Putting God's Word into Practice…

Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 12:27-43)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 12:44-47)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a revived heart dance party!

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes from Nehemiah (Chapter 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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Deuteronomy 4:15-24 ~ Inevitable Idolatry

I’m finding that as I age, I am growing more forgetful.  I need more reminders and more lists to keep me on task.  Sometimes I’ll even say things like, “Honey, I’m putting my phone in this drawer. I’m telling you this so when I forget where I put it, you can remind me.”  My oldest son is ready to get his driving permit, and I keep saying, “Remind me to call the insurance company.”  I think that one I’m forgetting because I’m in denial.  Speaking of denial–

The Israelites were in slavery along de Nile, until the LORD supernaturally delivered them.  As time passed, it was easy for them to forget His power and ability to save.  In these 10 verses alone there are four warnings to them: “Watch yourself very carefully,” Beware!” (2x), and “Take care lest you forget.”  They were prone to forget the greatness of their God.  We, too, are prone to making idols of lesser things, to worship created things instead of the Creator, or to make God into an image we can accept.  We cry out for the tangible–something we can hold and on which we can fix our eyes.  Our tendency is to make the Holy into something common and the common into something Holy!  Whether we know it or not we are all looking for something/someone to worship and serve.

BUT THE LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20) God alone is the rescuer and deliverer.  He wants and deserves all of our affection, reverence, service and worship.  Verse 24 says, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”  He wants to burn up everything in us that is not of Him or for Him.  He wants to consume our hearts.  He requires our exclusive worship.  One definition of “jealous” that struck a chord in my heart is this:  fiercely protective of one’s possession.  If we belong to God because He rescued and delivered us from slavery to this world’s system, He wants our whole heart!

I love the way John puts it in 1 John 5:21:  Keep yourself from anything that might take God’s place in your heart.

Is there anything that is threatening to take God’s place in my heart?  Is there anything that I love and worship that isn’t God?  Is there any area of my heart that I don’t want His holiness to consume?

Here is a link to a great older song by Jeremy Camp to point our hearts to God in worship.  I pray that these words echo the desire of our hearts.  http://youtu.be/PuZ5wXnRCvQ

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Revelation 22:1-5 ~ Faith Made Sight

Have you ever seen a talk show or a news segment when someone who has been rescued from certain death is on, and the producer brings out the one who saved their life to meet face-to-face for the first time?  Everyone’s tears are flowing because of the fullness of joy and gratitude of the experience.  Now multiply that times a billion…The One who died to save our lives–the One who rescued us forever–WE WILL SEE HIS FACE!

Revelation means revealing or unveiling.  In the case of this book, it is the unveiling of Jesus!  John tries his best to describe Jesus in chapter one:  “…one like the son of man clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.  His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” (Revelation 1:13-16)  That description will just have to hold us over for now knowing that someday WE WILL SEE HIS FACE!!!

WE WILL SEE HIS FACE!  Our Rescuer!  Our Redeemer! Our Savior! And we will worship Him!!!

No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.  And THEY WILL SEE HIS FACE, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5)

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Revelation 19:1-10 ~ Worship God

Hallelujah ~ An expression (often spontaneous) of joy, thanks and praise to God; hallal (praise) Yah (Jehovah)

Revelation 17-18 foretells the destruction of this world system–labelled as a prostitute–and the vengeance poured out on those who trample the blood of Jesus and oppress His followers.  Revelation 19 is all of heaven’s response to this swift vindication and display of power.  They cry out, “Hallelujah!”

Worship and praise is the only proper response when we see God’s character and authority on display through His actions.  They worship Him for His salvation.  Those who follow Christ–who love and fear God–will be rescued/saved from judgment and destruction (vs. 1-2).  That is reason enough to worship!  In God’s judgment, His character is evident; He is just and true (vs. 1-2).  What He promises to do, He fulfills.  He is generous; He gives righteousness freely to all who come to Him (vs. 8) and then invites them in for a wondrous wedding reception in Heaven.  (No Macarena line dances there–just our own Personal Jesus!)

Based on John’s response to seeing the worship in Heaven, we see that we are made to worship but sometimes it can be misdirected.  We need a reminder to: “Worship God!”  He alone is worthy of our praise, joy and thanks.

So what can we learn about worship even now:

  1. Focus on God–keep Him central.  Fix our mind on His truth, His character, His power and authority.  He is seated on the throne–in the middle of heaven and our hearts!
  2. Join together!  John witnessed a “great multitude” worshipping God.  Sure, we can worship in our cars or at our kitchen sink, but the joy and power that is experienced in corporate worship can’t be beat!  Recently I attended a Jesus Culture concert and the unified worship of God was powerful!
  3. Be loud! Several references to the volume of worship in heaven are mentioned along with the praise being “cried out.”  God likes loud worship!
  4. It’s acceptable to “fall down” and worship.  Worship should make us feel small and bowing down is a tangible expression of our smallness in light of His greatness, our unworthiness in light of His holiness; our weakness in light of His strength; our humility in light of His honor.
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Revelation 15 ~ Just Wrath

It is difficult to read verses about God’s wrath.  We are prone to want to think only of His love, mercy and  grace.  But we are not a people who are content with love, mercy and grace.  We are zealous for justice.  We celebrate when justice is served and grumble when it is not (ie. Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson, George Zimmerman)  Therefore, we must also acknowledge God’s justice and His wrath.  We must have a balanced approach to His character.  The wonderful thing about God’s wrath is that it is not eternal.  Once it is completely spent; it will never be faced again.  When He says, “It is finished,” it is really finished (John 19:30, Revelation 15:1).

There are two injustices that God will right.  First, those who have experienced injustice at the hands of God-hating men see their oppressor’s destruction.  Second, those who dishonor, disrespect and devalue the sacrifice that Jesus made are defeated.  If God did not bring justice to His enemies, He would not be a righteous God.  God alone has authority and power and glory.  He alone is to be worshipped–not just for His grace but also for His justice.

Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed. (3-4)

Here is a great song that puts these words to music:  http://youtu.be/dJtseWTJCmY

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Revelation 14:1-13 ~ Three Messages

Verses 1-5. At the end of Revelation 12, we see Satan–the Dragon–standing on the sand of the sea.  When chapter 14 opens, we see the Lamb standing on Mount Zion!  Who do you think is going to be victorious–the one on sand or the One on the mountain???

Verses 6-7.  The first angel brings a message of mercy, a gospel of grace.  It is an unchanging, eternal message –the one Jesus taught, the apostle Paul proclaimed, and my husband preaches today!  It is all-inclusive for every nation, tribe, language and people.  The angel calls people to fear God (stand in awe, revere and respect, acknowledge His power and authority), to give Him glory (humbly declare His greatness, power and brilliance), and to worship the Creator (adore, praise, exult, thank and honor).

Verse 8.  Everything we believe in, hope in, love and worship that is not Jesus Christ WILL fall and be destroyed.  The things that seduce our affections from the One who loved us enough to die for us will be decimated.

Verses 9-13.  In the end, like now, people will worship and align with Satan or worship and align with God.  Physical evidence will prove the hearts of man–in this case a literal tattoo will affirm allegiance to the Beast.  Who we align with has two very different outcomes.  One will experience the wrath of God, eternal burning and no rest.  The other will experience eternal rest!  (Can you imagine an eternity without rest…I value rest, so I think the promise of having it eternally in the presence of God is awesome!)

It is the grace of God that gives us these warnings of future events.  He doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance and faith in Him.  We can choose today who we will worship and align our lives with!

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