Who were Sanballat, Tobiah And Geshem?

Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, 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?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” – Nehemiah 4:1-3.

Nehemiah traveled hundreds of miles to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. This was important work, as the wall was Jerusalem’s first line of defense. But Nehemiah’s restoration work did not go unopposed.  

His first enemies are introduced in Nehemiah 2:19a, “But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of our plan, they scoffed contemptuously…” This threesome was joined by more people: the Arabs, Ammonites and the people of Ashdod. Nehemiah’s progress on rebuilding the wall has made them “furious. “(Nehemiah 4:7) They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. (Nehemiah 4:8).

Do you have a Sanballat in your life? Well, probably not literally, but perhaps figuratively. If we have a Sanballat in our life today, he or she wants to stifle our spiritual growth. Sanballat wants to make it look like the job is impossible; in other words create doubt. And Sanballat wants to rally opposition against what you are trying to do. Just like he did to Nehemiah. The spirit of Sanballat’s goal is to discourage you—to get you to quit what God has called you to do. The goal is to tear down—not build up—the wall God is calling you to build. Sanballat can take the form of discouragement, fatigue and fear. These are a few of the enemies of restoration and rebuilding.

This is a good time to remind ourselves who was rebuilding the wall. God was the Architect, and Nehemiah was the contractor. God was at work. It was His will to rebuild the wall and the gates around the city. Anyone in opposition to that goal was in opposition to God. Nehemiah was determined that no one but God would stop the work.  

Nehemiah finished the wall. Nehemiah achieved this, not by removing the fear of attack and reprisal but by helping the people face their fears, turning them towards God who was their defender and shield. Like Nehemiah, we need to act with God, and for God, even though it means strenuous effort and opposition. We need to trust God, do our day’s work faithfully, and leave the future and the results to Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can you learn from Nehemiah about handling opposition to God’s work? How might your situation differ from what Nehemiah faced in his day? 
  2. How does praying persistently for a significant period of time prepare us for moments of decision and crises of belief in our lives? 

Giving Up Or Giving In

“ So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10.

Have you ever felt like calling it quits? Have there been moments in your life when it seemed that all the effort and energies you were investing in changed nothing? It feels like no matter what you do, you just can’t get any traction so you never make any real progress. The logical thing to do is give in or give up or both.

On the other hand, there are days when it seems God pulls the curtain back and reveals the true worth and beauty and significance of living a Christ centered life: loving and serving others, seeing lives changed, amazing worship services, etc. 

God cares about us. When we are weak, He is strong. When we feel like quitting we can move forward in His strength. We will feel at times like giving up. God is calling us not to look at our circumstances only but to look at the author and finisher of our faith. It is in and through Jesus Christ that God gives us the strength needed to go a little further. What if, instead of thinking of quitting, we saw every circumstance as an opportunity for something miraculous to take place in all of our lives. It is often a matter of timing.

God doesn’t work to microwave timing. He works to His timing. At the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. The key is to not give up, to keep pressing on, to find an internal strength based on the promises and faithfulness of God that keeps us refreshed and motivated.  

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:58 from two different versions of the Bible. First, from the New King James (NKJV) version: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Then, from the New Living Translation (NLT): “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
Never give up in your pursuit of the Lord and His purposes for your life. Don’t stop; keep going. Know for certain that even in your worst moments, that everything you do for Jesus Christ counts for something.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some reasons Jesus gives for trusting in Him, rather than giving up?
  2. What changes can you make this week to be more dependent on God when you feel like giving up?

In The Presence Of God

Come close to God, and God will come close to you….” – James 4:8.  

Imagine the scene that was about to unfold. Exodus 19 tells us about the largest worship gathering that ever took place. Some 6 million people have met in the desert to worship God. They are camped at the base of Mount Sinai. The massive throng strains to listen to Moses tell them how they should prepare for the first worship service of their fledgling nation’s history.

They are told to wash their clothes. They are going to meet God in three days.  They need to be focused on worship. But they are warned to not draw too close to the mountain for God Himself is going to come down. “On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently.” (Exodus 19:16-18) It must have been breathtaking and scary at the same time. While it would be the understatement of all time to say people were intimidated when they saw the mountain filled with fire and as God descends. But remember that God had just delivered them out of the hands of Egypt with plagues, raging waters, and pillars of fire.

Exodus 24:15-17 adds, “Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire.”

When the trumpet blasted, the people were to come to the mountain and meet God. In fear and trembling the people approach the mountain and take their stand. The closer the people came to the mountain, the more clearly they saw the vast distance that separated them from God. There is nothing casual about the arrival of God. They are not fit to meet God. They are not worthy to dwell on His hill. Nor are we. Who has the right to live in the presence of God? Only a person who is perfectly holy has a right to live in the presence of God. And that leaves everyone out.

Fortunately, Christ lived on our behalf. Every moment of righteousness, every good choice, every rightly spoken word, every godly decision, every righteous encounter that was lived by Christ was lived for you and for me. He was achieving the righteousness that we could not achieve on our own. So even with our weakness, setbacks, sin and struggles we can experience the presence of God.  We have the presence of God within us by virtue of His indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:23; 15:4), and that indwelling presence comes only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think it would be like to be in God’s presence? 
  2. It isn’t a matter of achieving God’s presence, but surrendering to God’s presence that is already within the Christian: Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?

With Reverence And Holy Fear

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire. – Hebrews 12:28-29. 

Sometimes things change in our lives when we don’t really see the change happening. Things that were an exciting part of your life, have over time become just part of the day in and day out living? It seems the longer we are engaged in something, the more it becomes part of our life, the more likely that we are less excited over it; excitement dissipates with familiarity? And sometimes that includes the reverence and awe we have for God. 

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves a question: Am I truly serving and worshipping God with our lives with reverence and awe. Yes, we have a reverence for the Lord, but sometimes, we don’t have that sense of awe and wonder. We lose a sense of awe sometimes when we become familiar with something that it becomes commonplace, including our own faith in God. When we look at our Heavenly Father as we sometimes look at our earthly fathers as someone who pays the bills and lets us borrow the car, we have lost sight of who God is. In other words, we bring God down to our level.

It is hard to think of Jesus at our level when you read about Him in this passage of Scripture: “And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”

Though we have direct access to Him as His children, we ought never to forget that this access was purchased with the precious blood of His only Son. If we truly understand the cross, we will enter God’s presence with a sense of holy reverence and awe. No one who comprehends the incredible price paid at Calvary ever takes his relationship with God for granted.  

You will never find God manifesting His presence in an atmosphere where He is not revered. He will not come near or dwell in an environment where He is not held in awe, esteem, and respect. Psalm 89:7 (NKJV) says, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.”

There is no One more worthy of our reverence and praise.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does reverence to God mean to you personally? 
  2. How can we learn to be more intentional to show respect and reverence for God in this coming week(s)? 

Getting And Giving Grace

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10 (ESV)  

When we hit the rewind button on our day, we typically find times in the last 24 hours where we were irritated, critical, or upset with others because of their attitudes, actions, or words. Most likely, there will be one or maybe multiple occurrences when we simply won’t let the person(s) off the hook when they make a mistake. And there will be other times when we were willing to extend forgiveness and grace that we experienced in Christ Jesus to others.   

Culture tells us to put our needs before the needs of others, and to treat others as they treat us. The Bible takes the opposite position. Our job as followers of Jesus is to love and extend grace. “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13) 

Responding to others with grace means acknowledging that everyone has areas of weakness and that we all are works in progress. It means loving people in spite of any warts they may have. 1 Peter 3:8 says, “Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.”

Jesus helped us understand this concept when He told His followers to “… love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that…?” (Matthew 5:44-46)

It easy to take grace for granted; at least in the sense that it can be viewed as one-way, God to me. We need to remember that we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. We expect others to extend grace to us in certain situations. There are times when we say things in a way that we didn’t intend to, or we do things without thinking about the consequences.  When someone extends grace to us in those moments, we are grateful and relieved. We should strive to be the kind of person who loves others as ourselves and extends grace willingly. Joseph extended grace to his brothers, even though they did not deserve it. That’s why it’s called grace; it’s unearned, unmerited, undeserved. 

The story of Joseph should inspire us to extend grace to others. God knows that it’s not natural for us to show grace to people (especially difficult people), but when we do so, we are imitating Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to show grace to others?
  2. Why is it important to show grace to others?

Character In The Midst Of Setbacks

“There is no indication that God explained to Joseph what He was doing through those many years of heartache or how the pieces would eventually fit together. He had no ways of knowing that he would eventually enjoy a triumphal reunion with his family. He was expected, as you and I are, to live out his life one day at a time in something less than complete understanding. What pleased God was Joseph’s faithfulness when nothing made sense.” ― James C. Dobson.

Randy Pausch, the professor whose “last lecture” went viral just before he died, wrote that “experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” He added that there is good news: in every situation, you’ll always walk away with something, even if that something is more experience.

The wisdom in what Randy said becomes more obvious when things don’t go our way, when things don’t turn out the way we planned or hoped. But regardless of how things turn out, God doesn’t let those experiences go to waste. He’s been in the business of turning troubles into triumphs for a really, really long time. God is more interested in our character than our comfort. God uses setbacks, troubles and tragedies to shape us and mold is into His character.

 If you read the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis you will discover that the pit and the prison were only the first in a long line of inconvenient irritations and setbacks he was to encounter on the road to where God was leading him. When we step back and think about the entire story of Joseph, we can see that God has stepped into this family to do a redemptive work. God’s purpose was to exalt or lift him up to be the next to the Pharaoh in Egypt. Joseph never let his situation cloud his perception of his relationship with God. Whether in good days or bad days, Joseph always knew he had a relationship with God. God was always there for him and with him.   

If God has allowed you to experience disappointments or setbacks in your life, it is generally because He has a greater purpose. Life’s setbacks are often engineered by God to achieve a greater purpose that we could ever imagine. If you’re in the midst of building experience through hard times, remember that God is with you. 

While we may not be called, as Joseph was, to save a nation from starvation, we are no less significant to God. No matter what is happening in our lives today, God is in control. He’s growing us little by little, building us up so that we can accomplish more for His kingdom. Someday we may just look back and see how the experiences we gained during setbacks were part of the preparation for something much bigger.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are there any good things happening in your life right now? What might God be up to in the midst of those for your good and His glory?
  2. Are there any hard things happening in your life right now? What might God but up to in the midst of those for your good and His glory?

The Story Of Gideon

“The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys….And they stayed until the land was stripped bare. So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.” – Judges 6:2-6. 

In the midst of the oppression of Israel by the Midianites, Gideon has a conversation with an angel of the Lord: “ Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.” – Judges 6:13   

Gideon could not understand these negative circumstances if God truly was with his people. They had heard the wondrous stories of God’s power, but since they had never seen it displayed, they wondered if it was an urban legend.  Looking at the circumstances, Gideon saw no evidence that God was there or that God cared. So Gideon asked the same question that we still ask today. “why do we have so many setbacks when a loving God is supposedly in control.”

God was not absent. God was preparing Gideon for battle against numerically overwhelming odds: “The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’” So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.” (Judges 7:2-3) Now the army was 10,000 to fight an enemy of 135,000.  But it was still too many. A water drinking exercise reduced the 10,000 to 300. The plan was simple but brilliant: Gideon divided the 300 men into three groups, equipped each of the men with a trumpet and a pitcher covering a lighted torch. He instructed them, “As soon as I and those with me blow the rams’ horns, blow your horns, too, all around the entire camp, and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’” (Judges 7:18). In the dark the Midianites panicked at the tumult of shouting, trumpet blasts and breaking pitchers and the sight of torches surrounding them. In their terror and confusion they fought and killed each other. Gideon’s men emerged unscathed.

Their battle with the Midianites shows us how active God is, how He never leaves us or forsakes us all along the way, in both the good and the evil things we experience. “…“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  No matter what you are experiencing, sweet or bitter, good or evil, no matter how long it has lasted, He has not left you alone.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the Bible mean when it says that the Lord is with you?  
  2. Can you think of a current situation you’re in (or one you might soon be in) that would give you the opportunity to demonstrate to other people that your confidence is in God?

Experience The Presence of God

 For you and me, just knowing His presence is all around us can help lift us from the darkest night, embrace us in the loneliest hour, give us strength when we are tempted, and enable us to live confident and secure in His promises.” – Diane H. Moody.

The Bible has many verses on the presence of God. Exodus 33:14 (ESV)  says, “… “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Psalm 16:11 (ESV) adds, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Genesis 19:27 (NLT) says, “Abraham got up early that morning and hurried out to the place where he had stood in the LORD’s presence. How about Samuel: “And the LORD blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD.” (1 Samuel 2:21 NLT) “Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11 NLT). And finally there is Psalm 84:4 (AMP) which says, “Blessed and greatly favored are those who dwell in Your house and Your presence; They will be singing Your praises all the day long. Selah.” 

One of the greatest gifts of the Christian life is experiencing the presence of God. His presence is essential to knowing Him. Experiencing the presence of God sounds a little scary and very difficult to achieve. Yes, we want it,  and sometimes we experience it, but it still remains elusive. Because it is God, we expect His presence to be grand, to be mesmerizing.  But in reality, God’s presence can be simple or spectacular. Many presence of God moments happen when we are on the mountaintop. Many don’t.

He is just as real and present in your setbacks and your pain. When we feel a peace that “transcends all understanding” in the midst of tough circumstances, we are experiencing the presence of God in our lives.  God shows up even when we’re not on retreat or having a quiet time. He is there when we are paying a parking ticket, or eating lunch, or in chemistry class. His presence can show up in ways we expect, and in ways we do not.

To seek God is to encounter God. Emotions aside, complexities cast away—God is already with you. His Spirit, His presence in the earth, never leaves you and never forsakes you. And when you turn your attention toward Him, you can encounter Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever had a “season of dryness” concerning God’s presence in your life? Are there ways you already experienced God’s presence without realizing it? 
  2. What can we do this week to better feel God’s presence? 

What Is Your Spiritual Temperature?

 “I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.” – Charles Spurgeon.

There are many things that we use in life to measure other things. A barometer measures atmospheric pressure; a speedometer measures speed, a pedometer that tells you how many steps you have walked, a thermometer measures temperature. But is there a device that measures one’s spiritual temperature? Is there a spiritual thermometer?  

We know from Revelation 3:15-16 that God doesn’t think much of His followers being lukewarm: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”  We don’t want to be lukewarm, nor do we want to be cold. We want to be “on fire for God.” To some people, it means being “excited about God. ”They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

A good example of being on fire for God literally and figuratively can be found in the Acts 2 church. “Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” (Acts 2:3-4) Acts is the story of a handful of men and women who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, changed the world. 

We are now 282 days into 2019. How are you doing spiritually?  Are you becoming more like Jesus? Ask, is my love for God becoming more passionate, or has it cooled even a little? Are you making progress, but not as much progress as we would like?  

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves. He also said “your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35) Love is really the only thermometer/barometer that is an indicator of our spiritual condition. Am I loving God more each day? Do I love others more each day? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you are headed in the right direction.  Real love is more about knowing Jesus, and less about a to-do list of spiritual chores.  Passion is what keeps the spiritual temperature rising. As you do, your thermometer readings will begin to shift away from indifference … and towards the “fire” end of the scale.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How often do you take stock of your spiritual temperature? Would you say your temperature is where you would like it to be? 
  2. What can you do this week to move your spiritual temperature a few degrees upward? 

Focus On What Matters

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33.

I was watching a college volleyball game when a noise from the stands distracted one of the players for a fraction of a second. Long enough for the Molten volleyball to careen off his forehead and into the air where his teammates played it and won the point. Play continued but the red mark on the player’s forehead was a testament to the distraction.  

We may not face volleyballs coming at us at high speeds, but we will face the consequences of distractions nevertheless. There are texts that need to be answered. There is that nagging back pain what just doesn’t seem to go away. There’s binge watching a popular TV series rather than spending quality time with our spouse. We allow worry, anxiety, busyness, work, parenting, marriage and temptations (to name a few) to distract our hearts and we slowly begin to feel disconnected from God; side tracked from His ways and His Word.

Our goal is to stay focused on Jesus Christ each day by ignoring the distractions that come into our lives. Sometimes we will lose our focus and those distractions can cause us to stub our toe or even do some significant damage to our walk with God. It starts gradually, it may only last a few hours or a few days. Regardless, of the circumstances or the time period, this is the time we need to refocus.  

Staying focused on God is not easy. It is a heart thing and heart thing are seldom easy. This is why Solomon boasts the importance of guarding our hearts and minds in Proverbs 4:23 where he says “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  Then in verses 25-27, he says “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.”

When we aren’t diligent in staying focused on Christ in our everyday lives, we give the enemy a foothold. Yet when God’s Word becomes the focal point of our lives, we are better equipped and more aware of how to handle distractions when they arise.

The truth is, we will all lose focus, stumble and fall every now and then. We may even get sidetracked for a while. But what joy it brings to know that when that happens, God will always be there to pick us up, tend to our wounds, give us the courage to trust Him, and the strength to begin again. Even when we get sidetracked, God will always help us find our way back if our eyes are focused on Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What types of things cause you to get spiritually sidetracked? 
  2. How do you refocus to get back on track?