His Life Brought Light

Today’s Reading: John 1:1-18

Jesus.
My Savior, my Redeemer, my LIFE.
Jesus.
My Counselor, my Comforter, my LIGHT.
Jesus.
My King, my Best Friend, my LOVE.
Jesus.

Now that we have completed the Old Testament and studied the prophecies of the Messiah, it is time to look at the life of Christ. As we start our study of the gospels, I pray that the Spirit reveals something new to each one of us and increases our understanding of our Savior’s love for us.

Life, light and love – three powerful words that describe the difference Jesus Christ makes in our life. These three gifts from God are made possible by the presence of Christ in our life, the presence of the Word.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave LIFE to everything that was created, and his life brought LIGHT to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
– John 1:1-5

Jesus gives us LIFE.

He was there in the beginning when life was created. In fact, all life was created through Him because He is the One who gave life to everything that was created. We would not be here, we would not experience physical life, if it were not for Jesus – the Word. But we would also not experience a rebirth or a second gift of life if it were not for Him.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13

Jesus gives us LIGHT.

Just as God spoke light into existence at creation, Jesus brought light when he came into the very world he created. Jesus – the true light – came into a world that had been darkened by sin in order to cast His light into the world He created.

…His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it…The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. – John 1:4-5,9

Jesus gives us LOVE.

When He entered the world of darkness full of unfailing love and faithfulness, He gave us blessing after blessing from the abundance of His love. Before this time, God’s people had experienced the love of their Creator who had faithfully cared for them but it was through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, that God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came down so close you could see it!

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing LOVE and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son…
From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
– John 1:14,16-18

LIFE, LIGHT & LOVE – we will experience all three of these today but it is our choice whether or not we acknowledge the presence of these gifts in our life. Today I can choose to recognize God’s blessings in my life that overflow from the abundance of His unfailing love and faithfulness, or I can focus on the loud cries of the darkness that try hard to extinguish this gift of life.

Jesus came into the world He created and they rejected Him, but all who believed Him and accepted Him were given the right to become children of God (v.10-12). I am a child of God! I have been given life, which brought light into the darkness I was living in, and today I will see God in every blessing He has abundantly allowed to overflow into my life out of His great love!

Was It Really For Me?

Today’s Reading: Malachi

A QUESTION OF RESPONSIBILITY

Do you ever question why we have some of our traditions or why we do the same things year after year? Is it my responsibility to carry on these traditions? After God’s people returned to Jerusalem, they asked the question: “Should we continue to mourn and fast each summer on the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, as we have done for so many years?”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me this message in reply: “Say to all your people and your priests, ‘During these seventy years of exile, when you fasted and mourned in the summer and in early autumn, was it really for me that you were fasting? And even now in your holy festivals, aren’t you eating and drinking just to please yourselves?” – Zechariah 7:3-6

A QUESTION OF SINCERITY

A question of responsibility was answered by a question of sincerity. The heart of God’s people was being exposed. I have to admit I feel a little exposed as well. How often do we go through the motions on a Sunday Morning? Has the worship become more about what pleases us or are we sincerely offering our praise to God so that He will be pleased? How often do religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter become more about family traditions, food and gifts than about God? Do we have a routine of going to church and participating in church social activities, or do we have a growing relationship with Christ?

The prophet Malachi also spoke of the tendency of God’s people to offer less than their best to God – to sacrifice for the sake of fulfilling a ritual instead of making a true sacrifice of the heart.

A QUESTION OF SACRIFICE

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name!
But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’
You have shown contempt by offering defiled sacrifices on my altar.
Then you ask, ‘How have we defiled the sacrifices?’
You defile them by saying the altar of the Lord deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“Go ahead, beg God to be merciful to you! But when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?” asks the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that theses worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and I will not accept your offerings… – Malachi 1:6-10

Our sacrifices and offerings to God are defiled when we give less than our best, less than He requires of us. He wants us to give from our heart, genuinely showing our love and faithfulness. He wants us to give to please Him and not to please ourselves, or to satisfy the minimum requirement of being a member of a congregation.

A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES

Malachi also speaks of how unconfessed sin can stand in the way of God accepting our worship – again pleasing ourselves instead of obeying God to please Him:

Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altars with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. – Malachi 2:13-14

These blocks to our sacrifice and worship involve loyalty – putting God first includes the vows we made before Him, whether that’s marriage or anything else we have promised to do. God wants us to put Him first and to give Him first place in our lives. If we pour out ourselves to God, He will pour out blessings on us.

“Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
“But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’
Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
– Malachi 3:7b-12

SINCERITY – Are we going through the motions of our Christian walk or are we sincerely following Him?
QUALITY – Are we giving our best or doing our best with what God has entrusted to us? Are we hanging on tight to it or do we live as if everything we have comes from Him and belongs to Him?
LOYALTY – Are we committed to God? Are we faithfully following through on all we have promised before God and to God?

Lord, open our eyes to the areas of our life where we are cheating you, and therefore cheating ourselves of your blessings. Lord, open the windows of heaven for us. Pour out a blessing so great we will not have enough room to take it in! Lord, bless us with your presence today and reveal where we have lost our spiritual fervor. Give us the desires of your heart and help us to see what you see. We love you, Lord – sincerely, giving our best to you, and remaining forever committed to who you have called us to be. Everything we do, we long to do for you and not just to please ourselves. Amen.

Today wraps up the last book in the Old Testament. Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Scriptures, starting at Genesis in January and ending in Malachi in May. Tomorrow I will start going through the New Testament in what is believed to be chronological order. I hope you will join me each morning as I start my day with the word of God and a hot cup of my morning coffee.

When Your Joy is Dry

Today’s Reading: Joel, Psalm 42

Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation. – Joel 1:3

This hard time that you are going through, this time of loss and mourning over what you used to have, pay attention for this is a time you need to tell your children about and they need to tell their children. For generations, your children will have these stories to share with their children – times when the Lord has provided and brought you out of the valley of trouble. These stories of God’s provision will provide a gateway of hope for future generations, when they find themselves going through a difficult time (Hosea 2:15).

The grapevines have dried up, and the fig trees have withered. The pomegranate trees, palm trees, and apple trees – all the fruit trees – have dried up. And the people’s joy has dried up with them. – Joel 1:12

At times, everything that has sustained you and all that has given you pleasure will be taken from you. It will dry up and with it your joy. You will begin to wonder, “Is God really a merciful and loving God? Am I being punished for something?” God responds to your need for answers and confirms His identity to you. He instructs you on how to respond to this difficult time – this time of uncertainty.

Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Bring the leaders and all the people of the land into the Temple of the Lord your God, and cry out to him there. – Joel 1:14

This is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of a curse. Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine to the Lord your God as before. – Joel 2:12-14

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!
Now I am deeply discouraged, BUT I WILL REMEMBER YOU…
each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.
– Psalm 42:5-8

God confirms who He is. Look back at all He has done for you over the years. REMEMBER HIS FAITHFULNESS to you and know with confidence that He has more blessings to pour into your life.

Surely the Lord has done great things! Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things. Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field, for the wilderness pastures will soon be green. The trees will again be filled with fruit; fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more. Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem! Rejoice in the Lord your God! For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness. Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring. The threshing floor will again be piled high with grain, and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil.

The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you. Once again you will have all the food you want and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you. – Joel 2:20b-26a

God is in the middle of all of this. None of this has caught Him by surprise. REMEMBER HIS FAITHFULNESS and trust that He has great plans for your future, that your joy will not be dry forever but that you will rejoice again in how your God has provided during a difficult time. You will have a story of God’s provision and His redemption to tell your children and your children’s children.

Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
and your wonderful miracles.
Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue;
I will proclaim your greatness.
Everyone will SHARE THE STORY of your wonderful goodness;
they will sing with joy about your righteousness.
– Psalm 145:4-7

Remember His faithfulness and pass the stories down from generation to generation.

What is Your Story?

Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 8-13, Psalm 107 & 135

The book of Nehemiah always brings my thoughts back to a book written by Bill Hybels, Just Walk Across the Room. In this book, he speaks of how important it is for us to take time to think through our story and be prepared to tell it as it fits into God’s greater story. What is your before and what is your after? What journey has God brought you on and how does that affect the way you live your life today?

Over and over again in the Old Testament, a prophet would gather the people of Israel together and review their story once more. This was often at a time of confession and repentance – a time of re-entering a covenant with God. Nehemiah retells the story of God’s people in a beautiful way in chapter nine. Retelling the story reminded them of how wonderful and full of grace God is. It reminded them of where pride and stubborn hearts had led them in previous years – how God had forgiven them time and time again, providing for them and blessing them abundantly.

“May your glorious name be praised! May it be exalted above all blessing and praise!
You alone are the Lord. You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you.
You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham. When he had proved himself faithful, you made a covenant with him…And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your word.

“You saw the misery of our ancestors in Egypt and you heard their cries from beside the Red Sea. You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharoah…You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten. You divided the sea for your people so they could walk through on dry land!…You led our ancestors by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so that they could find their way.

“You came down at Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and instructions…And you commanded them, through Moses your servant, to obey all your commands, decrees and instructions.

“You gave them bread from heaven when they were hungry and water from the rock when they were thirsty. You commanded them to go and take possession of the land you had sworn to give them.

“But our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands…But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them, even when they made an idol shaped like a calf…In your great mercy, you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness…You made their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and brought them into the land you had promised their ancestors.

“They went in and took possession of the land. You subdued whole nations before them…Our ancestors captured fortified cities and fertile land. They took over houses full of good things, with cisterns already dug and vineyards and olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate until they were full and grew fat and enjoyed themselves in all your blessings.

“But DESPITE ALL THIS, they were disobedient and rebelled against the Lord…But in their time of trouble they cried out to you, and you heard them from heaven. In your great mercy, you sent them liberators who rescued them from their enemies…

“You warned them to return to your Law, but they became proud and obstinate and disobeyed your commands…In your love, you were patient with them for many years…What a gracious and merciful God you are!… – Nehemiah 9:5-31

Then God’s people said, “In view of all this, we are making a solemn promise and putting it in writing…” (9:38) They were recognizing that they deserved all of the punishment they had received and yet God had forgiven them over and over again. They were once more making a covenant with God – a covenant full of written promises to obey the Law of God and God’s commands.

If we were to write out our stories today, what would they say? My story would include several of the same elements of the prayer told in Nehemiah: praise to God, recognition of His generosity and blessings, confession of my own tendency to be prideful and stubborn, stories of God’s forgiveness and grace, testimony of God’s provision and second chances, and promises to put God first in my life. I never want to forget what God has done for me. I want to learn from my past mistakes in order to not repeat my errors, but instead grow stronger in my walk.

What has God commanded me to do? Have I done it? I want to be reminded of God’s instructions to me over the years. I want to look back at old prayer requests and see how God has answered those prayers. May God’s faithfulness always be a reminder and a stimulant to the growth of my own faith. May time in His presence stimulate my spiritual growth much more than the caffeine in my morning coffee.

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: God is saying to His people, “You are not in love with Me now, but I remember a time when you were.” He says, “I remember…the love of your betrothal…” (Jeremiah 2:2). Am I as filled to overflowing with love for Jesus as I was in the beginning, when I went out of my way to prove my devotion to Him? Is that where I am now, or have I chosen man’s wisdom over true love for Him?…

In view of all this, I am making a solemn promise and putting it in writing…

Nehemiah Leadership 201

Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 1-7, Psalm 129 & 132

Ezra and Nehemiah’s stories are quite similar. While Ezra was now in Jerusalem teaching the people and unifying them in repentance, Nehemiah was still back in Persia serving as the cupbearer to the king. When news arrived that the Jews in Jerusalem were experiencing opposition, he mourned on their behalf. The Temple had been rebuilt in the midst of the opposition but the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down and the gates had been burned. There would be no protection for the city without the walls.

IT WAS THE DESIRE OF NEHEMIAH’S HEART TO GO TO JERUSALEM TO HELP THE PEOPLE REBUILD THE WALLS, SO HE PRAYED FOR GOD TO GIVE HIM THE DESIRE OF HIS HEART.

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you…O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” – Nehemiah 1:5-6,11

As we learn in the book of Esther, no one can approach the king of Persia with a request without first being invited into a conversation. Nehemiah would be in the presence of the king as his cupbearer but could not ask for permission to travel to Jerusalem without the king first speaking to him. But Nehemiah was a servant. An intervention of God was needed in order for Nehemiah to have the opportunity he wanted. God saw the desire of Nehemiah’s heart to serve his people and faithfully answered his prayer. The king noticed that Nehemiah had a heavy heart and asked him if he was troubled, giving Nehemiah the opportunity to ask for some time off to return to Jerusalem. Again, just like Ezra, the king granted his request generously because the gracious hand of God was on him (Nehemiah 2:8).

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he inspected the condition of what was left of the walls. He went back to the Jewish leaders and said:

“You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.
They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.
– Nehemiah 2:17-18

NEHEMIAH SAW A NEED, PRAYED FOR THE NEED AND THEN ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE PART OF THE ANSWER TO THAT PRAYER.

Now that’s leadership! Nehemiah sets a great example for us. That last part is where we sometimes miss out on an opportunity to be used by God. Nehemiah saw God’s movement, recognized that the gracious hand of God was on him and testified to the rest of his people of God’s faithfulness. His bold requests, his intercessory heart and his testimony of God’s grace are what gave the people courage and inspiration to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, starting with its walls.

Now things did not go easily as they rebuilt the walls. They faced opposition. The people would mock, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!” (Neh. 4:3) Their response was to pray but eventually they became discouraged. Day after day they heard the voice of defeat saying that it could not be done and they began to listen to that voice. “The workers are getting tired, and there is so much rubble to be moved. We will never be able to build the wall by ourselves” (Neh. 4:10).

NEHEMIAH CHOSE TO DROWN OUT THE VOICE OF DEFEAT AND STAY FOCUSED ON THE TASK GOD HAD CALLED HIM TO.

Nehemiah had to do the same thing that we have to do daily – he had to DROWN OUT the voice of defeat! “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” – Neh. 4:14

After this, they changed their plan. While half the men worked, the other half would stand armed with swords against the attacks. Some of the laborers used one hand to support the load while the other hand held a weapon. They carried their weapons with them at all times!

We have the same weapon against the voice of defeat and opposition to God’s work – God has given us the same armor to protect ourselves and stand strong!

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body of armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. – Ephesians 6:10-18

Father God, help us to be more like Ezra and Nehemiah – seeing a need and being willing to be part of the answer to that need. And when things get tough, when we face opposition, clothe us with your armor and give us the faith needed to drown out the voice of defeat. We love you, Lord. Amen.

Ezra Leadership 101

Today’s Reading: Ezra 7- 10, Psalm 25

Who is this Ezra? Here are a few of my thoughts on the lifestyle and essence of Ezra.

This Ezra was a scribe who was well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel had given to the people of Israel. He came up to Jerusalem from Babylon, and the king gave him everything he asked for, because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him…This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel. – Ezra 7:6,10

Ezra was a student of the word of God. He recognized that God had given the Law of Moses to the people of Israel for a reason and he was determined to STUDY it, KNOW it, and OBEY it in order to TEACH it. He saw the benefit of spending time studying God’s word in order to better UNDERSTAND God and His laws – to know God’s commands and obey them. He went beyond just being a hearer of the Word; he was a doer. He went past the purpose of learning for his own sake to becoming a conduit of God’s Word to others.

Because Ezra was dedicated to God and well versed in the Law, God blessed Ezra by giving him favor with the king for the benefit of all God’s people. Anything he asked for the king was prepared to give him BECAUSE the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him. Ezra recognized that this favor was of God and not based on his own worth or merit.

When the king said, “If you need anything else for God’s Temple or for any similar needs, you may take it from the royal treasury,” Ezra’s response was to praise the Lord. When the king recognized Ezra’s wisdom as having come from God, Ezra praised God for demonstrating such unfailing love to him by honoring him before the king, his council, and all his mighty nobles! “I felt encouraged because the gracious hand of the Lord my God was on me” (Ezra 7:28).

Ezra’s humility, knowledge and wisdom situated him to be used by God in leadership. Like Nehemiah and Esther, he was strategically positioned to be effective in God’s eternal plan. He gathered together some of the family leaders to return with him to Jerusalem. Before they began their journey, Ezra led the entire group in a time of fasting and humbling themselves before the Lord, praying that God would give them a safe journey and protect them, their children, and the goods they were bringing to Jerusalem.

Ezra could have asked the king for soldiers to escort them to Jerusalem with all of this silver and gold that would make them vulnerable against bandits and robbers on their four month journey. It would have been a reasonable request. But Ezra once again saw the importance of living out his faith in his actions. He had previously testified to the King, “Our God’s hand of protection is on all who worship him, but his fierce anger rages against those who abandon him” (Ezra 8:22). Ezra knew that he needed to back these words up with faith in God so they fasted and earnestly prayed for God to take care of them, and God faithfully heard their prayer. At the end of the journey, Ezra was able to testify that God, rather than the king’s men, had protected them.

Just as Ezra was able to ask for provision and protection for his people, he was also willing to humble himself and confess on behalf of the people. When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, he found they had done exactly what God told them NOT to do – they had married women from other nations who served false gods. Ezra could have washed his hands of all this sin and stood back in self-righteousness for he had not disobeyed God. Instead he tore his clothes, fell to his knees and lifted his hands to the Lord praying:

“O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens…once again we have abandoned your commands!…O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence.” – Ezra 9:6,10b,15

Ezra led those around him in the study of God’s word.
Ezra led those around him in prayer and fasting.
Ezra led those around him in the journey God had called them to.
But here is where I am overwhelmed by the humble actions of this man of God:
Ezra led his nation and his people in confession of their sins. He took the sins of the nation upon himself, taking responsibility for their sins and stepping into God’s presence in repentance of such sin, even though he himself had not disobeyed God in this way.

This reminds me of how Jesus, who was without sin, was willing to die for our sins. Hebrews 4:14-16: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

We sin as individuals and we go before God, humbly asking for His forgiveness. We sin as a family or as a church or group of people and we humbly pray for mercy. We sin as a nation and the appropriate thing to do is still to humble ourselves, fall on our knees in mourning and beg the Almighty God of Justice to have compassion on us and forgive us as a nation. Oh God, hear our prayer!!!

Lord, I want to be like Ezra. I want to be a student of your word, praying and fasting for Your guidance and protection. I want to live out my faith, not looking for human answers. I want to be an Ezra-like leader! Lord, forgive us for the many times we step out of your plan and disobey as individuals, as congregations and as a nation. Lord, give us mercy and grace in our time of need. Amen.

For Such a Time

Today’s Reading: Esther, Psalm 35

January 22, 1973 marks a time in the history of America when abortion was legalized. It is a day to remember – a day we choose to never forget. Women were given the freedom to end their pregnancies, and those who were alive but not yet born were stripped of their right to life. The motives behind the legalization of abortion were not just about reproductive freedom, their motives included racial targeting. Still today the majority of abortion clinics are found in neighborhoods primarily made up of African-American and Hispanic families.

The book of Esther speaks of a similar day of remembrance in the lives of the Jewish people – the Festival of Purim, a time in history Jews continue to recognize every March. Just like there has been an attack on the unborn for the past 44 years, with evidence the attack is racially motivated, an attack was planned against the Jewish people living in the empire of King Xerxes because of similar racial hatred.

While a large number of God’s people had returned to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and the walls of the city, there were still a great number of Jews who had remained in what had once been Babylon. It is not explained why these Jews chose to not return to the Promised Land. Perhaps they had become comfortable in their new homes and chose to stay in the “known” instead of traveling the long distance back to the “unknown”.

We are probably all familiar with the story of Esther and the conspiracy of Haman to destroy all of the Jews in order to curb his appetite for the death of Esther’s cousin, Mordecai. Haman managed to convince the king that it was not in his best interest to let this race of people live. Lots were cast to determine the day in while the Jews could be annihilated. These lots were called “purim” and were similar to what we would think of as dice. This is where the Festival of Purim received its name – a time to remember when a day was set to destroy the Jews, but to also celebrate how God instead rescued His people from their enemies.

I found several similarities between Esther’s role and Nehemiah’s role. Nehemiah was an exiled Jew living as a servant or slave to the king. His role as cupbearer became a blessing as Nehemiah was strategically positioned to be near the King to request a favor for his people. In the same way, the misfortune of Esther to be taken from her home and placed in the palace had become a blessing as she became queen and was strategically positioned to be near the King, giving her the opportunity to request protection for her people.

God intervened on Nehemiah’s behalf and the king noticed that he was distraught. God intervened on Esther’s behalf and the king noticed her standing in the inner court. He welcomed her and held out the gold scepter to her so that she could approach his throne.

Nehemiah saw a need, prayed for the need and then allowed himself to be part of the answer to that prayer. He allowed himself to be used by God. Esther saw a need, feared for her life and yet boldly stepped into the equation, allowing herself to become part of the solution.

Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made the queen for just such a time as this?”

Then Esther set this reply to Mordecai: “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in and see the king. If I must die, I must die.” – Esther 4:13-16

This, too, reminds me of Nehemiah. When faced with opposition while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in order to protect God’s people, Nehemiah appointed half of the men to work on the wall while half stood armed with swords against the attack. For some laborers, they used one hand to support the load while the other hand held a weapon.

In the same way, God’s people lifted prayers on behalf of Esther while she worked on protecting or rescuing them. She put herself in harm’s way but not until she knew that her family and God’s people were lifting her up in prayer, calling on God to bless her efforts and use the position He had placed her in as an opportunity to reverse the decree and allow the Jewish people to live.

There are days and opportunities when God strategically positions us to be used by Him. There are also times in which God gives us the responsibility to pray for someone else. There may be times in which we feel sorry for ourselves wishing that we were not in a situation or place. Then what once seems like an unfortunate coincidence becomes a God-placed miracle and we find ourselves strategically positioned to be used by Him.

Will we see our situation today as Esther did? Will we accept our calling “for such a time as this”? Will we boldly step into the equation and allow ourselves to be part of the solution? Perhaps our role today is to enter into the presence of our King, as Esther did. Perhaps it is our role today to stand with sword in hand and pray God’s protection on others. Perhaps God is calling you to do something about the issue of abortion. Either way, today is a special day because it represents the chance to allow God to make an unfortunate situation an opportunity for His power to be displayed. It is a day to remember that God has called us as His servants to be used however He desires. It is a day to be called into action.

Taking a Mess and Making a Masterpiece

Today’s Reading: Zechariah 7-14; Psalm 15

As God’s people were returning from exile to a city and land that had been destroyed, they were discouraged with the work that lay ahead of them – the task God was calling them to. God reminded them, as He sometimes reminds us, that their current condition was a direct result of their own sinful decisions. There are times when we choose to do our own thing and make a mess of what God could have made a masterpiece.

“Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing. They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by his Spirit…Since they refused to listen when I called to them, I would not listen when they called to me, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. As with a whirlwind, I scattered them among the distant nations, where they lived as strangers. Their land became so desolate that no one even traveled through it. THEY turned their pleasant land into a desert.” – Zechariah 7:11-14

What was the message they had refused to listen to? What did they refuse to do that God was telling them to do? Look at the two verses right before this passage:

Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against one another. – Zechariah 7:9-10

SEEK TRUTH AND MAKE PEACE

So God wanted them to put the needs of others above their own desires and they refused. God wanted them to honor the truth and love God by loving others and they chose self-preservation instead only to find out that, by trying to build a life for themselves, they had instead destroyed their chance of truly experiencing life. They made a mess out of what could have been a masterpiece.

God went from being an angry God determined to punish to a God of grace determined to bless His people once again. But his instructions remained the same as before.

“But this is what you must do: Tell the truth to each other. Render verdicts in your courts that are just and that lead to peace. Don’t scheme against each other. Stop your love of telling lies that you swear are the truth. I hate all these things, says the Lord…The traditional fasts and times of mourning you have kept in early summer, midsummer, autumn, and winter are now ended. They will become festivals of joy and celebration for the people of Judah. So love truth and peace.” – Zechariah 8:16-19

LOVE TRUTH AND LIVE PEACE

God was ready to dwell among His people – to bless them with His presence – but He demanded they live in peace with one another and treat each other justly. Sometimes this is where we struggle in families or in churches. We pray for God to bless our efforts, to bless our growth, but we stubbornly hold onto grudges. We sit back and wait for someone else to come begging for forgiveness instead of seeking restoration with each other. Now that’s what I would call a mess – a missed opportunity to allow the hand of God to create a masterpiece. Truth and peace – God would love to turn our mourning into joy and celebration but we must first love truth and peace.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
– Psalm 15:1-2

REVEAL TRUTH AND RESTORE PEACE

When God lives among us, He creates a sense of community with each other. You may say this is impossible for the group of people you are thinking of right now, but God says nothing is impossible for Him! Invite Him to dwell among you and He can REVEAL TRUTH and RESTORE PEACE into any situation. Look at what He did for the Israelites when they returned to their war-torn country.

“And now the Lord says: I am returning to Mount Zion, and I will live in Jerusalem…Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play…All this may seem impossible to you now, a small remnant of God’s people. But is it impossible for me? Says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” – Zech. 8:3-6

When we have fixed our relationships with each other and God’s presence is dwelling among His people, then we can be about the task of doing what God has told us to do! We must first obey God’s command to love Him by loving others before we can follow His calling in our lives. Then, when PEACE IS RESTORED, He strengthens us with His presence and tells us:

“Be strong and finish the task!” and “So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!” – Zechariah 8:9,13

And this is my favorite part! When we are living in truth and peace, and God’s presence is living among us, it will become evident to all those around us. They will see the difference God’s presence is making in our lives and they will want to become a part of it. Instead of seeing a mess, they see God’s masterpiece. As in Zechariah 8:23, people will see what we have and say, “Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Oh, may God’s presence be evident in our lives today! May others see God living in us and among us in such a powerful way that they want what we have – God’s presence in our lives!

Take Off Those Filthy Clothes!

Today’s Reading: Zechariah 3-6, Psalm 87 & 99

“Return to me and I will return to you” – God loved His people and longed to renew His relationship with them. When they were in captivity, He continued to watch over them. He allowed other nations to have dominion over them but only for a time and that time of exile was over. He was now ready to rebuild, renew, and restore His people.

“My love for Jerusalem is passionate and strong.” – Zechariah 1:14a

On the holy mountain stands the city founded by the Lord.
He loves the city of Jerusalem more than any other city in Israel.
O city of God, what glorious things are said of you!
– Psalm 87:1-3

The Lord says, “Shout and rejoice, O beautiful Jerusalem, for I am coming to live among you. Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they, too, will be my people. I will live among you, and you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me to you. The land of Judah will be the Lord’s special possession in the holy land, and he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his own city. Be silent before the Lord, all humanity, for he is SPRINGING INTO ACTION from his holy dwelling.” – Zechariah 2:10-13

God chose two men to play an important role in the rebuilding of the Temple and the rebuilding of the nation. He placed Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel as governor of Judah (you’ll recognize him as a part of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1) and Jeshua son of Jehozadak as high priest (Haggai 2:2).

The passage of Scripture in Zechariah chapter 3 describes beautifully how Jeshua was cleansed from his sins and called by God. Before you read the passage, I ask you to prepare your heart. Picture that this passage is about you. Satan is pointing out all the times you have sinned and revealing all your imperfections but the Lord is rejecting Satan’s accusations – saving you from the pit of hell and clothing you with redemption. Claim this Scripture today and rebuke Satan for the ways in which he tries to discourage you and tell you that you are not worthy or capable of what God has told you to do. Put yourself in place of Jeshua the high priest, coming out of exile and receiving his call from God.

Then the angel showed me Jeshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord. The Accuser, Satan, was there at the angel’s right hand, making accusations against Jeshua. And the Lord said to Satan, “I, the Lord, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.”

Jeshua’s clothing was filthy as he stood there before the angel. So the angel said to the others standing there, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And turning to Jeshua he said, “See, I have taken away your sins, and now I am giving you these fine new clothes.”

Then I said, “They should also place a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean priestly turban on his head and dressed him in new clothes while the angel of the Lord stood by.

Then the angel of the Lord spoke very solemnly to Jeshua and said, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: If you follow my ways and carefully serve me, then you will be given authority over my Temple and its courtyards. I will let you walk among these others standing here. – Zechariah 3:1-7

My love for you is passionate and strong. So take off the filthy clothes of your past. I have taken away your sins and I am giving you fine new clothes – priestly garments – garments that come with a calling. SO follow my ways and carefully serve me, for I am giving you a job to do.

When the accuser tells you that you cannot do what God has called you to do or that you cannot live the holy life that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies expects, remind him of the Lord’s words to Zerubbabel:

It is not by force nor by strength, but BY MY SPIRIT, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain for him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone at the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!” – Zechariah 4:6-7

God had commissioned Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple – not an easy task. God had commissioned Jeshua to rebuild the Temple worship – also not an easy task. But He was not asking them to do it of their own strength. In that regard, the Accuser is right. We are not capable of doing what God is asking us to do, at least not of our own strength. But God equips us, He fills us, He works through us to accomplish His will. Where there seem to be mountains before us, God is capable of leveling the path ahead. And WHEN GOD IS IN IT, GOD WILL BLESS IT!

“…But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I AM WITH YOU, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do NOT be afraid.” – Haggai 2:4-5

Be strong! I have cleansed you and clothed you in new garments. I am the God of what is ahead. I am in the middle of what I am asking you to do and I will bless it. I am the God of your yesterdays and you have been forgiven, so flee from your captivity and stop wearing those filthy clothes. Do not be afraid. I am with you.

Keeper of All Blessings

Today’s Reading: Haggai, Zechariah 1-2, Psalm 69 & 102

RETURN

The Lord says, “Come away! Flee from Babylon in the land of the north, for I have scattered you to the four winds. Come away, people of Zion, you who are exiled in Babylon!” – Zechariah 2:6-7

Yet even now, be free from your captivity! Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.
Sing out this message! Shout it to the ends of the earth!
The Lord has redeemed his servants, the people of Israel.
– Isaiah 48:20

Just as God had promised, the exile for the Hebrews ended after seventy years. Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, conquered Babylon and allowed all of the nations exiled to Babylon to return to their homelands. He did this in order to form alliances with these nations, expecting loyalty in future diplomatic matters. The Jews returned to Judah and Jerusalem. The stories of their return are recorded by the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi. God was calling His people to return – return to the Promised Land and return to Him.

“I, the Lord, was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Return to me and I will return to you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Don’t be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices.’

Where are your ancestors now? They and the prophets are long dead. But everything I said through my servants the prophets happened to your ancestors, just as I said. As a result, they repented and said, ‘We have received what we deserved from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. He has done what he said he would do.’” – Zechariah 1:2-6

REBUILD

You have received what you deserve – God pointed this out in the first chapter of Haggai as well. The people had returned to Judah and started to rebuild the temple, but their enthusiasm soon turned to discouragement and then to apathy. They turned their focus to their own homes and started making a living for themselves without restoring worship back into the community. Here is God’s response:

“Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. Your drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes.”

“…Look at what’s happening to you! Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house. Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord. You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. I have called for a drought on your fields and hills – a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.” – Haggai 1:4-11

RENEW

You are getting what you deserve but here’s how to deserve what you wish you were getting – Return to me and I will return to you. This is essentially what God was saying. God desired to lavish wonderful gifts on His children but He needed to get their attention because His intent was not only that they return to their land, His intent was that they return to Him. He wanted them to RETURN and REBUILD so that He could RENEW His relationship with them.

The people began to fear the Lord and a new enthusiasm for building the Temple was ignited in their hearts. They finished the Temple but realized that the new Temple was nowhere close to the splendor of the previous Temple. God reminded them that He is the keeper of the silver and the gold (2:8). He promised them that a day would come when He would restore glory to His Temple beyond its past glory.

Then Haggai asked, “If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?”
And the priests answered, “Yes.”
Then Haggai responded, “That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin.”
– Haggai 2:13-14

REPENT

In order for God to fully RENEW the relationship with His people, He needed them to REPENT. He reminded them of how little their crops produced before they rebuilt the Temple and asked them to look and see how He was now blessing them after the Temple had been restored. “Think carefully,” the Lord said. God desired to bless them but was requiring them to turn from their sin – to repent.

What does God want to do in our lives? In what ways does the Keeper of the silver and the gold – the Keeper of all blessings – desire to bless us? Return to me and I will return to you.

RETURN, REBUILD, RENEW and REPENT.
RETURN – “Come away!” “Flee from your captivity!” Walk away from your sin and return to me.
REBUILD – Do the necessary work to RESTORE our relationship to where it once was.
RENEW – Make a new covenant with me so that our relationship can be renewed.
REPENT – Turn from your sin so that I can bless you the way I desire to bless you.

Return to me and I will return to you.