Putting God's Word into Practice…

Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 5)

Nehemiah 5:1-5.  Building up a physical wall of protection against outside enemies is good work.  But what happens when the people inside the wall are in need of protection from each other?  Spiritual walls of oppression must be broken down!  The Jewish people were selling their own people into slavery to cover their bills because their brothers were charging excessive interest on loans.  This “business” style of living among God’s people goes against His economy wholeheartedly!  He commands over and over that the poor and needy are to be cared for, not taken advantage of.  In Proverbs 19:17 it says that when we give to the poor we are lending to the Lord and He will repay.  Taking care of the poor and needy is a gift to Him.

Nehemiah 5:6-11.  When we see our Christian brothers and sisters being taken advantage of, it should anger us and drive us to bold action–because we fear (respect) the Lord!  Just setting them free was not enough.  Nehemiah expected them to get all their belongings back so that they could go on living productive lives.

Nehemiah 5:12-13.  The response to Nehemiah’s confrontation was…silence.  They were not defensive or argumentative.  They fell silent, and followed up with commitment and obedience.  The result of obedience was restoration and worship.  “And all the assembly said ‘Amen’ and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.”  When we are right with God abundant joy floods our hearts, and we can’t help but to give Him glory.  So why do we find it so difficult to obey?  Why do we want our own way instead of following His ways?  When confronted with our sin, why are we often belligerent instead of broken?  If we want joy to define our lives, we must let surrender and obedience define our lives.

Nehemiah 5:14-19. (A note to leaders)  Leaders should never put heavy burdens on their people.  They should not lord over the people in their care.  Godly leaders must be burden bearers and burden lifters!  The Jewish leaders in Nehemiah’s day were putting heavy burdens on their people, Nehemiah was lifting those burdens by pointing people back to the Lord.  His ways are not burdensome (1 John 5:3) and He wants to bear our burdens (Psalm 55:22, Matthew 11:28).  Leaders who want to be godly should follow God’s own example.

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 4:10-23)

In the first part of chapter 4, we see opposition is mounting against the Lord’s work of restoration in the city of Jerusalem.

Discouragement, weariness, and loneliness were setting in, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” (vs. 10) Have you ever been there?  I know I have many times.  The burden seems too heavy, the work too much, the loneliness overwhelming.  It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home mom on the front lines of the battle ministering to your precious children day in and day out, or if you are a full-time pastor meeting the needs of the congregation the Lord has entrusted to your care–the Lord’s work is a serious task!

An enemy attack was on the horizon.  “At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions” and warned them to prepare for an attack.  We need our spiritual brothers and sisters to come along side of us to warn us, strengthen us, and help us come up with a plan of action to defend ourselves against the enemy.  Even when we feel like we are alone, we are never alone–God has given us the church (all the people who are called by His name) and Himself to help in our times of need.

Not only were the people overwhelmed and tired, but they were afraid.  Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to the advancement of the Lord’s work.  I’m sure the “what ifs” were coming out all over the place…”What if I’m building my wall and the enemy shoots an arrow at me?”  “What if my daughters are out working on the wall, and dangerous men come and hurt them?”  “What if we did all this work to half-way and we get captured?” “What if we are just wasting our time?” “What if…”  Thankfully Nehemiah was an excellent leader.  He knew just what to say, “DO NOT BE AFRAID of them.  REMEMBER THE LORD who is great and awesome, and FIGHT for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (vs. 14)  Sometimes we need someone who will remind us to take our eyes off our circumstances and put them back on the LORD!  Remembering His power and character will allow hope to be resurrected in our hearts.  And we need to be reminded about what we are fighting for–our families and homes!  For us, Satan is a tenacious enemy who wants to destroy homes and families.  Remember the Lord and who you are fighting for!  Don’t give up or hide in fear–prepare for battle!

At this time in the rebuilding of the wall God frustrated the plans of the enemy, and each returned to the work on the wall.  But they were more equipped.  Funny how God does that–He uses the fearful, burdensome times to grow us in wisdom and preparation.  1) They people’s jobs were divided into construction and protection. 2) The leaders stood behind all the people…the leaders had their backs!  3)  The workers were equipped with weapons and tools.  4) A rally plan was put in place.  When someone needed help, a horn would sound and those nearby would rally to their aid to fight alongside of them.  What another beautiful picture of what the church should look like!

Our God will fight for us. (vs. 20)  The people were not afraid to rally together against the enemy because they knew the battle belonged to the Lord.  As the church of Jesus Christ–let’s spend more time coming to each other’s aid and seeing the power of the Lord against opposition and enemies.  Who knows what God will do, if we could come together!  Let’s be willing to leave our “section of the wall” and help others.  And if we are the ones in need–let’s be humble enough to sound the trumpet and ask for assistance!

So we labored at the work…guard by night…labor by day…none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand. (vs. 21-23)  We need to be always dressed and prepared for battle but still laboring with intensity and focus.  Don’t give up.  Don’t be afraid. Remember the Lord.  Press on!  Together!

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 4:1-9)

Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews.  And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these FEEBLE Jews doing? Will they RESTORE it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they REVIVE the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that? Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building–if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!”  Opposition multiplies and intensifies.  What starts with one man’s rage spreads to others.  Sanballat and Tobiah first attack the workers, then they attack the work.  They will do anything to discourage and strike fear into the laborers.  They see the work through eyes of flesh not spiritual eyes.  It’s true that the workers are feeble–aren’t we all!  It’s true that restoration and revival are impossible at the hands of man.  BUT GOD!!!  God is the one who fights for us.  He is the One who gives strength in our weakness.  He alone is capable of restoration and revival.  He breathes life into the work.  Taking our eyes off of Him, listening to and believing the opposition, looking around at the overwhelming piles of rubble and the scope of the work will discourage us and lead us to fear.

How did the Jewish people handle the opposition? “Hear, O our God, for we are despised.”  They took it to the Lord immediately.  They gave Him authority over their enemies.  “So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for THE PEOPLE HAD A MIND TO WORK.”  They stayed faithful to the task.  One stone at a time.  Just keep building!

As the work progressed on the wall, the enemies became angrier.  They added more numbers to their forces.  They moved from taunting to plotting an attack.  And again we see the Jewish people handling it rightly.  “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”  Pray first then work.

At our house we have two of the most beautiful maple trees in town gracing the entrance to our driveway.  They are vibrant and beautiful each fall, until the winds and cold knock down their leaves.  Then we have an overwhelming job ahead of us–raking and bagging them all. It’s easy to look out the window and think, “I can’t do it again.”  Neighbors may jokingly say things that actually make the work seem more burdensome. But if we just set our minds to work, its amazing how one bag becomes 40 bags and soon we have a nice little wall of leaf bags lining the street in front of our house! And at the end of the day, I thank the Lord for giving us His strength, endurance, and help.

Every good work will come with opposition and difficulties, but our Good God is bigger and stronger and wiser.  We need to go to Him often and first; we need to fix our eyes on His power and ability; we need to be faithful to the work!

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 3)

Have you ever been walking down a sidewalk and then tripped on a broken piece of concrete?  Or gotten your stroller wheel stuck in a big concrete gap?  Frustrating isn’t it!  If only the homeowners would be responsible for their little section of walkway, things would be so much better!  Could you imagine a neighborhood where everyone’s sidewalk was in desperate need of repair?  That is kind of how I picture the city of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time.

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. (3:1)  The leaders started rebuilding first!  They led by example.  Manual labor was not beneath their position before the Lord.

Next to them/after him…These phrases exist in this text over 30 times.   It reminds us again that the work was a group effort.  Everyone worked diligently in front of their own place.  They worked shoulder-to-shoulder–priests, goldsmiths, perfumers, merchants, government rulers, and families.

And next to them, the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord. (3:5)  Ouch!  What an eternal indictment!  The Tekoite nobles had it all backwards.  They thought of themselves as elevated above the Lord and above the people they represented.  Truly noble people see themselves as servants of the Lord and His people first.  Whenever we think we are too good to serve, we put God beneath us!  How do you view your station in life?  Do you think of serving as an honor and privilege or something you have to stoop to do?

Repaired/Rebuilt/Restored…are used nearly 45 times in this chapter alone.  This tells me that the walls were built solid and secure at one time.  However, over the course of time, neglect caused them to fall into disrepair, and everyone was responsible!

In our own lives–the dwelling place of the Spirit of God–how do our walls look?  Are they strong or are there gaps and crumbling stones?  Are there areas of our heart that need desperately to be restored?  What can we do to start rebuilding right now?  Lord, send revival, and let it start with me!

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 2)

Reading news stories and seeing pictures coming out of Ferguson, MO from last night’s riots reminded me a lot of Nehemiah’s plight–desperation and grief over the broken down and burned out condition of the city.  I’m sure there are people in Ferguson weeping and mourning and crying out to God for help, healing and restoration as the sun rises over their city.  That is where we left Nehemiah yesterday–completely devastated over the condition of Jerusalem.  His burden was so heavy that he couldn’t hide it.  King Artexerxes recognized it as “sadness of heart.”

When Nehemiah was questioned by the king about his sadness, Nehemiah prayed to God for direction and began requesting of the king things that only the favor of the Lord could move his heart to give.  Although it is interesting that in parenthesis in verse 6 it says, “(the queen sitting beside him).”  Maybe God used her presence to sway the king’s heart toward compassion and generosity?  King Artexerxes gave Nehemiah the all clear to return to Jerusalem and see the condition of the city for himself.  He sent along letters authorizing Nehemiah to pass through the country and also to receive timber from the king’s own forest for temple gates, city walls and a personal home for Nehemiah.  He then sent along army officers and horsemen for traveling protection.  ONLY GOD COULD MOVE THE HEART OF A KING IN SUCH A WAY!

When Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem he did four things that are important for leaders who have a heart for revival to see:  1) He personally investigated the conditions. 2) He found out where the greatest needs were. 3) He made a plan of action. 4) He enlisted the help of other leaders. 5) He built them up by telling the wonders God had performed on his behalf already.

The people responded by saying, “Let us rise up and build.” And they strengthened their hands for the good work. (vs. 18) This was going to be a group effort!

The opposition came almost immediately.  There will always be detractors who don’t want to see God’s people and land restored.  They might jeer and despise, distract and discourage, BUT good leaders fix their eyes on the LORD, not on the overwhelming circumstances.  They cast a vision and excite the hearts of the people with God’s power and plan!

Nehemiah’s response to the opposition deserves a closer look:

The God of heaven will make us prosper…not their strength, not their verbal commitment, not their talents and skills, not their manpower–but God alone!

And we His servants…Nehemiah included himself among the servants.  He was a servant-leader and did not think more highly of himself than he ought.  He recognized God’s authority.

Will arise and build…The work belongs to the people, the results belong to God.

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 1)

Have you ever had a broken heart–a weeping, mourning, can’t eat, can’t sleep broken heart?   What was it over?  A damaged relationship, unfortunate circumstances, a tragic loss, a personal grievance…

Nehemiah had a broken heart when he heard that the walls of God’s city were broken down and the gates destroyed by fire, and that God’s people were living under great trouble and shame.  Because of Nehemiah’s love for God and His people their condition devastated him personally.  In verse 4 it says, “As soon as I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God heaven.”  Nehemiah took his broken heart to the only One who had the power to help!

Nehemiah’s prayer started with praise, led to confession–personal and corporate, and finished with requests.

  • PRAISE:  O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants. (vs. 5-6a)
  • CONFESSION:  Confessing the sins of the people if Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.  We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. (vs. 6b-7)
  • REQUESTS:  1: Lord remember your promises to gather your people to their land and dwell among them if they return to You after disobedience and discipline (vs. 8-10).  2:  Be attentive to our prayers (vs. 11). 3:  Give success to your servants (vs. 11). 4: Give mercy and favor in the sight of men (vs. 11).

Nehemiah finishes his prayer and then writes, “Now I was cupbearer to the king.”  He could have described himself as a servant of King Artexerxes, but he described himself as a servant of God and cupbearer to the king.  Nehemiah only had one King and Master to serve, and he was willing to do anything to serve Him and His people.  Nehemiah knew that his King’s heart broke over the condition of His city and His people’s hearts, therefore Nehemiah’s heart broke too.

Lord of heaven, You are great and awesome.  You keep your promises.  You hear us and see us.  You dwell with Your people.  How amazing to serve a Living God!  Lord increase my brokenness over my sin, over the condition of your people and your church, over the smears on your great name, over wanting our kingdoms instead of Your kingdom to come, over wanting our will instead of Yours.  Break down the walls of pride built among Your people and supernaturally rebuild a wall that is laid solely on the foundation of Your Son-Jesus.  Do whatever You need to do in order that Your people’s hearts would return to You, so that the people redeemed by Your great power and strong hand will be drawn together and Your name alone will dwell with us!  Please listen to my prayer, and the prayers of all who delight to fear your name.  Give success and grant mercy.  I am Your servant.  You are my King!  In Jesus’ name I ask all these things. Amen.

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Deuteronomy 5 ~ The Ten Commandments

And Moses summoned ALL Israel and said to them, “HEAR, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall LEARN them and be careful to DO them,” (vs. 1)  God’s people have to put themselves in the place to hear His Word.  A truth-proclaiming church or Bible study would be a good equivalent today.  He requested that they not only hear it but learn it.  Learning requires studying and memorization.  It’s not enough to hear God’s Word, but we must search it out ourselves.  And the final requisite is obedience to God’s Words.  A memorized verse is never better than an applied verse!

The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. (vs. 2-3)  God is the only living God, and He is the God of the living.  He if faithful from generation to generation–freshly speaking His truth into each one.  It’s not what our fathers know of Him that matters, but what we ourselves know of Him.

I am the LORD YOUR GOD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (vs. 6)  These are the words that inaugurated the giving of the Ten Commandments to the new generation.  God is saying “I am YOUR GOD–I belong to YOU!  I rescued you and saved you from slavery and oppression.”  When God asks us to be obedient to His commands it’s because He loves us and has our best interest in mind.  He is worthy of our obedience because our very life is due to His salvation.

The 10 Commandments:

  1. Have no other gods before the LORD. (vs. 7)
  2. Do not make or bow down to idols. (vs. 8-10)
  3. Do not take the Lord’s name in vain. (vs. 11)
  4. Observe the Sabbath day–to keep it holy. (vs. 12-15)
  5. Honor your father and your mother. (vs. 16)
  6. Do not murder. (vs. 17)
  7. Do not commit adultery. (vs. 18)
  8. Do not steal. (vs. 19)
  9. Do not bear false witness. (vs. 20)
  10. Do not covet. (vs. 21)

Interestingly, in the New Testament we are told that the only commandments are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself.  Looking at the 10 commandments we can see how “all the law hangs on those two commands.”  Commandments 1-4 explain how we are to love the Lord, and commandments 5-6 speak to how we love others.  (Matthew 22:36-40)

Look through the list, it is impossible to keep all those laws!  Thankfully our righteousness doesn’t depend on our ability to keep them.  Our righteousness depends on God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness because we’ve broken them!  Our righteousness depends on Jesus’ righteousness, because He is the only person who ever walked this earth blameless and sinless.  Therefore, when He died on the cross it was for our sins–our broken commandments–not His.  When we put our faith in Him, His righteousness becomes ours! (Isaiah 61:10)  Once we are made righteous before our Holy God, we are called to live lives of holiness.  Therefore, the 10 commandments are still relevant today–they teach us how to love God and others! They give us the standard of living that pleases God.

God spoke these commandments directly to His people “with a loud voice, and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone.” (vs. 22) What a generous God! Only 10 commandments–spoken and written for the safety, salvation, and joy of generations to come.  The voice of the Lord caused His people to fear Him–to have the utmost respect for Him.  They took His commands very seriously, and promised to do everything He said.

I’ve been there.  Several times I have attended conferences–times set apart to hear from the Lord and let Him speak to my life.  His presence is palpable; He shows His glory and greatness; He speaks a word to me igniting conviction, change and freedom.  I am revved up, enthusiastic about obedience.  But I know that those feelings won’t last, and what’s more, God knows that initial passion won’t last.  But it doesn’t keep Him from speaking to me, from wanting the best for me, or from charging me to “not forget.”

Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! (vs. 29)

You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess. (vs. 32-33)

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Deuteronomy 4:25-49 ~ Punished for a Purpose

When my sons get a low grade on a homework assignment, they lose their video game privileges for a certain number of days.  When someone drives drunk, they lose their license.  When someone steals, they spend time in jail.  “The punishment fits the crime” and seems fair.  Idolatry is a big sin to our Holy God!  And the punishment may seem severe, but it “fits the crime.” The goal of God’s punishment is ALWAYS revelation and restoration.

If God’s people, who are set apart for His inheritance, choose to live corrupt, evil, idolatrous lives, He will be angry.  And like a good, loving Father, He will punish them/us.  It says in verses 26-27 that they will not live long in the land that He gives them to possess, that they will be utterly destroyed, and the few who are left will be scattered and driven to other nations where they “will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.”  God will use this punishment–this discipline by destruction and reduction–to help His people realize the emptiness and futility of serving gods instead of Him!  He is a jealous God!

BUT from there you will SEEK THE LORD your God and you will find him, if you SEARCH AFTER HIM with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will RETURN TO THE LORD your God and OBEY HIS VOICE. For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. (29-31)

Do you feel separated from God by sin?  Do you recognize that you are being disciplined by God because He loves you?  Have you chased after gods, and ended up someplace you don’t want to be?  God let you get where you are so you would seek Him!  Let His discipline make you desperate for Him!

God uses trials, signs, wonders, war, and discipline to get our attention that we may know today, and lay it to our hearts, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other besides Him. (4:34-35,39)

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Deuteronomy 4:15-24 ~ Inevitable Idolatry

I’m finding that as I age, I am growing more forgetful.  I need more reminders and more lists to keep me on task.  Sometimes I’ll even say things like, “Honey, I’m putting my phone in this drawer. I’m telling you this so when I forget where I put it, you can remind me.”  My oldest son is ready to get his driving permit, and I keep saying, “Remind me to call the insurance company.”  I think that one I’m forgetting because I’m in denial.  Speaking of denial–

The Israelites were in slavery along de Nile, until the LORD supernaturally delivered them.  As time passed, it was easy for them to forget His power and ability to save.  In these 10 verses alone there are four warnings to them: “Watch yourself very carefully,” Beware!” (2x), and “Take care lest you forget.”  They were prone to forget the greatness of their God.  We, too, are prone to making idols of lesser things, to worship created things instead of the Creator, or to make God into an image we can accept.  We cry out for the tangible–something we can hold and on which we can fix our eyes.  Our tendency is to make the Holy into something common and the common into something Holy!  Whether we know it or not we are all looking for something/someone to worship and serve.

BUT THE LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20) God alone is the rescuer and deliverer.  He wants and deserves all of our affection, reverence, service and worship.  Verse 24 says, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”  He wants to burn up everything in us that is not of Him or for Him.  He wants to consume our hearts.  He requires our exclusive worship.  One definition of “jealous” that struck a chord in my heart is this:  fiercely protective of one’s possession.  If we belong to God because He rescued and delivered us from slavery to this world’s system, He wants our whole heart!

I love the way John puts it in 1 John 5:21:  Keep yourself from anything that might take God’s place in your heart.

Is there anything that is threatening to take God’s place in my heart?  Is there anything that I love and worship that isn’t God?  Is there any area of my heart that I don’t want His holiness to consume?

Here is a link to a great older song by Jeremy Camp to point our hearts to God in worship.  I pray that these words echo the desire of our hearts.  http://youtu.be/PuZ5wXnRCvQ

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Deuteronomy 4:10-14 ~ Forgetting to Fear the Lord (Part 2)

One night when we were having tacos for dinner, I looked at the extra chips and cheese and blurted out suddenly to my son, “Have you ever had nachos?”  Good things are meant to be passed down to the next generation!  This past weekend, my husband and I introduced our boys to some classic comedy movies.  We’ve also acquainted them with music from our generation.  If we so easily perpetuate munchies, movies, and music–how much more should we be passing down the records of God’s power and faithfulness that teach our children to fear the Lord?

The LORD said to me, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.” Deuteronomy 4:10

Let’s focus on in on God’s words:

Gather the people:  God wants everyone to draw near to His presence.  Learning from God requires group participation.  We come together into His presence to hear His Words.

to me:  Personal God, One Teacher, Unified People

that I may LET them hear my words:  What a privilege and honor!

So that they may learn to fear me:  The fear of the Lord is taught by Him.  Learning to fear the Lord requires a humble, submissive, and teachable heart.

All the days that they live on the earth:  God wants us to acknowledge His authority, stand in reverent awe of Him, and live with a profound respect for His character and ways EVERY DAY!

and that they may teach their children so:  We learn so that we can teach.  If we have children–natural or spiritual–one of our purposes in life is to teach them to fear the Lord.  The fear of the Lord is learned by personal experiences with Him; by testimonies of others that speak to His faithfulness, discipline, goodness and love; and by hearing the Word of God!

How did the people respond to God’s request?  They came near (vs. 11) and the Lord spoke (vs. 12)!  If we want to teach others to fear the Lord, we must: draw near Him, hear Him, and fear Him ourselves!

When we water God down, make Him into our image, and put Him on our terms and timetables; we won’t see Him as worthy of being reverenced.  I heard Dick Roberts say something to the effect of: “The problem we have today is that most of us think God is only a half-inch bigger than we are,” and I add, “if we think of Him at all.”  A. W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

How have you drawn near to God today?  Have you heard His Word today?  Are you remembering to fear Him?  How can you teach others to fear Him?

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