Putting God's Word into Practice…

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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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 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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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 8:1-12)

Wow!  What a beautiful example of real revival!

UNIFIED:  “And all the people gathered AS ONE MAN into the square before the Water Gate.” (8:1a)  

HUNGRY:  ‘And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel…And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand.” (8:1b,3a)  

ATTENTIVE:  “And the ears of ALL the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” (8:3b)

REVERENT:  “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people (on a wooden platform) and as he opened it ALL the people stood.” (8:5)

RESPONSIVE:  And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and ALL the people answered ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” (6)  They were so overwhelmed by the truth of God’s Word–so drawn into His presence–that nothing else mattered except humbly bowing in awe!  No manipulation, no formulas, no man-made eloquence–just God’s Word read and explained.

REPENTANT:  “‘This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For ALL the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” (8:9b)  God’s Word brings brokenness–a recognition that He is holy and we are not.  It exposes the areas where we are falling short.  It breaks our hearts over sin.

REVIVED:  “‘And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’ And ALL the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make GREAT REJOICING, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” (8:10b-12)  Rejoicing is the natural outflow of a clean heart!

What if we approached God’s Word like that all the time on Sunday mornings (or Saturday nights)?  What if we viewed it as time set apart as holy to the Lord?  What if we gathered as “one man?”  What if we were excitedly asking for the Word to be read to us?  What if we were all attentive to each word for as long as the pastor read and explained?  What if we were moved by the truth–not holding back the “Amens” and humble worship?  What if we allowed God’s truth to move us to repentance and revival?  All of us in all of our churches in all of the world…IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE!  It starts with ME!  Lord, unite my heart to fear Your name; move my heart to long for your pure truth; humble my heart to respond to Your Word–let it have full authority over my life; revive my heart so that it is overflowing with joy and rejoicing.

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 7)

I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. (7:2)  Nehemiah delegated roles and responsibilities.  He knew he couldn’t do everything and that he needed to return to his post as cupbearer to King Artexerxes.  When he looked for a leader for God’s people, he chose ones who stood out as faithful and God-fearing.  It is interesting to me too that he chose his brother.  Those closest to us know us best, so for Nehemiah to find his brother worthy of this responsibility says a lot about Hanani.

Why does faithfulness and fearing the Lord matter for a leader?

  • Because sometimes leaders have to take a stand for holiness at the risk of upsetting people.  God’s standards must navigate all decisions.  The fear of God, not the fear of man, must rule a leader’s heart. (7:61-65)
  • Leaders set an example of generosity.  They cannot expect people to give to the Lord’s work when they themselves don’t make it a priority.  Leaders are givers, not takers. (7:70-72)

Is my faithfulness to God and my fear of God evident–to my family, to my church, to my community?  Do those characteristics define my life?  Lord, make it so!

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 6)

Opposition is common to mankind.  The part of devil’s advocate is played in most robust discussions.   There will always be nay-sayers, and dream-destroyers.  Someone will usually come through with as many “what ifs” as they can muster.  It is par for the course, especially when we have a job to do for the Lord and His enemy gets agitated.  Opposition can come at us from outside sources and from those close to us.  I remember when God called Brad and I to sell our business and belongings to go to Chicago for Bible college.  Many people tried to dissuade us–non-Christians and Christians alike.  But we went and God miraculously helped us through those few years.  Then when God asked us to move to start a church–but did not disclose the location yet–we said “yes” and the critics and doubters came out.  When church planting was more challenging and moved more slowly than we pictured, opposition reared its head again.  By God’s grace and power, we have pressed on and seen Him do amazing things!

Nehemiah 6:1-9.  Outside opposition.  Fears, rumors and lies are all tools of Satan to stop the Lord’s work.  If we listen to and think about them, they are capable of weakening us and halting the work.  But if we look to God, He will strengthen us to continue. “For they wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” (vs. 9)

Nehemiah 6:10-14. Inside Opposition.  Traitors, fear-mongers, false prophets, and godless planners all threaten the Lord’s work too.  We need to be careful who we listen to.  Fear planted in our hearts gives birth to disobedience and sin.  We need to always listen to God always act in faith.

Nehemiah 6:17-19. Relentless Opposition.  Even once the wall was finished, the threats kept coming against Nehemiah from his enemies.  The battle is constant until our mission on earth is complete.  The fiery arrows of the evil one are incessant. We must never let down our guard.

Nehemiah 6:15-16.  God’s Position.  God is for us!  He is our Helper!  His supernatural power allows those in His service to press on and to finish strong.  He is greater than our most fearsome adversary. He humiliates our enemies for His name’s sake. “So on October 2 the wall was finished–just 52 days after we had begun.  When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done withe help of our God.”

Opposition is common to mankind.  The part of devil’s advocate is played in most robust discussions.   There will always be nay-sayers, and dream-destroyers.  Someone will usually come through with as many “what ifs” as they can muster.  It is par for the course, especially when we have a job to do for the Lord and His enemy gets agitated.  Opposition can come at us from outside sources and from those close to us.  I remember when God called Brad and I to sell our business and belongings to go to Chicago for Bible college.  Many people tried to dissuade us–non-Christians and Christians alike.  But we went and God miraculously helped us through those few years.  Then when God asked us to move to start a church–but did not disclose the location yet–we said “yes” and the critics and doubters came out of the woodwork.  When church planting was more challenging and moved more slowly than we pictured, opposition reared its head again.  By God’s grace and power, we have pressed on and seen Him do amazing things!  All glory to Him forever.

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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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