been faithful and would continue to be faithful. This is what it means to have hope.

Paul encourages Christians in their tribulations: “And we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us” (Romans 5:2b-5, NIV). The word “perseverance” is translated as “patience” in the KJV. The word in the Greek means to be “cheerful or hopeful.” It also means to endure and to wait. So, this word perseverance/patience basically means to not give up, to have hope, to keep on keeping on. In our suffering we stay hopeful because it builds our character, and then what is most interesting, is that the end result is where we find hope fulfilled. We begin in our sufferings with the mindset of having hope, knowing at one point, our hope will be experienced; what we expected will happen. We have confidence that God will come through for us!

I can’t help but think of a different mindset. During trials, tribulations, sufferings, we want to do the opposite. We want to give up. We begin to believe our situation is hopeless. We begin to listen to the critics who mock our faith. We doubt God. Some may even completely walk away from God and say He didn’t come through. That they gave this Christianity, this “God” a chance, but was abandoned by the One who said He would never leave us. Now being mad at God is all the relationship has come to. We live with a sick heart.

Did you know that one reason we as Christians have the Bible stories written down for us was to help us to keep the faith? “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Noah is one of so many in the Bible who teaches us to hope. I also recall Joseph who was sold into slavery, Jonah and the whale, Abraham and Sarah, and the list could go on and on. They teach us that just because we don’t feel like God is working or it seems we can’t see Him, doesn’t mean He isn’t doing anything. “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you and the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, or the moon by night” (Psalm 121:4-5).

“But God remembered Noah and al the wild animals and all the livestock that were with him in the ark…(Gen. 8:1). No, we are not to infer that God forgot Noah. The Hebrew word for “remembered” means “to mark (so as to be recognized), to mention.” It simply means at this point God is choosing to act on behalf of Noah and his family and the animals. I love the part of the definition “to mark.” Makes me think of marking time, kind of like we do with calendars. We mark our calendars for upcoming events, or we mark our calendars for something that happened that may not have been planned so that we will always remember the exact day.

One of my new favorite things about this account of Noah is that Noah patiently waited for God to tell him they could leave the ark. “Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark…'” (Gen. 8:15). Noah had sent a raven out of the window, then a dove 3 separate times in 3 weeks time. Noah was anxious to get off the ark! He knew it couldn’t be forced. Same for us. No use trying to force anything. Let’s use our time to enjoy God, to enjoy the life He has given and has planned. Trust that He sees us. He remembers you. Don’t be in a hurry to move toward the next thing. Be patient. God is working and has a plan. Even when frustration sets in and the thought of continuing is overwhelming, rest in God’s love and care and providence for you. Call upon Him to give you the strength and courage needed. Continue to wait with expectation.

“So Noah came out…then Noah built an altar to the LORD…” (Gen. 8: 18, 20).

Hope fulfilled! The rains stopped. The wind died down. The ark rested. The waters receded. The dove brought back an olive branch. The dove found a resting place. The Lord called he and his family out. They are saved. They are alive. They are free.

It wasn’t just a kissing the ground kind of moment and moving on with the rest of his life. This was the type of moment where it seems the heavens opened up, the type when you know God has outdone Himself. The kind of moment that out of sheer compulsion you are brought to your knees in awe of your Savior and Deliverer. Not to kiss the ground but to look up and give glory to the One who is faithful! You clap your hands when there is no music. You shout “hallelujah” at the top of your voice not caring who hears. You raise your arms in total surrender acknowledging you are not God and never will be. The moment you know in your heart you will never be the same.

“Then God blessed Noah…” (Gen. 9:1).

A blessing is coming. Believe it! Don’t forfeit what God has in store for you because of a lack of trust in God (Jonah 2:8).

I leave you with a prayer from Paul to the church in Rome.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

HOPE

I watched a new classic, a “must see” dramatic movie last night in the comfort of my own home. The movie was Gladiator. Although it is based on historic events, it is not a non-fiction movie or even based on a true story. And yet, the fictitious character, Maximus, an ordinary, normal person, not one born of noble birth, was moved and infused with power to act on behalf of loyalty to the king and country, truth, honor, and of good conscience. If you have seen the movie you know how dramatic and life-like the swords are used in battle as well as in the entertainment arena of the coliseum. The swords within the hands of the warriors and conquerors sliced through victims as if the people were made from paper. The swords penetrated with the initial cut with no mercy. I have no idea how a movie like that could be made without really hurting anyone! Unbelievable. The sword in the hands of someone with a mission, someone with honor, someone with authority, someone with righteousness on his side knew only victory. If we only had a glimpse of the power of the Word of God unleashed before us! We, my friends, would be unstoppable!

The Word of God is not just a historical account. The Word of God is not just a textbook like in a school classroom where one opens the textbook to read of historic events and literary analysis of people and places who are now dead. Yes, those accounts matter and have effected us today and will continue to have an effect for future generations. The Word of God, the Bible, is not just a historical account; it is not just history. The author is not dead! Yes, the one who moved the pen may be dead, but the One who’s heart moved the pen is not dead. He is alive! His words are alive. His Word, His truth, is meant to change us. We are not to read His Word just intellectually. It isn’t just a lesson meant for moral reasons. The Word of God should resonate with His Spirit living inside of us moving us to repentance. Having been in the Word and receiving His Spirit, we exemplify our repentance with courage through the gifts of His Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22).

When you go to church, when I go to church, when you open your Bible in the quietness of your home, when I open my Bible in the quietness of my home, know and hear and feel and see the power of God through His fresh words revealed to you! Don’t just stop there – be moved. Moved to give the hungry something to eat, moved to give the thirsty something to drink, moved to invite in a stranger, moved to clothe the naked, moved to look after the sick, moved to visit prisoners (taken from Matthew 25:33-36).

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12(ESV).

One of my sweet friends spent the past two years in an overseas country serving God by serving others. After graduating from college, she accepted the call to serve. Not only did she leave the country, she left family, friends, new start on career, and all the comforts of home.  Some wanted to know if it was worth it. What she posted was absolutely brilliant. Her reply was nothing less than from the spirit of our living God. I asked her permission to share it with you on my blog. I pray it gives you the courage to do something you thought you could never do, or speak something you thought you could never say, or feel something you thought you could never feel, or believe something you never thought you could believe. This is her reply:   Was it Worth it

Jennifer Johnson

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"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." -Revelations 1:5b-6

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