Monthly Archives: March, 2016

Opposition

When we look at Nehemiah 4, we see that Nehemiah faces opposition led by Sanballat & Tobiah. We can see three things about opposition in this passage. Opposition focuses on doubts. Opposition breeds conflict. Opposition discourages progress.

Again and again the people ask “will they” (v. 2). WILL THEY restore their wall? WILL THEY offer sacrifices? WILL THEY finish in a day? CAN THEY bring the stones back to life? Then verse 8 says they “plotted together” to fight and stir up trouble. Even though they finished half of the work, the people became discouraged. In verse 10, we read that people began to complain and believed that there was too much rubble to move. They began to stall.

Whenever we are doing a “great work” for God, we will face opposition. The devil doesn’t want us to continue forward and finish the work. He doesn’t want God to get the glory. He doesn’t want us serving God. Remember that the Lord is with you (v. 14) and He will fight for you (v. 20). No opposition can stand against God.

Preparation

I have OCD tendencies so I appreciate preparation and organization. I am definitely a planner, which is why I can appreciate the Book of Nehemiah. We read about preparation in Nehemiah 2, when Nehemiah makes his request to the king to leave, and then is granted permission. He is sure to ask the king for a letter to ensure safe passage, as well as supplies to see the project through to completion. Upon entering Jerusalem, he was there for days to inspect and gather firsthand information.

The Lord tells us to prepare. We are supposed to be prepared to share in our hope (1 Peter 3:15). We are also supposed to be prepared for battle, wearing our Armor of God (Ephesians 6). As well, we are to be prepared for the Lord’s return (Matthew 24:44). Preparation is important.

Today, examine your own life. Are you prepared? I am not asking that you join me and the rest of the OCD people. Rather, let us remind ourselves that everything we do should be for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). If we fail to prepare, lack organization, find ourselves all over the place, etc., we surely are not doing everything as if for the Lord. A lack of focus on God—a failure to make Him the priority of your life—will always make it difficult for you to honor God with all you have as you aren’t giving all you have.

The Response of Nehemiah

In Nehemiah 1, we read about a report that Nehemiah receives from Jerusalem. When he hears about what is happening to God’s people and to the state of Jerusalem, he weeps. Not only does he mourn for days, but he fasts and prays continuously. He is more than a little upset. He is unsettled. He is grieved.

When I read about this grief, this mourning by Nehemiah, I cannot help but wonder if we ever grieve like that because of the spiritual state of others. Are we uncomfortable because God is not honored, when we know He alone deserves all honor, glory and praise? Is it upsetting when we see something that once glorified God, now broken and in disarray? When we see brokenness, do we seek out God to heal, restore, and redeem?

Today we are not looking to rebuild a wall. Nehemiah took care of that great work. But God has put a vision in your heart. He wants to do great things through you to glorify Him. Seek Him. Ask Him to reveal this great work. Ask Him to strengthen your feet. Ask Him to help you speak boldly. Press forward and watch Him move in mighty ways.

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” – Nehemiah 1:4 [NASB]

Much Demands

Responsibilities are important. Each of us have a different list of responsibilities. Some lists are more demanding. Some lists contain items that have an eternal impact. In Luke 12, we read that those who are given much will be demanded much—those who have been trusted with much will be asked for much in return. Talk about responsibility. This is something we can see in action when you look at every area of life. The older child typically has more responsibilities in the home. Those in management have more responsibilities than the team they manage. Those in an advanced placement class in school have more responsibilities than other students.

Consider everything you have available – your time, your talents, your treasures. Consider the opportunity you have (job position, connections, etc.). Consider the background you have – the experience. Consider all of these things. Now, read the verse again. You have been given this much. Are you meeting the demand? You have been trusted with this much. What has been your response? I’ve had people ask why I pour myself so much into Kingdom work. Peter said this: “For we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 HCSB). I cannot stop speaking about Jesus. He has called me to speak. He has put His Word in my mouth. After I finish preaching, if I don’t feel like I poured out my all, I am pretty hard on myself. Why did I hold back? What kept me from pouring out everything? Why didn’t I let Him take the message further? These are the things that go through my head.

This verse from Luke is a great reminder to me. I have been given much. If I don’t pour myself out for Jesus, I am giving Him mere leftovers. I have been entrusted with so much; this is not something I take lightly. Friends, today look at what you have been given, what you have been entrusted—are you pouring yourself out? Are you using all you can for His work, for His kingdom? Are you complaining because of the great work before you? Do you have your responsibilities out of whack because of other things you think should have priority? Have you accepted the mission—your great work through Christ—because you want nothing more than to serve your Lord? Or are you on your own mission using the tools Jesus has given you to build up your own kingdom here on earth?

 

“But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” – Luke 12:48 [NIV]

Balancing Truth and Grace

Some people have brought it to my attention that I have a problem balancing truth and grace, hence the reason the Spirit led me to speak often about truth and grace. Often we are not only preaching for others to hear, but God leads us to preach to ourselves as well. Jesus is grace and truth (John 1:17). Life is all about balance, and this is true when it comes to truth and grace. If we have too much truth and lack grace, we have judgment and condemnation. If we have too much grace and lack truth, we have tolerance of the ungodly.

At the start of Galatians, the Apostle Paul is astonished that the people were deserting the Gospel. People were “turning to a different gospel.” We notice in the New Testament that as the Early Church was spreading, there were people who wanted to introduce something else into the Gospel of Christ. People were teaching Christ, but adding to the Gospel. In doing so, it was as if Jesus wasn’t enough. In teaching something added to Jesus or something other than Jesus, it was taking away from the grace and the truth.

As Paul notes here, there is only one Gospel. There is the Good News of Jesus Christ. As John writes, Jesus is grace and truth. As we share this Good News to others and as we live this out in our own lives, we must always have grace and truth. If we live with a lot of truth, trying to uphold the Law, we will die to the law. We are not perfect. We all fall short (Romans 3:23). It won’t work. We will beat ourselves up, and for no good reason. If we pour this out to others, we will be the judgmental, finger pointer who turns everyone away. If we live with a lot of grace, we will never be confronted with the Truth. We cannot be molded into who God created us to be if we turn away from the conviction. We will find ourselves tolerating anything and everything that comes our way. Not only will we live a life tolerating sin in our own life, but we will live like that toward those around us. We will pour out the love, but we will love everyone to hell. This truth hurts. But it is truth that must be spoken. We need truth. We need grace. We need Jesus.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” – Galatians 1:6-7 [ESV]

Keep Alert

This morning during our walk, Max once again proved that he is a horrible hunter. As a Labrador Retriever, his breed is known for hunting and retrieving. The only thing Max is good at retrieving is tennis balls and food that may fall to the floor. During our walk, I could see up ahead that there were two small dogs. Marci saw them too. Max, however, caught the scent of the dogs with his nose, and his head went down. With his nose to the ground, he tried to sniff them out though they were right in front of us. Simply lifting his head and the great mystery would have been solved.

All laughs aside, the truth is that many of us find ourselves not staying alert. Rather than lift our heads or open our eyes, we walk around blind to what is happening. But the Bible tells us often to stay alert. We are to keep alert because we don’t know when the Lord will return. We are to keep alert because the devil prowls around trying to steal, kill, and destroy. Sadly, we oftentimes live life very much like we need a few cups of coffee—dazed and confused.

How can we be on the alert? It takes a lot more than coffee, though I love coffee. If we are so focused on God and His Word, we are more likely to recognize God moving around us. If we are fixing our eyes on Him, it is easier to know what is not of Him. As you continue to drown yourself in the Word of God, you will be more familiar with the great I AM, and His attributes. As you quiet the noise of the world, and spend time communicating with Him (prayer), He will open up to you with revelation.

 

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8 [NLT]

Bag in the Wind

During one of our evening walks, Marci started to bark like crazy. She saw something dark moving at a nearby house. She went into barking dog mode and it was hard to get her to calm down. Funny enough, she was barking at a black plastic trash bag that was blowing because of the great winds passing through the area. It did not matter how many times I tried to tell her it was fine, she continued fixated on what she thought was an attack.

I see a lot of “little dogs” going crazy at things observed—many times misconceptions, many times judgmentally rooted. The “little dogs” are those people in a church who point out what everyone is doing wrong. A big spoon of legalism is dished out. Oftentimes this is seen between people who have grown up in the church. A person from one denomination, raised with certain traditions, barks at someone else who has been taught that other traditions were more important, or that their traditions are the “right way to do things.” Possibly the barking dog syndrome is a result of someone becoming puffed up.

The Bible talks a lot about unity of the Body. The reason so much time is spent on this topic is because the devil will use anything to try to plant and promote division. The church can often get off course when Jesus is not the most important focus. Whether we are at church, at home, at work, at school—wherever we are at—Jesus should be the main thing. As well, if Jesus is the main thing, we should do whatever we can to promote the unity of the Body. This means the little dog syndrome should stop. Instead, let us love God and love others. May we build up instead of tearing down. The bag in the wind is not something on which to fixate.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:1-3 [NIV]

 

Wild Vine

Jeremiah 2 speaks about idolatry. God reminds us that He planted “a choice vine.” It was planted using pure seed. But soon enough, the choice vine became a wild vine. How did this happen? God broke the yokes of the people. The people responded by refusing to serve Him. Instead, they bowed down to other gods. They became a wild vine instead of being the choice vine for which they were created.

This reminds me of my own gardening experience. I remember having a beautiful vine that I planted. It was one of my favorite parts of my flower bed. But the vine did not want to grow in a contained and structured way I had envisioned. Instead, the vine tried to weave its way underneath the siding. It didn’t mind how often I watched over it; the vine started to go into areas that I never intended it to locate. It was crazy wild! I had to pull up a great deal of the vine and do some hardcore pruning.

The people of God, even today, have wandering eyes. It is so easy to turn your eyes from God and find ourselves bowing down to something in place of God. We often think this is a choice we make intentionally, so we boldly claim we would never succumb to idolatry. Yet, our eyes become fixed on other things and we find God is not honored. Usually this happens without even a notice. Sometimes it is a gradual move. Perhaps a small change here or there. Where are your eyes fixed today? What or Who is at the top of your list? Have you become a wild vine who has turned your ears and eyes away from God?

 

“For long ago I broke your yoke and burst your bonds; but you said, ‘I will not serve.’ Yes, on every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down like a whore. Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” – Jeremiah 2:20-21 [ESV]

Cisterns

There are two evils mentioned in Jeremiah 2: The people had forsaken God and the people have traded God for cisterns. These were not just any cisterns, but broken cisterns. Again we find that God’s people have traded Him for something else, something certainly not as desirable.

Interestingly enough, cisterns only hold a certain amount of water. It is limited. So when we read about trading a fountain for a cistern, the comparison already sounds like a horrible exchange.  When we look at fountains, we are reminded of a steady flow of water. It seems never-ending.

The verse makes a great comparison of the two items (two evils). We are left with a choice. Do we want the fountain of living waters, Jesus Christ? Or do we want to gather for ourselves broken cisterns that leaves us forever thirsty? We are a broken people, but we need not choose to live our lives with broken cisterns. Instead, we can accept Jesus, the Living Water. With Him, anything is possible.

 

“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:13 [ESV]

Usefulness

In Jeremiah 2, the words are harsh. The Lord asks what the people found wrong with God that made them go after other things. The verse says that because they went after worthlessness, they became worthless. This is blunt. This is harsh. This is difficult to swallow.

It is hard to read this truth and feel any grace. The reason the people had become worthless is because they were deep in idolatry. They could not be used by God for His glory if they were running after other things. It is difficult for you to selfishly and foolishly run toward something in place of God and be used by God for great things for His glory. At the end of the day, not only is it a choice that will be regrettable, but it is also very unfruitful.

Verse 11 makes it clear that this way of living does not profit. The people, His people (note “my people”), decided to cast aside their specialness. They were a chosen people. They cast it aside for something else. The something else was not better. Rather, this action caused them to settle for something that would lead them nowhere good, nowhere they would want to be if they knew the truth. Today, look within. Are you useful? Are you fixated on other things? Imagine what God can do through you for His glory.

 

“Thus says the LORD: ‘What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.’” – Jeremiah 2:5, 11 [ESV]