What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Praise For Today

Today I read Psalm 147 for my Quiet Time (personal devotion). I’ve been going through the Psalms using The Message to gain new understanding of the familiar passages. In many of the Psalms recap the great things God has done for David and the other writers of the Psalms. Then those Psalms call for the people to celebrate with thanksgiving and praise. Psalm 147 does that. It talks about rebuilding the wall and protecting His people. This could have been Nee’s prayer:


It’s a good thing to sing praise to our God;

Praise is beautiful, praise is fitting.

God’s the one who rebuilds Jerusalem,

Who regathers Israel’s scattered exiles.

He heals the heartbroken

And bandages their wounds.

He counts the start

And assigns each a name.

Our Lord is great, with limitless strength;

We’ll never comprehend what he knows and does.

God puts the fallen on their feet again

And pushes the wicked into the ditch.

Sing to God a thanksgiving hymn

Play music on your instruments to God.

Who fills the sky with clouds,

Preparing rain for the earth.

Then turning the mountains green with grass,

Feeding both cattle and crows.

He’s not impressed with horsepower;

The size of our muscles means little to him.

Those who fear God get God’s attention

They can depend on his strength.

Jerusalem, worship God!

Zion, praise your God!

He made your city secure,

He blessed your children among you.

He keeps the peace at your borders,

He puts the best bread on your tables.

He launches his promises earthward –

How swift and sure they come!

He spreads snow like a white fleece,

He scatters frost like ashes,

He broadcasts hail like birdseed –

Who can survive his winter?

Then he gives the command and it all melts;

He breaths on winter – suddenly it’s spring!

He speaks the same way to Jacob,

Speaks words that work to Israel.

He never did this to the other nations,

They never heard such commands.


Today, on Thanksgiving Day (and every day), I join this Psalmist, the other writers of the Psalms, Nee (by the way, Nee is the nickname I gave Nehemiah), and all God’s people in thanking and praising God for the miracles He’s orchestrated in my life. What has He done in your life for which you need to give thanks? Take a few moments to do it today.

Surveying the Damage: Seeing the results

As it turned out, Nee was right. God did not let any harm come to His people. Those inside the walls of Jerusalem and those in the villages surrounding Jerusalem are all safe. And, there are walls, completed, strong walls around Jerusalem now. While we worked it seemed like it would never be done, but it is! It only took fifty-two days!

Those who want to get rid of us are defeated in spirit and heart. They were right of course. The Jews could not build this mighty wall by ourselves, and in so short a time. God did it. Our enemies in the surrounding area have lost their nerve, their boldness. They proclaim (what we knew all along) that God has done this great work. They are still afraid to come up against us, and we live peacefully in this land God gave to our patriarch, Abraham.

Nee announced yesterday that he is stepping down from his roles as overseer of the work on the wall and as the commander in chief of the defense of Jerusalem. The nobles and elders persuaded him to accept the position of Governor, and to continue to act as a consultant for the new leaders. One of the first things he did was commission the priests, the singers, and the security guards. He also suggested putting Hanani and Hananiah in charge of Jerusalem. Nee said Hanani and Hananiah are men who are honest and fear God more than most others. And finally, Nee turned spiritual matters over to the scholar, Ezra.

Now, with a little down time available to him, Nee sits with us talking about the events of the last 6 – 8 months. He seems to want to talk about it, to get the lessons learned firmly planted in his head and heart. He wanted to impress upon himself, and us, how God works on our behalf. Nee said it like a prayer,

“God, show me what You want me to understand about Your ways. I am amazed at Your ways. I was a servant in the king’s palace, but You saw me. You picked me but I did not know what I could do. I didn’t know what time had done to Jerusalem and I had no idea where You wanted me to start. I had to come to Jerusalem, the home of my past, evaluate the damage, and come up with a plan. A plan that did not deny or ignore the brokenness brought about by the events of the past. A plan that takes a realistic look at the effects the past has had upon the physical wall – and the effects the past has had in our hearts and in our spiritual life. We were crumbling and our faith was falling apart. Repairs were (and still are) needed.

“You gave me plans for fixing the damage of the past in order to change the way things are now. You wanted to show our enemies that You can use the knowledge of the past and a realistic view of the damage to give us directions for making things right, now and in the future. I see now that You needed me to see the damage, and not just hear about it, so I could see You make things right. Now I see how You can repair every part of my life, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Fixing the Jerusalem wall was the tool You used to change me, to change Your people. Now there is a future to look forward to.

“Thank You, Most Holy God. You are the rescuer of our people, our cities, and our hearts. You are all-powerful, and choose a relationship with us. You use us, with all our damages, all our hurts, and all our sins. What else can I say? Thank You is not enough. I am at a loss for the words that will praise you enough. I cannot comprehend all You are. Thank You.”

We listen and give thanks to God right along with Nee. Every time we see the wall, we will praise our God. From now and well into the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Dealing with rumors

We tried to mind our own business, but the rumors flew around us. Apparently the rulers of our neighboring nations were poised to overrun the walls and kill every man, woman, and child found within the city. We heard they had sent messengers to ask Nee to talk with them about a peaceful surrender. We heard that Nee refused to talk to them. Most of our friends thought this was foolish, and would end in our deaths by the hands of our enemies. They doubted Nee knew what was really happening. Their support for Nee was tentative at best.

Our curiosity got the better of us. We decided to sneak over to Nee’s. He was entertaining messengers. They came about every other day with proposals from the enemies. As we listened, we heard Nee respond to them. He told them to tell Sanballat and Tobiah and the others that he was too busy with the work God has given him to waste time to meet with them. The messengers complained and grumbled among themselves as they left: “This is the same thing he told us the other two times we were here.”

The next messenger actually brought an unsealed letter with him. Nee read the letter aloud:

“The word is out among all the nations. We have heard confirmations from all corners of the earth. You are preparing to rebel against your king so you can be named king in his place. You are telling prophets to move about Jerusalem proclaiming you as king. Word of this will get back to your king and trouble will follow. Don’t you think you better talk to us before your king comes to quash your rebellion.”

Nee, almost laughing out loud, responded: “What a bunch of lies you’ve made up! Interesting story but without a basis in truth.”

Shortly after the messengers left, a note was given to Nee. He did not say anything about the note, but when he left his room, we followed him at a distance. He went to the home of Shemaiah, son of Delaiah. We could not hear what Shemaiah said; he was whispering. But, we heard Nee’s response: “Why would I run and hide in the face of these false reports? And how could you ever think I would defile the Temple, by going there to stay behind locked doors! I am not one of the priests. I am not going into the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Do you want God to strike me down? Stop working for our enemies. How much are they paying you to get me to do something foolish?”

Nee jumped up and started walking home. We followed, but he abruptly stopped only a few steps outside Shemaiah’s door. We bumped into him. He looked at us kindly and invited us to pray with him. Right there. On the path. Out in public. We couldn’t say no, so we followed Nee’s lead and knelt down at the side of the path. Nee prayed,

“God, dear God, do not let Tobiah and Sanballat get away with their scheming. Let their mischief backfire and reflect poorly on them. Give me wisdom and give me strength. Deal with their henchmen and false prophets that have come to ruin my repetition among the people. Don’t let the people be fooled.”

We got up and walked around Jerusalem. Nee stopped to talk to people and encouraged them, convincing them that the city was in no danger from the outsiders. He was so confident that God is on our side of this situation. We were convinced . . .

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Staying the course

Tired. We did not know how tired we could get. We had never worked this hard, this diligently, this long before. We weren’t the only ones who were tired. People were complaining and whining everywhere we went. We tried to keep our thoughts to ourselves, but others were stirring the people up. They grumbled about how tired they are. Others started grumbling, too. They mumbled about how this project was too big. Others started mumbling, too.

The spies kept coming in and out reporting to Nee. As they came and went, they talked to the grumblers and mumblers. Their words caused fear among the people. “Sanballat and his friends have surrounded us! We don’t stand a chance! We will all be killed!”

We do not think Nee is ignoring these reports, but we are not sure what is going on. So, as usual, we go and hang out around Nee to see what’s going on. Nee, of course, is praying. With him, several nobles and officials are also praying. We watch until Nee stops praying and he begins talking to the men.

“Let me remind you: God gave me a job to do. God told me to come to Jerusalem, evaluate the damage, and organize the people to fix things. The people have been working hard to change the present and the future for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. We are making changes that will bring us back our dignity as a people, God’s people. We can think we are doing this on our own. We can think we cannot succeed. We can think about giving up the task God has given us. But none of that is what God wants! None of that is true! God is doing the work. We cannot be surrounded and attacked. We have stationed guards by every worker. We have a warning trumpeter ready at the first sign of trouble. All this is true. We are prepared as best as humanly possible. But don’t forget! It is not up to us to protect God’s city or God’s people. God will fight for us! We cannot be overcome.”

Nee worked out further arrangements for beefing up our defenses: all workers will wear a sword on their belts while working. Even when workers take a water break, they will carry a spear. We will each take our turns building the wall and keeping guard.

People find something else to complain about. Word gets to Nee that some do not have enough food or drink. Those with large families say that enough food is not being given to them. Nee listened to these complaints and discovered that what they say is true. The rich are not sharing with others. While some are going into greater debt, the leaders keep gathering taxes from them. Nee’s upset – angry even. He accuses the leaders of gouging their neighbors and friends, requiring the poor to go into debt while they, the rich, continue lining their pockets. The leaders become convicted and pledge to divide up the food and drink allotments evenly so each person and each family gets what they need.

Squabbles settled for now. What will be next? We will try to stay focused on the work Nee assigned to us. We hope everyone else will stay focused as well . . .

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Overcoming obstacles

This is tiring work. Lifting heavy stones and heavy logs for hours. Shaping the logs into beams using only the basic tools we have available. The iron axes and adzes work well, but they are heavy. Muscles we never knew we had hurt. We’ve been working on the wall for 25 days. The word around town is that Sanballat is no longer poking fun at us. He’s angry. Maybe afraid.

The word comes from our spies (there are many of us living outside the walls of Jerusalem). We’ve heard several different stories passed along by people, but they all have a couple of things in common: Sanballat is angry. His groupies are also angry. They think we are just playing a game. The noise and shouting sounds like a mob egging each other on encouraging violence.

We wonder what Nee is doing with these reports from the spies. We always want to be in the know, so we take off for Nee’s house. We don’t know what we expected to see. What we see should not have surprised us. Nee was praying. Still lying on the floor. Still acknowledging God’s power and protection:

“O all-powerful and loving God, act on our behalf. You know the hearts of the wicked men who desire to do us harm and discourage the workers. Instead of allowing them to make us look bad, make them look bad and defeated, carried off by their enemies. Don’t forgive them for teasing Your workers, Your people. Pour dung out upon them making them stink!”

As Nee finished praying, he looks out his upper level window and sees the work continuing. He looked around the corner and saw us eavesdropping. He smiled, waved, and sent us back to work. We skipped away knowing that when Nee prays good things happen. The rumors of Sanballat’s anger and threats did not frighten us. God is on our side. As we walk back to our section of the wall, we notice the overall progress. The wall is all connected and about half the height Nee is looking for.

The spies continue to bring reports to Nee, sharing the news with people on the way to Nee’s apartment. The nearby rulers are amazed and incensed by the progress we are making. They are making plans to attack Jerusalem, if nothing else, to disrupt the building and frighten the builders. Nee tells us to keep working. Nee took the spies’ reports seriously, but without fear. He organized a guard. Half the workers would build the wall, while the other half would stand guard with their bows and arrows, swords, and lances.

To encourage us, Nee called everyone together to encourage us. “Don’t be afraid! Focus on our God, the Master we serve. He will not allow harm to come to us. He will give us what we need to be successful; His great and awesome power will be our weapon! Don’t fear and think of yourselves. Be ready to fight, if necessary, for your children, your wives, your parents, and your homes. God will see us through.”

We work on the wall, and wait for more news from our spies . . .