Taking Time to Celebrate

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

My selection: Nehemiah 12:43

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

My reflections: Care was taken to dedicate the wall and to give thanks to the Lord for His strength and blessing which allowed the work to be completed. All of the people were invited and many were given responsibilities for the sacrifices and the music. Men and women, boys and girls of all ages were included. This was a time of joy that came from God and was lifted up to God. What a happy moment this must have been as “the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”

My challenge: It is wise and good to take time to celebrate the achievements accomplished by God’s providence. God has built one day in seven into our lives for the purpose of giving thanks and worship to Him. Do you review His blessings and celebrate His goodness to you regularly?

Beware of rushing through life pursuing one goal after another with no thought of praising and thanking God. Stop and praise Him now for successful projects accomplished and goals achieved.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 13:1-Esther 3:15

The (Often) Missing Element in Prayer

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 7:73-10:39

My selection: Nehemiah 9:1-2

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

My reflections: Here is a notable example of God’s people confessing their sins corporately in worship before the Lord. Notice that they do not merely gloss over their sins but go into thorough detail about their own sins and the sins of their nation down through the years.

There is a well-known acrostic for prayer: A-C-T-S. It stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Yet as popular and widely known as this acrostic is, I wonder if there is a not a lack of serious confession of sin by believers today.

In public and private prayer, confession should not be hurried or minimized but neither should specific requests for forgiveness and assurances of forgiveness based on the Word of God.

Old Testament believers knew that they needed to confess their sins and that their forgiveness depended on the Messiah who was still to come. How much better is our hope, no longer based on a future atonement but on the offering of Jesus Christ for the sins of His people.

My challenge: Be sure to take regular time to confess sin, ask forgiveness and be reminded that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” Ephesians 1:7.

It gives God joy to forgive you for Christ’s sake, fellow Christian, so may the joy of the Lord be your strength.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 11:1-12:47

Work Done with the Help of God

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 5:1-7:72

My selection: Nehemiah 6:15-16

15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

My reflections: The wall was finished in 52 days. The enemies were stunned, afraid, and humbled. Not just because the people had worked so hard and so well, but because they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of their God.

There was no other way to explain this feat. None of the things the enemies had said were true. None of their opposition had been effective. God had been with His people.

Jesus told His disciples, ” …let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16. In the case of Nehemiah, even his enemies had to admit that God had helped them. Even his enemies had to, in a sense, give glory to God for the finished wall of Jerusalem.

My challenge: What seemingly impossible task has God called you to do? Are you trusting Him to overcome obstacles and for the success of it? Is your desire that He be glorified in its accomplishment?

Approach your impossible task today in His strength, with His help, and for His glory.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 7:73-10:39

Exemplary Leadership

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 1:1-4:23

My selection: Nehemiah 4:20

In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

My reflections: Nehemiah is one of the finest examples of leadership ever known. Here are three essential attributes, for all leaders, which he modeled well:

1. Faith. He sought God’s direction from the very beginning of his project. His prayers are mentioned several times. He believed God that the work would be done and he instilled confidence in God in all who worked with him. In the face of frustrating work and fierce opposition he proclaimed, “Our God will fight for us.”

2. Wisdom. He wisely and carefully took steps to get official permission from the Persian king, Artaxerxes, for his project. He gathered information secretly before announcing his plans to the people of Jerusalem. He got good intelligence on what his enemies were up to so that they could not surprise him. He organized the workers on the wall so that all the groups could progress simultaneously without getting in each others’ way. He armed the workers so that they could change roles from workers to soldiers, if needed, at a moment’s notice. He developed a simple communication system and informed all those involved as to how it worked.

3. Courage. In the face of obstacles from the work and the enemies he remained undaunted. His trust was in the Lord but he worked with the understanding that God works through means, often His people, to accomplish His plans. As the old saying goes, “pray as if it all depends on God; work as if it all depends on you.”

My challenge: Do you have a leadership responsibility in some sphere of your life? Are these three attributes evident to those who look to you for leadership? Take time to think about how faith, wisdom, and courage in your role as a leader will bring glory to God. After all, it is about His glory.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 5:1-7:72

The Importance of Marrying in the Lord

Today’s reading: Ezra 8:1-10:44

My selection: Ezra 10:9-11

9 Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

My reflections:  As Ezra led the captive people of Judah and Israel back to Jerusalem and to the restoration of worship of the true God, he discovered that many of them, even the priests, had taken foreign wives. He gathered them together in the midst of a heavy downpour and exhorted them to repent and separate themselves from their foreign wives to avert the wrath of God.

This prohibition of marrying with foreigners did not include those who converted to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g. Rahab and Ruth were included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ) but it did include pagan wives who would turn the hearts of their husbands away from the Lord. Solomon was a prime example of how this could happen (1 Kings 11). Nor were women of Israel free to marry pagan men.

The choice of a marriage partner largely determines the spiritual and theological direction of one’s life. This is why so much emphasis is made on “marrying in the Lord” and not being “unequally yoked with unbelievers”. [See 1 Co. 7; 2 Co. 6:14-7:1]. Certainly many Christians have married unbelievers and have learned the bitter truth that this is a foolish decision which follows them all their lives. It is not an unforgiveable sin, but it is a dangerous road to take which makes it difficult to grow and serve the Lord and to raise godly children. It sometimes results in the unbeliever coming to faith but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Often it results in the believing spouse either renouncing the faith or being restricted in his or her growth and service for Jesus Christ.

My challenge: If you have married an unbeliever, you must seek to win that one to the Lord. [I Peter 3:1-7] If he or she is willing to live with you, you must make the best of that marriage. [I Co. 7:12-16]. If you have not yet married, pray for the grace to remain single unless and until God leads you to a godly spouse.

If you are married to a Christian and you are growing in love and knowledge of the Lord together, then give thanks to God for that. Be sure to encourage your spouse to seek God and to serve Him all the days of your life together.

Tomorrow’s reading: Nehemiah 1:1-4:23

God’s Sovereignty over Kings

Today’s reading: Ezra 4:1-7:28

My selection: Ezra 6:22

And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

My reflections:

Here is an example of the well known proverb.  The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;  he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1

My challenge: If we believe this, we should reflect our confidence through prayer for the king (or president) rather than complaining about him. Whether he knows it or not, he is God’s servant for our good (Romans 13:4). God will deal with him if he fails to fulfill his mandate as servant. Stop complaining. Start praying.

Tomorrow’s reading: Ezra 8:1-10:44

Weeping and Shouting

Today’s reading: Ezra 2:1-3:13

My selection: Ezra 3:11-13

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, 

“ For he is good,  for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.

My reflections: When Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon, he, though presumably not a believer, was moved by God to send the captives of Judah back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The return was carried out under Zerubbabel. The returnees soon rebult the altar and began making sacrifices.

Not long afterward, they set about to rebuild the temple itself. When the temple foundation was laid the people lifted up their praises to God. But there were among them some old men who had seen the original temple. When they saw the new foundation, they wept. These elders wept because they realized that the new temple would be nothing in comparison to the old. [You can read Haggai 2 to find out how the Lord comforted these weeping senior saints.]

In this world, hope is always mixed with disappointment. At the rebuilding of the temple, some rejoiced and some wept. Both were right in their response because it was a hopeful day and yet a sad day. It was sin that brought down the first temple, a sad thing. But that new temple would one day see the Messiah come and declare to the Jews that He was the true temple of His people, a temple that would endure for eternity. (John 2:18-22)

My challenge: The earthly temple in Jerusalem is gone but that is all right. The true High Priest has entered into the heavenly temple with a perfect sacrifice for sin [Hebrews 9:24]. Bring yourself, corrupted and hopelessly stained by sin, to Him and be forgiven.

Maybe you too will weep and shout alternately.

Tomorrow’s reading: Ezra 4:1-7:28

Missing the Obvious

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 35:1-Ezra 1:11

My selection: II Chronicles 36:15-16

15 The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

My reflections: As Judah went into decline, wickedness was coupled with political instability brought by the powerful forces of Egypt and Babylon. Yet God continued to send prophets to call His people to repentance. The nation, despite its troubles, could not see God’s compassion on them. They completely missed the obvious of what was happening to them and why God was continuing to give them His message. Instead they mocked His messengers, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets.

Then came the wrath of God against His people in greater fury than ever and they were destroyed. Many lives were lost. Survivors were taken captive. Jerusalem was in ruins, and the temple was brought down.

As my friend and former senior pastor, Fred Greco, says “Sin makes you stupid.” Indeed, those who rebel against God do not become wise but show a spiritual blindness that would be baffling if we did not know that it is Satan who blinds their eyes. “… In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” 2 Co. 4:4.

My challenge: Do not be deceived by our wicked enemy, Satan. Reject his lie. Pray that God may give you faith to see and receive the truth.

Tomorrow’s reading: Ezra 2:1-3:13

Starting well, ending badly; Starting poorly, ending well

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 32:1-34:33

My selection: II Chronicles 32:25

But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem.

My reflections: Hezekiah started extremely well but ended poorly. His heart grew proud at the end of his life and the wrath of God was upon him and the kingdom. On the contrary, his son, Manasseh started as one of the most evil kings in the history of Judah but responded positively to the Lord’s discipline (see 33:1ff).

A good start doesn’t guarantee a good finish. A bad start doesn’t rule out a good finish.

Paul warned the Corinthians about becoming over confident in their spiritual achievements and victories. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12)

My challenge: The battle is severe and long. Be faithful and watchful to the end knowing that our enemy, Satan, will never stop seeking to distract, discourage, and devour us. Start well and end well, but if you already know you have started poorly (and you have because you are a sinner), turn to Christ in faith and repentance. He cleanses repentant sinners and equips them to serve Him for a strong finish in this life (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but beware of pride. You stand, accepted, before God by Christ’s righteousness alone.

Tomorrow’s reading: 2 Chronicles 35:1-Ezra 1:11

Wholehearted Service

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 29:1-31:21

My selection: 2 Chronicles 31:20-21

20 Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. 21 And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.

My reflections: Hezekiah systematically led the nation to a revival of the proper worship of God. He began by having the temple cleaned up (I hate to think what is meant by “filth” in the temple), reinstating worship and sacrifices and holding the Passover feast at the designated time. Furthermore, he invited the people of Israel who had neglected the temple and the Passover for so many generations. While many mocked his invitation, the ones who came and joined in were deeply moved so that they later went about tearing down the idolatrous high places in both Judah and Israel.

All this points to a man who did his work with all his heart. He obeyed the law, he sought his God, he did it with all his heart and he prospered.

My challenge: What does it look like in your life to serve God according to His commandments with all your heart? Is there room for improvement in your attitude? Do you serve joyfully and diligently? Does your service move others to serve or do you just follow along waiting for someone else to take the leadership?

You are not a king but, as far as you can in your sphere of influence, be like Hezekiah. Set an example of wholeheartedness in serving the Lord.

Tomorrow’s reading: 2 Chronicles 32:1-34:33