Parents understand the word sacrifice. Most parents do for their children before they do for themselves. Parents sacrifice time, money, and energy. If you and your child both need to get an eye exam, chances are the kid will get taken to the eye doctor first. When it is time for a new pair of shoes, you realize your kid needs a new pair so you put your shoes on the “wish list.”
This week, I noticed my daughter Jess struggling with her headphones. She saved up money for new headphones that were not an improvement to her half broken old headphones. She returned to using the old headphones for half the time. I had the same headphones that I used for work. I decided to switch my good headphones for her broken ones. She was so grateful and she didn’t understand why I would take her broken headphones in exchange for good headphones.
I am not mentioning this to make you think highly of such sacrificial parenting. The truth is, when she noticed the sacrifice and I had to explain to her what it meant to sacrifice as a parent, I was reminded of the greatest sacrifice, the Lamb of God. I was reminded of the sacrifice our Heavenly Father made by sending His Son to die for my sins, for your sins, so that we could no longer suffer the wages of sin, but instead have Eternal Life. I only gave headphones. His sacrifice we should remember each day. Thank you Jesus!
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 [ESV]
Tithing is always a sore topic to bring up. It seems whenever the “T” word is mentioned, people grab hold of their wallets, slide down in their seats, and contemplate why they should not open up their wallet because they don’t want anyone to catch a glimpse of what is inside. Many times the “T” word causes people to consider the church always “wants more of my money.” Some people might consider on what the church is using the tithed money.
In Nehemiah 13, we read about what happened to the Levites and the singers who did not receive the portion commanded by God. When Nehemiah returned to his duties for the king as cupbearer, the Israelites no longer gave the commanded portion and the Levites had to return back to their fields. This basically meant that the Levites, who were supposed to care for the Temple, had to leave their duties to take care of themselves. This is not how God designed everything to work out.
This saddens me. God commanded the people to take care of the Levites as they serve the Temple of God. The people dropped the ball and left the Levites to fend for themselves. There is great importance in taking care of God’s house. For us, things are different. We don’t have a Temple like back in Nehemiah’s days. Instead we have two very important items of great significance of which need provisions and care. We have our bodies, which is what houses the Holy Spirit. We also have our local church. It is important that we care for both; treat your body as a temple of God and remember that yes, God doesn’t need your tithe, but you need your tithe. Why? Because by tithing, you are giving God back what He has given you. You are worshiping Him rather than worshiping things. You are fixing your eyes on the Creator and King, rather than on temporary. It is a joy to give. It is a blessing to give. Give abundantly and watch what happens.
“I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field.” – Nehemiah 13:10 [ESV]
On the way home from my daughter’s track meet, we got to see a town square pole get uprooted and smashed by a big freight truck. It was something I’ve never seen before, but it was also a teachable moment that I took advantage of when it was available. The reason the truck driver could not navigate the turn is because someone else disobeyed the traffic signs and pulled over a car length ahead of the line to stop. The truck driver had no room. Even when the lady in the car reversed as far as the car behind her permitted, it was not enough for the truck driver. Then it was a chain reaction. Truck 1. Pole 0.
My daughter was upset. She was concerned that someone would have to pay for the pole, and that someone would have to put the new pole in place. She didn’t understand why the lady did what she did, and she thought that she should be punished for putting the truck in an impossible situation to navigate. At the same time, she wondered if the truck driver would be punished because he did drive up on the curb and tear down the pole. This is where my teachable moment came into play.
We can easily agree that the lady should have stopped where the law says she should stop. We can easily agree that no one should be driving on curbs, though as a truck driver daughter, I understand why it had to go down that way. If the lady would not have pulled up so far, then the truck driver likely would not have driven on the curb. Nonetheless, this is a situation where we can argue that both parties did something wrong. Just because the one party caused the other person to do something wrong, doesn’t make the other person’s wrong any better.
Consider now, the topic of sin. Sometimes we do something that is bad, and then we place that blame on someone else “making” us do it. No one makes you do it, but somehow it seems like they do when we do something wrong. Why is that? We don’t like to be wrong. We don’t like to be found guilty. We don’t want to look like the bad guy. The other person made us do it. When we say this, it makes us feel better. It takes away our responsibility. It makes us feel like our dirty hands are not-so-dirty. But it is a façade. The truth is, wrong is wrong and right is right. If you lose your temper and act in anger because someone sinned against you, then your hands are dirty. You are guilty. There is no, “she made me do it,” that will change your guilt.
What can we do knowing that we cannot push off blame? Accept responsibility for your actions. Confess. Repent. When you do this, you accept the forgiveness our merciful God offers. This will result in something much better than blaming another could ever achieve. Forgiveness. Spiritual Growth. Integrity.
“People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13 [NLT]
“The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” – Genesis 3:12-13 [ESV]
We recently did a Bible study where the term “stiff necked” came up. Many people asked what does it mean to be “stiff necked”? Jokingly, I told them I am stiff necked, hence the reason I see a chiropractor. The truth is, yes, I have a stiff neck that needed extensive therapy. My lower back and my neck were the worst. But I am also stiff necked in the biblical sense of the term.
So what does this actually mean? If we would know about oxen and plowing, we would have a better understanding. When a fellow was working the plow, he would have his oxen in order, and he would use one hand on the plow and the other holding a large pole. Usually there would be two oxen together. The man who was working the field, would use the pole to touch the back of the feet of the oxen, or to touch the necks of the oxen. They did these things so that the oxen would know when to change speed, when to go straight, and when to turn. There were some stubborn oxen who didn’t like to listen. When they would have their necks poked, they would not move as ordered. They were known as hard of neck or “stiff necked.”
I admit I am stiff necked. There are times when I don’t want to move when God gives me a poke. There are moments when I chose to try to control a situation instead of giving it to God. There are times when I am supposed to turn, but I go on a different way. Today, ask God to reveal to you any areas in your life that may cause you to earn the name “stiff necked.” Chances are, like me, you are stiff necked. Don’t worry—we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Thankfully Jesus Christ has made a way so that we can find forgiveness despite our stiff necked issues.
“So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” – Deuteronomy 10:16 [NASB]
“Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. – 2 Chronicles 30:8 [ESV]
When I came home with the groceries, I was excited to have an extra set of hands, along with my kiddos, to carry in the bags. Of course, just after I yelled, “Don’t break the eggs,” the bag that contained the eggs and bread was knocked over. Despite the kids trying to stop the fall, they were not quick enough. One egg broke.
Days later, I went to get out some of the eggs. The eggs that were closest to the broken egg (which was long gone) were all stuck in the egg container. Despite trying to remove them from the carrier, some of them didn’t seem to budge. I ended up having to tear apart some of the carrier just to get them out. I’m frugal—what can I say? They weren’t broken; it was because of the nearby broken egg that we had this situation.
Just as the broken egg spilled out over some of the neighboring eggs, so our sin can spill out and impact the lives of those around us. Often we think that going against what God intends will only impact us, yet we are terribly wrong. Again and again in the Bible, we read about not being yoked with foreigners. Why do we read this so much? If we are closely connected with those who are not followers of God, we will find ourselves drawn away. We stick with who we are around. When we hang around long enough with a person, we find that we begin to carry the consequences of their sin. Today, ask the Spirit to reveal anything or anyone stuck to your life. Be open to what you are shown. Remember, there are times you are the broken egg, and times you are the egg next to the broken egg.
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” – 1 Corinthians 15:33 [ESV]
“Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them.” – Joshua 23:6-7 [NASB]
“You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.” – Leviticus 20:26 [HCSB]
On the way to work today, I got to see some crazy driving decisions face some immediate consequences. I was traveling my usual route, following a car moving in the direction of my office. Behind me, was a fella I will call Mr. Impatient. I am not sure if the person was a male or female, because the car traveled by so fast. What I do know is the driver decided to enter into the turning lane in a no-passing zone, and passed by myself and the car in front of me. It was clear to me the person wanted to get somewhere quickly. It was also clear to me that the local police officer just pulled out of the convenience store parking lot and noted right away that someone wasn’t following the laws of the road. The cheeky driver knew that he was spotted and he pulled over beside a car lot, with the police officer pulling up behind him.
It all happened so fast, but it surely left an impression. I found it interesting how the reckless driver so easily pulled over when the cop only began his pursuit, without even turning on his lights. It reminded me of our relationship with God, and how easily we wander off. God blessed us with His Word, which helps us to know how to travel the narrow path. He also gave us His Spirit to help convict us when we are traveling in the wrong way. We are the reckless drivers often. Sometimes we are quick to pull over and repent; sometimes we continue traveling despite the conviction.
Today, take some time to read His Word so the Spirit can help bring it to mind when it is most needed. Draw closer to God as you take in His Word and chew upon it. Ask the Spirit to reveal any areas in your life that should cause you to pull over so God can help you to get back on course. The choice is always there. We can travel the road we want at the speed we want; however, the narrow path that leads to life is the best road to travel. On that road, we follow the road signs God has provided, which may mean traveling at a pace slower than we would prefer.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2 [NLT]
In Nehemiah 10, the people are agreeing to a covenant. A covenant is something we see many times in the Bible. A covenant is also known as a partnership, an alliance. I always like to consider it as a promise which outlines a relationship’s boundaries. When we look at a covenant between God and His people, we can see that it is a spiritual agreement.
The process of entering into a covenant is interesting. It was something pagans participated in, as well as the Jewish people. First, it is important to note the pre-ceremony actions. This is a time when the different sides discussed terms. We see this happening in Genesis 15 between God and Abraham. There is also a time of representative selections. With regard to the Abrahamic Covenant, God and Abraham were the representatives. During the covenant process, there is typically an exchange of belts, weapons, or robes. Then there is the walk unto death part of the process. This is where the people walk around the sacrifice and basically say, “Do so to me as has been done to this animal if I break this covenant.” We see God doing this with Abraham in Genesis 15:17, as the smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass through. There is a pronouncement of blessings and curses, an exchange of names, and a covenant meal to share as part of the covenant sealing process. We cannot forget the seal of the covenant, where we have a sign of the covenant that will be remembered. For Noah, it was the Rainbow. For Moses, it was the Sabbath.
It is awesome to study about covenants, but it is most important for us to understand these covenants with the vantage point of the New Covenant. Remember friends, we entered into a New Covenant. Jesus is our representative (Son of Man), God’s representative (Son of God), and He was the sacrifice (Lamb of God). He took off His robe of glory to come to us, and we now have His righteousness (Philippians 2:5-7). Jesus’ walk unto death was His walk from Gethsemane to the Cross. The sign of the New Covenant is a circumcised heart (Romans 2:28-29). As you share in the Lord’s Supper, and one day as you share in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, you are sharing the covenant meal. Today, thank God for the New Covenant, and most important, for our Representative and Sacrifice, Jesus Christ.
As I prepare for the “What Jesus Said: The Red Letter Series,” I have been intensely studying the words of Jesus. The first study of the series is about what Jesus says about Jesus. There are more “red letters” than I first thought; it has been an awesome time of prayer and study. In Matthew 16, we read about Jesus asking the disciples who Jesus is. After spending weeks pouring myself over what Jesus said about Jesus, I found myself spending a lot of time on this passage that shares Peter’s thoughts.
Who did Peter say Jesus was? He answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter basically says that Jesus was the One sent by God, the Deliverer, and also that Jesus was the Son of God. Wow! He got it! Jesus said he was blessed. In understanding this, Peter was considered the rock. Yet reading further, we find Peter is called “Satan” for not grasping God’s divine plan. Eventually Peter gets it. Yes, it was after he denied Jesus three times. But he gets it. One day he grasps Who this Messiah, the Son of the living God truly is, and his life totally changes.
What do you say about Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? Because this says a lot about you and about your life. It is true—you do not define Who Jesus is. Your words do not make Him any different; your words don’t change Jesus. Even so, Who you think Jesus is changes you—it can be the difference of life and death, the difference to living bread or spiritual bankruptcy. Who you think Jesus is may decide who you follow, who you worship, and for who you live. Who you think Jesus is determines how you live your life and what matters most to you. Who you think Jesus is makes the difference of peace that is beyond understand, joy that is overwhelming and overflowing. Today, write down Who Jesus is to you. Is He your everything? Is He the Son of God? Is He the Son of Man? Is He the Messiah? Is He the Living Bread? Is He the Light of the world? Is He the Christ? Is He your Redeemer? Is He Lord of the Sabbath? Who is Jesus to you? Then take a step forward, studying His Word and praying each day, and allow Him to continue to reveal Himself to you in new and awesome ways. Then add to the “Who Jesus is” list. May you spend your life getting to know Jesus—it will be a life well-spent.
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 16:13-17 [NIV]
I love reading Nehemiah 8, and picturing all of the people gathered to listen to the Word of God. I find myself sometimes grieving over what I see around me. There are so many people who are not looking to hear God’s Word. Rather than attending church with ears to hear the Word, people often have ears closed. Many times I see people scrolling along on their phones or I see people with roaming eyes. I have even heard people having full on conversations during the message.
As Ezra read the Word of God to the people who assembled, they stood around hoping to understand. They continued to listen as “he read it aloud from daybreak till noon.” They “listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” When they heard what God’s Word said, they “lifted their hands,” and they “bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces on the ground.” The passion, the desire, the love for God’s Word is simply beautiful. I have seen this before. I have felt this many times. It is my prayer that you have this constant passion, this ever-present desire, this unending thirst for God’s Word.
We are so very blessed to have God’s Word within reach. There was a time when there were only scrolls, and not many were accessible to all. People would gather to hear. We now have shelves with various translations. What a difference!?! But the passion they had for the Word when it was not so accessible often times seems to be greater than anything I’ve ever seen. Have you wept over God’s Word? Have you sought it out with great desire? Have you clung to His Word? Have you found yourself spending the day meditating and chewing on His Truth? Today, ask the Spirit to light a fire in you so you regain passion for His Word.
“So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” -Nehemiah 8:2-3, 5-6 [NIV]