Putting God's Word into Practice…

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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Isaiah 5 ~ Wild Grapes

(For our ladies’ Bible study this week, we were supposed to spend time in Isaiah 1-6.  It has been a rich buffet of learning and conviction, indeed!)

Isaiah starts this passage with a beautiful song about His beloved God and the vineyard of the Lord.  He eloquently sings of the Lord hand digging the fertile soil, patiently preparing and planting the choice vines, and watching over them as they sprouted and grew.  When the time for harvest came, the Vinedresser expected a yield of sweet grapes that would be made into wine that would bring Him joy while blessing and sustaining others.  Instead He was met with wild grapes!  Grapes that grew as if they didn’t have a gardener!  Rebellious grapes!!  Sour grapes!!!  God always does His part in our lives–what we give back to Him is on us!  Are we wild and rebellious, going our own way instead of walking in the purposes He prepared for us?!  (Ephesians 2:10)

Isaiah then goes on to elaborate on the rebellious, wild “grapes” and why the Lord is angry with them?

  • They trust in and accumulate possessions (8-10).
  • They chase after pleasure, but refuse to see God’s works as good and pleasing (11-12).
  • They test and mock God (18-19).
  • They disregard His ways and commands (20).
  • They are wise in their own eyes (21).
  • They live for self-gratification and greed (22-23).
  • They reject His law and despise His Word (24).

Geez, those sinful, wicked people.  I’m sure glad I’m not like them…

(Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the story!!)

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1 John 1:5-10 ~ A Universal Solution for a Universal Problem

This is the message we have HEARD from him and PROCLAIM to you…

In verses 1-5 the words heard and proclaim are listed together three times.  As followers of Christ we have a two-part mission.  What would happen if the disciples of Jesus only heard him and didn’t proclaim him?  What would happen if we stopped proclaiming the truth we hear from God’s Word? To whom can I proclaim the truth today?

  • Psalm 96:2b says, “Each day proclaim the good news that He saves!”
  • Romans 10:13-14 says, “For EVERYONE who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

…that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. BUT if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from ALL sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. IF we confess our sins, HE IS FAITHFUL AND JUST to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

God is light!  He is radiant and pure; He exposes and extinguishes darkness; He illuminates our life’s path.  When we choose to live and move and act in the dark (in sinfulness), we break fellowship with him.  We may ask ourselves questions like: Why can’t I feel God?  Why isn’t He helping me?  Why doesn’t my life have any direction?  Why don’t I have any joy?  It may be because we are out of fellowship with God.  Choosing to walk in darkness has consequences.  Come back into the light!!

When we walk in the darkness, we deceive ourselves into thinking that our sins are hidden from God, or we rationalize that they are not really sins at all.  But sin is a universal problem–we all do it!  Sin is never hidden!  There is only one way to restore fellowship with God, our unity with others, and our complete joy–we must admit to our sins.  EVERY CONFESSED SIN RECEIVES FORGIVENESS AND REMOVAL!  God has provided a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins through the blood of His own Son!  He would never leave His created ones with a universal problem–that would be unloving.  He has provided the only universal solution to our sin–believing on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior!

God is faithful and just to take away EVERY sin and unrighteous action we confess–EVERY SINGLE ONE!  My husband gave an illustration at church once that has always stuck with me regarding this complete forgiveness that I would like to share:

Every once in a while we miss trash day or have an exorbitant amount of garbage.  We haul it all out to the curb and almost wince as we hear the garbage truck approaching.  (My husband was a garbage man for a short while, so he is extra sensitive!) Will they take it all?  Will they be angry with us?  But every single time, the garbage is all gone.  They don’t come to the door and question us as to how we accumulated so much trash.  They don’t see us peeking out the window and flip us the bird.  They don’t leave any behind just to spite us.  No questions–complete removal!  They are garbage men–it’s what they do!  God is faithful and just to forgive all sins–it’s what He does!

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1 Peter 4:12-19 Fiery Trials

As Christians we will suffer persecution and insults just like our Lord Jesus.  In America, those who stand firm in their faith on God’s promises and truths may be insulted, but there is little real persecution.  In other countries, however, followers of Jesus Christ are being killed every day for their unashamed faith.   In fact, I got a prayer email last week about an elder of a church in India who was praying for healing for a man.  The man quietly left the room and came back with a machete-like weapon and slit the church leaders throat while he prayed.  Along with the prayer request for this martyr’s family was a request to pray for his killer to know the forgiveness and grace of Jesus.  Wow!

Although this passage says to not be surprised by the fiery trials WHEN they come, surprisingly we are told to rejoice in those trials.  In Hebrews 12:2 we are told that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”  We can embrace suffering for Jesus with joy, when we know that someday we will see Him face-to-face, and He will reach out His nail-scarred hands and welcome us home to eternal rest in His presence.  Suffering here on earth is momentary in light of eternal joy in the presence of the Lord.

There are different kinds of suffering.  Suffering for the name of Jesus and suffering because of sin.  Most of the suffering in my life is a result of sin not because of my Savior.   There are no promises of God’s power resting on sinful suffering, no promises of joy and rejoicing, no promises of experiencing the faithfulness of God.  There are four specific sins listed in verse 15: murder, stealing, evil-doing and meddling.  The first three seem obvious, but the fourth one doesn’t even seem like a sin, does it?  Meddling–getting in other people’s business–is something many of us do on a daily basis!  And a lot of the conflict in our lives is because we have meddled in someone else’s!  This kind of suffering does not lead to joy, but is meant to lead us to brokenness so that we can repent and experience joy.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:19

God is faithful.  He allows suffering for a time for His purposes and ways.  He promises that when we suffer for His name that His glory and power rests on us and that we will receive blessing (vs. 14).  Psalm 139:16 tells us that God saw our unformed body while it was still in our mother’s womb, and that he had written every day of our lives in a book before one of them came to be.  God knows us, He sees us, He loves us, He has a plan for us, and He is not surprised by our suffering.  We can trust Him with our circumstances.  We can rejoice in our suffering because He is the Redeemer and Restorer of suffering.  We can continue to do good for His glory in the midst of suffering–it doesn’t have to paralyze us and steal our purpose.

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Philippians 1:12-18 Purposeful Adversity

When Paul was writing to the Philippian believers, he was in prison in Rome.  Have you ever been in prison or felt imprisoned?  Did you use that time purposefully?  Paul was single-minded in his imprisonment.  His goal was to proclaim Christ and spread the good news of salvation.  God allowed Paul to be effective even in prison.  We see in the end of the book that many in the household of Caesar became followers of Christ!  

Adverse circumstances can be used to advance the gospel.  Whether you find yourself at home with an illness, in a difficult work environment, at home with little children, in a retirement home, caring for elderly parents/spouse, or in prison; those can all be opportunities to point people to Jesus, to love people like Him and to pray for people.

During Paul’s imprisonment, more free men started to proclaim Christ with boldness–some with pure motives, some not.  It did not matter to Paul, the only thing he cared about was that the gospel was going forth!

It is so easy in our country to knit-pick pastors…to judge their hearts, to make assumptions!  I have been sucked into this very thing recently, and convicted. If Christ is proclaimed, then we ought to rejoice!

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Ephesians 2:1-10 Gifts that Keeps on Giving

I’ve noticed that there are generally two responses to overwhelmingly great gifts.  One is an “I don’t deserve this” guilt response and the other is abundant joy and gratitude.  Last Christmas after 17 years with our same Magnavox TV–we named her Maggie–our friends gave us a generous gift card to Best Buy to purchase our first flat screen, light weight, current century TV.  Which reaction do you think is more favorable for the giver to see?  How often do we think about the supernaturally generous gifts that God has offered to us?

WE WERE dead in our sins, living only for ourselves in the passions of our flesh and desires of our bodies and minds; BUT GOD sent His only Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins.  He is offering us a free gift of salvation.  He longs for us to experience the riches of His mercy and great love and the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness.

Is that my view of God?  Have I spent time thinking on His mercy, love, grace and kindness lately?

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this in not your own doing; IT IS A GIFT OF GOD, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

His grace AND our faith are the requirements for salvation and both are gifts from Him.  Did you catch that?  Our faith to believe comes from God. We cannot boast in our faith or in our works.  We boast only in the Lord because we bring nothing to the “salvation table.” No works will save us, nor any belief that we muster up on our own.  If that were the case, we could save ourselves and Jesus would never have had to die!  We would never experience His mercy, love, grace and kindness.

Grace and faith are just two of the gifts; God also gives us purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  

Good works do not lead to God and Heaven; but salvation by grace alone and through faith alone leads us to do good works.  Apart from God there is no “good;” there is only self! In Jesus Christ we have a bigger purpose. He created good works for us to do!

Am I walking in my purpose? Do I get up each morning seeking to do what God pre-planned for my life?

God’s overwhelming gifts to us are grace, mercy, love, kindness, salvation, and faith.  When we “open” those gifts do we respond rightly–with gratitude and joy?  Or do we scoff at and reject the gifts?  We can bless God in our response to His generous gifts.

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Ephesians 1:1-14 So Much to be Thankful For!

Paul was chosen by God’s will to minister to the believers in Ephesus.  He called the recipients of his letter “faithful.”  In Revelations 2:1-7 Jesus said that the Ephesians had a lot going for them.  They toiled for Christ.  They patiently endured, hated evil and tested false prophets, endured patiently and tirelessly for Jesus’ sake.  In a word, they were faithful.  Paul also knew something of this hard work and patient endurance, as he probably was writing to them from house arrest in Rome.

Today, I want my Thanksgiving 2012 focus to be on the truths found in verses 3-14.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us IN CHRIST with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us IN HIM before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us IN THE BELOVED.  IN HIM we have redemption through HIS BLOOD, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of HIS GRACE, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth IN CHRIST, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things IN HIM, things in heaven and things on earth.

IN HIM we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope IN CHRIST might be to the praise of his glory.  IN HIM you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed IN HIM, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

In addition to all the great promises found in those verses that can be claimed by all who believe in Jesus Christ, we also have the guarantee that all things in all times are working according to God’s perfect purposes and wise will.  Everything mentioned should fill our hearts with praise and glory for our great God.

I encourage you to take some time to thank your Savior today!  And if you don’t know Jesus, today could be your day!  Admit your sins, ask for His forgiveness and rest in His promises.

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2 Corinthians 1:1-11 God of ALL Comfort

A month ago, I spent 40 minutes typing a thorough blog post for the beginning of 2 Corinthians only to have the site “freeze” and lose the whole thing.  I didn’t have time to re-think and re-type it that morning and am going to type up my notes now before moving on to Galatians.  I believe that everything happens according to God’s plan–even computer freezes!  Maybe someone needs to be reminded of God’s comfort today more than they did a month ago.

2 Corinthians was a letter from Paul to the saints (holy and dedicated ones) on the peninsula of Achaia, specifically those in Corinth–the gateway city to Achaia.  Paul referred to himself as an “apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”  Paul did not choose this path for his life, but surrendered to God’s will.  He had written and visited Corinth in the past, yet there were still problems that needed attention.

Paul gave two names for God–names that we can cling to when we are in turmoil.  1. Father of mercies and 2. God of ALL comfort.

God comforts us in ALL our affliction so that we can comfort others with the comfort that we have experienced through Him.  Where suffering is abundant; comfort is abundant!  We cannot out-suffer God’s comfort.

Personal affliction has purpose when we recognize that it gives us an opportunity to help others.

  1. It brings salvation and comfort. (6)
  2. It enables us to testify to God’s deliverance. (10)
  3. It gives us a firm place to set our hope. (7)
  4. It allows us to support each other in prayer.  (11)
  5. It stirs up gratitude in many.  (11)  

Paul described their affliction as being “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”  Have you been there?  God allows those burdens into our lives to make us rely on Him and His strength.  We will never know more of His presence and power in our lives than when we lean on Him in our afflictions.  As we experience His strength in our suffering, it gives us hope for future suffering.  Hope is defined in the ESV Study Bible as, “absolute confidence in God’s promises for the future based on His faithfulness in the past.”

What/who are you turning to for comfort in your afflictions?  If it is not the God of ALL comfort, you will be left empty, disappointed and hopeless.  Let the God of ALL comfort, comfort you today.  If you have been comforted by God in affliction, share His comfort with someone else. This gives purpose to our struggles and a way to use them to help others.

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John 21 ~ Revelation and Restoration

Revelation.  John 21:1-14.  The disciples were not looking for Jesus to reveal Himself to them again.  They had gone home, dusted off their fishing equipment and set sail for the night.  But “Jesus revealed Himself” to them.

It says in verse 4, “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore.”  Understanding this as real time description, I also see spiritual significance in these words.  They remind me of the bridge in David Crowder’s song, Glory of it All.  “After night, comes the light, dawn is here, dawn is here, it’s a new day, it’s a new day, everything will change, things will never be the same, we will never be the same.” Jesus and the sunrise go together in Lamentations 3:23-24, too.  “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  The disciples needed a fresh reminder of the love, mercy and faithfulness of their Savior.

The disciples had gone out to the sea for peace, purpose and fulfillment but returned empty.  It was not until Jesus got involved, sent them out, and they obeyed that they found more fish than they could have imagined.  Jesus didn’t even need their fish; He was already cooking some up for breakfast.

Restoration. John 21:15-25.  In these verses we see some similarities to Peter’s denial of Jesus in chapter 18.  There was a charcoal fire (18:18, 21:9).  Peter denied Christ three times.  Here Peter admits his love and loyalty to Christ three times, and each is followed with a personal commission to Peter.  Loving Jesus and doing the work of Jesus go hand in hand.  It’s not enough to say we love Him, we must follow and obey.  We see that Jesus–the Shepherd from chapter 10–is passing on the baton to Peter.  He asked Peter to 1) feed MY lambs 2) tend MY sheep and 3) feed MY sheep.  Jesus was telling Him to take care of and feed the Word to the young and old–to make disciples.  The lambs/sheep don’t belong to Peter, they belong to Christ.  Knowing who the “lambs/sheep” belong to, changes how we treat them, don’t you think?

Right away Peter started to take His eyes off Christ and look at people.  That is such a common misstep in ministry.  It is so easy to move from following Christ and His plan for the ministry He has entrusted to me, to measuring and comparing that ministry with someone else’s.  That breeds discouragement and jealousy if their ministry appears to be going better while breeding self-righteousness and pride if theirs appears to be going worse.

Peter’s ministry started with the Lord’s call to, “Follow me” and ends with Jesus’ command to “follow me.”

Am I still following Jesus with my whole heart?  Am I measuring myself to His plan or to His plan for others?  Do I love Him enough to lay everything aside and take care of those He entrusts to me?  Am I trusting Him to “fill the net with fish” doing more in a moment than I could strive to do all night?  Am I trusting in Him alone to provide all I need to do His work?  Do I realize that the lambs and sheep belong to Him and not to me?

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Matthew 28-Life on Purpose

Easter is a special day.  Extra people come to church.  Little girls wear “Easter” dresses, while the boys wear new sweater-vests and ties.  The pastor shouts, “He is risen!”  And the congregation responds, “He is risen indeed!”  Then everyone goes home and hunts for eggs (In our family the boys’ grandma fills plastic eggs with money.), eats chocolate bunnies and Peeps, overloads on ham, and takes a nap.  HAPPY EASTER!

The resurrection is an everyday celebration of new life with power and purpose!  Jesus rose from the grave–He is alive!  That should change everything for how we live our lives!  We have victory over sin and death(1 Corinthians 15:57)!  We have the same power that raise Jesus from the dead living inside of us (Romans 8:11)!

Three times in this chapter we see the command to come and see, then go and tell.  In verses 6-7 the angel tells the women to come and see the empty tomb, then quickly go and tell the disciples.  Verses 9-10 tell of the women’s encounter with the risen Lord Jesus.  They came, saw and worshiped.  Then Jesus said “go and tell.” Once the disciples saw Jesus, He told them to go and tell the world.  The mission is for me too!  I have encountered the living Christ in my own life and He is telling me to quickly go and tell.  There is a real sense of urgency and enthusiasm in this chapter–there is quickness and running.  We have Someone powerful and life-giving to offer our hurting and hopeless world.  Hell is forever and people are going there everyday.  Our mission is ongoing until we see Him face-to-face.  But there is also a great promise that is a source of confidence, “Jesus is with us always (20).

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58

If you don’t know if you have hope, power and purpose in Jesus Christ; but you are longing for that Romans 10:9-11, 13 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (ruler of your life) and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified (made guiltless before God), and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame….everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

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