Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Matthew 2 : 1 – 12
I am intrigued how the magi came from the East to worship the newborn king of a distant land. This was a king they called “King of the Jews,” which also meant that he was not their earthly king; yet they were impressed to come meet and worship this baby. I wonder if they understood that this was not an earthly king, but He was the heavenly king. We don’t know how far their journey was, or how long it took, but we do know that they approached Herod for information about the king.
Herod was threatened by this information and told the magi that He may be in Bethlehem (the chief priests told Herod about the prophecy of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem). He lied to the magi and asked them to tell him where the baby was so he could worship him (vs 7 – 8). They found Jesus because the star was shining over the place where He was and presented Him with gifts and worshipped Him.
Today, it struck me how the magi did not necessarily have an easy time giving their gifts to Jesus; they had to travel a far distance and were lied to on the way. They did not give up on their search for Jesus; they continued on because it was important to them to worship Him and give Him their gifts. It made me wonder how far I am willing to go to give of myself to God. God gave us all gifts so we can give back to Him. These gifts are not to keep to ourselves but to share with those around us, which is giving it back to God. Paul writes about the gifts being given for “the common good” in I Corinthians 12:7.
Sometimes giving of ourselves is not easy and takes us far out of our comfort zone. We may be inconvenienced when we give of ourselves; yet as the magi showed us, our efforts are worth being able to come before Christ and worship Him and give our gifts.
How far are you willing to go to give to Christ?
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Luke 2 : 8 – 20
God could have chosen anyone to spread the news about Jesus’ birth, but He chose to tell the shepherds living in a field near
I think it is just like God to pick shepherds to share in the joy of Christ’s birth when Jesus often referred to himself as our shepherd. Who better to spread the word of the Great Shepherd than other shepherds? In John 10 : 1 – 18, Jesus explains His role as our shepherd. He explains that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and that the shepherd would lay down his life to save his sheep. How great is our Savior’s love for us that He chose to lay His life down for us!
Now, God uses us to share the news of Jesus and eternal life. He could use angels, or He could even come down here Himself; but He wants to use us! Just as the shepherds spread the news to everyone they knew, God wants us to spread the news. There are a lot of people who do not know the significance of Christmas. What a perfect time to share with people how this precious baby grew to save all of us!
This is a busy season; please don’t forget the joy of the birth of our Savior. Have you shared the joy of His birth with anyone?
Monday, December 21, 2009
We are coming up to a census for the year 2010. I have watched government officials get ready for the event by making sure all the addresses match up with their paperwork and that it is, indeed, a place of residence. I remember my friend was staying with relatives in Argentina several years ago while they were having a census. Basically, the whole country shut down for a day while everyone stayed at home and waited for an official to come to their door and count how many people lived there. Here in America, there are a lot of reasons for a census. A lot of statistics are taken and studied for years. In our story for today, the census that Cesar Augustus called was probably for tax purposes only.
If you remember, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but they had to travel to Bethlehem because Joseph was in David’s line. I think of how uncomfortable this journey had to be for Mary since she was VERY pregnant at this time (it is a good thing she was young). We are not given too many details of Jesus’ birth except that he was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. It is assumed that since he was laid in a manger, he must have been in a stable.
Have you been in a barn or walked through the stables at a fair? It is very smelly and dirty. Not only was it a humble beginning for Christ, but an interesting representation. I used to have a job where I needed to do home visits, and there were times that the home I needed to visit was unclean and very smelly. I noticed it the minute the door opened; however, the families never noticed the smell because they were used to it. I sometimes think that is what our sinful human nature is like to God. I’m sure our sin is messy and dirty, and our thoughts just stink; we just don’t notice it since we live with it! Yet, with all the mess and stink, God was still willing to make a way to be with us and save us from our filth. Jesus did not put himself above us because he was God; instead He came and lived among us. What love our Savior has for us!
Oh, how thankful I am that I have a God that came to me with my filth and washed me clean! I am feeling so incredibly overwhelmed by His love right now. Have you allowed yourself to be overwhelmed by God’s unending love?
Friday, December 18, 2009
Matthew 1 : 18 – 25
It is hard to believe that it has taken seven days before I got to read about Joseph. That just shows how many details there are in this story! I also find it interesting how different Joseph’s angelic encounter was from Zechariah’s and Mary’s encounters. But, now I am getting ahead of myself and I need to back up a little.
Verses 18 and 19 give us just enough information about Joseph that it seems he was a man of great integrity. Verse 19 says, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Keep in mind that adultery was considered absolutely horrible and Mary could have been stoned. It is amazing to think that Joseph has all the earthly evidence that Mary had cheated on him and he could have been very angry and demanded that justice was made. Instead, he decided to let the matter go quietly and let Mary have her privacy. To me, this speaks so much of Joseph’s personality and his ability to forgive.
I have seen how much adultery can tear a family apart. For the other spouse, it seems to be such a tremendous loss of trust and hurt and anger that is experienced. I just think of how Joseph chose to let Mary go and am amazed that he didn’t act on his hurt and anger. I talked about the circumcision of the heart a few days ago, and I think this is faith expressing itself in love. He knew that Mary receiving her punishment may not have been what was best or helpful. Either way, when the angel visited him in his dream, he understood that this was a work of God.
It is very challenging to think about not acting out of hurt or anger. Where can I allow God rather than my emotions to make my decisions?
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Matthew 1 : 1 – 17
Luke 3 : 23 - 38
I have a claim to fame in my ancestry; I have been told that I am a direct descendant of Pocahontas. You would never guess it by looking at me because I am very pale, but my family tree traces back to Pocahontas. Isn’t that very human to want to focus on the famous person in my family tree? It is much more satisfying to focus on the successful or “good” person in my lineage rather than focus on the controversial people in my family tree. We like to attribute the good things we inherited rather than the negative.
When reading Jesus’ lineage, we see that there are some “shady” characters. Some of these people do not need to be mentioned, yet God seemed to find it important enough to remind us who was in his family tree. The excerpt in Matthew is Joseph’s lineage, and the excerpt in Luke is Mary’s. Looking in Matthew, the first person that catches my eye is Jacob. He deceived his brother and father to receive a birthright and blessing that was not his. The next person to catch my eye is Tamar (her story is found in Genesis 38). What about Rehab, the prostitute from Jericho who assisted the spies? Ruth was a Moabite. David was a murderer and an adulterer. Solomon didn’t follow God’s commands. The list goes on!
I guess it reminds me that God uses us even in our weaknesses. Our past or family tree doesn’t matter to God. God knows our hearts and that is what is important. In fact, doesn’t it show how much He desires to have a relationship that He would use such a flawed lineage to bring our Savior? It almost seems like it was one more way to emphasize how our human state and how perfect we can live doesn’t make a difference in the plan that God had for us through Jesus. It is such an amazing thought that He loves us so much that He is willing to do whatever it takes for us to realize it!
Have you taken time to think of how great God’s love is for you?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Our American culture provides very little rites of passage as we grow into adults. Most rites of passage that we see exercised here in the United States either have a religious basis (for example, first communion) or a cultural background (quinceañera, for example). For me, I remember being baptized, which would be a religious rite of passage; I also remember getting my driver’s license, which would be a rite of passage that most U.S. teens experience. When we read about John’s circumcision, we are not only reading about his earliest rite of passage as a young Jew, but we are reading about a ceremony that marked him as a descendent of Abraham.
When we read about Zechariah’s journey, we left off with the people waiting for a blessing and never receiving one. I like how Beth Moore points out that everyone gathered for the circumcision and finally received their blessing when Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s baby was named John. And what a blessing they received! Even though they witnessed God’s work with Zechariah, I wonder if they really understood Zechariah’s prophecy. Zechariah spoke of God’s promises to His people and then prophesied about John.
The timing of the prophecy is very interesting to me. Maybe I’m reading more into the moment, but I find it very interesting that Zechariah would be giving a prophecy about John and the Messiah during a circumcision. Basically, the circumcision was a symbol of God’s covenant with Abraham, and all Jews were to be circumcised to be considered part of God’s people. Without the circumcision, a person was not one of God’s chosen people. The reason I find this interesting is because Jesus took away the need for a physical mark to be a part of God’s family. Salvation was no longer due to lineage and law, but it was now through Jesus, the Messiah. Paul writes about this in Galatians 5 : 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Romans 2 : 29 says, “No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” Moses even talked about the deeper spiritual applications of circumcision in Deuteronomy 10 : 16 when he said, “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.”
I think God could have given Zechariah the ability to speak again as soon as John was born, but He chose to wait until John was named at the circumcision. The timing is awesome! I think God was showing us that Christ was going to make it a circumcision of our hearts when we believed in him. When we truly believe who Jesus is and the sacrifice he made in our place, the Spirit begins to change our heart. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” I challenge myself as I ask the question, does my faith show? Is my faith expressing itself through love? What parts in my heart need to be carved away and filled with love?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Luke 1 : 39 – 56
Have you ever been through something unique and had someone with whom to share the moment? Maybe it was a tragedy, or maybe it was something very wonderful; either way, having someone in your life that was experiencing a similar event became a blessing. I think of the time Mary and Elizabeth get to spend together during their pregnancies as a gift from God. Here were two women who were each experiencing a miraculous pregnancy and had an angel explain that their babies would change the world. There was no one else going through the same experience as them, and God gave them a chance to experience it together.
I love the way Elizabeth greets Mary in this section of scripture. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesized about Mary and her baby. Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice and Elizabeth called her blessed. In verse 45, Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” I always feel it is neat that God uses other people to tell us something.
Mary then responds with a song in which she praises God for several verses. In the midst of her praises, she says in verse 48, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.” This may sound like she is bragging, but I do not think she is; she is simply pointing out what God was doing in her life. This makes me think of when people share their testimonies; all of us have things that God has done in our lives that would allow us to say that we are blessed. For me, I can say that God helping me heal from my childhood and learning to forgive is a blessing. I am truly blessed for the beautiful work He has accomplished in me. For my husband, he can say how he is truly blessed by God to grow up in a wonderful, loving family where he learned of God’s love for him. His testimony is what God kept him from.
This makes me ask the question: why would people call you blessed? What is your God story? God doesn’t want us to hide the work He is doing in our lives because when others see His work, they can have hope. Share the hope God has given you with others, for you are blessed!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Luke 1 : 24 – 38
Picture a young, naïve, sixteen year old girl full of dreams with a set future to be married to a man who is a descendant of an ancient king. She was probably learning to run a household and had hopes of romance with her future husband. Do you remember being sixteen? Not only was Mary young, but the Bible tells us that she was highly favored in heaven. Mary was from a small town, far away from Jerusalem. Having spent some time in a small town, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people knew each other and knew each other’s business.
In my last post, we read about Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah; today we will read about Gabriel’s visit to Mary. We will see that Gabriel’s response to Mary’s questions was very different from Zachariah’s questions. After Gabriel tells Mary that she will become pregnant with God’s son, verse 34 says, “’How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’” Gabriel then took time to explain the process to Mary and also told her how Elizabeth was also expecting a baby. Why was Gabriel’s response so different?
I think that Mary’s question was different from Zachariah’s. Zachariah seemed to be asking as an older person that had experienced life and maybe was even a little cynical. Mary’s question almost seemed to come from an innocent heart and she just wanted to understand how the process was going to work. There didn’t seem to be any doubt about what Gabriel told her, she just didn’t understand how she could become pregnant. God can search our hearts and see if our questions are stemming from doubt or a need to understand. Do you remember your ability as a child to believe without proof? Jesus addresses that kind of faith in Luke 18 : 15 -17 and says in verse 17, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” We just need to believe the way a child can believe.
What is the root of your questions? Do your questions come from a desire to learn and understand, or do they come from doubt? Can you trust what God has told you?
Friday, December 11, 2009
I always find the story of Zachariah touching and interesting. We are told in verse 6 that both Zachariah and Elizabeth were faithful to God and were “upright in the sight of God.” They were an older couple with no children. Zachariah was a priest among approximately 20,000 priests serving throughout the country. This meant that they were divided up to take turns serving at the temple and they would have to cast lots to find out who would get to enter the Holy Place. On the day of our story, Zachariah had a once in a lifetime opportunity to enter the Holy Place of the temple and burn incense. The burning incense represented the prayers of the people and when the people saw the incense burning, they would gather and pray. The custom was to wait for a blessing when the priest came out. But the people had to wait longer than usual for Zachariah to come out because he received an angelic visitor in the Holy Place.
Gabriel appeared before Zachariah and told him that Elizabeth was going to have a son whose name would be John. Gabriel gave him several details about his son, and Zachariah answered, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (verse 18) Gabriel was not happy with his doubt and told him that he would not be able to speak until John was born. When Zachariah came out of the temple, he was not able to give the people their blessing.
We read about others in the Bible who struggled with doubt such a Gideon (about being a military leader), Sarah (about having a son in her old age), Moses (about being a spokesperson and leading the slaves out of Egypt); yet God was patient and used them despite their doubt. Zachariah showed his doubt by needing a sign (“How can I be sure of this?”). God still used Zachariah, but He gave him the sign he needed by taking away his voice. I don’t know about you, but if an angel came to me with and told me I wouldn’t be able to speak and I lost my voice, I think my doubt would fade away about what the angel told me. Maybe you’re wondering how Zachariah could have even doubted when he had such a heavenly visitor.
I would challenge you with that thought and ask you to think about how many times God has been faithful to you. I know I can look at my life and I am overwhelmed at His provision and faithfulness. I must admit, even though I have seen a lifetime of undeserved faithfulness by God, I still find myself struggling with doubt when things don’t make sense. Will we have enough money…will I have the strength to finish… I am then convicted of my sin of unbelief. How could I doubt Him when He has always been with me? It is just too easy to focus on what we see rather than what we cannot see.
Are you struggling with doubt? Pray and ask God to help you overcome your doubt!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
John 1 : 1 – 18
As I read through this portion of scripture, I feel the power of God’s Word and truth jumping out of the pages of my Bible. Verse 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And verse 14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John did not mince with words. He wanted to make sure that everyone understood that while Jesus was fully human, He was fully God and had been here from the beginning of time. Have you read this whole passage? If not, please read it now…the truth that is laid out for us in these 18 verses is incredible and cannot be missed.
I love what verses 12 and 13 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, BUT BORN OF GOD.” The life change that happens when we receive Christ is not a natural change, but a spiritual birth; we are now a part of God’s family, no matter what our earthly genealogy says. How does this happen? We read in verse 17, “For the law was given to Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The law condemned us, but Christ brought us a grace that conquered our punishment!
How blessed are we that God would come to take our punishment and live among us, yet He was perfect? What a beautiful and unending love He has for us! So, today we read that we celebrate Christmas because our Savior was fully human and fully God and He loved us enough to show us His grace. I can’t wait to read on how God played out the precious birth of the baby that would change my life forever.
I leave you with the lyrics to the chorus of The Final Word written by Michael Card:
He spoke the incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way divine.
And so was born the baby, who would die to make it mine.
And so the Light became alive
And manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time
So we could understand.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I have been richly blessed while doing this study. God had been showing me where I had allowed too many external distractions to take my time away from Him. I had not been spending time in prayer and in His Word the way I had in the past. As I felt His conviction on my heart I prayed that God would restore that desire to be with Him and make me have the hunger for Him that I used to have. A few weeks later, I felt Him telling me to pray for my family, fast, and read Nehemiah. I did not know how long the journey would take, but I asked for three friends to pray for me during this process. How thankful I am for their prayers and their inquiries of how the fasting and praying was going. I originally created this blog so they could see where I was in Nehemiah, and instead I have found myself blessed through this process as I spent more time in prayer and listening before I began journaling.
I chose to fast my lunch, and on the second or third day of the fast I found myself feeling very hungry. God spoke to me at that time and told me that the fast was a direct answer to my prayer to increase my hunger for Him. He pointed out to me how my hunger made me physically desire and need food, and He wanted me to feel spiritual hunger pangs when I was not in the Word and spending time with Him. I cannot even express in words how much I love Him and how overwhelming His love is that He would care enough to teach me to love Him more.
As I wrap up Nehemiah, there are several lessons that have returned on a regular basis for me:
- Nehemiah was prepared for his calling because of the time he spent in prayer with God.
- Nehemiah followed God’s call with careful planning, organizing, and motivating.
- Nehemiah’s leadership was blameless because He was familiar with God’s Law (which is the equivalent to spending time in the Bible).
- Nehemiah finished the wall, but he was aware that Jerusalem still needed guarding as we need to be setting ourselves up for battle as it is laid out in Ephesians 6 : 10 – 18.
- God calls us to live a life of obedience through grace.
Isn’t it just like God to meet several needs with one “project?” I wanted to hunger for Him and he had me fast, pray, and read about the life of Nehemiah who was grounded in prayer. He gave me a project of praying for my family’s rebuilding and He had me read about the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. I am always amazed at how He can teach me a big lesson while wrapping it with several other lessons along the way!
Thank you for following this journey with me, and I will be focusing on a Christmas theme for the rest of this season.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Nehemiah 13 : 10 – 30
Throughout this chapter, we read about the reforms that Nehemiah continued to make so that Israel was following God’s Law. Verses 15 – 22 focuses on Nehemiah’s concerns about how the Sabbath was not kept as a holy day and he ordered all merchants out of the city on the Sabbath and closed the gates. If we read Mark 2 : 23 – 27, we see what seems like a contradiction. Jesus and his disciples are picking grains of wheat and eating it and the Pharisee’s tell Jesus that they are not following the law. In verse 27, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” If we read on in Mark chapter 3, we see Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus, knowing what the Pharisees were thinking asked them in verse 4, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
Why is there such a great contrast? I think it goes back to why the Sabbath was given to the Israelites in the first place. Jesus gives a clue when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It is a heart issue. I think God created the Sabbath so we could get some rest and focus on Him. You can look at our culture today and see that we are a very busy society. We over commit to the point of burning out; we see many people working outside of home and earning money over 40 hours a week, and we have stores that are open 24/7. I think God knew our human tendencies were to focus so much on the external, we would forget to focus on the more important spiritual needs. When we rest, we are more open to hearing God. In Nehemiah, they were more concerned with making money than following the Sabbath, it was a heart issue. In Mark, Jesus was pointing out that helping someone in need was a form of worship rather than sitting on our hands and letting someone suffer just because it was the Sabbath. We read that Jesus was “distressed” because their hearts were focused on the letter of the law rather than the purpose of the law.
That is very challenging because it is so much easier to focus on rules and regulations rather than the intent behind the rule. Today, we call such a strong focus on rules legalism. We need to remember that our salvation is not in the law, rather it is through Jesus. This does not mean that we can keep sinning because the law is no longer important. Romans 6:15 says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.” Basically, when we have a relationship with God, we are not bound by the law, but we are bound by grace. Grace is life changing, and we obey not because we have to, but because we want to! Before grace, we have a bunch of rules and regulations that we have to follow and cause us to stumble. After grace, we are given mercy and a desire to obey. I don’t know about you, but I prefer grace over the law and I follow in obedience because I want to live as one who is changed by grace.
Are you living a life that is bound by the law, or are you living a life full of grace with the freedom to forgive and love others?
Monday, December 7, 2009
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Nehemiah 12: 27 – 47
Everyone has different preferences for worshipping God because we are all wired very differently. For me, music is an essential part of worship; I enjoy singing and playing instruments while worshipping God. This particular section of scripture really spoke to me because I could picture the scene in my mind. Nehemiah had the priests and Levites purify themselves then purify the people, the gates, and the wall. After that, Nehemiah had set up a celebration like the people had never seen. He had two choirs singing and rejoicing along with instruments along and on the wall. The building of this wall was a miracle, and the people had a lot of reason to celebrate. Not only was Jerusalem physically secure, but it also seemed to represent God’s provision and security. I’m sure this celebration was heard for miles as the Israelites let themselves worship God completely.
Have you ever let go of everything around you and allowed yourself to worship God completely? It is such a beautiful gift to give to God and such a moment of divine intimacy. We have so much to give thanks to God, yet how often do we truly go before Him and worship Him for all He has done? Aside from thankfulness, He is God! Do we need any other reason to lift praises to Him? If you are having a bad day or week or year, it can be hard to find a thankful heart, but you can worship Him for who He is. He is the Creator, He is the One and Only God, He is our Healer, He is the God Who Hears, He is the King of Kings, He is our Strength, He is our Peace, He is our Savior, and He is so much more. He loves you, and He knows your name. What other reason do you need to worship Him now?
I have included some links for you…worship God now.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Nehemiah 11: 1 – 12 : 26
Having recently uprooted our family and moved from one state to another as we felt God calling us to move, I can say that moving is not easy! It requires a lot of planning and organization, packing, and patience; and moving is very emotional. While we were excited for what God was doing in our lives by calling us to move, we were also very sad to leave our church, friends, and community behind. At least we have email and Facebook to stay connected with all our friends. I can tell you now that staying put is so much easier than moving, but God is not static and He may not require us to move physically, but he requires spiritual movement.
I noticed that the first couple of verses in chapter 11 tell us that very few people volunteered to live in Jerusalem once the wall was built. We are not told why they were hesitant to move in, but Nehemiah had the people cast lots to see who was moving in. My commentary mentioned that maybe they didn’t want to uproot their family, or maybe people in Jerusalem were ridiculed because of their trade practices, or perhaps they knew they would need to follow the Law more closely. Personally, I can understand the uprooting issues. Moving is uncomfortable and requires change.
When we are living in obedience to God, He is always requiring change from us. He is moving us out of our comfort zones and bringing us to a greater compliance to His will and drawing us closer to Him. Obviously, God made a spiritual move a physical move for me, but He is also moving me in other ways. He has called me out of my comfort zone by fasting while doing this Bible study; He has also called me out of my comfort zone by publicly posting what I have been learning through this process. While the lessons have sometimes been hard to hear, to know that it will bring me that much closer to Him also brings me tremendous joy!
What is God moving you to do? Listen to His call!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
A friend of mine recently told me about a moment where she spoke unkind words to a fellow Christian about someone else. She later felt convicted and apologized to the Christian about the words she spoke. God continued to convict her heart and showed her that she had spoken in front of some non-believers, and she was overwhelmed by the thought of them knowing she was a Christian saying such things. She drove to their house with only one purpose – to apologize to them for the things she had said. I was in awe of her absolute obedience to God, and I know that her witness as she apologized probably gave them a lot to think about. What she did was not something you see every day. She hadn’t done anything to them, yet she knew her behavior may have offended them. That is Christ’s work in her heart, and Christ’s work often brings out a nature that goes against our human instincts.
As I read through chapter 10 and read a commentary today, something stood out at me. My commentary mentioned that all these commands that the Israelites were agreeing to follow showed how their relationship with God affected their relationships (vs. 30) their time (vs. 31), and their resources (vs. 32 – 39). No other culture around them had a religion that set them apart the way God set the Israelites apart. What God expected was behavior that was not of this world. God still expects that from us today. We are not bound by the law in the way the Jews of the Old Testament were, but God wants us to live a life that is changed because of His work in us.
You see, the Bible tells us that we are the salt and light of this world in Matthew 5: 13 – 16, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We are to be living a life that draws people to Christ and bears witness to the change God is performing in us.
What do you need to commit to God? Where is God changing your life that bears witness to the people around you?
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
As a young musician, I found it frustrating when I would practice a piece all week and return to my lessons to find out that I had been practicing it wrong the whole time. It was my fault; I would carelessly count out the rhythms or not pay close enough attention to the key signature. The problem still remained that I was playing it wrong and didn’t know it until my teacher pointed it out to me. Once I knew that I was playing it wrong, I was able to fix the mistakes so I could play it correctly. The exiles were learning about their sins, and in this chapter we see a very humble nation go before God.
In chapter 8, the Israelites were very upset after reading the law because they realized they had not been following God’s law for generations. They were instructed by Nehemiah and the priests not to mourn because it was a sacred day and were told to celebrate. Chapter 9 lays out the scene of Israel’s corporate confession. They spent a quarter of the day listening to a reading of the Law, and then they spent another quarter in worship and confession before God. They had prepared for this occasion by fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads as though they were in mourning. The priests then prayed before God and laid out their history as a nation and confessed their sins as a nation.
Isn’t life like that? Unless we are in the Word, it is impossible to live a life congruent with God’s plan. To me, chapters 8 and 9 show a very humble nation that wants to live a life that is in line with God’s Law. They didn’t want to walk away from God, they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. This is exactly why God said in Deuteronomy 6: 6 – 9, “The commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” God wanted them to eat, sleep, and breathe the Law so they would know the Law. Once they realized they were not following the Law, they confessed.
Confession is important, because we can’t move forward and fix things if we can’t admit and recognize that we are doing it wrong. It is hard when we realize we are operating outside of God’s desires, but we can always confess and move forward living a life that reflects a Godly life. Has God been working on your heart to show you areas that need work? He has been working on mine.
Monday, November 30, 2009
The last several chapters of Nehemiah seem to be a spiritual building for Israel. Now that the physical and emotional need for security was met with the rebuilding of the wall, it was time to focus on a spiritual rebuilding. After years of captivity, the Jews were unfamiliar with the law, and Nehemiah knew that knowledge of the law would bring a spiritual reformation for the nation of Israel. Nehemiah chose to use the Feast of the Tabernacle as the time to have Ezra read the law. The purpose for the Feast of the Tabernacle was to affirm Israel’s commitment to God and to recognize God as their source of guidance and security. It reflected on Israel’s time of wandering in the desert. It probably seemed a fitting time to gather the people to listen to a reading of the law. It was a moving experience for the people as they heard the law, probably the first time for most, and they cried as they learned how far they had strayed from obedience. Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests instructed the people to celebrate and share with others rather than cry because it was a holy day.
Have you ever had a period in your life when your commitment to God hit a plateau or a decline? I have, and when I look back at those times, it always coincides with a failure to be in the Word and spending time with God. I don’t know why I let my walk slip at times, but I think it starts with small moments of disobedience rather than a giant leap in the wrong direction. There have been times that I skip my Bible study so I can finish a novel. There is nothing wrong with reading a novel, but it doesn’t need to become a priority over spending time with God.
As I read through chapter 8, I saw a clue into one of the first steps of disobedience for Israel. The exiles who returned celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles by building booths and living in them for the duration of the festival. This was commanded by God through Moses. In verse 17 we read, “The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was great.” Who is Joshua son of Nun? He is the same Joshua that crossed the Jordan and led the Israelites to march around the city of Jericho. If I am reading this correctly, that means that the Israelites had not been celebrating the feast the way God had directed them almost since they settled in Israel. It doesn’t seem like a major deal, but it was a small act of disobedience. One small act of disobedience can lead to another until you find yourself a far way from where God wants you to be.
Does your spiritual life need a new commitment? Is there a small area you have been disobedient to God? If your life is vibrant and growing, where do you need to watch your step to avoid a plateau?
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Nehemiah 7 : 4 – 73
Sometimes chapters like chapter 7 can seem pointless to read; they are full of names that are difficult to pronounce and full of people that are never mentioned other than in the genealogy. Some genealogies such as David’s or Jesus’ is easy to understand why it is listed, but why is genealogy important? I’ve thought about what God would possibly want me to reflect on as I read through this chapter. The commentary in my Bible mentioned that this genealogy was particularly important because the Jews were returning from their exile. Showing that they were indeed a descendant of Abraham was important to prove that they were Jews, thus they were part of God’s people.
That really got me thinking about my spiritual genealogy. You see, the Bible assures of us of our genealogy. Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice, we do not need to rely on man’s record of our human genealogy to prove our place in God’s kingdom! Paul writes about this in several spots: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 3:6. “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith…” Galatians 3: 6 – 8. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3 : 26 – 29.
Jesus’ death on the cross was for everyone! The Bible tells us that if we believe, His sacrifice has wiped us clean and we take part in God’s family. There is no need for a written record here on Earth to assure us of our inheritance, it is ours through faith. I cannot emphasize how incredible this is! These exiles needed their genealogy to prove they were Jews, otherwise they were considered unclean. We have an assurance that no man can take away: We are adopted into God’s family, no matter where we came from. Wow! Have you put your faith in Christ? Do you believe that He is the only way to salvation? If so, you are a part of God’s family.
Friday, November 27, 2009
There is a road project near our house that started in May, and it is currently still in progress with a few more months to go. I thought about that project as I read about the building of the wall of Jerusalem. They rebuilt the wall in 52 days! I don’t know about you, but to me that is a testimony of God’s work. Verse 16 tells us, “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” When God’s hand is in a building project, you know it! Whether it is rebuilding a life, family, church, or community; if God’s hand is in it, it will be hard to deny supernatural involvement. It just will not make sense! It is like God puts a stamp on the job that says, “God Was (and is) Here.”
In chapter 7:2, we read that Nehemiah appointed a leader with integrity and a healthy respect for God. In verse 3, we read that he set up rules of when the gates could be open and set up guards throughout the city. Nehemiah was not letting down his defenses just because the wall was done. He was setting up safeguards to keep the city protected in case someone got through their defenses. Isn’t that a very human temptation to finish a job and sit and relax? Nehemiah still did not relax; he continued to work on the city’s defenses.
What are our defenses? Let’s go back and look at the armor of God in Ephesians 6 : 10 – 18. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We need to be rooted in truth and faith, living a life that pleases God, stand firm in the peace that God gives, know that our salvation comes from Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, and BE IN THE WORD. Nehemiah shows us in this section that even when the job is done, it is still our job to maintain the defenses.
Are you keeping up your defenses?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
In this section, we see one last attempt by Tobiah and Sanballat to scheme against Nehemiah. They paid someone to give a false prophecy about Nehemiah; they told him that someone was going to kill him. They then encouraged Nehemiah to break the law by hiding in the temple and shut the doors. Only priests were allowed to enter the temple. Nehemiah recognized that this was not in line with what God would tell him and told him that he would not run away into the temple. He was able to recognize that they were trying to make him sin so they could discredit him.
Temptation is a classic scheme of the enemy. Every one of us is exposed to temptations every day. I know have stressed this point several times, but if we are not digging in God’s Word on a regular basis, we will not have the eyes to recognize when temptation is there. Nehemiah understood the difference between what man says and what God says. The best way to understand the difference is to read what God says. If it is not in line with the Bible, it is not what God wants for you!
Leaders are under constant scrutiny, and there are those that would wait until a leader messes up to “expose” them. If a leader falters, those under them can lose motivation or courage to finish the job God gave them. If you are in a position of leadership, do you have people lifting you up in prayer so that you are able to withstand temptation? If you are under someone’s leadership, are you lifting that person up in prayer?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
God has really spoken to me through this study of Nehemiah. I am really amazed at what I have been learning and what God is showing I need to change in my personal life. One of the main themes that continues to come back to me is the importance of putting a greater emphasis of prayer and time spent with God. Over the last year, I have noticed that my Bible study, prayer life, and time alone with God have been slipping severely. I have also noticed how much that has affected everything around me. If I don’t build my spiritual walls up, many fears, distractions, and annoyances come in and keep me from accomplishing the task that God has set before me. Those issues would have all still been there, but they would not have created the road blocks that I allowed them to create. I don’t want to just have good ideas and intentions, I want to complete the tasks set before me.
What do I need to do? I need to recognize the spiritual giftings that have been given to me and ask how God wants to use me. I need to use the resources that God has placed before me such as supporting and praying friends to keep me accountable and motivated. I need to spend serious time with God and LISTEN. I need to be prepared for the unexpected by spending time in the Word and praying.
I told one of my dear friends and prayer partners that God was taking me on this journey for something so much more than praying for my family. I knew that my family needed prayer; however, I also knew that God had some lessons to teach me and remind me. He is so patient! As I have struggled throughout this process to spend adequate time with Him, He has brought friends my way to call or e-mail me and encourage me. Even today, as I have struggled with motivation, He had a friend ask me how I was doing on this task. Thank you dear friends as you have prayed with me and for me through this process. I know that I am not done with Nehemiah, but I needed to reflect on where God has taken me so far.
Things I Learned So Far:
· Rebuilding ancient ruins takes more than one person – it requires cooperation
· Building requires preparation and planning
· Building requires motivation
· We need to be prepared for the unexpected
· To finish the job, we need to focus on God rather than fear and intimidation