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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 have been co-teaching The Gospel Project on Sunday mornings during the Sunday school hour, and the subject for the past few months has been the exiles and return of the exiles. The whole time I had been preparing to help teach, I wanted to include the genealogy of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1. I never really got a chance to mention that particular genealogy, and as it turns out, it was for a good reason! We got a chance to camp out on the genealogy for a whole Sunday school class time.

It is so crazy how much this genealogy in Matthew one means to me. I am so moved by the simple inclusion of the deportation of the Israelites as they were taken captive by the Babylonians. When the exiles returned home, they were one people again. The exile is the only event recorded in the genealogy! Jeremiah predicted that the exile to Babylon would exceed/ out do/ be more significant than the deliverance of Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14; 23:7). It is a new spiritual marker.

I will never forget the moment I saw with my spiritual eyes this inclusion in Matthew. I was in the throes of writing Back From Captivity and somehow I came across it. It was one of those moments that time stopped for me. It was a moment between God and me where Scripture jumped off the page and catapulted supernaturally into the heavenlies to pierce my heart with a message of good news. I remember I stopped reading when I came to the phrase “After the exile to Babylon” (Matt. 1: 12) and looked around me as if Someone had written it just for me. It felt as if Someone was pointing at those Scriptures, highlighting them, then penetrating them in my heart and mind to reveal in my spirit that God, my Heavenly Father, knows where I have been and what I have been through. That it is all a part of my identity, but that none of it is in vain. It has served a purpose. The event – the exile – or whatever one may be experiencing – even the terribleness of it – has a divine place with divine plans and divine purposes. I suppose it validated for me that what Satan meant for harm, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20).

If you feel as if your future is wasted or lost or too messed up because of your track-record; that now your life is a mistake, a complete disaster because of what you have done, take in the words of the famous hymn Amazing Grace which so profoundly testifies, “I was lost but now I am found!” Child of God, you have a new beginning! Do you see that in the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1? You have a new beginning!! You are found not to live in shame and embarrassment or humiliation, but to live nearer to the Father’s heart, to be close to Him, to look even more like Him, to be covered by His blood shed for you, to be redeemed, bought back, to be found in Him. It isn’t your story, but His story over your life. It isn’t about your mistakes. It is about you being found by God.

This is the message of the cross. This is the message from Genesis to Revelation. This is the message of salvation. This is the message of forgiveness. Jesus did not die only for the sins you committed before your time of salvation – the time before you accepted Jesus to be Lord over your life – He continues to offer His forgiveness for our sins committed overtly and covertly after salvation. This is an ongoing relationship. The Scripture, “Forgive us our sins” as recorded in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:4 is not to be a one-time prayer but a daily prayer. The books I, II, & III John were written for the early Christians, those belonging to the family of God. Jesus admonished the believers when He wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9).

If you are not familiar with the account of the Babylonian exiles of when God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar to take captive Israelites, who were living in the Promised Land, because of their continual rebellion against God and their idolatry, but after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, God allowed King Cyrus to declare a decree issuing those captives to return home to Jerusalem to live again as one nation and people serving God together. Know that having to leave the Promised Land and being taken captive was the worst of the worst. For the Israelites it was corporately and individually the lowest time of their lives. Their identities were stripped. All that they knew of who they were as a people of God was ripped away – exposed for anyone and everyone to see their shame. It was a dark time of being isolated due to their own sins of ignoring of the prophets and believing lies. Their lives collapsed right before them as they hit rock bottom. God through Moses warned of what would happen to the Israelites if they were disobedient. This is the description of being sin-sick, of being in captivity:

“Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, “If only it were morning!” – because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see.” Deuteronomy 28: 65-67

Michael Card in The Bible Speaks Today uses the word “nadir” to represent this point of Israel’s history. It was the all-time low.

Here in Matthew 1, the very first book of the New Testament, we find this genealogy, this list of men and women in the lineage of the only perfect person to ever walk this Earth – to find individuals who were far from perfect, but who also did not continue to live in sin, but at their low times, looked up to their Redeemer, Deliverer, Savior. Within this genealogy of the generations leading up to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, beginning with Abraham, tucked away among many names is the nadir of Israel’s history. It was the Lord’s will not to omit it, skip over it, ignore it, act as if it didn’t happen, choose that it didn’t happen, or replace it with a grand event. Including this event in the genealogy of Jesus Christ means something to you and me. This is quite significant. I believe we can apply this significance personally and/or corporately. Whatever it may be that is a part of your track-record that you consider to be your lowest point in life, the thing that has humbled you, and yet has also caused many grievances to the point of you coming to the end of yourself – may be or has been the very thing God uses as a testimony in your life of His goodness, grace, love, and faithfulness. Your past, your journey, even with the dark times marked with guilt, can be redeemed and used to manifest the glory of our God and Savior. Whatever you or your family has gone through or is going through – when you feel so alone and unusable – God is revealing to you that in Him there is hope. What the Israelites came through and overcame, so you too can live and survive through this time to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). Whatever your blot may be – divorce, bankruptcy, loss of job, prodigal child, infidelity, alcoholism, imprisonment – God is not finished with you; He has beautiful plans for you. Your calling is not null and void. God is great and awesome and will uphold you. Rest in Him and find your way in Him.

“You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning, my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” Psalm 18: 28-29

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 am not one to spend time on YouTube, surf the Internet, watch videos when they appear on my Facebook feed, nor click on random clips just for fun. BUT, I will have to say that for whatever reason, I did hit “play” on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKejPcknbko

I am glad I did! The look on the homeless man’s face was perfection! I could tell he was uncomfortable at first surrendering his bucket to a stranger, then uncomfortable again when the guitarist sat on the other side of him, then again as the young man shook his hand. Or was it shock? Shocked that someone noticed him. Shocked that someone cared. Shocked that someone wanted to sit next to him and touch him.

The phrase the young man asked the homeless man, “May I borrow your bucket for a bit?”, has not left my mind since I saw that video two months ago.

The homeless man was in a big city on a crowded street. Some people’s reaction to the homeless man could have been: “Get off the sidewalk- go to a shelter or something!” or “You stink! Move away!” or “Get a job!” or “You’re just a beggar, no one cares about you!”.

And yet, this young Christian man sat down next to him and asked the homeless man if he could borrow his bucket. The young, Christian man gave him an invitation. Hesitantly, the homeless man accepted. “May I borrow your bucket for a bit?” was the invitation.

His bucket. Reminds me of a current trend: having a “bucket list”. I have always been anti-bucket list. Never could sit down and write a list of things “I want to do” or “I want to have” or “I want to meet” or “I want to go”. Too many “I’s” for me. Something I have learned in this 40 + years on this Earth is that God can and will “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20).

Back to the bucket in the video clip. The homeless man was asked to give up temporarily one of his only possessions. It held his sleeping mat. Maybe on good days, it held lots of coins. His bucket represented his homelessness. The bucket represented something shameful; he had no where to call home. He had no where to lay his head at night. He had no where to invite strangers over.

The bucket is symbolic for anything in anyone’s life that reflects emptiness, neediness, loneliness, hopelessness, and shamefulness.

The one object that symbolized the homeless man’s lack, his need, his inability to even care for himself, was the one object that the Christian asked to borrow. The Christian invited himself to borrow the one item that symbolized the man’s hopelessness. It was an invitation the homeless man could have refused for the sake of pride or fear. But, he didn’t. He humbly gave to the Christian his empty bucket.

Do you or I need to give someone or Someone, namely Jesus Christ, our pride, our fear? Do we need to hand over our empty wallet, empty home, empty talent, empty marriage, empty dream, empty stomach, empty soul, or empty heart?

The Christian, young man in the video literally turned the homeless man’s bucket upside down! He turned it upside down and made beautiful music with it! The bucket was revolutionized. The bucket was revived. The bucket was profitable. The bucket was filled. The bucket in another man’s hands became a miracle story.

What once was a symbol of shame could be turned into a symbol of grace.

Instead of being the generation of “My bucket list” takers, let’s be the generation of “Borrow your bucket” fillers.

What can you and I do to fill someone’s bucket? What can we do to turn someone’s life upside down? What can we do to share the hope of Jesus Christ? What can we do to invite someone in their worst to show them we care and so does Jesus? What can we do to find someone who feels shameful and offer grace?

It is by invitation. If the person refuses your help, move on. Just as Jesus invites us to accept Him as Lord and Savior, we either receive or refuse. He doesn’t force Himself on us.

“Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55: 1-3).

If/When God leads you to bless someone by filling his/her bucket, please feel free to share it in the comment section of this blog!

I came across three words during my study of God’s Word that I haven’t ever studied. It isn’t that I hadn’t heard them or read them before; I just saw them differently. A lot of times my study of God’s Word revolves around a word or a phrase. Something hits me – jumps off the page – and my new obsession emerges. I do tons of cross referencing, use the Strong’s Exhaustive Dictionary, read from multiple sources, and eventually write about it.  I find I am like that with my food and drink too. I will eat something for breakfast or for a snack every day until I can’t put one more in my mouth. Right now my favorite after work snack is Stacy’s cinnamon and sugar pita chips! For my drink it is a homemade ice coffee. Ok, so it is a sugar overload, but it keeps me going with the evening activities! I would not describe my personality as OCD…just thorough 🙂

Most of the time when we are trying to describe something or someone to someone we tend to think about all the ways in which he/she is. For instance, we will say, “He is so handsome”, “He is hard-working”, “She is precious”, “She is a straight ‘A’ student”, or “It is the one that fits me the most”. But, there are times, when saying what it isn’t is appropriate as well. For example, when referring to a prospective employee we could mention, “He doesn’t smoke”, “He doesn’t live far”, “He doesn’t have a criminal background”, and so forth.

So, the three words I came across, came first from Isaiah 40:28, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” Did you find them?? It is the words, “He will not”. Normally, I would have just read the verse and just kept going. But, for whatever reason, the three little words “He will not” totally did it for me! It was like the Lord was putting those words in all caps with an exclamation point at the end: HE WILL NOT ! “He will not grow tired or weary”. Isn’t that such good news that our God, our Creator, our Sustainer does not need a break from us nor does He ever cease to work on our behalf.

Of course I then proceeded to find more “He will not’s” in the Bible. This is what I discovered about the “I am” (Exodus 3:15).

He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down (Exodus 12:23).

He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deut. 4:31).

He will not fail you or forsake you…(1 Chronicles 28:20).

He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea (Psalm 102:17).

He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:3).

He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them (Hebrews 6:10).

Which one of these “he will not’s” means the most to you at this point in your life?

For me, it is the Hebrews promise that He will not forget the work I have done in His name even though outwardly there is no evidence in the natural means.

Something else that is highly interesting. When the apostle Paul wrote the famous “love” chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, he wrote equal amounts of descriptions of what love is, as he wrote descriptions of what love is not.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Sometimes the promises of God come not in the form of what He will do, but in what He will not do.

 

 

  

The end of a year and the beginning of a new year seem to conjure up all sorts of remembrances from family memories to celebrity break-ups, births, deaths, songs and videos of the year, and a wide-range of national news. Personally, I enjoy taking moments to ponder moments from the year. It can be these moments that lead one to conjure up new year’s resolutions. Believe it or not, a resolution could be to remember! It is a biblical concept that runs throughout the Old and the New Testament. Some of the calls to remember include –

“Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God…”(Deut. 4:10). “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 5:15). “Remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt…” (Deut.7:18). “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert…” (Deut. 8:2). “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…” (Deut. 9:27).”Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God…(Deut.11:2). “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt” (Deut. 25:17). “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…” (1 Chronicles 16:12). “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago” (Ps. 77:11). “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (Hebrews 10:32). “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:4).

Moses and the other divinely inspired writers remind God’s people to “Remember”! This isn’t limited to just thinking, but also to record, to write down what one remembers especially in regards to what God has said or done on behalf of oneself. I can think of several reasons the act of remembering would be beneficial. 1. It would take our eyes off ourselves and onto our Heavenly Father. 2. It would keep us from feeling alone. 3. It would cause us to be grateful for all He has done. 4. Increase our faith. 5. Encourage us to continue on the straight and narrow.

In Mark 6 the disciples had just witnessed and been a part of the feeding of the 5,000 which was an enormous God-size miracle by anyone’s standard. Then, they got into a boat where a storm came up. When Jesus got in the boat with them (btw…he did another miracle of walking on the water), the storm ceased. Scripture then states, “they [disciples] were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (Mark 6: 51b-52). Lord have mercy! May this generation of believers, including myself, learn from what God has done and can do!

My favorite reason for remembering comes from Deuteronomy 4:9 “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Another aspect of our ever- so- lengthy job description of parenting is to remember what God has done for us out loud so that our children and grandchildren see the hand of God personally in our lives.

My grandpa, Dr. Charles E. Green, was full of God stories. Every time my family would visit him, then in my adult years when Richard would go with me to visit, Grandpa would recall so many memories of what God had done for him. His stories were incredible. Before he died he was given the amazing privilege of making a record of his life-story in which was published. His autobiography is titled The Lord Heard My Cry. I am so thankful for this gift because now I can pass it down to my daughters.

I am inspired to journal and to speak the good things the Lord has done for me. “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD” (Psalm 102:18).

Scary creatures are appearing in neighbor’s yards. Ghosts made out of white sheets inhabit one yard entirely. Oversize black cats and hairy tarantula’s occupy sidewalks with a look that dares one not to come any closer. Life- size dolls imitating real-life humans  erected to cause anyone near to fear being the next victim. Then, there are the “normal” evil characters such as witches, vampires, and monsters that impose fright no matter the time of year. And why??? Why is scaring people fun?! I really don’t get it. I really don’t like it. There is only one place all of this scary stuff could have originated – the devil himself.

It doesn’t have to be the time approaching Halloween or the day of Halloween for Satan to use his mastery of deception to try and scare the people of God away from their callings. One such example comes straight out of the book of Nehemiah. The Jews, God’s people, who bravely came back to Jerusalem after being in captivity to the Babylonians for 70 years, were given the job of rebuilding their homeland, their place of worship, their own homes, and the wall of protection around their city, Jerusalem. This task was more than the Jews could handle, so God ordained Nehemiah (also a Jew), who was serving as the cup-bearer to the king, to orchestrate and see the building process through especially in regards to the rebuilding of the wall (Nehemiah 2).  The men, women, and children were ridiculed day and night for their hard work by neighboring evil men. The opposition was fierce, exhausting, and relentless. The Jews’ strength was gone. So much so, they wanted to quit. Prayer to God kept them going (Nehemiah 4). Just when the wall was near completion, the enemies voiced their threats once again. A message was sent to Nehemiah, “‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.'”( Nehemiah 6:2). Nehemiah recognized immediately this was not a “peace treaty” request, but a scheme meant for harm. I wonder if it was the name of the plain that initially gave the threat away – “Ono”!? Their enemy never tired; the message was sent four times. On the fifth time another letter was included that was filled with lies. Nehemiah admonished the Jews by reporting the enemies “were trying to frighten us” hoping the work on the wall would cease (Nehemiah 6:9). Furthermore, another attempt to get Nehemiah from collaborating with the Jews occurred when Nehemiah went to visit a man shut in his home. The man warned Nehemiah that men are coming to kill him, so he wanted Nehemiah to go to the temple where only the Levites had the right to enter. Nehemiah discerned that this man was not of the Lord, but quite the opposite, “He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me” (Nehemiah 6:13). The Message translation of the same verse: “He had been hired to scare me off—trick me—a layman, into desecrating The Temple and ruining my good reputation so they could accuse me.” Nehemiah didn’t bite the bait. His knees may have buckled in his boots, but he kept fighting…kept praying…and kept rebuilding. The crazy, great thing – the wall was rebuilt in record time! In just 52 days the work was accomplished. The ridicule, the threats, the intended harm, the intimidation and the frightening words only hurried the people of God to fulfill their God given calling! And guess who ended up being afraid?? “When all our enemies heard about this (the rebuilt wall), all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16). Now that is what you call a healthy dose of fear!

Voices of ridicule, words that mock, and intimidating lies may be hurled your way. Know this my friend – You are doing the work of the Lord. Pray as Nehemiah did: “Now strengthen my hands”.  When all said and done, it will be your enemies who will be shaking in their boots!

Wanted to take this moment to honor my Granny who passed away earlier this month at 90 years of age.  I got to speak a few words at her funeral at FBC, Shawnee, OK.  These were some of my words:

My favorite person in the world is my Granny.  Growing up in a home where our mother was sick 24/7  it felt like we took care of her more than she took care of us.  Our hearts were empty and longing for a mother’s love.  Granny filled the longings in my heart with her grandmotherly love.  My favorite childhood memories are in her home.  My favorite teenage memories are in her home.  My favorite college memories are in her home.  My favorite summer memories are in her home.  My favorite Christmas memories are in her home.  I think I would have to say that the best moments were when we spent the night in her house.  When it was time to go to bed she would pull down the freshly washed covers and turn on the lamp and tuck us into bed.  I can still smell the sheets.  She would sit on the side of the bed, hug us and remind us of how glad she was we were visiting.  When she left the room, I knew I was loved and safe.  We would awake to the smell of her homemade cinnamon rolls and hurry to the kitchen to indulge.  During the day Granny always made time for us by playing cards, taking us shopping, allowing us to bake in the kitchen with her, or taking an evening walk around the block.

She was my role model.  She lived her life as a godly wife, mother, friend, and child of God.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I drove in the car with her taking cinnamon rolls to families or listening as she delivered her Sunday School class lesson to and elderly woman not able to leave her home.  Granny had a deep love of the Bible.  Every Sat. you could find her in her back room studying for hours her Sunday School lessson for the next morning.

About 5 years ago when it was time for her to leave her home in Shawnee and move to OKC, I was able to help sort through her things and clean out her house.  I was also able to take some of the things she no longer could use.  If I could have only taken one item I would have chosen the front door.  I know that sounds odd, but the front door to her home represented the most loving welcome and good-bye I would ever know.  As young as I can remember, whether we were 5 or 25 she and Grandppa greeted us at the door with the warmest hug.  Then when it was time for us to leave she and Grandpa would stand outside the door waving good-bye till we were no longer in sight. 

I want to continue Granny’s legacy.  What she has imparted in me, I want to impart to my girls.  Her love for the Word, her devotion to her husband, her commitment to her community, her great cooking, her good manners, her ability to stick to a budget, and love for family and friends is what I want to pass on to the next generation.

See you at the front door in heaven, Granny!

Hey!  Just have to share an Ahhhhh Moment I had yesterday with you.  (Not to be confused with an Ah Ha moment!)

It was one of those times when everything stops.  I completely stopped in my tracks, took a deep breath, and listened intently to the sweet, sweet sound.  It was one of those moments where a flood of good memories poured forth from my memory bank.  It was one of those moments that made me long for what I used to have.  It was one of those moments when I just had to sit down and soak up the memories the sound consumed me with.  It was one of those moments that I was happy for those able to truly participate and listen and sad for me b/c  I had moved on to a different season in my life.

Okay.  I know you are dying to know what I heard that totally overtook my senses!  Just to let you know…it was definitely a “Jennifer” thing.  Probably only a few of you will be able to relate.  That’s okay…I want to share it with you nonetheless.

Yesterday (Monday), I walked into the Student Activities Building to take care of receipts, etc. with the student ministry assistant, then headed through the game room to my husband’s office, and it was there that my ahhhh moment occurred.  Through the wall coming from the classroom next door, I heard the sound of Beth Moore bringing the Word!!  In that next room the Esther Bible study was taking place which is Beth’s newest Bible study.  This is my very first time not participate or lead the newest Beth Bible study!  I can’t express to you how much my spirit and soul miss Beth and her newest Bible study.  Her studies fill me.  I am truly “full” after doing a daily lesson and from the weekly DVD.  I am happy for those able to participate and know that my time will come again soon.   In the meantime,I will get my spiritual food from God’s Word directly and from reading other books.  For all those who are participating right now in the Esther Bible study….soak it up, absorb it, hear God, and enjoy!!

So pumped about taking 20+ girls from our youth ministry to the Revolve Tour Jan.30 & 31!! We have actually had tickets for over a year!  Great bands will be there as well as fantastic speakers.  I know we will have the time of our lives.  The best part is I get to take my oldest daughter, Braelyn, who is a 7th grader.  She doesn’t know it yet, but I have put her in the same hotel room as me!  I hope she won’t mind.  Truly our time at the hotel will be so limited…we will be at the Ford Center for most of our waking hours.  Can’t wait to tell you all all about our experience.  Hope each one of you will have an opportunity to attend one of the Revolve Tour events in your state.  We do have one ticket available…going for a mere $68 if anyone is interested!! 

Happy New Year!

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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