Putting God's Word into Practice…

What I’m Learning About Discipleship from The Three Little Pigs

Cuddled up in the recliner with my one year, I began to read a new book to him.  It’s an old story really, but something about the way this one was written started the wheels in my mind spinning.  The Three Little Pigs is a very familiar lesson about diligence and planning ahead; but in this account, I found so much more.

We need an “older brother” in our lives.  When the older brother in this story saw the younger brothers’ houses of straw and sticks, he responded by saying, “It doesn’t look very strong.  What if the wolf comes?”  Don’t we need someone in our lives like that spiritually.  We have a raging enemy who longs to devour us; he huffs and puffs and blows daily.  It is a good thing to have someone who reminds us and warns us of this truth and who is brave enough to speak honestly into our lives.

We need an “older brother” in our lives.  As you know the wolf did come, and he succeeded in blowing down the houses of the younger brothers and sent them scurrying.  Where did they scurry?  To the older brother’s house, of course.  The older brother swung open the door announcing, “Hurry!  You’ll be safe here.”  When our world comes crashing down, even when it’s due to our own foolishness, it is so important to have a safe place to turn.  Someone who will offer us grace, hospitality, and safety.  Not someone who says, “I told you so,” but “Hurry! Get inside!”

We need an “older brother” in our lives.  This book didn’t end with the wolf giving up and leaving the three pigs to celebrate.  The final page declares, “The next day, the oldest pig showed his brothers how to build strong houses out of brick.” Yes!  That is discipleship–that is mentoring!  A true “older brother” doesn’t leave us where we are, he comes alongside of us and teaches us how to live stronger lives!  The “older brother” reveals the way to security and joy.

We all need someone like that in our lives, and someone needs us to be that person for them!  Reaching forward, reaching back; offering and receiving warnings; displaying and requiring grace; teaching and being taught wisdom!

Bryant, Robyn. The Three Little Pigs. Tormont Publishing. Canada, 2011.

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The End of Nehemiah and Blogging (13:30-31)

This is it!  542 blogs in three years.  God has been faithful to speak to me and strengthen me.  And my prayer has been that He would do that through me for you.  God is calling me to deeper intimacy with Himself.  I’m not quite sure what that means or what it will look like, but based on my prayer time Saturday it means, “honest, raw and private.”  Even though my quiet times in God’s Word have been personally reflective, there is always the underlying knowledge that I’m studying to share.  There is often more urgency to get thoughts typed up than to “sit and soak.”  This, coupled with leading women’s Bible study at my church has left me feeling like I’m wading in shallow waters.  Like I’m trying to draw out water from the ocean with a hole-y bucket instead of a holy bucket!

How appropriate that my last blog will be from Nehemiah 13:30-31. “Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.” Chronologically this is the end of the Old Testament.  It ushered in 400 years of silence.  Nothing more is recorded in the Bible until Jesus-the Light of the world-is born.

Nehemiah’s legacy is that he restored Jerusalem, the temple, and the inhabitants back to purity with their God.  Everything was left in tact as the world awaited the Messiah!  Likewise, may our hearts be “in tact” as we await His return.  Come Lord Jesus!


Notes from Nehemiah (13:23-29)

Flashback to the Israel’s covenant they made in chapter 10:

  • 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.

As we have seen throughout chapter 13, upon Nehemiah’s return he found the people and the city in a sorry state of spiritual compromise.  Everything they committed themselves to, they reneged on.  In this case, the Jewish marriages were mixed between those who belonged to God and those who were considered enemies of God.  They were raising children who neither spoke Israel’s language nor knew Israel’s God.  This inter-marrying was not about racial purity but about spiritual purity.  Marrying someone who was not part of God’s family was considered a treacherous–disloyal, unfaithful, backstabbing–act against God.  1) God desires His children to be pure and holy, and spiritual inequality in marriage leads to compromise and sin.  Nehemiah reminded the people that King Solomon had wives of different faiths and it ushered in his downfall and affected their whole nation.  It eventually drove to Jerusalem’s destruction and the people’s exile.  Would they be so foolish as to let that happen again after all God had done for them in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem? 2) Marriage reflects a covenant between God and His people.  He promised to provide for, protect, cherish and love them.  Their intermarrying was most likely for political strategy, military alliances, and financial gain.  They were putting their trust in other nations to do what God promised He would do for them!

Isn’t that true of us!  We let relationships change us morally.  And we put our trust in relationships for our intimacy, protection and provision instead of trusting Jesus.  Who we physically bond ourselves to here on earth is a big deal!

Nehemiah’s response to this treachery was intense.  In verse 25 it says, “And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves’.”  He punished and shamed them for their sinfulness.

When I read the words “confronted,” “cursed,” “beat,” and “pulled out their hair,” it reminded me of Jesus.  In Isaiah 50:6 it was prophesied:  “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.”  And we see that fulfilled in Matthew 27:28-31 and Mark 15:16-20. When the Lord found us in our sinful state–married to the world, sharing our lives with the enemy–he could have punished and shamed us.  Instead, he let the punishment and shame fall on His own Son.  His wrath against our treacherous hearts was spent on Jesus.  If we believe that truth and accept Jesus, we can be purified without being punished–that’s grace my friends!

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Notes from Nehemiah (13:15-22)

Flashback to the Israel’s covenant they made in chapter 10:

  • 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.

In those days, I saw in Judah people treading winepresses ON THE SABBATH, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem ON THE SABBATH DAY. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians, also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them ON THE SABBATH to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! (vs. 15-16)

In Exodus 20:8-11 it says, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within you gates.  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

The Israelites in Jerusalem were breaking the Sabbath commandment in every way!  They were working, their donkeys were working, and the foreigners in the city were working!  Nehemiah called it “profaning the Sabbath.”  Profaning means to violate, to defile, to treat as unholy; yet God said the Sabbath was set apart as holy.  They were making their own way instead of following God’s way.

Maybe you think, “A little work on every day of the week is not a big deal.”  But it was a very big deal.  The Sabbath was about more than ceasing from labor, it was a sign of a covenant between the LORD and His people that they were trusting Him to sanctify them–set them apart as holy.  In Exodus 31:13b-14a it says, “ABOVE ALL you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you.  Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.”

Just one chapter prior in Nehemiah the people were having a robust celebration of dedication of the city to the Lord, now they were taking it back to do with it as they pleased!  Nehemiah was not going to stand for it!  He cautioned the merchants, confronted the nobles, and commanded the Levites to restore the sanctity of the Sabbath.  ONE MAN changed a town with righteous indignation, commitment to truth, steadfastness to the Lord’s ways, and bold confrontation.

But what does it mean for us?  Jesus Christ called himself Lord of the Sabbath in the New Testament.  He is the Lord of “ceasing of work.”  When we put our trust in Jesus for our salvation, we cease from working to earn our salvation and rest in His grace alone to sanctify us.  The problem we face is that many of us subtly disregard His grace over the course of time and work for our sanctification.  In Galatians 3:3 Paul wrote: “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  In our own way, that is the definition of “profaning the Sabbath.”  Resting in Christ’s grace leads to eternal life.  Disregarding His sanctification and working to earn something for ourselves leads to spiritual death.

Are there any areas of my life where I am trusting in my own strength to provide for myself what I can really only find in Christ?  Do I need to cease from striving and rest in grace?

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Notes from Nehemiah (13:10-14)

Flashback to the Israel’s covenant they made in chapter 10:

  • 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.

Unfortunately what we see in chapter 13, is what I often see in my own heart–a complete turnaround from their commitments.  Oh, it is subtle!  Last week, my son and I challenged each other that he couldn’t go a whole week without video games and I couldn’t go a whole week without sweets.  Guess who lost?  Me!  A little craving here, a little sneaky treat there, and boom I was right back to my habits.

The people had committed to giving tithes, taxes and offerings to support the work of the temple and to provide for the workers of the temple.  They promised  not to  neglect the house of the Lord.  But what Nehemiah found upon his return was a forsaken temple and God’s workers forced to return to farming.  God’s house was empty–no one there to sing, teach, make sacrifices, put out the bread, burn incense, light the oil, or bring in the wood for the altar fire.  No wonder there was room for an apartment for Tobiah the enemy Ammonite!

Based on verse 10, the workers were fulfilling their responsibilities, but the people were not.  Interestingly, Nehemiah didn’t call the people into account, but the leaders.  It was their responsibility to make sure the temple workers were adequately provided for, and they neglected that role.  If the leaders did their job, the people’s actions would soon follow.  And that is exactly what happened.  The people were quick to change and restore their commitment to their promises.  Revival starts in leadership!

It is interesting to note that in the chronological Bible, the teachings of Malachi happened during Nehemiah’s absence prior to this confrontation.  In Malachi 3:8-10 the Lord says, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.  Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until THERE IS NO MORE NEED.”

NO MORE NEED VS. I NEED MORE.  What keeps people from following through with their commitments especially when they involve money, resources, food, etc…? Often it is the thought, “I need it more!”  Give generously and joyfully, and God will supply your need!

Are there any ways I am neglecting my responsibilities to God’s church?  Is my soul–God’s temple now–empty because I have neglected it spiritually?  Have I forced godly things and work out in order to provide for myself or meet my own needs?  Is there any way that I have made what I want more valuable than what God wants for me?  Am I neglecting His work because of my own selfishness?  In Nehemiah 13:10, he asked “Why is the house of God forsaken?”  If my soul is found forsaken, neglected, void of His presence, why???

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 13:4-9)

Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. (4-5)

This is the same Tobiah who was an Ammonite. In 13:1 it was read that no Ammonite should ever enter into the assembly of God because Ammonites cursed God’s people.  This was the same Tobiah who jeered at and despised the wall-builders (2:19) and who mocked their work by saying, “That stone wall would collapse if a fox walked on it!” (4:3).  Tobiah cursed God’s people, opposed their work, and didn’t want to see them prosper, and he was living in an apartment in the temple of the Living God!  In addition, the priest moved out all the offerings stored there in order to prepare the room.  How disrespectful to God!

While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king.  And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense. (6-9)

Zeal for the Lord’s house consumed Nehemiah.  His righteous anger over the compromises to God’s house foreshadowed Jesus’ response to similar issues over a thousand years later.  In John 2:13-17, we read about Jesus cleaning out the temple.  Again, three years later in Matthew 21:12-13, we see Him purifying the temple again. How quickly we are prone to compromise and seek our own interests instead of intimacy with God. Prayers and purity are of far greater value than pigeons and profit!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says that our bodies are the Lord’s temple. If Nehemiah–or Jesus–showed up at your temple, in what condition would they find it?

  • Is there any area of your heart where what used to be set apart for God has been  moved out to make room for someone/something that is actually opposed to God’s best for you?
  • Is there any area where you have made the flesh comfortable at the expense of following the Lord’s commands?
  • Is there any area where you have cast out what is sacred and holy for what is common?
  • Are there any gifts you’ve received that were meant to serve others, but have been repurposed in order to serve yourself?

We see an amazing picture of God’s grace here.  Just like the temple could be cleansed, refilled and used again for God’s intended purposes; our hearts can be also.

My dad knew a couple who got divorced years ago and were ordered to split the contents of their house.  One spouse took a chainsaw and cut everything in half and threw the other half outside.  Sometimes I think we do that in our hearts.  We know we should divorce ourselves from the world, but we don’t want to really give stuff up, so we keep a portion back, keeping our hearts cluttered with useless half portions of things we want because we don’t want God to have everything.

Throw out the furniture–all of it!  Make room for a new blessing! Be whole-hearted for God!!

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Abundant Goodness, Steadfast Love, Undeserved Mercy

Oh, how abundant is Your goodness which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in You. (Psalm 31:19)

If we want to experience God’s lavish, extravagant, abundant goodness, we must run to Him when we are faced with trouble. To fear the Lord means to trust Him whole-heartedly and to stand in awe of His greatness.   It’s important to note that those who fear the Lord are not exempt from trouble, but have a refuge strong and sure; a good God who supports, protects and shelters them.

Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.  I had said in my alarm (panic, haste), “I am cut off from your sight.” BUT YOU heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. (Psalm 31:21-22)

David was under attack and his initial response was based on dread, distrust, deception, and disappointment.  (I feel you, David!)  But when David responded correctly with a plea for mercy and a cry for help; GOD HEARD! The Lord knows we are made of flesh–that we are weak-willed and self-trusting.  Yet, He quickly reveals His steadfast love and undeserved mercy when we call for help.

Is there a trial you are facing that you haven’t called out to God for help?  He will hear your plea. He will mercifully shelter you, lavish goodness on you, and show His steadfast love to you.

If you have experienced the steadfast love of the Lord, have you praised Him for it?

Have you encouraged others with His abundant goodness and steadfast love?  Verses 23-24 say, “Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!”

Isn’t it interesting that we have to remind each other to love the Lord?  Trials and attacks can be overwhelming.  Disappointment that evil seems to be winning can take root in our hearts.  Fear can be blinding.  Sometimes we miss–overlook–God’s goodness, love and mercy.  The next thing we know, we are wallowing instead of worshiping; grumbling instead of grateful; fearful instead of free; listing off our grievances instead of loving. LOVE THE LORD for His goodness and for his justice.  BE FAITHFUL!  BE HUMBLE! BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS! BE HOPEFUL!

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But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “YOU ARE MY GOD.” My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make your face shine on your SERVANT; save me in your steadfast love! O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I CALL UPON YOU; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt. (Psalm 31:14-18)

David not only confessed with his mouth that he trusted in the Lord, and submitted his life to God’s sovereignty, but his confession was his creed–a set of beliefs that guided his actions.

It is easy to say, “I trust You, Lord,” or “You are my God.”  But do we put that into action?  David proved his beliefs by turning to the Lord alone for help, rescue and saving.  He called upon the Lord when he was in need.  He surrendered his days into God’s hand.  The favor of the Lord was the only thing that mattered to him.  He viewed himself as the Lord’s servant.  More often than not, I say “You are my God,” but I live as if I am my god.  I try to fix everything myself; I seek my own glory through the favor of man; I plan my own vengeance; I trust in people, things and resources to rescue me; I treat the Lord like He is my servant.

Lord, let me life, my emotions, my actions reflect a heart that beats the rhythm, “You are my God.”

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Spent with Sorrow (Psalm 31:9-13)

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in DISTRESS; my eye is wasted from GRIEF; my soul and my body also.  For my life is spent with SORROW, and my years with SIGHING; my strength FAILS because of MY INIQUITIES, and my bones WASTE AWAY.

Because of all MY ADVERSARIES I have become a REPROACH, especially to my neighbors, and an object of DREAD to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have been FORGOTTEN like one who is dead; I have become like a BROKEN vessel. For I hear the whispering of many–TERROR on every side!–as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

Sin produces grief, results in sorrow and suffering, causes distress, and makes strength fail.  Suffering is a direct effect of sin.  Some suffering is a result of living in a world marred by sin and inhabited by sinful people.  And sometimes it is a consequence of our own sinful choices.

Whether our suffering is a product of our sins or others’ sins against us, we have two choices:  1) try to handle it ourselves and end up empty, exhausted, and angry or 2) turn to the Lord and ask for His grace! (vs. 9)

In verses 9-10, David’s sorrow was a consequence for his own sins.  He took responsibility for them, calling them “my iniquities.”  We cannot receive grace without confession.  Several weeks ago I had been battling despair and a downcast spirit.  But it wasn’t until I recognized the sin of selfish idolatry in my life and confessed it that I received grace and strength from the Lord.  Now I am walking in joy and freedom, again.  Even though the silly circumstances that were causing discontentment and discouragement haven’t changed–I didn’t lose 10 pounds, I didn’t get a new wardrobe or a bigger house–I have found joy in God’s grace alone.

It might be good to take a few moments and examine our hearts:  Could my sorrow be related to my sin?  How am I trying to handle suffering in my own failing strength instead of turning to the Lord and receiving His grace?  Do I really believe His grace is all I need?

Help me, Lord, to recognize my need for your grace!  Your Word says it is abounding even over our darkest sins (Romans 5:20).  It also says that Your grace is ALL I need–in suffering, hardships, weakness, insults, persecution and calamity (2 Corinthians 2:9-10).  May Your grace be multiplied to me!  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Determined to Rejoice

Into your HAND I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.  I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I TRUST in the LORD.  I WILL REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN YOUR STEADFAST LOVE, because You have SEEN my affliction; you have KNOWN the distress of my soul, and you have not delivered me into the HAND of my enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. (31:5-8)

David commits to two actions in these verses: I trust in, and I will rejoice in.  In the midst of affliction and distress David chose to trust and rejoice in the LORD.

How do I most often respond?  Worry, complaining, discontentment, despair.  These are red flags that I am “paying regard to worthless idols;” that I am giving too much consideration or attention to temporal things.

David said, “I WILL REJOICE.”  He was determined and committed to trust and joy.  How is that possible when negative circumstances are pressing in on every side?  David was confident in God’s love for him, that God saw and knew his pain.  And God loves, sees, and knows us too.

In verse 5 David surrendered his spirit into God’s hand, and in verse 8 he accounted that God had not given him into his enemy’s hand.  When God holds our spirit, He won’t give it to anyone else.  David wrote, “You set my feet in a broad place.”It was a sure sign that trusting in God no matter what brought him freedom. The enemy’s hand closes around, traps and suffocates, but God’s hand is open and our spirits run free.

What am I placing my trust in?  If it’s not the Lord, it is an idol.

In what/whom am I seeking my joy?  If it’s not the steadfast love of God, it will eventually disappoint, entrap, or destroy me.

Because God’s love is steadfast, unfailing, never-ending, non-fluctuating; we always have a reason to rejoice and be glad.

Let that truth lead your heart to worship:

In death, in life, I’m confident and covered by the power of Your great love. My debt is paid. There’s nothing that can separate my heart from Your great love. Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me!

http://youtu.be/6_KXsMCJgBQ One Thing Remains by Jesus Culture

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