Should such a man as I run away?

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 6

I tire, quickly, at the tone of voice affected by the current crop of Christian men.

Bending over backwards to be humble–humble, above all else!–we defer too readily, apologize too quickly, agree too broadly, and compromise too much.

When I first read the Bible, I didn’t know much about theology. Unschooled in the niceties of faith, I read about a man who, with 12 often bumbling disciples, stood against the legions of Rome, the forces of the Sanhedrin, and the bizarre political cauldron stirred by the psychopathic Herods.

What I remember being struck by, more than anything else, was the man’s sheer guts.

His guts. Jesus’ flat-out bravery gets lost amidst the grace, the forgiveness, the humility–humble, above all else!–the compassion, and the love.

We don’t characteristically hear, from our pulpits nor from the men in our pews, the tone of Christ’s voice which is prefigured by Nehemiah in today’s reading:
Should such a man as I run away?  (Nehemiah 6:11)

That’s the voice that cleared the temple. That’s the voice that blistered the Pharisees. There is not, in that voice, a scintilla of either deference, or forgiveness, or compassion, or agreeableness.

I am following the bravest man I’ve ever met. You can talk about walking on water, and feeding five thousand, and calming the raging sea; but I hear most clearly, amidst the din of this battle, the commanding voice of the man who set his face like flint (1) for a date with Roman torturers–with their fists and their flogs and their nails and their cross–when he could have summoned 12 legions of angels. (2)

The unparalleled bravery which didn’t call 12 legions of angels to his rescue remains, to me, his greatest miracle –because it was in the losing of that battle that the lone soldier won the war.

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Can you say ‘ass’ in a Bible blog? Well, having already introduced the topics of guts and gonads, I’ll risk it–in order to tell a story demonstrating what I hear as a Christ-like voice…

John Wesley–the great reformer, theologian, and evangelist–was about to cross a brook over which was a very narrow bridge, just wide enough for one person. As he was starting over, he met a liberal preacher of that day. This preacher swelled up and said, “I never give way to an ass.” John Wesley looked at him for a moment, smiled, and began to back off, saying, “I always do.”

“Should such a man as I run away?”

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(1) see Isaiah 50:7 and Luke 9:51; (2) Matthew 26:53

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God’s fantastic memory

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 5

One of the dearest prayers in the Bible is before us today:
Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people. (Nehemiah 5:19)

Remember me, my God, for good.

God’s memory works differently than ours. More on that in just a bit. But first, let’s look not at God’s memory, but at his “forgetter.”

God so thoroughly forgives that he forgets! Sins forgiven through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ are not just forgiven, they are dropped into the middle of the deep blue sea:
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

That’s God’s great “forgetter.” But what about his “rememberer?”

Our memories recall things. But when God remembers, it’s not just mental activity; it’s redemptive activity.

One of the delightful verses in scripture is Genesis 8:1–
But God remembered Noah…

This verse is very instructive, because it points out what it means to be remembered by God. If I were to suddenly remember something, it means that something had previously slipped my mind. But God never forgot about Noah in the first place!

Whenever God remembers us, he sends something good our way:
• Genesis 9:16: “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

• Genesis 30:22: “Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb.”

As soon as God remembered Noah, the floodwaters started to subside. As soon as God remembered the rainbow, he blessed the earth. As soon as God remembered Rachel, she became pregnant. As soon as God remembered his people in slavery, he started their journey of redemption:
“God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So God looked on them and was concerned about them.” (Exodus 2:24–25)

Whenever the Bible says God remembers, it means God will act for someone according to his covenant (commitment) promises, pouring undeserved goodness on his people.

So I hope we pray the prayer that Nehemiah prayed. I hope we pray it every day:
Remember me, my God, for good.

What a fantastic memory He has!

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praise the LORD, and pass the ammunition

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 4

We often think of prayer as something contemplative.

So Nehemiah, being an action figure, is often overlooked when we search for insight into prayer.

But lately I have found, in Nehemiah, more instruction on prayer–and more inspiration to pray–than almost anywhere else in the Bible.

Yesterday we learned about prayer in the midst of action. Today we will learn how God often activates answers to prayer through–are you ready?–through us.

For example, you pray that your family will more closely follow God. Now take a look at that prayer from God’s point of view. Who on earth is better positioned and more motivated to lead them forward than–are you ready?–than you? Taking spiritual leadership, then, in your formerly leaderless home, you are God’s answer to your prayer.

You pray that your church would be more Bible-loving and Bible-literate. Now look at that prayer from God’s point of view: Who is hungrier, more motivated, and more impassioned concerning that prayer than–are you ready–than you? So, ordering two study Bibles, Strong’s Concordance, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, and the complete commentaries of John MacArthur and J. Vernon McGee, you wait on the porch for the big brown truck to pull into your driveway. Perhaps you are not aware of it, but the answer to your prayer is on your porch, days before the UPS truck arrives.

Your church is cold. No, the heating works fine, but that blazing Jesus compassion is nowhere to be found. So you pray for the spark to be kindled. Looking at that prayer from God’s point of view, guess who he found to stoke the fires of compassion?

We must realize that God prepares ahead of time. He gives spiritual gifts, he grows spiritual fruit. Then, by his Spirit, he prompts a prayer asking for their implementation.

Nehemiah knew this principle well:
We prayed to our God and posted a guard. (4:9)
Remember the LORD…and fight. (4:14)
Having prayed for safety, each person held a trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other. (4:16-17)

People might protest that this isn’t “faith.” I strenuously disagree.

When are we going to learn that we are supernaturally called, commissioned, gifted, fruited, empowered–and then prompted to pray the very prayer that–are you ready?–that we have been prepared to fulfill.

You are the body of Christ. You are God’s supernatural plan. So praise the LORD, and pass the ammunition.

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we may not fit in, but we’re not stupid

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 3

There are certain verses in the Bible that we would call pivotal. Looking over page one of my Bible, I can spot a couple of these crucial passages. Certainly “In the beginning God…” is one of them. Just two verses later, “Let there be light…” is another.

But some of the most significant verses in the Bible aren’t as well known. An example of a seemingly obscure line which is absolutely essential to the Word of God is found in Nehemiah 2:1:
In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. (Nehemiah 2:1)

The great significance of this verse lies in the dates given: In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes…

This verse allows us to establish a timeline for “The Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks,” which is found in Daniel 9. There you will read that 70 “weeks” of years (70 x 7 = 490 years) begins at the time of “the going out of the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” The only decree in scripture authorizing the rebuilding of the city is recorded right here in Nehemiah chapter 2–in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes.

Well attested records of ancient history fix this date as 445 B.C.

We will look more closely at the particulars of this great prophecy when we reach Daniel. But in the meantime, the Bible student does well to understand that the history, the genealogies, and dates of the Old Testament are there for a reason.

How about this for a reason:
Putting together Nehemiah chapter 2 and Daniel chapter 9, it is possible to derive the very year of the Messiah’s death: 483 years after 445 BC.

We read, in Luke 2:41-50, the account of young Jesus in the temple among the scholars, who were amazed at his understanding and his answers. I am confident that one of the topics they discussed there was the linkage between Nehemiah 2:1 and Daniel chapter 9. I surmise, by their amazement, that the greatest scripture scholars in all of Israel found out, on that day, that their generation would see the Messiah–that Scripture had targeted their time. They were informed of this by the irrefutable exegesis of a 12 year old boy. (I can not prove it, but I am firmly convinced that it would not be until years later that the boy came to a further realization: Scripture had targeted not only his time, but him.)

***

Our faith does not rest on a bunch of fables or baseless hopes. It rests on meticulously recorded history and eyewitness confirmation. It rests, ultimately, on the Word and character of God. Our faith is not, in any way, a leap in the dark. We are not leapers. And we are very choosy about whom we trust.

God’s children do not readily fit into the cultures and systems of this foreign world. We are seen, rightly so, as misfits in this present darkness. But that doesn’t mean we’re stupid.

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little prayers to a big God

The Word for today:
Nehemiah 2

My name is Franklyn Pfeil.  Pronounced “file,” it rhymes with smile.

Pfeil is a German word. It means arrow. In fact, I am quite frequently mentioned in the German Bible.  Which makes me a very big deal, in German that is.

I like the name Pfeil, and not only because of its meaning. I also like the way it sounds. It’s what literary experts call an example of onomatopoeia.

An onomatopoetic word sounds like what it means. Buzz is onomatopoetic. Crunch is onomatopoetic. Sizzle and hiss are. Screech is. Onomatopoetic words are fun. My favorite example of onomatopoeia is from a song I learned when I was but a wee little lad:

It went zip when it moved and bop when it stopped,
And whirr when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.
(–Tom Paxton, “The Marvelous Toy”)

Pfeil is onomatopoetic in its initial sound, a consonant blend which gives the sense of an arrow flying by your ear: pffffffff!

It’s a quick sound, here and gone in less than a blink, which is the point of today’s blog — because Nehemiah is the master of what has come to be called the “arrow prayer.”

Nehemiah characteristically prayed to God while he went about his duties, “shooting an arrow” (so to speak) to God while he was knee-deep in something other than prayer time. Examples of these prayers-in-less-than-a-moment can be found in Nehemiah 1:5-11 / 2:4 / 4:4-5 / 5:19 / 6:9,14 / 13:14,22,31.

We must never forget that the power in a prayer has nothing to do with its length, or its eloquence. A short, simple prayer to a great big Jesus is way, way, way more effective than an ornate, feature-length prayer to a lesser Jesus.

Prayer is never about the prayer itself. Prayer is never even about the one who sends it. The only thing that matters about a prayer is the one it’s sent to.

So in the midst of the noise and haste that you’ll face today, don’t overlook the “arrows” in your prayer arsenal. Send a few little prayers whizzing on their way to our great, good God.

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