Facing Battles

Now Gor′gias took five thousand infantry and a thousand picked cavalry, and this division moved out by night to fall upon the camp of the Jews and attack them suddenly. Men from the citadel were his guides. But Judas heard of it, and he and his mighty men moved out to attack the king’s force in Emma′us while the division was still absent from the camp. When Gor′gias entered the camp of Judas by night, he found no one there, so he looked for them in the hills, because he said, “These men are fleeing from us.”

At daybreak Judas appeared in the plain with three thousand men, but they did not have armor and swords such as they desired. And they saw the camp of the Gentiles, strong and fortified, with cavalry round about it; and these men were trained in war. But Judas said to the men who were with him, “Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. Remember how our fathers were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. 10 And now let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favor us and remember his covenant with our fathers and crush this army before us today. 11 Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.”

12 When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them, 13 they went forth from their camp to battle. Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets 14 and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed and fled into the plain, 15 and all those in the rear fell by the sword. They pursued them to Gazar′a, and to the plains of Idume′a, and to Azo′tus and Jam′nia; and three thousand of them fell. 16 Then Judas and his force turned back from pursuing them, 17 and he said to the people, “Do not be greedy for plunder, for there is a battle before us; 18 Gor′gias and his force are near us in the hills. But stand now against our enemies and fight them, and afterward seize the plunder boldly.”

19 Just as Judas was finishing this speech, a detachment appeared, coming out of the hills. 20 They saw that their army[a] had been put to flight, and that the Jews[b] were burning the camp, for the smoke that was seen showed what had happened. 21 When they perceived this they were greatly frightened, and when they also saw the army of Judas drawn up in the plain for battle, 22 they all fled into the land of the Philistines. 23 Then Judas returned to plunder the camp, and they seized much gold and silver, and cloth dyed blue and sea purple, and great riches. 24 On their return they sang hymns and praises to Heaven, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever. 25 Thus Israel had a great deliverance that day.

1 Maccabees 4:1-25 (RSV)

Life is filled with many battles. There are physical battles, mental battles, and spiritual battles. At times, a combination of the different types of battles can be happening at simultaneously. These battles come in all shapes and sizes. Facing a battle can seem overwhelming and impossible. A defeatist attitude can creep into the mind when a battle seems daunting. The key to facing and going through the battle is knowing one does not go it alone.

Today’s passage from 1 Maccabees presents the Israelite army up against a much larger army of Gentiles. Having snuck away from their home camp after hearing about a sneak attack by a division of the Gentiles, the Israelites stand on the plain before the Gentile camp. At first light, the Israelites see how outnumbered they are for this battle. Judas, the leader, gives a pep talk. He recounts for the soldiers, God’s saving act for their ancestors at the Red Sea. He states that God is capable of doing the same for them. The Gentiles come out to meet the Israelites in battle. The Gentiles were crushed and fled, as did the returning division when they saw their camp burning. The Jews claim the plunder of silver, gold and fine linens. They return home singing a song of praise to heaven for their success.

Like the army of Israel, we can become afraid when facing the battles within our lives. The prospect of engaging in our battle and being able to stand afterwards can appear dim to us at times. We need to be reminded of the multitude of situations where the Father has saved those who preceded us and the number of times we have been saved. Through words of Scripture, believers who are in our lives, and reflections on our own journey, we can obtain the strength in the knowledge that God can make the impossible happen. Not all battles end in what we might define as success. But no battle which we face is absent of our Lord being at our side.

As A Child

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:1-9 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how a baby or young child can bring a group of adults to a complete stop? Quickly the child becomes the focus of everyone around. Maybe it is their sense of innocence which causes one to want to stop and watch them. It might be our need to recapture our own youth in their actions and how they respond to the world around them. The craving for the simple demonstrated through them may draw our attention. Whatever the reason, a child can lead us to pause in the midst of a busy life. An individual may even be caught smiling or releasing a chuckle.

Jesus was fond of using a child to communicate the type of behavior and viewpoint which is expected of his disciples. Jesus is asked who can be considered the greatest in heaven. Jesus does not directly answer the question but instead he places a child before them and says that unless a person adopts the ways of a child, the person will not even get to heaven. Before someone can strive to be the greatest, the individual must first be a part of heaven by having the eyes and attitudes of what in that society was considered the lowest, a child. Jesus follows this idea with a warning not to be a stumbling block to others and/or one’s self.

In many ways, what Jesus says here can be difficult for us to accept. We are taught from an early age how important it is to be the greatest in whatever we attempt in life. Part of this greatness comes from maturing. Another part comes from amassing knowledge. For some, accumulating wealth, status and prestige are also essential parts of success. Jesus turns this upside down. He lifts up innocence, humbleness, curiosity, acceptance and joy as found in the example of a child as the important pieces. Are these not qualities of a young child at play? When these qualities are present, there is an openness. This openness allows for the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to unfold before us. The stumbling blocks are when we try to diminish these qualities.

Your challenge, a challenge we all have before us, is as we mature and gain knowledge, we must never let go of the parts of our childhood which keep us open to the mystery of heaven.

Pieces of the Picture

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13 (NIV)

Jigsaw puzzles have always been an enjoyable pastime in my family. My father used to spend hours putting puzzles together on our dining room table. He passed his love of working on puzzles on to me. Recently, my oldest son has also begun putting puzzles together. There is something satisfying about the process of working on jigsaw puzzles. Taking the time to look at each of the pieces in order to see how the piece might fit with the others helps to slow life down a bit. When you put the final pieces into the whole, you gain a sense of accomplishment. Each time I work on a puzzle, I am amazed how the final picture turns out after combining hundreds or thousands of pieces.

In the passage which we read today, we see the putting together of pieces to give a picture of Jesus. Jesus decides to reveal the picture to three of his closest disciples. When Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain, they see the light of glory encompassing Jesus. This provides a piece of the picture. Jesus is more than a teacher, healer, and compassionate person, there is something divine here. Then they see Moses and Elijah standing beside Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah? They are two pieces of the picture of Jesus. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets point us, and the Jews, to the Messiah. Next the disciples hear a voice which indicates, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice, attributed to the Father, provides another piece of the picture. The voice affirms Jesus as God’s Son. Combining these pieces and understanding how they fit together gives us a picture of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle takes time and patience, constructing our picture of Jesus is the same. Scripture provides us with pieces which we must examine and determine how they fit together. When we are able to witness the picture coming together, excitement quickly fills us. We can also share the picture with others and encourage them to put together the pieces for themselves.

Final Words

49 Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons: “Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger. 50 Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.

51 “Remember the deeds of the ancestors, which they did in their generations; and you will receive great honor and an everlasting name. 52 Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? 53 Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment, and became lord of Egypt. 54 Phinehas our ancestor, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood. 55 Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel. 56 Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. 57 David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom forever. 58 Elijah, because of great zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven. 59 Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved from the flame. 60 Daniel, because of his innocence, was delivered from the mouth of the lions.

61 “And so observe, from generation to generation, that none of those who put their trust in him will lack strength. 62 Do not fear the words of sinners, for their splendor will turn into dung and worms. 63 Today they will be exalted, but tomorrow they will not be found, because they will have returned to the dust, and their plans will have perished. 64 My children, be courageous and grow strong in the law, for by it you will gain honor.

65 “Here is your brother Simeon who, I know, is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father. 66 Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. 67 You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. 68 Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.”

69 Then he blessed them, and was gathered to his ancestors. 70 He died in the one hundred forty-sixth year and was buried in the tomb of his ancestors at Modein. And all Israel mourned for him with great lamentation.

1 Maccabees 2:49-70

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to say to those who you will leave behind? Some individuals have this awareness. They may not know for sure the exact day or time but maybe because of a medical diagnosis they become aware of their soon approaching death. There are some individuals who would not know this type of information. Death is an aspect of life which so many people want to ignore or hide away. Yet even in death, we are given opportunities. A person of faith does not fear death for we know it is not an end but a transition. However, a person of faith still has a concern for those who remain after their death. So out of concern, what would you wish to say to those who remain?

The passage from 1 Maccabees, an apocryphal book of the Bible for all Christians except the Roman Catholics, is a recording of the words of Matthias to his sons as he prepares to die. Matthias was a Jewish priest who fled Jerusalem with his family and other faithful Jews. They had left Jerusalem because it had been captured by the Gentile King Antiochus. The king wanted all of his new subjects to abandon their faith and rituals in order to adopt his own. Matthias led those who chose to ignore the king’s decree to Modein and later into the hills to avoid being executed for noncompliance . As Matthias prepares to die, he reminds his sons of the characteristics of their ancestors who became great in their faith tradition. He instructs them to emulate these ancestors. Then he continues by telling them who to rely upon as they continue in their leading of the faithful. Matthias encouraged them to resist the Gentiles and remain faithful.

Matthias provides us with an example of what we should say to those who will remain when we die. We should recall to them the ancestors of our faith. Lifting up the characteristics which have made them noticed as being faithful. Then we should continue by telling them who can be relied upon in their lives. Those who will assist them in their own faith journey and those who will protect them in life. By doing this, we express our love and concern for those who will remain in this portion of life. Since few of us actually know the exact time and date of our death it would be wise to make this an ongoing conversation regularly.  What would you want to say?

The Power of Music

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 (NIV)

Music is a very powerful communication tool in life. Through the notes, and in some cases the words, a message can be delivered which goes deeper into a person’s psyche than just by using words. Music brings all the senses to life and can trigger thoughts and emotions in powerful ways. A song can unlock feelings which may have been forgotten. Memories can flood a person’s mind when notes and lyrics are heard. There are many recorded instances of Alzheimer’s patients who are able to recall every note and word of a song when the rest of their memory is locked away. Songs and hymns have calmed many restless souls and minds. Music can provide comfort during a time of distress. Music has great power.

Today’s passage comes at the end of a collection of songs included in the Bible. The Book of Psalms is an ancient hymnal. Each psalm communicates the thoughts and feelings of the people of God at different times in their history. The psalm shared here is one of great praise. It calls the people to use loud instruments and dance along with their voices to offer praise to God for God’s acts of power and display of greatness. The song calls on all of creation to use every breath to praise the Lord. Imagery of praise in the throne room of God easily comes to mind from these words.

On this day when people traditionally gather in worship of God, this psalm communicates one way to worship. Through the psalmist’s words, we are called into energized and boisterous praise. Remembering the greatness of God excites us into heartfelt worship of the Lord. The psalmist tells us to use loud instruments and dancing to worship our God.

May you worship your Lord with the energy, enthusiasm, and celebration displayed in this psalm.

Correct Focus

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Matthew 16:21-28 (NIV)

Have you ever used an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera? When I was in high school, I was part of both the newspaper and yearbook staff. This required me to be trained in using a 35mm camera to take pictures. If you have used one of these, you know that it is important to turn the ring on your lens in order to bring the subject into focus. Most people today use cameras, or their smartphones, which automatically focus the picture for you. Some even allow you either before or after you take the picture to use a filter which blurs the background so the subject stands out in the picture. Focus is the point in our Bible passage for today.

Jesus talks about his upcoming persecution and death at the start of the passage. Peter takes him aside and tells him to stop this kind of talk. We do not know if Peter is more concerned about Jesus losing his momentum talking about his death,, or if he does not want to think about the pain Jesus’s death will cause Peter. Jesus says that Peter is focused on human concerns and not on the purpose which centers Jesus’s mission. Then Jesus speaks to his disciples regarding discipleship. If one chooses to follow Jesus, they must let go of their own earthly concerns and image of life. The focus must be on the priorities of the Lord which impact their spiritual life.

Where we focus impacts how we understand life and influences the priorities which we set. If our focus is on the comforts of life then our time, energy and commitment will be directed toward obtaining and maintaining those comforts. Being more concerned about building our empire on earth than the wellbeing of our spiritual self leads us to focus on our earthly life. Jesus encourages us to be willing to release our earthly goals when they come into conflict with the spiritual goals which Jesus has shown us to be important. We are challenged in this passage to allow the background of life to blur so that we can remain focused on the vision which Jesus presents for our eternal future.

Identity Question

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 16:13-20 (NIV)

Try an experiment, Google your name and see what comes up. I do this on occasion just to see what type of information about me is readily available on the internet. I also have discovered who else shares my name and I learn something about them. We are creatures who like to be known in varying degrees. Many of us are curious about what people know and what they say about us. Jesus was not different than us in that way.

Reading of Jesus’s conversation with a group of disciples causes us to take a step back to consider how each of us might respond to the question. Who do I say that Jesus is? My answer says a lot about my view of my relationship with Jesus. The answers may be different depending on how I am interacting with Jesus at the time the question is asked. There might be elements of my response which are always the same along with some varied additions. The answer may also be impacted by who is asking the question.

Peter responds to Jesus that he is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” This reply causes Jesus to declare Peter as blessed since no human has revealed this but only the Father. This revelation and response leads Jesus to proclaim Peter to be the rock on which the Church is to be built. It also provides the keys of heaven and the power to bind and loose things on earth which will be duplicated in heaven. Peter’s answer defines who Peter becomes and the authority given to him.

This brings me back to how I respond to Jesus’s question. I begin by affirming Peter’s response but go further in declaring Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. These titles require a lot of unpacking which I will not do here. My response also defines me and the place Jesus is given in my life. While the words in my response come from my faith journey within the Church, the way I am impacted by their truth is beyond words and is embedded in my spirit. This flavors the choices which I make, the relationships in my life, and the interactions which I have with others.

Now it is your turn. Who do you say Jesus is?

Be Careful

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.[a] A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 16:1-12 (NIV)

One of the blessings and curses of the time in which we live is the internet. With the introduction of the worldwide web and search engines, we have all types of information available to us almost instantaneously. Being able to search for answers to our questions and having access to all kinds of news from throughout the globe is indeed a blessing. The curses with this are the overload of information bombarding us every second of the day, and the accuracy of the information and news we receive. Human bias and interpretation are always at play. Even media outlets which used to be reliable sources of information insert opinion and slants to all of their reporting these days. But as we see in the verses from Matthew today, this danger is nothing new.

Jesus has another exchange with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They are clamoring for a sign which they hope to use against him. He refuses because he tells them they cannot even understand the signs which are now before them. Then leaving in a boat with his closest disciples, Jesus gives a warning to the disciples to be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples misinterpret Jesus’s warning because they are focused on the bread which they forgot. After Jesus addresses their worry, he reiterates his warning. Now the disciples understand that the yeast which Jesus mentioned in his warning was actually the teachings and information. The ability of this information to change and inflate a person’s thinking can be a problematic influence.

There is a lot of information readily available in the world today. In the midst of all that information is truth and lies. The warning which Jesus gave the disciples is even more important for us today. We have witnessed how information can impact the way people think and act. When this information is designed to mislead or misinterpret, it can have a damaging result. Jesus’s warning reminds us to be cautious when receiving information. Know the source of the information. Crosscheck what you read or hear. Discuss the information with others, especially some who have a different point of view. If what you are receiving is in regard to faith and theology, make sure that it is in agreement with what you understand to be the nature of the Lord. Heed Jesus’s warning today and take the time to be cautious.

Persistent Faith

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV)

I am a dog lover. We currently have two dogs who I greatly love and enjoy. Like humans, dogs get used to a routine and pick up on clues which communicate what is about to happen. At meal time in our home, one dog lays on the floor near the table while the other one lays at our feet under the table. The minute they hear us put our silverware down, they both stand up beside us. They know that is a clue we are done eating. Both of them also know that when we are finished with the meal, they are likely to get some scraps or a container to lick out.

After reading the passage for today, our mealtime routine came to mind. Jesus refers to dogs not receiving bread and the Canaanite woman says they at least they get the crumbs on the floor. The woman had come to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus tells her that his ministry is focused on the Jews.  But the woman is persistent, as she had been before Jesus talked with her. When Jesus uses the food and dog imagery to illustrate his point, she makes the point that Gentiles deserve even a small amount of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus sees in the woman that she fully believes in his power.  This is more than many Jews acknowledge. He has experienced her persistence in accessing that power. Her daughter is healed because of what Jesus sees in the woman’s understanding of faith.

This is a passage which can make us uncomfortable. First, we do not understand why Jesus appears to be excluding groups of people from his ministry. Second, we struggle with the connection of faith and healing. We struggle with these things in part due to a lack of understanding. The understanding which the writer of Matthew has is that Jesus comes first to the Jews to offer a way of salvation. This way is then extended to all people on Easter morning.

Another aspect of understanding necessary is the writer’s view of the actions of the woman. She has not “bested” Jesus so he relents. Instead, she demonstrates that she has unrelenting faith in Jesus. As a Canaanite woman, she would be seen as an outsider. Yet the boundaries of the Lord’s compassion are shattered by a demonstration of faith not always witnessed in the people Jesus was first sent to and of which he was a part.

This passage’s focus is on the importance of a persistent faith. Faith does not correct all the troubles of our lives. Faith does not promise a problem-free existence. Realizing that during times of trouble, we have someone always walking with us is what faith provides. Not being overwhelmed and giving up is the power faith offers. Trusting that in the end, the Lord will defeat the troubles and heal all brokenness, is what faith is about.

Confession and Praise

On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.[a]

“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.

“You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.[b] 10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

13 “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

Nehemiah 9:1-15 (NIV)

In my faith tradition, we use a fairly standard worship liturgy. As part of our liturgy, we have a time when we corporately and individually confess our sins. After we confess, the worship leader assures us of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is followed by singing of praises to God, most often using a doxology. The pattern of this portion of liturgy comes from the practices of the early Christian church.

The passage for today shows that the pattern of confession followed by praise may have found its origin with the Hebrew people. The Israelites had been called to account because after returning from exile, they began to intermarry with people from lands bordering Judah. God had instructed them not to do this because of the risk of the Israelites succumbing to worshiping gods which the foreigners worshiped. After having their sin pointed out, the Israelites confess, send away the foreigners, and enter into acts of repentance. The Levites then lead them into worship of God and a recalling of all God’s acts of compassion and salvation. The pattern of confession, assurance, and praise is seen here.

The question which comes to mind is, can this pattern only be followed as part of corporate worship? The answer is emphatically NO. We can use this pattern in our personal life at home. All of us struggle with sin every day. Setting aside time to confess these sins is important. While we do not have a worship leader at home to give us words of assurance, we can speak these words to ourselves. We can also open Scripture and read to remember God’s acts of grace, compassion and forgiveness. Then we can offer praise and thanksgiving to God in response.