Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Documenting the Priorities, Part 1

Scripture: Nehemiah 9:38 & 10:28
"Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests…."Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding,

Insights: Nehemiah 9:5-38 is the longest prayer recorded in the Bible, and as I stated yesterday, they thought hard before they prayed this prayer of repentance and commitment.  It was, however, not enough for them to just verbally give assent to these changes.  It was because of this truth that the prayer ends with verse thirty-eight.  They choose to write down and sign a written agreement as to what they are committing their lives.  The closest American illustration to this moment was the signing of our Declaration of Independence.  John Hancock, like Nehemiah of his day, signed the document large in order for all to know of his commitment and resolve.  Nehemiah 10:1-27 lists out the names of the eighty-four signers of this document and verse twenty-eight tells us a couple of things about these men.  First, they were men who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God.  Though this verse does not use the word holy that is exactly what is being communicated.  Holiness calls for us to separate from something and to Someone.  In every case it is a separation from the world and its system of rules, and then, separation to God and His commands.  These eighty-four men lived holy lives in their day.  Second, they were men who had knowledge and understanding as to what they were signing.  In other words, they were not like a bunch of youth at camp that get an emotional charge and rush to the front for the invitation just because their friends have gone forward.  These men, like John Hancock of his day, knew the weight and seriousness of their signature.  Chuck Swindoll wrote, “They were driving a ‘literary stake’ into the ground that day.”  They were declaring in a written document their allegiance to God and His ways.  Beloved, we need to live life with this kind of resolve.  We need to make written declarations as to what God has commissioned us to be and how to live.  Trust the Lord and live boldly for Him. Glory to God!

  1. Are you living a holy life?
  2. Do you have understanding as to what God is commanding you to do and be?
Prayer: Lord, my old nature constantly drags me into sin and I do not feel holy.  Yet I know You have called me to be holy because You are holy.  Grant to me the understanding and the courage to choose holiness as opposed to selfishness and sin. Amen.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Thinking about Priorities

Scripture: Romans 12:1-3
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Insights: There are two things that are difficult to get people to do.  The first is to think.  When I was a youth pastor and my youth did something stupid I would often ask them, “What were you thinking?”  I cannot tell you who many times the response was, “I don’t know.”  The second is to do things in the order of most importance after having thought about the subject at hand.  The people of Israel in Nehemiah’s day followed their leader’s example and prayed the longest recorded prayer in the Bible in Nehemiah chapter nine.  Their prayer reveals that they did both of these things.  Before we return to the Scriptures in Nehemiah, let me conclude today’s Thoughts by Scott with some thoughts on thinking.  One, thinking is hard.  Because of the busyness of society and the pressures most people feel, a lot of people just don’t want to think about their situation when they have a free moment.  They would rather veg-out watching TV or on the computer than to think about their life.  This problem stems from the fact that thinking is hard.  Two, thinking includes prayer and quietness.  When facing a challenge you absolutely need the guidance of our Lord, and more often than not, He speaks in the quiet places of life.  In other words, when we have gone to a solitary place without distractions is when He speaks.  Third, thinking calls for projecting.  What I mean by projecting is thinking has a future direction in mind.  We are on this journey called life and God is taking us somewhere.  We are, through His guidance, prioritizing our lives in order to get there and thinking helps us to do that very thing.  Beloved, over the next few days we are going to look at four areas of life these Israelites prioritized after thinking.  I encourage you to evaluate your life and do the same.

  1. Are you making time to be alone in prayer and for quietness?
  2. On what subjects are you thinking in regards to your priorities?
Prayer: Father, life is so very busy.  Help me to make time for prayer and contemplation in a place of quiet rest.  In that time speak to my heart and help me to prioritize my life properly in accordance to Your will. Amen.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Results of Insight

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:16-18
So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance.

Insights: These last few verses for this week show us the results of having a teachable spirit as it relates to insight.  In other words, as one gains insight from the Lord, they are going to face a crises of belief (for more information see Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God material).  The individual is going to believe God and trust Him or disbelieve God and rebel against Him.  In these verses today we see the children of Israel choosing to believe God and the proof of their belief were found in their obedience.  They actually go out there and do the craziest of things and gather branches of all kinds in order to build booths.  As the passage indicates the Israelites had not held to this practice since the time of Joshua the son of Nun.  As you will recall, he was the one who lead Israel into the Promised Land after Moses’ death.  Now hundreds of years later these children of Israel obey God’s commands and what was the result?  They experienced joy.  In fact the text says, “there was great rejoicing (italics mine).”  Beloved, the same truths apply today.  If we will seek insight from God, He will show us what He desires.  If we will obey His commands, we will experience great joy.  It is also true that just as they were asked to do something crazy or odd, so often times God asks us to do things that seem unconventional in nature.  I think the reason God asks us to do these odd kinds of things is to see if we really do trust Him.  If the request was reasonable, then where is the proof of faith?  So, God asks us to do the unexpected and uncomfortable in order to test our obedient faith.  Beloved, pass the Lord’s tests and experience His joy.

  1. Are you walking in obedience to the Lord God?
  2. Are you experiencing the joy of such a walk?
Prayer: Father, let my heart be teachable, and as I have so often prayed, give me the courage to walk in obedience with You.  As a result of such obedience may I experience Your joy in my life.  Amen.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Pursuit of Insight Takes the Right Attitude

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:13-15
Then on the second day the heads of fathers' households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written."

Insights: These people came to Ezra because they were pursuing insight into the things of God.  Their attitudes were absolutely perfect and open to whatever the Lord told them.  God told them to make booths, modern day lean-to tents, and live in them for a week.  Tomorrow we are going to learn that they actually did live in these branch booths.  Why were these people willing to leave the comfort of their own homes to live in a booth for a week?  The answer is because they desired to gain insight from God and that comes through obedience to Him.  There is a singular ingredient that made this amazing story come to pass.  That ingredient is attitude.  In other words, these men came to God with the right attitude.  They expected Him to show up and teach them.  The same principle is true today in our worship services.  Some people come to church and get absolutely nothing out of the service, whereas, others come to church and can’t seem to get enough of it.  What is the difference?  Attitude.  Those in the latter group come to church with a teachable spirit.  They are open to the Father meeting with them.  The insight is available to both groups, but for the former group, they must have a heart change before anything can truly happen.  Beloved, if we come to worship and think we know everything or believe that preacher has nothing to say, then guess what?  We are going to get that exact result from our worship encounter with God.  We are going to get nothing.  If, however, we come expecting God to reveal Himself to us in the worship service, then guess what?  We are going to get that exact result from our worship encounter with God.  We are going to meet with Him and be blown away.  Beloved, pursue insight with the right attitude and stand back and watch what God is going to do.

  1. Do you attend worship services with an attitude of expectation?
  2. Are you open to the Lord doing the ridiculous in your life?
Prayer: Father, I desire for You to be glorified no matter what.  So, please give me and expectant heart and the courage to obey You even when Your command seems odd to the world around me.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Pursuit of Insight Take the Right People

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:13-15
Then on the second day the heads of fathers' households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written."

Insights: On Sunday I did not have time to go into this one aspect of this point, but I wish to take a few lines and do so now.  Notice with me it was the fathers along with the priests and Levites who came to Ezra.  Fathers have a major role to play in the dispensing of insight to their families.  It is my personal belief that the nature of our churches and society is directly linked to fatherless society so endemic of America.  These three groups of men needed the right person to invest in their lives.  Ezra was such a man.  He taught them the Word of God and mentored for them the ways of God.  Beloved, we need both sides of this mentoring process.  In other words, we need individuals in our lives that are more mature in their faith to invest into our lives.  At the same time, we need to take the insights we have gained from our mentor and invest those truths into someone less mature in their faith than we are.  In many ways this cycle is the downfall of the church of America.  We call this process discipleship and we have become so program and number oriented that we get someone to “pray a prayer” of salvation and then let them flounder into inactivity or eventually drop out of church.  We do not take personal responsibility for these babies in Christ who desperately need someone to come alongside them and mentor them into the ways of Jesus.  Beloved, let me encourage you to find a mentor if you don’t have one.  Just be bold enough to come to someone you highly respect and recognize God’s hand on his/her life and ask them to spend time with you on a regular basis.  If there is someone you recognize as needing a mentor, then offer your time to them.

  1. Is there someone in your life who you consider to be your mentor presently?
  2. Are you a mentor to someone?
Prayer: Father, I am so thankful for the people You have placed in my life over the years who have influenced my journey with You.  I pray I will become such a person to others as I share the insights and wisdom these individuals have bestowed upon me.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Pursuit of Insight Takes Time

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:13-15
Then on the second day the heads of fathers' households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written."

Insights: Last week we learned that a great revival had begun through the ministry of Ezra.  The people assembled for a worship service that lasted six hours.  I mention this event to help you understand that just one encounter with God is not going to give you complete insight and wisdom.  Notice in today’s verses that it read “on the second day.”  The point is they returned.  When we get to Friday we are even going to learn that they came back every day during the feast of booths to hear Ezra preach from the Scrolls of God’s Word.  Even those ten days (the time of the revival, plus this second day, plus the seven days of the festival, plus the final day of solemn assembly) one does not gain complete insight into the things of God.  The pursuit for insight and wisdom takes time.  We need to daily run to the Father and ask Him to teach us through the Bible the ways of life.  You also need to understand that age itself does not mean one gets wisdom.  In other words, if all one does is grow old, but they are not spending time daily in God’s Word growing in their relationship with the Lord, then they are NOT going to grow in insight and wisdom.  But according to Psalm 119:100 even a young man can gain wisdom if he will spend time with God and the Bible.  So, Beloved, invest the necessary time to grow in this commodity that is sorely lacking in the world today.  Let us become wise men and women and allow that wisdom to impact the lives of those around us.  As we live such a life, may God be brought glory through our obedience to Him.

  1. Do you get impatient with the speed at which the Lord gives you insight?
  2. Do you recognize the need for daily pursuit of wisdom from God’s Word?
Prayer: Father, I know wisdom and insight come from You and Your Word.  Place an intense desire within my heart to spend time with You daily in Your Scriptures.  Grow me in Your grace.  Amen.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Need for Insight

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:13
Then on the second day the heads of fathers' households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law.

Insights: The word “insight” found in this passage literally means “to be prudent,” and carries the idea of one being wise and having foresight.  In other words, one who has insight has the practical ability to manage his/her day in a productive manner.  I mentioned the Boston bombings in my sermon while addressing this point.  We live in a day of turbulence and strife.  We need insight and the wisdom it gives us to know how to respond to such evil in our day.  A person of faith must open their eyes and see the big picture in order to traverse this life.  I want you to notice the place these fathers, priests and Levites went to gain insight.  They went to the Bible.  Now I understand they did not have the Bible as we have it today, nor did they call it the Bible, but for modern day explanations, that is where they went.  The Bible is God’s Word to us and it is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  I believe it is safe to say that I have one predominant theme that permeates almost every message I preach and this daily thought is no different.  That theme is if we are truly born again, then we need to become people who hunger and thirst for the Word of God in our lives.  We ought to wake up with eager expectation to get to the Word and spend quality time with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The more we know Him and His Word to us, the more insight we gain.  The more insight we have the more wisdom we are able to apply to our daily decisions.  The better decisions we make the better our lives bring glory to God.  Beloved, spend time with our Father in the Bible and let Him give you insight.  Let Him mold and make you into the person of faith He knows you to be.  Let your light shine for Him and bring Him glory and praise.

  1. What difficulties or joys does your life hold?
  2. With what resource are you traversing these good and bad days ahead?
Prayer: Father, I desperately need insight and the wisdom that comes from it to walk this life You have given me.  May my obedience to what You reveal bring You glory.  Amen.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Family is Paramount

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:12
All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.

Insights: This final verse this week shows us Nehemiah’s true heart was for the people.  In other words, he did not build the wall so the people could be controlled by the wall.  The wall was not to become the object of worship.  The wall was not to be served.  The project was not more important than the family of God.  In fact the purpose of the wall was to contain, protect and identify the people of God.  It showed their difference to the rest of the world and was intended to draw people to God.  Nehemiah never got this truth confused during his building program.  He did not desire to have a monument built to himself.  The truth of that statement can be observed in these twelve verses of the eighth chapter we have examined this week.  You may have noticed it was not until yesterday that we even mentioned Nehemiah.  The platform that was built and had all the people on it before the assembly had one individual not mentioned and that person was Nehemiah.  He did not have to be the center of attention.  The character trait Nehemiah displays for us this week as we continue to build our spiritual wall with bricks of character is selflessness.  Nehemiah put the people ahead of the wall.  Nehemiah put Ezra ahead of himself for leadership.  Nehemiah’s ultimate desire was to have a people totally dedicated to the Lord God and if that meant he had to take the back seat, he was more than willing to do so.  Beloved, we need to have that kind of attitude in our lives as well.  We need to submit to the Lordship of God and serve however He wishes.  Let us say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Let your life be characterized by service and pointing people to Jesus.  Let His name be greatly praised and exalted.

  1. Do you ever place projects and goals ahead of people?
  2. Is your life characterized by the word selflessness?
Prayer: Father, I desire to say with John the Baptist, You must increase, but I must decrease.  In that journey of selflessness help me to always remember it is about serving Your creation that is paramount, not having them serve me.  Amen.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Foundational Principles: Explain the Truth & Apply the Truth

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:7-11
Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved."

Insights: There are two more foundational principles we find in today’s verses.  First, the Bible was explained to those who heard it.  The word “translated” means in Hebrew “to make something distinct, to separate it from something else so as to make it flow together in a meaningful fashion.”  So, why did these Hebrews need their “Bible” translated?  It was because they were born as Babylonian slaves.  Hebrew became their second language.  This truth applies to us as well.  We need to have the Bible explained to us because Greek and Hebrew is not our first language; therefore, we rely on scholars who have gone before us who have put the Bible into English.  Well, it is not enough just to know or even have the Bible explained to us.  We must go further than that and this reality takes us to our final principle found in these verses.  Second, the Bible was applied to the people’s lives.  They wept because of their sin, but quickly Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites apply the truth of their forgiveness to the people.  They help them understand and apply the truth so that their sorrow can be turned to joy.  Don’t miss that key line of application which said, “send portions to him who has nothing prepared.”  They were not to keep the applicable truth of their forgiveness to themselves.  They were to go and tell this truth to others who had not heard.  Are we not also command to go and tell the good news that Jesus Christ has saved us of our sins.  Beloved, go and share Jesus’ love!

  1. Are you explaining the Bible to those around (family, friend, coworkers, etc.)?
  2. Are you actively living out what you have learned from the Bible in your daily life?
Prayer: Lord, teach me Your ways and empower me with the strength and conviction to live such truths out before a watching world.  Let Your name be glorified through my obedience.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Foundational Principles: Read the Truth & Respect the Truth

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:2-6
Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Insights: If you think emotions and exuberance are going to fuel us to the finish line of faith, then you are greatly mistaken.  It takes something much stronger to provide lasting fuel for this kind of race and that something is the Bible.  In today’s verses notice two things that were done in regards to the Word.  First, they read the Bible for six hours.  That time frame is what is meant by early morning until midday.  God forgive us for those times in which we complain when a service goes past noon and our bellies are not feed.  Second, they respected the Bible.  Now, please understand, we don’t worship the Bible.  God is the only One to be worshipped.  The Bible, however, is God’s Word to us and therefore ought to be treated properly.  These Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem stood up when Ezra opened the book.  There are times we ought to stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word and this service was such an occasion.  As the Words were read notice what else the people did.  They said, “Amen, Amen!”  As a preacher, let me tell you that is like sickim’ to a bulldog.  You ought to encourage your pastor as he preaches by verbally giving affirmation to those points the Spirit pricks your heart.  Notice a third thing they did to show respect for God’s Word as it was read.  They raised their hands.  The overwhelming joy of those Words brought visible expressions of exhilaration.  Finally, they became convicted of their sin because of the Words and they laid on the ground.

  1. Are you spending time daily in the Bible?
  2. Are you worshipping the Lord unashamedly?
Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your Word, the Bible.  Let me show the proper respect of it as I worship You.  Let its instruction guide me life and ways.  To You be honor and praise.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fitting Personnel

Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1
And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel.

Insights: The wall is now finished.  Chapter seven tells us in great detail how well the people are doing in regards to organization and defense.  Obviously, Nehemiah is an efficient and good governor.  In spite of all this success there is still something missing.  There is a spiritual void in the community.  We can have all the finest structures, programs, personnel, but if God is not showing up, then we don’t have life on the inside.  If we don’t have life, then something is terribly wrong.  Nehemiah recognized that there was indeed a problem and though the text does not say it, I believe it is a fair assumption that he prayed as to what ought to be done.  The answer God gave him was, “Call Ezra!”  Nehemiah understood the principle Paul taught to the Romans which said, “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly (12:4-6).”  Nehemiah did not have to do everything.  Ezra was the better teacher, therefore, Ezra ought to bring the Bible of their day and preach it.  God has equipped the church for every good work.  He has given some the ability to teach.  He has given others the ability to sing.  Still others the gift of intercession and on and on the gift list mix goes.  If you are born again, then you have at least one spiritual gift because the Holy Spirit Himself is the Gift and He manifests Himself in specific ways in your life.  You have the choice then to be obedient or rebellious to the gifts God has given you.  If you refuse to use your gift, then you are in sin.  If you use your gift for your own glory, you are in sin.  If you humbly come before God and ask Him to be glorified through your use of the gift, then your obedience is a sweet sacrifice before the Lord.  Nehemiah knew he was not gifted to teach, but Ezra was.  So, Ezra was called.

  1. With what spiritual gift has the Lord God equipped you?
  2. Are you freely using that gift or selfishly hording it?
Prayer: Lord, thank You for giving me Your Spirit who is the Gift.  Let me grow in You and learn how He manifests Himself in my life.  Then Lord, give me the courage to obediently say, “Yes, Lord,” to whatever commands You give me.  Let my service through my gift mix bring glory to You.   Amen.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Elements of Revival

Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Insights: This week we will be in Nehemiah 8, but before we examine that passage of Scripture we need to do a brief introduction today.  Every authentic revival in history has had two major elements to them.  The first one is why I chose 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as our verses for the day.  That element is the proclamation of the Scriptures.  The Bible is preached to the Church and something amazing begins to happen.  The second element found in genuine revival is the responsiveness of the Believers.  In other words, Christ-followers heard the Word of God preached and their hearts were convicted of sin.  They would then repent from their sin and be compelled to walk in obedience to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  A revival does not directly involve the unsaved.  You can’t revive a dead person and that is exactly what lost people are.  They are dead in their trespasses and sin.  They need life and that comes only through Jesus Christ.  The revivals of the Reformation with Luther, Calvin, Zwingli brought the Bible into the language and the hands of the people of Germany and the surrounding nations, and gradually the old formalism of the church was replaced with living, vibrant and authentic worship of God.  Luther wanted two things for the church.  One, the Bible the people could read and two a hymnal the people could sing.  He said, “Let them loose [with these two things and] the flame will spread on its own.”  A few hundred years later that is exactly what John and Charles Wesley brought to their generation and revival spread throughout the world.  We have these two elements in almost every church in America today.  So, why do we not see revival fire igniting the hearts of God’s people?  Well, I think there is one more element necessary for revival fires to burn and in Friday’s Thoughts by Scott I will share that final element we find in the life of Nehemiah.  Beloved, until we get to that final element, let me encourage you to spend time with God in His Word this week and become obedient to whatever commands He gives to you as a result.  Let the Lord be glorified in your life.

  1. Do you have a passion for spending time with God in His Word?
  2. Are you responsive to what you have been convicted of from His Word?
Prayer: Lord, I want to see revival fires sweep through our churches.  I want my life to be on fire for You.  Stir my heart to have a hunger for Your Word and then grant me the courage to respond obediently to Your commands.  Let my life bring You glory.   Amen.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Mountains of Faith

Scripture: Nehemiah 6:14-16
Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me. So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

Insights: We finish this week on the top of mountain.  Tuesday through Thursday has been valley moments in our study this week.  Nehemiah had endured three types of attacks, but he kept his head down and pressed on allowing God to work through him.  As a result, we get to read today’s verses.  The wall was completed!  Praise the Lord!  Chuck Swindoll writes beautifully about this moment in Nehemiah’s life.  He wrote, “That has to be the most thrilling experience in the world—to watch God come to the rescue when you have been helpless. In the middle of the incessant assault of the enemy, in spite of the endless verbal barrage, the wall was built! While the enemy blasts, God builds.”  I believe this mountain top moment is one on which every believer needs to ponder.  The reason is because it embodies the spiritual journey of all Christ-followers.  Here is what I mean by that statement.  We have been building a spiritual wall out of bricks of character.  How do you think these character traits are developed?  The first part of the answer is by spending time alone with God in His Word and in prayer.  How, then does God determine if you are truly learning His lessons?  That answer is the second part of the original question and that is by allowing you to go through tests and trials.  If we are going to be men and women of faith, if we are going to do the will of God, then we are going to be attacked.  It is impossible to live for Jesus and not be assaulted in some way.  When we go through those difficult valleys, we are then able to say with the psalmist, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth (121:1-2).”  What rejoicing those mountain top moments are!  Beloved, I pray you cherish each and every one in which you participate.

  1. Are you in awe of God’s provisions and power, especially when all seems lost or hopeless?
  2. What mountain top moment have you recently experienced?
Prayer: Father, I am so grateful that You work in my life no matter what I am I think is going on around me.  Keep my heart pliable and sensitive to Your presence and Your working.  Give to me a heart of thanksgiving for Your everlasting love.  Amen.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Attack Three, Pious Subterfuge

Scripture: Nehemiah 6:10-13
When I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, "Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night." But I said, "Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in." Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me.

Insights: Today’s verses take us to the very bottom of the valley.  Shemaiah pretended to be a spiritual advisor to Nehemiah and in modern day language said, “Let’s run down to the church building and have a prayer meeting because those fellows are planning on killing you.  You need a place to lay low for a while.”  Notice again in these verses we are told that the intention behind this spiritual deception was to frighten Nehemiah into hiding which would have resulted in sin.  If Nehemiah had run, it would have caused that rumor and gossip mill to start working overtime and the work would have stopped.  Nehemiah perceived that Shemaiah was not sent from God.  Earlier in this week we learned that Nehemiah used discernment to recognize the foul plot against him.  That word perceived communicates the very same idea.  As we learned then, the way we grow in discernment is by spending time with God in prayer and in His Word.  At that point we are able to recognize when something is of God and when something is of this world.  I want to make one last point regarding Shemaiah.  In the New Testament Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares.  Tares are those who attend church and act like they know the Lord Jesus, but in reality are as lost as the day is long.  Shemaiah was such a man.  He sounded spiritual.  He acted spiritual.  In the end, however, all he wanted was to line his pocket book with the profit found in deceiving Nehemiah.  We need to pray for God to give us the ability to forgive such people and love them in Jesus.

  1. Have you learned that the church has both wheat and tares in it?
  2. Are you, however, willing to let God work in you in order to forgive the tares that have harmed you?
Prayer: Father, Satan is crafty and evil.  Grant me discernment in order to know his tricks and give me the courage to run quickly to You when I encounter him.  Give me a forgiving heart.   Amen.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Attack Two, Public Scandal

Scripture: Nehemiah 6:5-9
Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand. In it was written, "It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. "You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, 'A king is in Judah!' And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together." Then I sent a message to him saying, "Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind." For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, "They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done." But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

Insights: Nehemiah did not succumb to the private strike against him, so the villains of our story now try public scandal.  They send an open letter, which is nothing more than gathering together of the assembly and spreading rumor and gossip about Nehemiah.  Verses six and seven tell us the content of their message which was twofold.  First, Nehemiah came to Jerusalem with evil motives.  Those motives were to start a revolt against king Artaxerxes. Second, Nehemiah used evil methods, which were to place prophets throughout the land to proclaim himself king on an appointed day.  Before I write a few words about Nehemiah’s response, let me make a couple observations about rumor and gossip.  One, the source of the rumor is never stated.  In today’s verses all it says is, “It is reported….”  The source is that ambiguous committee of “THEY”.  When pressed to find out who “they” are, the identity of such individuals must be kept protected.  Two, the rumor is always exaggerated and inaccurate.  Nehemiah did not wish to be king, nor did he desire to lead a revolt against the king.  How did Nehemiah respond to such public scandal?  He did two things.  First, he calmly denied the charge and told them they were inventing these rumors in their own minds.  Second, he took his pain to the Lord.  I wrote pain because whenever you are the object of such attacks, it hurts.  Notice the passage tells us the purpose behind the rumors and gossip was to frighten and discourage Nehemiah from finishing the wall.  At those times, we need to run to the Father and ask Him to give us the capacity to forgive and to finish strong.

  1. Do you regular participate in spreading rumor and gossip?
  2. How have you felt when rumor and gossip has been spread about you?
Prayer: Father, forgive me when I have spread rumor and gossip about people.  Purge my tongue of its wicked and painful lies.  Give me the capacity to forgive those who have gossiped about me.   Amen.

Attack One, Personal Strike

Scripture: Nehemiah 6:2-4
then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, "Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono." But they were planning to harm me. So I sent messengers to them, saying, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?" They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.

Insights: Today we look at the first attack against Nehemiah.  As one reads the first part it sounds almost hospitable.  In modern day vernacular it would go something like this: “Nehemiah, you need to get away for a little while.  Take a vacation.  You have been working too hard.  It is true that we have had some issues between us in the past, but let’s talk about them and clear the air.”  If that had been all they were planning, that would have been fine.  The problem was they wanted to get Nehemiah to Ono to harm him. They wanted to kill him.  Understand I am writing about attacks.  There is a time for conversations with those in opposition with you.  Those times are when both parties are truly seeking reconciliation.  In this case, all Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah wanted was to get rid of their headache, Nehemiah.  Also notice the persistence of these three villains.  Four times they wrote this letter to Nehemiah and each time Nehemiah said, “NO!”  How did Nehemiah know they had intended to harm him?  The answer is DISCERNMENT.  Discernment is the ability to recognize the things of God and the things of this world.  Satan masquerades as an angel of light and without discernment his tricks can seem very genuine and real.  On the surface Satan makes an attractive and compelling presentation as to why he has your best interest at heart, but it is a lie.  The only way to grow in discernment is to spend time on a daily basis with God in pray and in His Word.  The more time you spend with God, the more you are able to recognize the subtle inconsistencies in Satan’s ploys.  What ought one to do when tempted with such an evil attack?  One needs to do exactly what Nehemiah did.  He said, “NO!”  He even went further and acknowledged he was doing a great work for God and could not be side tracked.  Beloved, stay focused on the work God has called you to do.

  1. Have you ever tried to use your influence to intimidate another individual?
  2. Have you ever been on the receiving end of such intimidating tactics?
Prayer: Father, we live in a very selfish world.  Lord, guard my heart from being an evil person who intimidates others for their harm.  At the same time, give me wisdom and discernment to recognize when others are trying to steer me away from You and Your ways.   Amen.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Mountains and Valleys of Faith, Introduction

Scripture: Nehemiah 6:1
Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates,

Insights: This week we are going to look at the mountains and valleys of faith.  Throughout this week we are going to be walking down into the valley, but on Friday, we are going to catapult ourselves up to the top of the mountain.  Today, however, we are going to set the scene for the week.  Notice today’s verse tells us the wall is almost complete.  All that remained was the doors in the gate to be set and this wall would be finished.  Nehemiah was ready to draft his dedication speech and plan the program for the ribbon cutting ceremony.  It looked as if they are going to walk across home plate with no problems.  This kind of setting is the reason I think Paul was inspired to write 1 Corinthians 10:12 which tells us to “take heed lest you fall.”  So many individuals in the Bible were tripped up at the point in which everything seemed good, but we have others who prevailed. Think of king David for a moment.  He had not had a defeat as of yet and began to take his victories for granted.  In the spring, when kings go out to war, David stayed home in his palace and saw Bathsheba.  He did not take heed and he fell.  Joseph, however, was promoted to the highest position in Potiphar’s house and it looked like easy street was back on the menu.  Potiphar’s wife, unfortunately, thought Joseph was the main course and pursued after him.  Joseph did take heed and when Potiphar’s wife tried to trick and seduce him, he fled in order to not fall.  In other words, he was humble before God and was sensitive to God’s promptings and obedient to what he experienced.  Well, Nehemiah was almost done with the wall and the rest of the chapter contains three different attacks he faces.  These attacks by his enemies were meant to harm him and cause him to fall, but, by the grace of God, Nehemiah took heed of God’s promptings and he did not falter.  Beloved, let us examine this week the character trait Nehemiah implemented in order to be a faithfully obedient child of God.  Let us then follow Nehemiah’s example and bring God glory.

  1. Have you ever “fallen” because your pride led you to believe you were incapable of stumbling?
  2. Or are you intentionally humbling yourself before the Lord and remaining faithful to Him?
Prayer: Father, my ego and pride so often get the better of me and in those moments I falter and find myself quickly in sin.  Forgive me for my presumptions and transform my heart into one that is sensitive and obedient to You.   Amen.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why Did There Have to be a Cross? Because Jesus Desired to be Crowned with Glory and Honor

Scripture: Hebrews 2:7 & 9-10
"YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS;… But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.

Insights: Let me bring this week to a close by showing you one more restorative work of Jesus through His superiority.  Look above at verse seven.  Did you notice with what man was crowned?  Glory and Honor.  And what did man lose when Adam sinned?  Glory and Honor.  And with what does verse nine tell us Jesus will be crowned?  Glory and Honor.  And into what did verse ten say Jesus was going to bring many sons?  Glory.  Do you see how every piece of the puzzle this week has fit together to reveal to us Jesus’ great love for us, His creation and brother.  Paul expresses this truth in a very powerful way in Philippians 2:5-11.  It reads, “5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  That passage is a beautiful expression of Jesus’ glory.  So, the final reason there had to be a cross was because Jesus desired to be crowned with glory and honor.

  1. What comes to your mind when you think of your lost glory?
  2. How do you feel knowing that one day Jesus will bring you into His glory because He was crowned with glory and honor?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am overwhelmed that You love me so much that You are bringing me into Your glory.  I am so unworthy to receive Your grace, but I am so thankful You do love me that much.  Let my life reflect that gratitude back to You.   Amen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Did There Have to be a Cross? Because Jesus is Your Brother

Scripture: Hebrews 2:11
For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,

Insights: Today’s verse gives us one of the greatest reason for why there had to be a cross.  Read some of John Calvin’s words as pertaining to verse eleven, “And this great an honour conferred on us is amplified by this circumstance—Christ does not speak here as a mortal man while in the form of a servant, but when elevated after the resurrection into immortal glory.  Hence this title is the same, as though he had raised us into heaven with himself.  And let us remember, whenever we hear that we are called brethren by Christ, that he has clothed us, so to speak, with this honour, that together with this fraternal name we may lay hold on eternal life and every celestial blessing.”  Do Calvin’s words help you understand this verse?  I hope so.  Here is what is being communicated.  When we receive eternal life in Jesus, He begins the process of sanctification.  Sanctification is nothing more that Jesus purging our lives of our old sin nature.  Because we are in this relationship and are born again, Jesus is proud to call us brothers and sisters.  Because we bear that fraternal or family name, we are able to lay hold of every celestial blessing from above.  In other words, because we are redeemed because of the work of Calvary we have peace, joy, hope, courage and so on and so forth.  We are able to claim the promise that we are never alone no matter what obstacles and challenges we face.  Jesus is always with us.  We are promised a way of escape from every temptation that might fall on us.  Whatever promises the Bible tells us we have as a result of being a part of God’s family we get to claim because of being in Jesus.  Now does that mean life is a bed of roses for us as Christ-followers?  The answer is a resounding NO.  Paul tells us we will be persecuted for being in Jesus.  Jesus tells us we are blessed when we are persecuted for His name sake.  James tells us to consider it all joy when we face trials. Thank the Lord, however, that we get all of Jesus with us in these times.  So, the third reason there had to be a cross was because Jesus is your brother if you are born again.

  1. Have you been born again and become a brother or sister to Jesus Christ?
  2. Are you experiencing the celestial blessings of being united with Christ Jesus?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, work in my heart so that I don’t take for granted the relationship I have with You.  Let not one day go by where I do not think of Your amazing love for me.  I am so grateful You are my brother.   Amen.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why Did There Have to be a Cross? Because Jesus Created You

Scripture: Hebrews 2:10
For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.

Insights: There is so much information in this little verse.  First, notice that Jesus created you.  When the verse states that “from whom are all things, and through whom are all things” it is referencing the creative power of God.  For a moment think about the cost of the cross through the words of C.S. Lewis.  He wrote, “It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.”  It is this cost that is the second thing to notice from this verse.  The idea of Jesus paying an unbelievable price is what the Hebrew writer is communicating by the words “to perfect.”  In other words, as preincarnate deity, Jesus did not experience temptation, hunger, pain or suffering, but by becoming human He experienced all of those things in order to be the bridge between God and humanity.  So, the word perfect here is really meaning complete.  It does not in any way carry the idea that Jesus had a flaw or was sinful.  Jesus was sinless and completed the work necessary to bring about salvation through suffering.  Oscar Cullman communicated this truth this way, “Jesus must be able to suffer with men in order to suffer for them.”  The third thing to notice is the word author.  Some translations use the word pioneer.  Still other translations use the word captain.  The point being in all three word choices is that Jesus is the One paving the way through His life, death and resurrection.  He is declaring to the lost world, “I AM the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father, but by Me.” So, the second reason there had to be a cross was because Jesus created you and He did not desire to see His creation spend eternity in hell separated from Him.  He, therefore, came to earth and became a man in order to identify with us.  He then hung on a cross to pay the price necessary for your sin debt and mine.  Now, we have access to the Father if we will but receive the free gift of eternal life which is found in Jesus.

  1. Have you contemplated all that it meant for Jesus to become human?
  2. Are you in awe of how much God loves you?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so unworthy of Your love; and yet, You love me.  You left all of eternity to become flesh and blood like Your creation.  In Your death You bridged the gap between God and humanity.  Thank You, my Savior and Lord.   Amen.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why Did There Have to be a Cross? Because Jesus Tasted Death for You

Scripture: Hebrews 2:8-9
YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET." For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Insights: Verse eight above tells the state of humanity before the fall in the Garden of Eden.  Everything was under the dominion of Adam before he sinned against God.  When that happened, his dominion was given to another.  We know that other individual was an angel who fell from his position in glory because of his pride.  His name was Lucifer, otherwise known as Satan.  Satan became the one with dominion over the earth.  So, Jesus had to come to earth and be made a little lower than the angels in order to “taste death for everyone.”  Warren Wiersbe writing about God’s answer to this dilemma of man’s loss of dominion wrote, “Jesus Christ became man that he might suffer and die for man’s sin and restore the dominion that was lost because of sin.  When our Lord was her on earth, He exercised [in other words, took back] that lost dominion.  He had dominion over the fish (Matt. 17:24-27; Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 21:1-11), over the fowl (Lk. 22:34, 60), and over the wild beasts (Mk. 1:12-13), and the domesticated beasts (Mk. 11:1-7).  As the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), Jesus Christ regained man’s lost dominion.  Today, everything is under His feet (Eph. 1:20-23) [brackets mine].”  The apostle Paul describes this condition this way in Romans 5:17, “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”  So, Adam lost dominion and brought death, but Jesus came to earth and went to the cross in order to restore dominion and bring life.  The above gives us the first answer to this week’s question as to why there had to be a cross.  Beloved, I pray you ponder over the serious work Jesus did on our behalf.  It was because of His redemptive work that we have eternal life.  Let us show our gratitude to Him for His sacrifice.

  1. Have you recognized your lost dominion as a result of sin?
  2. Have you shown and demonstrated gratitude to the Lord Jesus for taking eternal death from you?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so grateful You died for me, so that, I might have life eternal.  What a day that will be when I and Your children are brought eternally to our home in Your paradise.  Thank You for taking back the dominion that was lost by humanity.   Amen.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Did There Have to be a Cross? Introduction

Scripture: Hebrews 2:9-11
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.  For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,

Insights: The verses you see today are the ones we are going to unpack throughout this week.  Before we do so, however, we need to understand where these verses are located in this fantastic book we call Hebrews.  We don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know the Holy Spirit inspired its author.  The book is broken into three sections and is worth the time to study them.  The verses for this week are found in the first section and that section deals with the superiority of Christ Jesus.  What you need to understand is the recipients of this letter were Jewish Christians who were trying to understand their fledgling faith within the context of their Jewish background.  As a result, there was some confusion regarding salvation.  We need to understand that in the Old Testament, as well as in the New, faith alone is what saves an individual.  Unfortunately, for many Israelites, as well as many “Christians,” they attempted to earn their salvation through good works or good relationships.  So, Jesus was introduced as the superior person in this section to prove He was better than prophets, angels, Moses or Aaron.  In other words, the Hebrew author was showing his readers that they could follow Moses, Aaron the prophets and even angels, but in the end all that would do for them is lead them to the pits of hell.  Following an angel, man or a list of rules is not going to save you.  All of your work in being obedient to these things is not going to save you.  You are totally depraved and wrapped up in your sin.  What you need is a Savior and that Savior is Christ Jesus who is the superior person.  Through the remainder of this week we are going to answer the question: Why did there have to be a cross?  These verses give us four answers, but it is first and foremost because we are sinners who cannot save ourselves.

  1. Are you trying to earn your salvation?
  2. Have you come to the realization that you are totally depraved and incapable of saving yourself?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so grateful You saved me.  I am completely and utterly incapable of saving myself or earning my way into Your kingdom.  Yet, You loved me and died for me.  Thank You.  Amen.