Priorities

For some odd reason my dogs have begun the habit of waking me up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. It is a pain, who wants to wake up in the middle of the night, yet I am grateful they are indeed potty trained and wake me up before going inside. So I do not complain. I love them and they are worth the inconvenience. I am prioritizing there needs over my sleep. Why. Because I love them. It is a small sacrifice.

As I read through the book of Nehemiah I see many lessons on priorities and sacrifice. Nehemiah was given the task of rebuilding Gods temple. We find that the Israelites rebuilt Gods temple before rebuilding their own homes. They prioritized Gods house over their own. After rebuilding the temple Nehemiah read God’s law given to Moses. The people weeped. Nehemiah responded….

Nehemiah 8:9-17 NIV

[9] Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep .” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. [10] Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” [11] The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” [12] Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. [13] On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. [14] They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month [15] and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written. [16] So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. [17] The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. …

The people made temporary housing of olive branches. At first reading this, it seems odd. Why did they make a tent of branches. But there is much symbolism as the olive branch is a symbol of hope and reconciliation. Jesus is referred to as the olive branch. They covered themselves and made shelter to symbolize their reconciliation with God. Quite beautiful indeed.

When you evaluate your own priorities is God first? Or do you need to do some rearranging? God is always waiting and yearning to reconcile with his children.

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Helping The Poor

My little dog Itsy is unusual in many ways. One of her oddities is that once she decides she want to do something there is not stopping her. She is difficult to redirect unlike most dogs. This makes it very hard to train her. She is a creature of habit and well she is stubborn. How often are we as human like my little dog Itsy? We set our sites on a goals and go all out forgetting to look around at the needs of others. I know I am guilty of tunnel vision.

Nehemiah was given the task to rebuild God’s temple. It was a noble task. One for God’s kingdom. But yet he did not have tunnel vision. He took note of the needs of the poor around him. He also used his place in leadership to do something about it.

Nehemiah 5:1-13 NIV “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. [2] Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” [3] Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” [4] Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. [5] Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” [6] When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. [7] I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them [8] and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. [9] So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? [10] I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! [11] Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.” [12] “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. [13] I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!” At this the whole assembly said,“ Amen ,” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.”

Nehemiah noted a conflict, he noted injustice and he came up with a solution. This solution brought praise to God. Have you pondered how we as God’s children can take notice of those in need around us and seek peaceful actions to make change for the good of all?

Opposition Happens

Have you ever felt like God gave you a task? He told you to do something for his Kingdom. You excitedly went to work. Others may have joined in the work. Provided assistance and help. But then many others did the opposite. Opposed the project, maybe even hinder the project or tried to ruin the work. Many of us have encountered such opposition when trying to do good. Well Nehemaiah encountered such an event. He began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem that had fallen into ruin. Many contributed and helped. But not everyone.

Nehemiah 4:1-9 NIV

[1] … When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, [2] and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” [3] Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” [4] Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. [5] Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. [6] So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. [7] But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. [8] They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. [9] But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

Opposition and disagreement happens in this life. No everyone is for building up Gods kingdom. It is easy to become frustrated, discouraged and angry in the face of such opposition. But Nehemiah did not let the opposition stop him from proceeding. The process of rebuilding was challenging and filled with obstacles. But he persevered. How do we persevere in such circumstances? We do not preserve from our own strength and power. We persevere knowing that the God of the universe has our backs, will make a way and has the last word.

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Our Significance Comes from Our Lord

Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. He was a lowly servant who made a living by pouring wine into the ruler of the land. By all worldly external circumstances the King was the king. He had authority, wealth and power. Yet we hear of Nehemiah plea to God in Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah 1:5-11 NIV

[5] … LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, [6] let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. [7] We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. [8] “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, [9] but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ [10] “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. [11] Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

This is not a prayer of a weak man. This is the prayer of someone who humbled himself before the Lord, pleaded on behalf of himself, his family and the Israelites. He may have only to been a cupbearer, servant of little prestige but he realize that the true source of power, wisdom, guidance, authority, strength and blessing came from humbling himself before God almighty.

How often are we quicker to judge, or complain rather than do what Nehemiah did?

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Dealing with Discouragement

Everyone deals with discouragement. Everyone deals with mishaps, failures and grief. Unfortunately it is a part of life this side of heaven. In my own life the last many years have been filled with many discouragements. I transitioned from an unhealthy failed marriage, laid down a career as a physician, battled a number of illness, financial struggles, etc. The road has been far from perfect or easy. The more I talk with others the more I hear people voice struggles with discouragement and challenges. Being a believer in Christ does not mean we do not battle discouragement.

This week I fretted over how long to renew my lease, agonized over whether the apartment would allow me to renew my lease with my given income, wondered how the bills would get paid, yet was thankful for a full afternoon of tutoring session that would significantly help with the needed income only to be in the middle of my first session for the day when a stormed rolled in and the power shut off.

I sat alone in the dark, no power, for the 3rd time in two weeks having to cancel a full days tutoring due to power outages. Plus I had been concerned by the lack of healthy, loving, life giving relationship that makes me he feeling like I am loving others with no one to love me. I had debated cutting down on such activities given it did not seem to be helping my discouragement.

Yes I had been dealing with a load of discouragement. The issues I was facing are a real reality. The knowledge that God is over all of those things made me feel unloved by God.

The Bible has much to say about dealing with discouragement. Jesus never tells us that we will not face discouragement. Rather he instructs us to take heart he has overcome the world. What discourages us in this life are almost always things of this world. Health, relationships, finances, jobs, family, children, etc. These are real challenges we face that wear us out and weigh us down. It does not help us to focus or dwell on the struggles and discouragement. So what should we do?

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV

I started singing a little song to my dog Itsy. It went something along the lines of “God loves me so that I can love you.” I was repeating it over and over. It was a reminded that God did love me. I needed the reminder.

It is out of the love and blessing God gives us that we can pour out love to others. I did not feel very capable of loving, yet I was reminded that the dog food bin still had food, I had worked on cleaning Itsy’s teeth quite against her liking earlier in the day, she had her flea and heat worm prevention for the month and I was lying on my bed playing with her, laughing with her and giving her belly rubs. Telling her how much I loved her. She was taken care of and quite content.

Furthermore, although my attempts at urban gardening on a apartment patio have been less productive than I would have liked it has been a rather cheap hobby, filled with my learning experiences. I have learned many dos and don’ts. And despite the struggles I harvested my first two okra, have an abundance of garden cress micro greens and some green beans almost ready to be harvested. God did not send me a harvest as bountiful as I wanted or when I wanted it but we was indeed faithful.

We should not dwell on what is discouraging us. We offer it in prayer to Jesus. Trust he hears us in our times of need and the we dwell on the love of Christ. It may be unseen. But with faith and hope we can trust that whatever we go through Christ love for us is eternal and will not lead us astray.

If you would like to share a prayer request you can do this online here!

If you have enjoyed my work or my blog and would to to make an offering please direct donation to International Christian Church of Houston: https://iccofhouston.com/offering/