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Author: Mark Tiefel

Tempered Independence

Tempered Independence

Proverbs 15:20 A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.

This verse from today’s devotion caught my eye. I write especially for teenage readers, but it really applies to all. Remember that God still cares about how you treat your parents. So often excuses are given because of immaturity or naive oversight. But, in reality, there’s nothing complicated about the intent of the fourth commandment. One of the subversive, under-the-radar, dangers we face in our culture is the desire to be independent of traditional norms, no matter the cost. There is a huge push for personal independence; so much so that the sin of simple disrespect is often overlooked.

Yet, it still matters to God that you take into account your parents’ thoughts and feelings, no matter how unjustified you think they may be. Personal independence is not the end all, be all of life; it’s a process whereby an individual grows and matures; it’s never supposed to be the consummation of life. If you make changes or want to do things differently, think them through first. Have a reason for your change that is not just about your personal independence, or doing something just to stand out. It’s often those very decisions which you will most regret later in life, but I’ll also give you two more reasons why:

1.Your parents love and care about more than you give them credit for. It’s not a coincidence that in the previous chapter of Proverbs, we see this bit of wisdom, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray(12:26).” Many are the ways of life that can lead you astray, and many are the people that will befriend you on those paths. Who you choose to spend time with matters. Who you choose to imitate matters. Your parents love you unconditionally, so much so that they would tell you things you don’t want to hear, knowing full well the reaction they’ll get for it. You simply cannot overstate the value of love like that.

2. Your parents are blood-bought souls of Christ. He came to earth to suffer and die for them, just as much as He did those things for you. He loves them just as He loves you. This means your parents are valuable to God; and if they are valuable to Him they should be so to you. You also know how it hurts and affects their faith when you rebel or change for foolish reasons, or for your own selfish independence alone. Perhaps more than any other relationship you have, the way you treat your parents will have a profound effect on their faith. Instead of being so quick to separate yourself from your parents, exercise Godly wisdom by seeking to build them up in Christ.

 

Be a Role Model

Be a Role Model

Although it’s been over ten years since I passed my driving test and received my driver’s license, I vividly remember one piece of advice from the instructor. He said, “Always be sure to use your turn signal, even if you don’t see any other cars. You never know who is watching.” This point of emphasis has probably stuck with me because I’ve been reminded of it often. Sometimes I won’t use my turn signal because I’m trying to dart out through the intersection quickly. Sometimes I just get lazy and don’t feel like signalling to other drivers. I know I’ve cut others off before because of these things. So much can happen so quickly on the road, it’s so important to remember that you can’t keep track of it all on your own.

I wish this principle was applied more often in other areas of life. Why don’t we make more of an effort to think about what we’re signalling to others? This is so obviously important in the example we set for others. We may think no one is watching, or paying attention, but oftentimes many are. As a sports fan I was reminded of this again in the past week as the topic of professional athletes as role models again came to the forefront. If you haven’t heard, there was an incident at Madison Square Garden, the famous arena where the New York Knicks play basketball. The incident involved Charles Oakley, a famous player for the Knicks in the 90s. For those who haven’t seen or heard it, the following video can bring you up to speed.

Now, I don’t know what the long-standing beef between was about. In a post-altercation retaliation, Oakley was banned from MSG, and the owner made comments about Oakley’s mental health and suggested he might have problems with alcohol. I don’t know about the validity or usefulness of any of those claims. What I do know is that what we witnessed on television (in the video above) was not normal, healthy, or appropriate. Oakley was eventually arrested, his actions were condemned, and he apologized privately. But, to me, the most concerning part of this entire episode is the present aftermath.

The latest from SportsCenter this morning portrayed Oakley like an underdog hero; someone willing to stand up to the billionaire white man. Former players are excusing his actions because that’s just the type of guy he is. He wouldn’t take any guff on the court so we can’t expect him to take any off the court either. In fact, just today, Oakley’s altercation was compared to the arrest and death of Eric Garner, an event that sparked social outrage. So, somehow Oakley now has become a symbol for social rights by getting into a fight in public and getting arrested. I don’t know what’s sadder; Oakley’s reaction or the media’s excusing and defending of it. Both of them set horrible examples. This doesn’t excuse the Knick’s owner at all, but no one is publicly defending what he did, even though it didn’t involve hitting anyone in public or getting arrested. Regardless of what the owner said or did that led to the altercation, there was absolutely no excuse for Oakley’s actions. Yet when they are continually pardoned in the public eye, people start to think it’s okay to act that way if you have a good reason for it.

Role models should be calm under pressure and never verbally or physically combative. Based on what I know about Oakley’s playing career and what I saw on the video of the incident, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did have anger management issues. Yet, today his actions are being lauded as honorable. Both things are sickening.

Here’s where the Christian’s calling comes into play. The Bible says nothing about fame being a requirement for mentoring and setting a good example yet so often we look to the rich and famous as role models. Rather, faith in Christ is the difference. When a person believes, he or she automatically takes up the mantle of bearing Christ’s name. This is so important and necessary because everyone to some extent, especially young people, desire to follow the example of others. Role models will be made even if you don’t show your faith. Don’t force young people to emulate professional athletes because they don’t see anything better in their lives. Take time today to help them see what makes an action right or wrong; don’t throw them to the media wolves to decide for themselves either. Above all, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful (Colossians 3:15).” When you act you may think no one is looking, but God always is, and usually many others are too.

The Dying Art of Commitment

The Dying Art of Commitment

Each year, Oxford University Press, the organization that oversees work on the renowned Oxford Dictionary, introduces a word of the year. The word is meant to reflect the state of the world in the passing year. For 2016, the chosen word was “post-truth”. This is how they define it:

“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Post-truth does not point to something which comes after the truth, such as a conclusion based on the truth. Instead it represents something that is feeling-driven, rather than fact-driven. See this article for a good explanation.

The panel tasked with choosing the word of year concluded by saying,

The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971).

Think about that for a second. A panel of literary experts has concluded that the most appropriate word for the past year is one in which truth has become “unimportant or irrelevant.” Sad as it may be, I agree that this meaning of “post-truth” accurately reflects the state of the world in 2016, particularly in America. People are growing less and less concerned with what is actually right and more enamored with their own personal desires and quests for individual liberty. With the emergence of believe systems like post-truth, we will only continue to see a growing influence on objective-based, truth-claiming beliefs like the Christian faith. Many people have the mistaken perception that Christianity is all about blind faith, but it’s actually rooted in historical fact and objective, outside of the person thinking. Nothing encapsulates this more than the simple teaching of salvation in Jesus. This most-important teaching of Christianity is all about what Christ has objectively done outside of the individual to secure salvation. It is not about feeling; rather it supersedes that.

I believe we’re already starting to see a post-truth effect in our culture when it comes to commitment. Commitment issues are growing in the most important parts of life in our society. Take marriage for example. Rising rates of cohabitation (living as husband and wife before marriage) in the last 20 years reveals a lack of commitment. A Pew Research study from 2011 also shows that Millennials, the demographic most influential in establishing post-truth philosophy, place a greater emphasis on love rather than commitment in marriage. Love is typically viewed as an emotion. Commitment is an established decision. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between feeling and truth.

We’re also seeing this in churches, which isn’t much of a surprise considering that God uses marriage to describe His relationship with believers (see Ephesians 5 and Matthew 9 and 25). Both marriage and faith are built on commitment. Feelings certainly play a role in both, there’s no denying that, but neither were ever meant to be about feelings alone, or apart from truth. However, religion in America is following the same trend as marriage. Both are increasingly becoming more about a feeling-based positions rather than objective truth. This represents the “post-truth” mentality. It also presents a serious problem, not just because marriage and family structures are eroding, but because feeling-driven belief is really a product of humanism. Humanism is an utterly ungodly philosophy which places all confidence and hope in mankind. It reigns when peoples’ opinions and personal choices outweigh the divine will of God and it ends in idolatry.

It’s necessary for us to recall how important commitment and truth are to true faith in God. Psalm 37:5 states, “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”

Most importantly, let us remember that to forsake the pursuit of objective truth, is to forsake Christ. It was Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me (John 14:6).” The Bible also records that “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).” It‘s frustrating and sad to see the decay of marriage, commitment, and truth in our society. But, the struggle is not over yet. These set-backs are signs of the world we live in, but there is more that can be done. We are wrestling against a problem that strikes to the very heart of our faith. But, that which is threatened is also the very solution and hope to the problem. The key is to continue believing, defending, and confessing Jesus Christ in our lives.

Let our prayer of commitment to the Lord be the same as the Spirit-inspired words of Proverbs 3:

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:3-7)

 

A Vote for Life Matters

A Vote for Life Matters

For me, part of preparing to register my vote in this year’s election involves reflection on the last few years. I am continually led to think not so much about President Barack Obama, but rather his wife, first-lady Michelle Obama. It’s becoming more common for the first-lady to push for significant change while her spouse is in office. It almost becomes a position in and of itself. Mrs. Obama has devoting significant work in the last eight years to educating young children in healthy living. She has helped create a movement called “Let’s Move” which encourages five pillars:

  1. Creating a healthy start for children
  2. Empowering parents and caregivers
  3. Providing healthy food in schools
  4. Improving access to healthy, affordable foods
  5. Increasing physical activity

“Let’s Move” prides itself as “America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids”. Who can argue with this motto or any of the pillars it supports? Healthy eating and exercise are great things to teach kids about and encourage them in. In this effort I certainly support Mrs. Obama. At the same time, I can’t help but cringe at the blatant contradiction that exists in reality. Any political candidate who claims to care about children, yet supports and promotes abortion, is simply hypocritical. This is why I think of Michelle Obama during this election season. She has a track record of supporting abortion through politics, both for her husband and for other politicians. It’s not so much that this is a new issue for our country; it’s certainly been around for much longer than the last eight years. The thing that bothers me most is this recent insistence by those who promote abortion that they care so much about children. If Mrs. Obama would at least be honest about her position I could respectfully disagree with her and appreciate her candor. But, for her to put on the front of making her life’s work about helping kids and growing a healthy next generation, while promoting the senseless murder of millions of unborn infants, is a most despicable evil.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that along with the growing discussion of the morality of abortion in our country also comes a growing promotion by abortion supporters of the ways in which they support children. It reeks to me of a man-made salve to alleviate the consciences of those who know better.

This is why a vote for life matters. When election season comes around, abortion is relegated by many to a strictly political topic. Questions of right and wrong take a backseat to questions of personal rights. What people say becomes more important than what God says. Righting the economy, fighting terrorism, preserving 2nd amendment rights, and determining which tax plan helps me the most all help us collectively drown out the blatant horror of stripping a helpless child from the protection of a mother’s womb.

Please don’t take this as calloused indifference toward a pregnant mother’s difficulty, especially that of a single mother or a rape victim. But, no atrocity demands a further atrocity as retribution, especially when that retribution is directed at the innocent. To speak out against the plague of abortion in our country and to vote for life is not to ignore the pain or rights of women. A system which advertises murder as the first and best choice is a broken system. We can do better.

So many people have complained this election season about the presidential candidates of the two major parties. It feels like no one is happy with our options. The problem is always passed off as someone else’s fault. In truth, I believe that the candidates we have are a reflection of the individual citizens of our country. That’s how a democracy works. Our government leaders’ morality is a litmus test for our own morality. To blame the candidates, but not see oneself as a contributor to the problem, is an element of personal hypocrisy too, equally as damning as standing for healthy eating while vacuuming wombs bare.

vote-for-life-3

This is why moral and religious issues absolutely matter when it comes to our vote. You can buy into the “political” label for abortion but that’s willful ignorance. When we’ve allowed such a blatant moral tragedy to exist and prosper for so long (roughly 55 millions abortions since 1973), should we be surprised when immorality seeps unchecked into other areas of our nation; into the economics, into transparency of government, into the military, and even into the personal and professional lives of our leaders? If we’re willing to talk away what is done to a helpless infant in the most fragile of states, we’re going to be willing to talk away anything.

Those who vote based on abortion are looked at as religious zealots or simpletons; people who are willing to overlook the important things for an idealistic crusade. Abortion is not the only important issue which our vote impacts, not even the only moral issue. But, there is no doubt, it is the most glaring evil in our country, especially when one considers the moral and rationalistic gymnastics which are used to excuse it. We know more about a mother’s womb today than ever before in history. There is no doubt that life begins as God teaches, at conception. A child’s heartbeat alone begins within 18 days of conception. We cannot claim ignorance about what abortion really does. What a blatant contradiction, that in this supposedly great age of science and reason our culture has found more and more ways of ignoring the clear evidence in favor of sinful desires.

Common objections to voting pro-life:

1. It violates the mother’s rights. We often hear this as the most common objection to the government getting involved in ending abortion or setting rules on abortion. It’s true, in one sense, that the government has no right to infringe upon a woman’s rights, or any other citizen’s, without just cause. We certainly don’t believe the government should never get involved, or never restrict anyone, because all laws are restrictive in some way. Laws are necessary, both by logic and by what God says in the Bible (Romans 13:1-7). The question comes down to what the law says and why. Is there a reason for restricting a woman’s right to procure an abortion? It depends on the reason. If a woman is in serious health trouble due to the pregnancy and could lose both her life and potentially the life of the child, there is an obvious moral reason for possible termination of the pregnancy and it shouldn’t be determined by the government. However, this situation describes less than 1% of all abortions, and even in these cases the right decision is never clear cut. Most abortions are done because the mother decides, or is pressured to believe, that it would be too difficult or inconvenient to raise the child. Abortions also occur frequently as a last-ditch effort at birth control. In such cases, the government’s responsibility should be to protect the innocent and provide support for expectant mothers who need help. Advocating death over life is never supportive. In no other realm of society do we force the agenda of death as much as abortion. In any other area it would be considered barbaric, but somehow we’ve allowed that exact system to exist for over 40 years in this country.

2. Christians have no right to legislate their beliefs on others. This argument assumes that opposition of abortion is unique to Christians. Although Christians are often the most outspoken voices against abortion, it is by no means simply a Christian issue. Most religions in the world respect the life of the innocent in some way. As Christianity itself teaches, the basic moral law that murder is wrong is in the heart of all people since God created them to recognize that in the conscience. Therefore, to relegate the pro-life stance to promotion of only one religion is a fallacy. The fact that abortion without just cause is immoral is not just some ancient tenant of Christianity, it is an unchangeable moral law, set in our hearts by our Creator. It is true whether you believe it or not. Christians who say they shouldn’t vote based on their faith should also check where their loyalty rests. When human governments allow things that a morally wrong, Christians are to obey God above all. Saying that a Christian should not vote against abortion because it is forcing one’s religion upon others is putting government above God. We, obviously, are not to use the government to do the church’s job, but we are also to be lights that shine forth the truth of Christ in the decisions we make, a vote being one such decision. I encourage Christians who think this way to diligently consider the import of Matthew 10:32-33 when it comes to their view of government: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

3. Abortion is a necessary evil because chastity is not realistic in our society and the world is overpopulated. First of all, regarding chastity, it may be extremely rare in our society but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. God clearly wants man and woman to wait until marriage before sexual contact. This is clearly not the norm in our culture, but it remains God’s commandment. While it is very difficult to keep chaste before marriage, God promises, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).” To say that it is impossible to be chaste is to tempt God by doubting His promise to help in temptation. It also reveals that the one who doubts is in danger to more than just sexual temptation, but also to idolatry, by trusting in their own word over God’s.

The argument about overpopulation is so over-the-top it is almost not worth commenting on. What you see in it is the honest practice of evolutionary philosophy. If we are truly animalistic organisms with no Creator, then life is all about survival at all costs. Why not destroy the weak and fragile to preserve resources for ourselves? It is truly the most shameful and baseless defense for abortion, but you will see it employed by many.

A vote for life matters greatly. It matters to other issues as it seeks to root out evil in our government and culture. It matters to God, Who says that murder is wrong and Who is our Creator and the One who fashions life from conception. It matters to our fellow citizens, many of whom live without the light of Jesus in their lives, and could use a Christian’s solid and Biblical witness of the truth. It matters to mothers who are pregnant and are pressured to take the “easy” way out while not realizing the great pain, anguish, and guilt that they are acquiring in the process. It matters to the helpless child in the womb, who has no voice in our nation, except perhaps yours.

I encourage you to get out next week and exercise your blessed civic right to vote. Vote as one whose ultimate trust is in what God says, not the world. Vote as one who reflects the value of life with which Jesus has enlightened your heart. In His cross, we have a continual reminder: Life is always greater than death! A vote for life matters for many reasons.

life-is-greater-2

1 Peter 1:17-19 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

A Book of Faith

A Book of Faith

“My faith is in a person, not a book.”

In WWII soldiers were issued the New Testament for Servicemen. It was a copy of the NT with a metal cover. Given the nature of combat, there were indeed times when the literal book saved a soldier by stopping a bullet. This hard copy edition of God’s Word soon took on a mythical status. It was God’s book that could actually stop bullets! Certainly, the effectiveness of this protection was not simply a matter of a metal cover with compacted pages. The times in which this book literally spared a person’s life was a matter of God’s providence.

We hear the quote above often today. We who hold to the clear words of the Bible as they are presented in their given context are often scoffed at as if we believe it’s the literal pages which save us. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw this past week that displayed a similar thought, “It’s not WHAT that matters, it’s WHO”. True, indeed. We would never want to emphasize the literal book itself at the expense of Who the book is about. Religion in name only is not true religion. But, what do we do when the WHO (Jesus) tells us that true faith is all about the WHAT (His Word)?

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Giving the impression or making people feel that the WHAT of our Christian faith isn’t that important can quickly become idolatry. If we don’t heed what Jesus teaches or what He stands for, then we will simply turn Him into what we want Him to be. So is the path that all who ignore the clear words of Scripture eventually walk. Just as the New Testament for Servicemen displayed God’s protection and providence, at times; so also the words of Scripture today display God’s grace and forgiveness. Both the WHO and the WHAT matter, and both are essential to faith and salvation.

John 8:31-32 is certainly straightforward enough, but earlier in the same Gospel, the Holy Spirit was even more direct. At the very beginning He revealed that the WHO is really the WHAT.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14)

Simply put, you cannot have the WHO without the WHAT. Jesus is called the Word precisely because the written and spoken Word is necessary to understanding and believing who He is. To follow the Scriptures is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus is to follow the Scriptures. This applies to the continuance of faith just as much as it applies to its beginning. We have an example of this from a group of Christians who struggled with the same thing,

“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3)

Paul admonished the Galatians because they were drifting from that which had first brought them to faith. They began in the Spirit by “the hearing of faith.” Clearly, at the very beginning, faith was indeed about a Book, and the WHAT mattered greatly. But, Paul called them “foolish” because they had drifted from this foundation. In a very modern fashion the Galatians began to ignore the teachings of God’s Word. They probably figured they knew enough about the Bible and didn’t really need to use it anymore. Paul’s entire point was that the Bible matters vitally to faith, at any point in the Christian’s life.

We do well to remember this truth as we approach another anniversary of the Reformation. God used this event to bring His Word (the Book, the WHAT) back into peoples’ lives. Today, as a result, we have greater access to the Bible than ever before. But, the same lie of Satan remains; namely, that we shouldn’t get so caught up in the words. Breadth of access does not guarantee faithfulness. Instead, it can very quickly lead to shallow understanding, belief, and faith. Let our boast be in both the WHO (Jesus) of our faith and in the WHAT (His Word), because the two cannot be separated.

 

God and Suffering

God and Suffering


In this special episode of Conservative Pastor Response Pastors Mark Tiefel and Nathanael Mayhew discuss the topic of God and suffering from a skeptic’s perspective.  They deal with the following questions: “Why is their evil in the world?” – Because of sin and the fall recorded in Genesis 3; “How can a God who is loving allow bad things to happen?” – Because God is also just and our sin brings God’s judgment against our sin.  God justice was served in Christ at the cross; “Why would God even allow for the possibility of sin?” – Because God wanted us to love Him freely because of all that He has done for us; “Why doesn’t God just eliminate all evil?” – Because God desires the salvation of all people, and He wants us to repent and to trust in Him for salvation.  We pray that this discussion is beneficial for you and in your witnessing to others.

Word of the Week – Reconciliation

Word of the Week – Reconciliation


In our Word of the Week, Pastor Neal Radichel explains the Biblical word Reconciliation. This word describes a change in a relationship. We have been separated from God because of our sin. Christ reconciles sinners to God by His sacrifice of sin. See Daniel 9:24; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:19-21; Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Because of Christ’s live and death for sinners, our debt has been paid and we are at peace with God. Thanks be to our Savior. Listen and grow in your knowledge of this important Biblical word.

When God built a wall, and someone else paid for it…

When God built a wall, and someone else paid for it…

One of the most surprising things of this election year is Donald Trump’s claim that he will build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Now, accomplishing that feat on its own would be interesting enough, but Trump is going even further. Not only will he build the wall, he will have Mexico pay for it. The thing is, Mr. Trump really hasn’t explained how he’s going to do this. What makes this claim even more outstanding is that the President of Mexico has publicly stated that they will not pay for it. Will Trump succeed? I suppose it’s possible but it seems highly unlikely. Trump’s wall claim seems like most things in politics, big promises made to make headlines but excuses for failure almost always follow.

I’m not here to speak for or against the wall or to delve into the politics of it all. You’ve heard enough of that already. But, Trump’s promise brings to mind an interesting account from God’s Word. There was a time when God built a wall, and had a foreign kingdom pay for it. That time comes from late in the Old Testament history of Israel, from the book of Nehemiah. To understand the miracle that this was you need to know who Nehemiah was. Nehemiah was a Jewish captive in Babylon during the time that God’s people were exiled. Like other prominent Jewish people who arose to high standing in foreign lands (Joseph, Daniel) Nehemiah had ascended to the position of cup-bearer for the king. While in this position, Nehemiah heard about the great disrepair of the city of Jerusalem. With boldness, he petitioned king Artaxerxes he be allowed to return to Israel and help in the re-building process of the city’s wall. Artaxerxes not only granted the request, he decided to pay for the entire venture. Nehemiah recorded his request in chapter 2 verse 8,

… and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy. And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

There you have it. Not only did Artaxerxes give Nehemiah time off, he covered the expenses for the materials. God, in His power and wisdom, was able to use a foreign king to accomplish His will. And this wasn’t the only time, either. In the book before Nehemiah’s, his contemporary, Ezra, encountered a similar circumstance. Once Cyrus, king of Persia, conquered the Babylonians he gave the order for the Jews to return to their land and re-build their temple. Ezra was tasked with this responsibility, but God was also working behind the scenes. We’re told,

In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, 4 with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury (Ezra 6:3-4).

Much like Nehemiah’s re-building of the wall, Ezra’s expenses would be paid by a foreign king. But, this didn’t make either task easy. Ezra was plagued by the native peoples living Judea. They wanted a share in this great endeavor, but they were also idol worshipers. The entire reason Ezra’s people had been sent to captivity was because they intermingled with false gods. He wasn’t about to let that happen all over again, so he refused to join with the other nations in the temple reconstruction. This decision, although correct, would prove to be the source of headaches and difficulties in the project. We’re told,

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:4-5).

The native people tried to turn Darius, Cyrus’ successor, against Ezra and the Israelites. But, once Darius realized the truth of the matter, he issued his very own decree; once again, fulfilling God’s will by paying the way for the project,

Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River (Ezra 6:7-8).

Nehemiah, likewise, faced his own share of hardships as he tried to rally his people to rebuild the city walls. We’re told that the workers had to hold a weapon in one hand and their tool in the other. Half of the man-power needed to be directed at protection. In the end, though, the wall was completed in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). No plan of man can thwart the will of God. In the short accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah’s work, God used three separate foreign rulers to not only accomplish His will, but pay for all of the expenses.

The lessons of Ezra and Nehemiah remind us of many things. We see the importance of perseverance and faithfulness to God’s plan. We see bricks_14545actremendous examples of leadership in both Ezra and Nehemiah. We see the utter folly of trying to resist the true God. We see how God values both the physical (wall) and spiritual (temple) protection of His people. But perhaps greatest of all, we see God’s plan of grace. Long before Ezra and Nehemiah’s triumphs, the Israelites were humiliated by captivity under the Babylonians. Not only were they carried into slavery, away from their homeland, but God’s holy temple was sacked and looted. What a disgrace for both God and His people. But, throughout it all, God had a perfect plan. He used the oppression of Babylon to bring His children back to repentance; so that future followers like Ezra would learn to resist idol-worshipers, and future believers like you and I would have confidence in the work of Christ. But, at the same time He also provided the mechanism for their re-building process. He moved Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes to kindness and favor with His people, so much so, that they funded the re-building of Jerusalem. Never before had foreign rulers so willingly submitted to a nation in such a lowly status.

If God was able to accomplish so much in that setting, what can He do for your life? Well, He can certainly help with with those lingering financial issues, or that friendship that seems to be on the rocks. He reassures you with love when you’re in the thick of an unfriendly world. He listens at all times when you’re distressed or in need. Just like the Israelites, God’s got you covered at all times. You have a Friend who can use His own enemies to accomplish His will. What is too great for Him?  But, the matter that God places as highest priority for you is your salvation. He wants you to know and believe that you are forgiven and redeemed. Examples of His eternal power like those in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are more than just things to wish for, or “ooh” and “aah” at in amazement. God is showing you the power of His grace in your life; powerful enough to save you from sin and all of it’s effects. So, when you hear a politician’s outrageous claims, remember Who is really in control, what He has done for you, and what He wants for your life.