Thursday, June 21, 2018

Evaluating life versus Health and Wealth

Read Job 8.

Some comforter Bildad turned out to be!
1. He called Job a wind bag. (v.1)
2. He said Job's children had it coming to them due to sin. (v.4)
3. He urged Job to repent and God would restore his fortunes. (vv.5-6)
4. He concluded that where there is smoke, there is fire. (vv.11-12)
5. He accused Job of forgetting God. (v.13)

Bildad's theology was not wrong in itself, but his applications were incorrect.  He judged Job upon a false premise that did not allow for the fact that Job had done nothing wrong.  Bildad's thinking was that Job's suffering was the result of sin in his life.  And, if Job was truly living a godly life, then he would experience health, wealth, position and power.  This is simply not true and is totally false to anyone who knows their Bible.

On earth, Jesus possessed no wealth.  Paul experienced a physical problem that never went away.  The Psalmist observed that the wicked around him prospered.  Are all world leaders godly people?  It is easy to destroy Bildad's argument, yet so many continue to be sucked into that thinking.

Evaluating life only in temporal terms is to miss the very essence of truly knowing the God of heaven.  Like The Great Gatsby, it leads to living in a false and fantasized hope.  The results include a self-centered and rebellious life.  "It is all about me and what I can get from God."

What are the evidences of a godly life?
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..." (Galatians 5:22-23)  These are the qualities that will be evident regardless of one’s life circumstances.  It is the work of God in a life and cannot be self-imposed by wishful thinking. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Source of a never ending Hope

Read Job 6-7.

Bewildered, trying to understand what God was doing, and frustrated by his three visitors, Job struggled to maintain any hope of things getting better.
1. He asked for justice.
"Oh that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances!" (6:2)
2. His friends were of no help.
"For you have now become nothing; you see my calamity and are afraid." (6:21)
3. He maintained his innocence.
"How forceful are upright words!  But what does reproof from you reprove?" (6:25)
4. He could not sleep.
"When I lie down I say, 'When shall I arise?'  But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn." (7:4)
5. He would not be quiet about his pain.
"Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." (7:11)
6. He repeatedly spoke of the brevity of life.
7. Three times he asked why. ((7:20-21)

Someone once commented that the human body may survive weeks without food, a week without water, but not a single day without hope.  Everyone needs a basis for hope that transcends this life.  Paul wrote, "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:19)  Any source of hope on earth will eventually become a disappointment.

When Jeremiah's world was crashing down around him and he faced losing everything, he wrote:
"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'" (Lamentations 3:22-24)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Sometimes being slow is a good Thing

Read Job 4-5.

For a week, Job's three friends have said nothing.  But once Job broke the silence, they felt free to speak.  The conversation between these four runs all the way through chapter 37.

It is immediately obvious that Job's friends never took the 50 hours of training in Stephens Ministry.  While along the way the men speak nuggets of truth, their intent was most often misguided correction.  They wrongfully assumed that bad things happen to bad people.  Therefore, Job with all his outward signs of godliness must have some awful hidden sin that caused this calamity.

Eliphaz accused Job of being impatient and reaping what he sowed.  His advice: "As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number." (5:8-9)  And, "Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore, despise not the discipline of the Almighty." (5:17)

His theology is sound.  It is the application that is amiss.  He called upon Job to repent of sin, thinking that these tragedies were punishments from God.  Such was not the case.  This was a test of Job's faith, not a punishment.  The instigator was Satan, not God.

Unless there is some evidence of violation of God's word, we must always be careful and slow in our judgments.  Blatant disobedience needs swift correction.  But a tragedy is not always the result of personal sin.  Also, it impossible to know what God is doing or how He will chose to use this painful experience in the future.

Hurting people need the comfort and encouragement of a friend.
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." (James 1:19)

Monday, June 18, 2018

How to respond to a hurting Friend

Read Job 3.

Job's faith was strong, but the pain still hurt.  He wondered what happened.  Five times in this chapter he used the word "why".  In summary:
-"I wish I had never been born." (vv.1-10)
-"I wish I had been born dead."  (vv.11-19)
-"I wish I could die now." (vv.20-26)

How could a man of such faith say these things?
He was confused.  He did everything right and all of this stuff has happened to him.  He was physically tired, emotionally drained, and feeling trapped or "hedged in" (v.23).  Several times he mentioned that at least death would bring rest, an end to trouble, and freedom.

When his three friends came, they were so appalled by what they saw they sat in silence for a full week.  At least they showed up to be with him in his grief.

What should a person say and/or do for a hurting friend?
Many churches have trained people in Stephens Ministry.  Their response to "be there" is as an act of love and provides good insights for all of us.
1. Caring.
A friend cares enough for the hurting to be present with them.

2. Listening.
A friend listens.  Hurting people need to get it all out, to verbalize their feelings and questions, even if their assessment is not quite accurate.

3. Praying.
A friend intercedes.  They need someone who can pray for them and with them.

4. Supporting.
A friend discovers what emotional and practical needs there are and endeavors to meet them.

5. Encouraging.
A friend gives comfort and hope.  It is simply passing on the love, care and comfort "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" has given to us.  "...who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

God is good, no matter what

Read Job 2.

Satan, "the accuser" (Revelation 12:10), stated that the only reason Job worshiped God was due to God's many blessings.  In other words, Job only obeyed God for what he could get from Him.   Remove the blessings and Job would no longer worship the LORD.  But Job's faith was not in his temporal possessions but in the eternal, unchanging One who created him.  He held fast to his "integrity" (v.3).  Job practiced what he preached.

When that did not work, Satan approached God again to accuse Job.  Test number two extended to Job's physical health and pain.  Yet, Job held on to what he believed about God.  His analysis of the situation is not natural.  It is natural to question God's goodness when things go awry.  It takes some spiritual maturity to see beyond the circumstances to trust the LORD no matter what.

"'Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive (disaster)?'  In all this Job did not sin with his lips." (v.10)

It begs the question, if there were no earthly benefits and we suffered the loss of everything, would we still "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind"? (Matthew 22:37)

Job knew and was committed, not to the good things God does, but in the goodness of God's character.  Good is who God is.

Psalm 86:5-"For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you."

Psalm 100:5-"For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations."

Psalm 106:1-"Praise the LORD!  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for his is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!"

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Perspective on Personal Pain

Read Job 1.

There is a difference between punishment and a test.  Punishment is the penalty for doing something wrong.  A test is an opportunity to prove one can do something right.  Sometimes, a test of faith may feel like punishment.  This is often true when a loss is involved.

The book of Job is about a test.  Job did not do anything wrong.  Just the opposite was true of him.  He lived a "blameless and upright" life.  He "feared God and turned away from evil."  Yet, he experienced great pain and the loss of everything.  Though allowed by God, the losses were not "acts of God".

This chapter provides a behind the scenes look at the spiritual war that takes place continually between Satan and God.  Revelation 12:10 calls him "the accuser" as day and night he comes before the God of heaven and makes accusations against believers. 

The Apostle Peter warned of this very thing when he wrote, "Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." But then Peter continued, "Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9)  The unbeliever has no faith to resist the plans of the devil.  The believer in Jesus does.

Did this test hurt Job?  Yes.  Deeply.  Pain and loss do not define our values.  Instead, they reveal the values we hold most dear.

How could Job endure such suffering and pass this test?
He acknowledged in verse 21 that the measure of life is not the things one accumulates.  Indeed, these are temporal blessings from God, at best.  They can be taken away and everything will be left behind at death.  The greater possession then is to live with an understanding of and a commitment to eternal values.

Job knew what was of lasting importance.  When this excruciating test came, his values never wavered.  "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong."  The story was not over.  God's ultimate plan for his life was worthy of his trust.

Friday, June 15, 2018

God's Greatness on Display

Read Esther 9-10.

When the time came, instead to the Jews being annihilated, "the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.  It proved to be a reverse victory all around.
-The orphan of slave parents became Queen of the Persian Empire.
-The man who was destined for the gallows became a powerful leader, second only to the king.
-Those who were hated gained honor throughout the empire.

To this day, devout Jews celebrate the Feast of Purim in mid-March.  The word "purim" refers to the lots that were rolled like dice to determine which day the Jews would be attacked.  It is a time to send gifts to friends and assistance to the poor.  A gathering includes a reading of the book of Esther.  When Haman's name is mentioned in the reading there may be a strong audience reaction of booing or yelling, "Let his name be accursed."  This followed by cheers for Esther and Mordecai.

Though the name of God is never mentioned in the book, dependence upon Him and the power of God is unmistakable.  He is always at work in the lives of those who trust Him.


"...that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe."
(Ephesians 1:18-19)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A reason to Celebrate

Read Esther 8.

Taking care of Haman was only a small part of the problem.  The king had issued a royal decree that would have annihilated all the Jews in the empire.  Once announced, the law of the Medes and Persian could not be revoked.

To countermand the decree, Ahasuerus allowed Queen Esther and Mordecai, now the king's right hand man,   full authority to write a new law.  The Jews could organize and defend themselves.  The slaughter was averted.  This resulted in fear of the Jews throughout the empire.  Some, having witnessed the power of God, joined the Jews in their faith.    For the Jews, it meant a time of "gladness and joy and honor."  So much so, they feasted and made it a holiday.

Proverbs 28:12-"When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves."

Since the time God chose Abraham and his descendants, the national faith of the Jews has been up and down.  But the LORD's unconditional covenant with them has not changed.

"Thus says the LORD; 'If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.'" (Jeremiah 31:37)

To the believer in Jesus, we have full assurance of His commitment and care for us.  It should bring us daily gladness and joy.
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The power of Preparation

Read Esther 7.

"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."  Proverbs 16:18

The moment for Queen Esther to make her appeal to the king had arrived.  But the impact of her request was based upon all the preparation.

1.  She prepared personally.
Her character was unquestioned.

2. She prepared physically.
Esther always looked her best for her husband.

3. She prepared spiritually.
For three days she and the others affected had been fasting and praying.

4. She prepared socially.
As a good hostess, it was a pleasure to have a meal and spend time at her home.  Someone once said, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."  Cooking good food is always an attraction.

5. She prepared emotionally.
It was self-discipline that kept her from showing her emotions too soon.  She did not cry.  She did not blurt out her request.  She waited for the moment.

6. She prepared verbally.
When the moment arrived knew exactly what she was going to say and how to say it.

She stated the bottom-line first.
She explained her willingness to accept hardship.
She revealed the personal consequences of his decision.

Her request was granted.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

He is an on-time God

Read Esther 6.

The irony is incredible.  No movie script writer will ever be able to top this scene.

Multiple things were taking place at the same time.  Only God could have orchestrated this.
1. God was preparing the king's heart for what Esther would request later that day.
The timing and sequence of events is far beyond any coincidence.  That night he could not sleep.  He called for reading of the empire's historical records.  The readers just happened to read how Mordecai saved the king's life.  The king asked what had been done to honor Mordecai.

2. God was preparing Haman for his downfall.
One would be hard pressed to find a greater example of sinful pride in the entire Bible.  He just happened to be in the court that morning at the same time the king asked about honoring Mordecai.  His ego unleashed all of his vanity in answering the king's question.    King Ahasuerus ordered him to be a servant to Mordecai that day and at the very same time Haman the gallows had been completed upon which to hang Mordecai.

3. God was preparing Mordecai for his promotion.
He did a good deed and was never thanked.  Indeed, he was forgotten by others but not by God.  God waited until He could use that information for a much greater purpose.  Here was a Jew, a captured slave of the empire, being paraded through the streets wearing the king's garb, led by the man who hated him.

God is at work even when we cannot see what He is doing.
God will deal with the unrepentant sinner sooner or later.
God sees our circumstances and knows how to use them at the right time to unfold His plan for our lives.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Waiting is hard Work

Read Esther 5.

Esther listened.  She fasted and prayed.  She waited.

Waiting is hard.  We tend to either not want to wait so we can take immediate action or to be waiting in dread, postponing the moment as long as we can.  Waiting on God gives us an opportunity to reflect, to calm our emotions, and to effectively prepare.  Waiting also gives God opportunity to work in the other person's heart.

When the time came, Queen Esther dressed to look her best.  She had presented herself to the king before and won his heart.  She knew what he liked.  When she arrived, she did not barge in but simply stood in a place where he would see her.  It worked.  The king welcomed her and offered anything she wanted even before he heard the request.

It would have been so tempting to blurt out an emotional plea for her life and that of all the Jews.  But the request was filled with great danger and instability.  Instead, she waited and worked.  Esther carefully unfolded a step-by-step plan to build the relationship, to build the curiosity, and to wait for the right timing.  After all, God was working on Haman as well.

Haman's pride-filled heart and hatred of the Jews could not wait for the date of the king's decree.  He decided to hang Mordecai the next day.  Now, the stage was set.  Everything and everyone was ready.

Esther surely had heard Psalm 37:34-"Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off."

As we shall see the wait was worth it.

"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

4 Elements of courageous Faith

Read Esther 4.

The total annihilation of the Jews had been decreed.  Throughout the empire the Jews were in public mourning, fasting, and prayer.  Living in the palace, Queen Esther had no idea what was taking place.  When Mordecai conveyed the proclamation to her, he requested that she go to the king to beg and plead on behalf of her people.  After all, ultimately Esther's own life was at stake.

Under Persian law, anyone who barged in to see the king would be put to death.  These two cousins provide some of the greatest examples of faith in the entire Bible.

1. Absolute trust in God's promises. (v.14)
If you do not intervene, God will use someone else.
Notice Mordecai's faith.  It was not in Esther.  He knew the covenant promises of God to Abraham and to David.  Though persecuted, one way or another, God would take care of His people.

2.  Absolute trust in God's timing. (v.14)
"Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
All of the events of her life, Mordecai's training of her, and her promotion to Queen of Persia came down to this one decision.  At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens said, "This is it.  A lifetime of training for just ten seconds."

3. Absolute trust in prayer. (v.16)
Esther could not face this moment on her own.  She needed God's help to give her favor with the king.  Her preparation included three days of fasting and prayer by everyone involved.

4. Absolute trust in the outcome. (v.16)
Esther courageously went forward without knowing how it would turn out.  She believed so strongly that this was the right thing to do, she was willing to put her life on the line.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  Hebrews 11:1

Friday, June 8, 2018

4 Character qualities that turned a woman into a Queen

Read Esther 2.

King Ahasuerus announced a Miss Persian Empire contest in order to replace Queen Vashti.

The Jews had been conquered, taken captive, and lived as slaves when the Medes and Persians defeated Babylonia.  Hadassah, commonly known as Esther, had been raised by her cousin Mordecai.  Being taken as a candidate for Queen of Persian, she never revealed that she was a Jew.  While the other women evidently asked for and received whatever they wanted, Esther did not.

Her different character and behavior did not go unnoticed.
"And the young woman pleased him (Hegai, the man in charge) and won his favor." (v.9)
"Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her." (v.15)
"...she won grace and favor in his (the king's) sight more than all the virgins..." (v.17)

There are at least four character qualities displayed by Esther in this chapter that set her apart from all the rest.
1. Discretion.
She was careful in what she said and to whom she said it.  She did not tell everyone all her business.  Some things she kept to herself.

2. Humility.
She demanded nothing.  She made do with what she had been given.

3. Relationships.
She connected with and earned the favor of those around her.

4. Obedience.
As a young woman, she was raised to respect those over her.  In the king's care, she listened to Hegai and followed his instructions.  Then, even as a queen, she responded well to her uncle's coaching and advice.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The only marriage design that Lasts

Read Esther 1.

King Ahasuerus ruled the Medio-Persian Empire from India to Ethiopia.  In his pride, he wanted to reveal to his leaders the wealth and the power of his realm.  After a six-month tour, he threw a seven-day party.  In an inebriated condition, he had nothing left to show-off but his wife's beauty.  Queen Vashti demonstrated greater character in her unwillingness to be paraded before a bunch of drunken men.  Her decision could have cost her life.  It did cost her marriage and her royal position.

The remainder of this chapter deals with how the king could save face in the light of his wife's refusal.  The best his advisers could suggest was to model the rule of his own home by putting away his queen and legislating marriage for everyone else.  There is no mention of a loving relationship.

God's design in marriage is found in Ephesians 5.  Without these elements put into practice, no marriage works or lasts.  Oh, the couple may continue to live under the same roof, but the true enjoyment of the relationship is found only in how the One who instituted marriage intended it to be.  Violation of these elements will not only ruin the marriage, but it will also bring enormous pain.  

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25)
It is the husband's responsibility and privilege to demonstrate sacrificial love to his wife and, in doing so, model Christ's love for His people.  This is not an easy or task to be taken lightly.  Putting her needs before his own is what Jesus did for us.  (Philippians 2:5-8)

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord."  (Ephesians 5:22)
To those women who have been hurt or have their own agendas, this verse is not received well.  As a result, they won't have a lasting, loving marriage.  Often, they will bounce from one relationship to another.  I have never met a woman who would not gladly submit to the leadership of a man who would love her as Christ does.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A leader's Legacy

Read Nehemiah 13.

After all his hard work, after all the worship and celebrations, even after the public covenant they made, Nehemiah discovered the truth of Proverbs 29:18: "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law."

Due to the wording of the King James Version, the above verse continues to be misused today.  The intent of that Scripture is that people need to hear God's word ( the "prophetic vision") and held accountable to keep it.  Otherwise, there will be no guard rails for living a life that pleases God.

Nehemiah needed to return to Babylon and report to the authorities of the empire.  While gone, those he trusted back in Jerusalem proved to be disloyal to him, but even more they were disloyal to the LORD.  Decisively and forcefully, he corrected each violation of the covenant they had made.  Each time he paused to pray and asked God to keep in mind all the good he had done.

Throughout his time of service, Nehemiah depended upon God and applied His word in real life situations.  Indeed, God did remember him for good and so do we.

Our legacy is what we leave behind for others to follow.  May all who come behind us find us so faithful.       

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Music that Ministers

Read Nehemiah 11-12.

As governor, Nehemiah took the next steps in reestablishing the city of Jerusalem and resettling the people in the land.  While the national leaders lived in the city, 90% of the people did not.  There were fields to plant, herds to tend, and villages to populate.  These moves required all the leadership and organization skills that God had given to Nehemiah and others close to him.

The hard work of securing the city and organizing the people was complete.  Now, it was time to dedicate their work to the LORD and to celebrate in great praise and thanksgiving.

Musicians provided a key role in leading the celebration.  There were song writers, music leaders, instrumentalists and vocalists who were set apart for this ministry to serve alongside the priests and Levites.

They divided into two parading groups; one went south, the other north.  With leaders visible to the people on the wall, the instruments played and the singers sang the songs of David and Asaph (The Psalms).

Music is an indispensable part of worship.  It is not an add on to the service.  Rather, it is to be an expression of direct communication of the worshiper to God, give voice to personal testimony, and/or to encourage fellow worshipers.   Indeed, music is the only art form mentioned in the Bible that we will practice in heaven.

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Moving from praying to Doing

Read Nehemiah 10.

The leaders took time to spiritually prepare the people before they made a public commitment to the LORD.  It was more than a list of promises.  It was a declaration of action steps that they would do immediately.  They were willing to step forward and write their names on a covenant for all to read.  The names of the leaders appeared on the seal of the covenant.

What were those action steps?
1. They separated themselves from unholy relationships.
This was painful, but they had mixed allegiance to the God of heaven with the paganism surrounding them.

2. They vowed to observe all the commands of the Scriptures.
Specifically here, they would honor God by putting the expectations of Sabbath into practice.

3. They began behaving like stewards, instead of entitled owners.
They made sure that the local ministry had the resources needed.
They took turns serving the practical needs of the local ministry.
They gave 10% of the first of their income to that local ministry.
They declared, "We will not neglect the house of our God."

Two insights that made this work:
-Leaders can never expect the people do something they are not doing themselves.
Positional leaders living in disobedience will divide and strangle a ministry.

-Notice that there is no "working toward" separation, tithing and the rest.  Grace?  Certainly.  But, either a person is living in obedience to God or they are disobedient to Him.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

4 Elements of Spiritual Renewal

Read Nehemiah 9.

The process of spiritually righting the culture in Jerusalem continued.  They had listened and been taught the word of God.  They had celebrated the Feast of Booths for a week.  Now, it was time to go deeper in committing themselves to live for God wholeheartedly in the future.  But before making those public promises to God they devoted themselves to fasting, the Scriptures, confessing sin, and prayer.  These things were done publicly and together.

1. Fasting.
They came clothed in sackcloth with dirt on their heads as an outward sign of humility.  It was a reflection of their deep, inner feelings of sorrow for their personal sin and their national condition.

2. The Word of God.
They stood for a quarter of the day listening to the Scriptures.  An open heart, ready to hear what God has to say, is fertile soil for immediate obedience and spiritual growth.

3. Confession.
They stood for another quarter of the day acknowledging their nation's historical disobedience to the LORD and their own.  It was for these reasons that they continued to live in slavery.

4. Worship.
They prayed.  Not only is this prayer a succinct walk through the Old Testament up to this point, it is a marvelous treatise of theology.  The Person of God, who He is and how He interacts with His people, up close and personally, is not to be missed.  This is the God of the Bible.  This is the One before whom we bow.  This is the One who alone is worthy.  This is the One in whom we have entrusted our lives and our eternity.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

3 Keys to Changed Lives

Read Nehemiah 7-8.

With the walls rebuilt and the gates closed, the city of Jerusalem was finally secure.  The exterior work had been completed and now it was time to go to work on the inside.

Nehemiah led in a full census of each person within the city, nearly 50,000 in all.  Proof of ancestry was required to serve in the priesthood.  The priests were organized under the leadership of Ezra. The next step would be to address the spiritual needs.

The people were called together for the purpose of hearing God's word.  The reverence and respect, even for preparing to listen to the Scriptures, in this chapter is noteworthy.  It was the inspiration for their worship.

With limited, hand-written copies of the Scriptures, Ezra read aloud.  This was followed by teaching priests helping "the people to understand the law."  How did they help the people to put the word of God into practice?  See the process in verse 8.

1. They read from the Scriptures.
What God said.

2. They explained the Scriptures. 
What God meant.

3. The applied the Scriptures.
What it meant to them.

When the people understood the application of God's word, they began to weep.  Someone said that good preaching should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.  Both are true here.  Once the leaders saw the impact on the hearers, they were quick to comfort. 

Then, the heads of households came together for further study so they could lead their families in obeying God.  By the next day, they were putting God's word into practice with the Feast of Booths.

All too often we tend to make the discipleship process complicated, worship services something other than worship, and preaching devoid of the basic yet powerful process outlined here.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Why not just Quit?

Read Nehemiah 6.

The wall had been completed in miraculous time.  All that remained was to hang the gates and the city of Jerusalem would once again be secure.  Yet, the surrounding enemies increased the pressure hoping to stop the completion of the work.

First, they tried to set up a meeting with Nehemiah.  But he recognized that this was a trap to kill him.  Five times they made unsuccessful attempts to get Nehemiah to stop the work for this meeting.  Next, they falsely accused him of self-promotion and outright rebellion against the Persian Empire.  Then, Nehemiah turned to those closest to him for counsel, but he quickly realized that their advice was wrong.  In fact, there were insiders leaking information to the enemy.  Tobiah and Sanballat not only paid some to be informants, but Nehemiah discovered that one of the top leaders was the father-in-law to Tobiah!

At that point, many leaders would have thrown in the towel and quit with multiple good reasons.
-I am being lied about.
-There are plots to kill me.
-The people I trusted the most are disloyal to me and to their own people.
-After all I have done to help them; this is the thanks I get!
-I have worked day and night.  I am tired and do not want to endure this any longer.

But such was not the character of Nehemiah.  Why did he NOT quit?  What sustained him?
1. He knew he was doing what God wanted done.
Knowing he was right where God wanted him to be gave him confidence in the face of opposition.

2. He made the work his priority.
Because he saw this as God's work, not his own, he would not waste time on meaningless discussions.  This was especially true when he knew their true motives.

3. He placed his absolute trust in the One who called him.
As God's man, doing God's work, his reliance was on God to protect him.  This was more than a daily prayer.  Reading through this book, there is a moment by moment calling out to God for help.
"Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people". (5:19)
"But now, O God, strengthen my hands." (6:9)
"Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to the things they did..." (6:14)

When the work was completed, the result was not accolades for Nehemiah.  The enemy "perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God." (6:16b)

To God be the glory as we do His will and work today.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

3 counter-intuitive principles of Leadership

Read Nehemiah 5.

If the external problems were not enough, Nehemiah now must deal with an internal threat.  A food shortage prompted those who were starving to sell or mortgage their homes and fields to other Jews in Jerusalem who had food.  Putting their possessions and themselves on the line at interest from each other in a time of famine created a form of slavery.

Nehemiah started at the top.  He became so angry that he "brought charges against the nobles and officials."  The city was in survival mode from external threats and now things were going from bad to worse due to this behavior toward their own in a time of need.  These leaders should have led in showing mercy to the poor.  The culture had been one where those in high position took advantage of the people and lived lavishly above everyone else.  When Nehemiah became the appointed governor, his view of positional leadership was threefold:
1. Stewardship.  It was God who gave them this opportunity and they would be held accountable to Him.  "Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God."  A steward takes care of the owner's property and makes decisions based upon what pleases the owner.

2. Sensitive.  He was cognizant that unbelievers were watching.  Those who belonged to the LORD should behave differently than those who do not, "to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies".

3. Service.  He did not demand to be served, but he saw himself appointed to serve.  "I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work."  This he did in part at his own expense.  It was a privilege, not a right, to be where he was.

It was the attitude of Jesus.  "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Trust God and Work Hard

Read Nehemiah 3-4.

Teamwork makes the dream work.  That is demonstrated in chapter 3.  The tasks were many but with organized teams, each taking a section of the wall, the work was completed in an unusually short time.  With the completion of the wall and control of the gates, the Jews could live in the city with some semblance of peace and security.

However, whenever someone is cheering, inevitably someone is jeering.  Or, as one leadership principle states, "Whenever you make a decision, expect opposition."

The Samaritans, led by Sanballat, and Tobiah the Ammonite, the Arabs, and the Ashdodites laughed, mocked, ridiculed, threatened and tried everything they could discourage the people from rebuilding the wall.  It would mean the end of their taking advantage of the Jews.

Nehemiah's response was not in kind, but instead he prayed.  In his prayer, he acknowledged that the root of the ridicule was opposition to God Himself.  Next, he organized around-the-clock, armed security by family groups to protect their own. The leaders did not even take time to change their clothes.

It is an excellent picture of complete trust in God to do what they could not control, while doing everything humanly possible to do what they could control.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When preparation meets Opportunity

Read Nehemiah 2.

Someone defined success as when preparation meets opportunity.

Nehemiah poured out his broken heart before God.  He fasted and continued to pray for God to:
1. Give him success
2. Grant him mercy before the king
He was spiritually prepared.  He was praying for the opportunity.

Being a slave, any displeasure from King Artaxerxes could have meant dismissal or even death.  But he went back to work and trusted God to do what he could not do.  God can direct the hearts of leaders.  The king noticed his countenance and asked what was wrong.  Nehemiah was ready.  Very succinctly and to point, he stated his case.

This would not have happened if Nehemiah had not been a loyal and faithful person at work.  This, also, played into the preparation for this moment.  Though a slave, obviously the king cared for this man and was even eager to help him.

More preparation would be needed as there was opposition awaiting him.  How would he handle them?  He had not seen the extent of the project.  How would he organize the work?  He had not told the local leaders about his purpose for being in Jerusalem and the written authority he had from the king.  How would he connect with them and engage them for the work?

He prepared himself spiritually, continually casting his dependence upon the LORD for help.  Step by step he prepared himself and others to achieve the work ahead.

When the opportunity came to inform the leaders, they said, "Let us rise up and build."  The opposition laughed at them.  Nehemiah replied, "The God of heaven will make us prosper."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Working while you Wait

Read Nehemiah 1.

Imagine your home without doors.  Anyone or any animal could simply walk in with no basic security for your family or your belongings.

This was the dilemma of Jerusalem.  The gates and walls had been destroyed.  Yet, the people were trying to resettle the land after the 70 years in exile.  Surrounding them were other people groups who did not want them to come back.  They took every advantage to discourage, infiltrate, embarrass, and apparently rob the returning Jews.

With the Persians ruling the vast empire from India to Egypt, Nehemiah lived in the capital, personally serving the king.  When he heard the bad news from his brother how the people back home were living in "great trouble and shame", it broke his heart.  He knew he had to go and be a part of the solution.  It would require the king's permission; the biggest hurdle.  One did not make bold requests of the king, especially slaves.  The king would have to initiate the conversation.  Only God could cause this to happen.

Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed for days.  His prayer request was "give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man."

Nehemiah could have rationalized an escape.  He could have broken the code of conduct and approached the king, feeling the emergency warranted it.  Queen Esther took that very action in her time of need.  But this godly man wiped his tears, went back to work, and trusted God do what he did not have the power to do on his own.

Many days are just like that for a person who is committed to pleasing God in daily life.  Living by faith means trusting God for what we cannot see, but at the same time knowing that God is at work on our behalf.  He will not disappoint.  The wait will be worth it.

"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalm 27:14)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Saying you are sorry is not Enough

Read Ezra 10.

This is an amazing picture of national repentance.  It began with one man, Ezra, who became so broken over the sins of his people that he publicly fasted, prayed and mourned.  God moved on the hearts of national leaders.  Shecaniah believed "even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this."  They called every person in the land to a solemn assembly and threatened anyone who did not attend.

The people sat in the public Temple square shivering in the cold rain, trembling before God as Ezra spoke.
1. He named the sin.  They had broken faith with the God of heaven.
2. He called for them to agree with God about what they had done.
3. He challenged them to do God's will and separate themselves from the source of their sin.

Separating oneself from sin is often a very painful decision, requiring a courageous commitment to do what is right.  For some it may mean ending a sinful relationship.  For some it may involve stopping a sinful habit of action, thought and/or speech.  All of these bring us down to the essence of real life: do I live to please me or do I live to please the LORD?

One may result in a temporal pleasure.  The other will result in an eternal honor.

Even now there is hope.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Responding to the sins of a Nation

Read Ezra 9.

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, the spiritual challenges and needs of the people were worse than he could have imagined.  But that is why God sent him there.  The root issue was not racial but spiritual.  Nationally, only the Jews worshiped the true and living God.  Intermarrying with surrounding nations meant spiritual compromise as paganism would certainly be included with the unbelieving marriage partners.

The response, not only by Ezra but "all who trembled at the words of God," was to sit in stunned silence and fasting for the rest of the day.  Then, at evening, this spiritual leader broke the silence with his prayer of brokenness.

1. He confessed specific, historic, national sins.
Their sins had resulted in them losing the blessing of the land and their freedom.  Even at this point, after 70 years of exile and captivity, they sinned even more.  It was not "their" shame only.  As a spiritual leader, Ezra owned the shame with them.  Note his use of the words "our" and "we" in his prayer.

2. He acknowledged that despite the nation's disobedience, God was gracious to them, had never forsaken them, and had remained faithful in His love to them.  God did this in order "to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God".

3. He made no requests of God.
In his devastation, for the moment, he could say no more.  He left the next step to God and His mercy.  "Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this."

Questions for us:
-Am I a person who trembles at the words of God?
-Do I see the problems in our nation as spiritually rooted?
-Do I feel the shame of the sin and evil of my nation?
-Do I fast and pray for God to revive my nation? 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

4 indispensable elements of a godly Mission

Read Ezra 8.

Ezra faced a 900 mile journey from Babylon to Jerusalem.  His mission was to teach and serve those Jews who returned from the exile.  Including all the Levites, priests and their families, the number of those who accompanied him would easily be in the thousands.  They carried millions of dollars worth of gold, silver and bronze.  The group gathered at the Babylonian canal of Ahava for three days to prepare.

Here are the steps he used before setting out on the mission:
1. To accomplish the mission, the right leaders needed to be in place.  He realized that leading the return and ministering to a nation of people were too much for one man.  He needed solid leaders around him; men of insight and discretion (vv.16 and 18).

2. To accomplish the mission, everyone needed to be spiritually prepared.  Ezra proclaimed a fast "that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods" (v.21 and 23).  They used this time to pray to the LORD "and he listened to our entreaty."

3. To accomplish the mission, the resources were handled with great stewardship and accountability.  Twelve leading priests were charged with that responsibility (vv.24-25).

4. To accomplish the mission, God protected them along the way.  "...he delivered us from the hand of the enemy..." (v.31)

Right leaders.  Prayer and fasting.  Great stewardship and accountability.  God's protection.  Those elements will work for any achievement for God.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The 3 keys to experiencing God's Power

Read Ezra 7.

Ezra was teaching priest.  As a scribe, he hand copied the Law and the books of the Old Testament up to that time.  He was a scholar and "a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD" (v.11).  Along with other teachers, God called Ezra to return to Jerusalem from Babylonia and minister to the people as they rebuilt the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.

God moved the heart of the king of Persia, Artaxerxes, to encourage, authorize, and finance their efforts.  Three times in this chapter Ezra stated that "the hand of the LORD my God was on me."

There is no better confidence in life than when one knows they are where God wants them to be, doing what God wants done.  Contentment is the sister to such God-inspired confidence.

How did this man Ezra know God's will for his life?  How did he have such confidence?  How did he get to experience the power of God's hand on his life, including moving the heart of the king?

"For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD and to do it and to teach his statues and rules in Israel." (v.10)

1. To know God's word one must invest the time to study it.

2. To have confidence in God's will one must take action and put God's word into practice.

3. To experience God's power one must communicate God's word as He provides daily opportunities. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

3 questions before moving Ahead

Read Ezra 4-6.

Whenever action is taken to achieve God's work, expect opposition.  Opposition does not mean that anything is wrong.  Indeed, it may be the very confirmation that it is right.

The pagan neighbors watched as the Jews returned to resettle in Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  To stop the work, they tried to infiltrate the work force.  When that plan failed, they began to say and do things to discourage the people and make them afraid.  The enemies even used bribes.  Next, they sent a letter to the new king of Persia with accusations that prompted Artaxerxes to call a halt to the project.  The king acted on partial information and not the whole truth.

God's people had full authority to move forward, yet there is no record of fighting with those who opposed them.  And, there was no rebellion against the king.  Instead, God used two of His spokesmen (prophets) to encourage the people to go back to work.  Haggai's message was short, immediate and direct regarding priorities.  Zechariah took a long-range view and encouraged them to finish the work for the coming Messiah.  Zerubbabel acted quickly to restart the project.

The opposition's plan back fired.  Once the next king, Darius the Mede, received all the information, not only did the Jews have permission, but the government was to pay for it.  The king's new decree: "Let it be done with all diligence.” (6:12)

Again, there will always be people with their own agenda, wanting to do different things, their way, and on their timetable.  Sometimes (not always) it is Satan who energizes opposition to godly leadership.  Many times people with differing ideas oppose godly leaders due to personal pet projects, their own feelings of fear and/or inexperience.

Questions leaders must ask and know the answers before moving ahead:
1. Is this what God wants done?
2. Is this how God wants it done?
3. Is this when God wants it done?

Monday, May 14, 2018

Getting back on track with God

Read Ezra 2-3.

In response to the God-given proclamation of Cyrus, king of Persia, the Jews began to return to the Promised Land.  Among those leading the people back, two names stand out.  Zerubbabel and Nehemiah provided the spiritual and project leadership the people would need.  Though 70 years had past each family knew their heritage of service to the LORD.  Those who could not prove their genealogy waited for a priest to make a decision (2:63).

First, they set up the altar.  Here sin was acknowledged and the sacrifices for atonement were made.  Next, they celebrated their faith according to the Law of Moses.  Then, they presented their freewill offerings to begin the project.

When the foundation of the Temple was laid, a formal procession followed with singers and instruments.  The song was a familiar one, recorded in several places in the Old Testament.  It is a song of praise to God.

"For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel."

1. God is good.  He is good to us, because He is good.  It is His nature.

2. God is love.  This is not an emotion but a commitment by covenant to His people.  Therefore, His love does not change.

3. God is faithful.  The promises He made to Abraham (becoming a great and blessed nation) and to David (regarding the kingdom) are forever just as He said.  Yes, the people may disobey.  Yes, the LORD will step in and discipline His children when needed.  But the character and the Word of God stand sure.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

5 steps to getting things done for God

Read Ezra 1.

For 70 years the Jews had lived in captivity in Babylon.  This was God's response to their ignoring His command to allow the land to rest every 7th year.  Finally, the total number of years they owed to God and the land came to 70 years.  At the end of those days, the Medes and Persians conquered the Babylonians.  Cyrus, king of Persia, now ruled from India to Egypt.  Though he did not live to see it, the Prophet Jeremiah several times foretold that this captivity would last for exactly 70 years.  Before the captivity ever took place Jeremiah wrote: "The LORD has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it" (Jeremiah 51:11)

God wanted His people back on the land He promised them.  So, He did an amazing work in the heart of this pagan king.  This is one of the most astounding turning points in Jewish history.  There are lessons here for all of us.

1. He acknowledged that what he had came from God.
"The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all..."  This is the confession of stewardship: that his possessions were a gift from God and that he had accountability to the Owner for what he did with what he had been given.

2. He announced what God had called him to do.
"…and he has charged me to build..."  It was not merely a good idea that Cyrus had.  In fact, it was what God wanted done!  This is the statement of one who knows why they are here at this specific time and place on earth.  Using our resources for God-ordained results is the implementation process of a steward.

3. He communicated to others and encouraged their participation.
"Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go..."  When one has a confident passion for a specific calling, they want others to be engaged also.  This is a clear call to action. 

4. He provided his own resources and encouraged others to give willingly.
He led by example.  He did not ask others to do something he was not doing.  He could have paid for the whole project, but that would have robbed the people from having their own investment in what God was doing.  This was not their tithe money they contributed.  This was generosity giving, a freewill offering, as with every project in the Bible.

5. The people responded to God's prompting.
This was not a response to the king or to the project need.  God "stirred" their hearts to action.  Every great work of God was accomplished by those whose hearts were open, praying for God's leadership in their decision.

What is God stirring in your heart today?

Friday, May 11, 2018

A hope-filled end to a sad Story

Read 2 Chronicles 36.

Judah experienced a rapid succession of kings and three take-overs.  First Neco, king of Egypt came up from the south and brought Judah under his control.  He even dethroned King Jehoahaz and took him back to Egypt as a prisoner.

Next, Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Babylonian Empire, came down from the north and forcefully took control of Judah in 605 B.C.  Most of those who were not killed were taken captive back to Babylon.  Among the captives were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Two more times the Babylonians came until the land of Judah was totally conquered in 586 B.C.

Then, the Medes and the Persians conquered Babylonia.  In one of the most astounding passages displaying God’s sovereignty, He stirred the heart of the pagan King Cyrus to release the Jews to go back home.  Even more, he charged them to rebuild the Temple and he would pay for it!

What was God doing?
1.      He was responding to the evil and blatant disregard for Him and His word.
Each of these kings that followed Josiah not only ignored the LORD and His claims upon them, but they involved themselves in every evil practice.  They willfully refused to acknowledge that it was the LORD who gave them life and opportunity.  This was His land.  They were His people.  They were only allowed to be there as a result of His blessing.
2.      In His love, mercy, and patience with them, He faithfully sent messenger after
messenger to call them back to God.  “The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place” (v.15).  But instead of listening and embracing what God had made clear to them, they rejected the word of God and even mocked it.
3.       He was fulfilling His word with or without them.
In their ignorance of the Scriptures, and/or rebellion against God’s commands they had not rested the land every 7 years as God commanded.  These skipped Sabbath years now totaled 70 that the nation owed God.  Jeremiah, one of those messengers from the LORD, made this clear to them well in advance (Jeremiah 25:11-12).

Insights for all of us:
1.      It is better to listen to God and humbly respond than to suffer the consequences of
2.      It is better to give God what rightfully belongs to Him than for Him to have to
 take it from us.
3.      It is better to live for the LORD and experience the blessings He desires to bestow
 upon us.