Sorrow of Heart – Nehemiah 2:1-2

Sometimes a poor memory and short attention span can be good things – not usually – but sometimes. Last month I brought a lesson from verse 2 – “This is nothing else but sorrow of heart. Then I was sore afraid.” The title was “What makes you sad?” Just for this evening, I’d like you to forget that message and forget that the word “sorrow” can be translated “evil” and “wickedness.” I hope that I made my point three weeks ago, and the Lord blessed us. But this evening, looking at Artaxerxes’ words again, I’d like to bring a entirely different devotional. We are all prone to sorrow. I confess that at times this week my heart has been as gloomy as Monday’s and Tuesday’s weather. I may have said the same sort of thing during my last message from this text. Don’t assume that this is my usual condition; that I’m clinically depressed or something. But the truth is I have down days and down hours as much as I have positive up days. During this week there have been things to cause that gloom and most of them were not the same as those of three weeks ago. I’m not embarrassed to mention this, because I’m guessing that you have had your blue moments as well. As I say, we are all prone to periods of sorrowful hearts – similar, but less intense, than Nehemiah’s. The root reason for this is the natural condition of our hearts – spiritually, not cardiologically. Nearly every reference I will make this evening to the heart is to the same Hebrew...

Nehemiah’s Patriotism – Nehemiah 1:1-11

I am going back to chapter 1, not because I missed something, but because of the way tonight’s theme ties the first two chapters together. In fact, this, in some ways, may be the theme of the entire book. In my background reading on Nehemiah, I ran across the word “patriot” a couple times. And then as I re-read chapter 2, a couple of things jumped out at me in that regard. Let’s say that Nehemiah was a “patriot;” what can we learn about that subject from his example? This may be particularly important in the light of the chaos in our country these last few weeks. Sadly, I am not sure that there is a universal agreement as to what “patriotism” might be. Webster, 200 years ago, defined patriotism as – “Love of one’s country; the passion which aims to SERVE one’s country, either in defending it from invasion or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a man in the character of a citizen.” He said that a patriot is “a person who loves his country, and zealously supports and defends it and its interests.” As is usually the case, I think that Webster got it right. But when I googled the word, the internet computer defined a “patriot” only as – “a person who vigorously supports his country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” There is nothing in that modern definition about “service,” “good citizen” or “noble passion.” And then on the next...

The King’s Pleasure – Nehemiah 2:5-8

Proverbs 21:1 is clearly related to our text. It says – “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Solomon – himself a king as great as Artaxerxes Longimanus – willingly bowed to God – “I may be a human king, but there is a King greater than I, and His dominion is greater than mine. My power may be seen in domestic laws, in the execution of criminals, in levying taxes and in armies, but Jehovah’s power is often undetected as it works in the hearts of men turning them this way and that.” This is a hated idea, because we all by nature want to be sovereign over our little dominions – our lives. But this is so commonly taught in the Bible that to deny it is to cast aside the right to be called a “Bible-believing Christian.” Proverbs 16:1 – “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.” I believe that Jehovah was preparing the heart of Artaxerxes, and his answer to Nehemiah was of God. In all this we see a blending of God’s will, Nehemiah’s prayers and the will of the king of Persia. Also, I wonder how much the counsel of his wife had to do with the direction of his heart. Is there a reason that she is specifically mentioned in this text? Did God use the queen to influence her husband? Earlier, Ezra praised God with the words, “Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath...

June 14

Daniel Fristoe was converted to Christ in 1755 and he was ordained sixteen years later.  This was in northern Virginia.   On the day of his ordination, June 14, 1771, John Young had been haled into the nearby  Caroline County courthouse for preaching the free grace of Christ without a licence.  According to Fristoe’s diary, the next following day, he was in a meeting examining candidates for baptism, when a man came into the assembly cursing, swearing and beginning to flop around like a fish out of water.  Satan was very interested in disrupting the work of Christ.  Nevertheless, sixteen people were adjudged proper subjects for baptism.  They joined thirteen others who were ready to make their public stand for Christ.     That Sunday, about 2,000 people came together to witness the Baptist’s ordinance of immersion.  The trees overhanging the river were so filled with people that several branches broke and heckling spectators were cast into the water.  No one was hurt.  After the candidates had dried off the congregation moved to a nearby field, where Fristoe preached and the service concluded with the hymn, “Come We that Love the Lord.”  The preacher declared that he had never seen such a battle between God with His blessing and the raging of the Devil.     Bro. Fristoe’s ministry was blessed but short.  While visiting the Philadelphia Association meeting, he was seized with smallpox, and he quickly succumbed.  In his 35th year, his body was buried at the Baptist Church of Philadelphia, far from his loving wife, seven children and the churches he was...

June 7

Joseph Samuel Murrow was born on this day (June7) 1835 in the home of a Methodist preacher. At the age of 19 he was converted and united with Green Fork Baptist Church. Soon he was licensed to preach, and in 1855 he entered Mercer University. Two years later he was ordained and sent out as a missionary to the Creek Indians who were living near what is now Eufaula, Oklahoma (northwest of Talahina about 50 miles). The Civil War disrupted his work among the Creeks, so he settled among the Seminoles, caring for more that 4,000 refugee Indians along the Red River which divides Oklahoma from Texas. During that time he baptized over 200 converts. Following the war he returned to Indian Territory and settle Atoka (west of Talahina about 100 miles). In 1869 he organized the Rehoboth Baptist Church which may be Oklahoma’s oldest Baptist church. He didn’t confine his ministry to any one tribe, also working with the Choctaw and Muskogees evangelizing the people and organizing churches. I don’t know if he had been married before, but at the age of 58 he married Kathrina Ellett, who had been working among the Indians herself for 18 years, and together their ministries more than simply doubled. One of Bro. Murrow’s accomplishments was his part in the establishment the Indian University, the Baptist college of the Territory. In 1902, at an age when many think about retiring, Bro and Mrs. Murrow started an orphanage. They took in 40 children that first year. Over the next 25 years many hundreds of kids were loved, supported and evangelized by this godly...

Ejaculatory Prayer – Nehemiah 2:1-8

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that there are several different kinds of prayer – legitimate prayer to God. Let me expand on that. There are those prayers of the closet – your alone time with God – informal, personal, intimate. Then there are the prayers of the church and the temple – like Solomon’s great prayer. There are the “where two or three are gathered together in my name” kinds of prayer. There are the formal, follow-the-pattern prayers – “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” And there are the free verse hymns of prayer. There are joyful prayers full of praise and thanksgiving, and there are the broken-hearted, beat-on-the-chest prayers like Nehemiah’s and the publican’s – “God be merciful to me a sinner.” There are the unspoken prayers and the loud prayers representing large congregations. Nehemiah has shared one private prayer with us in chapter 1, and here he reveals another – “So I prayed to the God of Heaven.” In the language of the 17th and 18th century this was called an “ejaculatory prayer.” We might call it an “ex-clamatory prayer” or perhaps “interjectory prayer.” As I’ve suggested in earlier messages, this might have been nothing more than “Help me, God!” Nehemiah doesn’t tells us it’s length or content. But the circumstances seem to suggest that it was silent and very brief. It was like the prayer of a man facing the charging lion or looking down the gun barrel of the drug-crazed thief. “I am in trouble with a king who can order my immediate execution. Help me, Lord.” My premise this...

What Makes You Sad? – Nehemiah 2:1-3

The books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther should be studied together or in succession, because they are interrelated and interlocked. The Book of Nehemiah follows the Book of Ezra in time, and Ezra, the man, is found in both books. Artaxerxes is named in two of the books, and Ahasuerus is also mention in two, but not the same two. Esther was Ahasuerus’ Queen some time after Cyrus, but before Artaxerxes the king in this chapter. Before we go on, we need to tie two statements together. Verse 1 concludes with the words, “Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.” And verse 2 ends with “Then I was very sore afraid.” Nehemiah wasn’t simply afraid when the king pointed out his obvious sadness. He was “VERY sore afraid.” He was exceedingly afraid – terrified. How odd that seems to us. How could Nehemiah’s attitude or sadness be a reason to fear the king? There is a statement in Esther which sheds light on this. In the midst of the three emigrations of Jews to Judah, racial prejudice among the heathen below the level of king, was rampant. Everywhere they turned the Jews were either loved or hated – often out of envy, as in the case of Daniel. Esther’s cousin was hated because he honored God and wouldn’t play the political games of the day. Anti-Semitism is nothing new. Not only was there hatred in Judah led by Sanballot and others, fomenting persecution against the returnees. But even in Shushan the hatred against Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah still roiled in the hearts of some Chaldeans...

May 31

John Bryce was born of Scotish parents in Goochland County, Virginia on this day (May 31) in 1784. He was raised in the Episcopal Church, but at the age of 21 he came under conviction through the preaching of Andrew Broadus and upon his profession of faith united with the small Baptist church in his community. Bryce was bi-vocational throughout his life. Not only was he a preacher and pastor, but also a very worthy lawyer. For a while he served in Richmond and Lynchburg and was a friend of Chief Justice John Marshall. During the war of 1812 Bryce was a chaplain in the army, after which he pastored and worked in Fredericksburg and Alexandria in Virginia. He felt very strongly in an educated ministry, so he assisted in the establishment of Columbian College in Washington before moving to Kentucky and helping to establish Georgetown College, the first institution of higher learning west of the Appalachians. In 1844 Bryce was appointed surveyor of Shreveport, Louisiana. He was there when Texas was annexed to the United States, and it is said that he was President Tyler’s confidential agent. But his most important work was not political or patriotic but eternal. He was a preacher of the gospel and a Baptist pastor with a missionary heart. When he arrived in Shreveport he supposed there was not a Baptist church or another Baptist preacher within 200 miles. When he left in 1851 there were about 20...

April Report

April Foolishness I thought that the first day of April was April Fools’ Day??? It seems like the whole month of April has become a month of medical, social, economic, and political foolishness. Who are those among us that thought that quarantining a complete sporting entity for medical reasons would not have political, social, and economic ramifications as well? Who are those among us that thought that preventing us from buying seeds at the grocery store while buying groceries would prevent the Covid 19 virus from spreading? Who among us thought that cancelling school for the rest of the year for medical reasons related to this invisible threat that mainly threatens the elderly and infirm would for our children and young adults not contribute to the “dumbing down,” syndrome that makes it nearly impossible for our younger generations to read and mentally understand the Bible. No wonder that there are so many perversions of that Holy Text. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. The Psalmist got it right – the first time, and it is still right today. Many in our society have become corrupt and abominable in God’s sight. They have become “practical atheists” if not actual atheists. They pretend to be religious or even are religious, but they deny the power of God and the presence of God Himself. They have become gods unto themselves and think that their way of thinking and doing is right and that yours is wrong. But our God is in the heavens:...

Yearning to Fear – Nehemiah 1:4-11

There is a phrase toward the of Nehemiah’s prayer which is somewhat astonishing to some 21st century ears. Before he asks, “Grant me mercy in sight of Artaxerxes,” he says that he is among other godly people. That isn’t surprising or astonishing because God has always maintained a small remnant of saints. The Lord has always, as He said, “reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” There may not have been 7,000, but Nehemiah was not alone in his yearning for restoration and revival. But notice how he describes these people. He doesn’t say that they are saints, or even that they fear God’s name. He describes them as those “who desire to fear thy name.” There is a strange breed of people – in my estimation – who enjoy the rush of adrenalin through their bodies. So they take risks – extreme rock climbing, base-jumping, diving through narrow canyons with nothing but little wings attached to their arms and little cameras attached to their heads. They can’t walk up to a stranger and ask if he is child of God, but they can swim with sharks. They couldn’t declare their allegiance to Christ before a group of girls, but they could defy corrupted power defending the Constitution in front of a bunch of liberal senators. And, for some of these people, it was as children they began to love horror stories, horror movies – terror. Perhaps you are among them, but I am not. Can we say that those people look for reasons to be afraid – something...