Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Story of Nehemiah: Chapter 5:7 & 11 - 12

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Nehemiah stops the oppression of the poor:

Nehemiah received reports of the exploitation of many of the people and he immediately confronted the offenders saying, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother… Let us abandon this exacting interest…. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.”

The Story of Nehemiah: Chapter 4:2 & 10

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

This is of the utmost importance because it is impossible to build strongly on top of rubble and rubbish. This is always one of the most difficult and distasteful jobs to be done, but it absolutely must be done. This is very true of the physical building process, but it is even truer for the state of our hearts, which is where the Lord looks. This is a very important principle for us to act on in view of the True Fast that we have studied in Isaiah 58. The Kingdom of God is in the hearts of God’s people, “for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you”. (Luke 17:21 – KJV).

We must remember that although we are rebuilding the nations God’s Way by beginning at the Lord’s entrance point, which is to remove the yoke of oppression of the poverty and hunger, nakedness and homelessness of the poor, the overall objective is to advance the Kingdom of God. This is why it is so important to cleanse our hearts by removing the rubble and rubbish in them. This is why repentance and sorrowing for sin and turning away from it is so important to God. Then we will build strongly and righteously with God’s light emanating from us, which will shine out for God’s glory.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wedding bells are ringing in the deep South of Zimbabwe

In the deep South of Zimbabwe, at Crossroads Community Church, Kezi, Bulawayo, Nicholas and Nosimilo Ncube led a pilot project on the Marriage Course 101 which is an adaptation of the Alpha Marriage course. It has great promise for the future.

Mbusiso Ndlovu and Pretty Moyo who were married customarily for 2 weeks, attended the Marriage Course and were blessed. Two months later they had a church wedding at Crossroads Community Church. It was a momentus occasion for Crossroads and a milestone for the people in the Mablauwuni community. Many young people enjoyed the wedding so much and are eager to follow in the footsteps of Mbusiso and Pretty.

Mbusiso and Pretty Ndlovu

In the Northern part of Zimbabwe, we thank God for 5 couples who are serving God by promoting Godly family life in their churches and communities.

The story of Nehemiah: Chapter 3

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

The Rebuilding Begins with Everyone having a Place on the Wall:

Nehemiah faces the antagonists and declares to them “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we will arise and build.” (Nehemiah 2: 20). Then everyone found a place on the wall to build, and the High Priest and the other priests took the lead and got stuck in themselves, as did the gold smiths, the perfume makers, district rulers, the women, Levites and merchants.

The opposition from the governors increases and Nehemiah encourages the people by pointing to the Lord again, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes." (Nehemiah 4: 14). He then organises half of the builders to take up their weapons and watch over and protect the other half who are building, and they all have their swords strapped at their sides. He also arranged for a bugler to sound the call to rally together when needed.

The story of Nehemiah: Chapters 1 & 2

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Nehemiah inspects, plans, unifies and focuses the people for the task:

The King sends Nehemiah back to rebuild the walls, and this immediately causes the resentment and opposition of the governors of the province, which meant that he had to go and make his inspection of the ruins under the cover of darkness. Nehemiah then shares his objective and plan with the leaders and the people.

The Lord’s favour helped him do two very important things: he managed to unify all those he spoke to with a “yes” for the project, and he managed to persuade the people to set aside their other priorities and got them to focus on the rebuilding project for a season. Nehemiah shared the vision, which was going to reverse the ruination (perishing).

It will be so powerful when our King, the Lord Jesus Christ, removes His chastening hand and tells us to begin the actual rebuilding process, and the whole wider church rises up together in deep and sincere unity and begins, and perseveres through the Lord’s season, even if we face the opposition from some governors.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The story of Nehemiah - The Lord's Rebuilding Process

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

In Isaiah 58, the Lord has shown us the attitude of heart that we must have in order to be used by Him as the rebuilders of towns, cities and Nations. He has also shown us His upside down way of how this will happen, which is begin by making a plan to remove the yoke of oppression over the poor. The story of the way the Lord used Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in record time, is a wonderful model of how the Lord would have us repair and rebuild something that had been destroyed and ruined.

Nehemiah’s Heart
Nehemiah hears about the ruins of the walls of Jerusalem (v 3), and his immediate reaction is to sit down and weep and mourn and pray and fast before the Lord (v 4). Nehemiah had a good position as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, so his mourning was not selfishly motivated for what He had personally lost or could gain, but he weeps because of the shame and dishonour that the ruination of Jerusalem brings to God and the people, who are called by His name.

His prayer begins by remembering God’s steadfast love. This is such a good place for us to start because Romans 8: 35 tells us that nothing can separate us from the unconditional love of God. We can be enormously encouraged by the knowledge that the Lord uses hardship and difficulties in our lives to shape and prepare us in His wonderful sanctification process.

The Lord doesn’t chasten and discipline us as condemned criminals, but as errant sons and daughters who have had all our sins paid for by the astoundingly unselfish and loving vicarious death of Jesus. Meditating on the truly amazing grace and the unconditional love of God will help us to have a similar attitude to Nehemiah.

As we have seen in Isaiah 58, the highest importance to our Lord is that the motives of our hearts must be completely unselfish. We cannot expect the Lord to lift His chastening hand and use us as the rebuilders, if our hearts are selfishly motivated by what we can gain, but rather to see what we can give in terms of delivering the poor and bringing glory to our Lord.

After praising God for His steadfast love, Nehemiah then acknowledges his own sin and that of God’s people. Then in verse 9 he also acknowledges God’s condition for deliverance, “If you return to me and keep my commandments and do them…” Brian is well aware that we cannot confess or repent of anybody else’s sin because it is all about a personal love relationship with the Lord, but we can identify the sins of others and exhort them to turn, not least of all, by our sincere confession of our own sin.

This turning back to God is very important to the Lord. Repentance is not just an Old Testament stipulation by God. We repent in the New Testament as saved saints, who are a sorrowing and mourning before God for sinning against such unconditional love, which can also deprecate His immensely costly sacrifice for us (Matthew 5: 3-6). This sorrowing for our sins and our renouncing of them seals in our hearts a precious determination not to sin again.

This is a very powerful way to show our love to God with a totally unselfish motive in our hearts. If selfishness is at the root of all sin, it would be a complete contradiction and a travesty to repent with a selfish and legalistic heart. The Nehemiah story shows Nehemiah to be a very unselfish man and leader.

Broken families and broken land - blessed families and blessed land

“See, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6)

How strange that the last word in the Old Testament is ‘curse’. This is not the curse of an enemy or a witch doctor. It is the curse of God! God says he will curse a land, a people, a society, a nation. That is terrifying. What is the reason for this awful curse of God? It is broken families. It is a society where fathers and children do not love each other. We hear the voice of God in judgment saying, “When I am not honoured, families are broken and society is smashed”. Could our community or country be experiencing the curse of God today? If so, what can we do?

Four hundred years after Malachi wrote about turning the hearts of parents and children to one another, the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to a priest called Zechariah to tell him that he would have a son, John the Baptist, who would announce the coming of the Messiah. Gabriel deliberately repeated Malachi’s prophecy. “He will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke1: 17)

Malachi prophesied the curse of God on the land. That is the negative. Luke now speaks of “a people prepared for the Lord.” That is the positive. Calling people back to God and healing families go together. So we will challenge people to turn to God in sincerity and wholeness of heart to make our society ready for the Lord’s coming. At the same time we are called in the power of God’s Spirit to teach and model the beauty of godly relationships in marriage and family. Strong family life is a blessing God gives to his obedient people. It brings love, joy, peace and contentment to individuals and wholeness to society. As we heal broken family relationships, we prepare our land for God’s blessing. Family flourishes when we honour God.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taking the Sabbath Seriously: Isaiah 58:13 & 14

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

v13 & 14 "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Brian often shares from Isaiah 58 and stops after verse 12, but he has come to realise that verses 13 and 14 are very important in the whole vision. You see in Mark 2: 22-27 that Jesus deals with the Pharisees’ very legalistic attitude towards the Sabbath, and perhaps most of us in the New Testament Church have taken Jesus’ statement a bit too far: Then He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

God Himself has set the whole principle of a regular rest day when He rested after He had finished Creation in six days. Jesus doesn’t want us to get religious and legalistic about anything, but this principle of rest is very important.

When we passionately embark on an exciting quest like carrying out God’s plan for the poor, we can get so focussed and absorbed that we get too busy to stop and communicate with the Lord regularly, and eventually we will not be able ‘to see the wood for the trees’, and can go off track. Without rest we can get very tired and jaded and lose the inspirational and productive edge. We can soon lose our joy and extreme fatigue can also cause irritability and the Evil One can get in and begin to divide and rule.

In Isaiah 55: 8 and 9, the Lord tells us that His ways and thoughts are different and higher than ours. Twice in Isaiah 58: 13 He tells us that we are not to do as we please and go our own way. Constantly working without resting once per week is actually contravening God’s will as we keep going the way that pleases us. Apart from the damage to our health, this disobedience can become a habit and can even develop into a stronghold.

Verse 14 states that if we have obeyed verse 13 by not doing our own thing on the Sabbath (set day of rest), we will find our joy in the Lord. This is very powerful because Nehemiah 8:10 says, “the Joy of the Lord is our strength.” And how much do we need strength for the task.

Brian believes that the next statement is also very important: “ I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land.” This means that the Lord’s favour will be with us and he will put us in a position where people will see us and recognise the truth and effectiveness of what we are doing, and we will be like a city on a hill. v14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. v15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. v16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16

This falls into line with Isaiah 58: 8 and 10, where the Lord has told us that He wants our light to shine. We are reflecting the light of Christ and the darkness begins to recede, but something else important happens. This higher vantage point helps us to see the bigger picture as the Lord sees it. Vision is what the Lord sees and if we are fresh, rested and obedient, waiting on the Lord through prayer and meditation, away from the turmoil of the task, we will begin to see what He sees, as we seek Him with all of our hearts. This is how the Lord will guide us always through the difficulties and obstacles of a ‘sun-scorched’ land.

Then penultimately the Lord says He will cause us “ to feast on the inheritance of our father Jacob.” This resembles the fruition of the quest to deliver our people out of hunger, nakedness and homelessness, and the yoke of oppression will have been removed. O, that we may all take time to rest and be still and seek the Lord! This is confirmed in the parallel pattern for restoration and rebuilding of our land in Isaiah 30:15, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

Finally the Lord ends this magnificent chapter with the words, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken”. It is thrilling to be reminded that the Lord through the mouth of the prophet has spoken these words to us. We want to give thanks and praise to our God for so graciously and faithfully guiding us into a wonderful future for our continent, in which we hope to be a discipleship model for our own nations and for those in other continents, and by so doing, we will be preparing ourselves for Jesus as His Bride, ready for His coming.

Restorer of streets and dwellings: Isaiah 58:12

1 Corinthians 3:11 "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

This indicates that the Lord wants to not only repair the walls and infrastructure (which begins with agriculture) but will complete the restoration process by ministering to the towns and cities as well, and by not only completing the feeding and clothing of the poor, but by giving them shelter too. And our quest in obeying the True Fast will have been completed.