Putting God's Word into Practice…

Good News

She WILL bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for HE WILL save His people FROM THEIR SINS! (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus means “the Lord saves!”  What a wonderful name!  It’s the name above all names, and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil. 2:10-11)

HE WILL SAVE–that’s promise!!

FROM THEIR SINS.  Jesus didn’t come to save us from our unfortunate physical circumstances, not from the consequences of our bad choices, not from our enemies, not from our sickness.  His primary purpose in coming was to save us from our sins.  That’s really our greatest need!!  If our sins aren’t forgiven, and we die with them hanging over us, we will be separated from God and all things good for eternity.  But, if we recognize our need for a Savior, the afflictions and disappointments of this life will be wiped away upon our death and replaced with an eternity of joy and peace in God’s presence.

Whatever I think I want or need today, nothing is greater than my need for a Savior.  Whatever I think will bring me joy and peace, if it’s not Jesus, it will never truly, eternally satisfy.  No material possession, no relationship, no healing will last as long as salvation.

Jesus came to save us from our sins.  Won’t you let Him do what He came to do today?  And if you have been saved from your sins already, worship Him and share your hope with your family and friends today.  That’s the best gift we have to offer.

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 13:1-3)

Strap on your seatbelt and welcome to the roller coaster of my mind!

On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people.  And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them–YET OUR GOD TURNED THE CURSE INTO A BLESSING. (vs. 1-2)

My first thought was, “Wait a minute!  There is a Moabitess in the family line of Jesus! How can that be if He is so opposed to the Moabites?”  Step one:  look up a biblical timeline.

The passage they were reading from was Deuteronomy 23:3-6 which was written around 1406 B.C.–nearly 400 years prior to the reading of it in Nehemiah’s day.  Sandwiched between those 400 years–around 1140 B.C.–there was a famine in Bethlehem in the land of Judah and a man named Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and sons to Moab to find bread.  The sons married Moabite women.  Elimelech and his sons died, and one Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, returned to Bethlehem with Naomi.  One thing led to another and Ruth remarried to a man from Bethlehem named Boaz.  They became the great-grandparents of King David and twenty-eight generations later Jesus was born in Bethlehem into their family line. (Matthew 1:5-6, 17)

When Elimelech went to Moab in a time of famine, God knew exactly what He was doing.  It was God’s plan to add a Moabitess into the lineage of our Savior.  It wasn’t Plan B to compensate for Elimelech’s lack of faith.  God is sovereign.

Is it contradictory for God to command “no Moabites” and then bring one into the lineage of His Son, Jesus?  No!  It’s called Redemptive History!  When Ruth said to Naomi, “Your God will be my God,” she was woven into God’s family BY FAITH!

Just like God turned Balaam’s curse into a blessing, He took the curse on Ruth’s life and turned it into a blessing to foreshadow Jesus removing our curse–taking it on Himself– and blessing us with salvation.

All of this has led me to realize anew that Christmas was well-planned by a perfect God orchestrating the times and places of all people to fulfill His purposes in spite of disobedience, rebelliousness and sin and because of our disobedience, rebelliousness and sin.  It’s really quite amazing!

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 12:27-43)

God loves a good celebration–joy, thanksgiving, singing and a band!  It was time for the Israelites to dedicate their wall built with the help and strength of the Lord.

And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall. Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. (vs. 30-31)  After a day of intense manual labor, I would take a shower before going to a party.  If I didn’t, I might spend the whole time avoiding people, justifying my smell, feeling insecure, lonely and embarrassed.  I wouldn’t have fun and my host might be disappointed.  Similarly, before the celebration was the purification.  A clear conscience always paves the way for true joy.  The people needed to prepare themselves to be in God’s presence where fullness of joy is found (Psalm 16:11).

This party was not for the people’s gratification; it was solely for the Lord!  It was a party of thanks.  Great choirs stood on the wall surrounding the city.  Trumpets blasted!  Instruments bellowed!!  And people sang with all their hearts.  This week  we attended my middle son’s Christmas program at school. When I tried to picture this celebration in Nehemiah’s day, I pictured the kids in the program on the risers singing with all the volume their beaming faces could muster.  My son happened to be the one kid who was trying to out-sing everyone.  He was whole-heartedly celebrating.  Now picture that kind of rejoicing times thousands of people.  This is what it says in Nehemiah 12:43:  Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, FOR GOD HAD GIVEN THE PEOPLE CAUSE FOR GREAT JOY. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.

God not only gave them supernatural strength to rebuild the wall, but He also transformed their hearts and lives with His amazing power.  This caused their joy to overflow.  And it didn’t just impact them, their joy was heard far away–impacting everyone around them.

God has given us cause for great joy too!  In Luke 2:10-11 an angel said, “I bring you GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  God has the power to transform our lives by this Savior–Jesus!  This Christmas let’s allow the good news of GREAT JOY to cause a celebration in our lives that rings out and impacts everyone around us!

Let it start this morning!  I hope our churches are filled with praises that shake the building and cause the neighbors to hear our joy!!

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 12:44-47)

The role of priest was all-consuming.  They served and ministered day and night.  The people depended on them for so much.  In God’s perfect wisdom, He provided a way for their financial and physical needs to be met.  Out of the tithes and offerings of the people they ministered to, a portion was given to each who served.

The people did not give out of obligation, but out of joy.  This, I’m sure, encouraged the hearts of their ministers.

“For all the people of Judah took joy in the priests and Levites and their work!”

Think about your pastors.  Do you take joy in their work?  Do you find giving joyful, knowing a portion will meet your pastors’ families’ needs?  God is using your generosity to care for His servants!

Going a little deeper:  What was the work that the priests did that the people took joy in?  The “ministry of purification.”  Their job was to help the people maintain purity before their God.  We have ministers who serve in small ways in that capacity, but we have Someone even better.  We have a great High Priest named Jesus! Hebrews 7:24-25 says, “But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore, He is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through Him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” In 9:13-14 it says, “Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. JUST THINK HOW MUCH MORE THE BLOOD OF CHRIST WILL PURIFY OUR CONSCIENCES FROM SINFUL DEEDS SO THAT WE CAN WORSHIP THE LIVING GOD.”  And finally, in Hebrews 10:21-22 it promises, “And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”

Do you rejoice over the work of your great High Priest-Jesus?  Are you thankful that because He shed His own blood as a sacrifice for your sins and is ministering day and night on your behalf, that you are pure before the Father and can confidently worship in His presence?

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 11:1-12:26)

There’s nothing like reading a huge list of unfamiliar names to get your early morning off to a vibrant start!  Who needs Frosted Flakes!!  (A little coffee, though, helps!)  It also helps to slow down and remember that EVERY WORD of Scripture is profitable–even the lists of names. (2 Timothy 3:16)

People matter to God.  He knows every name and every purpose.  He knows where each person lives and what family we belong to. Acts 17:26 says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”  Not only does He know our times and places, but He established them.  All the names and generations represented in this text are valuable to God.  And YOU, my friend, are too!  He knows your name!  He knows the family you were born into.  He sees you!  He knows where you live and why He created you to live there!  Your life has purpose!

Praise matters to God.  As I was reading these verses, the words, “Praise,” “Give thanks,” and “singers” stood out to me as repeated themes.  (11:17, 22-23, 12:24)  God set apart families who were responsible to lead praise and thanksgiving daily.  Leaders who kept the people’s hearts tuned to God were a vital part of the community. In chapter 10, we learned that ingratitude was at the core of rebellion.  We are not naturally bent towards praise and gratitude, so God helps us!  We may not know any Levites or have real people who lead us to praise and thank the Lord daily, but we have access to any song, any time thanks to the internet, Pandora, Spotify, etc…I encourage you to put on some music today and sing your heart out to God. Even if it’s beautiful to no one else, it is to Him.  And, He is singing over you right now! “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; HE WILL EXULT OVER YOU WITH LOUD SINGING!” (Zephaniah 3:17)

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 10)

As the Israelites were wrapping up their prayer, praising God for His faithful mercies in light of the previous generations’ rebelliousness, they committed to doing it differently!  How many of us have thought, “This is where my parent’s messed up, and I’m not going to do that!”?  Or how many of us, after realizing we have messed up put restrictions on ourselves to protect us from doing it again?  After stuffing ourselves at holiday dinners, my cousin and I would make a diet plan.  We made a strict food and exercise regiment.  We had great intentions, were very serious about our commitment, and promised to hold one another accountable.  Then our grandpa would come in and offer us big bowls of ice cream with chocolate syrup and nuts.  Our response was always the same: “Our diet starts tomorrow!”  All our good intentions and accountability went out the window.

At first read, this chapter sounds really good, but after evaluation it seems the Israelites are making a dangerous decision that could be setting them up to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors.  Revival came and the people were excited afresh about the Lord and His ways.  So they collectively made a covenant with Him:

  • WE WILL NOT give our daughters to godless, foreigners as wives or take their daughters for our sons.
  • WE WILL NOT do business on the Sabbath or Holy Days.
  • WE WILL let the land rest and cancel all debts every seven years.
  • WE OBLIGATE OURSELVES to pay the temple tax.
  • WE OBLIGATE OURSELVES to bring the firstborn and firstfruits of everything to the temple.
  • WE WILL NOT neglect the house of our God.

Think about it, all of those promises require a great measure of dependence on God to provide.  But they are humans, and humans tend to give up on God and try to provide for themselves over and over again.  Covenants are good, and they reveal a heart that wants to change and walk in step with the Lord, but very seldom are people capable of keeping spiritual covenants.  There is only ONE Covenant-Keeper and He already knows we will fall short, yet He remains faithful and unchanging.

I don’t know why after experiencing God’s powerful grace and mercy God’s followers are so quick to make a list of rules.  When we gratefully rest in His grace, love Him with all our heart, and let Him live through us, obedience is a natural outflow.  As He changes our hearts, our desires and perspectives shift.  We want to be pure and generous, but we need Him to do it.  Our “wills” and “will nots” and obligatory obedience can only go so far.  Then guess what?  We call out for God’s grace and mercy when we fall short, and He gives it again!  From generation to generation, He is the same!  (And unfortunately so are we.)

Lord, are there any ways I’m trying to live for you in my own strength? Is my desire to live for You rooted in love?

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 9:6-38) Part 3

In my last post, I wrote about the power of God’s Word to move us to repentance, but it also moves us to worship.  As the Israelites praised the Lord for His faithfulness throughout their rebellious past, they were moved by His steadfastness and constancy, which led them to more confession and to commitment.  Our past is an invaluable part of worship because it documents when and where we experienced the presence and character of God in our lives.  I’d like to look quickly at the Israelites, then make it a little more personal.  The Bible is just words on a page, if we don’t let them into our own lives and hearts.

The Israelites started their worship by expressing praise for the power of God to free their ancestors from slavery in Egypt and to continuously provide for and care for them in the wilderness between slavery and the Promised Land. Verse 16 begins with a fretful phrase, “But they…”  The people acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey God.  They were not mindful of the wonders God performed on their behalf.  Halfway through verse 17 we see a faithful phrase, “But You…”  They acknowledged God’s character in the midst of the disobedience–His readiness to forgive, His grace and mercy, His slowness to anger and His abounding steadfast love.

Next their prayer recounts the time their ancestors made a golden calf in the wilderness to worship and claimed, “This is your god.”  And yet God did not forsake them.  He continued to lead and feed them, kept giving, sustaining, and blessing them in spite of their idolatry.

God gave them victories over enemies, allowed them to take over land, bear many children, gave them ease and abundant goodness, and in spite of it, they were disobedient and rebelled again.  God in love and mercy disciplined them so they would call out to Him and recognize Him as their only help and hope. He delivered them out of self-inflicted oppression again.  Verse 28 says, “Many times you delivered them according to your mercies.”  And verse 30 says, “Many years you bore with them.”  God is so patient and faithful!  He waits for years for us to “get it.”

Then the prayer of praise ends with a new acknowledgement: Behold we are slaves to this day…because of our sins…we are in great distress.

Last night God graciously and painfully gave me a look at my rebellious past.  The ugliness and depravity of disobedience was freshly magnified.  This really served to amplify His grace, mercy and protection and intensify my gratitude that He was willing to save me, make me His daughter, and prepare a life for me that is far beyond what I deserve.  Yet several years into this new life, marriage, motherhood and ministry, I found myself discontent, ungrateful, angry, bitter, disobedient, stiff-necked and rebellious again.  In His great mercy, He let me put myself back into slavery to my flesh until it broke me and made me call out to Him.  Because of His unfailing love, He never forsook me but bore with me and delivered me…again!  And even this morning, I’ve found my soul to be in great distress because the sins of selfishness and ingratitude have made me a slave once more.  Once again, I appealed to His mercy and grace, His undeserved faithfulness and steadfast love to set me free from myself!  And He did it again!  “Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.  You are the LORD, You alone.”

God faithfully uses His timeless, eternal Word to lead His people to confession and worship from generation to generation.  He’s awesome!

Time for a revived heart dance party!

http://youtu.be/C2epMyZv5ME Create in Me by Rend Collective

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 9:1-5 Part 2)

The Israelites had just experienced the joyful Feast of Booths celebration for the first time in a long time.  They were walking in revival and joy which led them to be even hungrier for more of God’s Word, truth, change, obedience, and blessing.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting…together they were forsaking physical comforts to focus on spiritual needs.  and in sackcloth…God doesn’t see like man sees. God looks at the heart not exterior appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).  The people were dressed for the LORD! and with earth on their heads…How does one get dirt on one’s head?  By bowing low to the ground in humility and desperation.  I know this to be true because after each reference to confession, it is written that they “stood up” (vs. 2,3,5)  And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners…they came away from those who didn’t belong to God, who didn’t understand God’s ways, who were potential distractions to their spiritual purity and growth.  And stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  Before they even heard from God’s Word, they prepared their hearts by purifying them.  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God.  We’re talking about a six-hour church service!  Standing–listening to truth being read; bowing in confession together; standing and worshiping the living God who has kept His covenant with His people, born with them throughout their rebellion and rejection, and  in mercy drawn them back to himself.  On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Buni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God.  Even the leaders were desperate for confession and for God’s mercy in their lives.  They knew they didn’t have it all together, so they led the way for the people.  Then the Levites, Jesua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting.  Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”  Then the call to worship came, and quiet a worship service followed!  I wrote a little about it in my last post, and hope to write more in my next post.

God’s Word is invaluable in the life of His followers.  It is powerful, alive and active!  Sometimes we don’t read it because we are afraid we won’t understand it; sometimes because we don’t think we need it.  Often, we read it and it doesn’t have an effect on our lives.  I wonder now if it is because of the way we approach it.  Maybe we just do it to check it off for the day.  Maybe we try to squeeze it in to an already packed schedule.  Maybe we do it before we are really alert at the start of day or when we are exhausted at day’s end.  If I want God’s Word to impact my life, I must approach it with humility and expectation; without distractions or detachment due to sin in my life.  God’s Word is holy, worthy of reverence and of a time commitment.  Matthew Henry said of this passage, “They stayed together six hours and spent all the time in solemn acts of religion without saying, ‘Behold, what a weariness it is’!”

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 9-Part 1)

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. ( A good indicator the day was about God and not them…How often we “dress to impress” when it comes to meeting together! If there was dirt on our heads, we would want to wash it off!) And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day (that’s 3 hours of Bible reading)  for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God (that’s another 3 hours)(9:1-3)  The Word of God is useful in pointing out what needs confessing. It helps us to pray and to praise!

“Stand up and bless the LORD your God.” (9:5b) 

  • Everlasting
  • Glorious name
  • Exalted above all
  • The only Lord
  • Creator and Preserver of all
  • Promise Keeper
  • Righteous
  • God who sees
  • Performer of signs and wonders
  • Protector
  • Leader/guide
  • Light giver
  • God who speaks
  • Provider
  • Thirst-quencher
  • Ready to forgive
  • Gracious
  • Merciful
  • Slow to anger
  • Abounding in steadfast love
  • Does not forsake
  • Sustainer
  • Defender
  • Giver
  • Great goodness
  • God who disciplines
  • God who hears
  • Deliverer
  • Forbearing
  • Mighty and awesome
  • Faithful

Throughout their prayer, they traced their history with God and found His character woven in every part of their ancestry.  They recognized all the ways He walked through life with them and praised Him!

What can you praise Him for today?

“Stand up and bless the Lord your God!”

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 8:13-18)

One of the effects of revival is a greater appetite for God’s Word.  That’s exactly what we find in the second half of Nehemiah 8.  And just like our physical appetites demand to be fed on a regular basis, so it is with our spiritual appetite.  In this section of verses, we see the people studying God’s Word, changing their lives to reflect the commands found in God’s Word, and experiencing the joy of obedience to God’s Word.  God’s Word is meant to be read day by day.  It is how we experience His nearness and presence in our lives.  And in His presence is fullness of joy! (Psalm 16:11)

Studied the Word.  On the second day the HEADS of the fathers’ houses of ALL the people, with the priests and the Levites CAME TOGETHER to Ezra the scribe in order TO STUDY THE WORDS OF THE LAW. (8:13)  It’s interesting that the men took over leading their families in the ways of God once revival broke out.  That is miraculous–and would be in our day, too.  Also, we see that the men came together–unified–for one purpose; to know the Scripture!  Theirs was a single-minded driving force.

Believed and Followed the Word.  And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leaf trees to make booths, as it is written.” SO THE PEOPLE WENT OUT and brought them and made booths for themselves…And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths. (8:14-16a, 17a) Once they studied the words of the Law, they changed their direction in obedience to it.  They led their families, which in turn brought the whole city together in celebration of God’s faithfulness.

Obeying God’s Word brings joy.  And there was VERY GREAT rejoicing! And DAY BY DAY, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. (8:17b-18a)  God’s Word is the pathway to true joy, and we need to hear it daily.

The Festival of Booths was a celebration commemorating the time the Israelites lived in temporary shelters in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land after being delivered from Egyptian captivity.  It celebrated a time when God dwelt among His people–leading and providing for them.  This festival in particular would have been extra special in Nehemiah’s time as their generation was also returning to the Promised Land from a time of captivity.  Their hearts would have been full of gratitude.

Similar to the Israelites, those of us who belong to God have been delivered from captivity/slavery.  We are currently living in a foreign country on our way to our eternal Promised Land. But God is dwelling with us, leading us, providing for us, and protecting us along the way.  May we not take it for granted, but let Him well up a desire in our hearts for more of His Word and more of His presence and a desire to be obedient to His Word so that we can experience revival and rejoicing.

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