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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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I purchase a red geranium every spring in memory of my Granny, Frances David. She would buy several pots of red geraniums every spring, set them out on the back and front porch and water them faithfully. She was so proud of her geraniums; I can still hear her beckon for my approval of their beauty. She tended to the geraniums so meticulously – wish mine would be as pretty as hers. Recently God actually spoke to my heart through my red geranium on my back porch. It was a day of soaking in some needed back porch rest from what had been a very busy season for me physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. The geranium was fairly new; I was hoping my “not so much” green thumb would give me success with this geranium. That day as I basked in the spring rain, I saw the tiniest bloom, literally just a speck of red! I marveled at the whole planting process – the seed in the dirt to the expectation of a full bloom. It hit me that even the tiny speck of red at that moment didn’t even know its own potential. The patience, the process of maturing, the sun, the water, the soil, the nutrients – all work together so that at just the right moment – the glorious beauty is revealed to be marveled at and given praise to the One and Only God who is King of kings. What mystery, what surprise! I felt in my spirit God was wanting me to know that patience and pouring myself into prayer and allowing Him to work was my job especially during this season of my life. Sometimes my job was to “Be still” as God instructs in Psalm 46:10. He desired for me to be still in my soul, to not be anxious, to not be fearful, to not be the scared to death uneasiness that I cannot even sleep.

At this time, my heart goes out to those suffering from hurricane Harvey as well as those in Florida experiencing the turbulent hurricane Irma at this exact moment. What is there to say to console those going through such mess and loss and hurt and anxiety and fear?

Those moments when we at anticipating hope fulfilled, when we are supposed to let something run its course naturally, but we want to interfere. Those moments when things are working out in its own time, but we think we can’t wait anymore. Those moments when we honestly don’t want to be still, we want the whole world to know our mind, our situation, or circumstance. I think that is what God says and means when He tells us to “Be still and know that He is God…”. Trust that He is working, He is creating, He is orchestrating, He is intervening even when we can’t see it. The glimpses we do see of the red blossom slowly showing itself from the bud, know that there is more to come in God’s perfect timing. He is an on-time God. He knows your need before you even speak it (Ps. 139:1-6). He leads us to quiet waters (Ps. 23:2). He is patient with us (2 Peter 3:9). He never sleeps nor slumbers (Ps. 121:4).

The familiar verse “Be still, and know that I am God..” (Ps. 46:10), is not to read in a gentle, monotone voice as if it were being whispered. No, actually it is a giant, loud, authoritative command! Listen for the words in its context of Psalm 46: “refuge”, “trouble”, “help”, “fear”, “earth give way”, “mountain fall into the heart of the sea”, “waters roar and foam”,”mountains quake with their surging”, “nations are in an uproar”, “kingdoms fall”, “fortress”, “desolations”, “wars”, “bow”, “spear”, “burns”, “shields”, “fire”. When life if turbulent and scary and lonely and out of control, God ushers in the holiest “Be quiet!”

The famous prophet Samuel uses the exact same Hebrew word “raphah” when he tells King Saul to “Stop!” (1 Samuel 15:16). Saul is caught in disobedience to God by not annihilating all of the enemy’s people, possessions, cattle, and plunder. Saul took some of the best for himself. Samuel approaches him after a very unrestful night and asks in a sarcastic but can’t believe it, like he can’t believe what his ears are actually hearing, authoritative, parental tone: “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:14). Saul then tries to justify himself by saying that the soldiers brought these animals to sacrifice to the “LORD your God”…and “we totally destroyed the rest” (vs. 16). Samuel, amidst all of Saul’s rationalizations and lies, raises his voice (there is an exclamation point after his word) and commands “Stop!” In other words, stop talking! Stop lying to me and to yourself! Stop justifying yourself! Stop being self-righteous! Stop all this nonsense talk! Too much noise going on – the sheep are bleating, the cattle are lowing, your mouth disgusts me – just stop would you??
This same word “Stop!” is the same Hebrew word the psalmist states God says: “Be still”, “raphah”.

We can make this same kind of noise whether aloud or in our own thoughts. Maybe the doctor has given us a severe diagnosis and all we can replay in our minds is the bad news we heard from him and the nurse, and then the “what if” scenarios start rolling through our mind and heart. Maybe you or your spouse loses a job and the voices in your head tell you that you will lose everything, children will go without shoes, bills won’t get paid, house will be taken, reputation will be lost, and so on. Maybe it could even be a good thing like getting pregnant and yet all the voices in your head tell you that you will be terrible parent, that you won’t be able to love the baby, and that you aren’t worthy to have a child. “Fear usually comes and goes, leaving us in flight, ready to fight, or just temporarily frightened. But anxiety hangs in there. It grips the mind, paralyzing it for all but its own purposes – an endless rehearsing of the same useless thoughts. It is the fuel that propels us into controlling behaviors of all sorts. We can think of nothing but keeping a lid on things controlling the problem, and making it go away; it is the stuff codependency is made of” (Codependent No More, Beattie, 58). Stop! Stop it already! Enough! Be still!

During a life-threatening, turbulent time for the Israelites, God gives words through Moses to His people who have escaped the Egyptians only to find them on their heels with murder weapons: “The LORD shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14 KJV, italics mine). Another time, when the Israelites who had come home from the 70 years of captivity had found themselves in a very emotional time, was commanded by the Levites: “Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved” (Nehemiah 8:11, KJV, italics mine). This awesome phrase “hold your peace” in Hebrew means “to be quiet, rest, keep silent, be still, hold tongue, speak not a word, worker”. Love the last definition “worker”! You are doing something when you are holding your peace by holding your tongue!
A New Testament moment when “hold your peace” is seen is in Mark 4:39 when Jesus “got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” The word “Quiet” is the word for “hold your peace”.

When anxious thoughts disturbingly rise up within your heart and mind, don’t give in to the lies. Don’t let you mind wander to the “what if” scenarios. Max Lucado in his book Fearless writes, “Destructive anxiety subtracts God from the future, faces uncertainties with no faith, tallies up the challenges of the day without entering God into the equation” (Lucado 46).

For those of you in the midst of a real live hurricane, or those who are in the midst of a personal turbulent time:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress
.
Psalm 46

Are you in need of peace? Are you in need of hope? Are you in need of healing? Are you in need of purpose? Are you in need of protection? Are you in need of answers?

Have you been searching for help? Have you been searching for someone who cares? Have you been searching for relief? Have you been searching for significance?

Have you struggled with guilt? Have you struggled with shame? Have you struggled with addictions? Have you struggled with insecurity? Have you struggled with depression?

Where is one to go to get help, find answers, be safe, or live a life with purpose? Where can one go to be healed, to be cared for, or to feel important? Where can one go to be free? Where can one go to release burdens and baggage? Where can one go to know hope?

The world we live in today offers so many answers does it not?? Try this, do that, use this, go here, go there, search inside, think big, take this, join here, create happiness, be you, play this, embrace that, give this, give that, improve this, develop that, serve here, serve there, vote for him, vote for her, read this, read that… oh for goodness sake, the list is never ending!
One major problem to what the world offers is that it is just so convincing! How could we not try “it”?! “It” comes with a guarantee and with high ratings. “It” obviously worked for someone else, so “it” must be able to work for me, right??

The truth is – nothing the world has to offer could ever satisfy the deepest longings of the heart and soul. “It” may work temporarily, but never lasting.

“I’m convinced that human beings instinctively seek two things. We long for meaning, a sense that our life somehow matters to the world around us. And we long for community, a sense of being loved” (Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace, 32).

I need you to know that THERE IS A PLACE you can find peace, hope, healing, purpose, protection, answers, help, care, relief, significance, freedom, mercy, grace, freedom, love, and so much more!

All of these things and more can be found in Jesus Christ. He is the place you can run to! He is the place you can cry out for! He is the place you can search for! He is the place to find life!

In John 14 Jesus spoke to His disciples and told them to not let their hearts be troubled and to trust in God and in Himself. He also advised them that He was about to leave and prepare a place for them where He will be. Then He added: “You know the way to the place where I am going” (italics mine). Thomas replied honestly, seeking answers, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (verse 5)? Just like Thomas, we, too, doubt the easiness of knowing God. We, too, doubt the simplicity of finding Him. We, too, doubt what we have already been taught. We, too, doubt what is directly in front of us.

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
It is Him! It is Jesus Himself! He is near. He can hear your prayer. He can answer your prayer. He is with you!

Never forget what Paul wrote to remind the church in Philippi, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
In Christ Jesus all your needs will be met! Halleluiah!

I’m NOT suggesting you run to the nearest church or knock on the door of the nearest Christian or get baptized. Those are follow up activities.

Please do not mistake the church for God. Please do not mistake a Christian for Jesus. Please do not mistake an act of worship as salvation.

There is a place to find lasting good news – it is found in the One and Only Jesus Christ.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1: 1-4, 14).

In today’s technology we have the iphone, ipad, ipod, itouch, imac, and ibook. As you know, this generation of students and young adults (born between 1980 – 2003) are called the Y Generation. Tim Elmore in his newest book adds another letter by calling this generation the “iY Generation”. Of course the “i” stands for Internet, but I also can’t help but think that it also reveals who is first priority in the lives of most teenagers and young adults (& unfortunately in adults as well)…I (or me)! I want…I need…I deserve…I long…I dream…I wish…I crave…

Also, think about the social media…it is about making a statement regarding what you are doing or thinking at the moment. The focus is normally all about yourself. I use facebook and twitter so this post is not about bashing either one or of bashing today’s technology.

As I think about prayers, I know that most of them are consumed with “I” statements/wants/desires/needs. I, too, am guilty of consuming my prayer times with who I am and what I want.

I ran across a passage of Scripture yesterday. It is in Luke 1:46-55. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had just been told by the angel Gabriel that she had been found to have favor with God, that the Holy Spirit was going to come upon her, she would be with child, and give birth to a Son she was to name Jesus. The angel also informed her that a relative, Elizabeth, would also bear a son in her old age. Mary then hurries to the home of Elizabeth where Elizabeth blesses Mary and the baby in her womb.

I can’t help but think of what an incredible moment this was for Mary. How she could have declared to Elizabeth and anyone else she visited how amazing she,herself, was. That the God of the universe chose her! If there was a “look at me!” moment in all of history, I think this one could win hands down. She could have put as her status all the many reasons why she was the one chosen to be favored of the Lord. But do you know what she has a list of? Instead of an “I” list, she has a “He” list. Check it out:

“And Mary said: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as He said to our fathers.”

Then I found this next Scripture…which sums it all up in such a cool way…John 3:30. It says, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

Let’s consume our prayers with more “He” and less with “I“!

The Lord is leading me _girls_in_a_circleto pray about  being involved in some sort of organized girl’s ministry.  I am becoming aware of churches that actually have full/part-time girl’s ministers as part of their staff.  I am so thrilled that churches see the necessity of a girl’s minister.  Being the wife of a student pastor for almost 15 years – I have been in some respects the “girl’s minister” and have absolutely loved every minute of it.  I want to do more!!!  I want to be even more involved in teenage girls lives by spending more time with them in fellowship and in the Word.  Girls have a special place in God’s heart.  Please help me by praying for me that I would clearly recognize God’s leading as I seek Him in girls ministry.  Thanks!

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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