Category: Bible Study

When You Go Through Deep Waters…

Isaiah 43 2-3

I have clung to these words with super glue. When you’re a single mom of three, you know you will face deep waters. I will face rivers of difficulty. Oh, and the fire of oppression is no cozy, warming fire.

I will never forget the dark, starless night when I stood at the living room window of our country house in the middle of nowhere in Manitoba. I saw the taillights of my husband’s vehicle turn left at the end of our long driveway. He left never to return.

Deep waters. Rivers of difficulty. Fire of oppression.

I was in “deep waters” when I moved after my divorce from Canada to Germany. My kids were 6, 4 and 2. I needed to find employment, a place to live, enroll my oldest in school, find daycare for the two youngest.

Yes, the waters were deep. Many times I felt like I was drowning, I feared I wouldn’t have the strength to come up for air again. But you know what? I didn’t drown.

I didn’t drown because I was never alone!

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you!”

I get goosebumps just taking in this promise. God is with me!

When I felt I was losing my mind and couldn’t go on anymore, I remember uttering the only words I could think of: “God, please help me!”

Even though family and some friends helped along the way, they could not get me out of the deep waters I was in. At the end of the day they went to their homes, and I was left with my little children to fight yet another night, another day to survive the deep waters.

“I will be with you.”

I am living proof that God is indeed with us! Whatever deep waters you are facing today, look up to the One who will guide you through. God will even carry you, if necessary.

God with us. Emmanuel.

 

Are you looking for peace?

Turmoil

Creative Commons License marcusrg via Compfight

“The key to peace is authority. When we allow the Prince of Peace to govern our lives, peace either immediately or ultimately results. Peace accompanies authority.” Beth Moore

This quote from this week’s Bible study “Breaking Free” by Beth Moore got me thinking about times in my life when I was completely at peace, though my circumstances were difficult, complicated to say the least.

Why am I anxious and restless in far less complicated situations but have peace when the world around me is crushing?

Is it because I think I can handle smaller “situations” myself but need God for the real big ones?

God offers peace to us in any and all circumstances. However, there’s a condition: I’ve got to put my trust in Him and have my mind set on God. God wants authority over my life.

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”    Isaiah 26:3

To surrender my life under God’s authority is not a price to pay. His peace is a gift that results from our surrender and the knowledge He is in control of our circumstances, our families, all of it.

Jesus told his disciples in John 14:27:

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

What is it you’re facing today? Are you in need of some peace of mind and heart? It’s a gift! Go to Jesus and receive this gift!

 

Mondays with Nehemiah

“Kill the Spider”

image credit: google images

Warren W. Wiersbe tells this story in his book “Be Determined”:
“In a certain church, there was a man who always ended his prayers with, ‘And, Lord, clean the cobwebs out of my life! Clean the cobwebs out of my life!’ One of the members of the church became weary of hearing this same insincere request week after week, because he saw no change in the petitioner’s life. So, the next time he heard the man pray, ‘Lord, clean the cobwebs out of my life!’ he interrupted with, ‘And while you’re at it, Lord, kill the spider!'”

Does that resonate with anyone? It sure does with me. It’s really great to offer up a prayer of confession and thanksgiving to God, as we’ve seen in Nehemiah 9. But what about after the prayer is said? What about after we say ‘AMEN’?

The people of Israel were so serious about following God’s Law and obeying Him. They made a promise and put it in writing with a seal and signatures. I had to think of the German saying, “Wenn schon, denn schon.” It’s all or nothing, not something inbetween,They went all the way, from start to finish!

“Then the rest of the people – the priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, Temple servants, and all who had separated themselves from the pagan people of the land in order to obey the Law of God, together with their wives, sons, daughters, and all who were old enough to understand – joined their leaders and bound themselves with an oath…” (Nehemiah 10:28-29a)

They bound themselves with an oath. That was serious business in Israel. There was a LOT at stake if you sealed it with an oath. All of Numbers 30 deals with vows. It says in verse 2: “A man who makes a vow to the LORD or a pledge under oath must never break it. He must do exactly what he said he would do.”

And what exactly was the content of this vow? “They solemnly promised to carefully follow all the commands, regulations, and decrees of the LORD our Lord.” And a few of these commands, regulations and decrees are mentioned (or singled out, if you will) in chapter 10:

1. Marriage: God did not approve of a mixed marriage. “The danger in mixed marriages was the loss  of faith on the part of the Jewish mate.” (a)

2. Observing the Sabbath: the Jewish Sabbath was supposed to be a day of rest and meditation on all things spiritual. The people of Israel disobeyed God greatly when it came to the Sabbath. “This was one reason why God sent them into captivity, that He might give the land seventy years of rest. This would compensate for some 500 years of disobedience on the part of the nation (7×70), one year for each neglected Sabbatical Year or Year of Jubilee.” (a)

3. “We promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.” (Nehemiah 10:39b) And so they promised to pay the temple tax, bring the wood offering, the offering of first fruits, and the tithes. “We must so love the Lord that generous giving will be a normal and joyful part of our lives.” (a)

“We make a living by what we get,
but we make a life by what we give.”
(Winston Churchill)
“Wherever your treasure is,
 there the desires of your heart will also be.”
(Jesus in Matthew 6:21)

Lord, don’t just clean the cobwebs of my life, kill the spider, too!

(a) Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined”

Mondays with Nehemiah

Recalling God’s Story in my Life

The long chapter of Nehemiah 9 consists mostly of a prayer. “It is interesting that three of Israel’s great ‘national prayers’ are recorded in Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9.” (a) And it’s interesting to me that the history of Israel is recalled in this prayer. God’s greatness, God’s goodness, and God’s grace to the nation of Israel are remembered.

Warren W. Wiersbe lists a few quotes in his book “Be Determined” that I found very helpful:

“History is His story.”
(Dr. Arthur T. Pierson)
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”
(Aldous Huxley)
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.”
(George Santayana)

What an interesting way to pray! To recall one’s history. In the midst of their recollection of their history, the people of Israel say in verse 10b: “You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten.” And they continue to recall one story after the other, and they testify that God was always there for them. In verse 18b they say, “But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.”

Again and again they confirm that God “did not abandon them.” Even when they rebelled against God, even when they did not follow God’s Law, “in His great mercy He sent them liberators who rescued them from their enemies.” (Nehemiah 9:27b)

And when I look at Israel’s story, their history in this chapter, I can’t but agree, that my story is so similar to theirs. I can totally see that God did not abandon me or my children. All of our lives He has been there! Even when I did not live according to God’s Word, even when I did not follow Him, He still loved me and cared for me!

This year is a year of milestones for me and my kids. And this chapter is a reminder to include our history in the prayer of thanksgiving! Yes, our history is His story!

(a) Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined”

Mondays with Nehemiah

In Nehemiah chapter 8 we see people turning from their material needs to their spiritual needs. The walls of the city had been finished. People had moved into Jerusalem again and felt protected. And then the 7th month of the Jewish calendar arrived. It’s a very important month on their calendar. There are 3 special feasts that are celebrated in the 7th month:

– The New Year
– The Day of Atonement
– The Festival of Shelters.

Nehemiah 8:1 says, “In October, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the sribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had given Israel to obey.”

The material needs of the people had been met. Now it was time to address the spiritual needs. “Chapter 8-13 of the book (of Nehemiah) record that spiritual ministry: Instructing the people (chapter 8), confessing sin (chapter 9), dedicating the walls (chapters 10-12) and cleansing the fellowship (chapter 13).” (Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined)

There’s only one way to address the spiritual needs, and that is to get back into God’s Word. Nehemiah and Ezra recognized that. They saw that the people of Israel had not been taught the Word of God (or the Law as they called it) for some time. It was time to do that again and they started out with a great assembly in the city’s square. Ezra read from the Book of the Law and the Levites supported him by instructing the people. The people were very moved by God’s Word and they were weeping. But they had also just observed the Day of Atonement, where they confessed their sins and received God’s forgiveness. Instead of rejoicing in their forgiveness, they kept on mourning and weeping. And we see Nehemiah stepping in again and telling them: “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the LORD your God… Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10 NLT)

The Day of Atonement was followed by seven days of happy celebration. “It isn’t enough for us to read the Word and receive the Word as others expound it; we must also rejoice in the Word.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined”)

And the people followed Nehemiah’s suggestion, they “went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.” (Nehemiah 8:12) The people heard God’s words and understood them, and that gave them reason to celebrate!!!

This just made me pause and think about they way I hear and receive God’s Word. Just yesterday I heard such a great sermon on “repentance” from Luke 13:1-9, and I understood God’s Word. But I did not take time to celebrate it. Why not? Well, yesterday after church we hurried home to watch the final game of the Eurocup 2012. Yeah, that’s right. A soccer game…

Today, Nehemiah taught me a lesson I hope I won’t forget so soon: Celebrate when you’ve heard God’s Word and when you’ve understood it! And what better way to do it than with great food and drinks, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength”!

Mondays with Nehemiah

An Enemy That Doesn’t Give Up

When reading chapters 6 and 7 of Nehemiah, I have to admire Nehemiah’s leadership, his discernment and his courage in the face of so much conspiracy.

The first conspiracy that Nehemiah encountered was to distract him from the project he had come to do. The enemies united and tried their very best. And what they came up with was an invitation for a meeting. Harmless, right? What could be wrong with that? But Nehemiah was alert and he trusted his God and spend a lot of time in prayer, alone and with his people. He was able to see through this distraction and through this conspiracy.

Bill Hybels applies this to our lives as follows: “Satan is always lurking and luring us away from God’s best plan for our life, forever conspiring to pull followers of Christ away from what matters most. We need to be on guard for this tactic of distraction. It can come in the form of a hobby that consumes us, too much time in front of the TV, obsession with our work – anything that fills our hours and days so that we don’t have the time to do what God most wants us.” (Overcoming Challenges by Bill Hybels with Kevin & Sherry Harney)

When the enemies saw that Nehemiah would not meet with them, they tried a different route: They sent an open letter with false accusations. The purpose of this letter? To spread lies and rumors and with it destroy Nehemiah’s character and reputation. Here is what Nehemiah did: “I replied, ‘There is no truth in any part of your story. You are making up the whole thing.’ They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination.” (Nehemiah 6:8-9)

So when all this didn’t work, they’ve got something else up their sleeves: “The third type of conspiracy is deception. An old-fashioned clandestine operation was hatched, intended both to damage Nehemiah’s reputation as a leader and tarnish his standing as a man of God. It involved paying off a prophet to deceive Nehemiah with a false message that would pressure him to compromise his leadership. One thing that made this conspiracy possible was that a pipeline of information flowed back and forth between people who wanted to see Nehemiah destroyed and some of Nehemiah’s own colleagues.”  (Overcoming Challenges by Bill Hybels with Kevin & Sherry Harney)

And again Nehemiah was able to see through this conspiracy. He says of himself in Neh 6:13 “They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. They they would be able to accuse and discredit me.”

Looking at Nehemiah, I kind of want to scream: Isn’t that enough of intimidation?!?! How much more will you have to go through? When is this going to end??

And then I am reminded of times when I asked these same questions. There have been times where enemies seemed to come from all sides and corners, and it was not just dripping. No,  it was pouring!

It’s in times like these that I pray more, I read my Bible more, and my faith grows. Last year I memorized some verses from the book of James. And those verses just came to mind:

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way,
consider it an opportunity for great joy.
For you know that when your faith is tested,
your endurance has a chance to grow.
So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed,
you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:2-4 New Living Translation

Wishing you a Happy Monday and have a great week everyone!

Mondays with Nehemiah

Two weeks ago I wrote about finishing what you started. After taking a break over Easter, I’m back with another look at Nehemiah. In chapter 5 of the book of Nehemiah we see some internal problems arise. Nehemiah was new in Jerusalem. His mind was occupied with the project of rebuilding the wall and keeping the enemies at bay.
And when he thought he had it all figured out, the internal problems came to the surface. “About this time some of the men and their wives raised a cry of protest against their fellow Jews.” (Nehemiah 5:1)

It wasn’t just a complaint, it was a cry of protest. And since not only the men, but also their wives got involved, it was pretty serious. The problem didn’t just happen over night. Things had been going on for a while, things that were wrong. Why did it then surface at the worst possible time?

I honestly believe that a crisis can bring a lot of good, but it can also reveal some pretty ugly things. Here the people of Jerusalem were facing some enemies and their wall was broken down, leaving them defenseless. They united on this project with enthusiasm. But even before Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, there were things going on among the Jews that weren’t according to God’s Law. There was a famine, and the poor had mortgaged their land and houses and had sold their children into slavery just to get food and to survive. But these problems were pushed back by the arrival of Nehemiah. There was excitement in the air and the enthusiasm for the physical work distracted them for a while.

But their internal problems did not go away. And so the people raised a “cry of protest against their fellow Jews”.

I’ve seen it over and over again in my family, with my kids. It doesn’t help to get distracted with some busyness or even ignoring it, if there’s a problem with one of my kids. This problem hardly ever goes away. And if I refuse to deal with it now, it will come back to haunt me a few weeks or months from now. And when it comes back it’s usually way bigger than in the beginning. And I always wish I had dealt with it when it first came up. Ever been there?!?!

One of my former bosses would often say: “If you wait long enough, the problem will solve itself.” And sometimes it did. But always at a cost. While he was waiting the problem to go away, to disappear, there were disgruntled people, there were impatient people waiting for him to do something. And with every wait there was loss of respect. Why? Because he didn’t have the courage to confront someone.

I haven’t always had the courage to confront my kids or a problem I was facing. In the end I did have to face the problem. I don’t believe that a problem will solve itself. It gets pushed aside for other things that occupy me in the moment, and when a crisis hits, these old problems surface. Often they are even unrelated to the crisis, and the timing of the reappearance of these problems couldn’t be worse. And then I think, why now? And it’s all because I have not dealt with them when I should.

I’ve got lots to learn from Nehemiah. He was determined, and he was courageous by confronting his people and getting this problem resolved. I had to think about the words God spoke to Joshua in Joshua 1:9:

 “This is my command – be strong and courageous!
Do not be afraid or discouraged.
For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Mondays with Nehemiah

Fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!
Last week I mentioned that this chapter was the most memorable one for me. I had heard this as a Bible story from my parents and grandparents when I was little. It’s the story that goes like this:
Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem were rebuilding the wall. The enemy was not happy. They ridiculed the workers. But Nehemiah and his people defaulted to prayer, and Nehemiah encouraged the people to continue on. He reminded them that they have a great God who’s on their side.
At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm.
But the enemy did not stop at just ridiculing them with words. They got furious and started to plot an attack. And again Nehemiah and the people prayed and they “guarded the city day and night to protect” themselves.
10 Then the people of Judah began to complain, “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves.”
11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”
12 The Jews who lived near the enemy came and told us again and again, “They will come from all directions and attack us!” 13 So I placed armed guards behind the lowest parts of the wall in the exposed areas. I stationed the people to stand guard by families, armed with swords, spears, and bows.
14 Then as I looked over the situation, I called together the nobles and the rest of the people and said to them, “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!”
The threat was real. And Nehemiah showed great leadership skills to encourage the people and continue the work on the wall. He says, “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!” Nehemiah reminds his people that they got their God on their side. Their God is great and glorious!
And another thing that stood out to me in verse 14 is that he tells his people to remember the Lord. We see that quite often in the Old Testament, that people are told to remember the Lord. Sometimes we take our eyes off God and see all the difficulties and our circumstances and we get discouraged. But if we “remember the Lord”, when we think of all the times we saw God’s hand in our lives, we become aware of His presence, we remember the wonderful ways He has led us in the past and we get encouraged again to continue on our journey. “If we look at the problem through the greatness of God, we will have confidence and succeed.” (e)
“To place whole families together – including women and children – put tremendous pressure on fathers particularly. In case of outright attack, they would have no choice but to stay and fight for and with their family members.” (a)
In verse 14 Nehemiah tells his people to fight for their families. The enemy is not just after me, he’s also after my family. Ever since I heard of this verse, I’ve been encouraged to “fight” in my prayers for my family, for my kids.
We see Nehemiah organizing the workers in two groups, half of them were working, while the other stood guard. “What a picture of trusting in God and actively standing strong for God! They prayed and posted a guard. They knew that only God could deliver them, but they also knew that God expected them to do what they could to resist this threat.” (d)
15 When our enemies heard that we knew of their plans and that God had frustrated them, we all returned to our work on the wall. 16 But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.
19 Then I explained to the nobles and officials and all the people, “The work is very spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 When you hear the blast of the trumpet, rush to wherever it is sounding. Then our God will fight for us!”
21 We worked early and late, from sunrise to sunset. And half the men were always on guard. 22 I also told everyone living outside the walls to stay in Jerusalem. That way they and their servants could help with guard duty at night and work during the day. 23 During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.
And this is the picture from that Bible story in my childhood: The people worked with one hand while carrying a weapon in the other. I still remember the picture that went with the story. Today, I see prayer as my most efficient weapon. This picture encourages me to work and fight, to work and pray! I just remembered that my parents had this little plaque in their kitchen, it said “Bete und Arbeite” (Pray and Work). It’s a good reminder for me that the enemy is real, that there is a way to work that might not seem very efficient at first glance, but if work and prayer goes hand in hand, my God will give the victory!
Be encouraged and have a great week!
(a) Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck
(d) Bill Hybels with Kevin & Sherry Harney “Overcoming Challenges”
(e) Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined”

Mondays with Nehemiah

Default to Prayer?

Read chapter 4 of the book of Nehemiah. We have come to a very interesting part in this book. This is the part that I remember most from the Bible stories I heard in Sunday school when I was a child. It is basically THE story that I knew about Nehemiah.

Things had been going well for Nehemiah and the people of Judah. They were making progress in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Chapter 3 describes how they had divided up the sections of the Jerusalem wall and they were all working hard to finish it.

But the enemy was not asleep. Chapter 4 starts out as follows:

1 Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, 2 saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”

 

3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”
Sanballat didn’t hold back with ridicule, did he? He had ridiculed Nehemiah before (Neh 2:19), but this time he chose to do it in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers. First he ridiculed the people working on it (bunch of poor, feeble Jews), then Tobiah the Ammonite chimed in and helped to ridicule the work itself: “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”
“Of course, much that Sanballat and Tobiah said was true from a human point of view, for the Jewish remnant was weak and poor, and the work was too great for them. But they had great faith in a great God, and that’s what made the difference.” (e)We see Nehemiah respond to the ridicule of Sanballat and Tobiah: “Then I prayed…” (verse 4) and later on in verse 9 “But we prayed to our God…”

I am amazed at this first response: prayer! I would love to have this same default, when I’m ridiculed or when I face opposition. To default to prayer, it has to be practiced over and over again. For prayer to become my first response, I have to have made it a habit of praying first and solving the problem later. We see Nehemiah and his people stop for prayer and then they go back to work. “They did not let the harsh and insulting words win the day. They kept the momentum going and got the all built to half its necessary height. Their goal was in sight.” (d)

(d) Bill Hybels with Kevin & Sherry Harney “Overcoming Challenges”
(e) Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined”