Featured post

Nehemiah 7-9; It’s Not Just History

God inspired the writers of Scripture fairly often to recall the events surrounding Israel’s exodus from Egypt, their forty year wilderness experience, and their occupation of the Promised Land. This time Nehemiah is praying as he takes us through those historical years.

Last week I watched the video of a lecture David Arthur gave on these chapters, and a lightbulb went on in my brain. I will never look at passages such as these the same ever again. Because  David Arthur did not spend time talking about the history of Jews. He referred to it as the history of God.

Of course!

God doesn’t want us focusing on the people, the nation of Israel. Lots of people write history books. God wants us to SEE HIM in the events and lives of the people He chose for that purpose. We think God chose Israel because somehow He loved them more, wants to bless them more. The reality is He chose the Jews to be an example to the world of who God is, and what He can do for those who obey Him. He chose that people group to reveal Himself, first through the Jewish people, and ultimately through Jesus. (Read Exodus and notice how often God tells us He does things so that the nations will know He is God)

So what does God tell us about Himself through the words of Nehemiah’s prayer? Here’s a quick list:

He alone is the Lord. He is the creator. He is faithful. He is righteous. He is compassionate. He has power over nature. He is present. He is holy. He forgives. He leads His people. He provides. He blesses. He is the victor. He must be obeyed. He is patient. He punishes sin. He is gracious, great, mighty, awesome, keeps His promises, answers prayer. He is just. His loving kindness is real.

I believe with all my heart that this is what God wants us to take away from the way He worked through one people group. The Bible is not about the physical nation of Jews. It’s about God.

It’s all about God.

Do you know Him? There is no better time than this season when we celebrate the birth of His Son Jesus. Read God’s Word and allow Him to reveal Himself to you. That is exactly what He longs to do.

Advertisements

Psalms 5-7; Waiting in Expectation

David certainly knew what it was to be mistreated, alone, physically and emotionally drained. In Psalm 6 he says things like: my bones are in agony, my soul is in anguish, I’m worn out from groaning, I weep all night.

My sister Peggy’s son Geoff died in a car accident in 2012. I have had losses in my life, times when I felt alone and defeated, agonizing over circumstances. But Geoff’s death is the single most devastating thing I have experienced. I, like David, had sleepless nights when tears drenched my pillow. I ached all over, and groaned uncontrollably.

Now I don’t want to compare my grief to anyone else’s. It’s not a contest. This aunt grieved deeply for the loss of my dear nephew. But who can touch a mother’s grief?

I watched my sister die that day, too. There was no life in her eyes. Smiles were forced. Laughter would occasionally break the mood, but it was short-lived. I will say her faith and hope in God never wavered. That deep trust enabled her to get out of bed each day, and has sustained her to this day. But the sadness was there, too.

I began to pray that God would restore her joy. Every day I’d pray that Peggy would know real joy once again. Then, over a year after Geoff went to live with Jesus, I was talking to Peggy on the phone when she said she woke up that morning and felt joy for the first time.

I was shocked!

“I’ve been praying for that,” I said.

Now why did that shock me? Why would I be surprised that God would answer my prayer?

My pastor shared a while back that he prays Psalm 5:3 to God every day:

In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation(emphasis mine)

I picture a child sitting in front of the Christmas tree, presents wrapped, waiting excitedly to see his wish list fulfilled.

That’s how David prayed. I think sometimes I pray because I’m supposed to, or because someone asks me to. I pray knowing God can answer prayer. I’m not sure I always pray expecting Him to.

Listen to what David says about God in Psalm 7: I take refuge in You, my shield is God Most High who saves the upright in heart, God is a righteous judge, and

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. (vs17)

David had confidence in God. He could lay out his troubles before God and believe that He would hear and answer his prayers perfectly. Then he would look for the ways God was working throughout the day, expecting to see His hand. Expecting God to answer His prayers.

My Dear Heavenly Father, let me tell you what is on my heart. I want to lay it all out there, and then wait expectantly for the ways You provide exactly what I need, the way You answer my prayers according to Your will. Make me aware of Your hand today, Lord. I will give thanks to You.

 

Psalms 2-4; Good Night

Who has never laid awake at night and fretted over a problem? Who has never wakened in the morning and felt beat up instead of rested? And have you ever wondered how someone who is going through hard times can seem so together? What’s up with that?

David had enemies. David hid out in caves for years so Saul wouldn’t find him and kill him. David’s own son wanted him dead. And David never knew from one day to the next whether the people would be for him or against him. How did that man ever sleep?

Psalm 3 is called a morning psalm. Let’s look at how David greeted his day:

Lord, it seems like I can’t get a break. Things were hard yesterday and it looks like they’ll be hard today, too. But You sustain me. You keep me going. You encourage me and hear my prayers. I won’t fear today because You are with me. Take care of my problems, Lord, because I know my deliverance comes from You.

Then, in Psalm 4, an evening psalm, David said this:

God, I’m going to trust You to relieve my stress. Be merciful to me and hear my prayer. Instead of sinning in my anger, I’ll search my own heart, then I’ll be still. I trust You, God. You give me such joy. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (4:8)

Sounds like the first thoughts David had each day, and the last thoughts before he went to bed were directed toward God. And that sounds like a good example to follow myself.

Someone has said: If you can’t sleep, don’t count sheep, talk to the Shepherd.

Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you. (I Peter 5:7)

I find that turning my problems over to God, and trusting Him to bring about the best solutions, is so much better than me trying to solve things myself. He’s so much better at it than I.

Do you trust Him? Tell Him. Then have a good night, and an even better day.

 

Psalm 1; The Pursuit of Happiness

The book of Psalms is the go-to for many people when they are sad or discouraged or feel far from God. And many find comfort in these precious chapters.

Honestly, I haven’t been one of those people. The Psalms have never been my favorite book of the Bible. Usually, as I get to this portion of God’s Word while reading through it each year, I plow through as many psalms a day as I can, just to say I’ve read them. Oh, I’m blessed by a verse here and there, challenged or convicted by others. But in general, I don’t let it speak to me like I do other places in the Bible.

My pastor has been going through the psalms with us on Wednesday evenings, and that has given me a new appreciation. So today I read Psalm 1, a psalm I memorized in my youth, and I’ve been sitting here chewing on it, praying about it, then reading what some others have to say about it. And… WOW!

We all want to be happy. I mean, come on. Doesn’t the US government even give us the right to pursue happiness? So why is there so much sadness? Why so many people medicating to mask unhappiness? Psalm 1 has the answer.

First of all the happy (or blessed) person doesn’t listen to the world’s idea of what happy looks like. It’s not found within us, or in having bigger and better things. It’s not found in relationships or self-satisfaction. People who suggest that the answers to life’s problems are situational or a matter of mind control are wicked counselors, sinners, and mockers. (vs 1)

The blessed man is the one whose life is grounded in Scripture, who loves God’s Word, who has made the Bible such a part of his life, it is with him day and night. He is like a tree whose roots are deep, nourished by living water, refreshed, and fruitful.

The psalm says the wicked man, the one who denies God or ignores Him, has no roots. He’s based his life on shallow ground that won’t stand up in the end. Like chaff, or dandelion seeds that blow apart in the wind, he has no standing with God. And he doesn’t even realize what an unhappy state he’s living in.

The dandelion looks at the sturdy oak and says, “I’m just like you.”

No, you’re not.

The blessed person, we who are happy in our relationship with God, grounded in His Word, know that this life is only a blink in light of eternity. The problems of this life are temporary, but the rewards of knowing God will last forever. We can afford to be happy in that truth, regardless of situations we face here in this lifetime. We are blessed!

Dear God, thank You for slowing me down as I study Your Word today. I pray that as I spend time in the psalms You inspired men to write, I will listen to what You would say to me here in 2018. God, I want to be grounded in Your Word, rooted in Scripture, bearing fruit as a result of my relationship with You. I’m looking forward to getting to know You better, loving You more, and serving You more effectively as I let these psalms penetrate my heart and soul.

Job 38-42; Final Answer

The whole book of Job is a series of questions and answers. Job had questions: “Why is God doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? Where is God in my suffering?” His friends had answers (or at least what they passed off as answers): “You have done something bad and God is punishing you, Job. You deserve this, admit it.”

So after 37 chapters of this sorry exchange between friends, God is going to finally speak. Job is going to get his answer. But it’s not at all what he expects. Because God never addresses the “why” of anything Job is experiencing. God never tells about His conversation with Satan in chapter one. God never explains His reasoning, or plan to Job and his friends. The answer to Job’s suffering isn’t about the “why” at all.

It’s about the”Who.”

And it’s the same for us. If we are looking for answers to understand our pain, or our circumstances, we are looking in the wrong direction. Looking horizontally prevents us from looking upward.

A Swiss psychologist, Dr. Paul Tournier wrote, “For God’s answer is not an idea, a proposition, like the conclusion of a theorem; it is Himself.” (Guilt and Grace; Harper and Row, p 86)

God doesn’t owe us answers. He Himself is all the answer we need.

Unless you’ve experience His Presence and peace in the middle of a storm, you probably think this is just another example of “church speak,” that it doesn’t hold water when the reality of suffering sets in. And you would be wrong.

Warren Wiersbe (With the Word, p 303) said, “God cannot do much for us as long as we are busy telling Him what to do.” Sometimes we just need to shut our mouths, stop with our demands, and just be still and know that He is God, bowing before Him in complete surrender.

I hope you read these chapters in Job today, and ask yourself how you stack up when compared to God. I know I don’t come close. And it humbles me that the Creator and Sustainer of life wants a relationship with me, wants to spend time with me, wants to be everything I need in good times and in the worst of times.

God.

Final answer.

Job 32-37; Elihu

Ahh youth. Many of us older folk may wish we could go back to the days when we knew everything, too. Elihu, the youngest of Job’s friends, speaks boldly. He brushes off the arguments of the other three as though they were crumbs on the front of his shirt. “Pay attention, Job,” he keeps saying.  “I will teach you wisdom.” (32:33)

Of course Elihu is going to talk about the “why” of suffering. But he puts a slightly different slant on the subject than the other three did. He suggests the trials of life are not always about judgment, reaping what we sow, or God’s discipline for sin. He says in chapter 36 that sometimes God is “wooing (us) from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction...”

Maybe God allows the trials of life to serve as a means of preventing us from sinning. I think of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Did that pain (physical or emotional) keep Paul from pride, or self-satisfaction? Did that affliction help to keep Paul grounded so that he could be the fruitful evangelist he was?

Here’s what I get out of Job:  Trouble and hardship and sickness and grief are a part of life on planet Earth. Accept it. Then, instead of wasting time trying to figure out “why?” ask God, “what?”

What is it You want me to learn?

What do you want me to do with this that will help someone find You?

What danger is this situation keeping me from?

Then, Elihu speaks these words in 33:23-24:

Yet if there is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him, to be gracious to him and say, “Spare him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom for him”…

Did you hear it? We have that mediator, that One who has ransomed us and keeps us from going down to the pit.

Yesterday my pastor shared from Mark 4 in God’s Word, where Jesus calmed the storm. Where were the disciples during this storm that frightened even those seasoned fishermen? They were in the boat with Jesus!

What did those disciples do when the storm became so violent? They called on Him!

Storms, battles, hardships, trials, pain, whatever you call it will come. But we never have to go through any of it alone. If you know Jesus as your Savior, He is in that rocking boat right there with you. He may choose to calm the raging storm that surrounds you, or He may command the waves of doubt and fear within you to “Hush, be still.”

But God, who does all things well, promises to never leave you or forsake you in good times or bad. Call on Him. Lean on Him. Surrender to Him.

Because in Him is joy and peace that transcends even the worst situations. I’ve seen it in the smile of a woman fighting cancer, in the eyes of a mother who buried her son, in the selfless actions of a widow, in the song of  man mourning the loss of his dear wife.

My prayer is that, if you are going through a storm, you will let go of the “why,” and turn your eyes instead on Jesus. He will teach you what you need to know, He’ll be your strength, and He’ll calm the storm as only He can. You can trust Him.

Job 29-31; Job’s Final Thoughts

The difference between Job and me is that I can look back on my life and recognize the multitude of sins I have committed. Job seems to be able to look back on his life and see none. I don’t know which is worse.

Let me just get it out there: I AM A SINNER. I know that I am. If I tried to list all the sins I remember committing I’m not sure I’d get to the end before the middle of next year. And that doesn’t include the sins I’ve conveniently forgotten.

Besides, I don’t want to spend that much time considering the “old nature,” because I am forgiven and Christ has made me a new person.

Some people allow their old nature to hold them back. I know you’ve sinned. God knows you’ve sinned. Maybe you are living with painful consequences for that sin.

But if you’ve repented, asked God to forgive you, you are washed clean. That sin, in God’s eyes, doesn’t even exist any more. Stop beating yourself up about it. Jesus has already been beaten up for you.

Paul told the Philippians (3:13-14):

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

He is talking about knowing Christ, pursuing a relationship with Jesus. If I am actively walking with the Lord I don’t have time – or desire – to continually look back. If I draw near to God, He draws near to me, and with Him comes joy, peace, comfort, and help to know Him more and serve Him better.

Job spent a lot of time defending himself. He couldn’t come up with one sin he’d committed. He was, no doubt a good man. God Himself called Job His servant, a blameless and upright man. (1:8)

Job did many good things for his family, his friends, his neighbors, his servants, his enemies, and even his land. He spent his life using the blessings God gave him to help others. But does that mean he was sinless?

Romans 3:23 tells us everyone has sinned, everyone falls short when compared to God. Yet there are people who rationalize or ignore sin in their lives. They convince themselves if they are religious enough, or if they meditate, or volunteer at a soup kitchen, or don’t murder anyone, somehow that  covers up or equalizes the bad things they’ve done.

Friend, the only thing that can cover up your sin is the blood of Jesus. The only way you can be good enough is by accepting the fact that Jesus is good enough, and let Him stand in your place when you repent of your sin and ask Him to forgive you – something He’s dying to do.

So whether you are living in the past and are paralyzing yourself over past sin and guilt, or if you have convinced yourself you are ok as is, let God tell you what He thinks about your life. Let Him remind you that He recognizes your sin and loves you anyway. Let Him lead you to the cross where your sin debt was paid. And let Him make you new, clean, free from the bondage of sin. Then know the joy of having His Presence living in you, and blessing you with Himself.

I’m praying for you.

 

Job 25-28; Bildad’s Parting Shot, Job ends His Defense

Job’s final thoughts are lengthy but so rich in content. I didn’t get through all the chapters of his response because chapter 28 stopped me in my tracks. I wish I could say I saw this truth in my first read-through. Actually, it was Warren Wiersbe who pointed something out that opened my eyes and convicted me. (Be Patient, page 106)

Here’s the gist:

People (and I am talking about me) put so much time and effort into getting ahead, on careers, or family, or popularity, or sports, or having a manicured lawn, etc. I myself went to college after high school, got a teaching job, then went back to school at night to get a Masters Degree.

Many people put in overtime at work, take work home, hoping to be considered for that next promotion. We take out loans to buy the big houses and fancy cars, then take on a second job to pay for them.

So why aren’t we putting that much effort into knowing the Lord? Why don’t we put in half that effort to know Him?

I have to confess that during the years I was working and going to school, the journals I keep with my time in the Word reveal days and weeks when my Bible wasn’t even opened. Time with God was the first thing I sacrificed to accommodate my busy schedule.

Job talks about mining gold and precious stones, and I can only imagine the effort that required in his day. Wisdom, he says, cannot be bought with gold. No matter how hard you work for the gold, or how valuable you think that gold is. Some things can’t be bought.

How much effort are you putting in to your relationship with Jesus? How much time do you give Him every day, how often do you talk to Him? Being a follower of Jesus requires more than a prayer of repentance. To follow someone, you’ve got to move.

Let’s move toward God by shutting ourselves away every day to be alone with Him, to let Him speak to us through His precious Word. Let’s tell Him what’s on our hearts, and watch what He can do when we include him in our day. You might think you don’t have time. I would argue that you do.