By Their Fruit You Shall Know Them: The Parable of the Pumpkin Patch

I have few and simple aspirations in this life–to raise my kids to know my Lord; to teach other kids to understand God’s Word; to write things that will be helpful to others; and to have a pumpkin patch.

Yes, I know, that’s a frivolous and irrelevant desire.  But there’s something deep within my soul that yearns for a garden full of lovely vines, great yellow flowers, and beautiful, round, orange pumpkins.  I have for the past three years attempted to achieve this humble goal.  The first year, my vines were devastated by a plague of squash bugs. I studied out the best ways to deal with insect pests and treated the ground accordingly.  The second year, my vines were sickened by blight and rotted away.  Again, I studied the problem and thought I had it licked.

Not one to give up easily, I again planted a pumpkin patch last spring.  I had received special heirloom seeds through a friend and I planted them with care, using all the knowledge I had gleaned from my past two, unsuccessful attempts.  Oh, and my dreams seemed to be coming to pass!  Lush, beautiful vines grew, luxuriant and healthy.  No thorny squash bugs appeared to threaten my garden, and no black or moldy signs of blight crept in.  Then the blossoms appeared, huge and yellow and wonderful.  I was filled with joyful anticipation–I would be harvesting pumpkins this year!  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pudding, decorations for our Sukkah during the Feast of Tabernacles, jack-o-lanterns for my kids.

Then the flowers dropped off and the fruit appeared.  Brown. Misshapen. Wrong.

It seems my heirloom seeds were not pumpkin seeds after all.  I had cultivated a healthy crop of butternut squash.

Okay, this is where my analogy inevitably falls down, because there’s really nothing evil about butternut squash.  I like butternut squash, and we ate butternut squash.  Lots of it.  All summer.  Because there was a lot of it.  If you want some, I’ll send them to you, because there’s a lot of them.

But when  what you really need are big, lovely, round, shiny, orange pumpkins, nothing else will do.

In Matthew 7:6, Jesus warns us, “By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?”  A horticulturalists could, I am sure, have told me that my seeds and my vines were not pumpkin seeds and pumpkin vines–but look at pictures of the two and tell me, could an ordinary person really tell the difference?  Well, I certainly couldn’t, until the fruit began to grow.  I’m afraid it’s the same with people.  It’s impossible, sometimes, to tell who is genuinely serving God out of love for Him and desire to serve Him, and who is serving for other purposes.  Sometimes it’s hard to discern the difference in ourselves.  The sincere pumpkin vines blend in with the butternut squash vines, and who can disentangle them before they begin to show their true natures through their fruit?

In Matthew 13, Jesus warns us again through the parable of the wheat and the tares.  He  planted good wheat in good ground, but the enemy planted tares in amongst the wheat.  These two plants look exactly alike until the wheat begins to form heads and bears good grain; the tares remain fruitless and are without use.  How to root out the tares without disturbing the fruitful wheat?  It can’t be done by human means, Jesus said.  Let them remain together until the end, and then He will Himself sort things out.  But in the meantime, He tells us to be discerning.  By their fruit you shall know them–we are not the judges, but we are responsible for being alert to deception, both in others and in ourselves.

So, what is this fruit we’re to be looking for?  John the Baptizer tells us to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)  This is always a good measure for ourselves.  Are we truly repentant for our sins, or do we try to excuse them away or sweep them under the rug and hope no one (God!) will notice.

Paul tells us to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.”  (Philippians 1:11)  Are we living righteous lives through the power that Christ gives–lives that bring glory and praise to God?  Or are we trying to live good lives in our own strength, bringing glory to ourselves?  And again, in Colossians 1:10, Paul prays that we “may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”  Are we continuing to strive to learn of Him?  Or are we complacent in our present knowledge, content with what we have rather than longing to go deeper?

“Being filled with the fruit of righteousness” and “bearing fruit in every good work”:  what are these righteous good works we’re to be cultivating?  Jesus tells us this Himself in John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.”  Believing in Jesus is the foundation of bearing good fruit.  The little book of First John is all about the work God expects of us, and it boils down to two things: to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He has commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)

Believe in Jesus and love one another.  There’s the gospel in a pumpkin shell.  So what kind of fruit are we bearing?






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If God Wrote a Blog . . .

“Why do people die spiritually?” a friend of mine asked me recently, referring to believers who no longer seemed to want to be involved in the work of the church.  “What makes someone lose interest in spiritual things?”  I have also been musing on this subject for some time.  Coincidentally (or not!), the very nature of my relationship with this particular friend led me to a possible answer.

My friend and I met via an internet forum.  She lives half a world away, but we were brought together through a mutual admiration for each other’s work online and began to get acquainted through e-mail.  We then discovered each other’s blogs and began to read through the entries.  I quickly realized that, as much as I enjoyed getting to know my new friend through the almost instant methods of e-mail and private messaging, it was through her blog that I could really learn about her character, history, philosophy–her heart.  There I can come to understand more about who she was before we met, how she got to where she is today, how she interacts with others in her life.  I can’t talk to her face to face; we can’t sit down with cups of tea and have a heart-to-heart talk in person.  So I read her blog, and she reads mine, and this is how we each learn who the other truly is.

I hope the analogy I’m drawing here is clear.  I certainly believe that God speaks to us directly in our day-to-day lives, moving in our hearts and minds to guide us in an intimate and immediate way.  However, like the e-mails my friend and I exchange, this more direct communication generally addresses the concerns and events of the here and now.  In order to fully know God–His character, history, philosophy: His heart–I must study His blog.

Yes, my friends, God kept a blog for quite a long number of years.  Of course, the internet had not been invented when He started writing His blog.  He used the cutting edge technology of the day by dictating His entries to His various secretaries, who inscribed them on scrolls of parchment. These blog entries (we call them “books” today) purposed to tell the world who God is, describe His character, and explain His workings through history and through individuals as He strove to accomplish redemption for His creation.  The way to learn who God really is, therefore, would be to read His Word.

I believe that many Christians fall away from true faith because they neglect the one thing that would bring them more fully into it:  they fail to study God’s Word.  I know my friend will understand what I mean when I admit that, if our friendship were based solely upon our brief e-mails to each other, our relationship would be shallow and largely imaginary.  Without the insight of our blogs, we would have no foundation upon which to build a true representation of each other’s character.  We would be forced to rely on what little information we could glean through a few sentences or paragraphs and would most probably draw many wrong conclusions about each other’s motivations and philosophies.  We would, in fact, be inventing each other in our own minds based upon our own experiences and thought processes rather than actually learning the truth we reveal about ourselves through our written works.   After all, it is a fact that in order to truly know another person, one must see that person’s actions in many different circumstances and watch them interact with a wide spectrum of other people.  My friend and I cannot observe one another in person, but through our blogs we can “see” each other as we truly are.

When I asked my friend’s permission to use her as an example in this blog entry, she replied, “I would be honoured if you wanted to use me as an example. That’s why I’m on earth you know.”  Her answer brought to my mind another reason Christians may fall away from the faith when they do not study the Scriptures.  If you wanted to read an example of what living out the love and compassion of Christ looks like in this modern world, you need go no further than to read my friend’s blog!  She is daily living out her faith in tangible ways that brings hope and change to those around her.  And this is another purpose of God’s Word. In I Corinthians 10, Paul warns us to pay attention to the history of Israel. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did,” he tells us in verse 6.  And again, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us,” he says in verse 11.  He was speaking of negative examples, of course, but there are many instances of positive examples and exhortations of how God wants us to live our lives throughout Scripture.  Unless we study His Word, we can only guess at what He wants for us and what He expects from us.

My friend told me a few days ago that she had been visited in person by another such internet acquaintance.  After a year of e-mails and reading one another’s written work, their first face-to-face meeting was perfectly comfortable.  She said it felt as if they’d known each other all their lives. Commenting on the analogy she knew I was attempting to write about in this blog entry, she concluded: “. . .like my friend from—–, when Jesus comes in person and I see Him face to face it will be like ‘old times’ and we will be completely comfortable in each other’s presence.” God forbid we should ignore the singular opportunity to get to know Him so personally through His revealed Word, so that we can indeed be comfortable in his presence when we see Him face-to-face at last!

“Why do people die spiritually?”  Well, I believe one reason is that they do not value God’s Word and pour over it as if their very lives depended on it.  This is more than unfortunate, because it really does.  It is the blog God gave to us as a direct line to His mind and heart. We neglect so great a gift to our own peril and detriment.



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Civil Conniption

My husband worked a great deal of overtime in the past two weeks.  We, rightfully I think, expected a big paycheck today.  But it was considerably smaller than we had expected:  over $500 had been taken out in taxes.

No, I’m not kidding.  My husband is not a businessman making money in the millions.  He’s a police officer–public servants don’t get paid much.  Five hundred dollars is a lot of grocery money, folks!  If I didn’t value my tea so much, I would have run down to the river and tossed it in.  That would have been a silly thing to do, anyway.  The fellows involved in the Boston Tea Tantrum didn’t dump their OWN tea in the harbor.  They dumped the king’s tea.  Hmm.  Does the President drink tea, I wonder?  Perhaps the Potomac needs a bit of flavoring?

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July–the annual celebration of our independence from Great Britain.  What did the British do that literally had us up in arms all those years ago?  Were we protesting slavery?  Mysterious disappearances?  Wrongful imprisonments?  Mass slaughter by the government?  No, we were protesting taxes.

It’s my understanding that governments need money to fund all the stuff they do for us.  King George III said the same thing–the taxes levied against the colonists were paying for the French and Indian War, which had been fought (by the British) to secure our lands from the encroaching French.  Sounds like a good use of our money, actually.  (Yes, yes, I know King George was a nutter.  But it would make more sense to me to rebel against the king because he was insane than because of the tax issue.)

No, protesting taxes is a useless proposition.  There’s nothing sure in this life but death and you-know-what.  It was not really a compelling reason for starting a civil war.  And it really seemed to have started us off on the wrong foot.  Because we have become a nation of whiners and protesters, throwing conniptions at the drop of a hat.  Any perceived encroachment on our rights is apparently worth ripping into everyone in general on all possible forums.  It’s depressing.

I’m not talking about any particular group or political party or cause.  As a Tory, I don’t really have a political party, and I weigh each issue through the lens of reason rather than internet memes or party lines.  Some issues really do warrant concern and deliberation.  I act on my convictions quietly by contacting the proper authorities and by voting my conscience. But most issues are as trivial as taxation.  Before I wade into any argument concerning social or political issues, I ask myself, “Is this really worth starting a war over?  Is it worth the angst, the vitriol, the possible estrangement of others?”  Most of the time, it just isn’t.

It’s become the American way to expect to get everything we want and to get it now–and if we don’t get it, we have the right to thrown a temper tantrum over it.  And if anyone calls us on our attitude of entitlement, we accuse them of being intolerant, or ignorant, or even uncaring.  It all grieves me.

What would America be like today if we had started a war over a noble and selfless cause?  What if it were slavery, for example, that we were protesting?  Would we be a kinder, more loving people?  I wonder.

By the way–before you burn me in effigy, please have a gander at my first controversial Fourth of July entry entitled “An American Tory.”

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A Day In the Life of Cornerstone

Some of my readers may be aware that, once upon a time, there was an amazing yearly event on a remote farm in Illinois called Cornerstone Christian Arts Festival.  During that week, every form of music imaginable from all over the world would be showcased–Christian music one never gets to hear on “Christian radio”.  But it was so much more than music.  Every art form known to man was displayed, discussed, celebrated:  painting, sculpture, writing, film-making–from every culture of the world.  Seminars concerning outreach and ministry to every part of culture were held.  And two years ago, the very last week of this singular event was held.  Once attended by over 25,000 enthusiastic Christians in past years, the numbers dwindled to a mere 5,000 that last year.  Unable to continue such a costly event, the sponsors (Jesus People USA) decided to end it.  The farm has now been sold, and a special part of our lives is now over.  This is an essay I wrote two years ago to commemorate this wonderful once-annual event which was such an important part of us.  Of course, every day of Cornerstone is unique, but here are some of the things that struck me as especially poignant as I pondered our last experience there.

We wake up each morning about 7:30 and clean up as best we can to begin our day.  Things begin to happen at 9:00 and we don’t want to miss a moment.  Walking through the campsites of our neighbors to the footpath is always an adventure as we skirt tents and air mattresses, hammocks and pavilions, and sometimes people just lying on the ground on blankets.  The Asylum tent is close at hand, but it’s quiet in the morning.  Those who man that venue have been up all night dispensing free coffee and tea and talking with whomever came to hang out in spectacularly gothic surroundings.  Later in the day, speakers will conduct seminars and discussion groups about ministering to minority sub-cultures and Christian Goth bands will play.  My teenagers loved this tent.

Past the footbridge, the path towards the main venue area is lined with poles with artwork displayed on them.  Paintings, sculptures and montages depict Christ and the Christian life in beautiful and unique ways that help me focus my mind on why I am here as I trudged up the hill in the blazing sun.  The campers in this area are especially gregarious and generous.  Rather than ensconcing themselves up in the woods as we did, they deliberately placed themselves on the main path without a speck of shade to comfort them, and many spend the day offering to pray for passers-by or dishing up free bowls of Ramen noodles to the hungry who miscalculated the amount of spending money they needed for the week.

Passing by the Sacrosanct tent, I can overhear some heavy metal artists tuning up  like a migraine head-ache for a noon concert.  The lead singer, in leather, chains, and tattoos, stops to lead his band-mates in prayer:  “Jesus, if I don’t do everything for You, I don’t wanta do anything!” he exclaims.  Amen, brother!

The band in the Gallery tent is playing contemporary worship music while people sip coffee and cold Thai around the tables in the back.  Someone is playing a hurdy-gurdy in the Art tent as people line up to take part in various art projects such as needle-felting, bead-making, and collage techniques.  Glen Kaiser, an amazing blues guitarist, is showing some kids how to make instruments out of cookie tins and cigar boxes.

Across the way,  Creation Station is filling up with children eager to watch puppet shows, learn songs and dances from other countries in other languages, and squirt each other with bubble guns.  The Artrageous tent has as many adults as children playing with modeling clay, finger paints, and bins full of flour and buckets full of water.

In one of the seminar tents, I can see an orthodox priest conducting morning matins.  In another, I can hear a Catholic priest leading mass.  At the farthest end of the grounds, I reach the Imaginarium, where I will spend the next seven hours in geek heaven discussing literature, film-making, cultural icons, and comic-book heroes.  At night, I will be back in my home away from home watching movies with my people:  one night it’s Blue Like Jazz; one night it’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog– and how fun it was to sing along with a hundred people who all knew the words!

I did also spend time in other venues listening to bands.  It’s lovely to sit in the Gallery as the sun goes down and the air slowly cools from the oppressive 109 it’s been all day to a cool, crisp 80 or so, listening to Aradhna’s soothing Indian music or The Crossing’s rousing Irish folk tunes.  All over the farm, others are scattered about listening to heavy metal or screamo or ska or blue grass or whatever; or, they are playing volleyball, skateboarding, or swimming in the lake; or in other seminar tents they are discussing philosophy or ministry or relationship-building.

But Saturday morning, everyone is together in one place, worshiping together and taking the Lord’s Supper in humility and reverence.  Two little boys walk through the crowd carrying a jug of water, a dish pan, and a towel, offering to wash people’s feet.  Dozens go up the microphones to testify to God’s goodness and the power of Jesus in their lives.  Old and young; conservative and liberal; goths, hippies, hipsters and geeks;  long hair, short hair, spiked hair and dreadlocks; all colors, shapes, and sizes; all together because of the love of Christ; all worshiping as one body and sincerely loving and serving one another without reservation.  This is what heaven will be like.

So now it’s over.  Where else on this earth can we find such unrestricted, unbridled passion for Christ that is willing to look past all differences and focus on what all Christians have in common?  Knowing this love for Christ and His body existed somewhere made a great difference in my life.  Is it gone because Cornerstone is gone?  Or will this message of unity spread?  I would that this entire nation be Cornerstone; that everywhere a Christian goes, he or she will find other Christians as loving and as willing to reach out and serve others as those who used to gather once a year on a hot, dusty, smelly farm in the dullest state in the union.




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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part Four

At last, the walls of Jerusalem were complete.  It was now a safe, secure place for the people to live.  Governor Nehemiah had plans for guarding the gates and for moving the people into the almost empty city.  He chose two men to be in charge of the city:  his brother Hanani and another man named Hananiah.  He chose Hananiah because this good man feared God more than most men do.  Why was this important to Nehemiah?  What does it mean to fear God?  Deuteronomy 10:12 tells us that, of all the things God wants us to do, to fear Hi is first on the list, even above loving Him.  Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and Prov. 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  Proverbs 8:13 says that to fear the Lord is to hate evil.  I think these verses are telling us that fearing the Lord means trying to always please Him in everything we do.  If we do this, we can truly get to know Him as He is, and only then can we truly love Him.  That’s why the fear of the Lord must come first:  we might love God for selfish reasons, for what He can do for us or give to us.  But if we really get to know Him, by truly trying to please Him, we can love Him because of Who He is.

The walls were finished in time for the festivals of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.  This would have been the end of September and beginning of October on our calendar.  The first day of that month was the Feast of Trumpets.  The priest Ezra had come to Jerusalem to teach the Law to the people.  Ezra would have been very old by this time, but he stood before the people on the Feast of Trumpets and read the Law to them.  The people stood out of respect for the Law and listened from dawn until noon!  They listened carefully to every word, and if someone did not understand a part of it, the Levites would explain it to him.  The people grieved when they heard God’s Laws, because they realized how much of His precious Word they had forgotten.  They wept and mourned, which showed that they not only understood and believed God’s Word, but they were applying it to their lives.  Nehemiah reassured them: “Do not grieve.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  The people then went on to plan a wonderful celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, which came two weeks later.   They had the biggest, most joyful celebration of this holiday since Joshua’s time.  God’s Word made them grieve because of their sins, and then God’s Word gave them great joy because it showed them how to live.

Do you reverence God’s Word as His people should?  How many of you have Bibles of your own?  Do you know how incredibly lucky you are to be able to own a copy of God’s Word?  In Nehemiah’s day, no one had a Bible of their own.  Few people were even able to read at all, and books were so expensive and took so long to make, there were very few of them.  That is why Ezra had to read the Law out loud to everyone.  Perhaps this was the first time some of them had heard God’s Word!  The priests were supposed to read it every seven years, but if you missed that reading you might not hear God’s Word for years.

Do you have to wait seven years to hear God’s Word?  You can read it or listen to your Mom or Dad read it to you any time you want.  Do you take advantage of this incredible blessing?  Do you respect God’s Word by listening carefully and asking questions if you don’t understand?  Do you apply His Words to your life, being sorry for your sins and feeling joy because of His many blessings to you?

There are about 440 million people in the world today who have no Bible.  I have missionary friends whose only job is to get Bibles to people in their own language.  How their eyes light up when they get a Bible of their very own in their language.  They know what an incredible gift God’s Word is and they treasure it above all things.  I am afraid that God’s Word is not valued as much here in America because almost everyone has one.  We should treasure His precious Word as much as those who can’t have it.  We should want to read it or listen to it every day, and hide it in our hearts.

It was not an accident that Ezra chose to read God’s Word by the Water Gate.  Many times in the Bible, God’s Word is compared to water.  Water quenches our thirst and makes us clean.  God’s Word also quenches our thirst for knowledge of Him, and it makes us aware of sin so that we can be clean inside.  Remember how it feels to be very thirsty and then to get a nice, cold glass of water?  It makes you happy, doesn’t it?  God’s Word should make you that happy.  Next time you pick up your Bible, think about how blessed you are to have it!

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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part Three

Here is the next installment for teaching this wonderful little book to children.  This is, in fact, my favorite part!

Last time, we learned that Nehemiah was a careful planner and that he began the work to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in an orderly way.  But the enemies of the Jews, led by Sanballat and Tobiah, tried to stop them from finishing their work.

First, they tried ridicule.  What does it mean to ridicule someone?  It means to make fun of them.  Did anyone ever make fun of you or something you were trying to do?  It can make you want to quit, can’t it?  Tobiah said that the wall they were building was so weak that if a little fox jumped on it, it would fall right down!  Tobiah might have thought that was a funny joke, but I’ll bet Nehemiah wasn’t laughing.  It hurts when people make fun of us, doesn’t it?  We must be careful never to hurt anyone else’s feelings by saying mean things, even if we think we’re being funny.  You might think it’s a great joke, but the people you hurt won’t be laughing.

Instead of being discouraged and quitting, Nehemiah and the people just worked that much harder to finish the wall.  I can just hear them saying to each other, “We’ll show them!  We’ll show that old Tobiah!”  Before they knew it, the walls were half done!

Now Israel’s enemies knew that ridicule would not stop the Jews.  So they tried making threats.  What does that mean?  Has anyone ever threatened to hurt you?  Have you ever threatened to hurt someone, maybe a younger brother or sister who was bothering you?  Do you think God approves of a person who threatens to harm another person?  I don’t think so!

If someone said to you, “Stop what you’re doing or I’ll kill you,” would you stop?  I think I would!  It would be scary, wouldn’t it?  But instead of being afraid, Nehemiah and the Jews just prayed to God for safety and posted watchmen to keep a lookout for trouble while the others worked.

Then Israel’s enemies formed a wicked plot.  They would sneak up on the Jews when they were busy working on the wall and kill the all!  When Nehemiah heard this, do you think he was afraid?  I’ll bet he was!  But he didn’t let his fear stop him from doing God’s work.  He posted guards with swords and spears and bows and arrows to “watch the backs” of those who were working.  “Our God will fight for us,” he reminded them.  And so the work continued.

Israels’ enemies were quite willing to kill people by sneaking up on them and taking them by surprise, but they did not want to actually fight! So Sanballat and Tobiah tried to stop the work a different way.  They thought that if they could just get rid of Nehemiah, the people would stop working.   They tried to get Nehemiah to meet with them alone, to “talk things over”.  Do you think Nehemiah was silly enough to fall for this?  No!  He knew they could not be trusted.  “I’m too busy to leave the city right now,” he said. “Should I stop working just to meet with you?”

Then Sanballat and Tobiah tried spreading lies about Nehemiah.  They thought that if they could make the people stop trusting Nehemiah, they would stop working.  Maybe they even thought their lies would reach the ears of the King of Persia and then the king would get rid of Nehemiah for them!  So they said that Nehemiah was trying to set himself up as King of Israel and was rebelling against King Artaxerxes.  Nehemiah was too smart to get into an argument with such people.  “Nothing like this is happening, and you know it!  You are just making all this up!” he said, and ignored them.  It’s hard to ignore people who are telling lies about you, isn’t it?  But sometimes that is the best way to handle people who like that.

Then Sanballat hired a false prophet to go try to frighten Nehemiah into hiding in the temple.  “Men are coming to kill you!” the false prophet said to Nehemiah.  “God says to run away and hide in the temple.  Lock yourself in!  You’ll be safe there!”

“Should a man like me run away from danger?” Nehemiah said bravely.  It was obvious to him that this prophet was not from God. “I will not run away and hide like a coward!  If someone wants to kill me, bring it on!”  And he just kept on working.

After 52 days of hard work, the walls around Jerusalem were finished!  It was finished so quickly that all of Israel’s enemies were terrified.  They knew it was only because the God of Israel was helping them that they could do such an impossible job!  If we become discouraged in doing God’s work, we can know that He is helping us, too.

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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part Two

Here is the second lesson in my Nehemiah series.  What I neglected to mention in Part One is Nehemiah’s conversation with King Artaxerxes.  He had a way with words, did Nehemiah, which is one of the things I like about him.  The king said, “Why are you sad when you are clearly not ill.  This is surely the sadness of the heart.”  A very sensitive guy, this king.  And Nehemiah replied, “Why shouldn’t I be sad, when my city lies in ruins, with its walls destroyed and its gates burnt to ashes.”  Fortunately for everyone concerned, King Artaxerxes could appreciate snarkiness as much as I do.  “What can I do for you?” he said kindly, and proceeded to give Nehemiah everything he asked for.  But perhaps this isn’t the best example for a the Sunday School classroom!  So, on to part two:

Last week, we learned that Nehemiah was sent by the king  to Jerusalem to rebuild the city gates and walls.  The king of Persia had provided everything that would be needed for this great work.

Now Nehemiah is in Jerusalem, but he does not start building right away.  He does not even tell anyone why he has come.  Instead, he goes out at night with just a few friends to look at the ruins of the old walls and find out just exactly what needed to be done to rebuild them.    Close your eyes and picture Nehemiah on his trusty horse, riding carefully in the dark around the city, picking his way through the rubble of the broken walls in the moonlight.  Sometimes the piles of stones from the fallen walls were so big, he had to ride far out of his way to go around.  Perhaps the moon cast eerie shadows from the ruined bits of stonework.  Nehemiah took note of all the damage done.  He knew how important it was to make a plan.

Here is what the word PLAN stands for:  Pray, Learn, Ask, and kNow what you’re doing.  What comes first when you make a new plan?  PRAY! Prayer always comes first, doesn’t it?  Nehemiah prayed before talking to the king, and kept right on praying every step of the way to Jerusalem.  If we don’t do a job the way God wants us to, we may as well not do it at all!  So we must always begin by asking God what He wants us to do.

We must also be sure to LEARN all there is to know about a job before we begin.  Nehemiah wisely looked at the walls and gates, so that he knew exactly what work needed to be done.  But he didn’t learn how to build a city wall in one night, did he?  He must have been studying about how to build walls for months, while he was waiting to go to Jerusalem.  We can begin preparing ourselves for whatever work God has planned for us to do by studying now and learning as much as we can from God’s Word and from our schoolwork.  If we learn all we can now, we can be ready to do God’s work when the time comes.

ASKING for help and advice is also important.  Nehemiah took his friends with him to look at the walls because he knew they could give him good advice and might spot things that he might miss.  No matter how much you learn, you just can’t know everything, can you?  There’s always something that someone knows that you don’t know.  Your parents, teachers, and even your friends can help you in whatever task you have at hand.  God never means for us to work alone.  He puts other people into our lives to work with us–but we must ask!

Now, I know that KNOW doesn’t begin with “n”!  But I had to make it fit with the word PLAN!  Always try hard to KNOW what you are going to do before you begin.  An artist sketches out a picture in pencil before starting to paint, so that he will know how the picture will all fit together.  A writer always makes an outline before he begins writing a story, so he knows how all the details will fit together.  A builder makes a blueprint copy of his plans so he knows how the building will fit together.  Nehemiah made a plan of how the wall was going to fit together before he started building.  God expects us to use the brains He gave us to plan our work so that we can do our best for Him.

Remember that Nehemiah had not told anyone but his few special friends why he had come to Jerusalem.  Only after Nehemiah made his plans,  did he then reveal the plans to the people.  Everyone was excited and ready to begin work at once.  Do you think they would have been so excited if Nehemiah had said, “Let’s rebuild the walls.  I don’t know how to do it, but we’ll figure it out somehow.”  I don’t think so!  Nehemiah had planned very carefully, and was able to give each family a job to do so that they were able to begin working right away.  Every family in Jerusalem had specific job; not just professional builders, but also the priests, the store-keepers, the blacksmiths, the farmers–even the jewelry makers and the perfume makers!  Men, women, and children worked side by side, following the plans that Nehemiah gave them.

But the enemies of the Jews were not happy about this building project! Two men named Sanballat and Tobiah  began to mock the people and try to discourage them.  What does it mean to mock?  It means to make fun of someone.  It hurts when people make fun of the work you are doing, doesn’t it?  But Nehemiah just said, “The God of heaven will give us success.”  We can say this, too, if anyone tries to discourage us from doing God’s work.  Then Nehemiah said to Sanballat and Tobiah: “We have every right under heaven and by the king’s command to be here and to do this work.  But you have no right to be here at all.  So go away!”  And they went away.  But only for a while!  Next time, we’ll learn more about the evil schemes of Sanballat and Tobiah, and how Nehemiah outsmarted them!

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