Putting God's Word into Practice…

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 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 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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Deuteronomy 4:1-8 ~ Reason for Rules

There is a big push right now in understanding and receiving grace.  Sometimes that comes at the expense of holiness.  Although God’s grace is abounding and covers all our sins, there is still a call from the Lord Himself to holy living.  The gift of grace does not give us freedom to sin, but freedom to live to the glory of God.

  • God gave rules to His people so that we would know how someone who belongs to God should strive to live.  When Moses is giving instruction to the Israelites in this passage, he says over and over “hear them, do them, keep them.”  We don’t hear them, do them, keep them to earn our salvation but out of reverence for the Rule Maker.  Out of our love for Him and our knowledge that His rules are in our best interest, we want to honor Him.  It doesn’t affect how much He loves us, or whether we will get into heaven.
  • Obedience to God’s rules is a great testimony to those who have only heard about Him.  Living lives of holiness is what sets God’s children apart in an unholy culture.  Obedience points people to the purity and wisdom of God.
  • He also gave them to us to direct us to our need for Him to rescue us because we can’t keep all the rules.  For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him? (Deut. 4:7)  WHENEVER!!  Sin makes us feel separated from God, but as soon as we call upon Him, He draws near again.

Rules are only bad when our hope is in the rules and not in the Rule Maker.  Only the One who makes the rules has the authority to forgive the ones who break the rules.  WE ALL BREAK THE RULES!  We all need forgiveness.  Calling on the Lord, restores our fellowship and nearness with Him.  And to that I say, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the LORD GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73:28)

Be Near by Shane and Shane http://youtu.be/KdOi_GL0oEg

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1 Peter 1:22-2:3 ~ The Kindness of the Lord

…if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (2:3b)

Tasting the kindness of the Lord changes us!  In Romans 2:4 it says, “Or do you think lightly of His kindness, tolerance, and patience, not know that the kindness of God leads you to repentance.” And 2 Corinthians 7:10 says that “godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret.”  Salvation comes by way of repentance and repentance by way of sorrow over sin and sorrow over sin starts with recognizing the kindness of the Lord.  Everything good that we feel, have or experience comes from the kindness of the Lord.

So if we have tasted the kindness of the Lord, what should that produce in our lives?

  • Obedience to the truth (1:22)
  • Love one another earnestly from a pure heart (1:22)
  • Put away ALL malice and ALL deceit and hypocrisy and envy and ALL slander. (2:1)
  • Crave God’s pure Word for spiritual growth (2:2)

God is rich in kindness and He showers it on us! (Ephesians 1:7-8 NASB)  Psalm 145:17 says, “The Lord is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness.”  I encourage you to spend some time meditating on the kindness of the Lord today–let it change your outlook on life, change your actions, and maybe even lead to your salvation.

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1 John 5:2-3 ~ No Burdens

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. AND HIS COMMANDMENTS ARE NOT BURDENSOME.

John’s goal in writing this letter was to pave the way for Christ followers to live in fellowship with God, unity with each other, have complete joy, and avoid sin.  All these are met in obedience that flows out of love!

God’s commands are not burdensome–they don’t weigh us down; they lift us up!  The times I have felt the most joy and peace have been when I did things God’s way!  For example:

  • Exercising self-control vs. losing control–of my mouth, emotions, eating, etc…
  • Being protected by peace vs. worry/anxiety
  • Speaking encouraging uplifting words vs. negative, critical words/gossip
  • Practicing patience vs. anger
  • Letting love replace bitterness
  • Forgiving and apologizing rather than holding a grudge
  • Freely offering grace vs. being judgmental and self-righteous
  • Being generous instead of greedy
  • Recognizing my children as blessings not burdens
  • Yielding to leadership instead of being a control freak

These are all mini-commandments and come under the big umbrella commandment of “love.”  When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Neither loving the Lord wholeheartedly nor loving others unselfishly should ever feel like a burden.  If it does, it is not love, merely duty!  I had that happen this week.  Something came up, and I knew what the loving action would be, but I didn’t want to do it.  I did the action, but underneath was a sinful heart–and guess what?  The action felt like a burden–therefore, I know it was not done out of love!

God’s commandments are unchanging, and our obedience is required.  How we choose to view His commands and our obedience is up to us.  Will we let His commands bring us fellowship, joy, and freedom?  Or will we treat them like heavy, oppressive burdens that interfere with living “our” lives?



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1 John 3:20-22 Present Tense Purity and Prayer

For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and HE KNOWS EVERYTHING.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, WE HAVE confidence before God: and whatever WE ASK we receive from him, because WE KEEP his commandments and WE DO what pleases him. (20-22)

First, I’d like to clarify some thoughts on condemnation (being guilty of wrong and sentenced to punishment).  Those who belong to the Lord have finished with condemnation.   (Romans 8:1~ “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”) The moment that Christ’s forgiveness and grace washed over our sins we were made righteous before the Living God.  The wrath of God toward our sins has been satisfied by Christ’s finished work on the cross.  Jesus Christ took our guilt and our punishment.  He was condemned on our behalf.  God knows everything!  If our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus, and He has given to us His righteousness as our own–we are not condemned!

However, God also knows our hearts in each circumstance.  He knows whether our motives in giving and our words of love flow from a pure heart.   He knows if we are being obedient in doing all that He asks with all that He’s given to us.  Basically, we can’t fake God out with our actions…and we can’t pray to him with fake, selfish motives and boldly expect Him to give us what we want. Powerful praying requires purity!

Pure prayers require an inclination towards obedience and a submissive heart that longs to please the Lord.  All the verbs in the verses are present tense.   When we make a practice of love, obedience, and pleasing the Lord, our hearts are aligned with His and we can ask anything and trust we will receive it.  What a promise!!!

Lord, align my heart with yours.  I want to be a bold pray-er.  I want a heart set on obedience to your answer even if it is different from my will.  May your will be done in all I ask of you…specifically regarding my sons, my husband, the church, and my daily activities.

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1 Peter 1:1-2 Introduction ~ Be Encouraged

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.  I am writing to God’s CHOSEN people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.  God the Father KNEW YOU and CHOSE YOU long ago, and His Spirit has made you HOLY. As a result, you have OBEYED him and have been CLEANSED by the blood of Jesus Christ.  May God give you MORE AND MORE GRACE AND PEACE.

Peter, was a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ during His life on earth.  He got in trouble with his big mouth several times; and in Jesus’ time of deepest need, Peter even denied he knew Jesus.  He suffered from pride and selfishness–just like me!  And he needed Jesus’ forgiveness and grace–just like me!  After Jesus affirmed Peter’s commitment to the truth, He returned to heaven.  With the promise to build His church through Peter ringing in his ears (Matthew 16:18), Peter was filled with great boldness and set about the mission entrusted to him.

Peter was no stranger to persecution.  In Acts 4 we find Peter’s first overnight jail stay for healing a lame man in the name of Jesus.  His boldness in preaching in the name of Jesus led to a second arrest and imprisonment–followed by a miraculous escape (Acts 5).  And in Acts 12, we learn of his third arrest, imprisonment and supernatural release.  Peter’s faith ultimately culminated in His martyrdom around 67 A.D. under the rule of Nero.  Peter was crucified head downward out of respect for his Savior-Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone qualified to be writing to the confused, scattered and discouraged Christians under extreme persecution, it was Peter!

Peter started right off with a hope-filled reminder and greeting.  He reminded the Christians that God knew them, chose them, and made them holy!  WE CANNOT DO ANYTHING TO MAKE OURSELVES HOLY!!!  We can only be made clean by coming to the cross and humbly bowing to King Jesus.  A true view of our standing with God helps us endure suffering.  True obedience only flows out of the change He makes in us by the blood of Jesus.  If we forget the price of our holiness, obedience will not be our default action.

Not only do we need reminded of our hope in our salvation and our value in the eyes of God, we need His grace and peace in desperate and uncertain times.  How comforting to know that when asked, God gives “more and more grace and peace”–it is multiplied in our lives and over our circumstances!

  • Where do you need God’s grace and peace today?  May it be multiplied to you!
  • Discouraged, weary???  Remember that God knows you and has chosen you!
  • Feeling like you don’t measure up???? If God has made you holy, you are holy!
  • Lacking obedience to the Lord???  Be reminded of the price that was paid to make you holy–the blood of Jesus shed on a cross!!!
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James 4:6-12 Straightforward Application

These are some of my favorite verses because they are very straightforward–allowing no doubt about what God requires for fellowship with Him and growing in love for others.  The two greatest commandments are Love God and love people!   This is the “how-to” guide to living according to these commands.

But He gives more GRACE. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the HUMBLE.” SUBMIT YOURSELVES THEREFORE TO GOD. RESIST THE DEVIL, and he will flee from you. DRAW NEAR TO GOD, and he will draw near to you. CLEANSE YOUR HANDS, you sinners, and PURIFY YOUR HEARTS, you double-minded.  BE WRETCHED and mourn and weep. Let you laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  HUMBLE YOURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD, and he will exalt you.

DO NOT SPEAK EVIL AGAINST ONE ANOTHER, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.  But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge.  There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

This Sunday morning, while waiting for church to start.  I opened to these verses and meditated on them.  God showed me again that his grace is all I need, and the only way to obtain His grace is through humility before Him.  It took time and surrender, but I bowed before my King in that moment offering a prayer of submission to Him asking for openness to His Word during the service.  In drawing near to God, I experienced His presence like no other Sunday morning in a while.  The words of each song touched my soul and I was able to sing with full freedom, surrender and passion.  (We even sang “I Surrender All” which is the song that was being sung the day I gave my heart to Jesus nearly 14 years ago.  I was overwhelmed with His faithfulness to me!)  And the message from Revelation 1:9-20 left me in tears over the power and authority of my risen Savior who is reigning right now in power over the world, in the midst of His church and over my circumstances!  After the service, I experienced an increase of love and grace towards others as well.

God is faithful to His Word!  I encourage you to take the time to think through and act upon these verses.  You will experience the presence, grace and freedom of God!  He will draw near to you; He will give you grace; He will exalt you.

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Hebrews 13:16 Sacrifice of Action

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

“Do not neglect to do good.” Based on my computer’s thesaurus, neglect can be interchanged with the following: forsake, ignore, overlook, leave undone, pay no attention to… How often do I neglect to do good because it doesn’t fit in my daily agenda? Because I am so blinded by my wants that I overlook the needs of others? When I think quickly on the example of Jesus, He never neglected to do good. When he was tired and wanted to be alone to rest or pray, His compassion drove Him to meet the needs of those placed in His path. He allowed crucifixion for the salvation of mankind to make His daily agenda! When I think back over my days and weeks; are they a pleasing sacrifice TO GOD or to me?

“Do not neglect to…share what you have.” This verse does not say to share what you have excess of but WHAT YOU HAVE. It does not say to share with the “needy.” In fact it doesn’t specify whom to share with, implying any and everyone. It’s not about who we share with, but that WE share no matter how little or much we think we have. We can share our time, our possessions, and our abilities for they are not really ours, but God’s gifts to us to be used as He desires.

“For such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” To sacrifice means to surrender something as an offering to God; to give something of value up for the sake of something regarded as more valuable or worthy. Is God more valuable to me than “my” life and time? The number one sacrifice of all time is Jesus Christ laying down His life for the sake of others. If my soul is that valuable to Him, shouldn’t pleasing Him be of utmost value to me?

Jesus, Himself, said in Matthew 9:13, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Putting our faith into practice in our daily lives and dealings with others is far more pleasing to God than religious rituals.

This verse finishes like the last with “to God.” It is so hard to live my life to please God and not to please others. I can do good and share with the wrong motives. Is my good-doing and sharing about my glory or to please God? Do those actions flow out of love, gratitude and reverence for my Savior or out of need to be loved by others?

So much to think about today…

If you like piano-driven 70s music, I recommend this song by Keith Green:


but if you don’t like 70s music, here is a link to the lyrics. I can’t get them out of my head this week.


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