Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fly Your Flag Today

Nehemiah 9:5-6          And the Levites…said: “Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

A child once remarked of her Principle Rainey that she believed he went to heaven every night, because he was so happy every day. Joy is a perfect description of a Christian. It has been said that Joy is the flag which is flown from the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there.

With the wall rebuilt, it was time to celebrate the accomplishment that God had brought to his people. Ezra begins the time of praise and celebration with a reading from God’s Word. Remembering the promises God had made to his people centuries before place this day of completion into the proper context. God said he would punish the unfaithful, but he also said he would forgive the repentant. God has been faithful to his people from the beginning.

God does not want His children to be unhappy, and none of us has cause for a constant bad mood. Paul was perhaps the most persecuted of all Christians, yet he was a man of song. Hymns of praise came from his lips in prison and out of prison. Day and night he praised our Lord Jesus Christ. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1Thessalonians 5:16-18)

We are no different today. We have much to be grateful to God for each day of our lives. His presence and plan for us is sufficient to brighten any day and bring joy to hearts and a smile to our face. Rejoice with me in this today. Raise your banner and smile.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

He Gave So We Might Give

Nehemiah 8:10            Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

What a joyful picture of unity among the people of God. His delight in us can be seen when we delight in Him.

The bounty with which the celebrants enjoyed was sufficient enough that it could be shared with others who had nothing.

What makes the day “holy” is the fact that all of the day was focused on celebrating God’s goodness and enjoying, with others, the bounty he had given them all. Do not be afraid to share yourself with the un-lovely or the un-worthy. God’s love for us extended to the time when we were far, far from Him. Christ weeps over the selfishness that meets Him from those for whom He died.

Today we can experience the same joy and celebrate with those who have nothing. There are neighbors who are lonely and have no one else to think of them nor care for them. Our prayers can be offered for those who are unable to pray.  We can be like the One who gave his very life for us, that we might have fullness of life now and eternal life in the future.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hold Firm To Your Work

Nehemiah 6:3              I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? Four times they sent me the same message, and each time gave them the same answer.

When work is pressing there are many little things that will come and seem to need immediate attention. At such times it is even more important to be quiet and still, and continue to work on the most important task at hand. You can trust the other things to God.

Trusting in God to manage the minor items is an exercise in faith. God answers such trust in wonderful ways. If your soul has no time to fret and worry, it has learned the secret of faith in God. A desperate desire to get some difficulty right takes the eye off of God and His glory. Distractions can create doubt that would lead to unintended “rabbit trails” that take us away from God’s plan or purpose.

Some dear ones have been so anxious to get a task or job completed that they have relinquished their spiritual blessings of patience, peace, joy and kindness. God sometimes has to teach such people that there must be a willingness to be pressed and stressed before they can be fitted by God to receive His fullest blessings.

The enemy often keeps at this work. He will do all he can to distract us or to elevate a phantom need. Sanballat came four times to Nehemiah, and received four times the same answer. It is best to stick to a good answer. How many fears we have stopped to fight which have proved to be nothing in the end. Nehemiah recognized that fear as sin, and he did not dare to yield to it. He held tightly to God’s directives and was successful.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Self-Serving Servants

Nehemiah 5:6-8          When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials… and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

            Another ministry threat Nehemiah faced came from within the community of God’s people. Prior to this point their opposition was from people who had been in the area around Jerusalem.

So the Israelites worked day and night to rebuild the gates and walls. In daylight they labored to rebuild the walls. At night, they were standing guard against those who opposed their efforts to restore the security of the city. Because of this, many fewer men were able to work at providing for their families.

As a result of the daily work of rebuilding, families had to resort to selling or borrowing against their possessions and land. To ensure food to survive many sold their property to other Jews. Some borrowed against their possessions and paid interest on the value they borrowed. Others more desperate for food, placed family members into bond-servitude to wealthier Jews. In turn, these wealthy Jews would sell the Jewish bond-servants to the surrounding Gentile peoples for a profit. Once sold, the daily food and water provisions were being provided by fewer people and supplies were dwindling.

You can see the problem, can’t you? In difficult or desperate times we are to help, not hurt, one another. Legal rights, not just legal wrongs, can be deadly. The depths of their situation called for gifts to one another, not loans or enslavement. Nehemiah took the high road and rightfully brought the outrage to the leaders of the community who were guilt of this injustice.

Never forget the poverty that we have experienced as unbelievers. There was a day when legal rights ruled your day. God has enriched us with the knowledge and faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Fellow believers are to be treated with a higher standard, God’s Word. The fellowship of believers, the Church, is to be treated as family, not opportunities for economic gain.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Never Quit

Nehemiah 4:7-9        But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

Take a few moments to consider the high costs of quitting. You may have given up on some project in the past because of obstacles or negative feedback from others. Is it really easier to quit than to endure.

People quit for many reasons. Recurring problems wear us down physically and emotionally. Constant negative pressure can create doubt and uncertainty about our efforts. Mean spirited words can weaken our commitment or tempt us to compromise our stance. Some people will resort to untrue claims or criticism or claims. Rumors get started, truth is exaggerated and incorrect information becomes the gospel. Threats also can intimidate us, leading to a quick halt of work or ideas. Other people play upon our insecurities or fears.   

Your first defense when tempted to quit is to begin to pray. God can comfort us in these moments and give us better clarity of thought. Remember that God is always with us, even when trouble is swirling around. Refuse to allow distractions to derail your efforts or keep you from your task. Take practical steps to resist discouraging thoughts, read about Ezra or Nehemiah. Associate with like-minded, Christian people who can support you and lead with biblical wisdom. But most of all lean on Jesus.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Organized And Coordinated Action

Nehemiah 3:5              The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

Nehemiah orchestrated one of the most important and largest building projects in the Bible. His skills included that of organization, coordination, team building and detailed planning. When you read chapter three you need to remember that these gates and walls spanned a total linear distance of nearly two miles. The gates were strategic in allowing friends into the city and for keeping enemies out. Their strength was crucial to the safety of the inhabitants. The walls were massive in both height and width, ensuring no one could scale or breach them.

Equally important to the rebuilding of the gates and walls was that of rebuilding the community of God’s people. Development of the social relationships among God’s people is as important to their safety as were the stones and wood beams. Nehemiah wisely divided the work force into organized and manageable crews. He placed them in areas of common interest and shared geography. His success, given of course by God, grew out of the way he confronted opposition and the way he organized the efforts of everyone.

Despite his efforts, there were some among the Jews who did not support Nehemiah’s plan. These nobles reflect the sad but true fact that there are some man-made nobles among God’s people. They reveal themselves by an unwillingness to be involved in the tasks of Nehemiah’s ministry. Their indifference to his leadership is rather an indifference to God’s commands. They would have to answer to Him one day for their sin.

            Like Jerusalem’s walls, our lives reflect areas in need of rebuilding. How we choose to manage this work will determine the final product of our lives. If we choose to perform our own “make-over” we will find in the end that our efforts fell short. However, if we choose God to do the work, we will find ourselves healed and made complete both in this life and in the life to come. Pray that the One who redeemed you will continue to rebuild you.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Barriers To Progress

Nehemiah 2:17-18                  Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

The barriers that keep us from change are many. One is the circumstances that seem insurmountable. Sometimes we allow our circumstances to dictate our feelings, words and actions. Rather than let God lift us above our circumstances, we allow ourselves to live under the weight of other people, other people’s problems.

Another barrier to change is the comfort that we rest in. To act would disrupt the ease and routine of life. Like building a picnic table, construction requires materials and requires effort. Some people don’t have the interest, motivation or ability to change. No pain, no gain. Paul says “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

Lastly, change can bring conflict. Others may not like what we are doing. Friendships could be lost. Some might become aggressive and antagonistic towards us. They will all, in their way, fight against the change.

Act on what God has placed in your heart. Prevent the size of the problem from being the force behind your life. Discouragement is created when we fail to express our thoughts, preferences, feelings and emotions. Trust always in God’s power, not your own strength.

Whenever God gives us an opportunity, there will always arise some opposition. Most people fear human authority and rulers more than they fear God. Respond to opposition with a quick and confident reply. Let God then work out the details. You follow the vision he has given. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Character of Nehemiah

Nehemiah 2:11-12                  I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

Before Nehemiah got to Jerusalem he received permission from his employer, King Artaxerxes. As cupbearer for the king, Nehemiah was responsible to taste-test everything before it was given to him. For Nehemiah to ask permission to go to Jerusalem was a threat to the king’s own safety. The cupbearer position was only given to someone who was trustworthy and loyal to the king. King Artaxerxes was not an Israelite, not a child of God. He was a pagan. Yet, Nehemiah served him with trust and loyalty.

The character of Nehemiah is revealed to us in these early verses of the book. Four months have gone by since hearing the news from Jerusalem and broaching the subject of his traveling there to King Artaxerxes. . His behavior after hearing the news from Jerusalem is telling. He prayed and deliberated over the decision to seek permission to go to Jerusalem. Nothing was hurried.

Nehemiah sought God’s will on the matter first in prayer. His prayer of intercession begins with praising the great, awesome Lord God of heaven. He pleads that God will be attentive to his prayer offered for His people. Next come confession of the sins that he and all God’s people have committed against God. He acknowledges their wickedness in not obeying the commands given them from God through Moses. He also reminds God of His covenant with the His people who repent of their sin and return to Him. In closing he asks for God to give him favor with King Artaxerxes.

In summary we have a remarkable man in Nehemiah. He was a person who could be trusted and who honored the ruler Artaxerxes as God’s selected man for the time. Nehemiah cared about others. He cared about God’s people and their welfare. When life decisions were difficult he went first to God, he was a man of prayer. He acted upon his convictions. He was available to God as his instrument to accomplish the divine will not just for Nehemiah but for all God’s people.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Ezra 10:10-11             Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. Now make confession to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.

What is needed is an admission of guilt. As a nation and as individuals we need confession to God. Confession requires that we admit that our words or actions or thoughts have been wrong. This requires we admit that a standard exists to which we are accountable. Underlying this is a true belief that God exists and has revealed his expectations for us. Having agreed to these words then we are accountable to Him and susceptible to the consequences of our actions and our lack of confession.

Actions have consequences. The result of our actions may bring no immediate result. It may take time for consequences to arise. But God has said that no sin will go unpunished. Further and further away from God we move when we do not admit that we are falling away from His Word.

The problems in our lives are many times self-created. We are not always the victims of someone else’s sin, violence, bad behavior or actions. Although we would like to believe that bad things happen to us only because of someone else’s negligence or malice, this is not always the case. Our culture teaches us to look for someone else to blame when bad things happen. We believe this teaching long enough so that now we never look at ourselves. We are never wrong.

Fault finding is easier than admitting our guilt. Adam and Eve blamed each other for the sin they committed. It is no different today. Like them, we no longer go to God to admit we were wrong. We go to him to blame others and complain about life’s unfairness. Confession is never on our mind.

If more of us would admit our guilt and confess our sins to God, then maybe He will forgive us. Yes, Jesus died for our sins and our punishment has been taken by Him. But we continue to sin and to ignore the great salvation that he offers. Trouble continues to follow us because confession is the last thing on our minds and so is God.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Ezra 9:1-2       The leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices… They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them.  

There is an old saying that goes like this: “Bad company corrupts good character.” It did not take long for the returning exiles to get caught up with the ways of their worldly neighbors. Yes, many of these neighbors were Israelites who had not been taken to Babylon. But they had compromised their faith in God by intermarrying with other neighboring cultures. And now the people who had returned with Zerrubabel and Ezra had begun to mimic their practices. They had become unfaithful to God.

Unfaithfulness is epidemic in our Christian communities today. The rate of divorce among Christians is no different than among non-Christians. Un-wed mothers are as common among Christian women as among the larger population.

According to the pollsters, 98% of Americans believe in God. Yet we find drug addiction rampant, single parent families more numerous, states legalizing homosexual marriages, homelessness on the rise, greed rampant in our political and business leaders  and children raising children in many homes.

Christians look no different than the secular culture that America has become. We have ignored the moral, spiritual and practical wisdom that God’s Word communicates to His people. We have intermingled to such an extent with unbelievers that today the people of God have fallen into the same problem as Ezra faced with the exiles. In Revelation 2:4 we see the problem: “You have forsaken your first love.” No longer is Jesus Christ the motivating factor in our lives.

Unfaithfulness has only one cure. The concern of our day is whether or not the family of God is willing to take the prescription needed for curing this epidemic.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Humpty Dumpty Syndrome

Nehemiah 1:2-4            Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and … said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…” As a child I heard this nursery rhyme and repeated it often. As the story goes, no one could put Humpty back together after he fell, Humpty was an egg. It is a shame when that happens.

There are times in our lives when we fall-down, we mess up “Big Time”. When this happens apologies are needed, humble crow is eaten and we attempt to bring restoration to a relationship. But it doesn’t always work well. We can be sorry but the damage is done. The other party is injured, mad and not ready to forgive or reconcile. Maybe for a short time things begin to go well, but then the relationship sours again. We try and try and fail and fail. Who is going to put things back together in our life?

Nehemiah listens to their account of the condition of the city of God. He is broken-hearted. What can Nehemiah do from such a distance away? His only response was to sit down and weep.  

When the bad news comes what is your first response? Most people freeze up, get angry or run to fix what has happened. They take matters into their own hands and attempt to be like god, bringing something out of the broken nothingness of bad circumstances. This is the Humpty Dumpty Syndrome. No amount of human effort could fix his problem.

But, thankfully, Nehemiah shows us our first response to adversity and disappointment. Prayer begins our journey to wholeness. Only God can put back together what we have shattered in our lives. God is able to provide comfort, strength and help in our every time of need.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Really Trusting God

Ezra 8:22-23               I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

I know there are times when trusting God does not seem the logical thing to do. But if our earlier words have witnessed to a true faith and an abiding trust in Him, there may come a public moment when those words will be tested. Ezra was in such a moment as he was about to lead God’s people back to Jerusalem from exile.

Ignatius of Loyola was a Jesuit Priest in the 1500’s. He wrote that Christians are to “work as if everything depended on God and pray as if everything depended on you.”  I can see how Ignatius understood trust and dependence on God. Work is put into a better perspective because we are not the ultimate determiner of the outcome for our efforts. In turn, our prayers should be many and should be often. For us to see the results we desire then we must petition and beg the One in whose hand the future is held.

Ezra understood this principle. Having led his people in prayer and praise to God, how could he then turn to man for protection. God had brought about this miraculous event. God would see them all safely through to Jerusalem.

How many times do we pull up and turn to another person for help, having just professed faith and trust in God to provide. Don’t you find yourself praying to God for something, only to see yourself later that day doing all the work to make your prayer come to fruition?

Ignatius is speaking to us. Work like God is in control. Pray as if the world depended on your conversations with God. See how life will fall begin to conform to God’s will.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The wise Men and Women of God

Matthew 7:24              Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

The true follower of Christ will find that stability and soundness of heart becomes a guiding presence in their lives. They know what they know. Nothing can sway them from their convictions, trust and faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This person builds his foundation on the Word of God. He acknowledges that all of Scripture is God’s eternal word, is true and accepts it’s description of our sinful fallen need. He relies on God the Father, through His gracious gift of Jesus Christ, to build his life on a Christian foundation.

He hungers and thirsts for God's righteousness in his life. He relies on God in the smallest details of his life as well as the major areas. He knows of his own unworthiness before God because of his sinful nature. All the careful planning and preparation he does is to no benefit if the Lord God wills his life differently.

He accepts the Lords control over his entire life. His love of God is tempered with fear for the almighty power of God himself. His understanding of God controls his actions and reflects his fear of the Lord. His greatest desire is to bring glory to God and love Him with all his heart, soul and mind. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Give In Order To Get

Ezra 6:21        So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate [The Passover Lamb], together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.

The exiles that had come back to Jerusalem were a small group, a remnant of all those Israelites who had been taken into captivity. Their decision to leave and return to Jerusalem was not a popular one. If it were, then many more would have accepted the offer from King Cyrus. This group had a peculiar allegiance to the God of Israel. They believed that Jerusalem was God’s city. They also believed that the written Law of Moses was given by God himself to the people of their day. In returning, they believed God was gifting them this opportunity. They also believed that in returning they were given a new opportunity for life under His providential hand and in His prescribed location.

Their obedience to God extended to how they would live and worship the God of Israel. The Law of Moses prescribed that worship of Him be guarded. Only those who separate themselves from the beliefs and practices of the Gentiles or pagans could participate. Those who did were to have been followers or seekers of the Lord, the God of Israel. Together they celebrated the Lord’s “changing the attitude of the king of Assyria” so that he would assist them in the work of building the house of God.

“In reality we see that only the self-excluded were unwelcome. The convert found an open door, as had Rahab and Ruth.” (Kidner, pg.60)

As people seek God they are to give in order to get. God’s people give away their own self-interest and allow God’s will to dictate their actions and beliefs. As they submit themselves to the Word of God their lives take on new meaning and their hearts reveal a spirit induced change. To draw near to God requires that our sinful attitudes and indulgences be given up. In order to get God into your life you must be willing to give away your agenda, your self-interests and submit to Him.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Obey The Kings, For God's Sake

Ezra 7:25-26               Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished....

Ezra had been a model citizen in captivity. He grew up being instructed in the teachings handed down from God to Moses. In living among the Babylonians he caught their eye because of his studious obedience to his faith practices and by the way he conducted himself with  the King and his authorities. As a student of God, Ezra understood how God “is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes”. (Daniel 4:17)

Jesus says to His disciples that if you are “faithful with a few things; [He] will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21) Christian missionaries working overseas must be obedient to the ruling authorities in those lands. Kingdom workers in nearby places like Jericho Road Ministries must be obedient to the governing authorities of the state, too. In both cases kingdom workers are to be obedient to God’s Word and to the Christian leaders who have been placed over them. 

If you are in ministry at your church or in the community then someone is overseeing your ministry work. The Christian brother or sister who is supervising you is responsible to God for you. They must give an account to Him of their teaching you and their leading you. God has called that person and you into this relationship. We are no different than Ezra and the Israelites for whom he was responsible to God for teaching the complete Law of Moses.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Practice What You Preach

Ezra 7:6                This Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

Finally we meet the man from whom the whole book has taken its name. This chapter gives us an introduction to the scholar-priest Ezra. Included we find his purpose for returning to Jerusalem and learn about those who accompanied him there.

We know the “hand of God” was on Ezra from the way he conducted his life. In verse 10 we read that “Ezra devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” The hand of God upon him was evident from his study, life and work. What was dear to his heart was the Word of God. His devotion was to the Father who spoke through the Law of Moses. He could not teach nor model what he did not study and practice.

Ezra is a model reformer in that what he taught the people he had first lived. Before he lived it, he made sure that it was according to the Word of God, the Law of Moses. The order is significant. Study was followed by practice or conduct which led to teaching others. God can use us in ministry AFTER we have studied Scripture. We must know what God expects of us and how he works in our life. Then, having read and studied his Word, we must practice what God calls us to do in our lives. Without study we can never know the correct way in which we are to conduct our lives. Having met these two prerequisites we are now able to begin to teach others.  

God responded to Ezra only after he had committed himself to Yahweh, the God of Israel. When life seems out-of-sync it may be due to our having replaced our first love with someone or something else. Our effectiveness in living for Christ is directly related to the amount of time spent studying Scripture and practicing it with others. May God open our eyes and ears to the reality of His process for making us effective Christians.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Whos Honor Do We Seek?

Ezra 4:14-15         Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors.

The charges against them were willfully misrepresented. In this period after the death of King Cyrus, another ruler had taken the reign of power. His name was Artaxerxes and the enemies of the workers sought his help in bringing the work to an end. The threat that the Israelites pose is one they imagine to be true. Over blown and exaggerated descriptions are used to paint this small group of returned exiles as a threat to the local government and to the entire realm of Artaxerxes. If they rebuild the city they would grow into a powerful force to overthrow the King.

There are times when people watch us as Christians following the teachings of Scripture. They find fault with us because of our belief in absolute moral truths. They feel threatened by our successful work in society. Finding fault becomes their goal in bringing our efforts to a halt. We all know of the secular mantra that the “separation of church and state” is mandated in the Constitution and our laws. Yet they willfully misrepresent the intent of the founding fathers. Good works and assistance that such Christian para-church organizations contribute to society are seen as a threat to the beliefs and freedoms of the non-Christian population. Our intentions are misrepresented. Untruths are used to stop our efforts.

The small group of Israelites continued their work. When the reply came from King Artaxerxes, the Israelites were compelled by force to stop the construction. The King called a halt to the work because he was told they were “rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city”. Their enemies lied about their efforts. They were rebuilding the Temple of God.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wisdom Of A Pragmatist

Ezra 6:8-10        I, Darius, hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: Their expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury… so that the work will not stop. Whatever is needed … must be given them daily without fail, so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.

Under the prophetic leadership of Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5) the people restarted the Temple construction. The opposition confronted them again and demanded to know who permitted this work. The Israelites were not intimidated into stopping work so the opposition sent a letter to the new king, Darius. They requested that he search the royal records for evidence of some approval for what the Israelites were doing in reconstructing the Temple of God.

A search of the royal archives produced the original letter signed by King Cyrus giving approval for the Israelites to rebuild the Temple of God. In responding to the opposition in Jerusalem, King Darius’ letter outlines clearly the help that the inhabitants of the entire region are to provide to the Israelite community in their efforts. The tables were completely turned around. All their provisions of food, supplies and construction material would now be provided out of the treasury of the local secular authorities.

The wisdom of man guided this decision. If peace and stability and loyalty from this area of the kingdom could be attained, the King concluded it was in his own interests to help. So he provided the materials needed for the Israelites to rebuild their Temple of God and find peace in their religious practices. It would be good for the region of the Trans-Euphrates to have everyone working together to accommodate King Darius’ decree. And lastly, who knows, maybe their God will provide for the well-being of the king and his sons. Darius was quite pragmatic in his thinking.

Darius was quite unlike the pragmatists of our day. Today the pragmatist completely rejects the potential of there being truth to the Christian teachings. Who knows what God would do today if they were to see it in a different light? 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Father Knows Best

Ezra 2:62        They searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.

Clients will ask me “Why does the program not allow me to          ?” I can fill the blank with one of many prohibitions: no phone calls, no jewelry, no long hair, etc. There are reasons why things that you and they would assume to be “Ok” are not permitted. There is a reason for each. But if I were to take the time to explain them all, then we would miss the message for today.

God had given Temple worship instructions to His people many, many centuries earlier. They were written down and were followed by the ancestors of those who are now leaving captivity in Babylon. As they prepare to return to Jerusalem, they have dusted off the Law of Moses and have read it thoroughly to ensure that their return would be a success.

God’s instructions for the Temple required that the furnishings be in place. So the returning exiles gathered all the artifacts for worship: both those they had and those held by King Cyrus. Also needed were the worship leaders and others permitted to be in the Temple. These people were descended from Aaron. So the exiles dusted off their records to identify all the individuals and families who were to return with them. They would be the ones to reestablish the Temple and the worship practices.

God excluded all the other exiles from being part of the Temple worship. It may seem unfair, impractical or meaningless to exclude some from returning to Jerusalem. But it is God’s Temple and He wanted things handled in a particular way.

When we commit ourselves to be followers of Christ, there will be things that God prohibits us from doing, saying or believing. He knows why these things are to be off limits for us. We may not always understand why. We may disagree. But He is our God and we are His Temples. Father knows best. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Listen Closely To Their Words

Ezra 4:1-2       The enemies of Judah and Benjamin … came to Zerubbabel … and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

A careful reading of the written word can bring to light the intent of the author. Also, a careful listening to the words someone speaks to you can also give clues to their motives. The opening two verses of chapter 4 bring to light the real intent and position of the people living in the area of the returning exiles.

Like the exiles, the people come and say that they too are seeking God. If that were true, then why wasn’t the Temple rebuilt? Why did the Israelites who were not taken into captivity instruct these people in the Law of Moses? Surely someone in the remaining group could teach them how and where true worship of God was to be conducted.

They have been sacrificing to God for years, they say. The altar and the Temple were in disarray for over seventy years. There was no place to sacrifice, no place acceptable to God. Were they lying or had they been offering unofficial sacrifices elsewhere in the area?

Lastly, these people were brought to the area as a result of another conquest by a different king and they had come from another foreign land. They could not have been instructed by Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, for he was not an Israelite and he followed a multiple of gods.

It is easy to be deceived if you are not paying attention to what people say. It is easy to fall into the misguided beliefs of those who are not truly seeking Jehovah, the God of Israel.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Worship With Joy And Weeping

Ezra 3:11,13               And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid…  No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Worship means different things to different people. Styles and forms of worship vary from generation to generation. The journey of our individual lives impacts the relationship we have with God. The call to follow Him affects us all in a different manner as we rebuild our lives. The form and substance of our lives is individually molded and shaped by Him who loves us completely. Our response to him, therefore, will vary from person to person. The response of the people at the laying of the Temple’s foundation is mixed.

The worship was filled with the sound of instruments, voices of praise and much thanksgiving shouts. The peoples were worshipping God. Those who grew up in captivity never knew firsthand the splendor of the Temple. Their joy was fueled by the teachings and hopes of the elders who promised that God would one day bring them home to Jerusalem. The promises they learned are being fulfilled.

There were those who had lived through the exile but had also been through the destruction of Jerusalem. They had lived through the actual fall Judah and the subsequent hardships of the exile as it began. For them, this laying of the foundation walls was a reminder of the sins of a nation that caused this entire series of events. The entire event of the fall of Jerusalem, the forced captivity, the years of exile were brought about by the sins of a nation, all the people. The weeping and tears were both of sorrow for the past sins remembered and of joy for the final fulfillment of God’s forgiveness in the return of his people to Jerusalem. Together, all the people raise their voices in praise to our God.

This story reminds me of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and with her tears. Jesus said of her to the Pharisee, “Her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Who Do We Fear?

Ezra 3:2-3                   Then Joshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar… in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses… Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices.

Fear is probably the greatest weapon in Satan’s arsenal. Fear causes people to change course, when they should remain. It causes some to freeze up, when they should be moving and fluid. Fear creates defensive attitudes and words when people should be kind and loving. Fear is a significant deterrent to our growing in Christ’s image and to our fulfilling God’s plan for us.

Notice that the Israelites were together in their work. They together put aside the fear that many had about moving forward with the rebuilding. The altar, the center of worship, would be the first restoration project. Since the altar was the heart of Temple worship their renewal project would begin with it. On the alter sacrifices were made for the sins of the people, guilt atoned for and forgiveness flows out from. Together they overcame their individual fears.

If you live in fear then you are not unlike the Israelites. The remedy for such a debilitating condition is to commit to rebuild from the center outward. Christians, you are God’s temple and the Holy Spirit lives in you. Jesus Christ has accomplished what the Israelite’s sacrificial system sought. His one sacrifice has made perfect forever those of us who are being drawn to Him and being made holy.

The Lord’s Table is a celebration of the fulfillment of the Old Testament feasts by the work of Christ. At the Communion Table, we celebrate together and feast upon Him who gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins. In communion fear has been destroyed by Him. Rejoice and celebrate your forgiveness. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Watering Down The Word

Matthew 7:15              Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

How exactly is the false prophet identified? If he looks like a good prophet, how are we going to tell the difference?

      The false prophet will look the part. He is dressed like the prophet. The language is the same and the subject is biblical. His speech and life appears to be in line with other Christians. He is subtle in appearance.  However, he lacks narrowness in his life.

The difference can be found in his preaching. It is not restrictive. It does not guide people to the narrow path. He fails to include vital aspects of the Gospel in his ministry. There is nothing in his message that is offensive to hear. He is comforting and reassuring in all he says. There is nothing uncomfortable or disturbing to us. There is no convicting spirit in the words.   

There is also a lack of doctrine in the false prophet’s message. He seems to only emphasize the love of God. He does not remind the listener of God's judgment, of our sinfulness, the penalty for sin, nor the righteous wrath of God. He talks vaguely and in generalities of all the truths in God's Word. Our eternal destiny is often overlooked.

Lastly, he talks of the sins of man and not the sinful nature of all of mankind. He allows the listener to assume that he believes all the deeper aspects of God's Truth. He does not emphasize man's inability to provide for his salvation before God. The true meaning of God's Grace as it pertains to our justification is not preached. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Mission Trip

Ezra 1:5-6       Everyone whose heart God had moved – prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold…in addition to all the freewill offerings.

Not everyone is leaving for Jerusalem. Remember Jerusalem had been destroyed seventy years earlier. It was in rubbles since no one had made any effort to restore either the Temple or the city. An entirely new generation of people had grown up in the destroyed regions of Jerusalem. They are strangers to the returning exiles. This journey is truly a “mission trip” of Old Testament proportions.


            Only a remnant is returning. The Lord moved in the hearts of a small group to restore His Temple and return his people to their homeland. Many people did not return. Most chose to support the effort of others. IN returning they had a purpose, to return the Temple to its former glory and prestige.  The list of inventory reflects the purpose for which this remnant is returning. God’s glory is foremost in their hearts and minds as they leave for Jerusalem.

            Christians have had their hearts stirred too. We have been moved by the Holy Spirit to return to our Creator and restore His reign within us, the living temples of God’s kingdom. Like the Israelites of Ezra’s day, we bring all our possessions and all our affections to Him. In this way He may reign in and through us.

Today in America we have the world at our door. In our neighborhoods, workplaces, businesses, etc. we find people from around the world. Many believe in gods that sound foreign and strange to us. We do not need to go far to find ruined temples and broken down walls of human suffering. Open your eyes, the fields are ripe for harvest. For us, each day is a Mission Trip.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Three Blind Mice

Matthew 7:22              Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’               

Three things are mentioned that may create a false sense of security?

Christians are not to rely on the right language, denomination or orthodoxy to provide for their salvation.  We are to remember that by simply calling Jesus Lord does not guarantee anything. When we trust our self-understanding, our doctrines of faith, our mechanics of worship and our application of His truth;  we have replaced His sacrifice with our own.

Be careful to not confuse zealous and fervent emotions for an intellectual and spiritual faith in God. There is an element of the self which will come out in some people. Faith based solely on an emotional response to scripture, is not saving faith. Do not confuse God’s truth with natural emotional responses. God’s Word, applied to us by the Holy Spirit enlightens the mind, changes the heart and calls into action our body in response. The emotions are last. 

Lastly, we are not to rely on words or actions which appear to be scriptural. A man may preach the true Gospel yet not fully understand nor accept them in his own heart and mind. He may be allowed by God to do miraculous deeds yet still not have the Gospel message imprinted in his heart. For God uses the foolish things of this world to reveal himself to mankind. Paul writes "some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodness...The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached." (Phil. 1:17-18)
Only when our faith is centered on Him, His Sonship and His sacrifice for our sins can we find trust and assurance in knowing our place will be with Him in heaven. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Wise Men And Women Of God

Matthew 7:24              Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

The true follower of Christ will find that stability and soundness of heart becomes a guiding presence in their lives. They know what they know. Nothing can sway them from their convictions, trust and faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This person builds his foundation on the Word of God. He acknowledges that all of Scripture is God’s eternal word, is true and accepts it’s description of our sinful fallen need. He relies on God the Father, through His gracious gift of Jesus Christ, to build his life on a Christian foundation.

He hungers and thirsts for God's righteousness in his life. He relies on God in the smallest details of his life as well as the major areas. He knows of his own unworthiness before God because of his sinful nature. All the careful planning and preparation he does is to no benefit if the Lord God wills his life differently.

He accepts the Lords control over his entire life. His love of God is tempered with fear for the almighty power of God himself. His understanding of God controls his actions and reflects his fear of the Lord. His greatest desire is to bring glory to God and love Him with all his heart, soul and mind. 

Friday, July 4, 2014


Proverbs 14:34           Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

Each time we sing together the vividly descriptive lines of the song “America the Beautiful”, I am moved emotionally as I contemplate the wonders of our great nation. The scenic beauties, the courage of the early settlers, and the sacrifices of heroes in battle all stir us to appreciation of our country’s heritage. This national hymn does more than inspire us to praise our great nation. It also encourages us to pray for it. Each stanza ends with an earnest plea for God’s grace, God’s healing, and His refining until we as a people achieve true brotherhood, law-abiding control, and nobility.

 We are reminded that America owes its birth to the living, vital and dynamic faith in God that our founding fathers demonstrated. There is a real need today for a return to such a national dependence upon God as well as a renewed pride in our gift of America.

The author of this hymn, Katherine Bates, was a teacher and head of the English department at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She wrote the original lines of this text in 1893, while teaching summer school in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet whose stern impassioned stress, a thoroughfare of freedom beat across the wilderness! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam – undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

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