73. One day to another – no greater contrast ever.

I grew up with Good Friday. I cannot remember all of them well, but I know they were there. For a period of at least twenty five years, Easter weekend was engulfed in a church tradition called camp meeting time – a period of ten days every year when going to church and socializing with people from church were the main activities. We drove a few kilometers outside Johannesburg, South Africa to a huge piece of land where people from all over the country came to pitch a tent or park a caravan. There were also huts and wooden structures erected specially for this time of year.

Later during high school years and university, I studied through many Easter weekends, but even then I would not miss the “big” services – Good Friday morning and the celebration of the resurrection on the Sunday after. Camp meeting services were conducted in a rough and cold brick building with a corrugated iron roof. This structure could seat quite a few thousand people with a platform for an extensive band and the church leadership. The singing was heavenly and after camp meeting time, everybody went home with new songs on their lips, but more important, in their hearts.

Many testimonies of miracles were associated with this building. For most of the services the people were invited to write their prayer requests on pieces of paper. These little papers were then assembled in front and prayed over with the church leaders stretching out their hands over them. My mother once “saw” in the Spirit how one of the corrugated iron sections of the roof “opened” and the prayer requests were “flying” out as if a gushing wind were gathering them up to heaven. She knew they were all safely in the Hands of our loving heavenly Father.

My two elder boys still experienced camp meeting time. No one ever missed the last Sunday night “goodbye” service. April was usually rainy and cooler. We carried two heavy quilts into the service for them to sleep if the three hours got a bit long for them. Yes… three hours! We would sing for at least an hour, worshipping until the heavens opened in every heart and the intercessory prayer could start for a long line of needs.

My brother had a wooden structure put up, where we could meet after services and on camping chairs and picnic tables eat the most wonderful moveable feasts, carried in baskets and cooler bags from home kitchens. My boys called it: the Ark. On the last Sunday evening, we would choose one of the many church stalls baking “crepes”, which we called pancakes, but were more like the French crepes; the size of a dinner plate and wafer thin with cinnamon sugar and rolled. That would be the farewell-food, enjoyed while people came to say goodbye and sit a while for a testimony or two.

I will never forget the talk. People talked about God, all the time – freely, passionately and wholeheartedly. All ages, especially the veterans were walking worshipping testimonials to the goodness and provision of God.

Then there were the kids, joyfully bundled together in their own hall; the radiant Corner of Sunshine as it was called. A cousin of my dad was the leader and preacher and between him and his family they did the singing and the teaching. His messages were illustrated and fun; always making sure the children under 12 were learning about their good heavenly Dad, looking out for them faithfully. The farewell song of the Sunshine kids on the last Sunday night of the camp meeting, I sing to this day – the last verse of Psalm 23:

Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life

And I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever

And I shall sit at the table prepared for me

Surely goodness and mercy…

This past weekend was Easter and I am a million miles away in time and space from those years. Why do I remember?

I know why.

Many years later in adult life, I once attended a United Church Easter service in a town on the south coast of South Africa, called Hermanus. The reverent there was a well-known radio preacher, Martin Holt. I have always had a deep appreciation for Latin, which I learnt at school as well as university, partly since studying Law required knowledge of Latin. His sermon’s title was Vivit – the Latin for He Lives! He was so thrilled to bring this news to his congregation that his anointing rubbed off in this word that burnt itself into my mind.

I know why I remember that Easters of my past. No Easter, no church, no testimony, no prayer would be possible without the shout of the women that first Easter morning: Vivit – He lives!

This one fact changes everything. It is the contrast from a Saturday of darkness in death to the Sunday of light in life.

This week, is the week after the celebration of that day when Jesus said to Mary in the garden:

But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)

Where are you these days after Easter? Are you caught in death and the darkness of the Saturday, just like Peter, feeling the failure of personal defeat and crushed dreams?

Jesus says to you, just as specially as he mentioned Peter, to go to the meeting place where you met Him the first time – your Galilee. He knew how utterly broken Peter was, after his betrayal and after the cruel crucifixion killing. He knew what effect His appearance will have on Peter.

He knows what you need, right now. He is waiting for you… He knows that your life will be changed when you see Him.

Go and shout it out – Vivit! – He lives … because He has risen from the dead.

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51. More wind and storm… and angels.

The plot thickens in the seventh chapter. A superficial reading could be confusing and discouraging. Winds and angels, numbers and multitudes, marks and seals, loud voices and worship songs are all combined to describe cosmic history in a few words. Hang in there, go slowly and grasp the metaphors and symbols to understand and enjoy. Remember, we have anointed minds and blessed understanding. Instead of groping for a clear picture, relax and “hear” the still, small voice of your Father and His kind words of encouragement. He is very aware of your current position in His Word and He will enlighten to your mind and communicate to your heart.

It was a common belief amongst the Jews that angels control the earth. They believed the earth to be square and flat. The winds from north, south, east and west were good, but winds blowing diagonally across the earth were bad. They knew the angel of fire as mentioned in Revelation 14:18 and the angel of waters as in Revelation 16:5. They also believed that angels could hold back judgment, but only on a command from God.

The Sirocco was known as an especially dreadful wind. It was a whirlwind that withered vegetation and destroyed the harvest. (Zechariah 6:1-5, Nahum 1:3,4, Psalm 18:15, Isaiah 40:7,24, 66:15)

Psalm (83:13) declares that God will destroy his enemies as stubble before the wind. Other scriptures talk about the destruction of fertility by the wind. [Jeremiah 23:19, 30:23. Hosea 13:15]

We might know more about the weather patterns, but we should always appreciate that God is in control.

 The control of the angels holds the winds and blocks harm until salvation is sealed over the godly. The winds are symbolic of evil forces. The east was always regarded as the source of blessing; the rising of the sun. The sun symbolizes the giving of light and life. God promises life and light within strife and adversity.

We serve the living God, in contrast to idols made by human hands, more than enough against the overwhelming evil forces. [Isaiah 44:9-17, 2 Kings 18: 17-37]

We are privileged to carry the seal or mark of the living God, so that we are protected from evil. We read about the man clothed in linen, with a scribe’s writing case at his side who marks the foreheads of the faithful in Ezekiel 9: 1-7.

In ancient times the king’s seal was very significant. The king wore a signet ring to authenticate documents and property. It was an undisputed authoritative representation of the King’s command and trust. [Genesis 41:42 – Joseph, Esther 3:10,8:2]

The lion’s den was sealed (Daniel 6:17) as was Jesus’ tomb. (Matthew 27:66). It indicated a source of possession for merchants and vineyards.

To the early church the seal was baptism. In the early church people were always baptized wearing white clothes. [Zechariah 3:4]

Our baptism is sealed with the Holy Spirit. It is the full package of salvation and protection from evil in this world.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 1:13, NIV)

We are sealed from God’s wrath, not from tribulation and death. We are not exempt from distress on earth, but safely brought through. We are the testimony to the world. The church is the warning, the assurance and the promise – all at the same time. We live and walk side by side with the unbeliever, but plugged into the Source of life, to live as an example of a life of excellence within the brokenness and strife.

The 144 000 is a symbol of completeness. The military division of the camp of Israel was 1000, thus 10x10x10, which is a perfect cube. The number 144 is 12×12, which includes the elders – the tribes and the apostles. It is the symbol of the faithful remnant of the Old and the New Testaments. It is the complete spiritual Israel. [Galatians 6:16, Revelation 14:1-5]

The number is inclusive and not limited. It depicts multiplication.

Not all Jews belong to Israel, according to Romans 9:6-8:

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

We are Abraham’s offspring in Christ. [Galatians 3:29, 6:16]

The tribes mentioned in Revelation 7 are in no particular order. Judah is first as the source of Jesus. Dan is omitted because of idolatry and judgment (Genesis 49:17) and regarded as the enemy (Jeremiah 8:16). Manasseh (Joseph’s son) is in this list.

Verses 9 -17 talk about the blessed state of the redeemed in heaven. It is the church triumphant, with the great cloud of witnesses.

(Hebrews 12:1) The number of the martyrs is too great to count. Israel blesses every nation on earth. [Genesis 15:5, 32:12] It is a great multitude from many nations and many tongues.

They will have palms and white robes, illustrating their victory and jubilation, filled with praise and worship for the Source of Salvation. A sevenfold ascription of adoration flows in praise:

Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power, might and everlasting.

Power can be described by 4 words in Greek:

  • koach – capacity, ability
  • exousia – authority, right to act
  • dunamis – might, great force
  • kratos – effective power shown in reigning

All the words used are in the present participle tense, expressing continuous and repeated action. Worship is not a once-for-all. Tribulation is taking place throughout the church age and still the church is triumphant.

The great tribulation is an acceleration and intensification of troublesome times climaxing in the second coming of Jesus.

Only through the Blood can we be made righteous and therefore white meaning cleansed from sin. The blood covers the sacrifice for the past (forgiveness of sins), the present (peace and salvation through faith) and the future (guaranteed glory with Christ). Ancient mysticism involved the blood of sacrificial animals to wash over a person.

They are sheltered by the presence of God. He will spread His tabernacle over them. The promise of His presence is open to all; also women and the gentiles. The shechinah was His visible presence like a tent. The Temple in the time of Jesus separated the places for the gentiles and the women. It explains Jesus’ anger and His highly controversial cleansing. (Matthew 21:12)

The Lamb is the shepherd – a well-known image in the ancient world. [Psalm 23, Isaiah 25:8 Ezekiel 34:24] He will care for His sheep with fountains of the water of life – no lack, no thirst. [Isaiah 55]

These verses are full of encouragement and hope fulfilled into the best possible scenario – victory in spite of tribulation. Their weeping is comforted. They will shout of triumph as in the days of Jericho.

Deliverance is not escape, but conquest.

God brings them triumphantly through trouble. Life is not easy, but life is great. This is the true Christian hope: not to be saved from trouble and distress, but to endure and to be guaranteed the glory of reward – Jude 24.

Their hunger and thirst for righteousness, will be filled. [Matthew 5]

Jesus is the Bread of Life. In Him there is no hunger or thirst. [John 6:35]

…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

 

They will neither hunger nor thirst,

    nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.

He who has compassion on them will guide them

    and lead them beside springs of water. (Isaiah 49:10)

 

 The divine shepherd.

This is a precious picture in any age; but it was more meaningful in Palestine than it can ever be to those who live in cities. Judaea was like a narrow plateau with dangerous country on either side. It was only a very few miles across, with on one side the grim cliffs and ravines leading down to the Dead Sea and on the other the drop to the wild country of the Shephelah. There were no fences or walls and the shepherd had to be ever on the watch for straying sheep. George Adam Smith describes the eastern shepherd. “With us sheep are often left to themselves; I do not remember to have seen in the East a flock without a shepherd. In such a landscape as Judaea, where a day’s pasture is thinly scattered over an unfenced track, covered with delusive paths, still frequented by wild beasts, and rolling into the desert, the man and his character are indispensable. On some high moor, across which at night hyenas howl, when you met him sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”

Here we have the two great functions of the Divine Shepherd. He leads to fountains of living waters. As the psalmist had it: “He leads me beside still waters” (Psalms 23:2). “With thee is the fountain of life” (Psalms 36:9). Without water the flock would perish; and in Palestine the wells were few and far between. That the Divine Shepherd leads to wells of water is the symbol that he gives us the things without which life cannot survive.

He wipes the tear from every eye. As he nourishes our bodies so he also comforts our hearts; without the presence and the comfort of God the sorrows of life would be unbearable, and without the strength of God there are times in life when we could never go on.

The Divine Shepherd gives us nourishment for our bodies and comfort for our hearts. With Jesus Christ as Shepherd nothing can happen to us, which we cannot bear.

 

[Quoted from William Barclay – Daily Study Bible – Revelation – http://www.studylight.org]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

43. No confusion – listen and live!

God never intended confusion, yet when we look at the world around us, confusion reigns like a mad, headless horseman, galloping through public life and characters as well as personal lives and relationships. Governments struggle to maintain order, people strive for stability and security, all of which typify the kingdom of God. What we learn, we must teach our children as a treasure so that they can listen and live.

The things [the doctrine, the precepts, the admonitions, the sum of my ministry], which you have heard me teach in the presence of many witnesses, entrust [as a treasure] to reliable and faithful men who will also be capable and qualified to teach others.

2 Timothy 2:2

On our walk through the revealed mystery of Revelation, we must first and foremost declare God as multi-faceted and larger than anything we know or hope to know. The explanation that we will study together is a scraping of the surface and a possible analysis. Mostly I have endeavoured to stay away from dispensational interpretations of which there are a number who are all plausible.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed and disclosed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may do all of the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

We are in the unique position in the universe to have experienced the salvation of God. This treasure is our legacy and distinguishing symbol – the mark on our forehead that will make us known to the angels, who are not saved beings, but created by God as the hosts of heaven. The church carries the great work of Christ in the universe as Paul declares:

to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. Ephesians 3:10:

What a magnificent and majestic role to play in our time! Gear up Pebble pals – our triumphal parade ground with Christ is far beyond all we can think or dream of. May God equip us in every way, especially with a word in season.

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. Isaiah 50:4.

Reading through the first chapter of Revelation, be quick to recognize the most important principles for studying the book. The Holy Spirit governs everything. His portrays the mind of God. Christ has given everything to the world, now He comes to take account.

Always the attitude is positive. His desire is to bless. Blessing is the purpose of exposure, warning and uncovering. Every step of the way there is encouragement and reward for obedience.

All judgment and condemnation are always meant to clear the way for blessing and God’s approval.

Sin blocks blessing. This is a spiritual principle. (1:1-3) There are seven blessings proclaimed throughout Revelation. Let’s rejoice in it.

 

  1. Blessing of the word – to read, hear, keep, obey (1:3)
  2. Blessing of the Dead (14:13)
  3. Blessing on those who stay awake (16:15)
  4. Blessing of the Invited (19:9)
  5. First resurrection – no touch of death (20:6) Salvation keeps you from death.
  6. Blessing of the wise (22:7)
  7. Blessing on those who have washed robes (22:14)

For those of us who have been redeemed by the Cross and therefore have received everlasting life through rebirth, all of the above apply.

The central theme of the whole prophecy is to bring Christ in His supreme fullness into view. Absolutely everything is centered on Christ. John paints a very vivid word picture of Jesus as he sees Him in this chapter.

Seven-fold characterization:

  1. Garment – head to foot
  2. Girdle of gold
  3. Head and hair – like wool
  4. Eyes as a flame of fire
  5. Feet as burnished brass
  6. Voice as the sound of many waters
  7. Sword – sharp and two-edged, proceeding out of his mouth

Seven spirits (1:4,5) depict the sevenfold expression of the Holy Spirit. The throne is a symbol of government and authority, which is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit. Describing the throne is a vision of the Trinity in action who demands the features of Christ in the church. [I hope you are now reaching for your Bible to read the first chapter again.]

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (1:8)

John bends Greek grammar to show his reverence to God. He shows God to be supreme even if language demands otherwise. Alpha is the first letter and Omega the last letter of the Greek alphabet to signify completeness and full inclusion of everything ever.

The beginning and the end is God’s description of Himself – Isaiah 44:6, 48:12.

To call God Almighty is to declare His dominion over all things. The church was failing and scattered at this point in history. It is best described in the words of the English poet Sir William Watson: the panting huddled flock whose crime was Christ.

The encouragement comes strong and clear. Revelation 19:6: The Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Nothing can pluck us away from the hand of the Almighty.

The lamps are torches of fire to reveal, test and determine. The lamp stand is a familiar image. The candlestick was pure gold in the tabernacle, as was the candlestick in the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:49) and the vision of Zechariah (4:2). To reveal sin and to purify our lives are functions of the Holy Spirit. Christ will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit in the words of John the Baptist. (Matthew 3:11,12)

Important principle: the best way to prepare for the revelation of new truth is to study the revelation, which God has already given. John knew the Old Testament well. We have the revealed will of God in the Word. His specific will for our lives will be revealed when we study that which is given.

Son of man (1:13) is how Jesus calls himself in John 1:51. Man is God’s special creation. The title “Son of man” embraces the original purpose of mankind – lost then redeemed by the divine Son of man. Jesus is God’s model for what He intended in the first place. The lamps reveal truth. The truth is how evident the Son of man is in mankind. We have Christ in us.

Garment covering is full covering, not priestly, but is reminiscent of the priestly garment signifying the opening to the Presence of God. (Daniel 7:13.) Fine linen with a gold girdle was the robe of kings as well as special messengers of the king. Christ stands as divine messenger (prophet) from the Throne. He is priest, prophet and king.

Girdle of gold (1:4,5) is the burning fire of the first love.

It is only with love that we are girded for action. The Pharisees were not girded, only clothed with their own garment – the law. Love makes you worthy. Love will stand the test of fire, never pride and pretense.

Testing of fire is the crisis in our life. 1 Corinthians 3:12,13:

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

Girdle is good for action so that no pretentious clothes get in the way of work (ministry). Gird up your loins is the call for action. Gold always speaks of God. Breast always speaks of love. Love is first then works will follow.

Head and hair – white as wool, like snow

Daniel 7:9 describes the Ancient One and stainless purity. (Isaiah 1:18).

Eyes as a flame of fire

Daniel 10:6: Eyes like flaming torches is a description of eyes that can never be forgotten. The Gospels give the impression that those who looked Jesus in the eye could never forget Him. (Mark 3:34, 10:23, 11:11) His eyes flashed in anger – Mark 3:5, looked in love – Mark 10:21 and sorrow – Luke 22:61.

To study this precious vision is to catch Jesus’ eye. The impression on our life can never be ignored or forgotten. In the words of C.S. Lewis:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away?”

Feet like beaten brass – refined by fire in a furnace.

Daniel 10:6 – arms and legs of the divine messenger was like burnished bronze and Ezekiel 1:7 the feet of angelic beings. It brings us under the impression of strength and the shining rays of speed – God is swift to help.

Voice like the sound of many waters

Ezekiel 43:2. For John it might have been amplified by the roar of the waves in the cave on the island. God’s voice is not confined to one description. It can be the still small voice that Elijah heard in 1 Kings 19:12.

Seven stars in His right hand.

God controls the stars, with His outstretched hand. Job 38:31. He alone can tell you not to be afraid.

Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.

The sword described here was the Roman fighting sword – short and tongue-shaped, not the long fencer’s blade. (Isaiah 11:14 & 49:2,

Hebrews 4:12)

His face was as the sun shining in its strength

Matthew 17:2 describes the transfiguration on the mount and says his face shone like the sun. John was present on that occasion.

In His almost unapproachable glory He says: Don’t be afraid. They were terrified by the divine. (Matthew 17:7)

He declares himself the living one who was dead and alive forever, as identification to John. John himself experienced the empty tomb on that Sunday a few decades before he writes this.

Keys to death and Hades

Christ rules over the gates of death. (Psalm 9:13, 107:18 & Isaiah 38:10)

Christ brought life and immortality. (2 Timothy 1:10) He lives and because He lives, we live (John 14:19) For the saved, the bitterness of death is forever past (1 Corinthians 15).

At the end of the first chapter, it is clear that Revelation feeds on the well-known images and symbols of the entire Scripture as was known at the time John wrote the vision. This was the code according to which he got the message out. Remember always that John called himself the beloved disciple. Jesus did not love him more than the others. John himself had a special revelation of how much Jesus loved him. What a blessing! May we come to the revelation of God’s love for us as the first blessing of the study of this book.

It is impossible for us to get the message out without the code. Our code is LOVE.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2

Pebble pals, you might feel the first excitement of revealed knowledge, a clear view of our loving God and more understanding. I hope so. That is good. BUT…test yourself first and foremost:

Love suffers long and is kind;

     love does not envy;

          love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 

does not behave rudely,

     does not seek its own,

          is not provoked,

thinks no evil;

     does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 

          bears all things,

               believes all things,

                    hopes all things,

endures all things.

 

Next time: The seven churches.

41. Everything is wrong!

Oh! It’s so easy. Pick up a newspaper and start reading … and read until a deep, dark mood decides nothing works out right. Unpleasant, angry feelings fill your inner being. You know that your standards for good living, good government, good decisions and good environment are down the drain with no apology, no compensation. Self-pity and anger, harsh words and abrasive comments burst from you exactly there where the fountains of living water should flow forth to a broken world. What exactly did Jesus say?

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV)

Jesus said it, so it is true and the consequences guaranteed. Trouble and tribulation will come. Would you like to choose your trouble? Lord, not this thank you. Oh no! I would like to surrender my life again and know that He will not allow anything to overwhelm me.

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV)

This world is a challenge. Maybe we tend to divide our lives into spiritual and fleshly things. We feel justified to criticize world politics, our own politics and the decisions of authorities that we cannot change outside occasional elections until we fall into misery that bar the courage and strength of God’s word and work in our lives.

This is not a life of faith. Faith and the challenge to live fearless are the basis for our whole existence in imperfect and dangerous circumstances. The greater challenge is to look deeper and know that our God reigns over everything and in every possible condition. The purpose of our life is to be made perfect in Christ and respond to life in spiritual maturity. If worry and fear do not lead us into prayer, revelation and testimony of miracles, we live a tragedy.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:3-4, NKJV)

There is a place, Pebble pal, in the Garden of His presence with green pastures and still waters lacking NOTHING. It is all yours, now, this moment.

Paul also had trouble with the politics of the day, aimed against the new movement called Christianity and executed by his own people, causing “tears and trials”…

… serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials, which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; (Acts 20:19, NKJV)

Well, let us have a look at Nehemiah’s regional politics and the trouble it causes him. His response to devious plotting by his enemies was his characteristic quick prayers – resulting in constant communication with God. His narrative is meticulous, leaving the reader under no wrong impression. The wall is finished but the doors of the gates are not done. (Nehemiah 6.)

His enemies are active. Their activity is motivated by their own fear. Jerusalem in ruins with no defense and without organized residents suited them just fine. The picture is changed and they are afraid. Fearful people become bullies – we know that. They try to get to Nehemiah himself, knowing that if they can keep him busy or stir fear in him, the project will suffer. Four times they send messages to get him to talk to them. He refuses to get down from the place he is building. His response illustrates insight into their strategy.

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave to come down to meet with you?” (6:3)

The fifth time Sanballat wrote a letter, which was not sealed. Did he want the people to see the content and spread the rumors, so that Nehemiah would be alarmed? Sanballat’s words in the letter were carefully chosen to spread rumours of rebellion against the Persian king, the very king who supported Nehemiah’s project. (6:6)

“It is reported among the neighboring nations, and Gashmu is saying that you and the Jews are planning to revolt, and that is the reason you are rebuilding the wall. And according to these reports, you are to be their king.”

Nehemiah answers short and sweet, not wasting time on lies, with a quick one-liner to God: (6:8,9)

I sent a message to him, saying, “Such things as you are saying have not been done; you are inventing them in your own mind.”  For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

 Every temptation to draw us from duty should quicken us the more to duty.

Then the attack came from inside, fueled by betrayal. Not everyone is on the same page as Nehemiah, determined to finish a God-ordained project and tapping into the source of quick-prayers. He sustains his courage and inspiration by constant communication with God. Semaja entices him to take refuge in the Temple, since Nehemiah’s life is threatened by Sanballat and his cohorts. Nehemiah answers: (6:11)

And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!”

Semaja was bribed to help neutralize Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s insight into enemy strategy revealed empty threats and fear could not get a foothold.

Fear blooms in doubt and insecurity. Nehemiah’s steadfast dedication to the work, his unwavering trust in God’s protection and provision enables him to push for completion in record time. This is a precious principle of life.

The fear-strategy is so cunning; it is even launched among the prophets active inside Jerusalem. Nehemiah bemoans them all to God. (6:14):

My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.

The result is undeniable success. The wall is finished in record time – 52 days. The consequences of this achievement in the enemy camp are a joy to read. (6:16):

And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.

When the enemy looses self-confidence is a day of triumph for me. God’s miracle is acknowledged through grit teeth!

What does it mean for us today?

If you are busy with a great work in the name of our Lord, you do not waste time on fear and intimidation.

You might say you have only an ordinary job to earn money. You are not serving in ministry or any such high and lofty calling-stuff. It does not matter. Everything you do, you do as unto God.

After these signs take place, do what must be done, for God is with you.

(1 Samuel 10:7, NLT)

Every job is a calling. Being a parent, a friend, a sibling or a child to your parents are the stuff a calling is made of. Live it as unto our Father. Do not give in to fear. God has great plans for your life and He promised to be with you always. In Jesus’ own words:

I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NKJV)

The key to knowing our enemy’s fear strategy we find in Psalm 37 with the answer of trusting God. Read with me in The Message:

Don’t bother your head with braggarts

    or wish you could succeed like the wicked.

In no time they’ll shrivel like grass clippings

    and wilt like cut flowers in the sun.

Get insurance with God and do a good deed,

    settle down and stick to your last.

Keep company with God,

    get in on the best.

This is our life attitude, developed in the strength of the Holy Spirit in our inner being. We have not received a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) We have peace when the rest of the world withers in worry and dread. We cannot allow ourselves to listen to the fearful intimidation around us. We must respect the high calling of God in our life.

Our calling is our family and closest relationships in the first place. See what God has given you and build your wall. Further on in Psalm 37 is encouragement against the negative forces of life.

Less is more and more is less.

    One righteous will outclass fifty wicked,

For the wicked are moral weaklings

    but the righteous are God-strong.

 

God keeps track of the decent folk;

    what they do won’t soon be forgotten.

In hard times, they’ll hold their heads high;

    when the shelves are bare, they’ll be full.

 What is the last word on Nehemiah’s success?

A jolly feast with a live band! Do not forget the feast in God’s honour.

Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. (12:27, NKJV)

Just read about the choirs and trumpet-playing priests, marching around the wall from gate to gate, giving thanks, feasting and singing at their handiwork.

Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away. (12:43, NLT)

Yes indeed, the enemy heard their rejoicing.

Nehemiah closes his narrative with a full report on sustainable management with focus and diligence. (12:44-47)

32. Find yourself a border to cross.

Life demands a series of decisions. That is a fact. God gave us choice, the first and foremost gift to mankind. You cannot change it. You have to choose. You have to accept or reject. To stay neutral to most of life’s core issues is a peculiar position and most often than not boils down to rejection.

Decisions are powerful. We have discussed it in the past. Job 22:28: [Amplified]

“You will also decide and decree a thing, and it will be established for you; and the light [of God’s favor] will shine upon your ways.

To decide is to be special. You are unique to the measure of your decisions. Every day is a consequence of your decisions. You develop talents and gifts, open and close doors for yourself as well as others, build relationships, decide to lie or to live truthfully, be gracious, be angry, be encouraging  – I can go on for a long, long time to name the decisions of just one day.

God mad us special. We are a trinity like Him: spirit, soul and body. The ideal pecking order for our lives should be as follows:

God’s Spirit

My spirit

My soul – will, mind and emotions

My body

The body will follow the soul. When you decide with your mind your body will follow through. You decide to eat, to go to a concert, to shop….etc. Your decisions should bring about the best results for your body and spirit. You protect yourself, watch your diet, take medicine and so forth.

The devil will do anything to thwart this order and apply it upside down. Secular philosophy screams for the satisfaction of the body as first priority. The body dictates to the mind for fulfillment. This disorder is perpetuated by special-syndrome. I am so special, I feel with my body and emotions and therefore I am the most important. It is so ironic that when you and your body are elevated to this level of demand, you are often deeply unhappy. Selfishness can never satisfy.

In this confusion the pos modern society shuns the writings of old. How can an ancient book direct my ways to my benefit? How can a god I cannot see or feel know what is best for me?

Come to think of it, the ancient Romans also followed this hedonistic, instant bodily satisfaction in their society. The complete breakdown of moral values is often cited as one of the chief reasons for the fall of the great Roman Empire. Today violence and erotic passion are at the core of entertainment. The Circus Maximus is on the screen in the lounge.

In real terms, short-term pleasure has long-term implications. The results of body dictation are mostly brokenness and hurt.

The New Year demands its usual decisions – sometimes in rapid succession. A decision can be a reaction of a response. Reaction is necessary when the situation demands lightning action, but mostly relationships demand response, rather than reaction. We need to exercise ourselves in godliness to be able to live graciously, gracefully and gratefully. Will I discipline or cover up a child’s mistake? Will I love unconditionally over blatant sin, seek Word guidance in complicated issues or react in legalism and judgment?

1 Timothy 4:7,8:

But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

Walk with me the ancient paths to view the lives of three characters that made extraordinary decisions. All of them grossly broke the law. They crossed a border that affected the outcome most spectacularly.

Moses erected the dessert tabernacle according to the strict prescription of God. It was a holy place – set apart for worship to a holy God, special and incomparable in every way to anything else on earth. Every member of the people of Israel knew temple procedures. It was taught and impressed upon their hearts as “mistakes” had punishment of death. Only the priests, specially anointed, could enter the Holy part of the Tabernacle where the Lamp stand, the Table of Show breads and the Bowl of Incense were. Only the high priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. On that day he wore a robe with bells on the hem so that those outside could hear if he is struck down and died because of unworthy entry. Wow! Strictly regulated. They used a hook to get him out. Nobody could enter, whatever the circumstances. God is Holy, they knew it.

In 2 Chronicles 26 we read about a king of Judah called Uzziah. He was one of the few good kings of Judah. (There were 19 kings in Israel – all bad and 20 kings in Judah – only eight were good.)

A full record of all his good deeds is followed by this disturbing verse.

2 Chronicles 26:16:

But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

The priests rushed to keep him from doing it and he was furious. He went in and they witnessed how leprosy broke out in his body. He died a leper! God is Holy and not to be mocked in pride.

But now – David. David lived long before Uzziah. The high priest in the days of Samuel before David was the king, Eli, had two godless and corrupt sons. In a fight against the Philistines they fetched the Ark of the Covenant as a good luck charm. Big mistake. The Philistines won the fight and took the Ark. Read some Bible comedy in 1 Samuel 5 to see what happened to the Ark amongst the Philistines.

The Ark is stored in the house of an ordinary man in Israel, specially anointed to look after it for the next twenty years, through the reign of Saul and into the reign of David. [1 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 6.] With an astonishing process, where people died of unworthiness, David brings the Ark back to Jerusalem – a life dream for him. The procession is meticulously described in 1 Chronicles 15, 16 and 17 with the magnificent song of David. It reads like a thriller.

David is overjoyed. He sets up the musicians and dance into the city ahead of the Ark. He was a musician himself – just think how he planned this event with worship and song – specially written and composed. 1 Chronicles 15:16, 28:

Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joyThus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps.

He is dressed in fine linen and wears the priestly linen vest (ephod).

A feast, most spectacular and joyful, meat, raisin cakes and bread for all the people, song and dance, with prayer and prose to touch your heart in glory.

He sets the Ark in a tent (remember there is no temple – Solomon, David’s son built the temple) with constant – 24/7 – worship and music and writes in Psalm 84:11:

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God…

And in Psalm 27:4:

One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.

This is the heart of David. He “visits” God and desires the Presence of his Father more than anything. He is allowed into that Holy of Holies because his heart is pure. He is not proud like Uzziah. Peter preaches in Acts 15:16 and states that the coming of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the restoration of the Tabernacle of David – sweet communion in the Presence of our Lord. How magnificent is the golden thread of God’s heart in His Word. We can enter into the Holy of Holies with a humble and contrite heart.

All doctrine of man must yield to true worship.

Let’s fast forward to the New Testament and the woman with an issue of blood who touched the hem of His garment. [Matthew 9]

According to the regulations set in the Law of Moses she was not allowed to leave her house, let alone touch anybody.

Leviticus 15:25:

‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean.

All three synoptic Gospels tell the story. Luke, who was a medical doctor himself, adds how she sought the help of many physicians and spent a lot of money on it, without avail. Twelve years she lives with this curse of uncleanness over her. She is desperate and decides to do something out of the ordinary. She must have come to the conclusion that if she could not touch Jesus and had to be caught in public, that would be the day of her death.

She reaches out in reckless rejection of the law and her theology and touches Jesus with her life on the line. A miraculous encounter follows with spectacular results plus public recognition of her healing. She is crowned in glory and could live a life previously only imagined.

She acted out of the ordinary. She crossed the border.

What are you going to do with 2016?

They say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a sign of insanity. Are you willing to step out and do the things God wants with the same heart as David and serve God according to the true Gospel of the New Covenant?

Read how the community in Berea conscientiously researched the preaching of Paul [Acts 17] and how Apollos was shown the way of God more accurately [Acts 18].

There is always a way more accurately, a teaching from the heart of God, a new revelation. Call to God, He will show you great and wonderful things you did not know.

Make the choice. Matthew 15:9:

And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

Read Matthew 23 and recognize the Pharisee in yourself. Do not look down on their sincere efforts to serve God according to their own regulations and were deceived by their own pride. Harsh words from the mouth of Jesus judge them.

Sacrifice your tradition and prejudice on the altar of your mind for the Holy Spirit to burn clean. Do not be part of the reproach of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37:

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

The Word of God is the only authority. Elevate it as your ultimate guide. Obey and live a life more abundantly. Grow strong in the Lord.

Isaiah 48:6:

“You have heard; see all this.

And will you not declare it?

I have made you hear new things from this time,

Even hidden things, and you did not know them.

25. It’s not easy – let’s do this.

Life is hard, unfair and sometimes overwhelming. Do not be discouraged. Be strong and very brave says the Lord to Joshua before Jericho and the Jordan in flood. [Joshua1] You can do it, even if it looks impossible. God calls us to greater works and impossible tasks. John 14:12:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

This is the challenge of the Christian life – an adventure in the miraculous. He calls us to overcome the stumbling blocks and rejoice in super-natural solutions with deep, inner joy. Come with me on a journey, way back to the exiles returning home – around 500 BC.

Complete ruin, devastation and overwhelming destruction await the returning exiles. Their pride and joy, the heydays of 24/7 worship in the most spectacular building of the glorious Hebrew nation called Israel under King Solomon, are long forgotten, wiped out by the hardship of slavery and arrogance of the pagan power under whom they served in exile. They return to Jerusalem under the godly inspiration of Darius the Great (522 – 486 BC) around 536 BC. They need to do what it takes to rebuild and restore and they quickly loose courage and inspiration. The task is huge, the enemy active and their own interests become priority.

It is in circumstances like these that God’s Word is suppressed by disinterest, discouragement and dissatisfaction. God reveals Himself through His prophet that comes with prophetic encouragement for short and long-term solutions.

The nations of the ancient world had a very pronounced idea of God and gods. The pagan nations worshiped many gods, but strongly believed that they were all territory bound to an exact measure of earth. Many wars were fought to gain territory for a god. The people of Judah and Israel [the two kingdoms that contained the people of Israel after Solomon] also clung to this heathen deception about their God. They cursed the day that Ahab, the king of Israel, built a temple for Baal worship in Israel to please his Phoenician bride Jezebel. They believed he “imported” Baal into Israel.

Many prophets warned the backsliding kings and people of Israel to turn back to God after the reign of Solomon and after the kingdom was split into Judah and Israel. God’s grace and forgiveness were emphasized and illustrated in the ministry of numerous prophets. The exile was the result of stubborn persistence in idolatry and sin, despite clear and constant prophetic messages of warning.

Foreign forces came with mighty armies to conquer and take captive. Israel was resettled as captives by the Assyrian empire, located in the upper region of the Tigris River and Judah was taken by Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians after a long, cruel siege of Jerusalem. They were taken far away from their own territory and into the land of foreign gods. When the word of God reached the exiles through prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel in Babylon, they realized that their God is not territorial and present in their midst, looking out for them, even while in a foreign country. The words of Jeremiah 29 [vv 5,6 and 7] have comforted so many people far away from what they regarded as home through all the ages.

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The exiles rejoiced in this news. On the long, harsh journey into exile they were convinced God has forgotten them. The famous song of Boney M [By the rivers of Babylon] echoed the words of the exiles. Psalm 126: [The Message]

1-3 It seemed like a dream, too good to be true,

    when God returned Zion’s exiles.

We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune.

We were the talk of the nations—

    “God was wonderful to them!”

God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

Daniel was amongst the exiles as a teenager and served no less than four emperors after Nebuchadnezzar II – a miracle in itself as so many new rulers killed the administrators of the predecessor because of mistrust, especially the Persian conquerors of Babylon, Cyrus the Great and his son-in-law, Darius. His jealous advisors who wanted to get rid of Daniel, tricked Darius into signing a law that he alone should be revered in Persia. This led to Daniel being thrown into the lion’s den and miraculously saved from death. [Daniel 6] Darius rejoiced in Daniel’s miracle.

Daniel realized the exile was almost over and started praying for the deliverance and return of the exiles. During Nehemiah’s service to Darius the Great of the Persian Empire, God moved in the heart of this pagan emperor to be astonishingly generous in his resettling of the exiled Judeans to Jerusalem, most propbably because of his dealings with Daniel. He even restored to them the valuables taken from the Temple in Jerusalem by Babylon and freed Nehemiah from service to set up the restoration of the ruins of Jerusalem. The exiled returned in 536 BC.

God will look after you and your belongings. He knows what you need. Surrender to Him and do not waste your worry on stuff. If you are dependent on Him, He will spoil you with the best, more than you can imagine.

The people returned rejoicing and started the rebuilding of the wall and temple with great enthusiasm. Sixteen years after their return, the work was not done. Construction ceased as enemies mocked their efforts.

For four months in 520 BC the prophet Haggai was called to renew their zeal. Through the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, the work is completed in five years. The rebuilt temple was dedicated in 515 BC.

Haggai addresses three problems common to all people at all times.

  1. Disinterest [Haggai 1:1-15]

The people lost their enthusiasm for the temple and built beautiful houses for themselves, probably to blot out the memory of hardship and slavery. [1:4] They feel deserted by God as they struggle to rebuild the ruins of their lives, unable to build wealth. True and lasting wealth and prosperity are not possible without God’s blessing. Hear the words of Psalm 127:

Except the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; except the Lord keeps the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of [anxious] toil—for He gives [blessings] to His beloved in sleep.

God answers through the prophet:

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

     2.  Discouragement [Haggai 2:1-9]

Some of the exiles remembered the magnificence of the temple of Solomon and was discouraging a “second class” rebuilt. They did not have the superior materials of the previous building. The older people discouraged the use of inferior materials. The wood of Judah could not compare with the cedars of Lebanon and the gold of Ophir. To this Haggai responds with God’s words:

Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord.

God expects nothing you do not already have. Use what you have and He will bless and multiply it. You do not have to wait for “better days” for your tithing, giving and service.

Other sources of discouragement can be negative people, your own body that is tired or ill and the enemy in attack mode to discourage your efforts. Consciously identify the source of discouragement and address it with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 6:33:

 33 But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.

God will strengthen you. He promised in Isaiah 40: 28:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not faint or grow weary; there is no searching of His understanding. 29 He gives power to the faint and weary, and to him who has no might He increases strength [causing it to multiply and making it to abound].

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and [selected] young men shall feebly stumble and fall exhausted;

31 But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.

Be aware of your noble calling. You are unique and the task assigned by God to you, only you can do. The Word always emphasizes the variety of ministries. We are a team. You are an irreplaceable member of the high calling of this team.

Hebrews 10:35

35 Do not, therefore, fling away your fearless confidence, for it carries a great and glorious compensation of reward.

36 For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away [and enjoy to the full] what is promised.

For your immediate problems – be strong and work. Haggai 2:4,5:

Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts. According to the promise that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit stands and abides in the midst of you; fear not.

This is the encouragement for the long term. Look to the future. The content of our future is God’s promises [2:9]

 The latter glory of this house [with its successor, to which Jesus came] shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place will I give peace and prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

  1. Dissatisfaction [2:10-23]

 Do not expect immediate results. Sometimes the reversal of years of inactivity and neglect takes some time to turn around. Holiness is acquired. Uncleanness is infectious – holiness not. [2:11-13]

The Word from the Lord in 2:19:

 19 Is the harvested grain any longer in the barn? As to the grapevine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree—they have not yet borne. From this day on I will bless you.

Blessing is not earned. You do not have to be good to be blessed. Grace is the unmerited favour of God. It comes from our gracious, giving, good God.

Ultimate blessing is God’s Son in person as the prophecy is given to Zerubbabel – [2:23] In Jesus we have the full measure of the riches of God.

Rejoice and shake off your disinterest, discouragement and dissatisfaction.

Vivit! He lives!