How to Start

Nehemiah 2Nehemiah was a man who would one day do important things.  He would one day become the governor over Judah.  He would be the one to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore peace and safety to the Jews living there.  Yet that’s not where he started.

The story of Nehemiah begins with Nehemiah finding out about the condition of the people of Jerusalem.  Some fellows had just returned from visiting Jerusalem, and the report was not good.  The people living in the land were under “great distress” and “reproach”.  The walls of the city were still broken down since the Babylonians had leveled them.  Jerusalem was not a safe place to live.

So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4)

When I hear a piece of bad news, I too might sit down and weep.  I will also spend a night or two tossing and turning as I worry about what’s up ahead.  I might get angry. I might become depressed.  I might complain to a lot of people or even post a Facebook rant. Nehemiah prayed.

What are you facing right now, beloved?  Is there uncertainty in your future?  Are some things not going so well?  There is a God in heaven who wants to help you get through your difficulty, but He isn’t going to interrupt your pity party unless you ask Him to.  Ask Him for wisdom.  Ask Him for strength.  Call on the Lord. Start with prayer.

Choose Wisely

ChoicesSometimes I just get tired of making choices.  It seems that some days all I’m doing is making one hard decision after another.  If you ask me to make a choice at the end of a long day, I’ll probably just say “I don’t care”. Some choices seem inconsequential, like, what color shirt am I going to wear today?  Some choices are obviously more serious, such as, what career I’m going to pursue in life.

A choice is like casting a vote.  When you vote for someone and they are elected, you better be happy with the way they run things, because it was your vote that made them a leader.

Paul wrote about the choices we make when it comes to walking on God’s path.  He wrote, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)

Solomon wrote about a young foolish man who made the choice of taking the path near the harlot’s house.  That choice inevitably led him into trouble.  We might not think the sidewalk we choose to walk on is all that big of a deal, but knowingly choosing a path towards sin will always lead to trouble.  Sometimes I need to look ahead and think about where my choices are leading me.  You can choose not to click on things that mess with your head.  You can choose not to watch that program that gives you unhealthy ideas.  You can also choose things that edify you.  Choose Wisely.

Love Your Enemies

LoveEnemiesLove can be so confusing at times.  I love ice cream.  I love my sons.  I love my wife.  I love God.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  Am I supposed to love my enemies the same way I love my sons?  Just what does that look like?  Are there limits to what love does?

King Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom had formed an alliance with his neighbors in the northern kingdom.  The northern kingdom was ruled at that time by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  They were wicked people who did not follow after God.  Their lives were characterized by one rebellion against God after another.  Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Ahab not only involved a marriage of their kids, but Jehoshaphat also decided to help Ahab in his military plans (2Chr. 18).  When a prophet of the Lord warned Ahab and Jehoshaphat about the disaster awaiting them if they proceeded with their plans, they went ahead anyways.  Ahab died, and their forces were defeated.  Jehoshaphat came back to Jerusalem to hear another word from God. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Therefore the wrath of the Lord is upon you.” (2 Chronicles 19:2)

It is one thing to love, pray, and do good to those who are your enemies, but we cross a line when we are helping them to further their plans against the Lord.  That is the line you don’t want to cross.  Seeking another’s good does not include enabling them to rebel against God.  Love your enemies, but nudge them toward the Lord, not away from Him.

Priorities

WhichWaySo you’re walking along the beach and you see this funny looking object sticking out of the sand.  You pick it up and as you begin to dust the sand off the object, out pops a genie.  “I am the greatest genie in the world and I will grant you one wish” he says.  At this point, a lot of jokes have some funny punch lines, but I’m not going to tell you a joke.  How would you respond if you were actually granted one wish?  Being honest with your answer (no Sunday School answers please) could tell you a lot about your priorities in life.

Solomon was faced with a similar situation, except there was no beach, and it was God he met, not a genie.  Solomon’s response came quick, “Now give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people; for who can judge this great people of Yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)

Solomon had just become king of Israel.  He had an idea of what he really needed, and it was wisdom, not riches or glory. Solomon himself would later write, How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. (Proverbs 16:16)

What is it that you really need in life?  What are you spending all your time and energy pursuing?  Are your needs aligned with your pursuits?  If you have a moment this weekend, it might be a good time to take inventory and make sure you are pursuing what you really need.  Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

The Word

Open BibleLife can get complicated when the world’s standards of right and wrong are constantly changing.  Making the right choices can be confusing sometimes.  Our stability lies in the thing that never changes—God’s word (Mt. 5:18). The Psalmist wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).  Here are some ideas of what that means:

Read God’s word.  It all starts with picking the book up and reading it.  The Bible doesn’t do you any good sitting on your shelf or as an unused app on our phone.  Open it up and read.  Every day.

Study God’s word.  Make sure you understand what you’re reading.  Some passages are harder to understand than others, but don’t get discouraged.  Dig in.  There are lots of available resources to help you understand this treasure.

Memorize God’s word.  I’ve found that there is great benefit to having the word tucked away in your mind ready to recall whenever you need it.  It’s not easy, but it’s a useful discipline to master.

Meditate on God’s word.  Chew on the words.  Think about them.  Turn them over and over in your mind.  There is much more benefit in meditating on God’s word than there is in worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

Obey God’s word.  Ultimately, the book doesn’t do you any good if you refuse to do what God says.  Yet when you learn to take steps of obedience, you will have strength to weather the coming storms (Mat. 7:24-27).

Testing

PrisonJoseph lived an amazing life.  He rose from being a peasant in a backwater country to rule over the nation of Egypt.  Yet Joseph’s life wasn’t one that was easy.  It was a life of testing and difficulty.

Joseph received some interesting dreams when he was younger, dreams that hinted at the big things God would have for him one day.  But it wasn’t long after the dreams that Joseph found himself kidnapped by his own brothers, and sold as a slave into Egypt.  It seemed that the rough days were over as he rose in the ranks of his master’s house, only to be falsely accused by his master’s wife, and summarily thrown into prison.  Joseph spent several years in prison for something that he did not do.  God was with him in those difficult years, but God was doing more than just hanging out with Joseph, God was testing Joseph.

Sometimes God’s “testing” is about refining us.  When gold and silver are refined, their impurities are removed through the fire.  Sometimes God’s “testing” is about showing us what we’re made of, showing us that we are the very person God wants us to be.  Joseph was being “tested” during those days as a slave and a prisoner.  The Psalmist wrote, “Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him” (Psalm 105:19). When the time of testing was over, the rest of God’s plan for Joseph (“his word”) began to unfold as Joseph was now ready to handle the responsibilities God intended for him in Egypt.  Are you being “tested”? God may be preparing you for what’s ahead.  Make sure you pass your “tests”.

Home Improvement?

Home ImprovementKing Ahaz had a new best friend.  When Ahaz was being attacked by the northern kingdom of Israel, he sent boatloads of cash to Tiglath-Pileser and asked him to step in and help him out.  When his new “friend” helped him, Ahaz decided to visit his new best buddy. Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern, according to all its workmanship. (2 Kings 16:10)

Ahaz decided that he liked the way the Assyrians “did worship”, and he thought it was time to upgrade that old altar in Jerusalem.  Ahaz had the new altar built and replaced the altar that Solomon had made.

Now I have to tell you that I like to keep improving things.  I’m always asking myself what I can do to make things better.  I always like to be one of the first to download an “update” or buy the newest gadget.  I think that it’s a good thing to keep certain parts of your life looking and working clean and fresh.

But friends, there are some things that simply don’t need improving.  One of them is the basis of your relationship with God.  Our “altar” by which we approach God is through the cross of Jesus Christ.  And there’s no improving on what Jesus did for us.  We may read our Bibles on our smart phones (or have them read to us), but the text is still the same.  We may post our prayer requests on Facebook, but there’s no replacing the actual discipline of prayer.  Be wise in what you try to “improve” upon.

Keep Going

Elijah Fire ChariotThe end of Elijah’s life looked something like this – Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11)

Elijah was a man who led an amazing life.  The dead were raised.  The hungry were fed.  Fire came from heaven at his word.  And yet James tells us that Elijah was a man with a nature just like us (Jam. 5:17).  He was human.  He had his struggles.  At one point in his life, he became so fearful and depressed, he begged God to let him die (1Ki. 19:4).  Elijah had just had a big showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  Elijah called down fire from heaven and the people turned back to God.  But when wicked Jezebel heard what had happened, she threatened to kill Elijah, and Elijah fled into the wilderness discouraged and distraught.

If God had listened to Elijah’s prayer to die in the wilderness, things would have been different.  Elijah would not have raised up a successor, the prophet Elisha. Battles for the nation of Israel would have turned out different because Elijah wasn’t there to guide them.  Wicked people would have gone unchecked because Elijah wasn’t there to rebuke them. And then there’s that glorious chariot of fire thing.

Are you discouraged?  Are you struggling in the “wilderness” wondering if your life is worth living?  If you are still breathing, there is more for you to do.  Keep going.  Walk by faith.  God has a future for you.  Don’t quit.

Thirst for God

thirsty

This week’s Pastor to Person was written by David Cathers:

King David’s enemies had chased him into the wilderness, away from the ark of God, the symbol of the Lord’s glory and strength. As he fled for his life, the dry wilderness prompted him to think of the thirst his soul had for God. David wrote, “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek you;” (Ps 63:1a), to express the earnest desire he had for God.

In spite of his physical separation from the sanctuary of God, David found satisfaction in praising God, for it brought joy and comfort to his heart.

David sought after God early in the morning and praised him in the evening. “My mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” (Ps 63:5b-6)

King David was by no means a perfect person, but the Bible does describe him as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). Perhaps one of the steps to gaining this title ourselves is to be a man or woman after God’s heart. Are we seeking after Him early in the morning? Are we meditating and praising him into the night when we go to bed?

It’s very easy to run to other things when we are stressed and afraid that things in our life aren’t turning out as we expected. We often turn to entertainment, comfort food, money, new stuff, and sin in all its forms, thinking these things will ease the pain and suffering we are experiencing.

What do we thirst for? What do we seek? Who do we worship? Let it be God, early in the morning and into the evening.

Still Changing

This week’s Pastor to Person was written by Dan Looney:

ChangeIt’s been almost two years since I wrote the following Pastor to Person. I suppose we all know that storms come and storms go—or do they? Some folks are out in the cold, wind and rain, storm after storm, and they can’t see an end to it all. Pray for the mentally ill, the depressed, the drug and alcohol addicted and their children. Prayer changes things.

 

How quickly things change. Most of us don’t like the changes we’ve been through, and we are not looking forward to what lies ahead. At least this is the case when the changes are not seen as something good.

A lost job can cause unimaginable stress in a household. A sick child will bring devastating worry and grief. Deaths and divorce are all things we expect to hit us like a hurricane. We fall onto our knees and cry out to our Jesus for comfort and peace through the storm.

What about those who don’t know Jesus? Are they left on their own? We know that our God loves them, wants to comfort them, give them hope, and open their eyes. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Can we praise God through the storms? It may make the difference in a friend or family member’s eternity. They will be watching. Will they see Jesus?